I’ve got the same jeans on, for 4 days now.

Back in February a mate who was buying a flat in Athens asked if I fancied driving a car loaded up with furniture once the sale had completed. I’ve just got back, wiser for two pieces of knowledge – 1) Athens is a long way by car which you don’t appreciate in the 3.5hr flight, and 2) Pubs are bad places to make major decisions.

Anyway, having agreed to the trip, my mate bought a car off Ebay and on last Thursday night we set off for Dover at 8pm following a hard day at work. Traffic jams on the A13, the closed M25/M20 junction, and the closed A20 all tried to prevent us getting there, but at 21:50 with 83 miles on the clock we got to the ferry port. We took the map on board to plan the route during the hour long journey.

I took over driving then at around midnight, and took us through France to Reims, and then towards Metz. At 03:45 and 336 miles on the clock we swapped drivers. At this point the car was beginning to make a very odd noise and was losing power. I think either the exhaust had blown or it was misfiring. Either way, we were en route to Athens and we didn’t want to resort to the AA backup plan quite yet.

At 06:45 and 515 miles my mate completed his driving stint to Strasbourg. The French appear to have invested a considerable sum in their motorway stops and they put the UK ones to shame with their cleanliness and general lack of tat.

A quick sprint further down the A35 and at 07:50/555mi we were in the traffic queue approach to Switzerland. There had been an unfortunate turn of events back in London which had meant my mate had left his bag of important documentation (driving license, insurance docs, proof of car ownership etc) so we swapped drivers because at least I had a valid driving license. We had agreed in advance that we’d tell them were driving to Milan so as to not provoke too much investigation from them. This worked a treat and with just a €30 motorway tax we went on into Switzerland.

At 10:00/683mi Friday morning we were in the Gotthard Tunnel which is the second longest road tunnel in the world. Not stopping to admire the workmanship we pressed on to Milan arriving there at 13:00/780mi. As we’d been munching on just Snickers[sic], energy bars, Red Bull and pork pies we decided to stop for pizza. The weather was being very British to us and pouring down but we resisted buying umbrellas and instead will all be buying new shoes. Arse. Still, we saw the Doumo which was covered in scaffolding (again!).

We left Milano at 15:20/780mi and pushed on towards Bologna. I was awoken in the back seat by a loud banging noise from the car and quickly persuaded my mate to pull over. It turned out a bit of plastic under the engine which prevents stones hitting the engine was hanging off. We fixed it with an arm strap from a laptop bag and continued. Traffic increased and by 17:25/891mi we were stuck in heavy traffic at the A13/A14 junction. Another driver change and we drove on to Ancona where at 21:00 and with 1,053 miles under our belts we found a hotel and crashed out for the night.

04:20 we departed, and headed down through Pescora and Lesina. There’s some very beautiful scenery down that way, or at least there was until someone built a 4 lane motorway straight through it. We didn’t dwell on this point for long and by 10:45/1,405mi we were in Brindisi buying tickets for the ferry to Greece. The 7.5hr ferry overran it’s schedule a little and got us into Igoumenitsa, Greece at 21:00 where we had our second proper meal of the journey. I had Spag Bol as i’d forgotten to do that in Italy.

More Red Bull and Snickers and we set off for Petra. By this time all the lorries had disembarked the ferry and the 3 hour journey ended up a real-life scene from The Duel. Crossing their new bridge, although illuminated by fancy lighting for €10,90 was a bit steep.

Leaving Petra at 03:30/1571mi we drove the remaining section of the journey to Athens, arriving there at 06:00/1,702mi.

1,702 miles, 57 hours, 2 drivers, 2 meals, 1 hotel stop. Any volunteers to help bring the car back in September?


Pictures here.

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Homeward bound

NABThe final day of the NAB show was spent rushing around meeting all the vendors we’d not had time for on the previous days. We left the show at 6pm and after negotiating the long queues at the monorail station (the old, head-one-station-in-the-wrong-direction-then-come-back trick) headed up past the Wynn to grab dinner from the California Pizza Kitchen. This place comes heartily recommended as their California Club (chopped lettuce, bacon and chicken on a pizza base) is truly a taste sensation.

The Thursday morning was ours as we waited for the return flight which was mid-afternoon. As I mentioned previously we’d booked a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon with Heli USA (pick up a discount voucher from monorail station to save $50 or so). Although i’ve seen the Grand Canyon when I was 12, I’ve never been in a helicopter before.

HelicopterThe safety briefing was very brief and essentially instructed us to not walk into any of the rotorblades. That out of the way, we headed in a bus out to the chopper. Our bus was stopped by the TSA and our driver was felt up by two men in marigolds whilst the 20 passengers sat tight. This is kinda stoopid – the security checked driver who was considered safe for air travel dropped us off and drove his bus back, whilst the passengers (who had received no security clearance) got in various helicopters and flew over the 11th busiest airport in the world towards the GC.

