Steve's "Sabbatical" - Part 6
Eleanor and I started this adventure hoping to live in Italy for up to a year. US citizens can remain in Italy for 90 days without a visa, so in order to stay longer, we would need a visa. To cut to the quick, we were not able to attain one. We don’t fit into any of the visa categories; job, retirement, student status, etc. So, the dream of a year is on hold. I am applying for citizenship through my ancestry and believe that I will have that in place in 2 or 3 years - Italian bureaucracy is slow and tangled! Hopefully, in a few years we can return, in the meantime, we are back in DC and I am excited to get back to work in the DC real estate market!
While we were blown away by the history, art, architecture and of course, the food, the most long-lasting and sweetest memories are related to the wonderful people that were part of our daily lives. By being in one spot for 3 months, we really got to know some locals and felt part of the community.
Our landlord, Cristina, turned out to be a treasure. Our apartment was on the first floor and she lived on the third floor above us. She owns a little clothing shop just around the corner and has lived in Arezzo all her life. Thus, she was an awesome resource whenever we needed a recommendation whether that was a restaurant, a tailor, a doctor, or the best place to shop for a specialty item. Google is great, but there is nothing like this kind of personal referral. When the big jousting event happened and I couldn’t get tickets, I just stopped in her shop, she made a couple of calls and the next day tickets were in my hands.
In Arezzo, and most places I have been to in Italy, it seems the locals all have their neighborhood bar - really more of what we would call a cafe. You can get a beer or aperitivo, but these places are not akin to a bar in the US. Our bar was Luna e Sole and it was literally less than 100 steps from our front door. Before or after a ride I would stop in for a coffee and a little bite and be warmly greeted by Antonio and Marianna. I think it was during my second visit when Antonio asked who I was and how I ended up in Arezzo - a question I got often.
Some bars also serve simple dinners. Having become friendly with Antonio and Marianna, I thought it would be nice to have dinner at their bar. Well, my wife and I were treated like family. It really felt like we were sitting in a relative’s kitchen and being served a home-cooked meal. We enjoyed complimentary Prosecco, Marianna’s pesto pasta (made with arugula and hazelnuts rather than basil and pine nuts) and for dessert the Tuscan classic Vin Santo and cantucci - a fortified white wine served with crunchy cookies you dunk in the wine. While we ate at many fine restaurants, this was the most memorable meal as we were treated like family with such kindness.
Laura was my language tutor. Two to 3 times per week I would walk to her apartment for a 90-minute lesson. While Laura spoke the most beautiful Italian, I would learn that she was originally from Romania. Not only did Laura help me with my language studies, but she also opened my eyes to Romanian culture in general - another place to visit! Additionally, she is a fabulous photographer and I am proud to have a few pieces of her work up in our home. What was really cool about our lessons was how she would assign readings and videos that led to fascinating conversations about Italian culture, customs, and current events. Even with my limited language skills, we were able to really dig into some interesting topics.
While we would have liked to stay longer, the 90 days we had in Arezzo will never be forgotten. Living in a medieval storybook was a dream, but the people we got to know and the time spent with them provide the longest-lasting and fondest memories.