2013 Goal: Climb Snowdon

Coming from a flat country, I’ve always been fascinated by hills and mountains (and rocks, because we don’t have those either). Not that I’m a super enthusiastic climber, but it’s just a fun thing to be outdoors and get to a vantage point where you can see lots. Anyway, for some reason, Snowdon was on my list, perhaps because my English friends said it was quite doable and Wales is just a fun place to hang out. Also, one of our English friends now happens to live near Snowdon, so a trip was easy to plan, and as a bonus mum came along too!

So we flew into Manchester airport one Thursday morning, rented a car and drove to Anglesey, more specifically to the place with the super long Welsh name: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch 🙂 The sun came out, and we went for a walk on the beach. One of my surf mates happens to have a holiday home on Anglesey so after my morning swim session (more on the swimming in the next post), we went up to Rhosneigr where mum and Dave went out for a walk, while Jilly and I first went for a surf session, and then a stand-up paddle board session (my arms were like spaghettis afterwards).

On Saturday, we decided to go up to Snowdon. It was a beautiful day! We didn’t rush up (apparently people run up as well, but that’s just crazy, as are the mountain bikers going up). There was still some snow near the top, and as it was a clear day, the views were just magnificent! At the top I ate a bag of salt and vinegar crisps and after we got down we treated ourselves to some hot chocolate at Pete’s eats.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/merpel/9762968531/in/set-72157635543861132/player/

On Sunday, it was time to go back again. On the way to the airport we traipsed around Conwy for a little bit, which has a huge castle and some cute little shops. We only made it just in time for our flight (my fault) but thankfully my silver status got us on on time.

We’ve already started planning this year’s trip: Hay-on-Wye, this time also with my sister!

Holiday!

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a firm believer in holidays. In the Summer of 2012, we decided to take the entire month of August off and do a three-week European road trip. Highly recommended!

The first few days of August we spent just relaxing and sorting stuff out. I had already tested the tent, so that was good. I also picked up a new surfboard just a few days before the holiday, so on August 3, we were all good to go! We picked up our car at the airport in the morning, it turned out to be a 2-month old Volvo estate, with all the gadget (satnav, leather seats, iPod connector, you name it, it had it). We first stopped at my parents for a day or so, to pick up some more camping essentials such as a cooking hob and say hi to everyone in the south. On the 5th, we set out to our first stop, Paris where we would hang out with Paul’s parents for a few days. Just as we crossed the border with France, I realised we had left our rain jackets at home. Well, it’s a summer holiday after all, let’s hope for nice weather…

Kudos to Paul for getting us to Paris safely, and also getting us into (and out of) without any harm done to the nice new car. Paris was splendid, as always. We had a wonderful time skipping the Louvre and d’Orsay queues with Paul’s parents (tip: buy tickets in advance at FNAC!) and sampling some fabulous food (new discovery: L’Apibo in Rue Tiquetonne, in the 2ieme arrondissement, really really awesome food).

On the 9th of August, Paul’s parents went up north to visit some friends in Hamburg, while we went south, all the way into Basque country. Originally I had wanted to stay close to San Sebastian, but as the campsites near the sea were already full when we booked, we ended up in Mundaka. Which was really quite far away from Paris. Luckily the roads are super nice (OK, you pay a fortune in tolls, but it’s worth it). Since Paul had driven there, I set up the tent (easy-peasy) after which we walked down to the little village to explore and find some food. Mundaka is really super small, but really nice though.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/merpel/8009447984/in/set-72157631589281278/player/

We spent most of our days relaxing in the little town, taking walks, reading books, surfing a bit (the waves weren’t amazing, but it was still nice to try out my new board), eating tapas….you know, the good life. We also took a trip to Bilbao, which was very cool, although lots of shops were closed because it was a Sunday.

