The 15th Extended (not European!) Semantic Web Conference took place on 3rd-7th June 2018 at Heraklion, Crete, Greece. The actual location was the Aldemar Knossos Resort, a 5-star beach resort about 30mins outside of Heraklion. One thing to note is the name, where the 'E' no longer stands for European, as it did in the past. For a few years now (since 2010), it has been 'Extended'. Regardless, it is one of the top-tier conferences in the Semantic Web domain. The others are the Web conference (previously WWW), ISWC, and SEMANTiCS.
Last year, I had a workshop paper accepted at ESWC, but could not go due to the timing and my visa issues (which never seem to end). This year too, I had a quite horrible experience with the Irish Immigration Service - they delayed an important document in the post which made me miss an appointment with the Austrian embassy, whereby I missed attending the W3C workshop on Privacy Vocabularies in Vienna, as well as missing out on attending the Web conference in Lyon, France, where I had a workshop paper accepted. Following this, I had what I can only describe as a cyclic experience with the Greek embassy here in Dublin where I repeatedly made rounds to get my visa. Do note that my application was complete and all documents were satisfactory. I was simply riding the bureaucratic amusement park ride, which went up and down depending on the moods of the officer sitting there.
Regardless, I made it to the conference. My flight was via Athens, and from there I had another flight to Heraklion. This was flight was much smaller, both in size as well as duration, and the plane was mostly empty. The small plane translated to a very pleasant consistent hum, and I fell asleep gazing at the thousands of islands in the Greek sea. It was a fabulous nap.
Upon reaching Heraklion, I had to take a taxi to the resort, which was outside the bounds of the city. Upon reaching the resort, I was told at the reception that my payment was due, which was strange since our accommodation is booked through a travel agency, and they should have made all the payments. Regardless, the hotel was professional about it, and we decided to handle the issue the next morning.
The first thing to notice about Greece is the weather - consistent blue skies and consistent warm sun - amazing! After months in Ireland, this was very very magical. I understood why Europeans rave about the Mediterranean. The weather in Athens is a little more bland as compared to the islands, because of the ocean air.
On paper, the hotel is rated with 5 stars. This means it has all the amenities, I forget which those are, but it was very posh. It had a swimming pool, no, it had several swimming pools, a beach bar, a restaurant overlooking the amazing sea. My room was about 100-150 meters from the sea, which I considered to be really good. I had a double bed, a bath in the bathroom, a TV, a table outside. They even had a bottle of wine in the room. I never ended up using it thinking I would get charged.
Breakfast was included in the price of the room, so every morning, I found myself at a huge spread of greek food - feta, fish, eggs, salads, breads, all very fresh and delicious. And this was hotel food, which meant the food in local places is even more amazing. Having breakfast while watching the sun rise slowly in the morning skies over those cool blue waters is a luxury I found myself indulging in as much as I could.
Lunch was included in the price of the conference, so all the conference attendees swarmed the restaurant. Yet, only about half of it was full. Lunch was more of the greek cuisine - fish, chicken, more feta, wine on tap. All good. Very filling. There were lots of salads, fruits, yogurt (thick, creamy, delicious) with honey. I had a very filling (and I'm sure healthy) food everyday.
Night time dinners were by ourselves - I was accompanied by 4 other colleagues from my research group, so there was some known company. For the first day though, we went to the nearest place, which wasn't that great, but it was not bad. I had a salad, it was not that filling, but the portions are large in Greece, and it is fresh.
The first day of the conference was the workshop sessions. I had two papers to present. One was a position paper that I presented in the morning at the MEPDaW workshop, and the other was based on collaborative work I presented at the SW4CH workshop. Both presentations went fine. More importantly, I met a few people who were interested in the same domain as I am, so that was good knowing them. I even found someone who knew my work and had used it! That was an overjoy.
Dinner for the first day was at the hotel restaurant, organised by the MEPDaW organisers. The food was nearly the same as the lunch menu, which wasn't bad, and it was fresh. However, it was good to sit with people from the workshops in a social setting.
The second day was also a workshop session, which I spent by drifting from workshop to workshop. It was largely an extension of the first day, without me having to present anything. I met people at lunch, and in the coffee breaks, and had some good impromptu talks about various things. Dinner was at an restaurant close by called Saradari that is famous for its fish food. I had an octopus pasta, and it was simply delicious.
The third day marked the beginning of the main tracks of the conference. Each day of the conference started with a keynote by an eminent personality in the field of Semantic Web, and was followed by parallel sessions in three rooms. The grouping of papers was by topic. Overall, the routine was pretty much the same throughout the three days - keynote, followed by presentation session, lunch, another presentation session, coffee break, and the last presentation session. On the first day, there was a reception at the beach bar (which was, as the name would suggest, down by the beach). There were free cocktails for everyone, some music playing on, and lots of conversations happening. I had some mojito and tequila sunrises, which were decent. Dinner was at a resturant in hersonissos - a town near the resort, and it was nice to walk through the town.
On the fourth day there was a poster session towards the end of the day. The setup was such that there were posters throughout the room and people could walk around, talk to the presenters, and interact with each other as well. I walked around to get a feel for established work as well as new projects starting up. It was a good format that encouraged talking and interaction between people. There was a gala dinner later in the evening, which was postponed by one hour because the weather was extraordinarily nice and everyone was probably at the beach. I was sitting in the beach chairs reading a book, sunbathing in the crisp sun and the cool wind. Something that I had imagined countless times before, and was finally doing in reality. Gala dinner was setup with tables near swimming pool. Wine was served, everything else was a buffet. Everyone danced later to the tunes of music. It was very informal, but at the same time, I could not shake off the 'academic' feeling all around me.
The fifth day was the last day of the conference. This was also the day of my presentation for a resource paper - GDPRtEXT. It was the last presentation of the day. My laptop did not work for setting up the presentation - as usual, some issue with the HDMI. But the guy before me was cool about it (thanks Mike!) and let me use his laptop to continue my session. My presentation was unplanned, sort of. I knew the slides, but the words were all impromptu. I think it was better than what I thought it would be. Apparently I did a little too much lawyer-bashing. I had a few people come and ask me about it later. But since it was the last session, there wasn't anyone around later to talk. Dinner was again at a local restaurant - right next to the sea. They gave me a platter of fresh fish to choose from. When the fish finally arrived (it took a time to cook), I could tell how fresh it was because I tasted the sea in it. I realised how much taste the fish loses (or acquires in a negative sense) after it has been outside the water. Meanwhile, we had some snacks, and some really delicious cretan bread.
I spent a lot of time talking to people, trying to find out about their work and relating it to mine. This was my first time networking in this sense, as I usually am aloof and not talkative in conferences or gatherings. However, the networking yielded good results. Combined with my paper, other researchers in the area now hopefully know me, and my work, which is great. Conversely, I know about them and their work as well. I plan to continue this in the future.