Skating in Helsinki

The weather in Helsinki is extremely mild this winter, and there was barely any snow. Because of that, Boris was still biking almost every day. Before our departure to Cyprus, he asked me how I feel about biking. First, I liked this idea, because it sounded surreal to bike in Helsinki when I was not biking in Palatine for a while. However, although I had proper shoes with me, I lacked other winter-biking equipment, specifically pants, and gloves. My hands are getting frozen even when the temperature is in the 40s, yet along 30s, especially when biking. On Saturday, after we came back, it was sunny and still no snow, but there was a substantial wind. 

I thought that I would be better off going skating in the city center, so when Boris went biking, I got on the train, and in ten minutes, I was by the skating rink. It was minutes past ten, the rink had just opened, and hurray – there was no like! I paid for the skates and skating and hurried up the ice.

It was wonderful! The rink s huge, and ice was perfect; there were very few people, and although I originally planned to skate for just half-an-hour, I ended up skating for the whole hour and could skate more, if I didn’t have to meet Boris for lunch. 

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Traveling Back to Helsinki from Cyprus

The last day of the conference was very busy. There were lots of interesting talks during all the four sessions. I was attending all the SE sessions and had tones of productive conversations. Since we had a very early flight onFriday, we decided against exploring the city one more time and had dinner at the hotel. 

Friday was exhausting. We had to get up at 4 AM, and the cab arrived to pick us up at 5-15. It takes a whole hour to reach the airport, and our flight was at 8 AM. 

An interesting thing happened at the airport. At some point, we heard an announcement that “the accident occured” in the building, and that everybody has to leave immediately. The announcement was repeated multiple times, and … nothing happened!!!

Another funny thing was at the entrance to the passport control lines. Remember I mentioned that there lots of Russian tourists in Cyprus? There were two directions signs, one – “EU ad CH passports” and another – “All other passports.” They were repeated in English, Greek, and Russian, and for the latter one the sing said: “Русские паспорта,” which means “Russian passports.” By the way, in Athens, a tourist from China try to go to the first of these two lines, because she thought that CH means “China.” 🙂 :):)

The flight back was exhausting, we had two connections, in Athens and in Munich. The first one was not bad, we had plenty of time, I even shopped for souvenirs and bought some Greek wine for Vlad.

Actually, after being in Cyprus for five days, I somehow started to miss Greece. We were walking along the aport in search of our gate, and the exits to the city were visible on the left. I asked Boris: can we step outside for just a brief moment? I want to be in Greece! SO we did. It was crisp outside, but sunny, and I saw the mountains :). And I thought I need to come to Greece again :). 

It was 7-30 PM when we came back home in Helsinki, so it was a very long day! 

Dinner Conversations

At the dinner, we sat together with the local organizers. It became very cold while we were walking around the city, so when we reach the tavern, I announced that they made a Chicagoan getting froze in Cyprus! That was a good conversation starter, for sure :).
Then I started my usual prizing Chicago speech, and that everybody should visit. Along the lines, it came that Vlad is a director of a bar (I even remember the context: we talked about the PG Day). I told the local organizer that Vlad makes cocktails inspired by different cultures and that his Greek cocktail has mustika. The gentleman was impressed and told me that Vlad must know his stuff.

Since I knew that Vlad won’t be asleep yet, I texted him right away. For which Vlad replied: We also have tsiopouro in the same cocktail from Argo!

When I presented this text, the gentleman’s brows start to raise and the jar dropped. He was like: this is so local! How does he know?! Did he travel to Greece? I said – yes, and he loved it.

Then the gentleman looked at me and asked how old is my son, and how many children I have. And I proudly told: three children, one grandchild, and one more on the way! And showed a group picture on the phone. And I said that I am 57, and my birthday was on Sunday, And he was: never tell that! You do not look like it! And I was – that’s precisely why I tell that! And he looked at me again and said emphatically: your husband is so lucky!

At that point, I didn’t have other options except to turn to my left and poke Boris into his elbow :). If people do not know us, they can’t tell, because we have different last names and different countries on our badges:). So it was all quite amusing:)

Dining in Cyprus

Back to the conference, back to Cyprus. After the amazing tour of Kurion, we headed back to Limassol. Once again, we learned a lot about Cyprus’ history from our tour guide. In Old Town, we disembarked the bus and had a walking tour. We had one more option to visit Limassol Castle. I posted al the pictures in this post, and I think it was worth visiting the Castle twice, in the daylight and the evening. After walking around and seeing more old streets, we finally arrived at the place of the conference dinner. Mezedopagida tavern.

If you do not know what “meze” means in Cyprus (and in some other countries), let,e tell you! That is a never-ending appearance of amazing dishes, and when you think that’s it, three more appear at the table. You have to sample them all, because it is impossible not to!

I was somewhat prepared by Boris and by hints from the local organizers. so I had a light breakfast and light lunch (both were quite challenging to achieve, having all the buffet options available! 

And then there was meze. We sat at the table with local organizers, which made our navigation through different foods somewhat easier. There was also very nice local wine. And now I will stop talking and start showing 🙂

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Igor’s Article and Metra’s Reaction

Last week, Igor’s article about the measures which Metra is going to take to reduce the number of fare evasions, was published in Streetblog Chicago.

