…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.

… 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

… Metro Area. Embarassing Reunion & A Week of Exercise, History & Natural Beauties

MINNESOTA: IS IT STILL THE VERY SPECIAL PLACE IT ONCE USED TO BE?

I am afraid something has changed here…

And I hate to say that and the more I think about it, the less I understand the whole situation. Minnesota once used to be a place I could consider my second home (even more than Raleigh, no matter how many people would remember me down there!) without any hesitation. Although I do think it is a beautiful land, the strong feelings did not develop because of the lakes or forests there but because of two Minnesotans. It used to be a fun place to return to for a few years. And then I made mistakes and everything got complicated and I was not supposed to come back. Ever.

This last stage, however, did not last terribly long and while in Raleigh, NC I was encouraged to travel up North again. My pride did not want to hear anything like that at first but whatever little good was in me, it won and made me come. Once I accepted the fact that two more weeks in the US would screw up some of the plans I had had for the rest of my summer break, I even started looking forward to visiting my beloved place and most importantly, people there. People, who were from a very scarce group of loving and caring ones without expecting any profit from themselves and people whom I owed so much and whom, I though, I loved so much. To top it off, I had not seen them for a year or even a couple of years, our shared past included plenty of wonderful moments (There should be more to come, right?) and there were reasons to assume it might be our last meeting (Sad, isn’t it?).

Two and a half hour flight from Raleigh to Minneapolis/St. Paul was short enough not to get too bored and long enough to do a decent amount of thinking – evaluating my stay in Raleigh, considering what decisions I have to make this fall, replaying the nice moments I had in the US during my previous visits and thinking about possible scenarios for this summer. Unfortunately the reality could not have been more different. Seeing someone dear only once a year at the most, apparently not being over what happened in the past (yet) and not being sure how to handle the consequences was truly a pole position. Add terribly cold weather (definitely for someone who spent two months in a terribly hot weather), little bit of sadness (Is there really a reason for it?), zero confidence of what is OK to do or say, strong suspicion that the nice treating was not honest but rather a result of obligation, and a pinch of feelings of betrayal and wrong (Were they really needed so badly?) and you have got a highly efficient recipe for a miserable time.

While I watched the biggest relationship crisis of my life growing from bad to worse, the first week of my only vacation this summer still offered a few highlights worth sharing.


EXERCISE

Roller blades being first produced in Minnesota by Olsen brothers, the state offering thousands of lakes and miles of trails along their shores and finally, me loving roller blading united and the outcome was three skating session and 32 Minnesotan miles added to my US mileage this summer.

The Lake on a Rainy Day

The Lake on a Rainy Day

My skates and me have visited a few places together and I therefore feel entitled to claim that the beautiful trio of lakes Harriet, Calhoun and Lake of the Isles is the best for inline skating: beautiful scenery, above-average surface of the trail, perfect level of hilliness (too little not to kill you but enough to avoid a boring flat ride) and people sharing the trail with you are generally nice and no one tries to kill you. Dogs are leashed!

Minnesota Sky Can Be Blue Too

Minnesota Sky Can Be Blue Too

Another sport-related activity was supposed to be a game of mini golf but I could not care less for the course I ended up at. It was a pure, boring putt-putt course. OK, the park with river running through it and lakes were very nice and the grass on the course was super green. None of those, however, make putting (I have done this once before and this is enough till the end of my life.) any more exciting than watching a game of football. I sure was glad for the nice scenery and I only regretted not taking my camera with.

The park was not a bad place at all. The sky was definitely impressive today.

The park was not a bad place at all. The sky was definitely impressive today.


HISTORY OF MINNESOTA

Having visited several museums in Raleigh, NC, I had been worried that I would not handle any more History lessons but, thankfully, I could not have been more wrong. The visit of Fort Snelling (St. Paul) turned out to be much better than any conventional museum. My time there was an enjoyable mixture of education, English practice and photography opportunities.

