Hola, Puerto Rico

One of the perks of grad school is that I occasionally get to travel to some amazing destination that I couldn’t otherwise afford. It’s enabled me to travel to Alaska, Portland (back when Oregon was exotic to me), Dublin and by proxy Paris, and Moscow. …Okay, it was Moscow, Idaho, but close enough.

If you’d have told me at the beginning of grad school that I would have the opportunity to travel to some amazing destinations from all corners of the world, I’d never have believed you. I definitely think that something of that magnitude would be hard to believe. Even though I’ve traveled to some great places already, one destination remains on my list – Jamaica. I know that this is a stretch, but wouldn’t it be great? All of those beautiful beaches and accommodations, like these villas in jamaica are out of this world, and just being able to relax and unwind in this country is exciting to me. My friend went not so long ago and said that if my grad school ever gave me the opportunity to go, that I shouldn’t even hesitate in agreeing. But this hasn’t happened yet. I’m just trying to look forward though, as I have a brilliant destination to visit next.

My next grad school adventure is taking me to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in June. I’m giving a talk about my research for the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, which was a great conference when I attended in Dublin. I’ll be able to vacation in Puerto Rico for three days after the conference since my department doesn’t mind if you take personal days, as long as it doesn’t make the flight more expensive. I have read that Puerto Rico is the perfect destination for cheap solo travel (click here to see my source) so I am very excited to be able to explore and relax.

Considering they allow us to enjoy some vacation time while away on these trips, it’s making me want to give a talk at a conference in Costa Rica with these Guanacaste excursions catching my eye! I feel like I’ll want somewhere exotic again after I’ve spent some days in Puerto Rico.

So the big question is…what the heck do I do while I’m there? Other than sit on a beach sipping rum, of course, which is how I plan to spend at least half of my vacation time. I’ll already be hiking in the El Yunque rainforest, which is a trip organized by the conference. I’m excited because not only have I never visited a tropical rainforest before, but I get to do it with other nerdy evolutionary biologists. I’m also considering visiting the Arecibo observatory. Contact is my favorite movie of all time, so I feel like I kind of have to visit the gigantic telescope.

Do any of you have suggestions on what I should check out? I’m still debating if I’ll stick around San Juan, or if I’ll rent a car and be more adventurous. I will be traveling alone, so I don’t know how brave I’ll be about heading to the opposite side of the island or a totally different all together. But if you’ve been to Puerto Rico, I’d love to hear what you think!

The derpiest fish in the Seattle Aquarium

I’m about to fail you as a biologist because I have no idea what the name of this fish is or anything about it as a species. But I do know that I’ve spent way too much time laughing at this photo:


The Homo sapiens boyfriendii in the background agrees that this is indeed a silly looking fish.

Paris Food Porn – Sweet

And now, the sweets!

Okay, a regular ol’ croissant isn’t exactly a sweet, but I had to include it somewhere. I consumed so many of these for breakfast throughout the street. They were just from random bakeries within a block of our apartment, but they were the best croissants I’ve ever had.

Mmmm, chocolate croissant.

From the famous Berthillon ice cream shop. I had chocolate and salted caramel butter, Sean had chocolate and raspberry. All of the flavors were some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

Famous Ladurée macaroons. Salted caramel butter, chocolate, raspberry, and pistachio. A little expensive, but all were delicious.

Pistachio tart topped with raspberries that were glued on with honey. Soooo goooood.

Molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Okay, it’s not very french, but it was delicious.

Crepe with homemade caramel and vanilla ice cream. It was kind of a hot mess, but soooo good.

That’s all this time. I wish I could have tried more French desserts, but we just didn’t have the room. We were always stuffed from our main meals. I don’t know why people talk about portion sizes being so much bigger in the US…the French portions we got were just as big!

Paris Food Porn – Savory

Because really, the food was my favorite part of Paris.

Our last meal was at Robert et Louise in Marias, and it perfectly sums up how amazing the food was. We came back to this place twice because this was probably the best meal I’ve ever had in my life.

