Munich a4uExpo 2010 Memories

There have been some great blog posts about what people learnt at the a4u Expo Munich, this is not one of them.

I do learn stuff at the a4u Expos but I attend so I can see what’s happening in our industry and to touch base with networks, agencies and other affiliates and to reconnect with friends, meet new people and put faces to people I’ve chatted with by MSN and email.

On this occasion my wife, Deb, accompanied me because we’d been visiting family in Frankfurt the week before so we were both up to speed drinking beer and mumbling a few German phrases. We avoided the ashcloud by chilling on the ICE train down to Munich. At one point we were travelling at 236km/h and it still took several hours to get to Munich which reminded me Germany really is a big country.

We arrived in good time to settle into the Munich Park Hilton Hotel which is one of the better conference hotels I’ve stayed in with the exception of WiFi access which was taking the piss at 18 euros for a 24 hour pass. Internet access is not an optional extra for affiliate marketeers so 18 euros later my mobile office was up and running.
The hotel breakfast offered everything anyone could possibly want for breakfast from a full English breakfast, a bowl of cornflakes or a continental style breakfast.

The Sessions
Having attended all the a4u Expos I’d seen quite a few of the presentations before and some of the rooms were too hot and too overcrowded but the content was generally good and all in English, which surprised me. The European audience wasn’t as quick to jump in on panel discussions as UK audiences so it was up to the moderator and twitter input to keep things moving – which worked well.
The lunchtime food was provided by the Hilton and was the best at any Expo offering something for everybody with a choice of nibbles, a bowl of soup or even a full meal.

The Germans
I wasn’t very proactive touring the stands in the main hall because I already work with most of the networks which have UK operations and I didn’t want to get into any long boring conversations with German specific networks and merchants I can’t work with at the moment but it was good to touch base with Karel Ellis-Gray who we also met in Barbados. Karel is affiliate marketing manager at belboon-adbutler GmbH who have some UK clients so check them out.

The a4u Munich Parties
The pre-show Ignite Party was held at the Vice Bar which is located just off one of Munich’s main shopping streets where we picked up our conference badges and wristbands before getting stuck into networking, the free bar and some tasty Bavarian nibbles. It was good to catch up with Ray Theakston, who I hadn’t seen since Barbados, and Bruce Clayton who I’d seen a few weeks earlier at a Linkshare event in London and apologies again to Hero for not recognising her straight away, it had been a while and I’m useless with names. The sound level was perfect, plenty of atmosphere and I didn’t wake up with a sore throat or ringing ears.

The Break Out Party on the middle night was held in, what looked like, a barn at the Munich Racecourse which sounds like an unlikely setting for what turned out to be an awesome party – undoubtedly the best a4u evening out ever.
The venue was really well organised with the BBQ outside, delivered with stereotypical German efficiency, no one was left hungry and I discovered, much to my surprise, that I like Sauer Kraut.
There was a raised back-lit music stage with an excellent DJ who really did build the atmosphere with the help of four great dancers and J’Lil who took over from the girls when he got into the groove.
For anyone wanting to chat there was plenty of space and seating away from the action but Deb and I were both enjoying the music and, despite being the oldest clubbers in town, wiggled our hips on the edge of the dance floor while admiring Duncan Popham throwing some classy moves on the dance floor – which I enjoyed a lot more than his click attribution presentation, Hi Duncan!

The After Show Party was held at the 089 bar in Munich (which coincidentally cost €8.90 to get to by taxi) and this evening wins my awkwardly titled “Best evening out from such an unpromising start award“.
We arrived around 9.30pm to a half empty Bavarian style bar which didn’t even sell Hefe Weissen – which is a bit like visiting an English country pub which doesn’t sell real ale as far as I am concerned.
Deb and I sat down with our complimentary drinks on an a4u reserved table on our own with just a sprinkling of a4u attendees mixed in with the locals. Not much happened so we bought a couple more beers and mooched around until Matt arrived and told us the last time he visited this bar it was shoulder to shoulder and a great evening out. Frankly I didn’t believe him and I was ready to leave but Deb persuaded me to give it a bit longer and I’m glad we did. Ray, J’Lil and a few other familiar faces turned up and that got the party started. Matt invited us to join the Existem gang and it got messy, needless to say I didn’t eat breakfast the next day and the flight home was an unwelcome intrusion into my hangover recovery regime.

Deb and I thoroughly enjoyed Munich and I’d like to thank Matt and the Existem team for a great conference and three great a4u parties and for their hospitality. I look forward to a4u Expo Munich June 2011 – I’ve just booked my tickets, why don’t you join me?

