When time is lagging

I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life. As a young girl, it wouldn’t bother me much. I would be able to sleep on the plane, or if I didn’t, I would bounce back from that sleep deprivation easily. But now, the combination of nearing my 30s (oh no!), being tall and therefore very uncomfortable in a plane, and general annoyance towards air travel, have made me start to feel the lags. Unfortunately.

Why do we get jet lagged?

Jet lag occurs due to disruption of the circadian rhythm of your body after you have traveled a long distance from east-to-west or west-to-east. The normal circadian rhythm – your built-in sleep-wake cycle – is a little over 24 hours long, pretty much tuned to the normal duration of the earth spinning around its axis. By traveling rapidly along the east-west line (or the other way around), you essentially cut a normal day short, or extend it, unnaturally. And that messes up your rhythm and consequentially some of your functioning. Often, this is also paired with fatigue, because sleeping on a plane is very uncomfortable (even if you’re not 1m84).

Common symptoms include trouble falling asleep or waking up, headaches, irritability, problems/disruption with your normal digestion and annoyance at air travel.

East by West

For me, flying west is always easier than flying east. Flying west feels like extending my day with a few hours, I just go to sleep really late. But flying east is like having two very short days with a bad night in between. [edited – see below]

However, last week was the exception. I flew west, a 6 hour flight with a three-hour time change. Unfortunately, there was also a 4 hour delay. As a result, I didn’t get home until 3 am. The next day, I felt miserable: sleep-deprived and annoyed, I had zero mental capacity to concentrate. Actually, I felt like I’d had a great night out partying – except that I hadn’t.

How to avoid a jet lag

It’s not really possible to avoid. The internet recommends only sleeping on the plane if it fits within the destination’s sleep-wake schedule. Doesn’t help me much;I find it very hard to sleep on planes [Side note: did you know that the background noise in a plane is on average 85 db? That’s about the same noise as a food blender, and it’s recommended not to be exposed to this level of noise for more than 8 hours a day]. Professional athletes use light therapy, using special glasses that light up according to the new circadian schedule, to reduce their jet lag.

Definitely, it helps to stay hydrated and limit light exposure. Though that seems to be valid advice in general (you know, stay hydrated during the day and limit screen time to sleep better!).

You can also just fly north-south instead. No change in time zones; no jet lag! Unfortunately, all my family lives eastwards.

Hungover, without the fun*

So, if you ever want to feel hungover without actually having that one drink too many the day before, go travel by plane! *

Comparison between a hangover and jet lag. Both have random hours that seemingly go lost, result in a blasting headache and lack of productivity, but a hangover is the result of a fun night (maybe, I don't approve drinking too much).
Artistic rendition of how I felt. I don’t know why I gave myself a fringe, haven’t had one in decades. Also, drink responsibly, people!

*Just to make it clear: drink responsibly! You can have fun without having that one drink too many (and the headache the day after), I promise!

**There are a whole lot of reasons not to travel by plane, mostly the impact on the climate and the environment, that are a lot better than “not getting a jet lag”. However, I realize that it is hypocritical for me to comment on environmental impact of plane travel when I resort to plane travel so often. I wrote this post because I felt hungover after a flight and had a badly-drawn doodle about it in mind. That’s all.

[Edit: initially said: For me, flying east is always easier than flying west. Flying east feels like extending my day with a few hours, I just go to sleep really late. But flying west is like having two very short days with a bad night in between. It seems that mixing up east and west is another symptom of jet lag!]

Rainiest city in the US (?)

Somehow, I always end up moving to the something-est city in a certain country. I’ve lived in the flattest city of France (which is – surprisingly – a city in the Alps: Grenoble*), the sunniest city in Scotland, and I’m sure I can find something mostest about all the places I’ve lived.

That’s probably because cities like bragging about being the best at something. On the other hand, it’s not really bragging when you call yourself the “rainiest city” in the U.S., as Seattle is known to be, so perhaps I now really do live in the rainiest city in the U.S.

First, people have been a little shocked when I told them I’d been moving to Seattle. Why would you do that? they’d say, it’s always raining there! But after I tell them about living in other rainy countries, such as Scotland, they’re like Oh, you’ll be fine.

