As we proceed further into the vaccination campaign against COVID-19, in spite of several restrictions and lockdowns still in place in many European states, I think there’s hope on the horizon and there’s an optimistic perspective that will allow us to resume our plans to travel.
In the following paragraphs I’d like to share with you my journey as a mindit, working inside an IT project for one of our partners, which is one of the top travel retailers, with hundreds of operations world-wide, on all continents, including Europe.
Thanks to the close relation between parts, I was the gainer of some scheduled on-site travels where I had the chance to meet in person and to work closely with people I used to talk with 8-hour a day remotely, attend to their daily ceremonies and experience their working environment. Also, there is always lunch and the drink after work where you get to know each other better. 😊
Working for a multinational company with operations world-wide allows you to discover different cultures and habits, different approaches in terms of planned actions to reach the same goal.
This is at least my perception, after I got invited to attend to some training sessions held for several days in different countries, for the local operations and me to get to understand the architecture and functionalities of a new Point of Sale version solution, the successor of the most popular existing solution across the company. And suddenly, in terms of surroundings, I jumped from Swiss rigor, from cosmopolitan Basel to sunny and charming Lisbon, and finally, to the heart of England, In Nottingham, city of Robbin Hood.
1. Chapter Basel
I learned shortly before departure that I will land on French territory, on a shared airport between the two states, with different taxation policies of goods sold in shops meters away one from another.
Honestly, by the time I was heading to Basel I didn’t know much about the city, except being the hometown of Roger Federer, instead, I was very well aware of the local football team, due of its frequent clashes with Romanian teams inside of European competitions. However, I never noticed the city on the top list of recommended destinations for a city break, shortly afterwards I discovered that what the city has to offer has nothing to do with it..
I was instantly surprised by the climate: for most of us, I believe, the first picture that comes to mind when you think of Switzerland are the astonishing mountain landscapes from the Alps but the temperature was even higher than In Bucharest.
Basel turned out to be a crossroads, encapsulating both French and German influences, due to its immediate neighborhood, but not only, there is an important Italian community, you can hear constantly all three languages spoken around you. I could notice a wide diversity of people, a cosmopolitan air created by many restaurants with cuisine specific from each community, governed by a western-specific relaxation vibe, especially across the avenue next to the Rhyne and narrow streets which I visited by bike.
Basel is also an important art center, we could hardly find accommodation for my first visit here because it overlapped with Art Basel, which is a for-profit international art fair staged annually in Basel, Florida and Hong Kong and the numerous galleries and varnishes were all open for international audience.
Even though I was having recurring visits to Basel, I didn’t have the chance to meet locals, but I spent most of the time with foreigners settled here for a while that fed my curiosity about their history, mentality, events and prerequisites, political stands and investments that led to their neutrality and business strategies, alongside innovations that contributed to their wealth and high standard of living.
A healthy city composed from a mix of business and sport which, where people swap between luxury cars to bikes to get in shape, for me is best illustrated in photo below, where citizens are packing their office clothes to waterproof backpacks and get back home swimming.
Q: “How do you travel to work?”
A: “By Rhyne!”
2. Chapter Lisbon
The opportunity to attend a training in Portugal suddenly appeared during a holiday trip in Wien alongside my friends, a city perhaps more affected by Eastern influences, but still similar in terms discipline and building architecture to my experience from the first chapter, I could identify the same Germanic flair as a general impression.
Likewise the travels I had the chance to take, I had to fly Lisbon alone, this experience has proven to be an entirely different in regards many aspects, perhaps a Latin culture should be more similar to how we live in Romania, but Lisbon turned out to be a far more Latin location than I expected. During my walks across the colored streets of the touristic districts that formed an endless carnival I just couldn’t stop asking myself if I’m in Europe or in Rio. The transition at that timing was just too sudden for me, so I had to reflect for few hours about what is going on.
The first new thing hit me immediately after landing I was that after walking through the departure corridors, I arrived directly in front the airport, there was no passport check, and only moments later, eventually inspired by some sea breeze while I was heading for my check-in, I realized I just flew inside Schengen area.
Shortly after my calibration moment, I started to become more excited and Portuguese people contributed on this, I could experience their courtesy to foreigners in two moments: when an old lady proactively approached me, with surprising, good English and guided me personally to an elevator so I can get out directly on surface from the subway station with my medium-sized travel luggage, the same piece of luggage I was carrying behind me.
Its zipper has broken while transiting one of the most crowded crosswalks in the center of Lisbon, close to an important railway station and that’s how I ended up with almost all my clothes scattered around the street 😊.In under a minute, thanks to the people around, I had all my clothes gathered and thrown back in the suitcase, at least I hope, and that was the moment I understood how a Formula 1 driver feels during a race while taking a pit stop.
