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Arrivederci, Roma

May 18th, 2013 · 2 Comments · Italy, Rome, tourism, Travel

And so we packed and left the tiny apartment  in Trastevere and joined up with (what we have found to be) the typically not-quite-honest Rome cabbie, who delivered us to Termini for not quite 18 euros. Seeing as how the meter had read 13-something, when we got out, how it ended near 18 is a mystery, but one hardly worth solving, given it was our one and only encounter with the local taxi fleet.

We soon after picked up a Peugeot from a rental agency, and headed south. As we struggled to break free from the great city, it was time to discuss or update our notions on Rome.

To wit:

–The city is more crowded than ever, at least in the parts of the city that tourists want to see. May is not high season, but walking from Point A to Point B, picking through armies of people heading the other direction, brought  to mind Hong Kong. OK, not that bad, but neither of us had seen the city so crowded.

–The Disney-fication of the city continues. In the southern half of the city, where most of the tourist sites are located, the notion of Rome being a real city was hard to grasp. Where are the groceries? The bakeries? Where are the people who are not obviously tourists? Does anyone actually live near the Trevi Fountain? The Pantheon? Or are those building empty, and just part of the tourist theme park like the false fronts of the Pirates of the Caribbean?

–Those Romans who interact with tourists seem more accomplished at the business of it, and more patient. Certainly compared to 1987, when I first visited the city. It is as if they have decided to “own” what the city has become – a place that derives significant income from these often silly and uninformed (and too young) hordes who tramp through the city wanting to see the same six things.

–For stretches around the major sites, it seems as if the whole of Rome’s economy comes down to three sectors: Restaurants, gelaterias and curio shops. I had a thousand chances to buy a “Roma University” t-shirt, a scale model of the Colosseum and all manner of “pope kitsch” including a bobblehead doll of John Paul II that I actually considered adding to my collection.

–One possible suggestion of the congestion in the city was offered by our not-quite-honest cabbie: The new pope brought additional visitors to town.

–The Africans who formerly were in charge of selling junk to tourists have been replaced, almost entirely, by men from the subcontinent, perhaps Bangladeshis, who a generation ago were not to be found. The African guys who previously sold flying things and hats … seem to be limited mostly to one brand of merchandise – the knockoff purse/wallet/leather goods business presumed to be controlled by organized crime.

–Rome is no longer an inexpensive alternative to, say, Paris. The shorthand of Rome had been that “lodging is expensive, but food is not” … and it no longer applies. Food is every bit as expensive. It is not a cheap trip unless you really, really work at it.

–For being a hub of tourism, it is curious that many Romans (most?) outside the hospitality business speak so little English.

–The city remains worth seeing. Once, certainly. As for returning, we left without a plan for when we would next visit. Or if we really had a plan to do so. Once you have seen the sights, done the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum, the rest of Italy is probably where your attention should turn.


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ben Bolch // May 19, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    You have just reaffirmed my desire to skip Rome on every trip to Italy from now to eternity.

  • 2 James // May 20, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    I still want to see it. Once. Maybe in the off season.

    Too much there that are ‘must see’s’ in my book to not get there at least once.

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