I’m not the wicked witch of the West, you know, I won’t melt.

But anyway, the question is, is Seattle really the rainiest city in the U.S.?

The pictures on my phone tell a mixed story:

Union Lake Park, beginning sunset, no cloud in the sky…

Union Lake, on a cloudy day

A rooftop view on Seattle and a lot of clouds (spot the needle in the haystack clouds)

Obviously, I don’t take my phone out for pictures when it’s pouring… and three-ish weeks does not constitute a large enough sample size of days to judge on overall raininess, not to mention that it is entirely perception based.

To the internet it is then… That quickly took me to a 2013 blog post that confirmed my suspicions: Seattle is not the rainiest city in the US. Data taken from over three decades from Weather Service stations in major U.S. cities tell us that Mobile, Alabama is the rainiest city with 66 inches** of rain a year. Seattle averages around 37 inches, which is less than the U.S. average (39 inches). It turns out, that the southeast gets considerably more rain than the North-West.

Of course, inches of rain does not give us the whole picture. Olympia, Washington, is the city with the most rainy days annually (111 days). At least some city in Washington gets to have a record, even if it isn’t Seattle. By the way, Seattle has less rainy days than the U.S. average (92 vs. 102).

While we’re at it, let’s look at a quick overview (with UK and Belgium added for comparison):

Seattle Olympia Mobile U.S. average U.K. Belgium
Rainfall (in) 37 48 66 39 34 32
Rainy days 92 111 79 102 107 212***
Sunny days 152 136 220 205
Hours of sunshine**** 2170 1493 1546

Looking within the U.S., Seattle has a bit less rain than average and fewer rainy days. However, there are also fewer sunny days in Seattle. Maybe the reputation of Seattle being rainy comes from it feeling like it’s always murky and gray. Furthermore, “rain” in Seattle tends to be a light drizzle (which does not add up to rainfall in inches and perhaps isn’t always counted as a “rainy day”). Though, as places in Washington State go, Olympia seems to be even drearier.

If we compare Seattle to the U.K. and Belgium, Seattle has a bit more rainfall, but fewer rainy days and more hours of sunshine. I think I’ll be fine here … definitely given the fact that there are actually seasons, hurray!


* Fact check, I am not 100% sure Grenoble is the flattest city in France, but their tourist website says it is. From my experience living there, it is very bikable as long as you stay in the city, but once you’re out, it’s all uphill from there …

** All the data is in inches. I know that’s annoying but transferring everything to cm is tedious and doesn’t really add much because everything is relative. But in case you were wondering, 66 inches ~ 1676 mm.

*** data obtained over a 10-year period, as opposed to over a > 30-year period for the other data shown.

**** Number of sunny days not always found, so I added a row with hours of sun.

Numerical values obtained from https://www.bestplaces.net/compare-cities/, or more specifically by comparing Seattle to Olympia, or by googling “How many days of ___ in ___?” 

Culture shock

You would think that when you move from one Western country to another Western country, you wouldn’t experience too much of a culture shock. However, there are still a few things that caught me by surprise*. So here are some things I am definitely not used to conveniently listed in the form of mildly related memes:

1. Everybody is always saying “Hi” or “Hello” or “Good Morning.” You’d go for a run, and every time you pass someone they would actually say something out loud rather than making that awkward grimace smile thing.

Related image
I’m the queen of this face.

On a different but slightly related note, saying “hello” apparently catches Londoners off guard too.

2. Turning right on red. So not used to that.

Image result for right on red meme
I’m so sorry, I’m not from here.

3. Driving an automatic.

Image result for driving automatic meme

4. I don’t have to put the groceries in a bag myself in the store.

Image result for socially awkward penguin meme
Just emphasizing my social awkwardness in general here, folks.

5. The garbage disposal-in-the-sink thing.

Image result for flintstones garbage disposal gif
This is what’s on the other end of the disposal, right? (Also, what is that tube thing sticking through the hole on the right ?!?!)

6. There are so many advertisements on TV, it’s insane.

Related image
Have you noticed how they conveniently increase the frequency and length of the ad break towards the end of a movie just to annoy you even more? 

