Thursday, July 31, 2008

On Board of Regents election and university presidents

I've been running a pretty low key campaign to run for Memorial University of Newfoundland's Board of Regents. There was a grand plan of myself and Dups launching a campaign complete with websites and a presence on Facebook. But Dups got busy and didn't get his application in before deadline. And between being on vacation and just getting a bit distracted since I came up here, I haven't put the effort into it that I would like.

I've had a few people ask me why I'm running. Realisitcally, the odds are against me. There are some well-known and well-connected people in the race. The best I think that can be said about my popularity is that I'm a moderately well-known northern and Newfoundland blogger (for what that's worth), plus I'm the former associate editor of the Express. And a columnist. That gives me a degree of name recognition, I suppose. Although I still find it amusing that either Geoff Meeker or Peter Whittle called me a "popular" blogger.

A lot people, when they run for the Board of Regents, I think use the notion that they're running because they want to give something back to the university. And don't get me wrong, I value my time at MUN. But for me, MUN has also been a series of frustrations and challenges. I've had my share of run ins with the university over the years. I did it when I was with the muse in the early 90s. I ran stories the administration really didn't like. Not that I cared because MUN at that time frequently made decisions that infuriated me. Like, for example, cutting back on people dropping out for medical reasons. Yes, there was abuse in the system, but when I had a student come in the muse office waving doctor's notes at me that apparently weren't enough to get her tuition refunded, when the registrar told me that if a student died during the semister, they might refund the money, that pissed me off.

And even after I was long gone, I could still get into the odd racket with them. Myself and several other bloggers sparred heavily with the university over their ill-advised decision to change their logo and drop Newfoundland from most of the publicity material surrounding MUN. I still think it was a mistake. And judging by the traffic I was getting from MUN's university relations division, they were at the very least paying attention to what I was saying.

I'm trying not to slag anybody else running for the Board of Regents. They tossed their name in and good for them. I also happen to think these elections are fantastic. Considering most of the Board of Regent positions are by appointment, it's nice to see a bit of a chance for an "average" person to get elected.

Why do I think I would make a good choice? Because I'm opinionated and not afraid to tell people at the university, loudly, when they're wrong. Because I do love the place. I criticize because I think the place should be so much better than what it is. Because I think it would be nice to have someone on the Board of Regents who is not a lawyer, businessperson or former politician. And boy, are there are ever a lot of them, either currently there or running.

And hey, wouldn't it be nice if a few members from the Board of Regents stood up right now and told the education minister and the premier to stop interfering with the university? Because this isn't the government doing what's best for the university and the province by interfering in the hiring process. This is the premier doing what's best for the premier.

The Telegram has a spectacular editorial outlining just some of the potential pitfalls of the government interfering with the university. And, of course, Ed has been all over this as well. But here's the one question I have that I haven't seen answered: who at the university thought it was a good idea to let the education minister interview two prospective presidential candidates?

Yes, I understand it's probably a courtesy to give the government the head's up that these are the two we're looking at. But as soon as Bruke (and, let's face it, the premier) said we want to interview them for ourselves (and what questions did Burke ask to give her the wisdom to decide these two weren't fit beyond "How do you feel about Grenfell being autonomous?") the university should have told her, very politely, to shag off. And to wave around the section of the Memorial University Act that everyone is talking about telling them they have no right to determine who they're going to hire. And if the government still pushed, well, walk right over to the muse and have a little chat with them.

But senior officials didn't. It let the government interview the two candidates. It let the government veto it's two best candidates. And to date, it still hasn't said much about the whole racket, choosing to keep quiet. The people upset and speaking out are the opposition, professors and students. And I'm not sure that's the smart move.

Look, I know the relationship between MUN and the government has always been complex and required some diplomacy and subtlity. The government can, if it chooses, make things very difficult for a university. But this is one of the things you have to fight for. The Telegram outlined very clearly the perils of having a president feeling beholden to the government of the day. Among the qualities a good university president ought to have is one not afraid to fight for the university's best interests when talking to government. There have been those in the past who have appeared more willing to fight for the government's perspective on campus. They have rarely been good presidents, nor have they been good times at the university.

The government deserves all the garbage it's getting heaped on it right now. Every scrap of it because it's a stupid play and typical of the Williams government's mania to try and control everything it surveys. But I'm not 100 per cent sure that university officials handled the situation well, either. That's something to think about and question as well...

Last Five
1. Inside and out - Feist
2. I'm only sleeping - The Beatles
3. The best at doing nothing - Drive
4. Erie Canal (live) - Bruce Springsteen*
5. Help me, Mary - Liz Phair

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What today is

Just a gentle reminder for my lovely wife, who is terrible with dates ("I know your birthday is in January...what more do you want?") on what today is. It happened three years ago today. There was a bit of hoopla associated with it.

Once again we find ourselves apart on our anniversary. Part of the perils of being married to a teacher. But next year we will be together (barring extreme weirdness) for our fourth, somewhere in Australia.

It's been a good three years. Here's hoping for a lot more...

Last Five
1. Baby, now that I've found you (live) - Allison Krauss and Union Station
2. The playboy mansion - U2
3. Lies (live) - Stan Rogers
4. Ribbons undone (live) - Tori Amos
5. Gold in them hills - Ron Sexsmith*

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The ice rolls in...

Being a Newfoundlander, you grow up believing that:
A. The weather can read your mind
B. It hates you. There's no reason why it hates you. It just does. Think of the weather as a temperamental cheerleader. Sometimes it can be sunny and friendly; most of the time it's just a bitch.

