Monday, June 29, 2015

The construction continues

Almost four months ago, I did a blog post on a house being built in our neighborhood.  It had a very bizarre concrete wall and its very own crane.

Here we are in mid summer and the crane is still there.  These things can run $1000 per day.  I have NEVER seen a home under construction have a semi permanent crane.  They normally show up for one day, do their thing, and leave.
Why would you need your own crane?  Just for lifting really heavy stuff, like a steel beam.  When you want to support a long run without have to add a column in the middle of your room, you just replace the wood beam with steel. 
But in this house, they are putting steel everywhere.  The floors, the ceilings,....  The rightmost wall in the photo below is the mystery wall.  So far it seem to just be holding up those two beams.  Odd for a wall that literally took them a month to build.
Steel is very expensive.  There is so much steel in this house that I believe it will be left after the nuclear war with the cockroaches.
Yes, this is all steel.
And the entire front of the house.
This house will undoubtedly be the most expensive construction project, taking the longest to finish, of any one I have seen.  I wonder how many more months they will have the crane on site.  Perhaps they just bought it outright to save money?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Our next Mega Trip

When Julie and I were on our big trip to Umbria this year, we talked about taking a trip next year to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  Once we settled back in here at home, Julie started doing travel planning.  Our next major adventure will be Spain and Portugal in April. 

We weren't really in a hurry to book anything, but we saw that the flights would be about $1500 each.  Not horrific, but certainly not cheap.  On top of that, the trip is a little more awkward because we want to fly into Lisbon and out of Barcelona.  Airlines do one well, but often not the other.  We started poking around with frequent flier miles and ended up getting from Salt Lake to Philly to Lisbon, for 32,000 miles.  I normally have problems getting from Salt Lake to LA for 32,000 miles.  Getting back wasn't quite as good, but still very reasonable.

The lesson, if you can possibly plan a trip a full year out, you can actually get some nicer frequent flier opportunities.  The sad news is that between Italy and Spain, our frequent flier buckets are almost empty for both American and Delta.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Scoring well in golf

When you are golfing, sometimes you have to try NOT to get a birdie.  They took their sweet time getting across and ignored us completely.

Savor the Summit - Not

Every year Park City has a giant dinner on Main Street called Savor the Summit.  All the restaurants serve dinner outside and street line Main Street from top to bottom.  We have been going every year, but as it has grown in popularity it has gotten ridiculously expensive. 
Some people are ok with paying that much because the money goes to non-profits.  Except it doesn't.  I am not sure where everyone got that idea, but the money just goes to the restaurants.  This year we decided to head downtown, but to just do a normal dinner out.
We went to Mustang, had a great meal for less than half the Savor the Summit price, and got a lot better service.  We have now decided to celebrate "Screw the Summit" every year.
We did head out and listen to a bit of music on Main Street. Only in Park City does a dog get his own blanket right in front of the stage.
I think we have found our happy new alternative to Savor the Summit.  I hope the event continues to be a great success though.  It is good for Park City and great for the restaurants. 

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Umbria - It's a wrap

 My last, and least serious blog entry about our trip to Umbria.

Along the way you end up taking some interesting or funny shots that really don't fit with anything else.  I still wanted to share them though, so here we go.

First, I offer my collection of cat photos.  They aren't as web-worthy as cute kitten videos, but I like them.

This guy hung out on the patio outside a restaurant and a gelato place.He was pretty rough looking, but seemed to enjoy a lifestyle of lounging in the sun all day.

My favorite, although tough to see.  He is 15-20 feet in the air, sitting on a 1" wide window shutter. Nice balance to stay there.  No telling what he did to get up there. Bad consequences if anything went wrong.
Here in the States we don't see many phone booths any more.  Everyone has a cell phone.  There were some scattered around Italy, and they all looked like they were from 1950.
There were some interesting signs up around the different towns. 

And my personal favorite!
This was a bus stop sign, in an alley.  I know they have small cars in Europe, but I don't think they have teeny, tiny buses.
Someone did a great job modifying the arrow on this sign.
Right next to a famous church in Assissi, there was a store selling little saint statues, and of course, some soccer players as well.  It is the world's most popular sport after all.
Bob and Terry needed to take the train back to Rome.  Pretty simple.  How many people does it take to figure out how to buy the right ticket?  It appears to be "at least eight".
This was the hottest selling item in Rome, the selfie stick.  There were street vendors peddling them on almost every street corner.  I never did bother to ask what they cost, but I am pretty certain my Nikon D750 would not have done well at the end of one.
Get your picture taken with a Gladiator!  Unless they are on their break.
And we end with a series of the cute little cars they drive around Italy.  Here we have a three wheeled car which is noticeably smaller than the Smart Car in front of it.
With Julie, for scale.  I can not imagine anything other than a group of clowns coming out of this.
A micro mini van?
 A stylish convertible.
And the toughest parallel parking job ever.
Our trip to Italy was glorious.  We were blessed with great weather and wonderful friends.  We got to see and do some spectacular things.  Even better with a great hotel and villa and a strong dollar.

Now it is time to start planning our next big adventure.  We are leaning towards Spain and Portugal, but who knows?

Umbria - Back in Rome with Pope Francis

Another blog entry about our trip to Umbria.

The bulk of our group returned to Rome Saturday afternoon and flew back to the States on Sunday morning.  Because of the limited frequent flyer opportunities, Julie and I were flying back Monday, which meant one more day in Rome.  When we had visited the Vatican at the beginning of our trip, we thought it might be nice to come back to St Peters Square and watch the Pope give his weekly blessing. 

It turns out that our timing was incredible.  Instead of a normal blessing, there was a canonization of four nuns into sainthood.  That's a seriously big deal.  These ladies were all born in the 1800s and were just now being recognized at this level. We decided we would try to go see it, but we got conflicting information about whether tickets were required or not.

We got up early and took the subway to the Vatican.  We knew this was going to be a big event when the Sunday 7:30am  subway was full of people getting off at our stop.  By the time we got to the square it was about 8:00am.  This is a big commitment for me.  The service didn't start until 10:00 and I am not Catholic, or even religious for that matter. I knew we would be waiting for two hours.

With a little sweet talk, we got into the section where you were supposed to have tickets and got to sit about 20 rows back.  They were kind enough to be handing out a program, which gave details of the service and the four women who were being canonized.   Interestingly enough, two were from Palestine.  Not where you normally think of your Catholic saints coming from.
Up on the stage were two sets of important people:  church leaders and dignitaries.  Everyone was dressed in their religious and dignitary finest.  I am not sure what his role is, but I really like the guy who gets to wear the gold robe and gold bucket hat.
It was a full mass, given by the Pope.  He's on the left.  I love the Swiss Guards though.  They add a lot of color to the picture.  I hope he has some weapon other than that spear though.
There was a tremendous amount of formal procedure going on, and I could only understand bits and pieces.  However, a group representing each new saint came up and put a lovely bangle on this table.  From a distance,  each item looked to be worth more than the four nuns saw in their entire lifetimes.
Two things of interest.  The most obvious is the great guard pose.  Second is the hatless state of the cardinals.  During the course of the service, they wore beanies, then some ugly hats to protect them from the blazing sun, then nothing and they all still had one more tucked away.
We were wondering how they would handle communion.  Amazingly, 100 or so cardinals, bishops and such worked out into the crowd, each one giving communion to a group the size of a small church.  A lot of the crowd had traveled from far away countries, just for this event.  You could really get a feel for the emotion some people were feeling.
A closer shot of the Pope and his entourage.  He had bible holders, page turners providers of things such as crosses and holy water and a fashion coordinator helping him with his pope hat.
Now it was time for the last hat.  As best I can figure, this was some form of joke.  "Look, we all look just like the Pope!"  I can't imagine where they were all hiding their Pope hats.  Those robes must have some monster big pockets.
We were in row 20.  Sometime after we arrived and got our seats, another 80-100 thousand people showed up.   This would have been a great shot with a drone.
At the end of the service, the Pope hopped into the Popemobile and drove all through the crowds.  This guy is brave.   No protective glass and literally stopping to kiss babies and issue some instant blessings.
He seemed to really be enjoying the crowd surfing.  I hope is other car is a nice convertible.
Like our day in Gubbio, this was an incredible, memorable day that we just happened to luck into.  The only thing I can offer is that when something like this presents itself, don't hesitate!  Do it!

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Umbria - Gubbio

When we went to visit the town of Gubbio, we were there to see the normal church, castle and Roman stuff, but the main highlight was the Iguvine Tablets, a set of 7 bronze tablets from a few centuries BC.  The thing that caught my eye was all the banners on display everywhere, yellow, blue or black.  It turns out this was for a festival being held about a week away, on our last full day in Umbria.  We saw some photos from previous years and it was obvious this was a BIG festival.  I suggested we come back for it, but because of the obvious crowds and uncertainty about the event, there wasn't that much enthusiastic support.
On the day before the festival, I tried to encourage more interest.  We ended up with the ladies going to Perugia, shopping and then getting Ilona to the train station.  Bob and Terry had already left for home in the UK, so that left Bob from Durham, Dick and I.  Without knowing much about the event, we hopped in the car at about 9:00am, hoping we wouldn't be there so early that nothing would be happening.  In hindsight, that thought should never have crossed our minds.

It is hard for me to give a thorough description of the festival, so I will leave the highlights to a paragraph from an Italian tourism site:

Festa dei Ceri

The race takes place every year on May 15th on the eve of the feast of the city’s patron saint, St. Ubaldo. The statues of St. Ubaldo (patron of bricklayers), St. George (patron saint of haberdashers) and St. Anthony the Abbot (patron saint of donkey breeders and peasants) are placed on 3 tall, heavy wooden ceri or pedestals (meant to represent candles). The event consists of a race. Ceraioli (pedestal bearers) carry the ceri on their shoulders and run down the city streets and then up to the basilica of S. Ubaldo on top of Mount Ingino. A charming ritual precedes the race. The spectacular raising (the alzata) of the ceri takes place in Piazza Grande at noon and then the ceri are toured around the piazza 3 times. After being displayed (the mostra) in the city streets, they are placed in Via Savelli until it is time for the race. A procession with the statue of St. Ubaldo takes place in the afternoon and travels to the end of Via Dante, where the bishop blesses the ceri. Then the race starts down the city’s main streets. Once the ceri are back in Piazza Grande, they tour around it 3 more times and end up in front of Porta dell’Angelo (gate) where the ascent up Mount Ingino begins. The ceri are stored in the basilica of Sant’Ubaldo, while the statues of the 3 saints are brought back into the city amidst singing and a torchlight procession. The origins of the feast may date back to propitiatory rituals for the spring, but only its Christian and celebratory nature honouring St. Ubaldo is historically proven in documents.

