Spring Hikes

IMG_20180609_135910

The weather has gotten warmer, and we’ve been able to go hiking. I’ve done three hikes in the last couple months. The first was a wine walk organized by a few of the PhD students from CIMeC. This was a hike including four wineries along the way, one of them in an old castle. It was a nice ~7km walk down the hill, with great wine and food (parmiggiano reggiano, salami, and other small bites) along the way, although it turns out that a steep downhill hike through narrow forested paths and twisty city alleyways is a bit challenging when you’re with a group of fairly drunk people. Still, the views were lovely and it was a great way to spend an afternoon. My favorite white wine from the walk was the Gewürtztraminer from Cantina d’Isera, and my favorite red was the Lagrein from Castel Noarna.

The next hike went up to Cima della Marzòla. We did this one with a friend we made in the last year at Saarland who was visiting, and the hike was much longer than we expected. It totaled in around 18-20km, with approximately 1000 meters elevation difference, first up through forest and fields of wildflowers, and then down around the side of the mountain. It took around 6 hours to complete it, I think. Needless to say, my calves and thighs were hurting on the way up, and my knees on the way down, but we survived, and the views were well worth it. The whole way up was covered in these beautiful trees, whose yellow flowers hung down like willow branches. And just as we were at the peak, a rainbow shone over a smaller hilltop below. How lucky! Most of all, I enjoyed spending time with friends. I miss that wonderful community we had at Saarland, as well as the relatively decent education/organization there as well, for that matter (which is not something I expected to say at the end of last year).

The last hike went up Monte Stivo. This one was the longest. We left from the base somewhere near Passo Bordala around 10:00 in the morning, and returned, I think, around 19:30. I’m not sure how many kilometers we walked, but it was a hell of a lot. The way up was winding through some forest at first, but after the first peak, it became rather steep. Amazingly, at one of our stops, we saw a group of 30 horse riders taking a break before continuing their climb to the top. I wouldn’t have expected horses to be able to make it up there, but I guess they are more nimble than I thought.  The path up to the first overlook wound its way through wooded underbrush, and grassy cliff sides, dotted with lovely yellow, white, and violet flowers, where bees and butterflies buzzed and fluttered around us– and it only got better from there.

As we climbed over the last rocks along the steep path, we saw a wide grassy hilltop covered in beautiful wildflowers. The top was breathtaking. I think this was my favorite hike out of all the ones we’ve done here in Trentino (or maybe ever).  In each direction we turned, we saw a landscape of valleys and mountain tops, many of them lower than Stivo, though some in the distance were much higher and snow-capped. The sun was hot, but the breeze was cool, and it brought with it wispy clouds that occasionally obscured the view of Lago di Garda in the West, far, far below us.

We had climbed around 900m in elevation to get up Monte Stivo, and so we had to go the same distance down, this time around the back of the mountain. As we walked along the ridge of the mountain, over a path flanked by wildflowers, we encountered a small farm with cows, sheep, goats, turkeys, and a dog guarding the little house. The farm was literally just on the side of this giant mountain, barely even fenced off.  As we made our way through the farm (that’s the way the path went), a curious baby goat bounded up to us, getting so close that we could pet it, and feed it a bit of grass. What kind of a life must it be to lead a farmstead in such a remote, and beautiful place? I bet it’s really cold in the winter, when the snows cover Monte Stivo, along with all the mountains and valleys surrounding it. We continued our descent back into the forest.

The way back, was much longer than the way there, since it didn’t cut straight down the mountain, but looped all the way around back. Much of it took us through the somewhat wild underbrush. We had to hike through deep mud, clay, and leaves, and some parts of it were actually fairly tick-infested as well. One of our party members ended up finding 9 ticks on her that day! Somehow, the others of us didn’t get any biting into us at all, just a few that we managed to brush off before they took hold.

The whole thing was pretty crazy, but I can’t deny that it was breathtaking (both metaphorically, and literally)

IMG_20180609_152207

Advertisements

Weeks 39 through 41

valetta02.jpg

Valetta, seen from the ferry to Sliema.

