October 2006 Archives

Forza Italia

After a successful and productive trip to Italy, I'm now aboard the plane on my way back to North America. There are more people on this flight than the last one, but it's far from being packed. The lack of people on the plane, however, is made up for by the small children that want to be certain everyone knows they're here. I don't blame them though, if I thought I could get away with running up and down the aisles in my underwear while screaming, I might do it too.

The trip was a lot of fun, in the sense that I got to meet all kinds of new people, gain some new life experiences, eat fantastic food, and see some famous sights. It was also exhausting and somewhat stressful. The jet lag can be hard to deal with, and I walked enough to almost wear out a pair of shoes. Walking around Italy is more like hiking anyway, because the roads throughout the town squares are made of slightly uneven stones. Then trying to figure out the bus system in another language with all of the funny symbols on the schedule was initially frustrating, considering I wanted to be sure I knew where I was going and how to get back at night, lest I get stuck sleeping on a park bench in another distant unfamiliar town.

I went to Florence with some of my coworkers on Saturday. We walked around the major attractions but didn't go into any of the museums. The best ones require reservations, some more than a month in advance. We did stop in the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore), partially just to get out of the rain, but there wasn't too much to see in there. I took a few pictures, but it was too dark to get many good shots with my little pocket camera. Photography (well, more often just flash-photography) was prohibited inside many places.

After that we stopped at the Ponte Vecchio ("old bridge") that crosses the Arno River. This is one of those famous views that has been completely overrun by street vendors, so much so that the street vendors have become the primary attraction. Oh, I have to apologize that I didn't bring souvenirs back for everyone (or for that matter, anyone). Next time, I promise. It's hard to decide on things to buy, and the variety was limited. Most items for sale were cheap knock-offs of brand-name purses and sunglasses. The gift and souvenir shops sold a bunch of strange tableware, flags of unrecognizable detail, mini plaster David statures, and shirts that said "I went to Italy and all I got for my friend was this lousy t-shirt." Nah, just kidding.

Later we checked out an Italian apartment and then visited the Ipercoop, the Italian equivalent of Super Wal-Mart. There were few products sold there of brands recognizable in the USA, but the place was loaded with cheap Chinese imported goods, just like you would expect back home. What set them apart from an American super-center experience was the grocery section. They had an amazing selection of fresh cheeses, meats, and seafood that could make even Central Market look like a fly-by-night shop. My favorite was the whole boar on a cutting board, next to a big serrated knife, ready for the slicing.

On Sunday I decided to venture out on my own to Siena. Siena is a beautiful little hill town just south of Florence. On the way out there, I took the diretta bus, which follows a scenic route through farmlands, vineyards, and other little towns. What confuses me about that is the word diretta means "direct," but the rapido bus I took on the way back actually followed the non-stop highway route.

Siena is most famous for Il Campo ("The Field", although it since went from being a field to stone blocks, to now being mostly brick), where all the townspeople and now, of course, tourists go to sit, socialize, picnic, and rest. I sat out there and enjoyed a big cup of gelato while I watched the crowd and re-re-re-reconsidered my life. They also have the Duomo di Siena (which is a cathedral) that I spent a good amount of time in.

Other things I saw in Siena was an Italian music store; several little shops selling traditional Italian groceries, and a temporary exhibit called The Museum of Torture, which was exactly what it sounds like. After seeing the movie Hostel (which I don't recommend to anyone at anytime, not because it was a bad movie, but because it was so disturbing), that museum rather creeped me out and had me watching my back continuously.

All in all the Italy vacation business trip was a great experience that I hope to repeat. I'm not sure when that will be, but probably not until next year. A few pictures are coming soon.

Arrived in Scandicci

At long last, I've arrived at my destination. In one piece, no less. The lines at London Gatwick were just about ridiculous. I'm glad I had a 2.5 hour layover because I needed most of it. They're still going crazy with the War On Moisture in England. I had to toss my little tube of chapstick because, well, who knows what I could have done with it. I don't even want to think about it. The airport cops carry Uzi machine guns, for crying out loud--I'm not going to push my luck.

I grabbed a taxi to my hotel. I'm staying at a place called Hotel I Cedri (pronounced "e ched-ree"), which means The Cedars. Not that I see any cedar trees anywhere near here. It's on the small side but the rooms are really quite nice.

Things are definitely different on this side of the pond. There's a lot of things here I just don't understand. There's a string escaping into the wall in the shower with a red paddle on the end. I'm not sure what it's for, but when I pull on it a buzzer sounds. I hope it's not some kind of emergency signal, not especially because I'm afraid of sending a false alarm, but because nobody comes to my rescue when I activate it.

I can't figure out how to work the heater in my room--the funky digital thermostat goes right back to 'off' as soon as I try turning it on. You have to put the keychain in a slot in the wall to get the electricity to turn on. And there's what looks like a heated towel rack, but turning the knob from 0 all the way up to 5 has no discernible effect.

I've been out exploring Scandicci while there was still daylight. I've been walking up and down the streets checking out the local shops and cafés (which are temptingly called "bars" here). As expected, the espresso is top notch. Surprisingly few people speak English in this small town. Either that, or they enjoy watching the foreigner struggle with speaking Italian. I'm fine with it either way, I need the practice.

