If you are lost in Rome, there is hope

If you are lost in Rome..
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On Via del Corso, in Rome, there is a guy painting on the streets. Next to his painting, he wrote a sign "Lost tourist information" so he does not have to answer the same questions over and over again...

I love the bottom one: "Colosseum: It's too difficult to explain, so go to the Pantheon instead..."

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How many Italian policemen does it take to write a ticket?



This poor guy was fined driving through a no-traffic zone near the Spanish Steps in Rome today.
I snapped this picture a bit too late. Originally, there were five of them standing around the car all busy discussing, gesticulating and writing..

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British children's authors considered potential child sex offenders

stupidity at schools

How weird a well-intended legislation sometimes goes...

The UK Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) is managed by the Independent Safeguarding Authority, set up after the 2002 murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by Ian Huntley, a janitor at their school.

All individuals working with children will be required to register with a national database for a fee of £64. And that includes authors of children's books who give presentations at schools.

The new scheme has every individual working in a field that requires more than a tiny amount of contact with children and/or vulnerable adults to be vetted. If they are passed, they will be placed on a register that says they are allowed to work in a regulated field. If they are barred, they will go on a separate register and it will be a criminal offence for them to try and obtain work in a regulated field, carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison. It will also be illegal for anyone to employ them. (Full)

Picture courtesy Matt's Notepad

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I proudly present our two new blogs

This past month has been a very productive time. I used our holiday time to start two new blogs:

blog tips

Have Impact! is a blog about making a positive difference in the world. It started all back in November, with our Change Starts Here project.

Despite the work I do as an aidworker, I wanted to have more of an impact in the world. Micro financing seemed like the way to go, and I kicked off a project which has now funded projects in the developing world for the total value of $12,000. 19 other colleagues, friends and readers from The Road joined our Kiva Lenders' team.
It was time to give this project its own space, outside of The Road, and Have Impact! was born.

On this new blog, I post updates on our loans and report on the progress of our project.

blog tips

BlogTips is our second new blog. As I worked through the hurdles of finding out the ins and outs of blogging, I learned many things the hard way.
On BlogTips, I try to share some of the experience, specifically for non-profit bloggers and non-profit organisations.

In the meantime, I reshuffled some of the domains on our meta-blogs (I told you, this holiday was productive!):
- The Signs Along the Road contains my Internet clips.
- AidBlogs with the latest posts from the aidworker blogs I feature in the side column, moved to its new domain.
- AidNews moved to its own domain too, featuring the headlines of the latest aid news.
- Change Thru Information is the 4th new domain, with the latest headlines of over 300 non-profit blogs and sites.

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Living in Italy - Part 13: Italian appointments - the sequel

Dentist tools

The week after the disillusioning appuntamente (appointments) with the hair dresser and the garage, I stepped into another appuntamento adventure. This time with a dentist.

I had never been to a dentist in Italy, but the week before last, a tooth ache appeared out of no-where. I could feel the pain spiking down to the bottom of my spine, a sign the nerve of the tooth was touched.

Via my Friend E, I got in touch with a dentist and made an appointment for "next Wednesday at 9:30 AM". This was my first surprise, as dentists are pretty busy.

I stood at the porch of their practice at 9:25, and they arrived at 9:30, on the dot: The dentist, a young bright-blue-eyed woman, and the receptionist, a lady with a godly smile.

The dentist looked at my teeth. She shook her head. She would need X-rays and an ultrasound cleansing to remove all chalk residues before she could do anything else.

One was work for an Xray technician, and the other for a dental hygienist. I had an instantaneous nightmare of an endless appuntamente string. The dentist laughed at my sad face and said she would take an Xray of the hurting tooth herself, and put in a temporary filling. My first good luck of the day, as otherwise, I would have started my holidays - the next day! - with hurting teeth...

Half an hour later, we tried to find a blank spot in the agenda of the dental hygienist, but nothing seemed possible until September... And the Xray person was not available for months neither.

