Sunday Sep 23, 2007

Travel Tips to Rome

Arrived Rome 4 days ago and seen a good part of the city so far. Based upon our experience, here are some tips for travel to Rome:

  1. There are no "easily accessible" public bathrooms, even in the tourist spots. However consider eating at a restaurant, not a side-street shop, and there is a higher likelihood of finding a bathroom there.
  2. There are free flowing drinking water fountains through out the city. Some of them gives a feeling that the water may not be for drinking but I was told the water is clean and we survived :)
  3. IMHO the side-street shops sell really authentic food as opposed to big restaurants, and it's really cheap. You can NOT miss eating pizzas (which is sold by the weight as opposed to S, M, L or XL) in this city. And they are just fantastic. A Medium size pizza can range from 6-10 Euros.
  4. The best option to roam around the city is taking a City Tour using the numerous available options. Most of them stop at the main destinations and allow to hop-on and hop-off any where in the route. The following questions will help you decide amongst the available options of buses:
    • How many buses in the fleet ? (Typically 35-45)
    • Frequency of buses - how frequently they come ? (Typically 20 minutes)
    • Does it cover all the major spots or at least the ones you want ? (Most of them do)
    • Do they have English language guide ? (All of them generally have)
    • Do they have alternate routes ? This allows you to visit different parts of the city in the same day.
    • Do they have any 2-day tickets available ? This allows you to cover all the venues at an easy pace.
    • Do NOT purchase the City Tour tickets from the hotel as they are easily available from the different bus stops. Roma Cristiana ORP (we took this one) or Bus #110 are two popular ones and have great coverage of the city.
  5. Here are some good spots in Rome that should not be missed (in no particular order):
    • piazza Navona (1/2 day of fun & shopping)
    • San Pietro in Vaticano (approx 2-4 hrs)
    • Fontana di Trevi (2 hours)
    • Vatican Museum (Timings differ on each day so check the schedule and plan for 1-1.5 hour long wait in the queue and a 4 hour trip in the museum, it's definitely worth it)
    • Colosseo and Roman Forum (1/2 day)
    • Pantheon (2 hours)

    Each of these location is covered by all the City Tour buses.

  6. Do NOT miss the variety of ice creams here, known as Gelato in the local language. And you can mix-and-match different flavors in the same cone and really colorful ones. Just look for Gelateria banner on the shop and that's your destination for gelatos. Of course, you can also find Spagetteria, Birreria, Pizzeria, Cafetteria and Trattoria.
  7. If you buy any memorabilia from the side street shops, make sure to haggle. At certain instances we were able to cut the price down by 50%. This may not be true every time though :)
  8. You see a more authentic part of Rome when traveling through the city streets. The stone streets and houses, accordion play by local artists, water fountains, and many other "Roamy" artifacts. Most of the tourist destinations are approachable through the streets so it's recommended to take a city map from the hotel and walk around.
  9. I already talked about walking in the previous point, but remember it's LOT of walking so make sure to carry a really comfortable shoe.
  10. The price of eating in and taking out is different. If you plan to sit in the restaurant then go sit and somebody will come and serve you. Otherwise in self service mode you are expected to go out of the restaurant. We were actually told at one instance to move out of Gelateria.
  11. Tipping is not expected in the restaurants.
  12. Don't forget to charge your camera batteries and carry an extra memory card, Rome is a beautiful city.
  13. Most of the people wait for the "Walk" symbol to cross a major road. At small streets, with no Walk symbol, just cross the street like that. It's hard the first time but then you get used to it. For me, it felt so much like Delhi so no issues in that ;-)

Here is the travel album so far:

The Sun Tech Days in Rome start later today. Read all about them here.

All my travel tips to Europe are aggregated here.

Technorati: traveltips rome conf suntechdays

Monday Sep 17, 2007

Rails Conf Europe 2007 - Day 1

Arrived in Berlin 2 days ago for Rails Conf Europe. Sun Microsystems is a diamond sponsor and you can meet me at the "Rails powered by jMaki and GlassFish" booth in the Exhibit Hall. You can read about overall Sun's presence here.

I realized in the morning that my Full Conference pass did not account for any of the tutorials. And all of them were completely sold out with approx 750 attendees flooding all the rooms. So there was no chance to even sneak in :( I decided to spend the time taking the city tour and visiting other places. Here are some tips for travelers to Europe (Berlin in particular):

  1. Before you start on the trip, it's a good idea to inform your Credit Card company and ATM provider about your upcoming trip. This will ensure that they do not unnecessarily block your card suspecting a fraudulent usage.
  2. The taxi driver was very excited knowing that we came from California. The reason for his excitement was Arnold Schwarzenegger - that a former European national became "Mr Masculine", then a movie super star and now the Governor of California :) I'll probably carry a cutting of Arnold from a local newspaper in my next visit.
  3. So far in my 2-days experience, European shopkeepers prefer (read "accept only") cash as opposed to the US where credit card is accepted everywhere, even in Kinko's for a one-pager :) So make sure to carry sufficient cash with you. Nobody has agreed to accept the credit card so far (Taxi Driver, City Tour, Grocery and even good restaurants).
  4. Some ATM machines in the US can accommodate a pin number greater than 4 digit numbers. ATM machines in Europe cannot handle that and my banker specifically confirmed that with me. It's recommended to reduce your pin number to 4 digits.
  5. How to convert $$ to Euros ? There are multiple ways but the best bet is to use the ATM machine at the airport. They provide a good conversion rate, most reliable and easily accessible. Check with your ATM card provider if they charge any fees for the international usage. For example, Wells Fargo charges $5 flat fee for international usage of their ATM card. Bank of America is a good alternative as it does not charge any transaction fees if you use any Deutsche Bank machine (which is prevalent) and of course BoA by itself is a much bigger network.
  6. Bathrooms/Restrooms are called as "Water Closet", typically marked with "WC", and that was a new learning for me right at the airport.
  7. The Berlin City runs "Berlin City Tour" hop-on-hop-off buses starting at 10:30am at an interval of 30 minutes and the last leaving at 4pm. In an approx 2 hour tour (without any hop off) they cover 11 touristy spots in the city. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed the ride as the first thing in Berlin. The guide particularly made it interesting by sharing stories around the spots.
  8. The communication with locals is bit of an issue. Most of the people in public dealing can understand English somewhat but the likelihood of asking somebody on the roadside for directions and not able to communicate is very high. Be prepared to ask more than once and it'll work.
  9. Everybody in this city (Berlin) seems to smoke - quite a few actively and rest of them passively. Public smoking is quite prevalent and that was quite a change from back home.
  10. I did not find any water fountains in public places, not even outside the bathrooms. So carry your own water bottle.

And here is Berlin in pictures

Thanks to Joyent for hosting the beer bust. That's all for today! See you tomorrow at the booth :)

All my travel tips to Europe are aggregated here.

Technorati: conf railsconf railsconfeurope glassfish netbeans jmaki traveltips europe


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Arun Gupta is a technology enthusiast, a passionate runner, author, and a community guy who works for Oracle Corp.

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