FOSDEM - a geek trip to Brussels. Going abroad to experience different cultures. Or at least, a chance to eat chips, suffer rain, and watch American TV in adifferent country.Friday
We started off from Waterloo on the 12.30 train. As did the people from the 10.30.The previous cancellation made the seats on _our_ train afirst come-first served affair. It was not entirely full, but certainly preventedus from stretching out and making our presence known. Although itwasn't until the last few minutes before departure that our hermetically sealed section includedsome members of the great unwashed. i.e. non-FOSDEM geeks. We opened our halftable, successfully balanced a can of coke on it and prepared for the weekend ofnon-stop tech talk by relaxing, unwinding and let our minds drift onto othermatters. Such as computers. Technology. And the interaction between the two.
The trip was uneventful to anyone not there. As was the metro ride to Bourse.And the unpacking at the hotel. Most of our group were at the fully booked Atlas with the speakers. For those of us who were a little less active in the hotel-booking arena, we had to returnto the Ibis - the hotel that FOSDEM had taken over, en masse, the previousyear. It was a little spooky. Nothing had changed. Nothing. At least my new roomwas three doors down from the old one. I got the same view of the church as Ihad last year though: that of dirty church bricks. My colleagues view wasslightly less appealing - that of a brick wall and the inner, unkept, courtyard.
Before joining members of the LBW in the Roy d'Espagne, most of the Londontravellers met up for a meal in a nice (if slightly tourist-trodden) restaurant just off La Grand Place. The number of invitations to 'come and dine with us',and offers such as "20% off your meal, Sir", and "free bottle of house wine"were as prominent as they have always been here. Or in Brick Lane.
Naturally, with FOSDEM now only hours away talk turned to beer. The flavoursthereof. And recommendations. I stuck with the strong dark ales, but cheatedoccasionally withfruit beer. (Is Belgium the only country in the world touse fruit in their beer, and still be allowed to call it beer?)
In an attempt to be traditional (and segue my way into Belgium culture) Idecided on 'classic' cuisine. I knew that would involve mussels for main course, butthe starter had me stumped. Salmon and scampi where too expensive. Omelette wastoo plain. The ones with the funny spelling looked too scary. So, in the end,I plumped for the safest, easiest, thing on the menu. Snails. And jolly goodthey were too. The mussels (which I ordered in cooked cheese) were also good,although it did feel like your were eating a mussel pizza. Without a base. Andwith their shells still on. But going abroad to eat pizza is what a holiday isall about. It's not quite chips, so I felt vindicated by having it.
Of all the photographs taken that evening there is only one that is important. The shot of our whole table, taken by our waitress. She took the camera. Focused it correctly. And said politely, "Say Cheese". To which, every single bright,intelligent, original, and sophisticated computer geek said "FROMAGE!". Iteven eclipses the 'egg on face' moment when the question "Do you know how difficult it is to compile and package KDE?" was answered with the one-liner"I'm the KDE package maintainer for Debian". True.
Like the hotel, the Roy d'Espagne hadn't changed either. The horses were still flanking the stairs. The beer was still good. And the top room was a completeFrench-free zone. I can remember talking quite a lot, but I'm not sure whatabout. Or to whom. I can remember being talked to quite a lot, but I'm not sure what about.What I do remember is that at the end of evening the waiters asked each ofwhat we drank, and none of us could remember!Saturday
Maddog gave a talk with occasional LOUD BITS.
RMS gave a talk, sans shoes, with the same ad-libs as last time.
There were more talks in the afternoon. All good.
The last event of the day was the giving of the Free Software Award. This years winner was Lawrence Lessig, a lawyer who had lost his last few cases.But rms liked him,so who cares - we all like a plucky loser and his impassioned 'we *can* win' speech got him a standing ovation from nearly 30% of the audience. The reststill saw him as a losing lawyer with a pre-prepared speech.
Afterwards came the (near obligatory) free software song - introducing a 7/4time signature, and a step away from the credible, professional, recognition the movement needs. Assoon as they'd (not I, since I have now refused to partake in such trivialities)finished singing it, someone startedto sing it in French! Followed by rms finishing it off. Also in French.This spontaneousoutburst was much better rehearsed than it had been last year, but no one elseseem to notice.
