23. Breaking New Ground: 2018 Aeclanum Excavation Season part.1

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Change in life, travel and work are always inspiring to me. With this excavation season, there were several developments in the programme which have already opened many doors. Pushing ourselves towards new skills and challenges, the team that came back together this year is working harder than ever to support the students and in our research. The 2018 dig season at Passo di Mirabella kicked off several weeks ago and for returning students and staff, and after an intense first year in my PhD, it was a pretty great feeling to get back to the site. With a few of us in different positions this year and including a new field project manager (Allison Kidd), and myself moving into project managing off-site alongside the Public Archaeology coordinating. The organizational flow appears to be working well already! The ethos of this excavation is generally oriented away from hierarchies but having people in place to provide additional support in a few key areas has made a big difference!

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These wonderful rogues, Luke and Rory, working hard in Block one removing topsoil.
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Getting back to work

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The expansion of the programme offers a broad array of activities, and this year we have even more students coming for specialist training in pottery, osteology, epigraphy and, of course, longer-term excavation training. Public Archaeology appears to still be a bit of a mystery to students, but maybe one day I’ll have my own little troop to work with, but until then, I am always grateful for the occasional drop-in helping with drawing, activity planning and brainstorming.  My youngest volunteer was arguably the most focused and enthusiastic public archaeologist yet! New teams of students and supervisors are working hard, but also trying to share their experiences via social media. Posting about their experiences on Facebook, Instagram and through personal blogs, students are engaging with the work from a digital perspective while keeping it interesting for their audiences!

Research and Public Archaeology

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This year marks my third season with the project, and second in a Public Archaeology role. It is another ambitious year. I have been working on new activities which aim to bring the participants closer to the daily life of Ancient Romans. This year we have been able to jump ahead towards more sophisticated engagement materials, since we are able to build on the work from last year.Through regular social media updates, my work has been in part illustrating, but the overarching plan for the Open Day and further research is focused on asking questions relating to pedagogical approaches that will be answered via through educational posters and games during the Open Day. The data collected will be assessed in a follow-up project I am working on in the last fortnight of the excavation season. The games and learning materials bridge modern audiences (specifically children but also to encourage adults as well) wtih themes like international trade and community within the urban spaces of Aeclanum. Through a close collaboration between myself (project development and art direction) and the brilliant GIS and digital graphics team (Josef Soucek and Lucia Michillen), and our field directors, Dr. Ferdinando di Simone and Dr. Ben Russell, we are producing materials at a rapid pace entirely in-house, which is unique in my experience and really allows the Aeclanum project to break new ground in terms of outreach. By linking our outreach materials to new research we are undertaking on the site annually and adapting our creative materials to reflect the developments in these research questions, we can integrate students with related research and skills into the work we are doing.

The Open Day is a few weeks away still, but at the rate the students are excavating, we are certain to have an even clearer image of the stratigraphic processes in the trenches, and what this seasons’ research will be able to elucidate before the end of the season.

22. Paris for Nerds and Art Lovers: tips for an enjoyable sojourn

If you are going to be visiting Paris with the expectation that you are going to visit the most romantic city on earth, then this is not the list for you. I am just going to assume you will walk along the ChampsÉlysées, check out the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, so you won’t find those things here. After half a dozen visits to this incredible city, there are some things I think are always worth a look, a re-visit, others to skip. A short trip to Paris can be incredible and dare I say, even relaxing, if you plan to take in sites in between promenades, and cheeky drinks along the Siene and let the ambience take over.

How to Museum20170526_111853There is a fine art to going to see art. Nothing makes you unhappier faster than being hangry, sore and tired and shuffling around a palace full of art – much of which looks basically the same. As someone who travels to see museums and archaeological sites exclusively, I double down when I travel alone and see as much as possible, but if there is another human with me, I (grudgingly) stick to a one large museum a day rule. As tempting as it is to visit a few together to save time, it diminishes your ability to appreciate and enjoy them. Breaking up the visits means you won’t literally run through rooms of incredible art just to sit down. I know there are only so many paintings of the crucifixion you can take in on any one visit. Don’t make seeing this stuff a performance of penance.

