Tuesday, July 07, 2009
This morning I had a meeting with a professor at the Polytechnic University in Milan. That meeting went great, although I had some pretty interesting adventures with the train rides into the appropriate area of Milan. But, in the end, I made it, had a great conversation, and headed back to Como.
When I got back to the hotel, I met up with Christian and heard about her trip out on the lake and her visit to Villa Carlotta. She said it was gorgeous. I'm looking forward to seeing (and sharing) those pictures.
We headed out into town to look for some lunch, and eventually came across a supermarket. We thought it might be good to buy a few things and bring them back to the hotel. We got some sandwiches, some fruit, potato chips, and some Bellini (a fruity, carbonated wine with peaches added). It made for a pretty neat lunch.
After lunch, we had a great nap in the hotel room, and then headed out later to walk around and find some dinner. Turns out, one of the stages for public music (like we listened to last night) is set up in the Piazza right next to our hotel, so we went and got some pizza to bring back to the hotel. The balcony of our room looks into the square so we could eat there and watch the band perform. Unfortunately, they got delayed due to a storm that moved in over the mountains, but as I am writing this, they have cranked back up and are jamming out in the square.
I really miss my kids. Christian showed me some pictures of them on her phone, and I wish I could be with them now. Just a couple more days.
Had breakfast and got a transfer over to the Milan airport. Everything went pretty smooth flying into Munich, except we hit some bad weather and got waived off of a landing due to winds (first time that has happened to me... wheels down, almost on the runway, then throttle up and pull away... kind of scary until you hear from the pilot what is going on).
In Munich, called the hotel and got a transfer to the Best Western. The hotel is in a more residential area, but it was nice. Very clean. Very sharp looking. Free internet!!! Finally!!! But, no A/C (thank goodness we could open the window and let the cool air in). Thanks to the free internet, if there would have been A/C here, this may have been my favorite hotel (and it was only a temporary stay before catching our flight to Atlanta).
At night, decided to go walk to one of the only hotels in the area since the prices in the hotel restaurant seemed steep and didn't have anything we really wanted. It was a nice Italian restaurant, and we had great service and some amazing food. Also, we had a summer beer here that is half beer and half lemonade (It was great!!! Thanks to Mike for this suggestion.).
So, as hard as it is to write this... I think the best Italian food we had... was in Germany. I know, that sounds bad. But, I'm being honest. It really was great. And the German beer with it made for an interesting combination.
Walked back to the hotel and prepared to head home tomorrow.
Checked out of the hotel, only to find out that the airport transfer service was not free!! We had to shell out quite a bit of money for the transfers to and from the airport. Oh well. I want to get home!
Got to the airport and had to check our bags in. All of the European airlines have had automated stations for checking bags, printing boarding passes, etc. Now we are back to Delta. I wish I had taken a picture of the insanely long line. And we checked in online!! When we got up to check our bags, one was 4kg too heavy. They threatened to charge us $150 if we didn't lighten it, so we opened up all our bags and started shuffling. After 2 or 3 tries, we got it under weight, but ultimately, the same amount of weight is going on the plane, so I don't exactly understand. Why don't they require that the average weight of your bags be below a certain amount?
Got through security, although one of the police stared at my passport for a while and asked why Christian's passport had a stamp from France, but mine didn't.
"Didn't you say you too have traveled together the entire time?"
"Then why don't you have a stamp?"
"I don't know... I guess we went in different lines."
I really didn't know. But, I think he was suspicious that we were lying. Ultimately, he decided to let us through. We got through security, waited for a while, and got on the plane.
The flight into Atlanta was fairly uneventful. The 767 had individual screens for each passenger so you could pick, watch, and pause your own movie, tv show, or music. Also, you could play games against other passengers, like poker, chess and trivia. Pretty cool.
Made it into Atlanta and went through some pretty intense security and customs controls. While we were waiting for our luggage to come out (you have to recheck luggage here even if you are getting a connecting flight), a homeland security officer was going around with a beagle and sniffing people's bags and carry-ons. It was amazing to see him work. He sniffed the bag of an older lady a few feet from us and he immediately, made a motion and sat down by the bag and stared at his handler. The handler looked at the lady and said, "You have fruit in there?"
Her face dropped. She must have remembered something that she forgot about in her bag. The officer looked in her bag and found an apple.
She mentioned that she had forgotten to claim it on the customs form (there is a section for food, fruit, and vegetables) and that she would go throw it away. "Wait he said. He needs to touch it." With that, he took the apple and let the beagle smell it and touch it with his nose. The handler then gave him a treat and started working him again. Really amazing to see what dogs are capable of. We saw quite a few seeing eye dogs during out travels as well. It is amazing how well composed they are in airports and subway trains.
In Atlanta, through security, rechecked luggage, found our gate, sat down, and saw the sign flip showing a 2 hour delay. Oh man. We waited for hours in the aorport (we were there early and already had some time to wait nominally). Then, it clicked again. Now it was delayed about 2.5 hours.
Delta. Friggin Delta. I can't think of one aspect of being an airline that they did not screw up. They had delays. They had maintenance problems with the planes. They had paperwork problems with the planes. They had poor service at the counter. They lost our luggage. They even destroyed one of our bags. Short of crashing, they did everything they could do to screw up being an airline.
