Rome Arrival

Rome Arrival


We began our outing to Rome with a walkabout starting at our hotel. The hotel, Smeraldo, was very conveniently located just two blocks from Piazza Fiori, and from there a quick walk to Piazza Navona and then the Pantheon. The group shot above was taken in front of the Pantheon. We continued our walk past the under construction Trevi fountain, and the Spanish steps where we enjoyed a night view of the newly refurbished fountain.


After a nice walk we had a group meal at Hosteria Romana, where we (Katie) left our mark. I hope that in future years other Luther groups will return to this restaurant, and that the logo will still be there. If you do visit make sure you check in the back room and let me know.


Day 178

Day 178

We have been away from the USA for 178 days. With the rulings of the supreme court back home this week, it is easy to feel like we are returning to a country that is better off today than it was six months ago. We still have plenty of problems, but I am very excited to return home. I can’t wait to see friends and family, I may not sleep very well tonight!

Karlštejn Castle, Prague

Today we spent the majority of our day biking from the center of Prague to Karlštejn Castle 35km away. We have done a bike outing in almost every country we have visited, and today was no different. It is such a great way to see the country side and the people.

Karlštejn View

We have had an exceptional few days in Prague, mostly because of meeting so many good friends who were experiencing Luther’s Bach and Bonhoeffer tour. We toured with the group dined with friends, and hosted a happy hour for the group on our amazing terrace. It was almost like being home with so many great people around.

Biking with Biko in Prague

Nevertheless tomorrow morning we board a plane in Prague that will take us to Frankfurt and then we have a direct flight from Frankfurt to Minneapolis. Local time to local time I’ll be on the ground 24 hours from now, but its really 24+7 to account for the time difference.

Summary of Azamara Cruise

Summary of Azamara Cruise

For future reference I like to record the itinerary and favorite stops from a cruise. So here goes.

Azamara Journey June 12 - 23, 2015

  • Venice, Italy
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • At sea
  • Crete, Greece
  • Santorini -- hike Fira to Oia
  • Mykonos -- morning trip to Delos
  • Patmos
  • Kusadasi (Ephesus) Turkey
  • Lemnos (replaced Lesvos due to unrest)
  • Istanbul, Turkey

Its hard to say what my favorite stop was on this trip. I enjoyed seeing the old city of Dubrovnik and hiking around the walls. I enjoyed our hike from Fira to Oia on Santorini (despite the fact that it was hot and I complained about the heat) I enjoyed our scooter rental explorations on Patmos. I enjoyed our tour, rug bargaining, and the evening concert in Ephesus, I enjoyed our cooking class in Istanbul.

Minus the screwup on our suite, the Azamara experience was really nice and relaxing. We enjoyed the fact that drinks were included, and so we didn’t have pocketsful of paper for signing for anything and everything. We enjoyed our freedom to dine in the specialty restaurants (Prime-C and Aqualina) whenever we wanted, and we had a great time at the best-of-the-best night with the other suite guests. The formal table service was a show unto itself, with all of our butlers serving us in synchrony like the servants at Downton Abbey.

Cooking in Istanbul

Cooking in Istanbul

Since we had done all the usual tourist things during our previous visit to Istanbul we decided to try another popular thing to do this time around. A cooking class. Other than the kebabs we enjoyed during our previous visit we really didn’t get to learn that much about Turkish cuisine so we decided to sign up for a cooking class with Cookistan

We took an (overpriced) cab from the docks up to the Radisson Plaza where we met our instructor for the day along with a bunch of (much younger) cooking enthusiasts. Our instructor, AyŠın, was phenomenal. She had a great sense of humor, and great timing in everything we did that day. We started out with a walking tour of her neighborhood to get a sense for the kinds of small shops that people use today in modern Istanbul. When we arrived at the cooking school this was all set up for us.

Our cooking stations, all setup for us at

The menu for the day can be seen on the chalk board:

  • Suliman Soup -- Yes, I now officially like lentil soup.
  • Borecik -- a delicous meat mixture baked in pastry
  • Stuffed dried Aubergine -- even though aubergine sounds a lot better than eggplant, I’m still not a huge fan. Although they were not too bad. We also used the same mixture to stuff grape leaves and I really liked that.
  • Bulgur Salad -- Again, a new salad, and I’m fan.
  • Circassian Style Chicken. Kind of a cold chicken salad that you can eat with a spoon or put on bread for a sandwich.
  • Pumpkin Dessert -- Maybe the only thing all day I really didn’t appreciate. -- It was too much like eating sweet squash for my palete

In a very small world moment you can see the young man in this picture with me, who works on the same team at Epic with one of my former students!

Shredding veggies for the soup

Evening Concert in Ephesus

Evening Concert in Ephesus

The cat, of all things, stole the show. Earlier in the day we had learned about the cats of Ephesus. Apparently the archeological team working on the excavation of the ancient city published a book, but it was about the cats rather than about substantial archeological issues.

So, it was no surprise that when 500 of us had settled into the Odeon for a 13 piece string orchestra plus harp, that the cats decided to see what was going on. One of them decided it must have had front row seats, as it seated itself right on top of the stone wall front and center behind the orchestra. Then as the first piece started the cat started to meow. Loud enough that it could be heard alongside the harp. The orchestra got the giggles. The ship’s staff was mortified. Too afraid to grab the cat and drag it out of their they tried to call it (quietly) and the head of guest services tried to shush it! Really, you do not shush a cat. Now, I know this will come as a shock to some, but I am not a cat lover. I barely tolerate their presence. But this was stereotypical cat and stereotypical human behavior at its funniest. I only wish that I had been smart enough to video the whole thing because this is America’s Funniest Home Videos GOLD.

I guess the cat was mostly a fan of the harp, because it moved on after the harpist left the stage. From then on we could really enjoy the music and the small orchestra. The concert was definitely a greatest hits type of concert: Bach: Air, Boccherini: Minuet, Mozart: Eine Kliene Nacht Musik, and Brahms: Hungarian Dance No: 5. The Güçan brothers stole the show in the final number with a Violin versus Viola duel that everyone laughing and cheering.

In between all of this great music was the realization that we were sitting in the Odeon theater of Ephesus. Built in the 2nd century AD we sat on the same stones that Marc Antony and Cleopatra may have sat upon when they were here. The Odeon was the center of city government, and cultural events in early Ephesus. With the sun setting behind us it was an evening we will not forget.

Earlier in the day we did a private tour of Ephesus and it was amazing. About halfway through the tour I turned to Jane and said, “I’m feeling a little bad we did not bring the students down here when we were in Istanbul.” Of all of the ancient ruins of ancient cities we have visited this would definitely be in my top three. The terraced houses, and the library (with its tunnel to the Brothel across the street) are just spectacular.

Our last stop of the day was at the temple of Artemis. There is just one column remaining but from there you can get a great view of this ancient pagan temple along with a Muslim mosque and the Basilica of St. John. Quite a combination.

Biking in Patmos

Biking in Patmos

We may have missed 2 or 3 km of paved road, but other than that we pretty much covered the island of Patmos today. And what a great way to cover it we discovered. Scooters! Not our usual biking fare, but the island is very hilly and we wanted to cover more ground.

Scooter Selfie

So, we got off the ship and made the short walk to Moto-Leo. A distinctly family run scooter rental operation. Father and daughter, with no deposit or arduous paperwork to rent for the day. Which the daily rental was only 15 euro. So it was also a very cheap way to see the island.

The whole island reminded us of small town living. Although Patmos is a Christian Pilgrimage destination, and they obviously get cruise ships stopping in, the island has not succumbed to that overly touristic feeling. We loved it.

The highlight of the island is the Cave of the Apocalypse, where St. John wrote the book of Revelations. Its pretty small, and they don’t let you take pictures inside, so other than saying it looked like a small cave-like chapel there is not much more to say.

Above the cave sits a monastery and this was our second stop for the day. After parking the scooters and starting the walk up the hill I noticed something that was definitely out of place on the top of Patmos. A “Hawkeye Rd” sign. Really?! An Iowa Hawkeye sign on this tiny small island in Greece. “Iowa Hawkeyes!” I exclaimed. Then I met Jimmy. “Are you from Iowa?” he asked? “yes, from Decorah” I said. “Oh, thats just north of Independence isn’t it?” Clearly this dude knew his Iowa geography! “Yes” I said. “Well, people from Iowa get free coffee, come in, come in!”

Note the Hawkeye Rd sign!

We learned from Jimmy that he had lived in Iowa some 13 years until he inherited this building, which brought him back to the island. He has a fantastic view, and is obviously doing quite well with the restaurant and the gift shop.

After doing the only two touristic things on the island we took off on our scooters to explore the nooks and crannies of the island. We saw lots of beautiful little secluded beaches and coves that would be perfect for swimming or snorkeling.

One of many beautiful little coves on

Death March from Fira to Oia

Death March from Fira to Oia

There were six ships in the harbor at Santorini Celebrity, MSC, Azamara, Holland America, and Saga. Azamara was definitely the smallest with just under 700 passengers, but the Celebrity Equinox more than made up for our size. So it was probably over 6000 people descending on the city for the day. In response, the port officials had to stage all of the tender operations so as to not completely overwhelm their ability to welcome people to their city. Meaning, the gondola ride to the top and the poor donkeys carrying people not willing to wait in line for the gondola.

One of the many nice things about the Azamara line is that we stay in port longer than anyone else. Whereas most cruise lines will arrive at a port around 8AM and leave by 5PM Azamara will stay until 10 or 11PM. This has many great benefits in that you can stay ashore much longer, and even have dinner on shore if you like. Or if you have dinner on the ship you are doing it while the ship is anchored! It also goes a long way to reducing the stress around getting out and back from a shore excursion.

Nevertheless, when we arrived on shore the line to take the cable car up the hill stretched across the port. It looked like it was going to take two hours just to get into town but in the end the lined moved fairly quickly and it was only 30 minutes.

