“The Cirrus Pick-Up”
December 26, 2003
“A Washington Trip”
September 26, 2004
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“An Italy Trip”

An Italy Trip (August 2004)

OK so it was time to code X-Plane version 8 with all-new scenery, and Magic-Ben had a bunch of non-linear adaptive algorithms to make the terrain grid, and Sergio welcomed us to his cabin in the Dolimite Mountains in North Italy to assemble the new scenery package.

After 6 hours of cruel and unusual punishment in the cramped seat in the back of a 767 (“SIR, are you a FIRST CLASS passenger? Then I’ll need you to use the bathroom at the BACK of the plane, please.”) I landed in Florence with moderate sleep deprivation and jet lag to let the fun part start. I have never flown to Italy, ever, without at least one of my bags being lost or delayed (South European ideology: there’s more important things than running around with other people’s suitcases trying to find favor with your supervisor) and this case was no different… though I got off easy with only a single 20-minute delay on one of my suitcases… still a bit concerning ’cause little the baggage carousel thing STOPPED with almost all the other passengers gone with their bags, leaving 4 of us staring at the empty block of air on the carousel where our suitcases were supposed to be, for about 20 minutes before the thing started up again and finally proffered us our luggage.

At the hotel, a check-in, physiological battle with jet-leg, and walk all around Florence. It is a cool city, and here is what it’s like: Like all these great South European cities, the buildings are all old, ornate, beautiful, stone, and built to LAST. The streets are narrow, asphalt over cobblestone, dotted with more pedestrians and scooters than cars (by far) and buildings that are about 5 stories tall of ornately-carved stone, with small-paned glass windows in wrought-iron frames, with flowerboxes under each one with old vines growing up along the drainpipes and gutters, and the occasional wide-eyed cat watching you from his perch in the balcony. The city is built along a river with fabulous stone bridges going across every 500 yards, and countless cafes and bars and delis built like holes-in-the-wall (no two exactly the same) and, at night, a number of street musicians, artists, and in the touristy parts, the occasional mimes, who in at least one case were actually American, performing to the American tourists in the streets… but since mimes don’t usually talk much, you didn’t figure that part out until after you had tipped them.

ANYWAY, it’s quite a little party every night, and a really wonderful place, and it’s kind of cool listening to all these 20-30 year old girls (all over the place, I swear) speaking in all these different languages… lots of German, French, and even Italian people can be found in any noteworthy Italian city.

Their train tickets have the great art of Rembrandt and Monet on the cover, they have museums instead of movie theaters, wine-tasting bars that are silent (no music) so that you can talk, trains instead of too many cars, and fine food + walking home through five hundred years of history instead of fast food + SUV to a treadmill at the drywall and stucco Health Club.

They know Leonardo Da Vinci like we know Arnold Swarzenegger.

If you can say about 10 words if Italian then you know all the Italian you need to get by:

Freddo (cold)
Caldo (hot)
Per favore (please)
Grazie (thanks)
Stazione Train
Prego (you’re welcome, but used more generally to reciprocate anything)
Various Italian Foods You Already Know (and it’s “vino rosso” in Italian, leading to expressions such as: “When the wine goes in, the secrets come out!” …and also, when referring to someone who wants too much: “You can’t have a full bottle AND a drunk wife!”.)

Know that and it’s enough… words like “Attenzione” and little pictures of people running across the street when the light changes are things you can figure out that round out the needed vocabulary to get by.

After walking around Florence until sore and sunburned for a few days I was sitting at a little cafe near the train station pecking away on X-Auto on my Mac Powerbook (I won’t have time to make it full-featured since 99% of my time is spent on X-Plane, so I think X-Auto will be open-source), a bit uncertain about how long I could sit there at the restaurant working when all I had ordered was a water. (European convention says you can sit at a Cafe for hours sipping drinks.. but that can conflict with business-sense when you have a crowded Cafe and some jerk has to come in and take a table for hours and order nothing but a single water). The waitress decided to give me a hint, and directed the next customer to come sit at MY table to eat. That customer was Rishabh, an Indian fellow from Chicago, who definetly agreed that Bill Radcnek was the right person to win the Apprentice, and the new Trump Tower in Chicago would probably do well under his guidance. And also that Amy Henry was really hot. He certainly did not seem to like George Bush AT ALL though! (the term “War-Monkey” came up) He was off to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa next, and I was just out of things to see in Florence, so off we went by train to Pisa. The tower REALLY LEANS A LOT. In fact, as you run round and round the stairs that circle up the inside of the tower, the stairs felt REALLY STEEP half the time, and REALLY SHALLOW half the time, depending on whether you were going with or against the lean. The view from the top is incredible, with all the picturesque villages and fields stretching for a hundred of miles in every direction, to the Ocean on one side, and the mountains on the other. A lot of people have seen the view: the marble steps are worn way down in the center center from countless sneakers working up and down them. Lots of visiting families, many German, French, and English families complete with little 8-year old kids running and frolicking around shouting things in languages implied above. (“Maman! Regardez-moi!”)

