Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tell Me More About My Mountains

Whenever someone compliments my co-worker Wayne, his responding catch phrases is, "Tell me more about my eyes." At lunch, some people from France mistook us for Americans and when we said we were from Canada, they got all happy and started telling us about how they loved Canada. Wayne responded with, "Tell me more about my mountains." I don't know if our sense of humour translates well.

Today was a bit of a blur. More talks and then the conference wrapped up at 4:30 pm. We gathered a group together and went to a German restaurant for dinner. We all ordered the schnitzel. You gotta do it at least once every trip to Germany.

The plan was to once again hit the hotel lobby bar. According to the 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 am bed time pattern established the previous nights, we should have stayed until 5:30, except my taxi was leaving at 4:00 am, so I already knew that wasn't going to happen. I tried my best but only made it to 9:00 pm. I got a few hours of sleep then headed back to Canada. Land of mountains. And very little kirsch, thank goodness.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Summit Begins

The conference officially begins! A lot of us are already looking rough. I'm not sure if it was wise for Ralph to drink kirsch until 3:30 am and then do the opening speech without notes, but it's all good.

I was given a stack of ribbons to hand out for people to stick on their badges, with sayings like "I read your email", "Slacker" and "I could be president". Since I got first pick, I chose the sole "Worship Me" ribbon. Very useful for waving in someone's face if they won't bend to your will.

I ran into Gilles from Switzerland in the afternoon. He knows my weakness for all things sugar, and brought me Läderach chocolate. Sorry girls, but he may have bumped you out as my new best friend. That chocolate was sooooo good. Brings tears of joy to your eyes.

After a full day of talks, the official party kicked off at 6:00 pm. At 8:00 pm, the second official party kicked off. This one only had beer, which I don't drink, so I thankfully had an alcohol break. Especially lucky since the party continued until about 2:00 am. At party #2, I got into a deep discussion with Adrian from France. We decided he needed to visit Canada and should therefore host the "STP Summit Symposia Week Supreme" in Ottawa during Winterlude, where he would be the sole participant and most of the time would be spent skating and sightseeing. We pitched this several times to Oisin, the leader of the STP project, to obtain funding, but so far nothing is confirmed.

Since 8 hours of partying wasn't quite enough, we went back to the hotel lobby bar. They were actually closed but the servers tonight/this morning were female and we had enough men to convince them to reopen.

4:30 am bed time. So tired. Many, many conference participants were not looking good by the end of the night.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kirsch Stikes Again

Today is the pre-conference symposia day. (Yesterday was sort of a pre-pre-conference day.) My cold is doing much better so I think the threat of laryngitis has passed. I went to a marketing symposium in the morning and finally met some people that I've been emailing with for years, but had never met in person before. Lunch was very busy catching up with people from all over the world that I only get to see once or twice a year.

My work held a special dinner for sponsors in the evening at the Braurei Rosenknecht. They serve a traditional German meal where your meal choice is meat or no meat. I recommend the meat. Mmm... German meat. I made sure to pace the wine as inevitably we end up at the hotel lobby bar.

So back at the hotel, I knew I was in trouble when the kirsch came out again. As one of 2 women among a sea of men, I luckily had the waiter on my side. When he brought out shots for everyone, I tried to turn mine down but he whispered to me that mine was water. I smelled it, and it really was water. I started doing shots in one chug, keeping up with the boys. Just like Marion in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Last Ark. Only my co-worker Wayne figured out what was going on. Because he was sober.

Bed time 3:30 am.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ludwigsburg Street Gang

The Nestor Hotel puts on a really good breakfast buffet, but I managed to refrain from eating doughnuts as a meal. Lucky Charms are scarce in Europe, so bullet #2 dodged.

I had the morning free so Ralph and I ran some errands like going to the bank machine and buying water. We found a grocery store and bought 24 litres! Ralph is due to have surgery on his arm next week so I couldn't shirk carrying my share either. 12 litres for several blocks was a workout. My shoulders are still sore.

We had a meeting in the afternoon, followed by a reception. Bring on the German wine! Then my co-worker Wayne and I collected 21 of our closest friends and tried to find a restaurant that would take us. With a lot of us in Eclipse jackets, we looked like a roving street gang... of software developers. Eike from Berlin sweet talked us in to an Italian restaurant and they made one giant table for us. At the end of the meal my credit card was once again declined, no doubt for "my security" because the purchase wasn't made within a 5 km radius of my home address. Good thing I made that bank run in the morning.

