Italy! Oh my goodness! I’ve only been here a few days, but I already am a huge fan.
We flew into Rome five days ago now, and those days have flown by. Rome was a whirlwind of ancient history and walking over twelve miles a day—everything is in walking distance if you try hard enough. Rome reminded me of a cross between a Disney theme park and New York City. It shared the massive attractions of Disney with the tourist-packed Vatican City and the crowded ruins of ancient Rome, but the amount of litter covering the street was preeeety disgusting.
(Taken right outside the currently-closed Spanish Steps)
We flew in during Festa della Repubblica, or Republic Day, which celebrates the day that Italy voted to abolish the monarchy. This meant that most shops were closed, and the number of people in the street was overwhelming. The first night, my roommate Garret and I left to find some food, and upon turning the corner, we saw in the distance a sign for pizza. While we were walking towards it, talking about trivialities such as how absolutely gorgeous the buildings were and how close to the Vatican our hotel was, a server stepped into our vision and invited us into her restaurant instead. We saw no reason not to, so we followed her down a few steps into a tiny hole-in-the-wall German-and-Italian eatery. The walls were plastered with beer propaganda, and the pizza they served was delicious. The server spoke pretty good English. After waiting for our check, we finally asked for it and left. We walked out of there happy and full, and set off to find a gelato place near the hotel. We found five open gelaterias within a few blocks. Picking one at random, we went in, blundered our way through ordering gelato from two non-English speakers, and were on our way.
The pedestrian culture of Italy allows for many more smaller shops such as the restaurant we ate dinner in to exist, even this close to a large tourist attraction. While I’ve been here, there have been only a few worldwide chains I’ve seen, not counting the clothing stores that are based here: a single McDonalds, tucked away in an alley near an entrance to the Vatican, and a GameStop on Arezzos main street. There has been no mass advertisements such that we see in the States, such as the massive signs denoting the location of the nearest chain restaurant or smaller ads for local places. Because local is all there is here, there seems to be no reason for each of them to advertise, as there would be too many choices, causing any one ad to get lost amongst all the others. Instead, the restaurants here turn to face-to-face advertising—standing outside their restaurants and inviting people to view a menu—and it works.
I don’t know that I’ve had a bad meal since I’ve landed. Even the gas station we stopped at prior to arriving in Arezzo had better sandwiches than most sandwich shops in the States. Everywhere we’ve been takes great pride in their food, and you can see that through the presentation and the way meals are treated here. Even at little hole-in-the-wall shops such as the first pizza place we ate at, we were treated well and the food was beautifully prepared. The attitude towards customers is also much different here. In America, waiters work for tips and they work for tips. From making sure that your Diet Coke is always full, to rushing you out the door as soon as your meal is finished, waiters in America have earning tips down to a science. Here, there is no need for that. In Italy, it is actually considered rude to bring a check without being asked first, and the tip is included in the bill. By rushing a guest, a waiter will cheapen the experience of the meal. We learned this little tidbit yesterday, after waiting for what was probably a cumulative two hours for our check at restaurants over the past five days. This level of relaxation about food is greatly to my liking, as it allows longer conversations with no constant attention from a server, and no feeling of pressure to vacate the seats, as we aren’t depriving the servers of a part of their income.
One of the last meals I had in Rome was from a small, polite sandwich shop on our way back from visiting the colosseum, a nice mozzarella, tomato, and prosciutto cold sandwich on a hearty bread. Probably one of the best sandwiches I’ve eaten, definitely the best one here. Simple, but filling. I just want you to picture how much I was enjoying this sandwich.
I was leading a pack of students down the main road back to the hotel for a well-deserved nap (we had already walked almost ten miles and it was lunchtime) when I saw a white shape flying through the air. In the brief instant before the seagull collided with me, beat me up, and stole my lunch, I had time for one thought.
Is that a trash bag?
And then before I knew it, it was all over. The seagull slapped me around with its wings, beaked my sandwich, and took off. My sandwich lay dead on the ground, prosciutto missing, toppings scattered and bread torn. A clean kill. Every eye on that street was on me, and after a moment’s silence for my lost delicacy, I broke out laughing with everyone else. How could I not, when I just got sandwich-jacked by a Roman seagull? I’m glad that our cultures aren’t too different; we can both laugh at a sad tourist whose sandwich is lost to one of the uncountable birds that roam Rome.
Bonus: my favorite set of doors I’ve seen so far this trip: