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.
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.
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.