Saturday, April 30, 2016

Writing lyrics (2)

I followed my own advice from the last blog and wrote lyrics for the 'song with a completed arrangement' the other night. I knew that some of the lines weren't right, but I thought it best to complete the song with what might be dummy lines then replace them later. This evening I had a second session on writing the lyrics and replaced about 40%! Here they are (no hints as to what was and what is new)....

Out of the comfort zone

Stranded and all alone
I’m facing a vague unknown
A task without scope
A path without hope
I’m out of my comfort zone

Once I could fly in my dreams
Now sleep often turns to screams
I’m tired but can’t rest
I’ve lost all my zest
Far out of my comfort zone

People demand that I serve their every whim
Several times a day
Invent the impossible, foresee the unforeseen
Whilst keeping my demons at bay

I’m tasked with the strange, the bizarre
I’m hitched to a shooting star
That insists on solutions that I must provide
Requires concentration when problems collide
Removes me from my comfort zone 

[SO: 4152; 4, 20, 38
ELL: 843; 0, 1, 7
MPT: 627; 1, 3, 6]

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Writing lyrics

It being Passover week, I've been at home most days. In order not to waste these days by sitting around and doing nothing, I set myself some modest goals:
  1. Try to do as much consulting work (both for the OP and other companies) as possible
  2. Work on my thesis
  3. Record vocals for at least one of the two songs whose music I have completed
The first two were accomplished without much difficulty, although I notice that I seem to be capable of working only in the mornings. Two days ago, we had a heatwave - 38 degrees - which made it almost impossible to do anything, even with air conditioning. But now it's at least ten degrees cooler, making life easier.

Yesterday's task was to record vocals for a song called 'Apogee'. After getting sorted with my new microphone, I recorded several takes of the song. Singing the chorus was problematic, as for 'fun', I had set them to a 5/4 rhythm, whereas the verses are in 4/4. Added to that, the range either very high for me (A above middle C to D, an octave above middle C) or very low (A below middle C is about the lowest I can reach comfortably). Once I figured out the rhythm, I sang a few takes in falsetto and a few as bass.

In the afternoon, I started work on cleaning the vocals and placing them on top of the tune. The new microphone makes very clean recordings; I didn't need to add any EQ in order to improve the sound, but on some takes I added a little for artistic purposes. After adding reverb, I pieced together a complete vocal track and mixed the song down to stereo.

I then took a break for the time-honoured tradition of taking the dog for a walk and thinking about what I had accomplished. Whilst the completed song sounds good,  there was something wrong.  I wrote this song 44 years ago (almost to the day); the lyrics weren't very good then, so by today's standards they are absolutely terrible. So while I was walking the dog, I tried to think of alternative lyrics.

What made this hard was the rhyming scheme which I had adopted: the syllable at the end of the first line rhymes with a syllable in the middle of the second line, and the syllable at the end of the second line rhymes with the syllable at the end of the fourth line. There is also a rhyme between the end of the third line and the middle of the fourth line. To make things clearer, here are the first two lines:

Come on, my friend, let's go down to the river
We'll take a sliver of fish

There aren't too many rhymes with 'river' so if I wanted to keep the first line (which I did), my options were limited. At first, I toyed with the word 'shiver', but couldn't find anything acceptable. Then I tried 'quiver' which seemed to have more options. Eventually I found a couplet, then another ... and before long, I had a complete lyric (which I am not going to quote here). These are somewhat Beatlesque lyrics: they sort of make sense, but they don't mean anything specifically.

In the evening, I recorded one take with the new lyrics (I kept all the original recordings of the chorus, as this hadn't changed) then created a new version of the song. Because I am using an external microphone, instead of one which is at a fixed distance from my mouth, there is less extraneous noise (such as breathing or even stomach rumbling), but the volume is not constant. I shall have to work on microphone technique and probably use more compression in order to even out the volume.

The point of the story, however, is that I can still write lyrics - and write them reasonably quickly - when I want to. Such was the case with 'Qualia', 'The road to Antibes' and one other song not referenced by name. Why can I rewrite lyrics without too much difficulty, yet struggle to write new lyrics? I have two songs - one with a completed arrangement and one which is only a sketch at the moment - waiting for lyrics; I even have the titles. 

