That time I went to... Rome & The Vatican State

August 2017 and the project to deploy SD-WAN at Cushman & Wakefield was just kicking off. Given the scale of the project I felt that it’d be sensible to make sure we give the first site some extra care and attention before we let the train leave the station at full speed. Turned out that the best location was Rome, Italy since it was reasonably small and the staff hadn’t all left for their summer holidays.

I was pretty excited about Rome, I’d never been before and it was a great opportunity to nudge the country count up by visiting The Vatican State at the same time. On the trip I’d be accompanied by our Italian IT Manager and an engineer from our deployment partner who would be working with us on the project. Since this was the first deployment the plan was to run through the installation script we’d built during the pilot and ensure there were no teething issues for future installations.

Civitavecchia, Rome, Italy

Civitavecchia, Rome, Italy

I flew out early on Sunday morning to Fiumicino (where British Airways were good enough to bump me to Club Europe!), this was to be a quick two-night trip so I wanted to make sure that I had a chance to see the Colosseum and visit the Vatican as well as do all necessary work. The hotel I stayed in was wonderful (Hotel Barocco), it was not the cheapest but being the height of summer there weren’t many rooms left in the city. I would absolutely stay here again if I were to come back.

Delicious Olives, Rome

Delicious Olives, Rome

After settling in I met up with the engineer from our partner and we got to work on the tourist hit list, first up was of course the colosseum, where we found a fantastic bar/restaurant overlooking the complex. We sat outside and sunk a few beers here and had some of the most gorgeous olives, definitely recommend this spot, it’s on a street called Via Nicola Salvi. Interestingly, the BrewDog bar which has opened between my visit and the writing of this post is on the same block(!). The colosseum is truly stunning, it’s enormous and and while there are a bunch of tours and history walks just enjoying the view was perfectly adequate.

Colosseum, Rome

Colosseum, Rome

Next up was the Vatican, it really is as tiny as people say, we walked along Via della Conciliazione and found a nice little bar just off St Peter’s Square where again we sat outside and enjoyed the weather and views. The area was pretty quiet since it was a Sunday afternoon but we could see the famous guards, St Peter’s Church and all the things that are recognisable from TV. I took nowhere near enough pictures, but as interesting as the place was, there was nothing that isn’t already photographed a thousand times over. From St Peter’s square we walked back towards the centre of Rome, by this point it was blindingly hot, certainly over 40 degrees celsius and so hit some en-route bars in order to stay hydrated!

St Peters Basilica, Vatican State

St Peters Basilica, Vatican State

We ended the day in the Hard Rock Cafe (like true tourists) since by the time we were in search of food all the restaurants had decided to close. The only reason I remember this is because I have a picture of Yellowcard playing in the restaurant (which I presumably requested!) date stamped at 11pm on Sunday.

River Tiber, Rome

River Tiber, Rome

The two days of work went very well, we completed the deployment of SD-WAN and the activation was a breeze. There were a few snags we picked up in the script but nothing major, the first European site was all up and running! Rome is a great city, but having now been I wouldn’t rush back there is a LOT of history here, obviously, but Ancient Rome isn’t really my cup of tea.

Helsinki

2018 was very close to being the year that I broke my (now six-year!) trend of visiting a new country every year. By a touch of luck, a change of job (expect a post on that soon) allowed for the trend to continue by offering the exciting opportunity to visit my second Nordic country, Finland.

Three things spring to mind when I think of Finland:

  1. It's Cold
  2. Formula One Drivers
  3. There's a BrewDog in Helsinki

Unfortunately, Valtteri and Kimi were both out of town. I did, however, manage to confirm it is definitely cold and that there is indeed a BrewDog in Helsinki, keep reading for more on that.

Another unexpected treat was waiting at Heathrow, a three-month-old fresh-plane-smelling Airbus A320 NEO (G-TTND for those interested). One of only a handful of the new jets in BA's fleet. The plane is essentially the same as all the others but has some sexy Sharklets (see picture below).

British Airways, A320neo

British Airways, A320neo

There was ice and snow on the ground in Helsinki which was good evidence that it was definitely cold. The water in the below picture is the sea, apparently, and I'm told that it does freeze over so it can't have been that cold while we were there. Come to think of it this is a first, I have never seen the Baltic Sea before! Can't say I'd want to swim in it.

The below picture is the view from the Hotel, where the view was quite impressive. To the right of the picture, but out of shot is a large rocky hill where the Finnish Civil Defense Museum is located, I was quite surprised to learn that Finland has one of the most comprehensive shelter systems in the world, capable of accommodating the entire population.

