Friday, August 12, 2011

1000 Places: The Spanish Steps

spanish steps

For the Western world, Rome is arguably the most important city in our collective history. It is from Rome that the civilization and roots of western culture erupted in a torrent of creativity and innovation. Modern Rome is a beautiful place that tugs at your soul. There are a few places on this planet that will literally insert themselves into your life, get under your skin and change the person you are. Rome is one of those places and I am happy to have been able to visit for several days last year. There are many places in Rome in the 1000 Places to See Before You Die guide book, and the Spanish Steps are one of the most striking sites.

The Spanish Steps are a relatively young part of the thousands of years old city of Rome but they have become an important part of the city's identity. Completed in the 1700's the Spanish Steps exist next to the Spanish embassy in Rome and were named for that fact. They are the widest staircase in Europe and are visited by millions of people. Tourists and even locals will stop and rest upon the famous steps taking pictures and people watching for hours on end. When Sarah and I were in Rome, it was in September, a busy tourist season. However, we could still find a spot to sit on the steps. Many stops in our site seeing brought us by the steps and they became a familiar landmark for us. Like every tourist does, we also took pictures of ourselves on the steps. However, we are very proud of a series of photographs we took of us standing on the Spanish Steps completely alone.

On the morning of our day trip to Florence, we boarded the subway at the station next to the Spanish Steps for the first ride out to the main train terminal. As we passed by the steps in the early hours of the morning we saw a remarkable site -- the Spanish Steps were completely empty. No tourists or even city workers were to be seen on any of the 138 steps or around the fountain in the piazza below. We had to stop and record that very special moment. You can see in the first picture of this post what it looked like to have the steps all to ourselves.

spanish steps

At the base of the Spanish Steps in the Piazza di Spagna, the Fountain of the Old Boat (Fontana della Barcaccia) sits and is usually surrounded by tourists. That morning, it too was devoid of people and it was really quite amazing to be able to see it with an unobstructed view.

spanish stepsRome is crawling with people. The people are what make the city hum with activity and give it the energy that makes you love the place for a lifetime. This crowd of people is made up of resourceful Romans making a living off of the throngs of tourists who are weaving in and out of the narrow streets and pesky foreign street vendors. All these groups mix together to create the living city of Rome that is so completely unique in this world. Everyone is always on the move and the Spanish Steps feel like the place they're all rushing to be at. The incredibly diverse cross section of Rome's people all converge on these steps and its really quite a site to see. Sarah and I were also fortunate to see the steps devoid of the mass of humanity. We got to appreciate the beauty of these steps in the silence of the pre-dawn darkness before the crowds gathered for another day's worth of activity.

We try to do or see things out of the ordinary on our trips. Sometimes we can plan for it, and sometimes they happen by accident. We didn't know that an early morning walk past the Spanish Steps would result in such a unique experience, but this accident was well worth it. We got to see the most famous staircase in Europe at all times of the day in all its glory. As usual, this addition to the 1000 Places to See Before You Die was completely deserving of its place on the list.

Happy travels. Comment below!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lemonade, Los Angeles

Lemonade Los Angeles

Lemonade is so wonderfully "LA." Innovative, quirky, fresh and hip. Styled as a modern lemonade stand crossed with a school cafeteria, Lemonade is unlike any restaurant I've been to. Months ago a friend of mine told me about this place and insisted that we must have lunch there at some point. A few days ago we got our chance after a business meeting. Located on the corner of Beverly and Almond (they have several other locations as well), Lemonade is down the street from the CBS studios and sits right smack in the middle of one of the best parts of Los Angeles. But what about the food? Does it live up to the modern design and trendy surroundings?

In a word... Yes. Absolutely! Its hard to explain just what you'll find at Lemonade as the food is done in a style I've never seen before. The most basic way to order up some food at Lemonade is to pick a portion size and pick the parts of your meal you want to get your grub on with. You can pick a portion size of 1, 2 or 3. Each portion can also be split into halves so if you ordered a 3 portion meal, you could have 6 different items!