Barbados Restaurant Experiences

Here’s our family eating experience along the south coast from Bridgetown to Oistins.

Most restaurants prefer reservations but we got a table for 5 phoning on the day and there were empty tables at all the restaurants we visited during the last two weeks in July 2010 so don’t be put off by this.

There wasn’t much variation in prices either with almost all meals working out at between $100-$120 per person for a three course meal.

This list is roughly in order of preference and we were in broad agreement but do bear in mind this was a family of 5 with varied tastes.

Reservations 434-3463
Christ Church
As a family Champers was our favourite restaurant by a clear margin. It has recently moved to a new location with a large car park so if you’ve been before the new location overlooking Accra beach is even better.
The staff were friendly and unpretentious, the service was prompt, the atmosphere was lively without being too noisy and the temperature was just right.
The food was all excellent, my highlight was a crab crepe starter.

Mama Mia Deli and Pizzeria
Reservations 434-3354
Christ Church
Mama Mia’s is an excellent Italian Deli stocking all the Italian essentials for anyone self catering or living on the island.
In the evening the Deli transforms into a lively restaurant and it was also one of the cheapest so it’s another family favourite and the only place we ate twice.
You can eat inside, which was too cold and too bright or outside which is OK but people do smoke there. The folding chairs used throughout were too uncomfortable for the length of time it takes to eat a meal and the service was fairly slow but everyone was really friendly and the food was well worth the wait.
If you like traditional thin crispy Italian hand made to order pizza cooked in a proper stone oven you’ve got to visit. The selection of pizzas on the menu was a bit eclectic but you can create your own pizza – just ask the waiter and name your toppings.
The pasta and salads are also homemade and the antipasti was also excellent.

Reservations 228-0704 (Closed Tuesdays)
Christ Church
Tapas is a fashionable and trendy restaurant located on the popular Boardwalk with a great sea view. The Tapas car park is too small for the number of people they can cater for so parking could be tricky if it’s full but we managed to squeeze in. You can opt for tapas dishes or choose from the “a la carte” menu.
The food was good. My main course was a delicious sea food kebab served on a bed of crisp vegetables flavoured with a memorable dressing which was my favourite dish of the holiday.
On the downside the place is up itself and the service is slow and impersonal. It’s probably better as a daytime stopoff for tapas than a full evening meal venue.

Josef’s Restaurant
Reservations 420-7638 (Closed Mondays)
St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church
This stylish restaurant is located in the heart of the Gap with a sea view and a small car park. There’s a large private car park just around the corner which only costs $10 and makes it easy to visit any of the restaurants along the gap where parking is generally tricky.
The menu choice was an odd mix of Bajan and Asian cuisine with a limited choice but the food was all well received. The staff were polite and the service was efficient. It’s a good choice for sushi and the restaurant has a Japanese feel to it.

Brown Sugar
Reservations 426-7684
Aquatic Gap, Bay Street
We visited Brown Sugar because it’s within walking distance of the Hilton. It looks great with tropical plants and a water garden mixed in with hand painted murals which all help create a traditional Barbadian atmosphere.
Unfortunately it was far too hot and far too noisy. We think they’d given us pride of place with two huge portable air-con fans pointed towards our table but it was still sweltering hot and the noise of the fans and the crickets made conversation impossible.
We should have asked to be moved outside but we were too polite and this ruined our meal before we started. The food was good featuring genuine Bajan cuisine. Brown Sugar has the potential to be a great restaurant and I’d be prepared to give them another chance.

Oistins Fish Market
Friday Evenings. No Reservations.
Oistins is the south coast fish market town and it’s geared up to cook for hundreds most Friday evenings. It is an essential Barbados experience where the locals and tourists mix side by side for a Friday fry up and street party.
Oistins has a lively market atmosphere and there’s either live music or a local DJ. The fish is always good and comes with rice, macaroni cheese and all the usual Bajan side orders and flavours.
Parking is near-impossible so you either have to arrive really early, take a taxi or a tour. This was my third visit to Oistins so to avoid the travel hassle we took a tour bus which included the food and a drink at Pats Place but you can’t leave when you want and on balance it’s better to make your own arrangements and take a taxi.

Street Meat
St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church
After the sun goes down there are several food stalls which set up on the roadside along the Gap and they serve the tastiest burgers anywhere on the island. These are the perfect antidote to restaurant dining with 5 burgers costing less than a starter at most of the restaurants listed here so it’s a very tempting snack option. My favourite is the stall just to the left of the entrance to the South Gap Hotel, opposite the Ship Inn.

