New Orleans

We visited New Orleans for the Christmas holidays. Here are some photos.

Siesta Key and Busch Gardens

It is now our family tradition to head to the beach for Memorial Day long weekend.

Since the closest nice beaches are on the Gulf coast of Florida, we decided to go to Sarasota, FL. There we had a lot of fun at Siesta Key Beach, which had nice white sand.

On our way back, we spent a day at Busch Gardens in Tampa. While Michelle was too young for some of the great rollercoasters, we did enjoy quite a few rides.

And now we are planning another trip to Florida.

Transpack Moving Scam

Last year when we visited Pakistan, we decided we wanted to move our furniture, books and other things that had been at my parents’ for so many years since we have a house now.

My Dad contacted Transpack and they estimated the total volume to be in the range of 5-6 cubic meters and their charges from Islamabad to Atlanta to be $225 per cubic meter.

On packing everything, it turned out to be about 7.2 cubic meters. Their packing was reasonable, though they did pack some heavy books inside the china cabinet which wasn’t a good idea and resulted in one leg of the china cabinet breaking during the move.

Transpack’s Tausif Alvi recommended that it would be expensive for them to ship it to our home and might be better if we arranged the local transport from the warehouse to our home.

Even though Transpack had said that our container would be shipped within a week or so, it took more than 6 weeks for it to reach Karachi and put on a ship. The time from Islamabad to Atlanta was more than 2 months.

Transpack assured us that their invoice covered all the charges and we won’t have to pay anything at the destination except for some minor customs clearance. However, when the container reached the port of New York, I got a bill of $318 covering IT charges, handling, AMS, CDF, port security, and shipping. I contacted Transpack and was told that these charges were my responsibility since these were destination charges. That was not correct since the destination was Atlanta. But Transpack assured us that there won’t be any charges at Atlanta and these were the only charges we would have to pay.

Since our things were now stuck in New York and the argument with Transpack wasn’t going anywhere, I paid the New York charges, even though I had my suspicions about further charges in Atlanta. Of course, in Atlanta, there was more money, $250, to pay to the warehouse.

Since Transpack had promised to pay or reimburse any more charges, we contacted them. They said they would “investigate.” Of course, their investigation showed that the consignee, i.e. me, needed to pay everything and they were not responsible.

In the end, I had to pay 33% more than the original invoice and had to go through a lot of hassle. I don’t know why such moving scams are so common.

Italy Day 7: Venice to Rome

Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our last days in Italy, when we returned from Venice to Rome and then back home.

We woke up early in the morning and, after breakfast, headed to the Santa Lucia train station to go back to Rome.

The Italian train system has some strange seat numbering. When making reservations, I had asked for seats together and the numbers were consecutive. But the seats were not really together. There were four seats, two on each side of the aisle, facing four other seats. Instead of having three seats together on one side of the aisle, however, we had three seats that were diagonal from each other. So two two diagonal seats on one side of the aisle and one seat on the other side. That was odd, but there was a nice South African couple there who were also split on both sides of the aisle and we switched seats.

In about four and a half hours, we were in Rome. We went to Hotel Amalfi and checked in. After lunch, we decided to do some sightseeing. We took the metro to Spagna and walked to Ara Pacis Augustae. The ticketperson there was really surprised that we wanted three audio sets, but Michelle did want her own.

Ara Pacis
Ara Pacis
Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major
 

It was a hot day, the hottest during our trip and Michelle wanted to get into the water fountain just outside Ara Pacis when we went back outside. After she had cooled down in the water, we walked around looking at the Mausoleum of Augustus, which is not open to tourists. We also looked at every church in the neighborhood.

Then we decided to head south. Passing by the Chamber of Deputies and Pantheon, we stopped for some gelato. We wandered around Campo dei Fiori and Piazza Farnese and on Via Giulia.

As we stood in the long line at the popular pizza restaurant, Da Baffetto, we realized a mistake: We were almost out of cash and the restaurant didn’t accept credit cards. Instead of looking for an ATM, we decided to go to Da Sergio instead. Their pasta was good, but the waiter didn’t know any English, so communication was a bit difficult.

