A Weekend in Paris

One of the best things about living in Europe is that you can get anywhere really quickly. For example, it’s only 3 hours by train from Amsterdam to Paris. So after a pretty busy, but highly rewarding period at work, it was time for a weekend in Paris in July 2015.

We took the Thalys on Friday afternoon, and got there early in the evening. I’ve often stayed in the Latin Quarter, but this time we had found a nice AirBnB in Montmartre. It took a little while to find the place, but it was well worth it. It was situated in one of those typical Parisian apartment buildings with a nice little inner courtyard. But of course, Paris isn’t for hanging out in cute apartment buildings, so we went out for a little walk in the lovely warm summer night and had an overpriced drink at a terrace looking out over the city.

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We then had dinner at Le Jardin d’en Face, which was pretty busy but we were lucky to find a spot outside. It really helps to speak a few words of French, even with some errors. The staff really was a lot nicer to us than to the couple sat next to us. Perhaps it was also because we didn’t return a half-full plate with the house specialty 😉

After dinner we just wandered around the area, went into the Sacré Coeur (which is open til quite late) and just enjoyed the little streets, watching the people and the views of the city.

On Saturday, we took things a bit off-the-beaten path; we rented some vélibs (the white rental bikes you can pick up from automatic rental stations) and we went to two Le Corbusier sites. The first was Maison La Roche, one of the houses he designed and his apartment/atelier in a larger apartment building that he also designed. Both are situated in the 16th arrondissement, but the visits couldn’t be more different. We were the only ones visit at Maison la Roche, which is in a really quiet neighbourhood, and to protect the floors, we got to wear cute little plastic bags over our shoes.

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The apartment/atelier is situated near two sports stadiums and is actually a place where people still live. You need to ring the doorbell and they will only let in so many people at any given time. To not bother the people who live in the apartment building too much, they prefer it if you take the stairs to the top floors where Le Corbusier had his apartment with stellar views over the city. Well worth the climb.

We were ready for a drink after that though. Paul had an excellent idea, so we parked our bikes at one of the bike stations and took the metro to the Tour Montparnasse. Now, you need to pay to go all the way up to the roof, but you can also just go up to the bar on the top floor, and pay for a drink and a view (and a comfy seat).

Late in the afternoon, we picked up some bikes again (your rental is valid for 24 hours) to make it to the east side of Paris for dinner with a ‘local’, whom Paul has known for years and years and years. He suggested we meet at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, which is a really bizarre place with an artificial lake and an artificial waterfall, but really quite scenic :). In the park is a lovely restaurant called “Le Pavillion du Lac” where Paul and I were probably the only foreigners. While we were having dinner a big branch fell out of a tree, but luckily most of the people who had been picnic’ing had already left so no-one got hurt. Afterwards, we wanted to party some more, and tried to go to a bar/club on the Canal St. Martin but it was so busy that it would take at least an hour to get a drink. Fortunately, there were other quiet, if less hip places around for a final stop.

On Sunday, we walked. We first stopped at Soul Kitchen for breakfast (and coffee for Paul) and then we had wanted to go to the Pyramids shopping centre, but Google maps sent me to another Pyramids store (which was closed and tacky), although we did end up in a really nice shopping street in the Marais where they had a bunch of pop-up shops that would only be there for a little while. Paul bought some nice new shoes there, after which it was time for lunch again, for which we thought we’d have a picnic in Square du Temple. Unfortunately it started to rain, so everyone ran to the band stand in the centre of the park, but luckily it didn’t last long. We then went for some coffee and tea at Fondation Café at 16 rue Dupetit Thouars. Via Le Marché des Enfants Rouges, we made our way to Le Palais du Thé where I bought some fancy tea and then we traipsed around the area some more.

Near 6pm we made our way back to Gare du Nord. We picked up a baguette and some cheese on the way which we ate on the train (probably pissed off some other passengers as I really like the slightly smellier cheeses) and we were back in Amsterdam in a few hours with a whole bunch of new experiences and happy memories. But there is still so much more to see…hopefully we can go back again soon!

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Hello London!

Woohoo I got to go to London again! For my project we organised a hackathon and London just happens to be a good place for such an event because there are lots of developers and journalists in the city, and then we also had a project meeting, because the project partners were all in the same locale anyway.

