I am off this morning (silly hour of 5 am) to catch a flight to Cannes, France. I know that might sound glamorous to some but it is for work. Oh, who am I kidding? I have been to lots of places for work conferences and I have to say this is probably one of the best places I go!
Every year, Gartner puts on an IT Symposium in Cannes, France. It's really the only investment (time & money) that I put into formal professional development. And it is actually my company's time & money although spending the night away from my children is a hardship.
OK, who am I kidding? It's nice to have a break!
Last year was the first year I had ever been. The project I had been working on had just been implemented and was wildly successful. It had been wildly stressful and all my holiday had been postponed. Once we were over the hump my boss knew I needed a break. So he gave me his ticket and sent me.
I didn't know what to expect and only knew one of the other employees of my company who was also going. And I didn't know him very well.
I got there on Sunday afternoon. The flight was a bit scary, not just for me but for the passenger sitting next to me. You see, I'm afraid to fly. I know how insane that sounds since I've been flying my entire adult life but I am. During the peak of my travelling days, the company I worked for sent me on a course to conquer the fear. I wouldn't say it conquered it but it did teach me how to cope with it.
But I don't fly as much as I did back then and for the last 8 years I've usually flown with my husband. This was my first trip on an airplane in 6 years without my husband. He usually sits next to me and wordlessly holds my hand as my fingernails dig into his hand and helps me count and breath - 2 coping mechanisms I learned in those classes. I panicked when I realised he wasn't next to me. By the time we got off the ground I needed a drink. So did the woman next to me. And first aid - her, not me.
Landing wasn't much better especially when I looked out the window and realised there was only water below me. I didn't know the Nice airport was out of over the water. Oh my god, I thought I was going to faint which is probably what my fellow passengers were hoping as the tears started to flow down my cheeks and I was hyperventilating. I couldn't get off that plane fast enough.
I was surprised at how beautiful the weather was. Of course it would be. I was thousands of miles south of grey, rainy England.
A bus took me from Nice to Cannes and dropped me off at my hotel which unfortunately was quite a ways from the conference centre. I got settled in and called home. Marc just giggled at the flying story.
I made my way to the conference centre to register and was handed the programme for the event. It was huge. I sat down and started going through the sessions on offer. It took me a good couple hours over lunch to do this and it didn't remotely resemble the agenda I had set for myself before leaving.
Sessions started that afternoon. Everyday, the first session of the morning was at 7:30 am and the last session of the evening started at 6:30 pm. They even had sessions over lunch. and the titles of them were so enticing. I wanted to see everything.
Then they had events nearly every night. One night one of my suppliers flew me by helicopter to Monaco for dinner and some gambling at the Casino Royal. I refer you back to my fear of flying above. I had confessed my fears to a colleague who had agreed to fly with me and lend me his arm, literally. But at the last minute a change in helicopter assignment meant I was on my own with complete strangers. In a professional capacity. As the helicopter took off I went pale as the blood drained from my face. I didn't say a word. The supplier still laughs at me.
Dinner was great and I played black jack at the casino. I went up 375 but then lost it all including my initial investment. Dang! I had vision of retiring.
We took a coach back to Cannes which whilst much longer than the helicopter ride was indeed far less frightening.
Another evening saw us entertained at one of the best restaurants in the Old Town of Cannes. The restaurant was packed and we had a great evening of laughter and wine consumption which didn't bode well for the early morning starts.
The last evening was a Cinema themed evening at the best hotel in Cannes. Every room in the hotel was decorated in a different movie theme. They had famous movie start look alikes wondering about. The best was the Keanu Reeves look a like who took to following me around the event.
My colleagues and I had been playing a swag game - that is whoever gets the best handouts from suppliers wins. I had done abysmally to date. On the last day one of the suppliers had given me VIP tickets to that evening's event. We weren't sure what it meant until we turned up.
We had tickets to a closed off area with the best food ever and free drinks all night. I definitely won the swag competition and got loads of street cred with my colleagues!
Quite a few more colleagues of mine are coming this year. I know them better than the ones from last year and I am sure we will have a great time. Please excuse me if I don't get a lot of blogging done although Gartner does a very good job of making sure that everyone is connected and even provides computers to do so.