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Friday, July 28, 2006

Outsourcing in Italy -- To Convicts

Calling directory assistance in Italy? A convicted murderer might help you locate a phone number.

There has been lots of press about the outsourced phone call centers opened in India, but unlike the U.S., Italy is keeping these jobs within the country—and giving them to convicts, according to Reuters.

Telecom Italia, the country’s biggest phone operator, recently launched a new initiative: opening up phone call centers in Italian prisons. At the call center in Rome’s Rebibbia Jail, the second such center established, 24 of the over 1,600 inmates man the switchboards from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. A report in Reuters estimates that each convict deals with about 200 calls per day from Italians requesting information.

The company assures customers that there is no risk in detainees consulting a nationwide list of numbers and addresses, and that the prisoners cannot dial outside the jail. The program is a way to help prisoners take constructive steps, as Telecom’s Chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera says, to “help the detainees get some work experience and prepare for when they’ll get out of prison.”

At 15 cents per call taken, prisoners/convicts are allowed to make a little money and hopefully start to get back on their feet in preparation for the day when they walk out of the prison’s walls. -- Cailin Birch

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tuscany Tour for Women - Save 10%

Dream of Italy readers can save 10% on European Escapes' "Tesori della Toscana" Tour September 21 through 29, 2006. This women-only tour includes four nights in Florence, two nights nights at a 5-star spa in Tuscany and two nights in Rome. Dream of Italy readers can save 10% off the tour price of $3,450.00 per person. (This is a good place to note that DOI receives no fee or commission for arranging this special deal for our readers.)

Highlights of this Tuscan journey include accomodations in exclusive hotels, five dinners, one lunch, all breakfasts, a cooking class at the Culinary Institute of Florence, guided tours in Florence and Rome, a day trip through Chianti, wine tasting at a vineyard, ceramics shopping and more.

For additional information, call Joyce Carman of European Escapes at (540) 882-9123.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Pompeii's Summer Amusements

In the past year, the once deserted city of Pompeii has really come to life. Beginning in the fall of 2005, Pompeii has hosted a year-long celebration of its history with special exhibits and activities devoted to each season. After “Moods of Autumn,” “Winter: Romantic Pompeii,” and “The Spring”, Pompeii is now in full swing of “Summer Amusements.” The intention of this year-long schedule of events, according to the Caretakers Association of Pompeii, is to “let the modern visitor relive the sensations that the travelers of the era experienced as they saw the newly rediscovered city, and compares the places as they appear today with descriptions by writers and images of the period.”

Throughout the month of July visitors to Pompeii can indulge in “summer’s delights” just as the city’s original Roman inhabitants did. The native plane trees have been replanted and flower gardens have been restored according to the description of their former beauty. Visitors will be taken on a tour of the traditional recreational events offered in Pompeii, including games and theatrical shows in Pompeii’s famous amphitheater. They can also enjoy many of the ancient compacts and refreshments—everything from curative mud to cooling beverages infused with lemon, chamomile, mallow, and verbena—which have been recreated according to the readings of Pliny.

Also, Pompeii’s Great Palestra (gymnasium), with its green space and central pool, will be available for tours for the first time ever. The gymnasium was excavated from 1933 to 1935, and except for a very brief period, has never since opened to the public, even after the building’s restoration was completed. The northern porch of the palestra is also currently housing a special exhibition entitled “Pompeii and Water”, which is dedicated to the important role that the river and the sea near Pompeii played in the daily life of its citizens.

“Summer Amusements” runs through July 31st. For more information see the schedule of events, here. -- Cailin Birch

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Saldi!: July Sale on Dream of Italy Products

During the month of July, there are clearance sales n (saldi) all over Italy. It is one of two government-sanctioned periods for holding such
sales; the other being in January, just after the Christmas shopping season. In honor of saldi, Dream of Italy is offering discounts
on everything from our storage binder to gift subscription to our Special Reports Collection. Save anywhere from $3 to $15 off these items by using the discount/coupon codes below (all offers valid through the end of the month!):

Monday, July 17, 2006

New Rome Hotel: The Portrait Suites

A sumptious new hotel opened in Rome almost two weeks ago. The Portrait Suites is the first Roman property from Florence-based Lungarno Hotels (which is affiliated with the Ferragamo shoe family). Florence's Hotel Lungarno is one of my favorite places to stay in the city; a close tie with JK Place). Both exude understated elegance.

The Portrait Suites occupies an Italian-style townhouse close to the Via Condotti, Rome's best shopping street and just a stone's throw from the Spanish Steps. The property's small size (just 14 suites and studios) allows for extremely personalized service. I haven't seen photos of the hotel's interiors but I can only imagine it exemplifies the finest style and design.

