Monday, August 23, 2010

The road to home (Istanbul, Cologne, Frankfurt)...

The past week has been a crazy busy one, mostly with work. We closed out our trip to Istanbul by getting a lot of souveneirs, heading to a fancy nightclub called Reina, an extensive carpet showing at a Turkish rug showroom, eating lunch & smoking Hookah (for my first time) on the Bosphorous and wandering around the Grand Bazaar...and when we were just getting used to life at Taksim Square it was time to head to Cologne, not without purchasing another piece of luggage to haul all of our new treasures home. It makes you wonder a little when the guy at the bazaar asks you" "Would you like to purchase something you don't need?" Regardless, we got out souveneirs our new USSARO luggage and headed back to Ataturk airport.

Now it was off to Cologne (or Koln), where Gamescom was waiting for me.

On Sunday evening getting to Cologne, we got on a train headed in the wrong direction and finally got to the Marriott Cologne at about 11:00 p.m. Cologne is a nice city, heading out to grab some food, the first thing we noticed was the Dom. Half of the building was covered in fog and just gave out this increadibly creepy vibe. Eat your heart out Notre Dame, these gargoyles were scary in the fog or in the sun, as it finally cleared up on Friday. The whole week consisted of light rain and overcast weather and me with very little warm clothing. Crossing the bridge to head over to a Gamescom event on Thursday, we noticed the love locks on the bridge. Naturally, we decided to give 'love lockdown' a new meaning and get our own locks for the bridge, throwing the keys in the river to seal the deal. Then the one day (Friday) I decide to wear the one pair of pants I is blazing hot and I am profusely sweating from transporting boxes to the convention center.

Gamescom itself was a whole different beast. Days were filled with media interviews, marketing meetings, networking and checking out the main halls. I must say, those media interviews are tiring. I had my first run at being 'on camera' (3 times in one day), definitely not my forte, and talking about the Free2Play video game business. I was surprised how much I knew. Once I started it just started flowing out of me. Good experience, but I'll leave the interviews for the producers, the networking is much easier. Gamescom had a huge event on Thursday night with 3000 in attendance (still only a fraction of the attendees). With live performances and buffet's of food set out all over the venue, there were some still there until 4 am. Being the smart one, I headed in at 12.

The biggest success at Gamescom though? Seeding out more little GamersFirst green bags out into the planet (4000 to be exact)! Those obnoxiously colored bags should be our staple, a different neon color for each year.
"Oh you got that green one? That was back in 2010. No, no, I have the orange one, 2012."

Finally, we dispersed Cologne and got on a train to Frankfurt. Unfortunately (like in Paris), the rain pretty much took over the last day there and the morning (right now). It was nice to have a festival near our hotel, where there was International food. Even nicer was the Irish bar we went to, where I could finally get some Guiness and Cider in my system. Now it is POURING. With the extra baggage we bought in Istanbul and that heavy 19" Alienware computer we're trekking home, getting to the airport will be no picnic, but it's a nice feeling to be heading somewhere that we won't have to leave in a week.

After 14,961 miles, 42 days, 13 cities, 10 airports, 7 hotels, 6 countries, 3 suitcases, 2 train rides, and 1 pandemic we are finally going back to the comforts of home. Still together, healthy and ready for whatever comes next!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From Paris to Istanbul and then some.

What happened? I was just riding along my merry way on my bike tours and then bam! I get to Istanbul and catch a mean cold. My head is aching and my nose is try to get away from me. But I guess after nearly a month of travel, it was bound to catch up with me.

Before getting here to Istanbul, we spend 4 days in Paris. Which is not exactly a homely city by nature; but we had great advice from great friends and made the most of our days there. We were able to go on two bike tours that took us all around the city, the latter of which got us caught in the unpredictable Paris rain (which is why I suppose I'm sick now). We spent a beautiful day, champagne tasting in Epernay, and one crazy night in front of the Eiffel Tower with our new bike tour friends....waiting for the Tower to glimmer, then having a drink, eating pringles, having a drink, waiting for the Tower and then having a drink, and so on and so forth!

My favorite part of France, by far, was going to Versailles. The gardens are beautiful but we were only able to spend a few hours there, where we managed to walk the gardens, row a boat and eat lunch in the middle of the lake. I could have stayed there all day and I'm sure several people did (as they were passed out on the lawns). But we had to get back for our night bike tour and to climb the 2 floors (yea right!) of the Eiffel Tower.

We left France with one special souveneir that was acquired while at the Moet & Chandon house.

After becoming exhausted in Paris, Istanbul was a relief to arrive to. However it was 3 am and the taxi driver may have not been licensed, traveling at speeds unknown to human kind on the empty road. We were sure he was taking us somewhere else, when 40 mins. later we are finally in front of our hotel, right in the center of Taksim Square, a good place to be if you're not from around here.

So now...I'm looking forward to getting better and going down our "List of things to do while in Istanbul" on Friday and Saturday, with sprinklings tonight and tomorrow night. Now if only I could get a replacement head for the remainder of the week (to relieve this runny nose and headache), that would be a dream.

Stay tuned for updates!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Massacre at Priego (aka Priego Pandemic)

**warning this is an account of real-life events, the content of this blog may boggle the imagination and reveal TMI aboutboth known and unknown parties; nontheless this blog was kept factual for the full effect of the event**

The morning started out like every other in our little Priego village in Cordoba, Spain (in the south). About a warm 90 degrees and walking up to the hotel restaraunt for breakfast, just like every other morning. The kids were awakening slowly yet surely and arriving at the breakfast hall. Once again we situated our little teen gems as anglo, spaniard, anglo, spaniard to promote the mixing of teens and speaking of English.

