XV Settimana della Cultura, or the 15th Annual Cultural Week, in Italy has been cancelled due to the Country's rough economic climate. This is sad news. Typically during Settimana della Cultura a number of cultural sites are free for visitors. Some of these sites include the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum in Rome, the Uffizi Gallery, Medici Chapels and Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence as well as the Gallerie dell'Accademia and Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Venice. Not wanting to completely disappoint visitors, the MiBAC is doing a Two-for-One ticket to several cultural attractions. If you happen to be in Italy today be sure to enjoy a Two-for-One ticket at a few of the listed sites!! Link is in Italian, sorry!
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
PSPgo - Pearl White Traveling today has become more time consuming. Having to arrive early to get through security checks often means having to spend time ... a lot of time ... waiting. Waiting to board a flight. Waiting to check in. Waiting means you need a distraction. Are you a movie lover? Music lover? Gamer? If so, then the Sony Playstation Portable (PSP) is an ideal travel companion.
The most current versions (PSP Go* and PSP 3000) as well as the PSP 2000 systems not only let you game, listen to music or watch movies on a large, bright screen but also allow you to read comics, surf the Internet and make phone calls via Skype. Both the 2000 and 3000 series require Memory Stick Duo cards (up to 32GB available) if you want to store music or movies but the PSP Go has 16GB of built in storage and a slot for a Memory Stick Duo giving you a maximum storage of 48GB. That’s a lot of space for plenty of music, movies and games! The PSP Go doesn’t accept the UMD game cartridges of the older systems so you must purchase and download games from the Playstation Store. Some might find that inconvenient but I think it has a huge advantage over having to carry multiple UMD cartridges. Good news is that the PSP 2000/3000 series can download games to the Memory Stick Duo ... so get as big a card as you can afford.
PSP 3000 Core Pack - Black Both the PSP Go and the PSP 3000 have a built-in microphone and speakers allowing you to make Skype calls without any additional hardware. PSP 2000 series, though they have speakers, requires a headset/microphone combination if you’re interested in being able to make Skype calls via wireless from wherever your travels take you. Being able to make free phone calls from anywhere in the world via Skype through a PSP makes it an incredible tool for the price.Both the PSP Go and the PSP 3000 have a built-in microphone and speakers allowing you to make Skype calls without any additional hardware. PSP 2000 series, though they have speakers, requires a headset/microphone combination if you’re interested in being able to make Skype calls via wireless from wherever your travels take you. Being able to make free phone calls from anywhere in the world via Skype through a PSP makes it an incredible tool for the price.
The built-in on-screen keyboard works well enough for basic web surfing or sending simple e-mail messages through GMail or other web-based e-mail solutions. Even without a touch screen, which I feel is a flaw on the PSP Go considering its competition, the combination of features are noteworthy. With a larger screen and actual gaming controls most gamers would be hard pressed to choose and iPhone or iPod Touch over a Sony PSP system. Maybe the next generation PSP** will add a touchscreen and 64GB of built-in storage thus thrusting itself into the forefront of travel essentials. Until then, either a PSP 2000, 3000 or Go is a welcome travel companion.
**UPDATE: 1 Dec 11 - The next-generation PSP is called the PSP Vita
Thursday, April 7, 2011
When planning a trip one of the biggest budget killers tends to be entry fees into attractions. For the frugal traveler this sometimes means missing out on sites you've been dreaming of seeing since you were a child. Italian Cultural Week is here to change that!
XIII Settimana della Cultura, or the 13th Annual Cultural Week, in Italy runs from April 9 – 17, 2011. Italy has an immense cultural and artistic history to share with the world and during Cultural Week state-run museums, monuments and archaeological sites open their doors and share that history with the public for free!
