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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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Monday, June 27, 2005
Finally Home...

Ah.... I made it home. Finally! Time to get some sleep... :-)

The last month and a half was quite intense. Here's a quick recap of the itinerary:

  1. Las Vegas (tour guide for relatives)
  2. Los Angeles (speaking at a the Southern California Tech Summit conference)
  3. Las Vegas again (speaking at the MEDC 2005 conference)
  4. Austria (might as well go home since I have to go to Europe anyway... and do some business while we are there).
  5. Amsterdam (speaking at the SDC 2005 conference)
  6. Austria (a bit more business)
  7. Houston (spending 3 days in the office... otherwise people think I dropped dead...)
  8. Las Vegas (speaking at the Advisor DevCon conference)
  9. Houston (for less than 12 hours... had some quick business meetings to attend)
  10. New York City (speaking at the CircMan Show and conference)
  11. Montreal (speaking at the DevTeach conference)
  12. Finally, back to Houston

And all of this in just over 5 weeks. And I even cancelled my trip to TechEd in Orlando at the last minute (this is what gave me my 3 days in the office). I almost regret that in a way. After all, there is this awesome Sushi restaurant I known there (Amura). And I am not even sure I will get to Orlando again this year. Oh well. I'll get over it. ;-)

All these trips were fun, but to be honest, I was ready to get back. People often think that travel is just fun. This is not true. It is fun to be at different places, but it is not fun to spend hour after hour in air planes. It also isn't so much fun to go to all these exciting places and then not have time to do anything but business. I always try to set aside a little bit of time for myself, but more often than not, a nice dinner is all I have time for, and often, that nice dinner is just room service. (The answer to "How was Vegas?" would be something like "the Club Sandwiches there are just a little dryer than in New York"). Especially when the schedule is this busy, I am really looking forward to coming home. Working in the office almost seems like a vacation then.

What is next? I am not sure to be honest. Looks like I will have a month in the office. A trip to Seattle perhaps within the next 4 weeks. Looks like Oregon will be mixed in there as well. Perhaps we could even break away for a long weekend to go on a real vacation (haven't done that in a long time...). But overall, not that much is happening in July. Except maybe a trip to Europe. We'll see...



Posted @ 9:55 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (22)


Friday, June 24, 2005
A Night On the Town: Montreal

Montreal's nightlife is very similar to nightlife in European cities. Especially Crescent street is a favorite of mine. The list of bars, clubs, and restaurants there is quite extensive. Of course the downside of going to Montreal for business is that one does not have time to enjoy the town much. But on this trip, we were staying for a few days, and we managed to break away for an evening.

We started out with a trip to a Brazilian stake house. I can not recall the name, but it doesn't really matter since it was mediocre at best. If you are in the mood for a Brazilian stake house, look for Fogo de Chao, which is among the best Churrascarias I have found in the US. The one we went to had ok meat, but the side dishes were disappointing, and they had no salad bar or anything that would appeal to anyone who doesn't like meat very much. Plus, the meat was only ok, and they didn't bring around all that much. They did however have a Samba dancer. She had obviously seen better days (quite a number of them, as it appeared), but it still added some fun and excitement. Cool.

After dinner, we proceeded on to Crescent street and went to Jacques Villeneuve's Newtown club. (In case you don't know, Jacques is a Formula One driver who even was world champion back in 97 when he was in better shape). It is a modern hip place, but it was a bit dead that night (Monday night). We had a few drinks and some people who joined us there had some food, which apparently was pretty good (I didn't try it myself). I think it's the kind of place that is much better when it's rockin'. We ended up moving on to some other bars on Crescent, which were more lively.

The next evening, we didn't have enough time to go to any bars, but we did end up eating at Zen (at the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal), a sit-down Chinese restaurant. I had been there two years before, and I wanted to go back, voting down the Treehouse, which was Ellen's favorite. At Zen, you pay 32 Canadian Dollars for all you can eat family style food. You simply order as many individual dishes as you want, and everything is then shared amongst the people at the table. The food we had all tasted excellent and we only managed to eat about half of what we ordered. I did however feel a bit nauseous afterwards. I think I just am not used to eating fried food and Chinese can often be pretty rich. A few hours later I found myself wishing we would have gone to the Treehouse instead, even though I'd go back to Zen as well.



Posted @ 8:52 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (24)


Sunday, June 19, 2005
Bonsoir, Montréal!

