Friday, March 25, 2016

South Gaul Pop Quiz and Further Plans and my excitement about going to Hungary and why it isn't all of Gaul - Carver

No one has stated our Further Plans on the blog for a while. I don't think you had previous notice about us coming to Greece. After Greece we go to Budapest. If you didn't know, Budapest is in Hungary. And it has a river running through it. I learned that once there was one city on each side of the river. One was Buda and the other was Pest. Then the cities came together. After Budapest, we do a house sit in England. Then we go to Berlin. Then we go to Paris for a weekend. Then we go to Istanbul. By the way, Gaul is the area that France is now before it was conquered by Rome...

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! You didn't expect another pop quiz! But it fits so smoothly. And I haven't done a Roman Pop Quiz yet! I purposely didn't put it in the title which already had so many other things that it would have been easy to add this. But I purposely found other things that didn't need to go in the title just to make it long. Of course, I am going to talk about all those things. You must admit that that was clever how I set this up.

Starting now: Roman Questions(4)

1. How many subway lines were there?
2. What was the Latin name for when people were condemned to death by beast?
3. What country is entirely contained in Rome?
4. Was the Colosseum stop on A or B?

Going on: Why I am excited about Hungary and why it isn't all of Gaul.

The latter: This is a simple answer: Because we are going to Paris, that is again in France so it couldn't be all of Gaul because I will need it later.

The former: The major language of Hungary is Hungarian. The major second language of Hungary is German. So, like I have mentioned before, this is why I am excited. That was actually somewhat simple.

Of course, we don't have everything confirmed so we aren't certain of all of our plans. However, we are doing the house sit and we have a flight to Hungary. I don't know if we have other flights.

All right, all that I have left is the South Gaul Pop Quiz. Or something else...

No, not another Pop Quiz. What Pop Quiz haven't I done yet? Other than the South Gaul one, of course. I am excited about αυτό. That means "this" as you may have guessed. I looked that up on Google Translate but I didn't copy and paste it. I got a Greek alphabet on my iPad. Yes, that excites me. Maybe it doesn't matter to anyone else but I care.

As I have learned statistics, we use Greek letters for population parameters and generally corresponding Latin letters for sample statistics so I have seen many Greek letters.

Done with that. Now I will have to face the facts. We were in France for 3 weeks so I need to come up with 8 questions. Those who know might think that I have made a formula for determining how many to write based on how long we spent. Those who don't know me were actually right. There is no formula. Because now it would be hard to make a formula that fits with all the Pop Quizzes I have made before. That counts Lisbon, Seville, Fuseta, Burgos, Rome, Fes, Tangier, Marrakech, Cape Town, and Namibia as separate quizzes. We were only in Vatican City for a couple hours and that isn't long enough to get even 1 question.

No, it just has to follow an approximately upward sloping linear pattern. Now, if I had thought of a formula in Cape Town, then I would calculate one for every place we go.

1. What department were we in?
2. What is the capital of that department?
3. How many horses were there?
4. What was the name of the city on a cliff?
5. How many chickens were there?
6. Which one was my favorite animal?
7. Which river did Domme overlook?
8. What was the name of the cave paintings we went to?


1. Lot
2. Cahors
3. 12
4. Rocamadour
5. 18
6. Chickens
7. Dordogne River
8. Lascaux II

Roman Answers:

1. 4
2. Damnatio Ad Bestias
3. Vatican City
4. Line B

And now I have done all my Pop Quizzes. When we leave Greece, I will do another. I am doing one for every place we go.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Thousand Islands, but Not the Dressing

Today we (meaning my dad, Carver, and I) went for a walk to get out of the house for a while and so we went along the beach. Though you must understand, that it was not the usual shore we walked on, it was dry rocks or sand. There was not a large portion of the beach left, in fact it was much smaller than yesterday. The storm had arrived, but not the kind you would think of; it was a wind storm. Much like when we were on Muizenberg beach, the sand was pelting our legs. Occasionally we would meet a spot where sand was removed from the ground and water was flowing through, because the wind made the waves high, some might think it was high tide!

Before, when walking the beach, we could see a wall built out into water that blocked the waves. Between the wall and the shore were two boats tied down on the sand. Today we found that one of the two boats was tied at the shore and the wall. You are probably curious “boats, who cares.” Well, now these boats were in or very close to being in water. We watched and saw the one tied to each end was rocking as the powerful waves crashed over the walls.

Also while walking we heard that as the waves retreated it pulled the rocks back. If you can, try to imagine the sound as they rolled past the ones firmly planted. The edges of the waves that are usually green, were black. The sea, which some times is ever so flat, was rough with the wind. Today it was like a new sea.

Yesterday Carver and I enjoyed making a paste from crushed rocks at the beach. Today the saved paste was washed away with the waves.

The beach was soon at an end. Ahead we saw stairs. We took them to a new level though still along the beach. It was a new perspective. We saw a cove filled with water to an extent that, I would guess, was unusual. We passed and then rose once more to a rocky level. We walked along and found a high platform where the waves were so strong they were soaking the edges.

Another discovery was a tunnel that was intentionally filled. Soon we headed back. We turned into a church lot on the way home.

We were soon home with storm blown hair.

Lagonisi and the long wanted Spain and Portugal Pop Quiz - Carver

We are in Lagonisi. I just wanted to say that.

Now, I am sorry for not writing the Spain and Portugal Pop Quiz for so long. Especially because you are waiting for the answer to the Tangier Question of Morocco Pop Quiz. Now this isn't much of a Pop Quiz because you know it was coming. If you want, you can call it the Spain and Portugal Quiz. The answer is Tangier Med. You have probably forgotten about the last one and the Tangier Question. The Tangier Question was, what is the farther port in Tangier.

I avoid the issue of having more than one post I am working on. However, because of this, ones with pictures take forever for me to post because I can easily write posts on my iPad but I can't put pictures up on my iPad. So, this post has been sitting as a draft in Blogger for about a week. I am just adding the pictures now.

But now the rest of this Pop(or not) Quiz.

1. How did we get to the city every day?
2. What is the Spanish name for Seville?
3. What was the big castle with a labyrinth called?
The only question: What was the museum about?
The only question: What city was the festival in?
1. What is the Portuguese name for Lisbon?
2. What statue was on the other side of the river?
3. How did we get to Lisbon?

Seville Answers
1. We took the bus or walked.
2. Sevilla
3. El Alcazar
Burgos Answer: Human Evolution.
Fuseta Answer: Moncarapacho
Lisbon Answers
1. Lisboa
2. Christ the King.
3. We took a car.

Here in Greece, we went to a restaurant and there were pitas. The menu was in Greek but then a waiter came to give us one in English. The translation of pita was pie. We didn't know if that meant we were getting what we thought. But they were what we thought which was pitas.

We have a beach close. And it isn't far to an empty island. It is small and, if I can handle the cold water, I will swim there. Here is a picture of the island from the beach.

They are very concerned about security here. We have to turn on and off a security alarm every time we leave and come back. We don't know why but we do it. It is similar to Cape Town.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Trouble with Alpha – Erich

The Greeks, of course, use the Greek Alphabet. Though English is widely spoken and the Latin Alphabet (the one we use) is also frequently seen. And that can lead to the problem of transliteration.

Take for example, alpha. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek Alphabet (as is evidenced by the word “alphabet” a short version of the first two letters in Greek, alpha and beta.) Now in Greek, if one were writing out the word “alpha” one would write αλφα or in capital letters ΑΛΦΑ.

That third letter, φ or Φ is what we call “phi”. So when you transliterate Greek words that have a phi in them, which sounds like an f, do you use “ph” or do you use “f”? The answer is, it isn't so simple.

Here is a logo from Alfa foods, a brand you see in the grocery store that makes frozen and canned goods. They have chosen to transliterate with the “f”. But one of the big financial institutions one sees around Athens is Alpha Bank. Here is their logo. As you can see, they went with the “ph”.

Sometimes, the trouble isn't the word or the pronunciation, just how does it transliterate from one place to another?

That brings me to a more serious topic than the alphabet: health care. (If you prefer to make that one word, healthcare, please go right ahead. At my last job at PA College of Health Sciences we had brand standards, because how can you possibly teach algebra without them, right? And one of our brand standards specified that health care had to be two words. Except for the exceptions, but we won't get into those.)

Carver was not seeing as well. It was time to look into a new prescription for his glasses. So we went to an ophthalmologist. (There is another example of choosing the “ph” as here the ophthalmologist is called the οφθαλμιατρος.)

As we all know in this season of presidential politics, the European Union has an extensive system of health care in which every citizen is covered. We are not citizens of any EU nation, and so we had to pay full price. And that was thirty euros. Or about thirty-three dollars.

That was a trip to the doctor, drops to dilate the pupils, all the tests, and a prescription written for thirty-three dollars. It would have cost me a lot more in the U.S.A.

Alrica has to have periodic scans as a follow up to the cancer that was removed in July. In South Africa, she had two x-rays and that cost $90. In France, she had to have an x-ray and a CT scan, which is much more expensive. Plus, France is one of the pricier European nations. And that cost us about $220. This would have been well over a thousand, maybe two-thousand, in the states.

