June 14th, 2010

I’m in Krakow this week – and before you ask, the boat has not mysteriously developed the ability to fly – although a narrowboat slung form a giant airship would be rather cool!

I attended the European Geophysical Union conference in Vienna at the beginning of May, where I met Piotr Koperski who was presenting a paper on some technology very similar to my own. He’s a physicist and was keen for me to meet his engineer colleagues, so they invited me to Krakow for a meeting.

I flew out yesterday from Stansted on Ryanair. I like flying, even on a commercial airliner and even on Ryanair. I even like spending time in airports. Perhaps there’s something wrong with me! Anyway, my flight was uneventful and I arrived in Krakow at about 2130 and was met by Marian Soida, one of Piotr’s colleagues. They work for the Jagellonian University – the oldest in Poland, founded in 1364 – and specifically work at the Astronomical Observatory, a short drive from the airport. Astronomers being the sort who need to work bizaare hours, the Observatory has accommodation on site which is where I’m staying.

The Observatory itself is certainly a lovely setting. It’s on a hilltop at the edge of the city and surrounded by woodland. The summit of the hill itself is occupied by a Napoleonic-era fort (very like the Palmerston forts on Portsdown Hill) which is now home to three optical telescopes in their characteristic domes. Further down the hill, inamongst the lawns and flowerbeds, are various radio telescopes – one big one (15m diameter) and one smaller one (8m). There’s also a volleyball court and two office buildings (imaginatively called “old building” and “new building”) which house offices, labs and a library.

On Tuesday I gave a short talk about my work and then engaged in more detailed discussions over a late lunch at a restaurant down the road. Traditional Polish food was on the menu – borscht (beetroot soup) and then potato pancakes (like rosti – fried grated potato) with goulash. Very tasty indeed.

On Wednesday I managed to do some work on my thesis and then Piotr took me into the city centre. Krakow is certainly pretty – lots of tall stone buildings in various baroque-ish styles, and a grand castle overlooking the river. The city’s old defensive ramparts are now a semicircular park, the Planty, which surrounds the old town. After an afternoon’s wander around, I met Janusz for a beer in a subterranean pub, very atmospheric.

On Thursday we had a final meeting to wrap up what we’d decided to work on. This in a rather smart little meeting room at the observatory with grandiose upholstered chairs and a little wooden table. A secretary brought in a tray of tea and coffee and shortly after she left, I reached for my notebook, nudged the little table and managed to spill everyone’s coffee. Much chaos ensued while we cleared up. It wasn’t just my inherent clumsiness as Andrzej did the same thing later – the table was at just the wrong height to catch your knees on.

Friday brought me back to the UK again, and changed perspectives on Poland. Certainly in the areas of Krakow I visited, everything looked well-maintained and relatively prosperous, much better than I was expecting. Do go and visit if you can – it’s an interesting (and cheap) place for a city break!

Everyone’s been very friendly and helpful. I’ll take some pictures of the observatory tomorrow.

Leave a Reply