My Top Ten Hikes

I am back this weekend from my very first Alps hut hike of 2017!!  You might think I’m lazy, waiting till mid-July for my first one, but the high alpine season is really only July-Septemberish, too snowbound outside those months. There is of course, the lower, quieter stuff, but those don’t steal my heart the same way a dramatic icefall or scrambling, butt-flopping marmot do.   This weekend was a great hike- relatively easy by alpine standards (only 900m/3,000ft), but with huge scenery payoffs.  It got me thinking, though, about my all time favorite hikes, and since I have a thing for a good listicle, thought it’d be a fun top ten.  I included via ferratas, even though they are half climbing, because it’s my blog and I’ll do what I wanna.

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  1. The Haute Route.  It’s not quite fair to cite this as one hike as it’s really 14 days worth of different hikes.  But man- this was incredible.  If I could pick out a couple days, the walk from Cabane du Mont Fort to Prafleuri was out of this world (we stopped to take so many photos that we almost ran out of sunlight, even after departing around 7:30), as well as the hike from Prafleuri to Arolla, where I ate a burger I still think about.  The hut at the Moiry Icefall still stands out as probably the most incredibly situated huts I’ve ever been in- I literally sat and listened to the glaciers for hours.  But overall it was just so cool to be propelled by my legs all the way from Chamonix to Zermatt, two of my favorite places. I don’t think I can overemphasize how physically exhausting this trail can be, though.  An uphill climb of 1600m/5200ft plus a usually more tiring amount of downhill was typical for a single day…now imagine days on end of this.

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2. The Inca Trail. Totally different thing- what made this the coolest was the cultural experience of hiking down this stony path made centuries before by a mysterious culture.  And of course the amazing crown of Macchu Picchu.  I think the right word is otherworldly.  Actual hiking was pretty easy and only made challenging by the fact that the passes sometimes hit 16,000 ft.

3. Via Ferrata Braunwald. Not too nerve wracking Via Ferrata with really incredible views.  And quite close to Zurich!

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4. Grindelwald to Schreckhorn Hut. This is another tough hike, one of the few T4s I’ve done (T4-T5 occasionally require specialized climbing equipment, but in this case only meant some extra ladders and exposed sections).  I think the signage said it would take 9 hours (remember without rest, normally I am above the markers), but I was with some strong hikers this day and I think we did it in 7.  I was dead afterwards though.  Much better to stay overnight at the hut and relax a bit.  Incredible views of the Eiger Glacier and the famous Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau peaks.

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5. Seealpsee Hike in Appenzell. Proof that it doesn’t have to be hard for me to like it 🙂  A beautiful hike to one of the most iconic lakes in Switzerland, together with a necessary visit to the Ascher hut tucked against a cliff.  Must have their famous rösti and a cider (moscht).

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6. Schynige Platte to First. Another epic (but easier) Bernese Oberland hike high above Interlaken, one of the most breathtaking views of the same Eiger/Mönch/Jungfrau mountains, in my opinion.

7. Franconia Loop Notch. Alright, it’s about time I threw some US in.  There’s less of it because I’ve had less opportunities to hike it!  While I’ve hung out a ton in CO, there’s not really one specific trail I’m thinking of right now that blew my socks off- I’m going for really dramatic views in this list.  The Alps, in my opinion, do have a bit the edge here, with dramatic differences in elevation instead of the gradual ones of the Rockies. But this ridge trail part of the Appalachian Trail has stuck in my mind for years.  I wonder if it would still hold up.

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8. Olympic National Park. I’m gonna lump all these together, too- although my memory is fuzzy of the names of the hikes.  Hurricane Ridge was beautiful, Hoh Rainforest, the coastline…I just remember that a lot of them looked like below.  There were also the most incredible beach trails- I remember us running for dear life to catch the most amazing sunset off the coast.

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9. Franz-Senn Hut and the Tirol in the Austrian Alps. Hut culture is THE BEST in Austria.  Maybe even better than Switzerland.  I definitely give them the edge on food- I think about käseknodelsuppe all the time.  Please bring that across the border.  The views are also incredible, and it is cheaper.  I need to explore more!

10. Aletsch Glacier Hike from Bettmeralp. OK, I ran this as a half marathon and almost died.  But this is truly an amazing view of the largest glacier in Europe.  It was surprisingly hard to come up with this last one- there are so many other things!  I’m still thinking about the Maroon Bells in Colorado, and the entire Engadin area in Switzerland, and Ticino…but this is my spontaneous, might change tomorrow list.

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Number 1 on my hiking desires list, though…the Hardergrat!  This is a trail that must be trail run, however, as it is 27km of knife ridge high above Interlaken with nowhere to descend if you get stuck.  But just look at these views:

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On a more distant scale, I am also dying to see the Himalayas.  Let me know if you want to apply to be a hiking buddy (I promise it’s an easy application- you want to go and are somewhat fit)   🙂

My Top Ten Hikes

Summer 2017 = Good Times

You guys, I’m kind of feeling stupid happy lately.  I know it’s really obnoxious to say so, but I am and sometimes it’s nice to acknowledge that and remember these times when the wheel of fortune feels at its pinnacle (I think a lot of that Shakespeare line: “Fortune is painted blind, with a muffler afore his eyes, to signify to you that Fortune is blind; and she is painted also with a wheel, to signify to you, which is the moral of it, that she is turning, and inconstant, and mutability, and variation. And her foot, look you, is fixed upon a spherical stone, which rolls, and rolls, and rolls.”)  And then sometimes I wonder- will I recognize the happiest times of my life while I’m living them?  Or only after the fact, when I’m old and wrinkled and reflecting on my collection of memories?  It also helps to think of life as a wheel when going through the hard times- no matter how hard they’ve been, there has always been an upswing.  Eventually.

Anyway, I just got back from a really wonderful week in Croatia with some awesome humans.  I laughed so hard I cried, spent some quality time with some of my best friends from way back in Barcelona days, rented our own boat to pilot around the Croatian islands (still shocked I was allowed to do this), tipsily bought 20$ worth of candy at CAPTAIN CANDY CROATIA, took a midnight boat to a clubbing island, drank a whole bunch of schnapps with some Norwegians, practically died of heat stroke during a Game of Thrones tour in beautiful Dubrovnik, was “always the first” leaping off the boat into the beautiful crystal clear waters of the Adriatic, swam deep into a cave so dark that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, took a bike tour of Zagreb, roadtripped to the Plitvice National Parks where I pretended to be a mermaid, ate a whole lot of seafood and olive oil, and identified the differences between traveling at age 21 and age 31 (many and myriad).

But beyond that, I’m just so relieved that I finally have my life at least somewhat sorted.  I know I’ll be in Switzerland for the next three years, and I love my new coworkers and the research project I’ll be working on.  I don’t have to leave this place I’ve learned to love, along with the friends that I am sure will be lifelong.  And I can’t wait to get to know Africa a little better!  It will be a whole new continent, and I think that actually working there will help me to get a real perspective on this whole new (to me) part of the world.  I’ve already downloaded some Africa books to my kindle, but would appreciate any recommendations, non-fiction or otherwise (mainly Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Burkina Faso).

I’ve been working like a crazy person to finish my dissertation, and just got some great feedback during my holiday- seriously, the finish line to this whole PhD process is in sight.  It’s like I looked up and suddenly the whole puzzle is assembled around me.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a good chunk of work ahead of me, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Oh, and last but definitely not least, I met a really great guy.  That goes a long way towards putting a smile on my face 🙂  Fingers crossed this latest streak of good luck lasts!

Summer 2017 = Good Times

Senioritis, thinkingitis, & general excitement

I know I haven’t done much of a job at updating lately, but it feels like life has been coming at me at such a rate that I can hardly think my thoughts, much less organize them into a coherent blog post.  But since it’s these periods that are often later the most enjoyable for me to reflect back on, I thought I would jot down a few notes.  Gonna do this stream of consciousness “My Summer Vacation” style, though.

