Finally some nice weather

On Saturday December 30th, the weather was so nice, we just had to get out of the house. Ilona wanted to see the Austin area. What better place to start than the 360 Bridge (or Pennybacker Bridge)? It was quite a hassle to find a parking spot, but once we did, we climbed all the way up to the top. The view was stunning! There was a dj playing some music to top it all off!

She also wanted to see with her own eyes the vast expanse you see in a lot of American movies. This is something we don’t have were I used to live so we drove to the countryside. Philippe made sure we passed some pumpjacks as well. It was cool to see the jacks were actually active. Ilona was also very impressed with the huge highways. Texas is so big and has so much space to build state of the art highways with 4, 5 or even 6 lanes. In big cities, the freeway interchanges are just amazing and jaw dropping!

At the end of the day we had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and to burn off the calories, we strolled Lakeway’s own trail of lights.

Shop, shop, shop…

I’m always telling my Belgian friends the weather in Austin in winter is so nice. Unfortunately, the week Ilona visited us the cold was brutal! Due to an arctic front the wind was unbearable. Although there is so much to see in and around Austin, we hardly did anything outside because of the weather. Even in Belgium and Alaska (!) the weather was nicer! Can you imagine?

There are some nice (indoor) shopping centers in the area and, luckily, we both like shopping! I also showed her our previous house in Avery Ranch where her daughter and our mom stayed 2 years ago. We also visited the Oasis Texas Brewery. There, the view of Lake Travis is magnificent. Unfortunately, it was freezing cold so we just took a couple of pictures and got back into the warmth of my car.

Another stop was the rental house in Lakeway and Lakeway’s very own airpark (who knows, maybe one day we might even buy a house close to it). I had promised Ilona to have dinner at Hopdoddy’s because they have THE best burgers! And the truffle fries are to die for!

One morning we had breakfast at Mc Arthur’s in Lakeway. Ilona wanted to try a real American Breakfast, with hash browns and sausage, bacon and eggs! Who am I to say no to such a treat? We played board games with the girls and made it real cozy with lighting the fire place and having some snacks in front of the TV.

Another restaurant we went to was Buenos Aires Cafe in Bee Cave. It’s a cozy little gem we only recently discovered. We enjoy having lunch or dinner there.

Of course she also wanted so see where I work, so we had tea and pastries at Baguette et Chocolat.

December 2017: my sister, Ilona, is coming!

Monday, December 25th my sister Ilona would arrive in Austin. She had promised me for so long and finally the day had come. Finally! I could hardly wait to spend some time with her.

Upon arrival at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, she tells us she almost didn’t make it due to a misunderstanding concerning her luggage. At Washington, she wasn’t supposed to pick it up. For some reason she misunderstood and took the “baggage claim” exit.  She quickly realized she was on the wrong side of the gate and explained her situation to the attendant who was so nice to let her back in using the fast lane. There’s no time to waste when you have a connecting flight to catch!

Arriving home, she opened her luggage and, man, it was bulging with Belgian and German goodies! We thought we were in HEAVEN! The best part, though, was that she was here for 7 days!

COTA

For 4 years now we have been living in Austin. During these years we didn’t get to visit Circuit of the Americas (or COTA), the fairly new F1 track in South-East Austin. Finally, a few weekends ago we got a chance to do so. Philippe was enrolled in a “track day” which is held every so often. What it means is that day you can drive with your own car (street or race car) on the track. Back in the days, when animals still talked, he used to be a race car driver, but since moving to the States, he hasn’t raced once. So you can imagine how excited he was when he finally got to check out COTA.

The fun begins right at the start. Elevation of turn 1 is at 30 m and the top is reached at 11% steepness. Just for your information his favorite track is Belgium’s Spa Francorchamps – the Raidillon is his favorite part of the whole track. It has a maximum gradient in excess of 18%! It’s steeper than the Muur van Geraardsbergen which is only 9.3% steep The Muur is part of the Tour of Flanders.

Anyways, he had a lot of fun, fortunately he didn’t have any accidents, the only concern he had were the brakes. He wasn’t sure if they would survive, but they did! We saw lots of awesome and rare race cars, one of them was a John Player Special F1 car which Mario Andretti drove in in 1978. We all had a good time. The girls were impressed by their dad’s skills.

He added a sticker to the bumper of his car of all the tracks where he already raced at least once. In order of appearance:  Zolder, Dijon, Zandvoort, Nürburgring, Spa and Cota.

Now that we appreciate Cota even more, we keep an eye on the events calendar. On November 11th there was a 24 hours race organized by a Dutch team. One of the drivers was our very own Jan Heylen! Philippe and Jan used to kart together in 1996-97. His co driver was Tom Boonen, a former professional road bicycle racer. The best part was that the mechanic of the team – Rudy – was Philippe’s former mechanic when he used to race the Renault Clio Cup in 2004. There were lots of famous people amongst others James May, the co-presenter of Top Gear.

Total solar eclipse – day 5

Tuesday August 22nd

We left Dallas around 10 am. There were lots of road works along our way home. We didn’t hear the girls complain, they were drawing what they had experienced the day before. I must say I was quite surprised with the outcome :-).

