Tag Archives: dailystuff

Spring in the time of Covid-19

This spring (and summer) turned out to be very different than planned, due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Just a few days after my last flight lesson, Belgium went into lockdown, working from home became the new norm, and social distancing undoubtedly established itself as the word of 2020 in an instant. Luckily (or rather thanks to the hard work of scientists, health care personnel, and the willingness of politicians to listen to these groups) we managed to flatten the curve before the health system got overwhelmed, and we are basically done with the measures as even bars and restaurants reopened two weeks ago, and since last Monday international travel is also allowed again. As the virus is still present, and there is no vaccine yet, it seems like life will have to go on in a quite different way compared to how things were used to be before Covid-19, with face masks and keeping a safe distance whenever possible.

While we had no physiological or financial issues (I can work as well – if not better – from home as from the office, and there is enough work to do), mentally these weeks (especially early on) were really not easy. In the beginning my hypochondria was messing with my head way too much, causing large swings in my mood and productivity, which got better only by limiting my news intake, and when hospitalisation numbers finally started going down. Initially I could not even fully enjoy my occasional bike rides outside because of my bad mental state. Luckily individual cycling (and running) was always allowed (and even encouraged), because I am pretty sure I would have gone really crazy without that… But holiday plans (including the so thoroughly planned and booked Trans Pyrenees ride) had to be cancelled (and everything is was too uncertain to start making new ones), we could not go to restaurants, there were no flight training, Liverpool FC was halted on the way to their first Premier League trophy, and I was not even allowed to drive to the Ardennes for a ride :( Mainly 1st world problems, but still, a big negative change in everyday lifestyle is difficult no matter the baseline.

After the initial shock, we slowly got used to the new situation. The exceptionally dry and warm weather (average temperature of my rides in April was 20.2°C, which is several degrees over the historical average, and this April-May was the driest April-May in Belgium since the beginning of measurements) definitely helped by creating plenty of opportunities for biking (and since I work 4/5th as of February, I have more free time in general in any case).

So while my big sportive goal for 2020 suddenly disappeared, I still continued with the training that I started at the beginning of this year (wanting to get my earlier cycling fitness back, and simply wanting to do something else besides sitting in front of the computer). I tried to keep my rides interesting by always picking a different route (while avoiding the busy paths along the waterways), and by participating in small challenges on a few selected road segments. After my burnout last year, I really enjoyed being on the bike again, and I tried biking without looking at the numbers most of the time (so biking for the good feeling, and not to achieve a given amount of kilometers a week or month). Even though I try to not not concentrate on the plain numbers anymore, having completed all main monthly Strava challenges (bike more than 1250 km, with more than 7500 m elevation gain, and including at least one 100 km ride) in April and May, and even getting a few KOMs (back) is something I am happy about (plus it seems like my cycling fitness level has just reached its all time high too). I have also visited some new places, like the spiral bike path looping through the trees and the bike path crossing a lake (in a way that the road is under the water level while your eyes are in line with it) in Limburg, or the geographical middle point of Belgium, and the West side of Brussels. The open road (or gravel path) was also the only place where I could meet up with a few friends when it was already safe to do so, and some of the best rides were these social evening spins just before sunset. I expect that now that flight training is restarting I will bike a bit less, but as we are allowed to take the car to ride somewhere else since last week, I hope to get back to the Ardennes and bike further away from Leuven more often in the coming months (which already started with a nice outing to Luxembourg on Sunday).

I have been riding with my beautiful steel bike too a lot (already more than over the whole past year), not only because it is a very nice bike, but also because I had to miss my Endurace for two weeks… The reason: the frame broke under me (where the front derailleur hanger is screwed onto the seat tube), just 500 m from home, but luckily without me crashing. Fortunately it cost me only 120 EUR to get a brand new replacement frame (instead of 2600 EUR which is the actual price of a new frame), as the bike was still covered by the 6 year guarantee of Canyon.

