Italy: Fast and Slow
By Rick Steves
Traveling with my film crew in Italy, I splurged for two conveniences, both worth considering: taking Venetian water taxis and hiring cabs for rides between cities. While these sped up life in Italy, I also learned that Italians know there's more to life than increasing its speed.
In Venice, water taxis — sleek, varnished floating limos — loiter at major points ready to take you directly to your destination. A ride from the train station to St. Mark's costs about €70 ($100, cabbies are happy to set a fare before you board). Because of strict canal speed limits, the ride is not much faster than a fast vaporetto, but if you're with a group, have lots of luggage (like TV gear), or want to splurge, it can be a good move.
If you're in a hurry and the train schedule is frustrating, consider hiring cab for rides between cities. Negotiate a fare before you depart. I saved nearly three hours for my crew by spending €120 (about $180) for a taxi from Florence to Siena. As an added advantage, the service is door-to-door, which in Siena saves a tedious bus or taxi connection from its remote train station to your hotel.
Italy, Europe's trendiest destination, knows its charm and quality of life rest upon the right mix of old and new. While it's no longer the chaotic basket-case that the last generation of travelers found, it is wary of too much modern success. While Germany builds more autobahns, Italy is actually slowing things down.
More than 30 Italian towns, including Orvieto and Positano, have joined the slow food movement (www.slowfood.com). This league of slow cities — whose logo is the snail — is legislating changes to promote slow, quiet, reflective living. A slow city has no car alarms, no neon advertisements, ample bike paths, more neighborhood eateries, and centers to sample traditional food and drinks.
And travelers visiting "slow towns" are more likely to bring home people memories. At a slow lunch, I told an old Italian at the next table I was from Seattle. Proud to know my state, he declared, "Ahhh, Vas-eeng-ah-toan-ay."