Markus' Travel and International Living Blog

Markus is an enthusiastic traveler, who lives in Houston, TX (USA) most of the time, but also spends some time in Saalfelden, near Salzburg (Austria). He is fascinated by travel and also by his experiences gathered by living in two different countries and continents.

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Friday, April 21, 2006
Guest of the Day in Des Moines, Iowa

I went to Des Moines, Iowa this week. I know what you think: "Boy, I wish I could go to Des Moines one day...". But hey, it wasn't that bad! I was picked as the guest of the day at the Mariott we stayed at, which meant I got a free upgrade to a pretty nice suite, as well as m&m's and roasted peanuts. So there!

Asides from that, there was some other noteworthy stuff going on. OK, nothing super-exciting, but still! On the way in, we flew through some serious thunderstorms. It was quite spectacular. Thunderstorms as seen from an airplane are always exciting. And it was even more exciting when we went straight into one for landing. So much for the predicted smooth ride!

Here's one thing I have never seen before: The airport in Des Moines is used as a civilian airport as well as a base for the national guard. So we actually landed right next to a bunch of F16s. I have never seen F16s "in the wild before". I visited a few aircraft carriers and such where they were on display, but I never saw one in its natural "habitat". When I flew out the next day, they were actually zipping around. Boy, that was pretty interesting actually.

So that was cool and something I had not seen before. Another thing I had not done before was go through a drive-through in a taxi. When we got there, it was too late and nothing else was open anymore, so we went through the McDonald's drive through in the cab. I thought that was pretty humorous. Maybe I am just easily entertained...

Posted @ 6:46 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (15)

Friday, April 21, 2006
Bike Trip from Hell...

Here is something for motorbike fans: Elena's trip through Chernobyl is not for the faint of heart. Not sure I'd ride along with her, but her story is interesting:

Apparently, the advantage of riding a bike through Chernobyl is that there are no cops or speed limits... ;-)


Posted @ 1:45 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (31)

Monday, April 17, 2006
The First Day in the 100s

It is only April, but the weather is getting pretty warm here in Houston. No doubt, summer has begun. Today, we drove into Houston and somewhere on the way, the temperature was 100 degrees fahrenheit. (That is 38 celsius.)

Time to get back to our pool... ;-)


Posted @ 7:03 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (22)

Saturday, April 15, 2006
Enjoyable Days in Orlando

It may have been a pain to get to Orlando, but I DID enjoy my stay there. Of course, I was there for a (pretty stressful) business trip, but still, it was nice. We stayed at one of my favorite conference hotels: The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. It may not be the world's greatest hotel, but it is a very nice hotel to combine a computer conference with pleasure. For instance, they have a very nice pool:

 Swimming Pool with Waterfalls

It guess the pool isn't quite as much of a draw for me anymore since we got our own cool pool (with waterfall and palm trees), but it still is pretty nice. We actually managed to spend a few hours at the pool this time around. (With the conference and trade show stress, we often don't even make it to the pool).

The hotel also has a few restaurants. Forget Cascades and the White Horse Saloon. They just aren't worth it if you ask me. However, Hemingway's is very nice. I have been there for lunch and dinner numerous times, and have always enjoyed it a lot. (Note: I have also been there with group-lunches, and those were disappointing for some reason). Hemingway's is a separate building from the hotel, down towards the pool.  In this picture, it is the building with the read roof above the pool in front of the hotel:

The exterior of the hotel, illuminated at night

This hotel also has the best brunch I have ever had (and I had quite a few). It is served on Sunday's only at the La Coquina restaurant. This is a buffet-style brunch, but what is so special about it is that the buffet is actually set up in the kitchen area. When I got there the first time, I was disappointed when I walked into the restaurant, because the buffet I saw was small, and there were very few people. But then we were taken into the kitchen, and boy, did things turn out well! They have 100+ items, from cheese to shrimp and sushi. They even have 6 (or so) different dishes that they prepare to order. The last time I was there, I ate buffalo and lamb in addition to the 100+ items on the buffet. And the quality of everything is excellent.

