Tag Archives: sports

Around the world in 15 pictures

Its that time of year again. The time for all sorts of summaries. And I’ve realized I’ve been writing posts about our round-the-world trip, but that I’ve forgotten to summarize the experience. Now I could write about what we’ve learned, what were the best and the worse experiences, which places are the cheapest and which the most expensive, and so on and on. But I won’t. Not because I have nothing to tell, or because I am too lazy to write, but because I’ve got something much better – pictures. Thinking of it, I will tell you one thing that I’ve learned – you can never take too many pictures. This is how we spent 10 months travelling, in one picture per country.

August, Xmas shopping season is open

August – Christmas shopping in London

Marveling at the golden domes of Kiev, Ukraine

August – marvelling at the golden domes of Kiev, Ukraine

Ein Ovdat canyon in Israel

September – hiking in the Ein Ovdat canyon in Israel

"The Monastery" in Petra, Jordan

September – admiring “The Monastery” in Petra, Jordan

At the Johpur fort in India

October – watching the city life from atop the Jodhpur fort in India

Fishing with the Tharu in Chitwan, Nepal

November – fishing with the Tharu in Chitwan, Nepal

Cycling around in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

December – cycling around in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

In the sand dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam

January – taking a walk in the sand dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam

Statue of King Anouvong in Vientian, Laos

February – strolling by the statue of King Anouvong in Vientian, Laos

Diving (of course) on Kho Phi Phi, Thailand

February – diving (of course) on Kho Phi Phi, Thailand
Jurong Bird Park, Singapore

February – spending a morning in Jurong Bird Park, Singapore

Flying dolfin in Kaikoura, New Zealand

March – seeing dolfins fly in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Diving for pearls among the sharks on Ahe, French Polynesia

April – diving for pearls among the sharks on Ahe, French Polynesia

Easter Island - awesome!

May – standing face to face with the Moai on Easter Island

Chillin' in Cuzco, Peru

June – chillin’ in Cuzco, Peru

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Filed under cycling, Round-the-world trip, Travel

Triathlon success secrets unravelled

Triathlon must be the most European of all sports – its a combination of seemingly unconnected pieces of random size. I’m a triathlete, not a very succesfull one though. Even though I’m no high flyer, I enjoy my sport very much. Not going for the medals, just doing my best to finish, hopefully not in the last 10. But the last triathlon I’ve done (almost) everything went just right, and for the first time in my life I’ve actually finished among the upper 1/3rd of the participants! So I sat down to evaluate the extraordinary (for my standards) performance and wrote down some tips and tricks a triathlete might use to get a little extra edge. Some of these may seem trivial but it might surprise you how many triathletes don’t do these very basic things!

Elastic laces and wasteband. Costs – 10 Euro, time win – 2 minutes per race. Add talc powder for an extra minute.

Get proper gear

You really don’t have to splash on the latest wetsuit model, teardrop-shaped helmets or GPS-equipped heart rate monitors to gear up for a triathlon. Pick up the low-hanging fruit first!

  • Gear up for the switch. I don’t win any triathlons, nor any of the disciplines, but I do the fastest switches. Elastic shoelaces, waste band for your number and talc powder for your shoes (instead of socks) can save you up to 3 minutes! Costs – less than 10 Euro.
  • Fit your bicycle with time trial/triathlon handlebar. Its not the most comfortable position to cycle in, I know. Personally, I get a pain in the neck from it. But on the distances most triathletes race (20 or 40 km cycling) its just 40-80 minutes of a race max, and its not like you have to do all your training like this. Gives me a 2-3 kph speed bonus – aerodynamics rules!
  • Get yourself a pair of proper sunglasses. Ones that will shield your eyes not only from the sun but also from the wind. A decent pair of cycling sunglasses with changeable lenses for a shady day shouldn’t set you back more than 50 Euro’s (and probably less).

Proper sunglasses provide good coverage

Train smart

As the saying goes “if you wanna be dumb, you gotta be tough”. Training hard is useless, unless you train smart, too. There’s more to training than just killing time while sweating.

