Tag Archives: conference

ActiveSteve Visits the Big Easy

Every now and again, life throws you a bone. And even more infrequently, your employer might throw you a bone. Or in my case, you may be able to parlay your way to a decent work trip to attend a conference in a city you’ve always wanted to visit. For this post, I’m going to talk about the fact that I recently got to spend a week in New Orleans for an IEEE Conference. The location of this conference changes yearly, but this time it was in New Orleans. I was down there from Monday – Friday, and although Monday and Friday were primarily the travel days, I still found some time in the schedule to satisfy my curiosity on all things NOLA.

As it turns out, the conference was *very* technical focused, with a much of the content frankly over my head, and not as closely related to my day-to-day work as I’d hoped. As a result, I felt it justified to play a bit of hooky from the program in the later afternoons. As a result, I managed to see at least peripherally a lot of the sights and locations, got out for a couple nice runs downtown and along the levy, as well as a few other adventures. Below are some images I captured in my travels, and read on for a little more about my time in N’awwleans.

To make the most of my time, my adventure started the moment I arrived downtown. I had no sooner checked in and dropped my bags off that I left on foot to get a feel for the town and stroll through the French Quarter and ultimately Bourbon Street. My takeaway is that Bourbon Street is a more brazen and hedonistic strip of humanity than Las Vegas! It felt like a permanent bachelor party on Bourbon, where every bar is a dive bar. Not only that, but most of them feature some sort of live music. This is a scene that would have been very dangerous to the younger version of me! One night there was enough to satisfy my curiosity. I had a couple tasty local beers and caught some decent blues at a small club.

The next morning, I *almost* got my first view of the Mighty Mississippi. Why almost? Well, there was a thick fog covering the river giving it a very ghostly appearance, but overall very cool to see from my hotel room which was looking out over the river. After sitting through most of the day’s program at the conference,  I laced up my shoes and went for a nice 10k run along the river on this side of the river. I got caught out in some really heavy rains, but still enjoyed my run which included running through some of the really old neighbourhoods and ultimately ending up near an abandoned naval  yard looking out on the river. The run worked up quite a thirst, so I made a plan to hit a few breweries for drinks and food before more music.

The plan involved a first stop at the Gordon Biersch Brewery, which had an impressive selection of beers for a ‘chain’ brewery. Over the next 2 days, I ended up sampling them all, with some great results. I also got to meet with (and ultimately have my tab picked up by) the brewmaster. From there, I wandered over to the Crescent City Brewhouse. They specialize in oysters and beer brewing. The former didn’t interest me, but the latter did. Despite that, I ended up sitting at the bar with another out of towner hanging out with the head oyster shucker. We had a great time just chatting and passing the time away. By the time I stumbled out of there into the rainy night air, it was time for some live music. This time, I was headed to an area called Frenchman Street, which is known for local music made by locals for locals. Ultimately,  I landed at a club called dba to see the Treme Brass Band. The venue is pretty well known, featuring a good beer list, and an ever-revolving list of visiting musicians. It was the perfect end to my night. It took a while to walk all the way back to my hotel, but the trip was well worth it.

The next day was split between the conference and more exploration. I managed to take a ferry across the river early in the morning to squeeze out another 10k run, this time along the pedestrian path along the levy on that side. I doubled back in time for the conference for most of the day before ducking out early to catch a steamer boat tour on the Steamboat Natchez, a classic steam-powered riverboat. What better way to experience the river, right? Unfortunately, it was still quite foggy, but overall, I really enjoyed the cruise, which included live Dixieland music on the boat, and a narrated tour of the sights we could intermittently see. To cap off that day, I had an evening social event as part of the conference at the Aquarium of the Americas near the hotel. We had our meal there, and also had free run of most of the aquarium, which was a nice excursion, particularly considering it was still raining out!

On my final full day, I started my morning before the conference by heading out to Cafe du Monde for some world famous New Orleans Beignets. These are basically the NOLA equivalent of Beaver Tails to us. Deep fried batter with icing sugar on it. Delicious though. Combined with my hot chocolate, it gave me the energy to sit through more technical proceedings. But that afternoon, it was time to cap off my touring. Rather than walk everywhere, I picked up a day pass for the ubiquitous streetcars and used them for my next few stops.

First up, the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone, where I tippled the expensive yet very cosmopolitan Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans. While there, I enjoyed the conversation with both the bartenders as well as a local who had left after Katrina, but still returns regularly to the city he loves. Sadly, I had more adventures to tackle, so I bid adieu and caught the next streetcar to visit one of the newest breweries in town, Courtyard Brewing. It was very quiet on my visit there, but all the better for sampling. While they only brew a few onsite, the have a 16-tap tasting room with lots of visiting taps from other breweries. It was definitely worth the stop and talk with the brewmaster and other passers-by who came from other breweries. It was a great find, and well worth looking up if you are there!

