Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Crossing the line - in- and outside of my comfort zone

At work I am part of a fantastic team of wonderfully crazy people that operates around the world - mostly in the USA, Europe, India, Australia, China and Japan. As you can imagine, we do not see each other often and work together mostly virtually. That means that we are using tools like IP phones, sharing software that allows to see each others desktop or even video conference systems.

Occasions where the complete team comes together are very rare, but with the European team we manage to meet every couple of  months - if possible at some new and interesting location like now in Budapest - and it is always SO MUCH FUN!

Working together virtually and still being a team needs a lot of energy, a lot of attention for each other and a lot of communication - and it is not easy. To see each other face to face is very important to make it work and we try to include team building activities and a good portion of fun together into our meetings.

This time we had additionally to our absolutely legendary evening events some very interesting activities planned, which helped me to learn quite a bit about myself and where my comfort zone is - and where not.

Inside of my comfort zone

We want to establish a culture of "Thank You" in our company and we try to make it a habit that every time we meet, everybody gets two "Thank You" cards that should be used for two selected colleagues who were especially helpful in the last couple of weeks. It is important to do that relatively often because it allows you to really react on recent situations and not just thank the people you usually work with all the time. I received 4 cards and that is a lot. I keep them and feel really blessed with the messages I got.

Then we played a game that sounded a bit silly in the first moment. Everybody would get a colored sheet of paper taped on the back and then we would all get pens and run around leaving messages on each others back. Random messages, which could be but did not have  to be work related.
In the first moment we were alle like "Really? Isn't that a bit childish?", but some music helped to get started and with in five minutes the place was a laughing mess of people running after each other with pens. It turned out to be a fantastic idea and almost everybody I talked to kept his sheet after the action was over. 

My sheet is a cute mixture of sweet personal and work related messages, key words like "blogger" and even three hockey related notes:

1) Go Wings - easy to track back to my friend and colleague Michael from Detroit. At that time the Pens and the Wings were both struggling but in. Now both are out.
2) One is  a funny puck-on-ice drawing decorated with "Penguins" ... I guess that is the work of the only other Pens fan in my team, but I do not know
3) And a very friendly soul, who obviously caught my post game 3 depression gave his / hers best to cheer me up and just wrote "Stanley Cup 2013" ... I hope so, my friend, I hope so.

All together this was so much fun and so nice. Showing appreciation for each other and getting this kind of feedback is definitely something that is deeply INSIDE MY COMFORTZONE.

This is the sheet that was taped to my back for my colleagues to leave messages together with the "Thank You" cards.

Outside of my comfort zone

On our last day after a (sadly too short) city walk we could choose between 2 activities that would allow us to do things we usually do not do in our every day life.

The first option was a quad ralley. I sure would have had fun driving a quad, but the word "ralley" scared me a bit since I know our crew and I was pretty sure that I would break my neck during the wild competition. I later heard that it was for real a quite slow thing and absolutely no wild ralley, but okay ... I did not go for that one.

The second option was a shooting session. We would drive to a shooting range outside Budapest and shoot with selected pistols and guns assisted by local trainers.
I would never ever have thought of trying this myself, but it sounded like a good oportunity to do something completely different and make a new experience. I was kind of curious how it feels to shoot a real weapon and had no idea what to expect.

At the shooting range we got instructions - at first all together and then again individually at the stand. Everybody  - the trainers and the girls from the travel agency, who had arranged it and had done already some shooting session at the range - assured us that it is actually fun. Everybody would come out with a huge grin and happy with the special experience. And indeed - the group that went before me (there were three stands next to each other each with its own trainer to guide us and take care for safety) came out and was all "Wooohooo - I made and it was cool."

So I took the protection glasses and hearing protector and walked to the stand. Three different weapons were waiting for me. A smaller silver pistol - relatively light. A black half automatic - significantly heavier. And finally something that looked like a revolver from a western movie and would for real make a little explosion above your hand when fired. 

I took the light silver pistol following the instructions of the trainer for the correct way to hold and shoot it - and fired.

Damn ... that was the WORST feeling ever.

I felt like dropping the weapon immediatly, but how to communicate with a Hungarian trainer and big hearing protection? My helpless gestures were misinterpreted as asking for help to do it right because I did not exactly hit the black shape of a person on the paper in front of me. So I was explained again how to aim correctly. I felt like crying, but I decided to just do it and get it behind me.
The half automatic was next and it was even worse than the silverish one because it was so much stronger. I could barely control the push back with my shaking hands.
The final revolver then was a bit better. It had a huge bore and is for sure very dangerous but the manual handling and the funky explosion made it a bit easier for me.