For an appetizer, classic escargot. Managed to get it out of the shell without flinging anything across the room. I don’t know why people hate on escargot – it’s a mollusc just like mussels, clams, oysters, scallops, squid, and octopud…and it was equally delicious as all of those things. The bread in the background was the best baguette we had in Paris.

Confit de canard. The duck was so flavorful, the skin was perfectly crispy and delicious, the potatoes were some of the best I’ve ever had. It’s the only meal I repeated. Unf. We decided this is the Platonic form of duck.

Sean had the lamb shank. Also delicious (though nothing can top that duck to me).

We only repeated one other restaurant, Comptoir de la Gastronomie near Les Halles.

Sean needed to have the most perfect cassoulet both times.

The first time I had La Salad Gourmande, which was topped with foie gras, a duck leg, smoked duck, duck gizzards (which I didn’t realize at the time…but were delicious), tomato, and an egg. Holy crap was that amazing.

The second time I had veal with a morel risotto in a veal juice reduction. Sweet jesus was that risotto good. The only bad part was that I didn’t get a bathtub sized serving of it.

One of my other favorite dishes was at Louise Café near the Louvre:

Ratatouille with poached eggs on top. Hit the spot. Sean had some delicious coq a vin, though the picture is kind of crummy.

Squid with rice pilaf in some delicious lemony sauce. Had this at Au Père Louis in Odéon, which had a great atmosphere and really nice servers.

We got a little sick of French food near the end (inconceivable, I know). We decided to try the “World’s Best Fallafel” at L’As du Fallafel…but accidentally went to the wrong fallafel place right next door, Chez Hanna. I got confused because our guidebook mentioned Chez Hanna, so the name looked familiar (damn you, Rick Steves!).

It was still the best fallafel I ever had. Makes me wonder what the other ones taste like…

We decided to splurge and do one really fancy dinner. And when I mean really fancy, I mean 3 Euro symbols on Yelp. Still can’t quite afford those Michelin star restaurants. We headed to Le Reminet near Notre Dame. We were so ridiculously out of our element with the fanciness it wasn’t even funny (okay, it was pretty funny).

The appetizer we had was mindblowingly delicious and was honestly the highlight of the meal. The bottom was three stripes of chicken, foie gras, and pidgeon, topped with a pastry filled with…something that was fucking awesome. Honestly I suspect it was gizzards, but I don’t have a clue. Whatever it was, the whole thing melted in your mouth.

After the appetizer a large spider somehow managed to climb into Sean’s wine, to my absolute horror. The worst part was when the waiter picked up his glass to get him a new one, we realized the spider was still alive. Gah. Good thing it wasn’t in my glass, or I probably would have had a heart attack and chucked the glass across the street.

Pork chops in some fancy-ass foam with porcini mushroom polenta and roast apples. Honestly the polenta was the best part…so rich.

Veal with roast green tomato and mixed veggies, with a yummy mustard sauce. Honestly I was kind of disappointed with this one, despite how beautiful it looked. The veal was super dry except for the center. Highlight for Sean was when I cut into the tomato and it jizzed a perfect stream of juice onto my nice dress.

Despite all the fancy meals in restaurants, one of my favorite was our picnic at Pont Nuef (Point Nine) on Ile de la Cité, the island that’s home to Notre Dame. We dubbed it Drunk Island (or Point Nine Blood Alcohol Level) because the area around the water was filled with picnickers drinking tons of booze. The cops just waved as they drove by on a boat. I love Europe.

EDIT:  Tarian says: ““Pont Neuf” translates to “New Bridge”. Complicating this, “neuf” is also the word for “nine”, and there’s two words for “new” in French: “nouveau” and “neuf”.” Well, shows what little French I know…aka none. I basically memorized some key phrases before going, but that was all.

Our spread: a bottle of red and rosé wine, two fresh baguettes, a pile of assorted cheese (my favorite was the brie), prosciutto, strawberries, foie gras (Sean was obsessed by this point…), apricot jam, and nutella. As a side note…why the fuck had I never tried nutella before? Chocolate hazelnut deliciousness that I can spread on everything?! Why did no one tell me?!?!

