… Raleigh. The Beauty of Flowers

After being in the gardens at Duke University, I though I visited the state’s nicest floral place. I did not know there was something even more beautiful and moreover, right in Raleigh: NC State’s J. C. Raulston Arboretum located next to the West Campus. Named in honor of NC State’s horticulture professor, renowned plantsman and also the arboretum’s founder, it is supposed to have numerous unique plant collections comprising of more than 6,500 species, thus making the place one of the most diverse plant collections in the southeast US. Though I did not count the taxa and have visited only one more garden to compare it with, I dare to say that their advertising descriptions might actually hold lots of truth.

Pineapple Lily - the First Flower of the Day

Pineapple Lily – the First Flower of the Day

There were a visitor center and an education center, however, they did not bother themselves to be opened on weekends. I do not think it affected my visit too much as the printed guide with a map, and information boards spread all over the place provided me with enough facts to make my time there not only enjoyable but also bearably educational.

The arboretum was huge and out of its 16 sections highlighted in the guide I am aware of being in 14. I somehow skipped Plantsmen’s Woods, supposedly a mix of trees from all over the world and understory plants. I am pretty sure I must have passed through Mixed Border composed of trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs (according to the guide) but I cannot remember anything that would make it stand out from the surrounding vegetation.

I was in the arboretum for about two minutes and already got super excited – I saw a flowering banana plant for the first time! Once I researched the flower and bananas-to-be, I climbed up the education center. It definitely was not a case of trespassing but a peaceful walk to the rooftop terrace offering both a variety of plants right there as well as a view on the arboretum – particularly Xeric Garden next to it. The Xeric Garden was a home to drought-tolerant species including yuccas, palms and cacti. I am sure there were many more but these were the only three species whose existence I was somewhat aware of. D From the roof terrace I walked down the main path which was an opportunity to learn a little bit about geophytes (plants with underground organs – e.g. tubers or bulbs – enabling them to survive winter). On my way I also passed the Perennial Border which could as well be called a Butterfly Heaven. Later I got lost among conifers (Conifer Collection) and in the Winter Garden. The later one included species adapted to winter (surprisingly), so I was not too surprised to find some not very happy plants. There was something special about the collection of conifers, too. It included a huge portion of the known conifer species, thus being a conifer reference. Moreover, planting conifers in North Carolina proved their resilience to hot and humid climate and clay soil. Approved by me – all three of them can indeed be found here.

Banana Flower and Small Forming Bananas

Banana Flower and Small Forming Bananas

Have you ever wondered how big a banana leaf is?

Have you ever wondered how big a banana leaf is?

I did not either. But now I do!

I did not either. But now I do!

Check the flower weather wane!

Check the flower weather wane!

Seeing a rather weird building, I headed there. It turned out to be Lath House, a temporary shelter for many plants arriving to the arboretum. Its unusual wooden structure is supposed to provide shade in summer and reduce heat loss during winter. Adjacent to it were Japanese Garden and Asian Valley. These two seemed somewhat empty to me – I wonder whether it is characteristic to gardens in Asia or I only was there at a wrong time of the year.

Lath House

Lath House

Japanese Crepe Myrtle: The Best of the Japan Garden

Japanese Crepe Myrtle: The Best of the Japan Garden

By that time the weather turned out from cloudy and pleasant with light breeze into usual cooking hot. I was about to leave at that point but I wanted to see the Monocot Garden at the same time. Apparently a result of being exposed to too much wheat research and rice stuff. While the Monocot section was little disappointing, on the way there, I passed beautiful flowerbeds. Variety of plant species were arranged according to the color of their flowers and most of them were in full blossom (though little tired from the heat). It was so pleasing to just stand there and admire the beauty around. In proximity of the monocts were three beehives. I have seen many of them before but never got close enough to actually see bees entering and leaving it. Who would expect an arboretum to be beekeeping educational! By the way, did you know that NC has the most beekeepers per capita?

The Biggest Grass of the Arboretum

The Biggest Grass of the Arboretum

Canna Flowers: So different but it somehow happened on one single plant

Canna Flowers: So different but it somehow happened on one single plant

Pink and White Flowerbed

Pink and White Flowerbed

One of the flowerbeds even included these cute peppers!

One of the flowerbeds even included these cute peppers!

When I saw a direction sign to the White Garden, I thought I confused it with the Winter Garden. But it turned out that the two were completely different things. The White Garden was inspired by a similar garden in Kew, London. It included only white flowering species and together with white wooden gazebo those were put in contrast to conifers in the background. Low brick walls were an unusual component of this unique composition. For me, it was a great occasion for little bit of black and white photography.

Peaceful Sunday (White Garden Gazebo)

Peaceful Sunday (White Garden Gazebo)

White Garden 2

White Garden 2

White Garden 3

White Garden 3

Finley-Nottingham Rose Garden – future site. That is what the map said. Thankfully, the roses were planted already and doing well, moreover many of them in blossom. I assume most of the varieties were man-made and thus given funny or weird names – Sexy Rexy illustrates that well. I did not see much diversity in size or shape of the flowers, yet they came in so many colors! And I am sure the place will be even more stunning once the roses are grown enough to start climbing the provided arches.

As mentioned, the arboretum was supposed to be exceptionally (at least for the Southwest) rich in number of species grown there. Here is the diversity described in my own words. Several ornamental species I was familiar with from our or my Grandparents’ gardens but here, most of them have grown much bigger – this was particularly true for yucca (this variety was called Blue Mexican), canna and hibiscus. I have seen banana plants before but these were enormous and flowering! Apparently these must all be heat-loving species. The arboretum’s collection included species I knew from textbooks but do not remember seeing them before, such as agave. Of course, there were also species I knew from Czech forests. Once it started looking to much like home, I would always bump into (a) plant(s) I was not familiar with at all as their homes were Africa or Asian countries such as Japan or Korea.

Agave

Agave

Blue Mexican Yucca

Blue Mexican Yucca

Give Me High Five!

Give Me High Five!

However, what was extremely well-known to me were marigolds whose typical scent confused me for a while and made me feel like I was in our Czech garden for a while. The vegetable section was not new either – cabbage, sunflowers, plenty of tomatoes, pumpkins. Nothing what I would not find in our garden. But this garden was the most dead one I have ever been to. The domesticated crops did not seem to enjoy the hot weather at all. In fact, many of the plants were literally burned.

That is how unhappy garden looks like

That is how unhappy garden looks like

I already mentioned bees but there was more fauna to admire – so many butterflies and some of them huge, several funny-looking pollinators and finally, one more hummingbird – like a little helicopter.

I am so glad I recalled Mrs. C’s weeks old recommendation to go there. Having missed that one would be a serious flaw in my stay here and I am so thankfully it did not happen. Both, me as a biologist and me as photographer had a great time. I only cannot tell whether the biologist or the photographer was happier.

DSC_0664 DSC_0663

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… Raleigh. Summary of Week 8 & Czech Sarcasm

A SDS-PAGE Gel as a Remembrance of the Last Week's Effort

A SDS-PAGE Gel as a Remembrance of the Last Week’s Effort

Life in the Lab

The lab was a rather sad place this week. Mrs. C. was working on her proposal the whole week, so she was not around laughing too much. Most of the days there was not a single undegrad, J was gone until Wednesday and D never showed up before noon. And those people who were present spent most of the time in their offices, analyzing data I assume. The lab agony culminated on Friday, when two out four graduates did not come. To me, it was also the day when I had the least work done. I am supposed to compensate for that on Sunday. Assuming the little I have done worked…

Lab-wise, however, I cannot say it was a bad week. I did another qPCR and doing the huge pipetting project a second time, I felt much more confident, organized some stuff little better than the last time and had a feeling I knew what I was doing. Especially the later one felt so good! Moreover, with occasional assistance from Big E, I was able to reach the point of drawing some conclusions from my data. We will see if Mrs. C, when she sees it next week, interprets it the same way. I am glad, relieved and probably also little proud to report that I have seen a progress with the cursed PCR that kept me busy – and worried what the heck I do wrong – good three weeks. Mrs. C suggested a longer, yet working (!), procedure to get the desired band and now it is fully up to me how fast (and if) I can move forward with the little time I have left. This also explains the expected Sunday mini-shift.

The Agarose Gel (under UV) That Made Me So Excited. Recommendation: Do not drop you gel, it will break. (Laboratory Tested)

The Agarose Gel (under UV) That Made Me So Excited. Recommendation: Do not drop you gel, it will break. (Laboratory Tested)

Happened out of the Lab

In terms of out-of-lab amusement, it was a poor week (not a reason to complain though – after all, I came to experience a US lab and I am getting so much of it!) with no skating and one of few events worth a report being an evening trip to Food Lion. Under these circumstances, please pardon the following paragraph.

Being busy, and as a result of that tired (and lazy) to do my groceries any time during the past weekend, the plan was to do it on Monday morning before going to the lab. Because I volunteered (well, felt obligated) to help Big E in the morning, there was no grocery shopping neither a L’s lab meeting. Again. Unpredictability of my working hours lately and pretty empty refrigerator forced me to do an evening grocery shopping. I took a bus at 7 PM and was surprised how full it was. Hmm, it looks like that other people than just student know how to ride buses. I did not know that.