6a. Related: what’s up with those medication ads? More than half of the ad is them listing possible side effects!

Related image

6b. Also: political smear campaign ads. Can’t politicians run on policies rather than their hatred for the other party?**

Image result for political ads meme
*Insert your least favorite politician here*

7. Plastic bags and plastic straws and styrofoam cups and …

Image result for so much plastic meme

8. How you almost have to use a car to get anywhere because everything is so spread out, or there are no sidewalks, or there are no public transport alternatives. ***

Image result for complaining meme

9a. Farenheit

Image result for Fahrenheit meme
I doubt it’s Kelvin, Fry

9b. Miles and feet and inches and stuff.

Image result for miles meme
Unrelated meme brought to you by The Proclaimers.

9c. Date notations (month-day-year)

(by xkcd)


* I should probably note that the observations here are based on my three-week-stay in the bubble that is a Central New York touristy lake town.

** I know, I wish I lived in a Utopia where campaigning was legally limited in time and budget, smear ads were not allowed, and politics wasn’t polarising.

*** I know I am a major hypocrite. I am will be taking to airplanes today…

The devil’s in the details

One of the “hallmarks” of cancer is the ability of cancer cells to spread to other parts of the body, settle themselves in this new environment and give rise to a new tumor. This process of spreading is known as metastasis and is something that typically aggressive cancers are known to do. In almost all cancers, cells can only spread within one organism. Almost all. There are a few – so far 4 that we know of – types of cancer that can spread to another body. In other words, there are types of cancer that are contagious, or transmissible, and that’s kind of creepy.

A transmissible cancer is a cancer where the cells themselves can spread to another organism and cause tumor growth in that organism. This is not the case for virus-born cancer. For example, in the Human Pappiloma Virus (HPV) is a virus that can be sexually transmitted and some types of the virus can cause a whole range of different cancers.  In other words, the virus is transmitted and the virus gives rise to cancer development.

But in the case of transmissible cancers, it is the cancer cells that spread to another organism. Most types of transmissible cancers are sexually transmitted; these types are found in snails and dogs. There is one type of transmissible cancer that is a bit of the odd one out: devil facial tumor disease or DFTD. Sounds kind of satanic, no?

DFTD is a very aggressive non-viral transmissible cancer that affects Tasmanian devils, you know, that Looney Tunes character that creates little tornadoes when it moves…

Why you so aggressive, Taz?

Okay, not really.

DFTD is a mouth cancer that looks really bad (don’t google it, or do, whatever, I’m not your boss) and is spread because Taz devils bite each other a lot. I guess, it kind of is an STI because they also bite each other during mating.

And because Taz devils are pretty isolated (they all live on the one island), and the cancer is very aggressive (spreads easily and is very lethal), and Taz devils are pretty aggressive animals (they bite each other a lot), it is a bit of a problem. DFTD has been observed since 1996 and has now spread to most parts of the island. It is feared that DFTD may cause the extinction of Taz devils.

Last year, I went to a talk by Elizabeth Murchison, who studies transmissible cancers, and it turns out that DFTD is actually quite interesting. In her talk, she explained that her team used genome reconstruction to track the origin and evolution of DFTD, and this led to the discovery that there are two independent types of DFTD (if I remember correctly, one of the cancers originated in a female Tax devil while the other originated in a male and that’s how they knew it had to be two separate types of DFTD).

Why would I care? Well, first of all, it is a unique situation to have a transmissible cancer that is isolated to one island, which – scientifically – is a unique opportunity to study how cancer evolves and spreads. Moreover, it is pretty strange that there are two types of a rare cancer (transmissible cancers are very uncommon) that have originated within one species. The two types of cancer started in similar tissue types, and have similar mutation patterns, which implies that Taz devils may be particularly susceptible to transmissible cancers.

But then the question is: why now? Taz devils have been around for ages, why have they now, within what seems to be only decades, developed two different diseases that are very similar to each other and that may lead to their extinction? Is it due to human influence, or perhaps climate change*? Has this happened to other species before, but we just didn’t know because we weren’t around or we didn’t know about cancers yet?

