Impressions of Italy – 2014

When Visited

  • Oct 12-Nov 16, 2014

Related Posts

  • Amalfi and Pompeii
  • Florence and Modena
  • Orvieto and Civita
  • Rome
  • Rome – Angels & Demons
  • Tuscany Coast-Pisa-Cinque Terre
  • Venice and Padova

Unexpected Pleasures or Off-the-Beaten-Path Sights

  • Secret Keyhole, Rome. Include jpg of map I created to show location and pictures of the Secret Keyhole.
  • Balsamic Vinegar factory, Modena
  • Venice in the morning and evening light
  • Civita – like something out of Lord of the Rings
  • Walking the stairs to the top of St. Peter’s in the Vatican
  • The Cinque Terra (Five Lands aka the Italian Riviera)
  • Our hillside villa in Furore on the Amalfi peninsula

Impressions of Italy

First, let me say that I was keeping the list of the goods and bads about this trip as we were travelling and my overall impression would not have changed, even if what took place on the last day of the trip had not happened.  However, that final farewell to Rome simply cemented my overall, generally middle-of-the-road impression of Italy – lots of good but a bit too much bad as well.

On our very last Metro ride in Rome, on the last day of five weeks in Italy, I was very professionally pick-pocketed getting on the Metro.  I only briefly saw the teenage girl who created the distraction in front of me.  Deborah said that she believes it was what looked like a mother and small child behind me who must have done the actual theft.  The utter feeling of violation is almost unspeakable.  In retrospect, it was however an extremely fitting kick in the genitals as a fond goodbye to Italy.

The Good and the Not so Good of the trip

The Good

  • Our general impressions of London where we stopped for three days on our way to Rome.
    • There was some frustration with being able to find some things but we were able to see a number of interesting things and feel that we made good use of our two full days there.  I think Deborah’s favorite may have been taking a ride on the London Eye Ferris wheel.  My highlight was finding the Alfred Hitchcock statue on the site of his first film studio which is still in operation.
    • Please see the posts on Travel > Europe > Great Britain > London.
  • Art and the Duomo in Florence.
    • Michelangelo’s David  is certainly the highlight, although the rest of the Galleria della Accademia is pretty nondescript.  The Uffizi was just OK, even with our guided tour.  The Doumo, particularly the Brunelleschi dome, was very impressive.  Although our favorite of the various basilicas we saw throughout Italy, besides St Peter’s of course, may have been the duomo in the little hilltop town of Orvieto.  There was even a chocolate festival while we were there.
  • Venice architecture and layout.
    • Totally unique and very interesting. Our decision to take the train into Venice from Padova and stay overnight at a hotel in Venice was a very good one.  It allowed us to see Venice not only in the late afternoon and evening, but also in the morning sun as well.
  • Our tour of a balsamic vinegar factory in Modena.
    • We have learned to love the extra taste added by using real balsamic vinegar in many different kinds of cooking/eating. We bought some “traditionnale” balsamic vinegar to take back home with us.  I can’t wait to try adding a few drops to my steaks which have been marinated and then grilled with the “David Hable steak marinade”.
  • Spaghetti dinner in Florence with a very pleasant waiter.
    • One of the very few non-ripoff sit down eating experiences we had other than the nice folks who ran a little restaurant just down the street from our apartment outside of Rome. They were very nice and the prices were very reasonable … comparatively.
  • The mountain top towns of Orvieto and Civita – very unexpected gems.
  • Our VRBO apartment/home locations in Orvieto, Tuscany and Furore.
    • Furore was spectacular in the hillside setting of our beautiful villa overlooking the sea … and at just 85 Euro per night for the five nights.
    • Our little apartment in the ancient, hilltop village of Orvieto was an unexpected pleasure. It was recently renovated and beautifully updated.  For pictures of the apartment, view the Orvieto and Civita folder on Photobucket.com.
  • All of our VRBO hosts, except for Florence – Furore in particular.
  • Rome
    • Hop on/Hop off bus tour where I was able to identify at least a few interesting things, and manage to find my way around the city, including finding and enjoying seeing both the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon at night.
    • Visiting St Peter’s and the Vatican Museum, although the Museum tour was way overpriced and Deborah was not able to join me.
    • Finding the “secret keyhole” location on a beautiful, late afternoon day with almost a perfect sun and sky for pictures.
    • Climbing the stairs to the top of St Peter’s dome.
    • Mixing in pictures and videos on my camera for both my Hop On/Hop Off day and also my Vatican tour so Deborah could experience them with me.
    • Finding most of the Dan Brown Angels and Demons locations.  For pictures, view the Rome – Angels & Demons folder on Photobucket.com.
  • Arrangements in general.
    • Our flights went well and were on schedule, both leaving and returning. Our GPS worked very well in Italy and allowed me to drive over 2500 km (1550 miles) of basically uneventful roads.  The Italian super highway system is very good, though certainly on the expensive side.  We found all of our VRBO locations with relatively little difficulty.  It’s amazing that GPS provides so much detail all over Italy, even in a tiny hilltop village like Orvieto.
  • Rental car.
    • Even though I worried about it for most of the trip, Hertz did not try to nail us for the inevitable scratches that we got from driving on so many of the incredibly narrow stradas (streets), particularly in cities like Padova and Orvieto. Meanwhile, the overall decision to use a rental car for all of our trip prior to Rome (but not IN Rome) turned out to be a good one.