After a week of repairs, Food Lion got a new fruit/vegetable section. It is … I am short of an appropriate word. It almost looks like a separate room and at first, I thought it was a storeroom. Having seen a couple of customers going in and the staff not being alarmed, I decided to give it a try, too. It was a shock: it was much cooler there than in the rest of the store (which is cold already), everything was arranged like in a fruit gallery, the vegetable was sprayed regularly and I am pretty sure the light was special, too. You know, to make the fruits look better. The low temperature might help preserve the fruit longer (I indeed believe that) but I am unsure about the rest of the show. Will it really encourage Americans to start being on a healthy diet? Sorry, I doubt it. It was getting dark when I was finally done and as I never took a bus that late, I was slightly worried when it did not show up for a while but it eventually arrived and got me home safely. And my groceries, too.

This time, I also would like to – finally – mention the Freedom Tunnel located on campus. Its tradition dates back to 1939 and it is a place where graffiti is perfectly legal. To me it is also a welcomed shortcut, so I have had a chance to watch it changing. Literally, it never looks the same as new stuff is added every day. It is not thus surprising it is a rather wild place and often it takes time and lots of imagination to decipher the quotes and pictures. However, occasionally, someone takes the effort to paint “their” canvas white and creates a true art there. I have witnessed it twice and the second time, I took a picture of the finished picture.

Graffiti Art on Campus

Graffiti Art on Campus

I stopped for a while and admired the girl who created this one. She held a “normal” photograph of whoever in one hand and just by looking at her template, created a completely different style picture, yet looking exactly the same as the guy on her picture. I take my hat off to her skills and hope her graffiti will stay there much longer than they usually do. It is always painful to see something so well-done to disappear in few days.

A cooking moment of mine deserves a paragraph, too. The truth is that I am getting tired of cooking, running out of ideas what to cook and to top it off, I do not see my skills improving. Therefore, I appreciated a bottle of cheese ragu – moreover promising a tasty dinner – I found in the grocery store. I was naive enough to expect the thing to taste as well as the macaroni and cheese I had on July 3. Huge fault! I did not like its taste at all and it took me lots of time to improve it. For the first time, I truly appreciated all the spices available in the kitchen. I also added some roasted pepperoni (in other words, I improved an already fat stuff with some more fat), thus making a whole new meal. When I was eating it the following day it was not as bad as expected – I either indeed improved it or, more likely, after postponing my lunch for an hour I eventually was hungry enough to lower my taste sights.

TIME FOR CZECH SARCASMS. OR A TRUTH THAT IS HARD TO SEE UNTIL YOU HAVE AN EXPERIENCE FOR COMPARISON?

The following opinions are my personal and they may not reflect those of majority of people coming to the USA. However, being here for two months, I feel competent to describe things the way I see them, and moreover, to share these views.

A) WASTE PRODUCTION

No, I have not visited every single country in the world, yet I dare to say that Americans (to be politically correct, it probably holds true for foreigners who adapted enough, too) must be the top waste producers. Do your groceries and you come back with a ton of plastic bags your grociers were put in for you. More than you need and without spending a single penny for them. At the time, when European countries start charging for those. Hey, how do you want to dispose all that plastic?! And what is wrong about having a nice back that could serve for months if not years? Why plastic bottles are cash refunded in some (like nine) states, while the rest does not care at all?

An average Czech person either brings his/her lunch in a nice lunch box that can be used for years or goes out but also eats the food there (i.e. porcelain dishes get washed and reused). An American goes out and brings his/her food in a disposable plastic container. Later on, they get thirsty, so the buy a drink which comes in a plastic cup, with a lid and straw of course. And when they go for a coffee another hour later, the waste story repeats. In a few days, dustbins overflow with these items. I wonder how much the waste production will increase once the semester starts.

B) FOOD AND DRINKS EXPENDITURES

This supplements the food- and drink-related waste production. Even if one does not care about ecology, I do not see a reason to buy a cup of soda in a fast food place instead of bringing a bottle that could sit in a refrigerator and wait there for the time of consumption. I have a hard time in understanding why to buy a tiny portion of salad when you can have much more if you only had bought and chopped the veggies yourself.

C) ZERO CALORIES

I do not understand this either. How is it possible that something awfully sweet has zero calories? How?

D) 3 % JUICE

How can something that is claimed to be made from fruit contain 3 % of juice? And why is this information in bold capitals? Is it an achievement (the stuff you just bought is not fully synthetic, we still use some fruit) or warning (you may not want to buy this)?

E) NUTRITION FACT-RELATED (and other) MOTTOES ON WRAPPINGS

It is impossible to find a packed foodstuff that would not have them. Zero calories! Made with real cheese! Low in sodium! Fresh! Low fat! Now with 25 % more peanut butter! No with that fewer calories! If the stuff is too unhealthy or its recipe has not been changed for a while, then at least the consumption guidelines are provided. Sharing size! Save one for later! Twist to close! Easy open! Fresh pack!

This serving suggestion, however, is rather tricky – it looks like very advanced Chemistry class. Am I supposed to isolate the chocolate from the bar’s surface and melt it back into a nice cube? Then, the next would obviously be separating peanut butter from water is left from the bar and, most importantly, turn it somehow back into peanuts.

Chewy Dipped Granola Bar (Peanut Butter) Serving Suggestion

Chewy Dipped Granola Bar (Peanut Butter) Serving Suggestion

Being exposed to them for quite a while now, a food lacking them would look highly suspicious to me. I would not believe I am getting the best stuff, neither would I know how to consume it.

F) HUGE PACKAGES & CONTAINERS

If Americans have their overweight problems, unhealthy food (though the aforesaid mottoes may make you feel there is barely any) is only part of the problem. Both junk and decent food seem to be sold in large containers, making it so easy to eat more than one actually needs. You cannot have a cookie, you have to buy (at least) a dozen of them. It is damn hard to get a single can of beer – just a sample for a visitor. Instead, you have to buy six, twelve or even two dozens and no other option exists. A funny illustration of US large items follows:

Regular Teabag and Made in the US Teabag

Regular Teabag and Made in the US Teabag

G) DRIVERS and DANGEROUS PEDESTRIANS

I though that Czech drivers were inconsiderate and careless. When I am back home I will probably feel the same way but I will also know that Americans are not any better. In fact, crossing a road (on the zebra-crossing of course), might be even more dangerous here. Ironically, there are huge Day-Glo boards informing the drivers it is a law to yield to crossing pedestrians. Apparently, the message is not clear enough to an average US driver. In this context I truly admire people who dare to cross four-lane streets far far away from any crossing or traffic signal, and without any regard how busy the street or how poor the visibility are.

… Raleigh. Me & My Skates, Me & My Camera.

Being a full-time student for the past five years slowly and surely reduced the amount of the free time and made it difficult to devote myself to my two biggest passions. Today, I got plenty of roller blading and a decent amount of photography time, too. Thank you, Raleigh!

ALL TIMES SKATING ADVENTURE

I was really impressed by the Neuse River Trail last week, so I decided to return. However, this time I took a bus (two buses, actually, as I had to change once) to save me some miles and hopefully allow me to spend more time skating along the Neuse River. The bus ride worked out rather smooth – I did not miss “my” bus stop this time. However, had not I been to that neighborhood earlier, it would have been more adventurous. The total time was about an hour and the ride gave me a chance to see a bit of Raleigh downtown once more as well as a somewhat remote neighborhood.

I put my skates on in the Worthdale Park as there were some nice rocks just inviting me to do so.

My Rocky Seat

My Rocky Seat

From there, I took  the somewhat familiar path to the very end (ehm, beginning) of the Walnut Creek Trail that I am fairly familiar with by now. About half a mile from where the Walnut Creek Trail disappears and the asphalt under ones feet or wheels of any size becomes the Nuese River Trail is a tricky yet beautiful combination of a wooden bridge, downhill and a sharp turn. This is how I captured it:

Having finally reached the Neuse River Trail (well, it did not take so long and it was an enjoyable ride providing me with opportunities to see some more unusual plants in the wetlands), I again faced the same dilemma: Should I go to the left or to the right? A week ago I had taken the left turn and liked it, so I did the same today. I crossed several bridges and occasionally, I even could see the river. My pleasant ride, however, came to an end mere three miles later: construction work ahead – detour. The detour meant gravel and up the hill. As far as I could see, it did not seem any better, so after a minute of thinking whether to take my skates off and walk some, I turned back, determined to explore what the other stretch of the trail would offer me.

Da Vinchi's Code: HWY XING

Da Vinchi’s Code: HWY XING

Indeed, there was quite some! Several more bridges and nice surroundings, although I never saw the river again. Later on, I reached the Anderson Park where so far excellent signage worsened. I had no idea whether it was the end of the trail or which of many paths I should take to add some more miles to today mileage. I never figured out if it was the end of the Neuse River Trail but all of the park paths met at one point on the other side of the park. There, I had two options again.

I eliminated the trail that was rather narrow, right next to the road (without a barrier of any sort) and a promise of some serious downhill. The other way to go (other than give up again and return) was the Crabtree Creek Greenway. I liked it very much – it was decently hilly and of a perfect difficulty – not too flat and straight (i.e. perfect to get tired of constant speed and constant direction), yet not too hilly with too sharp turns (i.e. a chance of killing yourself). Once the trail disappeared in deeper forest and the above mentioned criteria were not so true any more, I turned back. It will take me some time to get back home and it is getting “hotter than hot” anyway.

