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Sunday, August 31, 2008

How to install VMWare on Ubuntu 8 -- includes VMWare Console, and Web Console (MUI)

This weekend I decided to dump my 2nd PC's Windows XP operating system in favor of Ubuntu Linux. The goal? To get more flexible use out of that second PC, create an image of the Windows XP OS and then restore it to the VMWare server as a virtual machine. That would enable me to access my old Windows XP, and install other Virtual Machine operating systems I may want instead.

Setting up Ubuntu was super easy. All I had to do was got to the Ubuntu website and download the latest Linux version, 8.0.4. From there, I burnt it to a DVD -- rebooted the Windows XP machine and installed Ubuntu Linux with most of the defaults.

That was the easy part. Installing VMware into Linux however was not so easy. Thanks to searching on about 10 different sites -- I was able to pull off the install. To make it easier for folks installing VMWare on Ubuntu Linux, I wanted to put this quick guide together so all could benefit from my learnings. This may be especially helpful if you are a beginner or novice on Ubuntu Linux -- I have previous experience with AIX and Red Hat Linux.

Before we get started, here are a couple of the assumptions I am making:

1. You just installed the base Ubuntu operating system on you PC with most of the standard options. Mine happened to be the 32-bit version on the Intel x86 architecture.

2. You may or may not have installed a Desktop GUI for UBUNTU -- the preferred is GNOME (which I installed), but KDE and Xfce are other possibilities.

3. You know that we will be using the command "sudo" instead of logging in as root.

So, here we go.

1. First, I downloaded the VMWare Desktop version from the VMWare website, here. I downloaded the most current, 1.0.7 -- although you can install older versions like 1.0.6, 1.0.5, and 1.0.4.

2. Before you get started extracting and installing the VMWare software, you need to add some tools to your base Ubuntu 8.X (8.0.4 in my case). Add these tools by entering:

sudo apt-get install build-essential linux-headers-`uname -r` xinetd


3. One other package needs to be installed in order to allow your VMWare server to be monitored and managed remotely. Go to your terminal / telnet session and type:
sudo apt-get install xinetd
I reloaded the machine after both installations just because I am used to Windows. :-)

3. Next, extract your downloaded file to a directory on your local machine. I extracted to /home/user/vmware/server. Now go to your terminal / telnet session, chdir (change directory) to the server installation folder. Now type:
sudo ./vmware-install.pl
Accept all of the defaults as your run through the installation. You must also have a serial number (even though it is free) from the VMWare site to complete. It will automatically run the config-vmware.pl for you configure your VMWare installation.

4. After the installation and configuration completes, you need to execute two command lines in order for VMWare to run. Otherwise, when you try to start up the VMWare console, it will just bomb out. Here are the two lines:
sudo ln -sf /usr/lib/gcc/i486-linux-gnu/4.2.3/libgcc_s.so /usr/lib/vmware/lib/libgcc_s.so.1/libgcc_s.so.1
sudo ln -sf /usr/lib/libpng12.so.0 /usr/lib/vmware/lib/libpng12.so.0/libpng12.so.0


5. Now you should be able to run and configure Virtual Machines by connecting on the default port of 902.

6. Continuing, you can also install the VMWare Console and Web Management Interface (MUI) by downloading from here:
http://register.vmware.com/content/download-107.html


7. Download, extract, and install the components in a similar fashion of above and accept the default choices (unless you have specific reasons to choose other options).

8. Make sure you execute the following commands / install packages to complete the installation and have a fully functional VMWare Server, VMWare Console, and VMWare Web Console (MUI):
sudo apt-get install xinetd
change directory to /usr/bin
sudo ln -s -f /bin/bash /bin/sh
sudo vmware-config-mui.pl


Congratulations, you should have a fully working VMWare solution. Hopefully this article saves you the couple of hours I spent figuring this out! If these steps helped you install VMWare Server, VMWare Server Console, and VMWare Web Console -- please let me know with a comment below!

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

One Touch Maxtor Manager Software Update

Funny how timing works. Not more than a few hours after I posted my article on Maxtor's crippling of their One Touch4 Maxtor Manager's back up software -- I checked to see if a software update was available.

And guess what? A new version of the software was available. The question was, would the new version -- v4.7.0.7 -- still be crippled after all the complaints?

I proceeded to move ahead with the download to see what Maxtor had in store for their One Touch 4 customers. The installation went ahead smoothly and initially the only difference I noticed was the presence of a new icon color in the taskbar -- blue.

After clicking on the taskbar icon, the Maxtor One Touch software for my 750gb hard drive did not look much different. I figured I should check out the backup options to see if any of the available Windows folders had changed.

Maxtor Manager Software upgrade for the One Touch 4 Hard Drive backup system

As you could see from the image below, I was greeted with a surprise. Miracluously, a new folder selection for backups was there. What was it? The C:\Documents and Settings folder from Windows XP also the C:\Users directory from Vista. I decided to give the backup a try.

Maxtor Mnager for One Touch4 now supports the Documents and Settings folder for Windows XP backups

So, I selected the C:\Documents and Settings folder and let the backup run. After about 10 minutes the backup completed and it was time to check the log. Upon close inspection -- I noticed a number of files were skipped. The message was 'hidden files are not supported' by the software. However, a good number of files from local settings and application data were backed up. A drastic improvement.

It seems that Maxtor has started the process of uncrippling the software that comes with their One Touch4 series of hard drives, even despite insistences on the message boards that this would not changed. This is a move in the right direction, however it is still not far enough. The software still does not allow the backup of a number of folders, most noticeably the Windows directory and there are a number of important hidden files that many users want to backup from their systems.