The money shot. And that’s pretty much what our breakfast looked like every morning:

…I am now going to sink into a deep depression knowing that the food back here in the US just can’t compare.

I’m back!

After over 24 hour of traveling, I arrived back in Seattle last night. But I’m not posting until now because I promptly passed out at 9pm. Missed all of the 4th of July fireworks and was too tired to care. Maybe spending two weeks in Europe is what made me so unpatriotic.

As fun Paris was, I’m glad to be back home. I missed Mexican and Asian food, being able to communicate with people in a language I spoke, not getting run over by mopeds on sidewalks, and Pixel. Pixel, however, has greeted me by biting me and puking on the floor. I think she may be mad at me.

Expect Parisian photo dumps throughout the day. And then tomorrow, like the insane person I am, I get back on a plane to fly over to the Secular Student Alliance conference! Which should be awesome, despite my jet lag.

Until then, how’s it going? What the hell happened in the rest of the world for the past two weeks? I hear the blogosphere was perfectly calm in my absence (I seriously still have no idea what’s going on…for once I was not the cause of drama, hooray!).


Tonight’s my last night in Dublin. I’m getting ready to fly to Paris tomorrow (woooo!) but I wanted to give a brief update before I disappeared into vacation again.

We stayed near the grand canal, which was a cute area:

There are loads of buses in dublin so it’s pretty easy to get around and see all the sights. Overall one of my favorite things about Dublin was the architecture:

The other thing I loved about Dublin was the food. I forgot to take photos of some of the stuff I ate (mmmm, giant pot of mussels) and other stuff was delicious but not photogenic (a giant hunk of lamb on top of a giant pile of mashed potatoes that was supposed to be a “stew”). But here’s the awesome breakfast I had at Queen of Tarts:

Some fancy fish and chips:

And Baileys cheesecake. Om nom nom

We checked out the Natural History Museum, aka “Dead Zoo.”

Of course we went to the Guinness Storehouse:

And this made me giggle because I’m immature:

Overall I couldn’t help but notice Dublin bore a remarkable resemblance to Seattle: overcast, raining, not particularly fashionable, and filled with 90’s music. I guess that’s why I liked it so much.

Help this stupid tourist

In two weeks (holy crap) I’ll be traveling to Europe! I’ll be in Dublin, Ireland (June 21 – 26) and then Paris, France (June 27 – July 4). During the French leg of our trip, we’re going to take a day trip by train to Brussels, Belgium.

I can’t even explain how freaking excited I am. I’m going because I had funding through my department to attend the annual conference for the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, which is in Dublin this year. I’ll be giving a poster there about my recent research. Luckily for me, my boyfriend also secured funding through the department, except he’s more awesome than me and was one of the few selected to give a talk! Since we’ll be there together, we’re taking a week vacation in Paris afterward.

I. Am. So. Lucky.

I’ve never been to Dublin or Paris or Brussels, so I’m turning to you, fair readers. What should we definitely check out while we’re there? What’s the food or restaurants we definitely need to try, cheap or expensive? Are there any quirky fun things to see that most tourists miss? Best nightclub in Paris to go dancing? Cool things in the 4th arrondissement (where we’re staying)? Any general cultural tips on things that two dumb American tourists shouldn’t say or do? Best chocolate I should buy in Brussels to hoard for the trip home? Certain French phrases I should memorize but will probably accidentally say in Spanish instead? Any suggestions are welcome!

Oh, and my English readers…yes, I’m very sorry for hopping over you. The Olympics craziness scared us away. But I’m definitely coming eventually (especially if you invite me to speak, wink nudge), so spare me the “Ewwww Paris” comments. One day!

Dublin, here I come!

It’s official: I’ll be heading to Dublin this summer! Woooo! I’ll be giving a poster presentation at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution 2012 conference, which is in Dublin from Saturday, June 23 to Tuesday, June 26. I’m really looking forward to it. A lot of people from my department are going, including my boyfriend Sean (who was selected to give a talk!).

Sean and I arrive in Dublin around noon on Thursday the 21st, so we’ll have a couple of day to explore the city. Any suggestions? Do I have any readers in Dublin who would want to do a meetup on this rare occasion that I’m across the pond? Do you have local skeptics or atheist groups that would want to have me talk for an evening?

