Monday, June 24, 2019

The First Year Sagа

I'll start from the end. This is our little helper mowing the lawn just this past weekend.For our first anniversary of living in our own house I’ve decided to go pick out all home related pictures on my phone taken throughout this year. I heavily trimmed this collection and still have ended up with a massive number — 100 photos in total.

These photos tell a gradual story of us making this home ours. It starts out with how things were and how we progressed to making it what it is now. We’ve done a LOT of things and this collection show only certain aspects of our saga. Although even a number of later photos in this collection is already outdated.

The photo of the entrance taken during our original inspection. This hideous chandelier has got to go.The photo of the entrance taken during our original inspection. This hideous chandelier has got to go.

Dining room photo taken on the same day. Hideous wall lights and another terrible chandelier.Dining room photo taken on the same day. Hideous wall lights and another terrible chandelier.

First shots of the patio. Note the chair. It will show up later in this set. We are going to restore it to its former glory.First shots of the patio. Note the chair. It will show up later in this set. We are going to restore it to its former glory.

View of the kitchen from the living room. That bracket on the wall is going to be replaced with a TV that we often watch during our meals at that kitchen bar.View of the kitchen from the living room. That bracket on the wall is going to be replaced with a TV that we often watch during our meals at that kitchen bar.

Kitchen from another angle. Our furniture of our first weeks can be seen through the door on the side.Kitchen from another angle. Our furniture of our first weeks can be seen through the door on the side.

Our naked porch door.Our naked porch door.

Empty porch. Great place to eat during the summer dinners, especially with guests. No furniture yet.Empty porch. Great place to eat during the summer dinners, especially with guests. No furniture yet.

Same porch, different angle. It really needs stuff. And a grill which will be our first purchase for the new house.Same porch, different angle. It really needs stuff. And a grill which will be our first purchase for the new house.

These are the last days in our apartment. All our stuff is packed and ready to be moved. What a mess!These are the last days in our apartment. All our stuff is packed and ready to be moved. What a mess!

And our things have been relocated to our house. Last minutes at a place that has been our home for the last 11 years.And our things have been relocated to our house. Last minutes at a place that has been our home for the last 11 years.

Our first acquisition. Weber Genesis II three burner grill. We bought it on the very first day of staying in the house.Our first acquisition. Weber Genesis II three burner grill. We bought it on the very first day of staying in the house.

The installation of a new septic system has commenced in the first few weeks after the move. Our poor backyard is being completely destroyed.The installation of a new septic system has commenced in the first few weeks after the move. Our poor backyard is being completely destroyed.

Septics tanks go into the front yard, which also is being completely destroyed. The leaching field is in the back of the backyard in the previous picture.Septics tanks go into the front yard, which also is being completely destroyed. The leaching field is in the back of the backyard in the previous picture.

Septic tanks go here. We've replaced old three bedroom system with a brand new much larger system that can support a four bedroom house.Septic tanks go here. We’ve replaced old three bedroom system with a brand new much larger system that can support a four bedroom house.

And the septic tanks themselves. A pair of these massive concrete containers. It's going to take us a while to get our yard back to a nice green lawn.And the septic tanks themselves. A pair of these massive concrete containers. It’s going to take us a while to get our yard back to a nice green lawn.

Our new bed has arrived. We've finally upgraded to a king size bed with a great Casper mattress. The bedding doesn't match yet. And there are still green curtains on the windows that were left by the previous owners. We're gong to fix that.Our new bed has arrived. We’ve finally upgraded to a king size bed with a great Casper mattress. The bedding doesn’t match yet. And there are still green curtains on the windows that were left by the previous owners. We’re gong to fix that.

We've decided to put a sleeper sofa into the office. When we have a lot of guest over we have a nice and private place to sleep at.We’ve decided to put a sleeper sofa into the office. When we have a lot of guest over we have a nice and private place to sleep at.

We got this sofa as a free bonus when we ordered our bedroom set. It folds out into a fairly comfortable queen sized bed and looks modern enough not to spoil the overall look of the room.We got this sofa as a free bonus when we ordered our bedroom set. It folds out into a fairly comfortable queen sized bed and looks modern enough not to spoil the overall look of the room.

New and expensive entrance chandelier! Gift from the parents. It took Alёna and I lot of time and energy to install it. But it looks amazing. We've got numerous compliments on it. The shelves on the wall are still a mess. We're gong to fix that.New and expensive entrance chandelier! Gift from the parents. It took Alёna and I lot of time and energy to install it. But it looks amazing. We’ve got numerous compliments on it. The shelves on the wall are still a mess. We’re gong to fix that.

A new and expensive dining room chandelier. Also a huge upgrade over the previous monstrosity. And we kept hitting our heads on the old one. So we put this one closer to the ceiling. It was even harder to install this one because of its massive weight.A new and expensive dining room chandelier. Also a huge upgrade over the previous monstrosity. And we kept hitting our heads on the old one. So we put this one closer to the ceiling. It was even harder to install this one because of its massive weight.

Entrance chandelier installed. Beautiful.Entrance chandelier installed. Beautiful.

Next up is our closet. It was in for a complete reconstruction. We're going to transform it to a much more usable space. First order of business was tearing out ancient built in drawers. The top part in this pictures has just been taken out.Next up is our closet. It was in for a complete reconstruction. We’re going to transform it to a much more usable space. First order of business was tearing out ancient built in drawers. The top part in this pictures has just been taken out.

Walls are patched and painted. Old cheap closet system is next to go.Walls are patched and painted. Old cheap closet system is next to go.

We’re building out a new interior using Ikea PAX system. Lots of furniture construction. Everything is screwed together and attached to the walls.

Almost there. Still a bunch of finishing touches left. More drawers, boxes on the top, new lighting. End result shot is further down this post.Almost there. Still a bunch of finishing touches left. More drawers, boxes on the top, new lighting. End result shot is further down.

New sconces! Same style as the chandelier. These replace a pair of really ugly looking flower and they produce a really nice light pattern when on.New sconces! Same style as the chandelier. These replace a pair of really ugly looking flowers and they produce a really nice light pattern when turned on.

Switches for our Hue bulbs. Every smart device in our house has a physical controls. This is a 3D printed plate that goes over the actual switches.Switches for our Hue bulbs. Every smart device in our house has a physical controls. This is a 3D printed plate that goes over the actual switches.

Arosha always loved trampolines. None of his friends would really let him jump on them freely. Some were downright mean. So when we finally had a massive backyard we could not not buy one. We put it together right after the septic install was done. And our kids love it. A year in and it gets used on multiple occasions almost every week.Arosha always loved trampolines. None of his friends would really let him jump on them freely. Some were downright mean. So when we finally had a massive backyard we could not not buy one. We put it together right after the septic install was done. And our kids love it. A year in and it gets used on multiple occasions almost every week.

A brand new SONY XBR-55X900F 55 inch TV mounted on the wall in our family room. At first I was trying to hire somebody to put these up. But then I ended up doing it myself. It's not nearly as hard as it seems. A good bracket from Amazon and some tools along with a good stud finder. A cable is still visible on this picture. We're going to fix that.A brand new SONY XBR-55X900F 55 inch TV mounted on the wall in our family room. At first I was trying to hire somebody to put these up. But then I ended up doing it myself. It’s not nearly as hard as it seems. A good bracket from Amazon and some tools along with a good stud finder. A cable is still visible on this picture. We’re going to fix that.

