It's been a while - a lot of long days and some technical issues - but I'm back.
For now, at least.
This time next Friday I'll be heading to Milan for the weekend - the global recession meaning nothing to the annual IT Services Christmas Weekend.
It's something we've done where I work for the last several years, and a slap in the overpriced face of the Irish tourist industry, but for one weekend in December, a group of about a dozen of us visit a European city instead of having a Christmas party at home.
It started about six years ago when we couldn't find a venue in Dublin, so we booked an overnight in a hotel in Mullingar (a medium-sized town in the Midlands) so people could drive there and not worry about having to get home the same night.
It went well enough that we decided to do it again the following year, but prices had skyrocketed in the meantime, so it wasn't looking good.
Then Dr. Invisible suggested Madrid, and when we got our minds around the rather interesting concept, we said
The cost of a hotel and return flights came to less than an Irish hotel was demanding for one night's accommodation, and we had a pretty good time except for the moment when - well, maybe I'll not mention that...
We visited the Palacio Réal, formerly the King's official residence but now a museum, and the Bernabeu Stadium, home of Réal Madrid football club.
The year after that, we went to Munich, where it snowed. Really. We took a bus tour and learned many things about the city and its history, ate dinner in a traditional Munich Beerhall after which I allegedly got two of us lost trying to direct a Turkish taxi driver to our hotel in German, a language I don't speak unless drunk.
The jury (as far as I'm concerned) is still out on that one.
Year before last was Amsterdam. A fascinating city. Some of us visited the Anne Frank House, a deeply moving experience, and something that any visitor to the city should not fail to take. We also took a canal boat tour, and sampled the local cuisine, which wasn't what I'd expected. There was a bit of shopping, and my luggage was damaged on the return trip, but I'd go back...
Last year, it was the South of France - Nice, to be exact, possibly the best trip we've taken yet. The weather was 20 degrees Celsius and not a cloud in the sky. Got a bit chilly at night, but life is flawed. We took a trip down the coast to Monaco where there was a Christmas Fair - they actually imported snow - and watched as a British tourist almost got himself shot (or bayoneted, perhaps) by the Palace Guard for approaching too close with his video camera while ignoring audible (and obvious) challenges to halt.
And so to Milan.
I passed through it last year, at about 4am on a train to Rome. I'm looking forward to seeing the Duomo, although I fear we may be unable to get tickets at short notice for Leonardo's Last Supper. But there will be other opportunities. I'll be happy enough to wander about the city and absorb some of its antiquity...