Metallica – The Full Arsenal Concert 2012

Yesterday I went to the best concert I’ve ever been to: Metallica – The Full Arsenal. This was their 1st show in Vancouver on their 30th anniversary tour and it was MIND-BLOWING!! I first saw Metallica 19 years ago on June 25, 1993 when we used to live in Istanbul, Turkey (ticket shown at the bottom of the post). Not only was this my first Metallica concert but it was my first concert ever. I’ve been a fan ever since and over the years since that concert, I have missed seeing them by as little as a few days and so this concert has been a long time coming.

MetallicaConcert_01_2012-08-24

A selfie with my newly purchased concert T-shirt

Originally I had completely forgotten that they were in town until last week and by then it was sold out of course. Thursday morning I received a message from my buddy Victor telling me he was going to be in town for the concert and if I wanted to meet up for drinks/dinner beforehand. At that point I made the decision to go onto StubHub and hopefully find a reasonably priced ticket.

MetallicaConcert_02_2012-08-24

Victor’s Here!

MetallicaConcert_03_2012-08-24

I got a wicked seat in Section 104, Row 15 and met up with my buddy Vic and his buddy Dave since their seats were close by. I bought a couple shirts, took a few photos with the boys, picked a spot to meet up afterwards and went to our seats to let Metallica ROCK OUR LIGHTS OUT!!

MetallicaConcert_04_2012-08-24

What a fantastic stage they had set up!

I’m so glad I went to this show because not only was the band in totally awesome form but they were recording the concert for the movie they’re filming. That means that there were some crazy pyrotechnics, huge props, and a whole lotta Awesome!!

Below is the concert set list with a few individual links to videos I recorded during the show on my iPhone. At the bottom of this post is an embedded video with the full playlist of the 10 videos I’ve got on YouTube, or click here for the direct YouTube link. It should be available until some copyright something or other gets the video removed so until then, Enjoy!!

Concert Set List:

  1. Creeping Death
  2. For Whom the Bell Tolls
  3. Fuel (my vid)
  4. Ride the Lightning (my vid)
  5. One (my vid1my vid2)
  6. Cyanide
  7. The Memory Remains (my vid)
  8. Wherever I May Roam
  9. Sad but True
  10. Welcome Home (Sanitarium) (my vid)
  11. …And Justice for All (my vid)
  12. Fade to Black
  13. Master of Puppets (my vid)
  14. Battery
  15. Nothing Else Matters (my vid)
  16. Enter Sandman (my vid)
  17. Hit the Lights
  18. Seek & Destroy
MetallicaConcert_05_2012-08-25

This is a scan of my original ticket from the first time I saw Metallica back in 1993 in Istanbul, Turkey

I Am a Triathlete!!!

Since I had the crazy notion last year and decided that I would attempt an Iron Man Triathlon before I turn 40, I had to start somewhere. In my last post, The Road Needs a Plan, I indicated that my goal for 2012 was to run a few 10k races as well as complete 2 sprint triathlons. Since mid-November 2011 I’ve had my eyes set on the UBC Rec Tri-Du event on March 11, 2012 which is my first ever triathlon and the first of hopefully 2 triathlons I’ll be completing this year.

I managed to sucker my wife, Jackie, and brother-in-law, Vince, to join me in the race. Jackie and I both trained for and ran the sprint distance which was a 700m swim followed by a 20k bike and topped off with a 5k run. Vince decided to run the Olympic distance which was a 1500m swim followed by a 40k bike and finishing off with a 10k run.

The training leading up to the race put more into perspective the shear amount of effort it will take to even be fit enough to attempt the Iron Man but I am still committed to getting it done and relish the challenge it will bring. My training was riddled with a few missed weeks here and there due to illness and traveling with work but I was able to complete the triathlon and was standing at the end of it so I’m super excited about that. I am now, officially, a Triathlete!!

Photo: Carter Brundage

Nearing midway on my 2nd loop on the bike (photo courtesy of the UBC’s The Point magazine)

UBC_Triathlon_02

Jackie at the start of her 5k run section (photo courtesy of my brother-in-law Paul @ http://paulgrdinaphoto.com/)

UBC_Triathlon_03

Vince at the start of his 40k bike section (photo courtesy of my brother-in-law Paul @ http://paulgrdinaphoto.com/)

UBC_Triathlon_04

Me, changing shoes in transition between bike & run… Jackie there to help me out (photo courtesy of my brother-in-law Paul @ http://paulgrdinaphoto.com/)

UBC_Triathlon_05

At the start of the last leg of my race, the 5k run; feeling pretty tired at this point and looking forward to the finish! (photo courtesy of my brother-in-law Paul @ http://paulgrdinaphoto.com/)

UBC_Triathlon_06

Home stretch and kicking it up for a final push; can you spot Jackie yelling encouragement on the right? (photo courtesy of my brother-in-law Paul @ http://paulgrdinaphoto.com/)

UBC_Triathlon_07

Hooray! Feels so awesome to be a triathlete! (photo courtesy of my brother-in-law Paul @ http://paulgrdinaphoto.com/)

The Road Needs a Plan

I turned 30 last year and hitting that milestone inspired me to put together a list of 40-ish things I want to accomplish before I’m 40. The list can be found here and is an ever-evolving one which I update when something on it gets accomplished or something else pops into my mind that I feel I’d like to get done before I’m 40.

