Oh the adventures of my latest business trip. Let’s see, when last I was at a connected computer, I was putting in yet another late night working back in the UK. I got to nap for all of 90 minutes before I had to go to arranged meeting spot for the 4 am taxi to the rail station for the first train of the day to the airport for the 7 am flight to Germany. The really exciting part was the next one: because I was going to a small town in rural Deutschland, and because it had come to pass that there was no real alternative, I was renting a car and driving about 120 km to my final destination. This was thus to be my first time driving anywhere outside the US, and I was going to be doing it under duress and sleep deprivation.
I was trying to avoid facing the fact that I would have to make this trip, which is somewhat embarrassing. I was giving a reasonably high-profile lecture and thus had to actually get to where I was going, but I really cut it too close with all the other work I had to do this week and delayed making travel arrangements until quite late. I am the first to admit this: the last few weeks have been horrid and full of long hours of evening and weekend work, but all of the misery has been entirely self-inflicted. Yes I am (overly?) ambitious, but occasionally I also procrastinate way too much.
This car rental adventure turned out to be the right thing to do, and if I had to come back here again I would do it again. But it was not my choice at the time, and I was distinctly unhappy about it. Where to start on the circumstances? I had booked a flight on Ryanair, which was mistake number 1. Ryanair has been good to me in the past, and this was my first real misadventure with them. Again, all my own fault for not studying the map sufficiently. What happened was that I ended up flying into one of Ryanair’s notorious middle-of-nowhere airports, a full 55 km from the next close major city (although that name is deceptively on the Ryanair ticket: it takes being initiated into this practice to realize that this is common for the cheap airfares in Europe. You’ll end up near-ish to your final destination, but you won’t actually end up there!) Sadly, where I was going was already in the middle of nowhere, but a different nowhere. So to get from point A to point B, I would have had to take a reasonably complicated train trip into major city C and back out again, thus potentially running into timing issues with my talk if anything went awry. So the car option.
Several things really saved me here. (1) I was home in Minnesota last week and had rented a car and driven there. (2) The last car I owned was a 5-speed manual so it’s like second nature to me to shift. (3) The Germans are sensible like the rest of mainland Europe and drive on the right side of the road. (4) In the EU, signs are designed to be consistent across countries and to include few words but many pictures. All directions are done like on a train, with signs indicating a large city in each direction on the road. I pretty much never saw “East” or “South” on a sign. (5) Google maps rocks.
Actually I think I would benefit from adoption of the European system back home. I have, upon leaving the MSP airport, gone the wrong way on both highway 55 and 494 due to confusion over east/west. Admittedly it’s a very silly mental block: if you are going south, west is on the right, not the left as it is on a north-pointing-up map! It gets me all the time. I would much rather have signs pointing Minneapolis/St. Paul. I can actually even imagine that it’s easier for me to drive here in Germany than it would be for your average German to get around Minneapolis!!!
So I did it, I did not get killed or otherwise damaged in any way. The trip from the airport to nowhere was far worse than the trip back, which was almost pleasant. I even enjoyed the opportunity to open up on the freeway and drive a little faster than is normal in the states!
I’m now at the airport ready to head back, which is another great thing about Europe. I was supposed to stay through tomorrow but after the combined 4 hours of sleep in the 2 nights before leaving, and the short 6 hours in the hotel last night, I took advantage of the fact that flights are cheap and booked a new one home for tonight. I want to go home and have a few days to recover, celebrate the recent victories, and start to plan to attack the piles of work that need to be done in coming weeks.
I have learned a few really valuable lessons lately. Do not procrastinate. Do not over-commit. I travel too much for work and not enough for fun, and I need to be careful about that. And make sure to look at where on earth Ryanair is putting you when booking cheap flights. Oh yeah, must pick up some conversational German. You should have seen me trying to get a cup of coffee at McDonalds this morning.