Crabtree Creek Greenway: Smooth, Beautiful Blu Sky & US Mailboxes

Crabtree Creek Greenway: Smooth, Beautiful Blu Sky & US Mailboxes

Should I carry a compass as huge as this one?

Should I carry a compass as huge as this one?

On the way back I ate my peach (a product of the US) that meanwhile ripened a second time in my backpack. The Anderson Park seemed a right place to have my lunch: bagel with wanna-be cheese. I took a slight detour to a scenic overview to enjoy my refreshment break. The reality was that I swallowed the “scenic hook” again (after doing the mistake at lake Johnson a few weeks ago). It was an effort to get there but nothing, absolutely nothing, to see in reward. I swear, I will not fall for it again!

When there is no scenery, let's create one!

When there is no scenery, let’s create one!

The original plan was to take the bus back downtown and another one from there. (Un)fortunately, I missed the bus super closely. I could have either wait for an hour (and cook) or keep skating (and cook but little breeze, too). As I did not skate enough to be downtown on time to catch the subsequent bus without much waiting, I decided to finish the whole route. I managed without much trouble but I sure was glad to take my skates off after skating for another, originally unplanned, 8 km.

Wildlife-wise it was beyond my Czech average: only a dead snake, two does (somewhat exciting to see two at once) and probably a coyote. The later one confused me a bit, it looked like a smaller version of the coyote I saw last week but its fur color was bit different and its head might have resembled fox. I wish I knew what I had met.

When tracking the route of the day, Google said it was 55 km long. I thus improved my personal best again and realized that my limits might be further than I had thought only a few weeks ago. I also got an idea when roller blades I am accustomed to so well and have been using for so long get little uncomfortable. It takes some three hours. Without the stupid (but beautiful) wooden bridges, it probably takes longer. As much fun as it was, I wished someone familiar with the trail(s) had been with me – I would have gotten a clue which parts would be the best and where it would be worth climbing some hills or taking the skates off for a while. Nevertheless, I think I still cold find very nice places to skate. And I really glad for that, especially as Raleigh seemed absolutely hopeless in this regard only seven weeks ago.

Exceeding the limit of 50 km a day and knowing it may not happen any soon, this performance deserves a bit of analysis. Especially, since I did not meet any other roller blader (today as well as ever). Here it is:

The Route

The Route

Satellite View and Elevation Details. On the screen it does not look so bad though.

Satellite View and Elevation Details. On the screen it does not look so bad though.

What made this skating experience an outstanding one, was the number of people (especially cyclists) on the trails. I had never been greeted by so many unknown people in such a short time. Sometimes, I am tired of questionably honest queries about my well-being or wishes of “a good one.” However, a little nod to someone with obviously the same interest/passion (i.e. exercise) is pleasing, encouraging and definitely worth adopting.

NC STATE CAMPUS THROUGH THE LENS OF MY CAMERA CELL PHONE

Though I was sure there would be no more activities today, at 5 PM I was out again. Destination? NC State Central Campus. Reason? Photography. The biggest obstacle were not, surprisingly, my tired legs and feet but the heat. Nevertheless, I still had very nice almost three hours. Some of the buildings I have been passing by for two months now deserved more than just a brief glance and I did my best to capture their beauty. I also discovered a lovely park and a palace-resembling building. For the first time, I took the time to rad about the history of the campus’ famous Memorial Belltower. Apparently, it is even possible to go inside.

Almost all building are called

Almost all building are called “something/someone” hall. So, this is probably just another hall. But beautiful.

Memorial Belltower

Memorial Belltower

A view like of a European palace garden

A view like of a European palace garden

How does it feel like to go up these stairs and enter such a building as a part of the daily routine?

How does it feel like to go up these stairs and enter such a building as a part of the daily routine?

State College

State College

Taley Student Union. It might be the youngest building on campus.

Taley Student Union. It might be the youngest building on campus.

Taley Student Union towards the End of the Day. Do you need any more proof to see that the campus is beautiful?

Taley Student Union towards the End of the Day. Do you need any more proof to see that the campus is beautiful?

… Durham. Another Class in History, Followed by a One in Biology

I was not sure whether to return to Durham – that I liked so much – or whether to go visit some other town in this area, most likely Chapel Hill with another university. Having done a bit of googling, I had two important facts in my hands: first, Bennett Place in Durham played a great role in the country’s history and second, there are over 1,800 colleges in the USA. Considering the number of higher education institutions in this country, seeing three of them instead of just two this summer would have made no difference. However, missing a place historically as important as the Bennett’s family farmhouse would have been a shame. That is why I returned to Durham this Saturday, 150 years after the historical events were taking place there.

Bennett Place

Bennett Place

While I probably do not fully understand why the Civil War ever started, I see that after four years of fighting, 700,000 lost lives and other costs from traumas caused to whole families to economical impact of the war, it eventually had to come to the end. I remember from my high school History classes that General Lee surrendered to General Grant in Appomattox but I had no idea that the biggest surrender of the war (over 89,000 Confederate soldiers) involved other two army leaders and that it happened so close to my summer destination.

Here, in North Carolina, General J. E. Johnston and Major General W. T. Sherman negotiated the terms of surrender. Although being enemies for years, they did not meet in person until the negotiations in the hidden farmhouse. I am not a historian but I dare to say that this event was just as important as the previous surrender in Virginia. I mean once troops fighting in Florida, Georgia and both Carolinas surrendered, then there was probably no one to fight. I also wonder how much luck was involved for the surrender to be negotiated here. Although I believe there had to be some, one of the information boards gave this reason: ease of transportation. Durham was accessible both via river and also got a new train station only shortly before the war’s end. I however missed how the generals learned about the Bennett family’s farm. Nevertheless, it seemed neutral and hidden enough, so they could meet repeatedly until the third meeting on April 26, 1865 finally brought the war to the end. The country could start to recover and the two generals remained lifelong friends.

I want to avoid any misinterpretations but president Lincoln’s assassination (sort of ironically) apparently sped up the negotiations. First, the Union lost its biggest (in terms of political position) supporter. Second, the generals had a serious reason to worry about a revenge and third, the news might have caused chaos in the troops. Finally, I understood that by agreement on the surrender, both generals felt that it was a step that would satisfy the deceased president.

Bennett Place was located to the northwest of the Durham bus station and was much further than I was willing to walk. Thankfully, there was a bus going there. It was quite a travel though: after about half an hour of walking in Raleigh to get to the bus stop, an hour long bus ride followed (in fact it was two rides, each 30 minutes long), than I waited for 30 minutes for the bus to the Bennett Place, this last stretch taking some 30 minutes as well. However, it was worth the effort and I did not even mess up too much. No, the American bus system makes no sense. I realized that occasionally, the name of the upcoming bus stop is announced. Apparently, this happens if the stop is important enough which – for some reason – was not the case of the stop right next to the Bennett Place. Who decides which bus stop is worth a notification?

Once at the Place, I went to the museum first. A documentary on the events taking place in this place had started a moment ago, so I joined about ten people watching it. I understood some but gained more complete picture after reading the information boards on the walls. I learned about the costs of the war and weapons used, the two generals and a few more personalities. There were many army-related items on display, however, the life of the Bennett’s family was not omitted. That was good as gained a little idea about being a farmer in 1900’s and I could see some old-fashioned clothing, equipment and tools. The old scissors looked super heavy to me.

The table and the chairs, where the generals sit at the time of surrender terms signing

The table and the chairs, where the generals sit at the time of surrender terms signing

Civil War Medical Kit

Civil War Medical Kit

Civil war Money. The Confederacy had its own currency and so did each of its states. Wasn't it a chaos? Please, notice the twenty cents bill.

Civil war Money. The Confederacy had its own currency and so did each of its states. Wasn’t it a chaos? Please, notice the twenty cents bill.

Cobbler's Tools

Cobbler’s Tools

The museum was very nice and loaded with information but I liked the outdoor part little bit more. There, I could walk on a reproduction of 1860’s road (namely Hillsborough Road), peek into a smokehouse and kitchen house and most importantly, enter the Bennett House. It was all wooden and the only brick part was the chimney. Once inside, I checked two bedrooms and (probably) kitchen with a reproduction of the table where the final terms of surrender were signed and two chairs resembling those the generals sit on. The original items as well as a pitcher in which the generals got buttermilk from the Bennett’s were in the museum. The remaining structures were of much smaller (in fact, probably none) historical importance but a gazebo, lousy kitchen garden and ash hopper were still nice objects for photography and it was fun to see them.

The Bennett House

The Bennett House

Here the signing took place

Here the signing took place

Bathroom Ancestor in the Bennett House

Bathroom Ancestor in the Bennett House

Old-fasnhioned Stationery in the Bennett House

Old-fasnhioned Stationery in the Bennett House

Smokehouse

Smokehouse

A peek into the kitchenhouse

A peek into the kitchenhouse

Hillsborough Road in 1860s

Hillsborough Road in 1860s

From there, I returned to the Sarah Duke Gardens once more. I saw only a fractions of it the last time and thought it would have been a pity not to see more of it. While I do not regret coming a second time, I liked the parts I saw before (particularly the main path between Historic Gardens and Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, the Rose Garden and part of Asiatic Arboretum on the way back) much better. Today, I covered the Historic Gardens more thoroughly. Azaleas, plants with large and very dark purple (almost black) leaves, fish pool with the notoriously known orange koi fish and waterlilies of all sizes and colors. Garden terraces with variety of species and an overlook with nice wooden pergola. One more pond with a large willow tree next to it, a large magnolia tree with funnily crooked branches. It was just amazing how much I could see on a rather small area. I probably saw the President’s Bridge, too. Looking on the map, I am pretty sure I was there. Trying to recall actually being there, I am afraid it made absolutely no impression on me.

