Monday, June 30, 2014

College World Series 2014

 For the first time ever I went to see some of the NCAA College World Series in Omaha, NE. Traveled with a group of friends, pictured above. I think it was everyone's first time going to the CWS.

It was also my first time in Omaha and Nebraska, so add a new state to my list. Our hotel was in the center of the city, where there are tons of bars and restaurants within a short walking distance, such as the Upstream Brewery.

 We had tickets for a total of three games, but saw only parts of all three, as we showed up later and left early the first day, partly because of how hot it was, and our seats were in the sun. I forget what teams we saw, but I really don't care about teams unless my college team was playing, and there weren't.

The second game we had tickets to was canceled due to thunderstorms near by as soon as we walked in. So we went to the bar across the and had some beers before it started pouring rain. Being from Southern California, I had never seen so much rain. People were probably wondering why I was taking so many photos of the rain. There was also lots of lightening, and we probably should not have been outside under a tent, but it was dry and everyone was having a good time waiting out the storm, which only got stronger, so we ran to another bar and got soaking wet.

Nearby the hotel was a  park next to the Missouri River. On the second morning I took a walk by myself for 90 minutes and explored the area. It is so green there and they had lakes and fountains like the one in the picture above.

I wandered around until I reached the pedestrian bridge that crosses the river, so I was in both states at once. It was also my first time in Iowa, where we went to a casino the previous day.

This was the big storm, luckily no tornadoes. We arrived Thursday evening and left Sunday morning. Both flights had a stop with a aircraft change, and all the flights were delayed for various reasons, making it lucky we made our connections. We all brought carry-ons so no one lost their luggage. I had a great time and may even go back some day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 NCAA Tournament

Back in 2006 I attended the NCAA tournament games at what was then called Cox Arena on the San Diego State campus. We had fun, so when it was announced that they would be having the tournament again at what is not called Vejas Arena on the San Diego State campus I was all in. There were to be four games on Friday for the round 2 of the top 64, and then four games on Sunday for the top 32.
 On Friday the first game was at 11:30, so we had to to meet up and have breakfast at the same restaurant as we did in 2006 - The Original Pancake House. Funny thing is, it was the people who did not go with us in 2006 that made that decision. So the tradition was kept alive, except now that we are older we did pound a few beer before going out to breakfast.

The person driving worked at SDSU so he had a free parking pass and knew where to park that was close and not crowded. We got parked quickly and set up our tailgating. We weren't sure if tailgating was allowed, but no on stopped. Since there is no alcohol sales at these NCAA events, we had a few drinks before heading in.
 The day had two session of two games each. Between each session everyone had to leave the arena and then re-enter, at least for those who had tickets to both sessions, which we did. Our seats were way better than last time when we were stuck in bench seating. Also, ticket prices had at least doubled. The first game was Arizona at Weber St. I had never heard of Weber St. It is somewhere in Utah. Arizona was expected to win, and they did, but it took them five minutes into the game to score their first points.
 The second game was Gonzaga at Oklahoma State. This was probably the most boring of the games, mostly because the officials called so many fouls in the second half. Gonzaga ended up winning.

After we cleared out, we gathered up two more friends who were there for the second session and went back to the car for some more drinks.

The third game was VCU and Stephen F.Austin, another unknown college, and this ended up being the best game of the day. VCU was winning most of the game, but SFA somehow made some big shots at the end of the game, and with four seconds remaining and down by four points, they made a three point basket AND were fouled. The player made the free throw and the game was tied! The crowd, not really caring about either team, suddenly became SFA fans and were cheering them on. They ended up winning and got a standing ovation. Also, sitting near us, was a young man who was the biggest SFA fan there. Near the end of the game he ran down the stairs, and sure enough he tried to run onto the court, where he was bear hugged and stopped by a large man. We all thought he was going to get kicked out, but somehow he, and his friend, got back to their seats. Later during the last game this kid was able to get the team to sign his shirt, so he was happy.
 The final game of the night, and it had already been a long day, was Tulsa at UCLA. I had my UCLA shirt on since I go to their football games. There was a lot of blue in the arena and UCLA defiantly had a home field court advantage. They won, but the game wasn't too exciting. By the time we left we had been there for almost 12 hours. It was so late we opted to skip dinner and just go home.

