No sooner had I exited from the metro station and stepped on the road to the Vatican, than a squad of youths surrounded me. They were the solicitors from the local travel agencies wanting to persuade me for traveling with them. I think meeting such guys at major tourist sites around Rome is a familiar experience for visitors. Once they see you, they will not only start advertising their travel packages orally or put corresponding pamphlets in your hands but also try to convince you forcibly by stopping you on your way. Most of those folks are Bangladeshi youths while a few of them are Africans and Indians. Already wary of the nuisance of such vendors encountered at different places in Rome, I continued walking indifferently to their talks, and after a while, arrived near the entrance to the Vatican. There, a crowd of hundreds of visitors was gathered. My plan, as fixed by discussing with the seniors, was to return to my ‘one-week-workplace’ La Sapienza Campus in the afternoon or in the evening in case of a delay. The crowd seen at the entrance put me into a dilemma over whether to continue with or terminate my visit since it clearly seemed impossible to complete it by the evening if I were to wait in such a big queue.
The crowd seen at the entrance put me into a dilemma over whether to continue with or terminate my visit since it clearly seemed impossible to complete it by the evening if I were to wait in such a big queue.
I was standing by the railing on the side of the road, a bit upset foreseeing my own fate of losing the opportunity of exploring this historical city, the smallest nation in the world, for which I was granted an off for the day. At the very moment, a man of a moderate height and a South Asian complexion approached in front of me. He was none else but a solicitor from a travel agency, someone of the kind I was not giving a damn while walking across the town.
Perhaps already reading my face, the guy further came closer to me and asked, “Hello, …. from India?” I would surely have ignored his question if this had happened a few moments ago, but, it was the time when I was in a state of dilemma. I thought it better to reciprocate him, and said, “No, I am from Nepal.” “And you……? India?, Bangladesh?” I asked him with such an expression that he could easily understand that my prediction was mainly Bangladesh. No doubt, the second guess came out to be true!
“Wao, how can you guess with such a confidence that I am from Bangladesh? Why not Pakistan Why not Srilanka or any other country?” He asked laughing; perhaps he was intended to extend the talk further.
“It’s not so difficult; there are many Bangladeshi people around Rome. But actually, I equally thought that you could be an Indian.” I replied. “Yes, sure, but I can hardly meet any Nepali around here.” He clarified. Then followed his business deal. “As you can see, this queue is so long and crossing it will take you a minimum of eight hours, and four more hours if you visit by yourself. Please think carefully and don’t miss your chance of visiting the Vatican. Our regular fee is 53 Euros which includes the fast-track entry, fast-track visit, and additionally, a guide capable of explaining you everything. Anyway, as you are a person from ‘my own country,’ I further reduce my fee to just 48 Euros.” He told me the whole detail without waiting for my response.
Amid this, an African man with a tall body, who was walking around, stray, came close to us. After seeing him, the Bangladeshi man turned a little nervous and started to hurry up. He restlessly put forth his new proposal, “If you really want to visit with us at 48 Euro, please decide right away or you will have to pay the full, 53 Euro.” I declined his proposal saying I needed some more time to make a decision and also, I wanted to see the outer area before visiting the museum. His restlessness had not yet lessened, and the African guy approached further closer. “My ‘countryman’! Wants to visit with us!” He impatiently introduced me to the African. The African made a facial expression of the kind “if so, take your client, who cares? ” and escaped. After a while, I also disappeared from the scene telling the ‘countryman’ that I wanted to look around first.
Someone shouted from behind when I was eyeing the surroundings by standing near the assembly area in the courtyard of St. Peter Basilica, the place where the papal audience is held during Pope’s elections.
The person who was calling me was the same African guy.
“I am …… from Nigeria,” he introduced himself.
“Did you decide to join that guy’s group?” He asked.
“Not yet,” I replied.
“We also have an offer for you. I can manage your visit just for 46 Euro.” He tried to lure me.
“But that Bangladeshi guy says he can take me for mere 39 Euro,” I told him a lie in the air of an opportunist.
“Are you a student?” He asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Okay, then don’t say 39, I promise you a trip at 41 Euro.” He proposed his bargain price.
“No thanks,” I replied and turned to the other side. But no sooner had I moved a step ahead than he came up with a new offer of a further reduced price.
“Anyway, I offer you just 36 Euro, but make sure not to disclose this to anyone.”
