Traveling? Tired of seeing google results in a foreign language? Read on!

Google's a great search engine (so good I sometimes worry about seeing the world only through Google's eyes :-) but one thing always annoys me: it displays search results in the local language. This is great for the locals but not for travelers. In Switzerland redirects me to a German, even though I'm in a French-speaking part of the country. In Italy, I get Mamamia, how to make it stick with English?!

You'd think Google would have a setting for your preferred language but if they do I haven't found it. Fortunately there are a number of workarounds:

In my opinion there's a better workaround, at least for the moment. Use instead of Leveraging a secure connection bypasses local language switching and sticks to English.

Going the https route has another advantage of course: it's much harder for a malicious person to sniff what you're searching for with Google (and grab your session cookies while they're at it). A nice bonus given that travelers can't always trust the connections they're using.

If you're on Firefox, a number of people have written search engine providers for secure google. The one I wrote also implements secure type ahead suggestions.

So now you can say arrividerci to those Italian search results! :-)

Terrific Eiffel Tower

Visiting the Eiffel tower was one of the high points of our Paris trip: the boys were really looking forward to seeing it and they weren't disappointed. Its beauty and size overwhelmed them initially and, once recovered, they clamored for a trip to the top. We asked one of the soldiers guarding the tower if we could take a picture of the boys with them. That wasn't allowed but they went one better when one of the soldiers put his beret on Daniel's head. The weather was rainy but the view from the top was nonetheless breathtaking. I was interested to see you could already rent your own iPad for a self-guided tour.

Travel tips:
  • Take the stairs to the second level instead of the elevator: You get a great view all the way up and a better feel for the tower itself. Though 43 stories sound like a lot, it's actually a pretty easy climb and you'll stop halfway anyway
  • Make the most of the exhibits on the first and second floors, esp. those showing the history of the tower and how it was built. The boys enjoyed learning that it takes 2.5 million rivets to hold this monument and 40 tons of paint to cover it from tip to toe
  • There are many street vendors around the Eiffel Tower, you can pick up souvenirs pretty cheaply esp. if you haggle a bit

Visiting Notre Dame de Paris

We visited Notre Dame de Paris with the boys. Probably the best known cathedral in the world after Saint Peter's in Rome, it took around 200 years to finish. There's lots to admire but my favorites are the stained glass windows.

Travel tips:
  • Entrance is free, always nice!
  • We arrived around noon and got to witness a sermon, including a priest singing the liturgy. It was nice to experience the cathedral being used as a place of worship, and not just a tourist attraction
  • Personally, if there's a long line to climb up to the towers, I wouldn't wait. You're going to see the Eiffel Tower, right? You'll get a better view up there
  • It's worth taking the short walk around the outside of the cathedral: you can take some nice pictures in the gardens and there's a small playground for kids who need an outlet for their energy (after all there's only so many architectural marvels kids can take :-)
  • Walk all the way around the inside of the cathedral too, the stained glass windows are exquisite! 

A Genuine French Strike!

When we arrived in Paris we had a little surprise: the French were on strike! What luck! :-)

The French public sector workers were protesting the government's desire to move retirement age from 60 to 62. The banner reads "40 years is already too much! No to pension reform!" Fortunately we weren't impacted and it was fun showing the boys a real French strike.

I got a kick from the wag who'd graffitied "Porcs" (Pigs) on the back of the police van.

Scenes from the Bay Area... in Miniature

One of the advantages of having a pilot's license is taking family and friends on tours of our beautiful Bay Area. Here are some of the pictures from those flights with some tilt-shift magic added in. I love seeing all these places in miniature!

These pics were taken from a Cessna 172 with a Canon G9. Post-processing was performed in Pixelmator, a powerful image editor on the Mac (I think of it as Photoshop for the rest of us), and this handy tutorial.

In case you're wondering, in order of appearance, we have: the Golden Gate Bridgeship graveyardPoint BonitaAlcatrazWaterworld, and Clayton Quarry.

Staying in Sorrento: Relais Regina Giovanna

This summer our family spent four days in Campania, Italy, visiting Mount Vesuvius & Pompeii, the island of Capri, as well as the beautiful Amalfi Coast. We didn't want to stay in Naples, so we chose Sorrento for our base of operations. 

