Author Archive for Bill Petro

Florence Galleria – Michelangelo’s David


To see the statue of David, for the first time takes your breath away. In the tribune at the end of a long gallery lit naturally from above by a glass cupola, this statue is the most beautiful man-made thing I’ve ever seen. You know the familiar story from the Bible in I Samuel, Chapter 17 of the young David, the future king of Israel, who though only a shepherd boy defeats the Philistine giant Goliath in single combat with only a sling.

michelangelo_david_head.jpgThis David’s gaze to his left is penetrating, his eyebrows heavy, his brow is furrowed, his hair is tousled, almost a whirl of linguine. Many commentators say that this is a visage of intelligence, not the usual triumphant victor after cutting off Goliath’s head, as is often portrayed. His nose and nostrils are large, yet his mouth is rather narrow. He looks like Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins.

michaelangelos_david_hand.jpgHis right hand seems over sized. The veins of his right hand, wrist and arm are bulging… but not those of his left. In his right hand, visible only from behind, can be seen a smooth round stone. His left hand is relaxed and holding the sling slung across his left shoulder.

A guide I overheard said that Michelangelo intended the statue to be seen from below, not at eye level as we often see him. If so, this would explain much.

Below and to the right of the statue is an exhibit of the Stanford Digital Michelangelo Project. This monitor displays the statue from different angles and different lighting, rotated in 3D. You’re able to see details that you can’t see from a distance. Impressive.

The Galleria dell’Accademia is one of the “must see” places in Florence for art, especially sculpture and plasters. However, most people go there to see “the David.” Make sure you make a reservation ahead of time.

There is a copy that stands along with seven other statues outdoors in the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) which is the seat of the Florence civic government and political hub of the city — and the original site of the statue. But it’s not the same as experiencing the original statue at the Accademia Gallery.

Bill Petro

Driving In Italy


It has been said that you have to be CRAZY to drive in Italy, but I tell you that you MUST be crazy to drive in Italy — preferably homicidal. Drivers here are assertive and aggressive, believing that it is more blessed to take the right of way than to give it. Indeed, I found no translation into Italian of the phrase “giving the right of way.”

Cars.jpgSome of the streets are not actually intended for car, at least cars the size that you and I know. Instead, Smart Cars, rarely seen in the wild in the US are popular in Italy. They are more like half of a pair of roller skates than an actual car. I’m sure I saw a “size” sticker on the back of one of them.

electric_car.JPGThere were even smaller vehicles with 3 wheels, 2 in the front and electric powered.

horses.jpgThe streets in Florence were designed centuries ago for horses and carts, but now serve cars, motor scooters, and people — usually all at the same time. I’m told that it is technically illegal to hit a pedestrian, but that gave me no greater confidence as a pedestrian when crossing streets.

signs.jpgDrivers in Italy are most imaginative, able to place three car streams within two lanes. Lane markings are merely a suggestion; the Italians think of them more as guidelines than rules. Street signs are considered decoration and no one pays any attention to them as they’re moving too fast to read them.

Lanes.jpgMotorcycles and scooters move at 90 degrees perpendicular to the traffic, squeezing through the interstitial spaces between stopped cars. As I drove through the streets of Florence, I noticed them moving around my (relatively) slow moving vehicle as if they were birds.

Once getting on the Autostrada, I thought things would speed up, until I looked up the word in a dictionary:

Translation: a special road you pay a toll on for the privilege of going long distances at slow speeds.

A drive into Florence during commute hours from out of town could take 1.5 hours to go just 30km. As there are only 2 lanes each way, and no shoulder to speak of, if there was a breakdown traffic could come to a virtual stand still. But there was one saving grace. Once you get out of the metropolitan area, the rules on the Autostrada change. There are two lanes with two speeds. The name of the right lane is roughly translated “farm vehicles” where they move at slow poke speeds. The left lane is known as the Benz lane, where high-end automobiles move at hyper-light speeds, announcing to cars ahead of them their intention to crawl up their tail pipe by flashing their high beams as they approach from behind.

