The day I said goodbye to my Gul bag and bought a rather expensive but ubercute dress

The past weeks I already noticed that the zip of my Gul rucksack was getting stuck all the time. On Monday it gave up and tore part of the rucksack and I also noticed a small hole in the bottom of the bag. I was pretty bummed about it, it may not have been the most fashionable rucksack, but it served me quite well nearly every day of the past three years and I had won it during a surfgirl weekend. Today I found a replacement though, a green Billabong rucksack at a surfshop in Antwerp, that even has a slightly bigger front pocket so I can stuff even more stuff in there.

It was fun to be in picturesque Antwerp again with mum, dad and Hans. Hans doesn’t care much for shopping but likes walking around, dad bought some new swimming trunks and mum browsed around some of the second the book shops but didn’t find anything. We also went to the new shopping centre on the Meir (the main shopping street) which is absolutely gorgeous. First we went to one of the top floors for drinks (and some fabulous chocolate cake). The shopping centre also has an Urban Outfitters shop, which is one of my favourite shops in Santa Monica, it’s a tad expensive (although prices can go down quite a bit during sale) and it can get also a bit messy at the end of the day (like Zara) but it has lots of fun stuff like books and random gadgets. Mum and I spotted this one dress on a mannequin, although the price tag made me gasp. Anyway, mum made me try it on, and was just so beautiful that I could not not buy it. Maybe I do have a little shopaholic streak…

A week in LA in February

From Monday night until Sunday afternoon I was around Marina Del Rey again. Most days were pretty quiet. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday I did some programming and worked on my thesis for a bit at ISI. It’s a nice office to work at, although I did choose the wrong side of the building this time. While I was doing my internship there I was on the side of the city, where the airconditioning was very cold, this week I at in the visitor’s office on the Marina side where it was superwarm, but hey, I did flee the cold in Europe so I shouldn’t really complain ;). Tuesday evening I tried out some recipes I’d never cooked before and failed, although my garlic shrimp were excellent and so were the desserts (= leftovers from extraordinary desserts :)). On Wednesday evening Gully threw a dinner party at his lovely apartment with good food (pasta with cinnamon!) and great conversations. Time flew.

On Wednesday I already had a bit of a sore throat, but this had gotten even worse overnight, so on Thursday I slept the whole morning and drank tea with honey until lunchtime. At lunchtime Paul and I went to Culver City because I’d found a place that did old-fashioned straight razor shaves, which he’d said he liked. It’s kind of the guy’s equivalent to getting a mani & a pedi, and it was very cool to see how it’s done. Afterwards we had lunch at the cute little Japanese place that I’d been to once while I was at ISI and that I’d been bugging Paul about ever since. In the afternoon I cycled to the beach in Venice and read some more of Anathem (didn’t finish it until today though) and watched the surfers. Around 4 I went back to Marina Del Rey to get dressed for the concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall that we were going to that evening. Not that it’s really necessary to dress up, but my trousers had gathered quite some sand from the beach and it is just fun to dress up. The concert was amazing, there were three pieces by three different composers (Haydn, Brahms and Schumann) and the setting of the orchestra changed (expanded) with every new piece. During the last piece there was also a piano, played by the conductor, who was also still conducting the orchestra with such enthusiasm that it seemed as if he was going to fall off his bench a few times. Very impressive, although I must admit I’m also quite partial to piano concertos.

Friday night we went out for drinks at the Waterfront in Venice again, weissbier for most of the crowd, lemonade for me :).

On Saturday morning I went surfing with Kerstin, who let me surf her spare board and Sabrina, a friend of hers. Since it was closing out elsewhere along the coast according to the forecast we went to the Venice breakwater, my old homespot. The waves were a bit big for me, probably mostly because I had only surfed once since September, but I still managed to get a really nice ride out of it. And best of all, there were dolphins, even swimming underneath my board. After an hour or so I got tired and also my feet were numb and all freakishly yellow again (seriously, there’s something wrong with my blood circulation there). But it was nearly lunchtime anyway. I had a shower at Rose and then went out to Santa Monica Main St. with Paul for lunch and Abbot Kinney Blvd. for just walking around and browsing around the cute little boutiques. On the way back we walked to Rose again to see Laura who was enjoying a well-deserved day off. It was great to sit on the old porch again and hang out there. Jerié also came along and it was good to see he was doing well. Around 5:30 we said goodbye to them, and went for a little food shopping expedition to Wholefoods, a wonderful supermarket. When we got home we  didn’t start cooking immediately (steak with chocolate sauce btw :)) though because Paul was first going to give me a tennis lesson. For this we went to Westchester, which is just between Marina Del Rey and LAX. It’s quite cool because in the evening the tennis courts are free. Unfortunately we were too late to pick up his spare racket that was out to be restrung, so he had to throw me balls, but it was great fun.

