I am back home. When I was getting ready to leave Germany – after a quick visit to The Boyfriend – on Monday morning I was not looking forward to coming back at all. Luckily, I can say that everything turned out to be much better than expected.
First, the weather. The sun was shining when my train arrived at Utrecht Central Station – and kept shining until 7pm! On my walk home along the canal I enjoyed the sunshine and all the people outside on bikes, in the park and running.
Secondly, the half marathon coming up. This Sunday is the big day, the day I have been training for the past couple of weeks (months). By now, I have my T-shirt and ‘Dopper’ – both of them plus the entry fee paid by the university as part of the celebration of 380 years Utrecht University – and of course my race number. Today I will run my third to last training run. While I really liked my runs in the States and enjoyed the extra challenge of the hills, I am looking forward to running along the canals again.
Thirdly, the people. Two friends came over for tea yesterday evening and today it has been wonderful to see the many kind faces in the lab again. I had kind of forgotten about the nice people in the lab here, I guess. Plus, there is a new PhD candidate in my office and the group, who will be working on a related topic and is a great guy. It is always nice to have someone extra to discuss my work with.
Fourthly, my bike and the Albert Heijn. I also had a bike in the States and did also use it to do groceries, but it is so much easier here. Yesterday I went to the Albert Heijn twice, without breaking a sweat and once within half an hour. It is a luxury.
And last but not least, The Boyfriend. Although The Boyfriend is still in Germany until Easter Saturday, he made my return very enjoyable anyway. When I came home yesterday, I discovered surprise after surprise: a fully cleaned apartment, lovely notes everywhere, cookie dough ready to be baked in the freezer and chocolate pieces in the fridge for hot chocolate.
I feel like even in the Netherlands you cannot have missed the primaries and caucuses going on here to decide on the Republican and Democratic nominees for the elections in November. It is certainly the topic of the day here, especially since Super Tuesday this week. People around me are surprised, shocked and some even afraid.
Last week Monday I went to a comedy show about the elections (and since it was hosted at Duke, it was also about Duke, which was funny). It was kind of like the Colbert Report: comedy, but with a serious undertone. At the end of the show there was a Q&A session and someone asked why they had done almost no Hillary jokes. ‘Because the Republicans present the jokes on a platter to us and it is so much harder to think up jokes about the Democrats.’ Although the Republicans make making comedy easy these days, the comedians were clearly also intimidated by Trump, especially the Muslim among them. ‘His election will make recruitment by groups like ISIS much easier: “they hate you in your own country!”‘
Apart from the comedy show, I get most of my news from the websites of the New York Times and the Volkskrant. In addition, my older sister and I watched Fox News together on our weekend away – a trip that I might write about in a later post. Even this clearly Republican channel is not happy with Trump and has no clue how he became so popular or what to do about it.
It will be exciting for a while yet – will he get the needed 1237 delegates needed for direct nomination in June and if not, will the convention choose another candidate? If so, how will the millions of Trump voters react? All we can do is wait and see what the future brings.
I am back in Durham. Have been for four weeks already, actually. I was planning on not writing about my stay here, since this blog is supposed to be about me in the Netherlands. Then again, it is also about my life and about whatever I feel like writing about. So, here we ago, another blog about my life in the States.
First of all, why am I back? There are several reasons, to be honest, but the official – and arguably most important – reason is to finish up an experiment I started here with my Duke collaborator. When I left last year we had high hopes that she would be able to finish the remaining lab work by herself, but the past year has shown that that would probably not happen. Thus, the idea arose that I could maybe go back to Duke so we could wrap it up together. Going back to Duke and working in the same lab again was something I would like to do anyway, so that helped. At the same time, it was becoming clear that The Boyfriend would also be leaving around this time to do research in Germany as part of his PhD. And finally, my old Durham roommates were expecting a baby halfway January – which I confess helped a lot in deciding whether to apply for a visa at the end of November, when we were not yet sure what to do with our big experiment here.
