Category Archives: Travel

Heligoland

IronPort Lego Logo

As promised, here is the other cool thing IronPort did with Lego bricks:

IronPort Lego Logo

The little sign reads:

IronPort 3D Logo 2007

Built by New York-based artist Nathan Sawaya in the IronPort booth during the 2007 Interhop event in Las vegas, this Lego exhibit was awarded “Most Ludicrous Promotion” by Smart Exhibits magazine.

More about the artist: Nathan Sawaya creates awe-inspiring works out of the most unlikely things. His recent North American museum tours feature large-scale sculptures using only Lego bricks. www.brickartist.com.

No Legos were harmed in the making of this piece.

42″ x 42″ x 60″

This sculpture now stands in the lobby of the IronPort HQ in San Bruno.

Back from Detroit

I am back from Detroit. Got home, dropped my bags, passed out on my couch, slept six hours, despite having slept at least 3-4h on the plane (a record for me). Woke up to find my throat was sore. I am afraid I caught a cold during this trip.

The Corey & Joel live show was pretty good, you should grab it when it’s available for download next week. I am not on the show, just a spectator.

Departure was delayed by 1h because the Department of Homeland Security guys had to re-check every passport. Germans were allowed to just pass through. US citizens had to explain themselves: Why are you leaving the country? How long will you stay? What do you do for a living? Well, and the Arab looking people and the semi-cute Nigerian chick got searched.

To add injury to insult, I had to fly Economy class. Flying business class is something I will really miss. At least I had a really good seat on my way to Detroit. And the cabin crew was really great too. But I do have to talk to someone about the economy class breakfast. Bah!

Vienna For Ten Hours

I am back from Vienna – I went there to meet my dear friend, Anna. Arrived an hour late, at 12:00, due to a broken brake on the airplane. Helped Anna with her luggage and then we went out on the town, doing a little bit of sightseeing, had lunch, the usual bits.

Vienna is actually pretty nice, they really dressed the city up for the holidays. Of course it’s hard to get a thorough look at the city in such a short time. Still, I had a really good time, and it was very nice to see Anna again after all these years.

I went back to Frankfurt at 7pm – Hotel rooms for the night were ~200 Euro, and since Anna went back to Moscow at 10pm anyway there wasn’t really a point in staying.

Train from Qingdao to Jinan

After several days in Qingdao checked out of the [Shangri-La hotel](/2007/09/02/shangri-la-qingdao/) and traveled to our next destination, Beijing. However, we would do so by train to see a little of the countryside. Since it’s quite a distance from Qingdao to Beijing, we made a stopover in Jinan. My host had gone to university there, and wanted to show me the city, and also had some business to attend to, so it was a very good and practical thing to do. But more about Jinan itself in a later post.

Qingdao Departure

Qingdao has a central station that hails from colonial times; it was built by the Germans. However, the station is being renovated in anticipation of the Olympic games 2008, where Qingdao will host a number of maritime events. So it was closed, and all the trains departed and arrived at another station – in the bad part of town. It’s as bad as you get in Qingdao – There’s some factories there, but mostly it’s just simply rundown buildings, poor people, and dirt everywhere. The traffic is atrocious too; mostly because the area wasn’t designed to handle the traffic it has to while it serves as the main train station. Within second of arriving, an old shriveled up female beggar had spotted us and wanted money. Since she didn’t speak English she resorted to a lot of prodding. Unpleasant. I was warned to take care of my wallet and my pouch and my luggage, as there would be pick-pockets about. I had already surmised so much.

The station itself was crowded. I am not sure whether this was because it was early morning, or a normal condition. Reaching the platforms involved a lot of shoving and pushing. Interestingly, the platforms themselves were quiet and deserted, so I am not entirely sure where all the people were actually going.

The Trains

The high-speed trains in China do deserve some notice for any travel geek. The Chinese seem to be employing a combination of technologies for their rail system, a [hodgepodge of foreign and domestic products](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail_in_China). The train we used was reminiscent of the [Shinkansen](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen). I’ll have to use the original some time, as the whole experience was decidedly anticlimactic. I had imagined something a little less basic. If you’ve ever been on one of the newer high speed trains, you’ll know they’re usually fairly comfortable. Not that our first class seats were really bad, but, it really didn’t feel “special” either. Of course we only paid something like 15 Euro per person for a 2.5h journey.

One fascinating thing I noticed was that the seats got turned around to face in the other direction after the train had arrived in Jinan. Most people prefer to face in the direction of travel, and I guess this reduces “unpopular” seats.

Sights of the Country

Out beyond the city limits were a lot of tiny settlements in a large wide open landscape. It didn’t really look all that different. But the settlements were different. Some were downright ugly. There was a lot of construction, and many rundown buildings, especially in smaller towns we passed through. However, I do have to note that, like Qingdao, the country seems to be lacking garbage. In Indonesia, people would just illegally dump their waste wherever they felt like it. In China, this doesn’t seem to be the case – or at least not within sight of the train tracks. I am guessing China’s pollution is simply more industrial in nature.

There isn’t really much to see on the way from Qingdao to Jinan (nor to Beijing, for that matter). I guess if you don’t really care to take a train ride for the experience (the train stations are an experience different from what we have here in Europe!) or you’re going somewhere you got to take the train… well, you might as well fly.

Qingdao International Beer Festival

The day after I arrived in Qingdao, my hosts decided to do me some good and brought me to the Qingdao International Beer Festival.

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The Beer Festival was a marketing gimmick invented by the Tsingtao brewery. Tsingtao beer, if you’ve never heard about it, traces its origins back to the time Qingdao was a German colony. The Germans built a brewery, which continued to operate, and it seems that Tsingtao Beer is the closest China has to a national beer. Despite the name, the Beer Festival isn’t really all that International. They’re using a Bavarian theme for part of it, and selling German beer, and on the first day – I am told – Musicians from Bavaria play some music (for which they get paid very well).

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Despite the apparent popularity of the event, I can’t really say too much good about it. It’s horribly loud – very loud – the Bavarian theme is so superficial and fake that it is hard to even call it “a mockery of the real Bavaria”, there are some rusty rides, and, well, lots of beer. (I am guessing the later is why it’s popular at all.) I wonder if Chinese people would feel the same about China-themed events in Europe.

Much to my annoyance, the festival also featured a constant flow of salespeople: Every five minutes or so, some musician would come and offer to play music for money at our table. This, by the way, happened as the stage music was so loud I could hardly talk to my hosts.

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Overall I definitely hated the event, and I can only recommend that you stay as far away as possible from it. Don’t waste your time and/or money.

Shangri-La, Qingdao

A quick hotel review: We are staying in the Shangri-La hotel, in Qingdao. The rooms are surprisingly expensive (I booked for 95 Euro/night plus taxes; 50 Euro more buys you a feather bed sheet and a view towards the ocean instead of the cityscape), but they are very comfortable. I liked them, including the bathrooms which are often lacking in other hotels. The location also seems to be okay, I think if you wish to stay in Qingdao, you can’t really go wrong by booking a room here.