Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Italy -- Day 4 (continued)

After leaving Vatican City, we hit a couple other points of interest in Rome, none of which I really remember too well now.  But here are some photos:

I really liked these flowers at a restaurant in one of the plazas.

The Trevi fountain.  I filled up my water bottle here -- well, at one of the spigots off to the side -- and it was quite good.
The Pantheon

We were all pretty tired by this point, so Heidi sat down as soon as we came inside.  After a minute, I read the sign she was sitting next to and asked if she was making some kind of a statement. She hadn't read the sign, so she just gave me a confused look.  But I was laughing too hard to take a good picture of it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Italy -- Day 4

Our first full day in Rome was the day that I decided to be the one to make dumb decisions.  Well, I didn't exactly decide to do so ahead of time, but that's the way it turned out.

I don't quite remember all of the chronology of everything that happened.  Suffice it to say that at one point it wasn't clear whether we should go left or right to reach the main entrance to Vatican City.  There was a great deal of pointless debating at this point.  "Well, it's possible that we should go right, and if so, going right would be the correct approach.  But it's equally possible that we should go left, and if so, going right would waste our time.  So, which way should we go?  & etc."

Finally, someone decided that we should try walking to the right.  We went to the right and walked for a few minutes.  At that point, we still hadn't reached an entrance.  This, naturally, led to a great deal more debating.  "It's possible that we just haven't gone far enough, or maybe we should have gone left in the first place.  So we can either keep going, or we can turn around and go back the other way.  How should we supposed to decide what to do now?  Let's just keep talking about it and hope that suddenly we'll be able to make an informed decision even though we won't have acquired any more information."

I'm a pretty indecisive person, but I'm not this indecisive, and the dithering was driving me crazy.  So I just started walking off in the direction we'd already been heading.  The others called me back, saying that I couldn't leave until we'd all made up our minds about the best approach.  I said, "You can decide.  I'm just going to keep walking."  And I did.

Sophie, bless her heart, could see that I was in a Mood and wouldn't be reasoned with.  She could also see that the others weren't going to be happy either letting me go off by myself or following me without several more minutes of pointless debating.  So she volunteered to accompany me, and she hurried to catch up.

Bless her heart even more, she never complained, even when it became increasingly clear that my way was very much the wrong way around.  She made some jokes about feeling like Joshua walking around the walls of Jericho, and when I apologized for leading her astray like this, she said that at least now we could both say that we'd seen and walked around all of the outside of Vatican City.   As it turns out, the entrance really wasn't very far back in the other direction from our original starting point, so we really did almost circumnavigate an entire country that day.  As Sophie pointed out, our long, thirsty, and boring walk at least gave us something to brag about.

This was after we finally made it back to the others, who'd been waiting at the entrance for about an hour.
In the part of the day where we weren't taking very long walks, we visited the Vatican Museums.  As I mentioned in my last blog post, art isn't really my thing, but I dutifully looked at every piece of art there.  In fact, I looked at several pieces twice.  Because so many people want to see and spend time in the Sistine Chapel, they herd you in one direction through that part of the museum.  My first time around, I spent a few minutes looking around the Sistine Chapel, tried in vain to figure out what was so impressive about it, and then went off to look at everything else.  I didn't mean to go through a second time, but I accidentally ended up in the line again, and there wasn't really a good way to backtrack from there.  So my second time through was a speed run.  Even I was impressed by how quickly I made it through that time

I took pictures of almost every piece of art I found interesting:

This was a painted cabinet.  It showed the same church we'd visited the day before, so that was cool.

 Yep, that was about it.  The outside was pretty, though:

And the museum with the vehicles the pope has used over the years was also fairly interesting:

One of the older carriages.

The more modern Popemobiles with bulletproof glass.

There was also a small exhibit of gifts the pope has been given over the years from different countries, and that was fun too.  This woman's coronet was manufactured in China during the Qing Manchu dynasty (1644-1991):

And an enormous headdress from Papua New Guinea (for scale, note the life-sized mannikin head and torso):

I also really liked this spiral staircase leading out to the exit. (Heidi, Steve, and Sophie are posing near the top.)

Then, of course, we had to take pictures in the main square where the pope makes his announcements and whatnot.

As seen on TV . . .

I had an interesting experience here.  At one point, everyone else was wandering around taking pictures, and I just wanted to sit for a while.  (After all, I'd already circumnavigated a country earlier that day.)  A group of male tourists were standing behind me talking, and I thought, "I wonder where they're from.  Their accents sound so harsh and flat." 

And then I suddenly realized that they were from Texas.  I'd just gotten so used to hearing only British and Italian accents, at least from male speakers, that an American accent sounded foreign and strange to me.  Once I realized that it was a Texas accent, it sounded normal to me, but that moment helped me understand why people say that American accents are harsh and flat.

