30 October 2007

31 October 2007 – The Canadian

We had booked ourselves onto this cross Canada train when we picked up our rail passes in Montreal but we were told that there were no sleeping berths available. As we walked through the Toronto station, we decided to check and discovered that we could get a sleeping compartment and for less than it would have cost us in Montreal (no Quebec tax added). This was worth doing as it meant that we got meals provided, access to showers, etc.

The compartments are quite small but with the dome cars and the dining cars there is plenty of space in other areas. On the train, we have about two coaches (seating only), nine sleeping cars, four dome cars, and two dining cars. Those in the coaches have to buy their food and drink. We have our own toilet and wash basin but we do have to share the shower with others on our coach. Without the upgrade, we would have been seated in a coach car.

The changing scenery has been quite interesting as we have travelled round the great lakes, through the mineral rich mining district, and across the prairies. Meals on the train have all been three course and with limited amount of space for serious exercise, we are feeling rather too well fed.

28 October 2007

29 October 2007 – Niagara and Toronto

For our first full day in Toronto, we took a day trip to Niagara Falls. Our tour guide certainly knew the history and kept us well informed of the things to look out for. He also knew some of the alternative routes as he demonstrated when we came up on a traffic jam caused by road works and he also knew how to maximise our time at the falls especially when the roads were choked by the running of the Niagara Falls marathon.

Our first stop was at the anticlockwise whirlpool down river from the falls. This was a very slow whirl and the in flow which was much stronger clearly crossed over the outflow. With limited time on this stop, we didn’t explore as much of this area as we might have down.

It was then upstream to the falls themselves. In some ways we were fortunate that the marathon was being run as it meant that we stopped downstream of the falls and then walked upstream in order to go the “Journey Behind the Falls”. This gave us a number of photo opportunities that we would have missed otherwise. The portals behind the falls helped emphasise the volume of water coming over the falls but it was going to the lookout at the same height as the portals was the better experience even if the spray left us a little damp.

Lunch at the “Windows on the Falls” restaurant gave us another wonderful view of the falls before heading downstream to “Niagara-on-the-Lake” historic township. This area is full of the history of the battles between the US, French, British, and native Indians for control of Canada. We could easily have used more time both at the falls and township.

The morning of our second day was spent at the hotel on work or domestic related tasks. Errol had the symptoms of a cold so wasn’t really enthused about doing too much in the afternoon but we did explore one of the shopping complexes and the related underground connections. In many respects, we were disappointed in Toronto. It didn’t have the grandeur of Ottawa.

27 October 2007 – Ottawa

On Friday, we made the train journey to Ottawa arriving there about midday. We explored parliament hill in the afternoon. We also visited the market area. With Halloween approaching pumpkins were quite dominant. The festival seems to have a harvest emphasis in Canada. The city has a lot of character.

In the evening we met up with one of Errol’s original computer science lecturers and his wife for a meal. This was a valuable and enjoyable catch up time.

We could easily have used more time in Ottawa but with it raining this morning, we could only get in a brief walk to the Notre Dame Cathedral before catching our next train through to Toronto.

25 October 2007

25 October 2007 – Last of Montreal

Errol’s second day at the conference was attending the Educator’s symposium. This year, these sessions were designed to be more participatory and Errol found them quite enjoyable. Errol didn’t find the sessions on Tuesday particularly helpful but he did gain some ideas from the sessions on Wednesday when he was doing his student volunteer duties. Overall, the conference has been of value.

On Thursday, we climbed the hill to the south of the Downtown area and obtained magnificent views over the city. We made our way back to the conference venue by one of the underground shopping malls.

21 October 2007

21 October 2007 – Montreal

We spent a day in airports and planes and finally arrived in Montreal where we were greeted with heavy rain. But it has been fine since then and today we have glorious blue skies, warmer temperatures than we were expecting and wonderful autumn colours everywhere.

On Saturday morning we found the central railway station and collected our rail passes for our time beyond Montreal. We both spent most of the rest of the day helping with preparations for the OOPSLA conference, filling the conference bags for each delegate. Errol is a student volunteer so has some assigned tasks during the week. Marilyn has spent the first morning of the conference walking around the streets and admiring autumn colours, squirrels, and wonderful buildings, while Errol was helping on the registration desk. Errol received an ice hockey team shirt which he has to wear while being a volunteer. We are not sure that he will wear it away from the conference. The building where the conference is being held is a very modern one with lots of coloured glass and big open spaces.

