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GLOBE TREKKER ITALY

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Megan McCormick, Justine Shapiro
Directors: Finn McGough, Steve Lenhoff
Audio: English Dolby Stereo
Subtitles: None
Video: Color, full-frame
Studio: 555 (Pilot) Productions
Features: "Around the World" tour, fun facts
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2002

"Roma spelled backwards means love."

Episodes ***1/2

The television show Globe Trekker has been hopping around the world for over a decade.  Originally entitled Lonely Planet, then Pilot Guides, this popular international show was a regular feature on cable television programming (the Travel, Learning, and Discovery Channels) before migrating to PBS stations in 2002 and assuming its current moniker.  Throughout its varying cosmetic changes, the premise of the show has always remained a simple but engrossing one - each week, one friendly host would journey across the featured country (or city) and take audiences on a tour of fascinating cultural sites and celebrations.  What has separated Globe Trekker from most other travel programs is the humor and down-to-earth friendliness of its hosts.  Viewers can vicariously experience foreign countries on a personal level rather than through a virtual slideshow of pretty pictures with a passive host (although the landscapes and sceneries shown in Globe Trekker are admittedly outstanding and frequently worthy of National Geographic).  Each episode of the show also routinely offers many candid encounters and anecdotes from other tourists about their own experiences.  Better yet, Globe Trekker is not afraid to wander off the beaten path away from the usual tourist traps to intimately explore the true nature of these nations' people, culture, and even cuisine.

Following the move to public television, the show also began to arrive on DVD.  This disc, Globe Trekker: Italy, presents two popular episodes of the show featuring hostesses Megan McCormick and Justine Shapiro as they respectively tour the northern and southern regions of Italy.

Megan McCormick is probably the most popular of the regular Globe Trekker hosts.  A perky and cheerful chatter, Megan tends to provide bubbly commentary about the people and places she encounters on her journeys.  The first segment of Globe Trekker: Italy, from 2001, features Megan on a trek that begins in Aosta and traverses through Alba, Milan, Parma, Modena, Mantua Verona, and Cortina and the Dolomite Mountains before closing in Venice, the gateway to the Orient.

Many of these towns have rich histories and still retain much of their medieval flavor.  Aosta, for instance, is a former Roman town with proximity to seventy different castles.  Ivrea features a three-day Carnival of Orange-Tossing which commemorates a 12th-century revolt by the townspeople over their oppressive noble rulers; the revolt is represented through a symbolic pelting of brave (and armored) volunteers with thousands of imported Sicilian oranges.

Local cuisine, as found in local pubs, bars, and restaurants, is a staple of many Globe Trekker episodes.  For Italian culinary experts, there is a journey to Alba, where Megan participates in the traditional wintry search for truffle, that rarest of mushroom delicacy (and aphrodisiac).  There is a journey to Parma, too, where ham and cheese are the major exports.  Megan also visits a factory where the celebrated Parmaggiano Reggiano cheese is created.

Next on the itinerary is a trip to the unofficial northern capital, Milan, the fashion cosmopolitan hub of Europe.  Even the police wear Armani-designed outfits in this fashion-conscious city!  Other sites of interest in the city include the world's largest gothic cathedral and the world-famous opera house La Scala.

Racing aficionados will delight in Maranello, home to the Ferrari company and a Formula One race track.  Megan visits the awesome Ferrari museum containing famous cars like the Spider, F40, and Testarossa, and she even gets to spin around in a Ferrari on the race track (lucky girl).

A visit to the lakeside Mantua, with its great architecture, includes a tour of what was once the largest palace in all of Europe, a wondrous chateau that still boasts some extremely gorgeous frescos and wall carvings.

For Shakespearean lovers, there is charming Verona, the city of love.  Visitors here can always visit the Casa di Giulietta, a tourist trap for those on a pilgrimage to seek out the Juliet balcony.

Skiing enthusiasts can also check out Cortina and its local ski resorts.  Megan's visit here ends with a spectacular view of the coral peaks of the Dolomites.

Finally, Megan concludes her journeys in Venice, the only city with rivers as major throughways.  Once a city infamous for its masked balls and ceaseless debauchery, this "brothel of Europe" remains today a favorite for tourists.  Visitors can still attend the famous Venice Mask Carnival, started in 1094, in which masks and costumes were used to cloak the debauchery that once enveloped Venice.

