Château du Val: Saint-Just, France

When your friends invite you to their wedding in a literal castle, you say yes!

Ok, so we would have said yes even if it wasn’t in a castle. Not the point.

Our road trip culminated at Château du Val, which is located just outside the tiny town of Saint-Just in the Brittany region of France.

Before I get to the wedding festivities I would like to take a moment and acknowledge the ‘French-people-eat-baquettes-all-the-time’ stereotype. Well, friends. Sometimes stereotypes are there for a reason. Please let me introduce to you the 24-hour baguette vending machine!

We didn’t use the vending machine since there was an open grocery store 200 meters away, but now I’m having regrets and thinking I should have just bought a baguette for shits & giggles…

Anyway, I digress.

The wedding was a three-day extravaganza, with guests of the bride & groom (Sarah & Barend, by the way), coming from all over – the Netherlands (his family), Ireland (her family), England, Germany*, America (& not just us!), South Africa, and Australia. Both Sarah & Barend used to work in the yachting industry, which is how they met and how they ended up with friends spread across the globe!

*sorry Chelly & Christian – I don’t know how I forgot our weekend roommates!

It was a fantastic three days spent with great people, great food, and great scenery!

I basically took zero pictures – no service, phone was always dead. So, generous thanks to those who donated photos to the WhatsApp group. Hope you don’t mind I stole some. 😉

Bride and groom, & their little – Mia.
Barend – just before the ceremony!

Gefeleciteerd, Sarah & Barend!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Dinan, France

A small French town you’ve probably never heard of!

Heading in to the final few days of our road trip through Normandy & Brittany, I wanted a place to stop over on our way from Mont Saint-Michel to Saint-Just, where the wedding was located. A few blogs suggested this “Disney-esque” town (pronounced: dee-naan) in the Brittany region and it looked adorable so I was sold.

I will be honest: it was really pretty and really old (founded in 1040!), but it’s a small town and there’s not too much going on.

So, what can you do?

Eat Crêpes…


…and other delicious baked goods!

For a small town there was no shortage of boulangeries (breads), viennoiseries (breakfast pastries, and pâtisseries (dessert pastries).

We had crêpes at the crêperie in the picture above, and lucky for me there was a boulaungerie / viennoiserie only a 2 minute walk away from our Airbnb.

Do you know what was incredibly frustrating during this entire trip? Eating times. We could never seem to figure out when restaurants were open. On the last day we finally realized they open in the morning through lunch, ~2pm. Then everything shuts down until about 7pm. So, good luck with a late lunch or an early dinner. And don’t even THINK about ordering a crêpe after 2pm. “The kitchen can’t make them anymore.” 😑

Walk the Ramparts


Characteristic of medieval towns, the city is surrounded by walls that date back to the 13th century. I love a good wall walk (here’s lookin’ at you, Dubrovnik), and with 3km (1.8mi) of preserved ramparts, you can do a lot of it!

Views from the top.

Climb the Clock Tower


It’s over 600 years old, 43m (~142ft) tall, and still functions! And, despite not being the original bell (it’s recast using the original), it still regulates the city today. How do I know this? We happened to be up top when it started ringing. I recommend timing your visit accordingly.

Take the 158 steps to the top for some great views over the historical city!

Maybe one day I’ll stop making Shane exercise on vacation…

Ehh – probably not.

Walk Rue du Jerzual to the Historical Port


This. street. is. STEEP!

But, if half-timbered houses are your thing then this is the street for you! It’s a lovely walk down to the Port of Dinan, but fuel-up when you get there because you’ll need an energy boost to make it back up! 😆

The River Rance at the bottom of Rue du Jerzual.
The viaduct – built in 1846.

Visit Château de Dinan


It’s a castle, it has a nice museum, blah blah that’s boring. (Ok it wasn’t really – you should go – but for the point of my story…)

Do you want to know what the coolest thing about this castle was?

The toilet.

A modern toilet built in the spot of the ACTUAL castle toilet! Game of thrones-style door included!

Now if that’s not ingenuity then I don’t know what is.

There were also some nice views from the top, for those not as impressed with toilets.

St. Malo Church


Last but not least, you should take a few minutes to pop into St. Malo church in the city center. The architecture of these old churches is never disappointing.

So how much time do you actually need in Dinan?

One full day is enough.

We stayed two nights – arriving around dinner on night one – and this was more than enough time to leisurely explore the city. Perhaps contrary to popular opinion: it’s certainly worth visiting if it’s on-route, but I’m not sure I would go out of my way.

Until next time, Dinan!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Mont Saint-Michel: Normandy, France

Ah, Mont Saint-Michel, you tourist-trap beauty!

