As it turns out, Italy and I are not friends.
It took me just over a month of courting this country to reach this conclusion.
I tasted Italian promised delicacies and visited its architectural delights. All of which have been shamelessly plugged through amazing images in glossy travel magazines and of course the internet.
And for the most part…. they lied.
And it wasn’t just the magazines!
A lot of people I know who visited Italy have loved it! Some said it was their most favourite country in Europe!
So far, for me, it has been the most over-rated country in Europe. Bearing in mind that I have a LOT more to see.
Italy left a really nasty taste in my mouth, that was undoubtedly flavoured by my experience there. For all the readers out there now ‘booing’ and ‘hissing’ at my negativity, hopefully the below examples will, at the very least, provide some context.
I was in Italy for the entirety of July and a few days of August. “Ah yes!” my friends have said “there’s your problem right there”.
This is peak Summer season and it is hot, hot, hot. Oppressively hot. No where to escape the heat, hot.
This from a home grown Aussie, very used to hot Summers.
It was also peak tourist season – so in the big tourist cities (I only visited Rome, Florence and Venice), there were people (like me) EVERYWHERE. Which means long queues to the major sites. You can avoid some of these by pre-purchasing tickets or arriving at the right time which I do prepare for. But some can’t be avoided.
And so there were queues. Crazy queues. Queues that didn’t make sense. Queues that had no basic structure. Queues that some people didn’t even realise what they were lining up for. Most involved simply sharpening your elbows and mercilessly making your way to the front. And every queue, without exception was in the direct sun. With the temperatures in the high 30’s. Some of these queues took hours to reach the front.
This frantic, craziness in the sweltering heat often meant that by the time you reached your destination, anything from a boat on the canal, to strolling through churches, to gazing upon famous art pieces, you were exhausted, frustrated and angry – which, overall, detracted from the enjoyment of why you were there in the first place. Some of these attractions were so over crowded that you were shoulder to shoulder and spent the entire time desperately trying not to step on the people’s heels in front of you. People were furious! Particularly a lot of German tourists I saw who raised their voice and appeared to swear a lot. They seemed to be used to more efficiency.
Queues aside, I spent the majority of my time in the city of Bologna:
It sits in between Milan, Venice and Florence in the north Eastern-ish part of Italy.
The city is famous for its porticos – essentially arch ways that cover parts of the sidewalks which are mostly marble and tiles, for its food – yes Bolognese – which should NOT be eaten with spaghetti apparently and for hosting the world’s oldest university.
When you walk onto the hill outside of Bologna and look back over the city, you see beautiful red roof tops, towers and church steeples and green hills into the distance.
A 40 minute bus ride out of Bologna will take you to beautiful wineries and vineyards, and a good 20 km walk will take you to publicly accessible orchards – with fresh figs, apples and oranges.
In complete contrast, when you’re inside the city you see poverty, drugs, crime, dirt, grime, human and animal waste. All in excessive amounts.
There are some aspects of the city that are really grungy, arty, funky and really interesting culturally. There is a large alternative student population who, for the most part, fall solidly into the emo, death metal, gothic style of clothes. There are wonderful art piece and Italian/Bolognian style tiles.
All of these things I really enjoyed.
But my enjoyment was by far outweighed by my experience of the lifestyle.
The really cool looking students spent a good proportion of their time hanging out in the main squares drinking excessively, leaving rubbish everywhere – including food waste and dog waste. There were a lot of dogs hanging about that seemed to be owned by the students, primarily from the pit-bull and other ‘fighting’ dog range. I’ve nothing against dogs or these breeds, but I am in favour of responsible pet ownership and I just wasn’t confident this was a happy or safe environment for dogs, humans, and people passing by.
There were a LOT of people obviously suffering from drug and alcohol problems. Day and night. Often begging. Or screaming – at each other – or imagined events. It was incredibly sad.
Overall there was a feeling of hopelessness and a total lack of community.
As an outsider, observing over four weeks, no one appeared to be helping each other. There didn’t seem to be any sense of progress, not much for students to aspire to – no jobs for the students to aim for. Some of the local gardens where students would hang out were just filthy. Homeless people wandered around collecting empty alcohol bottles and primarily African’s were trying to sell goods – anything from socks or tissues to earn a few Euro. Although I do see this a lot in Spain and other parts of Europe – the people in Bologna really had an air of desperation that I hadn’t experienced before.
I had two personal experiences with locals that only entrenched my disappointment.
Firstly, I was hit by a taxi.