Hilton Lighthouse Terrace
Reservations 426-0200 Extension 5949
We only ate in the hotel because we’d returned our hire car and didn’t want to mess around with taxis on our last night. The restaurant is located on the first floor balcony with a lovely view of the sea, hotel pools and the beach beyond.
The service was friendly but slow and the food was generally awful and overpriced. Unsurprisingly there were hardly any other diners and we could only ever imagine this restaurant being full for business conventions where somebody else was picking up the tab!
The Hilton does have a more trendy restaurant aimed at both hotel guests, locals and tourists but their menu is even more expensive and I wouldn’t risk it.

You’ll find KFC restaurants dotted around the island and they’ll even deliver takeaway to your hotel. I haven’t eaten KFC for decades but I caved into pressure from my kids who wanted the KFC Barbados experience.
Even Colonel Sanders wouldn’t have eaten the family bucket of grilled chicken we were served with. Some of the chicken was still red raw which is an inexcusable health hazard and the chicken skin was pretty much all greasy and slimy so not much chance for the Colonel’s secret blend of secret spices and crispy coating to work its magic – I won’t be eating a KFC again.


Is Skiing Skiving? Affiliate Marketing Jollies…

Skiing in Austria
In my ongoing quest enjoy life more I’ve come to realise affiliate jollies are vital research.

My latest jaunt was a week in Austria with Prezzybox organised by Barney Edwards. Barney is Zak “The Mighty Box” Edwards’ younger brother and shares the same “Joie de vivre” and easy going nature which immediately put us all at ease. I was chuffed to learn Gulshan, my roomie from last summer’s Barbados trip, was also coming along so we shared a room again and picked up the banter and drinking where we left off! It was also great to meet Luke, Ben (The Ginger Ninja) and Andy (The Machine) who keep us amused with CB radio chat.

The skiing and boarding worked out well because Barney and Luke were both good skiers, Gulshan and I signed ourselves into ski-school and Ben and Andy hung onto the slopes as best they could.

After my ski-trip to Whistler last year I knew I needed more lessons so ski-school was perfect for me and Gulshan and I joined an intermediate group and as we worked our way up the slopes our gang developed a great team spirit – it turned out most of us were staying at the same hotel, Hi to Helen and Pete, Andrea and Hennrik and top ski instructor Stefan.

By the fourth day we skied from the top to the bottom of the HartKaiser mountain on blue and red ski runs which was an achievement I’m really proud of but the highlight of the trip was stopping for lunch up a mountain at a tiny place run by an elderly couple who still cook traditional Austrian food on a wood fired stove right next to our table. I think we all really enjoyed the food, drink, each others company, ambiance and exhilarating (OK, scary) ski trip back to basecamp through whiteout conditions on the mountains.

As the feelgood factor wears off I think I’ve cracked a rib which is a souvenir I could have done without BUT I’ve just found out Barney broke his wrist on the trip so respect to him for carrying on – he’s hardcore! I suspect we’d both still do it all over again though so no complaints from me.

So What Have I Learnt About Affiliate Marketing From This Trip?

Affiliate jollies throw into sharp relief the difference between working from home and my working life in general. I always find sitting at my desk after affiliate trips and get2gethers a real struggle. I’m pretty sure it’s the routine rather than the tasks themselves and sitting at my desk does focus my mind so perhaps it’s a necessary evil – I’m still having an internal dialogue about it and I’d be interested to learn whether other affiliates can get by without a desk.

I’ve learnt I can run my business from a laptop in a bar with a beer in well under an hour a day. For a business that’s paid me a decent salary for years I’m still impressed by that. However affiliate marketing is a fast moving industry so to maintain a decent income going forwards it’s important to spend, at least, some of my “free time” working – doh!

Research and creative thinking are both things I’ve always done, paid or not, so from my perspective I’m just playing at work which means I don’t really have a life-work balance as such – there’s just life and striving to live it the way you want to live it.

I’ve proven to myself again that all I need is a laptop, an internet connection, something to play with – snowy mountains or waves preferred – and some company to share the experience with.

Living life the way you want to live it sounds a bit selfish on the face of it because we all have responsibilities and I’m mindful and content with mine but I do wonder where the person that owns a house full of possessions and craved all the latest gadgets went?

My “tai chi journey” is part of the answer. Tai Chi has improved my health and spiritual well being, it’s something I do together with my wife, Deb, and it’s given me the inspiration to take on new challenges, appreciate my family and friends and be open to new possibilities.

Several months on from the blog post where I talked about “letting small bad things happen” here’s an example which also ties in nicely with my “black box approach to affiliate marketing” blog post. Before I set off for Austria I turned off my last remaining Adwords campaign so I didn’t have to worry about site downtime while I was away and of course, me being me, I forgot to turn it on again until I had a site outage a few days ago and went to turn my Adwords off and they were already off. Great, I thought – I’d been meaning to black box experiment whether Adwords was adding anything to my profit margin but I couldn’t bring myself to turn them off for an extended period to find out.

