Tuesday, May 31, 2005

well, this explains something

what's that blinking light on the side for?
California is one of the worst states, 43 out of 49 surveyed.

John Foley (ape)

Ummm, I still want to know what the blinking light is. And why is it only on one side of the car? I don't get it. I just couldn't believe that someone scored worse than Massachusetts. I lived through it, and I've never seen worse.

Posted byJohn Foley on Tuesday, June 07, 2005 at 9:04 AM

Italy, China, camping, and stuff

Italy was fun. That much I expected. I still haven’t gotten around to typing up my detailed (and boring) travel journals, but the highlights were like this:

San Gimignano: Highly recommended. Have gelato in the square, at the non-sit-down place. Skip the Torture Museum, wander the streets. Beware of the public toilets; there are no toilets there.
Siena: Also highly recommended. The Duomo is beautiful, and St. Catherine’s head is on display in the other church. Skip the convent.
Pisa: No.
Lucca: Nice, but not as interesting as San Gimignano, Siena, or Volterra. (but less hilly, for lazy people)
Volterra: I MUST go back.
Venice: fun wandering the streets and alleys. Skip the gondola and get a day pass for the Vaporetti, and just ride around. Palazzo Ducale is very worth seeing.
Florence: Beyond Piazzale Michaelangelo, there is a church, the prettiest one I’ve ever seen, called San Miniato. MUST go to Hemingway’s chocolate in San Frediano. Also, had a very good dinner at Napo Leone in San Frediano.
Rome: Overcrowded, touristy, a little hard to penetrate the real life, but we were also very tired and sick by the time we got there.
Vatican City: Big Suck. Can rot, for all I care.

It was a little grueling at the end, and I was glad to be back home. Then, quickly, off to China. China was fun. I enjoyed it. And if you’re going to Beijing, why not stay in a top-notch hotel like I did? You can actually eat the apples without too much fear of food poisoning, and there’s drinkable water and stuff. St. Regis hotel, and a lot of meals at the Hyatt, made the whole thing much easier for me to deal with. Being a vegetarian who never even liked Chinese food to begin with, I had a surprisingly good time there (Except for the “Bird Spit Soup,” which I refused.) Some Chinese people at the Great Wall wanted me to be in their picture, just because. Heh.

Beijing is growing and modernizing everywhere. No American city can compare to the magnitude. And it’s incredibly diverse; every type of cuisine, all kinds of people in the silk market from everywhere. Yes, the vast majority are Chinese, but there are expats from all over the world in large numbers in Beijing. I saw some of the Chinese government and communism, but I also saw a lot of consumer culture and emerging classes.

The traffic is pretty thick and unruly, but not nearly as bad as Rome.

Immediately upon getting home from my return flight, I threw a few things in a bag and went to go camping with Paul and his friends. I was, uhhhh, a bit jet-lagged, and the five or so hour ride up to the site was a slog. And maybe I wasn’t very useful, brain-wise, for the next two days. I tried. Camping trip was fun, but cut short by a day, I think, and we came home Sunday.

Which, frankly, was fine with me. I wanted nothing more than to be at home (at least in the Bay Area), and Monday, Paul put the new tires on my SV, to hopefully solve at least SOME of the bullshit handling. The old tires sucked. After talking a little bit with Jason about his SV mods and info, I’m leaning toward sending the thing to Phil. After all, I intend to take this thing to its grave. And if I’m not selling it, why just suffer with it for the next 60,000 miles? Gixxer front end? Complicates things, have to FIND one first, that isn't fuckered, and then I'd have to do all sorts of crap like re-routing speedometers, converting the clip-on setup back to hold my dirtbike bars, and worrying about how much I fucked up my geometry. Sell it and get a different bike? There’s no other bike I’m thinking would be right either, and anyway, I’d end up sinking another $1000 into that too. Easier just to invest in the Aftershocks magic and keep the SV. I like the engine quite a lot anyway.

But it has to wait. I have tortures in store for that bike in a few weeks. Tires are on, but I need to sort the handlebar situation out. So Thursday I need to re-examine the ProTapers I already have, and possibly put them on and cancel the back-ordered Renthals. Then the barkbusters go on. All this will have to wait until after the Cal24 if it involves longer brakelines. I still have that Scottoiler to put on, though I don’t think there’s time before the rally. So busy…

But damn, I am glad to be home, and glad that the hectic travel should die down for a bit. Weekends are filling up, and I’m SO glad to get some time at home, to stare at my navel for five minutes at a time.

This weekend: Riding Saturday, finally, remember when this was every Saturday and Sunday?

Sunday: West Oakland Riot. (that’s why I’m getting my “riding” riding out of my system on Saturday)

June 10-12: Cal24 Endurance Rally. Oh, yeah.

June 17-19: Kansas for the weekend. Yessir.

