Back in Europe

I have landed after a safe and uneventful flight from Halifax. I also would like to wish everyone a Happy New Years for 2006. Originally the airline planned to have wine and apple juice to celebrate the new year in the air on Halifax time, but because of a medical problem with one of the passengers, our take off from St. John's (where we stopped briefly) was delayed. This meant we were barely in the air when a flight attendant came on and said the new year will be here in 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... Happy New Years. And then everyone clapped and shook hands.

Then a few minutes later they passed out the wine and apple juice. Fortuntely the plane wasn't full and one of the flight attendants pointed out a better seat for me, which I'm grateful for, because as nice as the guy beside me was, it was a bit cramped and so I moved to a seat with no one beside me which allowed for a bit more leg stretching. All said and done, a very nice flight.

So if any of my friends from Reading are reading this, I can be reached at my usual number.

1Jan
Location: West Hampstead, London @ 5:13

Safe and sound in Thessaloniki

After a flight that took a bit longer than planned due to strong head winds, I landed in Thessaloniki and deplaned and collected luggage without problem. Only my ride wasn't waiting for me. So I lingered around the airport for a bit and finally bit the bullet and took a cab to the hotel that I will be staying in. I talked to the people at the hotel and I am good to go in my room until the end of the month. It is going to be weird living in a hotel room for that long, but it is just as big as my room in Reading and I have my own bathroom. And while I don't have the Internet in my room, I found this huge 24hr internet/gaming mecca about a block and a half from the hotel.

I'm sitting on one of the 250 computers that they have in here and let me tell you, there are some people that I can imagine wetting themselves stepping into this place. It is set up to be able to host huge LAN parties, it has tabletop gaming areas, various machines to vend coffee, soda, etc. all the machines are 3GHz machines (assuming they are similar to mine) and have dozens of games installed. You can check out their website at bnb.gr. The only problem is that it is obvious you can smoke at the computers (there are ashtrays at every station) and the room has a stale tobacco smell. However, one can pretty much smoke anywhere in Greece.

As a city (at least what I've seen of it) Thessaloniki is very beautiful. I guess that comes from being thousands of years old. I've taken a few photos today and when I get back to my room I'll download them onto my USB stick to upload at a future visit to this place. I walked to the university just to gage how far it was. Not a bad walk, although in the directions I was given, I am to take the bus, which would certainly shave some time off the commute. And with a half price student discount, I might end up doing that especially in the morning. Most interactions I've made so far, language hasn't been an issue, except for my cab driver last night. I was talking to Ion this morning and he agreed to show me around a bit tomorrow. It can't hurt to have a guide who speaks the language.

I'm not sure if any of the other Erasmus students are in the city yet, but if any of you read this, please let me know. You can email me at my Reading address (c.f.bate)

6Jan
Location: Bits and Bytes, Thessoloniki, Greece @ 7:39

New Skype

Yesterday Skype released their new client software versions. The Windows client (v 2.0) is now capable of video calls. I guess I'm eating my hat a bit on this one, because I didn't see them going there. The new Mac client is still 1.4.x (up from 1.3) and while it doesn't support video, does add a few new features I like.

I thought some people would care to know. All we need now is for the Mac version to reach 2.0 and we could have a very nice cross platform video chat tool for free.

6Jan
Location: Bits and Bytes, Thessaloniki, Greece @ 13:16

Internetless

This whole concept of periodic and pay as you go Internet is not what I call fun. I guess that you get used to certain things and miss them when they are gone. I'm thankful that I will have Internet in the dorm in Spain. Of course, there is the other time in Spain after I'm finished in the dorm when I will want to have Internet. I guess we will have to wait and see how that pans out. Too far in the future considering I don't even know how I'm getting to Spain in the first place. The woman with Olympic airlines at Gatwick allowed me a fairly considerable weight overage on my way here. I doubt that I'll have any less with me after three months in Greece. :)
8Jan
Location: Bits and Bytes, Thessaloniki, Greece @ 14:30

Aristotle University: First Impressions

This is definitely a big university. A large confusing campus and a lot of people milling around. That would be bad enough in any country but add to that signs that aren't in your language, or that even use the same alphabet as you. All told, I have mixed feelings about this university.