I have been struggling with, in my opinion, being roughly 60 lbs overweight since my first year university days so going on past a decade now. As everyone knows, it’s not at all good for one’s health to be carrying around all that extra weight in fat and I have found from past experience that setting a goal for myself is the best way to keep me motivated and on track.

So of course I can’t choose an easy goal but rather I decide that I want to attempt an Iron Man Triathlon before I turn 40. Keeping in mind that this gives me 10 years to work up to it, I decide to put together a plan of how I’m going to accomplish this which goes a little something like this:

  • 2011: Since a triathlon consists of swimming, running, and biking and since I am very comfortable swimming and have biked regularly in the past, I wanted to start working on something I had never really worked on and that was long-distance running. Over the year last year I joined a 10k & 21k Running Room clinic and ran a lot more than I had ever run before, competing in several races as well.
  • 2012: A few 10k races as well as at least 2 sprint triathlons (700m swim, 20k bike, 5k run).
  • 2013: At least 2 Olympic distance triathlons (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run) and at least 1 half-marathon.
  • 2014: 1 half-marathon, 1 Olympic distance triathlon, and evaluate to see if I feel I’m ready to take on a half-Iron Man triathlon.
  • 2015-2016: Compete in an Iron Man triathlon.

The biggest roadblock for me has been, and will likely continue to be, my love of sweets and bad-for-you things to eat. There has definitely been a healthier trend to my lifestyle over the last few years but I still manage to fall off the wagon way too often for my liking and I need to figure out a way to get out of that rut. I can’t expect my joints and bones to hold up very well with all that extra weight pounding into them if I’m going to come remotely close to achieving the miletstones I’ve set for myself.

That being said, I’m confident that with the encouragement of my wifey as well as my friends and family, I will find a way to get better at food discipline and achieve the goals I have set for myself.

Keep tuned to monitor my progress on my road to become an Iron Man!

Making the Switch to Nikon

Well here we are in the New Year of 2012 and it’s been over 3 months since I’ve posted on my site. Most of the blame goes to a ridiculous amount of work that came my way since we got back from our Italy/Lebanon trip this summer and the remaining 5% of the blame was just pure laziness. I have quite a few posts I need to catch up on but for now I’m going to talk a bit about my photography.

As some of you know I’ve been playing in the DSLR world for about 4 years now which started with the purchase of a Nikon D70s and then led to my Canon 40D which I have been using for the last 3 years. I’ve had a lot of fun with DSLRs over the last few years and experimenting with various lenses trying to figure out what I like to photograph. Although I haven’t really norrowed down on a specific type of photography, I am definitely at a stage where I am ready to start investing in some hefty glass. That being said I thought I would take this opportunity to switch back to Nikon since I have some friends and family (you know who you are) who are Nikon shooters. Since I started out with the D70s I am still very familiar with the Nikon system and set out to get myself some gear.

I ended up buying a Nikon D300 just this past week with only 3,500+ shutter actuations which is pretty freakin’ awesome for a camera that was released in 2007. I decided to get an Nikon 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 VR which was a similar range as what I was shooting with the 40D. I know I said I want to get some good glass but those are expensive and until my “hobby fund” has enough cash in it to get some good glass, I’ll make due with this lense and also borrowing from my Nikon-shooting family & friends 🙂

For now I wanted to share one of my first photos I took with this camera which was taken in front of the Horizons restaurant on Burnaby mountain near the Simon Fraser University campus. In the picture are myself and my dog Zeus who is ever-patient with me and the best puppy in the world!

NikonSwitch_10_2012-01-12

Nikon D300 w/ Nikon 18-108mm VR lens, f/3.5, 3 second exp, ISO 1600

Steve Jobs

By now everyone knows that Steve Jobs, the revolutionary co-founder of Apple, passed away earlier this week, at 56 years old, from his battle with prostrate cancer.

I’ve spent a lot of time this week reading the blog posts, forums, and news articles talking about his death but more importantly talking about his life and all that he accomplished during his time on this world. His contributions are so many that I won’t begin to list them but instead I want to talk about my ever-growing love affair with Apple products.

Although I had an iPod before I devled into the Apple computer realm, my real adventure with Apple started in October 2007 when I bought my first Apple computer. It was an open-box white MacBook and I have to admit to being extremely skeptical about Apple computers as I had been up to that point. I never looked back after I got that laptop home and started using it. I first started out by trying to find the same or similar programs that I usually used on the Windows machine and ended up finding suitable replacements for pretty much everything. I was also ecstatic to be using an operting system like MacOS due to the ongoing fiasco of Windows Vista on my other system.

