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From Rome to Home 

25 Feb
25 February 2017. Moving is tough on every level. It’s non-stop labor, a constant stream of decisions to make, and an endless outpouring of money. After almost four months of transition, we have made the final move and are permanently installed in our new house in Lincoln City, Oregon (population about 8600). The kitchen is assembled, new flooring installed, walls are freshly painted, and we’ve slept here eight nights. The new shower is almost done. Maybe by Wednesday. We have a few boxes remaining and the office and guest room to organize plus artwork to hang.
Janie has settled in nicely.

Janie has settled in nicely.

Not surprisingly, we have some observations and musings about our move and new town.
Traffic Jam. Heavy traffic in Lincoln City in winter consists of more than three cars stopped at a red light. That will change when the tourists arrive in the summer, and traffic is a bit heavier on weekends even now, but what a pleasure it is to drive with virtually no traffic! We drive 28 miles to get to the “big town” of Newport (population 10,268) to shop at Fred Meyer, but considering it can take me an hour to go 10 miles from Beaverton to the East side of Portland to meet friends for dinner, the 40 minutes zipping along with a view of the Pacific Ocean makes me happy.
The shower in the master is not quite ready to use.

The shower in the master is not quite ready to use.

People are very trusting, Part I. There was no key to our mailbox in the development (14 households on our cul-de-sac), so we stopped by the Lincoln City Post Office and filed a request with the very friendly clerk. He said we’d get a call when the delivery person had changed the lock. No ID requested, no proof of residence. Huh. A week later we went back as we had not received a call. The key was there and another clerk simply handed it to us. No ID, no proof of residence required.
People are very trusting, Part II. We contacted a handyman service to get some help with furniture assembly (we cut a swath through IKEA to furnish the place), installing some fixtures, and getting the place cleaned after all the renovation work. A cleaning crew was dispatched and two strapping lads spent 3 days doing our punch list of tasks. The owner of the company simply emailed us an invoice. Never met us, never asked for a credit card nor a deposit. They did a great job.
The living room is waiting for a nice easy chair that will arrive in April.

The living room is waiting for a nice easy chair that will arrive in April.

Amazon and UPS instead of a moving van. On the occasion of my retirement in 2015, the government shipped back 1100 pounds of things we could not part with. It’s been sitting in storage in Portland. Artwork, precious family items, and model trains make a household complete, but you can’t sit on them nor eat off them. We also had a few boxes shipped from Italy at great expense; mostly clothes, some household items we cherished and could not replace.
The media room is missing a sofa, also arriving in April. Janie loves to sleep in the recliner, though.

The media room is missing a sofa, also arriving in April. Janie loves to sleep in the recliner, though.

Moving in we did not have the proverbial pot to pee in much less a bed to sleep in. (The house did come with two big screen TVs, however.) After the big IKEA sweep, I hit online shopping hard: Crate & Barrel, Wayfair, Potterybarn, Lands’ End, and especially Amazon. Most have free shipping if you buy enough stuff, or in the case of Amazon, have a Prime membership. We’ve always felt Prime was a good deal, but that $99 per year really paid off as FedEx, UPS, and the USPS dropped off a steady stream of Amazon boxes at our door. One single order was north of $2100.00 and the shipping charge was $1.00. I have not been able to figure out which product was the culprit as there were so many items in the order. We did not have to pack the stuff, we did not have to hire a moving van, but we had to unwrap a mountain of boxes. North Lincoln County Recycling has been very helpful moving that cardboard out.
The guys doing the flooring ran out of materials in our office so we had to wait a few extra days to finish setting it up.

The guys doing the flooring ran out of materials in our office so we had to wait a few extra days to finish setting it up.