Both the receptionist and my dentist started a soft discussion, and in the end, the receptionist said:
- "OK, we will do the Xray session in two weeks, followed the next hour with the root canal for your hurting tooth... But we will do the dental hygiene session now..."
- "Now?" I asked.
- "Now", she winked.. "I am a dental hygienist too. Today is a calm day at the reception, so I will do it. Is that ok?"
- "More than OK!"..

One hour later, I was back on the street. I had a dental appuntamento that had actually worked. They did even twice as much work as foreseen. Plus I had my dental hygiene session, for which I had not even taken an appointment.

So why did the appuntamente with hair dresser and the garage not work out, while I had no trouble at the dentist?

My theory: The first two were men. The latter were with two women. Proof efficiency in the Italian society revolves around the women, not the men. Punto.

More about Living in Italy on The Road

Picture courtesy Dentist Tools (obviously!)

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Do governments spend too much on foreign aid?

This video makes me chuckle: Polls show most people think the US government (but that stands for most governments) spends too much on foreign aid. When asked what percentage they think would be appropriate, people all suggested a percentage which was higher than the actual....

Lesson learned: Governments actually spend less on public aid than people think....



The video refers to this study by Pipa.

Video discovered via Examiner

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Malawi: Teaching a person to fish

The food crisis is adding to the misery of countries already crippled by other burdens like drought and HIV.

In Malawi people are turning to fish farming, not only for food and income but also as a way to cope with the challenges of HIV — in particular the orphans from AIDS.

This video takes a look at the World Fish Center's work with partners to reduce poverty and hunger in Africa through fish farming.



Discovered via CGIAR's ICTKM blog

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Children in the US are worse off than 30 years ago

hungry children in the US

The FCD Child Well-Being Index (CWI) is an annual comprehensive measure of how children are faring in the United States. It is based on 28 key indicators of well-being.

This year's CWI is an updated measure of trends over the 32-year period from 1975 to 2007, with projections for 2008. Progress in American children's quality of life has fluctuated since 2002, and began to decline in 2008.

A recent report, "Anticipating the Impacts of a 2008-2010 Recession", measures the impact of the current recession on the overall health, well-being and quality of life of America's children. It finds that the downturn will virtually undo all progress made in children's economic well-being since 1975. The significant decrease in this domain will also drag down the other domains of the CWI. The impact will be especially severe for low-income children of color.

Other key findings from the report show a decline in social connectedness, declines in health, safety, education and family income, and a rise in poverty. (Full)

Picture courtesy Old Picture of the Day

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Views from Tuscany (6)

Here is the last series of shots taken during our two weeks in Tuscany, Italy. They more or less sum up our holiday, and the experience...

Summarizing, all I can say is: Tuscany is one of the most welcoming and tranquil places we visited. The variety of the landscape, the history, its towns, welcoming people and food are all simply remarkable.
It was my first holiday in Italy in 30 years. The only regret I have is "Why did I wait that long?"..

Views from Tuscany
Sunrise, taken from our house.

Views from Tuscany
A typical Tuscan view: rolling hill after hill after hill...


Views from Tuscany
It was harvest time in Tuscany


Views from Tuscany
A sunset view, taken from the terrace of one of the restaurants we discovered.


Views from Tuscany
Another sunset view, taken from Montepulciano


Views from Tuscany
A view from our house at 10:30 PM


Views from Tuscany
Nature is one of Tuscany's aces. And beauty can be in small things.


Views from Tuscany
Taken at sunset at another place we discovered for dinner,
with an amazing view over sunflower fields.


Views from Tuscany
Look at those shades of pink, taken at sunset in Montepulciano


Views from Tuscany
Another view from the hilltop of Montepulciano. Tuscany is dotted with churches, castles and medieval towns.


Views from Tuscany
The girls loved visiting the old towns.


