With the new year come new taxes — this time, for tourists visiting Rome, Italy.
The "tourist tax," which went into effect Jan. 1, applies to any nonresidents of Rome who will be participating in tourist-like activities — including staying at a hotel or campsite. So far, it's €3 per person, per night for those staying at 3- and 4-star hotels, and €2 for those at lesser-starred accommodations. The hotel tax is applied to the first 10 nights only. Campers have to pay €1 per person, per night for the first 5 nights. Tourists will also be charged €1 extra for entrance to museums. (Yes, apartments and B&Bs also count).
No word yet on if tourists also will be charged extra at souvenir shops or mediocre faux-Italian restaurants. (Kidding).
While the tax itself is less than you would pay for, say, a couple of bottles of water, what'll probably be more annoying for visitors is how it's implemented. (Hey, it's Italy!) The tax can only be paid in cash, and the hotel fee is settled at the end of the stay. So make sure you don't give away ALL of those extra coins before you check out.
The upside: The some €80 million that Rome expects to reap from the tax annually will go to Rome's cultural heritage and infrastructure. And as I've written before, Rome's ruins are crumbling — so if you want to keep the Eternal City "eternal" enough for your kids to experience it, adding a little to the coffers ain't all bad.
To anyone spending time in Italy this week, a heads-up: Massive, nationwide student protests might snarl up your sightseeing.
Students have taken to the streets — for the most part, peacefully — to condemn a bill that would cut some €9 billion and 130,000 jobs from education. They are, of course, just the latest to register their angry against the Berlusconi government, but their protests are creating problems for tourists even more than most: Among other things, they prevented trains from entering and leaving Siena by camping out on the tracks yesterday and kept tourists from entering the Leaning Tower of Pisa after they took it over. That’s on top of the usual problems with traffic that any manifestazione causes.
And it seems like the demonstrations are only growing. So if you’re traveling to Italy, be prepared: Count on taking a little longer to get to your destination, and always have a Plan B if a particular site you really want to see has, you know, been taken over.
The wonderful meals you can enjoy in Italymight not be around forever. Between globalization, a farming crisis, and the demand (particularly by tourists) for out-of-season products, the way Italy makes and consumes its food is changing. Just check out the relatively-sudden prevalence of grocery stores (there are three within a 5 minutes' walk from me) or the crowds that pack the (yes, few and far between, but still existing) McDonald's in Rome for proof.
The same way you'd think twice before tossing garbage into the street, think about how your choices of restaurants and foods might impact the (culinary and natural) environment around you. Katie Parla gives some excellent tips for how to be a conscientious eater — in Italy, or anywhere.
When the temperature’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit (as it already is in Rome) and you need to get somewhere, the thought of taking the sticky, crowded, sometimes-completely-unventilated metro or bus is just unbearable. And a cab’s just cheating.
From best to worst, 6 alternative ways to get around Rome — while staying cool. (And no, not necessarily the “wow, you’re really awesome” kind of cool).
6. Walking. Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best. Rome is not that big. So. Just. Walk. Bring a big bottle of water (you can refill it at any of the nasoni, or little fountains, around the city). And please forget the backpack: It’s hot, bulky, hot, and really, when was the last time you were in a city and so far from civilization that you actually needed that emergency pack of granola bars? Also, it’s hot.
5. The scooter, or as the Italians say, motorino. Zipping around on a motorino with the wind whipping your face is pretty much meant for warm days. You can help your local-cool factor by donning big, dark sunglasses, unnecessarily revving up the engine at brief stops, and saying “Ciaooo, ciaoooo” to local passersby.
There are, however, numerous downsides. Like the scary, scary Rome traffic, which means that I do not recommend this for those who have just arrived in Rome and are still having trouble timing how to cross the street. (Seriously. I am not liable for any accidents you or your loved ones may have if you don’t heed this advice. My lawyer agrees). Also problematic is the difficulty, for women, of wearing a skirt or dress and not blinding every poor person we pass, not that Roman men really seem to mind. If you feel like you are mature, cautious, skilled, sober, and insurance-policy-protected enough to rent a motorino, check out Bici & Baci or Treno e Scooter for rentals.
4. Biking. It’s easy to get a bike in Rome: You can either rent one from a shop, or take advantage of the city’s new bikesharing program. There are 19 kiosks around the city, and the price is just €.50/hour. Just stop by a ticket office at a major metro stop, like Termini, for a bikesharing card. It’ll cost you €5, but it’s good for 10 hours of riding. Pass that card over the post that your desired bike is locked to, and presto! Your bike is released. It’s like magic. There isn’t any magic, though, that will save you from the aggression of Roman drivers, so please reread my caveat to #3. Seriously.