Getting to London was a bit bumpy, I had a flight booked to Heathrow, then KLM emailed me to say that the flight was delayed, whilst on the train to Schiphol I found out it had been cancelled, but at the desk I found out I had been proactively rebooked on a flight to London City, leaving about 40 mins after getting to the airport. Still made it, but it was a bit weird. Anyway, I like London City, although it was raining when I arrived, but then it didn’t rain anymore while I was there (although I did bring an umbrella!).

Anyway, I had booked a nice little hotel/hostel/B&B near Russell Square with a view of the tennis courts. The room was super small but it had everything I needed, including pretty decent internet. I had breakfast at the hotel twice, but the weather was just too nice to sit in a basement breakfast room, so the last two days I went out, the real gem I found was Fork, where I discovered bircher muesli, which is just awesome!

On the way to Haymarket where our hackathon took place, I passed by the Wyndham’s theatre, which currently has Skylight on. I’d sort of been turned off theatre by a few really crappy performances, but with Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy, I spontaneously thought I could give it a try. I got one of the last tickets, which actually turned out to be a fabulous seat in one of the boxes. I shared the box with an American lady who “was happy she didn’t have to share the box with a creepy old man” 🙂 The play was fantastic! It was a 2.5 hour rollercoaster ride of emotions, so many layers. Kudos to Carey Mulligan for cooking spaghetti on stage whilst sucking the audience into the story and keeping them there. Great night out, Variety thinks so too. Go see it!

On Wednesday night, we went out with the project team to Busaba Eathai, a really nice Thai restaurant near Covent Garden. They had a bit of trouble managing such a big group, but eventually everyone got their drinks and food, such as Gamma Ray beer, which had a funny alien on the label. Afterwards we had a lovely walk through London back to Bloomsbury. I love walking in cities in the evening, perhaps I should go out on a stroll in Amsterdam more often too 🙂

On Thursday, I met up with Mischa and Lucy for a lovely outside dinner at a place called Gail’s Kitchen. The place has marvellous bread and great nouveau tapas. Instead of a dessert Lucy and I went for a cocktail that was made up by the bartender who just asked us what kind of flavours we liked. A perfect ending to a perfect day.

I decided to make the most of my time in London, so on Friday morning I popped into the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery on my way to the airport. Both were cool, but I preferred the National Portrait Gallery because it has cosier little corridors and slightly funkier setups. I also really liked the Vivien Leigh photo exhibition. Definitely a place to go back to (and spend money in the museum shop).

Iceland Pt1: Around Reykjavík

A few weeks ago, the Language Resources and Evaluation Conference (LREC 2014) took place in Reykjavik, Iceland and I was lucky enough to get to go there 🙂

To find out more about my professional activities, check out the NewsReader page, this post is really about the extracurricular activities 🙂

I arrived in Reykjavik on Monday May 26. I first went to find my colleagues at Harpa conference centre, they had arrived a day earlier and already checked in to our Airbnb apartment. This was my first time with Airbnb and I must say I really really liked it. The apartment we had was quite affordable, spacious, and had a nice kitchen with handy basics such as tea and herbs and spices. The conference was pretty hectic so being able to have breakfast at home or just chill out in a homely kitchen with the cat was a nice break. The first evening, we just walked up the main street and had dinner at a little Balkan and Mediterranean meze place called Balkanika.

On Tuesday, I didn’t go to any of the workshops but chose to adjust to the environment. I first went for a swim at the Sundhöllin swimming pool. This is the oldest swimming pool in Reykjavik (1937) and it is designed by the same person who designed the Hallgrímskirkja, city architect Guðjón Samúelsson. The pool is one of the cleanest I’ve been to, also not much (if any?) chlorine, perhaps because they make you shower without your bathing suit before entering and provide shampoo to wash your hair and other vital parts (as designated on an informative poster in the shower area). The main indoor pool is just your regular 5-lane 25m pool, although way less busy than the pool here in Amsterdam. I reckon because most people just went for the awesome hot tubs on the sun deck (not that there was any sun) heated by natural hot spring water. Really nice way to relax after my 62 laps. It was also fun talking to the locals, and a German lady who was in Reykjavik as a stage manager to a play. Oh and the opening hours are quite generous too: 6:30 til 22:00, it’s 6ooISK to get in there, or €3.90, pretty much what entrance to a pool in Amsterdam costs, except they don’t have the hot tubs ;). You can also rent towels, should you have forgotten yours.

