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VIP return to Lisbon – a story of blood, pastries and Kombucha

It’s that time of year again when the teams within WordPress VIP have a meetup. As usual, it’s all about the food, bad flights and weird accommodation.

Last year, the Triage and Developer team went to Lisbon and this year… we’re back. With a twist. But still with lots of pastéis de nata.

With the VIP ever-growing, the logistics of this year’s meetup has proved difficult. As a result, it was decided to split the team – the North America contingent are meeting up in Chicago and the EU/APAC (i.e. the rest of the team) have come to Lisbon. It means the group is smaller but we’ll be missing a lot of our colleagues during the week.

Saturday

I’d volunteered to be one of five people getting there a day early so that we cover off support during the next day, when everybody else is travelling.

My alarm was set for 6am but, a bad night behind me, I cancelled it and arose at 5:45am. A quick cup of tea, a shower and a coffee later and I was ready to leave for the airport at 7am.

I got to Manchester Airport in good time and, yes, as usual, security was a problem. Thankfully, I was guided to the old-fashioned metal detector so passed through without issue (if they use a body scanner that always causes a problem – but only at Manchester. I pass through them fine at other airports) but it was my backpack that was a problem. Too many electrical items meant that that my two boxes of items were both separated off and manually inspected.

That out of the way, I ended up at a premium lounge to get some work done, grab a further drink and get some brunch.

Now, the flight. That was interesting.

We sat on the runway for 45 minutes and weren’t told why. When we taxied up the runway, I have never experienced such severe swaying from left to right before. Once we were in the air it continued – I have genuinely never been so frightened on a plane before. It was apparently due to high winds in Manchester, not that I was aware of anything before this time.

But that’s not all. No. I got on the plane, with my reserved window seat only to find a young woman already seated there. I explained that it was my seat but she simply said that she was claustrophobic and said I could sit in her seat – the middle seat. No please or thank you. And being too nice for my own good sometime, I let her stay there. She had a small child with her, aged about a year, who was, shall we say, not a model child – which was probably fair as her mother spent all of her time ignorning her, messaging with friends on Snapchat instead. Once we took off they both slept, which I was quietly thankful for.

The journey took about 2.5 hours and, upon landing, I went quickly through security (tip: everybody these days uses the automated electronic passport control, which meant there are now big queues at it. I went to the staffed booths, and got through pretty much instantly), picked up my bags and met up with two of my colleagues, Yuvraj and Stefan, who’d flown in from India and Romania respectively.

An Uber to our hotel (we’re staying in Airbnb’s for the rest of the week, but couldn’t get any for the first night – the hotel was the best option) later, and we met with Andrew, who’d flown in the day before from Australia.

The hotel, Evolution, which I chose, is really nice – normally, I pick hotels badly so this was a pleasant surprise. The rooms, in particular, were quirky but well equipped.

I especially liked the ability to operate blinds, air-conditioning, etc., from a phone app (or the TV in the room).

The four of us headed out and ate at a nearby Italian restaurant before going back to the hotel for a bit.

(l-r) Yuvraj, Andrew and Stefan

Later, we met up with our final colleague, Sarah, who’d flown in on a later arrival from the UK (different airport, though, hence the different arrivals). Yuvraj was now ready to turn in but the rest of us went out, further afield, to a speciality beer pub and, later, a very nice restaurant, where we mainly ate tapas (except Sarah, who had a burger, as she hadn’t had the lunch that we’d had earlier!).

By now it’s around 10:30pm, so myself and Andrew turn in, whilst Sarah and Stefan head out for a final beer.

Sunday

I normally sleep pretty poorly in hotels but I did quite well in the end, not waking until around 6am and then dozing until around 7:30am. A shower and a bit of work before meeting up with my colleagues in the lobby around 9:30am. By 10am everyone was up and ready and we headed out to grab some breakfast. We came straight back, packed and checked out by noon.

A quick Uber to our secondary Airbnb (that was available from midday, unlike our main one which wasn’t until 4pm) and the 6 of us – now joined by Gary, who flew in this morning – settled in the for the afternoon.

The apartment is nice and, more importantly, situated directly above a bakery 😉

Lunch was at the excellent Timeout Market, which I’d been to last year – a rather excellent prawn and steak sandwich.

The downside – it was horrendously hilly and I was rather exhausted by the end. Indeed, this was a theme throughout the week, with their regularly being steep hills to climb (some have a tram on them because of their steepness).

By 3:40pm, it was time for us to get to the main Airbnb. It consisted of two 1st floor apartments, both of which are rather large, with massive bedrooms and tall ceilings. Quality wise, it was a little tatty but good otherwise.

And, like the hotel, we were spoilt by a phone app – this one courtesy of Homeit. It enabled us to unlock the doors to the apartment from our phone…

A few of us headed out to a local supermarket to get “essential groceries”.

By the time our evening meal came round, we had been joined by Nauris (and his wife Tanita), Paul, Chris and Guðmundur. Nothing had been planned and so it was late before we found anything – it was also up a lot of hills too. However, Boa-Bao, which is a Thai restaurant, was excellent.

I was really thirsty when we ordered the meal so I order two lemonades. What I didn’t realise was that this restaurant’s idea of lemonade was a bottle of pure lemon juice. However, as a seasoned lemon eater, this didn’t stop me from polishing them both off… just.

