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Finally home, albeit without luggage, which is stuck either in Rome, Milan, or somewhere in between. But what can one expect from an industry, which sends people to their deaths over a war-torn region in collusion with the EU/State Department hydra. After bouncing around on three different flights to get home from Rome: the bad (Easyjet from Rome to Milan, which lost our luggage), the mediocre (British Airways from Milan to London), and the excellent (Virgin Atlantic from London to NYC), reading Piers Paul Read's excellent "The Dreyfus Affair" to preserve my mental equilibrium, I am relieved to be back home.
Unfortunately, the Eternal City turned out to be an eternal disappointment. Perhaps it was the heat wave (at least 32 degrees Celsius every day we were there) and the absence of air conditioning on buses, regional trains, and pretty much anywhere in Rome. Or perhaps it was the omnipresent Gypsies, one of whom appeared next to a group of clueless American students in front of us at a ticket machine in the Rome subway, positioning herself to snatch their wallets. I immediately started yelling at her in three languages (English, Russian, and even Hebrew) to which she replied by babbling in mongrelized Italian. The fact that the Trevi Fountain was drained and undergoing construction and that the Colosseum was half-covered by scaffolding also contributed to the rather negative view we got of the Italian capital.
To me, Rome appeared to be a rather shabby mix of pre-Giuliani New York City with all of its graffiti, rubbish, hookers, and street people (but without the violent crime) and post-Soviet Moldova with all its petty crime, chaos, poor public transportation, and Gypsies. I never expected to see a squirrel-size rat happily devouring discarded food from an overflowing dumpster a mere block from the Italian ministry of transport and infrastructure. Rome also has a problem with bands of South Asians who swarm tourist sites offering wilted roses and various useless trinkets. They are less menacing than Africans and less sinister than Gypsies, but are more persistent and annoying. I almost pushed one of these charming immigrants down the Spanish Steps after he thrust his flowers in our face and then insulted my wife when she told him off. Only the thought of spending the night in a cell full of Gypsies and other assorted Roman riffraff restrained me.
The only islands of calm and sanity in the sprawling mess of Rome were the Vatican and the Jewish sites (synagogue and the attached museum). However, the food in Rome, like elsewhere in Italy was excellent as was the beer. The day trip to the tiny, but tourist-free and clean resort town of Anzio (of World War II fame) was a welcome respite from the sprawling, hot metropolis. My advice to first time Italy visitors is to spend at most two days in Rome in the summer and concentrate on Florence, Siena, Pisa, and the Cinque Terre.
One word of advice if you have to make several connections coming back from Europe; Never fly through Canada. Two summers ago my wife and I were nearly thrown in prison in Canada for daring to question the incompetent primitives from US Airways who left us in limbo between Canadian and US customs for two hours.
Welcome home, Eugene! I have enjoyed reading of your adventures, the awe and wonderment as well as the bemusement and outright irritation. It squares well with my own take on (infrequently) visiting the Old World. I fear that I have come to rely completely on the creature comforts of North America. And while I love the lands and peoples of the United States and Canada, there is that part of me that is wistful at the thought that perhaps I am not even European in the cultural sense. For I, too, cannot go long without air conditioning in the summer!
This is what comes of not following my advice! You bought yourself a tourist experience. Never go in Summer, if you can avoid it, and until you really know Rome, do not attempt to visit for less than a week. You did what ever other tourist does and therefore you were wearing a kick-me sign the whole time. There are lots of nice places in Rome that can be visited with some calm, even in Summer, but you have to resolve to throw away your Fodor's and stick to out-of-the-way neighborhoods--especially the Vatican and the Colosseum.
Eugene, I doubt I will ever have the chance to go to Europe. There is a book I found in my local library that I recommend though. It is called THE GARDENS OF EUROPE by Penelope Hobhouse. I cannot imagine planning a trip anywhere in Europe without using that book. I enjoyed reading your posts.
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