It’s Maureen’s birthday today and we’re off to get her a new tablet – the Samsung Note 10.1 2014 edition. Not to be confused with earlier lacklustre attempts from Samsung this thing has resolution vastly exceeding most modern flat-screen TVs at 2540 pixels across, effectively making the dots invisible even on close inspection. Add to that an octal-core processor and it looks like a winner. I will write a review at some point.
Then we’re off to see friends, I’ve been working with my pal on some circuit boards one of which we hope will soon turn into a Kickstarter project and another we’re just doing for the fun of it. Tomorrow we select a new Main Coon kitten having recently lost our cat Pamela (and to be honest it didn’t exactly break my heart as she was a miserable git) which should then make us a 3-ginger-kitty family. That is if we don’t lose one of the existing gingers who, despite having been fitted with a chip seems to have a pathological mis-trust of cat flaps and who hence has trouble getting into the house when we’re not there.
Short trip to Spain coming up wherein I plan to take some kit over to do further work on my home control system which allows me to control stuff via my mobile phone at a distance (lights etc). Weather is warm there still but cool enough to actually get some work done.
This ESBA trip was to be one of the more convoluted ( but worthwhile) journeys I’ve done recently…from home in Wark to Newcastle to Edinburgh to Istanbul to Izmir with an even more torturous return journey, ending up in a few days break in Spain.
The purpose of the Turkey trip was an ESBA meeting (European Small Business Alliance) and visits to the Izmir Chamber of Industry and Chamber of Commerce. I’ve been to several such meetings elsewhere and always managed some IT-related benefit – not so long ago I managed to get a speaker for the FSB’s annual conference out of the deal. This time I was interested in exploring a potential member directory system being developed for ESBA with a view to using it elsewhere so it was primarily a business trip – but as always – I took lots of pictures as well!
I got off to a bad start to the trip leaving the house with plenty of time but not taking into account the combination of morning traffic and the most atrocious weather. After a very harrowing drive from home I arrived at Newcastle central train station with only moments to spare… and then road works, taking the situation from dire to impossible. I missed the train by around 3 minutes.
Things went downhill for a while, the newly updated Sat-Nav on my S4 refused to show either maps or ETA, thank goodness for Google maps which now has voice navigation. According to Google I could drive to Edinburgh with just under an hour to spare. Pushing it but do-able. (the map issue was later resolved when an update appeared for CoPilot Live).
I drove to Edinburgh, again in horrendous rain for most of the trip but managed to make up some time by putting peddle to metal and indeed on arrival I had just under an hour to go. I have NEVER needed that long at an airport – but then I’d never travelled to Turkey either so I was a bit concerned when told the gate was just about to open and I’d not even been through the detectors!
But I made it, just. By lunchtime I was in the air. The flight was pretty uneventful, they had the new SciFi “after Earth” with Will Smith showcasing his son and which has been branded elsewhere as “the worst movie of 2013″. I’m a great SciFi fan but this was just rubbish… some of the worst non-acting in modern times and WAY too slow..
The food on the flight (salmon starter, beef main course) was excellent and the seats comfortable with plenty of leg/stomach room. Outside as usual it was perfectly sunny – a far cry from the situation BELOW the clouds.
After a short break in Istanbul I was back in the air. This time the offering consisted of a turkey sandwich, Panna Cotta and Egg Plant. If this was to be indicative of the food… bring it on!!
I arrived in Izmir just after 9pm with air temperature of around 20c… What more could you want! Well apart from a supply of Leffe, of course. My email instructions had finally arrived from the hotel and off I went looking for the bus.
I should have known the way the day was going this wasn’t going to work – the bus driver wasn’t having any of it – too late I THINK he said. So I got in a taxi at his suggestion – not as if I had a lot of options… Turned out to be 60 Lira – which as it happens is not THAT bad, about 25 quid – but next time I know better – GET THE EARLIER FLIGHT.
Got to the hotel – really it’s the kind of place I love the best, you get out of the taxi, it’s maybe 20c or more at night, palm trees line the street – nearby hotels are all lit up in pretty colours…. but it’s quiet – no Geordies on the hoy here! A couple of the guys were having dinner out on the front – what a great start but as I’d eaten on the plane I thought I’d give that a miss and just ordered a couple of beers. Lovely.
We chatted and the night came to an end all too quickly (bearing in mind the flights put me back 3 hours so early evening in the UK was much later In Izmir) and there I was shortly after, on the hotel WIFI with my tablet and my new usb keyboard and mouse setup, happily constructing notes.
The evening was organised by the Chamber and we dined down at a seafood restaurant down at the waterfront.
As I hoped, I found out more about the new electronic intertrading system being put into place. Meetings were all day with a break for lunch and to visit the Chamber’s own museum! Back to work for the afternoon after which again the Izmir Chamber organised dinner for us down town, exceedingly informal and superb food only this time in a more informal, traditionally Turkish style – and after dinner some of us went off to investigate the city which is even more amazing at night.
