The Glamour of International Travel

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Saturday

It’s Labor Day weekend.  I would love to hang out and relax, but I have a plane to catch.  I pack my laptop bag and a single large suitcase.  I’d love to take a carryon too, because it’d be a nightmare if my luggage didn’t arrive with me.  I’m going to be checking the suitcase on five different flights, so the odds of losing it are pretty good, and if it gets lost, they won’t be able to get it to the right city on the right day.  I gamble and skip the carryon because it’ll be a pain to shuffle that many bags around Europe.  (That gamble pays off.)

At 2pm, we leave the house.  Five minutes into the drive, I get an email saying I need to bring a suit.  I don’t own a suit (never have) but I race back home to grab ties.  We make it to the airport in time, and I board a nine hour flight from Houston to London in coach.  I’m productive for the first few hours, banging away on presentations on my laptop, and take a sleeping pill to catch some Z’s.  It’s my only chance to get rest in the next day.  I can’t get comfortable, though – coach seats for a 6’3″ guy don’t work – and I only get a few minutes of fitful rest.

Sunday

I meet up with fellow Questie Heather Eichman in London and we board the one-hour flight to Dusseldorf.  When we arrive, we meet up with Cristoph and Oliver from PASS Gemany.  They’re absolutely hilarious, and they’re just great guys.  We have a laugh-filled ride to the hotel, which they warn us is of dubious quality.  Who cares, when the company is this good?

After we get our hotel keys, a maid offers to guide me to my room because I’m lost.  (There’s no signs.)  We start walking toward another building when she suddenly starts screaming.  I turn around, and after several seconds of screaming and gesturing, I figure out there’s a bee on my back.  I wave and dance around to her enjoyment, and we both get a good laugh out of it.

Cristoph and Oliver warn us that the hotel isn’t fancy, but I thought it was cute.  I’ve stayed in much, much worse hotels in the States.  There’s no iron, so my clothes won’t look too good, but everybody’s wearing shorts and t-shirts anyway.

We head down to the hotel beer garden (WOOHOO) and meet up with Rushabh Mehta, one of the presenters.  We immediately hit it off and talk for quite a while about SQL Server communities.  The waitstaff ignores us despite much waving, but we manage to score a beer after maybe twenty minutes.  I’m exhausted, though, so I retire to the room to take a one-hour nap before dinner.

Dinner with the DBAs was the highlight of the entire trip.  I won’t go into details here, but these Germans are the most hospitable people I’ve ever met.  We had a truly wonderful time.

Monday

The hotel has no hot water.

I hoped that it was just my wing of the hotel, or that it was because I’d woken up a little later than everyone else, but it happened to everybody.  Ouch.

The PASS guys have their own morning meeting, so a few of us pile into a car and head off to the next hotel where PASSCamp is being held in the hopes of getting a hot shower there.  The stunning hotel does not let us down.  I get a warm shower and a quick nap before the afternoon events start.

My presentation went well, and I meet even more DBAs that I could talk to for hours.  The more I talk to the attendees, the presenters and the PASS board members, the more I wish I could stay for the 3-day BI track, but no luck – I’m scheduled for more presentations in other cities.

We have dinner and great conversations, and I would love to stay up with these great guys and drink beer, but we have a car coming to pick us up long before dawn to whisk us off to the airport, so it’s off to bed at 10pm.

I wanted to avoid medication, and I was completely exhausted, so I skipped the sleeping pill and just hit the sack.  I regretted that mistake about four hours later when I woke up, wide awake.  It was too late to take a sleeping pill – I only had a few hours before I needed to wake up – so I stayed up.

Tuesday

Wake up, shower, pack the bags, check out, drag the bags to the waiting taxi, ride to an ATM, withdraw Euros to pay the driver, ride to the airport, go through security, board a plane to London, go through security, pick up the bags, and then it gets interesting.

Cabs in London are expensive.  Really expensive.  So to save money, we take the express train from Heathrow to Paddington Station, board a subway and transfer to another subway.

All with luggage.

During the morning rush hour.

After over an hour of dragging bags and elbowing for space in the Tube, we make it out of the subway station to find that it’s raining.  We walk a couple of blocks to the office and set the bags down.  It’s barely 10am, and already we need showers and fresh clothes, but it’s not happening – we have to work.  We grab coffee and muffins from Starbucks and sit down at laptops.

I’m an architecture buff, and London has so much to see.  The closest I get to tourism, though, is a shot of the Gherkin through the Quest office window.  I can tell you all about the Gherkin.  I had pictures of it on my desktop wallpaper for a while.  I would love to see it in person, walk up to it, maybe go up to the observation deck, but that photo is as close as I’ll get this trip.

After a few of hours of email and presentation prep, we drag the bags downstairs, find a taxi, ride to the hotel and deplete Heather’s stash of pound coins just to pay the driver.  We don’t actually have enough money to pay him, but he doesn’t want to drive to the nearest ATM – he would rather take less money than have to put up with the London traffic.

I check into the swanky hotel – that’s right, air conditioning and an iron!  One of them even works, but it’s the wrong one for this particular part of the trip.  I’ve only got a few minutes before I have to run back downstairs and find an ATM to pay the next cab, so I settle for the shirt that looks the least wrinkled.  I go back downstairs, walk two blocks to an ATM, then we board a cab to the meeting.

My presentation goes well.

After the presentation, I excuse myself and catch a cab back to the hotel.  A Quest exec is there and I’d love to stay to talk to him, but I’m a mental mess after sleeping only 4 hours in the last 40+ hours, so odds are I’d sound like an idiot anyway.  I leave before I have the chance to say something stupid.

Upon arriving at the hotel at 9pm, I have horrible stomach cramps.  I try to think back about what I might have eaten to cause food poisoning, and I realize the only thing I ate the entire day was a single muffin.

