Prague/Dresden Day 6: Leigh continues to not go to a conference.

By now I was getting brave, so I decided to take a Dresden tram to the end of the line and investigate Pillnitz Castle. Like many European castles, it has existed in various incarnations since the 14th century, but those various incarnations have burned, sank into the swamp, or burned and THEN sank into the swamp. And like all things in Dresden, it was built for someone named Augustus. (Seriously, there are so many Augustuses in Dresden’s history that there’s no way to keep them all straight.)

The directions to Pillnitz Castle online seemed straightforward: take the 2 tram to the end of the line, then take the ferry across the river to the castle. This all seemed fine until I got to the end of the tram line … in a rather nice residential neighborhood with no signs at all. Though there was this, right on the sidewalk:

Because you never know when you’re going to be walking through a stately German neighborhood and realize that you need cigarettes.

Eventually a couple of serious-looking bicyclists passed me, and I decided that that must be the way to the ferry and the castle. Luckily I was right, and I discovered the tiny little ferry whose job it is to make the grueling 30-second trip across the Elbe.

One grueling 30-second trip across the Elbe later, and a bit of following more people who seemed to know where they were going (aided by the fact that you can actually see the castle from the river), and I ended up in the Pillnitz gardens.

Mom, these next few pictures are mostly for you.

This is the central garden, between the main buildings in the castle complex. I get the feeling that later in summer, these gardens are more filled in; there were lots of workers scampering around doing garden things. It was still lovely though.


Here’s a closer shot of the main building:

And here’s a 360 degree panoramic shot — click on it to enlarge it for the full effect.

It was a lovely cool day, so I decided to walk through the rest of the (large!) gardens. As I mentioned above, I think some things weren’t fully planted yet (the Chinese garden and the Dutch garden were basically just grass fields, disappointingly); I also saw signs that there had been some flooding there recently, so that may have been part of why some of the gardens weren’t fully completed. There were still a few striking elements in the garden. For example, this:

This is a more than 200 year old camellia tree that was supposedly brought over from Japan and planted in this location in 1801. Since Dresden’s climate is a little bit different than Japan’s, they’ve had to figure out ways to protect the tree during the winter. The glass house you see behind the tree is on rails, and in wintertime it slides on the rails over the tree and protects it with a computer-controlled climate inside the chamber. There was also an orangery (which appeared to be undergoing renovation), because an orangery was a status and wealth symbol in the 17th-19th centuries, and the Augustuses weren’t ones to skimp on status and wealth symbols.

After more meandering, I took the ferry back across the river, had a delicious sausage for a late lunch at the ferry landing, and wandered back to the tram stop to head back into town. Dan’s posters were that afternoon and I wanted to try to crash the conference and see them. (Seriously, this conference had the best security of any conference I’ve ever seen. No badge? No conference!) Except for the small security issue of half of the conference attendees wandering out from the poster presentation room onto the patio to smoke. Conference crash success!

However, there was no way I was going to get to crash the banquet that evening, so Dan went to the banquet and I meandered some more in the old town area. I wandered through the Zwinger again right at sunset and took some lovely photos:

I’m pretty sure one of us mentioned the Zwinger already, but just in case, it’s a large palace/fortification that these days is a museum complex (the Scientific Instrument museum we went to was in the Zwinger).

Like many things in Dresden, the Zwinger was mostly destroyed during the 1945 bombing, but it was rebuilt. (The Orangery, though, has seen better days. Of course the Zwinger had an orangery.)


Never let beautiful light from a sunset go to waste.

I started heading back to the conference center, thinking I might be able to crash the banquet now that dinner was over. Dan, however, had already left the banquet and was in the hotel room. We decided to go for a walk along the Elbe, since it was our last night in Dresden. As we walked in front of the conference center, we noticed that almost everyone at the banquet was out on the patio, looking towards the river. Twenty seconds later, the conference fireworks started.


