Saturday, June 28

Italy: Wearing a Cement Boot?

While I'm still in vacation mode, I thought I'd give you The Best & Worst of Italy's beaches. While Italy has over 7600 kms (4722 miles) of coastline attracting all us turisti, it would appear that the Italians believe that overrunning that same coastline with cement is a good business prospect. Anyone who has ever been to Acapulco will tell you that that's probably not such a good idea.

Best of Italy: There are two organizations looking out for the best that the boot has to offer: and Touring Club's Guida Blu (in conjunction with Legambiente, Italy's Ecologists). According to Blue Flag, Tuscany wins out with the most blue flags, followed by Le Marche. Check out their site for the full listing.

As for the Guida Blu, the Island of Giglio (Tuscany) garners first place in all of Italy. Go now before they start building hotels and parking lots and shopping malls (see report below). Click here for entire list. Legambiente has produced their annual report on our waters, and it ain't pretty. It seems that illegal construction of villas, hotels, ports & parking lots are ruining the view. This, combined with illegal dumping (back to my trash obsession), no waste treatment, illegal fishing, and huge "eco-mostri" hotels, 2007 alone brought 14000 (reported) infractions (that's two for every kilometer of coast).
It's not difficult to guess which region is in no. 1 place for all this illegality? Campania, followed by Puglia and Sicily.

As for the Top 5 of the Eco-Mostri (those huge hotel structures built & then maybe left in judicial limbo), here they are in all their splendor.

Pictures from an excellent blogger: Don Chiosciotte Zan Zan

1) Hotel di Alimuri a Vico Equense (Naples) - pictured above

2) Palazzine di Lido Rossello a Realmente (Agrigento)

3) Palafitta e Trenino a Falerna (Catanzaro)

4) Villaggio abusivo di Torre Mileto (Foggia) and

5) the huge skeleton of Palmaria a Porto Venere (La Spezia)

What is the likely outcome? Unfortunately, governments often simply levy a fine and/or eventually an amnesty and everyone wins out, except us bathers.

Tuesday, June 17

The Insider's Guide to Rome

Since moving to Rome, I’ve become quite popular with visitors. I mean, in Milan I think I had 17 guests in 12 years. In Rome, I have something like 17 visitors a month. For some reason, though, I don’t think they’re just coming to visit me, but, heck, I’ll play along for the fun of it. As a result, and because I actually work with the crème de la crème of Italy’s museums, people are always asking me for some extra ‘insider’s scoop’ about what to do in Italy that’s good.*

- Even if you’re not new to Rome, I'd suggest the bus tour around Rome just to sort of take it all in (Citysightseeing gets my vote, just for the graphics on the side of the bus) although the audioguide absolutely stinks on all of them. Better just to sit back & relax and enjoy the sites from this vantage point. Be sure to hop off to check out the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and other locales not reached by the bus.

- NEAR PIAZZA VENEZIA: visit the fabulous Doria Pamphilj Gallery (right off of Piazza Venezia in piazza Collegio Romano). It’s the only collection of its kind in the world, all rehung just like in the 1700s. Even more incredible: the family still lives on the premises! Open on Mondays, which is nice when most museums are closed. The free Audioguide is exceptional, where Jonathan Doria Pamphilj tells you the history of the family and about the works. (confession: I produced it).

- While near Piazza Venezia, go up to the top of the huge white monument to Italy's first king, Vittorio Emanuele (that's him on the horse). It also holds the Monument to the Unknown Soldier. If you take the steps (and save 7 euros on the ride), you’ll find artifacts from Italy’s becoming a united country. There’s an (expensive) cafè up there, but the views are worth it.

- VILLA BORGHESE: Have a picnic in Villa Borghese. With young kids, check out the LETTER BOXES which people (including my niece&nephews) have hidden around Rome. Leave your mark. To get around, rent a peddle car thingamajig or bike and go exploring! There's a small pond to row in, sculptures, museums, cafès, a zoo, and even a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (Italian only).

- Still in Villa Borghese, there’s a wonderful cafè just atop near Piazza del Popolo. At the bottom, the unassuming church holds two amazing Caravaggios.
Or, have a fabulous lunch on the terrace of the Galleria d’Arte Moderna. Or, better yet, try their amazing Sunday brunch (also available during the week) – Check out the spread before seating yourself down -- the food’s Italian but the setup is American-style: you can actually go back for seconds!!! The Gallery has a rich collection of exceptional Italian modern art (to be differentiated from contemporary art).

- OSTIENSE AREA: For those a bit more daring to go out of the city center, not far from the Pyramid (Piramide) – there’s even a metro stop there – is the Testaccio neighborhood. Although now in for the clubs and bars, you can still find typical Italian trattorias and an amazing pizzeria (just look for the crowds).

