Xamarin, Flutter, and Ionic (oh my)

This term I have been lucky enough to be released for four hours on a Tuesday morning to assist my old colleagues in Business, Advanced Manufacturing and Logistics to facilitate Mobile App development in the Diploma of IT. The department has been struggling after the unexpected passing of a colleague.

To side track just briefly, I was lucky to call Frank both a teacher and a colleague. As a student, I didn’t care much for networking and server management related units. Yet Frank was this fountain of knowledge and always took the time to explain the concepts in ways everyone could understand. Being able to make classes engaging for everyone, as I later came to learn myself, is not an easy feat. Even now I tend to find myself looking back on those classes and leaning on the experiences I had as a student of Frank’s to inform my own teaching practice.

Which has been an interesting challenge to overcome this term. Being dropped into the unit at almost the last minute has meant I’ve had to get up to speed on my C# and Xamarin knowledge quickly. Things I haven’t covered since doing the mobile apps unit myself during my Advanced Diploma. In my current role the most we had previously done was a bit of app development using MIT App Inventor. So to say my programming skills had slipped was a bit of an understatement.

It did bring forward an interesting conversation, however, about the unit’s contents being focussed on Xamarin over frameworks like Flutter or Ionic. Each framework has its advantages and disadvantages I’m not going to get into in this post, but at the core they all provide cross-platform capability so any of these frameworks will do the job.

The thing about TAFE’s a lot of people don’t quite understand is that there’s a national body that develop the performance criteria and then trainers develop material in line with those criteria, and having been through it I can tell you it is not a fast process. In a nutshell, there’s a government body that interacts with a lot of industry to guide what skills and knowledge needs to be covered to ensure graduates are learning the necessary skills for the workplace. The materials are created and reviewed by teams of people to ensure the contents meets these criteria and lots of tweaks often need to get made.

Anyway, long story short, this material for Xamarin covers all of that performance criteria, and if anyone wanted to do anything other than make iterative changes to the unit they would have to go through the process of redeveloping the course materials a process that can take months once you jump through all the hurdles. Documenting whatever framework they wanted to use in place of Xamarin in enough detail that anyone could pick up the unit in future.

You’re probably reading this wondering what my preference would be? It’s not a straightforward answer. Xamarin is familiar, and a Microsoft product now that uses C# natively. I’ve toyed with Flutter in the recent past, I liked that it was Dart based, and React is just wickedly popular as a framework right now even if it was created by Meta. If I was developing a unit from scratch to these criteria, I would probably lean more towards Flutter. Luckily, though, that is not a decision I have to make. At least not in a work sense!

The Final Washup

The Final Washup

It occurs to me I haven’t provided some closing information relating to Europe. What are some things I learned, what would I do differently? How much did it cost? Just how much ground did I cover?

Let’s find out!

The final costings for the entire six week adventure came to $14,441.36 (AUD). Considering this is the sum total cost of a six week trip I think budget-wise I did extremely well. I could have done better but this was still much less than the 20k I was anticipating.

Undoubtedly one of the things I would do differently is, where possible, have cash rather than relying on the card so much. I could have chased coming in under 14k if card and currency exchange fees didn’t eat up $453 of the budget. It wasn’t until I was leaving Switzerland and jumped on to transfer money to pay off the credit card that I realised I was getting ravaged with currency exchange. So I definitely made sure to get Euros out of an ATM when I got to Stuttgart and Pound when I got to London. I still had to use the card at stages but certainly dodged a lot more fees than I could have ended up with.

If you are ever planning similar rail travel to my journey in Switzerland, buy the half-fare card. It doesn’t halve the price of seat reservations but for the tickets themselves it saves a heap. Half-fare on the Glacier Express alone almost paid for the pass. All the other rail travel I did between cities more than paid for itself and half-fare first class tickets .

DB have a similar setup for Germany. I would definitely recommend having a decent idea of cities you want to move between and book seat reservations EARLY for those trains (I’m talking weeks early). I struggled with two of my connections thinking I could book them a couple of days beforehand. Regularly found trains were fully booked, even in first class. There were often second class travellers running the gauntlet on riding in first class and sitting for a while before being sent back to second class by conductors.

If you are travelling to a lot of European countries, look into a Eurail Pass. It covers most train travel in some 33 countries and can be bought in X days over Y duration (i.e 7 days travel in 1 month) or solid blocks up to 3 months. All you need to purchase is the seat reservations if you don’t feel like risking it and not getting a seat, but all the other train fees are covered. As I was sticking to only a couple of countries it was better for me to purchase passes directly through SSB and DB.