The next day, we took the train to the airport. There we realized that our flight was not from Terminal C, the main terminal for international flights, but from Terminal 2, for which we had to take a bus in front of Terminal C as it wasn’t within walking distance. That terminal looked like it was for all US-bound flights. At first, we had to go through security counters and then check in at the airline counters. Finally, after checking in, we realized that our gate at Terminal 2 didn’t have any aircraft. Instead, we got on a bus and went to the plane which was parked next to Terminal C. It was an odd situation and reminded me of Pakistan and other strange places.

Ten hours later, we were back in Atlanta and home.

Michelle has been saying since we returned that she wants to go back to Italy when she’s 10 years old. Sometimes, she even wants to go live in Italy and eat gelato every day.

Photographs from Venice and Rome are below the fold on Google Maps.

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Italy Day 6: Venice

Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our sixth day in Italy which we spent around St Mark’s Square.

Our second full day in Venice we focused on what tourists do immediately on reaching Venice: Piazza San Marco or St Mark’s Square. Part of the square was closed off with chairs in that area due to an event later. There was also some work going on to prevent flooding of Piazza San Marco.

We got in the line for St Mark’s Basilica. It is a great church with mosaics and decorations on the facade. Inside the church is full of mosaics depicting St Mark’s life as well as Virgin Mary and other subjects. Pala d’Oro is dazzling and we liked the Treasury too.

Going upstairs to the Galleria and the Museo di San Marco was of course required for us museum lovers, but it also gives a good view of the church interior and you can go outside for a nice look at the square. The four horses that you see outside on the Basilica in the photograph below are of course replicas and the originals are inside in the museum.

Since we were getting hungry, we decided to have a light lunch at Caffè Quadri.

Piazza San Marco
Horses of St Mark
Piazzetta
Palazzo Ducale
Procuratie Vecchie
 

Doge’s Palace or Palazzo Ducale is where the Venetian rulers lived and of course it’s worth visiting (I could even live there, especially with artwork from such luminaries in every room).

Museo Correr has some Venetian art and history, though its collection isn’t great.

Then it was time to go up to the top of the Campanile. Fortunately an elevator takes you up to where the bells are housed. It provides a good view of Venice, the lagoon and the mainland. You can see the photographs I took from there at the end on the map.

We went for dinner at Osteria al Garanghelo which had decent food and was not expensive.

Lots of photographs on Google Maps follow under the fold below.

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Italy Day 5: Venice

Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our fifth day in Italy which we spent wandering around Venice.

Venice is a strange city. It seemed like a ghost town to me. There were lots and lots of tourists but where were the locals? May be they live away from the center or go away during the tourist season. Also, in Rome, tourists are spread out all over the city at all kinds of sights, but in Venice, it looked like there are only a couple of places a majority of tourists were interested in. There was a large crowd at Rialto bridge and St Mark’s Square was of course packed, but otherwise one could lose oneself in the alleys of Venice without encountering too many people.

Venice is also where I realized how useful bringing my GPSr loaded with maps (covered by a Wired article now. The narrow streets and alleys didn’t seem to have a pattern and there were lots of dead ends and branch canals blocking your way.

We started the day by going to the Rialto bridge. At the market, Michelle bought a face mask which you can see in the photographs below.

After wandering about there for a while, we decided to go for a gondola, a traditional Venetian row boat, ride. Of course, all tourists want a ride and these are expensive costing 100 euros for about 35-40 minutes. The gondolier took us on the Grand Canal and then some side canals, pointing out different landmarks.

Then we wandered about in the San Marco district carefully avoiding Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Sqaure). Since we are museum geeks, we went to Gallerie dell’Accademia which has some really nice Venetian art. Unfortunately they have a “no photography” rule.

Later we walked about looking at different squares and buildings and eating gelato.

