Unexpected Explorations (Brussels and Chicago)

Recently, I unexpectedly explored Brussels in the morning and was treated to a magical evening in Chicago that night. None of this was planned. Here’s a brief chronicle of that unexpected day.

I awoke in Brussels to a delayed flight. I had just landed from Denmark and was expecting a rushed transfer, but my connecting flight was severely delayed. An airport employee advised me to explore the city, which is a short train ride from the airport.

It’s a beautiful city.

After crossing the Atlantic Ocean, I landed in Chicago for a second transfer. Unfortunately (?) the initial delay caused me to miss this connection as well. So I called one of my best friends, Dr. Beki Martin, a biochemist. She invited me to stay with her. We ventured out for gelato near her Andersonville apartment and ended up stopping by a magic-themed bar nearby, The Chicago Magic Lounge. A magician was performing tricks in the center of the bar. He put a mark on my friend’s hand – no one could figure our when he might have touched her. We had some strange luck, and the bar owner started chatting with us. Before long, he was giving us a tour of his collection of historic mementos from Chicago greats, like Houdini. He offered us discounted tickets to the evening performance in the attached theater and complimentary tickets to the exclusive backroom show at the 654 Club. We watched Vinnie Grosso on the main stage and John Michael Hinton in the backroom – two performers who have appeared on Penn & Teller Fool Us. It was indescribable. Here are a few highlights from the night. We obviously couldn’t take photos during the shows.

These photos were taken by Beki:

I am still catching up on sleep from this crazy night.

Exploring Fjords (Flåm, Norway)

I posted before that I recently explored Norway with my friend Dr. Jessica Williams, who is a philosopher and assistant professor at the University of South Florida. We stayed in a cottage one train stop before Flåm. Flåm is a crowded tourist town that looks like a boardwalk that grew into a destination. Many of the neighboring villages only have 5-10 people living in them. Some of them have properties on AirBnB. We stayed in one of these properties , which was part of a pig and sheep farm. I was happy to be away from the bustle and to see animals every day.

The white cottage below is where we stayed. I took photos of the village and sheep.

The main reason for our trip was to explore the Norwegian fjords.

A fjord is a u-shaped inlet with steep, mountainous sides that connects to the ocean. Glaciers carved out these deep channels. Since fjord water is partially composed of melted snow, it’s usually a mixture of salt and fresh water with greater salinity towards the bottom (the salt sinks).

The two fjords near Flåm are Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Jessica and I took a boat tour through both fjords.

Here are some outtakes from the ride. We had to wear full-body floatation suits. Our guide pointed out a mountain that is said to be the fist of a giant troll that was turned to stone by the sun. He also showed us some goats that spend their days on the side of a mountain in the fjords where they have plenty of food and are safe from predators.

Flåm fjord safari: https://www.fjordsafari.com/

Town of Underdal is famous for their unique brown goat cheese (“brunost”)

The fist of a stone troll

A tiny village lines the shore, for scale

Modern Vikings preserve the old ways in Njardarheimr near the heart of the Nærøyfjord: https://fullsuitcase.com/viking-valley-gudvangen/

GOATS! I couldn’t get over how tiny they were!

The next day, Jessica and I hiked 9 miles through the mountains to a goat farm. The path we took ran parallel to the famous Flåm railroad (“Flåmsbana”): https://www.visitflam.com/activities/flamsbana—the-flam-railway/

We started at the road next to the Lundon train stop and walked in the direction of Myrdal. The hike is good for beginners – it didn’t require any technical skills – but you must have stamina to make it that far through changing elevations. It took us around 5 hours. We stopped a few times to eat snacks that we had packed. It is a beautiful hike and tasting goat cheeses and sausages at the end was a real treat! We took the Flåm train back from the closest stop, called Blomheller.

Waterfalls everywhere

Wild raspberries

We made it!

Enjoying goat cheese and meat

The third day, we travelled to Underdal to eat more of the famous brown goat cheese. The curds and whey are boiled together until they start to caramelize. It creates a flavor that is simultaneously sweet and salty. We ate it on waffles and it was so good that I forgot to take photos of it! Here are some pictures of the beautiful town.

