…Düsseldorf. The First Three Months: September – November

The Roller Blading Paradise

Moving without taking my roller blades with me? No way! But what if my new home will not be suitable for this activity? Indeed, the first skating attempt was not really encouraging. However, skating along the Rhine river is a very safe and very scenic approach. In not too long, and with help of  Fahrradnetzplan (a network of biking trails), I “designed” a 30km route running along the Rhine, crossing three bridges, leading through Naturschutzgebiet (a conservation area), passing a golf course, with a glimpse of the Rheinturm and after a detour through residential area returning back to the beautiful Rhine. I am pretty sure my favorite route can still be modified to let me explore new parts of the city or skate even longer.

I already look forward to getting in shape for the April Inline half-marathon in Bonn and many other skating events which will be available once we survive the winter time. Let me close with some numbers: 547 km and countless breathtaking views along the way in bit less than three months.


The River Is Beautiful

And it is true at any time of the day. The pictures say it all.

 


MedienHafen Architecture Is also Extremely Photogenic

MedienHafen is a harbor loaded with modern buildings, each of them being unique. The attractive city skyline is in fact a nesting site for culinary facilities and for headquarters of three quarters of Düsseldorf companies. Nonetheless, the modern architecture there is accompanied by a surprising sense of humor (see the human-gecko building).


Chinafest: Der Drache tanzt in Düsseldorf (The Dragon Dances in Düsseldorf)

While I look forward to learning German language and getting familiar with culture of my new home, why to refuse opportunities to experience other cultures? Annually and since 2011, the Chinafest takes place in Düsseldorf and I arrived just on time, to make my third weekend in Germany a Chinese one.

I did not dare to try any of the Chinese food. Bowls overflowing with to me unknown stuff of various shapes and suspicious smells were accompanied by captions but only in Chinese or German and neither one was of great help to me. I thus focused my attention on Chinese tea, dance performances and Gemüseschnitzkunst (art of vegetable carving).


St. Martin Tag: Martinszug

The day of St. Martin is on 10. November and Germans celebrate it with numerous parades and zillion of lanterns. Obviously, the lanterns are available in stores but majority of children (especially older ones, 12+ years) presented their hand-made lanterns and many of them were true masterpieces, including lanterns in shape of buildings. Another components of the St. Martin evening is a replay of a scene, when St. Martin, 4th-century bishop of Tours, shared his cloak with a beggar when he was a soldier in Roman army.

Besides that, Martin Tag is the time when Weckmann pastry (alternatively Stutenkerl) appears in North-Rhine Westphalian bakeries and will be available throughout the Advent time. These guys are funny and delicious.


The Fifth Season: How I Saw Bit of Karneval in the end

The famous German Karneval starts on 11. November at 11:11 and it was the only German tradition I have heard before for sure. It was thus disappointing to realize that the day is not a national holiday. While I have to wait to see the grand opening live for almost a year, I did not miss the Karneval entirely. When downtown on the first weekend of Christmas markets, I was surprised by a little Karneval appetizer, which makes me extra excited about the Karneval finale in spring.


Weihnachtsmärkte

Christmas markets are nothing new for me – I have been attending since early childhood. But Düsseldorf showed me how much I have missed. In the city, there are seven markets at seven different locations. Obviously, range of products overlaps greatly but the atmosphere of each single market is unique. i) The Marktplatz market, which decorates the Düsseldorf city hall for the rest of the year and which shows the best wood carving work. ii) The Flinger Straße market, whose highlight  is mulled wine pyramid, which remembers me of my Grandmother’s decades old Christmas decoration. iii) The “Angel market” at Heinrich Heine Platz, which fits so well with the impressive building of Carsch-Haus department store. iv) The Scandinavian village built of cute white huts and carousel at Schadowplatz. v) And finally the market at Schadowstraße, whose unique features are smoked fish and ice skating ring. Two more markets (at Jan-Wellem-Platz and Stadtbrückchen) still await to be discovered by me and I cannot wait to do so.

Besides already mentioned wood carvings, sellers can be proud of their knitted accessories such as caps and mittens, glass and wooden Christmas tree decorations, paper stars which turn a light bulb into a piece of art, jewelery, candles and toys. Worth mentioning are obviously edible and drinkable good too: all sorts of Glühwein (mulled wine), roasted almonds and chestnuts, waffles and crepes, champions in some kind of sauce and many specialties whose names I simply forgot, such as the Dutch one.

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… Metro Area. Roller Blading, Food Fest and Flowers & Lego United. Departure

ROLLER BLADING

Last week’s roller blading on a wet and slippery trail while raining finely did not annihilate my love for inline skating, so I was ready to do some more in my last few days in the USA. Out of three skating trips (and 32 more miles) two of them happened round the three lakes and especially the last one was particularly nice. I do not think it was that surprising. Knowing that something is done for the last time makes sky look more blue, wind more refreshing and waters of the lakes deeper.


MINNESOTA STATE FAIR

Due to completely booked flights, my stay became longer than originally intended and this way I made it to the Minnesota Great Get Together. At least that is what they say on TV. I personally believe that a nickname similar to Great Gluttony would be more descriptive. On the other hand, I have no idea where else you could get anything on a stick. And when I say anything, I mean anything. Cheese? Olives? Hot dish? Chicken? Shrimp? A pickle? Corn dog? Hot dog? Meatloaf? Cheesecake? Deep fried candy bars? Cookie dough? Even mashed potatoes? They got it all!

The Fair Grounds

The Fair Grounds

I am pretty sure that each of the tens (maybe even a couple of hundreds?) vendors have their own trick(s) to prepare anything-on-a-stick but I also have no doubt that one trick they all have in common. Deep fry it! This was the case for mashed potatoes on-a-stick, too. I was interested in trying them so much and then ended up disappointed so much. The grease was literally flowing out of the sample ball and the taste was nothing great either. Being spoiled by Mrs. M’s delicious mashed potatoes, it was naive to hunt for anything better.

While the potato experiment was not a success, there was plenty of other food that fully satisfied me. Frozen vanilla yogurt with blackberries, raspberries and chocolate chips. Mini donuts – still warm and so pleasing for my taste buds. I learned a new approach this year – a poor student and two tiny bit aging seniors is a trio just calling for mercy, i.e. food donations. This is how we got to try Australian buttered potatoes (probably my number one food). Honestly, it was some potatoes and a ton of butter but they were so good. For even higher culinary experience, two dressings were available. Another free sample came from a place called Duke’s Poutine. I had absolutely no idea what the name meant, neither could I be sure about the composition of this food. However, something in there looked too much like half-melted cheese and just a sight of it was enough not to even think of trying this one. It still was a great experience as I got a proof that food can unite people. The couple who offered the sample to us were nice companions from Louisiana and there was lots of chatting going on for a while. I was supposed to hear their different accent but two months down there were apparently not enough to help me with this part of English study.

