A Week in Greece

During Maddie and Ada’s week-long February break from school, we chose to rebook our vacation to Greece. This past summer, we had intended to visit as a family so I could volunteer with refugees for this amazing Norwegian organization called “Drapen i Havet.” Instead, I spent those two weeks in the hospital with my mother in Atlanta who is, fortunately, doing much better. Because Maddie and Ada’s winter break was only one week long, I couldn’t volunteer in February (they require volunteers to work a minimum of 10 days) but we were able to tour the country as a family. It turns out that unlike July, the weather in Greece in February (50-60F and mostly sunny) was perfect. We were also lucky that Maddie had just finished a month-long unit in school on Greek Myths which we supplemented at home by reading D’Aulaire’s entire “Book of Greek Myths” which, by the way, is an amazing way to introduce children to ancient Greek mythology.

To get Maddie and Ada excited about our trip, we watched a few travel videos about Athens, Delphi, and Hydra, the three main places we would visit. Their favorite video by far though was this street food tour of Athens which showed up on the YouTube “next” feed. Maddie and Ada loved learning about Greek food beforehand and were even more excited about tasting it when we arrived.

We spent our first and second day in Greece enjoying the amazingly cheap Greek food (when compared to Norway!) and visiting the absolutely incredible Acropolis Museum and fascinating Archaeology Museum. The Acropolis museum which was located close to our Airbnb is seen here from one of the pedestrian only streets in Athens.

Maddie and Ada enjoyed the children’s activities provided by the Acropolis museum. Ada loved finding all the different kinds of animals in the museum and Maddie enjoyed finding all the Greek gods.

Maddie loved seeing sculptures depicting all of the Greek myths we had been reading about. On the left is Maddie with a smaller version of the East Pediment statues made for the Parthenon of all 12 Greek gods witnessing the birth of Athena. On the right, Maddie is below one of the original statues on the East Pediment of Hestia, Artemis (aka Diana, my namesake) and Aphrodite.

I had recently finished a book called the “Parthenon Enigma” which explored the meaning behind this specific frieze which I was excited to see in person:

According to the book, the youngest person in the center image is the King Erechtheus’s youngest daughter getting ready to change into ceremonial robes so she can be sacrificed to save Athens from losing a major battle. The Greek gods are seen seated to the right and left of the family and are looking away because they do not enjoy watching mortals die. Before the ceremony, her sisters, standing on the left with the ceremonial robes balanced on their heads, had made a pact to die together. So after their sister is sacrificed, the two sisters jumped off the hill of the Acropolis together. They are glorified in the ancient play “The Erechtheion”  as the perfect Athenian women because they sacrificed themselves for their city. Their mother becomes the first priestess of the Acropolis near where her husband is buried (also called the Erechtheion) and her three daughters are buried in the Temple dedicated to Athena and named after the maidens (the Parthenon).

My favorite takeaway from the Acropolis Museum was the museum’s argument for the return of the missing Parthenon sculptures currently displayed in the British Museum. The British Museum bought them from Lord Elgin who stole them from Greece in the 1800s and has argued that they shouldn’t be returned to Greece for their safety. The Acropolis museum, a beautiful and incredibly safe museum is Greece’s reply.

The next day we visited the Archaeology museum and saw even more Greek Gods including a small replica of the statue of Athena that was originally in the Parthenon. (The original was 38 feet tall!)

Our third day in Greece, we wandered through the Monastiraki flea market,

ate lunch at a wonderful Souvlaki restaurant recommended by a friend,

and visited more Ancient Greek structures including the Acropolis. Below is the amazing Theater of Dionysus which seats 17,000 which you can view as you head up to the Parthenon. On our trip, we learned that the Greeks, which created the concept of drama and theater, also invented the amphitheater. Evidently ancient Greek amphitheaters like the one pictured had perfect acoustics which I think is incredible.

The Parthenon was of course spectacular. Below is a selfie of our family in front:

Maddie was so taken with the structure that she decided to sketch the Parthenon in her journal which she wrote in every day during our trip:

Ada has for a while now has refused to let us take her picture but after seeing the Parthenon decided that with the right pose, pictures were tolerable:

After visiting the main ancient sites and museums in Athens, we decided to take a day trip to Delphi. The Ancient Greeks believed Delphi, located a few hours north of Athens was the center of the world. There they built the Temple of Apollo where the Priestess’s of the Temple, also known as Pythia’s, gave prophecies to Greek leaders for over 500 years (evidently under the influence of methane which seeped into the Temple from a geological fault below). As you can see in the photos below, Delphi is a beautiful place to visit. Below is the Temple of Apollo and a few pictures near it:

After visiting the remains of the Temple, we saw many original sculptures in a nearby Museum. My favorite was the Sphinx which was placed to keep watch over the large treasure stored near the Temple.

Maddie and Ada’s favorite part of our trip was playing with a new Greek friend at one of the local restaurants in Delphi.

On the way back to Athens we stopped to get a picture of this mountain town where Athenians live when they go skiing at a nearby mountain in the winter. Stray cats, like the one posing below, were ubiquitous in Greece and were very much appreciated by our animal-loving daughters.

After Delphi, we left for Hydra, a beautiful Greek island a 2-hour boat ride from the city. Hydra, as I mentioned in this post, is car-free which was a welcome change from the busy car congested Athen streets. There the kids loved playing on the beach, eating ice cream, feeding the stray cats, and taking long walks through town and around the Island. Below is a picture of Ada with one of the many donkey’s on the island- the main form of transportation:

The harbor at Hydra:

Maddie and Ada playing on the beach on a day when the high was 55F. Coming from Norway, 55F felt very warm to us and so Maddie and Ada refused to wear coats and insisted on playing in the cold Mediterranean ocean. I think at least 3 Greek mothers asked me whether my children should wear more clothes during our vacation in Greece. A Greek man who went swimming in the ocean while Maddie and Ada were playing on the beach mentioned that Greek children wear a lot of layers in this kind of weather.

Here is a picture of Ada running down the car-free streets:

After two nights in Hydra, we reluctantly headed back to Athens for our long flight home. We decided to end our trip by eating dinner at a restaurant on top of Lycabettus Hill in Athens which gave us the opportunity to say goodbye to this incredible country.


Tromsø: Chasing the Northern Lights

Back in early January, we took a trip to Tromsø, Norway, which is at 69° N latitude, a full 10° above Oslo. Here is our view on the way in.

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Tromsø is a beautiful city, especially when it’s dark. And in Tromsø it is dark almost all the time in January. This is a photo just outside our hotel at 1:30 in the afternoon. In January, you get a couple of hours of daylight around noon.

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There are lots of fun things to do in Tromsø, but Maddie and Ada had the most fun climbing on and sliding down the huge snow piles around the city.

Tromsø also has some great museums. We were especially impressed by the science museum, and as you might imagine, winter and climate change were major themes.

Here’s a great exhibit exploring the symmetry of snowflakes.

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And here’s Maddie and Ada trying an exhibit that simulated pushing a sled on the snow.

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Notice the socks—everyone has to leave their dirty snow covered shoes at the door, a common practice in Norway.

The main reason we chose to visit Tromsø was to see the Northern Lights. Even though Tromsø was close enough to the arctic circle and we were there during the darkest time of year, light pollution and variable cloud cover meant we had to leave Trømso to actual see the lights. So, we booked an expedition to see the Northern Lights with “Chasing Lights.” We set out at 6pm on a fancy touring bus with 50 other tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of this wonder. This turned out to be quite an adventure—it was too cloudy just south of Trømso to see the Northern lights, so the bus began a long journey toward the Finnish border, stopping along the to see if the cloud cover had reduced inland. Fortunately Ada was able to sleep for 2 hours on the drive there and Maddie was able to enjoy gazing at the constellations on a perfectly dark cloudless nighttime sky (though with no “northern lights” activity) on our first stop before we reached Finland.

Below is the route we took—we got to the Finland border just around midnight and arrived back at Tromsø around 3am. But what is time when it’s completely dark outside 22 hours a day?

Of course, we all had visions of the spectacular photos you see when you picture the Northern Lights. Alas, that isn’t quite what we saw. When we got off the bus at the border, we could see low clouds, and above the clouds, a faint smudge of a light gray/ possibly green? light above the clouds—truly unimpressive, and worth making you wonder why you got off the warm bus when it was -15°C outside. But the CCD in the camera is much more sensitive than your eye, so when the guides took our photos, you do see a green halo on the horizon—success! Of course, Ada, as usual, wasn’t interested in getting her picture taken and Maddie, who was asleep on the bus when we reached the Finnish border, had to be practically dragged out of the bus to see the phenomenon. After cookies and hot chocolate and a brief attempt at building a fire by our guides, we all got back on the bus for the long 3 hour bus ride back to Tromsø.

