Volterra Local Custom Tips by Bunsch Top 5 Page for this destination
Volterra Local Customs: 11 reviews and 13 photos
I must have led a charmed life up to this particular venture to Italy, because in all the other countries I visited, English was either one of the standard languages or, in the case of France, I spoke the ambient tongue. I suppose I expected that many, if not most, of the hoteliers and shop keepers and transport personnel in Italy would speak at least a modicum of English. I didn't invest in a phrase-book (although it turned out my companion had brought one along). What arrogance! I have only myself to blame for the multiple times when language barriers led to absurd or disappointing results. (It is hard to ask for directions when you can't articulate where you want to go -- and can't understand when someone tries to help out.)
Probably no one reading this tip would make such a foolish mistake, but just in case...either learn enough Italian to get by, or keep a phrase-book or English-Italian dictionary close at hand. I promise you'll have a more enjoyable visit.
(And as one VT'er says in a very funny motto which I will badly paraphrase, speaking English slowly and very loudly does NOT make it more comprehensible!)
When you are seated at an Italian restaurant, you should anticipate paying "coperto" or a cover charge, assessed on a per person basis. This ranges from something minimal to several euros, presumably depending upon the restaurant although I never analyzed this during our trip. Since the cover charge is intended to compensate the restaurant for the cost of doing business, including the employment of the wait staff, I was told not to apply the American standard of tipping 15% or more of the bill. Rather, the tradition seemed to be to put one's excess change on top of the credit card slip or cash to cover the meal. That sometimes resulted in several euros' "tip" but it would still be a fraction of what I'd pay at home, even if one included the coperto.
Can't tell by looking, can you??
First night in Italy, stumbling exhausted into a restaurant. My friend ordered up a meal and a carafe of wine, which mercifully arrived before anything else so that I could begin to ease my weariness and slide gradually towards rest. Immediately after the wine came, our waiter brought a basket of bread and a cruet of herb-infused oil. I've loved Italian bread (as it is served in the United States) for many years, and I gratefully took up a slice...and immediately decided that my exhaustion had somehow affected my taste buds, because the bread was HORRIBLE.
It took another couple of days and several abortive attempts with other purveyors' bread before I asked my friend what was wrong. Oh, she told me, the Tuscans objected to a tax the Romans placed on salt, so they decided to stop using salt in their bread.
And there you have it, friends. If you're sodium-addicted, as I apparently am, order foccacia, which even in Tuscany has sufficient salinity to appease that compulsion. Otherwise, cultivate the notion that saltless bread is just as good as saltless butter -- another commodity which I banish from my household on principle.
Not just in Volterra...many (perhaps most) Italian museums are closed on Mondays. This can be a spirit-killer if you're only in a city or town for a single day and the museums are unavailable, which is why the Spirit moves me to suggest that much of Italy's great art is found in its churches, virtually all of which are open every day of the week (and are generally free, to boot). So find your Caravaggios and della Robbias in the local duomo, and soak in the notion that people have been hallowing with their prayers the place where they are situated for many hundreds of years.
Not limited to Volterra...it seems that Italians take seriously the admonition that one is to keep the sabbath day holy, at least the Italians who are involved in the restaurant trade. We had a very difficult time finding anything other than coffee shop or pizza meals (admittedly, Italian pizza is fabulous). So think ahead, and get the supplies for a wonderful picnic en plein air, or call ahead before you drive out for that four-star recommendation in Frommer's, and avoid an unpleasant shock.
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