Sunday, December 31, 2006

Christmas in UK

Last year I had been back in California for the Christmas holidays. So this year, this is my first christmas in the UK.

Here are basically the same traditions as in the US: the celebrations are on the 25th (contrary to Germany where the main celebration is on Christmas Eve, the 24th), and the presents are given in hanging socks. Lots of food, mainly turkey. Much advertisement on TV for "making that very special meal" - obviously it is very important that this meal is homecooked, in contrast to the usual meals in the UK which often are pre-made and frozen ("TV dinners").

The 26. December is also a holiday, like in Germany and unlike in the US. It is called "Boxing Day". The traditional thing on this day is to go to IKEA for furniture shopping.

Mild weather, no snow. Lots of wind - over the whole holiday break there were constant storms (so-called Gales) and rainfall - no opportunity for pleasant sightseeing. Anyway, we have a lot of unpacking to do... the boxes from the moving are still largely unpacked.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Parkside Cottage

Here are a few pictures of the "Parkside Cottage" where we live now. It is located between Leeds and Bradford in the "Green Belt", close to Pudsey. Very rural environment, with nearby farms. The property actually consists of two houses: the "Parkside House" where our landlord lives, and the "Parkside Cottage". Both houses date back to the 1840s, and at one point it is said that the Lord Mayor of Leeds lived here. Clive, our landlord, has taken a lot of effort to restore the buildings and equip them with the latest installations. Just last year, the interior of the cottage has been renovated.

The name "Parkside" is because the property is located a short distance west of the Farnley Park, a large park with old trees.

View of the cottage from the entrance gate.

View down towards West - on the left side is the "Parkside House"

View up the entrance ramp. It is too steep for the Granada to drive in - I almost got stuck once with the car bottom touching the ground, but the Suzuki can go in fine.

The kitchen is quite large.

The first "furniture", before our stuff arrived, was the IT-center in the living room.

View from the North-Western kitchen window.

Night over the Parkside.

Picture from the webcam. This is a night shot from November. A live picture is also available, but the site is down over the Christmas holidays. In order to view the picture, you will have to register (I am working on the scripts for this).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

2006 is over - Best Wishes for 2007!

The last few days of 2006 are ahead, and soon a new year will begin. 2006 for me has been my first full year of living in the UK. In 2005 was a big change: new job, new country, new continent. In 2006, it was more about consolidation: moving into a (more or less) permanent home, completing and finalising the move, getting settled.

I travelled a lot this year, mostly on university business, with a few days of personal vacation attached. For this opportunity, I am very grateful - I enjoy to travel, and being there on business and not as a tourist makes me more involved, with a purpose: one gets to know local people, gets involved in local work, gets to see behind the scenes, and is not just seen as a bringer of tourist-cash. In fact, I do not really want to travel anymore anywhere as a plain tourist. Who needs vacation, when work already is so fulfilling and interesting?

Relating to the "regular" work at my job, I have secured one grant for research on Augmented Reality. More grants are needed to create a sustainable working group, and my main effort for 2007 will be to obtain such grants. The next "big thing" will be the establishing of the Leeds Met "Centre for Creative Technology Research". Initial preparations are already on their way, and in the next month we shall see the launch of this centre.

I met many new people this year, made new friendships. And I have really put a lot of effort in this blog here, as a tool for reporting and documenting parts of my life. This blogging is a new method of staying in contact. Although it is primarily a "one-way" street, I have received a lot of feedback which encourages me to go on with it.

Greetings to all of you who are following this blog, old friends and new friends. If I have not yet sent you a personal holiday greeting, then please accept my apologies. My address book has now about 1800 entries, and it is quite difficult to keep in touch with everyone.

