The Trip In Number
It’s that time of the year again: the long-awaited Elegant Themes’ Annual Company Retreat.
The company I work for, Elegant Themes, is a distributed company. The main headquarter is located in San Francisco US, but the team is spreaded across the world from America, Europe, Asia, all the way to Indonesia. So we work separately in our own country but once a year we gather around to hang out and get to know each other.
In 2016, we hung out at Berlin, Germany. Last year, we were at our headquarter San Francisco US. This year, we’re hanging out at Barcelona, Spain.
This post is a story about on how the trip went.
Table of Contents
Day 1: Arrival Day
Day 2: First Day Together
Day 3: The City Tour Experience
Day 4: The Barcelona Experience
Day 5: Montserrat Day Trip
Day 6: Girona’s Game of Thrones Tour
Day 7: Departure Day
Bandung – Jakarta – Istanbul – Barcelona
Picture: Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta Airport, Terminal 2
Solo Traveller No More
Personally, there was one thing that makes this year’s retreat was really different from the previous year’s retreat: I was no longer the only indonesian on the team. Couple of months ago, there were two Indonesian joined Elegant Themes development team and both of them were going to the retreat as well. So for the first time ever I’m no longer going solo to the retreat. These two countrymen slash colleagues are Ayub and Sofyan:
🇮🇩 Ayub Adiputra
🇮🇩 Sofyan Sitorus
What is interesting is three of us live on different place. I live at Bandung, Ayub currently lives at Bengkulu, and Sofyan lives at Bekasi. To give you some context, these are the distances between these places look like:
After numerous Slack discussions, we agreed to meet at Soekarno Hatta Airport hours before our flight. We thought everything will be a smooth sailing but interesting things ended up happening: Ayub’s flight from Bengkulu to Jakarta ended up delayed twice and Sofyan stuck at Jakarta’s infamous traffic. Luckily, both arrived safely before the checked in counter was closed.
Off to Barcelona we went.
For this year retreat, we were using Turkish Airlines for our flight. The flight was Jakarta – Istanbul then Istanbul – Barcelona which took 18 hours including the 2 hours and 20 minutes layover in Istanbul. It was my first time using Turkish Airlines so I was quite excited for the flight. My overall experience with Turkish Airlines:
- The legroom is okay-ish
- The food selection is muslim friendly
- The movie and entertainment selection is relatively updated
- The flight is on time
- We got issues with the 35mm port for the earphone which makes the audio of the entertainment system unpleasant
- I feel like the flight attendant is little bit cold for the lack of smile. This might be my bias as Indonesian because we smile to stranger a lot.
Overall, the flight was nice and okay. It wasn’t mindblowingly awesome and there was small issue, but nothing major and the overall experience was okay. I’d say three and a half out of five stars.
The Arrival Day
Picture: An afternoon at Barcelona’s beach
Touch Down Barcelona & Hotel Check-In
We arrived at Barcelona at 10am-ish local time. The immigration gate and all the airport tidbits took us some time but luckily everything was smooth sailing. One of colleague from Mexico, Miguel, arrive at the same time and assigned on the same hotel (both of my colleagues and Miguel stay at Ibis hotel while I stay at main AirBnB later referred as “The Villa”) so we agreed to meet at the airport. Mitch, our Operation Director which I personally perceived as the one who make sure that everything run smoothly™️, have booked us taxi so we can just hop in to the taxi and go straight to the hotel.
Being arrived at 10am, we actually arrived quite early. Most of the team arrived after 3pm and the time for everyone to meet at the villa was around 5pm-ish so we got some time to be used. Thus we agreed to just go straight to the hotel wishing that they can give us early check-in before. I’ve used Ibis Styles (which is part of Accor Hotel chain) on Berlin and Bandung before and both happily gave early check-in for free for hotel member as long as there are available room which thankfully how things are exactly played out. We arrived at the hotel, got some shower, and got a little rest.