  • Train for the switch. You do swimming lying down, cycle sitting and run in an upward position. Your body adapts the blood flow to each of these positions and it takes time to switch the blood stream. Your heart rate and breath are, however, at full speed so its easy to jump off the bicycle and start running at full speed, right into a cramp. Build switches between disciplines into your training program to get familiar with the physiology of the process.
  • Do an altitude training. I know, not everyone can just drop everything and go to Tenerife for a week. But if you are going on a vacation in the mountains, you can schedule a triathlon for the weekend after you’re back.
  • Take proper rest. Something I was never able to do. However, this time I did nothing for a whole week before the race, except cycling to work a couple of times. The result? I showed up for the start relaxed and fresh, after a week of good sleep.

Prepare for the race day

  • Find your race day breakfast. Mine’s oatmeal and coffee, but these things are very personal. The point is to be well-fed, yet empty at the start.
  • Practice the switch. Literally, lay out your cycling and running shoes, helmet, wasteband, sunglasses and whatever else you need, put on your swimcap and goggles, and practice taking them off and putting the cycling gear on. And then the running switch. This way you don’t come out of the water and start grabbing things but know your routine and keep calm and focused.
  • Reckon the track. Something I don’t do because I’m lazy to go out there a week before the race and cycle the track. Something I should do because I’ve missed a corner a few times before. Having to pick up lost speed is bad enough, ending up under a truck might be worse – triathlons are usually not important enough to close the roads for all traffic.

As I’ve mentioned, there’s probably nothing new in these tips and tricks. But they do work. And put together, these things just might help you set a better performance. Sure helped me. Happy triathlons!

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Filed under cycling, Tips and tricks

Do not move you’re car!

Visiting Americans (and Britons) are often quite surprised by and jealous of the multilingualism of continental Europe. People in small European countries rightfully pride themselves on their language knowledge. When you can drive to the nearest border within minutes, it can be quite useful to know your tongues. There seems to be a loose rule – the smaller the country, the more languages people know. The most extreme example is perhaps that of Luxembourg, where in order to become a bus driver one must be fluent in 4 languages.

An unfortunate side effect of the proficiency in languages, is that some people become linguistically-arrogant, thinking they master a language (usually English) while they are far from perfect in it. The people most prone to this linguistic arrogance are the Dutch, who actually know English quite well, but not as well as they sometimes think. The result is called Dunglish. A professor greeting his class by saying “I hate you all very welcome” is funny, albeit awkward. An info plaque in a museum telling you about something that has happened “in the mean time” get you stuck for a couple of minutes wondering whether it was an evil or an average time. But a prime-minister proclaiming his people to be “a nation of undertakers” its downright embarrassing. Unless he’s Khrushchev in which case he’s creepy.

The devil is in the details. Sure, it (usually) doesn’t kill you when a signpost is misspelled. But when you’re organizing a major international event, like today’s Rotterdam Marathon, and you’re making an effort to communicate to the foreign visitors, why don’t you make the extra step and have all your communications checked by someone who is really-really good in English? Otherwise they will be stuck in your town long after the event, nailed to their place by the fear of becoming a motorized vehicle should they move.

Do not move you're car! sounds like a good name for a school-ground game. This sticker was placed on windscreens of cars parked along the route of the Rotterdam Marathon

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Country hopping

Belgium... a picture is sometimes indeed worth a 1000 words

Crossing the border in Europe is not what it once was. I remember an occasion from my student days, when we went on an geological field trip to Belgium. The bus was cruising on the highway as the professor announced: “Welcome to Belgium!” My fellow students, freshly arrived from African and Asian countries, were stunned. Where are the guards, the barbed wire? The prof had a hard time explaining that border controls are pretty much non-existent in modern day Europe, and that you just drive across without customs checks or passport stamps. The guys just couldn’t believe him, so on the way back they were hanging out the windows to catch a glimpse of the blue sign with Europe’s stars marking the border.

