Buying a House in Italy?

Last week my inbox was hopping with messages. 

Thinking of moving to Italy. How hard is it? How do I apply for Italian Citizenship?  Ya think I can find a house to buy in Italy?  Will the Italian bureaucracy make me insane? If I don’t speak Italian am I screwed?

For whatever reason, it seems folks who read this blog are getting the ex-pat fever or maybe simply looking for an alternative lifestyle. La Dolce Vita!

Before you dive into buying a home, you may want to commit to a long-term stay. Try out a town for a few months and see if the village or city is a good fit. Because everyone wants to live in Tuscany or Umbria doesn’t mean that you will adore the backpack carrying hordes of tourists who share those regions with you. Explore Campania, Basilicata, Molise, Puglia or Sardinia. Southern Italy is beautiful, costs less and I’d be able to visit. We’d love to see you in my hometown – Pontelandolfo (BN)

Thank You Raffaele Pilla. Grazie Mille!

We love living in a small Southern Italian village.  Becoming part of the fabric of a tiny community is doable.  Prices are low, people are friendly and the fresh food…  Sigh.  Let us get back to the task at hand.

Disclaimer – I never bought a house! We rent a house twelve months a year. To aging Baby Boomers – oops Jack reminds me he is not a boomer since he was born pre boom and is just old – rental is an easy alternative. That said, I called my favorite Italian attorney, Rossella Mancini and asked her how it worked.

Steps To Buying Your Home

Step one: Codice Fiscale

Apply for a codice fiscale.  This is like an American social security number or tax code.  This number follows you.  It is used by Italian public offices to identify you.  You need to have one to enter into contracts, leases, loans etc.  The codice fiscale is assigned by birth to all Italians and upon request to the rest of us.  You can apply for your Italian codice fiscale through any Agenzia delle Entrate. (tax,office)

If you have applied for and became an Italian citizen, check your documents. I swear, I got a codice fiscale when I got the letter confirming my citizenship.  If you don’t have one, contact your nearest consulate.

Step Two: Love a House

Find a house you love.  The inexpensive ones need a lot of work.  Unless you speak Italian, I would suggest you hire an “Italian Friend” to help you search and translate discussions with owners, towns and contractors.  You may want to know about how much a renovation would cost before you commit.  Join us in Pontelandolfo and we can find a team to help you look for something cool.  

Sites to Help You Search for a House.

Check them all out and then just come to Pontelandolfo.

Step Three: Contracts

Now comes the interesting part.  Contracts and commitments.  Hire an attorney like Rossella to do this with you.  The seller must pay for the technical report on the state of the property and any necessary certificates.

To calculate fees and taxes at the time of sale, the price in the contract must be determined in Euros and it if possible, include the equivalent in dollars or other currency. 

If the cost of the house exceeds 2,000 euros, payment can be made according to the method agreed by the parties but cannot be made in cash. To allow for traceability, it is preferable to pay by bank transfer or wire from abroad. 

Disclaimer:  Double check all my info.  Rules Change and I could be wrong.

At the time of closing of the sale to a private person – like you – one pays between 2% to 9 % stamp duty tax calculated on the cadastral or real value of the property, with a minimum of 1,000.00 euro. I’m told it will be 2% if the house is your primary residence and 9% if it is a secondary residence.

I have heard from the breezes over the hills that some sellers and buyers have deeds that have one sale number and a handshake deal for a higher number. Contract price paid at the closing and the extra outside of the closing. A little tax scam for both sides.

Step Four: Cough up the cash.

Registry Fee: There is an imposta catastale, land registry tax.  This is a fixed fee that is €50 if you buy the house from a private person and €200 if you buy from a company. This pays for the change of ownership on the cadastral lists.

Value Added Tax: The VAT or as it is called in Italian IVA is due on every purchase and there is no exception for a house.  The percentage amount is based on whether you are buying from a private person or a company and if the house is a primary or secondary residence. It is 4% for a primary home, 10% for a secondary and 22% for a luxury model – like that villa with a tennis court, pool and putting green.

Again, I am not an attorney, Realtor or even good at math. Double check everything! This is what I understand the process to be.

Step fivePay the Staff

You will of course have to pay for any translations, translator, attorney or notary, real estate agency (if you use one) and the person who keeps you sane.  This is really no different than buying a home in the USA.

Step Six: The Beat Goes On

Live la dolce vita and pay property taxes and utilities.  There is currently an interesting law in Italy.  If this is your “first house” or primary residence you pay lower taxes.  As an expat you will have to take up residency within 18 months of the purchase.

• IMU is the municipal real estate tax payable by those who own a property. If it is your primary residence and isn’t what is classified as a luxury home, with today’s laws there is no tax due. IMU is paid to the Municipality where the house is located and depends on the cadastral value of the properties. Currently in Pontelandolfo it is equal to 0.95%.  Less than 1%!

• TARI is the annual tax on waste. TARI is always paid to the Municipality and depends on the square meters of the house and the number of family members. Pontelandolfo is expected to reduce it by 2/3 for residents abroad. The town figures you won’t be there all year.

Step Seven: Dinner?

