More Travel Plans

I’m headed to Amsterdam on Friday morning with some Polish and Spanish speaking friends.  Should be a great time.  I tried to buy tickets to Spain last night but the system was down, so I’ll probably buy them today.

I’m looking forward to my mom being here too.   She’ll arrive in mid March and we’re making plans to see Paris and maybe Vienna while she’s here.  That will be great too.

Europe rules!

Italy for the weekend?

OK. That’s what I heard from my friends that were invited. What the heck, besides the flight is only 25 Euros round trip.  It’s got to be fun.
We actually had a blast. Six of us went: Thomas, Matt, Anais, Carlos (her boyfriend from Venezuela), Iloyolan, and I. Quite a group. The first part of the trip was a little cumbersome. First it was cold; second, the airport from which we were flying is a few towns over, and the trip took several hours by train and bus. But it’s hard to beat the price. We could have flown from Stuttgart except for the days were not good.

Here we are in the train.

When we arrived at the air port in Karlsruhe we were amazed. It was quite small. Running to the ticket booth we just made it before last call. They’re strict around here. Anyway, the flight was late but lasted about 50 minutes less than planned so we actually landed early. We got there after dark, and it was quite neat seeing the coastline adjacent to the city. We couldn’t see the tower though.

Our plan was to spend a few hours there and head to Florence where there are more interesting things to see. First was the tower though. Being dark we didn’t see it and almost missed the bus stop. Some nice lady pointed it out to us and we ran off. Here’s a view from the courtyard.

We joked around a little of course.

Quite amazing actually. It really leans! We were all impressed with it at night and couldn’t wait to get back during the day time. It was a short pause there and then a walk to the train station. We didn’t want to arrive in Florence too late to find a place to sleep, but it turned out our worries were unfounded. The walk was nice and of course before Christmas the streets were decorated with lights and shops selling trinkets and such.
Florence is quite a nice town and definitely worth the trip. There is a lot to do there which we found out soon enough. But first, only a few steps off the train platform I was confronted by an Italian guy talking really fast. I didn’t understand him except for the fact he handed me a business card with a bed on is. Then he changed to English and we learned he had a room free with exactly 6 beds. And the price was right. What luck! It was just next to the station too so we didn’t have far to go.

Matt, Thomas, Iloylan, and I headed out for dinner which we found to be exquisite. The bottle of Chianti sitting on the table was quite good and we ate like Italian kings. There was an air about us just for being in Italy. Such a cool feeling. We did a little touring, but it was late and not much going on so we decided to hit the sack and get up early for a full day of tourism.

So, what to do first? Same thing I always do first, walk to the river. It’s all downhill from here! It’s the same river than runs into Pisa, the Arno. It’s a cool place to visit, but we had a lot planned for the day. Somewhere in this city was the statue of David.

We crossed to see what was on the other side and enjoyed the small streets and little shops. It was a nice historical town almost setup like a maze. We did find our way though to some castle and them back to the river. There is a famous bridge there called Ponte Vecchio. It’s very old, and full of expensive jewelery shops and a few places to eat. There was some media event going on so we didn’t stay long. After all Florence is famous for art, we should see that. Somewhere around that bridge we lost Anais and Carlos. I think she had shopping on the brain, and he was just happy to spend time with her. So we split up and it made things go faster.

Soon we found ourselves in front of the Uffizi Arte Museum, supposedly the largest in the world, even more so than the Louvre in France. On the outside columns we were walking with famous people of history.

Da vinci and Galileo were just a couple famous guys.
I don’t know if it’s the biggest art museum in the world, but it was big from the outside. The line was already very long and we surely wouldn’t have time to see even a significant part. So we walked along with several more goals. Every building there is historical and had beautiful architecture. The few we entered were even more impressive from the inside. One can only imagine the amount of money and time spent on them. They sure aren’t made like that anymore.

Pretty soon we came to Naked Man Square as it might be called. It was of course covered in statues of naked men, and there was a replica there of David in the original place.

We decided to eat lunch in the square and it cost us dearly. We did learn a few things though; if you plan to eat at a sandwich shop tell them you want to stand. To sit adds one Euro per person per thing ordered. Call it the dumb tourist tax. After coffee and a sandwich that place made an extra 8 Euros off of us, or over 10$ US. DOH. We did notice their prices were fair and the food good. Had we stood until the food was brought it would have been a good deal. Anyway, lesson learned. It saved us a good bit more each time after that.

Here’s the 7 Euro sandwich and cappuccino that were both very delicious.

More streets decorated with lights and magnificent buildings around every corner. This place is truly amazing. There was so much to see. A couple buildings had so much decoration one would think it took 1000 men 1000 years to do all that. Somehow it was done though. The detail in statues and paint work on the outsides was unbelievable.

This one was especially impressive, and the door on it! I think this is the main Cathedral Arnolfo di Cambio largest and most famous in Florence. There was another though nearly as impressive. Here’s a site about it.
Well, from there we made good time to Accademia Gallery were Michelangelo’s famous statue of David was waiting. The building itself was pretty cool to see plus all the paintings. There was even an exhibit of historic musical instruments to see, but of course this building served one main purpose, do show one of the two most famous pieces of art of all time and easily most recognized statue. I made my way slowly through the museum; after all, the highlight seen first loses its appeal.