So I had Saturday to rest - except I didn't I had a BBQ to attend, where I had more beer and lots of good food with friends. After getting home I stayed up until past midnight and slept in to almost noon. Luckily our meeting time was 1:30 since the first game on Sunday was 4:00 PM. My friend and I rode down with another friend had his daughter. We directed them to the same parking garage, but had to pay  to park this time.

We walked to the 4.0 Deli on campus and got some food and beer before heading into the arena. The deli was packed, as there only a few places near the campus that sell beer and food.
My friend and his daughter were Arizona fans, and this time I wore my Aztecs shirt and was happy that they had won on Saturday. The first game was Stephen F. Austin at UCLA, and SFA didn't do so good this time, and UCLA won, but the crowd still have the player of SFA a loud cheer as they walked off the court.

Finally it was the sixth and last game, Gonzaga and Arizona. Arizona dominated the game and the fans started to leave before the game ended, including us, as we all had to work the next day.

I have to say, I and my fill of college basketball for a few years. Six games in one weekend is a lot, but I had fun and would do it again.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Training Trip 2014

 Almost every year for 20 years I've been going to watch Spring training baseball in Arizona (once in Florida) and once again I made it this year. At first my friend who organizes the trip said he wasn't going to plan  a group trip, just one for this family. But then he ended up buying 20 tickets for two games and so I bought my airline ticket to fly out.

I got there late Friday  night. Usually we all fly together, but this year everyone drove except me. I got to the hotel in time to get some food and beer at the bar. I was soon joined by a few more from the group and we ended up talking until  past closing time. They were nice enough to not kick us out.

The first game was at the new Cubs park in Mesa. We had a little trouble finding it because the GPS took us to the old location. Well, we still had time to get to the correct park, do some tailgating and get in before first pitch. It wasn't hot, but it was nice that we had seats in the shade the whole game. For food and drink I had an Old Style and a bratwurst.

Above is my lunch and a view of the outside of the park. Right after the game was over a freak storm hit with a little rain and strong wind blowing more dust than rain.

 On Friday night after eating pizza in the hotel banquet room, we went to the bowling alley across the street where after two games of just breaking 100 I was done. My yearly bowling.

On Saturday we went to see the Giants in Scotsdale. These tickets are hard to get as the games always sell out. We thought we had good seats in the shade, but they ended up being in the sun on bleachers. It wasn't too hot and the bleachers weren't too crowded or uncomfortable. The Giants lost to the A's so the fans weren't happy.

Then on Saturday night after happy hour at the hotel bar we went out for our usual dress-up dinner. Instead of a nice steak place we went to a popular Mexican restaurant that we had never been to before. We sat outside, where it was also very windy, and had a nice meal with some beer and Patron.

Sunday morning I had time to sleep in, get my free breakfast and get to the hotel in plenty of time for my flight home. Even though I was there for just two full days instead of the usual four, I felt like I was there for a week. Guess I'm getting old(er). Can't wait until next year, or actually this June in Omaha for the College World Series!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Thanksgiving Vacation 2013: Last Day in Venice and Bologna

Rialto Bridge
This was our last day of vacation in Italy. We had time to spend in Venice before taking the train back to Bologna. We had our breakfast and checked out of the hotel, leaving our luggage at the front desk so we do some more exploring of the city before heading back to the train. We only had a about two hours, because we wanted to get back to Bologna with enough time to see a few more sites before the sun set. So we started following the signs along on the buildings that guide you through the narrow streets and over the bridges towards St. Mark's Square. We didn't have time to walk there and back, so we made the Rialto Bridge our destination, stopping at various shops along the way. Before too long my sister had to head back because she was flying out of Venice in the afternoon. So we waved goodby as she left Venice and I continued walking with my brother and his wife. We hadn't bought any Venice made glass souvenirs yet, but the one shop we waked into actually had a man make making small glass animals at the front counter. So my sister-in-law bought some small glass animals. I wanted to buy some but was afraid they would break on the way home.

