I woke up at 5:30 a.m. on our last day in Italy. I don’t know why… I’d tried to sleep in as much the rest of the trip, and here I was spontaneously waking up way too early.

As I layed there in bed, trying to go back to sleep – it dawned on me that the sun was likely coming up any minute… which made me want to get up to go take pictures. But I also remembered from my days in the Army that nothing quite comes as slowly as a sun that you want to come up, even when you know exactly when it’s supposed to rise. I checked Google from my phone, and the sunrise wasn’t supposed to happen until 6:30 or so.

So I laid there for a few more minutes, resting.

When I noticed the sky was changing colors, I got up and threw on my clothes, and took the elevator to the roof of the hotel. And boy was I rewarded.

The colors were amazing as the sun rose slowly, and the lights in the town were still on.

After breakfast, Christine and I got the car, and drove south towards Salerno, taking in the rest of the Amalfi Coast. Needless to say, the drive was gorgeous.

We even took the road up to Ravello, to see a few more sights, before heading back to the airport. Chrsitine made a little video of the drive up to Ravello, if you want to get a feel for how crazy it was driving on some of the roads in Italy:

We parked the car at the top…

and saw the Villa Rufolo and the Villa Cimbrone, where we got some amazing photos, and learned more about Italy’s history, before grabbing our last gelato’s in the town square, and getting in the car to drive back to Naples.

A quick jot down the coast to Salerno, while Christine read the rest of the Lonely Planet’s chapter on The Amalfi Coast, and we were on the Autostrada (toll highway) headed back to Naples.

We returned our car to Hertz, and paid way too much for them to fill up the tank (the car ran on natural gas, and I wasn’t about to figure out where or how to fill it up in Italian). We got thorugh security and had a fantastic lunch there at the airport, before going to our gate to wait on our plane to London Gatwick.

Once in London, we took a cab to our hotel near Heathrow, and both of us were nodding off in the backseat. We were staying at the Ramada, which I believe might have been the nicest Ramada I’ve ever seen in my life.

We grabbed dinner at the hotel restaurant (it was 9:30 at night). I had fish and chips (I was in England… what else should you eat in England when you’ll only be there for one or two meals). Christine had ____. Both were really good. Oh, and I ordered lemonade with my meal… two sips, and I was in love with it, so I asked the waitress how it was made (it was carbonated, so I was sure the bartender made it) … she said “I don’t know, you just push the button next to the Sprite that says ‘lemonade'” which we got a chuckle from. Turns out lemonade is just a more lemony Sprite, I guess. Heh.

We slept in that next morning, and headed to Heahtrow with a few hours earlier than we needed to be there, so we did some shopping at ate lunch at Heathrow, while we waited for our gate to be confirmed. We bought some tea for a friend and confections for the kids.

After boarding our plane, we settled in, and were promptly told that our flight was delayed for at least 1.5 hours, due to the fog. Fog in London? London Fog? Who’d have guessed?

A long flight home, after which we found out that we’d lost our car keys, a rental car to Austin and back, and we were really finally home. Longing for more time in Italy, and glad to be back to our normal lives, all in the same breath.

I can easily recommend Italy more than any other place I’ve ever been… especially the Amalfi Coast, Positano, Capri, Pompeii and Rome. What a fantastic trip. So thankful that my wife found it on Travelzoo and jumped on it almost a year ago.


Oh, and you can go through all of the photos from our Italy trip: Big Camera here. iPhone photos here. No guarantee that they’re in chronological order though 😉

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We woke up around 9am, and headed down to the restaurant to grab breakfast in the hotel, and we didn’t have a clue what was in store for us. We were in for a treat.

Our breakfast was a selection of pretty much any kind of pastry one could ask for. My favorite was the peach filled croissants. Christines was some kind of cream-cheese cake. We also had salami and ham with cheese, and then we found out the chef would cook up eggs for us, so I ordered two eggs, sunny-side up. Christine ordered two over-medium. The eggs we were served had to be farm fresh and straight out of a chicken. The yolks were a wonderful shade of orange, and they tasted amazing. We also had our choice of pineapple juice, blood-orange juice and coffees. I had all three!

After breakfast, we walked down to the Fionello beach… the little one on the western side of the town. It was a hell of a walk down to the beach, but well worth it.

Christine even got in and swam, and we took a few rocks to take back to Texas as momentos.

We met a couple from Romania on the beach, and took their photos for them, and they took ours. Their names were Marius and Nina. Marius was in the real estate business in Romania and Nina was a general manager for the Hard Rock chain… her last “project” was opening the Hard Rock in Bucharest… and she’s on vacation for a month before finding out where her next assignment will be. Talk about a fun sounding job!

After spending time on the small beach, we walked over to the large beach (they’re connected by a walkway and more steps) to grab lunch at one of the beachside restaurants. A little priscutto, caprese salad and some wine, and we were sated. Then it was off on a shopping tour of central Positano. We shopped in all of the shops that were open, and bought a few knick knacks and gifts for folks back home, before taking the bus up to our hotel.

To give you a feel for how far up/down the hotel was from the beach, see this next photo. Our hotel is the little white bulding at the top of all the other buildings:

Pretty far hike!

We checked with the front desk, to make sure we had reservations at La Tagliata, up in Montepertuso, and we were assured that we did… and that they opened around 6:30 or 7:00, so we went to our room, and put our stuff away.

We bought a bottle of wine, and some water, and took the 3:20 bus up to Montepertuso from our hotel, except it wasn’t the bus up to Montepertuso… that one didn’t leave until 5:20. Hmmmm. We were put out that we’d be missing the sunset from up there, which was one of our goals for our trip. We ended up doing a little more shopping in the city center, then taking the 5:20 bus up to Montepertuso. Our friends got on the bus with us, and laughed that we were sitting there. It was kind of funny, now that I think about it.

We took the 30 minute ride up the mountains, and enjoyed the views of the seaside and the rose and orange colored skies and seas. And you should have seen the look on Christine’s face as we turned corners and skirted precariously close to the ende of the road, while the oncoming traffic stopped and backed up many time to give the bus the right-of-way on the tiny road up to Montepertuso.

When we arrived at La Tagliata, we knocked on the door, which was oddly closed, which seemed out-of-place to us. We were sure we weren’t that early.

When the proprieter opened the door, she said (in Italian) that they were closed for the night. So, disappointed, we all four decided to walk down to the town of Montepertuso, to see if we could find another restaurant open (the bus only comes by once every 20-30 minutes or so, so waiting wasn’t really an option).

It was dark and the air was crisp with a slight breeze every now and then. We decided to open our bottle of wine, for the walk down the hill… which was an adventure in itself: the cork broke, my cork puller wasn’t much use, so we eventually took a branch off a tree, to poke what was left of the cork into the bottle. It worked, and we enjoyed a light almost bubbly bottle of local white wine on the walk down the hill.