And the same for our living room kitchen TV. This is our old Samsung that we brought with us. Mounted the same way as our SONY. This is the shot after the electrical plugs have been installed behind the TV. No wires. Both TVs are powered by WIFI connected Apple TVs. HD for kitchen, 4K for family room. Both are invisibly mounted behind the TVs themselves.And the same for our living room kitchen TV. This is our old Samsung that we brought with us. Mounted the same way as our SONY. This is the shot after the electrical plugs have been installed behind the TV. No wires. Both TVs are powered by WIFI connected Apple TVs. HD for kitchen, 4K for family room. Both are invisibly mounted behind the TVs themselves.

Our massive new sofa has arrived. We scoured a ton of furniture stores in Brooklyn and some others in CT. Most American stores just don't fit our tastes. And Russian stores either have tiny apartment oriented sofas available or to get something large and modern an order had to be placed with 4-6 months wait. So we went the WayFair way.Our massive new sofa has arrived. We scoured a ton of furniture stores in Brooklyn and some others in CT. Most American stores just don’t fit our tastes. And Russian stores either have tiny apartment oriented sofas available or to get something large and modern an order had to be placed with 4-6 months wait. So we went the WayFair way.

Sadly going with online furniture purchases you never know what you're going to get. While this sectional looks great it turned out to be not very comfortable. Luckily this was easily remedied with a couple of throw pillows that can be used for support. Also some parts were miss-aligned, so I took it apart and reassembled it anew. Now it's close to perfect. WayFair refunded a lot of our money for this order because of all the issues. So in the end we got a stellar deal for a great sectional.Sadly going with online furniture purchases you never know what you’re going to get. While this sectional looks great it turned out to be not very comfortable. Luckily this was easily remedied with a couple of throw pillows that can be used for support. Also some parts were miss-aligned, so I took it apart and reassembled it anew. Now it’s close to perfect. WayFair refunded a lot of our money for this order because of all the issues. So in the end we got a stellar deal for a great sectional.

Master bedroom is almost finished. We used the curtains from our apartment living room. These were color perfect for our red theme. Some nice abstract art above the headboard. And a pair of good looking modern lamps. We have Hue bulbs in these, so they take on different colors depending on the mood.Master bedroom is almost finished. We used the curtains from our apartment living room. These were color perfect for our red theme. Some nice abstract art above the headboard. And a pair of good looking modern lamps. We have Hue bulbs in these, so they take on different colors depending on the mood.

Mounted this massive IKEA mirror from our apartment in our master bedroom. Same concept as TVs -- just need to find the studs for it not to fall down along with the wall.Mounted this massive IKEA mirror from our apartment in our master bedroom. Same concept as TVs — just need to find the studs for it not to fall down along with the wall.

And another wall of our bedroom. Some modern abstract art in red and black. The metals plates are custom hand made pieces of art.And another wall of our bedroom. Some modern abstract art in red and black. The metals plates are custom hand made pieces of art.

And the final version of our closet. Came out really functional and good looking. Since this picture was taken we've replaced the bedding set, but there are no pictures of that yet.And the final version of our closet. Came out really functional and good looking. Since this picture was taken we’ve replaced the bedding set, but there are no pictures of that yet.

Anna's room is also taking shape. We've put up the curtains from our apartment bedroom. It matches her theme well. And there is a small portion of her zoo on the wall.Anna’s room is also taking shape. We’ve put up the curtains from our apartment bedroom. It matches her theme well. And there is a small portion of her zoo on the wall.

We got a new set of space themed curtains for Aaron's room. His whole room is space themed.We got a new set of space themed curtains for Aaron’s room. His whole room is space themed.

And then he got a desk. This one also came from WayFair, but we have zero complains. Its price was good, the desk is nice. Anna has got the same one, only in white.And then he got a desk. This one also came from WayFair, but we have zero complains. Its price was good, the desk is nice. Anna has got the same one, only in white.

Our patio is starting to take form. Unrestored chair and a new fire pit.Our patio is starting to take form. Unrestored chair and a new fire pit.

Now we acquired some furniture. Arosha has actually talked us into this set. He paid for his armchair and its ottoman with his own money. We added some tables, chairs and a loveseat.Now we acquired some furniture. Arosha has actually talked us into this set. He paid for his armchair and its ottoman with his own money. We added some tables, chairs and a loveseat.

Our porch is also fully stocked. We got quite an expensive aluminum and teak set from a local Patio.com location. We were contemplating about getting a full wooden set, but are happy with our decision. It spent a winter outdoors and looks as good as new.Our porch is also fully stocked. We got quite an expensive aluminum and teak set from a local Patio.com location. We were contemplating about getting a full wooden set, but are happy with our decision. It spent a winter outdoors and looks as good as new.

We had an empty corner in the living room, so we decided to put a pair of abstract looking shelves into it. We have a lot of trinkets, mementoes and other things to display to make this room cozier. It came out nice.We had an empty corner in the living room, so we decided to put a pair of abstract looking shelves into it. We have a lot of trinkets, mementoes and other things to display to make this room cozier. It came out nice.

We can write a novel about getting this table. It started with us ordering a dining room set from WayFair for over $4,000. It kept getting delivered only partially and with broken parts. The veneer turned out to be paper thin. We decided to go with WayFair after going through a multitude of stores and not finding anything we liked. We can write a novel about getting this table. It started with us ordering a dining room set from WayFair for over $4,000. It kept getting delivered only partially and with broken parts. The veneer turned out to be paper thin. We decided to go with WayFair after going through a multitude of stores and not finding anything we liked.

And once we placed a WayFair order we went to IKEA and saw the above pictured set. We were disappointed because it looked great, the wood was solid, the leather chairs were really a good match for our whole overall look and the price was a fraction of WayFair's set. In the end after another failed delivery attempt we canceled our order for a full refund. And promptly ordered this set. Couldn't be happier. And we added a pair of wooden chairs in the same color for bigger capacity.And once we placed a WayFair order we went to IKEA and saw the above pictured set. We were disappointed because it looked great, the wood was solid, the leather chairs were really a good match for our whole overall look and the price was a fraction of WayFair’s set. In the end after another failed delivery attempt we canceled our order for a full refund. And promptly ordered this set. Couldn’t be happier. And we added a pair of wooden chairs in the same color for bigger capacity.

To finish the room off we ordered a pair of mirrors finished in the same color of wood. Also from IKEA. These can be seen on this photo and the one above. We were originally thinking of putting a rectangular mirror on that wall, but when we saw these we liked the idea of a pair of them much more. It came out well.To finish the room off we ordered a pair of mirrors finished in the same color of wood. Also from IKEA. These can be seen on this photo and the one above. We were originally thinking of putting a rectangular mirror on that wall, but when we saw these we liked the idea of a pair of them much more. It came out well.

Then my office got a new desk in gray and all new hardware. A pair of 27 inch 5K monitors powered by a brand new 2018 15" MacBook Pro with pretty much maxed out specs.Then my office got a new desk in gray and all new hardware. A pair of 27 inch 5K monitors powered by a brand new 2018 15″ MacBook Pro with pretty much maxed out specs.

This is a draft of the office back wall. I had a book full of National Park posters for years, but never got around to ordering frames and putting them up on the wall. We picked out some of the best looking ones from some of the parks we've been to. But I hated the wall color of the office. It was so boring.This is a draft of the office back wall. I had a book full of National Park posters for years, but never got around to ordering frames and putting them up on the wall. We picked out some of the best looking ones from some of the parks we’ve been to. But I hated the wall color of the office. It was so boring.