When we finally made it into Lafayette, I was so tired I could barely see. We started walking, following a line of people. I was barely conscious. I would occasionally look up to make sure I was still following Christian and the line of people. I was a zombie. And then I heard it.
Neo's voice rang out.
"Dad-eee!!! Dad-eeeeeeeee!" I heard Charlie say. Once his feet hit the ground, he ran to me as fast as he could. Oh man. What a feeling. I went and saw some of the oldest and most beautiful art and buildings in the world. But yet, in the end, it was my wife and my kids that I discovered. I see them and love them in an even stronger way. It was a trip of a lifetime. It is so good to be home.
Friday, July 03, 2009
Woke up, had breakfast, and ventured out again.
We headed to the science museum (can't remember the exact name). It was ok, but not really exciting. After buying the tickets we realized most of it was closed. The tickets were discounted, but I wonder if we should have went at all. Nevertheless, the stuff we did see was neat. It is pretty amazing to see the machines that people built hundreds of years ago. Some were as simple as a machine the could detect the exact moment of solar noon. Others, fancy telescopes and astronomy devices.
After the museum, we did some very last minute shopping.
We headed to the hotel, checked out, and went to the train station. It was pretty easy to find the right train, get on, and head to Venice. The train ride was nice. We met a family from Florida, and saw some beautiful mountain scenery out the window. After a couple of stops, we were in Venice.
Venice was hot, and after seeing the endless line of people trying to get tickets for the Vaporetto (the water bus line), we decided to go on an adventure and walk to the hotel, rather than taking the water bus. The walk wasn't that bad, except for the fact that every time we crossed a canal, we had to go over a bridge with the luggage. That made it difficult. Since we only had one map that started close to the grand canal, we couldn't get far from it. Eventually, we found the tiny alleyway leading to our hotel (there are lots of tiny alleys between buildings here).
The hotel is nice, although no free internet
After checking in, we headed out for dinner and some sightseeing. We went in a gorgeous church, walked to the Rialto bridge, looked through the shops, and found a local restaurant.
In the restaurant, we proceeded to order way too much wine (1 liter, for two people who don't drink). The food was mediocre. I had salmon which wasn't very good. Christian ordered a pizza with cheese, shrimp, and mushrooms. It also was mediocre. Although, with that much wine you stop caring what the food tastes like after a while. Needless to say, after our dinner and liter of wine, we decided to stay close to the hotel and make it an early night.
Woke up late this morning, washed some clothes in the bathroom, and then headed to breakfast in the hotel. The breakfast here is probably the weakest of all the hotels we've been to, consisting of some rolls, croissants, and some cereal. Still, it was sufficient. During breakfast, we met some nice couples from Canada and exchanged travel stories.
After breakfast, we headed to our walking tour of Venice. We saw St. Mark's Basillica and a few other things. I won't write too much about it as it was definitely the weakest of all the tours we have been on. We used the same tour company twice in Rome and once in Florence, and always had good experiences, although this tour was just boring. I can't tell if it was just the tour, or the tour guide, but it was weak. It was definitely not an issue of knowledge - she could answer any question from people in the group, and I often found their questions to be more interesting than the stuff she was talking about. Oh well. Still, I learned some things about Venice.
After the tour, we walked around some more around the Rialto Bridge and took some pictures during the daytime (we were there last night). We headed back to the hotel and took a nap.
When we woke up, we ventured out one last time, only after the Apostoli Palace hotel clerk accused us of stealing cookies.
The story, basically, is that in the breakfast area next to our room there was a cart with crackers and biscotti. There was also a table with some candy in a bowl. Christian and I decided to grab some crackers in our bag for when we were walking around.
When we got downstairs, we were scolded by the clerk who was watching us on the surveillance video. He said that if we took the cookies, there would be none left for breakfast. I told him we didn't realize they were for breakfast only, and that we would put them back (I thought they were snacks for guests, just like the candy on the table appeared to be). He insisted that we could keep them, but I insisted that we would put them back if it was that important.
And we left. And I got mad to be honest. I mean, I understand if they don't want people taking them. But if something is important enough to say something to a paying guest that will make them feel like complete crap, then really, you should just invest the 50 cents on a sign that says "For breakfast only. Please do not take". If it isn't important enough for a sign, then it shouldn't be important enough to something that will make your guests feel bad. I was really aggravated when I left there.
And while I'm on the hotel, I can't really suggest that people stay there. The lack of internet, the mediocre breakfast, and the horrendous smell coming out of the drain pipes all put this hotel on the lower end of hotels we stayed at. And the cookie incident just made it worse. The one positive thing that had going for them was the cold A/C.
When walking around, we walked some of the areas with fewer tourists and more locals. Eventually, I saw a sign for a small restaurant called "Ostaria alla Staffa". Inside, we asked the man behind the counter for a menu, and he explained that they had no menu, but told us what he was cooking tonight. We liked that.
We sat down and ordered a half-liter of wine (lesson learned from the night before), and talked with Franco (the man behind the counter). He was very nice and was happy to explain things to us and help us with our Italian. Christian had a pasta with a creme sauce, and I had a pasta with a primavera sauce. It was good, but I was not extremely full. I decided to ask if he had desserts. He explained the three desserts that he had, which prompted my question "Which one is your favorite?". He made a face and tapped his chin. "Dis is problem," he said. He went on to say why he liked each one and that his wife made the filling in the cheesecake very light and he liked that.
"So your wife made the creme filling in the cheesecake?"
