Goals

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on this blog.

I feel aimless. After three years of focus on my computer science degree and software development I now have the degree and a good software development job. The problem is that I now have a lot more time than I ever did while in school. I actually have evenings and weekends free to do whatever I want. It’s crazy.

While I definitely needed some time to de-compress after three crazy years, I am beginning to feel adrift. I need some goals.

On this blog in the past I’ve set goals in a very structured way. This is great for actually achieving them but I don’t feel like I am at that point yet. For now this is just a public brain dump of some of the things I want to accomplish with the hopes that putting it out there will push me to actually work towards them.

So in no particular order here are some things I want to accomplish in the next year and a half.

Health and Fitness

  • Find a regular GP
    •  It’s been probably 15 years since I last had a regular doctor to talk to. I mostly stayed away from the healthcare system (very bad idea) but that is increasingly difficult. Walk-in clinics have been uniformly terrible experiences so far.
  • Intense workouts 5 days a week (lifting, running, swimming etc.)
  • Physical activity every day of the week though
  • A comprehensive plan to deal with injuries that always come up when I try to get fit.
    • Use the fact that I am privileged enough to have extended health that can get physiotherapy etc.
  • Respond proactively to pain/soreness
  • Learn to run
    • Run a 10k
    • Run a half-marathon
    • Remember that you hate running but feel good that you persevered through that
    • Maybe run a marathon depending on how much you remember that you hate running

Life

  • – Get outside for many hours every weekend
    • I still don’t know how bad Toronto winters get so this may be put on hold at some point
  • Do social things
    • Don’t have friends because you just moved to a new city? Too bad, go be social and make friends. Apparently that’s a thing people do
  • Go places
    • Virtually everywhere in southern Ontario, Quebec, and northeastern U.S. is new to you and none of it is that far away.
    • Backpack, camp, hostel or whatever to be able to travel frequently
  • Put experiences above things
  • Cook new and tasty things
  • Do things by hand that few people do anymore because it’s soo easy to buy the grocery store version of it
    • Not always, but some times

Learning

  • Read lots of books
    • Try to read at least 45 minutes every night before bed
    • Read WHATEVER
    • Read things you disagree with
    • Read things from people who have had a very different life to your own
  • Learn french
  • Continue using duolingo to build up vocabulary
  • Later
    • read in french
    • watch tvs/movies in french
    • find people to speak with in french
  • (re-)learn the guitar
    • Find some cheap used acoustic guitar
    • LEARN THE BASICS FIRST

Get involved

  • Listen to people and help
    • The last thing the world needs is another cis-gendered straight white male defining the important problems and solutions
  • Get involved in politics
    • Yes it sucks and you hate it but its important
    •  Soo few people do anything other than vote (and many don’t even do that) so doing almost anything else can give you surprising influence
    • But remember that others have it far worse off and to use my effort to make it things better for other people

*** note ***
I’m extremely fortunate that I can even think about doing all of these things beyond simply putting a roof over my head and eating. NEVER forget that and remember to get involved to bring more people to my situation rather than to just make my situation better.

Berlin Day Two

Best free breakfast so far. Pretty big selection of bread, cheese, and deli meat along with cereals and such. I woke up fairly early so I could have quite some time to explore Berlin.

I started by taking the metro to the train station. It is pretty close to the core city (and actually has quite a nice view of the city from the top floor) and I needed to reserve seats for my last two eurail train adventures. Booking a seat to Amsterdam was easy, but as soon as France is involved, everything sucks. If France makes up a sizable chunk of your trip, do not get a eurail pass. Anyways, I could not get a train from Amsterdam to Paris on the 6th so now I am going on the 7th. Which means that I have one night and a morning to see Paris. At least the Eiffel Tower is supposedly nice to look at lit up at night…

I started at the Reichstag. A beautiful mixture of the old and the new. After World War II the building was mostly destroyed by allied bombings. As was nearly everything Berlin. It’s difficult to imagine the horror of living with the constant threat of a bomb exploding next to you. My Grandparents lived through it, although across the channel in London. It’s sort of sickening to think of the people of those two cities being used as tools to beat the other power into submission. Indiscriminate bombing was used to break the will of the general population, not to target military installations.

