Home now after my insightful week in Italy. The reason for the trip was my attendance (and presentation) at a Summer School in the Italian Lakes at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission.
It is a beautiful place and I was very pleased to have Brent’s company to explore the area the weekend before the Summer School began. We stayed in a place called Stresa which was a great base to explore the area. Our hotel was called Hotel Elena (http://www.hotelelena.com/eng/index.html) and was right on the square of the town. A strong recommendation for anyone else staying in the area – we both agreed we would definitely stay again.
We arrived Friday midday after a very early start in London. The weather was sunny and just about 30C. We enjoyed our lunch at one of the many terraces on the square of Stresa and then took a trip by cable car/chair lift to Mont Mottarone. This is the highest mountain in the area at just over 2000 metres and boasted spectacular views.
The next day we traveled through the mountains into Switzerland. We spent the afternoon in a town called Ascona which was unbelievably charming (but also unbelievably expensive!) It was another opportunity to dine on a outdoor terrace and sample some gelato. Gelato apparently differs from ice cream in that it has more milk and less cream. We used this an excuse to justify eating copious amounts of it over the weekend as it is a healthier alternative… :-)We travelled back to Italy in the evening across Lake Maggiore.
On day 3 we started with a trip to a monastery perched on the edge of the cliffs. Santa Caterina was a beautiful place (http://www.santacaterinadelsasso.com/en) and although we were a bit restricted in our touring of the chapel due to non compliance with the dress code (i.e. bare legs and arms), we still managed to get a good sense of the history and beauty of the place.
From Santa Caterina we went on to an island on Lake Maggiore called Isola Bella. (I love the way the Italian’s say this….) For a small island that was easily walkable in an hour or so, there was a grand palace, beautiful gardens and a maze of streets containing great little shops for browsing. We enjoyed a picnic while watching all the people go by.
After a weekend enjoying the sun and the sights, it was time to get to work. The JRC was a really interesting place to be http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/jrc/index.cfm?id=6300. It was one of those places where I felt slightly embarassed to be able to speak only English as many of the people working there were able to switch from Italian to English to German to French without much thought. We had our lunch in the canteen every day…. No sandwichs on the menu there – a choice of pastas with olive oil and balsamic vinegar as the standard condiments. Lovely. I presented my talk on Tuesday morning and then I was able to relax and enjoy the other talks and get to know some of the other attendees: from Italy, Germany, Romania, Holland and America amongst other countries. I was there with my colleage Rob from Nuclear Technologies and I stayed for the last 2 nights with him at a previous NT employee’s apartment not far from the site. Vince has been working at the JRC for almost 2 years now and travels home every 3 weeks to his family. Not a position I could envy but it was interesting to get his perspective about Italy and work on the site. Through him, we also met some other people he works with there.
While we were there, Italy played England (and won) to knock them out of the European Championships and then went on to beat Germany in the semi finals gaining them a place in the final today. They are my adopted team now for the tournament. Come on Italy! (I also happen to have them in the work sweepstake so there could be money in it for me too!)
By the end of the week I was itching to get back home to my own bed and the company of those I love…. 🙂 Happily though I say that I think that’s it for my travels for a while. I am glad to be able to put my suitcases away for now where they can stay (for work reasons anyways!) except for maybe the odd little trip here or there.
Looking forward to a week in the office and time at home. Oh yeah, and Happy Canada Day!