Friday, July 15, 2016

Helping a Friend

Are you looking for housing in Italy?   Do you dream of a home with all the romantic features of Italy?  Many people search expat blogs to find answers to all the “how to” problems of moving to Italy, obtaining a visa, how much to plan for costs of electricity, gas, sewer, taxes, water and the other usual considerations one must overcome in a move.  I am a member of and several other blogs of this type and I receive questions quite often from people all over the world.   My posting this week is to help a friend who has a very nice condo for sale right in the middle of Italy.  It comes completely furnished, furniture, stove, fridge, heater, etc.  This is a big help for foreigners as they don't realize that condos are usually sold completely gutted.  Just the bare walls, what you see is what you get.

My friend is moving to Malta.  She is putting her condo in Italy up for sale.  I have written in previous blogs about how Italians sell their houses  completely empty, no heater, stove, refrigerator, etc.  You get just the bare walls.  So when you move into your new digs, you have to go shopping for everything, then find workers qualified to put them in  correctly (hooking gas stove, heat, etc.), all of which shrinks your bank  account!  The good thing about this condo is that it will come fully furnished, stove, heat, couch, and so on.  I have seen this home and it is quite nice, and well kept.  It has a large terrace in a quiet setting and ample parking.

Now for the best part:  78,000 Euros total cost.  That is about 85,000 dollars, a steal!  A  steal in comparison to a home in America and a steal in a home in Italy!  
Ready to move in 
Today I walked by my village real estate office and compared prices.  They were all higher than the price of this condo.   This place is a steal!  (I don't get anything for blogging this)
I know that there are people who dream of living in Italy, but the price of moving is just too great.  Shopping for all the things to make a condo liveable can be a nightmare!  This is your chance to live your dream.  You just don’t see places furnished and set up like this.   Read my previous blog on real estate.

Here is an  additional thought:  your visa will allow you to live 3 months in Italy, 4 times a year.  You could rent it to travellers the other months.  Many people do this.  

If you know someone who might be interested, go to this link:

For retired folks, you could be here during the best months of the year, and travel around at your leisure, returning home during good weather months.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Driving in Italy

Gripping the steering wheel tightly, hands sweating, I am totally concentrated on the road.  Thoughts of nothing except what I am doing, what others are doing, and what might be the outcome of an accident at the speed of 130 kilometers and hour,  81 MPH.  I feel fear.  It is only normal to feel it.  You, dear reader,  are with me in my little 52 miles to the gallon Hyundai i20 on the Italian Autostrada out of Venice.  We are headed north and in a little over an hour we will be  close to the Austrian border.  

 I wish I had time to  look up and view the Alps near the border, but the big double trailer trucks dwarf my little red Hyundai. Most cars in Italy are small. We are small compared to the more crash-worthy SUVs.  We are cooking along at a speed of 130 kilometres and hour.   That is fast, but feels much faster with the lanes much smaller than American lanes and Italian highways have no siding, and make one feel coralled within a concrete fence with no places to get off in case of blown tire or car trouble.   Trapped in three lanes of possible disaster!   One split second of bad judgement or not being awake, and curtains.

Driving in Italy will cause you to be totally focused on the road.  Anybody who  suffers from high blood pressure, I recommend you to use the train or bus.  As the countryside flashes by I am forced to be like the Italian drivers: aggressive, skillful and fast.  If you want to drive slow, don’t expect people to slow down for you.  In the left lane you will look in the mirror and suddenly there will be someone going 150 km/h who will try sweep you from the fast lane with a flash of their lights.  You vacate the lane ASAP.  You will feel herded and then a bit angry that someone is so aggressive.  Eventually you learn to deal with it.

Tailgating is a way of life.  Tailgating at 130 km/h is nerve wracking, and they do it all the time.  You move to the far right in the slower lane.  That doesn’t help as they still get right up behind you, 2 or three feet away.  You look in your mirror and see their snarling grin.  You could count the freckles on their nose.  Braking would be a catastrophe, and you seem greatly endangered.  They will stay right there, pushing you along.  You can’t go to any slower lane than the one on the right, and if you are behind a truck, there is nowhere to go.  Yet they keep pushing.    I tell my wife that there must be some sort of aggressive anger in all this.   She is not in agreement.  Defensive driving is how I drive, but here I am forced to be doubly careful.  The car cemeteries are full of cars with crushed rear ends.   My head is filled with the many accidents we have driven past, and some of them were not pretty.  

