What's new in Europe in 2007?


Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 12:10 a.m.
Whether you're gawking at David in Florence or marveling at the Alps under the glass bubble of a panorama train car - you'll enjoy your trip more by knowing what's new in the old country Tribune Media Services Europe is constantly improving the creative ways it shares its rich and diverse heritage. The downside is that perhaps one in 10 sights you've waited all your life to see will be closed for restoration. The good news is that, for everything that's covered in scaffolding, many more attractions are newly restored and looking better than ever. Factor this sightseeing news into your itinerary plans for 2007: Great Britain In London, consider buying an Oyster card to get discounted rides on the city buses and the Tube. The hard, plastic transit pass costs 3 pounds plus an initial credit payment of 10 pounds. You then reload it whenever you run out of credit.
Three London museums have been overhauled. The British Library now dedicates a special room just to the Magna Carta, the landmark 1215 document reminding the English king that he wasn't above the law. The Victoria & Albert Museum re-opened its Islamic Room and also added a new cafe. And the Tate Modern re-hung its entire modern art collection.
Starting in July, London restaurants and pubs that sell food will be smoke-free.
Outside of London, the Gipsy Moth IV has sailed away from Greenwich for another trip around the world. When she returns to England in mid-2007, she'll moor at the Isle of Wight. Greenwich will add a new planetarium and Space Galleries to its Royal Observatory.
Bath, named and famous for its hot-spring baths, hasn't had a functioning mineral hot-springs bath for several decades. Now the town finally has a first-class place to soak. The new Thermae Bath Spa opened after years of delays (www.thermaebathspa.com).
Ireland As the Irish economy continues to boom, the country is importing labor for the first time in its history. Throughout Ireland an influx of Eastern European guest workers (especially Poles) is changing the demographic make-up of the country. And, with its new affluence, Ireland is opening up fine restaurants, fixing up its museums, preserving its heritage, and funding the arts.
Dublin's National Museum split into two branches. Its impressive history exhibit (on the 1916 Easter Uprising, War of Independence from Britain, and Civil War) moved from the branch at Kildare Street to the branch at Benburb Street, north of the River Liffey. Would you rather visit Dingle or An Daingean? According to a recent poll, residents of An Daingean emphatically want to change the name of their town back to Dingle. The Irish government had renamed the town in Gaelic because it's in a Gaeltacht, a region that receives government subsidies to keep alive the Irish language and culture. Townsfolk of this popular stop in southwest Ireland made it clear that they may be proudly Irish, but that they much prefer the anglicized (and better for tourism) name.f-z In Galway, the Galway Irish Crystal Heritage Center - long a regular stop for bus tours - is no longer open to the public. But the town has a new cultural attraction: "Trad on the Prom," a high-energy traditional music and dance troupe started by Galway-born performers who toured with Riverdance (daily May-Sept, www.tradontheprom.com).
Italy In Venice, La Fenice ("The Phoenix") Opera House has risen from the ashes of a 1996 arson fire, meticulously restored to its 18th-century glory after an eight-year makeover. To get inside, you need to attend a performance or take a guided 45-minute tour ($9, runs twice daily).
Modern-art fans can once again visit Ca' Pesaro, a 17th-century Grand Canal palazzo full of 20th-century art.
Long lines continue to plague tourists wanting to visit St. Mark's Basilica. If you check your daybag nearby at Ateneo S. Basso, a former church, you can show the bag-check receipt to the official at St. Mark's entry and get in without a wait.
While the clock tower at St. Mark's Square was due to re-open "in 2006," it remains closed. But you can enjoy the classic aerial view of Venice from the newly re-opened bell tower at San Giorgio Maggiore, the church on the island just across the water from St. Mark's. Florence's Orsanmichele Church, with its 14th-century tabernacle, is once again open to the public.f-z Literary fans are released from the Purgatorio of waiting for Dante's House to re-open after a lengthy closure, but the sight still falls short of Paradiso. Dante's House never actually was the author's home, just a replica, and to make matters worse, an inferno recently destroyed the most important artifacts.
Of Rome's two sightseeing passes, the new $23 Roma Pass is better. In fact, it seems too good to be true. The pass gives you three days of transportation on the Metro and buses, and your choice of two sights, such as the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Borghese Gallery, Capitol Hill Museum and National Museum of Rome where you'll get in free, without waiting in line to buy tickets. The Roma Pass includes a map, guide, and event news (www.romapass.it).
France My French friends warn that their country has a new system of photo ticketing for speeding, where moveable cameras are carefully placed to trap the unsuspecting driver. They are reportedly most common in 30- to 50-km zones and will nail tourists, as well as locals, for going even a few kilometers over the limit.
One convenient way to send packages home is by using the post office's Colissimo XL postage-paid mailing box. It costs about $40 for the international version, which allows you to send home all the goodies you can stuff into an 18-by-12-by-8-inch box (no weight limit).
The big news in Paris is the re-opening of the Impressionist art museum, L'Orangerie. A six-year refurbishment lopped off the top floor of the museum, opening up skylights and drenching Monet's paintings of water lilies in natural light. The museum's other works - a world-class collection, featuring most of the big-name Impressionists - now fill a pleasant underground gallery. In June of 2007, speedy TGV trains will connect Paris with destinations in Alsace and Northern France - Reims, Verdun, Strasbourg and Colmar - cutting train times from Paris about in half (e.g., three hours to Colmar instead of six).f-t f-z Germany In Munich, expansion of the S-Bahn subway system could turn the main train station into a construction site, but trains and services shouldn't be affected.
New for 2007, the kitschy Beer and Oktoberfest Museum offers a frothy take on the history of Munich's favorite party. Munich's new Jewish Museum and community center is slated to open in March 2007 in the revitalized Jewish quarter. After a four-year remodel, the futuristic BMW Museum at the carmaker's headquarters finally re-opens in summer 2007 (www.bmw-museum.de). The Deutsches Museum has gotten bigger yet, with two new branches in different parts of town: the expanded Museum of Transportation and the Flight Museum. The glorious Imperial Hall in Wurzburg's Residenz palace is closed for renovation until 2008.f-z Berlin's huge central train station, the Hauptbahnhof, is finally open. Located just north of the Reichstag parliament building, the Hauptbahnhof is a gigantic four-story transfer station. Now virtually every long-distance Berlin-bound train comes through the Hauptbahnhof. This turns the Zoo station (and other formerly "major" stations) into little more than glorified subway stations.
Spain Vueling has become a hugely popular discount airline in Iberia; for example, a Madrid-Barcelona flight can cost as little as $39, if booked in advance (www.vueling.com).
The new high-speed AVE train now connects Madrid and Toledo in 30 minutes. Toledo is undergoing a major construction project: the building of a new convention center, complete with a huge escalator that will take visitors from the bus station nearly to the main square, Plaza Zocodover. When this addition is complete (likely in 2009), the city will become largely traffic-free (except for city residents' cars, public transit, and service vehicles).
Tarifa in southern Spain still offers the easiest day-trip ferry connections to Tangier, Morocco. Restorations in Tangier are taking place on a grand scale, thanks to King Mohammed VI, who hopes to return the city to its former glory. The beach has been painstakingly cleaned, pedestrian promenades are popping up everywhere, and gardens bloom with lush, new greenery.
Portugal In Lisbon, the quaint Eiffel-esque tower called the Santa Justa Elevador has re-opened, handily connecting the Baixa district with the Chiado neighborhood up on the hill. The very central train station, Rossio Station, is scheduled to re-open in the fall of 2007, making trips to Sintra, Nazare, and other destinations much quicker and easier.
Pilgrims still flock to Fatima, where the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in 1917. In 2006, a giant new church opened (Igreja da Santissima Trindade) to hold all the visitors that overwhelm this small town on and around the 13th of the month from May through October.
Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at rick@ricksteves.com, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, Wash. 98020.
EUROPE on Page 7D Continued from 6D EUROPE: Know what's new before you visit the old country Eastern Europe In Poland, the reconstruction around Krakow's train station is complete. Now the station shares a shiny new square with an enormous, 270-store shopping mall. A handy, sleek new bus station huddles behind the train station. Also in Krakow, part of the breathtaking Main Market Square will be off-limits as medieval foundations are excavated to create a new "underground museum."
Near Krakow, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp will be renovated over the next several years. The museum, considered the oldest Holocaust exhibit in the world, has been largely unchanged since it opened more than 50 years ago. While the museum will be modernized, key elements, such as the displays of human hair, eyeglasses, and suitcases, will remain. Restorers will build retaining walls to prevent the remains of the huge Birkenau crematoria - key evidence of the magnitude of Nazi crimes - from slowly sinking into the ground.
Budapest, despite the over-hyped protests against the Hungarian government that occurred here in the fall of 2006, remains a safe and enjoyable place to travel.
In Croatia in 2006, Dubrovnik's locals breathed a sigh of relief and said, "We've finally got as many visitors as before the war." The city is capitalizing on its revitalized tourist industry, with an increasing slate of tourist events, a pair of old-fashioned pirate ships for excursions, and costumed guards that parade down the main street several times daily.

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