A weekend in the Netherlands with my parents

Last week my parents flew over for the long weekend, and we spent the first two days visiting the most touristic sights in and around Leiden. (On the last day we did a very long walk across previously unexplored and new parts of Leuven). Our first stop was at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the windmills in Kinderdijk.



Here we had a nice walk discovering the area, except for the first few hundred metres where the path along the small channels was packed with tourists from all over the world. Afterwards we drove to our hotel in Leiden, checked in, and almost immediately went for a walk (leaving the car in a nice new underground parking garage that was opened only two days earlier). Of course first we had to refill our energy reserves, so we went for pancakes in a “pancake house” (Pannenkoekenhuys Oudt Leyden). They were excellent (and huge)! Then we walked around the centrum, and among others we also made it to the top of the Burcht van Leiden (an old fortified point overlooking the city, providing great panoramas).


The next morning we drove to the tulip gardens of Keukenhof right after a not too early breakfast. We arrived there around 11:15, and luckily we still got into the (otherwise amazingly well organised and coordinated) parking without a problem. People coming just a half hour later were not that lucky anymore, because by that time everything was full. It turns out that we managed to visit on one of the busiest days the park has ever had. This was pretty evident inside, since there were people everywhere, but there were also so many flowers and it was really so extremely beautiful, that it made up for the otherwise alarmingly high tourist-density to the full extent. Of course it was basically impossible to take photos without including a Chinese family or a Russian couple in the background, but I did my best to still get some nice pictures. It was definitely worth a visit, but I would recommend going during the week and maybe when the weather is a bit less perfect :D







The past months

It is again the usual situation: I have not written anything here during the past months, but as always, this does not mean that I was not busy with various things basically all the time. So let’s have a short summary – in chronological order.

During November and December I played Uncharted 4 on the PS4, which looked very pretty, but progressed a bit slow for my liking, and the puzzles got quite repetitive after some time. For Christmas I got myself a new helmet (Giro Synthe MIPS) as a present, since my old one was getting way too old. Looks great, feels good. Then we spent two days between the holidays in Holland, visiting ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Nijmegen.


The first day we had sunny weather and Den Bosch was a nice city to walk around, while the next day Nijmegen was grey and cold, but at least we met up with Steven for dinner (and for lunch we also found a great place with delicious healthy sandwiches and drinks). On the next morning I also got the scrape-all-the-ice-off-your-windshield experience for the first time… Although we celebrated New Year’s Eve at home, the night before we went to the Spaans Dak for a fancy dinner, which was nice.


January was even colder than December. After cycling through the freezing fog in -5°C on the last day of the year (my coldest ride ever), I also biked through snow and freezing rain with my MTB during the first days of 2017 (this ride covered me in a layer of ice, and cost me a bit of skin around my left knee), and this kind of weather stayed for the following weeks too. This made January my coldest month on the bike (so far?) with an average ride temperature of 0.6°C (over 875 km in 34.5 hours).


I also got new glasses (my eyes did not get much worse, but my old lenses were so scratched from the years of cleaning that I really needed new ones), so now I have a slightly different look. Being a good citizen, I even went for a Belgian brand (Louis) for the frame. After all these expenses, I decided it was time to save some money, so instead of buying energy bars, I decided to make them myself. I used more or less the recipe from the Global Cycling Network, with some extra ingredients (and twice the amount to fill my baking tin), and the result was delicious. Since then I made a batch (almost 1.5 kg) every month. I also got a brighter front light (Lezyne Power Drive 1100XL) to be able to bike in the dark, therefore I had a few rides well past sunset for the first time ever. At the end of January I sold my MTB because I barely used it, especially since I got the cross bike. So now I have only two bikes again…

I started February with a small meeting in Bern at the International Space Science Institute, discussing the challenges in modelling massive stars. Unluckily around the same time I caught a quite bad cold, and I only recovered a week after coming home from Switzerland. (I felt so weak that I had to turn back from a group ride after 5 kilometres, which was pretty depressing after already not being on the bike for quite some time…). A week later (almost fully recovered by then) I went to the velodrome in Ghent with Willem (and the Belgian Rapha Cycling Club), which was a really fun two hours on the track with 40+ km/h. (Photo: Bert Van Lent – and I am on the far right.)


