Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Paris by Nokia Phone

February 12, 2013


Le tour effiel. Every hour, it sparkles with a million flashbulbs (not pictured).

Because Paris is wonderful and iphones are silly. Nothing beats Nokia phone cameras in the City of Light.

Musee D'Orsay

Musee D’Orsay: this photograph might be illegal

Actually, I just forgot to bring my usual camera (a ‘vintage’ Canon Powershot 550 which I sat on and broke the preview screen of in 2009) …. to Paris. As the tgv flew (and I mean really flew) over the rolling, dusky farmland between Geneva and Paris, I realized with a sinking heart that it would be just me and my CERN issued Nokia. C’est la vie.


An obelisk made out of stuff that Napoleon plundered.

AL, my flatmate from the summer, was a most excellent hostess and dedicated tour guide. I saw more than I ever would have even known to see on my own, didn’t have to worry about getting lost on the metro, had a real (delicious) French dinner at a restaurant called ‘Il vino’ (ha!) and even got to hear a bit about the history and development of the city from a Parisian engineer (that would be AL).


Notre Dame de Paris

I had been in Notre Dame once before: the first, brief time I was in Paris we stumbled upon a free organ concert. But of course, once is never enough!


View out one of the clockfaces in Orsay. In Real Life, one could just make out Montmarte and Sacre Coeur in the distance.


Art lovers recline on the very mod furniture in Musee D’Orsay

By the way, if you ever find yourself in Paris and are a resident of the EU under the age of 26 you have simply to show your residence card and you can get into all museums and most attractions for free. Protip: If you have a Carte Français for the purpose and function of working at CERN (as I happened to have) this trick also applies. Imagine my glee walking in and out of Orsay and le Lourve as a French Resident, and getting to view some of the world’s art treasures, tout gratuit! Vive le France!


Approaching Place Voges, the prior residence for Victor Hugo!

“I love le Meré because you can just walk around and punch open doors and walk into historical buildings.” And, indeed, you can!


Walking under the metro

Paris is ‘like swiss cheese’ (Emmental! Not Gruyère!) full of holes containing trains and secrets and people.


Bonjour, and Welcome to the River Seine!

My Nokia phone did quite well by me and Paris. And to be honest, in the age of facebook, instagram (now owned by facebook), and internet oversharing, I was quite content to be armed with only my humble Nokia. Sometimes I feel we forget to see the world for our camera lenses, for our phones and tablets and even our DSLRs. Since I could hardly even see the tiny screen of my Nokia, you can bet I had plenty room to see all the rest.

thank you AL and family for the weekend in your beautiful city! I could not have asked for a more wonderful albeit whirlwind tour. Hopefully I will be back again someday!

Le tour et la vie Genev/CERNois

July 21, 2012

Short stories, three posts in one, because it has been a while and because, porqoui pas?


Col de la Faucille, down the valley of the Valeserine through limestone tunnels and slender tree forests with curling roots, buttressing a verdant and invisible canyon before dropping at last down into Bellegarde. Bellegarde, industrial blocked Bellegarde, on the other side of the pass, Stage Finish, le arriveé. When I saw the tour in the mountains last year, the whole experience seemed larger than life itself: So much so that it warranted three gushing and fangirlish blog posts on the matter. Before then I had watched the tour on television every summer for almost as long as I could remember, and being there for the first time and in fact, being in the Alps for the first time was nothing short of, well, magic. But this year in Bellegarde, the scene was flooded with fans and everything happens faster that I can really parse. I did manage to cheer for my favorites: Allez pour Voeckler, the Frenchman with the German name, Hopp hopp for Jensie, who came in third, venga venga para Valverde, and Go Go for Cadel Evans, who, for the record, looked absolutely pissed. But the highligt of the day was that I mananged to scream HEEEEJA HEJA at the Sweeeede in the polkdot jersey, which is not something one gets to do often at the tour.

Afterward, I drug myself home through rural France, up and over the pass into Pays de Gex, because as I have learned the hard way a few times: One Does Not Simply Roll Out of Bellegarde. I’m not sure how I got tricked into doing over 100k on my mountain bike on the road, but somehow it happened. It often does.


I’m uncertain as to what kind of parallel universe I am in, now that I am apparently chic enough to stand on street corners in Genève in the company of three Parisians and a horde of friendly Polonaise. But despite all odds, this seems to be my current reality. Nevertheless, I accept it and stand on the corner on this warm but rainy Swiss evening, trying to engross myself in the mental exercise of pretending I can speak French. It’s not easy, because truth be told I don’t speak French and even just the Europe-south-of-Copenhagen mindset is still not something that comes to me completely naturally. One of the smiling Poles is distractedly swirling her glass around this cobbled street in Medieval Geneva, flooded in golden lamplight; it’s the kind of place that apparently bores Parisians and Poles but makes Americans swoon. It is booooring here, she whines. We will go to the party of the summer students, yes? Ve ‘ave a car, so porqoui pas?

