Starting the Week on an Adventure
Last week marked the first time in 22 years I've been outside of the US on a flight (technically right after we came to the US, we did a day trip to Montreal, but that doesn't count, I mean it's Canada after all). I was given the opportunity to visit our headquarters in Belgium for a Christmas Party they throw every year. On top of that, I was able to meet with my counterpart and go over some things we needed to address for the new year. Also we had a meeting about current products and newer products as well as have the ability to use the products and become familiar with them.
Before this trip I was filled with lots of anxiety and wasn't sure how I would feel about going some place so far away from my family. I've been to other places in the US, but this was to Europe, which I had never even been to before. I talked about how I felt with some friends and how going to Amsterdam alone was scaring the he'll out of me, but I needed to suck it up and make the trip for myself. A lot of what I feared wasn't an issue after I arrived and I feel much better about traveling. It's something I've been trying to be better with over the years and I think this trip finally helped me get over that hump that was preventing me from enjoying myself when I travel.
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Why in the he'll do I have to come into work for an hour and a half before jetting off to the airport? I should be allowed some time to relax before having to sit on a plane for 9 hours with a 5 hours layover. But I don't complain at work, only to family and friends. I should have never gone to work. When I arrived our reports that generate twice a day didn't arrive. I go and check the server and two out of five drives have failed. The two drives that fail are the operating system drives and we don't have a backup. Fuck. I meet with my manager and let him know the story. We call the former IT manager from Belgium and speak with him about the situation. We can only order new drives (at $300+ a piece) and wait until they arrive before we can do damage control. Already, my trip is off to a wonderful start.
It approaches 10am and I need to get moving to the airport because I had being late when traveling to the he'll that is Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. When I arrive, I figured I was late, but I was actually the first one to arrive at the gate out of three that we're on the flight. So I sit around browsing random things on my phone, make a few last minute phone calls to family and look around for my coworkers. Eventually I forgot that I didn't download my take off song. A take off song is what you listen to when you take off in a plane, now, it's after 10k feet obviously, wink wink nudge nudge, as to not break any rules. My take off song is Orbital's Halcyon + On + On. In years past I've used the Live version with Bon Jovi and Belinda Carlisle mixed in at the end. I tried purchasing and downloading the song off Amazon MP3, but I was unsuccessful. I frantically called my brother in law and had him download and email the song to me. Eventually I see one of my coworkers while wandering around the group gathered near the gate to bum rush the jet way. While talking the CEO finally arrives and we talk for a little bit before she heads off to board the plane. I was in Zone 2, which is basically the Zone where you get zero overhead space. I ended up being in a middle seat on a 767 and had to store my carry on under the seat in front of me. I sit down and check my mail and my brother in law has come through with the song and I download it for use later. The flight there was pretty uneventful, but the jerk in front of me didn't waste a second when the pilot said we could use our electronics and put our seat back. Poor me stuck in between two guys and with zero leg room. Thanks woman.
We land at JFK and we're greeted to wonderful news that the jet way is busted and we have to unload on people movers. I have never once been on one of these and it takes two of them almost an hour to move the whole plane. I lucked out and got the very last spot on the first people mover. After that the CEO was off to Amsterdam for an earlier flight intoBrussels. We had a five hour layover, now down to four thanks to the people mover ride. We ended up eating at the Chili's right by where we we're dropped off in Terminal 3. At this point I'm still trying my hardest to stay on my diet, there's more to this later. We find out what gate we're at and head to it to charge our phones and relax before our flight. While waiting, I kept noticing how there was nobody waiting with us. I figured it was a bit strange that a flight to Belgium was not close to being full. Eventually I say it out loud and my coworker goes and asks for more details. We we're not even close to the gate we needed to be at. We eventually made a long walk to our real gate and there was plenty of people waiting around. A full flight, overnight, to Belgium.
I was lucky and got a bulkhead seat with plenty of leg room. Our plane was also a new 767 with the new first class lay down seats. Very fancy. An hour in we get our dinner for the flight and I still try to be good and eat no carbs. I try to sleep since it's an overnight flight but being so close to first class I keep getting woken up by flight attendants going up there. Even with the lights turned out I can't get any sleep. I try to watch some Doctor Who episodes to get caught up but I only get through two. More sleep, I mean, trying to sleep. Eventually we land in Brussels and we gather our checked bags and make it through customs without any issues. It's cold in Belgium, 30F/0C and my jacket I bought last year was the best idea ever. Going out of the airport the first thing I notice is the amount of smokers. WOW. Our driver takes us to the office so we can then go to the hotel. I noticed a lot of graffiti on the trip over, way more than I've seen in the US. The headquarters looks just like I've seen in pictures with the pyramid and two windmills overshadowing the buildings. At this point, I'm getting delirious and trying to maintain my sanity. And it's Wednesday morning now.
