Overcrowded Venice may ban day-trippers

There’s no question that Venice is a city overrun with tourists. 20 million people visit the sinking city each year, yet only 60,000 Italians call Venice home. It’s no wonder then that the city starts to feel more like an open-air museum, a well-preserved relic of the past, rather than a living, and lived-in, city.

The residents of Venice put up with a lot (though or course, many of them profit greatly from the massive tourism industry too), and many are fed up with the overwhelming crush of tourists that descend on the town each year. And they aren’t above fighting back. Last year, the city created a (short-lived) locals-only vaporetto line from the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco. Technically, anyone with a 3-year Carta Venezia pass could ride, but at 40 Euros each, most visitors wouldn’t buy one.

The latest tactic in the battle of locals vs. tourists is to ban day-trippers. Only about 30% of Venice’s annual visitors stay there overnight. The rest stay outside the city, stop by on their way to or from other destinations, or come for the day by cruise ship. The proposal would limit visitors to the city to those people who have a pre-booked hotel reservation.

Enrico Mingardi, the head of public transportation in Venice, is the mastermind of the proposal. He says that Venetians can “no longer tolerate the discomforts” caused by the influx of thousands of tourists each day. He didn’t say exactly how the system would work, what rules would apply to cruise ship visitors, and if those without proof of hotel reservations would be locked out of the city.

Proposals that would limit the number of Venice’s tourists have been brought up before, but always defeated. If the policy does take effect, I have a feeling Venice will feel even more like a historical theme park. What’s next – turnstiles and a ticket window?

U.S. man tries, fails to get arrested for travel to Cuba

I’ve always dreamed of going to Cuba, but fears of hefty fines and prison time have so far kept me from doing so. As it turns out, maybe I shouldn’t have been worried. Mytchell Mora, a U.S. citizen, has been to Cuba four times in the last tens years and hasn’t managed to get in any trouble – despite his best efforts.

Mora actually wants to get arrested for violating the United States’ ban on travel to Cuba (which was reduced slightly by President Obama to allow restricted travel by those with family in Cuba) as a way of protesting a policy he thinks discriminates against non-Cuban Americans and unfairly punishes the Cuban people.

Mora flew to Cuba in 1999 and 2000, after which he received a letter from the U.S. Treasury Department asking why he went to Cuba and how much he spent, and threatening fines or jail time if he failed to respond. Mora sent back a letter saying he chose to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights (you know, the old “right to remain silent”) and never heard from the government about the matter again. In 2002 he made another trip to Cuba. He was stopped by customs officials at the airport when he returned and was questioned and released again.

On Friday, Mora returned from his most recent trip with a suitcase full of Cuban souvenirs. Mora says that when he told U.S. authorities that he was coming from Cuba, a supervisor was called over. The supervisor typed some info in a computer, but ultimately let Mora go with little hassle. According to an AP article, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said their officers won’t detain U.S. citizens returning from Cuba, but will report them to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Mora is hoping that they do report him, and that this time he is charged with the crime. He hopes to bring the case to court, to challenge the Cuba travel ban and have it lifted.

I thought I’d have to wait until then to visit Cuba but now, I’m not so sure I do.

Christmas presents and parties banned in Croatia

Okay, here’s the truth. Not ALL Christmas gifts are banned in Croatia. Probably, you could throw a party in the privacy of your home, but the work holiday parties in both the public and private sectors, have been crossed off the holiday to-do list.

Even the holiday parties without gift-giving are off the list. There will be no Ho! Ho! Hos! this season says Prime Minister Ivo Sanader–at least, not at work. There won’t be frolic for New Year’s either, for that matter.

The economy is keeping Santa and Father Time from showing up. Just like in other parts of the world, Croatia’s financial health is on that downward slide into Scroogeville. The prime minister said that it’s time for the country to get serious. Getting serious means no parties. Cutting out parties is just one step to balancing 2009’s budget.

This article I came across about Christmas in Croatia gave me the notion that Christmas is quite the big deal in this country. I imagine that this ban on celebrating must feel like a real bummer. The BBC article about the ban points to tourists as hope for a brighter tomorrow. If tourists keep coming to Croatia in high numbers, the economy might rally. Perhaps the department of tourism can do a “Bring back Christmas; Come to Croatia” campaign to attract visitors. The word “tourists” could be written in the blank in the above photo by woodsy. Currently, the fear is tourists will stop coming.

I’m not so sure about heading there for the holidays, myself. Particularly if one is looking for good cheer.

If there isn’t money for parties, what about holiday lights? Perhaps folks in Croatia are like folks in Whoville and will manage to have holiday fun even with the Grinch-like economy lurking in their midst.

China to Ban Lip Synching

Only a few months after China was ripped for having a nine-year-old lip synch a song during the Olympic opening ceremonies, the Ministry of Culture is declaring war on the art of pretending to sing music that is actually being played on the sound system.

A law is in the works, but the ministry said that it wants to seek public opinion before it begins enforcement. The “public opinion” stage is a mere formality. The parliament passes nearly all laws that are sent its way. A draft of the law states: “Performers must not cheat audiences by lip-synching, and concert organizers must not arrange for performers to lip-synch.” Two time offenders will be forced to relinquish their performer’s license for a two year period. First time synchers will merely be smeared by the Ministry of Culture.

Is all this just too ironic? No really. The Olympic lip synching incident was a major loss of face for Beijing. Cracking down is a way to regain some of their respect. Unfortunately, the impending law means that all that awful, awful Mandopop will become even more unbearable because there will be no studio-perfected soundtrack to keep us from hearing a pop star’s real voice.

French happy hour may be coming to an end

Using English words in France, sometimes causes a stir. Remember the French Eurovision song that had English lyrics? Despite attempts to language purity, English words and expressions still manage to make their way into la vie française. “Happy hour” is one of those expressions. The French love getting a deal on an afternoon beer, and happy hours (pronounced apee ow-uuur in a French accent) are popular. Travelers love them too, as they make expensive pints of beer — or an afternoon pastis — just a little more affordable. But the infamous happy hour is under the threat of a ban.

The French government body in charge of the fight against addiction to drugs and alcohol is working on a measure that would ban happy hours as well as the sale of vodka and other strong liquors in nightclubs in order to curb underage intoxication and alcoholism. The proposed measures are currently under discussion, but a decision could be made within a few weeks.

Government officials see the proposed ban as helping with public health, others see it as a merely “stupid measure.” “People buy bottles when they are in a group because it’s cheaper and they can last a long time on a single bottle. Does the government want people to spend their money individually to get wasted on beer instead?” said Patrick Malvaes, president of a union representing nightclub owners.

Happy hour might be under threat, but don’t worry, I am pretty sure the French government would never dream to regulate wine consumption. Just plan on making the house red your drink of choice on your next French vacation.