Work went also quite well the past months, as while coding gets boring sometimes, we have been in the news a lot (among others in the VRT, in De Tijd, in De Standaard, in the Knack, and for example with an article in the Verkeersspecialist) thanks to the traffic monitor that I set up using Telraam data, comparing the measured cars, heavy vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians to the pre-Covid-19 baseline on a daily and weekly basis. I think one of my biggest achievements is getting uncertainty intervals into the national media :) [As this is the wet dream of any data scientist, isn’t it?]

I think it is safe to say that our numbers became the standard when referring to traffic beyond the highways network. I could write a full paper about this, but I will spare you of the boring technical details (here). It’s enough to say that we tracked the initial fall and the slow and long return of traffic on the streets, and we have also seen how strongly leisure oriented cycling correlates with temperature and the absence of rain. Nothing fundamentally surprising, but scientifically sound, precise measurements of our everyday lives and habits, on a level (geographical extent, various modes, temporal resolution, and precision) that has not been done before.

My PhD student (whom I co-supervised the past years, even when I was not working at the university anymore) has defended her thesis, and while for the internal examination we could still meet up with the whole jury in person (followed by a nice dinner), her “public” defense was the first virtual defense at the department (and also the first PhD defense at the Institute of Astronomy of the KU Leuven that is now on YouTube). It went really well (of course), and having a sip of champagne and a piece of chocolate together with her (and my former) supervisor was a nice moment afterwards, even though nobody else could be present. As illustration of a perfect supervisor-student relationship, we both got each other a LEGO to build (and – unrelated – Clio also got me a really nice set to cheer me up when I was feeling really down, which we build up together on a less sunny weekend).

While I could not fly in real life, I spent quite some time (and that is a clear understatement) to create a very precise model of the airport of Charleroi for the flight simulator (X-Plane 11). Instead of listing all the features here (but it has a hand-crafted terrain model, extremely precise markings and lights, taxiway signs, and even some custom 3D models – which took me back to SketchUp after quite some years -, including the iconic first floor facade of the passenger terminal), I will just link the download page of the scenery for the curious readers. It has been very popular among fellow simmers, it is currently within the 20 most popular scenery downloads of the last month. It feels pretty much like the real thing, it is a shame that I can not fly with a Sonaca 200 in the simulator (and making a plane is a bit more complex than making an airport, so no thank you), that would really help in practising some flows and procedures. Sometimes I really hate my perfectionism, because I keep finding things to improve upon, which on one hand is something I like to do, but on the other hand it takes time away from actually just using the scenery.

Finally, for the rest of the lockdown news, we have seen the “train” of Starlink satellites on the evening sky (and even recorded the view), and also managed to find a game on PlayStation that we can sometimes play together (Minecraft Dungeons). Two weeks ago on Friday I was finally back in the air (then last Saturday too), so expect some flight training related posts in the near future (since I can barely think of anything else than flying since then).

The rest of 2019 (Part 3 – Dubai and the end of the year)

In November I finally visited my brother in Dubai (he is a steward at Emirates already for more than three years), making use of the cheap tickets he can get his family members. Since these are standby tickets there was a bit of uncertainty on the way there, as the plane was almost fully booked, and I only got a seat when I was already at the gate. We left Brussels behind at 20:15 and – after passing a few time zones and not being able to sleep more than a half hour – landed around 5:40 in Dubai… This raised the difficulty level for the following sightseeing considerably, but I guess I am not really allowed to complain. During the next 54 hours we saw a lot (plus ate a lot, and took a few dozen taxis). On the first day we started by taking one of the small boats across the Dubai Creek, then walked through the still closed Bur Dubai Souk Market (my brother did not calculate in to his plans that we would be here around seven in the morning…) and an old-looking (but reconstructed) part of the city, then had breakfast at the Arabian Tea House (very good tea with milk, and delicious thin breads with honey, nuts, and humus). A short taxi ride took us to the La Mer area (a new beach and promenade with bars and restaurants, etc., and burning sunshine), then another one to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, which is a mix between a traditional market and a more modern mall. From here there were also some views towards the famous Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel (the one shaped like a big sail over the sea) – but there was no way to get much closer without being filthy rich…