Late afternoon and into the evening, we explored part of Old Montreal. This took us down to the St Lawrence River. As the sunset and the lights took over, there were some interesting lighting effects to attempt to photograph. It was quite a warm and pleasant evening.

We have read that there are 30km of underground walkways and shopping malls and metro stations, but are leaving checking these out until the next rainy day.

18 October 2007

18 October 2007 – Göteborg

With nearly three full days in Göteborg, we have had a good chance to explore. When we booked our hotel, we also got a Göteborg pass. This allowed us to use the trams, busses and ferries. We used those to good effect.

The pass also gave us access to the many museums scattered around the city. We visited the Göteborg museum on the first day and the design museum, and art museum on the second day. Then a maritime museum on the third day. We became a little museum’d out and would have been disappointed in some if we had had to pay entry. The Göteborg museum had a lot of history about the city. Much of the old city has been pulled down and modern buildings stand in their place. What is left of old Göteborg still has reasonably wide streets and lacks the character of old town Stockholm. A big disappointment was the photographic exhibit in the Hasselblad centre at the art museum. No doubt the Hollywood style staged photographs have their appeal but we would have preferred more natural styles. To compensate for this disappointing exhibition, there was a great quilting exhibition at the maritime museum which was well worth seeing.

In searching for old town Göteborg, Errol climbed a hill over some rock to discover the Skansen Crown at the top and reasonable views over the city. He then found the stairs to return to where he started and to discover the edge of old town. In old town, the find of the day, at least for Errol, was the oldest bike shop in Göteborg and it also included some of the oldest bikes. These would easily have found places in any museum collection. Errol went in and had a chat with the owner.

A stop at the Pedagogic buildings of the university gave Errol an opportunity to talk by phone with one of the professors who helped develop the methodology that he is using for his research. Unfortunately, the professor was busy and unable to meet us while we are here. He is interested enough in Errol’s work to want to see some of the analysis.

Our best views of the city were obtained from the only tower building in the city. The 22nd floor is a lookout platform that gives views across the city. However, the highlight of the sightseeing was going by ferry around the southern archipelago. This collection of islands is fairly barren but has a number of small townships which require regular ferries. Our second ferry trip took us to the most southerly of the islands.

16 October 2007

15 October 2007 – Exploring Stockholm

This was a long day as we had to be up at 5:30 am to be at the airport on time for our flight to Stockholm. This did mean that we were in Stockholm early and gave us almost a full day for exploration. We purchased a ticket for the hop-on – hop-off bus and took a circuit around the city. It was primarily the central city but it did pass the major attractions that we wanted to see.

Our first exploration was the open air museum at Skansen. This was a mixture of historic town and country buildings. It included a number of animals and garden areas as well as a market area where many traditional crafts were operating. The main market area was closed as this was out of prime season. Some of the glass work was quite amazing. It would have been good to have been here with the tripod and spent the day experimenting with different photo opportunities.

The Wasa museum was fairly close by. We had to pass through the queues for the chocolate fair at the Stockholm museum to get to it. The Wasa museum is built around a wooden man-of-war ship that sank in 1628 and has been raised relatively recently and continues to be restored. The building was quite distinctive with masts appearing to rise through the roof. The building was seven stories high just to be able to view the ship from the keel to the highest point of the deck. It was also dimly lit for preservation purposes. It is definitely worth a visit.

For our second day in Stockholm, we discovered that most of the attractions were closed. It seems that Monday is the day off. However, the flower market operated from the square almost outside our hotel door. It was surprising the range of flowers on sale considering that this is late autumn.

We walked around Old Town Stockholm which is on a small island with the Swedish Royal Palace in one corner. The cobbled streets were narrow but full of interesting shops and lined by beautiful old buildings. Feeling foot sore we returned to the hotel mid afternoon for a rest.

12 October 2007

13 October 2007 – Leaving Joensuu

We thought we were going to have a quiet exit from Joensuu and begin our journey back to New Zealand. After finalising our packing, we went in to the university to farewell some of the people. This turned into a gathering of staff and students.

We have done so many things while in Joensuu that it is difficult to decide what the real highlight was. It has been a good time and we have made valuable contacts.

For the evening we were invited out for a meal. With the temperature being reported as -4 º C, we headed off to the restaurant. This proved to be a good final night in Joensuu.

We spent Saturday exploring Helsinki and becoming familiar again with some of the places that we visited back in 2000. The major change that we noticed was the new Kamppi complex which included shopping, bus station, and metro station. We ended the day by meeting up with friends for a final Finnish meal at another restaurant.

