Category Archives: travel

AGU Poster Presentation

The last day of the American Geophysical Union fall meeting ended up being the day on which I presented my research poster. Here’s a link to my poster if you are interested: AGU poster. Audrey and I headed down to the Moscone Center near Union Square early Friday morning to put up our posters in the poster hall. Throughout the morning we listened to numerous lectures (two of which were given by our supervisors from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) and stood by our posters talking to people who were interested in our research. One thing I learned about conducting research is that once you start a project you are never really finished….It spawns other topics and new directions in the future. After a hectic morning, Audrey, Michelle and I, along with our university teachers and WHOI supervisors, enjoyed lunch at Lefty O’Doul’s sports bar and caught up on our experiences from the past week. All in all it was a busy day and week, but it was a very rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Later that afternoon we headed to the airport to catch our flight back to Bellingham but not before Audrey and I did some luggage shuffling since the weight restrictions on baggage changed from 50 to 40lbs. I have a strong feeling that staying in a hotel only two blocks away from the Ghiradelli chocolate shop helped put my suitcase over the limit, haha. After being away from home for fourteen out of the past seventeen weeks, I must say that it feels good to be back home among family and friends. I am, however, nonetheless thankful for the fantastic experiences I have been blessed with over the past few months.

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Alcatraz and the AGU

One of the main tourist attractions in San Francisco is Alcatraz Island. Best known for being home to Alcatraz, the infamous federal penitentiary, the island was originally the site of the first US-built fort and lighthouse on the West Coast. The 22-acre island is located 2.4km off the coast in San Francisco Bay. Often referred to as “The Rock”, we nicknamed the prison Azkaban. The federal prison was in operation from 1934 to 1963 and was home to numerous notorious American criminals, the most infamous being Al Capone. In total there were fourteen escape attempts made by 29 men. It is said that no successful escapes were made; although, five men were presumed drowned but remain unaccounted for.

The solemn history of Alcatraz seems to permeate every part of the island, and having the opportunity to view it first-hand is quite overwhelming. We took a fifteen minute ferry ride to the island and spent a couple hours walking around. As we walked through the cell house, dining hall, library, recreation yard and parade grounds, it was difficult not to feel impacted by the events that occurred there and the people that lived there. Each person was given an audio headset which guided them through the buildings on the island. The intensity of the experience was heightened as the narrators were the actual officers and prisoners who lived on the island. We were taken past the cells where escape attempts occurred. Holes dug by metal spoons in the back cell walls still remained. Bullet holes scarred doors and grenade impact marks marred the floors….Evidence of lives lost over the years.

After spending a while touring the buildings, we ended the excursion by walking through the island gardens. Originally planted by those living on the island while it was a US fort, the gardens were maintained by prison guard families. Once the island closed, the gardens became overgrown and acted as nesting areas for different birds. These bird habitats are being maintained and the gardens are presently being restored. This part of the island stands in stark contrast to the imposing cement structures that make up the prison. Throughout the year, hummingbirds, cormorants and herons mingle amongst succulents, geraniums, roses, and sweet peas. It was a great way to end our tour on the island, tempering the harsh reality that is Alcatraz.

In the afternoon we spent time at the AGU browsing through rows upon rows of posters covering topics from hydrology to education to seismology. It was astounding to see how many people are doing research on topics that vary as much as the people themselves! After browsing through the poster hall, Audrey and I spent a couple hours listening to lectures. We ended the day with one of our favourite things to do: a cable car ride through town.

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Chocolate, a Park and some Lectures

Here in San Francisco, we cannot seem to escape being around chocolate. Our hotel is located dangerously close to Ghiradelli Square, and we recently stumbled across a place called New American Chocolate on Pier 17. Their brand is TCHO which is pronounced like the first phonetic syllable of the word chocolate. They call themselves “new American” as they are changing the way American-produced chocolate is viewed…no longer is it just candy bars. TCHO is a new kind of artisanal chocolate that focuses on the natural flavour of the cacao bean. New American Chocolate actually manufactures their chocolate at Pier 17, and it is the only factory that they have anywhere in the world. This particular building is also their only brick and mortar shop in the world. So they are a relatively new company, but it is quite cool to know that they are manufacturing their product on site. We signed up for an hour-long free tour which is held twice daily. It started with an overview on the process of growing and harvesting the cacao bean, moved into the factory where the chocolate is manufactured and put into bar form, and ended with a taste test….They definitely saved the best for last! The TCHO chocolate line is divided into flavours that focus on the background flavours of the natural cacao bean. Their four dark flavours are nutty, chocolatey, fruity, and bright. They have three milk chocolates called creamy, cacao and classic. It is quite crazy how the chocolates actually have different underlying flavours depending on the growing conditions and locations of the cacao bean. No other ingredients are added to the chocolate to give it these flavours!