In general this was a nice area for photography, with more classical looking buildings instead of the typical skyscrapers that made the skyline of Dubai so famous. Our next five minute taxi ride took us to the Mall of the Emirates, not the largest shopping centre, but the one that looked the most fancy to me (with shops of all the luxury brands and shiny materials covering the floors and walls everywhere, plus trees inside the Apple Store, etc.). We came here mostly to cool down (as in the meantime the temperature reached – a very normal – 30°C) and not to shop, but it was impressive nevertheless. On the taxi ride back to my brother’s place we drove along the main road (a 10-12 lane wide highway), passing by more skyscrapers than you could imagine, and for the first time we got a clear view towards the tallest building of the world. After a small nap, we went to Downtown Dubai – the area around the Burj Khalifa.

We had Asian food for dinner after taking pictures while walking from the Burj Plaza to the new Opera, then we watched the fountain and light show (with probably another ten thousand bystanders). I knew it would be impressive, but it was twice as grand as expected; I got goosebumps multiple times, and I am not very easily amazed in general. Before going to sleep we still played a bit on the Playstation.

On the next morning we started the day with renting a car from the local car-sharing fleet, and driving across the city. After a quick sandwich from the supermarket (in a very European looking area of the city), we took an early speedboat tour across the Dubai Marina. They took us up to the top of the famous Palm Jumeirah, turning back towards the harbour in front of the Atlantis (hotel). The high-speed section of the tour was quite cool, but to me the most impressive sight from the water was the massive silhouette of the under construction The Royal Atlantis Resort & Residences from the entrance of the marina – it looked like a futuristic construction project hidden slightly in the haze, maybe a space station (or the machine from Contact), from a big budget Hollywood movie. Afterwards we had lunch at The Acai Spot, and a drink on the top of the Marriott Hotel (for the panorama to the palm and the skydivers). Then we (with my brother at the wheel) drove to Abu Dhabi, to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is an amazing building, really great for photography – if you like architecture. Luckily the large open courtyard in the middle is closed off from visitors, which makes it easy to take photos without all the tourists in the frame.

We stayed here almost until sunset, before driving back to Dubai (which was not without a bit of excitement as we could only refuel the car for free in Dubai and not in Abu Dhabi, and the border between the two emirates was quite close to the limit of our remaining driving range – but we made it). For dinner we went to the Festival City Mall, but we were both pretty tired, so we did not stay too long afterwards…

The last morning was relatively cold (in the low twenties) and cloudy, which made wearing long trousers much more bearable (I had shorts for the previous days – except for the mosque -, but they would have been too cold for the plane, and especially for getting home in Belgium…). We had breakfast in The Sum of Us (a very European coffee/bagel/etc. place), then we took the metro to the Emirates Group Headquarters to have a quick look at the planes from the terrace, before dropping me off at the airport itself. While waiting at the gate, a thunderstorm flooded the aprons temporarily, causing slight delays. On the flight home I watched three movies then the first half of Liverpool beating Manchester City (live TV on the plane is definitely something I had not experienced before). Of course I got a cold from the strong air-conditioning, but overall it was a really nice trip, I am glad I finally managed to do it.

Between Christmas and New Year I spent a few days in Budapest (with Clio, but staying not only with my parents, but my brother and grandmother too), where I ate way too many cakes and cookies, following the well established Hungarian holiday season tradition of “gaining a few kilograms at your parents’ place”. The new raspberry flavoured kürtőskalács definitely got my seal of approval.

Finally, it is worth a mention that Filou has been with us for two years now, and I still think that adopting him (an adult cat) was a great decision, and I love how he comes to lie against me on the couch every evening, putting his head into my palm and purring. He became much more vocal (and clingy) in the second year, now he dares to speak out if he wants something, which is usually me sitting in the couch with him (when I come home from work, and later in the evening should I be somewhere else in the apartment). He is still not a hero, a new box or the garbage bag still makes him suspicion/afraid, but he is still very well behaved, he has not destroyed anything, he does not go to places where he is not allowed (countertop, table, Christmas tree), and he listens to us in general. He is still very lazy, and even when he wants to play, he is sometimes lazy to actually do so – so I end up moving more while trying to make him active than he does. Of course there is cat fur everywhere, but you accept that when deciding on having a cat, so we use the Dyson on a daily (hourly) basis. He is the cutest ball of fluff for sure.