Afternoon walk to the beach
After appropriate amount of rest, we decided to walk around. There were couple of things that we’d like to do: the first thing was to get local simcard so we could use internet on the go. This is the first thing that i always try to do whenever I enter foreign country: get the local sim card as soon as possible so even if you’re lost and don’t speak the language, you got Google Maps and Google Translate on your pocket. Wandering around on foreign country which you don’t speak the language becomes less scary and more exciting when you can find direction and do basic communication.
By the way, writing the previous paragpraph makes me realize how vital Google has become. Damn.
We found this local telecom shop and got 20 Euro-ish Lyca Mobile sim card. Afterward, we’re heading to the beach. It is a pretty long walk but we got some time to kill and we got to experience walking around on that side of the city. For the record we got really hungry as we walked and we just jumped in to the first restaurant that we found :joy:
After relatively long walk, here came the beach.
After spending some time at the beach, the time to meet up with everyone at the villa had come. We took a cab back to the hotel; i got my luggage and bag, then we took another cab to the villa.
We finally meet each other again after one long year of working hard.
Meeting Everyone Again
It is hard to explain how awesome it is to finally meet the person you work together with in remote work situation. This was the third retreat that I had the pleasure to experience and everytime it happens it just feels amazing. There are things that can’t be conveyed with video call, Slack message, internal custom emojis, and hilarious memes. Direct meeting always has its thing.
We arrived at our main AirBnB villa at Passeig da Maragall street before sun sets. Most of the team have arrived. I finally meet with the team again.
The schedule for that afternoon was really chilled. Most of us just arrived from long flights so the schedule was simply mingle around at the villa, headed out to supermarket nearby to buy logistics, then head back to the villa for dinner (we ordered lots of pizza) and chilling out. The main villa itself is a very cool to hang out for a team. It was two stories villa with seven room, a pool, jacuzzi, and big playroom containing billiard table, fussball table, card table, and even Play Station.
I stayed little late that night. I think I head to bed around 11 – 12pm If I remember it correctly. My body was dead tired but sometimes the excitement of meeting everyone again overruled that tired body.
First Day Together
Picture: Elegant Themes team at Old Town Barcelona somewhere in the evening
The first day together is recovery day. Everyone is up to their preference because everyone got different level of long flight. Some get some rest until noon, some wake up early and get some work done, and some even are still on its way because their flight got seriously delayed (the kind of delay which causes passenger misses his/her next flight and had to stay for a night because his/her replacement flight is the earliest flight of the next day).
Epic T-Shirt Surprise
We stayed at the villa until sometime after 1pm and got some work done. After that, we are heading to the Old Town.
Before we went, the team had a secret surprise to me: a :fikrisuccess: t-shirt! :fikrisuccess: is custom emoji used at Elegant Themes Slack which originated from me joked to Elegant Themes’ former designer Mario that wouldn’t it be hilarious if we have this combination of my :fikri: emoji + :successkid: emoji. The next day, Mario actually came up with actual custom emoji of :fikrisuccess:.
The custom emoji turned out to be used pretty frequently on our Slack channels (well i used it all the time off course) and people ends up quite liking it. Two years later, here comes the t-shirt of it.
We purchased bulk of one-week pass tickets for accomodation. I’m really fascinated to experience Barcelona’s public infrastructure because I don’t get very good public transportation in Indonesia. I must say, Barcelona’s metro is really awesome. It’s as nice and clean as Tokyo’s but not as gigantic and crowded.
Paella Cooking Experience
We arrived at Barcelona’s Old Town via metro that afternoon. We booked a Paella cooking class that time. The kitchen was within walking distance but Barcelona’s old town complex-but-fascinating alleys makes it more convenience to meet at a bar/restaurant near the plaza, so we went there first.
We walked to the rendezvous point at the restaurant then we had our walk-slash-mini tour as we walk across the old town alleys to the kitchen. I was fascinated by how the city is structured and how clean and neat the place was.
We arrived at the kitchen around an hour before sunset and then we cooked the paella. As we do it under a very detailed instruction of the chef, he explained the historical background of the dish plus entertained us with mini game where we raced to clean the ingredients and stuff. Paella itself is spanish local dish consist of mainly rice and other dishes. As an Indonesian, it can be explained as Nasi Liwet with steroid + cooked in a different taste.