Historic Gardens Pond

Historic Gardens Pond

Next, I explored the H. L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants instead of just passing by. I doubt I covered every single square feet of it, yet I saw quite a lot. Wildlife Garden that looked like a miniature forest to me, and Steve Church Endangered Species Garden which had so many plant species there. However, my timing was not the best as barely any were in blossom at this time of a year. Finally, I searched for the Carnivorous Plant Bog. Instead, I reached the Bird Viewing Shelter twice, climbed some stairs, passed a little pond and crossed little creek a few times. For some reason (and I blame the map!), I struggled to find my way. Moreover, the thing did not look like a garden too much. I would not hesitate to call it a good European forest. In the end, I somehow reached the non-vegetarian plants and I initially thought that three flower beds were not worth the amount of searching it took me to get there. However, the species there were so diverse that I soon forgot about its size and fully appreciated the little garden’s quality.

Garden or Forest?

Garden or Forest?

A Plant Called Florida Nutmeg. Is It the Spice?

A Plant Called Florida Nutmeg. Is It the Spice?

A Carnivorous Plant. Wanna Ride down the Plant Esophagus?

A Carnivorous Plant. Wanna Ride down the Plant Esophagus?

A Deadly Trap

A Deadly Trap

This One Does Not Look So Dangerous...

This One Does Not Look So Dangerous…

Although I did not see everything of the Asiatic Arboretum two weeks ago, I did not try to rectify. It was too hot and I decided to enjoy the silence and shade at the first possible occasion. That is when I probably was at the President’s Bridge. Though it was a normal wooden bridge to me, the bird feeders nearby brought lots of excitement to my Saturday afternoon at Duke. Starling and a bunch of smaller birds were the most frequent visitors there. For a short period of time, a woodpecker was returning in regular intervals. It route started at a nearby large tree, then it landed in the feeder and drove away anyone who would like to join him. Once it had enough, it returned to the tree where it apparently finished the snack and in a while was back ruling the feeder. A rare but most welcomed diner was the cardinal. In fact, it probably was two males and two females. It look like the only chance to take a picture of the most shy bird species I have ever encountered is when feeding. And you still want to stay rather far.

I am afraid that the first visit of Durham was more enjoyable, however, I am glad I decided to return. The Duke Gardens must be much more enjoyable in the spring but I would say they are a must-to-see when visiting the city of Durham. I enjoyed my time at the Bennett Place and I appreciate I could learn more about the history of the country that provided me (and its people!) with so many memorable moments this summer. There even is a change that I may know some little interesting facts which an average American has no idea about. It makes me feel so good!

… Raleigh. Summary of Week 7

It was a crazy busy week with little sleep pretty much every single night and with most of its 120 hours spent in the lab, studying (i.e. reading papers and searching for relevant information) or working on my presentation. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it and consider it to be one of the summer’s best weeks.

A Warm Welcome to the Lab - I am gonna miss it.

A Warm Welcome to the Lab – I am gonna miss it.

Life in the Lab

I gave up attending the Monday lab meeting, so I could help S and S and a couple more people harvesting plants. Well, that is what I was told I would be doing. Although I indeed was chopping tomato roots, it turned out that they cared about a certain plant pathogen much more than about the plants. There were two sets of the plants to take care of. For the first one, there was some stuff to harvest, however, in the other case things did not work out so well and the harvest was nothing else but struggle. Though I felt sorry that the experiment did not work the way it was supposed to, I was glad there was not more to do. Honestly, I do not think I have ever done anything more trickier, patience-demanding and to some extent boring. A lecture on any topic would have been 100 % better!

When I was finally free, I took care of my own plants, so I hopefully have enough material to use for me PCR. I have a feeling it might work out the upcoming week. I so hope it finally happens! There were no experiments on Monday as the only task for the rest of the day was cleaning. The lab needed it so badly. Everyone got involved and I think we have done a great job – the lab is such a beautiful working environment now. It does look like the place I first came to almost two months ago. It should be mentioned that our effort was appreciated – Mrs. C got plenty of cookies for us from the Insomnia Cookies place.

At first, I regretted I had not postponed my visit to that place for a week, thus probably saving some money. However, those cookies are so tasty that money spent on them can never be wasted. I only did not like the mint cookie as much as I had the first time – this time, it tasted too much like a toothpaste. The other choices of mine (Macadamia-nut & white chocolate, Peanut butter again, and Cinnamon sugar) did not have a tiniest drawback – they were all delicious and I cannot tell which one was my favorite.

Tuesday to Thursday, we had visitors to our lab – two high school students (boys). While one’s hair was cut super short the other had a long, fancy African braids. What they had in common was their genuine interest in what was going on in the lab, accompanied by a very funny and relaxed approach to the things they were exposed to. They introduced whole new terminology, so, we do not use substrate any more but magic juice instead. Similarly, the lab does not have the dark room any more as it was replaced by a bat cave.

The unique thing about Wednesday was a 14th Annual NC State Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium. Though they might have been some short talks earlier in the day, all the lab members (including me, yay!) visited a poster session as one of the lab’s undergraduates had a poster there. I was truly impressed (well, shocked might be a better word) by the number of students involved (in two sessions, it was over 200 students! and probably from all over the world) and how noisy a poster session can actually be. It was my very first experience with a scientific meeting like that and it was a great one, not even mentioning another cookie (somewhat healthier as there were oats and cranberries) this week. The posters probably covered any field of science: from psychology, to data analysis, inorganic chemistry and plastics synthesis, to solubility of some protein in water versus oil, to neuroscience on zebra fish, soil analysis and pre-biotic photosynthesis.

On Thursday “our” high school students had a short presentation about their experience, so Mrs. C, Big E and me went to get some excitement – i.e. see how to present science in the funniest possible way. “Our” duo was not the only extremely relaxed one, there were more pairs with similar attitude. Although funny, the students were serious about their findings and asked some really good questions. I wish I had had a similar experience back at high school. Thankfully, I can compensate for it by being in Mrs. C’s lab this summer which is an outstanding opportunity. Undoubtedly.

From Monday evening (after the lab cleaning) until Thursday late afternoon, D and me were preparing for a protein purification and it was not bad at all. But the, Friday came – it was so overwhelming! The final steps kept us busy for good seven hours, the funniest parts being those performed in the cold room. It was damn cold there and I sure was glad once I did not have to come back there again. One of the last steps was to “see” if we got the protein and how much. During the process I could hear D exclaiming “Oh shit!” and I was so sure I took the opportunity to screw up at pretty much the last step. Alarmed, I rushed to him and then he added: “This is an insane amount of protein.” It worked!

When I was walking back home, I was so exhausted and ready to go to the bed directly. At the same time, I was also happy that we managed to do the whole procedure and got a better-than-expected result. I enjoyed being D’s slave and student (that is called “2 in 1”) as he definitely was the protein guru of the lab and I could not have asked for a better teacher.

Cold Room Magic I

Cold Room Magic I

Cold Room Magic II

Cold Room Magic II

Happened out of the Lab

With so much going on in the lab, this week, there was room for two non-lab moments: one skating and one lunch.

The skating took place on Thursday and I had to force myself a bit. Good I did it. I added some 20 kilometers to me North Carolina mileage, thus reaching the 200 km landmark. Some 90 minutes provided me with three wild-life exciting moments. First, I had a chance to greet a local deer doe grazing on the trails shoulder. Later, I had to jump over a turtle. It seemed to be ready to go to bed but the middle of the trail did not seem as the best spot. So, I took all my courage and moved it to the grass. It was a fifty-fifty chance that I would return it to the side of the trail that it want to leave – I hope it did not happen, so its hours long effort was not wasted. And finally, once it got bit darker, I saw a beaver for the first time. It definitely was the most shy of today trio and as soon as I noticed it, it was already heading to the river where it took a breath and disappeared.

Lunch at Jimmy John’s was the best food of the summer so far and I have a hunch that it helped me to survive my time in the cold room. The combination of Choice roast beef, smoked ham, provolone cheese, Dijon mustard, lettuce, tomato, & mayo was not bad at all. In fact, it was from the delicious category. Surprisingly, the bread was not as bad as American bread – it even had something resembling a bread crust! – which made me extra happy. And finally, it was so much food that I was still digesting at the time of leaving the lab, so there was absolutely not obstacle to go to bed as early as possible.

However, I thought that when a group of people goes for food together, then they would have the meal together, too. This did not happen which I thought was a missed opportunity to get to know my temporary co-workers better. Anyway, this little issue cannot prevent me from calling this week a great one as I still feel like I got the maximum of it.