About half way to Montepertuso, I realized that maybe La Tagliata wasn’t actually closed for the night… but just wasn’t open yet, and that we’d misunderstood. So we turned around, and treked back up the hill.

After getting the owner’s attention again, and asking in Italian (gotta love the trusty iPhone translator software we had) she told us “Kochina Finito!” which we all understood as “our kitchen is finished”.

So we walked all the way back to town again… and finished off the rest of the wine 😉

In Monte Perturso (which was about a 15 minute or 20 minute walk down the hill from La Tagliata) we asked a local boy where we could find a restuarant… and he pointed to the Ristorante Il Ritrovo. So we all agreed to eat there.

At dinner, our waiter’s name was “Roger”. I asked him if that was the English version of his name, and if so, how to say it in Italian… he laughed and said “I don’t know, I’m from Brazil” which we all got a chuckle out of.

Dinner was amazing. Lots of meats, tomatoes, and cheese, great wine and good company. The owner and chef came out to visit us a few times, and as we’d seen at other places, the locals started showing up for dinner around 8:00, whereas we’d eaten starting at 6:30 or so…

We took the bus back to our hotel, and went to bed.

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We woke up just early enough to get all of our stuff packed up, eat breakfast, and make the 9:50 boat to the Isle of Capri (pronounced “KAA-pri”, not like the pants), so we rushed to make it. We got in our car, and rushed down to the marina (not really knowing for sure if the way we were heading was the right way) and we made it with 4 minutes to catch the jet boat.

I’ll also point out that I switched from wearing my super high-tech Columbia hiking/running shoes into my tried and trusted Lucchese boots, today. I was so uncomfortable in those super cushiony shoes… but those boots have been worn on every business trip, and many long Sundays… and are 13 years old… and I couldn’t have had a more comfortable shoe. Those Lucchese’s got me through many more steps in Italy, and I wished I’d have worn them the whole time. Lesson learned for next time 😉

We parked the car, right next to a bunch of other cars… bought our tickets and headed to catch the jet boat. Here’s a quick little video of us driving to the marina (note: the video is taken on the road that does the switchback in this photo). The words at the end will come back to haunt us later in the day…

As we stood in line, this nice little man approached us and said “Are you with a tour group?” and we replied “no”. He then said “well, just go to the front of the line then” … so we did, and we got on the boat.

A few minutes into our trip, and our little friend found us an pitched us on his tour-guide services. He said he already had a few other customers, and that we could join his little group. We talked about it on the boat ride over to the island and decided that it was probably a good idea to join him, as the price he was asking sounded like a good deal. His name was Jerry, and he lived on Capri, and this was how he made a living… finding wayward travelers on the mainland, and giving them his own little personal tour of Capri.

Once we landed on Capri, Jerry got us on a bus. There was Christine and I, an Israeli couple, two Swedish couples, a French couple and a German couple. The first stop on the tour was Anacapri, which was just up the hill from Capri-town. And when I say “just up the hill”, I mean it was up this crazy windy one-lane for the most part road, that hugged a cliff all the way up. Back in the past, the only way to get to Anacapri from Capri-town was to walk up 900 steps that were cut into the side of the mountain.

Jerry jokingly told us that if we saw someone coming down those steps, they wre probably American. If we saw someone going up the steps, they were probably a local. And if we saw someone going up then, then later coming down them, they were probably German. Germans love to hike all over Capri.

We’d wanted to visit the Ruins of Jovis, which is where the Emporer Tiberius set up his first residence outside of Rome because he was worried about being murdered (like 27 A.D.), and made Capri a retreat for the Roman Aristocracy. When he pointed out how far the ruins were from the main towns, we agreed that the trek to the ruins was probably best left to the Germans.

Also, on the way up the hill, an ambulance came screaming down the road at us, and passed us. As they drove by, Jerry remarked “See, there goes another German… he probably died hiking”, which brought a laugh from the group.

After getting off the bus, Jerry walked us past the cemetery in Anacapri, and explained that we were welcome to come visit him at his home in Capri anytime in the next 10 years, but if we wanted to visit him after 10 years from now, we’d need to come find him in that cemetery. It was gorgeous… covered in flowers, as the local residents bring more flowers than usual on All Saint’s Day, which had just passed.

We rounded the corner, and found the Chairlift Monte Solaro to the top of the peak on the Anacapri side of the island. We took it up to the top.

To our dismay, the overcast day, meant that the entire western side of the island was shrouded in clouds, so we couldn’t see “the most beautiful part of the island” where all of the celebrities have their retreat houses. We were actually above the clouds that were rolling in off the ocean, and as they hit the peak of the mountain, they were being pushed up past us. It was pretty ethereal hearing the birds call from below us, but not being able to see them at all.

Since it was off-season, the bar that was normally open at the top was closed too, so we didn’t spend much time at the top.

We took the chairs back down the hill, so we could find Dr. Axel Munthe‘s Villa San Michele, that overlooked the northern and eastern side of Anacapri, all the way back to Capritown. He was a late 1800’s/early 1900’s Swedish psychiatrist who is famous as a humanist and author.

After a tour of his residence, we met Jerry and the rest of the tour group and had lunch at a local restaurant on the way back to the bus. We sat with the Israeli couple, and had a wonderful lunch while making friends from the other side of the globe. There names were Achiva (he went by Kiki) and Iris, and they lived in Tel Aviv, and they were on this trip to celebrate Iris’s birthday (I can’t remember exactly which one… must have been her 29th ;)). We traded stories about our kids (theirs are close to our age), the military, education (Kiki is a professor of statistics), about how they love to come to Italy as often as they can (it’s only 3 hours by plane for them) and about the economies and political climates of our two countries. We really enjoyed sitting with them and getting exposed to their culture. Also, loved learning that many moons ago, Iris was a paratrooper in the Israeli Army. Love that!

After lunch, we boarded the bus again, and went down the mountain to Capri-town. Jerry got us a free sample of Lemonciello and then bid us adieu, to let us explore Capri ourselves. We had about another hour or two until our boat left, so we window shopped, and sat down for a cafe latte and cappuccino overlooking the bay of Naples from the Capri La Piazzetta. It was very nice.

We met up with Kiki and Iris again for the ride on the Funicular (cable car) down the hill to the boat docs, where we shared pictures of Danielle that Evan has just sent me on my phone. Iris told us that her father was only about 1 pound when he was born, and he made it just fine all those years ago, and that he’s still kicking it in his old age, which made us feel better about how tiny Danielle is, and how Evan and Shadel are coping with having a premi baby (she’s adorable, and doing fine, btw).

On the ride back to Sorrento, we sat outside, so I could take some photos of Capri as we left it, and of the coastline of Italy as we approached it. It was just a little chilly up on top of the boat, but not too bad.