The Cannon and the Commanding Officer's House in the Background

The Cannon and the Commanding Officer’s House in the Background

I might feel too proud to come from a country whose history is so much longer than that of the New World, so it definitely was enriching to realize that there are some decently old buildings in the USA, too and that the Americans do care about them. Four buildings of this huge complex were the original buildings (while the rest were well-done replicas) and one of the originals was the Commanding officer’s house, the first house in Minnesota. What a pleasure to be there and take some pictures!

I knew about the dark history of wars with Native Americans and being somewhat familiar with Indian names for streets and cities in this area, I was not surprised to learn that Minnesota was involved in this controversial issue, too. However, what was a shocking discovery was the fact that there used to be slaves in Midwest. As awful as this practice was, I thought it was limited to the southern states “only.” There is always a lot to learn and for this purpose, the fort was the right place.

Just walking from building to building would have got boring at certain point, however, this was not the case as there were so many demonstrations taking place. There basically was something to watch (and listen to a nice narrative) every half an hour: from infantry drill to very impressive cannon shooting and hardly imaginable old-fashioned way of cooking. Once the meal was prepared, it was a higher-class lady’s turn to eat it and this was one of my favorite parts. Since my early years I was told not to put knife in my mouth and I always wondered why and most importantly, I could not imagine someone actually had done so in the past. Now I know it indeed used to be a part of table etiquette. It was Europeans who first stopped doing so and it took Americans a while to adapt to this new way of eating.

Fire!

Fire!

In summary, if I had to live in 1800s, then I would like to be an officer’s wife (or any social class higher than that) and I definitely would not like to see a doctor. Ever. I understood that from a great part, people used to rely on herbs (which is all right even today but you may need serious drugs at certain point), dentistry sounded just awful, I shivered when only imaging old-days surgery and I never even tried to imagine baby delivery two centuries ago and earlier.


NATURAL BEAUTIES

One does not need to disappear in a total wilderness in order to admire the nature of Minnesota. In fact, it may take as little as visiting the Longfellow Gardens and Minnehaha Falls in close proximity to them.

Rest in the Gardens

Rest in the Gardens

In order to get more unusual Biology-learning experience, there is Richardson Nature Center for you. To meet North America’s native plants, feel free to explore adjacent forest and meadow. And do not be discouraged by the walk’s name (Native Plants Hike) as it does not involve a whole lot of walking at all. In the center’s buildings, there are plenty of opportunities to learn about variety of life forms: amphibians and reptiles, raptors and other birds, bees and more insect. The peak of any visit, however, should be the monarch butterfly tagging. Pre-educated during my previous visits as well as down in Raleigh, I knew about declining numbers of this butterfly species and none of the facts that they have their favorite flowers, that they migrate terribly long distance to overwinter and are tagged as a part of studying them were new to me. Yet, it is very different to see a few pictures or watch a short video and to see the tagging in action. To test my patience, I ended my visit of the nature center with a fruitless attempt to take some cool pictures of this endangered species.

The Tagged

The Tagged


SEA LIFE MINNESOTA AQUARIUM at the Mall of America

Minnesota being sort of a land-locked state was not a reason to prevent me from encountering my beloved marine life this summer. To see animals as different as hermit crabs and huge sharks, it only takes a trip to the country’s shopping phenomenon, the Mall of America. The very first aquarium’s inhabitants to welcome us were corals, anemones, starfish and other more or less sessile and safe-to-touch organisms. The other “touching” section included rays and other fish species similar to them, such as guitar fish. The weird thing about the rays was that their backs were completely white while the video (a sort of documentary about building the ray exhibit) showed dark grey rays. Have the visitors scrubbed all their pigment or was it due to white sand at the bottom of the tank or was there any other reason?

Touch Me if You Dare

Touch Me if You Dare

Rays

Rays

Having said Good Bye to rays, there were no more chances to touch any animals but this did not bother me at all as I was fine with only watching anyways. During my visit I saw so many different species, often times from rather different environments, that it is impossible to pick my most favorite one. Let’s do top few then. I definitely was impressed by the jellyfish exhibit. It was highly informative while kinda surreal (see the video) and to me, it was the first time I could observe these organisms so closely. They looked so fragile – in fact, it seemed like there was no tissue in their bodies – but they are capable of stinging so badly. For a long time I was mesmerized by their tiny colorless tentacles and by their pumping yet graceful way of floating round the tank. It seemed like no effort to them to keep going.