Janie has adapted beautifully. She had been a bit of a pain-in-the-ass at Derek’s: very clingy, insisting on climbing on my pillow and sleeping on my head, waking me up with her twitching tail. We had to lock her out many nights just to get a few hours uninterrupted sleep. Upon arrival at the new house, she is back to her old sweet self. She fully explored the house her first day here and seems to understand this is her permanent place. She found cozy napping spots and has slept peacefully on the bed allowing us a full 8 hours or more each of the past few nights. And it is so quiet here! No motorini roaring past, not even barking dogs, and since our house has radiant in-floor heating, not even the gentle whoosh of a furnace. When it is clear, the stars look close enough to touch.
There is a lot of exploring to do. We’ve been non-stop on moving and settling in since February 8 and the weather has not been conducive to walks on the beach nor hikes in the woods. Today we finally had a chance to take a walk in the hills behind us and enjoy some sunshine and brisk (45F/7C) fresh air. It was our first real walk in three weeks.
We have come a long way from Rome, literally and figuratively, but we really feel at home here.
Now for a shameless plug: If you know of anyone traveling to Italy, please recommend they check out my book at Amazon. Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena is available worldwide in print and Kindle format.  I will be blogging more over at Project Easy Hiker if you would care to follow me.
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Ex expat

15 Jan
14 January 2017. Twelve weeks ago we were still roaming in Rome. Seems like a distant memory, almost a dream.
When I see photos on Facebook by my friends in Italy, I really miss it. Walking around at Christmas was a biggie. My heart wanted to be there; However, my mind knew the crowds and the usual problems would make me crazy.
Personally, I don’t miss living in Rome, but I do miss our Italian lifestyle if that makes any sense.
We miss the being able to do most of our errands on foot.
We walked everywhere in Rome. If a bus was not coming, we walked home. That is not remotely feasible in Portland where we are staying with our son. Case in point, yesterday we spent 30 minutes waiting for a bus delayed due to the snow. In Rome, even if we were all the way across town we just would’ve started walking because it was possible to walk home in an hour-or-so from almost anywhere. There is no feasible route to do that here.
Not to mention it’s just incredibly beautiful to walk through Rome. Just saying. But then Oregon has some damn fine scenic elements. 
Walking was our major form of exercise, something we accomplished almost without trying. I cannot get to 10,000 steps here without making a major expedition. Hoping I can change that big time when we move to the Oregon Coast next month.
We miss being able to walk to-and-from dinner.
In Rome, we could not only walk across town but could walk to dozens of restaurants we would be excited to dine at. And we would work off the calories by walking at least one way most of the time. It’s terrific to walk 20, 40, or even 60 minutes after a nice dinner. 
We miss coffee bars and cheap, high-quality cappuccini.
In Italy, it is a God-given right to have a great cappuccino for about €1.10. That’s about $1.17. A great cappuccino served at a table outside a little cafe, possibly with a gooey chocolate cornetto that cost €.90. For €4.00 ($4.26) we would have our repast. Since we frequented Bar Ponte Milvio, we would leave a Euro now and then for our friendly server and the guys behind the bar.
By contrast, this morning, we paid $11.00 for two black coffees and two pastries, we served ourselves, and they expected a tip! The pastries were good, but seriously?
I miss speaking Italian.
Luckily I have a class “Keeping up in Italian” starting next week, and I play Parole con Amici (Words with Friends) daily to keep my head in it. OTOH, I do love understanding everything that is said and going on around me and being able to make myself understood in a grammatically correct manner. 
We miss hopping on a train.
Ah, the ease of travel in Europe! We could go anywhere as long as we had a cat sitter. Tuscany for the weekend? Venice just for dinner? (Yeah, we did that once and spent the night.) Joyriding to Paris via Milano beat flying. Now we will have to mount a major expedition just to visit. And flying is a necessary part of U.S. travel. (I can’t see hopping on the Empire Builder to go to Minnesota and taking 37 hours.)
We miss excellent wines at a non-budget-busting price.
Wine in stores in the U.S. is not priced too badly, but in restaurants, well, apparently thievery is not illegal. $11.00 for a glass of wine is not uncommon. We could buy a bottle of decent Sicilian wine in a restaurant for about $17.00.
We do have a fine Farmer’s Market in Portland. Fine, especially if the weather is good. It’s tough to get there in the snow.
OK, enough whining. Yes, we knew we’d miss this stuff. We knew what the U.S. was like and we came back anyway. You know why? Because STUFF WORKS HERE.
  • You can run all of your appliances at the same time without blowing a circuit and you can afford to pay the bill afterward.
  • We have a clothes dryer. I can do three loads of clothes before noon, including sheets, which would have taken an entire day to dry in our spare bedroom during winter.
  • You can buy anything you want at most large grocery stores. Not only food but lightbulbs, batteries, cosmetics, greeting cards, gifts, stamps. You do not have to go to four different specialty stores. And you can get cash from the cashier when you use your debit card. I’d completely forgotten about that convenience.
  • You do not need to have €200.00 cash in your pocket to get you through the week. Debit cards are magically accepted even for a coffee. (But then a coffee can cost $3.00 so why not?)
  • No one sneers at credit cards and you can return items if you make a buying error. This is no small thing.
  • Nice clothes are affordable and there are petite sizes for those of us who are height challenged. Funny how you can buy clothes made of Italian wool in the U.S. at an affordable price point but you can hardly find them in Italy.
  • You can go to a bank and talk to a teller without waiting 20 minutes. And the teller will be pleasant and bend over backward to help.
  • The Internet really is a fast web. (Play on words there. Our provider in Rome was “FastWeb” and they weren’t. Fast, that is.)
  • The buses come when they are supposed to, and tell you when they are late. We have an app that tells us when the bus is scheduled and that gives real time updates as to actual arrival. So if traffic is heavy and the bus is moving slowly, you know it before you leave the house. Buses never just disappear as they did in Rome. Knowing when the bus is coming is a big deal and Rome has not mastered that service.
  • My cousin calls the U.S. the “Land of Stuff.” That is good news and bad news. We over consume in the U.S. OTOH, you can satisfy a lot of desires and solve a lot of problems with the products available to us here.
  • Online shopping is superb. Amazon and Alexa, we love you.
  • The U.S. Post Office, bastion of good service that it is, should be a role model for the world.
People, of course, were a major factor in moving back to the U.S. We have enjoyed the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with family for the first time in years, and are enjoying dinners with friends when we can get out of the frozen wasteland of our neighborhood. (There have been two major snow events and one minor one since mid-December. Having a car has been a bit of a joke.) Being on the same continent as your family has benefits.
It is more expensive to live in the U.S. We did not move back as a shrewd financial move. It would have been more affordable to live in Italy, from a strictly dollars-and-cents perspective. However, I don’t think I would want to grow very old in Rome. It’s just not an easy place to live, period. We are, after all, and for better or worse, Americans.
We will be back, Italy! To visit. 

