Saturday, July 03, 2010

Fading memories from Croatia

Where to start? It's only been two weeks but the littlest things that caught my attention and I wanted to write about have slowly faded and I'm left without the words that came to me at the time to explain as vividly as I'd like quite what went on.

Talking of vivid however, I was hoping, as I walked into work a couple of days back that the cirrus clouds and the quickly rising sun would do their dance and end up giving us something special towards midday. As we went to lunch at around 1.30, the white crests below the sun which had risen above 58 degrees started glowing with vibrant reds, yellows and blues as I got my first ever display of a circumhorizon arc. These, most colourful of halos, are only visible in the summer when the sun rises high enough in the sky, and therefore there is a latitude above and below which they can never be seen. The Northern Europeans may get the best winter halos but we get the best summer ones! No pictures of the CHA itself, but I got a few shots later in the day as the clouds maneuvered themselves into and out of the local optical geodesics. I have to do a little more reading up at the moment on this subject as I'll be giving three or four lectures on atmospheric optics in Argentina and Chile over the coming month.

Anyway, step back a couple of weeks and the last post saw a rather sleepy me sitting in a North London front room waiting for my taxi to Stansted. I've since discovered that the taxi costs almost as much as getting a discount room in the Hilton right next to the airport, which is what I did on the way back. The slightly later time to get up, along with the gym, sauna and swimming pool made this a much more pleasant way to not get much sleep!

So, I flew from London to Dubrovnik where the sun was fierce and the drive along the coast from the airport gave a hint of the stunning blue, green waters which would be the site of a few wonderful afternoon swims over the coming days.

I checked into my hostel which had been pre-heated to boiling point and wandered into town where I got my first taste of tourist prices thanks to a few slices of smoked salmon and some notably tasty horseradish hollandaise. Over the next couple of days I met a bunch of interesting people in the hostel from around the world and spent time reading papers and books in the old town. Two good friends from Santiago also turned up and we spent a couple of perfect afternoons reverting to teenage years by jumping off cliffs and reveling in the ease of swimming in salty water.

(The walk from the hostel to the old town:)

house and purple plantsb
and the view from the cafe Alex and I were working in in the centre of the old town:)
stormy day in Dubrovnik
Time to relax ran out fast as we headed up the coast to Trpanj (emphasis on the Tr with a slightly rolled r and the nj sounds a little like a Spanish ñ) where the school on black holes was being held (we had somehow held court the previous day when we met an American woman who discovered she'd lucked out with a bunch of scientists and we gave an impromptu lesson on the practice and philosophy of modern theoretical physics - this happened on a number of occasions when I mentioned what we were doing in Croatia). Trpanj is a town on a T-junction which would be a lot worse were the vertical not to lie in the valley of two mountains and the cross-bar not to meet the Adriatic sea. The main road plays host to a bunch of almost identical restaurants which serve a fairly small range of pretty tasty meals.
island in the sea
The same view at night with a 30 second exposure - the colours are not altered in this shot:
night shot colour (no alteration in saturation)
In terms of food we realised pretty quickly that although similar to the Croatian fare, the most famous Bosnian restaurant in Dubrovnik, the curiously named Taj Mahal, seemed to offer a much better selection of dishes than any local restaurant we could find - the cheeses and steaks were really superb.

Anyway, the school itself was fantastic, with the most relaxed atmosphere of any school I've been to. Although there was a rough time-table drawn up, the lectures started and finished when the dynamic in the room dictated and so all of the talks (which were given on the black board) had a good pace where the lecturers could really expound to their heart's content. For me the highlight of the school was a series of talks by Gaston Giribet on 3-dimensional gravity. I'm hoping to be able to learn some more on this subject in South America over the next few weeks where much of the early work on this subject was pioneered.

The final talk of the school was a discussion session led by Holger Nielson (Of backwards causality from Higgs production at the LHC fame). While I may not subscribe to all his thoughts on black holes, he's an extremely knowledgeable guy and the session turned out to be thoroughly thought provoking, leading to a good deal of chat about black hole information as we walked away from the blackboard towards another meat-heavy meal.

After the school I headed back to Dubrovnik, hitchhiking from Trpanj with Alex and on arrival we were propositioned by an elderly lady asking if we'd like to stay at her house. Strange as this may sound it actually turns out to be by far the best way to stay in Dubrovnik, and from what I understand, this holds true for much of Eastern Europe. We had a whole apartment to ourselves and paid less than we paid for a bunk in a smelly, hot room in a hostel.

We spent the last couple of days seeing a few more sights and kayaking around one of the local islands, before saying our goodbyes and heading in separate directions. Having spent a good deal of the last half a year with Alex and his family, discussing physics till early in the morning, cooking outrageously tasty meals and getting into plenty of adventures it was a rather sad goodbye, having already had to say my farewells to Eliina and Sahtah (wife and daughter) a short while earlier.

So, I find myself now back in Santiago with a couple of new projects on the go (we're up to four at the moment) and several talks to write for South America. Come Thursday I'll be heading back to England for the stag do of one of my good friends before leaving on the 15th for Buenos Aires where a great mix of adventures and physics awaits me during a month of intensive travels - Tickets are booked for the various legs of the journey and I can't wait to get there and indulge my physics/travel passions in one fell swoop.

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