Month: May 2008

Athens

Posted by – 31/05/2008

Finally we got to Greece. I was curious about this part of the trip, and also we wanted to try to get some beach days (it was sunny in Italy, but not really warm enough for us to go to the beach). But the beach would have to wait a little longer, since we entered Greece by its capital, Athens.

We got there by night and went to a traditional Taverna (a restaurant with typical food and singing-dancing presentations). On our way to the Taverna, we took a picture of the Piraeus port in the night:


What a beautiful city! It’s well organized and well preserved and people are much more friendly than Rome. We stayed in Plaka, which is an old neighborhood with narrow streets and good places to eat and shop, and close to the touristic places we wanted to see. Rome’s ancient places were more “look but don’t touch” places, Athens, in the other hand, invites you to really enter the places. They have a well stated project to recuperate some sites (such as the Parthenon) to “give it back” to the people. While we were there, they held a “open weekend”: when they open everything to local bands and artists to show off in the ruins. We saw a band preparing the sound equipment in Herodes Odeon thinking how interesting it would be to have a band and present in such a place!

The acropolis is really impressing. Such a high place with such beautiful buildings makes you think of how they got all those stones up there with the technology they got at the time.

The Parthenon – or the temple of armed (parthenos) Athens – is marvelous:

We went down from the acropolis to the Athenian Agora… something similar the Roman forum: the political center of old Athens, with temples and public buildings. There’s a museum there, with some interesting remains, being the “random choice stone” one of which I found the most intriguing:

It was a piece from the legendary Athenian democracy called Kleroleria, used to select “randomly” the jury that would serve that day in the court of law: free people names were written in metal plates inserted in the horizontal slots in the stone. An opaque metal tube was previously filled with a random sequence of white or black balls which were extracted one by one. If the ball was white, the whole line of names was accepted for duty that day; if black the line was rejected. (I wonder if cryptography people would be happy with this randomness nowadays 🙂 ).

Also in that museum we found pieces of black ceramic with names written on them. That was also part of the democratic processes in old Athens, these particularly used for ostracism. Ostracism was a process designed to protect Athens from despotic power: every now and then a survey was taken where citizens had to vote in the least desirable person in each opinion. The “winner” had to leave Athens for the next ten years.

To end the day we watched the Guard change in front of the parliament, in Syntagma square and ate Greek barbecue (called Gyros) in a place nearby:


The change of the guard is quite an weird ceremony that happens every hour. The soldiers perform interesting movements with their legs and feet before holding still at their “watch spots” for the next hour. They use strange outfits. We recorded the change as a movie, but later I found lots of videos in youtube recording the same so if you want to take a look at the ceremony just search for ‘Athens Syntagma Guard’ and you’ll be fine.

Naples and the garbage

Posted by – 31/05/2008

In our way to Athens (and to the second part of our trip), we drove to Naples to take a plane. Long before this trip, we heard about the problem with garbage in Naples and, despite that, we decided to spend one night in Naples rather than driving there in the morning and risking miss the flight… besides we thought “this garbage problem cannot be so bad”. We couldn’t be more wrong!

The problem has become far worse than we’ve imagined. While we were there, CNN reported the worsening of the crisis and we’ve watched people burning piles of garbage that were accumulated on the streets just at the corner of the hotel we spent the night. It was so depressing!

I hope this crisis gets to an end soon. Although everybody we asked seem to agree that Naples is not a city worth spending some time in, I am still convinced that there are some good places to see there. It seems this problem with the garbage is lasting long enough to influence everything else: people serving you in restaurants, in train stations, in hotels, (and everywhere else) are stressed out to the point they scare people away.

It also seems that people reacts by worsening everything else… for instance, the McDonald’s we found at the train station is left in a state that we gave up eating there (chairs are torn, tables are not cleaned and the restrooms are in a sorry state).


By dinner time we were so depressed that we decided to stay in the hotel and have dinner there, barely waiting for the morning to come so we could carry on with our trip…. and we spent just one night there! now imagine people having to live there day after day…

Naples gulf and the Vesuvio

Posted by – 31/05/2008

While we were in Sorrento we decided to go north, around Naples gulf, up to Vesuvio and Pompei. We made the trip in two different days, so we could better appreciate what was there to see.