The Reichstag was largely rebuilt based on the original design but the dome on the top provides a modernist twist. I didn’t go in (you had to prebook) but there is a spiral ramp that takes you up to the top. In my humble opinion it is quite the design.

After realizing I was walking the wrong way for a bit, I finally oriented myself with GPS and started walking towards the Brandenburg Gate. The direct route was blocked off, I believe because they were taking down stuff setup for a Euro 2012 event, so I had to walk around through a park. In the rain. It sort of felt like Vancouver, I liked it.

The gate was interesting. Built 300+ years ago, this gate has been somewhat of a symbolic centre for Berlin. I believe it was on the East Berlin side. After looking at it for a few minutes and reading a few of the signs I left. You’ll want to see it if you go to Berlin, but it is a quick site.

I walked down Unter den Linden towards the German History Museum. Other than the crazy amount of construction it is a pretty nice walk. Lots of coffee shops and upscale shopping if that is your thing. For car people there is a Mercedes Benz dealership so you can gawk at the cars.

The German History Museum was great. The first part, from germanic tribes to 1918 was okay. I feel like could be a lot better if it was made more interactive. Maybe it was better with the audio guide. The post WWI to modern times section was great however. I would have paid the 8 euro entry just for the WWII part. If you are a 20th century history buff you need to go to this museum. Combined with the War Museum in Vienna for WWI and you have a great look at both wars. One interesting thing I learnt was that apparently it wasn’t until the 80’s that the general public in Germany was educated on the extent of the crimes of the NAZI’s.

Checkpoint Charlie was really disappointing. Apparently it isn’t even the original, as that is now in the Smithsonian in Washington. Basically it is a little non-original checkpoint surrounded by tacky gift shops, a McDonald’s, fake passport stamps, and lots of probably terrible food joints. It might have been interesting for someone like my mother, who actually went through Checkpoint Charlie (how cool is that?) but otherwise, just walk past it to the nearby outdoor wall of info about the Berlin Wall.

One of the foods I wanted to try while in Berlin was currywurst. There was a place next to Checkpoint Charlie but I figured it would be overpriced and bad (non-discerning consumers – tourists). On my slow walk back to my hotel I noticed a little shack attached to a motorbike-shop in a lifeless area. No tourists could be seen. The owner didn’t speak english. The other people eating there all looked like bikers. Everything about it seemed like it would the perfect place for currywurst. And the best part, 2.50 euros. That’s right, a big german wurst, covered in ketchup and curry paste and lots of chips covered in a generous amount of mayonnaise. Delicious, in the best way cheap fast food can be, but I was pretty sure I was going to die of heart failure right then and there. Still, if you go to Berlin, find a non-touristy currywurst place. You won’t regret it, although your heart might.

After that I got lost and ended up walking around a massive park to get back to my hotel. I believe this park is new as it wasn’t on google maps, but it is really cool. It would be great for running and it has multiple playground areas. One of them sort of had an army boot camp feel and I couldn’t resist hopping from beam to beam and running across a series of unbalanced stepping-stones.

I believe this might be the longest post yet.

Tear down that wall! – in a metro station

Reichstag

Brandenburg Gate

Apple Strudel

Berlin Cathedral

Fake Checkpoint Charlie – right next to McDonalds…

Currywurst

Berlin

Ahh, the night train. My first one was pretty good. Moderately comfortable and quiet. I slept well. Couldn’t ask for much more.

This second night train however, completely different story. When I reserved a seat, I asked for a window seat, because the sleepers were full or unavailable. They didn’t have that, and said they only had a few left. That should have been a warning.

It started okay. After the train left Vienna, it was just me and one other guy. We hoped that no one else would enter the seating area. This train, rather than having airplane type seating with rows of seats, has little sealed off areas of 6 seats, with two rows facing each other. A really stupid idea. Rows are better.