"She make all of the desserts" he said.
Awesome. I love food with a story. I had a slice of cheesecake with strawberry topping. Delicious.
I told him we would like to get a picture with him. He agreed but asked if we could send a postcard from where we were from (he had postcards from customers from all over the place). He asked where we were from.
"Ahh, Houston!" Then he used his finger as he pretended it was a rocket launching with the "pkew" sound to go with it.
"Yes." I nodded. "I work there. At NASA."
His eyes got big. He yelled something in Italian and started writing something on a piece of paper. He handed it to me. It was an address for us to mail him a postcard from there. He also gave me his email address. I was excited just seeing a foreigner immediately associating Houston with the space program.
So, another dinner. Another story.
Then we walked quite a bit around Venice, looking in shops, taking more pictures, and having more laughs, before heading to the hotel. We head out tomorrow. And to be honest, I'm glad. Venice just didn't seem like the right fit for us. We had fun anyway though.
Woke up and ate breakfast at the hotel. During breakfast, we spoke with a lovely couple from Kent England. They were very nice and we chatted about all sort of things.
After breakfast, we checked out and rode the vaporetta (waterbus) to the train station. This was fairly uneventful. At the train station, we easily found our train and got on (as usual).
On the train, we met a great couple from Toronto, who had children in the movie business. One of them was getting married by Lake Como. It turns out, the man was the father of a celebrity actress (I'll keep her name out for privacy), but it was really neat to talk with them. We had similar interests and curiousities and had lots to share. We have met some really interesting people throughtout the trip from all over the world.
Then, we had a horrible train experience in Milan. Our train was delayed for quite a while. When it showed up, we tried to find the right coach and had lots of trouble. When we did get on a coach, we found someone in our seats. They explained to us we had first class tickets and this was second class. We had lots of trouble getting off the train as it was severely packed. When we finally managed to work our way through the extremely rude crowds (people would simply refuse to duck in a seat temporarily to let you pass), we got off and saw an employee of the train. We yelled for help and he pointed to the front of a train car. When we got on it, we started looking for our seats, and when we finally got there, the same employee (who was obviously the one who serves drinks on the train), had drinks and supplies all over the seats, so there was no way we could sit there. We asked him again (since he was the one who told us to get on this train) for some help and he threw his hands up and said "I can't help you. I can't help you."
Now I was steaming. This guy could speak english, so that was not the issue, but something else was going on. How could we have ridden 5 trains without a single problem and now, all of a sudden, we are frantically searching and can't find our seat.
I grabbed the ticket and ran off the train to find someone to help. I saw another employee of the train service, but this time wearing a special hat (I believe he was the conductor of the train if that is the right position. Other employees were asking him questions). I had struck gold. I ran up to him and pointed to my ticket. He looked me in the eye, scoffed, and turned around and started walking away from me, mumbling something in Italian. I stood there shouting, "But where do we go?" and he just kept walking away.
I couldn't believe it. These were people we were paying. This is not the DMV we are talking about here, but people we are PAYING for a train ticket. I started walking back to get Christian.
There, I saw a woman who asked if I needed help. I explained that we didn't know how to find our seat. She then proceeded to tell me that there is some confusion because there was problems with the other train so this train was being used as a substitute. The only possible explanation I can see for why employees were being so rude is that they were being asked to pick up an extra set of passengers or maybe passengers from another company. Not that that justifies being rude to the passengers, but I can't wrap my head around how some people here can be so blatantly rude to people. If that man had done that to a big ol' corn-fed texan in the US, I'm pretty certain he would have gotten a fist in his mouth.
To top it all off, when the conductor got on and started checking tickets, I saw him chatting with the guy who told us that he wouldn't help us, and it seemed pretty clear that they were friends. This first guy later walked by and gave me a smirk. I was pretty fired up.
Finally, we got to Milan. When we got off the train, I saw passengers trying to get on running up to the train conductor, and he was being rude to them too!!! I saw this asian guy ask him a question and then have this surprised look on his face when the guy motioned and walked away.
As we rolled our bags past him, I made a point to get his attention and say "Thanks for all your help earlier. You were a really big help. You ass." I can only hope he understood.
And so, now I'm angry. And like my father, it takes me quite a while to reset. But I did, and when we got to the hotel by taxi, I was hoping everything would be better.
The "Hotel Metropole & Suisse" staff member greeted us and pulled up our reservation. He said we had the room but breakfast was not included. Christian immediately said "uhhhh", because she new we had arranged with our travel agent to have breakfast included. We pulled out the voucher which very explicitly said breakfast included. The man thought we were arguing with him, so he started getting short with us. We told him we would call our travel agent since there was obviously some sort of mixup (we did later and she said she would handle it). After getting to our room, the view is absolutely gorgeous... except for the huge construction cranes right in front of the window. The jack-hammering was shaking the room.
To make things worse, the bathroom wasn't clean (Christian wasn't too happy about that), and the internet is not only not free, but quite expensive (6 euros for one hour.. about $9 USD and hour). Oh well, I was going to just have to get over it.
I went back downstairs to ask about how to get across the lake using the boats, and where we could go for dinner. The receptionist was again very short, just handing me a boat schedule and telling me there were some good restaurants in the area. That was literally all he said. I asked again for a suggestion and he said there were plenty of good restaurants. After being so upset with some of the people we have dealt with, I was ready to leave and go walk around with Christian.
