Month: September 2011

Commuting Around Europe

So – I figure the best time to write about my most recent jaunt into Europe is while I’m fully regretting it.

I’m currently trying to write the documentation to support the work I did the other week.  And I hate writing documentation.  Even writing the kind of document which I would want to receive (ie: a list of specific stuff.  This was set to that.  This: 1.  This: 23.  This: 100.  Reading it: Perfect – all I need to know on a single page.  But writing it: what order do I put it in?  What’s the most logical tree structure?  Aaaarrgh!)  Sorry – mind is frazzled from trying to write my most hated of documentation – long wordy descriptions of what should be short one-liners – and with screenshots.  Oh – now you’ve got me started on screenshots.  I view screenshots as the vice of the lazy documenter, and the crutch of the incompetent reader.  Unfortunately – I’ve been specifically requested to include screenshots.  Hence my presumably imcomprehensible rambling about this shit that you certainly don’t care about.

Anyway – all this started with my trip to Madrid last time.  And then two weeks ago – another trip.  This time – a ridiculously early train to Paris.  Straight to the office, work until late.  Then to the hotel.  And my room has a balcony (ish) with a view of the Arc de Triomphe.  (And really, no offence, but where did the French borrow the nerve to build a monument to Triumph?)  But anyway – a rather long day – and that pretty much just set the scene.  Essentially a week of spending 16 hours a day with work colleagues – who aren’t even my own work colleagues, and for whom english is not their first language.  Which would normally be all fine – but with me having very little sleep already – it was just that slightly too tiring to cope with for an entire week.  Anyway – enough whinging.  First day ended with some bieres and what-not.  And the next few days – long days in a small office in suburban Paris – miles away from anywhere – then back into central Paris to drop off bags, and then head to random places for dinner.  Who has a few days in Paris – so decides to travel all the way across town to a burger restaurant?  But I managed to escape eating a burger – and had steak tartare instead.  All good.  And crepes.  And I saw the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame, and things like that.  I would nearly cross Paris off The List – except I was too tired to enjoy any of it – and I didn’t see the Louvre.

Oh – and I managed to watch some of the opening rugby matches – streaming over internet.  A lot of my screenshots (grumble grumble whinge whinge) – are great – each showing two monitors, one full of nerd-action, the other with a snapshot of the morning’s rugby.  And the other light-hearted aspect which will hopefully counter-balance the above crazy ramblings – was the exchange of language between myself and my spanish workmates.  I taught them the word “cleavage” – (by special request – with meaning conveyed with a lot of hand gestures and imitation) – while they attempted to teach me – well, some terrible terrible phrases.  Which I was too tired to remember – sadly.  I remember what they meant – and I just don’t know what to think about a culture which would say things like that.

But finally – it was Monday – with a lovely 6am flight to Madrid.  Where I headed to my hotel, thinking I would just be able to leave my suitcase there, and head to the office – and check-in later.  But no – they let me check in at 9am or so – which allowed me to have a shower and head to the office.  Which shouldn’t have brought me so much joy – but I’m pretty sure I would have fallen asleep at the desk otherwise.  But yes – two more days in Madrid – this time out in the suburbs – and then finally back to London.  On a 5am flight – landing at London City airport – just in time for a taxi straight to my ‘usual’ client – and get in at 10am, in order to help a vendor who’s come in especially for the first big piece of work on my current project.  And yeah – I wasn’t particularly “on the ball” that day.

But that’s what you get when you’re some kind of jet-setting business traveller like myself, I guess.

Oh – and did I mention that immediately after work on my day of return – I then headed off to my first fencing lesson?  Luckily we didn’t get given any solid time with epees, foils, sabres, or the such on that night.  But I made up for it the next week – when I knew that we would be handed our first swords – by having a few wines beforehand.  This behaviour was correctly summed up with the comment “You’re a retard”.  It wasn’t my fault – there were work drinks to welcome/farewell somebody visiting from India.  Who doesn’t drink.

Hmm?  Yes – I’m attending fencing lessons.  En guarde!

