Casino Royale Dreams in Venice, Burano, and Murano (Italy)

As my wife and I walked around Venice, we kept dreamily thinking of the adventures of James Bond and Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. (See Venice filming locations) It’s one of our favorite movies, and in my mind, it’s easily the best of the Bond 007 films (I don’t appreciate the older Bond classics like Thunderball).

When we first got to Venice, however, we had come from missing our early morning flight from Paris, and we were not in the best moods. We took a water taxi in because we thought it would be a good experience, but because of the cold and rainy weather (early March) that day, small windows (limited visibility) that were pretty close to water level, and the long wait (not because of long lines, but few boats), this wasn’t a great experience either.

At the end of the trip, we took the bus from Venice to the Airport, and that was a much better, faster, and cheaper experience than the water taxi. Even if it had been summer with gorgeous weather, I would recommend the bus unless you’re staying on the other side of the Venice and would have to walk 30+ minutes to get to your hotel.

We stayed at Domina Home Ca Zusto / Hotel Ca’ Zusto Venezia, a well located 4 star hotel, for three nights for around $100/night. It was definitely the best hotel stay of our Europe trip, with good sized rooms, a solid breakfast, and great support staff.

For our first day in Venice, we essentially slept in after getting lunch. Plus, it was raining pretty hard, and we just needed rest. Two full days ended up being pretty good to appreciate the city, however, even despite the cold (around 10C, 45-55F) and intermittent rain. I’ve seen photos of Venice in the summer, and it is nuts!

If I could do it again, I’d go to Venice slightly later, right around late March / early April so that the weather would be slightly warmer but still without the crowds. That was the big benefit from our visit. There was still a decent amount of people around, but nothing where we’d say things were crowded. We could set up, take photos, and really enjoy the sights without any lines or concerns about pickpockets.

Another benefit of visiting in March? Trying out moeche, or soft-shell crabs, which are only available in the fall or early spring.

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The crabs were great, but the rest of our meal at the highly touted (and easily $70 per person) Osteria alle Testiere was disappointing. The other items we ordered were just okay, but we were left waiting over 25 minutes between appetizers and the next dish. There wasn’t any advance warning, bread in between, or any service. When we asked about the wait, we were told snootily that “this isn’t fast food”.

I’ll talk more about the specific things we did in a bit, but in general, it’s really easy to walk around Venice, but it’s also just as easy to get lost. Even with Google Maps (which got confused all the time) and a map in hand (yes, I can read maps), I felt like I wasn’t sure where I was a quarter of the time. You can take water taxis around the main islands, including Burano and Murano – overall, pretty convenient and quick though I imagine it’s different during the summer.

Tourist maps will show a main path that loops around Venice, taking you through all the main touristy areas, including food and shopping. While we took that path, just to see everything, we also took considerable time off going into random areas, looking for places that locals ate at. Our best meal was at one such place.

See these articles for more on Food:

10 of the best budget restaurants in Venice | Travel | The Guardian

The Best Restaurants In Venice, According To The Locals | HuffPost

The Venice that most tourists miss | Travel | The Guardian

We originally booked Venice more on my wife’s suggestion. I really wasn’t so excited about it, but once I got there, even despite the rain, I took to it quickly. There definitely feels something magical about the place. I don’t have a big need to visit again soon, but I’m glad I made the trip. There’s a feeling that you’re visiting something unique in the world, something with a lot of history and significance, and walking in a town surrounded by water is a bit surreal.

Things We Did

We didn’t go to the Guggenheim (I’m no art lover, but had at least heard of it, and had no idea it was in Venice until the night before we arrived), or do a boat canal serenade (it was cold, expensive -$100-, and as we thought about it, we did not think it would be that great). I’m not a big coffee drinker normally, but I learned about cappuccino vs espresso vs latte. We also had passion fruit tiramisu at I Tre Mercanti; tiramisu arguably has its origins in/around Venice.

I’d heard that true Italian pizza is like a small piece of cheeze and meat on a cracker. Despite plenty of restaurants touting their authentic Italian pizza, however, they were all like the pizza we had at Antico Forno, American style pizza.

Our favorite meal was in Murano, a ten minute water taxi away from Venice, at La Perla ai Bisatei. This is seafood for the Venetian (in Vietnamese, we’d use the term bình dân). Ha’s second favorite meal was at another local-focused venue, Trattoria Alla Rampa. This is where we discovered other Venetian favorites like Baccalà Mantecato (white fish), spaghetti con nero di seppia (squid ink spaghetti), and Polenta (almost like rice porridge).

  • Cicchetti (Italian tapas) and Spritz (not al Bitter) at Osteria Alla Ciurma. I’m not so into tapas on cold, non toasted bread, it turns out.
  • Ice cream at Gelatoteca Suso. I remember liking this quite a bit with the unique ice cream flavor that I tried.
  • La Patatina a San Giacomo – expensive ($50 per person) but nothing special. We regretted this meal.

During the trip, I also learned about Venezia FC, the local Serie B soccer team. They’ve been moving up steadily after new ownership by an American-Italian owner and might get to Serie A within the next couple of years. A new stadium is planned. I went to Venezia F.C. Rivenditore Ufficiale to buy an official 110th anniversary jersey, getting the baby blue goal keeper shirt along with official Serie B and Respect patches. In talking to the store owner, he mentioned that he hoped the team would get into Serie A after a couple of tries rather than right away in order to build enough of a foundation to stay at the top levels.

For me Burano and Murano are not so special, but walking around them makes you realize how much the Venice area (uh, Merchant of Venice?) is purely a tourism hub today. What was once perhaps the financial hub of the world due to its location between continents is now just a place left by time. I read some articles discussing how locals have been leaving in droves over the last decades; what was formerly a city of 100K is now at 40K .

Burano has colorful houses, which are great for photos, and lace, while Murano is focused on glass-making. These end up feeling like gimmicks to attract tourists, and I think the reality is that there is just nothing else to pivot to. This makes me think of manufacturing jobs and old industry in America; those jobs are better done elsewhere, but are there new jobs, even with training, that can take place of those old jobs? In Burano and Murano, the answer feels like no.

Four Days in Paris (Food, Football, and other F Words)

I spent three years learning French in High School. Every few years since then, I’d spend a month or or so trying to revisit (Duolingo) the language in hopes I’d get to use it one day, but once I had enough money saved (20 years after graduation) to actually go, I could only remember some basic words and phrases.

In early March, Paris is pretty cold (maxing at 10C / 50F) with rain, but overall, things were pretty good – good enough to walk around 8+ hours a day. We stayed at the Hôtel Beaurepaire in the 11th Arrondissement based on Eater’s recommendation. At around $100/night and a few minutes walk from the République (connected to by at least 4 of the 13ish subway lines) station, it was a great location for us. The room was very small, the elevator was even smaller (1 person elevators are a thing in Paris) and the staff a bit…lazy, but it was a solid place to stay for a couple without kids.

Food:

In Paris, I really wanted to focus on food, though I knew we couldn’t hit the best of the best. In general, food is really expensive in Paris and Europe. Meals (without alcohol) were easily $50 (in Euros) per person, even without getting a full X course set. Sure, we went to more highly rated places, but not places considered elite on the fine dining scale.

The highlights were Yann Couvreur for dessert pastries, Chez Alain Miam Miam (in the middle of a food court / market) for sandwiches, Restaurant 52 (also in a great food neighborhood) for dinner, and Du Pain et des Idées (super famous for its Pain des Amis / Friendship) bread and other baked goodies. Du Pain was only a few minutes walk from our hotel, and the very first thing we did in the city after check-in.

Other visits:

In terms of the sights, we walked around a lot and took the metro a bunch, and even went to a Paris St. Germain football (soccer) game (unfortunately, Neymar was injured and Cavani was suspended) at Parc des Princes. More on the match in a separate post later.

We did all the touristy stuff, but since Ha and I don’t really care for museums, it’s more that we just walked around places. We did do Friday night at the Louvre – we saw the Mona Lisa, as everyone does, but enjoyed the apartments of Marie Antoinette and Napoleon III more.

Sights and Shopping:

Recommended Resources for Parisian Food:

More photos:

Pursuit of Aero

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I can tell you that is this is a fairly uncomfortable position and that the power drop disadvantage is clear. I think that my head positioning should be lower, but out on the road, I prefer to see way ahead because I am paranoid about accidents.

My size small Nike Tour De France 2006 (Floyd Landis) Yellow Jersey (gift from sister) is now quite baggy, but even then, my stomach is pretty compressed leaning over with my legs coming up.

Getting my VO2 Max Test with Revvo

As I use TrainerRoad for cycling training and listen to its podcast, I have become more curious about VO2 Max. What are my genetics, what is my ultimate potential?

In general, I like looking at data from TrainerRoad, Strava, Wattsboard, and Stravistix, even though I neither race nor plan to race, unless it’s to be part of a team as a domestique. At best, I want to hit the magical mark of 4 watts per kilogram (I’m currently between 3.5 and 4) and be a potentially good Category 3 racer.

Unfortunately, VO2 Max tests, which measure how much of incoming oxygen your body can process (think of it as oxygen efficiency), are quite expensive at $100+. Thus, when I had a chance to try Revvo‘s simulation of VO2 Max for free in San Francisco, I just thought, why not?

Revvo claims 97% accuracy (P value please!) of the real thing, and since most power meters are +-2%, that seems reasonably good.

My results:

VO2 Max Michael Nguyen 2018-02-08.jpgI was pleasantly pleased with the results as my performance was better than expected. Then, suspicion crept in and I kept reading to think about whether I should believe in them.

