Monday, December 10, 2012

12, 348 Miles

Or half way around the Earth, is how far I traveled over the past two weeks on a business trip to Brussels.  Two weeks away from home and family is far too long, especially this time of year, but it was not without some very rewarding experiences along the way.

This is the main library at the University of Leuven (one of the oldest Universities in all of Europe) which had been rebuilt twice as it was destroyed during both WWI and WWII.  Much of Leuven was destroyed by the Germans during the wars and hence the statue at the top of the entrance is standing on the eagle of the third Reich.  Not much German food to be found in Leuven.  I shudder when I think of how many wonderful ancient books were lost and the incalculable wisdom and human effort lost with them.

My travel companions were my colleagues Chris and Melinda who made being away from home much easier and less lonely than it could have been.  Here we are out dining on the Belgium staple of mussels and beer.  You can get mussels served 50 different ways and I've tried 35 of them over my past 5 trips to Brussels.

On the weekend we had enough time for a day trip (3 hours and 50 euros by train) to Amsterdam.... one of our first stops is the tiny old pub you see behind us which was built in 1695.  This pub is extra special because in 2000 my lovely wife stood before this very same pub on her trip to Amsterdam.  If you look carefully you can see that its leaning heavily, but still stands to this day.

Of course, we had to sample the pub's brew so here is a picture from inside... note the map on the back wall which is of Amsterdam from the 18th century, so yes, the pub was there back then too!

Here I snapped a photo of a beautiful old clock tower which caught our attention with its deep bell tolling the hour... hearing those old bells clang transports you back in time which is somewhat ironic since that is what they are the keeper of.
Water channels run through Amsterdam as though you were in Venice and here you see "house boats" which are half submerged homes year round.  

The highlight of Amsterdam was the Hermitage Art museum which houses many works by Vincent van Gogh and tells his story from start to finish.  The most interesting thing I learned about him?  He was not born an artistic genius, like we think of Mozart or Beethoven... he spent years teaching himself to paint starting at the age of 27 and he did hundreds of  practice projects to develop his techniques.  You could see this in the progression of his work.

Christmas was on display in Grand Place in Brussels about two blocks from my hotel.

Here is our research team having our off-site meeting in the upstairs of an old convent... it was truly surreal to be discussing state of the art bio-science in a 400 year old building who's carpenters utilized beam and peg construction because it predated nails.  Yet it stands strong to this day.  The trees used to make those old beams don't even grow in Europe anymore because there is no space for them.

The i4 Innovation competition was one of the main reasons we went to Belgium.  On the stage below you can see a team of Nao robots who put on a performance for the audience as one of the inspirational acts.  This was followed by Andre Borschberg who piloted Solar Impulse, the first solar powered airplane to complete a full 24 hour flight.  Our team was one of two selected for funding to produce the next generation of vaccines!

1 comment:

  1. Very cool! I love the old pub and the meeting in the 400 year-old building. The best would be seeing the Van Gogh art though. Congratulations on all of your projects. We're counting on you to come up with those vaccines.