Archive for the 'Retrospective' Category

Retrospective – New Zealand 2002

June 20th, 2010

Thursday 28 March, 2002

Flight from Singapore to Auckland leaving at 8:30 PM – after a full day of work, I am finally gone…  I have been thinking about going to New Zealand for over two years and I have been actively planning this trip for over six months.  I am also leaving about two months later than I intended.  I am sure everything will work out in the end…

The plane is completely full, but it looks like I might have a free seat next to me.  But no such luck!  The last person to board the plane sits next to me.  The doors are closed and we take off right on time.

Friday 29 March, 2002

Arrive in Auckland at 10:30 AM after a 10-hour flight, and not much sleep, but I have been able to relax for several hours and I am not too tired.

Taxi to the hotel I had reserved – compared to Singapore, I feel that the 50 NZ$ cost for the taxi is rather high.

The temperature is 22 C and the humidity is below 40% -no air conditioning and finally I breathe again.  I am really looking forward to spending three weeks without the need for A/C.

After a short rest and a shower at the hotel, I walk around the city and visit the site of the last and next America’s Cup, where teams from New Zealand, Italy, Great Britain and the United States are already practicing.  I even see Prada I and Prada II coming back from a morning of sailing (photo to the right).  At the entrance to the “America’s Cup Village” sits the New Zealand challenger in 1989 or 1990: “The Big Boat”.  This was the one America’s Cup that ended up being decided in the courts rather than on the water as both countries (US and N?Z) questioned the legality of the other boat (the US had a catamaran skippered by Dennis Conner).  On the bay, there is a boat with a mast much higher than any other boat.  As it comes closer, I notice the drawing of the America’s Cup on the mainsail.  Sail # NZL-40 is strange though – and the boat has a white hull; the nick name of the New Zealand defenders of the America’s Cup is “Black Magic” and they always have boats with a black hull.  I later find out that this boat was intended as a challenger in the 1995 cup in San Diego for a Bermuda Yacht Club.  However, the hull was not completed until 1996 – a bit late to compete.  A NZ company bought the boat and is now offering day-sails in Auckland on a ‘real’ America’s Cup Boat.  As it gets closer, I notice what looks like 25-30 people in the cockpit!  I am no longer interested in doing this.

In the late afternoon, I visit Sky City, a large complex with the tallest building (a needle tower) in the southern hemisphere.  From here, the view is spectacular, especially given that the sky is menacing over most of the city.  However, pictures did not come out as the windows were heavily tinted and give a shade of green to everything.

Saturday 30 March, 2002

Still in Auckland, I decide to visit Waiheke Island, a small island (looks like less than 3 km long in my guide) in the bay outside Auckland.  I take an early ferry to go across and arrive there at 10 AM planning to explore the island on foot.

The first sign I see when I leave the ferry shows Ostend 33 km!  They cannot mean the one I know about which is more like 33000 km away – maybe this island is larger than I thought.  I than decide to rent a bicycle so that I can move around a little more.  After all, Ostend is a flat place where bicycles will get you everywhere.  This area is slightly different, however, especially after I miss the turn to Belgium Street and end up having to go over a very steep climb to reach the North side of the island.  I have not been able to find out why a small village is called Ostend and there is a Belgium Street on the island.

I also discover that there is a Jazz Festival going on for the Easter weekend.  Great – I get to hear good music while I am sipping good wine and eating a sandwich under an olive tree in one of the local wineries.  I meander on small roads from beach to small park and from quaint pub to cozy neighborhood for several hours.

I unfortunately need to leave early so that I can get my rental car before they close at 5PM.

Sunday 31 March, 2002

I leave Auckland in the early morning for Kerikeri, near the Bay of Islands in the North of the North Island.