And, can we save the Taz devil? There are efforts to set up Taz devil sanctuaries on smaller islands off the coast of Tasmania to avoid these cancers spreading to the whole population. But if this type of cancer can spontaneously originate, how do we avoid this happening a third time?

Unfortunately, I haven’t made it to Tasmania yet (did I mention I traveled to the other side of the world recently), but I did see a Taz devil in the zoo. Can we save Taz, so he may roam around and make weird tornado thingies?

Tazzie spotted in Taronga Zoo (Sydney)… Okay, they’re kind of cute in a giant rodent-looking type of way.

* Okay, technically speaking that means that it is still indirectly due to human influence.

EduTourism (II)

I had just submitted my PhD thesis for review (*mini-applause for myself*) and decided that the two months I had before my PhD viva (or PhD defence) would probably drive me half-insane and maybe I needed an extended break somewhere very far away.

So I went very far away: I booked a trip to Australia. However, still being me (as in: a science communication addict?) and considering my previous experience as an edutourist, I emailed a few universities to let them know I would be around and willing to volunteer at any scicomm event they might have. One university replied. I also signed up to an Australian mailing list and answered a call for volunteers.

So, in between my actual travels, I ended up doing some public outreach slash science communication down under. And boy, it was fun.

The university that replied to my spontaneous volunteering was LaTrobe University in Melbourne, where I had the opportunity to talk to a year 9 class (which are, I’m guessing, 14-year-olds?) about my research and my experience as a PhD student. I slightly changed a previous talk of mine (mostly left out the singing; oh yes, I went to a conference and brought my ukulele once, it was marvellous) and spoke to a class of maybe 30 students about the Physics of Cancer in general, and how my research sort of fits into that field. The students seemed very interested and asked some questions about what it’s like to do a PhD and if all that travelling isn’t very tiring. As thanks, I received a gift card which was super useful because I used it to buy a raincoat. Apparently, it does rain in Australia.

La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science

The other event I attended was the Science and Engineering Challenge, which is a national competition organised by the University of Newcastle that challenges teams of high school students (I’m guessing 14-year-olds?) to do a range of different tasks related to engineering and science, such as building a water turbine, a suspension bridge, a catapult, creating an encrypted code or building an earthquake-proof structure. I helped out at the Sydney event for two days.

Students at the final challenge: suspension bridge. It was very suspenseful.

Apart from the fact that I wasn’t allowed to take part myself – I would have loved to build a water turbine and catapult – it was absolutely amazing. My role was to facilitate the aforementioned activities (one for each day I was there), and it was really interesting to see the creativity and competitiveness of the students. Sometimes, the more unexpected design was more efficient, sometimes the group with the most extensive and thought-out plan ran out of time and couldn’t finish their idea. It was up to me to encourage the students to think both logically and out of the box without actually really helping (or so I tried).

As with many science outreach activities, the event relied on volunteers from universities. But more unusually, there were also volunteers from the Rotary and from companies (on Thursday I was there, a bank). This made for an interesting range of ages and backgrounds, which in my opinion was a wonderful extra touch and helped bring home the message that a) one of the most important skills for STEM* is creativity, b) with a STEM degree, you don’t necessarily have to stay in STEM, you can go into a whole range of careers, and c) STEM is really awesome, considering all these people – not all them working in or studying a STEM subject – that give up their time to come help at the event.

Anyway, I went on holiday for 5 weeks all on my lonesome and having a few days of scicomming in between was really fun.

Thank you Jess from LaTrobe University for the opportunity to speak to the y9 class and the tour of the university, and Terry from Newcastle University for signing me up for the Science and Engineering Challenge.

* Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics


Last week, I was in New York City.

For the most part, I was on holiday.
*cue 3-line rant about how amazing it was*
I can’t stress enough how amazing it was – obviously; New York is awesome – and how much delicious food we had – lobster sandwiches and NY pizza and (no-Turkey-for-me) Thanksgiving dinner – and how sad I am about being back in the real world.
*end rant*

But alongside the fun and leisure, I also volunteered for a science education event organised by RockEdu, Rockefeller University’s educational outreach office.