Sunday was my last day, but since LA also feels like home it didn’t feel that I was going to fly out again for most of the day. In the morning we went out to the French café on Abbot Kinney for brunch and to read the newspaper. After that we walked around Santa Monica a bit. I wasn’t very much in a shopping mood although 3rd Street Promenade is always fun because there are street musicians and it just looks a bit like a theme park. And then it was time to go again 🙁

Paul drove me to the airport. Check-in was horrible (United has a system that just doesn’t work). My flight was OK, the attendants were really nice. Unfortunately I got a bit sick again towards the end of the flight, not sure why that happens sometimes, but it’s quite annoying. Anyway, my wait in London was quite short and since the aeroplane was far from full, boarding went fast and we could leave right on time, so we arrived even 15 minutes early at Schiphol, which concluded this truly spectacular trip.

A Weekend in San Diego

The two hour car journey to San Diego gave me time to calm down a bit and process the morning’s events (and sober up a bit from the champagne). Although I kept muttering “this is so amazing” all the time (especially after I’d heard the story of the beautiful ring I have on my finger now, it comes from a jewelry store that’s owned by a surfer, and it’s platinum so it’s low maintenance, which is very considerate of Paul as I’m quite sloppy with these things). Anyway, we arrived in San Diego just in time to see the sun set, from our hotelroom with ocean view. The fabulous view wasn’t the only surprise, Paul had also had the hotel rent a surfboard for me and put it in the room, so I could just go surfing whenever I felt like it. This meant after checking the surf from my bed, as the nearest surf spot also happened to be right in front of the hotel :D. Yes, I got spoilt last weekend. The hotel itself looked very cool, with some very snazzy features, such as a lovely roof terrace with comfy sofas and a fire. hotel

After a stroll while it became dark we had a delicious 5 course dinner at the restaurant downstairs. Then I immediately passed out as I wasn’t (and actually am still not) quite used to this time zone.

On Sunday we went out for breakfast and found a lovely little café that did great eggs and toast and stuff, I had toast with pesto, mozzarella and tomato, while Paul went for eggs benedicte. They also had various flavoured hot chocolate options on the menu but I thought that would be a bit much for breakfast so I just had an enormous (as this is America) black tea. After a little nap I went out surfing while Paul (poor thing) did some work that just had to be done that day. I had a wonderful surf session on the 8-foot yellow fiberglass board that was mine for the weekend. It was a very stable board, making for long rides, and I even saw a seal at some point, only 15 metres or so away from me. After about an hour and a half my hands and feet were numb from the cold and my arms were tired because I really hadn’t  surfed for ages so I went back in with a big smile and had a nice hot shower. Paul had finished his work too so we posted it and treated ourselves to some liquid feel-goodness at Starbucks.

On Monday we left the hotel around noon (in the rain and after I had tried the Mexican hot chocolate at the café where we’d had breakfast the previous day) and headed for Balboa park, a 4.9 km² park that contains museums, gardens, the zoo etc. As it was raining we wanted to go to a museum. As the signage is horrible in America and we couldn’t find the Science Museum we decided to go to the Air and Space museum. When we found out the entrance fee was $25, we decided not to go :). So we drove to another part of the park, found the science museum and saw the huge queue in front of it. It has stopped raining so we parked and wandered around the park a bit. We saw most of the reconstructions of the 1915 Pan American Exposition, which basically consists of elaborately decorated vaguely Spanish-style buildings with lots of trees and flowers. Some of the buildings also hosted museums, but the ones we were most interested in (the ones with paintings) were closed.

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After traipsing around the park for a while we headed for downtown San Diego. We parked at Horton Plaza, a huge shopping centre, and wandered off through the Gas lamp district to find the modern art museum. We found some parts that belonged to it (it all wasn’t very clear) and those were closed and since it had started to rain as well we decided to look no further for the main part of the museum but to go find some food. We didn’t eat too much because afterwards there was one other mission to be accomplished: a visit to extraordinary desserts. One word: Heaven. This was also the first time I really appreciated doggy bags, as my raspberry concorde was just too big to devour all in one go. So after 45 mins of drinking tea, picking a dessert and eating half of it and just enjoying the ambiance of the place we hit the road up north back to LA again.

Back in LA; surprise after surprise after surprise; how I got engaged and other stories

The past week started pretty much like any other. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I worked (although we did have a thesis defence which means party during work time). On Thursday night I went round Steve’s to admire the new lay-out of his apartment and to eat some curry and play with a BB-gun. When I got home I quickly packed my bag for LA and got into bed at around 23:00, only for a few hours though as I had to get up again at 03:30 to go to Schiphol to begin my trip. All went smoothly. I had a swell time exploring the whiskey shop at Heathrow airport, I read 300 pages in Anathem (I still have about 200 to go now) and for my flight from London to LA I got put in Economy plus which means vast spaces of legroom so I could stretch out comfortably and get some sleep.

