Sofia in September (for WordCamp Europe)

When I attended WordCamp London last December, I heard lots of people talking about how great the first WordCamp Europe in Leiden (NL) had been. Come 2014, I kept an eye out for when and where this year’s WordCamp Europe would be held. The last weekend of September fits perfectly into my (work-)schedule and Sofia is a city I’ve never been before (I’ll admit I had to look it up on Google Maps to see where in Europe it’s situated). So WordCamp Europe 2014 it was.

As I’m typing this, it’s Thursday evening and I’m on Air Bulgaria flight FB405 from Brussels to Sofia. It’s 22u45 local time and we’ve got about hour to go before we land in Sofia International Airport.

The conference itself is on Saturday and Sunday, and there’s a Contributor day on Monday (where we all get together to work on WordPress). Tomorrow (Friday) I’ll explore the city a little bit, check out Betahouse for some co-working and in the afternoon we’re getting together with some of the conference go-ers to have a country-to-country paintball battle (Team Union Jack over here :)).

I’ll make a big write-up on the conference and contributor day next week, make sure you come back for that!

★ Köln Marathon 2013

As with most of my marathon plans the past couple of years, this one started on a whim and without any actual planning. I had run London in April and after that I just defaulted back to my regular Crossfit training, not doing any running and distance work at all.

I don’t really remember when we (Pieter and myself) entered Köln but I think it was somewhere in May or June. Fast forward to August, neither of us had done much running and Pieter decided to cancel the race due to a health issue. I still wasn’t sure if I’d go or not. It was after “our” badminton tournament in the second week of September (the 2013 Yonex Belgian International) that made up my mind, I was going to Köln. Booked a hotel and got a train ticket, no way back now. I ran 2 to 3 times during the following 2 weeks and things were looking good: no pain in my right knee (that’s what I was and still am afraid of the most), stamina and speed looking good. Time for a long(er) run.

With only 2 weeks to go, I mapped out a 24km route. The run itself went fairly good but I had forgotten to take water or food. Which is a bad idea when you’re going to run more than 20km. I hit “the wall” hard around 21km and struggled to get home from there. All in all, good time for that distance.
http://www.strava.com/activities/85657148/embed/9c91ae3571b7dad2bd7763044f28c174d4a2eb90

The weekend after that (October 6th, one week until the marathon) I ran the Brussels Half Marathon. I had run that race in 2012 as well and with all it’s uphill stretches, it’s a good race to see where you’re at fitness-wise.
http://www.strava.com/activities/87267754/embed/a738975d0738ddcffee8291e722a4e22934cb8e7

I finished in 1:46:01, about 5 minutes faster than the year before. I was feeling good about Köln and ever started dreaming of a sub-4-hour finish (which was my goal when I started training for my first marathon in 2011). But I’m the first one to reign in those expectations and got my feet back on the ground. Once you hit 30km, anything can happen (especially when you haven’t trained for it).

I left for Köln on friday evening, with the Thalys from Brussels-South. Arriving in Köln, rain was pouring down and it was pretty cold. I made my way to my hotel and settled in. On Saturday morning I headed to the Marathon Expo to pick up my number and timing chip. After that I walked around town, did some shopping and had lunch with my sister and mom (who were in Köln to cheer me on the next day but they came over a day early). I planned where I needed to be on sunday and when and then went to bed around 11pm.

Sunday morning, 7am, wide awake and it’s raining. Fuck. That’s not what you want on race day. I only had to leave by 10 so I snoozed for 30 minutes, took a shower and headed for breakfast. Then I packed my bags, checked out and I was on my way by 10am. I decided to go the starting area on foot and to not bother taking the train or tram. It was only a 25 minute walk and public transport would be way too crowed to go smoothly. By then it had stopped raining but it was still pretty cold and very windy. With about an hour to go before the start (which was at 11:30am), I wondered around a bit, got changed into my running clothes (which were long sleeves and long compression pants for the occasion, it was way to cold for shorts), handed in my bag and headed for the starting grid. I made it to the yellow starting group (3:50 – 4:00) with 10 minutes to spare before the start. It had stopped raining by now and the crowd was ready, as always you could feel the anticipation of the race in the air, everyone was ready to go.

20km into to the race and I was still on track, I may have started a bit too fast but all in all I was doing good. Around 26km, my calves started cramping up so I pulled up my tights to my knees to give my lower legs some breathing room. 30km came and went, my legs were hurting but nothing I hadn’t seen before. Best of all, my feet were still in pretty good shape (off course they were hurting but it wasn’t the giant blister pain I had in London). The last 5km were especially rough on the mental side. I knew the last 1,5km of the route but not really how we would get there, so every turn I expected to recognise a building or street that wasn’t the case. When we finally turned onto the shopping street I knew it was almost over and that I had it in the bag. 2 more turns and one stretch (that was longer than I expected it to be) to the finish line. My time? 3 hours and 49 minutes. Boom! My first marathon in under 4 hours!

http://www.strava.com/activities/88944851/embed/ae734b53cc2c46ead9ab123eabc6c5cb8ae347cb

I met up with my parents and sister in the baggage collection area, we had a quick dinner, got our bags at the hotel and drove back home. I was sore for a couple of days but best of all: 0 blisters. Ha!

Was next? Not sure yet. Maybe Paris in April 2014. We’ll see.

★ Viscri, Romania (July 2012)

As an introduction, I’d like to point you to the post I wrote after our planning trip to Viscri in May. That’ll tell you more about the project and why we went. We went on this trip in July of 2012 but with school and so much other stuff on my schedule, I didn’t get around to finishing this post until now.

And I’m back. I’ve been back for a while. But what a week it has been.
I’ve been struggling to get something out on paper about our trip so I’m just going to list what we did day by day. The following may see a bit factual but there’s so much to tell about this trip that I can’t possible grasp it in a blogpost.

Wednesday July 4th.
Okay, Wednesday evening wasn’t really part of the trip but it was the first time the entire group got together. We had picnic and some drinks in the park and got to know each other a little better. Good times, looking forward to the trip.

Friday July 6th.
Up at 6 to shower, have breakfast and do some last luggage checks. Then to the train station by bus, where I met with most of the group (8 others) and we took the train to the airport. Arriving there we sat down somewhere with our mountain of luggage and waited for the last 3 people to arrive. Once the group was complete we loaded up on some coffee, checked-in (I didn’t check my Pelican case with my photo and video gear and didn’t get in trouble for it) and passed security. We were flying Tarom again, in a 737-700 to Bucharest.

BAYLT Viscri 20120706 GOPR0918

3 hours and 1 timezone later, we touched down on a blazing hot runway at Bucharest OTP. Local time was 14h20 and the thermometer read 41° C. We collected our luggage and headed out the door to find our driver. We found our ride quickly (a 16-seating air-conditioned Mercedes bus) and off we went again. 5 hours later we arrived in Viscri. We had dinner and went for an exploratory walk in the village. After that the Romanian group came over and we played some circle-games to learn each other’s names (which as hard!). Afterwards we divided the rooms and went to bed.

BAYLT Viscri 20120707 JHE0941

BAYLT Viscri 20120712 JHE1844

Saturday July 7th
Every morning, 1 room was responsible for making breakfast for everyone. Coffee, fresh tea, eggs, laying out the table, doing the dishes afterwards? We (the people with whom I shared a room: Jonathan, Leen and Melania) were on duty the first morning. After breakfast we went on a horse-and-carriage ride through the hills around the village and to the scheep-farm. We left between 9 and 10 and were away for a good 3 hours. The carriages were being led by youngsters from our group and they were proud that they could show us around. After lunch we played some card games and we went for a walk through the rest of the village (even though there are only 4 streets, there’s still plenty to see). We also went to the Torcatoria (which is Romanian for weavery, the house that was going serve as youth house) to set things up for the table tennis tournament we were having that evening. That night we got our asses handed to us by the Romanians (they were much better at table tennis than we were) but we all had a great time.



Sunday July 8th
On sunday, Liesbet, Jonathan and Stijn went shopping in Bra?ov. They also had Andrea with them, one of the youngsters for the group, to shop for decorations and materials we were going to need in the youth house. Bra?ov – Viscri is a good hour on the road so we didn’t expect them back before 13h.
Meanwhile, the rest of us went to the Torcatoria to see if we could break up the concrete in the courtyard. The only tools we had were 4 shovels and 2 pickaxes and we were a bit sceptical as to how far those would get us?.But the Romanians were there as well and they showed us how it was done. We (the Belgians) were very impressed by the efficiency with which the Romanians worked and were a little bit overwhelmed as well?What were we doing there? They clearly knew what they were doing. But we took whatever tools that were still laying around and we joined them, maybe a bit (ok, a lot) slower and with lots more effort but we worked together. And before we realised it, we had dug a trench across the whole courtyard, 30 cm deep. Tired and impressed we headed back home for lunch. By then it as well past 13h and Liesbet/Stijn/Jonathan were due back any moment. After lunch we headed back to the Torcatoria to show Liesbet, Stijn and Jonathan how far we had gotten before noon and to do some more work.



By 19h, wind was picking up and clouds were gathering in the distance. We had a football game planned for later that evening but decided to do it before dinner to avoid the possible rain. The football field was basically just a field with 2 iron frames for goals, the field mostly covered in knee high grass. First we played Belgians vs Romanians. I think you you predict how that went? 🙂 Outnumbered and outrun, we lost 7 to nothing. Then we mixed the teams a little bit and that went much better (yours truly even scored but don’t ask me how because I have no idea how that shot ever landed in). Tired and sore, we headed home for dinner.

Monday July 9th

We spilt up in 2 groups: 6 went to the school for the play-days and 6 went to the torcetoria to continue the digging. At the play days fewer kids showed up than expected (or than last year) but it was fun none the less. The digging went smooth as well, we continued inside in the courtyard and made sure that our ditch was deep enough. The plan was to put both water and sewage in there. And when installing sewage, it’s rather important that the pipe runs down at a minimum angle so we had to make sure the ditch got deeper and deeper as we moved away from the house.
In the afternoon we cleaned up the Torcatoria and continued working outside. The Romanian youngsters were preparing for the Romanian evening we had planned that evening. Romania has a strong traditional culture, with special clothing, music and dances and we got a taste of that in the evening. After the traditional dancing, we turned up the music and had a nice party that lasted until to middle of the night. Good times.

BAYLT Viscri 20120709 JHE1352
BAYLT Viscri 20120709 JHE1387
BAYLT Viscri 20120709 JHE1471

Tuesday July 10th

Another play day and another day of working at the Torcatoria. Our trench was coming along nicely but we needed to make it much deeper, at least 90cm at the highest point (Romanian winters are very cold and if the pipes aren’t deep enough in ground they’d just freeze and break). After lunch we went back to the torcetoria to start painting inside. During our planning-visit in May, the Romanian group had decided on the colour and we bought those when we went shopping in Brasov on Sunday. We had just bought the colour pigment, the Romanians had brought a chalky material that had to be mixed up with water and pigment to turn it into paint. They insisted we would paint the ceiling as well but that seemed kind of pointless to us (the Belgians) because the paint was very watery and painting the ceiling seemed like it wouldn’t have any effect. But it was going to be their place so they had to decide. 30 minutes later, the ceiling was painted (and so were we for the most part :-)). We gave the walls 3 coats of paint because the coloured paint was very watery as well. Between letting it dry and having dinner, we finished painting late in the evening.

