Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Week Fifty-One: Education Experts

Eh? Yeah, I know, wonky topic, huh. Everyone seems to think that the more money you through at the problem of education the better the results will be. I don't think that's the case. While a certain amount of money per child makes sense, what makes more sense is using that money wisely.

The biggest thing in school when I was a child was meeting everybody's learning styles. It was an interesting attempt. The teacher had to speak, and write, and do something that would involve manipulating something or another in order to 'engage all the learning styles in the room.' It meant that no one learning style actually got anything out of anything. Most of my teacher's had a bachelor's degree, with one or two having a master's, once I was in high school, but that was it. They were expected to revamp their teaching style with every bit of new research that hit the market.

In short, the teachers were expected to meet a chaotic mish-mash of demands while somehow teaching thirty very different little kids a set standard. To make it easier on all, the standards were lower. [1]


How dare I insinuate that the teaching standards of American Public Schools are lower in this time where we must lead the- Hold your horses cowboy. It's called empirical evidence, and came in the form of a discarded book from the public library.

This was a math text book for the eighth grade from the mid-1900s. I have no clue where it is, but I remember that little book. It was fairly standard sized...for a paperback fantasy novel.

No seriously, it wasn't a big huge hulking text book a foot long by half a foot wide. It was something that could easily be held, didn't way too much, and contained trigonometry. In eighth grade.


So yes, there is empirical evidence that rather than raising our standards, we've been constantly lowering them to pass more and more people. Look. We're no longer passing high school, we're passing middle school with a different name.

So the real question is how to fix that minor (great big hulking) issue while managing to maintain some sense of an education budget and keeping up with rising world standards.

Right, first, I want you to clear your mind of any preconceived notions of education, equality, and all that jazz, ok? Now I want you to think. If you can't find the answer to a question, who do you go to?

An expert.

What makes a person an expert?

They and really truly good at what they can do. They have mastered the subject.

So who is really truly good at education?

Well, I would have to tell you that for this, it's important to consult what sources we have. I'm going to use the Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA, hosted by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development. These guys test fifteen year olds world wide every three years and analyze the results.

In other words, these are the experts to go to in order find what experts to go to. Sometimes, research is a convoluted beast. According to our experts [2], the top four nations in the world, over all, in education, are Shanghai-China, Korea, Finland, and Singapore.

Well, we can't really consult Shanghai, or Korea, or Singapore. Our relations politically with our Asian counterparts have been shaky for sometime, after all. Besides, their cultures focus intently on result, ranks, and the like. Education there is hyper important.

Finland though. Finland we're on decent terms with, and they aren't hyper focused on education. This is also not the only report they've come out so high up on. It's all the students as well, not just middle class and rich ones able to afford to go to a good district.

In fact, there are no school districts in Finland. Just schools. It isn't a county school board. The school board serves only that one municipality.

Shocking I know. Each town has it's own school system, own school board. And the teachers are the ones in charge there, not the bureaucrats. The teacher's are well able to do this as well, thanks to all having a master's degree by requirement, and all attending a three year graduate school for teaching by requirement. These people can and will run their own class room in the way the class room needs to be run.

Oh? Did I mention that the teacher's education is subsidized, free, and they even receive a small stipend to live simply off of while there. They also don't attend school until they are seven.[3]

To put this in perspective, these kids with eight years of education are out doing countries where students start school up the three years earlier. They also don't do a lot of homework, and for he first six years of education, they don't take tests at all. None, period. There's only a single mandatory test taken at age 16, not one ever year for every single grade. The teachers have broad standards to meet, not super specific ones.

So how do they manage all this?

Well, in Finland, being a teacher is up there with being a doctor or a lawyer. It's a highly competitive field was well, with only the top ten percent able to make it into the system. Imagine, only the best of the best after years of learning how are able to teach, and they only teach for four hours a day. Two hours each day are spent on professional development. In comparison, US schools go on for eight hours each day, and the teachers time spent on professional development varies from school system to school system. In my experience, teacher work days were those days, and they happened once a grading period.

So from what can be observed, the Finnish de-stressed the public education system for all involved, raised the standards for those who want to teach, and simply relaxed. They value education as a culture, and have de-stressed the system for the students.

Sort of a sit back, relax, and learn from the best philosophy. They spend a third less per child than the states does, and yet achieve much better results.