Back in Sorrento, as we were walking towards the car, Christine said “Man, I hope our car didn’t get towed.” I think that jinxed us.

When we got to where we’d lost the car, we couldn’t find it… Christine didn’t look happy with me.

I asked a few people where I could find my car and they all said “Polizia” so we looked for the local police.

We found the Polizia Stradale, which wasn’t the local police (they’re more like a national version of the State Troopers). After realizing they didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Italian, I whipped out my iPhone, and using the translation book I’d bought, I asked “Dove la automobile?” which is “where is the car?”

The policeman that was driving pulled out his phone and called on of the local police, who was having coffee or something in the restaurant across the street. After talking to him, he tried to explain to me that my car had been towed, because it was in a no parking zone, and that I’d need to find a taxi to go get it, pay the tow, then pay the ticket to the Sorrento police. I think I understood about 1/2 of what he was telling me.

So, we found a nice taxi driver that thankfully spoke fluent English (he’d lived in California for about 15 years, as a marble installation contractor before returning to Sorrento years ago). He found the local police man, got the story, and then explained everything to us, and of we went in search of our car.

Our car was in S. Agata di Golfi, which is a picturesque little Italian town that straddles the moutain between the Gulf of Naples and Gulf of Salerno on the Sorrento Peninsula. It’s only about 4 kilometers from Sorrento, but that ride cost us about 70€, but, it was actually kind of fun. Beacuse the driver spoke English, we got a little mini-tour out of it.

We learned that the local farmers put nets over their lemon trees to protect the lemons from hail storms, as the hail will damage the skins of the lemons, which isn’t acceptable, as the skin is the part that’s used to make he local lemonciello. We also learned that the nets under the trees meant that those were olive trees, and the locals want any olives that fall off to fall into the nets, where they are more easily gathered than onto the ground. It also protects the olive skins more than letting them hit the ground, which means the olives will be a little less acidic than if their skinds are bruised.

We stopped at an ATM machine on the way to pick up our car, just in case the tow truck driver wasn’t kind to us, as they pretty much set their own rates. Luckily he only charged us 150 €, and we were free to go… though we now have a parking ticket from Sorrento that we haven’t paid, and I’m not even sure I know how to go about paying it.

We did get to see the sunset from the tow lot, and amazingly it was gorgeous.

We got into our car, and made our way towards Positano and the Hotel Villa Franca… which, let me tell you… if I thought the drive into Sorrento was tough, the drive into Positano was insane. That highway is called the Blue Ribbon Highway in the guide books, and that’s pretty accurate, I think, because if you stray off the ribbon of road that they call a highway, I could see how easily your body could be found the next day, and it’d likely be all kinds of shades of blue.

Luckily we made it to our hotel without driving past it (the road in Positano is one-way, once you get into town and driving all the way back around to our hotel would have taken at least thirty minutes).

We checked in, and headed up to our room to check out the room and the view. It was night-time, but we could tell that it was going to be gorgeous during the day (it was already pretty enchanting at night).

We put on some clothes that would be suitable for dinner, and decided to walk down to the town square for dinner.

We headed down the hill towards the square, taking the steps, and I tried counting how many steps we’d made. After about 100, I stopped counting, and in another 100 or steps, we hit the main road again, and realized we were at most 1/2 way down the hill, and taking the steps were killing my legs (and Christine was wearing heels… likely not the best choice for trapsing around this town). So we walked down the rest of the way on the main road, which was much less of a grade, and thus was a little easier, even if it took longer.

Once in the square, we found a few little shops to poke our heads into, and then ran into our friends from Texas.

We decided to eat dinner together, and headed down to the water to eat at a restaurant on the beach. We chose Chez Black.

Christine and Tobin ordered the Sea Bass. I had the seafood and pasta dinner, and Lee ordered pizza. It was GOOOD. When we were done, we asked for our check, and the guy said “why… nothing else is open… there’s no where else to go… wait here, I’ll bring you something” and a few minutes later he showed up with some lemociello and roasted chestnuts for us. We ordered another bottle of wine, and enjoyed the evening some more, before heading back up the mountain to our hotel.

Lee thought it’d be fun to walk up the steps, so I cussed his name for a good thirty minutes while we trudged up the hill… vowing to take the bus next time, no matter what.

We turned in for the night, with our balcony doors open, hearing nothing but the sound of waves hitting the beach. It was pretty awesome.

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We woke up around 8:30, ate breakfast, and got in the car, headed north out of Sorrento towards Pompeii.

About a third of the way there, we pulled over in an empty parking lot to take some photos of the view from the roadside of Sorrento and the last couple of towns we’d driven through. It was just gorgeous.

As we got back into the car, we saw the shop owner that owned the parking lot we were sitting in, and we realized we were sitting in a little inlaid wood factory’s parking lot, so we decided to stop in, as he was opening the shop up.

We ended up spending an hour and a half in the store. They had some amazing work, and the owner’s uncle made Christine some flowers and her first initial while we watched him work on his band saw. It was pretty awesome to watch. The owner’s name was Michele (Michael in American) and he spent a lot of time with us explaining his business and the art of it all. Turns out his uncle started working for the factory when he was 9, and had been at it for 61 years. Michele had joined the Italian Navy and retired when he got married, and came back to the family business to run it upon retiring. What a great experience at Miss Bellevue … if you’re on the Sorrento Peninsula, I highly recommend stopping by their showroom!

We fell in love with a table that was 5, 500€, and was just gorgeous. I kept reminding Christine that we had to pay our taxes on our house in January, while she tried to figure out how to buy the table. As we were finally leaving, Michele offered Christine a job next summer, after which he’d give Christine the table… so if you hear that we’re living in Italy next summer, you know why 😉

After spending more time than we’d planned at the shop, we got in the car headed for Pompeii.

We ate lunch with a couple Christine had met at breakfast that morning. He was a government contractor working on military contracts, so we had that common bond, and enjoyed the lunch.

After lunch, we toured Pompeii, which was pretty amazing. Lots of old stuff that looks much like it did ~2, 000 years ago. Christine and I were amazed at how advanced their civilization was… water/plumbing, painting, riches, poverty, brothels, etc… they had it all. We were also amazed at how much damage the eruption of Vesuvius did to the city of Pompeii, and the surrounding countryside. I mean, just thinking that the sea used to come all the way to the Puerto Marina (the gate we entered, which used to be the gate to the marina) and is now a good few miles from Pompeii, shows just how much stuff landed around Vesuvius when it blew it’s top. I mean, just wow!

The sun was starting to set around 4:30, so we finished up our tour of Pompeii, and got in the car to drive out to the tip of the Sorrento Penninsula.