I wish there was a velodrome in Leuven, it would make my winter cycling training so much easier (and more fun). I had to buy a pair of new wheels for my road bike, because the originals were getting dangerously worn (partly due to the rainy and foggy descents in the Pyrenees last summer where we probably eroded a half millimetre from our rims in two days), and this time I did not go for the usual Mavic choice (although I am mostly happy with those wheels too), but I ordered a wheel-set from a smaller British company: HUNT. I choose their Race Aero wheels (1420g, 28 mm deep, and 22 mm wide rims, £379), and I am fully satisfied with them so far. They are hand built, light, aero, and HUNT offers a 60 day ride and return period, so I can only recommend giving them a try. Should I need a new pair of wheels, I find it likely that I would buy from HUNT again. Thanks to the wider rim, I also switched to a slightly wider tire (moving from 23 mm to 25 mm), and I can definitely feel the difference in ride quality (smoothness) and while cornering. The first ride with the new wheels took me to the French-Belgian border to do a reconnaissance of one of the routes that I had previously prepared for the Squadra Tornado training weekend. That week was great in terms of cycling overall (425 km in 15.5 hours), I even managed one ride in shorts (with knee and arm warmers, but still). Just before the end of the month I also completed the first century of the year too.


In March I started a big project that I always wanted to do; making my own sky atlas. The final push came when I was redoing a few figures about all the observations that had been made with the Mercator telescope since its inauguration (some of which I also compiled into a video), because I realised that I was already using a lot of the tools that would be needed to create a star atlas. Since this is a huge topic I want to write a separate blog entry about it (in the near future), but let me just say that I lost plenty of sleep time since the beginning of March to this project (but it has been always fun and I learned a lot while doing so). I was also a member of a PhD jury for the first time in my life, and I got to wear a fancy gown on the public defence of the candidate. I really liked that :)


For the second half of the month we finally got a spell of nice spring weather, so I returned to the South for the second reconnaissance ride, which was the nicest ride of the season so far (in Belgium). Unluckily the weather for the Tornado outing itself turned out to be pretty rainy, and I also had to drive to Antwerp in the middle of the weekend for an evening, therefore I only made it to the ride on Friday, so at the end I was really happy that I did the recon rides of the two other days earlier. On the PS4 I started playing Horizon Zero Dawn, which seems fun for now (although slightly repetitive). Towards the end of the month I bought a new cycling GPS, the Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt, which is much better than all the Garmins I had before, so I am very happy with the switch.


Unluckily it turns out that my unit has some kind of a hardware issue that only appears around an altitude of 2000 metres (and manifests in huge spikes or a complete loss in elevation data), so when I did my first bike ride from the Observatory on La Palma I had to face some nasty surprises. Of course – being a data scientist nerd – I was not happy about that, but luckily the Wahoo support was very helpful (maybe partly because I provided a detailed, ~5000 character-long description of the issue), and a replacement unit is already on its way as we speak (and as long as I am not crossing the ~2000 metre line I have no issues, so I don’t have to go back to one of my Garmin units in the meantime). Speaking of La Palma: I had an observing run at the Mercator telescope starting on the 4th of April (and lasting 9 nights, bringing my totals there up to 128 nights), then I took a week of holidays on the island just to bike around. The last time I travelled with my bike was in 2013, and most likely this is the last year that I have the opportunity to go to the Canary Islands for work, so I though I had to do it once again. During the nights I spent most of my time working on the sky atlas (drawing the outlines of ~300 dark and bright nebulae by hand) in the control room, and I did a 1.5-2 hour ride from the Observatory before every night (except for a very cold Monday). I have never biked this much up on the mountain. The previous years during the observing runs I only rode the bike between the telescope and the place where we stay during the day, which only added up to 10.5 km (when I rode up to the telescope twice) a day. Now I have a licence so I always drove the car to the telescope which saved a lot of time and energy, therefore I could go for longer rides between starting the instrument calibrations (right after getting out of bed on the afternoon) and having dinner (right before the beginning of the worknight). The weather was also quite nice at 2000 metres. It was almost always sunny, and during the first days it was even so hot that I could just bike in shorts, but a week into my stay I made good use of all the knee/arm warmers and the wind jacket I had with me too…


Normally I would take a taxi down to the hotel in Santa Cruz, but this time I made some arrangements so that I could just bike down, and a taxi would follow me with my bags :) That was quite cool (except for the part where a dog almost jumped at me while I was going down with 60 km/h), and I got an extremely helpful driver (via some local connections) who helped me with my bags a lot. I had six full days to bike, and I managed to bike on each day (which was a first again), although I had to cut a ride much shorter than planned, because I could not sleep anything the night before (thanks to my messed up internal clock). All in all I am happy with what I managed, especially the three longer rides. On the first day I biked around the Southern tip of the island before doing two 2nd category climbs, then after two days of fighting with insomnia I rode around the whole island (a really epic ride of 155 km with 3385 m of elevation gain), while on the last day of my holidays I biked up to the top of the island for the fifth time in my life, but for the first time without stopping.


This climb – leading up to the highest paved point (the Roque de los Muchachos at 2426 metres ASL) of the Canary Islands – is a monster. It is 41.5 km long, it starts at a few metres above sea level and climbs at an average gradient of 6%, but since there is a short downhill/flat section after reaching 2300 metres for the first time, the actual average gradient for the uphill parts is 7% (both for the first ~33 km and the last 3.5 km). Long story short, simply going up and down involves 2750 metres of elevation gain… This specific ride will stay in my memory not only because I finally managed to get up there without stopping, but also because the temperature went from 23°C at sea level to 10°C in the cloud layer (staying between 800 and 1800 metres, but while climbing that was not too cold, even though I was wearing only in shorts), then back up to comfortable (quite warm) levels thanks to the strong sunshine above the clouds.


This was all good until I had to go downhill though the cloud layer, because by that time the clouds became even thicker, so the visibility dropped to ~25 metres, and the temperature to 8°C. This means that I had to descend for a half hour through this layer (and due to the low visibility I had to go relatively slow, so it took me much longer than usual to get down), and I only had an extra gilet with me against the wind, but no jacket or arm warmers against the cold (since although I checked out what the weather situation was at the telescopes before leaving, I did not think about the possibility of having colder temperatures in the cloud layer at lower altitudes – quite stupid of me now that I think of it). With windchill values between 6°C and 2°C that was not a pleasant half hour, and I was shaking slightly by the time I emerged from the cloud layer, but I survived, so it is OK :D In total I biked 783 km in 34.5 hours on La Palma (with an elevation gain of 18140 metres, which explains the horrible average speed).

That afternoon (after warming up in the shower) I even managed to walk down to the new beach which finally opened after years of political games over permits and who knows what else, but now it is open, and it is a great addition to the city (providing not only access to the sea, but also a nice, new view over the colourful houses of the historical seafront with the mountains in the background). Speaking of things other than biking, just after cycling down from the observatory after my observing run, I got to watch two easter processions across the city, and they were both quite an interesting sight. My favourite italian place is luckily still open, so I ate there basically every night (except for one evening when I was so tired/lazy that I just stayed in my room and made spaghetti while watching Netflix). Although I am not a frequent coffee-drinker, I had to check out a place that I had read about in the Guardian a few months ago (El Cafe de Don Manuel). It turnes out that the article was not lying, it is a cosy, calm spot inside a beautiful renovated courtyard with only a few tables, and besides the good coffee, they serve delicious cakes too (one afternoon I simply could not resist taking a second piece, it was so good).