We’re also taking an extra week off after the conference for a vacation. I think our eyes are set on Paris, but nothing is set in stone yet. Now’s your time to throw suggestions my way.

Spring break speaking schedule – MN, IN, DC

My spring break is next week! While my fellow grad students will be heading off to beaches or mountains to enjoy their time off, I’ll be going to… the Midwest. The place I’m constantly thankful for escaping. Yaaaaay.

In all seriousness, I am excited. I get to see a lot of friends during the trip and return to some of my old stomping grounds in Indiana. Plus I get a home cooked meal from my grandparents! But one of my favorite parts of doing these speaking tours is getting to meet my readers, so come check them out!

If you need added incentive, I’ll be debuting a new talk at the Indiana events called The Indiana Theocracy. Consider it an amusing summary of my various Indiana rants over the last couple of years. Hopefully it’ll be motivational for the local groups, rather than depressing.

Sunday, March 18
2:00 – 3:30 pm
Roseville Public Library
2180 Hamline Ave. N
Roseville, MN
Topic: God’s Lady Problem
Sponsored by the Minnesota Atheists (more info)

Monday, March 19
7:00 – 8:00 pm
350 Canal Walk, Suite A
Indianapolis, IN
Topic: The Indiana Theocracy
$10 ($5 for Friends of the Center)
Sponsored by the Center for Inquiry – Indianapolis  (more info)

Tuesday, March 20
8:00 pm
SULB 321
Purdue Calumet Campus
Hammond, IN
Topic: The Indiana Theocracy
Sponsored by the Secular Student Alliance at Purdue Calumet

Thursday, March 22
6:30 – 8:00 pm
WTHR 172
Purdue Main Campus
West Lafayette, IN
Topic: The Indiana Theocracy
Sponsored by the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University (my old group!)
Post talk debauchery at the Neon Cactus

I won’t be speaking in DC, but I will be there for the Reason Rally on March 24th! I’ll be tweeting like mad, roaming through the crowd, and occasionally working at the SSA’s table, so try to find me. I might even invest in a funny sign.  There’s also the post-rally celebration co-hosted by Freethought Blogs and Friendly Atheist. Maybe we should have a pre-game pub night in DC on March 23? I could also do a pub night in Minneapolis on the 17th or 18th. What do you guys think? If there’s enough interest, I’ll pick a time and a bar (suggestions welcome).

Skepticon is nigh!

Are you ready for Skepticon 4 this weekend?!?!

I’m not. I still have to finish my talk. I had a nightmare last night about being too busy pubcrawling at Skepticon to make my slides. Those nightmares may not be too far off. I’ve never been to Skepticon before, but it has quite the reputation for its partying. When I told PZ I was coming, he said he was glad because they needed “more young people to soak up all the alcohol.”

I am scared.

Not wanting to be tagged as a bunch of wet blankets, Freethought Blogs is having its own little get together. It’ll be on Saturday at 9:30 at the Farmers Gastropub. PZ Myers, Greta Christina, JT Eberhard, Ed Brayton, Richard Carrier, and I will all be there. You know you want to be where all the cool kids are.

As for the actual conferemce, my talk will be about skepticism and genetics, focusing on how to spot silly genetic claims in advertisement and the media. Hurray for actually giving a talk related to my field! Of course, my talk is at 10am after our pub night, so maybe I won’t be as excited about it then.

At least they put me ahead of Richard Carrier and Hemant Mehta, who are, for some horrifying reason, giving back to back talks about math. Why do they torture me so?!

I heart Canada

I spent this weekend exploring Victoria, BC thanks to being invited to speak for the Victoria Secular Humanist Association. It was my first time in Victoria, and my first time driving a car onto a boat. Which I got to do four times! I know, how crazy is that?!?!

…I am from Indiana. Ferries are novel, shush.