We walked a bit and found some cool sights. The lake is gorgeous. We decided to stop in one place and order some food to go. We had seen some shady benches next to the lake, and rather then dealing with people, I was up for taking some food to-go, and going and eating it by the lake. We did, and it was delicious.
One interesting story about the guy we ordered the sandwiches from - he was very helpful and was helping us order, when he noticed my Walt Disney World hat. He asked me where I got it and I told him in Orlando.
"I work there", he said.
"Yes. In Epcot Center. I work in the Italian restaurant in the area where they have food from different parts of the world."
Apparently, he works there most of the year, and then returns to Como occasionally. What is interesting is that we ate in that restaurant when we went there! And given the time of year that we went, it is very probably that he would have been there.
"Small world," he said, I believe pun intended.
After eating by the lake and taking in the sights, we went up to our room to sit on the balcony and people watch.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Missed updating my journal for a while, so I'll just have to hit the highlights of today :(
- toured Colosseum - Wow. What a sight! And to think, this was built in only 8 years!! The giant stones... no mortar!! They used a keystone.
- toured Roman Forum and Palatine Hill ruins - Also amazing. Some of the building built before Christ are just insane. Huge columns made of single pieces of stone. Still standing. It is almost unbelievable to see what the ancient Romans had built.
- saw Mamertine Prison - This is the prison where St. Peter was held before being crucified upside down. This was a very interesting place, with a hole in the ceiling where prisoners were lowered. Peter would be chained to the walls here (his chains are in a church here in Rome), with dead bodies all around, rats, and people waiting to die.
- saw the Pantheon - After seeing what we did of Rome, this was one of my favorites in terms of ancient Roman buildings. All of the other ancient Roman buildings have been damaged, but this building is almost unscathed. An incredible place. The oculus is incredible, with a beam of light hitting an area inside. Rapheal and some other significant persons are buried here. If you go to Rome, don't miss this one.
- had gelato from giolitti's - This is Rome's oldest "gelateria"
- took "where's mommy" pictures on the spanish steps - Fun pictures we sent home with mommy in a sea of tourists on the steps.
- took the subway back to the hotel and prepared to leave
Checked out of the hotel this morning and walked over to the Termini train station (it was close to our hotel). Took a little while to figure out which train to get on, but we ultimately committed to what we decided was the right train and the right car (but disagreed with the posted signs - which was part of our hesitation). Ultimately, we were in the right place, and we met a great couple from North Carolina. We had a great chat with them, had a nap, and saw some beautiful Roman and Tuscan countryside.
Once in Florence, our hotel was just across the street, so it was quick (and cheap) to get there. We got settled and headed out to find a place to eat. We went to one of the place suggested by the hotel, but the attitude of the server and the prices on the menu quickly convinced us to try something else. We found another one and were greeted by a lovely lady who was very helpful in explaining the specials and the prices. We ate there and had a great time.
After eating, we explored a bit of Florence and then walked around the Brunelleschi's famous dome at the Duomo of Florence. Incredible. The cathedral exterior is also quite incredible. Headed back to the hotel.
Woke up and had breakfast in our new hotel. It was good, but not as good as the breakfast at our hotel in Munich (but this hotel has free wireless internet!). Met up with our guide and headed out for a great walking tour of Florence (or Firenze as it is called here). Saw some amazing things. The Renaissance truly was born here in Florence (which is why Michelangelo's David is often used as the icon of the period). The architecture and the art are interesting, but most interesting to me is the open-mindedness of the period. This was the true reason the Renaissance flourished throughout Europe. It represented possibilities... a common man could aspire to be something greater, but using his brain and his gifts. Europe would begin thinking again, like the ancient Romans did over a thousand years before. One wonders what caused all of the Western world to stop using their brains for a thousand years. But regardless, it was in Florence that they began anew. Many of the great Renaissance sculptures are here, and quite a few of the originals are outside in the public!!! Some have been moved inside museums, but many of the great sculptures remain outside in the elements, and at the risk of crazy people who climb on them and do stupid things (Every great sculpture here and in Rome had these stories. On Michelangelo's David, there is someone's initials carved into his thigh. On Michelangelo's Pieta, someone brought in a hammer and climbed on it and started beating it. Etc.).
The tour ended in the museum that houses Michelangelo's David. Wow. What a sight to see the real thing. The guide explained so many great things to us. Why his statue was different from the one's before it (like Donatello's)... Why David appears the way he does. Why there is a tree in the background. Why his veins are so apparent. Why there is controversy over whether or not the pose is supposed to be just before or just after the battle with Goliath. Why the hands and feet appear to be enlarged. Why the toes look different. Etc. And even without all of that great info, the statue itself is truly amazing to look at. Knowing a little about how Michelangelo sculpted differently from other artists makes it even more impressive.