On August 16, we went back north again, destination Contis-Plage, with an afternoon stopover in San Sebastian. San Sebastian is just the nicest little town ever, lots to see, lots to eat, and only a short ride from the French border. Contis-Plage is one of the few less spoiled French beach towns, where we stayed at a huge but quite nice campsite. Our spot was quite big and there was shade. Most mornings, I went out for a little surf (as the winds tend to be offshore in the mornings and turning to onshore in the afternoon) and on the way back I would meet up with Paul in the little town for breakfast. There was just the most amazing bakery in town, where you could look into the area where the loveliest baguettes were made. The interesting thing is (maybe that’s the normal way of doing it but I never knew) was that they use cloth that is folded in a sort of wavey pattern to shape the loaves.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/merpel/8009595502/in/set-72157631589519264/player/

We hung out around the beach, rented a tandem and biked through the woods to the next town over (Cap de l’Homy, which is even smaller than Contis-Plage) where we took a splash in the ocean (of course staying right in front of the lifeguards, you don’t mess with those in France, actually, you also don’t mess with the ocean there, one morning I sort of got caught in a rip, and it was  a long paddle back to the beach, but I stayed calm and the heli didn’t have to lift me out, as it did with less lucky people most other days, phew!). We also visited Bordeaux, which took ages to get to because of a traffic jam due to roadworks. Fabulous town, only waay to hot, maybe a place to plan a city trip to sometime in the future.

Foodwise, this part of the trip was very different from our week in Spain, no tapas, but some super awesome salads at this nice beach bar whilst watching the sunset (they had a DJ who would play some heavy classical music to accompany the sun sinking into the ocean, and everyone would applaud when it disappeared, funky but cool experience).

We also barbecued on the beach in Mimizan. Mimizan is only 15km from Contis-Plage and it’s the place where I first encountered surfing in 2004, so when we were nearby I just wanted to pop over. To be honest, I hardly recognised it. When I was there, there was maybe one ATM, and some streets weren’t really paved and it was quite small. Now there was a huge big boulevard, filled with families, lots of wafel stands. Good thing we didn’t stay there, although some shops were still there. And the beach was still good 🙂

http://www.flickr.com/photos/merpel/8009594821/in/set-72157631589519264/player/

On August 22, we packed up our tent again and headed to Brittany, to a little place called St. Cast-le-Guildo. This place is sort of halfway between Contis-Plage and the Netherlands, it’s near Le Mont Saint Michel and I had a really awesome holiday there with my parents when I was about 16. The town hadn’t changed much, neither had the campsite. The Brittany coast is really gorgeous, lots of little bays, dramatic cliffs, lots of little fishing towns and the accompanying hearty food that keeps everyone going. My new favourite are the buckwheat pancakes (“galettes bretonnes”) that come piled up with lettuce, eggs, sausage or whatever else you would like really. We also visited a little restaurant where everything was cooked on a big charcoal fire in the restaurant, very cool (it was called Le P’tit Breizh).

One of the highlights of our holiday was our trip to Mont Saint Michel, the little island off the coast of Normandy with the big monastery from which it lends its name. It’s a true engineering feat, considering people have been living there for over a millennium. Even though it was summer, the winds coming from the sea and just the general humidity make it not a very friendly place. Easy to defend though. The narrow little streets, even though littered with tourists and souvenir shops really give you a hint of what old towns really used to look like. If you have a chance to go there, really do, you won’t regret it.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/merpel/8009553137/in/set-72157631589519256/player/

We also hung around St. Malo (also some awesome fortifications), shopped at one of those fabulous big French supermarkets, and on the morning of our departure, I also got a last little surf session in. After the surf session we visited one of the awesome French bakeries to buy some baguettes to take home to my parents for dinner that night.

More pics at:

Road Trip Part I
Road Trip Part II
Road Trip Part III
Road Trip Part IV

Hello Southern France!

One of the big perks about being a researcher, is the travel. In July I wasn’t travelling for a conference, but to give a presentation and work together with researchers near Nice. Sucks to be me 🙂

The visit to the research lab was really nice, and actually already led to a short paper and a longer one in the making.  But since I’d never been to that part of France, I decided to stay on for the weekend for some nice food and weather. The one slightly annoying thing was that right after MadNes, I found a tick under my arm, and as I wasn’t feeling too well the days after removing it, the GP put me on antibiotics. Which means you can’t go into the sun. So my outfit of choice was a big sun hat and light linnen clothes, and as the old town has nice narrow alleys and lots of ice cream parlours, I managed to stay cool while enjoying the city.