On the way I stop in the Waipura Kauri National Forest, the place where you can see the largest tree in New Zealand.  These trees are not particularly pretty (some people might actually go as far as calling them ugly) and are not particularly tall!  But they are MASSIVE!  The largest tree, Tane Mahuta (the 7 largest trees have been given names – this one is shown to the left), is over 5.2 m in diameter and has a straight trunk over 50 m tall.  On top of that, it has 4-5 small branches that look totally inadequate compared to the bulk of the trunk.  These are Kauri trees – not to be confused with the Kaori trees of Western Australia.  The N-Z Kauri is a pine tree while the Kaori is a Eucalyptus; the Kauri is short and squat, the Kaori is tall and slender – but they are both very impressive trees, and live to over 500 years old in order to get this big. In both cases, the trees were almost exterminated by logging in the mid 1900 before they became protected.  Te Matua Ngahere, wider but shorter than Tane Mahuta, is believed to be the widest and oldest tree in New Zealand, at over 4000 years old.  There are lot’s of smaller versions that have trunks of only 2 m diameter, and are only a few 100 years old.  Compared to the two monsters already mentioned, they are of no importance, and are not even indicated in the guide or on the walking trails.

In Kerikeri, I find a very nice Bed and Breakfast for me to spend 2 nights.  It is almost like staying at home as I am actually staying in the “guest room” of a private house owned by very nice people.  When I arrived, I am served “afternoon tea” and given a summary of the activities that I can do while in Kerikeri.  I discovered later that this is customary in most B&Bs in New Zealand.

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Wales – A trip down Memory Lane

May 28th, 2010

I lived in Wales for a year a long time ago! Since I left there in 1988, I never went back until recently.

I decided that South Wales would be a convenient stop-over point on my way to Ireland.  I took an early ferry from Dunkirk to Dover with Norfolk Line then drove directly to Saundersfoot where I had booked at the Harbourlight Guest House.  There are more details on these, and other practical aspects of my trip at the end of this post.

I had lived in Saudersfoot for a year in 1987 and 1988.  The town had not changed much since then.  Here is a panoramic view of seafront (assembled from four individual shots) – the photo is shown half size so you are encourraged to open it separately in your browser to see more details.

The old “Coal Office” in front of the harbour has been refurbished, it is now painted white and is again the local information office – when I lived there, it was a chinese Fish&Chips shop where I went on a regular basis for dinner!

Above the harbour, with direct access to a small beach is the mansion where I lived – No, I did not live in the mansion itself, but in the “Coachman’s Cottage” attached to and to the rear of the mansion.  The family who lived there has since moved to Tenby – we have not kept in touch  unfortunately so I did not have a chance to meet with them again.

Here is a photo that was taken while I was there – different angle, but the same cliffs and the same house on top!

The scenic town of Tenby, just down the coast from Saudersfoot, has not changed at all.  The ramps on the left of this photo are for launching the RNLI Lifeboats which cover the Pembrokeshire Coast from here.  At low tide, access to the harbour itself is somewhat restricted.

The seafront is essentially the same as it must have been 100 or more years ago.

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Bangkok – Old and New

May 8th, 2010

I interrupt the telling of my trip to Laos to share pictures of Bangkok.  I have been there several times including this trip as I spent two days in Bangkok before going to Laos.  Some of the pictures in this post were taken on previous trips to Bangkok.

On this trip, I started with a place I had seen, passing on the river, but never visited.  We had to take the monorail, than a river taxi, and finally find our way across small alleyways to the Royal Barges Museum – not really a museum as these barges are regularly used for parades on the river.

Some are quite old but the majority have been built or restored recently.  The intricacy of the design and carvings is amazing

Would you not be intimidated by this coming at you?  Take a look between his legs – yes, there is a cannon there!

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Retrospective – Mardi Gras 2005

January 23rd, 2010

Every year, right at the beginning of the year (January and February), funny things happen in Baton Rouge.  The natives seem to get restless!