On the food front, I definitely lived a low-cost lifestyle. Migros and Co-Op in Switzerland were my friends. Pretzels (the normal ones not the US snack ones) were surprisingly efficient at keeping one satisfied on the food front. Although my salt intake increased dramatically during those six weeks. It was super easy to just walk into a Migros and buy a take away sandwich or roll. Sit in a local park or find a spot in a station and watch the world go by for a while. Around train stations is not as easy to do in Germany as there are a lot more professional beggars who will pester you for change.

There was only two real instances of splashing out for food. Once in Chur where I ate a ~$50 bowl of pasta at an Italian restaurant, it was a good bowl of pasta too. The other was a steak lunch in Piccadilly when I was in London. That was about $100, however I didn’t need dinner that night so I think it was value for money!

What about how much distance I covered? The end result weighed in at 578,498 steps totalling 461.5km walked! So I basically covered the distance from Victoria’s Parliament building in Melbourne to Parliament House in Canberra (if you went in a straight line, that is), that’s 463km as the crow flies. Not that I’d make that walk in a six week period if I were to try it here!

What would I do differently?

If was doing this trip again any time soon (and I would like re-do at least parts of it as there’s locations I would like to revisit at some stage) the three key things I would do differently are:

  • Learn more of the local language (German in this case), probably do a professional basic language course rather than rely on Duolingo. I found that Duolingo teaches you the more formal words. I got a lot of strange looks saying sorry because I was using the more formal sorry rather than a casual sorry. It’s a bit like going around saying “my apologies” to everything.
  • Use cash more, card fees are a killer!
  • Purchase local sim cards that include data. No more getting caught out without tickets!

I think I would also throw in being more strategic in hotel choice, especially location. This trip was 100% booked to lean heavily into the Travelling Ibis gag, the loyalty discount was nice, but often was offset needing to actually get to the damn hotel! Actually I’ll add a fourth:

  • Target being in locations that I would stay in for longer and use them as more of a base to do day trips to other locations. Using Dusseldorf as a base and going to Wuppertal and Bonn worked really well but I didn’t feel like I spent enough time in Dusseldorf itself in the end. So basing myself in a location for 4-5 days instead of 2-3 days and day tripping around. Less suitcase hauling thanks.

Also, I’m pretty sure I mentioned it, avoid Stuttgart until the station is finished and the city centre isn’t a construction site. Although, if I was doing this trip again as it was, I would stay in Frankfurt and day trip back to Stuttgart for the Porsche Museum.

Lastly, and I think this speaks to the overall travel experience, I’ve done my solo gig and enjoyed the experience but I think my time spent with Heather and Sean highlighted the fact that travel is just better done with others. So if you’re in the market for a travel companion let me know!

Don’t have mystical issues with your ankles either.


Day 39 (And the rest): The Way Home

Day 39 (And the rest): The Way Home

It was a bittersweet moment passing through security. The reality of heading home was starting sink in. I was ready though, six weeks is a long time to spend living out of a suitcase moving between destinations every few days.

The waiting game for boarding and departure was eased by using almost the entire 60 minutes of included international call minutes on my phone plan calling Mum to let her know I was through security and waiting to find out what gate I needed to go to. Once I found out what gate, the hour wait was somewhat offset by watching just how much air traffic arrives and departs through that airport.

The flight itself from London to Singapore was amazing. A380’s are just on another level and it will be a shame to see them go. The flight was so smooth and even in economy it was more spacious than I was expecting. I ended up watching a couple of movies between attempts to get some sleep. I figured it wasn’t going to happen so I was glad for what came at the end of that flight.

Time for the 27 hour layover in Singapore.

Trying to find things to do for 27 hours in an airport is exhausting. I ended up walking the entirety of the airport in the first four hours. Luckily to check into the transit hotel I needed a boarding pass for my connecting flight, I say luckily because they caught at that point that my luggage was not scheduled to join the connecting flight. Due to the length of my layover it was incorrectly labelled as a stop in Singapore not a layover. I thought it was odd that I saw what I thought was my case in an unclaimed baggage area outside the arrival gates but put it down to a coincidence at the time.

Baggage sorted and boarding pass collected I booked in a time to stay in the transit hotel and made my way through customs with a complimentary exit to visit the Jewel at Changi.

The impressive indoor garden is crowned by an eight (five visible) storey high water feature that runs from the roof down through the floor past windows of restaurants below to a water reservoir. An impressive place, the only downside was needing to pass security to get back into the airport again!

(I have a clip of the water flowing in “The Way Home” video)

I had booked for 12 hours figuring getting to bed at 8 or 9pm would give me enough time to wake in the morning and have a shower before checking out. Not to be. I overslept the alarm and woke to a phone call from reception letting me know it was after 8am and I needed to vacate the room. Whoops!

