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Sunday, 10 May 2015

Euro Connect Conference Update

Last week we returned from the Pioneer Euro Connect conference in Hungary.  When we first looked at the forecast for the week we were a bit sad that Malta wasn't the chosen location again for the regional conference but in the end we spent the majority of our time inside the hotel either in sessions or going to the pool so the bad weather wasn't much of a factor.  Tuesday, our only sightseeing day it was supposed to rain but God held it off so we could have a nice tour of Budapest and a river cruise down the Danube.  Chloe made two sweet friends from Amsterdam whose parents situation is very similar to ours (married 6 years ago, both old like us, oldest boy is just a bit older than Chloe, late in life missionaries, etc.)  We enjoyed getting to know them the rest of the week and a bit of their story. 

Simon Longden, director of the Australia mobilization base was the featured speaker for the week and he was terrific.  Every day he brought something new, creative and inspired for us from the bible.  He is such a good story teller and his jokes were funny which make it interesting.  Von Newcomb and his wife led worship and that really couldn't have been better. As for the sessions, I enjoyed the first day where we broke up into small groups and had over an hour and a half just to get to know each other better and pray for one another.  That was one of the most impactful things for me personally.  I also enjoyed the session about Missionary kids as Chloe continues to be on the forefront of this mother's mind and her adjustment to all the change around her.  The afternoons each day we had free to swim or go for walks around the lake or just hang out.  Chloe loved the pools and I really enjoyed the lazy river that they turned on every half hour or so.  Very relaxing fun.

One of the things that did stand out to me that I found difficult is other than that first session there was very little organized opportunity to get to know others at the conference better.  We tried a dozen times or more to invite people to join us for a meal but with so many in attendance it was just really hard to get to know folks on a deeper level.  I felt mostly lonely and awkward in the middle of this huge group of fellow missionaries and that was a very strange feeling.  Being with Alan and Chloe and also with Eric and Ellen were two times I recall feeling comfortable and at ease.  Malta was similar but my parents joined us for that conference so maybe we felt it less.  Maybe though we just come to these conferences looking for rejuvenation and rest and meeting people feels like too much work.  I'd be curious as to whether we were alone in this feeling.

So what else...
Well, the hotel I of course look at from my hotelier background so take the below with a grain of salt if hotel reviews aren't your thing.  I'm probably not the most objective observer and my Four Seasons trained eye is always making notes of what was excellent, good and not so good.  If I wrote on up a review on Trip Advisor for the Hotel Azur I would say the following:

Good things:
  • Lots of the staff spoke German.  Apparently Hungary was a big place for Eastern Germans after the war and still is a big tourist spot for Germans so we felt like we had the inside edge!
  • Pools were big and nice
  • Rooms were average size, big enough if you weren't going to stay in them for long, pretty view of the lake.
  • Bowling alley in the hotel!
  • Rooms had mini-bars that you could load your own drinks into (see also negative comment below)
  • Hotel was clean and the staff were friendly
  • Hotel armbands were a convenient way to get in and out of rooms, identify yourself for meals, etc. 
  • They were very nice when we told them Chloe managed to color on the balcony walls as she had run out of paper.  Alan tried for ages to get it off but wax crayons on stucco paint just was too much.
Not so good things:
  • Only lukewarm water is offered for lunch and dinner at no charge.  You can ask for ice for the water but to the chagrin of most of the servers there.  By the end of the week they just said no when we asked and acted like they had run out.  lol  At breakfast you can get orange juice and coffee out of a machine for free so we tried to drink our daily allotment then.  Everything else you pay steeply for.  Alan and I got dinged when we took Chloe bowling one day at the hotel and ordered an orange juice for her.  We were charged the equivalent of around 4 euros for the small glass and then charged a 2 euro service charge for the drink.  Needless to say we didn't return nor buy any more drinks after that! :)  
  • The food at the hotel is average.  Unfortunately I couldn't tell whether it's just because I'm not a big fan of Hungarian food or if it was because the plates were always cold or the fact that most of the meals looked like a creative variation of the meal the day before (Day 1 pork steaks, day 2 pork soup, day 3 steamed carrots, day 4 carrots in a weird cheese sauce for breakfast, etc). Also unlike the hotel in Malta there is only one option for restaurant if you don't want to pay more and that gets really boring after a whole week.
  • The wireless internet simply doesn't work well in the rooms.  Maybe 10% of the time we were able to connect.  We found this true for lots of folks as most huddled around in the lobby using their phones or laptops.  It's 2015 - you must have reliable wireless in every nook and cranny of your hotel.  It's a must.
  • The mini-bars don't cool your drinks.  I think the whole thing is just for show as there is no way to make them any cooler.
  • We paid for a packed breakfast and lunch on the day of departure as did all the others on the early shuttles but they never showed up.
When I used to work at the Four Seasons in Chicago and New York we would have reviewers that would come into our hotel undercover (paid for by the hotel corporate office) and they would tear apart every aspect of the hotel and write an extensive review about 3-4 times a year.  It was REALLY a big deal and promotions and bonuses hinged on how well we did when one of these reviewers came in.   Usually after about a few hours word would trickle down that a reviewer was there and everyone went on high alert.  Nowadays every person, child and dog can write a review online that can greatly increase or greatly decrease a hotels business.  I think being a reviewer would be a fascinating job! 

Still on the whole I would recommend the hotel for a large conference group like this.  For what we paid they did a good job.  Our biggest thanks however goes to the Euro Connect team that pulled everything together, worked exceptionally hard and really handled all aspects of the conference so well.  I'll post allowable pictures later in the week. 

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