I like booking trips at the last minute. Finding yourself on a plane going somewhere you didn't expect to go when you woke up that morning is a great feeling. So I was extremely happy that when I asked ESO if I could go to a conference in Switzerland, they didn't actually confirm my flights until the day of departure. I'd assumed that the flights had not been booked until I got an email at 10am telling me I was flying at 5pm. So I packed up and went to the airport in a fantastic mood.
The conference was in Switzerland but I went to London first to work at UCL for a week. It was pretty awesome to be back but after the epic feeling of arriving home after a year away that I'd had in September, arriving back again in October after three weeks away really wasn't quite the same.
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. In grey skies and drizzle I arrived in Locarno, and headed to the conference venue.
The conference venue was on a hilltop overlooking Lago Maggiore, but for the first couple of days there was nothing to see outside except thick fog. Just when I'd begun to doubt that there was actually a lake nearby, the fog lifted and the views came out. The air was fresh, the sun shone, the lake shimmered, and all was good in Switzerland.
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.