Last weekend I was writing yet another review for Trip Advisor. While pinning down the cities I had visited on a world map in the reviewer profile, something hit me. I realized that my visits to some of these cities had been so hurried that I really only saw the airports, the hotels and a variety of boring meeting rooms and conference venues. That was a bit sad, I thought.
But then, slowly, my little head started churning out some details. I could recall a few incidents from those whirlwind travels. And to speak the truth, they were … a bit bizarre.
I particularly remembered a work trip to three countries in Europe that I executed in less than six days. Far from flawlessly. But I survived, contrary to firm predictions of my travel agent. And now I’m hoping that trip will make some light-hearted weekend reading in the what-not-to-do department.
It all started with a one day visit to Finland. I arrived in Helsinki after an overnight flight from New York around 7:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. The rest of our team had arrived the day before, but since my son’s birthday was that Sunday, I had opted to leave on Monday. So now I had to jump right into the team’s meeting schedule. Fresh from the plane. Red-eyed and jet-lagged.
At some point in the afternoon we were in our third meeting for the day in a client’s beautiful meeting room. I participated in the discussion. But then, gradually, the voices of people talking started to fade away. Until all I heard was distant monotone mumble. I was about to fall asleep. I remember pressing my fingers as hard as I could around the thick edge of the wooden conference table, hoping the pain in my fingers would keep me awake. That trick didn’t work. I drifted further and further away. Suddenly I heard my name being called. I was invited to answer… a question? But what question? All eyes were on me, expectantly.
I glanced at my boss hoping he would help me out. Nothing. Then my sleepy brain came up with a brilliant emergency strategy. Looking around the room I asked: In what context do you want me to explain that? Addressed to no one in particular. Successful gamble! My boss understood I had not really been there and helped me by expanding on the question. Phew! That was a close call. I was grateful I had remained upright in my chair and not hit my head to the table, with a resultant bump in my forehead. So far so good. During the coffee break that followed, I had three cups of strong black Finnish coffee.
That night I slept like a baby, waking up every two hours wondering where I was. Bright and early the next morning I was at the airport again. On my way to Warsaw, Poland. Solo.
There I quickly checked into my hotel and then participated in a conference at another venue for the rest of the day. Late in the evening, after a joint dinner, all participants received a gift from the local hosts: a beautiful hand-painted Polish coffee mug. I had only my laptop case and a small purse with me, so I shoved the large mug into the front pocket of my trench coat. A huge bulge.
On our way back to the hotel where most of us stayed, it became obvious to me that the other participants wanted to “see the town”. I protested. All I wanted was to hit my head on the pillow. But they didn’t allow me to walk alone to the hotel. Could be dangerous for a lady at that time of the night. Little did they know about my self-defense capabilities. But I didn’t feel like elaborating on that so I found myself among people queuing for entrance to a local night club. Just green tea for me, please.
When our company reached the club’s entrance, the bouncer immediately pulled me aside. What now? He pointed at the obvious bulge in my coat and shouted something in Polish. Loud. Everyone stared at me. Some fearfully, most curiously. Finally my tired brain caught up and I was about to retrieve the coffee mug from my pocket. He almost hit me. Put your hands up! That was English. I swiftly obeyed. Then he carefully reached into my coat pocket and fished up … the mug. The threat was over. Laughter. Who goes into a night club with a large coffee mug in her pocket? Tiny does. Entertainment for the masses.
After some explanations offered by a Polish colleague, we were eventually allowed inside. Bright neon beams. Loud music. I sat at the back wall with my rolled up trench coat, the mug back in the pocket, for the one hour or so we stayed at the club. Finally back in my hotel room, I carefully packed the mug in my carry-on. I still have it and I use it often. It’s special.
After a couple of meetings in our Warsaw office the next morning, I was at the airport again. And boarded a plane to Budapest, Hungary. Exhausted I threw myself on the bed in my hotel room. I would take a nap and go for dinner in two hours. Then enjoy my only free evening on this trip. But that was not to be. I slept 12 hours straight. Took me several minutes to figure out where I was and why. I was in Hungary and I was hungry. It was almost time for breakfast.
That Friday I led a workshop for staff from our local office. All went well. Until the evening. We were invited to a special dinner with cultural entertainment. During the nice traditional dinner, a band played Hungarian folk music. Very enjoyable. At the time of the dessert, a small group of young folk dancers performed. And then the band played again. That’s when a youngish male colleague from the local office decided to ask me to dance. Me? No way. So I politely declined referring to my nonexistent skills in Hungarian folk dance. That strategy fell on its face. Everyone stood up and started clapping, urging me to dance. I was their guest so I decided to be brave and give it a try.
I found myself in the middle of the floor with my colleague. Everyone still clapping. He turned out to be a very good folk dancer so I was able to follow him, to a small degree. Whistles and louder clapping. After a few minutes the tempo changed. We started twirling around faster and faster. One, two, three … this was fun! Until somewhere between the fifth and the sixth spin I lost my footing. As a kid I had never won a competition where we were supposed to spin around in one direction. My head just doesn’t agree with that kind of motion. So there I was laying on the floor. Dizzy. And without the folk dancers’ usual white cotton underwear or long skirt. Colleagues were rushing to pick me up. Not one of my best moments, but quite memorable.
I remember that a group of colleagues walked with me from the restaurant back to my hotel over the Danube river. That was a beautiful walk, we stopped several times to admire the gorgeous night views of Budapest. The next day was Saturday. I would be catching my plane back home around midday.
As a reward for my bravery at the dinner, my Hungarian colleagues offered to show me a bit more of the city the next morning. They took me to a little village in the outskirts of Budapest. It was a picturesque place with lots of craft shops. To my relief there was no music or folk dance that time in the morning. I ended up buying some beautiful traditional embroideries for gifts and some Hungarian crystal dessert bowls for home. I still have them as a reminder of my Hungarian dance performance.
I’m sipping morning coffee from my Polish mug right now. Then will have some fresh fruit from a Hungarian crystal bowl. I have the evidence. I didn’t dream it all up. I’m smiling. And if you are so inclined, it would be a good time to smile right about now. It’s on me.
More on my wacky travels in other countries later. I wish you all a wonderful weekend. – Tiny