Two millennia ago the Roman Army was conquering Europe. The highly disciplined troops proudly marched into battle with their overlapping shields in one hand and their long spears held high in the other. Each group prominently displayed the colours of the century they belonged to and dutifully obeying the commands of their centurion.
In modern times a far more fierce battle is waged in dozens of European cities every single day. While the ancient Roman armies are now long gone, today we have the legions of pole carrying tour guides, each representing another competing tour company. Following behind each leader is their troupe of highly obedient (and often exhausted) modern tourists. Each follower has their ipad and guide book clutched in one hand and, in the other, they proudly hold their smartphones high in the air on the end of a selfie stick. It is easy to tell which regiment to which each traveler belongs because they are all saddled with a massive name tag garlanded around their neck. Presumably this also aids in identification if any of the confused and exhausted tourists are lost in the battle and fail to return before nightfall and their bus departure.
As each guide leads their followers into the conflict zone, the obedient troops all nod their heads in agreement with each new (but often doubtful) fact they are told, and all smile in unison at each carefully rehearsed joke.
The tactics of this new type of warfare are indeed complex. Each guide has their own theory as to the very best time to attack a tourist hot spot. Some choose the early morning and others prefer the late afternoon when the weaker armies have already retreated in exhaustion.
In ancient times the conquering heroes returned from battle loaded with the spoils of war – gold, silver and precious gems. While these rare spoils still exist for the very elite tourists, most must content themselves with a shopping bag full of cheap, Chinese made, T shirts, tacky plates and plastic souvenirs. Of course there is always the chance that they might return with the most highly sought after trophy of all – the perfect selfie, standing right in front of some famous work of art.
While the ancient Romans took centuries to conquer Europe, the modern day traveler has no such luxury. At most they only have around 2 hours to capture each city before nightly retreating to the sanctuary of their tourist buses. They need to catch a few hours sleep because tomorrow they will repeat the same campaign all over again in another city, maybe hundreds of kilometres away. After all they have around 2 weeks to conquer the whole continent before they must return home and make plans for their next conquest.
I spent most of today in the region of the famous DUOMO in the centre of Florence. I did revert to the role of the classic tourist just long enough to climb to the top of both the Dome and the nearby campanile. Battling my way up the narrow spiral staircases and trying to avoid being skewered on the end of someone’s selfie stick , I could not help but think that I can’t wait to get away from the jostling crowds and escape to the quiet backroads of France.
I must also admit that I could not help myself being a little mischievous. After seeing the throng of huffing and puffing unfit travelers struggling to the top of the staircase, I took up a position near the top of the stairs and announced with the most authoritative voice I could muster “Nothing to see here, people, please turn back”. I think the devil made me do it.
I have one more day in Florence before flying to Paris to meet the rest of our France Team. Bring it on.