VMworld Europe 2014 is only a mere four weeks away and now it is time to start focusing on it and achieve that sort of Zen mental state that it is required to survive the experience!

For the third year in a row the event will be held in Barcelona: somebody may object this, but from my perspective it does totally make sense. I admit I am totally biased as Barcelona is my favorite European city and a place where I’d move anytime if I had the chance, but let’s be honest: the city has a gorgeous weather in October, it is easily reachable from anywhere in Europe, it has great accommodation options, a working and efficient transportation system, food is great, it is a cheap place compared to other destinations and it is a pleasure for the eyes! Gimme Barcelona anytime!

After two Catalan VMworlds and almost a dozen leisure trips to Barcelona I can consider myself a veteran, so let me guide you through my experiences, who knows, you might find some useful advice here.

The first thing I always sort out for VMworld are flights and accommodation in close relation to the event and city logistics: you’ll soon understand what I mean with this. I usually book my hotel as near as possible to the Barcelona Sants train station (there’s plenty of good ones in the area) for a few reasons. First, I land at the El Prat Airport, so I take advantage of the RENFE Cercanias (the Spanish Commuters railway network) train that will wait for me – if I am lucky – just outside the main terminal. Tickets can be bought right there at the manned booth or at vending machines and after 20 minutes and a few stops the train arrives at Sants. A two mins walk and I am already at the hotel reception. Easy. If your hotel is located in a more central location, be aware that the train from the Airport also stops at Passeig de Gracia (the city’s boulevard) and a bit more far off at Clot (connections to the Metro is available at both stations). The other option would be, as soon as you are landed, to look in the Arrivals area for VMworld stewards and stewardesses who will guide you to the shuttle bus heading straight to the Fira: this can be useful if you happen to land in the morning during the conference days, so that you can head to the event, register, drop the luggage in the cloakroom and rush to your first breakout session. Your hotel will wait for you later in the day.

The second, and far more important reason why I choose my hotel in the Sants area is that it is just a five minutes’ walk from Placa Espanya. Why is this location so strategic? Well,  VMworld takes place in the Fira Gran Via, which is well served by FGC – Ferrocarrils Generalitat Catalana (the Catalan regional railway network) trains: any train originating at the Espanya station and heading to Manresa will only take six minutes and three stops to (almost) take you to the destination. Get off the train at the Europa | Fira stop, take the exit on the right and a free shuttle bus will drop you at the Fira (North Entrance) after a two minutes’ ride. So, as long as you can get to Placa Espanya (easy if you stay in Sants but still doable as long as you are on the L2 or L3 metro lines) then you are all set.

Get your metro/train map here and it will all make sense. While I am at it, keep in mind that once registered you can pick up a free metro/train ticket valid for 10 rides from the VMworld Info Point on the ground floor: this should cover your basic transportation needs for the entire duration of the event.

The other good reason why I choose Sants is that I can get anywhere in the city center from there: I can take a 20 mins walk to Placa Catalunya and enjoy the sights, take the metro to any touristic destination or come back to the hotel after the parties with a Taxi (quite cheap if you ask me, and the recommended transportation means at night when you have had too many vodka shots).

One word of wisdom: Barcelona is a reasonably safe city, but sh*t can and will probably happen if you do your best to facilitate pickpockets’ life. Avoid wandering around with your nose up like a tourist (even if you are one), don’t put your laptop in your backpack where you can’t see it, don’t put your wallet/passport/credit cards in your back pocket. Just look after yourself and your belongings and you should be safe.

Enough about the logistics, now let’s talk about the event.

The official event days are from Tue 14 to Thu 16 Oct, but that is not entirely true. You can register at the venue from Sunday afternoon and the event is already open to public on Monday, except that this day is meant for Partners: if you are not a Partner, you can still register and access the venue, except that there is no Exhibition Area (a.k.a. the “Solution Exchange”) open yet, nor sessions that you can attend. But I still find Monday a very enjoyable day to start with because the Fira is very quiet and the Hands On Labs area is already open! That is why I normally arrive in Barcelona on Sunday: besides attending the traditional vRockstar party on Sunday night, I am therefore able to register early on Monday morning and do as many labs as possible without queues and conflicts with sessions. Pro-tip: bring your laptop and do your labs the BYOD way instead of queuing for a seat to become available… this is even more important from Tuesday on when the Labs area is overcrowded…

In between Labs I usually hang out around the… Hangout Space and the Bloggers Lounge to chill out and meet friends and or fellow vExperts and bloggers. Although food is served in quantity (quality is another matter) from Tue to Thu, getting fed during Monday can be a problem. Just in case, a shopping mall with restaurants is a mere 5 minutes’ walk from the Fira. Google Maps will be your friend and I guarantee you won’t starve, burgers will abound. More about food later on.

