Rome: Day 1

Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers the flight and our first day in Rome.

Before our trip to Italy, I decided to buy a new camera bag. I don’t like shoulder bags and backpacks are a hassle since every time you want to take a picture you have to take the backpack off, get the camera out and do the reverse after taking the shot. Therefore, I decided that a sling pack would be best. After looking at a few, I liked the Lowepro SlingShot 100AW. During our trip, I carried it on my back most of the time, but could easily slide it to the front to get the camera out or when it was too crowded and I was afraid of pickpockets. It was very comfortable on the back and reasonably comfortable on the front for short periods of time.

Lowepro SlingShot 100 AW

Usually when we need to travel by air, we park our car at the MARTA North Springs station and take the train to Hartsfield Jackson airport. Our flight to Rome was at 4:45pm. There was a time when I would always grab the window seat but now Michelle does that.

While domestic flights don’t have any food, some international flights have too much food. We had dinner. Then a few hours later, the flight attendants almost woke everyone up for some snacks and finally breakfast on Italian time.

We landed in Rome more than 9 hours later at 8:15am local time. Immigration was a breeze. I think the officer didn’t say one word, just stamped our passports. We collected our bags and got to the train station to take the Leonardo Express to Termini, the main train station in the city.

From Termini, we walked the 15 minutes to our hotel. Their check-in time was at 1:00pm, several hours away. So we left our bags there and decided to wander around the city.

We took the metro to Spagna and went to the Spanish Steps. We walked up the steps to the church, Trinità dei Monti and then on to Trevi Fountain which was surrounded by a couple of million tourists. Michelle tossed a few coins into the fountain and we got some gelato nearby at il Gelato di San Crispino.

By this time, Michelle had fallen asleep in her stroller, so we decided to see Galleria Doria Pamphilj, owned by a princely family. It was not fun to carry Michelle in the stroller up and down the steps, but the gallery had lots of nice paintings. I was a nice guy and didn’t take any photographs as they didn’t allow any.

Then we went to the 17th century Jesuit church, Sant’Ignazio. I must confess that I love churches. The architecture, the paintings and sculptures, everything fascinates me about these historic churches. That’s why a lot of the photographs in the map below are of this church.

With Michelle sleeping, we walked all the way back to the hotel. On the way we saw Piazza Venezia and the Vittorio Emanuele II monument there. Vittorio Emanuele was the first king when Italy was unified in the 19th century.

Michelle woke up near the end because it was hot. Fortunately, Rome has a lot of public drinking water fountains and most of them were marked on my GPS maps.

We checked in at the hotel and washed up. After some rest, we decided to go out for dinner. Of course, we forgot that nobody eats dinner at 6:30pm in Italy. So we ended up wandering around Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. When we went to Trattoria Monti, they were all booked up for the night. We made reservations for dinner the next night and decided to live it up at Agata e Romeo. The food was great and it cost more than €200 for two people (without drinks).

Photographs shown on a map of Rome follow.

Continue reading “Rome: Day 1”

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

While a bit weak at times, I am still a fan of X-men and liked this movie about the origin of Wolverine.

Having liked all the previous X-Men movies, we saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine in the theater.

While parts of the movie were good, like Wolverine’s childhood and some of his history with Sabretooth and William Stryker, there were some weak points as well. For example, why did Wolverine and Sabretooth fight for the US in the two world wars when they were originally from Canada and Canada got into both wars much earlier. Also, it seemed to me that there were some small inconsistencies with earlier X-Men movies.

The ending was a little weak too. Since this was a prequel/origins movie, that ending should have been known in the other X-Men movies.

Still I am a fan and it was worth 7/10.

Italy Trip: Technical Note

Free maps from Open Street Maps in Garmin format as well as points of interest were really useful during our vacation in Italy.

We returned from a fun vacation to Italy a couple of days ago. I’ll have an account of the vacation along with photographs soon but first some technical notes.

I checked air fares on Expedia and Orbitz but in the end booked on the Delta website since they were marginally cheaper. Also I was using frequent flier miles to get one ticket for free. The only way I found to book one award ticket (bought with frequent flier miles) and other regular fares was to first reserve the award ticket (since they are less common), then buy the regular fares on the same flights and finally book the award flight.

For hotels, I checked reviews and prices on Trip Advisor to shortlist a few and then used the hotel websites to make reservations.

For planning all the sightseeing and for making a shortlist of restaurants, I used Fodor’s Italy Gold Guide and Lonely Planet’s Italy Guide.

