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.

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.