If you read One Bad Day in Italy, you know that our first impressions of Italy were pretty dismal. Being the rational people that we are, we decided to reserve final judgment of Italy until we finished our 2 1/2 week visit. So here it is:
Despite fantastic food, spectacular architecture, and rich ancient history, Italy is full of grumpy, surly, chain-smokers. If Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles, then Italy has earned the title Land of Frowns.
I realize that sounds harsh, but that was exactly what we experienced during our stay. From waiters, to bus drivers, to store keepers and clerks, it was one bad mood after another. Imagine the entire country, male and female, with a severe case of PMS. Most interactions with the locals felt like an encounter with a clerk from the DMV. You know the treatment you get when you have to renew your car tags or driver’s license? That’s what it was like. In more cases than not, if someone was actually “nice” to you, you were about to get scammed.
Of course, not everyone was wretched, and there are many parts of Italy we loved. For instance, we were saved our first night in Naples by a foursome of Italians walking home from a wine tasting. With wine glasses literally hanging from their necks, they appeared out of nowhere just when we desperately needed some assistance finding our B&B. We felt like we were on the verge of being mugged when the three women and one man appeared. They were our guardian angels that night, for sure.
Then there was the little old man in Massa Lubrense who wouldn’t leave our side until he made sure that we got on the right bus to Sorrento. With a cigarette in one hand, and a gap-toothed smile, he waved goodbye as we departed.
Finally, there was Dan the Man in Rome who helped us get the right directions to Gladiator School, expecting nothing in return. Grateful for his assistance, we gladly ate at his restaurant. Sadly, these examples of human kindness were the exception rather than the rule.
For 2+ weeks we wondered over and over again:
“Why don’t we love Italy like everyone else?”
“Why is our experience so different?”
“Maybe there’s something wrong with us.”
Following are three reasons to (possibly) explain why we didn’t fall under Italy’s magical spell:
1. We spent too much time in Rome.
Since we are homeschooling our way around the world, we try to schedule bigger chunks of time in a city every couple of weeks so we can cram in a bunch of online lessons. We thought Rome would be a good place for an extended stay because there are so many sights to see. We planned to visit them at a leisurely pace and devote a lot of time to school work.
This was a huge mistake. Rome is simply not a place to relax.
There are so many scams and touts to keep you on your toes, that it’s just not fun for more than a few days. In hindsight, I would recommend blasting through the big cities and spend more time in the smaller cities and towns.
Florence, in particular, was our favorite place in Italy. It is the crown jewel. Florence has a great vibe, is safe, and is absolutely stunning. Just when you think you cannot be wowed by another cathedral, the Duomo is the cherry-on-top.
2. We experienced the real Italy.
We didn’t stay in any hotels in Italy. We rented apartments in the residential areas, where the real folks live. We shopped in the local markets, took public transportation, went to the post office, etc. In other words, we were not interacting with employees of the hospitality industry who were paid to put forth a shiny, happy image of Italy. Our interactions were authentic, so we experienced the real Italy, warts and all.
Despite being disappointed with parts of our Italian experience, I am glad we went. It’s impossible to learn from a textbook the things we experienced first hand. However, what we also realized is that it really doesn’t matter how great the food or sites are, it is the people with whom we interact that ultimately determine how we feel about a place.
Now, we are now ready to turn that frown upside down.
Goodbye, Land of Frowns. Land of Smiles, here we come!