Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 1:10 PM | 3 comments

Happy Holidays

Kyle and I hope everyone had a Christmas filled with laughter, family and friends.
May this coming year be filled with good times and happiness.

Julie & Kyle


Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 10:34 PM | 9 comments

Kyle's Birthday Cake

By request, here are the pictures of Kyle's birthday cake that I made for him. The only thing not edible is the Mario figure. It was a lot of fun seeing it come to life. It took me many days of planning, and then about three to put it all together. Can you tell that I love Kyle?


Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 9:28 AM | No comments

Last day for the Wiens'

On their last day, we took Betty and Dewey to the North Shore. I guess you could say that is our favorite part of MA. We went to Gloucester, the beach outside of Gloucester and Rockport.
This was my 3rd visit to this restaurant in Gloucester. It is the place for lobster. It is also a new tradition to take the bib picture.
After lunch, we walked around Gloucester's main street and then headed to the beach.
It was another cold day, but Kyle brought an extra hat for Dewey so he could walk on the beach.
Like this guy, I went barefoot for a little while. I couldn't resist the opportunity, but it was cold.
Then we drove to Rockport. I had yet to be here when most shops were open, so we made sure we would have plenty of shopping time during this visit. After getting some wonderful items we enjoyed the sunset. It was too cold for Dewey so he stayed in the car. However, he underestimated the time we would take shopping. Kyle went back and warmed up the car for Dewey, while Betty and I enjoyed some coffee and fabulous sweet cream strudels.
Sunset in Rockport
We drove Dewey to the point of Rockport so he could see the sunset from the car. Betty, Kyle and I braved the chilly air for a few photos.
We were so glad Betty and Dewey came to visit us. It was their first time here and I hope they loved the area. I think Dewey was really surprised at how nice everyone in the Boston area is. You really get the feeling that the people could come from small town America.


Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 10:27 PM | No comments

Cold day in Boston

On the 2nd day of their visit, we took Dewey and Betty into Boston. It was their first time to ride a subway!

We walked through the Commons for as long as we could stand the biting cold air. We found refuge in a coffee shop to thaw our limbs.

The edge of the Shaw memorial overlooking the Commons

The mother duck only had one son in tow this time.

After our break in the coffee shop, we decided to walk about a mile to the Prudential Center (a large mall) where we would catch the Duck Tour. Along the way we passed some of my favorite buildings. I just love the style of this church, and there are many like it in Boston.
We had to wait a while in the mall before our Duck tour started, but it gave us an opportunity to warm up from our mile trek. You may be wondering what a Duck Tour is. Well, it is a tour of Boston in a Duck...obviously. The DUCK is a WWII amphibious vehicle that can drive on land and cruise through water.

When it was time for our tour, we loaded up into the Duck. Sadly, we ended up sitting in the very last seats in the Duck, and the back door was completely open. Normally in the summer, there are no windows on the Duck. During the winter months they button it up with plastic windows, except for the very back. Poor Dewey couldn't take the cold. He moved up to sit with someone else.

 Our guide was great: both informative and funny.  I laughed the whole way. He even mentioned my laughter to me as I got off the Duck. It seems like it might be a strange tour to take, but it is worth doing.

The bridge in the background is the Zakim Bridge, part of the Big Dig project.  The support columns and spires on the bridge are meant to symbolize the Bunker Hill Monument and Boston's shipping history. You can see another Duck in the water too.

After our tour was over we split up for the night. Kyle and Dewey went to the TD Garden to watch the Celtics take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (that's basketball for those sports-challenged folks out there.  The Celtics lost even though Kevin Durant didn't play). Betty and I came home for a nice quiet evening of Sense and Sensibility. All in all, it was a great day, but boy was it cold.
Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 6:11 PM | No comments

The Wiens' visit Cape Cod

The next few entries are way past due. Please forgive my laziness. It is crazy how time flies when you don't have work to organize your life.

Back on the week prior to Thanksgiving, Dewey and Betty (Kyle's parents) came out for a visit. They were here for 4 wonderful days of very cold sightseeing. I think Dewey barely made it through the weekend (due to the cold, of course).