So soon after this little area with 6 seats filled up with 6 people, and a dog. A small dog, and a cute one, but still there isn’t enough room for 6 people. And then at the next stop, way more people piled in. They crammed in to the walkway that connects the different separated areas.

Then I spent the next 10 hours crammed into a train with lots of noisy people on it. Needless to say, I barely got any sleep.

Berlin. I didn’t get as much done as originally anticipated because of the previous night but I did walk around and saw the Bundesrat and a memorial to the Berlin Wall. Berlin really was the centre of many of the major events of the 20th century. From WWI to the fall of the Berlin Wall, many of the major conflicts have centred around this city. After WWI, a city already destroyed by the war was ripped in two by foreign powers. It’s difficult to imagine what that would have been like.

There will be a lot more about Berlin in my next post.

View from my train getting in to Berlin in the morning

Berlin wall fragments

The Bundesrat

Berlin Wall Memorial – basically a free outdoor museum

Vienna Day 2

The previous night I was woken at 3am by one of my roommates returning from a night of partying. The next morning he couldn’t stop telling me about how he had 35 drinks. Congratulations to you.

After eating the free breakfast provided by my hostel I left for Schönbrunn Palace. This enormous estate has a palace, gardens, parks, a zoo, a bakery, and many restaurants and cafes. I took the smaller tour of the palace, which may have been a mistake because it was honestly the best museum tour so far. The audio guide was well written, with good pacing and voice acting, a rarity in audio guides. Usually I get bored and want to skip things constantly, or they only briefly mention something that seems really interesting. This audio guide was top notch.

After leaving the palace I walked through the gardens up the hill to an area that provided a beautiful view of the city. The gardens themselves were very impressive, spanning a vast stretch of land. The climb up the hill wasn’t too steep but it was hot out. Really hot. Vienna has been scorching hot. I believe it was around 35 celsius that day. As a Vancouverite, that is approaching unbearable.

Due to the exercise and eat I was starving so I decided to try some traditional Viennese food, wiener schnitzel. Using a travel guide app I found a nearby place that had high ratings and went in. For just over 10 euros I had wiener schnitzel with potato salad and a coke. It was quite good. Not amazing, but good. I have noticed that Austrian food tends to be dry. Even foods not native to Austria, like kebabs and a chinese noodle dish I had the previous day seemed to be prepared with less sauce and a drier texture. Not sure if I just happened on a few places like this or if it is actually commonplace in Austria.

After my meal I hopped on a tram and headed towards the Technology Museum. Vienna apparently has one of the most extensive tram networks in the world, along with an extensive metro system. It seemed to me to be close to Madrid’s system in size but apparently it is quite a bit smaller. Still, it efficiently gets you where you want to go and is considered one of the top transportation systems in the world. After the tram demo at the Vancouver Olympics I wasn’t particularly sold on bringing trams to Vancouver, but it seems like it has the potential to be a good alternative to the skytrain system for areas that don’t quite have the transit demand to make a skytrain worth it. A study by UBC’s Design Centre for Sustainability estimates that for the price of 12km of underground skytrain, you could get 175km of tramway.

Anyways, back to Vienna. The Technology Museum was entertaining but definitely showed its age a bit. Compared to the CosmoCaixa in Barcelona, a similar science/technology museum, it isn’t quite as good. With that being said, there were still lots of fun hands on experiments to play around with and many exhibits on everything from lighting to how we work.

By this point in the day I was beginning to feel sick. I have no idea if it was something I ate, the heat, or a bug, but after the technology museum I took a tram to the Rathaus where I was going to wander around the core area for a while. I ended up noticing that the Vienna Film Festival started that night with a showing of a recorded Adele concert. I decided I would come back to see that at night and go back to my hostel to take a nap.

With a nap and lots of water I felt well enough to head back downtown for some recorded concert action. Even though by the end I was back to feeling pretty bad, I am glad I went. This outdoor summer event is a pretty cool idea, and it really highlights the high levels of public trust in Vienna. Next to the giant screen there are probably about 20 food booths with food and drinks from around the world ( The U.S. booth was Coca Cola… ). Even though this area is outside, with no security, no controlled entry or exit, or patrolling police, they gave everyone proper glasses, cutlery, and plates. Anyone could have easily walked off with this stuff, but seemingly not here. Apparently crime is really low in Austria as well, and I noticed very few police compared to Spain and Italy where they are everywhere.

The Adele concert was great. I forgot how amazing her voice is and even though I’m not the biggest fan I am glad I went.

Schonbrunn Palace

View from the palace up towards the nearby hill

A fountain in the gardens

The view looking back towards the city

Wiener Schnitzel

The Austrian Parliament

The Rathaus right before the film began

Venezia

I am glad I only spent a day in Venice.

That is how I would sum my feelings up, but let’s rewind a bit.

Over this trip I have had quite a few moments of supreme contentment. I don’t want to say happiness, because that conveys a certain glee or excitement that I wouldn’t say I had. The feeling is more a feeling that I am exactly where I ought to be. Or a feeling that I am where I need to be. Or where I should be. This feeling has come while crossing the Thames on my way to Victoria Station in London, while seeing La Segrada Familia for the first time, while walking through “the tunnel” in Monaco, while first laying eyes on the Colosseum and other times throughout my trip. I suppose you could say it is a mixture of a knowledge of the historical importance of these places, or a recognition of their iconic nature. Whatever this feeling is, I certainly had plenty of it in Venice.

Crossing the bridge from mainland Italy to the islands of Venice certainly elicited that feeling. As we began to slow down for the station someone asked me if this was the last stop. I oh-so wittily replied “If we go any further we will be in the ocean”. I meant it nicely, but I think it was mistaken for an insult. Oops. I dropped my bag off at the train station, which by the way, is not cheap at 5 euros for the first 5 hours and then a euro an hour after. Exiting the train station I crossed a bridge over the grand canal. Again, that same feeling. Venice is just such an iconic city. Wandering around you constantly get the feeling that you just couldn’t be anywhere else.

I didn’t have a guide-book, nor did I really do any planning so at first I just wandered. I had a guide app on my phone which I used mostly as a map to get me to the Pallazo Ducale. This former home/prison of the Doce and the seat of the administration of the city was remarkable. After waiting in line for a 20 or so minutes I paid 8 euros (student discount) to enter. It was probably the best museum of this trip so far. The palace is not only ornate, but also interesting. The museum is a mixture of art and history, deftly blending the architecture and decoration of the palace into a narrative of the actual use of the palace.

Unlike the Uffizi or the Vatican Museum you are presented with equal helpings of art and history. The Vatican treads lightly on history, probably largely because their history isn’t all that good, and the Uffizi shows little trace of anything beyond art history. Here, you see the brilliant decoration of a room and learn about its use in the Venetian government. One example of this is a room used for hosting the Senate (I believe) which consisted of thousands of aristocratic families. Ornately decorated and absolutely massive, you can really picture lively debate occurring in this room. There were also the dungeons which you reach by crossing the “bridge of sighs”, named due to the bridge being the last time many of the prisoners would see the outside world and hence provoking sighs.

After leaving the Pallazo Ducale I wondered around soaking in the sights and seeing if anything stood out as something I needed to do. I walked into a bookstore claiming to be “The most beautiful bookstore in the world”. It was quaint and I’m glad I walked in, but most beautiful… Probably not. I quickly realized that there just wasn’t anything else I really wanted to see. Due to my lack of research ahead of time I may have missed an awesome museum or something, but all the cathedrals and art museums I passed just did not seem appealing. By 4 or so I just wanted to sit down, out of the sun, and read. Which brings me to a brief rant.