So, here I am, back in the same lab, with mostly the same people. When I came back four weeks ago, after having been gone for almost a year, it felt strangely normal to be back in the lab. Back in the lab with the intelligent, enthusiastic people with whom I can talk both science and life. With the lab meetings that are inspiring for the large amount of interaction and feedback. With the attitude that doing sports during a work day is not strange. With sales reps bringing in donuts. Oh, and with social hour in the basement because of a tornado warning.
In the meanwhile, it has become clearer and clearer to me that this project would not have been finished if I had not come back. So I am happy that I took the initiative to come over here again, although it is yet to be seen whether it will pay off in terms of the lab work being done when I leave next Friday. So far, the experiments have been going relatively well, but we have had some setbacks this week. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will work out while at the same time immensely enjoying being here.
Today was not a day I had been training for for weeks. Instead, The Writer and I decided to join last Monday. It was also not as big as the previous races ánd it did not involve lots of traveling: the race was right here in Utrecht! Athough it therefore felt a little bit less special, I did get nervous beforehand and I did have a good time.
Before the start of the race at 11.45am, I first go to the lab for a little less than 2 hours. In the meanwhile, The Writer cycles over to the start area to register us and get our race numbers. When I get back from the lab, I eat two pancakes – baked by The Boyfriend the day before for breakfast – and a banana and then cycle to The Writer’s house. The race is over ‘Het Lint’, the 8k loop right next to her house, so when we leave her house at 11.15am we can jog to the start, 1.2k further on. There is more than enough room to do a warming-up and when we walk to the start at 11.38am I feel better prepared than for my previous two races. We talk a bit more – and I get a bit more nervous still – in the few remaining minutes and then at 11.45am the race officially starts.
My race only starts a minute later, because of the people in front of me that have to pass the start first. Unfortunately, that also means that I spend the first few minutes of the race passing people that run slower than me. After two kilometers, though, there is already enough roomto run my own pace. It is harder than the previous races to decide what pace is my own pace. On the one hand, I feel like I have to go fast from the start, since I only have 8km to run. Then again, 8km can feel like a very long distance when you are fully drained of energy.
In the end, I stick to the same strategy that I used in both previous races: I run, find a person that runs about my pace or faster and keep close to that person for the rest of the race. This worked for the Tilburg Ten Miles – where I used the official pacer as my pacer – and the Half Marathon – where I used a man and his daughter as my pacers. At about 2.5km I think I have already found my pacer, but I soon decide that he goes too slow after all. I pass him and a few other runners and then get alongside a man who seems to know what he is doing. It feels natural to run alongside him and apparently he feels the same way: after a little while he says ‘we gaan lekker zo!’ (‘we are doing well together!’). Once again, I do not need to think about my pace, I just run alongside the man in the orange shirt. When we get to the waterpost, I decide I do not want to waste time getting water. My fellow runner does take a plastic cup and when he has taken a few sips, hands it to me to finish it. Awesome. Who ever said that running is an individual sport?
We continue running and before I know it, we are at the 6k mark. Only 2k to go and I am running well below my schedule to get to the finish line in 40 minutes. About half a kilometer later, I see The Boyfriend at the side of the course. ‘Keep this up’ he tells me, ‘and you will be in the top ten of the women!’. I know I will not be able to increase my pace much anymore, but I do manage to keep up with the man in the orange shirt. When the finish line comes into view, he start increasing his pace for the final sprint to the finish. When he notices I cannot keep up, he slows down again and stays with me until we are almost at the finish line, where he slows down a bit more and gestures to me to pass the finish line first. Wow, I never ran a race like that with a total stranger.
After I have received my medal, exchanged a few words with the man in the orange shirt and got a bottle of sportsdrink, I walk back to stand alongside the course to cheer The Writer on in her final meters to the finish. At first, she is not all too happy with her time – she has run this lap faster once -, but luckily she realizes later on that she actually ran an amazing time.
The people at the finish told me I came in sixth of the women, a few hours later, I learn my official time: 36 minutes, 53 seconds. That’s 4 min 36 seconds / kilometer. That is just plain crazy. I promise I will not try to beat that in two weeks time at the Warandeloop. I will try to finish in less than 50 minutes, though, ’cause I guess I have shown now that I can keep up a pace of (more then!) 12km/h for quite a while.