Even though the grass still is not growing all that much, people take their lawn mowers for a walk.  Actually, not satisfied with walking their lawn mowers, they actually take them “line dancing”.  If you do not believe me, take a look at this from 2005.

005practice

And they take this very, very seriously … Every Sunday for four weeks they endure motivational speeches mixed with vague threats and the occasional “I am really not happy about this!”

004practice

Strange creatures appear which do not seem to ‘belong’ in this environment.  Is this an Alien?  He does not look anything like me though …

001prototype

In houses throughout Baton Rouge, friends get together for secret missions.  If you listen carefully, you can hear coded sentences: “We still have to make 136 tail feathers but 35 of the butt cones are already done”.  There are feathers and butts everywhere…

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Amsterdam 2009-2010

January 9th, 2010

This story actually starts many, many years ago, when I was only 11 years old.

I was returning with my parents from a tour of Southern Italy and we stopped for a few days in Napoli (Naples).  We stayed in a small hotel right on the waterfront and the first day after our arrival, we went to visit Herculanum.  That evening, we were surprised to see more and more people taking positions along the waterfront, all facing the ancient fort of “Castel dell Ovo”.  I was not able to find out when the latest structure was built, but Wikipedia indicates that there have been fortifications in this location since well before Christ.

File_Castelo_do_Ovo1

The photo above comes from Yahoo Travel – I probably took a photo of the castle with my trusty Kodak Instamatic, but I did not keep it…

We later discovered that the castle would be the backdrop for fireworks that evening, and we happened to be at one of the best place to see it.

It is my earliest memory of “substantial” fireworks.  We were very close to where they were shot and the concussion on top of the light and the music was more than I expected.  I also vividly remember cascades of white fireworks tumbling from the high remparts of the castle.

We move next to Houston and the US Bicentennial celebration in 1976.  I was at a party with friends and we all went to see the fireworks at midnight at Allen’s Landing, right in the middle of the downtown area.  As I had the largest vehicle in the group, everybody piled into my pick-up truck (four in front, sitting side-by-side as this was not a double cab and 16 in the back).  We were well above the 1/2 ton load the truck was supposedly designed for, but it managed it without a problem.

I do not remember the fireworks all that much – they were spectacular, I am sure – but I do remember the trip back to the party.  There was a massive trafic jam in the middle of town, at midnight thirty!  After a while, I felt the truck shake a little and than we started to hear the US National Anthem.  All the people in the back of my truck had gotten up and were singing as loud as they could.  Soon people all around us had stepped out of their cars and were joining in.  We probably aggravated the trafic situation, but no one around us seemed to care.  A fine way to celebrate the anniversary of my then adopted country.

We fast-forward to 1986 and the centenary of the Statue of Liberty in New York.  A massive celebration was planned on 4 July and I joined with a few friends and co-workers.  We took the train early from White Plains to Grand Central as we wanted to make sure we avoided the trafic.  We first watched the Great Ships sailing up the Hudson River – they were not actually sailing as the wind was against them, but they passed by one at a time – we did get a really good look at them. We were about 1/2 way between the “Enterprise” and the Washington Bridge with a great view.  I did take many pictures with my second Canon Camera (my Canon A1-Black body) – a great camera which I kept for many years.  However, once again, I did not keep these and so cannot share them with you.  At midnight, there were fireworks around the statue.  We tried to get close, but could not manage a spot from where we could see the statue, but there were barges for the fireworks up the Hudson and East Rivers, so we still did get a good show.

