Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I got hitched! The wedding was in California at the Newport Beach LDS Temple and the reception was in Fountain Valley. It was epic - we had a New Orleans Jazz Band, awesome food, and much fun was had by all.
The next day Jenna (my wife) and I left for Miami to catch a big-ass boat across the ocean! The Norwegian Epic is the world's 3rd largest cruise ship.
Norwegian Epic docked in Miami

I reserved our stateroom last fall and got a killer deal on it, about $720 each for a balcony room for 11 days! That's about the price of a one-way plane ticket to Europe, but with 11 days of entertainment, awesome food, and much fun. Pro-tip: repositioning cruises are uber cheap. (It's in the Caribbean during the winter and Mediterranean during the Summer.)
Norwegian Epic docked in Barcelona
I rode the three waterslides a whole bunch of times and Jenna and I spent a couple days in the hot tubs talking to folks. When we left Miami the temperatures were in the 80s, but as we traveled further north and east it got progressively colder.

It was all kinds of fun exploring the ship, going to shows (Blue Man Group, improv comedy, some talented musicians, some not-so talented) and eating at any of the 20 restaurants. The hardest part of our day was deciding where to eat! We would catch an occasional movie on their huge LED screen in the middle of the ship or eat a nice lazy dinner under an awesome chandelier with a live pianist. It was fun.
Really fun water slides, pools, and hot tubs on top of the Norwegian Epic
One of the fun towel animals our steward left for us
There was a hilarious magician and a talented (but kind of annoying) ventriloquist. We even went to a comedy hypnotist and Jenna and I were chosen to go up on stage to be hypnotized with about 15 others. We were both curious to see if hypnosis is real - I said to Jenna as we arrived that the only way I would ever believe in hypnosis is if she or I were hypnotized. Otherwise, no cake.

Well here was our chance - we listened carefully to what the guy was saying and tried to relax like he said. Both of us actually wanted to be hypnotized! We really tried! Alas, I was kicked off stage after only a few minutes... not quite sure why. Jenna lasted a little longer, but she was eventually kicked off stage too. Apparently we're hypnosis-proof. Or hypnosis is fake!
Jenna (3rd from the left) pretending to be hypnotized (it didn't work). The hypnotist had already kicked me off stage
Having been at sea for 7 straight days, we were getting a little batty - that's when we made our only stop of the voyage at Ponta Delgada, Azores.

The Azores are a Portuguese territory settled in the 1400s. They have a very mild climate - not quite tropical, but sort of.
The Norwegian Epic (right) docked in Ponta Delgada, Azores
Jenna, happy to be on land for the first time in 7 days
We explored Ponta Delgada for a couple hours, the largest and capital city of the archipelago, before we saw a postcard with a BEAUTIFUL waterfall somewhere in the Azores. We asked the lady where it was and through mediocre English she told us it was called the Caldeira Velha and was located on the slopes of an ancient volcano called Lagoa das Fogo - the Lake of Fire.

I love waterfalls. So we rented a car and set out to find the place with only a rough idea of where it lay.
Ponta Delgada, Azores

We saw all kinds of prettiness on the way.

Got lost a few times...
Our rental car in the Azores

But eventually made it to Lagoa das Fogo - the Lake of Fire. This is an ancient volcanic crater at the top of a windy and steep road. The views were fantastic even with all the cloud cover. I can only imagine what they would have been like were it clear!
Lagoa das Fogo - Lake of Fire

Looking from the top of Lagoa das Fogo north towards the other side of the island
Going down the other side of the volcano we finally came across the entrance to Caldeira Velha - the waterfall we were trying to find. After a short hike (and passing some pools of boiling water!) we found it!

So we got in. The water wasn't hot, but it wasn't cold - sort of luke warm (the weather was chilly though - in the 50s) and fed by hotsprings upstream. It was magical.
Caldeira Velha (Old Boiler)
Back on the ship we hit bad weather for a day. Waves were 19 feet high according to the bridge and even the 3rd largest cruise ship in the world tossed a lot. It was difficult walking, especially towards the front and the back of the ship. Luckily our cabin was in the center of the ship, well placed at the fulcrum of the main axis of oscillation. Even so, we spent most of the day in bed and only ventured out to eat and see a show.

I noticed, though, that the cruise staff stealthily stashed barf bags all around the ship for woozy passengers. How funny.
We arrived in Barcelona around 3 am and I stayed up to watch the ship dock. How do you dock the 3rd largest cruise ship in the world? Very slowly.
We arrived in Barcelona with no plans, no accommodations, and no travel reservations to Germany. We figured we'd just wing the whole thing. The only thing I wanted to see in the city was La Sagrada Familia - a really strange cathedral still under construction. I could just barely see it from the cruise ship.

Unfortunately, there was a Formula 1 race in Barcelona that week so all the accommodations were completely booked. Bah! So we bought a couple of surprisingly cheap plane tickets to Frankfurt and left that afternoon.
Getting to the airport was a bit of an adventure - there were bomb threats shutting down big chunks of the city we were trying to travel through and messing all the buses up. I did get the above picture because of them, though.