For good measure, you can also toss in the rest of the universe. I found this definition of karma on - seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation.

I think Newfoundlanders tend to have a slightly skewed version of this. Most wish for good weather, but believe because you wish for it and want it, there's a price to be paid. And not at a 1:1 ratio either. No, this is at a more "deal with the devil" ration. Wish for one nice day, you get two weeks of pounding rain and fog. Sort of like rob someone in this life, spend the next 1000 years a cockroach. That sort of thing.

All of which brings us to Iqaluit. Last week was bizarrely warm. The day I arrived when it nearly hit 27C. That's a record, I believe. Not for that day....forever. Since they started recording temperatures in Iqaluit, they've never had a day that warm. And the rest of the week, while not hitting that peak, was still comfortably around 20C. It was sunny. People were getting tanned.

Naturally, the Newfoundlander in me was whispering "well, the payback on this week is going to be fucking awesome."

Payback began yesterday. Just a little appetizer, if you will. Some grey weather, a sprinkling of rain, and the temperature dropping to about 6C. Nothing too serious. Until you looked out in the bay and saw ice moving.

Yes. Ice. Fucking ice. At the end of July. Granted, I've been up here not quite three years, so perhaps there's nothing historically unusual about bergy bits floating into the bay and running themselves aground at low tide. But it's the first time I've seen it this late. It's one of those things that makes you wonder.

By the way, since there was still ice in the bay when I left at the end of June, it means I've seen a grand total of seven days so far this year without ice in the bay.

Yeah, payback for last week is going to be something to behold.

Last Five
1. By your side (live) - Allison Crowe*
2. Behind the lines - Genesis
3. Curiosity - Sean Panting
4. Bad habit - Joss Stone
5. Holly waltz/Diggy diggy low - The Flash Girls

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Two doors

I'm starting to get googly-eyed from looking at pictures. I took about 750 pictures when in Italy. Cathy probably took another 50 or so with her camera. It's a lot to go through, especially since I'm having a bit of fun playing with Aperture, the Mac photo adjustment/management program - tweaking what I've taken.

The problem is that they seem, for the most part, trapped on the computer. I've been having internet connection problems all evening. Nothing serious, just enough when I try to upload them to Photolab so we can print copies which Cathy can pick up, it crashes. Meaning I've spent a pretty frustrating evening. I've called it quits for today and will try again tomorrow. If that doesn't work, I'll burn them on a CD and mail it to Cathy.

Why not print them up here? Because last time I checked it was something like 50 cents or more to print one 4 x 6. Compare that to about 15 cents at Photolab. And using our photo printer would eat about $100 worth of printer ink. So, getting them done down south it is.

For those nagging me to upload some pics to Facebook or Flickr, I'm having similar problems. Facebook in particular. I'm having real problems uploading pictures there. It's taking forever to upload just five pics.

In the meantime, I'm going to put up these two pictures. They're of doors.

Why? Just because I love them. They're magic shots. Random bits of flukery you find when aimlessly wandering through alleys. You glance down and there's magic. It's like theft. Cathy's perplexed as to why I love these two pictures so much. There's nothing about them that says they were taken in Italy. But I love them all the same. I suspect Greg, Dups or Jennifer would know why I love them so much.

The first picture was taken in San Gimignano, the famed towered city in Tuscany. We were looking for a scenery shot and Cathy pointed and said "look, a rubber duck." This is what I got.

This one was when we were semi-lost in an off-the-beaten path alley in Venice. We turned a corner and there it was. It actually looked like the flowers were producing the light.

And, what the hell, one real shot of Italy. I took a lot of pictures of Cathy during those three weeks. I think this is my favourite.

Last Five
1. Our swords - Band of Horses
2. Angie - Rolling Stones
3. Wet blanket - Metric
4. So jealous - Tegan and Sara
5. We hide and seek (live) - Alison Krauss and Union Station

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Two trailers

Two major comic books had trailers for their impending movie adaptations released in the last week. In my opinion, this is a bad one.

I can't exactly put my finger on it, but it just looks really...cheesy. I like Frank Miller, but at least from this trailer the visual look appears almost identical to 300 and Sin City. But all the elements of it to me scream disaster. I think what sunk it for me was seeing Samuel L. Jackson in a Nazi uniform. I know it's likely a dream sequence or something, but if you're breaking that out for me in a trailer, it sinks my expectations.

And yeah, I'm not the biggest fan of the Spirit in the world. It's one of those series that comic professionals and diehards tend to like a lot more than the average fan. Here's a Wikipedia entry explaining the historical importance of the book.

This trailer, on the other hand, is driving fans into rapturous glee.

I really didn't think Watchmen was a filmable comic book. It's entirely too complex with a lot of the fun not just in the writing and the art, but also in the symbolism and the way the comic is laid out and designed. Trying to cram all of that into a two to three hour movie? A 12 hour mini-series might be more doable.

I'm still not entirely sure, but I admit this trailer is giving me hope. As someone online pointed out, as good as the trailer is, we haven't heard anyone speak dialogue yet. Which is a fair point. Still, fans are over the moon for it at SDCC. And as any number of news stories before SDCC got started this week reported, winning over the geeks at this event is a big deal. I imagine the studio is happy. If the geeks had hated it, the negative buzz might have sunk it months before it hit the screens.

I hope this is good, I really do.

Now if you excuse me, I have to hunt down that Smashing Pumpkins song...

