Friday, October 16, 2009

Florence Visit

Two weekends ago, the visit of Florence and other parts of Tuscany was well spent. We were there from Friday evening until Tuesday morning. The first couple of days were spent solely in the old, historical section of Florence. The last day was spent doing a guided bus tour to Pisa (stopped only to see the cathedral and Leaning Tower), lunch & wine tasting at a Tuscan vineyard, San Gimignano, and Siena. I have been to Florence and Pisa before --- it was great to visit these two cities again. The drive around the Tuscany region with the breathtaking scenery was astonishing, and the lunch & wine tasting was a treat. The wind and rain followed us throughout the one day tour. The hill town of San Gimignano, with its grand towers, and Siena, an even hillier town than San Gimignano, with its magnificent Duomo inside and outside, were the highlights of the tour. We had a short time at Siena walking its narrow and windy streets and getting a glimpse of the main square; most of our time in Siena was spent inside the Duomo. Siena is definitely worth visiting again.

Pictures from Pisa, San Gimignano, and Siena will have to be included in future postings. The following are pictures from Florence:

I ate a lot of gelato.

Gelato at Piazza Santa Croce

With a gelato outside of Florence's Duomo

I savored the cuisine and wine. The appetizer dish of bruschetta with a chicken liver spread was scrumptious, while the tripe dish a la Florentine was a pleasant surprise.

We walked all over the heart of the city, visited several churches and plazas, and enjoyed the sights.

The Duomo and the Bell Tower as seen from a terrace cafe at the Uffizi Museum.

View from Uffizi Museum Terrace Cafe

Palazzo Vecchio as seen from a terrace cafe at the Uffizi Museum.

View from Uffizi Museum Terrace Cafe

In front of the Duomo.

In front of Florence's Duomo

The Duomo.

Florence's Duomo

In front of the Duomo.

Front of Florence's Duomo

Santa Croce Basilica.

Santa Croce Basilica

A model of Leonardo Da Vinci's Flying Machine.

Model of Leonardo's Flying Machine

In front of the Fountain of Neptune at Piazza della Signoria.

In Front of the Fountain of Neptune at Piazza della Signoria

A replica of Michaelangelo's Statue of David at Piazza della Signoria.

Michaelangelo's Statue of David at Pizza della Signoria

Statue of Perseus holding up the severed head of Medusa, at the Piazza della Signoria.

Statue of Hercules beating the Centaur Nessus, at the Piazza della Signoria.

View of the Duomo from Piazza dell Santissima Annunziata.

Piazza della Santissima Annunziata

The two fountain statues seem to be "shooing" away pigeons below them by spitting water at them.

Piazza della Santissima Annunziata

The selection of cured meat at the Mercato Centrale.

But most of all, I enjoyed seeing the rich collection of art work at the Accademia Gallery, the Uffizi Museum, at the various cathedral and churches, and in public squares. The buildings which houses the art collection in Uffizi and Accademia are non descript as seen from the following pictures:

But inside these unremarkable buildings are priceless works of art, especially those created during the great Renaissance period. Additional pictures can be seen in my flickr page.

I was warned initially not to take pictures inside the Accademia Gallery as I approached the Michaelangelo’s statue of David. I then proceeded to walk behind the statue and tried to sneak in a few more flashless shots. An overzealous museum attendant noticed me with the camera and walked up to me to give me a stern warning. The warning consisted of her asking me to put my camera away, reminding me that I was a visitor of the country, and not only threatened to kick me out of the museum, but also out of the country, if I continue to take pictures. Mind you, that countless other people were taking pictures. I, along with many others, were able to take photos earlier from other parts of the museum without any problem. Most people were gently reminded not to take any pictures by the other attendants. Anyway, the picture below of the colossal David was worth all the hassle I got from the museum attendant.

Michaelangelo's David

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I am headed to Florence (Firenze) this weekend, with a friend from work, for a 4-day vacation to check out the sites of the city and neighboring towns in Tuscany region. We are flying into Pisa, but we will be making our home base in Florence. The last time I was in Pisa and Florence was in July 2004 with my nephews James and Michael. Pisa and Florence were some of the stops we made on that three week Western Europe backpacking trip.

