Europe: Day 2

Europe: Day 2

Europe: Day 2

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
April 19 2008 6:43 AM

Europe: Day 2

Day 2 started nice and early, which was a mixed blessing. It gave me a new chance to try to adapt to being 7 hours ahead of myself, but at the cost of getting like three hours of sleep. Well, a bit more than that, but at some point in the middle of the night that little circadian clock in my brain ticked over and said "Why are you still sleeping? It's 7 o'clock at night!", while I grumpily told it Shut up, it's 2 a.m.

Circadian clocks are notoriously deaf to such logic.

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Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Anyway, I woke up in time to meet Gia's lovely son Michael. I had brought along a meteorite to give him as a sort of house guest gift (the least I could do for eating their food and sleeping on their sofa was giving them a chunk of iron that fell from space) and he was pretty excited about it. I heard he showed it to his science teacher, and I'll have to find out how that went. :-)

The morning was spent doing the usual ablutions, and when Gia, Brian and I were ready it was off to the London City airport, a smaller airport on the east side of town. We took the train, which went right past Canary Wharf. This, for the hopelessly uncool, is where the Cybermen and Daleks had their final battle, and Rose was trapped in the parallel Universe. As we passed that site, I shed a silent tear for The Doctor's loss.

Anyway, we were headed to the airport to take the short hop to Geneva. The flight was fun (Swiss Air planes have loads more room than United); we talked science and gravity and geekiness, which passes the time admirably. Unfortunately, a totally opaque cloud cover blocked my view of Europe the whole way, and when we landed in Switzerland it was pretty gray. Still, Europe! Geneva! Chocolate!

Admission time. Dork that I am, right before flying to the UK I went to Target to fill up on some things I needed for the trip, and realized I needed a snack for the flight. What did I buy? A Toblerone bar!

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Idiot. I was flying to Geneva. Toblerone flows like water there. I think you get a 100 gram bar free simply for existing there. Oh well. I did get some private satisfaction that Toblerone was more expensive at the Geneva airport gift shop than it was in Target.

We rented a car (the rental garage was filled with oddly blocky and square cars with long funny license plates, which was yet another jarring reminder I was not in the US) and drove the short distance to CERN. I expected it to take a while, but it's really only like 3 kilometers away. We stopped there long enough to visit the cafe and get some (incredible rich wonderful yum yum European) coffee and to chat, and then we drove across the border into France and our hotel. That was funny too; the border is a sort of no-man's land (I referred to it as the DMZ) because, as Brian told me, Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but France is. There was an empty guard booth there, which made me chuckle: we were entering the EU, and no one seemed to care. The last time I drove from Canada into the US I had everything but a proctologist examine me, a reminder of the current state of affairs.

We met up with Julian, who will be running the podcast of us while we visit CERN, and then Nick Graham showed up. Brian and Gia met him at TED, and invited him to CERN as well. Nick is the founder of Joe Boxer, and is a very funny and delightful man. His son Chris is along as well. The six of us then went to the nearby village of Saint Genis Pouilly (pronounced "mrph mrph mrph")to eat dinner at Le Coq Rouge, a wonderful restaurant. We ate and drank and had a wonderful time (though the cheese table, wheeled over to us by the waiter, nearly blew my hypernosmic head off). My French, it turns out, is beyond rusty (I have a hard time saying even my stock phrase, "Je suis desole, Madam, mais nous n'avons pas du jambon aujord hui"). Luckily, the waiter understood the universal point-at-the-menu-and-horribly-pronounce-the-fish-dinner-name of speaking French.

When we finally made it back to the hotel, and after some excitement with my electrical current converter -- did you know that in France, sparks are blue as well? -- I fired up the Mac to write all this down, and found a peculiar thing: the BA website is blocked to me here! I cannot access it from the hotel (I borrowed Brian's computer at CERN to post this). I'm not sure why, but it means it may be a few hours or even tomorrow before I can post again, so your patience is begged.

And that's it. It's now Saturday morning, and we'll soon be touring the largest, most complicated experiment ever built: the Large Hadron Collider. I'm very excited, and you'll be hearing lots more soon! Assuming that I can access my own ^#%*$(@!^ site.