Elba Island & Pisa … why not just video-conferencing ?!

This is the 1st time that I’ve  joined the Elba workshops on “Forward Physics”.  So far, all (3) Elba workshops have been organized at the Hotel Hermitage of Elba Island.  While I was there, I was told that a senior management/physicist has got very good relationship with the management of Hotel Hermitage.  Therefore, future Elba workshops are also expected to hold at the same hotel.  The organizers have chosen this time as it’s just before the high season and most facilities are ready while there aren’t too many tourists competing for rooms yet.   Nevertheless, since it’s still not in the high season,  there were not many flights to the Elba Island.  Eg. between Pisa and Elba Island, there seem to be only 2 flights per week by Silver Air.  I flew from Pisa to Elba Island but on the return trip, I’ve needed to take ferry and shuttle to go to Pisa before flying to US.

May 28, 2016:

0528161351When I arrived at the Pisa airport (Aeroporto Galileo Galilei), it’s already May 28, 2016.  There was no transit channel at this small airport and one just walked out of the security area and checked in again.  This “Let L-410 Turbolet” aircraft  (from Pisa to Elba Island in Italy) should be the smallest plane that I’ve ever taken. ( My last small plane was one from Eilat to Tel Aviv in Israel but that one was not as small by comparison. )  I’ve counted that there were a total of 17 seats including those for the flight attendants. The flight time (between takeoff and landing) was about ~30 or 31 minutes.  Maybe, the European inflight service still has an edge over American that we were offered water and choices of biscuits and candy at the end 🙂  ( Southwest Airlines wouldn’t bother to do so from Islip to Boston … ) 

There was no security barrier between the pilots and the passengers (there were 7 of us including a child).  I sat in the first row and if I fully extended my arm, I more or less could touch the back of one of the pilot seats.  It’s an interesting experience.   One of the passengers was an Atlas colleague (J. Pinfold) but we didn’t readily recognize each other at that time.

0528161627When I first arrived at Hotel Hermitage, it was cloudy and the lack of sunshine made the beach (as shown in the picture here) not as spectacular as in their webpage.  Somehow, I didn’t have the intention to swim.   In fact, during my entire stay there, it’s either cloudy or raining almost like half of the time.

I would probably never  have visited this island if it was not for this 3-day conference/workshop.  My duty was to give a talk ≤ 30 minutes.  People know about Elba Island probably only because it was Napolean’s first exile island (May 4, 1814 – Feb. 26, 1815 : http://shannonselin.com/2016/02/how-did-napoleon-escape-from-elba/ ) before he escaped and started his restoration effort, “The Hundred Day” … which eventually ended in June 1815 when he was defeated at the bloody Battle of Waterloo.

In this conference, Hotel Hermitage has somehow provided the so-called “full board” accommodation, ie. including 3 meals.  Each of the dinners (and some lunches) has 3 courses + dessert/salad … Too much to eat !  One not so favorable consequence is that there is not much per diem left for me to “save”.



May 29, 2016:

0529161533This photo was taken while I was in the cable car going up towards the peak of Mount Capanne.  The cable car is more like a yellow cage or basket without any cover.  Each “cage” can hold up to two persons only and one could only stand.  I used it alone.  You can easily commit suicide (which I considered for a little bit …) and it should be the most unsafe cable car that I’ve seen.  One had to jump or run into the cage in order to get on it.  It’s certainly working nicely but looks primitive compared to my last cable car experience in Sugar Mountain in Rio de Janeiro a few years ago.  The entire cable car journey takes about 18 minutes one way. The ticket was also €18 (andata e ritorno) — which apparently hasn’t changed for quite a few years.

0529161602aAfter one gets off from the cable off, one might still climb the last 50 m or so to go to the real peak.  A few people were already there when I reached there.  A couple guys have helped me take some pictures.   When a nice guy (Dutch ?) asked me whether I was from the States, I was pleased, or actually more pleased than if he asked whether I was Japanese/Korean/Chinese. ( Not sure how he realized that I was from US … maybe he has been to US and noticed the Verizon sign on my LG G3 phone. )  He and his friend drove to a place which was like ~600 m above sea level (higher than where I took the cable car) and hiked the rest of ~400 m.