The transit hotel provided guests with a voucher for the transit lounge, I had 45 minutes for a light breakfast and then wandered the terminals some more before heading to the gate for my Melbourne-bound flight. This was a much better flight as it was 11am to 8pm, no need to worry about trying to get any sleep on this 8 hour flight. I ended up having a mini Pixar marathon. Encanto, Cars, and Inside Out. The flight landed just after 8:15. The experience coming through customs was much different to returning from China in 2017. The entire area had been redesigned and realigned. Still it was pretty quick to move through the bio and luggage declaration checks and before I knew it I was in the international arrival pickup area with Mum waiting, camera in hand, to greet me.

And with that the trip was over, I was home with a bunch of memories and a list of places and locations I would like the opportunity to revisit one day.

Thank you for following along on this adventure, I hope you have enjoyed living it vicariously!

– Scott

Day 38: Back to London

Day 38: Back to London

It’s the final day. With my bags packed Sarah dropped me at the station and I was back on my own. The journey back to London Paddington was a direct ride as opposed to the one out where I had to change at Bristol Temple-Meads. I had purchased the ticket a few days beforehand and ended up going for a first class ticket so I didn’t have to deal with trying to cram my suitcase in somewhere. It was another beautiful day, forecast to get to around 29 degrees. Even with the air conditioning on the train there was a bloke across the carriage complaining to his mate on the phone that he was roasting, and he didn’t even have the sun beaming in his window like I did!

Back in London I made my way from Paddington station’s GWR terminal across to the new Elizabeth Line which would take me directly to the airport (amazing, there’s four train lines that go to Heathrow airport and we can’t even manage one back in Melbourne). This was in incredibly smooth ride compared to some of the other Tube trains I’ve travelled on this trip (looking at you Piccadilly Line), I was the airport before lunch.

Figuring I had plenty of daylight left I ditched the bags and headed straight back out. The plan was to jump on the train to head back into London to have a bit more of a look around, however my incredible run of good weather immediately looked under threat when I looked beyond the hotel.

I felt I left some things on the table when I missed half a day due to the sightseeing bus shenanigans so it was good to get a chance to get back into the city for the day. The one thing I still managed to miss though was Borough Markets. Next time I will make sure it’s at the top of the list!

It felt like I walked across most of the city again; despite this time making use of the Tube like a sensible person. I managed to get around to Buckingham Palace (since I missed this key location the first time), Wellington Arch to visit the Australian War Memorial, the outside of St Pancras station, and – of course – the inside of Harrods. Walking through Harrods was just impressive. The amount of retailers and the interior design were on another level compared to anything we have back in Melbourne. Emporium and Myer pale in comparison.

It may sound silly to say, but my journey came full circle by finishing with dinner at Burger King since the first thing I ate in Zurich was Burger King due to the time I landed being desperate for a feed.

Despite the dark clouds and plenty of thunder and lightning, it didn’t really rain on me at all until I was almost back at the hotel.

Day 37: Carvery Lunch, Clevedon Pier and Last Drinks

Day 37: Carvery Lunch, Clevedon Pier and Last Drinks

It was a day for staying fairly local, after a busy six weeks of adventuring the legs were starting to cry enough (can’t wait to see the full stats of this trip, I feel like I’ve walked hundreds of kilometres)!

How interesting it was to be back in a car after several weeks travelling by train!

One last day of adventuring remained. A slow start to the day finalising getting my suitcase packed and then it was off to lunch at the carvery. When I was told by Scott to have a light breakfast (or preferably no breakfast at all) it was a clear indication of how lunch would be. Sure enough what was served up on the plate almost defied belief in just how much food they were able to cram onto the surface area of porcelain. Roast lunch and a cider later we were off up the motorway to Clevedon to check out Clevedon Pier, a Victorian era iron pier that is still in use today.

True to the nature of the trip it was closed. There was a ferry service coming in and the pier was going through renovations so to limit the number of people on the pier they closed it down to everyone but those boarding or alighting from the ferry. No matter, had a look in the gift shop and bought a fridge magnet anyway. Then we went and got ice cream. A good walk back to the car later we jumped in and made our way to a local shopping centre in Bristol that had a small Harrod’s outlet as I wasn’t sure I would get back to the one in London on my way back home.

We finished the day with a light dinner as lunch was still with us and sat down outside to have a final pint of cider as Scott is heading of early for work tomorrow morning. Sarah has kindly agreed to drop me at the station with my 28kg chonker of a suitcase to make my way back to London and the hotel near Heathrow.