Europe 08

Aug 27 - Sept 14 2008

random trip report

27 Aug

Rich gets up early to drop me off at OAK, and I fly on Jet Blue to JFK. I trek to Station C, where the car rentals are. I get a Suzuki with GPS and set out for Delaware. The traffic is dense for a couple of hours, then thins out on the NJ turnpike.

I arrive at Michela and Andre's place, a huge farmhouse whose original acreage has been subdivided into McMansions. Mark from Leiden is there. We tour Andre's airplane-building workshop.

28 Aug

I talk with Trilce a while, and we all have lunch at the student union.

Michela, Andre, Mark and I have dinner at a not-bad strip-mall Thai place, then go to a farm that makes ice cream, buy two quarts, and eat it on the front porch.

29 Aug

The East-Coast BOINC meeting. I get lost driving in, get frazzled, and scrape the wheels of the rental car on a curb (as of this writing it looks like I got away with it). I'm interviewed by a smart young man from the campus PR office.

The meeting has its moments, especially the talk by Michael C. from Lattice. But another talk has me cringing and reaching for my book of crossword puzzles.

The meeting ends at 3:30; I hop in the car and drive to Middle Haddam. Thanks to Ron's advice I take the NJ turnpike instead of I95. There are a couple of stop-and-go stretches but mostly it's OK.

I eventually get slightly lost and end up on the Merritt Parkway, which turns out OK. I get to Ron's around 9:30; Kai is just going to bed.

30 Aug

Ron is hot to sail in his new boat (Albacore, made by the Spitfire company) but there's no wind. Instead we take Kai on a hike up a nearby hill. We chat with some locals who are panning for something (maybe gold) and know about local cobalt mines. Kai has recently learned to ride a bike without training wheels, and a real pro.

We decide to go rock climbing. First we drive to a place in Wallingford, and get oompletely lost. The GPS helps us out. But the gym is closed for the week. Bummer.

Ron presses on - there's a gym in New Haven. But my GPS doesn't seem to know about it, 411 dcesn't know about it, etc. By now it's 5:30, so we give up, take a walk through the Green, talk with some people on Segways, and have dinner at a Malaysian place downtown.

I say goodbye and drive to JFK. It's a major struggle to get gas - none of the stations that the GPS knows about actually exist. Finally I find a place, and eventually reach the Days Inn, which is OK.

31 Aug

I fly JFK to LHR. At the checkin I see a strong-looking redhead with hiking boots, and overhear that she's going to Kathmandu. This piques my interest. I get on the plane and - lo and behold! - I'm seated next to her. However, she has her iPod earphones on constantly, and when I finally do talk to her it's kind of boring - she's going there to teach English, and gets altitude sickness.

At Heathrow it's the usual marathon to get to the bus station. Then it's completely unclear what bus to take - it doesn't say Bath Rd., even though that's where it goes. But I manage to find the right bus and get to the Holiday Inn, which is overtly and bizarrely hostile to pedestrians - the only actual entrance is in back, almost inaccessible by foot.

I avoid the Holiday Inn's rip-off restaurant, and walk up Bath Road to a gas station convenience store (a cut above its American counterpart).

31 Aug

I have breakfast at the Holiday Inn. Big mistake! It costs L17.50 (that's about 35 bucks for bacon, eggs, beans, and tomatoes). I get on my flight to Budapest without incident. I'm met by the tall and mysterious Adam, who drives through Buda and Pest (not necessarily in that order) to my luxury hotel, the Radisson.

I rest a bit, then Adam meets me and we take the tram to SZTAKI, where I'm to give a talk. I'm wearing sandals, and to avoid the wrath of Herr Direktor (who doesn't attend my talk anyway) Adam directs me to buy a pair of socks en route. I give my talk in a room filled with portraits of Communist-era engineering heroes.

I have dinner with Adam and Attila at a nice outdoor place. We go to Adam's place, then to a climbing gym in a decaying industrial park. It's crowded and funky. Unfortunately it doesn't rent shoes. So, with tremendous navigational difficulty (in spite of Adam's cell-phone technology), we locate Budapest's other climbing gym. It's not bad, though the top-roping wall is completely flat, there are no routes as such, and the holds are old and greasy. They only have one pair of size-45 shoes, which Adam and I take turns wearing.

By this time it's after 9 so we don't climb for that long. I teach Adam and Attila to belay with a gri-gri, and they both have a good time climbing.

2 Sept

Today is the day-long meeting of the 'Edges' project, whose goal is to seamlessly merge desktop grid (e.g. BOINC) computing and Grid computing. I have reservations about this, but they represent one of the few connections between BOINC and mainstream high-performance computing, so I'd like to see them succeed.

For dinner 6 of us to to a Brauhaus. There's a dish on the menu called 'One meter of sausage'. I ask the waitress about this, and she says it's accurate (the sausage, however, is of small diameter). For light eaters, they offer 'One half meter of sausage'. Even that sounds like a bit much, so I order 'Bavarian Meat Loaf', which turns out to be Oscar Mayer hot dog in the shape of meat loaf (never trust Eastern European food).