The place with red houses should be Marciana, just below the Cabinovia, where I took the cable car.

At the beginning of the cable car ascent, the yellow cage was oscillating left and right and I was mildly scared or worried.  However,  the more or really scary experience was probably the drive to reach this “Cabinovia”.  I “blindly” trusted “Google Map” (from my phone).  Soon after Procchio, it suddenly told me to make a sharp left turn and drive steeply upwards to “Via Redinoce” !  I thought it’s weird but I didn’t have time to analyze and just thought to stick to Google’s instruction.  It was a very narrow road and a large portion of this route didn’t have concrete/cement pavement but just mud/soil.  It’d be very difficult if there was another car.  But it seemed to me nobody would drive normally on that road.  Only stupid tourist who would trust Google like me ?!  The Renault Clio that I rented found it very hard to go uphill and in that rocky condition.  At one Y-junction, I turned into a wider path that I thought looked more like the right path but I was wrong (as it’s blocked 20 m or so after I turned into it).  I tried to made a U turn in the narrow road bordering a cliff.  I reversed the Renault into a ditch.  I couldn’t get the car out from the ditch at first.  At one point, I thought I might never get the car out.  I tried to see whether I got any strength to get it out using my hands and body, but it just seemed impossible.  After some 10 trials of pumping the gas and relaxing the gear at the right time (otherwise, it just stalled), I finally got the car out.  Wow !!! …  I had worried that I might be stuck there for the whole day, awaiting rescue.  After that, I almost wanted to retreat in the original path but a quick calculation in my brain told me to continue to drive forward.  I made it to the Cabinovia (of Mount Capanne) at the end.  On the way back, I of course didn’t make the same mistake and took the usual road SP 25/SP 24.  In fact, Google didn’t suggest that nasty shortcut any more.

0529161050I rented the Renault Clio mainly to go to take the cable car but I also went to Portoferraio (which is the port that I’d go to on June 2 to take the ferry to reach Italy Mainland in the morning when leaving for US).  Approaching Portoferraio, I noticed a COOP (supermarket) and I immediately decided to park my car there (as it’d be free !).  The things in COOP were certainly much cheaper than what you’d pay at the hotel and around.  It’s less than 100 m from the COOP parking lot to the center of Portoferraio.  The car rental cost €60 — quite a bit of rip-off. Originally, I was hoping for the Chinese-made ZD electric car which would cost €20 only (from 09:00 to 19:00).  But before I left US, they already told me that the new ZD electric would arrive only on June 2 — too late !  That day, with €5 for the gasoline that I’d refilled before I returned, the total transportation cost was €83. … Hmm … Hmm …

The drive in the Island has almost always been full of “S” bends and I just kept turning left and right alternately.  I guess it’s because the roads are just around the hills/mountains.  It could be exhilarating but I was more tense than anything else.  From time to time, other cars just overtook me as I didn’t drive fast enough 😦  Most drivers didn’t seem to want to stay on the other side and came dangerously too close to the middle

One of the photos that I’ve taken at the peak of Mount Capanne has become the background of my first/title slide presented in the “3rd Elba workshop on Forward Physics”.   My talk was the first one in the entire conference.   While I’ve made a habit of using the scenery at the conference location as the background for my titile slide, a few other people also have done the same.  But their background were just the scenery around Hotel Hermitage, not at the top of Mount Capanne 🙂

June 2, 2016:

0602161439bAfter more than 20 years, I’ve come back to Pisa again (due to flight scheduling). In 1995 summer when I visited it for the 1st time (due partially to an Italian friend Graziano in Pisa whom I met in the CERN summer school in Dubna/Russia), the Leaning Tower was undergoing a structural strenthening project and tourists were not allowed to climb up. But it finished in ~2001 and today, I’ve climbed to the top of the tower 🙂

