Phil Rambles

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    Fri, 25 Nov 2005

    This is already old news, but: in October I spent seven days in Norway. I took some photos if you are interested; I suggest clicking on "start slideshow" and viewing them that way.

    It takes a long time to get to Norway from California. After an 11-hour flight from San Francisco to London, I had a three-hour layover in London before the short (1.5-hour) flight to Oslo. I took a shower at the airport hotel, then hopped on a train to central Oslo and immediately climbed aboard the train to Bergen....which took another 7 hours or something like that. (If I had planned a little better at the start, I probably could have flown directly from London to Bergen). It all made for a verrrry looooong travel day, more than 24 hours from leaving San Francisco before I was able to check into my hotel.

    Bergen is a lovely city, or at least the downtown area is. It includes what must be one of the smallest U.N. World Heritage Sites: a one-square-block area of 800-year-old wooden shops. I spent a couple of hours in the morning (it was a Sunday) wandering around, but must things were closed --- Sunday morning, off-season. Around noon I took the funicular up a steep hill at the edge of town, and found myself on an attractive overlook along with dozens of other people. Apparently (according to my friend who lives there) Sunday is hiking day for families all around the country. The miles and miles of paths above Bergen were swarming with day hikers like me, all out enjoying the fall colors and the fresh air.

    I took a look at a map, chose a route, and set off, but I eventually started branching off in whatever direction looked the most interesting. The paths went to dramatic overlooks, through peaceful forests, and along wind-swept rocky ridges. At one juncture, there was a warming hut doing a brisk business selling soup and coffee. A chilly rain started up suddenly and lasted for half an hour or so, but no one was deterred; they just zipped up their rain jackets and pressed on.

    After a few enjoyable hours of hiking, I wound my way down the hill and into town for an early dinner. (My body clock was so out of kilter, the time didn't really matter).

    The next day I continued the "Norway in a Nutshell" tour by taking the train to a bus to a boat that took us -- me and a dozen passengers (on a boat that could carry hundreds) -- on a two-hour ride through the narrowest of Norway's southern fjords. We stopped in briefly at a few tiny towns, and passed several others that showed little sign of people about...although all of the buildings were in good repair. The concessionaire on the boat said that these little towns are shrinking, since there's not much employment and not much that is of interest to young people. These towns of 20-40 hourses jammed onto a little bulge of land next to a steep cliff were very picturesque, but I can definitely see why it would be hard to retain people; to me, it's amazing that some of these towns have been there for over 500 years, at more or less the size they are now.

    The boat dropped us all off at the small town of Flam, at the end of a tongue of the fjord. Most of the other passengers continued on by railway, either to Bergen or to Oslo, but I was staying the night in Flam. Unfortunately I was too tired and jet-lagged to do a big hike in the hills as I had planned, so instead I rented a bike and rode to a town a few kilometers away, poked around a little, and then rode back. I was one of only about 20 tourists in town for the night, and was disappointed that there wasn't anything to do in the evening. If a pub were open, maybe with some live music, at least 20 of us would have been in there, I guarantee.

    The next day I took the Flam Railway, a steep and scenic route, up to its connection with the main line to Oslo. It had been dark for most of my trip from Oslo to Bergen a couple of days earlier, but this time it was afternoon and I got to see the scenery. Lots of areas with forest (all in lovely fall colors), and lots of rather barren-looking rocky ground, sometimes with lakes or streams. Certainly a lovely country.

    I spent Wednesday wandering around Oslo, by foot and by tram. I went to the Viking ship museum, which includes a couple of incredibly well-preserved Viking ships and is a must-see (although the exhibits were unimaginative), and the museum for the polar ship "Fram" (meaning "Onward"); this was the ship Nansen took on his trip across the arctic, and was later used by Amundsen for his Antarctic expedition. The whole ship is there and you can wander around in it; there are also some nice exhibits, although the English-language descriptions were rather short.

    Thursday I met for a few hours with researchers at the Norwegian Building Research Institute. I described the work that my group does, related to building ventilation, and heard about the Institute's work in that area, and in others. I also got a tour of their impressive facilities. Afterwards I went to the University of Oslo to meet with the other members of the dissertation review committee, to discuss the dissertation defense (or "disputation", as they charmingly call it)...oh, I guess I forgot to mention, the reason I was in Norway in the first place was to serve on the dissertation review committee of Astrid Kristofferson, a doctoral candidate who had spent a year working in my group (though I didn't work with her myself). Astrid's advisor, Jan, kindly took me out to an excellent dinner on the waterfront that night

    Friday was the day for the "disputation." First the candidate gave a one-hour lecture (pretty good) about the current state of affairs in designing and building low-energy-consumption houses in Norway. Then, after lunch, I gave a brief talk about the work in the dissertation, and posed some questions for the candidate to wrestle with. She partially answered my questions and then dodged the tricky bits, in a thoroughly appropriate and professional manner (they were hard questions). The other "opponent" then grilled her on a few more points. And that's it! Congratulations, Dr. Kristofferson! We all --- family, friends, committee --- repaired to a restaurant for a celebratory dinner.

    Saturday, at the recommendation of one of Astrid's friends I spent the morning walking several miles along a river that runs through Oslo to the harbor. Sometimes it runs through little neighborhoods, sometimes through parkland...a very pleasant stroll. I got to central Oslo just in time (well, a little late) to meet Astrid and her friend at the "Frognerpark", which is sort of Oslo's Central Park. Very popular spot, and it holds the life work of a somewhat eccentric sculptor/designer. Astrid and I spent a while walking around, then drove out to her house for dinner with her, her husband, and their two kids. And then the next day, I flew back home.

    All in all, it was a very pleasant trip. Norway is a lovely country, although stunningly expensive; Bergen and Oslo are both attractive cities that relate very well to their waterfronts, sort of like Vancouver or Seattle.

    [/Travel] permanent link

    Mon, 22 Aug 2005

    Is Yellowstone awesome, or what?
    A couple of weeks ago we went to Yellowstone and environs for a 10-day trip: 2 days in Bozeman with a friend, three days in the Yellowstone backcountry with said friend and another friend, and 3+ days in the Lamar Valley at the northern edge of the park. First trip for both me and Juliet; neither of us had had overwhelming interest before, since we both pictured Yellowstone (especially in August) to be a scenic wonderland but packed with tourists causing traffic jams as they stopped their RVs to look at herds of semi-tame bison by the side of the road.

    Well, parts of that are right and parts of it are wrong, but the basic fact is that the trip was one of the best nature- and wildlife-viewing expeditions we've ever been on, right up their with our trip to Botswana.

    True enough, the central part of the park was packed with people. In fact, the giant parking lot complex and store area for Old Faithful was so packed that we bought some lunch and then high-tailed it outta there without a glimpse of the geyser, and had no regrets about it.

    The good stuff started the first day, after staking out one of the last "walk-in" campsites in the southern part of the park. "Walk-in" is a ridiculous misnomer, since all it means is that you pitch your tent 40 feet from your car rather than 10 feet from it (no lie), but it was a great call 'cause: no RVs and no kids in the area. Some dumb-ass couple did leave food in their tent, which got confiscated by the rangers, who checked --- no matter how many signs and warnings you put up about bears, some people are just not going to believe them. (I have a friend whose food got eaten and car got broken into by bears at Yosemite, when he ignored all of the posted precautions. Served him right.)

    Anyway, after staking out the campsite we went on a short hike to Lewis Lake. As expected, any hike of more than a few hundred yards isn't going to have other people on it, no matter how crowded the park, and sure enough we saw only two other groups on our two-hour hike. We saw beautiful wildflowers, some very interesting birds, and a bull elk with an enormous set of antlers. He completely ignored us, wandering closer and closer, grazing under fallen logs, while we just stood and watched from the path. Technically we were supposed to move away when he got within 25 yards, but we just stood and took photos, and he got much closer than that (!)