The island of Santorini is really just the rim of an ancient volcanic caldera that sticks up above the water. Its easy to see the outline of the circle in this picture:

Our goal for the day was to escape the crowds in the city by hiking from Fira to Oia a five mile walk along the rim of the caldera. Through all of the white villages with their shops and hotels. It sounded pretty easy and it didn’t even look like a very long walk when we were starting out. But it felt a lot longer as there was no breeze and the temperature got up to 32 C or about 90 F. The title of this post is a bit dramatic, as it was not that bad of a walk, and although in a few places we walked through volcanic gravel that insisted on getting in our shoes we had 3 hours of amazing views.

The long walk to Oia

When we arrived in Oia we badly needed a shower, or a dip in one of the many pools we passed on the way. Instead we found a nice little shady restaurant and revived ourselves with some carbonara and a glass of wine. We had escaped the crowds of Fira, seen a lot of beautiful scenery, and worked off a few calories hiking in the heat. It was a great day. Yes, it felt like a forced march a few times along the path to Oia in the heat, but as part of life’s journeys this was worth the effort.

Meanwhile, back on the ship is was Azamara’s white night night. Everyone was out on deck dressed in white and the crew was serving a great dinner. They had the webber kettle going and there were some great greek kabobs and other good food. To top off the evening we watched another great sunset over the rim of the volcano.

Jane and I in our whites

Another amazing sunset

Walking the Walls of Dubrovnik

Walking the Walls of Dubrovnik

Leaving Venice

After a beautiful sailaway in venice we traveled to Croatia where our first stop was Dubrovnik. This is a beautiful small city built into the hills on the coast of the Adriatic. Our goal for seeing Dubrovnik was to walk the walls of the old city. The walls are still intact (although patched in places) and provide some pretty amazing views of the harbor as well as the town.

You will notice that all of the homes in the picture have the same red clay tile roofing. But if you look a bit more closely you will see that some of them are quite new and bright while others are old and moss covered. Sadly the new tiles vastly outnumber the old, and are an indication that the house was bombed in the war in the 90’s.

After walking the wall, which is about 1.2 miles we were a bit thirsty so we found a bar, literally through a hole in the wall. It was shady and we had a wonderful glass of the local white wine and just enjoyed watching the ocean and chilling out. As you can see from the picture, the tables and chairs are scattered over the natural rock formation and so the waitstaff had to be quite agile.

Hole in the Wall Bar

Later that night we had reservations in Prime C, one of the great specialty restaurants aboard the Journey. As we were getting ready for dinner we got to enjoy a spectacular sunset from the comfort of our deck on the back of the ship.

Sunset Spectacular!

We have had great meals aboard the ship in Aqualina and in Prime C. Last night was even better as we were able to attend the Chef’s table. Where we had an amazing meal with wines that had been paired with each course by the sommelier. The menu consisted of Lobster and Avocado Salad with Honig Sauvignon Blanc, Smoked Tomato Veloute with Conundrum White blend, Surf and Turf Giant Prawn with a Braised Short Rib Croquette) with Schug Pinot Noir, then New Potato Crusted Sea Bass with Lincourt Chardonnay followed by International Cheeses with Toad Hollow.

Lake Como by Lake

Lake Como by Lake

The conversation started like this:

Incoming: Robert, I am not available now, and I have a funeral to go to at 4, but I can meet at 5:15

Me: Sorry, wrong number no robert

Incoming: Oh, Thanks

Incoming: Did you want a boat?

Me: Yes, I had called about a boat, but I talked to Moreno

Incoming: OK, you better give me the time and details because he will forget.

This is was that our reservation to rent a boat to take around the lake on our own was confirmed with Julia.

The next day we picked up our little 16 foot boat with a 40HP Honda engine at 11AM and after confirming that I had driven a boat before I was given very brief instructions, the location of life jackets, and off we went. It was a great way to see part (a very small part in fact) of the lake.

We cruised by the villa used in James Bond’s Casino Royale past the town of Magnerre by many other villas and great lake front property.

rest and relaxation on lake como

After cleaning up the flats and saying our goodbyes to all of the students Jane and I are now comfortably ensconced in Villa Monte right outside the small town of Varenna on Lake Como. We will be here for a couple of days before driving to Venice and boarding the Azamara Journey for an eleven day cruise through the Greek Isles.

By design this part of the post-Malta holiday has been to read and relax, so there’s not a huge amount to write about. But Lake Como is so beautiful that it is worth posting a few pictures from a short hike we did yesterday and some pics of the lake taken from the terrace of our apartment.

We are not in heavy sightseeing mode, just a few hours each day. The rest of the time we are relaxing and eating and trying some Italian wine. Thursday we are renting a boat and taking to the water on our own. It makes me miss my Moomba very bad, but it will be great to get out on the water and view some of the huge villas on the lake from the water side.

saying goodbye to malta

These are my shoes. I bought them for the great adventure of 2015, I started to wear them on January 1 when we left the USA. According to the health app on my iPhone they now have 647 miles on them. Much of that has been accumulated during our time in Malta and our travels around the Mediterranean with Angel, Ben, Emma, Erika, Ethan, Jenna, Katie, Meredith, Meredith, Olivia, Rachel, and Tricia, hereafter known as our kids, or our Malta students. What started out as a funny offhand comment, referring to Jane and I as Mom and Dad has come to feel more true over the few months.

I’m starting this post on our penultimate weekend with our group, I am in Rome with Jane and Josh to take in an AS Roma football game tonight. Some of our students are in Florence for the Nordic choir concert, and some of them are back on Malta (behaving themselves). Its good to have a bit of physical distance to help put things in perspective.

I have also been reading each student’s final journal or blog entries, and I must be turning into an old softie (good thing I have the summer to fix that) but I find myself choking up about something that each student has written. It is true that these past few months of living and traveling together have turned us into an odd sort of family. I’d be happy to adopt them all if I could get that guy in Marrakesh to make good on his offer of 20 camels apiece. I’ve spent a bit of time lately looking back over all the pictures we have taken. I put together this gallery of our group photos. If you look at the first group photo in Malta and in Rome, and compare that to the last group photo this week, can you see the difference? Look at the group in front of the pantheon, this group was just getting to know each other, barely acclimated to the Mediterranean time zone. Now look at the later photos, photographic evidence that we have come together as a family.

So, what have I learned about myself this semester? What are my own conclusions? This heretofore unpublished entry written in Cambodia sheds a bit of light on the recurrent theme of living simply.

Conclusion number one: I can live a more simple lifestyle and live “in the moment”.

As I read over my early posts, and remember back to the end of January when we first arrived on Malta, I am going to admit that the following thought crossed my mind: Leave this flat NOW, and check-in to the Meridien until it is time to fly home (business class). I am very glad that I did not do that. Living in the cold, damp, drafty, loud, and then warm, humid, dusty, loud, almost-but-not-quite-a-place-I-call-home has been an important experience. Now that the end is in sight, I am glad that I had the experience of these last four months.

The elves at must be worried about me, as I haven’t ordered anything from them since December! I have lived with the same ten shirts and six pairs of pants for the same period. Other than going out to eat the material expenditures we have made so far this year are extremely minimal. OK, I am not totally reformed as I have a new Apple Watch waiting for me back home. But it was a good experience for me to not consume for a while. Hopefully this will carry over back home where the temptation of Amazon Prime second day delivery makes the accumulation of stuff all too easy.

What does it mean to “live in the moment?” For me it means accepting life as it happens. It means taking the time to enjoy each moment as it comes along, rather than always thinking about what is coming next. Because I have not had daily class responsibilities, I really have been able to live in the moment for most of the last four months. OK, I am still a worrier; I am always thinking about the worst case scenario, and what to do if said scenario becomes reality. I am a planner, and a goal setter, I am always thinking about next week, next month, When will my next exam be? What do I need to do for class next week? But this semester I haven’t really had any of that to think about. I did worry about some parts of our travel (Morocco, Istanbul…) But, our evening meals were typically planned at about 15:00 when I walked to Meats and Eats to buy whatever we were going to make for dinner.

My time during the day was spent walking back and forth to the University. I have subscribed to several podcasts and am now a regular listener to them. I’ve never had time for podcasts before. I don’t know why. I spent time in class, listening and soaking up lectures on Maltese history and current issues. I spent time in our flat, and in my office at the IT Faculty building sending countless organizational emails and working on projects and hacking.

Conclusion number two: Follow your passion.

While this may not be a discovery of the semester, it was certainly a strong affirmation of this oft espoused philosophy. I like to tell the students in Senior Project that: “If you don’t wake up in the morning thinking about what you want to accomplish during the day, you ought to be thinking about finding a new job.” Now, showers aside, I think that every day in Malta I did wake up and have a great excitement about what I wanted to accomplish during the day. Some days it was the excitement of a field trip, other days it was waking up in Morocco or Istanbul know that a day of discovery was in store, but even on the rainy days of February I had research and thinking to do that was very exciting.

In fact maybe one of the best things about our time on the island was that it gave me time to think. I spend a lot of time doing back home, and it is hard to carve out time to really step back and rethink things. Good things happen when you take the time to think instead of do. I feel like all of the projects I have been working on Skulpt, Runestone Interactive, and the classes I will teach next semester have reaped the benefit of taking time to think.

Conclusion number three: Push yourself outside of your comfort zone, good things will happen.

I have written a lot about pushing myself beyond my comfort zone in the last six months, but it has been very exciting to see the students do likewise. They have all grown this semester, becoming more self confident, more self reliant, and maybe more willing to take a risk. Whether that be jumping off a rock into the Mediterranean, or immersing themselves in other cultures. For me it may have been simply embracing my part-time role as a student of history and current issues of Malta this semester that pushed me to a new appreciation of history and culture. It was also surely the experience of living in a flat that is much less luxurious than back home.

Conclusion number four: Be thankful for the people who support you.

Jane and I joke that we are excited to get back home so that we have more adults to talk to. Not that our students are not adults, but we don’t have the same conversations with twenty two year olds as we do with our fifty year old friends. In some ways this has been a bit of an isolating experience for the two of us. But we have grown used to it. The silences are OK, as we know we simply don’t have anything else to say at the moment.