The rest of 2019 (Part 2 – A summer of mostly flying)

As a result of biking less I suddenly got quite some extra free time, which meant that I could do things that I could not do before. First, I fixed the long-standing problem of not being able to give the home monitoring system’s sensors – and most importantly the central RPi a fixed IP (because it is not possible on the router of our internet provider – Telenet -, meaning that after a power-cut, or simply the restart of the router, sometimes the RPi did not get its preferred IP address, which screwed up the communication between the wireless sensors and the RPi, so I had to manually look for the conflicting device and kick it off the network, making sure that the then rebooted RPi got the IP it wanted, then restart the wireless sensors, etc. – even just writing this down took more time than what I would want to spend on such issues). As a solution I simply bought an extra wireless router (TP-Link Archer C2300) with all the necessary features, connected it to the Telenet router via an Ethernet cable, and migrated all our devices to using the new router (giving fixed IPs to the ones that would benefit from it). Since then everything works flawlessly. (Of course as we have literally dozens of WiFi enabled devices, this migration took more than two seconds, which might explain why I had not done this earlier already.) Recently I also switched to reading the data of our outside sensor cluster from its local JSON output instead of using the luftdaten database (which has been often unresponsive lately) – this was also made possible by the fixed IP addresses.

Then I bought a quite powerful gaming PC (Lenovo Legion T530, Intel Core i7 9700 processor, 32 GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 with 8 GB VRAM, 1 TB SSD + 2 TB HDD) with the primary goal of getting back to the world of flight simulators (the only unrelated software I have installed is the Zwift client for my training workouts). I got X-Plane 11, rudder pedals (Logitech G Pro Flight Rudder Pedals), a joystick and a throttle quadrant and (initially a Logitech G X52 Pro but then I replaced them with a Thrustmaster T16000M FCS and a Virtual Fly TQ3+, both of which are using magnetic Hall-sensors which makes their use much more precise), a radio and a switch panel (also Logitech, and while these are definitely fun to use, they are the least necessary components of the setup, as everything they do could be done in the virtual cockpit with a mouse too). I also got a new screen (Asus PG279Q, replacing my 10 year old Dell U2410 which I now use as a 3rd display at work) when I was sure that I would not give up on this hobby after a few weeks.

Virtual flying was not completely new to me, since I had already gotten into it during my university years for a short while, so it did not take me long before I joined IVAO to fly online (so I had to buy a new headset too: SteelSeries Arctis 7) with other pilots and virtual air traffic controllers.

In the second half of the year I flew almost 200 hours online (and probably 100 more offline), using mainly study-level aircraft (planes that are modeled as close to reality as possible, meaning realistic flight model, systems, and procedures), such as the Cessna 172 with the REP package, the SIAI Marchetti SF 260D, the TBM 900, and the A319 from Toliss. In the beginning I flew only GA planes (and VFR), and only after the first ~100 hours did I start mixing in some commercial flights (and IFR) too.

I took part in a few online events, e.g. two real flight events (RFE, simulating the actual traffic on a selected airport – in my case Munich and Budapest -, aiming at reproducing the real-life arriving and departing traffic at that airport, providing a complete coverage of the various air traffic controllers and high traffic levels, which results in a very busy and realistic – and in the beginning stressful, but rewarding – experience altogether), and also the annual crowded skies event (where the goal is having the most people connected to the IVAO network at the same time – during the peak period there were more than 2000 people connected to the network this year, resulting in a lot of radio chatter and a complete coverage of the European airspace by various levels of ATC).