I think that it probably is due to familiarity with the tunes: I wrote the new words yesterday whilst sitting on the balcony with my new mobile computer, singing the tune and writing the words into the computer. These new songs are not yet familiar; their tunes do not play in my head. Maybe I should revert to my old habits: pick up the guitar and play the songs until the words form themselves, then improve them. I shall try and work on this tomorrow. 

Tonight I'll try and record the vocals for the other completed song - this one has good lyrics, but I've improved the music.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

New mobile computer (2)

A few days ago, I received an email saying that in August, Dropbox would drop its support for computers running XP. My main computer runs XP and I use it for almost everything, especially program development and music. I use Dropbox to backup my development work and to receive timely updates of data from the Occupational Psychologist (OP) and her computers, so this is an essential tool. On the other hand, my work computer won't connect to Dropbox - probably due to network traffic regulations (too many people at work try to store large amounts of mp3 files or access unwanted sites).

So I made the decision to buy a new computer. This was tempered by the fact that I use my work mobile computer for certain personal tasks - mainly storing and manipulating video files - which I am not supposed to do. Thus it seems that buying a new computer - with a large disk, large memory and a modern operating system - is the logical thing to do. An added advantage would be taking the computer with me to the OP so that simple program fixes can be programmed on the spot.

I also decided that my home computer would eventually be dedicated to producing music. This is primarily because I am loathe to upset a system which works well and which I know well. I strongly suspect that some of my programs won't work on Windows 8 and I prefer to keep the setup as I know it. My wife has plans for extending our apartment, turning one room into a music room which will not be connected to the Internet; the current computer can move there.

On Thursday night, I checked a few Israeli internet sites to see what was being offered. I had decided that I would prefer Windows 8.1 as opposed to Windows 10, and that memory and disk size were more important than processor speed. After a certain amount of research, I settled on the Asus P550, which seems to offer all that I need at a reasonable price (2,400 NIS, comparable to the price quoted in the linked review). I noticed that this model was being sold at a local branch of a chain store.

On Friday morning, I went to this shop and enquired about this computer. The salesman checked his stock listing and said that they had one in stock, but he couldn't find the model. Eventually I realised that the said computer was on display under our noses; after removing it from the display stand, we checked the configuration and it was as I required: 1T disk, 6GB memory. The processor is an i3, which is ok. As the computer had been on display, the salesman tried to give me a discount but the sales system wouldn't let him; after several attempts which ended in failure, I suggested that they give me a mouse instead of a discount. Fair enough.

Once home with the computer, I was faced with several tasks:
  1. Getting rid of the 8.1 display ('metro') which is suitable for mobile phones and replacing it with a standard desktop display
  2. Defining the default language to be English and getting the computer to display left to right (it was set up for Hebrew, right to left)
  3. Removing the demo products which were pre-installed
  4. Installing my own programs
  5. Transferring video data from my work mobile computer
  6. Getting Delphi set up to compile my programs - the whole point of this computer is to be a development station
Points 1,3,4 and 5 were achieved without too much effort. After completing the transfer of video data - via a disk-on-key device - by mistake I deleted the entire parent directory from my work computer, files which belong only to me. Fortunately, most of those files were program installations, so not too much damage was done. I found a program which can restore files - Resuma - and after letting this program do its job, I managed to restore a certain amount. I doubt that I lost anything important.

Point 2 was exceedingly difficult: I only managed to resolve this by installing British English along with American English. This seems to have done the job but I'm not overly satisfied with the result. This is what happens when one buys a computer on a Friday morning when the Passover festival (a week away from work) starts in the evening. I will try and improve the situation in the future.

Point 6 - Delphi - started off on the wrong foot until I told the computer to view the Delphi installer as WinXP/SP3 compatible; then I managed to install the program correctly. Transferring my programs and data went ok but there were problems with a few oddball components. I tried recompiling one program - my Cinema database program - during which I discovered a few places where my code could be improved. This went fine, but I discovered that all source code which uses Hebrew has been mangled (rather, the Hebrew has been mangled; the code itself is ok). I have been thinking about ways of addressing this issue: obviously everything will have to be recoded, but it might be better to store the Hebrew interface strings in each program's database instead of directly inserting into the code. This will be slower but slightly more flexible. 

