Italy’s 2016 Referendum – what does it mean and what you need to know

Yesterday I voted for the first time in an Italian election as an Italian citizen.  I’d been researching the issue, and asking everyone I know for their opinions, for months, and the truth is, I can’t think of a worse issue to have as my first time.  Were this first time sex, it would be the equivalent of doing it in the backseat of a car with someone you don’t even really like – memorable, but disappointing.

However, I was quoted by a journalist friend about how I voted, and why, for The Guardian newspaper (which definitely didn’t happen after my first sexual encounter).

For those who haven’t yet recovered from the US elections and didn’t even begin to sort through what this was all about, I’ll give a very brief, Cliff-Notes version – basically just what you need to know so that you can have an opinion about it at a dinner party, and know what it might mean for the future of Italy, the future of the EU, and how that might effect anyone who wants to come here on vacation.

WHAT WAS THE REFERENDUM ABOUT?

The question asked to Italian citizens on the ballot was essentially (and forgive my terrible, literal translation):

Do you approve the constitutional law concerning the provision for exceeding the equal bicameralism, a reduction of the number of members of parliament, containment of costs of institutions, the suppression of the CNEL and the revision of Title V of the Second part of the Constitution?  Yes / No

In my own words, it was about reducing the size of the senate and changing their power so that laws would be quicker to pass and governments couldn’t be ousted as easily.  In addition, the Provinces would be abolished as well as an organization called CNEL, all of which would have saved taxpayers X amount of money.

Sounds good, right?  Smaller, cheaper, and more stable government is hard to turn down!

The first bit of messiness was that Renzi, the Prime Minister, originally said that if he couldn’t get these reforms to pass, he would step down as PM.  For many, that made a “No” vote the equivalent of “Out with Renzi”.  He then took back that statement, and in the back and forth, the issue became for many people, the equivalent of  a “Yes” vote meaning “Renzi stays”.

After Trump’s victory, the foreign press called this a potential ‘Third Act’ in the Brexit/Trump/Italexit saga.  Many also feared that Italy, looming on the brink of a serious banking crisis, would be in such a state of uncertainty were Renzi to step down, that the EU would be in turmoil if we delivered a “No” vote.  The foreign press also speculated further about how the only party that would come to power post-Renzi was the 5-Star movement, which has been on the record as being anti-EU (even though they’re also on the record for being pro-EU).

HERE’S SOME OTHER THINGS THAT THE ISSUE BECAME ABOUT:

- If Renzi steps down, that will leave a space that could only be filled by the 5-Star (antiestablishment) movement which could then lead to referendum on leaving the EU alla Brexit – which could be bad.  Or good!

- If Renzi steps down, that could force the President of the Republic to create a technocratic government to tide us over until the next elections in 2018 – which could be bad.  Or good.

- The far right sees a “No” vote as the same kind of “No” that the UK delivered and the same kind of “No” that the US voted (against Clinton and the establishment), which would then pave the way for more Salvini/Putin/Le Pen/Trump right wing extremists.  Which would certainly be bad.  Unless you’re into that, in which case it would be good.

So a vote on constitutional reform, involving the size and cost of the Senate, turned into a vote either for or against the PM, a vote for or against the EU, a vote for or against Populism and the Establishment (which, in this case, we don’t really know if it’s Renzi and his proposal or saying no to Renzi and his proposal).

WHAT WAS IT REALLY ABOUT?

Those who broke down the actual text of what was proposed (myself included) found the following issues of concern:

- The remaining senators would not be elected directly by the people. They would be appointed by other politicians.

- The remaining senators would also hold a second public office, so would have to divide their time between the two jobs, and incur higher costs in getting to/from Rome to complete their duties as senators therefore reducing the potential savings.

- The senators would have legal immunity, which could lead to all kinds of corruption (and just, why?).

- No salaries would be cut, therefore making the issue of saving money no longer at the center of the argument.

- The process by which a law becomes a law, instead of following the current, slow, yet single procedure, would follow 10-13 different procedures (the actual number not 100% agreed on) that, if disputed, would end up in the constitutional courts to be disputed to death, which means that there’s no guarantee that laws will be any easier to pass then they are now.

- That governments would be more stable, but also more powerful, and that could be good (if the government is good) or it could be REALLY bad (if the government is bad).

- For some reason they also threw in there that the number of signatures needed to bring a public vote forward would be much higher than it currently is, which just had no place getting squeezed into this.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Well, we know what happened.  Italy voted “No” about 60 to 40, and Renzi immediately stated he would turn in his resignation the following day.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Good question.  It’s doubtful we’ll hold early elections, so the President will have to form a government that will last from now until 2018.  In the meantime, that means nothing’s changed at all. The laws, and the process by which they become laws, has stayed the same.  Today, and tomorrow, Italy will have the same problems that it had yesterday and the day before.

For the tourist, this might mean that the Euro will fall against the dollar a bit, which could make your trip cheaper.  Otherwise, you can plan that Italy is going to be the same dichotomous, beautifully messy, chaotic and confusing place that it was and might always be.

But if you really want to understand Italy, just watch this oldie but goodie:

Virtual Reality Tour of Rome by LivItaly Tours

I was recently invited to go on a special tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill with LivItaly Tours – special because they’ve added VR glasses/goggles so you can see computer generated recreations of the sites while in them.

We – my 10-year old daughter and I – met with a group of other bloggers at the nearby Caffé Propaganda in the Celio neighbourhood, just next to the Colosseum, where we had a drink and demo of our glasses.

They work with your smartphone through an app you download in advance.  Once at a site, you select it in the app, and it recognises your motion, so as you turn the view changes.

We started off at the Colosseum, talking about how it got its name and the colossal statue of Nero that was once next to it – and that thanks to the VR glasses, we could see again.

Being on a group tour means jumping the substantial line, which even in November was pretty long.

Now, I’ve been in the Colosseum many times, and have had a number of guided tours there too, but for my daughter, despite being born in Italy and living here, this was her first time.  She’s currently studying the Greeks in school, so this was an interesting way for her to connect the dots to the ancient world.  She was full of questions, and our guide, Rachel, was full of answers.  The glasses were appealing to my daughter not only because of the cool/fun factor, but because many of the monuments and ruins from the ancient world require a lot of imagination to see what they were really like, and visualising them with the glasses makes it come to life much easier.

Next we headed up the Palatine Hill, where the emperors had their palaces, and saw over the Circus Maximus, the world’s largest sports arena.

For the final part of the tour, we heading into the Roman Forum, once the downtown of the Roman Empire, and thus, kind of the center of the entire world.

The entire tour probably lasted between 3-4 hours, and we were engaged the entire time.

I’m a big fan of walking tours in general.  There’s a number of quality tour companies in Rome and in general they are all worthwhile – the more you’re able to invest, the more likely you’ll have a smaller group size and a more knowledgeable guide.  Visiting many of these sites on your own, without any additional information or guide, can be an underwhelming experience, so I do recommend doing a tour.

Having the VR glasses was a nice addition too, especially for kids, who can be hard to keep interested.  I also felt that our guide was great with kids too – she was happy to get questions and visibly pleased to be able to answer them in a way that kept more questions coming.

The price of their tours are slightly higher than other similar tours, due to the VR glasses, but you get to keep them afterward, and they work for other sites as well (and for other VR apps).  They also offer a guide that’s full of recommendations that go behind the sites – food, markets, shopping, etc.

For more information, check them out at:

LivItaly Tours 

Skype: livitaly.tours 
Vicolo del Divino Amore 18a, Rome

 

8 newly renovated apartments in the center of Florence

The winter is a time when things slow down enough for us that we can focus on adding new properties to the site (and weed out some that we don’t think represent the best options to our guests).  Over the years we’ve a seen a bit of a pattern emerge where an individual who does well renting their apartment scales up, adding other people’s apartments too and becoming a small property manager.  On some sites, like Airbnb, this can seem misleading to guests, when you expect to stay in someone’s house, and instead are staying in one of many vacation rentals that are operated as a business.  For us, however, we welcome this, partly because we want to only work with professionals (whether renting 1 apartment or 10 – being professional is a key element) and also because if people are good at what they do, and doing well, they should grow and expand.  In some ways, it easier to manage 10 properties well with a small team who can do checkins, clean, repairs, and divide up the time so someone can always be on call, than to manage 1 apartment by yourself.

In the case of these new apartments in Florence, they are all managed by a local company called Etesian, founded by a former personal trainer in 2012.  They manage 16 properties on the site (a number that is constantly growing) in the center of Florence – divided between the Oltrarno, the San Lorenzo market and Piazza Santa Croce – in other words, all in the center and close enough to each other that between them, they can manage check-ins, maintenance and emergencies quickly and efficiently.  We’ve worked with them for years and have always found them to be fair, efficient and professional, and their apartments are all recently restored and well thought out so that they combine the amenities people want, a good sense of design that’s pleasing visually but also functional.

Keep in mind that their availability is all synched in real-time so when displayed on our site in a search, they are definitely available.

Prices published are for high season (April through October) for the entire flat, regardless of the number of guests, and discounts are offered in March, August and between November 1st and February 28th (excluding Christmas and New Years).

Appartamento Badesse in Sant’Abrosio (near Piazza Santa Croce) – 2 bed / 2 bath – sleeps 6 guests – €164 / night

Appartamento Costa San Giorgio in the Oltrarno at Porta San Frediano – 2 bed / 1 bath – sleeps 6 guests – €156 / night

Appartamento dei Neri near Piazza Santa Croce – 1 bed / 1 bath – sleeps 4 guests – €131 / night

Appartamento Number 11 in the Oltrarno at Porta San Frediano – 2 bed / 1 bath – sleeps 6 guests – €118 / night

Il Magnifico near San Lorenzo market – 2 bed / 1 bath – sleeps 5 guests – €144 / night

Appartamento Isola at Piazza Santa Croce (in the same building, across the hall, from Appartamento Stinche) – 2 bed / 1 bath – sleeps 2 guests – €94 / night

Appartamento Stinche at Piazza Santa Croce (in the same building, across the hall, from Appartamento Isola) - studio / 1 bath – sleeps 2 guests – €102 / night

 

Should you stay in the Giudecca neighborhood in Venice?

Giudecca is an often overlooked part of Venice.  Located across the Giudecca canal, the widest canal in Venice, it’s cut off from the city by foot, which creates some notable pros and cons.  Lonely Planet describes it well in their mini-guide to the area:  ”Located just across the canal bearing its name, Giudecca is Venice minus the plastic trinkets, touts and camera-toting tourists.”

 

If you check the forums, you get some pretty polarised views.  Pretty everyone agrees that it’s a lot less crowded with tourists and generally cheaper/more authentic restaurants (though few of them.

At the same time, many people visiting Venice are there for a very short time and don’t want to mess with ferries and just want to be as close to San Marco and the Rialto as possible.

My personal opinion is a bit of a mix.  The water taxi / ferry ride across to Dorsoduro is easy and frequent.  It run every 10 minutes from 5am to midnight and then all through the night (but reduced frequency).  However, it can add up – over 6 euro each way.  So unless you’re buying a transport pass, that can be expensive if you’re the type of traveler who doesn’t want to stay out all day and needs a few rests back at your home base.

But I also can’t stand the crush of humanity in the summer months that radiates out from San Marco – nor do I like all the trashy commerce and tourist traps that sprout up around the throngs of tourists.

Giudecca is also very beautiful and picturesque.  It has the same kind of architecture and narrow streets that you want from your stroll around Venice.  Also you get views of St. Mark’s square like this:

 

If that sounds good to you, check out these two apartments on Giudecca:

 

 

And if the ferry across is a deal breaker, but you still want to be somewhere less touristy, here’s one in Dorsoduro that’s walkable to pretty much everywhere:

 

 

 

A rant about taxis in Rome

There are many con-artists in many cities all over the world – and I have issues with them all, but there’s a special place in hell that I reserve for the crooked taxi driver who preys on someone who’s just arrived – sleep-deprived and jet lagged – putting a horrible start to their trip with a bitter taste in their mouth that’s hard to remove no matter how good the pasta and pizza.

Now I know a number of taxi drivers and although they aren’t all evil, I’ve had enough first-hand (and second-hand) experience with dishonest (or simply annoying) drivers, that it’s not a case of one bad apple ruining in the bunch – it’s more like a shitload of bad apples and one edible one.

There’s a few common scams that are worth noting when taking taxies around the city:

1.  Putting the fare at nr. 2 or 3 instead of 1 (which is a higher rate used for travel outside the city center).  Many drivers always seem to “forgot” to reset it to “tariffa 1″.