So we had an opportunity to solve two problems. When we were buying the house we realized that one of the garages was too small to fit a full size car. And we had an extra foot or two in the office. So we moved the wall. This one we hired a contractor to do.So we had an opportunity to solve two problems. When we were buying the house we realized that one of the garages was too small to fit a full size car. And we had an extra foot or two in the office. So we moved the wall. This one we hired a contractor to do.

Now our garage can comfortably fit both of our cars. We are so happy we've made a decision to do this. This made winter so much easier to handle.Now our garage can comfortably fit both of our cars. We are so happy we’ve made a decision to do this. This made winter so much easier to handle.

We took this chance and repainted the office. For some reason I wanted to have orange teal theme for a long time. I think it came out great. Very cozy. Love it.We took this chance and repainted the office. For some reason I wanted to have orange teal theme for a long time. I think it came out great. Very cozy. Love it.

This is the other side of the office and my setup. I took this chance and attached a color Hue LED strip that I had laying around behind the desk. And I finally broke down and bought myself Steelcase Gesture chair. And the shelf in the corners serves as home for our relic collection of DVDs.This is the other side of the office and my setup. I took this chance and attached a color Hue LED strip that I had laying around behind the desk. And I finally broke down and bought myself Steelcase Gesture chair. And the shelf in the corners serves as home for our relic collection of DVDs.

And our living room got curtains! We love curtains. They fully transform the rooms. Alёna's mom searched all the stores in Minsk and sent us a ton of pictures. We picked the ones we liked. She had them sized and prepared and sent a full set to us as a gift. We love how cozy our living room became.And our living room got curtains! We love curtains. They fully transform the rooms. Alёna’s mom searched all the stores in Minsk and sent us a ton of pictures. We picked the ones we liked. She had them sized and prepared and sent a full set to us as a gift. We love how cozy our living room became.

The other side of the living room. Our patio furniture is spending a winter in our living room. In fact, we liked it so much that in the spring we ordered an actual furniture set to take its place. And we finally started hanging some paintings on the walls.The other side of the living room. Our patio furniture is spending a winter in our living room. In fact, we liked it so much that in the spring we ordered an actual furniture set to take its place. And we finally started hanging some paintings on the walls.

Then winter came. We finally had a chance to use our wood burning fireplace. We had the chimney cleaned and a pair of caps installed on top. For some reasons the house had none.Then winter came. We finally had a chance to use our wood burning fireplace. We had the chimney cleaned and a pair of caps installed on top. For some reasons the house had none.

Then we went to Italy in November and brought back a set of handmade Venetian masks to put above our fireplace. We also got a really nice looking, funky, modern lamp for our family room. It was a bit expensive, but we think it was worth it.Then we went to Italy in November and brought back a set of handmade Venetian masks to put above our fireplace. We also got a really nice looking, funky, modern lamp for our family room. It was a bit expensive, but we think it was worth it.

We ended up doing some modifications to the fireplace on the chimney guy recommendations. We added one inch thick metal backplate to reflect the heat into the room and we added a vertical grate so the wood burns agains that backplate.We ended up doing some modifications to the fireplace on the chimney guy recommendations. We added one inch thick metal backplate to reflect the heat into the room and we added a vertical grate so the wood burns agains that backplate.

We donated some money to a local boy scout group and they in turn sent us this wreath. We put a hook into the wall between our garages and put the wreath up for the duration of the winter.We donated some money to a local boy scout group and they in turn sent us this wreath. We put a hook into the wall between our garages and put the wreath up for the duration of the winter.

Then some snow started falling. We had a very mild winter. Alёna did most of the driveway cleaning herself, with a shovel. We only had to use a plow once. We're getting a snowblower for our next winter.Then some snow started falling. We had a very mild winter. Alёna did most of the driveway cleaning herself, with a shovel. We only had to use a plow once. We’re getting a snowblower for our next winter.

When we started getting our heating bills we decided that we need to make a bunch of improvements. I installed our first smart thermostat. Then we added another heating zone. Alёna taped up all old windows in the bedrooms and family room.When we started getting our heating bills we decided that we need to make a bunch of improvements. I installed our first smart thermostat. Then we added another heating zone. Alёna taped up all old windows in the bedrooms and family room.

Arosha and I got Nanoleaf light panels as gifts for New Year. We put Arosha's up on January first. And also finally hung a map of the world that we had up in our apartment. And there is a Venetian mask of moon and sun that he bought in Venice.Arosha and I got Nanoleaf light panels as gifts for New Year. We put Arosha’s up on January first. And also finally hung a map of the world that we had up in our apartment. And there is a Venetian mask of moon and sun that he bought in Venice.

It took me a while to figure out the pattern for my Nanoleaf. I tried a bunch with stencils and settled on this arrow that I like quite a bit.It took me a while to figure out the pattern for my Nanoleaf. I tried a bunch with stencils and settled on this arrow that I like quite a bit.

It came out great. I have it light up along with the strip behind the desk when I walk into the office.It came out great. I have it light up along with the strip behind the desk when I walk into the office.

The parents gave us a pair of vases from their collection. We really liked them because they really matched our family room color theme of orange and blue or teal. They also later brought a very modern looking plate from one of their vacations. We replaced our tulip vase with that plate.The parents gave us a pair of vases from their collection. We really liked them because they really matched our family room color theme of orange and blue or teal. They also later brought a very modern looking plate from one of their vacations. We replaced our tulip vase with that plate.

We ended up putting glass doors on our fireplace. The problem was that we had to leave the flue open for the night after the fire in the evening. So by morning all the warm air would get sucked out and replaced by cold air. Now we can close the glass doors while the fire is still simmering. And some modern art. Although we just replaced this one for a bigger one from the same artist.We ended up putting glass doors on our fireplace. The problem was that we had to leave the flue open for the night after the fire in the evening. So by morning all the warm air would get sucked out and replaced by cold air. Now we can close the glass doors while the fire is still simmering. And some modern art. Although we just replaced this one for a bigger one from the same artist.

Anna's got a storage shelves from IKEA Kallax series. Arosha's got the same thing, but in different color. We placed his one horizontally and filled it with different looking containers.Anna’s got storage shelves from IKEA Kallax series. Arosha’s got the same thing, but in different color. We placed his one horizontally and filled it with different looking containers.

Our living room and kitchen spot lights are filled with Phillips Hue color bulbs. We had a bunch of themes programmed for the top floor. Our living room and kitchen spot lights are filled with Phillips Hue color bulbs. We had a bunch of themes programmed for the top floor.

There is an orange teal one, fire mood one that consists of red orange and yellow tones and there is a theme called Daughter's Wow. It's pink and purple, naturally.There is an orange teal one, fire mood one that consists of red orange and yellow tones and there is a theme called Daughter’s Wow. It’s pink and purple, naturally.

At this point we have all walls decorating with paintings. My dad has a pretty good collection and he's been giving us a lot of them. Some we put into the storage, and some go up on the walls. We keep shifting them around from time to time. We also acquired a nice orange teal pot for our plant that used to fit in a tea cup.At this point we have all walls decorated with paintings. My dad has a pretty good collection and he’s been giving us a lot of them. Some we put into the storage, and some go up on the walls. We keep shifting them around from time to time. We also acquired a nice orange teal pot for our plant that used to fit in a tea cup.

I brought some of my prints I had in the office at work. They are not cheap to make, but I never had a place to hang them at home. Now our hallway seemed like a perfect place.I brought some of my prints I had in the office at work. They are not cheap to make, but I never had a place to hang them at home. Now our hallway seemed like a perfect place.