1. The Louvre20170526_212106I know what you are thinking; OBVIOUSLY you will be going to the Louvre. However, you will never see everything in the louvre, so don’t try. Rather, pick two themes that interest you; Greco-Roman statues and Near Eastern pre-historic art? Tapestries and Medieval painting? Sure, you may not see every highlight, but by focusing on things you are interested in versus what you ‘should’ be seeing, you will likely enjoy it more.

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I don’t care if you don’t like Classical statuary, go see the Nike of Samothrace.

Pro tip: visit the Louvre in the evenings if you can since it is significantly less busy then, and you have the Venus di Milo all to yourself rather than struggling to find a spot in between tour groups. Wednesdays and Fridays the museum is open until 10pm/ closed on Tuesdays.

2. Musée d’Orsay/ Musée Orangerie 20161030_124101For relatively more modern pieces of art, the impressionist painting collection of d’Orsay and Orangerie are worth the visit. If you’ve ever been curious to see the ‘L’Origine du monde’ (Origin of the World), now is your chance! If you are lucky enough, there might be some performance art happening there during your visit! Both buildings are gorgeous, and worthwhile for a visit. 20161030_134918Places for good eats: Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger & Cafe de la Nouvelle Marie

3. Place de la Concorde 20161029_144416For me, nothing says going to Paris like staring at some Aegyptiaca. The big attractive Obelisk of Luxor and ornate fountains symmetrically placed at the center of Place de la Concorde, with Egyptian-styled decoration throughout the square is an interesting throwback to France’s imperial days. The site of execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, among many others. Surrounding crowds of jeering revolutionairies cramming into this space – briefly named ‘Place de la Révolution‘ during this period- is a viceral mental image of social and political upheaval to conjure.

4. Musée de Cluny (Musée national du Moyen Age) 20161030_170113The museum de Cluny is full of art and artefacts from the Middle Ages, as you would expect from the name, but part of the treasure of this place is the building itself, built atop a Roman bath which you can see in the basement, the higgledy-piggledy building features of the exterior are sort of charming.

5. Pantheon20161030_161841The Pantheon feels as far away from its Roman predecessor as one could find; a monument to the civic spirit and fraternity of the famous French individuals. Once a church, a ruined abbey of Saint Genevieve, re-created by Louis XV in the mid-1700s. Interred within the Pantheon are the remains of Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Rousseau among others. There is something quite unique about such a ornate resting place for writers, philosophers and poets – secular heroes seldomly receive this type of hagiographic treatment.20170527_120425This area is great for wandering and grabbing a coffee and these sites are only 4 minutes walk from the Musée de Cluny. If nothing else, there is a famous macaron shop nearby which is worth the visit. Sweet treats near the Pantheon: Sebastien Degardin (Patisserie de la Pantheon) and La Macaron Laduree Paris.

6. Montmartre and Sacré-Cœur20170528_113137The stairs leading up to Sacré-Cœur and the Montmartre are the devil. It is a beast to get up to the top, but don’t cheat and take the funicular. It’s good for you and will build character.20170528_113712The neighbourhood around the basilica is lovely and winding, with a large number of cafés and restaurants priced to keep the likes of me away. Atmospherically, it’s a an area with a relaxed vibe. There is often music floating around by street performers, interesting architecture and artisans with a plethora of stalls selling their paintings/prints. Stopping in at a café with a decent view, this is one of my favourite areas to sketch urban life scenes.

Some cafes in the area: Café Lomi (3b rue Marcadet, 75018) & Boulangerie Raphaelle.

7. VersaillesIMG_1937 Jumping on the a few metros and RER train out of town, visiting the Palace of Versailles is a pretty solid day trip. Built up from a swamp around his family’s hunting lodge, Louis XIV captured all of France’s nobility in his guilded cage of Versailles. Through elaborate specatcles to entertain them whilst there, and incredibly pedantic and restrictive court etiquette, Louis was gaslighting the French aristorcacy until they competed with eachother to help him put on his pants or use the toilet, as a sign of his favour.

There are so many architectural and decorative wonders in the palace; the public spaces like the Hall of Mirrors and each private room you amble through unveils small reminders of the period where Europe’s most influential art and fashions were being created in Versailles.