0602161635_HDRI arrived at the ticket office about 14:30 and the line was not too long.  After 5-10 minutes, when I got to choose, the earliest time for me to climb was 16:15. Each person is assigned a specific time to go in and you have 30 minutes — but I’m not sure they’d really force you out if you don’t go after half an hour.  A staff gave an introduction at the beginning in Italian and English (each about a couple minutes).  Then, you’re free to climb the ~260 steps.  The 2nd photo was one that fellow tourists have helped take a photo of me when I was at the top and one could see the Cathedral behind and Baptistery a bit further behind.

One note I’d like to drop : One could just go and buy the ticket when one arrives, even though one may need to wait a couple hours before climbing the tower. But if one wants to buy the Leaning Tower tickets, one should go to the official site: http://www.opapisa.it/en/tickets/buy/ (which would tell you that the price is €18) and not this one : http://www.towerofpisa.org/tickets/ which would sell you a ticket at the price of €30 including tour guide. I was slightly confused as the name of the second website looks more relevant and more official than the first one 🙂 But one probably wouldn’t make the stupid mistake anyway because the €30 ticket is not available every day.

In this “Piazza del Duomo”, there are the Cathedral and Baptistery in the center plus “Camposanto” and a “Sinopie Museum” at the side. Paying €5/ €7/ €8, one may visit one/two/all of the Baptistery/Camposanto/Sinopie Museum. The Cathedral can be visited any time if you buy any of the Leaning Tower ticket or the above-mentioned 3 places. In fact, if you don’t buy any ticket, you may still go to collect “the fixed time free ticket” to visit the Cathedral.

Since I had a bit of time, I paid €5 to go to Baptistery. As a miser type of person, I didn’t find Baptistery worth €5. But it does have a 2nd floor that you could climb up and look down from above for a different view. Just before I wanted to leave, I heard the ‘echo demonstration’ which I didn’t find really spectacular when I was there because I thought it’s just broadcasting a choir’s singing though I saw a woman at the center. Now (after reading a bit more), I realize that then it’s NOT any choir’s singing being broadcasted but it’s really just the woman at the center singing a few notes and the dome structure created amazing echo (intereference !) effect which made you feel that many people were singing at the same time ! I was so stupid and it really truly was amazing how the constructive interference works 🙂 … I noticed that nobody was guarding the exit and so if you dare, you can enter the Baptistery from the exit, free of charge ! When I was walking out, I saw a tall Caucasian girl enter from the exit. Yeah … she’s the “practitioner” of this “theory of mine” !!

I also went as far as possible in the entrances for Camposanto and the Sinopie Museum and I could pretty much get the feeling what they were like without really visiting — of course, another theory 🙂

While I was the Elba Island, I heard (~second-handedly) some Italians claim that Pisa is the worst place in Tuscany of Italy.  A bit of exaggeration … I guess it’s probably because it pretty much has got only the Piazza del Dumo and almost nothing else. If it’s not due to the engineering mistake of the Leaning Tower, tourists might not even notice Pisa ?! ( By the way, the staff at the bottom of the Tower told us that it’s not clear who/which engineer has actually designed/built the Tower … probably due to its failure. )

0602161715aFrom my B&B (250 m from the PISA airport), it’s only ~2.9 km in walking distance to the Leaning Tower according to Google Map.  After I arrived at the train station (~10 minutes’ walk from my B&B), the places started to seem more interesting and one would see more tourists.  I’ve come across a few Piazza.  On the way back, I found and visited “Piazza del Cavalieri” as the B&B had recommended earlier. I’ve quickly noticed the “Scuola Normale Superiore” and I believe that Graziano more than 20 years ago must have shown me this place — though I’m not sure whether we walked or drove past here — as I immediately remembered that this is the place/university for only geniuses. The famous particle physicists and Nobel Prize winners Enrico Fermi and Carlo Rubbia were both this school’s alumni.

