Terra Nomad

Every day is like survival. You're my lover, not my rival.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Spain 2010

I booked our flights today! We fly to Madrid on Sunday, March 28th and we fly back from Barcelona on April 7th.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Southeast Road Trip Day 10

We booked a room in Bowling Green, had breakfast and headed to Tennessee on I-75 until we got to Chattanooga and got on I-24 to Lookout Mountain. Normally you can see quite far from the top, but today it was very foggy, it reminded me of the time I drove through Shenandoah. We drove up the mountain and back down getting lots of pretty pictures on the way. After crossing over Nickajack Lake, we took the exit for Lynchburg to go to the Jack Daniel's Distillery. You start by getting a tour time (it's free) and wandering around a museum until your tour starts. The tour starts with a film and a walk up to the area where they make charcoal. Then you see the cave where the water comes in to the grounds and walk through his house. Our guide explained that the trees had a black covering on their bark due to the amount of alcohol that evaporated out of the barrels, called the "angel's share". We saw the stills and then went into the bottling area where they were packaging the single-barrel stuff. Lastly we went through the very fumy barrel house and into a bar where they served lemonade. The county they are in is dry, but they have special permission to sell bottles in their store.
Next it was on to Nashville to see the Parthenon. It's a full scale replica of the one in Athens that was originally built in 1897 for the World's Fair, and rebuilt in the 1920's. As we walked around it, we came across a row of yoga mats. It looked like some kind of weird art installation until the people using the mats to work out came around the corner after taking a lap around the building.
We got to our hotel in Bowling Green and watched a bit of TV. There were some kind of court or city council meetings on the local channel and they were kind of funny. One guy was fighting a $15 parking ticket, and when he was beign sworn in, the judge says "do y'all swear to tell the truth?" We realized that aside from a few tour guides, most of the people in Georgia didn't have much of an accent. But now in Tennesse and Kentucky, almost everyone had a drawl. Mike said our Jack Daniel's guide would have been subtitled if she had been on TV.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Southeast Road Trip Day 9

Since Mike didn't get much sleep, we cancelled the hotel in Nashville and stayed in Atlanta another night. While he rested, I took the truck to the Atlanta Zoo to see some more Giant Pandas. On the way to see them, there were Flamingos, Elephants, a pair of Southern Ground Hornbills, Lions, Meerkats, a Rhinoceros, Giraffes, Zebra, Ostriches and a Waterbuck. A guy by the meerkats told his daughter that they were "meekrats" and a woman told her grandson that the rhinoceros was a hippo! The guy could have been kidding, but the woman was serious. Even though you couldn't see the rhino's head because it was laying behind a log, there was still at least two signs on the exhibit. The Waterbuck was easy to spot when I first walked up, but I sat down to check the map and he hid behind a tree for the rest of the time.

Next there was a Bongo and two Kori Bustards, then the Gorilla enclosure and then The Living Treehouse housing lots of birds. Adjacent to the treehouse are some Black-and-white-ruffed Lemurs who were all resting, unlike the Ring-tailed ones we'd seen in DC. More primates were next door, in an enclosure shared by Drills, Mona Monkeys and Wolf's Guenons. The Mona Monkeys were running around chasing each other and I noticed that one was missing a back leg, but was able to keep up with the others just fine. I tried to get a good view of the Asian Small-clawed Otters, but they were all huddled up against a door. The Orangutans were not as shy, there was an adult male and a baby climbing on the structure in their exhibit and another male relaxing in full view of all us gawkers. The last two animals I saw before the Giant Pandas were a Red Panda, who was sleeping in his box that resembled a bird feeder, and the Komodo Dragon who was perfectly positioned in a window so people could place their loved ones in front and snap pictures.

Time for Giant Pandas! First up outside was Yang Yang, the male who walked around for a bit and then sat down to inhale bamboo. Also outside was his daughter, two and a half year old Mei Lan, who alternated between laying on her stomach and laying on her back lazily chomping bamboo. Then inside Yang Yang's son, seven month old Xi Lan, was climbing on a branch, entertaining all the kids and adults squeezed under the canopy to watch him. His mother Lun Lun kept an eye on him while scarfing bamboo. Back outside, Yang Yang paced around some more and then decided to cool off in the water.

I stopped for a snack and then went over to see some big cats. The Sumatran Tigers were easy to photograph, but Moby the Clouded Leopard was very elusive. The next area had more birds, including a pair of Milky Eagle Owls, a King Vulture and a Cassowary. All of the Kangaroos were resting, but they kept a close eye on any nearby humans. Second to last was the Petting Zoo with Kunekune pigs, three kinds of goats and sheep, and last was the Giant Tortoises.

I headed back to the hotel to check on Mike and he was tired but the pain had subsided, so I drug him out to dinner at Carrabba's.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Southeast Road Trip Day 8

We had the good breakfast again, booked a night at the Wingate in Atlanta and checked out. Instead of heading straight for Atlanta, we doubled back into South Carolina and went out to Hilton Head Island. I was picturing a small town with a bunch of houses, hotels and little shops, but there are 33,000 people in Hilton Head, so it's bigger than I expected. I used Google Maps to find a public beach, so we ended up on Burke's Beach. It was too cold for swimming, but we waded out into the waves. It was the first time either of us had been in the Atlantic. There were lots of small holes in the sand, and when a wave would wash water over them, the animal below would siphon sea water and sand out of the hole. We tried to dig down and see what they were, but we never found anything. There were gulls and pelicans flying out over the water, and we started digging some small holes in the sand. When we walked away from the area we'd dug up, some gulls came down to investigate. As we were heading back towards our shoes, we saw what looked like a footprint, but it had an odd pattern to it, like an insole had been left behind. I flipped the "insole" over only to discover it was a sand dollar! We didn't want it to dry up on the beach, like another we'd seen, so Mike brought it back into the ocean. As I was trying to get my shoes back on, I fell into some plants, and when I got back up there were cockleburrs on my jeans. I was not careful enough getting them off and I got several slivery things stuck in my hand. We stopped at a Wal-Mart on the way back to the mainland (cheap souvenirs!) and then took 95, 16 and 75 up to Atlanta. By the time we reached the hotel, Mike was feeling sick. He thought he was getting a bad cold, so I grabbed us dinner from KFC and got him some medication at Walgreens. It turned out he had a kidney stone, so he didn't get much sleep that night.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Southeast Road Trip Day 7

Wingate hotels have a great breakfast in their lobby, the regular continental stuff plus some kind of sausage or bacon, a waffle maker and cappucino. We took our time eating and getting ready, so we didn't leave the hotel until noon. Savannah has plenty of traffic, so we parked in a ramp a few blocks from the river and walked past another Custom House, the golden-domed City Hall and then down to the riverfront. We got tickets for Old Savannah tours and then ambled down River Street to the boarding area. From River Street, you can see Savannah's cable-stayed bridge, the Talmadge Memorial Bridge which looks just like the Ravenel bridge in Charleston. The trolley took us around to fourteen stops in the city, including some of the squares, the main campus of Savannah College of Art and Design, a house built out of marble dust bricks, the oldest tree in Savannah, City Market, the Historical Society, the First African Baptist Church, Colonial Park cemetery and the Pirate's House, which is now a restaurant. Our guide explained that the blue color is supposed to keep evil spirits away, and that Robert Louis Stevenson set some of the action in Treasure Island at the Pirate's House.
Once the tour was over, I stopped to get some boiled peanuts and then we stopped for ice cream. The peanuts smelled like overcooked peas, but they tasted good. We walked up to Johnson Square and then got back in the truck to drive down River Street, through the city and around some more squares. Heading back to the hotel, we went over the Talmadge bridge and then had dinner at the Longhorn Steakhouse. Last night's domino game continued and Mike won again.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Southeast Road Trip Day 6

Breakfast was the only thing we really did in North Carolina, since there was just 20 miles left before we got to South Carolina. We perused the atlas and our guidebooks for a good place to see the ocean and we settled on Charleston, specifically Fort Sumter. So we headed southeast off of 95 and took 26 into Charleston. We parked at Liberty Park and went into the Fort Sumter Visitor's Center, a building on the mainland housing artifacts from Civil War Era South Carolina. There we got our tickets for the ferry that brings you out to Fort Sumter, since it's on an island that was constructed over a sand bar at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. As we waited to board the ferry, we saw several boats traveling through the harbor and some that were docked, including a cruise ship and one that looked like a pirate ship to my landlubber eyes. Off to the left there was the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River, the longest cable-stayed bridge in the western hemisphere.
We took seats on the top floor where the wind sliced right through us. I had to put up my hood and was still freezing! As we pulled away from the dock, some gulls followed the ferry out to Fort Sumter. A few passengers threw bread for them as they screeched and dove. I took video of them, and I would guess they are Bonaparte's Gulls, but I'm not really sure. There were a few pelicans and other birds around as well. Out in the harbor we saw Fort Moultrie, Castle Pinckney, USS Yorktown, a Custom House, and some great views of Charleston. There was a narration on the boat telling us about the harbor and the events leading up to the first shots of the Civil War, which took place at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Once we arrived at the Fort, the ranger gave a more detailed talk about the dealings between Anderson and Beauregard, as well as explaining the six flags that flew overhead. He explained that the tree on the South Carolina flag is a palmetto and the crescent shape is from the caps of South Carolinian troops that fought in the Revolutionary War.
Then we were let loose to run around the Fort, visit the museum and stare out at the ocean for about 45 minutes before the boat brought us back to the docks. The gulls accompanied us again and the cruise ship passed close enough that we could wave at the passengers.
Since we'd been in view of the Ravenel bridge the entire time, Mike really wanted to drive over it, so we took the long way out of town, over the bridge and around Charleston on 526 before meeting up with Highway 17. There are lots of signs proclaiming it the Savannah Highway, so we knew we were headed in the right direction. We giggled as we passed the US Vegetable Labratory and got to the Wingate in Savannah just in time for sunset, dinner at Sam Snead's steakhouse and the first half of a two-night domino game.