June 25-26: Free, but a camping/exploring trip has been discussed. Either the Sheetiron area or some other small town/fireroad excursion.

July 1-5: My brother and his wife are visiting from Seattle.

July 9: Laguna Seca. Yes, Saturday. I don’t give a rat’s ass who wins what on the superbike, etc. circuit. I only want to scratch the tanks on the display bikes, huff race gas, and eat funnel cakes.

Then there are a few free weekends. I’d really like to do some more camping and dual-sporting. Suggestions for dual-sport friendly trips or camping greatly appreciated.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Dear China: It's not you, it's me

<>So a couple of weeks ago, I was in Italy. I kept a travel journal, which I intended to type up and post, not because it's interesting (it isn't, mostly), but just to keep the record. But I can barely read my own handrwiting, and I've been feeling a little short on time. Because I'm going to fucking China tomorrow.

Not happy about this. It's nothing against China, I mean, I always wanted to have a job which included travel. But of all the times, they chose this fucking weekend? This weekend is the Sheetiron 300 dual sport ride, which, to be honest, has been one of the high points of my past two years. I'm really angry about missing it. Really. Angry. Are you getting this?

Somehow, a lot of people don't seem to pick up on this, but I'm chock full of doubts and fears; I'm an incredibly harsh critic of myself. I have a clear view of shortcomings and lack of skills, and this ride is one of those times I get to push through my fears and crappy dirt riding, see some really stunning scenery, experience the rushes, the victories and the small defeats (yep, flying over your bars and landing in front of 10 guys standing around overlooking the valley is one of those things you remember fondly for years). "Holy shit, could you believe Sherman Road?" "Did you see those five guys pileup on each other?" "I totally crashed five times in the first mile!" "We had to pull over so I could drop trou and stuff sunscreen into my pants because I got a giant burn from the gas leaking on me when I was stuck under my bike." "I just ran into my old DR350. Literally."

Ohhhhhhh. Ugh.

Angry that I couldn't do that particular stupid shit with my bikes, I signed up to do an endurance rally instead. Cal24.com. I already know it's going to be painful; the SV gives my knees cramps after just a couple of hours. But that's good. I've been displeased with my riding, both quality and quantity, lately. Time to jumpstart into the summer. And show Paul just how whiney I can be. (zoiks)

So, yeah, China. I'll be back in a few days (another reason I'm not excited; I don't want to fly to China for 4 days. It seems stupid).

I've been toying with the idea of trying to learn Mandarin for a long time now, and it looks like Paul might join me in taking a class at City College in the Fall, which is good, since it's more likely to actually happen with his company. In the meantime, I just have hello, and a few Cantonese words (some not-so-polite). It's probably better that way. Given how unsuccessful I was at communicating in Italian, I can only imagine how much worse it could be when you add in the tonal-language trick. They are out to get me, I tell you.

Currently listening:
Easy Speedy Chinese (Mandarin): 2 One Hour Multi-Track CDs
By Mark Frobose
Release date: By February, 2005

Thursday, May 12, 2005


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Friday, May 06, 2005

5/5-5/6 Days 13 & 14 Rome and Vatican City

Yesterday, we walked over to the Vatican only to find that the museum was closed, and went to Basilica di San Pietro since we were there. It was mobbed, not really all that interesting, and full of fucking tourists. (12/25 note: One exception: Pope Alexander VII's beautiful monument, by Bernini) Went to the Vatican Treasury museum since it was there. It might have been a nice exhibit, except it was also mobbed, jammed full of people. Getting out of St. Peter’s was like being in a herd of 400 cattle getting out of a bread box sized hole in a fence. Ugh. Our other goal for Vatican City was to send postcards by the faster Vatican mail (supposed to be much faster than Italian mail) The first machine wouldn’t take our money, and the other one ate it without giving stamps. I was done. FUCK the Vatican, get me the hell out of this goddam place.
(Oh, and did I mention that as we were wandering around in St. Peters, we looked up at the mass going on and realized it was being given by the newly installed Pope? I don’t know if that had to do with the mob factor, as I don’t know that it was announced anywhere.)
Next thought was to get on a tour bus that would take us down Appia Antica (the ancient road) where we could get on and off at our own leisure to see the many ancient sights and catacombs. My mom really wanted to see catacombs, and I was interested in a few of the stops. So we took a taxi to Termini to catch this bus, but the operators were totally stupid and useless, so I decided that I would get us to a goddam catacomb somehow, in spite of these useless tourist things. Took a subway to a bus (didn’t really even know where we were going, but we figured we’d go until we’d see something and figure out where to get off) to a Catacombs (St. Callixtus), the first catacomb built. It was interesting, but not great. All the remains had been removed already. After some public transit adventure we found ourselves back at our apartment. Later in the evening, we even got hot water. Have I mentioned eyetalians are stupid? I mean, the hot water heater is attached to a switch. The switch is not marked at all, and it is placed between the light switch and the fan switch, but of which you flip on and off when you enter and exit the bathroom. The guy showing the apartment said the switch didn’t do anything. Why the fuck would you DO that?!?!?!?

