Florence and fini…for now

Being that I have to return to work tomorrow I thought I’d revisit the pictures from my favorite stop on our journey; Florence.  I could’ve easily spent several more days there on my own, but alas, I couldn’t really abandon the students for whom I was partially responsible.  The architecture, art, and history of Florence was palpable and pervasive.  As with most places we visited there were a lot of people there, but for me at least the energy enshrined in the buildings and statues of Florence masked the throngs of people.  I couldn’t believe how many important and noteworthy people in world history had at one time or another lived and/or worked there. It was exciting, as a geography teacher, for me to see the statues of Amerigo Vespucci and Galileo Galilei and moving to see in real life Michelangelo’s work throughout our visit.  Many of the statues appeared as if they could step down of their pedestals at any moment.    Every opportunity I had to ditch our group, yet keep them in sight, I’d dart off to snap a few pictures.  The gallery below includes some of those, I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

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Never Trust your Pisa Picture to Someone Else

When we arrived at Pisa I was excited to take my gratuitous, “Look at me I’m holding up the leaning tower of Pisa!” picture.  I had the setting fixed in my head; perspective was everything.  I was supposed to appear larger than, or near the same size, as the tower with my hand holding it up.  I handed my camera to my friend to take my picture and she said, “No, we need to be closer.”

“But…”  Then our tour guide whisked us off somewhere.  Shit.

Later on we had some free time and I handed my camera off to another “friend” who took this picture:

Damnit! Not only is the top of the tower chopped off, but I’m miniscule and appear to be merely pointing at the bottom of the tower.  “Trust” and “double check” have important new meanings for me.

Anyway, here are some more Pisa pics for you to enjoy:

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Streets and Alleys

Upon returning from a trip I’m amazed by 1) how many pictures I took, and 2) the number of said pictures that are similar.  I mean really, just how many pictures of streets and alleys do I need?












The antennas caught my eye:


as did the satellite dish:


Avignon/Palace of the Popes




Montecatini Terme



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On the day we visited Assisi I was feeling a little under the weather so I only took a few shots.  Assisi is a beautiful walled city with lots of narrow streets and passageways to explore and is surrounded by a gorgeous landscape which people associate with this region of Italy.



One of the interior courtyards reminded me of others I had seen like the cathedral in Toldeo.  I really enjoy the arches and stonework.

As with many of the centuries old treasures we visited reminders of how far we have progressed (insert sarcasm here) were not hard to find.


This is my favorite shot from that day:

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One of my goals as a teacher is to help my students embrace their ignorance.  Too many of them are afraid to participate in class discussions because they’re worried they’ll be wrong, or worse they feel they don’t know anything.  I try to emphasize that not knowing things is okay, it just means there is more stuff to learn!  To make them feel better about their own ignorance I teach them about the concept of schema.  A person’s schema is everything they have learned over their lifetime.  People use this accumulated knowledge, or schema, to make sense of and interpret new situations.  Since everyone’s life experiences are different we all have different schemas.  I know a LOT about geography and history but much less about science and math.  I encourage my students to think of their schema as a library they can reference when trying to understand new things.  I demonstrate this concept by having them interpret things like this:

One of the students saw this sign and observed, “Hey, they messed up that sign,  one leg is shorter than the other on the people.”

“Well, that’s to indicate they are walking.” I replied.

“No, I think they just  messed up the sign.”

“Ok, I’ll buy that, then that means they messed up all of the signs we’ve seen like this in each of the countries we visited.”


This next photo I took over 10 years ago in Spain and show it to my students every year.  I ask them to use their schema to tell me what they think it means:

“Illegals running across the border!” Is a typical response I get every year, I’m still not sure how they get that from this.  I point out the briefcase held by one of the figures and say it indicates a school crossing.


This year I’ll show them this one which is more clear:

I wonder what my students schema will tell me about this one:

Every year my students complain about our school dress code, so I’m looking forward to showing them this photo from the Pantheon

Travelling through France, Spain and Italy I was struck by the number of signs that had no text, just images or caricatures like the first photo I posted here.  I started to wonder why there were no words, then I realized, duh, there’s like a gazillion different languages spoken in Europe, pictures are easier than having every translation on a sign.  So if you’re travelling to the Museo de Prado with your dog you’ll know what this means:

Another teaching goal I have is to encourage my students to travel.  Many of them are hesitant because they don’t speak another language.  I tell them not to worry, with their schema they’ll be just fine.  Finding food for example:

A pleasant place to eat….