Then we printed a pair of square ones -- my photographs of lighthouses from Cape Cod. This goes really well with our hallway and our black-gray and white theme of the bathroom.Then we printed a pair of square ones — my photographs of lighthouses from Cape Cod. This goes really well with our hallway and our black-gray and white theme of the bathroom.

We added a small mail and key shelf by the entrance door. And we added some shoe shelves inside the closet by the same door. And the paintings that are pictured here we've already replaced with a different one.We added a small mail and key shelf by the entrance door. And we added some shoe shelves inside the closet by the same door. And the paintings that are pictured here we’ve already replaced with a different one.

And when you enter the house you see these. Although we've already replaced the bottom one. The one above the stairs we're keeping. It has this Russian feel to it that it seems appropriate. Plus it's very lright, in case it falls down.And when you enter the house you see these. Although we’ve already replaced the bottom one. The one above the stairs we’re keeping. It has this Russian feel to it that it seems appropriate. Plus it’s very light, in case it falls down.

More art in the corner. Our family room lamp with Hue bulbs in Orange Teal mode and our smart diffuser in teal.More art in the corner. Our family room lamp with Hue bulbs in Orange Teal mode and our smart diffuser in teal.

Tripple Hue switches by the bathroom entrance. The actual switches are inside the the bathroom behind the door. This a more convenient place to control them.Tripple Hue switches by the bathroom entrance. The actual switches are inside the the bathroom behind the door. This a more convenient place to control them.

Our play room is kind of visible from the street, especially when kids play inside with lights on. Alёna's mom did another major search and we went with this gray purple theme throughout our play and guest rooms. Privacy curtains. Nice for when the guests are staying overnight as well.Our play room is kind of visible from the street, especially when kids play inside with lights on. Alёna’s mom did another major search and we went with this gray purple theme throughout our play and guest rooms. Privacy curtains. Nice for when the guests are staying overnight as well.

We finally bought an actual bed for the guest room. We had our expensive queen size mattress on the floor from our apartment bed. We kept thinking about getting rid of it and replacing it with a sleeper sofa, but then it was too new and too expensive to throw out. So it got a bed.We finally bought an actual bed for the guest room. We had our expensive queen size mattress on the floor from our apartment bed. We kept thinking about getting rid of it and replacing it with a sleeper sofa, but then it was too new and too expensive to throw out. So it got a bed.

And then the bed got a nice purple set that matches the lower floor decor. It also got some art and a vintage lamp with Edison bulb.And then the bed got a nice purple set that matches the lower floor decor. It also got some art and a vintage lamp with Edison bulb.

Once it started to get warm I installed string lights on the porch that we had laying around since the middle of the winter. It was always kind of dark on the porch in the evenings, so we thought this kind of lighting would be very fitting and useful.Once it started to get warm I installed string lights on the porch that we had laying around since the middle of the winter. It was always kind of dark on the porch in the evenings, so we thought this kind of lighting would be very fitting and useful.

We leveled them out along the edge, connected them to a smart plug and put a switch on the door. It makes the place cozier even during daylight.We leveled them out along the edge, connected them to a smart plug and put a switch on the door. It makes the place cozier even during daylight.

Then at some point during the spring we ordered a shed. First step was installing a foundation for it. This was included in the price of the shed.Then at some point during the spring we ordered a shed. First step was installing a foundation for it. This was included in the price of the shed.

Shed itself got delivered on May 1st. But I have a full post about it already. It's been very useful so far. And we built a pathway for it. That took a lot of effort.Shed itself got delivered on May 1st. But I have a full post about it already. It’s been very useful so far. And we built a pathway for it. That took a lot of effort.

We also installed a nice looking privacy film on garage windows. It's main purpose is actually to hide the mess that we have inside the garage. Looks much neater from the outside.We also installed a nice looking privacy film on garage windows. It’s main purpose is actually to hide the mess that we have inside the garage. Looks much neater from the outside.

Then we added a couple of nice details to the porch. We were hunting for some nice plaque to put up for a while. And then WayFair came thought. Nice, rough looking plaque that welcomes people to Gather Here.Then we added a couple of nice details to the porch. We were hunting for some nice plaque to put up for a while. And then WayFair came thought. Nice, rough looking plaque that welcomes people to Gather Here.

Another thing that we found was a box for beer bottle caps. It proclaims that the best beer is an open beer. The season has just started, so it's mostly empty, but we're working on filling it up.Another thing that we found was a box for beer bottle caps. It proclaims that the best beer is an open beer. The season has just started, so it’s mostly empty, but we’re working on filling it up.

Then when the warm days became more frequent we tackled a project of replacing all of our old bedroom windows with a nice, expensive wooden double pane ones. Old ones were horrible and drafty. Single pane glass, crafted of small glass pieces, falling apart.Then when the warm days became more frequent we tackled a project of replacing all of our old bedroom windows with a nice, expensive wooden double pane ones. Old ones were horrible and drafty. Single pane glass, crafted of small glass pieces, falling apart.

Most of the house had new windows, but bedrooms didn't. So we replaced all in all six of them. That was not cheap at all.Most of the house had new windows, but bedrooms didn’t. So we replaced all in all six of them. That was not cheap at all.

As I mentioned before, once our patio furniture returned outside we ordered a nice gray leather and metal set for our living room. Fits the color theme of the room and is very comfrotable. Who would've thought that we would buy furniture from Raymour & Flanigan at some point? But I got us a really good deal on these.As I mentioned before, once our patio furniture returned outside we ordered a nice gray leather and metal set for our living room. Fits the color theme of the room and is very comfrotable. Who would’ve thought that we would ever buy furniture from Raymour & Flanigan at some point? But I got us a really good deal on these and they actually look good.

At the end of April we went full tilt into landscaping. We were determined to fix backyard and front yard grass that was destroyed by septic install. We bought new top soil, leveled it out, installed irrigation system and seeded it.At the end of April we went full tilt into landscaping. We were determined to fix backyard and front yard grass that was destroyed by septic install. We bought new top soil, leveled it out, installed irrigation system and seeded it.

A month later we have a nice, green backyard and front yard. It took a lot of effort, time and money and it's still not perfect. But it's a huge leap from what it was.A month later we have a nice, green backyard and front yard. It took a lot of effort, time and money and it’s still not perfect. But it’s a huge leap from what it was.

We also cleaned up our side yard. And then we mulched it. And we planned a hydrangea that was gifted to us by my mom.We also cleaned up our side yard. And then we mulched it. And we planned a hydrangea that was gifted to us by my mom.

Our right house bed was empty. Last year we planned two bushes. This year we bought a young spruce and a lilac tree. Spruce was my pick and lilac was Alёna's.Our right house bed was empty. Last year we planned two bushes. This year we bought a young spruce and a lilac tree. Spruce was my pick and lilac was Alёna’s.

And then Alёna removed all the weeds from the beds and we mulched both of them with red mulch.And then Alёna removed all the weeds from the beds and we mulched both of them with red mulch.

And a week later she cleaned up our newly grown hosta. And she put a bunch of red mulch there as well.And a week later she cleaned up our newly grown hosta. And she put a bunch of red mulch there as well.

And here is a chair that I mentioned at the start of the post. At this point it was washed and sanded. Holes were filled in and it was sanded again.And here is a chair that I mentioned at the start of the post. At this point it was washed and sanded. Holes were filled in and it was sanded again.

