Sorry I have not really been able to update in the last few days. As you know, I have travelled to the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.
Getting there was Hellish; not only did it involve accumulating nine hours worth of jetlag, but, due to a scheduling decision which I admit, in retrospect, was pretty stupid, I had to spend twenty-one hours in Ottawa waiting for my flight to Frankfurt.
I stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn in Ottawa; as I was a bit nervous about the coming days, I’m afraid I didn’t sleep very well, although the room was comfortable. The hotel also had the advantage of an (unfortunately small) swimming pool, which I used the next morning; sadly, check-out time was at 11AM, whereas my flight was not to depart until 7:30 in the evening. I initially considered spending the whole day at the airport, but then decided that no, I was not going to be in Ottawa for twenty-one hours without seeing anything. So I took a taxi downtown and walked around the Parliament buildings for a few hours. I would have gone on a tour—either of parliament or of the Langevin block—but of course I had to carry my luggage around with me, so it was not really practical. Instead, I went to a tavern across from Parliament Hill called D’Arcy McGee’s* for lunch and a couple of drinks.
I was able to catch my flight to Germany with no problems that evening. The plane was relatively spacious and the flight was good, but unfortunately, I am completely incapable of sleeping in a sitting position. As such, I was quite zombified by the time I reached Europe.
The airport in Frankfurt was not one of my favourites; first of all, it is apparently so busy that arriving passengers (such as myself) frequently have to de-plane on the middle of the tarmac and be bussed to the terminal. Secondly, it’s not a very user-friendly place; there were no “information desks” which I could see, and the labels on the various gates were not readily understandable; it was through my wits alone that I was able to find the place from which the bus to Strasbourg departed. At least getting through customs was a breeze; once the official found out that I was going to France, he promptly lost all interest in my travel arrangements and stamped me through.
The bus ride was long and silent; I spent most of it sitting perfectly still, unable to sleep but also barely able to keep my eyes open. The forests in central Europe look a lot like the ones in Canada, only smaller and younger. Also, apparently road-signs in Europe are blue instead of green; that’s pretty much all that I remember of the journey.
Once we arrived in Strasbourg, I arranged (through the use of some rather weak French) for a taxi to take me to the University (at which I will be residing for the next nine weeks). I had some difficulty accessing my room (since it took a while for my hosts to find me on their list), but soon enough they gave me the key. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to sleep just then, as I needed to make my way over to the European Parliament in order to attend the opening ceremonies.
The tram-system in Strasbourg is highly navigable; I wish we had more of them in Canadian cities. However, I had difficulty figuring it out at the time since I was at that point, essentially, brain dead (I actually walked full-force into a glass door on my way out of the dorm, I kid you not). I was supposed to meet the rest of the graduates at 3:00 (or 15.00, as they call it here), but I wound-up being about half-an-hour late. This didn’t seem to bother the organizers, however, as they had overestimated the amount of time it would take for people to pass through security, and so the entire group was just sitting idle for an hour.
If you ever want to feel important, try walking through the nerve centre of the European Union after hours sometime, only to find out when you get through the empty grand foyer that someone has been asked to wait there specifically for you. It was literally like a scene out of an intrigue novel.
I managed to show up just in time for the official photograph, which was taken on a vast staircase shaped like a double-helix. By dint of my late arrival, I got to stand at very top of the photograph; however, I wish that I had had time to change out of the clothes I’d worn on the plane; almost everyone else was dressed in black suits.
Nevertheless, the rest of the evening passed smoothly; at the reception after the opening ceremony, I even chatted for about half-an-hour with an elderly engineer who happened to be a retired head of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and current higher-up in the British Interplanetary Society. He wanted to talk with me about a book he’d recently read on modern quantum mechanics, since I’m apparently the only theoretical physicist here (almost everyone else is an aerospace engineer). We discussed Lee Smolin’s latest theories about time, and he called my Master’s Thesis “impressive,” when I described it to him. I liked him quite a bit; he was easy to get along with.
The following day, I completed my registration and had my first day of interdisciplinary lectures (so far very little I didn’t already know, though that’s certainly going to change). I have been surprised to find that, of the one hundred people in the program this year, fully thirteen percent are Canadians (the second-largest national grouping after the Chinese), and that this percentage is actually pretty standard. I have therefore not had difficulty getting along (although living in a city where I don’t really speak the language has been problematic at times).
*Named for the only Canadian federal politician in history to die of assassination.