Call me.  I will bring a bottle of prosecco to celebrate.  Then we will find a lovely little trattoria for dinner under the setting sun.

Ci vediamo!

Midge

PS – 2021 – Come Cook in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo! New one to seven day programs for groups and individuals. Ask about our Learning Italian in the Kitchen classes!

COVID Italian Rapid Response

Listen up!  Italy has a nation wide policy on Covid that includes a Rapid Response Team. Wouldn’t it be cool if the USA did too?  The health care system, under the Ministero della Salute – Ministry of Health – remember, Italy has national health care – Il Servizio Sanitario Nazionale – is administered by each region. What follows is a true tale of fast contact tracing and testing in Southern Italy.  The country and regions are working together for the greater good –

It all started in the Sannio Hills with the renovation of the medieval castle below.  Man the battlements!  

REINO-CASTELLO.jpg (1100×459)

On a Saturday at the end of August, the village of Reino in the province of Benevento held an event to celebrate the grand opening of their restored medieval castle.  They got great press and hoped the castle would become a tourism anchor.  (That link has a video of this grand edifice designed to ward off all war mongering enemies.) The sun was shining and people, including Pontelandolfo’s own mayor, Gianfranco Rinaldi, enjoyed exploring the space. The following Monday, the warm memories turned cold with fear.  The mayor of Reino tested positive for Covid 19. Immediately the town and the Azienda Sanitaria Locale (ASL) – the local health agency leaped into action.  

  1. The town immediately activated it notification system. Masks were made mandatory everywhere in the town of Reino.  With outdoor social distancing they had previously eased up on the wearing of masks.
  2. Everyone who was at the grand opening was contacted.  Those contacted helped spread  the word.  Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and local media all were full of the news.  

For example, our Mayor quickly posted his possible Covid contact on Facebook and went into isolation quarantine. Facebook in Pontelandolfo is read by the majority of the citizens.  The town uses it to let people know about everything from new laws to weather alerts.  The Mayor is a Facebook Friend with just about everyone.

Just how did the town of Reino know who was at the event?  How were people contacted so rapidly?  How did the Ministry of Health do something that we haven’t been able to do In the USA?  One answer is that the majority of citizens in our little corner of Italy have loaded the App Immuni on their smart phones.  The idea is simple and doesn’t sacrifice privacy. Immuni doesn’t collect names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers or email addresses.  It cannot determine someone’s identity or the identity of those that they come in contact with.  It doesn’t save  GPS or geolocation data.  The data is saved on your smartphone and the connections to the server are encrypted.  

 

Simply put – the App notes where you are, the date and time of the day.  That information is saved to your smart phone.  If someone else who was in that same place at that same time is tested positive for Covid, you will immediately be contacted through the app.  Yeah, yeah all you folks who are afraid of them knowing where you are need to remember that if you have a smart phone, use social media and don’t have an spy quality encrypted phone they probably already do.  I realize that not all Italians have a a smart phone and that not all Italians have downloaded the App.  What I do know is purely anecdotal from my very politically active sources in the Region of Campania that tell me everyone they know has the App and shares information with elder family members who may not have a phone.

3. Besides the alarm on the App sounding, phones ringing, town websites putting up notices and social media being loaded with information, the province’s Rapid Response Team left the bat cave. The ASL Rapid Response Testing Team  set up a mobile voluntary testing site across the piazza from Reino’s castle.  Folks got quick blood tests to see if they had Covid antibodies hard at work in their systems.  Everyone cooperated.  Out of the 746 people in this tiny village who took this quick test 15 people tested positive for the antibodies and went to take the yucky nasal-pharyngeal Covid test.  In reality anyone who wanted to could also make an appointment for the full Covid test.  Happily Pontelandolfo’s mayor tested negative but remained in quarantine for fourteen days.

4. To control the pandemic, people entering Italy register with the town they are going to and remain in isolation quarantine for two weeks. The police will stop by and check on you.  We  know that because my cousin, returning from New Jersey to Pontelandolfo,  made the mistake of sitting outside on her veranda during her isolation.  The police arrived and sent her back inside.   We are so blessed in Pontelandolfo that everyone working together for the greater good has kept us Covid free.

Obviously it is much easier with National Health Care and a national plan.  I wondered about App use in the USA.  Jack insisted he read about Apps were available in the USA but that people were hesitant to use them.  Are any connected to government Departments of Health?   I wondered if New Jersey’s Department of Health recommended an App. Just for fun, I searched at NJ.gov and then called the General Covid Questions hot line to find out.  The gentleman who answered the phone was very nice and put me on hold to investigate.  Nope, nada, niente.  Unlike Italy, New Jersey residents don’t have access to a tracing application that is coordinated by a government health agency.  I asked the call center person to please forward my suggestion that New Jersey needs an App – we can’t wait for the Federal Government – and  if there were to be an App it should be mandated.  The states I found that have asked citizens to voluntarily use Apps haven’t been successful. North Dakota was the first state.  At the end of August, Nevada launched an App. Let us hope that Nevadians sign up.  I haven’t been successful in finding many more.  Wooo Wooo fear of Big Brother watching seems to be the problem.  I’m a theatre kid – I don’t care who watches me, where, doing what or when. Seriously, I don’t care.  If tracking where I go can help stem the pandemic, I am all for it.  The New York Times just had an article about Apple and Google creating software.  Click Here to read the article.  If it is coordinated by our home states, I hope we are encouraged to use the software.