The main thing which is lacking at the moment is an Internet connection. I used my mobile router to a certain extent but was unable to update the Windows Defender database (anti-virus); I will wait until I can connect the computer to the kibbutz wired network (this requires the administrators to define the machine and they may not be working this week). So I can work on my programs and the Sorrento 2016 film but not on anything which requires a connection.

I noticed that Asus offer the option of free storage - 16GB - which seemed very attractive and almost invalidated the point of the entire exercise, which was to stop using Dropbox. But when I managed to connect and set up an account, I discovered that this storage is free for a year; after that, I will have to pay. This morning, I looked for other options and discovered that there is a site - Mega - which offers a staggering 50GB, free of charge! I swiftly set up an account, downloaded their synchronisation client and started uploading data. I'll run this in tandem with Dropbox for a few weeks until everything gets sorted out and then presumably I'll drop Dropbox (sorry for the bad pun). The Mega client works fine on XP; will it work on my work computer?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Programmers at work (2)

Following on from yesterday's post about the e-book "Programmers at work", here is one of the most prophetic passages which I have come across so far. It's in the interview with John Page, not someone of whom I was aware before reading the book.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of information do you think we'll have access to in the future?

PAGE: Let me give you an example of what could be available. Let's say you want to go some place in Europe for your vacation. You want good drinking water, a nice hotel on the beach with a lap pool, and hang gliding nearby. How on earth would you find out all those things? You might find the good hotel near a beach in travel brochures, but they probably don't mention the things that interest you most, like hang gliding and a lap pool. Unless you happen to see a photo, you have virtually no information on which to base your vacation decision. So you end up going back to the same vacation spot each year because you can't find a new place that's any better. There are many other examples and tons of information we don't have about almost every aspect of our lives.

Does that sound familiar? Could it be TripAdvisor or one of its clones?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Programmers in MOBI

Sometime ago, I downloaded a PDF copy of Susan Lammers' book, "Programmers at work". Although it is possible to read PDF files on a Kindle, the result is generally unsatisfactory, which is why I decided to convert the file to MOBI format (the Kindle's native format). Unfortunately, the conversion was also not very satisfactory: formatting, especially bold text, comes out doubled and almost unreadable.

A few days ago, I wanted to read the chapters with Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, the writers of VisiCalc in order to see whether there was some background material suitable for my thesis. As reading the document was almost impossible, I decided to reformat the book (as I did a few months ago with an Ian Rankin novel). This time, I discovered some very useful tricks which greatly improved the format of the book; I want to share them here.

Chapters: we all know what a chapter is, but the conversion from PDF to MOBI (and thence to EPUB for editing) totally ignores them. The book was divided into nine arbitrary files, two of which contained metadata and seven the text. For a chapter to appear correctly in MOBI format, each chapter must be stored in its own file; the file should begin with metatext, which unfortunately I can't show here (as it doesn't display). This metatext does two things: it sets up an id statement which is needed for the table of contents and defines the style sheet (which enables formatting commands such as bold and italics). After editing, the book now contains twenty one files: two metadata (one is the table of contents) and nineteen containing text, one file per interviewee.

Search and replace - a very important function when the text is mangled - can be defined to work on all the files instead of only on the current file; this can save a great deal of time. There is also a command 'Beautify all files' which has no effect on the output, but can make the text files easier to read.

Once I completed the editing, I would be able to read the book properly, although I haven't actually done so yet. The little which I have read, however, is fascinating; one has to remember that the book is composed of interviews with leading computer programmers in 1985. Some of what they say is prophetic, but they completely missed several ideas. 

For example, there is an interview with John Warnock, who is the founder of Adobe Systems. Much of the interview is concerned with PostScript, which is (was?) a language for typesetting the output for laser printers. One of the main selling points of PostScript was that it was device independent. A few years later, Adobe would develop another language/product which also was device independent: the PDF document! There is no hint of this in Warnock's interview.

None of the interviewers mentioned the Internet, although several must had used an early version (the Arpanet) by the time of the interviews. The internet gave birth to another device independent markup language - HTML - which is more ubiquitous than PDF. Even the EPUB format for electronic books is basically HTML - this is how I edited the book.

