Tag Archives: train

Christmas Eve the scientist way

Standard

I spent Christmas Eve at the lab. How geeky can you get?

:D

No, seriously, I did spend Christmas Eve in the lab, but it wasn’t (really) by choice. As has been the case since last Friday, my internet connection at home is still broken, and thus the lab is the only place to connect to the world. I could’ve of course stayed home and watched a movie or so, but we decided to make full use of modern-day technology and I ended up spending Christmas Eve at Ts place. Via Skype.

Webcams on on both sides, they actually put the computer at the dinner table so I could join in the conversation, and later dragged ‘me’ along to the salon for the gift exchange ritual. We always (well… the tradition started last year…) do a Secret Santa thing with the whole family (2 parents, 5 kids and 3 gf/bf make it a big enough group to make it fun). The catch is you’re not allowed to buy a present, you have to make it. Since all of them attended hippie school they are pretty good with crafts and the like (they can sing and each play 15 instruments or sth), so I always feel a bit daunted when I see their presents. Last year for example, I knitted a hat for SE – which I was very proud of, since I had never knitted 4 needles before. This year, NE made a tea hat for her sister, including holes for the pout and the handle, with wool she had made herself. Like in, take what comes from the sheep, clean it, turn it into threads, then knit.

This year, my target was YE, the boyfriend of Ts middle sister. He works at customs in the harbor of Antwerp. And he likes to cycle. That’s about all I know about him. Oh, and he doesn’t like sweets, so baking cookies (always the easy way out ;) ) was out of the question. Finally, I came up with this:

I bought the cheapest water bottle I could find and painted it. Maybe not the most masculine gift ever, but I was pretty pleased with the way it came out, especially when he said that he never drinks enough when he goes cycling – so it will be actually useful. Of course, it’s not a candle shaped like St. Francis or a wooden candle holder, or a mosaic mirror. But I tried :).

And then, as the evening drew to a close, I was silly enough to check the Brussels Airlines site to see if there was any news about my flight tomorrow morning. There was :

This is nót what you want to see on Christmas Eve. I completely freaked out and Ts dad almost jumped in the car to come and get me (which, under good weather conditions, would probably take at least 10 hours. however, there is a reason many flights are delayed: the weather sucks). A refresh of the page 5 minutes later showed the “on schedule” icon, but I’m still pretty shaky. The flight is at 11:40 am, and the train to the airport takes half an hour, so normally I would leave around 10 am, but since a colleague of mine had a train delay of 2 hours, I will be getting up at seven to be on the safe side. T will also be getting up since I can’t check tomorrow morning whether my flight is still leaving (how did people live before the internet??) and if it is even worth it going to the airport at all. Meanwhile, we have decided I will be leaving my christmas presents here and travel with hand luggage only, because there are huge delays in Brussels in the luggage delivery and if there is trouble, I will be more mobile with just a backpack.

This does have the advantage I won’t have to pack too much :D.

Fingers crossed!

Advertisements

A tale from the road

Standard

My apologies for leaving you all post-less last weekend, but I wasn’t exactly in the mood for blogging due to the circumstances that sent me home unexpectedly, and neither did I have time to prepare some scheduled posts – but for now regular posting is back! (well, at least until the end of the month)

As I said, I had to return home unexpectedly last weekend. And I took the train. From Lund. To Ghent.

A 17 hour journey*.

To this moment I have no idea why exactly I chose the train. It wasn’t that much cheaper (although, to say it with Tesco: every little helps!). Or actually… T told me to take the train. So I did.

And it started out great – the first train was 15 minutes late. Not when I got on, but for some reason or another, it stopped every 10 minutes. Without there being a train station. We stopped on the øresund-bridge, we stopped before getting into the tunnel, we stopped when we got out, … honestly, this train had issues. I was starting to fear I’d miss my connection and wasn’t exactly thrilled by the idea of missing my grandfather’s funeral because of a train with issues. So once in Copenhagen I started to run – well, you know, the kind of run-hop-walking you generally do when you’re in a hurry but got a big backpack on your back and a full handbag on your front which bounces along happily. The platform was found easily enough, but this was the longest train I ever saw (not really… I saw a Guinness Book attempt for the longest train of over 70 wagons… but for the sake of this post: it was loooooong) and my coach was the very last one. And when I finally got there, I wish I hadn’t.

