North America Adventure: Part One – AAAI-12 in Toronto

Welcome to Canada

Last week I was in Toronto, Canada attending the 26th Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Conference. Toronto was a great experience and is a rather interesting city.

I flew out of Sydney on Air Canada direct to Toronto with a very small layover in Vancouver. This is my first trip outside of Australia/New Zealand and I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. It turns out a 13.5 hour flight, 1 hour layover, 4.5 hour flight is a very long time.

Downtown Toronto

I was a little disappointed by the service on Air Canada on the flight over. They are a part of the Star Alliance and based on my previous flights with fellow member Air New Zealand I was expecting a lot more. The flight was full and this meant I got stuck in the middle seat despite my request for a change. The crew onboard the aircraft were cold, blunt and to the point which is fine for short-haul but for a long-haul flight a smile wouldn’t go astray. The one positive was the food which was excellent.

The first leg of the flight to Vancouver went well for the first seven hours. Then we hit turbulence above Hawaii which made the next six hours, for a nervous flier like me, hell. Clearing customs in Vancouver was straightforward but the one hour layover was up before I even made it through to the gate for the second leg. The second leg of the flight was a lot quicker than I was expecting. Although by the time we were an hour away from Toronto I had hit the wall with fatigue and felt terrible.

CN Tower

Before I departed Australia, one of my friends told me that no matter how fatigued you are when you arrive you bounce wide awake. Naturally, this is exactly what happened to me. Despite it being 7pm at night and 9am in Australia I went for a walk around the city exploring until the sun went down at just after 9pm.

The accommodation for our stay in Toronto was at Pitman Hall, Ryerson University. On a number of occasions in the past I have stayed in university dorms for conferences. However, in this case, Pitman Hall was the worst student accommodation I have ever experienced. The bed was extremely poor quality and rock hard. Furthermore, there was no sound proofing at all. This meant that ever door open, close and slam, every footstep, and every conversation could be heard across the floor.

Massive Pizza

I spent the first day in Toronto exploring the Toronto Islands with some fellow PhD students from UNSW. The islands are a very short ferry ride from the downtown area and offer excellent views of the city. There are also beaches, beer cafes, and a small amusement park on the islands, all of which made for great fun. Once we were back in downtown Toronto we spent the evening up the CN Tower. Before finishing the day with the biggest pizza I have ever seen.

Despite spending upwards of nine hours a day at the conference I managed to squeeze in a bit more sightseeing during the evenings. Early in the week I visited Casa Loma which is a castle that was built in the early 1900s, mid-week we visited the distillery district and got drenched in a sudden thunderstorm, and finally on the last night ended up going on an extremely long walk up a river to the east of the city.