Last Five
1. Teddy picker - Arctic Monkeys
2. Tender is the night - Jackson Browne
3. 7 minutes in heaven - Fall Out Boy
4. Canyon - Mark Bragg
5. Murder in the Southlands - Jenny Gear and the Whiskey Kittens*

Friday, July 25, 2008

San Diego

I should mention that this weekend is San Diego Comic Con weekend. I suspect most of you might not care about this. However, SDCC has moved beyond just being a weekend for comic book events and has become the geek orgy event of the year. Movies, TV shows, video games....all of it now has a place of prominence at the show. What I attended in New York back in April was big...about 70,000 people attended over three days. This show will easily double that number over its four days.

There's apparently something similar in Japan that draws half a million. Ye gods...

If you're interested, here are a few sites to follow this weekend for the latest news.

Newsarama Blog
Comic Book Resources
The Beat
Entertainment Weekly

There will also be a ton of blogs reporting on the con. I imagine a quick blog search, using SDCC as a search will find them for you.

But really, the thing I'm looking forward to the most are the pictures from the con. My favourite thing about New York, after meeting some of the creators and just the whole surreal atmosphere around the place, were the people in costumes. Most put a lot of time and money into them and it's well worth your time at one of these events to find a good spot and just people watch for a few hours.

In lieu of that, a nice Flickr stream will do. Just type SDCC 2008 into a Flickr search and you'll find lots. Good for a bit of amusement. If I find any really amazing photos, I'll post or link to them on the blog this weekend.

And now, away to work....

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I know I said I wouldn't write about Italy this evening. I had planned on writing about the Board of Regents election. But I'm still feeling run down and like crap. The level of concentration just isn't there this evening. So instead, photos of four masks we bought while in Italy. I'm not entirely sure we needed four masks and they were a bitch to transport home. However, we fell in love with them and make the effort. And except for one, they managed to make it home unscathed.

The first two masks are mine.

This one ought to be fairly recognizable. It's a Guy Fawkes mask and I bought it in Florence. A little store right around the corner from our hotel. This mask is made of leather and you could watch the guy make masks in his little workshop. I've always wanted one of these masks, ever since I first read the V For Vendetta comics back in the 80s. Now I just need the rest of the costume.

This mask is Venetian. Venice is very proud of its mask making tradition. There's general disgust with the cheap Chinese masks and glassware flooding Venice. However, we found a couple of shops that, while more expensive, produced lovely masks. This one is also mine. It's a touch plain, but I like it. Also, it fits. Much to my annoyance, most of the masks I really liked were simply too small to fit properly. This mask also got crunched a bit being transported, but it's not too serious.

This one and the next one are Cathy's. She nearly went out of her mind trying to select a mask. So many of them are beautiful, but very large and elaborate. Meaning, very difficult to pack. Also, this mask and the red one were made by the same people who made many of the masks for Eyes Wide Shut. Considering how bad that movie was, I'm not sure it's an endorsement, but there's your extra bit of information for the day.

This one Cathy is slightly annoyed with me about. We had our masks and were walking home. There are literally hundreds of stores selling masks in Venice. I don't know why, but this mask caught my eye. I told Cathy she should go try it on. She immediately fell in love with it, although despaired we wouldn't have enough room for all the masks. We did.

By the way, the Venetian masks tend to be papier mache. As Cathy noted to one of the artists, their work is a bit better than what she does with her Grade 5 class.

Finally, just a few other pics of masks in stores. It was always easy to tell the good mask stores from the crappy ones. The good ones would greet you as soon as you walked in and told you to feel free to take photos if you wished. The bad ones had signs plastered all over the place telling you not to take pics.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bad weekend

I'm still not feeling great and I think we've moved beyond jetlag and into something else. A summer cold or something. Still, I am getting tired earlier than normal. When we hit Rome, we took a four hour nap around 1 pm, got up, took a walk around the area for a few hours, came back to the hotel room and slept another eight hours. After that, we were fine.

And yet, here it is three days after landing back in Canada and I still feel very much out of sorts. I read somewhere that jetlag tends to be worse going one way over another. I believe it.

Anyway, I mentioned that Saturday was a bad day. I know everyone has bad travel experiences and I certainly don't want to make ours sound like it was something catastrophic. We got to Ottawa safe and sound (albeit with a few bumps along the way). But compared to some of the travel days I've had, this was certainly one of the worst.

How was it bad? Let me count the ways:

1. We arrive at the airport about 2.5 hours early. Two hours is the norm for international travel, but this was Italy, so we figured the extra half hour wouldn't hurt. It didn't. We went to the terminal the directions told us to go to. However, the American airlines have created their own "bunker" terminal that you have to shuttle to in order to check in. Mildly annoyed, we hop on the first bus of the morning.
2. Arrive at Terminal 5, "The Bunker" and go through the first security check of the day...that will allow us to check in. Yes, we had to go through security to check in. First time my new passport is commented on. "It looks good in white."
3. Despite being there more than two hours early, we are told the flight is sold out and there is no way we can sit together. Vastly annoyed.
4. Hop on Bus #2 back to one of the main terminals, where we make our way to a small gate area that will clearly not hold all the people on the plane.
5. Becomes apparent that the plane will be late leaving as there is no plane parked at the gate. We have a 90 minute layover in Newark before our flight to Ottawa. Now looks in jeopardy.
6. Passengers are herded passed the gate, only to go down a flight of stairs to a third bus of the morning, which took passengers to a plane on the other side of the airport. Only one bus is shuttling the 200 or so people across the airport.
7. Not exactly the friendly skies. Continental Stewardesses (or "International Customer Service Managers" as the pilot called them) are snappy and grumpy. A British lady sitting next to me is shocked. "Continental is my carrier. I fly with them all the time and I've never seen them this disorganized or rude." She promptly attributes it to being in Italy.
8. Miraculous, the plane leaves only an hour late. Pilot assures us time will be made up in transit.
9. Two good things. First, the nice British lady volunteered to switch seats with Cathy so we ended up together. Secondly, Continental had something like 350 movies you could watch on the screen in front of you. Made killing the 9.5 hour flight pretty easy.
10. We arrive in Newark about 20 minutes late. Things now start to get very bad. When I booked the tickets I was ignorant about the complexities of coming from one country to the US and then leaving for another. I figured it would be pretty straight forward. Ummm, no.
11. Passport control line-up is massive. We wait nearly an hour to get through. Homeland Security officer has to go and ask if they will accept my temporary passport. Minor stroke occurs. They accept it. With the 20 minutes late arriving, we now have 10 minutes to catch our flight.
12. Hitch #2...your luggage isn't automatically forwarded to your next flight. So we have to pick it up, check it in and clear security again.
13. Breaking a trend for the day, the Continental flight to Ottawa leaves on time. We're not on it. It's the first time in either of our lives we can recall missing a flight.
14. Go to Continental desk and try to catch a later flight to Ottawa. Informed there are no other flights for the day to Ottawa. Mild panic sets in.
15. After 40 minutes rangling with the computer, clerk manages to get us on a flight to Ottawa on Air Canada. It will get us in at 1:15 am. We both manage to not weep.
16. Go to Air Canada desk and ask if we can get on earlier flight. Defying expectations, staff are helpful and get us on a flight through Montreal that will get us into Ottawa at 9:15 am.
17. Balancing out the karma, when we get to Montreal, discover that Air Canada has lost our luggage. We're both exhausted at this point and ready to start killing people.
18. We clear security again. I've lost count at the number of times people have looked at my passport. Estimated number around 15. Airports are very paranoid these days.
19. Arrive in Ottawa, report luggage missing. Clerk at desk says we should have it by noon on Sunday. We get some Wendys, pick-up some toiletries and clothes at Wal-Mart, go to bed and breakfast I booked for a nice romantic weekend before parting for the next month. Slip into coma.
20. Wake up early Sunday morning and unable to sleep later because of jetlag. Report luggage missing to Visa, who give us each $500 play money to buy new clothes. Promptly spend a good chunk of it.
21. Go catch Batman as a way of relaxing.
22. Return to b&b around 6 pm. One piece of luggage delivered for us. Name on bag is Mohamed. Call 1-800 to say they deliver the wrong bag and ask where ours is. Asked if we're sure that it's the wrong bag. Cathy manages to not climb through the phone and kill the person. Told to call back in a couple of hours and they would know more.
23. Call at 9 pm. Still no idea. I decide to go to the airport to kill people.
24. Air Canada staff mystified where bags are. One staffer remembers handling the bags and giving them to the contract delivery people. They don't know where the bags are. About an hour of vexed faces and confusion on what could have happened to the bags. Delivery people are about as helpful as you might expect at this point.
25. Phone rings from passenger annoyed that two bags not belonging to him are in his hotel room. The person's name is Mohamed. I can commiserate. It is, however, our lost luggage. AC staff offer to send a courier to get it. I quickly tell them it's no problem for me to go and get it.
26. Long ordeal finally ends when I stagger into b&b room with bags. Cathy is very happy. Miraculously, nothing is broken or missing.
27. Romantic weekend at the b&b is, however, pretty much shot to hell.

And that's that. Not the worst travel experience in history, but certainly a whopper for the two of us. Although I find it amusing that I booked tickets to avoid Air Canada and all but two of the five planes we flew in this vacation still managed to be Air Canada.

Also learned the valuable lesson that when travelling internationally, even if the tickets are cheaper, avoid flying through the US. That passport control line will haunt my nightmares for months to come.

Tomorrow, something not Italy or travel related, I assure you....

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back in the NU

You know, when the pilot came over the PA system on the plane this morning and announced it was 24C in Iqaluit, I just assumed the apocolpyse happened shortly after leaving Ottawa and then when I reached here there will be little devils waiting for me at the arrivals gate.

Nope. It actually is 26C today. I was talking to the cabbie on the way back from the airport and he said it was the warmest he'd ever felt and he had been here more than 20 years. And because of whatever weird way temperatures work up here, it actually feels much warmer than that. We're not talking Rome-level of heat. But people are feeling it around town. I suspect if I hadn't just come from a very hot country, I would be dying. As it stands, I'm doing all right. Even the apartment isn't too bad, but the sun isn't shining through the windows right now, so that might change in a few hours.

So yes, back in Iqaluit. It's always a shock when you've been away for a few weeks, in places with thousands and thousands of people bustling around you, to come back here. There's always the "what am I, nuts?" that settles in the first few days you're back. But eventually you get used to things around here and even remember why you like and choose to live here in the first place.

A lot of things to blog about over the next few days. Saturday was, if not as bad as last Monday (the day I lost the passport) certainly comes a close second. There's also more that needs to be said about my run for MUN's Board of Regents, some thoughts on the latest Batman movie, a final wrap-up on Italy and a few other things.

But for right now, just going to relax and take it easy. I'll post more tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Last time from Italy

All right, a quick note as I am back to using dubious internet cafes once again.