The embarrassment however disappeared by the very moment I checked the view from my room:
Remember when I presented the City as ‘Sunny Lisbon’? Well.. it is, at least in theory, it’s supposed to be one of the most sunniest city in Europe with sunshine for over.. 2,799 hours a year, no matter when you’re planning to visit it, you’re highly likely to get sunny weather with comfortable temperatures.
During my trip, the reality proved the statistic only in the first day, the sky was mostly cloudy, and I could notice that during the breaks I took while attending the training, because the building where it took place was in close proximity to the airport. I think that the average interval for departure of an aircraft is under a minute, Lisbon Airport being important node for South America flights and of course, in summer season, Portuguese territories outside mainland, mostly across the Atlantic, like Madeira and Azores islands are frequent destinations for tourists.
I was excited and confident to meet organizers armed with the only two expression I knew in Portuguese: “bom dia!” and “obrigado”. The experience was very pleasant and useful, to clarify the language aspect: the presenter was a Dutch citizen, head of Business Analysis department on POS solution vendor behalf, with an impeccable English, I could ask a lot of questions that were clarified comprehensively, and the local guys welcomed and treated in the same specific warm manner.
Even in the offices I could notice their personality and sympathies expressed indifferent matters, I could notice for example customized offices where scarves and badges of the favorite local teams are displayed over the walls. The biggest advantage in such trips when you are interested in digging into a nation’s culture and history is that you have the locals around. From a recent perspective, this is how I learned the development and popularity of the city grew accelerated when Madonna settled here, about their unique modern constructions such as the MAAT Museum, I learned a lot about their history of colonialism, territories they discovered and still possess, how different the other Portuguese dialects are about the famous tram they committed to innovate long ago to be able to climb sleep ramps for public transportation in a city surrounded by hills:
The funniest aspect about their conduct presented by the locals is the rivalry between north and south, regions that seem to act in contrast, for example, the famous Porto wine is a strong liquor produced in north, instead, people around Lisbon prefer lighter wine, instead, when it comes to beer their preference seems to be inversed.
I had plenty of time to hear their stories, I must admit that I have unintentionally extended the lunch breaks because of the wide variety of dishes and flavors I found in Portuguese cuisine which were worth a try. On the other hand, I am not a fan of sea food, I find its taste neutral, but the guys there were so confident I am going to like their sea food and fish recipes they insisted to try a local restaurant where I ate some fresh oceanic fish, briefly prepared, I swear its taste led me to our traditional pork intensively prepared.
My short trip here it piqued my curiosity, I feel there is many more to explore since the pieces of puzzle I have seen seems detached from a poem, the natives seemed very kind, I have found a friendly culture and professionals very focused on their work and passionate. However, the food. I would place it on the top of the list of reasons you want to be here.
3. Chapter Nottingham
The journey to Nottingham began in the most English way possible, after landing in Birmingham, I shortly found out there is a train strike on-going in the eastern-midlands area and I needed to reconfigure my initial route to reach Nottingham. It is not supposed to enter the Sherwood Forest, famous by its historic link with the legend of Robin Hood, that easily, isn’t it?
I’m glad that my first contact with England has happened here, I took it as a more authentic experience in a preserved location, not as cosmopolitan as London or other big cities like Liverpool or Manchester. Unfortunately, the main historical attraction of the city – the Castle of Nottingham was closed due to consolidation works but the alleys, reinforced walls, caves, and inns around made me feel like going back in time to the Late Middle Ages.
Of course, I never skipped the English breakfast, but on the third day in a row I told myself there’s also room for the morning run, decision that led to exploring the vicinity.
Running and walking along the canals, around the neighborhoods of English houses, I could notice they were surrounded by dense vegetation and impeccable grass and I took it as are presentative image of how an historical town should be protected to offer a healthy place to live.
Since the city is bustled with students, around 50.000, home of two large universities, what else could I attend if not an in-depth technical training, this time held by a solution architect. The English approach in implementing the solution was impressive to me, a comprehensive analysis sourced probably from a well-digested methodology in which risk factors were exposed with concrete scenarios we all acknowledged them after few iterations.
United Kingdom represents an important market, the attendance was far more numerous than in Portugal the guys from there were also attending to the event, I could hear them from time to time complaining about the food and weather – I can understand. The struggle for associating the face with the name was real.
I was struggling to find restaurants serving dishes apart from burgers, fried chicken, and fish, eventually I found a Turkish restaurant that was a close friend of mine during my stay. Instead, I was happy to find a large variety of beer types that mixed perfectly with Premier League evening fixtures.