Things you can do in Spain

I am back in Germany, doing things.

What can you do in Spain in summer? Swimming? Sure. Hiking? Possible, if it is not too warm. Blogging? Not really, since the internets in the hotel were rare. Traveling? Well… yes, but at a price.

Having a good knowledge about some possible (putting it mildly) irregularities you can face while being somewhere to the east of Germany or to the south of Austria is often not enough to anticipate this kind of things while being on vacation in the typical “vacation countries”.

Since the German law forbids me to rant about companies, I will anonymize them as much as possible. So yeah. The tale begins when I tried to rent a car. I tried several times: the first time, the hotline was unavailable, the second time, I ran into siesta, the third time, I was successful. And by 10AM in a few days I should be able to see my car.

This was obviously too easy. 10AM in the morning, I am waiting for a car to pick me up and to bring me to the place where the cars can be rented. At 10:15, I decide that fifteen minutes are a sufficiently long wait to declare that the guys are late even by non-German standards and call them. After ten minutes, a car arrives, takes me, drives for a while around to pick up similar-minded people with the wish to actually drive on Spanish streets.

Sooner or later, we arrive at a hotel where the car rental company resides. It turns out that my reservation did not include giving the car back at a different place, and it was in fact not possible to change the reservation accordingly, but it was actually possible to extend the reservation. Trying to extend the reservation worked, but the transaction was however still impossible, since I ran into the transfer limit on my credit card. Obviously, it was impossible to pay with other means.

So traveling by train it was, then. Trains in Spain are a very interesting story. In brief, the station did only feature a human-operated single-threaded and low-perfomance ticket buying interface that used a ticket computer as a terminal. Which was completely okay (as I had a lot of time on my hands), but as the ticket-selling system crashed, the whole ticket-selling process screeched to a halt. When the ticket-selling system was restarted, there were only first-class tickets. As I was cornered, I had to buy the only thing that was offered.

On the route back, I successfully managed to rent a car. In the end, it was marginally cheaper than traveling first-class by train, but far more nerve-consuming. The most terrible part started when I was close to my destination and found out that the city was a hell for drivers. I still somehow managed to get to my destination, but I burned a lot of my nerves on the way.

And now for some cute pictures from the south:

MultiAka 2012

Another ~2500 km in two days and I am in Spain. But the interesting stuff was happening before: For the last 13 days, I have been to Vienna and then to a summer camp in Látky in Slovakia. What was so special about it? Well, almost everything:

  • The location chosen was not a Ritz, but it was decent enough to serve normal food and the landscape was great
  • The people (of which one half was from the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Poland) were absolutely fun.
  • The program was everything: from pure entertainment (a hike into the mountains) to interesting lectures on “economics for dummies”

So, how do I come to participating in such activities? To explain this, there is some context needed.


The whole story starts twenty-something years ago when some bright fellow in Germany decided to organize a series of summer camps for high-school students in their last or second-to-last year. This alone was a great idea, and at some point the participants of these summer camps had the brilliant idea to organize themselves into a club to do different activities together. Long story short, the “Club der Ehemaligen” came to life, and in the last decade it has been organizing different activities for its members, most of them consisting equally of fun and education (which is often fun, too). For some time now, the CdE (as it is called internally) has been organizing activities outside of Germany for its non-German members. And here I am, describing one of them, the “MultiAka”.

My impressions from the MultiAka (and of Vienna where I went in the beginning) can be described loosely as follows:

  • First and foremost, two Slavic languages make it easy to understand a third one, but it does not make you speak that third one. Educated guesses can bring you a long way, though.
  • I fell in love with Vienna. No, really, it is a city with a real summer and a real winter and it is really international.
  • Knowing some ballroom dances makes you at least 20% cooler
  • Austria is really leftish. The parliament sells critical books about the political system, the book shop features a lot of books on hot topics such as heteronormativity, gender and other internationally important subjects.
  • Bratislava is a complicated city: It has a lot of nice parts as well as some not-so-nice aspects. Falling bricks from government buildings and simultaneously a very pretty city center. Incompetent restaurant crew several footsteps from the main street and a cute castle. Ridiculously cheap good beer (“dobre pifko”, LOL) which is actually the cheapest drink per volume unit.

 In the end, I am pretty much impressed.

Thousands of kilometers…

Let’s reconstruct my last days’ journey.

June 15: I departed from Norway and arrived in Dortmund

June 16: Decompressing in Dortmund
June 17: Departing to Kiev, walking around in Kiev and getting on the train to Donetsk

June 18: Arriving in Donetsk, decompressing.

June 19: Football ENG-UKR. No good pictures from the match itself (only mobile phone quality pictures), but some of the surroundings:

Today I took a walk around the city center (which is, by the way, HUGE) and made some nice pictures I hope you’ll like 🙂

These funny towers are kinda typical here.

This monument is known among the locals as “the guy with the brick”

Main text: “Say NO to violence in families” Sub-caption: “The strong ones do not bully”

Metaphotography!

