My worst business trip ever (Part II: Heading back to Athens)

A new day – Tuesday – had started and I had a nice feeling about it. I woke up early, had a nice breakfast at the hotel, took a warm shower and check out, heading back to the meeting place. This time the elevator was working. I had already checked in for both my Lufthansa flights from Berlin to Munich and from there to Athens in the previous afternoon, and I was supposed to leave the meeting at about 16.00 to head to the airport and catch my flight.

For some reason I did not have a good cellular signal at the meeting building and at some point after the lunch break, I received a call. It was a colleague of mine, who said that they have been trying to contact me for quite a long time to inform me that my Lufthansa flight was cancelled (WTF!!). The good news was that I was rebooked to a Swiss flight to Zurich and from there to Athens. The bad news was that the Swiss flight was one hour earlier than my Lufthansa one, so I had to rush to the airport – now!

(Lufthansa only informed me by SMS (not via email, which I checked regularly), but I had no signal at the time, so I received it rather late).

I quickly picked up all my stuff and rushed to the bus stop to take the airport bus so quickly that I did not have time to greet my colleagues at the meeting. In the meantime, I was on the phone with my agent, who offered to check me in as well, so that I would save some time – and I was glad she did. She also emailed me the boarding pass, just to be on the safe side.

My last photo before leaving Berlin; yes, it was snowing in the morning.

Thankfully, I arrived to the airport on time and went through the security checks pretty fast. I was one time and the flight of Swiss only had a slight delay so we made it on time in Zurich. However, the flight from Zurich to Athens was also delayed (by about 45 mins) and this only got worse by the fact that Swiss staff at the gate started asking passengers to hand over their oversized of second cabin item. As expected, no one was willing to hand over a luggage that they planned to take on board and this led to a confusion and contributed to the delay of the flight.

As a result of all this mess, I reached Athens more than 1 hour later than I expected, at about 01.45. I was on time in all occasions, but none of the airlines was. I reached home at about 02.30, went to bed at about 03.00. Next morning, I woke up at 06.30 to get to the office as usual 🙂

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My worst business trip ever (Part I: Heading to Berlin)

(Alternative title: A 150 Euro taxi ride to nowhere)

(Alternative title #2: Oh Lufthansa, where art thou?)

I have been traveling all over the world for business for the last 10 years – I even managed to get a Gold status with Aegean Airlines at some point, as a frequent flyer. In these 10 years I only once missed a flight (it was due to long security/passport controls in the U.S. but I was lucky enough to be rebooked to the next flight). I was lucky enough but also did my best to be always on time for my flights.

Last Sunday, I had to fly to Berlin through Frankfurt for business purposes with Lufthansa. I had the option of taking an earlier direct flight to Berlin, but I opted to spend some more time with my family on Sunday, who wouldn’t?

I arrived on time at the Athens airport but the flight was delayed by more than 1 hour minutes (I cannot recall exactly) “due to the plane arriving delayed in Athens”. To make a long story short (and this is a really long story!) we reached Frankfurt airport only to find out that the last flight to Berlin had just taken off on time, leaving the remaining passengers waiting at the airport. A helpful lady at the gate informed me about the good news and the bad news:

The good news were that I would get a hotel voucher, a couple of vouchers for the taxi (from and to the airport) and a 10EUR voucher for a snack, as the hotel kitchen would be closed by the time I reached it. I would also be re-booked on the early morning Lufthansa flight to Berlin – but I would have to be at the airport no later than 06.15.

The bad news: The hotel was about 90 km from the airport (!!), so something about 50 mins by taxi… and this is where all hell breaks loose:

  1. I couldn’t find where to use my snack voucher and wasted precious time (as I realized later on); in the end I found a place, where I got a couple of sandwiches just before it closed for the night.
  2. I went out in the freezing cold (-1 oC) waiting for a taxi – there was no queue, and taxi drivers came out of nowhere, picked up customers randomly and left
  3. I got myself a taxi but the taxi driver hardly spoke English and he did not know where the hotel was; his bloody GPS could not pick up a signal and I was trying to explain to him that since we had stopped under a bridge it would be hard to get a signal. After spending about 15 mins waiting for the GPS, he brought a second one from the trunk and it actually worked.
  4. In the meantime, I tried using my smartphones for the same purpose (actually, the taxi driver insisted on it); however, my Lumia was running out of battery (and later I realized that I had only downloaded the Berlin offline maps before leaving home) while my backup smartphone did not have any offline German maps at all.
  5. On the way to the hotel, the driver explained to me that there were no rooms in Frankfurt due to a large exhibition taking place during these days – lucky me!
  6. I had to be at the airport at 06.15 – the driver told me to get a taxi earlier than 05.00 from the hotel, as there could be heavy Monday traffic later on…
  7. When I finally reached the hotel, I realized that there were dozens of passengers facing the same issue as me; everyone had a pack of vouchers and they were all directed to the same hotel from the airport…a long queue before I could get my key for the room. At least I managed to book a taxi for 04.30 next morning.
  8. I only had about 4 hours available for sleep; however, I had to take a shower, eat my snacks, send a couple of urgent emails (e.g. informing the hotel at Berlin for my absence and let them know when I would check in) and re-arrange my stuff in my small wheeled backpack (the issues of traveling packed)
  9. I was so worried that I would not hear the alarm in the morning that I kept checking the clock every 15 mins. In the meantime, I could hear people leaving their rooms so I gave up and woke up at 03.50.
  10. I picked up my phones which I left charging overnight, only to realize that my main phone was not plugged properly, so charging had stopped at about 60% – not good enough for the long day ahead of me.
  11. There was no traffic, no long security queues, no nothing – so I found myself waiting at the gate at about 05.30; 45 mins before expected. On top of that the Lufthansa flight was for once more delayed (something like 30 minutes). This time it was the ground team to blame, as they did not start preparing the plane early enough…enough with pathetic excuses!
At first I thought I was hallucinating due to lack of sleep; however, it was just the interesting decoration of the hotel 🙂

I finally reached Berlin, found my way to the TXL bus and reached my hotel, which was almost next to the meeting place. I paid a visit to make sure that I still had a room (got no response to my email so far) and leave some of my stuff in the room. At the reception, I was informed that they did not receive my email and I should have called them instead to let them know of the situation! Bloody hell…

In the end they found me a room and also allowed me to use their fast WiFi connection at no cost (which I never did, as costs may incur out of nowhere in hotels). Went upstairs, left my stuff (clothes and wash bag) and headed to the meeting place. It took me 10 mins to find the entrance, as Google maps showed the main entrance of the building while the organizers had used a side door instead. Relieved, I entered the building, heading to the 5th floor, where the meeting was taking place (and I was already 1 hour late); lucky me – the elevator was out of order so I had to use the stairs, packed with my (still heavy) wheeled backpack!

I spent so much time at the airports that in the end I felt like Tom Hanks!

My presentation was the last one in the agenda, and by that time I could hardly keep  my eyes open – let alone delivering a decent presentation. Supported by several cups of coffee in the meantime, I managed to do a good job (as my friends in the audience told me later). However, I had to decline the offer for drinks and dinner right after the meeting, as I was really exhausted. I just went back to the hotel to get some decent sleep.

A hard day was over; but not the hellish trip… (to be continued)

Traveling light with my wheeled backpack: first impressions

It has been quite a long time since I last travelled abroad for business purposes. In the meantime, I made quite an extensive research on backpacks that can be used for short trips and I also did my research on how to pack (more) efficiently.

For a recent 2,5 days trip from Athens to Berlin (flying from Athens on Sunday afternoon and getting back home on Tuesday midnight), I decided to skip my typical cabin luggage and I instead opted for a more compact and wheeled backpack. It was a backpack that I “inherited” from my sister – I am still not sure how and when. On top of that, I am not sure about its brand and model, as it seems to be a “Turnip“-branded backpack (Highlander Continental 30), probably meant for company employees or as a gift to customers; who knows? I could not find any information on the Web about it.

Turnip_Highlander_backpack_closed

 

Main features

The specific backpack is not the most spacious cabin luggage available on the market, nor a really practical one: It has a main compartment with a padded pocket for laptops and a small, shallow zippered pocket in front of it, suitable for securely storing your wallet, passport/ID or anything valuable but small. In addition, it has three pretty small & shallow (apart from one) external pockets on its front (e.g. for cables, chargers and stationary), along with two side mesh pockets for e.g. a water bottle and an umbrella.

