Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Crazy Eights

As it turns out, I was tagged by Jen to do this crazy eights thing.  Let's see how it goes.

8 things I am passionate about: (In no particular order)

1. Cindy, my beautiful wife

2. My kids

3. My Grandson

4. The Simpsons

5. Music

6. Photography

7. Conservatism

8. Making fun of liberals


8 things I want to do before I die:

1. Travel more. Take Cindy places I've been and she hasn't, and places neither of us have been.

2. Go an a mission.

3. Run a marathon

4. Have a book published

5. Earn my Doctorate

6. Retire!




8 Things I say often:

1. D'oh!

2. Stupid Gay Kitties! (whenever our cats do something dumb)

3. I love you.

4. Hey Baby

5. Excellent

6. I'm not even mad, that's amazing




8 Books I've read recently: (I'm not counting textbooks)1. Power to the People

2. Lisey's Story

3. The First American

4. General George Washington

5. Because They Hate

6. From Dawn to Decadence

7. The Spiritual Journey of George Washington

8. The A - Z of Creative Photography


8 Songs I could listen to over and over:

1. Anything by Led Zeppelin.

2. Gimme Shelter - Rolling Stones

3. Low Spark of High Heel Boys - Traffic

4. Cross-Eyed Mary - Jethro Tull

5. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters - Elton John

6. Do You Feel Like We Do (live version) - Peter Frampton

7. Dark Side of The Moon (entire album) - Pink Floyd

8. Let it Be - The Beatles


8 Things I learned this past year

1. 7 Months is a long time to be deployed

2. Baghdad is a very exciting place to live

3. Preparing for retirement can be nerve-wracking, but exciting

4. I love Cindy more and more each year

5. It's tough getting older

6. I am capable of more than I thought possible

7. I love being a grandparent

8. I am actually looking forward to moving to Utah (It's been a long time since I felt that way).

Well that's it.  Don't really have anyone to tag with this that Jen didn't already tag.  I will be blogging more about Italy soon, look for it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Throw Me Somethin' Mister!

That is the traditional call at Mardi Gras.  That is how you get the people to throw you some beads.  Now, I'm not talking New Orleans Mardi Gras where you do something else to get beads.  This is Shreveport and like the rest of Louisiana, Mardi Gras is big.  Cindy and I went to the Krewe of Centaur parade Saturday and had a blast.  I was flippin' cold, but we still had fun. I was able to snag 69 beads for myself.  But Cindy put me to shame.  She hauled in 82 necklaces.  We also got some cups and such.  It's a great time, yelling for beads as the floats go by, then working to catch as many as you can.  Silly, I suppose, but still a whole lot of fun.  Enjoy the pics.

People wait a long time for the parade, as you can see, some even set up their trailers.  There's all sorts of warming fires and BBQs going on.

IMGP1830 IMGP1834 Even the news cameras are there to catch the action.

People really get into the spirit of the thing, wearing hats and costumes.  A lot of fun.

IMGP1841 IMGP1843

IMGP1846 IMGP1847

Then the parade starts, and that's when it gets exciting.

IMGP1866 IMGP1874 IMGP1872


To give you an idea, a quick count on this last picture shows that at this time Cindy had caught about 20 or so beads.  By the time we left, she had over 80.  It gets difficult to hold up all the weight after a while.  We had a good time.


The Vatican

OK, in the last two posts I gave you a quick overview of our trip. I thought now that I would go into a bit more depth on each part of the trip, and get a few more pictures put up. If I double up on some pictures that I've already put up, sorry about that, but I do that sometimes.

So, Rome was the first city we toured, and it was amazing. It's really the most fascinating city I've ever been in. Our ride from the airport to our hotel was breathtaking. Let's just say that I now understand why Italian Formula One drivers are so good. They learn to drive in Rome! Speed limits, traffic signals, lanes on the road; all simple suggestions, really. It was quite frightening. But fun.

Traffic is a problem for them also. On any given day, there are 4 million people in Rome, 2.5 million cars, and 850,000 scooters. There are only 250,000 parking places! As our guide said "Romans don't park their cars, we abandon them, then pray All Saints that we find them again!" Here's a shot of some parked scooters to give you an idea.


Our first stop was the Vatican Museum. A completely amazing place! It was amazing to see how much art was in there. It was non stop. Here are a few pics to give you an idea.

IMGP0749 Vatican Art

Even the ceilings were incredible.


As we walked through the museum we just kept finding more and more fantastic art.

