So, since we moved here I have had plenty of time to think. I have also had a couple people ask about this. I am going to share my thoughts with you, my friends.
I have decided there are two Italys. I guess I have just really realized this since moving. We used to live in one Italy, and now we are living in the other Italy. When Americans think of coming to Italy, they think of life in the small, ancient and quaint hill towns, or life in the bucolic countryside. The houses always have beams and archways and terra cotta tiles, with outside loggia to enjoy dinners in the open air. Yes, that is one Italy. Life in the Centro Storico, where we lived before, was this Italy.
The other Italy I have decided is the real Italy. It is where the middle class Italians live in apartments. Almost always in a city or town and usually in a newer neighborhood. By that I mean newer than the ancient centers. Our building has four apartments off of our common stairway and elevator. The neighbors we have met are super nice and very friendly but living busy lives with jobs, children, dogs and Nonni. There are shops on the ground floor. Street parking along the streets. A couple nice coffee shops nearby. Butcher, pasticcerie etc. nearby too. But it is NOT quaint.
Me, being American, miss that quaintness very much. But there are big disadvantages to it as well. The old buildings are drafty. They have thick stone walls and no insulation. They get cold in winter and stay cold. They have numerous stairs. They are generally vertical. Systems don’t always work like we would like. Unless you completely strip them to the walls and rafters and start anew. Our newer building (it’s about 50 years old) is warm. With actual insulation! What a concept. We have had a few Italians in, workmen, my housecleaner, and they love the apartment. It is an Italian’s dream but not necessarily an American’s.
I’m not sure what point I am trying to make. I guess I just wanted to put into words what I’ve been thinking about. My observations.
We just returned from a walk to the kilometer zero market. Not many stands right now. We are reaching the end of winter vegetables, and not quite to the spring vegetables. I bought more chard. We had a caffè at bar Mary and chatted with Irene. I took some donations to Books for Dogs. We checked the mail at our old apartment, went to the Carrefour and the butcher for spalla dì maiale, pork shoulder. I saw I can cook it in the instant pot.
Buon fine di settimana a tutti!
Hi Tony, yes, the reality is real. Living in a place like our former apartment, although we adored it makes you realize the good and bad sides. It was not convenient. What price convenience? But I’ll still always miss it.
Hi Louann, thanks for the nice comment. You were lucky to get your place and it sounds wonderful. If we had had more time we may have found another “perfect” place but since we sold and had to go pretty soon we had to decide. All your observations are spot on. I am sure which time I will adapt. You’re right, it is the new “norm”
Hi Carlo, that’s a good point. Any of the old historic centers, be them here or the Us have many of the same pros and cons. It is just that now I am really thinking about it more. You will see soon, where we are living now.
Hi Cynthia, I won’t ask where you’re looking, but you’re being smart, unlike me back 9 years ago. My town is really quite perfect for aging in place. Most everything we need is in walking distance. The Centro is quaint. But Umbertide is not a tourist town, nor that picturesque. It was the stairs that told us we needed to make a move sooner rather than later from our last place. And I will remember what you said, we had the dream. It will always be in my memories.
Hi William, I can imagine moving from the bucolic Marche to anywhere in the north would be a real adjustment, just like mine. Good luck on your change.
Many Americans view of living abroad comes from watching (staged) house hunters episodes, it was our view for a very long time until we actually had a chance to live abroad and the illusion is completely rearranged. The lessons we learned from that and visiting other locations staying in AirBnB situations has also given us an insight at what the reality is. For some they still want that first Italy and might have to make that adjustment to the 2nd Italy once the illusion changes focus.
Just loved your rumination about the “two Italys!” You hit the nail on the head! As retirees, we looked a year for just the right house in Italy. Ground floor apartments were nonexistent. All had tons of stairs that for our age, a lift would have been necessary and there are few of those. Those with unique features in Centro Storico areas would require remodeling from the ground up! We needed to find a place in town as we didn’t plan on a car as we only live half the year in Italy, the other half in the States. All the places for sale had a million steps, cold stone walls and poor wiring and plumbing.
