Tuesday, 6 December 2016

St. Nick's Day

December 5th and it's Sinterklass or St. Nick's Day. Also Happy Anniversary to my in-laws Betty and Charlie! So being little devils (see below), Gary and I skipped the last scientific session of the day and caught the arrival of St. Nick instead. We managed to get a good perch at one of the side bridges of the three bridges leading into the main square (Prešeren Square - named after the famous poet whose birthday of December 3 is a national cultural day with most museums free), and camped there expecting a massive Macy's style parade. Probably should've clued in that Prešeren Square is pretty tiny and therefore doesn't leave much space for floats to congregate, but we still somehow became massively surprised when there was exactly ONE float and it was St. Nick himself!

Good Old St. Nick

Prešeren Square, with St. Nick towing along a children's choir dressed in white.

Things are of infinitely smaller scale here in Europe than in North America. Besides the one-float parade, the choir did all of two short carols and that was it (one was Jingle Bells), as in the entire parade and concert! The entire thing lasted less than 45 minutes!

Aside from the choir, St. Nick was accompanied by a troupe of devils, who handed out clementines to the children in the crowd afterwards. I managed to get a picture of one such devil, along with that dude in the red suit...
My artistic shot of Prešeren Square. Looks like all these phasers or blasters beams hurtling towards the building. Achieved this effect by setting to a 1/2" shutter speed and zooming in slightly during the long exposure. Thanks to Peter Ferguson from the Welland Camera Club for the inspiration!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Faces of Koper

I really need to get more confident with street photography and taking photos of people in their natural living. That's a new photography challenge for me, especially important here in Slovenia because the people have such fascinating character in their faces! Some of my attempts so far in Koper:
An old produce seller at the fruit market on Saturday. The years she's lived and the things she must've seen in her life.

I was drawn to this cheese vendor's wild hat, and I was lucky enough to catch this wonderful smile he gave to a customer.

A new young family walking down a quiet street. I was drawn to their holding hands and the fact that they were doing so with the stroller to one side. To me it's a beautiful demonstration that they're still a loving couple despite the joys and stress of a new addition.

Three ladies waiting for a bus by the old city walls. I crouched down a bit far away and pretended to take pictures of the walls, all the while practicing and perfecting exposure and focus. Then I switched and quickly took this shot. This ended up being nearly with the 105 focal length limit to my lens.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Christmas Month in Slovenia!

OK, 2.5 years off the blog but back at last with new adventures. Dec 1 I flew out to my favourite European country of Slovenia for the PPTR (Physiology & Pharmacology of Temperature Regulation) conference that Igor Mekjavić is organizing in Ljubljana. Never ever miss a chance to visit Slovenia!

The first weekend, I travelled down to Koper on the coast to visit my former student Shawnda Morrison, Aljosa and their brand new baby girl Dana. Was great to connect with Shawnda again, celebrating with some mulled wine in the town square and otherwise enjoying a terrific weekend.

Mulled wine with Shawnda Morrison because it's Christmas Month!

The whole December is celebrated with Christmas and year-end festivities. Took this picture below with my tripod at night in Koper by the cathedral. Can't wait to see Ljubljana all lit up, as it's supposed to be fantastic.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Zachary's Grade 8 Grad

We celebrated Zachary's Grade 8 Graduation on June 20th, 2014. There were 9  Grade 8 homeschool grads and 1 Grade 12 grad.  It seems hard to believe that we have been homeschooling for 9 years already.
The graduation was held at Rice Road Community Church with a dessert reception afterwards.  All the grads looked splendid.  Zachary was cheered on by Jacob and Grandma and Grandpa Hoffele

Monday, 30 June 2014

Mont Ventoux!

In between Ph.D. defences and my upcoming cycling conference in the UK, I've been hanging out with my friends Eric and Astrid in Bilthoven, especially for Eric's 50th birthday cycling trip that he planned for Provence and the famous Mont Ventoux. 5 other Dutch friends along with Eric and I headed 1200 km south to the base town of Bedoin. Monday June 23 was D-Day, and here are some pics from the climb.

Basic stats: start 309 m, summit 1912 m, 22 km.

Nickname: "Le Geant de Provence"

After a gentle 3-5% first 4 km, you hit the forest and it's a relentless 10%+ for about 9 km to Chalet Reynard. From there, it's a moonscape rocky bald top 6 km due to clear-cutting. Strong winds and crazy weather can play havoc up top.
The memorial to British rider Tom Simpson is about 3 km from the summit, and is placed where he collapsed and died during the 1967 Tour from a combo of heat stroke and tons of drugs and alcohol in his system. It's a pilgrimage shrine for cyclists today.

Summit pic that Eric took of me around the final steep switchback. I rather like the composition and my leaning into the switchback. 

The tower is enormous, and makes the bald giant even more imposing from every direction. Those of you from Brock, just think how Schmon Tower sticks out from everywhere around St. Catharines and magnify the 100 m Niagara Escarpment by 19 times!

