Tag Archives: dailystuff

Between the end of the road trip and the end of the summer

Tomorrow I am flying to La Palma for a last observing run at the Mercator telescope, so maybe this is a good time to write a short summary of the past one and a half months. After coming back from Scandinavia we spent a weekend in Zeeland. Here I had a great (and pretty fast) ride around the Oosterschelde, enjoying the amazing bike infrastructure of the Netherlands, then on the evening we had delicious mussels with fries overlooking a small harbour. As usual, I did some kiting too before driving back to Leuven on the following day.

I did not work too much on the Leuven Sky Atlas lately, except for a few refinements, but I ordered a bunch of other sky atlases to be able to make a better comparison to them. So now I own all the sky atlases that I would have loved to have when I was an active amateur astronomer more than a decade ago… I would actually like to be more involved again, as astrophotography really interests me, but the Belgian climate plus the high amounts of light pollution are far from optimal for it, not to mention it would be another pretty expensive hobby.

I sent in my first job application outside of astronomy too, but after I am back from La Palma I will have to be a bit more active on the job market, because my contract at the Institute of Astronomy ends on the 30th of September, and while I would like to have some time to finish and publish my star atlas, I would not like to stay without a job for too long afterwards. So, if you are looking for someone with experience in data analysis, data visualisation, or you just need a business parter to start up a cycling cafe in the Leuven area, I am available :)

At the beginning of August I have been taking care of our friends’ cats for a week, which was really nice, and they loved me even after they got fed ;) Thanks to Clio we were VIPs on the roof bar of the Museum of Leuven for one evening during the Midzomer festivities. Here we had dinner while listening to a concert, then we ended the evening with a walk around the exhibitions of the recently renovated museum (which was actually my first time inside).

During one of my standard evening training rides the wind direction was perfect to try to get the KOM (king of the “mountain”, or simply the best time on a given stretch of road) on one of the sprint sections along the Demer, so after getting up to a good starting speed I opened my sprint. As soon as I started pedalling out of the saddle I felt a sharp pain at the side of my left knee, but I thought that it was probably just hit by a small stone or piece of wood that got picked up by my front wheel, so I kept pushing to actually break the previous record by one second (completing the section in 34 seconds at an average speed of 57.5 km/h, reaching a heart rate of 195 bpm for the first time in 2 years). During the last seconds of the effort the pain got more intense, and as soon as I stopped I could see the bee sting hanging out of my skin. I pulled it out, and kept the rest of the ride on a low intensity. My previous similar incident with a bee happened before we had internet (somewhere in the early nineties), but luckily I had no severe reaction to it this time either.

We also had our yearly summer holidays in Budapest. Besides enjoying the usual cocktails and cakes all around the city, this time we drove to the Mátra mountains. We visited the highest point of Hungary (1014 metres ASL), then the tourist center of Galyatető for lunch and to climb up to the new lookout tower, and on the way home the Royal Palace of Gödöllő for a small walk in the gardens. Clio finally got to enjoy some actual summer temperatures with three days between 33°C and 38°C before the weather got back to normal. Getting home was not very smooth, because first of all on the morning my parents’ car had a flat tire that we only noticed a few minutes into the drive towards the airport, so we had to call a last minute taxi, then the ground crew at Brussels Airport went on an unannounced strike, so we got a three hour delay on top of this. Of course this meant that our one checked-in bag also did not make it from the airplane to the luggage claim area after landing, so we had to drive back to the airport a few days later to pick it up…

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After a week off the bike the first time back in the saddle on an evening training session at the race track of Zolder was very painful, so I requested a switch in the lineups for the 12 hours of Zolder (moving from our 2nd team to the 3rd, the “Fun Team”) for the following Saturday. The 12 hour race itself was really great, we had a lot of people and supporters under the Squadra Tornado tent, and my legs were also surprisingly good. I did two shifts for a total of a bit more than three hours with an average speed of 40.4 km/h. I managed to stay with the main peloton in both sessions, in the first half of the second one I even worked a lot at the front of the group, and closed several gaps to small breakaway attempts (then almost got dropped because I pushed myself a bit too far, but luckily I managed to hang on). Our best team finished just below the podium, while we ended up at a 40th position overall (out of 207), and 4th (out of 12) in the under 40 team of 8 category. I was really happy about being able to stay with the fast group the whole time, for me that was already a huge success! The great legs stayed with me for a few more days, closing the summer season with a good ride on the Vlierbeekriders Classic.