But, through it all Jane has been a fantastic partner in keeping this program working smoothly. The work she has put in on our travel plans is, extremely detailed, thorough and time consuming. Planning a trip takes patience and hours of research. I know I appreciate it and so do the students. It always amazes me when we arrive somewhere and she knows exactly where to go and which direction to turn, while my head is swirling in confusion. My advice to Ethan and Ben is to follow my lead and “marry above your station.”

I would also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Corby Preus and Jon Lund in the Center for Global Learning back at Luther for all of their support. Corby does an amazing job of helping with paperwork, and re-answering my questions about pretty much everything she has already explained to me at least once, and sometimes twice.

Here in Malta I would like to thank Dr. Emanuel Buttigieg for coordinating the History of Malta course, I know I have learned a lot this semester, and it takes a lot of coordination to organize all of the lecturers from many different departments on campus. And finally to Rachelle Mifsud for whom there is no request too large or too small for her to help out with. Scheduling transportation at the last minute, or helping with final exam schedules. Thanks!

Conclusion number five: Focus on the good

I think this is a nice one to save for last, and it is a fairly recent conclusion, and clearly one that will take some practice for me. The last Paideia lecture we did an exercise where we had to think about Malta from the perspective of each of our five senses. What stands out:

  • sight – yellow limestone buildings, dog poop on the sidewalk

  • sound – honking horns, the “angry” maltese language

  • smell – Pizza and the salt air

  • taste – Maltese wine, Wild Boar Pasta

  • touch – rough limestone, and cold tile

Many of us commented after class about how negative most of the things we came up with sounded. Even though the native Maltese professor came up with his own similar list. Familiarity breeds contempt as the saying goes?

But I think the important lesson was summed up by a couple of the students in their own final blog posts in which they said. “I do not want to remember Malta for the dog poop on the sidewalks or the horns honking outside my bedroom window” Rather they , and I, will choose to remember Malta for the good stuff: The crystal clear water, the blue waters of the Blue Lagoon, St. Peter’s Pool and Golden Bay, the majestic cliffs of Gozo as viewed from the Ocean or the cliffs of Dingli from the land. The Neolithic temples of Hagar Qim and the mysterious Hypogeum. The beauty of the Auzure Window. The brightly colored Maltese boats in Spinola bay. And, yes, the ever present yellow limestone of Sliema and Valletta. This is the way to remember Malta.

Don’t sweat the small stuff my dad used to tell me. Let the unpleasant annoying pet peeves fade away.

Not Goodbye

Although this will be my final post from Malta, this is not the end of the blog. In less than a week, the students will be on their way either home or to european travel for part of the summer. Meanwhile Jane and I will be finishing up our own Mediterranean experience with a few days in Lake Como and then a Cruise from Venice down the Dalmatian Coast and through the Greek Isles, ending in Istanbul. We planned this as a celebration of the end of our time in Malta, and I’m sure it will be, but right now we are both facing this last part of the journey with mixed emotions. The call of home is very strong, and I know that if we simply boarded a plane to Minneapolis we would be ecstatic. But the comfort zone of home will have to wait another twenty days. Its really not all that much when you consider we have been gone 159 days already, and more adventure awaits us, you can be sure I’ll continue to write about it here.

cooking in malta

The first thing I should say about cooking in Malta is that there are around 600 reasons not to cook within walking distance. Some of our favorites are:

  • Guzé — OK, I love Pappardelle with wild boar sauce. I could eat this once a week.

  • Pepperoncino — The Rosettes (little bowls of pappardelle and proscuitto cooked in cream sauce) are to die for. Plus a totally small town friendly vibe that you just can’t beat.

  • Piccolo Padre – Eat pizza right out over the water. Diavola yum!

  • Wigi’s Kitchen — You can pick your fish or your steak right at the table. The window seats have an awesome view of Balluta bay.

  • Kebabji. – The students introduced us to this one. I think of it as “the chipotle of Sliema.” My favorite is Chicken-shish with Tabbouleh, Hummus, Couscous, Harissa, and Sesame sauce. Actually its the only thing on the menu I’ve ever ordered, but why mess up a good thing.

I’m going to divide the rest of this post into three parts, that roughly describe the three stages of cooking I have gone through here. I call them:

  • Subsistence cooking

  • Getting over it, and getting on with it

  • Grilling season arrives

Subsistence cooking

So, I admit when we first got here, I went through a bit of culture shock. As I’ve mentioned before, it was colder inside our flat than it was outside, and it was rainy, and dreary most of the time. Our kitchen was, and still is, tiny and isolated from the rest of the flat. The cutlery was dull, and the pots and pans old and dented. We must have set aside 50 knives and a dozen pots and pans from the three flats to be disposed of.

We made our first trip to a grocery store called Lidl, a german chain. All of the ingredients were labelled in anything other than language. There was little produce or fresh meat, and it was nowhere near our flat. Next door to us is a small corner market, at the cash register is a young boy who ought to be in school but never is. They have produce outside, but no fresh meat, and a totally random selection of dry goods. There is a large supermarket about 1km away, and it has a lot of things. Going to the Park Towers supermarket for the first time was like an adventure. Taco shells! A butcher, a cheese counter with Parmeggiano Reggiano, hot sauce, spices, asian ingredients.

The first meal we cooked in the flat was a grilled cheese and ham sandwich. Not regular ham but delicious prosciutto ham, and tomato soup. Sound familiar? I’ll bet that is the first thing that many people learn to cook. I’ll bet it was two weeks before we cooked an evening meal in the flat. In part because going out for dinner meant that we had some place warm and heated where we could go for a few hours before coming home and huddling under our covers. The first true good meal I cooked was this pesto with chicken. We quickly discovered that we don’t care too much for pesto in a jar even this close to Italy. We also learned that vegetables and fruits are much more seasonal here in Malta than in America. So we had to wait a few weeks before basil came into season to make a good home made pesto.

Getting over it, Getting on with it

Eventually, the temperature warmed up and we got more comfortable with our surroundings and we reached the point where we could not stand to eat out anymore and so we started cooking in the flat more. One of my goals was to learn at least one new recipe while we were in Malta. I figured it would be so me kind of seafood, but it turns out the Maltese don’t really eat that much seafood despite living on an island. After our trip to Rome I realized that what I really wanted to cook was spaghetti carbonara. For some reason I have missed out on this delicious yet simple dish my entire life. This is one of those simple yet delicious Italian dishes. Eggs, wine, noodles, cheese, and good cured ham or bacon. I have been making steady progress on mastering this dish, but I still have a ways to go before it will live up to that first night in Rome.

The second thing that made a turnaround in our cooking was learning to shop. Now there are four places that are worth highlighting.

  • O’Ryan’s on the corner

  • The college street mini market (the green market)

  • park towers supermarket

  • Meats and Eats on Dingli

  • all the vegetable trucks

Let’s dispatch with Park Towers first. Big, indifferent to rude staff, distant. Shopped there a couple of times and decided not to go back. Jane has been back a couple of times to stock up on cleaning and bathroom supplies, but we don’t shop there anymore for groceries.

The corner store is great for water, limoncello, Pringles, and the occasional need for baguette and salami. It’s about double the size of my living room, but packs in all of the essentials including frozen meats. The owner and his family run it together. Nine times out of ten when you go in there you would think that the mother is on the verge of killing the father or the son. Or it might just be that most Arabic conversations still sound like arguments to my western ears. Much of the time the cash register is “manned” by a boy who clearly should be in school but is not. I suppose he will inherit the store and so is learning the trade and the family does not feel the need to send him to school.

The green market is much larger than the corner store, and has great fresh baked bread every day. They have a reasonable selection of fruits and vegetables out front, along with canned goods and other essentials. Most of the time the cash register is manned by an old man who has never once rung up an entire order correctly, but he is charming and friendly every time we go to the store.

Meats and Eats is probably the single best thing that happened to my cooking during our stay in Malta. The store is bright and clean and staffed by a bunch of friendly Italians. The meat counter is a joy to visit almost every day. It’s the kind of meat counter wher they have several big hunks of ribeye, originating from around the world, and they Will cut you off a hunk of whatever thickness you like. They also have marinated pork and chicken and fresh minced beef and pork. The rest of the store has great gourmet ingredients as well as some nice convince items like prepared curry sauce. The cheese counter has huge chunks of parmigiana reggiano at a ridiculously low price. Next to the checkout counter is a wine selection that is just about as good as anything you can find in Malta.

I knew that I was going to have a great time shopping at Meats and Eats the morning I decided to give carbonara a try. I went to the meat counter to get some bacon and had the following conversation:

Clint: Sorry sir, we only have streaky bacon today.

Me: Uhhhhm streaky bacon? Ahh, the stuff that just looks like regular bacon to my eye. What’s the difference?

Clint: Very thin, not the good cured pork belly.

Me: Oh, well I’m just experimenting with carbonara sauce so I think the streaky bacon will work.

Clint: Oh no sir, you should not do that. If you are doing carbonara you need the good bacon or one of the packages of pancetta in the case over there.

Oh yes, agreed the lady standing next to me at the counter. Now I am left wondering how I will find this wonderful chunky pancetta back home.

Another thing I’m excited about continuing back home is fried spring rolls! Jane and I had lessons on making these in Vietnam, and were excited to try our hand on our own. When I discovered an Asian market on my walk to school I knew this would become a reality in Malta. Shopping in the Asian market is like Christmas, I see all of these cool exotic ingredients and I want to get them and try them out. Fresh lemon grass, six different kinds of fish sauce, Hoisin, Sirachi, you name it. Now the key to good spring rolls in my opinion starts with the wrapper, and I definitely like the frozen wrappers much better than the dried. They are easier to work with and I like the texture of the end product better. With a little more practice I’ll be ready to challenge my friend Nancy to a Spring Roll Throwdown!

A Sunday morning expedition to the Marsaxlokk (Mar-sa-shlock) fish market provided an opportunity to learn how to fillet and cook fresh caught sea bass. There are many other types of fish available at the market as well, but Jane and I had both watched a you-tube video on filleting sea bass, so that was the direction we went. The market also has huge king prawns, but taking the head and legs off the prawns is a lot of work for my lunch. One thing that amazed me about the fish market was that it was not the least bit fishy smelling. In fact other than the fish market in the middle of Gzira I have yet to walk along the sea here in Malta and think, oh fishy, or ocean. I guess it goes with the crystal clear water.

