ted & pamela

New Reunions: Italy Days 8-10

July 11th, 2011 by Pamela

Chatting across the world with Google Video Chat and Google Translate

Chatting across the world with Google Video Chat and Google Translate

2011-07-07 Italy Day 8: Patti

Activities:

  • Train arrived in Patti, Sicily around 8am, greeted by my cousin Nino and his wife Sara.
  • Breakfast at a place on the beach: rolls and Granita–frozen drink with cream on top.
  • Introduced to son Giuseppe & his wife Patricia and their children Ninni & Vittoria at their house in Marina di Patti
  • Shown the house in Marina di Patti where we would stay & dropped off luggage
  • Shown Nino & Sara’s house in Patti, introduced to son Maulio & Sarina’s mother Santa
  • Showed them some pictures and Google translate. Made Nino & Sara draw a family tree.
  • Went to beach on our own.
  • Lunch at Nino and Sara’s house: Pasta w/ zucchini, cheese; squid & bread; cherries & mini pears
  • Fell asleep. Took 4 hour nap.
  • Went to bakery for breads for dinner.
  • Called Grandma’s house. Attempted to video chat them.
  • Dinner: aranchione or something. balls. fried. filled with goodness. also had pizza, bread, squid, fruit.
  • Successfully video chatted with Grandma and Grandmpa and Aunt Gayle. A “miracle”, according to Grandma.
  • Late bed.

Observations:

  • Sicily is lovely, and my family is extremely nice.
  • Nino’s wife is known to G&G&G as Sarina but introduced herself to us as Sara. I am confused.
  • Everything about Sara is FAST. She moves so quickly I can’t keep track of her. She walks fast, drives fast, cooks fast, oh my goodness. She is also very short.
  • Sara seems to have quickly become really fond of Google translate. Even when we understand what she is saying, she wants to run over to the computer and type it in so we can see the translation.
  • The food here is really good. =D
  • Communication isn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
  • Things to remember: Dogs are dirty. The floor is dirty. Cats are dirty. Do not place things on the floor, and if touching any of the above, wash hands immediately. Finish pasta before eating the bread, even if the bread has already been offered to you. Bread is for the second course. Do not drink the tap water.
  • Thanks to my prowess at grating cheese, I was not completely useless during the preparation of lunch. Only mostly useless, and definitely in the way anytime Sara wanted to move somewhere. She found a way past me even before it would register to me that she was moving.
  • First we went to Manlio’s work, and then later when we went back Giuseppe was there instead. They must be running a family store. It sells printers and ink cartridges and the like.
  • Manlio came home for lunch and then ran back to work. I wish I could do that.
  • Marina di Patti has a pebbly beach with clear blue water.

Sicilian Family Feast

Sicilian Family Feast

2011-07-08 Italy Day 9: Tindari

Activities:

  • Slept in until around 9:30. Offloaded/sorted pictures. Breakfast.
  • Beach!
  • Lunch at Nino & Sara’s house: Pasta Norma ~ macaroni with tomato sauce, cheese, eggplant; spiced prosciutto, fresh mozzarella tied in knots, bread; figs, provolone.
  • Discussed pasta and pasta makers
  • Nino showed us around the property, with his garden, workshed, chickens, etc.
  • Manlio drove us to Tindari and showed us the church there.
  • Manlio and we drove to Messina to pick up his girlfriend Anna from the bus station.
  • Big dinner party at Nino’s with Nino, Sara, Giuseppe, Patricia, Ninni, Vittoria, Manlio, Anna, Santa, Nicola, Teresa, us.
  • Video-chatted with Grandma again. Stayed up late.

Observations:

  • Bread is better here. It’s not all stale and hard.
  • Pebble beaches leave less mess than sand beaches.
  • Nicola brought pictures and music for us. But then we didn’t get to talk to him much because he was at the other end of the table.
  • Ninni has a lot. of. energy. Oh my goodness.
  • Nino and Sara remind me of Ted’s parents–she is sociable and outgoing and always running around doing something, and he is quieter and calmer but enjoys sharing things in his own way.

