30 December 2007

New Year strikes in the UK and Italy

Readers who are planning a New Year getaway this January should bear in mind the risks of disruption to flights at seven UK airports. Strikes are scheduled at BAA airports on the 7th January 2008 and the 14th January 2008, each starting in the morning and lasting 24 hours. A third strike, on the 17th January 2008, is due to last 48 hours. The airports involved - Stansted, Gatwick, Heathrow, Glasgow, Southampton, Aberdeen and Edinburgh - could be closed down totally during the strikes, and delays may continue for a day or two afterwards. This nightmare for travellers may yet be averted but the prospects aren't looking good, so try to avoid those dates, change your flights if necessary, and check the newspapers for the latest updates on the situation.
> BAA strikes still set for January (The Times, 28 December 2007)

In Italy, the latest provisional strike dates include 8th January when there is yet another Alitalia strike (4 hours). There is a 24-hour rail strike from 9pm on 12th January, and another from 9pm on 26th January. There is a general public transport strike on 28th January. Sometimes these scheduled strikes are cancelled, sometimes they are postponed, and sometimes there is a still a basic service (usually trains run a minimum guaranteed service). But we'd recommend you avoid travel plans for these dates if possible, and check for the latest news on transport websites.
> Italian Transport Ministry: scheduled strikes (in Italian).

28 November 2007

Important Rome cave find; white truffle; transport strike

The most exciting piece of news from Italy in the last few weeks has been the announcement of a hugely important discovery in Rome. In the honeycomb of the Palatine hill, archaeologists have uncovered (by accident) what is thought to be the Lupercal: the cave revered in Ancient Rome as the site of the mythical founding of the city, where Romulus and Remus were suckled by the wolf.
> BBC: 'Mythical Roman cave' unearthed (article, photos and video footage)

Another discovery - less momentous but still thrilling to foodie circles - was made in the soil of Tuscany, not by archaeologists but by a dog. The white truffle located by Rocco, a mongrel, weighs 1.5kg and is the largest to be unearthed since the 1950s. Traditionally it is pigs who find truffles, the difficulty is that apparently they tend to eat the truffle. Dogs, being cleverer, can be trained not to eat the precious fungi.
> Guardian: Italian mongrel leads owner to record-breaking truffle

And lastly; if you are planning to travel on public transport in Italy on Friday, be warned. A strike (sciopero) has been announced, although it remains to be seen how many workers will adhere (strike on a Friday = long weekend with the family), or if it will actually go ahead. It is due to affect most public transport, including railways, from 9am-5pm, with possible variations in cities. Airports may be affected between 11am and 3pm The smaller airports used by budget airlines, and their dedicated bus services, are often functioning as normal. But check the websites of any transport firms you are planning to travel with and be prepared for delays.
> Italian transport ministry: information on strikes

And finally, if you've had problems catching a taxi in Rome lately, or have seen angry taxi drivers blocking squares, it's because taxi drivers have been protesting over the issuing of licences.

26 September 2007

Exploring north-east Italy

Over recent weeks we've been adding to our coverage of north-east Italy, particularly the mainland around Venice. Italy Heaven's latest pages include descripions of the Veneto spa towns Abano Terme and Montegrotto Terme, and the much more picturesque Lake Garda resorts Sirmione and Desenzano del Garda. In Desenzano we stayed in the nice little Hotel Piroscafo, which we recommend. We also had a great meal in a restaurant called Kapperi, which served excellent dishes at good prices, with a pretty courtyard, decor somewhere between elegant and kitsch, and queues of glam young Italians arriving late and begging for tables.

In Venice we've compiled lists of Venice luxury hotels and hotels on the Grand Canal (not 'near' but actually facing onto the water). Our newest page is about Palazzo Fortuny, a lovely Gothic building which is currently housing the extremely eclectic exhibition Artempo.

Venice today, incidentally, has had some incredible downpours, with parts of the mainland settlements Mestre and Marghera actually flooded, with four months' worth of rain falling in just a few hours.

10 September 2007

Rupert Everett & Italy's pricey beaches

As outlined in our recent article about Italian beaches, access to the sea can be tricky and expensive in Italy. Despite the many fee-paying beach establishents, the public ought to have free access to the water's edge. Often, however, this is hard or even impossible. Each summer there are protests in Italy from consumer groups. And this year they have an unlikely hero: British actor Rupert Everett. During his trip to the 2007 Venice Film Festival (official website), held at the seaside Lido, he apparently attempted to put his towel down on the sand at the water's edge and was moved on. (He obviously didn't trek to the 'free beach'). Now there are hopes (perhaps unlikely) that he will spearhead a test case against Venice council.

