Sunday, February 20, 2011


I arrived in Gottingen at about 3:40pm on Saturday afternoon. Cordula, her mother, and her grandmother met me at the train station. Her mom and grandma were just on their way back home, but wanted to say hello, which was nice.

Cordula and I dropped my stuff off at her house, and then went and joined Niels (her husband) in a pub where he was watching the Hamburg-Bremen soccer game. Cordula and Niels are Bremen fans, and apparently the team is having a really bad season - they're usually ranked in the top 5, but this season they're currently 14th or 15th in the rankings. They lost 0-4. Ouch.

After the game we went out for dinner at a restaurant nearby. For some reason all of their hamburgers were named after Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. I had the 'Total Erinnerung' (Total Recall), which was basically a cheeseburger. Over dinner, Cordula and Niels told me all about their recent trip to Libya, which sounded pretty exciting. They were visiting friends who are working there (it's actually impossible to visit if you don't have an invitation from someone living there... and also impossible if you are Swiss). They said you don't need to worry about crime, but you do have to be careful when taking pictures, because you can get arrested for taking a photo of a military building or a government building, and they often aren't marked. So they really only took pictures of the historic sites and at their friends' house. There are really amazing Roman cities that are really well preserved on the Libyan coast - the pictures are beautiful with stone buildings, columns, arches, and the deep blue Mediterranean in the background. Cordula showed me the pictures when we got back to the house.

A little later in the evening we ventured out to do a mini-pub crawl. Gottingen is a university city with a lot of students, so they have some cute pubs.

The first one we went to was in a Medieval cellar. It was a really cool atmosphere - we sat around a barrel lit by a candle, and the walls are all curved. I tried a strawberry beer, which had a bunch of strawberries in the bottom. It was pretty good, but a little too sweet for me.

The next stop was at GroMo Cafe, which is apparently famous for its hot chocolate, lemonade, and crepes. It was a really cold night in Gottingen, so I thought hot chocolate would be a good idea. I ordered a Monster Marshmellow Hot Chocolate, which is one of their specialties, along with a nutella crepe. Both were amazing, though I couldn't finish either one on my own - so much chocolate!

The third and final stop was at a bar called Nautica (I think). It was all nautical themed, and pretty unique. It was a really fun night out - and great to be able to chat with Cordula and Niels.

On Sunday we started the morning with fresh rolls from the bakery and another not-quite-hard-boiled egg. Fresh bread is probably my very favorite breakfast food. After that Cordula, Niels, and Niels' brother took me on a walking tour of Gottingen, which was really beautiful, but also really cold. We walked along the city wall to the house where Otto von Bismark lived when he was studying in Gottingen.

Then we walked around the city and saw old churches, buildings, and cool statues. It really is a very cute town.

Gottingen has a display of the planets, with the sun at the train station. They haven't given up on Pluto yet.

After the walking tour, we drove to a nearby castle, which was built in 1015 - almost 1000 years old! It was even colder up on tallest mountain/hill, so we didn't stay too long. But the castle was cool and the view from the top was great.

We headed back to Cordula and Niels house, where I warmed up with a cup of tea, and Cordula made a really nice lunch of pasta, arugula, and tomatoes. We had some icecream for dessert, and then headed off to the train station. And that was the end of another very quick, but very nice visit!

I took the train to Freiburg, where Christoph picked me up. Now I'll stay the night at his house, then head back to the train station to catch a train at 6:52am to get back to the Strasbourg airport. I fly out at 10:50am, have a four and a half hour layover in Paris, and then get into DC at 7:05pm. It's been a really fun trip, but now that I have nothing but a long travel day starting early in the morning, I'm really wishing I could just snap my fingers and be at home!


The title of this post is a bit misleading. It's true that I did spend a couple of days in Frankfurt, but since I've been there a number of times already, I didn't really do any sightseeing... so they only pictures of Frankfurt you'll find here are from inside the grocery store and inside Diana and Marco's apartment. 

