Italy Is Smoke Free

See the no smoking signs across Italy.

I just returned from a business trip to Italy to find that Italian bars, restaurants and airports are now smoke free. This is great news for those of us who don’t want to light up cigarettes as soon as we land in the country. But, honestly, Italy doesn’t smell the same any more and it’s kind of strange. Lovely, but strange.

Time To Sleep

My body’s capacity to survive on three or four hours of sleep a night never fails to astound me.

I am back from my weekend in Spain. My body’s capacity to survive on three or four hours of sleep a night never fails to astound me. My body’s capacity to flake out at that point and render me incapable of anything for another seven days also amazes me. So I should start sleeping now …

Somewhere, Someday, Somebody, Somehow

Writing with a pen and paper at 37,000 feet instead of on the array of digital gadgetry that surrounds me is quite liberating.

By the wonders of modern man I am writing these words on board a plane – BA794 to Helsinki for all you plane spotters – using a pen and a page in my work diary (the pen is PaperMate and the page is for the 4th April and, yes, I know it’s not 4th). I will, I imagine, be transcribing it later this evening in a hotel in Helsinki.

Amusingly, here at 37,00 feet on an Airbus A320, I have an array of digital equipment sat under the seat in front of me. A laptop: too big to open and anyway the battery is nearly dead as I used it with a wifi hotspot in the terminal. My ‘phone/PDA: it really doesn’t look good opening a ‘phone on a plane as there’s a tendency for other passengers to think you’re switching it on. Besides, the built-in keyboard is useless for this kind of lengthy writing. I also have my MP3 player and a camera but neither of them are much use for writing on. So I sit, with a trusty old pen, scribbling something I will later type. I assume, if you’re reading this, that I have actually typed it up.

I also have a small jungle of cables with me. Chargers and connectors to allow all the various devices to communicate. In fact, I think they are taking a disproportionate amount of luggage space. Everything has to be charged: the ‘phone, the mp3 and the camera. Nothing seems to work on a trusty pair of AAs anymore. I am not sure why this is but it’s as frustrating as hell.

So, I have to ask myself why I bother with all this gadgetry? Is any of it going to make my life any easier? Sadly, I don’t think it will and – to be honest – it’s not much fun anymore. I just want items that make travelling easier and I don’t have the money for a private jet. Has anybody solved this conundrum?

I do have a love of this kind of technology: I know that I am one of the people who believe it has the power to liberate but, frankly, right now all the competing vendors are not getting it correct and I am not sure why. Somewhere, someday, somebody will get it right. I only hope that I have a hand in it – somehow.

Where Was I?

Where are we this week children? That’s right, we are in Norway.

I’ve just come back from a couple of days in Oslo. The meeting was good and I spent the afternoon on the waterfront, drinking beer, and proofing some new documentation. Good way to spend a Friday!

A Familiar City

I was a student in Stirling and regularly spent time in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. I find it hard to be one of those people who can firmly sit on one side of Central Region and declare undying loyalty to one city or the other.

I was a student in Stirling and regularly spent time in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. I find it hard to be one of those people who can firmly sit on one side of Central Region and declare undying loyalty to one city or the other. During the time I spent in Scotland, Glasgow was City of Culture and was a vibrant place to be. On the other hand, Edinburgh has always appeared to be the calmer brother, perhaps a little aloof until you go to know him. My own brother lives in Edinburgh which perhaps explains why, when I do head back to Scotland, I’ve only ever been back to Edinburgh (and one, short weekend in Stirling).

It’s been with much joy that I have spent most of yesterday and today in Edinburgh on business (actually, I was in Dundee this morning but it still counts). As soon as I stepped of the train I felt like I was home on familiar turf. A few moments and memories started flooding back. Edinburgh of my memory, however, doesn’t have any Starbucks and had a big branch of C&A right at the top of Princess Street by the station. Now it has Starbucks and no C&A but it still felt right (and slightly chilly). It continues to have sensible licensing laws that allow me to drink later without tempting me to stay up all night (although, frankly, I am not sure you can call licensing laws sensible when you get the hangover I had).