Then it was over. I just ran out, got rid of the glasses and hearing protection and handed over for the next one waiting excitedly in line. I felt like throwing up and had to catch some breath looking into curious faces asking "And? Isn't it great?" I could just answer "No, this was one of the most horrible things I ever did in my life and I will never ever do that again." I can tell you that people were really surprised. I do not know exactly because I had to leave early for the aiport, but as far as I heard I was the only one hating it so much although some of the other girls felt pretty uncomfortable as well.

We also had the chance to try a pumpgun and although this was supposed to be "even more fun" I turned that down - I had more than enough.

I tried to find out what I hated so much about it. I had no problems to target the black figur on the sheet of paper. I am rational enough to be clear that this was just sports and that this was a sheet of paper and no person. But when I fired I so intensly felt the enormous, destructive power of the weapons that it hit me totally offguard. I had not expected to feel like that. Additionally - being a total  newbie - I did not feel like I would control the weapons a lot but much more them controlling me although that was not the case. 

Don't get me wrong - I do not judge anybody who had fun. We did that in a very safe enviroment, it was nothing brutal or dangerous about it and I can imagine how exactly what scared me could be fun for others.
This is just my personal, emotional state. I also do not regret that I did it. It was an important experience and I learned a lot about me and what I am able to do and what not. And you know what? I kind of like the result. 

So lesson learned for that day:  I do not want to shoot with real weapons ever again and shooting is far OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORTZONE.

This is my s
hooting sheet. The holes in the white are my first tries - later I got "better" - whatever that means:

Monday, April 23, 2012

New trip, new city, new river - Budapest

Shame on me - I think I never ever traveled somewhere so unprepared like I traveled to Budapest. Usually I buy a travel guide, do some internet research and learn at least how to say "please" and "thank you" and stuff like that.

Especially when I travel for work and have only very limited time, I prepare to get the maximum out of it. That is what I did for example in Barcelona.
But Budapest ... nothing. I came back from the US emotionally still tied to Pittsburgh and had not much more time than I needed to fix my broken computer, do some laundry, repack and head for the airport.

And about an hour later I was for the first time in Hungary and tried to get some basic overview. When I was looking out of my hotel room, I saw a river and ... a yellow steel bridge!

And a couple of minutes walk along the river ... another bridge and an incline!

Hmmm ... I felt a bit desoriented. Didn't we just have this river-bridges-incline-thing on the other side of mother earth?

But then there was this .... looking pretty unreal (it's the parliament building and all the white marmor is from the island of Brač, Croatia):


But enough with joking.
I can REALLY not say much about Budapest except that is very, very, very pretty and looks like a wild mixture of Prague, Zagreb and Vienna.
The prices for a taxi trip are surprisingly different between day and night and different pick up points although it ended all up being something like 10 minutes drive from the hotel. I hate when I do not know the language and cannot talk the driver down to please bill a realistic price. The people I met were mostly not Hungarian and if they were they were neither very nice nor very rude. They were just ... at work in a hotel, restaurant, taxi. I had no chance to really talk to somebody. The food was definitely no highlight,  but I am 100% certain that there are excellent restaurants in town - we just did not go there and were a tiny bit unlucky or too depending on the travel agency that had arranged all of our non work acivities for us.

Summary:  When I have a spare long weekend I need to go back and figure out the secrets of this very old and very beautiful city. For now, I have just some nice pictures

What I can definitely recommend is a sunset river boat cruise to watch the city turning golden step by step. 

And about an hour later on the way back from the inside of the boat (the reason for the strange light effects) ...

During that river boat tour we passed a lot more historical buildings, landmarks and beautiful bridges ...

And a few shots from the next day with a little bit of sunshine:

A tunnel right in the city center ...

I developed such a crush on bridges

The Cathedral

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Guest blogging for Pop City Pittsburgh

These can be purchased at THE MATTRESS FACTORY

Before you ask:  Yes, I am writing my blog during the Pens game. I'm listening all the time and watch parts of it. This is all I can do without collapsing. My dear friend Michelle aka the gorgeous PensKnittingLady is knitting like hell at the moment and I'm writing.

I am back from
Pittsburgh for about a week now and it feels like being back for a minute and forever at the same time. When I arrived at home I felt really shitty, because I HATED leaving Pittsburgh, the traveling was exhausting and all kind of things went wrong while being on the road. The worst problem was a hard drive crash that made my notebook unusable and cost me a big part of my pictures, because the notebook died when I was supposed to backup them. 

