On the previously mentioned trip to Amsterdam, the bloke and I stayed on a canal barge in the Westerdok.

This was the much bigger cousin of the holiday barges that pootle up and down our Worcestershire canal. The main bulk of the hull served as the home of the bloke who ran the B&B. We were in the wheelhouse, overlooking the canal. The docks seem to serve as pretty much permanent moorings for the barges in this area. Each one had a small garden, and there was even a floating children’s play area.

It was surprisingly quiet given that the location is a mere 15 minute walk from Centraal Station. We could hear a distant roar of traffic, but mostly we heard the hangry cheeping of two adolescent coots and the occasional quack of a duck. We also found a great crested grebe nesting a few boats down. It was definitely brooding, as we never saw the nest unoccupied.

Urban great crested grebe nest
The nest itself was a rather wonderful construction, being a mix of urban rubbish and plant detritus, with a few hollyhocks artfully arranged around the edges. The grebe had two female mallard bodyguards, who immediately came to circle the nest at a careful distance, giving me the side-eye when I hopped down on to the dock from the pavement to take photos.

The barge proprietor tiptoed in every morning to leave us breakfast on the table next to the wheelhouse. It included a bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice, muesli, yoghurt, and hardboiled eggs nested in knitted cosies. Much as I wanted to sleep in, the prospect of getting that into my belly when I heard his footsteps got me out of bed pretty early both mornings. We received so much food at breakfast that we were able to make sandwiches from the bread and cheese to squirrel away for later. We ate these in the Vondelpark on the first day, and for supper on the second after the lunch at Rijks.

Apart from the sheer pleasure of walking around Amsterdam, we also indulged in a trip to a Michelin-starred restaurant for a very belated birthday treat for me. We spent three and a half hours eating lunch at Rijks, which is next to the Rijksmuseum. The bloke had mentioned that it was my birthday when he made the booking. As a result, in addition to our pudding, I got a white chocolate candle with sorbet and a little message inside. We sampled both white and red wines, all by Dutch winemakers “from everywhere in the world” (e.g. New Zealand and South Africa).

Photos from Rijks behind the cut.

+++ )
I've had a heck of a week. Keiki was off nursery Tuesday and Wednesday. I looked after him on Tuesday. I flew from Birmingham to Noordwijk on Wednesday and the bloke looked after Keiki. I was at an all-day meeting on Thursday at ESTEC (ESA centre in the Netherlands). I flew to London on Thursday night. This morning (Friday) I went to a four-hour meeting (at which I gave a presentation) and then ran over to another building to give an outreach talk to a large group of teenage girls about what it's like to be a spacecraft engineer.

At least I did it all whilst looking rivet af.

[Me in my Noordwijk hotel room, wearing Docs, purple tights, my black wool coat with the fluffy collar and my engineer dress from Svaha.]

My week in photos )
nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
( Nov. 2nd, 2016 04:55 pm)
Leiden Centraal to Noordwijk
A selfie I took on the bus from Leiden Centraal to Noordwijk. The bus takes about 45 minutes, so most people opt for a taxi when they’re visiting ESTEC. I like the bus, though. It’s a really pretty route through the city and out into the countryside. Plus, it only costs 4 euros.

While I’m on the subject of space agencies, here are a few links.

  • Want to holiday like an Elder God? Try these lethal exoplanet destinations! Galaxy of Horrors (h/t to [personal profile] redsixwing)

  • For a more soothing experience, you can watch a mildly animated page of the Deep Space Network stations uplinking and downlinking data from different spacecraft. I sometimes do this. I mean, I have a PDF with all the scheduled DSN passes for Cassini, but let’s face it, this is much prettier. Eyes on the DSN.

  • And finally, in Geeky Space Swag news, the Rosetta mission shop has been updated with new shirts and hoodies that include the cartoon spacecraft from the “Once Upon a Time” video series about the mission. Best of all, you can get your mitts on a cuddly/plushy toy of Rosetta and Philae, or donate one to be sent to a primary school.
Baby discovers stroopwaffel
[Keiki waves around a bag of stroopwafels after having consumed one. Crumbs not visible in black and white.]

In this Adventure of Keiki & Mummy at Home, Keiki digs through Mummy's large bag of rapidly assembled duty free items and discovers stroopwafels. Stroopwafels, for those who haven't had the pleasure, are a luxury Dutch biscuit/cookie consisting of two very thin crispy waffles sandwiching a layer of sticky caramel. They are terribly, terribly morish.

