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Archive for July, 2008

Homeless in Seattle

I am officially homeless. I just turned in my keys to the (former) apartment at 12224 NE 8th St, #205.

My boss is letting me stay on the boat for a week, then I’ll be headed down to San Diego (perhaps by way of Boise (to visit Ralph) and Vegas (for DefCon’s White Ball).

I’ve been asked why I would attend DefCon… people say something like: “Really? I didn’t know you were into hacking.” My answer is… that, while I’m not a hacker, my current job role/title (Director of Application Security) has made me marginally competent to carry on relevant security-related conversations with hackers. A few months back, I managed to fall in with a whole big group of Seattle security guys and hackers. And yes, they are almost entirely guys. There are only a few girls in the group and, as far as I can tell, I’m the only one that isn’t dating any of the guys. They are good guys though. All of ‘em are super smart and very kind. And they aren’t evil identity thieves either. While some of them may have done some black-hat stuff in the past; I’m pretty sure everyone in this group is on the right side of the law currently.

Anyway… back to my upcoming plans. By Monday Aug 10, I should arrive in San Diego. I have a warm and generous offer from Carl to use his guest room until I find a place in San Diego. Hopefully, I can get that situation figured out quickly since fish and houseguests stink after just a few days.

When I do figure out a place to live, I will have my Door-to-Door storage container delivered. It has all my stuff in it and it is packed to the gills! I got rid of a lot, but I still have a lot of stuff.

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Where to Live in San Diego?

I am thinking Bird Rock, Solana Beach, DelMar, or UTC/Torrey Pines.

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Links to All European Photo Galleries

Here are the links to all of the photo galleries for my recent trip to Europe. I haven’t made a Best Of gallery yet, but I intend to do that sometime soon. In the meantime, click around all the different galleries & have fun.

Show all of my European Blog Posts (the web page will re-draw, showing all of my European-travel-related blog posts, including this one.)

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Ice Cubes Galore!

Ahhhh… to be back in the good old USA where ice cubes are abundant & you get ice-cold tap water to drink without even requesting it from the waiter. And ice-cold Coca Cola too… I can finally have a Coke and a smile!

I was getting pretty thirsty over there in Europe where they won’t let you drink the tap water (even though it is potable) and your only option for water is to buy the small water bottles for 3 euros (roughly $5 USD.)

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Work in Body Not Spirit?

I just got home from Europe. It is 10:AM in Venice, which means that I have been mostly awake and en-route for 28 hours. I am spent, but I am also feeling anxiety about all the stuff that I need to do. This anxiety kept me from sleeping much on the plane rides back… well that and the cramped Coach-fare seats.

Somehow, come hell or high water, I need to drag my butt to work in a few hours. Let’s just hope that I am present in both body & spirit. I shutter to think what my to-do list will look like.

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Vacanza è Fatta

This vacation is winding down & coming to a close. Today was the final day in Venice. Mom and I went to the island of Murano, where we received a glass blowing/sculpting demonstration. Here’s a photo of the simple glass blowing technique that was demonstrated. Such artistry!

Glassblowing Art in Murano

We bought a few souvenirs today, looked around, and had some gelato near Piazza San Marco. For dinner, we ate pasta and clams, with red wine and beer. For only the second time on our vacation, a little rain fell. Instead of a downpour however, it was a pleasant, cleansing shower that made everything smell fresh and new and cooled down the piazza.

Tomorrow morning we’ll have a leisurely breakfast peering on the glittering green canal… but then I have to face the reality of getting all the luggage to the airport; and her suitcase is going to be the death of me. I did hand washing almost every night so that I traveled light, but mom just packed everything but the kitchen sink.

This vacation is done. In Italian, that’s “vacanza è fatta”

Link to my full Venice Italy July 20 gallery on Smugmug.

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High/lowlights and Almost Coming to Blows

Despite the beauty of Venice, and all of the Mediterranean, I am eager to get home. In a sense, this has been the hardest “vacation” of my lifetime. I’ve been caring for my 81 year old mom and that is not an easy task. Literally, my muscles are sore from helping to support her weight as she struggles to maneuver the many boat docks, cobblestone streets, and uneven staircases of these old towns. She’s taken the whole thing very seriously: she’s stubborn enough to push herself so that she can see as much of the world as possible. This lead to some breakdowns and there have been some moments where I’ve been frustrated, tired, hot, and downright cranky about the various situations we’ve gotten into. Once or twice I was so completely overwhelmed that I just started crying.

At the other extreme, I can be terribly protective of her. For example: there was a huge line for the cable car at Santorini. This group of Italians rushed the line (Italians don’t queue.) I told them the back of the line was behind us; at which point they conveniently didn’t speak English. So I spoke Italian and said the same thing. They were stubborn and refused to go to the back of the line. And all of us who had been in line waited a lot longer as a result (1.5 hours total). Later in this interminable, unruly queue, my Mom spotted a bench. She wanted to make her way up to the bench to sit with the concept that I’d catch up and she’d get back in line after a bit of a rest. The Italian woman wouldn’t let her pass & started yelling at her & me. This was a very bad move on her part.

There’s one thing I know from my time brief time living in Italy in 1993: Italians can be terrible bullies and verbally vicious, but they usually back down if anyone has the guts to challenge them. So, I didn’t back down. I yelled at this she/he woman in both English and Italian, then… I challenged her to a fight. No, I am not kidding. I actually said “I will fight you, you b**ch.” At this point, the other people in line felt the need to mediate so that we didn’t literally come to blows. By the way: the crowd sided with me. Mom got to sit down and the Italian monstrosity had to shut up and wait in line just like the rest of us.

Let’s just call these trying moments “learning and growth” experiences.

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Fireworks in Venice

The fireworks show that I witnessed along the Grand Canal in Venice last night will go down as one of the best in my life. It’s not that the fireworks themselves were particularly spectacular, but the atmosphere was electric! Families set up space along the promenade…. lots of candles and japanese paper lanterns to denote their picnic area along the canal. The rich people have huge yachts filled with revelers: one plays 70s disco music, another 80s music, another techno. And the boats all toot their horns in unison after the fireworks finale. It was awesome!

Link to my full Venice, Italy – July 19 photo gallery on Smugmug.

Fireworks in Venice Italy

I’m no photographer. I’m sure that someone else could have done better, but… I used the fireworks setting on the camera and set it on the Arsenale bridge for stability.

Fireworks in Venice 2

Link to my full Venice, Italy – July 19 photo gallery on Smugmug.

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Venezia Festa Del Redentore July 19 – 20, 2008

There is a festival tonight in Venice. The reason for the festival is related to the end of the plague, from which approximately 50,000 Venetians died. They built the Basilica of the Redeemer (Redentore) in 1577 to celebrate and thank God that the plague had ended. In modern times, the festival appears to include a mass, some political and church representatives, a regatta and fireworks. There be fireworks set off near the church, along the Grand Canal. I’ll try to find the fireworks setting on my new camera & get some pretty photos.

Tomorrow is my last full day of vacation. We’ll do a little shopping in Venice; if I’m up to it I might venture to a museum — but even I’m a little topped out on my cultural intake!

On another note, I am starting to have some anxiety about returning to Seattle without a new apartment lined up for Aug 1. Despite any jetlag I may have, I’m going to be “behind the eight ball” as the saying goes.

Link to my gallery with photos of the fireworks on Smugmug.

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Peace and Love

I was talking to a young couple on the cruise and we decided that cruise ships are the alternative to Burning Man for +45 foodie set. The atmosphere is all very open and happy — very peace and love. Pretty much everyone gets along, smiles, dances, sings, and suspends self-consciousness for the duration of the cruise.

Feelings of peace and love flow easier when everyone is being pampered and well fed; and this can only happen because there is a huge staff that makes it all happen. For the roughly 2000 passengers of this cruise, there are 700 staffers.

This is a remarkably similar to the ratio of freemen to slaves in most ancient societies. Therefore, I speculate that a cruise ship society may be a little microcosm of how the ancient cities worked. No wonder the ruling classes had the leisure time to contemplate philosophy.

Of course, even today the truly wealthy have staff to coordinate every aspect of daily life, but if you are middle class (like me) a cruise ship or resort is really the only time where you can experience this type of lifestyle. All I can say is that it is not surprising that the ruling classes want to hold on to this power – by force, if necessary. So peace and love had its limits.