I ran a half marathon! Crazy, actually, when you think about it: 21.1km, that’s further than cycling to Chaam, as we did every once in a while when I was little. And I always thought those 18km made for a pretty long bike ride. Anyway, this past Sunday I did it, I ran 21.1km, and at a decent pace as well!
In contrast to the Tilburg Ten Miles, I was not all too nervous this time around. This was mostly because I did not feel great – the flu is going around the Netherlands at the moment – and I spent more time worrying about that than looking forward to the race and getting nervous. Luckily, my hope that the adrenaline accompanying a race would make sure I felt fine just before and during the race was justified.
Like the day of the Tilburg Ten Miles a few weeks earlier, it is perfect running weather again on race day. Slightly colder, 12C, but sunny and bright. In the morning I watch the professional marathon runners on regional television with my mother. These men run the first half of their marathon in a little over an hour. Wow. At half past eleven, my mother brings me to the station: the race starts at 1.30pm and The Ice Skater and I plan to meet at the train station at 12pm. When we have found each other, we immediately go to the Beursgebouw, where we pick up our race numbers and drop off our stuff. It had been a good plan to come early: just going to the bathroom takes half an hour, what with the huge lines. Around 1pm we leave the Beursgebouw again in our running outfits and go towards the start area. Twenty minutes later, we have positioned ourselves close to the 1h 55min pacers. We are ready to go!
We start off just behind the pacers. My legs immediately feel tired and I wonder how I will manage to run 21.1km. This is probably mostly a psychological problem, though, because I soon forget about my legs. In contrast to the one pacer for each finish time in Tilburg, there are three pacers here. That makes for quite a large front, especially with the many people that want to follow the pacers. After about 3km, The Ice Skater therefore decides to pass them to get more space. I stay behind the pacers for a while longer, remembering how awesome running with the pacer was in Tilburg, but have to confess that running behind the pacers is not ideal after about 4km. I pass the pacers and run in the relative gap in front of them, where I stay for the next few kilometers.
A little while later, I spot a man and a girl running together. They run at a nice pace and it looks like the man is pacing the girl: he checks his watch regularly and keeps an eye on her at the same time. Perfect! I decide to follow them and things continue to go smoothly. I soon cross the 10 and 11km marks – we are halfway! – and I successfully drink the water and sport drinks provided along the way while keeping up my pace. After running along a long straight stretch of road we turn into a forest area, where the shade feels great.
Via my mom, I had heard from an experienced half marathon runner that the 15/16km point is where it gets tough. I am therefore pretty content to pass that point without feeling all too tired. I am still keeping up with the man and girl and overall feel pretty good. Soon after, we make it to the 17km point and I suddenly realize that I am experiencing the runner’s high once again. A kilometer later I decide it is time to overtake my ‘pacers’ and speed up. Unfortunately, the course turns into the city center almost immediately afterwards, resulting in a much narrower space to run and thus me having to circle around many slower people. It frustrates me and takes me out of my runner’s high, especially since I think the finish line will be right after this part – and I obviously do not want to go slower than I can in the final part of the run. After this narrow part, though, there is another half kilometer or so where the road is very wide again. If I had known that, I would have waited with my sprint for that part of the course. I am pretty much exhausted from trying to pass all the people in narrow part of the course, but I manage to keep up my pace nonetheless. By then, I really want the finish line to come into view and am very relieved when it does so a little while later. With 1h and 56min on the clock I cross the finish line with my arms raised.
A slight anticlimax follows: I am not wearing my watch and while I know that I must have run at a decent pace and probably have a time a few minutes less than 1h 56min since I crossed the start a few minutes after the official start, I do not know my actual time.
I am soon saved from not knowing my time, though: after I leave the finish area, I suddenly hear someone call my name: my little sister is waiting for me! She immediately looks up my time for me on her smartphone: 1h 51min 33sec! Later, I calculate that my average pace has been 5min 17sec per kilometer. That is amazingly fast for me. Moreover, the man I chose as my pacer did a great job: my average pace increased slightly every five kilometers. The last two were by far the fastest: 4min 52sec per kilometer.