One thing that we have really had to work on is finding variety in our diet. Back home we enjoy the cuisine of many different countries all in the same week. Tex-Mex one night, grilling the next, indian or Thai curry after that, italian, vietnamese, pot roast in the crock pot (an American Tagine), you name it, we like our variety. Making tacos is definitely a comfort food that we miss. The ingredients are just about impossible to find. Sour Cream and creme fresh are not the same, The salsa here on the isaland is just not up to par. Finding taco shells is possible at the Park Towers supermarket, but you have to go there to buy them. Then there is the beef, or what the British and Maltese call mince I suppose that if you look at it objectively mince is no worse of a word than ground but having grown up with ground beef, minced beef sounds a little disgusting to my ears.

The other odd thing is the lack of soups. You simply cannot buy cream of mushroom anywhere! So we have gone six months without one of the staple comfort dishes of my entire life, namely beef stroganhoff. The availability of wonderful Parmiagianno Reggiano makes risotto a good comfort fill in, and here we run into the lack of chicken stock. I suppose I could, and should, make my own stock but that takes advanced planning. I’m used to just grabbing a carton of stock from the coop to make my risotto. Here it appears that boiled water with bullion cubes, or a little container of gelatinous chicken stock substance that you disolve in water takes the place of a good stock. It does the trick, especially with a little extra Reggiano.

And finally a word about wine. Maltese wine is surprisingly good, and incredibly cheap. While many of the students pride themselves on keeping it under 3 euros a bottle, I have found many good wines for under ten. My favorites are:

  • ISIS, a rather unfortunate name for a wine in this day and age, but it really is my favorite

  • Maltese Falcon

  • Marsamena – a delicious chardonnay from Gozo

On the subject of wine I would be totally remiss if I did not mention our local wine shop. Owned and run by a young man from the south of France, Vini Culture is a fun place to stop in on my way home from school, or to just run around the corner and grab a bottle for happy hour. The young guy who runs the store is extremely friendly and pleasant. I never stop in there without having an enjoyable conversation about wine and France and all the new things he has on order for us to try. Its hard to understand how he makes a living in a specialty shop like that in the middle of Sliema but I’m happy I got to know him and shop there.

Grilling season

And suddenly grilling season was upon us. The roof was a much sunnier and less windy place. The sun was starting to stay out until a reasonable cooking hour. Meats and Eats has a wonderful pork steak marinated in mediterranean spices, and we can grill that and serve it with some roasted new potatoes from my Sicilian vegetable man. Some fresh baked bread, and some spinach salad with strawberries and vinaigrette dressing.

The Sicilian vegetable guy, I have no idea what his name is, is another great story. Since meats and eats does not sell vegetables, I just walk another half block to this guys fresh vegetable truck. I know he thinks I’m kind of odd because I usually come in and buy one hot pepper, six small potatoes, or one head of garlic, depending on what I need for the evening meal. Its not usually much, and it almost always under one euro.

One day I was buying a pepper and an onion for a total of 40 cents, I had forgotten to put change in my pocket before I left the flat. As I struggled to find some coins and then started to pull out my wallet for a bill he said “listen, don’t worry, you can pay me tomorrow.”

Grilling season brought with it much more than an opportunity to stand on the roof and cook meat with a drink in my hand. It brought a huge transformation in the weather, and consequently my enjoyment of our time in Malta. No longer did I get out of bed in the morning and wrap myself in multiple layers of clothing, no longer were we huddled in the front room, door closed, heater running in order to feel comfortable.

I miss my Hasty Bake, and its ability to cook and smoke meat slowly, but this little gas powered grill has brought a lot of enjoyment. Meats and Eats sells Kobe beef patties, as well as Ribeye steak from five different countries, including Australia and Ireland. It has been fun to try the variety. They have chicken marinated in three or four different marinades an so that provides us with a great variety of things to try.

It is certainly true that you can learn a lot about a culture by its food. Malta is definitely no different. The Italian influence is obvious in the pizza and pasta restaurants that are everywhere. Their national dish of Pastizzi is not my favorite, but has certainly become a cheap lunchtime staple for many of the students. The traditional Maltese foods include rabbit, which is also quite good – especially the rabbit pie at Guze – and some other stuffed meat dishes. There are turkish kebab and pizza places everywhere. We think its an odd combination, and we wonder about all the kebab joints. I think it must have to do with the influence of the Ottoman empire on the island long ago, but I may be completely wrong. In general, it is a diet high in carbohydrates, which works for me, but drives Jane crazy. Jane and I had one of those funny conversations back in January, where the question was if you had to give up variety, and live with one cuisine, which would it be? Both of us chose Itialian or Vietnamese as our top two. Then I was leaning toward Italian, but now I am looking forward to more of the fresh healthy variety offered by the Vietnamese.

adventures with flask-cors

  • I want people to be able to write and host the static parts of any book on any server. You can think of each page in a book as its own single page application.

  • I want to provide back-end services so that students using any book hosted anywhere can save their programs and answers to quizzes etc.

  • I want to continue to gather research data on how students learn computer science.

  • I want to make the registration and login process as easy as possible.

Since the static parts can be hosted anywhere (including a site like The interactive parts are going to involve making cross-domain XMLHttpRequests (xhr). Of course the first thing that happens when you have a page hosted on static-site that makes an xhr request to ajax-server is that you get an error. Browsers and sites work together to disallow cross-domain requests to prevent a variety of nasty behaviors. But, there are many times (wlike now) when you have a legitimate reason for doing this. So, the w3c created the Cross Origin Resource Sharing (CORS) standard to help developers get around this. Cory Dolphin has created an excellent plugin for Flask developers called Flask-CORS. The plugin is a great example of the brilliant design behind Flask and in fact the entire WSGI stack.

The Really Simple Approach

The first thing you find when you start googling about this problem is that there is a seemingly simple solution. If you have control over your AJAX response you simply need to add an HTTP header Access-Control-Allow-Origin: * problem solved. Now everyone in the world can make xhr requests to your server and use the results in their page.

Adding a header is pretty simple in Flask. All you need to do is use response.headers.add("Access-Control-Allow-Origin", "*" Problem solved, moving right along to the next programming challenge.

Or maybe not. Minutes later you realize that this is not all that great because you have decorated some of your requests to require a login. That wont be a problem if the static page is served from the same domain because you will automatically get the session cookie, and the Flask-Security extension will eat that cooking and validate things for you. BUT if your static page is not served from the same domain you will not even get the session cookie. Oh Bother. But you also have a second problem. You have probably violated the CORS specification without even meaning to. Really, if I had to read the spec for every web standard I wanted to use I would seriously think about changing careers. But, here is the important part you may not return a CORS header unless the request contains an origin header! Chances are you tested you change with a quick curl call to your endpoint, saw the Access-Control header and were happy. But you sure didn’t give it an origin header on the request when you did that. So to summarize, we have two problems we need to solve:

  1. We want to incorporate authentication into our cross origin strategy.

  2. We want to be good citizens and follow the spec.

The Smart Approach

The smart approach is to use a nice extension where other people have figured this out, and presumably followed the specification. Enter Flask-CORS. You can enable CORS support with a simple decorator @cross_origin This will automatically add the Access-Control-Allow-Origin: * to responses. As long as your test request includes an Origin. If you are like me you will forget that part, and then wonder why the extension must not be working. So this solves problem 2.

To solve problem 1 here is a snippet of code that works just fine.




def test():

    return jsonify({'foo':'bar'})

The above responds to the url /ajax/page I have all of my API calls in an ajax blueprint with ajax as part of the url. I’m requiring that the user is logged in before I allow them to access this endpoint. I also want it to be allowed cross origin. This is where the parameter to the @cross_origin comes into play. Supports credentials sets up the CORS response to return an additional CORS header: Access-Control-Allow-Credentials: "true". For one final twist, you need to know that when you have supports_credentials=True you may NOT set Access-Control-Allow-Origin: * You need to be specific and set the origin to the origin that comes in the request headers. To Make this work and try it out from the client side, here is a bit of HTML/Javascript.

<button onclick="corsTest();">TestCORS</button>


    function corsTest() {

        var xhr = new XMLHttpRequest();

        xhr.withCredentials = true;

        xhr.onload = function () {



        xhr.onerror = function () {



"GET", "", true)




Note that you need to set xhr.withCredentials in order for your session cookie to be sent along. By default cookies are NOT sent with cross origin requests.

Now, I may end up adding more to this as I discover the intricacies of so called “Non-Simple” requests. That is requests beyond simple GET and POST, as I work on moving my API toward a RESTful API which uses PUT and others. This will nodoubt enlighten me about preflighted requests. Which I can only assume means something different than sitting around in an airport bar waiting for your flight to be called.

There is a lot more detail and background on using CORS at the following two sites:

unexpected adventures

Morning Climb to Castelmola

Since the students were planning on sleeping in this morning, Jane and I decided to explore on our own a bit. High above Taormina sits the little town of Castelmola. You can’t drive there, you have to climb. And so we did. But when we arrived in the little town we were rewarded with a spectacular view up and down the Ionian coast.

After enjoying the view we decided that a Cannoli and Cafe were in order before we started the hike down. At the end of one small street we found the perfect place. Maria, the proprietor of Gallo Cedro was cutting tomatoes on the terrace. “Prego,” she said by way of invitation to come in and sit down. The Cannoli’s were first rate. She stuffed them fresh for us and added some chocolate chips and pistachios to top off each end. Perfecto. We were about half done with the Cannolis when she unexpectedly appeared with two shot glasses and a bottle of almond wine. Well it was only 10AM, but we figured when in Sicily… So we had a little digestif to help the cannolis go down.

Gole Alcantara

We returned to the Lemon Tree (the name of our apartments) around 11 and everyone was out of bed and getting themselves awake for the day. We had some discussion about what we might do this afternoon. The gorge, known as Gole Alcantara, sounded like an interesting short hike and there was enthusiasm among the group for a stop at a Sicilian winery.

