Monthly Archives: February 2019

I have never been… to Poland.

Until this coming Sunday when I pop my Polish cherry: an inaugural trip to Krakow. Really? That can’t be right? A slightly curious sensation due to the blurring, simplifying, editing effect of memory nagging gently that I’ve “done” Europe.

“Done.” Faintly ridiculous as a tourist notion. For starters I have trouble swallowing the word “done” in relation to travel when people actually mean visited. “Done” oft misses a contextualising prefix: briefly/once/almost/passed through/changed-planes-at-the-airport/school trip/business trip. What’s worse? Dropping it in with a casual one-upmanship flavour.  Yuk. (Or maybe that’s merely a bias I have trained myself to listen for in conversation?) Consider for a moment the sheer wrong headedness of one considering to have “done” somewhere. It implies a full data set. (I’ve accidentally lived in a small country town for approaching 13 years and have no sense of a complete working knowledge.) Places evolve. Simple stuff such as new places to eat mean any valid local info’ is – at best – only fleetingly correct.

Another ingredient to throw into the mix is that this is a work jaunt. The classic double-edged sword of experiencing a place on someone else’s coin, yet insulating the traveler from learning the lay of the land outside of the surreal business orbit.

Plane-taxi-office-taxi-hotel-taxi-office-taxi-plane.

Following weekend in the pub: “Yeah, I’ve done Krakow.”

Liar.

So as I sit here prepping for work, I also am checking practicalities like mondey, public transport, locations and – inevitably – reviews of stuff. At best, my visitation outside of the client office will be limited to Sunday afternoon and evening on foot. The weekday evenings could well be swallowed up with work or a solo self-guided walking tour of the town. There is potential for some client led dinner and a beer shenanigans, but that’s just potential right now. (It’s also potentially awful as you get trapped into a forced social situation.)

Typically, the modus operandi for the work travel gig is to use public transport where possible, try to eat local food in independent joints, walk around and drink it all in. After a day at the client coal face, that room service burger and Coke is mighty tempting. Getting out of the hotel is the crucial first step. Set mind to “open” and stride forth. (Much of the material for this blog is accidentally gathered thus.)

So by next Friday night I’ll be pooped from a full-on work schedule, but also armed with a flavour of a place that was new to me on arrival.

Can’t wait to experience it.

PS: Krakow top tips welcome.

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New PB: 29 hours at the airport

If only the headline above was a legendary yarn telling of a mammoth lads binge in the DXB BA lounge.

If only.

Let’s use a timeline…

Wednesday. Went to bed hoping for a good night’s rest ahead of the (big finish!) final day with the client trialing new material in Dubai. Early start planned, settled down for kip.

01.30: Initial stirring from a deep sleep dreaming of cement mixers, which I then realise is actual loud noise. Road planing works begin outside the hotel.

05.30: Might as well get up because they are indeed dedicated workers with quite the talent for industrial white noise.

05.35: Emerge from shower to notice they’ve stopped. Silence. Shrug. Sigh. Possibly weep just a little. Checkout of hotel and store luggage.

07-00-18-00: Client facing work stuff with associated jazz hands, concentration, charm offensiveness. (Exhausting, yet quietly nailing it. Yay.)

18.00-23.00: Dinner with colleague who is staying on, watch ridiculous CGI movie in boutique cinema @ hotel, mooch, kick heels, head to airport for 02.25 flight to London on a pensionable Boeing 747.

23.30: Report writing at airport following bewildering security rituals. Eyelids drooping.

00.45: Go to gate. Really rather ready to go home. Resigned to the inevitability of sleeping in a travelling chair in a tube adjacent to 400 other weary bodies.

img_20190221_022700This is the bit where it goes awry.

01.30: “Delay” legend appears on display screen. No information available from terminally clueless ground staff (pun intended). A general sense of dread creeps into my dawg tired being. Screen goes blank. Nervous crowd of passengers coalesce to be told precisely nowt.

05.00: We are sat aboard the now fixed 747, delirium mixed in the tiredness.

05.25 Cap’n comes over the PA. We were to be pushed back 3 hours ago. With a casual lack of accountability uses that special BA captain voice to tell us we are not going anywhere. The “wrong part” was ordered. We are the opposite of fixed. We are a cancelled flight. We are to disembark. Buggah.

Interlude: am writing this in a hotel robe in a neatly appointed “cell” hotel room where 14 hours of my life will elapse.

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Airside Hotel Infinity Corridor

06.00-09.00: Queuing with a plane’s worth of angry, exhausted people. Many are missing connections to the US. Others more fat of wallet re-book the few remaining seats with Emirates. The ground staff have huddle after huddle that provide few answers. We are going nowhere.

Counterpoint: Of course, it could be worse. The plane could have malfunctioned midair. We have WiFi (even if everyone is too banjaxed to use it).

Passengers talk, four fellas drift together. Of my new compadres, one was rebooked on this flight following a cancellation at midday. TWO cancellations in one day. I let out a low whistle.

My new friend also knows – through bitter, fresh experience – of the on-airport “airside” hotel. We make a bleary-eyed break for it. 90 minutes later, we are checked in sans luggage. At thus point I have been awake for approaching 30 hours. My body doesn’t know what meal is next. I kind of pass out only to come to with a sweaty start of someone who doesn’t know when and where they are. My head throbs.

