Sunday, May 15, 2011

One Year

A year goes by so quickly.

These are only a few of my favorite pictures.  Our great photographer!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Italy Day 5 Trucking on to Florence!

We woke up early and caught a train to Florence.  It took a couple of hours to get there, but had some excellent views, as we had to cross the Apennine mountain range to get to Florence.

One last view of our Milan hotel before we left.

The Milan train station is also where we met an interesting foe, the pay toilet.  Throughout our trip, the public bathrooms ranged from 0.3 – 1 euro per entry.  It might seem ridiculous to have to pay to use the toilet, but if you think about it some more, it might not be that silly.  By paying to use the bathrooms, they have the money to actually maintain and keep them clean, and these were some of the cleanest public bathrooms I’ve been in.  It also takes away the need to go into a restaurant just to use the bathroom.  So you don’t need to feel obligated to buy some fries when you go into McDonalds for the bathroom, because it’s just cheaper to use the paid toilet!
I love the green shutters.

The buildings in Florence in Milan were in a really interesting stage of shabby chic.

After checking into our hotel, we walked to Florence’s Duomo and climbed all 414 steps of the Campanile.  The views from the top were definitely worth the climb.  There was even a couple who climbed to the top to take wedding photos!  I was so impressed that she climbed it in her dress! 

Duomo, now in Florence!

414 steps to the top and we climbed them all.

View of the Duomo from the Campanile.

Steve posing with the Duomo.

One of the great views from the top.

Looking down on the street artists outside the Duomo.

Why aren't there shop buildings that are this pretty back in the US? And look! A carousel!

They climbed all the way to the top to take wedding photos.  I was so impressed!

There were 3 or maybe 4 platforms on the way up where you could stop and take in the view.  No doubt about it, this was definitely a nicer view than Cairo.

The ropes for the bells used to pass through this grate, but now they are all automated.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Italy Day 4: Part 2

After walking through the Galleria, we wandered towards the Archeological Museum and on the way found a small piece of heaven.

There was an entire street devoted to tents of groups selling chocolates and sweets.  The chocolate molds were tasty looking, and if we hadn’t been stuffed full already, we would have indulged.  We also ran across this cute puppet show.  The mouse was actually dancing to pop music; I think this performance was to some Gaga, but it’s hard to remember.

The Archeological Museum ended up being a flop as they were closing down for the lunch hour (very common in Italy) and we didn’t want to hang around and wait for them to reopen.  We continued our trip by taking the metro down to the canals in the Navigali area.

We also wandered through a nice park, and had a huge battle with a public drinking fountain (it won, not me) in an effort to find the yarn shops of Italy, but then we realized the error of our ways.  It was Sunday, and while this is part of the workweek in Saudi, it is the weekend in Italy, so none of the shops were actually open.

Since we had the metro cards, we headed down to see the Duomo and Galleria again at night.  I really need a tripod that folds up and travels well, because it was fun to shoot at night, but I was limited by where I could prop my camera.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Italy Day 4: Part 1

This was our last full day in Milan, and we definitely made the most of it!  We ended up buying a day pass for the metro so we could hit up a few sights that were farther away.  We did start the day with a sour note, as I realized I had the camera but no memory card after we got to Milan’s Duomo.  In an effort to prevent a very public meltdown, we realized a camera shop was just across the square, so we popped in and got a new card.

They were constructing this dome structure while we were there.

Browsing around the public square was hilarious because the street sellers were on top of their game.  My favorites were the guys handing out handfuls of corn so that tourists could take pictures with pigeons eating from their hand.  On more than one instance, we had guys come up and thrust corn into our uninviting hands.  Steve had a lot of fun messing around with these guys, and if they weren’t so aggressive and bothersome, I might have felt bad.

Next, we wandered over to the Galleria, which I swear I thought was an art gallery.  Turns out it was just a big fancy mall, which was much cooler than art.  It did have a plane made by Piaggio Aero on display.  Steve also had a brief photo shoot with the ever famous knock-off Hello Kitty.


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Friday, May 6, 2011

Where We Go Next

After three amazing trips, we are starting to plan our next trip.  In less than two weeks, our semester ends and we have 3 ½ weeks of break before summer classes start.  There were so many options for us to consider.  We got really close to getting great tickets to Barcelona, but that fell through and then we were leaning towards Budapest and Vienna, but the generally high cost of Europe turned us off.

In the end, we settled on 17 days in Sri Lanka.  We figured that this is probably the cheapest time for us to get to Sri Lanka, as it was less than $500 per ticket, and from the US it would easily be 3-4 times that.  Pretty much everything about Sri Lanka is cheaper than Europe, so that helped us add a few more days to our trip.  Sri Lanka is filled with beautiful landscapes and forests which we hope to spend a decent amount of time wandering/hiking through.