I was glad we convinced Maddie to get out of the bus because after our trip, Maddie added the photos above to her school iPad and proudly showed her classmates the picture of us with the Northern Lights. Even though we were less than impressed, Maddie and Ada couldn’t stop talking about the Northern Lights and drew some pretty great pictures of themselves with the Northern Lights the next day as we took a break at the local library in Trømso.

Another highlight of our trip was a morning spent visiting reindeer and learning about Sami culture, the native people of Norway. We got to feed the reindeer—they would just walk right up to you and eat from the bucket of reindeer food.

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Then we got to ride around the property on a real reindeer sled “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

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After all of this, we gathered in a warm Sami tent for a traditional lunch of reindeer stew, and an explanation about Sami culture from one of the local Sami reindeer herders.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Tromsø is the weather. We went expecting it to be a record-setting cold that we’d remember for the rest of our lives, but in reality, temperatures were mostly right around freezing, and we spent a good deal of one day in our hotel room because of the heavy rain outside. Tromsø (and coastal Norway in general) are known to have a warmer climate that many other parts of the arctic due to the gulf stream, but watching heavy rain outside your window in early January above the arctic circle still feels a bit strange.

Speaking of hotel rooms, if you ever stay in a hotel in Norway, the “Scandic” hotel chain has an amazing breakfast buffet included in the price of your hotel room- lots of Norwegian knekke brød, fresh fish, Norwegian vaffles, pancakes, eggs of all sorts, an assortment of cheeses, fresh fruit, and even fresh orange juice.

A trip to Bergen

Back in the beginning of October, we took a long weekend and traveled to Bergen, Norway.

Bergen is known for being rainy, and it didn’t disappoint. It was our first real chance to put our rain gear to test.

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Maddie and Ada had a great time jumping in the biggest puddles they could find.

and with rain, you always get rainbows (even two at a time!)

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We took the Fløibanen funicular up to the top of Mount Fløyen, where it was rainy and a bit cold, but Maddie and Ada managed still had fun at the playgrounds we discovered at the top.
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Evidently parts of “Frozen” were inspired by the city of Bergen, Norway. The moss covered rocks and trolls at the top of the Mount Fløyen were reminiscent of the film.

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Here’s a picture of the Skomakerdiket, a beautiful lake that the top of Mt. Fløyen that made the perfect lunch spot, until it started to rain heavily again.
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The classic tourist photo of Bryggen, the historic shops and restaurants at the wharf.
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The Bergen Aquarium made for a great visit on a rainy morning. I find I really like museums that are small enough to fully explore in half a day.

We also had some great adventures at the science museum.

We spend an afternoon wandering around the Bergen Art Museum.

One really interesting exhibit we saw was this installation where kids could write their wishes on a star and place them on the wall. This one caught my eye. (“ikke” means not in Norwegian.)
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Norway in a Nutshell—amazing nature/amazing transportation

Perhaps the most touristy thing in Norway is Norway in a Nutshell, a train->train->ferry->bus->train tour that can be done in a single day and takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of Norway—gorgeous mountains, stunning fjords, and some amazing train rides.

The first thing that impressed me is how Fjord Tours and all of the various transportation/tour operators has managed to put together a simple website that lets you plan an customize your trip to your heart’s content. It’s easy to book in an extra day on your trip, see the options for different departures, all the time knowing that the site is keeping up with your schedule so you don’t have to worry about whether you have enough time to make a connection.

Once you’ve planned your trip, you can pick up your tickets at the NSB office at the Oslo Sentralstation, which is a beautiful train station that I didn’t get to explore as much as I wanted back on the day when Ada threw up in the bus. Following the guidance of Rick Steves, we opted for the early morning train ride toward Bergen that left at 8:30 in the morning.

The train ride from Oslo to Bergen is said to be one of the most beautiful in the world, and they are surely right, but I want to start by giving a shoutout about the wonders of Norwegian trains, and it all starts with the family car.

Most long distance NSB trains have a family car, a car with a built in padded playroom for kids complete with a TV playing Norwegian cartoons. Here are some photos of Maddie and Ada exploring it:

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The family car was the perfect antidote to kids getting bored with a 4.5-hour train ride, even as we passed some of the most incredible scenery in the world. To me, this is just one more of the many little things I see around Norway that tells me this is a place that cares about the well being of children and makes it so wonderful for families to live here.