Dining Room of old Family House in Montagnareale

Dining Room of old Family House in Montagnareale

2011-07-09 Italy Day 10: Montagnareale & Catania

Activities:

  • Got up earlier. Took a walk down the marina. Bought some granita.
  • Nino took us to Montagnareale. Showed us Zia Maria’s house.
  • Lunch: Botacelli with cheese and vegetables; leftovers from last night.
  • Shared pictures, videos, blogs, etc. during the afternoon.
  • Manlio & Anna took us to Catania. Dinner with Anna’s parents, aunts, sister, cousin, etc.: Rice salad with prosciutto, cantaloupe, and cheese; fried chicken and meatballs, tomato salad, pizza, bread; watermelon.
  • Drove to downtown Catania, walked through popular area with bars, cathedral, fountains, etc.
  • Slept late at Anna’s family’s cottage near Mt. Etna

Observations:

  • It seems to be expected that nobody does anything during the afternoon. This is probably a good thing, as it is hot.
  • When it is time to go, somehow everyone but us knows and agrees and is ready to go at once.
  • Anna’s sister is pretty fluent in English.
  • Zia Maria’s house is a bit like a museum–nothing has been touched since the day she moved out and into Nino’s home 4 years ago, and she doesn’t seem to have taken much stuff with her. Luckily, they emptied the fridge.
  • Nino says that Grandpa left his shoes in Zia Maria’s house saying he would need them when he came back, and that he never came back so the shoes are still there. Nino also observes that Grandpa has very big feet.
  • Catania is warmer than Patti. It also has a ton of people out even after midnight.
  • Nino must have somehow understood the note that I left on the door when we went for a walk in the morning. I wonder how bad my Italian was.

In the Shadow of Vesuvius: Italy Days 4-7

July 8th, 2011 by Pamela

View from the rim of Vesuvius' Crater

View from the rim of Vesuvius' Crater

2011-07-03 Italy Day 4: Naples

Activities:

  • Breakfast: More croissants
  • 9am train from Rome to Naples
  • Check in at Donna Adelina Bed & Breakfast; Chris helps us figure everything out
  • Lunch: Eggplant parmeggiana & spaghetti nearby
  • Tour ruins of Herculaneum with audioguide
  • Hike to crater of Mt. Vesuvius
  • Back to Naples. Walk to Historic Center, see Duomo.
  • Dinner: pizza in historic center.

Observations:

  • Pamela sick. Everything less enjoyable than it would be otherwise.
  • Not only do Italians drive a lot of small cars; they also drive a lot of small motorcycles.
  • Herculaneum is both incredibly well-preserved and incredibly grand for being 2000 years old. Had houses 3 times the size of ours, with walls and ceilings decorated as if they were churches and inner courtyards lined with pillars, etc.
  • If a hike is estimated to take 90 minutes, Ted and Pamela cannot do it in 75 minutes, even if they are told they must return to their shuttle in that time frame. In fact, they’d be lucky to complete it in the estimated 90 minutes.
  • Pizza in Naples isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
  • Naples is a pretty inner-city sort of city.
  • This B&B is well-decorated and well-maintained on the inside, in complete contrast with the outside.

Downtown Sorrento

Downtown Sorrento

2011-07-04 Italy Day 5: Sorrento

Activities:

  • Sick. Slept in past 7am for the first time.
  • Breakfast served at our B&B: Breads, yogurts, cereal, juice, coffee
  • Train from Naples to Sorrento. Checked in to Casa Correale B&B & Gardens.
  • Asked girl at desk to make phone call to Sicily for us.
  • Laundry.
  • Lunch.
  • Nap. Long nap.
  • Woke up at 10pm to a return call from Sicily from Ana, translating for Maulio.
  • Walked through downtown Sorrento. Shopping, dinner.

Observations:

  • All WiFi hotspots in Italy are extremely weak.
  • We shower more often when on vacation.
  • What I called motorcycles, Ted says I should call scooters.
  • Helpful Italian guy not only understood my poorly pronounced question (“Dove posse lavare vestiti?”), but walked us to the laundromat and made sure it was open before leaving us after debating with the woman in the store with him about which laundromat to take us to.
  • Sorrento is much more of a tourist town than Naples. Both less dangerous and less authentic.
  • We really should eat dinner before 11pm. Really.
  • Margherita pizzas are often just cheese pizzas. No basil.
  • Italian trains are PACKED. Nothing like Amtrak. More like BART to the Castro on Halloween, but all day every day. What on earth are they like during a festival?
  • After a 6-7 hour nap, Pamela woke up feeling more sick instead of less sick. This makes no sense.
  • Rooms are color-schemed. Last night we were in the Pink Room. Now we are in the Blue room. Ted notes that painted walls/ceilings adds color to the room.

Positano, as viewed from the town of Montpertuso 1609 steps above.

