Friday, 11 April 2014

Italy (no pictures just words)

I made mention of the issues we found at the various sites around Rome with Pedlars, Beggars, Hawkers and the like. I made mention of the issues of being ripped off in restaurants and it generally being astonishingly expensive.
FROM the Wikipedia article: The country was the world's 7th largest exporter in 2009.[112] Italy's closest trade ties are with the other countries of the European Union, with whom it conducts about 59% of its total trade. Its largest EU trade partners, in order of market share, are Germany (12.9%), France (11.4%), and Spain (7.4%).[113] Finally, tourism is one of the fastest growing and profitable sectors of the national economy: with 43.6 million international tourist arrivals and total receipts estimated at $38.8 billion in 2010, Italy is both the fifth most visited country and highest tourism earner in the world.[114]
Despite these important achievements, the Italian economy today suffers from many and relevant problems. After a strong GDP growth of 5–6% per year from the 1950s to the early 1970s,[115] and a progressive slowdown in the 1980s and 1990s, the last decade's average annual growth rates poorly performed at 1.23% in comparison to an average EU annual growth rate of 2.28%.[116] The stagnation in economic growth, and the political efforts to revive it with massive government spending from the 1980s onwards, eventually produced a severe rise in public debt. According to the EU's statistics body Eurostat, Italian public debt stood at 116% of GDP in 2010, ranking as the second biggest debt ratio after Greece (with 126.8%).[
Read the bit about Mafia and their contribution to the economy ... you couldn't make it up.

Around Pisa we found similar problems to Rome, though generally it was a smaller place and seemed to be better contained, except in the car park we used, where we were harassed to buy crap and were then offered free crap by Sub-Saharan Africans. Who having been told no, then tried on the `but I’ve been looking after your vehicle’ ploy, followed by straight up begging;  the less pretty side of modern Italy.
At Pompei we found something other than this: an absolute absence of hawkers, beggars and pedlars of any nationality except Italian. Not that they really hawked or begged.
I’m going to say something bad now. These characters were straight out the ‘Little Boys Book of Stereotypical Gangsters’. Around the Ruins of Pompei and the mountain of Vesuvius, is a modern day `Racket’. The absolute absence of any nationality other than Italian, speaks volumes about how they police the idea of Bangladeshi, sub-Saharan African or Pakistani indigents. There is the faux friendly jolly happy front end, surrounded by the not so friendly enforcer/minder/menace group. The sneering hawk eyed leather jacketed, sunglasses wearing twerps who float around groups getting off trains and returning or departing tourist buses funnelling them silently towards the stands of utter crap, like Pompei mugs, tea towels etc. They just hover from where they were leaning or chatting in towards the stream and contain it ... we got stuck for an hour after we bought our tickets. We were also bamboozled, because we had wanted to make our own way to Vesuvius, but were persuaded that waiting for the public bus and then buying the separate tickets required would be an aggravation. In hindsight the tour and four wheel drive Uni-Mog bus to the top is a good idea, the walk up to the summit from where the community bus stops would leave you effectively with the entire mountain to walk up, though there are short cuts. But then there are no limits on how long you take to get from A to B and back.

From the snazzily dressed blokes, waving cars into car parks, to the those selling guidebooks, or those exchanging your ticket three times on the approach to the summit of Vesuvius  you are corralled and levered. The whole business is ring fenced by a this motley crew, who amuse each other by teasing the youngest, smoking fags , slipping in and out of the train stations coffee shop to exchange information with the man in charge. The whole area is controlled, and not a uniform in sight. The prices are extremely high, your time on the summit of Vesuvius controlled completely. The advice about where to eat or who to buy from is given by the lady on the shuttle bus, on the way to the summit and back ... that advice by the way, is only eat from the restaurant at the station, it’s the only one selling certified fresh food. Only buy souvenirs from around the station they are only the genuine `Made in China’ official effigies of Vesuvius, Pisa, The Colosseum in the area ... everything else is just made in China ...ahem. By the way you’re 448 miles away from Pisa (approx) at this point and a 150 from Rome... ahem again.