This whole visit blew away my stereotypes and those of others about the place. Izmir is a successful city without the trappings of the EU. They didn’t seem THAT bothered about joining – and with an 8% annual growth who can blame them.
On Saturday with only hours to spare I said goodbye to everyone and took a walk along the seafront. Fabulous and interesting to compare the likes of mobile phone contract costs with the UK. I did notice that fuel seems to be more expensive – yet clothing seemed to be ridiculously cheap as was the food.
Mid-morning I headed off to Izmir airport following instructions in my diary. Well, not too good an idea and I ended up with an hour less than I was expecting – good job I left early.
The airport is big but the choice of duty free is, well, not. So I figured I’d grab a coke and sandwich and sit that one out, hoping that Ataturk would have more choice. I don’t normally bring stuff back but this is after all QUITE a foreign country. Even the procedures at Izmir airport are different – they have the metal detectors both when you arrive AND when you get to your gate! I stood in the airport, as British Airways were almost impossible to find and not open when I did, doing my booking in on-line – would you believe that simple job cost over a tenner in on-line charges on the phone – none of the usual deals you’d find in Europe.
Izmir is huge and I only touched the surface. Not at all what I expected and what a nice place for an exploratory break. Due to time restraints and endless meetings, that was never going to happen this time but maybe in the future…
The flights back to the UK were pretty uneventful though I did note there seemed to be more female staff with head cloths in Heathrow than in Istanbul which has to be wrong… I arrived in the UK with my mobile PDF boarding passes only to be given a printed version by the security gate “just in case”. I did think that kind of defeated the object. As the plane (British Airways) was late landing I didn’t have to wait long before starting the next lap of my journey… London to Edinburgh.
Maureen picked me up and after waiting in line to report lost baggage we set off for the Stair Arms Hotel in Pathhead to be welcomed by a disco which went on, inescapably until the early hours.
Up bright and early Sunday the Stair Arms Hotel shower failed… beeping insistently and ignoring button presses which had us rushing to leave to get away from the noise. We went downstairs, noticing that some of the mess from the previous night was on the carpet and had breakfast.
After breakfast we headed off to do a little shopping before driving to Edinburgh airport – for which we’d left plenty of time – however due to ATTROCIOUS traffic holdups in Edinburgh (note to self, NEVER drive in Edinburgh at the weekend).. we just made it in time for our flight to Murcia in Spain.
And for that story – you’ll need to travel to www.bedrock.es
Click on any of the images to enlarge – and to see the whole album of my trip to Turkey – here it is…the Turkey Album
There I was, ogling the chocolate in the store in central Belgium, pondering the taste but convincing myself I should not be so silly as to indulge, when something hit me… it’s not about the cost, it’s about what the chocolate represents to the people here. This is a really big deal for them – and it’s not THAT bad, so in I went and stuffed myself. Well, that’s my excuse.
The rather cheesy bar here on the left is the very first bar that Maureen and I visited many years ago and had our first Leffe Blonde Beer… which I have to say is very nice. Then it was a far distant country, one we were stepping through…. and we thought little of Brussels other than it being a tad expensive.
Contrast that to now, thanks to friends here I know a lot about the city and can pretty much navigate the city centre back-streets without getting lost.
There is so very much old character here in Brussels but you have to go looking.
So very much to do, so very little time – Brussels is a pleasant place with some great bars and restaurants that really needs examining – Had a great night out with my pal Kenneth – and Brendan the night before – long may this great combination of business and pleasure last.
I arrived rather earlier than I expected, staying at the MOON hotel near the Grand Place (or Grote Markt). First stop bar beside the hotel to meet my friend Brendan. He was not enjoying his beer so we cleared off to the bar you see above – which thankfully has outdoor heaters and a 3 for 2 special offer on Leffe Blonde. Next morning – I recall something like 7.30am we headed off to the EESC – the European Economic Social Committee – this time merely dropping in to make use of the facilities – I’m still on guest badges at this point. That lasted most of the morning before I headed off to the nearby street where we held the first of two ESCO meetings. Back to the same bar area at night – next morning another meeting before heading back to the UK.
I’ve been quite in here as we’ve had more than our fair share of bad luck recently and it’s still going on with a friend’s mum just dying last night. Last time I was here in Brussels, it was the middle of summer and hot. Now, it’s a lot cooler and wet – but still very pleasant. Arrived yesterday, meetings today and tomorrow then back home tomorrow night via our friend house overnight. Last night I had another superb pizza just around the corner from the picture here, taken late last night before taking a pretty comprehensive walking tour of the place with an old friend who knows all about Brussels and who happened to be here at the same time as me. Anyone’s guess what will happen tonight.
For now I’m at the offices of the EESC and about to head off for an ESCO meeting – Google abbreviations if interested – can’t imagine why you would be : – )
More pics later – the editor I’m using isn’t converting them to JPG and I don’t want to slow readers down with huge files.