The two things I’ll point out are my measured VO2 Max at 61 and FTP (threshold) at 259 watts. 61 is 1 percentile for my age group. Wow! How badass am I? Even if we give Revvo a 5% error (versus claimed 3%) buffer, I’d still be at, worst case, around 58, which is really good. Unless I go pay for an official test, I don’t have much more to dispute, but imagining I can be in the top 1% of anything physically seems unreal.

The FTP test result, is a bit different. Revvo claims that my FTP/kg ratio is already 4. However, since I actively train and use a power meter, I think my actual FTP is perhaps 235. I say perhaps because my indoor FTP with TrainerRoad is 225, and even that is tricky. I always fail my FTP tests and just use that setting for my workouts. 225 works well (kicks my butt) for me except for oddly enough, VO2 Max workouts, which I’ve been reducing by 3-5% of FTP to complete them properly.

There are a few things that suggest my real FTP could be higher than my TrainerRoad one.

1) Indoor trainer power for many people is lower than outdoors. That may sound like I’m making an excuse to feel better (which I would love to do), but I can easily do 250 watts outdoors for a few minutes compared to indoors. For example, take this workout from 9 months ago in which I climbed at 271 watts (4.3 w/kg) for 4.5 minutes. I assume (when I first started using TrainerRoad, I didn’t have a power meter, so I don’t have an apples to apples comparison from one year ago) I am stronger right now, but I don’t think can do that indoors. I’ve read different explanations for this. Some of this could be due to heat (air flow is not as good indoors even with fans), some of this could be due to the type of power you have to use on an indoor trainer versus outdoor roads.

2) My mental endurance is kind of weak. Going through longer TrainerRoad workouts, I really do get lazy and have to fight to avoid stops mid-way through 8, 10, 12, 20 minute bursts. Therefore, as Revvo suggests, perhaps I’m capable of doing much more.

3) I use a Powertap G3 power meter, which measures power at the wheel. Most power meters are pedal or crank based, which means they measure power at the source (your legs and feet). When power is measured at the wheel, this is the real-world power that’s driving the biycle. The difference is power that is lost through that transition from the frame to the drivechain. From different opinions I’ve read, this difference could be 5-10% or around 10 watts.

4) The positioning on my bike right now is quite aero. I’m probably slightly small for the frame (which is an aero-oriented bike already), and this likely means I’m stretched out even more horizontally than normal. How this impacts FTP is that it’s harder to breathe, which affects power. The Revvo bike, however, is more upright and with geometry more comparable to a normal or endurance focused road bike. Therefore, I could be losing significant power due to my position. I’ve been setting aside money to get a new properly fitted (perhaps 49CM) super duper (Specialized Tarmac? Roubaix? Canyon Ultimate SLX?) disc brake road bike, and have set 4W/kg as a performance requirement before looking at a new purchase seriously.

I mentioned some of this to Siva, Revvo’s CEO. He agreed that the power would more likely come out during an extended climbing session such as on Mt. Diabo (which I’ve never done). Revvo’s equipment is built on the Wahoo Kickr.

One thing I confirmed that I had long suspected is that my maximum heart rate is lower than the predicted rate for my age. My predicted max heart rate is 183 bpm. I always felt there could be something wrong with me because I would want to die cycling a little above 170. My friend David’s heart rate (he’s the same age) is mid-180’s. Revvo measured my max at 173. Cycling outdoors, I felt like I could sustain 165 reasonably well, but thinking that my true max was 180+ made me feel that I was just lazy.

I wanted to look more at VO2 Max as a meaure of performance and found this breakdown:

finalwattchart

This chart suggests that I have a lower bound Cat 2 VO2 Max. If I adjust the FTP results for watts/kg, it suggests a 4w/kg power to weight ratio and about 250 watts.

So if we consider my indoor training FTP, wheel-based vs pedal based power measurement differences, and sitting position, is it possible I’m much closer to 250 and 4w/kg than I think? It’s possible. We’ll know more once I start to do more outdoor runs on my own (Strava KOM time!), but I prefer to keep training for the next couple of months to make sure that I’m at that level.

Here’s hope!

Trying out LucidCam and the YouTube VR180 Format

I’ve been playing with a LucidCam recently as part of my work. LucidCam’s is a really easy way to start taking 180 degree VR content, both with photos and videos. Just turn it on, choose a media mode, and then point and press the “shutter” button to shoot. There’s no viewfinder, though you can enable one through your phone if you tether it to the camera via a direct wifi connection.

The 180 degree lenses basically takes away the need to focus – as LucidCam says, you can “capture moments from your perspective”, which just means you can capture everything (technically more) your eyes see, so there’s no need to spend time framing a shot.

Below is a playlist of some bike rides I took this week in the South Bay (you can view in 180 degree 3D with a VR headset like the Google Daydream one). The first set of videos is from an evening commute ride from Apple in Cupertino to Mountain View, the second set is an early morning ride through Palo Alto and Los Altos.