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flock of gulls

flock of gulls
Originally uploaded by soelo

These birds followed the ferry out to Fort Sumter and back. Some passengers threw bread for them as they screeched and dove. Some would rest on top of the boat and others landed on the water.
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Friday, March 20, 2009

Southeast Road Trip Day 5

This morning we checked out and drove around most of Maryland trying to find a post office! We finally found one and then drove into the city headed for the National Zoo. After a bit of trouble finding the parking lot, we got there just a few minutes before noon. The Giant Panda exhibit was at the other end of the zoo, so we decided to head there quickly and then take our time coming back. As we headed up, we saw the Przewalski's Horses and the Orangutan. Then we came to the Giant Panda exhibit! They were all three awake and walking around their enclosures. I think the first one we saw was Tian Tian (his name means "more and more") and he was eating bamboo. He'd had enough of us staring, so he went up towards the building after I got some good video. Then we walked up the bridge and saw Mei Xiang, who was resting towards the top of her enclosure and lastly we saw three year old Tai Shan, who is nearly the size of an adult.
We continued on and saw the Red Pandas eating, the Asian Small-clawed Otters sleeping in a pile, a Fishing cat and the Clouded Leopard, who was soon to be a father! Check out the clouded leopard cubs that were born at the Zoo just four days after we visited. We went inside the Small Mammal House and saw lots of Golden Lion Tamarins, Golden Lion-headed Tamarins (I guess there is a difference), Elephant-shrews and Naked Mole Rats. I think my favorite small mammal was the Prehensile-tailed Porcupine. There was a zookeeper in the enclosure and she was reaching out to them. They were moving really slowly towards her, like sloths or something.We saw the Sumatran Tiger and the male African Lion, who grunted and growled as I filmed him. Lastly, we saw Prairie dogs, Cows and Alpaca before leaving.
When we left, we drove on Rock Creek Parkway past the Watergate Hotel, the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial. We drove over the Potomac again and went by the Pentagon and the Air Force Memorial before hitting rush hour traffic on 395. Traffic stayed bad onto 95 and most of the way through Virginia. Once we hit North Carolina, all we saw were signs for hotels and outlet malls, I guess because it's on the way if you drive to Florida from just about anywhere in the Northeast. We got to our hotel in Lumberton, North Carolina after dark.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Southeast Road Trip Day 4

We took the Metro into town again and had breakfast at Johnny Rocket's in Union Station before getting back on the Tourmobile. This time we went to the Museum of Natural History and saw the Dinosaur and Fossil Mammals. Then we went through the Sant Ocean Hall and the Mammal Hall, which was just like the Field Museum with tons of stuffed animals on display. There was a Giant Panda, a Fennec Fox and a movie playing about the earliest mammals. It explained that the first ones were very small shrews during the time that the dinosaurs were the dominant aniamals. Somehow the shrews survived the meteor and became dominant. Even though it was geared towards kids, I still learned quite a bit.
After that we went down to the basement to visit the gift shop and have lunch. Then we went up to the Geology Hall and saw lots of cool rocks and minerals before going inside the little room that houses the Hope Diamond, the largest blue diamond in the world, and some large meteorites. The day at the museum had tired us out, but I insisted we go out see the Jefferson Memorial, so we got back on the Tourmobile. I'd always thought Jefferson was sort of hunched forward because I'd only seen it from behind, but he's standing straight up. As we were leaving, we saw more helicopters over the Tidal Basin like we had yesterday. Lastly, we grabbed some gelato back at Union Station and headed back to the hotel, where we played dominoes and booked our next three nights, one in North Carolina and two in Savannah.

My Flickr Pictures from March 19th

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Originally uploaded by soelo

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Southeast Road Trip Day 3

We took the Metro into the city, but we rode it one stop too far. We were trying to get to Union Station and assumed they would announce the stop or we'd see a big sign. We rode back one stop and got our tickets for Tourmobile, a hop-on hop-off narrated tour of Washington D.C. After leaving Union Station, we drove past the north side of the US Capitol (the side you see on the news), and then down the National Mall past the National Gallery of Art, the National Archives, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of American History. Then came the memorials: the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.

We knew it was supposed to rain the next day, so we decided to focus on outdoor things today, which meant we crossed the Potomac and went on the Arlington National Cemetery leg of the tour. I remembered going out there in 1992 when my marching band came to D.C. The first stop out in Arlington was the Eternal Flame over JFK's grave, which had changed since I first saw it to include Jackie, who died in 1994. Robert Kennedy's grave is next to theirs and our guide told us that his was the only wooden cross in the whole cemetery. We took the bus up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and on the way we passed the grave site of the pilot of the plane that was hijacked and flown into the Pentagon on 9-11 as well as the headstones for lots of men lost at sea. They aren't buried there, but their headstones are close together on hillsides throughout Arlington. There are also several areas where there are clumps of unknown soldiers from wars before most soldiers wore dogtags. At the Tomb, we saw the changing of the guard and The Canadian Cross Of Sacrifice.

Next we headed back over the Potomac to visit the Lincoln Memorial as well as the Memorials for the Veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. We climbed up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial and got lots of pictures both inside and out. Adjacent is The Korean War Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated in 1995 so I had not seen it yet. It's nineteen soldiers walking through a rice paddy and a granite wall that faces them with pictures of soldiers in it. The wall is shiny, so the statues are reflected in the wall to a really cool effect. The quote "Freedom is not free", the casualty statistics and the names of countries that sent troops are all part of the memorial as well.

We went over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which seemed much bigger than the first time I saw it. I'd not realized back then that the names were all in order, or that the design was so controversial when it was first picked out. It had been a full day, but we still had to get back to Union Station, so we got back on the bus, went past the golden sword in front of the White House and back up the National Mall. As we drove past the west side of the Capitol building, we decided to hang out there for a while, get some pictures and gaze down the National Mall. After our gazing was done, we went back to Union Station, got some souvenirs and had dinner at Pizzeria UNO.

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US Capitol

US Capitol
Originally uploaded by soelo

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Originally uploaded by soelo

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Originally uploaded by soelo

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Originally uploaded by soelo

(If you are seeing this link on Facebook, you probably have to click it to see the picture.)
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Monday, March 16, 2009

Southeast Road Trip Day 1 and 2

The first two days we really just drove east. I woke up late and then we took a wrong turn before leaving the state! Things could only get better. We hit some construction and traffic going around Chicago and then stopped for gas and snacks in Indiana. After one missed exit and a stop at a KFC/Pizza Hut for dinner, we made it to Toledo, Ohio Monday night.
We woke up and booked two nights in College Park, Maryland, just outside D.C. We had breakfast at a Denny's before continuing east. I fell asleep in Pennsylvania and woke up when we entered a tunnel. I'd been using the atlas to navigate, but I decided to try Google Maps on my Blackberry. I've had it for a year now, and I always thought the GPS was not activated. But when I opened Maps up, it pinpointed our location! It works just like the non-mobile version, letting you search the map and get directions. I ended up using it quite a bit for the rest of the trip. We made it to our hotel through a bit of traffic, then went to buy shoes for Mike. He'd meant to bring some tennis shoes, but all he had were the hiking boots he was wearing. We tried two different restaurants that we found on the map, one was closed and the other was more like a dance club, so we finally settled for Applebee's.

Day Three

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

The results of my 101 things in 1001 Days

Back in June of 2006, I made a list of 101 things I wanted to get done in 1001 days. March 8th, 2009 was the official end of the project. I got 49 of them done, and there are about ten others that remain half done.

