The Hottest Toy Fad: Fidget Spinners

The Honey Bee recently caved and gave in to the latest fad. That’s right; she bought me a fidget spinner. (And what a deal! She paid exactly € 1). Over the last few months, no matter where we went, we always saw kids playing with these spinners. They were often also mentioned in the news media. Heres a piece on it by CNN, another by the New York Post.

For those of you who’ve been hiding under a rock and are unaware of what it is, it’s generally a 3 pronged plastic device with a ball bearing in the center, although there do exist a number of variations. The center also has a slight indent on both sides allowing for the device to be held between the thumb and the index finger. As for the 3 prongs, they are slightly weighted to allow for greater balance and speed. The design allows for the device to spin around its central axis because of the ball bearing.

I did a little research on it, and based on this Wikipedia article, the origins are unclear. However it seems to have a similarity to a product initially conceived in the early 90s. It is often also attributed to helping kids with ADHD, autism, etc. deal with their anxieties and relieve stress, although that is not conclusively proven.

It’s become so popular in the mainstream, that it has become the toy to have. Apparently, variations of the spinner have occupied the top 20 spots on Amazon’s best sellers list for toys. Their popularity amongst kids has even led to many schools banning them, or putting in place rules regarding their use because they cause distractions in classrooms. Fun as they are, some care is warranted because if not, you can easily hurt yourself (seriously).

While I haven’t yet started carrying it the office, I am considering it. In the meantime, you should give it a go. It really is a fun feeling holding and playing with the spinner while it does its thing. Over time, you will start doing tricks with it, like this and this.

Happy Spinning!

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Take-aways from our Moving Experience

We recently moved to a new apartment and are very happy with the new place. I’ve been thinking a lot about what the right way would be to make this post. It’s a long and convoluted story and I wanted to do it without boring the readers, but at the same time not leaving out the juicy bits. I think I finally figured out how.

There is a saying often attributed to Warren Buffer that goes something like this: “It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.” In that vein, I’ve prepared a short list of takeaways from our moving experience, each accompanied by a short story. That way, you can indulge in a little bit of harmless schadenfreude, while learning something useful that might come in handy in the future.

1. Always overestimate the amount of stuff you think you have.

When we started planning the move, we figured we probably had enough to stuff to fill 10-15 boxes. However, as we made headway, we realized we were waaaay off and the situation turned stressful. There is always stuff you forget to account for, not to mention the whole bunch of little stuff spread around the house that becomes a lot when you put it together.

Take-away: Estimate double. If you don’t, you will end up super-stressed when you find out that after hours of packing, you’ve barely made a dent. On the other hand, if you overestimate, you avoid the feeling of disappointment and futility, and probably feel good once (if) you realize you have lesser stuff than you estimated.

2. Don’t pinch pennies. You’ll regret it later.

To prepare for the move, we took a friend’s recommendation and decided to buy a whole bunch of moving boxes from the local discount store. During the move, those boxes started tearing and falling apart. We ended up having to buy a number of extra boxes from Ikea and spending more than anticipated. Not to mention the constant worry of the cheap boxes tearing open in the middle of the street.

Take-away: Buy your moving boxes at Ikea. They are really good quality, well designed, have a high weight tolerance and are completely worth the couple of extra cents.

3. Murphy was a wise man. Pay him heed: When something can go wrong, it will. 

We had visited the new apartment multiple times before the move. However, we didn’t on the day of the move. Over the course of a couple of hours, we unloaded multiple car trips worth of boxes in the common area of the building. We figured it’d be more efficient to accumulate a whole bunch of stuff there and then move it all up to the apartment together in the elevator.

Turns out, the elevator was out-of-order. Now, we had a whole bunch of stuff just sitting in the common area with nowhere to go. We called the elevator company and they sent a technician. However, since it was the weekend, he was the only guy on call. All in all, we lost a good 8-12 hours between him arriving, figuring out the problem and fixing it.

Take-away: Don’t take anything for granted. Double-check your moving infrastructure before you begin. This includes keys to both apartments, your car, the road (no road closures), elevators, etc.

4. Spend the extra money to make your move less stressful.

The last time we moved, we did it ourselves. But, that was before we amassed so much “stuff.” This time, as the boxes started to accumulate, the trepidation built-up. We realized there was no way to humanly move so many boxes even with multiple trips in our little car.

