Seems the blogging coincides with our getting up and traveling. After an early return from Crete, we returned to Kragujevac to the worst winter in recent memory for them. An entire month of -25 degree weather in a 38 square meter apartment with 3 boys and raging cabin fever all around. We did manage to use that time to get back into some major work mode, and the kids made huge leaps in their studies.
Somehow, I had volunteered to be a speaker at the first ever Romanian Testing Community Conference. I knew no one there. I just saw a tweet requesting speakers on Twitter and responded. I’ve never been to a testing conference (personal preference and vision of what they might be and not really aligned with some of the things that go on at these things). Actually – now that I think of it…..I WAS at one testing conference for the KWSQA in Waterloo once. That was their first one as well. I didn’t speak, and it was pretty good. How had I forgotten about it until now?? Wow I’m losing my memory lol. I guess I didn’t think of that as a testing conference since it was local, etc. All my testing friends travel far and wide to go to some class A world wide events. So, maybe I should change that and say I’ve never been to non-local testing conference?
Regardless – I was speaking at this one and this was definitely a first. Everyone who knows me, knows I’m good at yapping – even in big groups. BUT, I’m not yet comfortable with being center stage. I make sure I am sitting at all of my talks and my schtick is to engage the audience and help answer questions/solve problems on the fly – guided by a loose meeting agenda. At first it was supposed to be 50 – 100 people. Not too bad and not far off from what I’m used to. Then it bumped to 150…..then….gulp 200. Uh….yeah…..
So without going into testing details….since this IS a travel blog 🙂 I will say, that we headed to Romania on March 5. At first we thought it wouldn’t be too bad. A bus from Kragujevac (KG) to Beograd (BG), then a train to Timisoara in Romania and then a train from Timisoara to Cluj-Napoca. WRONG! It was: bus from KG to BG, then bus from BG to Vrsac in Serbia. Then from Vrsac, a train to Timisoara…then to Cluj. All this for a few hundred kilometers and a half a days worth of driving. Missing the van big time!
So, we arrived in BG and decided perhaps it might be best to rent a vehicle for the rest of the trip. We could work during the time we saved on traveling and that would even it out. The rental was pretty darn reasonable at 147 euro for unlimited km’s, a car seat, and crossing the border. We made our way to the car rental place with our backpacks and one carry on. Which isn’t so bad unless you’re walking in the cold and wind with three tired monkeys 🙂 We get there and the car is ready. Everything is awesome….except they want to block 500 euro on a credit card for damages. We were prepared for a block, but not one that big.
So, we cabbed it back to the bus station and squeaked on to a bus heading for Vrsac, where the train from Romania left at 15:55. We made it into Vrsac at 15:55, but apparently, the train leaves at 18:00! The 15:55 time is the direct bus from BG to the train station for the 18:00 train. Duho! So, Vrsac is a tiny place with nothing around the train station. We managed to find a place for Mike to plug in and work whilst I picked up snacks for the train ride for the kids.
At 18:00, we board the train. Upon entering, I attempted to enter the car on the left and was ushered to the right by one of the passengers. The claim was that the car was cold. We went to the right and found a room with low lighting. The conductor came and told us not to sit there because it’s…..cold. We were to wait 20 min and go to a lit room. In our lit room, with bench seats that were kept in tact simply by the fact that we were sitting on them, we set up for our 2 – 3 hour train ride. As the train started rolling, there was incredible amounts of banging, the walls on either side of our cabin were shaking back and forth. Older women were running up and down the hallways with wooden poles with hooks on the end. It was all rather weird. But, we were in our seats, working and entertaining the kids, so our focus was more inside. Things got crazier as we arrived at the border. There was more odd behavior at the border…..this time from the border guards and police…with ladders and electric drills and opening light fixtures in the ceiling. This was ONLY happening directly in front of our cabin. As if we are to witness this on purpose. Again, we kept our focus inwards.
Shortly after crossing the border, an older woman opened our door and asked us to get out because she ‘left something’ in our seats. My first instinct was no way – I’m not going to let you put anything in here. Then it hit me…..we were already sitting on the stuff she had put in there. As it dawned on us about what might be going on, she grew impatient and started ripping the seats off the walls…and the material off the seats. We left the cabin in a hurry as she started stuffing all the goods into bags. We were stunned and worried about the kids. The conductor came out and made some nasty comments about Serbs and apologized for the behaviour. Funny….I seemed to be the closest thing to a Serb on board. Perhaps he didn’t realise I was aware of this fact.