To Maxtor (owned by Seagate), I congratulate them on some good progress on their One Touch software. Still, the sofware has a long ways to go before I can replace my robocopy scripts and be able to use some fully functioning software. Once they do that, then I can pull the One Touch4's Maxtor Manager Software out of the crippleware category.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Maxtor One Touch Software Intentionally Disabled -- Crippleware

I needed a good external hard drive for backups -- preferably one with decent backup software with it. As I stood in Fry’s Electronics in Oxnard, California evaluating several of the external drive and backup capabilities on display – I noticed the Maxtor One Touch backup system. When compared with the other items on the shelf, it seemed to have similar capabilities, a good price point, and finally an excellent capacity (750GB) for only $129.95.

After picking up a few different boxes and brand – it seemed that Maxtor really offered the best overall value in their package, especially with their One Touch4 software which helps make backups easy. I made the decision and walked out of the store with a new 750GB external drive of which the sole purpose was for it was to constantly backup my laptop.

Excited about the purchase, when I arrived home I ripped open the package and immediately started installing the drive to my computer. It was a fairly simple process, first plug in the power to the drive, second plug in the USB cable, and lastly install the included “premium” Maxtor One Touch software.

Easy enough, right?

The software installed easily enough and I was immediately able to the access the drive both through the Windows Explorer and the Maxtor taskbar icon that had been installed. I fired up the Maxtor Manager software and began to configure my backups.

Maxtor One Touch4 Software does not allow you to back up Documents and Settings

The drive shows up just as I expected and can be accessed by the software. By clicking on the 'Backup' button on the upper bar, on the right -- I could configure the backups for my machine.

Creating a backup on the Maxtor One Touch4 with the Maxtor Manager

Wanting to have a little more control over my backups, I go ahead and select the custom backup option -- since I store my files in differnet locations than the standard Windows XP locations.

Documents and Settings not available in Maxtor Manager for One Touch backups

At first I thought my eyes were going bad on me. But, from the picture above, you can tell it. There is no selection criteria for the default C:\Documents and Settings folder in Windows XP. Then I noticed there were no options from the C:\Windows folder, among a couple of other hidden or default folders.

I wondered what in the world was going on here -- maybe I missed a simple configuration to enable these areas. I did a couple of quick Internet searches and turned up this thread on the Seagate/Maxtor support forums. I spent a couple of minutes digesting the 7 pages of posts and the back and forth with Maxtor support.

Seagate / Maxtor has the One Touch4 Software in the Maxtor Manager programmed to specifically avoid many of the "system" folders. The only problem with that is many programs store valuable information in the C:\Documens and Settings\User\Local Settings and other folders. Say, your Microsoft Outlook Personal Folder Files (PST) or your Internet Explorer bookmarks. With Maxtor's software specifically programmed to block those areas, they are not providing a viable solution.

Even worse, apparently this is a new development with the software and it used to support these folders. A product manager actually made the decision to cripple the backup capabilities of the software. Amazing. I have a great disdain for software companies that purposely cripple software, reducing the functionality to consumers -- for no reason.

Frustrated and tempted to return the device -- I just decided to modify the One Touch4 button and created my own ROBOCOPY script. That worked pretty well and was a workable solution. However, most consumers do not have the technical know how to create this type of backup script -- and are left with a partially working backup program that does not protect their data.

Shame on Seagate / Maxtor.

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Lenovo / Fujitsu Hard Drive Bites the Dust, Again. 2100:HDD0

Argh. Make that twice in the past 8 months that a T61P laid an egg on me and the hard drive crashed. Just a few mornings ago, when I attempted to start my computer in the morning I received the dreaded 2100 HDD0 Initialization error that I received back in December. The exact error: 2100: HDD0 (hard disk drive) initialization error(2)

My heart stopped. I knew this was pretty much fatal. And I potentially had a lot of lost data, again. The only question was how much.

After my last hard drive crash back in December (which could not be recovered), I was diligent in setting up a quality backup job that would back all the important files up to a corporate network. That way, if anything happened – I was in good shape. I took some time over the first couple of days to verify the backups were working.

But, subconsciously I was aware of a small flaw in the design right after this error occurred. The scheduled backup job was tied to my Windows ID or login. Given the prevalence of password requirements and expirations, my password had been changed several times since I initiated the backup job.

What does that mean? In a word – failure. As in the backup job had not been running since my last password change on May 31st. While I had been intentional in setting up a great backup policy, it was more difficult to remember to change the password on the scheduled tasks at the same time. Basically the job kept running, but because the Windows account that the job was running under was not authorized to access the network (bad password) the job failed.

The impact? Two months of lost data. Not catastrophic, but a huge pain in the rear – and some serious work to make up.

Of course, I tried everything I could to recover the Fujitsu drive in my T61P. The freezer trick, mounting it to a different computer, anything. All were failures, but I would suggest that the freezer almost worked – after freezing the drive for two days I tried to boot it up. Rather than the loud “click, click, click” sound I had been hearing, it was much, much quieter – perhaps close to spinning up? I also tried the “bios” update program that is out there for the Lenovo serious storage devices – no dice there either.

Drive was dead, time to move on.

I have to admit that I have completely had it with the reliability of the Lenovo Thinkpad T61P. In this day and age, to lose two hard drives in 8 months is absolutely spectacular and a poster child for poor quality. In fact, based on my previous learning – I completely babied this computer and drive.

Still, it disappointed me and left me stranded and having to make up work. Awful.

I received my “replacement” T61 and started to rebuild what I once had. The only good news on this front is that the updated T61P has a different brand of hard drive, a Western Digital.

Let’s hope this drive is more reliable than either of the last two. In addition, I am implementing a triple backup protection and picking up an external hard drive.

Enough is enough.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lost & Found – The SD800 IS’s Imminent Return.