From there my usage of Apple kind of skyrocketed with the purchase of my first iPhone; frankly, I don’t recall what I would do before I had my iPhone. Next I gave the MacBook to my wife and upgraded to a pre-loved, older MacBook Pro which gave way to the 2009 MacBook Pro. This summer I finally sold that after having upgraded quite a few things in it and settled with the new and very powerful MacBook Air. I got my wife an iPad last Christmas and because of that we sold her white MacBook and ended up getting an iMac for the house computer.

My love affair with Apple products was not only due to the extremely sleek and sexy industrial design that accompanied each product, but also the fact that everything “just worked” straight out of the box. I didn’t need to go searching for hours over the internet for drivers and make sure it’s all the right version… it just all worked!

Obviously we all know that the popularity of Apple products has been skyrocketing the last few years and for me, my respect for the main man behind its continued success, Steve Jobs, has also been growing considerably. People sometimes complain that he is too much of a perfectionist but honestly if that were not the case, the products wouldn’t be as great as they were.

This man changed the world from a very early stage with the first Apple “desktop” computer but most recently with the iPad. Words cannot express the tribute that is due to such a perfectionist, a visionary, and although I never personally met him, a mentor.

Rest in Peace Steve and know that you will not be forgotten.

SteveJobs1

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

SteveJobs4

Italy 2011, Rome

We arrived in Rome mid-morning and after checking into our hotel, made a bee-line to the Trevi fountain. I’ve seen this fountain over the years in various famous movies, photography blogs, and various other websites, but nothing compares to being there in person and seeing the scale and detail of the sculptures. Calling the area packed is an understatement and we were lucky enough to be able to get a few photos without having to show the masses of people that were present. Historically the fountain was the meeting point of 3 roads, trevi. The scene on the façade of the fountain is the depiction of Roman technicians from 19 BC locating a pure source of water about 13 km outside the city, supposedly with the help of a virgin girl.

Rome_01_20110907

Trevi fountain selfie

Rome_02_20110907

Best travel buddy ever!

Rome_04_20110907

Trevi fountain in all its glory

Rome_06_20110907

Trevi fountain

The next logical touristy spot to move to after the Trevi fountatin were the Spanish steps. So we took out the map, oriented ourselves, and started the short walk over to the famous steps. Historically these steps were built to connect the Piazza di Spagna to the French church at the top of the hill. The steps were beautifully crafted with lots of people there to enjoy them, however I personally didn’t feel like they were anything special… but that’s just my opinion, and since this is my blog, I’m entitled to that! 🙂

Rome_10_20110907

The Spanish Steps

Rome_11_20110907

Yup, the two of us were both there, at the Spanish Steps

Rome_12_20110907

Further up on the Spanish Steps

Rome_13_20110907

Random shot of a street at the top of the Spanish Steps

Rome_14_20110907

Looking back down towards the piazza near the top of the Spanish Steps

From the top of the Spanish steps, we started our walk to Borghese Gallery and Museum which Jackie had found in the guide books and discovered that it had quite a lot of sculptures. We misread the map and so we took a longer route than first expected but that allowed us to have a longer walk through the beautiful park surrounding the gallery (our route). After spending a few hours going around the museum which was stuffed with sculptures, we made it back to our hostel for a well deserved rest.

Rome_15_20110907

Musée Borghese

Rome_21_20110908

Our hostel building

As a little boy, I vividly remember watching a classic movie with my dad called Demetrius and the Gladiators and seeing the Colosseum for the first time. That movie imprinted in me a desire not only to see modern day Rome, but specifically to visit the Colosseum in Rome. On September 8, 2011, that dream was in our plan and I was excited that it would soon become a reality. You can imagine my disappointment as I awoke that morning with a fever, sweats, and diarrhea. I suffered most of the morning in bed, with frequent trips back and forth to the bathroom, while poor Jackie sat around, browsed the internet, and tried to be supportive. However, even her patience started to wear thin and she took a walk to the train station that had some shops to pass some time.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of feverish dreams and bodily discomfort, I popped 3 Imodium pills into my mouth, let them settle for an hour or so, and then we were off…. to the Colosseo!! As we made our way to the Colosseum stop on the Rome metro I started to get giddy, excited, and nervous that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Jackie had read that it was a better idea to pre-purchase the tickets online to avoid the lines and so we likely saved ourselves a few hours of wait and pretty much walked right in.

Rome_22_20110908

The Colosseum

Rome_23_20110908

The Colosseum

Rome_24_20110908

Us at the Colosseum

Even though I had really high expectations for the Colosseum, I also knew that I had to temper those expectations because most of what I’d seen on TV, especially any recent movies featuring ancient Rome, had the Colosseum in computer generated graphics which made it look fantastic. Obviously we were about to enter a ruin rather than how it was portrayed in those movies and so once I got that expectation amended in my mind, I was ready. All that being said, I was totally blown away when I walked in there. My brain was simultaneously able to see what was in front of me and then vividly imagine what it might have looked like in all its glory.  The amazing feat of engineering that it took to build the place still gives me goosebumps. All the interconnecting tunnels underneath to move gladiators, animals, etc, was just amazing and, like I said, my imaginations was going 1000 kph trying to keep up!

