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.
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.)