These windows must offer a great view.

“Sorry, do you know where we can find a McDonalds?” – “Er, right over there” – “Thank you very much”

Last hours in Trondheim

So yeah, in five hours a plane will take me to Oslo. I am leaving this town with mixed, but mostly positive feelings. I want here to thank all the wonderful people I have met here and had fun with, this was an unforgettable experience.

You might ask what will happen to this blog when I’m home. The answer is, I will try to update it on a more or less regular basis with random experiences — be it my current scientific adventures or sketches from life. And, obviously, pictures, as I became quite a photography addict.

Last exam

Yesterday I had my last exam in this term, in a course called “Natural Language Interfaces”, which is just computational linguistics in disguise. Truth to be told, the course was not that hard and the hardest part in the exam was to keep writing despite the pain in my right hand and muscle fever in my arms. I would prefer to take this kind of exam orally, anyway, since the questions offered a lot of room to talk about. For example, one task asked me to describe a language that is convenient from a computational linguists’ perspective. I got creative and wrote that it would be nice if a language would have

  • an LR(k) grammar, or at least a context free one
  • no pronouns, but explicit variable assignment

which is very unlikely for a human language, but still, a nice feature 🙂

Bonus photo: A swan figure in a totally unexpected place

And afterwards I made a mistake and went again to a club where the student association was inviting to. Going to (mainstream) clubs here means

  • getting hit in the liver by some over-the-top partying people
  • walking on shattered glass
  • watching improbably drunk people trying to keep their balance
  • being always there where everyone tries to get through
  • dancing to music that is only okay after two beers which you cannot afford to drink

So yeah, great fun. But I still managed to extract some profit out of the whole thing and made a picture:

Sunrise, 2:40 in the morning

 (Sorry for the probably lousy quality, this was just my phone’s camera. I am not carrying my real camera everywhere with me)

Dancing show

This will not be about math 😉

I was volunteered (yes, exactly so) into participating in a dancing show at Studentensamfundet (which is something like a big student activity house; also totally worth visiting). It was great (after four hours of going through the choreography and studying the music, that is), and reminded me a bit of my graduation from school, but in better, because back then, dancing was rather… limited.

So yes, I was enjoying it a lot (and my partner as well), although I was nervous before the beginning (think pre-exam excitement); afterwards, a part of the dancing society sort-of celebrated the performance in a rather cute Italian place. This was a really awesome evening, in hindsight.

(It came to my notice that there is a video of the whole show and I’ll be damned if I don’t get my hands on it.)

Culture shock

Today a roommate of a friend had a birthday party. So I witnessed what an African birthday party looks like.

I will mostly refrain from any judgment. But I felt very, very alien, probably because my European ear was somewhat stressed with rhythm-rich but melodyless music. And at some point the party became somewhat more of a mating ceremony which, for me, was a good time to leave. Afterwards, the friend who originally invited me was telling that it got even weirder, and I am still unsure if I really want to know details on that matter. Probably no.

Having a life

Dancing courses at the university have been up to now a slight disappointment to me, because every time I signed up to a dancing course, there was always some problem that ultimately made me drop the course. So I decided to try it once more, because after paying 600 NOK (approx. 80 EUR) for membership in the sports society, I was expecting some value for money 😉 And it worked! The course is very cool and I expect to turn into a ballroom monster (the good kind, y’know) in the next months 😀

Last Saturday some guys and I were going to a place with nice live music. This was awesome since there were local bands playing something from the heavy corner of the musical landscape. The beer was expensive, though — I drank probably the most expensive Staropramen ever, but since it was good, I do not really regret it 🙂

(And sorry, still no new pics. But tomorrow, I promise. I will be doing a small ski trip in the relative neighborhood)

So today I had my first lecture in Trondheim. It felt pretty much embarrassing as it turned out that the lecture language was Norwegian and my Norwegian skills were somewhat insufficient for attending a lecture (it got better during the 90 minutes, but not that much). Well, the lecture was not of my primary interest anyway. (That is the undisputed pro of universities in English-speaking countries) But then, I managed to get a Norwegian mobile number, so the day was not entirely unproductive.

Between lectures, I was reading more stuff from Less Wrong (yeah, I am advertising a bit 😉 ); mostly, the ideas depicted there are pretty much sensible and one of the most important ones can be compressed as follows: Any worthy (scientific) idea has to decrease entropy and narrows down explanations. Example: Saying “The system shows emergent behavior because of its great complexity” is not an explanation since it uses buzzwords without revealing any details. Another things that are worth reading are the articles on cognitive biases. They make me want to replace my rusty old brain with an inference engine (if possible, clocked at the same speed, thank you). And, if you want the same stuff, but wrapped into a story, just follow the link. You have been warned.

Oh, and pictures for attention attraction:

(This one is brought to you by my tripod)

And this is a nice view of the city center (yes, it is not that big) with the Nidaros cathedral on the right and the fjord in the background.