So we took a year off and went travelling.

So yip, we took a year off to travel & see family. 6 months of travel, 6 months of seeing family. I think it’s fair to say there were some interesting reactions, though once we explained that the main motivator was that our parents aren’t getting any younger, well, people could understand that. There were fears about “jobs” and “careers” etc, but, Maaike was able to put her job on hold for a year, and I came back to a better position than what I left… so, it really has worked out well.

It is very luxurious to be able to take an entire year off and go do whatever you like. Highlights: well, Antarctica without a doubt was one of them. 2 months of hiking in Patagonia with really exceptionally pleasant weather was definitely another. I think that the huemul circuit at El Chalten is my new favourite (multi day) hike. The biking from The Netherlands to Ireland was brilliant, I would absolutely do that again as a method of holidaying. And of course, spending lots of time with family was ‘gezellig’ (as they say in Dutch – warm cosy feeling).

Thanks to Maaike for making this year happen. I’d never have taken a year out if it wasn’t for her, no way, but I’m super glad we did head away. Where to next?

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First Christmas in Ireland in 14 years

It was a lovely few weeks back in Dublin after The Netherlands. I’ve not actually been back in Dublin for Christmas since leaving to New Zealand. Christmas is when everyone comes back so it’s a very social time. I caught up with old primary school friends, and, as you can see, we’ve hardly changed ;)

We went for a walk with the Shankill tidy-towns group, along the very nice walkway from Greystones to Bray. I’m not sure when that was opened, but it’s a great little walk (if quite popular)

Christmas dinner was fantastic. It has never felt right having Christmas in the hot summer sunshine in New Zealand, so it was great to have the lights and the darkness and the piles of food and carols and a proper Christmas!

Then more walks, more catching up with friends, just really great times. Also, Maaike’s cousins Geke & Inge were in town, so we had a lovely day hanging out with them.

And then, surprisingly quickly, it was time to fly back to New Zealand.

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Advent of Code – 2016

I love advent of code. It’s a wonderful website of programming challenges that a programmer (Eric Wastl) has been running for the last couple of years. It’s all Christmassy themed, this year:

Santa’s sleigh uses a very high-precision clock to guide its movements, and the clock’s oscillator is regulated by stars. Unfortunately, the stars have been stolen… by the Easter Bunny. To save Christmas, Santa needs you to retrieve all fifty stars by December 25th.

I chose to do the challenges this year in Elixir which is a language I’ve been playing around with for the last few months. Having the coding challenges has been a great way to practice different features, and to see how other more experienced programmers do things. I also put all of my code for the last few years on my GitHub repository. There was quite a lot of maze-solving this year. I made a little video of my (brute force) algorithm solving day 13:

Anyway, while I didn’t actually make it in time to save Christmas, I did solve all the puzzles (some by luck ;) by the end of the year. I had a great time doing the puzzles though – many thanks to Eric for all his hard work!

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Belgium, Sinterklaas & Farewell to NL

I flew from Ireland to The Netherlands at the beginning of December and met Maaike in Eindhoven, where she had just flown in from a week in Portugal with her mother and brother. Maaike needs holidays from her holiday ;)

We stayed a few lovely days in Posterholt, I may have spent a little too much time on adventofcode (more to come on that later). Anyway, then we zipped off to see Eefje, meeting up in Antwerp ….

Where we stayed a night, and then on to Leuven (where Stella Artois comes from). We had a lovely few days touring around with Eefje and her partner Geert, they really looked after us. Eefje has a seriously long garden.

We came back via The Hague, where we caught up with Maaike’s friend Catherine & partner Nivja. We then had a nice wander about Den Haag, they even brought out a military band to play for us?! very kind, no idea why ;)

We also went to the Escher museum. Brain bending stuff, I still find it hard to see where the sneakiness comes in, even when its explained!

And then it was on to the main event – Sintaklaas which is the Dutch sort of Christmas. You say poems to eachother (from the perspective of Sintaklaas), and gentle teasing is absolutely encouraged, if not mandatory. For example, Maaike was given a beautiful new wedding ring as she managed to lose hers on the morning of our party (down the gab between two floorboards).

I was given a house, made by sjoerd, on a spring, as an idea for what to build when we get back to NZ with all the earthquakes ;) It was a lovely lovely evening. My Dutch is still very rubbish, but it has improved a bit, and enough to be able (I think) to understand a reasonable bit of what passes at the table. Also of course, they’re all wonderful and patient & wrote most of the poems in English. Oh to be that fluent!!

In this video here, you can see the Zwarte Pete or “black pete”, who are Sintaklaas’s helpers. Not actually black people, but kids covered in soot. There has been some pushback to make it open to other colours, but so far no change.

We toured around a bit, visiting Femke & Sjoerd & seeing her cousins Sietske and Mayke, hanging out having family times. It was really lovely. I’m psyched I married into Maaike’s family, they’re a really nice bunch of people! I feel quite at home.

Finally, a week back at Posterholt with Maaike’s parents. We went for a really interesting trip to a Gallo-Roman Celtic museum in Tongeren. Really interesting to see the Celtic way of life, the way they marked their territory by means of burial mounds, and how as more and more people turned to farming the competition for resources increased. Interesting museum, enjoyed it.

And then, far too soon, it was time to leave The Netherlands. Many thanks to the Jongerii for a lovely time.

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Friends, Romans, Countrymen. Well, except the Romans.

It was a lovely month in Dublin. Maaike’s former boss Martin came over to say hello from Coventry with his wife Elaine. We had a lovely weekend hanging out with them. We went to Trinity College’s “Old Library”. It has a decent Celtic exhibition, including The Book of Kells. However, my favourite part of the Old Library is upstairs where there is The Long Room. It really is a very long room and houses the old library. It is, I think, my favourite manmade space I’ve ever been to. It’s beautiful. As a student (or graduate) you could go in for free. I used to go in maybe 3 or 4 times a year and just be in the Long Room for a while. It’s a wonderful place.

Interestingly, There’s a startling resemblance to the “Hall of the Jedi” which you can see here. Lucasfilm denied it, and Trinity decided not to sue… :|

We also saw a few of the sights, not least the doughnut stand on O-Connell street, a staple of any trip to Dublin. We visited Kilmainham gaol where there is an exhibition on the Easter Rising of 1916 All in all a lovely time with Martin and Elaine!

Next up, our friends Neil & Frances were visiting Ireland and stopped in for a few nights. We also went to The Long Room ;) (my alumni card has saved us about 100 Euro at this point ;), and we did a walking tour of Dublin. Funny to be a tourist in your own city. You can see the odd architectural style of Dublin Castle here below.

We had a really lovely dinner with my old college friend Lorcan. He’s so damn impressive with his house – did most of the plumbing and wiring himself! Most impressive. Apparently his answer to his wife of how he knew all this was: “Sure we did it for the Junior Cert”. Confidence inspiring I’m sure ;)

Then Femke, Maaike’s sister came to stay for a few nights. We went for walks, got beaten at Settlers – oh – and Sinkerklaas came to visit when we left shoes out for him. We went for a delicious meal on my brother Matt’s suggestion – The Vintage Kitchen which I’d highly recommend. It was funny, we turned up at about 7:50 on a Monday. Place was empty and the guy said “I’ll see if I can fit you in”. I thought he was kidding, I really did. Then he said, yep, I think I’ve got space, just go next door and have a pint, and come back for 20:30, you can bring the pint with you if you like. I was nonplussed, but off we went, had a pint, came back, and the place was packed. Great food, reasonably priced, and great banter. Highly recommend.

There were also a couple of concerts in the mix. Matt & Hélène sing in Choral, the college singing society, and they were singing Bach B Minor Mass which was beautiful. Mum plays in the Dublin Symphony Orchestra and they also had their 1/2 yearly concert which we were able to get to too. Lovely.

Finally, Maaike jetted off for a few days in Porto with her family, I started playing feverishly with this years Advent of Code and also managed to have a catch up with Morgan and Becky for an evening. Morgan let me play with his VR setup which was FUN. It was super fun with the controllers – painting fireworks in space – and I REALLY REALLY enjoyed the Portal intro!! I may yet loose myself in gaming again… ;)

A lovely month. Maybe we should take another year off ;)

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