November 2010 Archives

bilbao, november 2010, day one

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The airport bus dropped me and Maria near Plaza Moyua. I walked from the bus stop to my B&B in the old quarter of Bilbao--a 15-20 minute walk along a wide boulevard, crossing over the river that winds through the city, and then entering the medieval, pedestrian-only area. The weather was beautiful--22 degrees and sunny--so I thoroughly enjoyed the walk.

Posta Kalea

I'd found the B&B, AliciaZzz, on TripAdvisor. While I had the address, it was still a little hard to spot--it's on the second floor of a building, with a very unobtrusive sign and an unmarked door. You have to find the B&B name on the list of doorbells and ring it to be let in. Once I'd located it and made my way up, however, I was delighted. Koldo, the owner, was gracious and helpful, the room was bright and clean and well-appointed, and the location was fabulous. (One warning: I'd asked in advance if they took American Express, and they said yes--but when I arrived, it turned out they didn't, and I had to use my debit card to pay for the room.)

AliciaZzz B&B

I dropped off my things, changed from my not-so-practical but oh-so-stylish stiletto-heeled boots into something better suited to walking, and immediately headed out to explore the area. Koldo had mentioned a funicular railroad that would take me up the mountain and give me panoramic views of the city, which sounded irresistable. To get there, I walked along the riverfront, which took me past a gorgeous old church...

Parroquia San Nicolas de Bari 1

the historic Ayuntamiento de Bilbao...

Ayuntamiento de Bilbao 1

and beautiful views of the cityscape along the river...

Riverside Pixel Art

When I finally reached the funicular station, I realized I was awfully hungry, so I stopped at a little market and bought some fresh bread and Coca Cola Light that I ate while watching children play in the plaza. Then I bought my ticket for the funicular--a whopping €.90--and entered the front car.

Funicular at Station

Since the car had been mostly empty coming down, I figured it would be going up as well, and I entered the front car expecting to have it to myself. Much to my surprise, it quickly filled up with ten-year-old boys carrying backpacks and chattering excitedly in Spanish. I'd apparently arrived just as a nearby school was letting out, and these boys all lived at the top of the mountain. It was really fun to listen to them--I couldn't understand a word, so instead was able to enjoy the energy and body language.

At the top of the mountain, the boys scattered off to their respective homes, and I found myself on the edge of a lovely park overlooking the city.

Bilbao From Above

I spent an hour in the park, admiring the view, the happy couples--from teens to octogenarians--walking its paths, and the way the light illuminated both the sculptures and the people.

Shadow of Self on Sculpture

(There are many more photos from the park in my Flickr photo set from that first day.)

I took the funicular back down once the sun had dropped below the mountains on the western side of the city. Looking to my right along the river, I saw that the Guggenheim wasn't far away, and decided to walk in that direction for a few minutes.

Guggenheim From Afar

On my way, I passed the spectacular Pasarela Zubizuri, a beautiful footbridge designed by architect Santiago Calatrava.

Pasarela Zubizuri 1

The weather was so beautiful, and the riverside path so inviting, that I decided to walk back to the hotel, change into my running gear, and go for a run up to the Guggenheim and back. Unfortunately, my calf started bothering me a bit (I blame the morning spent in those stiletto heels...), so I ended up walking about half of the time. I still managed to get some spectacular photos along the way:

Guggenheim at Night

Bilbao River at Twilight 1

Once I'd finished my run there was an SMS waiting for me from Maria, who suggested that we meet for dinner at the metro stop near my hotel (Casco Viejo) at 9:30pm. I took a long shower, checked some email, and then headed out to meet her.

Casco Viejo Metro Entrance 1

The plaza next to the metro stop was filled with cafes and people, and once Maria arrived and we started exploring the old quarter, it was clear that the entire area of the city was jam-packed with cafes and bars each of them filled with people.

We ended up at the Plaza Nueva, a lovely square next to my B&B. In the center of the square were dozens of kids, from toddlers through teens, all playing, laughing and chasing each other. Parents were stationed all around the edges, blending with the crowds in the cafes, drinking wine and eating the pintxos that Basque establishments are famous for.

Plaza Nueva

Since Maria doesn't eat a lot of meat, and I don't eat a lot of veggies, we wanted to find a place that had pintxos we both could enjoy. Given the crowds, it was hard in many of the establishments to see what they had out on the bar, and neither of us knew enough Spanish to be able to ask questions about ingredients. We finally settled on a place that Koldo had recommended, Gure Toki, where the food looked delicious, and the bartender spoke English. A plate of seven pintxos, a glass of Rioja for me and a glass of beer for Maria set us back a total of only €17, which felt like a bargain! We took our food out to the plaza, and sat at an outdoor table so we could enjoy the warm evening and the crowds in the plaza.

Pintxos 2

By midnight the full day had caught up with both of us, and we said goodnight and headed back to our respective hotels, with promises to stay in touch--both personally and professional, as Maria's doing fabulous work with designing games that involve VR and AR technology.

All in all, it was a spectacular day.

vitoria-gasteiz, november 2010

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I arrived at the Bilbao airport on Wednesday evening, where, as expected, a driver was waiting for me. Not just for me, however--there were four of us arriving at the same time, and that certainly made the 45-minute ride from the airport to Vitoria-Gasteiz cramped. I was grateful when we finally reached the hotel, and then delighted when I arrived in my room and found that I had a suite with a balcony overlooking the city. Unfortunately, I never actually got to see the city from the balcony during daylight hours, despite the fact that I spent two nights in the room.