  1. Career stuff is similar to dating in that sometimes it just all falls into place and you wonder why you were torturing yourself with all those other options.  I have been ruminating over where to move next for probably the last year, but suddenly it just clicked that, hey, actually I don’t want to leave.  It’s OK to just do what you want instead of what Everyone Says.
  2. Said realization makes me really, really happy.
  3. I still reserve the right to change my mind later.
  4. Sometimes I was really in doubt about this whole PhD process- it can be a giant exhausting morass when you’re wading through the middle of it, and certainly nothing like any of the linear schooling periods I have gone through before (I discovered this comic this week that I think is a great summary of what a PhD really means: http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures/).  But the postdoc interviewing process has made me realize that I am a totally different person than I was three years ago when I first started.  I’m comfortable taking leadership roles and offering my “expert” opinion and defending my analyses to statisticians.  This might not sound revolutionary, but suddenly the idea of leading my own research team with my own ideas feels not sooo far off, something I’ve always found tremendously exciting.
  5. Getting older coincides with knowing yourself better and recently I’ve found that it has been affecting a lot of my decision making (in a positive way, let’s hope).  For example, for probably the first two years I lived in Europe I travelled like a crazy person to any spot I was invited to.  Now I know better what I like and what just isn’t worth the hassle and the extra carbon footprint.
  6. In fact, I’m pretty proud of myself that as far as I remember I have avoided any and all recreational flights for all of 2017- all of my holidays have either been via train or tacked onto a flight I would have had to take for work regardless.
  7. However, I can’t really can’t act like this was some selfless resolution.  I’ve really had to buckle down to finish this whole PhD thing and would have turned down a lot of trips regardless.  Looming deadlines have a funny way of curtailing holiday plans.
  8. I desperately want to take an extended period of time off after completing my PhD and before embarking on a new adventure, but it might be hard to finagle.  So I’m reminding myself that having a great job trumps exotic vacations any day 🙂
  9. I’m just a little bit scared of the new position.  I’m going to be learning a whole lot.

That’s it, a little sneak peek into my running brain as I’m taking a break from writing up my latest manuscript at 7pm on a Monday.  Wish me luck, there’s a whole lot to do in the next few months!

Senioritis, thinkingitis, & general excitement

those dangerous Italian goodbyes and other Easter misadventures

They say there are different seasons in a life, but I think there are also different lives in different seasons.  For about as long as I can remember, the advent of happy weather and longer days always corresponds to a desire to do ALL the things with ALL the people, and this year has been no different.  I’m curious if other people notice similar things at different times of year- plotting social contacts vs. season would be interesting.

ANYWAY, these past few weeks have been a real whirlwind- I genuinely can’t remember the last time I had no after work social event planned, and the weekends have had scarcely a down moment.  As a closet introvert I can’t usually keep up such a pace for long, but I’m riding the sunshine high 🙂  Writing about it all would not fit into the twenty minutes of down time I have between classes, but a short Zusammenfassung (I’m always entertained by the length of the German word for short summary :P):

Easter in Italy: My Italian colleague and her boyfriend invited me along with a couple of other friends to their parent’s home in Torino, in the Piedmont area of Italy.  Man, is visiting Italy with Italians a different experience than doing so as a tourist.

First, an aside: Italy is one of those countries that EVERY time I go I fall a little bit more in love, something I’ve no doubt mentioned before.  Some countries you visit once, get a feel, and think vaguely that it would be nice to go back someday.  Other places just sink into the bone, and drive you to wonder and read and come back over and over again.  Italy falls squarely in the category.  First of all, every region is so infinitely different than the rest that it’s like a different country!  Liguria, the region on the coast where Cinque Terre is, is all hearty potato dishes and delightful seafood, completely different from the perfectly al dente Cacio e pepe pasta and wafer thin pizzas of Rome.  And then there’s the tapas like food in Venice (maybe my least favorite food region so far), and the truffles and world class wines of Piedmont.  Oh, and the Verona Amarone, woof. And that’s just the food & wine differences, which to be honest is a huge part of the draw for me.  The range of history and art to see are incredible.

