The past month has been so intense and exhausting that I passed out for 12 hours straight last night. Such bliss. At this current point in time I have no idea where I’m sleeping each night, so I’m just figuring things out as I go along. I write on a gloriously sunny day on a train that is passing through the Alps, rivers of crystal clarity far below, surrounding evergreen forests, and snow-tipped mountains looming overhead. It is truly staggering. It is much greener and more luscious than I remember the Canadian Rockies being. Although that is likely because it was only grey and raining then.
Last I wrote I was on my way to Oradea, where I was unable to leave for a day because a train I had planned on catching, didn’t actually exist. It turns out that this has actually happened to two other friends of mine, also when they were in Romania, so take care with train travel in this country as it seems that many of their trains are invisible. It turned out that I shared many coincidences with the couchsurfer in Oradea, it so happened that he had been a part of ScRoLL many years ago (by which I happened to be there teaching English). He also has connections with the Jewish society and the synagogue, and arranged a tour for me there, which was utterly fascinating. It was in dire need of repair, but there is always something beautiful about a historic building that is falling apart. Surprisingly, I don’t ever remember visiting a proper synagogue before, so perhaps it was a first for me.
I eventually made it to Budapest, and was reunited with my friend from Astronomy camp at last. We spent most of our time walking endlessly lugging around a stupid amount of luggage, occasionally managing to do some sightseeing in between. We explored a little island in the middle of the Danube, we climbed up a mountain with epic statues upon it, ate ice cream, drank lemonade, and checked out an amazing pub filled with many delectable local brews (including elderflower beer!)
Next was Bratislava, also my second visit there this year, and I fell in love with the place even more. Going for strolls, eating amazingly cheap food (I even dared to eat bread with goose fat – pretty yucky), visiting the castle by night, and finding random movie screenings in the park. My friend’s cousin was also in town, taking part in a dancing workshop all week, so we went along to their resulting performance, which was rather experimental and very interesting. We then decided to splash out and treat ourselves by travelling to Vienna via boat. The weather was perfect, and we found ourselves some seats up on deck for the whole journey, enjoying the breeze and getting a light sunburn.
For the next three weeks I was at Astronomy Camp in Weyer, in the middle of Austria. Typically, the weather was perfect on the first and last day of the camp and in between it was either foggy, misty, or rainy. At least we happened to have around 2 clear nights in between. This was my fourth year at the IAYC, and the first as a leader. It was quite a different experience, being on the “dark side”, but just as good as any other. I was a lot more tired, from organising and running things 24/7, but it was a great pleasure to have my own working group and learn with them as they explored the history of astronomy. They automatically decided they would be hippies, sharing cookies, singing, holding hands and making epic psychedelic pictures (without me influencing them whatsoever!) We also had the pleasure of spending lots of time with the cutest kitten, nicknamed Klausi after my leader of last year, and I spent one night sleeping under the stars curled up with her inside my sleeping bag; the perfect hot water bottle. I also got to enjoy an awesome free day with the other leaders, drinking wine atop of a tower (previously a prison) in a glass cuboid, and enjoying schnitzel in a local brewery. For National Performance evening we tried to organise a ceilidh which ended up being an utter disaster and will hopefully be forgotten and never mentioned again!
Straight after the camp I headed to Heidelberg for the International Conference for Physics Students. There was no time for rest, or for feeling too emotionally hungover, so I dived straight into catching up with those I had met the year before, and meeting new people. The week was overflowing with activities, from lectures to lab tours, to excursions, to workshops, to parties, to live bands… Unfortunately I was cursed with a 9am lecture again, to which I could probably count the number of attendees on one hand, but nevermind. The highlight of the week was getting to visit the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy. The weather sadly sucked but that didn’t lessen the excitement of the lab tours, planetarium show, and tasty sandwiches on offer. I listened intently to their PhD programmes and the research that they do, and who knows, maybe I’ll apply one day. We also had a couple of great guest lectures, including some mind-blowing cosmological simulations, the Higgs boson, and a talk from an ESA astronaut!
I have less than an hour to decide whether I should stay in Zurich tonight or try and make it to Annemasse. Decisions decisions…