Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Bucharest Day 3 - Trainer Death

Part-way through Ian's technical presentation on IPv6, I reached the end of my tether and decided that enough was enough. The trainer was in a sorry state, simply falling apart. I had tried my best but a replacement with a little more sole was urgently required.

So, as soon as I dropped off my rucksack in my hotel room that evening, I was off into town for a new pair. Amongst all the bright lights of Bucharest's central shopping area, I picked up some Adidas adiPRENE for 269 Lei (£57).

The M&S pair they replaced? Stuffed into a bin on Strada Halelor, never to touch the pavements of fair England again.



Bucharest Day 3 - Black Tiger

Don't be fooled by the interesting menu item "Black Tiger Salad". It does not contain the meat of a black tiger. Or any recognised creature, in fact.

When we asked the Romanian staff about the ingredient, we were told "fish". When the meal arrived, it looked like a large prawn. According to the Internet, the name is taken from the Black Tiger Shrimp (or Giant Tiger Prawn) and, when cooked, tiger shrimp meat turns white and the black stripes on the shell turn bright red.

What I soon determined was that they had served up a prawn-shaped piece of "fish stick" painted with stripes of red food colouring. Bastards. And they had the audacity to charge 26 Lei too. That's the Cafe at the Casino Merkur off my list.

In contrast, the Unique Bistro on Str. Franceza was much more honest. The chicken schnitzel (or șniţel as I should write) did in fact contain chicken and only cost 25 Lei. According to Wikipedia:

"Romanian șnițel is very common in restaurants, fast food places, and homes across the country. Normally served simple and unadorned, ... The Romanian șnițel is made in the same manner as the Austrian one, but as a local characteristic is made of almost any type of meat (chicken, pork, veal or beef). A specialty from Western Romania is the mosaic șnițel made of two thin meat layers (usually each layer of different meat) and a vegetable (usually mushroom) filling."
The mosaic sounds nice - pity I'm in the south.

The Unique Bistro is also very educational - I learnt that Sambuca tastes like liquorice, which isn't surprising as it comes from the similarly-tasting anise plant. I had a "corrected" coffee, or Caffè corretto with some coffee beans on top (although there were more than three), but I'm not sure I'd go for it again.

Ever onward.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Bucharest Day 2 - I want to be an air con salesman

One thing you see around the city are air conditioning units on the outside of every flat. The buildings - even the concrete ones - don't look too bad but they look a mess with them.

At the moment it is November and as cool as the UK. Looking at these weather graphs, it looks like Bucharest is a few dregrees warmer during the summer than London.



Bucharest Day 2 - Crazy drivers

The traffic in Bucharest is impressive. I am in awe that the roads are not strewn with tangled wreckage and broken bodies.

In the short walk from the Novotel to Microsoft, Rez and I have to cross the busy Calea Victoriei and then the insane 8-lane E60. Even with the green man indicating we can cross these roads, caution is required.

Over the last few days, I have - despite the almost constantly blaring horns and weaving vehicles - only seen one car with any damage on it. Bird droppings and layers of dust, yes; dents, no.

Talking of cars, here's one of the worst condition Dacia we managed to find. I thought the car looked familiar and found out that the cars are basically Renault clones.

Another traffic problem is the chronic lack of parking. Every stretch of pavement has a car half-parked on it. I don't think I have seen a single push-chair in the city so far and that's not surprising - it is physically impossible to move around a lot of the main and side roads. Small areas of tarmac are full of cars with parking security staff trying to keep some control of the chaos. In this photo you can see some metal mini-tank-traps which people use to claim parking spaces, moving them on to the pavement when required.

The city could really do with a few multi-story car-parks. Maybe they could demolish some of the more decrepid concrete apartment blocks and replace them with something useful for the parking problem (at least they could be more aesthetically pleasing).

Public transport is good, though.

Haven't had a chance to try out the metro yet.


Monday, November 23, 2009


Bucharest day 1 - No Neil Gaiman :-(

The day started well with some surprise news - according to "Nine O'Clock", the free English-language newspaper placed in my room, Neil Gaiman is in Bucharest this week.

Bestselling author Neil Gaiman to meet Romanian fans

The writer is a guest at the Gaudeamus Book Fair, taking place in Bucharest from November 25 to 29.