I think he likes them.
nanila: me (me: ooh!)
( May. 12th, 2014 05:31 pm)
Since the age of six, I've been on an average of four flights a year, with the average increasing significantly over the decade since moving to the UK. I have therefore flown more than a hundred times.

And it never, ever gets old. When we take off, I sit there going, "I know physics says this is possible, but oh mygod ohmygod ohmygod metal tube is lifting off into the air, ground is dropping away, WHY HAPPENING, wowowow look how far out there I can see! Tiny cars! Tiny houses! Ooh, we've reached cloud level! THIS IS AMAZING I AM EXCITE." I fail at being a coolly unimpressed experienced frequent flyer.

I always take a window seat if I can get one on short-haul flights and spend as much time as possible gazing out of it. Even when all I can see is the tops of clouds. Because they make cloud-cities and cloud-mountains and cloud-deserts*, you know, so it's still interesting.

Now I'm in Noordwijk and it's wet and cold and horrible but I'm snug in my favourite boutique hotel where they gave me an upgrade to a room that's twice as expensive because I'm a loyal customer, and soon I'll be going to dinner with one of my lovely colleagues. So that's pretty good.

On a different note, I'm blown away at the response to my last Unscientific Poll. Firstly, I had no idea people were so passionate about what they put on their chips. Secondly, cheers for the suggestions of new crisp flavours and sauces to try on my chips. And thirdly, I had no idea that many people were still around, particularly on LJ. It was most heartening to see. Thanks!

* Also I may have watched a few too many Miyazaki films
Regular readers of this journal will know that I occasionally make trips to ESTEC, the large European Space Agency (ESA) site in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. ESTEC is actually in Katwijk, but as Katwijk is a bedroom community for the space agency and the surrounding support companies, visitors to the centre usually stay in neighbouring Noordwijk-an-zee, which doubles as a seaside resort for the Dutch in summer.

It's a lovely little coastal town, 15 minutes on the train (to Leiden) and 40 minutes on the bus from Amsterdam. ESTEC doesn't permit photography on site, so I never end up with any pictures of any of the cool spacecraft models dotted around the place. Neither can I write about the meetings themselves. However, one of the nice things about the place is that after the day is done, you get to return to your cosy hotel in Noordwijk and head out to the promenade for drinks and a nice meal. All my photos from these trips are therefore of beer and beautiful sunsets.

My hands-down favourite place to go in Noordwijk is the Zeemeeuw pavillion. There are several pavillions on the beach, but having sampled each at various points, this is the winner, having the triple virtues of the nicest desserts, the best decor and the largest selection of Trappist beers. The Dutch have cleverly realised that the Belgians know what they're doing when they brew and thus they serve their beer in most of their food and drink establishments.

Plants on the table (with telltale shadows of beer bottles and glasses).

+6 )

On the rare occasions when the wind is not lashing the coastline, it's possible to take a leisurely evening stroll on the beach without freezing one's extremities. Or, apparently, a bicycle ride.

+3 )

Around the corner from the promenade is a bar that serves a generous American-style burger with lots of bacon and cheese. It also took us on an journey through a random selection of videos from the 70s and 80s, sparking a train of entertaining anecdotes from my similarly music-obsessed colleagues. Between us, we covered several genres (e.g. metal, punk, industrial) in excruciating detail, so I suspect that any outsider eavesdropping on the conversation would have been bored to tears.

+2 )

The Italian place on the promenade serves cheap delicious pizzas and is very warm inside, a big plus when it's a cold and windy evening as it almost always is in Noordwijk. At the end of our most recent meal there, the server brought us cups full of hot water with little biscuits on the side and plenty of milk and sugar. We regarded it, puzzled, for much too long. (To be fair to us, our meeting had ended at 8 PM and it was now a couple of hours - and beers - later.) When we diffidently called her back to us, she said, "I've just brought you hot water and no tea, haven't I." We stared pathetically at her. "I'll bring you the tea bags now," she said, looking slightly alarmed at our condition.

On my last trip, my flight to Birmingham from Amsterdam happened to coincide exactly with sunset. We saw the sun set twice, and even the most hardened of business travelers were gawping out the windows at it.