And here it is reborn in red. We bought a brown one to keep it company. Turns out these things are quite expensive, so I'm glad we saved ours instead of disposing of it.And here it is reborn in red. We bought a brown one to keep it company. Turns out these things are quite expensive, so I’m glad we saved ours instead of disposing of it.

Several weeks ago we invited some friends over. And then we realized that our wide chairs only fit 8 people on the porch. So we acquired a bench from the same set as our dining table. And we got some more pillows for it. It fills out an empty corner nicely and it served us well for larger gatherings.Several weeks ago we invited some friends over. And then we realized that our wide chairs only fit 8 people on the porch. So we acquired a bench from the same set as our dining table. And we got some more pillows for it. It fills out an empty corner nicely and it served us well for larger gatherings.

This is one of the last paintings updates. We got another painting done by one of my dad's known artist friends, so we made space for it in the dining room. Note the light pattern produced by the wall sconces. Pleasant.This is one of the last paintings updates. We got another painting done by one of my dad’s known artist friends, so we made space for it in the dining room. Note the light pattern produced by the wall sconces. Pleasant.

And our last touch so far has been an acquisition of a hammock! We wanted to get it last summer, but somehow never got around to it. It's really nice and kids are loving it.And our last touch so far has been an acquisition of a hammock! We wanted to get it last summer, but somehow never got around to it. It’s really nice and kids are loving it.

On Wednesday we have a crew coming over that is going to remove six dead trees from our lot. These have been bothering us and we don’t want any of them falling on the house during some storm. So that’s going to be a nice thing to get done, although it also will be not cheap.

And thus I conclude a look at some parts of our first year saga of house ownership. It’s been a good year.
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Friday, January 13, 2017

Paris — The City of Lights

Eiffel Tower from the top of Arc de Triomphe.It’s getting to two months since our return from Europe and we have yet to write anything about it. So I will start with Paris — the first stop of our three country vacation and the rest will follow.

Our hotel. Hilton Paris Opera.As most European flights are we left JFK on a red-eye flight to Paris with a stop-over in Reykjavik. For some reason this flight was unusually tiring on us. Neither one of us can really sleep well on a plane and this time around Alёna started to get a huge migraine which in her case usually leads to inability to stand and possible fainting. And the only solution was to sleep which she couldn’t do well.

Streets of Paris. On our way to the arch.During a stop-over in Reykjavik we had to stand in line to go through passport control and I feared that she was either going to pass out or decide to lye down on the floor. Luckily after we went through passport control she started feeling better and the next flight went relatively OK. But we were very very tired after it all.

Streets of Paris.I remember during our trip to Germany we even went out right after our flight to Berlin. And when we went to Barcelona we didn’t feel as tired either. We took a short nap and set out for a long walk. As we did here. We took a taxi to our hotel which was not far from all the things that we wanted to see, got checked in after a small wait — which we spent in an executive lounge — into an small suite via a free upgrade with an “amazing” view of some roof.

Arc de Triomphe.The hotel itself looked grand inside and out. It actually looked like some old opera house inside. So we asked whether it was converted from something else into a hotel. Turns out it was always a hotel which was built at the end of 19th century. It used to be directly connected to a large train station behind the hotel which is still there. The hotel changed ownership multiple times throughout it’s history and was acquired by Hilton group in 2013. Now it’s known as Hilton Paris Opera.

View from the to of the arch.And after a well proportioned nap we got dressed and set course towards the famous Arc de Triomphe which was one and a half miles away from our hotel or a 30 minute walk. This was our first impression of Paris. And it is grand, like no city that we have seen before. The streets seemed old yet cozy. Old churches, old buildings — lots and lots of history.

Another view of the tower from the top.There were a lot of refugees on the streets, but instead of feeling unsafe in these situations you couldn’t help but feel compassion for those families. During the day woman would spent time with kids under the blankets in cold streets and later on a father would join, probably coming back from trying to find work.

Staircase inside the arch.The arch was quite impressive and even though it was dark out there was a large number of people around it. Since climbing atop the arch was one of the things on our list and we would be coming there again anyhow we didn’t spend a lot of time around it and turned back. We tried to find some dinner place and ended up walking through some tiny streets to find a highly rated place via Trip Advisor. But it turned out to be closed on that day of the week.

The Eiffel Tower.We walked back all the way to our hotel and searched again. Ended up going for dinner into some small tapas places, but for some reason we ended up ordering full dinner entries. In retrospect that was a mistake — should’ve gone for things that they specialize in. We did, however, try some interesting red sweet beer.

Right across Seine from The Eiffel Tower.We started our first full day with a walk back to the arch, bought the tickets and took a long spiral staircase up to the top. The view was magnificent. This was also the first time we actually saw The Eiffel Tower with our own eyes. And the vantage point was perfect for photographing it. The arch itself was located in a center of circle to which a lot of streets were connecting, making it look like you are standing in a center of sun with rays running out of it.

Under the tower.We spent a while walking around and taking pictures. Sadly for my photography the sky was constantly gray making for less then stellar end results. But I had my GND filters with me, so I could still make photos without featureless skies. In fact the view was so great that we decided that there was no point going to an observation deck of skyscraper that we originally planned to visit.

Shores of Seine.Our next destination was the famous tower itself — another 30 minute walk. Beforehand we had to do a thorough inspection of a bathroom — none of which are free in Paris — of a large department store. A side note — everything in Paris was within a walking distance, so we didn’t have to use any kind of transpiration at all.

Seine.Right across from the tower there was a set of stairs that one could climb for a nice view of the tower and surroundings. And after taking a couple of photographs from there we crossed the Seine and ended up pretty much right under the tower. It really is pretty huge. To get exactly under the tower one had to go through security gates — there is a fence around the tower — and since we didn’t really want to go up the tower we decided to skip that.

Alexandre III bridge across Seine.And then we just set course towards our hotel along the shores of Seine. Since it was a weekend a lot of people were out and about — running, cycling or just walking. At one point a shady looking woman bent over in front of us and made it seem like she just found a golden ring. It was obvious to me that it was some kind of scam, so I just waved her off. Alёna wasn’t sure, so we just stood there and watched. The same exact scene repeated itself when she walked up to some other group of people. Things like this are pretty easy to spot to avoid unpleasant situations.

Alexandre III bridge. The Eiffel Tower in the background.After a nice walk we crossed Seine again and even the bridges in this city are grand — magnificent statues and all. We got caught under a bit of rain, but it stopped shortly after it started. And then we ended up on one of the winter markets that we remember so well from Germany. Lots of street food, crafts, drinks and everything else that these markets tend to have. And a lot of people.

Christmas market.This is where we tried one of the “musts” in France — crepes. We ordered a pair of crepes with different stuffing. We wanted to get some Gluehwein — hot German wine, but for some reason didn’t. The crepes were crepes. Nothing unexpected. But now we can claim that, yes, we did try crepes in Paris. And I again had to test out the local facilities — my stomach was acting up all day long — the one and only day when it was giving me problems. I don’t think it’s crepe related though, but it did put a bit of a damper on this fun day.

Parisian crepes.On the way to our hotel we stopped by another very grand looking church with huge columns for a short visit and that was it for exploring on that day. For dinner we went to Restaurant Garnier that was recommended by hotel staff — a place right across the street from our hotel. It turned out to be probably the best dinner of the whole trip. I ordered some insanely expensive fried fish, but it was totally worth it.

