Is Italy Over-Rated? (Part One)

Going to Italy

Until four days ago, I had never been to Italy; however, many of my friends and family have. The universal feeling is that it is SO fabulous! Whenever it came up that we were going to Italy, people couldn’t wait to tell me how much they loved it. Not one person, ever, told me they didn’t *love* it.

Well, so far, I don’t.

Things go wrong

The day started with:

  • us being banned (yes, banned) from a scarf store in Sorrento;
  • then we were very aggressively harassed by an Italian thug on a train;
  • and, finally, we met the Soup Nazi’s cousin, the Pizza Nazi, who works in the Naples train station.

Throw in a healthy dose of machismo, and top it off with a nation of chain smokers, and I just don’t see what all the fuss is about.

Let’s start with the scarf store. It was our last day in Sorrento and Riley wanted to do a little shopping before heading to Rome. Scarves are a popular item among the shops in the main tourist area. Like most tourist zones, they all seem to hawk basically the same stuff: scarves are 5 EUR each, or three for 12 EUR. We came to one shop where all three of us girls found a scarf we liked. Three scarves = discount in my mind. So, of course, we opened the negotiations (as we’d been advised to do by native Italians). We offered the storekeeper 12 EUR for the three scarves. He retorted, “No discount! You pay 15.” I replied, “But we can buy them three for 12 at another shop.” He said, “Fine then,” and so we left.

After 30 minutes of wandering the cobblestone alleys, we couldn’t find the “other” shop. I hate when that happens. Swallowing our pride, we returned to the first shop so Riley could purchase the scarf of her heart’s desire. As she picked up the scarf and handed the shopkeeper the 5 EUR, he bellowed,

“You banned from store! Go somewhere else!”

Really?! He just banned a 12 year old girl from his store? Well that’s a first. Not knowing what else to do with this new experience, we took a picture of the first place from which we’d been officially kicked out.

Two girls standing in front on shop in Sorento
The shop that banned us.

Instead of a new scarf, Riley wore her disappointment to the train station where we would depart for Naples. That’s where things take a turn for the worse.

Crime in Naples

I was already dreading the hour or so we would have to spend in the Naples train station before catching our train to Rome. Naples, in general, and the Naples train station, in particular, are notorious for pick pockets and petty crime. We had already spent a night (15 hours to be exact) in Naples before heading to Sorrento and that was 15 hours too long for me. The ride from the airport to the port looks like one giant historic ghetto. Building after building is covered in graffiti. No building is left untouched by this modern day street “art,” not even the centuries’ old monuments. How sad.

Naples monuments covered in graffiti

Anyway, so we are on the Circumvesuvia train from Sorrento to Naples. Dale and Delaney are sitting together on one side of the aisle; Riley and I, with all the suitcases, are on the opposite side of the aisle.

Out of nowhere, a 20-something Italian man plops down in the empty seat right next to Delaney and just across the aisle from me. He leans into me and with a determined look and unfriendly voice begins speaking in Italian. I give the guy the “I have no idea what you’re saying” look and Dale gives me the “he’s bad news” look. That’s when he spins around in his seat and demands that Dale give him some money. Dale gives him the “I don’t know what you’re saying but I’m not giving you anything” expression.

That’s when the stare down begins.

This Italian thug leans into Dale and starts making boogey man faces. When that doesn’t work, the scumbag shoots Dale the bird, gives him more evil faces, and the finger once more. All the while, Dale’s blood pressure is rising and he’s getting this look like he wants to take the guy on. Delaney, who is mere inches from the guy, is clutching her backpack. All eyes in the train are watching this standoff. Meanwhile, I’m mouthing for Dale to disengage and ignore the guy. I was also using my wifely telepathy to remind Dale that this guy is half his age, and unlike Dale, probably has both of his ACLs intact.

After several minutes, the goon stands up, walks down the train aisle, by-passes all of the Italians, and plops down next to another tourist. He strikes out again, and eventually gets off the train a few stops later.

Relieved to have that behind us, we still have to make our connection in the Naples train station. We have an hour-and-a-half to spare, so we decided to grab a bite to eat. That’s when we met the Soup Nazi‘s cousin, the Pizza Nazi. If you are familiar with the famous Seinfeld episode, then I don’t have to say anymore.  If you’re not familiar with it, just watch the clip and you’ll understand.  I’ve never been so nervous ordering a slice of pizza.

Finally, the smoking.  I’ve traveled a lot, and I get that much of the non-U.S. world really likes their smokes.  However, the amount of smoking here is ridiculous.  It’s not just people smoking on the streets and cafes; it’s everywhere. We’re talking about people smoking on their jobs–ticket sellers, cashiers, platform attendents, police officers, even waiters.  It’s like being in an episode of MadMen filming on location in southern Italy.

So you can see why I just haven’t fallen in love with Italy yet.  However, Italy (Rome, Florence, and Venice) still has two weeks to redeem itself.

For now, though, I’d say southern Italy could use a dose of good ‘ol southern hospitality.

(UPDATE: For the rest of the story, read Is Italy Over-Rated? Part Two)

To read about a family who had a great time in Rome, read Top Reasons Rome is the Perfect City Break for Families.