Together, me and my sister walk back to the Beursgebouw, where we meet up with The Ice Skater, who ran the half marathon in 1h and 48min. Slower than his PB, but he had much more fun than when he ran that PB and could not walk anymore afterward. Once we have our bags back the three of us and a friend of The Ice Skater sit on a terrace for a while to celebrate.
At half past five me, The Ice Skater and The Little Sister walk to the station, where we have a Swirls. At six we say goodbye to The Little Sister and step in the train to Utrecht. In Utrecht we continue celebrating – and replenishing our energy stores – for a little while longer by having dinner at Meneer Smakers with The Boyfriend.
And now it is Wednesday again. Yesterday, The Ice Skater and I already ran a short loop again. In two weeks, we will be picking up our long runs again: I better train well, since 1h 51 is quite the time to beat during the half marathon in Utrecht in March…!
Several weeks ago, The Cyclist bought a new tent and I asked jokingly when we were going to test it. This past weekend, that was exactly what we were going to do. Oh, and enjoy the outdoors and all that. We were extremely lucky: the weather was absolutely amazing, sunny and warm during the day and not freezing during the night.
The Cyclist had planned our route a few days earlier: we were to cycle from Rotterdam via Dordrecht to the Biesbosch National Park and then back to Utrecht via Gorinchem. In the morning, when the Cyclist was already on her way from Nijmegen, I picked up the new bike that I bought with my vacation days. The bicycle bags that I had borrowed from the Wave UCU-er fitted perfectly and after having eaten several Dutch pancakes baked by The Boyfriend, I cycled to the station and took the train to Rotterdam.
The first part of our trip went through Rotterdam and across the Erasmus Bridge. We kept following the water until we reached the first ferryboat of our trip. The boat – for which we could check in and out with our general public transportation card! – brought us and our bikes to Alblasserdam, from where we cycled to Kinderdijk, known for its windmills. After having seen the Asian tourists, and the windmills, we cycled on towards Dordrecht.
To get to Dordrecht we had to take another ferry. In Dordrecht we sat on a terrace for a while and then cycled on to the Biesbosch. We were lucky, when we cycled onto the ferry that brought us to the Biesbosch, we were told it was the last one of the day… At seven we arrived at campground ‘De Knotwilg’, where we put up our tent, paid for our stay and then raced to the only place with food in the neighborhood: a hotel whose kitchen would close at eight. We arrived just in time and enjoyed our food immensely: we were hungry!
On Sunday I woke up at 8am, got dressed within our tiny tent and went out to make pictures, because everything was so beautiful. After we were both dressed and we had partly desconstructed our tent to allow it to dry, we had breakfast with the stuff we had left from the day before – we had not foreseen not going to a supermarket on Saturday. Either way, the apples, ‘fruitkick’ bars and chocolate got us to lunch without be too hungry. A little after eleven we were back on our bikes, cycling along the water once again via Werkendam and Sleeuwijk to Woerkum.
When we arrived in Woerkum, it turned out that the ferry to Gorinchem did not go anymore. Luckily, there was a man at the dock who had ordered a water taxi for an hour later. We called the company to ask whether we could join as well and once we had arranged that, got ourselves ‘Friet van Aniet’ for lunch. After the taxi we had another 40km to go to get to Utrecht – and it was already 3pm. Luckily, the wind came from behind us, so we cycled at high speed without much effort.
Around five we arrived at the last ferry of our trip, which brought us to Nieuwegein. Less than an hour later, we arrived at my house, had something to drink and then left again, The Cyclist to catch her train back home, I to get groceries for dinner.
Last Monday The Boyfriend and I went out for dinner at MaS, a restaurant in the center of Utrecht, close to Parc Lepelenburg. We had reserved via the Albert Heijn Restaurant actie, which gave us the second 3-course meal for free. Monday was not necessarily our day of choice to go out for dinner, but all places available via this deal for Friday through Sunday had already been taken. Going out on a Monday night turned out to be pretty nice, though, since I had something to look forward to all day and we did not have to cook or do dishes after a long day at work. Anyway, back to the topic at hand: dinner at MaS.
