Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 1114: Bergamo, Venice, Lerici, Piemonte, Friends & World Cup Mania
By girasoli from Hawaii, Summer 2006
Page 19 of 23: Shopping, Piazza Solferino, and the Incredible Museo Egizio
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the breakfast at Hotel Victoria was just as good as my breakfasts were at the Doria Park Hotel. The only thing missing was the fresh orange juice. I could not decide which breakfast was better but luckily I had a few more days to enjoy and decide.
After finishing breakfast, I went back up to my room to grab my things for the day. I stopped at the front desk on my way out to inquire about where I could find a store that sold cell phone batteries. After my phone went dead twice, I decided that I needed to do something about my phone. I was given the recommendation of an electronic store nearby.
The store was a few blocks away and easy to find. I showed the girl at the counter my phone and asked her about the possibility of buying a new battery for the phone. She told me that my phone was too old. I might be able to find a battery across town but the chances were slim. She was extremely kind, complimenting my Italian even though my cell phone vocabulary was quite limited. She asked where I was from and could not believe that I was from Hawaii. She proceeded to call everyone who was nearby over to see this girl from Hawaii! It was pretty funny. After everyone left, she recommended a phone similar to mine that was one of the cheapest phones in the cabinet (49 euros). This phone used the same car charger, as my previous phone, which worked out perfectly and it was also a tri-band phone, which could come in handy someday. She helped me change my tim card so that my new phone would work and showed me a few of the new features of the phone. She said it was charged partway and that I could already start using it. I thanked her for all of her help and then headed back to my hotel to drop off my old phone and the box/contents for the new phone.
I stopped in at a bar in Piazza San Carlo for an espresso and to figure out my plan for the day. Just as I was about to pay, my phone began to ring. At first I did not realize that it was mine. Then I tried to quickly figure out how to answer it before it stopped ringing. The caller was Diana making final plans with me about heading to Acqui on Friday - more on this in the next post on Asti/Acqui.
I paid my bill and then headed out, starting off with a little window shopping. I found a cool Mac store nearby and was so tempted to buy this Crumpler Duck bag. I decided in the end to try to find one at home. I could not justify with myself such an expensive splurge with the terrible exchange rate. After stopping in a couple more stores, I took out my map to figure out how to get to Al Bicerin to try the famous bicerin drink that I had heard so much about. I got a little lost on the way but finally found the place - CLOSED! If only I had asked or looked up the closing day first.
So, onto plan B, Piazza Solferino. I had read that this piazza was quite beautiful. When I arrived, I found an amazing fountain, two atriums, and various figures in the shape of different winter sports surrounding the piazza. I guess it was a good omen that Al Bicerin was closed, as I may not have checked out Piazza Solferino if it was open. The first atrium contained images, films and other information about the recent winter olympic games, which were held in Torino. I spent about an hour in the atrium watching some of the clips and looking at all the pictures.
By now, I was pretty hungry. I grabbed some lunch at a fresh food self-service place called EXKI, natural fresh & ready. After lunch, I headed over to Piazza Castello to take a tour of the Palazzo Reale (royal palace). When I arrived at the Palazzo Reale ticket area, I took out my Torino card expecting to easily get a ticket and tour the palace. A not so friendly woman told me matter of factly that there was a big group that already booked the next tour and I would have to come back much later in the day if I wanted to see the palace. I did not quite understand what she was saying at first. I told her that I did not understand and her response was to speak even faster in Italian again telling me that that I could not purchase a ticket for the next tour. I replied that I did not really need to take a tour. I just wanted to look around the palace. I did not realize that it was mandatory to go on the tour and finally understood when this nice man sitting near her doing some other job explained to me also in Italian but in a much nicer way that the tour was mandatory and the next tour was already booked. He told me that I could return later in the day and try to book one of the next tours. I thanked him and decided instead to go to the Egyptian Museum, which was nearby.
