Annie Bananie en Europe

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Tag Archives: conference

Madrid, end of summer

Last week I was at the annual European Society for Biomaterials conference which took place in Madrid, Spain. This would be my last conference before the PhD defense, or shall I say, conference/vacation. Since the thesis rush began in May, I haven’t been travelling much during the summer. That was why I decided that I should make the best out of this conference and take some time to relax before the defense creeps in.

And yes, I have finished writing my thesis, the preliminary draft, at least. Copies have been sent out to the jury and now I am just waiting for October 14, doomsday AKA the pre-defense in Belgium. (I won’t go into detail about the pre-defense and public defense, but just know that the pre-defense is much much much harder than the public defense.) I really should start preparing, but after sending out the thesis, I was hit with a feeling of “now what?” It almost feels like I’m denying the fact that the defense is coming up so soon, sort of like how I was in denial of ever having to write a thesis. Let’s hope this denial phase disappears soon.

Anyway, about the conference, this was my third time in Spain in three years. As it turns out, it was not only an academic experience, but I met new friends and more than anything, this was an unexpected trip of gastronomic indulgence, as you will soon see.

We started our sightseeing around Puerta del Sol, an area in the Madrid city centre. Nearby Sol was the gigantic Royal Palace of Madrid, one of the city’s most recognized landmarks.

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Conference week in Alsace

I had the chance to go to Strasbourg last year, but I put it off for a bit for one reason – the European Materials Research Society (EMRS) Spring Meeting. I knew long before that this EMRS conference would be held in Strasbourg, so I hung on to the hope that my abstract would be accepted and that I would be allowed to go. Alas, it was accepted, and I went.

The conference went on for an entire week, where scientific knowledge and brilliant ideas were discussed and exchanged. Aside from the academic mumbo jumbo, of course I would not miss out on the chance to explore Alsace, a region in northeastern France known for its supreme white wine, timber-framed housing, and choucroute (sauerkraut). There was a lot to see in Strasbourg itself, but I also got the chance to visit Colmar, a medieval town half an hour away from Strasbourg by train.

The EMRS holds two annual meetings, one in spring in Strasbourg and one in fall in Warsaw, Poland. This is my first EMRS conference (and it may very well be the last), with an oral communication in the R symposium – Nano-engineered bioactive surfaces. It was a huge conference with 2000+ attendees from all over the world, and my second international conference after WBC last year.

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Two weeks in China, part 2: Chengdu, why did I even come?

After the food edition in part 1, here is the more comprehensive Chengdu entry. Be warned of the photo spam, but more could be found on Facebook, for the photo addict 😉

China, though my home for the first 8 years of my life, is a mystery to be unravelled. The last time I visited China was during the summer in 2010. Every time I go back to China, a mix of joy, excitement, and nervousness brews inside of me. There is something that always connects you with the place where you were born, no matter how long ago you’ve left and how far away you’ve gone. It’s like tracing your steps back to your roots. You find your way through the most unfamiliar territories, but end up right back at where you started, in the very beginning. Do you still call it home? CAN you still call it home?

9 hours from Amsterdam to Chengdu. With every second, the little airplane icon on the screen moved closer to the destination, and the heart anticipated a little bit more. I dared not imagine what awaited me in the motherland. This would be an adventure, just like any other, except nothing like any other.

The 9th WBC

The 9th World Biomaterials Congress was the reason why I had the opportunity to go to Chengdu in the first place. The 5-day event, held every 4 years, is the biggest and most important conference in my field of work, and this year it happened to be in China. (A side note: the next one, to be held in 2016, will be in Montreal, Canada!) I went with my entire lab in France, a group of 6. In the name of academia, we were off!

From Bordeaux to Chengdu, we’d only have to make a transfer in Amsterdam with KLM – I was so glad we didn’t have to go through Paris! Upon landing in China, the group promptly took a taxi to the hotel in downtown Chengdu. I was surprised to see banners on the side of the highway advertising the congress (or conference, I’ll use these terms interchangeably)…I didn’t know it was such a big deal!

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How to get to Clermont-Ferrand?

One of the things I love about being a grad student is being able to go around to various cities for conferences and scientific meetings. It gives me so much opportunity to see random places all over the place, and the cost is covered by the school most of the time!

In May, I went to a polymers conference in Houffalize, Belgium, a place almost non-existent on the map and inaccessible by train. I wanted to go around and take pictures of the place, as it was a tranquil little town that reminded me very much of Luxembourg, but unfortunately I didn’t have time. Just a week ago, I went to Clermont-Ferrand for a small-scaled, one-day colloquium. Before such event, I had not heard of Clermont-Ferrand, so it was a new and curious destination for me. As the colloquium started at 8:30 on Friday morning, I had to leave a day earlier from Bordeaux, which gave me sufficient time on Thursday to explore the mysterious city a bit.

Before I even talk about the city itself, let me just mention that it’s a PAIN IN THE NECK to travel between Bordeaux and Clermont-Ferrand. As there are no direct trains connecting the two cities, going from one to the other requires at least one transfer. And if you can do it with only one transfer, you’re pretty lucky. Let’s take a look at the maps below for routes that I had to take (click for full version).

So there you have Bordeaux in southwest France and Clermont-Ferrand in central France. Doesn’t seem too far, right? If you have a car, then no problemo, but by train, it was a nightmare of transfer after transfer. For my trip to Clermont-Ferrand, I only had to transfer once at Gannat, but as it was a slow local train, the entire trip took about 6.5 hours. That’s a round trip from Bordeaux to Paris. As for the return trip, it was even more ridiculous as I had to get off at Nevers, then head to Tours, and take the TGV back to Bordeaux. Even the TGV itself took 2.5 hours, so you can imagine how far I had to go. I mean…come on. Tours is closer to Paris than Bordeaux, and it’s not even on the way! There was no other way to get back to Bordeaux on that day, unfortunately, and by the time I arrived after my 7.5-hour journey, it was 1am. Add another 2 hours and I could have been back to Canada. Seriously.

Alright, now for Clermont-Ferrand itself. As the train entered the station, I noticed that the city didn’t seem or feel as old and historic as Bordeaux. However, hills and mountains were aplenty around Clermont-Ferrand, and that’s definitely not something you’d see very often in Bordeaux. As you walk around, you begin to notice that the city is surrounded by mountains, as if enclosed in its own natural shelter. One place I’d really like to visit if I ever get the chance to go back is the Puy de Dôme, a dormant volcano not too far from the city. Apparently there are awesome hiking trails all over the place, perfect for you if you’re an outdoor fanatic!

View outside the window from my 6th floor hotel room near the city centre. The view would have been perfect if there wasn’t a construction site right outside and if the cranes weren’t blocking the magnificent church in the distance most of the time. Then again, being able to see that church from my room gave me the incentive right away to explore the city and find that mysterious place!

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