I landed at around 14:15 (first surprise: rain) and I had arranged to go to ISI on Friday afternoon since Paul wouldn’t be in LA until the evening as he had to come back from Iowa. But this was the second surprise of the trip: he had caught an earlier plane and had landed half an hour before me so he was waiting at the airport! We shared a taxi to Marina Del Rey and then went into ISI because he still had to print some stuff for the San Diego trip the next day (which he hadn’t been able to keep a secret) and I had to do some stuff for work as well. In the evening we met up with Jason, Erika and Dirk at the Waterfront café. There we also bumped into Kerstin, so it was a good but chilly night.

On Saturday morning the sun was shining so I went for a run in Marina Del Rey while Paul answered some emails. We were supposed to leave for San Diego at 11 but a meeting about one of his applications came up so we would go by Manhattan beach first around 13:00. This is when Paul casually asked whether I wanted to go to the beach in Venice. Since I’m a sucker for the beach I of course said yes, and then I faffed about a bit (drinking tea, burning some CDs) because I thought we had loads of time left. But Paul kept asking me to hurry up. In the meantime Gully called a few times, Paul said because he was having some trouble with a Valentine’s date or something…

We got to Venice, found a parking spot on Main Street and walked down Rose to the beach.

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Near the water I spotted two chairs and a table with a white table cloth, a vase with a rose, another rose lying on the table and two champagne glasses. I thought was so cute, not that I’m a die-hard Valentine’s day fan but I deep down inside I do like romance. While I pointed out the little scene to Paul he suggested we’d investigate. He sat down at the table, so I did too and we drank some champagne. I thought this was already the best Valentine’s day ever, sitting in the sun, watching the waves roll in, drinking champagne, I mean, it doesn’t get much better than that now does it? Well, it does, as then Paul proposed to me, literally “met alles erop en eraan” (and I’m keeping the details to myself :P). It was just absolutely perfect.

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And of course I said yes!

Fast forward to a few minutes later. The mystery of how Paul had arranged all this was solved by the appearance of Gully, Paul’s accomplice in this whole undertaking. We had some more champagne (OK, I had most of it, since I was the only one not driving and the most astonished of the party). Some people who walked by thought it was very cool and wanted to take a picture of us, it as all a bit surreal, in a good way. Just absolutely amazing. It’s Tuesday now and the smile is still plastered on my face.

Unfortunately we couldn’t stay on the beach for too long as we needed to get to Paul’s appointment in Manhattan Beach. On the way there we stopped at ISI to pick up the prints we’d forgotten the day before and for me to quickly skype my mother who was rather shocked, but happy for us. In the car I called dad, who was at work and hadn’t been informed by mum yet.

In Manhattan Beach Paul went to his meeting and I read some more in my book on a bench on the boardwalk, although I didn’t progress very far as concentrating was hard :).

Around 15:00, when Paul was done and my face had gotten a bit sunburnt we were on our way to San Diego. More on that later…

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Athens here I come!

On January 30 I found out that a paper I’d written together with Antal, Sander and Steve got accepted to a workshop at EACL’09. Today I registered for the conference and booked my flights, so from March 28th til April 6th I shall be enjoying sunshine, ouzo and olives (oh and learning a lot from interesting talks of course). Incidentally EACL’2006 in Trento was my first conference on the MITCH project and this is probably going to be my last trip on the MITCH project as my contract ends at the end of August. I also hope that the week in Greece will be a short break after I finish the first complete draft of my thesis. I have a rather long to-do list of things that still need to be done before I have all the content (results and stuff you know) for my thesis, but I’m sure that I’ll get there (that means if I don’t spend too much time blogging, but I just thought I’d tell you guys about yet another trip ;)).

P.S. I’ve never been to Greece so tips on fun stuff, cool restaurants, things to avoid etc are very welcome!

Saturday night

Last Saturday the long awaited second ESSLLI-2007 hostel kitchen cookclub reunion took place, it took a while to plan but it was worth it. In addition to the usual suspects (Wouter, Tikitu and myself) Wouter’s wife and Steve and Veronique (back from Spain) were also present, thus requiring me to plan the meal around my limited collection of pans and crockery. Not that that’s a bad thing, it actually resembles hostel-style cooking (although there was no need to steal pans this time and my kitchen is really much too small for more than 1 person). The evening started a bit later than planned because Wouter, Sirée and Tikitu where somewhat delayed because of a little transport incident, but around 19:15 the soup was about ready and the wine started flowing generously.

It was fun to cook for a group of people again (the thing I hate most about living alone is cooking for 1 person and eating alone…) and good to catch up again. After 2 cartons of fruit juice, 3 bottles of wine and a bottle of ouzo it was time to call it a day. Hopefully I can report on the next dinner party soon 🙂

PS Thanks for doing the dishes Steve and Vero!