His books have the substance that Hollywood movies are made of, while his vision and unique sense of humour make him a favourite of both grown-ups and children. Neil Gaiman is the author of “American Gods”, one of the best novels written over the past decades, and the creator of “Coraline”, which we could recently seen adapted for the big screen.

Born in November 1960 in England, Gaiman has put his signature on science fiction and fantasy short stories, novels, graphic novels, comics, audio theatre, and films. His notable works include “The Sandman” graphic novel series, “Stardust,” “American Gods, “Coraline,” and “The Graveyard Book,” his latest fantasy book which he will promote in Romania next week. Gaiman’s writing has won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker, as well as the 2009 Newbery Medal. The extreme enthusiasm of his fans has led some to call him a “rock star” of the literary world.

After forming a friendship with graphic novel writer Alan Moore, Gaiman started writing graphic novels, picking up Marvelman after Moore finished his run on the series. He has written numerous comics for several publishers. His award-winning series The Sandman tells the tale of Morpheus, the anthropomorphic personification of Dream. The series began in 1989 and concluded in 1996.

Asked why he likes comics more than other forms of storytelling Gaiman said “One of the joys of comics has always been the knowledge that it was, in many ways, untouched ground. It was virgin territory. When I was working on Sandman, I felt a lot of the time that I was actually picking up a machete and heading out into the jungle. I got to write in places and do things that nobody had ever done before. When I’m writing novels I’m painfully aware that I’m working in a medium that people have been writing absolutely jaw-droppingly brilliant things for, you know, three-four thousand years now. “ In collaboration with author Terry Pratchett , Neil Gaiman’s first novel “Good Omens” was published in 1990. The 1996 novelization of Neil Gaiman’s teleplay for the BBC mini-series “Neverwhere” was his first solo novel. In 1999 first printings of his fantasy novel Stardust were released. “American Gods” became one of Gaiman’s best-selling and multi-award winning novels upon its release in 2001. In 2005, his novel “Anansi Boys” was released worldwide. In late 2008, Gaiman released a new children’s book, The Graveyard Book. It follows the adventures of a boy named Bod after his family is murdered and he is left to be brought up by a graveyard. It is heavily influenced by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. As of late January 2009, it has been on the New York Times Bestseller children’s list for fifteen weeks.

Neil’s 2009 Newbery-Medal winning book The Graveyard Book will be turned into a movie, with Neil Jordan as the director.

This sounded like a great opportunity, training schedule notwithstanding, to see the famous writer. The Gaudeamus website was short on detail so I emailed the author of the article and my hopes were dashed.

From: Ana-Maria Iancu
Sent: 23 November 2009 16:22
To: John Breakwell
Subject: Re: [Fwd: Gaudeamus and Neil Gaiman]

Dear Sir,

I am sorry to have misinformed you, it is the first time in my journalistic career when I have to publish a correction. We were informed by the news agency that has a contract with us about Neil Gaiman,and the news agencies are rarely so wrong. But today I attended the Gaudeamus press event and they knew nothing about it (for them Neil Gaiman is still an alien, anyway) so I called the publishing company that works with his books and they said no, he is not coming, he was in talks with them, he is
not coming anymore.
Sorry to have misinformed you, especially that I am a Neil Gaiman fan myself, and it makes me even sadder.

Thank you however, for your interest in our paper and have a nice day

Ana-Maria Iancu
Culture editor

Neil himself confirmed through Twitter that he would not be here.

neilhimself @JohnBrea no, definitely not there.

Some other time, then.



Bucharest Day 1 - Healthy Respect

Good to see that the locals have a sense of humour when electing their next president.



Bucharest Day 1 - Wires

First thing you notice walking down the streets of Bucharest are the hundreds of cables (telephone lines?) running from buildings to lamp-posts to whatever.

It is almost impossible to take a photo of a building without these getting in the way, as demonstrated in this picture of the National Theatre:

I suppose they don't have the money (or desire) to dig up the streets to lay cable underground. Gives a faintly "3rd world" looks to the place.



Bucharest Day 1 - Italian Church

On a photo opportunity stroll during the lunch break, I found the Italian Church of the Most Holy Redeemer on the wide Nicolae Bălcescu Boulevarde. What caught my eye was the JC artwork over the entry archway.

The building itself is surrounded by pretty drab concrete apartment blocks.