This is how it relates to the alpha problem. Saying we should have a system of national healthcare (throwing branding standards to the wind) similar to that in the European Union is a great idea. I believe it is something that a society should provide to keep that society strong. But I don't think that we can just transliterate the EU system into our own country. Why? Because our costs are out of control.

The first thing we have to do is figure out why every procedure costs more in the US than anywhere else in the world. Not just a little bit more. We're talking an order of magnitude more in some cases. Who is getting all of this money?

Once we find the source of the price gouging, then we need to make changes that allow our prices to become realistic. If Alrica can get a CT scan and x-ray in France for $220, it's the same equipment in the USA. The doctors require the same amount of training. There must be a way to get the costs of healthcare down to levels comparable to other countries. That is something that all parties, whether they like national healthcare or call it “socialism” must do.

After costs have been reined in, then we can more seriously discuss how to insure our population. Let's do this now. Let's make this part of the national conversation.

It's time for the United States to find a way to have affordable care that is still at the alpha level. Or alfa level. Either would be fine with me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sorting Shoes – Erich

I love shoes. That may sound weird in several ways. I mean, who really cares one way or the other about shoes? Especially when you are a man who writes and performs in sock puppet shows. You would think that you would only have room in your heart for one type of footwear.

So let me explain. I prefer to wear shoes, pretty much all day. I like to wear my shoes in the house, in the yard, and certainly when going out. You see I have flat feet. Not just any flat feet, I have exceptionally flat feet. My arches are nearly non-existent. So walking around without shoes for too long means I have really sore feet. Hence, my vast appreciation for shoes. At least for my shoes. On my feet.

But today I got a chance to admire shoes, many, many shoes, in another light. And while it has left my feeling for shoes unchanged, it has opened my eyes to what the shoes represent.

We are in Greece, staying outside of Athens. As many people know, Greece has accepted more Syrian refugees than any other nation in Europe. At first, the refugees came to Greece, passed through, and continued on to other nations that announced that they would accept them. But one by one, those other nations have closed their borders. And still, thousands of people arrive in Greece.

Greece has not shut them out. I imagine it would be difficult to do even if they wanted to, with so much coastline. But Greece doesn't even want to shut them out. The Greek people feel it is right to help them. Good for you, Greece.

What does this have to do with shoes, Erich? I'm getting there.

There are many shelters in Greece housing the Syrian refugees. Some are near the borders with other nations. Some are near Athens. One is at an old Olympic football stadium. And next to that is an old Olympic basketball stadium. And that's where I sorted shoes.

This basketball stadium has become a drop off point for donations to help the refugees. And again, to praise the Greeks, they wholeheartedly are trying to help. Boxes and bags of clothing and other goods are dropped off everyday. What's more, entire truckloads from other nations arrive at this stadium and get unloaded and left.

But there is almost no one there to handle all these goods coming in. And so, they depend on volunteers. They need people, no experience necessary, to come and help with the sorting of items, boxing them up, and even just discovering what is in some of the boxes.

Today, our family headed to that stadium. Alrica sorted scarves and socks and t-shirts. But Carver and I (and later Syarra too) headed to the back of the stadium and sorted shoes.

There are piles and piles of donated shoes. Some of them, but very few, are in terrible condition and must just be thrown away. But most are in fine condition to be given to refugees. However, they are in a jumble. One has to pick through the shoes, find their pairs, and then sort them and box them up.

We sorted shoes by size (the European sizes) and by men's shoes vs. women's shoes. When a box of a particular size and gender was full, it had to be taped up, labeled, and stacked. And then a new box went into that place and the fun began again.

You can't effectively distribute items if you can't find the right size of the right item at the right time. And that is what they need help in doing. Sorting items so that they can be given out.

It was a good day. We were happy to help and the staff and volunteers who have been there for weeks now were lovely to us.

If anyone wants to help the Syrian refugees in Greece, don't send more clothing or toiletries. The best donations are food or money. If you are in Greece and have time to give, that too is desperately needed. And you don't need to come in with any skills. Even if you couldn't read numbers, you could still help to find the pairs among the shoes.