It was definitely a day of new food experiences. We stopped at Boudin Bakery for lunch and had clam chowder in a bread bowl. Shockingly it was my first taste of soup in a bread bowl, and it was delicious! Boudin Bakery began in 1849 and has been going strong since. They make their bread on site and even have large windows along the sidewalk to allow passersby a view of the bakers hand rolling the loaves. Their sour dough loaves are still made using a portion of the original mother dough. The bakery also makes bread in fun shapes including crabs, lobsters, teddy bears and alligators four feet long!

Before heading to the AGU conference centre, we took a short detour to see Alamo Square. This park is lined on one side by the Painted Ladies which are a set of Victorian Houses built between 1892 and 1896. Apparently they were used during the opening theme song of the nineties sitcom Full House. In true reminiscent style, we spent several evenings in the hotel watching Full House reruns, haha. From the park we headed out to the Moscone Center where we sat in on numerous talks focusing on water quality, land use and policy.


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Sights in Sunny San Francisco

Two must-see sights in San Francisco are the Crookedest Street and Golden Gate Bridge. We ended up taking a cable car to get to the crookedest street in the world. Eight sharp turns and red brick compose this street which was built in 1922. The main reason for designing the street as such was because vehicles at the time were not made to handle such a steep grade, and adding the switchbacks reduces the grade. Be warned, it is a little bit of a climb to reach the street from either direction….We had to walk two blocks uphill from the cable car stop, and we were definitely feeling it! In between all the switchbacks are flower beds which I’m certain are spectacular in the Spring and Summer when all the flowers are in bloom. It was entertaining to watch everyone in cars driving down the street at a snail’s pace. All the drivers looked cautious and concerned while every person in the passenger seat had their cell phone up to record the trip on camera.

After a full day of seeing sights and eating lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp at Fisherman’s Wharf, we topped the day off with a spur of the moment trip to the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. This iconic bridge is a suspension bridge which spans the Golden Gate strait linking San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean. Construction of the 8,981 foot bridge began in 1933 and ended in 1937 costing $35 million. Until 1964 it was ranked as the longest suspension bridge. We took the city bus directly to a viewing area and enjoyed the picturesque view as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. Walking onto the bridge also gives you a great view of the city and surrounding area. But nothing beats seeing the Golden Gate Bridge cloaked in golden light!

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Let the AGU Meeting Begin…

We explored the Moscone Center where the American Geophysical Union 2013 Fall Meeting is being held this week. Audrey and I were a little overwhelmed with the size of the center as it is spread out over several blocks in numerous buildings with several floors each. We got a little (or a lot) lost along the way. What I was also excited about was that I was able to pick up a t-shirt from the AGU marketplace which had my winning design on the front! The sales of these t-shirts at the AGU meeting raises money for the student AGU travel grant fund. I entered the t-shirt design contest this past summer on a whim with only a few days left in the competition. After being narrowed down by judges at the AGU, it went to a Facebook vote. Thanks to all of you who voted! My original design was for the design to be printed on a white background so as to see the graphics more clearly; however, they printed it on a grey shirt (not my first choice…but that is just my perfectionist control-freak side showing through, haha). I picked up my t-shirt from the AGU marketplace which was located in the Exhibit Hall where the Icebreaker reception was being held Monday evening. Rows and rows of booths lined the vast room providing information on companies, new products, graduate schools, ongoing research, publications and so much more. The majority of them were also handing out freebies.  The Dutch roots in me took hold, and we came back with a goodie bag of posters, pens, puzzles and pamphlets.

We also had our first experience riding the San Francisco cable cars, and it was a great one! The smell of hot metal, the rhythmic clunking of the wheels, the wind blowing through your hair, the up and down of endless hills, and the blurry images of passing buildings all combine to make it my ideal kind of transportation to see the city. There is something so much more culturally immersive about riding in a cable car compared to a public bus. We also had a chance to ride a cable car at night on our why back from the Icebreaker reception. There was a magical feel about the ride as the streets were lined with twinkling Christmas lights and the energy of downtown was palpable.

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San Francisco: The City by the Bay

Only three weeks after arriving home from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the travel bug has beckoned me down the west coast to the city of San Francisco. Audrey, Michelle and I are travelling with Sharon and Steve (our university teachers) and attending the American Geophysical Union 2013 Fall Meeting. We are presenting our posters composed out of the research we conducted at WHOI.

We flew out of Bellingham airport Saturday morning leaving behind unseasonably cold -15 degree Celsius weather. We arrived at Oakland airport an hour and a half later and were welcomed by 9 degree weather. It didn’t sound too warm for sunny California, but I’ll definitely take it! Since the meeting does not officially start until Monday, we had the weekend to explore parts of the city. Once we settled into our hotel located at Fisherman’s Wharf, we decided to check out the Wharf as well as Pier 39. Loads of street entertainers and performers lined the docks and the shops were bustling with tourists.

