Even 15 years later, I toss out my 10-day trip to Italy casually in conversation, knowing it is sure to spark interest and give me an aura or worldliness. Yeah, I summered in Italy. I’m just being honest. After mentioning it, and gathering the attention of my listeners, I usually toss out these trip to Italy anecdotes:
The canals in Venice are pretty much open sewers and smell like it. Forget the gondoliers and romantic serenading you see in movies; it was muddy water and floating condoms. The stink made your eyes water.
The first time I ever got drunk was on two bottles of cheap red wine in Venice. I didn’t have a bottle opener, so I drank wine with cork shavings floating in it. Still worked though.
Pompeii’s main export was prostitution and when we walked along the arcade, looking at the different rooms, you could see which “services” were provided in each. Only two body castings were visible in the ancient city at the time, but one had its teeth bared in agony.
I saw Pope John Paul II speak in the Vatican. He was a hunched white dot sitting a hundred yards away and speaking in Italian.
I accidentally leaned against Raphael’s The School of Athens to the horror of our tour guide.
There are more, but you get the jist. I once used these to interest women. It mostly worked. Now I just use them to make fun of myself. I had a good time in Italy, but I could have had a far better one. Here are a few things I could have done to enjoy it more. If you’re traveling to Italy, or any foreign country, these same suggestions apply.
- Learn the language. It doesn’t take much effort to get a rudimentary knowledge of a foreign language, and any trip is far more adventurous when you do. Sticking to English is like encasing yourself in an American bubble. Forget Rosetta Stone. Use Pimsleur’s method.
- Understand that foreign people can be jerks. Several times I backed down or refused to bargain because I was intimidated by the unknown language and customs. Now I know that was stupid. People can be jerks in any language or land, and there’s no reason to tolerate it. Load up a few native cuss words and gestures. Don’t use American ones since they’ll mean nothing.
- Memorize the layout of a city. Take a city map (an actual map, not a Google map) and learn it. Get a feel for the city and main roads. This will help you find interesting spots and avoid being fleeced by drivers.
- Walking’s fine, but use cabs to save time. Walking all day is no fun. By the time you reach your destination, you’re too tired to care. That happened to me in Rome and when I saw the Coliseum, I didn’t care. Call a cab. Most cab drivers speak rough English.
- Study up on a place before getting there. This is right up there with learning a language and studying maps. Why spend thousands on visiting a place if you know nothing about it? I wish I had spent more time learning about the construction of the Vatican, the tragedy of Pompeii or the rise and fall of the Medici families. I would have enjoyed myself much more. Use Wikipedia.
If all that learning sounds like work, then why are you bothering to go in the first place? Stick with something saccharine and prepackaged, like Disney World. I think they have an Italy there too.