Mini Donuts

Mini Donuts

Frozen Yogurt

Frozen Yogurt

The strongest impression of the Fair was that paying an admission allowed visitors to spend even more money – for food primarily but also for art and decorations, clothing or household tools useful to varying extend. I had a feeling that the only things left from the original farmers fair were the machinery that we ignored entirely and livestock we did not care for this time either. After all, I could imagine a huge pig already and poultry did not arrive this year because of the bird flu risk. But we did visit Creative Activities buildings and an art display.

Horse Stadium

Horse Stadium

I dare to say that Creative Activities should be a must of any visit to the Fair. Call me old-school if you want but I did enjoy admiring people’s skills as different as boat building and quilting, sewing and other needlecraft and complicated woodwork – bowls as well as pictures ready to be hung on the wall. And if you are as lucky as me and have guides to explain how the work was probably done, then you truly appreciate the authors‘ abilities.

To me, the Fine Arts Exhibit was little less interesting than the display of creative activities but nevertheless, I enjoyed it. Again, it was a mixture of variability: different painting techniques, photography as well as few sculptures. The exhibit did not seem to be organized in any way and that was good. I generally do not care for paintings so much and when I was about to get bored of too many canvases, then a refreshing photograph popped up. And sometimes I even got confused – some of the paintings were so real that I considered them to be photographs.

A final advice to anyone interested in visiting Minnesota is as follows: Go there when the Fair is on.


MINNESOTA LANDSCAPE ARBORETUM

Part of the University of Minnesota and spreading on the area of over a thousand acres, it definitely was the nicest arboretum I can remember visiting. It was not only enormously big but also beautiful, and both a walking tour and a ride by a tram were enjoyable.

When Buildings and Flowers Are in Harmony

When Buildings and Flowers Are in Harmony

We started our visit with the walking tour that covered not only some of the key gardens or plant collections (in the proximity of the visitor center) but also a short visit to the Anderson Horticulture Library and sneak-peek on Lego statues spread all over the place. While the guide (a volunteer) seemed to know quite a lot, it was rather obvious she was not a biologist. She, nevertheless, did a great job and whatever I missed was my fault as I made the tour a photography opportunity in the first place. Me, photographer and me, biologist were glad to check annual garden with its azaleas, herb and Japanese gardens, rose walk, terrace garden and probably several more.

New Species Discovered! Lego Dragonfly

New Species Discovered! Lego Dragonfly

When the tram ride started I was not sure whether it would be good for anything – again I heard the same story of the arboretum’s establishment. However, the tram covered much more of the arboretum, thus giving me a chance to admire plants I did not see in the morning and, obviously, listening to new information thanks to that. Sitting comfortably, I could briefly encounter various trees including oaks, willows and conifers, as well as shrubs and dahlias. Among sites I wish I could visit (rather than just pass by) were a maze and Sculpture Garden.

Fountain

I had a great time visiting the flowers and I was sure I could have spent a whole day there – I sure would have been tired but definitely not bored.


A FAREWELL TO MINNESOTA

At first, the change of my summer plans sucked but it turned out that during my time in Minnesota, I was enabled to visit several interesting places. In only two weeks I got little education in the state’s history as well as in several areas of Biology. I stepped on the ground of Wisconsin, too. In a short time I had more ice-cream than I normally have in an entire year and I also consumed an increased amount of alcohol – raspberry beer was my most favorite one and mango margarita was an entirely new drink to me. A chapter completely on its own was food. Of course. It was the States. I sure appreciated the chances to try new dishes (such as Australian potatoes at the Fair) as well as those that I had gotten to like earlier (onion rings as a great example). Thankfully, there was roller blading as a mean to compensate for all that.

Mexican Apetizer

Mexican Apetizer

From a beer country, yet I need more education in this field. Chocolate beer.

From a beer country, yet I need more education in this field. Chocolate beer.

Visiting those places was fun for most of the time but there were some tough moments, too – sort of “unexplored waters” to me. But in the end, I felt grateful for being with people who meant so much to me, who were role models in a way and who cared about me for several years. I saw time both dragging on and flying by. I experienced the pain of loosing someone and I was leaving with a lot to think about. Finally, I decided to cherish hope for a better future.

Minnesota Viking Couple

Minnesota Viking Couple

… Along the Mississippi. Tour de Lake City – Wabasha – La Crosse – Winona – Red Wing – Hastings

DAY 1: COURSE SOUTHEAST 

After exploring the Minneapolis area for almost a week, Monday of week no. 2 was the time to see a little bit more of Minnesota and also to cross the river and pay a short visit to the state of Wisconsin. The final destination on the other bank was the city of La Crosse and thankfully, there were some nice American towns along the way. In other words, many opportunities to stop every once a while and compensate for sitting in the car – even though the view was just beautiful. Also, after weeks (in NC) of entire dependence on buses, roller blades and my feet, planning my trips and paying for them, it was nice to experience the freedom of a car – especially (and thank God!) as it was not me doing the driving – and follow a well-designed itinerary prepared by my hosts.

On the way to La Crosse, our first stop was Lake City, which I faultily assumed to be located on the shore of a lake. However, it turned out that so called lake Pepin was a more of broad section of Mississippi rather than a lake. No matter what, the city’s marina was a nice place to stop at and take some pictures of. Hadn’t it been so cold and so windy, I would have considered it a very nice stop.

Perl Buttons Store in Lake City

Perl Button Store in Lake City

It did not take us terribly long to reach our next destination: National Eagle Center in Wabasha. I understood it was one of only few places where the USA’s national bird can be bred and I liked this educational stop very much. First, it was warm inside, second (and more importantly), I had never seen so large live birds and finally, I learned a lot and I was never bored. In total, they had three bald eagles there and none of them had very happy destiny – their lives in wilderness included car accidents and lead poisoning. Thanks to the help from the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, they survived and hopefully were helping their relatives out there, in the real world.

Bold Eagle...