Amazingly, we will be receiving our previously stolen Canon PowerShot SD800 IS back in the next couple of weeks – if all goes well.

When I last updated my post, we learned that there was an outside chance that our camera may have actually been recovered when a quartet of criminals (article here) were caught breaking into cars in our neighborhood.

But, before we left for Italy, we were not able to connect with the detectives investigating the crime that took place in our neighborhoods and ended up with our handy-dandy Canon Powershot SD800 IS being stolen from Ashley’s car.

Having returned from an awesome vacation, it was time to find out if indeed our lost digital camera was in fact, now found. So, with hope – I placed a call to the Ventura County Sheriff’s department and got connected with the detectives.

The conversation initially was a little amusing – first the detective asked what type of photos were on the camera, for identification purposes. I fumbled through the possibilities of there being some 4th of July photos or birthday party photos. I started to describe the camera itself having a small scratch on the case and then mentioned – I did provide the serial number.

The detective laughed and said – wow, that is unusual. From his experience, people usually throw the boxes and serial information away. In this case it would make it easy. He told me he would run to the lockup, verify and then give me a call back.

Five minutes later, my cell phone rang. The detective said – great news, it’s your camera.

That is great I thought, now all I have to do is drive down and pick it up.

Wait, not so fast. After a couple of seconds the detective mentioned that given the camera is evidence in the case, we would need to wait at least until after September 4th to pick up “evidence”.

I pressed for a little information – if the case did not complete before September 4th, what would happen then? How long would I have to wait to get my SD800 IS digital camera back?

After a little discussion, the conclusion is this – as long as the camera is needed for the case, it will remain in the possession of the Ventura County Sheriff’s department. The only way that it might be possible to get it back was if it was actually causing a financial hardship for me. This clearly does not apply for me.

So the good news is that my lost Canon Powershot Digital Camera is now found – but, the question remains when will I get it back? Hopefully sometime next week!

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Rome - What I Learned On The Way Home

Yesterday, we returned from our vacation to Italy which included stops in Florence, Poveromo, Venice, and Rome. Due to a very high rate of Internet access at the Cavalieri Rome Hilton -- try 27 euros or $40 a day -- I still have a couple of days worth of Rome picture to post.

However, while I work on that I wanted to share a couple of things that I learned on the trip home. Hopefully these will help you if you are traveling to Rome, Italy, or even Internationally. These were three valuable lessons for me.

Lesson 1: Watch the Taxi drivers. We took a Taxi to the airport from our hotel (55 euro) since it was just about the same price as taking a Taxi to Roma Termini (26 euro) plus the Leonardo Express (11 euro per person for 22 euros) not to mention not having to haul our three suitcases and three backpacks through the station, onto the train and into the check-in.

But, that is not the real story. We jumped in our taxi at 7:30am -- I immediately looked up and saw the meter started at euro 5.80 for the night rate rather than the normal euro 2.80 rate. Then as we started the 22km drive to the Leonardo Da Vinci / Fiumicino airport, the meter started going up really quick -- it was at 10 euros in almost no time. I look quickly at the tariff rates and noticed we were in "Tariff 2" which was still the night / out of town rate even though it ended at 7am.

With my Spanish based Italian attempt (I can speak Spanish -- but not really Italian -- so when I try it comes out as Spanish) -- asking why the Tariff was set to 2 instead of 1. Actually understanding the driver, he looked at his watch, changed the Tariff 2 back to Tariff 1 and muttered it should be at one (basically half the price per km) since it was past 7:30. Knowing I just gave up about 5 euros, but not having the vocabulary to state it -- I just decided to take it out of the taxi driver's tip. With only 80 euros left in my pocket, I no longer had to stress about running out on the way to the airport. Whew.

The taxi driver then appropriately changed the fare to Tariff 2 once we got out of the city about 5km from the airport. He acted annoyed that I only left him with a 4 euro tip -- however, I felt it was more than fair.

So, lesson #1 is to always check the tariff setting when you get into the taxi cab.

Lesson #2: The international terminal at Leonardo Da Vinci / Fiumicino (ROM) is NOT the international terminal for flights going to the US or Israel.

So, you cabbie or choice of transportation drops you off at the International Terminal in Rome. That's nice. You walk into the lobby only to see that your check in desk is in the 500's. Hmmm, that's not in this terminal. Rather, you need to hop to Terminal "T5" and now you need to find the bus stop.

Once you jump on that bus, you sit in crowded -- yet now space specifically for luggage -- terminal bus to take you 5 minutes to the other terminal. Here you will spend 40-50 minutes getting through the "special" security measures for those flights destined to the United States or Israel. Once you finish those, you jump on a bus to be taken back to the main International Terminal where you can then walk to you gates.

The advice -- first, make sure you tell your taxi you need to go to terminal T5, not just the International Terminal. Secondly, give yourself an extra hour (for a total of 3 hours) to check in and get through security in Rome. Especially if you want to do any duty free shopping.

Lesson #3: Re-tag your bags before you go through customs if you are standby on an earlier flight.

Our original flight from Washington, DC (IAD) to Los Angeles (LAX) after our flight from Rome, Italy (ROM) had a 4 hour layover. However, we were waitlisted for a flight that left a couple of hours earlier. We asked about being confirmed on that flight during check-in at Rome and were told to check back in Washington.

Once we arrived in Washington, DC we immediately cleared customs, headed to the Red Carpet Club and tried to confirm our new flight on United Airline. The only problem? Our bags were still in the system under our original flights and could only be re-tagged before we went through customers.

The lesson? If you have an opportunity for an earlier flight and have to clear customs, you should have your bags re-tagged for that earlier flight BEFORE you go through customs. Once you go through customs, the bags are in the system and need a couple of hours to be redirected. No standbys for that!

