Lost in Rome? Look for a “tourist angel”

Naples may have a team of ex-cons out on the streets helping lost tourists, but Rome will soon have a fleet of angels – “tourist angels”. According to the online Italy Magazine, Rome is currently recruiting a fleet of 60 guides who will zoom around the city on “electric chariots” (souped-up Segways, perhaps?) looking for confused visitors to help out with information and directions.

Rome’s deputy mayor and tourism chief said that the tourism ambassadors will begin work in November and will be wearing red jerseys to be easily recognized. He said the aim of the project is to provide visitors with easier access to tourism services. “This way tourists won’t have to go to information offices. They’ll be reached wherever they are,” he said.

Of course, that may not be entirely accurate. Rome is a pretty big city, with thousands of tourists flooding its streets every day. With only 60 tourist angels on the team (and not all of them working at once I’m sure), they really can’t be everywhere at all times. I imagine they’ll spread out among the major tourist areas, where they’ll be approached by people in need rather than having to seek them out. Still, it’s a helpful service and I’m sure that many lost souls will appreciate the help of their guardian tourist angel.

Museum Junkie: Hermitage Amsterdam launches grand opening

A branch of Russia’s famous Hermitage museum opened to the public last weekend in Amsterdam. The giant Hermitage Amsterdam houses treasures from St. Petersburg including costumes, jewelry, furniture, and art from the time of the Tsars.

The museum’s opening was done with appropriate pomp and circumstance. Fireworks, a full orchestra, and a visit by the Dutch royal family entertained a vast crowd lining the Amstel canal just to the east of downtown Amsterdam.

The museum itself made a more lasting impression. The two wings are dedicated to the Tsars’ court and the exquisite balls for which it was famous. Some of the most sumptuous displays are of court costume, like this red velvet and satin dress embroidered with gold, made for the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna sometime between 1880s and 1890. Other displays included ornate jewelry, gold tableware, thrones, and even musical instruments.


Some of the most interesting items were the minor ones, like the menus for state banquets, showing images from Russian history printed in brilliant colors. The working toy guns for the Tsar’s children brought a few looks of horror from parents, and a series of early black and white silent films from Russia in the 1910s gathered a large crowd.

What the displays didn’t talk about was as interesting as what they did. There was barely a mention of the Soviet Union, and not a word of how the Romanovs lost power–by being lined up against a wall and shot by the Bolsheviks. With this grandiose display the new Russia is trying to put its unseemly past behind it and highlight its role as a European power in the grand tradition. While museums shouldn’t shy away from inconvenient history, the Hermitage Amsterdam certainly fulfills its objective. Add it to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum as the artistic highlights of one of Europe’s great art capitals.

The Slowest Marathon in the World

Combining running with wine tasting? Leave it to the French to invent a marathon that actually sounds like fun. And reporting from Medoc, France over a glass of magnificent red wine, I can confirm that it is.

The annual Marathon du Medoc in the Bordeaux region of France ended just a few hours ago in scorching heat of some 100F. Although the fastest man ran the 42-kilometer (26-mile) track in 2 hours and 28 minutes, most other people did not run this for the adrenaline as much as the “vino”. Over 8000 people from all over the world came here to race through picturesque French villages dressed up in more or less creative costumes. I must say that there were disturbingly many men in drag or dressed up as babies, pacifier, diapers and everything. Pirates of the Caribbean and sailors of all kinds were a huge hit this year.

The marathon route goes through some of the best chateaux of this region and provide runners as well as spectators the opportunity to try Medoc’s wine. Hence the slowest marathon in the world title.

If you haven’t already, put this on your list of things to do before you die (or become lame). It is absolutely worth it.