The Madness Of Business Travel

image from my hotel window with a view of the stage in the car park next door you can not see the loud musicIt’s taken hours and hours to get to Sardinia. I’m here for a two hour meeting tomorrow morning before I take the plane home. I am in a reasonably nice hotel but right now I really wish it had a pool as it’s so hot. There’s also some kind of concert that is taking place just outside my hotel window – you can see the stage on this picture. They are rehearsing right now and the walls are shaking. I am hoping that it doesn’t go on into the night.

UPDATE: 21 JULY – By the time I got back from the excellent meal with the customer and some other interesting folks the music had stopped.

Memories Of A May Afternoon

It certainly doesn’t seem like twelve months since I was sitting in Helsinki for the first time and listening to an afternoon, outdoor Jazz concert. It wasn’t what I expected of that city at all. And it looks like we may be doing more business in that part of the world over the rest of the year. I hope so.

Helskink Jazz
Sunshine & Jazz

I know y’all won’t care but I’ve said before that the primary reason for the existence of this site is for me and as a kind of diary/journal. The fact it is online is probably the incentive that makes me keep it up. The fact that you occasionally comment makes it feel more worthwhile. Ever since I introduced the ‘on this day’ link against relevant entries on the homepage I’ve found a great memory jogger. I end up re-reading entries from this day last year – or the year before. It certainly doesn’t seem like twelve months since I was sitting in Helsinki for the first time and listening to an afternoon, outdoor Jazz concert. It wasn’t what I expected of that city at all. And it looks like we may be doing more business in that part of the world over the rest of the year. I hope so.

Thursday In Milan

Flying into Milan yesterday I watched as the plane flew over the channel and across the French borders.

view of france from the planeFlying into Milan yesterday I watched as the plane flew over the channel and across the French borders. I have never noticed how beautiful the French countryside is from above, a big patchwork of browns and greens stretching before you. It was a lovely clear sky and thus I could see for miles. It really was a beautiful sight.

milan hotel barArriving in Milan and a 40 minute train ride into the centre of town I made my way to the Windsor Hotel – which was very nice and, despite its name, not very British. I spent most of the evening in the bar with one of the sales guys from our Italian office. Usually, these trips are pretty lonely as I arrive late and am holed up in a hotel room until it’s time to get up and make a meeting, taxi or office. This was nice but I still managed to get to bed at a decent time last night to make this morning’s meeting.

Traveling from Central London to Heathrow Airport

Off to Rome again.

Heathrow Airport

This is a note to myself. I must remember that for a journey from Central London (in my case Piccadilly Circus) to Heathrow you should allow a good 45 minutes. Heathrow is in Zone 6 which means I need a extension to my travel pass for that (thank goodness for Oyster as the pre-pay option which means you don’t have to think about buying a ticket while you are rushing for a train). The Piccadilly Line was quite a pleasant journey.

Reflections on Florida

Having enjoyed Florida so much, I wonder how many more times I will go back.

I am back in London now and am missing Florida. The last week has been very different from many holidays that I have taken before because it was so packed with things to do. I tend to prefer the kind of holiday that allows you to relax rather than filling the days with more effort than would usually be required to go to the office. Orlando was, however, very different. Although the days were filled it was thoroughly enjoyable and felt like no effort whatsoever. I really have found a new love of roller coasters and it’s awoken a child-like interest in the theme parks. I think the enjoyment of the theme parks was the element I was most surprised about. Perhaps all these years of believing I wouldn’t enjoy them meant I found them all the more entertaining. Of course there was the added fun of there being six people to holiday with. It’s a time that I won’t forget easily.

What also struck me was that the ‘have a nice day’ mentality/philosophy which I often find saccharine and insincere in other American cities was so right in Florida that it made me readdress my thoughts on that whole approach to life. It adds to the whole experience and really does go to prove that just being nice to others can help make somebody else’s day all the brighter.

So, please, have a nice day and any suggestions of alternative American locations for a holiday would be most welcome.

The Florida Adventure Continues

This holiday just gets better and better. We’re at Universal Studios Florida right now.

Today is our last day in Florida. On Saturday PY and I left the villa for the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Studios, Florida.

I thought Epcot and Busch were good but this has been fantastic. Jaws, Earthquake and Back to the Future at Universal Studios were fantastic (Terminator and Men In Black not so great). In particular I have to say how much I enjoyed the Jaws ride which is entirely made by the actors who are the guides on your boat tour and they really do make it fantastic.