2.5 million – that’s how many come to Mont Saint-Michel per year, and we were one of them. Well, two of them I suppose.

I honestly had never heard of Mont Saint-Michel until we started planning this trip, but I’m a sucker for a good castle and a great view. And, it’s a top Normandy tourist attraction, remember? In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a castle on an island. During low-tide, you can walk the surrounding mud-flats for access. During high-tide the castle is completely surrounded by water and unaccessible (except by road, in modern times)!

Tip: It’s pronounced ‘Me-chelle’.

For all you English speakers out there who tend to butcher beautiful French words (obviously, myself included). I wanted to call it Michael, which I guess technically it is in English, but we’re in France so…


A quick history:

In ~708, a sanctuary was built on Mont (mount)-Tombe (now Mont-Saint Michel) by the Bishop of Avranches in honor of the Archangel, Michel. Over time, it became a pilgrimage site, and starting in the 10th century a village began to form after Benedictines (Catholic monks) settled in the abbey. Eventually, it grew into what we see today.

The mont became a symbol of France during the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453, England v. France for control of France) when it’s fortifications proved too much for the English, and it was never taken.

And, like a lot of other rocky, fortified islands, the religious guys were kicked out and it became a prison. Finally, in 1874 it was classified as a historic monument. Somewhere in there is a story about a commune and an Irish hermit, but that’s for another time…

So, how do you get to the castle on the island?

You can’t drive there, that’s for sure. There are plenty of parking lots (€14 – tourist trap, remember?) which surround the visitor center. From the visitor center, you can either take the shuttle bus (runs constantly), or you can walk ~2.5km (1.5 mi) across the bridge to the village. Their signs say ~30 minutes, but I would plan for 45 minutes if you want to leisurely stroll with pictures along the way.

Tip: If you have kids – don’t bring a stroller!

The walk to the mont is flat, that’s not the issue. Once you’re inside it’s cobblestone, steep streets, and stairs. And, with a stroller you’re guaranteeing to not walk the ramparts – too narrow for stroller + masses of people.


It looks so peaceful from far away…
And as you get closer – notice the people now?

Tip: Pack a lunch!

While the restaurants have nice views, the food inside the village is tourist-expensive. Even better though, you can walk all over / around the village essentially unrestricted. We saw lots of people who managed to find a quiet spot to themselves for lunch: down by the beach, or in a corner with a nice view.

We packed a lunch, but on account of being losers who had leftover cold spaghetti, we ate it in the car.

At the base of the mont!

It’s free to enter the village, but €10 (+ €3 for an audioguide) to enter the abbey. Well worth the money. It’s a legitimate castle perched on top of this mountain with way more space inside than you would imagine possible. Plus, the views are spectacular.

Tip: Walk the ramparts to the abbey.

You’ll want to walk the ramparts anyway, but they are significantly less crowded than the main street leading up to the abbey. When you first enter the village you’ll notice a staircase to your right – take it.

Up we go!

People walking the mud flats. And yes, it was legitimately mud not sand.
Looking out on our way up with guided groups walking the mud flats.
View from the top at low-tide – across the bridge to get to the mont.
Entrance to the abbey.
There’s even a courtyard up there!
View from the top, as far as the eye can see.

Tip: Plan to spend at least 3 – 4 hours (parking + walking + exploring).


So, was it worth it?

ABSOLUTELY!

I couldn’t stop looking at it. I was craning my neck so much on the walk back to the car that Shane stopped me, turned me around, and we just stood there staring until the count of 10 so I could soak it all in.

Oh, and then this happened.

What? It was heavy.

And, considering it was only a 2 hour drive from the D-Day landing beaches in the direction of our next stop, Dinan, it was basically destiny.

Tot ziens,

Whitney

D-Day Landing Beaches: An American’s Guide

First, I’d like to start out by wishing us a Happy Anniversary!

It was a coincidence that this trip coincided with our third wedding anniversary, andddd… this is the only picture we took together all day.

Aren’t we cute?

Why?

Well, apparently spending holidays learning about wars is our thing now: Christmas at the Vietnam War Remnants museum, anniversary in Normandy for World War II. 🤷‍♀️

Anyway, back to the beaches.

I think the theme of this whole trip (which is very unlike me) was ”unprepared”. I did most of the planning in terms of driving route, not necessarily what to see. We learned quickly that our day and a half in this area was nowhere near enough. So, I’ve decided to put together a little guide in case we have a chance to go back. Who knows, maybe someone else might find this helpful.

