Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In summer

An’ the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
An’ the cotton is high.

I just read somewhere that, apart from being Canada day today,  July 1 is also International Joke Day and Creative Ice Cream Flavors Day. Who ever comes up with these stuff? More importantly, however, it is the beginning of the 2nd half of the year. Sure, it's not January 1 where resolutions are made left and right, but one can at least take a day to reflect on what 2015 has offered and make conscious decision on how you'd like to steer the year forward through the end. That may mean tweaking diets or going outside more with summer finally here or laughing a bit more - it's international joke day after all.

One of these mornin’s
You're goin’ to rise up singin’
Then you'll spread yo’ wings
An’ you'll take the sky.
The weather here in Minnesota has been gorgeous and the produce bountiful. I can't believe summer only started a week and a half ago. This past Sunday, we went hiking at Mille Lacs Kathio, a park 2 hr drive away. The hike was filled with mosquito-swatting memories, but we had fun nonetheless. What do you expect from a "thousand lakes"park? And this is why minnesota's state bird is mosquito! Those suckers (blood) easily found parts of skin that we didn't spray, and they easily penetrated our clothes. We cut our hike short and enjoyed the little watering hole instead. The kids had fun looking for turtles and catching tadpoles.

But till that mornin’
There's a-nothin’ can harm you
With daddy an’ mammy standin’ by.

Since I was traveling on business last week, I also didn't get to cook our CSA-supplied produce. I made up for all the lost cooking time in the kitchen since. Swiss chard, kohlrabi and baby potatoes were made into deliciously creamy stew. Zucchini was turned into oven-baked cheesy fritters. And salad everyday! But the highlight were the strawberries and currants we picked on Saturday. The strawberries were so delicious, my 2 year old daughter was eating them stem and all. We've also made strawberry cream cheese cookies with them, and put them in salad, and jammed the rest. The currants were juicy and tart. I added them to muffins and tea cakes using almond flour, and to savory turkey meatloaf.

Cheers to Summer! Wherever your feet take you, don't leave your sunscreen and bug spray!

"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

Monday, June 29, 2015

Dresden Diary, Day 3: Do you believe in fairytales?


I see castles and fortresses, and hillside vineyards; plains of wheat and barley, and sandstone mesas… not in a fairytale book or romantic novel, but in real life. Not exactly the kind of images one thinks of when imagining Germany.  But here they are, all in front of me as the bus cruised along the hi-way taking us out of Dresden and on to Saxon Switzerland, still in Germany, not Switzerland. It confused the heck out of me, but found out that the name was given by 2 Swiss artists pining for their homeland.

On my last full day in Germany, I joined a mid-morning to mid-afternoon hiking tour of Saxony.  Mind you, the conference is ~11 hours long, so there was still plenty of time to get my science fix, in addition to the exchanged pleasantries by participants en route, which goes: “ what polymer do you work on?” or “Have you tried such-and-such solvent system?”.

I have to admit, romantic is not the first word that comes to mind when I thought of Germany prior to this trip. It was more like – precision, museum, history, etc…  But the quaint villages, fairytale-like castles, and wildflowers dotting this drive along the snaking Elbe river makes for great Hollywood scenery.  Indeed, our tour guide informed us that several scenes from the Grand Budapest Hotel, a film I adore, was shot in this region. Hollywood-aside, the greens, rivers and distinctive landscape makes Saxony a dramatic paradise just a short drive from Dresden.

There's supposed to be a goose sillhouette there,
but as hard as I squint, I still couldn't see it.
Our first stop was at the Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) National Park to see the Bastei rocks, a sandstone formation overlooking the Elbe River and offering spectacular views of the Elbe valley, table top mountains and sandstone, and forms the heart of the National Park. This park bordered Bohemian Switzerland, which is in the Czech Republic. We crossed the sandstone Bastei bridge made of sandstone rocks, cliffs and ranges. The rock formations and vistas have inspired many artists, dubbing this place Painters’ Way, where painters once sought inspiration for their masterpieces. Lucky me, I got to see it on a dreary day – the painters’ favorite weather – and on a weekday with very few people around.  

Proof that I was there. Ha.

The valley below and the mesa farther back
As we continued on, we had to pay 2 euros to enter Felsenburg Neurathen (Neurathen Castle), which was once a rock castle built in the 11th century, but now just ruins. It’s still amazing to see how the people in that century built the fortress by taking advantage of the rock cliff tops.  I have no idea how they brought the catapults and stone cannonballs up on top, but I guess in the name of defense, you do what you got to do.



Better pictures of the Basteibrucke here.

Statue of a monk hauled up by brave rock climbers.

(No, mom, I didn't climb up.)

Old style defense: catapult with stone cannonballs


Thankfully, I had a protein bar in my bag as we voted to skip lunch and headed straight to Königstein Fortress, Europe’s highest fortress, and covering an entire table mountain. There is really no way to appreciate its massiveness and grandeur from my iPhone pictures, so here’s an aerial photo snatched from the web, and my phone shots below.   
Königstein - built by nature and man

The valley below

Königstein, or king’s rock, is a cleverly designed fortress –a mix of man-built genius and sweat extending the walls from its natural stone formations. It was deemed unconquerable and was a state prison for a time in the 1920s and was used as POW camp in WW I and II. Its castemates housed the state treasure and works of art from the famous Zwinger during war times. It’s easy to see why the fortress was never conquered in its 750-year history.

