Italian Customer Service (see sign upper left) - in the old Stazione Tiburtina
Just ask the guy on the floor for info, or... pray.
|A lot had been made awhile back over the Japanese tourists who got taken for a ride in Rome at the Passetto ristorante near Piazza Navona: They were overcharged for every item on their meal, and then the proprietor added a random 135 euro tip for his efforts. In typical Italian fashion, the restaurant was shut down until the dust settled, and reopened a few days later – just in time for them to pull the same trick on another young Japanese couple. They learned their lesson, though – they did not put in a line item called tips, but changed it to 84 euro in misc. taxes. So much for repentance. The Japanese press had a field day -- so much so, Italy's Minister of Tourism offered to have the travelers back...(at taxpayers', not the Passetto's expense--they demurely declined the invitation).|
In fact, while millions each year have a wonderful holiday in the Bel Paese, the more vocal ones will often admit that the country was sensational, the food and people even better, but the hassles of navigating the constant barrage of ripoffs were frustrating at times. Sometimes, if you visit travel Forums, you’ll find the odd person who says, “Never again.”
My sister has been coming to Italy since she was 2 years old. Since she was 16, it’s a biannual occurrence, never faltering even after the birth of four children. She loves this country, speaks the language, and will continue to come back (except Venice), as I’m sure will her kids. She knows to expect the almost daily ripoffs as part of your tourist experience. This particular summer she spent a phenomenal 40 days traveling through Italy – this is a brief recount of some of the ways Italy is a bit less hospitable. (see Tante Belle Cose for the great parts):
- Contacting the luxury homes to rent in the center of Florence, the place they rented 2 years ago responded to her emails after 3 weeks’ time and after they had already negotiated on a wonderful flat – and it was even less. With a family of 6, in Italy, they are often quoted a per person fee, rather than a per room charge, which could signify upwards of a $450 per night price tag on a room with 2 beds anyway. In the end, the agency came up with a series of excuses so as not give her back her deposit on the apartment. She is still waiting to see if the money will be credited back to her account.
- They rented a car to visit Volterra, where they had filmed the Twilight sequel. The gas gauge was broken, so, they actually had no idea how much gas was in it to start, and were worried they’d be charged extra for filling the tank when they returned the car. In fact, from the amount of money they put into the tank, it would appear the car was given to them on empty. Naturally, there was no way to return the car after hours, and they hoped that they would not be charged an extra day as a result. They are still waiting for their credit card bills to verify all charges.
- In Venice, of course, you are forced to pay close to $100 in advance for a 30 minute gondola ride. The thing is, the gondolier pulls in after only 20 minutes, and you cannot protest nor get a refund on being shorted your ($33) 10 minute excursion.
- In Rome, she pulled out a 5 euro bill to purchase three €1 bus tickets. The tickets were marked in large red print, 5 euro, but as a promotion for Zoomarine, although this was unclear. The cashier told her it would be 15 euro. She asked, for 75 minute tickets?? Sì. 15 euro later, she had her three 1 euro tickets and change from a 20 euro bill.
- Travelling to Sicily, they needed to pay (cash) for their beach apartment, which was exceptional in every way. They decided to change their dollars at a local bank. The first bank wouldn’t change their money because they didn’t know them. The second wouldn’t change their money in its entirety, and so on, until they finally managed – going to three towns in over 3 hours -- to change their (obviously laundered) dollars.
- On Lake Turano in the Sabine hills, the proprietor was too busy chatting with his buddies to rent out peddle boats. The only tourists there, after about 20 mins, we finally pleaded with him to let us take them out.
- Back in Abruzzo, the kids couldn’t wait for their biannual pilgrimage to the Roccaraso crepe man. Obviously angry they asked for crepes, he refused to hand over extra plates or napkins (try that with nutella!).
- At the wonderful family movie theater there, there were no reduced prices for young children. She managed to convince them to give her a discount, and, in a case of showing true Italian hospitality (and recognizing that 4 children families are a rarity in Italy), they obliged her for the two youngest.
- The fully equipped and excellent service provided by the tourist office was great, except that it’s hidden away in a Comune office or library, far away from the spots where a tourist might actually be seeking information; although there were plenty of cute wooden shacks lining the main strip, calling themselves Tourist Information – all closed.
- To meet my sister, I arrived by train to Sulmona, to take a fabulous bus service to Roccaraso. Run by the FS, by the looks of it, I was unsure whether I was actually getting a lift, or getting kidnapped (having jumped in an unmarked van with two guys and a piece of paper stuck in the window indicating the wrong destination). Although they arrived late, I arrived early to my destination – faring better than the English couple who had tickets for a similar service; the locals told them the service no longer exists and they ended up calling a taxi (the newsstand guy took pity on them, after the FS ticket guys feigned ignorance, and made the call for them).
- Attempting to enroll her youngest in a Summer Campo Sportivo, she called the number posted on (the few) posters there. The woman said she had nothing to do with it, couldn’t give us information and never called back to give us the number of her business partner. Despite sending various sms messages, we never got a call back and we never did enroll Luca in tennis camp.
- The fireworks displays (usually something that children enjoy), scheduled for 9pm, were stunning – but the show went on well after midnight.
- Following signs for the Giornate Medioevali in Fornelli (Isernia), we arrived to discover that events took place at night (perhaps Notti Mediovali would have been more appropriate?).
True to form, most promotional posters of events across the country do not indicate phone numbers, websites or tourist info like starting times on them, so, it was truly anyone’s guess. We used internet and read articles about past events in order to get the idea; migrating to google maps to identify the locations.
- After an amazing day going up to the awesome tourist stop, la Grotta del Cavallone, we had to take the lifts back down. Waiting our turn, the kids were greeted to the monty of Italian women – nude posters straight out of a Harley mechanic's garage -- in full view. Enjoy your trip!
- Finally, on her way out of Rome, ordering a taxi to the airport, the taxi arrived with 12 euro on the meter (we had reserved ahead of time and after much pressing to get the fee base straight, were told they are not allowed to do that – information given begrudgingly by the taxi operator). Stating that we called for 5am and not 5:15, he refused to start the meter over. At an extra 8 euro per passenger, these fees do, indeed, add up to huge profits for the drivers.
Not a day goes by without a politician or business person acknowledging that Tourism is Italy’s Petroleum industry. By the looks of it, at times it would seem that Italians in the tourism industry are digging for their petroleum using sandbox shovels.