We wait around for a ride back to the hotel, which is about 15 minutes away, and get a little time to freshen up, put our bags down and change into something nicer. I'd like to point out we we're actually at a FOUR STAR Best Western in Europe. In the US these are barely one star places. I wanted to stay in the attire I was already since I hate wearing suits, but I had a suit and four shirts because I didn't care if anyone noticed that I had only one suit.We had to be back at 1PM for lunch. Now, lunch over there for the next three days consisted of a few things: bread, sliced deli meats, bread, cheese, bread, seafood salads, bread, and raw horse meat. Oh and curried chicken. And bread. I try to avoid all the breads and eat everything else. My first lunch I was wanting everything that was on the table in America. The cheeses we're so delicious and I felt that we as Americans don't eat enough GOOD breads and cheese. At this point I was so tired I was staring at the windmills while zoning out of the conversations at hand. I eventually left to go to a meeting. Around 5PM I try to find my coworkers and see what time we're leaving. We we're waiting on our HR manager to finish a meeting and I decided to just go back to the hotel with a couple other people. Oh yes, lots of people in Europe drive manual cars, I loved it. I want one. Anyway, I decided to skip dinner with everyone and go straight to bed. Good idea. Zero dinner, all sleep.
I wake up and get ready and make my way down for breakfast. I couldn't believe what they had for breakfast at this hotel. Fuck you Holiday Inn, this is how you do a breakfast. I'm talking sliced meats and cheese, SMOKED SALMON, assortment of breads with spreads, boiled eggs, sausage (which was basically a hotdog), juices, powdered scrambled eggs, bacon and cereal. Amazing breakfast every day. I was able to stick to my diet with these foods. Thursday at the office was mostly meetings on products and the future of the company with some product demos where we created our own items to show us how the products work. It was a very interesting day with the demos, not the presentations. Also, more breads at lunch.
After the work day was concluded, we all went to Bornem for drinks before dinner. Now, Bornem is a small village but looks great. I loved that the beers we ordered we're served in the glass specific to them that allows you the full taste of the beer. It snowed for half a second, and rained the rest. We walked over to the italian place and had a few more drinks with dinner. Now, they started off withappetizersthat we're PIZZA. After turning down 3 of them, I had to cave in and have some bread (pizza).
I felt bad about this, but in the end I justified it because I was on vacation and well outside my zip code (kind of like that cheating rule, but I don't cheat on girlfriends, only diets). Dinner was veal and rack of lamb and some other things, but the important thing was the veal. HOLY HELL. Amazing. We we're there for a couple of hours before heading back to the hotel.
Same routine as the previous day. Breakfast actually contained some bread on my part. Now my coworker said something that is very true. That breads in Europe weren't as sugary as their American counterparts and thus didn't cause him heartburn. Bread = Good. Diet = Bad.
I didn't have any real meetings on Friday, so back to the IT department to go over a couple of things and do a little bit of training. Lunch was bread again. And then back to the IT department to follow up on some emails dealing with things back in the office back home. You know, the dead server and a couple other items. We ended up leaving early to get ready for the Christmas Party. It's raining today and of course we have no idea where the party is located. We figured it's in the fort down this long drive way. Yup, wrong. We walked all the way down and found out the gates we're closed and had to turn back around. We didn't even pay attention to anyone walking to the building across the street. Luckily my jacket is also water proof, so I was ok with this, but some in our group we're pretty mad about the situation. The party itself was nice, but I felt a bit over dressed since it was at a different venue from years past and they relaxed the dress code. In the end we left an hour earlier than we had planned do to some unforeseen issues that arose and by 1AM, I was in bed and fast asleep having to get up at 6AM to travel around.
I wake up at 7:27AM in a panic. I was told that we we're leaving at 7:30AM and I hadn't even showered. I jumped out of bed, threw my laptop in it's bag and tried to hide clothes over it and then threw on some clothes, put on my jacket and swished around some mouthwash. I got downstairs hoping there was someone there waiting for me and when I arrived in the breakfast area, I was told I could go back upstairs and get ready. I instead decided it would be better to eat some food and skip that noise. We didn't get on the road until 8:00AM and I'm very glad we didn't decide to go to Cologne, Germany since we would have NEVER made it before it was packed with people. We got in the car and swung around to visit the town center of Sint-Niklaas to see what everything looked like since we we're staying in the town but hadn't ventured out to see everything. After a quick drive through we we're on our way to Aachen, Germany to visit their Christmas Market that would be less crowded than Cologne. We decided to drive up towards Antwerp and then over and it was a good thing we did. There was some construction and traffic was backed up for many kilometers into Antwerp. We decided because of this we would travel south and cut across back to Antwerp on our return trip back.
A very interesting thing happened when we first pulled into Aachen. We we're a bit unsure of where to park and we followed these signs that pointed towards parking areas and decks. I will say this, Germany does it right when it comes to parking areas. They signs point you to the deck/lot and they have a digital sign that updates you on how many space are open in that area, so people aren't flooding certain parking areas. We lucked out and got one VERY close to the market. We ended up backing into this spot since the decks in Europe are MUCH smaller than in the US. I get out of the car to assist since we're backing into a spot next to a pillar. I'm telling the driver how to do this and that and so he ends up stopping and I think he's done backing up and I get distracted by someone to my right saying something in German and before I know it, I hear the sound of glass breaking. Oops.
Yup. A tiny bit of pressure in the corner against an electric car charging box shattered the window. There wasn't any point in dwelling about what happened so we go on to enjoy the market. All the pictures before this are from that time. We visit the church and walk around the marketing. We all bought something there to bring back home to our family. After about 1PM or so we headed out on our way back to Antwerp. It wasn't that bad of a ride back with a busted back window. There wasn't as much breeze as I was expecting. Our only concern at that point was rain, but we figured we'd grab plastic bags and tape when we got back to the hotel and patch things up like how we do in the US.
I should mention on the way to Aachen, we had to pass through a small part of the Netherlands/Holland. We we're originally planning on visitingMaastricht, but ended up not going because of our time constraint. We made out way back using some backroads and eventually made it into Antwerp around 3PM. We got a little lost while going into the city and didn't end up where our driver originally intended, but we ended up close to the train station, which is amazing looking and I don't have a picture of it for some reason. We end up in a parking deck below the street and it's even smaller than the one in Germany. We decide to take a walk from the train station to the Scheldt River, which was about 40 minutes away. I now understand how people can eat so much crap and not gain a pound in European cities. Lots of walking. So we head down a street and it's not the best street in the world, but we stumble upon a record shop and I purchase a BT double single album of Remember remixes. I'm happen to have gotten away with that for only 11.50, but no Opeth this trip. We continue and end up in the church the CEO was married in. The pictures didn't turn out that great. We eventually made it to the Htel De Ville and the Guildhouses. With the Christmas Market it was absolutely wonderful looking. I took many photos of this place.
We walk around and I get to finally try Glhwein, which is basically warm/hot wine. It was very sugary and I wasn't really enjoying it, but got through almost all of it. We made out was to the Scheldt river and came back to eat at Rooden Hoed. Themusselswere fantastic. Funny story about this place. We walked in around 5PM and we we're asked if we had a reservation, granted the place is empty, and the hostess turns to a waiter and asks, "Do we have any free tables?" Empty, both floors, no one. And we then get seated next to the bathroom. We eat and chat and when we leave there still isn't enough people to warrant even asking that question. I will add two things. In Germany we had to pay 0.30-0.50 to use the bathroom. I got away with it once for free, but my coworkers weren't as lucky. In Antwerp the bathroom in therestaurantwas basically both bathrooms together. Men to the left and Women to the right. You could see the men using the urinals from just walking in. It was jarring to me, but the other guy I was with said he was using the bathroom once and a woman just walked up and started washing her hands next to him. Europe, huh?