Grand Canal, Venice
We continued onto the Rialto bridge, which I had seen the first day in a boat and later in the dark, but this was the first view in clear sunlight. Being off-season, I'm told that usually there are so many people on the bridge that you can't get a good photo. I had no problem viewing the canal from the bridge and taking some photos, but I forget to get one of myself. We then turned back and headed to our hotel where we got our bags, bought a train ticket, which we now knew we needed to get validated before boarding the train, so there was a lot less panic than there was on the way here.

We found seats in the first class car, and the train slowly left the station. I could have spent another day in Venice, but as usual, our trips are quick and we had to see as much as we can in limited time. As the train got to each train station, more people got on. By the time we got to Bologna, the cabin was almost full and most everyone got off with us. We thought about going to our hotel first to drop off our bags and then coming back to the city, but with limited time, we opted to leave our bags at the train station where you can store your luggage - for a price. 
View from the twin tower in Bologna

Our main reason for going back to the city center was to walk to the top of the hopefully now open tower. After a quick cab ride to the plaza, we found the tower open and after buying our tickets we started walking up the 500 stairs to the top. Many of the steps were narrow and small, not made for someone with big feet. Luckily it wasn't to busy, but there were a few places where we had to stop and let the people heading down pass us, as there was only one set of stairs. Once at the top you realize how high you are when you look down on the other other tower and buildings. I took many pictures through the iron gated windows and it was pretty clear, as you can see from the photo of the city. Just some smog along the horizon. It was cold and breezy at the top, so once we saw all of the 360 degrees view, we headed down, which was almost more difficult than walking up because of the small steps

Looking down at Bologna
Once at the bottom we headed to the plaza where there was a band playing Christmas music and people watching. There was also unfortunately the people begging for money, including two women with all white mime-like makeup and an old man that wouldn't leave me alone. I was ready to punch the man but that would have been a bad idea.When we arrived in the taxi we saw the Christmas tree lit up, but now the lights were off. They must have just been testing them. We saw signs of Christmas lights and decorations being put up along the streets and buildings, but very few were turned on. We had hoped that as it got dark they would turn on, but that was not the case. I guess it was still too early for the Christmas celebrations. However, they did have a booth that was selling hot wine, so I bought a cup and it helped warm me up. 

After walking around some more we were ready for dinner. We knew that there were places to eat, but once again, they were all the small bars with no sit-down seats. We eventually did find a place that had seats and they squeezed the three of us into a small table, but we were happy to sit down, warm up and get some food. We all enjoyed our meal and dessert. We almost had a small emergency when they said cash only, but we had just enough Euros to pay for the meal.

Me at the top of the Tower
Since it wasn't that far back to the bus station, we decided to walk. Along the ride here we saw what looked like a Christmas market. As we got closer to the stations, sure enough, there was a Christmas market, but it was still being set up, with just a few booths open. So we continued walking to bus station and stopped to look at some more ruins, which were hard to see in the dark. So back at the station we had to find an ATM to get cash to pay for our luggage storage. We found one, collected our bags and got a taxi to our hotel which was located near the airport. It's always nice to have a hotel near the airport on your last night so you have an easy ride the next morning to catch the flight out. Our flight left at 8:30, so we planned to get there by 7:00, which was plenty of time.

Christmas Music
The next morning we checked-out and took the free shuttle to the airport, which turns out is pretty small. Since we had all booked our flights in business class using frequent flyer miles, we had access to the executive lounges at each airport. The one at Bologna was small, but I was happy with a coffee, juice and pastry. Our plane left on time, if not early, and we quickly arrived back at London, where we had about three hours before our flight back home. The British Airways club there is huge with all the food and drinks you can consume, plus free WiFi. Time went by so fast we almost didn't notice when they posted our gate for the flight, and we got to the gate as they were boarding. But with our tickets we got to use the fast line so we were on board quickly.