I hope that the work we did today will help some people in the shelters in Greece. Because if I were in their situation, if I were facing desperation and stuck in what seemed like a dead end for I don't know how long, I would be stressed, miserable, and at times, angry. But I know one thing. I would feel even worse without a good pair of shoes.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Fallen Empire – Erich

Rome is a dichotomy, or maybe a trichotomy, if such a word existed. But it probably doesn't, so let's stick to dichotomy. Rome has two faces: the modern city entrenched in Catholic iconography, and the ancient city that has fallen into ruin, but lies beneath the surface in so many places. And then, at other points, that ancient city breaks through to the surface.
Half a building still left standing
We enjoyed a day of visiting ancient Rome. No, we didn't time travel. We visited it as it is today, which is to say, fallen.
My family in modern day ancient Rome
No one building stands out more as a symbol of ancient Rome than the Colosseum. There are many amazing things about that place, but perhaps most of all is that it is almost exactly like any modern stadium, but this one was built in 80 CE.
The seating and floor of the Colosseum
The Colosseum could seat over 50,000 people. It was free for Romans to come and watch the games. They lasted all day. There were hunts in the morning, where sets were built to look like the native terrain of game animals. Then those animals were placed in the sets and hunters came and stalked them and killed them.

At lunch time, one got to enjoy executions, especially the damnation by beast. Here, the condemned were sent to the Colosseum floor naked and unarmed. Wild animals were brought up by a lift, which I will mention more later, and then the crowd would watch the condemned get torn apart and eaten.
Two arches of the Colosseum, one rough and ruined, the other still smoothly veneered
The gladiatorial combat took place in the afternoon. Most gladiators were slaves that were trained to fight. A few, but very few, were free men who came to gain glory or money. The fights were to the almost death, and then the Emperor got to decide, by means of thumbs up or thumbs down, if the loser of the battle lived or died.

The crowds brought food along to eat, but there were vendors selling edibles as well. Some people even brought portable ceramic ovens. Sounds a lot like today. I wonder if they tailgated.
View of the underground section of the Colosseum
The floor on which the battles took place was made of wood, so it naturally did not survive until today. But under it you can see the remains of the underground section, the basement. Here the slaves, the condemned, and the animals were brought into the Colosseum. They could be lifted to the surface in lifts that were pulled by pulleys. There were eight lifts that could be used, some for people, some for animals. It required about 28 men to raise a full lift, just one of them. There were 224 slaves engaged in moving the lifts under the Colosseum. (That's 25 × 7 as a prime factorization, but more to the issue at hand, it is 28 × 8).
Arch of Constantine
Of course, the Colosseum is only one relic of ancient Rome that remains on the left bank of the Tiber River. Another feature is the Roman Forum.
Wall in the Forum
This area has the ruins of many buildings, triumphal arches, governmental buildings, places where business was conducted.
The forum
More of the Forum
Here in the Area sacra dell'Argentina, there are the remains of four temples. You can still see the steps that led up to each. These temples were built between the 4th Century and 1st Century BCE.
Area sacra dell'Argentina
One temple that has survived, at least structurally, is the Pantheon. To the ancient Romans this was a temple to all of the gods.
The Pantheon
I say it has survived structurally, but not entirely, because when you step inside you will see that any of the Roman iconography has been removed. Not a trace of it. It has all been replaced with Catholic statuary, paintings, carvings, and other art. Inside, this is clearly a Catholic church, though its architecture makes another claim.
A street side ruin
In Rome, you can be walking down the road, and there are ruins just up against a modern building. It's like, hey honey, I found a Roman ruin in the yard. Call the archaeologists!
The ruins next door
And that's part of the dichotomy. The people of this modern city have an ancient one all around, possibly even under their own feet. And yet, they go about their daily lives like people in any city. They ignore the fact that where they live was once the capital of a sprawling empire, because, well, it doesn't much matter in day to day life.

And I imagine, if I lived everyday in Rome, that eventually I would have to forget about the ancient city while I was at work or at home. But still, when I was walking down the street and saw a column or arch, it would all come back to me.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Fountains of Beauty and Overflowing Oddity – Erich

Has anyone heard that what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas? Well, in some matters, we need to hope that what happens in Rome stays in Rome. Because some unusual things do happen here, and we most likely don't want to replicate them everywhere.

However, there are other things that are gorgeous and wouldn't it be nice if we could all have such nice things in our towns?

Let's start with something graceful, beautiful, and amazing: The Trevi Fountain or in Italian Fontana di Trevi.
Full frontal view
The name refers to where it was built, at the junction of three roads. Tre vie. Three roads. Clever, yes? And just a bit of trivia for you, the word “trivia” also derives from Latin for three roads.

In ancient Roman times, this was one of the end points of the aqueducts that supplied Rome with its water. But the sculpture that is there now is a bit more recent than that. Actually, a lot more recent.

