Saturday, May 14, 2011

Europe Training Trip

So the last time that I wrote, I was touring the Asian region.  Since then, I've been quiet on the blog front, but busy on the work front.  Things have been more than crazy at work with the implementation of a new e-mail application going on.  But on Friday May 6th, I hit the rode again for another Training Tour.
This time, my destination is Europe.  My itinerary had me starting in Frankfurt Germany, followed by a short stops in Arnhem Netherlands, then my current location of Copenhagen Denmark.  After here I'll be going to Warsaw Poland, Milan Italy, and finally London England.

My first weekend was spent in Frankfurt Germany.  While there Joe Sabatello (from UL as well) and I were invited to come to a local community event at a neighborhood Fire House.  It was an open house, and fund raiser for the fire house.  One of the Frankfurt UL IT guys, Frank Treml was performing at the event.  He and his partner have this two man band that does everything from cheesy 80's music, to Bavarian Beer Drinking music, and everything in between.  While there he kindly dedicated "New York, New York" by Frank Sinatra to Joe and I as being the two people who had come the farthest to the open house. 

The day after the fire house gathering Joe and I did some shoe leather tourist sightseeing.  The one thing we learned is that the cost of taking Taxis in Europe is ridiculously expensive.  A 30 minute taxi ride on Saturday night cost us about $70 USD one way.  And as I go from Germany to the Netherlands to Denmark, the high pric of taxis continue.

On Monday evening, after a day of IT Meetings in the Frankfurt office, Frank Treml, along with Andreas Geil (Director of EULA IT Operations) hosted an evening of fun and frollicking at another local establishment.  Not entirely sure how to explain this place.  It has go carts, segways, an area with a beach motif, as well as a bar and a restaurant to boot.  It was by far one of the most enjoyable evenings I've ever had with work colleagues.  It's also the first time in my life I've had a steak cooked right next to me on the top of a super hot piece of granite.  It was a "rump" steak cooked on a "hot stone".

I left Frankfurt by car with a couple of UL IT guys. Frank Prossegger from our TTC (Plastic Testing Center) in Krefeld Germany, and Wouter Zeggelaar from our Arnhem Netherlands office.  Wouter was kind enough to volunteer to take me to Krefeld and then on to Arnhem.  Unfortunately I was in both places to short a time to get an opportunity to get out and do any sightseeing.  I've certainly made for that here in Copenhagen.

I left the Netherlands by plane out of the Amsterdam Airport.  It was a short 1.25 hour flight from Amsterdam to Copenhagen.  Having got here by about 6:30 PM local time, I was able to check into my hotel, and get back out onto the streets by 8:00 PM.  I was looking to get a "lay of the land" as well as a late dinner.

I came across an inner city amusement park called "Tivoli".  Interesting place.  Sort of a cross between Six Flags, Gurnee Mills, Grant Park/Ravinia, and I'm not sure what else.  There were lots of restaurants, shopping, crafts, and rides and carnival type side shows. You know, the hawker type places where you try to shoot arrows into a bail of hay for a cheap $0.50 prize that you wind up paying $5 in tickets for...  I found a great restaurant called Hercegovina that served a Croation and Dutch Buffet.  Great food.  After eating, and walking around some more, I was happy to find that the amusement park had open air concerts on Friday nights.  So I was able to hang out and catch some music as well.

Todays excursion was another shoe leather sightseeing tour.  I hit the streets around 10 AM, and I walked my way around the center of Copenhagen for the better part of the entire day.  I walked through the main shopping areas.  While taking a short coffee break, I was surprised to see that the more liberal attitudes of Copenhagen lent themselves to public displays of immodesty. My next tourist stop was at the Rosenborg Slot.  This is where the Kings and Queens of Denmark resided from 1577 through 1874.  What a phenomenal place that was.  Along with being able to tour the castle, I was also able to tour the "treasury".  This held "The Crown of the Absolute Monarchs" from 1671 through 1731.

Weather permitting, tomorrow I intend to huff it over to see the "Little Mermaid" and other points of interest that I missed today. (The weather turned sour, and it started raining on me around 5 or so.)

More to come...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tokyo and my final days in Asia...

I’m coming to the end of my last full day in Asia.  I spent the day tackling the subway and train system here in Tokyo.  The task is not for the feint of heart.  Becky and I have mastered the New York City subway system, and when we did that, we were quite proud of ourselves.  Trying to master the Tokyo system is a little like trying to get your arms around brain surgery.

Each and every line in this picture represents a train or subway line.  There’s the Tokyo Metro System, and then there are a whole bunch of private company lines.  They’re all using the same tracks, and they share many of the same stations.

My intention was to get up early and head out to find a certain Harley Davidson store I was given the address for.  That trip required two transfers and moving from the Tokyo Metro onto another private train line.  BTW… did I mention that the stations and signage within them has very limited English available?  All of maps on the walls are in Japanese, and it’s only one printed brochure that gives you this information with some English on it.

So on my trip up to the HD store, I wound up getting some bad information and was sent in the wrong direction on one of the train lines.  I finally figured it out when I was almost halfway to the end of that current line I was on.  I got off that train, crossed over to the tracks heading in the opposite direction, and made my way back to my starting point.  Ultimately, I was only two stops away from my destination, but I had wound up going through at least 15 to get there.