StatueLiberty

I found this one on Internet to at least give an idea of what happened – I am not surte this was taken during that particular event…

After the show, we walked along with several million other people from the Battery all the way to Grand Central Station, using Broadway.  All lanes (there are 4-6 lanes for most of the distance) and the sidewalks (or pavements for you in the UK) were packed with people, and these extended in front and behind us as far as the eye could see.  We walked in the middle of the road, with absolutely no concern for cars as there were none, and they could not have gone anywhere if they were.  Special trains had been arranged, but several were already full when we arrived at the station and therefore I think we ended up leaving after 2 AM and I did not get home ’till past 3AM.  A full day…

There have been other memorable fireworks since (1993 in Antwerpen; 1998 in Houston; 2006 and 2007 in Singapore; 2009 in Brussels).  Most shows would take about 15 minutes – a really long one would extend to 20 minutes.  I have tried to take pictures of the fireworks in Singapore with mixed results.  Judge for yourselves from the selection below.

firewrk01 firewrk02

Generally, there is too much smoke for the real effect to be visible.  I am also struggling with exposure – too short and all you see are light dots; too long and the picutre is overexposed (as the one on the right).  It is also very difficult to get the timing right, since you are taking a 2-4 second exposure – what is going to happen in the next 2-4 seconds?

But – a very long introduction for the fact that I have probably just seen more fireworks in one evening, than during the rest of my life.  The show actually started at 10AM (not a typo, I did mean to say AM!) when I heard the first ‘blasts’ while waiting for the Hermitage Museum (Amsterdam Branch) to open.  I figured that some people must have friends in New Zealand or Tonga and were celebrating their New Year!  However, throughout the day, I kept hearing random explosions wherever I went in the city.

After nightfall, I could see outside the window of the hotel, on a regulae basis, more fireworks all around me.  Just behind the hotel is the Vogelpark, a large green zone and this seemed to be a chosen place for fireworks.  See the attached photo taken about 9PM where I have circled the visible fireworks, just in case you cannot find them.

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The brightly lit area towards the middle of the picture is the square behind the Rijksmuseum and in front of the Concertgebouwknown as Museum Plein where the New Year Celebration will be held this year instead of the Dam as in previous years.  It was obvious that a lot of these early fireworks were sent by individuals, or groups who got together for this.  Some of them were quite nice and therefore I watched the spectacle out the window as the time approached midnight. And the spectacle just kept on going – the firework surprised me by how high it went, and so I missed most of it.

fw02

I figured that people will have exhausted their supply by midnight and I was looking forward to the “official” fireworks from the Museum Plein venue, which I could clearly see from my window.

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The “Official” fireworks started rigthat midnight.  It is very disappointing to me that I was able to take better firework pictures with my littly tiny Casio automatic digital camera sitting on a book and a an empty box of crackers than what I was able to do with my SLRs before that.  I simply chose the “Fireworks” setting of the camera, and this is what I got!  The “official” show started building up.

fw04

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Life After Cars

September 23rd, 2008

I had a glimpse of the future on Sunday, and it was not as bad as some people predict.

There is a documentary on the “Discovery” channel called “Life After People” which shows how Earth is going to decompose after the disappearance of all people.  This was an introduction to how we may progressively get there as carbon based energy sources are running out.

On Sunday, cars were not allowed in Brussels – and people went ‘nuts’.  There was a party atmosphere everywhere, helped by the excellent weather.  I took advantage of this opportunity to walk around a lot and take some pictures of Brussels under unusual conditions.

In front of the Kings Palace (his working palace in town since he lives in a larger one just outside Brussels) the street was covered with sod and transformed into a pic-nic ground.

And the park between the palace and Parliament was most crowding than I had ever seen it.  It seems strange that just because cars are not allowed, people seem to do things they can do at anytime, and all decide to do the same…

But what struck me the most was the quiet.  Streets were silent, except for the singing birds, the church bells ringing occasionally and, unfortunately, the siren of an ambulance passing quickly.  Church bells sounded louder than I remembered, since they were unfiltered by the usual loud background noise.  That is almost a glimpse of the past – life before cars – when the church bells were probably one of the loudest sounds that most people would hear. 