Bucharest Day 1 - Health and Safety

In the UK there can be a lot of criticism of litigation-averse councils and companies when they become overprotective. Newspapers and critics foam at the mouth, crying "health and safety gone mad". These people have obviously never been to Bucharest.

Walking around the city is an educational experience. Here it is seemingly OK for iron bars to stick out of the ground where some fixture was removed many years ago. Pot holes and missing flagstones are quite common and you need one eye on the floor whilst the other admires the many delightful buildings.

Talking of buildings, I'm used to construction work being fenced off back in the UK. Here an efficient-looking moving platform rises up to collect debris from work in the upper floors, all while people walk almost underneath it to get to a shop.

Another scene which I unfortunately didn't capture was of a young man holding a rope which went up several floors to a pulley at the top of some scaffolding. I was tempted to hang around to see what was at the other end but instead decided that maybe that wasn't such a great idea.



Bucharest Day 1 - In Training

The TCP/IP training has been going well with the indefatigable Ian Cunningham at the helm. The first day has been a history lesson about networking, filling with real-world experience from a trainer with as many years working with Microsoft products as me! It's been funny having my memory jogged about the many technologies I've had to use in the past and took for granted at the time.

For example, back when you had to use modems to dial-up to service providers to access the Internet, Microsoft provided staff with the option to provide a telephone number to be called back on. This saved us a lot of money, either at home or on the road. I remember years ago accidentally typing in my mother-in-law's home number instead of mine by mistake. I only worked out why the RAS machine hadn't called me back when Olive rang us to ask if we knew what the strange call she'd just received had been about ...

Hopefully my security pass will be enabled tomorrow so I can move around the Microsoft offices without waiting for someone to unlock the doors for me.



Bucharest Day 1 - Green shoots

Looking out from my hotel window gives a mixed view. Some buildings look in good condition and recently maintained ...

whilst others could definitely benefit from a spot of paint and a skip ...

so it was cheering to see this tree, sprouting up from the waste ground, brightly illuminated by sunshine as if to hint that things were improving.


Sunday, November 22, 2009


Bucharest day 0

Off to Bucharest today for a week of TCP/IP training - I know, sometimes sacrifices have to be made in the name of education.

Due to various train issues, the easiest route was to go into Reading and then catch a fast train to Paddington before a short Circle Line ride to Victoria where the Gatwick Express lives. That was three hours door-to-door already.

It's been a while since I've flown from Gatwick so the exits from the train platforms threw me. One said North terminal and the other South terminal - which one did I need? So I booted up my laptop and checked - after a few minutes, my trip confirmation was there in front of me telling me ... "Gatwick". So I climb the stairs and at the top is a list of airlines and which terminal you need. {sigh} I didn't need to worry in the first place.

Eventually I find the subterranean Aer Lingus check-in desk and am free to find some lunch. It's Christmastime, as everyone knows, so I decide a large gingerbread latte is just what I need. I'm 99.9% sure that there will be no free lunch on the plane so I add a panini to the tray.

Before heading off to the gate, I invest in a Rumanian phrase book - or is that Romanian now? I have managed to memorise one word so far - Bună! Sounds like food (bhuna) so easy to remember when you need to say "Hi!". "Please" and "Thankyou" - "Vă rog" and "Mulţumesc" respectively - will require a little more practice.

On the plane I have seat 21C – I didn't really want an aisle seat (although better than a middle seat, of course). I should have asked at check-in for a window seat so I could watch the world go past. As it is not a full plane, I move back to row 29 after take-off where I can have all three seats on the starboard side. You get used to the smell of the loos after a while...

The sun is catching the top of the clouds with pinky-orange highlights. Mainland Europe is passing below me and large rivers and towns can be seen through the broken cloud cover. It’s half three UK time and the sun is dipping towards the horizon so only the higher clouds are touched. Above the clouds there is a lovely clear blue sky with a bright crescent moon.

The plane approaches a weather front of dense cloud which seems to flow towards me like the output from a smoke machine at a concert. And soon the land and the sun, until recently just a reddish glow on the horizon, are both gone, leaving just white fluffiness and the moon.

And flying up with the jets, a rare Cloud Millipede!

After an uneventful flight (watching series 1 Heroes on my laptop) we are down on the ground again.