The Internet also quashes another blossoming idea mentioned by several interviewees - the CD ROM. People talk about CD ROM encyclopedias and interactive games stored on a disk - again, superseded by the Internet. No one foresaw the disk on key or cheap storage.

Closer to where I am professionally, no one mentioned ERP systems or anything similar. There were a few database products mentioned, but no Oracle, no Postgres and no SQL Server. Only in the final chapters are Turbo Pascal and Windows mentioned.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Coda: Rome airport (2016/7)

On the way from Sorrento to Naples airport, our driver was talking about the evils of the smartphone. It was thus very amusing when we saw a lady driving and using two smartphones simultaneously.

Farewell to Sorrento (2016/6)

First off, a correction to yesterday's blog. I discovered that the very quiet courtyard which we visited actually belongs to the Conservatorio Scuola S.M. Delle Grazie - a school! - as can be seen from the picture which I took one evening, which clearly identifies the building. In retrospect, it's not surprising that the courtyard was empty, as we visited on a Saturday morning.

Today we walked to Piazza Angelina Lauro: this is approximately opposite the train station. We had been here before - we ate lunch here on the second day and I had walked through it one morning (almost every morning, I have taken a 3km speed walk through various places in Sorrento, both stretching my legs and scouting out locations), but we hadn't really looked at the garden which is at the 'far end' - the end closer to the sea - properly. This is another little garden paradise with a variety of trees, bushes and flowers, featuring the tree pictured on the right with its massive trunk.

This was an added bonus as we were only passing through this piazza, on the way to our destination: Museo Correale di Terranova.  As Wikipedia puts it, the museum is situated in a patrician villa, surrounded by a citrus grove, with a terrace of Belvedere that overlooks the Gulf of Naples. The villa is owned by Pompeo and Alfredo Correale, the last descendants of the family. The museum exhibits collections of Neapolitan painters dating from the 17th and 18th century. It contains valuable Capodimonte and Sèvres ceramics, Murano glassware, Bohemia crystals and a collection of watches [actually clocks]. There is also an archaeological collection. Some works date from the 19th century and the mansion displays tables, furnishings and finely inlaid jewel cases. In the library are works by Torquato Tasso. On the ground floor, there are a few rooms with exhibits from the beginning of the 20th century which are fascinating, as well as one room containing stonework originating from local villas dated the first and second century AD - similar to what we saw in the museum in Naples, but without frescoes.

There is also a very pleasant garden attached to the museum, which adjoins an area called L'Agruminato, which is a citrus garden. The skies had been somewhat overcast when we left the hotel in the morning (as a result of the overnight rain), but by the time we had finished in the museum and entered the garden, the weather had changed and had become sunny once more (albeit slightly cold). The day would get warmer and warmer, so that by 5pm, it was yet another sunny day in paradise.

From the gardens, we walked back - via a more scenic route - to the old town for lunch, escaping the more upmarket tourist traps (or so I think) in Piazza Tasso. For the past few days, I have been eating the local speciality - Gnocchi alla Sorrentina - for lunch; I have noticed that everyone prepares it slightly differently. Today, there was only one basil leaf on the dish whereas yesterday there were several; the Leone Rosso cooked the dish without cheese, which one added later.

I think that the winner of the informal contest for best Gnocchi was the English Inn, a fact which would no doubt surprise them as they aim for tasty but modest food. This is something that I can definitely cook at home, although whether anyone will eat it is another matter. I wrote a few months ago about cooking chicken breasts in tomato sauce; I will try and improve that dish by adding fresh basil.

The evening was very pleasant and the streets, especially Corso Italia (which becomes pedestrian at this hour), were full of locals taking their evening stroll (here and there I heard snippets of English). After walking around a few piazzas, I thought to head home, so I cut through some alleys and came across a group of young Italian girls, dancing folk dances. This was part of the 3 day mini-festival, which really only comes to life in the evening (and the previous evening had been washed out). I had come without my video camera so was forced to use my basic smartphone in order to film them. 