Drinks continued in the hotel lobby bar. 2:30 am bed time.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Auerbach Castle

This morning, some more Canadians arrived in Germany - Dave, Ed and Larry - so Ralph and Susan took all of us out together to see Auerbach Castle. Before looking around, we stopped for lunch at the castle's restaurant. Instead of food, Ralph ordered beer and kirsch shots for those that were still jetlagged. With 1 day of wisdom under my belt, I turned down the kirsch and stuck to apfelsaftschorle (apple juice and mineral water).

he castle is at the top of a really big hill, but unfortunately it was really foggy so we couldn't get any decent photos of the view. We looked around the castle a bit then headed off down the walking path to the bottom of the hill. The kirsch hit poor Larry a bit hard, so we had to stay vigilant to make sure he didn't go off the edge. I was scouting for geocaches on the hike down, but we didn't get close enough to hunt for any.

At the bottom, we stopped for apple pie and hot chocolate in Zwingenberg, and discussed whether the town could build it's tourism by promoting itself as "swing-enberg". Note to the locals - start buying stock in pleather corsets and furry handcuffs now, before the boom hits.

After a break at the apartment watching Ralph's favourite movie, Lucky Number Slevin, we headed out to dinner. It was even more amazing than yesterday. We went to a restaurant that specializes in wild game. Since wild boar is in season, we all ordered it in various forms. Mine was cooked like mini steak medallions - awesome! I should have a pun here. How about, sup-boar-b.

Meetings for the conference start tomorrow, so Ralph drove us all to Ludwigsburg to get settled at the
Nestor Hotel. I think it was about an hour's drive, but I'm not sure because I fell asleep in the car. This year, my room got upgraded so I've got a shower AND bathtub. Score!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

German Sightseeing - Finally!

I have a conference in Germany this coming week. My co-worker Ralph and his wife Susan who live in Germany generously offered to show me some sights over the weekend, so I flew in a few days early. I didn't get much sleep overnight on the plane - friggin' economy - but I did finally see The Dark Knight at least.

I landed in Frankfurt and Ralph drove me to his apartment in Zwingenberg. What's the first thing I do? I open my suitcase, which hits some plants on a nearby table and knocks over a really tall cactus. I go to stand it up again and it's completely snapped off. It's always nice to greet your hosts by breaking something that took years to grow within the first 5 minutes of your visit. Step 2, yell "I broke your plaaaa-aaaant!" Susan says she can replant the broken piece into a new cactus , but the guilt will likely haunt me forever.

Susan had to run some errands for her company so we went to Darmstadt and I got to meet Ralph's daughter, Angela. We all did a little bit of shopping together and they took me to see the Waldspirale. It's a crazy apartment building built by the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, where the lines of the building are wavy. It has over 1,000 windows where none of them are the same and the doors all have different handles. Plus the rooms only have rounded corners.

Susan had to get back to Zwingenberg to do some work so I took Ralph to find his first geocache. Luckily I had him with me to translate the original clues in German as Google translate did not do them justice at all. Roughly, the instructions were to find the sign that scares you and turn your back on it in disgust. Ralph says the woman on the sign is the daughter of an important winemaker in the area who declared her the "German Wine Queen". A highly competitive title-awarding process similar to the "Miss ENSIS" contest. Too bad I wasn't traveling with my tiara. This time.

Next we went to Lorsch and saw the King's Hall and Abbey, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and the museum centre across the street. We also stopped at a café

After picking up Susan we headed to Poststuben for dinner. I had an excellent dinner of goose and crème brûlée. Ralph knew the chef and told him that his crème brûlée didn't make my top 3 when he came to visit our table. Embarrassing! Too bad there wasn't a cactus around for me to break in half while I was at it. I was also introduced to the terrible wonder known as kirsch. It's a cherry brandy, served as a shot, that's very strong. It tastes like burning, rather than sweet. I couldn't finish it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Four Years!

