The week of the dogs

Like many couples, my man H and I have wrestled with the ‘two-body problem’ during our eight years together. The two-body problem is mainly referred to when discussing academic couples finding work in the same place. I do agree that the geographical and job distribution of universities is lower than the distribution of, say, accounting firms. However, to my mind it is surely a challenge to find two great jobs in the one place  regardless of your field.Read More »

The week we Via-ed Verde-ishly

Warning: for some inexplicable reason, this post contains an alarming amount of alliterations.

Yesterday we bundled our bikes into the bottom of a bus and headed off to explore the mountains that surround Tortosa. We ventured with verve to velocipede on the Via Verde.

Via Verdes (or Greenway) are old train lines that have been converted into cycling and walking paths over the past 20 years. Apparently most of the original train routes were never used or even completed, an ambitious infrastructure plan that was, for lack of a better word, derailed by the Spanish Civil War.

There are more than 90 Via Verdes across Spain (more than 7,500 km of path), and because trains can only go so fast up a hill, all of the trails are gloriously flat. The route that ends in Tortosa combines Via Verdes of two regions and starts in Arnes on the southern Catalonian border. However, due to the wonderful weekend bus timetable not including a bus to that particular village, we started our adventure in Gandesa in Terra Alta, around 40km north of Tortosa.

We hopped off the bus at about 9:30, ready for a superb day of self-propelled splendour. Gandesa’s main attraction, the region’s wine cellar was not open yet (probably for the best), so we pedalled off towards the south.

Terra Alta, the region adjacent to Tortosa’s Baix Ebre province, fortunately contains many walking/cycling routes that are well marked and provided amazing views of vineyards, orchards, and geologically-impressive mountains.

Unfortunately, only one of these trails is a Via Verde. The others are steep and scree-ish. So the first 9km of our journey was over hill and under dale along a dirt rode to get to the start of the official Via Verde track. Beautiful views but I was too busy watching the loose gravel on my timid treddly.

Gandesa_to_bot
Me trying to look like I’m having fun among the vineyards while the loose gravel mocks me.

We hit the straight and narrow in Bot, a gorgeous sandstone village with delicious chocolate croissants. As we started along the Verde’s wide, paved and city-bike friendly path, we realised what a genius idea it had been to start in Gandesa and ride back towards Tortosa, or towards the sea. We were going down hill the whole way!

Tunnel_bridge
Bridges and tunnels, and all on a slight decline.

And so we coasted. We coasted through old train tunnels that were lit with solar-powered lights, lit by our cleverly packed head-torches and even one tunnel that was lit by the headlights of a friendly policeman. We coasted past stunning swimming spots, charismatic cliffs, bold bridges and stately old train stations. Apart from the occasional sod struggling up the slight incline, we were on our own too (thank you winter!).

Lunch No. 1 was consumed at Fontcalda, a popular swimming hole with a natural warm spring. Lunch No 2. was devoured in Xerta, near where the Terra Alta Via Verde joins the Baix Ebre leg of the trail. We followed the huge Ebre river back to Tortosa, dragging our bruised buttocks home by about 4pm. An amazing 40km adventure to amplify our attraction to the alluring (Terra) Alta.

Fontcalda
A geologist’s delight! This will be the most lovely place for a swim come summer time.
Ebro_river
The mighty River Ebre (Ebro in Castellano)

For more information:

The Via Verde website (In English): http://www.viasverdes.com/en

Gandesa to Tortosa tour notes: http://www.hife.es/es/servicios-hife/bus-bici-via-verde/

A map that I blatantly stole from the Tortosa Via Verde information sign:

Via_Verde_map
The Via Verdes in Terra Alta and Baix Ebre, as well as another path (in red) that goes down to the sea. Save that one for next time…

The week of the jamón

Finally, after two months of filler, of pretending this blog is about science or experiencing a new culture or some such, I can finally write the blog post that this website was born to host. The real reason we moved to Spain. La semana del jamón.

Jamon of the house
Meet our newest housemate!

Jamón—pork that is cured by drying and salting, as opposed to your standard sandwich ham, which is boiled in brine or baked—is served at almost every restaurant here. Legs of it are sold at the supermarket, even at the German chain Lidl, and it has been our dream, nay our mission, to own a leg of jamón during our stay. So with my second paycheck we braved the wind and cold last Saturday and journeyed to the nearest Mercadona to procure ourselves a slice (multiple slices hopefully) of history.

Jamon on wheels
Jamón on wheels

It took us three laps of the supermarket to work up the courage to approach the jamón counter. There were hind legs (jamón) and forelegs (paleta) for sale, all hanging up behind the friendly butcher. We wanted the real deal, the jamón ibérico. This grand-daddy of pig products comes from black-footed Iberican pigs that are apparently fed only acorns. The meat is cured for over two years (so the butcher told us) and is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It was tempting, but we just could not justify the 99€ (~$150 AUD) price tag.

The jamón serrano was more our style, from white mountain pigs that are fed mostly cereal and cured for only 12 months. After a free tasting, and a confusing conversation in Spanish, we left the supey with 8kg of pork for only 48€.

We got her home and started slicing. Although we’re not completely convinced the leg is the right way up, so far we have not cut off any fingers. OK yes, some of the slices are still landing on the floor, but we’re getting there. We have now accumulated all of the accessories too: a jamonero (‘ham house’ –not the direct translation but quite the table centrepiese) and a long sharp flexible knife for cutting nice clean slices.

Apparently you need to keep eating the jamón every day or two so that the exposed meat does not go bad. Who are we to ignore this advice? Stay tuned for ‘The Week We Finish The Jamón’. Likely to be next week…

Jamon for lunch
Our first attempts at slicing the jamón. Another nominee for worst photo on this blog but my golly was it delicious!

The week of the assembly

It’s not sexy and there are no tandem bikes, but the most significant thing that happened this week, for the first time, was work related.

My research position at URV is part of UERRA, an EU funded program that stands for Uncertainties in Ensembles of Regional ReAnalyses (acronyms are hilarious). Reanalyses are not the job that Tobias Fünke has from Arrested Development. They are basically a complete picture of the atmosphere based on the observations that are available and the physics that governs how weather behaves.  Reanalyses are the data used by meteorologists and climatologists all over the world. I’ve attempted to explain more about them here.Read More »

Rea-whatnow?

Disclaimer: This is my first attempt at a grandma-friendly explanation of one of the key instruments in a climate scientist’s bag: climate reanalyses. As with everything on this blog, as I learn more, I will add more.

connectthedotMy new job is all about finding weather observations that can feed into things called reanalyses. A reanalysis product is a massive dataset that can be used to recreate how we think the weather and climate behaved. Having this kind of ‘guess-timate’ of the recent atmosphere helps scientists learn more about how weather patterns form and decay, different ways that the atmosphere is responding to climate change, and all sorts of cool  ways to understand how the weather works. Reanalyses are used to study things like extreme weather events, improving weather forecasting, how climate change is affecting the atmosphere, and sun, wind and rain availability for renewable energy and agriculture.Read More »