Category Archives: Travel

Travelling Thoughts: Poland

Way back in July, before Jaialdi, I went to Poland for the Computer Simulations of Radiation Effects in Solids (COSIRES) conference, held in Krakow (previous hosts of this conference have included Beijing, Richland WA, and Helsinki).  Thoughts on my trip (that I can remember… I really need to write these down when I’m there):

  • As I do more and more travel, I’m trying more and more to keep my trips shorter, both to help my family out as my wife works on the weekends, but also to see them more and minimize the time away from home.  So, I flew out late on a Saturday and returned on a Friday.  The flight passed over Chicago, hence the one photo.  This doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to see any sights, but fortunately COSIRES had an excursion that let me see a little.
  • Krakow is a nice older European city.  It supposedly sports the largest plaza of any city in Europe, or so I was told.  It has a majestic Cathedral in the center of the plaza, which we were going to check out until we learned that if you are just a tourist (and not there for prayer) they charge a fee to enter.  Having seen a lot of Cathedrals in Europe, I didn’t feel like paying the fee.  We did check out their big indoor market, which had lots of stalls selling a bit of everything, but mostly things geared toward tourists: jewelry, clothes, scarfs, and such.  There were a number of shops selling wooden toys, presumably hand made, and I got my daughter a wooden train.  And a ceramic bowl for my wife (I guess Poland is known for their ceramics?).  There were a lot of chess sets on sale too, for extremely cheap prices (a whole set that was reasonably sized — maybe 15 inches square — cost something like $15-20).
  • The only other thing I saw was during the conference excursion.  They took us to an old salt mine — the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site — that has since been turned into a tourist attraction.  Which might sound a bit odd, but it was actually very interesting.  We climbed down wooden stairs that took us something like 150 meters or roughly 450 ft below the surface.  Overall, we ended up something like 300-400 meters underneath, maybe a bit over 1000 ft.  The place was amazing.  Lots of caverns and tunnels winding all around.  There are little displays showing how work and life was in the mine (which was a bit hokey, but ok).  The interesting thing is what they carved into the mountain.  There were chapels for worship, statues depicting various scenes (carved out of the salt), and big halls for entertaining and such.  There was a room/cavern dedicated to Copernicus, who I guess was heavily involved in mining at the time (besides being a very important astronomer).  As we wandered, we could see little particles floating in the air, which I think were just large water drops, large enough to see but small enough to float, with salt dissolved in them.  The conference dinner was held in a hall in the mine, which was done to look still a bit rough.  It was pretty neat to be dining deep underground like that.
  • The conference itself was good, with some nice discussions and possible new collaborations.  The organizers did a nice job and the setting, at one of the university buildings, was very nice. I pitched that we host the next one in 2012 in Santa Fe and that pitch was accepted.  So, work to be done.
  • I was able to sample a little of the local cuisine.  Being a carnivore, I focused on things like schnitzel which was very good.  Some things looked a bit odd, such as a bright pink soup that just struck me as an odd color for any food.

Travelling Thoughts: DC and Germany

In the end of September/beginning of October, I went first to DC for a meeting of all of the people funded by our funding agency in DOE and then on to Germany the following week to two conferences, first one on Multiscale Modeling of Materials held in Freiburg and the second on Nuclear Materials in Karlsruhe.  Just sharing some random thoughts from those trips.

