Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chapter 4: Why I hate Italy*

Now that we are safe and sound in Spain where internet is plentiful, we can take a moment to reflect back on what just happened over the past ten days...

Italy is beautiful, but almost every day I wondered why it often seemed like a third world country. Almost everyday something went wrong in our travels in Italy and not minor travel hiccups, but serious issues, typically with Italian transportation systems.

For example:
Day 1 - on the train from the French-Italian border to Florence we were fined for forgetting to validate our ticket. Then our ticket gave no indication of a transfer and we only figured out via other travelers that we needed to transfer in La Spezia. As a result we missed our connection and did not get into Florence until midnight, where all the hotels were booked for a conference on fashion. Through the help of two Italians with amazing haircuts, we were able to book at $90 room on the fourth floor of a sketchy dark dank building with abandoned mattresses on every landing...

Day 2 - realize that Florence is overrun with tourists and that Italian food is not necessarily good or cheap in Italy. Admire the Duomo.

Day 3 - rent a car in order to drive around Tuscany. Beautiful landscapes! Beautiful medieval hill towns! "Camp" outside Siena in a mobile home. Accidentally drive through the Siena historic center, for which we may be fined $300.

Day 4 - return the car. Pay "administrative fees" for a ding in the bumper despite having paid for insurance. Train strikes delay all trains leaving Tuscany. Take a bus to another train station. Get lost on the bus. Finally catch train to Naples. Have to switch seats three times because the seating system is confusing. Again clarified via word of mouth. The metro system in Naples has no ticket machines. Discover via word of mouth that tickets must be purchased from convenience stores because unlike every other country in the WORLD, it is too hard for Italy to provide signs or ticket booths. Finally find hostel next to the cement plant, behind the train station. Ate delicious pizza.

Day 5 - Naples seemed particularly third world because there was a mafia-related garbage strike and mounds of stinking trash had been left on every corner. However, we had no logistical problems, presumably because we walked. Ate disgusting pasta at same delicious pizza place as the night before. Olive Garden could have done better.

Day 6 - Train to Rome cancelled. Wait for the next train. Finally make it to Rome. Need to catch a bus. No explanation of tickets. Need to walk back to a convenience store in the train station in order to buy bus tickets - brilliant system, Italy! Intercepted outside hostel by an old guy and his little dog. He wants us to go to another hostel. We protest that we already have reservations. As it turns out he is our hostel guy and as an alternative to jail cell-like dorm beds, we are taken to an apartment down the street. Nice, but we need to somehow tell him that his approach is initially alarming.

Day 7 - Rome is cool, but we again encountered Italy's refusal to provide explanations of ticket purchasing at the Coliseum, the viewing hours of the Pantheon, or how to obtain happy hour tickets at the bar... at least we now know we buy bus tickets at tobacco shops.

Day 8 - More Rome. Delicious last meal in Italy: pasta I had never heard of (round long bigger than spaghetti and hollow) with tomato sauce and a bacon-like meat and walnut radicchio risotto, plus bruschetta. Mmmm.

Day 9 - Return apartment key to Man with Dog. Catch bus to train station. Buy $20 tickets for the airport express. Train stalls inexplicably for 30 minutes. Rush through airport. Worst Airline Worker Ever says, 'It is your fault' and refuses to issue boarding passes despite having forty minutes left until departure. We are forced to pay $150 each to change our $120 flights to later in the day...whatever you do don't ever fly Vueling or Iberia Airlines.

All of this adds up to my hatred of Italy.

Spain is like a breath of fresh air! Here tickets are sold at the train station and there are even maps and signs explaining things. We are in a normal hostel that actually has free wifi and breakfast. Hopefully the next ten days will be better than the last...

*Update 7/12: On second thought, after looking through the photos, I realize that Italy is beautiful and we had alot of fun and good experiences.... I would go back, but I would be much more cautious and paranoid about staying within the unspoken rules next time.

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