The black box result is I’m leaving my PPC ads off – for now. I could analyse the stats and improve the campaign but black box me says put it on the back burner and if times get hard then will be the time to take another look at it.

I appreciate this laissez-faire approach wouldn’t be possible if I was starting my affiliate business today but for now I’m content to settle for a little less money, a little less hassle and have some built-in slack to fall back on.

So where next? I’m off body boarding the week Existem have organised their beach party which is bad planning but I am meeting up with the IWOOT guys later this month so the next affiliate jolly is just around the corner.


Whistler, IWOOT, Curly Wurlys & Jet Lag

I’m not a fan of February(ies) in the UK so the idea of stomping my carbon footprint across Canada was appealing – especially when the entire trip was organised and paid for by – the worlds favourite gadget site.
We flew with British Airways, the worlds favourite airline, that cancelled our flight because the pilot was “ill” – I still can’t believe that excuse, the more I think about it the more pathetic it sounds. Do BA really not have a single backup crew?

The upside was a stopover in Toronto on route to Vancouver and Whistler mountain where the original plan was for a gang of affiliates to go boarding.

Instead we went up the Canada National Tower in Toronto, drank large quantities of beer and cocktails, with some serious eye contact, ate Twirly Wurlies and got into an outrageous pillow fight at a swinging party – I’d like to tell you more but fight club rules apply on holiday so I’ll just talk about me and skiing.

Learning to ski is easy enough but convincing your brain to let your body slide down a slippery slope with minimal control is a LOT harder – at least until the Adrenalin rush kicks in and you’re back on the chair lift for another run.

Harvey, my ski-lesson buddy, was fearless but clearly his brain doesn’t work because he lost his ski poles, his lift pass, his googles and then ME up the mountain!

Everyone who knows anything about skiing says Whistler is THE place to visit but without anything to compare it with all I can do is agree with the instructors who reckon it’s awesome dude, mental even and it certainly got under my skin in more ways than one.

I always suffer jet lag returning from America and it takes me well over a week to get back to normal so here I am wide awake at 2am yet hardly able to stay awake during the day – of course I’d love to do it all over again and to Paul, Julian, Julie, Ian, Jamie and Harvey I’d like to say thanks very much for your company.


CantBarsed Goes To Las Vegas, Nevada

I’m just back from Las Vegas courtesy of AstroBingo online bingo. We flew with Virgin Atlantic who did a great job getting me across the pond and back, their staff are always friendly and helpful and they’re definitely my favourite airline.

I was staying in the Stardust hotel which is due to be “imploded” before Christmas to make way for a new hotel/casino complexes. This seems to be happening all along the “strip” – Americans often complain they have no history but what do they expect when they knock down and rebuild all the time!

The buildings along the Las Vegas strip are really impressive and the shows second to none. I watched “Le Reve”, which is a Cirque Du Soliel style show, at the Wynn complex in a purpose built 360 degree theatre and it was amazing. Equally impressive was the Blue Man Show at The Venetian which combines mime, paint, drums and plumbing perfectly, it’s a must see show.

Most impressive of all though was one of mother nature’s best efforts, Death Valley in California. It’s one of the hottest places on earth with 57C recorded in 2001 – that’s salt not water in my holiday picture and it was a bit warm.


France Summer Holiday – Regrets, I Had A Few…

My requirements for a holiday start off simple:
* Waves

My requirements for a perfect holiday are a lot more picky:
+ Big waves
+ Waves every day
+ Different beaches (with waves)
+ Sunshine is good
+ Good food is erm… good
+ Pleasant company is nice

We travelled around the Vendee region of France on the Atlantic coast which on the face of it ticked most of the boxes but waves were hard to find.

There were far too many other people trying to enjoy the sun, the sea and the sand for the infrastructure available but everywhere we went there was a friendly family atmosphere which was a pleasant surprise given my previous experience of both the Vendee and France in general. My guess is the locals have finally figured out which side their bread is buttered and with so many non-french speaking visitors from all across Europe they’ve finally suspended hostilities and were genuinely helpful and pleased with our dismal efforts to parlez their lingo.

We did find several surfing beaches which I enjoyed to the max but it was so dissappointing to visit beach after beach where there were no waves to play with and I won’t be making that mistake again next summer.

On the up side the weather was perfect. With light breezes, low humidity and temperatures between 25 and 36 degrees it really did enhance our enjoyment of the beaches and food. Yummy french bread and local seafood washed down with a nice bottle of red wine really helped me forget the lack of waves – well after the second bottle.