Yes I’m generalising – but my experience with Italian traffic has been crazy! Rude and crazy!
Bologna in particular, I found that the drivers have zero respect for pedestrians.
Whether crossing the road or on the sidewalk. In tiny laneways where pedestrians share the spaces with drivers is particularly bad. And this is exactly where I got hit.
In a tiny laneway, trying to find the next sidewalk – usually under an archway – which is notoriously difficult in Bologna – a taxi came flying past us. Way too fast for the space, let alone with people clearly walking there – the taxi’s mirror clipped my handbag under my arm. It was very loud and fast and the force shocked me and spun me around.
The taxi driver did not stop.
Not only was he unapologetic but he put both hands out the window and made a rude gesture at me.
I was furious.
I have had better experiences with traffic in Delhi, Mumbai and Ho Chi Min.
The driving and the response was disgusting.
I wasn’t aimlessly, drunkedly walking down the middle of the road. I was clearly right up against the wall, seeking out the next walkway.
The second incident was of an older local man – probably in his 60s. There were three of us, on the side walk – heading out for dinner. I was in a Summer dress, the gentlemen I was walking with were in suits – all looking quite smart.
I saw the man walk towards us, I smiled in greeting and proceeded to move out of his way walking behind the boys, to let him pass by.
The old local man shoulder barged me.
He didn’t accidentally clip my arm in a tight space. He didn’t try to navigate around me. His shoulder pushed full force into my collar bone. Spinning me around and making me cry out in alarm.
He didn’t stop or flinch – he continued to walk on – ignoring me and his apparent rudeness.
These two experiences stand out amongst other smaller incidents like walking across a pedestrian crossing where in the middle a moped – the driver with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth – nearly bowled us over. Didn’t break – didn’t care.
And maybe this is what I dislike the most. The apparent lack of care of concern for anyone. For pedestrians, for each other, for students, for the elderly, for those clearly suffering from alcohol and drug related problems.
For the most part I did feel unsafe.
I wouldn’t walk anywhere on my own. Particularly at night time. It has been a long time since I have felt like this – and that was probably why it was particularly upsetting.
There is a beach town to the South East where Bolognians visit in the Summer called Ravenna. I didn’t visit, but friends did. Apparently the beaches are lovely but crowded. And, what I’m still shocked about, is that according to my friends, you cannot put your towel on the sand. You MUST hire a beach chair to sit on. If you sit on the sand, you WILL be asked to move along. I have no idea if its a private company or the money goes to local government – but as an Aussie I’m horrified that this space isn’t just open to the public.
My final weekend in Italy was spent in Rome with my hubby. We tackled the dreaded queues and heat once more to see the sights, like the impressive Colosseum and Vatican City.
We lined up for about an hour and a half to get into the Vatican – mainly in the direct sun – again in the high 30s. We opted to line up rather than take a tour – due to time constraints mainly and our primary interest in the sights rather than the history.
Walking past us in the opposite direction were loud American tourists who proceeded to take photos of the lengthy queue while loudly stating “if only all these people realised its not even worth lining up for”. Or my favourite from an old American with a very cool moustache “…and this is why I got my tickets on the ‘inner-net’ three weeks ago”.
We survived the crushing crowds of the Vatican tourists – who were so noisy in the church that the guards yelled at them. The heat was almost unbearable…. but we did it. My favourite was the impressive balcony from which the pope addresses the public. An incredible amount of money goes into this infrastructure! So.much.money. (I’ll save that for another blog).
We planned to get a coach back to the airport in the afternoon. We arrived early – watched some pretty crazy angry Italians yelling at the Italian security, and lined up to buy our ticket – only to find that all the coaches had been sold out into the evening. And so our 6 Euro bus ride turned into a 50 Euro taxi fare.
Only adding to my already disappointing experience with taxis in Italy, this was the most scary dangerous car ride I’ve ever been in.
Our driver yelled and cursed at other drivers while driving over 180 kms per hour in 100kms zones. When drivers were driving slowly in the fast lane – he flashed his lights, honked his horn and screamed at them as we overtook. If the car beside us wandered into our lane (which seems to happen frequently), he swerved into their lane – narrowly missing their vehicle just to make a point.
We made it to the airport. Just.
And couldn’t wait to get out of there.
So, Italy, what can I say. I’ve had better Italian food in other countries. I’ve met lovely Italians in other countries.
I think I prefer Italy from its glossy photos in magazines…
In the words of Taylor – ITALY……
Ok…. maybe I’ll visit Italy again – but I’ll definitely avoid Summer – and go to different places.