Monday, March 29, 2010

A GUEST BLOGGER FROM CALABRIA

Today I'm hosting a guest blogger, Cherrye, who writes about her life as an expat in southern Italy on her blog My Bella Vita.  I know I can identify with Cherry's problem, how about you?


Non-Verbal Confusion in Southern Italy

I’ve been writing about life in Calabria for almost four years and in that time I’ve written a lot about my Italian language journey-from lingual misunderstandings to struggling through an Italian class and even into my quest for an all-Italian language month.  But sometimes the best misunderstandings occur right in front of me-with my eyes and ears all open and in ways I just can’t seem to put into words.


You see, you’d think that once you grasped the language, confusion would slip away like the mud packed onto a southern Italian village on a dreary, rainy day. But no. Italians are famous for their body language so it should come as no surprise that non-verbal cues can be just as tricky as their bella lingua.

To Queue or Not to Queue

Although I’ve lived in Calabria for almost four years, the lack-of-a-line-thing still baffles me. Just last week I was at the supermarket in the only checkout “line,” and was all but felt up by an elderly gentleman to the right and a white-haired woman to the left.
“Are they trying to skip us,” I asked my husband.

“Yes,” he nodded as he stepped forward and placed our items at the counter, the Italian supermarket equivalent of peeing on our space.

The couple-I’m convinced they were working together to take out the straniera-stepped back.

Victory.

Or so I thought.

As we were preparing to pay, I noticed a 20-something year old man leaning over my shoulder from behind the metal bar separator.

“I just have this bottle of Coke,” he said. “I don’t have time to wait in line.”

And instead of telling him to get back in line where he belonged, the cashier looked to the person behind us, who ironically wasn’t the old man or elderly lady who’d been stepping on our heels, and he said yes.

I’ve also been skipped in line by a hurried middle-aged woman who whined about having to return to work, a thin gray-haired woman who pretended she didn’t see me and an over-excited group of teenagers who took over by sheer force.

I’m curious as to whether this sort of thing happens in other parts of Italy or just here in the south? And if it has happened to you, what do you do about it? Do you hold your ground or do you back off and let them ahead?


*Cherrye Moore is a Calabria travel consultant and freelance writer living in Calabria, Italy. For more information on traveling in southern Italy, you can visit her site, My Bella Vita or see her writing on expat life on AffordableCallingCards.net.

Photo credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/kikmoyoo/

Monday, March 22, 2010

PACKING

Along with the excitement of beginning a new chapter in our lives comes the drudgery of tasks like cleaning and - ugh! - packing.  As I mentioned previously, we've lived in this house longer than any other.  One of the advantages of moving is that things get cleaned out.  That drawer, or closet, or basement, or, God forbid all three, that you've just kept tossing 'stuff' into finally gets to see the light of day.  Rather than finding something I thought I'd lost, or maybe even a few coins, all I've been finding is stuff I don't want, don't need, and don't know why I kept in the first place.

Even after weeding out the junk, getting rid of the clothes that don't fit and making tough decisions about what stays and what goes, there are STILL boxes piling up in the garage, each carefully marked, thoroughly sealed and waiting for the movers.  At this point I've packed just about everything I can - we still have to have clothes and dishes and pots and pans up until we leave the house - but it's frustrating not to have anything else to pack.  At least it was giving me a project to help pass these last few weeks - and to keep me from thinking about how sad it will be to leave this house, this town, this country.  Good thing we already have our tickets to come back in September!

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

AN EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!!!

I've been sitting on this news for about a month now, not wanting to jinx things, or rush in too quickly, but I think at long last I can say with confidence:  WE'VE SOLD OUR HOUSE! 

We accepted an offer in mid February, but because our buyer was back in the states when he made the offer it took a while for the contract to be drawn up, sent to the states, then signed and mailed back here.  Now we've all signed the contract and the deposit has been paid so we're breathing a sigh of relief! 

Of course this is a time of mixed emotions for us.  We've lived in this house (6 1/2 years) longer than any other house we've owned!  This is rather strange for me, since I always thought I'd find the perfect house and live there forever!  If you've been following our story you know that we're retired on a pension, and when we made the move to Italy the euro had just been introduced and was expected to settle in to a one to one exchange rate with the U.S. dollar. 

Unfortunately for us, it seems that as soon as we arrived in Italy the dollar began it's long, slow and painful decline.  We make extensive renovations to our house, bought a car, and had a mortgage, all at an exchange rate we really hadn't planned on, yet we were determined to make it work.  Eventually the car was paid off, but the exchange rate continued to get worse.  Occasionally there would be a slight improvement in the exchange rate, but no one ever expected the euro and dollar to hit the one to one rate originally forecast.  What this meant for us was that although we were in Italy, we weren't able to do what we really wanted to do:  travel.  Eventually we decided that traveling was more important than living in Italy, and decided to sell 

Needless to say the exchange rate that made it so difficult for us was also a concern for others who might want to buy our house.  The economy was slowing, then came the big crash in the fall of 2008, and we continued to wait for a buyer.  We just knew there was someone out there who would love our house and our town as much as we did, and we never gave up hope.  Still, once you've made a big decision like this, once you've accepted it, then you just want to DO it, so the waiting was hard. 