Bald Eagle…

One of their eagles’ was called Angel and she was the eagle from the Minnesota licence plates. I always thought it was “just an eagle” – like any bird in any textbook, so after a few visits to the beautiful land of lakes, I felt pleased to reveal the truth and meet the model for the licence plate eagle. Am I ahead of some Minnesotans now? An essential part of our visit was about an hour long presentation about bald eagles – from their anatomy, behavior and breeding, to threats they faced in the past and still do. The height of the talk was Columbia (named to remember the space-shuttle disaster) feeding on a rabbit. I was surprised how red the meat was – I bet it must have been a wild rabbit. Although the volunteering  lady was funny and easy to understand (very important for me!), which made her lecture very enjoyable, I cannot avoid little criticism. Again, I had to handle an excessive use of the word cute. I am tolerant to this one when there is a kids audience but I do think that primarily adult audience can handle more complicated vocabulary. Because of her enthusiasm, however, I forgive her cute vocabulary as well as two minor mistakes I believe she made.

... and one of causes of its problems.

… and one of causes of its problems.

Toward the end of the day it was time to cross the river and visit the city of La Crosse for the second time in my life. The main goal was to meet B, who was a very nice companion and also a tour guide. A short walk along the river gave me another chance to freeze (after not so successfully trying to adapt to the North Carolina heat for weeks) but also some hope for nice pictures. A little tiny walk through the city was equally enjoyable and a nice appetizer before the supper at The Old Crow. Thankfully, it was B who suggested this American Gastrobar for tonight – I do not think I would have dared to go inside without a recommendation from someone who has spent 4+ years in the city. I am not saying the restaurant looked discouraging or something like that, the name just made me super cautious – in  other words, to expect a witch’s hideout with bats and spiders, suspicious vials and a pot with boiling poison, and a black cat somewhere in the corner. I was then almost disappointed not to find any of those. Their salad was a nice good night meal and probably my first healthy food in a week.

La Crosse

La Crosse

Having my tummy full, only night walk was needed for a good sleep.

Having my tummy full, only night walk was needed for a good night sleep.

DAY 2: COURSE NORTHWEST

Tuesday morning was a rather cold one (at least to me) but the blue sky promised some sunshine – I felt better immediately. The breakfast at the motel was another reason for a good start of the day: coffee and hot chocolate, Belgian waffle, an old-fashioned donut and even one single healthy item on my menu – yogurt. Having so much good fuel, I was set to be driven back to the Metro area. Thankfully, it was not a straightforward car ride but we had some stops on the way again: three this time.

First of them was the city of Winona, specifically the Minnesota Marine Art Museum located there. The main attraction was the temporary exhibit called Ocean Soul, a collection of underwater pictures by Brian Skerry, a National Geography photographer. Even if it had been the only exhibition in the museum, it would have been worth visiting. Dozens of large photographs were divided into four sections, depending on the “type of water” they came from: cold, cool, pristine and tropical. I liked every single picture and absolutely failed to pick my favorite one. A bright yellow fish peeking out of a soda can, a large manta ray flying by, attraction of colorful corals, baby seal looking so vulnerable in the infinite land of ice and snow – all of them and many many more photographs showed the diversity and beauty of oceans, and challenged my decision for a career in the lab.

The MMAM Building

The MMAM Building

While the Ocean Soul was my favorite exhibit, there was much more to see in the museum – another photography exhibition and several collections of paintings: Views of Mississippi, American art and work of European artists (C. Monet as well as early painting of V. van Gogh). The paintings did not necessarily include water motives but my top three did. Those were two pictures of sailboats “in action” and a picture with a sailboat resting in a navy port. Unfortunately the rest of art on display remained rather ununderstood by me and the only outcome probably was learning that paintings look better when observing them from a distance. However, I did appreciate to see the famous Washington Crossing Delaware. Though it was not the large canvas (that is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY) collections), this piece nevertheless hang in the White House for three decades. Kinda special. I though it was funny that such a historical moment was captured by a German painter. And even worse, he did not avoid some mistakes. First, the (current) US flag in the picture was not officially approved until some time after the crossing. And second, one of the guys accompanying Mr. Washington did not actually join him centuries ago. I am glad I learned something unusual and had a chance to see this piece of art.

The following city to pay a short visit to was Red Wing, located right on a railroad and at the Mississippi’s bank. It was a rather short stop but long enough to allow us to eat the lunch in the Levee Park and check the famous St. James hotel. Besides the hotel, there were three restaurants, a few stores as well as (probably) some conference rooms in the same building.

St. James

St. James

The third and final stop was for the sake of refreshment only: dairy store in Hastings. It looked like they sold milk, cheese and other dairy products – possibly from local farmers – and I therefore decided to expect a good quality ice-cream, too. For a single dollar, one could have a cup (my volume estimation was some 300 ml) literally loaded with ice cream. What truly made it special was that customers poured the ice-cream from the provided machine themselves and mixing the flavors was apparently OK. Having said all that and impressed by the unusual house rules, I was not sure I liked the ice-cream’s taste so much. What I knew for sure, however, was that my pancreas would run out of insulin soon.

More ice-cream than you really need

More ice-cream than you really need

The region of Minnesota-Wisconsin I could explore over the two days was definitely a beautiful land. I sure was glad too see several charming American cities on my way as well as breathtaking views on the Mississippi river while traveling from one city to another; and moreover with minimal effort from me. I also appreciated the chance to gain new information about the US national bird and a couple of cool facts worth remembering about the famous painting. However, I am afraid that the most memorable moment was the time I could spend admiring Mr. Skerry’s photographs – both on display and in his book available for browsing.

… Raleigh. The Skating Total of 333 km & Childhood Fun

I decided that on my last Saturday in North Carolina I should go skating. I had two aims: to do at least 20 km (so I round my NC mileage to 300 km) and to visit the Walnut Creek Wetland Center.

My skating route included lake Johnson once more but I did not make the usual “almost round it” it this time, instead I skated along its dam where the asphalt is super smooth only for a short time and returned back to the Centennial Campus Trail. This one brought me to lake Raleigh and out of the campus, where it became Walnut Creek Trail, the one I have skated on so many times before. This time, however, there was no wildlife (neither dead wildlife) encounter and by the time I reached the Wetland Center it was not opened yet. I therefore decided to skate little more. This did not work out so well as it turned out to be a lot more skating. I almost reached the Neuse River Trail – I did not do only the final 0.5 mile as it there would be a downhill ride down the long wooden bridge on the way back and I was not up for pins and needles in my feet today.