Views from Tuscany
The girls enjoying sunsets in one of the freshly harvested fields.


Views from Tuscany
Hannah found her spot to watch the sunset.


Views from Tuscany
This was our first holiday with "Mr H", our 10 month French Bulldog pup.


Views from Tuscany
One of the beautiful sunsets, taken on the road between Siena and our house.


Views from Tuscany
Does it show the girls enjoyed Tuscany?


Views from Tuscany
Amazing what a few glasses of "prosecco" would not do...


For those interested, we staying in the Podere Ampella, in Southern Tuscany, between Montisi and San Giovanni d'Asso:

Views from Tuscany

Podera Ampella is a typical example of an Italian "agriturismo" holiday formula, rural country side cottages. It is small compound of a few brand new fully furnished and equipped independent houses. Ours was a two bedroom, two bathroom house with an astonishing view. The compound has a shared swimming pool. The hosts, Robert and Paola, are a very warm and welcoming couple.

And to finish off, a panoramic view on the road back from Tuscany to Rome (click for a hires picture):

Views from Tuscany

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10 seconds of Tuscany (9)

On the road between San Giovanni d'Asso and Siena, my GPS decided to guide us onto an unpaved road, obviously a short-cut.
The road serpented through valleys and over hill tops, much of it unspoiled nature, and the purest of Tuscany.
The last stretch went through amazing fields of sunflowers, poured over the rolling hills in between cypresses and farm houses.

sun flower field in Tuscany

sun flower field in Tuscany

sun flower field in Tuscany

sun flower field in Tuscany

Even without image enhancing, the pictures of the sun flowers resembled cells of something in a microcosmos. Almost psychedelic...

Which inspired me to make this short video with music by Neil Young, performed by the Belgian group Lais.



More on The Road about Tuscany

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10 seconds of Tuscany (8)



10 seconds in a Tuscan forest...

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10 seconds of Tuscany (7)



On our way to Siena... We all stopped at the track crossing, but so did the train. Apparently the local traffic controller had forgotten to put his light on green. We all stood there waiting for a guy to wake up.. Until the train conductor got impatient and blew his horn until he got a green light...


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10 seconds of Tuscany (6)


On our way for morning coffee in the town of San Giovanni d'Asso.

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10 seconds of Tuscany (5)


July is harvest time. Farmers are working on all the fields around us.

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10 seconds of Tuscany (4)


A 10 second impression on the piazza in front of the Florence Duomo.

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I saved the life of a beetle today

This beetle was crossing the road. I picked up and put it on the side. It raced away.. Was funny for me. Probably not for him. Or her. "It" probably...

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Views from Tuscany (5)

For those of you who followed my tweets this afternoon: I posted 4 pictures and asked you to guess where I shot them from... You can still see them on my TwitPic account.

Some of you guessed The Vatican. Some said France. Others were closer with Verona,... But some had it right: today we got lost in Firenze... Or "Florence" for the anglophones... ;-)

Views from Firenze
Ok, I have to admit, the first picture was not a good hint... Could have been pretty much anywhere in Italy.... Why Italy? Well, they sell leather in stalls on a market with statutes around it...

Views from Firenze
But a few pictures later, this one should have given it away...! This is one of the most famous sights of Firenze: The Piazza del Duomo with the Bapistry on the left and the Duomo on the right.

Views from Firenze
In the 13th century, the city decided to build a cathedral here, but it was not until 1436 when the Duomo was actually finished.

Views from Firenze
The Duomo's main facade is a 19th century imitated Gothic front.

Views from Firenze
A detail of the front door of the bapistry, which is the oldest building in Florence, dating back to the sixth or seventh century when it was a Roman temple dedicated to Mars. Its bronze doors are from the Renaissance times...


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Views from Tuscany (4)

Views from Tuscany
On the road for our morning coffee. (click for higher res)

Views from Tuscany
Montepulciano, one of the treasures of Tuscany

Views from Tuscany
Close by are the "Woods of the Spider webs", dotted with terracotta sculptures inspired by fairy tales.