But I had not much time to deal with my troubles because I had some writing to do on my 2nd notebook - my baby computer (netbook) - since I had a new adventure ahead and a deadline on Monday:  
Guest blogging for Pop City Pittsburgh!

This great and popular website about
Pittsburgh featured my blog already twice in their Buzz section (with magnificent impact on the traffic for Sloping ...)  and we had agreed that I would write a summary of Gabi's and mine trip for them.
It was so hard to decide what would be the best and most important part of our trip and to choose the pictures because every day on it's own was amazing and so different from all the others,  but I made it and here it is:

"A European perspective of Pittsbugh" at Pop City Pittsburgh

It was a pretty cool feeling to see it go live ... and then I watched
the internet doing its magic. The article went viral on Facebook and Twitter LIKE HELL. I rubbed my eyes, I reloaded the page to see the new number of likes, I tried to keep track on social media, I checked the smashing traffic stats on my blog. I watched people sharing the link ... friends of mine in Pittsburgh and total strangers, private people and local businesses and institutions. And I saw lots of comments ... all positive. We got hundreds of Facebook "I like" on Pop City and on Keystoneedge, where it was also picked up. Yesterday I finally heard from Tracy Certo of Pop City that the article set a one-day-traffic record.

WOW ... We are stunned.
Gabi and I are more than happy that so many of you out there liked our work. We thank you so much for reading along, enjoying Gabi's great pictures, giving us such great feedback and spreading the word / link.

Like I wrote to Tracy: 
"Pittsburgh gave us a lot and if this is a way to give back, I am very happy about it."

And there is so much left what we did not manage to do. A week is by far not enough time to cover all what Pittsburgh has to offer. 

We will be back and this story will be continued ...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Day 10 and 11: Pittsburgh - Serious Heartbreak

There are moments in time that are just horrible and you want them to pass as fast as possible. And then there are moments you just want time to slow down or even stop at least for a while.

After the Pens game time was not good with us. It started running ... running out. And we hated it!

Friday was our last full day in Pittsburgh and it started with a full blown nightmare. I was just busy checking on my work emails to make sure I would not come back to a 1.000 + inbox and uploading pictures for the blog when suddenly a dozen warnings popped up on the screen saying something about hard drive problems and the next second the machine was dead. Again.
And the worst: I had the external hard drive sitting next to me to save my pictures. I was supposed to back up them right after blogging and I did not make it anymore. I might have lost all my pictures from New York to Fallingwater. I will see tomorrow when I can call the tech. Wish me luck. 

After dealing with the shock we left home for breakfast at La Prima in The Strip District with Sylvia from Burgh Bits & Bites. It was so good to meet again in person and Sylvia knows so incredibly much about the city and its people that I could just listen to her all day. It took half an hour talking to her and I am already full of plans and ideas for the next Pittsburgh trip - awesome. 

After breakfast with Sylvia we had planned to go to the Carnegie Museum of Art to see the Teenie Harris exhibition, but the computer problem, the exhaustion after a really powerful week and Gabi's and mine love for the Strip just made us cancel any further plans. We just stayed where we were. We inhaled the Strip holiday weekend atmosphere, bought Pens, Steelers and Pirates gear, went for lunch at Jimmy & Nino (pasta and meatballs = comfort food) and had some amazing crunchy caramel popcorn from the Pittsburgh Popcorn Company. It was wonderful and the right thing to do although the exhibition is for sure great and I am a bit sad that we missed it, but we just followed our hearts and guts on that last day.

After packing our suitcases we went for our last bigger tour to a small party a little out of of town. I had to fight with my tears almost the whole evening and watched old and new friends showing up with lots of great food, enjoyed the talks, sat by the fire in the garden and looked up into an insanely beautiful nightsky full of stars and a huge full moon. Unreal. Thanks a lot to Burghbaby for the incredible last evening.
Back to the city we went for a short stop at the Brillobox to say good bye to Justin Hopper at the Pandemic Party and had to call it a night then because a huge travel day was waiting for us on Saturday.

Neither Gabi nor I could really sleep. We woke up almost every hour and our hearts got more and more heavy.

