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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 dump. 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.

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