Let’s start with some basic history…

The Battle of Normandy, code-named “Operation Overlord”, was a coordinated attack on German forces by the British, the Canadians, and the Americans and marked the beginning of the end of Nazi control over Europe. On June 6, 1944 Operation Neptune, commonly known as D-Day, started the battle across five code-named beaches: Sword & Gold (British troops), Juno (Canadian troops), Utah and Omaha (American troops).

Tip: If time allows, plan for one day per beach.


As I mentioned before, we were short on time, so we prioritized from an American’s perspective.

Things to see:

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Location: Colleville-sur-Mer (Omaha Beach area)

The American Cemetery was our first stop. The overcast morning seemed fitting for the occasion.

Tip: Do not miss the (free) museum in the Visitor Center.


It’s the final resting place for over 9,000 men who lost their lives during Operation Overlord. Each Cross (or Star of David) listed the name, division, home state, and death date of the individual. An Unknown Soldier Cross was places for individuals who could not be identified.

The Visitor Center has a great exhibit on the American involvement in D-Day. Two facts stood out to me:

  • In December of 1940, America’s troops numbered ~800,000; by December 1941, 2.2 million.
  • Inflatable tanks (literally – like bouncy house inflatable) and stuffed paratroopers (called paradummies) were used as decoys to throw off German intelligence… and it worked!

I think the most powerful part of the Visitor Center was the constant roll-call. Names of those lost were said over the speakers as you left the building and walked to the cemetery itself.

Omaha Beach Memorial

Location: Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer

The memorial with the British, French, American, and Canadian flags behind.

For Americans, I would say Omaha beach is the most ‘famous’ of the landing beaches. The memorial itself is located in the center beach which, to our surprise, is 8km (5mi) long.

Tip: Parking at the beach is free, and the D-Day House restaurant directly adjacent offers a nice (& affordable) lunch.

I’ll be honest, we weren’t wow-ed by Omaha Beach. It’s hard to feel the history here – you really have to use your imagination because, at the end of the day, it’s just a beach. One thing that helped came from a documentary we watched before the trip. A veteran suggested:

Should you ever visit Omaha beach, walk out as far as you can at low tide and turn around. Notice just how much beach there is; how much unprotected beach.

Not to mention, things went sideways on D-Day. These young guys were unloaded in water over their heads carrying 35kg (75lbs) of gear and told to take the beach. We walked out at low tide as far as we could go, and thanks to that documentary, you could imagine it.

Looking back at the town & memorial at low tide.
The Omaha Memorial looking out.

Musée Mémorial d’Omaha beach 

Location: Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer (~200m from the beach)

A tank and a Czech hedgehog.

A quick walk up the road will take you to the Omaha Beach Museum. Now, you should visit this place with an open mind, because I walked in and instantly thought ‘nope!’. It’s one of those museums that has really bad mannequins… like, a lot of them. I spent the first 15 minutes annoying the shit out of Shane because all I could focus on was how f*cking creepy these things were. But, if you get over the fake people and actually look at the things on display, then you will be impressed. They have tons of artifacts from the war: uniforms, guns, obstacles from the beach (like the Czech hedgehog – meant to take out tanks), and trinkets from soldiers. And, they have a great film describing the events of D-Day as related to Omaha beach. All you need is about an hour, and it’s worth the visit.

Pointe du Hoc

Location: Cricqueville-en-Bessin

Pointe du Hoc is a cliff which overlooks Omaha Beach and was a battery for the Germans. Here, there were six 155mm cannons – which means nothing to me except for ‘that’s a big gun’. It meant a lot to the Allies, since these were intended to target approaching ships.

Looking at the English Channel from Pointe du Hoc.

On June 6, 1944, American Rangers were tasked to take Pointe du Hoc. After a series of bombings targeting the battery, the rangers scaled the 100m (~330ft) cliffs and attacked the German positions, but they found that the guns had already been dismantled.

Unlike Omaha Beach, you can see, feel, and explore the leftovers of war. The pits from bombs are everywhere and you can walk through all the bunkers and gun pits.

One of the concrete gun bunkers.
Inside a bunker looking out.
Looking out at the English Channel & remaining bombing pits.
Shane, standing in a massive gun pit.

The Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument is also here – at the very edge of the cliff overlooking the English Channel and Omaha Beach.

I purposefully chose to show the above picture first, because the monument itself is uh… well, I’ll let you decide what it looks like.

Tip: Pointe du Hoc is open 24 hours (but the Visitor Center only 09:00 – 17:00).


We did miss a few things specifically related to the American efforts on D-Day, for example, all of Utah Beach. With more time, I would suggest:

The Utah Beach Landing Museum (Location: Sainte-Marie-du-Mont), Memorial Wounded Soldier & Mulberry Harbor A (Location: Omaha Beach), & Museum D-Day Omaha (Location: Vierville-sur-Mer).