Christmas Tree in Bologna
This was going to be a long flight, about 11 hours. I planned to watch a movie, read, listen to music and try to get some sleep. I did all of the above, but it was still a very long flight. They did have good service, with all the beer you wanted (or wine for most people - only I was drinking beer in business class). The food was good and topped with a nice plate of desserts. As we got closer to home they served another snack and then we were set to land. Luckily we got in near sunset, so it wasn't too late and I wasn't too tired. After all, I had to drive home still. Once we cleared customs, using our fast track global entry, we got the shuttle to the parking lot and I said goodby to my brother and sister-in-law and drove home. By the time I went to bed, I had basically been up for 24 hours, but I know I got some sleep on the plane. I had Sunday to recover before going back to work on Monday. So another year's overseas trip was complete and now we get to plan where to go next year.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Thanksgiving Vacation 2013: Trip to Slovenia

Up until a few days before we left for Italy, we had no real plan on how we were going to get to Slovenia. We knew we wanted to see the Postojna Caves and Predjama Castle. We also wanted go to Slovenia because it was a new country for all of us and only a two hour drive from Venice. If you search the Internet on how to get there, you'll find that there is no train or bus. Most people suggested driving, saying that once you get out of the city driving in Italy isn't that bad. But none of us really wanted to rent a car and drive. So luckily, my brother found a company that provided tours of Slovenia called Slovenia Explorer. A trip from Venice was not one of their standard trips, but they do have custom trips for a higher price, which was well worth it.

The tour guide was going to pick us up in Venice at the bus station near our hotel at 8:30. So we were up earlier to get our free breakfast at the hotel. This hotel had less of a selection than the one in Bologna, but there was enough food selection to fill me up, plus they also made fresh Cappuccinos. After the usual trip back to the room to gather our stuff for the day, we headed outside where it was sunny but very cold. We were told to meet by the information center near the bus station, and we found it and then waited in the cold. The tour guide called and said she'd be there soon and she would be driving a van with brightly colored decorations on the side. Sure enough, we saw the decorated van pull up and we quickly got in out of the cold. Our driver and guide, who's name was Ivana I think, was very nice and spoke perfect English, with a bit of an Australian accent. Once we paid her in cash, we were on our way.

The first hour of the ride was just getting out of the city and traveling along a very busy highway where every car and truck was speeding. As we got closer to Slovenia, Ivana started talking about Slovenia. She had a microphone that was piped to the speakers so we could hear her better. The van wasn't that big, but could hold six people, and with just four of us there was plenty of room. As we got closer to Slovenia the landscape was more mountainous and green, and there was less smog or smoke. One interesting fact we learned is that Slovenia has the most bears per area of any country, as well as caves I think she said there are 10,000 caves with like 50 open for tours.

Crossing the border into Slovenia was easy, as there was no border checkpoint, just the old buildings from the days when it was part of Yugoslavia. Once in the country, it took less than 30 minutes to get to the caves in the small, quiet city of Postojna. When we parked, there were almost no cars and no buses. Our tour started in 45 minutes, so we had time for a snack. When we got our tickets, we headed to the entrance of the caves. During peak tourist season, they can have groups of up to 500 people at a time. There were about 50 people in our group, which was nice.

This cave was like no other I had been in. It started with a three mile ride in on a small Disneyland type train. I was surprised how fast the train traveled, or at least it seemed fast because some of the tunnels didn't have much head clearance and I felt like I had to duck. The caves were well lit in places so you could see the formations. Also, because it was winter, it was actually warmer in the caves than outside. Then the train stopped and it was time for the one mile walking tour. Here is where they break you up into language groups, and the English group was the biggest. The group leader was Slovenian, I assume, and spoke pretty good English. As we followed him, he would stop and explain the features of the cave. He pointed out the usual formations that all caves have, such as stalagmites and stalactites. These caves had no stairs, but some of the walkways were steep, but luckily had some kind of anti-slip coating as they were wet from dripping water. No photos were allowed in the caves because the flashes would kill the plant life inside, algae, I think.

Near the end of the walking tour, they had a tank with a very unique salamander that only exits in this cave. The salamander has no eyes, and can live up to 100 years, and more amazingly, can go years without eating. The ones in this tank get feel three times a year, so they are happy. And yes, they get released back into the caves after a few years and replaced by new salamanders.

So before boarding the train to go back out, they have conveniently build a gift shop inside the cave. Also, this area of the cave is the one place where they kind of let you take photos. The room was huge so most of the photos I took didn't turn out that well. The one posted above is the best one. So then they ring a bell and everyone heads back to the train where you once again are whisked away back out, and once again I kept ducking thinking my head was going to hit the caves.