We didn’t make it all the way to the tip, but we made it to Massa Lubrense, which is one town further west than Sorrento. It’s a tiny little town built up on the cliffs over-looking the Bay of Naples, and it’s very cute. We visited the local cathedral, and saw a private cermony taking place in the chappel next to the cathedral, then bought some clothes in a shop, before heading back to Sorrento for the night. I got two shirts (that we later discovered were actually made in Bangladesh) and Christine got an italian made sun dress that was very cute.

On the way back into Sorrento, we decided to park and do a little shopping before finding dinner and heading back to the hotel for bed.

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Christine woke me up at 4:15 this morning. She never did get to sleep last night. I wasn’t happy to be getting up this early. At all. In fact I was probably quite the ass this morning. Sorry babe.

We walked to the train station in the dark and boarded our train at 4:50 or so. It departed pretty much right on time at 5am. It was pretty dark so all we saw on the way to Naples was the grafitti on the walls at the other trains stations and the lights of the tunnels and the other trains heading towards us on the adjacent tracks. Grafitti is a real problem in this country, I think.

I did some people watching. The people are definitely fashionable (which is to be expected in Italy, I guess) but the aren’t any more fashionable than people in… say cities like… New York or LA. At least not at 5am. There was one young man with some killer D&G glasses and another with three earings. Those two were pretty fashionable. The coats with fur hoods were pretty prevalent.

When we got to Naples, we had to walk upstairs to go from the local trains to the faster Eurostar TGV trains. Once we found the right platform, we walked across the street to a coffee shop. I paid for two fruit filled sfogliata and two Americano coffees. Christine took the tickets for the pastries while I grabbed the coffee. We drank our coffee standing at the coffee bar just like the locals, then we went and boarded our train, saving our pastries for the commute.

The Italian countryside was beautiful (again, as long as you overlook the graffiti that is pretty much everywhere). We saw grapes and all kinds, plenty of other kinds of crops and lots of livestock, along with the local ranchers and farmers in their fields. Truly picturesque… like something out of Godfather II. Cities built into the sides of hills… etc – all at 180 km/hr in super comfortable seats.

About half way to Rome, I checked out the dining car. Again, standing only to drink my espresso and walking down the aisle of a train moving that fast around curves isn’t easy… And our coach happened to be the farthest from the dining car. Learned a lesson there.

Once in Rome, we grabbed a taxi from Roma Termini to the entrance to the Musei Vaticano. It was about 12€. Maybe.

Oh, and it was pouring rain. I mean, like a Texas thunderstorm, pouring rain.

We went into the Cafe Vaticano, across the street from the Vatican and had a coffee and a cafe latte and some free lemon pound cake. Yum.

We then met our tour guide Tiffany (from Indiana of all places) and waited for the tour to start. Viator Tours was the tour company. They did a good job of getting us into the Vatican and showing us around, while keeping us out of the rain, and the tour group we were with was limited to 20 people… and we saw a few groups that were 40+ people, and that didn’t look like much fun.

I could write a whole book about all of the stuff we saw (and I’m sure there are already hundreds of those) so I’ll just try to recount a few of the highlights.

First, I have a huge amount of respect for the role the Catholic church has played in Rome’s history and the preservation of the city and the art in the city. I was surprised to find so many examples of non-Christian yet religious art: Sphinxes, obelisks, statues of Greek gods and goddesses, among other priceless treasures. I was also crazy surprised to learn how much the old Popes (think Middle and Dark ages here) were much more than political and spiritual leaders… The were basically emperors, just with a new God.

The map room is proof of that… We were both taken aback by how large the maps on the walls were and how accurate they were considering that to make them, the guy that the Pope hired had to basically climb lots of mountains, take measurements of the coastlines and other mountain tops from where they were and the put all of the measurements together to make a map, which the Pope then used to create a battle strategy against the barbarians and pagans that needed a little whipping here and there.

Then we pretty much owe the Renaissance period arts to the Popes during that period. They produced Michaelangelo, Bernini, Rafael, etc… We also owe lots of conspiracy theories to their secrecy after the Protestant Reformation. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in turn owe their names to the Popes. Pow. Bet, you didn’t see that reference coming, did you?

The Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel) was amazing. Like wow. Oh, and don’t take photos in there (there are plenty online, so you don’t need to). I almost got thrown out for just picking up my camera to chest level to turn it off. Christine wasn’t impressed with me at that point 😉

After the Vatican, I was pretty overwhelmed with the amount of power that the Vatican has wielded for so long, and I understand where a lot of that power comes from, I think. And I can tell you at the time, I was so glad to have made the trip to Rome… and it was only lunchtime.

We had lunch at Ris Café, not far from St. Peter’s square. It was good, although I should have checked the prices better… Nothing like paying 50€ for some risotto with white truffles… Oh well, it was good, and I don’t need to eat white truffles again if I don’t want to pay for it.

After lunch we went back to the same place we started at to meet the same tour company and got on a bus to visit three more churches that belong to the Vatican, but aren’t inside Vatican City. We visited the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. St John’s was my favorite, I think by far.

Right before St John’s we visited the Steps of Jesus and watched more than a few pilgrims climb the stairs on their knees… Saying three prayers on each, before being rewarded with being able to touch the place where Jesus’s blood dripped onto the top step from his crown of thorns as he went to see Pontius Pilot for his judgement (yes, they took the steps out of Jerusalem and brought them to Rome). At the top, we saw the Image of Christ, that existed in the Lateran Palace.

Oh, and the relics in these churches are real relics. Like: the spear that stabbed Jesus while he hung on the cross. The chains that held Paul when he was beheaded. Parts of the manger that Jesus was born in. The bones of Peter and Paul…

Awesome stuff man. Wow. I’m still moved as I write this.

If you don’t believe all of that stuff happened, I dare you to visit Rome and these places and not come away feeling a little less sure of your own convictions. I’m bit saying you’ll wall out of the Vatican a born again Catholic, but it’s hard not to feel the power of the Spirit in these churches. Really.

After St. Mary’s (the last church) we ran to the Roma Termini, and found that there was an express train leaving the station about seven minutes from when we got there. We had a choice: try to buy tickets at self-service kiosk and make the next train or get in a long line and have to wait an hour for the next express. I opted to try the kiosk (Christine said “we will never figure thus thing out”) and luckily it had a button with the flag of England on it, which I assumed meant “English”.

About a minute later we had two tickets to Naples, or at least that’s what I thought I bought. We raced to figure out which platform to go to, and where we couldn’t find our trains on the first schedule board,

I looked at Christine and said “just keep up with me and we’ll find it.”

A few minutes later we found out train and the platform number and headed that way. I was perfectly perplexed when we saw the destination on our train and it wasn’t Naples. I looked at Christine and said “Where the hell is Reggio Calabria?”. She laughed and said “It’s south of Naples, near Sicily, so I think we are good.” So we boarded the train. We found our coach and confirmed with the other passengers we were sitting near that we were on the right train in the right car and at the right seats.