So, I jump at every return opportunity.  Torino was an amazingly beautiful city, almost Parisian in its feel, with chateaus around every corner.  Not that I actually SAW much of Turin.  I jumped off the train, toured quickly around Batali’s Eataly and the downtown, dropped my bags, and LET THE SOCIALIZING BEGIN.  We stayed at my friend’s parents’ house in the heart of the nightlife area of Turin, and it was a challenge to even walk down a block without stopping at least three times to greet a friend or acquaintance of our hosts.  We started with an Aperol spritz at a little corner bar next to his house and the next thing I knew it was four in the morning and we were dancing wildly in a club by the Po River, after meeting what felt like half of the adult population of the city.  The English levels were wildly variable, but luckily hand gestures are welcome and no language is needed for dancing on top of beer barrels 😉

After stopping for some delightful arancini and (some of us) doublefisting pizza, we arrived back at the apartment at around 6am.  Wow, what a night, you say!  It just gets better from there.  These Italians, they know how to celebrate Easter.

The next morning we struggled out of bed around 10 and piled into the car for a mini roadtrip through wine country.  We stopped and had a decadent lunch in a tiny town called Alba that is the wealthiest per capita in Italy (all those truffles and wines really add up, apparently).  I got to sample some of the typical dishes of Piedmont, which include beef tartar, a beef carpaccio with a yummy sauce, a type of quiche that reminds me of Spanish tortilla, and delightful butter sage ravioli (I can’t remember any of the Italian names….eeek).

Then we drove on past a few more little towns and up to Barolo, which is the CUTEST little castle wine town I ever did see.  After a few more glasses of wine, we headed back to dinner at her parents’ house (homemade pizzas) and a relatively quiet night because the next morning we were up at 7am for what ended up being the most epic day yet.  However, I did manage to record one of my most embarrassing Euro encounters yet-  the Italians give two kisses instead of the three typical in Switzerland (which I already knew), but that they also start on the OTHER SIDE, which ended disastrously for me with my friend’s dad.  I’m sure you can imagine the collisions that are possible.  I still cringe uncontrollably while remembering this moment :X

Back to the good stuff: we were up early for an all day BBQ at my friend’s grandparents’ place in the Italian Alps, along with around 30 of their closest friends and family.  When we were driving up I idly wondered what we would do all day- there’s no cell service or entertainment up there.  Well, who needs that when you’ve got unlimited wine and food + gregarious Italians.  After a beautiful sunset over the mountains and 7 hours of nonstop eating and drinking with the partiest of party folk, we dragged ourselves back home to catch a few hours of sleep before our train back to Zurich back the next morning.  I arrived back at the main station ten minutes before I was due to meet with my supervisor, sunburned and running on no sleep, an epic weekend under my belt.  THANK YOU ITALIAN FRIENDS!

I don’t know what I was thinking, saying I would give a short summary of the last few weeks.  Easter in Italy deserved its own post 🙂

those dangerous Italian goodbyes and other Easter misadventures

stuff i should have figured out by now

I have a nemesis while traveling.  That nemesis is contact lens solution.  I’ve had many a scavenger hunt for contact lens solution while wandering mainland Europe, and my findings are puzzling.  It is truly hard to hunt down those buggers!  Pretty much the only place that always carries it is the pharmacy- which is no CVS.  You’ve gotta go in and talk to the pharmacist, and hit the open hours, which are usually limited and DEFINITELY closed outside of conference working hours, which is when the situation usually becomes dire. 

The worst is Sunday, when almost everything is closed- I spent one memorable Sunday morning wandering around Venice asking café owners for help (literally I will give you money for your contact lens solution, why does no one wear contacts) and finally located a nifty vending machine outside one of the closed pharmacies.  Maybe my favorite experience was in Portugal, where after consuming a slightly too large glass of wine I remembered the usual lack of contact lens solution.  This time I had no problem locating a pharmacy, but the staff were utterly mystified by my usual acting out of the process of putting in a contact to get around the language barrier and I could not stop giggling.

I also routinely forget that Swiss plugs, much like everything else about Switzerland, are not quite compatible with the rest of the EU, but that on the other hand is no problem- almost every hotel has a stock of converters handy.  But contact lens solution?  That is apparently a problem that stumps every concierge, much as I suspect that I am not the only person with this problem.  Are you other vision challenged travelers just much better than me at this?  In my defense, it’s really hard for me to find the travel sized ones even in Switzerland.  Help me fellow Euros.

