European experience left untainted by European tourists

This past May, I was lucky enough to embark on my second European adventure in as many years. It was a 12-day program through Gannon and EF Tours that took us to London, Paris, Florence and Rome.

The trip itself was wonderful. I won’t waste any of my valuable word count gushing about how Paris was everything I’ve always dreamed it would be, or about how sobering it was to actually stand in the Colloseum.

Those are all things that one should probably expect, or at least hope for, when traveling to Europe.

What I didn’t expect, or hope for, was the disturbing human behavior I witnessed at certain tourist hotspots. When you’re dealing with places like Versailles, Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel, there will undoubtedly be a heavy flow of tourists eager to check the location off of their bucket lists. I assumed, clearly erroneously and maybe naively so, that people who make the active effort to visit these historical sites must certainly have respect for them.

Sadly, this isn’t always the case.

I can handle the crowds. Everyone should have equal opportunity to set foot in these places. However, when you allow hundreds of people into a confined space, at a certain point civilized behavior tapers off and groupthink begins to emerge in its stead. Despite the fact that museums and historical landmarks typically have some set of rules for admittance, these rules end up becoming more of a laundry list of suggestions.

It becomes impossible to enforce most of them simply based on the sheer amount of bodies endeavoring to subvert them.

In the Sistine Chapel, for example, there are several rules that are repeated before entering the nave. They’re repeated continuously and in numerous different languages. No talking and no photos. For the five, 10, 15 or more minutes you choose to stay in the Chapel, a sacred, historical space, you’re expected to follow those two simple rules.

As soon as I broke out of the entranceway, beyond anxious to set eyes on the famed ceiling, I felt constricted. People were not only innocently milling around, but pushing and shoving to release themselves from other people who were also pushing and shoving. As if this wasn’t irritating enough, there was an ever-present buzzing of people, some whispering and others not even bothering to try.

If they couldn’t understand the multilingual warnings being played over the speaker before entering, they should have been able to understand the universal “Shh!” of the security guards, who really did little else to enforce the rule.

But in all fairness, there’s no way they could have controlled that many people crammed into a space that was not intended to hold them all. There should be absolutely no parallels drawn between the atmosphere in a museum and a mosh pit, but alas, I saw some that day.

It was nowhere close to ruining my experience; rather it made me further appreciate these amazing places that have so many stories to tell.

But as I made my way into the next part of the tour, St. Peter’s Basilica, home to Michelangelo’s Pieta, I became even more fearful for the future of some of these places as I stared through the sculpture’s plexiglass and recalled its reason for being there – a man who simply walked into the church and took a hammer to the famed marble.

 

CHRISTINE PEFFER

[email protected]