Though I met some bikers on my way, I was the only visitor of the Walnut Creek Wetland Center the whole time I spent there. The center is located in a green building that can be proud of sophisticated features reducing the energy and water required as well as sustainable materials used to build it. This was probably the reason for its unusual design that I liked so much. There were at least four (but probably five) rooms, however, all of them but the lobby looked like classrooms. This kinda reduced the area to cover during my visit but even the single room (lobby) had quite a lot to offer. Thanks to a turtles poster I identified the turtle I had seen the other day (it was an Eastern Box Turtle) but failed to identify either of the snakes I had seen over the two months. The lobby’s masterpiece was definitely a so called touch table, where kids were encouraged to explore “materials of nature” such as butterflies, ancient shark teeth, snake sheds, turtle shells (the had such a fine ribs in there!), beaver pelt and many more.

The Touch Table. Can you see what used to be a beaver?

The Touch Table. Can you see what used to be a beaver?

There was a little bit to see outside, on the deck of the center, too: a few information boards, periodical pole which was impossible to see at this time of a year, a cistern to preserve rain water and holes created by carpenter bees. It was amazing that any insect can create perfectly circular holes without any tools and knowledge of pi value. There were two holes and both of them had a visitor into them. As I am consulting with Google know, I can confirm they were not the carpenter bees.

The Cistern for Rain Water

The Cistern for Rain Water

After the break it was little harder to get adjusted back to the skating movements but the struggle did not last too long and I finished the rest of the route with no problems, neither any excitement such as more snakes or coyotes. In total my last skating trip was good 40 km long. Raleigh Skating Mission accomplished.

It took my only a while to recover and after a lousy lunch (in other words, whatever was left in the refrigerator at this point) I started googling what stuff I have missed over the past two months and hopefully could rectify for that on my last weekend in Raleigh. Again I realized that the capital city is not automatically a synonym to ton of fun and/or long opening hours. I found out about an art place that looked interesting but it would close about the time I would reach it and would not be opened at all on Sunday. In the end, I decided to look for activities in the proximity of the campus, thus avoiding too much walking. In the case of both attractions I visited, I also did not run in opening hours problems and both of them were fun enough to make me feel that I complied with the Mrs. C’s wish to do something fun on my last weekend.

The first stop was the WRAL Azalea Garden right next to the broadcasting company’s building. I had noticed the TV building few times in the past but never paid any attention to it. Until today when I learned that if I want to a nice office for myself, I have to become a TV person for a US broadcasting company. Their property was pretty big and just overloaded with antennas of various sizes and shapes. Now I can also confirm that the transmission tower was theirs, too. As for the garden, it was not as spectacular as the arboretum (which I expected anyway) but considering the fact that a company founded the place, it was nice and of a decent size, too. Furthermore, it provided me with lots of opportunities to take pictures, including snap and snaps or a baby rabbit feeding next to a fountain. I definitely was glad to go there as it would be a huge shame to miss a place that was pretty nice and super close to my temporary home.

Are those Azaleas?

Are those Azaleas?

Fountain at WRAL

Fountain at WRAL

And My New Friends

And My New Friends

From the garden I headed to the Pullen Park again. However, unlike my previous visit, the primary purpose was not a photography but join the local kids and spend the Saturday afternoon in the way they do. To achieve that, I went for two rides – a carousel and a miniature train. The carousel was an extraordinary piece of work. The animals were well-done, with so many details on them and looking pretty real. A supposedly clarinet music was playing and I enjoyed my ride on a piggy’s back a lot.

Pullen Park Ticket Booth

Pullen Park Ticket Booth

Pullen Park Carousel

Pullen Park Carousel

Checking Myself before the Ride

Checking Myself before the Ride

And Here We Go: The World from the Piggy's Back

And Here We Go: The World from the Piggy’s Back

The miniature train ride was much much more scenic than the ride on an actual train last weekend. I saw the lake and all the wooden bridges across it, the carousel house and a playground. Although the train ride was not boring at all, I probably enjoyed the carousel little more.

Ready to Ride

Ready to Ride

Done with the rides, I still did not have enough, so I stopped at the Talley Student Union on the way back home. Good I did it – it looks spectacular from the outside and I liked the ground floor but had no idea there would be so much more hidden on the remaining floors.

Wanna Relax Here?

Wanna Relax Here?

The Wolf Must Not Be Absent of Course

The Wolf Must Not Be Absent of Course

Inspirational Staircase

Inspirational Staircase

As the Semester Comes Closer It Is Easier to Imagine How It Might Look Like When the Classes Start

As the Semester Comes Closer It Is Easier to Imagine How It Might Look Like When the Classes Start

And View from the Upper Most Floor

And View from the Upper Most Floor

I am glad I chose to be active today and I look forward to seeing what adventures tomorrow provides me with. I am also grateful I survived all my skating adventures in one piece, without any accidents (even though there was one close call today) and brought my mileage to nice 333 kilometers.

… 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?

… 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. 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.

… Raleigh. Summary of Week 2


Life in the Lab

On Monday morning I chose to join Mrs. C for the L’s lab meeting again. And I was impressed again, even though I understood even less than the last time. Anyway, I got some idea what to study if I ever get too bored here (or any other place in the world). Mrs. C had some errands to do right after the meeting but nevertheless, she gave me a lift to the lab, which was very much appreciated. First, I did not have to walk in the heat nor take the bus (Wolfline) completely on my own. Second, I could enjoy a ride in a huge American that moreover that made it all the way from West Coast of the US to the East coast, which I thought was very impressive – in terms of capabilities of both the car and its driver(s). And finally, we gained few minutes to talk about her latest research interest and to agree on my presentation on a plant species completely new to me – I heard about only a week or so ago. Besides that, she made sure I had my groceries done and that I have other way of survival than spicy meals only. She is always a very enjoyable companion and I do have a hunch I will learn from her – both as a person and a scientist – a lot this summer.

Mrs. C was about to go for a couple of days for a conference in the afternoon, so I tried to clarify a few things before she leaves – hoping a short talk will help to make at least a tiny progress until she is back on Thursday morning. Surprisingly enough, it happened.

I spent over two days trying to find a way how to get set, so I hopefully produce high-quality (e.g. resolution and lighting conditions) and nicely looking pictures of a value to Mrs. C’s aims. In the process, I must have made dozens and dozens of shots that were good for nothing but moving to trash. When installing the plant of interest the way I wanted (and the way it did not want to be), I practiced some bad Czech language. On Tuesday evening I already knew I would need “something”, so S, M and me made a short trip to Walgreens to get a black paper I could use as a nice background. Thankfully, they had a foam paper of decent size that turned out to be the best purchase while in the US so far. In fact, it motivated me so much that I did not really mind spending most of Wednesday in an attempt to make a nice ruler for my pictures. A successful attempt!