An inquiry to spend a night at the hotel in July yielded the following rates - a superior suite is 290 euros per night and a suite is 720 euros per night. There are options in between. I plan to test out The Portrait Suites firsthand on a visit to Rome this fall. Stay tuned...

Florence: Roberto Begnini Reads Dante's Divine Comedy

Here's just one reason I wish I was traveling to Italy this summer - the incomparable Roberto Benigni (the Italian actor who won an Oscar for Life Is Beautiful) will spend 13 evenings reading "The Divine Comedy"by Dante in Piazza Santa Croce in the heart of Florence. The great Tuscan actor will perform 13 songs, the first ten, the XXVI and the XXXIII of Hell and the last one of Paradise.

Performances are scheduled for July 25, 26, 28 and 29 and August 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19. Each performance will be limited to 5,000 spectators. Tickets range between 15 and 25 euros per performance or a susbscription for six evenings at 100 euros per person or all 13 evenings, with best seating, for 200 euros per person. You can purchase tickets in advance, here.

If you're headed to Florence in the near future, check out Dream of Italy's Special Report: Florence which includes reviews of four of our favorite small hotels, Florence's best new restaurant, a great eatery to get hands on with Tuscan cooking and more!!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Italy's Best Restaurants - According to Michelin

There are many ways to judge what makes a truly spectacular dining experience. Ratings and awards can be one way to sort of the best from the rest and food connoisseurs in Europe generally look to the stars awarded by authors of the French Michelin guides as a good indicator of culinary brilliance. Each year Michelin revises its ratings - earning just one Michelin star can truly put an establishment on the map, losing a star can be a public relations nightmare. Earning three stars is the Holy Grail for any restaurant and chef. In 2006, there are five restaurants in Italy that hold three Michelin stars (as noted in Michelin's 2006
Italy Guide
):

  • La Pergola, Rome: This restaurant in the Cavalieri Hilton boasts a stunning view of Rome and earned Chef Heinz Beck his third
    Michelin star in 2006.

  • Dal Pescatore, near Montova: What started out 80 years ago as a fisherman's hut has now produced Nadia Santini one of only three Italian female chefs who hold three Michelin stars. The restaurant was passed down to Santini's husband Antonio who is part of three generations working in the 35-seat restaurant today.

  • Enoteca Piniciorri, Florence: Chef Annie Feolde, the first woman in Europe, outside France, to win three stars from Michelin, welcomes diners to a Renaissance palace to taste her innovative Tuscan cuisine complemented by one of the 150,000 bottles of wine in the enoteca's cellar.

  • Al Sorriso, near Lake Orta: Chef Maria Luisa Vallazza is another of the three- star female chefs. Those who are satiated by her cuisine can spend the night in one of Al Sorriso's eight elegant guest rooms.

  • Calandre, near Padova: This restaurant featuring modern Italian cuisine is part of a mini- empire run by the 5th generation
    of the Alajamo family. It includes a deli, patisserie and hotel. Massimiliano Alajmo is the youngest three-star chef in Europe

I couldn't confirm the latest totals for 2006 (looks like there are 226 Italian chefs with stars this year), but in 2005, 255 restaurants in Italy held Michelin stars - 197 establishments had one star, 23 had two stars and four had three stars (La Pergola above earned its third star in 2006). How does that compare to other countries? In 2005, France had 620 restaurants with at least one star (23 eateries earned three stars). The United Kingdom had 230 restaurants with at least one star and Germany had 212.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Il Papa Vacationing in the Italian Alps

Pope Benedict XVI began his 17-day Alpine vacation Tuesday at the chalet he stayed in last year and where his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, used to spend his holidays, according to Catholic Online. The Pope is staying at a residence belonging to the Salesian Order, about 12 miles from the city of Aosta.

Those visiting Rome between from July 11 on, should keep in mind that the Pope will not be making his regular appearances at St. Peter's Basilica. Benedict's only public appearances will be the praying of the weekly Sunday Angelus on July 16 and July 23 from his residence.

Following his Alpine respite, Benedict will spend the rest of the summer at Castel Gandolfo, the Papal residence outside of Rome. (For more on visiting Castel Gandolfo and other treasures in the Alban Hills, see Dream of Italy's November 2004 issue.)

According to Catholic Online, "Over the summer period, all private and special audiences are suspended. The general audiences will resume regularly from Wednesday, Aug. 2, and the Sunday Angelus throughout August and into September at Castel Gandolfo."