As those who follow this blog know,  I am not afraid to point out things that don’t work in Italy.  We hate to admit it but not everything in Southern Italy is absolutely amazing.  This commitment to keeping the population safe, however, is incredible and something that one would hope other bigger countries would copy.

Ci Vediamo

Midge

 

You too can make fresh pasta.  Consider Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo in 2021.

 

 

Ankle Broken in Alghero

An amusing tale of pain, angst, laughter and the emergency medical system in a tourist town –

Love the school. Could I win the lottery and stay here?

Pintadera is the fabulous Italian Language school in Alghero, Sardegna. Pintadera and I have a love-hate relationship. I love Alghero. I love Nicola – my first Italian friend and the ace administrator. I love the teachers.  I love organizing groups of American students for the school.  I hate studying. Maybe that is why after studying Italian for a pazillion years, I still sound – well – not very Italian.

Sometimes our subconscious gives us what we want – just not the way we would want it. Just as I was thinking, do I have to go back to class, pop went my ankle and I fell on my ass. Actually, I was dashing around the historic center of Alghero solving some of my groups housing issues when I fell off of a step. DUUCK! I screamed! A waiter came running. A darling gas delivery man came running. Nicola came running. I looked at all of them and simply said, my ankle is broken. One, two three – heft – the beached whale was now balancing on one fin.

Everyone sprang into action. Cars are’t allowed into Alghero’s old town.  Nicola raced to bring hers a bit closer. The darling delivery man tossed me like a canister of gas into his L’api three wheeled mini delivery truck and whisked me along with the other canisters to where Nicola was parked. With lots of help, I hopped into the car and off we went to an orthopedic emergency room.  I had never heard of an emergency room just for broken body parts – though Jack who skied said there were lots of those near the mountains.

Nicola procured a wheel chair, I crawled into it and she wheeled me into the waiting room.  There was a sign on the door to the medical team that said “ring when you arrive.”  Nicola pressed the buzzer.  A nurse came out and Nicola pointed to me, told her I was part of the Italian Healthcare System and that I had probably broken an ankle.  The nurse nodded and closed the door.  Nicola went back to work.  I plopped the wheelchair near the door and turned to the people waiting.   Like I would in the doctor’s waiting room in Pontelandolfo, I asked Chi è l’ultimo?  The person who came in before me raised a broken arm.  I settled in the wheelchair and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  The nurse would come out and yell a name.  That person would drag a broken body part to the door.  Ambulances with tourists speaking a variety of languages and writhing on stretchers went straight into magic door.  After two hours of folks seeming to get called randomly, I asked the nurse if there was a list.  She said, si. Anybody guess where this story is going?  What did I not ask the nurse?

Three plus hours later Nicola comes back with my husband, Jack.  You haven’t been seen yet!  She rang the bell and berated the nurse who then asked for my tessera sanitaria – health insurance card and went back in.  OK – I should know better.  What did I not ask the nurse an hour or so earlier?  Am I on the list?????  Duh!

They whisked me in to see a doctor who looked at my ankle and ordered an X-Ray.  Jack wheeled me to X-Ray.  There was a paper over on the pillow but not the whole table and as I climbed up to be scanned I wondered how many pairs of dirty shoes had preceded me.  Next stop a second doctor and a nurse.  They looked at the scan and said the ankle was broken.  Did I want a plaster cast or a boot?  The boot of course.  They explained that the system paid for plaster but not a boot.  I said I’d pay for it and could they put it on.  Nope they couldn’t put it on because they only do plaster casts.  I asked if I could get copy of the X-Ray.  Jack whisked me back to X-Ray and I was told I had to pay €7 for a CD.  Not a problem.  Off we went to the counter to pay – which was closed until the following morning.  Again, I didn’t ask the right questions.

God Bless Nicola who was my Florence Nightingale and drove us to a medical supply house.  The owner was putting up an “out for coffee” sign when she saw Nicola and asked if she wanted to join her.  Nicola pointed at me and explained we needed a boot.  The store was up a giant curb and then 5 steps.  Italy isn’t the most handicap accessible place to visit.  The owner brought out a wheelchair.  I squeezed into it and Jack pushed me around the block to a second door that was quasi ramped.  Boot on and bought.  Now I needed a wheelchair.  There was no way in hell that I could manage crutches on uneven cobblestoned streets.  The store would take a week to get one in, but the Sisters of Misericordia loaned hospital equipment to people.  Next stop Misericordia!  Problem – American sized butt and Italian sized wheel chairs.  Again, I squeezed into one and Jack and Nicola were able to wheel me back to our rented house in the historic part of town.  The cobble stones are rocks of a variety of shapes – not smooth pavers.  That meant Jack was probably herniating himself pushing me up to our house.  DUUUCK – the very step I fell off of guarded the entrance to the house’s courtyard.  Somehow without me tipping over onto my head they managed to hoist me and the chair up to the terrace.