Anyway, I took the train in on Thursday night, arrived in Frankfurt at about 9:15pm, and Diana was waiting for me in the station. We walked to the car, and the very first thing Diana did was talk a policeman out of giving her a ticket, which is really the most typical Diana-like thing she could possibly have done - it was so funny! She has always been very confident, a little wild, and lots of fun. She had parked illegally, and the policeman was in the middle of writing out the ticket, and she ran over and was like no, no, no, stop writing! She said it was only five minutes, but he replied no, it wasn’t, it was longer (I understood ‘Nein, stimmt nicht’ – not true – and thought that wasn’t a good sign), but Diana just said, ‘yeah, but that’s because the train was late!’ Eventually, he was convinced, though he said if he saw her car there again he would give her a ticket that time. So that was close.

Then we went back to her apartment and just hung out and chatted. We got caught up on life over the last couple years and what’s going on with our families and mutual friends. Diana and I do a pretty good job of keeping in touch via email and facebook, but there's nothing like sitting on the couch chatting late at night to get all the details you've missed.

The next morning Diana and Marco were already at work when I woke up. Diana had showed me how to use the coffee machine and the TV, so between that and my computer I really had all I needed to entertain myself for the morning. (I managed to find 'How I Met Your Mother' in German, so that was fun.)

When Diana came home, we decided that we should cook some lunch and have a relaxing day around the house. So we made a quick trip to the grocery store - a very big one near Diana and Marco's apartment. Diana showed me the U.S. part of the international aisle, which I thought was really funny. Interesting which things were included. I'm not sure that having multiple kinds of fake cheese is really improving our image.

Also, I discovered that macoroni and cheese, when imported, is a really expensive food!

Back at her house, Diana and I cooked lunch - we made potatoes au gratin from scratch, heated up some left over beef Diana had in a red wine sauce, and sauteed some vegetables. Everything was really great - it took a little while to prepare, so we had a snack in the meantime - bread with teddy-bear shaped lunch meat, which Diana bought because I thought it was so funny.

The Good Shepherd (Widescreen Edition)After waiting so long for lunch, we were starving, so we both ate way too much, and decided to put on a movie so that we didn't need to move. We watched 'The Good Shepard.' I had actually heard it was a pretty good movie, but I found it confusing (I may have closed my eyes once or twice...) and it didn't seem to have much of a story-arch. It's generally about the creation of the CIA, but I didn't feel like I really cared about any of the characters or totally knew what they were doing and why.

Marco came home from work, and Diana and I decided to do something a bit more energetic. We played Wii - specifically Wii boxing, tennis, and a little bit of bowling. Diana beat me in Wii boxing - it's so crazy, I usually just flail my arms around as fast as I can, and I don't think I've ever lost before! (This also turns out to be very frustrating to people who try to box more authentically.) Luckily, my zero-skill, quick-movement tactics worked on Marco, and I did beat him in boxing.

When we wore ourselves out we decided to watch a German comedian whose show was on TV. Diana and Marco had actually just recently seen him live. I was really surprised how much I could actually understand - and it was pretty funny.

American Graffiti (Collector's Edition) (High School Reunion Collection)Then, Diana and I, in denial about the fact that sleep is necessary when visiting friends, decided to start watching American Grafitti at one in the morning. I'm not sure Diana saw any of the movie at all. I watched it, but I wasn't very impressed. I didn't think it was funny (though I'm not sure it was supposed to be), and like 'The Good Shepard,' I felt like there was almost no story arch - I didn't really care what the characters were doing or understand what was supposed to happen next. Ah well.

The next morning we slept in, and then got up and had a big brunch with bread, meat, and cheese that we had picked up at the grocery store the day before. And Diana made eggs - the German's usually don't boil them all the way - so they're a bit runny inside. It tasted good, though it goes against all my American up-bringing to eat raw eggs. (But they can't possibly be dangerous dressed up in those adorable bunny covers, can they?)

From there, Diana brought me to the train station (parked legally), and dropped me off at the train. It was a great visit!

Friday, February 18, 2011


I arrived in Strasbourg at about 6:30pm on Monday evening, walked to hotel and checked in – everything went really smoothly!

I was planning to have a Valentine’s dinner on my own at some little French restaurant. I walked all over Strasbourg, and tried to go to three different restaurants that had been recommended to me, but they were all full. I eventually ended up at Les brasseurs, which is the place with tarte flambée and home-brewed beer. It wasn’t quite the quiet dinner I had expected, but it was fun. I ordered the 3 fromage tarte flambee – it really had a lot of cheese, so it’s probably a good thing I had that long walk!