We’ll probably stop by Pisa to see the Leaning Tower one morning, then continue to a more interesting Tuscan location. Florence will be a good base, since there is so much to see in this “cradle of Renaissance” city. I was also in Florence in Sep 1998 with my nephew Ron, on a guided group tour of Western Europe. I am not sure where I have stored the digital photos of the 2004 trip; I hope they are stored away safely in Seattle. The following is a scanned photo with Ron, during the 1998 trip, with Florence’s Duomo in the background:

Stay tuned for travel tidbits and pics.

Ansbach and Rothenburg ob der Tauber

I travelled to Ansbach, Germany early Wednesday afternoon for a force protection and security survey, scheduled for the next day, of a combined middle and high school located at an US Army installation just outside the city. A local national from my office accompanied me to assist me in the survey.

Ansbach is located in Bavaria, southeast of Wiesbaden and about 3 hour drive. We arrived late afternoon. We had a chance to walk around the old part of the Ansbach and enjoyed a dinner there in the evening. Germany is dotted with these quaint towns, with its old area mostly free of vehicle traffic. Historical buildings (churches, city hall, etc.) as well as cafes, restaurants, shops, and other businesses are all over – which makes for a pleasant stroll around the city.

The following day, we finished our survey of the school before lunch. On our way back, we stopped by the town of Rothenburg. Rothenburg is a well preserved medieval town. This town is a popular tourist destination. We walked around the old part of town and had a late lunch there.

New Blog Template

I was getting tired of the old template. I got rid of the Prague astronomical clock and replaced it with a 2006 Fourth of July picture from Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia. I will probably change the blog main picture every now and then to keep the look fresh.

I hope you like the change.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Place to Beer...

The place to beer...

The place to beer? There is no doubt about it --- it’s definitely at Munich's Oktoberfest. This is the third year in a row that I have attended Oktoberfest with friends from work. We were there on 1 Oct 2009 to once again renew our acquaintance with the much beloved Bavarian festival, enjoy its festivities, and above all, have a rockin’ good time.

The festival is always full of people at all hours. It offers all types of carnival rides. You can sample an assortment of food and goodies.

Oktfest '09 during the day

Oktfest at night

Carnival rides

Carnival rides at night

But the attraction for most is the beer and the merriment that accompanies the beer drinking.
This event should be renamed “Oktobeerfest”, the most famous beer party in the world.

We had reservations at two different fest tents: At the Hippodrom from 1200 to 1500, and at the Hofbrau from 1600 – 2230.

Hippodrom facade

Hofbrau fest tent

reservation wristbands

We drank beer, we ate, we drank beer, we sang, we drank beer, we screamed and yelled, we drank beer, we danced, and we drank some more beer. We all had a great time.

It started at the Hippodrom. We had reservations at this place two years ago. This place is a little more laid back than the other fest tents -- the crowd is a bit older and more restrained. The tables had covers, they had special edition beer mugs, and the entire place was nicely decorated. I got there 30 minutes later than the rest of the group. Our reservation placard has already been soiled with chicken and roast pork grease, and drenched with beer suds.

Hippodrom Reserved Table

Hippodrom at night

Hippodrom Table

Hippodrom Beer

Hippodrom Menu

Inside the Hippodrom

Our group inside the Hippodrom.

Our Oktfest group inside the Hippodrom

Our Oktfest group inside the Hippodrom

Yes, we were all happy inside the Hippodrom.

Happy in the Hippodrom

After about an hour break, we proceeded to the Hofbrau fest tent at 1600. This place has a totally different feel than the Hippodrom --- a bit younger crowd, and wilder and more boisterous.

Hofbrau reserved table

Hofbrau Beer Angel

Our Oktfest group in the Hofbrau Fest Tent

And lastly, the festival is always full of Bavarian Beauties:

I will post more pictures on my flickr account. I have a few good videos, but I am having problems loading video on this blog and flickr.