Louvre.The main objectives of our second and last full day in Paris were Louvre and Notre Dame de Paris. If the tower and the arch were on the west side of our hotel, Louvre and Notre Dame were on the east. The day turned out to be somewhat rainy, so we borrowed an umbrella from our hotel and were on our way.

Louvre lobby.Louvre was about 2km away — another 30 minute walk through the streets of Paris. When we arrived there we saw the world famous glass pyramid entrance and as expected — no line. We quickly passed through the security checkpoint and saw a coat check by the entrance. We figured since we’re going to spend 2-3 hours were it would be nice to to lug our outerwear with us.

Venus de Milo.The thing is that we hate going through a regular coat check though. Standing in line, getting a number, somebody handling your clothing, retrieving it, tipping and all that. But in Louvre you end up in a large locker room in which you pick any shelf from different sized ones and each one is equipped with a digital lock. You put your stuff in, set the pin and that’s it. Great.

Mona Lisa.And then we wondered through the halls of this top art museums of the world. Among the most famous things we saw was Venus de Milo and DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa was probably the most crowded place of the whole museum. It was not even possible to get close to it. There were two guards, a guard rail, bullet proof glass and a “selfing” crowd.

One of very many halls inside Louvre.The museum is impossible to cover in one day. We usually places like this 2-3 hours and then we tend to get tired. Towards the end of our tour when we sat down on one of the benches for a little bit of rest Alёna remembered that we still haven’t seen the famous painting by Jacques-Louis David — The Coronation of Napoleon. I started looking around and lo and behold — we’re sitting right in front of it.

Streets of Paris.Notre Dame de Paris was another 1.7km away in the same direction — further away from our hotel. Needless to say the walk back was somewhat long. But we keep trying to take different routes and end up seeing a good portion of all the cities that we visit through non-touristy streets. These walks probably are the things that built the feel of the city for us.

Notre Dame de Paris.Notre Dame itself is not all that unusual from the looks of it inside or out to my untrained eyes. But what makes it really special is the fact that it has seen so much history. The construction of it began almost 900 years ago. Napoleon was crowned inside of it, as is depicted by the above mentioned painting. The day was quite rainy so we decided not to go to the roof though.

Streets of Paris.And after that we took a long walk back to our hotel. We were so tired by the day’s end that we decided to grab a late light lunch in hotel restaurant and later some appetizers at the executive lounge instead of going out. And thus our stay in Paris has concluded as the next morning we were leaving it for Brussels.

Streets of Paris.As I said earlier Paris has left a very positive and lasting impression on us. It really is grand all throughout. We did see a lot of things, but there are many many other things to do that we didn’t have time for. In retrospect we really should’ve allocated more time for Paris, especially considering that a train to Brussels only takes an hour. I would like to visit it again in the future.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Exploring Rome

View of Saint Peter's Square from the top of Saint Peter's Basilica.Getting there was pretty uneventful. Our flight departed from JFK at 10 o’clock in the evening. We were flying Alitalia directly to Rome and with my inability to sleep on the planes I ended up watching a bunch of movies on the built in TVs for the most part of the night.

One of typical buildings in Rome.When we landed in Rome it was right in the middle of the day — 12pm. After being awake for such a long time the first day is a bit hazy in my head. We quickly went through the customs and passport control and were out into the wild with our bags in hand in a very short amount of time. As we exited the airport doors we ran into a driver holding a card with our name — we pre-arranged a car to take us to our hotel through the hotel itself before our departure. The airport is well outside the city and happened to be located on the opposite side of Rome from our hotel on top of that. Knowing that we will be quite tired from the flight we figured that it would be worth to pay €55 to avoid fumbling around with public transportation with luggage at that moment.

At Vatican Museums.This time around, having learned our lesson from Japan, we opted not to exchange currency at the airport, but instead pre-ordered €300 from our bank to be delivered to our home before our trip. That combined with credit cards ended up being enough money to last us through the rest of our trip.

Our hotel — our Hilton Garden Inn.Even the ride to hotel itself has proven to be an interesting experience. Our driver was doing a pretty good job cursing at people who were getting in his way. The funniest moment was when he ended up stopping right in the middle of an intersection, thus blocking the way for cars on a perpendicular to us street. The guy in the first car on the said street proceed to roll down his window, stick his head out and send a very passionate stream of words towards our guy. Not to be left out our guy rolled down his window and replied in kind. After the exchange of what I’m sure was nothing but pleasantries was completed, we were ready to move forward.

Streets of Rome.The ride ended up being quite long which made me even more grateful for getting a ride on car. On our way to the hotel we drove through the middle of the city and I was able to follow the whole trip through my phone’s GPS with pre-downloaded maps. We kept looking out of the window and going — wow, there are some nice ruins there, and then some more there and there. And what is that weird ruin there? Oh, wait — that’s a Colosseum!

Streets of Rome.The city itself was nothing like a typical U.S. city. There were no 1-2 story private houses, but mostly buildings. A lot of windows had shutters on them and what looked very nostalgic to us were strings with drying laundry on them everywhere. Out of all the cities that I have visited in the past 20 years I would say that Rome looked very much like Odessa to me for some reason and that somehow created a nice warm nostalgic feeling towards Rome for me even though I’ve only been to Odessa 3 times in my life.

European type elevator of our hotel.Our first hotel was Hilton Garden Inn. Our other option in the city was Waldorf Astoria, but it was quite a bit more expensive and since the reviews were very mixed we decided that it wasn’t worth it. Hilton Garden Inn turned out to be very nice and clean with a good sized room that we could expect from such a hotel in U.S. The only thing that gave it away as European was a tiny elevator that barely fit both of us along with our suitcases inside.

Rome.What turned out to be a nice convenience was the fact that there were 2 trams running by our hotel. Tram number 3 would take us directly to Vatican and tram number 19 would take us directly to Colosseum — our 2 main objectives to visit in Rome.

Park near the gallery.On our first day we decided to take a walk to famous Galleria Borghese that was about a kilometer away — a rather short walk at that. Gallery itself was located in the park, so we figured that even if we decide not to get inside we’ll walk around the park itself. On our way there we passed by a number of embassies including ours. Ours of course looked like a fortress with a huge wall around it and armed people guarding the entrance.

Vatican Museums.When we got to the gallery we realized that we had to turn in our bags and cameras in and we didn’t want to do that yet. On top of it it was pretty crowded, but most of all we were feeling like a pair of zombies falling asleep on our way. We figured it wouldn’t be money well spent, although I’m sure the gallery itself had a lot to offer. We decided to start walking back towards the hotel and grab some dinner on our way before we completely turn off.

Here we had our first dinner.We found a pretty cozy place very close to the hotel — our first Italian dinner. The food was not bad, as was the wine. From this moment on we haven’t had a single dinner without wine. In most places wine would end up costing us no more than bottled water. Thus concludes our celebration of Alёna’s birthday. On our way back to our hotel we bought ourselves a pair of all day tickets for Rome for the next day which covered all trams, subway and bus rides for that day. At €6 per person it was well worth it.

Waiting for our first tram to Vatican in front of our hotel.Our original plan was to try to last until at least 6pm, but we ended up falling completely asleep at 4pm. Then we woke up around midnight and watched some TV (our strategy for not waking up at 3am). I feared that now that I woke up I won’t fall asleep again. I was wrong. I did fall asleep again and the next time I woke up I was quite shocked to find out that it was 7am already. Now that was some power way to get over our jet-lag.