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In addition to the historical interst of visiting Versailles, the grounds are exquist if you are partial to a manicured garden. Next-level landscaping. The fountains, which were unable to all be used at the same time in his life-time, now put on incredible water shows to classical music. The small cottage of Marie Antoinette in the gardens, the Hameau de la Reine, has lovely neo-Classical temples and picturesque views for some quiet contemplation and maybe some cake.

8. Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, Saint-Germain-en-Lay20170529_132915_HDRA 40 minute ride on the RER, and you end up in the suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Lay, about 19 km west of Paris. There are nice gardens around the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye which house the archaeological collection, that offer a nice picnic space to nap post-Museum.

This is not a journey I would suggest if you have just a few days in Paris, or if you have never been before since there is so much to see and do in the city center. However, if you’ve seen the main sites and are looking for something different and a little quieter/less busy, this would be a worthwhile visit.

9. Spend as much time as possible picnicking and drinking wine along the Seine 20170525_205302_HDR

I don’t know how much needs to be said on this, but most of the best moments I’ve shared in Paris, with friends or my fiance, have been taking some wine and picnic down to the Seine and hanging out in the sunset. As one of the busiest European tourist destinations, it can be hard to find places to just chill out and take in the majestic views (for free), but along the river you can have all those deep talks, relaxation and watercolour painting opportunities.

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A small travel kit of water colours and watercolour brushes in tow, and you’ve got the makings for an art filled break. Even if you aren’t sure you are going to be a Renoir or Monet, a cheap and portable set of paints and watercolour pen can be the best companion on your trip. Unlike a photo, trying to make a small artistic rendering requires looking a little differently at the world around you, and a slower pace. Your mom will totally put your painting on her fridge.

Bars and nightlife

The Strasbourg St. Denis area is great for bars, chilling out till the wee hours with the unusual opportunity to hear French being spoken all around you. Nice space to unwind with decent food prices in this neighbourhood.

The Paris Pass

The Paris Pass is a great purchase; after a visit or two to the big museums, it will be evident that this little pink pass has paid for itself. Click here for a link.

Transport

There are many ways you can get into the city-center from the airport, but I tend to use the tested and true coach buses. It can be about €15.00 approximately. Click here for a link to a summary site on the transportation options.

Some nice spots to stay in town:

This AirB&B accomodation was an aboslute gem on a research trip last year, small but fully functional and very well situated. Just 10 minutes or so from the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, with many small bakeries, grocery stores and bars nearby.

Hostel Oops is a throwback to my backpacking days, but it’s cheap(ish) and really bloody cool inside as hostels go. Right in the Latin Quarter next to some movie theatres and other fun establishments. It need not be mixed accomodations with strangers, as they have some private rooms, but that’s not as much fun…until you are 25.

À la bientôt!

21.Excavating in Kefalonia: searching for Bronze Age heroes

kefalonia dig site (226)The last 12 months have been eventful, with a lot of life changing things on the horizon to be excited about. In a few short days, I will be heading off for a third (more lengthy) season in the Roman town of Aeclanum, (near modern Mirabella Eclano, Italy). The last year was incredibly formative for me, as I was privileged enough to work on developing materials with the site directors of Aeclanum from the University of Edinburgh and the Apolline Project for public outreach for the Open Day, as well as ongoing learning materials for children to engage with archaeology in schools.The opportunities to share this work are blooming into new areas for me professionally with a lot of creative directions to pursue.

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Pronnoi excavation site, 2008. Photo by Cait Pilon.

My first dig

Ten years ago, before I knew what I wanted to with my life, I applied for the opportunity to work on a three-month salvage excavation in Poros, Kefalonia. This excavation was organised in collaboration with Simon Fraser University and the Ephorate in Kefalonia. One family in Poros, the Metaxas family, made an incredible impact on my time there. They were strong advocates for this dig, working with the local government to see that the archaeological site was excavated before it was robbed or destroyed once it became apparent that there were tombs located there.

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The view across the valley from the necropolis.

