It has been years since I traveled to an overseas conference, so I was delighted to accept an invitation to speak at the DevSum conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

I left on Tuesday and arrived in Stockholm on Wednesday. I made the mistake of waiting until I landed before checking locations, and I could not find information on the conference hotel in my emails. "No problem," I thought. "I will go to the conference center and ask. Someone from the conference is bound to have this information." Sadly, when I arrived at the conference center, I only found people behind closed doors attending and teaching day-long workshops. Fortunately, I contacted my friend Tibi, who told me the hotel was five miles away.

The day before a conference is always special. Speakers arrive and greet one another with affection, like a family reunion. This one was even more special as I saw many old friends I had not seen since before the pandemic. After talking in the hotel lobby, some of us walked to a restaurant for a tasty hamburger.

The conference opened Thursday morning with a keynote by Royal Institute of Technology Professor Danica Kragic, who talked about her research on robotics and artificial intelligence. I attended interesting sessions about complex user interfaces (Dean Schuster) and about scaling .NET applications (Callum Whyte) before heading to the speaker room for the afternoon, where I prepared for my presentations and recorded interviews for Technology and Friends.

A Thursday evening attendee party provided the opportunity to talk with many others. One topic that came up was Taylor Swift, who was performing for three nights this week in Stockholm. After discussing the concerts and checking ticket availability, some of us decided to attend the Saturday night show. I bought three tickets - for myself and my friends Lino and Jessica. It took too long to retrieve my purchased tickets from the Swedish Ticketmaster site, but I eventually succeeded.

On Friday, I delivered two presentations: "Effective Data Visualization" in the morning and "Navigating Cloudy Horizons with Azure Monitor and Application Insights" in the afternoon. I have given the Data Visualization talk many times, but this was only the second time I gave the Application Insights talk, which added stress. Both went well, and the audience seemed to enjoy them. The biggest challenge was restricting my content to 50 minutes, as these talks typically take an hour or more.

I attended two other Friday sessions: Steve Sanderson's keynote on "The beginning, present, and future of web tech" and "Refactor your code to use modern C# language features" by Rachel Appel.

After the conference, the organizers invited the speakers for dinner on a boat that traveled around the islands surrounding Stockholm. Going to a bar after the ship docked was fun, but I ran out of gas before others in my party. Walking back to the hotel, I was approached by prostitutes three times. I politely declined.

Saturday morning, the conference organizers continued to spoil the speakers by inviting us to lunch and to visit the Vasa Museum, a well-preserved ship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. This was my second visit to Vasa, but I had forgotten much of the history in the nine years since my last visit.

Saturday evening, we attended the Taylor Swift conference. She entertained us for three and a half hours, and I was a Swiftie by the night's end.

I panicked when I realized my hotel reservation ended on Saturday, but I planned to stay until Sunday. The large number of people visiting for the Taylor Swift conference drove up the price of a hotel room above $800 - well out of my price range. Luckily, David Whitney (who I just met earlier in the week) planned to go home Saturday and had a room reserved until Sunday. He was kind enough to allow me to stay in his room after he left town, saving me a lot of money.

When traveling for an overseas conference, I almost always extend my trip with a vacation before or after. Because this was my fourth visit to Stockholm, I decided to explore some other countries. I booked a cruise ship cabin for an overnight voyage to Helsinki, Finland. This was my first time on a cruise ship, which was a pleasant experience. I sipped a beer on the top deck and watched the islands roll past as I enjoyed a leisurely dinner in the dining room. We made a brief stop in Mariehamn, the capital of Aland, a group of Finnish Islands between Sweden and Finland, before continuing toward Helsinki.

Fourteen hours after departure, we arrived in Helsinki, where I was able to check into my hotel early. The last few days drained me, so I slept for a few hours before an evening walk around the city.

Monday morning, I reserved a guided walking tour of the city. The guide was entertaining and informative. Here are a few things I learned from him.

  • Finland has more forested land and more lakes than any country in Europe
  • Finland was part of the Swedish Empire for 16 years
  • Finland is a republic. It has a Prime Minister, a Parliament, and a President
  • Education is free in Finland
  • Saunas were invented in Finland. The word "sauna" is a Finnish word
  • Helsinki is the second northernmost national capital in the world (Reykjavík)
  • Speeding fines are based on the income of the speeder
  • For seven consecutive years, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world. It has a very low crime rate and no homeless people.
  • Fins drink the most coffee per capita of any country
  • Finland was initially settled by people who emigrated from central Asia. Because they lived in isolation in the Finland forests for centuries, the Finnish language is much more similar to the languages of central Asia than to the Germanic and Slavic languages of the surrounding countries.

After the tour, I had lunch with a Georgetown professor I met on the tour. She is teaching in Europe for a few months and traveling around to speak at European universities about her latest book. We connected on social media, and I hope to continue our conversation.

I closed the day with a visit to the Helsinki City Museum in the city's oldest building, before trying Finland's famous salmon soup at a harborside restaurant.

I rode a ferry to nearby Tallinn, Estonia Wednesday morning and hired another guided tour of that city. The tour was good, but the guide was not at the level of my Helsinki guide. It was fun to share the tour with a group of elderly ladies from Maryland and Virginia who were traveling together. Here are some things I learned about Estonia on this tour:

  • Skype was invented in Estonia. The creators later sold the technology to a Swedish company
  • A fortress was built around Tallinn by a Danish king in the fourteenth century
  • The Estonia Parliament building was built in the eighteenth century on a castle, so it looks very different in the front and back
  • The Tallinn Old Town consists of an upper town (where the wealthy live) and a lower town (where the working class resides)
  • Tallinn boasts the first Christmas tree in Europe
  • The world's oldest pharmacy is in Tallinn.

It took about 15 hours to fly home (via Frankfurt), leaving me exhausted and ready to pass out when my head hit the pillow of my bed.

The trip was fantastic. I visited Finland and Estonia for the first time; I reconnected with old friends and made some new friends; I attended an excellent conference where the organizers treated us like royalty; I had my first cruise ship experience; I learned some new things; And I had fun!