It is a quite serious hobby, I follow real-life checklists, real-life procedures, I fly according to actual flight rules (instrumental or visual), and communicate with air traffic controllers using the real life phraseology. (This means that just setting up the A319 before getting ready for push-back already takes almost a half hour…) Besides flying, I also enjoy designing airports (it’s basically drawing “maps” – layouts based on official charts or satellite pictures – and doing some 3D modelling), so far I have completed EBGB and EBNM (two small airports in Belgium), and now I am working on EBCI (Charleroi). It’s like an advanced version of colouring books for me, lately I have spent more time working on EBCI than I spent flying… (But you will see the significance of this specific airport later.)

Some more tidbits again: this summer all previous temperature records were broken again in Belgium (and all over Europe), and sadly this is becoming a recurring news item every year… On the 25th of July the temperature reached 39.7°C in Brussels (Ukkel), which is 3.1°C more than the past record, and 41.8°C in Begijnendijk (not far from Leuven). To put things into perspective, this is only 0.1°C less than the maximum temperature record in Hungary, while in theory Hungary has significantly warmer summers… I became 2nd on the annual Tour de France prognosis competition at work, which was definitely necessary to restore my honor after finishing almost last during the spring classics… Not much later there was a fire in the student apartments just in front and above our offices, which luckily resulted in no injuries, but forced us to work from home for a week, as the electricity could not be turned back on before all the water damage was cleaned up by the team of the insurance company, etc.

The annual meet-up with my parents this year brought us to the Trier and Luxembourg (and Saarburg), and while both of these cities were nice to walk around in, the best part of the long weekend was still the elevated wooden path that led to the lookout tower built just above a sharp bend of the river Saar (Treetop path Saarschleife).

Around this time I had a serious lack of sleep because I kept staying up until completely unreasonable hours, being busy with the flight simulator… (Since then this has improved, but I am still finding it very difficult to go to sleep in time, as I just want to keep doing stuff even when I am tired…)

During the autumn we spent one day in Breda with Clio (staying in the Hotel Nassau, with a fancy dinner, and breakfast served in a former church), and I also made it to Bilbao for work for two busy days. We also tried a few new restaurants in Leuven, actively seeking new experiences, leading to the discovery of a couple of really nice places (even though ordering food from the couch is just so easy), we should continue this when the weather becomes good enough to sit outside again.

While I got deeper and deeper into training on the flight simulator, I also got to fly in a small GA aircraft for the first time, thanks to Clio’s cousin, who invited me to join him for a flight at the end of August. We flew a Cessna 172S (with a G1000 glass cockpit) from Grimbergen to Brasschaat and back, and most importantly, on the way back I got to do everything from take-off (with a bit of assistance in that phase) to just before the landing. I did climbs, descents, and various turns, following instructions.

By then I had more than 50 hours on the exact same plane (with the exact same instrument panel) in the simulator, so everything felt very familiar (but of course the actual movement of the aircraft can not be replicated, so that was very new). It was definitely the best one-day thing I did in 2019 (I could not stop smiling the whole evening), and it motivated me so much that I decided to sign up for an actual PPL (private pilot license) training. I started with having my medical certificate arranged (EKG, blood test, and a general checkup lasting more than an hour at a certified doctor), then after a face-to-face meeting in Charleroi, I enrolled at the New CAG Air Academy. I am using a distance learning platform to study the theory (this is really well done and very convenient too), and if everything goes well (weather – just confirmed OK!) then tomorrow afternoon I will have my first practical lesson too (booking this was not that easy even though there is a good online tool for it, but as a newcomer I had way too many practical difficulties in the beginning). I am really looking forward to flying (and at the same time I wish that I could make things happen a bit faster, but that is just how I am), and I am sure I will write more about the training later on…

The rest of 2019 (Part 1 – Burnout on the bike)

Now that the travel journal of our Iceland road trip is finally online, I can “quickly” go through the rest of the year in the usual summary-style blog post, just for the record (so when I am 80 I have stuff to read in my spare time – although I do wonder if I will ever have spare time, anyway…).

