April 5, 2008

(The map above is interactive. Double-click the left mouse button to zoom in, double-click the right mouse button to zoom out, and click any of the pushpins for details.)

In late June I'm going to Providence for my friend Meg's wedding. The next day, instead of my original plan to return to Seattle, I board an Acela Express train bound for New York, meet up with my family at JFK Airport, and then we all depart for Rome. We'll see Rome, Tuscany, and Venice, then go back to New York. I'll be back in Seattle on July 5.

My whole family is excited for this trip, our first overseas vacation together. I decided to prepare for the trip the high-tech way.

First, Yahoo! Travel has really ramped up their offerings in the last couple of years. FareChase is a useful multi-site search site for airfares similar to the independent Farecast, only with more cities and fewer predictions. Yahoo! also has a trip planner that lets you plot out hotels and attractions. Here's our trip plan. They encourage collaboration among users: other tourists can view reports of previous trips and compare notes. There is also a tie-in with Yahoo!-owned Flickr, which I use, to associate Flickr photos with Yahoo! Travel trip plans. Very snazzy.

My parents advised that I pack lightly since we might have to share a smallish hatchback for our trip through Italy. That was the last tip I needed to order a Kindle, the Amazon e-book device that's been on back order since it came out last November. A few of my co-workers have Kindles and they've raved about theirs. I could have used one on my holiday trip to Hawaii: I brought 3 books with me and finished them all, so I ended up buying 3 more while there. That's about 8 pounds of reading material that I had to lug home; by contrast the Kindle weighs 10 ounces and lets me buy books wirelessly, though its store only works in the U.S. I ordered my Kindle over three weeks ago and, if the Kindle forum is any indication, I won't get mine until late April.

I also decided that my little point-and-shoot camera that has served me well for 2 years needs a big brother. I asked my photo-savvy friends to help me choose my first digital SLR camera. Half said Canon and half said Nikon, all due to personal preference. After spending a lunch hour at Ritz Camera trying out the Canon Digital Rebel XT and the Nikon D40 I placed an order for the D40. Its megapixel count is lower (only 6 megapixels versus 8 for the Canon) but its interface seems much more newbie-friendly. I also really liked the Nikon's huge LCD screen since I expect to flip through photos with my family a lot while on vacation. After buying the D40 I started tooling around with it at home and in my neighborhood. Nikon publishes Digitutor, a web site with lots of handy multimedia guides to their cameras' features. The D40's manual is good but I ended buying a full-color "Digital Field Guide" to get more acquainted with the fundamentals of SLR photography. I hope to shoot like a pro when I get to Italy.

Lastly I'm trying to parlay my high-school Spanish lessons into conversational Italian. Last year, when my parents were first talking about this trip, I bought a copy of Barron's E-Z Italian from a co-worker. Working through the audio CDs and the written exercises brings back a lot of memories of Spanish verb conjugation drills from years past. I've also bookmarked Caffe Talk, a lesson in ordering coffee in Italy. (The Italian caffe apparently operates a lot like an American bar or restaurant.)

Between Italian lessons, camera lessons, and waiting for my e-book reader to come in the mail, my weekends are pretty much booked from here on out to June!