This morning began with a trip to Ghiradelli Square where we were literally like kids in a candy shop. Shelves and shelves of chocolates lined the walls of the Ghiradelli market. I must admit that we didn’t survive the allure of a room full of chocolate. Audrey and I gave in just a little or maybe a lot.

After purchasing our week-long transit pass, Audrey and I made our way across town to the Palace of Fine Arts. I saw a photograph on the internet of the site and just knew I wanted to visit it! The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Bernard Maybeck and built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition. As it was intended only as a temporary structure for the duration of the exposition, it needed to be rebuilt to ensure its permanence (which occurred in 1965). The integration of architecture and nature is one of the palace’s most notable features. The natural elements tend to soften the buildings hard edges. The style of architecture made it feel as if we were transported to a far-off place in Europe. It was fun place to relax and explore away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

We perused our way through Chinatown on our way to Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill. Unfortunately we found out that Coit Tower is closed until Spring 2014 due to ongoing construction. With plans changed, we diverted to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park on Hyde Street Pier. We walked along the pier and passed historic ships including the Balclutha and CA Thayer. It was on this pier that I was approached by a student who was interviewing people around Fisherman’s Wharf for a school project. He asked me several questions and videotaped my answers regarding the recent granting of a little boy’s wish to be Batkid. You might have heard about the story as it was on the news where the Make a Wish Foundation turned San Francisco into Gotham City. I was quite taken off guard and am pretty sure that I forgot everything I said just as soon as the words left my mouth. Audrey was lucky and escaped the snare of the video camera, haha.

In our attempt to follow signs to Fort Mason, Audrey and I made our way along the Municipal Pier where we were bombarded by icy winds and accompanied by countless seagulls perched on railings. We continued on along the shore and made a second (fruitless) attempt to find Fort Mason. We made the assumption that we could see the roof of the Fort, but we really had no idea. We were, however, rewarded with beautiful golden light as the sun was beginning to set over the Bay. I must say that the location of our hotel just a block away from Fisherman’s Wharf makes it the ideal location for sightseeing away from the bustling downtown area.

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Homeward Bound

There are times in life that you know you’ll look back on and remember for many years to come. This trip to Woods Hole is one of those events. In a state of reflection, it is difficult to view these past months without getting slightly emotional.

In two months I have learnt more than I ever thought possible. I have used machines I only heard mentioned on crime shows. I have met new people and am delighted to say they have become dear friends. I have biked more in the past 60 days than my entire life combined. I have lost more trivia competitions than I care to count but had the time of my life doing it. I have seen more sunsets and dazzling skies than ever before. I have made sushi for the first time, eaten a steak the size of a dinner plate, roasted marshmallows over a barbeque, and enjoyed copious amounts of clam chowder. I have seen countless cardinals and blue jays. I have ridden on a bike, car, ferry, bus, shuttle, subway, tour boat and plane. I have filled a sketchbook with my adventures. I have knit more than my fair share of cup cozies. I have seen the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State building, visited the 9/11 memorial, and watched the Lion King on Broadway. I have watched rolling waves crash on the sand. I have frolicked on the beach and in the snow. I have learned the true weight of groceries in a back pack. I have experienced the dazzling colours of a New England fall. I have felt the crispness of howling winds. I have climbed lighthouses. I have learned to live and love a life more simple. I have seen aquatic animals from all over the globe, touched a cownose ray, visited Paul Revere’s Grave, Old North Church, the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument. I have seen masterpieces created by van Gogh, Degas, Rembrandt, Gaugin, Monet, and Renoir. I have stepped on a snake. I have seen hoards of horseshoe crabs sprawled on the beach. I have choked on my fair share of bugs. I have swum in the Atlantic Ocean. I have been frustrated and confused, delighted and awed. I have experienced hospitality only heard of in story books. I have stood in wonder at the blessings my Lord has given me. I am undeserved and not worthy but am nonetheless thankful.

I extend a heartfelt thank you to those who have made this experience possible, enjoyable, and most certainly memorable. Alongside these thoughts come bittersweet emotions. There are two sides to the coin. Waiting for me at home are my fantastic family and friends…a life wonderfully familiar. What I am leaving behind I also hold dear…an adventure of a lifetime. I leave behind a little piece of me in Woods Hole with hope that I may return some day in the future. But onward and outward….New adventures await, and they begin with a return flight home.

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It’s the Final Countdown…

Our time spent at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution comes to an end tomorrow morning. Even though we have yet to fully finish our research, there is a sense of finality as the three of us are leaving Woods Hole in a matter of hours. As a result, we are trying to use up as many leftovers and cooking ingredients that we can. Having a rather large sweet tooth, I naturally wanted to do some baking in order to use up our flour, sugar, eggs and peanut butter. I stumbled across a delicious recipe…and with a name like “Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Brownies” I could not resist. If you lack will power as I do, I’ve posted the recipe below. Enjoy!


Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Brownies

Brownie Layer:
Nonstick cooking spray
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 (1 oz) squares of semisweet chocolate
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Layer:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbsp milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt

Ganache Layer:
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
14 cup coarsely chopped salted peanuts (optional)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch pan with cooking spray.
For the brownies: microwave the butter and semisweet chocolate in a microwavable bowl until the butter is melted, about 2 minutes. Stir until combined. Mix in the vanilla. Meanwhile, beat the sugar and eggs in a large bowl and add in the chocolate mixture. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Spread the brownie mixture evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until the brownies are set and a toothpick inserted in the center of the brownies comes out clean, about 22 to 28 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 30 minutes.
For the peanut butter cookie dough: Add the butter and brown sugar to a large bowl and mix until creamy. Mix in milk and peanut butter, then stir in the flour and salt. Spread the peanut butter cookie dough evenly over the cooled brownies.
To make the ganache: Microwave the chocolate chips and heavy whipping cream for 1 minute, stirring once after 30 seconds. Continue stirring until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. Spread the ganache over the peanut butter layer and sprinkle with the chopped peanuts. Refrigerate until the dough and ganache are set, about 1 hour.

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Sushi and Snow

The last two days were full of new experiences: sushi and snow! Firstly the neighbours came over for a sushi making party. It was my first time making sushi and Jon’s first time eating it. We ended up making a mountain of sushi for dinner. Some were not so pretty looking, but it didn’t matter because they sure were delicious.

We also got to experience a little taste of New England winter. The woods behind our house was covered in a magical dusting of snow. Snow tends to bring out the kid in me…in addition to the Christmas carols.

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Woods Hole Hobbies

One of my daily hobbies here at Woods Hole is knitting. It’s a great way to keep my hands occupied while letting my mind wander a bit…although not too much as that leads to mistakes. I must say that I have made my fair share of mistakes as Audrey can attest to. I have probably knit as much as I’ve taken out since arriving in Woods Hole. My patience threshold is definitely increasing as it seems like I take two steps forward and one step back. I guess that would be two stitches forward and one stitch backward. My first project was a hunter green cowl. I found the free pattern on Ravelry (a free knitting and crocheting pattern database), and you can find the pattern here if you are inclined to knit one as well.

What I have been knitting since then are cup cozies. I have to confess that the first one started out as a sock (it was my first attempt at knitting socks). As I started to knit the heel I realized that the pattern I was following had a bunch of mistakes in it. I attempted to interpret the pattern, but alas I could not salvage it without losing too much of my mind. So I unraveled the bottom part of my sock and turned it into a cup cozy. Since I bought enough yarn to make a pair of socks, I decided to keep going with the cup cozy concept. Making cup cozies is actually a pretty good way of trying out new patterns from stitch libraries. If you’re unfamiliar with the world of knitting, a stitch library has countless samples of stitches that aren’t used in actual patterns. They are just samples of stitches that you can incorporate into any project.

As I was working on a draft of this post, I finished knitting my toque. I searched high and low for a toque pattern with cables that is knit in the round with worsted weight yarn. I have learned my lesson to find a pattern first and then purchase yarn, as much time was wasted looking for the right one. I took my chances on the pattern I used as it said it was for a child, but I crossed my fingers and hoped it would fit my slightly large head. Low and behold it fit perfectly! The ribbing around the bottom, however, feels slightly loose in comparison to the crown. So next time I would plan to use a smaller sized needle for the first couple inches (as the pattern recommends). But if you’re feeling inspired to knit this pattern, it’s available here for free.

Another activity that keeps me occupied is sketching. While in Woods Hole, I have tried to spend quality time every week exercising the right side of my brain. All of my sketches are done on site or from photos I have taken. I definitely feel that drawing regularly has made me more confident in sketching from real life instead of from photographs. Lately I have been using pens instead of pencils. I find that having no option of erasing forces me to think about what I am doing before I commit to a line or shape.  Yesterday was a particularly gratifying day as I spent a couple hours in Woods Hole. Since it was a holiday, the place was practically deserted (more empty than normal). I spent a while sitting at a picnic table outside Pie in the Sky drinking coffee, eating a delicious cannoli and doing a sketch of the coffee shop. I did not bother to bring along a watch as I wanted to relax, so my only gauge of time was the setting of the sun. I must have been drawing there for a decent amount of time as the birds were starting to think I was a regular fixture. I felt a little like Snow White with her animal entourage, haha. Below are images of my sketches thus far (sorry, they are not the greatest of quality!). I will not be doing too many more as I only have one double-sided page left in my sketchbook…

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