Positano, as viewed from the town of Montpertuso 1609 steps above.

2011-07-05 Italy Day 6: Positano

Activities:

  • Breakfast served in B&B’s garden area. Yogurt felt good on sick throat.
  • Walked to bus station to take bus to Positano. Learned that the bus drivers and train conductors were on a half-day strike.
  • Found a ferry to Positano instead. Told it would take 30 minutes; it took more like 90.
  • Lunch at a Bar in Positano: sandwich and tuna salad.
  • Began an attempt at hiking the Path of the Gods, a trail that goes from Positano to Praiano. Followed instructions in guidebook for an alternate route to the road normally taken. Got lost several times. Finally made it up to the town of Montpertuso, 1609 steps above the tourist information booth in Positano at which we’d started. Took pictures and turned around, descending again instead of continuing along the path, as it had already taken us 2 hours for a supposedly 30 minute walk of the 5-hour hike.
  • Shopping in Positano. Did not buy anything. Saw several cute white lacy skirts. Expensive.
  • Dinner in Positano: Lasagna and Seafood risotto.
  • Ran to bus stop to take (now-running) 9:40 bus back to Sorrento. Late by 6 minutes. Sat at bus stop until 10:40 bus came at 10:47. Back to hotel around midnight.

Observations:

  • Italy has this funny toast. It comes wrapped in packages. It’s like sliced-bread-shaped croutons or something.
  • I consider public restrooms here to be really nice if they don’t consist of “squatters”–toilets without a seat.
  • We have now, um, “experienced Italian culture”. There seem to be strikes quite often. I’m not sure how much a strike that is announced to be from 9:30am-1:30pm can really accomplish, but it sure screwed up our travel plans this morning.
  • Why is the U.S. so devoid of diversity in juice? Both in Ecuador and Italy, the types of juice available seem to be far greater than the standard apple or orange, etc. I particularly loved my peach juice this afternoon; great on the sore throat, and I really enjoyed papaya juice in Ecuador. Italy also has apple juice, but it is “green apple” juice, a bit sweeter.
  • Tuna was good.
  • I think Ted is more drawn to windows full of women’s shoes than Pamela is. Luckily, he wants Pamela to be the one trying them on, not himself. =)
  • Positano is apparently a really expensive place to go shopping. Sadness.
  • When traveling, it is best to bring more conditioner than shampoo. You are far more likely to get three bottles of shampoo than any bottles of conditioner.
  • It seems to be common in Italy to have the toilet tank hanging on the wall above your head above the toilet. This just makes the toilet take longer to flush.
  • Yay! No pizza today! I’m not eating any pizza for months after returning home.
  • All the prices listed in our Lonely Planet guide are wrong. In the wrong direction, too.
  • Ted: cats are cute. [we saw several cats wandering Positano.]
  • Hidden staircases from Positano are difficult to find, and our guide was not helpful enough.
  • Exercise makes Ted tired.

The Blue Grotto

La Grotta Azzurra

2011-07-06 Italy Day 7: Capri

Activities:

  • Slept in. Oops.
  • Breakfast in B&B garden.
  • Ferry to Capri.
  • Boat tour around the island.
  • Canoe into Grotta Azurra (Blue Grotto)
  • Lunch on the shore.
  • Funicular up to Capri Town.
  • Wandered streets. Bought fruit and pharmaceuticals.
  • Walked back down to beach. Many steps.
  • Ferry back to Sorrento.
  • Shopping in Sorrento. Bought spoon.
  • Train to Naples.
  • Dinner in Naples station. Train delayed.
  • Overnight train to Sicily.

Observations:

  • Pamela seems to like small towns. She was sad to leave Sorrento so soon.
  • The blue grotto was indeed pretty cool, but we were in there for such a short time and it cost so much. =(
  • Prices here would all seem reasonable if they were in USD. Things cost the same # of euro that I would expect them to cost in dollars. However, when accounting for the exchange rate, everything here is super expensive. Shopping sucks.
  • Given Sicily’s reputation for smoking, it is not as hard to avoid cigarette smoke here as I feared it would be. It does not seem to be more difficult to avoid than it is in California.
  • Bread in Italy does not live up to the reputation of its cuisine. Every piece of bread we have been served has been dry and hard.
  • The toilets on the trains are… holes that go straight down.  When I use them, I am essentially peeing on the track.  There are even signs asking you not to use them in or near a station.  The train tracks must be littered with toilet paper.