- Up the road on the Viale Ostiense, is my favorite museum in all of Rome: the ACEA Electric Co. museum. You’re in for a surprise when you see the 1st and 2nd century sculptures juxtaposed with the huge power plant. Kids love it.

Go there in the evening, and you’re very close to an outrageous Happy Hour place, Doppio Zero (OO). They have a buffet the likes of which you can only find in Milano. Too bad, it’s all indoors.

- Trains leave from the pyramid to my favorite ruins in Italy, Ostia Antica. I produced an amazing Artineraries Audio Tour of it (see below). It's only 1 euro each way, it beats driving, and, in the park is an excellent self-serve dining area, but bring water. The museum, worth the visit, is only open in the a.m. There are also boat trips to Ostia, but, I've never quite figured out how and if that works.

- VATICAN: Obviously, no visit to Rome should be without this (I also offer an Audio Tour narrated by none other than Art Historian, Sister Wendy Beckett from PBS/BBC fame). But, go up to the top of the dome for a magnificent view (not for the faint of heart). Keep all kids on a leash, up to age 18.

Visit nearby Castel Sant'Angelo, the round Hadrian's mausoleum cum prison cum fortress and take a view from the top. All summer long, it's open in the evenings with comedians, magicians, musicians, food, and, the passetto walkway to St. Peter's along the wall is open, too.

- Near Bocca della Verità: In the eves, catch an outdoor jazz concert at Villa Celimontana, one of the best venues on earth for it's program, food, and, yes, you heard it here, Service. (There are also great summer concerts at Ostia Antica's ancient Theatre).

Just nearby, you can visit the Ancient Roman Domus which also offers a terrific guided tour with actors who show you how life once was.

Jazz not your thing? Every evening you can find classical music in the Teatro Marcello nearby.

Of course, you can always download my tours of St. Peter's (& Vatican Museums), Ostia Antica, Pantheon & Assisi (always worth a day trip or more) at :

*And so, dear readers, you now know why I truly do love living in Italy!!!

Friday, June 13

Man's Best Fiend?

The other day I met some friends at Rome airport’s Car Rental Room (something not unlike a rubber room at an insane asylum -- just add rubber). I had little Trevor in tow. The reaction to my little beast or beauty (depending on which side you were) turned the room into the Continental Divide -- Europe – vs – America.

The Americans traveling with small children were greatly relieved to have a little distraction to ward off the oncoming tantrums. They huddled around Trevor, encouraged their kids to pet him, sat the littler ones around him, showing them how to pet, kiss, and hug him, calling him over time and again…

The Italian kids seeing an actual stuffed animal come to life were just as eager. But the mammas would chase after their little bundles, screaming “Don’t touch! Don’t go near! No petting! Attenzioooonnnnnnneeeeeeeee, Giovannnnnnniiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!” One look at Trevor and he might actually turn into one of those little Gremlins, spring into action and devour little Giovanni’s head – all in one fell swoop. Some parents (okay, I’ll be honest…the dads) would lead their kids by the hand to hover over Trevor; their hands outstretched just above fur area. I kept repeating over and over “È buono, È bravo”, but to no avail; they knew there was a darker and more vicious beast over in a corner watching their every move to a centimeter of their life…and they weren’t going to be the one to spring that one into action.

From the worried looks on the mammas’ faces, I could tell they had already checked where the Airport Chapel was—in case they needed to administer last rights--after all, one touch of the hand and their child would turn into a huge boil just oozing bacteria & perhaps even the plague itself.

Naturally, once they got their cars (sans Kiddie Car Seat, it costs more), there Giovanni would go, right into mammas lap—no seatbelts, of course – head perched just in front of the airbag release, thanking God at last that their bambino survived the beast.

Monday, June 9

You know you've been in Italy far too long when...

you wake up with a head cold and sore throat after hanging out on a terrace on a cool summer's eve...

And, the first thing you think isn't, "I've caught a cold", but, actually, "I knew I should have covered up better last night! That's the price of vanity..."

Now, I know that there isn't a doctor in the Western hemisphere -- well, let's qualify that -- outside the Mediterranean Basin (aka Mammasphere) who will tell you that there's any relation between cool weather, skimpy clothes and a cold. More likely, they'll say it's because you were at a party, shook hands with dozens of germ carriers, and that's why you're sick.

But in Italy, I know, in my heart of hearts, it's truly because I did not wrap a scarf around my neck on the order of Pia Isadora. After all, 'tirava il vento' (the wind really kicked up), and, that wreaks havoc on the most hearty of souls.

While I nurse my cold, I have plenty of time to decide whether or not I should be laying in bed, going out and buying a few scarves, or, just pretending that it all happened by chance.

