News travels fast.... in a small town. Yes, theres a story there. Per favore, abbi pazienza. ( Have patience) The last week or so has been filled with learning essential new language in order to take all the steps I've been telling you about to become a resident of Italy. And as you might have seen, I took two of those really important steps this week!
*Warning- long detailed, possibly annoyingly detailed post. I suggest an espresso and biscotti or wine. Then it'll just be like we are hanging out.
Of course, like most things here, it isn't a straight road. It's a winding one. First, you dream of what might be your new home by browsing the listings on the two most dominant websites for homes abroad. But these are just 'listings'. There is the name of an agent for each property and an email/ phone. contact if you want to inquire. There's only one problem, and it's a big one. NO ONE EVER UPDATES THOSE LISTINGS. So, if you have your heart set on that cute little 2 bed with a lake view that has a garden - don't bet on it being available. Despite what the listing says. The reason, I am told, is that the agents like to leave the listings to entice potential clients to contact them, and then they can show them whatever they want, or actually have. This - was disappointing. But there is a flip side. ( Isn't there always?)
My first experience was with the biggest agency in northern Italy. I had been emailing, and leaving messages via the listing sites for a month before I arrived to try to arrange some viewings in advance. I never received any response. Ok. Fair enough, they don't want to deal with people who aren't here yet. SIGH. When I did arrive the office was closed till , um, let me see - YESTERDAY. The main agent was on holiday, but I emailed just in case. This time I received a brief reply that told me I could talk to her 'person' in the office if I could manage to catch her. I thanked her and asked for some guidance -days, times, hours, anything? No response. Finally, by sheer accident I almost tripped over this woman who was exiting the office to collect the mail when I was walking by. I introduced myself and asked if she had time to talk. She had almost no English but we managed. She said she wasn't actually an agent but she would check to see what they had in inventory and if she could show me before the 'real' agent returned on the 15th. (This was on the 4th)
A few days later she messaged me and said there was one that I'd seen a photo of, fully furnished (not what I wanted, but ok) and she could show me the following week. I met her and we walked to the apartment. It was nice, a two bedroom with a good size living room and a nice bathroom. The kitchen, despite having a unique tile on ALL the walls featuring large pineapples, was odd. The sink was tiny, pushed against a wall with only a few cabinets that had seen better days. And the also tiny 4 burner gas stove was pushed up against a wall by itself. I asked her if it worked and she replied ' si, un bombola'. Now my spoken Italian can be a bit fiddly, but my vocabulary is pretty thorough. And 'bombola' is not the word for stove or oven. Non capito. ( I don't understand). That's what I said. She stared at me and then opened the terrace door in the kitchen and motioned for me to come look. I did, and saw that the stove was actually connected through the wall to a large propane tank. Bombola is the word for cylinder...? OkSIGH. I asked in Italian how it worked when it ran out of gas She looked at me like I was un idiota and said ' you take and you fill up'. (you unhook, carry down from the 4th floor, and somehow get to a gas station to refill and then bring back?). I reminded her that I don't have 'un macchina'. ( a car). She shook her head and raised her palms. ( classic 'I don't know' ).
The price was ok, but there wasn't room for anything but my clothes and a few other personal things. Which meant I'd continue to pay almost the same amount as the rent for my storage . (picture face palm emoji here) The furniture was meh, but in a pinch, I thought maybe I could make it work. Also it was near the lake with great views but at the top of a very steep road that I'd need to navigate on the regular. I thanked her and asked if there was anything else she could show me. She said I'd have to wait for the 'real agent'. Ok. I probably don't have to add that despite sending some listing numbers and a message to that person, I didn't hear anything for a few days. Oh, except that she wrote me the next day to say they needed an immediate decision on 'la bombola' (my affectionate name for the flat I'd seen.). I thanked her, said no thank you and asked her to contact me when she had something else for me to see.
And then I came home and had a not so tiny date with my anxiety.
When one decides to move to another country, one expects there to be bumps in the road. Kinks in the process. Twists on the path. But in Italy, those rules I told you about last week say that you have to figure this out, have a lease and file your papers within 90 days or you have to LEAVE THE COUNTRY. FOR 90 DAYS. These rules are not a suggestion. They are law. They do not play. If you 'overstay' you can be fined, and banned from entry. And the longer it takes to get the lease, etc, the less time you have to do all the rest.
Breathe. Exhale. Believe. Call on your ancestors, your angels, your guides, your faith and confidence which you know you packed in one of those suitcases. Repeat until you trust yourself again.
The next day I was walking through the village to look at a church built in 1290 (seriously) and I noticed a different realty agency. One I'd not seen before, though I'd absolutely walked by it a dozen times. The door was open, and there were people inside. I approached the man behind the desk and told him I didn't have an appointment but wondered if I could arrange to meet with someone about my search. He smiled, and shouted to a woman in the back- who spoke very good English and invited me to her office to chat. We connected immediately. She asked me about myself, what I was looking for, why I wanted to live here and I almost forgot why I was there. It was the first conversation I had with a stranger here in Bellano that felt like meeting a new friend. That was last Thursday.
Alice (pronounced Ah-lee-chay), my new friend, told me she had three places. Two furnished. One big, one tiny. And one 'teeny tiny' that was empty. Would I like to see them the next day? Yes please. They were all private listings, so I couldn't see photos. She told me what she could and we set a time to meet.
