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Friday, May 26, 2006

May Issue - Special Report: Living the Dream

The May 2006 issue of Dream of Italy is now posted on the Web site and can be downloaded by paid subscribers. Postal subscribers will receive issues next week. This is a special report on "Living the Dream" - living, working and buying property in Italy:

  • At Home in Chianti: One Italian Dream Come True
  • An Insider's Guide to Chianti
  • So You Want to be an Expat in Italy...
  • American Expats Making Their Own Way (Profiles of Small Business Owners)
  • Living the Dream: These Books Can Help
  • How to Become an Italian Citizen

**Planning to visit Italy in the near future? Paid subscribers receive online access to our archive of over 30 back issues of Dream of Italy. What more do you need to plan a once-in-a-lifetime Italian adventure? Click here to read about more subscriber benefits and to join!**

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Introducing the Amalfi Coast Music Festival

Everyone seems to be headed to the Amalfi Coast this summer. How do I know? I have talked to most of them. Our staff will be there too, writing and researching our special report on the area to be published this fall. But that doesn't help those traveling there this summer, so I have been pondering some quick information I can give to this summer's travelers looking for the little known gems Dream of Italy is so famous for uncovering.

I must recommend The Amalfi Coast Music Festival and Institute, now in its 11th year, which takes place this July in Vietri Sul Mare (we featured this famous ceramics town in our October 2004 issue) and other incredible venues on the Amalfi Coast. I know the festival's founders - Sasha Katsnelson and his lovely wife Leslie Hyde - professional musicians and confirmed Italophiles who have worked tirelessly to bring international recognition to their festival. Whether you are a musician who wants to take classes or just a traveler who wants to hear impressive performances in incredible venues (such as Ravello's Villa Rufolo, the Amalfi Cathedral and the Fortress of Salerno), don't overlook the Amalfi Coast Music Festival.

If your interest is piqued and you are ready to make a special trip for the festival, consider a trip with another pair of friends -- Anne and Kirk Woodyard of Music and Markets Tours. They are taking a group to the festival July 3 to 9, 2006, with the option of continuing on to Tuscany.

And while we are talking about the Amalfi Coast -- a special offer for Dream of Italy readers! Amalfi Life would like to offer a discount on its Amalfi Coast Culinary Adventure Tour, October 7 to 13, 2006. Save $150 off a tour for one person and $400 off for two. Owner Laurie Howell says, "This tour is where Amalfi Life really shines. We put all of our secrets into it and give the clients the best the 'Divine' Coast has to offer. It's always a winner."

Monastery Hotels are Hot

An article in the June 2006 issue of Travel + Leisure notes the growing trend across Europe of ancient monasteries being transformed into chic hotels, providing every amenity. Author Shane Mitchell visits Relais San Maurizio in Piedmont. He reports:

The connection between monasteries and great vineyards is long-standing. I am reminded of this as I steer an enormous Mercedes up narrow switchbacks surrounded by Moscato grapes en route to Relais San Maurizio, about two hours southeast of Turin in Italy's Piedmont region, where the white truffles of Alba are paired with delightfully fizzy vintages from Asti.
Walking through a glass-enclosed winter garden designed by I. M. Pei, one of the bar staff casually hails me by saying, "Salve." It's a common Italian greeting, meaning "hello," but I'm stopped in my tracks, knowing that the Latin root salvus means "safe and sound."

while staying at San Maurizio Mitchell suggests you eat here:

Ristorante Stazione
Savor carpaccio with white truffles, gnocchi with butter and sage, and local Barbaresco and Nebbiolo wines at this homey trattoria. 6 Piazzale G. Manzo; 39-0141/844-233; dinner for two $150.

Are you interested in visiting Piedmont? Then check out Dream of Italy's Special Report: Turin/Piedmont

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Save Money with Touring Club of Italy

Whether you are planning to move to Italy or just taking a two-week jaunt around the country, a 25-euro yearly membership in the Touring Club of Italy might be a worthwhile investment. Members receive some of the following benefits:
  • 10% off car rentals from Hertz
  • 5% of Moby Lines and 10% off SNAV ferries and cruises
  • discounts on TCI – affiliated hotels, resorts and campsites
  • restaurant discounts
  • savings at 194 wine cellars and more than 760 museums, monuments and parks

For a full list of benefits, searchable by location, and to sign up for membership, visit http://www.touringclub.it/international_TCI/0_join.asp (the excellent English version of the Club's Web site)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Someday My (Italian) Prince Will Come

A friend e-mailed me yesterday to suggest I apply to appear on the next series of ABC's "The Bachelor." Why? Well, the series will film in Rome where the ladies will be vying for the hearts of a real, live Italian prince -- who is an animal lover to boot. (My passion for Italy is only equaled by my passion for dogs!)

Here's ABC's announcement: ABC also announced the new Bachelor, Prince Lorenzo Borghese, a handsome 33-year-old cosmetics entrepreneur. Prince Borghese has been selected to star in the ninth edition of “The Bachelor,” ABC’s popular romance reality series, which returns to the network this fall. Once again the series will be set outside the United States in one of the most glamorous, romantic capitals of the world – Rome!

According to Women's Wear Daily, "Any hopeful girls should be animal lovers, however. The prince founded Royal Treatment Pet Care in "loving memory of Belle, my black lab, who lost her battle with cancer on April 14, 2005," he says on the Web site, getroyaltreatment.com. Inspired by the natural cosmetics line for humans that his grandmother, Princess Marcella Borghese, created, the prince has developed a natural skin care line for pets."

Where do I apply?!?!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Move Over George Clooney...

The world's OTHER most popular bachelor is set to spend time on Lake Como.

Bond. James Bond.