    Our friends Sarah and Sarah arrived later that evening, and the next day we backpacked in to Heart Lake; about 9 miles to our first-night campsite, although Juliet and I took an unintended long-cut that cost us an extra mile. A decent workout, what with the full packs and the elevation (over 6000 feet) but not really hard. We spent the next couple of days around the lake, at two different campsites. Again, very few people back in there, and lots of undisturbed country and wildlife. We got good looks at mule deer, white-tailed deer, muskrat, blue grouse, and a bunch o' other stuff. The animals are definitely not tame, but since hunting isn't allowed they're also not especially afraid of humans other than normal wariness. It was a really pleasant trip.

    Finally, we moved on to the Yellowstone Association Institute, located in a former bison ranch in the Lamar Valley, at the northern edge of the park. Most of the thousands of bison in the park are descendants of the 40+ bison that were "nurtured" at the ranch in the 20s and 30s, in the successful bid to keep bison from being wiped out altogether. The former camp, a set of small log cabins plus a barn, a bath-house, and a kitchen/classroom, is now used for educational programs like the one that we took: a few talks per day, plus 3-hour excursions led by wildlife researchers (and sometimes geologists and others). It was fantastic. The valley is alive with wildlife --- mostly bison and some pronghorn close to the road, but we also saw a grizzly off in the distance, and we joined a bunch of wolf enthusiasts (self-styled as "wolfers") in watching two groups of wolves off in the distance --- I say 'groups' rather than packs because they were actually two parts of the same pack. We could see and hear them howling to each other across the valley, each group taking a turn at howling while the other listened intently. We also saw sandhill cranes and white pelicans, and a flock of bighorn sheep feeding right near a fire trail that we were hiking on, and osprey and eagles and elk...and we didn't see these animals in contrived situations, but out in the wild interacting with each other and acting like they're supposed to act.

    The talks and researcher-led hikes were great, too: really informative but never dry or boring. It was terrific, and I highly recommend the Yellowstone Association Institute and the Lamar Valley.

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    Sun, 19 Sep 2004

    Travel: Portugal
    In early September, I spent a week in Portugal. Three days were for a conference in a small city called Coimbra (near the coast, north of Lisbon, slightly south of Porto), two days in Lisbon (one on the way out, one on the way back), and two days in the small medieval town of Sintra, just half an hour from Lisbon by commuter train.

    I put up some photos (I suggest clicking on the "view slide show" button, to see them full-size). My impressions in a nutshell:

    • Lisbon. Didn't like it. I was only out and about in Lisbon for a total of twelve hours over two days, but my impression was not very favorable. Both times, I went to dinner in the "Bairro Alto" neighborhood, which my guidebook says is the happenin' place for lively but somewhat raffish nightlife. I was picturing something like San Francisco's Mission District, or Washington D.C.'s Adams-Morgan area. In fact, though, the area was considerably less lively and more seedy. The seediness wasn't so bad---adds character, after all---but it frankly just wasn't that great a place to spend an evening. (So why did I go back the second time? Because I was convinced that I must have missed the good stuff the first time! Nope.) I did have a pretty good dinner at a Moroccan restaurant, a pretty good dessert at a neighborhood cafe, and an enjoyable half hour watching the end of a World Cup Qualifier soccer match in an English-themed bar (full of actual English people), so it's not like it was a total loss; it's just that the area didn't have any particular charm, and didn't seem to offer an experience different from what you can get in any other city.
    • Coimbra. Liked it a lot better than Lisbon. The conference was OK, at an oddly designed new conference center on the outskirts of town. The town has a heavily touristed old quarter that is so typical as to almost be a cliche: narrow cobblestone streets winding up a hill, a shopping district with stalls selling trinkets, loads of tourists (lots of Germans, some Spanish, some English..not many Americans). One of Europe's oldest universities sits on top of the hill. I didn't really do much sight-seeing---didn't have time, what with the conference and its associated events. I did have an enjoyable time talking to other conference attendees.
    • Sintra. Loved it. I had told some Portugese at the conference that with my last couple of days in the country, I wanted to go someplace that was interesting and that had stuff to do outside. They suggested Sintra, which is a small town very close to Lisbon. I took the commuter train from Lisbon to Sintra, and stopped at the train station tourist office when I arrived. Within a few minutes I had booked a room at "Lawrence's Hotel", which claims to be the oldest continuously operated hotel on the Iberian Peninsula, and which gave me a very nice room overlooking a wooded valley for 80 Euros (about $95) per night. There are three main must-see tourist attractions in the Sintra area: the town itself, which is a small (4-block by 4-block) medieval village with the usual restaurants and trinket shops as well as several museums and galleries; a 9th-century Moorish castle on a steep hill above the town, which was re-built in somewhat romantic fashion (as opposed to historically correctly) in the early 1800s; and a former royal castle/palace on another hill. Here's the thing: almost everyone "does" Sintra as a day trip, taking either a tourbus or the local bus around to hit the sights. But the whole area is embedded in parkland, so it's very pleasant to take a little more time and walk instead. Overall, the area was so nice that I strongly recommend staying in Sintra and doing day trips to Lisbon rather than the other way around.
    I guess one other thing I'd say about Portugal is that unlike, say, France or Italy, it doesn't seem to be a country with a foodie tradition. My best meals in Portugal were Italian and Moroccan, and I don't think it's from lack of trying the Portugese cuisine. I do like their apparently traditional duck-and-rice dish.

