It’s been a while

Hello. It’s been a while. I’m still alive, but evidently haven’t had the chance to update this blog for a while. So I’ve been doing more travelling lately.

On Friday the 13th, I could not resist the temptation to fly to HEL on Flight 666. In fact, I was planning to go in June last year, but moved my plans because I had a visitor then. Helsinki is a very nice city. It is far enough north that when I visited, some of the water was still covered in ice.

I spent most of my time in Suomenlinna, which is an old fortress just outside Helsinki. It witnessed the handover of Finland to Russia by an extremely cunning plan. Even though the Russian navy was far inferior in number and firepower, they utilised psychological tactics that made the Swedes believed otherwise. This triggered Carl Olof Cronstedt to surrender, much to his men’s dismay.

Another favourite place of mine is the Kamppi chapel. It’s a chapel right in the middle of the City. Once you step in, you are met with total silence. It’s in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the City outside, and it is amazing to find a place of pure solitude right in the middle of the busiest street in Helsinki!

Straight after the Helsinki trip, I went to Bonn for a symposium. One of the methods I use is COSMO-RS, which is a solvation model coupled with thermodynamics. I presented a poster there, which I think was received well. Overall, the conference was alright.

After the conference, a colleague and I explored Bonn a bit. It’s a fairly small town, and it still amazes me that it used to be the capital of West Germany. My favourite place in Bonn is the Arithmeum. It’s a museum that is dedicated to mathematics. How cool is that? There were a lot of computing machines that you can play around with. It covers the history of mathematics and computing from the early ages (abacus and the like) to the silicon era. I could have spent days there.

So now I am just about ready to go to my next destination: Japan. I am leaving in just over 12 hours, so I guess I should get ready for it.

Oslo

For 2014, I set myself a goal: to visit one new place each month. With my latest trip to Oslo, I managed to achieve it. This time, I went on a mini cruise for the heck of it. As it turned out, that the ferry trip meant that I have also used all the transportation methods this year: airplane, train, and ferry.

When I wrote it was a mini cruise, I really meant it. The ferry left at 4 pm on Friday and arrived in Oslo at 10 am on Saturday, before leaving again at 4 pm the same day and reaching Copenhagen at 10 am on Sunday. This leaves only around 6 hours in Oslo itself. Even though time was tight, I still managed to visit a few places:

So now, my complete list of new places I have gone to this year becomes:

Jan: London, UK
Feb: Doha, Qatar
Mar: Reykjavík, Iceland
Apr: Rome, Italy
May: Göttingen, Germany
Jun: Hamburg, Germany
Jul: Prague, Czech Republic
Aug: Vienna, Austria
Sep: Zürich, Switzerland
Oct: Cologne, Germany
Nov: Stockholm, Sweden
Dec: Oslo, Norway

As before, the months in italic denote that the trip didn’t actually happen in that month.

Stockholm

Last week I went on my monthly trip, this time to Stockholm. Even though Stockholm is not that far away from Copenhagen, it still took me 5 hours by train to get there. It was also the shortest trip that I’ve done so far. I took off from Copenhagen on Friday evening, spent the whole Saturday in Stockholm, and then went back on Sunday morning.

In Stockholm, I spent the day visiting three museums:

Aside from those, I only had little chance of exploring the city. I guess the nooks and crannies can wait for another time I’m in town.

Kulturnatten 2014

In Denmark, there is a week of holiday called efterårsferie (autumn holiday), which is also known as kartoffelferie (potato holiday), as in the old days schoolkids get a week off to help with potato harvest. These days, schoolkids still have a week off and there are no classes (including at universities and language schools). However, there is no longer any need for these kids to work at a farm picking potatoes.