I didn’t just stay around in Nice. On Saturday, I took the train to Antibes (awesome train ride!! The layout of most of the route: beach, narrow road, train tracks) where I first visited the market where I bought some goat’s cheese and a few macarons and then a bakery for some nice bread. There was a nice view and some shade by the Picasso museum, so I decided to have lunch there. As I didn’t have a cheese knife with me, I decided to use my frequent flyer card. A French man who came by told me that this was not done, and he offered me his knife. This was the start of a little conversation in French about the boats and the area (turns out he was a local judge who was hanging around town waiting for his boat to get fixed).

The Picasso museum was pretty cool, not so much for the art as they don’t really have his best pieces, and half of the museum is filled with art by other artists, but the building is great. I also went for a really short swim in the mediterranean (couldn’t resist) but stayed out of the sun, traipsed around town and read my book (Good Omens) in the shade.

On the Sunday, I stayed around Nice as I had to catch a flight home again later in the day. The day started off beautifully, so I went up the hill on the one side of town where on top there are ruins of an old castle and really enjoyed the views on the bay. In the afternoon, I traipsed around the boulevard, had another really brief swim and finished my book. Just as I got back from my hostel to pick up my bag and arrived at the bus stop for the airport it started to rain. Time to go home 🙂

Regularly Surfing in the Netherlands Again

I love surfing. But for some reason, the past few years I was only surfing on holiday and it wasn’t really happening in the Netherlands. It sort of started to change a little bit with some girls surf events organised in the Netherlands where I found out that it is possible to go surfing by public transport (OK, it’s a bit of a hassle) and the waves are actually quite worth it (sometimes).

Anyway, in April, I decided I should try to surf at least twice a month during the non-winter season. That should be doable. Actually, it’s become easier than ever. Sometimes I rent a Greenwheels car (it’s a wee bit expensive, but if you share it with someone for a morning session it’s quite doable). I’ve also done some coaching sessions in Scheveningen, which is fairly easy to get to by train and tram and I’ve also been lucky in catching rides. Also, having it scheduled every Tuesday and there are other people to surf with makes that you just go (I’m also quite a social surfer). So I’ve actually learnt a lot the past spring, summer and autumn. I didn’t surf so much in winter because work was super busy, and with it getting dark earlier, it’s just harder to schedule, but luckily I got some surf over Christmas in Florida. I did go out in January, and even participated in a match (not really competing, but having a good time nonetheless). And it feels good. I’m feeling more confident in the water, my technique is getting better (that’s what I assume, as my rides are getting longer) and surfing is just one of the coolest activities to do.

After a pretty cold and seemingly endless winter, the days are getting longer again. Let’s see what this season brings 🙂

MadNes

It had been ages since I’d camped out, and we do have a new tent. Also, I’d never been to the “Waddeneilanden” (the islands in the northeast of the Netherlands). So when one of my surfmates pointed out MadNes festival, it took me no time at all to decide to get a ticket.

MadNes festival is a two day beach festival on Ameland and it’s not just music, but also lots of watersports clinics (such as windsurfing), creative activities (I made a bag!)  and other types of things (I also did a capoeira clinic). Besides that, there is of course nice reggae and ska music.

As we’d signed up for our first clinic (kite buggy) at noon already, we had to leave really early. On my way to the tram in Amsterdam I realised one of the wheels of my suitcase was broken, but it was too late to go back and move stuff to a different one. I met E. in Amersfoort and we made it on time to Leeuwarden, found the bus to Holwerd and there we got onto the boat to Ameland. After the little ferry ride, buses were ready to take all the festival goers to the camp site (with all their stuff) and we set up our tents around the edge.

It takes around 30 minutes to set up the tent. Good to know. We were a little bit too late for our first clinic, but as other people were late for their slot, we could still have a go. Controlling the kite is fairly simple, only there were some stronger gusts of wind, making it a bit difficult. Controlling the kite and the buggy at the same time: not so simple. So my rides were usually only a few seconds before the kite found its way to the ground and I sometimes even ran it over (the buggy does not have a break). But it was a nice experience.

After the clinic, we made our way to the main festival area. During the day the festival area is also open to locals, so your proto-typical festival goer hangs out together with locals and families holidaying on the island with their children. We watched some BMX bikers in the half pipe (crazy!), hung out on the beach, did some dance jogging, and listened to bands I don’t know. Nothing new there, except that I’m used to sitting on the grass at festivals and this was with sand between my feet on the beach.