    Overall, my brief trip to Portugal didn't give me time to see that much. By far my favorite part of the trip was my two days in Sintra, which I really enjoyed.

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    Wed, 11 Aug 2004

    Looong vacation!
    It's been several months since I updated this website, but that's not because of laziness (well, not _just_ because of laziness). It's also because I was away on a SIX WEEK vacation, my longest break from work since junior high school. Juliet and I spent a couple of weeks driving up the Pacific coast to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia; we spent a week on the island; we flew from Seattle out to the east coast and spent two weeks there; then we returned to Seattle and spent a week driving back to Berkeley.

    We loved the Elk Prairie/Prairie Creek part of the Northern California redwoods. We did a fun mountain bike trip there, about 11 miles through old-growth forest and down to the coastal plain, where we saw a herd of elk that came grazing past at close range. We also had an excellent campsite in Prairie Creek State Park.

    The Oregon coast was beautiful, nice to drive through and we also did some nice hikes there.

    We stayed for a week at the "Spindrift Resort at Welbury Point" on Salt Spring Island (a.k.a. Saltspring Island), just inside Vancouver Island. The resort is a collection of small, simple cottages built and run by two nature- and animal-loving women over the past twenty or thirty years. There's a small herd of tame deer that spends all of their time roaming the grounds (and happily accepting food handouts), and a covey of quail, and several tame's quite charming. Once, while we were sitting out on the point looking over the bay, an otter came along just offshore, dove down and caught a fish, and then swam right in to the rocks in front of us, climbed out, and ate the fish! Pretty great.

    We spent two weeks on the island of North Haven, Maine, where we easily filled our days by taking walks, kayaking, playing games with Juliet's cousins, biking around, etc. Several friends came up for brief periods, too, and that was much fun. We also went to the wedding of a good friend, Holly, who married a very nice guy, Rob, who we like a lot.

    And now we're back, and getting back into the flow of regular life, which has _schedules_ and _things to do_ and so on. I'll try to get back to updating this web site more often, too.

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    Mon, 03 May 2004

    Why did I not appreciate the Potomac more?
    When I lived in the D.C. area, I literally never thought about the Potomac River as a destination or as a nice place to spend a day. I remember going to Great Falls a few times with my parents when I was young, but other than that, I was completely oblivious to the river and its attractions.

    Last week, though, Juliet and I were in D.C. for a few days, and we spent some time on the Potomac. Actually the river started out just as a place to give her her birthday present (really a "baseball bat" present, since I get to use it too), which is a folding kayak. This is a 17-foot-long two-person kayak that folds up into two (rather large) canvas bags; you can store them in your closet or even check them as baggage when you fly! My brother and his wife arranged to meet me and Juliet at a restaurant/bar overlooking the river; I arrived early, assembled the kayak (which I had bought on eBay and had shipped to my brother's house in D.C.), and shoved off. When Juliet arrived, my brother and sister-in-law pointed her my way, and there I was, paddling towards her with a bunch of orchids in the bow . Very romantic. Juliet hopped in for a brief paddle back to the put-in spot, then we all headed out to dinner.