View from the Hilton Strand Hotel, Helsinki, Finland

View from the Hilton Strand Hotel, Helsinki, Finland

It had to be done. BrewDog has become the newer and hipper, equivalent of Hard Rock Cafe. For what it's worth, I feel like BrewDog does actually differ from location to location, where Hard Rock is literally the same no matter where you are in the world (speaking from experience).

This particular BrewDog was unique in that it had absolutely no customers, which was kind of spooky. They did have a surprisingly large selection of local beers though, something I think BrewDog are doing a good job of in most international locations. I had a strange sour beer which was sour but still a little too sweet for me. One thing worth noting, although every beer-blog will do the same is that it is HIDEOUSLY expensive to drink in Helsinki, come to think about it, perhaps that explains the lack of patrons.

BrewDog Helsinki

BrewDog Helsinki

The (Sleepy!) Pearl of The Adriatic - Dubrovnik

Last year was always going to be difficult to top, Monaco was absolutely fantastic and we had a wonderful time; we relaxed, enjoyed good food and embraced the rich and famous lifestyle – we even flew in a helicopter! This year I was determined to try and continue our February city break tradition and after nowhere near enough research or preparation I decided that we should give Dubrovnik, Croatia a visit.

Dubrovnik Old City

Dubrovnik Old City

Dubrovnik is not a place I had a particular desire to visit, although pictures of the old town, along the coastline certainly made it quite appealing and were definitely the biggest selling point. The town has recently become synonymous with the Game of Thrones franchise, many scenes from ‘King’s Landing’ are filmed here, which is pretty interesting. The other big reason for picking here is that Croatia is a country I have not yet visited and I have a personal quest to visit four new countries/territories this year (see my list); so there was that too...

The flight out to Dubrovnik was exceptionally and painfully early in the morning; of the many, many flights I have logged in flightdiary it is the earliest I have ever taken. Not really sure why it needed to be so early, but we didn’t have too much of a choice, there is only one flight every other day and nobody only British Airways fly direct from London during winter. Despite this, it gave us a good headstart on the day. Once we arrived it was a short taxi drive to the old city, getting there was far simpler than the internet would have you believe. Thirty euros to a transfer website and there was a chap waiting for us at the terminal, easy. The old city is completely pedestrianized so the closest a taxi will get you is a spot called Pile Gate where it’s time to grab the bags and walk!

Dubrovnik Harbour

Dubrovnik Harbour

St Lawrence Fortress

St Lawrence Fortress

The Airbnb was fantastic! A very strange bedroom downstairs and kitchen upstairs type affair but it was comfortable, cozy and all we needed. The street outside was absolutely to die for, old brick, with buildings squeezed in together with narrow, steep steps to the main street. I had some reservations that the streets might be fabricated for tourism or that many of the pictures online are of one tiny spot and the rest was nothing like it, I promise you, there is not an ugly street in the city!

Dubrovnik Old City Street

Dubrovnik Old City Street

On the first day we walked about the City Walls, these are the dominant feature of Dubrovnik and surround the city in order to defend against attack. The structures are a result of work that took place between the 7th and 17th century, the majority of their present definition is from work that took place around the 14th century where after the city-state of Dubrovnik flourished through maritime trade. The history of the walls is thoroughly impressive and it’s an absolute marvel that they are still standing in such great condition. They are along with the city itself one of Croatia’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Locations. If you plan on visiting the walls, be prepared for a reasonable amount of physical activity, it’s a good distance around the city and there are plenty of incline changes and steps involved, do take water, especially if it’s summer time!

Being winter there wasn’t a particularly large number of restaurants and bars open which was unfortunate, the city was quiet but there was a great place open called Posat. Not a cheap place but we were very well looked after; to eat we shared a fresh fish cooked to order and a soup made from the head and cheeks! We drank Croatian wine which was surprisingly good and even had space for deserts. Certainly recommended if you do choose to visit, I would expect that during summer booking would be essential.