Or a bathroom…(a little fuzzy, I was in a hurry)

or a place to buy souvenirs…

I’m not sure how well myself or my students could have navigated medieval Carcassone though, even with our schemas.  Without a proper frame of reference, this makes no sense:

Here’s a close up, any ideas what this indicated?

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Lost in Translation

One of the things I enjoy most about travelling is reading, or attempting to read signs.  I like trying to figure out what the signs are indicating, other times the signs just make me smile either because they are clever, or because reading the signs literally is hillarious.   For example, on the way to dinner on our first night in Madrid I saw this restaraunt:

The restaruant is called “Fatigas del Querer”.  When I saw the sign I knew enough Spanish to realize the first word meant fatigue and the last word had something to do with desire.  So when I got home I went on Google Translator, began typing and had a good laugh.  I laughed because as I typed and Google instantly translated I got this:

typed: fatigas, Google: fatigue; I was right!

typed: fatigas del, Google: fatigue of; right again!

typed: fatigas del quer, Google: fatigue of poker; HA!

typed: fatigas del querer, Google: labors of love; Holy cow, conjugation does matter.

I was proud to figure out that this shop had something to do with renting bicycles; the graphic helped 🙂

This one is great because you don’t need to speak a language to know what the place offers:

The incorrect grammar and claim of street cred on this one got me, oh, and the dog bowls, very thoughtful as there were lots of people con perros in Spain:

On the way to the Churh of the Holy Family we passed this:

which made me crave carne asada tacos from Taqueria San Jose by my house.  Then I thought, “Wait, what? A taqueria in Spain?”

In Avignon I appreciated the directness of the signage

Not exactly sure what the cow is advertising; does the place cater to, or serve cow?  Maybe I should clarify. Does it cater to cows as patrons or serve them as food?

These next two I found clever:

Must be a town with lots of mathemeticians.

Wholly unoccupied.

Interpreting the sign for this place in English rather than Spanish could steer people away from tasty treats.


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Dazed and Confused

The start to the day of our return trip was fairly normal; as normal as a 2:30 a.m. wake up call could be.

The day before we had spent our last day in Italy seeing virtually all of Rome, at least that’s what it felt like.  We started with an hour bus ride from our hotel to the Colesseum.  Upon arrival we were accosted by hovering hawkers of postcards; I think they’ve been conditioned not to hear the word “no”.  Well, it was a pretty good deal, 10 postcards for 1 Euro, I guess they were just stunned no one wanted to take them up on such sweet deal.  We had about 10 minutes to snap photos, and dodge postcard hawkers,  while our tour guide went to fetch our Colesseum guide.  When the guides returned we donned our “Whispers” (audio receivers so we could hear the guides narration over the din of the hundreds of other people touring the site), and began the tour.  I should note that the “Whispers” were crap; too much interference and static, couldn’t hear much of what the guide said.  No matter, the Colesseum was sufficiently awesome without the narration.

After the Colesseum tour we sauntered, ok, rushed over to the Forum to continue the tour.  On our way we lost a few people and had to wait an extra 20 minutes or so for them; totally worth it; though it was hot.  (Thank goodness it was overcast, it would’ve been a lot worse.)

From the forum we got back on the bus with our driver who I’ll call “Disco Dominico”, his ringtone was Mr. Saxobeat, and he had a mix of 7o’s and 80’s disco/pop tunes that he played for us, who took us to the Vatican museum.  Tourning the Vatican Museum then St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel was both awe inspiring and annoying.  Awe inspiring because of it’s opulent decadence; annoying because we really never stopped moving and often lost sight of our guides yellow  hankie on a stick she was holding above the mass of people; there were a LOTS of them.  Though we only spent a few minutes in the Sistene Chapel shoulder to shoulder with other tourists, it was…I was going to say beautiful or gorgeous, but those words don’t really convey what a masterpiece it is.  Photos are not allowed, but I snapped a few of the museum and basilica.

Just a few people.  Can you see the yellow hankie?

Startled me a little.


After Vatican City we met Disco Dominico for a lift to Trevi Fountain and we walked from there to the Pantheon, then Piazza Navona.  The Pantheon is an amazing feat of architecture.  Piazza Navona was cool as our guide told us the church in the plaza and the monument in the middle where constructed at roughly the same time by rival architects.  The architect of the monument sculpted the figures in a way that showed they were disgusted by the church.  None of them are looking directly at the church and most of them are demonstrating open disdain.