Getting to my cafe con leche con hielo, as I do every morning and setting aside a small muffin and toast for my breakfast, I prepared for another ridiculously hot day in Priego. It wasn't just any other day though. It was the last full day of camp where the kids would have a surprising amount of Free Time, perform a Talent Show and go to their camp-end party (aka dance, reason to kiss each other, last chance for romance, etc.).

The day got off to an active start. Everyone was hurriedly preparing for their talent show debuts, groups went off into Orange, Red, Blue, White, Black, Silver, Silver/Black, Green and Yellow. I am the leader of the Orange group a unmatched group of teens at Priego on every level...but that's another story ;).

We got through the day, through the practicing, through the talent show and now it was time to get ready for dinner, pack and dance the night away. Little did we know what lay ahead of us. Dinner came and appetites were surpressed (probably from the excitement of the night...or maybe not). Ana and Beno leave the dining hall feeling ill after the first course. Meals at Priego consist of two courses, salad and dessert. They are not the first ones to feel ill. Hours earlier, Tom had been talking about ill feelings and being sick. Ana and Beno sit for about 30 minutes before sickness strikes, both losing what they had consumed during the day. Beno is very sick and retires to his room to rest and hopefully muster up the strength to go to the dance later. I'm feeling fine and get prepared to chaperone these teen trouble makers. Ana is not sure if she's better or slowly getting worse. Only time will tell.

The dance ensues with all the normal teenage drama of he kissed her, she danced with me, they kissed in the corner, what the heck is Ronjini doing? etc, etc. There is something strange happening though...Amelia approaches crying and complaining of stomach pains, shortly after Enrique announces his misfortunate bathroom trip just minutes earlier, Andrea and Becci are next, along with a trickling few campers that slowly feel sick to their stomach (literally). The night progresses and one by one, stomach pains, tears and weakness terrorizes Priego. 15 down and everyone else at the dance, this night is just beginning at 1:30 a.m.

I've gone back to check on Beno for the 3rd time, things are not looking good, miserable in fact. With the count up to 15 the doctor is called to the camp. An ambulance shows up 15 minutes later and is directed towards Beno's room, he is the worst....or so we thought. After the doctors administer shots for nausea to 15 patients; dancers, campers and sickos all head to their rooms for a night's rest before departure the next day.

Night patrol begins. The counsellors (including myself) are weary from the tremendous amount of hours they have put in over the past 14 days. They somehow have gotten acclimated to the strange lifestyle of watching over 94 teenagers 24/7. Night patrol is up and at 'em as teens show no signs of slowing down on the last night, but something is more peculiar than most nights. The patient count continues to increase. From 1:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. the count increases to 20+ patients overnight.

Wake up call is at 8 am on the last day of camp to get everyone fed and ready for departure. This departure was not as planned however. The reception hall turned into an infermery. We see campers walking up to the reception hall, not to eat breakfast but with pale white and pink faces grasping their stomachs. Slowly, I can feel my pwn stomach churning and taking a similar fate to many of the patients that gained the sickness overnight. What is this? My answer: Food Poisoning. Aching bellies, vomiting, diarrhea and fever hit the camp hard and claimed more than 30 victims.

Not a good day to go down. Nearly half the campers were quarantined, seperated from their new made friends on the last departing day of camp. Tears were already aflood by 9:00 a.m. because these destined intercontinental soul mates were leaving each other, but quarantine? What had Priego come to? Pandemic...

The Priego Pandemic hit hard. Healthy campers were promised to see their new bosom buddies before departure. The sick campers were promised to be able to say goodbye to their friends if the situation called for it. The sight was a sad one. Doors were locked from outside to inside. You can see weaping campers on the terrace, desperate to get into the reception to say a farewell to the sobbing teens on the inside. It was like a scene out of a horror film (or a zombie film).

Three hours later, talks began of departure. Thank god. What else can go wrong? The Anglos and Spaniards, after 14 long grueling hot days together, were seperated into 2 busses. Each bus was piled with half sick teenagers that had been administered a shot to the butt to clear their symptoms. With the camp director and hotel insisting that this was a virus, who is to tell if patients were getting the most efficient medicine for the clearly apparent mass food poisoning that had occurred that night.

Desperate to leave the camp, I had claimed that I was better (seconds after making a visit to the bathroom) and that Beno would be fine to travel. We just wanted to get the hell out of Priego and somewhere air conditioned for recooperation.

We finally get on the bus. 5 hours later we arrive in Madrid, where Beno passes out in the hotel room and I am required to chaperone 22 teens with a fellow counsellor to dinner. Not feeling like eating, I had little and made a meal of Aquarius (a Spanish Gatorade), Sprite and 1/2 a quesadilla. After the extremely slow service of VIPS, we left to head back to the NH Zurbano. The sickness was not over. In the span of time 2 more patients, made themselves apparent. One directly outside of the restaraunt.

Reaching the hotel, I was desperate for sleep, but checks. Does this never end????After making the rounds, and doing drop offs at the airport the next day, I took the recovering Beno and the recovered ME to the airport to head to Barcelona. The day from hell was finally over and behind us, but the memory of the Priego Pandemic will never be lost.