You heard me. Conference fireworks. The glowing bit at the bottom says “IPAC 14”. We had a riverfront, unobstructed view of the roughly ten-minute long conference fireworks display.

SMT has a lot to live up to now.

Prague/Dresden Day 5: Neustadt, the Kunsthofpassage and derby

Dan was once again occupied by his conference and I was on my own to wander. I decided to investigate the Neustadt area of Dresden, which is full of fun and funky shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars. I mostly just walked around and looked at stuff, which is coincidentally one of my favorite things to do.

One of my goals was to see the Kunsthofpassage, which is a small art enclave between two streets. The boundary buildings are painted in creative and beautiful ways, and there are cafes and small shops throughout. One of its more famous buildings is the “Courtyard of the Elements,” which has a setup on the side of the building that plays music when it rains.

Sadly, it was a beautiful day when I went there, but a small plaque (in German) offered what appeared to be a promise that there would be a demonstration every half hour. It was just on the hour when I was there, so I waited … and waited … and waited … and nothing happened. Figuring I was having a translation issue (I know just enough German to hurt myself, apparently), I wandered around and took more pictures of the Kunsthofpassage. This was the opposite wall in the Courtyard, meant to represent the sun.

And this was one of the other courtyards:

 At half past, I went back to the Elements courtyard, and there were a few other people milling about and waiting for the demonstration of the water instrument, so I figured I was just misreading the plaque and that it actually said it would go off every hour on the half hour.

So I waited … and waited … and waited … and once again, nothing happened. That is, except for the guy who was riding his bicycle through the courtyard, stopped, and said something in German to the family next to me, from which I gathered that the instrument wasn’t running that day. Grrrrrr. So here’s a video from YouTube that sort of illustrates it — the video is VERY quiet, and there’s a couple of noises that might either be the instrument or might be an epileptic monkey playing a recorder in the background; it’s hard to tell.

More wandering happened after that — I walked up to a large park, saw everyone on the planet eating ice cream, decided I needed ice cream, got ice cream because I’m a grownup, damn it, and can get ice cream when I want it, and walked even more. I walked a LOT.

When I got back to the hotel to meet Dan after his conference ended for the day, we ended up going right back to Neustadt for dinner, and then headed over to a sports complex to meet the Dresden Roller Girls, who were practicing on an outdoor court and had invited us to come.

Seriously, how adorable are they?

After surviving the practice — not because I was on skates (because I wasn’t), but because of the mosquitos! — we went to a bar in (you guessed it) Neustadt for a beer. We went to a giant beer garden that was packed with people watching the World Cup. Once Spain got knocked out (which I understand was kind of A Big Deal for People Who Know About These Things), we were able to grab a table and talk about our sport of choice. Lots of fun derby talk, and getting to know some amazing girls. Perfect ending to a very fun day.

Ice creams eaten: 2
Tram ticket inspections: 1
Mosquitos: many

Prague/Dresden – Day 4: Science!

Since we didn’t allow any time on either side of the conference for me to do any sightseeing in Dresden, I decided to take one day off to spend time with Leigh.  (I went to the first morning sessions, and the poster session in the afternoon, so I wasn’t COMPLETELY playing hooky.)  So to take an appropriate break from a week full of science, what did I of course decide to go see?


Ahem. That is, we went to see the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, or the Mathematical and Scientific Instrument Museum. This was an amazing exhibit of scientific instruments through the ages. The highlight of the first room was an astronomical clock:

This device was manufactured in the late 1500s. It is astonishingly complex.  In addition to being able to tell you the time, the phase of the moon, the positions of the stars, and possibly your weight, it has a Saturn hand that goes around once every twenty-six years. (Also hands for the other planets.)  I want one.  Also in the “things I want” category is this pocketwatch:

Known as a “Grande Complication,” this watch tells the day of the week, the phase of the moon, has a 1/5 second jump hand, a stop watch, an alarm, and makes toast. I want to use it for jam timing roller derby bouts.