… Raleigh. Three Times ‘S’: Skating (Lots of It), Studying and Sampling (the Beer)

Having my supervisor arranged a “fun” activity for Monday morning (instead of the L’s lab meetings), it was clear there would be no skating on Monday morning, so I had to do so some on Sunday. I was too lazy to get up early because of it. Leaving at 9 AM was not bad at all, coming back exactly at noon was not that great. I started at the usual place as there is a nice bench to sit down and put my roller blades on. It is a sharp start though and I got confident enough to make a recording of it:

The plan was to get as far as the Walnut Creek Trail goes, see if I can find the Nuesse River Trail there and stop at the Walnut Creek Wetland Center on the way back. Some parts of the items on the list were fulfilled, another never happened. I sure was glad to reach the end of the Walnut Creek Trail (which technically was its beginning), thus being able to announce: I have covered the whole trail inline! The most distant part was the best: the asphalt on that section was the smoothest and there were no more tunnels, in other words, much lower chance of an accident and no need to avoid puddles in the (semi)darkness. However, there still were some adventurous portions – the wooden bridges that were no short. Going downhill on such a bridge was a free (but no really) welcomed foot massage. At first, I was wondering what was the point of the bridges. Then I realized that they were mainly in the wetland areas. I bet they built them in order to preserve the environment (an asphalt trail would probably require a decent area of the ground to be dried and maybe it would not work out as expected after all). It still socked when the wooden timber under my feet seemed to have no ending but at least I knew my skating was environmentally friendly.

On my way to the trail’s end, I had to skate through a residential area for a while. There were Sunday newspaper lying all around. Whoever delivered them, they did not care about mailboxes at all and apparently was just throwing them around. Some people probably did not read their papers for a few weeks by now as they had several newspaper rolls on their lawns. And the scenery seemed unchanged when I was going back an hour later.

Once I passed the last house, I found myself in a park (It is unbelievable how many parks there can be in a single city, moreover a state’s capital!) and had to choose whether to go to the left or to the right. To the right, there was a couple of signs that made me to go the other way. Unfortunately, it was only a funny circle around a baseball field. Obviously dissatisfied with this one. I decided to figure what a steep slope means. Of course, it is good to cautious, on the other hand, I have skated through much worse sections and there was no warning at all. Anyway, the turn that I did not originally consider taking brought me to trail’s end (ehm, beginning).

Apparently Somewhat Dangerous

Apparently Somewhat Dangerous

I was standing somewhere on the Nuesse River Trail. I would swear this must be the best roller blading spot in the whole Wake County! The asphalt as smooth as never before, woods on one side and the river on the other (though visible only occasionally). The trail had one major drawback though. By the time I reached it, I felt like I had enough of roller blading and was ready to head back home. So, I made only symbolic two miles on it, reached a location worth a picture and turned back.

After Two Miles at the White Railing

After Two Miles at the White Railing

Nuesse River

Nuesse River

Eventually I started feeling little tired but the Wetland Center was really close at that point. Unfortunately it was closed and there was no sign it should change any soon. Neither could I find the board with opening hours I saw week ago.

Electric Charging Station at the Wetland Center

Electric Charging Station at the Wetland Center

That was unfortunate but the only alternative was to keep skating. Having missed the visit to the center enabled me to have an experience of very different kind. I saw a life coyote crossing the trail just seconds before I reached the very same spot. Not sure what I should do, I certainly  was glad it crossed, showed no interest in a little girl (later was told it cares for little dogs instead) and never returned. The rest of the ride was uneventful, I was only cooking. The mileage: 45 km. And I am proud of it.

Proud Roller Blader

Proud Roller Blader

Back home I really was ready for a nap. However, I did not think it would be very smart and I also had the presentation to start working on (less than four days left!). After a long shower and short recovery I set to go to the Hunt Library, the fancy one. Equipped with a mug of coffee and a nice snack, I spent nice four hours there. Getting so much exercise in the morning seems as a ‘must’ for long sitting hours. That is good to know, especially in regard to the upcoming intensive studying some time next spring.

The very beginning of my time in the library was rather embarrassing. I could not log to the “normal” (i.e. Windows) computer as it kept yelling on me something about live account. That was the time to try an “unusual” computer, Mac. There, I could log in but soon I needed to perform some right-clicks with the mouse and … Wait! Where is the button?! There was none and only two options for me: ask one of the IT nerds nearby or google my way. I did the later and was mostly fine until 7 PM. I did not even the sweatshirt I brought along (in case the AC would be set as low as in the museum).

I though I would work here...

I though I would work here…

... but ended up torturing Mac instead. Or a little one with the big one.

… but ended up torturing Mac instead. Or a little one with the big one.

I cooked my lunch for tomorrow and Tuesday and cut myself while chopping vegetables,. For the supper, I had a fish. Unfortunately fried but at least, I tried to compensate for the yesterday cheeseburger. It was a great opportunity to sample another US beer. Well, American… It said: Made in the USA (Fort Worth, TX) but also: brewed and packed under supervision of Foster’s Can Oil Ltd, i.e. an Australian beer company. They were great supervisors as I liked the beer so much. The things did happen in this order: first (i.e. sober) I cut my thumb, then I had the beer.

Australian Beer Produced in the US

Australian Beer Produced in the US

The fish was not so good, so I sure look forward to my lunch tomorrow

The fish was not so good, so I sure look forward to my lunch tomorrow

I was glad I got a little feeling how it might be like to be a student in the US and in the fancy library. I appreciated a chance to hopefully burn the entire calorie intake of the week, so I can start the new week with zero leftover calories and be prepared for some more unhealthy stuff.

… Raleigh. A Photography Saturday

At the very beginning of my American adventure, Mrs. C recommended me to visit Yates Mill which was supposed be to the right place for nature/landscape photographers. Her initial “We make sure you get there” became reality today and it was a well spent Sunday morning. The place was indeed beautiful and moreover, I could not have asked for better companions.

She picked me up at 9, we went through the bagel’s place drive-thru to get coffee for a poor scientist family with a broken coffee machine and then headed directly to our destination. The only complication was a road work close to the park but I did not mind the waiting at all. In fact, it provided me with a chance to admire the landscape in that neighborhood more than if we had just driven by.

Soon I was dropped off with two promises: to have a nice time and to see Mrs. C soon. I could see the lake almost immediately but had to wait for a while for my first pictures of it. However, this does not mean i was photographically fasting – there were some old iron gears and a reproduction of blacksmith store to take pictures off. Then, the lake’s turn came. It was beautiful and with so many plant species around. The landmark of the park, however, was definitely the restored water mill built in mid-1700s. It was a wooden building standing right at the dam. The mill wheel was not omitted of course and the nice scenery was supplemented with the monotonous sound of water running down the waterfall (i.e. over the dam). The mill was the place where Mrs. C, accompanied by her husband and daughter, joined me again. Initially, I stayed behind for a while, trying to get some more pictures but once we met again, we finished the circle round the lake together.

The Blacksmith Store

The Blacksmith Store

The Mill

The Mill

Absolutely Appropriate Trashbins

Absolutely Appropriate Trashbins

The mill was restored by a NC State professor and his undegrads years ago and they also built the blacksmith store that used to be there. The lumber used came from a local tobacco farm and I thought it was a nice way of recycling (both ecologically and historically) rather than just taking brand new lumbers. After people associated with NC State had done so much work there, the university eventually bought the property.

It was a pity I could not get in the mill (it was closed) and there apparently was at least one more hiking trail (as an alternative to an easy walk round the lake). I had not done enough studying prior to getting there, so I did not better experiment with that one. On my/our way I saw a turtle, bunch of dragonflies and some interesting flowers. The Yates Mill Park is definitely worth visiting. I think that the best think about it is that it takes only a short time to get around, so hopefully, people come repeatedly and at various times. It sure must be beautiful in the fall or at the time of sunset. Being there early in the morning might be the right time to meet some of the local fauna. According to the boards, it should be very diverse – from insect, to lizards and turtles, to migrating eels and finally, to numerous bird species.

It is a sort of irony but at such a beautiful place, I was seriously glad I did not choose to study Photography for the first time in my life. There were several commercial photographers taking family pictures and once one group left, the other group came to the very same spot to have their pictures taken. Having imagined I would end up doing something like that with my degree, made me rather sick. I am pretty sure all the joy would be gone. While my pictures cannot be considered art, I can live in the flight of fancy I do produce something artistic for a few days a year. And this I consider to be much better scenario!

It did not take us too long to finish the circle around the lake and as little I. would need her nap round noon, we went for an early lunch. A sushi option was considered for a while but fortunately, we went for a less healthy but in the end safer meal – cheeseburger at Five Guys. Poor little I. had to handle some more American unhealthy stuff but I do not think she considered it such a sacrifice of hers. Unfortunately, I did not pay enough attention. However, the chances are there indeed were five workers in the restaurant.

I missed this one but noticed several more things: huge potato sacks right at the entrance and peanuts at the very same place. The peanuts were still in the shells but for some reason they were entirely covered in salt. The French fries (lots of them) were saltier than necessary too. Having a little version of cheeseburger was a smart decision, thus I could enjoy the free food without feeling sick for the rest of the day.

I was dropped off at the house door at noon and decided to take a digestion rest. I used it to compensate for the salty stuff with few pieces of chocolate and to make a “home call.” While I was initially sure I would do nothing for the rest of the day, I was standing already at the bus stop before 3 PM. The destination? Downtown! I had no specific place worth visiting in my mind – I just hated the idea of being bored in my room. This short trip enabled me to take pictures of all the plants in front of the North Carolina Museum of History (as I did not have my camera with me the last time) and get my Raleigh T-shirt. Finally!