Random observation about Hungarians: they're dour, and quiet. In a crowded restaurant, or subway car, there's an eerie calm. None of the braying, bleating, and hee-hawing you get in Italy, beery England, and to some extent the U.S.

This is exemplified by Adam, the tall and handsome young man who's in charge of me. He glides around, not saying much and with little facial expression. I spend a lot of time trying to crack him up, with some success. I think he might be a vampire (though it turns out that Transylvania is not in fact in Hungary; it's in a part of Romania that used to be Hungary).

After dinner Adam, Attila and I go back to the climbing gym, and bring along Ian K., an American ex-pat living in Wales. I tease Adam about the attractive woman working at the gym, who (I claim) thinks Adam has great potential as a climber. I remind Adam that women in their mid-30's are at their libidinous peak. Ian quotes a German proverb: 'One learns to sail on old ships', and I think there's some truth in that.

Anyway, we get to the gym kind of late but manage to get in a few routes. I do a mildly difficult route that includes some wooden sticks and pieces of plywood.

Other random notes on Hungary:

  • the language is unrelated to any European language except Finnish (a little)
  • the country is flat as a pancake
  • there are gypsies here, and it's a problem.
  • there are two political parties that don't differ much on the issues, but which hate each other bitterly. The party in power is the reincarnation of the communist toadies. They claim to be leftist but are actually right of the opposition.

3 Sept

I drive with Adam K. to Debrecen, the site of the conference where I'm invited to speak.

The conference is tinged with decay and depression. The hotel, the Debrecen Best Western, dates from the Soviet era. The low-ceilinged conference room is hung with dozens of motel-room paintings. After the conference dinner, I go drinking with Ian K.

Thursday 4 Sept

Today is good - I spend the day furiously hacking code with Attila M., Adam's colleague. Adam stops by to say goodbye (he returned to Budapest early) and gives me a bottle of wine as a gift, and a letter-of-rec form for Berkeley, where he's decided to apply for grad school (yay!!!)

This evening is the conference's 'sightseeing excursion'. We are bused to an 'authentic Hungarian farm', boozed up, and 'entertained' by some geezers in period costumes playing peasant oom-pah music. One of the instruments is a sort of giant beer stein that emits variously-pitched farting noises.

There are also some Italian tourists there, including a couple of oily 30-ish guys in tight pants, open shirts and gold chains - you know the type.

At some point I can't take it anymore, and go outside for some air. The Italian Stallions are there, smoking. I try to engage them in conversation but they are drunk beyond coherence, even in their native language.

I retreat into the shadows of the farmyard, enjoy the quiet and the dark, and listen to Schubert on my brain's internal iPod. One of the female staff leaves and heads for the parking lot. Luigi follows her - I watched, suddenly alert. A car drove off - had he scored?

No. When things break up and we return to the bus, Luigi is passed out on the parking-lot curb.

Friday 5 Sept

I drive with Attila F., Denis, and Ad from Debrecen to BUD. Ad and I hang out in a cafe for a couple of hours and discuss early music. I finally brave the enormous ClickAir line.

Random note: airport security in Europe is much quicker and less stressful than the U.S., and probably just as secure.

I fly to Barcelona, take the bus to Placa Catalunya, and successfully navigate to Placa Uraquinona and to my hotel.

I meet Gianni at the Placa Uraquinona. We have tapas and beer at a tiny, noisy place, then embark on a long walk that takes us down to the harbor. Gianni is recently into sailing, and we examine various boats, including a giant 3-master yacht, all fiberglass and stainless steel with wood accents.

Gianni gets around using a communal bicycle system run by the city. You can pick up a bicycle at a station, and drop it off at any other station. It costs E20 a year.

Saturday 6 Sept

I navigate on foot to PRBB. Gianni is late - he couldn't find a space for his bike. I do a little work on client scheduling. Gianni's girlfriend Luisa arrives from Madrid. We work a bit more, then walk down the beach and get some paella. A garrolous (possibly drunk) woman overhears a mention of Berkeley, and joins us for a while - she's from Berkeley, living in Switzerland now.

Our recreational plans all fall through. There's no volleyball game. It's clouded over, so not enough wind for windsurfing (Gianni keeps a board in a locker by the beach). Gianni grudgingly agrees to try rock-climbing, but by the time we're ready it's 6 and the gym closes at 7.

So we go back to PRBB and talk about NVIDIA strategy. I locate a concert to go to. We take the subway back to near Gianni's apartment (2 blocks off Las Ramblas) and I pick up a T-shirt.

I buy a ticket at the venue (Palau Musica Catalonia), put on a good shirt, and return for the 9:00 concert of Spanish guitar music. The Palau is impressive - a huge and ornate art-deco hall, with a modern atrium add-on. The program is warhorses, with a solo-guitar version of the Adagio from Concierto de Aranjuez which works pretty well. The guitarist is pretty good, but the sound (amplified) has a harsh edge to it and seems slightly out of tune.

I overhear an American woman telling her story to a stranger: she's traveling alone, 'rediscovering' herself after a bad breakup. I consider seeking some dinner companionship, but decide that this is a bad idea.

Instead, I dine solo at a Pizza Hut (terrible), return to the hotel, and hack some PHP code until 1 AM, after which I sleep poorly.

Sunday 7 Sept

Bus, EasyJet ticket counter, security: the entire thing takes about 30 min. and is smooth as silk.

EasyJet taks the 'herd of cattle' approach to airplane boarding, so I get on last.

Geneva goes smoothly until I realize that the #9 bus to CERN no longer exists. I wander around Gare Cornavin looking for info - the office is closed. Finally I decipher the bus map. I take the #16 train to the end of the line, then the (new) #56 bus to CERN.

I pick up my hostel-room key at the main security gate. The room is minimal (no TV), my power adapter works only with fiddling, and the WiFi won't work until Francois 'approves' it.

I take a nap, then have dinner and beer at the CERN cafeteria. The place is oddly empty, considering that the big launch is just a day or two away.

Monday 8 Sept

I have breakfast with Francois, visit UNOSAT, meet Ana, and have lunch in a private room in Cafeteria 2. I meet Ben, visit Predgar Buncic, and meet John Ellis.

A group including some ISTWG people have dinner at a fondue place.

Tuesday 9 Sept

Ben and I meet in the old CERN control center, talk with Eric Mcintosh, then have another meeting at UNOSAT.

Ben drops me off at the airport, where the Aerobus for Grenoble leaves. However, it's not clear exactly where it leaves from. A parked Aerobus mysteriously vanishes. The departure hour (15:30) comes and goes - no bus. I'm a bit frantic.

Fortunately, there's a train for only 1E more. Things go smoothly and I arrive at Gare Rutiere around 6:30. The Hotel Institut is nearby. I check in, then get a burger at the station (bad) and wander the streets, hoping to run into a BOINC person. In about 3 minutes I hear 'Hey Dave!'. It's Carl C. We go for a beer at the climbing-themed '4810 meters'. The brusque waitress greets us with 'You eat? Yes or No?'.

Wed 10 Sept.

I go to INRIA via the tramway and bus, a 45 min trip. Derrick has things set up nicely, and the tutorial day goes well. There's an impressive cafeteria across the street.

A group of us meets at Place Victor Hugo, and Annie leads us to a local-type place. Marc has a tripe/mustard dish; Annie has mini-ravioli with walnut cream sauce. I taste both - yummy.

Bruce appears, and we walk and get ice cream, then stop for a beer.

Thu 11 Sept

First day of workshop. Bruce has rented a car, and we drive in with Matt. Afterwards we again meet at Victor Hugo and walk to the gondola to the Bastille on the cliffs above the city. Some kind of college-student hazing is going on. The conference dinner is at a restaurant in the Bastille. Afterwards there's rain and thunder.

Fri 12 Sept

2nd day of workshop. Afterwards Bruce and I go shopping for 'Desperate Housewives Season 2', jackets, and lingerie. We meet once more at Victor Hugo. Marcia (an INRIA person from Brazil, with an absolutely enchanting smile) takes us to s row of Italian restaurants by the river, and we pick one. I make the mistake of ordering a 'Desperado' ('Tequila flavored beer'),and give it to Carl. Jaspal and I split pizzas. He, Bruce and I walk back in the rain.

Sat 13 Sept

The forecast is for rain all day, so the hike is canceled. Bummer. Francois and I arrange to try a short hike anyway at 7:30 AM, but it's raining so we cancel that too. I sleep in and meet Francois for breakfast at the train station.

Annie has arranged a visit to the Chartreuse distillery. About 12 of us take the bus to the village (about 30 min), tour a farmer's market, have lunch at a place with extremely slow/bad service, then walk to the distillery. We have to wait for the English-speaking guide, and kill time in the tasting room. I sample the green variant (55% alcohol); others try the medicinal variant (71% alcohol - dilute with vodka) and a yummy walnut-flavored variant.

The tour includes 2 movies, one 2-D, one 3-D. There's a story about a manuscript that magically appears, containing the recipe for an 'Elixir of Life' with 131 secret herbs and spices. Lip service is paid to the monks seeking 'a life of prayer and contemplation' but the whole thing is clearly a giant commercial operation. Whatever.

We return to Grenoble and visit a cheese shop, where I purchase. I've been hideously unprepared for the rain (sandals, no hat) and have shared Annie's umbrella the whole day, but now I'm wet and freezing. I return to the hotel, climb into bed, and try to dry my sandals using the built-in hair dryer. They smell a bit off.

At 20:00 I meet Kevin, Jaspal, and Matt, and we return to '4810 meters', where once again we deal with Mme. Brusque, who I think speaks more English than she lets on. 'Galletes' turn out to be savory crepes. Matt orders a waffle ('Gaufre') but is preemptively brought a crepe; the waffle iron has shut down for the night.

Sun 14 Sept

5:30 AM wakeup call, hasty packing, walk in the dark to the bus tation for 6:00 Satobus to Lyon airport. Rom happens to be on the same bus and we sit together.

Long trip to LAX is marred by glitchy, unusable video. Long struggles with varietal cryptic. Reverse culture shock at LAX.

Copyright 2024 © David P. Anderson