Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Austria-Germany: skiing, working and everything in between.

I’ve just completed a week and a half long Germany/Austrian tour.

It started in Munich as I joined roughly 300 colleagues at a work conference. Then, Google sent the majority of us on to the alps of Kitzbuhel, Austria. Kitzbuhel is (apparently) known to be one of the “poshest” ski resorts around. We stayed at the five-star Royal Spa hotel where each room had a balcony and beautiful view. Yes, I have a rough life.


I spa’d one day and ski’d the other. Well, tried to ski. I’ve been skiing nearly a dozen times, including Breckenridge, Colorado and Banff, Canada. These are bunny hills compared to the steep slopes of Austria. A few times down the monster mountain and the adrenaline (ok, pure fear) was pumping. It was a gorgeous day and it was great being out there surrounded by mountain, sunshine and crisp air even if I had more fun drinking a beer at the bottom of the mountain with an old man who spoke no English than I did sliding down it.

Each night, the company provided some sort of dinner, usually followed by drinking and dancing. The final night, everyone ended up in a club where the fog machines were in full effect, everyone was dancing and I was introduced to a song called “Barbara Streisand” which has remained in my head ever since. Pretty catchy, don’t you think?

After the work-supported trip ended, I stayed in Kitzbuhel and a friend came and met me. I moved from the 5-star resort to a (more affordable) B&B just outside the city center. The place was run by a cute Austrian family who served us meat and cheese for breakfast while clothed in traditional dress.

We spent our time walking to town and through town and taking in the scenery. 
You just can't beat this view from our room:

We took a very steep gondola ride to the top of the mountain to see the view from above.

We also ate a lot and had some fun trying the heavy Austrian dishes like Pancake Soup (literally broth with slices of pancake in it), beef strogonoff with spaetzle (shredded noodles), Milka chocolate bars and Julius Meinl coffee. For my friends in Chicago, you know this as the “Austrian coffee shop in Wrigleyville”.

Kitzbuhel lived up to its reputation. There were plenty of older, wealthy business men (one who owned a famous European clothing store called Bench) buying bottles of champagne followed by older, well-dressed ladies vying for their attention. Sarah and I enjoyed their champagne and chatted to anyone we could find under the age of 65. Nevertheless, we both could admit that it was kind of nice to feel noticed. As a sidenote: The boys of Britain seem to look right through you. You never feel noticed.  My girlfriends and I are conducting research on this subject and I’ll have to report back some findings if we ever figure anything out!

On Sunday, Sarah and I hopped the train out of Kitzbuhel and we parted ways in a town called Worgl as she went back to London and I headed to Munich (again) to visit with clients. As luck would have it, when I got off the train in Worgl, there was a train headed to Munich sitting on the opposite tracks. I ran across and hopped on. As the train started moving, I asked an operator if I could buy a ticket while on the train (a fairly common practice across European rail).  He said no, this wasn’t allowed in Austria and there was a hefty fine for those traveling without a ticket. F. Luckily his shift was about to end and he couldn’t be bothered writing me a ticket. I got off at the next station and 'got myself sorted' (as they'd say in England). The two hour journey turned into three, but at least there was no embarrassing confrontation  or 100 euro fine.

I made it to Munich and checked into my hotel only to learn that the Internet was down, the only iron available was in the community laundry room in the basement, and my room key kept conveniently coming un-programmed. Oh the best part - on Sundays the kitchen is completely closed. I ended up finding dinner in a shop called “Icecream. Pasta. CafĂ©”. I ordered pasta. The one and only pasta they had. It was filled with white “stuff” which I can only assume was cheese, and drizzled with balsmatic vinegar. Could have been worse I guess.

Apparently, the idea of providing irons in hotel rooms is a foreign concept in the whole of Germany. I went on to stay at two other hotels and didn't come across a single one.  This normally wouldn’t be a huge deal I guess, but when you’ve been traveling for a week and a half and your work clothes have been stuffed at the bottom of your suitcase the whole time because your client visits are in the last three days, it does force you to get creative with your wardrobe.

Germany is a tough market to cover as I have clients in five or six different cities. And it's not a small country. After Munich, I spent a day in Stuttgart followed by a day in Hamburg. 
This is my second sizable trip to Germany and I still haven’t even met with all my clients here. Google has beautiful offices on streets lined with Prada and Gucci in both Munich and Hamburg. I have to admit that this does make scheduling meetings a breeze. All the clients want to come to us! I’ve now been to more Google offices in Europe than in the US. Nine combined.

Ah well, it’s nice to be back to London. To my bed and all my stuff. Even if nobody notices.

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