View from Vitoria Hotel Room 4

The CARVI conference was unlike anything I've attended before. It began with a series of political speakers, praising the innovations coming out of the research organizations that sponsored the event, after which a number of conservatively-dressed men and women donned 3-D glasses and stood around television sets looking very impressed.

CARVI Attendees With 3D Glasses 2

After that, we moved to another room and the series of symposium talks began. Each speaker was scheduled for 20 minutes, with no time in between, which meant that it didn't take long before we were an hour over schedule. My 11:20 talk turned into a 12:30 talk, after which there were still several hours of presentations to go before lunch. This is apparently quite common in Europe--and especially Spain--but my blood sugar suffered mightily as the day wore on.

Despite my growing hunger, I really enjoyed the talks by Narcis Parés Burgués from Barcelona ("Interactive Playgrounds: the Interactive Slide, a Practical Example") and Maria Roussou from Athens (The Challenge of developing virtual reality serious games).

When we finally did eat lunch at 3pm, it was primarily passed appetizers (tapas-style, or "pintxos" as they're called in the Basque region), and lots of wine. I was quite sure after that lunch I'd have a hard time staying awake, but I was more than pleasantly surprised by the post-lunch speakers, who included Matt Oughton from Vicon, demonstrating their amazing motion capture system, and Brent Strong from Disney Imagineering, who gave a spectacular talk about the design process behind The Sum of All Thrills ride at Epcot.

The symposium events wrapped up at 7:30pm, at which point they returned us to the hotel (a 20-minute bus ride), and told us that there'd be a bus to take us to a speaker dinner at 9:00. I knew there was no way I'd make it through that, so I begged off and got some sleep.

The next morning the bus picked us up just after daybreak again, and I returned to the conference for a few hours of presentations on virtual reality engineering. At 1pm, a taxi took five of us back to the Bilbao airport--but this time, at least, we had a minivan! I sat next to Maria Roussou, who, it turned out, was also planning on spending a night in Bilbao. We hit it off famously, chatted the whole way to the airport, and decided to have dinner together later that night.

london, november 2010

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It's been over thirty years since I last visited London--a brief stop as our family returned from a sabbatical year in Malta. It's been over forty since I lived here as a child--on the first of my father's sabbaticals. But somehow, it felt familiar when I arrived on a rainy Monday morning. The voices, the colors, the sense of the city--they didn't feel foreign, didn't feel odd.

I took an airport shuttle into the city, not realizing that I could have easily taken the Underground--that's what I get for not doing my homework before the trip. The van dropped me off a block from my friend Alice's office, where I stopped in to get the keys to her flat. She was in meetings, so I headed back out, splurging on a taxi so I wouldn't have to wrestle my suitcase through the rain. I enjoyed every minute of the ride, watching the streets of the city through the rain-blurred window.

Rainy London Through Cab Window

Since my hosts weren't planning to be home 'til 8, I decided to attend the opening reception for Internet Week Europe, to which I'd received an invitation. It was an easy tube ride from the Old Street station near the flat to the Covent Garden stop, and a short walk from there to the nearby Hospital Club.

Outside Entrance to the Covent Garden Tube Stop

I'm so accustomed to attending tech events that I simply assumed there'd be familiar faces at this one, and it was a bit of a shock to realize that there weren't any. That turned out to be for the best, really, since my travel-addled brain wasn't really up for small talk. I settled myself in a relatively quiet corner with a passionfruit martini, and took full advantage of the very delicious appetizers that kept being brought by for me to sample--little gourmet versions of traditional British fare, like bangers and mash, and yorkshire pudding.

Once I'd eaten my fill, I simply left, and headed back to spend a lovely evening catching up with Alice and getting to know her daughter Poesy (Cory, alas, was in the US while I was in the UK).

On Tuesday I woke up surprisingly early, and headed off to the "official" hotel for the AdAge conference I was speaking at, The Montague on the Gardens. (While I'm being reimbursed for my travel costs, it was a little pricey for me to front the money for two nights there...) I dropped my bags, and headed to the British Library, where I browsed through the historical documents room (the Magna Carta! yowza!) and had a nice lunch in the cafe.

By then I was exhausted, the weather was still cold and rainy, and I decided to simply hole up in my room for the rest of the day. It was a lovely room, though a little small...

Montague on the Gardens Room 1

But then I looked out the window, and realized that I was literally across the street from the British Museum...and there was no way I could resist that lure. Three hours later, as the museum closed it doors, I only wished I'd had more time. From the Magna Carta in the morning to the Rosetta Stone and Cleopatra's Mummy in the afternoon. Not a bad day, all in all!

Cleopatra Mummy

Wednesday morning I packed up all my things (again; I got good at that on this trip) and headed to the Creativity & Technology conference venue. I've never spoken at an AdAge event before, and I have to say I was mightily impressed. They made me feel instantly welcome, the event ran like clockwork (in no small part due to the amazing work of David Teicher and Matt Kinsey, who'd handled all of the arrangements for my visit), and the other speakers were truly wonderful. I was very glad to have had the chance to participate--and I had a chance to meet a number of people I really enjoyed, including one of the brilliant minds behind the "man your man could smell like" campaign.

A car picked me up at lunchtime, and ferried me off to the airport, so I could head to Spain for the next part of my European adventure. I wish I'd had more time in London, but I felt as though I'd used what I had well...

links for 2010-11-01

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links for 2010-10-31

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