Unfortunately it's been raining in the Florence metro, and it will be the entire time I'm here. The weather has been putting a damper on my exploration and photo-taking opportunities. Even still, I donned the raincoat and decided to walk over to a local museum. After walking over two miles in the rain (uphill), I got to a wooden gate with a "No Trespassing" sign that was blocking the road Silvia (the Nüvi) wanted me to take. I don't know if it was closed for the day or closed for good. I had to choose to either climb the gate or walk back dejected. You know which one I did.

Tomorrow, to the office.

On My Way

I'm sitting on the plane on my way to Italy. Well, London to be exact, for a layover, but then to Italy. This is probably the most pleasant plane ride I've been on, and that's a good thing considering it's also going to be the longest plane ride I've been on. The plane isn't very crowded at all. In fact, I have the row of seats to myself (after Amy decided to move). And it's as smooth as sitting in my living room, though I wouldn't get the two confused because I don't normally play jet noises on the stereo in my living room.

I just had the in-flight dinner. I had a choice between the pot roast and the chicken. Both looked equally appetizing (which is to say, not very) but I went with the pot roast. I was expecting there to be a fish entree too like in Airplane, so I could enthusiastically turn it down, but I had no such opportunity. I'll have to find another opportunity to apply my history studies.

Speaking of which, I've been reading about the history of Italy while killing time today. Even after taking American history classes in high school and college, I think I'm on track to knowing more about Italian history than I do about the history of my own country. I hope that doesn't make me a bad citizen. I'm already guilty of being an uninformed voter so I don't need that on my record too.

It's just 8:30pm Dallas time, but 3:30am in Florence right now. I should really try to get some sleep on the plane otherwise I'm going to be exhausted on Thursday. If I don't sleep I'll effectively be skipping a night of sleep, or staying up all night like we used to do when we were in college studying for an exam partying and drinking. And I know how that makes me feel the next day.

Reinventing The Wheel

tweel.jpgNow this is progress. I'm sure people have been thinking about how to make non-inflatable tires ever since they came up with the idea of inflatable tires. I guess the only reason all tires aren't just solid is because they would give a heck of a bumpy ride in exchange for that reliability. Air is a lot more squishy than solid rubber (and then, solid rubber is more squishy than solid concrete too (cavemen had it all wrong)).

But these Michelin guys apparently have something that might be a good compromise between solid and air-filled: a bunch of bendy spokes within the tire.

The benefits of these new tires/wheels, called tweels, sound enormous (unlike the name, which sounds goofy). No more worry about nails in the tire, fewer blowouts, and checking tire pressure would be a thing of the past. The concerns seem to be in the handling characteristics and ride comfort, including noise. Can't win 'em all, yet. But I'm guessing they'll have that worked out before I get my flying car.

300 Million Strong And Growing

Today the United States has reached a population of 300 million people. What does that mean to us ? Well, nothing. It's just a number, and we get a kick out of big round numbers. When my car's odometer rolls around to 100000 miles I'm probably going to be so fixated on it that I'll run off the road.

From the article :

Some American commentators are already saying the landmark is a chance to note the US is perhaps the only country in the developed world where the economy is being bolstered by a population that is growing at a discernable rate. But many experts say passing the 300 million milestone should be a wake-up call that demands a reappraisal of the extraordinary, unparalleled rate of consumption by the world's largest economy and its third largest by population.

Alright, we've done a good job people. You can all stop breeding like crazy now.

Traffic (The Bad Kind)

I have a long commute to work. This doesn't bother me too terribly much because I enjoy driving, I like playing with my navigation toys while driving, and it gives me an opportunity to listen to Pimsleur Italian on the iPod and learn some new words (ascolte e ripete).

What I don't like is getting stuck in traffic, especially for no reason whatsoever. I may enjoy driving, but as soon as the speedometer reads 0 when it should read 60, it instantly becomes too much of a good thing.

Traffic jams aren't normally a problem for me because I work somewhat irregular hours and commute in the opposite direction of most other people. I live in the city and work in the suburbs. So while my lane is zipping right along, I see the faces of frustrated drivers inching along in the other direction, and I wonder if they're asking themselves why they chose to live so far away from work and endure the commute into the city. They're probably not asking themselves that, though. They're probably thinking about what charitable acts they could do that day, how they could help the homeless and hungry, or maybe just about how much they want to hook up with that cute new chick in accounting.

Some mornings are notable exceptions to my peaceful commute. Sometimes there's a wreck on the highway, and we get stuck in blocked lanes while the emergency teams come in and do their thing. Crap happens, I understand. But what really frustrates me is when the wreck is on the other side of the divided highway. You get up to the wreck and everyone has slowed down to look, even though there's no reason for it. We've all seen it before, and there's nothing on our side of the barrier. This is such a common frustration, I can't believe people still do it.

This morning really took the cake though. I got stuck in traffic this morning because there was an accident on the access road on the other side of the divided highway. I give you that there were several firetrucks and ambulances, but still... even if you wanted to see some gory bits, we were too far away. So please people, if you want to see this kind of thing, go watch Nascar, and stop beating me down on my morning commute.

Now I need a beer.

National Coming Out Day

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Just thought I'd let you know that today is National Coming Out Day. For you old fogies, that means that if you get up in the morning and you can see your shadow, you're gay. If you don't see your shadow, you can expect 6 more weeks of rainy weather. Funny how so many calendar events sound the same.

So if any of you guys have something to say, well, now's your chance. I'm looking at you, Glen.

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