Postcards from Italy

Carnevale Sweets in Italy

Italy is not a country where keeping your New Year's resolutions is going to be easy. Though the Mediterranean diet is said to be one of the healthiest in the world, it is also laden with carbohydrates, complimented by wine, and so delicious that it's often a challenge to stick to reasonable portion sizes.

carnevale-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

In addition, it doesn't help that shortly after taking down the holiday decorations and hunkering down to lose your Christmas 5 (or, ahem, 10), Carnevale begins. This historic, month-long festival counting down the weeks before Easter is celebrated with elaborate costumes, boisterous parades and parties, and overindulgence in all things fried and sugared. If you are visiting Italy during Carnevale, be sure to sample some of the delectable and excessive treats that are only found at this time of year!

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The Best Things in Rome are Free

Italy's Minister for Culture, Dario Franceschini, made news this past week by proposing a “moderate” ticket fee to enter one of Rome’s most beloved and visited sights: the Pantheon. Though this stunning Roman monument dates from 120 A.D. it has been a Catholic church for the past 1,000 years and, as such, has been famously free of charge.

pantheon-rome-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Franceschini claimed that the funds from ticket sales would go towards the cost of maintenance and management, but this did nothing to quell the backlash from locals and travelers alike who were less than enthusiastic about the idea of having to purchase a ticket if the minister's proposal is approved over the next twelve months.

In light of the possibility that the Pantheon may soon no longer top lists of free things to do in Rome, here are a couple of other great ideas for things to do in the Eternal City that won't break the bank:

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Closed for...? Italy's National Holidays

It never fails. You've carefully planned your Italian itinerary, making sure to schedule around the country's major holidays so you won't miss any of the most important sights, but show up at promptly at opening time only to find the museum or archaeological site is mysteriously closed. How can that be? You were sure Christmas Day was yesterday!

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though Italy shares many important Christian holidays with the US, the calendar also includes a number of extra holidays, including days tacked on to those you may already know and holidays that are not celebrated in the US. Here is a quick guide to Italy's major holidays when you are most likely to find museums, churches, archaeological sites, and even restaurants and shops closed. (Note: all Italian holidays are celebrated on the exact date - there is no compensating Monday or Friday off when a holiday falls on the weekend)

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Guilt-Free Tourist Fun in Italy

There is much discussion right now about a new McDonald's fast food restaurant that opened in Rome a few weeks ago just steps from Piazza San Pietro and the Vatican, one of many located near the Eternal City's most iconic sights. The arrival of each Starbucks hawking flavored cappuccinos or souvenir shop stocked with counterfeit Venetian glass rekindles the debate about how international commercialism is damaging Italy's fragile traditional culture and its small, family-run economy. In addition, recent protests about the stress of mass tourism on delicate ecosystems like the Venetian lagoon and the crumbling coast along the Cinque Terre raises questions about the ethics of visiting these destinations without causing irreparable damage.

Trevi Fountain, Rome(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Travel should be many things, but most importantly it should be fun. Indulging in guilty, somewhat clichéd, pleasures that do no harm beyond an expanding waistline or silly photo is part of the joy of travel, as anyone who has posed holding up the leaning tower of Pisa or tossed a coin over their shoulder into the Trevi fountain can attest. Here are some suggestions for things to do in Italy that may seem too touristy to justify, but are actually authentic and sustainable, as well as good fun.

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