News and Notes on World Cup Victory Celebrations

Once again, my friend Joe, another confirmed Italophile, reports in on what's going on in Italy -- and what else could it be this week, but the celebrations surrounding Italy's World Cup win:

  • Telegiornale 2 says 600,000 people were at the party at Circo Massimo on Monday evening.
  • Best sign I saw in the crowd: Cannavaro Santo Subito. Cannavero is the team captain. "Santo Subito" means immediate sainthood. And that echoes the signs that were in St. Peter's Square when John Paul II died.
  • The team's off-the-pitch uniforms--black suits with black collared shirts--were designed by Dolce & Gabbana.
  • The infamous Zidane head butt on Materazzi is creating huge speculation centering on what Materazzi might have said that drove Zidane to the madness. A French anti-bias groups claims they were told Materazzi called Zidane, whose heritage is Algerian, "a dirty terrorist." The Times of London enlisted a lip reader to study the tape. She claims Materazzi called Zidane "the son of a terrorist whore." Materazzi denies it all.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Italy's Nationwide Taxi Strike Called Off

Travelers in Italy will be very glad to hear that the general strike scheduled by the taxi drivers’ union to take place tomorrow, Tuesday, July 11th, has now been called off. The general strike’s coming has been foreshadowed for over a week by a number of wildcat strikes. Drivers have been causing turmoil all over Italy, as their interruption of service has left tourists and locals alike stranded at airports, train stations and city centers.

The government finally agreed to open discussions over the measures recently approved to liberalize the taxi industry and on Friday, union leaders met with Minister of Economic Development Pierluigi Bersani and other government officials for nearly three hours. Leaving the discussion room, Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome, said that the two groups had had a “constructive dialogue,” which was to continue today, Monday.

Veltroni says that he is convinced that after this event, Italy will develop a taxi service that is “more modern for the citizens”, and also “respectful of taxi drivers.” Thankfully, travelers should now have no problem getting around Italy’s cities, as long as talks continue as planned. Members of the taxi union, though, have threatened a continuation of the strike if their demands are not met. -- Cailin Birch (Photo: Slowtrav.com)

Update: Capri Strikes

I just contacted a friend in Italy who reports that things in Capri are just about back to normal, except for some of the ferry service:

Yes, Caremar has decided to reduce their services to the islands but things are being discussed at local government. I just got back from a week stay from July 1st and everything is running normally - no sign of any strike at least not at present.

Italians Celebrate World Cup Win

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Travel Alert: Island of Capri in Chaos Over Strike

The perennially popular vacation spot, the island of Capri usually calls to mind images of breathtaking beaches, isolated inlets, cozy restaurants and bars with beautiful sea views to enjoy over a glass of wine on tranquil afternoons. This year, however, Capri is not only serene, but silent. To protest cuts in the local ferry service, islanders have gone on strike, leaving tourists stranded. During the strike, in the towns of Capri and Anacapri, all shops, restaurants, nearly all commercial activity, have repeatedly been closed down entirely from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. In fact, a blockade by Capresi ships recently stopped the arrival of ferries and hydrofoils packed with tourists, refusing to let them disembark.

The current strike started in June, but this isn’t the first time the island has shut down—the islanders first protested last April, promising that it would only be the first in a series of actions aiming to draw attention to various issues on the island, including the condition of the local hospital and island traffic, in addition to the ferry service. This could pose a real problem to the economy of Capri, however, which depends heavily upon tourism. The parish priest of Capri, Father Salvatore Chiusano, is quoted in the London Times as saying that “We have to do something, the lifeblood of Capri is being cut off.” The other two islands in the Bay of Naples, Procida and Ischia, have also staged similar protests, so plan accordingly this summer! -- Cailin Birch

Travel Alert: Italian Taxi Drivers to Strike

Travelers’ plans will be hindered next week due to a nation-wide taxi drivers’ strike in Italy. The strike is the drivers’ opposition to a new initiative of Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s center-left government. In an effort to revitalize the sluggish Italian economy, the government is making moves to liberalize some of Italy’s most protected industries, including taxis, pharmacies and law firms, among others. The Italian taxi services are regulated by municipal authorities, and in Rome, taxi drivers’ organizations have imposed significant fare increases, making it the most expensive taxi service in Italy.

This proposed deregulation would increase the number of taxi licenses given in Italy, which previously could be handed down or sold to the highest bidder, in order to open up the industry and hopefully decrease the control the taxi lobby currently exerts on prices. Consumers in Italy have reacted very favorably to these new measures, expecting it to lead to cheaper goods and services.

However, the taxi drivers themselves seem to be settling in for a long, fierce struggle with the government. A nation-wide strike has been organized for next Tuesday, July 11th, to last the entire day, according to Maurizio Longo, head of the Italian taxi drivers union. Groups of drivers have already been staging smaller, independent strikes in various cities all over Italy on Saturday, including Rome, Milan, and Turin. In fact, a sit-in of several hundred taxis blocked Rome's central Piazza della Repubblica for most of the day on Saturday, July 1st.

Read more in this Scotsman article. -- Cailin Birch