Rome: Day 3

Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our third day in Rome when we covered the ancient parts of Rome, visiting the Colosseum, Capitoline Hill, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

Our third day in Rome was what we consider to be the best. It focused on Ancient Rome.

We started the day early with a visit to the Colosseum which was good because the Colosseum got really crowded later. It was amazing to imagine the Colosseum in its glory days.

By the time we got done there, Michelle was getting sleepy, so we decided to go to Capitoline Hill. We spent entirely too much time at the Capitoline Museums and had lunch at the Caffe Capitolino.

Romulus and Remus with a wolf
Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
In Capitoline Museum
In Capitoline Museum
In Capitoline Museum
In Capitoline Museum
View of Roman Forum
View of Roman Forum
 

Then we headed to the Roman Forum and wandered about the ruins. From there, we went up the Palatine Hill. This is where I sprained my ankle which I am still nursing. Strangely it didn’t hurt much, but it was quite swollen by night. Of course, I decided against curtailing my walking since that would have taken all the fun out of the vacation.

Back to the Colosseum, we decided to go to dinner at Ai Tre Scalini Restaurant nearby where no one spoke English but the food was good and cheap.

Most of the day’s photographs are on the map below under the fold.

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Rome: Day 2

Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our second day in Rome when we visited the Vatican and wandered about Rome.

On the second day, we got up a little late due to jetlag and lack of sleep on the plane. After breakfast, we took the bus to Vatican City. When we got to Saint Peter’s Square, we saw a really long line get into Saint Peter’s Basilica.

There were a number of tourist guides there and we decided to become part of one group tour of the Vatican. Usually we don’t like being part of a group tour since we like to do things at our own pace. We do often get the audio guides at museums. However, here we saved some time waiting in line. Also, if we had gone to the Vatican Museums by ourselves, we might have spent the whole day in there while the guide spent almost three hours with us in the museums. Did I mention that our tour guide was American?

First, we walked around Vatican City to go to the Vatican museums. At the end of the museum tour, we went into the Sistine Chapel. There, the security people were trying to get the tourists not to take pictures or talk loudly. Also, one had to have shoulders and knees covered. Since photography was not allowed, I did not take any photos of the Sistine Chapel frescoes by Michelangelo. After that, we went into Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Here are some photographs in Vatican City. More photos are on the map in the end.

Water Fountain
At Vatican Museums
Ceiling Vatican Museums
Sculpture
Painting on ceiling
Statue
A room
Statue
Statue
Floor
Ceiling
In Vatican Museums
Painting
Above door
Map room
Ceiling art
Ceiling art
Above door
Map of Venice
More art
Outside Sistine Chapel
In the Vatican
St Peters basilica
St Peters
Statue in St Peters
In St Peters
St Peter's Basilica
 

Then we went back to Rome to see the Pantheon. There was of course some delicious gelato near the Pantheon that we ate.

Our next stop was Piazza Navona, a city square with some beautiful fountains and architecture.

On our way back, Michelle wanted to play with the pigeons around the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. After some running after and watching pigeons, we had dinner at Trattoria Monti which had some great game food for very reasonable prices.

More photographs are on the map below under the fold.

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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”

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.

Bahamas Cruise

We went to the Bahamas on a Disney cruise in late March. It was a lot of fun, especially for the Kid.

In late March, we went on a Disney cruise to the Bahamas.

We drove to Port Canaveral, FL and boarded the ship from there.

Another ship
In the port
Disney Cruise Ship
Bird
 

As soon as we were on the ship, Michelle saw the pools on the top deck. There was one for kids, another for families and one for adults (almost empty). She spent a lot of time in the children and families pools.

In addition to good food and other activities, there was a show every evening. Here are some photographs of the Disney shows.

Disney show 1
Disney show 2
Disney show 3
Snow white, Mickey and Minnie
Toy Story musical
 

The evenings and nights were when the ship was on the move.

ship
sunset
sports on top deck
 

Our second day was spent in Nassau, Bahamas. We walked around a bit and took a van tour of the city.

Ship in Nassau
Gun
Fort Fincastle
View from fort
ship from fort
Shopping at fort
Atlantis resort
Fountain at Atlantis
Paradise Island
Top of Atlantis hotel
Inside Atlantis resort
Backyard of Atlantis resort
Horse carriage
Entrance to Nassau from ship
Paradise Island
Night view
 

The next day we stopped in Castaway Cay, a private Disney island in the Bahamas. It was beautiful. It was a bit windy that day with high waves (though not in the beach area) and so all boat excursions were canceled. But it was still a lot of fun to hang out on the beach and have a barbeque for lunch.

Flying Dutchman 1
Flying Dutchman 2
Walking path
Disney Wonder and Flying Dutchman
Play area on the beach
Flying Dutchman 3
Disney Wonder
View of Castaway Cay
Beach
Lagoon
 

As soon as we were back, Michelle started saying that she wants to go on a cruise again.