Rome_29_20110908

The interior of the Colosseum

Rome_33_20110908

The interior of the Colosseum… simply amazing!

Rome_34_20110908

Us in the interior of the Colosseum

Rome_36_20110908

The interior of the Colosseum from the “floor” level

So we walked around for a good long while, snapping photos, just standing there and staring out at the fighting arena. Jackie had been working out quite a bit before our trip, I guess in preparation for Alessandro & Heather’s wedding, but below are a few shots of her in badass poses, getting ready to take on some gladiators.

Rome_38_20110908

Jackie’s ready to challenge the gladiators

Rome_45_20110908

Obviously someone has climbed on the ruins before

Rome_51_20110908

Part of the back side of the Colosseum

Rome_57_20110908

I keep trying to get rid of her and she keeps following me… weird

As we finished up a fantastic visit to the Colosseum, and I was able to check off one of the items on my bucket list, we had some dinner and made our way back to the hostel to relax for our next day of adventure and exploration.

Next on the list was the tour of the Vatican. Once again we had planned on a tour and pre-booked it so that we would not be stuck in the ridiculous lineups that we were seeing everywhere. Although I was still not feeling 100% from the issues I had the day before, I sucked it up and we made it to our tour’s meeting location in good time. Our tour guide was quite hilarious in that she would give us facts about the Vatican but then throw in a one-liner that was borderline sacrilegious about the facts that she had just informed us of.

Rome_61_20110909

A glimpse of St Peter’s Basilica

Rome_62_20110909

Funky rotating sphere within a rotating sphere in the Vatican

Upon entering the Vatican we were immediately able to a get a view of St Peter’s Basilica which was quite impressive considering the other duomos we had seen throughout our Italy trip so far. We took a few minutes sitting around a courtyard in the middle of the Vatican where there was a very interesting rotating sphere on display; gotta love those Italian artists! We went through various rooms with wondrous murals and finally came to the Sistine Chapel. Over the years I have seen dozens of photos of the ceiling of the chapel and had an idea of what to expect. However, reality was a bit of a surprise.

Firstly the chapel was a lot smaller than I was expecting but what really amazed me was the shear mass of humanity that was in there. There was almost no room to move around and people had their eyes pinned to the ceilings. The mural on the ceilings was, of course, fantastic to see in real life, but I found myself thinking back to when I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris and how underwhelmed I felt. The underwhelming feeling was further exacerbated by hearing the security guards yelling “No Photos” as they routinely walked around; of course, as I’ve come to expect, people don’t want to follow rules and there were many people ignoring the guards and taking photos.

Rome_66_20110909

Inside St Peter’s Basilica

Next we moved into St Peter’s Basilica where the first carving we were presented with was the breathtaking Pietà by Michaelangelo which was a Renaissance piece carved by the famous artist to depict Mary cradling Jesus after the crucifixion. Words cannot describe the emotions you feel when standing there looking at this wonderful piece of art and once again I am reminded by the awesome power of art.

Rome_67_20110909

Inside St Peter’s Basilica

Rome_68_20110909

Inside St Peter’s Basilica

We spent some time wandering through the basilica admiring the amazing and intricate artwork in one alcove and then moving on to the next alcove to see something more beautiful and brilliantly preserved.

Rome_69_20110909

Inside St Peter’s Basilica

Rome_70_20110909

Inside St Peter’s Basilica

Rome_71_20110909

Inside St Peter’s Basilica

Rome_72_20110909

Inside St Peter’s Basilica

As we made our way to the altar at the front of the basilica, I took a moment to contemplate how much gold was actually present in the structure. Although the basilica is quite beautiful and a great focus for the Catholic religion, it saddened me when I heard that they had to tear away pieces of structures like the Colosseum so that they could use the gold and or valuable gems/stones for the decor inside the basilica. All in all the Vatican was a beautiful place to visit and I’m glad we were able to fit it into our trip.

Rome_74_20110909

Inside St Peter’s Basilica

Rome_75_20110909

Inside St Peter’s Basilica

To round off our final day in Rome we took the metro back to the Colosseum stop since our destination, the Roman Forum, was adjacent to the Colosseum. The Roman Forum is a rectangular forum, or plaza, surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum.

Rome_88_20110909

The Roman Forum

We took an hour or so going around the Forum, taking photos, and trying to imagine what the hustle & bustle of ancient Roman life was like. In the forum there’s the Arch of Constantine which is very similar in construction to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris even though their construction start dates differed by nearly 1500 years. The Arch of Constantineis a triumphal arch in Rome, situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill (center-most of the 7 hills Rome is built on). It was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312.

