Wednesday, October 29, 2008
So we have a bit of exciting news. Prean and I are going to Holland this weekend to visit Kamini, we're leaving on Friday night, flying to Amsterdam and then coming back on Sunday night. We're really excited and in true Indian style - Kamini wants to know what we want to eat!
Then we're also looking for our flight back to the US. We should leave by the middle of next week, so we're pretty excited about starting life in the US.
How's everyone at home? The babies are sooo cute, can't wait for more pics and Sanu taht pic of Caleb is just how a remember him - adorable as ever.
Missing you guys.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Firenze...(pics on my Picasa site: http://picasaweb.google.com/FunkySharlz)
So, we're back at work … but we really enjoyed Florence this weekend and I finally have something useful to blog about.
Our first TrenItalia experience was quite a pleasant one and we realized that we should have tried it out a lot sooner. There are self service ticket machines at every train station, (with an English option-yay!) so we booked our tickets from Genoa to Firenze on Friday night. Trains arrive and depart from Genoa regularly and everything works so efficiently. The ticket has to be validated before you leave (which is printing the date and time with a machine on or outside the train) and then, once on the train someone comes to check and clip the ticket. (No one checked on Sunday though…I have no idea why). The whole system, like the bus system is based on trust – the traveler has to make sure the ticket is bought and validated. On the buses, which are all operated by one company, I havn't seen anyone check the tickets yet, but I've read somewhere that you can get a 100 euro spot fine if you're found without a validated ticket . The system works really well though and is so efficient. I always wonder if we could ever get something like that going in SA??? Can you imagine – the different bus companies would be complaining about having to add a validating machine to their bus, the passengers would just not buy tickets at all and the cops would be riding the bus all day long trying to bribe the people who didn't validate their tickets!
Anyway, Florence was really beautiful – as always I guess, but I think we really enjoyed it because so many people spoke English!! It's silly, I know, but Florence is just better equipped to handle tourists than Genoa and we really felt like we were on holiday even though it was just one weekend. It was really nice to wander around on our own and not be worried about how much time we have left, which was the case on our last visit to Florence, when we were with the Contiki tour.
We dropped off our back pack at the hotel and headed straight out into the city. Sam, you'll be happy to know that the street markets are exactly the same! Buzzing and crowded and filled with leather goods. I did notice a lot more foreigners this time around though. Like Indian, Asian and African stall owners, who sell the same things, but I think the origins of most of their stuff must be China!
No one can escape (or would want to escape) seeing the Duomo of Florence when visiting Florence. This was our first view for this trip.
The duomo(Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) is made up of the church itself, which has the massive dome at the end (42 m wide, which was a feat in itself when it was built in 1296), the baptistery (children had to be baptized before entering the church, hence the separate baptistery) and the bell tower (the thin tall structure on the right)The Piazza del Duomo was crowded with tour groups huddled around their tour guides, taking pictures from every angle possible – which is probably what we looked like a few years ago… We decided to skip the Duomo this time around, since we had so many other things to see, which we hadn't gotten around to the last time we were in Florence.
The city of Florence is home to the biggest collection of Renaissance art in the world, mainly because a lot of the art was actually done here. The Medici family, who basically governed Florence during that period, commissioned the best artists to create masterpieces for their personal grounds and palaces. When the last Medici duke died without leaving behind an heir, his sister, donated most of the Medici artworks to the city of Florence, so that the city could benefit from the extensive Medici art collection. And this is exactly what happened, since masses of tourists come to Florence every single day so see the magnificent collections and the city thrives off the tourism. Prean and I want to read up on the Medici family when we get a chance, they seem to be a fascinating and powerful family.
The Palazzo Vecchio was the home and office of the duke of Florence for many generations, i.e. the Medici family. One cannot walk a few meters in Florence without coming across the Medici name a few times – I think everything important building had something to do with the Medici at some point or the other. The whole of the Palazzo Vecchio is decorated elaborately and gives a glimpse of just how lavish the Medici were. Every room has massive frescoes by celebrated artists and even every inch of the ceilings are covered painted and decorated.
Next to the Palazzo Vecchio, is the famous Uffizi Gallery – which had a queue all around the block (also required advance booking) – which leads to the Arno river and the infamous Ponte Vecchio. Apparently, the Medici didn't want to walk to the river with the common folk, so they had secret passages built allthe way from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Ponte Vecchio via the Uffizi.
The Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, is the only bridge to have survived German bombings during the war. It used to be lined with various shops, such as butchers, however, when the Medici bought the Palazzo Pitti for their new home, which is across the river and over the Ponte Vecchio, the so called "common" shops where banished from the bridge, so that the Medici did not have to pass them as they passed. Goldsmiths were moved into the shops instead and today the bridge is still lined with, probably, the most expensive jewelers in Florence.
Many of the rest of the places that we visited did not allow photographs, so there aren't too many more pics but we did see quite a few pieces by Michelangelo, Donatello and a whole exhibition by Vincenzo Danti, who was a disciple of Michelangelo.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
We got to Florence this morning at about 10.30am. Managed to book a hotel online last night (www.hrs.com <-- really good site) and we booked our train tickets with the self service and we were off this morning from Genoa at about 7am. It was easier than I expected. Florence is as beautiful as ever. It rained a bit this morning (which is what happened the last time we were here) but it cleared up nicely and we had a great day of sightseeing. I'll put up some pics later. We went to the Palazzo Vecchio first, over ther Ponte Vecchio, had a great calzone at a little pizzeria and then went to the Palazzo Pitti and the Merdici Chapel. Alot - I know - our feet are really sore now! So we figured some surfing will do us good.
We're at the hotel now and it has free internet access! So i'm really going to read some news.
Catch up with you guys later!
Friday, October 24, 2008
It's now three weeks since we left home and Prean & I have no clue of any current affairs… It's terrible actually – we're even missing Mahindra on the SABC 3 news! Watching the news in Italian is of no use, so we don't even try actually. And when we finally get onto the internet, we have so much to do and read in the small space of time that the news sites are the last things on our minds. So if someone is terribly bored at work – send us a quick précis on anything we should know about?
So work's been consuming our lives so far. We finished early today for a change (18h30)! 20h00 was getting to be a norm last week and since we have a deadline for Friday, I don't see much hope for the rest of the week.
We managed to go to Nervi on Saturday afternoon. It's a short bus ride from the city, where we are based. Nervi's a small town on the coast, which has breath-taking views of the ocean and surrounding mountains. What makes it really picturesque though, are the colourful apartment blocks all along the coast. I don't really know if apartment blocks is the right word to use, since they're all pretty old. The brightly coloured buildings were said to help fishermen find their homes while they were out at sea.
On Sunday, we planned on going to Porto Fino, but the weather did not look too good, so we ended up at the Genova Museo del Mare, i.e. Genoa Marine Museum. It was quite interesting and had a lot of the history of the city of Genoa, which was once the biggest port in Europe. There is also a lot about Christopher Columbus, who may have been Genovese – there's no certain proof though. There was also an exhibit all about emigrants that went to America (much like us – hey?). It was so amazing how so many people travelled from all over Europe to Genoa to get onto a ship and head for a new life in America. It was really well done.
So otherwise, we're doing well. Hope everyone's well there in SA? We're missing everyone a lot. On Sunday evening, we thought about how we could be having Galito's with Sanu & Viro. And on weekend days after work I really miss going to Sam's for some tea and some playing with Mishka. I really can't wait to get to the States, cos hopefully more internet access will mean more communication with all of you.
By the way, the gelato's are great! I've eaten quite a few so far…
Missing you all!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
It’s Monday night. We had a part lazy, part tiring weekend. We spent most of Saturday walking around Genoa’s old city. It never fails to amaze me how the all ancient buildings here don’t get a second glance from the locals, but to us they’re so fascinating. To us in SA, an old building was probably built in the 1800’s? Here they go back to the 1200’s! The old city is filled with teeny tiny alleys and everything is really cramped and squashed into what little space there is. The Genovese say that they’ve always been this way since their city has the sea on one side and the mountains on the other. Even the Siemens office is cramped actually – Prean and I are sharing a desk because there are no spare desks in the office…
So that’s our curry powder… lol. Notice the blandness of the actual curry powder…
Anyway – Prean said the mince curry was nice – don’t know if that’s the “havn’t eaten curry in so long” talking but I think it was ok – especially with what we had to work with…
Missing you guys. Someone please start a blog so we can know what’s happening?
We’re thinking of going to Florence next weekend – or the weekend after that.
Till next time
Friday, October 10, 2008
So I’ve been totally out of touch since Friday or Saturday. L Sorry about that. We haven’t had access to the internet! Prean & I were so spoilt in Chicago with the free wireless courtesy of Spencer-Pub that now we are totally getting withdrawal symptoms! We are currently working on a demo project (for Audi) at the Siemens office. And Siemens (as I already know) is pretty strict with their network rules. We have to make a special application which allows non Siemens employees access to the internet and email. Anyway that will take some time, so we’re going to the Hyla-Soft office after work to check email and post prewritten blogs!
Anyway, we arrived in Italy on Sunday night at about 7pm (and we left Chicago at 12pm on Saturday). Our new boss fetched us at the airport and took us to our new home for the next 6 weeks. It’s basically a studio apartment and it’s quite nice.
We’re pretty happy with it. The only major thing that it’s missing is an iron! We’ve been wearing things that don’t need ironing up to today but I think we really need to go buy an iron tomorrow.
