I'm back from the conference, and immediately immersed in packing up the office, sorting out things in the house, and trying to recover from sleep deprivation and a very sub-optimal diet. I realised that I didn't say which country I was going to. I went to a very pretty rural part of Germany. On the way to the hotel, I eyed the flat gradients and wide, well-kept cycle paths with an enormous amount of jealousy. There were always lots of people gliding about elegantly and effortlessly on comfortable Dutch bikes — no helmets or Lycra in sight.
The conference itself was very interesting, and sparked a few ideas for research. There were a few people I knew there, so it was nice to catch up with them and also make some new acquaintences. The bad part was the food and lack of sleep. I'm sure that it's different in larger urban areas in Germany, but the rural areas are terrible for vegetarians. Meals seem to consist of meat (lots of meat) with a very small amount of vegetables, invariably pickled to within an inch of their lives. I can only assume that Germans have an extraordinary gut chemistry to be able to withstand such high levels of acidity in their diet. After a couple of days, I had one continuous bout of indigestion.
There was a buffet dinner on the first night, and I was sitting on a table with three other veggies. We surveyed the buffet table with sinking hearts (and knotting stomachs). 95% of the food was meat, with the remainder being composed of bread, potato salad and — surprise — sauerkraut. Other than that, there were a few salad leaves and boiled eggs as garnish for the meat. We saw that we were going to have to be quick, and got off the starting blocks at a terrific pace. It was like a plague of locusts descending on a wheat field. Within seconds, the table had been denuded of every bit of vegetation. Still, I see it as a kind of mutualistic relationship with the carnivores; we helpfully removed all those distracting vegetables so that they could see the hunks of meat better.
Sleep deprivation came courtesy of a trio of cockerels who had a fun crowing match at about 4:30 am every morning. One would start quite quietly (I think it was just clearing its throat), and then the other two would join in an a crescendo of 'cockadoodles' and 'doos' right under my window. Vegetarian I may be, but I was starting to fantasise about getting a shotgun and blasting the wretched birds.
So, a fun and worthwhile conference, but if I go to Germany again I'll make sure that I take a big bag of peanuts for nutritional emergencies, and some ear defenders.