It all started out so innocently.
Out of the blue, someone messaged me to ask I was planning to attend next week's workshop in Berlin.
I had no such plans. I never had any such plans.
On the occasions when I had asked, management did not think there was enough value in sending me to Berlin to meet with my team's counterparts there. However, shortly after receiving that innocent message, I also received a new manager.
I sat in a "hand-off" meeting between my new manager and my previous manager. My old manager probably said something like, "we should make sure we give Steve any resources and opportunities that would be useful to his career growth."
I saw my opening and said, "I heard there's this workshop in Berlin next week, to go over [redacted]..."
Believe me, when I got approval, I did not hesitate to book my flight and accomidation.
It was only later that the headaches started...
Berlin is a phenomenal city. I refuse to hear anything contrary on the subject. It is a weird center of people who are incredibly passionate, a place with fantastic contemporary art, a club hub, and a real neoliberal wasteland in the middle.
I first visited Berlin in January of 2016, so it wasn't my first time going there. I flew in on Friday, so that I could enjoy a weekend in Berlin -- this falls into the paradigm called "work-adjacent personal travel," which I will elaborate on later.
I had a great weekend and also really enjoyed my time after work...
I won't go into too much detail on Berlin antics here, but amongst my highlights were landing just in time to run into the Christopher Street Day parade, my first trip to my favorite two karaoke locations, some lovely Rose sprtizers by a canal, cliched famous Doner places, tantuni, some fantastic art museums, and for the week of my business stay, a truly nice Airbnb in Kreuzberg.
I wouldn't be surprised if I heard someone singing "Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?" at one of the karaoke places. It was a question I found myself asking... myself.
A) Work-Adjacent Personal Travel
I've had the (mis)fortune of doing a fair amount of work travel for my current company. 1
If I'm going somewhere interesting, or somewhere near things that might be interesting, I try to plan some work-adjacent personal travel. Perhaps, staying longer and going somewhere over the weekend at my own expense.
I stayed in Berlin for the weekend before the workshop. I wanted to find a place to go to for the next weekend.
It would be a ridiculously short amount of time, but I could get to visit another city without using vacation time.
I crunched the numbers, compiling easyJet/RyanAir fares, flight times, etc. to try to maximize "interesting" and "cheap."
I settled on Budapest.
B) Work-Adjacent Work Travel
I booked my ticket to Berlin at the absolute last minute. The corporate travel tool only allowed me the option of an overpriced ticket with Wow Air, Iceland's premier (now defunct) budget airline.
Once I was in Berlin, colleagues back home realized that they had a great opportunity.
There were some contractors they wanted to train in Aachen. I had the know-how to train them. If I could extend my trip and train them, it would eliminate the need for travel weary folks to take another trans-Atlantic trip.
However, there were some serious obstacles.
To change my return flight, I had to call a travel agency on the West Coast of the United States. This meant their working hours were nine hours behind Berlin time.
Luckily, after a couple of phone calls, they were able to gave me an estimate for changing my Wow flight, which was quite reasonable, in part because my original ticket price was at a corporate rate.
The bigger obstacle is that it was not certian whether the contractors would be able to come to an in person training session the following week, and timezone differences added delays.
I desperately awaited replies to my emails, decisions on travel approval, and also had a flight to Hungary after work on Friday.
I packed enough clothes for one week, not for a potentially longer trip. I could smell even more desperation in the air when I realized... I needed to do laundry.
Another sacrifice for my career.
As I hung my laundry to dry, relief came. Aachen was a yes.
I booked a train ticket from Berlin to Aachen, and rescheduled my flight to leave via Frankfurt. I would handle other details later.
Onwards to Budapest!
Budapest is beautiful and a weekend is not a long enough time to spend there.
I went on some good walks, had some good food, and admired the architecture, but it would have been a better choice to visit somewhere closer to Berlin.
It was really sunny and hot, so I bought some roll-on sunscreen that would remain in my travel arsenal for another couple of years with its Hungarian label until it retired. That, a couple of postcards, and a magnet, were my souvenirs.
Pulling the Mattress Out From Under Me
In order to facilitate the weekend in Budapest, I originally planned to come back to Berlin, and then spend a night somewhere before flying back to the U.S.A. in the bosom of Wow Airlines.
My plans for what to do on Monday morning changed, but my Sunday night plans were the same, right?
Uh, well, actually... I booked an Airbnb with someone who didn't realize their account was set to automatically approve requests. I had suspected this was the case when I didn't hear from them, and they didn't respond to my messages, but they did fortunately log on and make it clear that I would not be able to stay in their residence.
Customer service offered me a hotel, but I ended up staying in a friend's apartment2, since we had been hanging out anyway.
The following morning, I hoped an early train with one connection to a small corner of Western Germany. I got to change trains in Köln, where (perhaps unsurprisingly) the train I planned to use second leg of my train journey had been cancelled.
...And I'll leave you with that as a "cliffhanger."
(Make sure you don't look up anything about how Deutsche Bahn has really flexible train tickets. Might spoil how the next post opens.)
1 Fortune when you want to go out of town, misfortune when you want to stick around and the destination is the Bay Area.
2 Zolko's decor remains a design inspiration to this day... and one I have sadly failed to replicate in any way.
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