Our first night in Genoa was ok, we were really hungry and the easiest thing to eat was Macdonalds. You just have to say BigMac and Menu instead of Meal.
Our boss, Ettore Soldi, is quite nice, he met us at the bus station on Monday morning and made sure we got on the right bus to get us to work. It’s about a 10 minute bus ride and the bus arrives every 10 minutes in peak hours. We found out on Monday that the training is actually on the job training – which means that we’re both working on a project for the six weeks that we’re here. It’s actually a lot better because we’re going to learn a lot more this way. It took a while to get things going but at last today (Wednesday) we have a better idea of what’s going on. The working hours are different from SA, generally people get to the office at around 9 or 9.30 and work till 6, 6.30, sometimes 7 or 8 – it’s not unusual. We find that strange. We decided to work from 9 till 6, but people do look at us strangely when we leave at 6 – like its sooo early to be leaving. The other strange thing about Genoa is that everything closes early in the evenings. So by 8 the streets are quiet and dead. We needed to buy some groceries on Monday evening after leaving the office at 6.30 – by the time we were done everything was quiet and no shops were open. The restaurants open from about 8 or 9 in the evening though. So generally I think Italians start their days later and end later too.
Everything here is a challenge, last night we decided to make sure we find a bigger supermarket, so we walked around and looked and looked and eventually in the middle of a major shopping (clothes and shoes) street we found a little alley that lead to a kind of secret fresh produce market! It was sort of like in Harry Potter, when they walk into that magical street that’s in between everything else. Anyway – everything there looked great, fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meat from butchers and even cheese! The dilemma of course was how to buy any of it. We don’t speak Italian and they don’t speak English. We both feel like we’d just be frustrating the owners by trying to buy something. As Prean said – the market is higher grade stuff. We need to start a little lower – like at a supermarket, where no one’s rushing you to decide. Luckily we found a supermarket – we were so relieved! The food’s very different – everything revolves around pasta and hams and cheese. We managed to find something like the Knorr pasta and sauce that you get in SA but its risotto – was not bad actually. Anyway – we decided to try out the higher grade stuff this weekend. We were thinking of making curry – but there is definitely no masala here…
The other things is that we’re watching a lot of MTV – it’s the only English channel here- and sometimes MTV goes Italian too… quite boring in evenings – wish we had our hard drive of stuff to watch!
What else? There is a huge boat show in Genoa this week – apparently one of the biggest in the world. I think we’re going to check that out this weekend and also take a walk around Genoa’s old city. We also found out that the train station is quite close to our apartment and there are trains leaving everyday from here to Milan, Florence and Rome but Rome’s about 5 or more hours. So we’re thinking we can take a train to Florence one weekend – we’ll see.
Anyway, not sure how often we’re going to come to the Hyla Soft office, so the blogs may be few and far between during our stay in Genoa but I will try.
We’re missing you all so much, Viro – where’s your blog?? We need to know what’s happening over there…
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Friday started off nice and lazy - we needed it! We slept late for the first time since we got here and only left our room to get a dunkin donuts breakfast after 10.30. We had a long plan of what we wanted to do during the day before our dinner cruise in the evening.
We started off on a long walk to the Field Museum of Chicago. We stopped off at a free expo called Wired NextFest. It was so cool - they have a whole lot of the coolest technology innovation stuff. Like a spider suit... the material turns hard on impact... I know - super amazing stuff. The best part was it was totally free! We just stumbled accross it and walked in. This was a talking robot that uses AI - his name is Kenzo. He responds and has different facial expressions.
So we finally go to the field museum - it was HUGE! It makes our beloved Durban Museum look like a baby museum. This one has many exhibits, some of which are temporary, like the Nature Unleashed one that we went to. The museum has an incredible ancient egyptian collection with mummies and numerous artifacts. This is Sue - the museum's 90% complete dinosaur fossil.
The evolving planet was an excellent display of the history of our planet from the start to present day. We ended up spending more than 3 hours there and had to give the planetarium a skip, so that we could walk back and get ready for our dinner cruise.
The cruise began at Navy Pier and we managed to find a free trolley bus from the next street to take us there.
Thats the boat ...
We boarded the Spirit of Chicago just before 7pm and enjoyed a fantastic dinner. The view from the boat is unbelievable! I think Prean and I were the only ones that noticed though. The price of the ticket included dinner and drinks... so you can imagine there wereloads of student types - getting as drunk as possible. We felt out of place at first, but we had a great time watching all the people. There were many Chuck types (i.e. Geeky IT guys, with weird dance moves and who managed to find a pretty date for the evening). Prean and I were really surprised at how intergrated all the people are. There are people from every race here in Chicago and yet everyone just gets along. It's not like a black group or an indian group like we have in SA. At the cruise I think the common link was that all the students wanted to drink as much possible! LOL, we had fun people watching and watching how people have a party in Chicago. There was also a great fireworks display (which I think only Prean and I noticed).So now we're nearly off to Italy for a month. We'll be in transit for another 24 hours... :-(
Thursday, October 02, 2008
So on Wednesday - we got a chance to venture out on our own (thus far we've been with the guys in the office).
