The Glamour of International Travel – 2009 Edition


Lest you think my European trips consist of walking around shooting pictures in Rome, I shall share with you a recap of my trip so far.

Thursday – the entire Rome sales force is out sick. There’s a flu going around, so my staff training sessions turn into a day of me catching up on work.  Friday, two salespeople show up.  It’s an improvement over the day before, so I’ll take it, and I take revenge by having fun walking around Rome on Saturday.

Sunday – British Airways loses one of my bags. Only one of my two bags made it to Stockholm.  Being a DBA on a two-week trip, I’d planned ahead and packed two bags with equally divided gear.  Redundancy, redundancy, redundancy.  I didn’t pack more than I needed, mind you, I just striped my clothing, as it were.  I didn’t stress out, but it didn’t make things easier.

Sunday – I arrive in Stockholm in the rain. I can’t find a taxi, so I take the train into town.  From the train station, I try to catch a cab to my hotel, only to be told by the cabbies that it’s just around the corner, and they won’t take me – I have to walk instead.  I walk two blocks in the rain, try to check in, and it’s not the right Radisson.  I walk back to the cab stand, point angrily at the map, and we come to an agreement.

Monday lunchtime – our Stockholm lunch & learn seminar draws 0 attendees. The salespeople frantically call customers to find out what’s going on, and turns out they all either had production emergencies or they just didn’t want to leave the office.  I spend a couple of hours training the sales staff instead.

Monday evening – my beloved Macbook Pro won’t boot.  It turns on, and then displays a no-smoking style circle with a slash through it.  I’m not worried about my data, because I’ve got a second internal hard drive with Time Machine, but I can’t read that drive without another Mac.  Since nobody’s got them in the Copenhagen team, I briefly consider buying a second Macbook when I get to the London airport, but European prices for Apple gear are outrageous.  I’ve got a two-week-old backup of all my decks on a USB flash drive with me, but I’d tweaked them for SQLbits.  Oh, and yeah, I’m supposed to present Tuesday morning in Copenhagen.

Tuesday morning – I present with a borrowed laptop using my USB backups.  It goes smashingly – lots of attendees, lots of good questions, and lots of thumbs-up.  Whew.  One success.  I’d love to walk around through Copenhagen snapping pictures, but I have a tight timeline now if I’m gonna get my decks updated for SQLBits on Friday.

Bork Bork
Bork Bork

Tuesday afternoon – I buy a Swedish netbook, a Lenovo S10-2 with Windows XP, because it’s the only sub-$1,000 one I can find in stock after visiting three computer stores, and I’m running out of time.  Upon powering it on, I discover that it’s not the multi-language version of XP – it’s just all Chef, all the time.  I can almost deal with it, but even the built-in Office is Swedish, and I keep running into slide problems with it.  I work until midnight getting it reinstalled with an English build of Windows and Office using an MSDN account, a USB key, a paper clip and two socks.

Wednesday morning – I’m scheduled to leave Copenhagen at 8am, but of course that doesn’t go right either.  British Airways tells us we have to delay boarding for 20 minutes because there’s high winds in London, and there’s no sense in us getting onto a plane that can’t leave the airport.  20 minutes later, they board us onto the plane and pull away from the jetway.  They proceed to inform us that yes, there’s still high winds in London, and no, we still can’t depart yet, but they stuffed us onto the plane anyway.  We taxi to a remote area of the airport and they shut the engines down for an hour, because they figure as long as their employees are unhappy, we should be unhappy too.  I’m quite okay with the delay, because my netbook’s got a full battery, so I continue knocking out my presentations.

Wednesday – news breaks that PDC09 attendees (the conference I really wanted to see this week) all get free tablet PC laptops with multitouch, Office 2010, and more.  I contrast that with my Swedish netbook that cost a minor fortune, and I think I just might have gotten slapped in the face with the short end of the stick.

Wednesday afternoon – I check into the Quest corporate house. We’ve got an actual house in Maidenhead, a London suburb, because so many folks breeze through here.  I really like the place, although it’s about a mile’s walk from food, and boy do I need a drink.  I walk to a pub, down a big Guinness and a burger, then get chastised when I try to pay with a credit card.  The waitress angrily informs me that nobody’s allowed to pay less than ten pounds with a credit card, so she rounds the bill up.  She then proceeds to hand me the 3+ pounds in cash, something an American would never do.  I happily hand it back to her and tell her to keep it, and it immediately brightens her day.  Hopefully she won’t be as cranky on my next visit.  I go back to the Quest house and throw a load of laundry into the washer/dryer, something really handy when you’re on the road for two weeks.  Ideally, I’d be in a hotel with dry cleaning and restaurants that do room charges, but I don’t mind sucking it up now and then.

