Saturday, July 31, 2010

Germany Trip, An Epic Journey

The start of this month I got a nice surprise: I'd be traveling to Germany during the World Cup finals. I was super excited and I must say, this trip was action packed from take-off to touch down. I've broken this into 4 parts: The trip to Canada... err... Germany (epic, trust me). The work we did. Weekend fun. And the trip home.

The [Epic] Trip to Germany
At 1:30pm pst I left Portland on an 11 hour Delta flight to Amsterdam. From there I would pick up a Holland soccer shirt and catch a short flight to Stuttgart Germany. Oh, if only it was that easy.

While somewhere over the Atlantic ocean my ears popped. I looked around and notice I wasn't the only one having ear issues. Shortly I felt the plane decelerate and start to turn. Then the pilot came over the PA system. "The cabin air pressure valve broke. You might have noticed." As a result we needed to go down in altitude so we all don't pass out from a lack of oxygen. Unfortunately, being that low burns way too much fuel and since we were not quite half way over the Atlantic we needed to turn around.

The Mess Hall
The closest spot for us to land was a little place called Labrador Canada. It has a 4 hour time difference from the West Coast. We landed at 2am (10pm pst) on a military base. Naturally, it took about an hour for them to figure out what to do with us. At 3am (11pm pst) they let us get off the plane and bused us over to the mess hall. I had already made friends with a couple from Romania and they started taking out all sorts of cool instruments. The husband played a little on a handmade wooden clarinet which sounded amazing.

They told us we would be back in the air by 7am, but we quickly discovered the the time had slipped to noon. As a result of the slip in time, they decided to let us officially check into Canada. They brought us into a large warehouse with a couple podiums set up. I didn't get a stamp though which I thought was kind of weird (maybe you only get them when you leave?).

Now fully in Canada by 8am (4am pst) , they let us sleep in some barracks until noon. These were single rooms with shared bathrooms. It was really nice getting to sleep for a few hours on a real bed with blankets instead of on the mess hall's floor. When I went back to the bus at noon (8am pst), I found out that the time had been pushed back to leaving at 3pm. Instead, we went to eat lunch in the mess hall with the other military folks. The food was pretty good. By this time my sleep/awake schedule had already been thrown off.

At 3pm (11am pst) we actually headed over to the little airport to get on the plane that had just arrived to pick us up. Unfortunately, this airport was not really equipped to handle 300+ people all at once. As a result, the check-in took a little longer than normal. Now, I don't know what the big deal was, because I had literally been nowhere except where they bused me, but they were super thorough at security. They padded me down and searched my backpack, and when I say searched my backpack I mean that they took everyone out of it, laid it on the table, and then put it all back into the bag. They did that to me and the 3 people behind me. I couldn't believe it.

Well, as a result of this process it took a while to get everyone on the plane. It seemed like we ready for take off around 6pm (2pm pst... over 24 hours into this trip). Then there seemed to be a long silence when the captain came over the PA system. "Folks, I can't believe I'm telling you this. Words cannot describe how I feel right now. You see, we started at 4:30 this morning out of Atlanta. We knew it was going to be close timing wise to come up and get you. Unfortunately, due to how long it took to get everyone loaded on the plane, we are no long eligible to fly according to FAA guidelines." You could image the murmur that started on the plane. He continued, "The good news is that in about an hour the other pilots will be eligible to fly. The bad news is that they are not trained to fly this airplane." Yeah, we now have a plane that works with no pilots and pilots without a plane that works. He continues, "However, I have heard that they fixed the problem on the original aircraft. So here's what we're going to do: We're going to switch you from this plane back to the original plane and get you back on your way."

By 7pm (3pm pst) we're all getting back on the original plane. The cool part was that while walking to the other plane, the mechanics were hanging out there. We got to talk briefly with them as we passed by. We didn't talk about anything meaningful, but I thought it was cool they were out there. It put a "face to the repair" which was calming. It also told me that the mechanics had enough confidence in their fix that they were willing to stand there and chat with the passengers. One of the mechanics was flown in on a private jet earlier in the day to help with the repair. I bet that cost Delta a little bit of money. Of course, that was probably nothing compared to flying a huge plane and crew to Canada and never actually use it.

At 8pm (4pm pst) we were finally in the air. The rest of the flight was totally fine except for one small issue. The original plane didn't have any food because we ate it all the first time we were in it. The new plane also didn't have any food because they had hurried up trying to make it in time. So, we made the trip over the Atlantic without anything but leftover peanuts and chips.