After eating, I returned back to the Airbnb and headed to bed.

Monday

Up at 7:30am as we had a 9am start. A shower and breakfast of pastries (naturally) and I was ready. My previous night’s sleep had been… meh.

Overnight, the VIP Support Lead, Steph, had flown in from the US, so she joined us. The day kicked off with a welcome/ice breaker. We then headed over the road to a park for some work specific discussions until 1am, when it was time to break for lunch.

We went to an excellent cafe named Zenith – very trendy but fantastic food. So good, I went here for the next 4 days! It was here I discovered Kombucha, which is my new favourite drink…

After lunch, we and our NA colleagues, had a video call with our Developer lead to talk about a project that was underway (whilst we ate ice cream – there just happens to be a shop below us!). There was a break and then another ice breaker, followed by co-working.

Ruth joined us today, too. She’s new to Automattic and works in HR, looking after both VIP and UKmatticians.

The meal that evening was Thai again, this time at Skhothai. It was good food but pricey.

The evening finished relatively early and, whilst some went off to a bar, some of us headed back to the Airbnb for a good few rounds of Jackbox.

Tuesday

Today was spend on “team time” – working together and various discussions.

Lunch, again, was at Zenith – unless I say otherwise, you can just assume this is where I went each lunchtime 😉

For the afternoon, we had two video calls to talk about our roadmap of moving all our clients from the WordPress.com to VIP Go platform and then on the migration process.

Our evening meal was at A nossa taska – a small, reasonably priced restaurant that offers traditional Portuguese food.

Like a lot of places in Lisbon, including the restaurant the previous night, they didn’t take cards as payment – cash only. As a result, we decided to review and, where necessary, revise our restaurants over the proceeding nights so that we had those who took card.

After good food and much walking I had an early evening – after last night’s poor night I was ready to sleep!

Wednesday

Again, a combination of meetings today, including co-working. The afternoon was an AMA with Ruth, our HR representative.

Early evening was Sunset Sailing – something we did last year and enjoyed it so much we had to do it again! A crewed catamaran for 2 hours, during which the sun sets and you get the most glorious scenes.

Here’s an interesting video of travelling under the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge…

The noise is created by the car driving over a metal, mesh road.

After the sailing, we grabbed an Uber to the restaurant but quickly found traffic was gridlocked. Eventually, we got to the stage where the estimated arrival was after the time it would take us to get out and walk so we did just that. Police were everywhere and cordoning off streets. I was later told that a ring of Police was around a restaurant (looking out, guarding), so it’s suspected someone high profile was dining there.

The restaurant was Taberna Moderna, who server pricey but amazingly good sharing platters. Also, if you’re into gin-based drinks, they have a (so I’m told) splendid gin bar with Ruth’s being the most impressive visually…

Thursday

As the last working day we had a late start (10am), with Steph leaving for the US mid-morning.

Mid-afternoon was our second (and last) activity for the week. There were two choices – the one I attended was at the Time Out Market and was a Pastel De Nata workshop, where we were taught how to make them.

The other activity was a cycling tour of Lisbon, which absolutely didn’t involve anyone being stopped by the Police.

As a number of us were already at the market, we decided to have our evening meal there. After a large lunch (and lots of pastries that afternoon) I wasn’t in the mood for too much so had the same steak/prawn sandwich I’d had before.

Retiring back to the Airbnb, we ended up playing Jackbox, The Mind, all whilst drinking port (like the sophisticates that we are!).

Friday

Friday morning started off unexpectedly as I woke up to a nose bleed – the first one I’d had in 6 years. It ended up everywhere – the sink, the wall, a towel. I managed to stop it and wipe up most of the mess before anybody else got up but was nervous for the rest of the day – I didn’t want to end up in hospital in Portugal.

We had to check-out by 10am. Some of those with us were heading off early so after goodbyes from them, the remainder of us went to the secondary apartment, which we have for a further day.

Wanting to stretch our legs, Ana and I went for a walk. What we didn’t know is about the student environmental protests that were going on in numerous countries around the world. In the case of Lisbon, it was just down the road and we ended up in the middle of it.

But we did still manage to get past it all and I had the opportunity to get some great photos…

Lunch was at Esplanada Cafe in a nearby park – chicken caesar salad in my case. Really nice food.

But as soon as we’d eaten, it was time to head back and grab taxis for the airport. Myself, Ana, Gary and Paul were all flying out around the same time so we shared an Uber to the airport.

Despite continued bad weather in the UK, my flight was on time. However, getting away on time was, again, too much to ask. As we taxied towards the runway, they stopped the flight and announced a technical problem. Engineers came aboard to look at it – it was soon resolved but, by this time, they’d expended too much fuel so we had to refuel again before waiting for a new takeoff slot. By this time, we were leaving an hour later than planned. At least, unlike the plane over, the pilot kept us appraised of what was happening.

The tip through the airport and then home was unexciting in comparison and I arrived home around 9:45pm.

Finally

Some pictures I took that didn’t fit into the diary above…

And after my Pastel De Nata workshop, they emailed us the recipe for this. I’ve ordered my tins and will be making some more next weekend.

Oh, and I’ve found where I can buy Captain Kombucha!

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