I typed that exclamation sitting on our cabin’s balcony overlooking the port facilities of Livorno, Italy.
My wife Ann and I are doing a European cruise thing we’ve been planning for most of the past year. Unlike most military readers back home, I’d never been to the Mediterranean and was greatly looking forward to a number of adventures.
We just got back from our first adventure, which was an eight-hour tour of Florence and Pisa. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed but for reasons that are self-inflicted by we tourists who are like locusts, albeit locusts with credit cards.
I’d always thought Las Vegas was a stupendous destination, but apparently the whole world wants to come to Italy, and a lot of the world was already there when we docked. I figure about 1,500 folks from our ship participated in this particular tour, and our boat is only one of many cruise liners in port.
Our first stop was Florence, and since the streets are too narrow for bus traffic, we got off and walked around the city.
In the past, I’ve made fun of scenes of tour guides walking backwards holding up signs admonishing their respective broods, "We’re walking this way, walking this way."
Well, I was a member of such a brood and spent as much time keeping an eye on mother hen’s location as I did taking in the sights. And our tour guide was famous in her own right, as she obviously held an Olympic gold medal for walking. That lady could really move.
But to be fair, the tour process that I’ve ridiculed in the past is a necessary evil. How else can foreigners — especially southern foreigners such as myself — be safely shepherded around strange cities that have strange languages as well as extremely strange driving habits.
As soon as I’d observed the city traffic at ground level in Florence, I immediately had two questions. First, I wondered why those folks wasted so much money on red lights. Can an entire country be colorblind?
Secondly, I wondered just how many pedestrians had been killed on these streets.
After about an hour, I changed that question to wondering how many pedestrians had manage to survive.
Needless to say, as evidenced by this column, Ann and I escaped and continued on the tour to Pisa. Yes, the tower does in fact lean … really lean.
Italy is awash in amazing history that makes our birthday in 1776 in the United States seem more like yesterday. Realizing that Galileo walked up those steps to do his cannonball gravity experiment really brought my school history books to life.
On the negative side, the flood of we tourists has created a counterbalance to some of the historical purity. Everywhere we went we waded through a sea of street vendors hawking every imaginable trinket.
The guide told us to ignore them, and we did, but it’s a shame ordinances can’t be instituted to eliminate such nonsense. They don’t allow trash to be thrown around their cathedrals and monuments, so why shouldn’t they bar trash being sold in the footprints of Michelangelo?
Otis Gardner’s column appears here weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.