The wailing which greeted me coming from the train was just… mind-blowing. Think a 2-year-old which has been taken its lollipop, only this was an adult. And I’m pretty sure she wasn’t going to stop even if you gave her 10 lollipops. She was sitting in a couchette with her husband and 3 children, and was completely freaking out. The conductor was in there with them, trying to calm her (and her kids, which were getting really upset because, well, their mother was upset), so I wiggled my way past to try and find my couchette, hoping it would be as far away as possible from noise. It wasn’t. In fact, in passing the conductor I had already passed my spot.

It was there.

The one remaining seat in the couchette occupied by HER.

Please, no, please don’t tell me I have to spend 12 hours in a tiny couchette with a freaked out woman and her 3 kids. She has probably a very good reason to be upset and I’m a kind, tolerant person but please…

And then they got out. For whatever reason the lady had decided she would not continue her journey and she got out, her 3 kids and husband following her silently. I couldn’t believe it – not only did I not have to share a couchette with Mrs. Wail, I GOT A WHOLE COUCHETTE FOR MYSELF! Ah, bliss … .

And then they got back in. Apparently 3 ticket guys combined had been able to convince her to still take the train (strangely, her husband did not say a singly soothing word to his wife, let alone give her a hug or a kiss, rather he seemed embarrassed by the whole situation).

No… please… no… .

Fortunately, both the lady and the conductor had the same idea – it wouldn’t be healthy for me to spend the night in her company. Pfieuw…. for a second, I thought I would be assigned a private bed, since the couchettes seemed pretty much full, but I ended up sharing with two Croation women which fell asleep as soon as they found their seats.

The Thalys was late. And the train to Ghent was late. But I was home. And sometimes, that’s enough.

* For the sake of comparison, Copenhagen-Brussels takes 1h20 with the plane – 6 hours door-to-door.

Stuck on the same track

Standard

I’m sure many of you have heard either one or both stories…

A mother is preparing dinner when suddenly her 12-year-old daughter asks: “Mum, why do you cut both edges off the sausage before frying it?”
“Actually, I don’t know,” answers her mother, “but my mother always used to do it, we can ask her about it.”
But when they ask grandmother the reason, she replies: “Well, my old mother used to always cut the edges, I guess I simply learned it from her, but why she did it, I don’t know.”
The great-grandmother meanwhile has long since retired and lives in a nursing home. When her great-granddaughter comes to visit and asks her the reason for her sausage-cutting ritual, she is very much surprised: “My oh my, are you telling me you are still using that little old frying pan?”

What is the standard distance between railroad rails?
– 143.5 cm (4’8½”)
Why?
– Because that’s the gauge the tramways used before the railroads.
Why?
– Because the tramways were built using the same tools as wagon-builders and that’s how wide the wagon wheels were spaced.
Why?
– Because the old roads in England had ruts that the wheels needed to accommodate.
Why?
– Because the ruts were made by Imperial Roman chariots which were about as wide as the back of two horses.
And thus, when engineers at Thiokol were designing the solid rocket boosters for the Space Shuttle, they had to adapt the design so that it would fit through all the tunnels when transported by train from the factory to the launch site. The tunnel width was dependent on the track width which in turn derived from the width of a horse’s behind. In short, the main design feature of the world’s most advanced transportation system was designed based on a horse’s butt!

I first learned of the latter story/urban legend through Paulo Coelho’s “O Zahir” (for those who haven’t read it: read it, it is a beautiful tale of life, love, and longing) and was reminded of it by a colleague earlier today. I won’t discuss the level of truth/untruth of the anecdote(s) (that has already been done here and here, among others) but I feel both stories hold a great lesson in common.

Often, at one point in history, something or somebody decides: that’s the “right” way to do it, that is the “right” way to behave. Be it a woman that finds it easier to cut her sausages to fit them in her little frying pan or a Roman wagon maker that fits a chariot to fit two horses pulling it – their decisions are taken for good reasons, and may very well be the best decision at that time. But times change. Conditions change. And so should solutions. All too often we are stuck in our daily routine which may allow us to live our lives comfortably, but at the same time hinders us to be free, to make our own decisions, to set our own standards: to live our own life.

Because we are scared, we lack the courage to make the changes our lives sometimes so desperately need. Because we are scared, we’d rather accept the habits and customs that hold us back than question them, analyze them, and, ultimately, change them.

I plead guilty as charged. But one of the advantages of my coming to Sweden is that, in the meeting of a new environment, new people, and new habits, my own habits are automatically put in a different perspective, and through these new glasses, it is much easier to see what could and -especially- what should be changed. Let’s take it one step at a time.