I liked the article (and hopefully you will like it, too) but what is more interesting – somebody else enjoyed it as well!

Igor and his editor received an email from the Metrarail representative, who said:

Igor’s article about our fare issues was the most accurate and thorough job of any reporter who wrote about this. We appreciate Streetsblog spending the time and devoting the space to putting everything in context and explaining the pros and cons.

Pretty cool, right?!

Eye Surgery Update

I mentioned back in the fall that I am going to have eye surgery, actually two of them, one for each eye:). Because of that, I’ve first had to switch to the soft contacts, and you might remember my horrible Thanksgiving story. Well, now that I returned from Cyprus, I was ready to switch to glasses. I have to wear them for two weeks before measurements will be taken, and then for one more week until the first surgery.

The problem is that I can’t wear glasses, because my prescription is so high. The whole world looks twisted, and I have constant headaches and nausea. 

But there was more to the story. I when to my eye doctor to get the final glass prescription on December 20. I could not do it earlier, because my vision was changing after I switched to soft contacts. It was stable for three weeks by then, and the doctor took the final measurements for glasses. 

I have three separate prescriptions. One is for my distant vision (those used to be contacts), the readers, and the glasses for driving and watching movies, presentations, etc. My glasses combine all of them in one. I told the doctor that most likely, I will need two separate glasses because, in my driving glasses, I can’t see the close-up objects. But then it turned out that each pair, even with the cheapest frame, will cost over $500, and I only need these glasses for three weeks. 

Since the glasses should have been ready by January 6, I decideded thet I will try them on and see whether I need a separate pair without prisms, or I can manage.

December 6 came, and my glasses didn’t show up. I called the doctor two days later. They told me that the glasses didn’t pass the quality test in the lab and were returned to be fixed. Long story short, it happened three times. I was scared because I was leaving on January 17, and upon my arrival, I had to start wearing glasses immediately. 

I was calling the doctor’s office every day; they were calling the lab every day, the lab was apologetic, but still didn’t produce my glasses. 

Finally, I had to ask my neighbor Renate to pick up my glasses when they come, which she did. When I returned Sunday night, I could start wearing my glasses, but I had no time to adjust. It felt horrible, as I described above. And it turned out that the only thing I can do comfortably in these glasses is driving :). Moving around the house, doing things, climbing stairs – all of the above is a struggle. And now I have no time to order the second pair – by the time it arrives, I won’t need it. 

Two days are done, twenty one more to go.

A Tour of Kurion

This tour came to the conference schedule almost a last-minute, and I told the organizers that it was a terrific idea. As I said before, just walking around during the after-hours was not an option. When I researched “thins to do at Limassol,” I realized that the interesting stuff is outside the city. Unfortunately, all the tours you could book, even the half-day tours, were starting in the morning.

That tour gave the conference participants an excellent option to see at least some of the history of Cyprus and in a very compact way. I do not appreciate an idea of going to the conference, and then spending three-quarters of the time sightseeing, A professional conference is for your professional development. Yes, it is nice to go on some tours and see a new place, but not at the expense of the main purpose. Scheduling that tour as a separate event was great, a gift from the organizers. If I was traveling for leisure, I would spend more time on each of the sites and would research more of the history in advance.

We started at 4 PM and headed to the archeological site of Kurion. During our ride, our tour guide showed us the refugee villages, which are very well maintained. It is astonishing and sad to learn that there are still hundreds of thousands of refugees in their own country. For such a small country like Cyprus, these numbers are really striking. Once again, I have to admit that we are fast to forget the things which disappear fro the top news headlines – especially if they do not touch us directly.

Passing a stream on the way

We finally arrived at the Archeological site of the ancient state-city of Kurion. There are so many things to see there, but we had limited time, and technically speaking, we were visiting at the after-hours. We had to finish our visit before the sunset, which gave us not more than 40 minutes for everything

House of Eustolios, first private villa, then public baths
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Conference: Day Three Keynotes

On day three, we had two keynotes: one in the morning, and one after lunch, and after the second one we had a social program (a tour and a dinner)

The first keynote presented by Gunnar Klau was called “Haplotype phasing or deciphering the scrolls from the four schools of Amathus”. And if you can’t figure out what it was about, I will give you a clue: there was a Biology track at the conference, dedicated to biological and genetic applications: Algorithmic Computational Biology, and this keynote was a part of that track. Hopefully you can see from the photos below how the ancient recipe reconstruction is related to understanding the genome.

The second keynote was by Mikolaj Bojanczyk and it was called “Polyregular functions.” This one was pure programming, but I could not help myself but asking why people are so obsessed with Haskell language 🙂

After that second keynote, there were no more sessions, and the social program started.

Dessert Optimization

Even if you never being to Cyprus you might have heard about Cyprus food. Although our host characterized the hotel food as “a typical hotel food,” it was delicious! The challenge was to try as many dessert as possible (they would change the main menu and the dessert menu twice a day, and it was impossible to cover even a half of the items. That’s how my typical dessert plate would look: