Travels in 2002

The FSTA conference in Liptovsky Jan, Slovakia, gave me a chance to visit some of my Czech friends, and spend more time in Prague, that great travel favourite. In Liberec, in the north of the country, I got my first introduction to wintersports.
A first, and very modest, attempt at ski-running
Madrid: another city trip laden with culture: The Prado, Reina Sofia, Thyssen-Bornemisza and archeological museums; the picturesque city of Toledo (famous through its cathedral and through El Greco's paintings); the Spanish kings' burial site at El Escorial.
Toledo cathedral
March 2002 saw my introduction to some of the highlights of the American east coast: I travelled to New York City & Washington (checking out the sites), Connecticut (visiting friends) and North Carolina (attending a conference). I used an Amtrak rail pass to cover the distances which turned out to be great value and very convenient.
the Capitol as seen from the Washington Memorial
Last year's great experience meant we really had our heart set on this new Turkey trip. Having blitzed through Cappadocia on a grand Turkey tour with my parents years ago, I hadn't forgotten about the sheer impressiveness of the region. For a week, we hiked, bussed and hitched our way through valleys and villages. Highlights were the Byzantine churches at Goreme and the pleasantly uncrowded Ihlara valley.
Meditating on the meaning of life in fairy tale Cappadocia
It has always been my dream to ride my bicycle all the way from home to some distant place, to get there "by my own force". The opportunity arose at the end of June when I had to attend a conference in Annecy, on the rim of the French Alps. I mapped out a nine-day route to get there (hectic and tough in the beginning but gradually becoming more leisurely):
  1. Gent - Charleroi; camping in a village outside the unattractive metropolis.
  2. Charleroi - Reims; a long, exhausting ride with many mechanical problems along the way. Just time enough to enjoy a "Coupe Champagne" with a view of the Cathedral
  3. Reims - Troyes
  4. Troyes - Montbard; I arrived well in time to visit the medieval Fontenay abbey closeby
  5. Montbard - Dijon; the grand Dukes' capital is not only famous for mustard, but has a splendid old town too
  6. Dijon - Saint-German-du-Bois; escaping to the countryside again
  7. Saint-German-du-Bois - Saint-Laurent-en-Grandvaux; the first of two climbing stages across the Jura
  8. Saint-Laurent-en-Grandvaux - Geneve; a swift descent into Switzerland and a steep ascent of living costs
  9. Geneve - Annecy; pedalling between two lakes
One of many chateaus along the Bourgogne vineyards
Armed with a VIArail pass, we set out to explore (a tiny bit of) the central eastern part of Canada. Starting in Montreal, we went by Kingston (Thousand Islands), Toronto, Niagara, Ottawa, Quebec and downstream along the Saint-Laurent up to Tadoussac.
Kayaking on one the tributaries of the Saint-Laurent river
Bulgaria is one of the most fascinating countries, and best-kept secrets, in Europe. This I was to discover when I headed there on a short scientific visit. There are a number of outstanding orthodox monasteries (especially Rila), and the mountains are awesome.
Off the beaten track with Krassimir Atanassov
Sometimes you have to congratulate conference organizers for picking just the right place for hosting their event. Varenna, on lake Como in Italy, was exactly such a spot. A regional train strike on the day of my arrival "forced" me to take a more scenic approach into town, by boat across the lake.
A view of Varenna from the lake
Ethnically and culturally diverse, surprisingly modern and navigable, boasting a brilliant landscape of mountains, beaches and jungle: welcome to Malaysia! My stopover (on the way to Singapore) included Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands and Penang.
Looking slight forlorn on a jungle trail in the Cameron Highlands
What do you do when Belgian winters offer only the misery of rainy days? Head north! Romantic Stockholm and barren Kiruna (Lapland) were the focus of this year's Christmas outing. We also visited the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi, and visited an authentic reindeer farm.
Meeting up with the reindeer

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