Turnip_Highlander_backpack_open

 

Due to its design, the backpack hardly stands on its own when fully packed, as it tends to lean in the front and fall. Its strong point though are its wheels; it is the only wheeled backpack I have, so I went for it, even though my aging Trust laptop backpack seems to be able to hold much more volume.

Capacity

All in all, I managed to pack my essentials for this business trip, which were:

1. An 11.6-inch tablet with a detachable keyboard
2. A pair of trousers
3. Two shirts, really carefully folded
4. 3 pairs of socks & underwear
5. My pajamas
6. The typical transparent plastic bag with all my liquids (toothpaste, perfume, foot balm, hand sanitizer) as this was a cabin luggage, and my electric toothbrush
7. Packs of gum, medicine, refreshing tissues
8. 2 chargers (for the tablet & the smartphone)
9. 10 x company leaflets of 10 pages each, about 20 pages of A4 sheets with printed material, as well as my thick paper notebook with pens, markers etc.
10. An external hard disk & a powerbank with their cables
11. A pair of gloves and my wooly cap (Berlin was expected to be chilly, -5 to 5 Celsius during my stay)

There was still some space to fit e.g. my slippers or a small bag, but since the backpack was already heavy enough (about 8 Kg, as weighted at the airport counter), I opted to keep it light. There is also the possibility of having to carry some additional stuff on the trip back home, so this space could prove valuable.

As soon as I reached my hotel room, I removed anything not related to the meeting, so that I would look professional enough 🙂 In any case, it was great being able to walk around without having to carry all this weight on my back & shoulders.

Impressions

What I liked:

  • Wheels: Grateful for being able to push and pull my luggage instead of having to carry it on my shoulders;
  • Enough capacity for a two-days business trip; if this was a casual weekend, I could squeeze even more stuff (or have more free space)
  • Various organizational options – not the best ones for organizing stuff my way, but still I appreciated the pockets available.
  • The main compartment opens quite wide, so I could easily organize my stuff inside (not exactly 180 degrees, but I could do the work)
  • Shoulder straps are well-padded and totally invisible when stored in their pocket at the back of the backpack.
  • The storage pocket of the straps can be used for storing thin items, too; I used this space mostly for storing the leaflets and my notepad.

What I did not like:

  • Hard to keep the backpack standing straight; it usually tends to lean to the front.
  • I would like a different layout; e.g. a way to keep things more organized in the main pocket and probably to keep personal items in a different compartment than the work/professional ones. In this trip, I was forced to use bags for separating clothes from other stuff;
  • It is rather narrow at the top, missing some extra storage space that could be used if needed;
  • When using the shoulder straps, their storage pocket stays open – which doesn’t look good;
  • It looks bulky and rather ugly, due to its external pockets which extend.

Conclusions

To sum up, it was a great way to put the weight down to the ground and pull it instead of carrying on my shoulders; at the same time, I would appreciate some more storage and a better organization of the available space. It may be more sporty than I would like so I would not want to be unfair – maybe I was not exactly using it the way it was meant to be used (i.e. not for business trips or for thorough organization of items)

I would definitely use the backpack again in the future, for similar short trips but I would also keep my eye on any alternatives I have.

Packing light for summer holidays

Packing less is great, but you always have to carry the essentials with you; especially when you spend some time away from home. You need to carefully plan your stay, think about the items that you will definitely need, add some of those that you may need and then start packing. The easiest way is packing more, but this is not really convenient – especially during summer holidays.

During the first part of our summer holidays, I packed my stuff in my compact messenger bag: My 10.1-inch tablet with its charger and the Logitech K480 keyboard, a couple of smartphones with their chargers, HDMI cable for plugging the tablet to the hotel room’s TV (it was the first time the TV was unlocked and the cable proved useful for keeping kids busy watching cartoons), a notepad & pencils, wallet, my sunglasses etc. However, I hardly had the opportunity to use the bulky keyboard and instead I used mostly my smartphones for consuming content (e.g. checking out social media, looking for information on places to visit, GPS navigation etc.) and producing as well (taking and editing photos, updating social media). I also found the bag heavy to carry around.