The only thing not so swell were the nights, as it turned out that the tent and sleeping mat are fine, the sleeping bag wasn’t. I was freezing! So I had to put on my jumper and stuff. Nothing that can’t be solved, just a bit annoying.

After two-and-a-half days of beach party-awesomeness, we managed to score a ride on a super nice campervan with a few guys who needed to go to Amsterdam too (actually one of them knew one of my co-workers, small world). So I also got to go over the “Afsluitdijk” for the first time in my life 🙂

See more pics at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/merpel/sets/72157631588968010/

Tenerife!

In May 2012, Paul and I travelled to Tenerife for a week of sun, sea and no surf. We got sun alright, as it was a fair number of degrees warmer than it was supposed to be for the time of year. We got sea, as we could see the sea from our apartment. But there was no surf. Not even wind for windsurfing (which is highly unusual there).

But no worries, there were plenty of other fun things to do. As it was so hot, I went swimming of course (well, Paul thought the water was still too cold, so he sipped Spanish with milk and condensed milk and read books while I swam). Flip flops are obligatory on some of the beaches as the (black) sand got so hot you’d burn your feet. I also rented a stand-up paddle board, which is just fun to do.

We also did a boat tour at a place called “Los Gigantes” (which refers to the height of the cliffs: 600m). The boat tour along the cliffs was already really awesome, but we also got to see some dolphins on the way back. And we had the boat to ourselves (with the crew).

As we had rented a car, and the petrol is fairly cheap on the Canary islands we also did a lot of driving. For example along the TF-21 through the Parque Nacional del Teide which takes you around the Teide vulcano. This also happens to be Spain’s tallest mountain. The road was pretty steep in parts, but there were also cyclists going up (we were happy that we got a nice strong engine in our car). The landscapes in the national park were absolutely stunning and around every bend, the landscape seemed to change dramatically. On the way back, we visited the dragon tree and took a road along the coast back.

We also had fabulous food. There is lots of nice fresh fish, but we also sampled some of the more traditional Canarian cuisine which includes lots of delicious stews (I bought a cookbook and it’s not that hard to do, it just takes time as it usually needs to marinate overnight). Somehow we also ended up at a Belgian tennis club barbecue, with French karaoke. Weird? Yes. Fun? Absolutely!

See the pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/merpel/sets/72157631588968032/ 

 

 

Horseback riding on the beach

I used to be a horse girl, well, not the most enthusiastic one (I didn’t really go to the riding school hours before my lesson to brush the horses), but I do really like horseback riding. I don’t ride regularly anymore, but every now and then dad and I go out and spend a few hours on horseback again (and a few more days in pain afterwards).

As my parents live in Brabant, there’s lots of woods around to ride in, but no beach, so we had never ridden on the beach, until April this year, when we went out to Dishoek for a beach ride. The funny thing is that every riding school is different; in some places they insist on having the staff saddle the horses, at this school they were worried that we just wanted someone to doublecheck what we did. Also, a whip was compulsory, and it had been ages since I carried one, so I didn’t use it either, but carried it around nonetheless.

We got to be at the end of the group, because dad’s horse (the son of my horse) didn’t quite get along with the other horses apparently. That’s reassuring. But all went fine, and after we got used to the horses a bit in the arena, we took them outside. We first rode through the woods at the foot of the dunes, and after about an hour or so we got to go over the dune onto the beach. We first took it easy, and rode a bit on the sand, and then through the water a little bit, and it’s really cool, the beach looks quite different from horseback. The last bit we got to gallop a little bit, which the horses absolutely loved. So did we, so perhaps there will be more equestrian beach adventures for us in the future…

Paul McCartney in Ahoy

On March 24, Paul McCartney performed in Ahoy, Rotterdam, and we (mum, Sara and I) had tickets! John is my favourite Beatle to be honest, but I must say that after this gig, I might even be called a Paul McCartney fan :). There are quite few artists who can keep their audience entertained for 3 hours, but Sir Paul McCartney is definitely one of them. Also pretty much without interruption; he didn’t even have a towel or water on stage to refresh between songs, whereas he was running and jumping around quite a bit. I want to be that fit when I’m 69!