About a minute after we sat down and got comfortable, the train left the station, and I smiled and said “Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.”

Christine agreed and the proceeded to take a quick little cat nap on the way to Napoli. Cities built into the sides of hills… etc – all at 180 km/hr in super comfortable seats.

The gentleman sitting next to me on the train worked for either the Salerno government, or the Italian government in Salerno, and had been in Rome for work for the day. He was extremely nice, and very gracious as he tried his best to help me make sure we got off at the right stop, and we talked about the difference between Italian and American politics, albeit very light conversation, as I wanted to steer clear of making any inflamatory comments… and I don’t know anything about Italian politics. He did tell me to be very careful with my camera in the Naples train station, and I thanked him for the advice and help.

Once at the Napoli station, we found the bathroom (and 2e€ later we were able to pee) then our train platform. A nice young Italian woman made sure we got on the right train to Sorrento, and an hour or so later, and we were back in our town.

We were exhausted after the long day, so we popped into the Pizzeria da Franco on the way back to our hotel, and were treated to quite literally the best pizza we had in Italy.

After finishing our pizza, and one bottle of wine, we saw a local eating some fresh Parma Ham with cheese and bread, so we ordered a platter. Christine started to protest, and the waiter said “no, no, no, it’s not too much, I’ll bring it out” and so we enjoyed a second bottle of wine with the best proscuitto and cheese we’ve ever had.

And the bread… oh my gosh, the bread was awesome. I asked how it was made, and the waiter said “some flour, some butter, some egs, and ham and sausage, and cooked next to the pizza in our oven.” I think it was the ham and sausage that made it so good… not dry like all of the other sourdough bread we’d had at other restaurants… it was very moist and rich, and the perfect compliment to the parmessian and mozerella cheese and ham we were eating.

And the wine cups were plastic:

Mmmm. Multo beuno!

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 191 user reviews.

Day two in Italy started a little slow. Christine woke up at 6:30am and decided to get some more sleep. She woke up around 9:30, got herself ready for the day and then woke me up around 10. 12 hours of sleep never felt so good.

We decided to make today our Sorrento day. So we left the hotel and went walking. And boy did we walk.

We met a couple from Dallas that bought the same package we bought from Sceptre Tours (found them on Travelzoo) in the main piazza overlooking the windy ass road that goes down to the marina/beach. It was fun meeting them and we promised to have dinner with them in Positano later in the week since we are staying at the same hotels and such.

We relied heavily on Rick Steves’ advice and guides and took his “walking tour” of the city. We started at Fauno Bar. After grabbing a cafe latte and an americano and some small pastries, we took off on our walk.

We saw lots of cool things thanks to Rick Steves. If your coming to Sorrento or Italy in general, I can’t recommend his books enough.

First we saw some steps down into a huge gorge that dated back to 500 BC.

Then we saw a courtyard that serves as an example of an 13th century aristocrat’s courtyard. After that we saw a cathedral with amazing inlaid wood doors and Stations of the Cross. Specifically all of the Stations of the Cross were amazingly intricate. Sorrento is known for it’s inlaid wood furniture and accessories. Local artisans’ families have been producing it for centuries.

We continued out walk back to Piazza Tasso (where the Fauno Bar is located) and then headed towards the Bay of Naples to Piazza San Antonio. St Anthony is the patron saint of Sorrento. We visited the church on the square where his remains are kept in a crypt below the alter. The walls were lined with pewter ornaments bearing the phrase “Per Grazie Resivuto”. We’re not sure what the means, but think it is a offering of thanksgiving for answering prayers of saving or helping a loved one.

We had lunch at L’ Antica Trattoria. We were seated by the owner Aldo and waited on by his son Luca. Aside from the cheesy piped in muzac (think instrumental versions of “Ebony and Ivory”) we were blown away. I think I said “fucking amazing” two Christine two or three times. And it was only a three course meal. It concluded with pumpkin creme brule. Amazing.

The sparkling blush wine we started with was very bright and cheerful. Then we had some local olives (very mild) and local potatos that were fried into chips.

The salad with tempura fried risotto and broccoli was simply amazing. The dressing was basalmic vinegar and honey!

For the main courses, I had a perfectly cooked beef filet than was lean, but not too lean, while Christine had the local white fish. Mmmm. My side were sliced potatoes with grilled onions stacked between the potatoes (think potatoes au gratin but without the cheese, stacked up and just slightly crispy on the edges). We also shared a bottle of red wine from Ischia that while a little rough on the nose initially was fantastic. We also shared a bottle of red wine from Ischia that while a little rough on the nose initially was fantastic. Wonderful lunch. Actually… Fucking Amazing!

After lunch we veered off Rick Steves’ walking tour and found the cathedral of St. Francis and the nunnery that is attached, which happen to be situated right at the top of the cliffs overlooking The Bay of Naples to the north of Sorrento. Christine had the privilege of paying .50 Euro to use their bathroom.

We then walked down the cliffside pathway to the beaches of Sorrento and then around to the marina. What a fun stroll that was. Christine even took her shoes off to play in the water a little (and so she can say she’s been in the Mediterranean Sea).

We took the bus back up the hill (and it was an all electric bus too, btw) and found the Sorrento Circumsuvencia (train and bus station). We bought tickets for the early train the Naples for our trip to Rome tomorrow. And on the way from the train station to the hotel, we stopped in a few shops, lolling for nothing in particular, but finding many beautiful things: cashmere, nativity sets, inlaid wood, shoes, you name it. It was there.

When we got back to the hotel, we rested for a few minutes, and I took a call from a client.

Then we were off again in search of train tickets from Naples to Rome, and some better advice about our travel options. We found the local travel agent’s office and met a wonderful young lady that while originally from Sorrento grew up in Australia, and had a perfectly British accent. She sold us two tickets for the Eurostar from Naples to Rome and gave us good directions about how to change trains, and when to head back from Rome.

We had wine and a light dinner at B_______ where we were served by the owner’s son. We were treated to a lively conversation about the state of the Italian economy, public vs. private schooling in Sorrento and where to eat in Positano and where to shop in Naples. I asked the man what his name was and he answered “Luigi” to which Christine responded “heh, that’s perfect!” The food was good and te conversation was great. Oh, and the wine was really good.

We walked back to the hotel, timing the walk to the train station on the way. After getting into our room, we Skyped with Jack, Steven and Grayson for a few minutes before turning in for the night.

I think I eventually fell asleep around 1am. Not sure if Christine ever did. We were both a little anxious about our day in Rome tomorrow… And getting up at 4am.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 248 user reviews.

