Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Boy, are we lazy

So you really think you needed your car for that trip to the store today?
(ignore the first pic and scroll down for the really good ones)

Monday, October 30, 2006


I hate my iPod. I believe I have posted about this before. I still hate it. Even more than when I first got it. Sheep that I am, it didn't occur to me to look at other MP3 players. Everyone's got an iPod; they must be great, right?

The click wheel is stupid. I always end up overshooting my goal when wheeling through menus. It's impossible to use it while driving, since you pretty much have to be looking at it to hit anything but "play" or "menu". And if I want to listen to the same album today that I was listening to yesterday, I have to go all the way through all the menus again and find the same playlist! Can the stupid little drive just remember what I was listening to when I hit pause? Noooo....

Those people won't stop until they make on that's microscopic. Maybe they should focus on making the normal-sized ones usable. I don't see why anyone needs one that's smaller than my Mini.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

St. Loser

Oh how I hate the Cardinals. If only I could have stayed in Europe for the entire month and ignored this pathetic mess completely.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The double-curse

We all know that the team with the most ex-Cubs almost always loses the World Series. But in this case, he was asking for it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why Christians should care about global warming

"This concern for Creation Care as we call it, comes straight from God and the Holy Spirit who is regenerating people’s hearts to realize the imperative of the scriptures to care for God’s world in new ways. It comes from God Himself. ... The climate change crisis that we believe is occurring is not something we can wait ten years, five years, even a year, to address. Climate change is real and human induced. It calls for action soon. And we are saying action based upon a biblical view of the world as God’s world. And to deplete our resources, to harm our world by environmental degradation, is an offense against God. That’s what the Scriptures say. Therefore, if we are to be obedient to the Scriptures, there is no time to wait, no time to stall, no time to deliberate."

--Rev. Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals

Find out where to see the movie.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Nice post by Nemesis today

Especially worthy of observation is the violent-rage-of-Clinton link.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sienna and the Tuscan countryside

We enjoyed our guided tour out to two old towns in Tuscany, and the
views of the country-side that we saw from the bus to and from our
destinations. The tour first took us to the town of Sienna, which is
one of the oldest towns in Tuscany, having been an ancient city
settled by the Etruscans, with stone buildings and walls before Rome
was more than a camp. Sienna is built on three hills, and has very
narrow streets running between old brick and stone buildings that are
4 and 5 stories tall, so the streets are in shade for most of the day.
They have an amazing Duomo (cathedral) with many elaborate stone
carvings on the floor, and the usual assortment of statues and
illuminated manuscripts, ornate gilded patterns on the ceiling, etc.

The central piazza of Sienna is very large, and shaped like a big
sea-shell. They have a horse race around the square every summer, in which the 17 different districts of the town each enter
one horse to compete. 40,000 people cram into the middle of the
square and the horses run around the outside. It sounds crazy, and
very hot. It is odd to think of living in a building that is 800
years old, or even 400 years old, like some of the people in Sienna

Our tour then took us to San Gimignano, which is a very well preserved
medieval town. Partly it is so well preserved because it was
abandoned for hundreds of years after the black plague killed most of
the people in the town. It is famous for the tall towers that still
survive, packed in relatively densely.

While both towns were interesting, we felt rushed. I think this is the nature of any guided tour, but it seemed the best way to get out to Sienna. We wished we'd had more time there; as it was, we hardly had any time to explore in either of the towns. But it was certainly relaxing to spend a day not having to make any decisions about what to do and where to go, and talking to some people who were native English speakers for the first time in 10 days!

Back home

Our access to the Internet was pretty limited in Italy, but we're back in the states now, currently in St. Louis. We are heading back to San Fran tonight.

My in-laws asked -- and we keep asking each other -- what our favorite cities or sights were. I still have to say that maybe my favorite aspect of the whole trip was finally getting to use the German that I studied for so many years in high school and college -- but it also made me wish I knew more! In Prague most people we dealt with spoke English, but it was disconcerting going to Italy where even the hotel clerks didn't know much English. That was a challenge.

The main thing I didn't expect about some of the cities we went to was the amazing throngs of tourists and the accompanying trade of tourist crap. Florence in particular is overrun with guys who spread out a sheet on the ground and display knock-off handbags. They use the sheet as a bag to move to a new spot on a regular basis. There are also the stands selling t-shirts, hats, post cards and other junk (like cheap statues of the David and the ubiquitous boxer shorts with the corresponding parts of the David statue printed on them). At times it almost felt like we were in a Disneyland version of these cities instead of the real thing, since everything seemed geared toward tourists. After a couple days I was able to get used to it and notice but see past the crowds and appreciate the grandeur of the sights we were seeing. Still, our experience in Berlin was different. Though we did touristy things there, I also felt like we experienced some of what Berlin is like for Berliners; I don't think we got that in the other cities.

I'll post some more detailed summaries of what we did in Florence and Rome, drawing from Nathan's updates to our families from when we were there.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


This morning we arrived in Florence around 9 a.m. We were on our train from Prague from abou 5 p.m. until almost midnight, when we switched in the Munich train station. That, so far, has been the most surreal of our experiences in Europe. On the train to Munich, I had been stretched out on some empty seats sleeping. Nathan woke me up when we pulled into Munich and we quickly gathered our things and detrained and learned out Florence train was on the other side of the station. As we quickly hauled our bags across the station, we were passed on all sides by streaming masses of young German Frauen und Herren in traditional German dress and lederhosen. Oktoberfest was supposed to have ended the day before; my theory is that the festival stays open an extra day for those who worked it, and the Bier drinking goes on ... I was half asleep through all this and kind of disoriented. I pulled out my little camera to try to capture at least one of these groups of crazy bier drinkers, but it was temporarily not working. So I'll never know if it was all just a dream...