Wednesday evening – I can’t pay with a credit card, but I can’t find cash anywhere. I’m somewhat hungry, but not enough to eat ten pounds worth of food.  Knowing now about the credit card minimums, I ask around at a couple of nearby restaurants, and none will take credit cards for less than ten or twenty pounds.  They point me to a cash machine half a mile away, but upon my arrival, it’s out of commission.  The shop owner doesn’t know of another nearby one.  I try ordering pizza, but the systems wig out when my delivery address doesn’t match my billing address, plus the billing address is in America.  I give in and just get a pizza to eat in the restaurant, then take the leftovers home for breakfast.  My status as a foodie is diminished.

Wednesday 11pm – I get a surprise visitor. I’m working on a presentation alone, in the dark, when I hear someone fumbling at the front door.  Thankfully, I’m not working in my undies, because in walks another Questie who’s just as surprised as I am that he’s not alone.  We end up talking into the wee hours of the night about IT, but man, that could have been ugly.  He’s thankful for my leftover pizza.
Quest corporate house in Maidenhead

Thursday morning – I check my clothes in the “dryer” and they’re soaking wet. The dryer’s drain is plugged, so my clothes just rolled around in a pool of water for an hour.  I hang my clothes out on a line, knowing full well they won’t dry before Iain comes to pick me up in a couple of hours.  I’ll be dry cleaning those the instant I get to the hotel for SQLbits.

Travel isn’t all unicorns, rainbows, and meals at WD50.  Part of me really wants to extend my trip by one day to attend the ComputerWeekly blog awards in London next week, where I’m in the running for Best Individual IT Male (hint: vote today! and often!), but the rest of me can’t wait to get back home to the States.  I love Europe, but I’d rather live here, not travel through it.  Traveling anywhere, not just Europe, is a royal pain when things don’t go as planned.

If you see me presenting at SQLbits this weekend and I seem even more relaxed than normal, it’s because at this point, I’m at one with the chaos.  Bring it on.  If my projector bursts into flames and my audience consists of hecklers wearing “I Love Microsoft Access” shirts, I’m still going to be grinning.

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16 Comments. Leave new

  • Great post Brent, better than making the trip with you:-) I thought I was the only one that encountered strange problems!

  • Hang in there, man. Travel, especially these days, is rarely peaches and cream. Way to keep plugging away to overcome the obstacles. Soon you’ll be at home and not have to travel for a while except maybe to visit family. It’ll be the holiday season and you can spend it relaxing with those you love.

  • Maybe the demise of your Macbook Pro was the result of some Ikea conspiracy that (for some reason) took exception to being compared to SQL Azure.

    And to all trolls, you now have a button to push for Brent: “I love Microsoft Access” t-shirts.

  • Cameron Mergel
    November 19, 2009 8:07 am

    As I was reading I keep saying to myself, it can’t get any worse for him. Glad to see you can keep your sense of humor.

    Rulle med stansar.

  • I just realized I’d forgotten to include the part where British Airways lost one of my bags. Added that. Jeez, this trip…

  • Your pain is our entertainment. Best…travel blog…EVAR!

    Also smartest thing I’ve ever heard, striping the packing. Going to start doing that on every trip.

  • There must be something going on this week. I haven’t traveled anywhere, and yet it feels like anything that can go wrong, has. I’m an eternal optimist, however, and a firm believer in the law of averages. There is balance to the universe! After all, tomorrow is another day…

  • Maybe you should do a YouTube video next trip. That could be hilarious.

  • Christopher Bellizzi
    November 20, 2009 4:50 am

    Wow a MAC with issues?
    nah you must have the wrong notebook.
    Maybe the comment baout your job sucking was true!

  • Now I really want to get myself an “I Love Microsoft Access” tshirt and wear it to your presentation at SQLPASS next year. 🙂

  • Too bad you missed out on the ComputerWeekly blog awards – I voted for this awesome blog!
    I missed SQL Bits this time round, It would have been good to meet you ‘in the flesh’ – hope you make it back to our small island sometime in the future!

  • Hi, this blog brought back great memories of SQLBits. Your presentations were flawless although some of the words did have strange accents 🙂

    I live in Maidenhead so the next time you are in the “Quest Hilton” drop me an e-mail and I’ll sort you out some Pizza. (Did you tweet?). Having seen the picture of the house I will inform the local police to stand down and withdraw my accusation regarding the drug dealers.

    Travel safe,


    • Rob – hahaha, thanks, man! I’ll tweet when I’m out there next time. I’m probably going to be in the area in June again, I think. I’m heading to London in April, but I probably won’t go out to Maidenhead just because of the travel time. I’ll make ’em put me up in a real hotel that time. 😉

  • Andreas Erson
    May 15, 2010 9:12 am

    Did you get back to Sweden to get that netbook? You said you were in Copenhagen Denmark on Tuesday and the screenshot shows a Danish version of Windows XP. No wonder you could use anything you picked up from the Chef to decode it…


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