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Cruise Story

This has been a good cruiseline; very well organized, friendly, with good food. One night we sat at the Captain’s table. I asked a few questions of the Captain and his fiancee, one of which was “What is the most inane thing ever said by a passenger?” The Captain was very diplomatic… but his fiancee offered the following story.

A passenger complained about the volume of the helicopters at night. When she pressed the guest for details, it turns out that the guest was under the impression that the crew was spirited away every night by helicopters and brought back in the morning!

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Corfu

We visited Corfu on July 17. We toured the palace built by “Sisi” – the Austrian empress. We also toured a Greek Orthodox church in town that is dedicated to Saint Spyrotus. The tourguide was saying that this is such an important saint that a majority of the boys and men of the area are named Spyro. Can you imagine calling out one name and having over half the town answer?

Lura on Corfu

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Santorini, Greece

I went to the little Greek island of Santorini on July 16. The majority of the town is up on top of the island, so visitors have the options of climbing the steep stairs by foot, riding a donkey up the staircase, or taking a cable car. I seem to recall that one of the Blue Collar Comics did a bit about the cable car vs. donkey scenario.

Link to my full Santorini Gallery on Smugmug

Lura on Santorini

Link to my full Santorini Gallery on Smugmug

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Ephesus

Today, I went to the ancient ruins of the city of Ephesus outside of Kudasi, Turkey. This is the city that is mentioned in the Bible… you know, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The Temple of Artemis was one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. But now the Temple artifacts are actually housed in London, and are not in display at the original location outside of the Ephesus archeological site in Turkey; the site of the ancient Temple of Artemis is actually a farm.

Link to the Full Ephesus Gallery on Smugmug

About 30% of the ancient city has been excavated, and some of it has been reconstructed. It is a lovely archeological site… especially the library, which is marvelous.

Here’s a photo of the library at Ephesus.

Ephesus Library

Link to the Full Ephesus Gallery on Smugmug

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Cruising the Greek Isles

Ok, it is the 4th day of the cruise. So far, we’ve gone from Venice, to Split Croatia, then a sea day, and Heraklitos Crete.

On the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, I toured the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian.

Link to the my full Split, Croatia gallery on Smugmug.

Split Croatia

Today, in Crete, I made my way to the ancient Minoan palace of Knossos.

Link to my full Iraklion, Greece (Crete) gallery on Smugmug

Knossos

The cruise is pretty good, but I have one major complaint: the pools onboard are all salt water. And boy oh boy are they salty… my eyes sting, and my sunscreen stays on for only approximately 0.5 seconds in those conditions. The food is good on the ship though, so it is amazing that I can still fit in my skinny jeans!

Link to my full Royal Caribbean Cruise gallery on Smugmug.

My mom is healthy again. But the heat is too much for her, so she is staying on the boat while I visit all of the archaeological sites with the hot old stones.

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Venice in the Summer

Che bella! Venice is beautiful.

Link to my full Venice, Italy – July 10, 2008 gallery on Smugmug.

I haven’t been to Venice since 1993. When last I was here, I was pretty miserable. The streets were flooded, the canal was stinky, the hotel rooms were moldy and crumbly, etc., etc. This time, I’m noticing some positive differences:

  • Although they’re still renovating the Piazza San Marco (yes, after 15 years, there is still scaffolding all over the place). But, the areas that have been renovated look really nice and sparkly in comparison to what I recall.
  • Lura in Venice Piazza San Marco

  • The pidgeon population seems to be a bit more under control than they used to be (last time it was like a scene from the movie The Birds)
  • The canal doesn’t smell at all! And it looks pretty clean. Everything along the Grand Canal looks renovated and beautiful.
  • Along the Grand Canal Venice

  • The gondolas are impeccably maintained. Every one of them is gorgeous. Clearly this is a thriving and well respected profession now.
  • Gondolas in Venice

So don’t be afraid of Venice in the summer… well, be afraid of the prices, maybe. Everything is so damn expensive that I feel absolutely poverty striken. But I’ll quit my whining.

Note: I’m at a hotel with a really slow internet connection. So I won’t be uploading my photos to smugmug at this time.

