Friday, 17 December 2010

A Charitable Weekend

With the cold that's been around this part of the world, the last thing you'd plan on doing in a weekend would be to swim in the Irish Sea. And yet that's exactly what I set out to do with a few friends from work, in support of the Special Olympics organisation. Nothing too hard: get there, undress, dive in, get out, get dressed. Easy, right?

Eoin once again showed the way, diving in without thinking about it. Erik cautiously followed, leaving me to whimper a bit, before finally taking the plunge:

Looking back, it really wasn't that hard, and was quite refreshing. But the water really was freezing, so much so that once outside, we barely felt cold.

Sunday was the second charity event, this time in support of the Irish Heart Foundation. Up early Sunday morning (way too early for my taste), we put on Santa Suits, and went to North Bull Island, where we ran a 10k race, dressed as Santa. A crowd of Santa running along the beach, had to be seen to be believed:

Dan, Eoin, Erik and me

All this combined with heavy Christmas partying in between, did leave me with a nasty cold. But it was real fun, and definitely worth it!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Phoenix Park in Christmas mood

When I decided to move back to Dublin, and while searching for a place to live, one of my biggest wishes was to live close to Phoenix Park. This massive park, one of the biggest urban parks in Europe, is a fantastic place to go for a run, which I usually try to do every week.

It is also home to a herd of wild Fallow Deer since the XVII century, and I've had previous encounters, especially since I tend to go for a run late in the evening, when the park is almost deserted and the deer venture forward to gaze on fresh grass. Quite a few times I have come upon herds without noticing until I'm right on top of them.

Today I went for the usual run, and since it had been snowing all weekend, I decided to bring my camera with me. I was not disappointed! The photos are dark and a bit far, as I didn't want to disturb them by getting close and using a flash. Another beautiful encounter, and a great motivation to go for a run in such cold weather.

The Wellington Monument

Friday, 20 August 2010


This one was a bit of a surprise. Having worked on an AI application to the Super Mario Bros game for the last month, Diego and me managed to secure funding to go to the conference where the competition was being held (CIG'2010), which this year was in Copenhagen. And so I finally visited a Scandinavian country.

 We arrived Tuesday afternoon, and after settling down, we went to see Christiania, a self-ruled community in the Christianshaven area. Despite the constant smell of cannabis in the air and the groups of people huddled around old burning petrol bins, one still feels quite safe in there, as long as the (few) rules are respected (namely no photography, unfortunately). After a stroll around the rest of the area, we found a nice Danish-French restaurant for dinner, before going back to the hotel.

Wednesday we were at the conference the whole morning. In the afternoon we sneaked out for a couple of hours, and decided to go check out the harbour. We had however an unwelcome friend - rain! (the cold and intense type). We resisted for a while, but finally gave up and took refuge at the Danish Resistance Museum (Frihedsmuseet), where after a coffee to warm up we ended up staying for a visit. Sometimes the unexpected plans are the best; the museum was very pleasant and well organised, not too small or large, and it was really interesting.

Back to the conference (after an insanely expensive taxi ride, to make it back in time, which we didn't), we watched the final presentations and poster session, and then enjoyed some food and beer at the University's bar, while watching psychedelic VJ-ing mixing computer games and 60s films!

Thursday, after watching another morning full of presentations, we took the afternoon off and went back downtown, to enjoy the wonderful sunny weather that had finally decided to turn up. That, and the lovely neighbourhood that we went to visit completely changed my view of the city. We started by visiting the lovely botanical gardens, although we couldn't visit the "living museum", already closed when we got there (ridiculously early, like most sites in the city).

We then moved on to Rosenborg Castle, obviously already closed, and chilled out for a while in Kogens Have (the King's Gardens).

Copenhagen is a nice and compact city, so we then carried on by foot to the Latin Quarter around the (old) University. There we enjoyed a nice beer, sitting in a terrace somewhere along the old cobblestoned streets, and finally we made our way to the Tivoli Gardens. These are the main attraction of the city, and for good measure: a nice, old, tacky amusement park in the middle of the city, complete with arcades, restaurants and beer gardens. We had a look around, and then found an Italian restaurant, where we had some great pizza (lovely Calzone for me, obviously, filled to the brim!). We lingered for a while, and ended up being almost kicked out, as the park closed at 11pm! So we walked all the way back to the very useful 24h driverless metro (why doesn't every city have one of these!...).

