Archive for March, 2013

March 22, 2013

Driving in Italy ?

smart caragip petrolimited traffic zoneautogrillparking signIf you plan to rent a car and drive in Italy on your vacation, these driving tips may be helpful.

If your driver’s license is from the US you should carry an International Driving Permit along with your local license. You’ll need to show it if you get stopped by the police for any reason. It’s not a license, requires no test, and is basically a translation of your driver’s license. It’s fairly inexpensive and easy to get. AAA offices can issue them on the spot generally.

Once you are in your car and driving, be mindful of the Limited Traffic Zones. Most Italian cities have these zones and even in small towns you may find them in the historic center, the centro storico. A special permit is required to drive in a limited traffic zone (which your hotel can usually provide if it’s within one). There is a camera that takes a photo of your license plate as you enter and you may get a fine in the mail even if you don’t get stopped right away. Look for a parking lot outside the center (universally signed with large blue + white P). You’ll often find one within walking distance or with a shuttle to the center.

The autostrada is Italy’s system of toll roads. Autostrada highways are designated with an A in front of a number (such as A1, the major autostrada that connects Milan and Rome) and signs pointing toward them are green. You realize soon that the furthest destination is signed, though you may be only going half way to Milan on the autostrada from Rome, you will follow direction Milan.

Always drive in the right hand lane, except to pass. The maximum speed limit is 130 kilometers per hour but on some parts of the autostrada the maximum speed is 110, and may be as low as 60 on some curvy stretches, so watch for posted speed limit signs. When you exit the autostrada, you will pay a toll (take a ticket as you enter). US credit cards do not always work at the toll booth so be sure you have cash with you. Rest stops with gas station, snack bar, and often a restaurant are all along the autostrada. They generally excellent and clean.

While a GPS can come in handy for navigation, don’t rely on it exclusively. I have many clients who ended up in the wrong place because they followed GPS directions. In Italy it is common to find two (or more) towns with the same name in different regions so be sure to have a good detailed area map. Keep in mind, getting lost can present some delightful surprises.

Petro – be sure to know if your rental car takes diesel or regular fuel, as both are common. In rural areas be aware that Petro stations are not open 24/7, so plan ahead.

Sunday is a good day for long distance driving on the autostrada, because trucks are prohibited on Sundays. Be aware that in summer, coast roads become very congested, especially on Sundays. Roads around the northern lakes are often congested on weekends, too.


March 8, 2013

La Festa della Donna

imagesCA1GXWDNOn March 8th, Italian women celebrate The International Women’s Day – “La Festa della Donna”!

The first National Women’s Day was organised by the Socialist Party of America in 1909 to draw attention to the poor working conditions endured by many women. In 1911 Europe staged a similar event for the first time in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark.
Barely a week after this first International Women’s Day, a tragedy took place in America which graphically illustrated the appalling working conditions in many textile factories. On 25th March 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Company’s ten-storey factory in New York City, killing 146 of its 500 workers, many of whom were Italian immigrant women. As a result, new safety laws were drafted. Since 1914 International Women’s Day has been celebrated on March 8th and the victims resulting from poor working conditions, such as that in NYC are remembered.
In Italy, the first Festa della Donna was held in 1946, three months before the birth of the Republic. During the Second World War women had played an instrumental role in the country’s industrial and agricultural life and had finally been granted the vote in 1945. Despite the difficulties the whole country faced in the early years of peace, women were determined to hold on to these freedoms as their husbands returned from the war.
Over the years, the Festa has broadened its scope, and nowadays women’s groups and charities mark 8th March with demonstrations, conferences and marches to draw attention to a diverse range of women’s issues.
A ubiquitous part of the celebrations in Italy is the mimosa, the strongly-perfumed spring-blooming flower that Italian men traditionally give to their girlfriends on this day. The custom dates back to 1946 when the Unione Donne Italiane chose it as a symbol of the Festa because it is an easy-to-find, inexpensive flower. Nowadays, thousands of bouquets are sold in the run-up to the big day, and their bright yellow colour signifies vitality, strength and joy.
It was not until I was in Tuscany many years ago on this commemorative day, that I fully understood “International Women’s Day” – “La Festa della Donna”.

March 7, 2013

Sistine Chapel temporarily closed

giardini_vaticani_mini[1]sistine chapel
In order to accommodate the forthcoming Conclave, the Sistine Chapel will remain closed to the public effective March 5th until further notice. During the same period, the Borgia Apartment and the Collection of Modern Religious Art will not be included in visits to the Vatican Museums. And all guided tours of the Vatican Gardens have been suspended. So my Rome bound friends, please double check with me on reopenings if you are headed to Rome soon.
The Sistine Chapel will host, for the twenty-fifth time, one of the most secret and mysterious rites in the world: the Conclave.
Indeed, twenty-four conclaves have been held in what remains forever, in spite of the enormous daily influx of visitors and pilgrims, a papal chapel and a place fundamental to the identity of the Roman Catholic Church.

March 6, 2013

ITALO – the new high speed Italian train

Italo trains can go up to 225mph and currently travel from Salerno, south of Naples, to Milan, Turin, and Venice,also servicing Florence, Bologna, and Padua. Travel high speed in high style. Italo is a joint venture by Ferrari and Tod’s, two Italian luxury brands. The train cars have wide reclining seats covered in soft Poltrona Frau leather. The food is locally sourced from Eataly gourmet market and free entertainment options range from live TV to movies, digital newspapers and free Wi-Fi in all cars. Prices are based on class of service, which ranges from no frills Smart Ambience (yet still many luxuries), to Prima Ambience, which includes meal service in your seat, to Club Ambience for more privacy and quiet.
Another highlight I thought on my recent short trip from Naples to Rome in Prima class was ‘Casa Italo’ the private customer lounge inside the train terminals. There is a staffed Service Center, comfortable seating and Wi-Fi just a few steps away from the tracks where you will board your train.

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