28
Nov 2011
POSTED BY travelbugrobert
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Cities, Europe, Italy, Pictures, Rome

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Whozits and Whatzits Galore at the Spanish Steps

Rome’s Spanish Steps are one of the big sights to see in the city, and I’m not sure why.  I guess they’re pretty photogenic, as far as steps go.  They’re definitely more impressive than my apartment building’s stairwell.  But they’re still just steps.  They don’t light up when you walk on them or move like Hogwarts’ staircases.  The same thing happens when you walk up the Spanish Steps as when you walk up non-Spanish Steps.  You go from one altitude to another, possibly sweating along the way.  I still liked seeing them, though, because the piazza where they are had some of the hardest selling merchants I’ve ever encountered.

All the sightseers relaxing on the steps had to continuously turn away these wandering businessmen.  These guys sold the go-to tourist trinkets.  Bouncy balls, plastic doodads that light up, noisemakers.  You know, authentic Italian merchandise.  A few stuck to selling just one item: roses.  These sellers were the most interesting to watch.  They had a whole little dance they’d do.  A merchant would give a person a rose and not charge them for it.  It would look like he was just doing it as an Italian ambassador of good will, spreading joy to all foreigners visiting his fair city.  Then, once the “customer” started walking away with the rose, the merchant would follow him, and he would either have to pay for the rose or give it back.  It’s like these guys gave people a little rose test drive for free.  “Take that rose around the block.  See how it handles.  I know you’ll be impressed by its performance.”

I never saw anyone actually buy a rose from one of these guys, but I had to admire their work ethic.  Handing out a rose, chasing after the rose, handing out the rose again.  They were smart at targeting people, too.  They’d go for the guy with the girl on his arm.  A classic maneuver.  The guy wants to look good in front of his girl, so he buys her the rose.  I wonder how many relationships have ended over the guy handing the rose back?

26
Sep 2011
POSTED BY travelbugrobert
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You can park anywhere with one of those!

Rome has a lot of Vespas, but you probably already knew that.  You also probably knew Rome had tiny vehicles in general.  But there’s something about a Vespa that really excites me.  They just look so cool.  Zipping along windy streets, weaving in between traffic, while a deep voiced Italian delivers a philosophical voiceover and everything is shot in black and white.

I’ve never ridden a Vespa.  The closest thing I’ve gotten to ride is a motorized scooter.  Now, mind you, Vespas are technically scooters.  For the SAT crowd, “Vespa” is to “Scooter” what “Kleenex” is to “Tissue.”  But the scooter I rode wasn’t gas powered and able to fit both a slender Roman beauty and myself.  No, this was a tiny electric scooter with a maximum speed of 14 miles per hour.  And it had a basket.  Not the sexiest thing to drive, especially when you notice an obese, middle aged woman riding on a better version across the street.

I took that baby up to 14, a very light breeze barely moving my hair.  I could hear the electric motor squeal out a high pitched noise, mechanically begging me to slow down.  After a block, I took mercy on the machine, made an extremely wide turn–the only turn size possible on this thing–and sputtered back to the starting line.

I can only hope Vespas are cooler to ride than that.

15
Sep 2011
POSTED BY travelbugrobert
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Cities, Europe, Italy, Pictures, Rome

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Rebels.

Climbing the Duomo in Florence is exhausting.  There are a lot of stairs in that place.  And even though it’s a cathedral–a sacred place of worship for millions of people a year–some whippersnappers decided to graffiti it up.  Well, not the pretty part of the Duomo; only the walls leading up to the pretty part.  I have to say, I’m impressed with their rebellious actions.  I don’t condone it, but I’m impressed.  Look at where they chose to write on the wall–right next to a sign that says “don’t write on the walls.”  That takes some guts.  There really aren’t any guards watching you on your climb up to the top, but morally that takes some guts.  These guys (or girls–it could be girls.  I’m very egalitarian in my criminal judgements), they know that they’re doing something naughty.  I guess that’s the thrill, though, right?  The thrill of maybe getting caught while ignoring a very sensible rule.   I’m not a risk taker myself.  I get worried if I clink a glass too loudly in a restaurant.  I don’t want to bother the other customers.  So this “livin’ on the edge” business doesn’t jive with me.

I will say, though, I do want to be remembered like these people.  Let’s be serious, that’s really why someone writes their name on a wall.  Maybe some will get a fun little adrenaline jolt looking over their shoulder as they Sharpie their name and date onto a Renaissance-era church, but most are writing their name on the wall so a hundred years from now, somebody will know they were there and that they existed.  It’s the whole “flag on the moon” complex.  We already made it to the moon, NASA.  Why waste a perfectly good American flag on a place in the universe that no one will ever see but us?

When I was a kid, they were putting in a new cement sidewalk, and when the workers had gone home and left it to dry, I rode through on my bike so my tracks could remain there forever, literally cemented in time (I guess I was a bit of a rebel as a kid).  The next day, I went back and discovered they re-cemented the sidewalk, erasing all proof that my bike or me had ever been there.

I guess what I’m saying to these taggers is, what if the Duomo buys a can of paint?

25
Aug 2011
POSTED BY travelbugrobert
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A Really Bad Souvenir

I love street artists.  Love ’em.  The only thing that beats a street artist for me is a street performer.  I’m talking the juggling/break dancing/death-defying-stunt variety.  A good straight jacket escape is pretty hard to beat for me.  But street artists still have a big place in my heart.  They’re out there every day, trying to make a living selling their art.  You have to give them props for that.  Have you ever tried to do that?  And Etsy doesn’t count, ’cause you can do that in your pajamas.  There is a down side to street artists, though: if they’re around, you know you’re in a touristy area.  For the “travel like a local” ilk, that might be disconcerting.  I’ve learned, however, to embrace even the most touristy of locales.  They’re touristy for a reason–something is there that’s cool enough to see in person.

Piazza Navona, with obelisk and statue fountain
This is why Piazza Navona has tourists

 

Also, admittedly, some of these pieces of “art” aren’t too inspired.  Like, in New York City you can buy photos of the Statue of Liberty everywhere.  Or in Paris, the Eiffel Tower.  This is like buying the black and white poster of John Belushi from “Animal House” and putting it in your college dorm room.  Come on, get a little more creative with your artistic purchases while traveling.  Although, I’m guessing those rote images of landmarks are what keep these artists alive.  Kind of like how musicians dread playing the same songs over and over at every single wedding, but they have to in order to pay the rent.

If you want a little zest in your art souvenir, why not get a caricature of yourself?  You can always look at it and remember where you bought it, but the location reminder won’t be as blatant as, say, a painting of Big Ben.  I don’t know, just a thought.  But whatever you do, if you’re in Rome, don’t give your money to this caricaturist.  He’s mean.  Look at that awful picture he’s drawing of that sweet little girl.  He’s not pulling any punches in his interpretation of her.

Rome, Italy caricaturist

Actually, the more I think about it, this guy is all right.  Here I am complaining about how people buy cliched images of cities–really safe, postcard-friendly pictures–and here’s an artist who has no regard for his subject’s feelings and is only concerned with his own style.  He’s like the wedding singer who belts out “Sympathy for the Devil” after the Best Man’s speech.  Forget what I said before–buy a drawing from this guy.  You’ll have a memorable souvenir from your trip, and you’ll get to see the ugly side of your soul.

23
Aug 2011
POSTED BY travelbugrobert
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