They compensated with enthusiasm what they lacked in skill: only the girl on the far left of the picture seemed to know what she was doing. The picture shows that all the other girls are looking to her for guidance. The small crowd which gathered were very appreciative. Further on, I came across a singer accompanied by a harpist, but every time I tried to take a picture, a photographer (who was either the event's official photographer or from the local paper) stood directly in front of me, thus ruining what I was filming. Most tourists show consideration for their fellow cameramen, allowing room for pictures and not getting in the way, but this man just barged in and stood wherever he wanted without paying attention to anyone else. Anyway, this was a fine ending to our second trip to Sorrento.

I think that this trip was better than the first one; the first time around, we made more trips but everything was new and I don't think that we made good use of all our time. Our location too was problematic then. This time, being in the centre of Sorrento helped greatly and we had the time to visit less obvious - but more fulfilling - attractions. As I put it, the old town alleyways attract tourists like moths are drawn to a flame - which is a shame, as there are better things to do with one's time, and especially with one's money.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

A few quiet places in Sorrento (2016/5)

Today we visited a few quiet places which are hidden in plain view. First off was Piazza S. Antonio - a doorway from this quiet square leads into a beautiful courtyard, whose purpose I have yet to establish (I think that it belongs to the town administration but it was empty this morning). No one would think to give this a second look as they pass though the piazza on their way to the port or elsewhere.

From there it was only a short walk to the cloisters of San Francesco; these are probably quite well known (as we were leaving, more people entered) but it's very easy to miss them as the small entrance is very subtly marked. For those who want to know, it's just before the gates of the Villa Comunale, which is a place worth visiting by itself for the lovely view over the gulf of Sorrento. The lift which takes one down to the marina a few hundred feet below is also to be found in this area.

Today there was a cruise ship in the harbour so there were many more people in the town today. In order to avoid them, we stuck to the less popular alleys of the old town. As morning tea time approached, we were walking down a lane which would lead us to the main road when we noticed a restaurant set in a large garden (not where we ate a few nights ago).

This is the Café Latino which was empty when we entered, thus allowing my wife a good opportunity to name all the flowers, bushes and trees in the garden. The picture on the left obviously shows the garden at night, but it's very pretty during the day as well. Although the tea was only 3 euro each and served with two biscuits (little touches mean a lot), the milk seemed to be UHT thus making the tea less tasty than it could have been. We sat for quite a while in the garden, enjoying the atmosphere and the sun which kept poking its head through the clouds. We thought it surprising that such a large restaurant would have such a modest entrance, but a few minutes later we discovered a much bigger entrance on the main road.

A bit further up on Corso Italia, at Piazza Andrea Veniero, we were surprised and pleased to see an antiques market. I had tried to find information about such markets as my wife very much likes them, but couldn't find out very much (basically nothing). There was a very wide range of objects on sale (including several manual typewriters, rotary telephones and even a Game Boy); I have no idea of the asking prices. Unusually, my wife came away empty handed. The market was almost devoid of patrons; probably all the cruise ship people were stuck in the old town alleys.

After that, we had lunch at the English Inn, which as always was reasonably cheap, tasty and amusing - a great deal of banter between Luigi, the owner, and my wife, with me chipping in with a few sardonic remarks. After that, we went back to the b'n'b for siesta, intending to get up at 5pm in order to participate in the "animated walk among the workshops and taverns of the historical centre" as the brochure puts it. This is a three day event in which the workshops are open to the general public. Unfortunately, it started raining at about 4:30pm, and instead of relenting after a few minutes, the rain seemed to get more and more intense. So no evening stroll tonight. I went to the supermarket and bought some provisions, keeping dry only by means of the umbrella which we had brought from home.

Friday, April 08, 2016

A day in Amalfi (2016/4)

Today we traveled by bus from Sorrento to Amalfi, via Positano. Two years ago, we made a similar trip with a organised coach, but this time we decided to make our own way. As a result, we made a leisurely start, catching a bus which left at 9:15am. There are buses every half hour, so we didn't have to target any particular bus. An all day ticket costs only 8 euro, much cheaper than an organised trip (although of course we had no guide nor pre-paid lunch).