While we were on vacation in the states this past winter we received an email from one of our agents, Katia at Domus Italia.  She asked if her client could see our house at the beginning of February and of course we agreed.  Eventually we also heard from Stew,  an American who works with Domus Italia. Stew's website, SEE YOU IN ITALY features lots of properties for sale. Stew and his wife own a house in Panicale, so they're back and forth between the states and Italy quite a bit. Stew also writes a BLOG about their time in Italy.

I guess our buyer had found our house on Stew's site, contacted him, and arranged for a visit.  Stew, our buyer, and a friend arrived in Italy early one Sunday morning in February.  I had offered to make them lunch so that they could stop here on their way from the airport, rather than having to drive to Panicale, then turn around and drive back to San Venanzo. 

We had a nice lunch and really liked our potential buyer.  He has Italian heritage on both sides of his family, and owns an Italian deli.  When he retires in a few years he plans to spend about half his time in Italy and half his time in the states. 

Unfortunately our buyer won't be able to be here for the closing, so now we have to wait for the power of attorney documents to arrive, for the notaio to set a closing date, and for a few additional documents.  As usual we had already made plans to return to the states in mid-April, but now when we leave everything will be different!  Our next trip to Italy we'll come as visitors, and stay with friends or in rented apartments. 

We're excited to begin the next adventure, and hope our buyer enjoys his time in San Venanzo as much as we have.  Will the blog continue?  Hmmmm.....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NOW'S THE TIME TO BUY!

Here's the lead-in to an article I found on the WANDERING ITALY
website, from an article entitled "10 Tips for Buying Property in Italy" written by Adriana Giglioli: 


"You know you want to buy a house in Italy. Here's the safe way.


The London-based Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors last year named Italy as one of the best countries in which to buy real estate because it has avoided the boom and bust of the property bubble seen elsewhere in the world.


In addition, between 2005 and Spring 2009, Italian prices rose 30% while the Euro strengthened 27% against the Pound – meaning a Briton with a typical Italian property saw its Sterling value increase 66%.


Italian tax changes have cut purchasing costs by up to 15%, meaning there has scarcely been a better time to buy a property in Italy."


You can read the entire article, including Ms. Giglioli's top ten tips, HERE. We took the leap seven years ago - what are YOU waiting for???
 
 
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SNOW!

Within the last few days the temperature has dropped back into the low 30's, maybe even dipped below freezing on a few nights. When the sun comes out it's not too bad, but when it's cloudy and/or rainy, the cold is just intensified. Although the local forecast called for snow, I really didn't expect it to amount to much. Yesterday morning around 10 a.m. I glanced outside and did a double-take. Were those teeny tiny snowflakes? Yes indeed they were, but I wasn't worried. I knew that with the size of those snowflakes we couldn't possible have any accumutation. And then the flakes got bigger....and bigger, and they came faster and faster, and before we knew it we had at least 4 inches of snow!

This is only the second time in 7 winters that we've had any snow worth talking about. The snow plow -actually snow tractor- came down the street several hours ago, but I don't think we'll be going anywhere anytime soon. We have plenty of everything we need, and as long as the electricity stays on we're okay! The satellite stopped working - probably too much snow on the dish - and the electricity did blink on and off a few times, but that's about it.  Here are some pics -



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And this morning - it's already melting...

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO

You know how it is when you live somewhere yet somehow never manage to get around to visiting the sites that area is famous for?  When we moved to Italy in 2003 we thought we'd be travelling around the country, taking day trips, long weekends and extended trips all over the boot, but then the dollar took a dive.  Someone once asked why we didn't go to Florence on the train more often, but it's €10 - per person - each way --- €40.  At today's rate that equals $54, and quite often it's been even more than that, which of course affects where we travel, and how long we stay.  Last fall we had a big splurge and not only took the train to Florence but even spent the night!  That trip was make possible because in September we'd been hosts and guides for a visitor from the states.

Umbria certainly has a lot to see, and even a drive to nowhere is spectacularly beautiful so we haven't minded too much.  Still, there are places we keep meaning to go and somehow just never get there.  Living here is completely different than being here as a tourist.  As tourists we'd have a general plan, and a list of sites and cities we wanted to see, but living here decreases your sense of urgency, and there are just so many places we keep saying we want to visit.  One of those places is Civita di Bagnoregio, a tiny village located just south of Orvieto.   When Art asked what I'd like to do for our anniversay I said "Let's go to Civita di Bagnoregio!"
 