I had an opportunity to chat with one of the flight attendants while I was waiting for the bathroom and got a little more of the back story. He said the big problem (ie. why it took so long) was that we couldn't land at a big airport. They wanted to go to JFK, but simply didn't have the fuel to make it. Had we gone to JFK, they could have gotten us on another plane with another crew within a couple hours. Instead, they literally had to fly everything in and it just takes too long. Furthermore, from the airline's perspective, since we're already late, it's better to make us more late and keep everyone else on schedule, than make a whole bunch of planes a little late to get us closer to being on time. This makes sense. I'd rather a small subset really angry at me than a bunch of people annoyed with me.

Once we got off the plane at 6:30am (9:30pm pst) in Amsterdam, we had a couple nice surprises. First, they gave us a 10 Euro voucher for food. They also gave us a 5 minute phone call voucher. Finally, they gave us a letter apologizing and saying details would follow explaining that Delta would be giving each of us a free international round trip ticket. Now Jessi and I are starting to figure out where we want to go.

I must say, even though I was delayed a whole day, I was pretty impressed with the way Delta handled the situation. Sure, I wish they could have done better, but it was clear that they tried. The entire time they were nice and as transparent as possible (though I still don't know what happened to that 7am plane...). I actually think I would fly Delta again and still think they're a good company. Of course, that could just be the free ticket talking.

HP Project
Once I actually got to work, it went really well. HP is working on expanding it reporting capabilities for the LaserJet division. I can't go into huge detail, but we're getting better and better at tracking our printers. This team was assembled to create the road map for the project. I got to go because up until now, I was the foremost expert on doing this type of reporting. So I got to sit there, answer questions, bring up potential issues, and help solve problems before they happened.

Overall, I would say it was a great meeting. We accomplished a lot which would not have been possible sitting on the phone for two days. Now the really difficult part has started - actually doing the project. I'm still just a resource, which is really nice. I can see why people try to get into the consulting world.

Weekend Fun
I was able to stay the weekend which was great. A colleague was able to stay through Saturday and I was on my own on Sunday. On Saturday we headed out to check out a couple castles. To get there meant I got to drive on the Autobahn. I was told that it's very similar to driving on freeways in the Bay Area, and that's so true. Most people go around 120kph which is about 75mph. It was like driving on any other highway except I did get passed by a couple Ferrari's - one of which I'm pretty sure was doing double my speed. I can see how the Autobahn would be a lot of fun to drive on with a high performance vehicle, otherwise, it's just like driving normally.

Neuschwanstein Castle
Anyways, we saw the Neuschwanstein castle on Saturday. This castle is famous because it's the castle that Disneyland's castle is based off of. It's really cool looking at it because you can definitely see that they're related. What's also amazing is the surrounding area. This castle was a vacation spot and it definitely felt like it. Check out the picture and the video to see what I mean.

Destroyed Heidelberg Tower
On Sunday I went to the Heidelberg Castle which was actually used to defend the city. It wasn't in nearly as good of shape, but was still amazing to see. I would have like to spend more time just exploring the city because it had an old-time feel.

The First Car
I also went to the Mercedes-Benz Museum on Sunday. That was really fascinating to learn about the history of the car. Both Daimler and Benz started out separately. They independently created an engine which each of them brought to the World Fair in Paris (the event the Eiffel Tower was built for). After that they started competing against each other. It wasn't until after WWI that they merged because they were both in such bad shape financially that the only way they could survive was to combine. Since then, Mercedes-Benz has been a huge player in the car industry.

Finally, I got to watch Germany play Uruguay for 3rd place and Holland play Spain for the World Cup title. Both games were a lot of fun and the Germany celebration was unbelievable. Though, I'm pretty sure they go crazy after any win against anyone any time because soccer is their life. The weird part about it was half time. I noticed that they didn't do a round-up of other sports. Instead, they just talked about regular news. I guess I never thought about it: that a country that only has one main sport wouldn't talk about other sports. You want the sports update? Just wait a couple minutes and watch it.

The Trip Home
After all that, I was ready to go home. The trip had been a blast. Thankfully, the rest of the trip was mostly uneventful. The only hiccup was in Atlanta. There was a lightening storm going on and when that happens everyone has to get off the tarmac. So when we got there, we had to circle for a bit before we could land. Then, when it was time to leave we had to wait again. It was fun once we started boarding though. They really wanted to get us out of there before the lightening started up again and so they really moved us along. You could feel the intensity to move fast and get going. Because of timing issues they didn't wait for other people to come either. So about a quarter of the flight was empty. So I got to stretch out a little bit which was nice.

Overall, it was a great trip and I'm super excited to go back again and visit with Jessi someday.

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