Friday, February 27, 2009

Bologna and San Marino

I visited Bologna and San Marino during the President’s Day holiday weekend. As I mentioned in previous blogs, I was looking for a new place to visit – with cheap airfare, small enough to see in three days, and a place warmer than Wiesbaden. The trip met all the requirements.

We arrived in Bologna late Saturday afternoon flying with RyanAir, a low fare airline in Europe. The bus from Bologna airport to the city center was convenient. Shortly after checking in to our hotel, we went directly to the city center and started sightseeing. Bologna is not a big tourist destination. Because of this, most of the tourist sites, businesses, restaurants, etc. are closed on Sundays. Instead of hanging around Bologna for Sunday, we decided to take a day trip to San Marino. San Marino is a small independent republic (second smallest in the world) nestled within Italy not too far from the Adriatic coast. Most of San Marino is located in the Apennine mountains. From Bologna, we took the train to Rimini; from Rimini we took a regular bus service that goes back and forth between San Marino and Rimini. San Marino was a pleasant surprise. The weather was cold up in the mountains, but the view was breathtaking. The top of San Marino affords a scenic view of the nearby mountains, the towns below, and the Adriatic Sea. On the highest point of San Marino are three fortress towers that was used long time ago as lookout towers to protect the republic. In town were the city hall and many shops. Apparently, San Marino is a shopping destination for many Italians because it does not charge sales tax. (See the following link to my flickr page for
pictures in San Marino.)

The whole day Monday and a few hours on Tuesday before heading back to Germany were spent walking around the city and seeing its sights. Most of the sidewalks in Bologna city center are “arched” covered (see pictures below). You can probably stay dry walking the streets of Bologna during a rainy day without an umbrella. Piazza Maggiore is the main square. In the main square is the Fountain of Neptune, the basilica of San Petronio, and the city hall. Nearby are two towers from the medieval period that are leaning precariously. Bologna has the oldest existing university in Europe. We visited former a campus building that was used for medical studies. The building, now used as a library and museum, has an ornately decorated covered walkway ceiling in its interior portico. The main market was full of fresh produce. I was amazed at the number of purple colored vegetables such as artichokes, radicchios, endives, salad greens, etc. Bologna is the home of mortadella, the original Bologna sausage. I was not overwhelmed by the taste of Mortadella, but we did manage to get very decent meals in Bologna. (See the following link for
pictures in Bologna.)

The Bologna visit was a good break from the cold, gray weather of Wiesbaden. The city can be covered in a day to a day in a half of walking and sightseeing. Would I want to come back again for a visit? Probably not.

The following are pictures from Piazza Maggiore:


Piazza Maggiore

Fountain of Neptune - Piazza Maggiore

Piazza Maggiore

San Petronio Basilica

Inside the San Petronio Basilica:

San Petronio Basilica

San Petronio Basilica

San Petronio Basilica

The leaning towers of Bologna:

Leaning Towers

Leaning Towers

Igor Mitoraj's Tindaro Screpolato Sculpture:

Igor Mitoraj's Tindaro Screpolato

Igor Mitoraj's Tindaro Screpolato

The covered walkways:

covered arch walkway1

covered arch walkway5

covered arch walkway2

covered arch walkway6

Grotesque faces in Bologna:

grotesque face2

grotesque face4

grotesque face1

Market scenes:

purple artichokes

salad purple

purple artichokes2


Pictures from San Marino:

San Marino

San Marino

San Marino

San Marino

San Marino

San Marino

San Marino

San Marino

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I finally got a hold of a few pictures of Siena, thru Jay and Alvie's flickr account. During my Seattle holiday visit, I did not have a camera. I broke the old one and was in the market for a new one. So I did not have any pictures of Siena until recently.

The first photo is a "warholized" image of Siena. The next one is of me and her during the Christmas 2008 party at my house. Click on the photos for a complete view. No, I do not have a forehead story or similar anecdote with this photo as I had with Jayan’s photo. Siena was about to cry, and I was quickly looking for another person to pass her on to. Siena is Jay (my nephew) and Alvie's daughter.

siena warholized

Me & Siena

Friday, February 13, 2009

See More of Italy

I will be seeing more of Italy during the President’s Day holiday weekend. I am headed tomorrow, Saturday, to Bologna for a visit and will be there until Tuesday. Bologna is located in the north-central of the country. Why Bologna? I have never been there, RyanAir (the low fare airline) flies there, and the weather is bound to be warmer that Wiesbaden. Weather in Wiesbaden continues to be cold. This past week, we had a few days of snow and blustery winds.

The airfare was only 40 euros and a cheap hotel near the city center was booked for 80 euros total for three nights. You can’t beat that for an extended weekend getaway. Bologna is a university town renowned for its gastronomy, and a bastion of socialism and communism, perhaps like Berkeley with a culinary tradition. If possible, we will try to venture out and take a day trip to a nearby town. I will fill you in with details after I get back.

To get back to the original premise of this blog to share pictures of family and past travels, I provide the following:

With Grace, Mia, Janice, Joyce, and Jason taken early January 2009 at the home of Grace & Jason. Joyce wins the smiling contest. (Click on photo to get entire picture.)