 

Left coast life

17 Nov
17 November 2016. It has been scarcely three weeks since we left Rome. In that time, we have been to the dentist and eye doctor, bought new glasses, established ourselves with a General Practitioner, figured out public transportation in Portland, learned to drive again, bought a car, and had an offer accepted on a house after a 3-night trip to the Oregon Coast to “start” house-hunting. Yes, we will truly be living on the left coast, at Lincoln City, Oregon. Here’s our house-to-be. It’s about a mile from the beach. house
Driving is a necessary annoyance. We have a lovely hybrid vehicle; However, we are still trying to use public transportation for trips to the city centre to avoid the hassle of parking and to keep ourselves walking and wandering and discovering. You cannot adequately explore a place by car as well as you can on two feet.
We have made progress in the ever-important search for good coffee. We have managed to find three places: Coffee Time  on Northwest 21st Avenue makes an excellent and small cappuccino, Grand Central Baking just a block from our son’s house makes a smooth and rich cappuccino, and Great Harvest Bread Company  on Southwest 2nd Avenue made an Americano I found pleasant: not burned, not bitter, and not too big if you ask them not to add too much water. We have found that a flat white at Starbucks is pretty good and at 8 ounces about the right size. At $3.40 it is hardly a value and they expect a tip!
Last time I shared some of our observations after only a few days back in the U.S. In the past 10 or 12 days we’ve noted many more. These are things we took for granted until we lived overseas for 4 1/2 years. Now, they are astounding.
  1. Elevators are huge! I had forgotten you can put 10 people in an elevator without having to become intimate.