Saturday morning the weather was even better than the day before. The cold wind was gone and only pure spring sunshine was left. Pittsburgh got its shit together to make the good bye as hard as possible, that's for sure.
To get our fix of coffee we went down for a last time to Espresso A Mano and Matt was not exactly helpful with making leaving easier. He drew even more pretty flowers into the milk foam as usual (and different ones for each of us), toasted the chocolate pastries and gave us some Espresso A Mano shirts matching our travel mugs we will carry around Europe now until we can get them filled with Matt's coffee again. Holy shit .. it was so hard to go to Roberto to drive to the airport.

As beautiful it is to get into town via Fort Pitt Tunnel so painful it is leaving the city this way. I was very busy with driving, looking at the skyline against the baby blue morning sky and trying hard to not to cry. Then the tunnel sucked us in and Pittsburgh was gone. OUCH!

But we were not done yet. When we arrived at the rental car return to say good bye to Roberto (good  boy - I miss you!) I passed the keys over to Steve from the rental car company. Yes, I know his name. Why? Well, because we were still in Pittsburgh and not some random airport where the rental car staff wordless takes the keys and hands you the final bill. Steve saw my Mario Lemieux Foundation hoodie, liked it a lot and a minute later we were in the middle of the best hockey and Pittsburgh talk with him and his colleague. We chatted for awesome 30 minutes and I left with another issue of "Icetime" as a farewell gift from the two gentlemen, the best wishes for a quick return and a heart full of LET'S GO PENS!

That is why I LOVE PITTSBURGH!  There is no other place like this. Period. 

The flight back home went smoothly but it was a long ride from Pittsburgh to New York (where I spent some money on data roaming to follow the Pens : Flyers game on the Pens app) to London to Munich. At least the entertainment system worked this time and in my helpess attempt to understand baseball (one day, one day I will make it ... I hope) I watched "Moneyball".  That was a pretty good movie, but a bit awkward to watch when your own team is "rebuilding" for 19 seasons now and running on a relative low moneyball aka budget. But hey .... passion is all what counts and so it's of course  LET'S GO BUCS! (And the just beat the Phillies on Easter Sunday - YAY)

Gotta get my heart healed now from the pain of leaving and have to save some serious money, because the good thing is: Pittsburgh is going nowhere and I know where to find it. My return is only a question of time.  And I am quite sure if things will work out I will not travel alone, because Gabi, who is now in Austin enjoying the next stops on her extended trip with her husband, left a piece of her heart in Pittsburgh, too. Who could understand that better than me ...

All Polaroids by Gabrijela Obert

Friday, April 6, 2012

Day 9: Pittsburgh - LET'S GO PENS!

This is the story in a few very short sentences:

I went to the Pens : Rangers game. 

Pens won 5:2.

I sat right behind the glass. Like one arm length away from the ice. 

It was amazing.

Pens won! (Oh - I sat that already)

I have no idea how I am supposed to live without that feeling for year now. No idea. 

Kris Letang plays beautiful hockey. Even more beautiful than on TV. And he looks better. Yes, that is possible. 

Joe Vitale is hot and he plays some pretty good hockey, too.

GENO! SID! GENO! SID! GENO! SID! GENO! SID! (Multiply with one bazillion) 

FLOWER! FLOWER! FLOWER! FLOWER! FLOWER! (Multiply with one bazillion) 

Pens won! (Yes, I know that you know already, but it cannot be said often enough)


I sat right behind the glass and they were all sooooo close. 

It was amazing. 

Yes, I know this posting is all bold. Be happy that it is not all in capitals. Seriously.

I repeat myself and that is why I stop now.


Igloo leftovers :(

Le Magnifique

Kris Letang - so so so close



The Great Joe Vitale

My boys in action


And one more time - Tanger.
I am such a puckbunny sometimes ;)

And the BEST for last. I think I shot me my own playoff wallpaper picture: SID

Day 9: Pittsburgh - Art and Ballgame Traffic

There are a couple of things that identify you as a local person here in Pittsburgh and some of them have to do with traffic. Realizing that a GPS is often useless is one - off the bucket list. Then you have "Giving directions to aht-of-tahners" - did that this morning guiding a lost guy through the one-way-street-system of the Strip to Pamela's. And then we have the last and most significant one: banging head on wheel while being stuck in ballpark traffic because the Pittsburgh Pirates loose in high speed against the Phillies (!). I think ... now I am ready for citizenship, right? SIGH!

