Thursday, March 12
Bad News for Travelers to Italy
Well, it looks like the recession is in full swing, taking its ugly toll on those that we love the most…the tourists. Italy depends on them for much of the GNP, and yet, here we are, shaking them down to their very last centesimo. As the school of thought goes, ‘what the heck, we’ll never see them again!’ Hardly. Given the ease of travel these days, and the even easier, internet-as-word-of-mouth, you’d think people in the hospitality world would be a tad more…hospitable.
Last week, my favorite satirical show, Striscia la Notizia went undercover in Venice and found (gasp!) that restaurants had two price levels -- one for Italians and one for tourists. Just like in Bangladesh and Nepal. Now every traveler to Venice knows that the gondolas are over-priced, and that the price is even higher for the unsuspecting Japanese tourists, but what they don’t always know is that you’re forced to pay in advance for your 30 minute ride, which then brings you back to terra ferma in under 20. Ditto for the boat rides around Lake Como. And the new head of Italy’s ENIT tourism board wonders why Italy has service issues.
A pizzeria across from where I have always stayed in Venice (and have been dozens of times), first refused to seat me and my (Italian) cousin, then, sat 6 tables of locals after us, then told us we could only order pizza, while they served meat & fish dishes to the others (and we were speaking Italian!). An article went on to explain that many a Venetian albergo ranks at the top of travel sites' Worst Hotels' listings.
Meanwhile, American friends in Rome frequent a ristorante just off Via del Corso. Each time they go, they find a ‘mistake’ in their bill, never to their advantage. And while I, for one, have more often than not enjoyed a sublime limoncello offered by the house, I still wonder why I’ve never gotten a bill where the error was in my favor.
Last week, I took my mother & her husband out to lunch to a charming Osteria in Frascati. Hosteria San Rocco. We were treated to an exquisite homemade cacio & pepe (my favorite Roman dish), good wine and great service. We ordered a pasta & contorno (veggie), posted on the blackboard for €8. Once the bill came, however, we found we’d been charged 10. When I mentioned the “error”, I was accosted (well, that was after I took a photo of the board), and unceremoniously told to get out & leave the country. But they did give me all my money back, although I insisted that was unnecessary. I guess a little Italian and a camera go a long way.
My conclusion? If you’re traveling to Italy, double check the tab, don’t be afraid to speak up (and for cab drivers who turn off the meter, just walk away). And don’t waste your money on a gondola ride unless it has been raining for 6 weeks and it’s your only means of transportation off the island. The bitterness of the ripoff will most likely eclipse the romantic 20 mins. you spent wandering the canals. Besides, there’s always Vegas. Oh -- and...don’t forget to have your camera handy.