My PC status bar shows that I have very little battery left. It also shows I should have been home with my family three hours ago. But I’m not. I’m in a robe, on a bed, in a air-conditioned box, in a 21st century transit stasis in the middle east.

What was the name of that Tom Hanks movie?

No,  no, not Forrest Gump.

Prologue: Went through the whole process again the following night only at 05.00 on the second occasion we were wheels up and heading to London. Needless to say we made it home eventually. My reward? A stinking head cold and a lament for wasted time.

Still think business travel is glamorous?

Thanks to the Dubai Drifters for getting me a lounge pass before we boarded the second time. Cheers!

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Why no pictures of Swindon?

I had a serious case of the Saturday night blues this week.

The Saturday night blues Ian? Surely some mistake?

Most definitely not an error dear reader – although thanks for asking – because I start work on Sunday morning with an oh-seven-forty pickup. I don’t mind really and am hardly making complaint, but it’s that “here it comes” feeling as a week-long project kicks off. (It’s akin paddling out into a big swell on the surfboard. You know it’ll be exciting, but it’s daunting and exhausting to start with. (Except I’d rather be surfing on the whole. Obvs.))

In case you didn’t know, in the UAE – along with a raft of mainly Arab states – the working week is Sunday-Thursday. Confusing. For starters a well know restaurant chain may want to rebrand: TGiT. Hey, maybe after Brexit we’ll get to work every Sunday when we’ve, y’know, taken back control?

For yours truly it’s a Friday daytime flight out. Factor in a four hour time difference and stick two fingers up at the flat earthers. Eh? Well, because after flying for seven hours you arrive the next day (Saturday) in the wee small hours. After forcing a too-early-to-sleep bedtime, fitful snoozing, grappling manfully with a morning by the pool and a full day of warmth before working all evening in preparation for Sunday morning. Ouch but not ouch.

Thankfully, work works well. A great relief. Good to be part of a functioning team.

It’s Sunday night now and we finished work at 21.00 (local). In all honesty, even though I’m not sure what day it is – only my calendar insists it’s Monday tomorrow – it’s been a long’un. I’m not so sure of anything right now: cognitive powers are slippppiinng.

Work is work. It’s just a different location, right? So why no images posted from Runcorn, Basingstoke, Swindon?

What I am sure of is that a commute home from Swindon doesn’t offer views like these:

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And the view from a Hull Premier Inn bed doesn’t feature the world’s tallest building:

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13th floor bedroom view: ROVE Downtown Dubai #nofilter

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Basking in Bilbao: pintxos paradise

Sorry, but we did bask – Basque? – in the sunshine for a few glorious days. Bilbao locals amazed that we saw the mysterious yellow orb as it is known for near horizontal blatter that would make a wet Swansea weekend look welcoming. Twice as rainy as London for instance. Sunglasses set to smug then.

Top Tip: Book early, during a flight sale, off season. After bagging embarrassingly cheap SqueezyJet seats – IE: the car parking was more costly than 2 X return flights (but that’s Brizzle airport for you) – and a no frills hotel we were good to go. We even drafted in GT to look after bairns in our absence.

Top tip #1. DO NOT – under any circumstances – Google “Bilbao Airport Crosswinds” if you are a nervous flyer before traveling. Why? Oh, no reason…

Top Tip #2. A3247 Aeropuerto bus! Get in. €3, drops you outside the front door of your budget hotel (closer than a taxi could park). Deliriously happy about this. #itsthelittlethings

Top Tip #3. Visit the Guggenheim, get there on a pre-booked ticket as it opens its doors. It is totally worth the hype. There are probably pictures aplenty below to prove it.

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Top Tip #4. Strategically place an auld work colleague as an ex-pat there at least 10 years prior to randomly visiting. Most wonderful to see J and also to get his insider knowledge over many iccle beers on Friday night.

EG: Did you know there’s no letter C in Basque? They use TX instead. So we say “peen-chos” where it’s written pintxos.

Top Tip #5. Pintxos.

Top Tip #6. Actually, can this go before 5? Be aware I don’t mean this in anything other than a straight, functional, practical sense. Ready? If you are a fussy eater, don’t bother with Bilbao. If you are a fussy drinker, ditto. Even if you were fluent in Basque, you’d struggle. Sure, there are vegan/gluten-free/ joints and whatnot, but the essence of a superb social Bilbao night out is bar hopping with a cheerful “Rioja por favor y dos pintxos por favor” whilst gesturing at the dazzling selection of snacks on the bar. In return for this elan? You get great wine and delicious finger food.

That last sentence? That’s an evening in Bilbao. There’s so much competition between bars that they survive by offering bloody excellent local wine – cheaply, by the glass – or good beer, good cava. A G&T is not only costly, it’s missing the point. Pair your random beverage with their own twist on what makes for a gourmet mouthful. The opportunist visitor can flow around the town nibbling and quaffing like a pro. Like a rolling perfect street food/wine festival. Sitting down to dinner seems superfluous.

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Top Tip #7 Sunday late morning wine and cheesecake? Txakoli. “Chaco-lee.” Perfect hair of the dog material.

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Tip Top Tip Top of  the Tips: Take the most beautiful person you know with you and reconnect.

Oh and in Basque there’s no A in Bilbo

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Next time… The Transporter Bridge!

 

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