Tuesday, February 28, 2006

First Night Stroll through Genoa

After I checked into the hotel and dropped the luggage in the room, I decide to do a short walk. Circle around the hotel, then head down towards the historic center. It is Carneval. Not as burlesque as in Venice, of course not as outrageous as in Rio, but people walk around in costumes, with funny hats, with masks. In the Palazzo Ducale court, a whole group of people is dancing, to the music of three musicians, playing on historic instruments. What a good and joyful mood! The dance continues seemingly endless.

Further down into the center there are narrow streets, historic buildings, restaurants. But I will explore this some other time – it is getting late, and my lack of sleep is making itself noticeable. The temperature is a little milder than in Yorkshire, but after a while it turns a little chilly. Nightly temperature will be at 3 C, not much different from Leeds.

Piazza de Ferrari at night. Posted by Picasa

Via Garibaldi at night. Posted by Picasa

Nightly view on the Piazza de Ferrari, Genoa. Posted by Picasa

Porta Soprana (12th century). Posted by Picasa

Carneval dancing in the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa. Posted by Picasa

From Milan to Genoa

After the 4 hour stopover in Milan Malpensa airport, the last flight of this trip is scheduled at 8:30 pm, from Milan to Genoa. This time it is one of those turbo-prop planes, an ATR. I have not been in one since quite a while, because most airlines replaced them with small jets. But the prop plane is also nice, it flies lower and slower. Unfortunately, it is night outside, so there is not much to see. The flight is not more than 40 minutes. After a short climb over the hills, separating the Po valley from the Ligurian coast, we fly along the coast line. Then over downtown Genoa. The airport is very close to the city center, just a few miles west at the coast. As I get out, my luggage is indeed there – I am a bit surprised. Now into the city, to the hotel. From the web, I had printed a schedule of the bus. There is one right now waiting – it leaves at 9:40pm. 20 minutes later it arrives at the hotel.

From Amsterdam to Milan

The Alitalia flight from Amsterdam to Milan does take off with a delay of two hours – in addition to the original delay, one passenger did not show up, and they had to remove the luggage from the plane. Now I definitely would miss my connection in Milan to Genoa.

Then plane was a MD-80. This is actually my favorite airplane – my first flight ever was almost 24 years ago in a DC-9, the predecessor of the MD-80, from Frankfurt to Kopenhagen. The latest version is called Boeing-717, after McDonnnel-Douglas was bought by Boeing in the mid 1990s, but the plane is no longer produced. I like its elegant form, like an arrow, with its high tail wing. And I like its acceleration on the runway – when the engines are on full throttle, it feels as if you get a kick in the back. This is probably because the plane is quite small and light, and the engines are quite powerful. Although these engines are among the more troublesome among all airplanes: sometimes a blade comes loose, and then kills passengers sitting inside.

I remember that there was an accident a few years ago, with an MD-80 (SAS, not Alitalia), at the Milan Linate airport: it had crashed in foggy weather. Hopefully today is no fog…

We take off from Amsterdam, moving across the dense cloud cover. All over Europe seems to hang this large weather system coming from the North. I feel quite tired and doze off for some time. But as we approach the Alps, the clouds open at one location and reveal the white snowy mountains. Now these are real mountains, nothing compared to the ones in the Pennine High Peak area! I try to identify which mountains these are – I often spent summer vacation in the Alps, and I know when I see the Matterhorn or the Mt. Blanc. These peaks down there are quite high peaks here – must be the central part. I switch on my GPS (yes, this works also within a plane. You just need to hold it close to the window so that it can catch the 4 required satellites). After one minute, the GPS indicates the location: central Switzerland. Now I look again, and I recognize the range of the Berner Oberland: Jungfrau, Moench, and Eiger. So I located Grindelwald. Gorgeous weather here! While the whole northern side of the Alps was under a thick cloud blanket, this central part had plenty of sunshine. We flew over the Rhone Valley, and probably then over the Wallis Mountains. I could not recognize any of the mountains here, but from the spatial arrangement and the distance to Grindelwald, we were probably flying over Saas Fee. The Matterhorn would then be on the right side of the plane – and I was sitting on the left. So no chance of seeing this great mountain peak.

Then we quickly approached the Swiss Tessin (Ticino). I recognized the Lago Maggiore where I had been several times many years ago. The mountains became smaller, and the flat plain of the river Po took over. We went into a descent into Milan airport.

No fog there this time – we landed safely. The bus driver who brought the passengers to the terminal, exhibited a quite Southern driving style: it seemed as if he wanted to make a race with that plane parallel to us which was just taking off... the people in the bus were shaken back and forth, some luggage pieces fell down.

In the terminal, my next flight was already no longer on the board of departures listed. In Amsterdam, they had told me I would be able to make the flight, but as I now asked at the desk, they confirmed that it just had left. The next flight would leave shortly after 8pm. I had now 4 hours at the Milan airport, and would arrive late at the hotel. As a compensation, Alitalia gave me a voucher for the airport restaurant. I did not mind the delay, it gave me now some time to write these lines down and upload them. I went into the Alitalia lounge, got myself a nice Italian coffee, and relaxed, waiting for my next flight.