Civita di Bagnoreggio 001One website I read suggested that the easiest way to get to Civita di Bagnoregio was to get on the AI, but I knew that wouldn't be the route we'd want to take.  A quick map search showed us that all we had to do was drive towards Orvieto on the SS317, then once we got to the big roundabout, instead of turning left to go up into Orvieto, we'd continue straight.  Just before the old monastery that's now a hotel we took a left and gradually climbed up into the hills.  The drive was beautiful - lined with vineyards - probably for all that Orvieto Classico!

Civita di Bagnoreggio 009We learned the hard way that you can very easily drive throught town and park right at the foot of the bridge leading up to the old town, but having been caught more than once in a very tight spot in an unfamiliar medieval town, we parked in the large parking lot just outside of town and had a nice stroll before getting our first view of Civita di Bagnoregio. 

The earth bridge that once connected the old part of town to the new part has long ago been washed away with the help of earthquakes and erosion, so now the only way to reach the old city is via a long footbridge. It was a Saturday and the town was full of Italian tourists who, like us, were fascintated with the town and the scenery.



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I've read that there are about 16 residents in Civita di Bagnoregio, but there's a bar, and a restaurant, and even a small hotel here, hopefully generating enough income to keep the town from crumbling away any more.

il Mulino Vecchio_Lubriano_057After our visit we drove to nearby Lubriano for lunch at il Vecchio Mulino, and hoping for a table with a view of Civita di Bagnoregio, but the terrace wasn't open for the season, so we settled for enjoying our meal inside. We shared several dishes, and with the exception of the ribollita, which I didn't care for, everything was delicious.

The drive back was as beautiful and relaxing as it had been that morning. If you're ever in the area, a visit to Civita di Bagnoregio is worth a stop.



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Friday, March 05, 2010

BACK TO ITALY!

Okay, I think I've covered just about every aspect of our transatlantic journey! I hope you enjoyed reading about the voyage and seeing the photos, but I'm sure by now you're saying "but you live in Italy - what's going on there?"! so, without further delay, here's the update from Umbria:

Spring, really wants to arrive, but it's apparently going to be a very long, slow process. Yes, it's just March, but there are daffodils blooming and forsythia budding, and although it still seems to rain more often than I'd like, we are seeing a little more of the sun these days, or at least less rain than before. We've been able to take our afternoon walks about 5, maybe 6 days out of 7, so that's pretty good, but even on the days we walk it still might have rained in the morning, or later in the evening. The nights are also still cold - as in near zero cold, so spring is still somewhere off in the future.

We took some friends to visit the Vini di Filippo winery just outside of Cannara the other day, and then went for pizza at Carlo Magno pizzeria in Cannara.  We all really enjoyed the pizza, but what made this place really special were the onion dishes.  Of course Cannara is famous for it's onions, and holds a festa dedicated to all things onion every September.  At Carlo Magno's we ordered some fried onions, which were fried onion RINGS - and yummy! - and we also ordered a few plates of the onion parmagiana, and this dish was the hit of the evening!  It's listed on the menu under "vedure" (vegetables) to be served as a side dish, but we ordered it as an appetizer.  If you're in the area, you can find Carlo Magno's on the main road through Cannara (Piazzale C. Bonaca), between the IP gas station and the Conad grocery.  They're open every day, and the phone number is 074 272 234.

For dessert the kids had lemon gelato, which was served inside giant lemons! 
lemon gelato in a lemon

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - The Corning Hot Glass Show

I think we went to every one of these shows - that molten glass is fascinating....



And all the photos we took during the hot glass shows - be warned - there are over 80 photos!



There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE, as well as a few videos on our Our YouTube page.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - The Celebrity Solstice at Sea

Notice the slight up and down movement of the ship -



There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE, as well as a few videos on our Our YouTube page.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - Out To Sea - Now What?

Although we did have one sea day in between Cartagena and Madeira, we were now embarking on what I consider the coolest part of our transatlantic crossing - the crossing itself! Six days at sea, with nothing but water as far as the eye could see (and then some!). Each day the captian would announce our position and tell us about the weather. He'd also announce the depth of the ocean, which ran as deep as FIVE miles! I'm sure the thought of being on the open seas and not being able to see land was a little disconcerting for some, but it didn't bother me a bit.  It was rather amazing to think that we would sail for day after day over this vast body of water.  What was even more amazing was thinking about the earliest transatlantic travelers - those who set out in a ship MUCH smaller than ours, and much less well equipped, with no real idea of where they were going or what they would find at the other end.  I guess you had to be part adventurer and just a little crazy to sail back in the days of Columbus, or even the Pilgrims - yet they did it and survived to tell the tale.  As fascinated as our friends are to hear about our transatlantic cruise, imagine the response Columbus got when he returned to Spain after discovering the New World!