That wasn't the end of our Rome day, but I've probably exhausted your patience even more than my pointless walk exhausted Sophie and me, so I'll end for now. 

To be continued . . .

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Italy -- Day 3

On our third day in Italy, we drove up to Rome in our rental car.  We'd used a hostel website to get some good last-minute discount rooms at an interesting old hotel in Rome, the Hotel Texas.

It's a good thing I liked the hotel, since I got to see a lot of it for the next few hours.  The hotel management needed to see our passports before checking us in, and Steve couldn't find his passport.  The rest of us sat around the hotel for at least two hours while he unpacked and searched all his luggage.  It was not the most exciting part of my trip to Italy.  Mostly I sat around taking pictures of everything in sight, since there wasn't anything else for me to do.

Our hotel room in the Hotel Texas.

The police station across the street.  (You can't really tell from this picture, but we could see the police officers walking around inside.  I just didn't want them to notice me photographing them.)

The view down the street.

The painted ceiling in our bedroom.

Bored selfie.

We really did wait around for at least two hours.
A detail of part of the painted ceiling.

Steve eventually decided that his passport hadn't made the trip to Rome with us.  He called our hotel in Naples, and they hadn't seen it either.  He finally decided that he might have left it at the car rental place in Naples when we first arrived in Italy, so he decided to drive the three hours back to look for his passport there.  He asked for volunteers to go with him.  I was like, "Whatever, dude.  This is your problem.  I didn't pay all that money to fly to Italy just to drive back and forth between Naples and Rome for people who can't keep track of their own things."  Well, that's not what I said, but I'm sure it was rather obvious from my facial expression.  These sorts of opinions usually are.

Sophie ended up going with him, and Heidi, Herb, and I decided to explore Rome on foot on our own.  It was a little tricky figuring out what we should see, since we wanted to see something worth seeing but not something that we'd have to go back and see when the others rejoined us.  We ended up going inside a nice Cathedral near our hotel.

 Then we stumbled upon the non-photogenic backside of the Colloseum.
 And we wandered around to the front to take some pictures there.
We saw the missionaries outside of the Colloseum too, and we stopped and said hi.  There was an Italian member of the church with them as well, and he said we should go check out this place:

So we did.

My halo isn't usually this obvious.
 Then our path led us to this church.

There was a mass or something going on inside -- something that involved a lot of beautiful singing -- so we stayed in the back.  But Heidi was taking pictures of the artwork, and this attracted the attention of one of the church security guards.  Unlike what you might think, though, she wasn't in trouble.  Quite the opposite.  He told her that since she obviously appreciated art so much, she should come with him to take a look at something in the convent part of the church that was closed for other tourists.  There was a chapel there with a mural painted by somebody or other famous.  The security guard explained it to us as he escorted the three of us back there to take a look.

Now, I'm usually pretty apathetic about art, but I really like this place, especially the way the artist created the illusion of depth on flat walls.
 All of the columns are just painted on the walls, which I thought was pretty nifty.  Honestly, (spoiler alert!) I liked this place a lot better than the Sistine Chapel, which we went and saw the next day.

After thanking our friendly security guard profusely for the private tour, we walked down the Spanish steps and headed back to our hotel, where we were happy to discover that Steve had indeed found his passport at the car rental place in the Naples airport.  And that was the end of day three.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Italy -- Day Two

When last we left off on our Italian adventure, my travel companions and I had just headed off to our hotel outside of Naples for some well-needed sleep.  I was extremely jet-lagged, having traveled there overnight from the U.S.  The other girls had arrived from Great Britain, so they weren't nearly as tired as I was.  I therefore asked if I could get the twin bed to myself instead of sharing the double bed with someone else.  The other girls agreed.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But then, in the middle of the night, I was startled out of a deep sleep by the sounds of someone running across the room screaming, while someone else yelled out, "Hey, it's me!"  It turns out that one of the girls accidentally put her hand on the other girl's stomach in her sleep.  At first she kept dreaming that it was a jellyfish [the other girl was a little offended by the comparison], but then she woke up enough to realize it was another person.  This freaked her out, so she jumped out of the bed and ran across the room screaming.  The other girl tried to reassure her by saying, "Hey, it's me!"  But, as she realized soon thereafter, this wasn't particularly reassuring, given that they didn't really know each other.  She finally managed to find the light switch, which woke everyone up enough to figure out the situation.  Unfortunately, both girls then decided that the situation was deeply amusing.  In retrospect, it probably was, but I was far too tired to appreciate it at the time, and I was quite grumpy at their continued giggling and repeated whispering of the word "jellyfish."