After we cooked the Paella, we ate it with Joy. No really, one of our team member is called Joy :meta-jokes:. Paella is best served for group, and it was really delicious.
It was a very awesome dinner. We made little stop couple of times at gelato and cake places before heading back to the villa.
The Touring Day
Picture: Barcelona City Tour bus
Hop on – Hop off Bus Tour
Our third day in the city. Just like the way it was yesterday, we spent the morning getting things done on our own pace. It’s like every week day, only on the same building (which was super cool).
We left the Villa sometimes in the noon. We took metro to the center of the city to ride hop-on and hop-off tour bus. I really like these kind of city bus tour; there is never enough time to explore the entire city and bus tour is a good way to take a glimpse of how the city is as a whole. Barcelona itself is a very pretty city with a very distinguish taste where there are lots of pretty building to be captured with your camera. It is architecture photography heaven.
Anyway, my review of Barcelona’s hop-on and hop-off bus tour: it is a good system to look around the city. However, the audio explanation is pre-recorded and little bit boring.
Old Town Tour & Team DinneR
Exploring Barcelona’s old town on foot was crazy: Beside the richness of its history, the city is visual feast for the eyes, even so for photography enthusiast. These are some of the pictures i captured all over that afternoon.
The Barcelona Experience
Picture: Barcelona vs. PSV Eindhoven at Camp Nou
Sagrada Família Tour
The fourth day! The rain poured since last night and there was still a small amount of rain fell in the morning. We, as usual, spent the morning getting things done at our own pace. In the noon, we headed to one of Barcelona’s most iconic building: Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família church.
We headed to the building using the dependable metro and my first two responses when we arrived at Sagrada Familia were:
- SO MANY PEOPLE. The entry queue is pretty long.
- The building is so mindblowing.
The most jaw-dropping thing about Sagrada Familia is it is still underconstruction; the construction was started in 1882 and it is anticipated to be completed by 2026. More than a century in the making. A building more than a century in the making: isn’t it mindblowing?
Another thing that really amazing is the sculpture of the building; The whole tall church is like a massive gigantic canvas filled with a story described by the sculpture. The building’s facade for me feels like telling you a story but instead of using motion picture, it uses sculpture. The interesting thing is Each sides of the building uses different style of sculpture. The older one uses realism-style but the newer one seem to uses more modern-ist style.
It is a really amazing architecture.
A surprise visit
Before we left to Sagrada Familia, we had a surprise guest which happened to be Mario! Mario was our colleague and happen to currently live at Barcelona. We met at Berlin retreat 2016. I was so glad to finally met him again.
Football Champions League Experience: Barcelona vs PSV Eindhoven
The time after Sagrada Familia tour is actually a non-scheduled time where everyone can go to any place they want. A day before, I was thinking of going to Barcelona FC’s stadium to have some stadium tour. I’m not a football (rest of the world’s football, not US’ football 😅) hardcore fan but I genuinely think that Nou Camp (Barcelona FC’s stadium) is a must visit place in Barcelona. The weird thing is the studio tour is not available at the day and all i can think is the only logical thing that cancels studio tour is that the studio is used for actual match. And indeed they were and the match is actually pretty exciting: it is Europe’s Champions League match of Barcelona FC vs. PSV Eindhoven. So I did some research, found out that the ticket for the match is still available, and asked my colleagues whether any of them want to go watch the match.
Hence the story. After visiting Sagrada Familia, Me, Ayub, Sofyan, Miguel, and Mak went to the Nou Camp Stadium to watch the match. Mak even bought the jersey before hand at the official Barcelona store near Sagrada Familia. We already bought the ticket online, have the QR code pass added to our phone’s wallet app, and went to the stadium using Metro.
I never went to any professional football match at the stadium before but the atmosphere was very lively. The people. The chant. The stadium. The match.
Barca won 4 – 0. Messi scored a hattrick.
It was a very awesome experience.
