Adventures in Darmstadt and Paris

Here beginneth the Grand Story of my trip to Darmstadt, Germany for the Third International World-Wide Web Conference, followed by a weekend adventure in Paris.

My slide show is now available.

Thu 6 Apr 95 - Prologue

Arrived at O'Hare straight (if not fresh) from Boston and IETF and made my way through baggage claim, across terminals, etc., to the Lufthansa gate just as Larry, Carl, Mitch, and Dan were checking in. This was a good thing, because Dan had my Germany tickets, which I had forgotten to get before leaving for Boston. Checked in, hung out as other people trickled in. I think there were 11 from NCSA on that flight.

The flight was mostly ordinary. One cool thing was that for a couple hours over England and northern Germany we flew right beside the contrails of another jet. They held perfectly steady right outside our window, perhaps only 500 or so feet away.

Fri 7 Apr 95 - Arrival, etc.

Arrived in Frankfurt at 8am or something silly like that. Waited around for a while and caught the HEAG Airliner to Darmstadt. Was met by Elke (sp?), one of "the Germans". I never did figure out everyone's affiliation, and it seemed there were Germans with 2 or 3 different affiliations doing different things conference-related with us. There was Herbert and Benny and Thorsten and Roland and Silvia and Norbert and Wolfgang and ... well, I can't remember...

Elke took us by local bus to the Bernard-Knell Haus (henceforth BKH), the hostel-like place where we stayed. Checked in, then went with several folks walking around town. Found and visited Sylvia at her and Barbara's office. Found and visited the AudiMax (Auditorium Maximum, the main conference site at the Teichhochschule Darmstadt). Sought and finally found lunch, and made it back to AudiMax for our 2pm volunteer meeting.

Spent most of the later afternoon acquiring Visual Basic, which I needed to work on our tutorial presentation (writing a VB application to interface with Mosaic as a history list manager). Had to download it from NCSA because neither I nor Briand had managed to carry it with us. Zhe was kind enough to put it up on an ftp server where we could get to it at all. Three full high-density disks of stuff. The download itself was slow enough, and then it took forever (it seemed) to copy the files to floppies. But I was in good company with Norbert and Patrice (a transplanted American) so it wasn't so bad.

Had dinner at AudiMax, then managed (it was easy, actually) to get lost on my way back to BKH. Still made it back in time to go out for a drink to a little nearby bar called Fenstergucker (literally, "window-looker") with Dan, Judd, Briand and Kim.

Sat 8 Apr 95 - Minesweeper, and the Mean Value Theorem

Breakfast at BKH, during which we used the Mean Value Theorem to prove that DaveT had indeed come home last night. (He wasn't there when I went to bed, but he was there when I got up. QED.) Meeting at 9:45. Collected conference bag and assorted goodies. Worked on VB a little. Lunch at AudiMax. Hung out, played a little Set with Judd and Briand while Carl worked hard (I mean hardly worked) at installing Descent on the Germans' machines. We never did get to play though. :-( Descent, I mean. We did play Set. In fact, we discovered (and proved) that the rules (as far as we remembered them) of the game were wrong when they said that 12 cards guarantees a set. It takes at least 17. [Actually, we've since learned that it takes 21.]

But I digress. In the evening, talked until late with Carl, Briand, Judd, Patrice, and Silvia, before finally going back to BKH. Back at BKH, worked on tutorial notes a little bit, but more importantly, won a game of Minesweeper (MS Windows version). I got down to two unknown regions of only two squares each, each of which contained one mine. Fretted for about 0.5 seconds how I had gotten farther than ever before, and now only had a 25% chance of winning. Then threw caution to the wind, clicked twice, and nailed it!

Oh yeah, John Punin came in and watched TV a little with his eyes closed.

Sun 9 Apr 95 - Tutorial work

Slept late. Pretty much worked on tutorial all day, with breaks for lunch at AudiMax, Eis (Italian ice cream - YUM!) in the afternoon, and a dinner for tutorial and workshop presenters. The dinner was at the Glaßschrank restaurant, a very nice Italian place with great service and great food. The food arrived at very irregular intervals. Mine arrived the very first out of 40 or 50, and it was probably almost an hour before the last person had been served. I guess they brought it out as it was done.

After dinner, back to BKH, worked on the VB and other tutorial things a little more. Attempted to go to bed at some point late in the evening, but could not get my key to unlock our door (skeleton keys). Figured it was because Dave had left his key in the door on the inside (as he had done once before). Rather than waking him up, I gave up, went back to the TV room (Fernsehraum) with my (Judd's) laptop and continued working all night. The next morning I learned from Dave that the door had actually been unlocked. :-/

Had a nice visit from Judd around 4am or so, when he returned from a long night of partying with some crazy Irish people for his birthday. Happy Birthday, Judd! :-) Oh, and of course earlier in the evening John came in and watched some TV with his eyes closed.

Mon 10 Apr 95 - Tutorial Day

Was kind of zoned out all morning. Met Matt Abrams from KU and shared KU stories. Briand and I presented our tutorial in the afternoon, which went pretty well, all things considered. We did get a few rather, um, mixed reviews on our evaluation sheets. We think it was because there were a few people who didn't realize that the tutorial was intended for a little less technically-prepared audience. Reception for tutorial and workshop folks (both presenters and attendees) in the evening. Crashed pretty early, 9pm or so.

Tue 11 Apr 95 - Begin volunteer mode, sort of

Got up very late -- 11am. Had lunch (a good German bratwurst meal) with DaveT at the Bayrischer Hof restaurant, right near AudiMax. Got in trouble for not showing up in the morning, where I would have learned that I had been scheduled for volunteer duties for one of the morning sessions. I had not been listed on an earlier posted schedule for Tuesday, but the schedule had changed. Oh well.

Attended the HTML3 and Math panel in the afternoon. Was inspired to learn more about the EuroMath DTD. Hung out in the terminal room for a while attempting to deal with the e-x-c-r-u-c-i-a-t-i-n-g-l-y---s-l-o-w network connections. It took literally minutes to compose a 3 or 4 line email message. Type out several words, and sit and wait 2 or 3 minutes for your characters to be echoed to the screen. These delays, compounded by the fact that the German keyboards have a couple letters and almost every non-alphanumeric character in different locations than US keyboards, led to some very...interesting email messages.

Dinner/reception for volunteers in the evening at the Ratskeller, a local pub. There were these totally awesome pretzels there (which also appeared other times). They were big, but not like the big soft chewy things you get at malls in the US. They were partly crispy, partly chewy, kind of irregular in shape, and (as I said) totally awesome.

Cut out a little early to meet with Dave Raggett, but since Dave was getting tanked at another hotel with (by) some other folks, ended up talking with his wife Jenny for a couple hours instead. She (with help from Dave and someone else) is writing a book on HTML 3.0, and we talked about various Web-related stuff.

Hung out a little in the TV room with Judd, Briand, Adam for a while before turning in. John also came in and watched TV with his eyes closed for a little while.

Wed 12 Apr 95 - Conference galore

Actually got up early enough to have breakfast again. Breakfast was at a hospital cafeteria down the street from BKH. There was a cartoon on a door that we walked by. I went over to read what it said, remembering too late that it wouldn't do me any good since my German is limited to only some basic vocabulary. Chuckled at the cartoon anyway, in case anyone was looking.

Made it to the 7:30 volunteers meeting at 7:40, and the meeting was already over. :-/ Did the e-m-a-i-l thing for a while. Worked as room monitor at the SGML and the Web session. Attended the keynote sales pitch -- er, speech (sorry, Briand) -- by Thomas Reardon of Microsoft. Went to lunch with Briand and Judd at a little Italian place somewhere up some street. Went out for Eis afterwards. Stopped by a travel center to check out train fares to various places for the weekend.

Worked as room monitor again later in the afternoon. Caught a bus to the conference dinner which was a totally cool affair. Imagine a gigantic dinner party for 1000 people. In addition to several big buffets (salads, main courses, desserts), they had entertainment all night -- both roving and otherwise. The conference staffers, both Germans and Americans, were all spiffed up in German(?) folk costumes. A good time was had by all.

I also had a nice dinner conversation with Tom Wesley, the chairman of ICADD, about various Web- and HTML-related issues, and about where I should go for the weekend.