Past Meets Present: Italy Days 1-3

July 4th, 2011 by Pamela
Ted and Pamela in the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

2011-06-30 Italy Day 1: Roman Ruins

Activities:

  • Breakfast–crepes.
  • Walking Tour–Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Capitoline Hill, Roman Forum, Colosseum.
  • Lunch–Pizza.
  • Palatine Hill.
  • Nap, Shower.
  • Dinner–Ramona (lasagna, veal parmeggiana, tiramisu).
  • Trevi Fountain at night; witnessed cultural dancing.
  • Stay up until 3am because NOW we’re awake and not too hot.

Observations:

  • Rome has a lot of really old stuff.
  • Ancient Romans really liked arches.
  • Unmaintained cobblestone is hard to walk on.
  • Rome is more enjoyable early in the morning and late at night in July. I guess this works out well if you’re still super jet-lagged; I was ready to sleep and sluggish from about 11am-10pm, and super alert all night…
  • Don’t get hungry between 1:30 and 7:30pm.
  • The Colosseum is really big.
  • It’s funny having 2000-yr-old buildings directly adjacent to modern-day traffic and buildings.
  • Everybody working in restaurants or retail assumes we speak English.
  • Pronunciation really can affect comprehension. Our walking tour guide had a pretty extensive vocabulary but pronounced words funny (e.g. wrong accent or vowel sound) and I had an incredibly hard time following him.
  • Italians drive small cars.
St. Peter's Square from the Basilica Cuppola

St. Peter's Square, as seen from the Basilica Cupola

2011-07-01 Italy Day 2: Vatican City

Activities:

  • Breakfast–croissants.
  • St. Peter’s Basilica–inside + climbing the 550 stairs to the cupola
  • Lunch: Risotto & Pasta at some place nearby
  • Nap on hill near Castle S’Angelo
  • Castle S’Angelo, but kicked out at closing
  • Vatican Museums + Sistine Chapel
  • Metro closed. Bus + walk home.
  • Dinner: gross cold pizza from near the Vatican.

Observations:

  • Pamela likes heights, but not crowds. Couldn’t breathe inside Basilica. Ted minds heights, but not crowds. Couldn’t stand at fence in cupola.
  • The Metro trains and the busses are both quite full. However, the busses don’t seem to have any way to make money.
  • Rome is nicer when overcast, but makes for less awesome pictures.
  • Ted has recently discovered that Pamela is pretty.
  • Museums are more interesting when they come with explanations.
  • More places should come with double-helix spiral staircases.
  • Catholics really like limestone, marble, granite, gold, and bronze.
  • Restaurants serve mostly Italian food.
Ted on the Spanish Steps

Ted on the Spanish Steps

2011-07-02 Italy Day 3: More Rome

Activities:

  • Breakfast: more croissants.
  • Phone store: SIM card + plug adapter.
  • Villa Borghese: After wandering around through the park for quite awhile, found the Museo Borghese and were granted entrance for 1.25 hours. Viewed the first floor rooms with sculptures and paintings with the assistance of an audioguide.
  • Wandered back out of park and finally found the map.
  • Lunch between Villa and Spanish Steps on Via Vittorio Veneto: pizza & panini.
  • Spanish Steps & the church behind them.
  • Wandered through expensive shopping district next to Spanish Steps looking for gelato.
  • Ended up back at Trevi Fountain. Got gelato at a place next door to the place where we got gelato on Thursday.
  • Back to Tremini Station. Found wifi at some cafe there. Messaged Mason and scanned email.
  • Dinner: I Leoni D’Agozzo (?). Pasta.

Observations:

  • Bernini was a good sculptor.
  • There is no gelato near the Spanish steps.
  • Audioguides are very helpful if you are not an art student.
  • Pamela likes parks. Especially large, empty parks.
  • Italy has weird bikes. (The park rented out these 2, 4, or 6-seater 4-wheeled bikes that people pedaled in tandem, but the pedals were definitely not all that powered them.)
  • Wifi hotspots in Rome are very weak and hard to find, even when advertised.
  • When entering a gigantic park and looking for a tiny building, try to find the map BEFORE you go in. Not when leaving.
  • Pamela wants a giant Renaissance painting on her soon-to-be-vaulted ceiling like the one in the entry room of the Museo Borghese.
  • SIM cards are easy to buy, as long as you provide your life history.
  • One of the artists of a painting inside the church had the foresight to imagine that the women must have needed ladders to get Jesus down from the cross.
  • “Prego” seems to have about a dozen different meanings.

