Pisa diary: Day 2

4 hours of sleep is not the specification I was designed for. Consequently, when the dual alarms from my mobile phones started a clamour around my head, the only thought was a faint “whhaaatt?” Half an hour later, it pierced through my foggy brain that I needed to wake up, wake up fast, and wake up now. Grumpily I fell out of bed, and silently congratulated myself for setting the alarms half an hour before I needed them.

Someone had obviously told my shower the concept of Pulse Width Modulation and the shower took it seriously. So instead of getting a steady stream of warm water, I got cold water for a few seconds, followed by uncomfortably hot water for a few seconds and then the cycle repeated. The positive side to this is that I managed to finish showering in about 5 minutes, which is generally an unheard of event. But hey, people do strange things in foreign countries.

Fresh clothes. Check. Fresh socks. Check. Blazer. Check. Smirk at the man in the mirror. Check. I was ready for breakfast. Whether breakfast was ready for me remained to be seen. The italian idea of breakfast is a cup of cappucino with a tiny little pastry. I have no truck with that and prefer breakfast to be the biggest meal of the day, just like every other meal in the day. Fortunately, the hotel had quite a spread and I sat and wolfed down sandwiches with an assortment of cheese, salami, cereals, the tiny pastries and washed it all down with two enormous cups of coffee. Italian coffee always does it for me and I stopped feeling like a zombie and more like a man.

Reaching the CNR RETIS lab turned out to be trivial. There were not many people when I arrived but the place gradually filled up. 4 slides into the first lecture and we were already knee deep in the mathematics of scheduling algorithms. Nothing like early morning equations to make you feel alive! However, coffee induced stamina is like troll gold. It seems real and lasts for a while, but then crumbles apart. I remember looking drowsily at the slides before the coffee break and thinking, “Uh okay, its just more math..nevermind.” And so the day dragged went on. I managed to sink my mental hooks firmly in the most important parts, but it was difficult with a mere 4 hours of sleep. To cut the story short, I had enormous information filled sessions, understood mostly all of it and even managed to come up with some genuine questions. At 17:30 a collective sigh went across the room as we concluded for the day.

By then I had already started talking to people and 6 of us decided to go to the recommended pizzeria in town. This was a stones throw away from my hotel and so everyone dumped their stuff in my room and off we went. One guy each from Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and two girls from Spain. The atmosphere was reminiscent of yesterday. As the sun set, people poured in and laughter rang out from the piazzas. We located Il Montino, the pizzeria and started off with beer. There was a guy from the old school singing loudly with a guitar in tow and it was fun to watch him rush up to the ladies and break into a  boisterously rowdy song. I tipped him handsomely, and made him sing the aria from Nessun Dorma and a few couplets of Il Postino, which he gladly obliged. The pizza melted in my mouth and we sat there for a few hours, watching the world go by, and contributed our laughter to the sounds of the night. As the stars peeped out, we made our way to the famous leaning tower, pausing only for gelato on the way.

The tower: there are no words to describe it. When I think back to the first few moments, I mostly recall standing there and gaping with slack jawed wonder. Sure, I had seen hundreds of pictures but standing there and drinking in the beauty of that thing was a surreal experience. A warm summer breeze, gently scented with the perfume of flowers..humongous cathedrals of white marble, enormous domes, green lawns, stone pavements and in the middle of it, rising majestically into the air, the leaning tower. Hanging in the sky on the other side was the thinnest sickle of the moon, completing the picture. Tomorrow, we will go there earlier and climb all the way to the top. Legend has it that Galileo Galilei once stood there and dropped two balls of dough to the pavement below. And so pizza was born. Haha, okay ok, I am joking about the pizza part. But here Galileo worked and standing there below the tower made me feel like I had stepped into the shoes of history.

Time flies when you are having fun and it was already 23:00. By now, I was far beyond coffee and adrenaline induced wakefulness. So I decided to throw in the towel and turn back to the hotel. The others followed suit and so ends day 2 in Pisa.

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