Saint GPS

The patron saint of many Italian drivers is GPS, the Global Positioning System device, found in so many cars, not just passenger cars but delivery vehicles as well. We took a tour bus, and that driver had a GPS. It didn’t keep him from taking the wrong road, but that’s another story. Drivers proudly display this talisman on their dashboard or windshield. Italians use one that is addressed by the name Sophia.

GPS_1.jpgThe one I had was addressed by the votive title Garmin, or specifically Miss Garmin. I like having a female voice, as it tends to cut through traffic noise better. While I usually respond well to a crisp female British accent telling me how to drive (“Oh, Miss Moneypenny”) it’s hard enough listening to a female American accent butcher the Italian street names. Since GPS devices do their pronunciation by phonemes, the American placement of accents don’t match the Italian ones. I just followed the arrow on the screen.

In general, it takes 3 Americans to drive in Italy: one to pilot the vehicle, one to do the navigation, and another to recognize and call out hazards like stop lights.

UPDATE: Six months after I returned from Italy, I got in the mail two driving tickets. One for driving in an area that is only allowed for hotel guests — you must register your license with the hotel — and another for driving in an area reserved for taxis and busses. About $300!

Bill Petro

Let’s Float Down to Peru


In Frank Sinatra’s song “Come Fly With Me” the second verse starts with:

Come fly with me, lets float down to Peru
In llama land, there’s a one man band
And he’ll toot his flute for you
Come fly with me, well float down in the blue

While no one man band was in evidence, and the only llama I saw was in the picture of Machu Picchu above, in Lima there was music and dancing. And the food is as good as they say.

Lima_Coast.JPGLima, Peru is a city of around 8 million, containing about a third of the population of Peru. Located on the Pacific coast, the shoreline is beautiful, with a variety of features, including wharf side restaurants along the piers. The weather was mild, though the locals would call it cold. It was in the 50s-60s, but it was moving into their Winter, after all, as Peru falls south of the Equator, between Ecuador and Chile. But Peru is famous for a few things, even over its neighbors.

Lima_meal.JPGFirst is the food. I’d been told about how fabulous the food was. And indeed, though I was only in Lima for a couple of days, the food was outstanding. A variety of fresh ingredients made the dishes outstanding. There were a variety of corn dishes, from purple corn pudding dessert to large kernel roasted as appetizers, a kind of “corn nut” which is essential an un-popped roasted corn kernel. The potatoes — originally brought back to Spain by Francisco Pizarro from this part of the New World and only later promoted as a food staple in Ireland and other parts of the Old World by people like Sir Walter Raleigh — were of such incredible variety. And the seafood… well! Being right on the coast, one evening I had a lovely meal of swordfish wrapped in prosciutto atop garbanzo beans and avocado.

And another fabulous meal was at the Astrid & Gaston Restaurant of camarones, or shrimp. Started in 1994 by Peruvian chef, Gaston Acurio (often called the leader of Peruvian cuisine) and his wife Astrid, both Paris-trained at the Cordon Bleu, the food was wonderful and the service spot on. As you can see, the presentation was as good as the serving.

Secondly, Peru is known for its dance. Not only indigenous, native origin dances related to agriculture, hunting and courtship, but also other dances influenced by parts of the Old World. I witnessed half a dozen dance styles one night at a dinner theater accompanied by traditional Peruvian food and music. Here are some pictures.

The first is Afro-Peruvian dancing:

Next a series of traditional courtship dances:

Finally, the so called “scissor dance”:

Peru is attracting lots of tourists at this time. The beautiful church along Kennedy Park in the center of town faces a lovely place for a promenade. Street merchants, photo displays and lush surroundings make it an inviting location. Most of the finest restaurants are found nearby. This is also a shopping destination as well as a food magnet. While there is a McDonnald’s Restaurant here, not far from it is Bembos, a local chain that is more popular with the locals, offering a variety of gourmet burgers. They can only be found in Peru. And behind the restaurant can be found a fleet of motorcycles. They deliver.

Beyond Lima a variety of trekking tourism flourishes, particularly for those interested climbing in the Andes Mountains, to Macchu Picchu (Old Mountain) for example, as pictured at the top. This is a beautiful depiction of the Inca civilization. Known as “the Lost City of the Incas” although originally built in the mid 15th century, it was abandoned about a century later around the time of the Spanish conquest of the Incas — though this city was never found by the Spanish — and not “discovered” again until 1911.