I chatted with the guys sitting next to me who were archeologists from Luxembourg. Did you know that they speak Luxembourgish in Luxembourg? (When they told me that, half of me was sure that they were kidding, and the other half was guilty for not already knowing the language existed.) We started chatting because they were trying to think of a name and couldn’t think of it – they said it was a “famous crime writer… mystery writer… she’s old… she also wrote Miss Marple or something…” I did eventually come up with the name (answer at the end of this post).

After that it was just back to the hotel to relax.

Tuesday was the first day of the conference. It was a really early morning for me – I was having breakfast in the lobby by 7:15am. I met up with Colleen Hartman – one of the professors from the Space Policy Institute in DC, and we also ran into Gale Allen, who works at NASA HQ and was my boss’s boss the first time I interned at NASA. I told them about the idea for my presentation, and they seemed to think it was really interesting, so that’s encouraging. (Gale even asked me to send her the slides, since she wouldn’t be there the day I present.)

The presentations at the conference were pretty interesting. There were quite a few about the type of research that’s currently being done on the Space Station, and about what’s possible for the future. There was a really interesting presentation by Lockheed Martin about the Orion crew capsule that they’re building – it’s been the source of a fair amount of political discussion in the context of the NASA budget, so it was interesting to hear their perspective. There was also a really good presentation about the possibility of putting a human centrifuge on the ISS. A human centrifuge allows you to create artificial gravity, and could be used to allow astronauts to do exercises and things and possibly prevent the bone and muscle loss which occurs when in space.

After the main program of presentations was over, there was a poster session and reception. The receptions at ISU are always very nice – fun hors d’ourves and champagne. I read through some of the posters, and chatted with Megan, who is also from DC. I also chatted with a VP from Lockheed Martin, and with a Canadian and German astronaut – so it was an interesting evening.

From the reception, Megan and I went downtown with her friend. We went to a houseboat that had been turned into a bar and had a few beers. It was a fun night!

On Wednesday, I did a bit of work in the morning, and also went on a little walk around Strasbourg. It’s a really cute town, so there is a lot of pretty architecture to see.

We also stopped in at a really cute little café called La Epicerie and had coffee and tea and a tartine au brie (bread with brie and honey and nuts).

Then it was back to the conference for another set of presentations. After the presentations there was a concert and dinner planned. Megan, who was the main person I knew, wasn’t going, so I was a bit on my own. But then I ran into Romain – he’s a French guy studying to be a space lawyer. He had actually worked at the Space Policy Institute in DC for five weeks this past summer – I only met him once, about three days before he went back to France. It is pretty crazy sometimes what a small world it is – especially within the global space community.

The concert was at the Eglise Saint Thomas – a very old church in the Petit France area of Strasbourg. It has an organ that is famous because Mozart played it and said it was the best in the city. The music was really good, and lasted about 45 minutes. (I wish I had learned an instrument, because I think I would appreciate classical music more, but instead it always reminds me of music you turn on in the background while you’re doing other things.)

From there the whole group walked to restaurant a l’Ancienne Douane for a dinner of traditional Alsatian cuisine. We started with tarte flambee, then had smoked salmon. The main course was fish and cabbage, and dessert was cinnamon icecream and pears. (At least the someone told me it was pears – but they were small and in red sauce, so I’m still a bit skeptical.)

Dinner was fun – I sat next to Romain and across from a guy from the Netherlands Space Office that had done the ISU Executive MBA with one of my co-workers. I was also sitting by a guy named Pedro that had gotten his undergraduate degree in engineering, focusing on propulsion, and was now getting a masters at ISU. I’m really interested in space propulsion, so I asked him if he could explain to me how the various engines work (basically), and we had an awesome conversation about all the different forms of in-space propulsion (electric/VASMIR, ion, nuclear, chemical).

So to explain a bit – there are two reasons I think the conversation about propulsion technologies was awesome. First, new propulsion technologies could really change everything about space exploration. If we could all-of-sudden get to Mars in three days instead of two years, that would completely change the equation. The options for what we could do and the timelines of when we could do them would be radically different.

The other reason it was a really cool conversation is because it was one of the times that I really felt like my engineering background was really useful even though I’m doing space policy. I think space propulsion is one of those things that people always voice an opinion on, but I’m always really wary of whether they know what they’re talking about. And so it’s really helpful to actually understand basically how each of the types of technology is supposed to work, to better understand what’s possible and which arguments for and against developing the technology make the most sense. Even though I felt a bit bad that some of the other people at the table weren’t very interested in the conversation, it was really fun to talk about the science behind the engines – it’s been a while since I was discussing atoms and electrons, magnetic fields, ionization, and all of that.