Police Don't Have Fast Cars
On the autostrada, the National Tollroad, there are usually three lanes.  The lane on the far right is for trucks and slower drivers.  The trucks are allowed to go 90 Km/h and they intentionally set their cruise control for that speed, forcing other drivers to hold to that speed.   Causing more of a traffic problem is when a truck whose cruise control is 1 kilometer faster pulls out to pass the slower truck.  This process, like a horse race in slow motion,  takes what seems like forever. (BTW, trucks are not allowed on the autostrada on Sundays.)

The middle lane is for passing and faster drivers, while the third lane to the left is for the Italian  speed demons.  The limit here is 130, but many go 150 or more, even with video cameras along the autostrada.  Believe me when I say 150 is blazing speed in comparison to the other two lanes.

We survived our trek on the autostrada but what about other driving problems?  More stress and more challenges await.  Italy does not have the police driving around looking for broken tail lights, missed stop signs, or other traffic violations.  They are not out looking for criminals by using the “pull over” routine.   Italy has far fewer criminals and a hugely lower homicide rate.  As far as speed limits, my village has three main streets where from outside you enter the village, and 400 yards before the village the mayor has placed an orange box which holds a video camera.  If you are exceeding the speed limit you will receive a letter in the mail with the fine you are expected to pay listed, thus saving the salary of one or two policemen.  These cameras dare also place on entrances and exits to state highways and along the  autostrada.  My navigator (GPS) helps me to watch my speed as it  will beep as a warning when I am approaching  an autovelox camera.  

Other cash generators:  The inner cities will post a sign as you approach the very center of the city, and this sign informs you NOT to proceed, but to turn away.  If you don’t and enter the center, you will have your picture taken and later you receive a large bill.  If you are driving a rental, the company gets the bill, and deducts it automatically from your credit card.  Italian cities make a pile of money on this!  We were caught by camera by accidentally taking a  wrong turn into one of the narrow streets made centuries ago for horse drawn carts in Bologna.    Suddenly realising, innocently  that we were in the ZTL limited traffic area:   It was too late to escape. and later we received the bill in the mail.  That was one of the first times I heard my wife swear in English.  Hearing her swear in English with an Italian accent is pretty funny, so it helped to relieve the shock of it all.

Maybe you are thinking of NOT driving in Italy.   There’s more.  I would never recommend driving in Rome.  Talk about hair raising and a stress full experience.  The traffic there is humungous, and they all know where they are going.  You will be guessing a lot.  There is no time to depend on the English speaking voice in the Navigator.  Besides, there is absolutely no parking in Rome, give it up!  

I have driven in Naples and in the south of it, and trust me, I don’t want to go back.   Following a priest talking to one of his flock, driving down the center of two lanes, very slowly.  People swerving back and forth as if it were a slalom ski course on wheels.  I learned there that my defensive driving was huge detriment.  Hesitating, even the smallest sign causes the drivers  to take advantage of you, cutting in, going across, changing  lanes, etc. They seem to have an inner sense of hesitation in others, they search for weaknesses and go for it.  They are addicted to this.  They will even drive around you if you hesitate at an intersection to check for traffic.  They don’t look both ways, they just drive on!   You will be saying WTF, even if you don’t use that type of language!  Maybe you will learn the Italian hand signals for that, too.  I was a fast learner.

Now I get to my favorite subject in Italy, stop signs.  Italians do not stop for stop signs.  This is a serious problem for American drivers.  If you come to a stop sign and stop when it’s not necessary, you may get rear-ended.  They do not expect you to stop!  This causes you to be looking into the mirror to anticipate a possible rear in disaster, while you are looking in all directions.  At my driving school the instructor told me to stop at signs, especially when taking the test, but then he laughed because he knew.  He knew I would have a problem with this.  I also had a problem with turning right on a red light, something back in the states I was accustomed to.  Don’t you dare do that here, as the lighting systems are different, and you may end up being hit from the side.  