Views from Tuscany
Even the tree trunks have different colours here.

Views from Tuscany
Sunset in Montepulciano


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10 seconds of Tuscany (3)


10 seconds in a Tuscan field...

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10 seconds of Tuscany (2)


10 seconds of a Tuscany panorama.

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Views from Tuscany (3)

The views from Tuscany for today. A sunset in Montalcino.
Italy sure is the land of churches and castles...

views from Tuscany

views from Tuscany

views from Tuscany

views from Tuscany

views from Tuscany

views from Tuscany


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Living in Italy - Part 12: More on Italian appointments

Italian hairdresser

As I came back from my failed “appuntamento” (appointment) with the garage, I headed for the centre of Rome. We were early July, schools were already in their summer break, so traffic was a breeze. I arrived almost an hour early for my appointment with the physio-therapist. I wanted him to straighten out my back before the start of the holidays…

I walked a couple of blocks and found a bar. Don’t get me wrong, yes- it was early in the morning, about 9:30 AM, but a “bar” in Italy is more a coffee shop than a place where you buy alcohol…

As I was sipping my cafĂ©, I noticed a “parrucchiere”, a hair dresser, next door. The lady was standing outside, smoking a cigarette, so they could not have been very busy. I needed a hair cut badly.. I asked her if she had time, did not need much of a designer cut, so fifteen minutes would do it.. She looked at me, and said she did not have time now, but I could make an appuntamento for 11:15. That synchronized nicely with my appointment with the physio session, so I agreed eagerly.

After my vertebrae and joints were all cracked back in place, I went back to the hair dresser. I was fifteen minutes early, so she asked me to wait for a bit. I took out my laptop and started working outside, on a bench right in front the shop. “I will call you when I am ready”, the hair dresser nodded..

The next time I looked at my watch, it was 1:15 PM… I had been sitting there for two and a half hours and forgot all about time. Laptop in hand, I stormed back into the shop, to find it filled to the brim with ladies. And two sweating hair dressers… One of them looked at me and shook his head.
- “No time today!”
- “But I have an appuntamento for 11:15”
- [nod] “No time today!”
- “But I came here at 9:30 and we made an appuntamento for 11:15. I have now been waiting here for two and a half hours.”
- “What can I say? No time today!”.
- “But could you not have told me earlier?”
- “What difference would it make? I told you, I have no time today. What more do you want me to say? I – have – no – time – today…”
- “I – say – bollocks – bollocks – bollocks -…”

I gesticulated wildly, raised my voice, and then retreated in apathy, to the great amusement of the dozen later-aged ladies. Who all confirmed what the parrucchiere said: “He has no time today”…

That day, I had three appuntamente. One with the garage, one with a hair dresser and one with the physio-therapist. Only the latter worked out. And he is Belgian.

More about Living in Italy on The Road

Picture courtesy J.Cangiano

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Living in Italy - Part 11: The concept of appointments

my Smart garage in Rome

I drive a Smart in Italy. This small two-seater is made by Mercedes, so you think of German Grundlichkeit – thoroughness and professionalism – when you would deal with a Mercedes garage. In Italy, think again...

My Smart’s air-conditioning broke down, waaayy back. With the temperature climbing to 30 dgrs C, it got a bit too hot.
So, I drove to the Mercedes garage and asked to book a repair. The Mercedes garage looks like the entry of a luxury bank or furniture store. Classy people in uniform, design sofas, people at individual desks talking with customers..

Only... I could not book a repair, as I needed to make an ‘appuntamento’ with a ‘consulente’ first. Only THEN I could book for a repair.

I was not going to brushed off like that. I made clear my car was hot, and I needed it repaired. Even more so, I wanted to drop the car early in the morning, and pick it up in the evening otherwise I’d have to hire a car to drive home. Taxis don't want to go where I live. Too much out of their way..

