Silver Screen Travels

Movies can inspire us to travel, feature a destination like Italy as a major character, or remind us of what the act of travel is really like (I still say National Lampoon's European Vacation was a documentary)

If you don't have the time or inclination to slough through a whole book, you probably have a couple of hours to sit down and watch a few movies. You don't have to run out and rent tourism videos or a stack of artsy foreign films with teensy subtitles (although that's fine, too—think of Cinema Paradiso).

Top 10 films for Italy-lovers
A Room with a View
Roman Holiday
Cinema Paradiso
Fellini's Roma
La Dolce Vita
A Month by the Lake
Under the Tuscan Sun
Il Postino
Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing
Keep it fun. You needn't sit through all 12 hours of PBS's I, Claudiusor the glorious, if short-lived, HBO series Rometo get a handle on the world of ancient Rome.

Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (with John Gielgud in the title role) and even A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum are just as good.

Even better, rent Roman Holiday, with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, and you can fall in love with a more modern version of Rome.

Woody Allen's Everybody Says I Love You will put both Venice and Paris firmly on your itinerary, while A Room with a View will fire up your imagination about Florence and romance under the Italian sun.

To mentally prepare for the entirety of your grand European tour, watch that fine documentary film National Lampoon's European Vacation. OK, so it's exceedingly silly, but the bungling misadventures of Chevy Chase and family are more true to life than any tourist brochure will let on. Traditionalists may prefer the dated but still relevant '60s classic If It's Tuesday This Must Be Belgium, which should be required viewing for anyone about to embark on an escorted tour.

Beyond your typical Rick Steves-type travel shows on PBS and basic cable, there are two main types of travel you can get in DVD format: road trip movies that deal with the act of travel or use travel as the main plot structure (National Lampoon's Vacation, and, of course, If It's Tuesday This Must Be Belgium), and movies in which a destination serves almost as a supporting character in the film (Rome in Roman Holiday, Tuscany in A Room with a View, a small Sicilian village in Cinema Paradiso, an island off the coast of Naples in Il Postino).

You can also arrive at a destination via a swashbuckling adventure: Venice has been visited by Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade and several versions of James Bond (Roger Moore in Moonraker, Daniel Craig in Casino Royale)—in addition to the lovers in A Little Romance and Katherine Hepburn in Summertime (in fact, the pensione where Hepburn's character stayed, at the confluence of two canals, is still a hotel called the Accademia).

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