Italy: Vatican, Coliseum and Italian Wine Are Awesome, But Rome Is Really Expensive and Service Sector Seemed Surly, Inefficient

I tweet:  Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I have only 24 hours to see it.

I have read that there is sadness in the heart of every Italian because he knows that whatever he and his countrymen do, they will never accomplish as much as their ancestors accomplished in the Roman Empire.

By some measures, Rome’s future is behind it. The government is corrupt, there’s widespread indifference about that, and even a scofflaw mentality among the people, and some economic sectors seem hopelessly disorganized.

By other measures, Italian food, wine, art, history, and automobiles are still among the  most magnificent in the world.

On the plane to Rome, the swarthy Italian in front of me stood to fetch his laptop from the compartment above, carelessly dropped his suitcase on my head while I was eating, and — get this — not a word of apology!

Rome airport was poorly marked and difficult to find our way.  At baggage claim, while we waited forever for our bags, this creepy-looking guy sat down too close to me on a bench while I was trying to access Internet to make a Skype call. I thought he might be trying to pilfer my credit card. I purchased Internet use for 3 Euro; ($5), but it didn’t work. My jacket dropped from atop my suitcase to the floor to a mud puddle inside the terminal. The vagrant sitting next to me let out a big fart.

I glared at him.

When Matthew sought to purchase tickets for the express train from Fiumicino airport to Rome’s Termini station, which is known as the Leonardo Express, he had to cool his heels for 10 minutes while the man selling tickets talked on a mobile to his girl friend, and while he argued with a fellow ahead of us in the line who complained loudly that the attendant should hurry the f**k up. The attendant defiantly puttered around his booth while the line grew longer. Therefore we missed the express train into town, and had to wait an extra 30 minutes for the next one.

Cost from Rome airport to downtown for the three of us on the train was something like $50. Cost from Rome (Termina station) to Civitavecchia (where the Grand Princess was docked) was twice as far and approximately half the cost. Go figure.

The walk from the train station to our hotel in Rome was a bit creepy, down dark streets. There was graffiti all over the walls, suggesting the presence of gangs.

I was tired and in a bad mood. I thought, “The Italians need to bring back Mussolini….At least he made the trains run on time. I can see that all the smart Italians immigrated to America.”

But then we arrived safely to our hotel, which was clean and comfortable, and only about $60 for the three of us. It was centrally located for easy exploring of Rome on Tuesday, so I began to think more charitably toward the Italians.

We slept soundly, grabbed coffee and rolls at a shop nearby, and had a wonderful four hours or so at the Vatican. Then we strolled around Rome in the afternoon.

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Prices for food, computer equipment, even postcards in Rome seemed about double what they are in America and Turkey.

Getting around Rome wasn’t easy. There were inexplicable delays of one hour or more on the trains to and from the port of Civitavecchia, where the Grand Princess was docked.

Places that see masses of tourists, like the Coliseum in Rome, don’t take credit cards, only cash, so we had to search around for nearly an hour to find an ATM machine that worked (two of them were out of money at lunch time), and when we walked into a bank and waited in line, they told us we could only get cash from the machines. Money changers charge an arm and a leg.

In short, I did not come away with positive impressions of the service sector in Rome. If the trains and the financial sector worked more efficiently, we would have been able to see more in our limited time.

Even so, one cannot deny the magnificence of the Rome that once was, and the remnants that still exist, even if the Rome of today is well past its prime. And maybe I am just an arrogant American, seeing decline and decadence in Rome when my own country will be hard pressed to make nearly the long-term contribution to Western if not world civilization — to art, architecture, religion, government, and cuisine — that Rome has done over the centuries.

The Roman Empire lasted 500 years in Western Europe, and a thousand years in Eastern Europe and Asia Minor. America has been influential on the world stage less than 250 years. Is there any chance that we will match the glory of Rome?

I tweet: In Rome. Faces on street, in metro look familiar.  Italians look a lot more like “Americans” than do the Turks…. 

Yes, as an American, I felt a definite, intuitive kinship with the Romans.

A Tour of the Vatican, With Alex Buie, Age 12 from Jim Buie on Vimeo.

In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain offered something of a mocking portrait of the Old World, especially Rome and the Vatican.  “It makes me dizzy, to think of the Vatican–of its wilderness of statues, paintings, and curiosities of every description and every age. The ‘old masters’ (especially in sculpture) fairly swarm, there,” he wrote. “I can not write about the Vatican. I think I shall never remember any thing I saw there distinctly but the mummies, and the Transfiguration, by Raphael, and some other things it is not necessary to mention now.”

He referred to sculptures by Mr. Michael Angelo, and paintings by so many Old Masters that it was overwhelming and he wished that some of them “had died a little younger.” Twain and his compatriots also liked to ask impertinent questions of the tour guides. When shown a tomb,  a statue or a mummy, they’d ask, “Is he dead?” The guide would look incredulous. “Of course he’s dead. He died 10 centuries ago.” This became a running gag.

I’m sure my son Alex could relate.

Drill Deeper:

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