Meanwhile, US officials who have gone over are completely and totally flabbergasted as they do pretty much the opposite of what we do. By relaxing the atmosphere and increasing the quality of teachers, they've managed to become one of the best. Far better than we are at our PISA Rank of 15. They managed all of this in thirty years by the way. I'm all for it, aren't you?

One Final Byte: Perhaps its time for a few sweeping changes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Week Fifty-One: My thoughts on Rome


Urgh! I spent at least an hour every day just waiting in traffic on the bus. Rome is... Look, don't drive in Rome unless it's a moped or a motorcycle. There's zippo parking for anything larger than that, bother drivers and pedestrians gleefully engage in Frogger at every opportunity, and the mopeds will break every single traffic rule in existence.

Most of the vehicles on the road are mopeds by the way. They are the scariest of them all, I assure you. Other drivers, both buses and otherwise are constantly honking at the mopeds, and each other.

Romans are nuts.

So yeah, that leaves public transport. The metro is quick, excellent, and puts you off near most of the major attractions. Line A is cleaner than Line B, but both are good routes. The trains on both are fairly clean, but since Line B trains stop for the night above ground, they tend to be a bit more colorfully decorated than Line A trains, if you know what I mean.

Some buses, like the H bus, may not be listed as stopping at that bus stop, but they do. This one will drop you off near the Capitol, and from there the Colosseum, forum, and palatine aren't far off.

The signs at each stop will let you know what buses stop there, and tell you what stops the bus makes. Make sure you are heading in the right direction however. There may be a red box highlighting the stop you are currently at, and if not, it will tell you on the top of the sign, so you can figure it out.

Also, make certain you take the correct exit from the metro. One of the stations has eight different exits onto the street, but the Colosseum station only has the one, so it depends on where the stop is.

Your hotel can help you figure out the best path to where you want ot go, and the bus to take to get there, but paying attention to get the right spot in the unfamiliar city can be tricky. It rarely drops you off right at the attraction after all.

Don't misplace yourself as badly as I did!

I'm pretty certain when God was handing out the sense of direction, I must have been standing in the wrong line. I played Where's Waldo starring me as Waldo most of the trip. I never was good at that game.


Love it. I love it! Rome has great graffiti, even the ones that are just elaborate names. They seem to let the good or entertaining graffiti alone, and remove the bad graffiti. Get good enough and you can get jobs decorating the shutters of Roman shops. My favorite graffiti was at the ice cream place on the corner.

The graffiti there is everywhere but the tourist areas by the way. Those seem to be the only places that they keep clean of that bit of 'art.'

Nuns (and priests)

Rome is full of nuns and priests. This makes sense, given the Vatican is in the area, and the sheer number of churches there.

All of the priests are in black and have the priest collar. Some have funny hats; some where robe or slacks, but otherwise, it's pretty standard all over.

The nuns on the other hand...

There are way more nuns than priests, and they come in an absolute rainbow of colors. The cut of the cloth is basically the same, and most of the nuns are almost completely monochromatic, down ot their umbrellas. They tend to travel in twos, three, and fours, but almost never alone. I found the color of their habits the most curious thing though!

Dark blue, bright blue, dark, light and medium grey, white, brown, and so on! I thought I saw a nun in red, but I have been informed it was probably a cardinal. (Who looked like a nun?) Either that or a very brightly dressed woman.

I have been informed the color relates to their order, but I am mostly entertained by the sheer variety.

One Final Byte: Nuns are the happiest tourists of them all.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Week Fifty: My Adventure in Rome, Part Six


Today, I managed to pick up the hotel money, which was a huge relief. I also revisited the Pantheon. Why?

It was raining!

See, the pantheon has this great big hole in the middle, that keeps the dome from being so heavy it collapses. It also has a drain in the floor, and the floor slopes to the drain. The rain itself looks more like it's snowing than it does rain!

I want to see what is looks like when it snows there, one time. It'd be interesting.

Also, I know I mentioned this earlier, but apparently Mary Magdalene's foot is a silver colored relic. And yes, I did in fact see her foot. I'd estimate it as a size thirteen. There was a nearby church that had a museum basically dedicated to relics. The curator will stay with you the entire visit. It was odd, but nice.

I ended up visiting the Pantheon area again, since I had forgotten my camera before, and it was raining, so I didn't want to go to the gardens I had planned on seeing. I had gotten off at the wrong stop, and decided I'd explore the museum/church while I waited on the next one. There were probably about twenty relics there.

I got to see Bernini's elephant, a medieval stone cat, another foot, this one giant and randomly placed, and the insides of several more churches. One of those churches had a very vibrantly blue ceiling, with saints and the like on it, four to a square. Not that you could really make out the saint, but they were up there.

I didn't actually do much on Friday! I revisited the Spanish steps somehow, and walked up the Tiber river for a bit. It was a nice peaceful day. (Finally.)


I checked out of the hotel almost penniless (or so I thought). Why? Rome charges two euro a night for tourists. There went my food money and then some. I had 35 euro cent left, to my knowledge, and the ticket to the airport cost 14 euro. The guidebook insisted it cost 5.50. This was my luck.

On my way to the station, I ended up back in the forum area, for one last look at the Colosseum and the ruins. Here, standing on a small column to see over the edge of the safety fence, I managed to fall, my ankle giving out. This is important. It gave me a limp the rest of the day, if a mild one at first.

So I'm at the train station, no money, no way to get to the airport, nearly in tears, when an ex pat and I get to talking and he offers me an old ticket. He said it should get me to the airport just fine, and not to worry. Just pass the favor on.

I take the train, nervous as all get out, but the ticket puncher doesn't react as he punches my ticket and goes on. The most I would have gotten was a fine, to be paid later. Still, I made it to the airport, and got to my flight sans problems. Okay. We can do this. I ended up finding just enough Euro for a box of ritz crackers, and promptly bought the very popular treat, wondering where the euro in my previously euro free purse came from. Still, it was a very lucky break.

The plan landed okay, always surprising with Alitalia, considering there was, again, rust on the wings, And I made my way into the airport where I would wait two hours for my dad to come, having been warned he'd be late.

We head down below to the train station...and I'm limping the entire time. In fact, I ended up cut off while limping, and couldn't keep up, so we missed our first train. And then, since I was separated and they had, in fact, gotten on, assuming I would too, we missed three more as they tried to reconnect with me. We got back to the train station close to us at...well, nearly midnight.

Then our ride home got lost coming to the train station to pick us up. Still, by one in the morning, I was home, thank goodness. This had been quite the week.

One Final Byte: The next train plus a limp don't mix.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Week Fifty: My Adventure in Rome, Part Five


I finally contacted my embassy today! Not that I was allowed in. Most useless embassy ever, eh? Still, a kind marine corporal allowed me to call my dad, supervised, standign by the gate. He didn't pick up, so I left a message to call me at the hotel that night at nine. Odd, he normally answers his phone.

Maybe he was in a meeting?

Either way, due to all the rain this very wet day, I decided to visit the many churches in the Aventine region of Rome's city center.

I ended up with my temper pricked rather harshly by a church that requires an offering to visit, and lied about what we held within! Right, okay. Happy thoughts, Marie. Happy thoughts.

From a religious view point, not only die they lie, but they also are selling things inside their sanctuary. This is...look.

No church should ever charge money to see any part of it. Tourism spot or not, that's just fundamentally wrong. From an intellectual viewpoint, I am also offended. They don't want an offering, they're charging admission!

An offering is a gift wiling given, folks. An admission fee is a required payment to enter an area. Do these things sound remotely similar, my fine friends? No? Then how did Santa Maria in Cosmedin get it so horribly confused?

Please, dearest fraud, get it right. You charge an admission fee to see an empty crypt falsely advertised as Hadrian's tomb (which is located in Castel San'Angelo, I believe) and a small fee to take a single photo with the Mouth of Truth. Having your voluntold's stand by the offering box and insist the offering is pad makes it a fee, not an offering. And you still have church services here? You are a tourist spot, not a church. At least try and tell the truth about the money changing?

Anyway, I wandered the Aventine and managed to avoid the brief downpour (it having been mostly sprinkling) by ducking into the metro. I hopped a bus with vague ideas of a bus riding adventure, when I saw what I needed. Ah ha!

A Library!

Cue choirs of angels.

Here I can insure my message reaching Daddy. I lingered for about an hour, but received no quick reply. However, I now have a library card good for any library in Rome itself, for a year's time. It cost me five euro, and includes book check out and computer use. Unique souvenir, I suppose. I also found a vodaphone card!

Not that I can use it. Italy and Germany vodaphones are incompatible. Of course. Guess who was not impressed? I want my cell carrier to be able to at least work wit itself people.

Three more days and just over fifty Euro left. Easy peasy.

Tomorrow, I promised myself, I would see the pantheon. Today was all about churches.

Speaking of, I have officially seen St. George's cranium. This is apparently a holy relic. Eh? Then again, on Monday I was in a church filled with pope hearts IN the walls.

Do not ask me to understand, please.

Late that night, Daddy and Grandpa were in contact. All would be fine.


The search for the pantheon is on! Four hours after starting, and numerous consultations with no less than three maps, I find myself in front of the Colosseum. How did I get here? Am I randomly teleporting again, because if not then I am so very lost. However, I am glad I was this lost, as it sounded like a bit of excitement.

Rather than be a sensible sane woman and immediately leave, I moved closer to the ruckus. It looked like there was a jumper, and sounded like a fight.

It turned out to be a protest!

There was a giant balloon pillow for the man pacing above gate LVI to land on if he fell. There were police everywhere and the fire department, and the crowd itself seemed to alternate between cheering the man to jump, or encourage him to go back. This is how unclear that it was a protest it was.

However, their were banners.

In Italian.

Google translate isn't too helpful here, I admit. However there was something about tourists, regulation, and Barbera. And despite the protest they still stopped to take pictures with tourists.

I did eventually make it inside the Pantheon. It's still used as a church on Sundays and for mass though it too sells audio guides and the like inside. My Mom would throw a fit. She didn't even let me sell fundraising items in the parking lot as a kid.

Still, the Pantheon is absolutely beautiful. Its mathematical beauty is...the number of perfect swaures, how often the golden ratio is repeated! The art inside, the sculptures, the paintings, are all nothing to scoff at. Here lies Kings, and the body of Rafael. Finally, I have seen all I wanted to in rome, plus some. Definitely not a wasted trip.

The pantheon, by the way, does not lend itself to being found. I started looking at nine, and it was three by the time I got there. Not that it was a search without its own excitement! I managed to find where Julius Caesar died. There are fresh flowers there. People still apparently place them. He didn't actually die on the Senate steps in the forums by they way.

Shakespeare was just limiting scene changes.

There's a cat sanctuary nearby, that is also the ruins of old temples. I got to pet some of the many very friendly cats there, though one tried to scratch if you pet it anywhere but its head.

Just down the street from the Pantheon is another church (St. Ignazzio's) that I found far more beautiful than the Sistine chapel. It's definitely my favorite church of the trip.

I managed to find an internet cafe, called an internet point in Italy. My Dad couldn't wire me the funds, I couldn't Skype my grandparents due to lack of mic and a weak connection, but not all hope was lost.

Have you ever met one of those people who deserve a medal? Someone who is quite simply 'good folk'? Someone like that saved me.

I was confused, lost, didn't have money for my hotel bill, and wanted to go home. With my luck as it was, I would end the week in jail. I got online to contact my dad, and my friend and I talked. He said he'd lend me the money. This man I owe, and I've only known him for a year.

He's a good man.

Either way, Thursday in Rome was a very sedate, but fun adventure.

One Final Byte: Unsung masterpieces are the best sort of masterpieces.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Week Fifty: My Adventure in Rome, Part Four


So I get the number to block my card today...and promptly ran out of minutes calling it. There was no way to put more minutes on the card, and believe me I tried. The hotel reported the card stolen for me, and advised me to go to the embassy.

The American embassy in Rome is an elaborate building, gated in, guarded by Italians. It was also closed. On a Monday. Everything in Rome, by the way, is closed on Monday.

Okay. Well. I'm stranded with about 185 Euro at this point. I don't know when or if I will get more. I can't contact my dad. Deep breaths, calm down., don't panic.

I can't fix the situation today, so I'll just sight see instead. So there.

I was in Via Veneto, so decided to explore. There was the 350 year old Fontane del Tritone, and I drank from Fontana del Api which is a giant clam shell decorated by four legged bees. Someone forgot that bees have six legs, not didn't they? Being Monday, Palazza Barberini was closed, as was the Santa Susanna, but I snapped pics outside and proceeded to get lost.