We made our way to Gole Alcantara and after making a donation to the parking attendant we set out on our short walk down to the gorge. It was beautiful. Of course many of our “kids” wanted nothing more than to play in the water which was quite a problem since we had not brought beach towels or anything for them to dry off with.

As we enjoyed the area, we checked our email to see if we would be able to visit any of the wineries. Unfortunately none of them could accommodate us that afternoon. So… We decided that we could do our own wine tasting back at the Lemon Tree.

Red and White

The wine tasting preparation required another stop at the supermarket where we put a strict limit on the price of wine to be purchased for the tasting. Our goal was to keep it under 100 euros while recognizing that with 13 people each of us would just get a taste of each different bottle. It was quite the production to get six of us to agree on what wine to select. I will say that the Italian construction workers who were supposed to be building another set of shelves in the middle of the aisle we fairly amused/distracted by the blonde haired blue eyed wine aficionados.

While we were in the wine aisle another group was in charge of meat and cheese and fruit. As you can see we put out a pretty good spread. We also agreed that we were “in for the night” as there was no way we were going to drive our mini-vans down or up the winding hill to the Lemon Tree after wine tasting activities.

The wine and cheese went remarkably quickly. Even with a seventh inning swimming stretch between the reds and the whites. I guess it was inevitable that after a bit of wine, some of the people were going to end up in the pool fully clothed.

With the reds, gone, people were in the mood for movies or whatever, and then “the munchies” set in. We had been told that there was at least one Pizzeria that would deliver all the way up the hill, and that Paula would take care of calling and ordering for us. After much trying however it was determined that the pizza places were closed on Monday night. The horror and sorrow of a hungry group of students without pizza. We were totally resigned to a pizza free night when Paula knocked on our door to inform me that the pizzas had arrived! We were saved. And for some reason she was convinced that the students needed a nightcap, and so brought them a complementary bottle of home made limoncello!

climbing mount etna

The van arrived right on schedule, 4:45 AM, and we were all in the courtyard in front of the flat on Triq DePiro ready to go. This is our last group trip together with the Malta students, Spring 2015 edition. It is a bonus trip in the sense that because Jane saved us a bunch of money by doing so much planning for our trips to Rome, Morocco, and Istanbul, that we were able to afford the plane tickets and lodging to get everyone to Sicily. Of course with budget travel comes early morning flights, but nobdy seemed to mind very much. We were, after all, heading for Sicily. What nobody guessed was that we have a distinctly non-budget view from our lodgings for the next three nights!

The flight to Catania is ridiculously short is is just over 100 miles and takes less than 30 minutes, we barely got above 11,000 feet before we started our descent. Our departure time was so early that once we arrived in Catania we had a good hour to wait before the rental car agencies opened up. Yes, we are driving in Sicily. Its part of the plan to keep costs low for this trip. Two mini vans for the group. The plan for the day was to meander our way north to Taormina stopping along the way at Bronte to sample some Pistachios and at Randazzo to check out lava as a building material in a Medieval town.

The highlight of the day was to do some hiking on Mount Etna. It is amazing that there is still snow on the volcano in mid-May and even more so when you consider that the volcano is quite active right now.

We started out together as a group and enjoyed the break from the busy urban vibe of our home in Sliema, stopping for a group photo in this cool clump of trees:


Eventually the group splintered with varying degrees of adventurousness, and an unfortunate bruised thigh for Jane due to a loose rock. Some of us persevered up the side of the volcano until the winds became so strong we thought we would blow away. Climbing through the lava is a lot like climbing up a giant sand dune. It is very hard work. It also reminded us of the scenes of Frodo and Sam climbing into Mordor in Return of the King. As we were scrambling our way up, a helicopter flew overhead and hovered over us for a few minutes. I think we all expected to hear a loud voice tell us to turn around and get out of there, but I guess they decided we were harmless and not in harms way as it soon moved on. After we reached our goal we were tired and happy to be there if only for a few minutes to enjoy the view.

If you look close, you can see part of the group on the plateau in the middle right of the picture.

As we began to descend our shoes soon became filled with sharp little pieces of lava. This made the descent quite painful and necessitated a few stops to empty the shoes. At one point I was really glad Emma was standing behind me as she remarked. “I wonder who’s glasses these are?” Of course they were mine having just fallen out of my pocket as I was emptying my shoes. That would have been a loss, and impossible to find one pair of transition lenses hiding in miles of black rock.


enjoying island life on a warm may day

Every day is a good day when you are on a boat, in the beautiful blue Mediterranean. After a bit of a mixup on the bus this morning, we got to spend 4 amazing hours with Captain Franz on a boat trip from St. Paul’s bay to Gozo to Comino. Complete with caves, and cliffs, and swimming. Click on the thumbnail below to see the photo gallery for today.

The bus mixup is amusing now that I look at it a day later… We had arranged for van to pick us up at 9:00 to bring us up to St. Paul’s bay. But after waiting and waiting I finally connected with my contact, Rachelle, at the University who handles all our transportation scheduling for us. It turned out the bus company had screwed up the schedule for the day. The solution was to send a coach. The only other vehicle available and in the area. No, not one with horses, a giant bus. Wait by the corner we were told. Oooops wrong corner. More delay. Imagine the 14 of us on a coach that could easily hold 60 people. So we made it to St. Paul’s in Style and in the end were only about 35 minutes late. Thankfully Frans was a very patient captain, and it was no problem to extend our time in the afternoon to make up for our lateness.

writing a runestone lab the easy way

As part of the grand reorganization of the various tools and software associated with the Runestone Interactive project I am planning to also write a series of tutorials to help people get started. The major aspects of this reorganization are discussed in detail in the Project Roadmap, but for the sake of some context I can summarize the major efforts as follows:

  1. Separate the distribution and development of writing tools from the server.

    1. Make a pip installable runestone package.

    2. Remove the interconnectedness between the components and Sphinx. In other words support the user of runestone tools in environments like Markdown, and even wysiwyg html editors.

  2. Re-architect the server side focusing on services for the writing tools

    1. Create an authentication service that supports CORS for cross domain AJAX use.

    2. Create a standard REST API for logging and storing student data

  3. Create a web application (or integrate with another) for grading

Since I just completed Part 1.1 I thought it was a good time to talk about how easy it is for you to now use the runestone tools for creating a lab for your students, or lecture notes and presentation materials for your class.

Getting Started

The major steps in getting started are

  • Installing Python

  • Installing the runestone tools

  • Building your first lab

Install Python

  1. If you are on a Mac you are already done with this step.

  2. If you are on Windows you will need to go to and download Python3.x. The windows installer is a typical installer and you can just click your way through it.

If you are an advanced Python user you may want to may want to create a virtualenvironment for this project but it is not a requirement.

If you are on Windows you may want to edit your PATH environment variable following the instructions here. Again, mac users can ignore this.

Installing the Runestone Components

You are going to need to use the command line for the rest of this tutorial, so start up a Terminal (/Applications/Utilities on a Mac or run PowerShell or cmd.exe on Windows) I will repeat myself here. These commands need to be run from the command line, not from the Python shell.

Run the pip command

$ pip install runestone

Or on Windows if you have not modified your PATH try:

C:\\Python34\Scripts\pip.exe install runestone

From now on I’m only going to give the Mac way of running the commands. If you are on windows you will need to add C:\\Python34\Scripts to the beginning of the command and add .exe to the end.

You can watch as a lot of text goes scrolling by. But as long as you don’t get any errors you should be good to go. You only need to do these first two steps once. Once you have installed Python and runestone you will not have to do it again.

Starting your first Runestone Project

Here is a session of me on my computer creating a simple project.

$ mkdir mynewproject

$ cd mynewproject

$ runestone init

This will create a new Runestone project in your current directory.

Do you want to proceed?  [Y/n]: y

Next we need to gather a few pieces of information to create your configuration files

Project name: (one word, no spaces): myhello

path to build dir  [./build]:

require login   [false]:

URL for ajax server  []:

Your Name  [bmiller]: Brad Miller

Title for this project  [Runestone Default]: My Hello World

Log student actions?  [True]: False

Done.  Type runestone build to build your project

At this point you will have the following files and folders:




  • The _static folder is for things like images or javscript files.

  • The _sources folder is where you will put your own writing. To start with there are a couple of examples files for you.

  • The _templates folder is for styling. There is a default set of templates that match the runestone interactive look and feel. That is a good thing to start with. Once you become more familiar with the system you may want to customize the templates or even make your own.

  • The file is used by Sphinx, and contains information from some of the questions you answered when you initialized your project.

  • The file is used for building and setting build parameters.

All of these files are important, and you should not delete any of them.

Next run runestone build This command will create a build/mynewproject folder with an index.html file in it. If you want you can now run runestone serve and then go to your browser and open up the following URL http://localhost:8000/index.html Yay! You have a webpage. Feel free to explore a bit to get an idea about some of the components you can use in your lab.

Writing your Own Lab

OK, lets edit _sources/index.rst Initially it looks like this:


This Is A New Project


SECTION 1: Introduction


Congratulations!   If you can see this file you have probably successfully run the ``runestone init`` command.  If you are looking at this as a source file you should now run ``runestone build``  to generate html files.   Once you have run the build command you can run ``runestone serve`` and then view this in your browser at ``http://localhost:8000``

This is just a sample of what you can do.  The index.rst file is the table of contents for your entire project.  You can put all of your writing in the index, or as you will see in the following section you can include additional rst files.  those files may even be in subdirectories that you can reference using a relative path.

The overview section, which follows is an ideal section to look at both online and at the source.  It is pretty easy to see how to write using any of the interactive features just by looking at the examples in ``overview.rst``

SECTION 2: An Overview of the extensions


.. toctree::

   :maxdepth: 2


SECTION 2: Add more stuff here


You can add more stuff here.

If you are not familiar with markup languages, this file should still be quite readable to you, and you can probably easily guess what most things do. Runestone uses a markup language called restructuredText. There is a very nice, short tutorial here.

