American Tourist Snaps Finger Off Priceless Florentine Statue

sailko, Wikimedia

An American tourist who says he was “measuring” the finger of a 600-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary ended up accidently snapping off the statue’s pinky.

Staff at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence, Italy are outraged. Although the statue is a cast of the original, repairs will be complex and costly. Timothy Verdun, an American expat and art historian who works with the museum, said:

“In a globalized world like ours, the fundamental rules for visiting a museum have been forgotten, that is, ‘Do not touch the works'”

Although the tourist apologized for his carelessness, he could still be fined for damaging the artwork, which is believed to have been made by Florentine Giovanni d’Ambrogio during the 14th or 15th century.

This is far from the first time someone damaging artwork has made headlines. A tourist once crashed into a work by Pablo Picasso at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, causing a six-inch gash. And then there are people who have purposely damaged paintings, like the woman who once tried to pull a painting by Paul Gauguin off the wall in Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, and another woman who threw an empty mug at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in France.

Liguria: Salt, Sea, Sun And Stunning Views On The Italian Riviera


Speedboat centurions and Apollonian wind surfers carved the waves far below us. Several hundred thousand bronzed bodies carpeted the beaches, lolled on rocks or guzzled and partied under sun umbrellas: The Italian Riviera was in full, raucous summer swing.

From where we stood, atop the silent, windy world, on the Via Panoramica behind the eastern suburbs of Genoa, it was strange to look down on the glam and think of salt, sweat and poverty. The Riviera isn’t exactly inexpensive or unsung. Yet the ancient salt route we’d been walking on since dawn, linking the briny Ligurian coast to northern Italy’s mountainous interior, is what today’s Via Panoramica and the well-marked network of serpentine, stony trails above the Riviera are all about: countless misery-etched miles far from the madding masses.
Sea salt used to be the main preservative in Europe. Traders loaded mules with precious “white gold” and trekked inland, sometimes traveling for weeks or months, until their salt ran out.

The bad old days are over: the salt trails are for happy hikers and madmen like me who like playing at mountain goat.

You’re right to ask: why leave the luxuries, delicacies, fun, sun and Mediterranean to scramble into Liguria’s harsh interior? Especially when the heat is not just blistering, but breathtaking?

salt route pigEasy: cool mountain breezes, quiet emptiness and views galore. Oh, and the mysterious enchantments of living history. If men, women and beasts of burden have been trudging on these trails since the Bronze Age, it stands to reason there might be something magical about the carefully placed, foot-scuffed stones. There is, and more: romantic ruins, gorgeous geological formations, wild flowers and herbs, teetering pines, feral oinkers, wild horses, hawks and a zillion migratory birds.

A longtime Riviera regular – every year my wife and I spend several months here – I’ve hoofed thousands of miles. This is one of my favorite suburban scrambles: no crowds, no Cinque Terre hype, just real-deal Italy minutes from downtown Genoa.

After a 25-minute train ride along the seductive shoreline, our local from Genoa to La Spezia stopped in Recco-capital of cheese-filled focaccia con formaggio. A bus from there whirly-gigged us up a river valley, past tumbledown perched hamlets, to the homely village of Uscio. There is no there in Uscio. The name sounds like uscita, meaning “exit” in Italian. Full of caffeine and loaded with water and picnic edibles we exited pronto uphill and west. The paved road kinks to reveal the double-diamond trail markers we needed.

It’s tempting to head north on the salt route from Uscio across the Apennines into Lombardy, a multiple-day excursion. But in summer it’s even more tempting to coil up the paved road to the seaside ridge about 2,100 feet directly above the waves, then head toward Monte Fasce and Genoa.
We reached the panoramic section of Via Panoramica via the woodsy salt route past a secluded, centuries-old chapel poised by a spring. The drinking water was pure and cool.

At Case Cornua above the coast village of Sori stands a rustic trattoria with house-made everything. Too early for lunch, we had cold water and hot espresso instead. Nearby are the skeletal remains of an unlikely luxury suburb. The builders had no permits, the development was nixed, but the little-used Via Panoramica, built for commuters who never came, and the amazing views, remain. Par-blind as I am, I could still see southeast to the Portofino Peninsula and Tuscany, and southwest practically to France.

salt route mountainsideThose views – plus the roughshod Apennines lying north – followed us on the rocky, roller-coaster route. It peaks and dips: The salt route, and other mule trails, branch and wind to infinity. Having galloped to safety from a herd of over-eager wild horses, and discouraged an outsized feral pig that wanted my pack, we found a pine grove and fell upon our picnic like the wolves that are making a comeback in the area. Now all we had to do was get back down to the coast. We slid and stumbled and clambered, polishing those ancient stones with our modern soles.

Sure, we’d cheated and ridden up part way. Did I feel guilty? Nope. Descending is even harder on the joints. No regrets. We sniffed the perfumed air and gawked at the creeper-tangled ruins of abandoned houses, the dark chestnut forests in clefts and folds, the hidden farmsteads and, as we neared the sea, the olive groves. What better reward at the end of a three-hour downhill obstacle course than a shady table, bubbly water and an ice cream cone in the swank seaside resort of Nervi? If only I’d brought my swimsuit.

Author, journalist and private tour guide David Downie‘s latest critically acclaimed books are “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James” and “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light,” soon to be an audiobook. His Paris Time Line app was published in April.

Call An Ice Cream Truck On Demand Today With Uber

Today is the hottest day yet in New York City’s latest heat wave, and the summer weather is no less forgiving in many other cities in the western hemisphere. To help beat the heat, car service app Uber is offering ice cream trucks on demand, today only from 11-5 p.m. in 33 cities worldwide. The stunt is to help promote the app’s expansion to new cities in the United States and in Australia, Europe and Singapore.

Demand is expected to be high and waits may be long, but if you want to try for a truck, download the Uber app and connect with your credit card info, request the ice cream app, and wait for one to show up in your area. Prices and ice cream treats vary, average is $25 for ice cream for five people. The full list of U.S. cities includes: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco Bay area, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

New to Uber cities include Miami, Portland (OR), Houston, Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Lyon, Milan, Munich, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, and Singapore. Incidentally, those are all cities where you can get a car and driver on demand anytime with Uber.

See all the details and get your ice cream on Uber’s blog.

6 Destinations Made More Popular By Celebrities

Travel Channel and the Esquire Network are both set to air TV shows that ask celebrities to give local perspectives on their favorite destinations. While one can argue that Travel Channel is taking Esquire’s already developed idea and running with it, it’s undeniable that this fascination with celebrity travel is nothing new. In fact, celebrities have been popularizing places for years. Here’s a few examples of places where the stars have come out to play (and crowds of people soon followed).

George Clooney and Lake Como, Italy
George Clooney bought an 18th-century lakeside villa here in 2001, and it’s been a tourist hotspot ever since. According to the Daily Beast, the actor has an egg-throwing contraption that wards off paparazzi and other gawkers.Brigitte Bardot and Armação dos Búzios, Brazil
French sexpot Brigitte Bardot famously vacationed in Saint Tropez on the French Riviera, but she’s also credited with popularizing the resort town of Armação dos Búzios in Brazil during the 1960s. Townspeople are so happy with the tourism surge they erected a statue in the starlet’s honor.

Elvis Presley and Hawaii
It’s no secret Elvis loved Hawaii. From his first visit in the 1950s, it remained his favorite vacation destination. Elvis made three movies there, including the immensely popular “Blue Hawaii.” It’s also the setting of the first broadcast concert via satellite, “Aloha from Hawaii,” which Elvis starred in.

Sir Richard Branson and Necker Island, British Virgin Isles
Sure, he owns the island, but he also made it a popular vacation spot. Famous names like Steven Spielberg, Mel Gibson, Oprah Winfrey, Harrison Ford and Pamela Anderson have all visited at one time or another. For those that can afford to go to Necker Island, it’s ultra-luxe accommodations and private submarine make it one of the ultimate destinations.

Britney Spears and Turtle Island, Fiji
Britney Spears and Kevin Federline famously vacationed to this private island after their marriage in 2005. It was also the honeymoon locale for Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson. Both marriages ended in divorce, but the island still remains one of the most sought-after (and priciest) honeymoon destinations.

Jay-Z & Beyonce and Cuba
This is just a projection, but earlier this year Jay-Z and Beyonce visited Cuba to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. As travel restrictions become more loose, it’s likely more Americans will want to follow in their footsteps.

Venice Gondoliers Should Take Breathalyzer And Drug Tests, Their Chief Says

Wikimedia Commons

The president of the gondolier association of Venice says all boat operators in the watery city should be screened for alcohol and drugs, the BBC reports.

Nicola Falconi suggested this after a video was posted on YouTube showing a hazing incident of a new assistant gondolier who was ordered to strip naked and jump in a canal. This was just the latest of numerous reports of inappropriate, boozy behavior.

We can add this to the other scandals hitting Italy’s tourism industry, including a group of tourists being charged $84 for a few ice cream cones, dozens of baggage handlers arrested for stealing bags at several Italian airports, and the continuing decay of many of the nation’s underfunded ancient monuments.

On my recent trip to Venice, the gondoliers I saw were all behaving professionally. I have heard a few secondhand stories, however. Have you been to Italy? What was your experience there? Tell us on the comments section!