There is also an incredible Cathedral in Pisa, giant, heavy, detailed and ornate… simply incredible beyond words, like many Cathedrals in Europe, but what set this one apart for me was the fabulous, bright COLORS of the huge oil-paintings inside… these paintings were not dark and dingly like so many oil paintings are, but some were so bright and detailed they actually looked 3-D from across the Cathedral! Every painting obviously told a detailed, specific story, with many people making dramatic gestures and occasionally getting killed while angles raced around overhead, but without an adequate Roman-Catholic background Rishahd and I could not figure out what each story was. My favorite was one of this really cool King, in light chain mail and a gold robe, comfortably adorned with a pretty impressive sword, a good beard, and crown that was neither too dainty nor too obvious. This King meant business, but not in a dictatorial-type way. He had a number of courtiers with him, all very at-ease with their position by his side, enjoying the goings-on in the court, a number of kids afoot, and wise man presenting the King with a scroll (or perhaps receiving it from the King) and another elder going thru some ledger with the King… a few well-armed soldiers waited for orders at his side. I gleefully pointed out to Rishahd that this was my favorite painting because it reminded me of our current Presidential leadership, which he was somewhat reluctant to agree with.

The train ride back was fun as well, though a bit hot and stuffy since the Florence-Pisa run is done by one of the older trains with no air conditioning, so you just put down the windows and lean your head out, keeping alert for oncoming trains and telephone poles. A rather colorful group of what I shall call “Italio-Punks” (black leather, dreadlocks, pierced everywhere) sat across from Rishahd and me, playing loudly with their black lab in the aisle and smoking hand-rolled Hashish, despite the clear “No Smoking” signs in the train. I get a certain perverse pleasure from breaking rules, so joined in play with their lab, but drew the line when offered Hash… that type of things goes against the religion of Flying Airplanes Really Well. For what it’s worth, the other passengers seemed quite offended at the drugs and loud horseplay on the train, averting their eyes and sort of nervous to say anything, so I guess that is not very normal… though the older trains are sort of like the Subways at New York, only going much farther: You don’t know who you’ll meet. A difference is that they are typically nicer (and usually better-dressed) no matter the different culture, and even the homeless bum that might occasionally come around to ask for money is wearing a fine leather jacket. Nicer than mine. Really! I am not kidding!

The next day I took the proudly-named Eurostar, a sleek, air-conditioned, luxurious, hi-speed train to the Dolomites. Pristine white, trimmed in Italian Green and Red with the label “Eurostar Trenitalia”, this train is right now whisking me very quickly to the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy where X-Plane 8 will take shape with Sergio and Ben… This train, designed by a legendary engineer at Ferrari, is fast, cool, and cushy, like an airliner but all first-class (lots more room), and a special “Dining Car” with 5-course meals served on China for you to enjoy as the countless small vineyards race by outside… I don’t think the kids could get away with smoking and rough-housing with the dog in here! The train tops out at 340 kilometers per hour (210 mph), and when you look out the window at that speed at the vineyards racing by there will be an occasional white blur and a quick FWUMPEDY-FWUMPEDY-FWUMP sound as another Eurostar passes by in the opposite direction (only 2 feet away on the next track). At a closure speed of about 400 miles per hour, the passage happens quickly, even though these trains are several hundred yards long.

Also, to give you an idea of how good their food is, they feed LEAN RAW HAMBURGER to their pets. That’s right… their DOGFOOD is as good as our FOOD!

Oh, and also, when you get coffee, you only get a large shot-glass of it, BUT HOLY CRAP THAT STUFF IS STRONG!


Myself and Rishabh on top of the leaning tower of Pisa:

The Eurostar:

The view from my window in the Dolomites:

A few pcitures of the village I stayed in developing the X-Plane 8.00 aircraft and scenery formats with Sergio and Ben:

Hiking in the Dolomites:

Restaraunt in the Dolomite mountains:

A hike in the mountains with Pedro:

Orion, who prefers to stay at home, on the porch of the house where the X-Plane 8.00 file-formats were invented by myself, Ben, and Sergio:

Sergio (graphics guru) and Ben (algorithms magician):

Me and pedro:

The Dolomites at sunset: