I know it’s silly but when we moved to Tuscany there was a period of about a year during which I was too unsure of the culture, etiquette and language to do certain things. For example, going to the bank always represented a great trauma and I tended to stick to the same old restaurants because I knew what I liked on their menus.
I don’t think I’m alone in this reticence to try new things. When you have made the great upheaval of moving here in the first place and just about everything is a new challenge then it’s only human to cling to familiar things and avoid the unknown as much as possible;I didn’t even answer the telephone for a long time!
However, here are a couple of things you really should brave, whether on holiday or living here, if you haven’t done them already…Firstly, you should go to a sagra. This is a party dedicated to a local speciality. They are advertised on local billboards and shops and they are a wonderful taste of Italian-ness. I didn’t dare go because I wasn’t sure what went on and how to book etc. so now I’m a convert I can tell you that it’s all really easy. You usually turn up at the specified time and place, find a table, buy a ticket (you may have to choose what you want to eat off a blackboard) and then take your ticket to the food counter where you will be given your meal. There might be wine included, a bar or you may have to buy a ticket for your drinks too. There is usually music and dancing and it is a great place to take kids as they tend to go off in a great herd to play football or chase-me leaving you to have a good old chuckle at the dodgy band, which will invariably be playing. These parties are usually organised locally and the food is of a local speciality. There won’t be many tourists (presumably because they are all as scared as I was to start with) but you will be welcomed with typical Tuscan hospitality (go on – prove me wrong!). My favourite sagras are the grill one at Vellano in July and the Fish & Chip one at Barga in August. If you are planning on going to Barga don’t forget to take your own malt vinegar and tomato sauce. All I’m waiting for now is a Chinese takeaway sagra and there will be no need for me ever to go back to Old Blighty again! The other thing I really missed out on this time last year was the beach. We made one foray and were put off by the regimented private beaches. After a couple of wild goose chases for free beaches we finally gave up. I know it is against English nature to pay to go on a beach but in Italy’s defence the beaches are clean, safe and you just have to accept that this is how it’s done here. And hiring a brolly and lounger is easy – all you do is pick a nice looking beach establishment, go to the bar and ask for what you want. It’ll cost you around €15 for a couple for half a day but the toilets will be clean and the kids will be happy – small price to pay in my opinion. One tip though – avoid the weekend as it’s really busy.
Have a great, fun filled summer.