The Form of Life I Can Understand the Least

The Form of Life I Can Understand the Least

Although the jellyfish set the bar so high, there were many more memorable moments. My favorite crustacean was a funny spiky crab (called porcupine crab) and I liked the horse fish, too – after all, I do not see them every day. Though most of the area was devoted to sea life, there also was a rain forest section, in other words, another ecosystem needing our protection. There, although a couple of caymans were impressive, I liked colorful and rather small frogs the most.

Blue Is Probably Not Good

Blue Is Probably Not Good

The key feature of the Minnesota aquarium was definitely a long long tunnel enabling visitors the great experience of having the life swimming all around them except the bottom of the tunnel. While I laughed at the funny creature picking up algae from the tunnel’s ceiling, there were sharks being fed on my left and a huge sea turtle would pass by on my right. There was always something going on there and I hesitate to give any estimations about the length of the tunnel or the number of species living there. It sure was plenty of them: countless fish of all sizes and colors, a few shark and ray species, as well as a hybrid of the two (so called ray shark), a very impressive sawfish and at least a couple of huge marine turtles. However, the ocean life was only one section of the tunnel. There also were species living in the Amazon and Sturgeon lake. The water there was much dimmer and the fish significantly less colored. Sure, the freshwater fish use the same adaptive strategies to survive in their environment but it looked like too much of a contrast to me after admiring the colors of oceans.


The first week of my return to Minnesota was also plenty of food. The only thing I can be sure about is that only minority of it was healthy. As for the bad (this does not equal to not good) stuff, I cannot make any clear statement – I fail to pick my favorite and I do not know (well, do not want to know) which of the treats was the worst one. However, here are my two favorites:

Cinnamon Roll. I love sweets and I thought I would never get sick of them. But it did happen - right at the Mall.

Cinnamon Roll. I love sweets and I thought I would never get sick of them. But it did happen – right at the Mall.

A Homemade Culinary Sin. Melt all the good and precious ingredients, mix them and let it cool down. You can call it a cookie than and you are gonna develop diabetes.

A Homemade Culinary Sin. Melt all the good and precious ingredients, mix them together and let it cool down. You can call it a cookie then and you are gonna develop diabetes.

… 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. I have found another home

After a week of no skating it was time to get the wheels rolling again! And it brought some nice but painful moments.

First, when skating along the lake Johnson’s dam I met the guy who talked to me about roller blading a couple of weeks ago. Still feet away from him, he was greeting me already.

An obvious follow-up step after a morning exercise was the visit to the Bruegger’s Bagels. And there she was, the bagel lady who took care of my simple enough order not a too long time ago. She remembered that and she even knew I did not need a bag for my bagel as I had my backpack.

Today morning I finally realized how much like a home this place has become. It is going to be painful in a week from now.

NCSU

… 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. 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. 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. Summary of Week 5

Life in the Lab

With Mrs. C still gone and no one having any idea what I may do wrong (and I would swear I have done everything right!), there were no more PCR attempts until Wednesday. This is probably the reason why the very beginning of the week seemed to be rather slow. I took advantage of my low workload provided either by D or J and isolated some DNA from another plant species. This time, I had to use a kit from another company and the whole procedure was so fast. Suspiciously fast. Once done, I had to leave the building, walk across the Plaza and climb two stories in another building – all that just to check my two samples. That is when I realized how spoiled I am after only one year at the institute where everything is in a single building and moreover on a single floor. However, knowing it is only a temporary obstacle, I did not mind the walk at all. In fact, I welcomed the opportunity to walk down the campus I like so much.

Walking my samples

Walking my samples

On Tuesday, D kept my occupied pretty much all day long which was very welcomed. I appreciated the diversity of tasks (having a chance to work both with plants and bacteria), though I did not produce any scientific breakthrough at this point. I continued being D’s “slave” even on Wednesday. This was also another day for a PCR after I had had a break from it for four days. Well, it did not help at all. I did substantially better with another kindergarten-level task. In other words, some more paper-modelling.