On the Friday preceding the potato week, there is kulturnat (Culture Night) in Copenhagen. (I guess kulturnat is somewhat similar to White Night in Melbourne.) On that day, a lot of institutions open their doors to the public, and people can come in and check out what’s behind the normally closed doors in Copenhagen. In a very Danish way, everything is free… as long as you have a pass. These places are supposed to be open from 6 pm to midnight, but there are many which close much earlier (8-9 pm). Public transport around Copenhagen is also free from 5 pm to 5 am on Saturday. There are of course a lot of people in the City, and there are queues everywhere.

Kulturnatten 2014 badge.
Kulturnatten 2014 badge

This year, a group of us went to several places:

  • The first place we went to was Sankt Petri Kirke (Saint Peter’s Church), where we visited the catacombs. It’s actually not as impressive as it sounds. We were expecting to go under the church, but the catacombs were only at the back of the church. We didn’t even need our torches.
  • We briefly visited the Metro construction at the Rådhus (City Hall), but unfortunately didn’t get to see the tunnels, as the line was so long!
  • At the Rådhus, we visited Jens Olsens Verdensur (Jens Olsen’s World Clock). This one I really like, actually.
  • Jens Olsens Verdensur (Jens Olsen’s World Clock) at the Rådhus (City Hall).
    Jens Olsens Verdensur (Jens Olsen’s World Clock) at the Rådhus (City Hall).
  • At this stage, the rest of the gang left for beer-tasting. I decided to go to the Brandvæsen (Fire Department) and checked it out.
  • I went past the fængsel (prison) and a photography exhibition as I made my way to catch up with the guys again. Of course, they were still in line. It would take them another half hour to finally get into Europa-Huset and get their beer. Meanwhile, I caught up with another group and went to the barracks of the Kongelige Livgarde (Royal Life Guards).
  • Shortly afterwards, we joined forces with the beer-tasting group again and visited the Botanisk Have (Botanical Gardens). There were some light show at the lake and the palmhus (palm house). They were quite cool, but slightly underwhelming.

Those were all that we could see that night. I think next year if I am still in Copenhagen, I will go and check out the prison and the Rosenborg Slot (Rosenborg Castle). The latter you can explore in the darkness! They turn the lights off, and you are free to wander around using torches.

Germany again

It seems that Germany is the country I visit the most since I arrived in Denmark. Last week I went to Leverkusen for a workshop on one of the software that we use. We seem to have built up a good working relationship with them. One of the modellers in our group in particular has collaborated closely with them to the point that there will be a new module for that software based on that collaboration. The workshop itself was just as you would expect. There were surprisingly a lot of people from industry, so it was a good opportunity to form connections.

My flight to Germany (Düsseldorf) was actually ridiculously early in the morning. So I had to get up very early and didn’t get much sleep at all. In fact, it was so early that I actually had to wait at a Metro station for the first train to the airport. At Düsseldorf, I actually missed the train I wanted to catch (by a few seconds!) but managed to take another train and catch the original train connection. After the workshop, it was raining heavily, so one of the workshop organisers gave me a lift to the station. The station was under renovation, though. So I had problems getting my ticket (the machine rejected my card!) and also had to go around the long way to reach the platform, causing me to miss my train to Cologne.

Fortunately the rest of the trip was very relaxing. It was my first trip to Cologne, which is also my proper September destination this year. When I roamed the City the following day, it turned out that the new Cardinal of Cologne was having his installation ceremony then, so there was much happening in town. I managed to escape all of that, though. Instead, I visited a friend of mine who now works in Cologne. Of course, no trip to Cologne is complete without a visit to the Chocolate Museum. But to me, the highlight of the trip was probably the EL-DE Haus, which used to be the headquarters of the Gestapo, and now serves as a reminder of the atrocities of war.

The Great European Trip

Some of you know that I have been trying to visit one new place each month this year. I’m trying to take advantage of the fact that I don’t have to fly 3 hours in order to get to the nearest country.

This northern summer I was away to quite a number of new places. In 12 days, my mum, my brother, and I started in Copenhagen and then went and visited Malmö, Hamburg, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Zürich. We took advantage of the extensive rail network in Europe and took various trains to get from one city to another. We didn’t get rail passes, but went on specific trains. This is partly because mum had to apply for Schengen visa, which required a full itinerary of the places we would visit, including accommodation and transport details, and a list of things we were planning to see. Yes, it’s that ridiculously complicated.