To see the awesome setlist, check here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/paul-mccartney/2012/ahoy-rotterdam-netherlands-7bde3224.html

 

Winter in Amsterdam

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s magical: the Amsterdam canals froze over.

I was a bit annoyed at first with the cold because we had meant to go to the south for Frank’s birthday, but as Dutch trains obviously can’t run when the lakes freeze over that didn’t happen. We first meant to go there on Friday, saw the mayhem at the train stations, then decided to try again on Saturday, got stuck in Utrecht and took a bus back that stopped at every tiny little town on the way, needless to say it took hours. The good thing was that it did drop us off near Bijlmer Arena, where there is a big Decathlon, so I decided to buy some ice skates. As it was getting dark already I didn’t try them on yet, we first went home to warm up with some hot chocolate and I got to try them on on Sunday in the Vondelpark. As it stayed cold, the next week the ice on the canals was finally thick enough to be safe (except under some bridges) and the whole town had a fabulous town seeing the city from another side.

Check out more pics on flickr.

Hello LA!

After our Florida adventure, the fun in the sun wasn’t over yet: we were still headed to SoCal for almost two weeks.

On Monday 2 January, we touched down at LAX sometime in the evening. The first few nights we would stay at a hotel because the friend’s whose floor we would crash on was still on holiday himself. But that’s OK, I like hotels, especially when they come equipped with free massage chairs just 5 metres away from our room. I can highly recommend the hotel we were staying at, the Custom Hotel, which is right between LAX and Marina Del Rey. From our hotel room we could see ISI, and from our office at ISI we could see the hotel. That’s right, our office at ISI, cos we were there for work. And we shared an office.

It was fabulous to be back. Because of the time difference (2 hours) we woke up at a rather obscene hour on Tuesday, so we headed off to the French Market Café for a sunny, outdoor breakfast, something we normally only have time for on the weekends. There are advantages to getting up early I suppose.

We still made it into the office by 09:30. The best thing about working from the US on a Dutch job is that all the email comes in in the morning, because it’s the end of the working day in Europe. So when you get into the office, you tend to the email, and then the rest of the day you can work without interruptions (I know I could also switch off email, but my mailbox is my to-do list, so I sort of have to keep it open, and I haven’t found a client yet that will allow me to only check email at set times or twice a day. The longest you can have Mac Mail space apart is every hour, or you could do it manually, but still every time my computer comes up from sleep it will pull in fresh email. Another option would be to get a different to do list, suggestions are welcome). Anyway, I got a lot done. I hacked about a little. I read a whole bunch of interesting papers. I graded student assignments. I talked to the awesome people at ISI. Still we managed to drag ourselves away from the office at a decent time in the evenings to go hang out with all the great people we know in LA.

I also rented a surfboard (@ the Rider Shack on Washington Blvd, highly recommended, they also included a board bag so the rental car wouldn’t get dirty), so I could go surfing in the mornings and weekends. On Wednesday morning when I went down to Venice for the first time again, I immediately ran into Kerstin, who took over my room on Rose after I left. She still lives there, and still surfs 🙂 The waves were quite hollow, which is really not my specialty (hopefully my surf coaching sessions will help me this year) but I did get my hair wet, and found a nearly perfect sand dollar. And we saw some dolphins. The day could have started worse 😉

During our stay, we also got to experience some great home cooking by our friends (thank you Gully, Jens and Jason) and were taken to some new bars that we didn’t know about (courtesy of Dirk). On the weekends, we went to Malibu to surf (such a lovely mellow wave!). We fell into the Paradise Cove tourist trap (although it is a beautiful beach).

On Friday night after our last working day in SoCal for a while, we left the office early to have sushi in Santa Monica, followed by cocktails in the Shangri-La hotel rooftop bar with Gully (while looking out over the Pacific). Pure awesomeness.

On our last Saturday in SoCal, we first had brunch in Manhattan Beach with Victoria and Dirk (they do have a knack for finding fabulous places to take us to). Then Paul and I surfed together in Malibu. The waves were super small, and there was a lot of seaweed getting stuck in our fins and leashes, but it was really great to be out there together. After we got wormed up with some coffee & hot chocolate at Starbucks we went out to a nice Italian restaurant in Culver City with Jens. And then we had to get up really early in the morning again to go back to icy Europe…