Category: California

My tour of the Balkans came to an abrupt halt at the start of October. I had planned to spend the next couple of months working my way up the Adriatic coast through Albania, Montenegro and Croatia to Slovenia. However this plan fell apart somewhat when Socialtext appointed a new CEO and summonsed the diaspora to Palo Alto. After some initial confusion as to whether this would apply to the non North-America based people, I had to hastily find a way from Охрид to California. This was much more difficult than I had expected.

Although Охрид is a major tourist destination during the summer (and rightly so), by the end of September most of the flights in and out have stopped. Retracing my steps and flying out from софия again would involve getting the whole way back up Скопје first. The only plausible flight out of Tirana was much too early in the morning to have any sensible way of catching it. Eventually I discovered that British Airways fly from Θεσσαλονίκη to London, and, best of all, depart late afternoon. That just left the problem of getting there. There are no trains or buses across the border between those points. And, as most Macedonian taxi drivers don’t have a visa for Greece, the standard advice is to get a bus to Битола, a taxi from there to the border, cross on foot, get a taxi on the Greek side to the nearest town, and then a bus on to Θεσσαλονίκη.

This would be considerable hassle at the best of times, and has far too much scope for something going wrong when catching a plane. Thankfully one of the hotel staff came to my rescue and arranged for someone he knew with a suitable visa to drive me there for a reasonable price. I started to get a little worried at first, as the drive to Битола took much longer than I had been expecting, but thankfully I had no difficulties at the border crossing this time, and once across the border we made up plenty of time, and I got to airport with almost an hour to spare.

My time in California didn’t go quite as expected. I’d arranged to stay around an extra few weeks to do some on-site customer research, but that ended up falling through (my long rant about this can wait for another day). I did get a lot of useful work done with Liz, though, and got to explore some more of California at the weekends (including stumbling across the rather bizarre Pescadero Apple Festival).

As per my plan to chase the light by flying south for the winter, I’d booked a round-the-world ticket onwards, rather than returning to Europe. As part of the crazy conditions attached to that, I was able to fly into San Francisco, but had to depart from Los Angeles. Thankfully it was a night-time departure, so rather than the hassle of arranging a connecting flight, I decided to drive down the coast instead.

Other than a wrong turn at Oxnard that cost me about 30 minutes heading back in the wrong direction, everything was going smoothly and I would arrive at LAX in plenty of time. Until I joined the 10 at Santa Monica, that is, and found myself in a crazy traffic jam. Apparently two different crashes had caused near-gridlock, so the four miles to the 405 took just over an hour, and then it was another hour for the next five. If the final few miles had been at the same speed I was running a significant risk of missing my flight, but thankfully the jam just suddenly disappeared in the that really strange way that sometimes happens, and I had open roads the whole way to the rental car drop-off.

And thus I find myself in the departure lounge, with several large glasses of Baileys and my last net connection for a while. Next stop Samoa, where I deliberately chose somewhere to stay with no internet service. Detox, here I come.

Drinking in L.A.X.

It’s been a hectic 6 weeks, and I haven’t had a lot to write here, mainly I haven’t actually been in Tallinn much. Two trips to California, and another one back to N. Ireland have fried my brain. I have no idea what month it is, never mind day, or timezone.

44 timezones in 44 days

Last week I was in California for the second time in a month. This caused a raised eyebrow from the immigration officials, and I also got to join the “special screening” line at security (I think it was a mix of having only hand luggage, and not having any part of my journey involve the country that issued my passport). But the most interesting part was trying to book a hotel in Palo Alto.

I was booking at the last minute, so all my first choices had either no, or restricted, availability. I eventually got booked into the Comfort Inn Stanford/Silicon Valley, but it was a painful experience. Their website availability guide didn’t work at all on Firefox on a Mac, so I had to switch to the PC just to check if it was even worth trying to call them.

When I did call them (Yay for Skype allowing me to call US Toll-free numbers from abroad), things descended into farce. I don’t think my accent is that strong – at least compared to many people I know – but they just couldn’t understand at all some of the things I was saying. I don’t recall ever having to explain before that ‘eight’ is ‘the number between seven and nine’. I was also pretty sure they got my name wrong (it sounded like they were calling me ‘Tomy’, like the Japanese toy people), but I guessed it was more trouble than it was worth to correct this. They also really couldn’t handle international phone numbers – not only are they too long to enter into their form, but the concept of starting with a plus sign seemed to really confuse them. They eventually gave up on trying to take my address after at least three times around the “Where?” / “Estonia” loop, with a higher degree of incredulity to the question each time.

I never did work out whether this was because they didn’t understand my accent, or they just had never heard of Estonia…

A Common Language?