It was a project born out of a local passion with an aim to start documenting and publishing the rich history of the area, which had been under occasional excavation for decades with very little making it into the public record. By the time of our arrival, there was evidence of looting, so speed was of the essence and the local archaeologists worked with a ragtag bunch of undergrads to excavate and document the human remains and small finds.

 

The scientific processes are the same for a salvage dig as a normal one, but the elements that are the focus of the excavation tend to be revealed and in peril, so acting quickly and documenting as much as possible is the priority. Our team worked on the excavation during the day and in the evenings would have classroom time and readings, even the odd Greek lessons. Even on the rainy days where the schedule entailed 8 hours of pottery washing, it was still brilliant to be part of.

Int_4398 (51)The antiquity of the necropolis was evidenced through artefacts which represented multi-period usage on the site for burials, an ancient garbage dump (large amounts of broken pottery and animal bones), and fluted columns and  architectural blocks from some unidentified building structure.

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The excavation work was productive for getting the half-exposed burials out in time before the winter rains began to set in, though occasionally, flash rainstorms would flood the side of the mountain with us on it. 20180603_125948The pithoi were interesting tomb-types that were repurposed from containers for bulk storage of grains or other items to a burial container. Once the ceramic vessel was broken up, a body was interred in a flexed or crouched position, and grave goods were added. The vessel was placed around them with fill, but could be accessed again, if another body was to be added to the burial at a later date.

Grave Goods

Digital camera pictures 024The status of the publication of the finds from the dig is unknown to me, so to avoid getting in trouble, I have made a few artistic renderings of some of the standout artefacts:

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  • Corinthian, silver coin.20180602_190644
  • Lyre player, pottery sherd.20180602_190636

From atop the hill we excavated the necropolis, you could see across the valley with stunning views inland and out to the sea. Putting myself in someone’s sandals from 2,500 years ago and looking out across the same seas they did was a moving experience. Having studied Humanities texts and Art History prepared me in a large way for I was able to see how much more I need to understand before the study of Archaeology or Ancient History. Linking this site in my mind to the Homeric kings and events from the Iliad and Odyssey was only natural, since it was on our reading list, but the chronology of the material culture certainly aided the visualizing of the Bronze Age culture.

Searching for Bronze Age HeroesIMG_1535The antiquity and long habitation of the region was visible in another area, Tzanata, 3 km east of Poros in the Eleios-Pronnoi municipal region, which had a preserved tholos tomb, or ‘beehive tomb’.IMG_1747 This type of tomb has a dome-shaped chamber (like a beehive cut in half), an entrance passage (dromos) and a doorway (stomion) covered with 1-3 lintel blocks. These monumental structures would be buried underground, though accessible, as there could be multiple burials over long periods of time.

The nearby environs of Poros were home to a Bronze Age tholos tomb, which has been dated to around 1400 BCE. This tomb, excavated by Lazaros Kolonas in 1991, contained several sequential burials that could suggest a common lineage.

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While significantly smaller than the most famous tholos tombs of Mycenae, it certainly showed comparable architectural features and represented elite participation in the monumental funerary building of the Bronze Age Mediterranean. Finds in the archaeological museum of Argostoli (temporarily closed) reveal golden grave goods from the Mycenaean cultural influence. Included in these finds were carved gemstones a seal that has been interpreted as ‘royal’ were discovered in the tomb.IMG_1756The proximity to Pylos, among other Bronze Age kingdoms of the area, provide parallels chronologically for local elites of Pronnoi having a similar kind of rule over the area by virtue of using similar funerary cultural practices. However, little is known of this site as the excavation reports remain (I believe) unpublished. If further work has been done on this site, it would open up a lot of interesting questions about the position of Kefalonia within Bronze Age trade and indeed, later into the Classical period.

Kefalonia Dig (240)Suffice it to say, my time spent in Poros, Kefalonia, was fundamental in shaping the direction of my studies and career plans. While I have not been back since 2008, the richness in history, the warmth of the community and beauty of the island is still deeply felt. I am making plans to return and investigate the current findings of the area and reunite with the incredible people who made it such a memorable experience for me.