--- This is actually the first time on any of my travels, that I use this blog to this extend, to provide an almost "real-time" report. This is possible, because I travel alone, so my constant typing on the laptop gets on nobody else’s nerve.

Flying over the Alps. Posted by Picasa

On the way to Genova (Italy)

Getting up at 3:30 in the morning is not “my thing”. Especially when having gone to sleep at 2:30, due to packing and trip preparations. But I have no other choice – the taxi will leave at 4:30, and the plane will leave at 6:00 from Leeds Bradford Airport.

It helps a bit that a group of drunken students coming home to the Kirkstall Brewery Residences from a nightly outing sings loudly down on the street.

KLM flight to Amsterdam. Leaves 30 minutes late. The sky already gets bright, and as the plane takes off, I get a good look at the surroundings of Leeds. I see the Pennine High Peak area, where I just have been this Saturday – snowcapped. I see even some higher mountains more south – they look not just snow-dusted, but intensly white. And the North York Moors also have a white snow dust on them – I might go there next weekend, after my return from this trip.

A thick cloud layer hangs over the channel, and the coast of England is also a bit snowy. As we descend into the Netherlands, the pattern of frozen channels contrasts nicely with the whitish-gray surroundings.

Arrival in Schiphol Airport just 10 minutes late. Now I have 4 hours till the next flight.
The walking distances at this airport can be quite long – it takes ten minutes of rigid walking till I reach the gate, where the flight to Milan is supposed to take off. On the announcement screen it says "delayed". So the Alitalia flight will be 1:15 hours later than originally scheduled – I will probably miss my third flight in Genoa. Well, I have no other choice than to wait. Probably take then a later flight from Milan.

I decide to use the time to upload this text – I do not know if I will have online access in Genoa.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Winter in the Pennines

On Friday morning, when I woke up, I saw snow flakes falling down! The last time here in Leeds I had seen those in the early days of December, when I was at the Christkindl Market on the Millenium Square. I had missed the snowfall that occured after Christmas - since I was out on travel in the US.

Saturday morning, the weather looked bright and sunny, and I decided to drive up to the Pennines, the mountain range which separates the East of Northern England from the West, to catch the last snow for this season. Driving through Huddersfield, signs indicated that the road which I intended, would be closed. However, I decided to continue anyway, just in case the sign was not correct. A second sign with the same warning - I prepared for a detour. But after I drove through Holmfirth up the slope of A6024, no road barrier blocked access. Cars came down this road, with snow on them.

On the highest point of the road, Holm Moss, I stopped to get out and take a few pictures. An icy wind from North-East almost blew me away. On the Pennines high mountains (well, high is quite relative - the peaks are about 600 m), it is always very windy. I had been here already several times during autumn, and it always seemed like the "end of the world", a moon landscape without trees, very thinly populated, large moors covered in heather. The fast moving clouds always seem to touch the peak - so when being on top, it gets quite foggy.

I continued towards south, to visit a Model Railroad Exhibition in Chapel-en-le-Frith. Coming from north, the most impressive structure is a combination of two large railroad viaducts, merging into a Y. From there I headed further East on small country roads. Narrow path, only wide enough for one vehicle; I kept driving uphill, hoping that nobody would come driving down towards me - there was no room for passing a car.

On my map I saw a marking of Mam Tor, and I was wondering what that could be. When I arrived at the parking lot, several people - all very warmly dressed, almost with mountain climbing gear - walked uphill towards the close peak. I joined them, walking through the slippery slope of wet snow. This hill turned out to be an ancient fortress, at least 3000 years old. A gorgeous view from the top - but the wind was so strong, I could lean against it and not fall. The cloud level had become denser, removing the blue sky sunny spells from the morning.

I continued to Bamford and made a turn back north to the Snake Pass. When climbing up with the car on the road, the sun came out and shined onto the white snowy plain on top. Several cars parked there, people took a stroll in the blindingly white environment - a gorgeous feeling, if it would not have been sooo cold! Again the wind made the difference - and after taking a few pictures I returned into the car to drive back to Leeds.

On top of "Snake Pass" (512m) near Glossup. Posted by Picasa

Walking down from Mam Tor. The mountain ridge has a foot path on it for nice hiking - in the summer! Posted by Picasa

View from Mam Tor in the High Peak District towards north into the Edale valley. Note the border of snow level. Posted by Picasa

Winterly scenery in the Peak District of the Pennines. Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 24, 2006

Visit at Leeds University

On Friday afternoon I visited the group of Professor David Hogg from Leeds University. The Vision Group there holds every Friday a meeting called The Journal Club, and on 24.Feb. I was invited to give a presentation about my work on Augmented Reality and meet the researchers in this group.