Campus

It might be a bit early to tell, but at the moment the campus is beyond my comprehension both inside and out. If I could get my hands on a map that is in English I'm sure that would be a start, but even still, with the overall general state of disrepair everywhere, it can be hard to tell one deteriorating, graffiti-covered building from another. There is a nice looking tower building of some sort that looks kind of like a round, tall Dalhousie Computer Science Building (metal and glass with a modern design).

The inside of the buildings that I've been in — about four I'd say — have all been a bit blasé. Some even border on dirty. Not to say that Dalhousie had the greatest buildings and I'd say there were some at Reading that were this bad, but in general I sense a real lack of respect for the school and its buildings.

Facilities

Well, we were shown a couple of computer labs, but all of them were locked so I haven't had a chance to really see much. I've been told that we will be able to use the computer rooms soon (possibly tomorrow) which would be nice. Of course they aren't sure if we can hook up our laptops to the network, we were told to unplug the PCs and try plugging the cord into our laptops. We might have to hard code the IP, which I'm OK with as long as it works. :) Finding a place to access the Internet from with my laptop is really becoming a holy grail style search for me (and a couple of my friends). There was a place called e-Global which is an Internet cafe and they said that they were planning on doing something like that in a month. So that might be an avenue. The only problem is that it is up by the university so it isn't a quick trip.

Focusing back on the university, the lecture theatre that we were in was fairly nice. It had a bit of a bunker feel to it, but the seats were comfortable (which was good for the four hours we were in there this morning). The other place where we have classes is the Common Central computer room in the Library. We didn't go in because it was locked, but at least there is some prescribed time in front of a computer. I'm all about the hands-on. :)

One of the things I was excited about after spending all morning in class on an empty stomach was getting lunch. I wasn't sure what type of facilities were available and therefore ended up missing breakfast. Lunch is provided to the students for free — sort of. After walking around campus to the point where I'm not certain if I will be able to find my way back, we ended at one of the two places where we could eat. If a made any bad comments about the cafeteria in Reading, I take it back, granted we did pay for that. When we got upstairs in the building with the food, we were greeted by a tiny window where they slid a tray out at you. On the tray was a couple of pieces of bread, a foam cup filled with vinegar covered vegetables and a bowl of beans — I think. Nothing to drink, and I thought Nenad was about to melt at the thought that his lunch was a child's appetizer. Although I heard the term prison mess hall muttered a few times by my disbelieving and hungry colleagues, everyone sat down and ate something. Fortunately they did have a bunch of oranges and apples to choose from so even the couple of people who didn't brave the strange tray of food were able to get something. The bowl of whatever wasn't too bad and went well with the bread. The orange I had was tasty and seedless and I even found a fountain to rinse my sticky fingers. It wasn't a lot, but it was free, so I guess I can't really complain. Combine my light lunches with a good 25 minute walk to school and another one coming back, add in the cheap bottled water and oranges I bought and I might have a fighting chance at getting into some sort of shape over the next couple months.

Academic

Here is an area which I feel things will be OK, which is good because isn't this the whole reason we are here? We have had two classes so far: one on PHP and the other on Data Mining. The PHP class is going to very much be a gentle introduction to the language and related concepts. It was extremely boring this morning and I'm not a huge fan of the way that the professor is teaching it. NOT that I'm volunteering to do so, but I think that I could do a better job with the appropriate preparation. He doesn't seem all that enthused about being up there teaching it. Maybe it was the fact that it was a second language for him. In any case, the professor for the second class was really good. He had a survey to get an idea of where everyone in the class was and to get to know the students a bit more personably. I liked that and in general, he seemed a bit more energetic and happy. There is a second professor who will be teaching with him later and we met him today as well. He is very keen on making sure that we have a smooth time in Greece. Maybe I should tell him it would be a lot smoother if I could just get my damn laptop on the internet. :P

In general, the courses we are taking this term are starting to aim a bit more towards eCommerce and will attempt to give us some of the tools to do work in this area. Some of the tools I already have, but some of the computational intelligence and data mining stuff promises to be interesting.