    Juliet and I intended to go out to the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge the next day and spend a few hours paddling around, but that plan was aborted when, after a half hour of driving, we still hadn't managed to get halfway to the city line! (The traffic was incredible, far worse than San Francisco, or, for that matter, Manhattan the last time we were there). Instead, we drove back to the Potomac, assembled the kayak again, and went out for a quick jaunt, just about an hour total. That was nice, and we also noticed a lot of people jogging and biking along the towpath for the C&O Canal, alongside the river. So the next day we rented bikes and went for a bike ride along the canal and the river. We rode up to Great Falls, an impressive set of rapids about 14 miles upriver. The ride was very pretty, on a nice spring day. It's really amazing that this relatively unspoiled and almost completely undeveloped stretch of river exists in the middle of such a densely populated area. We owe a big thanks to the people who fought to keep the river corridor undeveloped in the 1920's, when there were plans to fill in the canal and build a highway in its place.

    Anyway, if you're ever in D.C. and looking for a brief escape from the hubbub of the city, try a walk, jog, or bike along the C&O canal towpath.

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    Fri, 24 Oct 2003

    Nice place to visit...
    We're back from a week in New York City. I've been there a few times in the past decade, for a few days here or there, but this was the longest visit. I spent several days working with my friend Andrew on a statistics problem, and several days of fun, including the wedding of our friends Chad and Sarah.

    New York is expensive!

    OK, I know it's not really shocking news that Manhattan is a pricey place, but boy, if you haven't visited then you have no idea. Hotel, taxis, restaurants, a show, tips for this and Now, it's true that you don't have to do all this stuff, and indeed, on previous trips I've stayed with my friend, cooked in his kitchen, etc., and spent no more than on a typical day at home. This time, though, we got a more typical visit-to-New-York experience, and now I see what people mean when they talk about how expensive it is. It is.

    New York is exciting!

    Yeah, NYC is expensive, but it's fun too. We went to see a fun, raucous show called "De La Guarda," sort of a cross between Stomp and Cirque du Soleil: lots of people doing acrobatic things, set to music, very visually exciting. The best part, strikingly cool although it's hard to define why, is two women doing a kind of running dance up the side of a wall, suspended sideways by ropes: feet on the wall, heads out towards the audience, sprinting upwards in big swooping arts. I thought the show as a whole could have used some narrative or some kind of theme---it a collection of separate pieces that didn't seem very unified---but it was still a blast.

    We also ate some good food. One dish that I really liked, and already (mostly successfully) duplicated was from a restaurant called "Baraonda" on the upper east side, a relaxed but good Italian place with nice (I thought) brightly colored paintings on the wall, painted by some Guatemalan painter I believe. Anyway, the dish was "Sauteed artichoke hearts with pistachios, served on a bed of mache" or something like that, and by treating the description as a recipe I was able to duplicate it pretty well. Here's my version, which is very good but is not as good as their version:

    Artichoke hearts with pistachios and parmesan

    Ingredients: (1) Two 8-oz jars of artichoke hearts preserved in brine, without vinegar, drained. If they say "marinated", that's not what you want. Better, of course, would be to cook your own fresh artichokes and remove the hearts, but that's a lot of work; (2) About 1/4 cup shelled pistachios. ;(3) Pecorino or parmesan cheese, shaved (not grated); (3) olive oil; (4) salt, pepper, and butter if desired.

    Lightly crush the pistachios with a rolling pin (just try to break 'em in half or so, but it's not really necessary), then put them in a small dish and cover them completely with olive oil. Let them soak for an hour or two (or much longer if you prefer, I think there's no harm in it). Dump the pistachios and oil into a hot pan and saute briefly, then add the artichoke hearts (cut 'em in half first, or split them with a spatula once they're in the pan). Saute until the artichoke hearts are nice and soft. I added about a tablespoon of butter at this point to make the dish richer, but it's really not necessary. Add a bit of salt if you like (I skipped it---my artichokes had been soaking in brine). Add plenty of pepper. You may need to add a little more olive oil as the stuff cooks. And guess what, you're done! Spoon the whole thing over a bed of "mache" (or just any ol' mixed greens), and put the shaved parmesan or pecorino on top. Voila! It's really quite good---who knew artichokes and pistachios would go together so well? The good thing is that there's nothing to overwhelm the taste of the artichokes, which in my opinion happens with most artichoke dishes other than good ol' artichokes-and-butter.

