By Guest Author 28/11/2016

In this guest post series astronomer Dr Yaël Nazé details her experience traveling from Belgium to New Zealand for the International Astronomy Union Symposia – The Lives and Death-Throes of Massive Stars.

The first step for attending a congress is to travel – and that implies some “events”, more numerous as the travel gets longer.

It began with the Frankfurt-Bangkok flight that was changed to Frankfurt-Phuket-Bangkok. Why? Impossible to know, but no choice but to accept to have less time to transit in Bangkok. Then on D-day minus 1, I got a message on my phone while I was in Paris for another meeting. Strike at Lufthansa, so no Brussels-Frankfurt – and you need the first step to do the next ones. My colleagues in Paris helped me sending a “help” email to the travel agency – we got a proposal to take the previous flight, without being certain that that one would fly. My boss and my travelling mate Eric pushed for another solution: direct high-speed train connection between Liège and Frankfurt. It works: for once, the trains are not on strike!

On D-day, we finally leave. Two hours by train, 11 to Phuket, one more to Bangkok, 12 hours to Auckland – plus the waiting in between flights. So we left the university on Friday 2pm and arrive on Auckland airport on Friday 1pm… what to do with all that time? A few hours sleep, some eating (very spicy chicken, with some unidentified but good stuff), and some movies. Today’s choice includes some astronomical movies : 2001 space odyssey, Star Trek Beyond, Ice Age collision course, Jupiter Ascending. Well, 2001 on a mini-screen, no way. Let’s try Scrat making stupid things in space, and the not-that-great story of Jupiter (though there is a superb one-minute close-up on Jupiter’s great red spot).

Apart from that, no real event: an organized chaos with Thai crews facilitating the transits in Thailand, an hour delay for the Auckland plane (but as long as we arrive, we don’t care), and downtown Auckland blocked for the… Christmas parade (hey, guys, it’s a MONTH away!).

Finally, the driver announces to the five remaining people in the shuttle that they’re all going to the same place. We look at each other : hey, you’re astronomer too? I had tried to find a colleague when waiting in airports, but apart from a guy wearing a Mauna Kea sweat-shirt and the usual scientist-with-his-poster-roll-going-to-a-congress, we’re difficult to identify : male/female, old/young, wise/somewhat crazy – nothing looks unlike an astronomer than another astronomer…

Finally, at 3pm, we’re at the hotel/conference center. Next thing to do : avoid sleeping. I try to keep the local pace, and decide on a walk outside, under a strong wind with some grey clouds and a little bit of rain. After all, Auckland in summer looks like Belgium in the same season.



The nearby beach provides a great view on Rangitoto volcano, where we’re going on Friday, and everywhere I got this strange feeling : it looks like home and it’s different from it. Lots of trees – but their flowers and leaves are different when looked up close; lots of roundabouts and signs in km/h but on the wrong side of the street ; small birds similar to ours, but a noise tac-tac taaac recalls we’re far away. Exotic familiarity – well, it may also be the side effect of jet lag, who knows what an exploded brain can invent ?


What do we do today? At 4pm begins the registration. Two tables, one for each half of the alphabet. Badge, tickets for drinks, USB key with summaries – the usual stuff, but without paper (an ecological move ?). Then at 6pm the reception begins : meat balls/dumplings, pancakes and cakes, frittata “fries” (come on, guys, those are not French fries – which actually are Belgian, by the way! – the fries are defined by their content, not shapes)…



No Kiwis in sight, I’m disappointed – but quality is there: at least New Zealanders didn’t inherit English cooking, what a relief! To go with all that are drinks – I got a dark apple juice (so dark I never saw that before except in Trappist – Belgian – beers), but many prefer beers or wine.



Now begin the practical problems: OK, in Belgium it’s one kiss, in France two, but what about Canada or Switzerland? With everybody talking of everything but astronomy, the conference organizer takes several minutes to get a noisy silence, and he recalls the orders: tomorrow, 9:15am is the welcome address, so be sure to be seated at that time.



OK, in the meantime, I’ll just go to sleep, my brain just switched off.


Featured image: All other images – Credit: Yaël Nazé