Saturday, November 3, 2012

My First (and definitely not last) Adventure Race

And now for an update about another highlight of the fall! Many other amazing things have happened, like bouldering in Fontaine Bleau, France, teaching the introduction to climbing course and checking out Oktoberfest in Munich, but this is one of the most ridiculous things I've done. 

The BOTS. (Battle of the SACs; SAC=Student Alpine Club. 

A 21 hour adventure race beginning at 10pm on Friday night. An awesome kind of racing involving not only biking, running and canoeing but also navigating your way to various check points and change points using only the coordinates and maps given to your team. Oh, and also no sleeping. The change points are where to get your next assignment/set of coordinates. Between change points, you must go to at least 1 checkpoint but you were given usually 3 or 4 options. The more checkpoints you made it to, the more points you get. Also, there were deadlines to make it to each of the change points and you lost a point for every 5 minutes that you were late… Oh, and you have to carry EVERYTHING you need with you for the whole race. Including water and food. Basically this: 

Our first look at the maps. And the last time we would get to be indoors for the next 21 hours...

We started with all 108 participants biking together to the ferry that takes you across the river outside Wageningen, where we were given our first task – a “connect-the-dots” puzzle on a small map with clues as to where the points were. The picture was an Ibex! (A type of mountain goat and also the name of our climbing association) Once we finished, we handed it in and received our first round of checkpoints. It’s already quite cold so we were looking forward to getting moving! Most of the race has now become a blur…but I’ll try to tell the main highlights. Through the night we first biked relatively far and then had a “run-bike” stage, where 2 teammates had to bike while the other 2 ran. In this phase, we learned that letting the runners go start running while the bikers read the map was a terrible idea…we completely lost each other. Luckily both parties eventually decided to go back to the change point where we found each other again….around 2am, I believe. In the next biking phase we made a wrong turn and ended up somewhere off the map, but we eventually found a checkpoint we needed and made it to the next change point by a lake (a bit late). Then after some more biking we got to the side of a lake, where they were serving pea soup at the change point! Here we read our maps and realized that it was RIDICULOUSLY cold (we heard later is was -4°C (24 F)…and then were happy to start some running. Actually, I think this was the moment in my life in which I appreciated/loved running the most…  Around 6am we were in the canoeing phase, where we decided to wrap ourselves in our aluminum emergency blankets in the canoe to keep warm while paddling along. Joost, my teammate who was in the front of my canoe, was falling asleep a bit….I guess the slow rocking of the boat as we went was enough…when we were stopped at a checkpoint, he actually completely fell asleep! I think I did a bit of extra paddling in that phase….luckily he never fell asleep and fell out while we were moving. The best part of the canoeing was the amazing sunrise that came on our way back! Finally it would start to get warmer! I think I have never appreciated a sunrise as much as this one. Back on shore, we had to use “lawine pieps” (the things you use to find people in avalanches) to find things buried in the sand, but none of us knew how to use the device, so it was more a bit of aimless shoveling . When out of time there, it was back to the change point to get the next set of coordinates. We were off to a mountain biking trail! First I let Milou do some map reading…but she got us quite lost in the woods….so eventually I took over and we made it through the forest to the next change point. It was a beautiful mountain bike ride, though, with the sun shining bright and the beautiful autumn colors! At the change point they were even serving coffee…I think the caffiene enetered my bloodstream in a very fast and effective way, because I became completely wired and even more excited than before. Then we had a beautiful run in a nice nature preserve, followed by a slacklining challenge. (Its a kind of thick tight-rope between trees that climbers often do, I only managed to balance on it for 5 seconds…). Then some more nice bike riding, climbing a fire watch tower to get to a check point, climbing a tree to get to another check point and even a challenge at a change point of sack racing!! Finally, around 5:30 pm we got our last set of checkpoints. The rest of my team was completely exhausted, but luckily I had some energy still to plot the last coordinates and we found our way to our last check point and made it back the Wageningen to end our race at 6:34pm. 26 minutes before the final deadline of 7 p.m. They served us an amazing dinner, announced the winners and then I went home, had a Duvel with a friend, and slept for an amazingly long amount of time.