When I finally got through with my HD store quest, I headed to an area of Tokyo called Asakusa.  It’s a bit older, and it has one of the earliest temples in the Tokyo area.  The temple dates back to 628.  I visited the temple itself as well as walked through the multiple shopping areas around the temple.

I found Tokyo to be a real unique place to visit.  At the risk of being cliché, it really is a place where east meets west, and old and new collide. As I traveled around, I saw plenty of people dressed in very traditional Kimono’s with slipper type shoes, as well as a large share of ultrachic young kids with spikey and dyed hair.  Respect and politeness still seem to be a major theme though for the country.  Everyone was extremely polite and respectful of everyone else.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Taipei Taiwan - Museums, Temples, and expanding waistlines...

23 January 2011 – Taipei Taiwan – Tourist Weekend Three

You know, there are a number of things in my life that I’m eternally grateful and thankful for.  My daughter, my family, the love and companionship of my girlfriend, my personal successes and accomplishments, my time served in the Navy.  All of these things and so much more have made my life a blessed event.

Another thing that I’m extremely grateful for is the strength of American Capitalism, and the power of “The Brand”.  Now, you’re probably wondering what the hell that has to do with a travel blog, but I can assure you, it has direct impact on me and my travels.  You see, I’m currently on day 16 of a 23 day trip to Asia.  Having spent 20 years traveling the world with the US Navy, one thing I pride myself for is my flexibility, and my willingness to try new things, and immerse myself within the current cultural experiences I’m exposed to.  In other words, when in China, eat like the Chinese. (Especially when taken out to eat by Chinese colleagues.) But today, I’m on my own.  And I didn’t feel much like having steamed dumplings for breakfast, or rice and fish for lunch.  As a  matter of fact, I had a Cinnamon Roll at Dunkin’ Doughnuts this morning, and in lieu of a lunch, I purchased a can of Pringle Potato Chips from the local 7-Eleven store next to my hotel.  And I’m here to tell you, that while the coffee at Dunkin’ Doughnuts was a tad bit stronger than at home, the Cinnamon Roll was EXACTLY like the one I get at Dunkin’ Doughnuts at the corner of 47th and Cicero in Chicago.  And while the Pringles can had Chinese characters all over the can, the contents of the can were EXACTLY like a can of Pringles I can buy at my local Jewel.  This "sameness" is something I'm very grateful for.

National Palace Museum
So… Yesterday I wound up doing two major tourist things. One was visit the National Palace Museum here in Taipei, and the other was to roam around the Shilin Night Market just a couple of train stops down from my hotel.  You can view pictures of my day at mine and Becky’s SmugMug site.  A word of warning. The pictures at this site are the accumulation of ALL of my Asia trip pictures.  So if you’re interested in seeing the Taipei pictures only, you may want to consider starting from the end and working you’re way back.

Today was spent in only one tourist pursuit.  I took the train to the Taipei Zoo where I took a gondola ride up into the local mountain side to Moakong Station.  

Sanxuan Temple - Moakong Taiwan

From the station, it was a 20 or 30 minute walk to the Sanxuan Temple.  Not to be glib, but this temple didn’t stand out in any particular way to me.  I thought the Po Lin Monastery temple in Hong Kong was much grander to view.  I don’t regret the trip though.  Taiwan this time of year is wet but mild.  From what I’ve read, coming here in the Spring or Summer can be a brutally hot experience, so I’m thankful for being here in January.

After I got to the temple and finished looking around, I started to head back to the Gondola station, when the clouds rolled in, and a dense fog pretty much covered the area.  Consequently the ride back down the mountain was pretty gray.  All in all though, I enjoyed the two day tourist visit immensely.  Now I’m preparing to go into the office tomorrow to meet and network with more of my business and IT colleagues from the Taipei office.

From a professional point of view, this trip has been absolutely marvelous.  I’ve gained such a better understanding of the point of view of our Asian counterparts.  I’ve experienced firsthand the frustration they go through when trying to access databases that reside back in Northbrook.  I’ve also had an opportunity to talk with many of them, and they have been surprisingly upfront about how they feel.  I’m going to go back to my job in the states armed with lots of ideas about how we can do some fundamental things differently that in the long run will benefit our business and IT colleagues from the Asian regions.

On a more general note, I have some observations from Taiwan.  There are a LOT more American companies that have a presence here.  The number of 7-Elevens alone is pretty surprising.  ColdStone, Dunkin’ Doughnuts, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds all have a presence here.  (BTW… A double cheeseburger from McDonalds in Taipei is EXACTLY like a double cheeseburger from Chicago.)  I’m not sure if there’s a correlation here or not, but I’ve also noticed that there are a significantly larger number of overweight people here than any other Asian location I’ve visited so far.  By no means do they come close to the weight problems we have in the US, but there are more overweight folks walking around here than in Shanghai, Guangzhou, or Hong Kong.  I can’t help but wonder…

Enough for now… I’m here in Taipei till Wednesday, and then it’s off to Tokyo for the last stop of this trip.  Next Sunday I’ll be heading back home.  My last tourist visit will be either in Tokyo or something nearby next Saturday.  I’m looking forward to that, but I’m especially looking forward to getting home.