June 26, 2012
CERN. The European Center for Nuclear Research. A powerhouse for scientific research in the area of particle and theoretical physics renowned all over the world. And my destination for the next 10 days as a part of my prize from the Google Science Fair.
I sat in the DFW Airport drumming my fingers against the side of the chair waiting for the moment when the announcer’s voice would come on and tell us that flight AA 26 from DFW to London Heathrow was ready to start boarding. It was 4:35 PM, such a normal flight time. We, my mother, father, and brother and I, divied up our seating arrangements and with me sitting beside the window and next to my brother, we were off. I remember reading an entire book before I closed my eyes and I was out.
When I woke up, the pilot’s voice was speaking in soothing tones over the intercom, announcing our entry into London. Looking down, I could see the lush green lawns and meadows of the England countryside, complete with one large field with the five Olympic rings mowed into it – a reminder of the upcoming 2012 London Olympics coming up in the next month. Within a few weeks, this city would be buzzing with sports fanatics and athletes alike. I closed my eyes again as the wheels touched against the ground.
From our gate, it was a mad rush to make our connecting flight. Handed bright orange boarding pass holders at the disembarkation point of the first flight, we were rushed hurried through what seemed like miles of hallways before loading up onto a plane and making it to our next gate to catch our British Airways flight from London to Geneva.
We made it with a few minutes to spare. We sat for a few minutes before the boarding begin and we loaded onto our seats at the back of the plane. Seated again by the window and next to my mother, I vaguely awoke at takeoff before I closed my eyes and it was again darkness.
12:55 PM. As the wheels touched down on the runway, I looked out the window to see green mountains rising in the distance, their peaks, covered in a soft misty fog. The pilot came on the intercom welcoming us to Geneva and wishing us the best for our journey wherever it may take us. We were here.
Geneva was the perfect temperature. Not too hot, like Fort Worth and the weather I was used to. And not too cold, either. Within minutes of grabbing our bags off the claim, we met Silvano, the communications director of CERN who had been a major hand in planning this entire trip for me and my family. With his gray hair in a ponytail and his eyes twinkling, I was excited to finally meet him after all the emails we had exchanged. We piled everything into the black rental car Silvano had gotten and made our way to the hotel.
The Swiss countryside seemed to unfold around us, with large meadows of green alternating with cleanly manicured fields of crops. Silvano explained that the road we were on would lead us through CERN and into France, where the hotel we were staying at was located. My first glimpse of CERN came at the globe, a sphere made of metal links. It was there for a moment and then we were past. Next thing I knew we were through an unmanned customs point and into France. It had taken all of ten minutes, a drastic departure from Texas where you could drive for 5 hours and still be in the same state. In Switzerland, Silvano laughingly said, you could drive for 3 hours and cross the country completely. In fact, with CERN lying on the border between Switzerland and France, Silvano mentioned that just going to the bathroom from his old office would take him into a different country. Crazy.
The French countryside was every bit as beautiful, with sprawling fields of green through which only a few roads cut. Our hotel, a holiday inn reminiscent of home, was nestled in the foothills of the mountains which rose up only a few miles away. It was so picturesque. After checking in and scarfing down a quick lunch of noodles and fish and some unidentified but delicious food products, we went up to our rooms. I decided to take a quick nap and shut my eyes.
It was a few hours later when I opened them. Feeling exhausted but ready for dinner, we texted Silvano and in a few minutes we were headed into downtown Geneva for dinner, seeing Lake Geneva on the way. We picked Ristorante Pizzeria for dinner, an authentic Italian place, and over a delicious dinner of pasta and the best pizza ever and tiramisu, we got to know more about CERN and about the exciting trip we were going to take from Silvano.
Finished with dinner and after claiming the rental car from the parking garage after some problems with a lost ticket, we drove Lake Geneva once more, this time with a spout of water reaching the sky in the middle of the lake. We decided to walk out to it, and as we went, Silvano explained the history of the spout as a symbolic reminder of a water pump malfunction from more than 50 years ago when the water pumps of a renowned diamond cutter’s factory backwashed water 40 feet into the air. Just as we were walking out to the fountain, the spout was turned off and the white light which had played on the water jet went out.
We walked back on the pier in relative darkness and got back into the car, before Silvano drove us back to our hotel. As we staggered into our rooms, we all crashed immediately, getting ourselves ready for our day tomorrow. But overall, it’s been a wonderful first day. Good night.