It was the second week of the Galileo Galilee Institute Winter School in Florence. I was staying in a hotel south of the river, riding up the hill to the University of Florence campus to attend the lectures. They were long days, filtering between the same lecture hall, the lunch hall and the office that the Institute provided us. This week, the lectures focused on Satistics, Machine Learning and Axions. Unfortunately, the Machine Learning course was a little too theoretical, and didn’t quite get into the nitty gritty on how to program using the techniques. The Axions guy was enthusiastic but got a bit side-tracked towards the end of the week, and the Statistics guy was interesting but also focused more on the experimental physics side of things.
Of course, I had my bicycle with me, and was doing some riding around the beautiful, if cold, hills around Tuscany. The first few days of the week, I was on roads near to the hotel; short rides that I could do in an hour or so before the lectures started. In the middle of the week, I did a reverse of the route that I did on the first day the previous week, which included a road that was nearly covered in mud, getting both me and my bike quite dirty.
On Friday, Jacqueline flew down to Italy to join me for the weekend. She was flying in to Pisa, so I took a train over from Florence. I waited around at the train station for her to arrive. We then walked the short distance to our Pisa hotel. Jacqueline was keen to try some authentic Italian food, so she led us out to a restaurant for really nice pasta and some antipasti.
The next day, we both took the train back over to Florence. We had the day to explore, and I had not spent much time in the tourist parts of the city itself in the two weeks that I had been there. We first headed to the Duomo, the big cathedral in the centre of the city. Despite being winter, it was still very busy, with lots of tourists milling about. After wandering inside, we headed up to the Galleria dell’Accademia. The art gallery is most notable for being the home of Michelangelo’s David. Jacqueline was impressed by the sheer size of the statue, and it is always nice to see an icon that is recognisable all over the world.
For the rest of the day in Florence, we explored the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, which was a little bit hands-on, before heading through the main plaza and up to the Piazzale Michaelangelo, a public square on a small hill overlooking the city, with a replica David stood in the middle. It was a really nice view, but as we were starting to get cold, we headed back to the train station. We had dinner at a local restaurant in Pisa, which had large steaks for relatively cheap. However there was no English menu nor waiters, so Jacqueline was trying hard to listen out for our number using her Canadian French to try and hear Italian.
On Sunday, we stayed in Pisa. The city is small, and there isn’t much to see, except for the world famous Leaning Tower. So we wandered over and bought our tickets. Clearly they have a system that is used to handling a lot of tourists, because we had to book a certain time to climb the tower. When our tower, we went in and immediately felt the lean of the tower. Standing at the base gave a strange feeling, which was amplified when we climbed the spiral staircase around the tower to the top. As we went around the tower, it felt like we were climbing a swaying ship, as the walls shifted from one side to the other. We got to the top as the bell was ringing loudly, and stayed up there watching out over the landscape.
We couldn’t go into the basilica adjacent to the Tower because of Sunday Mass, so we went to find some pizza for lunch. The rest of the day was taken easy, before heading out for some more very nice pasta in the evening. Jacqueline would head home the next day, while I would head back to Florence for one more week of lectures.