Next up was a bit of culture, as I stepped off the streetcar once again and wandered aimlessly through the famous Garden District, including taking in the haunting Lafayette Cemetary. Unfortunately, they were just closing up as I arrived, so I only had about 10minutes to stroll around the tombs. Frankly, it was enough to get a sense of this place. Very interesting place steeped in history. With my head now clear and a bit of food in my stomach, I made my way to my final destination: the Tap Room at  NOLA Brewing. They’ve only been at it for 8 years now, but they have some very inventive brewers there, and lots of interesting brews to try. While I had planned on just a flight and a couple samples, I ended up sticking around for more than 3 sample flights, and was also treated to a few special brews as a guest of one of the owners. They pulled some additional growlers from a special fridge for me to try. It was damn near impossible to admit that I had to leave at the end of the night. As with all my stops, the locals were incredibly friendly and more than willing to converse with a traveler passing by.

Well, that about summarizes my trip to the Big Easy. My impressions and summary would be as follows: Warm, friendly, interesting personalities, great music, strong spirits, resilient people, and a genuine appreciation for living life as it should be lived. Locals have definitely gone through a lot in the past decade, but their love of life and their culture lives on and grows down there. I’m glad I finally got to visit, if only for 4 nights. I’d say I got a great overview of the Big Easy, and left feeling like I learned a bit more about this city that moves along with the Mississippi. That just leaves Austin and Nashville as the 2 other cities in the U.S. that I’d really like to spend a week in. Guess I’ll have to keep an eye on the conference calendars! Till then, come on back for more race reports!

A Little Sinful Spring Fun

Greetings friends. So have you figured out what this post will be about yet? Well, here’s a hint; normally what you do there stays there. Yep, that’s right, I just got back from spending nearly a full week in Las Vegas. The occasion for such frivolity? Well, I was actually on the company nickel for this trip. I was attending the 2011 National Association of Broadcasters conference. Sound dry to you? Well, apart from the yearly CES show, this is one of the biggest conferences in the states. Estimates pegged attendance at over 90,000 people. How insane is that? In a word: insane. I was the only attendee from my work, and unfortunately, I didn’t know a single person at the conference. I know a fair number of people in the telecom industry, but not the broadcasting space. As such, this wasn’t going to be the typical Vegas trip. In spite of that, i managed to do some fun things, and will tell you about those things. Also, I took a few pictures while there, which I’ve split into two sets: Natural Fun, and Hotel and Conference pics. After you’ve checked them out, read on for the rest of the post.

When you hear Las Vegas, no doubt your mind travels to unspeakable acts, flagrant abuse of alcohol and sound judgment, great shows, and general ostentatiousness. However, the Vegas experience is much different when you are all on your own and know no one. There really isn’t much excitement in wandering the strip alone, bumping into all those people who ARE enjoying the ‘authentic’ experience. For my part, I was arriving in town at midnight on a Friday night, so the crazy was in full swing on the strip. I checked into the Mirage, and then decided to head out for a little stroll. I quickly realized this really wasn’t my scene at all. I had barely arrived, and was already trying to figure out how to get out. It then dawned on me that a car rental was in order for Saturday. Although the conference was starting on Saturday, there were really no sessions that were relevant to my work, so I decided to get a Saturday for me. Plus, I had to squeeze in a 28km run, and doing so in town would NOT be fun.

Luckily, by having a look at the maps and doing a bit of quick research, I found the perfect place to get away. Red Rock Canyon, a mere 20-25 minutes away from the strip to the west. This park is far away from the frenetic pace of the strip. No neon out there, just the awe-inspiring lightshow of the sun on the canyon and mountain walls. There is a 15 mile scenic loop that goes around the park, with lots of spur routes for hiking. So the plan was set. I’d get up as soon as I could on Saturday, rent a car, and head out that way. I got a mid-size car for the price of an economy car, and headed out for my day of natural splendor. It was the right call for me. I hit a grocery store on the way out of town for a bite to eat, as well as grab supplies for the rest of the week.

Once at the park entrance, I parked my car on the side of the road and ran to the actual entrance to pay my $3 entry fee for a walk-in. I figured why pay for the car entrance when I had no intention of driving anywhere in there. So what about the run you ask? Well, apparently in Ottawa, it was hovering around the 15 degree mark. In the Red Rock Canyon park? Well, it was more like 5 degrees! Luckily, it started out quite sunny, and I was running such that I gained about 1000 feet of elevation to get to the high passes. So I kept warm enough in spite of not wearing too many layers. The other thing I really enjoyed, apart from the views, were some of the people I met on my way. A lot of cyclists go out that way to train, and some of them stopped to chat with me as well. With one couple, i was actually running faster than they were on the uphills, but they’d obviously pass me on the downhills. The cat and mouse game was kinda funny. Further on, i was met by a few cyclists that were actually down from BC who had done Ironman Canada. Wanna see a full map of the ride with some pictures? Well then, check out my custom Google map!

The weather never really got any warmer in my long run. Quite the opposite in fact, as I had to laugh out loud when the snow hit! Yup, that’s right, what started as a few flakes of the white stuff actually turned into full-on proper snow flurries. This did not dampen my mood at all though, since I was absolutely loving being out there. When the run was done, I headed back in and made my way to the visitor center to see the displays on the park. It was quite well done. Back to the car I went, and on to my next outdoor stop. Well, a shopping stop. I hit the REI (MEC equivalent in the States) where I’m a member. They were having a 20% off a single purchase promotion, and I decided I’d finally replace my old hiking boots that have seen my through many adventures. I actually ended up getting another pair of Garmont’s, but this time, a full Gore-Tex model. In chatting with one of the employees, I was quickly convinced to make the 1hr drive to Hoover Dam before wrapping up my adventure day.

I showed up at the Dam as the sun was starting to dip behind the mountains. But still plenty of light to see this modern wonder of the world. In 2010, they actually opened up a big ‘bypass’ bridge which runs parallel to the Dam itself. With that, tourists now have the opportunity to walk out onto the bridge and look straight down into the dam itself. I was too late to have an actual tour of the Dam facilities, but with the bypass bridge, I still had a great sense of the scale of this concrete and steel depression-era masterpiece. I also didn’t bother driving across the Dam. Once that was done, I made one last stop to cast my eyes towards Lake Mead for a bit while I enjoyed a muffin. All in all, a perfect day in my mind. Well, not quite perfect. it WOULD have been perfect if I’d been able to share it with Deanna, but still pretty darned good.

The rest of my week was more typical i suppose. I filled my days with the conference, getting up each day before 7am. Learned a few things, saw a lot of really cool toys of the trade for television and audio production, and was generally mind-boggled at the scale of this event. It would literally take 15 minutes just to walk from one session to another in the sprawling Las Vegas Convention center. That doesn’t even talk about the exhibit floors themselves, of which there were 4 giant halls!

My evenings were spend usually trying to squeeze in a dip in the pool or hot-tub at the Mirage, or doing some running in the cardio center. Then it was always a matter of finding some food. I didn’t do any really fancy dining, but did enjoy my little forays out into the strip (for short periods). As a non-gambler, there really wasn’t much else to amuse me. The smoky atmosphere was annoying, and the air of semi-desperation and optimism clung to the air as well, and didn’t leave me feeling very inspired. I’d contemplated trying to catch a show, but that didn’t work out either. Most were sold out, or otherwise, not things I wanted to pay for. Instead, I enjoyed the free shows on the strip, and on one night, treated myself to live music at the BB King blues bar, where the Memphis All-stars were playing. That was a nice break.

My one night of ‘authentic Vegas’ happened sort of unexpectedly. I got a text on Tuesday from Andy telling me that he and Irene-Ann were in town for the rest of the week, as they were heading to the Arcade Fire show at the Hard Rock on Thursday. Good timing, as I happened to have 3 VIP passes to Lavo, a night club at the Palazzo, which was hosting an official NAB party that night. Seeing as night club access is usually $30 or more, we decided we’d see the ‘night club’ scene there. It was my first-ever Vegas night club, as I’m more of a ‘dive bar’ kinda person. Ha ha ha. Oh, and did I mention that it was open bar from 10-11 for us? This resulted in some poor judgement and some accelerated alcohol consumption. We stocked up on extra-strong beverages, and I made friends with a bouncer, as well as with a VIP table host who had just dropped $2000 for a couple tables for his clients. It was kinda cool chatting to some of the people that make Vegas go round. Sadly, the latter parts of the evening are somewhat shrouded in mystery for me. I know there was a small bar somewhere in Treasure Island that we ended up at, as well as some 3am instant messages I sent to Deanna, and of course waking up fully clothed! Oh yeah, and severely regretting the choice to see how many free drinks I could drink in an hour.

That left me with Wednesday and Wednesday night. I still made it to the conference at a decent time of 9am, but I was not feeling well at all. The whole day was miserable, but I had no one else to blame than myself, so I just sucked it up. That night, I took a quick 1 hour nap at suppertime, then wandered out to the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace to do a bit of light shopping for my sweetie. Upon return, a quick little video Skype with Deanna before she headed off to bed. I was so wiped that I opted to just pack my things and order room service. Ironically, it was one of my nicest meals of the week, which I got to enjoy on my own room while watching Batman Begins on the TV. Yeah, I know, not very sociable, but if you were in my shoes, I’m willing to bet most of you wouldn’t even have been able to get out of bed that day.

Well, in a nutshell, that pretty much sums up my trip to Vegas. I’m proud to say that I still got in all my training runs (although I missed my biking), and came out no worse for wear or any further behind on mortgage payments or anything. Ironically, the only gambling I actually did was put in the single dollar bill that Deanna had given me into a slot machine. Sadly for her, it wasn’t a winner. As I finish this post, I’m high in the sky flying back to Ottawa, with a lightening storm flashing off in the distance to my right. The week was pretty good, but after 6 nights, I’m very much looking forward to getting home and crawling back in to my own bed with a nice warm body next to me! So with that, I’ll sign off.