To give you an idea of what you see in the example above, the section that starts with .. toctree:: is called a directive and it creates a table of contents for you. the maxdepth part sets the table of contents to show sections and subsections. And the line with overview.rst indicates that it is a file that should be included in the overall web page. More on all of this later. Our first task is simply going to be to wipe everything out, and start over. Using a plain text editor change index.rst to look like this:


My Sample Lab


Part 1: Turtle Graphics


In this section we will do the following:

* Create a turtle

* Make the turtle draw a box

.. activecode:: turtle1

   import turtle

   timmy = turtle.Turtle()

   for i in range(4):



Now it is your turn.  Can you modify the program to make timmy draw an octagon instead of a square?

Now save the file and rerun the runestone build command. Everything should build without a problem and you can now run runestone serve and open up http://localhost:8000 from your browser. Notice that you can change the program and rerun it right from your browser.

It is probably obvious that you can create headings and subheadings. Unordered lists are created using * and the runnable code examples are created by the .. activecode:: directive. The name turtle1 must be unique on the webpage, other than that it is not used for too much at this point. The rest of the activecode directive contains plain old python code, but it must be indented to line up with the a in activecode. All indented lines are included as the body of the activecode directive, regular text processing starts at the first unindented line.

There you have it. You have created a very nice little lesson without a lot of hassle. The Runestone and Sphinx tools take care of all of the formatting for you!

Giving Students Browser Access to the Lab

If you have your own webpage hosted on a school server that you normally use for class you can make your Lab available to the students by simply taking the folder mynewproject inside the build folder and putting that on your website. The folder is self contained and can be hosted on any web server.

If you know the IP Address of your own computer and you simply want to give let students bring up the webpage from your computer you can do that too. For example, lets suppose you know that your IP address is Your students can get everything they need from

Coming Soon

There are many free web hosting solutions out there and you can also choose one of them and upload your project folder for hosting there. I’ll cover at least one of them in another tutorial. In fact I think I see a whole series of tutorials in the future on topics such as:

  • Making an online quiz for class

  • Making a lecture or presentation

  • Hosting your lab or quiz on github pages or another online service

  • Using your lab with runestone services

A Tale of two Scams

Gastronomic Negotiation

“Sir, you walk past me every night. Please give me a chance! I will give you an appetizer and free baklava for desert!” Really? I honestly don’t remember you. I’ve only walked down this road one other time. “Very Sorry” I say, “I’ve already got a dinner reservation back at Ocean’s 7. ” “you will like it!” Says one of the patrons at the current establishment. Another ten steps down the road and we are implored to “Look at my menu.” A bit further on we are told “Sir, I have your table ready for you!” The idea that you can bargain for your supper seems so counter productive to me that I just cannot fathom it. Hey, lets see how little I can pay for something I’m about to ingest into my body. The incentives here are all in the wrong direction!

I can only imagine the conversations in the kitchen:

Waiter: One chicken and rice for the cheapskates at table five!

Chef: Oh great, now we know what to do with the gizzard and thigh meat that has been sitting on the floor all night!

No Thank You I will be more than happy to pay a price that puts the chef on my side.

Waiter: Chef the generous folks are back at table seven.

Chef: Great, tell them to order the veal, I’ve got two extra tender pieces I’ve been saving for my best customers. Oh, and bring up that 2011 Rombaur Chardonnay from the cellar, I know they will love that.

I think we can all agree on which chef we would rather have cooking our food.

This whole hawking the restaurant thing has been an ongoing saga since we arrived in Istanbul, and we even experienced it in London a couple of weekends ago. I don’t remember it being the case in Vietnam or Morocco, and certainly not in Malta, but maybe this has more to do with the onset of high touring season than our location. Now, this is not really a scam (although we have heard stories of the old bait and switch ) so much as an intro to the two things that happened to us today.

Cruising on a Reputable Ferry

Our plan for the day was to take the Ferry up the Bosphorus river to the mouth of the Black Sea. You get to see a lot of Istanbul along the way, then the ferry stops for a couple of hours so you can have lunch or do a little hiking and then comes back. As usual Jane had it all planned out, including a discount for using our museum passes. When we arrived at the waterfront we were immediately accosted by the usual crowd of tour people trying to sell us one of their packages. – two hour boat trips, three hour boat trips, six hour boat trips… “No, we are going on the ferry!” we would say. “But I can leave sooner. I will take you to the same place, wait for two hours and bring you back. My boat holds 80, it will be much nicer than the ferry and 800 people!” Hmmm, we were intrigued, and a bit horrified that we were even considering this option. But after a bit of negotiation, and multiple confirmations about our destination and pricing we decided to risk it. The captain even threw in a 50% discount on coffee at the nearby snack shack. Run by a relative no doubt. “Just wait here” we were told. So we waited and watched them try to work their magic on other passersby.

After a while, one of them came up to talk to us.

We cannot take you. I cannot do the trip for just your group. It will be better if you take the ferry, down there. There are not enough passengers today, because the bike race is keeping them all away from here. I am sorry.

It was true, there was a big Tour of Istanbul bike race in town, and the weather was a bit dreary, so the pier was sparsely populated. Which also meant that the ferry was not nearly as crowded as Jane’s research had led us to believe it would be. So, we carried on with our original plan, got our tickets to the ferry and were on our way.

The cruise was interesting, we got to see some castles, and some amazing real estate. And even a container ship that originated from Valletta! We just can’t get away from Malta now. Here is a little slideshow of some photos on the tour.

The shoeshine redemption

After the cruise we had to make our way back into the spice market to buy some of the delicious candy covered “fistik.” That is peanuts covered in a syrup and rolled in sesame seeds. We discovered these our last day in Morocco, and were only too happy to find out you can buy them in Turkey as well. Some of the group wanted to hit the archeological museum while others just wanted to wander the spice market some more. So we turned them loose and decided to wander our own way back to the hotel.

As we were passing up one street that was very lightly travelled a shoe shine man dropped his brush in front of us. So, we picked it up and called out to him to give it back. He thanked us and we were on our way. Suddenly he called back to us. He sat down and and said “please,” with a look that said let me repay your kindness. We thought how nice, one good turn deserves another. But I had on my hiking shoes, which are not “shineable” and so he offered to shine Jane’s black shoes which were definitely in need of some love after all of our travels. He finished up Jane’s shoes and then insisted on brushing mine with a toothbrush and some water – which certainly did not hurt. About this time both Jane and I reached into our pockets for a few coins to tip the guy.

Imagine my surprise when Jane offered him several one lyra coins and he said “no, paper” What? He doesn’t want coins he wants paper money? Slowly it dawned on me that we had been played this whole time. He now wanted to be paid the full amount for two shoe shines, which took less than a couple of minutes. I added my coins to Jane’s and dumped them in his hand and we turned and walked away. I guess we both got half price shoe shines, and nine turkish lyra (about $3). Lesson learned, and a small price to pay for a story to add to the blog.


“You want a fish!?” Said the night watchman with confusion. “No,” I said, “do you have a cork-screw?” doing my best imitation of screwing in a corkscrew and then pulling out the cork. “Ah! One moment” And off he went, out the front door and into the restaurant across the street. Moments later he was back with an excellent corkscrew, which I used to uncork the bottle we had purchased around the corner and then returned to him. After I got back to the room I could not contain my laughter any more. A fish? The fact that he borrowed the corkscrew from the restaurant, which was the very thing that Jane had suggested in the first place. An idea that I soundly rejected. Hi, I know that we didn’t eat dinner here or buy anything from you but would you mind terribly if I borrowed your corkscrew to open the bottle of wine I bought at the market around the corner? I just can’t imagine myself saything those words.

A glass of wine was a great way to cap off what had been a very full day of touring around the old city of Istanbul. Once known as Constantinople, it was the head of the Christian world. Then under the Ottoman empire it became a Muslim country. Today, Turkey is largly muslim, but the government is a secular government. We began with a tour of Topkapi Palace were we visited the treasury, and the Harem and saw the Sultans private rooms. We also visited the tulip gardens. It is an interesting fact that although Holland is usually celebrated for its tulips, the Dutch took them and transplated the tulips from Istanbul originally!


In the hall of mirrors, I told students about recursion.

They did not care.

From the Palace we moved on to the Blue Mosque, one of the icons of Istanbul. There was a really long line to get in, but we made the best of it, while Ben ran into someone with nearly the same last name as him in line. He turned out to be from wisconsin, and has relatives in Decorah. Small world. The line was rather entertaining, as standing in line appears to be optional for many tourists here in Istanbul. However all of the guides team up to try and send the line jumpers to the end. It is interesting to see the reaction of the people who clearly know they are being jerks and getting called out for it. Once we got inside it was amazing. It is so hard to describe this space, like St. Peters in Rome it is just so large that you cannot hope to capture the scale of the whole thing.

Across a very large square from the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sofia. This was once the largest Christian church in the world. Of course it was later supplanted by St. Peters and others. The really interesting thing about Hagia Sofia is that it was converted to a Mosque. Check out the apse of the church in this next picture. Notice that the alcove is not centered. This is because even though the church was sited east to west, the axis was just eleven degrees off of the line to Mecca. Because Muslims do not allow for images in their mosques all of the mosaics were covered in whitewash and then painted over in more typical muslim designs. Except for the Seraphim. Look at the two images below:

Notice that the only difference here is that the face was painted over with a symetric diamond shape. Some of the mosaics that they have begun to uncover and restore are really stunning.

Hagia Sophia

Finally, we visited the cistern under the basilica. You may remember this from James Bond, “To Russia with Love.” It is just this giant underground place that used to provide water to the city. But now, it is just stunning:

The Cistern

After all of that we headed back to the hotel for a short rest before we took the students out for a group dinner. We were all plenty exhausted after such an interesting day. Tomorrow, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market, and Taksim square.

biking in london

Think you have done it all in London? The museums, the London Eye, the changing of the guard, the Thames, the list goes on. Here is a great way to spend a day, for almost no money. Rent a Barclay’s bike and head for the Regents Canal. This is exactly what we did and it was a fantastic way to enjoy London away from the traffic and the museums.

You’ll discover a whole different culture and way of life when you bike along the canal. There are hundreds of narrow small barges that people live on or work the canal on. We saw all walks of life that appeared to be barge owners, from the very wealthy to those who reminded us of the people in Veitnam who lived on their boats with no heat or running water.

