A few years back, I penned a blog post summing up all the things that had sort of gone wrong on my sister's long vacation. It caused quite a stir, especially from Italian readers, who of course did not bother to comment the post of all the amazing things we had done on vacation. No one denies that Italy isn't one of the best countries on earth to visit; for its food, the scenery, the people...But, I post these commentaries to beg the question: Can't Italy do Better? This is a country evermore dependent upon tourism. But it's also a country that doesn't inform tourists of the fines levied should they try and reach their hotels - with all their luggage in tow - by car; it's a country with mind-boggling websites that rarely lead where they say they will; it's a place that didn't accept credit cards until just a few years back, forcing tourists to travel with bundles of money, that in short order would be purloined by some fancy fistwork from a local gypsy.
Nowadays, we have Rome's Mayor Alemanno (followed in suit by Florence, Venice, et.al.) who robs tourists with a 'tourist tax' more efficiently than all the gypsies in all of Europe combined; claiming it's to remake "tourist services". He neglected to say, his own: he and his cronies can enjoy the wealth with vacations far and wide, while tourists (and residents) alike can't take a subway car from point A to point B; or can't reach a track at the station due to no escalators, overcrowding, or, no trains. On the ristorante front, even Italians have seen that most kitchens are now insourced to the Maghreb and counter girls and waitstaff to Eastern Europeans who, sadly for us, grew up with a wholly different idea of service. So, yes, I believe Italy can - and must - do better. What follows is a look at a few days in Bell'Italia with friends visiting from London.
All in all, an amazing time was had by all. I posted our excursions in the Dove Sono? section of my blog (right hand column). We had outstanding meals, shared gorgeous vistas, toured big cities and tiny hamlets alike, swapped history stories, were met with hospitality that was over-the-top (the hoteliers in Anzio even gave my friends lifts to the station, and us a discount on the quoted price)! We visited museums, had enriching conversations with the locals in each locale. In a nutshell, it was superb. But, just for the record, what were some of the ways that the trip fell short?
On time arrivals -- Planes now land "early" due to extending flight times lest they get hit with fines, but once in Customs, the lines are epic. This is not an Italian problem, just land anywhere in Europe, and the USA (off the charts), and you soon come to realize that all that talk of a unified Europe and being able to breeze right thru security checks was just that -- a lot of talk. 40 minutes to get through customs on a random July day.
Eataly & other fine eateries -- I already penned my opening week experience here, but the real issue isn't the crowds. Across the country, shopping malls, water parks, theme parks - heck even an electronics store in Rome - gets opened, thousands upon thousands descend upon it in a retailer's dreamland, and then find...there's nowhere to park the car. It got so bad that for the electronics store opening in Rome, traffic was blocked for hours all the way outside the beltway. Eataly has managed a fairly nice parking scheme, but the one-way / one-roadway routing system makes for intsne traffic jams. This should hopefully die down, or, we could all just take the subway which goes practically straight to the Ostiense Station.
Museums -- The next morning we headed over to one of my favorite places; the Museo delle Mura on the Aurelian walls of Rome. You can climb up inside the walls and see most of the history of the building of the defensive fortifications, before heading down the Appian Way. Sadly for us, the Museum was on strike. We imagined all of the City Museums were on strike as well. Judging by the lack of taxis, we wondered if they were, too. The next day, we ventured to another favorite museum, Museo della Civilta' Romana in Rome's EUR district. An interesting exhibit was on show of airplanes, but we weren't allowed in due to lack of personnel. We complained that the day before it had been on strike, so it stood to reason...Couldn't they let us in to view stuff today? We were met with a resounding 'No'. We couldn't stay long anyway, due to the intense heat inside. So we tried our hand at museums on Monday - it had been announced that for the summer months, they'd be open on Mondays as well. That, sadly, was a case of false advertising.
Taxes -- Aside from the heinous tourist tax (which most cities levy on unsuspecting tourists worldwide), lunch came with a few extra taxes of its own. We're not sure why, but suddenly, it wasn't just the bread charge you're paying for when sitting down to eat. That evening, enjoying drinks at the gorgeous Fontanone, on the Janiculum Hill, we were treated to excellent service and terrific drinks. Although they charge Happy Hour Prices (approx €8/drink), no appetizers come with them as in most Happy Hours around town. Dinner followed at one of Rome's oldest pizzerias in Garbatella, Il Panonto. The pizza was superb, the staff turns tables faster than in the USA, and the buffet table is loaded with every sort of Italian delight. Afterwards, we tried our luck at my favorite gelateria nearby, but found a mob scene. With only two gals behind the counter (on a Saturday nite, no less), they had the brilliant idea to install automatic numbering systems (like at the Post Office). Unfortunately, just like at the post office, or at my bank, or at the rail station, or pretty much everywhere that purports to use the system, it wasn't in use - or broken - or whatever. So after the 18th tween got between me and my extra dark chocolate gelato, we left. Note to self: No gelato eating right after dinnertime.
Taxis -- Leaving for the train station, we called the new 060609 all-in-one Taxi number. The first one never picked up. Looking for tickets to Anzio, which you can get at any newsstand, we tried four of them (all sold out) before going to the machines. Once in Anzio, we found that taxis were non-existent, or on siesta during mid-day. No matter, friends had a beautiful time at the hotel with a beachfront view, exceptional husband and wife team serving even better breakfasts, and - in that spirit of generosity you can only find in few places, even the barman took my friends in his car back to their hotel after lunch. Dinner in Anzio of surf & turf specialities was out of this world. But my friends' recommendations? Best to go to Anzio by car.