Caught the latest possible bus back to BKH and hung out a little before turning in. I think John came in and "watched" some TV.

Thu 13 Apr 95 - End of conference

Missed breakfast. Had coat-check duty for a few hours. Ate some pretzels. Met with Dave Raggett over lunch about HTML 3.0 stuff. Attended afternoon conference-closing keynote by Alan Kay of Apple. A very motivating talk about things the WWW community needs to keep in mind.

Decided on Paris for the weekend, bought a train ticket and some French francs. Went back to AudiMax and helped tear down the conference. Hung out and relaxed a bit. Walked home just in time to meet Ludwig at BKH. (Ludwig is the friend I met at the Visual Language Symposium in Bergen, Norway in 1993. His home, for another month or so, is Darmstadt, but he's moving to Paris to live with his girlfriend.)

Ludwig joined a group of 25 or so of us volunteers at a little Indian place around the corner, where we all had yummy food and good conversation. Ludwig told me some cool places and things to see in Paris. Said goodbye to Ludwig, who was bound for the night train to Paris, to begin a ski-trip weekend with his girlfriend. Hung out a little more with the volunteer folks.

Went back to BKH and played a little Set with Judd, Irene and Ducky. Packed for the trip to Paris (and the trip home).

Fri 14 Apr 95 - Developers' Day, and departure

Got up 8ish, and made it (heavy bags in hand) to the Maritim-Konferenz by 9:30ish. This is another local hotel, where the Developers' Day sessions were held. Sessions in the morning, lunch with SoftQuad and NCSA folks. Keynote session on VRML, quite interesting. A short breakout discussion on HTML in the afternoon, and that was it for the WWW conference.

Hung about a bit, then finally formulated somewhat of a plan for dinner. Left heavy bags at M-K hotel, and headed for BKH with Briand, Judd, Irene, Carl, and Wayne. Took some last minute pictures. Headed for Da Nino for supper with the same folks, then Eis Cafe Venezia with Carl and Briand, then to the Ratskeller, still with Carl and Briand. Had a small adventure as a German guy who spoke about no English seemed sure he knew Briand, and seemed offended that Briand couldn't/wouldn't talk to him. Fortunately Patrice (who had shown up with some other folks) was able to translate and clear things up.

Headed back to M-K, to find Larry and Dan. Hung out for a bit with some Spyglass folks (plus Chris Wilson). Went over to the other Maritim hotel to really find Larry and Dan. Found Larry. Hung out in the bar. Found Dan. Continued hanging out.

Finally it was time to head out for Paris. Picked up heavy bags at M-K, walked around the block to the train station with Briand, and got on the train for Paris. It was probably good that the Easter weekend was already a day old by then, because the train was not full. My 6-person compartment contained only 3 people, so we all got to stretch our legs.

Sat 15 Apr 95 - Paris, Part 1

Arrived at Paris EST about 7 or so in the morning. Wandered around the station for a while, deciding what to do. Picked up a map book called Paris Pratique Par Arrondissement L'Indispensable which lived up to its name. At least, it lived up to as much of its name as I could understand -- the first and last words. After a long time failing to find change for the lockers, I finally resorted to buying a candy bar to get it. (It was lucky that I had bought French francs in Darmstadt, since the exchange offices weren't open yet.) Left heavy bags in a locker, and carried only a small bag with a change of clothes.

Caught the Metro to near Notre Dame and walked around a bit. Headed south across the river and walked around the St. Michel area, Greek and Latin quarters. This is a really cool area with lots of tiny restaurants and narrow pedestrian streets. It was especially neat to be there in the morning, when it was a little quieter, and mostly the only people about were shopkeepers, delivery people, and so on. Picked up some breakfast (banana and bottled water) at a little grocery.

Walked along the Seine down to the Musee De Louvre. Waited in line for about 45 minutes, but finally got in. There were just herds and herds of people. Maybe it was the holiday weekend, maybe because the museum was to be closed the next day, or maybe it's just always like that (I hope not). Obligatorily visited the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, but couldn't get too close (aforementioned herds). Saw a couple other artworks I recognized, but really only scratched the surface of what's there. Took a break at some point to eat an overpriced brownie and write a few postcards.

