The Stendhal Syndrome

Sometimes, you just get overwhelmed, The Stendhal Syndrome, Italy, Italy (Photo by Andrew Stawarz)
Sometimes, you just get overwhelmed

Saving yourself from sightseeing overload

The French writer Stendhal collapsed one day while visiting Florence, overwhelmed by the aesthetic beauty of the Renaissance and exhausted by trying to see absolutely everything. 

Stendhal's is an extreme case, perhaps, but he’s not the last one to break down from too much Europe. You may not faint in the piazza, but you might catch a cold, become irritable and tired, or simply cease to care whether there’s another Rembrandt in that museum. And that would be a shame. 

After a few days or weeks of pell-mell sightseeing, you’ll start wearing down. When the prospect of visiting the the Uffizi elicits from you merely a groan and a desire to take a nap, it’s time to recharge your mental batteries. Here are some hints for working through the inevitable burnout on the daily tourist grind (see here for overall itinerary tips).

Planning the daily sightseeing grind

  • Forget fame. Don't feel like you have to see something just because it's über-famous. Don't make Italy into a giant checklist. Visit what truly interests you, and feel free to skip what doesn’t float your boat. If you’re going to wear yourself out, at least do it on the stuff you truly enjoy. 
  • Pace yourself. Soak up the kaleidoscope of Italy’s cultural pleasures a little bit at a time. Schedule in rest periods. Don’t pack too much into either your trip itinerary or your daily sightseeing agenda. Leave room to breathe, space to picnic, and time to stop and smell the cappuccino (also: to drink one).
  • Variety is the spice of your travel life. Vary your itinerary. Try not to hit one big museum after another. Visit a park or a church, or simply chill out in a caffé, in between. Give other areas of your brain a workout for a while. This way the whole trip doesn’t blur into one large, colorful blob of old masters and cathedrals from which your memory can’t distinguish where Siena left off and Sorrento began. 
  • Take a riposo (siesta). A nap in the middle of the afternoon can do you a world of good, both mentally and physically. Learn to take a riposo like the Italians, and you’ll not only appreciate their country more, but also get up the energy to finish the Florence sightseeing that did in good old Stendhal. 
  • Take a break. When the sightseeing starts getting to you no matter what precautions you take, stop sightseeing. If all you do is tick off museums and churches and such, you're heavily on the "tourist" wide of that old tourist/traveler distinction. Go see a soccer match. Go shopping. Whatever it takes to bring your cultural appreciation back from the brink. Sit down at a café table and write all those postcards you promised to send. Chances are just describing to your friends back home the wonders you’ve seen and once-in-a-lifetime experiences you’ve had will make you psyched to get more of Europe under your belt. Next thing you know, you’ll bop out of the post office raring to get back in the saddle and get on with the sights. 
  • Take a vacation. Stop racking up sightseeing points. Take a whole day to go to the beach, to sleep late and have breakfast in bed...at lunchtime. Get off the beaten path. Do anything but see the sights or attempt to engage the culture. (I once had a room in Venice's posh Hotel Danieli, and my windows overlooked the people-thronged Riva degli Schiavoni where the Grand Canal empties into the Bacino San Marco bay. I was nearing the end of a three-month research trip, and I was tired, so you know what I did all evening? I did a bit of people-watching from my window, sure, but largely I watched Charlie Chaplin's Gold Rush on the TV in my room.)

Remember: you are on vacation, after all.

Passes & Discounts links
Activities, walks, & excursions links
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).