Train travel in Sri Lanka is dirt cheap but slow, so that will give us time to enjoy the sights between cities, because we're thinking that we'll try and visit three or four cities on our trip.

This is near Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka which is one of the areas we hope to visit. (photo source)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reasons Why Working at Home Beats the Library

This is the first time I’ve had to work on group projects in the library, and I am not enjoying it.  In undergrad, we’d all meet in someone’s apartment or dorm room to work, which in theory could still be possible here, but never happens.

Here are the five main reasons why I hate working in the library:
  1. No temperature control: The library is always freezing with no hope to be able to control it.  So if I’m uncomfortable, while working on a project, I just have to accept it and keep working.  It also means I have to bring a sweatshirt to the library (and class) if I want to have any hope of staying warm.
  2. No snacks: Working in the library means you have to plan better for interruptions.  If I get hungry Ieither have to deal with it, go home, or have planned ahead and brought a snack.  Working from home means I just have to walk over to the kitchen, get a snack, and then go back to work.
  3. Terrible night lighting: With huge floor to second floor ceiling windows the lighting in the library during the day is fantastic, but it gets dark relatively early, and while the lighting in the library is beautiful, but doesn’t offer much actual light.
  4. Too Formal: Working at home means it’s okay to tell jokes or stories, have a laugh, and then go back to work.  It doesn’t have to be very formal and that means everyone is more comfortable.  Get a bit loud in the library, and undoubtedly you’ll be disturbing someone else.
  5. Need Better Planning: If everyone is coming over for a meeting it doesn’t matter what I’m doing beforehand, but as I was baking bread and cupcakes the other day, I realized I hadn’t started early enough and was going to be late.  It ended up being a minor deal, but if we weren’t working in the library, everyone could have settled in and gotten started while I finished up the baking.

These are only a few of the reasons why working in the library doesn’t cut it for me.  Unfortunately, at least until the end of the semester, I don’t have much of an option.  The library is the only place I have access to the software I need for a group project.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Address System in Florence

Usually knowing addresses while we travel isn’t that important because we tend to locate sites by approximate location on a map, not by the actual address.

For the first time, we did need to find a couple of places by address and it was surprisingly challenging.  I had addresses of several yarn shops in Milan and Florence in hopes that we would be able to find at least one of them.

Finding stores in Milan was no trouble at all; we just made the mistake of trying to go on Sunday, when most shops are closed.  Florence was another matter.  We set out to find stores on a weekday so store hours weren’t going to be a problem.  But it turned out that Florence has a slightly more complicated system.  We noticed that two of the addresses we were looking for had an R after the street number.  The one that didn’t ended up being the only one could find.

After digging around a bit, I found this article which explained that commercial addresses are often listed as #R.   So the street numbers are actually blue for residences and red (R) for commercial buildings.  That means you can have 28 right next to 100R, and that was our problem.  We thought we were looking for the regular address, but we should have been looking at the commercial addresses.

In the end we were still able to find one of the shops and got some yarn and needles to sustain my hobby until August.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Buy Now or Wait

I’m having a bit of crazy about our kitchen storage closet.  Right now it’s the space under the stairs (aka HP’s first bedroom) but it has absolutely no shelving or place to sit anything so everything sits on the floor.  This is what it looks like right now:

Caution: Disaster Zone!

Really the biggest irritation is the big stack of extra pots that we don’t use.  We’ve got quite a collection of stuff that came with the apartment that we don’t use and are thus storing in one of our three downstairs closets.

They had metal wire shelving for sale at the grocery store which looked like it would fit in the closet.  Shelving like that would get everything off the floor and better organized, but I’m not sure it’s worth the several hundred SAR price tag.  We would probably be able to find something cheaper at Ikea if we wanted to go down and look, but it might just be better to accept that it won’t be quite as orderly as I might want since we’ll only be here another three or so months.  It seems silly to buy something like shelving at this point and have to go through the hassle of trying to sell it in August or dumping it in the trash, which repulses me.

I can’t wait to get out of this mindset.   Knowing that I can’t take things with me as I’ve moved around the past few years has been a huge deterrent for acquiring more stuff.  This has been a blessing and a curse, and though I don’t want to go get tons of stuff for the sake of buying, my peace of mind would be much improved by not having to convince myself everytime I find something we actually need or could use.

This reminds me a lot of the home selling market.  Small maintenance issues get ignored or pushed to the back burner over several or many years and then when it’s time to sell the house, suddenly all of these minor inconveniences get fixed, improved, or renovated.  After all the hard work, time, and money the family moves out and someone new gets to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Maybe this doesn’t happen as much in real life, but HGTV makes it seem like an everyday occurrence.

Getting this space better organized would certainly make life a bit easier for the next few months, but does the added benefit outweigh the cost?