Overall I feel like it will certainly be a different and eye-opening experience and at the end of the day, that is the whole idea of this program. :)

9Jan
Location: Bits and Bytes, Thessaloniki, Greece @ 11:34

Getting settled

Now that I have a few days under my belt things are looking like they might be decent enough for this term. Work is being done to not only have a dedicated lab available for us from 15:00 to 20:00 each weekday, but there is the chance (and I have it on good authority because I was consulted in the process) that wireless will be available for us to use our laptops — finally.

Four hours of class all at once is a bit daunting for a Wednesday and would have gone much easier had I not been up until 3am last night. But foolishness aside, I made it in for 10am and think I might have learned something in my Computational Intelligence class. Afterwards I ate bread and oranges in lieu of the disturbing fish lunch that was on the menu. I did get one and it was gladly picked apart by those of my friends less adverse to the scaly beast still featuring its head and tail. Honestly just looking at it made me ill. I went to the lab to find out that my login account doesn't seem to be working, so I plan to email the appropriate tech support people on my current paid Internet session in hopes that tomorrow will be my lucky day.

After that I met up with Ion for coffee and we talked shop for a bit before we headed out for a Coles Notes version of downtown Thessaloniki. A bit peckish after the diminutive lunch, we decided to grab a bite of some authentic Greek Souvlaki. Very tasty and quite cheap, eating is something that the Greeks are fond of and for that I certainly can't blame them. I also managed to scout out a couple of locations that I would like to take some photos — perhaps this weekend.

The only other notable event occurred last night as we were satisfying our internet cravings at Bits and Bytes each of us (the Guatemalans and I) in the middle of various conversations either typed or spoken when *VRRMMM* the power went out. And stayed out. Plenty of what I can't only assume was swearing occurred in Greek and people started to mill about. So we left. We only had to pay I'd say half of the time we had been there which was nice. It turns out that the whole block between Vasileos Irakliou and Ermou was out. It may have extended farther, but we didn't really check. Our hotel was still fine fortunately.

So that is the happenings of the past couple days. Hopefully I'll have good news to report Re: the Internet in a couple more days. :)

11Jan
Location: Bits and Bytes, Thessaloniki, Greece @ 16:05

Comments

I have finally decided that it might be a useful idea to have comments on this site since I'm not online much anymore. People can comment here if they want, or as always send me an email.

Oh yes, and I'm finally on the university network with my laptop. It only took a week.

12Jan
Location: Computer Lab, Aristotle University @ 12:28

Photos and map

For those who don't routinely check my photos, I have some new ones up. Both yesterday and today I managed to get out and do a bit of shooting around some of the more recognizable features of Thessaloniki.

I also have a map available. The map has highlighted the areas of the city that are relevant to me. It is available on the sidebar.

The map is now a more reasonable 650KB (it is a big map)
15Jan
Location: Bits and Bytes, Thessaloniki, Greece @ 10:48

The resurrection

Those of you who were around in Reading might recall the time when Q's hard drive died. During a visit to London, he acquired a 60GB Hitachi drive to replace it and there are photos on his website detailing the replacement. That was last November. Then yesterday his new hard drive died. We took it out and determined that it was the hard drive not some other component. Today Q went to get a cheap replacement for it because, even if Hitachi would replace it, it would take a while. He also picked up a cheap laptop hard drive enclosure. He put the dead drive in it as a last ditch effort to access over one thousand photos on it. Plugging it into a Windows machine at school, the drive made more noises that are identical to what a Geiger counter makes. Not a good HD noise.

Pablo tried booting into Linux and mounting it that way — same noise, same lack of response. So as I was thinking of leaving the lab today, Q asked if I could try it on my laptop. I doubted anything would work, but relented, because why not? I plug it in — and it works. It mounts and I can access everything. I quickly get his photos and then start on other things that he had (6.5 GB in total) which now are sitting happily on my computer waiting until I can get a blank DVD from my hotel room. After copying the files, I unmounted the drive and we tried it on Daniel's laptop. It works fine. No noises. So it seems that my lowly Mac is a bit of a miracle worker. It has revived the drive from the dead.

