Two popular tourist destinations could use a few small considerations for visitors.
If you are planning to visit Italy as an independent traveler, the little saying on the left is useful. I’ve been traveling since Noah got off the Ark. I am not fearful and I do prefer public transportation. However (and this is a key “however), I do nt think it unreasonable to expect a little tourist organization efficiency. After years of travel, I’m running out of patience with first-world countries that are unable or unwilling to take small measures at making life easier for visitors.
During five days in Venice (my fourth visit) and Florence (my third), arguably two of Europe’s leading destinations, here’s some stuff that made me crazy because it is so unnecessary and could be so easily remedied:
Late-night trains do not go all the way to the Santa Lucia station on the island on which touristic Venice is located but end in Mestre on the mainland. Buses run from Mestre to the island every half-hour or so through the night. Problem. What seemed like the single ticket macchina at the deserted Mestre railroad station wasn’t working when we arrived in the wee hours. It accepted neither credit cards (we tried four) nor coins nor bills.
Rather than hang around the creepy, empty station for a few more hours, we took an expensive taxi to the shuttered Santa Lucia station. Our intention was to take a vaporetto from there, because these efficient water buses operate all night. Another problem. The ticket macchina at the vaporetto stop wasn’t working either. A sign instructed passengers to pay on the boat, but its ticket machine was also not functioning. The deck guy smilingly told us that we won the jackpot because we got a free ride. I suppose it would have been a jackpot if it hadn’t been for the taxi fare. Three out of three non functioning ticket machines seems like public transport struck out that day. Suggested remedy: Fix the machines.
Hotel. Our small hotel perhaps a five-minute walk from the Rialto was hard to find to begin with. The hotel address and its actual entrance were on different streets, around the corner from each other. We wandered around a bit before spotting it — in the dark. According to its website, someone was supposed to be on duty at the hotel 24/7. No one was there. Problem: When we arrived at 4-ish in the morning, the door was locked tight, and no one came when we rang the bell. We hung around the quiet little street for a while, then wanting to sit down, we rolled our bags back to the vaporetto station, and ended up waiting for nearly two hours on a bench back at the vaporetto stop, watching young men buy beer through the security gate of an otherwise closed café. When we returned around 6 a.m., the woman was just arriving. Suggested remedy: Adjust the website so that it conforms to reality, including a note about the actual location.
Basicila San Marco. Not 15 feet apart were two signs indicating visitation hours. One says they begin at 8:30 a.m., the other at 8:45. No biggie, but has nobody looked? When I checked the website for the heck of it, the page indicated a 9:45 opening, but then, it hasn’t been updated since 2004. Suggested remedy: Get a clue.
“Missing” Florence Tourist Office. Our hotel confirmation contained an address but no phone number. We wanted a Florence city map, but where to get one? There is a permanent-looking sign framed in bronze for a tourist office at the exit from the main station, but the storefront itself was empty and dirty — without any sign as to where it might have moved. We wandered across the street to see whether it might be somewhere there now and spotted a sign high on a building but we couldn’t tell whether it was promotional or directional. There was no street-level storefront, no visible sign on any door. I eventually bought a Lonely Planet guidebook with a map. Should I have had to do that? I don’t think so.
The following day I stumbled upon an other Tourist Office location on Via Cavour, a few blocks from the Duomo. It is supposed to open from 8:15 a.m. to roughly 7 p.m., but in mid-afternoon, it was locked tight. Again, no sign.
ATAF Public Transportation. Lots of buses coming and going from the main station, but an obvious information office? In your dreams. When wanting to buy a ticket, we were directed to a newsstand (tabacchi). They sell tickets, but is there a map? Another joke. How about on the ATAF website? No system map either there or on the “Moving Around” page of the city tourist office website. Bus stops do have linear stops of charts with times, but no system grid schematic — and did I mention that Magic Marker graffiti and promotional papers stuck to whatever little information would be conveyed if it weren’t obscured.
The following day, the Via Cavour location of the tourist office (see above) was open, so I went in for a bus route map. “How long are you staying?” asked the woman at the desk. “We are leaving tomorrow,” I replied. She told me they have very few bus maps left and are giving them only to visitors who just arrived. She drew the buses I need tomorrow on a route map from the World Cycling Championship, which ended yesterday. Creative repurposing, but really?
Do I enjoy Italy? Yes. Does this lack of simple considerations for visitors put me in a snit? Sure does. I might return but my husband probably never will.