Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Job at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Finally some success on the job front!  I have been hired as a lab technician at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) for a part-time (70%) job.  Established in 1974, the EMBL is "one of the highest ranked scientific research organizations in the world" and the headquarters are located in Heidelberg, Germany.  I am working in the Berger group laboratory, learning new protein-related techniques that are cutting edge, as my boss has recently developed/modified a method that is patented and taught to people from labs around the world.  We are infecting insect cells with a modified virus, to produce large amounts of (human) protein complexes which can then be analyzed for structural and functional properties.  I have not previously done any protein work, so this is very exciting for me and at the same time, it will involve considerable learning but I am really liking it so far.  Our team is actually made up of three labs that are shared between my boss and his wife, and consists of approximately 20 people.  As you can imagine, Grenoble being very international, the group is very diverse.  There are !two! Canadians in the group and !one! Czech at the EMBL in a lab down the hall.   Finding my way around the three labs for equipment is a bit of a challenge ;)  So to sum this all up: the environment is dynamic and the research very interesting.  Let's hope I can do my job well and that this might just be the key to establishing a solid repertoire of techniques that will later help me find a decent job in Canada.

Jakub's mom came over for a few weeks to help me with the transition.  So far, she's been driving the kids to school and picking them up, but she just left today so we have to finally figure this out on our own (at least for the month of June for now).  I've been biking to work and back (25mins one way), which is really nice, but doesn't always work.  We have a bit of a setback with the kids being at two different schools, having to pick them up separately, and we have to do some juggling around with some of their extra-curricular activities.  Hopefully by September, I will have figured out my flow of things in the lab and everything will settle down.  The kids are going to Czech republic for the summer holidays to stay with their grandparents for 6 weeks, which will be very hard for me, but at the same time will allow me to figure out my work routine...

That's all folks!  Wish me luck and success :))


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Calanques - a climber's paradise.

Situated in southern Provence, the Massif des Calanques consists of pure white limestone cliffs that span some 20km of the rugged Mediterranean coastline between Cassis and Marseille.  The word calanque itself originates form a Corsican expression for an inlet or a fjord, which are often seen here.  Blue turquoise waters, bays, and islands add to the magnificent scenery.  The Calanques offer over 1500 routes of sport climbing, trad climbing, cragging, and multipitch climbing of varying grades.  Who would resist to go climbing here if offered to stay with some friends in Marseille?  Not I.

It turns out that about 13 of us headed down to Marseille from Grenoble to enjoy good food, climbing and the sunshine.  The group was diverse as far as nationality and climbing ability goes, but we all had the same goal - to have a good time.  We had a pretty decent German, Italian, Colombian and Spanish presence, however, I was the sole Czech/Canadian as well as one French participant (Steph).  You can imagine that planning and organizing amongst such a large group was not very easy or efficient, but eventually we always somehow figured things out :)).

Day1.  There are several sectors in the Calanques and on the first day we decided to climb in the Sormiou area.  Several of us decided to do some multipitch climbing directly above the sea and so that was the plan for the day.  Climbing from the sea level requires to do a rappel first, followed by climbing up back to the starting point. They say that if you can't climb back up, then you can always swim back to Marseille :))  I don't remember the names of the routes we did, but they ranged from about 5b to 6a(+).  (Something like 5.8 to 5.10a/b)  The limestone here was amazing as it was very grippy and quite different from what I'm used to in Grenoble.  We also had to be careful not to drop the rope in the ocean when rappelling, since we were only about one meter above the sea!  The climbing was really fun and at the end there was a 10a traverse that was rather challenging.  After a fantastic day outside we hit a Lebanese restaurant in Marseille with really good food and great entertainment by a beautiful belly dancer.

Moi et Martino, like two peas in a pod, just barely above the ocean. (Some photos taken by Steph M.)

All three of us - our little multipitch team.
Steph leading one of the routes for us.

Martino and I, going up at the same time on double rope.

Ahhh, the views...

Day2.  On the second day we headed to the Sugiton sector where we hung out at a nice little crag and did some easier climbing.  I did some leading and toprope climbing on easy routes (5.8/5.9) and we had a nice relaxing time.  Half of the group did multipitch climbing but since we started around 1PM, we ran out of time...we were supposed to meet at the car at 6PM but the multipitch took our friends till 10PM and I think we ended up getting to Grenoble at 3AM!!  Since our group was done sooner though, we had a little dinner and beer at Andrea's place.

Looking down at the bay with turquoise waters and beach packed with people already at the end of March.

Thomas on one of the routes we did.  Here the limestone was not as nice as the previous day but it was still very interesting and fun.

Nelly on another route.

Lots of neat flowers around including fragrant rosemary bushes everywhere.

Most of the crew sans Steph who is taking the photo...

"The Spaghetti Climbers" doing crazy stuff (happens to be the name of our email climbing list)