Back outside our guide was waiting for us. We had time to do some shopping in the gift shop outside the cave where I bought my traditional magnet for the city or country I was visiting. Then she drove us to a restaurant for lunch. It wasn't very busy, but with only one waitress they were a little slow, especially when it came time to pay and leave. The food was good and we had time to talk to Ivana. I asked her how many languages she spoke, and was surprised that Italian wasn't one of them, but I'm always impressed with people who can speak three or four languages.

Once we finally paid, and yes, we bought her lunch, we got back in the van for a the 15 minute ride to the castle. She told us the history of the castle, including a story about one of its "rulers" that may or may not have been true. I enjoyed the ride there just looking at the small houses along the green hills. Upon arrival, once again the parking lot was almost empty, which meant no crowds in the caves. In fact, we only saw four other people inside. This castle had no guided tour, you are free to wander around. But like the reviews said, you don't need more than one hour to see everything. There were stairs and walkways everywhere, and it would be easy to miss a room or passage way if you didn't look at the map, which we almost forgot we had.

One of the passageways led up to the inside of the cave that the castle was built in. We almost missed this part of the castle. Each room was decorated with furniture, artifacts and mannequins like the one being hung by chains in a torture room. After we saw all the room and took many photos we headed out just to find the entrance gate closed. Apparently we were the last visitors of the day. Ivana was waiting for us once again. It was already starting to get dark, so we finished the tour just in time.

The ride back was uneventful, and I briefly fell asleep along the way. Luckily there was no traffic most the way, expect as we entered Venice, and we arrived there around seven. We thanked our guide and said goodby, and then walked back to the hotel for rest before dinner. Since we had a late lunch we weren't all hungry, but I was. So we walked around looking for restaurant and finally found one that had a good menu and at least some people eating inside. I ordered a Calzone, which was just enough food, along with an Italian beer. They got us our food very quickly once we ordered. After we finished, we walked around the city a little more and bought some Gelato for dessert.

We still had a half day in Venice the next day, plus a half-day in Bologna. So we went to our rooms where I used their free WiFi to upload all my wonderful pictures I'd had taken. This day was the best part of the trip. Nothing wrong with Bologna, Venice or Italy, but I never thought that I would be spending a Thanksgiving exploring caves and a castle in the country of Slovenia! In fact I knew nothing about Slovenia before this trip. I'd encourage anyone to take the time to see Slovenia if they have a chance. Someday I'd like to go to the capital as it looks interesting as well. 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Thanksgiving Vacation 2013: Travel to Venice

 So when I read my posts from the day before it sounds like I'm writing a police report or something. Like, "...and then I did this, and then we decided that." Where is the emotion? I'll try harder today, and maybe drinking a Stone Double Bastard Ale will help.

I think I woke up before my annoying watch alarm went off, and had plenty of time to pack up and get ready for breakfast and check out of the hotel. I had the same food for breakfast as the day before, and for some reason what I enjoyed the most was the fruit juices. I guess I don't drink fruit juice much, plus, this stuff had lots of sugar.

After a quick trip to the room, we all dragged our bags down to the lobby, checked-out and asked for a cab, which arrived within minutes. The ride to the train station was quicker than expected. Once at the station, we walked into the ticket office and saw a long line of people buying train tickets, but there were also kiosks that sold tickets. So after one opened up, and pressing a few wrong keys, we bought four tickets to Venice! The train was scheduled to leave in about 20 minutes, so we walked out to the platform to watch the sign that told us what platform the train was departing from. Platform 10 was announced, so we went down the stairs and back up on platform 10. There was a train there, but the number on the train did not match the number they were showing on the screen, so we assumed it wasn't our train. Meanwhile, we saw people getting on and off the train, looking confused. As the departing time neared, we began to realize that yes, this was our train. So one of us ran up to an employee and he said yes, we just needed to validate our ticket. So my sister-in-law ran around frantically until she found the validator, and we quickly boarded in first class and found four good seats for us and our luggage.

