Monthly Archives: December 2008

Not Italian but very popular

Although I don’t believe this song is actually new, I’ve just started hearing it on the Italian radio station…and love it. Maybe I’m into the kicky beat or just digging the good ol’ English. Amy MacDonald: This Is The Life.

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Holiday Wrap-up

We’re back from a week in the Italian countryside with a big group of friends. The villa was amazing, the kids were hilarious and the adults were…tired! So nice to get out of the city and even better to spend a little time not agonizing about where we’ll live. (More on that shortly.)

Paul and I visited a few neighboring towns, took walks up to a hillside village above the villa and partook in an ill-fated olive oil tasting expedition with friends Dave, Karin and baby Annika (full story to come.)

Most families did some sightseeing during the day then met up for a home cooked meal and a game or movie in the evening. PM and I cooked on the first night, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic and curried couscous with Paul’s nearly famous bruschetta pomodoro. What started out as a smokefest thankfully turned into a tasty meal.

Photo finish: Eric put together lots of pictures from a few people’s cameras and we’ve got some snapshots below:

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Apartment update

In the last week we’ve seen several more places–and discovered a surprising contender. Here are the new choices:

1. A former convent. (FIRST row from TOP) This apartment has an amazing location, near the historic center of Rome which you can actually see from the huge terrace. The downside is that being a former nunnery, the rooms are very small, ceilings low (Paul couldn’t stand up in the dining room without bumping his head) yet the price was very high. Next…

2. Shabby-chic historical. (SECOND & THIRD row from TOP–it’s in the running!) At 220 square meters, this is by far the largest apartment we’ve seen. It’s got lovely bones and a neat historic structure: living rooms on one side, “private” rooms on the other with french doors connecting them throughout. There are six rooms in total plus a kitchen, pantry and two bathrooms. The terrace runs the length of the bedrooms. The negatives are: we don’t currently own any furniture apart from our bed and it needs to be fixed up (which the land lady assures us will happen). All this said, this apartment is The Contender for now.

3. Brand new, mystery price. (THIRD row from BOTTOM.) Paul’s colleague tipped us off to this beautiful apartment near the Spanish Steps. It’s so new that it’s still under construction. Similar in layout to the shabby chic place, it’s got a huge living room with French doors leading to a dining room and another set going into the kitchen. Two and a half bedrooms — and four bathrooms! On the negative side: no outdoor space and an iffy response to my most important question, “Is it dog friendly?” Oh, and we have no idea of the rent. The elderly land lady said we should talk about it later…

4. Trastevere mini. (SECOND row from BOTTOM) We’ve been hoping to view this apartment for a couple of weeks now. The current tenant is apparently traveling in the Far East, so it had been impossible to get the keys(!) until now. Nice enough but lots of clothes and things strewn about, so harder to picture it orderly. Another place with a lofted living room — and Paul’s head hit the top again. This place didn’t feel very airy and also lacked outdoor space so it won’t work for us.

5. Nicer historical. (BOTTOM) Another apartment with a long hallway and a million rooms! This one is much fussier though and somehow less appealing. Plus it’s much more expensive.

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Italian lessons save money

There’s a sandwich and pizza shop around the corner from us that’s always packed. Yesterday I decided to try it out. But unfortunately my Italian, which is rudimentary at best, gets much worse when my blood sugar is low. Plus there’s a certain amount of pressure that builds up as you’re waiting your turn in a busy lunch spot.

It was under these conditions that I clumbsily explained my request through a combination of Italian (10%), English (30%) and hand gestures (60%). The sign above the sandwich (panino) clearly said 1 Euro and 30 cents. But thanks to my extremely American communication style, I was charged 2 Euros. No matter. This happens often; tourists have a different rate. Once you get to know a place, become a regular or at least a fluent local, the prices magically come down. Except for today.

Back for more I ordered the same sandwich–in Italian–answered the 5 or so sandwich related questions–in Italian–but let a single “yes” slip. That was it.  The man behind the counter actually repeated it quietly and almost playfully, “yes, yes, yes” as he took the panino from the deli case to the oven.

Then he charged me 2 Euros 40 cents.

Thank heavens that my language lessons start in January. Our bank account depends on it.

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Christmas Villa

With the holidays around the corner, our group of ex-pats (including a couple traveling in from Amsterdam with their baby daughter) is headed for a villa in Umbria. This region is just north of Rome, south of Tuscany, about two and a half hours out of town…and something I’m deeply looking forward to!

