Ancients Doing Modern Things

I posted this silly tweet on my personal account one week ago and people are still retweeting it. Some replied with suggestions that it was Marcus Aurelius attempting a selfie. While quite a few suggested photos like this could become a trend. Is this a meme in search of a hashtag?

Either way, I hope to be doing more of these while I’m in Rome. Stay tuned for photos and musings posted on my personal and italofile twitter accounts. I’ll also be posting more Italy stories, how-tos, and travel news as I get settled.

The Best Places to Live in Italy

Duomo of Bolzano Italy
Bolzano tops the list of best places to live in Italy. Which other cities made the top 10?

Florence, Rome, Venice – you already know the names of the cities you must add to your Italy travel itinerary. But, do you know which cities in Italy are the best places to live? Each year, the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore publishes the Italy Quality of Life Survey, which calculates factors such as employment, free time, air quality, and public services in order to determine which Italian city dwellers are faring the best.

Not surprisingly, almost all of the towns that made it into the top 10 are not tourist hot spots. Although, Siena took the #5 spot and Bologna entered the top 10 this year at #8. Also not surprising is that most of the towns are in northern Italy, which is traditionally healthier and wealthier than the south.

And where did Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples, and Milan place? Of those five tourist hotspots, Florence was the highest, ranking at #16. Milan was next at #21. Rome #35. Venice #46. And Naples ranked dead last at #107 (the trash problem, perhaps?).

Are you thinking about retiring in Italy? Relocating to Italy? Getting a summer home in Italy? Perhaps you want to consider the cities listed in the latest quality of life survey.

Following are the top 10 Italian cities with the best quality of life:

1. Bolzano

2. Trento

3. Sondrio

4. Trieste

5. Siena

6. Aosta

7. Gorizia

8. Bologna

9. Oristano

10. Belluno

Photo © firing_tower

My September 11th in Florence

Every year, as we approach the anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, I think back to what I was doing that day. In fact, I was in Florence. So this year I thought I would share my recollections of the event from the perspective of a tourist in Italy. This may not be all that interesting to you, but I felt it important to get it down on paper/screen before I forget.

The thing that I remember most about 9-11 was that it was a beautiful fall day in Florence. I was in Italy to do research for The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy, but was spending a good chunk of my time in Florence, staying in a different hotel almost every night and day-tripping to other towns. That Tuesday morning, I woke up early at the suburban hotel I had tested out for the evening, re-packed my bags, and hopped on a bus north to Florence, where I checked in at the Hotel Botticelli, a nice boutique hotel near the San Lorenzo Market (Mercato Centrale). I left my luggage in my room and went out to explore some more of Florence before I picked up my sister, a photographer, at the airport later that day.

I recall doing a number of hotel and B&B inspections that day, as well as some shopping and touring around the San Lorenzo district. It was a carefree day – remember, the time difference was six hours. I bought some boots and this corduroy number that seemed pretty chic at the time. I ate gelato. I strolled over to the Duomo, snapped photos, dodged motorini, and just enjoyed the sunny cool breezes and other autumnal goings on the city. There were certainly many tourists in Florence in mid-September, but fewer than I had spotted a year before during the summer. Life was good.

At about 2pm, I hopped in a cab and headed to Peretola Airport, where I was to pick up my sister when her flight arrived at 3pm (approximately 9am New York time). I hung out in the terminal, had an espresso. Her flight arrived about 15 minutes late. We hugged each other and proceeded to get in another cab to head back to Hotel Botticelli.

On the taxi ride back, the driver kept fiddling with the radio. We were hearing bits and pieces of English coming out of the radio…”World Trade Center”…”terrorism”…but couldn’t tell what was going on. The driver was obviously trying to find a station that wasn’t broadcasting the news, which was being translated simultaneously, thereby allowing bits of English to come through. My sister asked me what was going on in the news as she had been on a flight for hours and felt out of touch.

“Oh…I don’t know,” I said. “Last night I was watching the Miss Italia contest. Then there was something about the head of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan being assassinated. I don’t really know who that is but it was a big headline in the news over here.”

