Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cash Only at Vatican City

If you are heading to Vatican City, come prepared with cash. Only cash will be accepted for museum tickets, souvenirs and any other purchases make within the Vatican City. In the past, visitors have been able to use debit and credit cards and access nearby ATMs. But that has been stopped by the Bank of Italy.

Vatican City is not a member of the European Union and EU rules do not allow member-nations banks, such as the Bank of Italy, from operating in non-European Union nations unless there are measure in place to counteract the financing of terrorism and money laundering.

A July 2012 report, by a department of the Council of Europe, gave the Vatican Bank a passing grade on transparency but it failed on seven other key areas that are used to fight money laundering. The Vatican Bank procedures, criticized severely in the report as regards to money laundering, is now being looked into by Italian Magistrates.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

During our winter sojourn in Florida this year we visited the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. I had read about the park in a free Florida weekly called, appropriately enough, Florida Weekly. The article had a lot of information about the history of the area and mentioned the Janes Scenic Drive. Always open to seeing a new scenic drive, we decided to give this one a try.

The article gave instructions for approaching the drive from the south. We were coming from the north and wanted to make a loop that went south, then west, then back north. So using Google Maps, I plotted a route that took us to Randall off of Immokelee Rd, then south on Everglades Parkway, to Stewart to the northern terminus of the scenic road.

This really turned out to be an adventure. Everglades Parkway was closed and there were detour signs. We followed the signs and drove through parts of old Florida ... no buildings except a few homes scattered here and there. Then we ended up on a non-paved road.

The road wasn't terrible although I had to drive carefully. It is along this area that we saw a lot of wildlife. With wide stretches of open area on each side of the road, we saw deer, a raccoon and lots of birds. I personally love this kind of driving, swerving around potholes and large rocks (did a lot of this type of driving on our Southwest trip - be sure to read backwards.)

Finally we reached the official start of the Janes Scenic Road. Scenic this road is not, unless you consider driving a road with cypress swamps on each side for just about the entire length of the road. While we did see an alligator and several turkeys, you could not really see beyond the edge of the road. We know there were some big birds flying around but couldn't spot them. It was like driving through a tunnel.

Well, we made it through and were a bit disappointed. So onto our next stop, Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. The entrance to this part of the park is right off of U.S. 41, Tamiami Trail. The parking is not great but there are porta-poties and a gift shop (which we didn't go into). There are volunteers here who can show you things and answer questions. We saw baby alligators, an eagle in its nest, and, at the end of the boardwalk, a lovely area to sit and watch the wildlife - an alligator, egret, ibis, and a little blue heron. We felt the short hike from the parking lot to the end was well worth it.