A Day or Two in Dresden

I woke up to an email from my mom with a link to a story about the restoration of the Vermeer painting, “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window”. You may remember that I’m trying to see every Vermeer painting in the world, and this one was one of the final four that I hadn’t seen. Along with it were 8 others being exhibited, including two I hadn’t seen.

“Maybe I should fly to Dresden today,” I thought.

I think things like this all the time but I don’t usually do them. It’s not really worth flying to Dresden just to see a few paintings and I had just been in Europe a bit over a month prior. I put the idea on the backburner and had tea with a friend who was visiting Vegas. If I had enough time to plan the trip after he left, maybe I’d go.

As it turns out, that was the first day since Covid that there was a direct flight from Vegas to Frankfurt, and because of that it was cheaper than usual. I’d always wanted to take that flight, since there aren’t many great long-haul international flights from Vegas.

Also, the timing was perfect. Two hours after landing I could catch a flight to Dresden, which would arrive early enough to see the paintings the same day. I could stay a night and then go somewhere else in Europe for a couple days before making my way back to Frankfurt to catch the flight home.

The flight got delayed once we all boarded, putting me right on the edge of not being able to make the connection. It turns out the terminals were too far apart and I missed the second flight.

I spent the night in Frankfurt. Normally I’d be perfectly adjusted to the time zone, but because I didn’t plan the day before, I was tired. I walked around the city a little bit and mostly felt like maybe it was foolish to take the trip. I didn’t care about seeing Frankfurt and was too tired to do the most interesting things there.

The next day I went to Dresden with just enough time to get to the museum and see the paintings. It turns out almost no one in Dresden speaks English, so my conversation with the lady in the ticket office was a lot of me saying things she couldn’t understand in English, her responding in German I couldn’t understand, and me finally realizing that she was telling me that the exhibit was sold out (obviously) for several weeks.

As I walked to the hotel to check in I recognized some buildings and realized that I had gone way out of my way to Dresden before to see the two Vermeers on permanent exhibit, but had shown up on a Monday when the museum was closed. Apparently I don’t learn from my mistakes.

At the check in counter the woman asked me how my journey was so far. “Not great, to be honest”, I chuckled. I asked if they had a concierge who could help me with something. No, she replied, but she could help.

I explained that I had flown from Vegas just to see this one Vermeer painting and that it was totally sold out, but I wondered if the hotel had any contacts who could help. Vermeer? What’s that?

Her colleague knew who Vermeer was, though, and he started making phone calls. There were more jas and guts than neins, which got my hopes up. Problem solved, he said! Just go pick up your ticket today before six and you can go to the exhibit tomorrow at ten.

I walked back to the museum, armed with the reservation number he wrote down for me. The museum staff had never heard of reservation numbers, and it didn’t matter anyway because the cashier had been closed for a while. Through some misunderstanding a guard tried to hand me an employee badge, and I almost took it, thinking I could use it to sneak in to the exhibit. I was that desperate.

On the way home I stopped by the opera house to buy a ticket for the opera that night but it was sold out, too. Apparently everything is always sold out in Dresden.

Back at the hotel I explained the situation to the guy and he called again. He said that I had to pick up the ticket at a different place at 10am the next day and could then see the paintings at 11.

And… it actually worked. I went to the Porcelain Museum, then the regular Old Masters Gallery, and then finally the Vermeer exhibit. I saw three of my remaining four Vermeers, as well as six that I had seen before (including one of my favorites). The newly restored painting was my favorite I’d ever seen, and learning about the restoration process was icing on the cake. Oddly, there was no crowd around it, so I got to stare at it for about five or ten minutes by myself.

That night I went to see Swan Lake, the first ballet I’ve seen since 2019. Two museums and a ballet in one day! I’m not sure if it was dumb to book a trip just to see these paintings, but it all felt worth it in the end.

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Photo is me in front of the painting. Look at how vibrant the colors are! They restored it so that it looks brand new. Amazing.

Over the past few weeks I had a Superhuman event, did a ton of house projects, did an Amtrak trip, learned to ride an electric unicycle, and spent a bunch of time with friends and family. Even though I’m not posting a lot I’m still alive and busy. 🙂

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10 comments

    1. I don’t worry about it too much. We all use more carbon than we should in some ways, and hopefully less than others. Aviation, including cargo, accounts for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions. My leisure travel (usually undersold planes) is a pretty miniscule driver in that small percentage, but is a primary driver of joy and value in my life.

      It’s awkward to say “it’s worth destroying the planet in some small way so that I can enjoy it while I’m here”, but I guess it’s the truth. I do drive an electric car and run my house off of solar, and am considering buying some carbon offsets to compensate for travel.

      1. I applaud you for answering this question in a levelheaded way.

        Every action you take as a human is detrimental to the environment. Each activity could be replaced with a more eco-friendly alternative. If you follow them to a logical conclusion you do nothing.

        Why own a car? Public transportation is best!

        But wait, public transportation burns fossil fuels, you should instead only use a bike.

        Oh no, bikes use parts manufactured and shipped from all over the world, why not walk?

        Walking wears out shoes instead go barefoot.

        I can’t walk barefoot today because it’s cold/hot or my feet are damaged. Let’s just just do nothing today.

        Really what Daan is asking is “Why did you make a decision that I wouldn’t have made?”. It’s not very productive or interesting question. Also that train of thinking would likely lead to a life that wasn’t very interesting.

        1. What a strange thing to say! Almost willful blindness. Some of our choices certainly have better impacts than others. Yes you can always criticise, but to go to the opposite extreme means we would just go around killing and slaughtering all the time…

      2. Yes, but you have to look at your individual carbon footprint, not just the industry’s footprint or your percentage contribution to the industry’s footprint.

        Your individual contribution to carbon emissions on that single flight is far greater than the carbon emissions you will save by using an electric car and using solar for an entire year.

        You could make the case that the flight would have flown regardless, with or without you, but by buying a ticket you increased demand, which has an impact on the airline offering more flights.

    2. “how do you feel about your carbon emissions with trips like this?”
      Shut up and go home, Daan. I would punch you in the face if you asked me the same question in person.

  1. Unrelated to your post but this seemed like the easiest way to ask. Do you have any recommendations on good reading for learning more cost benefit analysis? Thanks.

    1. Check out Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. I actually haven’t read the whole thing, but I really liked what I read and other friends love it too.

  2. Hi this comment is a little off topic but my name is Ben Wilson and I’m currently a student at UT. I’m working on an assignment for a journalism class about the UT tunnel systems. I read your blogpost about the tunnels and thought you would be a great person to interview! Let me know if that’s something you might be interested in! Thanks.

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