Outside of Italy it doesn't appear that this is a well-advertised event. I found it completely by accident when I was in Italy in 2004. When I returned to Italy in 2007 I got lucky and happened to be there again at just the right time. Unfortunately, the week fluctuates from year to year so planning your trip around it requires a little research through the Ministry of Heritage and Culture
At the Ministry of Heritage and Culture site you will find information on the near 2500 events, concerts, guided tours and such going on during Settimana della Cultura. Some of the sites include the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum in Rome, the Uffizi Gallery, Medici Chapels and Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence as well as the Gallerie dell'Accademia and Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Venice. No matter where your adventures in Italy take you you'll be sure to find attractions you've been longing to see are free to visit during Cultural Week. A list of sites, by region, can be searched at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture site.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Staircase in tunnel -
Rock City, Tennessee (TN)Often times, when taking travel photographs, we are faced with interesting foreground, middle-ground and background subjects and we want all of them reasonably in focus. To gain the maximum depth-of-field (DoF) and achieve our goal we have basically two options: Stop the lens all the way down or set the hyperfocal distance that is optimal for your subject distances.
Walkway and cliff face -
Rock City, Tennessee (TN)Before we get into the details lets define "depth-of-field" as simply what is in focus beyond the point of focus (PoF). Typically this is 1/3 in front of the point of focus and 2/3 behind the point of focus. There are a lot of factors that go into DoF including image format (size), focal length and subject magnification. To fully flush out all these factors would be a very lengthy article. So in the interest of conciseness and simplicity we’ll stick to our simple definition.
Stopping down the lens
The first of these options, stopping the lens all the way down, is least desirable. Without getting overly technical it’s sufficient to say that, due to laws of physics relating to light refraction, stopping all the way down actually makes the overall image less sharp while adding DoF. For better results lets explore the concept of "hyperfocal distance."
Hyperfocal distance is defined as "... the closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp; that is, the focus distance with the maximum depth of field. When the lens is focused at this distance, all objects at distances from half of the hyperfocal distance out to infinity will be acceptably sharp."
The good news is that the technique is simple to employ. Basically what needs to be kept in mind is finding the f-stop which provides optimal performance for your lens. In my experience any wide-angle lens from 21mm to 35mm (35mm format equivalent) performs best somewhere between f/8 and f/11 when setting for hyperfocal distance. Once you’ve determined the best setting for your lens, using the following technique, you can use that f-stop reliably ... confident that you will get the results you are after.
Hyperfocal setting of Mamiya 7 43mm f/4.5 lens (21mm in 35mm equivalent). With infinity set at f/11 the depth-of-field is from about 4.5 feet to infinity.The simplest version of this technique (Example 1) is to set your infinity mark on your lens next to the f-stop mark you’ve determined to be correct (in this case, f/11). Looking at the f-stop mark on the opposite side of the focus line will tell you the distance at which foreground subjects will be in focus (approx. 4.5 feet). Just this simple setting maximizes your DoF. Now compose your image and take the photo.
Mamiya 743mm f/4.5 lens (21mm in 35mm equivalent) with focus set at about 4.5 feet. At this setting the depth-of-field is from about 3 feet to 8 feet ... much shallower than the hyperfocal setting in Example 1.The second version of this technique is not much more complicated it just allows you to be more selective in determining your foreground subject. Use Technique 1 described above to determine the distance at which your foreground subjects will be in focus. Then set the focus to that point (approx. 4.5 feet in our example). Next physically move so that your foreground subject is at that distance or just slightly beyond that distance. Now reset your hyperfocal distance as described in Technique 1. Lastly, compose your image and take the photo.
The main difference between these two techniques is simply that you are making sure that your forground subject falls within the hyperfocal distance. If your camera has a DoF preview function you can use that to aid in checking what will be relatively in focus in your image.
Using this simple technique will maximize your DoF without sacrificing overall image sharpness. Obviously there are times when you want to assure that a certain subject in the scene is absolutely in focus. During those instances, forgo the hyperfocal technique and focus accurately on your subject.
Friday, August 13, 2010
One of the worst things that can happen in outdoor/scenic photographs is that the sky washes out to white. This is because the sky is so much brighter than the foreground. Though filters and full-manual-exposure mode may be limited to cameras with interchangeable lenses, there are some more advanced point and shoot cameras that can be tricked into achieving similar effects. See your camera's manual for explicit instructions on exposure compensation or metering modes.
A polarizer is used to reduce reflections, darken skies and increase color saturation. This is done by rotating the filter to the desired effect. The result is most dramatic when used 90 degrees to the sun. Some advanced point and shoot cameras allow you to use filters but most often polarizers will be limited to cameras with interchangeable lenses. One last note … if your camera is auto-focus you must use a circular polarizer.
The most interesting light tends to be somewhere between 30 minutes and 1 hour after sunrise or before sunset. This is often referred to as "The Golden Hour" as the light is much warmer in tone than the rest of the day. Also during these times the shadows are more elongated lending new textures and dynamics to the scene.
Advanced Metering Technique
Most importantly, when there is abundant blue sky, turn your back on the sun. If the camera has a spot meter, use it. If not then the frame will have to be filled with blue sky. Try not to get any clouds in the frame as it will bias the exposure. Now, keeping your back to the sun, meter off of just the blue sky and lock in that exposure. This makes the blue sky the "middle gray" tone in the image. White clouds can still sometimes get overexposed. With slide film (or digital sensors) underexposing an additional 1/2 to 2/3 of a stop will make the blue sky darker and bring more detail into the white clouds. With print film overexposing by 1/2 to 2/3 of a stop will often yield the same results.
It is very important to remember that the sun should remain between +/-90° and 180° from the direction that the image is being taken. This means, of course, that it won't always be ideal to photograph a particular scene because the sun is in the wrong place. In that case, you may have to come back at another time to really get the photo you're looking for. That said, when the sun remains +/-90° to 180° behind the photographer the rest of the scene should be adequately lit because the sun is front-lighting (180°) or side lighting (90°) the subject of the image. Depending on the subject, an angle of about +/-120° (front-side lighting) is often more interesting than 90 or 180° Also remember that front-lighting—when the sun is 180° behind the photographer—is often the least exciting type of lighting. Regardless, the techniques described are solid and will yield predictable exposures.
Monday, August 2, 2010
The days of flying standby are basically gone. As those glory days fade into the sunset the frugal traveler must now plan ahead. In "Stretching your dining dollar" we talked about how to save on dining expenses. In "Sleep for cheap" we discovered how to rest our weary heads without breaking the bank. Finally, in this bare-bones last of a three-part cost-controlling series, we'll discover routes to the cheapest flights during the "shoulder" season(s).
The shoulder season(s) run roughly from Easter to mid June and late September to mid-to-late November. These seasons, much like the "high" and "low" tourist seasons, vary by destination. Better weather and access to more attractions make the shoulder season desirable over the low season despite the slight increase in cost. During the low season many museums and other attractions close down or have very limited open times and days.
Finding the best flight prices entails a little Internet leg work:
- Research the shoulder season of your destination.
- Start with the longest leg. Find the lowest fare on the longest leg and work backward to your home airport.
- Search sites like travelocity.com for the best price. Pick two or three airlines with a price in your range.
- Go to the airline's web sites and research again. This time add a leg or two into the mix. Remember, typically non-stop flights are most expensive. A two- or three-leg flight can be a great cost saver.
- Call an airline booking agent. This is especially valuable if you are using miles to pay for the flight. Sometimes the booking agent can see options that aren't listed online … including upgrades out of economy class.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
In the first part of our cost-controlling series, "Stretching your dining dollar," we covered how to cut your eating expenses while traveling. The two remaining expenses, transportation and lodging, each have their own caveats. For the uninitiated, controlling these costs may seem daunting. With a little research and insight, learning to travel for maximum enjoyment on minimum dollars is within reach. In this second of a three-part series on controlling costs we'll look at ways to save on sleeping.
If five-star and 1000-thread count Egyptian cotton are a must, stop reading now. For the open minded … read on!
