When in Rome, Do as the Tourists Do
I am writing this post in Italy, on a small tablet, with minimal access to WiFi. This lack of WiFi has been particularly challenging and has add led to some of this post’s most interesting stories. Before beginning, however, I want to comment on the conclusion of my previous post. I stated that my plan for this post was to interview people in Scotland about the queer experience there, but I had difficulty doing so. I did interview one person, who was able to confirm my previous evaluations of the differences between Scotland and the U.S. Being from New England originally, he had experienced the differences in culture and claimed that people in Scotland are generally more accepting of homosexuals and are indifferent with regard to someone’s sexual orientation. A good example of this is the fact that this individual is openly gay in Scotland, but has not felt comfortable being out to people in the States (and shall thus remain anonymous). Listening in on conversations at an LGBT+ meeting, I found that people in Scotland consider the U.S. to be backwards. With regards to the new Indiana religious freedom law, one person said he felt sorry for me that I had to live in a country where discrimination can be legalized. I don’t think American society is a bad as it is perceived to be, but it’s still embarrassing that we have that reputation. Speaking of perceptions of different cultures, here was my first impression of Italy:
It looks crowded, doesn’t it? Well, it was worse in person. This is a picture of the Vatican, which was so packed that it was impossible for me to get a good picture. At least, that’s my excuse for why that picture isn’t great. Italy is an interesting place, and by that I mean it was too similar to America for my liking. Like in the U.S., few people I encountered spoke any language but their native language. Also like in the U.S., the police officers carry guns and are not the sort of people you would go to for advice. (The police uniforms in Florence, however, are much more stylish than those in the States). The train system is also incredibly confusing, as I will describe below.
This is Pompeii. It looks less crowded than Rome, as I got in when it opened at 8:30 and ran ahead of the other tourists. My original plan was to explore Pompeii on Saturday and visit Mount Vesuvius on Sunday. I took a train from Rome to a place called Salerno and was supposed to catch my train to Pompeii 8 minutes later. However, none of the trains on the timetable said Pompeii, and so I ran to the ticket office to find out which train to get on. There was a sign saying “Tickets” pointing down a stairwell, and so I dashed down the stairs. At the bottom, there was a sign pointing up the stairs that also said “Tickets”. I was very confused but eventually found the ticket office. They told me the name of the station the train was going to, and I found out that it was at platform 3. I had less than a minute left to get on the train, but I couldn’t find how to get on to the platform. A kind onlooker helped me out and told me that the train to Pompeii was actually at platform 5. I ran there and barely made it on to the train before it departed, thinking how lucky I was to have run into this man. Had he not told me to go to platform 5 instead of 3, I might have ended up in some small town in the south of Italy with no clue how to get back. As I was thinking this, the conductor came by to check tickets. When he saw mine, he exclaimed, “Pompei! Pompei!?” He said a lot of things in Italian and made some hand motions that I interpreted to be directions telling me to get off at the next stop and take a train back to Salerno. This was, of course, a misinterpretation, for the next stop did not have a train station, and I ended up in a small town in the south of Italy with no clue how to get back. No one there spoke English or French (of which I can speak a little). I was able to use the name of the train station, Salerno, to get some helpful hand gestures, and I ended up on a bus back to the train station. Through much confusion, I eventually made it to Pompeii, with no time to see the ruins. I made a plan for the next day to see both the ruins and Vesuvius on a very tight time schedule. Somehow, I accomplished this and made it to my train on time. The train, however, stopped for some time and was 12 minutes late to the station where I had an 8 minute layover. I missed my train back to Rome, where I was supposed to meet my friends at a particular time and place. There was no WiFi anywhere, so I couldn’t tell my friend what had happened. When I talked to the ticket office, they sent me on a train heading south that would have gotten me to Rome about six hours late. I got off this train and bought all new tickets to Naples and then to Rome. I was three hours late, my friends were worried and had searched for me for an hour, and I had no idea where they were staying. Luckily, I found a place where you could pay to use the internet on a PC, and I was able to Facebook message and meet up with my friends. This was not to be the last of my troubles.
This beautiful golden river is in Florence, a magical place that is much less crowded and much more Italian than Rome. My friends and I went around to all of the different tourist attractions, looking at them from the outside rather than waiting in line and paying the admission fees. We had a lot of ice cream (gelato) and ran into someone I know from the IFSA-Butler Scotland program. We all agreed in preferring Florence to Rome, and our next place was even better:
This is Cinque Terre, the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It is a collection of 5 coastal villages along a span of 7.5 miles. There are two main trails between the villages, the coastal and the mountain trails. Part of the coastal trail was closed, so we took the grueling mountain trail and were treated to stunning views and sunburns. We stayed in a hostel in one of the villages Wednesday night and watched the sun set over the Mediterranean. Thursday, we finished our hike and bought train tickets to Venice. As you probably expect by now, this did not go as planned. Our first train was late, causing us to miss our second train. In order to get to Venice, we ended up having to pay close to $200 in addition to what we had already paid. The moral of this story is that you should never book Italian trains in advance. After two days in Venice, I left for France, where I am now concluding this post. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the train system will be better and that it will be easier to communicate with people.