Rome_89_20110909

Arch of Constantine in the Roman Forum

The next stop we had in mind on our last day was the Pantheon. As we were walking from the Forum towards the Pantheon, we passed in front of the national monument to Victor Emmanuel II at the Alter of the Fatherland. The monument was built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, who was the first king of a unified Italy.

Rome_100_20110909

In front of the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II at Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland)

As we meandered the streets of modern day Rome, it’s amazing to see the contrast of the ancient monuments that are still intact, surrounded by more modern buildings. It’s truly amazing that humanity has chosen to preserve such beautiful buildings over 2000 years after they were built!

Rome_103_20110909

Entrance to the Pantheon

As we finally made our way to the Pantheon, I was getting excited again because the Pantheon was another one of the remnants of ancient Rome that I’d always wanted to see. It always amazed me that over 2000 years ago they were able to build an un-reinforced concrete dome that, to this day, is still the world’s largest. Not only is it the largest, but it also has a central opening, known as an oculus, that allows sunlight in. The dome is just over 43 meters in diameter and the peak of the oculus is also the same distance off the ground… good work architects!!

Rome_107_20110909

Looking up at the Pantheon’s dome

After the Pantheon as the sun was starting to wane in the sky, we took a short walk to Piazza Novono. There were performers and musicians everywhere so we just sat and enjoyed the sights and sounds of tourists, performers, and the fountain’s water before heading back to our hostel for our last night in Italy.

Rome_111_20110909

Piazza Novono

The full set of photos can be found in this album on my Flickr page

Italy 2011, Farm Stay

Our flight from Beirut to Rome was uneventful and none of our luggage was lost. We headed to the metro again which took us to a bus station and finally we got on a bus to the town of Sora. Once arrived, we found a phone booth and called our host, Anna, as per the instructions on the booking website for the farm stay. The actual location we were sleeping in wasn’t on the farm itself but in a quiet little village in the hills. It was very rustic compared to what we generally stay in but it was clean, and most importantly, quiet. This was a good thing because the point of this stop for us was to have a couple of days to rest and relax before finishing off our trip in Rome.

Farm-18_2011-09-07

Entrance to our room

Farm-19_2011-09-07

Yup, that was the key!

Farm_Stay_17_20110907

The view from our room

We spent the rest of the first day taking a nap, relaxing, reading, playing cards, finishing it off with a lovely dinner at the farm itself. The next day was much of the same. We took our time getting up, had our breakfast, played cards, and relaxed. One of the main things Jackie wanted to do at this stop was go horseback riding and so we arranged for it in the early afternoon and enjoyed a few hours on horseback through the calm countryside. Once again we finished the day with dinner at the farm and then off we went to bed and headed for Rome tomorrow!

Farm_Stay_01_20110906

View of the surroundings

Farm_Stay_03_20110906

Jackie ready to go

Farm_Stay_04_20110906

Lil buddy that ran beside us the whole time, even when we waded the stream

Farm_Stay_09_20110906

View of the surrounds on our horse ride

Farm_Stay_10_20110906

Another view of the surroundings

Farm_Stay_11_20110906

Taking a break

Farm_Stay_13_20110906

Post ride, saying bye to our horses

Farm_Stay_14_20110906

Jacq and her horse

Farm_Stay_15_20110906

We butted heads through the ride, but got through it!

Beirut 2011, Arrival

In the morning we boarded the MEA flight from Rome to Beirut. An uneventful flight landed us at the airport and hugs & kisses from my dad who was there to pick us up. My mom wasn’t there because, as was customary with her, she was literally cooking up a storm. She had invited both sides of the family, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc, for “drinks”. That just means that she cooked about 10 different kinds of finger food and 3 or 4 different kinds of desert and so enough food to be stuffed and then have enough leftovers for lunch the next day!

Regardless, it’s always such a treat to see all the family that I haven’t seen in years and catching up with stories, travels, and life in general. Topping it all off was the fantastic array of food that my mom had prepared, and the usual comments/questions of “have you lost weight?” from one uncle to “you’ve lost weight” from an aunt. Regardless, it was a fantastic time with my family after way too many years away!

 

Beirut-07_2011-08-29

Group family photos with my mom’s fantastic dessert spread

Beirut-03_2011-08-29

My cousin and her husband

Beirut-04_2011-08-29

My uncle

Beirut-05_2011-08-29

My cousin, his wife, and Jackie

Beirut-11_2011-08-29

My favorite dessert of my mom’s (mmmmm!!!)

My parents moved back to Beirut after being away since 1987 when my dad retired. in 2010. They had bought an apartment in 1997 which had been a new construction but whenever we visited Beirut since then, we had always stayed with my aunt. So, the apartment had stayed in its post-construction state, with some cleanup, until they moved back to Beirut. My parents had big plans for the place they would be retiring to and so they went through several months of renovations, moving walls, closing off a door, opening up another door, raising door frames, and basically making it so that it fit their taste and needs.