Islands of Adventure has also been wonderful. Given my new found love of roller coasters I have ridden the Hulk and Dueling Dragons several times and I can heartedly recommend to them. The most amazing ride, however, isn’t an actual roller coaster. The spiderman ride mixes and indoor ride with projected 3D imagery to create the most superb ride I have been on while here in Florida. I am thankful that we were staying at a Universal hotel as the hotel keycard is good as a Fastpass as many times as you want so we’ve done Spiderman a number of times. If you go to Universal Islands of Adventure than don’t, under any circumstances, miss it.

And we managed to see the Black Eyed Peas at Universal Studios Mardi Gras on Saturday – which was a fun bonus to the whole adventure.

A Florida Friday

Ever since I was a child I’ve tended to avoid roller coasters because I was a little scared. Now I am addicted.

my photo of epcotIt’s Friday when I am writing this but I am not sure when I am going to get round to publishing these entries from Florida. I am on the verge of applying for a green card so that I can stay here in the sunshine and ride roller coasters all day.

Wednesday was Epcot day. It was the first Florida theme park that I have ever been to and it was amazing. Last Tuesday evening we went to eat in Downtown Disney. As we drove past the large Disney World signs PY was grinning uncontrollably. He has been here several times before and was excited to be back. After twelve years together I have to admit that I have never seen him like that – it was a fantastic experience. Oddly, by the time we drove under the same sign on Wednesday morning on our way to Epcot I was – similarly – grinning. We made our way to Test Track and got our Fastpass before seeing Ellen’s piece on energy (which is a little simplistic and to be seen in the context of being sponsored by an oil company). We then went round several of the other experiences which I won’t list here as there are many good guides to them.

Eventually it was our time for Test Track but it kept breaking down and we waited an hour to ride (the non-Fastpass queue was three hours by this point). This is where I admit I have never been any good at rides, roller coasters and fairgrounds. I get nervous so tend to stay away. Anyway, after all the wait I was very apprehensive about riding Test Track only to be a little disappointed. The screams that you hear as people hurtle around the side of the building do lead you to think you are going on the ultimate thrill but it’s really just an amusing diversion.

Then I went to ride Mission Space (which PY wouldn’t ride because it, apparently, spins you round to generate the weightless experience and he isn’t any good at those kind of rides). The built up to this ride is incredible (all the warnings about motions sickness managed to put two of our crew members off at the very last minute so there were only two of us in the pod). It was great but it wasn’t fantastic and it was over very quickly. And that’s when I realised where the fear comes from. It’s the clever build ups and staging. The rides themselves seem quite tame to me.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Epcot rides were great. World Showcase is fun; a lot of imagination has gone into the park and the fireworks impressive. It’s a great day out and it’s the place I overcame my fear of these rides.

So by yesterday when we went to Busch Gardens I was happier to ride the roller coasters. And I did – even the one where your feet hang down. And I would ride them again and again. I’ve discovered that I am thoroughly enjoying the rush of riding. It’s not something I had expected to get out of this trip but I have now uncovered a whole new world and I fear I’ll become addicted.

Go now and ride them all.

Paying A Quick Visit

Nineteen hours and a visit to one of the most beautiful cities in Italy and I saw modern transportation, dull office blocks and not much else.

So, what was it about Thursday that made me so tired? Well, I spent the day in Milan. You’ll no doubt have been able to tell that I travel for work occasionally. This, however, was an extreme trip. I rose at 4am and took a taxi to Heathrow. Then I boarded an Alitalia flight to Milan where I was met by the people I work with in Italy. In turn, they drove me to an office for a meeting. The meeting lasted until around 3pm when we went for a quick bite in a local cafe (all the Milan restaurants having shut after the lunchtime rush). After an hour in another office block outside the city I took the train back to a different airport to fly back to London. Eventually, after a Heathrow Express, London Underground and South West Trains journey across the city (which took almost as long as the time I was in the air returning from Milan) I walked back through my front door.

Nineteen hours and a visit to one of the most beautiful cities in Italy and I saw modern transportation, dull office blocks and not much else. I tried to capture the spirit of the day in some pictures that I took with the ‘phone camera. They’re not great and the won’t show you any of Milan’s fabulous architecture. They will show you most of what I saw. I promise myself that one day I will spend some decent holiday time in some of these cities.

Coming with me next time?