If we had chosen to be permanent residents, the place we would have chosen would have been different than what we chose. We are grateful and feel fortunate to have found a turn-key house from the 15th century in a Centro Storico. The owner had hired an architect who remodeled extensively so we didn’t have to. Radiant heat under oak floors, new boiler and kitchen, and air conditioning in every room. We also have an outside terrace off our kitchen. The architect had a desire to keep it authentic as possible. It originally was composed of 5 independently attached apartments (each with only one room with a fireplace). We still have 5 addresses and 5 entrances, 1500 sq feet total.
We would have been too cold in this house if we lived where you are. This house wouldn’t have worked. But this far South meant only a couple weeks of needing to add an electric heater when sitting around. We could put a stufa in the living room fireplace but so far it hasn’t been cold enough to bother. So, when anyone is looking for a place, the location and the winters are the most important to consider!
I know you will love your home once you get it the way you want it to look. A view is not that important as you only need to take a short walk to see the view. You made the right choice at the right time! A “new norm”as we call it.
When you think about it, that’s true of any almost any place with an old historic city center. In the historic center of Annapolis, Maryland the houses are quaint and charming. Which means they can be a few hundred years old and most likely remodeled multiple times over the last few decades. If you’re lucky, they’re better insulated but usually quite drafty. The floors are uneven and not level. The glass in the windows has sagged unless it has been replaced. All these things are considered by historians and the buyers as desirable relics of the past. But, you really do have to out up with a lot—including high prices, limited parking, and meddlesome historical societies. It was like that in Old Town Alexandria, too, where you moved from to Italy. I guess it’s all part of the charm most people just aren’t willing or financially able to put up with.
Based on the number of replies here, I’d say you’re not alone in your thinking!
I think most of us who consider a move to Italy go through some of the same process. We love the dream; the reality isn’t always so charming. The town I’ve identified for myself isn’t old or pretty. It’s post-war construction, most of it unattractive and disjointed. But it meets my needs in other ways that older towns don’t.
The reality for me is that I’m retiring and need to plan for aging. I don’t want to move later, after beginning to establish relationships. I have a reconnaissance trip in April/May to see if I can actually imagine myself living there. Fingers crossed!
I guess you can look at your situation as being fortunate to have experienced the dream, and now living in the reality of the next chapter of your life. I do understand the disappointment, though. Is it better to have loved and lost…? 😉
Hi again. After tasting, I did leave the sausage out. These posts from your “fans” are really terrific. Should be required reading for anyone considering a move.
Glad to hear that you move was successful and all goes well. We moved from Le Marche to north eastern Italy last fall. We are experiencing very similar feelings, as you describe in your post.
Hi James, excellent comment. All of these comments are making me ponder. I remind myself we are really only a ten minute walk from our center, it’s festivals, markets etc. but this place is more efficient. And has lots of shops nearby. I love Foligno too, and would have gone there had we found a good place, but we didn’t. It is a great town, flat, walkable, much happening, old traditions. That you’re thinking of retiring to a more efficient, comfortable place is heartening to me.
Hi Vanessa, thanks for this nice comment. When we bought before we were blinded by the beauty and the character of our old place. So many people are. You’re smart to have tried it out and seen the light. In hindsight, we also looked at a new-build ground floor with garden, garage and views of the city walls that we rejected. That would have been the wisest choice. We don’t have great views here but we have the terrace. I hope to make that the main focus.
Great post. I think we have an “in-between” experience in Foligno. We live in an apartment in the historic center which is a mixed bag of ancient, old and new structures. Our apartment was built in the early 2000’s but is still stone cold in the winter and hotter than hell in the summer. One good thing was that it held up in the 2016 earthquake (another concern when living in historic centers in Umbria). We’ve managed to slay a few problems with dehumidifiers and fans. Even so, living here has many charming aspects: we are a 5 minute walk from full-service butches, bakers, green grocers and a myriad of cafes and restaurants. Foligno also enjoys some very old, traditional festivals which makes it a very Italian place. Having said all this, once we retire, we intend to move to a more efficient, comfortable apartment, likely in Tuscany.
