The weather forecast was electric storms for the duration but each day it was sunny spells and hot and the forecast had changed to be electric storms starting the following day. It didn’t start until our last day on Friday. We were glad of the aircon in the venue for the euspen conference in the end. Our first challenge was that the conference was being held in a building near the ports which is a 15 minute walk from the main bus station and Venice. The accommodation (Jolly Campers) we were allocated was not actually in Venice and was therefore not covered by the 3 day pass we were bought for transport. Jolly Campers did provide a shuttle bus that dropped us near the port but it only started at 9 am and last but 9 pm which was not suitable for us mostly as the lectures started at 8.30 am and finished around 5 pm but we also had dinners and other functions so could rarely catch the last bus. Also, you had to buy tickets in advance.
We started our week with a welcome drinks session that was in Venice but unfortunately, we arrived too late for the workshops we had chosen in the afternoon. The welcome session was great and helped everyone adjust and start to network a little. To find the event, Saurav our course director, used google maps while taking pictures of the journey with his selfie stick. Once the event had closed we all scooted off to find a suitable venue for us all to eat in a restaurant. Many people that know me will know that I’m famous for saying, “There are no restaurants in Venice”. I say this from previous visits because most are really tiny cafés with many seats outside. The only real restaurants are the ones in hotels. I can categorically state that I was wrong, there are very many really good restaurants in Venice and we found one with an internal courtyard to accommodate all 15 of us. Four Mres from Cambridge, eight from Cranfield, our two lecturers, Saurav, Claudiu and lastly Adam, who did his Mres at Cambridge and transferred to Cranfield for his PhD. Adam is a great guy known by most at Cranfield for his hard work, knowledge and helpfulness. He is finishing his PhD this year but may still be around next year on another project. You can find the full team of Mres students here, https://www.cdt-up.eng.cam.ac.uk/directory/mres-students. We were spread over two round tables that paid their bills independently. We enjoyed our meal but were a little surprised when the bill came. Although we hadn’t requested, bread sticks and bread rolls came out and we hardly ate any of it. This turns out to be standard all over Venice, they always add a cover charge per person including, bread, place settings and napkins etc. They sometimes also include a service charge. Unfortunately, many of our table had left, paying for what they had first which of course didn’t include their share of this charge. As we had to pay for the bread rolls, Katherine being a vegan, struggles sometimes to find suitable food, took these rolls in her handbag on top of the receipt. It was hilarious when the waiter asked for the receipt to check it, to watch Katherine taking the bread rolls out of her bag in front of the waiter to get the receipt. This alone, made it worth the charge!
Being our first return journey at night with no transport tickets, we did well negotiating a bus journey and 45 minute walk to eventually find “Jollies”. We even managed to get the last drink in the bar to replace fluids. The following morning, I was down for breakfast around 7.30 which was a sparse buffet breakfast but adequate and free. As long as we have hot and cold drinks and a small snack we are happy. It was a very long day Tuesday at the conference but also really enjoyable and informative. There were also people we had already met on the CDT program from other events. euspen gave everyone a small rucksack on registration that had various goodies inside, including a program that listed all the presentations with times and a few lines about each paper presented at the conference. Prof Richard Leach, from Nottingham University, whom I had been for an interview with for my PhD presented five papers at this event alone. Now I understand how he has managed to be involved with over 250 papers prior to this event. He is a legend and certainly “the man of the moment”. Euspen also included a usb stick that included all these papers. What a great start.
Breaks, followed presentations, that followed breaks until it looked like we would have time to walk to the bus station to convert our travel card barcode onto a real card and maybe even take a couple of pictures of Venice. However, there were some awards that we felt it would be rude if we didn’t attend followed by short talks from all the exhibitors at the event. To get the most from talking to the exhibitors, it seemed we should listen to these also. Two of our group walked to convert the travel cards taking our barcodes with them so at least we could use them from now. We had already missed almost the entire first day of the transport but we had them anyway. Once these talks were finished euspen had laid on a student networking dinner that didn’t finish until 10 pm. This was very nice but we felt that we should at least have seen Venice. Once we realised there would be no time we arranged to take the following afternoon off because we had not been invited to the formal dinner that evening anyway. Following the hour long lunch was one of two, 2 hour poster sessions where we could read the posters and ask questions about the owners projects. There were two from Cranfield resenting posters, Rita (an Mres) and Adam just finishing his PhD. We explained to them what our intensions were but they had to be by the posters for both events and they agreed to meet us following this session. We could all then attend the important final poster session where the votes were counted and prizes awarded.
We had a wonderful time around Venice, starting by getting the boat to Murano where they have made glass since at least the 1400’s. In fact this is where Galileo bought his glass that he made the first telescope with in Venice. I had missed it on all of my previous visits but finally made it there. The glass is very expensive but beautiful and probably the best that money can buy. However, these days it’s likely that most of it is first imported from China. We visited the Murano glass Museum which was expensive but enjoyable. Not sure why the museums in Venice are so expensive; it’s a shame as I fear many people do not go in because of costs. We walked to the nearest ferry port and returned to Venice main island – next stop St Marks Square where we were to meet Rita and Adam following the poster thing.
