Thursday, January 18, 2007

Manchester Holiday Show

Last Thursday I headed to Manchester, England for the Holiday and Travel show, basically a tradeshow to try and make people such as myself aware of all of all of the other places in the world that I have yet to visit (screams danger to my bank account). My reason for being there is what I like to call the "culmination of my internship experience," or in plain language to promote the Slovakia Ski Region to the UK market. My boss, the marketing director for our ski resort, and another director from another ski resort, were there to represent the top 5 ski resorts in Slovakia. Let me tell you that tradeshows are no fun for the people standing at the stands, as I learned after the first day. Nevertheless it was a great experience and I'm gonna break down the 5 days as follows:

Drinking with the Slovaks

I had to get up super early on Thursday morning to drive to Bratislava and catch our flight to Prague and then Manchester. Gotta love Slovakia for not having direct connections. Anywho, while waiting for the flight, at 9 am, I was notified that a drink was in due order. When I rejected, the response was "we didn't ask if you want something, we asked what you want" Ok so thats that. Then while waiting for the connecting flight, same thing. I had to prove myself but really inside I was thinking, Jesus I'm glad we only have to stop at two airports. Oh how wrong I was. It didn't stop there. Once we got to our accomodations, a big bottle of Demenovka, Slovakian brandy of sorts or again as I like to call it, really sweet mouthwash. This was supposed to go down like water! Then it was off to dinner at a nice English pub at which point I decided to switch to beer cuz I can drink it slower. By 11 pm, after a long day of traveling and drinking, I was so ready for bed, only to have to get up at 6 am the next day for more of the same.

I have to admit that after the first day, the drinking slowed down a little but I realized that business dinners can be pretty exhausting. I never thought of them that way in Calgary because all I had to do there was show up and look pretty and schmooze with the investors. Well here I actually had to try and impress them with what I knew about the tourism industry in Slovakia, skiing, etc.

It's Slovakia, not Slovenia, and no not Yugoslavia either

I have to say that the school system in Britain needs to go through a major overhauling especially the geography department. The representatives from the Slovakian tour operator we shared a stand with and I, spent the whole weekend giving geography lessons. So many people came up and these were the responses upon reaching our stand:

"Oh I've been to Slovenia" WRONG its Slovakia, different country

"Yes we were in Yugoslavia last year and visited" WRONG again, and if you wanna be totally correct, Yugoslavia as a country has not existed for 15 years.

I didn't realize that people knew so little about where this country was located, yet they knew about all of the surrounding countries, like Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary. Well this stems down to the lack of promotion by the Slovakian Tourism Board. Little companies cannot do it on their own, there needs to be a joint effort supported by the government to raise awareness, jee I learned a lot.

Sure we have Snow***

So the demographics at the tradeshow did not work favorably for the skiing industry as 65% of them were senior citizens, and trying not to be age discriminatory, they are not looking to break a hip any time soon. I know it sounds terrible but several of them told me so themselves making it appropriate for me to say so, its heresay! Anywho, the people that I did get to speak with and try to promote skiing in Slovakia, for its great trails, beautiful scenery and most importantly cheap prices, asked me about the snow conditions. Well if you know anything about the weather in Europe this winter then you will know that places like the Alps are even having problems with a lack of snow. They've even had to move some world cup races becuase of this. So what do you tell people; well technically we do have "some" snow, at least in the High Tatra's but I said "sure we have snow." My logic for this goes like so: by the time they decide that they are gonna come and try skiing in Slovakia, book their trip and get their butts over here, well that takes us to about the middle of February, at which point there better be snow or else me and mother nature are gonna have to have a good talk. So sure we have snow.

Finally, I have to mention, the great area that we stayed in. Because everything was booked up and accomodations were expensive in Manchester, we found a cute little Bed and Breakfast out in the country outside of Burnley. This is about 40 km north of Manchester so a long drive in every morning. Totally worth it though because this house was amazing; it was over 300 years old, had the nicest, cozy living area with a big warm fireplace, and books over a century old and the owner made a mean English breakfast. It was so nice to go back to after a long and hectic day. Oh and the village close to it, has a mens store that apparently David Beckham comes to shop at. That was the other thing, I didn't get to go to the Manchester United Stadium or see much of Manchester for that matter. The downtown is not that great in all honesty but has a huge mall that was overwhleming even for me.

I came back to Zilina on Monday, just exhausted becuase we had an even earlier wake up call of 3:45 am. Then I settled down and started looking over all of the travel brochures I picked up and the wheels started turning.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Back it up

This is probably the most serious that you will hear me speak in a while but it deals with important matters. You know how people are always telling you to back up your documents, and save them in another spot, blah, blah, blah, (this is what I was hearing), well it turns out it's said for a reason, and I mean big time important reason. I had the misfortune of finding out just how important it is yesterday after the hard drive on my computer crashed. Wanna know how much I never thought that this sort of thing would happen to me? So much so that I didn't even bring the backup disks for my computer. The stupidity of my actions is amplified even more when I looked in my cd case and found that I brought the backup disk for my ipod, webcam and even my digital camera software; really now how did I expect that my Ipod might crash without my computer crashing in the first place. grrrr its only a year and a half old.

I think the look of panic was very apparent on my face yesterday morning at work, as I contemplated the thought of losing everything I had stored away on this piece of equipment especailly the last 4 months of photos from Europe. Yes I do like my pictures, apparently 4,4 GB of pictures to be exact! Oh and lets not forget the presentation I made for a tradeshow I'm leaving for tomorrow in Manchester, try running that old: my computer crashed and I have nothing to show for excuse, by your boss. Its like using the dog ate my homework excuse in elementary school. The way I saw it, this wasn't an option, there had to be some way of extracting all of my precious data from a computer that would no longer even start because there was a configuration error, whatever the hell that means.