Most of the afternoon was spent with one of my students in a coffee shop where the first Norah Jones CD was on repeat. We managed to finish our demo after about the 4th repetition of the CD. After some chillin’ at our airbnb apartment reading a travel guide, I decided to try to find the Kringlan shopping centre and go to a big supermarket there called ‘Hagkaup‘. Kringlan was alright, quite like shopping centres you find in the US and stuff. Also lots of chains that we have in the Netherlands too. Although I did discover my new favourite shop: Tiger (and the Internets told me that they have a shop in Amsterdam too!). I bought the awesomest notebook sleeve there for less than 10 euros, I’m a happy camper 🙂

The supermarket was quite interesting too. I like hanging around in supermarkets and seeing what kind of local foodstuffs they have. In Iceland there is a lot of cured fish (which smells despite being packaged in plastic) and frozen bread. They also have a huge organic food section, where I scored some nice chocolate. Most of it is more expensive than in mainland Europe, although it is a bit difficult to figure out as there is some math involved (1000ISK is about €6.50). I did find Euroshopper oatmeal, which was 109 ISK (€0.70) and which I get for  €0.41 here. Anyway, I found some apples, ingredients for pasta, the aforementioned chocolate and some deodorant because mine had exploded all over my toiletries on the flight in and we were good for a nice home cooked meal. Without a glass of wine though, as the state off-license had already closed.

On my way back I strolled through the Klambrátun where people were practicing their fly-fishing technique on the grass (makes sense I guess) and playing football in big balloons. The cool thing I found about Iceland is that the weather isn’t amazing (3 out of 5 days there is rain) but they are quite outdoorsy, so you’ll also see terraces to sit out and lots of nice parks with cool things to see.

Wednesday was the first day of the conference. I didn’t have to present myself so I could just enjoy lots talks, which I did, all the way up until 19:20 when they ended. Then for some reason we had to wait until 20:00 for the reception to start, but there were lots of people I hadn’t seen in a while to hang out with. The reception was pretty awesome. Really nice food and a little jazz combo playing in the background. After the reception, a little group formed and we meant to go out to the Lebowski bar, since it was still light outside anyway. Sadly they had a private party going on, so we ended up in the karaoke bar. We found that karaoke in Reykjavik is a bit unorganised. You can request songs, but they will play requests in a random order without announcing which song will come up. If you hear your song, you need to run to the stage and grab the mike. If someone is already there, they can sing your song, or if the second mike is still available you and your friends can sing the same song independently of the other person(s) singing it. It’s all OK. At the end of the evening everyone will be up or around the stage (or on the floor) singing along to everything.

Thursday was a long day at the conference, since I was co-presenting one of my posters during the last poster session which was supposed to end at 19:20. However, lots of people were interested in our stuff (which is awesome!) so we didn’t get done until around 20:00. I dropped off my poster and laptop at home, grabbed my bikini and then walked all the way to the other end of town to hang out with a crew that had an even better Airbnb apartment that contained a hot tub. And a porcelain tiger and the bust of a nun on a column. Weirdness. I made it back to my place around midnight where Paul had just arrived from the airport to spend a few days traipsing around Iceland.

On Friday morning, we managed to make it to the keynote (OK, missed the beginning, but got the cool stuff, and that’s with stopping in town on the way for coffee). In the morning I got to co-present another poster, which also garnered a lot of attention so we were quite busy answering questions and listening to suggestions there too. After lunch, I sat in on a session in which a paper on which I was a co-author got presented and where there were some more super interesting talks on hip hop and narrative structure (only the latter is really relative to my work ;)). I skipped all the formal closing stuff to go drop off my stuff and grab my bikini again, because the conference dinner would take place at the Blue Lagoon with an optional pre-dinner swim session.