Next, we move on to southern Italy, as visited in the second Globe Trekker segment by Justine Shapiro.  Another of the show's popular adventurers, Justine is also an accomplished documentarian on her own right, having been nominated for an Oscar for her documentary Promises (2001).  Justine's Globe Trekker segment begins in Rome, the Eternal City and gateway to southern Italy.  From there, Justine travels through Terracina, Naples, Alberobello, Ostuni, and Acri before finally reaching the tip of Italy's toe in Aspromonte.  Along the way, Justine offers historical trivia, useful tips on dealing with the overly-flirtatious charming guides and men, and more practical advice concerning the best methods of transportation around Italy (scooters in Rome or the cheap and reliable train system outside) and how to arrange lodging in the more out-of-the-way locales.  But while in Rome, Justine visits the usual tourist attractions - Coliseum, whose 80,000 seating capacity was once the stage for gory gladiator games (starting in 80 A.D.), and the Vatican City, an independent state within Rome since 1929.

Leaving the capital, however, Justine heads for the countryside and many seldom-visited locales.  Her first stop is the fishing village of Terracina.  There, she witnesses the traditional Festival of the Madonna del Carmine honoring the town's patron saint and the lives of those lost at sea.  She also comes face to face with the prophetic Old Man of Bonito, actually a mummy purported to have mysterious healing powers.

The sprawling city of Naples is next, where Justine takes us on a quick culinary tour of the city's large food markets, multiple pizzerias, and many local dishes.  Her amusing Italian guide also teaches her (and us) some useful, colloquial hand gestures.  No vacation to Naples would be complete without a visit to the nearby ancient ruins of Pompeii.  Justine visits this famous town, destroyed by volcanic ashes on August 24, 79 A.D., to marvel at the remarkably well-preserved frescos.

A scooter trip along the picturesque Amalfi Coast takes Justine to Salerno and later through the surreal, fairy-tale like architecture and homes of Alberobello.  A stop in Ostuni provides an opportunity to engage in the local sea urchin-fishing (for the people of this region, the spiny sea creatures are claimed to possess aphrodisiac-like properties).  After more culinary, homestyle cooking in Acri, Justine concludes her journey through southern Italy among the rarely-seen but breathtaking wilderness and waterfalls of Aspromonte.  The picturesque wonder of this scenic landscape is a testimony to the beauty of rural Italy and a strong enticement for potential travelers to this culturally-rich country to seek out some of the more remote locales for the true flavor of Italy.

Globe Trekker: Italy offers a pleasant sample of the captivating allure of this popular television travelogue.  Viewers who are interested in the show can find it regularly on PBS stations or can sample any of the several dozen other current Globe Trekker DVDs available.

Video **1/2 

While the images are generally clear with accurately rendered colors, Globe Trekker's TV origins are obvious in the transfer.  The detail levels are moderate and can become mildly blurry or blocky on close inspection.  There are occasional interlacing defects.  On average, the bit rate is around 4.5 Mbps.  Since Globe Trekker is essentially a travel show, the video quality depends upon the various photographic media used and, overall, is acceptable.

Audio ***

Globe Trekker is presented in English Dolby Digital stereo.  The sound quality is fine, especially during interludes in which native or regional music is played.  Narration is provided alternatively on-location as well as in voice-over.

Features *1/2

An "Around the World" tour (10 min.) promotes the various Globe Trekker DVDs available at the time of this disc's release.  Although basically advertisements, the clips in this tour do offer intriguing glimpses into the other international regions visited by the enthusiastic Globe Trekker hosts.

This disc also contains an optional winDVD player for DVD-ROM playback if viewers use their computers to watch the programs.

No travelogue would be complete without a few tips about the host country.  This disc includes several pages of "fun facts" describing Italy's travel, historic sites, festivals, foods, and climate, including the best times to arrive for the ski season.  Further information can be obtained via a provided weblink to www.pilotguides.com.

Summary:

Considering a trip to Europe?  Why not try Italy?  The episodes in this Globe Trekker DVD release offer many handy suggestions about fun places to visit.  Whether you are a potential traveler planning a vacation or an armchair explorer interested in learning about new cultures and people from the comfort of home, this disc is an enjoyable and informative place to start!

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