Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Eleven years ago

June 2004. My MS thesis was ready to be printed, my advisor was going on vacation, and my graduation was planned for end of July. I had used image analysis in my thesis, after a little teaching from a colleague who was just some years older than me. Therefore, I enrolled for a workshop on image analysis applied to Earth Science, held at the university of Basel, by one of the few woman professors in the field. I was young, inexperienced, I could hardly understand English, not mentioning German, shy, and never confident on my skill. It was my first time in Switzerland. As I was not insured and not reimbursed, nor I was used to travel alone, I went to Basel with my parents and we stayed in a camping site, from where every day I took a tram to the dept. of geology. I’m still in touch with some friends met there. After that workshop, I turned to Mac, leaving Win forever. Among the other participants, we, Italians, were the majority. Many of them also moved abroad. Someone has left academia. I remember also the two PhD students of Basel, a Dutch girl, who now works in Denmark with her husband, and a British guy, who eventually died on a mountain excursion.
October 2015. Again in Basel, with the same professor, for a workshop on advanced applications of image analysis. In the meantime, I have greatly improved my English (it's still pretty limited, but at least I can say what I'm doing in science), I learned German and a few sentences in French and Dutch. I got a MS degree and a PhD, and since almost six years I live abroad, first in Vienna and now in Brussels. Basically I'm still shy, but who doesn't know me might think I'm not. I’m used to travel alone and to be often on a journey. I'm ready to see Basel with different eyes.

The journey
Obviously by train. As always in Belgium, with a surprise. The booked train was cancelled and replace by a combination of trains, with a transfer in Luxembourg. The connection was tight and a delay caused by works on the railway has almost jeopardized the whole journey. I had no time to visit Luxembourg, perhaps next time. The French landscape is quite boring, especially if compared with the Rhine valley on the other side of the border (see post about Freiburg). The journey back was much more relaxing.

The accommodation
Let me say that I stayed in one of the worst and most expensive hotels I’ve ever been during my business trips. It was "on the other side of the Rhine", in a district mostly populated by foreigners and, therefore, more lively and generally less expensive. My room was extremely small, the furniture outdated and poor (no doors in the wardrobe), breakfast with limited choices, and problematic wifi for most of the time. The only good point was that after 9 pm everything was as quiet as in a cemetery, and I could rest peacefully.

 The workshop
The organizer was as enthusiastic as I remember. There was a small group, only 8 of us. I was the only post-doc (but not the oldest one) and the only woman. My classmates were mostly first year PhD students, coming from UK, Switzerland, France, and Sweden, but someone else was originally from another country. As help for the practical sessions, other that two current PhD students from Basel, there was a German post-doc that I met already years ago. The workshop has been extremely interesting. I greatly appreciated scientific but also trivial conversations with colleagues and professors. Especially at the last evening, when we enjoyed a cheese fondue, with a lot of alcohol... My mind went back to the good years of geology in Padova.

The city
Eleven years ago I was overwhelmed by the new experience. This time I could dedicate some time just for sightseeing. Basel is cute. Nothing special. Trams are perfectly on time, the streets are clean, the shops are super expensive. I was lucky enough to catch the “Herbstmesse”, a kind of Christmas Market in Autumn, with traditional sweets, sausages, and local handmade products. The language still sounds mysterious to me. I had no problems in shops and restaurants (my German is enough for these easy tasks), but when I happened to hear a conversation between locals I couldn't understand a word!

Conclusion
Basel, the sleepy Basel, is definitely a place where I can live without getting stressed. I like the fact that Basel is relatively small, at tram distance from Germany and France (people do say Merci and Adieu, mixed with German), tidy and clean like only Swiss cities are. I've loved discussing again of microstructures and of structural geology questions. I wish I have the opportunity to come back without waiting again 11 years.

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