My travel guide says that they seriously overcharge you at the Blue Lagoon, but that in this case it’s worth it. I wholeheartedly agree. When we got to the Blue Lagoon, it was raining and super windy. So you get inside, change into your bathing suit in the warm locker rooms. Take it off again at the showers. Throw a lot of conditioner in your hair and then you run outside, like this:

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But the water is so lovely! The floor is rocky but with a fine layer of sand or volcanic dust or whatever. In the corners are ‘mud stations’ where you can spoon up some mud to put on your face. Don’t face the wind when you have that stuff on your face though because it will blow in your face. There are also some steam baths and saunas. Then the guys who look like astronauts (because it’s raining) will come and tell you you have to get out, which is weird because it’s still light. But since we were getting a bit peckish we complied. We then took over the restaurant where there was some excellent sushi again, as well as lots of other bits and nibbles I didn’t recognise. I did recognise the chocolate fountain though and hung out in its vicinity for a fair part of the night 😉

On Saturday, we decided to take it easy, so we slept in until about 10 and hung around Reykjavik. We found a really nice coffee place called Reykjavik roasters (their hot chocolate was also very nice). I then slept some more in the afternoon before we had a quick dinner at the Chuck Norris Grill (Laugavegur 30). Just fast food, but it’s a fun place.

 

Surf trippin’ around Europe

This spring I got to make two surf trips (kind of). The first was to San Sebastián in combination with a project meeting (the perks of being a researcher), the second with a bunch of awesome ladies that I got to travel to England with last year.

San Sebastián was, as always, a great little escape for a few days. I got quite lucky that it was warm and sunny, because the weeks before the weather had been dreadful. When I was there though (early April) it was even nice to surf without gloves (I so hate gloves). It was quite windy though so I did wear my cap every now and then. I rented a board at the Pukas surf shop, which is just really nice. They’re right on the boulevard by Zurriola beach and you can swap the board whenever you need something bigger or smaller. I started out with a 6’4″ shortboard, but that was just really too small for me, so I went back and got a 7’0″ banana (it was yellow). As they closed early on Sunday, I got to keep the board at my hotel overnight. On Monday morning the waves were pretty OK. In the afternoon I traipsed around town for a bit, read a magazine and did a bit of prep for the meeting, and checked into my apartment where I would be staying for the meeting (I was staying at a hotel closer to Zurriola the first few days). The apartment was pretty awesome too, had a great view of La Concha, and I managed to check in using my rather basic (but improving) Spanish skills. In the evening the waves were super small. But I did get to trade in my board again for just the awesomest pink flowery Walden Magic Model. It was super sweet. And I got to catch a lot of waves. I did have to book it back to the central square to meet my colleagues for an informal tapas dinner, which meant being guided through the nicest places to eat the awesomest stuff that tourists normally don’t know to ask for.

Sunrise over La Concha

Sunrise over La Concha

The next night, we had a big dinner and cider tasting at one of the cider houses in the hills just outside Donostia. Another proper treat. Life is good in Spain.

Actually it’s pretty good on the whole Iberian peninsula, as early May I got to spend a week in sunny Portugal. With the 5 surf buddies, we rented a lovely apartment in Sagres for a week, two cars and a bunch of longboards. Pretty sweet! I was happy I could go though because the week before the trip I had some weird swollen head. I woke up on Sunday morning May 1 with a head like a balloon, and a super sore skin on my neck. I first got some antibiotics but that didn’t work (so no bacterial infection), so a couple of days later I went to the GP again and got some antihistamines and some cream. She said it was supposed to start working in a couple of hours, but it didn’t quite, go down. With daily naps and an icepack on my cheek it did start going down on Friday. My skin was still a bit flaky when I got to Schiphol, but I didn’t scare anyone too badly 🙂

