I have been in Europe for nearly a month now doing several things for work, school and a little also for myself. It has been a very intensive month with lot of traveling, preparing, studying, working, EATING, and with very little quality sleep! It is kind of hard when you have to change bed every one or two nights!! "Luckily" I have been now in Pavia at the university where I am getting my PhD for nearly a week and it has been nice to feel like you don't have to pack and leave the next day. That feeling will soon be gone since I am leaving today to spend the weekend at my parents, returning to Pavia for two more days, leaving for Alghero (Sardinia Island) on Wednesday for a scientific congress, and leaving for the United States the day after I fly back from Sardinia!!! But the words "flying home" are like music to my ears!
I started this month-long trip in Philadelphia, as recorded in my previous entry. After the rocambolesque, but successful attempt to fly to Europe nothwistanding the bad weather, I arrived as originally planned to Italy on Sunday September 7 only to discover that all my luggage did not make the connecting flight in France. That was not good as I was planning to leave the following day for the Czech Republic and I had pretty much only what I was wearing to take with me... Luckily, the luggage did arrive that evening and my parents were so kind to drive the two hour r/t to the airport to recover it for me.
I left as planned on Monday for Wien, Austria, rented a car and drove to Brno, Czech Republic that evening. I was stopped twice by the Czech police late at night. The first time they were just stopping random cars to ensure no one was smuggling anything in the country (interestingly, they removed the custom check point at the border to promote "free exchanges and travel" with other European countries, but then set a police check point about a mile past the border...). The second stop was when I was driving in the historic part of town that was limited to pedestrians and bicycles... One of the two cops had the booklet in his hands ready to give me a ticket, but before he said anything, I jumped out of the car (something that I would probably get shot for in the US) and explained to them that the GPS told me to turn in there and that I was lost on my way to the hotel). The cop did not speak any English or Italian, but I think he got the message. Took my GPS in his hands and in a broken English (more broken than mine!!) exclaimed: "Piece of s***!" and told me to follow their car to the hotel. No ticket was issued!!
The purpose of my short visit to Brno was to attend and speak at the EASR 2008 congress on Science and Religion. Months ago I submitted three abstracts and two were accepted for presentations. It was a positive experience, but the true surprise was to run into Christian Euvrard, who served as mission president in Milan Italy when I was a young child. He was also a presenter at the same congress. It was cool to have two LDS presenting at an interfaith congress dealing with different topics related to religion, but it was even cooler to find a friendly face in a stranger place. I left Brno right after lunch, to drive to Bratislava, where I spent the following two nights.
The drive to Bratislava was enjoyable and fairly quick. The nicest thing was that I could drive in the daylight, not like the night before as I was trying to find my way to Brno. Outside of Bratislava I met with my dear friend Dana, whom I knew from the BYU days. Dana spent two semesters at BYU working toward her PhD. It has been probably ten years since we last saw each other. I remembered that I was the one that left BYU first, going to Italy for a short vacation and Dana returned to her country shortly after. So that was it. I thought we never saw each other again, but there she was again... with her two kids in the car and her big friendly smile! It was sooo good to see her and one of the highlights of my journey through Europe.
I spent two days in Bratislava, meeting with a professor from the Bratislava University about working together to collect Slovakian DNA samples, visiting the beautiful city and eating great food (Dana even made me some Slovakian original Bryndzové halušky). Dana and her husband were wonderful hosts and I truly enjoyed my time with them, their kids and their funny dog Tommy. The only bad thing about this visit was that it was too short. I hope our paths will cross again!