Friday morning: resolved: we will see that goddam Vatican Museum, whether they like it or not. Still haven’t figured why it was closed Thursday. Bus to Vatican-- omigod, the line is like a mile long, literally. Obnoxious people everywhere, but t move quickly. That’s bad. Why? Because it means that they are just letting everybody in, all at once, just pack ‘em in like cattle. And that’s how it was. This was the WORST managed museum I have ever visited in my life. The litany of complaints will have to come later, but let’s just say fucking miserable. Great art, yeah, some of it, a few pieces I even got to enjoy, but FUCK THE VATICAN. Fuck their museum, fuck their crappy basilica, fuck the cafes there, fuck their museum, fuck their post office stamp machines.
After the Vatican Museum, we were both miserable and had a half-day to kill, so we grabbed a bus to Piazza Navona for lunch (sat in a room by ourselves quietly while the crowds enjoyed the sunshine outside), and then bused up to see the National Etruscan Museum at the Villa Giulia (the one at the Vatican was closed, in one of the many disappointments there). That was interesting, but too much, as by this point, we were both too tired. Took a grueling train/underground/bus trip home, and now we’re both utterly exhausted, and happy to be going home soon.

Rome really hasn’t been that good to us, and anyway, we’re tired and miss our boyfriends. The neighborhood we’re staying in is actually quite cute and lively; twisting lanes and trattorias with bands (stand up bass, accordion , singing, sometimes a guitar) playing for money in the many small piazzas/campi. Were we not so exhausted, this may have been tolerable, but now our legs and spirits have given out, and our feet and hearts are sore for a warm batch and a warm hug from our boys. I’ll need a vacation to recover from this trip.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

5/4 Day 12: Rome

5/4 Wednesday
There’s a skylight (2, actually) directly over my bed in Rome, so I woke up with the sun for a few hours of coughing fits and intermittent sleep before my mom got up and into the shower. She found out that the water heater was rather small, so I waited about an hour then tried to shower, but still no hot water. Goddam. Indoor plumbing done right is a luxury we take for granted in the US.
The idea was to get on this tour bus, where you can get on and off at 1 different stops during the day. My mother especially was not up for walking. We stopped off at the pharmacy again to get better drugs (the cough syrup the last guy sold me didn’t do shit) and I had an interesting cocktail of croissants, espresso, cough syrup, and decongestant pill for breakfast. Within an hour, I was losing consciousness on the tour bus. Stopped at the Trevi fountain to try for lunch. Unsuccessful. We still haven’t figured out the whole procedure (it’s different in every single place), or maybe they just didn’t feel like serving us. Back on the bus.
Next stop, Barberini Plaza. Lunch at an “American Bar.” The server either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell us what made a bar “American.” It was good food, and pricey. Watched the Piazza from our table in the window. Rome is big, dirty, bustling, full of tourists. Too many people.
After lunch, we went to the Palazzo Barberini (beautiful building) to see their collection. Interesting Italian arts, especially late Renaissance. Lippi, Carravaggio, etc. Beautiful ceiling fresco in the first room. Stopped to poke around the Pantheon and Borromini’s Sant’Ivo Church.
Over to the Capuchin Cemetery, at Santa Maria della Concezione, to see their bones in the crypt, arranged into different tableaux. Another stop, we hike over to the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, to see Bernini’s wild Ecstasy of St. Theresa (even more enchanting in person than all the art history slides could have shown). My mother had decided by this point that she was finally catching my cold, and bought some Carmelite herbal cough medicine from the monk there. We’ll see who fares better tonight.
Last stop for us was the Colosseum. I was thinking, I could see the Forum in passing, but wanted to see the Colosseum up close. But the crowds put me off, and we hiked over to the church of San Clemente. Interesting church. On the street level, a twelfth-century basilica, similar to the many others, but perhaps a little prettier. But below that is an earlier church (392 A.D.) with some remaining frescoes. One more floor down are the remains of a Mithraic temple of late 2nd century, along with the rooms of a Roman house built around 64 A.D. And bits of the churches, fragments of statues and memorabilia, even an opening to the underground river. Pretty neat stuff.
By the time we got back, the Colosseum was not really open for tickets, and we were both wore out anyway. I’ve been sick for well over a week with no improvement. Really, all I want right now is a good meal, a warm bath, and some time with Paul to convalesce. Rome just isn’t working for me. Hot water would help, though.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

5/2-5/3 Days 10 & 11 Florence to Rome

(photos: around Florence: scooters as far as the eye can see, and a beautiful door knocker)

Yesterday we were in Florence, packed up our bags to move to the last night’s Bed & Breakfast (since our first B&B had to do work on their water pipes), then headed over to the Duomo.