Skyscraper!

Skyscraper!

Herb Garden Downtown

Herb Garden Downtown

A Funny Flower

A Funny Flower

I did not expect the Saturday bus schedule to be different from the Sunday one, which turned out to be a wrong assumption, trapping me downtown for an additional hour. It was not bad at all. I discovered another church deserving a picture and had time to explore the City Market some more. It was not apparent when I walked by a week or so ago but now I know it is not a single building but rather a block of buildings. Most of it were restaurant (it starts being cliche by now but the Americans indeed require some good food whenever they are out for whatever reason, not even mentioning celebrations or festivals) but a couple of cloth stores were present, too. The best place of the area was the market. It was pleasing to watch the colors and smell the fresh fruit and vegetable. However, it would be a too high concentration of healthy stuff at one spot, so they offered roasted peanuts as well.

Art Gallery in the Underpass to the Bus Station 1

Art Gallery in the Underpass to the Bus Station 1

Art Gallery in the Underpass to the Bus Station 2

Art Gallery in the Underpass to the Bus Station 2

Multi-Wind Vane

Multi-Wind Vane

The very end of the duty was kind of a duty – groceries. I got pretty much the usual items, one more cream cheese (which seems to be one of the tastiest Food Lion products) and a tiny frozen pizza for some day in the future when I am too lazy or tired to cook. Saturday evening is probably the rush hour for student shopping. It was good in the end as thanks to such a crowd, my chances for getting on the right bus increased so much. It nevertheless sucked to wait for it for like half an hour. No complaining – the day when no more free bus rides will be available comes closer and closer.

Grocery Store Shopping Area

Grocery Store Shopping Area


It is extremely awkward, yet it asks for an online confession. The entire six weeks I was wrong about the duration of my internship. Assuming it would be eight weeks, I was feeling bad beginning Wednesday as I could see how little time there was left. Today I finally realized I was a week wrong – I still have three weeks ahead! Yay! This discovery was as exciting as the data from my first qPCR earlier this week!

… Raleigh. Summary of Week 6

The sixth week gave me long working hours and ruined free-time plans, but also chances to try new things with hopes of some more to come right next week, a promise of some useful data, opportunity to give a presentation (which I have not done for good two semesters) and a sweet cookie moment. However, let’s keep stuff ordered as usually.

Life in the Lab

I started the week walking to the Centennial campus (after two weeks long break) for a meeting of L’s lab. I was pretty sure it was waste of time as well as steps because I doubted there was supposed to be one. Luckily, this was not the case and I had a chance to listen to an African guy whose main interest were viruses of a well-known and favorite crop. It was hard for me to understand but he had lots of pictures showing symptoms of the infected plants, so I used his talk as a photography case study. Just in case I would ever be invited to join a photography project again. And I would love to do so!

Later in the afternoon, when I was about to leave but D was about to start working (he rarely shows up earlier than 11 AM), I realized there would be no skating today but some more lab (well, flow hood) work instead. After all, lab experience is the primary purpose of my stay here, so I better do not complain and accept the work. It’s for free!

On Tuesday I came to the lab rather early as my first task of the day was time sensitive and I wanted to be sure I would have enough time to finish it. Good I did not sleep much longer as I got a delay right at the beginning. The lab ran out of liquid nitrogen which I needed so badly. Thankfully, Big E could not supposedly sleep and came early, too. And helped me and thus saved my samples! Great! When processing them (I did the procedure for the first time), I was doubtful I would be successful – the intermediate phase looked so weird. Surprisingly enough, I was and once done, I could join D and Ji for some more tedious flow hood work.

The main task of Wednesday was a follow-up of Tuesday sample processing and again successful. As a reward, I could dip some plants with D. I might have transformed not only the plants but me, too. However, I think the chances I would be bringing a T-DNA incorporated in my genome as a souvenir are very, very low.

Thursday was the presentation day. I got up early enough, so I would avoid coming late for the meeting, yet I was in rush anyway. After the breakfast, I was trying to improve my slides some more, nearly forgetting about the time. Thankfully, my morning rush through the campus had a happy end and the presentation was not a fiasco either. After a few days long break, it was time to give another try to the PCR I first did maybe a couple of weeks ago. Having a new primer gave me so much hope but unfortunately not the desired band on my gel. In fact, no band(s) at all.

On Friday, I had another reason to come early to the lab. How sweet! But preparing a 384-well plate, moreover for qPCR when pipetting accuracy does mater, would not be a short project. The good news though is that my effort paid off. Most importantly, I had quite a portion of the work done before it got to lively in the lab (i.e. harder to concentrate). Second, my efficiency (in other words, quality of my pipetting) was measured for the first time in my life and it was not bad at all (R^2 > 0.99). I was very happy about that and particularly about the fact that I did not fail to meet Mrs. C’s expectation for better-than-just-good pipetting. I so hope I can maintain this standard for (at least) the upcoming three weeks! I only regretted the same quality measurement had not been done at the very beginning of my studies, too. It sure would be interesting to see how it changed over the years.

Unlike regular PCR, the moment you put the plate in the PCR machine is not the end of the procedure but it is when great things start to happen. First, you need to set your plate using a specialized software who is especially picky about what you tell it. Once this is done and your pipetting was not a total crap, another fun part comes – data analysis. I see that both preparing the plate and analyzing the outcome, might teach me to be more patient. You sure need that as a scientist! I was playing with the program for quite a while. We had a very nice very late afternoon in the lab together but I did not move forward too much. I definitely did not see the exciting difference between my samples and the control as Mrs. C did earlier today.

In the meantime, I also joined D for staining his gel with protein samples. Unfortunately it was not perfect, so (fortunately for me) I might have a chance to go through the entire procedure with him the next week. I care for DNA much more but little fun with proteins should not make any harm. After late lunch, I went for a series of four short lectures (probably undegrads who joined NCSU labs for the summer) and decided I would skip the English Conversation Club this week and try to repeat the cursed PCR once more. Mrs. C discovered where the problem might be, J gave my the right cDNA and I was hopeful to see a nice band on my gel. This did not quite happen but at least I had some fun de-freezing the huge -80°C freezer. Thanks to this experience, I have much clearer idea what I might end up doing one day with my master’s degree.

Sorry Samples, Defreezing Time!

Sorry Samples, Defreezing Time!

Happened out of the Lab

I had to wait for my first skating of the week as long as Wednesday evening. Monday was too busy to squeeze in even a single minute of skating and on Tuesday the weather was not too cooperative. After a day hotter than “as hot as usual”, the storm finally arrived in the evening and I sure was glad I was not out for that one.

Where Does It Go?

Where Does It Go?

The only skating this week was the first time when a trail along lake Johson (or more generally, any of the trails I have skated on) was rather busy. Most of the people were running or jogging and I also recognized a significantly increased concentration of dogs. Some of them looked like they had seen a roller blader for the first time in their lives. This impressed them so much that they even forgot to bark or try to attack me (unlike some Czech dogs who already lost their initial hesitation). Or do American dogs “only” behave better? Honestly, some of the people were rather surprised too. Is there any one else inline skating in this county?

Beautiful Evening at the Lake

Beautiful Evening at the Lake

To get motivated to do as well as possible with my presentation on the mysterious crop, I made the following deal with myself: If Mrs. C likes it, you can by a Raleigh T-shirt for you. The first part was fulfilled (what a relief!) but by late Thursday afternoon it became clear that there would be no T-shirt purchase this week. Thankfully, I came up with the following back-up plan: cookies. When walking down the Hillsborough Street a few weeks ago (and you do not want to be there where you are hungry or just have a sweet-tooth), I discovered a place called Insomnia Cookies and put it on my to-do list immediately. I thought that the right moment finally came on Thursday. Being done with my presentation was only an excuse for high sugar intake but the truth is that going there must always be a good thing to do. The cookies were delicious! It was tough to make a decision but I eventually narrowed their offer down to two: Double Chocolate Mint and Peanut Butter Chip. And got them both. They were delicious!

Mint Cookies Sweet Moment on the Campus

Mint Cookie Sweet Moment on the Campus

… Raleigh. Introduction to the Country’s & State’s History

NC Museum of History

After getting up rather early two times out of five working days and the Saturday trip, it was too difficult to sleep longer than I normally do on weekends. After the late breakfast, a lazy rest of the morning followed and just at the time when I was about to search for anything that could serve as a lunch, my parents called me. What a surprise! The unexpected call somehow  brought my attention to the time issues, realizing how late it actually got. Thus, it was only a short talk to the people close to me but currently thousands of miles away. In rush, I picked up the most important things to take with me and chewing a bagel, ran for the bus.

I caught it and thanks to that, I was walking down the familiar route from the bus station to the museum area shortly after noon. For some reason, the North Carolina Museum of History was much busier and much noisier attraction the Museum of Natural Sciences a week ago. When I was gathering my stuff, I did not consider taking my sweatshirt too and that was a mistake which affected my visit strongly. Aware I would be indoors – in other words, in an air-conditioned space – I chose to cook in my pants while walking outside but to hopefully avoid any freezing inside. Unfortunately, it did not work out the way I planned. I cooked first and then froze for most of the time in the museum.