Laurence & Victoria with Lokrum Island in the background

Laurence & Victoria with Lokrum Island in the background

The second day we took things much easier, we had a coffee on the square and took a slow walk around the city. We found that we could walk around the walls alongside the sea to get a great view of the surrounding islands and sheer vertical walls of the city. There are numerous small hidden doorways out to the cliffs, our favourite was one which led to a place called Buza Bar. This is probably the best view from any bar I’ve been to, with unhindered views across towards Lokrum Island and the Adriatic. We didn’t stay for the sunset, but apparently it’s quite spectacular. As with Posat, I imagine this place is an absolute zoo in the summer months, and certainly is one of the coolest bars in the city. If you ever go to Dubrovnik, it’s essential you don’t miss this. Towards the end of the day we had a nap (because we were completely exhausted form the day before!) and ended up watching the England vs Wales Six Nations game in the Irish Pub. Glad we did as the game was absolutely fantastic and England won.

Laurence on the cliffs

Laurence on the cliffs

By Sunday we were very tired indeed! We had a bit of a lay in, which was a bit weird, all we could hear was people walking up and down the steps outside. We got up, pulled ourselves together and decided to go on a big walk. We headed out of the old city and towards Lapad and the main marina area of Dubrovnik. It wasn’t the sunniest of days but the walk was pretty good and we found a cool street with cafes and bars that was much less tourist-focused. As with the old city a lot of places were closed for winter, but we made do and still had a good time enjoying the scenery. Exhausted and hungry we got the bus back to the town, which was really quite easy. Without much hanging around we hit the Irish pub for a beer and a burger – now regulars, along with almost everyone else who was there, who all of course happened to be on the same BA flight.

Gruz Harbour, Dubrovnik

Gruz Harbour, Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is certainly one of the stranger places we’ve been to, although I can’t quite put my finger on why that’s the case. It has some great history, fantastic food and a weird European vibe that we’ve not experienced before. That said, it was a great trip and we had a fantastic time enjoying the city and despite it being winter time, actually enjoyed the peace, quiet and new surroundings. Would we go back? Probably, although we wouldn’t rush back, where Monaco we certainly would rush back!

New York

times_sq

It's been a busy few months, my last post was ages ago. Since then two bucket list items have been ticked off and a third is in the pipeline for this year - that's kind of a big deal. I've been putting off writing my blog post about New York because I wanted to make sure I covered off all of the details. However, it doesn't look like I'm going to find some proper time soon so in the interest of actually posting some content here are some pictures with a bit of an explanation!

The long and short is that we held some Technical Architecture meetings at Cushman & Wakefield HQ on 6th Ave, so the aim of this trip was to be in the same room with all those responsible from around the global business.

I'd never been to NYC before and was quite a bit excited. This picture was taken immediately after leaving our hotel (I travelled and stayed in the same hotel as my boss). I think it's hilarious as I managed to take the picture facing the wrong way and without hardly any of the screens bill boards in the shot. The guy on the left however does have an amazing t-shirt. This is also the only picture I took in Times Square, as I somehow didn't take any more.


Day 1 was spent wandering around quite a lot, here is the first ever Shake Shack in Madison Sq Park. The queue was enormous, even compared to the crazy queue when the Covent Garden restaurant opened in London. From here the famous Flat Iron Building can be seen. Dinner was at The Olive Tree in Greenwich Village near Washington Square. I was totally exhausted but managed to eat some Chicken Wings and Nachos! We went to a bar afterwards, although I can't actually remember where it was (other than walking distance) or what it was called.

Day 2 started with a rough morning. We went to Bubby's for Brunch, the food was ridiculously amazing but I only managed to eat half a bagel and drink some coffee due to my fragile state.


From Bubby's the new World Trade Centre can be seen, which is just the most enormous thing I've ever seen. It boggles the mind as to how it's even possible for something to be that big.

This is the 9/11 memorial and one of the reflection pools. The 9/11 memorial museum was fascinating, and so well and respectfully built.

After the memorial we headed over to Battery Park to see Liberty and the Hudson river. From there we walked past Wall Street and over towards the Brooklyn Bridge! This was also immensely massive. There was an Abercrombie and Fitch store just by here where I spent quite a lot of money - whoops!

Just going to leave this one here... Dinner was at Hillstone which is an up-market american steak restaurant. The food was amazing. So this picture wasn't taken by me, or with my rubbish iPhone camera, I have to thank my colleague for this one :)

With fun and games over it was in the office for breakfast and meetings the next morning! The office is located right next to the Rockefella Plaza and Radio City on 6th Avenue, it's just a short walk from Times Square.

One evening we went out to watch some baseball. It was a crazy, awesome experience, unfortunately the Yankees lost to the Astros although I was lucky enough two(?) home runs!

Can't wait to go back.

There are a bunch more pictures which I may try and upload to another post at some point.