Total climbing time was 1:40 at a pretty comfortable 225W average. But with the howling winds up top combined with the long wait for the rest of the group, not to mention minimal body fat and Asian heritage, I was completely freezing as we started the descent. To the point that I had a pretty wicked case of top tube shimmy the whole way down the first 6 km to Chalet Reynard due to the combination of my shaking and the strong crosswind. Luckily I'm a decent bike handler and managed it by clamping the top tube with my knees along the straightaways.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Cucumber News

The very Saturday that I arrived here in the Netherlands to stay with my colleague Hein Daanen, his phone was ringing like crazy with media requests. This was due to his having just published new child clothing sizing charts based on changes in children's heights and weights over the past years. All the various stations were making a big deal on whether this meant kids were fatter or more obese, and apparently some medical groups are suggesting that sizing should not be revised and used instead to subconsciously shame people into doing things to decrease weight.
Anyway, that afternoon Hein was called to the main NOS studios in Hilversum to do radio and TV interviews, so I tagged along. Apparently those trees outside the studios are the most filmed trees in all of the Netherlands, as many TV interviews are done there!
Hein is often on media duties here in the Netherlands, and jokes that he's on the media rolodex under "C" for "Cold" but now also for "Cucumber" news, slang for filler on slow news days!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Windy Windmills

Can you count how many windmills are behind me here in the Kinderdijk area next to the town of Alblasserdam? Let's just say that there were a lot of them. Eric, Astrid and I have had some very flat but superbly scenic rides here in the Netherlands. There's endless quiet bike paths and town roads to explore and, when riding with Eric, get horribly lost on. Today we parked the car at the small village of Noorderloos and spent about 30 min wandering around trying to find it again at the end of the day. At least we highly amused the patrons at the local pub as we rode by about 3 times while scratching our heads.

When you're not being delayed by the numerous train crossings, there's always boat crossings and drawbridges. 

The towns are almost impossibly pretty, with canals, boats, nice brick city centres, and well-kept houses.

Some shots here of the local wildlife... 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Fancy-Pants Dutch Defence

OK, there was an actual official reason for me to be here in the Netherlands, and that was to be the "Highly Learned Opponent" for Koen Levels's Ph.D. defence at the VU Amsterdam. The Dutch have the fanciest and most formal defences hands-down. And yes, the candidate actually addresses me by that title after I ask a question! The 4-5 opponents, in addition to the "promoter" and "co-promoters" all are dressed in white shirt, black tie, and formal gowns. The event is in the main auditorium and the beadle leads us in an procession complete with mace. Then exactly at one hour, she comes back and drags us all out.
After we proceed onto stage, the candidate gives a presentation for 10 min. We then move to the front of the stage and the "Opponents" then share the remaining 50 min of questions. First before the defence, we all meet in the boardroom, and the Dean begins with reading a biblical verse about teachers. We then discuss our planned questions and get our instructions. As you can see, Koen and his two proxies (doesn't have to be academics) all dress up in tuxedos with tails.

George Havenith from Loughborough University and me. Oh yes, we also start our questioning with the opener "By the virtue of the rector magnificus and by my right..." Of course, my favourite part of the whole ceremony comes afterwards, when the candidate hosts a reception for everyone. Then later that night, we were invited to a private fancy dinner. And my own students don't believe me when I tell them I evaluate all defences based on the catering!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Van Moof Bikes

City bikes are everywhere in the Netherlands, and the vast majority are heavy big commuter bikes. While in Amsterdam, I visited Van Moof Bikes, which makes functional but highly fashionable and cool designed city bikes. I've got to say I'm super-impressed!

The design is very urban chic and highly functional and well thought-out. You can get all the typical commuter accessories, such as different types of front baskets and rear racks. The built in big chain lock is also a great idea. It's stored IN the frame, so you just pull it out whenever needed.

They started just about 5 years back and have just come out with their first e-bike model. OK, to a dedicated cyclist that's the epitome of uncool, but sometimes it's hip to be square so I took it out for a spin around the nearby park. It's graded electric so that you get more power the harder you pedal. A bit disconcerting at first because it feels like you're getting pushed faster than you think you're going. Also comes with a "find your bike" app in case it's stolen! The bike on the right is especially designed for those with limited space for storage. Most models have disc brakes too.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Cool Bike Shop: Lola Bike & Coffee

Was on a road trip to the Canadian Embassy in den Haag today. Much to my disappointment, they don't have free dispensers of maple syrup! Anyway, wandering through the city afterwards, came across the super-cool "Lola Bikes & Coffee" right in the main pedestrian area. That wooden bike on the left is just one of the many funky bikes to be found here. Great surprise find! And of course the name "Lola" is close to my heart.
It's both a functioning bike shop, mini-bike museum, and a great cafe hangout. None of the three components feel tacked on, and it's just a great place to ogle bike stuff and hang out even if you don't like bikes. That's a very cool Cinelli track bike upper right.

The place isn't just one kind of bike shop featuring one type of bike. At the entrance, there's a massive "fat bike" hanging up with painting specific to it. Then throughout the shop, there'd be super high-end carbon road bikes next to funky commuter bikes or vintage bikes. All very tastefully displayed and arranged as in these two examples. It's ALL bike!

There's a big back part devoted to books about cycling, both in Dutch and English. Again, all tastefully arranged more as a nice salon than a bike store. No copies of Cutting-Edge Cycling though... And on the right is the very nice decor of the bar area.

Now THIS is a great spread to while away time on a comfy couch with. Free fresh-squeezed orange juice with my cappuccino and croissant, and a copy of Peloton magazine to peruse.

This being the Netherlands, I think I'm contractually obligated to include this gratuitous shot of a herring stand...