Being out of my temperature comfort zone made the visit less enjoyable that it might have been but I still learned a lot. Upon my arrival, two racing cars captured my attention for a short ime. In the ground level there also was an exhibit called The Story of North Carolina that provided a thorough coverage of the history as ancient as the very first inhabitants thousands of years ago, through the times of Indians and pirates, including NC famous Blackbeard pirate (these two were among the peaks of the visit). Followed by, colonial times and poor rule of Lord Proprietors named by the British king, to the not so great history of slavery, Civil War and the country’s involvement in both World Wars. There the narration stopped. The museum, I think, could be proud of this exhibit. It was very informational, I though very objective, too and they did a great job in arranging artifacts (may it be a sunken pirate booty and old, fallen-apart canoe of Native Americans or 1920 Algebra Textbook), setting lively scenes (e.g. of people sawing some seeds out in the field) and dressing up figures like a black man voting for the first time or a Civil war soldier. The history of tobacco industry was not omitted, in fact, a collection of tobacco advertisements was on display. The purpose of them was questionable, yet artistically, I liked most of them.

Not Really Cozy in There

Not Really Cozy in There

A Model of Blackbeard pirate's Queen Anne's Revenge

A Model of Blackbeard pirate’s Queen Anne’s Revenge

I could not believe that the US flag ever looked like that!

I could not believe that the US flag ever looked like that!

Just One State, Yet People of So Many Ancestries

Just One State, Yet People of So Many Ancestries

High Wheel Bike and Invitation to Durham

High Wheel Bike and Invitation to Durham

First Cigarette Machine

First Cigarette Machine

One has to travel thousands of miles to discover such a treasure - map of pre-WWI Europe. No European Union, Austro-Hungarian Empire only. Printed in 1912

One has to travel thousands of miles to discover such a treasure – map of pre-WWI Europe. No European Union, Austro-Hungarian Empire only. Printed in 1912

Coke Ad from 1902

Coke Ad from 1902

On the ground floor, there were two more exhibits. The one remembering African American musician James Brown (Hey America! Eastern North Carolina and the Birth of Funk) was rather small but pretty interesting to even as non-musical person as me. A larger exhibit was devoted to NC State Highway Patrol. I did not know an organization like that existed, so it was nice to learn some about it and the duties of its members. Historically, it was cool to see how their equipment, clothing and guns changed over the time.

When walking around, I realized three aircrafts were “flying” above my had. Most importantly, there was a life-size replica of Wright brothers’ flyer, accompanied by a Rogallo hang glider and gyro-copter. As for the hang glider, I appreciated its bright red color which I thought was a great safety measure. However, the glider’s story was much more than just a nice color: Francis Rogallo worded on the wing together with its wife and their invention (worth a patent) gave birth to modern hang gliders. The cool fact about gyro-copter (called B-8M) was that it came as a kit and was meant for home assembly. Distributed like a toy plane model but supposed to have humans on board. No statistics on number of people who died when trying their “model” were provided. Even if it did not terminate a single life, I do not think that such a business could possibly work these days.

Hang Glider Cruising above the Wright Flyer's Wing

Hang Glider Cruising above the Wright Flyer’s Wing

The Kit Plane

The Kit Plane

In the upper level, there was an exhibit focusing on the Civil War but I did not go to see it. First, I was not interested in war stuff that much and second, by the time I would have gone there, I had been freezing just too much to stay any longer. But I did visited the Rural Revival photography exhibition, which was my favorite, and North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. The photography display made it to my life’s Best-of-Art list. The photographer’s (Scott Garlock) object of interest were old houses of American countryside. I generally like US houses but when the scene is lit in an interesting angle or there is a tree covered in fall colors next to the house, then the scene becomes really magic. Although there were a few picture I liked little less than the others, trying to pick out my favorite photograph would be completely insane.

As for the Sports Hall Fame, it nicely compensate for all the serious issues I had been exposed to earlier but I expected little more. It was not surprising that majority of the exhibit was devoted to US leading sports, i.e. football and baseball. College baseball seems to have a good reputation here, so there was a section on that as well. A wall was devoted to what was considered to be the biggest achievements of North Carolina sports. I was pleased to find a mention of hockey, namely North Carolina Hurricanes winning Stanley Cup in 2006. But there was not even a puck on the display anywhere. In the “Others” section there were some golf clubs but that was about it. I understand the temptation to celebrate the country’s most favorite sports but why there was no attempt to encourage kids to devote to other sport fields, too. Most of them probably healthier than 200 pound guys knocking each other down.

Be a Good Guy. That Must Be What the Coach Says!

Be a Good Guy. That Must Be What the Coach Says!

Even America has the history of funny-looking jerseys and other sportswear. Such a relieve to know that that socialistic Czechoslovak sportsmen were not the only one!

Even America has the history of funny-looking jerseys and other sportswear. Such a relieve to know that that socialistic Czechoslovak sportsmen were not the only one!

Small in size but still interesting enough were the 1920s Drug Store and David Marshall “Carbine” William’s Workshop. In the drug store, I could check some old-fashioned advertisements as well as warning boards, including the one telling the customers they had to pay there. The pay zone looked way too much like a bar and there even were some beverage faucets. I wondered whether an American wanna-be beer used to be sold there or the offer was limited to soft drinks only. It seemed that another role of drug stores at that time was that of candy stores. The selection of candies was stunning and prices looked great, too – a cent for a couple of caramels. However, one could get there many more products – face powder, soap and other cosmetics stuff, books, and even cigarettes (so the customer would be back in few years to by coughing medicine). The products shown in the store’s mahogany cabinets were not limited to those I mentioned but I had no idea what most of the things were. It was a pity they had not done a better job to keep the visitors informed. I nevertheless, enjoyed all the old, colorful packing.

These might be some drugs here. Or are they bottles of liquor?

These might be some drugs here. Or are they bottles of liquor?

Beautiful Mirrors and Colorful Candies

Beautiful Mirrors and Colorful Candies

More Candies! Cheap Candies.

More Candies! Cheap Candies.

As for the workshop, it belonged to a guy who was first imprisoned for a decent amount of time but turned into a gun genius – his ideas brought him several patents and to the USA, guns to use in all major wars (WWII, Korean War, Vietnam). Who knows, maybe he would have not ever come up with his gun improving ideas if he had not been put in jail. When he was serving his sentence, then the ideas started to form.

Overall (when ignoring the low temperature inside), the museum was definitely worth a visit but to me, was far less exciting than the Museum of Natural Sciences. This is probably due to my significantly stronger interest in nature than in history but I sure was glad to learn a bit about the history of the country, where I have been having such a great time. While the Story of North Carolina exhibit was sort of a ‘must’, the photography exhibition and the old drug store were unexpected but very enjoyable.

Little remote part of the museum was the outdoor History of Harvest. That was when I cheered up. First, it was warm (initially, later on I started feeling hot) out there and second, it was some Biology stuff. I saw some of the state flowers as well as key crops of Native Americans (“Three Sisters” – corn, squash and beans) and agronomically important crops including sweet potatoes (North Carolina being the country’s biggest producers), sorghum (USA being the major producer worldwide) and tobacco (as a source of oil). Thanks to my visit to the Museum of History, I saw a peanut plant for the first time! The Molecular Biologist in me appreciated the presence of the first corn variety developed through marker-assisted selection. It was so cool to see an actual outcome (though it looked liked a regular maize plant) of an approach I have heard so much about.

New Corn Variety Develop through MAS

New Corn Variety Develop through MAS

New Corn Variety Develop through MAS

New Corn Variety Develop through MAS

New Corn Variety Develop through MAS

New Corn Variety Develop through MAS

Cotton! Shouldn't it be bigger?

Cotton! Shouldn’t it be bigger?

Tobacco! It is Huge!

Tobacco! It is Huge!

On the way home a big storm surprised me. I spent the time when it was worst hidden at a bus stop but the shelter could give me only little protection. It was so windy that the rain was going in there in any imaginable direction. I even could see a mass of water running down the street – that was pretty impressive.

It is thus not surprising that no roller blading took place today. At least I had enough time to finish my presentation for the lab meeting (It’s coming too close!) and to cook my lunch for Monday and Tuesday. And it was not too bad to have a little more relaxed day after skating twice this week and going on my so far biggest trip yesterday.

… Durham. From the City of Oaks to the Bull City and Back

Be Patient - You Will Make It There Today

Be Patient – You Will Make It There Today

For my second trip out off Raleigh, I prepared much better than a week ago. Being able to find lots of information about sights in Durham online was probably the main reason. I made not only a list of sites but also decided about the order I should see them in so as little walking as possible is involved. My hand-drawn maps also improved.

Again, I traveled by bus. This time one change was involved but the second bus connected so well that it was not a bother at all. I only had to leave an air-conditioned space for about five minutes, that was it. The bus ride gave me a chance to see more of the North Carolina’s landscape and make a list of colleges and universities I passed during an hour long ride: Veterinary School of NC State, Meredith College, Durham Technical Community College, North Carolina Central University and Duke University was to come later on.