Apparently, it was surprising that I would give up half a day of my holiday to volunteer at an outreach event. But to me, it was an interesting experience, an opportunity to try out my outreaching enthusiasm in a different context, make some useful connections and most of all, a whole lot of fun! After this experience, I’d really like to pitch a new idea: EduTourism (#EduTourism, spread the word, folks): volunteering in educational programmes while on holiday. It gives a new perspective on outreach, it gives you a good excuse to visit another academic institution, and it is a perfect way to interact with locals! Also, it makes you feel that your trip was more than just a – albeit entertaining – waste of money.

What I especially liked about the RockEdu lab, was how organised everything is. Instead of the usual format of a science education team, i.e. a bunch of volunteering PhD students and PostDocs who want a break from their research and the occasional coordinating staff member, RockEdu has a team of 5 or 6 people permanently working in outreach. They write grants, create activities, set up mentoring programmes, coordinate summer projects, etcetera etcetera. Moreover, they have a lab space that is exclusively and specifically used for science education. Instead of activities carried out in some corner between labs or in an improvised table-based laboratory missing crucial equipment or sockets, these benches are meant for education! Classes can come in – for free – and participate in a science experiment tailored for their age and level.

So I spent part of the day helping a group of 16ish-year-old AP bio students through a GFP purification process, something I myself knew about but had never actually carried out. Using blue flashlights and yellow goggles, the whole process could be followed closely, which was pretty neat. We learned about proteins, fluorescence, jellyfish, what doing a Phd is all about. We ran a gel and looked at some GFP-expressing worms as an example of an in vivo application. I thought it all was pretty cool and the students also seemed to have enjoyed themselves (while learning something, of course).

Overall, I’m really glad I took the time to participate in EduTourism, and totally hope that this will become an actual thing.


Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 09.25.24.png
C. elegans with GFP. Image from @RockEdu (twitter)


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Part II: Dragons

Now that I read (obviously, within 12 hours) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I felt is was time to continue my endeavour of fantastic beast post series.

So without much further ado, we’re here to talk about dragons.

Dragons are amazing and so are wyverns and drakes for that matter,because who doesn’t marvel at the thought of giant fire-breathing, flying lizards existing; and are the subject of many fantasy stories and fairy tails. Just to mention a few (it won’t be a few): the dragon Smaug that Tolkien envisioned in The Hobbit (and got surprisingly little screen time in the three movies), the four dragons that the Triwizard Tournamant champions battled in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Donkey’s fiery  girlfriend in Shrek, the topic of Lady Brent’s studies in Marie Brennan’s books, the telepathic Saphira (let’s forget there was ever a movie), Dani’s dragons (hopefully we’ll see more of them soon), and – of course there are many more – the dragon of Dundee.

Which is who I wanted to focus on in the first place.

Walking through the the city centre, it is hard to miss the Dragon statue perched on the main shopping road. Of course I have posed there for my very own “Mother of Dragon” photo (though I don’t really look blond or fierce enough), and it is quite common to see children climbing on it. But why is it there? All the other statues of Dundee (or at least the big ones, there are a few subtle hidden ones like the monkey and the squirrel that might be just random) are linked to Dundee itself; there is a Lemmings statue because the game was developed in Dundee, there are several statues of comic figures reminiscing the Journalism J of the three Js of Dundee, but what is the meaning of the Dragon?

Dundee Dragon (designed by Alistair Smart, photo from http://hotelwomb.yuku.com/topic/6040/Paeleolithic-Scotland#.V6sUgD4rKX0)

I’m sure if I had lived through them, I would have now missed the days where I would have to go roaming in the archives of an old library to unravel the origin of the statue and the legends of Dundee Dragon. But it was a much easier task in the days of internet and google, the answer was just a click away. How anticlimactic.

As far as I understand, the story – the tale of Dundee Dragon and the Nine Maidens of Pitempten – was transcribed by Jervise, who lived in the nineteenth century. Though the story must be much older.

Because it obviously happened long, long ago, as these stories often do.