That was one of the most AMAZING experiences of my life. As crazy as it sounds, I can’t wait to do another one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The free t-shirt ;)
Some pictures:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer 2012

It's been a while since I've posted an update, but I should really get to it again since this summer has involved so many adventures! Time for a painfully long update...

After successfully passing my first year of classes, I was off for a few weeks of traveling. 10 planes, a ferry and god knows how many trains and buses all in one summer. First, to the US for 2 weeks at home with family and friends! Then I came back to Europe for my first adventure in England! I flew to Liverpool where Sally picked me up. We saw the city at night from a bar that was 34 stories high! Then we went to Oxford, where Sally had gone to university and, among other things, experienced "punting". It's going on a long skinny boat through the canals, pushing it with a very long stick. Finally, we went to London where the Olympics were about to be held! We experienced the craziness of a city hosting the Olympics, saw the major sights, went to see Shrek the Musical and then watched the opening ceremonies on the big screen in a park. After this busy week, I flew back to the Netherlands for one day of rest before my next trip to Rome and Greece.

First, to Elena's house in Formello (just outside of Rome) for a 1 night layover, where she would then join me afterwards for Greece! Elena picked me up at the airport and brought me to her amazing house that her parents built up from almost nothing over the years! They even have a bit of land that they used to grow fruit and vegetables on and  used to even make their own wine. There was cheese from Sardinia ripening on the high wooden beams in the shed and a chicken coop where one chicken was used for our dinner, roasted on a fire. Elena's family was also great; her brother practicing a bit of English, her mom knowing none but talking to me on Italian anyway with the others translating. If there is any language you can understand slightly without any prior knowledge, it's probably Italian because of all their expressive body language. 

The next day, we flew to Thessaloniki, Greece and Fotini picked us up from the airport and took us directly to the beach! Her Mom later made us a delicious Greek meal, we experienced going out for a bit in Thessaloniki and left the next day to go to the island of Samonthraki. We arrived in the early evening and set up camp next to a beautiful clear river, very close to the sea. We would be camping here for the next 5 nights.

On the first morning, I woke up and went directly into the sea to swim with Elena! After breakfast we walked 1.5 hours to a beautiful spot with a waterfall and pool to swim. We had to do a bit of climbing over rocks to get to the secluded spot and the water was very cold coming from the top of the mountain. Then we walked back and stopped n another pool where we could climb up the rocks and to jump in! 

That night we slept on a beach under the full moon. It was a bit unfortunate, because there was a huge rave going on nearby with ridiculous music playing until the next morning around 9....but it would have been nice. nice to wake up at the sea, even though the night before was very annoying.In the morning we swam, lounged and even did a bit of bouldering!

Fotinis boyfriend and friend went gun fishing and caught 5 fish that we ate for lunch back at the campsite.

The next day we did a hike up the mountain that is 1600 meters high. It was an amazing hike, but the Greeks are crazy and brought almost no food...Elena and I bought some snacks anyway since I knew bringing nothing was silly. The Greeks told us it would take only 3 hours to go up and half that to go down, but we ended up hiking from 10 until 5...with hardly any food and almost not enough water. But the view and hike was quite amazing, but would have been better with a bit more energy! Also on the way back we made a wrong turn and ended in the village instead of the car, which was an extra 200 meters down or so... We arrived and bought tons of water and lemonade and snacks. Then straight to a small waterfall and pool to swim and clean off! Finally we went to a restaurant where we shared 1 kilo of goat, salad, potatoes and tzatziki. There are goats everywhere on the island, so the dinner was fitting.

On the last day we relaxed on the island's single sandy beach and then returned by ferry to the mainland, where we drove to Kavala to camp. We climbed there the next day, which was amazing! The routes were around 20-25 meters high with a view of the ocean when you turned around. Very cool.

 In the evening, we drove back to Thessaloniki to sleep at Fotini's parents and rest for the next day, when we would hike to the top of Mount Olympus!!

We arrived at the bottom of the trail around 4 and it took us 5:15 to get to the refuge at around 2600 meters. The path was amazing, especially when we got to the plateau of the muses at sunset. I was laughing with joy when I saw the view up there!