Overall, it cost me only $ 3.85 and 2.5 days to get on – what I think is – the right way. Since Thursday I have been taking pictures that are no more only playing with my camera but what I hope will be a scientific material in not too long time. Let’s see if the initial investments and days to come will be enough to build my international reputation as a photographer.

In a strong contrast to all the safety measures at NCSU – including the toe-covered shoes, is the approach towards ethidium bromide, which I thought was considered a rather dangerous stuff. Here they apparently do not feel the same as the EtBr-contaminated stuff is not really labeled and definitely not absolutely separated from any other equipment as back in my Czech lab. What is the lesson? I better thing twice before doing any more gels.

On Thursday, there was the lab meeting. Except for data presented, I learned about methods that are going to be used in this particular project. Some of them were new to me, others I could recall a bit from my classes and felt bad I did not remember much more. Just as the last week, I witnessed the importance of statistics as well as visual aids in data analysis and their presenting. Now, I am considering to take some relevant course the next semester. I believe that one becomes an excellent scientist as his/her experience grows but I definitely need to strengthen my background in the last two semesters of schooling, so I can build on it after my graduation.

On Friday I tortured the Mac version of PowerPoint in an attempt to make a template of some so make my life years in weeks to come. Eventually, I got the desired result, so I could get involved in the lab a bit – I ran one gel and refilled tip boxes. Normally, I would turn up my nose at tasks like that but as I was in desperate need for some work, I enjoyed them both. My photo project continued on Friday, too and I am proud to announce that one of my newest pictures is nothing but great and I cannot wait to show it to Mrs. C on Monday. In the afternoon, I went for a talk whose main message remained blurry to me. I know it was about some protein, I also understood that iron was somehow involved and I liked the pictures she showed – especially the microscopy ones. It was, nevertheless, nice to be there and watch people sharing their ideas and giving suggestion as well as critical points (e. g. You need to make sure that your protein does (not) …. when you …). I appreciate NCSU’s scientific community more and more.

The Brick Yard...

The Brick Yard…

... Where I Go for Lunch. Many Thanks to S. for Her Tortillas.

… Where I Go for Lunch. Many Thanks to S. for Her Tortillas.

Happened out of the Lab

On Monday morning I walked to the Centennial Campus with M. as I had a very limited knowledge of it while she had none at that time. We found “her” building without any difficulties and on top of it, were lucky enough to meet an unbelievably fast fawn. I had about an hour left between saying Goodbye to M. and the lab meeting, and planned to spend it the the great Hunt Library. However, I realized that sitting outside under the large tree might be the right way to breath fresh air of North Carolina without cooking. That is exactly what I did and it was a great decision – it was just as comfortable as I had thought it would be and moreover, I finished another paper I did not manage to read during my 30 hours of overseas travel. The plan for late Monday afternoon was to had a bagel and than go skating but the bagel place was closed by the time I got there. It was rather disappointing but I went out for some skating anyway. I chose the Rocky Branch Trail again and already knowing what to expect, it was not a too bad time.

A Pleasant Hour on Monday Morning

A Pleasant Hour on Monday Morning

Skyscrapers Over There!

Skyscrapers Over There!

Some Views Can Never Get Too Casual

Some Views Can Never Get Too Casual

Time to Take the Skates Off. Talley Student Union in the Background.

Time to Take the Skates Off. Talley Student Union in the Background.

On Tuesday afternoon I tried to get a bus to get me to a place where I could get the black paper for my background. I do think I was waiting at the right bus stop but no bus showed up in almost 15 minutes. That time was enough to get awfully sweat and I gave up without much of remorse. Instead at the stationer’s I stopped at the NCSU store at the Talley Student Union. I did not know it would be its second day in the new location (as well as for Starbucks), so I was honestly surprised how crowded place it was (during the summer!).

On Wednesday morning I had peanut-butter for the first time in Raleigh and right after the breakfast I went to the Bruegger’s Bagels, where I got an Everything bagel that would be used as my “first supper” (i. e. before skating) later on. This time I put my skates on at the Centennial Campus, passed the Hunt Library, got to lake Raleigh and continued to the west along the Walnut Creek. On my way, I made a detour to the Farmers Market but as of a situation there at about 7pm, I do not think it is worth another visit. I liked the Walnut Creek Trail very much – in fact enough not to search for any other place for a while. The asphalt is mostly super smooth, there are trees almost all along the trail, there are not too many hills and those few present are within the safety limits and finally, I probably have not reached its end yet, not mentioning the fact that I can also go eastwards from the lake. After all, the only drawback is the wet and dark tunnel but should be fine. Honestly, there was one medium scary moment on the way back when I encountered a dog that did not seem to have its owner anywhere nearby. I did feel relieved when it kept going straight rather than sniffing me. It ended up in some garden along the trail and while it might be a nice local dog, I definitely hope this was our first and last meeting. The 12 km I did today do not quite reach my standard but I am slowly getting there.

The Bagel Place. Yes, I Will Come Back.

The Bagel Place. Yes, I Will Come Back.

Fuel for the Skater

Fuel for the Skater

Walnut Creek Trail. It Looked Like a Tomb Raider Scene There.

Walnut Creek Trail. It Looked Like a Tomb Raider Scene There.

Here It Starts

Here It Starts

I Got It. But How Should I Estimate My Speed?

I Got It. But How Should I Estimate My Speed?

Thursday was by far the most adventurous day in North Carolina. I woke up into a stormy morning and decided it might be a good idea to go by bus today. The rain, as well as the storm, was gone by the time I left the house but I nevertheless decided to insist on the original bus plan – just to get some experience if it is ever really needed (as the only thing I am sure about is that I do not get this bus system at all). Here comes the time to explain the word ADVENTUROUS used few lines earlier. I got on the right bus, surprisingly enough the right direction too, but somehow expected it to stop on campus more than just once. This was a wrong assumption and in about 15 minutes I found myself downtown. What a surprise! I knew something was terribly wrong once the first skyscrapers appeared but I thought that getting off the sort of main station would be about the safest solution. Indeed, it was. There was an information booth where I asked about next bus back to NCSU and luckily enough, I had to wait for less than 15 minutes. Is it really such a problem to have a bus schedule/route available on each bus stop? And back at the main station downtown, would it cause that much harm to mark the individual platforms with numbers of bus line(s) leaving from there? Anyway, I was back in lab 30 minutes prior to the lab meeting and gained some experience for my next trip downtown – when I intend to do so. Oh ya, and I also figured out how to signal that I want the bus to stop at the next stop. However, I do not understand why the heck the name of the bus stop to come cannot show up on the screen that is present in the bus anyway. In this regard, my daily walks through the campus paid off – even though I had no idea about the street names, I could easily realized that I wanted to get off NOW.