I now became a prisoner in the house.  Not able to get out of the place without lots of help and certainly not able to wheel myself on the streets.

Guess I won’t  be dashing over to Central Mediterraneo Pintadera for those  Italian Language classes.  Be careful what you wish for or even think!

Ci vediamo!

Retire to Pontelandolfo!

Join the likes of George Clooney, Jonny Depp, Madonna, Sting, and Francis Ford Coppola.  Live the Italian life you’ve thought was impossible. Wait!  Is it possible?  Seriously, can a normal person afford to retire or own a home in Italy?

MIdge Jack Ponte

Jack and I are always being asked How did you do it? How can you afford to live in Italy?  My first response is to remind folks that we do not live in a tourist packed, guidebook referenced city.  We live in a village in the Sannio mountains.  There are lots of small villages like ours, throughout Southern Italy.  Village populations have plummeted.  The lack of jobs has sent the young folks north or to other European cities.  Earlier emigration, during the 20thcentury to the United States, South America and Australia has resulted in lots of empty housing stock.

There are relatively large apartments here that are listed at €40,000.  By large I mean two or three bedrooms, living room, dining room and kitchen.  Yes, of course there are bathrooms too with bidets even. Today, the exchange rate would put that home at $44,458.  Average rents range from €250 to €300.  We pay more than that but not a hell of a lot more for a three-bedroom, three-bathroom, two-kitchen house on a working farm.  We were lucky, when we first rented, it was fully furnished.  Over the years we have personalized our home with our own furniture and art.

Buying a house or renting here in Italy normally means you are getting an empty house, unless someone died and the heirs are selling with all the stuff.   That means no kitchen cabinets, no appliances, bubkas, niente, nothing.  That said, the folks who are leaving a rental unit have paid for a kitchen that probably won’t fit in their new place and might be willing to sell it to the new tenants.  I have seen homes for sale that are being sold full.  Jack cried when I said NO to a house in CentroStoricothat was for sale for a song, had great views and was full of antiques – including art. I love where we live and at this point in my life didn’t want to pack up and move.

Our furniture comes from the ever-popular IKEA!  The price point is almost equal to the USA prices.  More important – they deliver!  Of course, I am delighted that Jack so throughly enjoys putting it all together.  I also found two amazing resale shops in Benevento.  For my Seven Events for Seven Decades festa in May I needed lots of tea pots, teacups and serving pieces.  That is when I discovered the resale shops. Great stuff – housewares, furniture, clothes etc. at Salvation Army store prices.

When we decided to look outside of the United States for quasi retirement options, we sold our house, our cars, our clothes, our housewares, just about everything.  The art I didn’t sell and my favorite kitchen toys have been coming here in our checked luggage.  Jack and I still go back to New Jersey annually for 5 or six months.

According to a February 21, 2019 article in the money section of USNews:

The average Social Security benefit was $1,461 per month in January 2019. The maximum possible Social Security benefit for someone who retires at full retirement age is $2,861 in 2019. However, a worker would need to earn the maximum taxable amount, currently $132,900 for 2019, over a 35-year career to get this Social Security payment.

https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/social-security/articles/2018-08-20/how-much-you-will-get-from-social-security

Let us arbitrarily and capriciously use $1600 per month as our starting number. Today, that would be worth €1439.55. I am math deficient but will give a monthly budget based on what we pay a whirl. Let’s pretend you bought a €40,000 home.  REMEMBER ALL OF THESE NUMBERS ARE GUESTIMATES AND NOT TO BE TAKEN AS HARD COLD FACTS! Also remember that I am math challenged.

Monthly Fixed Costs

Taxes  €280 a year for our place but I couldn’t get the tax formula.  Some people pay as much as €800 €23.23
Electric This is what we pay for a super huge house.  Bills are for 2 months. We average €63. €31.50
Cell Phone Vodofone cell service – unlimited everything.  I use the data for a hot spot everywhere. €20.00
WiFi   €20.00
Garbage €93 all year €7.75
Car Insurance We have the large Fiat 500 XL and pay €1000 a year. €83.33
Gas –  propane or natural In the winter we heat with propane.  We also use it for hot water. I’m not sure how to figure this out.  Last December we spent €1,000. This summer for most of the summer €400.  Many people heat with pellet or wood-based systems. €400.00
Car Gas Cars are well designed and can be bought that run on gas, metano (natural gas), gpl (propane) and electricity.  We have diesel and fill up once every few weeks unless we are taking road trip.  You buy it by the liter. 65.00
Water 24 Every two months 12.00
Sewer We have septic. 0
MONTHLY FIXED COSTS 662.81

I have never done this before!  Thanks for the budget Midge!  Did I just thank myself?? We average €662 a month for fixed costs.  Actually €10 more – I forgot Jack’s cheap cell phone plan.

Medical care for folks in their second act is really important.  Jack and I are super lucky that I was able to become an Italian citizen and he, as my husband, was too.  That means we have access to the incredible socialized healthcare system here.  I am going to base my thoughts now on your not being of Italian heritage and able to live here and access the system.