They meant business.

No kidding.

Castle gates a la Game of Thrones
The current tennants -
He (and a hundred others) said hi to me 
As much as Dresden has taught me much about history, (and ehem, given birth to the first milk chocolate), I am really touched most by Saxon Switzerland’s unique and evocative landscape. How can something so beautiful exist?!  This tranquil region reminds me that there is more to Germany than its war history.  I used to think of Germany with somber tones and hues, but no more.  I’m glad I capped this trip with the German countryside. And the lasting impression I’m leaving with is of how a gem lies in East Germany – a place I’ll look forward coming back to.

This is the place where fairytales are born.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Dresden Diary, Day 2: Something old, something new

The internet is not my friend today, so I’m writing the journal the old fashion way – via Word. Gasp!

My day of exploration didn’t start until late afternoon at the end of a busy day listening, talking, thinking and seemingly drinking in science.  It’s a good thing my curiosity always wins over brain strain. On the agenda was the Zwinger (pronounced Zvi-nger) museum, which is a convenient 5-8 minute walk from the congress site. The Zwinger is a palace that was turned into a 3-in-1 museum complex, housing the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery), the Dresden Porcelain Collection (Porzellansammlung) and the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon (Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments).  Hard as it was, I had to decide which among the 3 museums I was going to, given the time limitation; all 3 closed at 6 pm and it was already 4:30 pm.  I eventually decided on the math and physics collection. The force was strong on this one.
The salon boasted of clocks, lenses, globes, measurement instruments and other related instrumentations. The museum highlights innovative technologies in precise timekeeping and calculation during 1550-1900.Hey, German precision, right? The top 3 items that stood out to me were the:
  • 5-minute clock that tells time in 5 minute increments instead of by the minute,

5 minute clock

  • the world clock (1690) that tracks 24 hour time zones in 1 face, showing the time in all latitudes on 360 individual dials,
  • a celestial globe, perhaps the oldest exhibit on display, dating from the 13th century. I have actually never thought that stars and constellations can be represented spherically, but here’s that representation showing stars as they are located on the apparent sphere above us, showing constellation figures to teach celestial navigation. One word: Wow.

World Clock - at least they don't chime
Celestial Globe - picture doesn't do it justice;
Stellar positions have been calculated for the year 1700.

Bonus: who remember what this is
and what it's for?
Since I didn’t have enough time to check out the porcelain museum (boohoo!), I took a cab to Neustadt to search for its hidden gem: Kunsthofpassage Skipping public transportation was a good decision as I wouldn’t have found it on my own otherwise. When Tripadvisor says it's a hidden gem, you better listen. (Un)lucky me, the sun shone and the rain stopped altogether as soon as I reached the secret courtyards. Sure, everyone knows how much I love dreary weather, but "Kunst”, as locals call it, really comes alive when rain starts to fall. Kunst consists of 5 small courtyards completed in 2001, boasting of nouveau art collections. Hence the name: Kunsthofpassage, which means ‘alley artists’ or 'art district path'. Of the 5 courtyards, the “Courtyard of Element”s is the most popular with its bright blue painted wall with metal pipes and funnels. On rainy days, the drain and gutter system turns into musical instruments!  Across this wall is a yellow-painted wall with metal rods that reflected the sunlight.
Something blue
After buying some artsy souvenirs - little adorable serving boards featuring fruchtfliege(fruit flies)-  I headed out to look for a place to eat.  Beside clichéd biergartens (beer gardens), there was not much in terms of regional restaurants in Neustadt.  I was surprised to see mostly Turkish, Greek, American and Asian offerings after 1 hour of walking around.
I went back to Altstadt and sat at a restaurant patio by the Frauenkirche plaza. The bell tolled 9’o’clock but it was still light out.  There was a horn quartet in the plaza serenading the passersby with impressive classical music as I enjoyed Alpine cuisine. I could swear they put cheese and beer on all their dishes! Dinner left me almost catatonic, so I finished reading my book as I relished every sip of my Toblerone macchiato.

To help me digest, I went for a walk along Bruehl’s Terrace, nicknamed “The Balcony of Europe”, which was formerly a defensive part of the Dresden Fortress. The Terrace was totally destroyed in February 1945 along with most structures in Altstadt, but has been rebuilt to look very much the same as it did in the past.

I continued walking along Augustusbrucke, the bridge named after Augustus the strong, and the oldest bridge in Dresden. The bridge indulged me in the breathtaking view of the city at dusk. Dresden was once known as known as Florence on the Elbe for its detalied baroque architecture. I tried to imagine how it looked like 70 years ago, but I couldn’t get unstuck in time. I also couldn’t help but look up in the sky to check for any signs of aircrafts, but all I saw were birds, presumably flying to their nests for the night.