At Faro we got our rental cars, and I got to drive a really nice van which we rented from Zitcars, a local place and they’re awesome! We didn’t have to pay or register additional drivers and they were pretty cool about us sand into it (although we did try to clean it).  On the way to Sagres, we took the motor way, which was quite nice, although I didn’t realise the van had 6 gears. But we used those the other days ;). On Saturday it was first quite the undertaking to find some suitable longboards as most surf shops mostly rent out soft tops. Luckily we secured four boards for Saturday from two different shops and found some lovely waves at Cordoama. The next day, we traded in one of the boards we didn’t like and I picked up a nicer board from Jah-Shaka (the 9’2″ NSP I also surfed in November). We traipsed around several beaches on the south shore and set out to find the ‘secret’ point break (Ponta Ruiva) to no avail so we ended up at Cordoama again. The next day we first went to the market and bought some fish and then met up with a local for a little surf lesson, who also helped us find the point break and helped us position ourselves for the take-off (above a big flat rock that is only 2ft under water, only mildly nerve racking but a wonderful experience). The location was amazing. On the way back, Suzanne, Marieke and I went for a few sunset waves at teeny but beautiful Beliche where we got to put the afternoon’s tips into practice in slightly less challenging conditions. The rest of the week we also surfed at Mareta, Beliche again, and I even managed to get my bum out of bed for a dawn session at Zavial one day. The sunrise was beautiful, although I’m so not a morning person! Zavial changed a lot since last year btw, the storm washed all the sand away so there is not much beach left, it’s also not quite my favourite spot, but everyone has their own preferences. We had some really fabulous food at a lovely little place called Mum’s in Sagres, as well as some great home cooked meals at our apartment (I lit the BBQ!).

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The last two days, there was a lot of wind on the west coast, but it wasn’t really coming around the bend to the south coast, so we had to find a slightly sheltered spot. We found this at Arrifana, which I hadn’t been to yet. It’s a really gorgeous beach too. Again much less sand than last year apparently. We ended our holiday on the beach officially with a lovely lunch overlooking the beach after a great last surf session together. On the drive back to the airport we took the slower local route because we wouldn’t be able to pay the tolls (which are to be paid 48 hours  after using the motor way at the post office, which obviously wasn’t going to happen.). Anyway, we had time for a little ice-cream break on the way, and still made it on time, returned the car without a dent, and happily got back to Amsterdam with a tan and lots of new happy memories.

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Winter

This year wasn’t a real winter in NL to be honest, we only had a few days below 0 and no snow. This was fine by me as snow does tend to interfere with getting around Amsterdam a bit and I had a lot of getting round to do. First of all, I was co-teaching a course, so it’s kind of nice to be on time for the students 😉

There was also a trip to Luxembourg, for our project review. According to Google maps it’s about a 4-hour drive, and even though it’s only about an hour’s flight, with getting to and from the airport, that sort of is almost 4 hours too. So one Sunday in February, I set out with two colleagues to Luxembourg city. They did give me an upgrade on the car so we had this massive SUV. I’m never getting an SUV again, the thing just sucks up petrol like I don’t know what..too much anyway. Although it was quite comfy, and had a decent sound system. We started off in Luxembourg by a test drive for the review, naturally we had just gotten started and then they decided to do a fire drill, so we all had to pack our stuff, get out of the building and then try to find our way in again. At least it happened during the rehearsal and not the actual review. Although someone lost in the maze that is the EU buildings did exit through the fire exit during our review resulting in about 10 minutes of a nasty siren next to our room. Luckily the reviewers didn’t mind and we got to carry on and got some pretty good results out. Sadly partying in Luxembourg is a bit difficult, partly because half the team had to travel back already, and for those left the pubs closed at midnight. Oh well…

I did get to see some of winter though, as I went snowboarding with my brother, sister-in-law and two other friends. Like last time, Frank and Joyce sorted out the trip, so all I had to do was pack my bag and get in the car with them, pretty awesome! We actually went to the same apartment as last time, near Zell-am-See, although we did go out to see a few more different ski areas this time. Last time we hung out mostly around Zell-am-See and Kaprun, this time we also got to go to Kitzbühl, Saalbach Hinterglemm and Flachauwinkl. I did start off a wee bit too enthusiastic on the first day, fell on my bum, and was happy I could borrow some crash pants the next few days. It was also a good choice to get a snowboard lesson one day with an instructor who could also tell me the difference in stance between surfing and snowboarding, that really helped my turns a lot. It was however quite warm already (OK it was the first week of March) so the slopes were getting a bit bad as the day progressed and the sun gained strength. This only meant that we had to take off our warm jackets and sit in the sun whilst sipping aperol spritz. Sucks to be us 😉