“Well, it sounds like something is going on at the World Trade Center in New York,” she said.

“Oh…I think that they’re just playing back the broadcast from when it was bombed in ’93. I think that Sheik’s trial is coming up or something.”

“No,” my sister said. “I think there’s something going on right now at the World Trade Center.”

By the time we thought to listen to the radio more diligently, we were already at our hotel. The driver, wiping sweat off his brow, eagerly helped us with our bags, took our money, and sped away.

As we entered the hotel, everyone was standing around the television in the lobby. The manager said to us, “I am so sorry. One of your towers is about to fall.” We didn’t understand what he meant until we watched the TV for ourselves. Sure enough the first tower did fall. After gawking silently for a good half-hour with the rest of the hotel’s clientele and nearby shopkeepers, we headed up to our room, plopped down on the bed, and turned on the TV, unable to move for hours.

But, we had to go to dinner eventually. Bleary-eyed from watching hours of the same footage and the new scroll ticker on CNN International, we slowly made our way out of the hotel to look for food. We ended up at Trattoria ZáZá, a congenial spot just steps from the hotel that specialized in Florentine and Tuscan home cooking. I remember I had the pappa al pomodoro (bread and tomato soup). ZáZá was the perfect speed for us that night – mostly heavy on other tourists, but extremely friendly. Our minds were focused on the food and service for a brief moment in time. Then we had to walk back to our hotel, where we watched another couple hours of TV before passing out into an uneasy (and, for my sister, jet-lagged) sleep.

La Nazione Headline on September 13, 2001
La Nazione Headline on September 13, 2001, the night after the candlelight vigil in Piazza della Signoria

The next morning, we scrambled to the newsstand to see if we could get an English-language newspaper. There was one USA Today left and we devoured it from cover to cover as we sipped cappuccinos at some unknown caffè. We became popular with other tourists, too, who wanted to borrow our paper or just chat with us about the day before’s catastrophic events.

I felt a definite camaraderie with my fellow Americans on September 12. In addition to feeling dumbstruck, all of us also felt a little guilty for being away from the U.S. and for being on vacation. We felt guilty about proceeding to go on our tours. And most of all, we were frustrated that we were unable to reach loved ones. Phone lines were clogged and it was almost impossible to get a terminal at an internet café.

The Italian people were incredibly gracious and warm on September 12, too. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. But it did my heart some good to see signs posted in English on the storefronts along the Ponte Vecchio that read, “We stand with our American brothers and sisters.” There was an incredible outpouring of sympathy from everyone we met, even though nothing had actually happened to us personally. Although I was far away from home, I felt comfort being in Italy. (I don’t think many American travelers realize it, but Italians and Americans have a special bond. It’s rare when I meet an Italian who doesn’t have a brother or a cousin living in the States.)

My sister and I spent September 12 getting on with our travels of Florence. To take our minds off of things, we hiked up to the beautiful church of San Miniato al Monte, where there is a spectacular view of the Duomo and the rooftops of Florence.

That evening, a candlelight vigil in Piazza della Signoria drew thousands. I can’t remember much of the service other than that the head of the Jewish community in Florence spoke. Some woman from the English community sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” It seemed as if the whole city was in mourning that night and were gathering around travelers and expats for support.

Renting an Apartment in Italy

italykeyIf you’re going to Italy for longer than a week, you may want to consider renting an apartment. An apartment rental allows you to come and go as you wish without the feeling of being a tourist. You can make your own meals (or eat them at the local cafe or trattoria) and establish a home base – perfect if, say, you want to base your entire trip in Rome and take just a few day trips.

Sure, you may not have a hotel pool, room service, or an elevator at your disposal if you rent an apartment. But you do get a better sense of the daily goings-on of your chosen city. Apartment rentals are also ideal for traveling families; you have to worry a little bit less if your tots are running amok.

You can find many Italy apartment rentals by searching in Google. Slow Travel – Italy has a number of them. But I am particularly impressed by Halldis, a holiday rental company with properties in 13 Italian cities and several other European destinations like London and Paris. The current roster of apartment locations include Bari, Genoa, Catania, Lake Como, Bologna, Milan, Venice, Rome, and Florence, to name a few. They haven’t even BEGUN to make inroads into the Tuscany market, so I’m sure that Halldis’ list of properties will continue to grow.

Just for the record, I have no affiliation with Halldis at all. I came across their website while researching apartment ideas for a friend. For a little taste of Halldis before you click over to book your apartment, have a look at this video.

Photo by Kuw_Son

For the Love of Dante

dantecomputerItalofile Then and Now
When I started Italofile over three years ago, my goal was to help promote my Italy travel guides, collect Italy travel information in “real time,” and basically keep up with the ever-changing landscape that is the Italy travel experience. To give you an idea of how much can change in three years, there really weren’t a whole lot of blogs specifically about Italy-now there are thousands! In fact, my blog friend Jessica at Boots N All was just starting Italylogue, one of the best and comprehensive Italy blogs out there today.

Three years ago I started blogging so I could “stay in the game,” as it were. Now I write so I can stay out of it.

Doing It For Dante
If you have been following Italofile for some time, you may have noticed that my posts are less frequent. I apologize for that – it’s not for a lack of enthusiasm. Instead, over the past three years, as my first baby Dante has morphed into a toddler, I have been taking time out to enjoy him. And, admittedly, it has taken a lot out of me.

When Dante – who, of course, shares his name with a great poet – didn’t say his first word by 18 months, we realized we had a problem. Since June of 08, just before his 2nd birthday, we have been getting therapy for Dante, from speech and special ed to occupational therapy for his fine and gross motor skills. We’ve been told that D has PDD-NOS, an autism spectrum disorder also known as “atypical autism.” Dante is what you call “high functioning” and he has a photographic memory. Alas, he still can’t hold a conversation. We are hoping, of course, that these early intervention therapies will help Dante enough so that he’ll be able to tackle kindergarten successfully two years from now.

Why Write Now?
So what does any of this have to do with Italofile? Well, above, when I said that I am trying to stay “out of the game,” I meant that blogging, freelance writing, and basically working from home are my only options right now as a means for income. Going to work in an office right now isn’t practical for my family as I have Dante – and his little brother Leo – to care for. I choose to take on self-guided projects so that I can set my own deadlines (or no deadlines) and be available for my children when they need me. Sure, I could try to go back to the office, but leaving Dante in daycare for the hours he’s not in therapy would be a disservice to him and the caregivers, not to mention a large sum of outgoing funds. It’s a reality for many parents. I know I am not particularly unique in that respect.

Branching Out
What it boils down to is that I want my readers to know that I am still doing my best to be the “Italy travel resource.” in fact, I am fairly active on Twitter, a medium that has been very beneficial for a busy SAHM and blogger like myself. Yes, friends, there is a face – and family – behind the posts about Rome and Florence. I have also launched a companion social network to Italofile at http://italofile.ning.com, where I hope that readers like you will add to the conversation about traveling in Italy.

How You Can Help
The first thing you can do to help is sign up at the Italofile network on Ning and start contributing to the dialogue about Italy travel. I want to get everyone – from armchair travelers to local tourism boards in Italy – to sign up so we can all benefit from the information, deals, and direct connections.

Another way you can help is by clicking on an ad or two when you visit italofile.com or the Italofile social network. If you’re a hotel or offer a product or service, consider placing your own ad on Italofile. Send me a message at melanie at italofile.com if you’re interested. Or, check out my Amazon.com picks in the Italoshop. You know how it works. A couple clicks from everyone will be of great help to me as I try to stay home and do what’s best for my bambini.

I haven’t done the paypal donate thing yet: I am somewhat too proud to beg. A fellow blogger suggested I request donations through Paypal, so now I guess I ain’t too proud to beg! So if you want to send me some change for an espresso or gelato, click the following button:

[paypal-donation]

Also, if you have other ideas for how I can generate a modest income from my Italofile projects, please let me know. (I am working on some other web projects: visit www.missadventures.com for more info on those.)

And Finally…
Of course, I know that you savvy readers can go almost anywhere to get info on traveling in Italy. But I do think that I bring a unique perspective to my travel advice (and now, in particular, travel with kids!). Please feel free to ask me questions, send suggestions of topics you’d like for me to cover, or anything else to Melanie at italofile dot com.

Photo © Melanie Mize Renzulli, 2009.

The Top 25 Hotels in Italy

Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli: One of Italys 25 Best
Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli: One of Italy's 25 Best

While it’s true that the travel industry is taking a hit in light of the world financial crisis, there are still plenty of people making trips to Italy. And, with the dollar improving against the euro (at least for the time being), some Americans are looking to do Italy in style.

Luckily, thanks to USA Today/Forbes Traveler, there’s now a list of Italy’s 25 best hotels. Compiled by Forbes, this is a grouping of the most luxurious and elegant lodgings “ranging from urban grande dames to breathtaking coastal villas.” Forbes Traveler has also created a nifty little slide show to showcase each of the 25.

We’ve certainly mentioned some of these hotels in The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy and/or on this site. But here are the links if you want to check them out yourself:

Italy’s 25 Best Hotels According to Forbes Traveler

Rome
Hotel de Russie
Hotel Eden
Hotel Hassler Roma
Portrait Suites
St. Regis Grand Hotel

Florence
Hotel Lungarno
Hotel Savoy
Villa La Massa
Villa San Michele

Tuscany
Il Pellicano Hotel (Porto Ercole)
Relais Il Falconiere (Cortona)

Milan
Bulgari Hotel Milano
Four Seasons Hotel Milan

Venice
Bauer Hotel
Luna Hotel Baglioni

Capri
Capri Palace Hotel and Spa (Anacapri)
Grand Hotel Quisisana

Lake Garda
Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli (Gargnano)

Amalfi Coast
Hotel Caruso (Ravello)
Hotel Santa Caterina (Amalfi)
Il San Pietro (Positano)
Le Sireneuse (Positano)
Palazzo Sasso (Ravello)

Cinque Terre
Hotel Splendido (Portofino)

Lake Como
Villa d’Este (Cernobbio)

Italy’s Best Boutique and Luxury Hotels

Ironically, with all the hotel review and booking sites out there, it’s become almost impossible to find just the right place to hang our hats when we travel, especially for those of us that prefer smaller, independent inns or hotels with a bit of panache. We guidebook writers like to think that travelers will use the few suggestions that we provide, but we’re also realistic. That’s why I’d like to share a hotel site that I recently found: tablethotels.com.

Touted as a website with “hotels for global nomads,” tablethotels.com has a very simple site which allows you to choose accommodations by area, name, deals, and a few other criteria including “I just want to get away,” which is a select list of hotels categorized by destination, landscape, agenda (e.g., wine region, gambling), or hotel type (e.g., “traditional elegance,” “cutting edge”).

Tablet has listings for hotels all over the world, including Italy, and you can even click on a link called “TabletKids,” which lets you define specific kid-friendly criteria, such as a crib, connecting rooms, or a kid-friendly menu. We did this search for Italy with the above three requests and found some lovely looking lodgings from as far north as Lake Como to as far south as Puglia.

Sure, some people may find that the Tablet website is a bit too cosmopolitan for their tastes (indeed, you can download soundtracks for your trips and connect to them via twitter). But they do have hotels that start at under €100 per night. And, I love the pared down, almost bespoke approach Tablet has taken to create a hotel recommendations site.

Believe it or not, I don’t have any affiliations with Tablet; I just saw the site and liked it. So, go have a look…

“Rome 1960” Book Presentation

Earlier in the summer, we wrote about David Maraniss’ new book Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World. If you read the book and loved it or put it on your reading list, then you may be interested in attending a book presentation with the author.

On September 10 at 6:30 p.m., the Istituto Italiano di Cultura of Washington, DC, and the Embassy of Italy will host the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and DC native for a discussion of his latest page-turner. If you’d like to go, you must RSVP to iicwashington@esteri.it or by calling 202-518-0998, ext. 1.

Another book talk coming up from the IIC will be with Eleanor Herman, the author of Mistress of the Vatican. The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope.* That discussion will take place on September 24. Contact the above e-mail or phone number for more info.