  • The meeting in DC was held in a hotel way out in Rockville (ok, so not in DC proper, but in the outskirts).  My last night there, I went into town, catching the subway and walking around the mall.  I made stops at the Washington Monument (always impressive in its simplicity), the Jefferson Memorial (a favorite stop, as Jefferson, in spite of his flaws, is still a hero of mine), the Lincoln Memorial (which had way too many people as the AFL-CIO was setting up some rally there; but still great to see), and a very brief stop at the American History Museum (which didn’t really impress me all that much, but to be honest I only stayed 10 minutes).  I walked the length of the mall as the sun set, watching as the lights came on.  A very pretty view. Though DC is often a symbol to us of the problems of the country and the agendas of politicians so removed from our own interests, it is still a very powerful symbol of the greatness of our country, of the men who worked so hard to build a solid foundation on which all of this rests.
  • On the flight to Germany, I watched two movies (I usually use flights to catch up on things I haven’t had the chance to see): The Losers and Kick-Ass.  Both are based on comic properties.  I enjoyed both.  I’m a bit surprised at what they show on these flights, as it isn’t exactly private, and these are both reasonably violent movies.  The Losers was simply entertaining, with some nice stunts and an overall plot-line that was interesting.  The main villain was a little over the top, but there were enough twists to keep me interested.  Kick-Ass, on the other hand, I enjoyed greatly.  Maybe a little overly violent, but there is something in the story that is the ultimate teenage wish-fulfillment, of a guy just fighting back at the injustices around him.  The acting was good, the story was good.
  • It took us a little while to figure out the German train system.  Connected to the airport in Frankfurt was a massive train station, but we landed at Terminal 2 and it wasn’t completely clear where to go to catch the train.  Turns out we had to catch a bus to Terminal 1 and the train station was right there.  But, once we figured that out and where we had to transfer (to get to Freiburg we had to transfer in Karlsruhe), it went smoothly.  A nice train system is always very pleasant.  I understand the difficulties of building a comprehensive train network in the US, especially the West, but it sure would make some kinds of travel easier.
  • The first place I went for dinner in Freiburg had outdoor seating, with the tables spread out underneath a huge chestnut tree.  It was a bit surreal to have dinner, completely jet-lagged, with chestnuts falling all around us.  Every once in a while there would be a crack of a chestnut crashing down on the cobble stones.  Fortunately, none of them hit our food or beer.  The food, incidentally, was the German version of pizza, which as a crust with onions and cream cheese.  It was actually very tasty.
  • This was my second visit to Freiburg and it was just as charming as I remembered.  Freiburg is known for the Cathedral in the center of town, one of the few places to survive World War II without much damage.  They’ve channeled a river through the center of town, in some places about as wide as a lane in a road, in other places just a small stream maybe 1 foot wide and half a foot deep, but which runs along the streets through the town.  Children were playing in this stream, putting little toy boats and watching them float away.
  • Karlsruhe, on the other hand, was simply much bigger.  I had essentially two nights there, but they were spent with colleagues at dinner, so I didn’t get a chance to see anything.  The impression from others was that there wasn’t much to see.  I’ll have to go back some time and check for myself.
  • The conferences themselves were overall good.  I had some good discussions with old and new friends, with some potential new collaborations established.  These conferences are better and better experiences as I know more and more people.  I was only at the Karlsuhe conference for one day, so didn’t experience a whole lot.  The hotel was very nice, though maybe a bit vanilla, while that in Freiburg was plainer but because of that maybe more charming.  It had a nice restaurant for breakfast as well.  The Karlsruhe felt more like a chain that catered a bit more to business types.  Both of my talks went well and generated some discussion, which is all one can ask for, really.


Wow, time flies.  Way back in May, I went to a workshop on Solid-Solid Nucleation, which was held in Maui.  Actually, a colleague was invited, but he had a conflict and gave me the choice of representing him in Maui or Switzerland.  I chose Maui.  In any case, Lisa and Rose went with me.  We had a great time!  Rose and Lisa spent a lot of time on the beach while I was working.  Then, during the weekend, we went on the long drive on the north side of the island.  We checked out the village near our hotel (near Kaanapali).  The last day, before we caught our flight out (which left at 10:30 at night), we went up the volcano.  We were a little hesitant because of the long drive and the need to get back to catch the flight, but it sure was worth it.  I had expected to have a magnificent view of the island, maybe even see the other islands.  Instead, it was completely cloud-covered, but that actually made it more spectacular.  Standing there above the cloud line was a truly marvelous experience.  One of the best places I’ve ever visited.

I tried to do some panoramas of what we saw.  They didn’t turn out quite as nice as I hoped, but here they are.  A view of the volcano’s crater and another of the skyline around the crater.  The crater especially I couldn’t get to look as I hoped.  The contrast of the different images must not have matched right (and, to be honest, I didn’t feel like individually adjusting them).  This is as good as I could get with the program Hugin without a huge amount of effort.  At least it gives the idea.

The Embodiment of Fall

I just flew into Pittsburgh for a conference and was just struck by the beauty of the landscape stretched before me from the airplane window.  I didn’t have a camera, so unable to take a picture, I jotted down my impressions (edited now for flow and readability).

The sky is gray, the air crisp and still.  Rolling green hills peak through forests of golden trees, in shades of orange, brown, and yellow.  Scattered with those golden trees are barren trunks, already in hibernation for the winter.  In stark contrast, small groves of evergreens keep their color, defying the overwhelming autumn hues.  Valleys cut around the hills, but gently, with no drastic or abrupt gorges.  Clusters of houses huddle amongst those trees, in clearings big and small.  Small villages and towns snake along the valleys, conforming with the contours of the land, not defying or challenging them. Occasionally, an old abandoned and ruined house lies forgotten, isolated in a clearing of its own.  Down the river float barges, laden with tons of pitch black coal.  Nearby there are open pits and piles of the stuff, in stark contrast to the greens and golds.  A random smoke stack, remaining from the glorious steel days, punctures the horizon, billowing thick white smoke that then slowly drifts and spreads across the sky.

This is the embodiment of fall.