At this point we we're needing to get back to the hotel and meet up with some people to get some gelato (YAY GELATO!). We have to make a few stops for our driver so he could get some things for his wife, but we pass on it and end up going down the main shopping street and got lost near the train station. So we end up being a little late, wrong. We try to find out way our of Antwerp using an iPad and we get stuck in traffic next to the river. People we're waiting and not moving in traffic to get into Antwerp. In one section it didn't move for 10 minutes. They we're just sitting there waiting to park to go drink. I don't know why people didn't take the train. We get back to mall across the street from our hotel just before it closes and they pick up some trash bags, but no tape. These bags are super small, nothing like the 30 gal ones we have over in the states. We get back to the hotel and I go upstairs to throw my purchased items down and my key doesn't work. Great. Another thing to make my day even better. But it gets fixed at the front desk and when I finally make it outside, it's raining. I run out to help the two other guys trying to put a trash bag over the busted rear window, but we just put enough to cover the top part and said forget it. Packing up takes a bit of time since I must now get everything I bought into one checkin bag.
I go and pack and take a shower and turn in for the night. I also bought a water that was 150 cl for 8. Damn bottled water is expensive in Belgium.
Get up, get ready, have breakfast, head to airport. Our most seasoned traveller is a Delta Diamond whatever and he was going to try to get all of us into the British Airways lounge, but more on that later. I bought a bunch of chocolate at duty free and was pissed to find out I paid way too much for everything. But it's not for me but family and friends. We make it through security, which is not all about checking out your junk with an x-ray, and I had to hold my pants up because I lost so much damn weight. A coworker had a good strategy with sweat pants, damn. After we got through security, there we're these big plastic donation bins for different causes and I thought it was funny that the one for kids had very little money and the one for animals was loaded down with money. Anyway, off to British Airways. We get to the lounge and it turns out, they are being very strict and will only allow one guest, which is fine by me, we board in like 30 minutes and there's no point in it right now. The only thing that sucks about Zone 1 boarding, you sit on the plane for an hour before takeoff.
Now, a coworker that I was sitting next to ended up getting moved during checkin. We we're both sitting at the bulkhead in the middle set of 3 seats. She was in the middle and I was to the right. She ended up getting moved to the left seat, which left the middle seat free. Well, during our long boarding some damn french couple was complaining in french about something and turns out the guy had surgery or something and needed the extra room because he was right behind our row. So big, smelly frenchman sitting between us now. Also, my coworker on the other side is super sick still. So eventually this guys wife is complaining about needing to sit next to him, and eventually I get asked to move to another seat. I didn't want to cause a scene and I didn't really want to sit next to this guy so I move to the left of my sick coworker and get MORE LEG ROOM. That was a nice perk. Also we had the screen right in front of us for the movies. So my coworker basically falls asleep for most of boarding at this point. As we taxi away from the terminal, they test some stuff and find out we have to go back due to a fuel pressure pump or something. At this point the guy behind me is talking gun politics on the plane to the woman sitting next to him. I can't take this, I have to put on some music, because gun politics in an enclosed space? Fuck you buddy. I agree with some of what you're saying, but cornering someone into this? Ok, maybe they wanted it, but cornering the rest of the people around you to listen to your theories on what will work and what doesn't work. Not interested, I just want to fly home, sleep in my own damn bed and not eat cheese for a few days.
After another hour of sitting in the plane, they we're finally able to get the system back up and running and we can leave. Once we finally take off, not 4,000 ft in the air, my coworker wakes up and looks at her watch and I have to yell at her that we just took off. Didn't matter anyway, she ended up sleeping most of the flight. The rest of the trip is pretty uneventful. It's 9+ hours in the air watching sorry movies. Here's the list: New Years Eve, Liberal Arts, Safety Not Guaranteed, and This Means War. See? Sorry movies. Sadly, I watched all 4, but only listened to the last 3. I talked a little to the guy next to me, really nice guy and also talked to my other coworkers as they came up to use the restroom. The approach into Atlanta was very rough. It was raining and so there was someturbulencecoming in, but it wasn't as bad as my flight into Atlanta when we first came to Georgia in 1990.
I want to say that the customs process in Atlanta is shitty. You have to walk, what seems like 40 miles, before you get to the place where they ask you dumb questions about what you picked up overseas. It wouldn't have been as bad if I hadn't walked forever in Germany and Antwerp. We make it to the second checkpoint and my coworker is flagged for having Cubans. They confiscate and destroy them. He's pissed. After that it's just two shuttle rides and a drive home in the rain.
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Posted in Outdoor Activities Post Date 07/24/2019