On our way to Vatican.In the morning we woke up completely refreshed and full of energy, ready to explore the famous city of Rome. Rome has a lot of things to offer and since we were here for only one full day we had to set realistic objectives. Our plan was simple — see Vatican City with its main basilica and see Vatican Museums along with Sistine Chapel during the first part of the day. The second part of the day we wanted to spent around Coliseum. So we proceeded to do exactly that. After we ate our breakfast at our hotel we hopped on tram number 3 towards Vatican.

Alёna on Saint Peter's Square.Now having seen what I’ve seen I can say that I was expecting to be impressed the most by Coliseum, but turned out that Vatican was the most memorable part of the day. We had reservations (to avoid lines) for Sistine Chapel, but we had no idea where to look for what. So we went for the place that seemed the most obvious — a large circular “square” in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica. At that time we didn’t know the name of this large church and assumed that it was Sistine Chapel. We went through a short security line and ended up inside. The place was unexpectedly huge.

Inside the basilica.One of my main objectives was to get on top of the cupola for some bird-view shots. We had no problems finding the place where one can get to the cupola as there were signs pointing us in the right direction. There were two options — either take the stairs all the way up or buy an elevator ticket and ride half the way up and climb the rest. We decided, that since we had a lot to see and weren’t too sure of our climbing abilities, to spend the money. The elevator took us to the room right at the base of the cupola. We went inside and were able to look down. People looked like ants down on the floor.

Looking down from inside the cupola.We started the climb to the top. The staircase was very narrow and was laid between two walls of the cupola — the outer and inner shells. It wasn’t too hard to deal with, but people with claustrophobia probably shouldn’t get in there. I was full of anticipation and when we finally got out on the top it was totally worth it. The views were amazing. Sun was shining us right in the face which is not great for photographs, but I still managed to take a couple of great shots that I’m very happy with.

View from the top. Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums are on the left.Afterwards we walked around the roof for a bit and went down into the basilica itself. As I said before the building was immensely huge. According to Wikipedia it indeed is the biggest church in the world. At this point we were already full of impressions, but we still didn’t find one of our main objectives. We asked a guard on how to find Sistine Chapel and it turned out that we had to walk out of Saint Peter’s area and go all the way around Vatican City and enter the museums from an opposite side. And that’s what we did.

Another direction from the top.Now if we were rather well prepared for Japan trip here we were mostly winging it. We knew the places that we wanted to see — like Sistine Chapel — but in this case we weren’t 100% sure why. Alёna mentioned that it was famous for the fact that it had been painted by Michelangelo. But more on that later. Once we figured out that the museums and Sistine Chapel was not Saint Peter’s Basilica we had no problem finding it. On our way though we were pestered by numerous tour guides offering to take us in the museum and avoid the lines. It was actually quite annoying, since we had to say “No!” every 30 seconds while we were walking there.

Inside the basilica.When we got in we quickly exchanged our reservation vouchers for tickets, but were even more amazed to see that even to buy a ticket there simply were no lines! That’s the beauty of traveling in the off-season. There was still a lot of people, but not to the point where things would get uncomfortable. Now the collection of various forms of art at Vatican Museum is vast. This place is probably heaven for art lovers and students of art. Since we were less informed we tried to make the most of it and try to simply appreciate all the history that this place contained.

Hall full of sculptures.It was an interesting experience, but I want to share a thought that I kept catching running through my mind. All this is great and dandy, but how many countless lives had to be taken over the centuries to amass such riches. I really didn’t want and don’t want to get into politics of things, but somehow you can’t help but wonder about that. Now being there I just wanted to enjoy the place and that fact that I’m there, so I tried to push those thoughts away.

Geographic maps.There are two ways to get to Sistine Chapel — the short way and the long way. The short way is just a shortcut to get to the most famous place in the museum and the long way is to go through what seemed to be miles of hallways filled statues, paintings, rugs and other pieces of art. Since it was pretty early in the day we decided to walk through all of it. One place that stands out the most in my mind is the hall filled with a big collection of ancient geographical maps. Also in a lot of cases the halls themselves were art — the paintings on the ceilings, the decoration of the walls.

Maps.So by the time we got to Sistine Chapel we had a bit of an information overload happening in our system. For some reason we expected to see “The Creation of Man” by Michelangelo spanning the whole ceiling here. When we didn’t see that and saw several smaller paintings instead we shrugged it off and moved on. However 5 minutes later while we were waling by souvenir shop we saw books about Vatican Museums and a lot of them did have “The Creation of Man” on their covers. So we started thinking that this being by far the most famous painting — at least to us — and Sistine Chapel being the most famous place in the museums, something was amiss.

Raphael's frescoes.We decided to backtrack through the crowd of people going in the opposite direction and get inside Sistine Chapel yet again. And sure enough when we got there right in the center of the ceiling was “The Creation of Man” — the very famous painting know practically to anyone. This time we decided to pay attention and spend more time there. We looked at all the paintings on the ceiling and the walls and I’m glad we did. There is just something about seeing such a famous thing with your eyes in its original form. Photography here was not permitted, so you’ll have to go and see this place with your own eyes.

Long halls of Vatican Museums.At this point we felt a certain sense of accomplishment, but we had seen enough art for one day. We decided to make our way towards the exit, but I wanted to see one more famous thing I was aware of — a large circular stair case located somewhere in the museum. But when were right at the exist I started to think that maybe I made a mistake and it wasn’t in this place or we missed it somehow. I asked a person in the information booth at the exit about it and she said — turn this corner at the exit. And sure enough — there it was. The very last thing in the museum leading people out back into the street.

Spiral staircase.Thus we were done with our first part of the day and our next objective was the Coliseum itself. In order to get there we planned to take subway. Rome only has two lines, so after dealing with subway in NYC there is nothing to it. The maps were quite clear and it was an easy thing. There was a station near Vatican and one near Coliseum. But we had to change the lines and that station was located right on the central train station in Rome — Roma Termini. We decided to get out there and buy ourselves a pair of tickets for our bullet train ride to Florence the next day.

Raphael's frescoes.Here I want to take a small detour and say a couple of words about my worries about the high crime level and our actual experience. Before the trip I read a lot of posts from various people around the internet of how the crime was very high in Italy. I read that you can not have anything in your pockets, that you will get tricked, things will get ripped off, bags that are left at your feet during lunch will get snatched and the car that you rent will be stolen — hence the mandatory theft insurance on rentals. Needless to say all this was quite worrisome.

Saint Peter's cupola from inside.Of course now in retrospect I imagine that if people who are planning a trip to New York will do the same “research” I did will walk away with an “unmistakable” conclusion that they will most defiantly get shot while here. Now having lived in New York for almost 20 years and being able to avoid getting shot to this day I had a pretty similar experience in Italy. Everything was overblown. The only two moments where my anxiety kicked in (and probably rightly so) happened on this day in Rome. First one was at the train station while we were buying tickets.

Inside Saint Peter's Basilica.The easiest way to buy a ticket is to use one of the vending machines that are located all throughout the station. We found one that wasn’t being used and within 3 seconds of me touching the screen there was a shady looking young guy practically hugging me offering me his assistance. This being our first day in Italy and me being all on edge from the supposed crime that was about to happen I kind of flew off the handle a bit and started yelling at the guy and demanding that he moves at least 5 meters away from me and doesn’t get any closer. Seeing this somewhat unbalanced reaction he decided not to argue and did exactly what I asked. He also put his hands inside his pockets.