As a result, during the second part of our holidays, I decided to get rid of some stuff and be even more portable. I challenged myself to fit all my essentials in a really compact mens shoulder bag that was given to me as a gift some time ago but never had the opportunity to use it. It may sound impossible, but this little bag held the following during my holidays:

  • My Magic Wallet
  • A pocket notepad and a couple of pens
  • A pocket book (one of the biographies of Black Sabbath 😃 )
  • Home keys, car keys and hotel room keys with keyrings
  • Two smartphones and one charger
  • My sunglasses in their pouch
  • A compact flashlight (it always comes handy when away from home)
  • A nail clipper
  • Coins
  • Fresheners & gums
  • All the receipts collected during the vacations and a couple of folded A4 pages with map of the area and other notes.

It was so compact and light that I could easily carry it around by the pool, the beach and our evening walks – virtually all the time. Of course I did not have my 10.1-inch tablet nor its keyboard with me, but I would hardly have the opportunity to use them anyway, based on my experience and daily schedule. This meant that I stayed a little bit behind with blogging, reviewing the places we visited etc. but this would happen anyway, due to lack of time for that (and not due to the lack of the items themselves).

Test drive of Hare Kohu beach shader: Part 1

I recently got myself a Hare Kohu beach shader by Terra Nation, after our cheap beach umbrella broke. I went for a shader, as I liked the fact that our staff would be half-protected while we are swimming and that kids would find it fun to sit under the shade and play (compared to a typical beach umbrella).

The specific shader is easy to setup, provides plenty of space, is said to be of high quality and is lightweight. What more could I ask? I purchased one and spent some time at home, opening and closing it and I was amazed by its simplicity. Its material was thinner than I expected (more or less like a rain umbrella) so I don’t expect it to last for a long time; however, it may make up for it thanks to the fun of using it.

Today I had the opportunity to test it under real conditions, at a remote beach we visited during our summer holidays. It was really windy though, and the wind’s direction was opposite to the sun’s one, so the shader had to face the wind like the sails of a boat if we wanted to get some shade…

I  needed some help from my wife to open it; in fact, she needed to make sure that it will not fly with the wind when opened! After that, I used five of the pegs provided with the shader and had both windows opened, in order to allow the wind’s flow, and put all our stuff inside. Using one of the available cords with an additional peg did not improve things. We soon realized that the shader would not stay at its position unless an adult sat inside, so we had to swim in turns! In the end, we got so frustrated by the wind that we had to pack our things and go. I closed the shader by myself and it was easier than I expected, taking into consideration the strong wind.

Despite that, my first impressions from Hare Kohu were positive:

  • It was easy to set up, even under windy conditions;
  • It gave us plenty of space and shade for three persons – even 4, if squeezed;
  • Our stuff were protected (at least partially);
  • We appreciated the roof pockets, which allowed the easy storage of our e.g. sunglasses and smartphones, among others.
  • The shader was easy to carry around (thanks to its practical carry bag) and lightweight, equal to a beach umbrella (but more compact).

On the other hand, it was obvious that strong wind was an issue and I would also appreciate a slightly thicker material (the current one looks prone to tearing at some point soon, even when packed with all these parts of the shader’s skeleton pressing the fabric).

Overall, I find it a nice investment and I can only hope that it will be a durable one.

A challenging business trip to Ireland

I recently made a 3-days business trip to Ireland for a 2-day Conference. Due to a relatively recent operation I had, I decided to travel light, carrying only my backpack and a cabin-sized suitcase with only the basics. But this is a trip where things went wrong…