As the ticket was unlimited for the day,  we considered getting off the bus at Positano, spending a little time there then continuing to Amalfi. But when the bus arrived at Positano, there seemed to be so little to do that we decided to spend all our time only in Amalfi. The bus took the route via St Agata which meant that one moment we could see the gulf of Sorrento, whereas the next moment we could see the gulf of Salerno, then back to the gulf of Sorrento. This also means that we didn't travel all the way along the famous coastal road, although we did have our share of hairpin bends and splendid views. As Rick Steves put it, the costal trip from Sorrento to Salerno will leave your mouth open and your film exposed. You'll gain respect for the Italian engineers who built the road - and even more respect for the bus drivers who drive it. As you hyperventilate, notice how the Mediterranean, a sheer 500-foot drop below, twinkles.

After morning tea, we walked up and down the tourist alley before stopping at a restaurant for lunch. As there are so many restaurants, choosing one seems very much to be a random event. This time, however, I think that we made a good choice: Il Tari. Once again, we had grilled sea bass, my wife with salad and I with grilled mixed vegetables (not included with the fish). Although the meal was 10 euro more expensive than last night's meal at Leone Rosso, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

After leaving the restaurant, we walked back down to the town's centre, stopping in a shop selling ceramics. There are as many shops selling ceramics in Amalfi as there are restaurants, but this one was special. It sells a line of specially made ceramics, designed by a local artist. The colours - mainly olive green - seem exclusive to this shop and we were sorely tempted by some of the items. Unfortunately, the quality and exclusivity are directly related to the prices, which were just too high to justify (45 Euro for a salt and pepper set).

After picking up a few more little pieces, we found ourselves at the bus stop, where there was a bus waiting to take us home to Sorrento. We arrived in Amalfi at 10:45 and left at 15:00: maybe only four hours, but those were very enjoyable four hours. We also had the fun of another bus ride along the Amalfi coast to look forward to.

In the evening, we bought little bits and pieces in the local shops - lemon soap, limoncello, lemon chocolate, etc - as gifts. I would also like to mention Guiliana Petagna, from whom we bought two sets of wooden coasters. Unfortunately, she doesn't appear to have much of a web presence, but her shop can be found at Via Tasso 24. 

Today started a three day 'festival', in which local artisans open up their workshops to the general public. Obviously we didn't see very much of this today, but tomorrow there should be a fuller report.

A few general remarks about Sorrento in early April: so far, the weather has been very good. The first two days were very hot but it has cooled a little. As I wrote before, yesterday it rained a little in the evening, and tonight a few drops of rain also fell. The forecast is for more rain, but every day it seems to be delayed by another day, so hopefully the next two days will stay dry.

There are far fewer people in Sorrento in early April than there are in June, which means that it's very easy to walk around the alleys of the old town. There were some groups today in Amalfi but they mysteriously disappeared in short order. The groups that we have seen in Sorrento seem to be composed of Italian schoolchildren; they've now gone, to spend the weekend at home, and  most of the people now walking along Corso Italia outside our window speak Italian.

I wrote the other day about the economics of the shops in the market. Today in Amalfi, I spoke with the sales lady of a dress shop in Amalfi (she was British and came to Italy about twenty years ago). I asked her whether the stock belonged to the shop or was on consignment (which means that the shop pays the suppliers only when something is bought): she surprised me by saying that the shop owns all the stock. She wished that it were on consignment - the stock represents a very large investment which may take a long time to pay back. I didn't see any other customers in the shop, and we were there for at least half an hour. The shop owner would like a quick turnover but it seems as if business is slow. Presumably the pace improves during May through September, which is when the bulk of the tourists come. It seemed impolite to ask many business related questions.

Interlude: Preventing CB messages on mobile phones (2016/4A)

I have just discovered something about mobile phones which I would like to pass on. Both times that we have been in Sorrento, we have received almost hourly messages from something called 'CB', normally with the enlightening text "Naples". Those who I have asked did not know what these meant. Today I received more messages from the same source, only with the content "Salerno", which is close to Amalfi. Upon returning home, I decided to see whether the Internet could shine any light on these messages, preferably telling me how to prevent receiving them. This is what I found.....

CB stands for Cell Broadcast and it is a chance of your provider to send messages to a group of smartphones, which are logged in a specific cell tower. Most messages received via Cell Broadcast are marketing messages of your mobile operator.
To stop receiving CB messages, go to Messaging then tap the Menu key menu key  and select Settings. Find CB activation and Uncheck it.