    So...expensive city, but good food. What else? Central Park is very nice, really well maintained and landscaped, and just generally beautiful. I enjoyed strolling through it every day, and would have found the city oppressive without it. I know lots and lots of New Yorkers spend almost all of their time without a hint of nature, but to me it seems indispensable.

    Chad and Sarah's wedding, which took place in the Chelsea Museum, was lots of fun. Nice venue for it, and their friends were very nice and entertaining.

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    Mon, 23 Jun 2003

    My last Poultry Days
    A couple of weekends ago, I went to (probably) my last "Poultry Days" Festival and Ultimate Tournament. The Poultry Days festival is held every year in Versailles (Vuhr-say-ulls) Ohio, a town with a population of about 3,000 people, about half an hour from Dayton. A carnival sets up at the local high school, there's a flower show and a talent show, a kiddie tractor pull and a continuous bingo game, and just generally it's a Norman Rockwell scene (with maybe a little more heavy drinking by sixteen-year-old farm boys than Rockwell would have painted). And, somehow, along with this small-town entertainment, there's one of the largest Ultimate tournaments in the world, with 80 mid- and low-level teams from around the country.

    I went to my first Poultry Days in 1987, and this one was probably my last. Over the sixteen-year span, I played at Poultry Days about eleven times. Back in the late 1980's (when the tournament had about 24 teams, I think), my Black Lung teammates and I would be happy if we won more than one game on Saturday...although one year, when the tournament was split into A and B divisions, we went 5-0 on the first day, in the B division. In more recent years, playing with friends mostly from California and D.C., we've usually been undefeated on Saturday, feeding into the A-division round of 16. Overall finishes since 1996 are: two finals losses, one semis loss, one quarters loss, and two pre-quarters losses (including this year).

    Poultry Day is one of the very few tournaments that truly has a unique atmosphere. So many other tournaments are pretty generic: show up at the fields, play a few games, go to dinner at some anonymous restaurant, go to the hotel with your teammates, and then go out the next day and do it again. Poultry Days is different. Everyone camps on at the edges of the main fields in a tent city of thousands of people. Players eat the greasy chicken dinners under the tent at the Poultry Days festival, goad each other into trying to swing the hammer and ring the bell at the Mr. Sluggo booth, and---if they're lucky---get an autograph and a photo with "Miss Chick", the cutest seventeen-year-old in town.

    Speaking of Miss Chick, I was pretty impressed by this year's winner. She and both Miss Chick runners-up were coaxed into playing a point at the Saturday Night "All-Star" game. Nobody covered them, and they ran up and down the field while people threw rather hard-to-catch passes in their general direction. Eventually Miss Chick caught one (the crowd roared) and threw a complete pass to a teammate (the crowd roared louder), and one team or the other finally scored. The runners-up then bowed out, but Miss Chick came out and gave it another try. And, let me tell you, she ran hard up and down the field, didn't give up, didn't wimp out...most of us were pretty impressed. It turns out she's on the track team and (someone said) the girls' lacrosse team. Good for her!

    Which brings me to the conservative losers who object to Title IX, the government ruling that colleges must fund women's athletics at a level comparable to men's athletics. Some people (mostly men...maybe exclusively men) object, saying that fewer girls are interested in sports, so funding girls' sports at the same level as boys' sports is unfair to the boys.

    These people are trying to spoil it for the rest of us. Don't they realize that now, thanks to Title IX, we get to see lots of fit, young women running around in their jogbras? And they want to take this away? Are they frickin' nuts?

    Aaaaanyway, I had my usual good time at Poultry Days, and took the opportunity to say goodbye to some players I'm unlikely to see again, as my career winds to a close.