Almost immediately after coming home from Iceland we went to France with a few friends (and two dogs) for a cycling/relaxing holiday, staying in a small house in the tiny village of Margerides, just west of Les volcans d’Auvergne in the Massif central. This time the best cyclists from the previous year could not join, so the pace on the road was much more relaxed. We left Belgium one day earlier so I could drive in two parts, and also have a ride from Clermont-Ferrand, enjoying the warm sunshine and the beautiful landscape while biking past the Chaîne des Puys (a chain of volcanic cones – the Puy de Dôme being the most prominent), and over the Col de la Croix Morand (1401 m ASL). By the evening everybody arrived, so the following day all the guys joined for a nice and shorter – but very hot – ride over the Mont Bessou (a smaller local peak, with a bit of super steep climbing through the forest). A day later I went solo, doing a scenic loop over the highest pass of the region, the Col du Pas de Peyrol (1589 m ASL). The climb was made more difficult than expected by the strong, hot headwind – as soon as I noticed the small bar at the Col de Serre (an intermediate peak after a prolonged steep section through the forest), my bike basically automatically turned off the main road to give me a small break (and a cold local cola). From there on I basically had to stop on each col for an extra drink, and after the 100 km mark I pretty much just wanted to make it home for dinner and the Champions League Final (I will come back to this later). In the rest of the week we got some rain every second day, so I got a few bike-free days to relax, blog, and playing Mario Kart with the others (in the slightly cold and fireplace-scented living room). Every day we had nice breakfasts and delicious dinners together, mostly around the table in front of the house in the sunshine (and only occasionally inside, hiding from the rain).

For my fourth ride I planned a rollercoaster over the cols around the Puy de Sancy (the highest being the Col de la Croix St Robert at 1451 m ASL), and except for the first and last hour I was again accompanied by the guys. The curvy, open road leading down from the Col de la Croix St Robert was probably the nicest descent of the week. Two days later I headed South with Willem and Hao, riding over the Col de Neronne (1242 m ASL) into the Maronne valley. We finally managed to stop for a proper lunch too, having a nice galette in the scenic, historic village of Salers. For the last ride Steven got back on his bike too, so it was the four of us discovering the small roads over the grassy highlands of Montgreleix. The scenery was beautiful every day, the roads were perfect, and there was barely any traffic, so I can safely say that this region is another lesser known cycling paradise in France. (I biked 647 km with 12500 metres of elevation game during these days.)

Liverpool finished the Premier League season with a club-record 97 points (with only one defeat), unfortunately still one point behind Manchester City. But after the lost Europe League final three years ago, and the painful defeat in the Champions League final last year, the reds finally became champions of Europe again, for the 6th time in history, after beating Tottenham in the Champions League final (and we all know, Champions of Europe > Champions of England…).

The most memorable game on the way to victory was undoubtedly the return leg of the semi-final at Anfield. After being beaten in Barcelona by three goals, the Scousers managed to win 4:0 (thanks to a pair of goals from Wijnaldum and Origi – who then also scored the second goal of the final). It illustrates the quality of the team that nobody talks about this result as the Miracle of Anfield. It was not really a surprise. It was the reality. Statistically speaking the current Liverpool team is the best Liverpool team of all times, they are setting new records on the pitch every week, as of the 2nd of January they are unbeaten on their last 37 Premier League games, and they lead the league by 13 points with a game in hand (20 games played this season so far, 19 won and 1 drawn). Maybe this year will finally be our year. Winning the league (a feat Liverpool supporters are waiting for since 1989) would most likely guarantee a statue for Jürgen Klopp in front of the stadium. It is amazing what he has achieved here during his four years so far. And just for the record, Liverpool also won the European Super Cup against the Europe League winners Chelsea, and the FIFA Club World Cup, completing the international treble of 2019, making them not only statistically, but also officially the best team of the world for now.

Let’s move over to the tidbits category. The annual team building activity at work was a virtual reality game this year, which was unexpectedly awesome. Being able to actually move around – and not only look around – in the VR environment (we were walking around in a large empty room with a VR headset and a force-feedback gun, and our real life position in the empty room was translated into movement in the VR world by sensors around us) made the whole experience extremely immersive – I even fell once because I wanted to lean against a virtual wall while crunching in cover, completely forgetting that it was not a physical object, which resulted in me rolling/felling to my right and laughing at myself – immediately realising the nature of the mistake I just made. I also had a few fun hours while assembling the new LEGO NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander (10266), which is now one of the many lego sets on display in our living room.

By the summer solstice I felt strong on the bike again (thanks to the cycling holiday and some good training rides afterwards), so it was time for my annual epic ride. On the longest day of the year I left Leuven not much after sunrise to ride my bike to the heart of the Ardennes (Trois-Points) and back. With 310 km, 4217 meters of elevation gain, and a ride time of 12 hours and 36 minutes (plus two hours of food and photo stops in total), this became my longest solo ride so far (plus 3rd by elevation gain, and finishing on the top of the virtual podium by duration – even including group rides too). Maybe not completely unexpectedly or surprisingly, my motivation to ride the bike fell off a cliff almost immediately after this epic day, and as a consequence I biked as much in the second half of the year as I did in the month of June… I still liked being on the bike, but I got a bit bored of the local roads (especially in crap weather), or training without a goal – beyond reaching a magic number at the end of the year -, and I think I just wanted to do something else for a change. Anyway, I still had three nice rides in the months that followed, once with colleagues in Luxembourg (with still quite good legs), then alone around the highest roads of Belgium, finally with a colleague in the unknown corner of the Belgium-Germany-Luxembourg border region. All really nice places to cycle. Lately I started to feel getting out of shape though, so I got a new direct drive trainer and a temporary subscription to Zwift, hoping to rebuild some form in the coming months (I am three trainings into a 12 week training plan, so I think I got my motivation back), so when spring comes around with nice weather, I will be capable of biking more than 30 km at more than 25 km/h… And while the contrast is very big compared to the last few years – when I biked through the winter without any rest period (probably playing a role in this burnout) -, it is actually not much different from my first seasons as a cyclist, so I think as long as I am not picking up too much weight I don’t have a real reason to panic. (Just for the history books, I finished 2019 with 7054 km, which is my 3rd lowest sum ever.)

By the way, on the eve of my solstice ride, just when I was going to go to bed, the most amazing display of Noctilucent Clouds lit up the Northern horizon, so even though I really wanted to get at least 6 hours of sleep, I had to settle with 5, because I simply could not let the display of the decade (or century) pass by without taking a few pictures. But it was definitely worth it.

From winter to spring

This February I turned 34. I have been writing this blog for approximately a third of my whole life… Crazy. Anyway, back to the story. So around my birthday I spent (with Clio’s help of course) around a week (mainly the evenings after work and one weekend) planning a two week road trip around Iceland. This involved 1) researching (mainly over Google Maps and blogs) all tourist attractions and putting them on an actual physical map, and 2) making a detailed day-by-day planning based on driving distances/durations and approximate sightseeing (walking/photography/nutrition) times for each location, parallel with 3) looking up suitable hotels/lodges for each day. For the 14 days this means a total of 84 rows of data (including ~63 sights outside of Reykjavik, 11 hotels, and 3200 driven kilometres) in an Excel/Numbers sheet. With the flights, rental car (a smaller 4×4), and accommodation included we saved around 50% of the price of similar packages offered by various travel agencies by doing everything ourselves. Of course now I have seen way too many spoilers thanks to Google Street View, but I had to do a bit of looking around anyway to plan a bit ahead in terms of photography locations and so on.

We are leaving on Sunday, so it is getting very close! By the way, we decided to go in May because 1) it is still before the super busy June-August main tourist season, and 2) May is – statistically, at least in Reykjavik – the least rainy and the most sunny month (even though there are more daylight hours during the summer), and it is only 4-5°C colder than the warmest month, July. Let’s hope we will not get a negative outlier May :)

The second half of February brought some very nice weather, so nice that right after the annual visit to the velodrome in Ghent (where from this year on there is digital time-keeping down to the 1/1000th of a second) I went for a ride outside in shorts (and arm warmers and a gilet, but still) before driving home with 132 km in my legs (including the fastest lap on the track from the team with 16.834 seconds, a good 0.5 seconds faster than the next person).