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bank of America ATMs in Italy – Partnerships Do Not Apply

A large worry of many international travelers, including myself concerns the ability to get the foreign currency you need – when you need it. Should you bring cash in American Dollars to convert? Should you buy the foreign notes before you leave the United States? Should you go with the American Express Traveler Checks? Should you rely on your ATM/debit card or your credit card? Of course, each option carries its own set of benefits and drawbacks.

When I traveled to Europe in the 1990’s one of the more common ways to make sure you could have money available was to use those American Express Travelers Checks. The benefit was that you knew that many places took them and if they were lost or stolen, you could get your money back without taking a loss. However, while American Express has offices in most European cities, you had to comply with their business hours – and if your train was late – you could be stuck without money. And of course, American Express had their own exchange rate – which in addition to the initial fees you paid – could push the cost of the foreign exchange to 3-5%.

At the time it was one of the best options against trying to either plan you currency needs exactly or some of the heavy fees that could be levied against you for the use of ATM / cash machines that were not in the network of your bank.

More recently multi-national alliances and partnerships have started to ease the pain of accessing your own money when you are traveling internationally – especially in Europe. Bank of America, who I have banked with for some years – has been a leader in this forefront.

BNP ATM in Rome, Italy part of the Bank of America Partnership?

Some of the partnerships they have made for Worldwide fee free ATM cash access include:

Barclays (United Kingdom / England)
Deutsche Bank (Germany)
PNB (France)

In fact, on recent trips to Germany, England, and France we had been able to find and use these international ATMs to withdrawal the Euro currency. This enabled us to enjoying up-to-the-minute exchange rates – along with no fees to our account – the best possible scenario for the traveler in Europe. That means worry and fee free access to your money in European countries, all you needed to do was locate one of the many ATM outlets to obtain the foreign currency.

And now, with our current trip here in Italy, we did a little planning beforehand to locate banks of multi-nationals. We focused Deustche Bank so we could obtain the necessary Euros for spending.—based on a tip received from the Trip Advisor site (link here). In order to do this, we printed off ATM locations in Florence (Firenze), Venice (Venezia), and Rome (Roma) so we could locate them quickly if necessary.

When in Venice, Italy we needed to refresh our supply of Euros and ended up walking an extra half mile or so to find the Deutsch Bank ATM machine. We walked up to the familiar Deutsche Bank ATM machine and withdrew the necessary 250 euros. Happy first that we indeed found the ATM and second that we avoided feeds we walked away and continued on our way.


Deutsche Bank ATM in Italy, part of the Bank of America partnership?

A couple of days later, a surprise hit. I logged into my Bank of America account and saw two fees associated with the ATM withdrawal that was clearly marked in the description as “Deutsche Bank ATM Withdrawal” in the transaction log. First there was a $5.00 flat ATM access fee, followed by what appeared to be a 1% currency conversion fee for a total of almost $9.

Confused, I went ahead and submitted a customer service request to Bank of America asking about the fee and requesting that Bank of America reverse the two fees they charged for the Deutsche Bank fees. Within their 12 hour commitment to respond, I received a message response denying my request for reversal of fees. Rather, they reinforced that they only current partnerships they offer are with the following and that the countries denote not where the banks are based – but where you can withdrawal money fee free.

- Barclays - United Kingdom
- Deutsche Bank - Germany
- Scotiabank - Canada
- BNP Paribas - France
- Westpac - Australia and New Zealand
- Santander Serfin - Mexico
- China Construction Bank - China

Again – despite what anyone tells you, even if you find one of the banks mentioned above in Italy, you will be charged a fee – no matter what any other travel sites or message boards try to tell you. This is a complete misfire that Bank of America provides absolutely no solutions for their customers traveling in Italy to withdrawal their money fee free. If anyone can explain to me why it costs Bank of America anything additional (1%) to convert Euros from a Deutsche Bank withdrawal in Rome instead of Munich, I am all ears.

Since then, we have noticed a plethora of banks (Barclays, Deutsche Bank, and PNL – the Italian arm of PNB) under the partnership umbrella of Bank of America. However, be forewarned that any withdrawal that you make from these partnership banks while in Italy will be assessed at least two fees by Bank of America. First, the $5.00 flat rate International Access fee will hit your account. Then, a 1% currency rate conversion from dollars to euros will hit your account. For a 250 euro transaction (or about $390 in US Dollars at the time of this post), it will cost you roughly $9 – or about 2.3% to pull out that money.

In fact, there is absolutely no benefit to using a Bank of America partner (except maybe helping their profits) – I also withdrew euros from a non-Bank of America partner and had the identical fees.

Lesson learned: When in Italy, if you are going to withdrawal euros from an ATM machine there is no need to look for a Bank of America partner. Just withdraw from the closest source.

At least those traveling in China for the 2008 Olympics have an option free access to their money through ATMs in Europe.

Update:Deutsche Bank ATMs work in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain without ATM and higher currency exchange fees. Read more about it here: http://www.somelifeblog.com/2009/08/bank-of-america-and-foreign-atms-spain.html

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Photo Blog: Vatican City (Rome Day 2)

Today it was off to the Vatican after a nice breakfast in the Executive Lounge at the hotel. We are taking a guided tour of the Vatican Museums today – something I did not visit on my last trip. We decided on the guided tour for two reasons: 1) We do not have a great guidebook for the museums, so it would be good to have someone who is more familiar with them guide us through and 2) Time – the line for Vatican Museums is usually several hours – a guided tour bypasses the line, saving valuable vacation time for as little as 10 euros a person depending on the tour that you get. That is money well spent.

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon swim and a nap to avoid the heat – before heading out for the evening.