My map reading skills were getting a work out. Somehow, I ended up on Quirinal Hill, which is quite the hike. I am not, you understand, entirely certain how I managed it. Then again, I only know I was on Quirinal hill because it has a great big obelisk/fountain/statue mish mash.

Still, I got to see the Italian President's home, a church called Santa Vincenzo e Anastasio, the Trevi fountain and the aforementioned giant monument. It turns out, the statues on either side of the obelisk are Castor and Pollux.

From there, I am pretty certain I teleported without knowing it to the Spanish steps. I am lost in Rome, tired, hungry, and would like to know how to get to my hotel, even if seeing all the sights is very interesting!

I try to find the metro.

Instead, I find three different churches. Rome has pretty much a thousand churches. It also has a million beggars, by the way. Paris is the city of love and lights, Amsterdam the city of bikes, but Rome? Rome is the city of churches of thieves.

However, as I watch Walker Texas Ranger in Italian that night in my room, having miraculously made it back to the right place, I believe firmly all will soon be solved.

Yes, you can laugh here.

One a side note, Chuck Norris sounds tougher in Italian.


I start the day out, determined to get to the embassy. I ended up in Vatican City. Okay fine, I give up. Instead, I explore St. Peter's square. First up is the basilisica. The line is long, but the vatican knows how to move lines quickly, I assure you. The church is way too crowded to actually move in, but I get to see Michelangelo's pieta and it is beautiful. I actually wrote the initial draft of this day's blog sitting in the shade at St Peter's square.

I know in Amsterdam and Paris alike, I claimed to be overwhelmed by all the art I had seen. In comparison, they were nothing.

Oh! The sights I have seen! Had I had the funds, I would have spent two or three days in the Vatican museum. As it was, I can advise you only to save the Sistine Chapel for last so you can, in fact, see it all.

Still, despite what has happened, I can't help by feel blessed. I have many regrets about this trip, but coming is not one.

By the way, why is it St. Peter's square, when it is a circle? Really? You odd, odd folk.

Today is the mighty day when I finish my sightings of ninja turtles by they way! All four were in the Vatican museum. It's awesome. I may not be the richest person to visit Rome, but I can certainly say I'm one of the more blessed.

I was actually sitting there writing that waiting for something to dry. You see, they had this Gutenberg press in there, and it was free to make a sheet. The thing was not dry until the next morning, though, and by then entirely illegible and thoroughly smudged.

Around two, I gave up on it drying and headed to the hotel to let it dry there, and from there, I would try again to find the embassy. Or rather, I would try to get to the hotel.

You have to keep in mind my very special sense of direction, combined with my super not so amazing map reading abilities. In other words, I spent the rest of the day in search of a bus stop. By three, I was lightly burnt. That would fade by Thursday. By five, I had enough sun I was sick, quite literally. By nine, I finally ended up at the hotel. Nine! Urgh!

Not that I didn't see an awful lot as I searched for that ever elusive bus stop. I just didn't see what I was looking for! I ended up covering half the Navona region, all of Vatican City, saw the Castel Sant' Angelo, the Palazza d'Giustizia, Bernini's angels, visited Santa Maria del Popolo, and nearly passed out in the Tiber River.

Whoops. Too much sun, too little water.

One Final Byte: Water keeps you from passing out in rivers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Week Fifty: My Adventure in Rome, Part Three


This is my first full day in Rome. It's also Easter, but I wouldn't be seeing the pope, sadly. No, I would miss both chances to see the pope this week. Oh well! I still had tons of fun. Day One would be the best by far.

I took bus H from my hotel to the Roman forum. The ruins on the way to the Colosseum were Caesar’s form and several Roman temple. They were awe inspiring, but I knew what I wanted and I would get it.

To the Colosseum!

Sans tour, it would have been an a hour wait. So I chose to go with an official tour into the Colosseum. It took no time at all! The only downside was it was twice the price of a regular ticket, but it included a tour of the Palatine region as well, so I didn't mind. Besides, it was still half the price of any museum in Amsterdam. Rome is a remarkably budget friendly city.

Oh man. The Colosseum.

You only ever see photos of the outside, but there is a good reason for that.

His name is Michelangelo. Thanks to the actions of he and his contemporaries, the Colosseum lost its structural integrity.

Or rather, it was made no longer earthquake proof, so would collapse at the next shaker. This building lasted for centuries and was set to last centuries longer, thanks to super thin copper disks between the slabs of rock that did something technical or another probably to do with vibrations, and this made it earth quake proof.

Well, let's just say that the artists permanently borrowed this copper. Not that this is the only case of permanent borrowing occurring in Rome. For instance, the Vatican permanently borrowed statues from the Palatine and the Colosseum. You can even see these statues in their museum. They also permanently borrowed the marble in the forum, and other exposed Roman ruins.

Back to the Colosseum though and away from papal re-appropriation.

So, originally this magnificent stadium was open all of ten days from 365 total. Why?

Well its kind of like football. They don't spend a lot of time in actual matches, but they do spend a lot of time training. these guys just played ten straight days instead of once a week. They trained for two years before they competed by the way, and it cost their manager about 20K to train them. Considering 30 shekels was enough to sell a man out, I conclude that this is a lot of money. And if the gladiator died in combat, by the way, the Caesar of the time had to pay the manager double of what it took to train them.

I sort of suspect that while dangerous, it wasn't quite as deadly as Hollywood pretends. When these guys weren't fighting after all, or training, they were rent-a-cops and body guards. Anyway, from this well built wonder, the tour group went to the peaceful and beautiful Palatine area, where fruit trees are an abundance and peace is secure. There was enough free time between the two to explore the Colosseum and grab a bit to eat.

The area is absolutely beautiful, its peaceful, and I recommend a picnic in its gardens or even among the ruins. The former Beverly Hills of Rome, its clear even today why ancient Romans selected that hill are theirs. There is, however, one downside.

Its called the bathrooms. There was one in the Colosseum, and one in the Palatine. That was it. They are no other bathrooms in the Forum area that aren't inside a museum. Rome's tourist areas do not have many bathrooms are all it seems, and there tends to be a long wait.

Otherwise, I loved it. I walked through Augustus' home, peered into Livia's glassed off abode. I stepped into the ruins of a home to three generations of Caesar's, viewed where Romulus and Remus were said to have set their huts, and sat on the stump of a marble column.

My inner nerd stopped squeaking and instead fell into awed silence.

From there, I ended up in what is known as the capitol region, the traditional seat of Rome's government. In trying to find a way in the large and glorious building, which I never quite managed, I ended up in a beautiful church.

On one side were portraits of women and on the other were portraits of men. On both side, the images seemed to be leaving the frame. It was intriguing, but extraordinarily unnerving. In particular, one very insane looking nun who had both hands on her her frame as if she was ready to pull out seemed to be extra worrisome.

From there, I spent the rest of the day in the Capitoline museums. This was not, mind, due to awe inspiring art, or impressive sculptures, though the exhibit was lovely. Oh no, its because Michelangelo, who designed the museums, while a talented artist in many ways, absolutely sucked at making sensible building, and the renovations modern man ahd put it through did not help. I got lost there more than I ddi in the Louvre. Chicago O'Hare in the middle of construction made more sense. This was not a museum, but a maze!

Where were the statues, the paintings I had been promised? I ended up in a temporary exhibit of selections from the Vatican Archives. It was interesting enough, but where was everything else!

Finding that metal statue of the she wolf suckling Romulus and Remus was ridiculously difficult. It took me four hours, and yes, I did have a map.

I ended the day tired and exhausted. The hotel very temporarily redeemed itself by giving me a chocolate egg.

Then I took inventory and discovered the missing debit card. The hotel made me wait until morning to deal with it. The night clerk spoke no English, and there was no getting a hold of my dad.

One Final Byte: Portraits in 3-D are the stuff of nightmates.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Week Fifty: My Adventure In Rome, Part 2


You know that train phase little boys go through? Those boys know what's up. Trains rock. By that, I mean on the very first day of my trip, I am on a train to the airport. It's the first Saturday of my super belated gift to myself for my birthday. I was on a train.

Dude. Train.

Oh man, that is totally one thing off my bucket list. I want to ride every form of transport open to the public, and have dreamed of the day I got to ride a train since I was little.


On Wednesday, there should have been a poorly written note for you on my blog. It told you exactly where I was, and, as I wrote yesterday, I spent the past (very hectic) week in Rome. I chose between Rome, with all its sights and sounds, and Mallorca. Next time, I'm going with the first instinct of Mallorca. It may have been too cold for a swim, but there were violin concerts in caves and a submarine.

And peace.

It was just me, only me. I was nervous, but confident I had planned well. (Cue laughter.) I am an intrepid traveler after all.

Oh hey! On the way up, I so saw Thomas. Bright blue old fashioned steam engine, right? And hey! There went by a keep too! Oh wow. The train ride rocked.

The seats were comfortable, there was a hook for my coat, and a luggage rack above my head. For the life of me, I couldn't get my luggage up that high however.

Train tunnels aren't lit, and it was so amazing. It was the time of my life.

I did have a minor incident. I had thought my ticket covered both trains...not so much. The ticket taker waved it off. It was okay this once, just don't do it again. I hung out in the airport for a boring few hours.

Oh by they way: German Airport Security. American High Schools can have the same level of security, and some even have higher! Metal detector + ID check = entrance.

My shoes even stayed on the entire time. Took all of five minutes.

There was a minor worry at the airport. The plane never received an official gate, you see, and they never actually announced it. Que sera sera though.

Is anyone else seeing the warning signs yet? I think the final clue ought to have been the gates of the hotel, marked on either side with the symbol for anarchy.

Turn back! Turn back!!

I was unnerved, but the price was excellent, so on I went.

I check in, and I'm shown to my room. I should have turned back. My cover on the bed has a hole in it, the blind on the window doesn't close, the dim light lacks a cover. The window doesn't open, only one half of each of two outlets works, the floor has a mysterious dried spill on it, the mirror and window are both filthy, the remote didn't work. The pillow was more liked a folded towel than anything remotely resembling a pillow.

Good price, I reminded myself, when I hit my head on the slopping ceiling that evening. You already made reservations, I told myself as the shower head sent water all of the place. It's Easter week, everywhere else is booked, I informed myself as I attempted to sleep on the bad mattress.

Goodness. I could list so much more. It was rated three stars, but the last three star hotel I stayed at I felt like a queen. This one not so much.

Still, it was a roof over my head. There is that.

One Final Byte: Thou shalt listen to omens most very numerous.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Week Fifty: My Adventure In Rome, Part One

This week, you get a post every day until Friday!  Yay!

I arrived in Rome late on Saturday.  I paid for a taxi to my hotel, the first of, well, an avalanche of mistakes that make this trip more of an adventure than a vacation.  At the end of the next day, I would discover the defining event of my adventure.  If this were a novel, it'd be the end of the exposition and the beginning of the tension.

Being the protagonist by the way, is terribly frightening work.  I wish it on no one.  You see, before I left for the airport, I withdrew enough money to see me through a few days.  So I didn't think I needed to keep my card on me, and given Rome's reputation for pick pockets, I decided it would be safer in my hotel room, especially as I couldn't close my purse due to the size of my guide book.  Instead, I would just use cash.


You already know what happened next.  I can tell.

There are blond moments, and then there are Blond Moments.  This fits into the second category I should think.

I returned late that night.  I checked my cash, then went to grab my debit, as I had found a nearby ATM machine inside nice location with few enough tourists to be attractive to thieves, and enough security to make be feel better.

It wasn't there.

I checked my bag, emptied it, filled it up again, looked all around the bed, even under the mattress.

I tried, frantically, to call my dad.  I notified the hotel, the police, and got directions to the embassy and the phone number to shut off my card.


I couldn't get a hold of my dad, but it was near midnight so I figured he was asleep.

I fell asleep.

The next morning I tried to call the bank to stop the card.  Right as the kind woman picked up, my phone cut off.

Toll fee numbers aren't toll fee in Rome, and add in the roaming charges for being in another country....

Yeah the amount I normally use in two months was gone in two days.

This all happens on Monday by the way.  Monday in Rome is the day all government activities take a break.  It's their Saturday, I think.  On Monday in Rome, our embassy in its over elaborate building, is closed.  I know, I tried to get in.  Nope.  I wouldn't be able to get in at all, or talk to anybody there, until Wednesday.  I tried Tuesday to find the embassy again but ended up lost and on the opposite side of  the city.  On Wednesday I get to the embassy again, only to be told I'm not allowed in...without an appointment.

Why do we have an embassy again?  What do these people do?  Either way the marines there allowed me to use a phone there to call my dad.  I received no answer.  I left a message, but, distrusting phones, began a quest to find a library.  Why a library?

I'm used to public libraries having free computer access.  Not so in Rome.  There's a five dollar fee for a library card that allows you on the computers there.  It took me three hours to find this place by the way.  My ability to get lost astounds even me.  However, I am now the proud owner of a Roman library card?  I e-mailed Daddy, asking him to call at nine pm, and giving him the hotel's phone number.

Nine passed.  Then nine thirty.  No call.

At nearly ten pm I finally received the phone call!  But couldn't hear anything.  We tried three times.  I could hear him just enough to know it was my dad.  That was all.  Then Grandpa called, thank goodness!  Information was exchanged, and the old card was killed.  Daddy couldn't lend me money for the un-paid for hotel room however, so I tried to get in contact with my grandparents...only to discover that the internet cafe I finally tracked down had no microphones or way to plug in a headset.  At this point, I am more than a little worried.

Money is low.  Morale is lower.

It's Thursday by this point.  I begin plotting ways to raise the needed money.  None were exactly very morale, but Rome has a way of seeping into your skin.

In comes my super wonderful friend.  I explain the situation, we talk.  He wires me the funds I need.  I could pick it up...Friday.  I sincerely hope you don't believe it gets better.

Western Union informed me I had the wrong information.  They needed a different set of information.  It is 3 am on the east coast, my friend is asleep.  I am left in tense fear for four hours as I wait for him to wake up and please, please, please get online and have the info needed handy.

I took a guess at what time he'd pop on for the day.  I only had so much time after all, and only so much money.  Four minutes after I log in, he's on.  Ten minutes later, I have the info and the money.  This should be the end of the horrifying drama that was my vacation.

Should be.

We haven't reached the stories climax yet folks.  I still had to get to the airport.

The hotel cost twenty more Euro than he had sent.  There went my money for eating, along with my money to get to the airport to catch my plane.

I used the metro to get to the termini.  There, there wasn't supposed to be an inexpensive train, just a euro, to the airport.  It took ages but it would go.  It wasn't.  I was at the wrong Termini.  How!  Well, there's several Termini's in Rome.  This one did have trains to the airport though.  For fourteen euro.

Ah crude.

I lucked out.  An ex-patriate gave me an old used ticket.  He said it'd get me on the train.  They'd let it go as a confused tourist thing.  I manage to get to the airport, and catch my flight, which was a good four hours earlier than I thought it was!  Then I got to Frankfurt.

Well.  I was in Germany at least.

My dad was there with my little sister.  We missed the first train, because we got separated.  then we missed three more.  Finally, we catch a train.  We get to our final train stop and our ride back home was late by thirty minutes.

I made it back...very early on Sunday.

That's just a basic over all summary of events of course.  Still, you can have the rest of the week, and all the nitty gritty details starting tomorrow.  As it is, let's just say that I have had enough adventures like that for at least a little bit! Please!

One Final Byte: May you lead a boring life.  No, seriously.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Week Forty-Eight: And now, for something a little different.

An Open Letter to the Speaker of the House, Senate Minority Leader and Senate Majority Leader:

Gentlemen, these past four years I have been disappointed in your service with our country. You have failed those you represent, and those represented by Congress and its members. Specifically, your failure to pass a budget disappoints your people.

A budget has not been passed since April 29, 2009. Each year, the new fiscal year starts on October 1. Long before this, the President of the United States submits a budget for approval, typically by the first or second week of February. That gives you seven and a half months to approve a budget.

Gentlemen, it is you who are meant to guide your fellow members of Congress. You have not guided them in this matter. I sincerely hope that this year is the year you do so, before further damage to our country is done.

Those who elect you expect a compromise; they do not expect you to always have your way. I understand you work with a large number of men and women, however your inability to manage to compromise sirs, is a sign of that you are unable to handle this job.

In this you have failed, and I am sorry.

I call on you to do your constitutional and legal duties. Further failure to do so is a failure of your job. If you believe you cannot manage this task, than I call for your resignation. We do not need those incapable of their duty in our government. Gentlemen, either prove yourselves capable, or resign.

A Faithful Citizen,
Marie Manning

One Girl's Byte: A little different, but a little necessary, too.