There is no order to whom gets to go on each trip up Vesuvius, even if you buy your ticket first, there is absolutely no guarantee you will be next to get on the bus to go up the mountain; as each bus of 57 people is oversold and the remainder left standing frustrated and angry on the pavement waiting another hour for the next bus.

I said it’s a racket, it looks like a legitimate business, and clearly it is (outwardly), but the way it is run and the way the customers are dealt with is everything but, and if I have an abiding memory of Italy outside of the breathtaking scenery and ancient landscape, then it is the fact that at grass roots level where the money is being taken, that Italy has something rotten somewhere at its core yet to be excised by any judiciary. And I will refer to my previous comments elsewhere about it being a cold day in hell when Europe works as long as, there is over regulation at the top by high idealed (possibly well intentioned) but blinkered politicians , the wrong kind of enforcement or implementation nationally and in places no enforcement at all locally .... or just business as usual, Capiche. The whole exercise appears to be a pointless waste of tax-payers money, and it’s the high earning countries at the top paying for the turds at the bottom.

Do go to Pompei, do go to Vesuvius, don’t bother complaining about the service or standards no one’s listening ... or suddenly they can only shrug their shoulders and turn their back on you ... no comprendi English.

I must clarify this negative view with the fact that apart from the issues we’ve had around the major sites, and general prices of everything (including €3 tourist tax in Pisa, €6 City tax in Rome and WIFI prices that make Spains look like a positive bargain).


Italy is absolutely fabulous, the landscape changes as the miles roll by, from gently rolling hills with vertiginous crowns of houses perched atop them, where getting out the wrong side of a bed next to a window would result in you ending up very thin but very widely distributed. To the beautifully chaotic block layout of the vines on the east coast that maximise the contours of the near vertical slopes (in absolute contrast to Spain’s miles of unbroken vines on flat plains). To the craggy peaks topped with snow, the azure blue sea, and rapidly running wide flat rivers, and brilliantly thought out road system that takes you to a `mean’ level and then holds it with vaulted viaducts, ensuring you usually only climb up or down in a major way once per journey and then keeps you running level for mile after mile. There are beautiful old villages of stone, equally beautiful villages and town painted in glorious dark pastel colours, castles perched on hills, dams, aqueducts and wide open plains of pasture. In the north as you approach Modena, the roads get busy, the land flattens and you are in sub-tropical English looking countryside; the only anomalies for the eyes being the style of the buildings and the size of the fields (they tend to be smaller than the UK, with plenty of hedgerow). We’ve seen two thirds of Italy’s coastline, all in spring, from West along the vertical coastline of eye watering beauty with long towns perched on shelves hewn from cliffs or built up from shelves of rock not quite level. To the northwest with its Marble quarries flattening to salt marsh reminiscent of Holland where Pisa stands. Inland in the north to what looks like a city that is in fact dozens of small towns and villages with barely a finger of land separating each one running for thirty miles at the foot of the alps as they meet the Apeninnes, this area has some of the largest nurseries for trees and shrubs I’ve ever seen and they run the same thirty odd miles ... it’s not a city, but to the eye driving past it could be. Then South to Rome through the central valley with its mix of mountains and hills, each with its own Island town, river, stream, and vines. To the East, warmer,  less populace possibly more affluent and with what felt like a more grown up or noble attitude. Then North and through the centre again to Parma North of Modena, with luxurious verdant hills, castles and deciduous woods all in what can only be described as rampant spring. We have been made to feel welcome at all of the campsites we’ve visited, and apart from the lack of hand soap toilet seats and toilet roll (mostly understandable) they have all been of a good standard, and the people running them have been enthusiastic and proud of where they are and what they know, and happy to divulge information. 

Italy like Portugal has issues that the men in Brussels either don’t know about, or don’t want us to know about or are happy to gloss over in the hope that they go away as they try to regulate and harmonize everything they see. Given the diversity by region, just in Italy, never mind a hugely devolved Spain, a sleepy Portugal frankly I think the only people who ever stood a chance of engaging and harmonizing Europe ceased to exist after the onslaught of the Vandals.

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