Thanks to some quick thinking on the Honey Bee’s part, we were able to find and hire some movers. Since it was last-minute and they had other commitments, they couldn’t help us with the entire move, but they helped us with the vast majority of our boxes, especially the heavy stuff.

Take-away: If you have more boxes than your age, hire a mover. Your back will thank you.

5. Label all your boxes

Label all your boxes, tagging them on the top and any 2 opposite facing sides. That way no matter how the boxes are stacked or arranged, you will almost always be able to see the tags and know what is where. It will be especially useful while unpacking.

We did this for most of the boxes, but got a little lazy towards the end. It was the unlabeled boxes that were the hardest to unpack and organize in the new apartment.

Take-away: Don’t get lazy. Tag all your boxes. It will make unpacking and settling-in a whole lot easier.

6. During the move, forget cooking.

We got this part right. Over the 2-3 day moving period, we didn’t even try to cook. We ordered out every time. We were so drained from all the moving, neither of us could muster up the strength to cook, or even wait for the food to be cooked. Not to mention the fact that all the kitchen stuff was spread out across various boxes.

Take-away: Treat yourself to good food after a hard day of moving.

7. After you’re done with the move, get a recovery massage.

I’m glad to say we got this last part right too. After all the trials and tribulations of the move, my back was completely out. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t lift a heavy grocery bag from the floor. After our massages, we emerged from the spa healed and feeling much better, ready to enjoy the new apartment.

Take-away: After a stressful move, treat yourself. You deserve it!

Happy Moving!

 

Our Flight Cancellation Experience with Vueling

Upon our recent visit to Bologna, we had an interesting airline experience that I’d like to share here. In addition to being an interesting read, it might help you learn a thing or two about your rights in relation to airlines.

This might also be a good time to shamelessly promote my post about Saving on Air Travel. I highly recommend it if you love to travel and save money (who doesn’t?).

On with the story…

To catch our return flight home from Bologna, we showed up at the airport more than 3 hours in advance. At the airport, we were notified that our flight had been canceled for “technical reasons”. Furthermore, we discovered that there were no other return flights from Bologna that day. Fortunately, our airline (Vueling) stepped up and organized alternative transportation. After a long wait, they put us on very comfortable buses to Venice, from where we were put on an alternate flight to our final destination. All said and done, we reached home 6+ hours later that we should have, and much much more tired.

From the point we were informed about the cancellation till we got home, we kept all our receipts, hanging on to the slight hope that we might be compensated. Having heard all kinds of horror stories about how hard it is to get any compensation from airlines, we almost didn’t try.

A quick call to Vueling, and surprisingly the matter was taken care of (Shock & disbelief!!). There was no argument, no demand for a physical boarding pass, no demand for receipts, no nothing. They simply confirmed the compensation we were legally entitled to and paid it out.

Here, I have to commend Vueling. For whatever “technical reason” they cancelled our flight. That sucked, but shit happens. However, instead of leaving passengers hanging and in confusion, they took responsibility for their mistake and fixed it by organizing and paying for a viable alternative for their passengers. They even went the extra mile by ensuring that passengers got the compensation they were legally entitled to, without making it unnecessarily difficult. Kudos Vueling! The others should learn from you.

PS: Check your passenger rights here: EU, USA, India

 

 

Anniversary Weekend in Bologna

After a long hiatus, we finally resumed our travels. To celebrate our wedding anniversary, we took a long weekend trip to Bologna, Italy.  It is the 7th most populous city in Italy with a population of just over a million. Apart from the extraordinarily large number of tourists and foreign students, the city is also home to a lot of cultural history and boasts numerous historical landmarks, in addition to the world’s oldest university.

Following my guide to saving on air travel, we scored a really good deal on flights to and from Bologna. Upon arriving early in the morning, we got lucky and managed to get checked-in early at the hotel. We grabbed a Cornetti (croissant filled with different types of creams, etc.) and hit the city’s center for some sight-seeing. We spent a lot of time eating and drinking (and you should too). Nonetheless, we did try to get in a fair amount of sight-seeing. As always, to avoid a meandering post, I’ll focus on our top 5 highlights.