After our brief 2-day stay in New York City, we are off to Montreal. I really like Montreal! In many ways, it represents the best of Europe and America: A bustling modern city, mixed with (relatively) old buildings. The city is very high-energy. It is less serious and less business than most US cities, and it is much more about enjoying yourself. Even on a Monday or Tuesday night you can go out to eat or to a bar and meet a lot of people you are actually excited to meet. And then there is the multi-cultural mixture with both French and English influences (among others). In short: It's a blast!

The flight from New York to Montreal is just over an hour. Once again, the departure out of La Guardia airport in New York is rough. In fact, the plane never really "settles in". I think there must have been a problem with the trim of the airplane, because it kind of "hangs in the air crooked" the entire flight. At first I thought it was just my broken seat, but as it turns out, other people notice the "hanging forward and to the left" effect as well. It all works out well though, and I am annoyed at my self for having gotten concerned once again for no real reason. For some reason I had developed a dislike for flights that are just slightly unusual. I guess the fact that I fly constantly makes me pay attention to little unexpected noises or other unusual factors way too much. In the end, it always turns out to be nothing and I ended up spending a few hours uncomfortable for no reason.

As we get to Montreal (Friday night), it is too late to do much (and we are too tired anyway), so it is room service one more time, and then we finally get a good nights sleep. (Rick was wrong: Sleep is a pretty good invention after all!). Saturday is a pretty easy day. A little bit of business and preparation for the conference we are here for, and then we are off to the speaker dinner. Many of the conferences I go too (although viewer than in past years) have a dinner for all the involved speakers. This is a good way to network, get to know people, and arrange for business deals. In this case, the speaker dinner is particularly nice since they are taking us on a tour of Montreal. Very cool. A few times, I couldn't help but giggle a bit. "Montreal has some very old buildings", the tour guide says, "this one here for instance is over 200 years old...". 200 years?!? That's not old! In Austria, old buildings begin at... OK, we move on. "Montreal is also known for being build around a mountain", the tour guide continues as we go up the "Montagne Royale". Mountain?!? In Austria, mountains start at... well, never mind.

The tour is great though, and I enjoy myself very much. It ends at a restaurant that is meant to be all prepared for our roudy group of "business visitors". However, it turns out they kind of forgot about us, so they put us in the regular dining area. This works out OK for us, although I do feel that the people who were already there (some couples there obviously tried to have a romantic evening together) got the dirty end of the stick. Most of them leave pretty much right away as they realize the noise level our group produces.

As it turns out, Montreal has an annual fireworks festival over the course of several weeks (some thought it was 8 weeks, others maintained it was 6 weeks). On different evenings, different countries put on fireworks for 30 to 45 minutes. I was very much looking forward to that, but unfortunately, the extremely poor service at the restaurant, we ended up missing the fireworks altogether. Bummer. Well, maybe next year. The night finally comes to an end at Hurley's Irish Pub.



Posted @ 7:35 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (28)


Sunday, June 19, 2005
A Super-Charged Safe!

Here's a nice little detail I discovered at the Sheraton hotel in Montreal: The little safe they had there was quite nice. For one, it was big enough to actually store 2 laptop computers, and secondly, it had a power-outlet inside the safe. This is very nice, because I can use my computer all day, drain the batteries, and later, when I leave the hotel to have dinner or something, I can lock my computer in the safe and still recharge it at the same time. Very nice!



Posted @ 7:33 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (17)


Friday, June 17, 2005
New York, New York

Less than 12 hours after my "enjoyable" experience with America West, and after a few business meetings, I was back at Houston airport to get on a plane to New York City. As my friend Rick always says, sleep is highly overrated anyway... ;-)

Going to New York City is always an interesting experience for me. I do not go there as often as I go to - say - L.A., Orlando, or Seattle. So it is always a bit less familiar to me, even though I have a pretty good idea in terms of finding my way around. I just couldn't really imagine living in New York, even though I like the energy of the city. This makes for an interesting constellation, because it always makes me feel like I am "going to a foreign place". I do not get this feeling very often anymore, and it kind of reminds me of going on trips with my parents when I was a little boy. So I always find going to New York exciting.

Although many things do get fairly familiar in New York now. For some reason, flying into any of the NY airports always seems to be a rough experience with the landing resembling a trip in a kangaroo-pouch much more than an airplane ride. Then, you get on a cab-ride with a very grumpy driver, who makes you put your own luggage in the trunk, yet still expects a big tip. Gee, nice to meet you too! Taxis are inexpensive in New York though. It always amazes me how much cab-fare varies between cities.