    This is the elevator at our embassy apartment in Roma. You coudl get 3 not-too-big people in it. One might call it "intimate." Quaint.

    This is the elevator at our embassy apartment in Rome. You could get 3 not-too-big people in it. One might call it “intimate.” Or quaint.

  2. In the US, cars do not park on the sidewalks nor in the pedestrian crossings.

    No one parks like this in Portland, but this is a failry common approach in Rome: on the sidewalk and in the pedestrian zone.

    No one parks like this in Portland, but this is a fairly common approach in Rome: on the sidewalk and in the pedestrian zone.

  3. Maybe it’s just in Portland, but buses are terrific! The drivers welcome you on board and they arrive on time. Most remarkably, rather than flagging a bus down as one does in Rome (or they won’t stop), the other day while standing at a stop serving 2 different lines we had to wave off the bus we did not need. So polite! Of course, the cost is much higher. A single trip is $2.50 versus €1.50 in Rome. My Roman friends will gasp when I tell them an annual pass is $1100.00 versus the €250.00 we paid in Rome, but then the buses here run on time and show up.
  4. People do not talk while riding on public transportation. It’s almost like being in Paris. They also wait for you to get off before shoving their way on board, and people queue up. I’ve even been deferred to in boarding. In Rome, people would shoulder me out of the way in the scurry to claim a spot onboard.
  5. The mentally challenged engage you in conversation on public transportation. In Rome, we seldom saw challenged people of any sort out alone, if they were out in public at all. It is refreshing to see people of varying abilities making their way around the city, confident and free, accepted by their fellow travellers.
  6. Dogs pee on the grass. Sidewalk puddles are (usually) from rain. This may only have meaning if you have lived in a big city without grassy areas.
  7. I can wash and dry clothes at the same time while making espresso and ironing. This is huge. Thank you, USA, for plentiful and affordable electricity. And we could turn the heat on before November 15. 
  8. I no longer need to clean the calcium out of the cat’s water dish with vinegar.
  9. Tipping is the scourge of America. Prices are so much higher than Europe as a whole, yet we are expected to tip even if we serve ourselves at the counter. This is going to take some getting used to.
We are thankful for all of you who have followed our story since GoodDayRome debuted 4 1/2 years ago. I am not sure where to go with blogging. Obviously, for awhile I will have little to say about Rome. I will keep posting what’s going on in our lives as our transition continues, so I hope you will stay for the ride. When we travel back to Europe, I will probably blog about our travels.
I am writing a book about easy hiking in Italy’s Val Gardena. It is for people like Ric and me (yeah, old people), people with children, or anyone who does not fancy climbing mountains but enjoys a good stroll. If I can take a deep breath and work on it consistently for a few days, it should be published on Amazon by late January. I will let you know here when it launches. Maybe 5 or 6 people will actually buy it. 
For our American friends and readers, Happy Thanksgiving! It is exciting to be back in the USA for this most-American of holidays and I am looking forward to our family gathering and cooking up a storm.
kitchenSpeaking of cooking, I can hardly wait to start cooking in my kitchen-to-be.
 

 

Back to reality

4 Nov
3 November 2016. Returning to the U.S. has not been without surprises. It still amazes us to walk into a grocery store and see the embarrassment of riches available in the land of stuff. Sure, the shelf space devoted to pasta is minuscule compared to that in Italy, but my God we have everything in our markets! From French cheese to cosmetics and prepared foods, we can get it all in one stop. Italy has its many charms, but I can appreciate an efficient supermarket and access to food items other than Italian.
Here are some of our observations after a few days of wandering around Portland:
Yup, lots of olives here, but at double the price we paid in Roma!