Streets of Rome.We decided not take our chances anyhow and decide to just move to a different location of the station. We saw that the next couple — another pair of tourists — who came after us got the same treatment from this character. Only they didn’t send him away. I wonder if they walked away with the contents of their pockets or not. Anyhow, at the next machine I was taking my time, reading through all the instructions and yet another guy tried to help me. Only this time it was an impatient Italian guy who was in line after us — but I wasn’t aware of that yet. I yelled a bit at him too and proceeded to buy our tickets at my own pace. Only when we were walking away I realized what was going on and got an earful in Italian. I’m sure he was wishing us to have a pleasant day.

On the tram.What gave us a great peace of mind was the fact that before our trip we bought Alёna a travel messenger bag. The bag had steel cables in the shoulder strap, steel mesh embedded in the fabric to prevent it from being cut open and a locking zipper that clips onto a ring attached to the shoulder strap. It also has an RF signal blocking pouch inside. We kept our money and our passport in this bag all the time. The bag is made by PacSafe and was well worth the purchase. It was convenient and we didn’t worry about any of our stuff.

Inside of Saint Peter's Basilica.The second incident happened within 30 minutes when we were walking around Coliseum. Some guy started talking Russian to me in broken Russian and trying to tie some string around my finger. That unnerved me a bit as well and I yelled a bit at this guy too. And that was it. Like a lot of people told me before the trip — just use your common sense and you’ll be fine. And they were right. There a lot of beggars, but just get away from them. People will try to give you flowers and then demand money — don’t take the flowers. They will try to tie strings on your wrist for luck and demand money — don’t let them.

Roma Termini.I carried my iPhone in my front pocket all the time — like I always do. I had my big and expensive camera with a big lens on me all the time. And nothing happened. When we moved from city to city we used locks on our luggage. With a little bit of common sense everything is indeed easily avoidable and nobody got even close to being confrontational with us. I gave myself stress for no reason. At least that was our experience. I’m sure the fact that we were there in the off-season and crowds weren’t huge probably helped as well. This concludes my detour and brings me back to Rome.

Coliseum itself.After buying our tickets to Florence we went back into the subway and in 10-15 minutes walked out right in front of the Coliseum itself. Coliseum as it stands today has two distinct sides — the more impressive side where the outer wall still stands and an opposite side where that outer wall came down during an earthquake some 800 years ago — we basically barely missed it. Sadly for us the sun was shining directly into the camera for me to take a well lit picture of the exterior wall, but we still tried. We walked up some steps which gave us a good vintage point. I did a couple of HDR bursts which still resulted in a somewhat mediocre photograph, but that’s the best we could do.

Arch of Constantine.Next thing we tried to do was to go inside the structure. Funnily enough an elderly French couple gave us a pair of tickets for the entrance — they were done and were heading back to Paris. We thanked them, but as we expected the bar code on the tickets showed them as used up already. There was a decently sized line at the ticket office and we decided not to stand in it and instead explore the area while the sun didn’t set yet. We proceed to Arch of Constantine which is located very close to Coliseum. It’s quite big and looked interesting. From what I read it was built in 315 and served as an entrance for triumphant emperors returning to Rome.

Forum.After that we went around the other side in search of the entrance to Forum. On our way there we started feeling thirsty and tried to buy a couple of bottles of Fanta from a street vendor. When he told us that each was going to cost us €4.50 we told him to keep them. Anyhow, at the entrance to Forum we encountered a much smaller line for the same ticket that gives access to all the area attractions. Each ticket was about €12. We bought them at about 3:20pm. What nobody bothered to mention to us though was the fact that all the entrances close at 3:30pm. We only realized that much later once we tried to return to Coliseum again — hence we didn’t see the inside of it after all. Of course the ticket was valid for the next day as well, but that wasn’t helpful to us at all.

Forum area.We wondered around Forum for about 30 minutes, took a couple of pictures, looked at what was left and went back to Coliseum to take a couple more pictures from the other sun-lit side.

Raphael's frescoes.By now we were feeling pretty tired and we were starting to get hungry. But instead of eating around this massive tourist trap we decided to take advantage of our unlimited travel passes and hopped on a tram 19 towards our hotel. When we got far enough from the center we started looking for a hole in the wall type of pizzeria. When we stopped new one such place we jumped off the tram and that’s where we had our dinner.

Leaving Coliseum.Pizzeria there worked differently from what we were used to. The owner had a bunch of different pizza pies of rectangular shape. We pointed out the ones that we wanted, he cut off the piece of our preferred sizes and weighted them. We were also surprised to see that this tiny place had a nice selection of wine, including the kind of wine that could be served in a vending machine — nothing like that in NYC. So we had our nice pizza dinner with red wine. At the end of the evening I managed to knock over some wine left overs and painted my jeans dark red, thus taking them out of commission.

Pizzeria selection.We arrived back to our hotel fairly early by Italian time and went to bed. However for some reason I couldn’t fall asleep for a good number of hours because of anxiety — completely pointless one at that — about our move to the next city. I was worrying about “thief filled” train station and us being there with our luggage. But as I said earlier nothing bad happened at all and I gave myself stress for no reason.

Our dinner.In the morning we jumped on a bus and were at the train station in 15 minutes the most. Soon after we figured out how to find our train — the line number appears only about 15 minutes before departure. Then before boarding a train we asked a young guy if we were about to climb into the right car. He confirmed it. We found our seats. At first we left our luggage near the doors, but then we realized that there is plenty of space between the car seats — they were with their backs to each other. We moved our luggage there, close to us. And as we sat down the guy who we talked to before getting into the car came in and sat down right across from us at the same table.

Streets of Rome.We ended up talking to him all the way to Florence. His name is Lorenzo and he lives somewhere in the vicinity of Venice. His English wasn’t perfect, but he was able to keep a conversation going for almost two hours. He kept insisting that he is horrible and can’t speak — if only my Italian was even 1/10th of his English I’d be grateful. He works as a baker. We asked him what he would recommend to try food-wise and drink wise among other things. He mentioned that Prosecco wine was well known. Turns out it is well known in US as well, but we never heard of it before.

Waiting for our train to Florence.And thus our visit to Rome has ended. Now thinking back I already have plenty of warm memories about the city that we only caught a slight glimpse of. I would love to suddenly turn out in front of our hotel on the street that was full of big green trees — like in Tashkent and old buildings with laundry drying — another nostalgic memento of Soviet childhood. It was a great start of a great vacation.
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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Paintings by J.C. Kugler

J.C. Kugler PaintingsWhen we went to Virginia Beach for the first time in 2004 we stumbled upon a small art gallery. We usually check those places out to see if they have anything that we would like to have in our apartment. I’m a big fan of contemporary, abstract art, but I haven’t seen anything that I would like as much as the work of J.C. Kugler that we saw in this gallery.

The father of J.C. Kugler is also an artist, and had his work at the same gallery. However we found that the work of the son was more to our taste, even though J. Kugler’s (father) work is equally impressive.

Anyhow, the first time we were there, we couldn’t really afford to buy anything, since it was the time when Alёna just lost her job. When we were there for the second time we didn’t really have any more empty space in our apartment, but we still stopped by the gallery again, to look at what they had there at the moment.

This time around however we had a new apartment, and a wall that was just asking for something like that. There were several different pieces and we picked out 2 that we thought would work the best for us. We ended up paying $450 for both of them framed, but we feel it’s worth it for a pair of original art works by a known artist. We wanted to get them for a long time now, so we finally did it.
In: Home Sweet Home   Tags: , , ,
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