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:: Portugal Planning

Back in October, I spotted a call for papers for this new conference in Portugal. The CFP sounded relevant to some of the work that I did last summer with Chris, so I pushed a bit and we squeezed out a paper just in time for the deadline. A few months later they got back to us with the news that the paper was accepted (as a "distinguished paper", for what its worth). While this meant that my winter holidays were eaten up by endless revisions, the upside is that I get to go to Portugal to give the talk. Note- I did try to pass this job on to Chris, but (1) work wouldn't pay for him since his internship was over, and (2) he'd been to Portugal the previous year for another conference. And with that, my paperwork nightmares began.

Paperwork, you ask? Ahh yes, believe it or not, the DOE requires a good bit of paperwork for any work-related travel outside the US. While the main point of the paperwork is to assure people like my dad that his tax dollars aren't being wasted, there's also a good bit of checking up to make sure that scientists aren't scoping out job opportunities in places like North Korea. Anyways, the paperwork required many signatures on its journey up the chain of command to the DOE and took some 30 days to find its way back to me. In the end, it wasn't so much of an approval that they sent me as it was a non-disapproval (ie, "you can go if you have to").

Following the non-disapproval, I received all sorts of fun literature in the mail from various places. Our counter-intelligence people sent me an interesting read on what to do do in terrorist situations. Did you know that if someone lobs a grenade at you and there's no cover, the best thing to do is to fall to the ground and point your feet at the grenade? Or that you're more likely to get whacked in a hijacking if you sit in an aisle seat? The other fun info that appeared in my email box was something from our medical group. They told me that there weren't any major diseases to worry about in Portugal. They also said that I should however look out for Hepatitis B, which is often passed along through "fecal to oral" contamination. Thanks everyone. As if I didn't have enough to worry about with the talk, now I'm going to be wondering whether my kidnapers have washed their hands before feeding me my last meal. Great.

There were other issues that complicated the planning process. For example, DOE has strict rules on the ratio of personal to business days that you're allowed for foreign travel (basically, it must be less than 1 to 1). The annoying thing about this ratio is that weekends count as personal days (unless you're traveling. Of course, if you travel on the weekend, you're doing so "off the clock"). It took a lot of work to get our days worked out right. The other big thing was renting a car. Naturally, the only automatic transmission car that was available was almost twice as expensive as the manual (call this the "American surcharge"). Maybe I won't get reimbursed for all of it, but I don't have much choice since the conference is located an hour's drive from the airport. Argh..

Anyways, the trip is finally planned. We're flying into the city of Faro in South-East Portugal and spending about a week in South-Central Portugal (where the conference is). From there, the only other plan is to leave for home from Lisbon five days later (the open-jaw trip was actually a couple hundred bucks cheaper). While Amy's picked up some Portuguese phrases, I know nothing. Yep. I'm looking forward to having people yell at me in a new language.

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