Reflections on Travelling in Italy

One impression I had of both France and Spain, at least the parts we were in, is that many commercial districts look somewhat seedier than similar areas in Italy. I can’t quite put my finger on why. Shop signs seem more garish, and sometimes worse maintained (fading paint, etc.), and shop windows often look cluttered and dusty. Somehow, even the smallest Italian shop usually presents a more pleasing face to the world, and even the cheap shops don’t look cheap.

In Italy window-dressing is an art, with the more expensive shops hiring specifically-trained people to do it. How do even the smallest shops manage to look so good? My guess is that there is some innate Italian sense of design, nurtured by the stylish and elegant environment in which most shops find themselves – if your competition looks good, you’d better look good, too.

Italy also spoils you for being a tourist anywhere else. There is very little tourist crap in 99% of Italy, the glaring exceptions being Florence, Venice, and some parts of Rome. Everywhere else in the world you can expect to see stall after stall of statuettes, t-shirts, ash trays, etc. with depictions of local famous monuments – probably all of it manufactured in China.

There are also few tourist trap restaurants in Italy (with the exceptions noted above). And, even in those, the food is usually decent – I suspect because no self-respecting Italian could bear to serve really bad food, no matter how ignorant the clientele.

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