Wednesday, July 4

Caveat Emptor - Tourist Traps in Italy

DRINKS IN THE MAIN SQUARE OF ANY CITY IN ITALY – A word for the wise: just don’t ‘go there’. The price you’ll end up paying will bring you straight down from any high you get from your surroundings. Call me cheap, but, I’ve paid up to $25 for two bowls of ice cream in Piazza Navona, and $17 for two hot chocolates in Milan.

ROMA - Finally, you can go up on top of the huge white Vittorio Emanuele Monument, even have a drink and get great views (free entrance). But, in a country where there is no ‘free lunch’, they’ll charge you €7 ($10) just to take the elevator up there.

The Audioguide at the Colosseum – just don’t bother – at Italy’s most popular monument, it’s unlistenable, and, after waiting in line, you’ll have to wait again with all the anglo-saxons to demand (and unbelievably, receive!) a refund (the Italians, keeping to tradition, just put up with the injustice).

Two hours only in the Borghese Gallery — citing ‘security’ reasons, due to the fact that not more than a 180 people are allowed upstairs, everyone is literally thrown out by the bouncers after 2 hrs. To solve it: hand-held counters (price $2.99) to just count the people upstairs, but no dice. Too many ‘interests’ want to keep it that way (after all, they make 15% of the obligatory reservations). So, instead of enjoying yourselves in what is arguably the most beautiful place in Rome, you’re stressed for time even there.

CITY BUS TOURS – great for the views, forget the audio. You won’t have to think about that, though, because once aboard, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a unit that actually produces sound. One positive note: stick the pods in your ear, and listen to the static, it’s almost like those white noise programs of rainfall.

FLORENCE – At the Uffizi Gallery for political reasons, they want to keep those lines 3 hrs. out the door, when they could just have you go right in with time ticketing (but, don’t count on this changing with modern technology -- the Uffizi is run by an ex-Minister of Culture who thinks that museums shouldn’t even be open to the public).

THE PRINCE'S WALK – The walkway and portrait gallery designed by Vasari which extends from the Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti. Although you can spend 3 hrs there, it will take at least as many months to make your reservation. Cost: €70 (nearly $100). Have they never been to the (free) National Portrait Gallery in London?

PISA — I’ve yet to meet a tourist who felt their time there was worth the visit. It’s an ugly, boring town, and if you want to see the artworks inside the buildings, you are literally shaken down by the church. Don't go, and say ya did.

VENICE — If it weren’t for its beauty and romanticism, the entire city would be black-balled by me for the Tourist Trap that it has become. Look at it closely: it is the future of all of Italy: a tourism-based economy, which, instead of catering to their ‘guests’, takes advantage of you at every corner (or in this case, little bridge). This year, gondola rides went from about $90 for 50 mins. down to 40 minutes (same price). But, they make you pay first then slowly glide in at around 30 mins. all the same.
The Gondoliers were recently on strike to protest these rates and their 'excessive working hours'.
This same disservice is prevalent on Lake Como and their motorboat rides.

ASSISI – In the Basilica, just ignore the pious ‘brother’ who screams & hollers at all the visitors to keep quiet. Care to defend yourself, he’ll throw you right out. The biggest defamation to St. Francis’ Message of Peace that I have ever witnessed. Underneath your feet, Francis is no doubt dizzy from rolling in his grave.

As for brotherly love, the friars on the hilltop don’t ‘get along’ with the city officials nor the friars at the bottom—in what amounts to centuries of disharmony here. Giotto even crafted right in the Basilica a beautiful picture of this schism which Francis tried to put right. Looks like it didn’t last, but God bless him for trying.

The rest of the town leaves much to be desired (aside from its charm). Tacky souvenir shops line the streets selling Chinese knock-offs of what were once hand-crafted Italian works.

RENTAL CARS — Don’t even think of heading to your hotel in any City Center during the day to unload your bags or park. The hidden cameras are popping bulbs from photographing your license plate. Months after the joy is gone, you’ll be hit with fines in every town you dared enter as a tourist; in what amounts to a ‘Tourist Tax’ for the City Coffers.

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