I call room service again and again, but don’t get an answer.  The hotel desk just keeps forwarding me back there.  I walk down to the restaurant, and the hostess says no, she can’t take a room service order, just keep calling and someone will answer.  I leave the speakerphone on continuously ringing, and eventually they pick up.  I order a chicken caesar salad, a small bowl of soup and a bottle of water – safe stuff for a dangerous stomach.

Only it’s not – the salad arrives about half an hour later and it’s covered with anchovies.  I pick those off and wolf the rest down along with a sleeping pill.  Not taking any chances tonight.

Wednesday

I have a couple of hours before my car arrives at 11am to take me to the airport for my next event, so I wander around the Tower Bridge shooting pictures with my iPhone.  (I lost my digital camera just before this trip.)  I pick up some chocolates for a friend, and then it’s back to the hotel.

I have a one hour ride to the airport, then grab lunch at an airport restaurant after going through tight international security.  Our flight changes gates at the last minute, and then takes forever to get off the ground.  The one hour flight takes over two hours, with plenty of wild turbulence.  I have to hang on to my laptop to keep it from bouncing onto the floor.

We touch down in Geneva and go through the most surreal passport check I’ve ever had: he didn’t even look at our passports, just waved us past.  Uh, okay.  While waiting at baggage claim, Heather recognizes the woman next to us as Melanie Lynskey – Rose from the TV show Two and a Half Men.

We drag the luggage through the airport and into the train station, buy two round trip tickets to Lausanne, drag the luggage to the train, and throw it up on the overhead racks because the train is full.  The 45-minute ride to Lausanne is nice – good scenery, very quiet and smooth train.

We arrive in Lausanne and drag our luggage over to the nearest ATM in order to get Swiss Francs for the cab ride to the hotel.  (The hotel doesn’t have a shuttle.)  We head outside to the taxi stand and thank our lucky stars that it’s got a roof, because it’s raining.

We suddenly realize the cab driver may not be happy when we try to hand him a $50 bill, the smallest denomination dispensed by the airport ATM.  When he clicks on the meter and it starts – STARTS – at $7, we relax.  Thank goodness for the high cost of living in Switzerland.  A 2km cab ride costs us nearly $20.

After nine hours of travel (and remember, I’m still in the EU) I finally set my luggage down.

The hotel is in a residential neighborhood, and there’s no hotel restaurant.  We ask the hotel desk clerk for the nearest restaurant, and he recommends a steak place three blocks away.  He gives us not one but two umbrellas to aid in our journey (because it’s still raining), walks us outside, and points to the right street to make sure we get there.  He rocks.

The restaurant rocks even more: they have steak tartare.  The waitstaff are funny, friendly, and go out of their way to make it an enjoyable dining experience.  Big tip.

During the discussion, though, I find out that a coworker suggested that I’m tacking on an extra day at the end of this trip on the company dime, and he thinks I’m slacking off on this trip, abusing company funds.  I hit the roof.  I would love to kick this guy in the balls, but he clearly doesn’t have any if he’s not willing to say this to my face before he says it to high-ranking executives.  I decide to settle for writing a blog post about the joys of international travel instead.

The rain stops long enough for us to walk back to the hotel.  I try to avoid medication, but I give up at 1am when I’m still wide awake.  I have to keep the windows open because it’s so hot in the room without air conditioning, but it’s so noisy outside that I can’t fall asleep.  I take my last sleeping pill.

Thursday (Today)

The hotel room is so small that the shower is visible through both the bathroom window and the bedroom window, so I can’t leave the windows open while I take a shower.  Since I don’t have air conditioning, the tiny room is a steamy sauna by the time I get out.  After dressing, I open the windows again, but at that point I’m sweaty from the heat.  Argh.

Good news and bad news: the good news is that I don’t have to worry about the iron heating up the room, because there’s no irons here or at the front desk.  The bad news: my clothes are a wrinkled mess.  Next time I’ll bring a travel iron.

We eat a continental breakfast at the hotel, then catch up on emails before heading out to catch a cab to the hotel where we’re holding the customer meeting.  They didn’t put us up at that hotel because it’s too expensive, so we’ll be dragging our briefcases and promo stuff out to find the place.

I’m doing a couple of presentations today, dinner with the DBAs, and then back to the hotel.  Hopefully my sleeping schedule has adjusted enough that I can make it without sleeping pills.

Tomorrow is a free day in Lausanne to make up for traveling & working the entire Labor Day weekend, and then Saturday morning I start the long travel process to get back to the States.  It’ll be a cab to the train station, a train to the Geneva airport, a flight from Geneva to London, a short layover, and a nine-hour flight from London to Houston in coach class.  I’ll have one day at home with Erika, and then it’s off to New York City and LA for the next presentations and meetings.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but the travel is nowhere near as fun and easy as it might look on my Twitter stream.

The travel part sucks, but the people make it all worthwhile.  I have a long list of names that I’ll never forget, and I’d love to type them all in here, but if you’ll excuse me, I have to go catch a cab in the rain.

Hopefully the nice guy at the desk will loan us an umbrella again.

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • That’s a great story, Brent! Thanks for sharing it! I know Chrisotph, Oliver, and Rushabh. You’re right, great people that make all of this worth the while.

    Keep laughing!

    Joe

  • I’ve never traveled internationally, but I have traveled domestically several times for various employers. My experiences have been the same. It sounds like great fun, but you’re so busy working that you don’t really have time to relax or enjoy yourself.

    I try to tack on days before or after the work so I can get a mini-vacation out of the deal. This of course has always been at my expense, never the company’s.

  • sure, you can try to tell us what a hassle it is, but the bottom line is that you are in Europe, and we are not. enjoy!

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