We’ve been finding excuses to come to Italy pretty often since 2012. I am a sucker for the warm weather and good food. And Italy, particularly Puglia, has them both. So once I changed my job and was again free to work from less-than-ideal Internet connections and didn’t have a strict schedule anymore, the idea struck: how about we live in Italy for a month?
One of the reasons we love Italy during winter is that it allows us to escape the cold weather in Romania. Plus I’ve always wanted to spend my birthday somewhere warm, so it was clear I had to look for cheap flights in early December and return early to mid-January. And I did. I managed to find dirt-cheap fares and we ended up having exactly 5 weeks to spend in Italy, out of each I’d be working for 3 weeks (and a day).
And so began the house hunt. By the way: I swear the guys at House Hunters International make it look romantic and easy, but it is not so. Or maybe, since it was our first house hunt, I was having a romantic view of it.
It was hell at first
First hellish experience? We easily found out that rentals don’t have Internet. So, exactly how was I supposed to work from there? We did find something which claimed to have Internet and heating. Ah, heating, another issue I cringed at. These people love to “preserve” themselves. Turns out the Internet was still non-existent cause it was shared with a neighbor who refused to share the password ….lovely.
Let’s bring in more hell, shall we? We managed to be on the road on a Holiday. You know, religious one marked with red in the calendar and…turns out, the buses run on a Sunday schedule, with only one per day between cities. Yes, we asked. And yes, we were given the wrong hour. We eventually made it.
Remember the “preserving” thing? More hell…I was freakin’ freezing when I got to the house. And it took me about three days to actually warm it up to a decent 19-20C.
Oh and let’s fix the Internet. The only on-the-go option, without a monthly subscription, was a wi-fi router from Vodafone (my cell provider in Romania, by the way). The first time we had some luck: there was a promotion going on only during the Holidays which gave us 23 GB of data for a month. Sure, compared to my unlimited fiber I have at home, this is absolutely terrible, but since I use about 1.5GB at work during a day, figured it would work well enough.
I tested the connection and it allowed me to work from it. Great. Tested Skype, too, and it took me a week to figure out this is better used via the cell app (also on wi-fi) rather than via the laptop (on which it would connect / reconnect).
The slow speed combined with the limited traffic meant that HboGo (and my favorite show nowadays, Divorce) would have to wait until we got back home.
It took me about half a week to get used to the snail speed of my Internet. Oh and the winds, which can literally kill a connection.
Then came the heaven
I knew I would need a bit of time to settle (and figure out my Internet situation), so I took some days off work. Together with the weekend, I had five days to enjoy the good weather and get used to the slower pace of things here.
And so I started to rediscover heaven. Farmers’ market? Checked! Olives, cheeses, veggies, and fruits. Checked! Fish and seafood. Checked! We ended up making about two trips to the market each week to get what we needed.
Our rental is within easy reach of two beaches. It takes about 10 mins to reach either (or more if we are lazy). Combine this with amazing weather and it really didn’t matter I had to put up with the Internet and go through loops and hoops to heat the house.
And then reality
The Mediterranean area is known for strong winds. We’ve been here before but haven’t experienced really strong ones. Until now. And since we didn’t know the house, either, let’s just say we woke up at every weird sound during the time when the wind was high. Surely, three weeks in and we started laughing about the “orange code for high winds”.
Our bodies enjoyed the warmer climate but we are not exactly used to high humidity (or the winds). We were afraid we’d catch a cold and I am certain we both did. Alex’s symptoms were worse, whereas I just sneezed a bit.
And using the many, many, many stairs in the town made our knees and legs go “ouch”. We both use a fitness tracker (FitBit) and we do take long walks, but damn, these stairs. The second day we got here, I got in as many as 105 floors worth of stairs! At home, I get between 0 and 5 (when I go out two times a day).
Speaking of walking, I’ve always found the traffic in Italy hectic. Or hellish, not sure which was is the best way to describe it. The use of headlights and signal lights is almost unheard of. You wait like an idiot for a car to pass so that you can cross the road, but it makes a turn (without using the signal light). And you are better off crossing anywhere than on a zebra. The drivers hate to stop at the zebra. On the plus side, they have never honked us on the tiny roads.
The lunch break
Do you know what Italians are known for? The lunch break. The very long lunch break. Around 1 pm everything closes. And by everything, I mean (almost) everything. At times we found a bar (cafe) open after 1 pm but it was probably an exception, rather than a rule. Bars open around 3 pm (some, not all) and businesses after 4-5 pm.
Since I took my lunch break from 12 pm to 2 pm (usually, give or take), I would have lunch and then walk a bit since there wasn’t anyone around.
But hell struck when I figured I needed stuff and there was nothing open. Stuff like: bottled water, wet wipes, bread…This is a shock for everyone when they end up in Italy. In case you ask, Livorno (Tuscany) is no stranger to these breaks. We had a similar experience in Naples, when hungry from the travels, we ended up in the city where no one would sell us food around 2pm.
Some weeks later and our mornings began with: shouldn’t we go by the bakery and market before I start work? Else, we’d be stuff with supermarket bread (which, by the way, it’s horrible).
By evening, locals go out to…take a leisurely walk and socialize. Otherwise known as “passeggiata“. On warm evenings, the main streets fill up with people who just…walk and talk. Talk and walk.
Oh and you’ll find them doing the same thing on Sundays after church service is over. They just pour on the streets and take their time to go home.
It’s already known that traveling strengthens the relationship so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a new place and new routine will get you closer. Yes, we’ve had our share of not-so-nice moments at the beginning of our travels together, but almost 6 years in, things are totally different and we love to have fun in new places.
The use of English
I’ve known since my first trip here that English is not going to help me much. Yes, I was able to use it booking my short term accommodation in Rome, Bari, or Naples. I’ve also been able to use it buying train or bus tickets to/from the airports. And once when I got a train ticket from a travel agency to go back to Rome.
But once in Puglia, exploring the small cities, your only choice is to know Italian. Luckily, we both understand the language and we both speak some (Alex a lot more than myself). Between the two of us, we are able to buy food and train tickets (or bus tickets).
In case you want to know, Google Translate is not useless but I wouldn’t trust it for everything. And yes, we’ve used it to look up words we didn’t know. I found Duolingo really good too (and used it a year ago or so to go through some lessons).