The latest Bond flick "Casino Royale" will be filming at Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como at the end of May. This is actor Daniel Craig's first turn playing Bond. Other films including several Star Wars films (Episodes Two and Three) have also filmed at the villa. Location scouts for "Casino Royale" have also been spotted looking at the casino in the small town of Campione d'Italia, but no definitive word on whether filming will take place.

Avoiding Currency Conversion Chaos

Here's the link to the story I was interviewed for (referenced below):


It should give you more tips to help smooth the way you handle money on your next trip to Italy. And every penny counts these days, as the dollar appears to be weakening once again.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Using ATM Cards/Credit Cards Abroad

Recently, a financial journalist interviewed me about the best way to make purchases and get cash abroad. I’ve traveled to Europe many times and to Italy about 20 times over the past decade. Since I visit Italy about three times a year, I have developed my own routine for how to handle money abroad -- mostly relying on ATM and credit cards, but with a few important caveats.

Using ATM Cards to Get Cash

I use my ATM for the cash I need on hand and purchasing souvenirs. Travelers are usually charged $2 to $4 for making an ATM withdrawl overseas (this may be split between the ATM’s bank and the home bank). I’ve paid almost this much just taking money out in another state, so this doesn’t seem too bad. You can obviously limit these charges by taking out a chunk of money each time. Some issuing banks also charge a percentage-based currency-conversion fee. Check with your bank before you go abroad.

Credit Cards for Big Purchases, Check Fees

I use my credit card for larger purchases. American Express charges a 2% fee for charges abroad. Visa/Mastercard charges 1% for charges made abroad and the issuing bank will charge 1 to 2% over that. Some issuing banks – such as Providian -- do not charge anything extra but you will still be charged 1% by Visa/Mastercard.

You can call your bank and/or credit card company to find out the fees. It is a good practice to do this before a trip abroad anyway, to let them know that you will be making charges from a foreign country (or withdrawing cash) and you may be charging more than usual. Sometimes these actions can signal fraud and the bank or company may put a hold on your account if they cannot get in touch with you to verify charges.

Sometimes Cash is King

Also, if you are making a significant purchase or buying multiple items, always ask the shop clerk if he or she will give you a small discount for paying cash. This always works for me in Italy. Shopkeepers hate paying their own fees on credit card transactions. Remember though that if you are having something shipped, it is probably best to pay for it with a credit card so you will have some recourse if the item never shows up, etc.

My Dad: Get Some Euros Before You Leave

My parents first took me to Europe when I was 10 and my dad was always sure to get some of the local currency before we stepped on the plane. Just in case… He still does this today and I do it as well. Something like the East Coast blackout is what you are preparing for…ATMs run on electricity and couldn’t be accessed. You don’t want to be stuck in a foreign country without cash or not even be able to get out of the airport because you can’t pay the taxi driver. You will pay more to exchange dollars to foreign currency in the U.S. but the peace of mind is worth it.

An Important Caveat on ATM Cards

Really be sure to check with your bank as to whether your ATM card will work abroad or not and even then have a back up plan (such as your traveling companion’s ATM card, etc.) This is especially important if you are traveling in the countryside. I experienced this firsthand while spending a week in Tuscany with a friend. She repeatedly tried to withdraw money from an ATM and was denied. She called her husband back in the States who called the bank and said she could not withdraw money because her ATM was linked to a savings account. (Not sure if it was only because it was a savings account or if it was because it was not the primary account with which the card was linked.) We stopped in San Gimignano and went inside a bank to see if she could get a cash advance on one of her credit cards. Not possible. If she didn’t have me, she would have had no way of getting cash.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Florence's Giovanni: Not Just a Chip Off the Old Block

This article is from the June 2005 issue of Dream of Italy:

It was a cold weeknight in February. Walking past the restaurant Il Latini, we saw a crowd, mostly made up of tourists, forming at the door of this perennial Florentine favorite. We were looking for something new and undiscovered and heard that Giovanni Latini, who had split from his brother Torello, current proprietor of Il Latini, had just opened a new eatery just blocks from the long-held family seat.

Family patriarch Narciso Latini began the dynasty in 1951 when he took over his uncle's wine store on Via della Vigna Nuova. In 1965, he moved Il Latini to its current location, the former stables of Palazzo Rucellai. Narciso ran the restaurant with his sons until a few years ago. The brothers' wives were rumored to have had a falling out.

It's always a thrill to walk into a place, especially in a tourist city, and notice that the place is filled with Italians, with not one foreigner in the bunch. That was the scene at L'Osteria di Giovanni and luckily one table was still available -- the one we had reserved.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

This Weekend in Washington, DC

Do you live in the Washington, DC area or plan to be here this weekend? Visit the Dream of Italy booth at Washington National Cathedral's Flower Mart. The 67th annual benefit for the gardens, grounds and woodlands of Washington National Cathedral takes place Friday, May 5, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, May 6, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There's something for everyone -- food, shopping, activities for children. DOI will be selling our Venetian glass jewelry and other Italian products. Free admission!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Mob-Free" Shopping in Sicily

Visiting Palermo this summer? After checking out the goods in the airport's duty-free shopping area, you might want to check out Palermo's "Mob-free" shopping. Bloomberg reports that 106 shops and businesses in Palermo, that refuse to give in to mafia extortion have teamed up to offer mob-free shopping. They were inspired by a local clothing-maker who was gunned down 15 years ago.

The Bloomberg article notes that "more than 80 percent of businesses in Palermo hand over a monthly tax to the Sicilian mob, known as Cosa Nostra, according to Italy's chief antimafia prosecutor Piero Grasso." A list of the Palermo business owners taking a stand against the Mafia can be found at www.addiopizzo.org For a Palermo city guide and day trips outside the city, see Dream of Italy's Special Report: Sicily