After the tour, we walked around and shopped a bit, and ended with a hot panini sandwich and slice of pizza from a local sandwich shop. Very good stuff. Took a nap at the hotel.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Trip Journal Part 2:
had breakfast. talked with the great hotel staff about the best way to get back to the airport with luggage. Decided to take the bus, and bought the bus pass. Attended the Friday morning portion of the conference and saw a great talk Dr. Gerhard Hirzinger from the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. It is amazing what they have done in the field of robotics. Everything from space to surgical robotics. Also imaging and 3d modeling. Really cool stuff. Attended some splinter sessions. The first was a collection of presentations on walking robots (some papers on bipedal and quadrapedal) and one presentation on a robotic manaquin that could be used to tailor make mens formal wear. Very interesting. I suggested to the presenter that the technology could be of interest to those in the space industry for fitting of spacesuits, not only for the custom fit, but also to show the range of expansion of an individuals bodies in zero G (the spinal cord expanding for example). I'm not sure that there would be interest since I don't work with that at all, but something to look into perhaps.
while on the bus to the airport, I'll take a second to remark on the driving in Germany. My goodness people here drive fast, and with no margin for error. They drive very close and make very close turns. The bus driver from the airport made turns i would barely be able to make in my truck. Our cab driver was zipping through munich on wet roads at an incredible rate (although more like a professional driver, not like a madman). Somehow though, it all works. I think that people here are generally much better drivers than in the US. Talking with one of my German friends from the conference, he said most of it is due to the fact that all of the drivers follow the rules very closely. He also prepared us for what driving will be like in Italy. Based off what I have heard, I bet we will have some stories to bring back from Italy.
Checked out of the hotel and took our bags to the bus stop near the central train station. Caught the bus to the airport to head to Rome. Flight was fairly uneventful. The airline staff were very helpful and friendly. Our driver for our transfer to the hotel was awesome. He showed us many things and helped us to get situated in Rome.
Our hotel was nice, but in a bad area of Rome (lots of graffiti and trash everywhere). The hotel staff also seemed a bit standoffish at first, but later, when working our a dinner location, and help with the subway, it got better.
For dinner, we ate at a little restaurant that can hold about 30 people max. The food and service were outstanding, but the price was a little high (although, as we are discovering, everything is high). The prices were not out of line with the dishes. We had amazing food, laughed, and shared an entire bottle of Chianti. Good times.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel then made our way onto the subway. We got to the city center and started walking. We saw many old buildings and statues, although it was hard to know what anything was. Later, we started following the Rick Steve's walking tour suggestion, but we should have started that sooner. Eventually, we were at the Victor Emmanuel Monument. This was a monument made for the first king of the unified Italy. After that, we headed to the famous Trevi Fountain where we threw in a coin and made a wish. With a cup of Gelato in hand, we got back to the subway to head to the Vatican for our tour.
Our tour was incredible. We had headsets so we could hear our guide even amongst a sea of people. Her knowledge was very extensive. You could tell she was holding back some of her knowledge and excitements so that we would have time to see everything we could. No question challenged her knowledge.. even ones about the smallest details.
The Vatican museum... the Sistene Chapel... St. Peter's Basilica. These things were so amazing, that I don't want to talk about them. I feel like my words would only do injustice to them and give you an impression that is not big enough. I truly started to doubt how men on earth could be capable of creating such things. I'm sure we will have many stories to tell from here. I saw a quote somewhere that said,
"Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving." -- Werner Herzog
I think that is how I feel now.
After the vatican, we visited some shops and saw some really beautiful but expensive stuff. Then, we took off to eat. Which leads us to a good story.
We decided to take the Rick Steves book out and see what restaurants he recommended in the Vatican area. One, which will remain nameless, looked pretty good so we followed directions on the map and went there. We were greeted by a waiter who seemed annoyed at our presence (you read that correctly). He spoke without looking at us, and then eventually came back and asked me what I wanted to drink. I said "water". Christian then started to say "and I'll have" and the waiter turned around and walked away from her.
Christian looked at me with some eyes that I was glad were not for me. The waiter was an older gentlemen, so I thought, on a longshot, maybe he expected me to order drinks for the both of us. I don't have any idea how that would extrapolate out to ignoring the lady at the table, but I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt.
He returned with the water and turned around. Christian raised her hand and started to say "Scussi... can we have a menu?" and the man said something without turning around and facing her. Again, the eyes came my direction. I ducked. I asked if she wanted to leave. She was disgusted, but said she would stay. I said "C'mon... let's just go. There are plenty of other restaurants that want our business", but she said no. We would stay. I thought I could hear some teeth grinding but I couldn't be sure.
When the waiter returned, he returned with about 6 bowls of appetizers. He said some things in Italian saying, "please please... enjoy". He walked away and we quickly asked each other... "is this free?"
Returning again, Christian asked "Quanto Costo?" (how much?), and he shook his head from shoulder to shoulder and waved his hands saying something like "not much... you enjoy". After some language barrier issues, a younger waiter decided to translate and pointed to the appetizer selection on the menu that specifed a spread of everything. It was about 9 Euros (about $14 USD).
Based entirely off of Christian's eyebrows and the rate at which she closed her menu, I knew we were leaving. As we stood up, the waiter started apologizing (although I think that had a little to do with the fact that the other waiters saw that he had been pressuring us and being rude to us). I told him thank you, paid for the bottle of water, then we walked out. We walked further down to a restaurant that was not in the Rick Steve's book, but had a great dinner. Things were great, and I really like the story we got from that other restaurant. I think it was worth the 2 Euros.
Tomorrow, we take the historical tour including the Colosseum!!
Friday, June 26, 2009
Trip Journal part 1:
got to airport, then heard that our plane that was coming from atlanta had to be turned back to atlanta. not exactly the vote of confidence you want in your plane.
since we missed out connecting flight to munich, we will now have a flight to paris and then munich. unfortunately, this means I will miss the conference in the morning.
more delays... finally made it into paris. Had a huge trek across the France airport to make our plane to Munich just in time. The french lady in security laughed at me. She pointed to my hat and said something in french. So I took it off planning to walk through the security scanner with it off. She laughed, called me back, and then put my hat on the conveyor belt. So far, even with the language barriers, all of the Air France workers could run circles around the Delta employees.
finally made it into munich, after missing an entire day of the conference, to find out that our bags are still in atlanta, and won't be here today, or tomorrow morning, which means i'm going to the conference in the clothes I have on. unbelievably aggravated. also, the stupid phone card that i bought (to avoid the hassles of roaming with my phone overseas) is turning out to be a giant pain in the ass. trying to add funds to the account goes to a screen saying an account administrator will try to do it within 24 hours??? nice.
This forced us to spend our entire evening trying to quickly go shopping and get a sweater i could wear tomorrow before the shops close. had dinner at "Wirsthaus in der Au" which was really good. Had a really good waitress which helped us out.
without our luggage, we are also missing our power adapter, so our laptop battery is all we have left to charge our phones. So far the trip is way too stressful!!!
had breakfast in the hotel and took off to learn how to use the subway system in munich to get to the conference hotel. after some confusion, finally figured it out (mostly) and got to the hotel. To add to the stress of being under-dressed for the conference, it was raining in the morning. Since I had no umbrella, I arrived soaking wet. Under-dressed and soaking wet, I walked up to the registration counter. That was uncomfortable.
Attended an incredible talk from Dr. Sankai, the founder of Cyberdyne (no kidding... cyberdyne... like the Terminator movies). The company research is HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) and they have applications from everything from entertainment (providing resistance and environmental forces for VR games) to replacement limbs. Some of the "challenges" he showed were things like helping a man with polio to move his legs for the first time in his life, to SCI patients learning to walk again. Truly amazing stuff.
Attended some splinter sessions afterwards with 4 talks in each one. Some were very interesting. I particularly enjoyed one from a gentleman from Carnegie Mellon University. He talked about redundant robots (7 or more joints) and how there were indices to measure a robots ability with respect to its primary tasks (such as range of motion), but nothing related to secondary objectives of redundant robots, such as Torque limiting or obstacle avoidance. Since enhancing the design of a robot for obstacle avoidance (changing its morphology for example) may take away from the first objective (line tracking), he proposes a way to modify the performace indexes of others to include the secondary objective/first objective ratio. I can't reproduce his words very well, but i hope to do so once i get a look at the proceedings.
after the morning sessions, got back to the hotel to change into nice clothes (our bags showed up!), and then return with christian for the dinner cruise. took the subway this time and had a much easier time. The dinner cruise was very nice. Christian and I had great conversation with folks from Germany, England, Turkey and the US. This was really the first relaxing event of the trip, so we really enjoyed it. Tomorrow I will have a few more sessions in the morning at the conference, then it is off to Rome!
Thursday, February 14, 2008
To my Princess,
Since we have vowed to each other to show our love and affection on Valentine’s Day without spending any money, I have decided to write you this letter. I wish I could say that this letter was only to tell you about my unending love for you, but unfortunately, I must use it discuss some things in our relationship that have recently become troubling to me.
Christian, when I married you, I married a woman who I knew was smart, and capable. I knew that one day you would grow to be successful as a wife, mother, and in a career.
However, since your recent decision to stay home from work to raise our children, some developments have occurred and discoveries made that have me concerned and worried about our relationship.
When you decided to stay home and become a homemaker, you immediately fell into the role. You embraced it and have succeeded exactly like I would have expected you to. What a wonderful gift to our family. You raise our children. You have snacks for them when they get off the bus. You help them with homework. You take care of the baby. You clean the house. You are a good neighbor. Yadda… yadda… yadda… The point is… it’s a full time job, and you are very good at it. So why am I troubled?
Well, after you established yourself as this incredible homemaker to me, the kids, the neighbors, and the family… you didn’t stop. You then decided, that you were going to open your own business, and add “business owner” to your resume. And now, you are doing a great job at that too. You own your own business hosting jewelry parties. You manage the business. You pour your heart into it. You give it attention and nurturing to make it grow. You are obviously very good at this full-time job as well. But you still didn’t stop.
On top of that, you decided to add the title of “Chef”. You have started to cook the most delicious dishes and prepare the most amazing meals for our family and guests. Your spaghetti is awesome. The potato salad… my god… the potato salad. You find ways to hide vegetables into the foods you prepare! You even hid squash in some pancakes and had kids asking for seconds!! You constantly look for new recipes and ideas and are improving all the time. Wow. If you’re keeping count… that’s 3 full-time jobs.
So that’s enough right? Not really. On top of all that, you have started decorating the house. That’s right. Interior Decorator. You are coordinating colors, hanging things on walls, framing pictures… Not only that, but you rearrange. You clean. You organize.
So all of this has been weighing on my mind. I mean, I married a woman who I new would be successful at whatever she chose to do, but I had no idea that it would be 4 full time jobs! How can a woman of your caliber be with a man with only one job? How can I answer my kids when they ask me why I only work one job while mom works four?
But more importantly, how can I adequately describe my love for someone who gives so much to me and our family? How can I give you gifts that are appropriate for a woman of such strength, passion, and dedication?