I finally fell back asleep, but I didn't get nearly as much rest as I needed, so I was quite grumpy the next day.  This was unfortunate, since it turned out to be a day when I needed a greater reserve of patience than I could muster up in my sleep-deprived condition.

We didn't leave the hotel for about two or three hours after I got ready in the morning.  For some reason, the guys took forever to get ready.  This annoying to me, since I didn't really want to squander my limited time in Italy just hanging out in a hotel.  Fortunately, we did have a nice balcony where we could sit and look at the beach.  The beach turned out to be more interesting than usual, too.

I'm not quite sure what was going on, but there were horse carts like this constantly going up and down the beach.  I think it had something to do with fishing.  Whatever it was, it was interesting to watch.

Finally, the guys finished get ready, and we left for Pompeii. After we found parking, we set off for the ruins, which took a while to find.  And we walked slowly enough that I had time to take pictures of random buildings on the way.

I think it was sometime in the afternoon -- almost 24 hours after I arrived in Italy -- before we finally made it to something I had actually come to Italy to see.

About ten minutes after we entered the gates, I decided that I'd had enough of slow people, so I set off to explore Pompeii on my own.  The solitude was exactly what I needed.

I was also delighted to discover something that could probably use its own blog post -- the differences between traveling in India and traveling in Italy as a blond American woman.  In Pompeii, nobody even gave me a second glance.  It was incredibly relaxing and freeing to be able to wander around by myself without worrying about my safety and without ending up in a thousand photographs.

Although I was thoroughly enjoying my solitary adventure, I started to become concerned when I realized that Pompeii is kind of huge, and I hadn't seen anyone from my group for at least an hour.  I also had no way to contact anyone from my group.  I didn't have a phone, and even if I did, I didn't have anyone's phone number.  I don't even know Heidi's number, since it's just programmed into my phone, and she wasn't using her phone in Italy in any event.  I was also turned around enough that I didn't know how to make it back to the last place I'd seen them or the main gate or basically anywhere.  As it turns out, I wasn't in the main ruin part of Pompeii -- I was back in the part where they're setting up a reconstruction of what it might have looked like in the past, with vineyards and all.
But, I decided not to worry too much about it, and I continued wandering around and hoping that I'd come across them somewhere.  Finally, after about two hours, I did.  They hadn't been too concerned about me either, showing more confidence in my navigation skills than was probably warranted. At any rate, I was now in a much better mood, and I didn't mind sticking to the group for the rest of the day.  I also realized this that this permitted me to have some better photo ops.

We left the ruins as the sun was setting, then ate dinner at a nice-looking but rather misleading restaurant (one of the regular sneaky tourist restaurants in Italy where they show you one menu at the front but then give you a different, more expensive menu after you sit down).


And, with that, day two of my adventure in Italy was complete.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

I'm back! (an updated blog post in Q&A format)

Question:  Cindy, what's up?  Did you realize it's been more than a year since you last updated your blog?

Answer:  Yes, someone recently reminded me of how long it's been.  Sorry!  Many apologies to my faithful blog readers, if any there be left.

Question:  Are you ever going to finish blogging about your trip to Italy?

Answer:  I'm planning on it.  I've got a half-completed entry from a year ago that I'll try to update soon.

Question:  Do you think anyone actually wants to read about your trip to Italy?

Answer:  No clue.

Question:  What have you been up to recently?

Answer:  Well, besides the usual -- work, volunteering, church, etc. -- I've been playing the piano a lot frequently.  Playing the piano is one of my daily tasks on the real-life role-playing game of HabitRPG, so I've got to play every day to get gold and experience points and to keep from losing hit points.

Question:  Anything else you'd like to tell us about HabitRPG?

Answer:  Absolutely.  I love this game/motivational tool.  It's perfect for a compulsive gamer like me.  True story: I'm now going to bed on time almost every night because of HabitRPG.  Actual real-life health effects weren't enough to keep me on a good schedule, but losing virtual hit points on an online computer game is enough of a motivation to keep me on track.)

Question:  Any other products or companies you'd like to plug while you're at it?

Answer:  Yep.  PureTalkUSA, my new cell phone provider, for its $10/month cell phone service; Bar M Diesel and Automotive in Beaver, for its awesome and inexpensive break-down towing and repair services; and my favorite new charity, Unbound. 

Question:  What's the deal?  Why are you talking about companies you like instead of about how much you hate Gateway and United Airlines and Amtrak and the other evil companies of the world?

Answer:  I guess I've had more positive than negative experiences with companies recently.  Besides, sometimes it's nice to talk about things that I'm passionate about instead of things that I passionately hate.  (Hi, Gateway!)