The 49:
1 Go to Europe (DONE May 07)
2 Turn thirty (DONE 6/22/07)
4 Take a Papermaking or other art class (DONE 12/13/06)
6 See Los Angeles (DONE 6/22/06)
12 Take an official tour of a city, even if it just Minneapolis (DONE - Berlin 3/25/08)
13 Organize my CDs, both music and computer (DONE 7/20/06)
14 Whiten my teeth (DONE June 07 - ditto)
15 Go to The Science Museum (DONE 6/25/08)
17 Take Writing 2 (DONE Dec 07)
18 Make an informative opening page for soelo.com (DONE)
21 Set aside an arts and crafts area in home (DONE - because my roommate is cool, he did it for me.)
22 Get a dishwasher and washing machine (DONE 7/3/06)
23 Read at least 33 books (one per month) (DONE Sept 2008)
28 Put something on soelo.com in addition to my blog (DONE)
29 See a Panda Bear (in captivity, most likely) (DONE 3/24/08)
31 Buy more wine and learn which wineries I like (DONE)
32 Learn to make a wine spritzer that I like (DONE Nov 06)
33 Attempt to improve my handwriting (DONE, but just the attempt)
34 Drive along the west coast (DONE June 18-21, 2006)
39 Knit, crochet or sew something nice enough to wear in public - and wear it. (DONE, if my wallet counts)
40 Make one birthday or Christmas gift (DONE Feb 7, 2009)
42 Post to my blog on 87% of the days in a month. (27/31) (Done Dec 07)
47 Fill the tank with gas - drive till it’s half gone, take pictures, and then come back (DONE 10/11/08)
49 Learn to make homemade chai (DONE Oct 06)
51 Memorize 'If' by Rudyard Kipling (DONE July 31, 2006)
52 Journalize my time from age 18 to 28 (DONE I used a timeline instead)
56 Make a nice long blogroll (DONE - via rss and gmail)
57 Get my car's rear axle fixed (DONE June 12, 2006)
58 Try ordering groceries online (DONE Jan 08)
60 Update my immunizations (DONE 8/7/08)
61 Go on a blind date (DONE Sept 07)
62 Go on a real date (with someone I know or meet, not a fix-up) (DONE July 07)
64 Get rss archives down to below 100 (DONE, but then I switched to Google Reader)
70 Set up scanner (DONE Nov 30, 06)
74 Tag most of my blog entries (DONE Dec 27, 2006)
77 Organize my books and list the ones I own but haven't read (DONE 07/02/07)
78 Go to the Como Zoo (DONE May 07)
80 Buy and use a Tetsubin (DONE June 06)
86 Get a passport (DONE May 16th, 2007)
87 Make a significant contribution to a Wikipedia article (DONE Summer 07)
89 Make cookies from scratch (DONE July 08)
90 Make another dessert from scratch (DONE Nov 08, Baked Brie)
91 Make an entire meal (entree, two sides and a beverage) myself (DONE Feb 07)
93 Make an asian noodle dish in my wok (DONE May 08, Chicken Fried Rice)
94 Play board games with my friends (DONE)
96 Retake Calculus 2 (DONE Aug 08)
97 Flirt with a stranger (DONE)
98 Use craigslist for something (DONE Jan 07 - my apartment)
99 Get some more videos for my ipod (DONE - the ipod broke and I got it fixed and I never use it to watch videos anymore)

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Seeing the Southeast

On Monday, the boyfriend and I are setting out on a thirteen day road trip. Places we plan to hit are Savannah, Louisville, Washington DC, Atlanta and maybe Nashville. Although I have done plenty of reading, map-staring and bookmarking, we aren't being too rigid in our plans. We figure we will just plan each day the night before. I think we each have some specific things we want to see, and apart from that we will just go with the flow. My must-sees are the National Mall, Giant Pandas (probably in D.C., maybe in Atlanta), the historic center of Savannah and at least the outside of the Parthenon in Nashville. A riverboat ride would be cool, too, and it seems like most of the big towns in the South have them.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Michael Crichton

Micheal Crichton has died of cancer. I really enjoyed his book entitled 'Travels', but I haven't read any of his more popular novels. The book is a collection of episodes from his life from the 60's to the 80's, a mix of biography and travel stories.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Originally uploaded by soelo

Sigh... I wish I was somewhere over here right now.
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Current Events

I have updated my 101 things post, checking off a few more things while I was changing the text back to all black. I made cookies in July, took my Calc final Wednesday and got my immunizations last Thursday. I don't have my grade yet.

I start a new class, Elections and Political Parties on August 25th. In most classes there is at least one annoying person (although Calc2 was mercifully lacking one) and I just know there will be more than one in this class.

An arch in Utah's Arches National Park has collapsed. Utah was so pretty when I visited it with my mother in 2003. We talk about going back all the time.

The last item on my list of 9 things to do this summer was to visit another State Park in addition to Frontenac and Afton. When my grandfather died in June, he was buried in Fort Ridgely Cemetary, which is inside the Fort Ridgely State Park. Then when I went up to Sunset Lodge with my boyfriend and his family in July, we visited Itasca State Park and walked across the headwaters of the Mississippi. I had not even realized/remembered either of those until I pulled up the list of Minnesota State Parks and saw them both on the list.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

See The World - Gomez

Day to day
Where do you want to be?
'Cos now you're trying to pick a fight
With everyone you need
You seem like a soldier
Who's lost his composure
You're wounded and playing a waiting game
In no-man's land no-one's to blame

See the world
Find an old fashioned girl
And when all's been said and done
It's the things that are given, not won
Are the things that you earned

Empty handed, surrounded by a senseless scene
With nothing of significance
Besides a shadow of a dream
You sound like an old joke
You're worn out, a bit broken
Asking me time and time again
And the answer's still the same

See the world
Find an old fashioned girl
And when all's been said and done
It's the things that are given, not won
Are the things that you earned

You've got a chance to put things right
So how's it going to be?
Lay down your arms now
And put us beyond doubt
So reach out it's not too far away
Don't mess around now, don't delay
See the world..

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Cabin Life

We've been up here since Saturday afternoon and already I have seen dragonflies, chipmunks, a red squirrel, ducks, loons, eagles, herons and several varieties of bass. Last night, Mike and took his boat out to watch the sunset and do some fishing. We got a few nibbles but didn't catch anything. Then as we were heading in we saw a shooting star! I can't believe how big the loons are or how beautiful their call is.
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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Did you know...

that there are at least three escalators in Wyoming.

The only time I've been to Wyoming was with my high school marching band and we went to Cheyenne. We went through South Dakota on the way and spent a day in Colorado. The only thing I remember about Cheyenne was going the rodeo and spending the whole time in the amusement park. I am perpetually working a scrapbook of my travels and found that I don't have much in the way of Wyoming memories. Even my page that says Wyoming has at least one South Dakota picture on it.

I think I would enjoy stopping in Yellowstone, at Devil's tower or seeing the Grand Tetons.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008


I got back last night. I had to hurry to my connection in Chicago yesterday afternoon, and my luggage didn't make it. But United delivered my bag late last night. Sweet. I'll be posting my trip diary just like last year. Hopefully it won't take as long for me to post it all.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 10

Tuesday, April 1 - Rental car to Munich Airport, Flight to Chicago, Flight home

I woke up at 8:30 to find that none of the socks I'd washed the night before were dry, so I ended up blowdrying one pair to wear on the plane. I had breakfast at the hotel and headed for the airport. I was planning to fill up the car at the last exit, but there were no gas stations there, so I ended up driving all over the town of Freising looking for gas. I stayed on the main roads at first, but ended up finding one in a residential area. Because of the delay, I checked in for my 12:20pm international flight at 11, oops. The passport checker asked me if I was coming from Berlin because I had a KaDeWe bag with me.

They served us pasta for lunch and then I started watching movies. Alvin and the Chipmunks and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium were first. They were both more entertaining than staring at a seat back, but if I hadn't been on a plane, I don't think I would have finished watching them. Then I turned to No Country for Old Men in desperation. I missed the first 5-10 minutes and wasn't planning on liking it, but I did. Back in February I saw a picture from the Oscars, and I thought Javier Bardem looked a lot like Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and I guess I am not the only one. I watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy next and was reminded of how similar they look. For a snack, we were served one of the best sandwiches I've ever had, smoked turkey on pretzel bread with paprika chips.

We landed at Chicago O'Hare and went through Passport Control. The guy who checked mine didn't say a word to me. He just took my passport, looked on the computer, stamped it and gave it back to me. The stewardesses told us that if we were laying over in Chicago, we had to pick up our bags and recheck them on our second flight. So, I waited a very long time for my bag, just to carry it about 50 feet to recheck it and then run onto the train to the other terminal. While on the train, I turned the network on my Blackberry on for the first time since leaving Chicago ten days ago and it started downloading 150 emails. I had to go through security again and then run to my gate only to see them closing the door to the jetway. They let me on as the very last passenger (it seems to be a theme for me at O'Hare) and I slept most of the short flight to Minneapolis. My bag was not as quick as I was and didn't make it on the flight, so United had to deliver it to my house around midnight.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 9

Monday, March 31 - Train to Dresden, Rental Car to Ingolstadt, Sleep in Ingolstadt

I had been fighting off a cough since the start of this trip, and Monday morning it kept me awake from 4am to 6am. I'd set my alarm for 7:30, but I fell back asleep until 8am. There was a train bound for Dresden due to leave the Holesovice station at 8:36 am, so I rushed to pack up the last of my stuff. I made it to the train in time and had to find an open seat since my ticket was a generic one with no seat assignment. Since this train was going back to Berlin, there were the same awesome views all the way to Dresden.