From Munich we were in a car with a set of bunk beds, so we slept (surprisingly well) on our way to Florence. We took a cab from the train station to our hotel and were lucky to find our room ready, we checked in and showered and then set off to explore for the day. I was starving, and luckily we found a place that sold big, delicious slices of pizza for 2.50 Euros. In our wanderings we saw more African guys selling knock-off handbags and sunglasses than just about anything else. Well, except tourists, of course. My guidebook says Florence has about 320,000 residents and 9 million visitors per year. We passed over the 'gold bridge', which houses dozens of jewelry sellers. Shopping appears to be the favorite past time here. The tourist guide brochures even advertise guided, all-day shopping tours. I think maybe you can get some good deals here, if you're so inclined; designer jeans that would probably cost about $150 at Nordstrom are about 50 euros here.

On our way back to the hotel, Nathan commented that the city seemed dead outside of the tourist center. That was around 2 p.m. After resting at the hotel and venturing back out around6, we realized that we had been seeing the long lunch break; at 6 things were happening. So I guess the ideal schedule is : mornings at a musuem, than lunch, then a nap from 2-4, then shopping, then dinner!

Florence is very walkable, and our hotel is outside the city center, which I think is beneficial in that it shows us a more authentic Florence neighborhood as we walk back from meals, sightseeing and such. It is absolutely a lovely city.

Tonight we ate at a terrific restaurant that was recommended in the guidebook. I tried tripe, which is supposed to be a Florentine specialty. It was ok. I think Nathan's veal was better.

Tomorrow we hope to get up early and go to one of the famous museums before the que gets too long.


Sunday morning we left
our hotel in Berlin after eating a quick breakfast so we could get to the
Hauptbanhof (train station) for our 7:42 train. It arrived on time, of
course, and we took our seats and settled in for the four-and-a-half
hour trip. We napped some at the beginning, read our books, and looked
at the scenery. The part of Germany that we went through was quite
flat, and Berlin quickly gave way to farmland. No sprawl like in the
U.S. After the Czech Repub. border it started getting quite
mountainous. We even saw terrain that reminded us of Yosemite, as the
train tracks followed a river with sheer rock cliffs jutting up from
the banks.

Our train happened to arrived in the smaller of the Prague train
stations. We decided to take a cab to our hotel, since we didn't have
any idea how to do public transit here (we only took one cab in
Berlin, to the hotel this morning, because the buses weren't running
frequently enough that early on Sunday--only about $15 for the cab
ride). We were quickly spied by a cab driver who offered to take us to
our hotel for 500 Crowns -- about $30! I didn't realize the exchange
rate and that we should have bargained with the cabbie. Oh well. Now
we know.

Lunch was at a restaurant near our hotel. It was an Italian place, but
we had some Czech sausages in addition to our salads. The salads were
not quite like anything we knew -- I had tuna and Nathan had fried
calamari. His came in the shape of onion rings on a bed of cucumber,
super-thin-sliced onions, eggs, tomatoes, etc (mine was on the same
bed). It was good, but the beer and sausages were great.

After that we checked into our hotel room. Then we
took a bus down to the main part of the city and walked to the castle,
which is by far the most popular and most celebrated attraction in the
city. It's really a little city unto itself on a hill above Prague.
And it is filled with souvenir shops and restaurants just waiting to
ensnare tourists (most of whom speak English or German). Prague
reminds me of the Fisherman's Wharf area of San Francisco, with it's
throngs of tourists, souvenir shops and signs blaring -- mostly in
English -- things like "best ice cream in Prague" or "oldest pub in
Prague." In spite of all that, the castle is amazing. Construction
started in it in the 1300's. It took a couple centuries for it to be
mostly finished, I think. We visited St. Vitus (sp?) Cathedral within
the castle. It was crammed with people tilting their heads to take
pictures of the enormous stained glass windows, the towering ceiling
and the colorful light reflected through the glass onto the stone
walls. Nathan said it reminded him of Notre Dame, and I think I heard
someone else there saying the same thing. After that we wandered
through some of the rest of the castle and down through the gardens in
front. Then we walked down the main touristy drag and did a bit of
souvenir shopping. (Prague is known for its crystal and blown glass

Monday morning we had breakfast in our hotel -- included again, and
pretty similar to our breakfasts in Berlin, but we missed having
orange juice. After that we checked out of our hotel and took the bus
to the main part of Prague. It was a bit of an adventure. First we
couldn't get on the 133, the bus we took last night that took us right
where we wanted to be, because it was too full! So we waited a few
minutes and took the 207, which stopped a little short of where we
wanted to be, so we had to walk an extra half mile or so. The bus was a bit slow because of traffic jams -- a thing unknown in Berlin. The subway
and trams in Prague don't seem to cover a great area. The buses seem
to go just about everywhere, but I don't think we had a great transit
map. The streets are so windy in Prague that I had a very hard time
getting my bearings, and the language is so unfamiliar that it was
hard to remember the names of the streets we were on.

We spent the whole day wandering around the main part of Prague,
stopping here and there to sit and watch the people go by. Prague is
an amazing city, and a bit overwhelming. Walking the cobblestone
streets and alleys between the centuries-old buildings is a unique
experience. This is a day we won't forget; hopefully we'll be able to
come back here some day.

One last thought: Before we came to Prague, we heard lots of talk about how cheap
it is. From what we can tell, that's a bunch of hooey.