You might wonder what we did to fill the time during these six long days - and they were indeed long - each night for five successive nights we would 'fall back' so that by the time we reached our final destination, Ft. Lauderdale, our body clocks would be set to Eastern Standard Time.  (We'd previously 'fallen back' one hour in between Cartagena and Madeira.)

Celebrity Solstice wine tastingSomehow our days just seemed to fill up, or maybe I should say to sail by.  No rushing, no hurry, just a pleasant routine:  up around eight o'clock for a light breakfast, then an hour on the treadmill.  After a shower we might stop by the internet cafe to check our email, or attend a wine tasting, or a bourbon tasting, or take a tour of the kitchen.  Every day we were on the top deck of the ship for the Hot Glass Show - both of them.  I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing that molten glass being colored and shaped into objects of beauty.  The skill and craftsmanship of the glassblowers was amazing!  Their knowledge of how the glass will (should!) respond, knowing just how much to blow, just how long to re-heat the piece in the oven before working it again, just what colors to apply, and where to apply them - it was an amazing experience every single time! 



Although the weather was very mild, and there were quite a few people out by the pool - although very few actually IN the pool, we didn't spend much time there.  Art did relax in the hot tubs after his workouts, but for whatever reason the hot tubs weren't very hot - just lukewarm, and when even I say the hot tubs weren't hot enough, you know it's true!  I'm not one who particularly enjoys being as hot as most people do in a hot tub, but these hot tubs weren't even as hot as I like my bubble baths!

Celebrity SolsticeOne afternoon we met for drinks and snacks in the cabin of our friends (and fellow Louisvillians) Dan and Judy.  They had a balcony, so we were able to enjoy the ocean views in a very relaxing way, wine glass in hand - what a life! 

During our sea days I also took two of four computer classes being offered for Photoshop.  I needed to learn how 'erase' grafitti from a wall or remove an annoying power line from an otherwise beautiful landscape.  The classes lasted an hour each and cost $20 (each), which I thought was a little pricey considering we were all a captive audience, but once again I think the cruise lines are doing whatever they can to supplement their revenue while still keeping base prices as low as possible. 

There were also two champangne brunches during our sea days, replacing the midnight buffets of earlier years.  I did like the idea of the brunch much better than the midnight buffet, and although the brunch was complete with ice sculptures, I missed seeing them being carved as I had on previous cruises. 

Each cabin on the Solstice has a nice large flat screen TV, and there were various channels to watch - one being a view from the bridge.  There were also channels devoted to each port we stopped in, and giving information about the ship and some of the programs.  We received other channels too, depending on what satellite we could pick up - CNN, MSNBC, a special version of CBS just for Celebrity.  The channels changed over the course of the cruise depending on which satellite feed we were able to receive.  There were also lots of free movies and the nice thing about the system was that you could pause a movie for up to two days, then pick up watching just where you'd left off!  I watched about half of the first "Twilight" movie, and although I'd read the book and knew the story, I wasn't very impressed with the movie.  I wasn't surprised that it was so dark (literally), because, you know, vampires can't take the bright lights, but the movie seemed sooooooo slow, and just dragged on and on.  Luckily I had plenty of other things to do and didn't feel obligated to watch the entire movie. 

The Solstice also has a 2 story library, but the books I found there weren't very interesting.  On the last day of the cruise, when everyone was trying to make everything fit back into their suitcases, the library was filled with books people had brought with them to read on board, and most of the books I saw then looked much more interesting than the ones stocked on the shelves.

At various times and locations there were music performances - a string quartet, an acapella group, a guitarist, a swing band and an accordianist were the performances we saw, and maybe there were a few more we missed.  There were also some basic language classes as well as a lecture series on archaeology, and a few movies offered in a larger, theater-type setting.



Of course eating  and/or drinking was always an option - but I missed having snack foods readily available.  I quickly learned to stop at the ice cream bar for a bowl of M&Ms to snack on later, and to wrap up some cheese slices along with a few pieces of fruit to take back to the cabin.  I still would have liked something crunchy - some potato chips or pretzels, but these were only served at the bars with drinks.  I guess I really didn't need those extra, empty calories anyway. 

All in all we both really enjoyed this cruise.  We never felt bored, altho I do think there could have been more activities offered, especially on the sea days.  Perhaps if we'd had a balcony we would have enjoyed just sitting in the sun, reading or napping, but even without our own balcony there were still plenty of places to relax, in or out of the sun/weather.  A transatlantic cruise had long been a dream of mine, and I'm so happy that we had this opportunity.  We'd both do it again - we're already looking at the schedules for next fall!

There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE, as well as a few videos on our Our YouTube page.

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