Before Jack became a citizen, he was able to purchase in our local Farmaciaall of the medications prescribed in the United States.  That includes meds for diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure and heart issues.  Every month we saved a bundle.  His purchase price RETAIL was less than or equal to his Medicare part D copay.

We both use a great dental team here – private and not in the system.  Because of dead root issues with the anchor stubs, Jack just replaced a bridge here.  The old bridge with preparation of the anchors cost approximately $8,000.   With two root canals the new bridge cost €1900.

We had an interesting dental experience the first year we were here and subsequently learned from it.  I made an appointment for us to have our teeth cleaned.  The dentist looked in our mouths and said why are you here? You have no plaque or other gross stuff. Your gums look great.  Well, we replied our NJ dental office says you should go every six months and the dental hygienist calls to remind us.    I now go once a year for a check up and a cleaning.  The dentist – not a dental hygienist- does the cleaning and takes what ever time it needs.  I just had it done for €85.  The full panoramic X-ray cost €30.  The dentist doesn’t have the machine. We go down the street to a Diagnostic center.  I am guessing that keeps costs down.

Private doctor visits range from €50 to €150 depending on who you see and for what. Last year I paid a cardiologist €150 for an exam.  He, himself, did an echocardiogram and Doppler for carotid artery stuff.  He also gave me script for blood work.  I returned with the blood results and there was no fee for the second visit.  Since I liked the idea of knowing a cardiologist here, I made an appointment for Jack.  The doctor didn’t charge us for that either.

The town arranges for the Croce Rossaand doctors to bring medi-vans to town for things like free sonograms of your thyroid.  I mention this one because I availed myself of the service and they discovered a few nodes on my thyroid.  I went to my PCP here and got script for a full blood work up that included thyroid tests.  The blood test at a private lab cost €60. (Have you looked at what LabCorp charges medicare?). Then I went to see a fancy endocrinologist who not only looked at the blood work but gave me the same kind of exam an internist would do.  Cost €100.

If you had to go the hospital, I have no idea what they would charge. This is a country with socialized medicine and there isn’t any mechanism for collecting.  This May a friend of mine was visiting from the USA and thought he was having a heart attack.  The rescue squad came – complete with a medical doctor and nurse on board – examined him, gave him an elettro-cardiogram and then took him to the hospital.  The ambulance cost nothing and the hospital didn’t charge. That said, we asked and discovered that if you are from the United States, which does not have health care reciprocity with Italy, you are supposed to buy private insurance. Jack bought it the first year we were here and it cost us about $1000 for a year.  He never used it.

Let’s Eat Out! Why should I cook when we can go to a fabulous restaurant and have great food with good wine and leave with a bill for often less than €40?  At a local tavola caldawe can get lunch for about €10 each.  Why make a cappuccino at home when you can sit in a bar, stare at the piazza, chat with pals and pay barely anything.  Here are some local bar prices.

Croissant          €1

Cappuccino       €.90

Caffè                €.80

Aperal Spritz     €2.50

Tap Beer           €1.20

Tap Wine          €1.50

Cocktails           €3.oo to €5.00

Amaro              1.50

Fast Food – usually only available at night or during one of the many festas

Pork or beef grilled on a hard roll           €3.00

Porcheta on a hard roll                          €3.50

Sausage on a hard roll                           €2.50

I can’t remember the prices of everything – I need to eat out even more. The local bars have specials often.  For example, €5 dinner included a glass of wine, steamed mussels, bruschetta and a fried fish. Every weekend you can get a gyro for €3.50.  The take-away pizza place has whole pizza from €3 to €6.

Our favorite and really exceptional seafood restaurant has fish entrees that range from €8 to €12 -of course  –  fresh not frozen.

Buying Clothes for us is hard here.  We are both too big!  Jack wears a USA men’s XL and I wear a size 18.  I get my dresses made by the seamstress.  The cost of labor is so low that I am embarrassed to tell you what I spend. Jack orders clothes from Lands End UK. If you are thin, you can buy clothes at the market and spend peanuts.

Pets are a dog or three running loose outside or cats.  Most domestic animals are outside, fending for themselves and get fed what the family eats.  I don’t know what pet food costs.  The local shop for farms has all kinds of stuff for cows, pigs, sheep and maybe dogs. It is loose and you buy it by the kilo. Recently we noticed a few families with a dog on a leash.

Yikes, information overload!

Have I convinced you to come?  Let me know what else you would need to know. 

Ci vediamo!

An Experiment with 4 Suitcases

How can we possibly need all those suitcases??

What were we thinking dragging four – count them – four empty suitcases back to the USA? Well not exactly four empty suitcases. Jack has filled one to the brim. I leave clothes on both continents and am happy to schlepp nothing.  Why empty suitcases?  So that I can fill them with household goods we want to bring to our place in Pontelandolfo.

We have been flying Lufthansa which gets our full “going to Italy” suitcases to Naples where our best bud, Nicola picks us up. No suitcase angst. Jack, my frugal husband, discovered that premium seats on Norwegian Air from Newark, NJ was so much cheaper than Lufthansa.  Downside – you land in Rome with four full suitcases.  Upside –   the seats lie flat and you can sleep. Downside – you pay to stay in a hotel for a night or two.  Upside – it is Rome.  Downside – you have four freakin’ full suitcases!