Here are the photos from the day:

At 9:00am the line at the Vatican Museums already stretches around the corner.  Wow, right now we are really glad that we do not have to wait in that line.At 9:00am the line at the Vatican Museums already stretches around the corner. Wow, right now we are really glad that we do not have to wait in that line.


In the lobby after the first admission – it’s crowded here – our group also grew in size just before we came inside to about 50.In the lobby after the first admission – it’s crowded here – our group also grew in size just before we came inside to about 50.


Our guide moves us quickly through the initial courtyards and initial sculpture rooms.  While we would have liked to spend a little more time in them, he let us know up front he would do so in order to enable us to spend more time in the Sistine Chapel as well as Saint Peter’s Basilica. Here we pause in front of an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo.  Our guide, and older gentleman is also witty – and lets us know his first motto on hot days like today – walk fast in the sun, walk slow in the shade.  That resonates with me!Our guide moves us quickly through the initial courtyards and initial sculpture rooms. While we would have liked to spend a little more time in them, he let us know up front he would do so in order to enable us to spend more time in the Sistine Chapel as well as Saint Peter’s Basilica. Here we pause in front of an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo. Our guide, and older gentleman is also witty – and lets us know his first motto on hot days like today – walk fast in the sun, walk slow in the shade. That resonates with me!


We enter the famous ‘Air Conditioning’ museum as our guide jokingly calls it since it is air conditioned.  It’s really the Tapestry museum – an equally creative name.We enter the famous ‘Air Conditioning’ museum as our guide jokingly calls it since it is air conditioned. It’s really the Tapestry museum – an equally creative name.


The last hallway that leads to the Sistine Chapel – where it is not permissible to take pictures after the cleaning that completed just a few years ago.  Many people mistake this hallway initially for the Sistine.  Oops.The last hallway that leads to the Sistine Chapel – where it is not permissible to take pictures after the cleaning that completed just a few years ago. Many people mistake this hallway initially for the Sistine. Oops.


Now we have made it into Saint Peter’s Basilica.  Reflecting on the Sistine Chapel real quickly – ‘Wow’ is the right word to describe it after the cleaning.  All the colors and images are much brighter and more detailed than I remember.  After that, we walked through the catacombs underneath Saint Peter’s which included a brief stop by the late Pope John Paul’s tomb. Now we have made it into Saint Peter’s Basilica. Reflecting on the Sistine Chapel real quickly – ‘Wow’ is the right word to describe it after the cleaning. All the colors and images are much brighter and more detailed than I remember. After that, we walked through the catacombs underneath Saint Peter’s which included a brief stop by the late Pope John Paul’s tomb.


Ashley with her shoulders covered, long skirt and the great ear piece and radio for the tour.  The dress code is much more lax than it used to be.  I could have worn shorts (instead of jeans) and Ashley could have worn pants.Ashley with her shoulders covered, long skirt and the great ear piece and radio for the tour. The dress code is much more lax than it used to be. I could have worn shorts (instead of jeans) and Ashley could have worn pants.


In front of the Vatican we pose for a quick picture.In front of the Vatican we pose for a quick picture.


Recovered from a relaxing afternoon and a nap, we approach Piazza Venezia as dusk approaches.  Europe continues to be under construction with a date of 2009 for this restoration work to complete.Recovered from a relaxing afternoon and a nap, we approach Piazza Venezia as dusk approaches. Europe continues to be under construction with a date of 2009 for this restoration work to complete.


The ancient Roman ruins as we walk towards the Coliseum.   These are not being restored...yet.The ancient Roman ruins as we walk towards the Coliseum. These are not being restored...yet.


We pose for a quick photo in front of the Coliseum as sunset approaches.  The Coliseum is worth seeing as the sun sets and it lights up.We pose for a quick photo in front of the Coliseum as sunset approaches. The Coliseum is worth seeing as the sun sets and it lights up.


We eat at our first recommended restaurant – Tres Scalini in Piazza Navona – recommended by our Frommers travel guide.  It was a great meal that we will not soon forget.  My favorite dish of the night was the Tortellini in a truffle and cream sauce and Ashley loved here pasta with pesto sauce before we have our main courses.  The fried artichokes were also a unique dish that we had to try.We eat at our first “recommended” restaurant – Tres Scalini in Piazza Navona – recommended by our Frommers travel guide. It was a great meal that we will not soon forget. My favorite dish of the night was the Tortellini in a truffle and cream sauce and Ashley loved here pasta with pesto sauce before we have our main courses. The fried artichokes were also a unique dish that we had to try.



Mariotti’s gelato is mentioned in several travel guides and books – and it should be.  It ended up being our favorite site for Gelato – getting our evening dessert there on 3 of 4 nights.  They were so good that they did not give me a hard time on the last night when I broke a 50 euro bill for 5 euros in ice cream.  That’s a first!Mariotti’s gelato is mentioned in several travel guides and books – and it should be. It ended up being our favorite site for Gelato – getting our evening dessert there on 3 of 4 nights. They were so good that they did not give me a hard time on the last night when I broke a 50 euro bill for 5 euros in ice cream. That’s a first!

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Photo Blog: How big is Rome? (Rome Day 1)

We left Florence today and it was really tough to say goodbye to Luigi at the train station – not to mention the twins (our cousins), Flippo, and Stefani back at the house just an hour ago. However, our time in wonderful Florence has passed and now we are off to Rome for 4 days before heading back to the good old United States.

Right after saying goodbye to Luigi in the train station – we run into Vincent from the party the other night. Talk about coincidence – of the 5 people we know in the city of Florence – Vincent happens to be one of them (even if he is a Boston Celtics fan). He’s catching a train to Venice for a couple of days. We hang out with Vincent for 15 minutes before heading to our train.