Also on display were a number of historical globes, both terrestrial and celestial, clocks, adding machines, leyden jars, and other fancy schmancy scientific stuff. It’s hard to believe that pretty much all of electromagnetism was worked out in the nineteenth century using just equipment like this:

In the afternoon, we went to the old masters gallery, which did not allow photography. But we did see the famous “advertising cherubs” of Raphael. These cute little guys have hawked everything from coffee to Coca-Cola. Also Jesus.

I’ll let Leigh talk about how we spent Tuesday evening.

Prague/Dresden Day 4: Reflektor!

On Sunday evening, when we arrived in Dresden, we were setting up the internet in our hotel room when somehow, serendipitously, I must have accidentally opened an app on my phone that tells me what bands are playing nearby. (This app is of limited value in Lansing, Michigan, but I live in hope.) Anyway, as it opened, the app recognized that we were in Dresden and brought up the upcoming concerts in town … which included the Arcade Fire. On Tuesday. In Dresden. And it wasn’t sold out.

Monday morning I found the ticket office and handed them rather a lot of Euros in exchange for tickets. Tuesday evening, Dan and I headed to the Junge Garde, a large-ish outdoor venue in Dresden’s equivalent to Central Park. We got there in the middle of the opening act, Owen Pallett, a violinist (who also plays with Arcade Fire) who does some really cool things with multitracking. Between the opening act and AF there was a DJ who turned out to be Steve Mackey from Pulp (which explained why AF started singing Pulp’s Common People at one point during the show [bonus Shatner link, just because]).

The concert was amazing. Arcade Fire put on a great, high-energy show. At one point during the concert there was a person dressed as a giant glitter disco ball standing in the middle of the audience with a bright light shining on him, reflecting (see what they did there?). Here’s the setlist they played; at the end, they shot massive confetti cannons into the air, completely covering the audience towards the front.

This was after about two-thirds of the confetti had settled!

Between the last song and the encore, people came out on stage wearing giant bobbleheads, with one of the heads being a square video box with an image of David Bowie singing “Heroes” in German. Inexplicably hilarious.

The moral of the story is: sometimes, you go to Dresden and end up seeing the Arcade Fire.

Cigarettes smoked by the guy next to me: many

Prague/Dresden – Day 3: Dan Goes to A Conference

So, for the last nine years, most of the time when Leigh and I have traveled, it’s been because she has attended a conference, and I’ve come along for the ride. “What did you do today, honey?” I would ask, and she’d tell me she sat in a paper session on Lehrdal / Jackendoff theory or some such. “How about you?” she’d ask, and I’d breezily reply that I had climbed Mount Olympus.

Then she would stab me with a fork.

So needless to say, she was thrilled about the current situation. I won’t go into a lot of details, because no one cares, but here’s why we were in Dresden:

It’s a pretty big conference. I would estimate on the order of 2,000 or so physicists attended for talks with such exciting titles as “High Power Test Results of the SPARC C-Band Accelerating Structures,” “Development of a Low-Latency, High-precision, Intra-train Beam Feedback System Based on Cavity Beam Position Monitors,” and “Why is Women’s Football Less Popular?” (I am not making that last one up.)

The conference hall is immense:

Oh, and I was here completely on the dime of the U.S. taxpayer, since I presented two posters at the conference. So – thanks, U.S. taxpayers!

Prague/Dresden Day 3 — Leigh does NOT go to a conference.

As Dan mentioned, it’s usually me who sits in conference rooms while he goes out to explore London/Leipzig/Thessaloniki/Jyväskylä/wherever. Leading up to the conference, I kept telling everyone how excited I was to be the one to get to wander around and do things while he was stuck in the conference. But when the prospect of being the one to go out and explore Dresden arrived … I wasn’t actually sure what to do. Luckily, Monday had a vague plan — I was going to find an ATM, I was going to find a place to get German SIM cards for our phones, and I was going to go get tickets to the Arcade Fire concert that we had just found out was happening in Dresden on Tuesday night. I just had no idea where I was going to do all those things. But things happened, and with money, SIM cards, and tickets acquired, I set off to see something about Dresden that didn’t have to do with trip administrivia.