From Tuesday on, well… it is another story as the place will be crowded and buzzing with activity. Tuesday morning is usually devoted to the General Session (The Keynote), then you continue with Breakout Sessions, Labs and strolls around the Solutions Exchange area (open starting from 11:00) culminating with the Welcome Reception (Free! Food! And! Booze!) starting at 17:30. Tuesday is also a good day for evening parties, most of them are scheduled then, so be sure to check with your favorite vendor, chances are you’ll get more passes than parties you can actually attend without vMotioning yourself from club to club. But hey, we are also supposed to have fun, right?

Don’t forget that, in order to attend the Breakout Sessions (any of them) you must have booked your seat using the Schedule Builder on the VMworld website; if you haven’t done it yet, chances are that some of the sessions you are interested in might be already “sold out”. Besides being mandatory to book the attendance to sessions, the Schedule Builder is also useful to plan for “personal time” and it will be a power ful tool to help you to better organize your time, which is simply not enough. Needless to say, the generated calendar can be exported to your smartphone.

It is also good to know that a few days before the event the VMworld app for smartphones will be available on the Android and Apple app stores, and once downloaded and connected to your account you’ll be given real time information and notifications for up and coming sessions you have booked, together with lots more useful details to simplify your conference experience: it’s always a good idea to use the app to rate the session before you leave the room, you’ll help the speakers and the event organizers with your feedback (probably there is also a prize draw for those who submitted their rating, though I am not sure).

Pro-tip #2: time during the conference is the scarcest resource and it is impossible to do everything you’d like to. Try to find a balance between sessions, labs, visits to the Solutions Exchange, meetings and networking.

Did I mention networking? Well, generally speaking, the VMware community is a very friendly one and what a better chance than VMworld to meet and talk to the elite of the International Virtualization Community? Opportunities to network abound, so don’t be shy and introduce yourself to people, you’ll be surprised how people is friendly there! And, talking about community spirit, don’t forget to visit the VMUG booth at least once before you leave, chances are that you’ll find me there.

Going back to the conference calendar, Wednesday is more or less the same, except that you’ll probably stay around longer in the Solutions Exchange, waiting for the VMworld Party to start at 20:00. Some people like it, some people don’t: after three VMworld Parties in a row I think I will skip it and go have fun downtown.

Thursday is the final day, no Keynote early in the morning and everything wraps up at 16:00. A lot of people have flights in the afternoon, so the venue empties around lunch time. Again, free shuttle buses are available to those who want to go to the airports: don’t forget to get your luggage from the cloakroom and consider the long queues if you are in a hurry!

One thing that is often overlooked and it is definitely worth to mentions is that VMworld hosts a Certification Center, open for the entire duration of the conference: provided that you have booked in advance, you’ll be able to take your VMware exam in Barcelona at a discounted price.

A few words about the venue: the Fira is quite big and usually VMworld spans two pavilions connected by a bridge. If I remember correctly , last year there was a change in layout compared to 2012, with Breakout Sessions and the Solutions  Exchange located in the North Wing (Ground and Upper floor, respectively), while the General Session/VMworld Party and the Hangout Space were in the other, more distant pavilion. Consider extensive walking between the two locations, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes: your feet will be grateful at the end of the day. This leads to dress code considerations: simply there’s no dress code! Unless you have formal meetings to attend with customers or partners there is no need to dress smart: comfy shoes (sneakers if possible), blue jeans and polo shirts are perfectly acceptable if you wish to dress like that. But, hey! It’s your style, you decide!

Food and beverages are provided from Tue to Thu: you’ll find plenty of tables scattered around the halls, starting from continental breakfast early in the morning and continuing around noon with (mostly cold) food available for lunch. Water, juices and sodas are freely available from the fridges you’ll spot almost everywhere: stay hydrated, pick a bottle and bring it with you!

You’ll probably leave the conference with plenty of swag collected at the vendors’ booths: you should consider this by planning accordingly before heading to Barcelona. Keep some extra space in your suitcase for goodies and keep in mind that a backpack will be given to you at registration, so you might want to avoid bringing yours.

Well, this is it. I hope you’ll find all this info useful and if there is anything missing or you’d like to share your experience or ask questions, the comments area is there for a reason!

See you soon in Barcelona!

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