Across the bay from Naples, Sorrento was still centrally located for our purposes: easy public transport to/from Naples, close to Pompeii, and Amalfi. Just as importantly Sorrento is a small town with great atmosphere. The hotels, though, made you pay dearly for that atmosphere!

We settled on a different hotel, the Relais Regina Giovanna. Focused on the burgeoning agritourism movement, the Regina is a large renovated farm house located on a few acres of olive and citrus groves outside of Sorrento. It's a very relaxing setting. You can enjoy the terrace with its view of the bay, the gardens, and even a little private (pebble) beach for some swimming and sunning.

The rooms were well appointed and very spacious, with high ceilings. We took two rooms and still ended up paying less than one room would have cost us in a nice Sorrento hotel. Thankfully all rooms had air conditioning  and the cool terra cotta tiles were a nice bonus.

Would we stay there again? Definitely!

Travel tips:
  • One downside of the Relais: no internet in the rooms. There is a laptop you can share with guests. We just plugged in the ethernet jack into our own laptop when we needed net access
  • Second downside: lots of TV channels... but in Italian only. That said, you didn't come to Italy to watch TV, did you?
  • Don't bother eating at the Regina's restaurant: it's expensive and we found the food disappointing
  • If you walk up the road, you'll find a cheaper options including a little deli with decent but simple panini (sandwiches) and good family-owned restaurant (Ristoria Kalimera). Moreover, if you ask nicely, they'll give you the key to their wifi so bring your laptop and check email while you wait for your food to arrive
  • Getting to the Regina is a bit of a pain if you don't have a car (the hotel has a large parking lot BTW). A taxi from the train station costs over 20 euros, which can get expensive very quickly
  • Our solution: take advantage of one of the downtown tour buses that bring you to sample Limoncello (the local liqueur) and see Capri. They depart every hour, costing 7 euros for adults with children riding free. The bus passes right by the Regina. The first time we took the tour and ask the driver to drop us off at our hotel on the way home. After that we just tipped him a couple euros and he'd drop us off on the way out of Sorrento. And we'd get to hear him enthusiastically sing opera every trip! :-)


Forests Full of Adventure

"Adventure Forests" (Foret de l'aventure in French) have become very popular in Switzerland. They're a wonderful experience for young and, well, not so young, combining the thrills of an amusement park with physical exercise. And of course, the pleasure of being in the middle of nature.

These adventure forests consist of zip lines, rope ladders, tight ropes, and many other obstacles strung between tall trees. There are usually multiple courses of varying difficulty, each one taking 15min to up to an hour to complete. It's all pretty safe as long as you use the climbing gear they give you properly. We visited three parks while we were in Switzerland, our boys loved them! (I did too :-)

Travel tips:
  • Call ahead to find out when there are fewest "adventurers" at the park. Not being stuck behind another group makes a big difference
  • Wear light, loose fitting clothes. Some of the obstacles can be quite physical (though the tough ones always have an escape route)
  • Bring water and snacks, these are available at the park but can be quite expensive
  • Hit the restroom before you and esp. the kids put on your climbing harness :-)

In Norway, Public Libraries have Climbing Walls

Well, at least one does! What a great idea for the kids' section! Children can't sit still all the time and this solution gives them both an outlet for their energy and a way to see the world from a different perspective, just as any good book would do. Thanks to my lovely wife Katrine for the pics and to our sons and nieces for the (in)action poses ...

Visiting the Beautiful Amalfi Coast

We spent a wonderful day touring the Amalfi coast south of Naples with our taxi driver Giovanni. A strong sea-faring republic at the turn of the first millennium, it slowly fell from power due to natural disasters, invasions, and Venice's rise in the North. Today, the coast is home to a group of picturesque villages perched on hills above the dazzling Tyrrhenian Sea.

Travel tips: expect to spend a day visiting the area. Though there are a number of bus tours you can take, we preferred to hire a taxi. It was expensive (around EU270 from Sorrento and back) but, with five of us, no more than a tour would have cost us. What we lost out on local history (Giovanni was a decent guide but no pro) we gained in flexibility: stopping where we felt like, leaving an area when we were done. With three often impatient boys, this was very useful!