On Thursday morning I was the first person to present (after the invited speaker and the moderator of our panel). I think it went really well! Presenting at the ISU conference can be a little intimidating, because many of the experts in the field come – people who work on the International Space Station every day and know everything about it. But I thought my presentation was pretty unique – I made the argument that ever since the ISS program was announced in1984, there had been many political debates and milestones, and each time the same seven arguments were given. I showed quotes from primary documents – political reports, newspaper articles, etc. to back up this claim. I felt really comfortable during my talk, so I didn’t talk too quickly, which is my main problem when I’m nervous. I took a few questions afterwards, and that went really well also – nothing too difficult, and I had answers to give. Afterwards a bunch of people said that I did a good job, that it was very engaging, and that they had never seen that data presented before. I had representatives from program partners ask me about specific slides and data. So I felt really good afterwards!

After all the talks in the session were given, they bring up all the speakers and have a forty minute panel session to ask questions to the speakers. That went well, too, and I answered a few more questions, though they were more general than the ones immediately after my paper. It’s pretty cool to be on a panel and asked to give your personal impression on various ideas and events – Part of me feels surprised that a whole room full of people really wants to know what I think about the budget or the current policy situation, or things like that, though I guess I do learn about and discuss these things every day for work.

We had a nice lunch of Alsatian food and then an afternoon of presentations. I had been planning to stay in Strasbourg on Thursday night, but I decided that it made more sense to go to Frankfurt right away, rather than waiting for the morning. Most people from the conference weren’t staying in town, and why explore Strasbourg on my own instead of hanging out with a good friend I almost never get to see? It actually worked out really well, because Megan and her boyfriend were staying the night in Strasbourg, but hadn’t been able to find a hotel in the city – so they just took over my room.

I got to the train station, bought a ticket, and made my way to Frankfurt – I’m feeling very happy with my ability to get around Europe on my own.

Oh, and that famous mystery writer from the first night? Agatha Christie.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Freiburg, Germany

I arrived in Strasbourg on Saturday, as planned, and Christoph picked me up. We went back to his house and I met his fiancé, Karen. Karen and Christoph cooked lunch – pasta with spinach and salmon – and we chatted. The weather is nice here at the moment, so we were able to have dinner outside.

In the evening, Christoph had some work to do, so Karen and I went into town and had some tea and shopped a bit.

Back at Christoph’s, the three of us chatted for a bit longer as Karen put the finishing touches on her Black Forest Cake (made from scratch!), and then they headed out to meet friends, and I decided to try to sleep and get on a normal schedule!

On Sunday, I woke up around 9:30am (actually, I first woke up at 5am, but managed to eventually get back to sleep). I got ready, and then I had an awesome German breakfast that Karen and Christoph put together. There was bread and cheese and meat, and weisswurst with spicy mustart – so good!

We went to church at 11:30am – Christoph and Karen go to an English-speaking Anglican church in Freiburg, which was nice since I could understand everything.

After church we went for a late lunch at the home of one of Christoph’s professors. He and his wife were a really nice couple, and they’re visiting DC in June, so I gave them some ideas of places to visit and restaurants to try.

It was starting to get dark by the time we left, so we came back to their place and just had a relaxing evening – catching up on email and all of that.

Monday was my last day in Freiburg. We had another awesome German breakfast of fresh bread with cheese and other toppings.

Karen has been wanting to take engagement photos for the past few months, but they haven’t had time, or had access to a nice camera, or had someone there to take them. Since I was there with my DSLR (and love taking photos), and the weather was great, we decided to take a walk through the park and do a little photoshoot. We actually ended up taking almost 400 pictures – I guess Karen won’t have to worry about finding pictures for their website now! 

I think the pictures actually turned out really great – we found some really cool spots just in the park by their house – I love the ones in front of the graffiti wall especially.

In the afternoon Karen drove me out into the Black Forest to Titisee, which is a big lake up in the mountains. It was a really pretty drive, and a really cute area when we got there. Apparently it’s the area where lots of Germans go on vacation.

After that I got on the train and made my way to Strasbourg!