On Friday afternoon I attended an English Conversation Club for the first time. It apparently works the following way: there are some native speaker volunteers who are willing to spend time with international students and talk to them. The leader of the meeting was Mr. R, probably the oldest American I have met so far. When I came to the classroom, there already were quite some students (primarily girls for some reason and I could tell that a majority of them was definitely not from Europe) in conversation with a couple of elderly American women. I ended up starting a new conversation group with Mr. J and later on a student from India and another one from Iran joined us. The official length of the session was an hour and during that time, American candies were served twice. The four of us, an Iranian girl and another volunteer (who lived at a bunch of places both in the US and Europe) stayed for an additional hour. Overall, it was a very well spent time and I definitely want to come again. OK, the candies played some role in this decision making.

It was this English class, when I heard about a shooting that took place in Raleigh today – at a place super close to the campus and also at a place where I skated through on Monday. As a result of the recent event, I decided to postpone my grocery shopping as the store is damn close to that neighborhood but frankly, I do not have a reason to feel unsafe. I do hope I will feel the same over the remaining six weeks, too.

Potato-Broccoli "Pancakes" I Made For Us

Potato-Broccoli “Pancakes” I Made For Us

The Beatle

The Beatle

… Uppsala. Sweden, Day 50

In the morning I transferred the remaining Arabidopsis seedlings into the pots. This line germinated a bit worse and that is why I was waiting with transferring this one for the whole week. As a results of slower germination, the seedling were even tinier than usually and I was missing eight plants. Hopefully, more seeds will germinate soon. I also watered all of Clément’s plants, so they hopefully make it over the weekend, and hopefully without a fly attack this time.

I spent the rest of the morning taking pictures of germinating seeds, which I checked four days ago. I was running this germination experiment for good two weeks and took pictures six timed during that time, so I got much more confident about using this high-tech microscope:

High-Tech Microscope

One of my last lunches at Logen was Gratinerad blomkål med kokt potatis, Baked Cauliflower with boiled potatoes. The cauliflower was baked in some kind of sauce and there was some cheese on top of it, so it was not a bad choice after all. After lunch, one of peaks of the working part of my stay was about to come: Arabidopsis transformation!

I have heard what a great tool it is for researchers, yet never was explained how to do it. Now, I had a chance to try it with Duarte. To be honest, it was nothing terrible exciting and there was not so much to be done. All the preparation on the molecular biology level was much more tricky and took significantly longer time than just few minutes of dipping the flowers in bacterial solution. Nevertheless, I appreciated I could do one more step the long process of plant transformation. An unusual part of this task was working with large volumes: while isolated plasmid was dissolved in few micro-liters, this time the volumes reached 500 milliliters!

For my supper I cooked Pasta Bolognese for two reasons: I wanted to finish the great tricolor pasta and I had a possibly bit longer evening ahead.

This time my plans were not spoiled for any reasons, so I could make a photography trip after my supper. I realized I was missing any late evening/night pictures and to get any was the main task for Friday evening. I went out shortly after 7pm, earlier than I had planned, because I was bit bored in my room. However, it turned out to be a good decision, since I got stuck only after 15 minutes of walking. I spotted some goats on my way and I spent quite some time taking pictures of them.

The animals were grazing at the place called Kronparken (Crown park), located along the road of name Dag Hammarskjölds väg. Although I went skating there several times, I kind of ignored the fence and had never seen any track of goats there before. Once I spotted them I also payed attention to signs attached to the gate. One of them welcomed visitors in gammeltallarnas rike, literary translated as “old pine kingdom” and the other one was a map. This led me to conclude it was allowed to walk in that area, to me simply a forest. I did not try to do, since there were lots of goats and I felt fine on the other side of the fence.

GoatGrazing Goats

The goats did not have much grass there to feed themselves, so they went rather for little bushes and leaves of trees. Watching them for a while helped me to understand, why the trees were missing any leaves and branches at all at the lowest levels of their crowns.

When I made it downtown, I was expecting lights to be on everywhere. However, I was completely wrong about that point. It took until 8:15pm for restaurants to lit up their signs, followed by store windows, and then finally the street lighting went on. While I was walking around and waiting for the right conditions, Uppsala welcoming placard amused me a bit:

Welcome Placard Uppsala

My excitement even increased, when I realized it was changing colors in the course of time:

I also hoped the main sights would be illuminated nicely. They were, but only little bit and the lights came on pretty late, about 9pm, when it was really dark. I was surprised, how fast the evening was getting darker and darker. I was waiting for hour and a half for the lights to be on, and when it finally happened I was done in less than 30 minutes and could not take any nice, non-blurry pictures any more.

During the unbelievably short period of perfect conditions I managed to capture: Rådhuset (Town Hall), Movie Theater on the shore of the river and neighboring building, and a store sign.

Town Hall in the EveningMovie Theater in the EveningEvening next to the RiverShoe Store Sign

When I made it to the famous Domkyrka (Cathedral) and Uppsala Slott (Castle), I wish I had a camera tripod or ability to stay completely still for few seconds. Since I had neither of them I did not try terribly hard to get great pictures. Using my cell phone, I was able to take following pictures:

Cathedral at NightUppsala Castle at Night

Even though I am not very likely to find any stunning pictures stored in my memory card, it was at least a very nice walk, which allowed me to see the city in a bit different way.

… Stockholm. Sweden, Day 23

Ten Hours in Stockholm

How it would be like to be in Sweden for seven weeks and not to visit its capital at all? Checking the weather forecast whole week, I concluded this Saturday should be the right time for a trip. I found out Stockholm is often referred to be the capital of Scandinavia, so I was really curious about it. Another thing, which increased my interest in the city, was that Stockholm extends across 14 islands, right where Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea meet. However islands of the City of Stockholm are only a small portion of the Stockholm archipelago, its 30,000 making it the largest archipelago of Sweden and the second largest one in the Baltic Sea.

There is a very good public transport connection between the cities of Uppsala and Stockholm: trains couple times per hour as well as bus (company is called Swebuss). Trains of this line are operated by two different companies (SJ and SL), which has some effect on price of the ticket as well as on time of the journey. Since traveling by bus takes just a bit longer than the slower train, but is significantly cheaper (69kr for one-way ticket) I took the bus.