The drive to Victoria was fairly uneventful, other than the torrential downpour I drove through. Apparently I was in a part of the Pacific Northwest that’s a temperate rain forest. Not only is that neat, but it washed off the thick layer of pollen that had coated my car, alleviating my worries that I would be stopped at the border for smuggling plant biomaterial or yellowcake uranium or something.

We spent Friday night pub hopping (Canoe, Swan, Bard and Banker). Saturday was for the indoor tourist-y stuff, since it was pouring rain. After stuffing ourselves with delicious breakfast at the Blue Fox Cafe, we checked out the Royal BC Museum. We’re two dorky biology grad students, so needless to say we had a good time. I think I was most amused by the fact that the Museum’s IMAX theater had multiple daily showings for a documentary about beavers.

1. Really, beavers? That’s so… Canadian.

2. Heh heh heh, beavers. I have the sense of humor of a five-year old.

I did learn things, though. For example, the main way Canadians used to finance their Navy was through beer, beer, and more beer:

I also found a new potential wedding location:

And this needs no explanation:

After that we hopped over to the Victoria Bug Zoo, which was freaking amazing. The place was packed with different types of stick insects, leaf insects, praying mantises, Hercules beetles, diving beetles, and more. My favorite was the huge leafcutter ant colony they had living in clear plastic pipes on the walls. You could see the ants hauling chunks of leaves through their tunnels to farm the fungus they eat.

My least favorite section was the corner devoted to spiders. You should have seen my facial expression as I was taking this photo of Sean holding a Mexican redknee tarantula.

On Sunday I gave my talk about the Creation Museum, which went great. It was awesome meeting some of my blog readers. Hello, guys! I want to give a particular shout out to Sarah, who not only hooked me up with free tickets to Butchart Gardens, but bribed me with stereotypically Canadian chocolate:

Om nom nom. I am such a chocolate fiend. Can we start a trend where people start bringing me local chocolates, like people bring PZ squid things? I would totally be down with that.

Speaking of chocolates, I’m always surprised how many types of candy bars Canada has that the US doesn’t. I’m seriously jealous. My new tradition is hitting up a convenience store and loading up on all the weird chocolate bars I’ve never seen before:

Why can’t I find Caramilk bars in the US? What the hell is Wunderbar and Aero? Your Kit Kat come in dark chocolate? Your Reese’s lack apostrophes and come in bar form?! You get fancy 3 Musketeers?!? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?

The strange candy bar differences are just one of the many things that makes Canada feel like Bizarro America to me. We’re so similar, so the slight differences are jarring. Canadians pronounce “sorry” really funny, which becomes apparent quickly because you also say “sorry” so much more frequently than Americans. Things are spelled funny like “centre” and “theatre.” “Bathrooms” are universally called “washrooms,” which Sean found hysterical for some reason that I do not quite understand. Your walk signs on street signals are also particularly jaunty and brisk looking, which Sean and I both found hysterical for some reason no other person on the planet will ever understand. And then there are all the hints of Britain, like random pictures of the Queen, or English Candy Shops, or this that I stumbled upon:

…Yeah, we were pretty much giggly obnoxious American tourists the whole time. It’s because we love you. Please accept me if Bachmann or Perry become president.

The way back was fairly uneventful. I nearly had a stroke when we drove past a store devoted to Twilight, since we were getting close to Forks, WA. And creepily, on every of the four ferries we took throughout the trip, we were behind a mini van from Texas with one of those “Jesus is _____” license plates. Obviously a sign from God, not patterns in peoples vacation behaviors and traffic bottlenecks.

Canada, here I come! Again.

This Sunday (Nov 13) I’ll be giving my talk about my trip to the Creation Museum to the Victoria Secular Humanist Association. It starts at 10:30am at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre (3220 Cedar Hill Rd, Saanich, BC). Do I have any blog readers in Victoria? Who knows. If I do, I hope I’ll see you there!

And if any of you have suggestions of things to do or places to eat in Victoria, let me know. It’s a three-day weekend for me, so I’m turning the talk into an excuse for a mini vacation with the boyfriend, who’s excited to be a blogger’s groupie. All he insists we do is visit the Bug Zoo. As long as it’s taxonomically correct and doesn’t feature any spiders…