We eventually made it to the airport (exhausted and sweaty and missing our lovely stateroom and buffet dearly), flew to Palma de Mallorca, then to Frankfurt. (Mental note: Visit Mallorca and Barcelona for reals someday.)

We arrived in Frankfurt at around midnight, again with no accommodations. Luckily, though, the hostels in this city weren't all full and we made our way to one and crashed for the night. It was a very long day - Jenna didn't like it very much, but I thought it was an adventure.
Still without confirmed housing in Jena, we decided to spend a full day in Frankfurt before journeying to Jena. Apparently Germans and tourists don't think much of Frankfurt, but we rather liked it. We walked around for a few hours and had a jolly 'ole time.

We even found some cute ducklings swimming in the Main (the river running through Frankfurt). They were a subspecies we're not familiar with, so I took a picture. We like ducks.
The Frankfurt skyline
We finally got a hold of Jenna's contact at the Max Planck Institute in Jena who informed us that we could move into our apartment right away! So after a day in Frankfurt we hopped on the train to Jena. It was supposed to be relatively simple...
But it wasn't. Here's Jenna looking much more chipper than she felt.
Our second of three trains was roomy and comfortable.

At one point they stopped the train and kicked everyone off, saying something about a bus coming to pick us up. But no sooner were we disembarked and lugging our crap down a gravel driveway than the train conductor excitedly ran up and happily (and unintelligibly) said something along the lines of the "the train is working again, hurry and get back on and we'll leave." So we did. But then, since everything was now delayed, we missed our connection and had to wing it for a bit. And, because everything was now running behind our last train was extremely crowded - standing room only. (Not as crowded as this train, though.)
Jenna tries to figure out the train schedule in German
We eventually made it to Jena! Jena is a city of 100,000 people located in the former East Germany. It is the only city in former East Germany whose population has increased since 1989. It is home to approximately 25,000 students, 3 Max Planck research institutes, the home of Zeiss optics, Schott glass, and Jenoptic, as well as dozens of smaller optics companies and research institutes and a whole suite of biotech industries and research centers. It is one of Germany's "Science Cities" and is a bit of an optics Mecca.
After we arrived at the Jena train station (below) our Max Planck contact never came to pick us up. So after waiting for several hours at the train station, then wandering the city with all of our luggage relying on the mercy of taxi drivers who didn't speak English (and who always laugh at us... haven't figured that one out yet), we eventually just got a hotel and collapsed from exhaustion.

The next day I went out and bought a phone and we finally were taken to our apartment. We like it! It's in a pretty little neighborhood on top of a hill overlooking the city. There are a whole bunch of "kindergartens" (preschools), lots of pretty greenness, and lovely cobblestone streets. The one thing we don't like: the bus stop and closest grocery store are at the bottom of the hill, about a 10 minute walk away. So we're working off our cruise fat.
Our apartment building in Jena

View out of our bathroom window
Our street
View from the entrance
Jenna started work at her new job last Monday: the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology. She's working on the genetics of bugs that eat tobacco. The institute is located on the Beutenberg Campus, a large biotech and optics research site southwest of Jena. Did you hear that? Biotech and OPTICS! Yes, the Beutenberg campus is home to the Friedrich Schiller Institute of Applied Physics (where I started today), the Institute of Photonic Technology (in a way awesome building), and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering. It's pretty much an optics heaven.
The Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Jenna all ready for her first day of work!
General observations about Germany:
  • They don't seem to mind graffiti - it's everywhere and rather unsightly. (And it's in English... go figure.)
  • There are no drinking fountains, air conditioning, or bathrooms and it's quite warm outside. Conclusion: the people here retain water very well.
  • They charge for everything: ketchup at McDonalds, water, and coffee at work.
  • There are a disproportionate number of really ugly dudes. (No, seriously, they're really ugly.)
  • It is very green.
  • They like cobblestones.
  • They're manic trash-sorters.
  • They love their beer.
  • They spend more time outdoors than typical Americans.
Germans love to party...
And to finish things off, a few scenes from around Jena:

Our house and neighborhood
The never ending stairs on the way to work...
More stairs coming down the hill


Lyndi Pratt said...

THANK YOU for posting! It sounds like you guys had quite the adventure getting there. Your neighborhood looks so lovely! What a dream. I just love you guys and hope you're enjoying every second.

Lori said...

It sounds like a marvelous adventure! Love you

Pop said...

Wow! Who said you didn't have any adventures? That was a great blog post, Nick. Let us know how your work goes and what you're working on, okay?

And I'd say so far your observations of Germans are spot on. Your blog post did make me wish I'd taught you a few things about German trains, like 'ab' versus 'an' and times and such. Oh well, you must know them now!

Connor said...

It was good to read this! I'm glad everything went relatively well. I hope you both enjoy your work at the science institutes. I remember the obsession with beer from when we went to Germany in high school. Woman would be outside drinking huge steins of beer at 7:00 in the morning like it was water.