I wanted to be in Stockholm before 10am, so the only way how to get there was a bus leaving from Uppsala at 6:40am. Unsurprisingly Uppsala at 6:00am was even emptier than usually, my only companions on the way to the station being deer doe who I met really close to the dorms and it did not look being bothered with my presence, and birds who were just getting up.

Other three people took the same bus, so I wondered how moneymaking this line was. Anyway, the bus driver spoke English and the ride was fine. Shortly after 7:30am I was standing on a street of Stockholm, my first views of city being as the following:

DSC_0187

The building of bus station. I have no idea what the sign “World Trade Center” refers to, however it should have been a hint I was in an international city.

Stockholm World Trade Center

If I had been to Stockholm before, I would have never called Uppsala windy and cold: it took my only five minutes to realize combing my hair was a waste of time and other five minutes later I thank myself I had taken a spare sweatshirt with me.

So early in Saturday morning streets of Stockholm were rather empty and everything was closed until 10am. Except for tourist information which opened at 9am. To warm up myself and remember some landmarks near the Central Station, I walked through couple of streets crowded with closed stores and took first snapshots. While strolling through some of narrow streets, I chanced to found an empty bottle of Czech beer sunbathing in a beer-garden:

Czech Beer in the Stockholm Sun

Although I am not such a drinker and have not touched beer for several weeks, I kept my sense of recognizing Czech beverages.

Gears Statue

Finally I made it into the tourist information, where I got a free maps of downtown Stockholm. At that time I naturally had no idea it would be of barely any help to me later on.

It is time to explain, why it was so important to arrive to Stockholm until 10am. I wanted to take part in a free walking tour of the downtown. At least during the summer, there is a tour almost everyday and except for the City Tours, evening Old Town Tours are offered as well (http://www.freetourstockholm.com/).

Free Tour Stockholm with Mark

The tour was joined by more than two dozens of people of various nationalities: lots of Americans came to see Stockholm, as well as Canadians and a group of people from Mexico. Russians, a Chinese woman, girls from Colombia, Brazil and an Australian guy came along, too. The guide of today tour was Mark and he made the tour to be very enjoyable and also funny, and he shared lots of information with us. I believe most of the stuff he told us could not be found in any guide books nor in Swedish History textbooks.

Road to Sergelts Torg

The tour was two to three kilometers long and took good two hours. We met at Sergelts Torg (see the photo above for the road leading to the square) not far from the Central Station and Mark began the tour with a legend of Stockholm’s foundation.

The very first city of Sweden was Sigtuna and thanks to iron mines it was very rich. Once it was attacked by pirates and Sigtuna’s inhabitants saved their treasures by sending them into the sea. A new city should have been established once the treasures would reach the land again. The legend says they had landed in island of Stadsholmen (City Island), where the oldest part of Stockholm, Gamla Stan, was started.

The tour covered sights such as Konserthuset (Concert Hall), Oper (Opera), Riksdag (Parliament), through Kungsträdgården (King’s Garden) and streets of Drottninggatan (Queen’s Street) and Kungsgatan (King’s Street).

Drottninggatan (Queen’s Street) was named after Queen Kristina and nowadays it is mainly a shopping street. Since Sweden tries very hard to keep sex equality it did not take too long until was decided that Kungsgatan (King’s Street), which became primarily banking center, was needed as well.

There is no doubt Queen Kristina is one of the most controversial figures of Swedish history: she converted to Catholicism, left Sweden and moved to Italy, taking lots of royal possessions (pictures, jewelry, gold) with here. This made Swedes angry, however she saved all the stuff from being burned unintentionally, since the Royal Palace went to flames some time after her departure. Queen Kristina was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican, being one of only three women who received this honor.

It was also during the time of reign of Queen Kristina, when Sweden significantly contributed to the history of philosophy. It was Queen Kristina, who invited philosopher René Descartes, to Sweden. He gave her private lessons and introduced her to Catholicism. Unfortunately it was the last thing he did. He got a cold in Sweden and died of pneumonia ten days later.

Konserthuset (Concert Hall) is the place, where Nobel Prize Award Ceremony is held on December 10 annually.

Konserthuset

I completely forgot it takes place in Stockholm! A surprising information for me was the following one.

Only four out of original five Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm. The exception is Nobel Peace Prize which is handed over in Oslo, Norway, which was a part of Nobel’s will. In the past Sweden and Norway used to be one country and from Nobel, this was probably an attempt of Nobel to avoid its division.

KonserthusetKonserthuset Market

There was a big market held at the square in front of the Concert Hall and mainly fruit and vegetables, flowers and souvenirs were sold there. Lots of the seller seems to be from Arabic countries, Turkey or southern Europe. I do not think I have ever been to a louder place. They were trying really hard to sell their goods and while they were shouting loudly (I guess the praised their merchandises), I could not say which language(s) it was at all.

The oldest skyscraper of the city of Stockholm

Oldest skyscraper of Stockholm

Passing the oldest skyscraper of Stockholm (nowadays quite hidden between all those department stores, banks and office buildings), we reached a street where a fitness center called “Balance” was located. Can a fitness center be relevant to a city tour? Yes it can, and this one is even relevant to modern history of Sweden.

Balance Fitness Center

The story of Balance is as simple as follows:

A personal trainer of a name of Daniel started the company, where he met Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden. Since he was a commoner, it was a problem to their relationship for long seven years. Finally they got married in 2010.

If Berlin’s popular meeting point is Weltuhr, London’s one is Trafalgar Square, and Times Square in New York, then Stockholm has got its Svamp (Mushroom). The place was originally meant as a rain protection and its design absolutely  reflects this intention. It is nothing else but a boring grey, flat, circular roof, in its center attached to a boring grey column. I guess it is its location rather than its look what made it so popular. It is close to Spy Bar, a place with unusually long opening hours and where (according to Mark) Madonna likes to go partying, and Biblioteksgatan that is a very expensive street, both to live and go shopping there. This street should also be the right place, where you can meet famous stars. However I was not lucky this time. By the way, “spy” in Swedish means “vomit”. A weird name for a bar?

We finished the tour not far from Gamla Stan (Old Town) at the Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace), which is located in the neighborhood of the Riksdag (Parliament) and Storkyrkan (The Great Church), known as Stockholm Cathedral. The original look of the Palace was very different from the current appearance and a history of rebuilding the Palace building is an interesting one.