When we landed in Rome with our four incredibly full and heavy suitcases – yes, you heard a WHINE –  the hotel’s driver picked us up and carried most of the bags. Then we used Mailbox Express to send half the bags to Pontelandolfo. We still had to drag two suitcases and computer bags on the train. Not fun. Oddio! I freakin’ hate it.

It was time to head back to New Jersey for a wedding – via Rome – with the same, albeit empty, four suitcases. I scoured for a car service – even a Bla Bla car – to get us and all our shit to Roma Fiumicino. The ever brilliant, Pasquale and Rossella, provided me with bus information. Flix Bus was cheap but took ten hours and left way too early in the morning.  Azienda Trasporti Molisana, ATM, had a bus that left from Boiano and only took the same three hours it would take in a car.  Hmm, I decided we would investigate.

I was telling my ex-pat pal in Ecuador, Marie, about my experimenting with bus transportation.  She promptly said, “ah, an experiment with four suitcases.”  Thanks Marie for the title!  Thanks for also reminding me that in Ecuador you have been using the buses forever.

An Experiment with 4 suitcases – 

ATM really had a comprehensive schedule.  But before I would investigate price, I sent a few e-mails to info@atm-molise.it.  (Dear proficient speakers of Italian – ignore my linguistic flaws. Non- Italian speakers will think I’m brilliant.)  Gulp, could I really drag 4 suitcases plus computer bags on the bus.  ATM responded immediately. (Damn, that impressed me.)

Me: Quante valigie possono portare ogni passeggero?  Grazie.

ATM: Quante ha bisogno di portarne? (I could see ATM rolling his/her eyes. How many do I need to carry – indeed!)

Me: Due (2) per me & due (2) per il mio marito.

ATM: Non c’è problema, buon viaggio. (Now ATM is laughing out loud and can’t wait to see us drag the suitcases down the street to the bus.)

Then I remembered a really important question.

Me: Dov’è ferma il pulmino nel Via Cavadini Boiano? The street is a long one.  How would we find the stop?

ATM: Davanti al vivaio La Ginestra, c’è il palo con l’indicazione ATM. Hmm near a nursery and there is a sign – sure there is a sign NOT.  This is Italy.

I moved on to the next step in the grand experiment and for €28.35 I booked two seats on the 9:55 AM ATM bus from Via Cavadini in Bojano (Boiano) to Fiumicino.  Jack and I often go to Boiano and decided we would do a trial run to find the alleged bus stop.  Shazaam – there was a clearly marked ATM sign right where they said it would be.  We were psyched.  This will be easy-peasy.

Trying to make the trip a wee bit easier I stuffed the duffle bag Jack usually packs into an oversized suitcase.  Great!  Now we are down to three suitcases, two computer bags and a purse.  What?  Jack promptly took his favorite blankee, I mean duffle bag out of the larger suitcase.  We are back up to four.  I whined again.  Jack then jammed, kicked and bullied a slightly smaller empty suitcase into the oversized one.  Four suitcases – pulling three and pocketing another. 

Rossella and Pasquale drove us to Boiano.  It had snowed.  The mountains looked fabulous.  The bus stop – full of snow.  How do you drag suitcases in the snow?  The bus arrived on time and stopped in the street.  Smart move.  We pulled the suitcases down the street and tossed them in the under-carriage storage bin.  The bus was modern and the seats comfortable.  The glass roof and wide windows provided breathtaking mountain views.  They also eliminated any large overhead storage.  My computer bag nested under my legs.

Happy Bus Riders!

After about an hour, I noticed the Lavazza Caffè maker ready to serve us and that there wasn’t a bathroom.  Suddenly, I had to pee.  Snow capped mountains zipped by.  I had to pee. I refused to think about peeing.  Olive groves, flocks of sheep and goats, plains prepped for spring plantings – those views and those thoughts filled my head. So did the many ways one could ask for a bathroom – C’è un bagno?  Dov’è il bagno? La toilette??  We arrived at Roma Stazione Tiburtina.  Our bags came out of the bottom of the bus and we were told to wait at the same place for the bus to Fiumicino.  I used my now longer list of Italian bathroom phrases and found the bathroom.  Paid the 50 cents to enter. Waited for a stall. Opened the door and found a marble hole in the floor with foot pads.  NOOOOOO!  I had on pantyhose.  That means taking off the pantyhose and putting my bare feet – noooooo!  I sucked it up and went back to get the bus to Fiumicino.  I could hold it another 40 minutes.  I am a strong woman.

The bus arrived and they loaded our luggage underneath, checked our tickets and off we went.  The wi-fi worked on this bus – it hadn’t on the first one.  It was a double decker bus and we chose the easy to get to bottom level.  We each took two seats and put our computer bags on one.  Most people went upstairs for the better views. Soon we arrived at Fiumicino’s international terminal.  They helped us with our bags and off we went to check in.  (Yes, I immediately found a bathroom.)

The bus company was easy to work with, ran on time, and was comfortable.  We have now discovered yet another way and another reason to get to Pontelandolfo!

