by Tommaso Dorigo

The reader be warned: this post does not contain any physics, and is rather about how a physicist fights for some space and time for himself and his family, decoupled from his daily occupations, and hopefully lowers his stress level.

I left my home in Venice on June 15th at four in the morning with my fiancee and my two kids (Filippo, 17 and Ilaria, 13 years old), headed  to Elafonisos, a tiny island in southern Greece. Our Volotea flight was due to leave the Marco Polo airport at 6.30AM -an early and cheap flight I had picked to ensure we would get to destination at a reasonable time.

The flight did leave at the expected time, and I soon sat back and tried to sleep with mask and earplugs on. At some point, however, I was woken up by the flight assistant, who asked us to prepare for the landing in Venice. I thought he had confused the landing place (Athens) with the departure one, and even made a joke about it with my son Filippo, who was sitting on my right and was not more aware than I was of the situation. But as we landed I realized we were indeed in Venice!

After landing we were explained that due to a technical problem the pilot had been forced to head back. So we disembarked, were brought back to the airport, and given information on the forthcoming events. I must say that the company was helpful and handled the situation well; they distributed vouchers for meals and kept us informed on the events. Eventually, they explained that a new plane was being flown in from Toulon (France), and that we’d be back on track at 1.30PM.

Elafonisos is a 4 x 4 km island 400 meters off the eastern tip of Peloponnese. To cross the channel of 3-meters-deep crystal blue water there are ferry boats every 30 minutes. In June, the last one leaves the coast at 9.30PM. Since the drive from Athens to Elafonisos lasts four and a half to five hours (three if you are Ayrton Senna with a Greek guide), the flight from Venice to Athens lasts two hours, and there’s one hour of time difference to boot, you may well imagine I got worried about our chances to reach destination in time to take possession of the rented apartment in the evening.

Eventually we reached Athens’ Venizelos airport at 4.30PM local time, and rushed to the car rental company – which involved a 10′ drive through typical close-to-airport nowhereland. As we left in a fully packed subcompact car it was 5.10PM. Would we manage to catch the last ferry?

The road from Athens to Elafonisos goes through Corinth (80km away) and Tripoli (some further 80 km), then Sparti (80km more). This is all good highway and there is not a lot of traffic, especially after Corinth, so in two and a half hours you can expect to get to Sparti without trouble. (You can get from Tripoli to Sparti through a shorter path using a national road, but if you’re in the mood of shaving some travel time off your trip schedule your best bet is the longer highway route, where you can push on the gas pedal).

From Sparti to Elafonisos is where the trip gets a bit trickier. Although it’s just 120km more, so half of the Athens-Sparti distance, it takes exactly as much time to drive it. And for a good reason: the road is often narrow, full of curves, up and down, and it crosses several villages, where it is not uncommon to get stuck. Furthermore, the chance to lose your way is non-null.

We were lucky, I would say, as we found almost no traffic on our way. In the winding roads from Sparti to Elafonisos a single slow truck on your way can easily lead you to lose 10 or 20 minutes. As we finally reached the Ferry departure port, it was 9.20PM. Phew!

A map of southern Greece with our trip.
Kalliopi, Jacques, and I on the ferry in front of Elafonisos, on our way back.

From then on, the vacation went smoothly. The place is very relaxing, and in June you can always find a long stretch of beach where you have no close neighbors. But for a physicist, forgetting work duties is always a very complicated business. While you could in principle decide to ignore everything for the duration of your vacation (two full weeks in my case), this would create a lot of trouble to your collaborators, and would seriously jeopardize your projects and the  trust of your colleagues.

The amazing color of the water in front of the Elafonisos port.
During the two weeks in Elafonisos I followed by video or phone connection a total of five meetings; I sent about 100 mail messages and read 200; and ignored some 200 more. I reviewed two papers, blogged a little, and had a in-person business meeting with a colleague concerning a journal we are editors of (we could do this because he chanced to be attending to a marriage in Monemvasia, a town only 30km away!). And I spent several hours analyzing CMS data to fit for the jet energy scale in multi-jet events, as I discussed in the previous article. All in all, I estimate I worked about 3 hours every day.
The beach of Panagitsa is a near-deserted place in June.
At the beach of Big Simos, playing with Jacques.
Some relax with the dog.
More relax with Jacques, at the south end of Simos.
Kalliopi calls me for a dive.
Does the above mean I ruined my vacation ? I believe I did not, but indeed I cannot deny I would have been happy to be free from all that work. It feels as if it is as good as it gets – I cannot imagine doing less than that, as the weight of missing deadlines and letting colleagues down would be unbearable. In particular, the duties of the AMVA4NewPhysics networks cannot be left unattended!
I only feel grateful that as a researcher I can somehow decide on my own whether something can wait or needs immediate action. I imagine that many other jobs do not offer that luxury.