Food is presented behind glass like a deli and the helpful staff prepare your plates. I chose from the chilled and very refreshing side of the case (they have warm dishes too) and got the Drunk Chicken with Soba noodles, cherry tomatoes and avocado, and carrots. The best way to describe how these scoops work is to actually call them small salads. That's the best way I can figure to explain them but I'm sure Lemonade staff members could explain it better. In my picture you can see how my meal looked in a to-go container. Finishing out the meal is a good assortment of flavored lemonades but I chose the "Old fashioned" lemonade and I can honestly say it was THE BEST lemonade I have ever had. It was extremely good.

If you drop by at lunch time the parking might be tight. Be careful if you park in the neighborhood around the restaurant as there are parking restrictions but there are some parking meters on Beverly that are cheap and usually open. This place is really popular but worth the wait if there is a small line. Once you have your meal take a seat outside underneath the bright and cheery yellow umbrellas and enjoy one of LA's most unique places to eat.

Lemonade on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tiny Tower: iPhone App Review

tiny tower iPhoneTiny Tower exploded onto the app scene recently and is making a name for itself by being a completely addictive "game" that people can't put down. In my regular lineup of podcasts, hosts are talking about the obsessive need to check on their tiny tower and make sure everything is stocked, building and earning fake money. After hearing so much about this app, I had to download it and see what all the fuss is about. Little did I know that I would be opening the door to my own downfall.

OK, maybe that's a bit too dramatic but after playing this game for a week or two, I can tell you it will definitely suck you in for a good long time. Game creators have been using our own fragile psychology to rope people in to playing their games for years now but only recently has this type of game play really taken off. So how does it work? What makes it addictive?

Essentially you start the game with the goal of building more and more levels to your high-rise residential/commercial building. There are several types of floors you can build with random businesses opening up once construction is complete. When businesses are complete you can make money by having goods for sale that Bitizens (the 8bit animated people in the game) will come and buy. You can also house Bitizens in apartment floors and these people can work at your businesses. Each Bitizen has a level of proficiency with different types of industries and also has a "dream job" that you should try and employ them at. Its relatively simple, and honestly could get old quite quickly as you basically just keep building levels without any real end goal in sight.

What makes Tiny Tower different from other games in this genre is that it isn't too complicated. I've played games like Mafia Wars and We Rule and the downfall of those games is ALWAYS that they add too much junk in and make it impossible to feel like you can keep up. I'm sure their aim is to get you to buy the game currency with real money (no thanks) to speed up your game play, but why on earth would you want to waste money on that? Tiny Tower will let you buy game currency but its not necessary to do so. The game play is just too simple to need to cheat the system and buy in game currency.

I haven't played long enough to figure out good strategies for play beyond what you'll find on other websites. However, here's a quick list of things you can do to maximize your tower building efforts.

  1. Don't be afraid to evict Bitizens. If they aren't highly skilled, they're worthless. Kick them out like the ruthless land lord you are.
  2. Upgrade your elevator. I know its a huge Tower Buck money sink to do, but it helps A LOT.
  3. Spend your tower bucks wisely. Don't blow them on finishing restocking especially when the turn around time is short for many products.
Do you play Tiny Tower? Post your strategies below. I've only been playing a week so I don't have much to share on neat tricks.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

LEGO Project: A-Wing Fighter

LEGO A-Wing Fighter

The LEGO Project series is a look through the Second Snack collection of LEGO sets from Thomas’ childhood as well as some modern sets. For years these LEGO bricks and pieces have been laying dormant in plastic bins but with the pooled resources of the Internet, reassembling sets is now a reality.

The LEGO Star Wars A-Wing Fighter comes from the Battle of Endor during Episode 6 of the movie series. According to Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary, the A-Wing Fighter was developed as an escort craft. Three A-Wings play a pivotal role in destroying Darth Vader's command ship, the Executor.

This set comes with a pilot and technician with supply sled. The Sled has a ladder in the back and reminds me of the vehicles in Episode 4 that help supply the rebels before the first Death Star battle. Inside the cockpit, the control panel has a view of the Death Star which is a pretty cool and very rare brick.

Neat little set. Comment below.
LEGO A-Wing Fighter

Monday, August 8, 2011

Meme Monday: Not All Cows Are Happy

emo cow hair

Meme Monday brings you a weekly Internet Meme that we have found. Internet Memes are described as something that catches on like wildfire with Internet communities with no outside source of promotion. They exist purely for enjoyment and laughs.