Monday, August 24, 2009

Some Non-Paintball Travel Observations

You may, at first, find my observations somewhat closer to complaints but I assure they aren't. The issue came up while on vacation. My daughter, usually of a sunny if offbeat personality, became just a wee bit complaint prone so I decreed no more complaints but observations, on the other hand, were acceptable. So these observations will run the gamut from the possibly wry and witty to the perhaps bitter and sour but are not, under any circumstances, to be confused with complaints.

Okay, right off the top. No first tier civilization is possible without air conditioning and ice cubes. There it is. Not even France. And definitely not Italy. Don't bother trying to argue that one. Granted, August isn't the best month to travel places you know don't have air conditioning as a normal everyday part of living but that doesn't excuse the lack. And while I understand there are people who like warm beer, room temp water and barely chilled soda it rises above the level of mere taste when the only consistent source of ice you can find is in a hole in the wall shop that sells it in sheets of twenty cubes for 2 plus Euros each. Is that civilized? Not in my book.

Of course there was some air conditioning and some other sources of ice cubes but the impression is that the good stuff isn't for tourists or so valuable it needs to be rationed. All our hotels had air conditioning but only two of them allowed the guest to regulate how much or how little they required. And have you ever noticed that the more expensive and grander a hotel claims to be the less service you usually get? Over here if you want a free breakfast and free internet virtually every everyday hotel chain is accommodating but the more upscale the hotel the more they nickel and dime you for "extra" services. Same applies across the pond times two or three.

A lot (all) of restaurants, even those you'd think (or hope) were off the beaten path and away from the typical tourist crowd, include a service charge in their menu prices. Many advertise the fact as if it was an all inclusive deal intended to save you, the customer, from unscrupulous restaurateurs--like the guy next door. In fact, they (almost) all also charge a cover charge too that they fail to mention until the bill arrives (usually about the time you're desperate to escape having finished your meals ages ago) which, may or may not, actually be an itemized list of your purchases. Sometimes it's just a total. Despite the shenanigans the real problem with built in service charges is that it takes away any incentive to actually provide any service.

On the subject of eating it is apparently getting harder and harder to find anything that even pretends to be authentic fare cooked with a bit of pride and uniqueness unless you're willing and/or able to spend extravagant amounts for a meal. At least when it comes to tourist centers. Nearly every place has a "tourist" menu and serves the same basic slop because they have decided, en masse, that the silly tourists don't really want real food, or at least are too ignorant to know any better and couldn't possibly enjoy good food anyway. (It got so bad I finally decided you either needed to spend all your time trying to find good food or doing the usual museums, etc. thing 'cus you couldn't do both within a limited time frame.) (Last night I went to a local roadhouse-type steak joint and had a 20 oz. strip that was still an inch thick when it hit the table that I could cut with my fork. Not because I really really wanted it yesterday but just because I could. And it cost less than a piece of so called "bifteck" I had in an upscale Italian restaurant that had been so brutalized by a tenderizing mallet it looked like roadkill.)

Despite Mussolini being dead and gone all these years the trains still run on time in Italy and offer quality accommodations and travel comfort. The waterbuses in Venice were timely as well but that pretty much covers the extent of Italian efficiency far as I can tell. For example we had a first floor room, 137, in Venice that required going up two flights of stairs, down another and up and down two or three stairs in four other places. It was a Monty Python joke. The one place the inefficiency was problematic was in the operation of their museums. It seems there are two ways to get into the best of them. With a reserved time ticket or by standing in line and waiting to buy a day ticket from the ticket booth. What they don't tell you is that they only allow a few folks in at a time from the normal ticket line and they don't advertise where else one can buy tickets, like the reserved time and day tickets. I bought our Louvre tickets in advance because I'd read it could be difficult to get into the museum without reserved tickets (it wasn't) but was totally unprepared for the way the Italians seemingly worked to keep peeps out of their museums. Very frustrating.

There's more but that's enough as I'm feeling more mellow now.

Despite the observations it was an awesome trip and I would recommend visiting all the places we went to anyone and I intend to go back sometime in the hopefully not too distant future. So take the observations with a grain of salt but forewarned is forearmed. Although what you're gonna do with four arms is beyond me. Maybe join the circus.


Missy Q said...

Yanks shouldn't go to Europe, you don't have the patience for it. The Euro's know this, and it's a standing joke that if you give Americans crappy service, they're still going to tip you. Could you hear laughter from the back-room?
Presumably you also shouted instructions in Americanised English, and just raised the volume when they faked having trouble understanding? I always notice how well that works...

I was in Venice a couple of years ago, and other than the Italian Guys hitting on me non-stop (it's to be expected), I got along real well, but then my expectations were that it was going to be a historic sight-seeing trip in an area that fiercely resists modern-day influence, so I wasn't disappointed.

Missy Q said...

ps - good to have you back!

Baca Loco said...

Now you tell me. I thought they were all deaf. Actually Venice was terific, minus the mediocre food, which was a constant of the trip. I'm sure there's good stuff to be had--I just couldn't find it with any assurnace. It was also the middle of the biennial so there were lots of pretentious artsy types loitering about and they closed the Arsenale to handle one of their biennial displays. Basterds!

missy q said...

Harry's Bar was the best place I ate at. Don't know if you tried that one.
Did you notice that there is no line at Mcdonalds? Or rather - it's an italian line-up, which basically means you push your way to the front, and gesticulate until you get served. They should try that over here.

Baca Loco said...

Didn't go to Harry's. Alas.
Had the same Mickey D's experience in Paris at the one across the street from the Georges Cinq. 10 registers and a mob 12 deep fighting for a spot like it was the last train out of Stalingrad.