What's New in 2004: Part II
Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain & Portugal, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia
To see Part I of What's New in 2004, check out last month's Travel News.
In Rome, Time Elevator Roma serves up nearly 3,000 years of the city's history in 45 minutes in an air-conditioned theater, good if it's hot or you're tired (www.time-elevator.it).
|A new view of Rome literally through the back door.|
St. Susanna Church, the home of the American Catholic Church in Rome (which is near many good hotels), can arrange a papal audience or blessing for you (www.santasusanna.org).
A new boat service in Rome makes stops up and down the Tiber River, connecting downtown Rome with Ostia Antica, Rome's ancient port (closer than Pompeii and nearly as impressive).
If you're at the top of Rome's Capitol Hill, you can neatly get to the top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument next door without going down and up a couple hundred stairs by slipping through the back door. Atop Capitol Hill, find the she-wolf statue near the back of the Emmanuel Monument, pass through the iron gate at the top of the steps, and enter the small unmarked door on the right. Enjoy the view, sweat-free.
In Florence, avoid long lines by getting a reservation to visit the Uffizi Gallery (with the best collection of Italian and Renaissance painting anywhere) and the Accademia (home of Michelangelo's David). Reserve by phone (tel. 055-294-883, often busy) or in person at Florence's less crowded sights. Dante's House has closed indefinitely for restoration.
|At Florence's most popular sights, lines greet those who don't reserve an entry time by phone in advance.|
In Pisa, you can easily book online to climb the Leaning Tower for a €2 charge on top of the €15 admission (www.opapisa.it). It's still possible to get your tower reservation in person at the crowded ticket office behind the tower, but it's simpler and faster to book ahead. Making it simple for day-trippers to ascend the tipsy tower, Pisa's train station has reopened its luggage deposit office and the tourist office near the tower can store daybags.
Venice offers a confusing array of passes. For most travelers, the only pass worth getting is the "Museum Card," covering the Doges' Palace and Correr Museum (purchase in the Correr Museum to scoot right into the Doges' Palace without waiting).
Venice now charges a whopping €5 for a vaporetto trip down the Grand Canale.
La Fenice, Venice's opera house, should finally re-open in early 2004 (after a disastrous 1996 fire), with performances beginning later in fall. For the latest on Venice, check its new Web site: www.turismovenezia.it.
Padua's Scrovegni Chapel, featuring the glorious frescoes of pre-Renaissance master Giotto, includes the new Multimedia Center in its €11 admission fee. The Center offers a virtual chapel visit with explanations of the panels, Giotto's technique, and extensive restoration process. It's the best place to study what you'll see during your 15-minute visit in the actual, exquisite chapel. Only 25 people at a time who have to go through a high-tech dehumidifying ritual are allowed into this fragile space. Reservations are required (call 049-201-0020 or book online at www.cappelladegliscrovegni.it).
In the Dolomites, the new Seiser Bahn gondola just opened, whisking visitors from the valley village of Siusi up to the alpine Alpe di Siusi, a scenic wonderland for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and skiing.
The facade of Milan's magnificent cathedral will be covered with scaffolding through 2005. You can still climb the cathedral's rooftop for a close-up look at its forest of spires. But for a better, panoramic city view, zip up the €3 elevator of the Branca Tower (near Sforza Castle).
La Scala's Opera House and Museum will reopen in December 2004. Until then, the opera and museum remain in their temporary homes: the show goes on at Theater Arcimboldi (www.teatroallascala.org) and the museum is in Palazzo Busca, conveniently across the street from the church that houses Leonardo's Last Supper.
For the Last Supper, you still need to reserve ahead by phone, but the number is often busy keep trying (tel. 028-942-1146).
|The Cinque Terre is now a national park and make shift offices sell tickets as you enter. The small fee is well spent grooming the trails and keeping things tidy.|
At the Cinque Terre, the national park with a string of five villages along the Italian Riviera, the new "Cinque Terre Card Plus Boats" covers your hiking permit and local trains and boats for a one-day period (€13.60). The Cinque Terre offers a variety of hiking and kayak tours; contact Sean Risatti (mobile tel. 320-047-6865) or Fishnet Travel Services, which also rents boats and runs fishing trips (www.fishnet.it).
From Naples to Paestum, a new Campania ArteCard covers free entry to two sights of your choice (choose Pompeii and Herculaneum, the most expensive sights, as freebies) plus 50 percent off on other sights covered by the card, including Naples' Archaeological Museum, Paestum's Greek temples, and many more. Covering regional transportation to boot, the card costs €25 and is good for three days (www.campaniartecard.it).
Germany and Austria
Due to a crackdown by the phone company, the cheap international calling cards sold at newsstands are no longer a good deal if used from payphones; use these instead for calling from hotel room phones. It's more comfortable anyway.
Munich's Deutsches Museum celebrated its 100th anniversary by opening a new annex across town called the Verkehrszentrum (Transportation Center), showing off all aspects of transport, from old big-wheeled bikes to sleek ICE super-trains.
In Vienna, the Kunsthistorisches Museum lost its prime treasure Cellini's gold Salt Cellar to thieves. (If you took it and are reading this...give it back.) The Albertina Museum, with its regal apartments filled with exquisite drawings, sketches, and watercolor paintings by the masters, has reopened after several years of renovation.