At work we had our annual company lunch at the Restaurant Arenberg this year, and even though it has a Michelin star, it is a bit too classic for my taste, so I still prefer the EssenCiel (where we went for Clio’s birthday last week) from the gastronomic places in and near Leuven. On the other hand the Easter chocolates of TML came from the Bittersweet Chocolatier this year, so it is confirmed: best workplace ever. On the same note, I have eaten so much chocolate during the past two weeks, that it really needs to stop. Luckily Iceland will be too expensive to eat too much, so there is still hope to keep my race-weight for the summer :D

Preparing for Iceland I bought a NiSi filter system (basically for daytime long exposure shots, see example test-shot with silky smooth water from the nearby abbey above), a wide angle prime lens (Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 WR), a backup camera for my Fujifilm X-T3 (a Fujifilm X-E3) and a small telephoto lens (Fujifilm XF 50mm f/2 WR). And a new carbon tripod (Manfrotto MT190CXPRO4), a camera bag (Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW), and some small accessories… Advanced stage GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome – I know. Truth be told, all my Canon gear (plus the old tripod and camera bag) is either already sold or up for sale, so overall, actually, I own less camera stuff now. (Still GAS.) Everything is already tested and packed nicely in the new camera bag (the whole kit fits perfectly, and the weight saving compared to my old Canon gear is significant), so really looking forward to Iceland now. The plan is to mostly use the X-T3 with the 16mm lens (this is a full weather-proof setup, so even in bad conditions I don’t need to worry about getting the camera out, and I like wide-angle landscape shots the most anyway), and get the X-E3 out with the 50mm lens only if I need to shoot some more distant details or a portrait. I don’t like changing lenses and I prefer the quality of primes over zooms, so this is perfect for me. I wish I did more photography, but cycling is still the number one hobby.

The first half of March had horrible weather (except miraculously for Saturday mornings at least, so I could bike a bit), then on the first better (meaning not constant rain) Sunday we went to Antwerp with Clio to visit the Plantin-Moretus Museum. It is a printing museum focusing on the work of the 16th-century printers Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus, located in their former residence and printing establishment, the Plantin Press, and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being a typeface-lover and map-geek, I had a really great time walking around the exhibits. Afterwards we made a small walk to the North to have a look at some of the new buildings, but the cold wind was not really suited for anything longer.

Back to work, in the beginning of April I wrote my first proposal outside of astronomy, and – after my steepest ride outside of the Canary Islands (with 3149 meters of elevation gained over only 134 km) – spent three days on a meeting/conference in slightly cold and rainy Aveiro (Portugal). Then winter came back (again) for a weekend (a ride in an average temperature of 2°C on the 14th of April, seriously?)  before the real nice warm spring arrived the week after. Luckily that coincided with the annual Tornado club-weekend, so we could have two beautiful days of cycling in the Southern Eifel region in Germany, with temperature above 20°C. I even had quite good legs (and the pace was friendlier than usual), so this year I was not at all the slowest on the climbs.

On Easter Monday we finally (as we have been planning this for years) went for a walk to the Hallerbos, to see the famous blue and purple carpet of the blooming bluebells. It was definitely worth it, but next time I should be less lazy and take my tripod too.

On the gaming front (besides FIFA 19) I have been playing quite a lot with the Division 2 lately (since I really liked the original Division too a few years ago, up to the point of having to stop because I felt addicted – this time I am taking it much more casual), and I also got Mario Kart 8 for the Switch for an occasional race against friends – as a holiday entertainment.

This time there will be no daily blog posts from the road trip, because it was super tiring in Scandinavia (even though I was happy that I did not have to process three weeks’ worth of photos afterwards), but I will post photos on social media every day, and when we are back there will be one or two posts with the ‘best of’ here too. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!