Presumably some phones have this option automatically cancelled, but neither my phone nor my wife's phone  had this option unset. Obviously we don't get these messages in Israel otherwise we would have changed the setting a long time ago. At least now we have been 'immunised'.

A day in Naples (2016/3)

I know that I skipped a day: on Wednesday, we didn't do much apart from walking up and down Sorrento and visiting places and shops where we hadn't been before.

Yesterday, we took the train to Naples; although it was about half full when leaving Sorrento, it filled up pretty quickly and it was standing room only for most of the journey. The trip takes about an hour: at times, the train goes quite fast, but there were also long stops (tunnels have only one set of rails, so there has to be synchronisation with trains coming the other way.

Naples train station is like an airport: it is very large and has many platforms. The Circumvesuvian platforms are at the far end of the station, so we had to walk a bit before finding anything. Tourist information is one floor up from the platform concourse so it took us some time to find it. I could see that in order to get to the National Archeological Museum, we could take the Line 1 metro, which saved having to negotiate above-ground Naples. The metro station is deep underground and is very modern.

Arriving at the 'Museo' station, it was only a short walk to the very imposing museum building. The best exhibit in the museum contained frescoes taken from buildings in Pompeii and surrounding area from the first and second century AD: these were astounding. The statues found from the villas in the same area were also very good, but then, we are used to seeing such good craftmanship (I don't mean to be blase).

Despite enjoying the exhibits, we began suffering from 'museum feet', the condition in which the soles of one's feet begin to hurt from too much standing around. So after spending some time trying to find an exit (I imagined us getting lost and spending weeks in the museum before someone found our bodies; even an attendant agreed that the exits were poorly signed), we managed to find our way down to the ground floor and into the expensive museum shop, where we bought a little book about the frescoes.

After finishing with the museum, we looked for somewhere to eat and found a funky and amusing hole in the wall opposite the museum (there wasn't much of a choice in where to eat). I had some kind of pastry with cheese and grilled vegetables, and to drink I decided to have something different: I think this was supposed to be hot chocolate, but it didn't really taste of anything. At least it wasn't fizzy.

After our cheap lunch, I noticed that there was a bus stop for those 'hop on, hop off' buses nearby. I realised that having a trip on one of these would give us a chance to see Naples, so we waited ... and waited ... and eventually a bus turned up. The price was 22 Euro each, which seems somewhat expensive (especially as the museum was only 13 euro each, and the public transport was exceedingly cheap). Anyway, we rode on this bus for about an hour, giving us the opportunity to realise that (as we had been told) Naples is not a very interesting place. Apparently it's much cleaner than it used to be, but that's about the only positive thing that one can write (the metro is good, though).

Joke: my wife wanted to buy a postcard of Naples, but we couldn't find one. This is because there is nothing pretty enough to put on a postcard.

When the ride finished (in front of a castle which is postcard pretty), we were told that there was another bus waiting which would take us on a second route around Naples. So we got off one bus, onto the other then off we drove. This ride was mainly around the port area and hills on the costal side of Naples; better than the first ride, but still nothing really worth writing home about.

When we got back to the castle, we were told that the final bus had left (we were intending to ride it back to the museum so that we could catch the metro back to Garibaldi Station), but fortunately there was another metro stop only about 200 metres away. We were back at the main station shortly then went down to the Circumvesuvian platforms, making sure that we were on the correct platform (there are four) for Sorrento. The train was packed, but slowly people got off, and after a few stops we were able to sit down. Incidentally, both my wife and I noticed that girls' spectacle frames were very thick - and to my eye, unattractive.

When we got back to Sorrento (about 7pm), it was raining lightly, so I suggested that we eat in the nearby Leone Rosso restaurant (one minute from the train station), which had received good reviews. The restaurant was about half full when we went in, but filled up as we ate; there was a very welcoming atmosphere. We had our regular grilled sea bream, which the waiter deboned for us. I don't know whether it was his handling or the way the fish was cooked, but I didn't enjoy it very much. All the reviews mention that something was given for free; we were served two small glasses of limoncello (wasted upon us) and also had two euros removed from our 45 euro bill. But we left a tip....