1. We have a new passport, so I can leave the country. And who knew, but emergency passports are white instead of blue. They actually look much nicer than the regular blue ones. Cathy is jealous, but not jealous enough to lose her own passport to get one. And, of course, I look like an axe murderer in the picture.

2. Just poked around Rome a bit today. Hit the Spanish Steps, the Fountain at Trevini and took it easy. It is our last day here, but that does not mean we have to beat ourselves silly.

3. We are now off to have supper at our favourite place to eat in Italy so far...a little outdoor cafe that always seems packed, but that might have to do with the good food and a decent red wine. You know, we never really did find a good red wine while here. Odd, I know, but there you are.

4. Next update will likely be from Iqaluit. Going to do a quick resupply in Ottawa, try and see the new Batman and Cathy is going to relax in her first bath tub in more than three weeks. With jets. And bubbles. I occasionally plan these things well.

Ciao from Italy...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Board of Regents

Almost forgot, I'm running for Memorial University of Newfoundland's Board of Regents. I will talk more about this later, but if you're an alumni, I would appreciate your vote. For more information about who is running, go here.


No updates on the passport front, but I'm assuming no news is good news. If there had been a problem they would have called the hotel we're staying at as I gave them the number. And the people here are good at passing things along. So if all goes according to plan, I'll pick it up tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, we went to Pompei today, which was a lot of travelling, close to six hours on trains, for about three hours of being able to wander around the site. Cathy liked it a lot because she likes archeology and has seen Discovery Channel specials about the place. As for me, it was interesting, but I suspect I might be reaching my maximum capacity to find really old things interesting, even something as cool as the ruins of a city destroyed by a volcano.

Although I do find it interesting the people who keep building place not just in Pompei and Napoli, but actually on Vesuvius itself. What kind of mindset is involved in building something in an area that you know, for a certainity, will blow up one day. Granted, it could be 100 years from now. Then again, it could be tomorrow.

Other than that, I think we're ready to leave Italy. Just some little things. It's not like I'm anxious to get back to work, but it's always nice to just get back to your home base. Plus, we are desperately sick of our clothes. The temptation to burn them the instant we hit Ottawa is pretty high. Miraculous, we will leave Italy with very little new clothing. A t-shirt for me, a few shaws for Cathy. She even managed to not buy new shoes, all the more impressive since I'm sure it's Italian law that every third store in the country must sell shoes.

Will try and update again before I hit Iqaluit, but we shall see.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Back in Rome

So back in Rome and in a somewhat calmer mood. We got back into Rome this afternoon. After some battles with cabs (one was a gypsy cab trying to scam us, the other failed to give us back change and feigned innocence when Cathy confronted him. She broke out the teacher voice. He lasted about five seconds.) we managed to make it to the Canadian embassy and filled out a metric tonne of paperwork. Then a quick run up the street to get a new passport photo taken, and dashing back to the embassy before it closed.

So it seems, barring any last minute weirdness, I will have a new, albeit temporary, passport by Friday. We maybe could have stayed in Cinque Terre an extra day, but it would have been a hell of a risk with some very expensive consquences if we guessed wrong.

The embassy staff were tremendously helpful. Full credit to them, as well as Cathy's family, who rallied to my cause, sending along document to the embassy. They certainly knew who I was when I got there.

I only have two problems with the embassy, actually. First, it's in a pretty ugly and unimpressive building. Plus, Cathy was very confused as to why there were no Canadian flags to be found. I guess it might be for security reasons, but still, kind of weird.

Oh, and one more thing, and again, I emphaize that the staff was very helpful. But when they punched in my address into the computer, it didn't recognize Nunavut as a territory. It only has the NorthWest Territories. Ooops. It's been a territory for nine years now, guys. Might want to work on updating the software.

We're now debating what to do with our extra time in Rome. Cathy's looking at information in Pompei. We might do a quick day trip there tomorrow. Not as nice as relaxing on a beach, but still could be fun.

So I hope the worst is now over. It cost us some extra money and a lot of inconvenience. Plus, Cinque Terre is stunning. I'll put up photos when I get home, but it's easily the most beautiful place we visited in Italy. So leaving when we were just starting to explore was quite depressing.

Still, it could have been worse. And we've survived. So all is good.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

King of dumb

If yesterday was not the worst day I have had in recent years, then it has to be up there. Through what could only be termed as a temporary loss of sanity, I got off the train during a layover in Milano on our way to Cinque Terre. Instead of taking my stachel which normally comtains all my information and money, I just grabbed the money belt, tucked it into my pocket and ran out to a store to grab some snacks.

I came back with the snacks. I did not come back with the money belt. Score one for the pickpocks of Italy.

How catastrophically stupid and expensive were these snacks? The tally is one passport, two credit cards, one bank card, a drivers licence and about 300 euros. I am so mad at myself I could scream. And yet, I do not have that luxuary. There is too much to do in the next few days.

First, the rest of our time in Cinque Terre is now cut short. We were going to leave on Friday and head to Rome. Instead, we leave for Rome on Wednesday. I need to get to the embassy and get things taken care of. They are pretty sure they can issue me a new passport, but the sooner I get there, the better. Friday is too late. All the credit cards are cancelled.

It could have been much worse. I keep telling myself that, as do others (Cathys family has been invaluable the last 24 hours). I could have been mugged. We could have been harmed in some way. The worse that happens is extreme inconvenience and money loss. Still, I am so frustrated with myself. I had been so careful during this trip. Then one stupid slip in judgement and bang.