We ended up in train car #1 (note: if you cannot get an Amica rate for second class fare on an Italian rail, you might as well check to see if First Class is available. If the Amica fare is available for First Class, you should get it is as it is just a couple more euros than a standard second class rate). The only thing is that the first car is not laid out like the other cars. Luckily Ashley has a forward facing seat and we have to stow our luggage in the second car.

Once we make it to Roma Termini, the main train station in Rome – we hop a taxi to the Cavalieri Hilton. The cost is about 25 euros for the amount of luggage we have. I had the opportunity to stay in the Cavalieri Hilton back in 1996 as a student, when we crammed 8 of us into a room – thanks to the a 40% Hilton Eurorail discount. Sitting on the hill, a catch a glimpse of the hotel and memories come back to me.

However, when I walk in – the hotel is much nicer than I even remember. Considered a 5-star, we’re whisked to a separate check in for Executive Floor guests. We’re informed that in addition to the great view room that we have, that this hotel will be joining the Waldorf-Astoria collection in September. Without gushing about the hotel too much in this post, it deserves it – in fact, the Cavalieri Hilton hotel may be the finest Hilton Hotel I have stayed in. Yes, much better than the famed Waldorff-Astoria hotel in New York City. More on that in a future post.

Once we settle into our room with an awesome view of Rome, we catch the free Hilton shuttle to Piazza Barberini to start our wanderings for a fun afternoon and evening. We did a ton of walking and almost covered all the major sites (briefly) san the Vatican City and the Coliseum.

Here are a few pictures from the day….

Arrival at Rome's main train station, Roma Termini.  The train station has become much more modernized than I remember full of shopping and restaurants.Arrival at Rome's main train station, Roma Termini. The train station has become much more modernized than I remember full of shopping and restaurants.


Arrival on the hill at the Cavalieri Rome Hilton or just Cavalieri as the taxi drivers know it.Arrival on the hill at the Cavalieri Rome Hilton or just Cavalieri as the taxi drivers know it.


The initial look out from our room – pretty nice!The initial look out from our room – pretty nice!


The panoramic view from the Executive Lounge just a few doors down -- Piazza Venezia, Spanish Steps, Coliseum, Saint Peters -- it's all there.  Where you can get breakfast, light lunch, snacks, light dinner, and light desserts.  All free.  You actually never have to leave the Cavalieri, but of course you must – you are in Rome!The panoramic view from the Executive Lounge just a few doors down -- Piazza Venezia, Spanish Steps, Coliseum, Saint Peters -- it's all there. Where you can get breakfast, light lunch, snacks, light dinner, and light desserts. All free. You actually never have to leave the Cavalieri, but of course you must – you are in Rome!


Ashley looks back from the top of the Spanish Steps here in Rome.Ashley looks back from the top of the Spanish Steps here in Rome.


This crazy guy just walked up to the officers slammed down his mobile phone and cigarettes in front of a couple of police officers and shouted something.  Then he proceeded to climb on the Trinity Fountain and dived off of the ledge into the middle before climbing out and picking them up.  Notice everyone in the background staring at him – we were all so surprised (I thought he was just going to pose on it for a picture) that this was the earliest I pulled out my camera with the gelato in my hand.  He yelled a couple of things at the officers and then walked off with an arrest of citing.This crazy guy is now soaking wet, after he just walked up to the officers slammed down his mobile phone and cigarettes in front of a couple of police officers and shouted something. Then he proceeded to climb on the Trinity Fountain and dived off of the ledge into the middle before climbing out and picking them up. Notice everyone in the background staring at him – we were all so surprised (I thought he was just going to pose on it for a picture) that this was the earliest I pulled out my camera with the gelato in my hand. He yelled a couple of things at the officers and then walked off without an arrest of citing.


A look at the Trinity Fountain where the guy just jumped off of, returned to its peaceful state.A look at the Trinity Fountain where the guy just jumped off of, returned to its peaceful state.


Tossing a coin (penny) into the famed fountain means a return to the fountain and Rome.  I toss mine in.Tossing a coin (penny) into the famed fountain means a return to the fountain and Rome. I toss mine in.


Ashley tosses hers in, much more gracefully.Ashley tosses hers in, much more gracefully.


The Pantheon.  I somehow missed this historic site on my last trip.  Now that I am here and seeing how well positioned it is in the middle of the city.  I have no idea.  An impressive building and tomb to Rafael, the doors way 22-tons each – and they close each evening.The Pantheon. I somehow missed this historic site on my last trip. Now that I am here and seeing how well positioned it is in the middle of the city. I have no idea. An impressive building and tomb to Rafael, the doors weigh 22-tons each – and they close each evening.


A self portrait in which may be my favorite church here in Rome, the Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle.A self portrait in which may be my favorite church here in Rome, the Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle.


The Argentina ancient Roman temple ruins which are named for being founded here in the Argentine area of Rome.  The speculation is that this site is the most likely one where Caesar was stabbed.  Wow.  Now, it is home to over 100 cats.  They were just laying out on the stones and fallen columns – sunning themselves.The Argentina ancient Roman temple ruins which are named for being founded here in the Argentine area of Rome. The speculation is that this site is the most likely one where Caesar was stabbed. Wow. Now, it is home to over 100 cats. They were just laying out on the stones and fallen columns – sunning themselves.


The Tevere or river section right next to the Travestere area.  Lots of bars, pubs, small eateries, and street vendors.  The weather was a little cooler here, but the area was pretty much dead.  Instead we headed through the Travestere area for dinner – which was more populated on this evening.The Tevere or river section right next to the Travestere area. Lots of bars, pubs, small eateries, and street vendors. The weather was a little cooler here, but the area was pretty much dead. Instead we headed through the Travestere area for dinner – which was more populated on this evening.