We opted for the regular train as opposed to the high speed train, so it was a two hour ride with some stops along the way. We were really in no hurry, as we had no specific plan for the day. I was the only one that had never been to Venice. So when asked what I wanted to do, my reply was "See the canals and bridges." Simple enough. The ride was quite relaxing, and I enjoyed just looking outside at the countryside. There were mostly farms between Bologna and Venice, and you could see the Italian Alps off in the distance covered with snow. At each stop, more people boarded first class, and soon we were moving our luggage out of the empty seats and into our seats or the overhead bins.

Once we got to Venice, we departed the train and headed to our hotel which was located right across the canal from the train station. We weren't sure if we could check in early, but the staff was very friendly and helpful. They got us checked into all three of our rooms. First they had someone take us to our rooms, and then deliver our luggage, because like many older hotels in Europe, the elevators, or lifts, can hold people and their bags. My room was very nice, and after unpacking what I needed for the day, I went back down to the lobby to begin my adventure in Venice.

The staff was extremely helpful. They gave us a map and showed us all the must-see sites. When asked if I wanted to walk or take a boat, or Vaporetto as they are called (I just had to Google that term because I couldn't remember it), I said boat! So off to the Grand Canal we went and purchases our tickets for a one way ride on the canal. The boats run often, so when the next one arrived, we boarded. Once on, I quickly found a seat up front with a good view of the city for taking photos. I didn't care how cold it was. As the boat went along the canal and stopped at each stop, I was just happy to be in Venice, even with the clouds in the sky, and I took photos of everything.

Eventually, we got to our last stop which was at Piazza San Marco. Now, I had not done my homework before coming here, so I was unfamiliar with all the famous bridges, buildings and plazas. Not any more. Now I know that St. Mark's Square is the main tourist destination in Venice. I took many photos of the buildings near and far, but before I knew what was happening, I was buying a ticket for entrance into the popular attractions. According to my ticket, which I still have, it includes: Paizzo Duncale, Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico and one other building. I'm not sure which one we went into first, but I know it had lots of rooms, some small and some VERY large. 

I wasn't really interested in reading what every room was and what was displayed on the walls, but I guess the most interesting rooms were the ones where prisoners were held. This included walking across the Bridge of Sighs, which was a bridge across an canal that prisoners walked before being locked up, and apparently "sighed" at the site of the city, knowing that they'd never see it again.

After we left the building, I had to take a WC break, and when I came back, I found my brother taking a survey by a women who was entering his answers into a tablet. Well, after that we walked around the square some more, and eventually waked into another cathedral. After a quick walk around, we went back into the square, which I learned at one time encouraged people to feed the birds, but now discouraged that  practice. Either way, there were lots of pigeons.

It was now in the late afternoon, and we were all hungry. Luckily, we knew there was a Hard Rock Cafe near by. So we headed there for a late lunch, and what would be also our dinner for the day. The restaurant wasn't too busy, so we got seated quickly. I ordered a beer, and for food I can't seem to remember what I got, but I think we all agreed that it was our best meal of the trip. The waiter was very nice and spoke good English. I had dessert,which was a cheesecake, but the cheesecake was served in a dish. That didn't matter. It was just as good.

So now as the daylight was starting to fade, we knew it was going to take about an hour to walk back to our hotel. They told us to follow the signs, so we did. The walk took us along the main walking path through Venice, and it was lined with shops selling everything, including glass trinkets made of glass, which Venice is famous for, as I found out. My traditional souvenir is a magnet. And once I found a Venice magnet that was also a mini snow globe, I bought it. 

So we continued to walk the path back to the hotel, crossing many bridges and taking more photos. Looking at the map now, it seems that there are many ways to make this journey. Sometimes your make a wrong turn and end up at a dead end and turn around. That's part of the adventure. We actually missed our turn to the hotel, and ended up by the bus station. But is was just a little backtracking to get to our hotel. So with the Sun setting and the clock near eight, we turned in for the night. Tomorrow was a big day for us. Not only was is Thanksgiving back home, but it was our big trip into the neighboring country of Slovenia! As this was the the third night in Europe, I was beginning to get adjusted to the local time. So  going to bed at nine wasn't too difficult. The guide for the next day was going to pick us up at 8:30, so we needed to be out of the hotel by eight. Once in my room, I was quickly ready for sleep and the great adventure that awaited us the next day.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Thanksgiving Vacation 2013: Full day in Bologna

Drinking a beer with my sister
 So awake I was for my first full day in the city of Bologna. It was bright and sunny outside, and as we noticed as we flew in the previous night, it was dark by five, so daylight hours were not to be wasted. Breakfast was the first task of the day. The hotel offered a free breakfast with enough selections of pastries, fruits and of course coffee to fill me up for at least a few hours. After we finished, a short break in our rooms to gather warm clothes and cameras and out the door we went.

