It’s been over a year since I last earned a wage and started my new career as a stay at home dad. For reasons which I have detailed in previous blog posts, this transition has been mostly a positive one but there are definitely things I do miss about my time in financial services. Right near the top of the list is the frequent trips abroad and the opportunities to “see the world” that this brought with it. You see all of the customers / companies in my portfolio were international clients, so travelling was a large part of my job. Now this had its downsides, particularly when it came to early morning flights. I could never quite warm to setting my alarm at silly AM for a 6am take-off slot, but it also meant that I got to visit some pretty wonderful places. Without my job, I would never have gotten to discover a number of wonderful European cities e.g. Milan, Stockholm and Munich (a brief stopover in the hauptbahnhof while inter-railing as a student didn’t really count) and I never would have gotten to know London as a second home. So I have put together a few essential tips for the business traveller from my journeys on behalf of the banking sector.
When in Milan:
- Do leave yourself enough time to visit the wonderful Duomo and the various 19th century shopping arcades / galleria in the nearby vicinity. Also get a window seat on the plane as the view over the alps is quite stunning.
- Don’t assume that the airport from which you are departing (there are two in Milan) is nearby and doesn’t require any research beforehand! €180 for a taxi fare remains my all-time record and that was after the taxi driver gave me a €5 discount as I simply didn’t have any more cash. The train service is much more reasonably priced as I subsequently learned, a fact that was repeatedly mentioned by my boss upon submitting my expense claim.
When in Munich:
- Do remember that Oktoberfest actually starts in September and therefore it is likely to take much longer to move around the place due to the excess of lederhosen and dirndl! Do sample some of the local pretzels while sauntering around the Town Hall and Marienplatz.
- Don’t (once your meeting is over) decide that it would be a good idea to walk from the company premises (which happen to be in a business park on the outskirts of town) all the way into the city centre as you may end up walking through a red light district (although the offers of cheap oriental massages did seem tempting at the time). I have long had the tendency to travel on foot whenever possible (well before Greta Thunberg came along) as a I have always found it is the best way to get a sense of a place and Munich seemed be all about leather, latex and the aforementioned massages! Also don’t get into the wrong section of a train that divides into two and be left helpless as you watch the carriages bound for the airport disappear over the horizon. Plane home duly missed and night spent in cheap hotel at London Heathrow instead of cosy warm own bed!
When in Stockholm:
- Do give yourself enough time to walk around the old city city down by the harbour which is simply stunning, particularly on a warm summer day. The combination of boats and the colourful buildings is a sight to behold.
- Don’t check-in your suit along with your baggage so that British Airways can lose it somewhere around Heathrow and you have to turn up at a very formal business presentation in polo shirt and jeans. Then as you are the only person not in a suit, the CEO making the presentation quickly spots you and suddenly you become a topic (maybe even the topic) in the company’s presentation about information retrieval! Also don’t take a mouthful of pickled herring at the lunchtime buffet no matter how hungry you are, yuk! In my defence I thought it was some sort of chicken, must have had a blocked nose!
When in Madrid:
- Do travel on the metro which is perhaps the cleanest underground rail service I have ever encountered.
- Don’t assume that when you ask your taxi driver to bring you to the royal palace that you will be dropped somewhere near the residence of King Felipe. It turned out he thought that we said the Palace Hotel (so much for my Inter Cert Spanish) which is about 2km away and quite a trek in the Iberian sun.
When in Paris:
- Do simply enjoy the fact that you are in the most beautiful city in the world, even if you are dealing with the potential liquidation of a company which has been in existence since the time of Louis XIV and the unions are about to kick off about the negative impact of foreign banks in a domestic French matter!
- Don’t assume that the train journey from Charles de Gaulle airport to the city centre will be a pleasant experience. The RER line B is many things and goodness knows the traffic around Paris’ famed ring road makes it a necessary evil, but the Heathrow Express it is not. So be prepared for being crushed against fellow travellers, buskers singing La Vie En Rose very badly and the odd pick-pocket. I have known locals to splutter in astonishment when showing my return rail ticket to the airport!
When in London:
- Do keep moving on the multitude of escalators and travellators around the place. I often think there are two types of people in the world (i) those who walk on travellators who I consider to be normal and sane humans and (ii) those who do not, for whom I believe there is a specific circle of hell set aside. Just keep walking for goodness sake.
- Don’t become so familiar with the rail routes in from the various airports, be it the Heathrow Express or the Docklands Light Rail, that you come to regard fellow travellers as a nuisance who are stealing your rightful seat.
So I recognise this is probably not the most exhaustive of lists but I hope it gave you a flavour of how I viewed my travels and travails around Europe. Hopefully I’ll get to view these places in a more relaxed manner in the future!