Ci  vediamo!

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It is not too late to sign up for the 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo.  The May culinary adventure awaits you. The September section is almost full.


Italian Public Holidays

Keep the questions coming!  I will try to answer then!   When should we visit Italy?  As soon and as often as you can.  What are the holidays?  Many of you have asked about Italian Holidays – well, here is what I have discovered –

It takes government action to declare a public holiday. Workers – I’m guessing full time not contract or part time – are entitled to a day off with full pay.  If they have to work – like there is a giant sale at the mall – they must be paid 2.5 times their normal rate. Do not get sick, have your car breakdown or any other emergency on a public holiday.  Very little is open and hospitals are understaffed.  No really – do not get sick in August either.

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Here is the list of  Italian Public Holidays –

January 01 Capodanno New Year’s Day
January o6 Epifania (La Befana!) Epiphany
Monday After Easter  Pasquetta Easer Monday
April 25 Festa Della Liberazione Liberation Day
May 01 Festa del Lavoro Labor Day – May Day
June 02 Festa della Repubblica Republic Day
August 15 Ferragosto Assumption Day
November 01 Ognissanti All Saints Day
December o8 Immacolata Concezione (This is the beginning of the Christmas season.) Immaculate Conception Day
December 25 Natale Christmas Day
December 26 Santo Stefano St Stephens Day

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Religious and – as Jack call’s them – 

Greeting Card and Flower Shop Holidays –

March 19 Festa di San Giuseppe St. Joseph’s / Father’s Day
February 14 Festa degli Innamorati St. Valentine’s Day
February Carnevale Mardi Gras/ Fat Tuesday
Variable Pasqua Easter
Second Sunday in May Festa Della Mamma Mother’s Day
November 2 I giorno dei Morti Day of the Dead

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   Pontelandolfo Holidays

September 19 San Gennaro Naple’s Patron Saint
May 21 San Rita Procession & Blessing of Cars
June 13 San Antonio Procession
1st Week in August San Salvatore 7 day festa, film festival, venders, rides, entertainment
August 16 San Rocco Procession

All of the small villages in our province take their holidays seriously.  There is an incredible communal feeling to be part of a procession, share a panini on the street, listen to the music and know that you are part of a larger family.

If you would like to feel like you really are living in an Italian Village – even if just for a week, take a peek at this web-site and let us create a holiday just for you.

Ci Vediamo!

Multa – Ancora!!! NO More Tickets!

Son of a &*^%(!  ONCE AGAIN our Fiat 500 L got a ticket.  Notice, I said the car got the ticket – not my Indy 500 wanna be speed demon husband.  Tickets are mailed to you two or three months after you zoom by an autovelox. Traffic cameras, autovelox, – which are bloody everywhere – clock your speed and grab your license plate number.  The autovelox, however, are not sneaky, smarmy cameras.  These are blatant speed traps. There are signs announcing them and most GPS devices have them listed. Beware of –

autovelox

Now, I don’t know where the car was out by itself speeding – because obviously no one in MY FAMILY would speed on an Italian road.  Or not see the SIGN.  The tickets come in the mail and you pay the fine at the ufficio postale.  This is the third one we have been SURPRISED to get.  The tickets go to the car – that is to the the person to whom the car is registered.  The car is in my name.  Hmmmmmmmmm.

Yikes, what if you are driving a rental?  The ticket gets mailed to the rental agency and then the rental agency – a few weeks or in our case months later – charges your credit card.  Watch out for that – because we also discovered that you can be charged and not have been driving the car that day.  Always ask to see the ticket and demand to know the date and time.

Here are some – Don’t get a ticket – hints.

speed-sign
My favorite Italian Attorney, Rossella Mancini, filled Jack and me in on the speed limits law – JACK memorize this –
The general speed limits are as follows (this is only valid for cars. The limits are different for trucks, buses and agricultural vehicles):
-130 Km / h on motorways, which are reduced to 110 in case of rain or poor visibility;
-110 Km / h on main roads outside urban areas (the ones with 2 lanes in each direction) which reduced to 90 in case of rain or poor visibility;
– 90 km / h on secondary rural roads (they are those with one lane in each direction);
– 50 km / h in built-up area (which can be the smallest of villages perched on the highway.)
lower or upper speed limits may be imposed in the presence of suitable signals present on the roads.
Thanks Rosella!  I am posting this in our car.

The speed on the local roads changes randomly.  Sta attento!  Pay attention to the signs!  We noticed that where the roads need repairs – and that is a lot of roads in a lot of places- the town, region or province merely lowers the speed limit on that road. Whoops, we’ve got a giant pothole – lets just lower the speed limit and go for a coffee.  The road washed away in the last flood, lets put up some orange plastic tape to narrow it down to one lane and reduce the speed limit.  A lot of Italian roads are in deplorable condition – not the Autostrada or the main roads but the local roads.  Lack of funds that has caused this situation.  The speed limits are posted so don’t drive and daydream about lunch.

If you are zooming along and suddenly all the cars in front of you slam on their brakes, slam on yours.    All locals know where the autovelox cameras are and slam on the brakes to drive 5-10 miles below the posted speed.  The slowdown lasts for a few hundred feet beyond the autovelox and then zooooooom the cars race off again. Since Italians always slow down for these camera boxes, drive like an Italian.

traffic-italy-sign

These signs are easy to miss!