I have written in my blog that Italians are not big drinkers.  You thought they were, right?  Almost 100 percent of the time I see people drink only one glass of wine or beer for dinner.  I have never seen anyone drunk on the street.  Maybe in the past grandpa put several bottles of vino on the table and everyone imbibed, but now the  police will impose a large fine on the driver who is  0.05% over the limit.  They will impound your car.  For a newly licensed driver like me, they just take your license away—something of a disaster for me, as it took me a great effort to acquire the license .   If you drive a foreign-registered vehicle or a vehicle with Euro Zone plates and are caught over the limit, they will impose a huge fine, and collect one quarter of the maximum fine on-the-spot.   It will be all above board, you are not being stopped by the mafia, they will give you a receipt before you start walking to the nearest village.  

Italians love the stick shift system, they swear by it.  They love the thrill of control, of revving up, and they shy away from cars fitted with automatic.  Almost all cars made in Italy have stick shifts.  I have never ridden in one with automatic drive.  I believe that they all feel a bit of formula 1.  In every Italian there is a desire to race.   Maybe it is because they live cooped up, trapped by the population, the traffic, the extended families living together in one house.   Maybe getting out on the autostrada they can feel the freedom I feel when driving on the highway in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico!  Who knows?  Just remember that before you travel to Italy, be sure and request an automatic drive.  Otherwise you will be given a manual shift car.   

Parking in Italy is one big cash machine.  The only answer is a baggie of coins.   The parking machine is sometimes difficult to understand how to use it.   In any tourist village you will find few parking areas, and all are pay by the hour.  In the center of any large city the parking zone will be more expensive. You will have to estimate how long you will be, insert some coins, push some buttons and receive a ticket for the hours paid estimated.  There are also zones only to be used by residents, but It is okay to park in zones indicated by blue parking signs. These zones  can be free of charge for some hours of the day and on Sundays, or pay by the hour as indicated by signs.  However, expect to pay, and look for a machine that will take your euros.  You must also use the time disk provided by the car rental company.  It has a clock on it and you place the hands at the time you arrived.  They watch for cheaters…  Italy has a plenty of Parking Police, and tourists are fair game.  Of course, another parking problem exists such as the time I arrived at San Gimignano and found all the parking filled.  I  ended up parking far outside and walking in.  I am not a fan of walking a great distance in the Italian heat and humidity.  There is no peace from this parking problem.
It takes real skill to squeeze yourself into a compact Italian parking place.  They are measured for a small car.  Almost all are parallel parkiing.  That is one reason to have a small car.  I have seen people park a car that I was completely sure it was an impossibility.  In one try!  I could never do that!  I stood up and applauded them!  They acknowledged with a smile.  Smart cars make sense in this respect.  I have seen people parking a SUV and they struggle back and forth to park it, and they give up.    Are you beginning to see the frustration in driving in Italy?

The trains are comfortable and on time, the stations arrive in the center of the cities.  The buses are a great answer for getting around inside the city.  The subways speed you across large distances, in Rome and Milano.   All this for a lot less than the rental fee for a car.  There is a lot less worry about getting into and out of the cities.   A bit of advice and a drive on the autostrada…. 


Monday, July 4, 2016

Kicking at Marco Polo's Door

Checking out Paris
Several nights ago we had  Francesco, who works in the same place as my wife, over for dinner.  He is an amazing young man and an inspiration to me.  While I, living an old person’s life as exciting as watching a bocci ball game, ponder shaky fingers, sagging skin and loss of memory,  Francesco had the  determination to lose a pile of weight through exercise  with personal trainer.  His effort now allows him to compete in local marathons, and the amount he lost causes one to pause and ask, “is that you?”

No Pain  No Gain

Besides that fact, Francesco would make a good choice for an Italian ambassador, his innate quality of curiosity, and his overwhelming passion to know more about the world is contagious.  Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus have nothing on him.  He has a desire to find the heart of who people are, and, in particular, what Americans feel, think and do. I knew we would have a good conversation based on travel, and I had also given a thought to the Mexican food I wanted him to try.

In his hands, he  was holding his itinerary to his trip in August to the American southwest, and we very quickly sat down while he told us the plans.  His face was colored with pleasure and excitement as we went through each stopping place on his trip.  I grew up in the southwest, and knew well all of the places where he would be visiting, the tour group was very thorough in their plans.  