Deciding to live life to the max, I go for the bus. A 7 RON ticket is £1.50 - back home, I can't get from my house to Reading for that little! With a watchful eye on the buildings as they went by, I managed to work out when I had reached the Victory Square - a major landmark on the map I had printed off to navigate by. Next stop was Romania Square and time to hit the pavement. The Novotel was less than a mile away but after a while plodding down calea Victoriei, I was starting to worry that I was lost. Just as I was about to veer off the chosen path, the hotel appeared and I could rest easy.

Must get some photos of the streets around - nice mix of huge museums and ... sex shops.

Room service have delivered a 37 Club Sandwich - not confident enough to go outside for food at this time of the evening. And a Redd's beer too (from Transylvania, no less) - interesting taste, bit like cider. Wonder what they flavoured it with - the bottle label doesn't say.

Great view from the room window:

but, as a contrast, if you look down to the road below, you get to see part of the city's stray dog problem.

TV seems occupied with the elections - as you'd expect, interspersed with this delightful advert for Scottish whisky.

And now, before I go to bed, they're showing "Battlestar Galactica" with Romanian subtitles.



Bye, bye, daddy - come back soon!


Saturday, November 21, 2009



Tonight I went to my first rock concert since ... Twisted Sister, Dio and Slade in the early 80s and Magnum in the 90s. Although I've since seen Metallica, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Iron Maiden, and a plethora of others at festivals like Reading, they don't count in the same way.

No, tonight, I went to see Dragonforce and their three-band support (Sabaton / Sylosis / Glamour of the Kill).

I came away with more respect for the support bands than Dragonforce. Sure, technically, Dragonforce were miles away a better band but I just felt they were taking the piss. The first couple of support bands wanted to enthuse the audience - they needed the fans. Sabaton, playing before Dragonforce, showed the confidence gained from 10 years of existence - they looked happy and played like they were having a good time.

Dragonforce, on the other hand, seemed to be made up of two halves - one half being awesome drums (Dave Mackintiosh), guitars (Herman Li) and vocals (ZP Theart) and the other half just dicks (yes, I'm looking at you, Vadim and Frederic.

Would I have reacted differently if I was in my 20s? Probably. The drummer's cage and his playing were awe-inspiring. The speed guitar playing was incredible to watch. But still the band as a whole managed to dilute their impact with minor theatrics.

Despite that, did I well up during the "Through the Fire and Flames" encore? You'll never know.


Thursday, November 12, 2009


TechEd Berlin - Day 3 - How many miles have I walked this week?

Found myself in a strange town
Though I've only been here for four days now
I've got blisters on my feet
Trying to find a friend in Friedrichstrasse.

{with apologies to The Jam}

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009


TechEd Berlin - Day 2 - Where's my hotel?

There’s a U-Bahn station near my hotel at Wittenbergplatz which I can use to get to the S-Bahn railway at Zoologischer Garten, instead of walking directly up Budapesterstrasse. Looking at the map, it only saves me about 30 yards so it’s more for variety. So tonight I get off the S-Bahn and bump into the people who work with me on the BizTalk desk at TechEd. They are taking the underground too as their hotel is on the same line as mine. We are chatting on the train and it occurs to me that I am not concentrating on where I am going. As we pull out Wittenbergplatz, I realise that this was the one I needed to get off at. At the next stop, Nollendorfplatz, I make my farewells but they tell me this is their stop too. Not wanting to appear a confused idiot, I don’t mention my mistake and, while they are distracted by a noodle stand (which smelled gorgeous), I sneak back to the opposite platform to wait for the next train back to the station I’d missed. Ten minutes later I am at Wittenbergplatz and climb the stairs to the surface. I recall the morning trip where a woman took a photo of the building opposite (which doesn’t look so impressive at night) and the pedestrian crossing where I waited for the lights to change. I don’t recall the side road next to the crossing being there, though... Off I stroll down the road and soon start to wonder why it is taking so long to find Nurnbergerstrasse and my hotel. Maybe it is because I’m walking in the dark after a busy day? As I reach an Underground station, I check my map. It is Nollendorfplatz - the one where I left my colleagues buying noodles. I had managed to walk in the exact opposite direction and so it’s back up the stairs and on to the platform. Ten minutes later I am again at the stop I need. This time at the surface I am facing the right direction and the building that the woman had been photographing looks vastly more impressive. And there is no side road by the crossing. Before I know it, I am back at the hotel...

