Alpine view

All the Alps in one view.

Zürich woke to yet another cloudy morning, as the sun rose on winter solstice. On this, the shortest day of the year, we hopped on a plane to Washington, DC, following the sun to the west. Flying high above the clouds, we enjoyed daylight for 15+ hours, though inside the plane we never really got to enjoy the sunshine. When I checked out the window, soon after we reached cruising altitude, I was blessed with a grand panoramic view of the Alps – the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps – spread out beyond a sea of clouds.

The Alps, seen from the airplane leaving Zurich… with low clouds covering all the lowlands.

Skiing Zermatt

Glorious scenery, fabulous weather.

Three days of skiing in Zermatt, surrounded by gorgeous scenery and in perfect weather. Sunshine, no wind, temps around the freezing point. Good snow conditions. 40 open lifts, 211 kilometers of open slopes. No crowds, no lines. The Matterhorn in view nearly all the time, flanked by incredible snow-covered peaks and dripping with ancient glaciers. It doesn’t get much better than this. Read on, and check the photo gallery!

The Matterhorn, seen late afternoon from the ski slopes at Zermatt.
Continue reading “Skiing Zermatt”


A beautiful day to visit Lugano, in the Italian part of Switzerland.

The weather is often very different on the opposite side of Switzerland, because the country’s Alpine backbone breaks up the clouds and airflow patterns.  On this cloudy day in Zürich we hopped a Eurocity train to Lugano, through the Gottard Base Tunnel (the longest railway tunnel in the world), and popped out into the sunshine on the Italian side of Switzerland.  Once in the pretty lakeside city of Lugano, we walked the streets of old town, dined on pasta and pizza, and strolled along the lakeshore.  I climbed up to Parco Panoramico, to catch some panoramic views across the lake and the city to the Alps beyond.  Read on, and check out the gallery of photos.


Continue reading “Lugano”


We spent a week on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea, from Malta to Sicily to Greece.

Thus concludes our cruise of the Mediterranean from Malta to Sicily and on to Greece and Athens.    We were incredibly lucky with the weather – blue-sky sunshine every day, unusually warm for October, and perfectly calm seas. On board our ship Le Bougainville, which is only five months old, the staff was friendly, the accommodations comfortable, and the food fabulous.  (French chef; need I say more?)

The highlight of our time on-board, though, was a series of lectures and panel discussions on the topic of “World Affairs”, organized by Washington & Lee University’s office of lifelong learning.  (Although we were part of the W&L group, we comprised only half of the passengers; they were also welcome at the events.)   The speakers included Fareed Zakaria from CNN, John McLaughlin retired from CIA, Daniel Mendelsohn from Bard College, and Provost Marc Conner from Washington & Lee.  Every lecture and panel was a fascinating reflection on world affairs from the time of the ancient Greeks and Persians to the dramatic news of this week (notably, involving Washington, Ukraine, and Syria).

See the photo gallery for a few photos of the ship, the gallery of “favorite photos” for the entire cruise, and the blog posting from each stop on our cruise:



We anchored in the bay of Naxos as the first rays of the sun struck the steam billowing from the craters of Mount Etna.

I rose early to watch the sunrise over the Mediterranean sea, sitting with my tea and pastries in the café at the rear of the ship as it cruised slowly into the port of Naxos, Sicily.  The sky was totally clear and the wind completely calm.  As the day brightened and the lights from seaside Sicily towns faded, Le Bougainville dropped its anchor in the harbor, where Mount Etna dominates the surrounding hilly landscape.  When the sun finally rose above the sea behind us, its first rays illuminated the cratered peaks of Etna’s 10,912’ mountain summit – and the steam clouds emanating from its five active craters.  Read on, and check out the photo gallery.2019-10-13-73192.jpg

Continue reading “Taormina”


A quick visit to the ancient Greek city of Siracusa (Syracuse) in Sicily.

After a calm overnight cruise from Malta to Sicily, we arrived just before sunrise in the port of Catania, with the aim of spending the morning visiting Siracusa (Syracuse), the modern capital city of Sicily and the site of ancient Greek and Roman cities.  It was colonized by Greeks in 734 BC, and “for some time stood as the most powerful Greek city anywhere in the Mediterranean.” Read on and check out the photo gallery.