We started our adventure by heading down to Cape Cod, which was new to all of us. Our first stop was a town called Sandwich. Sandwich is the oldest town on the Cape. We stopped to look at a few swans gliding across the picturesque pond and at the working colonial grist mill. Sadly, the mill was closed, but the area was beautiful. While we were here, it felt appropriate to eat while in Sandwich. So we lunched at a tea room across from the pond.

As we headed farther "up" the Cape, it became apparent why this place is so busy during the summer months. The beaches are beautiful, and the land is limited. I'm so glad we went during the Fall. We had to share the area with only a few others. While on the first beach, we watched as birds dive bombed the ocean in search of food. Over and over again, they slammed into the water. It was neat to see.
 Our next stop was at the point where Marconi successful completed the first transatlantic wireless transmission to King Edward VII back in 1903.
Marconi's tower station...it's only a model.  The real one was dismantled and/or swallowed by the seas as the coast receded.

Kyle reading about Marconi
What a beautiful place to work. Lucky Marconi.
For those who might be interested, there is a suspenseful historic fiction book that links Marconi's invention of radio to the capture of a notorious murderer: "Thunderstruck" by Erik Larsen.  Kyle thought the book was just ok, but it had much more impact when we visited this site on the Cape.

Heading farther "up" the Cape, we were racing to see the sunset from some sand dunes on the tip of the Cape. Sadly, we didn't make it in time, but we found this deserted beach along the way which proved to have a wonderful view of the sunset.
 We even manged to see more amazing skies when we got to Provincetown.
 None of us were really hungry yet (the sun set around 4:30 pm), so we drove through the narrow shop-lined streets of Provincetown before heading out. It did look like a wonderful place to spend some time, preferably when it's both warmer and still not crowded (which is an unlikely combination).
On our way home we stopped in Plymouth at the Lobster Hut for dinner.  The place doesn't look like much, and the ordering process is like eating at a fast food joint, but the food was great.


Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 9:32 PM | 1 comment

Last day in Cairo

Last day in Cairo: Let’s see, what one other thing must we do while here? The world famous Egyptian Museum, of course! There were only three of us left from our original group, so we decided to walk there. Our walk took us across the Nile where we witnessed more impromptu picnickers and beautiful river views. It was still hazy during this early morning shot, but it cleared up later:

Interesting little side note: as we were walking toward the museum, we were stopped by a man claiming to have useful information. In fact, we got stopped all the time while walking, as the taxi drivers apparently assumed that foreigners didn’t really want to walk anywhere. Anyway, this “useful” guy asked us where we were going. When we told him “the Egyptian Museum”, he told us that it didn’t open until noon, then offered to drive us to some other site until it opened. We politely refused his insistent offer and continued on. When we arrived at the museum, we found that it is open every day, starting at 9:30 AM. The point of this story is that there were people all over Cairo trying to make a buck from tourists, often by way of misleading information and unwanted services.

Unfortunately, there are absolutely no cameras allowed in the Egyptian Museum, so you’ll have to settle for my written description. In a word: Wow! The whole museum is devoted to the ancient Egyptian civilizations, from 3000 BC to the Roman era. The pieces in the museum consist entirely of things taken from pyramids and temples around Egypt: royal mummies (still incredibly preserved), mummified animals (including two huge crocodiles), enormous imposing statues, hundreds (yes, hundreds) of sarcophagi, and of course the hordes of treasure from King Tutanhkamum’s tomb. There was just so much stuff in that museum, and very little of it was displayed in a formal way. Parts of the museum seemed more like a warehouse packed full of stuff. I couldn’t help but think of what all else was still lying under the desert. I mean, King Tut reigned for only 4 years and his tomb was just filled with golden jewelry and furniture. I wondered what might have been in the tombs of Pharaohs who had lived much longer. Perhaps those tombs will soon be discovered…

We were all quite impressed with the museum and agreed that we’d like to come back someday with a guide. We all also felt compelled to read up on our Egyptian history once we returned home.