Some agents only deal with customers who are actually here, in Italy, ready to view and rent. So they put photos of their listings in their windows, for sale and for rent, and they hold some as private and decide when they meet the client what might work for them based on their needs.
The next day, I met her at the office and she and I ,and the gentleman I'd spoken to before, ( turns out he is her father lol, hence the shouting ...) drove in her car to see the first listing. As we drove up the main road and turned before the train station, we continued on a road that went up and around to a massive iron gated drive. That drive is about two and a half blocks long that curves up and around again to a beautiful 4 story villa in the traditional northern Italian 19th century style.
I was already in love.
Inside, the marble foyer held a beautiful curving stairway, about 8 feet wide across that got slightly narrower as it rose to the first floor. The steps were wide and gradual and an easy climb. There's also a lift - small but efficient in case you need to carry something upstairs. At the top there were only two doors. And one of them opened for us.
A long hallway with rooms to the right led to an L-shaped 'soggiorno' (living/dining room) with 12 foot high ceilings, and several extra large windows with spectacular views of the lake. Alice had told me it was 'furnished' but actually all that turned out to be was an odd dining table with chairs, a small coffee table, a cute table and chairs in the 'eat in' part of the kitchen (brand new) and beds (a great thing because I left mine in the UK to save space in the moving van) in the master and guest room. The third bedroom was empty except for a built in wardrobe. (Studio? Yes please!)
I'm not good at meters but I'd guess this place was about 950SF... or 89SM. Almost unheard of in European mid range rentals. The bathroom with separate shower and tub is also brand new. The views from the windows look out at the lake in the front, and gorgeous greenery and trees from the sides. Most of all there are built in floor to ceiling wardrobes in every room including the hallway.
EVERYTHING in my storage unit that I'd been paying for the past 19 months would fit.
Alice and Walter (the dad) explained the process to make the 'contratto' to rent, and the best part is that in Italy, the agent acts as the property manager as well. At least in this case. They handle the arrangements for Electric, gas, water and even internet. You pay them a fee (very low) anyway, but you get so much in return.
There were only a few issues. The villa is up and away from the main road, but there is a long set of stone steps that takes you down to avoid the traffic, and another set that takes you down directly into the train station. You only cross the road once in a marked crossing. Walter and I walked it down so I could make sure I felt safe. Took about 6 minutes. From the train station, you walk through the newer part of town back to the historic centre and the lake in less than ten. Issue #1 solved.
The other two had to be resolved by the owner. For some reason, and although the new kitchen had an empty space that was clearly built for an oven, it was missing. Also, there was no washing machine- which is usually in the kitchen, the bathroom, or a large closet. Nope, also missing. Alice didn't blink when I told her I would need both if I was going to be there for a year. She said she would speak to the owner and also would remove any furnishings I didn't want to keep. Just like that. That was last Friday. She promised me an answer by Monday.
Anxiety called me up for another date but I declined. I felt good about this. I called my advocate Massimo who will help me with the citizenship process to make sure I'd not missed a step and felt secure in signing the contract. Alice also offered to sign my application for the elusive 'Codice Fiscale' - a sort of National Identiy number that you need to do pretty much anything 'official'. SCORE.
On Monday morning Alice messaged me that the owner happily agreed to furnish the appliances and in the afternoon I went to the office to pay the deposit and complete the application for the CF. And the next day I received the approval and my new ID.
I feel so officially me. lol.
The next steps are in process- finding a mover and an extra guy to help load and unload my storage. In the meantime I'm daydreaming about seeing my things after almost two years, and what will go where and how I'll set up the studio. It's a wonderful way to spend the next 15 days till I move in.
Oh. I almost forgot. I told you there'd be a story. Right. I mean besides all the bits I just told you. But you kind of need that part to understand the story.
Remember Lela from the boat store? I met her Friday morning. When Alice dropped me off at my airbnb Friday afternoon, Lela was just re-opening the store after the pausa. We said hello and she asked me how the apartment search was going. I told her I'd seen one I really liked but hadn't decided yet. That was the sum of the conversation minus the obligatory 'buonagiornata.' About 15 minutes later I had just sat down with a cuppa when I received a message on what'sapp. From the FIRST realtor. The one I'd yet to meet.
The message said this... (in Italian) " I heard you have found an apartment. Can you confirm this to me?". I was really confused and a little bit shocked. I had ZERO relationship with this person. And did Alice tell her this? If so , that would be bad because I hadn't confirmed. But that didn't seem right, Alice didn't seem like that kind of person, to share my personal business with someone else. So I sent a one sentence response, in Italian. " Who told you that?".
Guess who? Lela. The Boat store lady. I responded to the agent that this seemed strange. She responded by saying it was... just a coincidence because she is friends with Lela, who didn't know I'd been in conversation with her and mentioned she'd met an American looking for a place, but then later told her she thought that I'd found one. That sounded legit, so I sent an 'lol' and said I guess news travels fast in a small town. She sent a laughing emoji back to me and suddenly I realised something else.
Guess what. ANY kind of news travels even faster in a teeny tiny 13th century village where everyone knows everyone. And now, they know me. lol.
And it turns out, that's kind of nice.
I hope that whatever road you're on, the bumps, twists and turns take you somewhere beautiful. Somewhere you are dreaming of right now. Thanks for reading, and please like or comment if you are enjoying these little stories.
Arrivederci ( till we meet again )