MaS is on the small side, with seating for about 20 people – although there might be an upper story as well. When we arrived at 6.30pm, there were only two women serving, a third one joined later on. They had a very nice way of serving us: it did not fell rushed, but we also never felt like we were waiting for food or attention. Because we came via the supermarket deal, we had no choice but to get the surprise menu, the vegetarian version for me, the non-vegetarian version for The Boyfriend. In addition, The Boyfriend ordered a ‘wine menu’: a special wine to go with every course, which he enjoyed immensely.
The first wine had to wait a while before it’s accompanying course got served, because we were first presented with an amuse: quinoa and spinach topped with cream cheese. Simple but good and all the more welcome because I was already pretty hungry after a long day at work. And hey, does an amuse not sound very fancy to you?
After the amuse we got another unexpected round of food: a piece of dark bread, served with smoked (!) butter, Portugese olive oil and sea salt on the side. Delicious.
After the bread our starters were served. Just in time: a little while later and The Boyfriend’s wine would have been gone before it’s accompanying course arrived. Both starters were original and tasty. I had spring rolls filled with red cabbage, The Boyfriend got served mackerel on a cauliflower couscous.
After another round of bread and smoked butter our main course arrived. Personally, I felt like there were too many different flavors on my plate, but The Boyfriend liked it just the way it was. Either way, my clafoutis with sweet potato and pumpkin combined well with the mascarpone with honey that was served on the side and The Boyfriend loved his, very tender, veal .
Last but not least: the dessert. The Boyfriend was, as usual, afraid for fruit accompanying this course, so he was greatly relieved when our plates where brought to the table. When The Boyfriend’s wine was served a little while earlier, we had already been told that there would be chocolate involved. This turned out to be in the form of a dark chocolate mousse, accompanied by caramelized pumpkin, cake with a hint of coconut and hazelnuts.
All in all, we really enjoyed ourselves at MaS. The service was great, both the vegetarian and the non-vegetarian food delicious and original and the little extras – the amuse, the bread – fancy and special. We will be back, but possibly only when we can go via the supermarket deal again, considering the price of 37,50 for one three course dinner. Or when The Boyfriend gets his pay raise, of course…
I had taken the day off this past Friday to go to the PhD defense of the supervisor of my first master thesis, The Alpaca Lady. I had not even thought twice about taking the day off for this event, since I saw it as an honor that she wanted me to be there and I was not going to neglect that honor. Being in Wageningen anyway, I also set up meetings with the supervisor of my bachelor thesis – he is for a large part responsible for me wanting to go into research – and the technician with whom I worked together intensively during that same thesis.
After a visit to the hairdresser’s I got on the train to Ede-Wageningen just before ten. There, The Boyfriend’s mom picked me up and we had tea together in the garden: the sun was out and the temperature was lovely! A little before twelve I left again on her bike to see my former supervisor at the NIOO. The hour we had before I had to leave for the defense was over in no time at all. It was great to speak with him about mine and his research and to see that he is still the same enthusiastic guy he was three years ago.
An hour later, I was back on ‘my’ bike and cycled to the center of Wageningen. The Alpaca Lady did very well, I was impressed both by her introductory talk and by the way she handled the questions. After the defense, I had a good time talking to former labmates. The slight fear beforehand that I would have nobody to talk to was proven wrong and before I knew it, it was 5pm: time to meet up with the technician. Only when I saw her I realized that I had not seen her in three years. Once again, time flew by and suddenly it was 7.45pm, more than time for me to leave, if I was to make it to the PhD defense party on time.
Back at The Boyfriend’s parent’s place we put on our fancy clothes – the dress code was suits for the men, nice dresses for the ladies – and drove over to the party location. We arrived just in time for the traditional movie made for The Alpaca Lady by her colleagues and spent another two hours or so talking. Just before we left, we also managed to talk to The Alpaca Lady for a little while. In 3.5 years time she expects a book written by me in her mailbox…
I had not even doubted whether I should take a day off for this event and I absolutely do not regret doing so. It was great to see so many former colleagues again and time flew by during all activities of my day. I guess that a step back in time, literally, every once in a while helps to see the present all the clearer and to realize that I happy with where I am right now.