Flying home I got to sit on Business Class for the first time in my life (since for some reason when I booked my tickets to La Palma, this was the cheapest combination for these dates). It was a nice change to have legspace (and incredible amounts of it, especially from Madrid to Brussels) and proper meals, so I did not have to live on sandwiches and chocolates all day long. Of course if you think about it the price difference between business and economy tickets is basically more than what a (three) Michelin starred dinner costs (for two), so I would rather go for that and sit 5 hours without food and legspace if it was about my own hard-earned money. Ridiculous… (And then we are still not talking about First Class tickets on overseas trips.)

It was a bit of a shock to come back to the 7°C and rain, but hopefully from May the weather will finally turn a bit warmer. Besides work, I am also trying to put together a nice non-scientific CV for the corporate world, since soon I will start looking for a new job outside of academia, which will definitely bring some changes into my life.

The year (2016) in cycling (and other sports)

2016 was the first year when my total mileage did not turn out to be a new personal best, but it was still the second year in a row when I managed to cross the imaginary 10000 km line (quite easily), and – most importantly – I had a lot of fun on the bike. The high point of the year was undoubtedly the Trans Pyrenees ride with Willem (which almost single handedly made June 2016 my highest elevation gain month ever), there is really nothing that could come close to that. Honourable mention is given to the 263 km solo ride to the coast which is my longest solo ride to date. I also got a cyclocross bike.

The raw numbers for my cycling – without the daily commutes of course – in 2016:

Total distance: 10559 km
Total elevation gain: 68667 m
Total time: 379h 8m
Activity count: 133
Average speed: 27.9 km/h
Average heart rate: 152.4 bpm (max: 194 bpm, but sometimes I did not wear my HR strap)
Average cadence: 87 rpm (but I only have cadence measurement on my road bike)
Average temperature: 11.9°C (~2.5°C colder than the past 3 years, with a 1.8°C December…)

And now it is time to look at some maps and figures. Let’s start with the maps of cycling I have done this year.



Out of the 133 activities, 72 rides were done solo, while a large percentage of the rest were predominantly Squadra Tornado group rides. In this sense, this was my most social year on the bike so far. My most common partner in crime was unsurprisingly Willem, with whom I rode together 47 times (a total of 146 hours in duration). Here is a summary table of the rides by bike.


I also did some running (120 km) and hiking (38 km), adding up to a total activity time of 401 hours, which is halfway between my numbers from the previous two years. I would be happy with the same in 2017 for sure.


At last but not least, here is an overview of my yearly progress (in kilometres, including running and hiking too) throughout the previous seasons.



Memories from the second half of the year

As usual, I have not written much lately here, so it is time for another summary-type entry. (Since I also did not take pretty pictures with my more professional cameras, all following images are from my Instagram account, taken with my iPhone.)

We spent a very nice long weekend in the Westhoek around Ypres in July. Our hotel was on the top of the Kemmelberg (a typical Flemish hill that can only be reached via steep cobblestoned climbs), and our room had a nice panorama towards the surrounding areas. We visited the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres (we were a bit late arriving only one and a half hour before they closed, so we had to hurry a bit to be able to see everything), the recently renovated and expanded Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke, and the Tyne Cot Cemetery. The musea were both very interesting with nicely presented exhibitions, and it was very moving to walk around one of the many World War 1 cemeteries of the Westhoek. We also took our road bikes along (neatly fixed onto a self-made rack in the back of the car) and did a nice ride around the area (which I finished by climbing the Kemmelberg from all the three possible directions). I would strongly recommend a visit to region to anyone who is at least a bit interested in the history of World War 1.


Then in the beginning of August we had our regular good-weather summer-holidays in Hungary. Thanks to my loving and enthusiastic parents, we did not only walk around in Budapest (enjoying our usual cocktails, szörp, and kürtőskalács while catching all the pokemon in Pokemon GO), but we also drove to some other places nearby, such as the village of Nagymaros, the small lake of Bánk, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hollókő (where we visited both the Palóc ethnographic village and the ruins of the castle). It is a pity that my brother was not home, but he is now a member of the Emirates cabin crew, so he is also a relatively rare visitor in Budapest nowadays. (He had a flight to Brussels in September, so we met there for dinner, which was pretty nice.)