We got to the refuge, enjoyed our sandwiches for dinner and had some wine to celebrate Elena's birthday. We slept in the refuge and got up at 7 to climb up Stephano, on the throne of Zeus!!! It was a 200 meter route with 5 pitches...

The refuge on the right with the Throne of Zeus in the background

It took us about 2.5 hours to climb the route and then we were back at the refuge for lunch. The experience was so amazing, to be climbing from such a height with the best view I could have imagined!

Before we left the refuge to go back down, the guys working there gave us a free shot of chipero (a Greek liquor) . After the 4 hour walk back down to the car, we were completely exhausted and ready for a nice dinner out in Thessaloniki with Fotini's parents!

The next day, Elena and I flew back to Rome where I would stay a few more days while she showed me around! She showed me many major sites, many of the best ice cream places in Rome. When we went to see Saint Peters Cathedral, we realized that I had forgotten to wear long enough pants/sleeves...oops. Churches in Italy get upset when you are showing too much skin. We were turned away at the door and trying to find a solution to the problem. In a small touristy shop, we saw some very ugly and cheaply made pants that looked like they would do the trick, so Elena started speaking with guy in the shop about them. I didn't understand a thing, obviously, but eventually ended up getting the pants for free and a cheap scarf to cover my shoulders for 2 euros. After we walked out, I asked Elena what the heck she said, and apparently the guy had told her that the pants cost 4 euros. Her response (being Italian) was, "there is no way these pants are worth 4 euros, they are made from nothing!" and so, the offended shopkeeper responded "fine, take them for free." So we did. And this is how I looked walking into the beautiful Saint Peter's Cathedral:

After 2 days of city-seeing we were ready for a break... So, Elena's parents took us to Therma dei Papi. It is basically a sauna in a cave that is heated only by water coming out of hot springs in the earth! First, you arrive and go to a doctor who checks to make sure your blood pressure is fine. Then you go down to the cave, where you can also drink the sulfury egg tasting water from it that is supposed to be healthy but tastes gross. We were in the sauna for about 15 minutes and then you go straight to a bed where they wrap you up in paper and plastic layer with just your face sticking out. You relax that way for a bit, and then come out of the cocoon for a shower. Then, we went to these 2 long baths, where one is cold and the other is hot. You first walk through the hot one, then the cold one then back through the hot...and so on back and forth for 20 minutes. Apparently it's good for your legs. Then to the swimming pool!!  The pool is filled with the warm water from the earth's so awesome. After drying off and showering, we went to a small nearby town that is still the old medieval buildings with everything from the 1200s.

After all of these wonderful adventures, amazing food and great people I finally flew back to the Netherlands. Now, a music festival in Belgium this weekend before starting my masters thesis on Monday :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Well, it's been a really long time since I've updated this. Very many amazing things have happened since! Trips to Germany, Switzerland, the Canary Islands. I am loving my courses. While learning practical food science skills, I'm also getting to make and eat ice cream and even taste fancy foods and wine. I've picked a topic for my thesis next year. I moved to a new student house, with about 25 international students all sharing a big kitchen and living room. It's a bit like a co-ed frat house, only cleaner...It's much nicer to be living with people :)

I've learned a lot about myself and am loving my experiences here. Today, I have a particularly interesting story. Later I'll have to give a better update.

With the climbing club, I was helping to organize a barbecue (yes, I know its winter, so we called it the "brrrrbq"), since I've joined the activities committee. First, I go to my bike and the back tire is flat. again. even though I just had it replaced last week. Oh well, I'll take my out fancy nice race bike. It's not raining too hard.

I'm carrying 2 pvc pipes that I plan to use to introduce an american tailgating game (beersbie). While struggling to hold them in my left hand, while biking with the right, one of them drops. A car immediately comes behind me and runs right over it, crushing it into tons of pieces. Hmm....whoops...

No American tailgating games were played tonight....but it was still a wonderful barbecue, with wonderful people and, of course, beer and a campfire.

So, life is still good :D Slowly I'll get better at biking without hands, which the dutch have all mastered....

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rock Climbing and Apple Pie

I'd say its about time for a quality blog update....the last few weeks have been non-stop busy, but I love it all!