I don’t think I can. And this is what is troubling me. It is becoming more and more obvious to me, every day, that you own my heart, and I am powerless to control it… more obvious that you have become the very foundation of our family… and more obvious that I would be completely lost and fragile without you by my side.
So, this is my insufficient attempt to explain to a woman of your caliber, that I love you. I love you so very much. Happy Valentine’s Day.
I love you princess.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
We're home!!! And... happy birthday Christian!!
At home, we've started to settle in. When we woke up this morning, we had a big birthday breakfast for Christian with banana pancakes, sausage, eggs, and fresh orange slices. I think she enjoyed that.
After 4 days in the hospital, we finally made it home Saturday afternoon. Luckily, for most of the time we had some really good nurses, including one named Suellen. She was really awesome and did a great job of not only tending to Christian medically, but listening to her and making the time there a little more bearable.
After we left the hospital, we picked up Neo from some friends (thanks John and Laura!), swung by HEB to fill Christian's prescription, grabbed some food, and finally made it home. The good news is that Charlie was comfortable in the car the whole time. Hopefully that will continue for other car rides.
Neo is doing a great job with helping out with the baby. He has been a retriever for stuff - "Neo... quick.. get a towel!". He is also a good diaper changing assistant and a baby soother. He likes to say "Look at brother!" while we are changing Charlie to calm him down.
Overall, things are good. Happy birthday Christian! We love you.
A few more pictures are available in Charlie's September folder.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Well, he wanted to take his time and make a grand entrance. And he did.
We would like to introduce Charlie - "Charles Anthony Graffagnino" to the world.
Charlie and mom are both doing wonderful.
Christian started having contractions Monday afternoon, but they were not consistent. We talked with Dr. Abbott that afternoon, weighed our options (no pun intended) and decided we would like to schedule a C-section. It was scheduled for Wed at noon.
But throughout the day Tuesday, the contractions started getting more consistent. By the afternoon, they were below 15 minutes apart. As night fell and the full moon rose, the contractions quickly went to 7, then 5, and then at one point, 4 minutes apart. At that point, I called the doctor to have the get ready for us at the hospital, and had a friend come over to pick up Neo. Then, we headed over to Clear Lake Regional Medical Center.
When we got there, we had the help of a wonderful nurse named Melinda. Melinda asked how Christian rated her pain, with 0 being no pain, 10 being the worst ever, and 5 being bad enough to want medication. Christian rated her pain at a 2.
What was funny was that when Melinda did her first exam, and saw that Christian was 8 centimeters dilated! She was bragging to the other nurses that Christian could have had that baby without flinching. The exercises, the vitamins, the diet, the relaxation techniques, the reading... all of those things really paid off even though we decided in the end to have a C-section.
And, when we heard the weight - 9 lbs 2 oz - we knew we had made the right decision. Charlies was 21" tall. Melinda did a great job of helping me to keep Christian calm and talk her through the process. Charlie's APGAR rating at 1 minute was an 8 and was an 8-9 at 5 minutes. Awesome!
Dr. Abbott did an amazing job. She said the surgery went perfectly with no problems. Of course, there are still risks in the recovery, but thankfully, everything is going extremely well.
We are getting to know our new little bundle and settling in with feeding and sleeping at the hospital. We expect to be going home Saturday evening, but that is just a guess.
Thanks for all of the prayers and support. We look forward to sharing little Charlie with all of you. Special thanks to "Mr. Borland" for looking after Neo for us.
Here are the pictures we have so far. Since I don't have internet access at the hospital, my next update might not be until we get back home.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Well, we had a good weekend, but no baby yet.
I have been worried for a while about Neo adjusting once the new addition arrives. Mainly, I was concerned about him not being able to play with me and mom, and not really having many other kids to play with.
And then, yesterday, this kid rides by on his bike, gets a little past the house, stops, and yells, "Hey!"
Neo said, "What?"
"You wanna go ride bikes?"
The kids name is John, and they spent all weekend together. He is a great kid with great manners. Christian and I met his parents this morning and they played together all day again (and were hard to separate). Later in the afternoon I took them for ice-cream. It looked like they had a really great weekend. They are already discussing sleep-overs and how soon they can get together and play again. Reminds me of the friendship I had with a friend named Karl growing up.
So, it was a good weekend, and we are waiting patiently for the new one. If you think you might be able to make it into Houston to visit after the baby comes, please check out Christian's post on her blog for more info. We want to coordinate visits so that we are aware of who is coming and when.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
News news news... lets see if I can remember whats been going on.
Christian and I bought our first pieces of furniture. And being completely new to furniture shopping, we also spent way more money than we should have. Having said that, we did get some beautiful, well made furniture (all solid wood, no veneers, dovetailed joints, etc.) and it should last a long time. This was a bedroom set for the new master bedroom we are working on. I don't have any pictures of the room yet. We still have a few more things to do in there, so after we wrap those up and clean up the room, I will take some pictures. Christian and I really love the color we chose and the new look. It is starting to become our "sanctuary downstairs".
Neo went to the YMCA Camp Pinetree again. This time, he stayed for five days. He really enjoyed it. Pictures are here.
Mom, Emily, and Kam came to visit us last weekend and helped us get some things together in the baby room. Also, Mom helped out with cooking and cleaning, which was a huge help. Thanks guys. We really appreciate it. A couple of pictures of the boys playing are here.
Christian is doing well with the pregnancy. "Enfant" is still doing well and planning his escape.