2019-10-12-73183.jpg Continue reading “Siracusa”

Florence – art, food, and computing

The view of the Duomo from the tower at Palazzo Vecchio - Florence
View of the Duomo from the tower at Palazzo Vecchio

I had the pleasure of visiting Florence, Italy — my first time to this beautiful city.  I was there to attend the International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services (MobiSys), but built in an extra day for exploring the sights and smells of Florence.  The weather was beautiful and sunny, most of the time, leading to many wonderful photographs.

Despite attending most of the sessions of the conference, I had enough time to hike around town and see the highlights of the most interesting or significant museums, all within about 72 hours:

  • Museo di Palazzo Vecchio – with cool archaeological dig showing Roman and other pre-modern foundations below this building, and a climb of its (Torre di Palazzo Vecchio) for grand views.
  • Piazza della Signoria – the plaza outside Palazzo Vecchio, with its own stunning set of sculptures and a crossroads for tourists from all nations.
  • Michelangelo's "David" - Galleria dell'Accademia
    Michelangelo’s “David” – Galleria dell’Accademia

    Galleria dell’Accademia – with Michelangelo’s stunning statue of David.

  • Museo Nazionale del Bargello – with some nice Michelangelo sculptures.
  • Galleria degli Uffizi – the largest museum, with an incredible array of artwork and sculpture, too much to absorb in a few hours.
  • Mercato Centrale – packed with a dizzying array of produce, meats, fish, and other delectables.
  • Duomo’s Cupola – with a claustrophobic climb between the interior and exterior layers of the dome and grand scenic views across all of Florence.
  • Duomo’s Campanile di Giotto –  a steep climb of the bell-tower next to Duomo, with great views of the Duomo and the whole city.
  • Duomo’s Battistero di San Giovanni – despite being wrapped in scaffolding, the exterior doors and interior artwork are stunning.
  • Basilica of Santa Croce – a grand cathedral with interior memorials to notable scientists like Galileo, Fermi, Marconi, and Leonardo da Vinci… and some lesser-known guys like Michelangelo, Dante, and Machiavelli.
  • Museo Galileo – with incredible scientific instruments and artifacts, including Galileo’s finger.
  • Ponte Vecchio – a bridge with gold and jewelry shops cantilevered off either side and hundreds of pedestrians strolling up the middle.
  • Forte Belvedere – with great sunset views of the city from across the River Arno.
  • Fortezza da Basso – the largest fortress in the city and now the site of a conference center where MobiSys and WWW were being held.

A particularly decorative lantern-holder on Via de Tornabuoni.
A particularly decorative lantern-holder on Via de Tornabuoni.

There were thousands of other tourists (mostly American college students beginning their summer travel); long lines and crowded museums seemed inevitable. I purchased the Firenze Card – 72 euros for 72 hours of free access to nearly all the important sites and museums in Florence. Totally worthwhile if you’re going to visit more than two or three museums.  Plus, the card gives you priority entry – meaning you might wait only 5-30 minutes in line instead of two hours!

Although I took over 700 photos, most are of famous pieces of art you’ve already seen; so my photo gallery tries to explore the little things and capture the scenic views from the towers I climbed.

A delicious lunch from one of the Shops in Mercato Centrale
A delicious lunch from one of the Shops in Mercato Centrale

I was also able to enjoy dining in several wonderful restaurants – mostly little Trattoria with delightful pasta and house wines from Tuscany.  Perhaps my favorite meals, though, were the simple lunches assembled from sliced sausage, cheese, and bread.

I stayed in the lovely Hotel Tornabuonio Beacci, an elegant old hotel with a beautiful terrace for sunset views with afternoon drinks, in a convenient location just a few blocks from the Duomo or Ponte Vecchio.  Highly recommended!

Tea room at Hotel Tornabuoni Beacci.
Tea room at Hotel Tornabuoni Beacci.

Riva del Garda, Italy

I attended WiOpt 2005 in Riva del Garda, Italy.

When I attended WiOpt 2005 in Riva del Garda, Italy, I spent some time strolling around this picturesque village, and took a day off to drive around Lago di Garda.  Gorgeous place! 

On another day off, I walked right out the front door of my hotel; in a few blocks I reached the base of the mountain to the west; enclosed is a sunrise photo of the mountain from my hotel room. I climbed up past the ruins of a small castle, and a beautiful tiny mountainside chapel, to a tiny peak near the summit. The little peak, known as Cima Sat, seems to be the common destination rather than the actual, higher, summit. Although a direct trail offers a lot of exposure and hundred-foot ladders.

Cima Sat is at 1270m; I started my hike at the lake (200m).

See my photo galleries.

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