“When are you going to come to FOSDEM?” has been a staple question asked of me pretty much every year since I got into Open Source back in 2000. Every year I made the same old excuses “Ooh, I can’t afford it.” or “I don’t think the Mrs will let me go.” each time I felt more and more like I was letting people down, there’s only so many times people will ask you to do something before they will give up and stop asking and last year at OggCamp my good friend Adrian Bradshaw cornered me in the student union bar of Sheffield University “When are you going to come to FOSDEM?” he said. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, I had no option but to agree to go and so within a few days of arriving home I purchased my plane ticket from Brussels Airlines.
February came round pretty quick, to be honest, and Friday the 1st found me walking across the tarmac to what looked like a toy plane! Now I have flown a few times before but never on an aircraft where some people could have entered easier by walking sideways! As I shuffled along the aisle, I found my seat and having asked the women who I was going to be sat next to me for the duration of the flight to move so I could get in I settled down in the not uncomfortable leather seat ready for my 55-minute flight to Belgium from Birmingham airport.
Fortunately, someone on Mastodon had mentioned that “You just go downstairs to the train station.” they have no idea how important (to me) that little nugget of information was. I followed the signs which do lead to lifts and a staircase but also to a way out too so tbh if I had followed the crowd I would probably have ended up outside experiencing a mild panic attack. You need to go down three levels and arrive at the train station; it was at this point I froze because in front of me was rows of ticket machines. Luckily for me, out the corner of my eye, I spotted a guy who I was later to discover was called Alex wearing an official Red Hat. “Excuse me, are you going to Fosdem?” I asked. Alex said that he was and I explained that it was my first time at FOSDEM and could he help me with the ticket machine. He was brilliant, Alex helped me buy my ticket then took me to the correct platform, ushered me onto the train and then sat by me until we reached Brussels Central. Sadly I didn’t get his surname; I think he was Russian? He had an accent that I would say was Russian at any rate. If you’re not Alex, my apologies.
The Hotel is this way
I booked the Bedford Hotel & Congress Centre about a 10-minute walk from the station. I say walk, more like medieval foot torture. Not only are most of the roads in Brussels cobblestones but so are many of the pavements so if like me you’re wearing thin soled shoes and your plates of meat are smoothly delicate like mine your feet are going to be ruined by the time you reach your destination. I limped up to the desk and notice a sign saying City Tax €4.50 per night figuring this can’t apply to EU citizens I handed over my passport to the desk clerk who proceeded to book me in. “Are you aware there will be a city tax to pay?” he said, no I wasn’t! What a scam that is. He then said something strange: “Ah, Mr Cannon. Room only for three nights.” aye? Hang on. I’m sure I paid for breakfast? Nope, Mr suit was adamant I’d only paid for the room, so I asked how much breakfast was “€9.00” he replied. Luckily my case was there to break my fall! Nine Euro? So basically we’re talking another €40.00 on top of what I’ve already paid! And there was me thinking booking.com had got me a cracking deal. Tired I just wanted to get to my room, take my trainers off and have a cup of tea.
Hello Housekeeping? My kettle is missing!
My room was on the fourth floor at the end of the corridor; I’d booked what was billed as a “Small Single” so I was a bit worried that it was going to be tiny. I was pleasantly surprised; The room was pretty nice with an En Suite that had a bath and a single bed. I’ve not slept in one of those for probably forty-odd years, but it seemed comfortable enough. I plonked my case on the cupboard, found the fridge and like a true Brit retrieved my PG Tips tea bags from my case; hang on, where’s my kettle? And while we’re at it, where’s my cup? Now I had arrived slightly early, so I figured maybe housekeeping hadn’t put it in my room yet or maybe, as I experienced on Malta, when I had to pay a deposit for tea making facilities. I nipped out of my room having seen a couple of housemaids along the corridor: “Hi, I don’t seem to have a kettle in my room?” I said. I wasn’t ready for the bombshell that was about to hit me. None of the rooms has kettles! I was to discover that very few hotels in Brussels have tea/coffee making in the rooms. In typical Pete fashion, I was having none of that and marched down to reception to be greeted by Mr Suit “I don’t have any tea making facilities in my room?” I said. Mr Suit for some reason couldn’t quite process that statement, so I responded “There’s no kettle in my room.” he pursed his lips, widened his eyes and said “Ah, but no. There are no kettles in the room.” I remonstrated that I’d been travelling since 7.30 am and that it was now 2 pm and I was desperate for a brew. “Well Monsieur, I shouldn’t really, but I can arrange for a cup of tea to be brought to your room?” being one step ahead of him I’d already worked out that by the time it got to my room it would be tepid at best. I decide the best course of action was to find a cafe or something which was easier said than done.
They’re all beer mad in Brussels
There are lots of cafes or as we would call them in the UK bars but on the whole, they don’t serve tea. Some do serve coffee, but in the three I first tried I was looked at like I’d asked if it was OK to take a dump in the middle of the bar. Eventually, I gave up and slopped back to the hotel and tracked down Mr Suit and asked him for a cup of tea. He took me into the bar and got the barman to make me one. I say make me one, but I should have known aarrrgghh Lipton’s tea! What is it with going abroad and Lipton’s goddam tea? It truly is a dishwater brew I would rather make a cup of PG with cold water than drink Lipton’s tea. Having created so much fuss over a drink, I felt I had no choice but to drink the lukewarm coloured water.
There’s a FOSS event, let’s all get drunk!
Having had a little rest and a freshen up it was time to have something to eat before the ‘Pre-FOSDEM copious amounts of beer event’ there’s plenty of places to eat where I was staying including a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut. I found a place called Manhattn’s Burgers that did a gorgeous Flatiron spicy burger with sweet potato fries and a ‘secret sauce’ in true British style I said to the guy behind the counter “What’s in the secret sauce mate?” to which he responded “If I told you that it wouldn’t be a secret would it?” LOL
In part 2 we find out if Pete made it to the party. Hear about “That’s two tokens mate.” and how Ade and Ilka drink according to alcohol content rather than taste.