Larcomar Shopping Center in the Miraflores district is located right along the coast and overlooks the shoreline. An open gallery of several stores on many levels glistens in the night. It is a collection of over 80 high-end shops with everything from luxury chocolates and cigars to sushi and dim sum restaurants. It boasts an extensive game arcade, a cinema as well as live theater, and an authentic Peruvian dinner theater La Dama Juana. It is here that I caught the dances mentioned above.

Miraflores is one of the more affluent areas of the city, with luxury hotels like the Miraflores Park Hotel with its 11th floor restaurant and swimming pool. The heart of the business center is found in the San Isidro district. Considerable amounts of new construction is going on, with cranes seemingly everywhere. Navigation is a challenge, parking even more so.

Finally, Peru is known for its mining. Gold, silver and copper mining are particularly popular. On the flight down I sat next to a financial manager for a gold mine. Silver shops in Lima are a huge draw for tourists with very reasonably priced products. Oh, and oil. I flew back with a petroleum engineer. Both oil products and natural gas are brought across the Andes by pipeline. The natural gas is liquefied and put on boats off the coast of Lima.

My last view of Peru, as I flew out on the red eye was as a jewel, strung out like a string of pearls.

Thanks for coming along.

Bill Petro



I believe travel should be like a well oiled machine. The saying goes that Mussolini “made the trains run on time” in Italy and I figured I should take advantage of that. Upon our arrival in Rome, I navigated us on the Airport Express train to Rome‘s main train station, the Termini (named not for being the “terminal” but for the nearby ancient Roman hot Baths of Domitian) and then, though sleep-addled after a long trans-Atlantic flight I was able to expertly, efficiently, promptly and indeed aggressively get everyone on the train ahead of time. We were bound for Florence. Except that I got us on the wrong train. It was not just the wrong train, but it was going 180 degrees in the wrong direction. And with great efficiency it was heading there at 155 mph. And it was an Express train that didn’t stop until getting to Naples.

So, this was not a well oiled beginning to the holiday. The more gracious among our party brushed it off, saying that we got to see Naples, something not originally on our agenda. “We’ll always have Napoli.”

Indeed, this really was a serendipitously situation. Being scattered about the train car as we were, one of the people in our party happened to be sitting next to Stefano Ferragamo, as in the label Salvatore Ferragamo, shoemakers to the stars. They had a fascinating conversation and even got his card from him. He also gave her a new website for the upcoming Caligarius line. He told her to spam all her friends to buy the new shoes.

Bill Petro

Welcome to Ignorance Abroad

Welcome to Ignorance Abroad, with apologies to Mark Twain

Herein I share my adventures in cultural ignorance and education the hard way. You’ll find some differences that are fascinating and intriguing, humorous, or irritating — the last two need not be mutually exclusive. And you’ll learn about some fascinating places.

What prompted me to create this blog?

Years ago I was staying at a fabulous hotel in The Hague with a room so incredible — with such high ceilings, marble covered bathroom, richly appointed fixtures — that I was tempted to stay in the room rather than go out and tour the town. In the bathroom were two sinks, one normal height, the second so low you could sit on it. I thought, “How clever these Europeans are, they even have a sink for kids!” Fortunately, I did not brush my teeth in the second one, for it was a bidet. I had never seen one before, having grown up in the a rural part of America where a couple neighbors didn’t even have indoor plumbing yet.

I reflected at the time that some day I should write a book about these discoveries and impressions.

What are my qualifications to be a “travel” road warrior?
  • I’ve flown about 1.5 million miles in the last ten years. This is roughly the equivalent of flying round trip to the moon three times.
  • Currently I travel between 100,000-200,000 miles a year on business and holiday.
  • I have traveled to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America.
Will there be pictures?

Oh yes. With the advent of digital photography I have chronicled my travels and will bring you interesting photos from around the world.

Thanks for coming along.

Bill Petro


Bill Petro Bill Petro is a high-tech business development professional with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Information Storage, Virtualization, and Social Media technologies.

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