We've tried walking along the sea in front of all the expensive beach concessions on the Lido and not been ordered off (a beach guard did follow us for a while though). And there are usually a few bold sunbathers who've brought their own towels to the water's edge, so we're a bit surprised that Everett encountered these problems. A good thing though, if it focusses more attention on this Italian problem. There's so much money being made by beach businesses that local politicians (who are generally also businessmen) turn a blind eye to fenced-off beaches. Italians care what foreigners think of them, though, so perhaps this will be a catalyst for change. A shame it didn't happen at the start of the summer season.
> The Guardian: How Rupert Everett became the hero of Venice's bathing classes

28 August 2007

Child pickpockets in Venice

One of the big issues in Venice in the last two months has been the appearance of Romanian child pickpockets – the sort you'll have seen in Rome and other Italian cities if you have travelled around Italy in recent years. Under 14 years of age, these children cannot be held accountable for their crimes by local law. They're picked up by police, taken to child refuges, then they abscond in the morning. Some of the children are stopped by carabinieri and fed-up local vigilantes and shopkeepers on a daily basis, but the rewards are great and they keep on robbing.

Tourists should always be careful in crowded places and should keep bags firmly fastened and under their control at all times. Be streetwise – Venice is a very safe town but pickpocketing is one thing you should look out for. Favourite places for the robbers include busy lanes and bridges, the bus terminus at Piazzale Roma, the St. Mark's area and rush-hour waterbuses. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security if the only people near you are ten-year-olds or heavily-pregnant girls; these are classic examples of the pickpockets sent out by Fagin-like operators. In the last week the newspaper has reported children as young as 5 being employed in crime. Be very aware of people falling in behind you in a queue, especially if you are being jostled. Shout loudly and attract attention if someone attempts to rob you.

Since writing this it nearly happened to me! On Sunday in Dorsoduro I was crossing a bridge when I became aware of a young girl moving in close behind me, on the side where I carried my shoulder bag. Although I didn't see her or her companion, a slightly older boy, actually rob anyone, it was clear that this was their game. They would choose a position on a bridge, watch as tourists walked by, then the girl would begin to follow the tourists down alleys as the boy kept a look out. When they realised I was watching them they moved off. I would guess that she was about 11 years old, and the boy was perhaps 13. Stay alert!

26 August 2007

Venice Film Festival 2007

Venice Film Festival 2007
This year's Venice Film Festival begins on the 29th August, with a flood of directors and actors arriving in the city. The event takes place on the Lido with boat services from central Venice. As well as the festival films, there are also showings around Venice, including at the summer's open-air cinema in Campo San Polo. It gets quite a lot of coverage in newspapers (a great jaunt for journalists) so expect to see plenty of photographs and articles in the next couple of weeks.

> Venice Film Festival 2007 (our article)
> The Telegraph's section on the festival
> Biennale Cinema - the official website

21 August 2007

Cheaper flights to Italy

UK travellers will be interested in an article from The Times which revealed the cheaper prices available for British Airways flights if you book them through US websites. As an example they found prices for flights between Rome and London which were cheaper than those on BA's official UK website.
> Cheap flights via US websites (The Times)

8 August 2007

Ponte di Calatrava - Venice's fourth bridge arrives

After 11 years of controversy, Venice's new bridge -only the fourth bridge over the Grand Canal - is due to open this winter. The 'Ponte di Calatrava' as it is currently known (its final official name has yet to be decided) was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and crosses the Grand Canal at its busy entrance alongside Piazzale Roma.

Major issues of contention have included the lack of disabled provision, and the over-budget expenditure of public funds. The location is hotly debated too. There have been three bridges over the Grand Canal since the early twentieth century, and there are certainly big gaps between them where an extra crossing might be convenient. But this new bridge is very close to the existing Ponte degli Scalzi, and it is hard to see what additional function it can contribute. It links rather more directly the bus terminal at Piazzale Roma and the railway station. But it's hard to see who'd want to race from one to the other; they are both at the end of the same route over the lagoon and so no-one would need to change from bus to train.

Anyway, the Travelling Blonde watched the side sections of the bridge arrive in Venice a week and a half ago - a major operation since they had to be transported up the Grand Canal overnight, around bends and under the existing bridges. Venetians and surprised tourists crowded the canalside to watch the big transport barge manoeuvring, which all went incredibly smoothly. There were some protests and some cheers as it squeezed under the Rialto Bridge, and a lot of applause for the workers who managed the tricky feat. Last night was the big date for the arrival of the central part of the new bridge, which also seems to have been transported without causing any harm along the way.