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Vienna to Venice

We went on the train today from Vienna Sudbanhof station to the Venice Santa Lucia station. This route has one photogenic village after another. The mountains are a verdent, vibrant green as far as the eye can see. In Austria, many of the alpine cottages are painted a bright sunshine yellow and their flowerboxes are overflowing with pink and red geraniums. Along the way, each town has their own church, with the alpine steeple and clocktower. There was one town, north of Villach, where there is a gorgeous fortified castle, complete with a stone wall that wound around the hillside.

As you head into Italy, the homes change to stucco facades of more pastel colors. And when you cross the border to Italy, the train conductors turn off the air conditioning and cabin fans (no joke) just when it starts to warm up.

Unfortunately, I have no good photos. Cameras don’t work well taking pictures from moving trains through dirty glass.

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McDonalds in Europe

Personally, I take offense when I see McDonalds fouling up the historical landscape. It’s one thing to see a MickeyDs in a brand-spanking-new stucco strip mall in California, it’s another thing entirely to see the Golden Arches inhabiting a building from the 1700s. Truly, this is a monument to tastelessness, yet this abomination seems to be best that America has to offer & and it is our culinary legacy to the rest of the world. Ugh.

McDonalds Vienna

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Tons of Monuments and Museums!

Even more photos of Vienna, Austria – July 8, 2008

Good grief there are a ton of monuments, museums, and former palaces in Vienna. These Hapsburgs and their hangers-on were ridiculously wealthy by any historical standard. Talk about a building boom: it must have been a full-employment time period for architects and artisans of the Imperial era.

Lura_in_Vienna

Turns out that yesterday, when I walked so much of the city, I wasn’t in the museum quarter at all. Actually, that’s a slightly different part of the city, and I went there today to visit the Leopold Museum. The Leopold Museum normally has lots of Klimt on display, but they are re-tooling the exhibit and had nothing on display today (which explains why The Kiss was temporarily on exhibit at the Belvedere museum). However, the permanent installation of the Leopold museum includes a huge amount of Egon Scheile’s work — so I was educated in his progression as an artist.

Yesterday, I really enjoyed the special exhibit of Kokoschka‘s on display at the Albertina museum. They also had an amazing assortment of Paul Klee, who is actually my favorite Bauhaus artist. (I like Kandinsky quite a bit too, but Klee is my fave.)

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Bikes for Hire

I think that Seattle might be a good candidate for the bicycle rental system that they have in Vienna. Here’s a photo of a guy renting a bike with a credit card.

Bike Rental Vienna

Link to my Vienna, Austria – July 7, 2008 photo gallery on Smugmug.

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Mozart Concert in Vienna

Last night, my mom and I attended a Mozart concert in the gold room of the Vienna concert hall. The music was very well done, but I have to admit that the whole thing was overly cheezy because they do it in period costume — white wigs and stockings.

Cheezy Viennese Costumes

I have a video of a portion of the show… if it isn’t too shaky and awful, I may post it to YouTube later.

Here’s the link to my Vienna, Austria – July 8, 2008 gallery on Smugmug.

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Do I look Austrian?

For some reason, in every city I visit, I always get stopped and asked for directions. Yesterday, this occurred 4 times. In three cases, the people asking me for directions spoke German. In one case, the tourists were from England, but they thought I was a local.

I don’t think I look the slightest bit Austrian. But perhaps I don’t look like too much of a tourist, either.

Anyway, I couldn’t help any of them get any closer to their destinations in Vienna. Of course, I don’t think I can give good directions in Seattle or San Diego either, I am notoriously bad with my sense of direction and I am a slave to my GPS device.

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Vienna is Great

Yesterday, I went out on my own in Vienna while mom recuperated in the hotel room. The weather was overcast, and it eventually rained… but it was a good opportunity for me to see the city.

Vienna building

I walked all over the Museum district area. In a sense, all of the beautiful buildings begin to look the same. It’s just one gorgeous architectural wonder after another… the mind gets a little loopy trying to distinguish what’s photo worthy amidst all of the splendor.

Here’s a link to the newest photo gallery.

