In the April 2005 I had the good fortune to be able to visit Barcelona, Spain. This web page, and the pages it links to, are my notes from the planning I did for a visit to Italy in April of 2006.
For various reasons when I was planning a trip to Spain, Barcelona was, for me, an obvious choice for my visit. Planning a trip to Italy has been more difficult. Italy seems to have more culture per square kilometer than any other place I can think of.
In April of 2006, I spent two weeks in Italy, visiting Venice, Bologna and Siena.
San Francisco (SFO)
(VCE Marco Polo)
Venice to Siena
Siena by train/bus
Siena to Bologna
Bologna by train
Bologna to SFO
There are myriad reasons to visit Venice. Venice is one of the most remarkable cities in the world. Venice is a city built on a lagoon, surrounded by water. The Venice of the modern world is the bones of the Venetian Empire, which for hundreds of years was one of the richest empires in Europe. At its height Venice controlled much of the Mediterranean. This wealth was used to build the churches and palaces that one can see in Venice today.
Venice is considered one of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world to visit (having not visited yet, I can't provide an opinion). Venice was a major stop on the Edwardian/Victorian era "Grand Tour" that the sons and daughters wealthy British families undertook before settling down. The Romantic poet Lord Byron lived in Venice for a time.
Tuscany, the Italian region that encompasses Florence and Siena, is renown for its art, architecture, food and the beauty of the countryside.
I originally planned to visit Florence. Many people love Florence, but as I started to read about it, the traffic sounded oppressive. Siena, which is Florence's ancient competitor, sounded like it had the charm of Florence with less impact from the modern world.
The mark of a medieval city was its walls. The walls provided protection from invaders, but perhaps almost as important, the wall provided a physical and emotional demarcation of the city. As European cities expanded, the walls were usually torn down and frequently converted to ring roads. Siena is remarkable in that the city wall still exists.
As it turns out, April 25 is a "liberation day" in Italy and is a holiday. This makes a four day weekend and Siena gets a lot of Italian visitors. I suspect that the crowds in Siena are now as bad as they are in Florence.
When tourists think of Italy they most often think of the frequently visited areas like Venice, Florence and Rome. Bologna is not really on the tourist map. For example, it is difficult to find tourist guides to Bologna. Although Bologna is not as well know as Italy's other tourist spots, it has a reputation of being one of the most unique cities in Italy. In a country that prides itself on food, the food in Bologna is considered some of the best in Italy. It is Bologna that has given the world tortellini and lasagna.
Bologna is also sometimes referred to as "the city that works". In a country mired in dysfunctional bureaucracy and corruption, Bologna is considered a model of what Italy could be. The government is reputed to be relatively efficient and corruption is limited (at least by Italian standards). Bologna also has the unique distinction of having a Communist past. Although few people are Communists these days (including the Chinese), Bologna keeps some faith with its socialist roots.
Socialism without recognition that markets and commerce provide the wealth for the socialist ideal always fails. Bologna seems to have embraced business and the relatively efficient government is probably a welcome change compared to the rest of Italy.
Bologna is also the home of the oldest University in Europe. During the years of the world technology boom in the late 1990s, Bologna was the locus of Italian technology. Although Bologna is not a common tourist destination, it does seem to be a popular site for professional and academic conferences.
Trenitalia is the intercity Italian Train System. My notes on purchasing Trenitalia train tickets on-line can be found on the above web page link.
Weather in Italy (via weather.yahoo.com)
I've been taking conversatonal Italian in preparation for my visit to Italy (my weak attempt at not being an "ugly American"). I've purchased a small travel dictionary, but it contains only a basic vocabulary.
There are a number of English-Italian, Italian-English dictionaries on-line. Many of them are not complete, or do not provide all of the conjugations when you look up a verb. The best on-line dictionary I've found so far is WordReference.com.
WordReference.com is the work of Michael Kellogg. It runs GoogleAddWord adds, so it is not entirely non-commercial. But there are no unpleasant pop-ups or intrusive adds. The two Italian dictionaries are shown linked to below:
Babel Fish is an on-line resource that does machine translation of foreign languages. Babel Fish goes back to the early days of the web.
Babel Fish translations are not very good. I sometimes use Babel Fish for translation when I'm working on my Italian homework, but I always check what it gives me. There are times when the translations are way off.
Alilaguna Alilaguna is a private transport company that has various boat transport lines around venice. They run a waterbus directly from the Marco Polo airport to the major stops around Venice. Alilaguna is the cheapest and fastest way to get between Marco Polo airport and Venice.
ACTV (Azienda del Consorzio Trasporti Veneziano) - waterbus public transportation in Venice and around Venice. Get a ACTV pass or an Venice Blue or Orange ticket that covers the number of days you will be in Venice. The waterbus is the way to get around Venice, other than walking and a waterbus pass is economical and indispensable.
In Venice, as important as the weather are the tides. During the winter, high tides, winds and rain cause flooding in Venice. These floods are referred to as the acqua alta.
The City of Siena Tourist Guide (english version)
The Siena guide is a somewhat amateur production
TRAIN S.p.a (Servizi per la mobilita) Siena (Bus service for Siena and the surrounding area of Tuscany)
A Journey Through the Layers of Bologna by Mary Tolaro-Noyes. This site includes a guide to Bologna and some suggested walks. The web site is lovely.
Discover Bologna a small guide to Bologna published by the City of Bologna.
About Bologna, a set of links in english compiled by the City of Bologna.
There are some wonderful links here. A day in the life of Bologna is a set of photographs and commentary by university students at the Bologna Center of Johns Hopkins University. What I loved about the commentary was the attempt by the students to reach out and understand Bologna.
Other links include a map of the city, sight-seeing guides and historical background.
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