Sep 2008

What were you up to this summer?

Obviously, from the huge gap between this and my last post you probably already have imagined, mine was quite busy. To sum it up: I went to Canada, then Mayte - that is my gorgeous girlfriend in case you still don’t know! - was in Madrid for a whole month (happy me!!!) ad we went to Tarragona, a city to the south of Barcelona, and to Bilbao. Finally, I had to prepare for a talk in Turku, Finland, which was the last “station” for me this summer.

First things first, I’ll start with the Canada trip. This was more or less all payed by my institute because I went to the world’s largest bioinformatics conference, the ISMB in Toronto, to present my BioCreative MetaServer project the first time. Reception was quite good, and my boss and I were both quite happy. The hotel we stayed at, although expensive, was rather crappy: The second day we got back, a colleague of mine found another guy in his room, just taking a shower! After some inquiries at the desk, they could not “determine” how the mistake happend and the manager went up with my friend to clear the matters up. The guy there the even refused to change the room! So my friend finally decided to do the only logic thing and moved to another room… Nice hotel, especially considering we were paying almost Can$ 200 a night! The city of Toronto itself is very US-like, with skyscrapers and a downtown that gets all crappy and full of homeless people during the night. I also was kind of annoyed by the way people act there - everyone is just a bit too friendly for my taste, it seems more like a show than for real. Finally, the city surely is cosy in winter: all the center is connected with tunnels so you do never have to go outside - brr, that makes me freeze just thinking of it! Another funny thing: while we were there, the largest bike theft ever was going on; later the police caught a bike seller stealing most of them - they found a whole 2,800 (!!!) bikes in his home, his shop, and in various garages he had to rent to store all those bikes!

Mayte’s stay here without doubt was my personal highlight this summer, and maybe even this year: she found a way to be here a whole month, which we spent together almost every day (well, at least the nights…). It will be a while before we can spend that much time together in a row again! Anyways, apart from some good going out to “terrazas”, bars and fancy night clubs here in Madrid, getting some even better dancing done and listening to the latest electronic beats, we also did two trips to the north of Spain and had a nice afternoon one weekend getting out of the city sprawl and enjoying the great countryside - of which you can ascertain yourself in the photos below. We went to Tarragona together with Iris and Gonzalo to a Spa-Hotel with all sorts nice luxury like Saunas, swimming pools, baths, massages, golf course, etc. and had a very nice and relaxed weekend while celebrating Iris’ birthday. Actually this is a really special occasion, as Iris usually loves to be with many people and gives great parties with very many people (and nice Spanish and Mexican girls … not that it would be any of my business nowadays!). The second trip we made to Bilbao, enjoying the great landscape there, making the obligatory - and worth while! - visit to the Guggenheim, as well as having a heavy night out during the opening of the Semana Grande, which had spectacular fireworks. While we were sitting in the grass watching the fireworks, a group standing next to us with two guys and a girl was watching just as delighted - when suddenly a really huge explosion filled the whole sky above us in a startling view of little stars falling down from the sky. The girl got rather frightened, jumped, and ran a bit, when she finally just ducked “for cover” on the grass. I admit it was not nice of us, but we had to laugh. Then her boyfriend turned his head toward her and with a very nonchalant voice asked: “Que tienes?” (“What’s up with you?” - “Was hast’n?”). The somewhat frightened girlfriend returned to his side, while we keept giggling every other time a huge rocket exploded and she started to make leeway… Well, apart from that we had a great breakfast, too, with champagne and caviar, of which I am sorry to say, I cannot give details. So, this city is really worth a visit, especially if you have a person along who knows her way around town, the bars, and the beaches. One day the time was ripe for Mayte to go back, and I finally gave up my plans of taking here hostage and let her go back - and now she is happy and far away from all the bourgeois western world in South America… Man, do I miss her company!

The third and final trip this summer was going to Turku. What, you really do not know what or where Turku is? No worries, I didn’t either. To be honest, it took me some time to find an acceptable travel route to that place… But every Turku inhabitant will quickly assure you that you missed out on history: it was, until about a hundred years ago, the capital of Finland, and is also the oldest town to be found in that part of the world. So, you might be asking yourself quite rightfully, what-the-hell was I doing in such a remote location? Well, I was attending a text-mining conference there: the SMBM’08 (Semantic Mining in Biomedicine) and was giving an almost one hour long presentation about my platform. So you can imagine it took my quite some time to prepare the talk and the data to present, and, as I never had given a talk of that length, quite some cups of tea (thanks to a tip from Mayte!) before the talk to keep me calm. As a result, I had the feeling the presentation was quite some success and the response from the audience more than good. Anyhow, the “real” success will have to be measured when seeing how many new participants I could attract to the platform with this presentation - time will tell! Apart from work, we had a great boat tour through the hundreds of tiny islands along the coast, went to a Finish smoke Sauna with heated baths - you cool yourself of by jumping into the (very cold) sea! - and a great dinner. This had a rather funny ending, when the organizers fooled around with me: there was a quiz about Finish wildlife, which I apparently won. They gave me a bottle filled with transparent liquid and some finish text explaining the contents. Without much thought I assumed it was vodka and immediately got some shot glasses and shared the bottle with the conference attendants. Much to our surprise, it did not have the taste of vodka, but was a special kind of water extracted from birch trees… I guess, I have to rethink my attitude about alcohol! As for the Finish people themselves, there are some quite notable things: first of, it really is true, they are blond, almost all of them! Second, and I really was quite astonished, I never met that many friendly - and really friendly, not that artificial stuff you find in the US and Canada - people in any country before. The only thing why I think they are slightly crazy occurred to me when, while walking through town at about 15 ˚C, with jackets and long pants, we passed by an outdoor, public swimming pool: it was full of Fins “simulating” that it still was summer!

Well, I am sure I forgot to cover some stuff, but then the post is already long enough as it is. To all of you, have a nice autumn, enjoying the last rays of sun - if you do not live in Spain!