I missed last year’s Support Driven Expo but, this year, I’m in Belgrade, Serbia for their 2019 expo. Support Driven is a community of people involved within support and these expos are an opportunity for that community to meet, chat and watch some (hopefully useful) talks.
Automattic are present, as a sponsor and booth owner, as are the VIP team in the form of myself and my lead Stefan.
VIP’s presence here is a bit… complicated. It was all booked at the height of our hiring burst and the idea was to come here, give out some hiring cards and, hopefully, get some new applicants or, at the very least, some great leads. But since then hiring in the EU has stopped (for now). So, unless we find some people outside the EU who just happen to have the skills we’re after, Stefan and I are here mainly now for learning and schmoozing (or “press the flesh” as my US colleagues hate me to say – look, it’s not rude unless you make it that!).
What a day to start – when British Summer Times begins. So I’ve already lost an hour – my 7:30am wake up is actually 6:30am, which is not really decent.
I leave the house at 8:30am, mildly caffeinated and with a stomach of Weetabix (chocolate – it IS the weekend). Maybe not enough caffeine, as at the end of my road I remembered that I’d forgotten my phone.
The journey today takes me all the way down to Heathrow Airport, which is a good 2 hours drive. But it’s not too bad and Terminal 4 is… interesting. Really nice, but the Gucci and Harrods shops… meh. It is the terminal for flights to Russia and the Arab states though, which explains a few things. Too “blingy” for me.
Now, I’m flying Air Serbia and I really hope they read this. YOUR CHECK-IN IS STUPID. They have 2 lines – normal economy and one for those who’ve checked in already. I’ve checked in already and head down that line (with no queue this is going to be a quick one – the other line is both long and slow moving!).
And then I got told off by the staff. I had to wait for my turn – as in, we had to be served in the order we all turned up, no matter which queue we were in. I skulk back to the main queue and wait there. More people did the same as me and were told the same – although one group waited so long to find this out they weren’t going to move so just pushed themselves ahead of others. Nice. As a nation of queue experts, you’d think they’d be able to get some advice on getting this right.
Anyway, one very slow queue later and I’m through. Now security. Hah. Always fun. I’ve taken the advice on putting all my gadgets through and now, filling 3 boxes, I get them through without an issue. But not me. No, the body scanner finds something funny to the right of my naval. No, I’m not kidding. Much searching later (including performing a swab of both my shows for explosives) and I’m finally let through – the security chap though was good natured and told me more about causes the scanners to give false positives. All this advice – I might finally get through UK airport security unscathed sometime.
The flight was uneventful – it took about 2 hours 15 minutes to get the Belgrade and security was fine. As was my luggage. At the luggage carousel I purchased a sim card from a kiosk – again, I got told off, this time for asking a question out of turn. She was serving myself and a Chinese group at the same time – I happily queued behind them initially but she was happy to help me whilst they were deciding what to do. When I then had a question I was politely put in my place for skipping ahead of them. Sigh.
Now, the taxi. I’d been warned in advance about taxis as you can get ripped off by unscrupulous drivers. I also read that most taxis take card which was great, as that was all I had. Serbia doesn’t have Uber but does have a local equivalent – unfortunately the app is all in Serbian and I struggled to find my way around it. In the end, I used the taxi kiosk at the airport, which was a recommended method. You tell them where you want to go and they write out the details on a slip of paper – you take it out to the taxi rank and they will take you there.
I get in the first car, my bags placed in the boot and I then ask about him taking credit card. He says no, and proceeds to eject me from the car as quickly as he can. The next 2 drivers are stood outside their cars, laughing at this. I ask them if they take card and they don’t. Finally, I arrive at a driver who does. But he’s not happy – in fact he’s furious, waving the slip about and saying something about “police” (he doesn’t speak English so I have no idea if he’s angry with me, the taxi kiosk or the other drivers). The ride over was an uneasy silence.
When I checked into the hotel I asked the lady at reception about this and she thought it would have been with the other drivers. It doesn’t make sense to me, and I’m sure there was more to it – it seemed to be something about me skipping the other drivers, which I’m not sure if you’re supposed to do.
What I have learnt, though, is that Serbians aren’t very good when it comes to queues.