Last night was a very interesting evening.... I was trying to make an apple pie, because today I'm going to a potluck where I'm going to meet all the other "Food Valley Ambassador" students (people who have the same scholarship that I do). We're supposed to bring food from our respective countries, so apple pie was really all I could think of! Of course, I don't have an oven in my kitchen. And you also can't buy those nice totoally pre-made pie crusts here. Or the typical pans that we Americans use for pies (they only have ones with vertical sides). So the evening began with me going to Cecile's place after class so that she could help me make a dough from scratch. While I was there, she also had to pick up a couch that she had bought second hand on the internet. It was only located about a fifteen minute walk away and of course we don't have a car, so we walked there to pick it up. Luckily, there were two wheels on it, since it rolled out to a bed, because we ended up dragging/rolling it all the way back to her house. Along the road. We got quite a few stares....but eventually we made it and she now has a nice sofabed!

So, I've got dough and also helped carry a couch across town and I have to go to my friend Anneke's place to make the rest of the pie (Cecile also doesn't have an oven). I hop on my bike with my 2ish kg of dough, 3 kg of apples and a kg of sugar and head to Anneke's where we spend about 3 hours cutting apples and rolling dough and cooking 2 pies! I made my first American apple pies from scratch in the Netherlands! Success! Anne, Cecile and I ate some of one of pies and the second I'll bring to the Food Valley students this afternoon! (I wrote "FV" on the top crust, hehe.)

In other news, I had my introweekend for the climbing club this past weekend! We traveled to Ith, Germany where we camped, climbed high rocks and peed in telephone booths. (The guy at the campsite converted old telephone booths from the 60's into port-o-potties). It was a blast, I met lots of great people and we had the best doner kebabs in the region on the way home! (the owner of the place only uses local lambs for the meat and butchers it himself!)

Classes are still going well (though I'm quite tired all the time because I have lab from 8:30 to 12:15 every morning and then either another lab or lectures in the afternoon). The lab in the morning is quite like the chemistry labs, but I don't mind too much since I have a nice group and I like the subject! (Our project has to do with carageenans and galactomannans - gelling agents in foods) My afternoon course, gastronomy, has a practical involving fancy cooking, so on Tuesday I made entrecote (kind of steak) using "souv-vide", hollandaise sauce and an estragon gel. It was delicious! Though in competition with the other groups, our dish came in 4th out of 5 groups when the head chef tasted them. Luckily I'm not going into cooking, but into food product development.

Tonight I'll be going to the Food Valley potluck with my pie, then the climbing gym in Arnhem! Then this weekend it's back to Germany for a food product conference in Cologne!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Where to start! I had a great last week of vacation getting to know my AID friends better, meeting more people and shopping with Pauline and Lisanne :) I've met a few other Americans now! One from Syracuse and 2 from the Chicago area. None have the same major as me, but they are still in the Food department. So now I have a few friends to help throw a Halloween party and to have Thanksgiving dinner with! 

Yesterday my courses began! Because there are 6 periods here instead of 2 semesters, I take only 2 classes at a time. Right now I am in Food Ingredient Functionality and Molecular Gastronomy. Both seem like courses that I will LOVE, which is very exciting to me! (after not enjoying roughly 90% of the courses from my chemistry degree...)

Ingredient Functionality will be a lot of food chemistry and physics, like the techno- and biofunctional aspects of foods. (basically what ingredients do at a molecular level inside and outside the body). My favorite fact from day one involved how Unilever got an idea from a fish for an ingredient to improve low fat ice cream. (the major problem with making low fat ice cream: less fat = more water = more ice = crunchy gross ice cream) There's a fish called the ocean pout that lives in water at sub-zero temperatures, so people were curious how the heck it survived without all of its tissues freezing. Turns out, there's a specific protein that it has in its cells that prevents ice crystals from growing, which keeps the fish from turning into a popsicle. Unilever figured out what the protein was, how to make it using fermentation and now can put it in low fat ice cream to keep large ice crystals from growing in it. Thus, smooth normal ice cream instead of having large crunchy ice crystals. ...I hope my explanation made at least some sense....I don't plan to go into teaching