Basilica de Santa Maria del Fiore. The facade was typically overdone, though the baptistry across the steps was quite nice. The doors of the baptistry are panels of reliefs showing bible scenes. Inside of the Basilica is oddly empty. It’s a huge space. Huge. But not a lot of decoration or interesting art. The dome, while impressive, was not an option, given my mother’s bad knee and blisters. Besides, we’d had a spectacular view from Piazza Michaelangelo the day before, and had limited time to see Florence.

Second stop was the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, where relics, architectural bits from the church, Etruscan finds, and a few other things were on display. An interesting museum. Highlights were Michelangelo’s unfinished sculpture of the Pieta, which he intended for his own tomb, but mutilated and left unfinished. (12/25 note: Michelangelo has actually done two or three Pietas, but I found this one to be particularly striking and emotional. The other is in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, and was done by a much younger Michelangelo around 1498. An even earlier one is in Milan) Also, the reliquaries, bits of saints’ fingers, arms, jawbones, and so on were very colorful. The actual panels from the doors to the baptistry, Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” are on display here individually; beautiful reliefs showing stories from the old testament.

After lunch, we headed over to Santa Croce, another huge church, this one filled with tombs and memorials. Massive reconstruction work going on here prevented us from seeing several of the most important works. Michelangelo’s tomb is here, not not with the Pieta he’d started and intended, but a memorial by Vasari. I see art weeping, sculptures that will never be let out of their marble without the master. But maybe they were supposed to be the muses. We couldn’t get up too close since the area was roped off for restoration of a nearby memorial. But it was quite beautiful. Dante’s memorial was scary. Not a nice or good-looking guy, from the looks of it. (he’s not actually buried there) Poked around at tombs and memorials downstairs.
Dinner was at a place called Napa Leone, near our B&B in San Frediano. It was really good. I recommend! Hemingway was, sadly, closed, so no chocolate.

Thus far, I’ve not been impressed with most of the food. Also, a few other things are kind of funky: Door latches/knobs. God forbid there be a fire in the B&B. Italians have a different sort of latch mechanism for every single door in the country. Push buttons, turn knobs, push buttons ON the knobs (WHY?!??!!), pull a latch, slide a lever, and so forth...

Locks. In the US, you turn your key, generally 360 degrees or less, hear a click, and it’s locked/unlocked as necessary. Not so in Italy! Insert the key. You may or may not have to also the key in (like an ignition key, but much harder), the turn the thing several time. Maybe as many as four full circles. Nothing happens? Go back and try it the other way, and at all degrees in between. Good luck getting your key out after. Keep in mind that you need the key to lock your room from the inside, so I hope you’re ready for this drill when the place goes up in flames.

Toilet. OK, first of all, the number of toilets should be ONE. Not zero, like in San Gimignano, where there was a flushable porcelain thing in the floor to squat over. If you’re going to put the plumbing and fixtures in, WHY NOT JUST PUT IN A TOILET?!? And with the bathrooms as tiny as they are here, let’s skip the bidet. It seems there’s a toilet shortage (see San Gimignano), so how about we just share the wealth? One bathroom, one toilet. Also, again like the doors. There’s no reason to have fifteen different types of flush-activators.
Cold medicine. The pharmacies are very, VERY charming, but this shit just does not work. I am so goddam sick of being sick. I just want Nyquil.
Today we got the train to Rome. Not a long trip, really. Upon arrival, we wanted a taxi, and got offered a 30 euro taxi ride, which seemed high. When I pressed him, the guy said it was a “private taxi,” and that the official taxis were on strike. Uh? There were people getting in and out of permit-ed taxis all around us. Ri-ight. Told the guy no, we’d just take the bus, grabbed our bags back (which he was already trying to whisk away) and headed to the (official) taxi line. Whatever. the cab ride in the real taxi cost 16 euros including tip anyway. Rome is a giant big stinky city. I’m not feeling well enough to deal with it, so we ventured out to a shitty dinner, poked into a couple of churches and headed back to our apartment to rest. I’m pretty sick, feel like ass. Italian cough medicine doesn’t do shit, and I pretty much wish I was home right now. Been sick for over a week now and not getting any better. And Rome seems stressful to me. Probably should have reversed the order of our trip, to taper off into a relaxing countryside vacation. Oh well. Tomorrow, I hope to feel well enough to scurry between the sights with the rest of the multitudes, filling up on art until it all blends together and I just don’t even want to stop to see a Botticelli. Hmph.
On the other hand, our apartment is nice. I have skylights to wake me up at an ungodly hour, but other than that, it’s nice.