On previous visits, the square has been so packed I have not enjoyed it there but this day it was reasonably clear with people feeding the pigeons. People think that pigeons are fat but they are not, they just have very large breast muscles that allows them to be the only bird that can manage a vertical take-off. Dileep turned out to be bird man and every time he put his arms out they seemed to land on him. Dileep only likes the girl pigeons landing on him. He is from one of my favourite places in the world, India and so is self-funding. He works incredibly hard without complaint, doing everything we do plus manages a 40 hour week working in a local petrol station. He also never misses an opportunity to pitch for funds towards his PhD. Remember the course fees for international students is two to three times as much as for home students. He cannot get funding from home without first returning to India for two years before he will qualify. Anyway, we met the other missing students and split up because the Cambridge guys had been invited to the formal dinner and had to head back. There were a few missing because Venice flu seemed to hit our group from day one and some were in the rough early stages in bed. The remaining Cranfield students agreed to walk to the Rialto bridge which is probably second on the list to St Marks Square. We were starving and settled for the Rialto Restaurant right next to the bridge. Man, now we were living, I had a huge 1 litre jug of beer and the food was very good and not as expensive as most places. Its so expensive in Venice as its almost all tourists and they don’t have to impress because new tourists will be along all the time. Once finished we started the long walk back to the bus station followed by a 15 minute walk back to Jollies. They had a pool party on that night that finished at 11.30 pm. Sounds good but we are living in caravan rooms that are semi detached and can hear every noise outside. Once the band had finished they seem to play music until 1.30 am most nights and my neighbour always rose at 6 am. This shakes the caravan around so much you can’t possibly sleep so it was late nights and early mornings every day. Still this meant that I was always one of the first down for breakfast.
Thursday was another long day but the main event was the poster competition and were pleased when that finally came around. We asked Rita many difficult questions which she was very able to answer and of course we all voted for her. Adam was magnanimous in encouraging everyone to vote for her even though he was entered himself. I asked Adam for his poster number so I could vote him second but he wouldn’t let me as any votes for second and third are effectively voting against your first place. The announcements; third place was awarded, then second and finally first place out of around 250 posters. Rita’s real name was announced (Junguo zhao) and her face was a picture – she was so shocked but the roar that went up was incredible, everyone was going mad. Yahoo, well done Rita! Her parents are going to be so proud and well-done Adam for his part in this victory and honour. This is the event that Saurav won when he did his Mres, not all that long ago and now he has over 40 papers published. The event finished around 5 pm so we all left for dinner following Tommy from Cambridge who had eaten at an impressive place a short walk away previously. Unfortunately, it was already full by the time we arrived there so we headed off, eventually finding a larger restaurant in a square with enough spaces to accommodate us all. They pushed lots of tables together so it all felt quite medieval.
On Friday we had a choice of three industrial tours but again the logistics didn’t really work as we were so far out. Fortunately, Jollies had an eight seater minibus that we booked. They only had one so we had to do two trips. As it started raining at 5 am our first group had to stand in the rain until the others arrived. Different minibuses arrived for tours one and three but a full sized bus turned up for our most popular number two. Number two was an excellent tour around a university. They split us into 3 groups and each was let around five departments. It all worked so smoothly and run by intelligent people. As usual Dillep took the opportunity of asking for PhD funding. The university had some great equipment and were working mainly on trouble shooting for industry, solving any problems that arose by trying to understand the problems. Understanding is the only true way forward – there is no point just being lucky to find a solution. If you truly understand something, you can design whatever application you like from it, if you were lucky you only have one solution.
The afternoon was free and again we wandered around Venice, but this time without the aid of google maps so we kept finding dead ends. We headed towards their Natural History Museum but they wanted 24 euros each. We found two other museums but again, as students they were too expensive. We eventually found ourselves at the Rialto bridge again and crossed back onto the normal side where we ate at the restaurant last time there. This time we used google maps to find the famous bra bar that my friend Evonne had told me about in a Facebook comment. It was literally two minutes from the bridge. We had a drink there but prices were quite high – even for Venice. Following this drink we set off to find the others who had eaten at the restaurant we couldn’t get in previously. They had already left but amazingly we bumped into most of them walking by a market. Strange how these coincidences happen, with all the people in Venice how we should meet this way. We all went for a seat in the shade in a local park following Tommie’s expert guidance once again. By now the rain had stopped and the sun was back in force.
We were not all on the same flight home for our return, the Cambridge gang were flying back from a different airport to Stanstead while we were at Marco Polo to Gatwick. Today they has a staff strike at the airport that ended at 5 pm and our flight was at 9.50 pm. However, we spent most of our time queueing because of the backlash. Again, when we arrived at Gatwick we must have taken a couple of hours to meet at baggage claim. We finally set off finding the minibus for our return but the M25 have overnight roadworks and is down to one lane at 40 mph. We got to the M1 to find it was closed between the M25 and Milton Keynes so had to drive around the houses to get back to Cranfield. By the time I got home it was just past 3 am and I seemed to be developing a sore throat. The dreaded Venice flu, so I took a lemsip before going to bed. Awoken by a phone call at 8.30 am, I still felt tired but two more lemsips seemed to keep the cold at bay. What a fantastic trip which was also educational and interesting and we all managed to get several contacts for our PhD projects which I will talk about in a future blog once I have accepted my best choice offer. Only two weeks away from our next conference in Edinburgh. Where am I going to find the time to finish my Mres thesis properly?