2.  Driving around in circles, jacking up the fare.  This is especially true when someone who doesn’t know the lay of land mistakenly requests a driver take them to an address only 2-3 blocks away. The driver, knowing they have someone on board without a clue, will probably take the scenic route.

3.  Taking a 50 euro bill (for example) and then insisting you gave them a 10 or a 20.  Most people don’t have the stamina to argue this out successfully, even when they know they’re right.

In my experience, these aren’t that common though – not enough to avoid taxis, in any case.  The fare starts anywhere between 3 and 6.50 euro (depending on the time of day and whether it’s a Sunday or holiday), and this changes often enough that it’s better to just give an estimate.   But the city is compact and you can generally get anywhere for 10-15 euro, which isn’t bad if you’re a few people, it’s raining, and/or you’re in a rush.

The Big Scam, though, the one that keeps me up at night with fictional arguments between me and the taxi drivers, has to do with the fixed rate to and from Rome’s airports.  The reason why this scam gets a capital “S” is that it’s made possible by the city itself, out of sheer incompetence, stupidity and (I wouldn’t doubt) a dose of corruption.

Ready for my rant?  Great – here goes:

So, the fixed rate is supposed to be 48 euro to/from Fiumicino and 30 euro to/from Ciampino.  This amount is valid up to 4 passengers WITH bags, any time of day, and to any destination within the Aurelian Wall (essentially the center of Rome).

Here’s some of the petty ways a dishonest driver will try and skew this in their favour:

1.  Driver insists it’s 45 euro/30 euro per person.

2.  Driver asks extra for bags or for nighttime supplement.

3.  Driver insists that this amount is just TO the city walls, and then from there it’s metered.

What’s annoying is that taxi drivers, all parked out in front of the airport, tend to work with a wolf-pack mentality, so if driver A tries to screw you and you go to driver B, they’ll often feel the pressure of the pack to say the same thing to you that driver A said.  For one of them to break off on his own and take you for the actual fare, is an act of rebellion – one that he’ll probably pay for later.

The fixed rate is well documented though – printed on most cab’s side exterior, and there’s a card inside the cab as well that repeats these details, in various languages.  There’s even a map that shows the area that’s considered “within the walls” in orange.

And that’s where my blood finds its boiling point – because the map is wrong.  

The Aurelian Wall was built about 1700 years ago and (obviously) – it hasn’t been moved around during the last millennia and a half.  Most of it is intact, and if you do a search for images for the wall on Google you’ll get a bunch of versions – from the antique to the more modern, showing where the wall is (and has always been).  It’s not really a debate, until you search for a map that shows the area within the walls, in regards to the taxi fare.

My favorite is this one, because it shows the area that concerns one of the densest areas in Rome for accommodation – the area just North of Termini Station (about 2:00 if the orange ring were a clock face).

Here’s another version with the area I’m referring to highlighted:

This was the original map and if googled, can be found on sites that posted it from 2012, when the fixed taxi rate went into effect.

Here’s another one that shows the wall outline, but for some reason excludes a triangle north of Termini:

And here’s what you’ll see in the back of the taxi and on the website of the Comune di Roma:

What happened to the little triangle where there are about 200 hotels?  Was this ancient wall moved?

Whereas the other scams are disputable, this one is institutional.  I’ve actually written the city of Rome, asking for some sort of explanation, and the only response I received was that it would be reviewed.  The person I spoke with didn’t seem to understand what the hell I was talking about anyway.

My suggestions, in light of all this:

1. If you suspect a taxi driver of scamming you, take a picture of their ID number, and the license plate, etc.  This will almost always change their tune.  But please, don’t stop there – file a report here.  If you don’t, you’re enabling them.  Report them.  Otherwise, it’s worth it for them to keep doing it.

2.  Use a taxi app like My Taxi.  It’s free and works well and will have your route established and the fare recorded.

3. If you’re traveling solo, try Scooterino – a ride service app like *Uber but on a scooter.

4.  For airport transfer, book a hired car, called NCC (do this through us or your hotel).

5. Take the train or bus instead from the airport.  It’s quicker anyway.

 

* Uber is heavily fought in Italy and its legality is dubious.  There’s convenience, but prices are higher than taxis and not really worth it.