Posted 2009-08-29 21:51:51 by
I went to Italy. Was there for 10 days. Maybe you saw the travelogue on Twitter; if so, you're going to read about a lot of stuff here that you already read about there. I'm going to probably do a more thorough writeup later, but for now you get some general thoughts:
I would classify the trip as a massive success. We spent two to three days each in Florence, Venice and Rome, so it was extremely fast-paced. We used the Lonely Planet Guide to Italy -- recommended -- to narrow down each city's attractions to just a few that we thought we could cover, and ended up seeing about a quarter of those in total. But we ended each day exhausted from everywhere we'd gone and everything we'd seen, so it's hard for me to take any perspective other than that we made excellent use of our time budget.
The cultural differences in Italy were striking, but what I thought was more interesting was how similar things were. This is pretty banal as insights go, but it seems to me that life is pretty much exactly the same everywhere. At some level, I guess I expected to have to, like, re-learn how to walk in Italian. But as it turns out, if walking in English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for Italians too.
Speaking, though, that was harder. I often fell back on non-verbal communication even when I knew how to say what I wanted to say in Italian. Usually there was no problem communicating, but there was one instance that scared me: My mother lost her passport in the airport, so she had to go to the American consulate in Florence to get a replacement. They wouldn't let me in the door because I didn't have official business there, so I had to hang around outside, waiting for her. But there were armed guards outside, who didn't seem to understand why I was there, and they kept giving me wary looks.
One of them eventually came over and asked to see my passport. He didn't speak English, but he kept trying to tell me something, gesturing animatedly. I guess my apologetic demeanor was enough, because eventually he thanked me and walked away. That moment of quasi-communication diffused the tension considerably, but I couldn't really relax until my mom emerged with her new passport and we left the area.
On a lighter note, one recurring theme of the trip was bathroom trouble. There was one moment in a public restroom, when I had already soaped my hands but couldn't figure out how to summon water out of the sink. I watched others walk up to the nearby sinks and water just seemed to spontaneously come out to greet them. I only found out later that there was a foot-pedal.
Also, the hotel we stayed at in Florence claimed that our suite had a bathroom, but when we finally took inventory, it turned out to include a sink, a shower, a bidet, but no toilet. I kept thinking I ought to check for hidden cameras to see if I was going to end up on “Punked” or whatever it is that the kids watch nowadays. So we could shower at any time, but when it came to the bathroom's most significant function, we had to use the floor's shared bathroom. One of the most memorable moments from the trip was me being sick and stuck in said bathroom, with a Japanese woman trying the door every few minutes, saying “toilet please.”
Confusion is understandable, though; “bathroom” isn't literal even in English. So maybe in Italian, it means “Nobody in this country has a colon.”
We made sure the next hotel we stayed in had both a real bathroom and air conditioning, so if there's any moral to derive from this story, perhaps it's this: if you can pay twice as much for a hotel room, do so!
The three big cities we visited were all major tourist attractions, so in a lot of respects visiting them felt like visiting Disney World. We were constantly surrounded by throngs of tourists and garishly-colored carts selling food and drink for three times what we would've paid for it under less stressful circumstances. Nobody was dressed up as a cartoon character, but there were plenty of beggars dressed up in costume and acting funny, so they sort of filled that role.
One final thought: We spent a good portion of our time in museums, several of which were awesome, and it occurred to me that there are several world-class, respected museums in San Francisco that I've never been to, that I could visit without spending $1000 in airfare and 20 hours in transit each way. I really should get around to that.