Running Hard Just To Get Away. Gone.

Most professionals say they work hardest just before and just after vacation. This is my story of the before part.

Vacation Day One. More like Day 1.5. As of this writing I have been awake for 34 hours except for a few cat naps on the planes and a short one by the pool (I will explain that last one in a moment).

The goal of day one is to get from Chicago to Italy. Florence specifically, though it is but a one night way stand on this trip. Some part of my future has this beautiful city as the destination.

As I wake up on Day One there are multiple potential roadblocks in the way of vacation. First, the morning of Day One I wake up in Boston, not Chicago. If all goes well I make a great presentation and book it to the airport to catch a plane that will land 3 hours before we check in for our international flights and first I need to get home.

The other thing I know is that my computer crashed yesterday as I headed to Boston and only after a late afternoon call was I generally assured that a new one (sans my hard drive with most of my key files) would be waiting in my office by the time I landed. What was not yet certain was how the computer would make the 21 mile trip from my office to my home within my 3 hour window. This may be vacation but I will need access to email and files during the next 10 days. Having a working computer was vital. There were emails to write, documents to edit and instructions to leave that I could not do the night before Day One. Now all of this needs to happen in the 1 hour and 23 minutes I hope to have at home. Stress levels were off the charts.

So many things had to go right. I needed the weather gods and plane canceled for maintenance gods to be on my side and allow my flight from Boston to land on time. I needed the computer gods to stop f ‘ing with me (since they chose to crash my first computer only after I could not get help from our IT staff) and get a computer working. Finally I needed the administrative staff gods to find a solution that did not involve my wife, who had plenty of her own work to do that morning, driving 42 miles round trip to deliver my computer.

Needless to say I was skeptical that all the gods would do my bidding. In my most optimistic moment that morning I could be described as pensive. (I do not think that the story needs that line but I felt an uncontrollable desire to use the word “pensive”.)

My lucky day! Prayers answered. The client presentation was a hit. Despite being in the slowest airport security line ever, I made my plane to Chicago and it landed on time. The computer arrived by messenger at my home shortly after I did. It worked. Our son drove us to the airport, the security line was short, we got moved to economy plus seating for the 9 hour flight, and I had time to send email. This is truly one time that the overused word “amazing”applies.

The next twelve hours consisted of two planes, a couple of bad movies, a few pages of the NY Times read and little sleep. All worth it. We arrived in Florence and were picked up by a driver and taken to The Villa Cora, a 5 star hotel just outside the city center.

I highly recommend the Villa Cora. The common areas combine old world charm with a few modern touches. Our room was beautiful with a view of the city center, the basket of fruit and bottle of Champagne a nice surprise and yet being tired and hot we were drawn to the pool. One would never know they were on the edge of a city. The landscaping around the pool area and the gardens that surrounded us made it seem as if we were in the country. The pool was exquisitely tiled and the lounges comfy. Within moments we were offered a welcome drink. I desired nothing more.

I know I read for a while and lazily swam a few laps. I am told I also snored as the 34 hours of non-stop movement punctuated by the early stress of getting out-of-town caught up to me.

With renewed energy I headed solo to the city center to hit a few of Florence’s top sites and to snap a few digital pics. I had less than two hours. Not enough time but time used well. I saw and snapped picture of the Duomo (cathedral) the Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza della Signoria,  the medieval Palazzo Vecchio, and the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge).  I walked by the Pitti Palace but it was too late to go in or to see any portion of the Boboli Gardens. So much to do, so little time.

I did not have time to sit in a cafe drinking cafe or wine and just enjoy a piazza or three. That was the real disappointment. I now enjoy spending time being part of the landscape as much as running around to say I “experienced” the sights.

I did manage to take picture of some interesting looking people as well as the historic sites. After I make time to write regularly again my next project is to put together a book of the people shots I have taken in different countries. (Maybe that is a vacation in itself. With a laptop I could work and publish from anywhere.)

One hell of a first day. Now on to the sea.

The Year Of Flying Fabulously

This year United started a policy of filling every first class seat. I f a seat was not paid for they moved someone up from the cheap seats. It was a great year to have flown a ton the year before and achieve 1K status; their highest.

About 80% of my flights this year were in the relative luxury of first class. Ah, but all good things must come to an end.

Yesterday I flew my last United flight of the year…in first class of course. I flew once today and will fly twice next week but on rival carriers where I have no status. It’s over.

Even though I was on 71 United flights this year, I fall well short of the 100 needed for 1K. Next year they are raising the bar to 120. It will likely never happen again.

Timing is everything and I thank United for implementing this policy in a year where I had high status. Flying , going to and being at airports generally add up to large amounts of dead, useless and often painful time. Being in first class eased the strain.

It was a great year to fly.