However, I did not reach the perfection stage yet, so I tried once more on Thursday. And I liked the outcome so much! Mrs. C did as well! In fact, Thursday was a very long day for me. I was the first one to come to the lab and the last one to leave. The lab meeting in the morning took quite a portion of the day. Once it was over, Mrs. C was super busy catching up with what happened during the time she was gone. Pretty much everyone wanted to talk to her to discuss any problem(s) that occurred over that time. Nevertheless, she found time for me and gave me a new primer pair as well as cDNA sample to try my PCR with. Believe it or not, it worked this time! I also visualized the gDNA from my previous extraction attempts and there was some DNA in all three semi-randomly analyzed samples. In fact, in two of them it looked better than any gDNA I have extracted so far. Encouraged by the intermediate success (and afraid I might run out of good luck overnight), I performed new reaction right on Thursday afternoon – this explains why I stayed so long. For a long time, I did not feel as happy as when I was walking back home in the evening: it was not too hot, the sky was perfectly blue with some nice clouds up there, the campus was as beautiful as usual, and I felt a strong hope that I may actually “produce something” over the three weeks ahead.

Running the Gel - It Worked!

Running the Gel – It Worked!

Discovering New Views of the Campus

Discovering New Views of the Campus

Running the gel on Friday morning, however, made me sober again. The PCR did not work again (Why!?) but Mrs. C helped with re-designing one of the primers. Let’s hope for an improvement the next week. Due to the PCR failure I had no Molecular Biology to perform, so it turned out to be another day of intensive plant encounter – i.e. transferring them from plate to plate or from plate to soil. We will see how many of them I killed during the process (this was not the aim of course).

Happened out of the Lab

I was eager for some more skating but I had to wait for it until Wednesday morning. I cannot remember why I could not make it happen as early as Monday but I know that my Tuesday roller blading plans were ruined due to storm (we did not get any for maybe as long as a week). But this does not mean, nothing happened in the meantime. On Monday I discovered some Czech language right on the campus (!) and Tuesday was a lecture day for me.

Wolfpack in About a Dozen Languages. Czech Is There Too!

Wolfpack in About a Dozen Languages. Czech Is There Too!

After almost ten years of traveling through the endless cosmos, New Horizons was about to (finally) make its fly-by past Pluto and the Museum of Natural Sciences held a special It’s Pluto Time! event to “celebrate” it. When the Romanian intern was inviting me to it on Sunday, I did not consider coming at all. However, once I learned only the flight part took almost a decade, I realized that a similar trip may not happen again during my lifetime and I therefore put another visit (a third one in only six days) to the museum on my schedule. It was a smart decision.

I met the intern again, so I started my time at museum with some chat. Finally, we also know each other’s name. At 5.30 the series of three lectures and NASA’s “phone home” by the probe (as late as 9 pm) began. Due to my dependence on buses, I decided to stay only for the first two lectures. It was still worth it. I was not aware of it at all, but it turned out that it would be people from NASA talking! How cool – this is probably a once-in-a-life-time opportunity and I was so glad to make it a part of my life! In all honesty, I did not understand the first talk too well, not only my limited space-related knowledge but also English being problems. The message I took was that the heart of the speaker, a JPL Solar System Ambassador, was broken because of Pluto not being considered a planet any more. Once the question time started, I got lost completely and was thinking what (and when) I should cook for my tomorrow lunch.

It's Pluto Time! Lecture No. 1

It’s Pluto Time! Lecture No. 1

The second talk, by another JPL Solar System Ambassador, was substantially better. He apparently spoke slower because I could understand almost everything, he was funny and most importantly, his talk was truly tailored to the general public. When talking about huge numbers, such as the distance of three billion miles between the Earth and Pluto, he gave more real-life likening. In this case, he talked about a pea (Earth), a quinoa seed (Pluto) and 3/4 of the soccer field (distance between the two). Well, still challenging to imagine but at least, I worked with familiar objects here.