In that time, there lived a farmer in Pitempan (google does not give me an indication whether this place is real). He had nine pretty daughters, as one would have in those days. One day, the farmer was very thirsty, he probably had just woken from a night of ales with his mates in Pitempan Pub. The well, or his favourite well – because in those days one could be picky about the source of water – was in a marsh nearby the house. His youngest daughter, the fairest of all nine, though they were all so fair that had all one the Miss Pitempan title at some point in time, loved her father dearly and wished to aid him in quenching his thirst and ran to the well to fetch water. It was already noonish, so all the water had been used to do the washing and therefore new water was to be fetched. But the girl took too long to return and the father grew more restless. The eldest daughter took it upon her to check on her sister and fetch the water for her father. When she did not return either, the next sister took the trip to the well and so on (there are nine in total, the story is quite repetitive) until only the middle sister was left. She assured her father that she would return soon, and followed the path her eight other sisters had taken into the woods. When she reached the well she was faced with a terrible sight! Among the bulrushes, her sisters lay mangled at the feet of a horrific dragon. She let out a cry in horror and tried to run away, but her head was chopped off immediately. Her cries had however attracted the attention of the inhabitants of Pitempan; amongst these townies was her bae, Martin, who was very noble and brave. He took up his sword, challenged the dragon and a long battle ensued. It is said the battle carried on from Pitempan to Balkello, whatever that means, but that eventually Martin succeeded in slaying the dragon. He was however overcome with grief, and his tears cause the spring in Pitempan, that was henceforth named the Nine Maiden Well, to be 0.01% more salty than fresh water springs should be. Multiple sculptured stones where erected to commemorate the tragic event: St Martin’s Stane at Balecco and the sculptured stone at Strathmartin. A carved Pict symbol marks the spot where the dragon was slain and Bishop David de Berham dedicated a church to St Martin – oh, did I mention this caused Martin to be sainted – in 1249.The farmer/father was never heard of again, legend says he tried to shed tears he did not have (you know, dehydrated from the night before) and shrivelled up and died (his body was never found). Finally, the city of Dundee wished to remember the tragic death of the dragon by erecting a statue in the centre of town, centuries later. *

Tempted at Pitempton,
Draigled at Baldragon,
Stricken at Strathmartin,
And kill’d at Martin’s Stane.

*Note, I may have made some of this up.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Part I: Unicorns

Welcome to the first piece in our three-part series on fantastic beasts and where to find them. Or rather, exploring the question of why some countries or cities choose creatures from mythology and fantasy to represent themselves.
In this first part, we look at Scotland, that has chosen the unicorn as its national animal. That beautiful, noble creature that has annoying friends (Heeeeey, Charliiiieeee) perhaps, or maybe you know it for it’s mercury-like blood that grants the drinker an eternal but cursed life. 


The Unicorn.

Maybe first, let’s point out that unicorns


exist. They’re just not as elegant as we thought. No, I’m not talking about rhinos, their horn is made out of only keratin and do not have a bone core. So they are not technically horns.



Okay, I misspoke, unicorns 


existed. Quite recently 

scientists found

 that the last unicorn roamed Siberia 29,000 years ago. 

Elasmotherium sibericum. Face it, it’s just a really hairy unicorn.

And in a way narwals are the unicorns of the sea.

Or not.

So why is the unicorn the national animal of Scotland then? Well, it’s quite straightforward actually. Unicorns are the natural enemy of Lions. The symbol of the English royals was a Lion. And Scotland hasn’t always been the biggest fan of England. Especially not in the late 1300s. Bam, you have just been 



The Lion & The Unicorn - Traditional Nursery Rhyme Poster

The (mythological) hatred between Unicorns and Lions goes back 3,700 years, to ancient Babylon, where unicorns where worshipped (and Lions presumably were not?). Another random fact: in the Middle Ages, recipes for how to cook a lovely unicorn steak circulated, many think these were spread by the English, perhaps in an attempt to prey on the Scottish urge for fine cuisine.