Got to IAH at 12:30 or so. Our flight was delayed 2 hours so I sweet talked the BA agent at the British Airways Lounge into letting us into the club, even though I didn’t have the requisite level in their frequent flyer program. That few hours in the lounge was our first exposure to the British. This nice Englishman sitting near us gave us advice on both Italy and what to do in our short few hours in London on our return flights. We departed at 6:30pm from Houston.

The lights in Houston seemed to be sparkling as the treetops blew in the wind blocking their view from above momentarily. It was a nice send-off as we headed for the Atlantic.

Later in between naps on the plane Christine saw lights on the horizon in the pitch black darkness. This didn’t make sense because we were over the ocean. Realizing they were stars touching the horizon was such a treat (even during the somewhat sleepless night).

We landed at around 8:40am London time. Nothing like watching the sunrise from 30, 000 feet over Belfast, Ireland. Amazing:

Took the National Express motorcoach (bus) from Heathrow to Gatwick. Lots of cars I’ve never seen on the roads, and even though they drive on the wrong side of the road, it seems to work. Didn’t spot a single stop light… Just roundabouts.

The British countryside was quite picturesque with it’s sheep and cows and massive draft horses on the hills as we drove by. Very Emily Brontë/Wuthering Heights-ish.

At Gatwick we grabbed some coffee and water and yogurt for breakfast. Then sat around for a few hours, waiting for our flight to Naples. I played on the iPad. Christine shopped and freshened up.

Had lunch at Cafe Rouge. French Onion soup and Toulouse Sausage salad. It wasn’t bad (much better than American airport restaurants).

We boarded our plane to Naples in time and luckily got seats in the exit row with no one in between us. I watched two episodes of season four of The Tudors. Christine read Pride and Prejudice. We were treated to a gorgeous view of the sunsetting with a crescent moon rising while flying over France.

We landed in Naples. Walked down steps to a bus that took us to the airport (reminded me of flying into Mexico to be honest), and got our bags. A few minutes later we were at the Hertz counter renting a car. The lady told us we were “getting a bigger car at the smaller car price”. A Fiat. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a “bigger” Fiat, but said “Great, grazzie!” once we found the car we put our large suitcase in the back and our other two bags in the backseat. Heh. “Bigger” ?

The drive from Naples to Sorrento was insane. It was dark, raining a little and I was driving a tiny manual transmission car on roads where I couldn’t even read the signs.

I’m talking crazy (Click the image above and zoom in on the area around Sorrento to see all of the switchbacks and tunnels and stuff). We got off the highway in Naples on accident. In probably the worst neighborhood of town. Hookers. Trash. You name it. And we had no idea where we were. Thank God for Google maps. Grazzie a Dio!

After figuring out where we needed to be, and agreeing to stop yelling at each other, we got on the right road and drove to Sorrento. The maps don’t do the drive any justice. It’s a crazy drive. Even more so in the rain at night.

I think Christine takes after her mom. At least her passenger skills (love you Mary) but that may be because I drive like her dad (you too Frank). 😉

We finally made it. Two or three tunnels. Lots of hairpin turns. Lots of other cars. And scooters. And sometimes in our lanes coming at us!

Hotel Gardenia awaited us. And it was nice. Nice in that it was open and was where it should be. We were ready to be done driving 😉

After we checked in, we walked down the street a little to the first restaurant we saw open. It was really just a bar next door to a pizzeria. We ordered two glasses of red wine and one marghatitta pizza. After our second glass of wine, we had a chocolate croissant and decided to call it a night. It was 9pm and we’d been up for basically 34 hours or so traveling.

So glad to be in Italy.

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 270 user reviews.

This summer, on our Vegas trip, we took the boys to the Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Las Vegas Mirage. Had a blast taking the tour, and taking these photos with the boys:

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 212 user reviews.

A week ago last Friday, Christine, Jack, Grayson and I got on a Southwest plane headed from Austin to Orlando. The plan was the hang out with Jodie and Hayes’ family for a few days, then head to my trade show for a few days, then go to Denver for another trade show and to see Joan, Ted, Lydia and Leo for a few days before heading home. Call it “mixing business and pleasure”, if you will.

In Florida, we stayed with Jodie and Hayes for a few days, and hung out with them at their house for most of the day on Friday (after the boys napped all the way from the airport to their house, and a late lunch at McDonald’s that is). Hayes cooked some of the best burgers I’ve ever had that night, and the kids got hot dogs.

On Saturday morning, we’d planned to wake up and watch the Space Shuttle launch from their backyard, but it was scrubbed due to leaking Hydrogen or something… So, instead I slept in, and then we went to the beach, where we had a blast with them at Ponce Inlet.

We all got a little sunburned, and a lot worn out… the sun and the sand can sure take it out of you. After a day at the beach, we ate at a Chili’s with the extended family (pretty much all of Jodie’s family and most of Hayes’ lives there in Florida).

On Sunday, we got up, and headed to the Orlando Science Center, where the kids had a lot of fun. Our original plan was to hit the beach again, but we decided to save the kids from another sunburn filled day… We saw dinosaur bones, and learned about electricity… had lunch, and then picked oranges. Afterwards, we headed to Downtown Disney and the Lego Store before dinner at T-Rex (which is like a Rainforest Cafe with dinosaurs instead of monkeys).

We checked into the Marriot that night, and settled in. I went to a business thing, and the kids and Christine got to sleep pretty late.

On Monday, I did “work” things, while Christine and the boys met Jodie and her beautiful kids, Emma and Morgan, and spent the morning in the pool at the Marriot… which happens to be the biggest pool in the world or something.

Christine had her hands full with the kids all day… I was working… then on Tuesday, she took the kids out while I worked from the room and the lobby of the hotel, and then we headed to the airport around noon. We were lucky we’d left so early, because we ended up having to walk all the way across the Orlando airport after turning in the rental car, before waiting about an hour to check our bags (all 7 of them) with Southwest. The Orlando airport is a zoo. We boarded the airplane, all a little frazzled. The boys wouldn’t sleep, and couldn’t get comfortable, and Christine and I were tired too.

We rented a car in Denver (we weren’t sure if we were going to until we landed) and drove a little out of our way to get to the hotel… and checked in around 9:30 p.m. or so. The staff at the downtown Sheraton were awesome though, and got us into our room quickly, and brought up a crib and fridge quickly too. We got the kids to bed, and I stayed up late catching up on work from the day that I’d not had time to do.

On Wednesday, I worked in the morning, while the kids explored downtown Denver. They hit the public library, the Museum of Art, and the Capitol grounds, before we all went to lunch together. I headed to the lobby to work while the kids took naps (Christine did too). We then met Joan, Leo and Lydia out on the Denver Mall for dinner.

I took Grayson home from dinner early, because he just wasn’t feeling well. We watched Madagascar 2, and all of us went to bed late.