So it you ever go to this hotel, don't miss this brunch! Note that you will need reservations. And if I were you, I'd make those reservations ahead of the trip. They only allow for a very limited number of guests (which is why the restaurant appears half empty during the brunch).

Unfortunately, we missed the brunch this time, because I was presenting all day on Sunday. Bummer. But we will be back!

The good news is that we had some other great food while we were there. For instance, we went to Roy's, which is a Hawaiian fusion restaurant. The food was excellent! The next time we go to Orlando I will go out of my way to go there again. We also went to Amura, one of my all-time favorite sushi restaurants (which just happens to be right next to Roy's). Long story short: The food was excellent there! But this dinner deserves its own post, since this was the Olympic bet dinner I won!


Posted @ 2:27 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (6)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Stephen Forte in New Orleans

My good friend Stephen Forte recently visited New Orleans. Check out his blog for what he has to say about how things have progressed since Kathrina hit:

Posted @ 10:13 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (10)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Delayed on United

I recently promised to tell you more about my trip from Eugene, OR, to Orlando, so here I go.

I recently visited with a client in Eugene and then moved on directly to Orlando where I spoke at a conference. This was an interesting trip, because one does not have a lot of flexibility traveling out of Eugene, and going from Eugene to Orlando also is about as far as one can go within the continental US. So this was a combination of a long trip and little flexibility, which meant that I had to take a flight that wasn't quite ideal. In particular, it had a stopover in Denver and a relatively short connection time (although not unreasonably short connection time either).

The trouble started when I got to the airport in Eugene, because I was told that the plane was late. Why, I am not sure. It wasn't a beautiful day in Eugene, but it wasn't overly bad either, so there was no particular reason for a weather-related delay. And in fact, the delay was not due to weather in Eugene. The problem was that the aircraft was arriving late (why I do not know). So even before we left Eugene I knew that there could be a problem with my connection.

When we got into Denver, things looked promising though. We got there about 25 minutes before my connection left. I had to get to a different terminal, but I thought I was in OK shape. Other people on my flight had short connections too. In fact, one row behind me were some people that had about 40 minutes to make their connection (from what I overheard). Now I am not the kind of person that gets up in a plane and demands to be let out first just because I have a short connection. But for some reason, the flight attendant asked everyone to remain seated so the people in the row behind me with the short connection could get out first. Hm! My connection was much shorter, and they knew about it, because they talked to me about it even on the plane, yet they would still let people with more time our first?!? I guess only United Frequent Flyers are entitled to make their connection...

So I waited in line before I got out. I literally ran to the other terminal (and I am not talking about jogging... I RAN!), which included a train ride. I didn't check any luggage, so I had a lot to carry and was quite out of breath by the time I got to my gate. I made it in time. In fact, I was there 8 minutes early. But when I tried to check in, I was told that I had missed my plane. Hu?!? I didn't know what to say other than "but it is right there!!!". And so it was. The plane was outside, but I was told that since "I" was late, I could not get on. And I was "late" because I was not there 10 minutes before scheduled departure!

I was rather annoyed at that point! I mean, c'mon! They knew I was coming, and they knew I had enough time to make the connection. All they would have had to do is let me step into the plane and take a seat! I would have had plenty of time. In fact, from what I could tell, the plane even left a little late so I was in fact there more than 10 minutes before departure!!! And what made things worse is that the staff at the gate was rude about the whole thing, blaming me for being late! (It seems that that has become the modus operandi for ground crews lately... keep in mind that my last bad experience with rude ground crews was just a few days earlier...).

But wait, there is more! It turns out that there wasn't another flight to Orlando for another 6-7 hours!!! So while I left Eugene at noon, I would not get into Orlando until the next morning. My only choice was a red-eye flight. I even made them check into other airlines, but apparently there were no other flights. (All the while the plane that I supposedly "missed" was still parked outside with the jetway connected!). But then I was told to consider myself lucky again (just like a few days earlier I suppose) that there were any flights at all "that day". (An after-midnight flight does not qualify as "that day" in my book...).

So eventually I tried to calm myself and I sat down, plugged in my computer, and started to read some email (while the plane was STILL at the gate). A while later, I decided to get some food, but as it turns out, every restaurant at Denver airport apparently closes at 8pm. It was just after 8, and I managed to convince someone at McDonald's (not my first choice, really) who was still there by accident to sell me their last burger. That was really my only food option that day. I had missed lunch in Eugene. There was no food on the first flight. And there was nothing United did in terms of offering me anything.

So as things got close to departure time, I started to get really tired (after all, I had also just returned from Europe 4 days earlier). So I had the idea to ask them if there were any exit row seats. I figured with the extra legroom I might be able to sleep (normally I never am able to sleep on planes). As it turned out, there were tons of available exit row seats. I thought I was in luck, but no! At United, one has to pay an upgrade fee for exit row! What a bunch of rubbish! It is outrageous in the first place, and with how they messed up with my connection, the least they could have done is accommodate me with some seats that were open anyway. But no.

You know what? I was about as likely to pay the upgrade fee as I am to fly on United again!

I got into Orlando the next morning at 6:30am. Total travel time: 15 hours. About the same as a trip to Europe normally takes counting stopovers and all. Between my recent trip to Europe and this, I was just about completely wiped out. I had a headache for days afterwards. I've just about had it with airlines. Two such messes within a matter of 4 or 5 days is just too much. Not only is it annoying, but it takes a serious toll on you physically.

And if at least they were a bit friendlier and helpful about the situation, then I'd be a much happier traveler too. But this is just outrageous! Is there anything a traveler can do about this? Apparently not. Or is that just a myth that airlines successfully spread...?


Posted @ 9:37 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (9)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Gas Price Finder

Check this out: You can enter your ZIP code and find the least exensive gas station in your area (US only). Pretty cool!

Posted @ 2:00 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (13)

Thursday, April 06, 2006
Travel and Daylight Savings Time

Boy have I been busy lately! This is also why I haven't blogged "much". After my trip to Little Rock, I went straight to Europe. Air France again, but it could have been worse. The flight was bad but not horrible, which is a lot better than I expect from Air France. So I was happy. In Europe I toured between Germany and Austria for various business reasons. I am not going to bore you with the details. The one thing that was kind of cool was that we had an event at a hotel called Krallerhof in Leogang, Austria. This is a fantastic hotel and all our event attendees were very pleased. Also, the fact that the weather was great and the skiing was awesome didn't hurt. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to do any of that myself  :-(

In terms of excitement, things got considerably more interesting on my trip back (now almost 2 weeks ago). Europe changes to "summer time" (changing daylight savings time) on March 25th, which is exactly the day I traveled back to the US. Now the interesting part is that the US does not change that day. It must be a headache to deal with the time change anyway. There are just so many things affected. Anything from airline schedules to getting the cows used to be milked an hour earlier (apparently a real problem for farmers as I am told). And apparently the overall energy savings of switching time is only 0.28%! I guess it adds up, but still, compared to all the expenses this causes...

But anyway: Asides from the normal headaches, flights from the US to Europe must just be a complete headache to deal with.

Or not deal with apparently, because everything was in complete disarray. My flight out of Salzburg was late due to air traffic in Frankfurt (where I had a stopover). So late in fact, that I missed my connection to Atlanta (on Delta... from whom my ticket was purchased in the first place). This was clear from the point in time that I checked in in Salzburg. In fact, several other people on my flight missed their connection. Some of them were taken care of right away. They already knew what flight to get on in Frankfurt, even before we left Salzburg. Not so for my flight. In fact, as I got to Frankfurt, I was told to see a Lufthansa transfer agent. Why Lufthansa, I was not sure. After all, the flight to Frankfurt was Tyrolean and from there on it was Delta. Lufthansa was not directly involved as far as I can tell, but I guess Tyrolean has a partnership with them. It didn't matter much though, because first, the Lufthansa transfer desk was unattended, and when I finally found someone, they told me they didn't care because it wasn't their problem. They sent me off to another terminal via train to see a Delta agent. This made sense to me, because I bought my ticket from Delta, and I missed their flight. So off I went, slightly annoyed since I had already wasted close to an hour.