The Olso to Bergen railway takes you up into the mountains of Norway, where beautiful rolling farmland gives way, gorgeous mountains, waterfalls, and just incredibly beautiful scenery—and tunnels. So many tunnels. Here are a few photos I shot from the window seat:

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The Norway in a Nutshell route we chose leaves this train in Myrdal, a tiny town high in elevation, that is most famous for being the terminus of the Flam Railway, one of the most famous railroads in the world, and the next step in our tour. It was cold and rainy up here, so Ada and Maddie weren’t exactly thrilled to be standing outside waiting on the train, but we tried to make the best of it.

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The Flam Railway, or Flamsbana is world famous because it is a 20 km railway line that descends 863 meters into the valley of Flam and along more stunning scenery—nearly endless waterfalls and beautiful valley views. As a kid who loved model trains, this hour-long train ride was something special.

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When we got to Flåm, we spent some time at the free railway museum, and were amazed at the engineering feats it took to build this railway in the early 1900s.

The town of Flåm itself is tiny, and after trying on some viking hats and getting ingredients for dinner at the only grocery store, we headed to our AirBnB which was just outside of town on a working farm, with a trampoline (Maddie and Ada’s favorite).

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Here’s a photo from the porch of our AirBnB:

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Our house was next to a beautiful waterfall, and so we decided to do some exploring and started a climb up to an overlook. Here’s a view from halfway up:

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And then some tired children convinced us to stop and head back down.

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The next morning we boarded a nearly empty Fjord ship for a cruise through the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord. Ordinarily, the boat would have been full, but since we opted to stay the night in Flåm, we missed all the foot traffic. At this point, we’ve seen so many beautiful waterfalls that it’s a bit hard not to be blasé about it, but somehow, the Fjord still managed to impress.

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After a couple of hours, the boat docked in Gudvangen, and we boarded a bus took us on a 45-minute tour of the Fjordlands, including a drive down the Stalheimskleiva Road, the steepest road in Northern Europe, with an 18% grade and 13 hairpin turns. At this point, I was feeling slightly car sick (I didn’t throw up on the bus, thankfully) and didn’t manage to get any photos.

When we arrived in Voss, we caught the Bergen to Oslo train and got to see all the scenery we might have missed on our journey on the first train ride.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip that was super easy to navigate thanks to the wonderful coordination of the Norwegian transportation system, and a great last gasp of summer.

Back to Norway and good riddance to driving

After 3 weeks in Atlanta, Diana’s mom is doing much better thanks to lots of rest, the incredible care of her medical team, family and a couple of granddaughters that snuck in for a few visits to hospital. She’s got a long road ahead of her, but her progress has been amazing, and I’m hopeful we’ll see her in Norway this spring.

Yesterday, we started our long trek back to Oslo, which is an alternating series of trips on plans and buses, and got back this afternoon. This was the first time in 4 visits to the Oslo airport that we were able to leave with all our luggage—no lost suitcases or forgotten strollers. And we were able to bring a few more “necessities” back with us this time, like measuring cups and spoons, a vegetable peeler, and an Apple TV.

It again was such a treat to have the Flybussen bus roll up to the last bus stop and know we are just a few flights of stairs away from our apartment—this will never get old, and I’ve just got to find a way to make sure the next place I live (or retire) is right next to a public transportation nexus.

Now that it’s mid-August, our town feels way more alive than it did back in mid July when I would sometimes find myself alone in the grocery store on an afternoon around 4pm. I guess it must be true that Norwegians that the month of July off on vacation.

While I was in Atlanta, I managed to put close to 1000 miles on my sister in-law’s mini-van shuttling kids to a great lego and coding camp I found, and really found myself completely sucked back the horrors of living in a car-opolis. Whether it was having to check three different apps to figure out the fastest way to camp, being both thankful and sad that my kids could be so easily sucked into the backseat DVD player as we drove 30 minutes to camp, searching for parking every time I went somewhere, dealing with a rock that shattered the window and required a $500 repair, there’s just very little I find fun anymore about driving, even if my sister in law has the coolest minivan around (Thanks Julie!). I just find myself being stressed and noticing how the entire city and and beyond must designed around a vehicle first way of life in order to support a car-centric lifestyle.

My travel time in Norway is so different—it’s clear that our town and just about everywhere we go is designed around people. There’s a giant tunnel that routes traffic under our town, making the main street through our town quieter than some of the residential streets in my in-laws neighborhood back in Atlanta. I’ve never seen a traffic jam in Norway, and the automatically collected tolls nearly every highway around Oslo and pay parking must have a lot to do with that—let people who use cars pay for the externalities they cause, and make fast, efficient and affordable public transportation available. It’s hard to overstate how much of an effect this has on the feeling of a place.