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TechEd Berlin - Day 2 - It's all work, work, work...

There were numerous Xbox stations positioned around the event with people like this showing how easy Expert mode was. Bastards.

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TechEd Berlin - Day 2 - Messe Berlin

The Messe Berlin has an impressive facade at the South Entrance and the reception area is vast.

I love photo-stitching software. This panorama is made up of 6 photographs:

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Monday, November 09, 2009


TechEd Berlin - Day 1 - Berlin Wall, 20th anniversary

Ah, hindsight...
Back on Saturday when I was packing, I decided to not take my DMs with me. They’re not comfortable enough yet but they would have kept my feet dry. And I forgot to bring the cagoule that I planned to use, having seen the predicted weather forecast.
So here I am standing in the rain for an interminable length of time waiting for some giant dominos to be pushed over. My feet are wet and the rain has soaked through my coat, jumper and T-shirt. And this while being in an umbrella forest. Umbrellas are great – a single person can keep quite dry while sheltering under one. This benefit quickly disappears when overlapping umbrellas form a cascading waterfall of drips.
Two hours. That was today’s “interminable”, as calculated from the photo timestamps. Two hours of being squashed up with lots of other people ensuring no-one poked me in the eye with their opened umbrella. And when the dominos DID fall, I pretty much missed it in the chaos of bobbing heads and cameras.
Did I get anything out of the evening? Of course. Highlights, or at least mediumlights (in no particular order).

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TechEd Berlin - Day 1 - Registration

TechEd is quite a well-oiled machine. Before you arrive you can print off a bus pass for the city (assuming you registered online) so you can get around with just a slip of paper. The hotel you are ataying in is primed with travel notices to hand out to attendees. When you get to the event, getting your registration pack and swag is a breeze although the queue for the former was a bit too long for my liking (Just-in-time travelling a speciality) as I had to be there ready to work.

Note - Before you leave your hotel to go to such an event, read the emails that you were sent. They may include such comments as "bring government-issued photo ID". Do not, instead, read the documentation whilst standing in line when realisation dawns that your passport is safely locked away in the hotel. Luckily, they accepted my Microsoft security pass and a credit card with my name on it.

The swag was a branded bag. For non-staff, they threw in a metal water bottle to reduce the environmental impact of TechEd - you would make use of the water cooler stations around the event instead of raiding the fridges and coffee stands. Maybe the organisers though that TechEd staff require a constant caffiene to keep working and water would just impact performance?

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Sunday, November 08, 2009


TechEd Berlin - Day 0 - walking around

It is really hard to imagine what the city looked like in the 1940s as so much rebuilding work has reshaped Berlin but then you come across the ruined Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church which really makes you pause for thought.

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TechEd Berlin - Day 0 - off to Hearthrow

Interesting conjunction of events for the coming week in Berlin.

1 TechEd Europe event (where I'm helping out)
2 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down (celebrated in Berlin)
3 Remembrance Day (not celebrated in Berlin)

The first should be no problem - smile, act techy and remember the Paracetamol for the hangover. The travel is going well so far even though the train into Reading was running 5 minutes late. On my tight schedule, that was a worry but not critical. As was there being initially no one at the RailAir ticket desk. So now I'm making use of the free wireless on the coach to write this blog post. Ah, luxury travel - don't get Internet access in taxis.

The Berlin Wall festival should be good - I'll need to find out tonight what's going on next week. I don't want to miss the celebrations just because I couldn't be bothered to do a little research. The event has had a reasonable amount of coverage in the UK (TV programmes, newspaper articles, etc) so will be interesting to see how it is covered at source.

On Wednesday it will be November 11th and Remembrance Day. Obviously an important day around the world for those countries on the Allied side. It will be interesting so see if anybody is wearing poppies.

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TechEd Berlin - Day 0 - The journey begins

All journeys have to start somewhere.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009



Just seen "9" at the cinema. A technically well-made film but one that left me wondering at the end "what's going on?" Maybe I'm supposed to appreciate the film for what it is without trying to find some deeper understanding. I'm sure the writer knew what was going on in the story but they weren't helping me too much. I shouldn't be sitting here thinking through the film in my head so I can work out why things happened the way they did.


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