The Altstadt, or Old Town, of Dresden is very interesting. It was pretty much bombed to bits during WWII, so a lot of it is a reconstruction. The most interesting bit of it is a historic church, the Frauenkirche, which was destroyed during the bombing and then just sort of left there as a memorial. (Seriously — apparently they just left the ruins right there and went, “Good enough.”) After reunification in 1989, there was enough outcry that they began the process of cataloging the remains and rebuilding the church, using as much original material as possible. There were two sides of the church that had remained partially standing, one of them being the side with the altar, and you can very clearly see the older bits in the exterior of the church.

Frauenkirche, exterior (altar side)

The interior of the church is also striking. It’s open to the public, and despite the no photography signs at the door, everyone takes lots of pictures and the ushers do nothing about it.

I at least tried to be inconspicuous and didn’t use a flash.

The other main thing in downtown Dresden is the Procession of Princes, or the Fürstenzug. It’s a giant mural depicting the various rulers of Saxony, originally painted in the 1870s. When paint on the exterior of a building proved not to be the most permanent solution, they replaced it with porcelain tiles in the early 1900s. (Porcelain is a big thing around here.) Fortunately, there was only minimal damage in the WWII bombing.

Beginning ….

… middle … (did I mention this thing is HUGE?) …

… end.

After that, I went back to collect Dan from the conference and we went to dinner at a Surrealist cafe called Stilbruch. We were clearly nowhere near hip enough to be at this cafe, but they served us anyway. We experienced our first currywurst, which is essentially a sausage cut into pieces and covered with what appears to be curry-spiced ketchup, served with fries. It appears to be the German thing to eat when drunk. It’s possible we weren’t drunk enough to fully appreciate it.

The cafe itself had lots of cool art installments throughout, including a game called “Gollard” that I forgot to take a picture of, so here’s a picture from the cafe’s website.

It’s a pool table lowered onto the ground, covered with artificial turf, and you hit the billiard balls with a golf club. The website goes into rather a lot of details about the rules of the game. It’s convoluted, but it still makes more sense than cricket.

And what Surrealist cafe would be complete without a Magritte homage?

Magritte is watching you eat.

SIM cards acquired: 2
SIM cards that actually worked: 1
Water that wasn’t for drinking that Dan actually drank: 1

Prague/Dresden, Day 2 — Leigh’s contribution

Dan mentioned our hotel in downtown Prague. It had a lovely courtyard full of flowers that were just begging to have their picture taken. It couldn’t have been more impossibly quaint.

It also had an impossibly tiny door to our room. Picture includes me for scale (and remember that I’m not a giant):

Luggage stowed, we wandered around Prague, and I discovered the 360 Panoramic function on my phone’s camera.

We saw many things on our wander, including giant creepy baby sculptures.

I was really excited to have happened across these, because I’d read about them — they’re by an artist named David Cerny, and they had originally been installed on a television tower. And because they’re giant creepy babies, which quite honestly should be a good enough reason on its own.

We also came across the artistic inverse, which was a sculpture memorial to the victims of communism.

There was a plaque nearby that read: “The memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all victims, not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism.”

For the rest of the day we geocached, wandered around Prague, tried to take a funicular up a hill, abandoned that plan when it seemed as though everyone else had the same plan, and walked near the castle. (TO the castle will have to wait until we return after the conference in Dresden.) We also found the John Lennon wall.

Imagine all the graffiti.

Creepy baby sculptures: 3
Geocaches claiming to be the most-found geocaches in the world: 2
Train delay from Prague to Dresden: 45 minutes. No, 35. No, 30. No, 35. No, 40. Wait, it’s here.

Prague/Dresden – Day 2: Prague

Having survived jet lag and a really uncomfortable hotel mattress, we were ready to go out and see the Europe. Specifically the Czech Republic portion of the Europe. We set out relatively early to walk around the city before the crowds got too bad, and maybe find a few more geocaches. (As noted in our previous post, we had already cached our first Czech)

Leigh had found us a wonderful hotel just steps from both the main downtown square and the Charles Bridge. So we headed off to see the former when it wasn’t full of hippies, jugglers, mountebanks and ne’erdowells.

The number one touristy thing to look at in the main square is the astronomical clock. It’s a pretty amazing thing, and I’m resisting the urge to look it up on Wikipedia until I’ve written about it. Near as we can figure it has a Sun hand, a Moon hand, a Day of the Year hand with a dial that actually includes a spot for each day of the year, and other wackiness. We could not, however, figure out how to actually tell TIME by the silly thing.

There was also a small square with a fountain in it that we walked through about four times in our 20 hours in Prague. We eventually realized that it contained one of the two most visited geocaches in the world, with over 16,000 finds. The statue has an interesting back story as well.

After that we walked back over the Charles bridge. This is a bridge that was built approximately the same time that Isabella started bugging Ferdinand to get those boats out of the driveway. It’s an huge piece of masonry, and you can stand on it and picture the medieval oxcarts jostling their way across. Or at least, you can picture it for approximately 8 seconds, and then someone will try to get you to buy a souvenir, pay them to draw your picture, ask you to take their picture, or steal your camera.

Directly under the bridge is the OTHER of the two most found geocaches in the world.  Also over 16,000 finds.

From there we had a nice little wander around the west side of the river. We didn’t have time for any of the major sites, but we found some creepy baby sculptures in a park and generally goggled at things.

By 1 we had to return to our hotel to get our things for the trip to Dresden. Which was late. But we made it to our hotel without incident, where my conference reception was already underway. Leigh hadn’t paid for a ticket, but I gave her my beer and some sausages and she seemed happy.

Train Rides: 1
Tram Rides: 1
Subway Lines: 2
Geocaches Found: 5
John Lennon Images Found: At least 4

Prague/Dresden, Day 1: Prague

It hadn’t occurred to me when I booked our plane flights to Prague that we were leaving on a Friday the 13th. Dan is completely dismissive of such superstitions, and I generally don’t lend them very much credence myself. However, the lore surrounding that date may help explain the travel shenanigans we encountered on the outbound voyage.

For whatever reason, our Delta flight had us going from Flint -> Atlanta, Atlanta -> JFK, then JFK -> Prague. Whatever, airline gods — we can deal with your complete lack of direction as long as you are getting us to Prague eventually. Fine.


The actual sequence of events doesn’t much matter — suffice to say that the Atlanta to JFK leg of that trip did not go to plan. Needless to say, we missed our connection in JFK, and had to be rebooked via Amsterdam, which added six hours to our (already long) trip.

So we arrived into Prague around 4:30 pm, about six hours later than we intended, completely drained — and with all of our electronics also almost completely drained (of battery). But we wanted to stay up to try to defeat the jetlag, and to spend what time we had remaining in Prague, so we ventured out without cameras.

We went to a lovely sausage house / beer hall called Lokal, where you can have any beer you want as long as it’s Pilsner Urquell. But you can have a LOT of them. Seriously, there’s a guy whose job it is to walk around with a tray full of beers, and they just keep giving them to you unless you catch them and tell them not to. Then five minutes later they will try again, and look at you funny when you turn them down again. They obviously expect you to have a lot of beers, because they count how many you have had by marking off icons on a small sheet that they leave on your table. Here’s a picture of the sheet, which I stole er, borrowed for documentation purposes:

I feel slightly ashamed that I was only able to knock off one of those beer icons, since they clearly were expecting far more out of me.