The next week is a busy one for us, and really the last of the summer. Maddie and Ada have school orientation on Monday, and we have some great friends (yea Gilheanys!) visiting Oslo for a few days this week, and this weekend, we’ll do the Norway in a Nutshell tour that seems to be a must do on every visitor’s itinerary.

A tale of two museums

During our week in Paris, we had the chance to check out two science-related museums, the Musée Curie, and the Cité des Sciences et de Industrie.

I decided to write up this visit in the form of a letter to the curators of the Cité des Sciences et de Industrie that I will be mailing soon. Read on, and you will understand why.

Dear Curators,

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting your museum with my wife and two daughters. My eldest Daughter, Maddie (age 7), has developed a passion for all things science, and physics in particular, so our first stop was the exhibit on the Great Story of Our Universe. As a high school physics teacher, I was eager to explore this exhibit with my daughter.

At first, I was struck by just how beautiful the exhibit was—your designers did a marvelous job of creating a inviting space that wonderfully used lighting and texture to evoke a flow through the origin of our universe, with great hands-on experiments that allowed you to touch and view meteorite samples, or see a live infrared photo of oneself to understand how we are able to classify stars based on the light they emit.

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Maddie looking at some meteorite samples.

I was particularly impressed by so many of the simple but engaging experiments—a parallax experiment that explained how we measure the distance to stars, by demoing how to make a measurement of a “star” on the wall across the room. My favorite demo of all was the side by side model solar system and galaxy, and the text that invited the patient to see how these two models behave very differently. Maddie and I watched it for at least 5 minutes, and she made so many observations about the differences she saw. What a wonderful introduction to Dark Matter.

After getting through the first floor of the exhibit, I was pleasantly surprised to see it went to a second floor that explains the strange physical laws that “enable us to describe and understand the evolution of the Universe.” Here again, I was impressed with all the interactive exhibits and even more impressed with your efforts to explain not just some of the oldest physical laws like gravity and electromagnetism, but also to fully cover discoveries in quantum mechanics (we loved Schrodinger’s Cat in a Box), and even some very recent discoveries in cosmology.

As I walked around this exhibit, I began to notice something strange—every column in the exhibit featured the name and biography of a famous physicist or mathematician, and every single one of them was a male. I’m also pretty sure that they were all white European men—Newton, Galileo, Descartes, Schrödinger, Lorentz, and on and on—more than 20 names in total. I looked hard, and I didn’t see a single woman or person of color in the entire collection.

In another part of the exhibit on the second floor, there was an exhibit presenting nine quotes about the nature of the universe from scientists and philosophers throughout history, and every one of them came from a white man, as best as I can recall.

It’s easy to come away from this exhibit thinking that our entire understanding of the universe, and the field of physics, is the result of the work of a bunch of dead white dudes with gray hair and more often than not, a mustache, leaving out so many important stories of women who have contributed to this understanding and what the field of physics looks like today.

There are so many incredible women scientists who have made deep and profound contributions to this story, that I find it hard to understand how they could all be left out of this exhibit. Adding a description of Vera Rubin and her groundbreaking work on galactic rotation curves would have have been an informative and powerful addition to the first-floor exhibit about the rotation speeds of galaxies and our solar system. Marie Lavoisier, Marie Curie, Joycelin Bell, Henrietta Leavitt—each of these women made major contributions to experiments and discoveries that were already mentioned or alluded to in your second-floor exhibit, and they have inspiring and important stories that are worth sharing with visitors to the exhibit.

With the exhibit’s vast amount of space and focus on highlighting recent discoveries in physics, I can imagine a wonderful addition that highlights very recent discoveries in physics—like the discovery of gravitational waves, showing photos of the hundred-person plus team that made this discovery. A wall featuring photos and descriptions of scientists today could very well inspire many of your youngest visitors to see themselves as scientists and imagine how they might contribute to understanding the universe when they grow up.

This exhibit also raises the opportunity to talk about why the field of physics has been historically dominated by men—specifically pointing out the ways in which women have been excluded from educational opportunities and research organizations since practically the beginning of science. At the same time, you could point out the hidden and unrecognized ways in which women have made vast contributions to the field of physics—from serving as the “human computers” to painstakingly type the dissertations of their husbands. Perhaps this conversation looking at the nature of who does physics could be a web resource, similar the great ones I saw on the ground floor in Cite des Enfants, where the signage encourages parents to visit a website for more ideas about how to engage children in the experiences they had in the museum.