We are staying at the Sheraton Manhattan hotel, which is right across from the Sheraton New York. Our hotel is a bit smaller than the one across the street, and we got a good deal on the rooms. $285 a night "only". In return, we get a small room with a dirty bathroom. By the time we get there, it is 10:30pm, and we are hungry and tired at the same time. A perfect scenario for room service! So where is the menu? After a bit of searching, we discover it on top of the TV. We choose, call them up, and... it was an old menu, so the items we want are not available anymore. They promise to bring one to our room. OK, we'll wait. 30 minutes later we decide to not wait any longer and just call them again. They must have a club-sandwich, right? They do, but now it is after 11pm and room-service is no more. So much for "the city that never sleeps". We talk them into delivering the sandwich and all is good. We even have a high speed Internet connection. (And the menu never shows up during our entire stay...)

The next two days we spend at a conference (CircMan Show) at the Marriott right on Time Square. Pretty nice setting. As we hurry to the location in our business-attire, past all the tourists, I feel a bit like a real New Yorker.

At the hotel, the only problem is that I need an Internet connection to do my presentation. The setup fee is $800, even though I can see the wireless network. All I need is a password. Not the value proposition I had been expecting! As a result, I am doing my presentation offline. Who would have thought a trip to New York City is like a trip to the technological equivalent of the stone-age. But, everything else turns out very well.

We also have one evening to enjoy ourselves. Even though we practically stay on Broadway, we simply do not have enough time to enjoy a play. As on every trip to New York, we promise ourselves to come back here just for fun one of these days. We do however have time for a good meal, and we decide that we are in the mood for Thai food. We discover a little place called Pongsri (244 West 48th Street), which turns out to be excellent! I had the obligatory Panang Chicken, and find it to be one of the best I've ever had. The food is so good, we decide to even have dessert, a treat I almost never go for. If you are looking for Thai food in that area, stop by at Pongsri.



Posted @ 7:33 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (20)


Wednesday, June 15, 2005
The America West Experience

I do not fly America West airlines. Not if I can help it anyway. But once every couple of years, I can not avoid it. Last night was one of those days. I had to change my flight out of Vegas to stay for another meeting, and my only option was to fly on America West.

When I rebooked my ticket, everything seemed to be easy, but just to be sure, I decided to check in online. However, I was not able to do so, due to "security reasons". So I had to check in at the airport, which I did at one of the e-Ticket check in kiosks. I went through the whole process (tried to change my seat but couldn't, because the plane showed as packed), and then it said "printing boarding pass", but it didn't. So after a while, an AW employee came over to assist me grudgingly.

I then proceeded to the security check, and to my surprise it turns out they had selected me for an in-depth check. Not one of those "let me wand you real quick" checks, but a very thorough check instead. As it turns out, the security people didn't care about me so much, but it was America West who requested a special check. Gee, thanks, what a great way to welcome a "returning customer"! I guess I must have appeared a bit grumpy over the whole deal, because the lady who searched my bags made some snotty comment. Well, let me grab your crotch and search through your underwear in public, and we will see how much you like it! Could we possibly conceive of a less professional way to perform a security check?

I still made it to my plane in time, but just barely. And imediately I am off to the next treat: zone bording. I mean: What is wrong with "we are boarding the plane from the rear forward"? It works well, but with zone boarding, there is someone in your way at pretty much all times, and the overhead bins are always already full when you get to your seat, and ultimately it always seems that zone-boarded planes leave late. So I eventually fight my way to my row. I have a window seat, spot it, and sit down. A minute later it dawns on me that I was at the wrong window seat. But wait a minute: There already is someone else sitting at my window seat. Hmmm... Well, long story short: It turns out that they completely messed up the seat assignments, because depsite the fact that the plane is not nearly full, almost every seat has two people assigned, while more than half the seats remain empty. Thus, the big shuffle begins. Families are moving around. 5 year old children are in row 8 while their parents are in the back of the plane. It's a zoo! I mean: How hard can it be? It's a simple logistical problem, isn't it? "One seat, one butt", how hard can it be?