The hotel is amazing – it’s both my room for the next few nights but also where the Expo is taking place (convenient, eh?). Those from Automattic that are here already have mainly flown in from the US and other far-flung locations so have “called it a night” quite early. I’m left, seeking out the hotel bar for… careful… some nice freshly squeezed fruit juices and some food (a rather amazing chicken caesar salad). Fed and watered, I return to my room, never to return. That day, anyway.
The first day of the Expo. Up at 6:30am (I know, right?) after a pretty poor night’s sleep, made myself a cup of tea (yes, I travel with my own tea bags) showered and down for breakfast for 7:30am. Registration starts at 8am, so I get a funky make-your-own badge and lanyard and then help at the Automattic booth.
We’re using Support Driven to officially launch our new Happy Tools product. Unfortunately, as it’s not a tool used within the VIP team, it’s hard for me to help with the demonstration. But, I spend the day either helping at the booth as “backup”, watching talks or talking to other exhibitors (I obviously impressed one who sought me after the day was over to give me a company pin-badge that they hadn’t had with them when I’d chatted with them earlier in the day). The only controversy of the day was the company who turned their talk into a 20 minute selling opportunity, which really wasn’t appreciated by those in the room (myself included).
Stefan, my Lead, and I grabbed lunch at Boutique Cafe & Restaurant, which was about a 30 minute walk from the hotel. Thankfully, the weather was warm and sunny. I had some chicken and salad wraps with fries.
Dinner was at Wurst Platz, who do a good line in beer and local-sausage based dishes. The food was good and the price equally so. We were a small Automattic contingent of 4.
Some more excellent talks today, along with a lot of chatting with other booth owners about their products.
Stefan and I grabbed lunch at the hotel restaurant. The food was excellent (I had the much talked-about Serbian burger, which is kind of a deconstructed burger) and it’s good to know that incredibly posh people who are still unaccountably waiters are still a thing.
Before we knew it, the Expo was over and the booth had to be packed up. I caught up with those booth owners I’d chatted the most, and had been the friendliest, to thank them and wish them a safe journey home (some were staying a longer to explore Belgrade).
The evening was topped off by a visit to the Kaldi Gastro Bar, which was attended by 14 Automatticians. The company and chat was great, as was the food. Stefan and I headed back to the hotel early – he had a ridiculously early flight the next day and I was just so, so tired.
Another 6:30 start due to my mid-morning flight. I grab a shower, finish packing and have the quickest of breakfasts before I grab a taxi for the airport.
And, boy, is the airport unusual. Small, quiet and, oddly, they don’t have security checks until you get to your gate – so those often-delaying checks aren’t done until the gate opens, close to your departure time. It went without a hitch though, which is unusual for me.
Landing at Heathrow afforded us a fantastic view across London, as we came low over pretty much every landmark in the capital. For the Serbian tourists on-board is was a rather fantastic start to their visit. Otherwise, the flight and drive back home was unexciting too.
The Support Driven Expo was great fun – it reminded me a lot of a medium-sized WordCamp. The talks in particular, though, were very relevant and I learnt a lot (it’s been a while since I took notes during a talk!).
Food was really nice and excellent value for money, as was everything in the country really. It was my first ever visit to Serbia and it was as you’d probably expect an ex-Eastern Bloc country to look, with many parts of it looking run down and abandoned.
As I’ve mentioned before, be wary of taxi drivers who will try and rip you off. Only a minority of people speak English (at least well).
Health wise, I ate well – all good and combination of rich and healthy. Not enough fruit or veg, although I did drink quite a lot of fruit juice. I walked 5.2k steps on Sunday and 4.9 on Wednesday – understandable, as I was travelling both days. On Monday I walked 12k though and 11.1k on Tuesday.
Sleep was terrible and I don’t understand why. The bed was comfortable and there wasn’t much in the way of noise. Air-con in the room was pretty terrible (it didn’t seem to do much, but that was consistent for other people as well) so I did a get bit warm. None-the-less, this doesn’t account for the sleep I did get, despite getting to bed by 11pm each night at the latest and with 6:30am starts – 6.3 hours on Sunday, 5.6 on Monday and 4.6 on Tuesday. Bleurgh.