Wednesday, 10 September 2008

a trip to pisa


When I left the house, my neighbour started asking me questions: "where are you going, on holidays?" By the time I had answered everything I was too late to catch the bus to the Amstel Station, so I walked to the Metro on Wibautstraat.

Here I accidently met my colleague Henk, who is also travelling to Pisa. Henk was planning to go to Central Station, whereas I was planning to go to Zuid WTC. I persuaded Henk to go to WTC, where we got the train to Schiphol.

At Schiphol we made our way to the check-in desk. On our way to the gate we bumped into Collins who had just arrived and was trying to figure out where to go for his check-in.

At the check-in they told us to go to gate B19 but when we got there the flight had moved to D85, a 20 minute walk the other way... Since our flight was delayed it didn't matter, plenty of time to get to D85. We sat down to wait and watched the planes take off.

the rain falls mainly on the plane

At some point I noticed that all the other passengers had gone missing… I checked the flight board and saw that the flight had been relocated again, this time to gate D73. Another walk. After an hour's delay we left. The flight —dubbed 'Air Bambini' by Henk due to the extreme number of babies on board— was mostly uneventful, apart from some turbulence over the Alps.

in plane view

We landed at Pisa's Galilleo Galilei Airport and made our way to the car rental agency. After picking up the car we drove to the hotel.

The hotel, San Croce in Fossabanda, is in a former monastery which was built in 1325. The rooms are around the cloistered area, and are the former monk's cells. It is very quiet, except when airplanes take off from the airport and fly at 200 m over head…

After settling in our rooms we went out for dinner, and saw a bit of the sights. We walked along the Arno river where at some point all the local youth gathers on a little square.

night time at the arno river

There are a few bars, restaurants and döner kebab shops as well as an ice cream shop. The place to be and meet people. We walked on.

night life in pisa

By the time we got to the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa it was already dark. I did make a photo to prove that a) I was there and b) the tower does lean.

the tower does lean


We drove to EGO, the site of the VIRGO experiment, some 15 km south of Pisa. EGO is in the plain between the mountains and the sea. It was built there because this is one of the few level stretches of land in Italy.

VIRGO is a Michelson laser interferometer made of two orthogonal arms, each 3 kilometers long. Multiple reflections between mirrors located at the extremities of each arm extend the effective optical length of each arm up to 120 kilometers. The idea is that when a star collapses into a black hole, a gravitational wave travels through the arms which makes one of the arms contract and the other arm lengthen by a fraction. This minute difference is detected by the interferometer. To detect such extrememly small changes you need a loooong arm. That arm is VIRGO.

seen from the air; left: west pipe, right: north pipe

I crawled around on the outside…

north beam pipe, above ground

…and on the inside.

west beam pipe, inside

The main hall is a 'clean environment'; they don't like it if you shed hairs there.

main hall with the detector (tall cylinder left) and the beam splitter (small cylinder (right)

We worked until after six and went for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Then early to bed since we would start early the next morning.


Starting early was easy: the monks next door in what was still a monastery were ringing the bells at 07:30. No alarm clock needed.

the bells… the bells… view from my bedroom door

Tuesday I made more photos on the outside; a.o. I walked the length of the North Pipe, stopping every so many meters to make a shot. When I wasn't walking around, I was logged in to the Nikhef web server, updating pages for the LHC start-up at CERN which was to take place on Wednesday.

self portrait of the artist in italy walking along the north pipe

In the evening we went to the nearby city of Lucca for dinner. Lucca is a well kept mediaeval city. Within the old city walls are many restaurants and bars. We found a nice restaurant which wasn't too expensive.



Wednesday morning Henk stayed in Pisa since his work at the Lab was finished. I went back to the Lab because I had to be on stand-by for the LHC start-up event, which I could follow via a live video-feed. In the course of the morning I changed web pages as the status of LHC was changing. When I had to leave for the airport around 12:00 the first proton beam had travelled clockwise all the way around the 27 km of the LHC. Everybody was really happy.

the first event seen in atlas, the last detector in a clockwise-LHC beam.
the straight track in the top-right picture is a cosmic particle.

Colleague Thomas drove me to the airport, where Henk was waiting on the terrace in the sun, nursing a beer…

Our plane left on time, had an uneventful flight (this one dubbed 'Air Blèr' by Henk; again lots of babies) and landed on time at Schiphol. This proved to me that the LHC start-up had propelled us into a parallel universe; normally when I travel everything is delayed. When I was at the Amstel Station waiting for the #37 bus I back-pedalled on the parallel universe theory: the bus was 25 minutes late.

When I checked my email at home I found a note that the anti-clockwise beam injection had also succeeded around 16:00. Everybody even happier than this morning.

To celebrate my homecoming I had a mozarella, tomato and rucola salad with balsamico vinegar dressing for dinner.


Nicole said...

Great photos Kees! Very exciting stuff.

Renate said...

Chinese food in Italy *sigh*. One would think that Pisa can't be all that bad, there must be some natives there as well who go out for dinner sometimes, right?

A bummer really that you had to spend Wednesday morning working instead of gallavanting around Pisa in the daylight and shooting many more nice pictures for us!

On another note, I finally went and researched what LHC stands for - and then went on to find out what a hadron is. It will take me a while to digest all those collisions, little bangs, black holes and Higgs bosons, I fear...

Kees said...

@Renate: The chinese food was not exactly my choise, but my colleague's. He's not very keen on Italian food and had eaten at this Chinese place before on another visit.

The food wasn't too bad (what I tasted of it); I was on my mobile phone all through the dinner, talking my boss through a problem at work... "Bite, munch; did you try this? Bite, munch; try it this way. Bite, munch... Il conto, per favore! Ciao."

Oscar said...

Cool picture right on top of one of the VIRGO pipes with a view to infinity.

Two years ago the EGEE project held a conference in Pisa. The picture of the Arno river and exactly that particular Ice Cream shop brought back a memory of that event. (pics here: BTW: My digital camera wasn't that perfect. 2Mpix, low ISO and a tiny plastic lens.