Restaurants were a major problem. I don’t mind a BBQ if that’s what we’ve decided to eat but if I want to eat out I expect to be able to do so. In some areas there were nowhere near enough places to eat out which meant that at 19.00 hours every evening there’s a mad dash to get a table. One evening we couldn’t find a table anywhere and after driving around for hours ended up eating at Macdonalds (packed with other Brits) which is definitely not what we had in mind and was far too stressful. I won’t be making that mistake again next summer.

Of course we all took our mobile phones with us and once again we got shafted. After our trip to Jersey a couple of months ago I’d done some research into mobile phone roaming and intended to get a local PAYG SIM card but we booked our holiday on Friday to travel the following Tuesday so there was no time to order a local SIM card from the internet and I couldn’t find anywhere selling them in France – there were several shops selling them in Prague so that’s a business opportunity for you free of charge 😉 I won’t be making that mistake again next summer…


Is Prague The Perfect Stag Party Venue?

If you’re looking for a great Stag Party venue I’d recommend Prague in the Czech Republic.
We arrived via Easyjet from Stansted airport Thursday morning and after checking in headed straight off in search of “refreshment”.

The Czech’s aren’t famous for much but they did create the original Pils style lager including the original Budvar Budweiser and when it’s priced at less than a quid a pint there’s only one outcome – a lot of drunken Brits!

Prague by daytime is a popular tourist destination with a mixture of people from around the world but as the sun goes down the Stag parties are getting ready to play.
We were no exception, here’s the before and after shots of Essex boy John H, I’ll leave you to figure out which is which! I’ve spared you a picture of his elephant trunk thong which caused raucous laughter whenever it put in an appearance – which was often.

With only a discreet Police presence Prague copes really well with stag and hen parties and drunken Brits – it felt a lot safer than our local high street on a Saturday night even though we rubbed shoulders with loads of other stag and hen parties mostly from the UK, but also from around the world without hassle. Almost everyone, including the locals and bar staff were friendly.

Prague is reputed to be plagued by pickpockets so do keep one hand on your wallets while you’re walking about. We never experienced any problems but do watch out for the touts who are one unpleasant side effect of Prague’s success. You’ll meet the touts as you walk down “The Strip” where they compete aggressively for your custom, offering free entry, free drinks and anything else they think you’ll be interested in. At best touts are economical with the truth, the “free drink” is always a naff cocktail and never a beer, and anything else they say cannot be relied upon.

For a hassle free first evening do a bit of research and decide where you want to visit before you leave your hotel then stick to your plan – don’t be swayed by the touts and don’t let anyone in your party change your plans, you have been warned!

The essential clubbing venue is Duplex, it’s a top nightclub which offers the best music from top DJs with dozens of live dancers and live musicans. Entry is 300k (around £7.50) with Pils and bottled drinks reasonably priced, typically costing 100k a bottle (around £2.50).
We arrived on Thursday and there were a lot more Czech girls around than Friday night which was dominated by Brits.

Czech girls are, with hardly any exceptions, beautiful – I’ve never seen so many beautiful girls in one place at the same time. Sadly Czech blokes are also a handsome bunch so I suspect the only way to get any Czech girl action is to pay for it and there are plenty of opportunities in the strip clubs and bars.

We were on a stag party so naturally our mission was to tempt John into dangerous territory and Captain Nemo was recommended as the place to do just that. It’s a good 15 minute walk past touts towards Wenceslas Square and there’s an entry fee of 300k (around £7.50) and bottled beer also priced from 300k. You could settle for the comfortable sofas and beautiful pole dancing girls but you’d have to have the determination of a saint!
The girls work the room in turn introducing themselves and chatting through their “Extras menu” which starts from 1000k and ends in a private room upstairs! All it takes is for one of your party to crack (someone will) and an alcohol fuelled peer pressure really does kick in. It was certainly an experience I’ll never forget! If you run out of recommended venues ask other stag and hen parties where they’ve been and follow their advice.

Apart from getting pissed, lusting after women and making prats of ourselves on the dance floor we had a couple of great meals and a testosterone time paint balling.
I was the only paintball virgin in our party and I’ve got the bruises and aching limbs to prove it.
Although it wouldn’t be my hangover cure of choice it really does blow the cobwebs away.

We all arrived back at Stansted airport absolutely knackered, overtired but childishly happy and I’m really looking forward to the wedding to meet up with my new best mates and turn our shared memories into tall tales which I can now see is what having a Stag party is all about, nice one John.

So is Prague the perfect stag party venue? It certainly gets my vote.