Coffee, maths, and a couch to sleep on ↑ all posts

Coffee, maths, and a couch to sleep on

I hadn’t realised just how close to Zurich I had camped, until I set off in the morning and by 9.30am I had reached the lakeside in the center of the city. My phone was dead and so I headed to that international beacon of free wifi and power sockets: Starbucks. I needed to get in touch with my friends Kay and Mia, whose flat I would be staying at for the next few days. I figured I could send an email, and nurse a coffee quietly until my phone was charged and plans were arranged.

Instead I found myself talking to a local, Pascal, for a couple of hours. He’d spotted I was a cyclist while queueing and kindly bought me a coffee as “it’s not every day you meet someone cycling to Istanbul”. I wasn’t going to argue with that.

At the age of 40 and with no background in science, he’d decided to teach himself what seemed like all of mathematics from scratch. It was an unexpected, but very enjoyable way to spend the morning, talking about the history of maths, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, Cantor’s diagonal proof of uncountable sets, and figuring out the German - English translations for ‘set’, ‘equivalence relations’, and ‘paradox’. Quite a change from the standard cycle touring chats I’ve been having!

I met up with Kay and Mia later on at their flat. Both are friends from Oxford who are now PhD students in Zurich. We took the tram into town and ate at a crowded Asian restuarant, where new arrivals were squeezed into whatever space could be found on long benches. The food was delicious and after days of eating bread and cheese for dinner I couldn’t resist filling up on curry and noodles, and Kay and I shared a second round of main dishes.

We then walked along the river to the lake, the lights of the old buildings and churchtowers reflecting beautifully in the dark river. Then to bed, and the luxury of a couch to sleep on!