With a few photography detours, I made it to the Visitor Information Center without much trouble. I stopped at a church that actually looked like a church (and not like a business center in the case of the church I attended few weeks ago) and regretted it was not opened as there was a chance that it was nicer than usually inside, too. On my way, I struggled a bit to take a satisfactory picture of an unusual skyscraper that in fact was Duke Clinical Research Institute – the building was so tall and the sun so bright. I also wondered whether it was somehow related to the Duke University there, whose visit was on my list as well. The last significant delay on my way to the visitor place was the Carolina Theater. I liked it very much and again, wished I could go inside. I also bumped into a woman sitting there who called my “Honey” all the time and thought that I was a Photography student. My involvement in Science probably disappointed her a bit but she seemed relieved once I told that Photography was a big hobby of mine.

Church in Durham

Church in Durham

Duke Clinical Research Institute. In a skyscraper!

Duke Clinical Research Institute. In a skyscraper!

Carolina Theater

Carolina Theater

Durham History Hub. I have not made it there

Durham History Hub. I have not made it there

In the Visitor Center I got some advice on what too see and also received a map and a guide. The guide looked like lots of advertisement (yet I may use it for planning my next visit if I decide to come back) but the map was very helpful. The Visitor Center lady also told me about a free bus line running downtown (Oh, cool!) and a Farmer’s Market that was held at the moment. Upon my request, I also got a short Durham History intro. While I thought it was a pretty old city, the truth was that there were much older settlements all over North Carolina. The major reason why Durham made it to its size and success seemed to be tobacco. This explained why the first building I saw was a tobacco company and why there was a Tobacco District downtown.

No special building there, yet for some reason one of my favorite views of the city

No special building there, yet for some reason one of my favorite views of the city

Before exploration of the city center, I stopped by the city hall as it was super close to the Visitor Center. However, I was disillusioned once again. It looked way too formal, way too much like a company’s headquarters and on top of that, it was covered in scaffolding from a great part. Thankfully, a row of little colorful houses compensated well for the city hall washout.

Fallin' in love with US cities

Fallin’ in love with US cities

My next stop was the Farmer’s Market that was not originally on my list but I though it could be nice to go there. Indeed, it was not a bad assumption. Once I made it through all the fast food trucks and stands (whatever-American-city-style sandwich, hamburger, pizza and bunch of others), a gyros place, a shabby cookie table and a local bakery stand, more exciting stuff revealed to me. Good, so the Americans indeed care about something else than just food. There were some jewelry, soaps, knitted figures (such as Minions), bags, fabric postcards (which were my favorite), metal, nicely painted pinwheels and African glass beads art. Eventually, I found the farmers! They were selling pretty much any kind of fruit and vegetable but for double and more the price at Food Lion grocery store, and some flowers and herbs as well. Lots of over-weighted people were changing tomatoes, corn, peppers and others – probably hoping they could reduce the impact of the junk they had before. In the farmer’s section, my favorite stop was the hedgehog guy. He had three of them: Oscar, Bonita and Peaches. Too cute! But I could not tell the difference between them. He either somehow could or pretended he could.

Welcome to Durham Central Park

Welcome to Durham Central Park

I have no idea what their purpose was but they got my attention anyway

I have no idea what their purpose was but they got my attention anyway

Having seen enough of vegetables, it was time to see the city’s famous sights. It turned out be rather difficult to keep the desired course. There were so many buildings to take pictures of. As a result, I was constantly taking detours to get the best shots, including crossing the streets all the time so the buildings would fit in the frame or I would eliminate as many traffic signs as possible from my pictures.

The downtown Durham is divided into seven districts and although I missed the Tobacco District and the two most eastern one, I enjoyed exploring the remaining four: Brighleaf District, a bit of Central Park (there was the Farmer’s Market), City Center and Warehouse District. The heart of the Brightleaf District was a square of the same name, which was shopping and dinning center but not for poor students. Among others, Morgan Imports was located there. Initially, I walked in to cool a bit but it turned out being lots of fun. It probably was one of the most unusual stores I have ever been too, offering anything from souvenirs-like items, to useful kitchen utensils, to toys, American decorations, fun items and to absolute crap.

Brightleaf Square. Come in!

Brightleaf Square. Come in!

Brithleaf Square. I am here!

Brithleaf Square. I am here!

Warehouse District resembled the warehouses of Hamburg, except for in comparison to the Europe’s biggest port it was funnily small and there was no river. The buildings made from red brick were all right though. It was also the most depopulated of all the districts I visited today.

Warehouse District. I bet that it where the tobacco used to be. Or is there still some?

Warehouse District. I bet that it where the tobacco used to be. Or is there still some?

Cooking in the early afternoon sun and saturated with downtown architecture of a US city, I decided I should check the place that originally made me to come to the Bull City. The Duke University. I wanted to take advantage of the free bus lane. While it indeed did not cost me a single penny to get on, I paid a lot in terms of wasted steps while desperately searching for a bus stop. Even harder part, however, was to get off the bus at the right time. Even in Durham, I had signal in order for the bus to stop, while having no idea where I was and how many bus stops the driver skipped already because no one wanted to get on/off. This user-unfriendly system, however, made me to visit the Ninth Street, which I did not plan any more because I had spent so much time downtown. It was basically shops and dining places. I did not stay too long as too many dark and rain-promising clouds started accumulating above my head. While trying to fulfill the shopping part at least a bit, it finally started to rain. And as soon as I entered the Duke University properties, the storm was there. Great! I had only a little idea where I was and it was rather hard to try to read the map with an umbrella in my hand and trying to keep my camera dry. The preparation I had done prior to the trip thankfully paid off and I was able to reach the Nasher Museum of Art in too long time and without my camera and me getting too wet. I did not plan to go to an Art place at all but my priorities changed as soon as the storm got really bad. In the end, it turned out to be quite a nice shelter.

Nasher Museum of Art

Nasher Museum of Art

Nashers Museum's Main Hall

Nashers Museum’s Main Hall

Ironing board, turtle shell, straw hat, two balls and here is the statue

Ironing board, turtle shell, straw hat, two balls and here is the statue

Chess-inspired sculpture with some allegories

Chess-inspired sculpture with some allegories

Colorful Canvas

Colorful Canvas

Luckily, the storm was over soon and I dared to leave the museum, heading to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Beautiful! With threatening clouds up in the sky, I cowardly stayed on the main path only and did not take any detours to specialized sections such as Historic Gardens or Garden of Native Plants. I do feel sorry about such a rushed visit but still had a chance to take some pictures. A lily flower with raindrops on its petals was a rewarding object!

Welcome to the Gardens

Welcome to the Gardens

Dill. I think of soup or sauce, they use it as decoration

Dill. I think of soup or sauce, they use it as decoration

Through the Gardens, I made it to the Duke Chapel. This one needed some reconstruction too and so did its closest neighborhood. It was a pity I could not see this site in its full beauty, neither could I go inside. I got in the university store instead. I found nothing interest there – just T-shirt, hoodies, shorts, caps and bunch of other stuff any other university offers. In comparison to NCSU, the prices were very different though. I assume there is a correlation between tuition and prices of merchandise products.

The Chapel Hidden in Scaffolding

The Chapel Hidden in Scaffolding

The campus must have been huge and I probably missed some of its important places – such as Lemur Center that must have somehow disappeared from the Earth during the time of my visit. All the buildings I saw today were built from bricks, however, at Duke they preferred grey ones. They compensated for this rather boring color with fancy look of the buildings. The campus looked so Gothic. It has been a while since I saw a couple of Harry Potter movies but the Duke campus would undoubtedly be the right location for any of the movies from the series.

It looks like a castle and not like a place to go for lectures

It looks like a castle and not like a place to go for lectures

Fraternities here?

Fraternities here?

I accidentally found a Biological Sciences building but there was nothing interesting or unusual about it. The greenhouses were worth a picture though. Pretty much next to it was a Law building and from there I reached the Sports area. Now I know that except for their own theater the Duke kids can go to a large stadium to support the Blue Devils at. Having passed the baseball field, tennis court and peeked into a basketball gym, I gained a feeling that I saw all the essential of a US college and headed for the free bus. This was a great opportunity to walk down the Gardens one more, this time through the Asia section of it.

Duke Greenhouses

Duke Greenhouses

I did not expect...

I did not expect…

... to find a basketball hall inside

… to find a basketball hall inside

Duke Gardens - Asian Lake

Duke Gardens – Asian Lake

Duke Gardens. Indeed, bamboo

Duke Gardens. Indeed, bamboo

When waiting at the station I watched bus travel-related clips on a big TV screen. At first, it seemed they would try to teach the Americans how to get on and off the bus which made me laugh. However, my smile was gone in not too long – specifically, when the “show” changed and “Ten most wanted people of July 2015” were introduced there. I wondered if making their faces and criminal records public was a part of the punishment or whether all ten of them have not been arrested yet and could show up any time. Anyway, they were mostly involved in drug distribution and I had to reason to assume I would meet them.

Although I do not regret going to Cary a week ago, the visit of Durham will probably be remembered for a significantly longer period of time. I was surprised how large it was and that they actually expected tourists there (so different even from Raleigh!). I enjoyed taking pictures of historical buildings – so different from European architecture and so much younger, yet emitting some zeitgeist. I was glad to have a look at the campus of one of the country’s top universities, especially after taking two MOOCs guaranteed by this institution. The campus, in fact, was a nice trip destination but I did not develop any deeper feelings for it – I love the red campus of NC State too much by now to foolishly fall in love with something supposedly more exclusive.