I took my Garmin 60CSx GPSr with me. I found that Open Street Maps had maps available in Garmin format. The ones I liked the best were OpenMTBMap since they were routable and could route for hiking or mountain biking instead of cars. That was a huge success for us in Italy. We never got lost and we used the maps to go everywhere and find restaurants etc. near our location. It made life much easier and even when we wanted to walk around in the back alleys in Venice we could do so without any fear of really getting lost since whenever we wanted to go back we could use the GPS.

The maps came with lots of POIs(Points of Interest), but I wanted some specific ones too: the hotels we were staying in, train stations for travel between Rome and Venice, restaurants, Cafes and Gelaterias that I wanted to go to specially and some important sightseeing. So I used Google Maps to locate these places and saved them to My Maps there. Google Maps’ My Maps allows you to export the list of placemarks in Google Earth (KML) format. Then I used GPS Visualizer to convert the list to GPX format and used Garmin POI Loader to transfer the locations to my GPSr.

I plan our vacations in detail and these maps and list of locations on the GPS were very useful everyday as we went about sightseeing and enjoying Italian food. In fact, while walking around, I would notice that there’s a nice gelateria nearby and we would go enjoy some gelato.

I read almost three books on the Kindle during the trip, even though I read only on planes and trains. While it was a fun experience, I found one some hitch: Flight attendants want you to turn the Kindle off during takeoff and landing.

UPDATE: One thing I forgot. I tried to reserve train tickets between Rome and Venice on the Italian Rail website but it just kept denying my credit card. Apparently, it’s a common problem for credit cards with non-European addresses. However, I didn’t really need to buy the tickets before going there. There was enough space when I made reservations three days before the train travel at the Rome Termini station.

Pan’s Labyrinth

A great movie in the Spanish language.

El laberinto del fauno or Pan’s Labyrinth is a Spanish movie set in the fascist Spain of 1944.

The movie follows a little girl whose mother marries an army officer. The girl finds escape from the dreary real world in a fantasy world. The fantasy is very well done as it interacts with events in the real world.

It’s an absolutely amazing movie. I loved it and would rate it 9/10.

Reservoir Dogs

This is Quentin Tarantino’s first movie. If you are a Tarantino fan, definitely watch it.

Reservoir Dogs is the first movie directed by Quentin Tarantino. I am a fan of Tarantino and so of course I had to watch it.

As is usual with Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs doesn’t work in a straight timeline, moving back and forth in time. It is about a heist that has gone horribly wrong and most of the movie takes place in a warehouse which the rendezvous point after the robbery.

I believe Amber didn’t like the movie. I have to say this is no Pulp Fiction but it is good and I rate it 8/10.

Kindle

I have finally got a Kindle and I like it despite some shortcomings.

I had been thinking about getting a Kindle for a while. Then one day a package arrived at home somewhat unexpectedly. In it was a Kindle 2.

I have read a few books on my old Treo 650 as well as on the iPhone. So I didn’t mind reading on a screen, though of course the small screen was awkward. I have read a little bit on the Kindle now and mostly like it. I have also bought a couple of Kindle books for my upcoming vacation and might have more to say about using the Kindle after I return.

The Kindle screen is not very bright. It’s quite grey, more like a mass market paperback than a hardcover with more white paper. That also means it’s easy on the eyes (and has long battery life) but doesn’t look as neat as a hardcover edition.

The interface is somewhat intuitive, though we have been spoiled here by the iPhone which my 4 year old has mastered. I don’t particularly like the feel of the keyboard however. I don’t usually buy books or browse the web from the Kindle, so it’s not much of an issue for me.

Kindle 2

One thing I would have liked is some sort of book organization. If it can hold 1,500 books, I should be able to organize them into folders or labels.

I love the fact that there is an iPhone application which syncs with the Kindle and I can read a book on both. However, any non-Amazon books or documents I put on the Kindle are not synced.

Michelle loved the text-to-speech system. She was very happy to listen to stories. Of course, the text-to-speech system is for listening for a short while since its monotone would bore you after a while. It’s not a real substitute for an audiobook and that’s how it’s going to be due to technological limitations.

The Kindle is lighter than a lot of books and I love the fact that I don’t have to expend effort trying to keep the book open with one hand when I am reading in bed. Bookmarks and annotations are important features I really needed as well. I need to look into the annotations feature which I have really used yet.

I bought a leather cover for the Kindle which makes it look like a book.

Kindle 2 with case

In addition to the three books I have bought in Kindle edition, I have also downloaded a number of books from ManyBooks.Net. I have also tried converting a couple of large PDF documents to Kindle format via Amazon’s free conversion service (it’s free only if you want to get it back via email and costs money if you want the book transferred directly to the Kindle) with varying results. In some documents, the formatting got all screwy but in others it stayed okay.

Lest I forget, thank you, Badtamiz.