IMGP0776 IMGP0777

IMGP0791 Eventually we made into a hall that was full of tapestries. These were made with such exquisite workmanship and detail. This hall was very dimly lit, to preserve the tapestries. However, with it so dark and not being able to use a flash, what you can't see is that much of the thread used in these tapestries is solid gold. Actual gold thread woven into the tapestries. Wow.



IMGP0797 This is a picture of Cindy and Melissa by one of the tapestries to give you an idea of size. They were beautiful.

There were also some paintings on the ceiling. Now, when you look at these pictures (and when we saw them there) they look like 3 dimensional carvings or something. Not at all, they were just painted so well that they look 3 dimensional!

IMGP0798 IMGP0800

Once, again, even the ceiling was fantastic.

IMGP0810 IMGP0817

So, after going through the museum, we were shown into the Sistine Chapel. Famous for its ceiling painted by Michelangelo. It has recently been restored to clean off the centuries of soot from the burning of candles. It was incredible. The problem is that there were no pictures allowed. So, you'll have to google pics of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and imagine what it was like to be there. Sorry.

After that, we were on our way to St Peter's Basilica. Once again, it's nice to finally see something in person that you've seen in pictures or on TV so often.


But, inside the Basilica was awe inspiring. I don't know if I'd be able to attend church services in a place like that, because I'd be distracted by all the artwork and such. But it is definitely a beautiful chapel.

Like this mosaic tiled with 24k gold.

IMGP0841 Or this statue by Michelangelo, "The Pieta", or The Pity. It shows when Mary lowered Jesus off the cross. Can you imagine this in your chapel?


The rest of the Chapel was amazing, and huge.

IMGP0836 IMGP0848


To give you an idea of the scale of this place. In the picture above, look at the strip of gold with the Latin writing. That is a tile mosaic. The gold is actual 24k gold tiles, and the letters are 6 feet tall. That's right, 6 feet tall!

And then, there was more art!

IMGP0858 IMGP0857

IMGP0863 IMGP0868 They even had a nativity inside the chapel. It was pretty cool. And then on our way out, we happened to bump into some of the Swiss Guard that are the security forces for the Vatican. They are the traditional guards for the Pope, and they can only be selected if they are born in Switzerland and have attended the Swiss Military Academy, and they are the best of the best, think Navy SEALS type guys. Their uniforms, as odd looking as they are, were actually designed by, yeah, you guessed it, Michelangelo!


We truly enjoyed our trip to Vatican City. I can't say enough about it. I was thoroughly blown away. It was a day I'll never forget. My next Italy post will be about the rest of Rome that we saw that day, including the Colosseum, which is very impressive.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Italy Part Two

So, after our trip to the winery, which was fascinating by the way, we went to Florence to spend the night.  The next day we looked all around Florence.  This is where Michelangelo's David is.  Beautiful sculpture.

Michelangelo's David

What you see here is actually a copy that they have in the town square.  The original was moved years ago to the Academy of Fine Arts.  It's incredible to see these works of art that to this point you have only seen in pictures.  After the Academy, we went to the Florence Cathedral.  The bell tower was designed by Giotto, and the baptistry had the most amazing door I've ever seen.

Giotto's Bell Tower

IMGP1271 IMGP1282IMGP1278 

A quick tour through the cathedral and then we were back into the town and over to the town square, called Signoria Square.  The only town square I've ever been to with masterpiece sculptures all over.



Right off the square was the Uffizi Gallery, containing 1200 works of art.  We weren't allowed any pictures inside, but it was filled with original Rembrandt's, Botticelli's, etc.  It really was too involved to describe it all.  Here is a link that you might find interesting, showing some of the Artists and their work that is held in the gallery. Uffizi Gallery

After the gallery, we spent some time shopping in Florence, world famous for its leather goods.  They were impressive, and I fell in love with a leather jacket that was unlike anything I've ever seen before.  However, the almost $1,500 price tag made me rethink the whole thing.

The next day we were off again, this time to Venice by way of Verona.  Verona was a quaint little town that is home to Juliet's house.  You may remember her from a little show called Romeo and Juliet.   We were unable to actually see the place, since it was under renovation.  Too bad.  Apparently people cannot stop themselves from putting their graffiti all over the place.  It's too bad.  We did, however, have one of the best meals of the trip while in Verona.  The three of us stopped in this little place for a quick bite, and it turned into this outstanding meal.  It was great.


