My wife and I got back a little over a week ago from a nearly three-week vacation through Europe, covering both the South and the North. We took a lot of photos, but sadly I don’t have any of them online, and I wanted to get this post out relatively quickly, so you’ll have to paint pictures in your head using my words (or, you know, do a Google Images search).
The first part of the trip was a week-long yacht trip in Italy, starting in Rome, that’s not quite as luxurious as the word “yacht” might imply but was still pretty cool. It was all pre-arranged, with five passengers on board (the two of us, and friends of ours), two crew and one captain; though some passengers got involved in manning the boat by the end (not me; I was mostly content with sleeping on the deck, punctuated by watching the waves). We ate well on that trip - a lot of really good pasta, and all manner of cheese, and some nice pizza. Being a vegetarian, I missed out on all the interesting meats, like sopressata and wild boar, but you can’t really get enough fresh pasta, I say.
Our boat stopped a few times for swimming breaks in the Mediterranean Sea, which was great for me because I never quite got my “sea legs”, so being out in the actual water was a bit of a relief every time. Our ship had a tendency to attract swarms of jellyfish, or maybe they’re just everywhere in the ocean. I got stung by one, which didn’t hurt any worse than, say, a mosquito bite, but then somehow after that I got a reputation among the people on the boat for being fearless about swimming near them. What can I say; I didn’t see them as a threat - like me, they were in Italy in search of a good meal.
The Italy trip started and ended in Rome, and we got to see a lot of small towns and islands around there that I otherwise probably never would have seen. Mostly we were in places around Tuscany: Siena, Isola del Giglio, Massa Marittima, and some other even smaller towns whose names I can’t remember. We also saw the island of Elba, which I assumed would be desolate because that’s where Napoleon was banished to (for just a year, it turns out), but evidently there’s been some progress in the last 200 years, because it’s now a very touristy resort town, looking like Cannes or Acapulco or some such. I don’t know what it takes to get banished to Elba these days, but it’s worth looking into.
Then it was on to a few days in Madrid, where we stayed at the Room Mate Mario hotel, probably the “chillest” hotel I’ve ever stayed at: bossa nova soundtrack in the lobby, bright plastic decorations in the rooms. I’d stay there again any time.
We saw a flamenco show at the Cardamomo, which I guess has become popular among Americans since getting written about last year in the New York Times. As the NYT noted, it’s “unadorned flamenco” - no ruffles, no hats, just good music and tortured expressions. I thought it was great. We also drove around the city via the Go Cars, which are basically a motorized scooter that shouts out descriptions of the places you’re passing by, and directions to the next stop (it uses GPS to know where you are). Pretty neat, although it took a little while to get used to being pointed at by the locals. And Spanish food, even for a vegetarian, is great - it’s a country with a deep respect for the fried potato and the olive, two foods I really like.
The Netherlands capped off the trip. It may be just me, but two weeks of traveling as a tourist is about the maximum for me before I start to feel a little restless, after having moved along from place to place in search of food and entertainment. But the Netherlands provided a clean break from that, since there was some actual work to be done. First there were three days in the charming college town of Wageningen (the Dutch ‘g’ is pronounced like a guttural ‘ch’, as I found out), where I helped out some people at KeyGene with their Semantic MediaWiki installation. I had known for a while that Semantic MediaWiki has found a nice niche for itself in the biological sciences, which experience a relentless flow of new data, new terminology, new interconnections, all of which semantic wikis are well-suited for; but it was great to finally see, in detail, how that was applied to a very specific usage: in this case, genomics research on different plants. It was really eye-opening and felt great to see; like visiting the British Royal Astronomical Society in the 1700s while they were discovering various stars and planets.
Then it was on to Amsterdam, where we stayed with an old friend of mine from New York who had helpfully moved to Amsterdam about four years ago. There I attended the Semantic MediaWiki Conference (SMWCon), which I plan to write a separate post about, on the WikiWorks blog. We also sampled some of the Amsterdam local culture, both with my friend and with some of the Semantic MediaWiki people, which was great - Amsterdam’s just a cool place to hang out in, undeniably.
And after almost three weeks, we ended up back in New York, tired yet refreshed, and me with about 80 items on my to-do list. Well, now I can check off one more.