Italy sucks when it comes to public spaces. At least public spaces where one can sit down quietly and read. Rome, Florence and Venice all have woefully few benches and parks. When they do have parks, they tend not to have too many places to sit, especially shady places. The cynic in me thinks it may have something to do with the fact that almost all public squares are lined with chairs, they are just for restaurants and cafes. I have a feeling local governments may be influenced to not put up free places to sit so as to make people more likely to stop at a restaurant or cafe. Otherwise I can’t really think of good reasons why the many vast public squares wouldn’t have more benches. In Spain it was usually easy to find a small park with many shady benches. Madrid was stuffed with them. Barcelona had plenty. Nice had quite a few as well, not to mention a huge beach area. London in my short time there had plenty of room in its parks and the Queen’s jubilee was on so they were probably considerably more full than normal. But for some reason Italy does not want me to sit. In Venice, there were a bunch of people who seem to be paid for the sole purpose of telling people they can’t sit on anything in the square, despite people being allowed to walk on these same things. They allowed children to climb all over statues but apparently I can’t sit.

After way too much walking, I finally found a place to eat and had a pretty good dinner of seafood risotto and a cold seafood salad. My feet were, and still are, hurting from all the standing and walking. Venice was one of the highlights of my trip from 10am until about 3pm. But from 3pm until getting on a train at 9pm it was a low-point. I’m not sure what I would do in this city if I stayed for longer than a day. I suppose there are other islands that I never went to, and maybe a museum or two that might be interesting, but I am glad I only spent a day in Venice.

The Grand Canal

That tower is the Campanille di San Marco

Pallazo Ducale

View from Pallazo Ducale

You can see the Bridge of Sighs in the background connecting the Pallazo with the dungeon

Tasty seafood!

Florence Day 2

The night before I stayed up quite late talking to my roomies, who both happened to be from Vancouver so that morning I was a little sluggish in the morning. I managed to get down to the common area right as free breakfast was ending but the lady was nice enough to serve me anyways. After berating me in Italian. In a nice way… I think.

I then headed towards to the Duomo. I wanted to get there earlier to escape the line but it turned out to be not so bad. It is free to enter. I soon figured out why. It is disappointing on the inside. While the outside is massive and stunning, the inside is just massive. There are some nice paintings on the walls but overall it is barren. From the outside I consider it a fairly close second to La Segrada Familia, but from the inside it isn’t even close. However, the outside is soo great that in this case I will judge a book purely by its cover.

After the Duomo i went to the Uffizi. This place actually had a line. The worse I have had on my trip so far. It was about an hour long but I had A Storm of Swords to keep me company. ( WARNING – I mention a part of a book where things happen without going into even vague generalities of what happens, but if that is more than you want to read skip ahead to the next paragraph ) **For those who have read the book I was about halfway through when suddenly tons of things happen. Because so much is suddenly going on the hour in line flew by.**

The Uffizi Gallery was interesting. However, I think it will be the last art gallery I go to on this trip. There were many amazing paintings, and if that is your thing, you will certainly find lots to enjoy. I found the collection considerably more interesting than the Vatican Museum. However, it is hard for me to really appreciate art. I have little understanding of art history or techniques so art galleries just don’t intellectual stimulate me. They also tend to be expensive. Sorry Louvre but I think I will be skipping you.

After that I found a place to eat and had some pasta and some sort of ham dish. Other than being obscenely salty it was pretty good. I then climbed a large number of stairs up to Pallazio Michelangelo to see what is apparently the best view of Florence. It did not disappoint. There is a full panoramic view of the city and it wasn’t even too busy because it is a little out of the way and you have to climb up so it keeps the hordes of tourists at bay.

After that I went to a supermarket, grabbed some food for a late snack and then returned to my hostel to watch the keynote for Google IO online. I remembered why I really like Google and had my hatred for Samsung rekindled. Google just announced a new version of Android and you haven’t even given me the last version! I am going to have to root my phone.

The dome in the Duomo

Beautiful view from across the river

View of a part of the old city wall

Beautiful view of Florence

The face tower