The Falstaff suffered a barrage of geeks that evening. Everyone wanting increasing orders of drink and food. And everyone wanting to order in English.The smart move would have been to leave and form smaller groups, but all 25 of us jostled around atable fit for 19 to devour the contents of the European stockpile of meat, beer and chocolate cake. I was forced into eating two such cakes when one of ournumber couldn't face another bite. But I did get my chips. 1 out of 3.Now all I needed was rain and TV, and my weekend of England abroad would be complete.
After negotiating the not-so-simple matter of the bill (which lacked the simplematter of any kind of tip) we headed north (or was it south?) to find a 'musicbar'. Two locals guided us to a splendid little place (for it was) in a sidestreet with a few people, a few bars, and a car painted like a can of drink.Interesting arrangement here: the till opened, exposed, into the crowd ofpunters, whilst the barman worked in the conventional manner producing drinkorders based on small slips of paper given to him from the cashier.
Once the first four of us where inside and settled with ourdrink, the rest of the gang decided to leave us and head elsewhere because itwas 'too noisy'. Undeterred, we stayed to enjoy a great night. A couple of(free) Vodka & Red Bulls later (and the obligatory helpings of Leffe) and wewere dancing on the tables with the locals - not a problematic security guard or member of Health and Safety in sight!
Despite the best of intentions, the girl in the split black dress, the twoblondes on the table next to us, and the other girl I fancied all managed toavoid eye contact and advances all night. The drunk nutter tried to pick a fight, but a clean exit was made. My biggest regret is missing the girl takingher pants off. But you can't everything...
We left at three in the morning, and by the time we'd found our way back toa recognisable landmark, realised we were just five minutes from the warmthof our hotel. Well, we *were* five minutes away when we spotting two girls standing on the corner. They werewaiting for their boyfriends, and where obviously in such a hurry that theyleft as soon as they were in sight. They did tell us that there was another club nearby that was still open. So we went in there. Bad move. A little dance. Alittle drink. And a lot of avoiding the nutter from the bar, and the womanwho had wandered in for the 'grab-a-granny' night we must have inadvertentlystepped into. We struggled out at 5.30.Sunday
More talks. Got there late so we went to the one nearest the entrance.
Lunch, and whilst everyone else made good with cheese rolls and coke from the studentcanteen, we strolled off in the direction of the kebab house. But instead ofanother 'pitta poulet' (which, although was very nice, just tasted likechicken :( ) we noted a Vietnamese place; and, despite being concernedby the curtain draped across the inside of the door, ventured inside. Catfish, Thaicurry and sweet and sour something-or-others we re (begrudgingly) shared amongstourselves, with what seemed like a endless supply of Thai sticky rice. It mayhave cost as much ten baguettes, but was certainly ten times more appetising. Itwas here I learned that Catfish tasted like whatever it was feed while alive. itwas also here that no one could tell me would Catfish would taste like if itwere a cannibal.
More talks in the afternoon. Followed by an uncertain hour of everyone not knowing what to do in the 30 minutes before they should head back to theEurostar. I used that evening to catch up with an old friend (old meaning thatI've known her for sometime, not that she is of advancing years, in any way). Iget back to the hotel early to catch an episode of the X-Files on the TV. InEnglish. Ahhh. I love foreign countries.
Now that's two out of three.Monday
Getting up late, and with nothing to attend to but our own hangovers and tiredeyelids, those geeks remaining took an unplannedwalking tour of the city. Using a tourist guide labelled 'off thetourist track', we spotted several cartoons painted on the sides of buildings,a couple of other tourists doing the same thing, and several signs oninteresting places to visit - all marked "Ferme le Lundi".
We did get to visit the cathedral, where even the loudest of our group wasa little quiet. Perhaps in awe of the wooden carved pulpit. Or of the stainedglass windows. Or perhaps there's a change of lightning strikes from the manupstairs.
Upon returning to the city centre we visited some traditional places (thecomputer store, the porno comic shop and the pub). Afterwards, we did thetraditional tourist thing of buying beer and chocolates for our loved ones. A couple of people even had the idea of buying them for wives and girlfriends.A trippast the swingers club to find 'the best kebab place in town' resulted inour last meal before rushing back to the hotel to collect our bags beforegetting the Eurostar.
We made it with enough time to sit down. Stand up. And board the train. An hour delay with the tunnel because of points problems (I still wonder why aStraight-line channel tunnel needs points - but there you go!) and wefinally made it back to Blightly. Back to rain.
Two out of three wasn't bad.