We started walking back to our hotel, and happened to come across throngs of people milling about in a neighborhood. We realized that it was a huge special event called Museum Night — museums all across Prague were open from 7 pm until 1 am, and there were free buses shuttling you from one museum-ridden area to the next. We did a quick survey of the museums on offer and realized we were close to the Smetana museum, so we headed down there. There was a concert just about to start when we arrived, so it was packed and HOT. We looked at a few exhibits (I know nothing about Smetana, by the way) and decided it was too stuffy to stay for the concert. We pressed on, our next museum destination (the Czech Museum of Music) determined by a flyer Dan picked up with a picture of a quarter-tone piano built by August Förster, the company who made our (decidedly and disappointingly tonal) grand piano.

This museum also had live music in the atrium, which meant that we were free to walk through the exhibits. Lots of fabulous old instruments, including four things called sediphones, which Dan decided he wanted. The quarter-tone piano did not disappoint; it looked wacky (picture forthcoming from the brochure) and sounded even wackier; the museum had listening stations where you could listen to the different instruments being played. Dan had to pull me away from that one, as well as from the station with the recordings of the mechanical instruments.

More wandering ensued, and we wanted to go to more museums, but at that point we were exhausted. We walked back across the Charles Bridge (more about that in tomorrow’s post), returned to our hotel in Staré Mesto (old town), and collapsed. More Prague adventures tomorrow.

Flights: 4 (one more than intended)
Movies on flight: 1 (Muppets Most Wanted)
Sausages: 3
Beer: 1
Geocaches found: 4
Language fail: all of them. Czech is impenetrable.

Greece – Day 11: Vergina

Our last day in Greece was to be relatively uneventful.  We had a few possible stops planned, but decided in the morning to just go to one to save stress.  This is good, because I was in pain by this point.  Just stepping off a curb was making me wince, let alone walking down from our third floor hotel room.

We set out in the rental car and after about 2 hours drive came to Vergina.  (That’s pronounced “ver-GEE-na,” by the way.)  The archaeological site there was only discovered in 1977 to be the burial site of no less than Philip II of Macedon.  For those of you a bit fuzzy on your ancient history, that would be the father of Alexander the Great.  The tombs were under a large hill called “The Great Tumulus.”

The museum there now was constructed in a fairly ingenious way – the hill was left intact over the tombs, and the museum simply constructed in the empty space inside after the excavations.  So you’re wandering around looking at exhibits just feet from the actual mausoleums.  And the exhibits include, among other things, the actual box containing Philip II’s bones.  It’s quite the experience.  Sadly, no photography allowed.

Afterwards, we stopped of for lunch at a little taverna in the middle of nowhere.  It dawned on Leigh and I that in eleven days, neither of us had actually ordered a “Greek Salad” per se, so we did just that.  This was not the sort of place that normally gets foreign tourists, but the owners were just as friendly to us as everyone else had been, and yet another plate of free fruit appeared after the meal.

On returning to Thessaloniki, it was time for another bit of sheer terror, as we had to negotiate a non-trivial number of crowded, insane major streets, followed by a number of tiny, packed, one-way streets to get to our hotel.  But we made it, checked in, returned the rental car, and spent the rest of the day just bonking around the town.  We had dinner in a restaurant with carved figures over the windows.

The food was very good, but part of me suspects we may have eaten in the Greek equivalent of a T.G.I. Friday’s.  At least we didn’t eat in the ACTUAL T.G.I. Friday’s on Aristotle square.  We did walk back down to the waterfront and did some people-watching.  We also saw our final sunset in Greece.

Since nothing happened on day 12 but travel (over 24 solid hours of it), I’ll include our only picture from that day here, without comment.


  • Total means of transport employed: 10
  • Total mules ridden: 0
  • Total liters of water consumed: Approximately a billion
  • Average temperature: 98 F
  • Free fruit plates: 4
  • Meals with cheese: Most of them
  • Spectacular sunsets: All of them