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Pisa Mayor Bemoans Lean Tourist Season

<i> Compiled from Times news services and staff reports</i>

Seven months after the Leaning Tower of Pisa was closed to the public, work to keep it from toppling has yet to begin and the mayor of the tourist-abandoned city is appealing to Rome for help.

The tower’s 293 steps were last climbed on Jan. 7, when the former mayor reluctantly locked the wooden doors to the 180-foot tower with a steel key and expressed hope that work would begin soon so the monument could reopen.

Since then, the mayor’s office has a new occupant and the city has been losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in entrance fees--the monument attracts some 800,000 tourists a year who pay $3.35 U.S. apiece to climb the spiral staircase for an odd view of the Tuscan city.

Some tourists still pass through Pisa, but with the tower closed, the city is less appealing, and newly elected Mayor Sergio Cortopassi said he would ask Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti for help.

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Cortopassi’s predecessor signed an order last December authorizing closure, but experts have yet to get moving on a plan to stop the 800-year-old tower from leaning further. Experts estimate the work will cost $400 million.

Snakes alive: Train travel in China has always been an adventurous proposition, but it has become even more creepy of late.

“For nearly one month, railway departments have seen various species of frogs and snakes filling train aisles, crawling on luggage racks and even in restrooms,” according to a report in China’s Legal Daily newspaper.

The cause is the illegal capture and sale of frogs and snakes by Chinese peasants with an eye for profit. Frog and snake meat are considered delicacies in China, but demand has outstripped supply, resulting in “wanton killing and trafficking” by industrious hunters, according to the newspaper.

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More than three tons of wild frogs and toads and 1 1/2 tons of snakes were confiscated by Shanghai authorities in May alone, the newspaper said, adding that in one instance, 30 bags of live snakes weighing 1,650 pounds were discovered being illegally smuggled on a freight car.

Van Gogh, van gone: A total of almost 1.3 million art lovers visited the “Vincent Van Gogh Retrospective” during its four-month exhibition at Amsterdam’s Vincent Van Gogh Museum and the Kroller Muller Museum in Otterlo.

The unprecedented collection of masterpieces from museums and private collections around the world closed last Sunday, the 100th anniversary of the Dutch artist’s death.

The Amsterdam museum, which normally attracts 700,000 visitors a year, attracted 860,000 people since the exhibition opened March 31, while 431,000 visited the Otterlo museum, 62 miles from Amsterdam.

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The museums used a reservations system to cut down on the anticipated crush in queues, limiting visitors to 700 an hour in Amsterdam and 500 in Otterlo. The system was observed with interest by officials from the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and London’s National Gallery.

Big Easy riders: United Cabs in New Orleans has been encouraging riders to take longer rides in cabs by allowing them to use their Visa and MasterCards for fares on local trips, city and plantation tours and, especially, airport trips. There’s a $5 minimum on all credit card charges.

Border opening: Finland and the Soviet Union may open their border to allow Germans to visit the graves of thousands of compatriots who fell in World War II, the Helsinki newspaper Uusi Suomi reported.

In return, a German war graves society is ready to pay $1.85 million U.S. to help finance the road and rail connections that the two countries plan to open to boost tourism.

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Germans fought alongside Finns against the Soviet Union during the Finnish-Soviet War of 1941-44, and many were buried in land later ceded to the Soviet Union. There are thought to be as many as 5,000 German war graves north of the 800-mile border.

Flea-ing Venice: Visitors to Venice this summer have been plagued by an infestation of water fleas. The insect’s bite produces a rash similar to a sunburn, followed by dozens of painful blisters. Doctors have been inundated with patients suffering these symptoms, and Italian health authorities blame a type of water flea that lives in the algae on the city’s lagoons and thrives in hot weather.


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