Water from the falls is clean and safe to drink – we were told that the water in this river was too

We took the Flåm train back to Myrdal. The train ride between Myrdal and Oslo has beautiful scenery. The shots below were all take from the moving train.

Desparate Lengths for Coffee (Flåm, Norway)

Although I’ve mostly posted my experimental photos and videos so far, this blog is also meant to document my many travels. This weekend I am in Flåm, Norway with a close friend from college, Dr. Jessica Williams who is a philosophy professor at USF. Flåm is famous for its fjords, which are collectively a UNESCO heritage site. More photos to come later – Jessica insisted I post this anecdote today.

We are staying about 1 mile from the city center (which is very touristy) because we preferred a more authentic experience. We’re in the middle of the mountains and there are only a few houses. Businesses are scarce. We are both addicted to morning coffee.

Our AirBnB has limited cooking utensils and none of them are intended for coffee, except possibly one canister that has large holes and might be intended for tea (see photo below).

Yesterday when we were in town, we bought a bag of ground coffee. I brewed it overnight in a pot, which was the best receptacle that we had, by mixing 7 spoonfuls of coffee with 6 small Europe mugs worth of water. This essentially made cold brew.

This morning, I poured the concoction into the tea canister. To filter the grounds, I emptied a tea bag and held the empty bag to the mouth of the canister as I poured the coffee into our mugs. Here’s the slightly-insane photo that Jessica took (and insisted that I posted) of me with these contraptions. It’s early morning and I still have yesterday’s makeup on. So, forgive the appearance #not trying #not sorry #allme 😉

Cloudscapes (Dusk Over Poland)

Just playing around on the plane. I wanted to see if I could make passing clouds look like moving paintings using only the video feature of my iPhone (no flash/filters). Here’s the result. These aren’t perfect but they were fun.

I was flying from Denmark and the sky was weird. One minute it was dusk and the next minute it was night (see last image). It happened so fast! I’m not sure whether it was caused by the curvature of the earth or the weather (or?).

These are uploaded in the order they were taken during a 1-hour flight from Scandinavia to Poland.

The Everglades Paints Itself (Florida, USA)

One of my favorite places in the world is the Big Cypress Preserve in the Florida Everglades. Sometimes the landscape doesn’t even look real. These images were captured while camping one evening last February. The hazy dusk was breathtaking. I didn’t apply filters or adjust settings. These videos took themselves. Turn on the sound to hear insects buzzing.

Sediment Sentiments (Aarhus Bay, Denmark)

The water at the harbor of Aarhus Bay was especially weird today. Ships churned up sediment that was floating on the surface, looking like oil paint on a undulating canvas. I experimented with video recordings, trying to capture the abstract shapes and ethereal flow. The videos below are the results. Note to self: use a tripod next time.

Traveling Ghosts (Bus to Copenhagen, Denmark)

An obvious perk of living in Europe is the ease of international travel. I’m meeting friends in Copenhagen. From there, we go to Malmö. Back home by bedtime. I will never complain about day trips like these.

From the bus, the Danish countryside creates impressionist landscapes that we cast a shadow upon. A metaphor for vehicular pollution probably resides somewhere in there.

An Introduction

Everything on this site is my creation unless noted otherwise. I didn’t draw the above photo. It’s just a cool open license pic from the internet.

One must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

To be a good scientist, you have to be curious, adventurous, and restless. Curious because something must drive you so strongly to demystify nature that you dedicate your life to it. Adventurous because you must try to answer questions that no one else has asked yet. Often there is no playbook for how to proceed. And restless because one answer can never be enough – it can only drive you to the next question.

I am these things. Most of my waking hours are spent writing and running experiments, but sometimes my restlessness can only be kept at bay by art or travel. I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences and created some weird things. But if an idea forms in your mind and you don’t share it, then does it really exist? My answer to that question is “no”. The world becomes a slightly better place if you put strange and beautiful things into. So, I guess that’s the purpose of this blog. I want to share my experiences and creations because doing so is better than not.

I have a huge backlog of art and travel photos. More to follow. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.