His offer reminded me of the bargain shops in my own home country where the shopkeepers initially set, for example, four thousand rupees for a shirt worth rupees six hundred and if a customer insists at 1500 rupees, they would say, “anyway, I don’t care about my own losses and ‘give’ you at 1550, but please don’t tell anyone.” Haha..! Likeminded people exist throughout the world.
I nodded my head in an agreement, and he took me to a travel agency located at a distance, about ten minutes walk on foot. He talked to the receptionist at the travel agency in Italian. I could understand that the ‘Friend’ was negotiating for a lower price. The final conclusion of the receptionist was that she would accept 41 Euro from me if I had a student card. The ‘Friend’ asked me to show my student ID card to the receptionist. Though it was still a price higher than his commitment, I thought it was not a good idea to debate him, a stranger, anymore at such an isolated location.
“You had told me something different, but, anyway….,” I gave my student ID card to the receptionist while reminding Friend of his previous promise. The receptionist took my ID card and photocopied it. I was preparing to pay her the money while she looked my card carefully and told something to my sturdy ‘Friend’.
“The student discount is meant only for those under the age of 25, as she says, and is not applicable for you.” ‘Friend’ squeezed his face slightly in a distaste after hearing from the girl and conveyed this message to me.
Puzzled, I remembered once more my own country where it’s not a surprise to see someone sexagenarian showing a student’s ID card in a bus and bargaining with the conductor for a discounted fare.
The matter she said was understandable, and there was no point claiming for the facility meant for younger students, by a man overaged by almost ten years.
‘Anyway, it’s not a good idea to argue with this guy at such an isolated place. As I am determined to visit, I must pay regardless of how much! It’s just a matter of 15 or 16 Euros, and it’s not wise to waste much time for this’ I said to myself.
But immediately, the following thought came on my mind, ‘but this discussion was not about the 36 Euro he had promised me before. Why not remind him of his commitment just once, as a final try.’
‘Friend’ seemed to be in a dilemma, apparently for what to tell me or how to settle the issue.
“It was otherwise okay, but, there was no mention at this shop of that thirty-six Euro; was it not you who told me about this price?” I asked him.
Now he seemed a bit shocked and while saying goodbye to the receptionist, proposed me to join him for going to the next shop.
At the other shop, a little away from this shop, too, the receptionist who was reposing on a chair taking puffs of a cigarette, made it clear that the student discount was not applicable for a man of my age. But ‘Friend’ didn’t give up his mission and kept bargaining. After a fairly long argument, he turned towards me and said, “though the student-discount is not possible, there is an ‘infant quota’ available at 36 Euro, as she says, and you may join if you wish.”
After a fairly long argument, he turned towards me and said, “though the student-discount is not possible, there is an ‘infant quota’ available at 36 Euro, as she says, and you may join if you wish.”
For me, this ridiculous offer was an unexpected one.
“It’s okay, but, what does this ‘infant quota’ mean? Will I be visiting like anyone else or via a different arrangement?” asked I, inspired by the fear of being ashamed if others noticed me traveling like this as an ‘infant’.
“It’s all the same as others, and none will notice our deal.” He clarified. “Please pay the 36 Euro.”
When I paid the fee, the receptionist gave me, along with the receipt of the payment, a badge which she asked me to wear and wait at the designated place for other travelers to come.
Astonished by the huge crowd gathered near the Catholic church, I was anticipating that a large number of people would be relying on travel agencies for their visits and the same will be the case here. But in contrary to my imagination, as soon as other five people gathered, we were instructed to follow a woman, who was our guide for the tour.
We reached the entrance to the Vatican City Museum by walking. Still, there was a crowd but not as big as the one I had seen in the morning, in front of the church. There was a provision of ‘fast-track entry’ for those visiting with travel agencies. Though the assistance of a travel agency is not essential just for visiting, the presence of a guide makes the tour more convenient and informative.
In the morning, there was such a big crowd. By showing the same crowd, the ‘Countryman’ made me join a travel agency. But in reality, not the whole of the crowd seemed to be entering this venue. To slake my curiosity, I asked the guide where all those people went. She informed me that most of those people were not gathered there for entering the museum, but they had come only to the church for attending the morning prayers.
After this hassle, I eventually realized that visiting there would not take as long time as twelve or thirteen hours as claimed by the ‘Countryman,’ nor taking the assistance of a travel agency was so necessary. By showing the crowd gathered in the morning, he put me in a trap, albeit just to benefit the other guy.
Anyway, the visit to a historical place was successfully completed.