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.

More from Donetsk

(There will be a lot of pictures from here.)

I walked around Donetsk and looked for nice places. There was an abundance of these.

This ball is supported by a fountain of water.

 More pictures from around the stadium:

 Elsewhere in the city you can find a lot of iron figures:

Not the real cup, of course. A present of the FC SD trainer.

Guess who?

A lurking crocodile

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”


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 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)

Air show in pictures

I managed to witness an air show of the Tigers, which is an air unit of the NATO. Despite my rather suspicious attitude towards that organization, I could not just walk past a major display of toys for big boys.

This is Gripen, a proof that SAAB makes not only good cars, but also good planes:

Continue reading “Air show in pictures”

National day in pictures

Yesterday Norway was celebrating its independence. It was a pretty big celebration, considering the efforts Norway put into acquiring its independence; nevertheless, it was a nice show to watch even despite the weather (+8, rain, jacket, hoodie). Generally, this looks a lot like a mix of the May 1st parade and the German Karneval, but in serious. The idea is that all city’s societies that include more than twenty people join the parade, wave some society-related flags, do some performance (optional) and carry Norwegian flags (mandatory).

By “all city’s societies” I mean literally all of them. Even the 501st legion was there:

“Dude, where is my Death Star?”
“Hey, do you know these droids we are looking for?”
The 501st Legion of the Galactic Empire of Norway
Somebody always has to hold the banner…

I discovered at least ten different big bands performing on the National Day. The most stunning part was when the band standing in front of me started playing the first notes from the “Farewell of Slavyanka”. I first thought I misheard, but then again, the tune is unambiguous and hard to confuse with something else. To explain my cognitive dissonance: The tune is a Russian patriotic march, very popular and very well-known. Seemed kinda misplaced to me.

It has to be said that every Norwegian was wearing a bunad, which is a very formal traditional dress (as depicted) or at least something that looks formal enough. It is National day, it has to be celebrated – no exceptions.

Spring in Trondheim, for reals!

Since yesterday there is no real sunset, and soon the nights will be bright enough to make night walks enjoyable.

I have used the last days to take some photos of the city, the weather was so good you could almost walk around in a t-shirt.

 The Nidaros cathedral.

 In contrast to Germany, national flags appear in Norway everywhere.

Scandinavian melancholy. Pictures of nature + black and white filter = cover picture for any melodic metal band

 Mandatory pictures from the Bakke bridge are mandatory:

 A monument for sailors.

Northern lights II

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how cool the northern lights can look like if you have straight hands and a camera that plays along.

Arctic trip IV: Tromsø

Monday began for me on the board of MS Lofoten, one of the Hurtigruten fleet. I already mentioned that without an internet connection, the ships are of rather marginal interest, since the available activities are mostly a subset of

  • sleeping,
  • eating (awfully expensive – 130 NOK for a breakfast… thank God I had some apples in my backpack),
  • drinking tea and coffee (at least these are free),
  • taking pictures of the landscape,
  • reading (powered by that neat little e-reader from A.)

But if you have a mobile broadband internet connection and a not-too-tight schedule, the Hurtigruten line is a cool way of combining work, relaxation and travel.

So we arrived in Tromsø somewhere in the middle of Monday, checked in at the (completely empty) hotel and went exploring the city. The coastline looks very ugly, so, if you want to visit Tromsø, avoid it at any cost. It is mostly industry, firemen, industry and old wooden houses.

Tromsø consists of two parts: the island part and the fjord part. The main part of the city lies on the island, which feels like a big hill and is not a great fun to walk around (up, down, up, down, add slippery paths to that…), but offers some nice views from the top.

The two parts of Tromsø are connected with a 1.5km long bridge. The bridge is a fun walk, even more so if you (like me) have this cute little phobia that makes you avoid heights without proper separation between your body and the abyss, but the pictures you can make are worth it in any case.

We tried to see some aurorae, but on the first day, none were to see, and on the second day, the sky was completely overcast and the best shots just show a tiny part of the whole awesomeness that happened behind the cloud layer.

And then we flew back on Wednesday.