We were able to squeak in a few more noteworthy stops in our short time…

Gold Beach / Mulberry Harbor B

Location: Arromanches-les-Bains

We honestly had no idea about this (remember, I said poor planning?). We were driving to get to the American Cemetery, crested a hill, and there was a spectacular viewpoint. In the distance you could see… things? Obvious remnants, but what we weren’t sure.

Notice the ‘things’ in the distance?

Turns out, those ‘things’ are leftovers of Mulberry Harbor B and you can actually walk up to them at low tide. There’s just something about things you can physically touch that solidify the history of a place.

Leftover beetles from Mulberry B.

Mulberry A (at Omaha Beach) and B (at Gold Beach) were code-names for the temporary ports which were built by the UK so cargo could be rapidly unloaded once the landing beaches had been secured. The pieces above, that you can walk to from the beach, were part of the road from the boats to the shore: ‘beetles’ (floating steel pontoons) held ‘whales’ (the roadway). What you see in the background are caissons and purposefully sunken ships to create a harbor and shield the roads from the sea.

Unfortunately, Mulberry A was destroyed in a storm, but Mulberry B was functional until November of 1944.

Tip: If time allows check out the Musée du Débarquement which goes into more detail.

We, unfortunately, didn’t have time for this and regretted it!

The German Gun Battery

Location: Longues-sur-mer

This is the only gun battery with the guns still in place!

It feels weird to be excited about big guns?

And, similar to Pointe du Hoc, you can walk in / around / over.

Tip: It’s also open 24 hours. Go before 10am and you’ll basically have it to yourself.


Do you play ‘happy & crappy’? My Sis & TB introduced us to the game and now it’s a thing. It’s simple. At the end of each day, you pick one happy moment and one crappy moment – whatever you want them to be. It’s a nice way to reflect on the day, especially on vacation.

Shane wanted to see this SO bad and we couldn’t find it the day before. We didn’t know the name, we didn’t know the location… After some serious Googling we managed to find it and went early in the morning on our way out of town. I know for a fact this was Shane’s ‘happy’ for the day, but I think it might have even made the top ‘happy’ for the trip (no offense, Sarah & Barend – we love you 😜).

Down the barrel…

Apparently, these bad boys had a 20km (13 mile) range…

View from the top of the gun bunker; English Channel in the background.

Tip: Hour long guided tours of the area are offered for only €5! Check out their website for details!


I think, despite only having 36 hours in the general area, we managed to fit in quite a bit! And, as an added bonus, we saw a little bit of Juno Beach. We rented an Airbnb with a great view and a 2 minute walk to the beach.

View from the Airbnb – Juno Beach Visitor Center in the background.
An abandoned bunker on Juno Beach.
General Charles de Gaulle monument on Juno Beach, commemorating his return to France.

Up next, Mont Saint-Michel!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Fécamp & Étretat, France

“I dunno – cliffs and sh*t?”

My response when our friend, Michelle, asked what we were going to see on our road-trip through France.

The cliffs at Étretat.

It’s been a long and boring summer – well, for me at least. Hence why the blog was dead as a doorknob until Shane came back from Corsica.

In all honesty it hasn’t been that bad. Maybe you heard, but we actually had a few heat waves in Europe (38 ºC here!) so we spent a lot of time outside and at the bouldering gym. Regardless, June through August is vacation season in the Netherlands, so one can get a little salty watching colleagues leave for their (standard) three-week summery vay-cay.

But alas, I endured! (ha)

Thanks to our friends, Sarah & Barend, we were heading to the Brittany region of France to see these two lovebirds get married and decided to turn it into proper road trip.

We booked a Mini Cooper. We got a VW wagon. Slight disappointment.

First up, the cliffs! I’ll get to the sh*t later. 😏

Fécamp

I’ll be honest, the only reason we stopped in Fécamp was because a night in Étretat, even in the shoulder season of September, was more expensive than we were willing to pay. Fécamp, located on the coast of Normandy, is a quick 25 minutes north of Étretat and 7 hours south of Groningen so it was a good stopping point on day 1.

Tip: For a stopover night on a budget, stay at the Ibis Budget Hotel. It has free parking and is an easy 25 minute walk to the boardwalk.


Honestly, it looks like a painting. So it should come as no surprise that this area of Normandy has been the inspiration for many an artist over the years. Displayed on the boardwalk is a plaque with the painting below, by Jules Achille Noël, from 1871. I was shocked by how alike the painting and the modern day view were – even the church is still there!

The beach at Fécamp.
Crinolines sur la plage, Fecamp (thank you Wikipedia for the image).