I like Vienna. The architecture is stunning. The people are impeccably honest and respectful, and they are generally friendly – even though my interpretation of the German language is that it makes everyone sound terse and angry. Vienna is easy to get around: with lots of options for metro and bus usage. And the food is good too. The only negative thing I can say is that the coffee isn’t particularly good, but I wasn’t expecting much, so it’s ok.

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Day 4: Stop at the Austrian Hospital

Hospital Stopsign Austria

There are no tourist-y photos to show today. I spent the day in an Austrian hospital. My mom has an infection of her salivary gland. (I know, it’s weird.) The antibiotics that the “housecall” doctor prescribed the other day didn’t work. She received antibiotics intravenously today. If she doesn’t get significantly better very soon, I will have to insist that she return to the US.

Honestly, today was rough. It was really stressful for me, trying to negotiate an incredibly bureaucratic health-care system in a different language. Many people speak English extremely well in Austria, but it is still mostly the common, simple, conversational topics in the language. The technical, medical, conversations today were very stilted. Thankfully, they assigned us to an Australian doctor… but that was our prize for my having successfully navigated the maze of the rest of the system.

I have a newly-found sense of empathy for all of the foreigners who have to go to an American hospital or clinic. Dealing with a foreign language and foreign system when you are at your most vulnerable and stressed out is pretty awful. And I noticed that, for some people in the hospital, English was the common denominator language. What I mean is that they spoke Farsi (for example), and stilted English. The Austrians don’t know Farsi, so they spoke back to the patients in stilted English. Oh man, that must be frustrating and frightening! The situation produces lots of hand gestures, and stress.

I don’t know the status of computer-based sophisticated medical translation technology. But this seems like a problem that can be solved. This technology should be matriculated into every hospital in the world.

Austrian Hospital signage

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Prague is cancelled

We had intended to go to Prague today, but that’s a no-go. So I will not be adding another country to my list of visited places. Oh well.

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The People of Budapest Were Not Nice

I did not have a good time today in Budapest. The weather was perfect, and the architecture was inspiring, but the people we dealt with were mean and they cheated us.

Let’s start with the cheating. I am actually quite generous while traveling. I typically round up and give a little tip, even in countries where no gratuity is expected or required. But I want it to be my choice, and it is usually merit-based. The people that I dealt with today in Budapest really didn’t like that way, so they helped themselves to a little cut here and there. We actually got cheated out of quite a bit of money today. Two train employees helped themselves to a bit of a “tip” on top of the price of the fare listed on the ticket, but the worst was the cab driver… who really cheated us. Mostly, this was my fault. I don’t do math quickly or well, and I was really messed up by the currency conversion. And with taking care of my mother, it is really difficult for me to handle all the stress of everything coming to a head at the same time (like in a cab situation.)

Ok, now onto the mean attitudes. I got yelled at today by several obnoxious Hungarians peasants on little power trips. We were at a museum and I asked for the toilet. Usually, I scout the situation ahead of my mother to find out where everything is so that she doesn’t have to do unnecessary climbing and such. I found the toilet downstairs, used it myself, then found the elevator. I came up the elevator, gathered my mom and guided her to the elevator. At which point, a woman working at the museum proceeded to kvetch at me in a stern, gruff voice. I made all of the body gestures associated with appealing to a powerful person for mercy, to no avail. She called in 2 other people for backup and made it very clear that she only allows people in wheelchairs to use the lift. At this point, I openly disagreed with her and motioned to my mom to take the elevator down & that I’d meet her after taking the stairs. So I did. And the gang of three harpies retaliated by locking the lift… essentially making it so that we couldn’t get up any other way but the stairs. Luckily for us, there was another old male American man who overheard our situation and decided to take up our cause. He fought with them for a good 10 minutes, and may have gotten some police involved. Eventually, they opened the lift and escorted her on it — but the power-trippers were fuming the whole way.

That wasn’t the only situation of people being rude and disagreeable today… just the most dramatic. By the time our short tour was over, I was happy to leave the country. A little worse for the wear… but now I can say that I’ve been to Budapest. And it may be a good long time before I feel the need to return. You win some, ya’ lose some when it comes to traveling.

Here’s the link to my Budapest photo gallery on smugmug.

