Back in the UK

personal work, pml, travel

Something that I wasn’t expecting when I decided to do a placement, or right the way through until after I started working at PML, was that I’d have the opportunity to do any travelling for work.

Most of the work I’ve done at PML so far has been part of InterRisk, an EU project to develop software for “environmental risk management in marine and coastal areas”; basically, there’s lots of data that can be used to detect things like oil slicks, algal blooms, etc.; there are also lots of people who are interested in such things, for various reasons — either for research, or because it’s their job to deal with them, or whatever. InterRisk is meant to make it easier for these people to get at that data. There’s various groups involved in it — as well as PML, there are organisations in Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Norway, and every six months representatives of each organisation meet up to discuss progress; this time around I got to go along, with the head of the Remote Sensing Group and another of the programmers working on it.

The meeting was at the Institute of Oceanology in Sopot, Poland (just north of Gdańsk). Tuesday morning, two of us took the train up to Birmingham from Plymouth and met the boss there at the airport. The flight went without incident, though I did manage to get searched again — and once again, it was because I had change in my pocket (which I actually realised before I stepped through the metal detector, and was holding it up as I did so in an attempt to point out that my stepping through would be pretty pointless…). Oh, and screaming kids. We arrived at Gdańsk Lech Walesa Airport (not, for some reason, Lech Wałȩsa airport) and promptly got ripped off by a taxi driver.

Gdańsk, Sopot, and Gdynia form one big conurbation. Gdańsk is a big port and formerly part of the Hanseatic League, and has lots of old buildings and so on (though apparently most of them were rebuilt after WW2 — they were very cool anyway) and the largest brick church in the world (St. Mary’s; got some good pictures from the top of the tower). We visited a few museums, including one on Solidarity (though I didn’t have a chance to get myself a Solidarność t-shirt). Sopot seemed to be mostly bars and restaurants, with little to do during the daytime; it reminded me of the Barbican in Plymouth, but without the interesting old stuff. Gdynia seems to be mostly industrial/commercial; it was relatively unnotable until the Treaty of Versailles gave Poland access to the Baltic but made Gdańsk independent, leaving it without a major port — Gdynia was expanded to fill that need. We went to the aquarium on Saturday, and were pleased to see that their display on oceanography, with various sensors and instruments attached to model boats, also had a model plane and satellite for the remote sensing side of things.

The first evening we looked around for a bit then got pizza; the first full day there we spent in Gdańsk, then met up with a few of the other InterRiskers for dinner at an overly-complicated fish restaurant (where my order of “fish and potatoes” was interpreted as “fish and more fish”; luckily one of the Polish representatives was around to translate). Thursday was the first day of the actual meeting, most of which was pretty boring (lots of talk about deliverables and user requirements and so on), though the technical side of things was quite interesting — it gave me a much better feel for what the project was about and what the code I’m writing is actually for (which always helps, you know). That evening was the conference dinner; we went back into Gdańsk and were given a guided tour (the opposite way around to our previous visit) then went to some reasonably fancy restaurant place. Friday was much the same, but we spent the evening in Sopot instead, and went to a bar that played weird (but reasonably good) remixes of classic rock.

Saturday was the last day in Poland, but since our flight wasn’t until 21:00 we had plenty of time beforehand. We were assured by our representative from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute that the weather would be sunny (with some cloud) all day, that their forecasts were completely trustworthy and that there’d definitely be no rain. To be fair, it never actually rained, but there was no actual sun, either, and it was bloody cold. We suspect that’s definition of “lovely weather” is “no snow on the ground”. We went into Gdynia, visited the aquarium, had some very expensive coffee, then went back to Gdańsk to see the Solidarity museum.

The flight home was again uneventful. My laptop bag got searched, as far as I can tell because the metal nibs of my pens looked suspicious and threatening; on the other hand, I remembered to take the change out of my pocket this time. A small child screamed for almost the entire journey; unfortunately, nobody seemed willing to put it out of its misery. Stayed at a Travelodge in Birmingham overnight, then drove back on Sunday, stopping off somewhere in the middle of Somerset to visit some canal thing that was open for National Heritage Weekend. We didn’t find the canal, but we did find a very nice pub for lunch (the Martlet Inn, near Wellington, if you’re ever in the area). Then off down the M4 listening to obscure (but, admittedly, rather good) music, provided by the boss again (the least obscure parts were the Dune and Blade Runner soundtracks; the best parts I don’t actually know how to spell).

Now I just need to work out how to fill in this expenses claim.