Verona was a pretty town, but unfortunately we weren't able to enjoy it as much as possible as it was very, very cold and rainy that day.  So, we spent some time shopping, getting a sweater for me and a coat for Melissa.  It was nice to be inside, and it was during that little shopping trip that I realized I had picked up enough Italian to carry out a very simple transaction completely in Italian.  Not very impressive, but it was a victory for me.


We left Verona and the drove to Venice.  What can I say about Venice except that it is, in all likelihood, the most romantic city in the world.  And, as much as I hate to admit it, the only place in Italy that we broke down and ate at McDonalds (shhh, don't tell anyone).  Anyway, we got to the hotel and went to our room.  It was a maze just to find our room.  But, the view out our bedroom window made it worth the trip.

IMGP1357 IMGP1363

IMGP1368 IMGP1369

Having two pretty ladies with me didn't hurt either.

Venice was very exciting and beautiful.  Of course we saw Piazza San Marco, St Mark's Basilica, Doge's Palace etc.  All very cool.

IMGP1423 IMGP1425

IMGP1453 I will skip ahead a little bit here and tell something of a sad story.  At least I think it's sad.  St Mark's Square is lined with shops.  Some very spendy shops actually.  Our last night in Venice, we were looking for a place to eat.  We wandered around the maze that is Venice and ended up right back at the square.  All the stores were closed, which is the sad part, because we found a couple of stores we would have loved to shop in.



Sad.  Anyway, after seeing the Doge's Palace, we took a bit of a side trip to two of the nearby islands.  Murano, which is famous for its glass works, and Burano which is famous for it's lace and colorful houses.

The glass factory at Murano was interesting. They make all of their stuff by hand.

IMGP1523 IMGP1526


After watching them make the glass, we went  to their showroom and spent our hard-earned money.  We actually bought a glass and pitcher set that they are shipping to us.  Can't wait until it arrives.

Burano was a fascinating place.  Not so much because of the lace, which was neat, but because of the colorful way that they've painted their houses.


IMGP1584 IMGP1591


After our trip to the outer islands, we returned to Venice proper, ate dinner at a restaurant that had the worst service ever, then got ready to leave again the next day.

We left Venice headed for Assisi by way of Ravenna.  How I wish we'd been able to see more of Ravenna, but it was just a short stop on the outskirts of the city to see another church.  It was beautifully decorated with Mosaics.  One of the most interesting to me was one depicting someone that you don't often see in religious art.

IMGP1692 IMGP1697


Of course, we couldn't leave Ravenna without at least a glance at the book to see who might be still there.


After Ravenna we traveled on to Assisi, which was a fascinating little town, and of course home to the church of St Francis of Assisi.


IMGP1730 IMGP1740

After seeing the church ( no pictures allowed, again) we went through the town.  These little hillside towns have captivated me.

One of the funny things we noticed throughout the entire trip was the size of the cars.  As you can see from the pictures above, Italy does not have nice wide American streets and almost no parking.  To put this in perspective, there are 4,000,000 people in the city of Rome on a given day.  There are 2.5 million cars and 850,000 scooters.  There are 260,000 parking spots.  So, as our guide said, "Romans don't park their cars.  We abandon them, and pray All Saints that we find them again."  Anyway, to help with that, many people drive very small cars that they can park anywhere.  The Smart Cars are my favorites.  Believe it or not, I think these cars are going to be sold in the States pretty soon.  Scary.


After our night in Assisi, we drove back to Rome and had one more dinner together as a group.  We had seen many wonderful sights and made some very good friends within the group.  Our farewell dinner was very nice, very fun, but somewhat melancholy.  Melissa did get a kiss on the cheek from a very handsome Italian waiter.  I think she liked it.  This last picture was taken at the dinner.  It is the Ortolani family with our tour guide, Flavia.


After the dinner we had a night tour of Rome.  We stopped again at the Vatican, and as you can see, the lights were on in the Pope's living quarters.  Flavia said that meant he was still up.  My guess was he was watching a DVD of the Da Vinci Code.


The next day we had a very early morning getting to the hotel.  Up at 3:00 am.  It was a very long day with a layover in Frankfurt, Germany and one on Houston.  Our flight going into Frankfurt was a bit delayed, and everything was delayed on the ground there also.  Thus, we ended up missing our flight our of Houston and had to wait for the next one.  I think by the time we got home, we had been up for about 24 hours.  As you can see from this picture of Melissa in Houston, it was a long day.


All in all it was a fantastic trip.  One that we hope to repeat someday.  Not the entire trip, but we would like to go to Ravenna and do some genealogy.  Anyway, it was an unbelievable time and a great family vacation.