Monday, October 24, 2011

Our First Week

We're here and we're HAPPY!!  Already - we're very happy!  Our apartment is beautiful!
Henry at work
Our Living Room
Our Kitchen
Our Bedroom

Daniela, our landlord, has provided us with a fully furnished apartment - including bathrobes! We even found a utensil in our kitchen drawer that looks like a miniscule automatic whisk. We couldn’t figure out what it was for. It turns out it’s a coffee frothing device. Of course! How silly of us not to recognize this essential kitchen utensil! We don’t, however, have any measuring cups. If you were an Italian which would you prioritize? Who needs measuring cups anyway?

Our first week here was all about getting oriented, filling our pantry and refrigerator, and looking for household items. In a city where you don’t speak the language just getting laundry detergent becomes an adventure. It literally took us several hours to accomplish this simple task, because it involved: 1) finding a store that sells such things; 2) distinguishing laundry detergent from dishwasher soap, toilet bowl cleaner and shampoo (in a foreign language it’s harder than you might think!); and 3) trying to find the environmentally friendly version of the product in a country that hasn’t quite adopted the “green” lifestyle.

After we woke from the slumber of our first night, we unpacked and went out to explore and find food. We ended up at restaurant on Via Cavour just because it looked good and we were hungry. It turned out to be a buffet style place where you pile food on your plate and pay by the gram. It was a beautiful warm day, we’d just arrived to live our dream, the food was amazing (including a great variety of tempting items that Henry could eat without having to worry about his blood sugar), and we were sitting outside and having our first meal in Italy with a glass of wine. By the time his espresso came Henry was so happy he literally began to cry.

In our unpacking we realized we needed more hangers. So as we were leaving the restaurant Gabriella asked the woman at the counter (in Italian of course) if she knew of a place where we could buy some. The woman didn’t remember the name but gave us general directions to a store she thought would have them. (This seems to be common here –locals providing some vague directions to a place they can’t remember the name of). However with those directions we discovered a place we never thought we’d see here, Happy Home!! 

Don’t let the store front fool you. The store is huge. It’s a cross between Cost Plus and a Dollar Store with tons of cheap stuff, including (thankfully) coat hangers. Needless to say it lacks charm or anything remotely authentically Italian. In spite of that, for the first week we went to Happy Home almost every day looking for something - napkins, pillows, detergent. Now it has become an important landmark for us and whenever we need anything Henry’s first response is “Let’s go to Happy Home!!” Gabriella is done with the place though – it does NOT make her happy – it’s not quite part of the dream.

As far as getting settled there have been obstacles and frustrations, but really not anything insurmountable or too onerous.  Overall it's been a very smooth transition.  Well, except Thursday – we both concur Thursday was a bad day - too much bureaucracy, too many technical problems, too many dead ends, and way too many language issues. It was a day when we both wondered “Why are we here at all?” and “Whose idea was this anyway?” But every day since has been a GOOD day. Some have been GREAT days.

One of the biggest glitches has been getting an internet connection, which we finally worked out after multiple trips to the computer store and numerous conversations with the store staff (who don’t speak English) and our landlord (who does). It turns out the apartment has no phone line, and therefore no possibility for a DSL connection. Instead we have a device called an internet key which we plug into our computer and which gives us wireless internet access. YAY!!

Also on the positive side our realtor, Clotilde, and our landlord, Daniela, are being super kind and helpful.  We couldn't possibly ask for more.  Already Daniela has invited us for coffee at her apartment and to a dinner date with friends of hers at a local pizzeria. She also gave us some folding chairs and a small table so we can sit on the balcony for a meal and enjoy the view. Can you say bliss?!?

 Clotilde voluntarily spent several hours with us at the Questura (“national police headquarters” – this is a place where nobody smiles and you want to be sure to behave VERY WELL) and the Post Office (in Italy “Post Office” is a euphemism for “hall of bureaucracy”) helping us with our Residency Permit. Thanks to Clotilde we learned you need to take a ticket number to reserve your spot “in line” after you arrive. There is no line per se. People just stand around waiting for their number to be called. This is the case at the Quetura, the Post Office, and also at the deli counter at the grocery store. This system is particularly helpful because the Italians as a rule do not stand in line. They push their way to the front regardless of who may have arrived before them. If it weren’t for the tickets we’d still be politely waiting to be served. 

By total coincidence for the first few days we ran into either Clotilde or her business partner on the street – even when we were in the far reaches of the city. It helped us feel like we actually know people here!

The City has been bustling this weekend: the weekly Saturday market; an annual “Festa dei Sapori” – a festival of foods from around Europe; and a flea market to raise funds for cancer research. All three of which were noisy, in a good way, and packed with people. But we can’t hear any of it from our apartment – it is so tranquil here. For two English speaking introverts it’s nice to have a quiet place to retreat.

Despite being introverts, we miss our friends! Our email addresses are the same so feel free to send us a message, ask questions etc. We look forward to hearing from you!


  1. My wine goblet and my espresso demitasse overflow with joy for the two of you.

  2. Your place looks wonderful! I'm glad you're getting settled in and have got enough hangers. Happy Home - what a riot! Ciao -

  3. OMG!! What a great blog and thanks for helping me remember all the wonderful times we had as we adapted to Alessandria. I am so happy for the two of you...Love the pictures and can you believe the cost of wine??? Try the 1 Euro bottles too! Not too bad. Best to you and I send my love.
    Kim will write later...