The other unique thing about both Fécamp and Étretat are the “pebble” beaches. I say “pebble” because some of them were flat-out rocks. The pebbles are created from the soft white chalk cliffs that make up a 125 km (80 mile) stretch of coastline called La Côte d’Albâtre (the Alabaster Coast) where these two towns are located. Over time, they are perfectly polished by the waves. The sight and, oddly enough, the sound of the water moving through them was a new experience for both of us!

Tip: Have a drink (or a snack!) on the boardwalk around sunset. Hard apple cider and mussels are a specialty of the region.


Étretat

Étretat is home to (in my opinion) the most famous cliffs on the Alabaster Coast, and for good reason! They are STUNNING. The kind of place that photos don’t do justice. We arrived in the area not knowing what to expect and left in awe of the natural beauty!

Similar to Fécamp, there is a boardwalk on the beach which allows direct access to paths up the cliffs on either side. We arrived early enough to enjoy a coffee on the beach, then head up the cliffs. We started to the right of the beach, if you’re facing the English Channel.

Tip: Park for free outside the town and walk in. The signs say 10 minutes walking; expect 15 – 20 minutes but it’s a straight shot.


Of course, you can go up and stop – that’s were a lot of people ended their cliff journey. But if you’re feeling a little adventurous and the tide is out, then pick one of the paths down and go exploring! We followed the path less traveled and ended up by ourselves on the beach underneath the cliffs.

Danger?! He laughs in the face of danger! Ha Ha Ha Ha!
(name that movie… 🦁)
We made it!

The cliffs look huge from a distance, but standing at the bottom really put things into perspective. Can you spot Shane?

This was also biologist Shane’s dream world – so much life in the rocks that wouldn’t have been visible at high tide. Mussels, anemones, other things I certainly can’t identify…

Tip: If rock-hopping is your thing, look up the tide schedules before you go and plan your day accordingly.

And, a little public service announcement:

Don’t be an asshole – throw your trash away in a proper trashcan! Better yet – ditch the plastic and get a reusable bottle. We brought as many plastic bottles that we could safely carry back up the cliffs, but it’s always astounding the amount of trash tucked away in corners. #endrant


All that danger (and trash collecting) works up an appetite – a galette and some cider did the trick, then we were off to explore the other side!

If you’re facing the English Channel and turn left, you will walk towards two natural arches (Porte d’Aval and The Manneporte) and L’Aiguille (The Needle), a 70m tall pointed chalk formation. Similar to heading right, you can walk up a clearly marked path to the top for what I can assume are some spectacular views. Unfortunately for us (or maybe fortunately?) there was a triathlon taking place which used the path so it was blocked off. No worries though, the tide was low and I read online that you could walk THROUGH the arch at low tide!

And damn it – if I could walk through that arch I was walking THROUGH THAT ARCH!

That wasn’t quite the case – the water in no way goes out far enough at low tide to walk through. What you can access is a cave with a tunnel that shoots you straight through to the beaches on the other side.

I’ll take it.

View of the beach from inside the cave.
And don’t worry – if you improperly time your adventure the cave is a safe spot. You’ll just be waiting a while before you can leave again…
The views from the other side certainly made it worth the risk (the Needle & Porte d’Aval (arch)).

In the photo above, we are actually standing underneath The Manneporte (the largest arch) so I guess I did get to walk under one after all! And to put things into perspective the sheer size of this arch…

Looking up.

Tip: Wear sturdy shoes. Your feet will thank you later.


With tired calves we made our way back to the car for the ~2 hour drive to our next stopping point – the D-Day landing beaches.

Final tip: Visit this area (!) and go in the shoulder season.

The towns, the cliffs, the views – all exceeded expectations, and by coming in the fall you miss the masses of tourists. The towns themselves are small; by mid-day it was a little crowded but not annoyingly so, and you were able to be alone out on the cliffs. I can imagine it being easily overwhelmed during peak-season.

By car, it’s a little under 3 hours from Paris so it could be seen in a day, but if you have the time then spend the night so you can explore at leisure.

If it’s inspiring enough for Claude Monet to create 20+ paintings, it’s good enough for a one night stay!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Corsica, France

“Are you going to blog about your trip?”

“You never blog anymore.”

“You’ve been home a month and a half!”

“The blog is dead. It needs your contribution on account of I have nothing.”

….maybe I should write a blog post about my trip to Corsica?


I spent the entire month of June on an island in the Mediterranean Sea! Believe it or not, this was a work trip; a fieldwork to trip to be more precise. Not a bad place to work, huh? For all it’s frustrations, science can be pretty cool sometimes.

