Saturday, June 13, 2009

Thoughts on Italy: An Introduction

There have been so many glaring differences on this trip in culture and tradition, it has been a bit difficult to adjust.

It seems that everywhere we go, people are resentful of us. They try to take advantage of us with all sorts of added charges, hidden fees, lies, and false amenities. Of course I'm exaggerating, but it isn't completely untrue. Americans are not popular here in the normal sense of the term - they love us because they can shake us down without a second thought and make some extra money. We had restaurants throw costs on the bill out of nowhere that they wouldn't explain. "Cover charges" everywhere. My friends said they got a 30 Euro cover charge at a decent restaurant, which is absolutely absurd. A cab driver tried to charge us an extra Euro for each of our bags and for each person (just Johnny and myself) on top of the meter charge. Another cabbie charged us double the expected rate when we couldn't see the meter.

On the plus side, Rome and Florence are such user-friendly cities, it makes me wonder why I love small towns so much. The concept of being able to walk everywhere is so liberating. There are little sandwich shops and cafes on every corner that sell paninis, pizza, beer and wine, among other things, for extremely cheap. We frequent these. Bars stay open very late. There are taxis, buses, and trains everywhere that don't cost too much. We are going to take a round trip to Pisa next weekend most likely that will only cost 11 Euro (about $15 or $16). There are markets scattered throughout the cities as well, selling all sorts of fresh produce--fruit and veggies--for very little money. ATMs and water fountains are scattered throughout the city (moreso in Rome than in Florence).

The restaurants, so far, have not been as nice as I expected. Probably as much to do, if not more, with our inability to find the good restaurants as with an actual lack of quality restaurants. But we are both craving huge steaks and In n Out burgers in a bad way. The portions are small, and while it may be weaning me off of my gluttony, it is leaving me hungry all the time.

The nightlife has been completely up to par. To answer everyone's question, you don't really tip out here. The tip cost is almost always worked into the check. If you get exceptional service, it is normal to leave an extra Euro or two. Bars are open late and full of people every night of the week. Unfortunately, it's mostly Americans filling them. But business is business.

The sense of history here is pretty astounding. Everything is so old and tattered, but in a way that makes it beautiful. Crossing the Arno last night with all the lights from the city shining, we enjoyed a phenomenal view. But it is really nothing more than old row-houses spanning each bank of the river. It's almost the equivalent to project housing being pretty, but it is undeniable. The lack of grass is a little tough to get used to (for me at least: prior to Tempe, the largest city I had ever lived in was Annapolis, at about 50,000 people). I do love all the terraces and widows walks (as we call them in the states; think rooftop patios). The number of churches and museums and cathedrals is pretty impressive, too. For how small all the cars and the streets and the sidewalks are here, you forget Rome has 5 million people, and Florence has about 370,000. Add in the number of tourists at any given moment and who knows how high those numbers jump.

When I started this entry, I thought I would have a lot more to say! As things come to me, I will throw them into supplemental posts. Just trying to help everyone get a feel for what it's like to be here. Until then, salut.

1 comment:

Jon said...

"Rome and Florence are such user-friendly cities, it makes me wonder why I love small towns so much."

It's probably because you've never lived in a cool city.