Spain, Sun, Shopping

Well – I didn’t get much rest before I had to head to Madrid.  And the flight to Madrid was at some ridiculous early hour – and I had to crawl out of bed at something like 4 or 5 – after about four hours sleep.  But, managed to get to Madrid – and did a few days of work.  It didn’t go all smoothly – but a few issues are good to prove that it was worthwhile bringing me in.  If everything goes smoothly, then people think – “Not much to that, I could have done that myself”.  So after three long days of being stuck in an office, and leaving just in time to find food (had rabo de toro one night – bull’s tail – very good), then get sleep – it was the weekend.

So, I checked out of the hotel which work had organised – and checked into another one – slightly cheaper, and with a pool.  Then rushed into town to find an Irish pub showing the rugby.  Because what else would you do in Madrid other than sit in an Irish pub watching the All Blacks?  Anyway – after that disappointment – I walked around town, checking out all the major sights.  Banco de Espana – pretty impressive.  Mercado de San Miguel – very busy, but looked like it would be a decent time with a few hungry people – just heaps of boutique food/drink stalls crammed into a relatively small glass box.  I saw the statue of the bear leaning against a madrano tree – which is apparently the symbol of Madrid.  I don’t know why, and I am scared to research it.  So I decided to leave this inexplicable thing – and had lunch in the Plaza Mayor.  The Plaza Mayor is rather large – with restaurants lining 3 of 4 sides.  Back in the olden days, I believe that it had rather more interesting stuff going on – bullfights, the Inquisition, etc.  But now – just a heap of restaurants, and the most bizarre buskers/artists I’ve ever seen.  Such as these two – who I had to avoid every time I walked through the square, because my poor little mind really struggled to get to grips with what I was seeing.  That video only really showcases the man dressed as baby, which thankfully i only saw in action twice.  The glitter dog/goat thing though – that was nearly always going, and loved to set-up next to whatever restaurant I was eating at.  It is essentially a woman sitting on a stool underneath a cloak of glitter, with a wooden goat/dog head – operated by hand – which can open/close it’s mouth making a wooden clacking sound.  Really, really not cool.  So after some gazpacho, paella & vino – I fled.  Went and checked out the royal palace – which I believe is the largest in Europe?  Maybe?  It was pretty big anyway.  I then just wandered aimlessly – and stopped for a few cervezas at a small dodgy taverna.  Then kept wandering – and came across the status of Miguel de Cervantes, which I had wanted to see, but had forgotten about.  Cervantes, if you don’t know, wrote what is considered to be possibly the best ever Western literature – Don Quixote, the man from La Mancha.  (I was rather pleased to find my spanish workmate was actually from La Mancha.  I probably should start calling him Quixote – or even better, Sancho.)

Eventually I limped back to the hotel – my feet complaining about their sudden re-introduction to jandals being in the form of an 8 hour walkabout about Madrid.  Some cervezas, a mixto, and then some tapas – before calling it a day.

The next day was started with a few hours poolside.  Ahhh – sun, how I have missed thee!  Eventually, I figured I should eat something – and brains slightly addled by sunshine, I decided to forgo all nearby convenient food – and headed back into the middle of town – to Plaza Mayor again.  Sat down, had some good food, some good wine, and got freaked out by the glitter-goat/dog again.  So – moved to another restaurant, where I just sat in the sun with a book, and drank cerveza after cerveza – trying to ignore the silver goat-dog which turned up soon thereafter.  Eventually fled to a side street where there are no crazy buskers, just normal accordian playing buskers – and had some more paella y vino.