My best wishes to you for the upcoming holidays, and for the New Year 2007!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Our" Cat

Since we moved into the Cottage, we have a frequent guest: Clive's black cat was used to come into the cottage, to visit the previous inhabitants. Probably to get some food. It is a very friendly cat, and very talkative: it constantly eminates loud "meeeaaauhs" - when she wants to get in, or when she wants to get out. Or just when she sees something interesting. We tested it: it really likes the delicious Jersey milk - also my favorite.

When the furniture came, the cat was walking right into it, checked out all the boxes, even inspected the moving truck from the inside. After she found everything allright, she came back, slurped her milk, then went for a sleep - on top of the pile of boxes.

We gave her a name - because of her constant cat-talking (miau), we call her "Voice-of-reason".

In the evening, voice-of-reason usually wants to go out - to hunt some mice, or to get some company from Clive's other cat.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Leeds Christkindl Market

Yes, Leeds has a German Christkindl Market! In the heart of the city, on Millennium Square near Civic Hall, every year a few stands are put up with an authentic Christmas atmosphere. Well, almost. There is no snow here, just wet cold air. But it is nice, with "Gluehwein", red Bratwurst, and freshly baked Brezen. And of course Lebkuchen and Aachener Printen. Last year when I was working in the Leeds Met Civic Quarter campus, I went there often after work, just to stroll a bit around. This year I only made it twice there - and I bought some cookies for my "Academic Coach" class. Already in mid November it is open, but this weekend were the last open days - it closed on 18.December.

Below are a few pictures from the market, taken this year and last year.

View towards South, with Leeds Town Hall in the background.

View towards north, with Civic Hall

Nightly illumination.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Furniture Arrives!

On Thursday the truck with our belongings arrived at the Parkside Cottage. The two movers already had arrived the day before, but were unable to reach me as I was in my tutorial at the university. On Wednesday evening I met the two guys in the nearby pub "Beulah" where we had a beer together. I had been concerned if the large truck would fit through that narrow one-lane road that leads to our cottage, but they were optimistic. And true, next morning as I looked out of the window and was wondering when the truck would arrive, it just came.

They estimated 2 hours for the unloading, but it took a total of 6 hours. A few boxes had to be put into the garage - no place in the house anymore.

And now that the movers have left, the house is full with the boxes and the wrapped furniture. A lot remains to do in the next weeks.

And after the first unpacking, we already discover a few damaged items. This makes us less optimistic for the rest of the stuff...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Return to Leeds

Sunday morning we packed our stuff and drove to Naples airport. No incident, everything went smooth. A wonderful morning, blue sky. A long line at the Air France check-in counter, moving only slowly ahead. Again a flight in three legs: first to Paris, then to Amsterdam, then to Leeds.

The plane departs with 30 minutes delay. The time would be tight for catching the plane, especially since the Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport in Paris has lonw walkways between the terminals.

As we took off from Naples, a last view onto the Mediteranean Sea, the isles of Capri and Ischia (have to visit them next time), the coast line. We arrive at CDG with a 30 minute delay. On the way between terminal 2D and 2F, I buy a baguette sandwich - these are delicious! And Lena buys a loaf of bread for the evening. A line at the terminal check - we barely make our flight, board the plane as the last passengers.

Then in Amsterdam we have 3 hours until the last flight. Hanging around in the KLM business lounge #25, we enjoy the free hospitality - probably for the last time. Next year I will not have the Platinum Elite priviliges anymore - I was flying too few miles in 2006...

After the arrival in Leeds, cold and windy weather greets us. And - the car does not start. The battery has become weak again, some currents in the electric system must have drained it. Fortunately I had expected this - afterall, what else to expect from a 350-Pound car? And I had taken the boost battery, with which I was able to start the car, after connecting it to the car battery for 15 minutes. At 10:30pm we arrived back in the Cottage.