At Grace & Jason's Home

I would guess that the next picture was taken between 1985 -1986. Note the stylish hair styles of Leah and Glen; and the missing upper front teeth of Ed.

For fair play, I offer a late 70’s/early 80’s hairstyle of my own – the frizzy perm. Yes, that is me with the white sweater ready to join a hard rock or a metal band.

I know everyone already knows the negative effects of drinking, but the two following photos should make it outright clear to stay away from alcohol.

But seriously, this coming 16 February would have been Inna’s 87th b-day. I refer you to my post of last year:

Sicily, Italy

I visited Sigonella Naval Air Station last week for work. The installation is located in Sicily, Italy. I did not get a chance to see much of Sicily because we were only there for three days. The weather was favorable; on our last day, it was warmer and we had clear blue skies. We went out for dinner for the two nights we were there. We had great food each time – the pasta and fish dishes were impressive. Our last day, we woke up early to drive up to Mt. Etna as far as we can drive until it was time to go back to the airport to make our noon flight back to Germany. We stopped at a roadside sanctuary dedicated to Mary Immaculate. At the sanctuary were a shrine and a place to hold an outdoor mass. From this roadside stop, there was a scenic view of Mt. Etna. I picked up a couple of small lava rocks for souvenir.

The following are photos of Mt. Etna and the sanctuary.

With Mt. Etna in the background:

In Sicily w/ Mt. Etna in the Background

Roadside sanctuary on the way to Mt. Etna:

Mt. Etna

Roadside Stop on the Way to Mt. Etna

A view of Mt. Etna from Sigonella:

Mt. Etna from Sigonella

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ugly Sweater Contest Co-Winner

I still have not fully recovered from being voted co-winner, along with Mia, of the ugly sweater contest this past Christmas. Most of the contestants prepared for this competition by going to their nearest thrift store. I, for one, only had to dig through my father’s closet. I thought I had one of own sweaters to enter, but alas, I got rid of a few things from my closet when I visited Seattle the past summer. As the competition drew near, I did not have any ugly sweater to enter the contest with until I thought of using one of my father’s sweaters. The sweater was not really ugly. The clincher was the accessories I used: a pair of vintage eyeglasses I used in the early 90’s and my fat tummy. My father is at least three sizes smaller than I am. Amma is going to kill me when he finds out that one of his favorite sweaters is now stretched out.

Anyway see the photos, courtesy of Michael and Jerome, and click on the title below to view video from Ron.

Ugly Sweater Contest - Christmas 2008

This past Christmas party was one of the better family Christmas parties, if not the best.
Due to Mia taking the lead in the planning efforts, the party was a success. The ugly sweater contest was just one of the events. There was also a gingerbread house building contest, nicely decorated stockings for each of the kids, different types of gift exchanges, and many others. My camera was busted during the holidays. I do not have any pictures from the Christmas party, or even the snow and ice that enveloped Seattle during the holiday season. I will rely on Ron’s video showing the fun that was had by all at the party. Click on the title below to see video.

2008 Christmas Party

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Antonio Forehead

For the last four years, my haircut has been an "all around the head" buzz cut with a no. 1 clipper, done every two weeks. I came upon this hair style by accident. When I was in Iraq, I went to the AAFES barber shop in the Green Zone for my first haircut. I explained to the barber, who is Iraqi, the way I wanted my hair cut. I assumed that I had explained it to him adequately with a lot of pointing and hand gestures. So I removed my eyeglasses and proceeded to receive my haircut. When it was finished, the barber asked me if it was okay. The barber did not adequately clean off the cut hair from my head, face, and neck. I felt uncomfortable and wanted to wash off the hair as soon as possible. Also, I am practically blind without my glasses, so I couldn't get a good look of the haircut outcome. Since I was in a hurry, I told the barber that it was fine, grabbed my glasses, and proceeded to walk back to my room to shower.

After I finished showering, I finally saw the result of my haircut. It was definitely not the way I had asked the barber to cut my hair. I immediately walked back to the barbershop and asked the barber to fix my hair. For me, the quick and easy way to fix it was to clip it all over at the same length. And so it was, no. 1 clipper just one clipper size short of "skin" cut. It has been my choice of hair style since then. It requires minimal maintenance - no drying and no additional hair products needed.

The following pictures were taken the day after the haircut, at the office:

I relate this anecdote to tie it in with the Antonio forehead. I and a lot of my brothers, nephews, great-nephews, and cousins have this bigger than average sized distinctive forehead with a hairline that is further out from the face. Some have jokingly commented on the size of the forehead: "Those must be smart kids given the size of the brain inside those noggin'." With shorter hair, it gives an appearance of early onset of balding. Lest you think I am balding, I show you proof that it's otherwise. Below is a picture with me and Jayan. A mere two-month old (when the picture was taken) baby, but bestowed with the Antonio forehead. Jayan is my nephew's son.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Trip to Barcelona

I just returned from a weeklong visit of Lakenheath, England for work. The weather was cold --- hovering just a bit over freezing, and wet. In the Lakenheath area, there are several US Air Force facilities. We visited three schools in Lakenheath and two schools in Feltwell. This coming week, I am headed to Sigonella, in Sicily, Italy, to visit two more schools. I am hoping for warmer temperatures.

