WCEU 2023: Speaking in Athens

If I could wrap my planning for WCEU 2023 into one word it would be “chaotic”. And when it comes to travel, that’s not normally what I’m like.

The last couple of months have been hard – physically and mentally. And, as a result, I’d put WCEU to one side and, as a result, I didn’t do a lot of things I should have. Thankfully, my people network, and a lot of luck, got me through.

Which was lucky, as I wasn’t just attending, but speaking.

But let’s rewind a little…

As soon as speaker submissions were available, I sent in an application. It was a title and a description that wasn’t much more than the title. I had no content and didn’t expect to be accepted.

Whatever happened I wanted to go, so as soon as Automattic wanted to know who was attending, I put myself down, intending to volunteer. Automattic will provide a hotel for us, but I arranged my flights and everything else that I needed to do in advance.

But I forgot to actually volunteer. The deadline came and went and I missed it. Thankfully, it was only one day and an Automattician just happened to be on the volunteering group, so got me in.

Once it was announced that I WOULD be speaking, I gave up my volunteering in preference, though.

Next, it turned out that if you wanted to go to the Contributor Day, you had to sign up for that separately and, yep, I’d missed that deadline too. It was made more awkward by the fact that speakers were expected to be there that day to do sound checks, etc. I raised this with the speaker team and they managed to get me access for the day.

Final mistake… I left it too late to put myself down for one of the parties during the week and all the tickets went. I put myself on a waitlist and, thankfully, managed to get one. It was the best party of the week too… but more on that later.

Anyway, yes, so moral of the above – don’t take your eye off the ball, whatever else is going on! In reality, I really just had too much going on at the same time.

Wednesday 7th

My alarm goes off at 5:30am, which isn’t a great start. Breakfasted, showered and generally ready, I head off at 6:45 for Heathrow Airport. I arrive at 9:30.

Check-in and security was swift and by 10am I was through to airside. My flight takes off at 12:15pm, so I had time to grab some brunch before I continued. Who knows when I’ll be able to eat next?

The flight was a little late (10 minutes) but otherwise fine. We arrived in Athens at 6pm local time, 4pm at home.

Security took some time (the EU residents automated passport thingies were empty, where as there was a long queue for manual checking for non-EU. Thank you Brexit) and, even after that, luggage wasn’t available for some time.

Taxi rides from the airport are pricey, so I took the Metro, which does a special €9 ticket from the airport to the centre of Athens. It wasn’t particularly quick but when I got the main station, I grabbed a 5 day pass for €8.20 (this takes you anywhere within Athens but not to/from the airport). I chose to walk the final distance to the hotel, which took around 15 minutes. As a result I didn’t get to the hotel until after 8pm.

I checked-in, dropped my baggage in my room and headed down to the lobby, where I met up with a number of other Automatticians. We found a nearby restaurant for some dinner – I had some rather amazing grilled tuna.

I bailed early as despite it only being around 8pm at home, I was feeling the effects of the day and was well aware I still needed to sort out my luggage, etc.

I did this and 10:30pm, local time, tried to get to sleep. But there was a problem. What sounded like a nearby, open-air rave, was going on (I suspect it was part of Pride). I waited until 11, hoping it would finish then. It didn’t.

It was so loud it was making my hotel windows shake. Thank God for my AirPod Max and the noise cancellation. I propped myself up in bed, stuck in the headphones and piped some white noise through. Eventually I fell asleep. I woke sometime between midnight and 1 and the music had stopped, so I took the headphones off and settled down in the bed.

Except… road noise. It’s particularly bad and that affected me getting back to sleep.

Thursday 8th

As my alarm went off at 6:30am (4:30am at home), I was feeling worse for wear. Even if the music isn’t going on tonight, I’m still going to have that road noise, so I can see lack of sleep is going to be an issue for me this week.

I had a shower, dressed and headed to the hotel restaurant just after 7am. I had breakfast (it’s buffet style) and enjoyed the view of The Pantheon from where I sat.

Around 8am I walked out of the hotel. To get to the WCEU venue, I can use the Metro or take a 30 minute walk. The latter didn’t seem so bad, and I had that time anyway. However, it was already 22°C and, with a heavy backpack on, I was feeling pretty warm by the time I arrived,.

I got my name badge and settled in for a day of contributing.

Initially, my plan was to work with the Accessibility team but after hearing what each group was doing, I was drawn to the Feature Notifications group, as that fitted in with well with my talk tomorrow. I spent the morning with them, before grabbing lunch (buffet style again – I had some Greek style mushroom pasta dish, which was really nice).

I didn’t spend the whole day doing that, as I realised I had my talk the next day and hadn’t looked at it for over a week. I went back to the hotel via the Metro (which gave me the bonus of giving me an opportunity of working out the routes!), went over it, before returning. Speakers had a sound check on stage at 4:30pm (“do you know how to use a head mic?”, “Yes, yes I do”).

The room, although the smallest of the 3 being used for talks, is still pretty large. And very impressive…

I went back to the hotel, washed and got into something a little more formal. A Taxi with colleagues awaited and we went to a VIP Party at 7pm. It was full, not just of people from VIP, but customers, agencies and partners (both current and prospects). VIP’s CEO, Nick, had flown in to be part of (his first time at a WordCamp Europe, I believe).