BAYLT Viscri 20120710 JHE1562

BAYLT Viscri 20120712 JHE1854

Wednesday July 11th

As per usual, we had an early breakfast and both groups headed their separate ways. Each evening we prepared the play day of the next day and we divided the groups so that everyone got to do both (play day and working at the house) at least once. At the house things were coming along nicely. The painting was finished and we had started digging on the other side of road as well. On Wednesday we also assembled the bar for the Torcetoria. The youngsters all agreed that they wanted some sort of bar (even though they didn’t have a fridge there). So we bought wood and a table-top and asked the local carpenter to give us a hand. On Wednesday, he was finished and we transported the parts from his house to the torcetoria. There we sanded down the wood and assembled the thing, mood lights and all.

BAYLT Viscri 20120713 JHE1920
BAYLT Viscri 20120711 JHE1601

After lunch, we went to a nearby lake for a swim. A couple of our youngsters and parents from the village drove us out, about an hour away from Viscri. We stopped along the way to buy some inflatable tires because none of the youngsters could swim. When we arrived at the lake, everyone changed into their swimming gear and got in the water. The Romanians stayed in the shallow water, clutching their inflatable support tightly (how would you be if you didn’t know how to swim?). We (the Belgians) ventured out further in the lake and swam out all the way to the middle. A couple of the Romanians wanted to do the same but they couldn’t swim?So we teamed up: 2 Belgians pushed 1 Romanian in a inflated tire to the middle of the lake and back. And then the next one. And the next one. They were a little bit hesitant at first (again, how would you be if you couldn’t swim?) but they trusted us and by 3pm, the entire group was in the middle of the lake, all smiles and happily hanging in their tires, while the Belgians were paddling to stay afloat. Several hours of swimming, diving and jumping later, we had BBQ by the lake. And after that, we went back in for another swim. A couple of us swam out all the way to the other side, where we couldn’t hear the other people anymore. So peaceful and with such an amazing view, I felt blessed to be there and then with my friends.

BAYLT Viscri 20120711 JHE1625

BAYLT Viscri 20120711 JHE1674

BAYLT Viscri 20120711 JHE1634
BAYLT Viscri 20120711 JHE1772

Thursday July 12th

Thursday was an important day: we had to cross the road with our digging. The Torcatoria is located at the end of one the side streets that leads out to the fields and that road is used by the farmers to take the cattle to the field and back home. So we had to open up the road, 90cm deep and 50cm wide, put in the water pipe, and close it up again. Now, when you think digging 90cm deep is hard, imaging having to dig through a road on which stones, gravel and mortar have been added for 50 years, layer over layer. Right, that was going to be a tough one. With that in mind, and also thinking about the weather (+35°C from 10am onwards), we had breakfast at 7am and all the guys headed to the torcetoria straight after that. The romanian youngsters joined us around 8am (they didn’t think we’d be able to get out of bed that early :)) and we started digging on both sides of the road, working towards each other. Four hours and lots of sweat later, we had connected both ends of our trenches, put it the pipe and called the plumber to come and hook us up to the main water pipe. With that done, we started filling the trench again. By then it was 1am so we were well ahead of our schedule.

BAYLT Viscri 20120712 JHE1821

BAYLT Viscri 20120712 JHE1849

In the afternoon we painted to bar and finished things up outside. With nothing else on the schedule for that day, we (the Belgian group) decided to make a trip to a nearby village. In the cars (thanks to our hosts for arranging transport at the very last minute) and off we went to Sighi?oara. We went for a walk around the old part town and went up to the citadel. Afterwards we had dinner reservations at Hotel Sighi?oara. It felt weird to be away from the village and to do something so touristy but the trip gave us a chance to see another side of Romania and we all enjoyed that every much.

