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
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
On the vaporetto
Cruising the Grand Canal
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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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
Painting on ceiling
A room
In Vatican Museums
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.

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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.