  1. During the flight to Dublin, I managed to stain my shirt (one of the three I had with me) with olive olive during the in-flight lunch. I tried to remove it with wet towels, hand refreshers and lots of soap and rinsing with water but didn’t succeed.
  2. I reached the hotel after about a long trip of 12 hours from Athens. As a result, I missed the interesting guided tour to the Kilkenny Castle, the Welcome Reception (drinks included) as well as a couple of interesting speeches.
  3. When I reached the hotel and started unpacking, I realized that the small dispenser with my dry-skin lotion was broken in the suitcase and left some stains on my second shirt – two shirts off before even the start of the Conference!
  4. My third shirt, which I had picked up from the dry cleaners just before the trip had some small coffee stains which had not been properly (and entirely) removed) – I only wish I had noticed that when I picked it up…
  5. The hotel had a maze-like arrangement (rather complex for newcomers) and some irregularities (e.g. Reception was on top of the 1st and 2nd floor!) so I got lost while heading to the reception. This resulted in me getting out of the building through an one-way security door (not opening from the outside) and I found myself in chilling cold, wearing only a shirt and having just left the steaming shower. That was a shock for me, but fortunately I didn’t catch a cold. No doors opened from outside, so I had to walk in the woods surrounding the hotel until I reached its main entrance.
  6. I left my smartphone to charge overnight using an EU to UK adapter but forgot that the UK power outlets have a small on-off switch. When I woke up in the morning, the smartphone’s battery was almost drained. It was a good thing I had my second device almost fully charged.
  7. On the way back to Athens, my flight from Dublin to London was delayed by more than 1 hour, so I was not sure if I will be able to catch my connecting flight to Athens. I tried to reach both Aer Lingus and British Airways through their social media (FB pages and Twitter) but I got no response. On top of that, power outlets in Dublin airport were out of order and I was running out of battery. Thank God for the free WiFi.
  8. When we landed in London, nobody knew if we had sufficient time to catch our flight to Athens. I was rushing so much that I missed the signs leading to the bus connecting Heathrow Terminal 2 with Terminal 5 and I had to walk much longer to catch the train. I was in a real shock.
  9. Fortunately our flight from London to Athens was also delayed, so I found myself boarding later on. Unfortunately It was delayed so much (more than 2 hours, if I recall well), that we reached Athens early morning (about 05.30) instead of 02.30.
  10. British Airways has turned into a low-cost airline and I was not aware of that. Instead of free beverages during the flight, we were handed a Marks & Spencer menu list and we had to pay for virtually anything that we needed – even for coffee and water. I feel sorry that I had opted for the BA flight instead of e.g. an Aegean one.
  11. The delayed flights along with the lack of proper sleep during the previous days, resulted in me sleeping abnormal times during the weekend, as I was really exhausted.

That’s the kind of stuff that you hate when traveling – especially for business purposes. No matter how well you prepare, things can easily go wrong. It’s a good thing that they’re not typical to most of my business trips, but some times, shot happens!

Traveling light: What I pack

I used to travel a lot for business purposes. And I mean a lot. And by traveling, I mostly refer to flying; I have used most of the airlines operating in EU (save the low cost ones) and have been through various hard circumstances during my trips; lost luggage, missed flights, traveled sick and unprepared for meetings etc.

A photo posted by Uçak Bileti (@ucakbileti) on Dec 27, 2015 at 11:39pm PST

 

One of the issues when traveling (especially when flying) is proper packing; it’s always nice to travel with only the minimum but you always need to ensure that everything needed will be packed and travel with you, being available when needed. Packing efficiently and light is crucial when flying with low cost airlines (or when the cost of checked luggage is not included so only hand/cabin luggage is an option), where every centimeter of the luggage and every gram counts.

So what are the most essential items that need to be included when packing and what could be avoided in order to save space?