Luckily, it was quite easy to get into the Egyptian Museum - Museo Egizio. My Torino card worked for this museum also. After getting my ticket, it took me a few minutes to find the entrance to the museum because there were two different displays in the building. I found the entrance and wandered around the first room. This room held ancient rocks, dishes, pottery, jewelry, etc. When I finished looking at all of the displays, I could not figure out where to go to find the next room. I went to ask the man sitting outside the entrance to the museum. He was not very friendly. I named him "crabby man." Instead of nicely pointing where to go, he yelled "sotto, sotto" at me, which meant downstairs. I found the stairway and headed to the next section of the museum. I was in utter amazement when I entered this portion of the museum. There I found Egyptian statues, sphinxes, and sculptures. I spent quite a while looking at each exhibit. I could not believe that we were actually allowed to take pictures in this amazing room! The only limitation was no flash. The next room in the museum held actual mummies and tombs. Again, we were allowed to take pictures. The museum was quite remarkable and I was very glad that I went.
After leaving the museum, I headed back to my hotel. I was exhausted from walking around all day. I rested for a while and then decided to go to a pizzeria called Ristorante Urbani, which the hotel recommended for dinner. This place was located right near the train station. I passed a few other places that served pizza on the way and figured that Urbani must be really good since there were many closer places along the way.
My experience at Urbani was strange from the moment I arrived. When I walked in the door, the woman at the entrance who I assumed was seating people looked at me strangely when I said "one for dinner." I then told her I wanted to order a pizza. She must have misunderstood me as she brought me to the back where there was a man behind a counter making pizzas.
I saw a waiter and explained that I wanted to eat at the restaurant for dinner. He then found me a table and asked me what I wanted to drink. I asked for some water and then he left. A different waiter came back with a small carafe of water and asked me what kind of pizza I wanted. I asked him if there was a menu. He said just to tell him what kind of pizza I wanted. I have heard of places without menus before but never a big restaurant/pizzeria. I told him I wanted a pizza margherita with pepperoni on top (pepperoni in Italy is peppers not the meat pepperoni). He asked me if I wanted the meat or the vegetable pepperoni. I confirmed that I wanted the vegetable peppers pepperoni. About 15 minutes later, he arrived putting a plate of roasted peppers on my table. I told him that I wanted the peppers cooked on the pizza, not on the side. He said he was bringing them to the pizza maker but wanted to make sure that this was what I wanted. The pizza man then began to make my pizza. Luckily there was a world cup match on the TV as it was a very long wait.
Finally my pizza was delivered to my table. It was good, but nothing to rave about. While eating my pizza, a couple from England was seated next to me. The waiter asked them what they wanted to eat without bringing a menu. They were given some suggestions and then they ordered. They also thought it was strange that there was no menu. I did not notice if tables with Italians were brought menus but wondered if this was just the treatment for the tourists or were there actually no menus.
After I finished my pizza, I was asked if I wanted dessert or coffee. I said I was full and asked for the bill. The waiter disappeared. After about 15 minutes I saw the man who originally seated me. He asked me if I wanted dessert. I told him I was waiting for the bill. He asked me what I had to eat and then disappeared. A few minutes later, he brought a plain piece of paper with €15.00 written on it. I should have said something as I knew right then I was being ripped off, but the restaurant was not in a great area, it was getting dark, and at this point, I just wanted to head back to my hotel. I didn't remember until later on that it is actually against the law to not be given a bill on an official restaurant slip. I knew that a pizza and some water did not cost that much, even when adding the cost of sitting at a table, but because I was not shown a menu with the actual cost, I figured that it would turn into a big hassle and so I just paid the €15 and left.
Later when I saw the woman who recommended the pizzeria, I told her what took place. She said that it was very strange and not normal to not be given a menu, to be charged that much for a pizza, and to be given the bill on a plain piece of paper with just €15.00 written on it. I was not going to obsess about it but wanted to let her know so that she did not recommend the restaurant to others.
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