When talking "bang for you buck" it's hard to find it in lodging. From the standpoint that you spend only a few hours a night there … sleeping is expensive! To that end, after an exciting day in a new place, I just want to catch my forty winks and get back to exploring. When it is time to kick up my tired feet and reflect on the day I find there are really three options: Hostels, B&Bs and independent hotels. Putting aside what you've seen in the movies lets explore hostels.
There are two types of hostels … the "official" ones that belong to Hostelling International and the "independent" hostels. Official hostels are generally clean and have more rules than their independent counterparts. They also have a membership fee.
The HI web site doesn't list exact prices but it is typically just under $30 for a membership. You can buy the membership when you arrive or optionally pay an extra fee, around $5, and stay without a membership. If you stay six nights, even at six different HI hostels, while paying the extra fee you are then considered a member. Either way you're paying that membership fee!
Prices vary from location to location but for a single person the price is often between $25 and $30 per night. It's no frills and you're sharing a room and a bathroom down the hall with strangers but you're getting what you need most … a bed. And, the free breakfast is a nice touch too! O.k., not every hostel has breakfast but a majority do. And some, like one I've used a couple of times in Rome, offer deals on dinner to the tune of a four-course meal, with wine, for €10!
Hostels are not only for the young, mature travelers are always welcome. Some hostels even offer a "family" room. Though hostels stand as the least expensive option they don't offer much in the way of privacy or luxury. Use of laundry machines, wi-fi or free access to a limited number of desktop computers are about it in the line of luxuries. So, when you're looking for a little more that's when you look to independent hotels.
I avoid big chain hotels as much as possible. Because the chain hotel's culture trumps local culture you often find yourself removed from the local experience. When hostels won't cut it and a B&B is nowhere to be found turn your search to small, local-owned hotels. Though the service isn't usually on the level of a B&B it is often more than adequate. Hotel Orientale in Palermo, Sicily is typical of these types of hotels. Located next to an alley running to the Mercato Ballaro, one of the most famous street markets in the region, it is just a short walk from everything downtown Palermo and reasonably priced at about €40 for a room with two beds. The price ranges are typically slightly more than hostel rates (per person) and up to roughly that of the top end of the B&B rates. The best thing about these small hotels is that you can often haggle a better price if you're paying cash! Be aware though that many of these smaller hotels don't have bathrooms in the room. Sometimes rooms with their own facilities are available at slightly higher rates. When it comes to cutting costs a room with a shared bathroom certainly will save you money.
Prices at small hotels and B&Bs can overlap. So although a Bed and Breakfast is not really always the "middle ground" in pricing they do offers a more upscale, couples-friendly atmosphere. Many B&Bs welcome families and provide home-away-from-home amenities. Location usually dictates price. The closer to the action, the higher the rate.
When traveling in Italy I've used BBPlanet to find great deals near Venice and in Siena. Agriturismo da Merlo in Venice and Alle Due Porte in Siena both offered friendly and nearly pampered service … one of the advantages of a B&B. Unlike even small hotels, a B&B is all about making guests comfortable. Nightly rates vary and can be as low as about $80 per night. Typically the rates don't go much over $100 per night and, as the name implies, include at least breakfast in the nightly rate. For destinations outside of Italy I typically start at BBFinder. BBFinder, provides an extensive listings and reviews of B&Bs around the world.
While researching lodging on the Internet it's easy to get caught up in pretty pictures. Read reviews and Google the name of place you think you might want to stay to see what more you can find out about it. With any of these places you can request to see the room before agreeing on it … but obviously only once you've arrived. Booking in advance isn't always necessary but should be considered during the "high season" for the destination.
When traveling I find I get more enjoyment from the trip if I travel as a local instead of as a tourist. Hostels give you direct access to locals as well as travelers from around the world. Small hotels often give more central access, moderate pricing and knowledgeable patrons. B&Bs tend to be more pampering. All three provide a different and wonderful, cost-effective option to chain hotels. They all keep you closer to the culture in which you're traveling and provide a place to rest your weary head after a long day of living like a local.