I retired late but, with no loud music this time, slept well. I kept the air-con on this time and the white noise of that drowned out the traffic.

Friday 9th

I woke at 7am today – a little later than yesterday.

Breakfast and then the Metro and I was at the venue around 8:15am. The sponsor stalls were now open so I started the networking/swag taking that is all part of what WordCamps are about.

At 9am I headed to the green room, as my talk was due in an hour. At around 9:45 I was lead to the stage, mic’d up and given a “clicker”. My assistant got my some water, which was my only demand 😉 As the clock hit 10am not many were in the audience…

Unbeknown to me, the opening remarks were over-running. Soon into my talk, people started to come in. And there were lots of them.

And it went well.

Rather than me ramble over time, which is what I was expecting, I was under-time. That didn’t matter as there were lots of Q&As which I could then ramble with instead. The one of the questions was a difficult one (in terms of being pointed), but one that I was expecting.

After, I mainly prowled the halls for a bit, decompressing as I did.

I managed to get to a talk at midday, on use of AI in WordPress, before lunch. More talks and networking in the halls followed before I headed back to the hotel for a rest.

Around 6 I just on the Metro and go to McDonald’s. Yes. Okay, so my daughter and son-in-law have a thing of trying out McDonald’s in different countries and seeing what’s different, so I was doing this on their behalf. Indeed, it was quite a rarity because the menu is not much different to the UK. They have “luxury fries” which are really more like seasoned wedges. Otherwise, their McFlurries are just called “ice cream” and come with a proper, wooden spoon rather than some weird square plastic version.

I head back, get changed into my finery and, just after 8 walk a few minutes up the road to a Pride party hosted by Yoast. It’s on the roof of a hotel, with fantastic views.

Anyway, needless to say, it was a great party, with excellent music. A free bar too! Thank you Yoast!

Saturday 10th

Up at 7am again.

Breakfast and then shower (the other way around today!), and then some packing, as this is my last day and I have an early start tomorrow. There aren’t any talks first thing that I’m interested in so can take my time getting to the venue.

I metro’d again to the Megaron and enjoyed another day of talks, sponsor chats, general networking and, of course, some amazing food (the food in Athens all round has been great).

I bumped into Josepha and we had a quick exchange of greetings and a hug – I wasn’t sure if she’d remember me (we’d last chatted years ago, I think, at WordCamp London) , so was happy to know that she did.

After lunch a group photo was taken.

I attended a number of talks during the day, including ones on contributing and accessibility.

At the end of the day was an hour fifteen Q&A with Matt, Josepha and Matías.

It all finished with a final “wrap-up” and an announcement of the next WCEU…

I headed back to the hotel but was soon back in the foyer, with 9 other Automatticians, as we headed out to dinner. It was a quite a walk to the restaurant that we went to but well worth it.

The area was fantastic and the food plentiful and very, very nice.

An after-show party had already started at a nearby night club but, after the meal, I was beat and knew I had an early alarm the next day. One thing I’m much better at these days is controlling my exhaustion – knowing when to stop, essentially. So, I did. I walked back to the hotel, now through a massive Pride celebration that was going on.

By the time I finished a quiet read and sorting out all-the-things it was sometime after 11pm before I retired to bed.

Sunday 11th

I got up 5 minutes before my 6:30am alarm was due to go off (clearly, I’ve settled into the timezone!).

My plan was to get a metro this morning to the airport, which is great value but, the previous night, I’d been checking the timetables – the airport run is only every 30 minutes on a Sunday and there was a fine-line between getting the metro I needed and missing it.

At breakfast, I got chatting to another Automattician and generally enjoying the scenery, this time on the open terrace. Indeed, I left it too late, by the time I then got showered and packed, to make the metro in time, so I then had 30 minutes to spare before grabbing an Uber instead.

It as 8:30 and it was already 25°C outside, although only a high of 29°C is predicted for that day – it’s the inability to get away from the heat that’s made the temperature much worse than it would have been at home. Each day I’ve got back to my hotel and not a single item of clothing that I’m wearing hasn’t been soaked through.

The taxi driver was… interesting. His car was incredibly battered and struggled to pull away from a starting stop. He had brake warning lights all over his dashboard and he drove like he was being pursued by people trying to kill him. And during all of this, he was telling me about chemtrails, the “New World Order” and that robots will take over within 5 years and the rich people will live underground. I smiled and nodded.

I arrived at the airport and had no issues with check-in and security (it’s amazing how smooth these journeys go when I’m not using Manchester Airport). At the gate, though, is became apparent there was an issue when our plane only landed 30 minutes before we were due to leave. It turned out that European Air Traffic Control had an issue and that had caused a delay on that flight, which then impacted us. To give Jet2 their dues, they had us on it within 45 minutes, only 15 minutes late. Unfortunately, the problems didn’t stop there.

The vehicle that pushes the plane out broke down and, although they found another, no driver was available for it. The Captain sounded very unimpressed with them when he told us the news. That added further delay and then, we had to wait longer to be able to take off as we’d missed our allocated slot.

After take off weather events across Europe meant we had to take a detour. All of which meant we were now 45 minutes late.

But it was fine after that. It was over 2 hours car journey from Stansted and I wasn’t home until around 6:30pm.

Talk to me!

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