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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.


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 it wasn't until the last few minutes before departure that our hermetically sealed section included some members of the great unwashed. i.e. non-FOSDEM geeks. We opened our half table, successfully balanced a can of coke on it and prepared for the weekend of non-stop tech talk by relaxing, unwinding and let our minds drift onto other matters. 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 previous year. It was a little spooky. Nothing had changed. Nothing. At least my new room was three doors down from the old one. I got the same view of the church as I had last year though: that of dirty church bricks. My colleagues view was slightly 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 London travellers 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 flavours thereof. And recommendations. I stuck with the strong dark ales, but cheated occasionally with fruit beer. (Is Belgium the only country in the world to use 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) I decided on 'classic' cuisine. I knew that would involve mussels for main course, but the starter had me stumped. Salmon and scampi where too expensive. Omelette was too 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 good they 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. And with their shells still on. But going abroad to eat pizza is what a holiday is all 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!". It even 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 complete French-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 of what we drank, and none of us could remember!


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 rest still saw him as a losing lawyer with a pre-prepared speech.

Afterwards came the (near obligatory) free software song - introducing a 7/4 time signature, and a step away from the credible, professional, recognition the movement needs. As soon as they'd (not I, since I have now refused to partake in such trivialities) finished singing it, someone started to sing it in French! Followed by rms finishing it off. Also in French. This spontaneous outburst was much better rehearsed than it had been last year, but no one else seem 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 a table 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 our number 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 simple matter of any kind of tip) we headed north (or was it south?) to find a 'music bar'. 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 of punters, whilst the barman worked in the conventional manner producing drink orders based on small slips of paper given to him from the cashier.

Once the first four of us where inside and settled with our drink, the rest of the gang decided to leave us and head elsewhere because it was '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 we were 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 two blondes on the table next to us, and the other girl I fancied all managed to avoid 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 taking her pants off. But you can't everything...

We left at three in the morning, and by the time we'd found our way back to a recognisable landmark, realised we were just five minutes from the warmth of our hotel. Well, we *were* five minutes away when we spotting two girls standing on the corner. They were waiting for their boyfriends, and where obviously in such a hurry that they left 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. A little drink. And a lot of avoiding the nutter from the bar, and the woman who had wandered in for the 'grab-a-granny' night we must have inadvertently stepped into. We struggled out at 5.30.


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 student canteen, we strolled off in the direction of the kebab house. But instead of another 'pitta poulet' (which, although was very nice, just tasted like chicken :( ) we noted a Vietnamese place; and, despite being concerned by the curtain draped across the inside of the door, ventured inside. Catfish, Thai curry and sweet and sour something-or-others we re (begrudgingly) shared amongst ourselves, with what seemed like an endless supply of Thai sticky rice. It may have cost as much ten baguettes, but was certainly ten times more appetising. It was here I learned that Catfish tasted like whatever it was feed while alive. It was also here that no one could tell me would Catfish would taste like if it were 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 the Eurostar. I used that evening to catch up with an old friend (old meaning that I've known her for sometime, not that she is of advancing years, in any way). I get back to the hotel early to catch an episode of the X-Files on the TV. In English. Ahhh. I love foreign countries.

Now that's two out of three.


Getting up late, and with nothing to attend to but our own hangovers and tired eyelids, those geeks remaining took an unplanned walking tour of the city. Using a tourist guide labelled 'off the tourist track', we spotted several cartoons painted on the sides of buildings, a couple of other tourists doing the same thing, and several signs on interesting places to visit - all marked "Ferme le Lundi".

We did get to visit the cathedral, where even the loudest of our group was a 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 man upstairs.

Upon returning to the city centre we visited some traditional places (the computer store, the porno comic shop, and the pub). Afterwards, we did the traditional 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 in our last meal before rushing back to the hotel to collect our bags before getting 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 a Straight-line channel tunnel needs points - but there you go!) and we finally made it back to Blightly. Back to rain.

Two out of three wasn't bad.