Pompei remains are certainly something worth seeing. The city was large and apparently well organized and the remains were somewhat more preserved than similar sites by means of the volcanic material that wrapped it. The most impressing, though, were the human bodies preserved in ashes we found there:


We observed the Vesuvio from Pompei and thought “how come they were unprepared?”. Most of the people seems to have been caught sleeping or hiding, but not running away. Then we found out that they were not killed by lava (though some covered the city afterwards), but by the pyroclastic cloud that came before the lava. Apparently the volcano had been blowing for one or two days before Pompei were affected, but then if blew a hot cloud of ashes and dust traveling at 80 km/h, leaving no chance for Pompei inhabitants to escape.

The ashes ended up preserving beautiful things, like this mosaic of a battle:

As usual, I went after some building of interest and look what I’ve found! They had a doctor’s office (actually a temple devoted to Aesculapium – god of Medicine – but the description in the booklet imply that people went there to get medical treatment).

The next day we went climbing Vesuvio. This is the second volcano I climb (the first were mount Fuji, in Tokyo), and I always am amazed to walk in the edge of them. Vesuvio has a path protected by wood limits that goes all around the cone. It’s hot near the cone, and there’s a noise always coming from the crater. People refer to it as “volcano humming”. It reminds everybody that Vesuvio is just asleep… not dead.

From up there we can see Pompei. What a pity it was a cloudy day so the pictures were not as good as it gets, but here is the best one I got when pointing my camera to Pompei:

See you next post… Ciao.

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

Posted by – 21/05/2008

We got to the first “easy” part of our vacation (or sould I say lazy?). We got to Sorrento, which is in the beginning of the Amalfi Coast, in a boat from Capri. Just 20 minutes of trip and there we were!

Our hotel was in a near village called Santa Agata sui due Golfi, maybe 7 km from Sorento downtown. That was not a problem, since we rented a car in Sorrento. We were in doubt which car to rent, and it was the first time we’ve seen the two-seat Smart car. After thinking for a while, we got that one. It’s a semi-automatic economic car that fits perfectly our needs. Here is the first thing we learned: there’s almost no space to park as Italy seems to be flooded by cars… so choose the small ones that usually pay less in paid-parking and fits everywhere on the streets. Look how small the Smart car is, compared to a large van in this picture:

Santa Agata is a pleasant village we enjoyed the best Ice Cream so far. Of course, the streets were narrow (as it seems to be all over this region of Italy), but, also, everything is within a 15-minute walk.

The “Costiera Amalfitana” (or SS163), which is the road that was built in the edge of the cliffs surrounding Salerno’s Gulf is a narrow, usually crowded road that sits uppon brick-arches and provides the best views of the ever-blue sea of this part of Italy. One should drive along this road, if in this part of the world.

Sorrento is the most calm and leveled town along Amalfitan Coast. The historical center offer a countless number of small stores that sells anything you can imagine.

Positano is just like Sorrento, but with more expensive restaurants, more extensive beaches (in which we could not dive, since the weather was not really warm during our stay), and more stairs. Unlike Sorrento, Positano is always up or down the hill. Here is a picture of Positano downtown, as seen from the beach:

Amalfi, which is the next town and gives the name to the coast, seems to be the older city, with lots of history and a strong connection to Saint Andrew. It’s believet to be saved by this saint in the middle-age from the invasion of the Sarracens. The Amalfi Cathedral (which is in the next picture) is really as magestic as an old place, rebuilt several times. They keep Saint Andrew tomb inside it.

The Costiera Amalfitana is a beautiful road to drive on, but everything is nearer than expect and one can easily go to Positano and Amalfi in one day. There’s nothing really new to see in those towns, except enjoy yourself in a new landscape (which we did).

During our stay in Sorrento, we also driven north, around Naples gulf, to see the Vesuvio volcano and the remains of Pompei… but that will be subject of my next post….

Capri

Posted by – 15/05/2008

Capri is one of the most famous islands in Europe. It’s said that many important and well-known people used to spend time in Capri. I’ve been told that most of the other rather unimportant people (like ourselves ;-)) just goes there in the morning and return in the evening, either from Sorrento or from Naples. I, instead, wanted to spend one night in Capri, and now I understand why people just go there for a quick visit… We got there taking a train from Rome to Naples (station Mergellina… that’s very important, for the port is just about 400 meters from the train station) and then a high-speed boat (slower boats can be taken from another port in Naples) to Capri.


First, let me put this straight: Capri is beautiful. It just is. The blue grotto, the most famous wanna-see touristic point in the island, really worth it. But if you’re planning to spend time on the island, make that longer than one night. That’s because everything takes more time than expected. And, take a good look at Google Maps before going… try to stay close to the harbor… everything else is too far!