+1 )

It's likely that my next trip to Noordwijk will be in winter. My hope is to get good shots of the statue of Queen Wilhemina inspecting the troops and the lighthouse. I haven't been satisfied with my attempts to date.
I'm back home in Cambridge after a three-day meeting in Noordwijk aan Zee, Holland about all the amazing science that will be done by the EJSM mission at Jupiter in, oh, fifteen years or so. I should note that the photos at ESTEC were not taken by me because it is strictly forbidden to take photos at ESTEC unless you are the ESTEC official photographer.

EJSM Science Meeting, ESTEC

This is the obligatory group photo, in which everyone tries to hide behind one another and smiles awkwardly for five straight minutes while their lips fuse to their teeth and some mad person with a camera dashes back and forth trying to get the best angle on the sight of a hundred scientists, which is clearly a hopeless task. Anyway, you can click to embiggen the image if you wish to play a fun game of "Spot the [personal profile] nanila".

Moar. MOAR! )
Sunset over Noordwijk aan Zee

I walked down to the beach after dinner this evening to watch the sunset. I strolled along by myself with my hands jammed in my pockets whenever they weren't holding my camera. It looks bright and sunny here, but the wind brings an arctic chill to the evenings. My only company aside from the seagulls seemed to be a man in the distance hunting for pretty razor clam shells, lifting them up to appreciate them and then dropping them back to the sand. I found a quiet spot to stand and wait for the sun to approach the horizon.

As I focused on the sunset, I suddenly noticed someone approach me. It was the shell-hunting man, gesturing at his binoculars. "Alstublieft," he said, which is "excuse me" or "please" in Dutch. Then he spoke rapidly, and I gathered from the combination of gestures and the word "schoen", which I think means "beautiful" as it does in German, that he was trying to tell me, "Look at the sunset through these. So lovely!" I answered, "Dank u well" in my poor accent and took them from him. I looked at the sun. He was right. I could see it so clearly, bleeding into the limb of the Earth. "Schoen," I agreed. He laughed in delight, and spoke further in Dutch. I smiled and shook my head, indicating my lack of comprehension. He nodded, and said in thickly accented English, "Enjoy it." I smiled and spread my hands to show my appreciation and happiness. He smiled back and bounced off down the beach, bending over periodically to examine another shell.

I waited until the last golden rays faded to walk back to my hotel, my smart shoes filled with sand.
Hello everyone. I am in Holland. My hotel room in Noordwijk is small, but perfectly formed. It has a balcony on which I can stand and smell the brisk breeze coming off the sea. It is almost midnight. I'm feeling ashamed for addressing several Dutch people in English without even asking "Spreekt u Engels?" first. Of course, they can all speak English which only makes it worse. I left Cambridge at 3 PM. It's my own fault for choosing Sleazyjet when on expenses. I just wanted to say a hearty thank you to all the people who responded so thoughtfully and at length on my previous post. I will reply in kind as soon as I can, but this is unlikely to be before Thursday as I will be at ESTEC every day from 9 AM to 6 PM and then have work to do. In the meantime, I leave you with a photo, which you can click to view a set of photos I've taken of the London Elephant Parade.

Ampersand & Me, Hyde Park Corner
nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
( May. 12th, 2010 01:32 pm)
For the past couple of weeks, I've been helping to organise a science team meeting taking place in the Netherlands next week to plan the Europa-Jupiter System Mission (EJSM). My duties included compiling and editing the abstract booklet, which in turn included cobbling together this image:

Potential future mission to Jupiter

On the left is a lovely artist's rendition of Jupiter, its four Galilean moons and the two spacecraft. The purple lines running between everything are the magnetic fields. On the right is a Venn diagram. Because who doesn't love Venn diagrams? But seriously, it's supposed to show how the science and spacecraft will be divvied up between the European Space agency (ESA) and NASA.

Up until today, I wasn't attending the meeting.

As of this morning, I'm attending the meeting. Cue frantic search for flights to Amsterdam that don't cost £300 and frantic search for hotels in Noordwijk that haven't already been booked by the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), which is where the meeting is taking place. Since that's taken care of, I can actually get excited about my first trip to an ESA site. They build whole spacecraft there! Okay, we make instruments here at Imperial, and that's pretty cool too. But whole spacecraft! Wow! I'm so doing the tour of the clean rooms. And buying one of everything in the gift shop.

Excuse me, I have to go and do a gleeful dance now.