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Vienna – Fourth of July

Today, my mom and I spent the day in Vienna. It was a good, but tiring day.

Mom woke up with some sort of infection in her ear/lymph node area. When we asked for the nearest English speaking doctor’s office or clinic, we were informed that doctors in Vienna make house calls… or in this case, hotel calls. The doctor came to the hotel room, examined her, prescribed antibiotics, and asked for payment.

Everything was fine until he asked for payment. It hadn’t even dawned on me that we wouldn’t be able to pay with a credit card for the doctor visit, and we didn’t have quite enough cash in Euros. A bit desperate, I asked: “you wouldn’t happen to accept payment in US currency, would you?” He said “Sure,” then quoted the exchange rate. We happily paid the remainder in US currency and settled the tab.

At this point in the day, however, we were completely broke. No euros, and a ridiculously small amount of American dollars. Finding a bank machine in another country is always an adventure, which is why I try not to wait until I am completely out of cash in a foreign country (which is quite different than how I am at home in the US.) Eventually, we found one… but we were sent on a few wild goose chases by well-meaning, but clueless volk.

As for tourist-y stuff, the main part of the day was spent at the Belevedere museum, which was a former palace. The Belvedere is the current showing location of The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Of course, that is a beautiful painting, but the painting that surprised me most was a painting of a Chef by Monet. I didn’t even know that he did portrait painting.

We also went to the Wien Museum, which is not the fine art museum (we had both been to that one on previous trips)… it is instead a museum about the history of Vienna. It was an unusual museum, quite different than all the other museums that have paintings by all the same, great artists. This museum of Vienna had artifacts from local Roman history, lots of interesting stuff from the middle ages, a famous portrait painting of Queen Maria Theresa of Austria, as well as some of Gustav Klimt’s early paintings.

Lastly, we did a good amount of walking around the Opera house, and I took a lot of photos today.

Here’s the link to the Vienna gallery.

The day ended oddly. Back at the hotel, I heard fireworks… on the fourth of July. Now this would make sense if I were in the USA, but I am not. Still, I heard the rhythmic booms of a fireworks display in the distance. I don’t know the cause for celebration and I didn’t see the colors, but I wonder if they were red, white, and blue.

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Travel Day 1+ — The Longest Day

I have been traveling for over 24 hours. From Seattle to New York, then NY to Venice airport. From Venice airport to the train station… and now I am waiting for the train to Vienna. Thank goodness I have the capacity to sleep in any type of conveyance. I wouldn’t say that I’ve had the most restful sleep ever, but I have managed to get enough rest that I am not a zombie.

We’re spending time in the old city of Venice a little later in the trip. So eventually, I’ll have all the typical photos of gondolas and pigeons. But right now I’m in the part of the city where the normal, blue-collar Venetians live. I’m over by one of the two city train stations, and I had a little time to kill in which I did some urban hiking. While on the urban hike, I took a few photographs in the streets around the Mestre train station of Venice. Here’s a link to the photo gallery.

Update: I arrived in Vienna… dead tired, but I wanted to get this uploaded & posted. Boy oh boy was this a lot of travel.

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Ode to the Porter

My friend was rather late picking me up (at zero dawn thirty) and I arrived to the airport a mere hour before my flight.

Then I saw the line. Holy moley! The Delta checkin line for the flight to JFK was epic. There was *no chance* that I was going to get through this line in time to make it through security and get to the gate before the cabin doors closed. I was screwed.

Thinking fast, I rushed back outside to attempt curbside checkin. Normally, porters aren’t supposed to take customers with International itineraries. But I was lucky… I got a porter who liked cash more than he liked the rules. He said to me: “I’ve got friends behind the counter; I’ll take you inside and take care of you, if you take care of me.” I said “ABSOLUTELY!”

As a result of his actions, I was checked in lickety split. Normally the porters get $3 a bag, I gave him $10 for my one bag. It was the best money I’ve ever spent at the airport. Not only did I get to the plane on time, I actually had time to spare. As I was settling into my seat, I did notice one person who had been far ahead of me in that original “epic” line. He arrived at the gate panting and discombobulated. He had obviously struggled to catch the plane.

But I was sitting pretty… thanks to the friendly porter.

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