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On the gaming departement, I am playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild these days on the Nintendo Switch, and I love both the game, and the portable console.

I have loads of plans for La Palma, so maybe there will be a few more interesting posts again.

May and June of 2017

This is just the usual summary of recent events, outside of the more important ones that I have already covered in a few separate posts on the blog. One of these is that the blog turned 10 years old in June! I have been writing here for almost 1/3 of my life…

First of all, cycling: after coming home from La Palma I was not really in the mood for cycling for a while, and one of the main reasons was the bad weather. It is not unreasonable to ask for weather that is warm enough to put the winter outfits away at the end of April, right? Luckily while visiting the Netherlands with my parents, spring finally arrived for good, and the temperature in the past two months (at least when I was out riding, with an average of 19.5°C and 19.6°C) was even better than in the same period of the previous 3-4 years! Belgium is in the middle of a quite significant drought right now, so rain was not an issue either. As a result I had my third best month on the bike ever with 1399 kilometres in May (including nearly 11000 metres of elevation gain, which is a best when not counting months when I was riding outside of Belgium, and almost exactly 50 hours on the bike, which is good for a fourth place overall in my cycling career).

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I started by doing the Tour de Namur, where after 100 very strong kilometres I lost all my power and felt like dying on the climbs, therefore the remaining more than two hours were really difficult, maybe because I did not bike for almost two weeks before that, or simply because I was way too hot with arm warmers and a merino base layer in 22°C… That was stupid, but it was only 8°C at the start!

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Then a week later on the usual Saturday morning Squadra Tornado group ride I had very good legs, so I made some extra plans for the following week. Mainly thanks to taking a day off from work and going to the Ardennes for a 140 km loop over the highest point of Belgium (which by the way was really beautiful, but after 100 km I was dead again, thanks to the wind and the 30°C), this became a week of 475 km on the bike (with 4400 m+). Far from being on the podium, but a good one nevertheless (and likely my best for 2017). Then I was crazy enough to join Willem for a sprint training on one of the evenings, which was on one hand pretty cool (because I love sprints), but on the other hand I was so empty by the end, that when I arrived home Clio was worried that I would pass out on the couch. (I was just fine. Really.) Two days later I rode the Buurthuis Classic with Steven (Willem’s brother, who is probably going to kick my ass too after another year on the bike), but I could still feel the sprints in my legs. To keep things interesting I also did some off road biking here and there, and a few chill rides too, once even involving cake and coffee in Mechelen. Finally, last Saturday I did the first 200+ km ride of the year by doing the longest version of the Ti’Light Classic, extended with biking to the starting point in Tienen and then back home from the finish, making it a nice 219 km day. It was a great ride with good legs, until reaching the 150 km mark I was not tired at all, and only the last 25-30 kilometres were difficult, fighting alone against the headwind. This week it is basically too hot to bike (but I still went out on two evenings).

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In the good weather we also had a BBQ (thanks for inviting us Lies and Willem), cocktails in the city centre, ice creams on a boat, and I made my first non no-bake cheesecake (it was delicious). Moreover, we went to cheer on one of Willem’s many races, and I took some photos too, a few of which turned out quite OK ;)

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The end of another Premier League season arrived for Liverpool FC and I had a few nervous moments during the last weeks of it (because it would not be the “Liverpool Way” if there was nothing to worry about until the second half of the last game), but at the end everything turned out OK. They kept a clean sheet during the last 4 games while scoring 8 goals and collecting 10 out of the possible 12 points, and the team finished in the Top 4. This means that next season they will be in the  Champions League again (assuming they go through the play offs)! Also, the new jersey looks awesome (back to the classical Liverpool red).

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Concerning work, I took over the twitter account of the institute, I organised (delegated all the work to others) the open door days, and coordinated our outreach group during the past months. I think we are doing all right, but if the institute had an actual employee to do this as a full time (or 50%) job, things could be improved a lot.

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We are leaving on a road trip to Scandinavia soon, and I am planning on posting a few pictures along with a short text every day here, so the blog might get busier for a while again :) Thanks for reading!

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.)

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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.

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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 :)

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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…

The past few months in a (larger) nutshell

This is a post that has been in the making for a while, with multiple updates to the text, but here we go now. So let’s see what happened since the end of last October… I will try to group the events a bit, since there is way too much to just throw in here everything in a plain chronological order.