The path is fairly narrow, so you have to be alert or you could get wet, which would definitely spoil an otherwise good day. Also you need to remember that pedestrians have the right of way, so just be polite, use your little bell, and don’t go too fast! We didn’t have any trouble, and we enjoyed all of the scenery and the side trips that are available from the canal path.

On day one we started from Angel, and followed the path toward the London Docklands. It was warm and scenic, and gave us a great taste of barge life on the canal. We wandered around the (free) docklands museum, hoping to learn a bit more about the canals, but were disappointed. The docklands museum is actually a very interesting history of London, so that was not disappointing, just that the museum didn’t have anything to say about the canal.

On day two we went the other way, and ended up having lunch in the rather bohemian Camden Market area. We also took a side trip around the zoo and the royal gardens to see some incredible villas that have been built right along the canal.

I love London. It is probably my favorite big city in the world. I think I have visited at least six times. So I have done the museums and most of the good tourist attractions. My top five would be:

  • The Transportation Museum in Covent Garden

  • The science museum in Kensington

  • The Imperial War Museum

  • Our visit to Parliament

  • Westminster Abbey

This was a really great alternative way to spend the better part of two days enjoying London culture from the perspective of a cyclist.

As a bonus part of this post, I do have to admit that I had never done the London Eye until this visit. It was definitely a fun way to get a view of the city. Jane and I both did a little bit of experimenting with time lapse videos on our iPhones. I wish I had brought my tripod so I could have captured the entire circle.

fa cup semifinal

The first words I read as my phone synced up email in the passport control line at Luton were “still no tickets.” The message went on to explain that the tickets were still supposed to be delivered by eleven PM by someone named Jamie who is running behind schedule.

Wembley Stadium

Getting tickets to the FA cup game is no easy trick. All of the tickets allocated to both clubs (Arsenal and Reading) were sold out to season ticket holders well in advance, so visitors like us are left trying to buy tickets online from third parties at crazy high prices. Yes, its crazy to pay over $300 to go to a soccer match. Yes, I paid it willingly! We did some research, so we think this is a reputable source of tickets but you have to put a certain amount of trust in strangers in order to get your tickets.

After the train ride into Farringdon station we walk over to the apartment we had rented through AirBnB, another exercise in trusting strangers, and are rewarded with exactly the fantastic two bedroom apartment we were promised. The owner met us at the door and showed us around. He had purchased us some breakfast items, and some fruit, and a nice bottle of wine. The apartment is on a Kings Mews street, which is nice and quiet so no problem with street noise either.

Jim and Josh arrived a few minutes later with Jim’s luggage. We got a two bedroom so we could share with Jim and so he would not have to spend the entire long weekend in Josh’s student housing. Which after seeing it, I am glad we did!

As 11:00 came and went, we still had no tickets. So we were preparing ourselves for the worst, which is really not too bad considering our apartment has a 56 inch big screen for the backup plan. We were all a bit nervous, but found some good entertainment value in the chat that Josh had been having with customer support at the ticket agency.

Cust Serv (23:35:25): How can I help you?

Cust Serv (23:35:29): hi

JMS (23:35:45): Hi Tina, we spoke earlier today about my order #XXXXXX. The tickets still haven’t arrived yet.

Cust Serv (23:37:07): I know - i have been told by Jamie that the tickets will arrive at your house by 11am in the morning as he have to do lots of deliveries and was promised by him they will be with you at 11 at latest

Cust Serv (23:37:16): please accept my deepest apologies

JMS (23:37:36): 11am? This is now the fourth promise made by your company to me in the past two days.

JMS (23:37:40): This is unacceptable.

JMS (23:46:05): Thanks for your assistance on that. I know it’s not your duty, and I am clearly angry, but I will not subject you to that anger.

Cust Serv (23:46:24): A refundable situation sir is where you did not get your goods as ordered and in time to watch the match

Cust Serv (23:46:39): but once again it is not my decision as you understand

JMS (23:46:56): I know that that’s a full refund, but I think the stress caused here warrants a special situation.

JMS (23:47:11): But yes, I won’t take it up with you! My mistake.

JMS (23:52:29): I don’t think so. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with me today (and plenty others like me I’m sure!) during this busy day. I know you’re trying your best, but like I said earlier, my family flew in for this match and would ruin their holiday if this falls through.

Cust Serv (23:52:54): sir - I must say that you are one of the most kindest people I spoke to in this chat support ever!!!

JMS (23:53:17): Haha well I’m glad to hear that. I’m sure customer service can be very testing at times.

Cust Serv (23:53:40): you are very polite and kind despite being angry and dissapointed but you never had it on me at any point of our conversation and I thank you for that

JMS (23:54:26): Well I’m glad it has been a (relatively) positive experience. Hopefully I won’t have to chat anyone at your business tomorrow at 11:15! Good night.

Cust Serv (23:54:49): I hope that the only chat you will have tomorrow is to say that you have got the tickets as ordered sir

Cust Serv (23:55:03): good night sir- sweet dreams

Sweet dreams indeed! By 9:00 the next morning, we got the good news that we had tickets in hand. The problem was that they were not in the category we had paid for. They were not bad tickets! In fact they were really good. Row 8 on the first level, but they were in the corner so we would be looking at the field the long way. Since the website said tickets were fully refundable if you did not receive tickets in the category you paid for you were eligible for a full refund. So we got online and complained a bit. The first response was that we had been upgraded, and that these were actually better tickets than we had ordered for this game. LOL.

Shortly after this conversation we received a call saying that they had tickets for us in the area we had ordered. However these were way up in the nosebleed area, and we would be split two and two. about this same time we also noticed that two of our tickets had post-it notes attached with the note that they were Junior tickets. Hmmm, maybe we got the wrong tickets? Maybe they need to swap with us to get these to some guy and his two kids. Well, we reasoned, we don’t have to meet this guy and get the other tickets, possession is 90% of the law. So we began to think about breakfast. But before we all met up for breakfast, we got an email from Karen, who had been woken up at 3AM back in the US by a call from Thomas, who wanted us to call him on his mobile.

It turned out that Thomas also had tickets, but said they were “VIP tickets.” Karmic payback for being “one of the kindest people I spoke to in this chat support ever”? Maybe! Two of these new tickets included access to a table in the Bobby Moore hospitality area (free pre-game meal and drinks), and two of them were “merely” on the Wembly Gold (free budweiser at halftime) level. So, in less than 12 hours we had gone from zero tickets to tickets that were beyond anything we could have imagined. These tickets would be delivered to us by another delivery person, and then we were to meet Thomas near Wembly to return the four we originally had received. The new courier arrived at our apartment in a shiny white Range Rover, and delivered our packets of tickets. They all looked legit, and we all had great seats right on the halfway line! Now all we had to do was find Thomas and hand over the old tickets. Those young children might get to see the game with their dad yet.

As we made the walk from the Wembley tube station towards the stadium we had many opportunities to sell our four extras. We thought that we might even make a profit, but our honesty and the fact that we had VIP tickets in hand, put us in the mood to carry on to our meeting point and keep up our end of the bargain. It is interesting to think about the business model and operations of a third party ticket seller. They are selling the tickets to us at a significant markup, but the tickets have to come from somewhere. So they have to be able to forecast in advance how many tickets from each area they will probably have, and then they need to get those tickets from the original owners to the new buyers. Its no wonder a lot of the transactions come down to the wire.

Our tickets allowed us into the stadium well in advance of the game so we had plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and check out all of our food, beverage and gift shop options. As we were standing in the gift shop I saw one young man in Reading blue from head to toe, with a big foam blue finger call out to his dad. His voice was shaking with excitement as his big blue finger pointed to a rack of merchandise. LIVERPOOL he said with longing. The dad just melted into the ground. I guess you can’t control who your kids will choose for their football team, even in England.

As a fan of the Men in Blazers show, I was very excited to see that meat pies were available everywhere in the stadium. Tom’s pies to be exact. So I enjoyed a very nice Guinness and roast beef pie as a pre-game meal. It is true, they are quite good. flakey crust, stringy tender roast beef and gravy on the inside, just like Sunday dinner back home. So, here is the obligatory food shot! You might also notice the betting sheet on the left side of the photo. You can bet on almost anything right there at the game. Final score, who will score, when will they score, who will score first, etc. It was too complicated for us so we left the betting up to others and saved our money for sausages and more food later.

beef pie

The game itself turned out to be good. It wasn’t Arsenal’s best performance of the year. But I blame that on Wenger for going away from the lineup that had us winning nine in a row. I would not have substituted Welbeck for Giroud, but I am not the manager. Nevertheless Alexis scored a great goal just before halftime and I was feeling good. A strong pep talk in the locker room and surely we would come out and seal the game with a couple more goals. It turned out that the opposite happened. Reading came out fired up and scored an equalizer, and we looked like we were playing “not to lose” which is our worst strategy. At the end of regulation it was Arsenal 1 - 1 Reading. OVERTIME! We were really getting our moneys worth out of these great seats. As long as we win in overtime and don’t go to penalties life is good Which is what happened. shortly before the end of the first extra period Alexis scored again. It was kind of a sad screw up for the Reading keeper, but a victory is a victory!

Corner Kick

On to the FA Cup Final!

homeward bound in 77 days

Somehow the midpoint of this journey escaped my notice. Its not surprising as it has been a busy and amazing two weeks, full of new cultures and new experiences. But, this morning we have time to just relax, watch the sea outside our room, and think about our experiences over the last three months. In total we will be gone for 179 days! That is a long time to be away from family and friends and the comforts of home. But the time has gone by quickly, and will only accelerate as we head towards the end.

I took a few minutes this morning to put together this map. The red pins show everywhere we have been since January 1, 2015 and the green pins show all the places we have yet to visit before we arrive back home on June 28th.