On Thursday, I got up and headed to another trade show, while Christine took the boys, and loaded up the car, and drove out to Arvada, Colorado (the pinnacle of Denver suburbia) to stay with Joan and Ted for the remainder of our trip. Grayson was so exhausted that he finally just laid down in the middle of the living room and crashed. While he napped, the rest of the kids headed to the pool and playground.

On Friday, I quickly hit the trade show, then checked out of the hotel early, and waited for the family to pick me up. Meanwhile, they hit Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Dinosaur Ridge. Talk about some cool stuff! Jack told me all about all of the dinosaur footprints and bones they found on the ride back to the Wagner’s house. That night, Ted cooked filet mignon on the grill, and we all caught up a little after the kids went to bed.

We were treated to this sunset from the front porch of the Wagner’s new house:


On Saturday, we got up and headed to Boulder, taking the scenic route through the mountains. We stopped at the Barker Dam for a few photos…

Our goal was to hike to Boulder Falls, but they were closed due to fallen rocks, which was just as well, as the kids were hungry. After lunch at a brewpub in Boulder, we left Joan and Ted, Leo and Lydia in Boulder and headed to the Denver airport. Turning in the car was easier there, but the bag check line at Southwest was just as bad as Orlando.

We got to our gate about 15 minutes before we started boarding (even though we were at the airport a good two hours before our flight), and got on the plane with some tired kids.

Grayson slept all the way home, and Jack and Christine played games together. It was a great flight, and we were glad to be home.

Seven days on the road, in two cities, with me having to actually work 5 of those days, makes for a very tired family, and we’re enjoying catching up on our rest today. We loved seeing our friends, but I don’t think we’ll mix business and pleasure again until the kids are old enough to buy their own tickets and get their own hotel rooms. Or until I can afford to just not work, if I don’t want to. 😉

You can see all of the photos here:

Ponce Inlet Beach Photos
Orlando Photos
Denver Photos

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 227 user reviews.

We went to Dallas a few weekends ago, on our way home from Tulsa, and spent a few days. I had to speak at a DFWIMA meeting on Tuesday evening, and we wanted to spend some more time with the family, so we just stayed over for a few days on our way home.

We did lots of fun things while we were there:

1. Frank set up a tent in the back-yard for the boys to play in… and Jack and I spent the night in it the first night in Dallas. Who knew that my kid tossed and turned so much? I woke up at one point with toes digging into my neck. We slept inside the rest of our trip. heh.

2. We celebrated two birthdays. Steven turned 30, and Grayson turned 2. They were both good sports about sharing a party, though afterwards Grayson pulled me aside and said “Next year, remember I’m the one that’s most important, and while I love my Uncle Steven, he has to get his own party… oh, and I’m not wearing a damned hat again. One last thing: that cake was good. Do that cake again, please, Daddy.”

More photos of the party here.

3. We opened presents. Woohoo! Presents!!!!

4. I spoke at DFWIMA, and Christine got to come with me and see what I do when I’m speaking at industry events. It’s always fun to speak to peers with other peers.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 203 user reviews.

“… I’m too young to marry…” – or at least that’s what I remember hearing about Tulsa from some country song…

Christine and the boys and I headed to Tulsa the weekend of October 11th for, Christine’s cousin, Christopher’s wedding.

Talk about fun!

First we flew to Tulsa (on Southwest of course), rented a car, and then drove to the Embassy Suites. We were experimenting with staying in a hotel room that actually has two rooms and a door between the two with the kids. It worked, although, sleeping on a pull out couch isn’t ideal.

We went to dinner with Uncle Ben, Aunt Gayle, and Angela on Friday night (at Luby’s) and had a lot of fun (the boys running around) and great conversation.

Then on Saturday we got up and went to a wedding.

It was great to see all of the Kamps in one place. Everyone looked fabulous:

The wedding was a lot of fun, and we were really glad we went.

That evening we drove out to their land just outside of Tulsa, and had fun getting to know more of the couple’s friends, listening to good music, eating good food, and drinking good beer.

On Sunday we flew to Dallas for a few days…

More photos here.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 255 user reviews.

Christine and I recently took a weekend trip up to New York City. It was like 20 degrees the whole time we were there, but we had a blast regardless. It was Christine’s first visit to New York City, and based on this trip, I’m sure there will be more…

While we were there, we took one day to tour the city in a double decker (actually it was only the top deck that was open) bus. We drove all the way uptown to Harlem, and all the way downtown to Battery Park, and saw lots of sights in between.

We also saw two broadway shows: Mama Mia and Mary Poppins.

We visited the World Trade Center site, looked at the statue of Liberty from Battery Park, and visited St. John’s Cathedral [link to website], and St. Paul’s Church. We also walked in the Apple Store on 5th Avenue, and FAO Schwartz (and got Christine’s picture taken with Chewbacca).

We picked up a FAO Schwartz teddy bear for Grayson, and a NYC Taxi Cab for Jack.

We ate Knishes, hot dogs, and gyros from street vendors. We ate at Sevilla, a typical New York City Spanish restaurant set back in a Chelsey neighborhood (and pictured ourselves living in one of the brownstones across or down the street). We had dinner at the hotel, and at a Times Square Deli.

We slept in one day until noon almost.

And overall we had a blast.

Outside the New York Stock Exchange:

At Battery Park, looking at the Statue of Liberty:

Out at night on Times Square with Erin Taylor and the boy that dragged her to New York, Tom:

Lots more pictures in our New York photo gallery.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 299 user reviews.

Last Thursday, the family took a trip to Sunny San Diego. Christine packed up the family, and I loaded the car, and we drove to Dallas. There, we stopped over for the night with Frank and Mary before heading to the airport at 6 a.m. on Friday. All four of us adults, and the two kids went to the airport, hopped on a direct American flight to San Diego, and were on the ground by 10:00 a.m. AA lost our stroller though, so we waited around the airport until about noon, looking for it, and getting our rental car.

From the airport, we headed north. We’d rented a house on Mission Beach for the week, from Sunny San Diego Vacation Rentals. Had a great view, but we couldn’t check in until 3 p.m. So, we drove to La Jolla, and back to Mission Beach to eat lunch, then up on Mount Soledad, then back to La Jolla to visit the beach for the first time… We all had a lot of fun getting wet and sandy in the 50 degree water 😉 Even Grayson got to enjoy it!

Once we checked into our house, we got situated, and then visited the beach again, after the kids took naps, and the adults got things packed away. We cooked steaks out on the patio, and enjoyed watching the sun go down, before we all hit the sack around 8:30 p.m. that first night.

On the second day, Jack and I got up and took a stroll on the beach while everyone else got breakfast going. Then while Grayson napped, Christine and I took Jack down to the Belmont Park, which is like a little Midway park right there on the beach. We walked in a bunch of shops, and even watched a platoon of US Marines run by on the beach and doing pushups in the surf. Then we rode the rides.