Neo spent his 2nd to last week of summer vacation at a Karate Camp. Much of the camp was not about karate, but he did manage to get a couple of lessons in, and we think he may try some karate lessons after school this year.
Yesterday, while mowing the grass, I found that the backyard had lots of spider webs. As I was going around weed-eating, I ran across one huge web with two banana spiders in it. Some pictures of them are here, along with a video of me feeding her a worm. These spiders are actually called golden silk orb-weavers, and are very cool. Neo and I had fun catching lovebugs and throwing them into the web and watching the big spider eat them. We threw in a worm after lovebugs started getting boring. I thought the worm might be too big, but the big one attacked it immediately and started wrapping it up.
Friday, August 03, 2007
I would like to tell everyone how wonderful my wife is. I feel so blessed to have her as my lifelong teammate, that I felt like writing to the world about it.
Right now, I am involved with a business opportunity that is taking quite a bit of my time. It is a big opportunity, so I am trying to give it everything that I can.
But through all this, I have a wife. I have a pregnant wife. I have a house that we are trying to get ready before the baby. She has every reason to demand that I be at home and I be making her comfortable. She has every right to be upset with me working late.
But, she doesn't. Not only does she not do those things... she is supportive. She understands and helps me out. I am so truly blessed.
I love you so much sweetheart, and I really appreciate the sacrifice you are making for me and our family. It really means a lot to me. And quite frankly, after this business effort is over, and after we have the baby, you deserve a big, something. I dunno what... but you deserve it.
I love you with all my heart. Thank you for understanding.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there.
A special thanks to my mom who put up with me, and continues to put up with me.
Also, special thanks to Mrs. Pam. You raised a wonderful daughter who helps me enjoy life every day.
But thanks most of all to my princess: you have been an amazing mother to Antonio and have always been there for us. We love you.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Some of you know the big news. For those who don't, here it is.
I know the pictures is a bit fuzzy, but it is, indeed, a pregnancy test. And it does, indeed, say "Pregnant" on the indicator.
Last week, Christian went to the doctor and confirmed. We are so excited!
Neo is extremely excited. He has many theories about what is going on inside mommy's tummy. The other day while we were eating, he told mom to make sure she took small bites. And the other night, we told him that he could talk to the baby inside mommy's tummy and that when the baby is born, she would recognize his voice. He got excited and started talking to the baby through mom's mouth. He asked, "when the baby cries, is the sound going to come out your mouth?"
We have been very busy around here starting to get things ready. We have decided to do some room rearranging in the house, which has kicked some room projects into high-gear.
But, when I get some time, I am going to post some lists on the website. As part of our getting ready, we realize we have to get rid of lots of our stuff that has piled up in our house as we just don't have room for even half of it. I am going to post one list of all this stuff in case any one wants it or wants to object to us getting rid of it.
The other list will be a list of baby things we know we will need. We don't want anyone to buy any of it, but we just want to see what is still in the family and what isn't. For example, we had a stroller, and playpen, and lots of things when Neo was born, and we aren't quite sure who we gave it to. This list will just be a "lookout list" for those things so we can see what we should buy and what we shouldn't.
Congrats to us!! Congrats and thanks to you babe!! I love you and I can't wait to be by your side again. Thanks also to everyone in the family who has given us so much love and support. We love you and we are looking forward to sharing this with all of you.
Oh, one other thing: when we got back from vacation, Christian received a nice award from her company. Neo and I were able to attend the ceremony and got a few pictures. They are here. Great job mom. We are very proud of you.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Christian is preparing to go back to school and get her MBA. The first step of this was preparing for and taking the GMAT. I won't get into the details since Christian will probably tell you guys all about it on her website.
That's right. Christian has a website now! It took us only a few minutes to set up and she is ready to post to her blog. The address of her website it http://christian.graffagnino.net (there is a link to it under the "homepages" section). I am hosting it here on our web server and it is very easy to do, so if anyone else is interested in doing this, please let me know. It can be a great way to share thoughts about decorating a new home, news about grandkids, or photos from a recent jewelry party.
Our refrigerator went out last week. We shopped around but was forced to make a quick purchase. In the end, it didn't have to be, because we lost most of the food anyway.
We eventually settled on a Whirlpool from Lowe's. Whirlpool has been ranked the brand lowest in repairs for 8 years in a row (by Consumer Reports I think). We got a black, 25 cu ft. side by side. It is one of the cheaper ones, so not many bells and whistles, but it has a lot of room. Also, Lowe's gave us 10% off if we put it on a Lowe's card, a $75 gift card, and a rebate for free delivery. And since we have 12 months no payments, no interest, we should have plenty of time to sell our blood and plasma to pay for it :)
We had always hoped to be able to take the house one room at a time and furnish/decorate it buying the exact things we wanted for that room, and then saving for the next room. Now that we have had some expensive repairs to make, and foundation repair coming up, we decided to start decorating the rooms as best we can with the things that we have and not buying anything. This will be kind of fun to see what we can do without spending much money.
The first task was to wrap up the theater room. This weekend, I got in the attic and we installed an outlet in the ceiling next to the projector so we don't have a power cable running down the wall. The only things remaining in there are two movie posters to hang up (we are thinking about using "The Incredibles" and "The Matrix"). If anyone knows a place to get cheap movie posters or cheap poster frames, let us know.
Next up on the list, our bedroom!