Sunday, 13 July 2008

Granada Diary

Thursday 3rd July

Left Derby in pouring rain. Arrived in Granada to a hot evening, with a breeze which took the edge off the heat. A fascinating view from the plane as we came in over the hills - brown dry fields with a regular network of green spots of varying sizes - there has clearly been a lot of planting recently.

A bus brought us into the city centre and after walking past the hotel entrance I managed to find the door. A plush modern foyer and a modern clean room with a small window which overlooks the courtyard, no view :<( but it is ‘4 star’so I guess at the price I am paying I can’t expect better – and a front facing room would probably be much noisier.

Friday 4th July

The conference did not start until Friday evening so I was able to have a little look around Granada during the day. I visited the cathedral which was built when the Catholics took control of the area after they had conquered the Moors (of whom more later). So the cathedral was intended to be a great statement of dominance. Unfortunately since that time the city has encroached on all sides and it is difficult to get a good perspective on the building from outside, unlike our cathedrals which tend to either be built on a hill, or to have some space around them. I took an audio guide which was very useful, although it did not always tell me the things I wanted to know and in the second half it became rather tedious in the descriptions of all the side chapels.

I then wandered through the streets, including some very narrow lanes with gloriously coloured bedspreads hanging.

By this time it was very hot (35°C and higher) and I made my way back to the air-conditioned hotel. And slept for some time.

After registering we had to find out own evening meal – a little strange we thought, as at this stage nobody really knew anyone to meet up with, so there may have been some folk who didn’t have anyone to go out with.

We then met back at the hotel to take a bus to the Alhambra.

There we wandered round a limited part of the palace as there was a concert on in one of the large spaces. To be honest it was a bit of a disappointment. I expected lots of gardens and water, but we only saw one or two open courtyards with water. And because the lighting was using spot lights you could not see the colours of the tiling – only revealed when I took a photograph and the flash revealed the colours.

Saturday 5th July

The beginning of the summer school and we had talks and workshops all day and then in the evening we went to the Science Park - a hands on science 'museum' which we had to ourselves, where we were fed tapas - which is basically tasty nibbles.

There was a Foucault pendulum, and a nice model to explain how it happens.

We visited an exhibition about the Antarctic that was originally staged in the Natural History Museum in London.

We also had a session in the planetarium, and I am beginning to learn how to identify the stars in the sky. We should have had an observing session but they decided everyone (they?) was too tired.

Sunday 6th July

There were more talks and I now have so many activities to do with the position of the Sun in the sky, there can’t be any more? This evening we had our conference dinner. It was at a place belonging to the University with fantastic views across the valley to the Alhambra. Good food too.

It really is very hot until late into the evening. This is partly because Spain is on Central European Time (the time at 15° E of Greenwich) and its Summer Time but is on about the same longitude as UK (Granada is at 3° E), so is 2 hours ahead of solar time and is hottest mid afternoon. (Can you tell I was at an astronomy conference?) Fortunately we don’t spend too much time out in it. The lecture theatre is air-conditioned, but not the workshop rooms. The hotel is air-conditioned.

Monday 7th July

More workshops and an opportunity to meet the Professor of Applied Physics at the University of Granada (where we have our meeting). I have come across this man before he stages some exciting and spectacular experiments. He is installed a Foucault pendulum, which I have filmed and intend to use in class.

In the evening we were given 10€ to go and find tapas. With every round of drinks you get a tray of free tapas, so you could feed yourself by drinking your way through the money I guess. However the tapas bars seem not to open before 8.30 to 9.00 and a colleague and I decided to eat earlier and then come back to the hotel and share ideas about teaching physics and astronomy – I know, sad.

Tuesday 8th July

The last day of workshops and an early finish. We then took a coach to Calar Alto an observatory in the mountains about 100 km away. We arrived in the early evening and the all of a sudden, we northerner Europeans felt a whole lot more comfortable. The temperature was around 21 °C and there was a gentle breeze.

We looked at the two largest telescopes – with 2.2 m and 3.5 meter apertures. Access to the larger telescope meant climbing up the outside of the building – which to my amazement I did without difficulty. After a look around two of the telescopes we had an observing session out in the open, trying to put into practice the lessons learned in the workshops.

I had the opportunity to learn how to use my camera to take photos of the stars. A very kind young teacher from Greece showed me what to do. With digital it is a case of try it and see if you have the right settings – if nothing shows up then you just try another setting!

We also visited the control room of the 2.2 meter telescope where the technician astronomer showed us how he spends his nights. The observatory is providing a service for astronomers in Germany and Spain. An astronomer will book time on the telescope and then send their request for observations. The technician first calibrates the telescope by taking readings for a known star and then he moves the telescope to the requested part of the sky and records observations, which may be images or data such as the spectrum of the star. It is probably quite tedious most of the time and you have to be very careful that you follow procedures accurately. And you need to be a nocturnal animal!!

Wednesday 9th July

We were allowed a late start as we did not get back from our observations until after 2.00 am. We went to a different venue today – the Institute of Astrophysics who were co-sponsors of the course. There we had an excellent talk on dark matter – which is really wrongly named as it is not dark – that would imply it absorbs the light that falls on it. Rather it is invisible and transparent to radiation. This was followed by a tapas lunch where the plates kept coming. A speciality of the region seems to be gazpacho in small glasses. And so the conference came to an end. Presents for the course leaders and evaluation forms completed. Was it good? Yes overall, though it was rather too heavily focused on sun dials, not enough observation time and no cosmology in the workshops.

No running but I have walked lots and used the stairs almost every time coming up to my 5th floor room. Not eaten too much I think but drinking litres of water.

Saturday 10th July

Home and time to download the photos and sort the wheat from the chaff. I have some rather cool image processing software image-j which is used to process medical images. I tried it on some of my star photos wow !

Can you see the plough?

And finally a piece of street ironwork that caught my eye!
More pictures will go up on flickr.

Running? I have done a couple of runs since I got back and now have a schedule to take me to Robin Hood, which includes lots of strength stuff at the gym.


La Fee Verte said...

You obviously had a brilliant time and didn't choke on all the tapas!!

Highway Kind said...

I visited the Alhambra in February and my first reaction was a bit like yours. i expected it to be larger and more overwhelmingly grand. Once I adjusted however I started to marvel at the workmanship and design. The more time I spent there the more I liked it and I left thinking it was wonderful.

Anyway that sounds like a great conference. I am glad you had a good time

WildWill said...

Looks like a busy time

Revrunner said...

Those side chapels are sometimes called chantries and have an interesting history, as you may know. Beautiful example!

womble said...

You take such wonderful photos! Looks like you had a fantastic trip - what contrast between the architecture, the landscape and then studying astronomy! I'm not sure I like the look of those stairs wrapping their way up round the outside of that observatory...

Now. What's your target for Robin Hood?