Philippe has always been very fascinated about the universe in general. He has bookmarked Fred Espenak’s website as one of his favorites since he was 28 years old, which means a long long time ago :-)! Fred Espenak (also referred to as Mr. Eclipse) is a retired NASA astrophysicist. He is best known for his work on eclipse predictions. As of today, he has always been right with his calculations. If you want to learn about future eclipses (lunar, solar or planetary transits) click here.

Another website Philippe used a lot is one where you could see how long the eclipse would last depending on where you were situated. Here is a link if you want to check it out, just zoom in and click beween the two red lines. A circle will appear with all the necessary information. Very fascinating!

While driving through Arkansas, we saw a sign for “Hope”, President William (Bill) Clinton’s birthplace. Unfortunately we had no time to stop because the girls wanted to show Philippe the inside of a Buccee’s (he didn’t join us inside the superstore on our way to Nashville). We stayed for 40 minutes because there was so much to see but we could easily have stayed another hour!

It was a nice break. I’m not sad the girls missed 2 days of school! They have learned so much more during our short break. In Austin there was only a partial eclipse and the students were not allowed to go outside for liability reasons.

The next one will be in 2024 (April 8th). We are already very excited about it 🙂 especially Hanne because it’s just one day after her birthday.

Total solar eclipse – day 4

Monday August 21st

We left the hotel at about 7 am. To our surprise there were almost no cars on the road! Off we went to the Smithville rest stop. Philippe chose this stop because there were restrooms available and in case of cloud coverage, we could take the I-40 again driving further east. That way we did not have to leave the path of the eclipse. We went from 800 ft elevation to 16oo ft, and in the direction of the Blue Ridge Mountains it even reached 5000 ft.

At the rest stop there was absolutely not a single space left to park our car so we turned to our backup plan. We took the I-40 again direction Spring City. They have a Facebook page dedicated to the total solar eclipse and obviously we weren’t the only ones who knew about it. They announced all kinds of activities, kids animation, food trucks and what not. Luckily it was still early in the morning so we still had time to do the 1.5 hour drive. While driving on the interstate, we read signs saying: no parking on shoulder during eclipse! That would be a dangerous thing to do! Although I would not blame the people who would do it. We also saw a sign saying “Welcome to Cookerville, here we still respect and appreciate our law enforcement”. I should have taken a picture and sent it to the mayor of Antwerp and some other Belgian cities so they could make colossal signs to display in their city centers! Something needs to be done in Belgium, there is a real problem with disrespecting law enforcement.

By the time we arrived at Spring City, the center was taken over by cars! We drove a little further and saw this little gem near Watts Bar Lake where we found a perfect spot in the shade. According to the weather predictions there would be less than 20% cloud coverage. There were NO clouds at all! YAY! The clouds were our biggest fear but now we could finally relax and enjoy the spectacle. Statistically, due to its topography, Spring City had more chance on clear skies.

Finally the time had come. We had been waiting with anticipation for so long. We finally saw the moon covering the sun, the shadows got sharper, the temps dropped by 10 degrees F (+/-5C), the light changed to a grey-ish colour, Venus was visible (the small white dot south east of the sun in the picture below – picture taken with iPhone, so not very clear), the crickets started chirping. It was so eerie! It’s hard to describe but it was impressive, exciting, thrilling, astonishing, extraordinary, marvelous, all at the same time! Both the girls were in awe. Hanne kept asking all these questions, good thing I’m married to a science geek :-), he explained it perfectly! It was over quite fast and I’m so glad I finally got to see the diamond ring, TWICE! Unfortunately we don’t have pictures, but the memory will last forever!

After this wonderful experience we left the scene to arrive in Dallas on time. This time there is lots of traffic and therefore several traffic jams. We arrived at Nashville during rush hour and Google maps kept saying that we would arrive in 3 hours. We were so fed up and wanted out of the car! All of a sudden Google suggested an alternative route and we could cut 1.5 hour off of our trip.

Total solar eclipse – day 3

Sunday August 20th

We had a good night sleep despite the couple in the room next door fighting (cursing) till late at night.

Of course we forgot our cooler and accessories, as well as our folding chairs at home so we had to buy new ones. Once we were all set, the girls couldn’t wait to see all the animals at the Nashville Zoo.

I must admit this is one of the most marvelous zoos I’ve ever seen! It’s not gigantic, but the landscaping was so lovely and well maintained. The animals have so much foliage in their big cages which protects them from the sun rays. We saw plants we had in our front and back yard in Belgium such as hydrangea and hostas (way too hot in Texas to cultivate them!), instant throw back moment! We saw all kinds of animals: blue aras, rinos, giraffes, flamingos, ring-tailed lemur, a cougar, a sloth, snapping turtles, all kinds of reptiles and frogs, cockroaches(eeww!), we even could pet kangaroos! The kids liked the suspension bridge the best :-). Because I was wearing shoes I don’t regularly wear, both my heels were covered by blisters. That was painful :-S.

After our nice visit to the Zoo, which we all enjoyed so much, we did some grocery shopping for the next day, we wanted to leave early to beat the “eclipse pelgrimage” and be sure we had a good spot to see the eclipse. Philippe had done all the research, he knew exactly were we needed to go. He even had a backup plan!

Back at the hotel, the girls got in the pool. We had some appetizers and a huge dessert and went to bed early to be in perfect shape for the next day!