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Sorrento shopping (2016/2)

As we had been awake from 1am yesterday, it's not surprising that towards the evening, we began to wilt. I went to bed at about 8pm, so of course, I was up at 6am Sorrento time. I decided to go out for a walk and film various places whilst no one is around. I started off at Piazza Tasso and walked around several back streets before I arrived at a place which I recognised. From there I walked up and down Corso Italia (the main street) before coming back to the hotel.

Breakfast is a peculiar affair: as we are staying what is technically a bed and breakfast place, there is no breakfast room. There is a small 'kitchen' in which food is laid out, we fill a tray with what we want then retire to our room to eat. Actually, apart from the lack of eggs, there is enough to eat: yoghurt, bread and cheese, jam and cakes. This kitchen area is open all day long, so one can have tea at any time, although I discovered in the afternoon that there was no milk; I popped out to a grocery store to buy half a litre which we keep in our fridge.

After breakfast, we went out to see the shops. Unlike the last time we were in Sorrento, there aren't too many tourists, and being in the centre of town, we could start much earlier. So the main market street was fairly empty and we had a good chance to look at the shops. One of the first places that we saw was a shoe shop: I want to buy a pair of light summer shoes, which cost here less than half of what they cost in Israel. I decided just to make a note of the shop and see whether there were any others.

I was trying to work out the economics of some of these shops: there must be at least fifty within a few hundred metres, each selling the same items (as pictured above): lemon soap, lemon biscuits, limoncello, olive oil and similar. The prices are almost all the same, so no one has any advantage. As far as I can figure it out, when the streets are crowded (especially in the early evening), every shop gets about the same number of clients, so everyone is happy.

My wife then got stuck in a nice shop selling self designed and produced cashmere and linen. We were very surprised to see there linen jackets for men - after the trouble that we had the previous time. Of course I didn't buy, but it was interesting to see. The jackets here were slightly more expensive than the one that I bought in Capri. My wife bought a lovely linen jacket, and elsewhere I bought a linen shirt which I intend to wear tomorrow.

We continued down the street, finding another shoe shop with cheaper shoes, but again filed it away for later. We were aiming for a shop which sells carved wood - again, we had purchased goods there last time. There was a reunion between Guiliana, the saleswoman, and my wife; we spent some time in there without buying anything. The rest of the morning was spent going up and down, looking at things but not buying.

After lunch, we went back to the second shoe shop and I tried on several pairs of shoes, discovering that my feet have apparently shrunk. I'm normally a size 43, but here a size 40 fitted me well. Unfortunately, the shoes didn't feel right and I decided not to buy.

After siesta, we had a cup of tea (see the earlier reference to milk) then went out to see a special event: seven pizza palaces were combining efforts in order to produce a 100 metre long pizza! Slices were to be sold, the profits going to raise funds for a public defibrillator. There was quite a crowd, but the event as a whole was slightly disappointing. I had naively thought that there would be seven very long pizzas strung together, but in reality, there were hundreds of small pizzas laid out on contiguous tables. As these were placed together at about 5pm, by 5:10pm they were already cold and less attractive. We left at around 6pm, by which time not one piece of pizza had been consumed.

So we had a lovely (and expensive) sea bream dinner in a garden restaurant by way of compensation.

Something which I forgot from yesterday: when I bought time for our Italian phones, the salesman told me that one has to buy time at least once a year, otherwise the numbers become invalid and one has to buy a new sim. So far, we have managed with this limitation but I doubt that that we will be returning to Italy in the next twelve months. 

Monday, April 04, 2016

Return to Sorrento (2016/1)

For various reasons, we decided to take a week's holiday at the beginning of April - not the usual touristy holiday time - and return to Sorrento. The idea is to have a rest and a good time - no day trips are planned!

So, after getting up at some unholy hour this morning, being driven to Ben Gurion airport, being flown to Rome and thence to Naples, and finally being driven (by a very nice driver) to Sorrento ... we haven't done very much except unpack and and eat lunch at the British Inn.

This time around, we're staying in the centre of Sorrento in Casa Sorrentino. With a big bedroom and a reasonably sized bathroom, we also have a small balcony overlooking Corso Italia, which is the main street. Walking down from our b'n'b to the English Inn, we remembered places from last time. As far as we can establish, we didn't normally walk as far as where we are now (which is one minute from Piazza Tasso).

The English Inn, home of fish and chips, poached egg on toast, etc