After the museum, two of us meandered back to the hotel. (OK. Truth be told, we got kind of lost. But fortunately we encountered two very friendly boys who were eager to practice their English and give us directions. It was refreshing to encounter locals who weren’t trying to swindle us.). Anyway, after that little side track, we made our way back across the Nile around sunset. The lighting was just right for some last photos of the river sites:
The third person in our original party took off to brave the madness of the Khan al-Khalili market for some last minute shopping. I would have joined him, but I didn’t think I could handle the legendary crowds of merchants and shoppers there. When he finally returned from the market, he had quite a story to tell of the chaos of the market. I think I’m glad I didn’t join him. It would have been exhilarating to be sure, but I think my brain would have exploded from all the stimuli.

After our day at the museum, we finally said goodbye to Cairo and Egypt as we made our way to the airport. The airport is a cultural experience all by itself. As you might imagine, airport security is very tight in Cairo. I think we had to pass through at least 5 security barriers before getting on the plane. It was a bit unsettling for a relatively na├»ve traveler like me. After a 12 hour flight back to JFK airport, then to Boston, I stopped for one last picture of a teddy bear that my roommate in Cairo had forgotten in the room (he left Cairo a day earlier). The teddy bear was like a “Flat Stanley”. I had meant to take photos of teddy in Cairo, but it was just too chaotic, and I forgot to do it. I settled for a single photo at the baggage claim in the Boston airport.
All in all, Cairo was fantastic. Dirty. Exhausting. Intimidating. But fantastic just the same. I think I also learned a great deal at the workshop, which was the real reason for going. That being said, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and delight when I saw Julie arrive at the airport to bring me back home to clean air and peaceful surroundings.
Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 9:24 PM | 2 comments

More Pyramids...

Following the last day of the conference, the organizers took us to a really swanky outdoor restaurant in southern Cairo that overlooked the Citadel of Saladin. The camera didn’t take very good night shots (I didn’t have a tripod and I’m not an experienced photographer), so this photo doesn’t do the view justice.
With the conference over, we spend the next two days exploring more ancient and contemporary Egyptian culture. With the help and suggestions of one of our fellow conference attendees (Naoshin Haque), we arranged for an all-day tour of the area south of Cairo. Specifically, we went to Saqqara, Memphis, and Dahshur. There were 7 of us in two cars, so we were a bit more mobile and organized than before. It was both an incredibly fun and unsettling day. Fun because of all the awesome sites we saw with few if any other tourists around, and unsettling because of certain “locals” who constantly shadowed us looking for ways to separate us from our money.

First stop was Saqqara:

It has a nice, small museum and some very accessible pyramids, including the famous “stepped” pyramid that is the oldest large pyramid in Egypt:
We delved down into one of the smaller pyramids here, through a creepy tunnel.
Then passed through a reconstructed colonnaded temple leading to the “Stepped” pyramid. I’m standing in front of a massive stone door of the temple. You can see the hinge of the door near the top.
Here’s the “Stepped” pyramid itself:
Next stop was Memphis. The drivers took us to the Memphis museum, but we weren’t in the mood for a museum when there were still so many real pyramids to explore, so we didn’t linger in Memphis. Instead we headed on to Dahshur, where we encountered the Red Pyramid, Bent Pyramid and Black Pyramid.

This is the Red Pyramid, with a path leading up to the entrance. If you squint, you can see a dog lying in the shadow of nearest-right stone outlining the path up to the entrance. I took a close up of the dog while he was yawning.
We climbed up to the entrance then made the arduous climb down into the Red Pyramid along a very narrow, very steep, and very low-ceilinged passageway. This was not for the faint of heart. We were short of breath and sore of leg when we reached the inner sanctum of the pyramid. (My legs were very sore the next day)
Unfortunately, flash photography was not allowed inside, so I don’t have a photo. The limestone inside had a red tint, hence the name of the pyramid. Apart from the impressive internal structure of the building, there was little else inside to take note off. I imagine the contents were either looted or transported to museums.