This was not to be the normal tourist experience, as he would be in a van with 13 other Europeans, and they would be sleeping in a tent in National Parks.  We had lots to discuss as camping in Europe is quite a bit different that in the US  While in the US there is a lot of space between tent sites, in Europe it is quite crowded.  In the US campgrounds, you usually need a bag of coins to take to the shower, and there is not camp store or restaurant like in Europe.  I warned him to stock up on all the things he would need every night before the drive into the camping area.  

USS Pampanito of WWII
The conversation moved to San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf and the WWII submarine, the cable cars, and Alcatraz.  I made a big push for him to go to a baseball game and see the Giants play.  He asked me if I had been in the Los Angeles subway,  and that he was eager to use it so that he could compare it to Milano's.  I was no help on that one.  We moved on to Santa Barbara and its beaches and then the desert of Utah, Bryce and Zion Park, Arches National Monument, and the famous straight highway in Monument Valley.  My wife made a big push for him to carry two liters of water at the Grand Canyon when he hiked all the trails along the rim. 
We got around to discussing Las Vegas, and I suggested a stop at Margaritaville on the strip, and taking a cab to the pinball museum and a shooting gallery.  (Italians don’t have guns and are very curious.)  When I related about Margaritaville, I mentioned the famous Jimmy Buffet song, but Francesco didn’t have a clue.
It is always a bit of a shock to me to be talking to people who do not know about Janis Joplin, the song called Sailing, the famous Richy Valens, Otis Redding, John Candy, and John Belushi, the Vietnam war, Nixon, Johnson and the Kennedy assassinations.  (My age is showing.)  My response was to Spotify the song and make him a margarita!  It was his first.  Margaritas are not popular here, for one reason limes are difficult to find.  Mojitos are more popular.

Tamale on bottom right
I wanted Francesco to have an ready to taste approach of Mexican food, so I had spent the afternoon making tamales.  He learned how people in the southwest make tamales during holidays, especially Christmas.  I related my  first tamale that was brought to our home on Christmas Day by Mr. Lucero, my father’s friend.  There was  that never forgetful  smell of roasted corn, masa e roasted chili emitting from a silver lard pail. 

I need Cisco and Pancho to
Sneak a bag of Masa over the
border.  They were 1950's
television heroes of mine
I explained how I managed to get a bag of masa in Italy, and how one uses lard, chicken broth while soaking the corn husks.   We talked about how tasting the food from a country is part of the adventure, while I showed him how tamales are made.  I made a special point that he MUST try enchiladas, chili rellenos and tamales in August and to find them in a mom and pop place, rather than from a corporate chain.  This led us into a discussion of food from a box, rather than fresh ingredients.  

Bloody Mary foto by Jaimie Oliver

We got onto the topic of Italians and Americans and how Americans expect a pile of food, all of the courses at the same time, while Italians eat slowly and seem to enjoy letting the ingredients shine.   Here nothing is over-complicated by too many additions to the recipe.  
 I encouraged him to consider the difference.  Then because he had never had one, I made him a bloody mary, another unknown drink to Italians.  (You cannot find tomato juice in Italy, you must make your own.)  

Just dropped his metal detector in the surf
Over gelato, Francesco discussed his first trip to America, and we heard his quilt of stories, insights into the real America.    With eyes of warm contentment, what he related was like an autumn breeze.   Expecting a bit of fast paced America or some big event, he told us of his slow-paced experience walking through a neighborhood in San Clemente.   ( I mentioned that Nixon had a home in San Clemente, but Francesco is too young and too European.)   He described the houses, the trees, and the people.  We began to see in a new way, through his eyes how he enjoyed seeing basketball boards over the garage, the people enjoying a day laying on the grass in a park, and watching the white surf north of San Diego in the early morning.  He planted his explorer’s flag right in our living room!  

My intention for the evening was to help Francesco be prepared for his vacation.  The outcome  for me was that he helped me see new possibilities that I sometimes take for granted.  I enjoyed relaxing and listening to his experiences, his questions, and his explorer spirit.  I think that  he came away with a renewed interest in his vacation plans.  He left with some new ideas to think about.  I also had given him 20 euros with which I asked him to purchase and bring back some corn tortillas.  I can only hope that someday they will be available here in the Veneto.
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