Once we got to Dresden, I knew I needed to disembark at Neustadt station to get on the S-Bahn route S2 to the airport. But I was anxious to get off the stuffy, crowded train and assumed there was plenty of transit between Haubtbahnof and Neustadt. There probably is, but I couldn't figure it out after I left the train at Haubtbahnof. I couldn't find any stops for the S2, nor could I find any routes at the station that said they went to Neustadt. I asked a few people but they didn't understand or didn't know where the S2 stopped.

Finally I walked around a tiny mall and found a stop for the S3. I got on it going the wrong direction first, but finally made it to Neustadt and got on an S2 to the airport.  The S3 had been a beautiful ride with views of museums that crossed over a river. The S2 went past some junkyards and lots of wooded areas. Once I made it to the airport, I rented a black VW Passat from Budget with automatic transmission. It didn't have a standard key, but instead you put a large fob into an ignition bay on the dashboard. No turning required, just push it in to start the engine.

After familiarizing myself with the car, it was time to drive on the German Autobahn! I exited the airport and got on the 4 to Chemnitz. Well, first I got on the 4 going the wrong direction and had to turn around to get to Chemnitz. Then I took the 72 and stopped at rest stop outside of Plaven. You have to pay 50 cents to use the bathroom, but you get it back if you buy something at the store there. The 9 then took me past Nuremburg and on to Ingolstadt, where I was staying for the night. The hotel was two quick turns off the Autobahn and I discovered that the Audi headquarters are in Ingolstadt. I ate dinner in the hotel's Italian restaurant: spaghetti with olive oil and garlic and then salmon.

Day Ten

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 8

Sunday, March 30 - Prague Day 2

March 30th was the start of Central European Summer Time (daylight saving here to us Americans) which pushes the clock ahead by an hour. Between that, my sleeping in and not hurrying much, I didn't leave my hostel until noon. I had already done most of the things I wanted to do in Prague in the previous day and a half! At Holesovice, I bought a generic ticket to Dresden for 525 kc (around $34) and then took the metro to Petrin Hill.
I planned to take the funicular up to the Petrin lookout tower, but the funicular was closed. Later I found out I could have taken a tram up to the top of the hill. Instead I walked up Karamelitska to the Charles Bridge again. This time I went across the bridge, came back over and went around to the Lennon Wall. Then I took the Metro up to the Malostranske namesti stop again. I crossed the river on Manesuv Most and walked past namesti Jana Palacha, named for Jan Palach. I got back on the Metro and headed to Palác Flora, a mall over the Flora Metro station. There I had some gelato, pondered seeing another movie and got some groceries. I decided against another movie and just went back to my hostel to surf the web for a bit.

Day Nine

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 7

Saturday, March 29 - Prague Day 1

I woke up at 8 am and took the Metro to Mala Strana and then the #22 tram up to the Prague Castle, the biggest castle complex in the world. When entering from the tram stop, you walk on a bridge over Deer Moat and past the riding school. I bought a 250 kc short ticket and a 50 kc photo permit. The short tour includes the Old Royal Palace, an exhibition "The Story of Prague Castle", St. George's Basilica, and Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower. St Vitus' Cathedral is free and holds the Bohemian Coronation Jewels. It reminded me of Westminster Abbey, just a bit less crowded. Next I went into the Old Royal Palace, a building where Czech kings have been crowned and presidents elected. Vladislav Hall is the large hall in the center of the palace with a vaulted ceiling in a rose petal pattern. It was a cold and windy day, and I noticed that most of the buildings were cold as well. Just off the hall is the Louis Tract, where the Thirty Years´ War began and where I was asked to show my photo permit. I continued on through St George's Basilica and then followed the crowd down the hill and into the Golden Lane. The Golden Lane is a collection of small houses within the castle grounds, also famous for housing Franz Kafka for a year.

The lane is full of gift shops, and as you descend the hill towards the castle exit, you pass more gift shops. Ignore those shops and take in the city views you see while passing Daliborka Tower. After a brief stop to snack and consult my guidebook, I took the 22/23 tram to Tesco, which sounded like a supermarket. It ended up being more like a department store with a small food section. I then walked north to Old Town Square to see the Astronomical Clock that has parts dating back to 1410. It is beautiful, entertaining and rather complicated. It was still cold, so I bought a Trdelnik, which is like a strip of dough wrapped around a metal stick and grilled with sugar and vanilla. As I sat and ate it, I made conversation with a British girl. She told me about how she and her boyfriend had missed their original flight to Prague and had to buy new tickets and drive several hours to a different airport. I told her about my passport ordeal last year.

After warming up a bit, I headed towards Josefov and the Old New Synagogue, but there was marathon being held that blocked my way. I got back on the Metro and went to Mala Strana, Lesser Town. Just outside the Malostranske namesti stop is a little park area with very nice views looking back at Old Town over the Charles River. I then took the Metro over to Wenceslas Square. I was mostly wandering at this point, with no real destination in mind. I sat in the square, read and gazed up at the National Museum. A group of demonstrators passed through the square and a woman started to hand me a pamphlet. She saw my book and said, "Oh, no Czech, no Czech," and walked away. I wandered a bit and then saw a sign for the Lucerna Passage. The name struck me as familiar, so I went inside. It is basically a mall, but then I saw this statue hanging inside and realized why the name stuck out.

There were two movie theaters (Kino) in the mall and There Will Be Blood was playing in English with Czech subtitles. I kept up my tradition by seeing it (100 kc for a ticket). It was too violent of course, but I did like the storyline. After the movie, I went back to the McDonalds near my hostel for dinner and then hit the sack.

Day Eight

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 6

Friday, March 28 - Train from Berlin to Prague, Sleep in Prague

I woke up at 8:30, packed and went downstairs to check out. I had purchased a train ticket from Deutsche Bahn on the Internet, but I was not sure if it gave me a car number and seat, so I asked at the front desk. It took them a few minutes and they had to ask several people, but they finally figured out that my car number was 260 and my seat was 56. I took the U-bahn to the Zoo station and got on the S-bahn to Berlin's Hauptbahnof, which is the largest crossing station in Europe. There I got snacks for the trip and went down to the lowest platform to wait for my train. It had started in Hamburg and was going all the way to Budapest, but I was only going to Prague. It was 2 and a half hours to Dresden and most of the scenery looked like very typical Midwestern American farmland.

From Dresden to Bad Schandau there were awesome views of the Elbe river and the bluffs and towns along its banks. The train was pretty empty until the first stop after the Czech border, in Decin Piper. There were lots of places along the tracks where there were houses built close to the tracks, but with a garden or cemetery between them. Once in the Czech republic, we continued along the river and the bluffs grew into mountains and there were more farms and vineyards.

Once we reached Prague, I got off at the first station, Holesovice and looked in vain for an ATM. I walked to my hostel and checked in, only to find I had a shared room and not a private one. I left my things there and went back to the train station. This time I found an ATM and took out a thousand crowns, or around 65 dollars. I got change at the McDonald's and was happy that they had curry sauce for my chicken nuggets, but it smelled too much like ketchup. I took the metro up to the Charles Bridge and walked across it, taking at least one picture of each statue as I went across. The sun slowly set as I walked across, so the pictures at the beginning show a much brighter sky then those towards the end. There are perfect views of both the Castle and Petrin hill from the bridge as well.

Day Seven

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate
Originally uploaded by soelo

Built in 1788. Napoleon had a victory parade through this when he conquered Berlin. This was part of the Berlin Wall and where it was first opened in 1989.