Perhaps I should explain how this came to be. Last year, I interviewed for a postdoc position in Tübingen, Germany. Ultimately, this position did not pan out, but it did lead to further discussions of potential collaboration. Simply put: this is science lingo for saying “write your own project and come do it here”. As an aspiring academic researcher, this exactly the exciting/scary/adventurous/bold opportunity I was looking for. To survive in academia, you have to 1) develop your own, independent line of research and 2) fund that work through grants. If this is to be my chosen career path, then why not start now?! So, since finishing my PhD, this has been my focus: I have written and submitted my own grant applications, in hopes of continuing my research career in Tübingen.

As part of this process, I have been in continual contact with my potential postdoc host. In one such conversation, I was offered an opportunity to join the group on their upcoming fieldwork trip. Naturally, I accepted. The fact that this trip would be to Corsica, France was an obvious plus, but more relevant was what it would mean for my research experience. For both my Master’s and PhD, I completed fieldwork very early in the project. These experiences proved invaluable to my later work – in evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology, it’s important to place your work in a larger context and to remember that these are natural systems, with real implications. Fieldwork definitely drives this point home. For all those non-science nerds out there, it’s also really freaking cool to spend a month diving in the Mediterranean!

Getting to (and from) Corsica was an adventure in itself; not because Corsica is so remote, but more so due to the logistics of scientific research. Any fieldwork trip, by necessity, requires lots of gear. As you can imagine, transporting all this gear to and from the field comes at a great expense. Scientists would much rather spend their hard earned grant money on actual research, so if a cheaper transport opportunity presents itself, you take it. Case in point for getting to Corsica: drive. For me, this meant the following travel schedule:

Day 1:
Groningen -> Amsterdam (2 hour train ride)
Amsterdam -> Stuttgart, Germany (1.5 hour flight)
Stuttgart -> Tübingen, Germany (~1 bus ride)
Overnight in Tübingen

 

Day 2:
Tübingen -> Savona, Italy (~9 hour drive)
Savona -> Bastia, France (overnight ferry)

 

Day 3:
Bastia -> Calvi, France / Stareso (~3 hour drive)

Station de Recherche Océanographiques et sous-marines or Stareso, for short, is a marine biology research station, located just outside of Calvi, in northern Corsica. Originally built in the 1970’s, Stareso has been the annual fieldwork destination of the Tübingen visual ecology group for the past 10 years. There are, of course, many other research groups that also make use of the station, many of which also have a long history of coming to Stareso.

I’m not going to go into much detail of our work at Stareso, as it’s not my research to share. However, I will give a quick rundown of what we did. In short, we conducted a large-scale behavior experiment using a small fish that naturally occurs in the Mediterranean Sea. This is particularly relevant for me, as this is one of the fish species I want to study (should I get funding).

Can you spot the fish?
A triplefin blenny – in the aquarium

For this trip, we had an array of experimental tanks anchored in a seagrass bed at ~10m (~33 ft) depth.

Each day, we’d work in small teams of 2-3 divers to transport fish to the tanks and then run a behavior trial for ~1.5 hours. A second team would then return to the tanks to collect the fish and GoPro’s used to record the trials. Meanwhile, there was the continual task of collecting wild fish for use in the next day’s trials, as well as the general upkeep and maintenance of the tanks themselves. As you can see from this list, we spent a lot of time under water. I logged a lot of dives on this trip!

Again, I won’t go into any details of the experiment or the results, but I can say that it was a very successful trip! All-in-all, the experiment worked well, we had no diving- or fish-related issues, the weather was great, and to top it off, the food at Stareso was phenomenal! This was certainly a much different field experience than when I worked on Lake Victoria.


In other news, we have been pretty low-key lately. Whitney has been busy working, while I am writing funding applications. Thus far, I’ve submitted one proposal and will soon submit a second. These processes are annoyingly slow; it will be November, at the earliest, before I hear any result. In the meantime, I’ll keep myself occupied with a few remaining publications for my PhD work and also enjoying life with little responsibility. After 5 years of intense PhD research, it’s nice to relax.

Stay tuned for blog-life to return to normal, as Whitney will be posting about our upcoming trip to France (in September).

Until next time,
Shane

Montpellier, France

I have had a serious case of the travel bug lately.

It’s holiday season here in the Netherlands (aka: vacation season, for all the Americans in the room). It starts around May, when there are a lot of public holidays, and peaks in August. People at work are literally going on their 2nd round of summer holiday and I’m just impatiently waiting – our turn will come.

Case in point – a long weekend spent in beautiful Montpellier, France!

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Shane spent the beginning of the week here for a conference, and I was able to join him when it ended.

One might ask, “What are the things you loved most about Montpellier?”

Well, let me tell you.

