Rebooting 2020

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Europe 2021
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In March 2020, I had a long weekend trip planned to Geneva. The plan was to go to the Geneva Motor Show to see the launch of the new Morgan Plus Four, and then on to CERN for a tour. The cancellation of that trip was one of the first life disruptions COVID caused for me. Thanks to our August trip to Morgan, and my trip to CERN today, I feel like I’ve made up for it. Hopefully fixing everything else from the last 18 months will be as straightforward.

I got up this morning and headed straight out to CERN. In the before times, their tours were much sought after, and getting a slot meant being online at 1:30AM Minnesota time two weeks before your target date, to catch the tickets as they became available. Or, you could write a bot to do it for you. Hypothetically. Now, the tours are first come first served, and you can register up to two hours in advance. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity!

CERN is about half an hour outside of Geneva. I think I was expecting laid back university campus vibes. Instead, it’s much more high security, serious business vibes. And it’s busy! I got parked and registered, and then set about exploring their museum. CERN is in the process of building a very cool new visitor center with more space and updated facilities. But even as it is, the museum is fantastic and includes both the history of CERN, as well as a walkthrough of how particle accelerators and colliders work. There are videos of CERN employees, talking about what they do, how they ended up at CERN, and what it’s like working there.

After visiting the museum, it was time for our tour. Our tour guide was an older German physicist who started doing research at CERN in the early 70s. The tour mostly focuses on the first particle accelerator built at CERN, starting in the late 1950s: the synchrotron. The history of CERN is fascinating – it was essentially imagined as a way to reboot European research after World War II, when so many scientists had fled to the US. The multinational, open source, peace-promoting aspects of it were emphasized throughout. That, and the fact that they invented the World Wide Web.

CERN is definitely one of those places that makes you feel a little better about humanity – researchers from 70 countries, all living and working together in the pursuit of pure science. There’s a “summer camp for nerds” vibe, which I really appreciate.

After the tour, I grabbed lunch at a cafe just up the street, and then hit the road for France. I’d planned to stop just across the border for a hike. Unfortunately, the access road for the hike turned out to be a dirt logging road. Owing to the recent snow and rain, it involved deep, slippery mud puddles, and a steep hill. I briefly considered going for it in the Lancia (after all, it’s a rental) but the thought of dying alone in a French forest didn’t hold a ton of appeal, so I gave up on that plan. However, thanks to AllTrails (you did subscribe, right?), I found another hike just up the road. This one left from a small village, so parking wasn’t a problem.

The trail hugged the rim of a valley, and was mostly covered in wet slippery leaves, which made it exciting. The highlight was seeing a group of Chamois cross the trail just in front of me. I did the hike as an out and back (there wasn’t time for the full loop), and stopped at the fancy patisserie in town for an eclair.

After the hike, I had about two and a half hours of driving to get to Mulhouse. The first hour or so was glorious – fast winding roads through the French countryside, with the sun setting and one super cute village after another. It killed me not to be able to stop for all the artisanal cheesemakers and other small producers. Next time. The last bit was motorway cruising in the rain, which was less fun.

I know nothing about Mulhouse, where I’m spending the night. It seems nice?

2 thoughts on “Rebooting 2020

  • Deb November 5, 2021 at 8:31 pm Reply

    I’m SO glad you didn’t go down that road! And the chamois pic is awesome. “Summer camp for nerds” sounds pretty great too.

  • Susan November 5, 2021 at 8:44 pm Reply

    I agree with Deb about the road and the chamois, as well as the excitement of being at CERN. I’ll be eager to hear more!

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