We had no specific place to visit first, so we headed to the closest plaza. With the bright sunlight lighting up the buildings, it was time to start taking photos. So every building and statue was fair game for photographing. Near this square, whose name I can't remember, was an information center. Inside, where it was warm, my brother talked to the lady behind the desk who took out a map and circled the places to see in the city. So our day had now been planned. Follow the numbers on the map.

Old building
The closest place to us, other than the plaza we were already at, was the library. Not sure what to expect to see the the library, we walked in and soon noticed that the floor in some places was made of thick glass and below you could see ruins! Now our goal was to go under the library, and turns out it was just one floor down. The entrance was free, as were almost all the places we saw, but they had a donation box so I put in some coins. Inside the ruins were old city walls, streets and wells. Also visible from below were the people walking above who you could see through the thick glass floor. My brother and I went upstairs so my sister could take a photo of us from below, and of course I took a photo of her from above.

After we saw all there was to see in the library, we continued our walking out in the city. I'm not going to bore you with every place we saw, and I don't remember all of them either. I do have the map we used sitting next to me, but even looking at the map I have trouble remembering where we went. There were the usual cathedrals and churches, but if you looked around, almost every building was decorated with paintings and other art.
Looking down in the library

We did walk in circles some, passing by one place we wanted to see and having to come back. Because the tall tower was closed, when we saw that one of the buildings had a observation deck open, we opted to pay the three Euros and climb to the top. This building was under renovation, so the stairs were actually the scaffolding the workers would use to do there work. The building was only about four stories tall, but at the top you still had a good view of the city. More photo of more buildings were taken.

Inside the library
Some time during the day, we stopped for lunch. It wasn't easy to find a good place to eat, even though there were "bars" on every corner. These are the places where the locals eat at the bar standing up for a quick snack and they leave. Most of them had very little sit-down seating. We wanted a sit-down type restaurant, so those were harder to find, but we did find one, however, I don't remember what I ate. Lets assume it was pasta. After eating lunch we continued on. A little further away was a place where one of the cities' underground rivers was visible running between buildings. The photos we saw made it look nice, so we followed the map, stopping for gelato along the way, which is always nice, and found the river. From there the next closest site was the university area. There really wasn't much to see there, but it did have the largest concentration of younger people as Bologna is a big university city. I think this university was founded in the year 1000! Now that's old. From there we continued to wander until we found what was the ancient gate to the port of San Donato, a site that wasn't even on the map.

One of the few parks with trees
We then walked back towards our hotel and stopped at a few more places. During the day, we did check if the lost luggage had been delivered to our hotel. It ended up arriving in the afternoon, so we all took a break before heading back out. As the sun was setting, we had more time to walk around the squares and explored yet another cathedral. When it started getting dark, we took another break at our hotel before dinner. We planned on going to the same Irish Pub as the night before, and since happy hour started at 7:30, we still had two hours. Well, I didn't want to sit in my room for too long, because I was afraid I'd fall asleep and not wake up for eight hours. So as seven approached, we headed back out, walked around some more and then went to the pub.