Gelato. Everywhere. Even though it’s not Italy.

I lived my best gelato life. I even remembered my lactose pills this time! (hahaaa)

“It doesn’t matter where you go, you always end up somewhere you know.” – Shane

(he’s quite the poet, huh?)

Arc de Triomphe (and no, we’re not in Paris!)
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Historic city center.
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Statue of Louis XIV

You “wibble wobbled” down the cutest streets.

(wibble wobble: the act of wandering aimlessly until you “end up somwhere you know”.)

Fun fact. Wibbel wobbeling is basically required here because google maps doesn’t work with the public transportation. The tram system is great!… once you figure it out. Which I was not so successful at when I arrived by myself at ~11pm on Wednesday.

Open Google maps. Suggests to walk. Get on tram anyway. Blue dot goes away from city center. Phone battery hits 15%. Shane is in city center. Panicked. Got off in {what felt like} the middle of nowhere. Got back on. Went back to where I came from. Dropped pin. Waited for Shane. Walked 25 min home anyway.

Turns out, tram line went in a circle – should have stayed on in EITHER DIRECTION. Facepalm.

Luckily for us, our Airbnb was in city center. No Google maps, only wibbel wobbeling, required.

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The view from our AirBnb.

There was no shortage of delicious food and rosé.

For instance, the delectable delights found at a restaurant called Playfood. Shane found this place before I arrived, and could not wait to go because of the concept: similar to tapas, small, sharable portions with a variety of flavors (desserts also!). You had “the crab one” and “the zucchini one” and the “I-don’t-know-what-I’m-eating-but-you-better-try-this-before-it’s-gone one”. It was also the type of restaurant where you literally couldn’t have sat inside if you wanted to because all 6 tables for the whole restaurant were outside and the owner was your watier. I always find these places so charming!

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We also decided to expand our eating, drinking, and wibble wobbeling to a new location.

Montpellier is in very close proximity to the beach.

Which can also be accessed by public transportation…without Google maps (Google itself was helpful, just no maps). But we managed, and somehow only paid half of the price we expected for the bus ticket!

We went down the path of least resistance considering we didn’t really have much to go on for directions. The beach we where we ended up was nice, but certainly not the best beach I’ve been to. Lots of places to eat and drink, which was good, and souvenir shops. For those at home, it kind of reminded me of a Myrtle Beach-type beach with clearer water, if I was going to make a comparison.

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Paradon me, I forgot to take off my white bodysuit before I got in the water…
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And lastly, more of a bonus really…

Picasso exhibit at the Musée Fabre!

I will admit I did a pretty poor job at doing any planning before we came. Not that we generally plan every moment of our time somewhere, but we at least have looked up a few priority viewing items. Lucky for us, advertisements for this exhibit were everywhere, and we were happy to have been able to go.

All in all, it was a lovely change of pace from Groningen and work for both Shane and I. (Yes – still working on that thesis. Things always take so much longer than anticipated.)

So, until next time, Montpellier!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Groningen, Paris, & Amsterdam Too !

Guess who came to visit?

If you guessed Shane’s family, then you guessed Wright!

My almost in-laws and nephew (6 more weeks! – not that anyone is counting) made the trek from southwest Virginia to spend 10 days in Europe with Shane, Meatball and me.

Two planes and a train ride later put them here in Groningen for the first portion of the trip. This was their first time to Europe, and I think Groningen was the Wright place to start! They were able to relax a little, recover some from the jet lag, and see our stomping grounds!

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Night 1 and Alex was asleep before dark. In his defense, dark is at 11pm…
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Linnaeusborg at the Zernike campus – Shane’s work.

On the last day in Groningen, we rented a car and hit the road! We drove about 45 min northeast to the village Pieterburen. Groningen, the province, is bordered by the Wadden Sea and the North Sea which are home to Harbor seals and Grey seals, respectively. Pieterburen is most known for it’s ‘Zeehondencentrum’ – translated ‘Sea dogs center’ – aka Seal Rescue Center!

Go ahead, mentally prepare for the cuteness….

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Ohhh Emmmm Geeeee! Told you!

Meet Alice the Harbor seal. Darn adorable Wright? Unfortunately, she made it to the rescue center because she was trapped in a fishing net. She, and the other seals at the facility, are rehabed and then eventually released back into the wild. You can actually sign up to go on a ‘seal release’ expedition, and travel with the rescue center staff to the Wadden Sea (in this case) and watch/help with their release. I’m 100% sure we will take part in this sometime before we leave The Netherlands!

After 4 days in Groningen we packed up and headed for

The City of Light… Paris!

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4 Wrights and a wrong Crosson at the Arc de Triomphe!