Next stop was the Bent Pyramid.
This one seemed to be as large as the Great Pyramid of Giza, but apparently it is not quite as large. The finer limestone plaster is better preserved though. We slowly made our way around the Bent Pyramid, marveling at the surroundings. Again, I tried to get a couple people in the frame next to the pyramid to give a sense of scale.
The next couple photos here are me standing next to the Bent Pyramid, with the Red Pyramid in the background.
After this fantastic day of pyramid-viewing, we were hungry for some authentic local food. Naoshin knew of a little place in the middle of crazy Cairo that served a traditional dish (that I think is called “kashuri”). After a metro ride and some hectic walking through hectic Cairo, we found the place. Really good food, and cheap too. We then found some falafel at a Cairo version of a fast food place. It was fast, but it was good. Somehow we navigated our way back to the metro and hotel for the night.
Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 9:02 PM | 1 comment

Bring on the Pyramids

On the morning of the third day of the conference, the local organizers arranged for a very nice trip to the Pyramids of Giza.
These are the big pyramids, the ones you always see pictures of in magazines, and they are right on the outskirts of Cairo. There are three main ones: Khufu (Cheops), Khafre, and Menkaure. Each built by a separate king (pharaoh) as a royal tomb. They were built around 2500 B.C.

We arrived at the pyramids around 9:30 AM. It was still hazy, but you can see the pyramid of Khufu looming over the entrance to the Giza complex. Thankfully, the haze lifted a bit as the sun warmed up the surface and mixed out some of the pollution.
Turning 180 degrees from the previous photo, you can see the cities of Giza and Cairo in the background.
The pyramids are directly behind me as I take this photo. I switched to a wide-angle lens at this point (thanks to Julie for showing me how to use it) so that I could take in the monumental views to follow.

That’s me in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza. It was built during the reign of Khufu, so it is also called the Pyramid of Khufu (the Egyptian name) or Cheops (the Greek name). Here’s a handy link to information about the Giza pyramids as well as a map of the area.


These next three photos are also of Khufu, viewed from the north side, looking south.
I tried to capture the scale of the structure by getting some people in the shot. Each of the blocks is huge, roughly 4 feet cubes, weighing many tons. It boggles the mind to contemplate the effort put into constructing these things, especially considering that they were built around 4500 years ago!

This next photo is also Khufu, but from a different perspective.
The view here is from the northeast corner, i.e., looking southwest. This view is similar to that shown on the Wikipedia page I linked above. Thank goodness I had the wide angle lens.

Now over on the northwest corner, looking south.
That’s the pyramid of Khafre in the background. Khafre was built after Khufu and is almost as large. You can also make out the smoother surface at the top of Khafre. Apparently, that smoother surface is smaller pieces of limestone, though it looks like plaster. The three main pyramids in this area all originally had that smoother surface over the whole structure, but it has crumbled over the years.

We got back in the bus and headed to the west side of the pyramids.
That’s Khufu on the left, Khafre in the middle, and Menkaure on the right. There are also smaller pyramid-like structures (queens’s tombs?) and other graves and structures in the area. You can see one of the smaller pyramid-like structures to the right of Menkaure.

Here’s a better shot of Khufu and Khafre.
The top of Khufu has crumbled, and you can see the finer “plaster” surface of Khafre pretty well in this shot.

And here is a close-up of Menkaure.
Though smaller than the other two, Menkaure is more streamlined and “neat” looking. Note the camels in the foreground. It may be smaller than the other two, but Menkaure is still huge.

The Great Sphinx is also on the grounds of Giza. We circled back on the bus to check that out before departing. The Sphinx was carved out of the pre-existing stone. That is, the stone was not brought in from elsewhere but rather cut right out the stone where it sits. Here’s some cool views of the Sphinx and pyramids together.
On our way back to the conference after the pyramids, I took this shot to illustrate how the massive structures loom over the city.
We also saw several people sweeping the sand off the highways. There’s trash and pollution all over the Cairo area, but they keep the streets pretty clean.
Before we made it back to the conference, the bus broke down. It was kind of disconcerting because the driver just stopped the bus on an off-ramp and got out, saying only “sorry”. Though it was fairly obvious to me that the bus had broken down, many on the bus had no idea why we had stopped. Picture yourself in that situation; you might have been startled to be in a stranded bus in the middle of Cairo with no idea why you had stopped. We were there for about 30 minutes before three smaller taxi buses arrived to take us the rest of the way.