A day in Amsterdam

Dec 01, 2013 in Taiwan 2013

A day in Amsterdam

I had 12 hours between flights in the Netherlands. It was still dark when we landed at Schiphol at 7am, so I hung around in the airport until it was daylight and then got a train into Amsterdam.

I like getting out into a city for a few hours between flights. It feels a bit risky, leaving your bags behind somewhere in the bowels of the airport, and trusting that you can get back in time for the next flight. And I always have the temptation of leaving everything behind anyway, ditching my luggage and my plans and starting a new life as a permanent traveller.

But I just went to Amsterdam. It was a cold grey December Sunday and everything was quiet at first, but later on the town centre filled up with Christmas shoppers. I wandered randomly, stopping for lots of coffees. At some point I passed a monument to the murdered Jews of the city. I thought back to the fake guns of Wai’an, 6,000 miles away, and thought about the unbelievably horrific scale of the second world war.

After a long wander through the grey streets, I headed back to the airport and flew to Paris. There I had a few more hours to kill but I’ve seen Paris enough times not to need to go there for a couple of hours on a dark winter’s evening, so I just waited for my Chile flight. 48 hours after I’d left Taipei, I was crossing the Andes and descending into Santiago.

Bellinzona

Nov 07, 2012 in UK and Switzerland 2012

Bellinzona

We went to Bellinzona for an afternoon. We went to one of the castles; Bellinzona has lots of them. This one offered a tour which started with some kind of video about the history of the place. Probably it was very informative but I wasn’t in the mood at all after a late night the previous night, so I sneaked out and left all my fellow astronomers in there to listen to it for me. A couple of them followed me out after a few minutes, and we went up onto the castle ramparts to check out the views over the valley and some of Bellinzona’s other castles.

Over Switzerland

Nov 04, 2012 in UK and Switzerland 2012

Over Switzerland

ESO’s last minute flight booking antics meant that instead of a nice easy direct flight from London to Zurich, I had a horrific 6.40am flight connecting in Paris. After a last night out in London I got to a cheap hotel near Heathrow at 2am, then had to get up at 4.30am to get a bus to the airport. So I was not feeling too fantastic when I arrived in Switzerland at 11am.

Switzerland has many awesome travel memories for me. It was the destination for my first ever overseas holiday at the age of 6; I stopped in Zurich on my way to China when I travelled from Beijing to London by train; and I’d crossed the country on my way from Liechtenstein to Monaco a couple of years ago. I crossed it again today, this time from north to south. From Zurich I got a train to Locarno, and even though I was tired beyond belief, I still enjoyed the journey. You can’t really go wrong with a train journey across Switzerland. In grey skies and drizzle I arrived in Locarno, and headed to the conference venue.

Back to London

Oct 02, 2012 in UK and Canada 2012

Back to London

When I moved to Chile, I didn’t know when I would be back in London, but I didn’t expect to be away for a whole year. For most of the year, though, one of my spinal discs was slowly giving way, and I spent months in excruciating pain. Travelling home was a distant dream. Then came successful surgery to remove the disc, followed by physiotherapy and rehabilitation. And finally by September I was capable of crossing continents and returning to my homeland.

And so I found myself landing at Heathrow on a dark autumn evening. The strangeness of the familiarity was hard to grasp as I got on the underground and headed into my city. I’ve never seen London quite like I saw it that night, as I rumbled down the piccadilly line, disorientated, tired and happy to be back. I checked into a hostel, because I’d always wanted to see London as a tourist, called some dearly missed friends, went to a pub, and got back to the hostel at midday the next day. It was an epic return home.

City twilight

Jan 08, 2011 in Luxembourg 2011

City twilight

Picturesque as it was, Luxembourg was not a great place for a solo traveller. The demographic here was pretty different to the one I inhabit, and I wandered the streets for a while seeing few signs of fun nightlife but plenty of expensive restaurants. Not wanting to spend large quantities of Euros on my evening meal, I ended up getting a crêpe from a cafe, and then spending the evening walking around the high parts of town and watching night fall.

Luxembourg

Jan 08, 2011 in Luxembourg 2011

Luxembourg

I went to Luxembourg on a whim. I’d kind of been there before, passing through at the age of six on the way from the UK to Switzerland. But it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea what the place was like, would not recognise a picture of the place if I saw one, and yet it was only 300 miles away and very easy to get to.

