Tag Archives: dailystuff

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…

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…


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…


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!).



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.

Tom Clancy's The Division™_20160628012936

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.)

February, March, April…

Again more-or-less three months without blogging. It is getting more and more difficult to find time or motivation to write, but there are so many things I would want to remember later, and my blog is the best diary, so let’s see what you missed. (Also, since most of my written English practice comes from this blog, I have to admit that I felt quite bad about my language skills while writing this post… Another reason to write more often. Then again, there is this thing about promises and not being able to keep them, so, whatever…)

LEGO: After my mountain bike, I got myself another – much cheaper – present for my birthday: the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover from LEGO! It gave me a nice evening of assembling, and now it is on display below our TV. Undoubtedly, LEGO was the best toy of my childhood – even when we got our first computer, I kept playing with it. Among my favourite constructions were a suspension bridge, and an astronomical telescope in a proper rotating dome, but I always enjoyed simply following the instructions too. Ah, those were the days! I don’t think I will ever be too old for LEGO. Maybe at one point I should get all my LEGO from Hungary, since I don’t think my brother wants to play with it… The only problem is, that 1) we probably have no space for all that LEGO, 2) there is no way we could fly them over without paying extra for the overweight bags. It is really a lot of LEGO :)


Plots: Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while must know, that I am a data-freak. While preparing my annual seminar talk for the institute I also spent some time on data-mining and visualisation using the database of observations made with the HERMES spectrograph (at the Mercator telescope on La Palma). It turned out, that I have the 3rd highest amount of observing time at the instrument. (Even without counting the time I spent there with the master students as support astronomer – if one was to add those nights to my sum, then I would be winning with quite a landslide.) As an example, here is a plot showing the distribution of all HERMES observations throughout the first 5 years of HERMES, and a plot showing their distribution on the sky near the original Kepler field (different colours mean different observing programs, the dark blue area on the first plot represents the night time, and the symbol size is connected to the exposure time).



You can see – among many other things – how seasonal some observing programs are, and how well covered the Kepler field is. This was a nice exercise with python to learn a few new things about projections and calendar-data visualisation.

Making Belgian chocolate: After my public PhD defence I got a voucher for a chocolate workshop from my colleagues, but we only managed to go and do it now, at the end of March. It was a two hour session in the Bittersweet Chocolatier in the centre of Leuven, and we got to make small praline filled chocolate easter eggs, larger chocolate figurines, and pistachio balls covered in chocolate. It was a very nice experience, even without mentioning the half kilogram of – both self made and original Bittersweet – chocolate each of us got to take home afterwards :) I think it was definitely the best PhD defence present I have seen so far.







Royal Greenhouses of Laeken: Last week my mother came for a visit, and this time she finally got to enjoy the Belgian sunshine for a bit longer than a few seconds. Her only wish was to visit the coast and take De Kusttram between a few of the coastal towns, which we did on our first full day. The weather was warm, but we still got to use our umbrellas in a short thunderstorm which caught us while walking through the dunes. I also brought along my kite, but this time there was basically no wind at all (which is extremely rare on the coast), so I could not play much with it. There were other people with kites desperately waiting for stronger winds too…

On the next day, we went to Brussels to visit the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, which is only accessible to the public during a short, three week long period each spring. It was very beautiful, despite being a little bit crowded. Although I think that the variety of plants in the – much smaller – botanic garden of Leuven (which we visited just a few days earlier with Clio, and on the following day with my mother) is larger, there is no doubt that the architectural beauty of this place, and the amount of blooming flowers there was truly exceptional.







Work: Research usually takes more time than originally expected, but this time I really underestimated how much of it would take me to finish my latest paper. When I discovered something particularly interesting during the conference in Sydney last year, I though I could be finished with the necessary analysis before the end of the year (2013). Then we ran into various unexpected problems (shit happens when you do thing which were never done before), resulting in a delay of several months… But now, just before leaving to Chile (more about that later), I finally submitted the manuscript to the usual journal (A&A). Let’s hope the referee will find our work worthy, and I can show you (or at least post about) the results in a few months!


Let me give a quick summary of my February. I have been sleeping, training, working and eating (plus watching TV series, usually during eating or training). And this covers probably 99% of my activities. My second first-author paper is basically accepted (I got only minor comments from the referee, and the report was very positive), and I worked some days on another topic for Steven’s paper, which also got accepted in the meantime. In general, I was very motivated this month.

You can see my training log for February above. 1188 km, 38.5 hours, 27500 Calories. For a winter month, this is kind of amazing for me. I had a training every day, except for Mondays, which are my highly anticipated and appreciated rest days now (with an extra day of rest on Thursdays, if needed). The goal (and challenge) is to keep up with this throughout the cycling season (and maybe raise the mileage as the days get longer and the temperatures rise), with let’s say a minimum of 250 km per week (and a maximum of whatever I can manage). Of course this is tiring (but in a satisfying way), but as a positive side effect, I have no problems anymore with going to sleep before midnight, which means I can finally get up at 8, and be at work at 9. (In practice, I have replaced a lot of useless internet surfing time with the extra trainings :D) This means that as soon as we switch to summer time (which is now less than a month away), I can have my two hour outside rides still after work, in a much more convenient way (because now it is not so easy to arrange outside rides during the week – for the indoor trainer, it does not matter if it’s already dark outside). Of course I already feel the benefits of the extra training, for example I felt much stronger during the last Velodrome session (staying with the fastest group all the time, even jumping into some sprints with other guys), and yesterday when I went on a training ride with the KU Leuven team, I could follow the first guys on the climbs, and it was me who had to say to two of the other guys after the last climb, that we have to wait a bit, as we had lost the other half of the group… I do not want to be a champion or anything (the other guys do triathlon and/or real cycling races – I was the only one who was not riding in a team outfit -, so they asked me if I was also racing, and they were a bit surprised to hear a negative answer), because cycling is “only a hobby” for me (and because I have started too late for that), but I want to be able to keep up with the best non-professionals, and I want to enjoy group rides, and I definitely do not want to be dropped… I want to feel strong on the bike, this is my main motivation. And a good training can give me a satisfying feeling every day, while it is much harder to get the same feeling after a day of work.