Q is now a Mac fan. :)

19Jan
Location: CA Lab, AUTh, Greece @ 14:55

Snow

Well... I'm not sure what everyone has heard already, but this winter was supposed to be a cold one in northern Europe/Russia. I had heard that while in Reading and was glad I was heading further south. Apparently it has been really cold in places like Russia and the Ukraine (where upwards of 123 people have died). This morning after getting to class, we noticed that it had started to snow lightly. Our professor told us that there was much talk on the news about a cold front that was moving into Greece. He also told us that Thessaloniki only ever gets snow maybe once a year (and in Athens it is once every 5 years).

Other sources of news about the matter:

Snow

23Jan
Location: Auth CA Lab, Thessaloniki @ 7:53

Healthy

I don't have tuberculosis which is good to know, and apparently I don't have anything unusual showing up on my chest x-ray either. This week I was fortunate enough to get a first hand peak at the greek medical system. I guess the whole story started last week on Wednesday when I went to the hospital to make an appointment. This wasn't a process that could be done over the phone so a few of us went and managed to get appointments for the next week. The appointment process took around an hour and a half by the time all of us managed to get out of there.

So Tuesday was my big day so I went down to the hospital from school (which thankfully isn't that far). I had an appointment for 11:00, as did a couple of others. We decided to go down early because rumor was that we might have to wait. Getting there 20 minutes early, we eventually found the outbuilding where they were doing the initial part of our tests. We piled in to discover that we had to take a number. We had to wait until the doctor was finished with a patient to even get this number. And then we waited. And waited. The waiting room, if you could call it that, was filled with other people there to get the same tests as we were. Eventually I got into the treatment room and was told to sit in a chair where a doctor injected something into my arm. At this point, I wasn't even really sure what tests they needed from us, but went along because that was why I was there. Paperwork. After getting the form I needed, I headed out with my colleagues to pay 10€. Back to the guy who made our appointment last week, this time we give him the arm injection paper and the money and he gives us a receipt and the paper back. Take both of these things to another part of the hospital — requiring a third trip outside — where we get to wait again. This time it isn't so long and we are getting chest x-rays done. I go in only to tell them that I don't have a small photo.

One thing I left out is that when I left the university for the hospital I realized that I didn't have my photo that I had made a point to get out of my collection the previous week. It was in my business card holder, which for reasons that aren't important, I had left at home. They had told us we needed one, but I had no idea why. Well... now I do. They attach it to your x-ray and stamp it. When I told the technician "no photo", she said that she'd take the x-ray anyway and I could bring a photo later. Bonus.

After pressing my bare chest against cold metal for a few seconds I was able to redress and join my friends. Those who had photos were able to get their results from the x-ray, and that was it for Tuesday. Back to class.

On Thursday we had to go back and show the doctor that whatever he injected into our arm didn't kill us and that we didn't have anything particularly dangerous embedded in our chest cavity. Show that and we could get a paper in Greek that may very well say we are a threat to national safety for all that I can tell. Of course I had to get my x-rays back, but fortunately the wait to get the doctor's note was so long that I had time to navigate to the x-ray place and convince someone that I was there two days ago and I just needed to drop off my photo. Five minutes later I'm on my way back to what turns out to be a 45 minute wait. And now I have an x-ray to hang on my wall and a note that I think I need to get translated if I want to use it.

All told, besides all the waiting, the process was pretty painless. Never mind the fact that we were in a building that was likely built before WWII and equipped from an era probably not long after that.

27Jan
Location: AUTh Lab, Thessaloniki @ 15:08

After three weeks

After three weeks of classes, I have managed to settle in a bit. Only that will be changing next week when I have to move from the hotel to my flat. At that point, I'm going to have to resettle into a new environment. Of course I am generally familiar with the way things work around here now so it isn't going to be a life altering experience, but something that requires a bit of my attention, especially because I have no idea where this flat is. Actually, that is a lie, I do have a bit of an idea. Perhaps it would be in our best interest to enquire about the location, or at least take a wander around the area where I think we'll be living. The "we" in question is myself plus the four Guatemalans who also reside in the hotel at the moment.

