November 23, 2004
Italy Mid-Trip Report
It's roughly the mid-point of my trip through Italy. So far I've visited: Rome, Ovieto, Parugia, Assisi, Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa, and Florence. Here are some thoughts and observations (mostly complaints, you know how much I love to whine):
- First and foremost, there are so many tourists here! To the point where it starts to ruin any appreciation I could possibly have of this country. It's almost like an amusement park here. A gorgeous amusement park, yes, but an amusement park nevertheless. It's queue up and see this and that and go to the next site and queue up again. Rinse and repeat. And this is supposedly the off-season. Forget about being an amusement park, this place is probably a zoo in the summer. Everywhere I turn I hear either American English or Japanese being spoken.
- Many beggers here in the big cities. To the point where I notice it and am pointing it out.
- Due to the pickpocketing incident, I don't feel particular safe. There was a nice salesman in a shop in Bologna who was warning us about keeping an eye on our belongings as his mother was just robbed the day earlier. So it's not just us. At least this is the most unsafe I've felt in any country I've visited so far. Perhaps unsafe is a little strong, I never felt in danger of being attacked. But this nuisance of having to be in constant vigilence over my personal properly is something I'm not used to. And no, I have not spent any time in undeveloped countries where this might have been a problem. It's just that I didn't expect it here in Europe. Okay, supposedly Amsterdam is just as bad and I did have something stolen there, but I never felt scared there as I did here like any second I was about to get robbed again. On a side note: My Brazilian friend keeps telling me to be careful if I ever visit Saõ Paolo and I always just tell her don't worry I'm sure it's okay, but now, when I go, I would be very, very careful...
- Amazingly enough, after all these days and all these cities (and especially considering that a big portion of it was spent in Tuscany), I have yet to have a single unforgettable meal. Most of the meals have been average at best, below average if I'm being critical. Only two have been good so far. Not great, just good. Nothing better than I could easily have in New York. I wonder if it's because I just have horrible luck picking restaurants or that my taste is just getting pickier and pickier every year. Or perhaps I just had too high an expectation for what the food is like here. I mean, people always talk about how amazing the food in Italy is. And I do love Italian food. I guess I was expecting every meal to blow anything I've ever had in New York out of the water, but I suppose that's hard to do. New York has such great restaurants. It's just that when I think about how New York's Taiwanese food absolutely pales in comparison to the authentic thing that anytime I've traveled anywhere I expect the local version to kick the bejesus out of New York's version. But except for Taiwan, it has not happened yet. Then I wonder if it's because I'm not Italian that I think so? Because I'm Taiwanese I know how to properly appreciate good Taiwanese food. So maybe it's the same for the Italians (or the French or the Japanese, or whatnot)—perhaps they all think New York's version of their cuisine sucks. Anyway, all I'm saying is that not having had really good Italian food has brought out all sorts of questions.
- Italian people are not that friendly. Another shocker. I always had this idea that the Italians are extremely warm people. At least that's how they're always portrayed. But yet, until I arrived in Florence, I found the people I encountered very unfriendly. I don't mean the everyday folks, I didn't have any chances to interact with them; I mean the service industry people. Shops, restaurants, hotels, etc. Almost nobody says "buon giorno" when you enter an establishment, for example. When you ask questions, many times you get a curt answer. I get the feeling that after a long tourist season, it's now the winter, and they just don't want to deal with tourists anymore. Hey, I've been here only a little while and I'm sick of tourists myself. But still. Or maybe I'm just so used to the Asian service quality (especially since I literally came straight from Asia to here) where they treat you like kings. ERASHIMASAN!!!!! Huan ying guang ling!!! But somehow it's all different in Florence. There's just as many tourists here but the service here is what I consider acceptable. Not American southern hospitality friendly, but at least they smile and say hello and goodbye and thank you. So I wonder what it is about the places south of here.
- So hard to find a hotel with in-room broadband internet access (none of the 3 to 4 star hotels I've stayed in so far has it). I guess they don't call this the Old World for nothing. And I couldn't find any WiFi signal to leech.
- And so hard to find myself a Coke in the middle of the night. So few convenience stores here. Compare this with Tokyo where there's a vending machine every 2 steps or Taipei where there's a 7-11 every single block (sometimes 2).
Okay, that's it for now. More to come later...