Escalating my request and raising the tone of my voice, I got promoted from the girl at the reception, to a junior consulente, to the senior consultant, and ended up with the boss of the designer garage joint.

He agreed with me, but I had to make an “appuntamento” with a “consulente” weeks in advance, to make sure they could reserve a mechanic for a day. And I had to book an appointment via their toll-free number. A bit of an adventure, as nobody spoke English on the other end of the line. After 30 minutes of discussions, we had a deal.

Weeks later comes G-Day, “Garage”-day. The day whose evening would be blessed with me, stepping out of the car looking like a cool dude, without a shirt dripping with sweat. “Cool” would be a keyword from then on. And even better: "G-Day" was a "Fri-day", so I would have a cool car for the whole cool weekend!

my Smart garage in Rome

Early morning of G-day, I drove to the garage. Waited for the consulente while seated in the designer sofa. As if I’d be checking in my car in a luxury clinic. The appointment with my consulente was at 9:15 apparently. I was 45 minutes early.

Felt like going to a dentist, so I got steaming a bit, as the only thing I wanted, was to drop off the keys: I had already explained everything to the boss, and to the lady at the toll free number. So why would I need to queue up with a ‘consultente’. On top of that, I had my friend “E” waiting to give me a lift back to work.

Anyways, forty minutes later, the consulente decided it was my turn. We filled in heaps of paperwork, went over to look at the car, noted every dent and scratch. Checked the car’s chassis number and registration papers. I explained in my best Italian “what is the matter”, and he confirmed everything in his best English. Luckily “air-conditioning” in English is “air-conditioning” in Italian.. More papers to sign. Something with a privacy act. Then he types everything into his computer, and smiles at me while saying:
- Okay, done. Please give us a call somewhere next week to check if the car is ready…
- Next week?!! You guys said it would be fixed in a day ?!
- ???? Noooo.. (He laughs like this was the joke of the week).. We have no time today. Anyway, this can not be fixed in a day.
- Why not? I talked to the boss, he said it was fine. I waited for weeks so it could be done in a day?
- Which boss?
- There the one in that office… (And I point to the office which has a big sign “Manager”)
- Well you will have to wait until he arrives then. Discuss it with him, because I can not help you…
- When does he come in?
- Ooogh, around 11 probably.
- But it is 9 now.. I need to go to work.
- I am sorry, but there is no way I can help you. We don’t have time to finish this work today. And we will have to order spare parts… Which will take days to get here. (I remembered my friend E’s Smart which indeed was immobilized for five days for a spare part to come from Milano to Rome. Probably someone walked it over..)
- How about you guys take today to check what is wrong. I pick up the car in the evening. You order the spare parts and I drop off the car for a one day repair again next week? (Try to say that in Italian, hey? Amazing what I can do when I am annoyed)
- Oh, sir, but we don’t have time to even LOOK at the car today…
- …
- …
- … Let me get this right. I had to wait for weeks to make an appointment to get the car repaired within a day. You let me come on a Friday, and now you tell me you won’t even look at it until Monday morning?
- …
- So why do you let me come on a Friday, then? Why would I keep it here over the weekend, knowing you guys would not work on it?

He looks at me with pain in his eyes and a sad smile on his lips. He whispers “It is worse than Africa is it not?”.

In the end, I agreed I would drop the car off the week after. I’d be on holiday for one month. He thought there'd be a reasonable chance to repair the A/C within a month.

More about Living in Italy on The Road

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10 seconds of Tuscany


10 seconds of weeds in the Tuscan wind.

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How we kept our dog busy this afternoon


"Mr H", our nine month's old French Bulldog pup loves to be challenged, and has a passion for 'pull' games. He will go on and on and on.

This afternoon, we tied a short rope to a tree branch. Kept him busy for a few hours.

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The world news in perspective

the world news as seen from Tuscany

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