    So, farewell to the Mister Sluggo booth, and Miss Chick, and the very lenient lifeguards at the municipal pool...and a special thanks to the organizers and volunteers in Versailles who somehow make it possible for a town of 3,000 people to host 1200 Ultimate players during the town's busiest weekend of the year.

    [/Travel] permanent link

    Fri, 09 May 2003

    Italy Photos
    As promised, here are some photos from my trip to Italy (see last week's entries); the first bunch are from Verona, followed by a few from Rimini. Click on the image for a bigger version. More to come.

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    Thu, 24 Apr 2003

    Italy: Verona
    I just got back from a quick (ten-day) trip to Italy. I spent the first few days in Verona, where my parents were taking a couple of weeks of language lessons at a language school called "Lingua IT." I ended up taking four days of beginner lessons, which turned out to be a great idea: amazingly, just a few days of morning classes taught me enough to carry on simple conversations of the "where are you from, how long will you be here" variety; it was also a way to meet some very nice, interesting fellow students. The experience was so good, I think I'll try to include a week of language classes in future trips to foreign countries, although it may be hard to replicate such a positive experience, which was partly due to the excellent (and very friendly) instructors.

    The old part of Verona is a lovely, heavily-touristed area, which includes an impressive Roman arena, a castle more interesting for its history than for its architecture, and late-medieval sites including "Juliet's balcony" (that's the Juliet of Romeo and Juliet), although...ahem...the balcony actually post-dates the story by fifty years or so.

    My four days in Verona whipped past quickly, partly because of the busy schedule: the four days packed in classes each morning; lunches with my parents and our fellow students; a quick walking tour of the city by one of the instructors; an afternoon of chores (e.g. laundry); a very festive school dinner at which much awful vino was consumed; and some exercise at a swimming pool with the landlady of my parents' apartment and a student from the school (my mom set those two up on a blind date...or, as they say in Italy, my mom "wore the yellow shoes.")

    I could easily have spent another week in Verona doing more of the same, but unfortunately didn't have time, as I had to move along to Rimini for a tournament.

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    Italy: Rimini and "Paganello"
    After leaving my parents in Verona, I continued to the city of Rimini on the Adriatic. Rimini is a generally unappealing city that is Italy's version of Ft. Lauderdale: lots of hotels hosting lots of beach-loving drunken yahoos, many of them German. Ordinarily not the kind of thing that would interest me at all, except that Rimini happens to be the host city for one of the most unusual, enjoyable Ultimate Frisbee tournaments in the world, the "Paganello" beach Ultimate tournament. The tournament's slogan is, appropriately, "nessun dorma" (nobody sleeps): what with playing the games, going to dinner late, and then going to one of the nightly tournament parties, sleep deprivation is a real issue. The tournament creates its own little world, partly due to the recurring sound track: the start of each one-hour round, and the five-minute warning, and the one-minute warning, are marked by a series of musical jingles that work their way into your very being, to the point that it's almost disconcerting to have to live without them after the tournament is over.

    I played on a team called "Thrill Ride" in the mixed (co-ed) division. Unfortunately two of our players cancelled at the last minute, leaving us short-handed: we only had five men. (Beach Ultimate has five players per team on the field, with at least two of each sex). I'm sorry to say that I wasn't able to hold up my end: my knee problem wouldn't allow me to give my full effort. I did have one great throwing game, which has to go in my career top 25, but other than that I wasn't able to contribute much. Fortunately our other men were very good, and our strong women's contingent allowed us to play 3w/2m a lot of the time. We finished in sixth place, out of 24 teams in the division, and with a little luck (or a little more poise) could have finished a couple of places higher.

    I really liked all of the people on my team, only one of whom I knew before (former East Bay resident Mike Baldwin, now living in Sydney, Australia). The whole experience was so positive, I was melancholy at the end of the tournament, saddened by the realization that as my Ultimate career winds to a close, I'll not be able to do this kind of thing anymore.

    In addition to hanging out with my own team, I spent a fair amount of time with the folks from Huck Finn, a SF-bay-area mixed team. They're a laugh riot, and were single-handedly (or, rather, single-teamedly) responsible for the rousing success of a talent/no-talent show hosted by Denver-based team Spaghetti Western.

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