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The dark side of Italy

Call me biased. When I go biking in Italy, I sometimes get caught up in the picturesqueness, the good food after a long hard bike ride, nostalgia for history (both Italy's and my own), too much coffee and not enough sleep. Then the blinders go up, and Italy seems perfect and can do no wrong.

It's time to fess up. Italy has her flaws, just like everywhere else, and if you're planning to tour Italy by bicycle you should know about some of the problems that await you.

An article in The Telegraph points out the racism that is all too present in Italy. The city of Foggia in Southern Italy recently set up a separate bus line for immigrants. The two buses follow approximately the same route, but only one of them makes stops in an Italian neighborhood, while the other goes to a quarter where most of the residents are immigrants.

Nobody is being forced to ride one bus line over another, so comparisons to Apartheid or the segregated buses of the south in the 1950s aren't fair. Still, this story points out a significant problem.

The immigrant bus line was set up because of friction between Italians and non-EU citizens, and the idea was to keep the two groups away from each other. That there's even a need to do this shows the level of animosity that a significant number of Italians have towards outsiders. An animosity so strong that someone in the local government felt a compelling need to separate these two groups.

This isn't the first time I've encountered racism in Italy. I once turned down an apartment in Rome because the landlord told me they didn't allow "dark-skinned people" in the building.

If you come to Italy for a bike tour, you probably won't be harassed by anybody. I've been through Foggia on a bike, and I also happen to look like an Eastern European, one of the ethnic groups that are often the target of a lot of hate. Yet I never had any problems.

More than 99.9% of the Italians I've met are kind, generous, unbiased and friendly people who will welcome you with a big smile, especially if you've come by bike and you're there to spend money. But be aware. Like the rest of the world, Italy isn't perfect.

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