 

À la prochaine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

20. A Flâneuse in Ancient Cities: making art with Archaeology

“To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world”

Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays”

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Walls of Policastro Bussentino, Italy  2015

The concept of ‘the flâneur‘ is an old one that has recently entered my mind as my PhD research is starting to intersect conceptually with my artistic experiences within ancient city spaces. As someone who feels that you need to walk a city to really experience it, I also believe to really see a city, it helps to sketch it; not the whole thing, and not just its monuments, but small details and elements. The 19th century French symbol of the flâneur is relatable to me for that reason.

For the flâneur, one interacts within urban spaces through engagement (in painting or writing) and observation, but still remains apart- both a performer and spectator.  The lesser-known ‘flâneuse’ is the female chronicler of urban life in the 19th century, figures like Virgina Woolf, as discussed in this article, are part of the underespresented presence of female urban explorers. As a modern female explorer of ancient urban spaces, creating a space to discuss, share and engage with these ideas and locations in the public sphere is important to me.

Additionally, this concept resonates for me, as an archaeology student and artist, because it embodies more than a spirit of adventure and making art, but also a spirit of understanding and trying to piece together the urban landscapes that have developed and disappeared over time.

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Maratea and the statue of Cristo Redentore, 2015.

Since my first trip abroad, in 2002, the drive to sketch and take in everything that I could has formed an important part of appreciating a significantly bigger world than I knew. Sketches from my earlier books explored famous portraits and statues the likes of which I’d only ever seen in Art History courses.

This initial exposure provided me with access to masterpieces in galleries that were unlike the art I could see with any regularity in Canada. Sketching from paintings was a lot of fun and I felt so fortunate to see the images, but my first visit to archaeological sites in Greece and Italy really affected what I wanted to draw.

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Sketches from Delphi: reliefs and helmets 2008

Visiting many sites in the Mediterranean over the last 10 years, I was able to sit and breathe in these ancient cities by focusing in on the shapes and forms of the stone,  lines of sight, and views between one temple to the streets or the valleys below. My curiosity directed me to explore artifacts and material culture that were used to adorn Greek, Etruscan or Roman buildings and the individuals who navigated through them.20180325_123934

From Observer to Preformer

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Lady of Elche, 4th century BC, Iberia

The most inspiring pieces of art in the world were at my fingertips (sketchbook and pen tip), but my shyness about drawing in front of strangers took a few years to overcome. Ironically, the simple act of drawing in public would lead to some of the most interesting encounters with fellow travellers, curious children and tour groups. I have found the quiet study of the place you are in, or artifacts in front of you, signals something unspoken to other people which is inviting.

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Sir John Soane’s Museum 2015

Over time I developed my own sense of style.  I could explore patterns and elements taken from brick designs, patterns of lace on Dutch merchant collars, hairstyles of Roman and Greek elite women, and not worry what the person hovering over my shoulder thought.

Much of what made this passion for drawing more appealing was the utility of having something free and enjoyable to do with the many hours you spend while traveling to get to the place you are going.  Waiting to cross the sea on a ferry or idle at a train station on my way to a new city, provided me a good amount of time to reflect on my sketches.

This reflection began to take greater shape and purpose once I started to do postgraduate research. Having questions and a focus of study in my mind affects the way I approach the ancient city spaces around me. It focuses my vision, but also encourages me to think on the connections between the visual elements across the Mediterranean. You don’t need to travel all over the Mediterranean to realise there is a shared visual culture being used with an incredible exchange of ideas and styles at play, but it was helpful to visualize the scope.

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Roman Bridge, Cordoba 2018

It began to create a tapestry of experiences (passive and active) in my mind of ancient art and the interconnectedness of ancient communities that had risen and fallen many centuries ago. I remain inspired to learn more and document it in a way that is meaningful to me and hopefully others. By saving a small piece of my experiences in a sketch or painting, I am starting to develop ways in which these small illuminations of incredible places and artifacts can be used to share the benefits of the study of Archaeology and Ancient History.

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Ruins of Augusta Emerita, Spain- 2014

Thank you for checking out my blog! A bientôt!

19. Manchester: trying on ‘self-care’ in 5 steps after a big submission

Deciding to listen to the good advice I was given at the onset of embarking on my PhD, I opted to follow the rule: once you’ve submitted something substantial, take a week and decompress.