Logitech Squeezebox and Sonos

November 9th, 2010 by Ted

A few months ago, I set up the ability to stream music around the house using Firefly and DAAP clients. It worked, but wasn’t a very elegant solution. For example, to play music in the living room, we had to turn on the laptop connected to the receiver and connect to the Firefly server before we could play anything. It doesn’t sound too hard — and it wasn’t — but it was just enough effort that Pamela and I rarely every bothered to do it.

I discussed this with Pamela, and we agreed that we would both probably play a lot more music around the house if it was easier to do so. Thus, I went back on my journey to find a better solution.

Since I had already exhausted the free options in my last attempt, this time I turned to proprietary solutions. In particular, I was looking for some sort of dedicated hardware solution, since my previous DAAP-on-a-laptop approach was too cumbersome. After a bit of research, I narrowed by focus to the Logitech Squeezebox and Sonos lines of devices.

At first, I was leaning toward getting a Squeezebox Dual for the living room and Squeezebox Radio for the bedroom. It looked like it would solve my problem nicely — the Dual would provide a dedicated controller for selecting and playing music in the living room, while the radio would give us something similar for the bedroom and double as a clock radio. The price point was reasonable too — $300 for the Dual and $150 for the radio. After reading some reviews, however, I started having my doubts — the interface for the Dual just wasn’t that nice, and it would be even harder to select music through the buttons and menus on the Radio. There also wasn’t any way to change the music from a computer; the only way to control a Squeezebox device was through the device itself.

Sonos solves the interface problem by decoupling the controller interface from the streaming devices. This allows you to do cool stuff like link and control multiple Sonos devices at the same time, synchronize music playing from different devices while adjusting their volumes independently, control devices from your computer or smartphone, etc. Unfortunately, it’s much more expensive to get a set of devices comparable to the Squeezebox solution in terms of basic coverage — with Sonos, I’d have to get the ZonePlayer 90 for the living room, the ZonePlayer S5 for the bedroom, and the Sonos Controller 200 to control them… for a grand total of about $950. Ouch.

Well, I thought about it for a few days and was actually leaning toward purchasing the Squeezebox system, when I discovered that my employer (Google) has a 20% corporate discount on Sonos products! That decided things for me. I went ahead and bought the Sonos package (note that they don’t do bundle discounts anymore, according to the friendly phone sales representative), and it ended up on my doorstep two days later.

Setting it up was as easy as advertised. I installed Sonos’s software on my (Mac) laptop, connected one ZonePlayer to my network, and paired it with the computer as directed. When it asked me for a music source, I pointed it to a public folder on our home NAS. A few minutes later, it finished indexing all ~11k or so songs on the drive, and played music!

Since then, we’ve also set up the second ZonePlayer, configured the Sonos Controller, and installed the Sonos software on a few other computers, without a hitch. Overall, except for a few nitpicky flaws, the Sonos system does everything you’d expect it to do, and does it really, really well. For example, there’s virtually no delay between selecting a song or changing a setting and hearing the change — the immediate feedback is a nice change from the experience I’m accustomed to from most network-bound devices. The decoupling of controller from player also made for some amusing moments, where Pamela and I would fight for control of the music from our respective laptops. It’s also really cool to see that when another person changes the volume, the volume slider moves around on your own Sonos controller. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it actually succeeded in getting us to play more music — for example, this evening when I got home, Pamela had some music playing in the living room — and she never did that with the old system.

So what are some of these nitpicky flaws? Well, here are a few:

  • Sometimes after drilling down through a few menus on the Sonos controller you can’t back up again. This is likely some odd disconnect between the way the controller actually works and my cognitive model of how the controller works, but I never figured out why/when the back button sometimes gets disabled.
  • There’s no way to edit song attributes from the controller. Sometimes I notice an error in the artist, album, or another field and want to change it, but it’s read-only.
  • After doing a keyword search, there’s no way to play all search results or add all search results to your queue. Sometimes Pamela and I like to search for a random word, e.g. “rain” and play all music associated with that word.
  • There’s no official controller app for Android, though there’s an unofficial one that works pretty well.

Overall, our Sonos experience has been awesome, and we highly recommend their products.

Strawberries!

September 25th, 2010 by Ted

Google gave out some cupfuls of dirt at the beginning of the summer season, claiming that they were strawberry plants. Well, I planted one, and look! Strawberries in the first season!


That is all.