Montserrat Day Out
Picture: Montserrat peak from the bottom of the hill.
A trip to montserrat
All of us woke up early today because we were having a full day trip to Montserrat. Montserrat is a multi-peaks mountain near Barcelona with a beatiful top to be hiked and a monastery worth visiting for. It was an hour ride using local train from main Barcelona station so we head from main villa to the train station using metro then went to the Montserrat using train from there.
One weird thing that I noticed is there was no air conditioner at the station. So what happened is the there were multiple fan which blows cool water in multiple places.
As we arrived to the Montserrat, we took a cable car ride up to the top of the mountain and visit the monastery. The chapel was beautiful and it was a relatively touristy place so there was lots of tourist there.
However, the view is surely breath taking.
The montserrat hikes
After we visited the monastery, we got some lunch in the buffet restaurant nearby then went to into another cable car ride to go to the actual top of the mountain. The view is glorious. We did 40-mins hike down to the montserrat cable car station.
The funny thing about the hike-down is I always consider myself capable of walking in a very long distance because i was accustomed to it during my youth. However “european-oh-it-is-not-so-hard-walking-distance” is really out of my Indonesian walking distance this time. My tigh actually shook on our way down.
Stay up night
Girona’s Game of Thrones Tour
Picture: One of Girona corner which is shot as Game of Thrones’ Braavos
The Free Day
The day after full-day Montserrat trip was a free day; everyone is free to go to wherever they wanted. Couple of days before I had facetime call with my wife and she suggested to visit Game of Thrones set in Barcelona if there is any. I never thought of it so I start researching and found out that there was no Game of Thrones filming that is done at Barcelona. However, there was an-hour-train-ride city nearby, called Girona, where Game of Thrones was filmed. I researched the possibility to go there and it turned out to be possible. Couple of my colleagues happen to be the fan of the series as well so we booked the train ticket to Girona and the tour guide.
Barcelona – Girona
Our Game of Thrones tour was scheduled to be started at 9:00am so we had to arrive at Girona before hand. Thus we gathered at main villa at 05:00am, took a cab to Barcelona Sants Station, then rode 06:00am train ride to Girona. There was six of us who joined the Game of Thrones tour: Me, Fabio, Joy, Kelsey, Joey (Kelsey’s boyfriend who happened to be on a holiday around Europe), and Atanas. I expected the train to be standard normal train but it happen to be one of those fancy bullet-trai- like train.
It was an exciting and helluva fast train.
We arrived around 7:00am at Girona and I was a bit confused. I thought the city would be medieval-like city with castle and donkey dragging wheat. It turned out the city looked like a normal modern city, although it seems less crowded than Barcelona. I soon realized that the Game of Thrones sets are located in the old town of the city. The train station was at the modern part of the city.
Girona x Game of Thrones Tour
Girona was being used for filming parts of King’s Landing and Braavos on Arya’s story arc. Seeing these places in real life feels really surreal; It brings back so many memories of Game of Thrones scenes.
These are some of Girona that are being shown on Game of Thrones. Try to guess which locations are being used for which scenes. It was a fun guessing game.
*Game of Thrones intro started*
Lunch at Girona
Thus, we got some lunch at local restaurant at the Plaza. Afterward, we go straight to the train station and go back to Barcelona. Once we arrived at Barcelona Sants Station, we took cabs back to the airBnB.
Picture: The main villa we used for the retreat
Barcelona – Istanbul – Jakarta – Bandung
The last day of the trip! The team disembarked the villa in groups. Some got early flight, some got later flight. Indonesian’s team flight (me, Ayub, and Sofyan) was at 19:00 so we got plenty of time til 15:00 for packing and stuff. Mitch have booked plenty of taxi ride so the team can worry less stuff regarding accommodation to the airport.
Sofyan and Ayub arrived at the villa from the hotel around 14:00. We hung out a bit at the villa then leaved the villa around 15:00 to the airport. Our flight was on time so we left Barcelona around 19:00 and 18 hours later, we arrived at the motherland, Indonesia.
Thus, our Spain Trip came to an end.
It was a super fun experience.