Back to the States...and on the road again
Two weeks ago, it was time to say goodbye to europe again and head back to the US. Getting used to the place again went very quickly this time around. At first, it felt more like arraving at a new place rather than coming home. But a few days of work at the office, and meeting with my friends over here fixed that quickly. Now it's the time at CERN and back home that feels like ages ago, and not just two weeks. The Atlantic seems to be a powerful mental barrier, as well as a physical one.
Luckily, I actually did not have much time for these kind of introspections, as I had to go on the road again last Saturday. It was time to go to Pittsburgh for Pheno 2017, a particle physics conference where I gave a talk.
I was especially excited for going there, as Pittsburgh did not sound like a very exciting travel destination. What made me more excited was the prospect of meeting again a friend from my Aachen day. She is close to finishing up her PhD and presented her results at the same conference. On Sonday we spent the day exploring Pittsburgh, and both of us were very pleasently surprised with what we saw. The character of the city can loose be compared with the Ruhr area in Germany, which also had to go through a massive transformation after the decline of the steel industry back in the 70s. Luckily, Pittsburgh seems to be getting back on its feet and there were many sign of improvements going on to be seen around the city.
Pittsburgh is located on hilly terrain at the confluence of two rivers, which become the Ohio river from theron out. It is therefore a city of many briges, which dominate the skyline from many angles. Downtown Pittsburgh is located directly at the river banks, while I spent most of my time close to the universities in a part of the city called Oakland, which is located a bit more up the hills. On Sundy, we were very luckily that the Pittsburgh marathon was taking place on the same day and a lot streets were closed for traffic. We could therefore walk straight from our hotels in Oakland to downtown and back without having to worry too much about the traffic.
The university district is certainly a paradise for hipsters, everything looks kind of alternative and a little run down, but with a lot of flair. Together with the marathon and the great weather, it made a very good first impression on us.
On our way to downtown, we passed through parts of the city were you could see the economic recovery in action. A lot houses had been freshly renovated, while right next door very run down places still bore witness to the hard times that the city went through.
I found downtown Pittsburgh to be an absolute highlight of my trip. Lots of modern architecture, mixed with more classic american building styles. It makes for a very nice skyline, if it is not on a level with New York or Chicago, of course.
But I wasn't in Pittsburgh for the fun. On Monday morning, the conference started. With 2.5 days, it had a very pleasent length. Weeklong conference tend to drag a lot towards the end. Pheno leans more towards theory, and there were a lot of very interesting talks, including some real heavyweight speakers like Nima Arkani-Hamed or Raman Sundrum.
The university of Pittsburgh is a fitting setting for this kind of affair. It has a lot of very impressive buildings, first and foremost the cathedral of learning, which lives up to its ambitious name by being the second highest university building in the world.
Appropriately, the conference dinner was held in the Canergie Music Hall (part of the Canergie Museums of Pittsburgh and not be confused with the far more prominent venue in New York), which boast very impressive architecture and decor.
The inside was correspondingly impressive, which gave a nice contrast to our group of notoriusly underdressed physicists. And the food was good, too.
As we discovered a bar offering pretty good brown ale afterwards, I was happy that the next day had only the morning seesions and the conference ended after that. And before someone gets the wrong impression, I was there on time for the very first talk ;-)
After that, I finally got to fly home again, which turned out to take quite a bit of time as American Airlines decided to keep us waiting for takeoff in Charlotte, NC for two additonal hours because of technical problems. But it was a great trip and Pittsburgh made a much better impression than I had expected beforehand.