Molecular Gastronomy - the science of cooking- will be pretty unique. Apparently I'll be learning the chemistry and physics behind cooking, involving a few labs in the kitchen! The final lab will actually be a cooking competition where your group has to come up with a completely new, novel recipe and make it for a judge. By new, they basically mean making something that looks like a food but tastes like something totally unexpected. For instance, an "egg" where the white is made up of a white gel with coconut flavoring and the yolk is a maize gel. So you have to make the dish and then explain the chemistry and physics behind why it works. Look for me on the Food Network some day.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

An Excellent Start

So, the remainder of the introduction days were amazing! I got along with my group very well, so we're still hanging out and having fun. During the introduction days, we had a "Crazy 88" city tour, where everyone got a list of 88 things that we could do around town to get points (like make a human pyramid, go in the fountain barefoot, sing to a grandma, give out 5 hugs to strangers, take pictures at certain places....). We also went to a street theatre festival that was going on in the city center, which was awesome. There was a hilarious Australian magician, people dancing with fire sticks and hula hoops, a puppet show, acrobats and all kinds of things. The next day was the sports day, where we got to play all kinds of sports (frisbee, soccer, field hockey....), check out the sports center, and talk to sports clubs that we might want to join. (I'm looking at joining either the running or climbing clubs!) That night we all watched a movie outdoors (Despicable Me :D) and then went to some fun parties.

We checked out the pool that is across from my apartment one day as well - it's AWESOME. There's a really good slide, a lazy river, diving boards and a sauna and steam bath!! Then that night there was a "Comedy Crawl" where we went around town to different theatres to see different comedians. Some were really good, but I got picked on a lot for being American. Whenever they asked if any Americans were present, I was ALWAYS the only one. Haven't met another one of my kind yet....luckily I seem to be fitting in well with the Greeks. Though, when I told one Greek girl that I was from Philadelphia, her response was "...That's near California, right?! I've always wanted to go there because I LOVE Baywatch!!" ....

On a day that it was super rainy, I had my "Alpine Adventure Race" workshop, where with 2 other people on my team I had to bike around the city and surrounding woods to different checkpoints where there were things like slacklining, monkey bars, rope climbing and shooting. I got very wet and muddy, but it was very very fun. The last day there was a Brunch and information market in the school's botanical gardens and a really good music festival at night. All the pictures from the week are up on facebook!

Overall, it was a ridiculously busy, but amazing week. A really great way to get to know people and learn about the town! Now I have a week off before classes start still!

So far, I'm loving it here and loving how international of a place this town is. I'm meeting people from all over the world and really getting to know about a lot of different cultures. Today I even ate chicken hearts (fed to me by my french friend) and learned that Greek people regularly call eachother "asshole" (Malaka!). Thats the only word I now understand when they talk to eachother in Greek. Better than nothing, I suppose...

Friday, August 19, 2011

First Day of AID

Yesterday was the first day of the introduction days! 6 days of learning about the town, the school and parties all put together by the school and organized by other students. We met our "family" (2 mentors and 10 other students) who we will basically be spending the week with. I mostly hung out with with 2 dutch people, 2 greeks and a french girl. Very exciting :) In the afternoon there was a whole field full of games and blow-up obstacle courses that we played, then we met in the city center for a drink before heading off to dinner together. After dinner, there was a huge outdoor party with all the first year students under a tent, where out school President and Vice Mayor of Wageningen came to speak and tell us to drink a lot this week because some of the profits go to charity, haha. Today we will have a picnic, do a scavenger hunt throughout the town, learn about some student clubs, and check out the Street Theatre Festival going on in town.

Before all of this excitement, I had a few frustrations with Holland...I've learned never to expect any office to get anything done in a timely manner. And also not to completely trust the answers they give you. No one seems to reeeally know whats going on...ever....but eventually I'll get everything worked out, haha. I also met with my advisor to pick my courses for the year! I'll be starting with Food Ingredient Functionality and Molecular Gastronomy (where the lab portion of the course is cooking !!).

Also, if anyone is curious what our main Hub/Library looks like :

Usually its a bit more quiet, though...