So, what do I take away from this journey so far? I would like to break it up into three themes:

  • The expanse of history

  • The variety of culture

  • The challenges of living away from home


I never would have guessed that a new understanding and appreciation for world history would have been one of my biggest takeaways from this experience, but it is certainly shaping up to be that way. A big reason for this has been the history course at the University of Malta, and seeing the evidence of history everywhere you turn. You go to Valletta and you can’t escape seeing the walls and the buildings left behind by the Knights of St. John’s. You visit other places and see the Megalithic temples or evidence of the Romans or Phonecians or the Ottoman Empire. But what is really cool is that now when we leave Malta I have a much better appreciation for the timescale and the artifacts left behind by these same people in other parts of the Mediterranean.

The scope of the Roman empire is simply amazing. As we were standing among the Roman ruins in Volubilis Morocco, we could just as easily have been standing in Ostia Antica in Italy. The frescos on the floor looked the same, the aqueducts and walls were identical to those we have seen in Italy, France, and Spain. Now we flew, on a jet, and drove in a fast car to all of these places. Its really hard to imagine how an empire like this managed when the way to travel was on horse, or foot, or camel. There was no internet to get word back to headquarters so its easy to imagine that important information would be lost or take many months to get from place to place.

In Malta, the arabic influence is clearly heard in the language, but not so much in the architecture. However now that we have traveled to Morocco and Spain it is interesting to see the influences of the Ottoman empire in both places. It is also interesting to see how all of the different empires recycled and reused materials from their predecessors. Mosques built from the stones of Christian churches and vice versa. Churches that still bear signs of a mosque built from stones taken from a prehistoric temple. I am really excited to visit Istanbul in a few weeks to see this city where Islaam and Christianity have coexisted for so many centuries.

I think that I have developed a better appreciation for the timescale of history. When we hear that at one time Malta was predominantly Muslim, but now Christian, or that the Berbers of Morocco were predominantly Jewish but are now Muslim you wonder how did that happen? Slowly. These are changes that took place over hundreds of years. Longer than the United States has been a country! Back home we might say, look at this old building, it has been around since 1849. That is barely a blip in the timescale of the history here in the Mediterranean. At the same time, I have developed a new appreciation for the importance of preserving our own historical artifacts for future generations to study and learn from.

Cultural Variety

Living on internet time, it is easy to think that everything and everyone has always changed as fast as it does today. But, it is easy to see that this is not true. In the pueblos blancos of Spain, the towns of Malta, and the villages of Vietnam and Cambodia, things don’t move so fast. People still fix their old televisions and home appliances rather than just toss them aside after five years. In the medinas of Morocco and the villages of the Mekong delta people still use every part of every animal and plant. Husks of rice kernels are used to fire the kilns for making bricks, every part of the cow or goat or camel is used for something.

I love to observe the old men in the different places that we visit. They are the same everywhere! If I was a better photographer I would ask their permission so that I could take their pictures and share them. On my walk to the University in Malta ther are three guys that sit on the sidewalk every morning, talking and arguing and solving the worlds problems. In Spain we saw them in the small towns, having coffee when we would stop for our own mid-morning break from cycling. Having a coffee, and talking, arguing, and solving the worlds problems. In Morocco they gather for their tea and they talk and they argue and they solve the worlds problems. They supervise local construction projects everywhere. It is the same in Decorah as well: at the Back Home bakery, or the Oneota country club, or happy hour at Rubaiyat. In Decorah, I know the names of most of the men, and am slowly beginning to join their ranks.

Morocco was my first experience in traveling in a predominantly Muslim country. Vietnam and Cambodia are predominantly Buddhist. Malta is strongly Christian. Of course there are big differences in all of these religions, but the main thing that strikes me is that the people who practice any of these religions have much more in common than you might think. Of course, as our Moroccan guide noted, there are crazy Christians and crazy Muslims and crazy Jews who cause trouble, but the non-crazy people want to live good, healthy, peaceful lives. People of all faiths love their children and their neighbors and want to make the world a better place.

Talking about religion, you can’t ignore Football (soccer). Soccer is another great unifier of people. If you are a soccer fan, you can find a friend almost anywhere. We have enjoyed watching the English Premier League in every country we have visited. Of course in Spain it was a bit more of a challenge as La Liga dominates here. But we have always been able to find a pub that carries the game. People everywhere know Arsenal and Manchester United. More importantly, they love to talk about their local team. I love to ask the waiters or the porters in the hotels if they are soccer fans and who they support. They are always a bit surprised to find an American that is an avid futball fan. Is soccer really growing in America? How did you become a fan? What will happen with the MLS? Are you happy that Steven Gerrard is joining the LA Galaxy? How many years will it be until the USA dominates in the world cup?

Living away from home

When we left home in January Jane and I talked about how this would be a great experiment. Would we be ready to be snowbirds? Would we miss our friends too much to leave Decorah for six months? What would it be like to make friends in a totally different culture? It turns out that this was a flawed experiment.

Although we have settled in to a flat in Malta its hard to compare this to what it would be like to have our own place in California or Arizona. Although the flat is perfectly livable it is not ours, it is not even something that we would choose if given the chance to look around. And, because we do not own the place and are only there for five months, we can’t really change it. No painting, no updating, so Nespresso coffee maker. So we live with what we have, which is very different from how we would do things if it were our own.

I am grateful for my own research work. It has been nice to have some time to really sit back and think about the direction my research and work on Runestone Interactive will need to take over the next few years. I have learned that I am far from ready to retire or give up the exciting work that I do on this project and with students at Luther.

The people we have met in Malta are very nice, but we have not made new friends. Building relationships takes time and investment, and it is hard for others to invest when our time in Malta is so short. It is hard for us to invest when our time is short. It makes us think about being more welcoming and open to new friends back home. It is easy to settle in to the same comfortable group of friends week after week. It is much harder to break out and invite new people into the circle. Mike and Shirley do a much better job of that than anyone!

So, we have settled in to a routine that largely centers around the students and ourselves. Occasionally we have gone out with another couple, but this is fairly rare. We have Skyped or Facetimed with our friends and family back home and have really enjoyed those times as much as anything. Technology is a wonderful way to connect. All of those Jetsons cartoons I watched where they used the video phone have come true. So, although we have always valued our friends, we have learned how important those friendships are on a much deeper level than we knew before.

Although we have traveled many thousands of miles, and logged many nights in hotels and restaurants, it is important to stop and realize that this journey has been an inward journey as well. I am thankful for the growth and learning that this experience has brought so far, and I eagerly await the new experiences yet to come. As we prepare to pack up and head to the airport this afternoon, I find that I cannot say we are going home. Home will come soon, we will be home when we are back in Decorah and with friends and family on

Bone Lake.

andalusia biking summary

I’m just going to put all of the images into a big slideshow for this post.

  1. Malaga to Antequera: Tonight we stayed at the Convento Magadaleno after a very difficult ride through the Sierra del Torcal. 24 miles in the heat and a lot of climbing. We checked in to the convent, and then used the spa. Dinner was outside in one of the small hill towns close to the convent.

  2. El-Chorro to Ronda Through the Sierra de las Neives. We had seen El-Chorro from the train on the way to Malaga and were excited to bike here. It is beautiful. The afternoon climb was a bit much.

  3. Ronda - out and back to Grazalema – Jane stayed in Ronda to explore while I went out for the day. The ride to Grazalema was great, and the hill town was cool.

  4. Olive trees in Granada: Tonight we moved to the Barcelo La Bobadilla. A wonderful five star hotel, with great restaurants and a good spa.

  5. Lunch in Iznajar: We skipped the crazy hard climb to start out the day, and coasted downhill instead. However since all hill towns are at the top of hills we still had a climb to finish off our riding and get a well deserved lunch in this cool town.

  6. Resting in Malaga

biking in andalusia

After a week in Morocco, Jane and I are now biking in the Andalusia region of Spain. Whereas Morocco was a bit of a mental and cultural challenge the biking is definitely a physical challenge! On day one we covered 24 miles and climbed 4,400 feet. On day two 27 miles and 6,600 feet. That is definitely a PR for me in terms of climbing.

I’m sitting in the hotel room this morning with mixed emotions. Its quite windy and cool outside this morning and I’m thinking of all of the climbing ahead of me, and my legs are a bit on the worn out side. On the other hand, we have seen some great scenery, this is really beautiful country. Jane made her decision yesterday, she is getting a massage, she is going shopping, she is pretty smart.

Fast forward to 5:00 I am back from biking, my legs are tired another 24 miles, not so much elevation today, only 3,500 feet. But I don’t mind, my legs are tired. Did I already mention that? Today I rode with Flynn, he is a young Australian, and an avid rock climber as well as cyclist. On our way out to Grazelema for lunch, we stopped at a hiking trail with a nice overlook of an ancient dam. The dam is very interesting as it was built in the early 19th century by workers working round the clock eight hour shifts. However after the dam was finished they discovered that they had used the wrong kind of stone, and it leaked badly. They were never able to repair the dam and make it usable for generating electricity, and so it was abandoned without ever being used.


At lunch we decided that exploring around the dam would be a good diversion. Especially if we could walk out on top of it! So we rode the van back to the hiking area and started our way down. We were rewarded with some pretty spectacular views. As usual, its the unplanned side-trips that turn out to be the most interesting.

To summarize the trip to date, we have had some great food and stayed at some wonderful hotels. Our first night was in an old convent - convento magdalena – in the Andalusian countryside. nestled in between the mountain peaks it was very secluded and a great place to start our rest and relaxation. The picture below shows the clouds spilling over the mountain. They would come across the top and fall down into the valley, then they would rise up again and disappear before our eyes.


Day 2 brought us to the town of Ronda where we are spending two nights at the hotel Reina Victoria. It is obviously a popular biking stop as groups from Trek and Backroads are also staying here. The hotel has a nice spa, and we have a fabulous view out the window of our room. The view is because we are at the edge of town and right on the edge of a cliff.


Ronda is a fascinating little town. A medieval village with Phoenician, Roman, and Arab walls. The whole town is on top of a highly defensible outcropping of rock. You would have to go steeply uphill, or straight up a cliff from almost any direction in order to attack the town. Ronda is divided into the old part which has the traditional “pueblos blancos” and the new part. The two halves are joined by the “new bridge” built in the seventeenth century. It is quite a marvel of engineering for that day!

New Bridge