1. Piazza Maggiore, with the San Petronio Basilica and the City Hall: The city’s definitive center, this massive plaza is flanked by the incomplete but beautiful San Petronio Basilica, the city’s town hall and beautiful heritage buildings with cafés and restaurants.

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The Basilica is the 10th largest church in the world and dominates the plaza. During the hot summer days, we joined other tourists and took respite from the sun sitting on the stairs under the massive shadow of the basilica. In the evenings, its a good place to sit and people watch and enjoy the activities going on the in the Piazza Maggiore.

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We also spent a lot of time sitting in the various cafés under the porticos of the many heritage buildings enjoying a cold beer or a refreshing lemon Schweppes. I should point out here that most cafés will overcharge you for drinks (c. € 4), but this includes some complimentary snacks. So, don’t make the mistake of ordering drinks and snacks, ‘coz they won’t tell you in advance.

2. Neptune Fountain (Fontana di Nettuno): This imposing bronze structure stands just a few meters away from the Piazza Maggiore. Since the fountain was undergoing major restoration, it was completely covered by scaffolding. However, we managed to get on a tour that took us inside the scaffolding and allowed us to view the statue up close.

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As our guide explained, in one hand Neptune holds the trident calming the waters, and with his other hand, he is gesturing to calm the wind. I always wondered about the difference between Poseidon and Neptune. Upon investigating, I found that “Neptune is the ancient Roman god of the sea, and Poseidon is the Greek God of the sea. They look similar in depictions, and some consider them to be the same God with two different names. Many people believe the Romans adopted the Greek God Poseidon and changed his name to Neptune.”

3. The 2 Towers (Due Torri): These two tall stone towers are amongst the few remaining and without a doubt the most prominent of all the towers that once dotted the city’s landscape. Built by wealthy families during the 12th century to keep a watchful eye over and defend their property, they eventually became symbols of a family’s status within the society, and families would compete to build the higher tower.

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These 2 towers are named after the families that supposedly built them-Asinelli and Garisenda. Believe it or not, these towers have developed a considerable tilt, making them very comparable to the world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Once again, we were unfortunately not allowed to climb these towers as they were closed for restoration.

4. Archiginnasio of Bologna: As impressive as the building is, what is even more breathtaking is what it houses. Built during the 16th century, it was once the seat of the world’s oldest university- the University of Bologna. This building now houses the Anatomical Theater and a beautiful grand library, among other things.

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The Anatomical Theater was used for anatomy lectures. It is made entirely of wood and is shaped like an amphitheater, lined with statues of famous doctors and anatomists. The ceiling is also wooden and has a statue of Apollo, the God of medicine, in the center which is surrounded by various constellations. At one end, the room is overlooked by an ornate seat for the professor topped by two naked and skinless men knows as “gli spellati” (the skinned ones). In the center of the room stands a marble table, used for the dissection of humans and animals. This structure was almost completely destroyed in an air raid during the Second World War. It was then rebuilt meticulously using all of the original pieces recovered from the building.

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As tourists, we were denied access to the library. However, we were able to pay for a tour of the rest of the building, and get a glimpse of the library from one of the side doors. The library is a grand old room, decorated with paintings, coats of arms and statues. It is impossible to do justice to the beauty of the library, so let me just paraphrase the way a friend described it to me: “When you see the library, you will want to study there.”

5. The Middle Market (Mercato di Mezzo): A three floor market, here you can get a sampling of traditional Bolognese food. There are a number of kiosks that offer a variety of meats, fish, cheeses, fruits, breads, wines, beers, etc. There are also a couple of restaurants with limited seating. After a number of years of being abandoned, the market was finally brought back to life after a major renovation in 2014. 

Others: Without going into detail, I’d also recommend visiting the University, the Santa Maria Basilica, the San Pietro Cathedral (and above all its bell tower where you can learn about how the bells are rung, how dangerous it is and how it makes the tower sway), the Pescherie Vecchie, the tons of local restaurants for fresh pasta, and so much more!

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Overall, I’d say Bologna is a great city to visit during a long weekend and would recommend it. It has a rich cultural and gastronomical history. If you’re a history buff, I’d recommend a few more days. There is more than enough to do, see, eat and drink. Notwithstanding, we probably won’t return for a second visit- not because there is anything wrong with the city- but because we enjoyed our previous trip to Florence much more and would rather revisit there.

 

Arrivederci!