Yup, lots of olives here, but at double the price we paid in Roma!

  1. The reason people order 400-calorie flavored lattes at Starbucks is to cover up the taste of the coffee.
  2. Mendicants will give you a sincere compliment when hitting you up for a donation. Apparently my color coordination was quite stunning, according to one panhandler. I did not donate to his cause.
  3. People park where they are supposed to.
  4. We had forgotten about samples in the grocery store. You can practically have lunch walking through an American market.

    We had forgotten about samples in the grocery store. You can practically have lunch walking through an American market.

    Boxed wine takes more shelf space at Fred Meyer than pasta does in our little market in Parioli.
  5. You cannot live without a car if you live more than a couple of miles from the city center. It took me 2 transfers and 75 minutes to go 9 miles in Portland on public transportation: Bus to MAX light rail to Portland Streetcar. Ridiculous. 
  6. Food is crazily expensive in the U.S. and the price of wine is criminal. 
So many people have asked what’s going on with our return, I thought I would add a quick rundown of the past week.
We happened upon a wedding at the city hall while wandering around Frankfurt.

We happened upon a wedding at the city hall while wandering around Frankfurt.

We flew out of Roma to Frankfurt on Thursday, October 27. We spent two nights there so Janie, our sweet 20-year-old cat, could recover from the shorter flight before the long one to the West Coast. Just going to Frankfurt, she had to be in her carrier for 6 hours what with the transfer from home to FCO, waiting time, flight time, and getting to the NH Hotel at FRA. Janie did well with the flight and hotel stay. She explored our room extensively then settled in to take a nap.
Janie relaxes with her mousie at the NH Hotel, Frankfurt,

Janie relaxes with her mousie at the NH Hotel, Frankfurt,

On the 29th we took the overwater 10+ hour flight to Seattle on Condor Airlines. You might ask why the routing FCO-FRA-SEA when we needed to go to Portland. There are precious few carriers that allow animals in the cabin on an over water flight: only KLM/Delta, Lufthansa, and Condor. KLM/Delta out of Amsterdam to Portland was crazily expensive and Condor offered some attractive pricing out of Frankfurt. Our seats cost less on Condor and they charged half as much for the cat under-the-seat, for example, as Delta did four years ago.
Waiting at FCO, Janie has a look around.

Waiting at FCO, Janie has a look around.

The 29th was a long, long day for all of us. We nabbed premium economy seats so with Janie under my feet we had a little extra legroom. I took her out four times in flight, scofflaw that I am, for cuddles and to check the cleanliness of her carrier. Fifteen hours from hotel to hotel is a long time without a litter box. I had lined her carrier with a sheepskin pad and taped an absorbent “wee-wee pad” around it, which worked well to keep her dry.
We traveled light: a rollaboard, which we checked, and a daypack each. About 1/3 of the capacity was stuff for Janie: collapsible/disposable litter boxes, litter, food, dishes. We each had a couple of changes of clothes and a laptop. Our needs are simple. Arriving at the hotel in Seattle Janie wasn’t sure if she wanted dinner or a litterbox first!
On our walk yesterday, a little waterfall. So very Oregon in the rainy season.

On our walk yesterday, a little waterfall. So very Oregon in the rainy season.

Sunday, we drove to Portland, which was fun after such a long absence. It was raining, so we felt appropriately welcomed to the Pacific Northwest.
Our son invited us to stay with him while we search for a house and get re-established, so we are doing just that: settling in, overcoming jetlag (coming west sucks), getting pre-approval on a mortgage, shopping for a vehicle, and today we start looking at real estate. We are unpacking some of the 10 boxes we shipped from Italy and starting to reconnect with friends (thank you Voyageurs Femmes for the grand welcoming last night!) and learn our way around on public transportation.
We have only been gone from Roma for a week and the 4 ½ years we spent there is already starting to feel like a dream. Did we really do that?