Germany and Prague - Day 5

Thursday, March 27 - Berlin Day 2

Today I went on the Discover Berlin tour from Berlin Walks, which I highly recommend for an overview of the city. Our tour guide was Jacob and we met outside the Zoo Tiergarten station. We took the S-Bahn a few stops and then saw the TV tower from far away. We went past the Berliner Dom, saw the roof of the Synagogue, and then hit Museum Island. There Jacob pointed out the bullet holes in some decorative columns, and explained how they were made during the Battle of Berlin. I think he said the Soviets made them.
Seeing the Gedachtniskirche's bombed out remains and now being in front of these bullet holes had a sobering effect on me. WWII had played out on the very ground beneath my feet. Many of the buildings and roads around me had been destroyed and rebuilt. It's one thing to learn or read about war, or even to watch it in a movie. It is quite another thing to have physical remains of a war in front of you.
We continued over the island and stood in the Lustgarten while he told us about the Altes Museum (Old Museum) and then the Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace). We then continued down Unter den Linden ("under the lime trees") past tons of buildings of historical importance and took a break in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Consruction on The Gate began in 1788, and since then it has become the ultimate symbol of Berlin's history of rule by the Prussians, Napoleon, the Nazis, the Soviets and now it's reunification. It was part of the Berlin Wall and witnessed Reagan's speech where he implored, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
After walking through the gate, we could see the dome over the Reichstag building off to the right, but turned left towards the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Memorial is a non-square city block covered in 2,711 large concrete slabs called stele (plural: stelea or steles). They vary in height from 8 inches to almost 16 feet, and the ground slopes down toward the center. The overall effect is chaos and order coexisting. The architect stated he wanted to show a supposedly ordered system that had gone awry. It was pretty somber walking through, even though the optical effects were interesting when I was near the center. One of the pictures I took there is now the wallpaper on my Blackberry.
After we all met up on the other side of the Memorial, we walked over to the parking lot of an apartment building and Jacob told us the story of Hitler's last days. We were standing right above the bunker where he killed himself, and Jacob explained how it was all just a pile of concrete rubble now. We walked past the former Luftwaffe headquarters and over to a section of the Berlin Wall that still remains on Niederkirchnerstrasse. Here he told us the story of the Wall coming down. We headed over to Checkpoint Charlie and then up to Gendarmenmarkt where the tour ended. I was surprised to see an Obama bumper sticker stuck to the sidewalk near Checkpoint Charlie.
I took the U-Bahn to Friedrichstrasse station to get batteries for my camera. The charger was not charging them in the camera, so I had been using my Blackberry for pictures during the whole walking tour. I then walked over to the Pergamon Museum. Inside I saw the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the Market gate of Miletus. I climbed to the top of the Pergamon Altar and then saw a scale model of the site of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.
After that, I bought some food at a grocery store and headed back to my hotel. Tomorrow I take the train to Prague.

Day Six

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 4

Wednesday March 26 - Berlin Day 1

I got up and headed back to Kurfürstendamm. I bought the transit half of the Berlin Welcome card and then headed over to KaDeWe, a big department store. I was looking for an adapter and some food, so I went up several escalators to the electronics department. There were no adapters in sight, but I did find a wall charger (with a Euro plug) for mini USB devices. Both my Blackberry and digital cameras are mini USB, so I grabbed it. I went up one floor to the food department. Wow! I got to see the hundreds of varieties of cheeses with my own eyes. I grabbed various things and went up to a register, but the woman said I had to go to register by the soda, since she couldn't ring up beverages. Okay, I guess. The guy ringing me up by the sodas gets annoyed that I have something electronic in my basket and tells me I have to buy that down on the electronics floor. Hmm, this is less like a store than a mall. Anyway, I head back to my hotel and have some lunch.

The Welcome card is both a 48 hour transit pass and a discount book, but I have to go to a Berlin infostore to get the discount book. I stop at the one in Neues Kranzler Eck to pick it up before heading over to the Zoo. It gets me 3 Euros off the 12 Euro admission.

Inside the Berlin Zoo, I wandered around looking at the outside animals, like elephants, goats, water bucks and giraffes and then went into the Primate house. Monkeys and Apes can be fun to watch, but I always like the lemurs the best. I can see the Gedächtniskirche from the southern end of the zoo, and get a few more pictures. I finally come to the Giant Panda, named Boa-Boa. This was my initial reason for coming to Berlin, to see a Giant Panda, and nearly every vacation I take involves a visit to a zoo or aquarium. Boa-Boa was pretty underwhelming since he was sleeping. Who can blame him? Being that cute must be exhausting. The enclosure can be viewed from 3 sides so while my first few pictures just look like a pile of fur, the ones from the other sides show a definite Panda shape. There is a picture of Boa-Boa wide awake here.

The Panda exhibit was attached to the Predator building. Inside there were wolverines, mongooses, meerkats, lions and my favorite, jaguarinos. I can't seem to find the English name for them, but they look like domestic cats that can tear you apart. I went through a bird building, past the sea lions and then out to see the Polar Bears. No, Knut wasn't out. I finished off with the rhinos, tapirs and hippos. Here are lots of other people's pictures of animals at the Berlin Zoo and here is my picture of a hippo. The oddest thing about the zoo was the number of adults I saw feeding or trying to feed the animals. One man was feeding the birds some seed and a woman was trying to get the tapirs to eat hay out of her hand.

Day Five

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 3

Tuesday, March 25 - Day in Munich, Afternoon Flight to Berlin, Sleep in Berlin

I woke up and had the awesome breakfast with the pretzels again. After checking out, I walked to the Haubtbahnof in the snow and left my bag in a locker that cost 3 Euros. I went looking for a department store called Hertie's, but I couldn't find it. Instead, I went into a store called Mueller, which was like a CVS/Walgreens. I got some cough drops and Kinder Eggs, and then went back to the Hb. I got a Tagskarte(day ticket) and took the S-Bahn to the Isartor stop. I got pictures and then walked back towards Marienplatz, since it was 11:30 and the Glockenspiel goes off at noon. This time I went inside the Neues Ratshaus and took some pictures. It started snowing pretty hard and so I took refuge in an alcove in front of a men's clothing shop along with many other tourists. The Fischbrunnen fountain was right in front of me and I could see icicles forming on some of the figures, and I took a picture.

The snow stopped just before noon, as if it was giving us a break or something. I stood and watched the Glockenspiel with all the other tourists, getting pictures and video. I heard a few people speaking in Russian around the column of St Mary. After the show was done, I headed back to get my bag and then hopped on an S-8 to the Munich Flughafen (airport). I assumed the airport was the last stop on the route, but at some point I began to get paranoid that I'd missed the airport stop because I was reading and didn't see the current stops on the map I had. So, I left the train to check the map. It turned out that I was still 2 stops from the airport, which meant I shivered in the snow for another 15 minutes waiting for the next train.

I checked in and killed time reading and eating cough drops until the flight. We all had to walk down stairs and board a bus that brought us out to the plane. It reminded me of my RyanAir flight last year, but this was Lufthansa. At least we all had assigned seats. Anyway, the flight was pretty turbulent, so thankfully it was short. I got my luggage and got into the terminal, but I had no idea where to catch the bus into town. Berlin Tegel is a round airport, so I just walked one direction (counterclockwise) and finally saw a sign directing me to the bus stop. I got on an X9 and took it to the Zoo/Tiergarten station. On the way, we crossed a river twice and I started to see lots of Communist era buildings. My hotel was very close to the Zoo station, so I started walking the 3 blocks. At a busy intersection, I looked left and saw the very top of Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche. It is a church built in the 1890s that was bombed in 1943. The ruins have been preserved and a new building built around it, but it's still breathtaking.

I got to my hotel and watched some Simpsons in German. After a while I got hungry, so I set out to find some food. I walked east on Kurfürstendamm and saw the church again. I went through a passage, which is like a skyway on the ground, and came out near the Aquarium entrance. It looked very Asian. I kept walking and found the Europa Center, which had signs promising food, even if it was just KFC. I ended up eating at an Irish pub, grilled cheese and Weissherbst wine. On the walk back to the hotel, I passed the Gedachtniskirche again, and this time the newer buildings were lit up. They have lots of blue glass in their walls, so they have pleasant glow at night. I got a lot more close ups of the church, even some where you can see the inside.

Day 4

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 2

Monday, March 24 - Arrive in Munich, Sleep in Munich

Once on the plane, I watched Dan in Real Life, Juno and some of Enchanted. I had already seen all 3 of them. I got some sleep, but I am not sure how much. I turned on my Blackberry at about 1:30 am Minneapolis time. All the networks were turned off, I was just using it to listen to music.

We landed in Munich and I got through Passport Control in no time. It was about 9am in Munich, 3 am back home. At the airport, I got a one day transit pass and boarded the 9:20 S8 to Haubtbahnof (the main train station). At the Daglfing stop, the train just sat for 10 minutes. There was some kind of announcement in German, and then when we reached Ostbahnof (East train station), the marquee said "Nicht er..." and everyone got off. I got on the next train, an S7 which was also going to the Haubtbahnof.

Once we got to the Hb, I had to walk a few blocks to the hotel past some sex shops, casinos and a place called "Sarah Supermaket". I was too early to check in, so they had me leave my bag at the front and go up and have breakfast. This was where I discovered the joy of Bavarian breakfast. They had big pretzels hanging there, so I had two with cream cheese, as well as some cereal and juice. I started to lose the tired feeling I had from the crappy night sleep. I went down after breakfast and got my room.

