Subject: My Impressions of Italy (2005)
Dear Ziners,

I hope my travelogue will be useful for somebody!

Venice:

- you can see as many photos, as many movies and hear all kind of descriptions but for sure all this will not prepare you for the REAL image of the city. Coming from the train station on a small street I was hit and abruptly shocked by the absolutely fantastic view of the city. That image youíll never forget!

- donít try to negotiate with the gondolieri. I believe they have a sindicato (union) and agreements about prices. I did that with 8 guys: some of them are nice and really reason with you but some of them will treat you "maleducato" and can spoil your day.

- mandatory: cross the city from North to South by walking. The fun is coming when you lose your way. Plus you escape from the huge crowds.

- for whoever wants to visit Venice on short budget, my suggestion is to stay at Chioggia/Sottomarina at aprox. 45 minutes from Venice. It's a very nice beach-resort, very popular among Italians and the prices are very good. I stayed last year at Pensione Alla Lepre (The Rabbit) paying 30 E per night for a nice and clean room. Here is the address: Str. Dona Marina 184, phone 041/493025. The owner, a nice lady, has a restaurant too here (that's why is called Pensione) and many local workers come here to eat because the food is cheap and very good. Is a real Italian home-made food! The bus station for Venice is only 5 minutes walk from the hotel and is cheap too.

Padua (Padova):

- Basilica of St. Anthony: this is a must when you go to Padua! Before you enter youíll see the Monument of Erasmo da Narni (also called the Gattamelata) by the great Donatello (1453). St Anthony (belong to the order of St Francis of Assisi) lived in Padua in his last years of his short existence. Actually he was born in Lisbon in 1195 and died in 1231 near Padua. Inside there are many things to see and I will mention some: * The Tomb of the Saint with his spectacular 9 marbles reliefs. * The presbythery again with sculptures by Donatello who lived 10 years in Padova. * Chapel of St. James, of the Treasures, of the Madonna Mora, Of Lucca Belludi. The cupola of this Basilica is absolutely huge and it will impress you immediately.

- Piazza Prato della Valle: huge piazza used to be a memorable public place for assemblies and feasts. Along the aqueducts the huge vases and statues create a spectacular effect. Plus the Memmia island having grass in the centre where you can lay down for a break. You must see this piazza two times, night time and day time. I was impressed that, at midnight was full of people, lovers and teenagers.

Firenze (Florence) : some thoughts:

- do not attempt to climb the tower called "Il Campanile di Giotto" unless you have a very good physical condition. It has more than 400 steps, very tall and almost on 90 degrees, narrow corridors which can put you in distress. I consider myself very sporty and still I had to rest plus I was completely covered with perspiration at the end.

- almost all the restaurants are closed after 2-3 p.m. to be re-opened very late. If you donít have your lunch in time, youíll starve until dinner. Be aware! On the other hand there are small terrases (patios) which will take advantage of your desperation and will serve you very pricey food and drinks. We made this mistake paying 13 E for a glass of beer and 15 E for a lousy pizza. Usually these places have very few clients. The rule I will follow when Iím looking for a restaurant is: where are few or no clients, donít enter!

Arezzo:

- By all means visit the church of Saint Francesco to see one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance: Cycle of the True Cross by Piero della Francesca (1452-1464). The painting has an audio guide in many languages.

- Mandatory: visit Vasariís house. I was fascinated by the guideís explanations about paintings, the philosophy behind them. This is a real journey in the mind of an artist! Of course do the visit with the houseís guide. By yourself you cannot appreciate what you see unless you are very documented!

- The church of Saint Domenico with The Crucifix by Cimabue itís another great work to see.

Assisi:

- If you want to be drowned in the spirit and spirituality of the Saint Francis, a breathless and unique atmosphere, one of the major glory in the Italian Christian history come here and see The Basilicas. In the Lower Church there are 4 allegorical paintings which, according to Vasari, were frescoed by Giotto. But the latest researches negate that. Of course you can see St Francis tomb, his mortal remains (he died in 1226 ), Cimabue and Giottoís frescoes, and many, many things. Again, the entire atmosphere is so powerful that can change your entire vision of life, of our role on this earth, and for sure your lifeís priorities will be different after that.

Verona:

- if you want to breath the Verona atmosphere you have to go to Piazza delle Erbe: very colourful, lively, with splendid surrounding buildings like Casa Mazzanti, statues. Close to it, on Via Capello is Julietís House., Piazza dei Signori.

Norcia:

- this is a very charming city/village and here was born the famous prosciutto. In fact in this very old place the locals became specialists in preparing all kind of salami, sausages, cheese etc and exporting them in entire world. On the main street youíll encounter a store full with prosciutto and cheese. You cannot miss it. Inside, the vendor (who was actually the owner) invited us to taste and try different styles of prosciutto, salami, cheese. He made sandwiches for us and suggested to eat them in a small taverna just across the street. We agreed immediately in order to accompany this excellent food with an excellent wine. The experience was rich! After that we walked on a very picturesque street until we reached the piazza. We sit here and had a coffee with ice-cream being overwhelmed by the beauty of this very old square. Here is another store where we bought something exquisite, one of their specialty: donkeyís testicles.

Roma:

- As many other Travelziners, I stayed at Hotel delle Muse on Via Tommaso Salvini. And I was more than happy! Giorgio, the owner, gave me a big and wonderful room with a huge discount, because Iím a Ziner! So they will treat you like a VIP. There's a restaurant too where sometimes I had 3 meals per day, so good and friendly were the people!

The lessons Iíve learned visiting Roma are:

- be very prepared when you go visit the Vatican Museums: have water, a hat and patience. The waiting line here will surpass your imagination for sure. But donít hesitate to go out time to time to buy ice-cream. That will give you strength.

- Do not cross busy streets without semafors (lights): trying to cross a busy street intersection I got dizzy for a moment due to the huge traffic where the scooters, bikes, motorcycles were coming from everywhere, touching you literally.

- Please do visit Villa Borghese! In my opinion itís a MUST! Itís amazing, itís fabulous! But make a reservation otherwise itís almost impossible to see it.

San Marino

If you visit Italy please do not pass San Marino, the oldest and the smallest independent state. Itís breathtaking! As much as you are in a hurry, as much as you are old or young, if you donít take this journey you are losing an extraordinary and fascinating experience. Not only the First Tower castle, the Second and Third Tower, the Government Building, the authentic medieval appearance of the town but the panoramas from the walls of La Rocca is unique. Youíll have the sensation of being transported in a glorious medieval country.

Rimini:

The seaside resort impressed me with the colorful beaches. Itís like watching a garden. Thatís because there are many private beaches and each of it has a different color. Of course you have to pay to stay there plus you pay 3-4 E for the "sezlong" or bedliners (lounges). Cleanliness is reigning everywhere.

Chioggia/Sottomarina

This is another seaside resort where you can stay on the beach or visit Venice taking a bus for 45 minutes. At lunch time all the restaurants have a fixed price lunch (11-12 E) with 3 courses. The owners are staying out in the street and grab you showing you the menu.

Paul Chatham, Canada