One thing I forgot to mention: when I arrived at Pisa and saw quite some ethnic Asians and Africans, it’s suddenly made me realize more readily that I had never seemed to see any Asians or Africans back in the entire Elba Island. The webpage for this “Forward Physics” workshop has listed only ~42 participants who actually came to the Elba Island — as quite some speakers actually gave their talks remotely via video-conferencing facilities.  There were some additional secretaries and technicians from INFN/Pisa — the main organizer. Also due to the problem of small sampling, I think I was the only non-Caucasian in the conference and my last name “Yip” was the last one in alphabetical order (no Z’s !) 😃   The talks were all related to CERN experiments/detectors EXCEPT two, one about the Tevatron/Fermilab results given by a colleague via video-conferencing from Rockefeller U. in New York and the other being mine about the RHIC/BNL results. Of course, the CERN/LHC expts. have some substantial North American involvement; but it was only about ~10% in this conference.  Occasionally when I was consciously aware that I was the only Asian in this conference or hotel (or even the entire Elba Island ?), I certainly found it awkward and a little bizarre. Though it may be just a consequence of small sampling, I wonder whether this “feature” could be harder to happen in North America ?!



June 3, 2016:

I flew non-stop from JFK/New York to Pisa and then to the Elba Island on May 28, 2016.  But on the way back, not only did I have to take ferry and shuttle to get to Pisa, I also needed to change at Rome (June 3, 2016) in order to catch an Alitalia flight to JFK/New York.  Rome was just a short flight from Pisa (~45 minutes).  I believe I was at the same Rome Airport in ~Oct. 2002 for a conference in Frascati.  But this time, the airport seems much more modern than what I can remember. … and on a very trivial note,  I have noticed a very similar arrangement of the soap/water/dry air delivery system at both Pisa and Rome airports.  Probably a made-in-Italy thing ?!

At the airport or during the flights, I’ve had a lot of time to think, in addition to reading my novel.  I don’t really enjoy going to conferences mainly because I’ve had to socialize with the other participants and speakers during the meals.  Many people like to talk with their old acquaintances and not all people are talkative.  I usually only talk with my immediate neighbors in the dining table during a meal.  I’ve found it hard to talk across the table most of the time (even though sometimes I’ve tried to) and I can’t hear well when it’s beyond the immediate neighbors unless everybody starts to shout.  I’ve found that I have often needed to initiate the talking points.  Over the year, I’ve got tired of “cultural conversations” or pretending to be interested in other people’s culture/custom, even though I still need to do it and sometimes still have some curiosity left in me to probe into various cultural peculiarities.  I’m certainly anti-social and I’ve found dining alone more pleasant 🙂


Several speakers actually gave talks via video-conferencing facility (Vidyo, this time).  It made me wonder why we all do video-conferencing rather than spend money and time to come to a remote island ?!  Though journalists haven’t made reports to tell the public that it’s a waste of tax money for scientists to go to conference, I sometimes think so.  On one hand, I’ve come to join this conference mainly because of the timing and opportunity just working out for me; on the other hand,  I haven’t been to a conference for a year or two and I think it’s not good for my academic record or annual performance appraisal that I haven’t gone to any conference recently.  In this small conference or workshop, I’ve actually learnt from the participants through personal interactions more than other conferences, esp. from physicists who actually do the work such as Mario Deile and Sune Jakobsen.  Nevertheless, I still have doubt about the usefulness of all the scientific conferences.  Maybe, it’s an unspoken “benefit” (such as a semi-vacation ?) for the not very well-off scientists ?!

I’ve met a couple former DELPHI collaborators (more or less ~20 years ago) such as Kenneth Osterberg and Ronan Mcnulty.  They didn’t recognize me and though I found Ronan’s face familiar, I didn’t remember where I had know him before at first.  I guess, since I’m such an “anti-socialist”, this is the natural consequence 😦  They all reminded me of my former Oxford colleagues (in our conversations), Guy, Paula, or even Ainsley.


About kinyip

An experimental particle physicist ...
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