You can always find vendors selling roses walking the squares of Rome after dark.  One found us, took a couple of pictures of us in front of the Trinity Fountain – I handed him a couple of Euros – worth it for capturing the last moment of our evening before taking a cab back to the hotel.You can always find vendors selling roses walking the squares of Rome after dark. One found us, took a couple of pictures of us in front of the Trinity Fountain – I handed him a couple of Euros – worth it for capturing the last moment of our evening before taking a cab back to the hotel.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Photo Blog: Second Day on Tuscan Coast in Poveromo

Today was our second day here in Poveromo -- down the way from Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi on the coast of Tuscany. We spent a good portion of the day in the sun and water hanging out at the Bagno Sovenir beach club.

Here are a few photos from the day:
The big yacht (some speculate it is one of Roman Abramovich's 4 super yachts) hanging out right off the coast. It is storing no less than 5 boats (sailboat, powerboat, and several smaller boats) and a helicopter.


The waves are out today so I can take some time to play in the Mediterranean Sea.


Catching a quick wave while body surfing.


Ashley is gettting good at taking photos with my camera.


Ashley takes some time to play in the sea.


Matteo hanging out on the beach at Bagno Souvenir.


Giulio relaxing and listening to tunes on a beach lounge.


The waves were just big enough for some surfers to come out. The surfboards here are generally very short, with few reaching 6 feet in length.


Saying goodbye to the beach house here in Poveromo.


The car is packed and ready to go. Giulio, Ashley, and Matteo in the back seat.


Giulio, Ashley, and Matteo catch some sleep on the ride home.


A fitting end to our stay here in Tuscany as the sun sets beautifully in Florence.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Photo Blog: Welcome to Poveromo on the Mediterranean

We made it to the Tuscan Coast. And while the waves here do not compete with the waves in Hawaii on or on the Californian Coast – the atmosphere is much the same – relaxing. After our quick one hour drive last night, we took a quick swim and then hung out at the beach house here in Poveromo, Italy – just a little ways up from Viareggio and Monte a Marte.

The beach clubs line the coast here. Every 200 feet or so there is a club by a different name, all filled with beach chairs, umbrellas and tourists from Italy, Germany, France, and England. Not at all like Venutra / Los Angeles where we go to the beach where we want to – public beaches are a rarity – with the average beach club costing between 2,000-7,000 euros for the three month summer season. Beach life is a little different here.

Still, we continue to have a great time with family. Here are some pictures from the day:

Ashley and I pose for a quick photo by Luigi at the Beach house for a nice breakfast of pastries that cousin Clemente picked up from a local bakery.Ashley and I pose for a quick photo by Luigi at the Beach house for a nice breakfast of pastries that cousin Clemente picked up from a local bakery.


Bagno Sovenir, or the beach club that the family belongs to.  It’s nice to hang out here for a couple of days!Bagno Sovenir, or the beach club that the family belongs to. It’s nice to hang out here for a couple of days!


The crew at the beach – with a nice spot right close to the water and the ankle biter waves we’re seeing today.  From left to right, Kenny (in the shade of course!) Matteo, Ashley, and Giulio.The crew at the beach – with a nice spot right close to the water and the ankle biter waves we’re seeing today. From left to right, Kenny (in the shade of course!) Matteo, Ashley, and Giulio.


A nice shot down the beach that shows a good number of people for today, a Monday – and the many other beach clubs that line Poveromo and the surrounding Tuscan coast cities.A nice shot down the beach that shows a good number of people for today, a Monday – and the many other beach clubs that line Poveromo and the surrounding Tuscan coast cities.


One of the coolest things here are the presence of several Italian Alps mountains just behind the are of Poveromo.  While a little odd, the presence of these large mountains just behind the sea is quite a different sight from what we see in Southern California.  For sure.One of the coolest things here are the presence of several Italian Alps mountains just behind the are of Poveromo. While a little odd, the presence of these large mountains just behind the sea is quite a different sight from what we see in Southern California. For sure.


One thing that is different here in the Mediterranean is the size of the yachts.  These two huge (300+ feet) yachts are hanging out just outside the port.  Potentially too large to fit in the Viaveggio port these yachts are comparable sizes although one clearly wins the toy war with a helicopter, 25’ sailboat, powerboat among 5 other boats.  Crazy.One thing that is different here in the Mediterranean is the size of the yachts. These two huge (300+ feet) yachts are hanging out just outside the port. Potentially too large to fit in the Viaveggio port these yachts are comparable sizes although one clearly wins the toy war with a helicopter, 25’ sailboat, powerboat among 5 other boats. Crazy.


Back at the beach house, we enjoyed a great dinner.  Here Giulio cleans the dishes afterwards since the dishwasher is broken.Back at the beach house, we enjoyed a great dinner. Here Giulio cleans the dishes afterwards since the dishwasher is broken.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Photo Blog: A Party and A Break

After four busy days in a row, today we took a break and hung out around the house. Ashley took some time to read a book and I spent time playing some games, walking around the house and taking a few photos. Then in the evening, we had a small party with some family that lives in the city of Florence, as well as some international guests that were staying with Geraldina -- Vincent from the US, Sandra from Spain, and Anastasia from Russia -- all of which are studying Italian here over the summer.

Tomorrow we will head to the sea where there may not be Internet connectivity -- therefore I may not update this site until Tuesday. Here are some pictures from our relaxing day and the party:

The hills of San Martino and the Chianti winery on the hill with the vineyards below.The hills of San Martino and the Chianti winery on the hill with the vineyards below.


As dusk approaches, a golden tone sets in over the hills here outside of Florence.As dusk approaches, a golden tone sets in over the hills here outside of Florence.


Ashley hanging out by the house just before the party.Ashley hanging out by the house just before the party.


The sun sets over the hills of Florence.The sun sets over the hills of Florence.