Either way, it seems like this is like the 1990’s, but in reverse this time. Goods were going the other way 20 years ago. The thing about the underground economy is that it stays vibrant, is efficient, and changes quickly with the needs of its customers. Much like small businesses. They can stay flexible and responsive. Above ground economies….like large corporations….seem to be stuck in perpetual red tape, move like dinosaurs and struggle to keep up with customer demands. Small business and underground economies are based on needs of customers only. They provide services that customers demand and price accordingly. This is more like a service based economy than anything else around. Big corps, banks and governments….their offerings seem to be based on their needs and goals being perpetuated. Not the needs and goals of the customer…or providing for the customer at all costs.
Anyway, it was an interesting lesson all around. We ran into a British couple when we got off the train. They had a similar story to tell on the car they were on. Seems we were the only ones on the whole train who weren’t involved in all of this.
We found our next train to Cluj and boarded the overnight car. We settled in and slept until we hit Cluj at 4:00am. We loaded into a taxi an headed to a wonderful hotel – the Opera Plaza – where the conference was to be held. We had a great sleep, did some work and met with one of the conference organizers. I was getting nervous! Mike worked, I practiced and we went out to see the town for a bit. Unfortunately, it was quite cold, so we ended up warming up in a mall. Yuck. A large mall. One where you have no idea that you have even left North America. We haven’t been to a mall like this in quite a while. We couldn’t wait to get out.
That evening, we had a wonderful dinner with the event organizers and their wives/girlfriends. I am so thankful for their giving me the opportunity to speak! Although, that evening, I was nothing but nervous 🙂
So, the following day was crazy. I met a few people, sat in the back of the room full of 200 people, and was the very last speaker. I’m not a powerpoint girl, but I did throw up some visuals so people didn’t completely fall asleep. The crowd was quiet at first, but as my nervousness left, I started to try and get them more and more involved. By the end, the questions and comments were floating and amazing. The people I spoke to after the end of the conference and at the dinner party after, blew me away with their incredible comments. I am thrilled and thankful to have met all of them and to have heard their amazing stories. We have every intention of visiting when the warm weather comes, and are looking forward to keeping up with them online and in person.
What an amazing experience overall! And just as amazing was the hotel staff. I am blown away by the incredible service we had from absolutely everyone. The offers of watching the children, booking hostels, finding information out for us, etc. etc. were never ending. All with a smile and all with incredible efficiency that I have not seen in any hotel I have ever stayed at. Wow. This is service. Definitely not necessary, but wow – what a nice to have!
The day after the conference, we took the train from Cluj to Timisoara. We stayed at a nice hostel across from the train station, and were up at 4:00am for our train to Serbia. On the platform we bumped in to two sets of young travellers. One solo who was born in Romania, but grew up in B.C., and two musicians – one from B.C. (also born in Romania….the same year!) and the other from the States. We ended up traveling to BG together and spending some time in BG together. The three of them are now going to continue their travels west for a bit together. We had some amazing conversations, and it was nice to spend time with some wonderful and like minded travellers!
We decided to head straight over to Bar in Montenegro. This is where our van is waiting for us. We did not hear from the shipping company, but figured we’d make our way over so we didn’t have to back track from KG. We took an overnight train and travelled for 10 hours through some incredible mountains, until we hit the coast. Water again 🙂 Ahhhhhhhhhhhh Even with the chill in the air, the water and fresh air make everything just amazing! We are now waiting for Monday to see if they can unload our van from the container. At this point, we might have to do a few minor repairs on it and then head out. Wheels again!!! Even though we don’t have the van yet, or a hitch left on the van, I am starting to get severe hitch itch! The weeks travels and moving from place to place has helped fuel this quite a bit. Spring is near and my nomad self is springing back to life after a long frost.
I am very much looking forward to see our sweet KIA van 🙂 The children are looking forward to the huge bin of Lego that sits in the back seat 🙂 I cannot wait! 🙂
Today, we will head to Stari Bar to see the old city. We will spend the rest of the day working, and will be on the phone first thing in the morning to see about getting a hold of the van 🙂