Khudkushistan

While late, here’s the account of our trip to Pakistan in October last year.

Khudkushistan, Land of Suicide Bombings, formerly known as Pakistan, Land of the Pure, is where our parents live. Thus we have to visit once in a while despite these statistics from September 2008.

Suicide attacks have killed almost 1,200 Pakistanis since July last year, most of them civilians, according to military statistics released Monday that highlight the ferocity of the militant threat facing the country.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting between Pakistani troops and insurgents on the Afghan border has sent some 20,000 Pakistanis fleeing into Afghanistan, the United Nations reported.

Figures released at a military briefing in Islamabad showed 88 suicide attacks have taken place across Pakistan since the Red Mosque siege, killing 1,188 people.

Of that figure, 847 were civilians, while the rest were troops and police. More than 3,000 were listed as injured.

So we bought tickets in mid-August for a trip in October. A week later, more than 70 people were killed in twin suicide bombings in Wah Cantt, the city where my in-laws live and thus was one of our destinations.

And just two weeks before our visit, there was a suicide bombing in our other destination, Islamabad, when Marriott Hotel was destroyed and more than 40 people killed.

So we were a bit apprehensive about our visit. I mentioned this to a few people who live in Pakistan. They seemed nonchalant and argued that they lived there and the risk was in any case minimal. I agreed that the risk was low but while they lived there, I did not and thus I was worried about visiting a war zone.

On October 3, we flew to Islamabad via Kuwait. At the Atlanta airport, it was difficult to get the ticket agent to understand that Kuwait was a city and a country and was not Iraq. She kept saying Iraq and I got so angry that Amber had to intervene. Our flight was uneventful except that Kuwait Airways food sucked and no one cares about No Smoking signs at Kuwait Airport. Also, Michelle grabbed my usual window seat and had a lot of fun watching the plane take off, fly and land.

When we reached Islamabad, we realized that my bag was lost. So we had to wait until all baggage had arrived at baggage claim and then file a missing baggage complaint. So the first order of business was to buy a toothbrush and some clothes for me. Fortunately, we got the bag the next day.

While we were in Islamabad, there was a suicide bombing at the Islamabad Police HQ, which just goes to show how appropriate the name I have coined, Khudkushistan, is.

There was a lot of road construction going on in Islamabad and Wah area. Some roads have also been widened since the last time we were there. Also, this was the first time I drove on the limited-access toll highway. After I saw the condition of the GT Road, I decided to use the M-1 motorway(Pakistan) to drive between Islamabad and Wah Cantt. Interestingly, most of the vehicles on the motorway drove nowhere near the 120km/hr (75mph) speed limit and I had a lot of fun.

One new thing on the roads of Islamabad and Wah Cantt were the blockades by the police. There are usually two or three fences or other barriers right after each other so that the vehicles have to slow down completely and zig zag through them. Some of these blockades were quite dangerous with sharp metal pointing towards you probably to dissuade anyone from running through the blockade.

We also noticed that signs of any military related buildings that used to there were nowhere to be seen now. For example, the Pakistan Military Academy near Abbottabad has no signs on the main road pointing to its location. Similarly, the Naval Sailing Club at Rawal Lake in Islamabad is difficult to find without any signs.

Unlike our last visit, I didn’t have huge allergy issues and stayed mostly healthy during our trip. Michelle had a lot of fun with her grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins.

Here are some random photographs from our trip.

Ayub Market, Islamabad
Ayub Market, Islamabad
Karachi Company, Islamabad
View of Islamabad
From Pir Sohawa
From Daman e Koh
A mosque
Faisal Mosque
Sunset at Rawal Lake
Gun in Wah Cantt
Weapon worship in Wah Cantt
GT Road, Taxila
Vase shops, Taxila
Intersection closed, Islamabad
 

On our way back, it took me a long time to go through immigration in New York City and we barely made the flight to Atlanta. Thus we waited at baggage claim at the Atlanta airport for a long time without any bags. All our bags were delivered to our home the next day.

Pine Mountain, GA

We went to Pine Mountain, GA for the Independence Day weekend. There are some photos from Callaway Gardens and the Wild Animal Safari there.

For the Fourth of July weekend, we went to Pine Mountain, GA with some friends.

The kids loved the Wild Animal Safari there.

deer
zebras
zebra
deer
cow
camel
buffalo
rhea
zony
rhinoceros
antlers
peacock
 

We wanted to go to Callaway Gardens for the July 4 fireworks, but there was a huge rainstorm. So we visited Callaway Gardens the next day.

butterfly
butterfly
butterfly
butterfly
flower
lake
duck
turtle
flower
leaf
plant
bananas
leaves
colorful plants
colorful leaf