Filippo chats with Anastasia & Sandra on the patio.Filippo chats with Anastasia & Sandra on the patio.


Ashley poses with her cousins Giulio & Matteo.


A photo of Geraldina who prepared much of the wonderful feast.


Ashley, Kenny, Giulio & Matteo.


Armando who sang for us with Matteo & Jane.


Luigi and Armando cut the the watermelon.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Photo Blog: Florence, Ponte Vecchio, Pizzale Michelangelo, Basilica Santa Croce

We headed back into the city of Florence today on our good friend, bus #26. Our journey today will take us mainly around out from the area of Il Duomo to Ponte Vecchia, Pizzale Michelangelo, and Basilica of Santa Croce -- which means a lot of walking for us, which will be nice. The weather has calmed a little bit, changing from a hot & humid situation with last night's rain to a much drier heat. While it was 6-8 degrees warmer today, it felt much cooler.

Here are the pictures from today:

We started from the Firenze Santa Novella train station, walked towards Il Duomo and then headed through the Piazza Della Signoria on our way to Ponte Vecchia.  There are many sculptures and sculpture replicas in the square where Michelangelo's David stood many years ago.We started from the Firenze Santa Novella train station, walked towards Il Duomo and then headed through the Piazza Della Signoria on our way to Ponte Vecchia. There are many sculptures and sculpture replicas in the square where Michelangelo's David stood many years ago.


A view of Ponte Vecchio as just before we walked through the stores filled with souvenirs and trinkets.A view of Ponte Vecchio as just before we walked through the stores filled with souvenirs and trinkets.


I took a quick picture of Ashley right before we head up a couple hundred stairs to Pizzale Michelangelo here in Piazza Giuseppe Poggi.I took a quick picture of Ashley right before we head up a couple hundred stairs to Pizzale Michelangelo here in Piazza Giuseppe Poggi.


The view from the top of Pizzale Michelangelo of the city of Florence is quite a panoramic beauty.  Luckily, thanks to my camera and a little help from PhotoStich, I am able to capture it.The view from the top of Pizzale Michelangelo of the city of Florence is quite a panoramic beauty. Luckily, thanks to my camera and a little help from PhotoStich, I am able to capture it.


A must take self-shot photo of Ashley and I from the Pizzale Michelangelo with Il Duomo in the background.A must take self-shot photo of Ashley and I from the Pizzale Michelangelo with Il Duomo in the background.


A look down from Michelangelo at the Forte Di Belvedere Fortress wall and Ponte Vecchia Bridge.  As you might imagine, there were many tourists like us at Piazzale Michelangelo.A look down from Michelangelo at the Forte Di Belvedere Fortress wall and Ponte Vecchia Bridge. As you might imagine, there were many tourists like us at Piazzale Michelangelo.


The Basilica Santa Croce basks in the afternoon sun.  After this visit, this church is definitely one of my favorites.  While Il Duomo has always been my favorite from an outward appearance, Santa Croce contains many treasures inside that are well worth the price of admission.The Basilica Santa Croce basks in the afternoon sun. After this visit, this church is definitely one of my favorites. While Il Duomo has always been my favorite from an outward appearance, Santa Croce contains many treasures inside that are well worth the price of admission.


Michelangelo is buried right here in the Basilica.  The tombs of Donatello and Galileo can be found here as well.Michelangelo is buried right here in the Basilica. The tombs of Donatello and Galileo can be found here as well.


Some clothing among other articles on display at Santa Croce from Saint Francis of Assisi.Some clothing among other articles on display at Santa Croce from Saint Francis of Assisi.


A picturesque courtyard still here at San Croce -- it is the courtyard of the Leather Making school that is on the premises.A picturesque courtyard still here at San Croce -- it is the courtyard of the Leather Making school that is on the promises.


A great view of the Santa Croce bell tower from the courtyard.A great view of the Santa Croce bell tower from the courtyard.


Ashley next to a sculpted tombstone in the Santa Croce museum.Ashley next to a sculpted tombstone in the Santa Croce museum.


An original crucifix from the Basilica of Santa Croce.  Back in the 1960's there was a huge flood (5 meters of water) that deposited all kinds of oil and mud at the church.  The crucifix suffered the damage here despite all the help that was received from around the world.  The Pope held a special mass at the church on Christmas that same year.An original crucifix from the Basilica of Santa Croce. Back in the 1960's there was a huge flood (5 meters of water) that deposited all kinds of oil and mud at the church. The crucifix suffered the damage here despite all the help that was received from around the world. The Pope held a special mass at the church on Christmas that same year.

Palazzo Vecchio in the afternoon sun where the replica of the David stands.Palazzo Vecchio in the afternoon sun where the replica of the David stands.


A sentimental moment for Ashley as she remembers her first visit here with her grandma and aunt at the statue of the wild boar.A sentimental moment for Ashley as she remembers her first visit here with her grandma and aunt at the statue of the wild boar.


Finally, I am able to take a picture of the front of the Duomo in the full afternoon sun after my plan was foiled yesterday by the afternoon thunderstorm.Finally, I am able to take a picture of the front of the Duomo in the full afternoon sun after my plan was foiled yesterday by the afternoon thunderstorm.


What better way to spend an afternoon in Florence than enjoying a gelato ice cream while roaming the streets?What better way to spend an afternoon in Florence than enjoying a gelato ice cream while roaming the streets?


Dinner out with the family on Friday night.  Ashley, Luigi, Matteo, Giulio, myself, and Stefania (taking the picture).Dinner out with the family on Friday night. Ashley, Luigi, Matteo, Giulio, myself, and Stefania (taking the picture).


Posing for the camera with Ashley's cousins, Matteo, Giulio, & Kenny.Posing for the camera with Ashley's cousins, Matteo, Giulio, & Kenny.

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