The museum isn’t big and after turning one corner you find yourself in a hallway with half finished statues on either side and at the end under a glass dome a huge 17 foot statue of King David. It’s pretty cool actually. Michelangelo himself carved this from a single stone over 500 years ago. It was impressive of course and worth the trip. Now, photographs are expressly forbidden within the museum as with any, but I sneaked a couple just to prove I was there. Of course you can find better ones on the internet.

Some Italian woman was watching me like a prison guard, but she’d turn her head on occasion and give me the opportunity. Pretty cool huh? The rest of the displays were interesting, but we passed through them quickly, mostly paintings, and we’d seen a lot already.

From there we were hungry and started walking towards the river, and old city center again in search of something to see and a supermarket. For the price of just sitting down in a cafe we’d each have a nice lunch. We found one and then found a picnic table in a plaza where a Christmas fest was going on. We ate there and started to notice the cold. On the way to the river we did find the National Central Library and some other neat buildings. It’s all about buildings there!

One thing about Italy you’ll find when you get there is that they love mopeds and scooters. People ride them everywhere, park them everywhere, and basically abuse the streets with them. It was quite interesting to see though. Have a look at what I mean.

Those are scenes you can see on nearly every corner and every street. It’s incredible. Parking is terrible though, and I certainly would not want to have a car in those cities.

We found ourselves heading back to the hostel and came across several sights, a Protest Parade, live concert band, huge outdoor market, a car that came up to my knees and much more. It was a never ending string of things to see. One after another was a Pizza shop, leather shop, fashion store, and much more all repeated one after another. Outside the old city every street could have been the same. Photos of the sights here

We went out again that night looking for a club and dinner. The pizza was excellent, but the club was a disappointment. Already at 12:30 we were the first to arrive. Supposedly the party started at 1AM. That’s southern Europe for you. I hear Spain is the same, and Portugal was very similar.

Well, Sunday morning came, and it was time to head back to Pisa. Our flight was mid afternoon and we wanted to see the tower again. Again, we left Anais and Carlos to do their own thing, so the other 4 of us hopped a train and headed back. It’s not a long train ride, but we slept a little. The tower was even more impressive in the day time You’ll have to see the pictures to really appreciate it. They start here. Of course we had a good time leaning on it and such.

Well, that was some of Italy. I hope to get back soon and see more. It was a fantastic experience as have been all of my travels, save, lucky, and exciting. Today some friends and I are driving to Belgium and Luxembourg. It should be a blast. PieterJan lives in Brussels and has agreed to show us around the city for a couple days. More when we return!

First snow

We got our first snow of the year last night, about 2 months late. It’s still going and maybe by tomorrow it’ll have accumulated enough to play in it. Pictures soon.

Just an edit, it snowed about 8 inches in less than 48 hours. We played all afternoon yesterday with cafeteria trays and sleds. My roommate even loaned me his snowboard, which I found very fun to sit on and slide down the hill. I haven’t seen that much snow in my life.  here’s a link to some pics.  There are many more from other people, we had a blast.

Goose soup?

That’s what you get when you go to the supermarket 20 minutes before close on a Saturday night.  They don’t restock during the day because Sunday everything in this entire country is closed.

Truthfully I thought it was an expensive chicken.  It’s just a little bigger than normal, but when you cook it it’s all dark meat and a little tougher.  The broth tasted delicious however.  I’m excited to eat it later.  We’ll see how it is.

My Birthday

Man, I had a wonderful time.  Friends came from all over the world to celebrate with me. 😀 …. Well they did!
The party was awsome; cleaning today wasn’t as awsome.

Thanks everyone for the well wishes and the good times.

Pictures will be up soon.

Tortillas, I finally found tortillas

Man, it’s been a long time since I had a taco.  Tonight I’m making some; it’s going to be great.  Last time I did this was in August and the duration has been a long one.  I’m missing sour cream and salsa, but that’s ok.  Another thing is that it’s impossible to find ground beef.  Instead they mix in 50% or more ground pork.  It doesn’t smell or taste the same, but make due right?  Improvise.

Anyway, I’ll be eating tacos in about 5 minutes 😀

My Favorite Pictures of 2006

I was quite lucky to have taken some really nice photos in 2006. Some from motorcycle travelling in the States, some astrophotography, and even more in Europe. I picked out these as my favorites for the year. There are probably more, but I did take a lot of photographs. You don’t want to know how many!

I was lucky enough to have access to the University Telescope for a few months. Most often the condiditions were downright terrible (St. Louis light pollution and weather) but a few nights were IMO successful. These were my first real attempts at Astrophotography



Whirlpool Galaxy
And probably my most lucky shot with weather


Some from travelling in Europe

Prague: Carl’s Bridge and the Castle.

Plane trip over

Fountain here in Stuttgart

And from my trip around the states this summer

Trev’s monster Blue Gill

These are all rather big

Buffalo in Yellowstone NP

Old Faithful

My bike in Rocky Mountain NP