We found a good table near the bar and placed our food orders at the bar. It started to get busy, and suddenly a woman asked me if I spoke English and then inquired if we were there to see the match, meaning a soccer game. She was basically saying she wanted our table, but we were not moving. I had a very good double cheese burger and beer, and after we were done eating we left and our table was quickly taken even before the staff could clean it. The match had not yet started. Hopefully no riot took place and I hope the home team won.
Inside a cathedral

Well, it was now late enough to turn in for the night. We were all very tired. Our plan the next day was to meet for breakfast once again, check out of the hotel and take the train to Venice. The trains to Venice left at least every hour, so we planned on catching one around 11. So back in my room, I downloaded the photos I had taken during the day, posted them online and crawled into bed. I tried to watch TV but all the channels were Italian. Not even CNN or any other news stations. So I tried to read but was too tired. Pretty soon I was sound asleep and had a dream that Tommy Shaw from Styx stole my camera for some reason. I have lot of strange dreams, so this wasn't unusual. Hopefully I'd wake up refreshed for another long day.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Thanksgiving Vacation 2013: Travel to Bologna

View from my room's balcony
We kept up the family tradition for the eighth year in a row of traveling to a foreign country during the week of Thanksgiving. Our original plan was to visit Capetown, South Africa. This would have been my first time to the continent of Africa. However, due to uncertain work schedules we decided on a destination that was easier to get to. We, meaning my brother, his wife, my sister and I,  had been to Italy before, but never Bologna. So that was our base city. Or plan, which we mostly stuck to, was to fly into Bologna, spend two nights, then take a train to Venice, spend two nights there, and finally head back to Bologna for the flight home. To make the trip more interesting, and to add a new country to our list, we decided to take a day trip into Slovenia to see some caves and a castle. That would be a day trip from Venice.

The two towers
My flight left Sunday afternoon, and it went through Chicago and then to London where I had a four hour layover, my brother and his wife and a different flight to London but we all had the same flight to Bologna. Their connection was very tight in London and I had lots of time to rest in the British Airways lounge as all my flights were on time. Once the gate was announced for the flight to Bologna I began to worry because my brother and his wife were not there yet. So I boarded the plane and was happy to see them walk onto the plane just before the gate closed.

The flight to Bologna was only two hours, and we arrived at what I thought was a small airport. My one checked bag was on the baggage carrousel, but the other bags did not make it. So my brother had to go to the lost luggage counter and fill out a form. They said most likely the luggage would arrive later and be at the hotel in the morning. Turned out the luggage was delivered after noon the next day. Better late than never. We took a taxi to the hotel and got caught up in some traffic as we got closer to the hotel, which was in the historic downtown of Bologna.

Once at the hotel, check-in was quick and the lady at the front desk was very friendly. We weren't sure how tired we would be upon arrival, but it was only six in the evening (or three in the morning according to our internal body clocks), plus, our sister was arriving in one hour. She flew in from a different city. So after a quick trip to our rooms, we headed back out into the city, bundled up in layers of clothing as it was freezing outside.

Ruins under the library
All of the sites we wanted to see were within walking distance of our hotel, so we never needed to use a taxi except for when we went to the train station later on. So we walked around the area to get a feel for the city. One of the sites we wanted to see, the famous two towers, were one block from our hotel. The taller of the two towers, the Asinelli tower, was the one you can walk to the top of. The other tower is closed and leans almost as much as the leaning tower of Pisa. As we walked up to the towers in the dark see what hours they were open, we were disappointed that the tower was closed until Friday. Well, we planned on being back in the city on Friday, but staying at a hotel near the airport.

arched porticoes in bologna
As we walked around more I tried to take some photos, but it was too dark and they didn't turn out, so the photos on this page were taken the next morning. We knew our sister was arriving soon, so we were able to text her with a phone, not mine since it won't work outside the US, and we met up with her near the hotel. There wasn't much to do at night, but since some of us were hungry and the others wanted a beer, we walked around until we found an Irish Pub! It was kind of busy inside, and after awhile we figured out that you seat yourself and order food and drinks at the bar. My sister and I got a Guinness and my brother and his wife got food. As a bonus, it was happy hour, however, they were showing a soccer game on the TVs, and like most Americans, we didn't care to watch, but the rest of the patrons were sure into the game. After finishing our beers and food, we headed back to the hotel for the night.

Me on the roof of a church
The rooms were pretty small, but all we needed was a place to sleep. Our plan was to meet in the breakfast room in the morning for our free breakfast. As usual, I had trouble sleeping even though I was exhausted. I fell asleep quickly enough, but woke up at two, laid in bed for an hour before drifting off to sleep and having the alarm go off way too soon. But as I always say, we were there to see the city, not sleep. However, taking half an extra strength nighttime Tylenol helped me sleep some.