 

The first few months of my PhD have been a whirlwind of new ideas, late nights and piles of reading. It had been three years since I’d written anything so formal, and the gap in between was noticeable. Like an unused muscle, my writing felt crampy and good for only one lap or two around the court. Though working old muscles can be exhausting, diving into the subject that you love is enjoyable and invigorating. After several years of wanting to spend my daylight hours working on something interesting and challenging, the last two months have sped by. With the completion of my first review submission, there was no shortage of things to work on and develop.20171113_172436Deciding to listen to the good advice I was given at the onset of embarking on my PhD, I opted to follow the rule: once you’ve submitted something substantial, take a week and decompress. That can mean many things of course. Understandably, long train rides and walking many miles might not be someone’s idea of decompression, but hey ho.20171127_1540061. Go Find Your Chill

Normally, I am the last person to take advice relating to self-care and relaxing (shudder), but I thought, ‘why not’? Four hours after submitting my work, I jumped on a train to Manchester to visit a couple of wonderful friends who I met during my MSc at Edinburgh. My wonderful hosts, both a current and future PhDs, welcomed and showed me their adopted city. Manchester was a beauty. With plenty of time to explore the downtown and no particular agenda, other than seeing what they love about it, I could relax and take it all in.

 

2. Take in a Bit of Culture

There is something restorative in going to art galleries, museums or creative performances. Even if you don’t necessarily like the art on display, just seeing what creative minds have been/are up to can take you outside of yourself for enough time to relax a bit. At least until the next “BREAKING NEWS” alert on your phone goes off.20171128_123042 When needing to feel some inspiration, or just wanting a quiet space to draw, museums and galleries tend to be my preferred space to do so. Popping into the Manchester Art Gallery allowed me the rare privilege to see one of my favourite paintings in the flesh – Charles Auguste Mengin’s ‘Sappho’ – which was breath-taking and significantly larger than I’d imagined.6The depth of the darkness in Sappho’s gown cannot be done justice with a digitized image, and the highlights looked iridescent in some spaces. Sappho, so often presented longingly and wistfully, is shown powerful, dark and mourning. Her angst and colour palette was a natural favourite for me in my high school goth years.20171127_1736273. Nightime Walks and Christmas Markets

Walking around at night when travelling alone isn’t always the safest choice, so when I have the opportunity for company, it is an excellent way to see another side of a city. As this was my first time in Manchester and it coincided with Christmas festivities, strolling around the streets at night was especially lovely. 20171127_172938While making me homesick, one of the perks of living in the United Kingdom is the on-point Christmas markets. The smells of meat, waffles and mulled wine were amazing. It required all the will-power I possessed not to buy adorable kitsch ceramics, and eat all the treats.20171127_173235-e1513174939446.jpgOnward through town we went, eventually settling into a pub near the university. Ample political debates, methodological discussions and general nerdiness ensued.

4. Treat Yo SelfAviemore 2013 (5)This might seem fairly obvious, but taking 30 minutes out of the day to have a leisurely coffee or popping into a print shop and finding Liam Gallagher greeting cards (nailed it, Manchester) is sometimes the treat you need to clear your head. It doesn’t have to be a big production, but leaving the to-go cup behind and just sitting in nice spaces with friends (or alone) is one of my favourite parts of a solo journey. Seldom do I plan a trip without packing as much as possible into the schedule, but trying it out this month was really rewarding and relaxing.

5. Reflecting 20171128_114301Taking stock and heading home, I was thoroughly impressed by the juxtaposition between new and old buildings in the city. There is a lot of effort to create dynamic visual landscapes, which living in the historic neighbourhoods of Edinburgh, I occasionally forget that skyscrapers, tower block flats and vivid colour are normal to see. Shaking off the last few weeks of 14+ hour work days, and stress that ate normal stress for breakfast, I definitely came back feeling more refreshed, and through that, optimistic. Though only a few days, it was a wonderful stop.20171203_130941_HDRNext stop: BRUSSELS! 48 hours later, my partner and I jumped on a plane and were en route to Eindhoven for a week