Once at CERN, le soireé de summerstudent resurrects vivid memories of the only middle school dance I ever attended before I promptly decided that wasn’t my scene. At the very least, it smells a bit like it: socks and vodka. We appear to be in something like a gym (at least it smells like it) located behind one of the hostel buildings and soon enough, my friend whispers in my ear. She says: See, there are the boys with big hair and bad tshirts who’ve never danced before in their lives. Surely, they are failing about, maybe some of them are or soon will be a bit sick with alcohol. If the party has any redeeming feature, it is that watching budding physicists dance is somewhat amusing. What this scene mostly glaringly lacks in comparison with my horrid middle school memories is the presence of the coiffed Orange County elite; the ones who arrived in limousines while my friends and I arrived (or didn’t arrive at all) by bike, bus, or minivan. But seeing as this is not Orange County and is instead an empty building in a particle physics lab in semirural SwitzaFrance*, it should come as no surprise, and really, I don’t miss them. As the music achieves a level terrible I have never experienced prior, I notice that above the ‘bar’ there is a whiteboard that lists the prices of drinks as ‘uncertain’ and quotes Heisenberg. CERN: It is a special place.

Le Soireé de summerstudent, I don’t think I will be back.


I’m standing at the computer when hear a loud noise. Never a good situation. My colleague, who is arranging water cooling lines, looks over at me. What was that? I ask, as his eyes inflate to the size of M12 washers. It was a splash. I toss him some paper towels and quickly negotiate my way around the experiment to check on the bakeout controllers. I curse out loud: An entire controller had shorted out. I guess the breaker tripping must have been audible , because the powers that be run down from upstairs and after a few minutes with the multimeter deduce that, while it’s not clear exactly what happened, something shorted to ground. We, the two of us who know exactly what happened, just stand there exchanging nervous glances. I can’t take it. Well, I say, slowly, there was water.


*I am coining this term.

Ride Report: Col du Grand Colombier

June 16, 2012

It turns out that getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep for two consecutive weeks does not come without consequence. And so today, a day off, I am regulated from actually riding my bike, to simply writing about it. It’s maddening, sitting inside when the Central European Climate just decided to agree with the calendar and make it summer.  So, outside it’s pushing 30 (a bit too hot, admittedly) and I’m inside recovering from some strange illness which has taken my voice and, apparently, my will to stay awake past 7PM in the evening. On the plus side, you all finally get to hear about the trip up Colombier with three women from CERN Velo Club.


“How, how in holy heck, are we going to get up there?” I remember thinking while riding through the forested part of the Colombier, the Jura’s most infamous mountain for cycling. Every few minutes a gap of sky would emerge between the pines and the Col itself would become visible: with sheer granite walls, it appeared a route more suited for rock climbers than for cyclists.

Suddenly, there was a switchback and the forest stopped and everything opened up into a grassy expanse. For the first time, the road ahead became visible and we knew what we were in for.

Oh. I see. Yes, that is indeed how in holy heck we are going to get up there. We are going to climb.

I traced the road for you

We had been climbing for 12 km already, not counting the (x km) ascent to Col du Richmonde we bagged en route. I’m not going to pretend that some ziggzagging did not take place* on that last bit of road, which makes the rest of the Colombier seem like child’s play. It is this stretch of road that makes the Col infamous: there are four ways up, but all of them end with the killer grade. And on July 10th, the tour de France will ascend it for the first time in history, at a markedly faster pace than my own.

But oh, the view from the top! Not other worldly like summits in the Alps, rather quite the opposite! Colombier is airy but green and the view below is is lush and so wonderfully earthy. From the ridge of the Jura the Rhône valley opens up below in a turquoise flume between legions of verdant hillsides, dotted with toylike villages. And in the distance, the Alps, as always, white and violet. You look out over the whole region and be more present in your own skin solely because you are so aware of the geography and your singular place in it.**

Descending was marvelous: woody, winding, reminding you you’re alive. It was only after passing Sessyel, a town at the base of the mountain, that the heat really set in. As we climbed out of the Rhône valley, with still 85 km left until home, Jenny’s rear innertube exploded. At first we thought it was a heat pop, but then we noticed her tire was shredded. We booted it the best we could, and she rolled back to the train in Sessyel. And then there were two.

Next came 40 or so km, a blur of rolling hills, of vast and breathless farmland, agrarian raptures. We were, however, chased by the knowledge that we were running low on water. It’s funny how the senses heighten for survival: On the backside of a roller, I thought I heard the sound of water flowing. I brushed it off as a hallucination until Sue called out: Did you hear that? We pulled the brakes immediately and backtracked. Water, indeed, gushing out of one of the small roadside fountains, made explicitly for this purpose. We would make it home alive.

