Italy vacation - Tim and MicheleI just returned from a two-week vacation to Italy, and I have to tell you, it was a nightmare. The first thing I did when our plane touched down in Seattle was to kiss the tarmac. The second thing I did was to find a restroom to wash my mouth. That tarmac was disgusting.

A few months ago, my wife convinced me to go on a European vacation. So we took a two-week tour of Southern Italy. The brochures make it look charming and relaxing: Rome for three nights, followed by visits to quaint mountainside villages along Italy’s rugged coast. Even a boat ride to the fabled Isle of Capri. But the entire experience was anything but tranquil.

We went on an organized tour with 15 other very nice people, who were fairly willing to make limited eye contact with me, despite the fact they found out I was a humor writer. But the moment we arrived in Rome, I knew that I was in for a bumpy ride. Turns out the taxis in Rome have really bad suspensions.

Before the trip I watched several films with notable actors of Italian heritage: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, even Sylvester Stallone. But it was no use. I still could not understand a word of Italian – except “Yo, Adrian”, which, strangely, not one Italian uttered. So I knew I would have to improvise in Italy. Upon our arrival at our first hotel, I attempted to communicate with the hotel clerk by speaking English but using my best Italian accent – which unfortunately sounds eerily close to my best Norwegian accent. It was no use. He couldn’t understand a word I was saying. I quickly discovered that Italians have a different word from ours for just about everything.

Italy vacation - Roman TempleI concluded I would need to master some basic Italian expressions:

Parli inglese? >> Do you speak English? 

Dov’è il bagno? >> Where is the bathroom? 

Volete giocare a bocce? >> Would you like to play a game of lawn bowling? 

Perché è che la tua pizza è inferiore alla pizza americana? >> Why is it that your pizza tastes worse than American pizza?

I did the best I could but it’s hard to communicate with people in a country as backwards as Italy. I discovered that Italians, in addition to having highly over-rated pizza, are horrible spellers. I constantly had to correct their misspellings of their own cities. They misspell Rome as Roma. Naples as Napoli. And they aren’t even close on the correct spelling of Florence, which they mangle as Firenze. It was annoying to have to keep correcting the locals.

Trying to watch TV was all but intolerable. From what I could tell from my limited chance to catch TV, Italians only have three options for television programming: regional soccer, national soccer and European soccer – oh and game shows featuring buxom blond co-hosts. Nothing else. I was told they have tons of football on TV, but they lied. I never could find a single NFL game on any channel – not even the Packers.

Sadly, Italy is a very old country, with scores of really old churches built over 500 years ago, all of which had horrible lighting and no carpeting. I was in one old church called St. Peter’s Basilisk or something like that. It is huge. But it has no air conditioning and really uncomfortable seats. And there isn’t even an escalator to the balcony. Hello? Should have thought about that when you were designing the place, Michelangeles, or whatever your name was.

Italy vacation - cheeseburgerFrom what I could tell, Italians do a terrible job at keeping their houses up to code. I hate to be critical of another country that likes pizza, but one day we took a tour of a town called Pompeii. Man, what a dump. The entire place was in ruins. They totally let their community go. And I did not see a Starbucks anywhere. Not impressed.

The places we stayed in were barely fit for habitation. Oh sure, the hotels were typically charming, small 15-room inns, often directly overlooking the Mediterranean. But these hotels’ Wi-Fi connections were so spotty that I was rarely able to update my Facebook status, and was only able to post one tweet: Is it too much to ask for a hotel with a fitness spa with a hot tub? No juice bar? Come on.

And then there was that frightening catastrophe when the cruise ship ran aground and flipped on its side. It was horrible! I can barely talk about it. Thankfully I wasn’t on the Costa Concordia when it happened, but I could have been, had we been in Italy 21 months earlier – and booked a cruise instead of the tour we actually went on.

Another low point had to be our trip to St. Peter’s for a rare open-air mass performed by Pope Francis himself. Oh sure, I was stoked to snap a photo of the Grand Popemeister in his Popemobile from only seven feet away. As he drove by, I yelled out “Papa Francesco” (which is how the Italians mispronounce his name) but he did not so much as even give me an air fist bump, let alone invite me to a private sitting to wash my feet.

The food was okay, but I have to tell you, everywhere I went it was always the same cuisine: Italian. Anybody in this country ever heard of a rib eye steak? And Naples claims to be where pizza was invented. Maybe so, but good luck finding a meat-lovers’ cheese-stuffed pizza anywhere in that town, let alone Buffalo wings. Lame.

Italy vacation - Pope FrancisBut perhaps the worst part of my experience had nothing to do with Italians, their food or their shoddy Roman temples in dire need of repair. It was having to wait for my wife. Did I mention she’s an artist? She wanted to take a few photos to paint from when we got home. And by “a few photos” what she apparently meant was one photo for every man, woman and child living in Italy. I would estimate I spent 28% of my vacation just waiting on my wife to take another photo of a Vespa parked next to an ancient Roman fountain. If I had a nickel for every time I asked, “Are you done yet?”

My wife tells me that she had such a great time on our vacation that she’s already planning our next one – this time to a place even more backward and scary than Italy: France. I can already hear myself now: “Oh, yes, honey. That’s an even better angle for a photo of the Eiffel Tower than the previous 164 you’ve already taken.” Click. Sigh….

Questa è la vista dalla tribuna. Forse sono fuori base.

Tim Jones - Profile at Safeco - TinyPS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a thumbs upor sharing this post on Facebook. Trust me about Italy. It’s horrible. Unless you like incredible food, amazing cathedrals, winding cobblestone streets in medieval towns, and jaw-dropping ocean vistas, there’s really not much to do or see there. 

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2013

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