So I bought some Eurostar tickets, and a couple of days later I headed off. A high speed journey took me to grey rainy Brussels in less than two hours. I got a coffee and pastry for breakfast in Midi station, then got on the much slower train to Luxembourg. The clouds cleared and the sun was shining as we passed through the snowy forests of the Ardennes.

It was cloudy again when I got to Luxemboug. I can’t imagine ever getting bored of arriving in a place I’ve never been to before, especially one so close to home but so completely obscure to me. I was in a good mood as I walked out of the station and into the city. I walked randomly towards the centre, crossed a soaring bridge over the Pétrusse valley, and then found myself on the Corniche, a narrow road along a cliff edge over the Alzette valley. The deep valleys and steep cliffs were pretty impressive and already I was wondering why I’d never, to the best of my recollection, seen even a single photo of this town.

Later, as the sun was setting, I went to the ruined fortifications of the city and headed up to some viewpoints. The city lights were coming on, and the scene was, I thought, pretty awesome. I was glad I’d made the effort to come here.

Observatorio del Teide

Oct 27, 2010 in Tenerife 2010

Observatorio del Teide

After the meeting, the IAC had organised a trip to the Observatorio del Teide. Observatories are always great places, isolated and remote, and normally high on a mountain so you get awesome views. I’d been to the Canaries’ other main observatory on La Palma several times but I’d never been here before.

It was a calm and warm day. A few clouds interrupted the blue skies but it looked like they’d probably have no trouble observing that night. One of the observatory technicians was looking at the Sun through one of the telescopes so we had a look too, and saw a group of sunspots. The sun had been unusually inactive for quite a while so we were quite lucky not to see just a blank surface.

Looking around I could see a couple of other islands across the sea in the hazy distance. Apparently, ancient island legends tell of a mysterious eighth island which can sometimes be seen across the waters but never reached. I could only see real islands today.

Back in La Laguna I thought I had an easy and relaxing journey home. But an hour and a half before my flight, I realised it was going not from nearby Tenerife North airport, but Tenerife South, 50 miles away at the other end of the island. I leapt into a taxi and sped off. I picked a good driver, we made excellent time and in the end I easily made the flight. Next time I’m here, though, I’ll check my bookings a bit more carefully.

La Laguna

Oct 27, 2010 in Tenerife 2010

La Laguna

I spent a few days in La Laguna. Last time I’d been here it had been cold, wet and misty, but this time it was sunny and quite warm. I stayed in the centre of town and walked each day down to the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, where the meeting was being held. I liked the town and thought I’d probably quite like to live here one day.

I was interested to see a sign one morning advertising a demonstration for independence for the Canary Islands. I was disappointed to find I’d missed it by a few days – I’d have loved to see what the independence movement was like. If they ever secede from Spain it will be nice to have a new country to visit.

Terminal 3

Oct 23, 2010 in Tenerife 2010

Terminal 3

As an astronomer I have travelled to the Canary Islands many times. Right from the first trip I liked them a lot. Some of the touristy bits are pretty horrible but a lot of the islands are wild and remote. A meeting about a subject I was very interested in gave me the opportunity to visit the islands once more.

My flight was very early. Somehow it often seems to me that it’s a better idea to stay up all night than to get just a few hours of sleep, so I went out, got back late, packed up and then headed for Heathrow. It seemed like a good idea at the time but I was unbelievably tired by the time I got to the airport. I got to terminal 3 long before sunrise, and in my exhausted state I decided that the purple lighting and sixties architecture looked quite cool.

A Coruña

Sep 13, 2010 in Santiago de Compostela 2010

A Coruña

Everyone except me was flying back home from Santiago’s airport. I am prepared to go to great lengths to avoid flying with Ryanair, and so I’d booked a slightly more expensive flight from A Coruña. It at least gave me a chance to see another place, so I headed out after I’d said goodbye to everyone.

A Coruña is much bigger than Santiago. It felt far less touristy and far more like a big city. I walked through the hot streets from the station into the city centre. One very cool thing about the city is that it’s surrounded by the sea and has beaches right in the city centre. I went and sat one one for a while, making the most of the September sunshine.

I walked on to the main square, which was grand and impressive. But I’d spent too long on the beach and I didn’t have time to make use of one of the cafes here. I thought I should probably come back some time. I got the bus to the airport, and even though my flight was then delayed by several hours, I did not regret continuing my Ryanair boycott.