A French architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger desired to become famous due to building something great. He offered King John III. to rebuild a former white fortress into a palace for him. The King refused such an expensive project and asked Tessin just to do some repair work. While the minor renovation was being done, the fortress got in flames. Since its foundations were mainly wooden, it did not take long until it was reduced to ashes. The rumor has it that the fire started from the place where Tessin was staying.

Whatever led to the fire, Tessin escaped from Stockholm and while waiting for the situation to calm down he worked out a blueprint of an enormous Renaissance-style palace. The king finally agreed to have a palace rebuilt on the basis of Tessin’s plan. It took more than 50 years until Tessin’s project was finished. Finally his name went down in history and Stockholm got the world’s biggest palace (the famous Buckingham Palace in London is one room smaller).

View of Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace)

Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace)

The Swedish Parliament used to have 250 members originally. However, once during some voting it happened that it was a draw and they could  not decide. As a result, number of Parliament members was reduced to 249.

Building of Riksdag (Parliament)

Riksdag (Parliament) Entrance Riksdag (Parliament) - View across the River

The Royal Palace was also a last stop of the tour, to me it was a place, where I started serious taking of pictures. Being near the Royal Palace at noon time I could witness part of the ceremony of Changing of the Guards:

From the Royal Palace I returned the same way back to Sergelts Torg, however with occasional detours once I spotted something interesting. What disrupted me the most were banks of Lake Mälaren and bays.

Stockholm Shore

Panorama cross the RiverSweden Crown and View of StockholmIn the King’s Gardens there was an event which captured a lot of my attention: Czech Food Festival. Once I spotted it, I got a strong hope for kolacky and any similarly good pastry. However, the reality way true cruel: the main attraction was beer, followed by cooked Prague ham, which is sort of a delicateness. Honestly, its price was relevant to its reputation.

Czech Beer House

Skoda Car and Prima Ice CreamOnce I realized there would be no sweet Czech surprise in the capital of Sweden, I kept going for more sightseeing. I passed the house of Opera once again.

Gustaf III. Vasa was murdered by a group of aristocrats in this building in 1792.

Once I reached the building of Konserthuset again, I decided to spend some time there and have a closer look on a place, where Nobel Prizes are awarded. I was really lucky to be in Stockholm now, since they had a free exhibition about the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony for a limited time. I did not plan to do so, however it was nice to see some of the interior of the building with blue facade and I enjoyed the exhibition a lot: lots of photographs were supplemented with interesting background information and stories of some of the Nobel Price Laureates were presented.

Alfred Nobel Bist

Nobel Prize Award Ceremony ExhibitionNobel Prize Award Ceremony ExhibitionNobel Prize Award Ceremony ExhibitionI also made it to a cloakroom, this time still as a tourist:

Cloakroom of Konsethuset

Leaving the exhibition at about 2pm and with plenty of sight on my “to see” list I had to face a decision, what my next stop should be. Before doing so, and to take a little break, I went to PUB in the meantime. No, it was not a place where I could get tipsy, but the Stockholm’s oldest department store right in front of the Concert Hall.

PUB was founded in 1882 by Paul U Bergstöm, which probably explains its name. It was also a place, where Greta Garbo had worked, before she became an actress and moved to Hollywood.

The famous Vasa Museum should have been the next place to visit. Although it was quite far from the main square and other sights on my list, the way to get there looked very simple: pass the Nationalmuseum and continue along the coast, than take the first right turn to another island, Djurgarden. I did passed the museum and I did have nice walk alongside the bay, however I never reached the Vasa Museum. To be frank, I hardly could, since it was the bay of a different island, Skepsholmen. This island was a very small one, so I walked it all around.

Boats in Stockholm, bike/motorbike included:

Boats in Stockholm Boats in Stockholm

As I realized I probably would get to the Vasa Museum quite late a did not want to waste my time with a long walk there, I decided to spend more time in Gamla Stan (Old City): made up from narrow and winding streets, and old houses with facades of all different colors, it was a great place for an evening stroll. The only thing which was not so great was that it happened to be a very moneymaking place: packed with restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops selling their items for much higher price than e. g. PUB, and crowded with people. The only exception was Riddarholmskyrkan (Riddarholmen Church named after the island where it is located), the burial church of the Swedish monarchs. Gamla Stan being so busy place, I regretted I had not been there in the morning.

Czech Wafer on a Trip to Stockholm:

Check Wafer in Stockholm

If I had found this very original guidepost, I might have been lost less often and might have seen much more of the city.

Stockholm's Guidepost

Being a tourist in Stockholm may get complicated because of their “pay-to-pee” system, which is rather difficult to get around. You should always have 5kr, but rather 10kr coins, prepared. To make it to a bathroom, you have to get through a cash-operated turnstile. However, very often there would be nobody to give you change, so you could use the turnstile. This kind of system is used even in shopping malls! Having a little treat in any of the ubiquitous cafes, which was my original plan, does not really solve the problem: lots of them were just kind of an outdoor seating with no solid inside facilities. I accidentally found a free bathroom of a very good shape in the Konserthuset (Concert Hall).

On the other hand, Stockholm offers plenty of possibilities how to go around the city, varying in price and level of environment-friendliness. Except for a boring walking and conventiional public transport (buses, trams and underground lines) you can rent a bike, go for cruise or choice to paddle in a kayak instead, segway road-trip and so called “hop-on hop-off” buses are available, too. English knowledge of locals as well as vendors, occasional public city plans and majority of signs in English surely help to make a stay in Stockholm easier. At the same time, however, I missed signposts a bit.

I enjoyed most of my time in the capital of Sweden, although the very first impression was not so great. To be honest, I considered the city to be a bit dirty at the beginning of my visit. I was a bit disappointed that the visit of Stockholm did not help me much in learning about Sweden. It was way too international to give me a true picture of Sweden. While I was hoping to run into anything truly Swedish, I was passing US fast-foods instead. Another thing I was not prepared for was that as there were more and more tourist around, the number of beggars grew as well, accompanied by people rummaging in rubbish bins. Yet, one of the poor people made his appeal for a coin rather artistic:

However, as I stayed in the city a bit longer I started admiring its beauties: centuries old buildings, bays and bridges, and I particularly enjoyed my stroll through Gamla Stan. To sum up, I am glad I could spend a day in the capital of Sweden and if I ever have a chance to return, I definitely want to do so. There is still so much to see and experience: churches, more than 80 museums, shopping streets and galleries, theaters, guided tour through the Old City and for sure even more.