Great post and so true! We are in process of looking at large apartments only in those exact type of 1950’s/1960’s buildings and think we have just found perfect one, just outside the old walls of a centro storico.When we started looking we were originally looking at very old picturesque places. After many trips and renting those old, gorgeous places to stay in, last year i went to Italy for an extended period to spend time looking and ended up renting a really large 1960’s build apartment that was unbelievably tastefully furnished and decorated. It was so comfortable and just so easy and had glorious view of the old town…. it completely changed our focus! We realized that as we get older maintaining a 500 year old structure may not be the easiest and really just want a low key easy life in retirement. I think you’ll soon make it your own!
Hey Matt, we did pulled pork sangwiches with cole slaw. It was good. It was in the instant pot pressure cooker mode. If it were me, i’d leave the sausages out.
Another great post, and so very true! I’m also making a pork shoulder stew tonight. Been in the slow cooker since 11 this morning – leek, onion, potato, peas, carrots. I think I may throw some Ameican fresh sausage in at the end – maybe overkill??
Thanks Brian, trying to keep an open mind and appreciate the differences!
Thanks J. We have friends between Gubbio and Pietralunga. Quite remote but the house has all I mentioned for quaint. Beams, wood stove in the hearth, arches, and my favorite is the open plan kitchen living area.
Hi Denise, at least we have a stufa. It makes it cheery, and warm. He haven’t needed the heat. Good windows are important. These here are ok but notas good as the windows at the last place.
Wonderful analysis of living conditions. You have elevated your thoughts to the bigger picture. Keep it up!
Good overview. Good summary.
Spot on analysis.
We have a house/villa, high on a Hill overlooking Gubbio.
Io capisco. We lived in the Veneto in a newer apartment about 20 years ago, and it was cold and damp with no source of comfort, like a fireplace. The windows were basic with shutters. I am wondering about moving someplace further south or even on the Adriatic coast to see whether it would be a more comfortable experience. That being said, the weather is only part of quality of life.
Hi Rebecca, yep, pluses and minuses. I need time to come to grips with it.
Hi Frances, I am so glad it is helpful. It’s something I had not thought of before this move.
Appreciating your remarks, as I am one of the many who think of living in Italy. Pluses and minuses, I guess.
The description of 2 Italys is very helpful!
Hi Nina. Our old apartment was so cold. We could really only keep it warm in the living room because of the stufa. That made for freezing trips to the bathroom and freezing after showers and when cooking. I actually didn’t mind that. I will miss it all. But I’ll miss the view and the Centro most. The thing is, it had to be done, so I must accept it.
Yes, it is certainly a trade-off. I miss the quaint. But not a lot we could really do when we decided to move for the sake of our aging selves.
Nancy, I completely get what you mean! My relatives in Marsala live in apartments just as you describe your current one. And I spent a year in a 600-year-old apartment building in Florence and, man, was it freezing in the winter!
Quaintness only gets you so far …
I know exactly what you are feeling. It’s definitely a mixed bag. Living in France, we have the same experience. We bought an ancient house for the charm and the history. It fits the “dream” we all have of living in Europe. That said, it’s cold in the winter, not so bad in the summer. There is only so much we can insulate without covering the old stone and plaster walls with drywall, which we refuse to do. France is serious about climate change, so they are making laws that, in the near future, will make it harder for eccentric romantics like us. They are moving toward forcing people to replace the old charming windows and hide their orginal walls behind plaster board. They also need to rethink some things. Old houses must breathe and one can over-insulate and prevent the house’s respiration, inviting damp. Luckily, by the time the most severe regulations kick in, we will probably be moving to retirement residence!