That's pretty much it. Friday we took the morning off, and went for a second go at walking along the harbour, this time with great weather. The lovely Nyhavn canal, albeit being overcrowded with tourists, was a much nicer site with sunshine!

The new opera house was also quite impressive.

We then walked all the way to the the site of the little Mermaid, which this year took a holiday and went to the Shanghai Expo for the whole year; it had to happen when I came here! It was quite funny though, there was a videoscreen installed, with a live view of the statue in China. I couldn't resist taking a snap! We visited the pleasant Kastelet, and finally went back to the University, where we had lunch discussing AI techniques with a friend from France. I then went back to the airport and then to Dublin, leaving Diego to represent us at the competition.
All in all, a nice quick break, and a great introduction to Scandinavian cities!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Um traseiro muito traiçoeiro

Há já uns anos, numa viagem a Dublin, tinha ficado muito interessado por este belo anúncio no aeroporto:

é a palavra Irlandesa para um Galgo (raça canina). É caso para dizer: "ontem vi um Cú Irlandês".
É uma delícia encontrar este tipo de palavra, com um significado completamente diferente noutra língua; as portas 66 e 68 devem ser as nádegas esquerda e direita, respetivamente. Nem o acento lhe falta, que se chama fada em Irlandês, outro belo exemplo, permitindo frases como "escreve-se com u e com uma fadaou "o u de leva fada".
Na minha última viagem, vi que o  já abriu:

O bar em si é bastante agradável, com o senão de, desculpem a expressão, ficar no de Judas:

E assim se escreve sete vezes num blog de viagens. Mas não fiquem assustados, há quem tenha cuidado com a língua neste país; os bancos, por exemplo, chamam-lhe Rabo.

Monday, 26 July 2010


Ah, Barcelona. Definitely one of my favourite cities in the whole world (and I've visited a few by now). WCCI took place there this year (yes, another conference!), and as usual, I got a couple of extra days before and after the conference, to be able to do some visiting and relaxing.

I'm not a big fan of hotels, and given the usual price of conference hotels, I decided to stay in a hostel instead. It was a great choice; the hostel had a great atmosphere, and I made some cool friends while staying there, especially Kaori, my new Japanese friend, and Flic, the cool Australian traveller.
The first day was very hard; given that my flight was at 0640, I ended up not sleeping the night before, so by the time I got to Barcelona I was so tired, I had my first Spanish siesta! (thankfully the only one)
I still had time in the evening to go for a nice walk in the Gothic quarter, all the way down to Barceloneta and Roy Lichenstein's Barcelona Head sculpture.

I also went to L'Aquàrium, famous for its tunnel underwater, from which you can look up at all the sharks. Wasn't terribly impressed. In the end, I just sat by La Rambla de Mar, watching the reflections of the setting sun in the surrounding buildings; even the World Trade Center became interesting when painted by the golden sunlight.

In the evening I found a small restaurant in the Port Vell area, ate a tourist trap ready-made paella, and then walked all the way back to the hostel. It was really central, being just besides Casa Battló, which I couldn't resist shooting with the night illumination.

Saturday was a busy day. I began by visiting Casa Battló; 17.50€ might seem a hefty price to pay, but I think it was well worth it; I spent over two hours exploring all the rooms, apartments, garden, roof terrace, and all the amazing details coming out of the genius of Gaudí. Definitely my favourite of his conceptions.

I wanted to carry on the Gaudí theme for the day, and having previously seen Park Güell, I made my way to La Pedrera, his famous apartment block. No luck, the queue was immense, under the beating sun; instead I had some cheap pasta in the lovely Rambla de Catalunya, and made my way to Palau del Baró Quadras, where Casa Asia is also located. The building itself was really nice, with all the marble and other noble materials keeping it quite cool. It regularly hosts temporary expositions, this time it was a rather eye-opening one about North Korea, which I really enjoyed exploring. The view from the rooftop is also quite nice.