At Delta check-in, they told me that I needed to go to the ticket agent. OK... off to the next line. Quite a number of people were ahead of me actually. Most of them simply missed their flight because they forgot about the time change. Some of them were with the US Army and said "you do not understand... I am with the Army and can't be late like that". Looks like they were in trouble, because at that point, we had already missed the last US-bound Delta flight of the day. I started to get pretty annoyed at that point, because I really did not understand why I had to stand in line behind all those people who missed their flight due to their own fault. In any event, about an hour later I reached the front of the line. Turned out that the last flight they could have put me on (with a different airline) closed check-in two minutes earlier. The person in line just in front of me (who had overslept) still made it on. I didn't! Argh!

I was annoyed, but little did I know that my trouble just started! The problem was that delta really didn't care about my situation. Sure I missed the flight, but it wasn't their problem apparently, and besides, since I had only payed the "Internet rate" for my ticket, I didn't really qualify to be put on a new flight. What?!?!? First of all, I didn't even book over the Internet, and secondly, even if I did, I didn't pick any particular rate. Instead, I paid what I was asked to pay. I was mad at that point. Nevertheless, I got nowhere. Instead, I was sent back to the Lufthansa ticketing desk, since it was "their problem" for some reason. I was sceptical, since that was where I just came from an hour earlier.

So I went back to Lufthansa. As it turned out, at that point, the line there was over 2 hours long and wrapped around twice the entire check-in hall. Yikes! About 5 hours after getting to Frankfurt, I finally made it to the front of the line. There were no more flights that day I was told. Excuse me?!? How about the flight to Chicago at 3:30? "Oh that" they said. "Yes, we could put you on that one". Great. Lesson learned here: Make sure you check out the flight plan yourself, or better yet, try to get wireless Internet access, so you can pull up some flight information. You are likely to get better information than they do, and it gives you a lot of leverage. (In fact, online flight information is often more accurate about delay-status than in-airport displays!).

So a few hours later, I was on the last flight from Frankfurt to the US that day. Boy, what a hassle! I guess I should consider myself lucky, because if I wouldn't have had the right flight info ready, and if I would not have been willing to argue the point, I would have had to wait for the next day. And what really annoys me is that from my very early morning check-in in Salzburg, it was completely clear that I was going to miss my connection. They could have simply re-booked me on a later flight from Frankfurt to any other US destination and I would have been on my merry way a little later than planned, but without much further hassle. Instead, I had to go through a number of arguments and demand to talk to supervisors and generally refuse to go away, to make it to my destination at all.

My flight to Chicago was on American Airlines, btw. Not a very nice experience, but I should not complain, since it got me where I needed to go. I still could not help to notice that the plane was extremely old and shabby. The sort of plane where you are afraid to touch a wall because it looks so gross. While in flight I had the hopes of calling someone to let everyone know where I was and when I should be picked up at the airport. (Ellen was picking me up and had no idea I was late at that point). The plane had a phone in ever seat. I tried several of them before I asked a flight attendant for help. "Oh, those phones?", she said, "those have been disconnected 2 years ago". Great. I guess their vision of a modern world is a less connected one. Luckily I managed to call Ellen just after we landed in Chicago, minutes before she would have left for the airport. Overall, the American Airlines experience was bad. Even standard amenities, such as an in-flight map are apparently unknown to them. I know I shouldn't complain, and at least nobody was rude or incompetent. Nevertheless, I will not fly AA in the future if I can avoid it.

So this wasn't fun. At least not the kind of fun I need after going close to two weeks on 4 hours of sleep a day. But I finally made it back to Houston where I got a good night's sleep and a full day in the office, before I went on my next trip... but I will tell you about that in my next post...


Posted @ 10:16 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (7)








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