Heading to Paris I had three goals:

  1. Macaroons.
  2. Crêpes.
  3. Escargot.

Priorities, am I Wright?

Goal #1 – Macaroons: Check!

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So pretty, so delicious, so expensive!

Goal #2 –  Crêpes: Double Check! 

Goal #3 – Escargot: Fail

…but that’s OK because we ate dinner ON the Eiffel Tower!

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I must give Marsha all the credit here, because she was the one who first told us about this. We spent our first night in Paris on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, enjoying a beautiful sunset view and a delicious dinner. This is something that Shane and I would have seen, and talked ourselves out of doing  had it been just the two of us so thank you Marsha for requesting it! It was definitley the Wright choice!

After dinner we spent some time enjoying the view. Because of dinner, we were too late to go to the summit. Maybe next time.

Oh, and this perfect (completely coincidental) picture happened.

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The next day we headed to the Sacré-Cœur, or the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. It’s located on the highest point in the city, and therefore you have quite a view from the front steps.

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As one might imagine, to get to the highest point in the city you have to climb some steps. By the end of the day we had tallied 65 flights of stairs. There were reasons I needed so many crêpes…

And because we’re a glutton for punishment (OK, I was – Shane and Alex were just drug along for the ride) we hiked up some more steps and into the dome of the basilica! Worth the stairs in my opinion.

In keeping with the church theme, we made a pit stop by Notre Dame on the way back home (and no, we didn’t see the hunchback… unless you count the creatively dressed begger out font). And we ended the day at the Catacombs! These were REALLY cool! I think everyone thoroughly enjoyed this.

The catacombs started out as a limestone mine, but after extensive unregulated mining they ran into the problem of cave-ins. Long story short, in the 19th century the mines were reinforced and turned into an ossuary – aka: Bone house – for approximately 6 million Parisians. The femur bones and skulls were arranged throughout and turned into a public attraction for the privileged and eventually the public. It’s so crazy to walk these passageways and know you’re looking at ACTUAL HUMAN BONES!!! Super cool & I guess kind of creepy?

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Notre Dame!

We started our last day in Paris with a lovely walking tour! (Be proud Aunt Ann!). This one was called ‘Paris Landmarks’. We started at the original Opera House and then worked our way through the Place Vendôme (where the Ritz, Chanel, and other way way fancy stores are), the Tuileries Gardens, and ended in The Place de la Concorde.

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We added to our walking tour with a stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens after lunch.

And to wrap up our time in Paris, The Louvre!

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One thing to note about the Louvre. We heard it was huge. No one anticipated just how HUGE this place is! I think the hardest part was finding the Wright entrance once you were inside, and then navigating to where you wanted to go. You literally needed the map. We heard stories of people getting lost in The Louvre, and I can absolutely see why! It took us about 20 min to find the exit once we decided we were ready to leave.

Attention spans and museum opening times only allowed for a few hours here, so we hit some highlights. The Mona Lisa (of course!), Nike, Napoleon III apartments, and the statue room (don’t know what it’s really called).

Last up, Amsterdam!

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Shane and I were so curious for the fam to see Amsterdam and hear their impression. It’s just such a different city than Paris, and even Groningen. Compared to Groningen it’s much busier, more tourists, and a little dirtier (because of the tourists). Amsterdam’s size though can’t really compare to Paris, it’s definitely smaller, and I think it feels more friendly and welcoming. Perhaps that’s just the nature of the Dutch. Anyway, the first two days we hit some major spots.

Dam Square, The Royal Palace, Anne Frank House and THE letters. We even caught a canal cruise! Which was a fantastic decision! I know you can’t catch my oozing sarcasm in that statement but it was a total bust. The heat wave + no breeze + cheesy pre-recorded commentary made for a not so pleasant experience. I mean, Alex fell asleep.

Ya win some, ya lose some, Wright?

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The final day we took a little side trip to Zaanse Schans which is about 30 minutes by bus from Amsterdam. It’s a small town that has kept the same 18-19th century feel, and they have 9 traditional windmills that are still functioning today!

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So! I think that about sums up our trip! I think we picked all the Wright stuff to see for our mini-European vacation!

All in all, this really was a fantastic trip and we were happy to play hosts and tour-guide! I asked the Wrights, which of the three cities they saw was their favorite? To my surprise, it was Groningen! I think I can speak for Butch, Marsha and Alex when I say that they seemed to really enjoy the the ‘city-but-a-small-town’ feel that Groningen has, as well as the variety in the buildings – the old historic houses mixed in with the new.

Like we say after any visitors… who’s next?! The door is always open, and Meatball is waiting!

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Oh, and sorry for the extra long post…

Tot ziens,

Whitney