But - as usual - let's start with the beginning and a cappuccino at La Prima. Luckily Gabi likes the place and  the coffee as much as I do and so we went back this morning for caffeine and stocked up on biscotti next door at Enrico's. After this sweet start into the (again) sunny day we drove out into Mon Valley to Braddock. You may have heard already about this little town just outside Pittsburgh. In the time when steel and coal were the king and queen of Pittsburgh lots of people lived and worked out there. With the steel industry the population later collapsed and the few who stayed usually did that usually only because they had no chance to find work and a better life somewhere else. 

For a couple of years now Braddock has with John Fetterman a very special and very engaged mayor who tries to turn things around for his community. Braddock Redux - the local organization he started - runs and supports several projects from - for example - education to a farm with organic vegetables to several art projects including the art gallery UnSmoke Artspace
Sad enough our trip just fell between two awesome exhibitions at UnSmoke and we ended up seeing neither the one or the other (if you are a local Pittsburgh reader just click the UnSmoke for more information about the opening reception this Saturday), but we nevertheless made our way out there because of the Ohringer Building. The former department store from 1929 is a classic piece of Bauhaus architecture and was high on Gabi's list of places to photograph. The little trip also felt a bit like time traveling and gave us a small impression how the old industrial Pittsburgh must have looked like. 

After Braddock we went back to our favorite sports here - river crossing - and drove to the ol' town of Allegheny better known today as The Northside. Yesterday Suzy had killed off our plans  to visit the Mattress Factory but today we wanted to make it there and ... we did. 

Now excuse my French, but HOLY SHITBALLS! Forget the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York! Come to Pittsburgh and go to the Mattress Factory - it is the way better choice. I do not even know where to start ... Most of the pieces were simply mind blowing. From the recent show "Installed" "The Offering" by Than Htay Maung made of dozens and dozens of hands holding  a piece of bread and "Para-Site - video projection on architecture" by Pablo Valbuena were our favorites. Especially the last one plays beautifully with light to create three dimensional impressions. It's simply stunning

At the permanent exhibition we fell totally in love with James Turrell's Danaë. You go into a dark room and there is a blue square at the wall. You look for  the projector but there is none. You go close and realize that the square is a hole in the wall and that goes into another room. The lightening is set in a way that you loose the idea of space, room size and distances. I have vertigo and my impression was like looking out of a window with a low windowsill into a deep nothing. My knees went weak. AMAZING and very emotional.
The whole exhibition is fantastic and there is so much to explore. I felt like a little kid carefully going from room to room - some dark some not and some with very special effects like the probably most famous Mattress Factory pieces "Infinity Dots Mirrored Room" and "Repetitive Vision" by Yayoi Kusama, which we both loved. I think that is how art should be - it should help us rediscover in us the unlimited curiosity of a kid when it starts to conquer its world.
Additionally to the great exhibition the Mattress Factory has really nice and helpful staff and is much more supportive towards people like us, who would like to do photos, write about the place and publish things than most other museums are. It's an all about fantastic place and we strongly recommend to go there.

After our museum visit we walked over to the downtown side of the river again. We did not move the car though since we were lucky enough to have a spot (thank you Mattress Factory!) ... which is not so easy when there is a stadium around the corner which hosts the baseball home opener. So we went over the Clemente Bridge, the sun was shining, people were filling up PNC Park and it was just breathtaking. Even Gabi who is not the biggest fans of American Sports was impressed by the great atmosphere around and in the stadium. It was really Pittsburgh at its best.

In the city we met with Michelle and Mike - better known as The Pens Knitting Lady and her husband PensAreYourDaddy, who has the BEST Pens photoblog, at Las Velas. I know I repeat myself, but it was again so much fun to meet social media friends in person, chat, laugh and share stories. The food was also great - especially the guacamole and the highly recommended molé sauce. But the highlight of our lunch was definitely the delicious cheesecake with extremely yummy and very interesting tasting Chipotle raspberry sauce. Damn - SO GOOD!

After lunch the plan was to quickly cruise home, relax, change into my Pens stuff and go to the game (for me) and go to the Strip for an extended photo session for Gabi. We ended up banging our heads on the steering wheel of Roberto for about an hour in the stupid ballpark traffic. PLAIN HORRIBLE!
When we finally made it here I grabbed my Letang jersey and immediately ran out of the door again. Late for the Pens game? NO WAY!

I made it in time. All good, but that is an extra posting. 

The Ohringer Building in Braddock

"The Offering" by Than Htay Maung

"Para-Site - video projection on architecture" by Pablo Valbuena

"Infinity Dots Mirrored Room" and "Repetitive Vision" by Yayoi Kusama

PNC Park & Clemente Bridge for the Pirates home opener

All Polaroids by Gabrijela Obert