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Archive for October, 2013

A trip to Izmir in Turkey

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.

Nightlife in IzmirThe 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!

TurkeyBut 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.

Karaca Hotel in IzmirGot 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.

Izmir first thing in the morningWe 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.

Izmir Chamber of IndustryFor our first morning (Thursday) we listened to a talk by the head of the Aegean Regional Chamber of Industry and learned a lot about Turkey’s successes.

Izmir Chamber of CommerceIn the afternoon we met with the Izmir Chamber of Commerce, again picking up some excellent information and meetings some local business people at the same time.

The evening was organised by the Chamber and we dined down at a seafood restaurant down at the waterfront.

Izmir in the morningThe ESBA meeting started in earnest on Friday morning with really nice weather outside reminiscent of Spain but with a distinct haze almost constantly.

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.

Chamber of Commerce building - Izmir

Izmir at nightThis 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.

NutsThe 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…

Waterfront in Izmir

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.

Educational books in IzmirOf course, wouldn’t you know it I arrived in Edinburgh sans luggage as they managed to lose that on the way so no jacket, toothbrush, deodorant… good start.

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

Life and Belgium Chocolate

barThere I was, ogling the chocolate in the store in central Belgium, pondering the taste but convincing myself I should not be so silly aChocolate from Brusselss 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.

Downtown Brussels

BrusselsSo 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.

A short trip to Brussels

Brussels

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.

A Trip to the Channel Islands

AuroraSome months ago I received an email inviting me to the IT Directors Forum.  Usually such invites end up in the bin and I could not shake the feeling that there must be a catch, but as it happens I’d been pondering the fact that

I’ve not been to a decent event, well, pretty much since the recession started when I paused my annual visits to Microsoft’s TechED which had for some time been held in Barcelona and which were a constant source of "new thinking" for me.

The point of such trips of course is to play catch up and grab some inspiration, learning about the latest IT tools and meet peers to exchange ideas.

AuroraThis trip was to be run by Richmond Events and shortly after the invite I received a call from one of their senior executives, an enthusiastic Canadian. He explained that the event was free to attend for IT professionals, paid for by the sales companies who would host events, host dinner tables etc.

After about an hour on the phone he asked me if I would head up a round table meeting on the issues surrounding BYOD (bring your own device) and I agreed that might be fun.

I didn’t know it at the time but Dale from DRP was (who do the FSB’s stage stuff at our annual Conferences) was also to be there for a similar event (BIG ship).

AuroraI agreed to go. All went well until a couple of weeks ago when a personal tragedy set me thinking that I should cancel the trip. As it happened I had missed the bit that says that if you cancel at the last minute, you have to pay a £1000 fine and so, somewhat reluctantly, on Wednesday I headed off down to Southampton, meeting FSB employee and my head of IT,  Ian Martin, half way down the country, an ideal opportunity to catch up.

Midday Wednesday we arrived in Southampton by train and got on the free shuttle bus to the Aurora.

"Massively impressive" about covers my feelings on first seeing the ship. How DO people build things this big? Aurora is a cruise ship of the P&O Cruises fleet. The ship was built by Meyer Werft at their shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. At 76,000 tonnes, it is the fifth largest of seven ships currently in service with P&O Cruises.

That really does not do justice to the initial impression. On embarking the ship and being handed our room keys the first thing we noticed was the elegant staircase and impressive surrounds. The very first thing I said to Ian was "Titanic!!"

tmpCCC4Thankfully he has a sense of humour. Off I went to get changed and study the agenda. The room was tremendous – turns out the IT guys get the good rooms while the sales guys get the ones without windows – works for me.

Now, when I said I’d chair a talk, I was thinking I would see how others did their stuff to get a feel for it. Imagine my surprise (to quote VIZ) when I discovered I was on FIRST THING Thursday and had to do a repeat on the Friday morning.

Not only that but I was marked up as a speaker alongside people such as Jim Noble who is an advisor to President Obama and who has top USA security clearance. Oh dear.

The event opened Wednesday evening with a keynote speech by Michael Portillo and the evening ended with dinner, where Ian and I were assigned to different tables both hosted by companies who were there primarily to sell their services to the IT pros (who seem to have been chosen for their spending power).

AuroraBy 9am Thursday morning I was a bag of nerves ( the constant swaying of the ship, producing a feeling not unlike a severe hangover  didn’t help either).  As it happens the discussion went well and I got mainly "good" circles in the response forms for my efforts. Whew! Meanwhile Ian was elsewhere on board attending talks appropriate to his needs.

One kind fellow rewarded my efforts by handed me one "average" mark because I failed to say what "Bring your own Device" was about, even though it was clearly explained in the support papers which you had to read in order to select which talks you wanted to attend. Always keen to improve, I took that on-board for the next time.

I could not possibly describe the many great talks nor the wonder of travelling in such a great machine designed to making people feel ill, but one big event of Thursday stands out… A talk by Dr Steve Peters, the consulting psychiatrist who supported team GBs extraordinary cycling success in the London 2012  Olympics. I have to say that normally I’d give such stuff a miss but I can honestly say Chimp ParadoxI’ve not been so impressed since the American Mars landings! Suffice it to say that after a quick trip to Amazon, his book "The Chimp Paradox" is on my tablet. The rest of the trip was dominated by "inner chimp" jokes. Even the ship staff were at it. If you’ve read the book, you’ll understand the humour.

Friday morning I repeated my BYOD session, this time accompanied by violent storms and a ship vibrating madly as it compensated for the storm by shifting huge weights around. I must’ve learned something from the previous session as my meeting ended in more smiles and a bunch of "excellent" tick boxes.. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was chuffed.

The poolThroughout the event, Ian Martin and I (often separately) spent hours in discussion with industry peers and suppliers and I remember now why I used to be so keen to go to TechEd. 

Many inspirational talks and supplier meetings later, we departed the Aurora (which had spent the two days anchored off the Channel Islands) with some insights we simply could not have obtained any other way and a promise to meet some new colleagues again in the future.

Would I go again? Absolutely, but next time with travel pills!

Sunset

on board