Out of Step on a Landmark in Rome

Rome's Spanish Steps, one of the city's most popular meeting places, were closed last week for a restoration project that will take eight months to complete. Some shopkeepers in the area are up in arms at the timing, which comes at the beginning of the tourist season.

But according to the Times of London, the restoration has been planned for years to wipe away the graffiti scrawled by generations of young Romans and tourists. "If we do not act now," said Rome's superintendent of monuments, "the damage to the walling and travertine stonework could be irreversible. The work has to be done in the spring and summer because restorative materials will not dry if it rains."

Only the steps will be off-limits; nearby businesses, including the American Express office, will remain open. Tourists will be able to watch the cleanup through a plastic screen.

The work is also part of a general sprucing up in Rome in preparation for the Vatican Jubilee in 2000, which is expected to draw 35 million tourists.

All Aboard in Seattle, Vancouver

After an absence of 14 years, passenger train service will resume Friday between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

The new Mount Baker International, using high-tech Spanish-built equipment, will depart Seattle at 7:15 a.m. and arrive in Vancouver at 11:50 a.m. The return trip will leave Vancouver at 6 p.m., arriving in Seattle at 10:35 p.m.

The train will also stop at Edmonds, Everett, Mount Vernon, Burlington and Bellingham, Wash. One-way fare from Seattle to Vancouver is $29. For information and reservations, call your travel agent or (800) USA-RAIL.

A Late Summer in the Sierra

Summer will be a little late this year in the Sierra Nevada. The good news for late-season skiers is not so welcome for those who normally begin venturing into the high country after Memorial Day. Some of the most popular areas will remain in winter's snowy grip for weeks to come. Another foot of snow fell on Mammoth Mountain last weekend.

Yosemite National Park officials say the Tioga Pass road will not open until late June (it's usually snow-free by Memorial Day weekend). The popular Tuolumne Meadows campground will not open until sometime in August, partly because of construction but mostly because of deep snow and wet grounds.

Plows still were working to clear the road to another Sierra favorite, Whitney Portal, west of Lone Pine. Inyo National Forest officials hoped to have the campground operating by Memorial Day, but that target was far from certain. "We are having never-ending winter," a forest official said. Until middle or late July, high passes on the John Muir Trail will be blocked to all but those skilled in snow hiking and climbing.

One bonus of the massive snowpack is a glorious display of Yosemite Valley waterfalls. The falls should peak in late May and maintain that flow through most of June, spokeswoman Marla Shenk said. The falls normally run at peak volume for only a few days or a week.

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