Dawn Traders

At 5am there was queues at bus stops that must have had ten or more people in some of them. There were many more twenty-four hour shops than I had imagined (why isn’t there one near me?) and plenty of road sweepers and street cleaners – people generally keeping the city going for the rest of us that usually awake later in the morning.

Yesterday, I rose at 4am and took a taxi to London’s Heathrow Airport. This is not an uncommon thing for me to have to do. However, I imagine that I must have been a little more awake than usual as I started to pay attention to a great deal more than normal as I was driven out to the airport.

At 5am London’s streets are far from deserted. In Shrewsbury, one of the places where I grew up, I am pretty certain it would have passed for a busy morning but for London it was quiet. People were walking all around the place. At 5am there was queues at bus stops that must have had ten or more people in some of them. There were many more twenty-four hour shops than I had imagined (why isn’t there one near me?) and plenty of road sweepers and street cleaners – people generally keeping the city going for the rest of us that usually awake later in the morning.

I worked a milk round when I was younger. I am used to people being up and around in the still hours before most people awake. This, however, was different. It was busy and, in places, bustling. It was not remarkable to see a few people in the streets but it was very startling to see so many people around.

When you walk home late at night and the buildings remain lit you imagine that, just like you are about to do, they will soon be settled in a dark sleep. Yet, as we sped through West London, I was struck by the number of buildings that contained offices or shops with all their lights blazing. Many of these were shut but were fully lit as though some invisible nocturnal customers were going about their shopping. Offices were lit as though an army of night-time workers were sat, invisibly, at terminals turning the wheels of trade. When you walk home late at night this seems normal yet, in the early hours of the morning before dawn, it seems eerie.

Most unusually there was a market stall selling, I think, fruit and vegetables. It was open and lit on one of the main roads heading westwards. I can not imagine there was sufficient trade but the stall was stocked, well lit and ready for the odd customer that would pass. Who is the strange stall-holder who works the dark hours sat by the street waiting for customers to buy his fruits? Shouldn’t he have been at New Covent Garden collecting his goods at that time, not sat on a cold A-road with no passing trade?

Then there was the man who pastes the new advertising billboards. At 5.15am he was on top of his ladder with a bucket of sticky stuff gluing a new poster for the morning commuters to see on their way into the City. I had always imagined these were changed in the mid-afternoon not in the middle of the night. It must have been far too cold to be doing that job.

There is a whole world that I am not familiar with. It’s really quite strange to come face-to-face with a city you do not recognise.

Helsinki Snow

I am travelling again on business and, yet again, I have found myself in Helsinki. This time it is like a picture postcard – the snowy streets illuminated by the soft glow from a street lamp. It’s lovely but I have to admit that it is cold! We landed with snow on the ground and snow in the air, temperature was already below freezing when we landed at 9pm last night.

 

I am travelling again on business and, yet again, I have found myself in Helsinki. This time it is like a picture postcard – the snowy streets illuminated by the soft glow from a street lamp. It’s lovely but I have to admit that it is cold! We landed with snow on the ground and snow in the air, temperature was already below freezing when we landed at 9pm last night.

I didn’t get much of a say in the hotel for this trip as it appears there were few room available. So, I stayed in a good hotel in a decent sized deluxe room. It appears there was a fashionable bar in the hotel and I got use of a separate lounge with, what I imagine, is a great view of the city (when it’s not dark). The downside is no wireless Internet – which is quite unusual for this part of the world.

I really like the people of Finland, especially Helsinki. They are always friendly and welcoming; everything seems so clean and efficient – although I am sure that there are natives that would dispute that. For a city with 560,000 people there does seem to be quite a bit of space – which is great and makes for large areas of clean, unbroken snow. Interestingly, 10 per cent of the country is water (which seems a lot) but I imagine that a great deal of it is ice right now.
The streets were snowy and many of the back roads had compact snow but the driver’s were oblivious to the skidding. The pathways were also, often, ungritted but people just walked along without a care – which made my carefully placed steps look silly.

Finland declared independance in 1917 but became and member of the European Union in 1995 and has adopted the Euro which makes transactions easy for me as I have always have a stock of Euro coins that I need to use up from my various visits. I really must remember that I need to come here for a holiday and explore it a little more. I will, of course, have to save as this is not a cheap country!