The second speaker was a rocket guy and he had that kind of attitude of being aware of skills not every (OK, very few people) has but still talked about rocket construction as about something very casual, like making your laundry. In strong contrast to the first guy, he did not seem to care about Pluto at all (the rocket was what mattered to him) and maybe was even happy about the fact that it was not officially a planet any more. From his very interesting and engaging talk, I remembered some cool facts which I would like to share:

  • from the Earth to the Moon, the probe made it in 9 hours – about the time it took me to get from London to Raleigh
  • the rocket to launch the probe had a Russian motor and it was the fastest launch ever
  • they do not have any more rockets like that (which probably means no more super fast missions for a while)
  • considering the distance the probe had to reach, it was super small and super light – this was also achieved by carrying only very little fuel with it (This probably explains why such a fast launch was necessary.)
  • the source of electricity was the nuclear power. I did not think about that but it is supposedly too dark there to make any use of solar energy.
  • to get the picture form the probe or send a command to it, it takes “only” 4.5 hours; the distance is great but they also use very slow connection to eliminate as much noise as possible
  • the fly-by is not the end of the New Horizons‘ mission, it will keep exploring far far away from the Earth until 2020 (or until it collides with something – hopefully, this will not happen)
  • to get all the data (pictures and probably some measurements) from the probe, it is going to take a decent amount of time. I think they were talking something like a year and a half.

I did not have enough to listen to the third NASA guy but it also was too early to head for the bus station. Thankfully, they had an activity for kids (and for me!) there. From very simple ingredients (glue, corn starch, fluorescent dye and Borax) I could make my own glowing Pluto! The mixture apparently had properties of something called non-Newtonian fluid but it did not much of a difference to me. More important was, that I could decide about the color of my very own planet. I went for orange but my mixture got contaminated by the remaining of all the previously done pink ones. But my personal “planet” indeed glows! I also received a paper model of the probe – once I am done with the lab modeling, I may try something more challenging. I killed some more time looking at an exposition I missed the other time, including an electronic Chevrolet car and then walked to the bus station – my timing was nearly perfect.

Eva's Glowing Pluto

Eva’s Glowing Pluto

Chevy Volt...

Chevy Volt…

... And Some of Its Intestines

… And Some of Its Intestines

LED Art 1

LED Art 1

LED Art 2

LED Art 2

Wednesday morning was great. Prior to starting another day in the lab, I went skating. It involved getting up rather early but I never regretted it (except for when the alarm started beeping). It was a great ride, I received some nice views of both lakes in my neighborhood, an appreciation for being a roller blader from a jogging guy (He said that roller bladers are rare here. And I could not agree with that more – have not seen a single one in a month.) and I did my NC personal best of 27 km a day. To reward myself, I stopped at the Bruegger’s Bagels on the way to the lab. This time, I chose a blueberry one. The bagel lady there asked me what I wanted it with. My response: “Just the bagel, please.” Her reaction: “All right, that’s simple enough.” And I laughed about that until I ate the bagel at about 3 PM.

Lake Raleigh in the Morning

Lake Raleigh in the Morning

Enjoying My Bagel At the Campus' Only Communistic-Looking Building

Enjoying My Bagel At the Campus’ Only Communistic-Looking Building

I tried to schedule my Friday tasks in such a way that I make it to the English Conversation Club. This happened and while I was glad I could be there, I think I had enjoyed the previous two meetings more. This time, I was in the group of the two older ladies, H and P. I hoped I would get a chance to meet them and I realized they were very nice people. The size of the conversation group and me being slightly tired, probably made it somewhat less enjoyable than what I had expected. I took advantage of returning home unusually early and went skating again. This time, there was no searching for a new trail, instead I stayed on my favorite Walnut Creek Trail the entire time. Though I wanted to take it easy (so I do not run out of energy before my already planned Saturday trip is over), I still added 22 km to my US mileage.


This week was rich in dead animal bodies – one snake (It scared me so much! I almost skated over it and was so worried it could have bitten me. On the way back I focused on searching for it and realized it was not able of any biting any more.), one frog and two samples of a huge insect species. It must be one of those noisy guys living in the forests along the trails.

The Insect's Back

The Insect’s Back

The Insect's Belly

The Insect’s Belly