Cycling: I have had my last ride with my old cycling team (WTCOOL), and I joined Squadra Tornado because I needed a faster group. Since then, most Saturday mornings are spent with group rides (and up to an hour every week with planning the routes, since that is something I am good at). I had my first ride in/on snow with the MTB, which was a lot of fun (simply the fact that this winter we got at least one day with more or less proper snow was quite a surprise after the April-like temperatures in December), and I even put a few extra kilometres in the MTB, because after one of the Saturday morning rides my electronic Shimano Ultegra Di2 rear derailleur was not working anymore, so I had to spend a week without my beloved racing bike while the faulty component was replaced in the Canyon Service Center. Those were hard times…

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Then in February I had my coldest long solo ride when I took a nice and sunny day off work to go to Namur. I finished a day with 163 km (a proper imperial century), 1100 m of elevation gain, and most importantly, an average temperature of 2°C. In March I finished 3rd on the Tornado club championship (that took place on the Parel van het Hageland), after going into a 5 man breakaway but starting the final sprint a bit too late. In any case that was a very nice result, so I even gave in to the pressure and joined Willem to start in a proper race (koers) two weeks later in Bazel. Now that was a total disaster :D It was not only crazy windy, but we also had to start together with the category A riders, so I was done and dusted/dropped after one lap… It was a shame especially because the weather was actually very nice, so instead of sitting in a car for two hours getting there and back and biking a total of 13 km (while getting my ass served to me on a silver plate), I could have done a nice 100+ km ride in shorts. Anyway, at least now people can not say that I did not even try. April (and then May, and June…) this year turned out to be strangely cold (probably a punishment for the last two months of 2015), but luckily it was still warm enough – most of the time – to go biking in shorts with arm/knee warmers and an occasional wind (of yeah, the f… wind that never seems to stop here) vest. I also spent a nice long weekend (3 days) riding (300 km) mostly up and down in the Voerstreek (over the climbs of the Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands to the North, and over the highest point of Belgium to the South) with the Tornado guys. My route planning skills were highly appreciated by everyone. This year I also went to the start of the Brabantse Pijl to take pictures, but the weather was not really helping in getting nice shots; I got exactly one that I was more-or-less happy about…

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I also got a subscription to the fancy Rouleur magazine from Clio for my birthday, and spent lots of money on Rapha kit pieces (merino base layers, merino arm/knee warmers, rain jacket, etc.). I am such a snob… (Not 100% true, actually these things are really good, but I still remember the time when I said I would never spend this kind of money on cycling clothes.) There was also a week when I managed to do a training ride each weekday (mostly on the evenings after work, 356 km in total), which is something I have never done before (when not on holidays). In any case it was necessary, because winter came back for the following weekend (with actual snow-showers), and we had the coldest end of April in years. Hell, we officially had the wettest first 6 months of a year ever… Most importantly, I rode across the Pyrenees with Willem, but there will be a separate post about that.

Running: During the winter, especially throughout January, I was doing some serious running training as a preparation to a 26 km long trail running event in the Meerdaalwoud (a forest not far from home). I had signed up for the race a few monts earlier, and I was going to participate together with Willem. During my training, I even did boring hill repeats, and ran a new half Marathon personal record of 1:50:07 in a beautiful white forest (a day after my snowy MTB ride), which was a run that I enjoyed almost as much as a bike ride. Then Willem got sick just a day before the event, and the forest turned into a mud-fest from days of continuous rain, so my motivation dropped significantly, and I turned back home halfway to the start of the race… I have not ran a single kilometer since, partly because I wanted to save my knees for the Pyrenees, but also because who are we kidding, running still sucks compared to cycling. On the other hand, Clio also did some running during the autumn and it was really nice to go and run in the forest together. Sadly, she also thinks that running sucks :D