I also tried to go to La Sagrada Familia, but the queue there was just unbelievable, so instead I took the metro to the last station of a line, then the tram all the way up a steep hill, and finally the funicular. Destination? Tibidabo, the tallest hill overlooking Barcelona (512m). Up there there's a really cool (and old) amusement park, and the whole area feels like a travel back in time. I really enjoyed sitting down, ordering some nachos and a caña, and just enjoy the buzz and the view over Barcelona, while reading a book.

I also went up the Temple Del Sagrat Cor, which is basically two churches, one on top of the other. I took the lift to the top and then climbed the tower; the views from the top were stunning.

Back in the hostel, there was a night out organised, like every single day, they were tireless to make us have some fun. My rubber arm got twisted, and on I went, with a big bunch of foreign travellers. And to my surprise and deception, the first stop was... an Irish Pub!! It's a curse; every time I go abroad, I end up in one, against my own will (nothing against Irish pubs, but I have plenty of those at home!). Anyway, that was followed by a disco, and then a long after party at the hostel, up to 0730! Sunday was therefore spent just recovering sleep, eating in a terrace, reading a book, and in the evening I went for the conference reception.

Not many occasions to do some visiting once the conference began, but some excellent dinners with great food, and great nights out (Barcelona really is a great party place!). One of those was epic. We started with a few tapas, and then went on the hunt for a nice restaurant in the Gothic quarter; after a few glasses of wine in a tiny tavern (owned by a Scottish lady!), we found the Cafè de l'Acadèmia, whose owner setup a private table just for us down in the cellar. We had a fantastic meal, and great fun, surrounded by thousands of expensive bottles! We followed that with a few bars in the centre, such as the Sugar bar, with its pillows and red lights everywhere, and the Club Rosa, with its Gothic clientele. We ended up at the Pipa Club, a sneaky bar in a pipe smokers club, opened until late; ring the bell, go up to the first floor, and enter a whole new world! Brilliant night out with great company.

Wednesday evening the conference banquet took place, so I went there by tram and metro, to be able to go appreciate the cucumber-shaped Torre Agbar (which is actually pretty funky looking, well worth the detour).

The banquet took place at the Plaça de les Cascades, and after it was over, we were able to appreciate the light and music show of La Font Màgica. Although currently under repair, it was still quite magical.

Friday I took the morning off, and finally (after quite a few visits to Barcelona) went to see La Sagrada Famìlia with Niamh. Even though we were there at 1000, we still had to queue for about an hour. It is a really impressive site, though, no wonder it's Spain's most visited monument. All the details on the outside are impressive (and there's far too many to show here), and the inside is also breathtaking, despite the many years still left for it to be finished. We gave up on going up the (only) elevator to the top though, after realising we'd be waiting for over 45min!... Sometimes it's painful to be a tourist.

After a light meal by the Arc de Triomf, we went for a walk in the Parc de la Ciutadella, where we could appreciate some of the buildings, the curious mammoth sculpture, and above all the impressive Cascada built 130 years ago by Josep Fontsère.

Saturday was my last full day in Barcelona, so I went tourist mad. I started by going to see the lovely Esglèsia de Santa Maria del Mar, prime example of Catalan Gothic, which has an impressive sense of space inside.

I then went for a walk along the beach, before taking the Transbordador Aeri from the beach all the way up to Montjuic, followed by a ride on the telefèric, to the Castell de Montjuïc. The views of the beach front down below were really nice. I leisurely walked down the hill, enjoying the lovely gardens that populate the area, and the really nice views of the city from those gardens.

After lunch I went to see the Fundació Joan Miró, just to double check that I really don't like his art at all (it's confirmed!! I really don't get it), and then went for a walk around L'Anella Olímpica & Estadi Olímpic; the first time I was there was just before the Olympic games (all the way back to 1991 with my sister), it was nice to see the site again.

I finished a heavily loaded day with a flash visit to the Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya, which deserved much more than the single hour I spent there.

That was it, really. That night we had another great night out in town with James and Niamh, and the next day I just got lost one last time wandering the Gothic quarter, and finished the day on the beach, before getting my late flight back to Dublin. I am definitely going to go back to Barcelona again and again.

(Rambla de Mar from high above)