Jane's Travel Blog

New Chapter: Explore the World


Week Three – Our Visitors Arrive

Adventure and fun… The best words to describe this week.

Nancy and Gary Luck planned a tour of Italy, and added a week to visit us in Verbania They arrived Sunday Sept 13th. We had homemade chicken soup, walked along the lake, and had gelato to help the adjustment to the time difference.

Monday morning greets us with a warm sun, and we are off  to walk along Lake Maggiore headed for the old streets of Intra. Our stomachs tell us it’s time to eat and we settle in to a fine bottle of wine and an OK pasta. More wandering, a stop for gelato, (this happened almost every day) and the day ended with a picnic of cheeses, olives, bread and wine at the lake in front of our apartment.

Tuesday takes us across Lago Maggorie by ferry to the delightful town of Stresa. Here we explore opulent hotels built in the 1800’s, discover crazy large hydrangea flowers, (it turns out that gigantic hydrangea grow everywhere) and have a  relaxed long lunch with wine, great conversation, and wonderfully decadent pastas.  Northern Italian cuisine is influenced by the French. We missed a ferry which allowed time for, you guessed it, GELATO.

Wednesday’s a big day as we traveled into Switzerland on the Lake Maggiore Express. The express includes a Hydrofoil boat ride north on the lake into Switzerland,  a transfer to a panoramic train that took us into the Alps and then a fast train back to Stresa for a quick ferry ride back to Verbania. The views of the mountains took your breath away and Heidi showing up was a really possibility.

We got off the panoramic train in a sleepy ski town – Santa Maria Maggiore, and found the only restaurant open and had the best meal ever. Bob had the idea to order three pasta plates and share. The waitress returned with a tableside cart and prepared a plate sampling all three dishes for each of us – totally unexpected.

Thursday called for a walk to Villa Taranto, a garden with 20,000 species of plants. We wondered back to Intra to eat and found a family run restaurant. The pesto pasta and Jane size salads hit the spot, and of course so did the wonderful wine. I haven’t had a bad bottle of wine yet and the prices are insanely low.

Friday was a rainy day with lazy walks through the traveling market and a vodka inspired dinner at home – perfetto!

Saturday, the hike, The mountain trek. Stay tuned. This day gets a blog of its own.

Sunday we visited Villa Giulla for an exhibit of English gardens and a goodbye dinner complete with a birthday toast for Nancy. Monday morning came early and we shared a bitter sweet goodbye at the bus stop.

I’d say a perfect third week in our new home for the next six months.


Italian Bureaucracy

As amazing as our travels have been, we ran into a few complications.

To our surprise, we needed a codice fiscale, a number, to rent the apartment. It’s kind of like a social security number, but not. We were told it wasn’t hard to do, that is, if you can find the building. Bob checked the website, got the address and we were off. We arrived at the building, Bob explained what we needed and the woman quickly explained that we are in the wrong building. The office has moved and it’s too far to walk. Frustrated, we leave and wonder why they can’t update the website. It turns out that our property management lady could get the codice fiscale for us for a small fee. We happily paid.

The other big step is getting our “permesso di soggiorno” — permission to stay. Our visa requires us to check in within 8 days of arriving in the country. We thought this was just a quick stop by the post office to say, hey, we are here, loving it, and thanks for this beautiful town. Hugs, kisses, and smiles… But, not so much.

So Tuesday, Sept 2, our second day, we head over to the post office a few blocks away, easy. We walk in and just like in the U.S., there’s a line – two lines. So the first big question – Which line to stand in? One seemed to be for sending and receiving pacchi –packages, so we stand in the other one. It’s about 15 minutes of hot and stuffy waiting and I use this time to fan myself and observe. It turns out that you can pay your “consumable” – your utility bill at the post office too.

It’s finally our turn and Bob, in his good Italian, explains that we are requesting our permesso di soggiorno, and the woman behind the desk talks a mile a minute, shoves two large packets at us, says a few more things we don’t get and basically wanted nothing to do with us. The only thing we knew for sure was that an office nearby could help.

So, my thoughts of warm smiles, hugs and kisses and maybe even a balloon were dashed.

Now we felt dejected and sat on the bench under a tree to regroup. We were meeting Jan and Dave the next day. (Jan is the woman who wrote the article on Verbania in International Living that inspired us to come here.)

On Wednesday, we spent a delight day of exploring, drinking wine and getting our internet service. With Jan and Dave’s help, getting phones and internet went seamlessly, until we realized that our phones were blocked and could not accept the new SIM cards. We bought a new phone and all is good.

On Thursday, Bob ventures over to the Città di Verbania to discovers that we needed to go to the Ufficio Stranieri – office of foreigners to hand in the forms for the permesso di soggiorno, but they are closed until Tuesday. We were feeling better now because there seemed to be a clear path to getting this permesso thing done.