I also brought me back to 1973.  During the first oil crisis that year, Belgium banned all car traffic on Sundays in order to save petrol.  We were living near the Atomium at the time (the only remaining building from the Brussels World Fair of 1958) and I would go out early on Sunday morning with our dog Chika (an Irish Setter) and my bicycle.  She could run free with me, and really stretch her legs.  At times, I remember her looking back at me, while I was pedaling as fast as possible to keep up, and than she would run away, just showing off how much faster she was!  We could cycle on local streets and even the start of the Brussels to Antwerp highway since there was absolutely no traffic.  On the way back, I would stop at the bakery for bread rolls (a specialty in Belgium for Sunday breakfast) and than go home just as the rest of my family was waking up.

Back in 1973, I was pretty much alone on the streets.  Today, there were thousands.  People were cycling and walking down the Rue Royale, normally full of traffic even on Sunday.

On the Boulevard Botanic, I ran into a group wearing T-Shirts with the inscription “Le Beau Velo de Ravel”.  I am afraid that you need to know French in order to appreciate the play on word.  The sentence sounds like “Ravel’s Bolero” but means “Ravel’s Beautiful Bicycle”.  I also saw a contraption – a tandem bike – like I had never seen before.  The lady, with the red crash helmet is sitting on the front wheel in a recumbent position while then man is sitting in a normal position; both have a set of pedals…

As I was walking around, I remembered that I did not have many pictures of Brussels.  as I was building my websites, I looked for pictures of ‘home’ and could find plenty of Singapore, some of the Chicago and Houston, but none of Brussels.  I walked around the city to compensate for this shameful situation.

I new there was a statue of Mercator in the Petit Sablon.  Now I will be able to replace the print I have a him with this better view in my blog theme.  He is one of my heroes – he devised a way to represent the spherical world on a flat sheet of paper that made map making possible.  Without maps, no travel and without travel, what would I do?

The church of the Grand Sablon is one of the most beautiful in Brussels.  The stained glass windows are the best, but very difficult to photograph.

In the Place Royale, a new museum dedicated to Magritte is taking shape.  During construction, the building is covered by a “trompe-l’oeil” in the style of the artist.

Just North of the Sablon, there is a small park that most people are not aware of.  My sister just discovered it a few weeks ago.  The Parc d’Egmont is stuck in between modern building and renaissance palaces with a terrace caffe just to allow you to enjoy its peace a little longer.

The Grand Place, of course, remains the most visited area in Brussels and well worth it.  City hall is finally free of scaffolding.

The houses around the square were all build during the period of 1690 to 1710, mostly by worker’s guilds showing their skills and wealth.

The movement is not limited to Brussels.  In London on Sunday, they had closed part of the city streets to allow cyclists to visit all the major sites without having to worry about cars.  Other cities in Europe have occasional days without cars.  I do hope that this takes a hold and happens more and more often.  There is not universal support though – I saw one store with a sign “Closed because of Car Free Sunday”.  The owner must have thought nobody would be there to shop.  He did not see the 20 people looking into his store front just while I was there.  Maybe next time he will be wiser and continue ‘business as usual’. (863 Page Views)

A Business Trip than a 1/2 Marathon

December 2nd, 2007

Soon after I came back from South Africa, I had to go to the UK on a business trip.  Business travel can be exciting, and I am not one to refuse an opportunity to go on one.  However the timing of this one could have been better.  I was not looking forward to having repeated jet lags and being away the week before I was scheduled to run a 1/2 Marathon.

The trip went quite well, and 5 hours ago, I completed the run (my third for this distance) in my best ever time of 2 hours and 16 minutes,  There were over 40000 participants in the full marathon, the 1/2 marathon and a 10k run.  I waited at the finish line to see some of my friends finish their marathon and than we had lunch together.  It was again a great experince.

But back to Business trips.  They do not always turn out as expected.  Here is the write up I made last year following a particularly eventful trip – all 100% true.

Business Trips.

Some people believe that they are glamorous and that anybody going on a lot of business trips must be very lucky.  I do not necessarily disagree with this view – I have been on many business trips and enjoyed a few of these.