Monday morning – I figured I was well justified to just sit around the hotel until it was time to head to the airport.  And where better to sit around the hotel, then in/beside the pool?  So – checked out, and spent several hours at the pool.  Eventually figured I should get moving – maybe have some lunch before heading to the airport.  So sat down for some lunch, cervezas con limon, and reading my book.  Until I realised I was probably leaving the whole airport thing a little too late – so headed to the airport.  Turns out I was right – I was indeed leaving the airport thing a little too late.  Turns out the combination of my watch being about 8 minutes slow, my cutting it close, and (I’m sure of it) the staff closing check-in slightly early – I had definitely missed my flight.  So – I queued up to buy a new flight.  Eventually got to the front – and the nice man tells me – nope, no flights.  So what about business, or first-class, or something?  Nope – no flights.  What about tomorrow.  Nope – no tickets available.  Everything completely sold out.  So I head to a different terminal looking for other airlines, or internet cafe to look for flights.  Found a coin-operated internet machine (with certain keyboard keys which don’t work – making things that much more difficult) – and confirm that the only flight I could get that evening was via Switzerland, and cost over £1,000.  I seriously considered it for a moment, and then realised that it was also a total journey time of 18 hours – so I was pretty screwed anyway.  Flights for tomorrow – I could fly the maligned EasyJet for around half a monkey (or a string of ponies).  Tried to book that, and a hotel – and discovered this was nigh impossible with malfunctioning keyboard.  So I just took the first hotel bus I saw (having seen during my hotel search that it did indeed have a pool) – and requested a room.  Sweet – checked in, booked a flight, emailed work to not expect me in the next day, and headed to the pool.

Next day I followed the same pattern as Monday – except I played things a little safer.  I had a free shuttle to the airport, and I had booked it, so somebody was bound to remind me I should be moving – and I had breakfast so that my judgement was slightly better.  Otherwise – exactly the same – got up, checked out, headed to pool, sat in sun reading, with occasional cervezas and dips in the pool to cool down.  Eventually I headed to the airport, and was rather glad I’d left some extra time to check-in, etc.  Because this was my first experience of EasyJet – and I see now why they have an option of paying extra to get “speedy check-in”.  Manged to make it through though, bought some whisky, had some quick lunch & cervezas (I suspect subconsciously trying to miss my flight again) – and then boarded our flight.  Ugh – EasyJet.  For those who don’t know – EasyJet don’t allocate seats.  I don’t know if that somehow reduces costs (I can’t see how?) – but yeah, it doesn’t make for a pleasant experience.  Luckily – travelling by myself, I didn’t care too much.  And then the EasyJet beverage service – where you have to buy snacks and/or drinks.  I figured I had some spare euros, and I might as well get rid of them – so yeah sure, some cerveza por favor.

And eventually got back to London.  And how depressing was it to hear english voices again?  Correct – very.  And stupid people making a mess of the immigration queues.  Stansted airport – not well designed for english/EU people who can’t follow instructions as to what door they should go through.  Thereby making a huge mess of the area which is reserved for us nice civilised non-EU passport wielders.  Eventually got through, and got a train into town.  (I forgot to remark upon how the Madrid metro really shows up the London one.  It has the advantage of being newer, so could learn from the mistakes of London – but still – it was just so… clean, big, not crowded.  But still smelt like nasty things in places).  Got back to Barbican, sat down in my local pub for some fish’n’chips and vino, and then finally crawled upstairs for some sleep – ready for work the next day, and the inevitable ‘ribbing’ from missing a day due to pool/cerveza/tardiness.

It took me a few days to get back into work mode – just 3 .5 days of sun and pool had really removed me from this whole office/work mindset.  But eventually it returned.  Not cool.  And then it was time to finally man up and go shopping.  None of my clothes fit, my shoes are old – so yeah, I did a shopping day.  Ended up walking home looking like a caricature of an overladen shopping nut – carrying a total of nine (I think) shopping bags.  And that didn’t include my new suit, which I left behind to be slightly altered.  Went and had a barbeque on Bibby’s boat – finding it difficult to buy supplies on the way as apparently there had been an EDL march during the day.  (For those who don’t know who the EDL are – that’s a good thing.  They shouldn’t be acknowledged in any way).  But Bibby, Jess & I sat outside overlooking the Thames, and Tower Bridge, making chit-chat until we were all yawning.  My chit-chat was of an even worse standard than usual – my brain being completely fried from spain/sun/shopping.  So now I’m just hoping (sort of, not really) that I don’t shrink much more – because then I’d have to do this all over again.  Makes one regret ever getting fat in the first place.