3. Hop-on, hop-off boat ride. Those who do this seem to think they’ll be getting a tour of the city. While I haven’t done one myself, I can’t imagine that would be the case; not only are the tours taped, but the Tiber is walled–meaning you can’t see hardly anything. So why do it? Well, solely for the purposes of getting from Point A (like Ponte Castel Sant’Angelo) to Point B (Ponte Risorgimento). The vessels for some of the boat lines even have air-conditioning. Woo! Check out the Hop-On, Hop-Off Cruise in Rome for information.
2. Walking… with your own personal cooling system. I wasn’t aware until Googling “personal cooling system” just how many of these there are. There are water-filled neckbands. Cooling shirts. A hand-held electronic cooling device. Even something known as a “belt mister,” which promises to envelop you in a mist that will drop the temperature around you by 30 degrees. This belt also promises to be “inconspicuous”…because oh, yeah, walking in your own cloud of cold mist is just something you were born with.
1. The Segway. You don’t get up to speed on these things, which eliminates the speed-equals-breeze quality of #5, or really get to go that many places, which you can with #2, 4, 5 or 6. When you’re on the street, you’re a slow-moving traffic menace, and when you’re on the sidewalk, you’re a complete annoyance to every pedestrian trying to get somewhere. (I dub you “speed bumpkin.”) Also, don’t buy it when people say how safe it is: I met a woman the other day who’d twisted her ankle when she briefly forgot how to stop it, the Segway went faster, and rammed her into a car. (Okay, okay, I guess nothing can be completely fool-proof). While on the Segway, though, you are, at least, able to stand completely still and still toodle through the city. In terms of laziness, it’s like one step away from armchair traveling. To really “up” the cool factor, bring along your personal cooling system. For more information, Google this on your own. That’s how against Segways I am.
Last week, a friend of mine visited me in Rome. He'd never been to Italy before, and he asked if we could day-trip to Venice. I hedged. Venice is expensive, and touristy, and crowded, I told him. But I knew I had to come up with an equally-seductive alternative. Racking my brain — and asking everyone I knew — I finally came up with an answer: Sardinia.
A week later, we were on the plane. (If a Ryanair counts as a plane: Ryanair's rickety machines always strike me as much as planes as, when I was 4, a big cardboard box was an actual choo-choo train. It takes imagination. And faith.) We landed in Cagliari just an hour later. And from there, hopped on a train to Iglesias. Even for the directionally-challenged and even without renting a car — something we'd expressly been told NOT TO DO by most Italians — getting from City A to City B was a breeze.
Sardinia gets packed in July and August, but in early June, we were the only tourists — including Europeans — that we saw. And since most Italians beeline for the northern Costa Smeralda, I'm not sure if the west coast's Iglesias, where we stayed, ever gets crowded. Take our bed & breakfast, "La Babbajola": Since we were the only guests there, for just €60/night, we had the whole palazzo — complete with clawed bathtubs, frescoed dining room, and antique armoires — to ourselves. Let's just say it felt more "baronial" than "B&B."
To be fair, there isn't a ton to do in Iglesias. (Perhaps part of the reason why the town didn't even make it into the Sardinian section of the Rough Guide we had with us). It's just a taste of Sardinia: Known for its mining and not much else, Iglesias doesn't boast any big museums or famous churches, and we didn't see the island's famed nuraghi. But I was exhausted of showing guest after guest around Rome, my friend was mending from a breakup, and for us, the town was perfect. Lovely. Quiet. Traditional. (Waiting outside our B&B, we were greeted by an elderly woman in a black veil who called from her balcony in Italian, "Who are you looking for? Are they not in?")
Iglesias was also close (without a rental car, close-ish) to some of Sardinia's most beautiful beaches. The photo above is of the famous cove at Masua, a 20-minute/€30 cab ride or €2.50 bus ride away. (The "pullman" bus that goes back and forth to the beach starts running regularly on June 29. Before that, you're stuck with just one bus a day. Or, shh, there's always hitchhiking…) The closest beach is called Fontanamare. While more crowded and (slightly) less picturesque, it's also pretty darn lovely, and I think these babies (right) agree. (This took some embarrassment to realize. Read our shameful tale here.)
But the best thing about Iglesias was the people. I have never. Met such nice people. In my life. Sure, I hail from the cold (in all sense of the word) clime of New England, but my friend's from friendly Alabama — and he agreed. From the woman who came up to us in the street and greeted us so warmly, with kisses on both cheek, that we thought it was our B&B owner (it wasn't), to the cosmetics-store clerk who took pity on our unwashed selves and gave us loads of free samples of moisturizers and perfumes (were we that smelly?), everyone was so darn nice. And they didn't expect a thing for it. Living in Rome, I'd forgotten what that was like.
If you go to the less-frequented side of Sardinia, including its western coast, be aware that very few people speak English. The town centers can be incredibly confusing, and public transport is slim to none. But I, for one, am going back.