Beware of Zona Traffico Limitato.  ZTL is a Limited Traffic Zone.  We are familiar with the one in Alghero, Sardinia.  In the historic center the roads are incredibly narrow and full of tourists. Driving there is limited to very few taxis and residents with stickers.  Hours may or may not be posted on the signs too.  Between posted hours cars are forbidden access to the ZTL. What will make you crazy is that all cities do not have the same rules.  If you are driving to a new city or village, take the time to look at a local map.   Car driving can cost you your vacation savings. Traffic cameras are everywhere and take a picture of your license plate. As I said earlier, the rental company will get the ticket and will forward the expense on to you. Probably with a service fee.  Do NOT drive in a ZTL.  Park outside the zone and walk in.  On foot you see more anyway and meet all kinds of interesting folks. If you are staying in a B&B or hotel in the ZTL and have a car – ask them what to do.  Some hotels can issue a temporary pass.  The fine is huge!  Better to spend that money on great olive oil to bring back.

2017 – new rules – Highway Code in 2017

Don’t text, talk or play with your cell phone!  Italians can now loose their licenses if caught.  The fines are incredibly steep – 161 euro to 646 euro!  Now that is one hell of a ticket.

Our Fiat 500 L misses us and we will soon be back driving around Pontelandolfo.  Since I don’t want my insurance to become so astronomical that I can’t afford to go out to dinner, I will become the car nag.  My nagging will be done with love….

Ci vediamo!

Pronounce Those Endings!

Hmm, I wonder where the forks are?  “Dove sono le forchett….”  Le forchettE sono lì.   LE FORCHETTE!  Errrrrr how embarrassing to have my pronunciation corrected by a five year old in a fancy hotel breakfast room.  Of course we were in Tuscana the birth place of the Italian language.  Learning Italian has been challenging for me. It has also provided the entire village of Pontelandolfo with comic relief.  From school children to shopkeepers to old men playing scopa – everyone corrects me and giggles.  Some also roll their eyes and wander why they have to repeat a word 5 million times in order for me to remember it.  Yes, it does take a village to teach this old dog new tricks.  Hmm, that adage, “You Can’t Teach an Old Dogs New Tricks,” has really never resonated with me.

First of all – DEFINE OLD!  Go on – I dare you.  Secondly, learning a new language keeps the brain young and active.  Thirdly – well – I started to learn Italian when I was 50.  It has been 17 years and I’m still learning.  I hear you – why didn’t she listen to her grandmother?  Why didn’t she learn Italian as a child?  Why?  Because growing up in rural agrarian Somerset County, New Jersey I never heard Italian.

86950-PH-GFB1-034 Unlike the kids growing up in urban pockets of Italian families, I never heard Italian.  Not one of the five Italian families in Flagtown, New Jersey spoke Italian within my ear-shot.  My grandmother, aunts and uncles – all born in Italy – spoke unaccented standard American English.  I thought that was the norm.  I didn’t know that some kids grew up in duo-lingo Italian American families.  DUH!

When I was older I asked Zia Caterina why not one member of our family spoke Italian to us.  There were two reasons – one was survival.  They needed to assimilate to get jobs and not be picked on.  Aunt Cat recalled the taunts of dumb dago or wop and the smack she got on the head from her first teacher in Dundee Lake (Passaic County) because she had just arrived and didn’t understand English. Simple, they had to be American so they had to learn English. The second reason infuriates me.  I was born just after World War II – that period of time when Italian Americans were put in interment camps.  Yup, just like the Japanese.  Fear of Mussolini’s ties to Hitler and Fascism ignited the ignorant and Italian immigrants – many of whom had sons serving in the American military were whisked from their homes and locked up.  No one talks about it. Italo-Americano refer to it as  Una Storia Segreta – the Secret Story.  Italian Americans couldn’t have a wireless radio.  They had curfews. My Uncle Nick, who was too old to be naturalized with my grandparents, was threatened with deportation.

I’ve seen a few documentaries on this period and they incite me.  Today, when I hear politicians talk about opening up interment camps and building walls I wonder how many Americans know their history and understand what that means?  Not every person of a race or a religion is evil.  Hell, my family wasn’t evil.

enemy

My family took the signs to heart and “spoke American.”   Actually, they spoke English better than lots of folks I have known.  They were so good at it that Italian may be in my DNA but it isn’t embedded in my cervello. Studying Italian is a challenge that grounds me in my past and opens doors to new beginnings.  In New Jersey, I study with other Italophiles at Dorothea’s House in Princeton.  For total immersion in a fabulous ocean front city, I head to Alghero, Sardegna and Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera.

Learning the language has introduced me to parts of my heritage that I have embraced and history that has both saddened and intrigued me.  My Italian – as rough as it is –  has helped me research my family tree, become part of the fabric of the village and make new friends on both sides of the Atlantic.  I figure, I am not too old to learn and if I wasn’t learning and exploring my brain would turn to mush.

Ci Vediamo!