11 October 2007

12 October 2007 – School Visits

This week, Marilyn has visited several schools. The first was a folk school in Kitee. These schools have a philosophy of lifelong learning, and the range of courses and students reflects this. It was a very interesting school with both full-time compulsory age students, some of whom were boarders as well, and many students on short courses, including immigrants preparing for Finnish life and long term unemployed folk on work skills courses. One impressive feature of the school was the sauna facilities which included a steam room, a sauna room and a lovely indoor swimming pool. We did check out these facilities, very enjoyable!

Later in the week, while Errol attended a research day, Marilyn visited a primary school and a lower secondary school. Both of these were attached to the university and were ‘normal schools’ just as we have in NZ. They were well provided for in all aspects and had some features which NZ schools would do well to imitate. All schools in Finland provide hot lunches for their students and we even shared this at the secondary school.

10 October 2007

10 October 2007 – Winter chills

We awoke this morning to temperatures of 3º C outside. The weather forecast was for snow today and there were some signs on cars parked in the street. Inside our apartment, it is still really warm and as far as we can tell, the heating hasn’t been turned on.

Over the last few weeks, the temperature has been in the low teens but dropped to 8º C yesterday and is predicted to be 1º C by Friday. Despite the lower temperatures, it has been quite pleasant to walk around Joensuu. Even though it was cold yesterday, it didn’t feel that way as we walked to and from the university. Today had more of a nip in the air with ears beginning to tingle with the cold. Warm woolly hats are definitely standard outdoor attire for everyone here now.

Errol was rung on Monday morning by the PVC of the College of Business with the choices that he has in relation to his employment at Massey University. He has been told that he has the choice of taking voluntary redundancy/retirement or accepting an offer of a teaching only position. One benefit of the enhanced redundancy/retirement would be sufficient funds to allow him to concentrate his efforts on completing the PhD. This would open up new avenues of employment not currently available to him.

With only a few days left here, we have started packing things up and preparing for the next phase of the journey.

07 October 2007

7 October 2007 – Photography expedition

We went away for the weekend as it was our last weekend here. We hired a car and went right round Lake Pielinen, with stops at a number of interesting spots to look at trees, mossy rocks, mushrooms, old buildings and any thing else that caught our attention. What could have been a 4 hour drive took us 2days. We stayed at the hotel up on the top of the Koli hill overnight. Only problem was that it was all foggy up there next morning, so we just had to visit their shop instead. The aim of the trip was really to see all the brilliant autumn colours but we were a week or so late, as the colours were just a bit past their best really. We now have a growing collection of mushroom photos.

As the lakes ice over in winter, short routes are made across them. Often this is for light vehicles, but the one between Koli and Lieksa is maintained as an official road. We have heard that they do test the strength of the ice to ensure that the road is only used when safe. So we found the place where the ice road meets the lake shore as we are not going to be here long enough to see the actual road. We did also check out the small car ferry that is used over this route in summer.

We also visited the Finnish Stone Centre. One of our discoveries here is that Finnish fireplaces are encased in a layer of rock which retains the heat for slow release. This means that a lot less wood is burnt to get the same heat advantage as in NZ woodburners. We also saw many piles of wood though too! The Stone Centre was interesting and had outdoor displays as well as museum, factory and quarry displays.

The trip included visits to two old town centres where the buildings are maintained and still in use as homes, churches, schools and businesses.

Magic mushrooms

05 October 2007

5 October 2007 – Academic week

Despite the distractions caused by other events, Errol has managed to continue to make steady progress on the analysis of his thesis data. He has also heard over the week that he has had three papers that he helped author, accepted for different conferences, so that is really encouraging. For two of these he has been the lead author. He has also reviewed a paper for a journal this week, and held several productive discussions with two other visitors to Joensuu regarding his work. Marilyn has continued to help local students with English reviews.

On Friday one of the guys Marilyn had done a thesis English review for had his 'defense' for his doctorate. A professor from South Africa came as his 'Opponent', and she had to ask lots of challenging questions of him about his thesis. He had to give a short lecture on his work first. The whole process took about 2 and a half hours. He and the local professor wore tails and the 2 professors were both in full academic regalia as well. He had a packed lecture theatre to hear it all too. Then we were also part of an exclusive group who were invited to a formal dinner in honour of the opponent, but also really to honour him, that evening. They put a lot of work into it all. It was not only interesting to see the difference in how the Finnish conduct their doctoral examination compared with New Zealand practice, but also to hear the type of questions put by the Opponent. The questions will help Errol make sure he has included the right material in his own thesis.