Oh, and don't get me started on the seats: They have the oldest seats I have seen in a long time. Those that end at shoulder hight, almost like in an old bus. And the arm-rests are basically bare metal, with no cushion left. But "no big deal", I think to myself, "I will simply get a pillow and use it as an arm-rest". Wrong! "I am sorry sir, but we do not have any pillows or blankets on this flight". What? This is a red-eye flight, leaving Vegas at midnight, and you do not have a single pillow on board? Well, I try to make the best of it. We take off, and I am served a warm Diet 7Up. This is the last time I see the flight attendants. Trash is not collected, so before we land, I just smush my empty cup under the seat in front of me.

Flying on AW gets me into Houston in Terminal A of course. This is a bit of a hassle, because I left on Continental, out of Terminal E, way on the other end of the airport. Now one has to understand that Houston is not a small airport. It is not the biggest airport I have ever seen, but it is fairly sizable. But for some reason, the inter-terminal train is way too small. Riding on this 3-car-6-people-each-contraption is always oddly reminiscent of Disney's "It's a Small World" ride. A swift 25 minutes later, I have made it from Terminal A to Terminal C. This is it, I had enough! I have better things to do at 4:30 in the morning! So I get off the train and make the rest on foot. As I approach the escalator that leads up to Terminal E, I see the train leaving out of Terminal C in the distance.

Now this whole "arriving in the wrong terminal thing" I can not blame on America West of course. And in fact, I have to admit that the overall experience of flying AW seems to have improved. After all, I didn't even get ripped off this time...



Posted @ 12:42 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (20)


Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Staying on the outskirts of Las Vegas

There are those that say when you go to Vegas, you should stay away fromt he strip. Casinos offer better odds when you gamble downtown and on the outskirts. Everything is cheaper when you stay away fromt he strip. After all the strip is just a tourist trap, and the real insiders go other places, they say.

NOT!

If you go to Las Vegas, go to Las Vegas proper! And right now, that means The Strip (a.k.a. Las Vegas Boulevard). Stay at a big hotel too, and not at one of the little dumps. The odds are worse there? Possibly, but if you go to Vegas, then go to have fun and not to win money. If you are going to Vegas to win money, then I have news for you: Las Vegas isn't growing as fast as it is because people leave with more money than they came with! You are going to spend some money here, so you might as well spend it in the most enjoyable way possible!

I spent the last two days at the J.W. Mariott, which is a $45 cab ride away from the strip. There is nothing wrong with the hotel itself. In fact, it is quite nice, but the standards here in Vegas are just different! The casino in the hotel is terrible (I haven't even spent a quarter gambling yet). The restaurants are terrible too. (I understand neither the casino nor the restaurant are owned by Mariott). If I wanted to enjoy Las Vegas, I'd have to pay for what almost ammounts to a $100 round trip to the strip! Thanks, but no thanks. I have been here for business (speaking at a conference that has been held here for the last few years), but if I'd be staying here for pleasure, I'd be - shall we say - upset.

If you want a nice place to stay in Vegas, consider the new Wynn, or the Mandalay Bay. Or, if you want to spend a little less, consider the New York, New York (check out the piano bar if you stay there...), or the Aladdin. The Venetian and the Paris are good too. And if you got the money, stay at the Bellaggio . You'll have a blast.



Posted @ 7:24 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (17)


Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Our Planes Are Fuller Than Ever!

May 2005 just set a new record for airplane utilization. The "Big Six" US carriers (American, United, Delta, Northwest, Continental, and US Airways) have managed to fill their seat capacity 79.2%. An amazing number, considering that these carriers also serve less popular routes than some of the smaller carriers. And this is despite price increases.

For travellers, this isn't truly great. To achieve such high utilization, many flights have to be overbooked and people get bumped off the flight. For frequent flyers like myself, this means that upgrades get rarer and rarer, as no seats remain open in the ever-shrinking business class section. Also, carriers achieve these utilization numbers by dropping flights. Compared to May 2000, airlines are now flying 25% less seats (and that despite many carriers packing more rows of seats into their planes again), reducing traveller options.

As a result, airtravel has become even less comfortable and affordable than it used to be, a trend I certainly would not have predicted that way...



Posted @ 2:02 AM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (14)


Tuesday, June 14, 2005
The Debate's Over: The Globe Is Warming

This is the main headline of yesterday's USA Today. According to the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, it is now confirmed that due to carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, Earth is trapping more energy from the sun than it is releaseing back into space.

"Finally!", I have to say. It has always been hard to believe for me that while the rest of the world has been accepting the fact, and has been working on solutions, the US still decided a final call on the issue could not be made. Well, at least the "global warming dark ages" have ended.

I guess it may be a bit easier to believe in global warming if you can look out your window and see a mountain that used to be covered by a glacier that's now completely snow-free. And I guess the frequent occurance of extreme weather such as flooding in Europe or an increase in tropical storms didn't give us enough of a hint. Even satellite photos of certain areas from years back compared to now didn't convince some people. 

This issue has bothered me for a while now, and I am not even what one would consider an environmentalist! But it is now time to move on and join in the effort of finding a solution.



Posted @ 1:54 AM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (25)


Sunday, June 12, 2005
Aruba's Murder Misfortune

So there was a murder in Aruba. That blows! Not just for the obvious reasons. Needless to say that these sorts of events are always tragic. In this case however, I also feel bad for Aruba. Aruba has started tourism not too long ago, and they are working hard on it! A little island paradise that is often considered to represent a picture-perfect version of what people think of when they say "caribbean".

So now I understand a lot of people think Aruba is a dangerous place to go....

Hello?!? Is there any sanity out there? Just the fact that a single murder (as bad as it may be) causes this kind of media attention should tell you something: It is extremely unlikely to be murdered there! Compare this to my home of choice: Houston. Just in Houston alone, there were close to 300 murders last year! And that's not a bad number for Houston! 20 years ago there were close to 500 murders. (For detailed information, see http://www.houstontx.gov/police/cs/pdfs/ucr/cs_ucr_1985to04_summary.pdf).

In the entire united states, 16,204 people got murdered (2002). Within the last 20 years, that number was as high as 23,000. (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/overview.htm). The chance of getting murdered in the US currently is 5.6 in 100,000 (it used to be above 10 in 100,000). These are scary numbers, especially considering that everyone is cheering the fact that crime rates are down!

There is no reason not to go to Aruba anymore! Quite the contrary: This incident made clear how unusual murders are in Aruba. The same, btw, is true for most other parts of the world. Especially for Americans, going places like Aruba almost always means that they are at least as safe as they would be at home. (War zones excluded of course). And in most of the western world at least, that is true despite anti-American sentiments. (For comparison, in my home country of Austria, the chance of getting murdered is 0.9 in 100,000 (counting murder and manslaughter... the US number only counts murders...). However, if you don't live in Vienna and are not involved in any drug trafficing or the like, changes of getting murdered are almost 0. See http://www.protell.ch/Aktivbereich/19Archiv/de/2002/03.115d.htm  for details). 

American cities simply are dangerous places to live. Compare American crime rates with other countries' crime rates, and you will see what I mean! Personally, I am thinking about going to Aruba this year. I hear the windsurfing there is awesome...



Posted @ 9:30 AM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (30)


Friday, June 10, 2005
Austria in May...

I just got back from a quick trip to Europe. I was invited to speak at the Software Developer Conference 2005 (www.sdc.nl) in the Netherlands (in a little town called Arnhem, which is probably most remarkable for it's world war 2 "appearance"). This was a welcome opportunity to "stop by in Austria" real quick, since we were practically in the neighborhood (globally speaking), and that is a good enough excuse for a quick trip home.

Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to truly enjoy the trip, due to conference preparations and other work, but the weather was just awesome! The hottest (and nicest) May on record! We took a few hours to go on mountain bike tours, and even 2 short hikes (more like walks actually). It was great! It would have even been easily warm enough to swim in the lakes (which is generally done there in May, but usually not all that comfortable). Too bad we didn't bring our camera (although you can check out the photo album for pictures from previous trips to Austria if you are interested: http://www.markusegger.com/Photos/Index.aspx).

Arnhem on the other hand was cold and rainy (I've really never been to the Netherlands when the weather was nice...). We decided to drive there by car, which was a 7 to 8 hour trip from Austria. We left early enough to avoid most of the traffic (Tip: In many areas of Germany, school breaks end at the end of May, which makes for a LOT of traffic!), and had a rather uneventful trip. Just around noon, we passed by the Nuerburgring, which hosted the Formula One Grand Prix of Europe that weekend, which broke my heart. I even considered getting tickets, but really didn't have enough time (and tickets were hellishly expensive on short notice!). Oh well, we will have other opportunities to mingle with the European high society (this is no Nascar race, you know). And after the disaster at the Brasilian race last year...

After the conference, we had just enough time to go back to Austria, had a nice BBQ, visited a beer tent (you can't go to Austria in the summer and not go to a beer tent!), and finally returned home to our "other" home in the US, just when we had adjusted to the time difference.



Posted @ 9:41 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
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