An update from “hotel babel”…

Hello everyone,

2018 has kicked in, holidays are over and challenges and adventures are ahead. When I looking back upon 2017 I must say that it was quite the year! I finished my Master, started a new project in a new country, married, and convinced my wife and sparrow (my son) to move with me to Belfast. And now here we are. Belfast, Ireland…..Things changed because of that.

For example:  my son speaks English now instead of French although it is with a strange Belfastie accent…eight sounds like “aeihght” over here…. He can however still switch to French without any problems and of course French spoken Netflix is very helpful in that topic J.  I manage luckily enough to squeeze in some Dutch as well and compete with my wife over the story time when we both do our best to maximise Italian and Dutch imput to make shore he doesn’t forget those languages either but still, English is the main dish served…. English, or some weird kind of conglomerate of languages in which we speak English between each other, me Dutch to my son, my son French to my wife, my wife Italian to my son and Me and my wife sometimes French sometimes English depending on the atmosphere… Finally, sometimes Italian and Dutch simultaneously to my son if we both think he should not do something….  Yep I think you can imagine the confusion of the waiter when we go to a restaurant and discuss together what to order like that ….. It can be quite funny… There is only one big disadvantage of this new situation, there isn’t a language left we can use to say something between each other without Sparrow (6 years old) understanding what is being said…. This didn’t use to be the case but there you have it, no more discussing Christmas presents in front of him…

Speaking about Chrismas: It was a wonderful time! We went to the Netherlands to visit my family for a few days and it was so relaxing and peacefull to be back there! Wonderful food and a great time! Moreover, Sparrow got so lucky because the flight attendant was Italian and the Pilot English and they were so amused by his enthusiasm about the plane (in both languages) that the pilot invited him in the cockpit! Olala you should have seen his eyes (I was jealous)…


Sparrow in the Cockpit


After Christmas we went back to Belfast for the new year. It was a great time as well! Some friends from France came by to visit us and together we managed to make it really one of the best new year parties I ever had! We got very lucky on the old year’s day. I offered to drive everyone to the Giants Causeway (again… I went there 5 times already since all visitors want to see it) and so we set off for that around 11.00 in the morning. But about 50 miles in… the tyre of the car exploded… so well nothing else to do but turn back… at about 15.00 we were back home and had all the groceries ready, the sound system up running and the disco lights a glow… and we kept it like that until the next day around 4.00 am. Whauw thanks Nissan Micra perfect timing! J  After that amazing night there was only one thing to do on the first day of the year, and that was to honour an ancient Dutch tradition… This beautiful tradition is called “de niewjaars duik” or the new year dive… and I was wondering if Gina or Vincent have done it as well? If not, or if anyone else is interested to try this beautiful Dutch traditional way of starting the new year I will hereby give a step to step DIY protocol to follow.



  • 1 big towel
  • 1 orange wool hat (preferably with the letters UNOX WORST on it although that’s not essential)
  • 1 pot of split pea soup with potato and smokes sausages in it (and pancakes)
  • A telephone (ready to call 911 if necessary)
  • A camera
  • A swimming suit (or your boxers ar allowed as well)



  • Prepare yourself for this by not sleeping a lot the night before, pack the gear listed above and move towards a nice looking beach or pier with easy access to deep water.
  • Strip untill your boxers and do at least 10 or 20 stout bolts up and down the beach to get the blood pumping
  • Watch out that your cloths do not blow away (especially important on windy Irish beaches..)
  • Approach the water carefully then, under much grazy growling and happy new yeaaaarrrrs!!! And then… jump.

5 and 6) (the important part): once you do not feel your legs anymore it’s time to run back out and eat split pea soup …

I must say, I do it every year and it is on those moments that sometimes I say to myselve why I didn’t decide to go live in Greece… but this year wasn’t one of them.

Okey the water was cold but also super clean and refreshing. Moreover the beach was beautiful and the water is much colder in Holland where it reaches around 1-2 degrees that time of year! Al in all a great experience that I can advise to all of you to try one time!

                      The newyear trips and party

Finally, there were 2 other amazing places that I visited this month definitely worth mentioning. The first is Fair-Head. A cliff not far from the Causeway famed for its climbing. Since I am quite a fervent practitioner of the sport (as is my wife) we wanted to go and check out the place. And I must say that it really has great bouldering problems to offer. It is also situated in a beautiful emerald green rural area. The only problem is that this time of year the water levels are a bit to high… and I underestimated that… the mud here is so soft that I lost my shoes after 5 meters (to much amusement of the others) however, I was not the only one with that problem… one of our friends sank away until the waist in the mud… so walk around fairhead: yes but bring spare clothes!

The last place is Portaferry, a beautiful little village on a peninsula not far from Belfast.  One can take the ferry there to gross a very narrow connection between the Atlantic and the Lough lying inland. Nice trip! Also very nice: The Aquarium that there is over there. It’s a small aquarium with all sorts of fish, many of them coming from the Atlantic.. Cod, Sea wolf, Octopus and many others (including stingrays you could pet). Finally, the place functions also as a safe haven for washed up seal pups. Some of them were in a poor state and behind tinted glass. Others however were swimming away merrily in outdoor pools preparing for their trip back to the ocean. It was incredible to see those beautiful creatures from so close and realise that only a mile away they are swimming in the sea as well!


The Seals


Chrismas dinner… (no just a grooper.. :-))

Alright I think that was about it regarding the holidays.  After the new-year passed and the friends were gone I went back to the lab with much eager to make 2018 a successful year.  To this end much has lately been done on nanoparticle fabrication. And so I am now the proud owner of 60 millilitres of gold nanorods with sizes varying from 25 to 85 nm wide and 10 to 20 across (in different solutions luckily enough) and multibranched nanostars in all sorts of sizes. These particles are now ready to be shipped to Spain, Barcelona where I will be functionalising them with mono clonal antibodies and immobilise them on a glass surface to do some fundamental studies regarding plasmonic coupling which I hope will be the answer to my prayers (but more about that in the next blog).

Apart from this interesting work I have also had a lot of fun writing a review on smartphone based devices. I felt very lucky here since the review covers the possibilities to use such devices in the future for deep space missions, like a mission to Mars. Something I find enormously interesting and thus was very happy to have a valid reason to indulge myself and read up on the effects of solar event particles, galactic cosmic rays and nuclear electric propulsion :-0. Finally, together with Jack, Javier, Aris and Philene (another student here at queens) , we have started to seriously grow and cultivate the BEST-Tree which is definitely a good thing since I believe it can help boost cognisance regarding mobile sensors ! Thus I want to finish this blog by saying that I am very happy about this collaboration and look forward to working more with them, and all the other ESRs on other projects to make 2018 an amazingly fruit full year.


Thanks to everyone for reading this blog!


Hasta La pasta




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