Letters are flopping into our Post Office box in every shape and flavor this summer. Some, happily, we can answer immediately. Some we can't answer at all. And some need no answer. Then there are the letters we would be happy to respond to if we just had several hours to spare and a legion of gofers to do the research ... which we don't. Just a bunch of books and a laptop.
So our first letter this week was particularly welcome - a couple of questions about a part of the world we know quite well, and a nice little lead-in: “Read your travel tips weekly, and enjoy them.” Thank you, Jacqueline H. of Sylvania.
Jacqueline and her husband are off on a cruise from Lisbon to Rome in October, then staying on in Rome for another six 6 days. They plan to tour the Eternal City and make side trips “to places like Parma, Bologna, Capri, and Tuscany, if possible.”
Should they use railways to get around or rent a car? And do we have any other side-trip suggestions?
The first question is a no-brainer for us. Use Italian rail. Most of the places mentioned are covered by rail and Rome's revamped train station will make the whole process a lot easier.
Our hotel recommendation in Rome is just a five-minute walk from the main station: The Hotel Venezia, Via Varese 18, 00185 Rome. Phone 039-6-4457101. Fax 039-6-4957687.
But now we run into a slight problem.
Rome requires a minimum of four full days just to cover its highlights, and most of the other places on Jacqueline's proposed itinerary are well-nigh impossible to visit on day trips. Example: Rome to Bologna is a good 31/2 hours by train. Add another hour for Parma. Driving would take even longer.
And as for Capri? Forget it, for two reasons. First, it takes two train rides and a ferry just to get there. A total of 31/2 hours - if all goes well.
Secondly, we are sad to report that Capri isn't what it used to be, having fallen prey to the worst kind of tourist pollution. The coastal scenery is still pretty spectacular, but those other charms that once made this island so romantically dreamy now take a whole lot of work to uncover.
Much better to stay closer to Rome. Destinations such as Siena and Assisi are quite reasonable day trips, as is nearby Ostia Antica - a sort of mini-Pompeii without the crowds.
And while Florence would obviously make a better base for visiting Tuscany, with an early start it can still be visited, albeit superficially, on a day trip out of Rome.
For a change from standard sightseeing, our friend Dario who runs Chianti Rooster Tours (Phone 0037-706-958, fax 0577-322-534, www.initaly.com/ads/tscnwlk/ dario.htm) will pick up clients at Florence railway station (a couple of hours from Rome by train) for an unforgettable tour of the wine country, topped off with an al fresco lunch in a picturesque hilltop village.
IN THE CATEGORY of letters we don't have to answer, we heard again the other day from our favorite foreign correspondent, Rhoda Bowman, a one-time Toledo resident now living in Carlisle, England.
She sends us occasional updates and descriptions of life up there in Border country (the area between England and Scotland), and always has lively and informative insights for us. For example, the much-reported foot-and-mouth outbreak (not to be confused with mad cow disease, please) began just four miles from her home. And while obviously causing heartbreak and suffering to animals, farmers, and the tourist industry alike, the crisis has also had one or two totally unexpected but positive side effects.
Like being able to find parking spots in the increasingly congested Lake District, and the fact that people are now discovering wonderful areas to visit that they had previously ignored.
“Our border city (Carlisle), has had an influx of visitors. And a recent find of a Roman Armoury dating from the days of the Emperor Hadrian has been exciting news. Seemingly, it is the largest find of Roman armor and equipment in Europe.”
FINALLY, in the category of letters we can't answer, Ed K. from Perrysburg is off to Greece in October and wonders if we've had any experience with cruise lines out of Athens, or suggestions of places of interest to visit.
Sorry, Ed, never been there. But we recommend a research project that begins with a trip to the local bookstore for some travel guides, and then a surf on the Internet.
(Readers may write to travel advisers Roger Holliday and Claudia Fischer at P.O. Box 272, Bowling Green, OH 43402. If a reply is desired, please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.)