In the last two photos, note the expressions of the men on the monument.

After Piazza Navona Disco Domincio drove us to dinner, after which we took the hour long ride back to the hotel and arrived at about 10:00 p.m.  As you can see, it was a full day, so the 2:30 a.m. wake up call the following day was just awesome.

We arrived at the Rome airport at something like 4:00 a.m. to catch our 6:00 a.m. flight.  Fortunately we had a person meet us there with our boarding passes already printed so all we had to do was show our passports and drop off our luggage.  Standing in line to drop off my luggage I realized that in the fog of the morning I had left my souveneir posters on the bus!  Meh, I did the same thing when I was in Spain the last time, guess it means I’m coming back in a few years.

The flight from Rome to Frankfurt was 20 minutes early and thank goodness because the Frankfurt security was SLOW and we only had just over an hour to catch our connector back to SFO.  First we went through the passport check station, then we went through the security screening where several of our kids had their bags pulled and looked through (nothing found); and one was even pulled aside by security!  After the security screening there was another line to check our passports again, by this time our flight had been boarding for a good 15 minutes or so.  I ran with the bulk of our kids to the gate while the other teacher with me waited for the kid pulled aside by security.  I wasn’t sure they were going to make it but they did at the last minute.  I wasn’t able to sleep more than an hour and a half or so for the 10 hour flight from Frankfurt to SFO, thank goodness Lufthansa has the  monitors with TV and movies, as well as cool cameras mounted on the plane to get different views of the flight.

By the time we arrived in SFO I had been awake for a LONG time which is probably why I thought my luggage was lost.  Everyone else had found theirs and split, but it took me another half hour or so with the help of some Lufthansa people to find it on the conveyor belt.  How many times had I actually not seen it as it passed by me on that thing?!  Man, I was out of it.  Thankfully I had someone to drive me home, who knows where I would’ve enede up if I drove myself.  After returning home I was starving so I got two carne asada tacos from Taqueria San Jose, had them with a beer at home and collapsed on the sofa.

Great trip.




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Things about Europe, and this trip, that confuse me.

1. Why are the toilets in each country different? More specifically, why do the flush differently?
2. Why does Italy have toilet paper dispensed like tissues and not a roll?
3. Who made the driving rules and why don’t they have more accidents? (Ok, that’s really two questions so…)
5. Why did Pisa smell like piss? (To be fair parts of San Francisco and other famous places do too; I’m just going for the cheap laugh).
6. Why don’t Americans adopt the European attitude and just go out and chill with the neighbors and friends every night? I mean just tonight one of the hotels here had a lobby full of elder people dancing.
7. Why is the McDonalds logo green?
8. Does the Disney store really need to be in Florence, and if so, do Americans need to buy stuff from it? Apparently


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Day – 8

Today was the day I realized that I am most likely past the age at which I might’ve considered a) bungee jumping, b) sky diving, c) generally leaping off or out of something really high. This epiphany struck when I saw this view:


which was taken from the top of the bell tower next to the cathedral in Florence. Well not the top, but the viewing portion near the top because the top would’ve been just too hard to get to. As it was there were 400 some-odd steps, and that was plenty; believe me. Climbing all of those steps was totally worth it for view like this:


Today we also saw Michelangelo’s David, though photos were not allowed, and other cool things like this:




and this:


Tomorrow another grueling bus ride stopping at Assissi, then Rome!

We’re getting a little rummy and have developed a list of catch phrases from the trip too far feel free to guess the context:

It wasn’t too sticky.
Wanna cookie?
You can plug your phones into my computer.

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Days 6-7

Days 6 and 7 have largely been spent on a bus with periodic stops at roadside gas stations/cafeterias. Had we not also been stopping at cool places I might be a little upset; if I could remember the names of the places we visited I’d feel a lot better….I’ll blame it on the bus ride. I’ll fill in the itinerary when I return. Meantime I’ve been snapping lots of pics.



A bridge from the 1st century on the way to Carcassone, or after….you know, the bus thing…


A bell in the cathedral at Carcassone…


…and it’s creepy gargoyle things…


In one of the alleyways I found some signs of home


And some flowers


Almost forgot, we visited a perfume factory that makes and sells its stuff only in France (and online) called


That had this outside


Where I bought some eau de toilette that at the time I thought smelled nice and had a hint of evergreen forest, but am now afraid it might smell like a car Christmas tree air freshener.

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