In any case, one can understand the Scottish choosing the unicorn as their national animal. Apart from the lion-unicorn-feud, unicorns where known for their nobility and purity. As one myth goes, a snake would regularly poison the water hole, but luckily the unicorn would always come and dip it’s horn in it, cleansing there water for all the other animals. It would use its immense powers to protect the others rather than dominate. In times where chivalry was considered one of the greatest virtues and everyone wanted to seem nobel, this mythical animal must have sounded very attractive. King Robert thus chose this animal, with amazing powers and the ability to dominate but with the modesty and grace to use this power to protect the other animals, to be the national emblem of Scotland in the late 1300s.

The unicorns’ existence wasn’t disproved until 1825 when the evil scientist Baron George Covier, who theorised that an animal with a split hoof could never have a single horn. (I’m sure Baron Covier was not actually evil, I just don’t understand why anyone would want to disprove it’s existence!)
In Scottish folklore, the Unicorn is not the only mythical creature thought to exist. And after I’ve spent some time in the highlands, I’ve started to understand why. Some landscapes, views and forests seem to have been taken straight out of a fairy tale (or out of a Lord of the Rings movie sometimes. It’s not so hard to believe that fairies and Will o’ the wisps reside somewhere in mighty redwoods or in a lone blooming trees…


Sunniest city in Scotland (?)

I feel like I haven’t emphasised the “bagpipe” aspect of this blog a lot, so a short thought-train on Scotland, for a change:

I remember interviewing for the job here, and a professor that had lived his in California before moving to Dundee, told me that the Scottish weather is exactly how it’s always portrayed: dreary. However, a Dutch professor assured me that it wasn’t too bad. I concluded that it’s just a matter of what you’re used to and that I’d probably do just fine.

Additionally, I have been told over and over again that Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland. I started to consider myself Dundonian enough to claim the same someone asks me about Scottish weather (maybe unsurprisingly, this is one of the first questions I’m asked after telling people that I live in Scotland). I usually say something along the lines of “Well, I live in the sunniest city of Scotland you know, though that maybe doesn’t mean that much,” and then proceed to the most recent analogy I have conceived; It’s like saying “the best american chocolate” (well, I guess if you consider Hershey’s chocolate…) or “the best glass of Heiniken I’ve ever had” (yeah, best glass of water you mean?). After that, I usually add: “But seriously, it’s really not that bad.”

So I just spent an extensive 5 minute web-based research trying to confirm that Dundee really is the sunniest city of Scotland.

There are claims that Glasgow is the sunniest city, I found another article saying Aberdeen has the most hours of sunshine. The ever trustworthy wikipedia indeed says that Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland [citation needed], so that doesn’t help much either. Other sites make similar (unverified) claims. A weather site tells me that Dundee has 1426.3 hours of sunshine each year, which is 0.3 hours more than Edinburgh and about 200 more than Glasgow. However Aberdeen had an average of 1435.7 hours between 1981 and 2010, according to the same site. (I didn’t look any further.)

So have I been telling lies? Do I not live in the sunniest city in Scotland? It is clear that the East coast is the place to be, if you do happen to end up in Scotland for whatever reason, and it is also clear that you have to be prepared for every single type of weather (or season) within a day, so dressing in layers and having an umbrella on standby are musts.

In the end it doesn’t really matter. I took my refurbed bike for a first test drive the Sunday before last to Broughty Ferry. It was lovely weather for a 5 mile trip to a lovely beach. I encountered a Finnish cyclist, who had just embarked on a 4-week bike tour of Scotland, I think this was his day two. We both got lost at the same point (apparently the solution to opening to locked gate on our path was ringing the bell), and once we got back on track – national cycle route 1 -, we started chatting. As we split paths (mine led to locking up my bike and getting my feet icy cold wet), he said he was in heaven.

I’m sure that the fact that the sun was shining that day and that it was a pleasant 20-something degrees worked in favour of this sentiment, but I have to say that I was enjoying myself quite a lot as well. I’m definitely looking forward to my next bike outing. I probably wait for the next weekend that the sun is out, and cycle off into my own little bit of heaven.

Getting my feet wet at the beach of Broughty Ferry – check out my awesome bike (oh, it was abandoned and I gave it a clean and a new home, or shed), – view on the river Tay – and the HM Frigate Unicorn 1824 battleship I passed on my way back.