Housed in the villa will be 11 adults, 6 children and one dog (sadly not Carter–next year!). To be sure we’ll have stockings, presents and meals aplenty. Reports of a partridge in a pear tree have not yet been confirmed.

On the activity agenda is a tour and tasting of an olive oil farm/factory and wine tastings for those not with child. Paul and I plan to spend time shopping and meandering the streets of nearby ancient villages (Assisi, Citta Di Castello and more) and at least equally appealing is the idea of watching Christmas movies snuggled up with Christmas cookies, especially for those with child.

Wonder if we could just live here? That would solve the apartment question

Umbria Villa

Dining room

Sitting room

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20 apartments

It’s been exactly one month since we arrived. We’ve seen sights, Paul’s started his new job and we’ve enjoyed many meals. But my primary task has been apartment hunting, and what a hunt it’s been. Our friends Dan and Amy told us that it would take two to three months to find a long-term rental, and they were not whistling Dixie. (But leave it to me to think surely I can just jump in there and find something within a month or so. If I really apply myself…) It’s not that there isn’t anything available, there is. Our issues mainly involve two things: dreamy expectations and a new marriage.

When I pictured our move to Rome, I really expected historical loveliness to be within reach. An elegant building with big wooden shutters, maybe exposed beams and terra cotta flooring. A villa with orange trees, perhaps. To my surprise, most of the apartments in Rome are actually 60s style buildings aptly called “box apartments”. They’re high-rises with terraces, but not in a good way. At all. There are also 80s style buildings with equally dated decor. Both of these styles are actually sought after by Italians, considered high quality because they’re new and usually remodeled at considerable expense. Of her own mustard yellow bathroom, Amy commiserated, “I didn’t even know that marble came in that color.” Clearly I need to get more familiar with the Roman aesthetic.

Beyond that, Paul and I are newlyweds who have never lived together and as it turns out, have wildly different tastes. I’d prefer a charming neighborhood with tree-lined streets and grand looking villas. Somewhere quiet and peaceful, an oasis amid the busy city. Paul’s ideal location would be in the middle of a street. A busy street.

So, with a full month to go before we need to move from our (perfectly nice) sublet, the number of places we’ve seen is closing in on twenty. Dan says that’s the magic number. On more than one occasion he’s told us, “You need to see like twenty apartments before you’ll find something. Take your time because there are some great places in Rome.”  This must mean that The One is just around the corner. I like this sound of it because I’m eager to get settled, plus it would put us ahead of schedule after all.

In the meantime, a selection of our options. The good, the bad and the mod…

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Family day

Last weekend we went exploring with the Bells, who were at our wedding in August and also moved to Rome this winter. Eric and bundled up daughter, Alex, below.

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Winter afternoon


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Getting philosophical

To celebrate Ryan’s birthday, a small group of us went to dinner at a nice restaurant in a neighborhood called Testaccio, just over the bridge from our place. Built on top of ancient ruins, the restaurant’s floor was partially made of thick glass offering a surreal view of tunnels and other structures under your feet. Further inside, the main dining room has a more formal look but there’s something dated about it. I kept thinking of a fancy dining car on a first class train from the forties, back when train travel was much more glamorous. But above all, the place was packed with people-watching opportunities: A group of what could have only been politicos wearing suits and slicked back hair. An older couple; she wore fur, he doted on her. And of course the requisite May-December romance. But my favorite moment came when the tuxedo-clad waiter came to explain the specials. I asked him if he could tell me more about a particular dish the menu. His response: “It is enough for you to know that it exists.” Neat.


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Things I wish I could buy in Rome

Before I begin, I have to disclose something. It’s entirely possible that one or more of the following are actually available in Rome and I simply haven’t been able to find them. Probable, actually. But in the meantime, it would be nice to find:

  • Brown sugar
  • Scented candles
  • White long-sleeved t-shirts from Old Navy
  • David Sedaris’s new book
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Almonds
  • Trader Joe’s pre-natal vitamins (don’t worry, I have others but I do enjoy TJ’s)
  • Muffin tins
  • Organic cotton onesies
  • Furniture from a store other than Ikea

To balance it out, there are many things available here that one could not find–not with ease–in the US. These include Nutella, Smart cars, fresh (often home-grown and hand-pressed) olive oil,  postcards of your incredibly ancient surroundings…


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