Prague/Dresden Day 8: Taste of Prague!

We’re going to divert from strictly chronological reporting here slightly, and talk about what we did Saturday morning as part of a separate post later.  So this is about Saturday afternoon and evening. [Note from Leigh: the vast majority of this post is Dan speaking; my comments are interspersed throughout in this fashion.]

Before we left, I had run across the website of a tour company called “Taste of Prague.”  I was mostly looking for good places to eat, but when I ran across a guided tour that was focused on restaurants, only took small groups, and appeared to have a sense of humor, we couldn’t resist.  We met our guide, Jan, in front of a church near our hotel along with one other young American couple.  The format of the tour was simple – we walked from restaurant to restaurant, trying food at each location.  The five of us got to know each other, and Jan told us a bit about the last 100 years of Czech history, sometimes assisted by an iPad.

First stop was a meat market.  We had what was essentially pub food – sausage, ham, and pickles. All of it excellent.  That’s Jan on the left, or at least half of him.  On the walk to the next stop, we learned a lot about how Czechs dealt with the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet occupation, and their feelings on potential monetary union.

We also saw a pimpmobile:

OK, probably not actually a pimpmobile.  [Leigh: Jan actually knew the owner of this car.] Next stop was a wine bar.  Interestingly, there is very little Czech wine for export, so if you want to experience it, you’ll just have to visit the country.  Not a serious drawback, if you ask me. (I don’t drink, so I’ll let Leigh describe the wine itself.) [Leigh: I had a Pinot Noir that was pretty tasty; I’ve had better in Oregon, but that’s not a fair comparison.]

Now it was time for the main event. This was a steakhouse named Čestr, where in addition to beef stew, we were also feted with Czech sourdough bread with cream cheese with herbs and chives, beef spare ribs marinated in red wine for 24 hours and cooked under the lid in red wine for 16 hours, beef neck slowly stewed in paprika sauce with sour cream, slow-grilled chicken with truffle stuffing and juice from the grill with black truffles, chicken schnitzels, Czech salmon trout roasted on butter and served with carrot and orange sauce and peas, potato dumplings, garden salad, Czech escargots boiled in root vegetables, baked in mushroom and served with Sabayonne mousse, “Olomoucke tvaruzky”: aged cheese deep fried in bacon and breadcrumbs and served with home-made mayonnaise, beef steak tartare with quail egg, fried bread and raw garlic, and new potatoes with curd cheese. (My memory is NOT that good: they emailed us the list after.)

While we were being astonished by the food (my favorite was the chicken with truffle stuffing) Jan regaled us with some commercials from the Soviet era.  Bear in mind: there was no actual competition, so there was no need to produce commercials.  But full employment had to be maintained, and so we now have this to remember the era by.

After absolutely stuffing ourselves we stopped briefly to take a picture of me pointing at a cow…

…and then proceeded to our final stop. Pastries. Oh god.  Such pastries:

Om nom nom.  Video at this point was of some hilariously awful synchronized exercise demonstrations from the 1980s, to which we’ll include the link in an upcoming post.

On the whole, the tour was fantastic, and we would recommend it wholeheartedly to future travelers in Prague.  In retrospect, it seems obvious that there was probably some financial understanding between the tour company and the restaurants that wasn’t made clear on the surface. Frankly, we don’t care, because the food and company were both great.

One other thing that Jan stopped to point out over the course of our tour was this improbable device – a Paternoster elevator.

In case it’s not clear from the photo, and of course it isn’t, because no such thing should actually exist in the real world of people who aren’t completely out of their minds, this is an elevator that never stops moving. [Leigh: link contains a quicktime movie with Jan explaining and Dan expressing disbelief.] The cars on the right are continuously moving up, and the ones on the left continuously moving down. There are no doors.  That’s right – you have to fling yourself on and off a moving elevator to get from floor to floor.

Of COURSE I wanted to ride it.  Sadly, it was a private elevator that we just stared at through a window. While it moved. Continuously. [Leigh: I was so incredibly glad that we couldn’t ride this thing. I used to have nightmares about elevators when I was a kid, and this horrific contraption is SERIOUSLY straight out of those nightmares.]

After Jan dropped us off, we went and saw Prague castle, one of the most historic and important sites in the city, but frankly after lunch it just felt like an afterthought.  A massive, historic afterthought [for which we will have to write a different post].