The language might change quite dramatically as you cross the border

Part of the fun in living in a place with so many small countries, is experiencing the rapid changes as you cross the border. Nut just the car number plates change. The language, architecture, landscape, all can change dramatically even if you travel between apparently similar countries. You can see these sometimes subtle changes in just a few hours. Let me show you what I mean.

As there are so many borders so close by, hopping countries is really easy. One summer day, we’ve decided to do something no one has ever done before (as far as we know) – Extereme Ironing on the highest points of all three BeNeLux countries. We hired a car and a portable generator, packed an ironing board and an iron and were on our way. All three tops are similar in being car-accessible, non-challenging locations. But the atmosphere couldn’t be more different. The Vaalserberg in the Netherlands is a major tourist attraction where hordes of people stand simultaneously in 3 countries. There’s a huge lookout tower, multiple restaurants and even a postal office.

The poor Dutch have to share their highest point, a mighty 321 meter peak, with Belgium and Germany

In Belgium, the setting is not quite similar. The highest point, actually a plateau, is tucked away behind a greasy roadside restaurant with a small garbage dump in the back. The added stairway to nowhere illustrates perfectly the absurdist nature of Belgium.

In order to achieve the 700 meter mark, the Belgians built a 6-meters high tower on the otherwise 694 meters high point

The highest point of Luxembourg, on a pastoral countryside hill besides a castle-like water tower is characteristic for the fairy-tale character of that country.

Extreme Ironing getting really extreme in Luxembourg

The whole feat took us some 8 hours including hiring the generator and driving there and back. However, some things have changed since that summer. Apparently, the highest point of Luxembourg is not the 558.8m high Buergplaz, but nearby Kneiff at 559.8m, a whole meter higher. Also, the island of Saba has become a part of the Netherlands after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles. The Dutch now have a proper mountain, Mount Scenery (877 meters), albeit rather far away from the mainland. We will wait until the Belgians rebuild the stairway, adding a couple of meters, or, even better, decide to demolish this abomination, and retake this historic journey. Saba, here we come!

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Filed under Europe, Small European things, Travel

Time machine

I can travel through time. Just 5 minutes walk from my doorstep, there’s a time machine I can use just about any time I want. Actually, anyone can use this device. Its perfectly safe, for just € 4.30 you go back in time (it only goes backwards) for upto 80 years, and after one hour you’re back in nowadays. All you need to bring is a towel and swim truncks. My time machine is in fact a swimming pool.

Its amazing how delapidated some of the public infrastructure can get in even the most prosperous small European countries. The showers are a health and safety hazard, everywhere rust is leaking from old ladder anchors, and the toilets in an 80-year old swimming pool… well, don’t imagine them. Personally I try my best to avoid them.

Yet its a beautiful piece of Art Déco architechture and design, and despite the haggardness everything works. Just changing clothes here is an experience. You get your own private wooden booth. The ingenious way to lock the door is to lower the bench – it just blocks the door from opening. The door is about one and a half meters high, and your head sticks out while you undress,  so you feel a bit like on one of them old postcards of late 19th century beaches. Seriously, just looking at the fonts on the signs takes you back to times when all men wore hats and women in pants were a novelty. OK, the fashion sense of some of the visitors goes back several decades as well, but some people are just old school.

This summer my time machine is going to be renovated. Its a national monument, so the view from the former coffee gallery, where the hairdresser’s used to be, will probably remain. But I am a tiny tickle concerned about the time travel mechanisms. These things are quite delicate. Perhaps they only work when the showers are leaking. What if they’ll break it? Like when your grandma dies and they just peel off the wallpapers and paint everything new and shiny and soulless. Its the same house, but it will never make you feel like a 5-year old again. But let’s hope it will work, with a renovation price tag in the millions they damn should conserve the time travel mechanisms as well. In the meantime I will keep going back to the days before the A-bomb and the 3rd Reich, to a time without computers and tupperware, to an age when hippies and Beatles were not words yet, every time I go for a swim.

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Filed under Small European things, Travel