In Reutte, Austria, the ruins of four castles that once made up the largest fort in Tirol are gradually being turned into a European Castle Museum, which will simultaneously show off 500 years of military architecture. The museum's due to be finished in 2007, but the castles are worth a visit now (www.ehrenberg.at).
Spain & Portugal
Barcelona will host Euroforum 2004, a cultural symposium held near the Olympic Port (May 9-Sept 26, 2004, www.barcelona2004.org). Reserve your hotel room in advance.
Gaudí's unfinished Sagrada Família church, which is slowly being completed, now offers helpful, €3 audioguide tours.
Barcelona's new Chocolate Museum tells the story of chocolate from Aztecs to Europeans via the port of Barcelona, where it was first unloaded and processed. Don't miss this opportunity to see a model of the Sagrada Família church finished and ready to eat.
In a visionary move, Madrid is working on a pedestrian walkway that cuts across the heart of town, from the Prado to the Royal Palace, by way of Plaza Mayor. The section between the Prado and Plaza Angel (near Plaza Santa Ana and its tapas bars) is already done.
AeroCity, a Madrid airport shuttle bus service, provides 24-hour door-to-door transport for €17 (www.aerocity.com), to the consternation of cabbies who like to overcharge for this ride.
Granada's Alhambra offers a new €4 ticket that covers just the Generalife Gardens and the Alcazaba fort. This is a good option for lazy travelers who didn't reserve ahead to see the top sight, the Palacios Nazaries, and find it booked up. (Do yourself a favor see the entire Alhambra and reserve your entry time in advance at www.alhambratickets.com.)
The new Center for the Interpretation of Sacromonte offers insight into Gypsy cave-building, crafts, food, and music, plus views over Granada and the Alhambra. The center also hosts weekly flamenco and classical guitar performances (www.sacromontegranada.com).
If you're day-tripping to Tangier, Morocco, from the southern coast of Spain, you have three ports to choose from: pricey Gibraltar, dreary Algeciras, and newly opened as an international port the pleasant town of Tarifa. From Tarifa or nearby Algeciras, a simple round-trip ferry ticket to Tangier costs €45, while day tours, which include the ferry ride, cost only €50 (with the hopes you'll shop till you drop big bucks).
Lisbon's hotels are cranking up summer rates in anticipation of the Euro 2004 Soccer Cup (June 12-July 4, www.euro2004.com). Games will be held throughout Portugal, with the finals in Lisbon. Book your hotel room early and be prepared to pay extra.
Budapest's new House of Terror takes the former headquarters of the Nazi and Communist secret police and fills it with exhibits exposing their deadly work. With many of the perpetrators still at large and surviving members of the victims' families wandering its halls, this powerful museum offers a poignant experience.
Warsaw is in the movies. Several thought-provoking museums in Warsaw are newly popular with tourists, their interest sparked by the evocative move, "The Pianist" and its depiction of the dramatic Ghetto Uprising in World War II. The Ghetto Heroes Square seems to be surrounded by heroic spirits while the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland comes with graphic photos and film.
Prague's excellent new Museum of Communism, the best of its kind in Eastern Europe, traces the story of communism in the city: the origins, dream, reality, and nightmare. You'll find propaganda posters, busts of communist All-Stars (Marx, Lenin, Stalin), and re-created slices of communist life from a bland store counter to a typical classroom, with a poem on the chalkboard extolling the virtues of the tractor (www.museumofcommunism.com).
|See how wealthy 19th-century Danes lived in this Victorian apartment at the National Museum.|
In Copenhagen, the National Museum inherited an incredible Victorian apartment, a tour of which is included with your admission. The wealthy Christensen family managed to keep its plush living quarters a 19th-century time-capsule until the granddaughters passed away in 1963.
In Odense, the Hans Christian Andersen House is getting a headstart on celebrating the beloved author's 200th birthday in 2005 by opening his childhood home to the public in the summer of 2004.
Bergen has a new, needed Attractions Bus, linking the downtown with two far-flung sights: the Fantoft Stave Church and Troldhaugen, the home of the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Six buses make the circuit daily (mid-June through mid-August).
Stockholm's Museum of Fine Arts has a new "Design 1900-2000" exhibit, taking a decade-by-decade look at the history of modern Swedish design in the last century, from engraved glass to plastic chairs.
The Museum of Modern Art will reopen in 2004 at its newly-renovated home in the park-like Skeppsholmen Island. This bright and cheery gallery is as far-out as can be, with Picasso, Braque, and lots of goofy Dada art such as the Urinal.
The Nobel Museum, recently opened to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Nobel Prize awards, is thoroughly entertaining. As creative as the people it celebrates, it displays portraits of all 700-plus prizewinners hanging from the ceiling shuffling around the room like shirts at the dry cleaners.
As Europe polishes up its old sights, it introduces new attractions. Whether you're castle-hopping in the Tirol, cruising along the Cliffs of Moher, hiking Hadrian's Wall, or celebrating D-Day with veterans, you'll discover that there's no end to what Europe has to offer.
These tips are the result of our annual research rounds. For all the latest throughout Europe, see the 2004 editions of Rick's various country guidebooks (hot off the press)!