So as any smart traveler would do, we enjoyed the weekend and what a weekend it was. Once again our piazza did not disappoint. Right in our front yard was the Festival of Flowers. The piazza was turned into a celebration of countries. They created flags of all the countries with flower petals (see the pictures in the movie), bands played each night, and there was a swimming race in the lake from our beach to the islands and back. People dressed up in fancy gowns were all around.  We ate the locate fish fry under a tent and Bob stuck up a wonderful conversation with an Italian couple. His Italian is getting better and better.

After a fun weekend of flowers, on Tuesday we both dressed up a bit and headed over to the Office of Foreigners. We found the office on the third floor, again hot and stuffy, and meet the kindest and most highly competent man, Antonio. He looked up the procedure on line, and guided us through all the paperwork.  He carefully explained in Italian what we needed to do next (Bob’s Italian was amazing. I just nodded and smiled.)

So, the forms were ready and we needed to go to the tabacchi to pay a stamp tax on the forms. Yes, the same place you buy gum, cigarettes, magazines and post cards, you pay an official tax and get your official stamp.  Getting the stamp was as easy as buying a pack of gum, so we cross the street to the Post Office just a tad fearful because this is where the less-than-helpful lady is. Luckily, she is NOT the woman who deals with the permesso di soggiorno. It’s Grace, who is even more kind than Antonio, which I didn’t think was possible.

Grace begins the process of checking the forms almost as carefully as Antonio. She’s smiling, enjoying Bob’s Italian, and basically enjoying the task in front of her. I have to fill out part of a form and she’s as patient as a kindergarten teacher. It comes time to pay big bucks and the credit card machine doesn’t work, so Grace sends Bob off to a Bancomat (ATM) to get the cash.

Forty-five minutes later he returned. The Bancomat was not working and he had to find one that did. While he was gone, Grace worked on the rest of our paperwork, started another project and offered me some crackers. Again, I just smiled a lot. We made a few jokes about where Bob could have gone, and she never once seemed annoyed, and was as pleasant as could be. Bob returns with the cash, we finish up the last details and I’m sure if Grace had a balloon, she would have given it to me.

The final step is to go to the police station on Sept 26, bring four photos of ourselves, and check in. Grace made the appointments for us. We are a tad nervous, but will get it done!

It’s all a bit crazy, but the silver lining is that Bob’s Italian is getting better and better with every conversation. Thanks to Antonio and Grace, we will soon have our permesso di soggiorno.

Meanwhile, we’ve had an amazing week of adventure with the Lucks, friends from Milwaukee. Stay tuned. Coming soon.



We Arrived!

Well, we made it!

It’s ten times more beautiful that I imagined. “bella” beautiful.

We arrived at the Milan airport at 7:40 on Monday morning. (sorry for the delay in the post – jet lag has hit me hard) and easily found the bus stop for our trip to Verbania.

Everything felt exciting and new as we watched the scenes go by. As we turn to leave Arona, a small town on the way to Verbania, we get our first look at Lago Maggiore (meaning the largest lake). The bright blue sky accented the slightly moving water. The foothills of the Alps consumed your attention and I almost cried at the beauty. No shit, it was that amazing. I turned to Bob and said questioning, “Is this it? Is this the lake we are going to be living on for the next six months?” He simply nodded, overwhelmed as well with the beauty of the area. The rest of the bus ride, about 35 minutes was along the lake driving through small towns built into the foothills with terra cotta villas, Grand Hotels, and small cafes of which I imagined visiting. Stresa and Baveno are just two of the towns.

The bus dropped us off at the  Piazza Gramsci, and no lie, we walked two blocks down a stone cobble street road happily pulling our luggage. Bob had done the research and knew exactly where to go. It was quite impressive and I was grateful. Here, I cry. It was everything I had imagined and more perfect. We turned left from the cobble stone street onto our piazza, Piazza Garibaldi, and our yellow stucco apartment building peaked out of the trees. I’d seen it so many time in pictures.

Now, we are three hours early because we catch the early bus from the airport and realize we have no way to contact Tara, our landlord. We were to meet her at 1:30, so we think we have time to kill and notice a restaurant next to our building. As we are stashing our luggage in a shady spot, a woman comes out of the building and …yes, it’s Tara. We can’t believe our luck. Talk about synchronicity! After many welcomes it was decided we would meet back up in half an hour to see the apartment. Tara had another meeting.

Tara returned to the restaurant and took us up to the apartment and again we were pleased – it’s charming. Bigger and much sunnier than we thought for an attic apartment, with lots of clever nooks. After reading the contract, (I’m starting to feel the jet lag and almost fall asleep as Bob and Tara chat in Italian), unpacking a little, resting for a bit, (not a good idea to nap on the first day in order to adjust to the 7 hour time difference), we are off to the grocery to get a few items for a simple dinner.

After dinner, I’m in bed by 6:30 pm dead to the world. I woke up the next day at 10, and yes that is 16 hours of sleep. A lot for even me.

On our first full day, Tuesday, we walked about 1.5 kilometers to the “big” grocery to stock up with we could carry and spent the rest of the day settling in to our new home.

So much has happened since Tuesday, so I’ll write again in a few days.

This weekend there is a flower festival at our piazza. Our location is perfect!