> New bridge over the Grand Canal: our latest article and photos
> Side sections arrive: Photos from the Repubblica newspaper
> Repubblica article describing the bridge's journey (in Italian)
> Central section arrives: more photos from the Repubblica
> Slightly oddly-written article from the Telegraph which describes the bridge as 'much-needed'!
> Our full travel guide to Venice

16 May 2007

Free culture week

This week in Italy it is the Settimana dei Beniculturali, during which state-owned museums run special cultural events and offer free admission. The event runs until the 20th May so if you're visiting Italy in the next few days you'll be able to take advantage of some free heritage and culture.

7 April 2007

Easter in Rome

The BBC has a short article and photographs about the Good Friday procession in Rome, where the Pope leads a candle-lit Via Crucis procession around the Colosseum - a very atmospheric rite, and an evocative location, given its history
> Pilgrims mark Holy Week in Rome.

There's also a feature about a creepier parade in Sicily, in the Cosa Nostra heartlands:
> Sicily's Easter penitents parade.

29 March 2007

Italian footballers in pants

A friend just sent me this link to Dolce and Gabbana's website with the comment "and they wonder why other countries think they're gay!?"
> Footballers modelling underwear

28 March 2007

Free wireless internet connection in Rome

Just came across a recent article on the Repubblica news website:
> Internet gratis e senza fili. Roma raddoppia gli hot spot
Even if you don't understand Italian you can scan down the article to the list of free wireless internet 'hotspots'. The first twenty listed should be activated by the end of this month, the others are still at the planning stages. Here is the official website of the project:
> Roma Wireless
There is an English version although the translations aren't great. I don't know anyone who's tried to use any of the wireless connection sites yet, so add a comment here if you give it a go. Italy Heaven will report back in a few weeks.

The future is upon us! Only a few years ago the internet was an alien concept to many of the Romans we met. Now when they can tear themselves away from social networking sites they're developing great projects like this.

27 March 2007

More Venice travel journal

Burano's painted houses
As usual my travel journals have been sitting in an untidy pile. I will endeavour to stick more of them on my online blog in the future. My latest entry is for a trip to Venice a couple of weeks ago. I will be spending a lot more time in the city over the next few months so expect plenty more tales from Venice.

New Italy Heaven pages following this trip:

> Burano (as pictured on the right)
And, featuring a few of my Carnival photos from February:

8 March 2007

Italy event in London

There is an Italian show on in London at the moment. Running from 8th-11th March 2007, the Dolce Vita exhibition at Olympia features property/food/travel stands and a number of activities and events. It's not cheap (£16 admission) but if you're obsessed with Italy you might find it an interesting excursion.

1 March 2007

Italy in the news

Italy news-watchers have a fair number of stories to interest them this week, from the country's unsteady politics to its unstable geology.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi offered to resign and is currently between votes of confidence, and now (you're right if you thought you haven't seen the last of him) Berlusconi offers Prodi support.

Meanwhile down off the southern coast, two new craters have opened up on the volcano island of Stromboli. The Aeolian Islands are exciting holiday destinations, particularly for volcano-watchers, but if you're heading there you should obtain comprehensive travel insurance and make sure your plans are flexible.
From the BBC: In pictures: Stromboli erupts and Volcanic Italian island on alert.

The Telegraph, meanwhile, is covering an entertaining new chapter in the story of Italy's ludicrous exiled royal family: Royal cousins fight for defunct Italian throne. Worth reading the article in its entirety.

12 February 2007

Venice Carnival

It's Carnival time in Venice and the BBC has run a couple of interesting features on the town lately:
> In pictures: Venice Carnival 2007
> Venice tourism squeezes out residents
Coincidentally, we've been working on our own Venice features and a large new section of Italy Heaven is now underway: Our new Venice tourist guide . Watch out for our own report on the Carnival in a week or so.

7 January 2007

Cinque Terre

There's an interesting article on the BBC about the Cinque Terre National Park. This stunning stretch of coastline has protected status and great efforts are being made to preserve the traditional small-scale farming on steep terraces. It's a big contrast to the Amalfi Coast where road access and hotel developments have transformed the area. The Cinque Terre still retains its simple village-y character. More tourists arrive each year though (what with all those subsidies and the tourist income, the locals must be raking it in) and even coach parties now spill from the train and cram the lanes, so if you want to go there, go out of season and go soon.
> Our feature on the Cinque Terre
> Walking the Cinque Terre