*Update: This book presentation has been cancelled. To find out about rescheduling or other events, contact the e-mail address above.

Getting the Italy Travel Answers You Need

Will a trip to Italy in August be miserable? Should I reserve tickets in advance to view Michelangelo’s David in Florence? These are just a few of the questions posed on a recent post from Fodor’s Travel Wire titled Planning a Trip to Italy: 20 Common Questions. For the post, Fodor’s mined their popular Europe travel forum for questions and answers. And, it got us to thinking – what other Italy travel forums are out there?

So, here is a short list of some of the web’s best Italy and Europe travel forums. Of course, you can also look to Italofile for up-to-date Italy travel info and tips. We hope to provide you our own forums soon.

Italy Travel Forums

Jewish Resources in Italy

Just in time for Passover, I’ve found a great resource for all things Jewish in Italy. JewishItaly.org has links and info to synagogues, kosher stores, Jewish museums, and more. If you are Jewish or just interested in Jewish culture and history, you can also browse JewishItaly’s list of towns that can claim Jewish heritage or presently have a Jewish community. Also interesting are JewishItaly’s news tidbits, including a recent listing from March 1, 2008, noting that five restaurants in Rome have lost their kosher certification. As this is a part of Italian history that few travelers are aware of, this site is worth checking out.

Best-Reviewed Hotels in Italy

Yesterday we linked to reviews of a Naples hotel on Tripadvisor.com. Sites like Tripadvisor, Virtualtourist.com, and others have really taken off in the past couple of years as more and more travelers sign on to rant or rave about hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc. Indeed, these review sites are really giving magazine and guidebook writers a run for their money because potential travelers can get and give recommendations in real time.

Today, Tripadvisor released Travelers Choice, a list that includes the best-reviewed hotels on every continent and in every category, from luxury to “hidden gems” (maybe not so hidden anymore!) and from family-friendly properties to hotels and timeshares with the best service. We’re happy to distill this into an Italo-centric list for you:

Top 100 Best Luxury – World
21. Locanda dell’Amorosa, Sinalunga (Siena), Italy
46. Villa Le Scale, Anacapri, Italy
62. The Westin Excelsior Florence, Florence, Italy
63. Sofitel Roma, Rome, Italy

Best in the 25 Most Popular Destinations – World
7. Sofitel Roma, Rome, Italy
12. Palazzo Sant’Angelo sul Canal Grande, Venice, Italy

Top 10 Best Hidden Gems – World
5. Residence Corte Grimani, Venice, Italy

Top 10 Best Hidden Gems – Europe
4. Residence Corte Grimani, Venice, Italy
10. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo, Venice, Italy

Top 10 Best Bargains – World
10. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo, Venice, Italy

Top 10 Best Bargains – Europe
4. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo, Venice Italy
5. Hotel Vecchio Asilo, San Gimignano, Italy

Top 10 Best Inns and B&Bs – Europe
1. Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy
7. Casa Portagioia, (Castiglion Fiorentino) Tuscany, Italy

Top 10 Best for Romance – Europe
6. Hotel Buca di Bacco, Positano, Italy
7. La Minerva, Capri, Italy
10. Locanda dell’Amorosa, Sinalunga, Italy

Top 10 Best Service – Europe
8. Relais La Suvera, Pievescola (Siena), Italy
10. The Westin Excelsior Florence, Florence, Italy

To read reviews of the above hotels or to find out more about Tripadvisor’s criteria for its awards, go to www.tripadvisor.com.

Happy 2008!

Yes….we are still here. We took a much needed break in December and hope to be back regularly posting informative Italy travel ideas in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Happy New Year, everyone! Buon anno!

Welcome to Italofile!

Welcome to the Italofile – your resource for Italy travel information.

Bear with us – we’ll be up and running soon. In the meantime, we recommend the following guides for planning your next trip to Italy:

The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy
Michelin Green Guide Tuscany
Frommer’s Italy 2006
Italy Eyewitness Travel Guide

You can also check out more travel books at our Amazon store!