The architect is Nicola Salvi (who came in second place in the contest to design the fountain. But the guy who won, Alessandro Galilei was from Florence, and the people of Rome were so upset that a Florentine won that Pope Clement XII gave the job to the guy from Rome, Salvi.) They started building it in 1732, but it wasn't finished until 1762 (and Salvi was already dead by then.)

The central figure is Oceanus (he's the god of water).
Behold my mighty waters!
He is flanked by Abundance on his left and Salubrity on his right.

But even more impressive are his steeds. Oceanus is on a shell chariot being pulled by two hippocampi. A hippocampus is a mythical creature that is the front half of a horse and the back half of a big fish. These hippocampi are even more mythic, because they have wings too!

The hippocampi are being controlled or at least being attempted to be controlled by two tritons. Tritons are like mermen. Mermen are male forms of mermaids. Mermaids are, well, I hope you know what mermaids are.

It's a beautiful Baroque work of art. We enjoyed it, and we weren't the only ones. Check out the crowd admiring the fountain.
Who watches the watchers who watch the waters?
We watched several people throwing coins into the water. Most people have their back to the water and throw the coin over their shoulder. I'm not sure why. But we read that an average of 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day. The city collects the money and uses the proceeds to help feed the hungry in Rome. It is also patrolled by police, both to control crowds and to keep people from stealing coins back out of the fountain.

Want some more trivia? Let's say you are Nicola Salvi, you have big plans, you are starting to build and some barber won't move a sign. Yes, when Salvi was constructing the fountain, there was a barbershop at one side. And the barber would not remove his (in Salvi's opinion, unsightly) sign. So what do you do?

Well, if you're Salvi, you add one new element that may not thematically relate to the rest of the sculpture, but hey, it blocks that ugly sign! He created the asso di coppe or the ace of cups. It just sticks out on the side. Nowadays, there is no barbershop sign being blocked, but the cup is still there.

Let's move on to some of the odder elements we discovered. Maybe all that talk of a gigantic fountain stimulates your bladder. You may have to use the toilet, but probably not as much as these two. It's a sign we saw in a restaurant.
It's a kind of dance
How do jewelry shops in Rome convince people to come in and view their wares? Well, how about a giant sparkling skull? Because sometimes even your skeleton needs some bling.
I even make decomposition look good
Here is a detail from a fountain in the Piazza della Rotonda:
Is it about to spit out water, acid, or hell fire?
I guess it's a demon or a troll kind of thing. But even scarier than him are his two companions. Fish bodies, ducklike faces, but with teeth! I think they are supposed to be dolphins. But they aren't the friendly, let's go swimming with these playful guys, kinds of dolphins I'm used to. I guess they made dolphins a lot scarier in the old days.

Back to trivialities, in some of my previous posts, I have considered cans of soda. As you may recall, in South Africa you get a can of Coke with 330 mL in it. In Morocco, however, you get a can of Coke with 33 cL in it. Yes, they are the same amount, and the two cans, though labeled differently, are essentially the same.

But here in Italy, while you do get a can of Coke with 330 mL in it, it isn't at all the same proportions as those in South Africa or Morocco. It is taller and narrower. Why is this? I don't know, but I tweeted Coca-Cola with my question. I will have to post an update when they answer.
A tall tale about a tall can
You know how we all hate junk mail and spam? Well, some companies in Rome have taken that idea even further. If you have a business with big open doors or windows at ground level, you might have shutters or overhead rolltop doors to protect your business. And those are going to need replacement someday, right? Well, shutter companies want to make sure you have their number handy when that day arrives. So they just plaster the rolltop door or the sides of the window with their stickers to make sure you know their services are available. What if one of that company's stickers already there? No problem, just put another. It never hurts to advertise twice. Or three times. Or ten times.
When shutters make you shudder
Happily we are not driving in Rome. Not because the roads are so crazy. Certainly they are far more tame than in Morocco. Not even because of the challenge of getting petrol, which is surprisingly different here. There's no room for entire service stations. So instead, the petrol stations are just along the side of the road. A couple of parking spots eliminated, and two pumps. You pull up, pay, pump, and go. (I'm not sure what you do if your gas tank is on the driver's side of the car, though. I guess stand in traffic and stretch the hose over your car.)
Gas and Go! (Or Petrol and Pwoosh)
But the major issue here is parking. It is apparent that there is not enough of it. And what makes it so apparent? Oh, the creative (and most likely illegal and contributing to the downfall of society) ways that Romans find to park.

Here are a few I noticed.

