24 February 2006

Rail strike 3rd and 4th March - CANCELLED

There is due to be a rail strike in Italy next weekend, from 9pm on the 3rd of March until 9pm on 4th March. A number of guaranteed services should run - see the Trenitalia website for latest information.
UPDATE: the strike has now been cancelled so all services should run normally. Keep your eyes on the trenitalia site for future disruptions.

More on trains in Italy

Berlusconi and the media

Another Berlusconi story from the BBC: Berlusconi relishes power of TV.

Overseas commentators are forever marvelling – and ordinary Italians complaining – at the state of affairs in this country where one man controls almost every national television channel. As well as the stations he actually owns – which are renowned for their vacuous quiz shows and scantily-clad dancing girls – he also, as Prime Minister, pretty much controls the state broadcaster Rai. As a sop to critics, Berlusconi last year claimed to have reduced his power over the popular Mediaset channels – although they are still under his family's control.

When I was in Italy a month ago, my Italian friends were joking about the number of times their PM pops up on television. And a few television programmes were bold enough to mock him (that didn't stop them broadcasting his phone-ins, though). As owner of football club AC Milan, he appears on sports shows, ringing up to air his views live on television. There's no escape from his presence.

Italians watch a huge amount of television, and it's easy to see how control of the airwaves might equal control of voters. During recent protests by the arts sector in Italy over proposed Government withdrawal of funding, there were claims that the whole nation is being 'dumbed-down' by the Berlusconi diet of reality tv shows and the much-admired veline (coy dancing girls), with Italians less interested in their artistic heritage than ever before. Certainly living in Italy I've sometimes been reminded of Orwell's 1984. But that, along with the veline, is another subject for another day.
Read more about Berlusconi from Wikipedia.

13 February 2006

Italy news

Some current Italy news stories:
Another gaffe from Berlusconi: Berlusconi says 'I am like Jesus'
Bird 'flu found in wild swans in Sicily
Preparation for general elections in April: Italy parliament dissolved for elections

11 February 2006

The best Venice hotels

We'll soon be developing a new and better Venice section for our website. If any visitors have any suggestions or comments based on recent trips, we'd be glad to receive them.

In the meantime, we've done some research on the most popular hotels, based on the opinions of past guests, and here are our favourites so far:
Most five-stars in Venice have very mixed, even poor, reviews. One of the best seems to be the Luna Baglioni. Prices are high, but not as painful as some. Not all guests are happy with the room sizes but on the whole feedback is very positive.
Good options with fewer stars include:
Al Ponte dei Sospiri - small and romantic.
Palazzo Abadessa - this small hotel sounds like paradise, to judge from the rave reviews of past visitors. We can't wait to stay there ourselves.
Hotel Abbazia is close to the railway station and is praised for its friendly staff.

You can get good value-for-money at 3-star hotels which are 'town house suites' under the Italian classification system. These are usually small and lack public spaces (bars etc.), but are often more comfortable than the rating suggests:
Ca' del Campo is near St. Mark's Square, and is praised for stylish rooms, friendly staff and value for money.
La Locandiera is also in a great location near St. Mark's Square (but 'very quiet'), and has excellent feedback from guests ... we'll soon have our own review of the accommodation.

Check our Venice pages in a few weeks for much-expanded coverage of the sinking city.

7 February 2006

Snow in Italy

Italy's mountains always get plenty of snow, but this winter has seen some exceptionally cold weather, with snowstorms extending even to the southerly and less mountainous parts of the country.

See some striking Photos of Alberobello under snow. Some schools have been closed and ferry services suspended in southern Italy and Sicily: Snow in Taormina (article in Italian). But the cold isn't all bad - organisers up in Turin are hoping for the right kind of weather for the Winter Olympics.

6 February 2006

Cheap train travel in Italy

If you're thinking about travelling around Italy by train, you should always check the railways website http://www.trenitalia.com for special offers. If you register and book online you can get some fantastic bargains.

Currently there is a 'Happy Train' offer where you can buy 'last minute' tickets (travel within the next seven days) from €10. There are also €15 tickets for a range of trains including Intercity, Intercity Plus and overnight services. Deals on the fast Eurostar trains start at €29. This could save some money on longer journeys (always check the standard price too), and these special prices often give you the option of travelling in first-class for the same price.

You can check availability online - when you are booking your journey, select the appropriate tariff. Sometimes the Italian version of the site has more up-to-date information and bargains (if necessary, sit down with a dictionary; the savings are worth it).

After one attempt to buy tickets in person in Rome (witness to a disagreement which culminated in the ticket clerk calling her customer an 'ignorant pig' and then slamming her kiosk shut in front of a line of customers) I have made all my bookings online or at the machines in stations. The system is amazingly efficient, and you can even travel without a ticket on many services, as long as you have your booking reference number and details. I've travelled the length of Italy for bargain prices which have sickened my Italian travelling companions. I even have a reward card.

Read more about the different types of train in Italy. My long account of an even longer journey from Rome down to Sicily can be read in my blog: Slow train to Sicily. Yes, Sicily is an island, but you can get a train all the way there; it's taken apart, rolled onto a boat, then rolled off again at the other end of the crossing.

5 February 2006

Female travellers get free cake

If you're a female wondering about travelling alone in Italy, or anyone who's curious to know what it's like journeying blonde and female in a land of dark hair and old-fashioned ways, check out http://travelling-blonde.blogspot.com, inspired by research trips for Italy Heaven. Expect opinion, generalisations, and very long accounts of dull train journeys.

4 February 2006

Welcome to the blog

Welcome to our brand-new blog! We're planning to use this space for easy on-the-hoof updates, Italy news flashes, random musings and anything else that doesn't quite fit on our main Italy Heaven site. Expect irregular postings of news about our site and about Italy in general as well as odd (sometimes very odd) anecdotes from our travels and links to things we fancy. And anything else we feel like.