Malta was lovely. It was three weeks ago now, and I still find myself daydreaming of limestone walls and the blue-green waters of the Mediterranean. It was hot and dry like back home, but the sea was much more pleasant. The water tasted of salt, but without the sharp bitterness that I am used to from the Pacific, the temperature was warm and pleasant, unlike the bone-chilling cold of the ocean, and the water was calm so you could just swim for miles. There were jellyfish in some places, like St. Peter’s Pool, which was a place we went cliff diving, but that was the only bad thing, and it wasn’t everywhere.

My trip there was organized by the Erasmus LCT partner universities, and the point was to meet the other LCT students. Since there are a number of universities in the LCT Consortium, there are LCT students all over Europe who I would never have met, had they not organized this. They do it in a different place each year, and those of us from Saarland were certainly happy that it was in an awesome place like Malta this year!  When we didn’t have meetings, we spent the days swimming, hiking, or cliff diving, and the nights eating seafood and chilling with some beers. As lovely as Malta was, all the wonderful people I met were lovelier still, and it was fantastic to get the chance to meet so many interesting people, and to get to know such a great community.

caperflower01

A caper flower (like the capers that we eat).

Coming back to real life in Saarbrücken was not easy. In fact, since I came back, I’ve done nothing but work. I had a presentation, I had to finish my HiWi job (no more extra money coming in after this), and my other classes have also really picked up.

In Software Engineering, I am starting to “program” in Xcode using Swift. There are huge air quotes around “program” because apart from the fact that I have no idea what I am doing, I would also say that Xcode is a pain, especially for new people:

  • The whole thing is quite slow, and the simulator that you use to debug with tends to lag, crash, or simply not update. Sometimes you have to restart the whole computer to make it fix itself.
  • Xcode uses some sort of flat file to keep track of project files, so you can have project files strewn across half your file system if you aren’t careful. Adding and removing files from your project is also a hassle.
  • You use a GUI to design a UI and then you literally drag-and-drop using the GUI from the UI elements to lines in the code (wtf?). Presumably you could write actual C code instead of drag-and-dropping (at least I hope that’s true), but finding those C files is also not easy (plus I am not good in C yet).
  • Last, but certainly not least, you have to use a Mac and it has to be a newer Mac if you want to build for the newer iOS. This translates to being rich enough to buy a new Mac every few years.

In my Statistical Natural Language Processing (SNLP) class, we are writing proofs that don’t seem to tie in to much of anything else, based on slides that are confusing or full of mistakes, plus, our tutors either don’t know how any of it works either, or they are inexperienced teachers, but likely both. The class is incredibly frustrating, and not for good reason.

In my Semantic Parsing project seminar, we just started working on our project, which is going to involve using a neural net to parse natural language into Abstract Meaning Representations (AMRs). This is a topic I know very little about in general, but the penalty for failure is low for this class, so hopefully it will be a learning experience. Since we’ll probably be working with TensorFlow in this class, I decided to drop my TensorFlow seminar, because the timeline for the project completion for that seminar would have put me well into the time I should be moving to Italy anyway.

cat01

One of many of the stray cats of Malta, carefully observing me as I try to sneak some pictures.

Speaking of Italy, this weekend, I plan to visit Trento, Italy, where I will be spending my second year, to try to get a lay of the land. My goal is to figure out a good general area to start looking for apartments. I don’t think I will have much luck in the housing search at this time, but at least I’ll know how things look.

I’ve only been to Italy once before, and it was also three weeks ago. During the trip to Malta, we had a layover in Pisa of 4 hours or so, which was just barely enough time for us to run out to the leaning tower, snap a couple pics, and take the bus back to the airport. It was a whirlwind tour of the main parts of  the city, but I remember most vividly the scent of flowers in the air. I think Trento will be a little different though, since it’s in the north, closer to the Alps.

My world is a whirlwind of emotions right now. One day I am hitting my head against a wall of code and math, and the next I am zooming through yet another country, and soon I will be learning another language too. Life never stands still!

IMG_20170523_161035

These were the flowers that smelled so nice in Pisa, Italy. Does anyone know what they are?

Costs:

  • €225 – rent
  • €98 – groceries
  • €10 – another replacement student card, because I lost mine again =(
  • €40 – dining/snacks
  • €30 – phone (made some longer phone calls and used lots of data)
  • €175 – Malta (mostly food)
  • €10 – bouldering
  • Total: €588