Walked all the way up the Champs-Elysees to the Arc De Triomphe. Didn't go up, though, because the herds had beat me to it and I didn't feel like waiting in another line. (Actually, I didn't even know before that you could go up.)

Caught the Metro back to St. Michel and began hunting for a room for the night. DaveT had told me of a cool place he stayed before called Les Argonauts. Very cheap, and right in the middle of the Greek quarter. Found it. Full. Found another cheap place nearby. Full. Found several other places not too far away. Full. Found one overlooking the Seine that had one room left. The price was (no joke) something like $1500 per night. No thanks. Decided to head down St. Michel Boulevard and see what I could find. Finally found a place that was a little more expensive ($120) than I wanted, but I was pretty tired of looking at that point. Fully intended to drop off my bag and then go out for some dinner, but when I got to the room (about 9pm) I crashed, and didn't wake up until...

Sun 16 Apr 95 - Paris, Part 2

...9:30am-ish. (Yow!) Caught part of a cheesy teen summer camp movie that starred (among others) Jennifer Aniston (from TV's Friends) and Urkel (that awful whiny kid from some other TV show). Headed out and walked around a little, then caught the Metro to somewhere near the Eiffel Tower. (You can't get right there, only somewhere in the vicinity.) Consulted the map and headed in the general direction I thought I needed to go. Walked through a cool outdoor market, and some interesting neighborhoods. Eventually decided I better consult the map again. This time I really headed in the general direction I needed to go.

Since the Louvre was closed, the herds were spending the day at the Eiffel Tower. Even the line to walk up the stairs looked to be an hour or so (which is very rare, I'm told). I punted, and headed northeast, toward the Musee d'Orsay. That's another healthy walk, but I paid attention to street names and kept on track this time. More neat neighborhoods along the way.

Got near the museum and sought lunch. One of the disadvantages of traveling alone is that you don't have anyone to save you a seat in a busy order-at-the-counter cafe. Had a giant slice of pizza on a tasty plate. Well, tastier than the pizza. (Lunch cost was 37 FF.)

Headed on into the museum. The mime guy there who had been standing perfectly still when I first came up was still standing perfectly still after lunch. Waited only about 25 minutes in line for this one. (Mime guy still there.) Musee d'Orsay is a museum of impressionist art (mostly). There was lots of stuff I recognized there. I covered most of the museum, and it was all pretty cool. Headed out about 3ish. (Mime guy gone.)

Meandered across the river to the Louvre again, and through to the Pl. du Palais Royal, where some kids on roller skates (not inline skates) were doing jumps and other tricks. Wandered further to St. Eustache cathedral. Watched some old men playing some game (bocce?) in a park there. Walked around Tour St. Jacques, the Forum, and Centre Pompidou. Lots of sidewalk artists, touristy stuff, cafes, and so on. Quite a festive atmosphere. Went to a little Italian sidewalk cafe for dinner and foot-resting. Another disadvantage of traveling alone is that there's no one to watch your stuff for you when you visit the WC. Wandered a little more then headed back to Gare de L'Est around 9pm.

The train left for Frankfurt about 10:30pm. This time the compartment was full. I rode with three American students and two German vacationers. The Americans had been studying architecture in Paris for a month, and, having finished, were just taking off for a couple weeks of traveling before returning to the US. The Germans had just gone to Paris for the Easter weekend. We all shared various travel stories. Both the Germans and the Americans had wine, and we didn't all get as much sleep as we probably could have.

Mon 17 Apr 95 - The fat lady sings

Arrived at Frankfurt Hbf at 7am-ish. Waited about 50 minutes for the train to the Flughafen, which was supposed to be an every-30-minute deal. (I guess it was limited because of the holiday, which I think Monday still was in Germany.) Had another long wait to check in at the airport. Found Mitch and Larry already at the gate. The flight back was routine. I did manage to find three seats to myself, so I got to stretch out and make up for the lack of sleep the night before. Also watched Quiz Show on the flight. Picked up our rental car to get back from Chicago to Champaign. No major (or even minor) adventures. Had a happy reunion with LG.

Tom Magliery