  1. Gadgets: Since I am referring to business trips, a laptop, charger and all peripherals are essential. So apart from my laptop I usually need to take with me a mouse (to work more efficiently), headphones with mic (when Skype calls need to take place during the trip), my external hard disk (which hosts my >21GB email inbox, working files and movies if time allows). I also take a paper notepad and pens with me (to keep notes when using a laptop is not an option), a couple of USB flash disks for sharing files and my mirrorless Olympus E-PM1 camera with a spare battery and its charger. I also take my Philips MP3 player with me, which doubles as a USB flash drive if needed. During my last trips I replaced my 17- or 15-inch laptops with my 10.1-inch WinTab (a Windows tablet with a detachable keyboard); this allowed me to save space and weight while at the same time I managed to work really efficiently – even during the flight. It only takes a couple of cables (a microHDMI to HDMI for projecting to larger screens like hotel room TVs and a microUSB to USB one for making use of all tablet’s extension ports) to make up for the tablet’s limitations. In addition, if space and weight is an issue, I opt to leave my camera behind and use my Nokia Lumia 735 smartphone for taking photos; it never lets me down with its wide-angle Zeiss lens and 6,7MP sensor.
  2. Clothes: This is what takes the most of space and weight of a luggage. Depending on the length and type of the trip, a different number of outfits are needed. As a rule of thumb, at least one extra pair of trousers is needed (accidents happen), a couple of shirts and a smart combination between them (i.e. make sure that most of them match).Pyjamas, slippers, underwear (1 set per day plus one extra) and a casual outfit (e.g. jeans and a hoodie) are handy for free time/walks during trips with spare time included. An extra pair of shoes never hurt by the way, if space is not an issue. otherwise a comfortable pair will do the work for all days. In order to save space, I tend to wear jackets and suit (if needed) during the trip (it saves on wrinkles, too!) and leave all light clothes in the luggage.
  3. Toiletries: This is also tricky, especially in the case of cabin luggage only. In this case, all liquids need to be in <100mL containers, so I have to spare my Detol disinfectant spray (replaced by a small bottle of disinfectant) and my deodorant spray (replaced by a roll-on). Toothbrush & toothpaste, shower gel and shampoo come anyway in small containers; the latter are usually available in hotel rooms anyway but I take them with me just in case. A bottle of perfume is always needed and a nail clipper can always come handy.
  4. Other stuff: One of the things that I carry with me during business trips is a folder with printed material; this includes e.g. the agenda of the meeting/workshop/conference, related material that I need to go through during the trip, a notepad for taking notes, a map of the city I am visiting or the directions from the airport to the hotel, boarding passes and hotel vouchers etc. In some cases I need to carry a poster with me and since I want to have my hands free while traveling, I try to squeeze the poster box inside the luggage. Last but not least, I usually feel nice when using my own towels so I get a couple of them with me if space allows. Last but not least, I like to take my Klean Kanteen insulated water bottle with me; this allows me to keep hydrated throughout the trip days and avoid disposable plastic water bottles.

I like airports, even though they’re busy and noisy!

A photo posted by Vassilis (@vprot) on Sep 3, 2014 at 11:55am PDT

 

It is obvious that depending on the length and type of the trip (some trips are more formal than others), I try different combinations of stuff that I carry with me and the option of a checked luggage expands possibilities. In any case, I always try the pack the least I can so that I carry the least with me – traveling light is convenient!

Short trip to Brussels

…and I mean really short: arriving to Brussels at 15.00 on Monday 21/12 and leaving at 15.o0 on Tuesday 22//12 – but the customers insisted on this meeting and flight tickets and hotel were paid by them so I only had to prepare myself and spend two days away from home.

Preparation

I was thinking of packing only my hand /cabin luggage: it has plenty of space for a two days travel and fits in the requirements of most airlines. All clothes, snacks (for the munchies at the room) and liquids, along with a pretty large box – gift from the company to our customer went into this one. However, I also needed to pack my 15-inch laptop and charger for working with the client as well as my WinTab for working on the plane (it was a long flight). The laptop would not fit in my small laptop case, so I had to go for my casual backpack; it didn’t fit there either (in the padded compartment) so I had to use the main one, reducing the space available for other stuff. I ended up with the suitcase and a packed backpack but thanks to Turkish Airways I didn’t have any issue.

As there is no transportation at all towards the airport early in the morning, I had to arrange a taxi pickup at 05.00; I have found that Asteras Radio Taxi is a reliable and relatively cheap option – and there are plenty of them.

The trip

I was flying from Athens to Brussels through Istanbul, with Turkish Airlines. For less than 200 euros – it was even cheaper than Ryanair at the point we booked the tickets a few days before the trip. The trip was a long one; I woke up at 04.30, got prepared by 05.00 and got the taxi – for something like 15 euros to the airport. I am no longer a Golden Miles+Bonus member of Aegean, so I could not access the lounge – I went directly to the gate, which was boring and challenging; no power outlets and for some strange reason, I could not connect to the free WiFi of the airport using my Windows 10 devices (Lumia 735 and WinTab). I got bored.

The plane was full but I managed to find a space for my cabin luggage. I spent some time reading material about the customer’s organization and the work we have already done for them. After having a nice breakfast (but only consisting of fruits, crackers, jam and butter, among others – I thing Aegean has the best breakfast with hot pies/crepes etc.)  I started feeling tired. The flight was short and I soon found myself at the Ataturk Airport.

The Ataturk Airport is big and crowded but still you can find some quiet spots with power outlets so that you can work or watch movies; however, there is only a 15 min free wifi option, which is appropriate only for connecting, sending and receiving emails and maybe checking in on Foursquare. It is a good thing that I have learned how to work offline during my trips so I stayed productive during the long transit time. I did not find any free water sources but I enjoyed the multicultural travelers, raging from north Europeans to Mongol-like Asians, with their colorful outfits.

As soon as I got to Brussels airport, I found my way to the bus line 12 which would drop me off at Schuman station; however, the telematic screen was apparently misconfigured so I found myself at the previous station, something like 25 mins on foot from the hotel room. I didn’t feel like using metro for a couple of stations and I wanted to take a walk seeing a bit of Brussels so I walked to my hotel room. I managed to get there on time (about 30 mins before my meeting with the client), checked in, got  bit refreshed and got prepared for the meeting – managed to be there on time as well. The meeting was long, I got exhausted and needed some rest.

Life’s hard for the business traveler sometimes 🙂

 

Business trip with a tablet

I just returned from a two-day business trip. It was the first time as far as I remember that I traveled with a cabin luggage only and I had to make some room – starting with my laptop. Instead of taking my 17-inch (ouch!) work laptop from the office with me (too heavy) or my personal 15-inch from home (that was hardly an option, as both my wife and kids use it on a daily basis), I opted to take my 10.1-inch transformer with me.

Did it perform well? Well, I managed to finish my slides, keep up with my emails (using Mozilla Thunderbird on an external hard disk), browse and use social media, blog, check maps of the city and places to eat – all using just my tablet with its docked keyboard.

Could it be any better? Well, I had my micro-HDMI to HDMI cable with me, hoping that I could plug it in the flat TV available in my hotel room – unfortunately the TV did not have any HDMI ports. Apart from that I faced no performance issues with 4-5 browser tabs open, an external HD plugged in as well as a USB mouse and the charger at the same time.

Will I do it again in the future? Well, unless I get myself a 12/13-inch ultrabook, this will be my travel companion from now on. I may get myself a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse so that I can type faster and use the tablet from a distance while it is plugged in a larger monitor. No need for carrying around a much heavier 15-inch laptop or an even heavier 17-inch one – I have done that in the past and it did not work well while commuting with a backpack full of papers, books/notepads, cables etc.

My 5 days in Budapest

This year we decided to spend the New Year’s holidays in Budapest, instead of staying at home. Both tickets and hotel room were booked back in August, so the prices were appealing and not too high for such trip.

Period of reference: 29/12/2013-3/1/2014.

Team consisting of me, my wife and our 4 year old son.

My last time in Budapest was back in September 2010, but it was for business purposes so I did not get to see much things.

Why Budapest?

  • It is a traditional city, with an intense medieval character at the center of Europe,
  • it is said to be cheap (at least compared to other destinations),
  • it is said to be really festive during Christmas holidays
  • there is a direct flight from Athens,
  • we found really cheap flights during the summer (for the Christmas holidays)

Why NOT Budapest?

  • It is cold and humid during the winter, especially for a 4-year old kid
  • Use of English is limited in public places (e.g. metro stations, public means of transportation, even shops)
  • The use of the local currency means that one will lose some money during conversions (e.g. cash conversion, credit/debit card)
  • It is not as cheap as it used to be; prices for goods like food, shoes/clothes and other stuff are now comparable (if not more expensive) to the Greek ones!
  • There’s no metro connecting the airport with the city, so you either have to commute using more than one mean or to use a taxi.