Huge digression aside, my latest contact lens solution pilgrimage was last week in Belgium, after realizing around 10pm as going to bed that I either needed to locate some under the counter contact lens solution pronto or spend the weekend blindly feeling my way around the conference.  I approached the concierge with trepidation (earlier on handing over my passport he had commented acidly, “Oh, Trumpland,” as has become a normal experience in Europe in the last couple months), and he very kindly took me on an engaging tour of late night stores in Brussels after the usual look of mystification.

Luckily, our tour was successful (and educational!  There are a lot of Middle Eastern owned late night stores in Brussels, just FYI).

The conference was also really successful.  It was the first feedback I’d gotten from the research community outside my institute on the latest paper that I’ve submitted, and it was really outstanding, I thought.  I even ran into the editor in chief of the journal that I submitted the paper to in the elevator, and he not only remembered me but complimented me on the work I’ve done.  It’s hard to convey how satisfying that is to those outside the research community- a normal paper might take more than a year from conception to submission, and the peer review even longer, so long periods of time in a scientist’s life are spent laboring alone with only our ideas.  In addition, this particular study was met with a lot of skepticism in this group when I initially presented the idea and enrollment statistics, so it was great to see how many people we won over with the final result.

And Belgium is beautiful and very interesting in terms of history!  It seems like almost every other country in Europe has conquered Belgium at some point, which leads to an interesting mishmash of language and culture.  At one point the Spanish kicked all the non-Catholics out of Belgium, which is when the Dutch all moved to the Netherlands en masse and still seems to lead to a lot of wink wink jokes about the differences between the 2 cultures. Unlike Switzerland, which is like a patchwork quilt of regions with different languages, Belgium is just one big swirl of everything everywhere.  Brussels is not my favorite, although the Grand Place is one of the most impressive squares I’ve seen in Europe, but both Antwerp and Bruges are beautiful, manageable little canal cities on the water with gorgeous gothic architecture.  How’s that for a 4 sentence summary of a country?  Please do not inspect my history claims too closely :X

And with that I think I’ve tracked all of western Europe except for the microcountries! Woot woot travel.

stuff i should have figured out by now

the sometimes weird cult of travel

I found myself thinking a lot today about cultural differences around travel.  I was chatting with a friend during the coffee break at a course, and she was giving me some advice about an upcoming trip.  I was amazed by all the places she had been, and asked her when she had fit it all in.  Turned out that for every winter and summer break from late high school on, she had saved up at her job and bought a plane ticket somewhere new.  Especially when traveling in Asia, she said, living there was so cheap that virtually the only expense was the plane ticket, so she could stay for months on end.

Why hadn’t I or most of my friends done anything like that?  It’s not like the stuff I was up to on my high school and college breaks was anything earth shattering for my career.  The best I could come up with was that I just hadn’t thought about it.

Frequent travel and long interludes abroad are the norm for the Swiss and even most Europeans I meet, to the point that I am embarrassed frequently by how little of this wide world I’ve seen.  And trust me, I’ve tried my best to see all I can in my surroundings, no matter where I’ve lived.  Hang around in the vicinity of some of these avid travelers and you will inevitably be asked your “country number,” aka the number of countries you’ve visited (normally with the caveat that it just can’t be the airport).  I’ve even heard challenges around this like “30 before 30,” or the quest to visit 30 countries before hitting 30.

All of this reeks of a certain type of box checking approach to life, and I get sometimes annoyed because anyone with this sort of attitude is likely missing the point of traveling entirely.  (And maybe because I can hardly ever come close to the person asking me :p)  And while I’ve had some pretty great adventures living in different places, sometimes I am envious of the people who put down roots in one place, and wonder if the people with such strong family and friendship ties in one place end up the happiest overall. I’m also uncomfortable with the simple fact that except for my tourist dollars (and sometimes even with them), I am undeniably making a place worse with my swarmlike tourist presence (we rarely roam alone), and with all my carbon spewing plane rides to get there.