So I quickly headed to the dorms where lots of computer engineers are present that would for sure be able to fix my problem, technical university and all. Four hours later, I was beginning to realize the seriousness of the problem when all possible resolutions to the problem had been exhausted by the guys. I felt like throwing the thing at them and saying "what the hell do you go to school for." Ok so I'm kidding, it was more like I felt terrible for taking them away from studying for their exams to fidget with my computer. My justification for it was that this was their real life practice test which they failed I might add (again totally kidding!)

The saga continues after we opened the computer and realized that the hard drive was actually a Fujitsu Siemens hard drive and not Toshiba as it says on my laptop. Tricky.. I'm starting to realize this is the case more and more with many products. Lights go off in my head that my friend works at the Siemens here in Zilina, they have to have a service center there I though.... wrong again. But this did lead me to some solutions. Two of the guys from Siemens, whom I am greatly indepted to now, spent all night last night figuring out how to save my files and then today trying to reformat my hard drive. Let me say that Linux is an amazing operating system for this sort of thing. That is if you know how to use it, which I clearly don't.

Long story even longer, we managed to salvage a good chunk of my files and they are safely tucked away on a DVD now. Not doing me a whole lot of good as of yet. What is still unknown is whether I will have a computer to go back to after all is said and done or if the hard drive really is done and done as "there is a high possibility" of this, or so they say. Lets hope that warranty kicks in globaly if not! What can I do but exhale a long breath and maybe one day laugh about this... I did learn a valuable lesson, which I am passing on to all of you, in hopes that the computer gods take pitty on me and reward me for my act of kindness; back up your documents once a month so that you may avoid the same fate.

Monday, January 08, 2007

How were my Holidays you ask??

For those of you who received my email about my holidays, well then here it is again with some more details!

After a nice long two week Christmas holiday I am back to reality, with lots of great memories and new experiences to share. Before I begin with all of that though, I want to wish you all a very happy New Year, I realize I'm a week behind but I have yet to write 2007. So here it goes, I'm hoping that 2007 is a memorable one for everyone. Plan on making the best of it and take every opportunity to try and make yourself and the people around happy.

Now onto more exciting news! As some of you know, I took a much deserved break (from my point of view) and headed for Christmas holidays which saw me traveling through three different countries in two weeks. This year Alex and I decided that since we weren't home to be with our immediate families, we would visit the close family we have living here in Europe. Our trip started by heading to Bosnia to visit my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and many cousins. After four days, we probably gained 10 pounds as there was no point in time when we weren't eating or had food in front of us while being urged to continue eating. We had a great time through it all, eating, drinking slivovica (homemade plum brandy) and visiting with all of my family. I got to play the role of translator for Alex and he impressed all the Croatians through his willingness to experience a true Croatian Christmas. One of the big highlights was getting to roast a pig or four I should say on Christmas eve, as this is the traditional meal on Christmas day.

We then headed to Zagreb, Croatia to visit some more family. As with any major city in Europe, we saw yet another Christmas market and more boiled wine was had. This time only white wine was available which was different from other markets I have been to. I do have to say that the nostalgia of Christmas markets has worn off.

The next day it was off to London where we were met by Alex's brother and his wife. For future reference, anyone traveling to Luton Airport, don't take the bus into London, apparently there is a direct train service. This would have been useful information before we got stuck in rush hour traffic in central London. We spent a couple nights just outside of London at Alex's country aunts house which by the way was so big that many of us wish we had a map when we first got there. While exploring London, I went to many of the famous sights like Big Ben, the Parliment Buildings, Westminster Abbey and even stopped in for some tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace ;) In true England weather, the rain started coming down, which was welcome by us at the time because it meant a chance to duck away into a cozy English pub and an escape for the ridiculous crowds outside. Apparently though, you would be hard pressed to find a true independant English pub in many cities, especially London, as they are all linked to some brewery or chain. The BIG splurge while in London didn't happen at the boutiques or Harrods as would be expected of me, rather at Jamie Oliver's restaurant called Fifteen. Here I had the most expensive meal of my life and while my expectations weren't entirely met, it was still something interesting I can now check off my list! Since the restaurant is called Fifteen, it appears that a lot of time was spent on ensuring the address was 15 whatever street, that there was 15 tables in the restaurant and other little insignificant 15 things. And no Jamie Oliver was not there.

Alex and I began New Year's eve with an early start to the London Eye which is a must do while in London if for nothing else than to say you've been on it. Unfortunately it was still raining a little outside but the view still provided great photo opps. We spent New Years Eve outside of London with Alex's family enjoying a fantastic dinner provided by Rupert (Alex's brother), playing games, and watched the fireworks by the London Eye on TV. It was some of the most impressive fireworks I have ever seen and a great way to ring in 2007.
Our final leg of the trip, was spent in Wimborne at Alex's grandparents in southern England. There we got to relax, eat some good cooking provided by his grandma, and listen to some great stories from two very interesting people who can say they have had "Princess Elizabeth" over for dinner. I particularly enjoyed heading to the coast in a nearby city, Pool, where I collected some sea shells along the beach (Alex had to stop me cuz I could have done that for hours). We also headed to Corfe Castle in Dorset, which was totally different than many other castles I have seen thus far and very impressive at over 1000 years old. Oh and I have to mention that England has the greenest grass I have ever seen, and this is in winter. Mind you "winter" is an ambiguous term these days with mild temperatures and no sign of snow even in Slovakia.

After writing this, I'm beginning to realize that the overall theme appears to be food but I guess thats what the holidays are for. I could fib by saying that new resolutions see me making to a gym sometime in the next year but that's highly unlikely. What is more likely is that I will continue to explore Europe and make it up many more steps, and cobblestone walks I'm sure!