It was 3 days early, but Kevin is busy with curling, so we celebrated our 4th anniversary yesterday. We went to Bekta. Dinner was great, but I have to admit I was expecting more from the #1 Ottawa restaurant. Namely, I has hoping the crème brûlée would make my top 5 list. They did write Happy Anniversary in chocolate on the plate, which made me optimistic, but the crust wasn’t crusty enough. The server also said Happy Anniversary about 7 times with too much staring eye contact, so that was a bit creepy.

To cap off the weekend, I caught a cold from Kevin. I should have laryngitis just in time for the next work conference. I’m continuing the tradition.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Kevin and I went to see the musical Spamalot, which won the Tony for Best Musical in 2005 and is based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I'm not a super huge Monty Python fan, although I do keep a stuffed rabbit with big pointy teeth on my desk at work. The show definitely had some good moments. The French Taunter was my favourite character and I liked The Song That Goes Like This - definite wedding song contender.

The printed program has a fake intro for a Finnish musical, Dik Od Triaanenen Fol, which takes place entirely in a sauna and features the East Finland Moose Ballet. The description included for Finland describes it as, "Mostly flat but with some raised bits. ...And don't believe anyone who says you can't get tomatoes here. Of course you can. And bags to put them in."

This one wouldn't make my top 10 on Broadway, but definitely worth seeing if it comes through your city. After all, you don't get to see a 45 lb. prop cow catapulted every day.

Monday, November 3, 2008

New Condo for Jen

Superb pancake breakfast this morning. Since Jen is fancy, she didn’t have any regular flour and ended up using a combo of 3 flours she had in the cupboard. It was the first time I ever had coconut flour. Fancy!

The morning was extra exciting because Jen bought a condo! We went to look at one final place with her agent before she settled on a property she had seen earlier in the week. We went to the Heartland Cafe so she could sign the offer. We shared a piece of carrot cake there and I had my first London Fog (Earl Grey tea, steamed milk and vanilla syrup in a latte-like frothy concoction). Not quite as exciting as buying a condo, but good none the less.

It was a tense afternoon, waiting to hear back on the condo so we went for a patio drink at the James Joyce Pub and then it was off to the airport. I insisted on taking a few pictures before leaving so I'd have some from the weekend, but we were laughing too hard.

Once my standby seat was confirmed, we still had some time, so we went to the mall to try and get Jen a bathing suit for her Palm Springs vacation next week. She doesn’t own 1 bathing suit! I’ve downsized to 5. It’s a travel essential. You never know when a hot tub party will break out. A rule as important as having audition pieces prepared at all times in case I’m ever “discovered”. Dance audition: Tapping to All that Jazz. Piano audition: Chopin waltz. Vocal audition: Oops I Did it Again. My vocals are the weakest link. Clearly, it’s what has prevented my solo career from taking off.

Jen was happy that the mall we ended up in didn’t have a Swimco and the Bay only had maybe 10 sad and oddly-sized suits, so she didn’t have to try anything on for me. This is why I buy off the Internet. One time I racked up a pretty big bathing suit bill from Victoria’s Secret. When the charges didn’t show up after a few weeks, I called back to make sure the transaction went through. They read the number back to me and it was wrong, but because the charge had gone through, they said there was nothing they could do. I would have liked to see the guy that had a $300 Victoria’s Secret charge on his credit card try to explain to his wife that it was some kind of mistake.

I had an uneventful flight home and found out the next day that Jen got her condo. Congratulations! I’m expecting photos Jen! I picture you in the new condo, with Jazz hands. Wearing a new bathing suit.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Calgary Girl Time

In the morning, Jen, Dani and I went for brunch to Diner Deluxe: sourdough French toast with berry crumble for dessert. We shared dessert so the calories didn't count. We got there just in time because the lineup was out the door by the time we left.

Jen and I went shopping for the day but the only thing I bought was a green scarf. And a Diet Pepsi. Fructose corn syrup goodness.

We were supposed to make dinner for some of Jen’s friends, Nathan and Derek, but they had to cancel because they found a bed bug in the house and didn’t want to risk contaminating anyone else. Sounds bizarre, but it’s true! Poor Nathan stayed at some infected hotel in Edmonton and has been steam cleaning everything in the house for weeks.

We ended up going for sushi at Sushi Kawa instead. I forced Jen and Dani to have sake strawberry margaritas with me. The evening ended with Sex and the City DVDs and wine. And tickle fights in our jammies, of course.