This past weekend I, The Wave-UCUer and The Brabander traveled to Oxford to visit our friend The Oxonian, who has been living in Oxford for a few months now. The weather forecast was not all too great and I do not know why, but on Thursday evening I did not feel like I had a trip coming up. It turned out to be an awesome weekend, though, with great company, lots of sun and English tea and a general feeling of being fully relaxed.
The Wave-UCUer and I took the train a little past 8am, The Brabander joined us about two hours later. At 4pm English time we arrived in Oxford, where we sat on the terrace of an English pub for a while before we went to The Oxonian’s house. The Oxonian joined us there, very happy that the weekend had finally come after a busy week at work. We spent the evening walking around in Oxford, doing groceries and having dinner in a pub.
The next day, The Oxonian had her first field hockey match of the season, so the remaining three of us went for a run in the English countryside. Pretty! Afterwards, we played a game of Machiavelli, had lunch when the Oxonian came back and then walked around Oxford to see some of the colleges and the city itself. Oxford University has more than 30 colleges, each of which has a lawn and a dining hall in Harry Potter-style and is pretty and old – or well, that holds true for at least all the six or so colleges that we visited. After a stroll in the gardens of one of the colleges, we had tea with scones in the city centre. After tea we did groceries for dinner and then went to The Oxonian’s former college, to which she still has the key. There, we played croquet, which turns out to be a fun game! After a dinner with wraps we ended our day in – of course – another English pub.
Sunday was unfortunately already our last day in Oxford. We walked around a bit more and then took the train at 12.55pm. The following trainride was long, but enjoyable nonetheless and before we knew it, The Wave-UCUer and I were back in Utrecht.
This past Sunday was the day I had been training for for weeks: the day of the Tilburg Ten Miles! The week before I had been checking the weather forecast at least daily, ran fewer miles than the weeks before – and learned that this is called ‘tapering’ in running jargon, bought compression socks and worried about my right lower leg and had many WhatsApp conversations about the Big Day with my fellow runners: my dad, my little sister and The Writer.
I arrived in Tilburg on Saturday evening and felt the first nerves coming up when the train pulled into the station. The nerves came back again when I was on the bus to my parents’ place after dinner with a friend, when I saw the signs indicating that all the main roads in the city center would be closed the next day because of ‘an event’. The next morning we made each other a bit more nervous still, until I left the house at 12.15am to go cheer on The Writer, who was running the 10K. I was in the city centre on time to see the professionals, the fastest of whom finished in 30min 58sec. Crazy. A little while later, The Writer came by, who managed to run a new PR! By then, it was time to go find my dad and little sister, drop off my stuff and start warming up. A little while later – I would have liked to warm up a bit more, but there was no space or time – we entered the start area, where me and my dad joined the pacer going for 1h 25min. Finishing in that time would mean running much faster than in any of my longer training loops, but I felt like I could do it, if my leg would not protest. By the time we had positioned ourselves close to the pacer, we still had to wait another 10-15 minutes before we could start. All the while, the nerves were building up.
Little by little we moved closer to the start and suddenly the pacer started jogging and quickly afterwards passed the start. I still had to run away some nerves during the first kilometer, but after that things went smoothly. The weather was great; cool, but relatively sunny, the crowds were amazing once again and my mother and The Writer were the best supporting crew one could wish for, both of them cheering me on several times along the way. I also managed to keep close to the pacer and not get stuck behind people that ran slower. While running around slower runners to keep up with the pacer was somewhat of a challenge sometimes, it was absolutely amazing to run with him. I did not have to worry about my pace, our time or how far we had run. Instead, I just stuck close to him, talked with him every once in a while about how we were doing and relaxed and enjoyed the run and the crowds along the way.
The Writer cheered me on a final time about 2km from the finish, at a point where we had just climbed a little hill and started going down again. At that point, I decided to increase my pace and ran away from the pacer. When the finish came into view, I managed a final sprint and crossed the finish line with a huge grin on my face, which would not leave for quite a while afterwards. Later, I learned that my official time was 1h 22min 53 sec, meaning that I ran with an average pace of 5min 9 sec/km! It is amazing. The whole day was amazing. Oh man.