I got into my room about 11:30am and ended up sleeping until 4:30pm. I woke up and watched some tv before leaving for the Hb again. I took the S-Bahn to Marienplatz and heard lots of church bells as soon as I came up from the station. On Marienplatz is both the New and Old town halls (Ratshaus), as well as the Frauenkirche, Peterskirche and a Glockenspiel. There were lots of tourists and shoppers wandering around, and many of them had dogs along. I wandered around and found the Hofbrauhaus, traditional home to the Oktoberfest. I took some pictures of it, but didn't go inside. Instead, I got some pizza and hopped on the S-Bahn back to the Hb. As I was watching a bit more CNN, I find out it is supposed to snow tomorrow and there could be delays at the Munich airport. Great.

Day 3

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Germany and Prague - Day 1

Sunday, March 23 - Flight to Chicago and Flight to Munich

I woke up at 7:30 this morning and couldn't get back to sleep. I got up and packed a few very last minute items. I had brunch with my boyfriend and family. My mother had just gotten back from Paris on Friday, so she had lots of postcards and stories. She also gave me a green Pashmina scarf that I was glad to have along.

My boyfriend drove me to the airport at about 1:45, since my flight was at 3:20. I found out it was delayed until about 4:05, which put us in Chicago at 5:15 or so. My connection was leaving at 5:57pm, but the gates were very close. For the short flight, I had the whole back row to myself, and I got some sleep. I also watched some 30 Rock. When we landed in Chicago, I had just enough time to check for my next gate and be one of the last people on the plane.

Thankfully I had carried my bag on the plane, since I doubt my luggage would have made it.

Day 2

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Originally uploaded by soelo

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sixteen Hours

... or so until takeoff. I still have to pack a few last minute items, but that's it!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Silhouette against evening sky

Silhouette against evening sky
Originally uploaded by lizjones112

Six days until I fly to Munich, 7 days until I get to Berlin, and 10 days until Prague...

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Travel Plans

My mother is going to Paris in two days, and I leave for Germany in 11 days. So many people that I know have gone on trips lately:
My boss went to Ireland and will be going to Mexico in like two weeks
Le Van is in Mexico right now
My aunt and uncle just got back from Mexico
My cousins went to Vermont
Aaron and Ian went to Vegas and
Gee and Drew went to Amsterdam.
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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Stress Dreams

This morning I dreamt I was at the airport before my trip. I was in a small office with a guy who had to fill out some form for me. I got my boarding pass and had to run around trying to find my gate on all the little TV screens. Finally I just looked on my boarding pass and found I had to be in Terminal C.

I was concerned that I would be late, but I had to make a stop first. I went into a room that looked like a dentist's office and don't remember anything until I woke up. Apparently I'd had gastric bypass surgery right before getting on the plane. I was annoyed that I wouldn't be able to eat much in Europe. But somehow it was okay that I'd just had abdominal surgery and was going to get on a plane and then run around Germany and Prague! I was concerned I had not booked my last night in a hotel, though. As I got dressed, I checked out the scar, which was just a faint red line that ran from my throat to my stomach.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Germany and Prague

Deutschland Praha

In about 5 weeks I will be going back to Europe, this time visiting Germany and Prague.
I am flying into Munich, flying up to Berlin, taking the train down to Prague and then another train back over to Munich. I got a flight on Lufthansa from Munich to Berlin for about half the cost of a train ticket, and since the train is over 6 hours and the flight is just over 1 hour, I am saving time as well.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Panda Trivia

There are only four cities in America that have Pandas on display in their zoos: Washington, DC, San Diego, Memphis and Atlanta. The only other cities outside of Asia with Pandas are Mexico City, Berlin, Vienna and Madrid. If I go through either Berlin or Vienna on my way to Prague, I'll try to see one.

There are two subspecies of Giant Pandas, Ailuropoda melanoleuca melanoleuca which is the most common, and Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis, which only live in the Quinling Mountains.

While Giant Pandas are classified in the bear family, the Red Panda is not a bear, but is more closely related to raccoons and is considered the only living member of the Ailuridae family.

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Monday, December 31, 2007

Double O Seven

2007 in review:

January - I packed all of my possessions, got a new apartment thanks to Craigslist, and moved in the last week of January (movers rock). I also got Microsoft certified in Excel 2003.

February - I unpacked most of my stuff and started making dinner at my house once a week, starting with chicken lettuce wraps. I also got to go to a Minnesota Wild Game.

March - I started the month by booking my airfare to Europe in May and applying for my passport. The rest of the month spent I booking hotels and tours.

April - My grandparents moved out of their house and held an auction to get rid of stuff.

May - Europe!! But first, I had to beg and plead for my passport.

June - I turned 30.

July - I reread Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and the Half-Blood Prince and then read the Deathly Hallows. My niece and I hit Borders at midnight for the Deathly Hallows release party. I saw Order of the Phoenix at midnight the day it came out, and 3 more times in the theater.

August - It started with the bridge collapse. It ended with the first meeting of my Writing 2 class.

September - I met a guy online, started dating him and made him my boyfriend, all in 30 short, rainy days. We went to the Renaissance Festival on the 29th.

October - I visited Duluth with the new boyfriend and I transformed myself into Medusa for Halloween. My brother-in-law and I took my sister to see Jim Gaffigan at the Orpheum for her birthday.

November - I finally got to see MIA in concert at First Ave.

December - I stopped biting my nails. I used the method of wearing a rubber band on my wrist. It served as a reminder and on the few times I did bite, I snapped the rubber band. Lastly, I posted to my blog on 27 of the 31 days in December, which was one of my 101 things to do.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

If you catch me at the border, I got visas in my name.

I am sorry this is so long.

The Passport drama lives on. As you may recall, back in May I had to go to a passport office in person to get one in time to leave the country. A few days later, UPS tried to deliver a passport to my house, but I was already on my trip so they returned the package to the Charleston office where my original application was processed. This all happened in mid-May.

Fast forward to early November, nearly six months later, and I get a letter in the mail with a return address of "US Government". They seem to think I received two passports, the one I got in Chicago and the one they mailed to me, and they'd like the one I got in Chicago back. They even go so far as to cite Federal statutes that say you can't have more than one valid passport and threaten that if I try to use the Chicago one I may be "detained by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol." Remember, I never got the one they mailed to me, my Chicago one is the only one I have.

I call the number, that same evil number I had to call every day for two weeks in early May, and speak to the same woman who told me to mail them a letter to get my Birth Certificate back. She tells me I should mail them a letter to explain my situation. Why do you have a phone number, email addresses and a website if you are going to insist that every request is made in a letter? She also tells me that she can see that the original passport was returned to the Charleston office. I ask her why the people who sent me the letter can't see the same thing. She says, "Washington DC doesn't know it was returned." Okay, I guess computers haven't made it there yet.

On this letter from the Feds, there is actually a form that you can fill out to tell them that you only received one passport, so apparently this is not a rare occurrence. I fill out the form and mail it back, but I also include my own letter, which I copied to the State Department in an email. The only reply I got to the email was to please fill out the form and mail it in.

Shortly after getting this letter, I had a dream that I was actually in a Passport Office and I was yelling at some woman about what had happened. In the dream, I was was planning to take a short trip to Canada to make sure my passport was still valid. When I woke up, I realized that is actually a good idea.

Here is the letter I sent them:

Dear CLASP Unit,
My records indicate that I have only received one passport, the one numbered chicago#, from the Passport office in the Federal Building in Chicago. I had to go there to get my passport because the Charleston office did not send it to me within their promised time frame of ten weeks. After repeated phone calls advising that my travel date was fast approaching, I still got no assurance that my passport would even be in the mail by the date I was leaving. So, I went to get it in person.
Once I left on my trip, there were attempts to deliver an express mail package to my residence but they failed since I was not at home. According to the woman I spoke with yesterday at the phone number 877-487-2778, this package was returned to the Charleston office. I assume this package contained the passport number charleston#. If she can see this in her computer system, why can’t your office see the same thing?
Your letter indicates that my passport number chicago# is “in the process of being invalidated”. Please do not do this, but invalidate number charleston# instead. I never received that passport. It was returned to your Charleston office. If you insist on invalidating chicago#, I must insist that you send me charleston#. I paid my application fee, plus many other travel expenses to get to Chicago, so I deserve to have one valid passport.
I also request some kind of assurance that whatever passport you decide to keep valid will not cause me to “be detained by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection” as your letter threatens, since I have done nothing wrong.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Seventeen

Friday June 1

Time to head home. I was going to tube to Victoria, but I saw a bus that was headed there, so I hopped on that instead. It took a bit longer to get there, but I was still able to get a ticket for the 10:02 train to Gatwick. I grabbed a Falafel sandwich and sat down on the train. I realized I was on a local train, which made about 7 stops before finally getting to Gatwick. I got to go ahead in line for check-in since I was a bit late. There was some band in front of me in line for security and a girl asked them for their autograph. I still don't know who they were, but they all looked about 15. I hurried to my gate but it was still a long wait to board. I didn't sleep on the way home, I just watched tv and some movies.

