Yesterday, I have returned from a trip to Italy. The main event was the SEFM (Software Engineering & Formal Methods) 2010 conference, held in CNR in Pisa, the side event was a visit to Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Bologna and Venice. Although I have been initially a bit sceptical (as I usually am), partly due to travelling alone, the trip turned out to be one of the best thing that happened to me recently. I had really an awesome time, met lots of great people, had lots of fun, the weather was fabulous… The cities of northern Italy are beautiful, the conference was great as well — in particular, I really enjoyed both the tutorials I attended: first about Orc by Jayadev Misra and the second by David Harel about computational biology was even better. David really is a great speaker and the topic is quite intriguing as well.
Florence & Arrival
The choice of taking a train (instead of flying) turned out to be quite lucky one, since it enabled me to stop at various places along the way. I took an afternoon connection to Wien on Saturday and from there a night train to Florence, where I arrived around 6:30 am on Sunday. The city has been quite empty in the early morning, so I had a chance to walk around the deserted city centre during sunrise. I even managed to peek into the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore before leaving. Overall, the architecture of Italian cities is really nice to look at.
Anyway, in the afternoon I took a train to Pisa, checked in at the hotel and spent part of the afternoon trying to find an open grocery store. Traversed a good part of residential areas of Pisa, finally finding an open shop near the railway station. Thus refreshed, I looked around a bit more, going through the nicer historical parts of the town and crashing back at the hotel later in the evening.
Pisa, The Conference
Next day was the first conference day, mostly filled by tutorials and chatting with other attendees. I have made acquaintances with a few fellow PhD students and researchers from various parts of the world (including two colleagues from Prague). On Tuesday, we had the first set of conference sessions and in the evening, we had a dinner in a local pizzeria with Emilia (Technion, Israel but originally from St. Peterburg) and Abel (BME, Hungary) and Faraz (UCF, US, originally from India), and after the dinner I walked around Pisa with Faraz a bit. We went to see the Piazza dei Miracoli at night, with its Leaning Tower and the Duomo di Pisa. More sessions followed on Wednesday and in the afternoon, we attended the social event, which consisted of a trip to Lucca, where we were received by a guide and have been shown around the city, which has been really nice as well, and the guide did a really good job too. The trip was followed by a dinner in a villa outside of Lucca — the only complaint I could possibly raise about it, I guess, was that there was actually too much food to handle. Which is not much of a complaint really. Most of the afternoon, I spent with Natallia, who’s currently a post-doc researcher at CWI (Netherlands), has a PhD from Trento and a masters from her native Belarus. I much enjoyed both the event and the company.
On Thursday, the model checking session of the conference took place — this being the session where I gave my presentation as well. The fact that this was in the morning after the social event was somewhat inconvenient, but I think overall it went quite smoothly and I am fairly happy about it. In fact, a couple people later told me that they enjoyed the talk, which made me really quite happy. That is the sort of thing that can motivate you to continue the hard work (cough) and all. I had a bit of a conversation with Kirsten Winter (ITEE / University of Queensland, Australia) and later Dimitra Giannakopoulou (NASA, US) and both were very encouraging of my current and (hopefully) future work. I suppose that is as much an incentive to carry through with one’s PhD as one can hope for.
Moreover, a couple of people have asked me about the Red Hat funding for my formal methods research and whether and how the cooperation works. I have explained my plan for applying my research on the real code that I work on, which has met with a lot of approval and enthusiasm. I certainly hope that the goals are attainable and that it will be possible for me to continue to work on this as my PhD continues. There is definitely a lot of interest from the academia in seeing further real-world formal method applications.
Departure, Bologna & Venice
Later that day, I went to the town centre for a bit, and to take some daylight photos… Met later for another dinner with Emilia and Abel (same place, that’s how conservative we are), walk around the town, and a bit of Italian ice-cream. That was the last evening in Pisa, and I crashed to bed and in the morning packed up and checked out.
I had arranged previously with Enrico, a long time friend of mine and also a fellow Debian Developer, to meet in Bologna. I took a noon train to Florence, then Prato and finally arrived in Bologna in the afternoon, where Enrico and Yuwei picked me up. They walked me through the city centre of Bologna and shown me through some nice hidden places (which I would never think of visiting, were there not for my experienced guides). Among other things, we have seen a medic’s lecture room from 17th century, a city council art gallery and visited the San Petronio Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world, built throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. Later in the evening, we had a dinner with members of the local amateur astronomy club (which turned out to be more of an all-sorts-geek club) and a tour of their observatory-museum. My thanks to Enrico, Yuwei and also the members of the club for another great evening. We finally retreated to Enrico’s place (where he stays while in Bologna, and where his parents live).
The next day (that is Saturday) was split in two parts, first I spent with Enrico and Yuwei and stayed for lunch with Enrico’s parents (which was very nice!). In the afternoon, Enrico drove me to a nearby railway station and I took a train to Venice. I very much enjoyed the stay in Bologna, in a big part thanks to my hosts who really went out of their way to make my stay pleasant: thanks again, and looking forward to seeing you again.
After lunch, I departed for Venice, which is about 2 hours of a train ride away from Bologna — I arrived around 4 pm, to the Venezia Santa Lucia station. The weather (which was sunny and pleasantly warm until then) went on a strike though, so it was overcast and every now and when it went on to rain for a while. Overall, I guess that was sort of a mixed blessing: on one hand, it was a bit cold and wet (and I wasn’t very well equipped for that), on the other, there probably weren’t as many tourists in the city as there would be on a sunny day. Sadly, the San Marco was already closed when I arrived, so I had to omit that one. Nevertheless, I have seen most of the city, also quite a few remote bits of it that were virtually deserted on a Saturday without sun (like the seaside wall of the Arsenal, where I did not meet a single person).
Late in the evening (around half past midnight), I took a train back to mainland (Mestre) where I boarded a night train to Wien. Finally landed in Brno a bit before noon.
Overall, as I already said a couple of times, it was a very nice trip. The late summer in Italy and meeting everyone was amazing. I am of course a bit sad and melancholic since it’s all over, but then, I am off to Netherlands in a week for another conference, which will be probably very different, but hopefully also nice. Sadly, due to all the travelling, I am going to have some issues at the conservatory (I still don’t have a viable timetable, eg.) but nevertheless, it was definitely worth it. I also hope to meet the folks that I have befriended again at some point — which doesn’t seem that unlikely, since Abel is actually attending the same conference that I am, in Netherlands next week.
The trip also sort of made me realize that my attachment to this place (which I call home, more or less) is not as tight as I have been thinking. It may, after all, be a good idea to move elsewhere, maybe for a couple of months or maybe a year or two. But that it is still a long way from here.