This past week has been pretty cold as I mentioned before and as such, we started taking the bus to school. At first it was a way to escape the weather, but now it is a way to not leave the hotel so early in the morning. And at 0.30€ bus travel is much cheaper than in Canada or the UK. Part of that is because students get half price. We also get half price on the train. Rumor is that one can go to Athens for only about 15€.It'd be nice to actually get out of the city for a trip. Apparently there is a very active Erasmus society that organizes trips. We'll see.

Oh and Monday is a university holiday. I'm not sure if that means it is a city/national holiday or not, but I don't think so. I'm hoping to use that day off to get some laundry done.

27Jan
Location: AUTh Lab, Thessaloniki @ 15:54

Shaking Pepsi

Q shakes his Pepsi. Not Coke, not Fanta, just Pepsi. He says it is because Pepsi is too sweet for him normally and he prefers to flatten it out. Not one to argue with someone's tastes, I definitely thought it was odd when after purchasing a bottle of Pepsi one day, he started shaking it right away — like one might shake orange juice. I was very quick to tell him that one really shouldn't shake soda/pop if you plan on opening it... anytime. Well anyway, there you have it. I thought I'd share this interesting behavior.

I think that I'll just keep on opening my Pepsi from a non shaken state. :P

31Jan
Location: AUTh Lab, Thessaloniki @ 9:07

When I grow up...

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It is a question that many of us are asked from an early age. I recall it being something that we talked about in grade primary, and it just seems to become more pervasive the further along in school you get. What I don't remember is what my answer was in those early years. My parents might know and I may have written it in a scribbler that my mom would likely have kept. (As a humourous aside, it likely wasn't like this comic - [src].) I do know that at the time I didn't fall into the category of those who wanted to be a fireman, favouring the more academic pursuits even at a young age. I know that at one point circa grade six, I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. I fell in love with airplanes and being the type of kid who was prone to read the encyclopedia for fun, I started doing research. But after a year or two my interests changed. By this point I was pretty handy with a computer and was zipping around DOS creating batch files to do all sorts of things, tinkering with QBasic and other geeky chores. Bearing in mind that this was before the time when computers were really all that useful to most people — the days when Alt-F-S, Alt-F-X was king.

But then I found the internet, or Internet as it was then — the Information Super Highway. It didn't take me long to latch onto that bandwagon with every ounce of my strength and every waking moment of my day. Learning, reading, programming. Wow, this was it. This was the one. High school was a means to an end. An end where I was programming for more than the sheer excitement of it all. Starting a business in grade nine creating web sites for local businesses didn't hurt my interest in this, it was all quite exciting.

What did I want to be when I grew up? I wanted to be a programmer. Or was it a software engineer? Maybe a web designer? Well whatever it was, I knew that a computer science degree was the right choice. And just to make sure, that is definitely a decision I still firmly believe in. I feel I made the right choices concerning my life. At least for the choices that mattered in the long run.

And so now I'm sitting at the foot of my bed in a hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece. The last night in a hotel I've been in for 25+ days, in a city that I didn't even know existed a year ago. Thirteen months ago I was uncertain about my future, but the given was that I would be in Canada doing something. Exactly one year ago I was in the starting phase of my Masters at Dalhousie University. Tonight at dinner, Daniel and Q and I were talking about what country in Europe we'd most like to live in. What languages we wanted to learn. I no longer feel comfortable making any claims on what my future holds. I don't know what I want to be at the end of all this, but I do have faith that I am heading in the proper direction.

31Jan
Location: Hotel Amalia @ 18:29

What Now?

Well, it would seem that for the most part, my Europe Adventure is over. It has been an amazing time. Now, I am reviving the ailing colinbate.com and going to make a go of it over there. All the best.

Times

Nova Scotia, Canada
4:32 (Dec 2, 2020)
Reading/London, United Kindom
8:32 (Dec 2, 2020)
Thessaloniki, Greece
10:32 (Dec 2, 2020)
Madrid, Spain
9:32 (Dec 2, 2020)
Guatemala, Guatemala
1:32 (Dec 2, 2020)

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