To see the Grand Canal we decided to ride the ferry (vaporetto). First we rode it to San Zaccari and then back towards the train station but we got off at Ca’ d’Oro, a Venetian Gothic palace. We took the traghetto, a gandola ferry, across the Grand Canal from Cannaregio district to San Polo and Santa Croce.

We had gelato at Gelateria San Stae and then went to see the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. Around the corner from there was Scuola Grande di San Rocco. There was a very nice chocolate shop there, but unfortunately it was closed on the weekend.

Crossing the bridge into Dorsoduro district, we visited Ca’ Rezzonico, a palace that now houses a museum. I have a couple of photos from their courtyard.

It was time for dinner for us, but Italians eat late. So we wandered aimlessly, enjoying the narrow streets and narrower canals. Finally we got to Vecio Fritolin where we had a nice dinner outside and also a good conversation with a French couple.

Photographs are below (click “Continue Reading” if you are on the main page) on the map.

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Italy Day 4: Rome and Venice

Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our fourth day in Rome when we took a tour bus around the city and our train trip and first night in Venice.

Don’t worry, English readers, just scroll down past the Urdu since it’s a bilingual article.

چوتھے دن صبح اٹھے تو عنبر کا کہنا تھا کہ ایک ٹوئر بس پر روم کا چکر لگاتے ہیں تاکہ مجھے چلنا نہ پڑے اور میرا ٹخنہ کچھ بہتر ہو جائے۔ دوسری وجہ یہ بھی تھی کہ دوپہر کو ہمیں ٹرین پر وینس جانا تھا۔ لہذا ہم نے ہوٹل سے ناشتے کے بعد چیک آوٹ کیا اور اپنا سامان انہی کے پاس چھوڑا۔ پاس ہی چرچ کے ساتھ ٹوئر بسیں آتی تھیں وہاں سے ایک ٹوئر بس کی اوپری بغیر چھت کی منزل پر بیٹھے اور روم کا چکر لگایا۔ ان میں سے بہت سی جگہیں ہم دیکھ چکے تھے مگر بس سے چھت سے منظر کچھ مختلف ہوتا ہے اور کچھ نئے علاقے بھی دیکھنے کو ملے جہاں جانے کا ہمیں وقت نہیں ملا تھا۔

اڑھائ تین گھنٹے کے بعد بس نے ہمیں واپس اتار دیا۔ ہم نے پہلے لنچ کرنا مناسب سمجھا اور پھر ہوٹل سے اپنا سامان لیا۔ سامان کے ساتھ ہم روم کے ٹرمینی سٹیشن پیدل روانہ ہوئے۔ وینس کے لے تیزرفتار ٹرین کے ٹکٹ ہم پہلے ہی خرید چکے تھے۔ اب ٹرین کا انتظار تھا۔ وہ کوئ آدھ گھنٹہ لیٹ تھی۔ لگتا ہے اطالوی ٹرین سسٹم کو واقعی وقت پر کام کرنے کے لئے مسولینی کی ضرورت تھی۔ خیر ٹرین آئ اور ہم اپنی سیٹیں تلاش کر کے اس میں بیٹھ گئے۔ ٹرین روم سے نکلی تو ارد گرد کا خوبصورت منظر، کھیت، پہاڑیاں وغیرہ دیکھ کر دل خوش ہوا اور سوچا کہ اگلی بار روم سے باہر بھی نکلنا ہے۔ کچھ دیر بعد ہم ڈائننگ کار میں گئ جہاں سے میں نے کافی اور میشل نے چاکلیٹ بسکٹ لئے۔