Gadgets: After so many product release cycles of not doing it, I bought an iPhone 6S, and I am very happy with it. I was also perfectly fine with my Nexus 4 that served me well for more than two years, but the camera sucked on that big time. Now I don’t feel bad if I see something nice and I don’t have one of my more professional cameras with me, because I can take a very nice photo with the iPhone too (most of these end up on Instagram though and not on the blog). Of course it does not (and can not) replace my DSLR, but there is no point in denying it, that for everyday snapshots, it is perfect. Still on the photography side, I got a new addition for my DSLR too, a wide angle Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens. I did not use it much yet (only a few shots in Paris and at the start of the Brabantse Pijl), but it is a nice piece of glass. Moving on towards less heavy pieces of technology, I finally made good use of my GoPro HERO4 Silver on the bike, recording one of our first sunny Saturday group rides, and editing the footage afterwards into a nice video. It got much more use in the Pyrenees of course (and I will be still busy editing the footage for a long time). Not such a long time ago I also bought a new cycling GPS, the Garmin Egde 520. It is not perfect (has a limited storage for maps, and the time the map screen takes to refresh is a bit on the too long side – I get that it saves battery life, but still…), but it is more compact, has a much better screen visibility/contrast, and packs a ton of advanced features compared to my almost 4 year old Edge 800. Most importantly, since I was able to upload my rides via bluetooth over my phone in the Pyrenees every day, I did not have to stress about loosing any data for some unexpected reason.

Nationality: I spent a considerable amount if time (often with some support from Clio, who is definitely the best paperwork-organiser amongst the two of us), and money (a few hundreds of Euros in total) applying for the Belgian nationality last November-December. It is a long story of running between different offices and the city hall several times (with many details that I possibly don’t even remember anymore), but to sum things up, I have lived and worked here long enough, and speak the language (Dutch) good enough so that I could request to become a Belgian. The only actual extra thing that I needed to do (beyond providing lots of documents proving the fulfilment of the aforementioned criteria – and no, having a trilingual birth certificate where one of the languages is French, one of the official languages of the country, is not enough, you need to pay extra cash for an official Dutch translation), was proving my social integration. For that I had to do a one hour test in Brussel (on the day when the terror alert was on the highest level, so the city was empty, and getting to the exam in the centrum was slightly less straightforward than it normally is). It was definitely not very hard, but it still took me almost the full one hour to finish it, mostly because it was just a lot of questions (something like 12 pages if I remember correctly). So I can see that for someone who does not know the language (since even though the questions were in English, most of the fill-out forms and texts were in Dutch), or does not know how to use the internet efficiently (for the tasks where you had to look up information on the websites of federal organisations to be able to answer correctly), this might be not so doable. Anyway, after going through all of the above discussed mess, my dossier had been completed and the city hall of Leuven approved it in January before sending it further for the final decision. They had a maximum of four months to approve or disapprove my request on the federal level, but it did not take that long, and from the 22nd of April, I am officially a real Belgian! Frietjes voor iedereen! (To make things clear, now I have a Belgian-Hungarian double nationality.)

Driving: Yes, this is also happening. After a few years behind the wheel on the PlayStation, I am actually getting my driving licence for real. Since Clio hates driving, but we want to be able to drive around for holidays and such, I finally got some real motivation to get over with this. I passed my theory exam (in Dutch) in January (49/50), then I took 20 hours of practice from a driving school in March and April (also in Dutch). It went extremely well, I had a great instructor, and I enjoyed driving a lot! Seriously, I was looking forward to my driving lessons every week. Having the mindset of a road cyclist is unquestionably beneficial, since we have to be very aware of the traffic situation around us (to stay alive). It also clearly helped a lot that I was already familiar with how the pedals and the gear shifting worked from the hours of driving with the PS3 (where I had a physical wheel, three pedals, and a stick). After a break of three weeks I even had two extra hours to refresh my memories (and do a practice exam), then I was supposed to have my practical exam on the 4th of May… Unluckily, they did not even let me take the exam, because just a day earlier I had to apply for a new ID card (since from the day I became Belgian my old ID stopped working), and the exam centrum did not accept the official paper the city hall had given me to prove that I was in the process of getting my new ID (even though the city hall told me that it should be ok)… This was not a minor hiccup, because I had to delay my exam to my reserve date (the 20th of May), and I also had to go back to the city hall and apply for a fast procedure ID for an extra 120 EUR, just to make sure that I do have an ID by the time of that exam… Then even though I finally got my ID, and drove extremely well according to my instructor (except for one small mistake at the very beginning), my examinator failed me :( Since this was my original reserve date, now I had no backups left, which means that I have to wait till the end of August to have another go at it, because all dates are fully booked months in advance… As a result, now we had to cancel the holiday we had planned to the Black Forest / Annecy / Grenoble / Colmar with the car, which was luckily all free cancellation, but I was already really looking forward to it… So yeah, this sucks. On a more positive note, just before my original exam date, we also bought a new car, a Honda Jazz Trend 1.3 CVT, replacing Clio’s very old Honda :) I have already driven it a few times (e.g. home from the garage, and on the highway in a huge storm), and I like it a lot. And the best feature: we can put both of our bikes inside in an upright position, thanks to the Magic Seats of the Jazz! To do this in a clean-and-tidy way, I made a fork-mount system that holds the front forks at a fixed position. It is extremely pro.