The Not so Good, and often the just plain Bad

  • International phone.
    • Initially purchased in London and was told that I would just have to purchase an Italian SIM card to use in Italy. Told in Italy that I not only had to get Italian SIM card but also spend a minimum of 72Euro for 50 minutes of time, even to make local Italian calls.  I was never even able to determine the number of my own phone and it did not come up on caller ID with anyone I called.
  • 100 pound taxi ride from London Heathrow to hotel 25 miles away, but still outside of London.
    • What a joke. Plus, I found out when we got to the hotel that there was a local taxi right next door to the hotel that took us back to the airport for 45Euro.  I had asked the hotel about this ahead of time, and never heard back a thing from them before we arrived.
  • Arriving at Fiumicino airport customs in Italy.
    • Very long, slow line and we encountered some very disrespectful Serbians who just jumped ahead of the line.
  • Our VRBO apartment in Florence.
    • The apartment was just old – not quaint at all. It had a very smelly bathroom and the host was by far the most unresponsive of all the places at which we stayed in Italy.  Fortunately, this was the single exception to all of the other wonderful VRBO locations where we stayed while in Italy.
  • Rome overall.
    • It was dirty, confusing, and as I say elsewhere, has a horrible public transportation system, and many of the sites were just not that special. We had planned on going into the Coliseum but it looks so bad from the outside that we were turned off from even doing that.
  • Italian drivers
    • Tailgating ALL the time both in cities and on highways. I’m not talking just Rome either, because I turned in the rental car when we got to our VRBO outside of Rome and did not drive a car at all in Rome.
  • The percentage of Italians who are just real jerks compared with visits and vacations I have made to other countries.
    • I will say that the vast majority of Italians we encountered were nice, and the jerks were certainly the notable exceptions. But there were more of those exceptions on this trip than probably all of my other trips outside the US combined.  This is particularly true of those in the service industry – i.e. waiters and public transportation employees.  As a group, they just don’t seem to give a damn.
  • Rome’s public transportation system.
    • This is related to the previous item. Rome’s, and also the public transportation system in the little town we stayed in outside of Rome, are a total disgrace.  It is extremely inconsistent and just plain confusing.  It is especially a disgrace when compared to transportation systems in Paris, Washington DC, London and even New York City.  Rome is one of the major cities of the world and their transportation system just plain sucks the big one.
  • Grafitti ALL over Rome.
    • Most widespread I’ve seen anywhere, except only for parts of Athens, Greece. Graffiti is everywhere and with the city being generally dirty anyway, it does not leave a good impression at all.
  • Public restrooms all over Italy.
    • Many charged anywhere from .50 to 1 Euro and regardless of whether free or not, many (most) were disgusting. Most often the free ones were even better than the pay ones – but they almost all were various stages of bad.
  • Rip off restaurants with cover charges, overcharging for things, and getting things not ordered supposedly because of misunderstanding of the language.
    • This included being fully charged for three separate trips to a “buffet” table at a restaurant in the Chianti region. Smiling the entire time, the waiter had no trouble explaining the difference in what an Italian “buffet” is … but only after I had made my return trips.  Lest you think that it probably served me right having gotten three plates, first, the plates were small.  Then my second plate was to try different things since the items on the first plate were mostly bad.  The third “plate” had only a few new potatoes on it because that was one of the few things I liked.
  • Pompeii ruins – somewhat disappointing.
    • Not like Greek ruins that are often spectacular. This was just a normal city that happened to be destroyed and then unearthed.  So when they unearthed it, it was still just a normal, unremarkable city.
  • I had back problems that basically wasted 2 days of our stay while on the Amalfi coast.
    • Fortunately, I suppose, those also happened to be two of the worst days for weather during our entire trip.
  • Inability (or just plain unwillingness) of many Italians to try and understand (or appreciate) my attempts at their language when even the smallest of pronunciations was off.
    • To put it in perspective, if I was in Milwaukee and a foreigner asked me where “muck won AH go” was, I would certainly know where “muck WAHN a go” is, and I would tell them, instead of just giving them a blank stare.  This is in stark contrast to what I experienced in other countries, particularly France and Greece.  France gets the bad rap for this type of thing, but Italy has it all over France when it comes to the way non-locals are treated, in my opinion.
  • Very annoying street vendors – all over Italy, but particularly in Rome.
    • Even in Pisa, there were many, many of whom appeared to be Kenyans, or at least east Africans. Besides being so annoying, how do those people ever make any money at all selling the general garbage that they do?
  • Being pick-pocketed on the last day in Rome.

Overall impression .

I was happy to see all of the historic Italian art and architecture, particularly in Venice and Florence.  We did also meet some very nice people, and stayed in a few really nice places, especially Furore and Orvieto.  But overall, the trip was mildly disappointing.  I would expect that any trip would have its share of both good and bad experiences.  On this trip, however, there was just a higher percentage of bad experiences than I have had in any of my previous vacations outside of the United States.  I have no desire to return to Italy and our experiences there have even soured me a bit on making any more trips outside of North America in the future, particularly since I have now already seen places like the UK, Paris and Greece.

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