Question:  Why was this post done in question and answer format?

Answer:  To quote one of my favorite movies, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

refugee kids' take on history and political correctness

On today's trip to drive my family of African refugee kids to tutoring, the kid sitting in the front seat noticed my library CD of Martin Luther King sermons, which prompted the following discussion:

First kid:  Is this Martin Luther King?

Me:  Yes.

Second kid:  If it wasn't for Martin Luther King, you'd be a slave, Hamadi.

Third kid:  It wasn't Martin Luther King who freed the slaves, it was Abraham Lincoln.

Second kid:  It was both of them.

First kid:  No, it was Harriet Tubman.

Fourth kid:  Yeah, she freed the most.

[some further discussion about slavery]

Third kid:  And did you know that in 1942, you could be killed if you were Jewish?  It's because Hitler hated the Jews.  You know Jews?  Like, they invest money and get rich from it, which is why Hitler hated them, so he locked them up.  And then they only got one piece of cereal a day.

Second kid:  No, one piece of bread a day.

Third kid:  No, one piece of cereal a day.  Actually, one piece of cereal a year.  That was all they got -- one piece of cereal a year.

Second kid:  And one piece of bread a year too.

Third kid:  Yeah, that's right.

. . . .

[some time later]

Fourth kid:  I had this dream that all the black people were on a separate bus--

Third kid:  Dude, that's racist.

Fourth kid:  Okay, I had this dream that all the African-American people were on a separate bus . . . .

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cindy Lou and the Mystery of the Disappearing Earring

Today I demonstrated my superior talent for bizarre mishaps by losing an earring within a two-square-foot area in an almost empty hallway.  I am, indeed, a master at what I do.

After hanging up my coat, I was walking down the hallway in church when I felt my earring slipping off my left ear.  (I don't have pierced ears, so I was wearing some comfortable screw-back earrings.)  As soon as I felt it slipping, I stopped in my tracks.  There was only one other person in the hallway at the time, a guy who'd been walking behind me, and he managed to change direction and walk around me without any trouble (although probably with some internal mumbling).

I figured it would be a simple matter of grabbing the earring as it fell -- or from the ground if I didn't catch it soon enough -- and then putting it back again.  If only things could be so simple.  I wasn't fast enough to grab it, and I felt it fall completely off.  And then it simply disappeared.  I looked at the floor -- no earring.  I broadened my search, in case it had bounced or something along those lines.  Still nothing.  Nor did it end up in my clothes or my hair or an open pocket in my purse.  It wasn't anywhere.

By this point, other people had come into the hallway and were undoubtedly wondering why I was standing in the middle of the hall basically performing a pat-down search on myself.  I told a passing friend what had happened, and she and another girl helped me scour the floor.  Still no luck.  I went into the bathroom and shook out my sweater.  Still nothing.  My earring had simply vanished.

After some brainstorming, I came up with three alternative ideas of what might have happened to the missing earring

#1: The Bilbo Baggins Theory
Hypothesis:  When I tried to grab my falling earring, I might have somehow managed to deflect it into the unknown passing man's clothes.
Possible Solution:  Challenge every man in the building to a game of riddles, in the hope that he'd be unable to come up with a riddle, would instead ask "What have I got in my pockets?," and would thus give me a perfect opportunity to astonish him with my guess that it was my missing piece of jewelry.
Problems with this Solution:  I might end up losing an awful lot of games of riddles before finding the right man.  Depending on the stakes, this could be very problematic.  And what if the right one knew enough riddles that he never got around to the pockets question?

#2:  The Delayed Sensation Theory
Hypothesis:  My earring actually fell off before I got into the hallway, but my ears were so numb with cold that the message didn't reach my brain until I thawed out -- rather like text messages that arrive en masse when you get back into an area where you have cell phone service.
Possible Solution:  Retrace my steps back to the last time my ears were warm.
Problems with this Solution:  It rather feels like my ears haven't been warm for the past six years, and that gives me a lot of ground to cover.

#3:  The Black Hole Theory
Hypothesis:  On its way to the ground, my earring was sucked into the same black hole that's responsible for the permanent disappearance of several individual socks, my California driver's license, my first birth certificate, and various other items that have mysteriously vanished over the years.
Possible Solution:  Hang out around washing machines and filing cabinets and other places that stuff tends to disappear from.
Problems with this Solution:  I might end up permanently disappearing into a black hole too, and even the presence of my socks wouldn't cheer me up then.

So, after some serious contemplation, I decided that the possible benefit simply wasn't worth risks.  Instead, I just had to resign myself to the loss of an earring.  But if you happen to end up in the black hole of missing items yourself, please take a look around for a silver screw-back earring.