So with those places, my list of new places I have gone to this year becomes:

Jan: London, UK
Feb: Doha, Qatar
Mar: Reykjavík, Iceland
Apr: Rome, Italy
May: Göttingen, Germany
Jun: Hamburg, Germany
Jul: Prague, Czech Republic
Aug: Vienna, Austria
Sep: Zürich, Switzerland

The months in italic denote that the trip didn’t actually happen in that month. So now I’m missing three new places to visit before achieving my goal. In September, I will actually go on a trip to Leverkusen (Germany) for a workshop. I am hoping to swing by Cologne and add that to my list. After that, maybe Oslo or Bergen. I have no idea what the last place would be. Any suggestions?

So, for the Great European Trip itself, there were a few highlights:

  • My brother asking for a non-alcoholic beer in Hamburg, much to our waiter’s disapproval.
  • We had a very friendly taxi driver in Berlin, who almost caused a traffic accident right outside our hotel.
  • A very eventful train ride from Prague to Vienna on a sleeping carriage. All of us hardly got any sleep because the carriage moved around too much. Mum also got motion sickness.
  • We met a lady with a cast on her leg who tried to get to the Gloriette at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. She was using a kind of skateboard with handles and a seat that she could rest her broken leg on. It took her a while, but she did it.
  • Me taking a Swiss Army Knife on board my flight from Zürich to Berlin. I didn’t get into trouble because of that, but the security lady advised me to check it in on other flights.

Oh yeah, I flew back from Zürich to Copenhagen with a stopover in Berlin. Flights out of Zürich are ridiculously expensive! In Berlin, I also had a couple of memorable moments:

  • They gave us some a piece of chocolate as we disembarked the plane. I was going to eat it, but then I saw my friend, so I put my chocolate into my pocket. I completely forgot about it. But the time I got to my friend’s place, it had melted and smeared all over my wallet and mobile. It was a really hot day.
  • Berlin having a major work on their train system, so getting to Schönefeld was very difficult. When I got there, I went to security checkpoint, but the security guy immediately said that I had brought two pieces of luggage (I brought my usual backpack and a small carry-on). Other flight carriers wouldn’t normally count a backpack as a luggage, but EasyJet would! So I had to go to the counter and pay EUR 55 to check my carry-on in. But by that time, the check-in window had closed. So I had to bring my luggage myself to the gate. At security, I had to ask people to let me through (which they thankfully obliged). But my security line was very slow. The security lady even started to chat with me, but I said that I had to catch my flight, so she let me go. I basically ran all the way to the gate and made it with about 20 minutes to spare. There were still a few people waiting there who also got caught out by the train work! So we finally managed to board the plane. The really annoying thing was, the flight attendant asked me if I wanted to put my backpack on the overhead compartment, as they had “plenty of space”! Grrr…

Anyway, the photos are still coming. I just have to go through the 1000+ photos (not including the ones that my brother took) at some stage.

Dansk modul 3 er slut

Last month was a very busy month for me. I went to two countries: Italy (for holiday) and Germany (for work). For the latter one, I gave a presentation to our research and industry partners. The problem was, I only knew about the trip a month before I was supposed to go and give said presentation. At that time, I hadn’t even started working on that topic! So cue frantic simulating, analysing, and handwaving. Not necessarily in that order.

Studieskolen Module 3
Studieskolen Module 3

Anyway, after I returned, my quest in learning Danish continued on. In fact, we just had our test for Danish Module 3! This time we had only reading and writing tests to do. The reading test involved scanning for relevant information on the text to answer given questions; inserting sentences into paragraphs of text so that they make sense; inserting missing words so that a given text makes sense; and reading a few passages and answering questions related to them. The writing test involved writing two e-mails: one job application, and an e-mail to a friend who asked us about our new abode.