When we landed around 4, I finally got to go through the short line at customs/immigration. They asked me what kind of food I was declaring and then I got my luggage. I called my ride, but then a guy yelled at me for using my phone. There were no signs that you couldn't use them, and I was not aware that I had to go through another customs line.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Sixteen

Thursday May 31

I woke up after not sleeping well and went to take a shower. I sat there for a good ten minutes trying to figure out how to get the water to come out of the shower and not the faucet. I finally figured it out, but I was very close to calling the front desk.

I stopped at a bakery for a croissant and juice and then hopped on the tube. I transferred at Notting Hill Gate and saw two Shih Tzu's on the platform. I got to the London Eye right at 11 and was able to get right in line to board because I had purchased my ticket back on my first day. I think the Eye was my favorite part of London. It is a giant observation wheel built right along the Thames. You get awesome views of all of London in your pod that holds like 25 people.

After that, I walked past County Hall and the Aquarium and over Westminster Bridge. I went right past Big Ben, through Parliament square and over to Westminster Abbey. There is a small church right by Westminster called St. Margaret's, and that's where Sir Walter Raleigh is buried. There are lots of other famous Brits buried in there, including the "Discoverer of Nineveh."

Inside Westminster Abbey there are many more graves and memorials: Oliver Cromwell, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, Cecil Rhodes just to name a few! In the Lady Chapel there are seats for the knights with helmets and swords hanging around them. I saw the coronation chair, where the monarchs are crowned and Poet's corner. At 1pm, some music started playing. I hit the gift shop and cafe for some postcards, a drink and a rest.

I headed out towards the nearest tube station and got some nice pictures of Big Ben on the way. The British Museum was my destination, but I stopped on the way for some groceries. I had a picnic in front before going inside the museum. After entering, I saw some artifacts from the discovery of Nineveh, which was weird considering I had just read about it in St. Margaret's. I also saw the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin marbles, and a huge figure from Easter Island.

I tubed back to my hotel and watched some Graham Norton before going to sleep.

Day Seventeen

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Fifteen

Wednesday May 30

I woke up at 8:20, packed everything in sight and checked out of Giovy after breakfast.
I left my luggage at the Termini and hit one of the stores in the attached mall. I got some flowery perfume for my niece and some mango vanilla stuff for myself. I always visit the zoo on vacation, but I hadn't seen it listed in any guidebooks, so had to look it up online. I got off the Metro at Flaminio and walked about a mile through Villa Borghese to the zoo and paid 8.50 Euros for admission. There is a public dog park adjacent to the zoo, and the nearest enclosure to the park is the hyenas! I wonder how many dogs go wild after hearing or smelling them. I saw a peahen with lots of chicks roaming free around the zoo, as well as two peacocks. The zoo has a big habitat built for the bears and in it they have comparison pictures of what the exhibit used to look like. It was basically just a bare room, so it's nice to see the improvement.

After the zoo I walked by the Modern Art Museum and took a bus back to the Metro, which brought me back to the Termini. I went online a bit more, got my luggage out of storage and took the same 6 Euro bus back to Ciampino. I got there about 7:20, since my flight was at 10. In the airport, I got some perfume at the duty free shop and popcorn for a snack. I didn't see popcorn much in Italy, and this package said "Popcorn not fried" and called it Air Corn. It was real popcorn though, not those puffcorn kernels.

Ryan Air started the boarding call at 9:30, changed the gate from 8 to 4 and then back to 8. I sat on the floor at times since there were hardly any chairs around the gate. Most of us ended up standing for almost an hour before getting on the buses to bring us out to the plane, so it was a mad dash for seats. It was a short flight and the line at UK Immigration looked shorter then the first one.

It was shorter, but it did not move nearly as fast. It took over an hour to get through. I had a ticket for the Stansted National Express bus, and I nearly missed the 1:05am because I couldn't find the stop. But, I hopped on just in time. When the driver asked me if I was going to Victoria Station, I said, "Si", because I was so used to saying it in Italy. At Victoria, a guy asked us if we wanted taxis as soon as we got off. I thought he was going to hail one, but it turned out he was a gypsy cab. He got chided by the police on the way for going too fast or running a red light, I don't remember. I saw the London Eye, the pickle, Big Ben and the full moon as we drove to my hotel.
I got there about 2:30am and fell into bed.

Day Sixteen

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Fourteen

Monday May 29

I got a late start today and it was still rainy, so Giovanna lent me an umbrella. I waited in line for the 110 for almost 45 minutes. I decided to take the metro up to St Peter's, since I'd probably have better luck getting on there. There was a very long line to get into the Basillica so I walked down Ottoviana and shopped a bit. Then I took the Metro back to Termini and rode the Archeobus. It was still cloudy, and there isn't much to see from the Arch. bus. It's better if you get off and walk around. I went back to my B&B at about 4 and napped. I went down to check my email and MySpace, where I got a message from a guy I knew in high school. It was weird because something had reminded me of him just the day before.

I stayed in for the evening and watched some more Italian TV. One show was Strisciala Notizia, which I used my dictionary to roughly translate into "Scrape the News". It was hosted by Ficarra & Picone.

Day Fifteen

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Thirteen

Monday May 28

American Memorial Day - I had a light breakfast and spent an hour online checking my email and MySpace (and yes even playing some KOL).

Then I went over to the bus area in front of the Termini and bought a two day combo ticket for the 110 and Archeobus. The 110 is a bus for tourists that takes you around to many of Rome's most popular sites, while the Archeobus takes you out along the Appian Way. They are both hop-on and hop-off and give you headphones to listen to the multilingual recordings about each site.
On my first ride, I got off at the Colosseum and took a few pictures. I wasn't planning to go inside, but a storm hit and many of us hid in the alcoves along the outside. It was cold and street vendors kept trying to sell me umbrellas. Finally, I went inside to get out of the rain and see how long the line for an admission ticket was. It moved very fast, so I was inside but not really out of the rain. On the second floor there was an exhibit about the Roman god Eros, with sculpture, pottery and paintings. I took many inside pictures and a few of the Forum and then headed back to the 110 stop.
This time I stayed on the bus for the whole route, getting some great pictures along the way. I went up to my B&B at about 4 to change into warmer clothes and rest a bit. I went back and took the whole 110 route again, this time from the top floor. As we drove up the road just after crossing the river, St Peter's came into view. There were sun rays peeking out from the clouds over the dome, just like a cartoon version of heaven. I was euphoric. The whole concept of how far I had traveled, what I had experienced over the past two weeks and how much I really needed this trip all hit me at this point. Going to Europe had been a big dream of mine for a long time, and it had finally happened.
When the bus returned to the Termini again, I headed over to Santa Maria Maggiore and read for a bit. I then walked up to the Quirinale and got some sunset pictures. I started to walk back towards Termini, but I got lost. I found my way, but then got lost again! I finally just got on the Metro and took it back to the Termini. Right before we boarded three guys ran through the crowd. 1 or 2 of them must have been chasing the other, but I have no idea why.

Day Fourteen

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Ciao a Roma

Wow, I am here on my third full day in Rome and I still can't believe I am in Europe at all. I have taken so many pictures, I filled two 1GB cards and my 2GB is about half full. I still have today, Tuesday and Wednesday in Rome and Thursday in London.
Florence was beautiful, but frenetic. It is something else to stand in front of iconic works of art like that.
Sorrento was idyllic and gave me the 'chill out' time I needed. In Sorrento, I met a family from New Jersey at dinner and spent the next day in Sorrento with them. We shopped, talked, ate and sat by the sea. If I was ever to move to Italy, it would probably be somewhere around the Sorrento peninsula or Amalfi coast.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Twelve

Sunday, May 27

Again, I woke up at 5 and couldn't get back to sleep for a while, but at some point I did and woke up for good at 9. I went down to breakfast, which was huge and delicious, and Giovanna gave me a larger map. I took the 64 bus again, this time getting off near the Campo de Fiori which was deserted at 11am. Rick Steves has a walk in his Rome book called "La Dolce Vita" and I think he wants you to walk it at night, but it included so many things I had on my list that I did it during the day. So, I walked to Ponte Garibaldi, past the Singoga and Jewish Ghetto and looked over the river to Isola Tiberina. I then headed to the Pantheon and passed the Sacra again. It was very crowded getting in, and I saw some priests and probably other higher-ups leaving. There were rose petals sprinkled on the floor, and we all had to move towards the back so some choir pictures could be taken in the front. It wasn't nearly as crowded when leaving, and I sat in front by the fountain and rested.