En route we went over the Hoover Dam which by impounding the Colorado, generated Lake Mead and now Hydroelectrically supplies power to Las Vegas, Nevada, Arizona and surrounding areas. Since 9/11 it has been closed to commercial traffic presumably for the safety of the dam.

SkywalkWe also passed near the Skywalk which looked slightly less impressive when flying past at 70mph, but I think that’s because we didn’t really grasp the scale.

We headed back to LV and had breakfast at the Bellagio and then turned $20 into $60 on the roulette wheel there before jumping in a cab to McCarran Airport and a flight to blighty.

All the pictures are now online.

Round round, get around…

Last night’s excursion was the first proper taste of Vegas this year.

At an event celebrating the launch of Silverlight held at Caesars Palace there were ‘waitresses’ handing out Silverlight cocktails (Martinis with light-up ice cubes in them!), USB SD card readers and branded M&Ms. It was very much Beauty and the Geek. The club also had 3 king-size beds and a ‘waitress’ stood in front of them which was bizarre.

As the quantity of testosterone increased we made haste and headed over to the Voodoo lounge at the Rio and had a drink there. Despite having seen the view before it’s still a stunning view from the roof top.

A few drinks later and a fantastic dinner (their French onion soup was served in a hollowed out oversized onion!), we headed over to New York New York (so great they named it twice. Not.) It seems that every hotel i’ve been into has a duelling piano bar, and not only that but they all boast having the World’s Finest Duelling Piano Bar. Duelling Piano bar is the term they use to describe two electronic pianos shoved close, tied together with a length of gaffa tape with American Pie on repeat.

So we did Paris, Italy, Brazil and New York. Which means I can put the sore head this morning down to jet lag.

P.S. Today was filled once again with meeting some other vendors, hooking up with some colleagues from LA, and chatting further about some of our upcoming project work. It’s not all fun and games.

Rain rain, go away.

Fairly uneventful day yesterday – arrived about midnight London time, 4pm local time; checked in to the hotel; settled into my room out of the 2,621 they have (a small hotel by Vegas standards!); dinner and well needed rest.

Morning RainWoke up this morning to find it raining. Headed to the conference despite the best efforts of the monorail Security Guard to prevent us from boarding and have spent the day talking to numerous vendors about some interesting products.

Off out shortly to see a different hotel interior and speak to some more vendors.

(Oh and we just booked something to do on Thursday before our 4pm flight home :o)

No lapdance please: I’m British!

So i’m off to Vegas again for NAB. I’ve just arrived at Gatwick Airport and discovered that my colleague and I are booked into the same seat (seems the online booking system and the manual check-in system at the airport are not integrated too well). I didn’t realise that Virgin airline included a complimentary lapdance, so after a chat to the first official looking chap we could find, my colleague has been moved to the adjacent seat.

That seat was taken on the manual check-in system. There could be trouble ahead.

City Highlights

Holiday over, the city highlights…

Athens – Having dinner on a roof terrace in the light of the Acropolis.

Sofia – Gatecrashing a British Embassy pub party and drinking free beer. Mmm, free beer. And getting free shots from the cute barmaid…

Belgrade – The taxi being push started by the drivers’ mates into a stream of traffic. And the tram driver who had to stop his tram, jump out, and manually switch the points before continuing.

Zagreb – Deciding that we’d been spending too much recently on our meals. So we cut down by not having wine, and then proceeded to order Langoustines, Sea Bass and Oysters.

Vienna. Climbing to the top of the cathedral and finding the view closed off by scaffolding.

Munich. Getting stuck in the fairground ride after the machine was switched off.

Amsterdam. The pronunciation of an 20th century medical bloke mentioned on the canal tour in Dutch was “Sir Fatty” and in English “Sir Farty”.

There was however one theme constant throughout the holiday – so many of the attractions we tried to see were covered in scaffolding, billboards, constructions crews, or were closed:

  • The Acropolis – being refurbished
  • Mount Vitosha in Sofia – the lifts are closed during the week
  • The parliament buildings and cathedral in Vienna – being cleaned
  • The large area behind Marienplatz – closed for building
  • Amsterdam train station and sea views – closed for building

To summarise – Europe is closed. Please come back later.

Day 13: Amsterdam

Checked into the hostel and went straight out for food and beer. Had some Dutch hotchpotch – stew and potato with carrots – which filled us up perfectly.

Then headed off to a Jazz bar. Nice. Although the band seemed to be more into mellow rock (Sting, Peter Gabriel) than jazz. E went home after the next bar leaving R and me to visit the more vibrant areas of Amsterdam.

The final morning was a great all-you-can-eat breakfast at the hostel – they even had builders tea – followed by some wandering through the narrow streets. Bored with this we got on a canal boat and spent the afternoon taking photos of identical canals.

Two facts. First, Amsterdam was originally named Amstammelledam because they dam’d the Amstel river to prevent flooding. Second, the town houses that line the canal streets lean forward to make them appear larger and more imposing.

After another train journey to Schipol and a 35 minute flight we’re back in England. Holiday done.