Out of the 12 countries spanning the SPAR world trip I am currently wandering my way through, Italy was probably the one I was most excited for. It’s a country that is constantly idealised from food to film, and there is an arguably strong Italian presence all over the world. For this exact reason, I guess I was expecting the 2 weeks I spent in the country to be absolutely full of beautiful little cliches – old Italian people sitting in cafes on the street, drinking espressos and eating some kind of olive oil / mozzarella concoction, Al Pacino a la The Godfather strolling about with some bodyguards, all modes of transport being replaced with Vespas… you know. The standard.
So after I had built this image in my head, I can safely say that I was severely disappointed with my first view of Italy. I mean severely. Milan is a big industrial city that aside from the pretty magnificent Duomo has very little else to offer. My hostel wasn’t great, I didn’t meet anyone, and I couldn’t walk through the city without a rainbow coloured bit of string begin forcefully tied onto my wrist. (The men who do this then try to charge for the privilege. Awful.)
So I thought I’d try Pisa. Pisa is, after all, the home of the most iconic symbols of Italy. Surely this should be a city absolutely buzzing with tourists and locals alike? Surely?! But no. No it is not. I should have listened to the guide book. Rough Guides to Italy does explicitly state about both Pisa and Milan that any more than a day will be disappointing. But guide books aren’t always right, so I gave it a shot. In this case, they were 110% correct.
So again, I packed up my rucksack and off I left to the island of Elba. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Elba. but being the disorganised traveller that I am, I accidentally booked a campsite instead of a hostel, and spent the weekend melting my face off in a tent in a resort designed for Italian families. Italian. Families. I speak no notable Italian, I am not a child, and I have no children. And I’m not remotely tanned. I stuck out like a sore – but very white – thumb.
At this point my Italian dream had been shattered. I had had two espressos, consumed too much gelato and pizza, met some pretty nice Italians, but it just wasn’t what I was expecting. I boarded the ferry back to the mainland, more than a little depressed with my image of Italy, and borderline ready to give up on having a good old time in the country I had so looked forward to.
And then I got to Rome. And my previously broken image of Italy was restored. Hurrah! Rome was everything I expected and more – a fantastic atmosphere, amaaaazing sites, an abundance of people, beautiful food… I spent my final week in the city and loved almost every second of it.
As with Slovenia, my expectations of Italy have been completely wrong. Maybe my wonderful German comment leaver Martin is correct, and I’m finally learning that expectations whilst travelling are pointless and only serve to provide disappointment when they’re proven wrong… Maybe.