When I moved to Antwerp in Belgium I embraced cycling, that very Belgian way to commute. Despite the occasional joint pain or getting wet, it is a great experience to cycle to work every day. Biking is a great way to move around fast, reduce your carbon emissions, help the community and enjoy the exercise outside while you are at it. I hope my Belgian bicycle story will show why cycling is a good alternative to the car and bus. And why more countries in the European Union should start investing into bike paths instead of three-lane residential roads.

Lately, my blog entries have been quite long. However this one has to be rather short, as I am about to move back to Bristol in a couple of days, and the moving house process is taking all my energy. Next blog entry will probably be about the stress of moving house to another country, all by yourself, in the middle of a PhD. Although to be honest, other researchers in this project have it much worse than me. Anyway, right now I feel a pressing need to write about my first experience with water scarcity.

One month for a research stay is not a long period. Therefore, before starting this secondment at Waterschap de Dommel, we decided that I was not going to build a new model from scratch or start new simulations. Instead, I was going to take advantage of this stay to receive feedback of my work by giving seminars and organizing meetings with relevant researchers and policy advisors. Waterschap de Dommel is a River Basin Authority in the Netherlands and I am developing a Decision Support System for River Basin Authorities to help them select measures to reduce pharmaceuticals in their rivers. Therefore, the secondment was actually well planned and made a lot of sense for my individual research project.

It was close to midnight when I stumbled into my hotel room in downtown Palermo. The day had been packed with scientific lectures followed by dinner and drinks with colleagues and newfound friends and I was happy to finally find a quiet moment to open my computer and re-read the email I had just scrolled through on my phone during a coffee break during the day. Deciphering the text on my broken iPhone screen had shot sparkles of excitement through me even stronger than the ones induced by the concentrated Italian coffee I balanced in my other hand, but I put the phone away as I wanted to read the email through in peace in order to fully enjoy the significance of the following lines:

Every day we meet people and talk to them. And more then often we don’t only have a simple chat. We try to explain, justify, challenge or teach what is important to us. At this point, a bunch of ideas becomes an argument and a public speech which explains your position. This skill is so important for our society. Yet more than often it is lacking even in seemingly trained professionals. So I say, it’s time to get rid of eye-watering slides and weak speeches and start to present well.

Last week I attended the Frontiers International Conference on Wastewater Treatment in Palermo, Italy. The organizers had put a lot of effort to invite well renowned persons as key note speakers and although it was a bit weird to me that they had choosen 100% white men the speakers without doubt gave very good presentation on the state of the art in their respective area of research. The layout of the conference with no parallell sessions made it easy to interact and I got to discuss my research – and other topics of interest – with experienced researchers in my field.

“Vucciria” is a typical popular area in the city of Palermo, in Sicily, south of Italy. In this area, every morning the people from Palermo and surroundings set up the food market of the city. This market reveals the inner nature of the people, the urban people as well as the ones coming from the country side, the fisherman and all type of characters you can find in a working-class area. This market indeed gave the inspiration to some Italian artists which wanted to represent a scene of the real life. “Vucciria” in fact is the name and the main topic of one of the most famous paint of the Italian Realism. The “Vucciria” paint made by Renato Guttuso shows the stands of the local food-market with the people both buying stuff and selling their products. Is a very famous paint of that artistic trend called Socialistic Realism. Anyway, walking on those narrow streets in the morning while the market is set up, is an experience anyone should live. But, on the other hand, it has to be said that those narrow streets, during the night, change their aspect. This neighborhood transforms itself into a place where to have a beer (or more than one), listen to music, dance, talk with and meet local people, and of course, to eat! (YES, in Sicily, you have to eat a lot! There you can find the best food in the world…According to my opinion….).

Over these past two years, I have gotten familiar with a range of open source tools (that means free!), that have greatly helped me to cope with my daily work. They are many, and each one of them definitely deserves its own blog entry. However, we don’t have that much time, so I will describe the most important ones. If you think they might be useful, I suggest you take a look.

Mobility is one of the main cores of European Marie-Curie research fellowships. As PhD fellows, we have the opportunity to travel, engage international research groups and integrate into other cultures. However, we also must deal with lots of paperwork. When moving from one country to another, we not only need to move our personal stuff but also our social security provided by our home institution. I know this can be a pain in the neck for many PhD students. This is the reason why I am going to use this entry to share my knowledge on how I managed to have social security in Belgium, being ICRA my home institution.