Travel: In the middle of December we spent a weekend in the Ardennes, walking around in the nice weather (to Durbuy, the smallest city of Belgium), playing Catan, and having great dinners at the restaurant of our hotel. We also had an overnight stay in Ghent around Christmas (a bit of Christmas Market, a bit of shopping, a bit of hipster food, and a very nice hotel room), and spent 3 days in Paris just around my Birthday meeting up with friends, doing minimal touristic things (a visit to an Osiris exposition, and getting soaked in a sudden downpour), and playing a lot of games (Exploding Kittens FTW!).

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At the end of April we went to the wedding of Annick and Peter (cycling friends), and stayed in a lovely bread and breakfast afterwards, where we enjoyed the best brunch ever on the morning after the party (we were a bit sad that there was so much choice that we were already full before being able to taste everything). Finally, just as summer arrived to Belgium for the first weekend of May (just to leave a week later), we spent a long weekend in Rotterdam meeting up with my parents (walking around and having nice food). I still like the architecture of the city a lot. For the summer holidays we are still going to the Black Forest but with a train, and then to Hungary as usual. In addition to these, I have conferences on the Azores and in the Lake District in the UK. And since I will be so close to Liverpool, I have booked a night there and a ticket to Anfield to the Liverpool FC – Leicester City game on the 10th of September just before the conference! (Crazy expensive, but I don’t care, it’s one of my big dreams coming true!)

Gaming: I am still spending a lot of time on the evenings playing the PS4, the games in chronological order from the past months are: FIFA 16 (although this comes back regularly when I am bored of other games), The Wither 3 (which was mostly fun, although not as cool as Dragon Age: Inquisition last year, but I still liked that I only had to care about one character, and not four like in DA:I), NHL 16 (which was a nice change from the football, especially since I have not played the NHL series since 2002), and most recently The Division.

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My standard game every year is always the current edition of FIFA, but since The Division came out I have barely played anything else (and spent ~200 hours with The Division). We also often play with board games (most often the already mentioned The Rivals for Catan, Carcassonne, or Yahtzee), and since none of these have actual boards, maybe they should be just called analogue games. I also got a box of LEGO (WALL-E) from Clio after passing my driving theory exam, which was a lot of fun to assemble. I also took part in the bachelor party of Peter (one of my cycling friends), where we did Gokart racing (a full mini GP, with practice and qualification sessions and a small race, and even though I was the only one with zero actual driving experience, I finished 5th out of 10), laser tag, and dodgem-football. It was a really fun day! Then there was the bachelor weekend of Willem, where I had my first escape room experience, and way too little sleep, so I felt more tired than after the Pyrenees… Oh, and I almost totally forgot it, version 1.1 of Kerbal Space Program was also released and it is finally perfectly stable on my Mac (previous versions always had memory-related crashes every 15-30 minutes, which made the game simply not fun to play), so I will probably play it again when I will be on La Palma supervising the students :D I wish I had more than 24 hours in a day (sleeping is such a waste of time).

Others: Work is going fine, but a bit slow, so I am not going to talk much about it here. I am trying to finish up a paper about the research I have been doing in the past year, but it seems to be taking forever… I need to present some new results on two conferences this year, so I must have it all done by July. My Dutch classes were boring (luckily they are finally over), but the worst thing is that we had to switch to a new book for Level 4 following some strange central directive, and it sucks big time compared to our previous book. It is not even a Flemish book, but a Dutch one (so it has some words that are never used in Flanders)… So I am not going to continue with the language classes next semester, I will just have to speak more Dutch instead of English, and study a bit on my own.

That is all. Now that I had to write about it, it seems like I had quite a lot of fun in the past months, even if sometimes it feels like nothing special is happening most of the time. Hopefully I will not wait months again to post another update, but I would rather not make any promises… :) (This post might also get updated with extra pictures in the future.)