Tourists absolutely ruin a city. I say this as a returning tourist from The Eternal City of Rome, where I marveled at the breathtaking ancient ruins rising up from deep within the heart of the city, stumbled through the maze of cobblestone streets, stuffing my face with gelato, and speaking broken Italian with the waiters who tried to explain to me why pasta was a first dish and meat was a second, when all I wanted was to immerse myself in a bowl of carbonara.
Rome is gorgeous. This ancient, sprawling city which always seems to be viewed through sepia-tinted lenses is every bit as marvelous as people say it is. But all of it was ruined by the crowds of map-carrying, gelato-eating, slow-walking tourists. Yes, I was one of them. Yes, I too shoved my way into the Sistine chapel to gaze upwards at Michelangelo’s masterpiece in an experience that was supposed to be awe-inspiring and holy but turned out to be crowded and frustrating. And I too, stopped the flow of pedestrian traffic as I looked helplessly at my map and the street signs, trying to figure out where the damn Trevi Fountain was.
But the worst part of this tourist overflow is the aggressive panhandlers and street vendors it has brought with it. You can’t walk three steps in Rome without someone trying to sell you a rose or some kind of useless toy or fake designer handbag. The Fontana di Trevi was probably the worst. This majestic fountain, with its thunderous waterfalls splashing down under the austere gaze of Poseidon, is completely and utterly stripped of all grandeur and romance by the incessant pushiness of vendors trying to sell you a rose, or take your picture, or how about a little tripod for your camera? Or a loud little toy thing that shoots into the air and will probably break as soon as you get your hands on it? Perhaps a squishy ball then? No? A picture then, how about I take a picture of you? A magnet? Fake sunglasses? Go on, take a rose for the beautiful lady.
And it went on. And on. And on. I realize that everybody needs to make a living somehow. But really, it boggles my mind how anyone ever thought that harassing people with squishy balls and toy helicopters was a way to make some cash. Perhaps selling maps may endear these aggressive vendors to the tourists. And will speed up the slow-walking tourists that appear to have taken root on the sidewalks. Two birds, one stone!