More from Rome. At some point tomorrow to let everyone know how it is going.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Venice is sinking (very slowly)

1. Apparently God is touchy. We were lying in bed this morning, trying to sleep in a bit and actively cursing on the chorus of church bells going off all around our hotel. About 20 minutes after that, a thunderstorm blasted through the area. Apparently He is not above firing a warning shot. Duly noted.

2. Enjoying Venice a lot, although we decided to get out of dodge yesterday, figuring Venice would be crazy on a Saturday. So we got on a water bus and travelled to Murano and Burano, two islands further out in the lagoon. Nice places. Burano sort of looks like what you would get if you took a rural Newfoundland community and dipped it in the Medeterrian. Murano is famous for its glass, so we did some shopping there.

3. Myself and Cathy have noted that there is a distinct lack of penises in Venice. This does not mean the place is filled with eunochs. It is just there were a lot of them in Rome (on statues and what not), although many of them were broken off. I do not know what that says. And there were plenty in Florence, although mostly on paintings (and the David). But in Venice, not so much. I do not know why, but these are the things you notice on vacation.

4. Cathy has also noted there are fewer nuns. No idea if this is linked to lack of penises or not.

5. We are off to Monteresso tomorrow. We already have our tickets booked, so we are good to go. No idea of internet access, so we shall see. By the way, sorry about any errors over the last few posts. Italian key boards are deeply weird.


Friday, July 11, 2008


After yesterdays venting about hotel rooms in Florence, let me just say the place in Venice is a gem. We have a view out our window overlooking a canal. Not the Grand Canal or anything silly like that. Still, its a canal. This morning, gondalliers sang as the sailed past our window. That is pretty all right in my books.

Most of the travel guides say you will get lost in Venice. If you are like me, you take that with a bit of a grain of salt, figuring you will be the exception. Besides, I am good with maps and have a good sense of direction.

All of which is completely useless. We have been lost more often than we have been found. And here is the crazy part...Cathy is much better at navigating around Venice than I am.

This is not meant to besmearch my lovely wife and her intelligence. She will be the first to admit she has a terrible sense of direction. I could put her in a square at 7 pm at night and ask her which way is west and she would not know.

But she tends to compensate for problems in weird leaps of logic. And if there was ever a place made for weird leaps of logic, its Venice. The place works best, it seems, if you abandon all hope of things making sense. Which is, well, what works well for Cathy.

(she is looking over my shoulder as I type this and nodding her head).

But we are loving the place. It is much more than we expected. Not as dirty as Florence was. And every corner is a postcard. We have been happy just to wander and window shop, rather than hitting museums and churches (although we hit the one in St. Marco today). It is a great city once you wander off the beaten path, which is never more than one or two wrong turns away.

Off to Murano and some of the outlying islands tomorrow. More updates when I can afford it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Quick post from Venice

Six euros for an hour of internet in Venice. Blogging may become more infrequent.

1. A pox on the hotel in Florence, who decided to not take our Visa this morning. Well, their machine rejected it and the "lady" who is the manager helpfully suggested that perhaps we had spent too much money and was over our limit.

Blow me.

An emergency call to Visa said the lady was on drugs. Still could not get their machine to work so we had to pay cash. When I get home, I will find every travel site this hotel is listed on and burn the place to the ground. This will be my small revenge.

2. Train was fine. No problems.

3. Venice exceeds all expectations. It is a marvel. We, of course, got lost. But I can think of no place better to do that. Dups, you need to get here and bring lots of memory cards. Dear god, the photos that must be taken.

Right, more later.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

More Italian advice

Pop quiz. Read the following comment and then choose the correct answer.

"Go! Go! Go! They will never stop for you! You just must take a chance and go!"

A. Advice on how best to live life to the fullest.
B. Boarderline suicidial advice on how to cross a street in Italy.
C. All of the above.

If you answered C, then you win the prize. That advice was given to us the other day when we were on tour and trying to cross a street. Our tour guide practically started shoving people into the middle of the street, hoping that cars would stop for those pediestrians and that the rest of us would be brave enough to follow.

We really are liking Italy, but there are always small complaints. We try very hard not to be ugly tourists, complaining that Italy is not like where we are from. I heard a couple the other day get upset because she was asking for orange soda and the waiter kept saying "Fanta?", which is orange soda, but she kept getting madder with him, thinking Fanta must be some strnage Italian word she never heard of before.

Ye gods...

Anyway, if I have three complaints, it is these.

1. Charging to sit at a table and eat a meal. Rather annoying. I suspect the hospitality industry in North America would fold quickly if you had to pay for the pleasure of sitting down.
2. Many public toilets are pay ones. Anywhere from .50 to 1 euro. Actually saw the most redundent position in all of Italy today. Two security guards standing to protect the machine that takes the money to allow you into a washroom. I wonder if the washroom makes enough money to pay for the guards and the people who clean it? Pay toilets mostly went away in the 70s in Canada. Would not be a bad idea if the same happened here.
3. Charging more than 1 euro for 500ml of water. When caught short and desperate near the Vatican, we actually paid 2.50 euro (about $3.30 Can) for a bottle. I can only hope the pop waved his hand over it at some point. Seriously, charging that much for water should be an act of terrorism or something. If they want to gouge away on soft drinks, no problem. But water?