کوئ ساڑھے چار گھنٹے میں ہم وینس پہنچ گئے۔ وہاں ٹرین سٹیشن سے نکلے تو سامنے بڑی نہر تھی۔ ہوٹل پہنچنے کے لئے ہمیں کشتی یعنی فیری میں جانا تھا جسے وہاں ویپوریتو کہتے ہیں۔ فیری لوگوں کو لے کر نہر پر روانہ ہوئ۔ کچھ سٹاپ گزرنے کے بعد مجھے شک ہوا کہ ہمارا سٹاپ کدھر گیا۔ کنڈکٹر سے پوچھا تو معلوم ہوا کہ وہ سٹاپ تو بند ہے اور پیچھے رہ گیا۔ اب ہمیں اگلے سٹاپ پر اتر کر واپس جانا ہو گا اور ایک اور سٹاپ پر اترنا ہو گا۔ یہ خیال رکھنا ضروری ہے کہ ہم نہر کے صحیح طرف اتریں کہ نہر پار کرنے کے لئے ایک دو ہی پل ہیں۔ اس کے علاوہ نہر پار کرنے کے لئے کچھ خاص تراگیٹو سٹاپ پر گنڈولا کشتی بھی استعمال کی جاتی ہے۔

نئے سٹاپ پر اترے تو جی‌پی‌ایس نکالا تاکہ ہوٹل تک پہنچا جا سکے۔ ہوٹل کی گلی کے نزدیک ریستوران کے پاس ایک آدمی ہماری طرف دوڑا آیا۔ معلوم ہوا کہ وہ ہوٹل کا مینجر ہے اور ہماری انتظار میں تھا کہ وہ شام کو ہوٹل بند کر کے گھر چلا جاتا ہے۔ ہوٹل کے شاید 9 کمرے تھے۔ اس نے ہمیں کمرے کی چابی کے ساتھ باہر کی چابی بھی دی کہ گیٹ اکثر رات کو لاک ہوتا ہے۔

ہوٹل کے بالکل قریب ہی ایک ریستوران میں ہم نے کھانا کھایا۔ میں نے پیزا آرڈر کیا جبکہ معلوم نہیں کیوں عنبر کا دل باسمتی چاول اور چکن کڑی پر آ گیا۔

Since my ankle was swollen, Amber suggested that we not walk that day and instead take a tour bus around Rome. Also, we only had half a day in Rome since we were leaving for Venice early afternoon.

We checked out of our hotel after breakfast and asked them to keep our bags while we got on a tour bus near the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. It was a two-story bus with an uncovered upper level, which was great for sightseeing. We had seen a lot of the places the bus took us around but the vantage point of the upper level was good for photography and it did take us to areas we hadn’t found the time to visit. The photographs are at the end of this article on a map.

The tour took almost three hours and then we were back in the neighborhood of our hotel. We decided to have some lunch first and then got our bags from the hotel. It was almost time to walk to the Termini station for the train to Venice. We had already bought the tickets a couple of days ago at Termini after being unsuccessful in buying them online before the trip (The Tren Italia website declined our credit card every time). Our train was about half an hour late. We finally got on and found our seats.

As the train left Rome and passed through the rolling hills of the countryside, we felt we had to visit Italy again and drive in the area.

It took us some four and a half hours to reach Venice. Coming out of the train station, there was the Grand Canal. We then took a vaporetto or waterbus on the Grand Canal to go to our hotel. After a while on the vaporetto, I was confused about why it was taking so long. I asked the conductor about the San Silvestre stop. He told me that San Silvestre was closed for a few days and was behind us now. So we had to get off the vaporetto at the next stop and go back. We got off at the San Toma’ stop since that was on the same side of the Grand Canal and walked to our hotel.

Train for Venice
Venice
On the vaporetto
Cruising the Grand Canal
Building
Around the Grand Canal
 

As we got to Campo San Polo, a man came towards us asking me my name. It turned out he was the hotel manager. He took us to Hotel Acca in a narrow alley. The hotel had 9 rooms. The outside gate and main door were generally locked in the evening, so the manager gave us keys for both.

After checking in and putting our bags in our room, we went for dinner at the restaurant Birraria La Corte which was just outside the hotel alley. It was crowded and it took us a while to get a table. I ordered a pizza while Amber went crazy by eating Basmati rice with chicken curry.

The photos of the Rome bus tour appear below (under the fold) on a map.

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