However, when I think of what has shaped me as a person, I have to admit that a lot of it has been travel, most especially long term stays where I truly got beneath the surface of a new culture.  My short months in the Dominican Republic I remember specifically as an often uncomfortable period personally that helped me to grow hugely as a person and also brought me to the understanding of how completely and totally privileged my upbringing has been.  Perhaps that is when travel goes from being an enjoyable hobby to something that is really worthwhile.

Finally, of course, you never know what is lurking behind the glossy instagram photos that can make the jetset life seem so appealing.  This weekend, while drinking wine on a lovely terrace in Corniglia overlooking the Mediterranean, I struck up a conversation with a French Canadian woman sitting at the table next to us.  She and her partner were retired Air Force and traveling all over the world together, drawing the next wonderful destination out of a hat.  I thought, awed, that I would love to have that life when I reach that age.  Later I found out that she had cancer, and likely wouldn’t have much longer.  A lot of pain was sitting on that idyllic terrace.

For now, I definitely would describe myself as someone with the travel bug, even if as I get older I get more thoughtful about what that means.  And I guess I do think, high handed as it seems, that travel in general is a good thing for the human race, if not for its health or the environment.  Like eating meat, it is kind of one of those things that I feel uneasy about now and then, but squash down under the corner of my brain that says “BUT I REALLY LIKE IT.”  Perhaps one of these days I will take a principled stand, but that day is not today.

 

the sometimes weird cult of travel

getting nerdy in the netherlands

Most days I really love my job, but this past week was a particular highlight.  It combined three of my most favorite things: traveling, smart people, and cool science.  Even the sad world news of late can’t kill my happy buzz completely.

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To back up a step: a few months ago I applied to be University of Zürich’s representative to the LERU Summer School in the Netherlands.  Basically, it’s a “league of 21 leading European research universities” that have met certain criteria, and they put on a different summer training at one of the member schools every summer.

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I was super interested because this year’s theme was Data Stewardship. I’ve been working with a really novel data source in my latest research, and am really increasingly working with “Big Data,” another buzz word that I won’t torture you by unpacking now.  But it suffices to say that I find myself working closely with specialists from all fields, from computer scientists to statisticians to ethicists to psychologists to other epidemiologists, and I am increasingly convinced that this type of interdisciplinary collaboration on data analyses is the future of science.  And I feel like I’m making a lot of stuff up as I go along, which I guess is the foundation of science anyway.  But it would be nice to at least have a conversation with a bunch of other scientists going through the same stuff with their data.

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The week totally blew away my expectations.  There were so many prestigious speakers, from an IBM scientist working on Watson to legal experts on licensing in Open Science in the EU.  And the editor of Nature Genetics (Nature is like the bible of scientists, for those who aren’t familiar) took the time to spend an ENTIRE week just hanging out with us and even coaching us along on a publication when one started to take shape by the end of the week, which totally blew my mind.  I somehow ended up taking the lead on said publication, and spent quite a chunk of today setting up an Open Science Framework open source project so we can all collaborate on said publication in the upcoming weeks.  Fingers crossed, it would be amazing have something concrete to show for our discussions, and I think it’s important to widen this discussion to all scientists.

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The best part, though, was meeting so many brilliant and passionate people from all over the world.  The organizer is so passionate about the topic that he rented a room in our hotel one night just so he could stay late and continue discussing the many issues that had come up that day in the hotel bar.  The other PhDs were smart, but also incredibly fun and outgoing.  I went running with a new Finnish friend.  There were many, many science talks over a good Belgian (or occasionally Dutch) beer.  One night we went from a canal boat ride to late night Happy Meals, and just couldn’t stop laughing.  Another night I stayed up till 4am talking about life, the universe, and everything with a new Dutch friend.  (On another note, this week did not feature much sleep, as seems to be my life these days).

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And that’s not even touching on all the cool things I learned about the Dutch.  I really love the country.  It’s on the short list of potential countries I would consider for my postdoc, so I came with a particularly critical eye.  I do think I would have some troubles adjusting to the chilly temps, but everything else I just LOVED, from the active culture to the water everywhere to the handsome men towering tall into the sky.  AHEM.

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I have a feeling this is not my last brush with the Netherlands.

 

 

getting nerdy in the netherlands