BAYLT Viscri 20120712 JHE1889

BAYLT Viscri 20120712 JHE1908

BAYLT Viscri 20120712 JHE1912

Friday July 13th

The last of the play days and we had a solid plan worked out: first we were going to bring out the paint, the brushes and pencils and let the kids colour and draw for a while (which is something they all love to do and something they don’t normally do since they don’t have pencils or brushes at home). After that we were going to play some water games outside. Photos can tell this story better than words so here goes:

BAYLT Viscri 20120713 JHE1971

BAYLT Viscri 20120713 JHE1990

BAYLT Viscri 20120713 JHE2002

In the afternoon we didn’t plan any activities because we were going to have our hands full with the preparations for the Belgian evening later that day. Unlike Romania, we don’t really have traditional dances or music that our country is especially known for so we did the thing we do best: cooking and drinking. We were going to make tomato soup and beef stew with french fries. A small group went to the Torcatoria to finish some work on the electricity and the water, while the rest stayed behind to prepare the meal. Cooking for 30 people is not something you do on a whim but we had a plan. We divided up all the tasks and assigned a responsible to each one. Cutting up the vegetables, making soop, cutting and making french fries, no small task. We may haven gotten some our estimations wrong (turns out 20kg of potatoes means you get fries for an army, not just for 30 people, and we only had enough meat for one serving per person). But our hard work payed off: the Romanian group really liked the meal and we all had a good time. (although a couple of us were almost burned by splashing oil a couple of times, but that’s a whole other story.) After dinner, we took everyone back to the Torcatoria for the rest of the Belgian evening: we had planned a simple quiz with A/B answer. Every question showed 2 photos and the teams of Romanians had to guess which photo was related to Belgium. The winners of every round got a Belgian chocolate :). We also mixed in some practical assignments to keep to momentum going (carry an egg around on a spoon in your mouth without dropping it, the eggs were hard boiled but they didn’t know that :)). The night ended with music and dancing and we had a blast, again. By the time we went home, it was well past 2am and the street lights were off. With literally zero lights outside, we could scarcely see 2m in front of us, which made walking home very interesting :).

BAYLT Viscri 20120713 JHE2049

BAYLT Viscri 20120713 JHE2072

Saturday July 14th
Our last day in Viscri and it was going to be a good one. In the evening we had the official opening of the youth house planned and we still had to prepare quite a bit. I spent the better part of afternoon trying to get our printer working on my mac and printing photos that I had made during the week. We were going to make a photo-wall at the youth house with photos from our time together in Viscri. We had bought champagne and snacks for the opening and our hosts were having a BBQ for our last evening. After dinner we all headed over to the torcatorie and Liesbet (my sister, the project leader) and Claudiu (the oldest in the Romanian group and the de-facto leader of the group) cut the ribbon and opened the youth house. As soon as the Romanian youngsters walked in, they rushed over to the photo-wall (which is always nice for the photographer :)). We had a little meeting about who was going to be responsible after we left (a meeting we had already had during our visit in May) and after that we moved to the campfire for a final reflection moment. We each said a few words about the week, how we had experienced it and how we felt about it. We let the fire run out on it’s own and by midnight we were back home.

BAYLT Viscri 20120714 JHE2106

BAYLT Viscri 20120714 JHE2108

BAYLT Viscri 20120714 JHE2126 2

BAYLT Viscri 20120714 JHE2134

BAYLT Viscri 20120714 JHE2154

Sunday July 15th
The bus was picking us up at 9h so we had an early breakfast and made sure our bags were packed. We said our goodbyes to our hosts Nina and Dorin and the the youngsters that came to see us off (more than a few tears were shed, we sure as hell were going to miss the people and the place). Bags on the bus, we in our seats and off we went for another 5 hours on the bus to Bucharest. 5 hours, lots of napping and a couple of stops later, we arrived at Bucharest OTP Airport well on time for our flight. We landed back in an overcast and grey Brussels at 18h20.

This trip is been one of the best experiences in my last so far and I’m very grateful to have gotten the chance to go the Viscri, to meet the people there and to come home with a group of new friends. We’ll be back, no doubt about that. 🙂

And to top things of, here’s the video I made about our trip. Enjoy 🙂