Oh. My. Gosh. Jack had a blast! The Tilt-O-Whirl, the boats, the Crazy Submarine, the Carousel, the Arcade. All of it. He had a blast (and we enjoyed ourselves too).

After Belmont Park, we all ate lunch, took naps, and then headed out to the beach to build a sand castle. First, we set up our little beach tent, and then Christine and Jack built a sand castle. Then they promptly destroyed it before the surf could (they taught us to destroy vital equipment before you let the enemy have it if you had to abandon it when I was in the Army – proud to pass the lesson on to my son). And we all retired to the tent where Jack and Grayson enjoyed playing with each other and with the beach ball Christine blew up for them.

On the 12th, we all got up early and headed to the San Diego Zoo. We saw flamingos, and parrots, and billy goats, and pigs, and turtles, and bugs, and bears, and pandas, and tigers, and a big fat hippopotamus. We ate lunch there, and the headed back to the house for naps.

That afternoon we took another stroll on the beach (actually Christine and Jack took a jog), and then Betty and Bruce (Mary’s sister) came down to visit from Anaheim. While they all took care of the kids, Christine and I went out for a date in the gaslamp district of San Diego proper.

We had a wonderful dinner together at Croce’s. Great food. Fantastic service, and wonderful conversation. It was prom-night in San Diego that night too, so we did some fun people watching from our window-seats. After an after-dinner drink, and a quick walk around town, we headed home for some much needed rest.

On Sunday morning, after breakfast, we took a two or three mile walk on the beach. All of us. We walked north to the pier we’d been looking at for days… It took us all morning to get there and back with the kids. But we got some great photos from the pier, and Jack and Christine and I had fun running together on the beach on the way back.

That afternoon, I took a nap with Jack, while Christine and Grayson went out to the beach, and Frank and Mary rotated between the beach and the house. And then we had steak dinner again at the house that night.

On Monday morning, we all got up, and loaded the car. Then Jack and I went out to the beach one more time to play and take pictures.

And after a rather uneventful flight home, Michael and Steven picked us up at the airport at 6:00 p.m. Then lighting storms hit DFW, and we waiting over an hour for our bags before heading back to Frank and Mary’s house for a good night’s sleep.

And on Tuesday, we drove back to Austin.

What I wouldn’t give to be sitting on the beach again!

All of the photos are here.

Oh, and here’s the movie… It’s rather large (140MBs) so be ready for a long download time… Sorry, didn’t want the quality to suck. It’s also about 15 minutes long, so make sure you have time to watch it before you download it:

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 165 user reviews.

Well, let’s see. It’s been almost a month since I’ve written… seems like the days keep getting shorter the older the boys get.

This year, for Christmas, we decided to make two trips over two weekends: one to Houston, and the second to Dallas.

We made our annual trek to Houston for the Teaff family Christmas on Friday, December 22nd. Jack is definitely growing up. Last year, he couldn’t even walk this time of year. This year, he was a rip roaring two-year old, and was really looking forward to Santa and presents (he figured out how much fun it was to open presents at his second birthday party in November).

Debbie and Raymond got a new dog. He’s a cutie.

We really had fun in Houston, seeing all of the family, and opening presents. Jack got plenty of presents, and totally had a blast. He really got into the whole tearing open the presents thing, and helped Christine and I open our presents, and opened most of Grayson’s presents for him too.

Dinner with the family was amazing. I think my favorite dish was the macaroni and cheese. I think I remember that Shirley made it, and her trick was to put a little sugar in it. Mmmmm, good.

For Christmas Eve, we needed to stall the kids, and help them burn off some excitement (while Santa was heading up the front walkway) so my mom (Momo) had all of the kids (Paige, Patrick, Iliki, Matthew, and Ella) dress up in nativity scene outfits and act out a nativity scene. It was so cute to see them all dressed up as Mary, Joseph and the other players. And they did a great job too.

Jack was a little scared of Santa, and wouldn’t sit on his lap, but we got him up there with Christine and Grayson for a photo. Grayson joined me for my visit with Santa too.

Everyone seems to be doing really well, and this year’s Christmas went off without a hitch. More photos from the Teaff Family Christmas here.

Then on New Year’s weekend, we made the trek up to Dallas for Christmas with the Kamp’s. The weather was pretty bad on the way up, but we made it in 4 hours… and as soon as we arrived, it really started pouring. We got lucky to make it there before the storms really hit hard.

Jack was in full present mode at Christmas at the Kamp’s too… and had a blast helping everyone open their presents. He got some great toys in Dallas, and Grayson did too. Funny thing though, is that Jack enjoys Grayson’s toys as much as he enjoys his own…

Frank let me borrow a bunch of old camera’s he’s been holding on to for a while including an old Agfa Box camera that was his first camera, a Rolleicord IV, that was his Dad’s, and his Nikon F1 with a really nice 55mm macro lens and a bunch of assorted attachments. I’ve been playing with them since I got home, and have shot three rolls of film already. I’m gonna have to learn a lot to get good with any of them though.

We worked on the Scout a little, dropping the fuel tank and replacing part of the fuel line, and I used a couple of old rags and some soap and water to clean out the interior a little. Hopefully Jack will get to drive it someday, if we can keep it in good enough condition for 14 more years.

Christine and I actually stayed awake long enough on New Year’s Eve to see the ball drop (which I can’t believe). Then we watched a lot of football while in Dallas, and spent New Year’s day watching USC with Michael.

The drive home was better than the drive up, and we made it back to Austin in 3 hours instead of 4. Photos from the Kamp Family Christmas here.

We’re all enjoying 2007 so far, and look forward to a good year, and hope you do too.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 245 user reviews.

I went to New York City for a trade show this past week. It was a good show, but lots of work.

On Tuesday night, I took a few clients out to dinner, so that we could get to know each other. We went to the Rockefeller Center Cafe, which is down on the same level as famous ice skating rink down there.

As soon as we got into the restaurant and sat down, someone said “Hey, Britney’s out skating on the ice!”

And sure enough, right there, outside our window was Britney Spears, skating with her body guards, some guy (not her husband K-Fed), and a bunch of normal people just enjoying the evening.

So, one of my colleagues at the table went and snapped a few photos. Heh, she was acting like a teenage girl, actually, and went nuts that Britney was there.

She got up, went outside and took more photos.

I looked around to order some water, or a bottle of wine, and I realized that no one in the restaurant was eating or drinking. All of the waiters were standing and pointing and looking. It was pretty comical.

Here are the photos that we got of Britney. Some are good, some are dark, but they’re my proof that Britney Spears was 10 feet from me, ice skating…

Heh. Now I feel like a teenage girl for posting this story.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 164 user reviews.