I have to say that the test was not as bad as I thought. Our teacher said that everyone passed the reading test. So it was down to the result of the writing test. But really, unless we really stuffed it up, I’m sure everyone did ok. We will know for sure on Thursday. The main problem we had was that time passed very quickly, especially for the writing part!

So what now? Most of us seem to be continuing on to Module 4. I and another student in the class were actually thinking of taking a break. We had been doing Danish two days a week for 9 months now, and we wanted to take a break for a while. But then, our teacher said that she was also going to have a break for 6 weeks in (the northern) summer. So that convinced the two of us to continue on with Module 4. But who knows if we would continue on to Module 5 after that.

Anyway, I do feel that we are starting to understand more of the language. One thing I did notice was that my vocabulary isn’t so big at the moment. And I still have problems with listening to what people are saying. I don’t know if it’s because of me or if it’s because Danes just speak so quickly. At times, I and several others would listen to what our teacher was saying, and we had problems keeping up. But then she would say it again either slower or in a different way (e.g. pronouncing words that would have been swallowed by Danes speaking “normally”) and then we would suddenly get it. It’s weird.

Edit: I started writing the title in English, then decided to switch to Danish. But I neglected to correct what I had written. Oops! Det var min egen skyld.

Where have I been?

Well, the question is: where have I not been? Actually, don’t answer that. There are many places that I haven’t been to. But this is the point of this post. I had a crazy idea for a New Year’s resolution: to visit one new place each month this year. Of course, I am taking advantage of the fact that I live in Europe now. So it is rather easy to jump on a plane and visit a new destination for a weekend trip. A nice change from living in Melbourne where the closest overseas destination is 3.5 hours away. (That’s New Zealand, by the way.)

So far, I have more-or-less kept up the resolution:

  • In January, I visited London for a holiday. It was a very fun trip. I really liked it. I think London is my favourite (urban) holiday destination so far.
  • In February, technically I didn’t go anywhere. However in March I went to two places back to back. First, I went to Qatar for work. We had a big meeting with our industry partners there. Since the trip was in very early March, I consider this to be my February trip.
  • Straight after Qatar, I went to Iceland with two friends. This one was a lot of fun. Iceland was simply exquisite. I wouldn’t mind going back again in summer. The highlight of this trip was we picking up a Liechtensteinian hitchhiker who was walking in heavy snow for about 40 km on his way to a glacier.
  • In April, I will go to two places. First, I will go to Rome for some holiday where I will meet up with my brother. Later in the month, I will go to Göttingen for work. I am tempted to claim the latter as my May trip, but we’ll see.

Some of the other places I currently have on my list are: Oslo, Amsterdam, Vienna, Prague, Zürich, and Helsinki. So many places to go to!

Anyway, I have also realised that my website is getting a bit low on space for the photos. So I’ve reluctantly decided to upload the photos from now to Facebook. Maybe I will also port my other albums there. So, stay tuned!

Hello from Izegem

Hello from Belgium

Hello from Belgium! I am here visiting my old friend and his lovely family in the small town of Izegem in the West Flanders region. It is a charming town. It has everything like a big town does, but it definitely feels (and certainly is) a little town. There was not a lot of people when I got in yesterday evening, but that was probably because it was a public holiday here in Belgium. But today was not that much improved either.

We went to Bruges today. It is the highlight of the trip so far. Bruges is simply amazing! To me, It kinda evokes the image of Venice — another city that I have to go and visit. The buildings are very old (and in some cases very big) and the roads are covered in cobble stones. And the canals, they were just beautiful.

Bruges

Tomorrow we’re heading off to Ghent and the Atomium in Brussels before I have to fly back to Copenhagen in the evening.

Of course, it is not a complete Belgian experience without Belgian chocolates, Belgian waffles, and Belgian beer — the latter of which has been voted the best beer in the world!

Photos will come probably sometime next week. Stay tuned.