Bus Lane Parking: Sure, it says it's reserved for the bus, but they don't really mean that, right? Look at this huge amount of space! I have to park here.
Oh, that's why so much space was available.
Motorcycles on the sidewalk: See these little marks on the sidewalk?
Mystery marks
Well, I found out what makes them.
Mystery solved and without even getting Scooby-Doo's help
Beyond Compact Cars Only: If you get a super duper small car, you can fit where no man has gone before. You might have to be perpendicular in a parallel parking zone, but hey, you fit!
"Parallel" parking is so last century
Double Parking: Now, double parking is nothing new, right? Well, what about a driver deciding to park in the yellow stripes that indicate a no parking zone. And the second guy thinks this was so clever, he decides to block him in by double parking.
Two can play at that game
Double Parking 2.0: If that's not enough, what if we double park at the corner, in the lane that should be used for turns!
Just don't need to make a left turn and we'll all be fine, okay?
I guess the moral of the story is this. When in Rome, you may do as the Romans do. But don't do it elsewhere.

Small, smaller, smallest – Syarra

Now we have been to five countries in Europe, on this trip.
  • France, which is 643,801 km squared.
  • Spain, which is 505,992 km squared.
  • Italy, that is 301,318 km squared.
  • Portugal, being 91,568 km squared.
  • Vatican City which is 0.44 km squared.
France which is not real small, is very small compared to the U.S.A, so that is the “small.”
Italy is almost half the size of France. That is the “smaller.”
And then you might know that the Vatican is the smallest country in the world! That is the “smallest.”
Like Carver's last blogpost, this must be distinctly understood or no good can come from this title.
Now we shall move back in time. To this morning.

Four people were taking a walk around 8:45. They crossed the street and soon were walking past a line that was so long it turned the corner of the vast Vatican wall beside them. They continued on past. They were now inside a metal gate herding them to the inside of a building. Once inside they walked towards a security booth and, with tickets, they passed through.

Continuing, they stopped once more at a booth, but this one was like the kind at a airport for security. They went straight to an escalator where they separated. One of them got on, the other three went up a long spiral ramp, in which models of boats were in separate showcases. When they all met at the top, they followed the sign towards “Sistine Chapel.” Oh, so much! It was as if all the statues in the world were either there on display or in a closet in that building. The mix of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Christian beliefs were displayed in many different ways.

 With gold in every corner it makes you wonder how hard it was to build and paint this massive structure. Even the stairs were pretty.

Getting tired they reached “The Sistine Chapel.” Once inside this packed room they talked of stories and artists. Soon they followed the loop back and were outside quickly.

We had mixed feelings about this visit to the Vatican. It felt like they bought so many artifacts that they could not place them all on display. Though I enjoyed this visit in many ways there were some disappointing parts.

Granadilla is the same as Passion Fruit - Carver

Granadilla is the same as Passion Fruit. There is no doubt about it. They are as similar as Bird Meat and Poultry. This must be distinctly understood or no good can come of this blog post.

I'm sure you know where I got that from. At my grandparents’ house in Texas where they have lots of land, there is a garden. And there I tried passion fruit. It grows out of control and wasn't ripe when I tried it. But I liked it. It was small and green. And I figured that the small green fruit was what passion fruit looks like.

In Windhoek, I ate a granadilla. I ate many. They were big and purple. We were at the Hilton in Windhoek and they had many granadilla halves. And I loved them. I ate so many. And when everyone else was done, they asked if I wanted to stay there and eat more. But I figured I would get them later. So I went. At this time, I didn't know they were the same. They were called different things. And they looked completely different because the ones at the hotel were not unripe. At the store we got two but granadillas are very expensive. And they aren't even as big as an apple. They are probably a small orange in size. So, I was sad that I wouldn't get more granadilllas.

In either Morocco or Portugal, I began to figure it out. We went to a grocery store. And there were passion fruit flavored things. But it showed a picture of a granadilla. So now I am certain that they are the same.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

From Poop to Pope with Polylingual Puns – Erich

Today we made quite a transition. As you may know if you have been keeping up with the blog, we spent the last three weeks on a horse farm in Lot, France. We loved it. But our time drew to its end. So we had to say a sad goodbye to the twelve horses, two dogs, two cats, and eighteen chickens. (And you Scarecrow, I'll miss you most of all.)

We'll also miss our wonderful hosts. Yes, for two of those weeks we were on our own while they were on holiday. But they were so generous to us during the times we were together. They are an exceptional family and we are glad to have made such incredible new friends.

As just one more example of their generosity, today, we were driven over two hours to Toulouse so we could catch a plane to Rome. And let me say, if you want to get far removed from the rural life of a farm in a big hurry, just travel to a metropolis like Rome.

It reminds me of New York City in many ways. As we were descending to the Metro, I felt practically at home. It was like descending into the Times Square subway station, but a light version. They only have two metro lines (A and B, which makes a good deal more sense than the alphabet soup of New York. Actually, here's an idea! What if NYC replaced the letters and numbers that demarcate the various subway lines with emojis? Brilliant, right?)

And in true metropolitan fashion, I got super super overcharged for a meal here. Wow! I'm so not in Kansas (or more to the point, Lot) anymore, Toto.

But we are looking forward to exploring this amazing city come the morning. And maybe, dare to dream, it won't be raining. (We've been in Europe for over a month now, and it has rained all but about five days. I'm sure it hasn't rained over all of Europe that entire time. But it seems to do so wherever we are.)

As we were coming into the city proper by bus from the airport, Syarra noticed a restaurant called “Eat-aly.” Kind of clever, but it only works if you are an English speaker. So this is sort of a polylinguistic pun. To the Italians, (though many of them probably know enough English to get it), it's just a ridiculous name. To those from the UK or US, it's a pun. (It's not a very good one though.)

But we noticed a better pun in France. But this one only makes sense to English speakers in translations, and I wonder if it was intentional. I suspect not.

When you go from one departement to another in France, much like when you travel from one state to another in the U.S., you see a sign welcoming you to that new departement. Well, when you are entering Lot, the sign says “Tres Nature. Tres Patrimoine. Tres Lot.” Now “Tres” means “Much”. But if you translate it another way you get: A lot of nature. A lot of heritage. A lot of Lot.

I found that very funny. But I wonder if any of the French find it even remotely funny. Why should they? They aren't looking at it and thinking “What could this mean in another tongue?”

But maybe we will see more of that as we explore Rome with our Vati-can-do attitude. And if you didn't enjoy that pun, maybe this blog isn't the right Forum for me. (Yeah, that one wasn't funny. Sorry.)

Friday, March 4, 2016

UCH - Carver

Yes, the title of this post is UCH. But I assure you, it is not a misspelling of the word such or much. It is Ultimate Chicken Handler. Which I am. It started one day when I was bringing our chicken (Boneless, skinless, chicken breast I think. Certainly not a live chicken.) from the guest house to the main house. We generally cook in the main house. And I was carrying chicken bullion. And I do the chickens. So I decided I was the Ultimate Chicken Handler.

But I do the horses and I have a basic map of the place. Can you guess who drew it?

Pencil marks are ropes keeping the horses in. Pen marks are buildings. Two pencil dots are places where ropes can be opened. Two pen dots are doors. Broken line is a rope that get puts up at night and taken down in the morning.

And the chickens are loud and sometimes come outside our door to squawk at us. And this is why they are my favorite animal. Not just on this farm. (Don't get any ideas about whether or not I am loud.)

But anyway, the animals have been covered. The dogs’ other plans include going out in the evening. We let them out because they pee outside. But then one of them, Lincoln, never comes back in. So in the middle of the night, we wake up to Lincoln scratching at our door. Well, only my Dad has so far. As he has to go put them back inside.

Now what I have realized is that I have not yet done a Morocco Pop Quiz. And it should be smaller than the South Africa and Namibia one because we spent less time there. So there will be 7 Marrakech questions, a Fes question, and a Tangier question.


1. What is the other way to spell Marrakech?
2. What was the big grocery store we went to?
3. What part of the suburbs were we in? There are two acceptable answers.
4. What was the part inside the walls called(this is the easiest one)?
5. What was the main square with the orange juice sellers called?
6. What was printed on the train tracks we had to cross over if we walked(actually covered in the 100th blog post)?
7. Where did we fly in to

My one Fes question: What was the place we stayed at called?

My one Tangier question: What was the farther away port called?

Marrakech Answers

1. Marrakesh
2. Carrefour
3. Either Targa or Lala Hiya
4. Medina
5. Jemaa el Fnaa
6. The train company’s name(ONCF)
7. Casablanca

Fes Answer: Riad Mikou

The answer to my Tangier question will come in the next of my blog posts, Spain and Portugal Pop Quiz.

Yes, I am very behind on my pop quizzes.

I wrote this a while ago and never got to finishing the map. So, this is fairly old. I just gave away who made the map.

Now That's a Castle! – Erich

The other day we visited the Chateau de Castelnaud. This immense castle has been around in some form for 900 years or so. But different pieces of it were built at different times.
The Chateau de Castelnaud
Looking out from the ramparts, you can see why this was such a strategic position. You can see the river and valley below for miles.
No sneaking up on this castle
In the Hundred Years War, the castle changed hands between the French and the English six times. Not all of those times involved battles. Sometimes a siege was enough (accompanied by a bribe, of course) to convince the current occupant to give up the castle for the other side.

But when a battle was involved, we saw a ton of the implements used in said battle. Because the Chateau de Castelnaud has huge displays of medieval weapons, siege weapons, armor, and implements of the time.

At heart, I suppose, I am still just a pre-teen boy who revels in the joy of looking at weapons and armor. For that boy inside, this was a treat.

For armor, the displays began with simple chain mail shirts or chain mail helms.
For the fashion conscious battle weary soldier
But you could see plate mail as well. Even a knight in plate mail on a horse covered in barding. (Barding is the name for the armor plates that a horse wears.)
Look ma! I'm shiny!
In the line of personal weaponry, well, you can always start with the classics: swords and daggers. We learned about the hilt and pommel, and how important the pommel is. It keeps your hand from slipping off the end, and it is there to counterbalance the weight of the blade.
It's kind of a double edged sword. Not just kind of.
But if something more exotic is your interest, what about flails, morning stars, or battle axes? How about all three?
I do not want to get hit by any of these!
Perhaps you are more of a war hammer type. Did you realize that these don't look anything like Thor's Mjolnir, but much more like really big versions of ball-peen hammers? I didn't.
Hey guys, after the battle, let's go drive some rivets
Have to face the cavalry? No problem. You just need a staff weapon or a pole arm. These allow you to keep your distance from the nasty charging knight while still dealing maximum damage.
I wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole. Unless it had something sharp at the end.
Check out the many varied ends on these pole arms. They could be used for all sorts of things. And we learned that the inspiration for many of the shapes of the heads of the pole arms came from the agricultural implements used in those days.
From the fields of wheat to the fields of battle
And finally, what kind of defense could a castle put up without the trusty crossbow? Of course, the challenge with a crossbow is drawing back the string. In early forms, men just had to pull. But then they invented the stirrup crossbow. You put your foot in the stirrup and use the leverage of your whole body to pull it back. But when even that isn't fast and easy enough, here comes another improvement in crossbow technology: the crank! Not just for fishing anymore! You can use it to draw back your bowstring.
Ready, aim, wait, wait, pull back the string, then aim.
But personal weapons are only the beginning of a battle at a castle. What you really need are siege weapons and defense from those nasty crossbowmen on the castle walls shooting down at you.

Well, you could certainly use the monteau. This handy device lets you approach the castle with a huge wooden shield in front of you. And it has holes in it for you to shoot your own bows through.
A rolling wall. Genius!
But even better is to stay far away from the castle and blast them with varied catapults. Unfortunately for the besieger, the besiegee may also have defensive catapults on his walls. We saw a giant crossbow that was capable of launching a bolt which could go through three men, a horse, and still have enough thrust to lodge itself in a door. That's what it said! What a selling point. Because most people besieging castles bring along their own doors.

But the ultimate in siege weapon technology was the trebuchet. First, engineers invented the mangonel, much like the trebuchet. But the mangonel had a fixed counterweight. The trebuchet has a hinged counterweight. Why is that better? You still get all the launching power of the mangonel, but it is much easier (though still not easy) to lift the counterweight and reset the arm of the trebuchet for another shot. This brought the firing rate from about one per hour to two per hour. Huge improvement!
Knock, knock. Who's there?
The trebuchet was so effective in breaking open castle walls that it continued to be used for another 150 to 200 years after the cannon was invented.

Yes, after we learned so much about these weapons and armor, the kids were ready to sign up for the service! A new swordsman and knight in the making.
Brave knights

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Day Away - Syarra

Early one day there had been four people having a discussion. Then the discussion ceased, it had been about where to go, the decision was that we were going to explore the direction that had only briefly been touched. So we got into the hybrid, which is one of the two we were left with, and drove down the terribly small and windy road.

Driving we saw a yard for old bikes.
Sign says: Silence, Hospital for Old Bikes
And a covered horse trough!
There is more than one of these
We saw amazing sights!
This is how they made the roof in medieval times
Soon thereafter I found out we were heading towards a castle. 
It was a castle that had a mini golf course. It had a swimming pool, and inside Josephine Baker had adopted children from around the world, and left them to grow up with servants. Unfortunately the
Château des Milandes was closed for the winter.
Les Milandes had a lot of work done on it

So we followed a loop towards home but stopped at Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle this amazing castle was used as a base in the 100 year war, including switching hands between the French and British. I think it was like 6 times! We had soon decided to come a different day so we could have more time to explore the castle. So we headed back and soon we were home.
This is the amazing base that was used so much in the Hundred Years War
That was great exploration!