It is worth noting, that the climb out of Bellegarde and over the pass into Pays de Gex is not insignificant.

40 km later, I saw the CERN water tower in the distance, and I was not, by any means going to get on any road that led me in the opposite direction. Soon enough I was back at work, and my colleague in the office next door was confused as to why I could barely walk. I sat in the CERN cafeteria for almost an hour before I could muster the courage to ride home.

Voilà: first ride more than a century (170 km) ride with over 2000m of climbing. Here’s to many more!


*For the record, I still believe Galibier is a tougher climb. Not as steep on average, maybe, but longer, higher, and in thinner air. Up next Colombière (the Alpine one) and Col de Cou. Stay tuned, as I continue to avoid the whole Planning For My Future ordeal by climbing as many mountains as I conceivably can during my limited free time in this strange place, which just may as well be called “Heaven for Cyclists.”

**Parts of this description are borrowed from a letter, apologies to the one person reading them twice.

Miscellany, Genève and Flanges

May 14, 2012

Genève, City of Rainbows, a view from Deux Ponts

From the silence here you may have guessed, the whirlwind has picked up here in PhysicsLand. Flanges, flanges…so many flanges. Leak checks, leaks, discarded copper gaskets. More flanges, bellows, pumps and gauges. Visible holes in weld joints…yes, seriously. Blood and sweat and tears (of joy and otherwise) but still: No beam. Not yet. It’s a long road ahead before we’re able to play with antimatter again; longer than I had truly been able to comprehend before.

So, here are just a few random stories for fun, because I’ve been neglectful, and because this is what blogs are for, right?

1. CERN may be one the only place in the world were you can take an hour long break from working with ion pumps and go wine tasting.* Caves Ouvertes is the annual Saturday during which all of the Geneva Canton wineries open up their cellars to the public. Basically, they will serve you as many wines as you can possibly desire/handle for no charge. It does make one a bit loath to return to the ion pump, however.

2. I broke a spoke on my rear wheel (while climbing) two weeks ago. I dropped it off at a sports store in France and was promised a quick turn around. After one very polite phone call from my francophone colleague, one probably impolite phone call in mangled French from me, and many sad days spent on public transportation, my American colleague and I went to the shop to gang up on the bastards. After a bit more mangled French, emphatic gesturing at my literally untouched wheel in the back corner of the shop, and barely ten minutes of repair work, I had the wheel back. Winning.

3. Last weekend, at the other, better, sports store in Annemasse (surprisingly affordable), I attempted to buy a yoga mat. I knew it would cost 17 Euros, but the woman at the counter didn’t. She phoned her coworker, he said it was 2,50.  I sort of pretended I didn’t really understand what just happened, and payed 2,50 for it. I walked out feeling a little guilty but with a yoga mat.  Winning?

4. Spotted at the sports store in Annemasse. I love Euro conceptions of ride food. Yes, that is indeed Ritter Sport Chocolate, billed as an energy bar 🙂

5. “Whoa, what did you do to the guy?” my Italian colleague asks when he sees the repaired computer I’ve just received exceedingly promptly from tech support. At about this point, typically I would seethe in feminist anger, but now that I’ve been on this continent long enough, I know that you just have to let Italians be Italians. Briefly: If you can’t understand what he’s hinting at, it’s likely something dirty and slightly offensive. But really, he doesn’t mean to offend you. I’m about to just not reply but then I remember: the tech support guy was Swedish. God, I love it when esoteric language skills come in handy.

“He was Swedish, I just spoke to him in his own language…”

“Hehe. Well, don’t mess up the harddrive, or else you’ll have to talk Swedish again.” His thick eyebrows go up and down. Freakin’ Italians. I quit.

6. As a result of my ceaseless and unfortunate obsession with proving something (I dunno what) to someone (the world!) I am beginning to truly derive great pleasure from wailing the heck out of the bolts on large vacuum flanges with more force than (some) of the boys.

7. You know it’s time to leave the experiment when you start beat boxing to the rhythm of the compressors.

8. You know it’s time to leave the blog when you admit to beat boxing to the rhythm of the compressors. Good night, Europe. Good Day, California!


*Wine tasting, yes, I did that. Believe it. I actually don’t even really like wine. Call it cultural due diligence, and it was fun.

Le tiocan

March 31, 2012

So, yeah, my camera overexposed the Alps. For shame. If you look hard enough at the second photo, you can just barely see Mont Blanc. All of this is after an approximately 45 minute road climb into the Jura (on a hardtail mountain bike with knobby tires and, ahem, largely in the small ring) from St Genis. Followed by a technical descent down a single track trough the forest, and back into the village of thoiry. Europro, here we go.

Note: I swear I’m doing physics here, too. Just not writing about it.