I know that museums are incredibly powerful places—they are some of the most important places for inspiring young people and opening their minds to possible careers and ideas they would not have otherwise considered. This was made most clear to me in the case of my own daughter, who developed a love for Marie Curie after reading a short story describing her life in “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.” After reading that story, Maddie decided she wanted to be a scientist just like Marie Curie and wanted to know all she could about the Nobel Prize. When Maddie read in the story that Marie Curie lived in Paris, she asked us if we could visit her house, and through that, we discovered the wonderful Museé Curie, a tiny three-room museum dedicated to the life of Marie and Pierre Curie. Maddie pushed this museum to the top of our Paris agenda, and watching my daughter in this space was magical. Maddie was thrilled to see Marie Curie’s office just as it existed, but she spent the most amount of time scrolling through images of Dr. Curie and her family on a large video screen, occasionally fixating on a picture of Marie Curie on her wedding day. Maddie has been super fascinated with weddings recently too, and when we talked about it leaving the museum, she told me how awesome it was that her hero, Marie Curie, was also able to get married. To me, this visit scored the trifecta of science museums—it helped my daughter to not only understand an important discovery in science, it helped her to relate to the story of the human that made that discovery—emphasizing her humanity and helping my daughter to see that she too can be a scientist.

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Maddie in Marie Curie’s office.

I wish we had more time to explore your museum. I’m sure I missed many exhibits that did celebrate the work done by women in science, and help students of all backgrounds seem themselves as scientists. I appreciate your consideration of these suggestions and look forward to visiting the museum again in the not too distant future.

Sincerely,

John Burk

Physics Teacher and Dad of wonderfully curious 7-year-old girl who wants to be a physicist

We’ll always have Paris

It’s been a wonderful 7 days in Paris. Thanks to Diana’s college friend, Mary Lewis, we’ve gotten to experience the city through the eyes of a local.

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Here are some of the things we loved about Paris, small and large:

    • Croissants.

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    • Visiting the Musée Curie. Maddie has been obsessed with Marie Curie for the past couple of years—she loves reading her story from Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and asks me about how she won the Nobel Prize all the time. The museum is a wonderful little gem—they’ve left Dr. Curie’s lab and office just as they were when she worked there.

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Marie Curie’s office

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Maddie writing her name in the guest book at the museum.
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    • Incredible playgrounds and parks everywhere you turn, each of them with wonderful water spigots for refilling water bottles on warm days.

This is the beautiful Beuttes-Chamount Park, which had this wonderful water feature that ran all the way down a steep hillside to a large pond.

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    • Having every piece of playground equipment marked with a maximum and minimum age. Maddie and Ada seemed to pay no attention, but I’m glad Paris pays this much attention to detail.

There’s even a playground in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
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    • Of course we went to the Louvre, and of course, it was gigantic and overwhelming. It was super hot, and Maddie and Ada weren’t all that excited to explore on this day. You can see our official portrait, with Ada refusing to be photographed in the back.

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  • Numbering the floors of a building starting with 0 (and if you’re the science museum, labeling the basement with negative 1).
  • The subway—it’s hot and much dirtier than the pristine public transportation system (honestly, most operating rooms are probably dirtier than the Oslo T-Bane), but it goes everywhere, and the trains run on tires, which is just amazing.
  • Simple lunches—sure, it takes separate trips to the Boulangerie, Fromagerie and the fruit stand, but the result is incredible—a picnic with the best bread, cheese and fruit you’ve ever tasted.
  • Getting to know a neighborhood: we spent most of our time around Square Saint-Medard near the Latin Quarter in the 5th Arrondissement. This is advice I took from Tyler Cowan, and it was right on the money.IMG 0637

    In this square, we found all sorts of fun, including:

      • Dancing in the square on Sunday, when a few local musicians turn out after church to play French classics.

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    • Eating lunch in the playground in the shade of Saint Medard Church, that dates its origins back to the 7th century.
    • Enjoying delicious ice cream and macaroons from a beautiful patisserie across the street from the playground.
    • Exploring the wonderful shops along Rue Mouffetard, and finding a favorite Boulangerie and Fromagerie, that we went back to again and again.
  • Exploding all those stereotypes I’d heard about French people being rude. Every person we met was kind, welcoming and doted heavily on our two Maddie and Ada. It made really wish I’d kept up with my high school French so I could do a better job communicating with people we met.

In the end, Paris felt like a wonderfully livable, enormous city steeped in a deep history composed of layers upon layers. We’ll have to come back sometime.