37 thoughts

  1. I am laughing so hard! I keep saying, “Listen to this!” and reading your stories to Scott. You are such an amazing writer. My favorite line was the one about Riley wearing her disappointment rather than a scarf. HA!!! You are brilliant. Love love love the blog!!!! Miss you!!!

    1. Thank you, Rachel. That means a lot coming from you! I’m so bummed to miss your book-release celebration. I can’t wait to get my autographed copies when I return, and we’ll definitely tune in for the book launch tour in January! 🙂

  2. It’s the imperfect moments that make the best memories… when things don’t go just right… that day will be forever embedded in their girl’s hearts… and how their parents so gracefully handled it all 🙂 Have a great time!!!!

  3. Oh my! I have always heard Italy is not a fun place for us Americans. Hopefully it will get better! Missed you all at the CC party tonight! 🙁

    1. Things are definitely improving in Italy. We just got into Florence last night and it is wonderful! We need to leave the country soon, though. We are getting fat from all the pizza and pasta, and we’re going broke on gelato. The gelato habit is so bad that it has its own line item in the budget!

      Jen sent the video of the awards party last night. Delaney wanted to FaceTime in, but it was so late over here that she just couldn’t make it. The video of her award is priceless!

    1. Thanks Pam! Glad you’re enjoying our posts. The apartment we stayed in while in Rome was on the market for sale. We had to get the apartment ready for two showings (actually, they cancelled the first showing and rescheduled). It felt like I was still at home working! Hope all is well with you.


  4. Kellie, I think what you are doing is AMAZING, and I also think that ultimately your overall experience will be enriched as much by the “bad” as by the “excellent.” When you go back and reread your post from this experience, you are going to laugh your a subba subba off. 🙂 Hi to Dale (if he remembers me). 🙂 Halloween still reminds me of you guys. As does New Years Eve. 🙂

    1. TRACY PETERSON!!! What a blast from the past! Yesterday was the 13th??? anniversary of us getting hit by the deer while we were pregnant and all dressed up in our Halloween costumes. That was an interesting night. 🙂

      I’m so delighted to hear from you. And yes, you are right, in the end it’s all the stuff that goes wrong that we will talk about the most. Hope all is well in your world.

  5. That did not sound like an enjoyable time I hope the rest of your time there is better. I guess your take away is being thankful that you have more time there so you can change your first impression! :). Tell D hi from F she misses her!

    1. You were right! We just left Florence yesterday and absolutely loved it. Great vibe, very clean, spectacular architecture. I wish we’d stayed there longer.

    1. Thanks, Tom. I’m glad you stumbled upon our blog. Blogs like ours were so helpful to us (and still are) when we first decided to do embark on this adventure. Happy travels!

  6. Kellie, you should forget World Traveler. Your true vocation is Novelist. I am leaving shortly to be a monster at a friend’s haunted house, a tradition started by her MOTHER. I’ve been plotting how best to handle a 12-yr old boy who, for the past 2 years, punches or shoves me (people don’t know if I am male or female). My idea to brandish a real knife was shot down and replaced with, “tell his Dad they will have to leave.” Pity I wasn’t there to help Dale.

    1. Mechelle,

      I don’t know how I missed your comment last week! We have been in Florence for the last 3 days and it has been absolutely lovely. We rode bikes on top of the old city walls of a nearby town called Lucca today. Off to Venice tomorrow. Thanks for following along with us!


      1. I am so glad for all of you. Florence is beautiful. The old buildings and the art work were gorgeous. Have fun, you are missed.

  7. Kellie, I am one of those who *loved* Italy, but it wasn’t the big cities I loved (I disliked most of them); it was the small villages off the beaten path. If you’re only visiting the big cities in Italy, you’ll miss much of what’s most beautiful about the country. I hope it turns out to be a better experience for you for the rest of your stay there!

    1. Lori, you are exactly right! We usually don’t like the big cities either. I hope we can have some of your great experiences during the rest of our visit.

  8. He’s lucky I wasn’t on the train, we’d have taken him out together. Did he have a mole hair? XOXO

    1. No mole hair! BTW, I’ve done a little research on the whole mole hair topic and they believe they are good luck. That’s why they don’t cut them. I think I’d take my chances…

  9. Thanks for posting! I love living vicariously – however, I’ll skip some of the unsavory thrills! Glad to hear that the stare of the uni-ACL dad worked! Yikes!

  10. Oh my!!!! What an experience! Doesn’t make me want to go to Italy!!!! Can’t believe they deface property and beautiful stone monuments, etc. like that!!!!!!!!!! How very sad!!!!!! We are loving living through you guys!!!! Keep them coming!!!!!!!! Have a wonderful time and stay safe!!!!!!

  11. That’s hysterical. I love reading your posts. Glad you made it out of there safely! I recall that in Italy if you eat standing up (don’t take a table) you pay less. Might help you save a little money so you can buy a more expensive scarf.

    1. Anne, you are absolutely right! We learned pretty quickly to ask about 1) cover charges, and 2) take-away prices vs. eating-in prices. Thanks for reading. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the posts. Happy Halloween!

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