Thursday, May 31, 2012


I traveled to Cologne to speak at the NoSQL Matters conference.  The conference started on Tuesday, so I planned to arrive Monday afternoon and have time for a little sightseeing before it started.  It also wouldn't hurt to have some extra time before my talk Wednesday, to get used to the local time zone.  My talk was scheduled for 1:30 PM CET, or 6:30 AM Central time.

On my flight from Austin to DC I got to sit next to a woman with a pissed three month old. The little girl had a tinge of hysteria to her cries.  The mother was embarrassed but nothing worked to quiet her.  After a couple hours I thought she might be desperate enough to let a stranger help, and I offered to take her.  The mom looked skeptical.  "I have four kids," I assured her.  I stood up with the baby in Corinna's favorite football hold and rocked back and forth.  She quieted down quickly, but it took about 40 minutes for her to actually fall asleep.  The other passengers were almost as relieved as the mom.

The first hiccup came as we descended to Dulles airport.  There was a ground stop because of an unusually strong storm, and we didn't have enough fuel to assume a holding pattern while waiting for it to leave, so we diverted to Richmond to refuel.  While we were doing this for two hours -- it didn't help that we were a small regional jet, and larger ones understandably take priority -- the storm died down and my flight to Frankfurt took off without me.

Fortunately the baby kept sleeping the whole time until we landed in DC, around four hours.

I spent the night in a DC hotel.  Last time this happened I just spent the night in the airport rather than spend extra money, but I guess I'm getting old, and United did throw in a 50% discount on the room.  I had the same flight out Monday, at 10 PM, so it was nice to not have to spend that entire time in the airport's vinyl seats.

As luck would have it, my flight to Frankfurt was late, too.  I disembarked at 1 PM local time, and there was no way to make my train at the opposite end of the airport at 1:09, even if I'd taken the most direct route there, which I did not.  My train ticket was an odd duck, since it was through Lufthansa instead of Deutche Bahn directly.  Even the airport employees weren't quite sure what to make of it.  The main Lufthansa counter sent me to the desk near the trains.  The lady there was unsympathetic: "Why did you miss the train?"  "Well," I said, "I started heading around through terminal 2, but then they told me I needed to go back through terminal 1 instead..." 

She wasn't buying it.  "You'll probably have to buy a new ticket.  Go talk to the ticketing desk."

The ticketing desk was very German.  I started walking up to the counter but I was reprimanded by a lady guarding the entrance.  She handed me a paper with my number in line, even though nobody else was waiting.  I duly waited for my number to be called.  Once at the the ticketing desk, I didn't make the same mistake twice.  "Why did you miss the train?"  "My flight was late."  The man gave me a ticket on the next train for no extra charge.

(Brian has a future in modeling for Lufthansa if the Air Force thing doesn't work out.)

So I finally arrived in Cologne, just in time for dinner courtesy of the conference.  They served a Thai buffet with recognizable Thai dishes, which isn't always to be expected in Germany, in my experience.
The weather was perfect. Maybe 78 degrees with a light breeze. It's a beautiful city, or at least it is near the historic center where I was:


A Belgian named Philippe heard me speaking French with our two Parisian employees who were also at the conference.  He came over and introduced himself.  Nothing like a common language!

Afterwards I slept from 11 PM to 2:30 AM.  Got up and did some work, then slept again from 6 to 11. I spent the trip kind of stuck between time zones like this.

My talk went fine.  I decided to play hooky after that and went to see the Cologne cathedral:


You can still see parts of a Roman house that once stood by the cathedral's foundation:


On the climb to the belfry the stone steps were worn down in the middle from thousands of visitors over centuries.  A tangible connection to the past.  I remember some of the buildings at Princeton University had steps worn like this... though not quite as dramatically.


It's almost 600 steps to the top.  That's a lot.  I felt bad for the dad I passed whose four year old had run out of gas and needed to be carried.  I definitely felt the burn in my legs just with my own weight.  But for the students lugging back packs up, I had less sympathy; that's just dumb.

At the top you can see forever.  There's close to a dozen Gothic style churches within eyesight of the cathedral.




Unfortunately, the view was covered by a wire mesh,  probably to prevent more graffiti like this:


When I left it was fun telling people wheezing their way up, "You're almost halfway there!" and getting groans in reply. Fun fact: the Cologne Cathedral was started in 1248, and not completed until 1880. That's some serious commitment.

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