The hotel:

  • We had various issues with our debit cards during the pre-authorization. We finally managed to have one of them working. It was probably not the hotel’s fault, but the communication was rather problematic as they never responded in our requests to find an alternative way of payment.
  • We arrived at the hotel at 10.30 but the check in was at 15.00 (rather late, but it was the policy of the hotel). There was no way to speed things up, so we had to leave our luggage at the hotel, take a short/long walk around, had something to eat before we we returned to the hotel and almost fell asleep while waiting for our check in.
  • The hotel’s spa, swimming pool and wellness facilities are actually shared with guests and people actually using the gym etc. In fact it is a rather crowded facility, to which we also had access.
  • The apartment was indeed big and included a fully-equipped kitchen, a sofa, a large LCD TV and lots of storage spaces. The bathroom was innovated, clean and bright, featuring both a shower and a bathtub; however, it lacked any window or mean of ventilation… a bowl full of fruits was available and well-appreciated.
  • Not too many bathroom amenities; just two bars of soap, an antibacterial gel and shower gel/shampoo in a dispenser. I missed anything with the hotel’s logo on it.
  • The apartment smelled badly; it had something to do with the bathroom and despite the use of an air-freshener, the smell was obvious
  • The room was cleaned daily and a broken lamp was immediately fixed without us asking the reception (apparently the previous guest informed the reception about that)

The city:

We had the opportunity to do a little sightseeing, as our son was getting tired and bored easily, he had to be at bed at about 14.00 and 23.00 respectively, he does not like to eat outside (e.g. fast-food, restaurants etc.), he was getting cold etc. On top of that, he didn’t like us to take photos so we had to trick him. The weather was cold and cloudy (as expected) but at least it did not rain during our stay, so we could take some short walks.  We visited the central market, Vaci utca (the most visited street of Budapest) and the green bridge. That was all. We planned to take the Children’s railway (Gyermekvasút) but it looked hard to reach any of the stations…our son would love that but we had to skip that. We mainly used the blue metro line, as there was one metro station close to our apartment and the city center was only 3 stops away.

The shops:

We had our first lunch at the local KFC, which were rather close to our hotel. I really liked the food but my wife and son didn’t. We also tried McDonald’s and had dinner at two more formal restaurants. The food was nice, goulash soup was lovely but the prices were rather high – higher than the ones some years ago. One planned dinner at For Sale pub was cancelled due to a problem with our reservation and I was advised not to visit my favorite Fatal restaurant for various reasons.

The central market was crowded and provided us with the opportunity to buy some souvenirs for family and friends; however, the prices were not lower than the ones in the shops, even at Vaci utca, which is considered as a tourist place. We got some sweet paprika, cups and toys for the kids.

Trivia:

  • On Sunday evening we had a meeting for dinner with other Greeks at the Calvin metro station, which was only 10 mins by metro from our station. We went to get the metro tickets but the booth was closed (as expected). The automatic ticket machine outside the station did not accept bills (we only had 500 and 1000 HUF banknotes) and after we made some change by buying stuff at the nearby grocery, the ticket machine proved to be out of order. There was no way for us to buy tickets at this point so we started walking. It took us about 30 mins to reach the Calvin metro station and our son froze in the meantime!
  • Prices were rather high in general; in restaurants we paid about 15 euros per person for a main dish and a shared desert, while prices for clothes, shoes etc. were usually higher than in Athens!
  • The best way for buying local currency is to wait until you reach Vaci utca or other commercial streets of Budapest, which are full of exchange shops. The exchange rate is much better than the one provided by banks or at the airport. You can even pay the taxi with a credit card, so you do not need any HUF before reaching your hotel.
  • As regards taxi, the safest option is Fotaxi, the official company associated with the Budapest airport; they are legitimate and you even get a voucher with an approximate amount of payment, based on the place of your destination (which in our case was almost 100% correct). It takes about 20-25 euros from the airport to the city center and the taxi drivers are really kind.
  • The use of credit/debit cards is really common in Budapest and might be the best option of paying while shopping, eating out and booking tickets. You only have to check with your bank if additional fees apply; in my case, I had one debit card which had additional fees for paying in currency other than EUR, so I opted for another one which was only charging the currency rate based on the Visa one.