For the next three weeks, I would be in Italy, for the Galileo Galilee Institute of Physics Winter School. There would be a series of lectures on a number of different topics, and I was eager to explore a little bit of Tuscany while I was there. Consequentially, I had decided to take my bicycle with me, and the flights on British Airways with a bicycle cost as much as the bicycle fees alone on Ryanair. Consequentially, I packed my bike up on Sunday night into my bike bag, and headed out for the after midnight coach to Heathrow. Normally, I would take the train in the morning, but lugging a bike bag on the tube is too unsociable.
I tried to get some sleep on the coach to Heathrow, but found myself instead watching the world doubles real tennis championships from Hobart on my phone. I then had several hours to wait around in Terminal 5 before I could check in to my flight and go through security, as the airport was slowly waking up. The flight was comfortable, but I slept most of the way and didn’t get to see the mountains of the Alps before we were landing in Pisa.
I took the PisaMover shuttle from the airport to the main railway station. The airport in Pisa is much bigger and busier than the one in Florence, but the it is very old and in much need of a renovation. Nonetheless, I was through onto the the train with no big issues, and eventually found myself in the busy Florence train station. My bicycle bag does not have wheels, which means lugging it around on my shoulder, and I didn’t fancy throwing out my shoulder getting to the hotel, so I found myself a taxi. The hotel was provided to all of the participants by the School, and so they had booked out all of the rooms. We were each sharing a room, but I was one of the early arrivals. The hotel was in an apartment building, with no reception desk, so I had to call a number on the door to get someone to come and check me in. While I was waiting, I unpacked my bike bag and started building my bike.
It was still light out, and so I figured I should be able to get a bike ride in before dinner. I got changed and headed out, quickly trying to get used to the busy roads and riding on the right hand side again. I rode out through the town of Scandicci and up the road to the Pian De’ Cerri. Immediately I knew that bringing my bike to Italy was worth it. Over the otherside were beautiful rolling hills and olive groves. I had to climb back over the hill range again through San Casciano in Val di Pesa, but the sun was beginning to set uncomfortably quickly. I had lights with me, which wasn’t an issue, but it was also getting cold and I made the mistake of not wearing my full-fingered gloves. As I was descending back down to the main road, a deer jumped out on the road in front of me. I had to swerve to avoid it, and descended gingerly back to the hotel. I went and found a nearby restaurant for dinner.
On Monday morning, I woke up early for another bike ride. I headed across town and up the other side of the valley, following the 2013 World Championships course. There were two climbs; the first climb had a constant gradient and wound its way smoothly up to the town of Fiesole, but the second, the Via Bolognese, was short and brutally steep, coupled with a bit of traffic near the top made it immensely difficult. I only climbed each hill once, but the professionals had to do it ten times.
After a quick shower back at the hotel, I rode my bike up the hill to the GGI institute on on of the campuses of the University of Florence for the first day of the school. The first week contained lectures on QCD and Collider physics, and Effective Field Theories and the Standard Model. The latter was presented by the same lecturer as the Higgs School in Edinburgh back in May, but I found the QCD lectures especially interesting. Lunch was provided by the Institute, a selection of pastas and fresh fruit. In between the lectures, they provided us each with an office to do some work. Then, in the evenings, we would head back down to the hotels, and get dinner from the nearby restaurants. It wasn’t uncommon for the school participants to get dinner in the same place at the same time, so we would sit and chat to get to know each other.
And so the week continued, quickly establishing a rhythm. I had the advantage that I could cycle up the hill to the school, giving me a few extra minutes of sleep over everybody else who had to walk up. I did a little more cycling during the week, in the mornings on some of the climbs close to the hotel. At the end of the week, I went out on one more big ride, heading up the side of the Monte Morello. The mountain overlooked the city of Florence, and was a long 8.5 km climb. The middle of the climb was very steep, though it flattened off for the last few kilometres to the top.
That evening, I packed my pockets full of possessions and headed to the train station. I took a train back out to Pisa and to the airport where I had a flight booked back to Cambridge for the weekend. It was a no-frills Ryanair flight, cheap enough to justify a trip away from my trip away. However, it landed late at night, and the queue for the immigration desks was long. I made it through just in time to sprint for the last train home to Cambridge.
That Saturday, I had a few errands to run, and I had also made the finals of the real tennis Graduate Cup, the premier handicap event. My first match was against Mark, who was giving me a decent advantage on handicap. However, he had a mean serve and I still had to work for an 8/6 victory in the round of 16. But I had worked too hard, and was not consistent enough in my quarterfinal, losing 2/8. Jacqueline was playing as well, also not making it past the quarterfinal. If we had won, we would have been playing off in the semifinal. I had some more errands to run over the day, before heading back to Stansted on Sunday morning to head back to Florence.