Before we left, we had switched off the heating, to save some on our gas bill. But now the house seemed inside colder than the weather outside... It took the whole night to warm up. Next time we will leave the heating on.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Rain on the last day

On Saturday, we had planned to drive up to Mount Vesuvio. But then rain started pouring down in showers, so we skipped that trip. Instead, we went once again to Vietri, to buy some ceramics from the local manufactures. However, the rain somehow made this activity less pleasurable, so we decided instead to drive to a few supermarkets and food stores, to bring some supplies for home.

Rain in Vietri.

Friday, December 08, 2006

In Pompeii

What would be a visit to Naples without visiting the ruins of Pompeii? Since childhood I was fascinated by the Roman history, maybe triggered by the Asterix and Obelix cartoon figures. Now, for the first time, I visit that famous site of the remaining ruins of the ancient city.

The approach seems a bit difficult: The autostrada exit Pompeii-Est seems too far off from the site, so we do not take it. But the next exits do not mention Pompeii again, so we decide to just try our luck and follow plain instinct. A tiny sign indicates the "scavi Pompeii", but somehow we end up in a dead end, in one of those Italian markets, in the "new" Pompeii. Finally we find our way, and park the car at the Car Park "Via Plinii", where parking is free for Hertz rental cars.

For the whole day we walk through the streets of the antique city, or what remains of them. First it seems all somewhat repetitive, ruined houses, paved streets, columns everywhere, but then, as we enter some of those houses, we see the wonderful fresci paintings, the gardens, fountains, wall decorations, which give a vivid impression of the life 2000 years ago. The site closes at 5pm, it is already dark then when we leave.

Columns in Pompeii.

Forum - with Vesuvio in background.

Remains of columns.

Inside one of the villas.

Street in Pompeii.


Mode fresci.

In a courtyard.

View over the ruinbs of Pompeii, towards south.

In a former Therme bath house.

Street in the evening sun.

Inside a Roman house.

Antique inscriptions on house walls.

Birth of Venus.

After we left the archeological area, we went into the "new" town of Pompei. There seemed to have been a pilgrimage, since today is a holiday in Italy (8. December) - the church is full of warshippers, the main street is closed for cars.

The church "Madonna del Rosario di Pompeii".

Thursday, December 07, 2006

In Napoli (Naples)

I have taken two more days of vacation, so that I will travel back to Leeds only on Sunday. This gives us 3 additional days here in the Campagna, for some interesting sightseeing.

This Thursday we decide to go to Napoli. The car stays at the hotel - after all I am not suicidal. We take the train. A walk of 15 minutes to the train station in Salerno. Then waiting for the train. The round-trip ticket costs only 6.30 Euro, roundtrip, and it includes public transportation in Naples.

A delay. There are two monitors, and each shows a different delay time... we just wait, and after 50 minutes the train arrives. An old-fashioned train, with cars of compartments. We find two seats. The train continues non-stop to Napoli.

We walk through the "dangerous area" where recently tourists had come into cross-fire from the competing Mafia / Camorra gangs. Pass the Duomo, through a quarter where they solely seem to sell christmas decorations. With a funicolare up a hill, then down with another one. Along the coast, to Santa Lucia. The sun is setting. Back to the train station. As we wait at a bus stop, the bus R2 is delayed - information screens show that in 14 minutes the bus will arrive. But its delay remains at 14 minutes. When it finally arrives after 30 minutes, it is so crammed full of people that we decide to take the metro instead. Changing the line at one point, then on to the train station. The next train which we intend to take - is delayed by 40 minutes. We decide to opt for a later local train, and arrive well in Salerno.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Last day of ISLES meeting

Wednesday we meet again in the building next to the Giardini di Minerva. There is a short presentation by Prof. Paola Capone about a 3D model of these Giardini. Then we continue and conclude the project discussions. The members of the group have now met for the last time - the ISLES project is hereby officially over. Well, the formal deadline is end of December, but the members have now seen each other for the last time. I am veyr grateful that I could be a part of this group, allthough my contribution to the actual project progress was neglectible. Well, I represented my university, Leeds Met, in these 3 meetings during 2006. And I made lots of pictures, which the other project partners gladly downloaded. Also for this meeting I will prepare a online photoalbum, where I will share the best of my shots.