Here is an example of a recent experience I had.

The Concept:

Go to Italy for meetings with potential vendors at the end of June 2006.

The Plan – Version 1:

Fly to Milan on Friday evening to arrive on Saturday morning

Fly on to Marseille to spend the week-end with my parents in Cassis

Fly to Milan around midday on Monday and drive 240 km to Schio, where we have our first meeting on Tuesday

All day review with one vendor on Tuesday than drive 200 km to Bergamo

All day review with second vendor on Wednesday

Fly back to Singapore on Thursday.

The Plan – Version 2:

Fly to London on Friday evening to arrive Saturday Morning

Fly on to Marseille to spend the week-end with my parents in Cassis

Fly to London on Sunday afternoon

All day meetings on Monday in Reading, near London to organize the visits

Leave London around 5PM for  Milan than drive 240 km to Schio. Expected arrival at hotel around 11PM

All day review with one vendor on Tuesday than drive 200 km to Bergamo

All day review with second vendor on Wednesday

Leave Milan around 7PM to go back to Reading.  Expected arrival at hotel around 10PM

More meetings in Reading on Thursday to summarise meetings and decide on path forward

Leave London for Singapore on Thursday evening.

Reality:

Monday – a week before the trip: All flights from Singapore to Europe are fully booked for the week-end.  I am on the waiting list for 6 different flights

Wednesday – three days before departure: One flight opens on Saturday evening, arriving in London on Sunday Morning.  This does not give me enough time to go to Cassis so I am making alternate plans to visit Belgium instead.

Friday 2PM:  I am told that there is a seat for me on the evening flight out of Singapore leaving at 11 PM

Friday 2:20 PM:  I book a flight from London to Marseille via Paris with the local Singapore Air France agent, who wonders why I am going to London first – she had a good point.

Friday 2:40 PM:  I book a rental car on-line at Marseille

Friday 2:45 PM: I tell my parents I am coming.

Friday 6:30 PM: I pack one small bag and my back-pack

Friday 9:00 PM: Off to the airport

Saturday 5:00 AM: Arrive in London Heathrow 45 minutes early.  Big deal, it just means I have to wait an extra 45 minutes for my next flight to Paris.

Saturday 8:50 AM: Leave for Paris where I arrive at 10:50 local time.

Saturday 11:20 PM: The flight to Marseille is announced with 30 minutes delay.

Saturday 12:45 PM: Flight to Marseille leaves 45 minutes late.

Saturday 2:50 PM: Flight arrives in Marseille.

Saturday 3:30 PM: After long wait in line, I finally have my car.

Saturday 4:30 PM: Arrive at my parent’s house.

Saturday: Some shopping, lot’s of talking, good dinner, local news and finally to bed.

Sunday: More shopping, excellent lunch in the old port.

Sunday 2:00 PM: Leave for the airport.

Sunday 4:30 PM: Leave for Paris.

Sunday 7:30 PM: Arrive London – no problems in Paris.

Sunday 9:00 PM: Arrive at the Hilton Heathrow Airport, after 30 minute wait for my luggage, a 15 minute walk to the train, a 10 minute wait at the train station, a 5 minute train ride, another 10 minute walk to the hotel and a 20 minute wait to check-in.

Monday 7:00 AM: Car takes me to Reading for an 8:00 AM meeting.

Monday: Several more meetings and discussions during the day.

Monday 3:15 PM Leave for Heathrow Airport.

Monday 6:30 PM: The plane finally taxis away from the gate.

Monday 6:45 PM: The plane taxis back to the gate.

Monday 7:00 PM: We disembark into busses.

Monday 7:35 PM: We are finally allowed to leave the busses, not having any idea what has happened or what will happen next.