On our first visit to Gubbio, we saw them working on the Ceri, carefully touching up paint so they were in prime condition.  Notice the big square peg at the bottom.
These are the three frames that allow the people to carry the Ceri. Notice the square hole.  The peg fits down into it and is then locked into place.

When we got back to Gubbio, we had to park a good ways from the town.  To us, that was a good sign.  That meant that things may already be starting and there may be something to see.  Once we walked to town, we realized there were thousands of people, all dressed in the white pants, team colors (yellow, blue and black) and red bandanas. Clearly, the festival was getting cranked up.
Where do we go? For what?  Heck, let's just follow the crowd.
At which point we arrived at the piazza.  Clearly this was the place to be and people were streaming in from everywhere.  It was crowded, but not packed.

People just kept on coming in and the crowd grew closer and closer.  Then the band shows up with some guys on horseback. There wasn't a lot of room for horses and Dick almost had his camera thrust up the horses nose. 
Then another ten thousand or so people show up.  Now the place is FULL.
This guy, who is holding a key to the city, seemed to be the master of ceremonies.  Not sure where they put his horse.
Now it is time to carry the three frames used to carry the Ceri out from the church.
They point the frames up in the air, so eventually they can insert the Ceri's plug.  Standing on the frame seemed to be a position of honor.  That person had the responsibility of leaning back hard to get the Ceri upright.

Notice the little dot in the background.
That was this drone quadcopter taking video.  From the markings, I can tell that it is the same drone I recently purchased.  That would be a great way to capture this event.
Now it is time to bring out the Ceri's.  Much to our dismay, with the Ceri came a few hundred rabid fans of each color.  At this point, things are a bit frenzied.  Nothing is happening slowly.
Then we bring out the three saints, one for the top of each Ceri.
And finally, the three jugs.  These are large, ceramic jugs and I never could figure out their significance.  No worries, they would be in small shards soon.  I didn't get a good photo, but they hand the jugs up to the three guys standing in the frames.  They pour the water out on the surrounding people and then toss the large, heavy jug into the piazza where it hits the ground and shatters.  It is supposed to be good luck to get a chunk.  I think it is good luck not to get hit!  Again, the piazza is jammed with people and everything is happening incredibly quickly.
Now, what we thought was the excitement: the frame leans back to horizontal and there they are, the Ceri!  Congrats!  Now we can go for a beer.
Actually, that was the moment that all hell broke loose.  This is an accidental photo of the last time I ever saw my camera lens hood.  It has since been replaced.
What we didn't realize is that in this jam packed sea of people, they would suddenly clear a path big enough for all three teams of people and their ceris to run three quick laps before leaving.  Even if I had known, I am not sure what I would have done to get good photos or video.  It was more about survival, even at 6'0" and 170 pounds.

Watch this video to get some idea.  Trust me when I say that we were as close to the action as you could be without having a Ceri on your shoulder.
Afterwards, we ran across this sign.  I can't agree more with the part about not bringing children and animals.  I would add short people, small people, the disabled, the meek, the claustrophobic, and a long list of other additions.
Finally, we settled in with the crowd and headed back down the hill for a beer. It took a while for our adrenalin to works its way out of our bloodstream.  The ceri had all wandered off into the town and we were pretty certain we had finished the show.  As we wandered around, we found that the show was continuing.  The three ceri had gone separate directions, but were wandering around the town, an elaborate show and tell.
The idea for the teams is to demonstrate their totting skills by running, spinning, dipping, and whatever else they can come up with.
Every ceri is surrounded by hordes of their supporters, some to take turns carrying, others to watch and applaud..
Running seemed like quite a challenge.  No only do they have a 400 pound weight, but the weight has a tremendous amount of leverage.
In a town with quite a few low utility lines, there is quite a bit of ducking required.  Fortunately I never saw a Saint statue nick a power line.
While the ceri's were being hustled around, everyone else just partied!  It was fun to see that while everyone had a color/team, that didn't seem to get in the way of unified festivities. 
Bob found us a nice lady offering wine and little sandwiches.  He was convinced it was because of his blue shirt.
The rest of my Gubbio photos are all about the people that were watching and participating.

Our visit to Gubbio almost didn't happen.  In hindsight it was definitely one of the clear, memorable highlights of the trip.  It is clearly a very special festival where Gubbbio and the neighboring towns come together to celebrate.  Awesome!