After the meeting ended, there is still an hour of daylight. So Lena and I drive once more to the Amalfi coast, to visit some more places there.

Village of Cetera.

In Amalfi.

Moon over Amalfi.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

ISLES Workshop

On Tuesday, "regular" work takes over. The meeting point is again in the Commune di Salerno. As I walk into the building, asking about the meeting location in my few words of Italian which I know, I am being sent up to the 2nd floor. It turns out that there is a conference, but not the one I need: there is the "Conference of State Police".

Walking again outside, I meet the translator. Then Nino comes. After some time, everybody is there. We walk up to the Giardini Minerva (web site is unfortunately only in Italian), where the meeting will take place in the administrative buildings of the Commune di Salerno.

On the terasse of the Giardini Minerva above Salerno.

During the day, workplans and budget issues need to be discussed. I have to leave after some time, to make a Skype conference with Leeds Met, for another project in whcih I am involved. At the commune administrative buildings, Skype and teleconference ports are blocked, so Nino invites me to his gallery, which has internet access. From there I talk for one hour with the group back in Leeds, then I head back to the ISLES meeting.

A tour of the Minerva gardens just begins, and a guide talks about the concept and history of this medieval herb garden. Then the meeting continues, finances, and budget of the ISLES project are being discussed. Lunch is served on the terrace of the garden, prepared with herbs from this particular garden, and we sit on the terrace with its gorgeous view over Salerno and the harbor.

In the evening, we again visit all together one of those nice trattorias here in the town and have a gorgeous meal, with all kinds of food being shared among us all. And we also celebrate Marina's birthday.

Monday, December 04, 2006

ISLES Conference in Salerno

On Monday the work begins. A conference is scheduled in the Commune di Salerno, to inform attendees about the results of this project. But first I take a brief walk through the awaking city in the morning. Nearby is a very interesting medieval aquaeduct.

The conference is scheduled to begin at 9am. But time goes by, and we are still waiting for the Lord Mayor who is supposed to give a welcome address. Turns out that he is stuck in traffic. Somehow I am not surprised...

As the official part finally begins around 10am, the maor still is not here - instead the greeting address is given by a deputy. Then, Roberto gives an overview over the ISLES project. Coffee break. Afterwards, I am supposed to give a talk about the contribution of Leeds Met to this project. However, another speaker is scheduled first: Professor Gianfranco Rizzo gives a talk about the project of a hybrid vehicle powered by renewable energy (solar). As ISLES, also this project is funded by the EU Leonardo project. Then I give my talk about Leeds Met's contribution to ISLES: the ontology of eLearning. After every sentence I pause, to let the translator repeat my words in Italian.

A nice lunch buffet concludes this conference.

There is still daylight, so Lena and I decide to drive South, to see the antique site of Paestum. We are looking for that 4-lane road that is drawn on our map, but it turns out that this road was more a wishful thinking - it just does not exist. After a few deviations, we arrive at Paestum shortly after sunset.

As we drive on the road near Paestum, suddenly large blocks of stones appear on the left side, parts of a former wall. It looks antique... so I assume that we are there. The road leads around the site, no sights of any temple yet. Only as we turn into the actual entrance for tourists, then we see the Greek temples. The sun already has set down, just a blue sky is in the back towards West. The temples show just their dark silhouette. But later, the lights are switched on, and now the temples appear in bright yellow light against the blue still shining sky backdrop – a marvelous sight!

Further down to Agripolis, but we return back due to lack of time. On the way back we make it to the supermarket - Lena still needs to buy a few things.

We come back just in time for the dinner meeting with the group at 21:00. Pizzeria "Il Duca". Again antipasti, sea food, large plates. Then a gorgeous pizza...

Near the Duomo in nightly Salerno.