Funny story...on tour in Tuscany and waiting for the bus, I popped into a supermarket and bought 1.5L of water for .31 euros. I was laughing as I hit the bus stop at how cheap the water was and how badly gouged we had been other times. One lady, after hearing the price yelled "do not let the bus leave!" and bolted for the supermarket, buying three bottles and throwing a euro at the cashier as she ran through the place.

Anyway, off to Venice tomorrow. Cathy has low expectations, figuring it will be like Pisa. I have slightly higher hopes, but we shall see.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Random Italian facts

1. There was, apparently, a one day railway strike in Italy yesterday. We found out late in the day and it doesn't impact us. Still, our skepticism about the railway in Italy continues.

2. Did a daytrip tour of the Tuscan countryside yesterday. Very nice. The highlight was likely lunch at a winery, where they stuffed us full of pasta, bread, salomi, bruchetta, buscatti and three different kinds of wine. During the meal we could look across the Tuscan countryside at the fortified city of San Guermaro (sp). It was very, very good.

3. The anonymous guy who posted tips a couple of months back is two for two. Part of the trip included a one hour stop in Pisa. It was about 30 minutes too long at that. First time I lost my temper during the trip when a guy selling 10 euro watches wouldn't move out of the way of a picture I was trying to take. Gah.

4. The other thing he was right about was booking tickets in advance for the Uffizi museum. Always nice to skip that 2.5 hour long line and get your straight dose of massive culture shock. Dear god but that's a lot to absorb in a few hours. Stunning, though.

5. Best coversation overheard so far:
(young black woman, sounded like she was from New York): Yeah, we've only got two things in our bathroom. We've got a toilet and this other thing, I don't know what it is, a sink maybe...
(Older Aussie couple): Nah mate, that's a bidet.
Woman: A what?

6. Italians can also fight like no one's business. Best argument so far happened in Rome. A 30 minute knockdown, drag-out battle between a woman and, I hope, her boyfriend. Three times he tried to drive off on his scooter and she wouldn't let him. Once involved getting in front of it so he couldn't leave, the other involved punching him as he tried to leave and I think she actually grabbed him and stopped him from going. Plus she was point, jabbing and screaming at him quite a bit. All while wearing four inch heels and managing to flick her hair. You can't buy entertainment like that.

I think that's it for now. One more day in Florence. On Thursday, we're off to Venice. By the graces of the good lord and the whims of the Italian railway system.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Florence, part 2

Not much to update on this evening. Cathy's feet continue to improve. We finished our hop on, hop off tour of Florence. We hit a leather working school which, according to Let's Go, had plenty of good deals on local leather.

Let's Go is on drugs, just in case you were thinking of picking up a travel guide. Don't get me wrong, the leather there was spectacular. Soft as butter. But it was priced appropriately for the quality. Not the first time we've reached the conclusion that Let's Go is on crack. We actually picked up a Lonely Plantet, Venice, today and it's already much more helpful than Let's Go.

Other assorted ramblings around Florence. The famed Point Vecchio bridge with all the goldsmiths. Mom would have been in her glory. So filled with bright and shiny things. We also went back to the market for a few things for ourselves and the parents. Other than food, water, transport and the occasional tour and museum thing, we haven't bought much in the way of gifts. Probably just as well, given how light we're travelling.

Tomorrow it is off to the Tucan countryside and Pisa. Tuesday is a tour of the Uffli museum. Wednesday is still up for grabs, and then we're off to Venice on Thursday.

So far, so good...

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Florence, part 1

Some random notes:

1. Perhaps not surprisingly, Italian railways are confusing. We arrived at the trainstation, had to wait 30 minutes to get a ticket from a grumpy agent, then rush from platform to platform because the ticket or signs never said where it was. We were fined 50 euros for not having out Eurorail information filled out properly and then had a racket over our seats. By the time we reached Florence, the mood was foul.

2. The Hotel Ascott, where we're staying, is supposedly 3 stars. Only if there was heavy bribing going on. The air conditioning is dicey, the fridge doesn't work, nor does the tv. We have ants.

3. Despite all of this, we are having a good time. The city is beautiful and we've already walked around a fair bit and have a tour lined up, and several museums still to visit. Plus, the internet cafe I'm writing this from is only 2 euros an hour, as close to a deal as you're going to find around here.

4. We are fine, by the way. Just the one bad day, which happens every vacation. We're ven getting used to the hotel. Cathy's feet are doing better and I got a haircut by a nice German/Italian woman. It is quite possibly the finest one I've ever had. I don't really have enough hair left to need to take 30 minutes on it, but that's what she did.

More when more happens.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Rome, day 4...figuring it out, then leaving.

Figures, just when it feels like we're starting to get a hang of Rome, we're off to Florence tomorrow. I have to admit, Rome has been a pleasent surprise. Granted, I had pretty low expectations. I was expecting it to be brutally hot (which it is), filthy (no more so than other big cities I've been in) and filled with unpleasent and rude people. And that later hasn't happened. Sure we've had the occasional rude waiter or street vendor who didn't know when to back off, but for the most part, people have been friendly and helpful.

I don't know if I'd add Rome to the list of cities I need to visit again (Edinburgh and San Francisco are one and two on that list), but if there was a chance to come back and explore some more when it was a bit cooler and the crowds a bit thinner, I think I'd jump at it.

Oh, and a plug if you ever want to come to Rome...our hotel, The Arena, is highly recommend. It doesn't have huge rooms or great views...but the rooms are comfortable and clean, the air conditioning works and each room has a computer with free high speed. Plus, the staff is very friendly. And you're a five minute walk to the Colosseum.

As for random notes...
1. I desperately need a haircut. I thought I saw a barbour around here somewhere, but haven't been able to rediscover him. I'll ask our hotel owner tomorrow.
2. YOu got to love wash and wear MEC and Tilley clothing. We get home in the evening, throw the clothes in the sink along with some magic detergent, scrub for a few minutes and then hang to dry. All good as new in the morning. It's saving us a lot of hastle in terms of dragging things around.
3. Cathy's feet made it through the day...barely. They were bandaged, plus with socks and lots and lots of breaks. We went back to St. Peter's basillica, because we wanted to take an unrushed look at the place. Then to San Angelo castle. The artifacts were nothing great, but there's some awesome views of the city once you climb to the top. After that, a little roaming around the city centre, a rest back at the hotel and then an incredible meal at a great local restaurant. Wish we had found it the first day...we would have eaten nowhere else.
4. Internet may become erratic as we travel again. I'm betting not every hotel offers free computers and internet from here on our, but we can always hope.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rome Day 3, mangled feet

While my feet bounced back from the Vatican carnage yesterday, Cathy's did not. She has four blisters on her feet which has made any kind of sustained walking...challenging. We tried to take it a bit easier today, but still, you can't exactly see Rome and not do some walking.

The morning saw us do the Colosseum. First of all, God bless Let's Go, which gave this useful tip - don't buy tickets for the Colosseum at the actual building because the lines are retarded. Instead, go down to the Paltino, buy a pass there to see that and the Colosseum. It costs about the same and you don't have to spend 30 minutes lined up to get in. Works for us.

The building is as spectacular as its reputation. And it is fortunately large enough that the huge crowds aren't too overwelming.

After that we decided to do a hop on/hop off bus tour of Rome. It gave Cathy's feet a rest and gave us an idea of some places we'll want to hit tomorrow (the pass is good for 48 hours). We were hoping to do more today, but Cathy's feet gave up the ghost around 4 pm, so we've been taking it easy, trying to get them the heal up a bit.

A few other random points.

1. There are a lot of Mini's and Smart Cars kicking around Rome. Which is nice. I've been checking them out to see what colour I eventually will get. Cathy's impressed with the Smart Car's parking ability, given the ridiculous parking situation in the city.
2. Had lunch at a nice, out of the way cafe. Cathy had fettucine alfredo with sausage. I had raveoli with spinich, ricotti cheese and enough butter to drain a cow. It was very good. We sat and ate while Romans ate their lunch, drank capuccino, smoked and yelled a lot. It was good.
3. Give the junk hawkers some props. There are lots of them by the Colosseum during the day, seeling fake aritfacts, statues of Jesus and crappy jewelery. I went there this evening to get some night shots of the building. The day crowd was gone. In it's place were people selling little cubes that light up with images of the Colosseum and tripods, just in case the massive numbers of photographers need one.
4. Was looking at an impromtu monument to workers who have died in Italy at the Colosseum when I started chatting to this Irish couple who had gotten married in Rome on Monday. Nice people - Martin and Annette. Annette also managed to get blessed by the pope, since he does that for new brides on Mondays. Who knew? You're apparently not supposed to photograph it, but Martin was happily showing off the pics on his camera phone, include one of the tomb of John Paul. Weirdness, but you got to love it.
5. By the way, the whole clean shaven thing is a hiddeous failed experiment that I've ended. Shaved the first day of vacation, scarred my wife and scared one of my best friends. So that's that. The goatee is growing back as we speak.

Last day in Rome tomorrow, then off to Florence on Friday.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Surviving the heat, Rome Day 2

Even Cathy found it pretty brutal today. It hasn't reached the stupid levels of heat that I encountered while camping in PEI during a 40C heatwave back in '02, but it's still pretty brutal. It's the kind of heat that can sap your ability to do a lot, when all you want to do is crawl into air conditioning.

Today was the Vatican. We booked a tour to see the Vatican Museum as guides recommend you do that rather than spend upwards of 3 hours in the brutal heat, waiting in line. Which is a good plan. It makes sense. The downside is if you're late and miss you tour, then you've wasted a whole lot of money.

We didn't miss it, but it was a near thing. The plan was solid. We got there about 90 minutes early and walked around St. Peter's. Which was amazing. So amazing we lost track of time and then got lost. I thought once you were in the Vatican, it was a simple matter to just cut through it and get to the museum.

Ummm, no.

So after a lot of running, we barely managed to make it to the tour. But hot, sweaty and with rubbed feet was perhaps not the best way to start. Little did we know we had begun a three hour Vatican Death March. It was a great tour, don't get me wrong. Lots of fantastic artwork, great bits of history and a good tour guide. But the crowds inside the museum were insane. Coupled with the heat, it kind of sapped the good out of you.

I think it's kind of sad that when you hit the highlight of the tour, the Sistine Chapel, and you're so exhausted, hot and feed up with the insane crowds that you don't really appreciate it.

I'm not saying we hated was just one of those things that even if the crowds had been a bit smaller, it would have been all right. We got there at 9:30 am and the place was still silly with people. I can only imagine what it was like later in the day.

After that, we sent our Vatican postcards (perhaps coming to a mailbox near you soon), grabbed some lunch, picked up a few groceries and then came back to the hotel room to sit in the glorious air conditioning. After that, some more gellato, a quick picnic watching the sun set near the Colloseum and then back to the hotel to rest the feet.

As for tomorrow, I think a bus tour of Rome is in the plans, plus finally getting into the Colloseum.