Mom_Dad_House-06_2011-09-01

Entrance foyer

Mom_Dad_House-03_2011-09-01

Formal living room

Mom_Dad_House-05_2011-09-01

Looking towards the foyer from the formal living room

Mom_Dad_House-04_2011-09-01

Looking into the dining room from the formal living room

Mom_Dad_House-07_2011-09-01

Dining room

Mom_Dad_House-10_2011-09-01

Guest bathroom

Mom_Dad_House-08_2011-09-01

The view from the main balcony

Mom_Dad_House-11_2011-09-01

View from the kitchen’s balcony

Mom_Dad_House-16_2011-09-03

Kitchen

Mom_Dad_House-17_2011-09-03

Kitchen

Italy 2011, Ancona – Alex & Heather’s Wedding!

A little history first. Alex has been one of my best friends since 1995, the summer we both moved to Dubai, UAE. We were both about to start 9th grade at the International School of Choueifat in Dubai and I guess it was determined that we needed to attend summer school to get us up to speed with the curriculum. He arrived at summer school late, a couple days after it started, and the desk next to me was the only empty one. So in walks in this awkward looking guy with his pants pulled up and belted on tight and wearing these dorky huge glasses and sits down next to me, takes out his notebook and pencils, and starts scribbling down notes in an awful, illegible scrawl handwriting. Over the next few days we started chatting and got to know each other more. We came to realize that we both came from expat families and had been traveling most of our lives, both had annoying younger siblings, both had a love for sci-fi and other such geeky interests, both had been quite adept at swimming since a young age, and we would be living 3 houses apart (us in #89, them in #86) in Al-Nakheel Villas which was a 10 minute walk from the school.

Alex1,2

Random family BBQ (we both had hair back then!) and one of my birthdays (anyone spot the annoying younger sibling?)

So as the high school years rolled on, our friendship continued to grow. We went to swim meets, tennis lessons, basketball games in front of our house, played waaay too many hours of video games, birthday parties, and sleepovers where no one ever got any sleep… a few of the things we did together. High school culminated with a trip to Ayia Napa in Cyprus at the end of 12th grade where myself, Alex, my cousin Alex, and our friend Adam spent 2 weeks on the island. At the end of the 2 weeks, as Alex was boarding the bus that would take him to the airport, he turned back to say goodbye and I knew that from then on things would never be the same because, as expats do, his family was moving away. Actually his dad was retiring and he was going to go to boarding school in England to finish 13th grade.

Alex3,4

Dinner my parents were hosting and stuffing our faces with unlimited Mövenpick icecream

But of course, as good friends tend to do, we kept in touch, as much as possible, but it would be a full 4 years before we would see each other again when Jackie and I went to visit him in New York City and he proceeded to get us lost in the middle of the night. He also tried to light an electric stove with a gas lighter but that’s a story for a different time. When Jackie and I got married in 2007, Alex & Heather flew out and were in Vancouver for a total of 36 hours, but had made the effort to come out for our big day which meant so much to me. When he called me up and told me the big news the he’d proposed and wanted me to be there as one of his groomsmen, I of course said yes and so began the plans for our trip to Italy.

And so here we are, headed towards the city that was our primary destination for this trip to Italy, Ancona, for Alex & Heather’s wedding. We had to get up at a ridiculous hour to catch the ferry taxi to the train station to get to our 07:15 train to Ancona. We checked into our hotel shortly after 13:00 where we found a note from Alex & Heather informing us they would stop by in the mid afternoon. So we dropped off our bags and went for a walk around downtown, finding ourselves at a pizza place for some lunch. We met up with Alex, Heather, Giusi (Alex’s mom), and Elena (Alex’s sister) at the appointed time and walked down to the church to meet with the priest and have a little rehearsal of tomorrow’s events after which I joined Alex in picking up the rings from the jeweler, meanwhile telling him that he still had time to make a run for it if he chose!

Ancona_05_20110826

Elena & I in front of the church. I hadn’t seen her in 12 years since they left Dubai!

Alex’s dad, Paolo, picked us and another couple up in the evening to head to the rehearsal dinner. Paolo is an avid fan of sailing and when he retired he bought a beautiful boat that he spends a lot of time on. So, in his excitement in having not seen me in over a decade, and his son’s upcoming nuptuals, he took us to the boat first to open a bubbly bottle of Riesling and enjoy the sunset. Of course this made us late for the dinner and he got into a bit of trouble, but he shrugged it off with his usual casual manner and we all sat down to enjoy a fantastic Ancona style fish dinner.