Our hotel was a beautiful one, in Anacapri (Capri has two towns: Capri and Anacapri), but it was placed in the bottom of a long stair. That’s something that worth mentioning: they call every “path” via something, that includes roads, streets, stairs and paths. So beware or you’ll end up like us: dragging your luggage up and down stairs. Trust Google Maps!

The picture is from the Blue Grotto. It’s such a beautiful place! The water glows blue for the sun reflects the rock underneath the edges of the grotto. You can get there by bus (there’s one that departs from Bar Gruta Azzura) and after more stairs, you pay for the boat and the “trip” lasts for about 2 minutes, inside the grotto, with your boatman singing some italian song (Oh Sole Mio is the most frequent). Pay the man for the singing if you like it.

Everything in the island is reached by bus or on foot. We tried to reach a spot where it’s suppose to see the most beautiful sunset, but we’re tired before getting there, and the sun was covered anyway… After 30 minutes of walking up the hill, we gave up, and got back.

The restaurants are pretty expensive, but the people are really friendly. Everybody, except the people from our hotel, who told us to leave early in the morning for some group were coming… Too bad. If it were not for the blue grotto…

Capri has many other interesting thing to do, but, as I said, everything takes time… so if you plan to go there, either reserve more time (and maybe you’ll get the full attention from your hotel staff) or go for the quick trip with a predefined and managed tour.

Vatican and the Pope

Posted by – 12/05/2008

I was there last wednesday, and waited the whole morning to see the Pope and hear, in lots of different languages, that we should all love each other as brothers and so… Love messages apart, it was a boring morning waiting for the Pope to appear. The session started at 10:30, but we had to get in Saint Peter square as early as 8:30 to get a place. They have some reservation tickets one should ask beforehand to be allowed in the main part, where there are chairs. The whole cerimony is a but clumsy, as the Pope arrives in his open car, drives arround the square while everybody cheers for him, gets behind the reserved place, always followed by the Swiss Guard and sits in the main “trone”. Then every minister of foreign churches present salute him in their own language, pointing to the people from their coundtry that are present. when mentioned, the people manifests their presence by singing, screaming, or any other disturbing noise they can make (people from Mexico where near us and never stopped to scream “Mexico… Mexico… Mexico”, and so on). It takes a long time for each church. Then the Pope reads the same message in their language and the process start all over again, with another church.

The cerimony ends by the Pope blessing all the present as long as objects of devotion people might have brought. It’s not a bad cerimony, but lots could be done to speed it up a little bit.

The afternoon compensate the morning we lost waiting for the Pope: we visited the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel. There are no proper words to speak of them. I found works of art as beautiful and as old as art itself. I took a picture of a first century sculpture of Aesculapion, the god of Medicine, that was particularly found of.

The down side is that they don’t let you take pictures of the Sistine Chapel. The truth about the Sistine Chapel is that I was waiting for more. It’s a dark room with all those marvelous paintings kept in the dark as if people would ruin them. I know people can be mean to art works, but what would Michelangelo say if their marvelous works were kept from the public? Anyway, the paitings in the ceiling and the Final Judgement (that is on the main wall) are true masterpieces and, even though I couldn’t see them in all their beauty, being there worth it.

Saint Peter basilica is also one of the things I wanted to see. I was in the square in front of the basilica during the morning, for the Pope cerimony, but I left the basilica itself to be seen in the evening to try to avoid the long lines that formed after the cerimony. It was a pity I got there without batteries in my camera, for the interior is wonderful. Just after the entrance, in a right niche, we found Pietà, Michelangelo’s sculpture masterpiece he completed while only 25 years old! It’s wonderful.

The Swiss Guard is also a pictoresque aspect of the Vatican. They look like being dressed as clowns, but they’re outfit were designed by Michelangelo himself, and is being used since the 1500s. Also there are a lot of requirements to join Pope’s personal guard: being swiss-born citizen, speak a lot of languages (the number vary, but I was told 5 is enough), having served in the swiss army are just the ones to begin with.

Rome: the rest of day 1, and day 2

Posted by – 12/05/2008

Ciao. This is to continue my post about this travel Benda and I are on.

So here is the rest of the pictures from day 1. I’ve already posted the one of Fontana di Trevi, one of the most beautiful things we’ve seen in Rome. The next are Piazza di Spagna, and the Pantheon.

I hope I was getting to Piazza di Spagna and the steps in front of it with Spring more advanced, so we could see more flowers on it. I was told it gets even more beautiful as shown in our pictures, but what we found was great already. From Piazza di Spagna we went up the stairs and saw a lot of Rome’s narrow streets (we were on foot). It surely is a walk worth taking. If you go to Rome, take your time to see everything, for in every corner there might be a pleasant surprise. It’s a pity not everything fits this blog.

We reached the Pantheon from a side street. It was breathtaking! As we came near it, it kept growing bigger in our sight, by the time we got in front of it we understood what meant having something so old and magestic still standing. Once a pagan temple for “all gods”, now a catholic church, there are three things one must not fail to notice inside: a grave for three children dating before Christ, the grave for the famous Raphael, and the beautiful dome.

Day 2

On the second day, we went to the archeological part of Rome. We finally got a Roma Pass (it costs EUR 20, and besides the three-day public transportation pass, it gives you two free entries to any of the archeological sites or museums – each costs EUR 9 in average – and discounts for other places), so we tooke the metro to the Coloseum station. Watch out in the metro trains, as they’re usually crowded (and I really mean it! I never saw a train as crowded, and I’ve taken the metro on Sao Paulo!).

The first thing I thought about the Coloseum is that it’s huge, but not as big as Gremio Olimpic statium :-). Funny thoughts apart, the Coloseum is really a piece of art. What remains of it today somewhat takes some of its glory away. The walls are made of brown bricks, but in the past they were covered in white, artistically built (some remains of the walls can be seen inside). The central part is not there, revealing what exists beneath it… I can imagine the slaves and Gladiators being kept under the central part, waiting for show time. If you go to the Coloseum, dodge the fake “gladiators” in front of it, as they will offer themselves o appear in your picture, but will charge big time for it. If you want a picture with one of this gladiators, it might be better to arrange the price beforehand.

Leaving the Coloseum, one will find the old roman Forum, a series of buildings and temples that were the political center for antient Rome. It’s a huge site and it took more time to go thru than we first imagined, but it worth it. I found the Temple of Pollux and Castor of special interest. Those are the twins of the Gemini constellation, which is from where we got the name for my company, Propus, so I took a picture in front of the temple.

There are a lot of other interesting places to know while going up and out of the roman Forum. There’s a church that have been built on top of the prision that once held captive Saint Peter and Saint Paul. We could even enter the cell!

Nearby is the Monument to Vitorio Emanuel II, first king of Italy, and taken by everyone as the father of the country. It’s a huge white building with a monument of him mounting a horse and a flame that is always kept burning. A great place, and a great picture!

We ended the day in Campi dei Fiori, a bohemian part of Rome. It’s a square where the free market goes on in the morning, but in the evening has a lot of small stores and bars where people get together for the happy hour. In the center of the square there’s a monument in honor to Giordano Bruno, what remind people of what thar square was once: a place where the inquisition burned people judged as heretic, Giordano as the most famous of’em. Amazing as it was turned in a place of joy nowadays…

Rome: days 0 and 1 (partial)

Posted by – 07/05/2008

I know I promised I would write, but I’ve been so tired when I get back to the hotel, that logging in and getting inspiration to write about the day is not as easy as I first imagined. So, let’s summarize what I have so far (I still have to work in the pictures, so I’ll update this article later with’em):

Day 0: (May 4th)

So, the first day (or day 0 as I call it), was the most uneventful. That’s because we spent it in plane and train, getting to Rome. We arrived at Termini Station about 18:30 local time, and went straight to the Hotel, which is nearby. We were so tired that we just had dinner in a restaurant near the hotel and went straight to bed.

Day 1: (May 5th)

We decided to visit Rome the first two days and then the Vatican in the third. That’ s so because the Pope was soppose to give a public audience on Wednesdays, so we thought that being all the way here, having the possibility to see the Pope, and not doing so was kind of a waste.

I was told to try to get a Roma Pass as soon as I get to Rome, and I tried. At the station, people were not very helpful and this day we spent some money taking taxis for we haven’t got the 3-day public transport pass that comes with “Roma Pass pack”. So here is three warnings for people coming to Termini: (1) the “Roma Pass” cannot be bought at the Tabacco stores they have at the station (but apparently everything else can); (2) when you ask for the “Roma Pass” and somebody answer something like “Binary 24”, they’re refering to the southwest “wing” of the Station – they have a “Roma Pass – Tourist Information” booth there, near the Post Office – and that is where you can get a “Roma Pass”; (3) Don’t trust the signs pointing to “Information”, they’re circular and point to nothing (that’s it, just like a badly designed infinite loop).

Today we visited Piazza di Spagna, Fontana di Trevi, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. First lesson we learned: being in the historical center is to walk a lot…. I mean A LOT!. The Pantheon and Fontana di Trevi were the most exciting things to visit, but by the time we ended the day, our feet were hurting so bad!

At Fontana di Trevi you’ll find people selling roses. Please! Don’t buy any. They’re a waste of money (they’ll be dead by the end of the day). I am a romantic guy and said nothing when Brenda bought some… but really, don’t.

As I am writing this at some Internet spot near the hotel while Brenda is shopping at the station, now that Brenda came back, I’ll just go to the hotel with her, for tomorrow we’ll have our trip to Capri (and we still need to pack). I’ll insert the missing picture of Fontana di Trevi in this post, finish writing about day 1, and tell about days 2 and 3 ASAP. Ciao.

Vacation: T-12h

Posted by – 03/05/2008

Fisl was so time-consuming that I barely had time to blog about what I was planning for vacation. Now, I am at T-12h for my vacation, so let me share a little of what I am going to do to enjoy that.

Last time I got any vacation I almost had no chance to really enjoy it. I haven’t traveled, I haven’t got any rest, I haven’t done anything useful (or not). I was confident the Army was not going to get me, but it happened the opposite, so my vacation was canceled and the rest of the story you can pretty much figure out.

Now, it’s different. I got a real vacation time. Brenda and I have planned this carefully, mainly because we want this time to last as long as possible. In 12h we’ll be flying to Italy. Yes! We’re spending the next 24 days in Italy and Greece. We’re visiting Rome, Amalfitan Coast, Athens, Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes. Half the trip we’ll be driving (my international drivers’ license was up-to-dated and Brenda have got herself a new one), the other half we’ll go by train. I’ve tried to book a visit to Vatican necropolis, but I suspect I was not enough in advance (since I haven’t heard from them yet)… Anyway, I suspect Rome will be enough interesting without getting down there 🙂

I am so excited I don’t know if I’ll be able to get any sleep tonight. It’ll be the first time Brenda gets out of the country and she is sleeping as a child…

For you that are following this blog, I intend to post something of what is going on with us, but don’t expect frequent reports… It would not be a vacation if I kept coming back to the computer… I am bringing some slips of paper with my GPG key, just in case I get the chance to meet any Debian Developer (if you’re one, drop me a note in my email).

See you soon.

“Important by Association”

Posted by – 02/05/2008

Here is a story people are bugging me to tell here: Since 2003, every year in fisl’s last day we, Debian Brasil, hold a “party” to celebrate Debian’s anniversary (I know it’s on August, but it’s probably the only opportunity we’ll have to gather all the gang together so we do it in advance anyway). It’s always something that draws everybody’s attention in the conference… I wonder if the pieces of cake we distribute have anything to do with it…

Anyway, this anecdote happened during fisl9.0’s party. I was there, helping by distributing cake and blowing our whistles when Jon ‘Maddog’ Hall got there to check what’s going on. I met Jon around 2001, in OpenBeach, an event that happens in Florianópolis every year (and that Jon likes to attend)… he’s the most pleasant guy, with lots of stories to tell. Since this years’ fisl was so intense, I barely had time to talk to him… in fact, that was the first time we saw each other this year. We hug each other and were asking how’s each other life’s going and so, when Jon got his camera out of his pocket and asked some guy in the crowd to get our picture. I did the same. We exchanged some compliments and he left saying that he still had to work in his talk.

Jon is quite a character. In fisl, every time he wanders around his picture is taken over one hundred times (I actually saw some father taking pictures of him holding his child like he were running for Senate or something, one time). So he left with some people around him and I think he’d not seen what happened next. I turn towards Debian’s booth, to resume the cake delivery when some guy in the crowd asked me to take a picture with him. And then another one… and another. I believe my picture was taken another two or three times before I got to the booth. I can’t believe! I was about to tell people “Hey! I am nobody! Stop taking pictures with me…” What were they thinking? I imagine something like “I don’t know who this guy is, but if Maddog took a picture with him, he must be some one!” was crossing their minds.

When the party was over I went back to the Organization Committee room and told this story… LTSP’s Jim McQuillan (another good friend) told me I was “Important by Association”, and everybody just kept laughing at me because of that. I haven’t got the time to tell Jon about it… I hope he’s reading.

I think I am going to check what pictures people are uploading about fisl, to see if I can find myself on any 😉