We started off the day in a typically American way... we got a Starbucks coffee and muffin for breakfast. Ahh - we're fitting in ...
Gina, the admin lady at the office, lent us her car (a stick shift - which means manual) to go the bank and open our bank accounts as well as get Social Security cards.
Luckily, Prean drove - on the right side of the road and sitting in the left side of the car! It's soooo weird cos you keep thinking "What are they doing!; Why are they driving there" Then you realise they're all right and you're wrong. So weird.
So we're alive - Prean's an excellent driver - he was calm and did really well. I think I would have freaked out. Guess my turn will be coming up soon.
So we got to the bank. Ours is Chase, and it is so different from SA. Our personal banker's name is Jay Jones (lol). Anyway he starts off by telling us that they don't want us to pay any fees. So we have a checking account and because our salaries go into the account - there's no monthly service fee! Brilliant! Then we get free online banking; free online transfers; free debit card transactions. Its amazing - I dont understand why we pay so much in SA.
After the bank we needed some lunch so we stuck with the typical American style and had a chilli dog from Portillos
It's basically a hot dog with with a kind of chutney with beans (but it's not a typical baked beans chutney guys - definately not hot at all) It was quite good!
Then Gina dropped us off at the train station and we headed downtown - on our own - was pretty fun. There's actually a ticket officer in the train and he asks where you're going and where you got on and the whole system just works so well. Can you imagine that in SA? The poor guy would probably be thrown off the train! The train ride ends at the famous Union Station in Chicago:
On our way home (i.e. the hotel) we stopped at Millenium park, which is the home of a few modern art pieces, one of which is "Cloud Gate" by artist Anish Kapoor.
Chicagoians call it the Silver bean. It's really quite amazing.
Chicago is an architectural wonderland. Ever since the great Chicago fire in 1871, the city has strived to make Chicago bigger, taller and better than any other city. The result is an amazing mix of some of the most outstanding buildins in the world.
Next stop... The John Hancock Observatory was a really awesome experience - it's not the tallest building in Chicago (that honour belongs to the Sears tower) but it has a fantastic observatory. You get an audio set when you arrive and you move around the top of the viewing deck and David Schwimmer takes you through a tour of his city. This is the Hancock building (the black one). We took an elevator up - 94 stories in 40 seconds! Thats the fastest elevator in America. Apparently, the Hancock Hustle is held once a year where contestants race up the stairs - guess how long they take???? Try under 30 minutes... Wow.
Ok, so thats it for now. Stay tuned for scenes from our next adventure...
So, it all began on Saturday, 27 Sept, at OR Tambo International airport. Prean and (a very teary eyed) I got on the plane headed for Dakar, Senegal for the first leg of our trip. Prean tried to sleep while i disturbed him every so often to ask if we did the right thing by deciding to leave SA and go live in the US. I mean - how crazy are we? Everything's so nice and comfortable and familiar in SA. My biggest fear is that Mishka is going to forget me :-(
At the airport Caleb looked at me really strangely when he hugged me and saw that I was crying - I think he understood the whole thing alot better than Mishka. I'm gonna miss them both so much. I still get a lump in my throat when I think of her...
OK, so about 2 hours on the plane in Dakar, while they refueled. Security came on board and checked everyone's stuff to make sure there was no unidentified baggage - American airlines are serious about safety. So leg two of the trip - 9 hours to Atlanta. I still couldn't sleep.
Finally we land in the US and all our excitement is squashed by the two hours we spent at the US border/passport control. We even got to go to the little room reserved especially for the "Asians" Once that was done we hopped straight onto the plane to Chicago. Finally - no more plane rides - we were soooo beat by then. Of course - this was not the end of the travelling yet. We still had to get our bags and make our way to the hotel. Bags... hmmm... mine was missing... Anyway filled out the forms & they said it wud be at the hotel by the afternoon. So we made our way to the train to take us to downtown Chicago, and we foudn this en route --------->
Can you see the SA flag? Durban is a sister city of Chicago apparently...
So our hotel is the Inn of Chicago on the Magnificent Mile - it's really nice and we got there at about 3pm on Sunday - about 24hours after we left home on Saturday.
Finally!!! A chance to sleep!
The first night, my friend Fabrizio took us to dinner for the famous deep dish pizza from Chicago's famous -- Giordanos . There is soooo much cheese - its unbelievable - we cant eat cheese for a month now.
We went to the office on Monday to fill out paperwork etc. This is Prean in the office - chatting on google talk if you look close enough...