Ancona_01_20110826

Beautiful sunset from the docked boat

Ancona_02_20110826

Hanging out on the boat

Ancona_03_20110826

Paolo and I in front of his boat

Ancona_04_20110826

Dinner time, fading sunset in the background

As expected, the wedding day was an early morning start, making my way over to Alex’s parents’ place after my morning shower. The boys got dressed and goofed around, teasing Alex, and getting some good shots for the photographer. Once dressed and photographed, we hung around there just chatting and eating some pastries until it was time to make our way to the church. When Heather and her bridesmaids finally made it to the church, 30 minutes late, the priest started the wedding ceremony. As usual there were quite a few teary eyes in the crowd, lots of would-be photographers, and a cheer went up as the priest pronounced them man and wife! The wedding party posed for a few photos with the newly married couple in the church, a few more with the parents, and then we headed to the front of the church where we were able to throw confetti at them, wishing them all the luck in their new adventure.

Ancona_46_20110827

Boys are ready to go! (courtesy of Luigi Sauro Photography)

Ancona_06_20110827

My lovely wife and date to the wedding

Ancona_40_20110827

Smile everyone; they’re married!! (courtesy of Luigi Sauro Photography)

Ancona_15_20110827

Alex commenting on how small my camera was since he had just bought the Nikon D700 with a few huge lenses for their African safari honeymoon (photography people will understand)

Ancona_41_20110827

Woohoo, we get to throw confetti at them!! (courtesy of Luigi Sauro Photography)

Ancona_16_20110827

Alex’s expression after I reached in and flipped a handful of confetti right in his face… call my camera small will you?

The reception was being held in a villa about an hour’s drive away and there was a bus organized for the guests. The wedding party got split up into cars and we headed over to Villa Boccabianca while Alex & Heather went around Ancona with the photographer for their photos. Upon arriving at the villa, which was gorgeous, we tried to cool down a bit and enjoyed some appetizers until the married couple showed up after which we took a few more photos and then headed inside for a fantastic dinner, wine, and live music.

Ancona_42_20110827

Photo op with the happy couple (courtesy of Luigi Sauro Photography)

Ancona_43_20110827

And the groomsmen together with the groom (courtesy of Luigi Sauro Photography)

Ancona_44_20110827

Once again, the full wedding party (courtesy of Luigi Sauro Photography)

Ancona_18_20110827

Head table

Ancona_45_20110827

What a lucky guy; 2 beautiful women sitting next to me! (courtesy of Luigi Sauro Photography)

After dinner we headed outside again for the cutting of the cake and further eating of dessert… as if we had any room left after that meal! We were told there was some time before Alex & Heather had their first dance so we decided to take a walk to the tower on the property and climbed to the top to admire the view of the Italian countryside and coastline. We got back just in time to watch Alex and Heather dance. Now let me preface this by saying that Heather grew up dancing whereas Alex, not so much. Apparently he had made the effort and they had gone to ballroom dancing classes because he totally killed it in the first dance which can see seen here. After the dances with the parents and all the mandatory dances, we were invited to dance and so we got up there and busted a move or three.

Ancona_19_20110827

Cake cutting time!

Ancona_21_20110827

1st dance… I was impressed Alex, totally!

Soon after the dance there were the bouquet and corset tosses, some ridiculously funny incidents with Ricardo (groomsmen) misunderstanding what the corset toss actually meant, and the “fountain incident”. What was this fountain incident you may ask? Well let me explain.

Alex decided to take his shoes off, roll up his pants, and step into the fountain to cool off a bit; all makes sense. In his eternal wisdom, he decided to send a few splashes of water my way and seeing this, I of course proceeded to take my shoes off, roll up my pants, and start to get into the fountain to go after him. He managed to convince me not to wrestle him fully into the water and being his wedding, I conceded not to dunk him. A few minutes go by as Jackie and I are chatting with other guests near the fountain, and I notice that Alex has proceeded to splash other people and has made it out of the fountain but is on the ground with 3 people trying to lift him and drag him back in for having splashed them. He’s wriggling around and nobody can get a grip on him and so I decided that he now deserved to get dunked, walked over to the four of them, latched onto one of his bony, wriggly arms, and the four of us hauled him and dunked him in the fountain.

Ancona_23_20110827

It was August in Italy and too damn hot… there’s a fountain with cool water coming out of it… what did you expect to happen?

Ancona_24_20110827

Hehehe, you know he deserved it!

Ancona_25_20110827

He knows he deserved it

After the glorious fountain incident, we sat around and chatted with the remaining out-of-town guests until the late bus arrived and they left the beautiful villa setting. The wedding party and spouses/girlfriends as well as a few other people were spending the night at the villa so once the last bus left we all said our good nights, went up to our rooms, and I quickly passed out into dreamy-land.

Ancona_29_20110828

What a great location for the reception

Ancona_33_20110828

Hello fountain!