On Assumption Day (15th of August) we drove to the Mechelse Heide which is a beautiful region to walk around (through the forest, grassy fields, and sandy paths) in the Nationaal Park Hoge Kempen. This was one of the last times I drove with an L sign, since the following week I finally passed my driving exam and got my driver’s license! I really like driving, so I hope that we will do some nice road-trips (with my bike in the back) in the not so distant future.


At the end of the month, following two weeks of very good training on the bike, I pushed myself a bit out of my comfort zone and cycled to the coast via the velodrome in Roubaix, and the abbey that produces the world’s number one beer (Sint-Sixtusabdij Westvleteren). Given that at that point I still had 45 km to go against an annoyingly strong headwind, I decided to take a rain check on the alcohol… This was my longest solo ride so far with 263.7 km and 9:48:54 over an elevation gain of 1537 metres. I took the train home from Oostende, which was neither cheap (25 EUR) nor very straightforward, since basically nobody knew where I had to go with my bike in the train. I also had to switch Garmins (GPS devices) in Ypres, because the Edge 520 could no handle constantly being on the map screen for more than 200 km (as it eats up power almost twice as fast when looking at the map screen). It is good that I expected this to happen and I also took the Edge 800 along as a backup. Overall, it was definitely a pretty epic day. Speaking of biking, my first drive alone in the car was to Zolder with my bike in the back. Also, this year I biked to Knokke and back (314 km) again, now with a smaller group of people, but I am getting a bit bored of the route (having done it already three times), so next year we need to do something else. In preferably less wind… (I am so sick of the wind…) My cross bike is also getting quite some mileage, it’s odometer is already past 500 kilometres!


In October I went to La Palma with the master students (like I do every year since 2010), and it was quite some fun this time too: I got to drive the observers’ car for the first time, and had a few very scenic runs along the trails following the edge of the caldera (both over and inside the clouds). I also took the time to finally edit the GoPro videos from the Trans Pyrenees ride, but I keep encountering some technical issues when rendering the final movies, so they are still not available online, and I don’t really have a solution in mind right now… Also, on the 10th of October I celebrated being 10 billion seconds old :) I will try to go to the Mercator telescope once more before my contract ends here, because it is a very nice place to be, and working with the telescope is still something I really enjoy.


At the end of the month we went to the Ardennes for two days, just to walk around in the autumn forest and to enjoy the nice courses they were serving at our small hotel. Even though we had to drive back to Leuven for Clio’s job interview (which she aced of course), we still had time to visit the caves of Han-sur-Lesse, which was also extremely pretty and – luckily for me – not claustrophobic at all. I like these small getaways, especially when we manage to find such a good deal as this time!


Honorable mentions: I made a nice cheesecake (with fake-oreo-cookie base and blueberry-raspberry top), I started playing badminton with a few colleagues (which I did in 2010 for a while), and I went to a Soulsister concert with Clio (some people say they are the Belgian Beatles, I don’t know about that, but it was pretty good, and funnily enough, I was one of the youngest people sitting in the audience :D). There is nothing new on the gaming front, I think I got a bit bored of The Division (even though the 1.4 update was fun for a few evenings), so I am pretty much just waiting for something new to come out… (Also, No Mans’ Sky was a huge disappointment.) In the meantime, recreating the Apollo missions or making a communication network in KSP always quickly satisfies the nerd in me. And there is always FIFA when everything else feels boring…

My 7th “first-author” paper is accepted for publication

I am happy to report that the paper entitled Signatures of internal rotation discovered in the Kepler data of five slowly pulsating B stars, which contains the results of the second year of my FWO postdoctoral mandate, is now in press for the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. The accepted draft can be found on arxiv.org. Enjoy reading it (or just look at how pretty Figure 1 is)!