I kept following Rick's walk and passed the Egyptian Obelisk that was Augustus' trophy after defeating Marc Antony and Cleopatra. The sky started to sprinkle a bit, so I went inside a mall and bought 'Wuthering Heights'. After waiting out the light rain, I headed east to the Trevi fountain. I specifically found a Spanish Euro to throw in, since it it supposed to guarantee your return to Rome. I figured, "Why not try to get Spain in on the guarantee as well?" After taking some video of the fountain, I walked north past Piazza Mignanelli and the column to the Piazza de Spagna and the Spanish Steps. I filled my water bottle and then sat on the steps reading and eating pistachios. Last on the itinerary was a walk down via Sistena to the Piazza Barberini and the Fontana del Tritone. I took the Metro back to my B&B, watched some more Italian television and fell asleep.

Day Thirteen

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Eleven

Saturday, May 26

I got a bit early to pack and headed out for breakfast. I sat at a table with some girls from Utah who were attending the cooking school and ate while the Sangiovannis came out and sat around the table. We wandered around Sorrento again, looking out on the Porta again and shopping down the San Ceseare. This time we tried some Limoncello, both regular and creme! We stopped for lunch and I ordered scallops, except I didn't. When my plate came, it was Veal Scallopini, I had ordered wrong, so we asked for some fish for me instead. If it had been just regular beef, I would have eaten it, but I can't stomach veal.

I had to catch the Circumvesuviana back to Naples at 4:39 to make my train back to Rome. So, we headed back to Sant Agnello and went down to the beach. To get there, you head down a beautiful but treacherous stone ramp that goes in and out of the cliff side until you finally are at sea level. There we sat by the bay and drank soda until 4, when we took the elevator up for 30 pence each and they walked me back to the B&B. After hugging them good-bye, I hiked up to the train station and finally understood that I had been getting lost because I was exiting on the north/west, not the south/east side.

On the Circumvesuviana, I was waiting for the Napoli Centrale station, but they announced Napoli Garabaldi and it looked like the right stop, so I hopped off. I was right, but I only had time to hit the bathroom and jump on my train. It was so much easier now after riding it twice before. It was a quick trip into Rome and a short walk to B&B Giovy. I highly recommend this place, as Giovanna is a great hostess, the rooms are spacious and sparkling, and the location can't be beat. It is literally 2 blocks from the Termini. Some places it is listed as Town House Suites Giovy, but be sure you are staying on Principe Amedeo!

Giovanna insisted on carrying my bag upstairs and she brought me water, orange juice, yogurt and fruit without me even asking. I watched Shrek in Italian before bed.

Day Twelve

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Ten

Friday, May 25

I got a very late start today, waking up at 11 and not leaving my room until almost noon. I really started to feel relaxed in Sorrento, partly because it's hard not to chill out there. Everything is beautiful and the pace is pretty slow. I went back to the grocery store, got things for a picnic lunch and ate in A Lauro. I walked towards the coast again and hung out in a little park called Piazza Vittoria overlooking Marina San Francesco. The Via San Cesareo is a road filled with restaurants and souvenir shops, so I strolled through it on the way back to the train station.

It was only a 3 minute train ride back to Sant Agnello, but I got completely lost on the way back to the hotel. I took a shower and went out to sign up for dinner. Mami Camilla has a cooking school attached that offers dinner in the evening for guests. As I walked through the garden to sign up, I saw a very large Corso Mastiff named Spagi and a little Chihuahua named Lola. It was about 4 pm and dinner was not until 8, so I had some snacks and did puzzles in the common area of the hotel and then went for a nap. I slept for almost two hours and woke just in time for dinner.

I sat at a table with seven other people, five of whom were a family from New Jersey travelling together. Dinner started with an octopus antipasti, a ravioli with basil and ricotta and bass with asparagus. Dessert was an apple strudel with pinenuts, which I am allergic to, but I picked them off. The family, the Sangiovannis, invited me to walk down by the cliff with them. They had just arrived in town that day so I told them a bit about what I had seen so far. They started their Italy trip in Lake Como and had been to both Florence and Rome, so we compared notes on what we liked and didn't like. We had coffee and tea at a bar overlooking the bay and hung out on the hotel roof and garden until about 2am.

Day Eleven

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Nine

Thursday, May 24th

After breakfast at my hotel and watching a little bit of Dukes of Hazzard in Italian, I packed everything and headed to the Santa Maria Novella train station. There I bought a map of Naples and a book of short stories by Jennifer Weiner. I got some pizza before getting on the train and realized how much easier it was the second time. Basically, try to get on the right car and listen to the announcements, since they repeat most of them in English. My train was direct to Naples, but stopped at Roma Termini, where it reversed so that I was facing forward and saw quite a few mountains on the east side of the tracks. It started to get very foggy and the sky turned stormy as we neared Naples. When we arrived at Napoli Centrale, I bought my Naples to Rome ticket for Saturday. I bought it for 6:30pm, since it was only an hour and a half back to Rome and I figured I'd want to spend time in Naples before I left.

As I headed down to the Circumvesuviana, the train that runs from Naples to outlying cities, I was expecting just one route, but there are actually six different lines! Luckily I knew my train's final destination was Sorrento, even though I was going to Sant'Angello. On the hour-long ride, I got my first tiny glimpses of both Vesuvius and the Mediterranean! I also overheard some guys speaking a language that I thought sounded like French until one of them said the Russian word for good (roughly "hodoshow").

When I got off the train, I headed towards the water and ended up making a large U through Sant'Angello instead of going right to my B&B. I didn't mind though, because as I turned a corner, I saw a breathtaking view of the bay overlooking Sorrento with a huge cruise ship in the port. Mami Camilla, my B&B, gave me a sparkling clean room with a queen bed. The whole Sorrentine peninsula has these sweet smelling flowers and the smell wafted into my room!

After changing clothes and resting a bit, I used the map they gave me to walk into Sorrento, veering left to go along Corso Italia instead of the road along the ocean. I had read about two places in Sorrento,
Standa grocery store and Pizzeria da Franco and they were both on Corso Italia. I found each of them, but I wasn't really hungry yet, so I kept walking through town towards Marina Piccola. There's another great view at the top of the road just before it starts to descend towards the marina. You can see Mount Vesuvius and look back along the coast to see Piano di Sorrento and Sant'Agnello. You also get to watch the hydrofoils that head out to Naples, Capri and Ischia. I walked back into town and past Standa, which was closed now, so I ate at Pizzeria da Franco. I ordered the provolone, walnut and honey appetizer and a pepperoni sandwich. They were both great and of course I had to have some Limoncello, since lemons are such a major part of Sorrento. I got back to the B&B pretty late.

Day Ten

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Eight

Wednesday May 23rd

I woke up after 9 am and grabbed a croissant and cheese from the hotel. I headed to the Baptistery and Duomo again since they are in the middle of Florence and it is easy to find everything from there. I had a 10:30 am reservation at the Accademia. It was the first academy of drawing in Europe and it houses Michelangelo's David. There was huge line for those without reservations and a smaller line for reservations. Inside, I saw Giambologna's the Rape of the Sabine Women. I assumed this was the original and the one I'd seen the day before in the Loggia dei Lanzi off the Piazza della Signoria was the copy. But it turns out this was the plaster and the one outside was the original.

I took some pictures of that sculpture and some musical instruments, including a couple made by Stradivarius! I walked into the third room and gasped a little as I saw David at the end of the hallway. I took two pictures and then a guard yelled that photos were not allowed in the gallery. There were no signs anywhere that I could see, and no guards had stopped me from taking pictures in the first two rooms. I guess they just have an issue with people taking pictures of David. When you get right up next to him, there is a very small sign that says 'no photography'. He is 17 feet tall and on a 5-6 foot platform, so if you are right next to him, you have to crane your neck a little. I marvelled at the detail in his right forearm, where there is a vein that travels out to his hand. I bought some things in the gift shop and headed back towards the Baptistery and Duomo.

My Uffizi reservation was for 1:30, so I had time to wander a bit. Ponte Vecchio is where I headed, which is a bridge over the Arno river and the only one spared by the Germans during World War II. There are small shops lining the bridge and most of them sell jewelry. On the other side of the bridge, I stopped to check my email and then headed back on Ponte Santa Trinita. Getting into the Uffizi was a bit confusing, but once inside I climbed four flights of stairs and looked at some busts of various members of the Medici family. There are tons of portraits lining the outer halls of the gallery, including ones of Machiavelli, Dante and several Ottoman sultans. My main reason for visiting the Uffuzi was to see the Botticelli room with his paintings Primavera (Spring) and The Birth of Venus. I also saw two versions of Adoration of the Magi, one by Rosselli and an unfinished version by DaVinci. The last major work I saw was Caravaggio's shield depicting the head of Medusa.

I headed back to my hotel for a nap, walking through the market Porta Rossa on the way. After my nap, I had dinner in my room and watched quite a bit of Italian television. Spongebob is still funny in Italian! While watching CNN, I saw two different ads for cities vying to host the 2014 Olympics, PyeongChang, South Korea and Sochi, Russia. Salzburg, Austria is the only other city in contention, and the final vote will be on July 4, 2007.

Day Nine

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