Ancona_36_20110828

Tower a little walk from the villa

Ancona_37_20110828

View from the tower

Ancona_39_20110828

View from the tower

Ancona_26_20110828

Beautiful interior of the villa

The morning after the wedding  we went down for breakfast with everyone, had a quick walk around the villa’s grounds again, and headed back to the hotel in Ancona. We packed up all our bags and headed over to Giusi’s place where she had some lovely tiramisu laid out for us as well as pastries and watermelon while we waited for Heather & Alex to finish packing. Both couples were headed to Rome on the same train since they were heading to their honeymoon and we were spending a night in Rome before heading to Beirut the following day to visit my family. So we got to sit together and enjoy each other’s company for the 4 hour train ride, mostly teasing Alex of course, and said our goodbyes as we went our separate ways at the main train terminal in Rome. We found our hostel without any issues and hung out there for a quiet evening. Tomorrow we’re off to Lebanon!

Italy 2011, Venice

Venice_39_20110825

Enjoying being in Venice

We were headed to Venice on a train so we got ourselves started early the next morning and headed to the train station. The ride to Venice was very comfortable and so it was quite a shock to be hit with the wave of Venetian humidity as soon as we got off the train. We proceeded to the water bus terminal, as per our hostel’s directions, and waited for the water bus after purchasing our tickets. I must have perspired at least 10 pounds from my body weight by the time the water bus picked us up but we were able to take it to the correct stop and found our hostel without any complications.

Venice_03_20110824

Look who I have the pleasure of traveling with

Venice_04_20110824

Gotta get that shot!

Venice_02_20110824

That’s the shot… not THE shot I was taking from the previos photo since that one was in portrait, but the same view

The hostel employee checking us in was a bit of a jerk but once we got checked in, the housekeeper who showed us to our room was very nice. Unfortunately the room did not have an air conditioner as was advertised which was disappointing but at least it had a large and strong ceiling fan. There was also the issue that the private room we had booked was in a different building from the main hostel and their WiFi signal did not reach which was a bit of an annoyance, but we managed. After all, we were there to explore Venice and not play around on the internet!!

Venice_01_20110824

Hole in the wall pizza place; Awesome pizza!

We dropped off our bags, checked our map to get our bearing, and headed off to explore the city. On our way to our first stop, we ran across a literal hole in the wall pizza place that had a line-up around the corner. We were feeling hungry and felt like pizza (go figure!) and so I stood in line and got us a couple slices. We continued on to our first stop was the Peggy Guggenheim museum which was fantastic. We were able to see some Pollock, Kandinsky, and Picasso paintings and I actually enjoyed it more than the Solomon Guggenheim museum in New York City which we went to on our first big trip together in 2003. The terrace looked onto the Grand Canal and so it was a great photo opportunity that I took advantage of as always.

Venice_13_20110824

Entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim museum

Venice_10_20110824

Peggy Guggenheim’s grave, buried next to her beloved dogs

Venice_08_20110824

Grand Canal photo, Realto bridge in the background

Venice_09_20110824

Replicating a similar photo from our visit to the Guggenheim in New York City

Venice_07_20110824

Grand Canal & gondolas

Next on our plan was to visit Piazza San Marco which I was quite disappointed in because most of it was under construction and that just the effect for me. I remember seeing the piazza in various movies and was excited to see it but it was nothing as I had imagined. Onward we walked and decided to just “get lost” in the city. If we came to a dead end, we would turn around and try another way and so we continued like this until we started to get hungry. We pulled out the map and got our bearings, found ourselves a pub, and enjoyed a light dinner. After a tasty meal, we wandered to the Realto bridge and made our way back to the hostel for a good night’s rest.

Venice_27_20110824

Enjoying being “lost” in Venice

Venice_30_20110824

Realto bridge

Venice_31_20110824

Realto bridge

Venice_32_20110825

Market near Realto bridge

Venice_33_20110825

Market near Realto bridge

Venice_34_20110825

Sundried tomatoes at the market near Realto bridge

The next morning we took our time getting up, having breakfast at the hostel, and making our way to Piazza San Marco. This time we wanted to go inside St. Mark’s Basilica and although it was nice, my favorite so far was still the duomo in Siena. We wandered around the area for a while, going from canal to canal, enjoying the ambiance of the ancient city, looking through the open air market near the Realto bridge. We decided to take a reprieve from the scorching mid-day heat and so we went back to the hostel for a nap after which we had dinner plans at a fancy restaurant on the Grand Canal at the Rialto bridge.

Venice_35_20110825

“I swear it said to turn left…”

Venice_36_20110825

“No, no, my map said we had to go straight and then take a right…”

Venice_37_20110825

Such good pizza!

Venice_28_20110824

Grand Canal getting ready for sunset

With our bellies full of pasta and wine, we went looking for a gelateria called Alaska that Jackie had found in the guide book. With a gelato in one hand, a bottle of water in the other, we found a secluded section on the grand canal and sat down to enjoy our dessert while dangling our feet over the canal. We had done quite a bit of walking so we decided to take the water bus back. When we bought our tickets, we also bought the ones we would need early in the morning when we were scheduled to take the train to Ancona for the pre-wedding festivities!

 The full set of photos can be found in this set on my Flickr page.