Monday 7:40 PM: As I wait for my luggage, I call our travel agent (we have a 24 hr emergency number we can use – the agent seems to have an Australian accent!) to see when I can get the next plane to Milan.  Not tonight, but the first plane in the morning leaves at 7:30 AM.  I ask her to book it and a room at the Hilton Heathrow for tonight.

Monday 7:55 PM: Still no luggage so I call the Hotel in Schio to cancel my reservation there and to leave a message for the rest of the group not to expect me that evening.

Monday 8:15 PM:  I finally get my luggage and head for the British Airways Ticketing office to confirm what is happening.

Monday 8:30 PM: Reservation for 7:35 flight the next day is confirmed.  They will not pay for the Hilton as they will be making other arrangements for all passengers soon – I have been in that situation before, waiting hours for all passengers to be ready to move etc…  I tell them not to bother as I will be in the Hilton.

Monday 9:05 PM: Arrive in my room at the Hilton after a 15 minute walk, no wait for the train station, a 5 minute train ride, a 10 minute walk to the hotel and fortunately only 5 minutes to check-in.

Monday 9:30 PM: Dinner at the hotel.

Tuesday 5:00 AM: Wake up call

Tuesday 5:20 AM: Check out

Tuesday 5:40 AM: Train to terminal 1

Tuesday 6:00 AM: Check in to airport

Tuesday 6:20 AM: Call travel agent to ask them to arrange rental car in Milan (change the reservation I had for the day before) – same Australian accent???

Tuesday 7:30 AM: The plane taxis off – good sign

Tuesday 7:40 AM: The plane actually takes off – we are making progress.

Tuesday 10:30 AM: Arrive Milano Linate

Tuesday 10:40 AM: Message from the travel agent tells me they were not able to get me a car.  I call back and they have only checked with National, not Avis or Hertz.  They suggest that it will be easiest for me to make arrangements directly at the airport.

Tuesday 11:10 AM: With my bag, I go to National where I indicate that I had a reservation (for the night before) and would like a car.  They only have a Mercedes C220 available, which I gladly accept.

Tuesday 11:30 AM: On my way to Schio

Tuesday 1:15 PM: After driving 240 km (yes, in less than 2 hours), I am close to the plant, but cannot find it.  Fortunately the secretary is able to guide me by phone – I am glad I had packed my ‘hands-free’ device, and that I can converse in Italian.

Tuesday 1:30 PM: I join the meeting already underway since 8 AM

Tuesday 6:30 PM: The meeting finally breaks up and we leave for Bergamo

Tuesday 8:45 PM: Arrive in Bergamo after 200 km in a three-car convoy, occasionally driving as fast as 160 km/h

Tuesday 9:00 PM: Group dinner (for 8 people) on the top floor of the hotel with a beautiful view of the Cita Alta.  Who says you do not get to do any sightseeing on a business trip?

Wednesday 6:30 AM: Wake up call and early breakfast.  At breakfast, we find out that one of our team members forgot some key papers in Schio and left very early to go get them.  He will not be back before 11:00 AM so we will have to start the meeting without him.

Wednesday 8:30 AM: Get to second vendor shop and start meeting.

Wednesday 4:05 PM: Time to go back to the airport.

Wednesday 6:15 PM: We are all back at the airport, having returned the rental cars and checked-in to our flights.  We have our first opportunity to discuss and summarise the meetings and see where we stand while we are all in the same place.

Wednesday 7:40 PM: The plane finally leaves the gate 40 minutes late because one passenger was supposed to be on an Alitalia flight instead of the British Airways flight.  Even after three checks of Boarding Pass and Passport, nobody had noticed the error!

Wednesday 10 PM: Arrival at the Holiday Inn South in Reading.  I change and go to sleep immediately.

Wednesday 11:36 PM: 

OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!  OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!

OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!  OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!

What?

OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!  OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!

Where am I?

OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!  OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!

OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!  OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!

I am not dreaming!

OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!  OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!

Fire alarm – no panic – no smoke – no flames – must get out!

OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!  OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!

OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!  OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!

Put some pants on top of my P-Js – take a phone – do not forget to take card-key

OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!  OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!

OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!  OOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEE!

Walk out of front door – fire truck in front of hotel, still no flames or smoke

Wednesday 11:52 PM: All clear, we can go back in.  I am not sure what happened and I was never told.

Thursday 6:00 AM: Wake up call.

Thursday 7:30 AM: Check out and walk to office only 1 km away.

Thursday: More meetings, more updates, more checks of how we will proceed, and many other people who want to discuss matters with me “While you are here…!”

Thursday 4:00 PM: Leave office for airport.

Thursday 5:00 PM: In the First Class Lounge of Singapore Airlines, relaxing.

Thursday 6:20 PM: As we are settling into the plane, the captain announces that there might be a delay of up to 1 hour – I do not quite understand the reason and honestly, do not really care.

Thursday 7:20 PM: We leave 40 minutes late.

Friday 2:25 PM: Arrive in Singapore.

The End

Does everybody agree that business travel is glamorous and fun?

(1022 Page Views)

Phuket – Thailand

July 15th, 2007

I do not have something exciting to share with you every week.  However, there are many events that have occurred in the past which I never got a chance to share.  I will therefore regularly go back and re-visit, as much for my benefit as yours, some memorable events of the past.

In April 2003, I went to Phuket from where I would depart on my first live-aboard dive trip. 5 days in the Similan Islands.  I arrived on Saturday and was not due on the ship until Sunday evening.  I had one and a half day to kill and so I rented a moped to be able to move around the island a bit and go to places I had not visited before.  All went well on Saturday afternoon.  I was able to visit a good restaurant I like that is hard to get to without transportation – White Lotus, owned and operated by a Vietnamese woman who is very friendly.

On Sunday, I decided to explore the southern coast.  I left the hotel relatively early and as I go around the first bend on the main street, a couple of kids toss a glass-full of water at me… I am not sure what happened, but with the heat it actually feels good, and I do not think about it further.  As I go through the first village south of Patong Beach,  I get ‘attacked’ by a few teens with water pistols. There is definitely something going on as I see groups of people setting up large barrels of water along the road.  I am still in the dark as to what is about to happen.

As time passes more and more people are along the road and are throwing water at everything that moves.  Soon, I start to see pick-up trucks with large barrels of water in the back trying to soak the people along the side of the street.  A giant water battle is building.  And I am totally unarmed!  However, it is rather hot, I am only wearing shorts and t-shirt and I do not mind being a little wet. 

As I head back to Patong, I get a new experience: some people actually put ice in their water barrels and therefore I get the occasional really cold shower.  There are also some people trowing talcum powder, and even coloured talcum powder.

I am soon soaking wet, with blotches of green, orange, purple and red all over my clothes.  And it is almost lunch time.  With some embarrassment, I walk into a local restaurant, wondering the kind of reception I will get given my current state.  However, I guess it must be expected on this day and I have no trouble getting a table and decent food.

After lunch, I continued to explore and continued to get soaked.  The more the day progressed, the more people were out celebrating, dancing, cruising etc.. while continuing to trow water at each other.  In Patong, the main street was one big party.  Many of the local bars had setup speakers outside and were playing loud music while patrons were dancing on tables and soaking passers-by.  On the street, people were dancing on motorcycles and in the back of pick-up trucks while soaking the patrons of the bars.  And, as before, I seemed to be stuck in the middle and getting soaked from both sides … but really enjoying every minute of it.

When I got back to the hotel to check out, I was totally wet and dripping all over the floor.

I discovered later that this is a tradition at Thai New Year in Phuket.  This happens every year and is beginning to attract more and more tourists.  This was my third “New Year” celebration this year, after the “Christian New Year”, “Chinese New Year” and now “Thai New Year”.

A great experience – I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time for it. (858 Page Views)