 

What I look forward to in the U.S.

26 Oct
26 October 2016. One day to go! We walk around Rome alternately maudlin and delighted. While we are ready to move on to the next adventure, we will miss many things about this magnificent city. Walking to dinner in any number of neighborhoods, enjoying the architecture, stopping in any little bar for a good coffee. Pizza. But the romance of Roma and thoughts of staying can be dashed in an instant by a tangle with bureaucracy, and as we try to depart there are daily tangles. Save me from service businesses that close for lunch just when I need to run an errand, like at 2:00PM two days before we move!
This is part four of my four-part series on what I will miss and not miss in Italy and the U.S. Here’s what I am looking forward to in the U.S.
My clothes dryer in summer. In the winter the "dryer" is in the second bedroom.

My clothes dryer in summer. In the winter the “dryer” is in the second bedroom.

  • Clothes dryers. Hanging clothes out to dry is not too bad in the summer. In the winter it can take 48 hours for jeans to dry and I have to set up a drying rack in the second bedroom. Doing sheets and towels without a dryer is a chore I would gladly skip. And without a dryer, one has to do a lot more ironing. Dryers also take the lint and cat hair off my black tee shirts.
  • Running multiple appliances at the same time. I cannot iron while I wash clothes. We cannot make coffee and toast at the same time unless we are really lucky. The washer and the electric tea kettle running simultaneously can also pop the circuit. The cure is a trip down four floors to the basement to reset the breaker. We are looking forward to electrical service that can handle multiple appliances at one time, as well as to less ironing.
  • Ethnic food. Mexican, Tex-Mex, Thai, Sushi, Vietnamese, Indian, and HALIBUT! Oh, I have missed halibut! We have great food in Italy. GREAT food. But I miss having some good alternatives.
  • Using my superb English skills. My Italian has gotten pretty good but I still do not understand much about the culture and how things work. Politics defies understanding unless you grew up here, I think. It is difficult for me to stand my ground, to argue when something isn’t going my way. It’s a national past-time here. I do that VERY well in English.
  • Netflix and Vudu got all cranky a few months ago and will no longer stream dependably through a VPN so we cannot get all the American content we want in Italy. Luckily Amazon Prime Video works most of the time.
  • Family and friends and easy visits with the people we love. We have had a wonderful time hosting people here, but it’s not as easy as having a monthly dinner date. I miss my girlfriend time (Voyageur Femmes, I am speaking of you!). Looking ahead to Thanksgiving in Seattle and Christmas in Durango!
  • The Portland Farmers’ Market. While it’s only held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and it’s only there for 9 months of the year, it’s a lot of fun. I am looking forward to finding more options to buy direct from the farmer and not only the produce but also meat and poultry. Santa Rosa-style burrito, anyone?
  • Talbots, Nordstrom, Zappos, and Amazon.com. I love online shopping. Period. Nothing more to say.
  • Pinot Noir from Oregon. There is wonderful wine in Italy, of course, and it is inexpensive, but Oregon Pinot Noir is something special. In the U.S., we can get wine from anywhere in the world. In Italy, you get wine from Italy. 
  • Going out to breakfast now-and-then. (Hashbrowns and bacon!) No one in Italy knows how to make a decent omelet. Frittata, yes, but not omelets. Hashbrowns do not exist outside of the commissary at the U.S. Embassy, and I don’t have access to that anymore. However, I don’t think Ric nor I can down the big breakfast these days. We’ll have to split a portion. 
  • Reading the Sunday paper. Such a nice thing to do on a Sunday morning. I might wait until after the election, though. Well after. 
We are packed. The last shipment through Mail Boxes Etc. was dropped off today. We have the travel certificate for Janie Gray. Now, what have I forgotten?
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