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
 

Georgia Coast

On memorial day weekend, we drove to the Georgia coast. Brunswick, St Simons Island, and Jekyll Island were fun. Here are some photographs.

Last year on the memorial day weekend, we went to the Golden Isles of Georgia.

It was a good trip except for the fact that Michelle got very sick. Because of that, we had to cancel our plan of spending a day at Cumberland Island. Michelle also didn’t get to enjoy the beach despite her love of the ocean and sand. Plus we had to return a day early.

We spent most of our time wandering around Brunswich, St Simons Island and Jekyll Island. On the last day, we also visited St Marys, where we were supposed to take a ferry to go to Cumberland Island, but didn’t because of Michelle not feeling well.

Unqualified Offerings had sung high praises of Jack’s Famous Wood-Cooked Bar-B-Q in Woodbine, GA. So we drove there for dinner one day. My friends were disappointed to see the shack. Their barbecue was good, but I like Fat matt’s rib shack here in Atlanta better.

Anyway, here are some photographs.

Continue reading “Georgia Coast”

Angry Arab in Pakistan

The Angry Arab visits Pakistan and writes about lizards in his inimitable style. All his posts about Pakistan are worth reading.

The Angry Arab went to Pakistan a couple of months ago as a speaker at the International Islamic University. His blog posts about the visit were amusing and interesting. His experience of running scared from the lizards so common in Pakistan was especially funny.

Here is a list of his posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38.

Here are some of his concluding remarks about Pakistan:

Prior to my departure to Islamabad, my kind host called me from Pakistan and strongly urged me (for my own safety) to refrain from ever using the words “atheist” or “secular” or “communist.” Just to make sure I get the point, he always wrote to me making the same point. The political climate there was more liberalized than I expected: it is not that I met people who were critical of Musharraf. I did not meet any one who was NOT critical of Musharraf. But the liberalized political climate did not extend to the Islam question. I strongly felt that there was excessive obsession with Islam in a country that is overwhelmingly Islamic in religious affiliation. The term of reference was so Islamic in conversations and media that I was ready to embrace the secularism of the Turkish generals. It was always assumed that everybody was Islamic. After one talk, which coincided with the prayer time, my host quickly whisked me away because he did want the audience to notice that I don’t pray. I was quite bothered with the too many headlines and news items in Urdu newspapers about Salman Rushdie. Is this really the urgent matter of the day with the country suffering from extreme poverty and a military government? And in my Arabic talk at the Usul Ad-Din College, I made a side mocking remark against Ayman Adh-Dhawahiri, and I noticed in people’s faces that they were not pleased with that one remark, although they were quite pleased with my talk about the study of Islam. And I once was pissed. I am VERY bothered when somebody—anybody—tries to suggest that Palestine is an Islamic cause or question. One member of the audience in one talk said just that. I had to tell him: Islamic matter? You think that Palestinian Christians care less about Palestine than Palestine Muslims? I had to tell him that I knew Palestinian Christians who gave their lives for Palestine. George Habash cares less about Palestine that Mr. Muhammad Dahlan? That angers me when I hear it. I did not understand why a majority Muslim country can’t relax a bit about the Islam factor.

Mostly on the mark I would say, though of course the Angry Arab did not get to see the Westernized elite much, who are also making inroads into the middle classes.