Food Eaten: All.
Calories burned stomping up and down hills: Many, but probably not enough.

Prague/Dresden Day 8: Concluded

The highlight of Day 8 was the food tour, but that ended at 4, and we didn’t just go back to our hotel room and fall into a food coma.  From the dropoff point we wandered up into a park on the west side of the river which had a beautiful view of the city, and failed to ride the funicular railroad for the second time on our trip.

From there, we walked up the hill to Prague castle, featured in the last picture of the previous Day 8 post.  We didn’t go into any buildings, just wandered around the various courtyards lookin’ at stuff.  Of which there was definitely some.

From there we walked through the palace gardens, which feature not one, but two different structures designed to grow completely inappropriate fruit for the Czech climate.  Neither of which we photographed, for some reason.  Instead, here’s us standing in front of the Prague:

As we made our way along the hills north of town, we came to a plaza which apparently used to house a giant statue of Stalin pretending to be on a Madness album cover. It now has a giant metronome, which is only slightly less weird.

Also a whole lot of skateboarders.  By this point we were pretty beat, so we headed back into town, where we finished our day with the traditional Czech delicacy of pizza.  One final thing to give you nightmares – this sculpture of Kafka riding a headless man which is not, oddly enough, by David Czerny.

Things Pointed At: 2
Amazing Food Consumed: Much
Geocaches found: Many fewer than looked for
Funicular Railroads Ridden: Still 0

Prague/Dresden Day 7: Mostly Travel

Like the title says, there’s not a whole lot to report about day 7.  I had a few more conference talks to attend in the morning, and Leigh stayed in the hotel room and accomplished things.  Then it was back to the train station for the return trip to Prague.  I had some cheese left over from my trip to the dairy store the day before, (Which I completely forgot to write about, so I’ve gone back and edited that into Thursday’s post) which we ate on the train.

Leigh had found us another hotel in a spectacular location just a block or two from the city center in the opposite direction from our first hotel, so after checking in, we set out to find some food.  We ended up at a little microbrewery near Wenceslas Square.  Over the next few days, we realized that this place, which had six different beers available, was in Prague an example of absolutely stunning variety.  Most places had at most two.

After dinner we walked back to our hotel via Wenceslas Square, about which more later.  Not too much else to say about day seven, but just you wait – Day eight was amazing!

Prague/Dresden Day 6: Dan spends more time at the conference, and things go boom.

Thursday was my big day at the conference – I had two posters to present on my research. For those keeping score at home, the titles were “Measurement of the Longitudinal Acceptance of the ReA RFQ,” and “Preparatory Investigations for a Low Frequency Prebuncher at ReA.” Riveting stuff, right?

Before poster time, however, there were more talks, and then lunch.  Leigh was off at a castle somewhere (and how often do I get to say that?) so I hopped a tram to Pfunds, the self proclaimed “most beautiful dairy store in the world,” to acquire cheese.  Sadly, the most beautiful dairy store in the world does not allow photography. Here’s a link to some pictures on their website. On the upside, I was able to have a lovely young raw milk cheese that would be illegal in the U.S.A. (darn you, Kraft!) on bread, so it was worth fighting the tourists.  Of which there were many.

The poster sessions each day had been in a large room that also contained the industrial exhibits, like so:

However, since this was the last full day of the conference, they had taken down all the industry booths and just filled the room with posters. So I had two of about 400 posters on that day alone. Also, since my two posters were on the end of an aisle on opposite sides of a panel, I had to keep running back and forth to make sure the poster police weren’t checking the opposite side to make sure I was indeed presenting. (This matters: they can actually withdraw your poster from publication if you’re not there.)

Fortunately, I had a very nice view of the Dresden.

I also was sharing an aisle with two people who looked very much like Simon Pegg and Benedict Cumberbatch. Sherlock Holmes is an expert on free electron lasers, it turns out. Then again, why shouldn’t he be? He’s an expert on everything else.

The evening concluded with a very nice conference dinner accompanied by, sadly, smooth jazz. And at the very end, an official conference fireworks display. No really – 15 solid minutes of IPAC fireworks, including the phrase “IPAC14” spelled out in six foot high letters of fire. This never happens at music theory conferences.

Posters Presented: 2
Desserts Eaten: 3
Why Women’s Football is Less Popular: Something to do with Bessel Functions

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