Sunday, June 8

On the Street Where You Live

Not to name drop (after all, he’s been dead for the better part of three hundred years), but…last night I was invited to Pope Innocent X’s private apartments overlooking Piazza Navona. I was told to go to Apt. 1a, via dell’Anima. In the throws of a serious dejá vu, my previous blog entry came right to life.

Pretending not to notice that the street name is actually via Santa Maria dell’Anima, I set out to find the home. Numbers started at 52, making their way down to 49 (same side of the street) before starting up again at 65 (and then going down again).

On the other side of the street, I didn’t fare much better. At a certain point, a building was numbered 17 and 2227, while on the other side of the doorway, it was simply 222. A few doors down, I found another building numbered both 16 and 17. But, they kept declining until the street ended at 2. I went around corners, in nearby piazzas, up tiny streets hoping to find a 1a somewhere.

Desperate and feeling far too anglo for not getting the system, I finally called my (Italian) friend. No, it’s 31a! I must have sent you the wrong address!

No problem, I’m sure I’ll find it. Right next door to 46.

Thursday, June 5

The Postman Never Rings Once

Anyone who doubts that the Italians aren’t organizationally challenged, has never had to look for an address in the City Centre. And while having both odd and even numbers on the same side of the street, and following no cardinal order, has its charms, sometimes, if you’re in a hurry, it can get downright maddening.

Ask any Italian, and you’ll discover that the reasons for this peeve are twofold, both of which are part & parcel of the entire makeup of Italian society:

1) Nostalgia – those buildings have been around since the Renaissance and so have their original numbers cast in stone. Any new additions, buildings being divided into more apartments, etc., have to fit into the original scheme. God forbid those stones are removed! And so, later buildings naturally sport later numbers, no matter where they appear on the block.

2) Bureaucracy – Renumbering the system would probably create a backlog of bureaucracy so great, it would make taking a census in India pale by comparison.

I recently sold a house in Abruzzo where things had been (smartly, or so I thought) renumbered.

- Turns out, my great aunt said she lived at no. 10, the number on the building.

- The City documents had it changed to number 18 sometime in the past (but our number in stone stayed put).

- Roaming up the street, I noticed that we were, following logically, actually no. 19 but there was already one of those, meaning the entire block from that point on would have to change their numbers, too.

- At the notary’s office to officiate the sale, it turns out that the real number of the property was 35 & 37 as listed in the Regional office records (because of little tiny lots which made up the backyard). This came as a surprise to all concerned, including the City offices (who happen to house the local post office to boot).

This whole cunundrum almost cost me the sale—-after all, it looked like I was trying to dump a property I did not even own (a fairly common fraud here).

But it’s no wonder the Post Office is so inefficient. The mail carriers must simply give up or worse, have nervous breakdowns trying to sort it all out.

Monday, June 2

May in Italy: Rules for the Road

This May, Italy took a few steps forward on its march toward user-friendliness – something good for residents and tourists alike:

- FREE PARKING The City of Rome lost a lawsuit pursued by the consumer associations (a miracle in and of themselves) regarding the famous ‘strisce blu’; the blue lines defining pay parking all around town. Ignore the meters in bliss. They don’t want your money. (And, wonders of wonders, those millions of parking tickets will also be reimbursed! So, it really is just like in Monopoly).

It was seconds before the word on the street was that the City did not really care whether they lost the case or not: Turns out, the wife of the mayor’s rival, Rutelli, owns the concession and pockets 22M euro of the 27M earned annually.
Although something must be said for the increase in smog, traffic, and once again, the cost of undoing what's been done (they're busy taking down the parking meter signs as I type), no matter, we consumers win out on this one (but, enjoy it while it lasts)…

- NO LOITERING Florence & Assisi have spearheaded initiatives to rid Italy’s most beautiful (and most visited) places of beggars.

Unfortunately, these spears are double-edged: it also means you can’t take in the sun, eat a sandwich, or read a guidebook whilst near the monuments either. We’ll see how it’s enforced.
Naturally, the Vatican chimed in on the right of the poor to collect alms.
No problems there, but, as a friend pointed out yesterday, one guy who goes up & down the trains to Salerno asking for handouts rents in August the lawyers’ beach apartment next door to hers…


Venice took a bold step and revoked the vendors’ licenses of those who provide bird seed for the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square. The vendors complained that they provided a tourist attraction service, and it’s unfair. And, while I commiserate for those who are losing their livelihoods, I kind of agree with Woody Allen on this one (that pigeons are merely rats with wings).

Of course, if they hadn’t gotten rid of all the cats the city wouldn’t be so inundated with the tons of bird poop to clean off its squares and buildings in the first place.