The Barcelona trip during the MLK holiday weekend, two weekends ago, went well. The weather was cool, not cold, and for the most part, sunny. Although I had been there before, it was nice to see the sights that I saw last time, as well as new places that I missed out on last time. La Rambla, a wide tree-lined promenade, seemed to have changed significantly since I last visited almost seven years ago. I am not sure if it was because of the smaller number of tourists during this time of the year. It was not as lively as my first visit. The pickpockets, scammers, and con artists were not so prevalent. I remember the previous visit when we would purposely sit at a bench right smack in the middle of La Rambla and watched failed pickpocket attempts; observed a “three shell and a pea” as several shills seem to win periodically and slowly entice unsuspecting tourists to place their bets on where the pea may be located; or relentless pursued by Romas (gypsies) carrying fake babies or newspaper/cardboard to shield pickpocket action. Back then, there were more street performers (break dancers, soccer ball whiz, acrobats and tumblers). The Rambla of today, or at least during the non-touristy season, has more space for the pedestrian to amble, is less crowded, and does not have any street performers except for the scores of body-painted, costumed individuals who claim their small spot along the Rambla as human statues. The vendors now have newly constructed shops, spaced apart liberally, that they can lock up at night, instead of the rickety wooden shacks that were used before crowded on both sides of the boulevard. There are fewer sellers of birds, other pets, and flowers. Once it gets dark, La Rambla reverts to its seedier character. During the late night, there are the peddlers of beer in a can (perhaps because the bars serve alcohol only until a certain time) and the ladies who offer various services. One night, as my friend and I were walking and looking for a restaurant to eat dinner, we came across a group of women who were talking to each other. I had assumed that they were just chitchatting among themselves. As we got closer to them, we were quickly surrounded by them and were offered various propositions. My friend somehow managed to slip away from the group. I, on the other hand, was still among the group. Luckily, my wallet and passport were safely tucked away inside my coat front chest pocket. Two ladies were able to give me “pat down” within a few seconds better than an airport security checker, looking for items to pilfer from my pant pockets. I had to physically grab one of the women by her shoulders and yelled at her to stay away. My friend commented that this was the first time he saw me get mad.

During the trip we visited a few of Antonio Gaudi’s work. Antonio Gaudi was a local architect who created and designed in a combination of gothic and art noveau styles. His creations were highly original, irregular, and eccentrically shaped. We saw La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family church that is still a long way from completion), Parc Guell (now a city park that was originally planned as a housing community), and two buildings in the city center --- Casa Pedrera and Casa Batllo. I was not able to see the inside of La Sagrada Familia, Casa Pedrera, Casa Batllo. The church was 30 minutes from closing when we got there. Casa Pedrera is a residential dwelling with guards manning its entrances. We did not have a chance to see Casa Batllo during its open hours.

We did our share of walking along La Rambla, Boqueria (the market just off La Rambla), the waterfront, and other parts of the city. Our hotel was off the beaten path; although not too far distance-wise from the central area, it was still a couple of transfers on the underground Metro trains and few more long blocks of walking from the Metro stop. One evening, we met up with two other fellow Corps of Engineers who were also visiting Barcelona at the same time. The Palau de Musica Catalana is an impressive modernist building. The exterior of the building and the lobby were remarkable. I did not see the inside of the concert hall; the pictures in my travel book and postcards show a very stunning and ornate interior. We got there a few minutes after the last building tour. We had a chance to visit the Picasso Museum. I like the simplicity of the building as well as the simplicity of the artwork presentation, although the museum has a small number of Picasso’s creations. Most of Picasso works of art are spread out all over Europe in several Picasso museums and all over the world by private collectors. For two days, we toured the city using “hop on, hop off” tour buses. We had the opportunity to walk around Olympic Stadium grounds in Montjuic. The sky ride in Montjuic and walking around the highest part of Montjuic provided a panoramic vista of the city and waterfront.

All in all, it was an excellent trip. The food was okay, not spectacular. I am sure better food can be found, but for the most part, we were in the touristy areas when we were looking for a place to eat. Barcelona is a city worth visiting again. There are places I want to see such as the interior of a few magnificent buildings. There are places I want to see again. But the next visit has to be during times of warmer weather.

The following are photos from the trip. You can click on some of the pictures for a complete view. More photos can be found on my flickr page,

La Rambla:



Street performers at La Rambla:




Casa Batllo:

la casa batllo

Casa Pedrera:

la pedrera

La Sagrada Familia Church:

la sagrada familia

la sagrada familia

Parc Guell:

parc guell

parc guell

Boqueria Market:




Palau de Musica Catalana:

Palau de la Musica

Palau de la Musica

Palau de la Musica

Montjuic and Olympic Stadium Grounds: