Italy Expat FAQ: Apartment Hunting

ApartmentHunting

Question: Do you still live in the same apartment that we saw on House Hunters International? How did you find it? Yup, we're still here! We've been in this wonderful apartment since January 2011 and don't have any plans to leave in the near future. It really is a great apartment at a great price (and we have a good landlord).

We were actually already living in this apartment when we filmed the House Hunter's episode. We found this place two months before the actual move when we came over the for a 5-day apartment-hunting trip. We saw three places during that trip and this was our clear favorite. We strongly considered one a little further out of the city -- and I think we could have been happy there -- but in the end this one was best for us.

About two weeks before our apartment-hunting trip we contacted a few agencies with listings that I had found on www.immobiliare.it. One agency was particularly responsive so we went with them. Between our broken Italian and our agent's broken English we were able to navigate the system. The apartment-hunting trip was an extremely valuable experience for us. Because we were actually moving here -- as opposed to coming on a long holiday -- we wanted to see potential apartments in person and not rent something sight-unseen. I also felt like we avoided some of the stereotypical "holiday rentals" that are really high-priced in a city like Florence going that route.

That being said, holiday rentals through an agency can be a really good option for folks that can't make it over before their move OR that have the budget to rent these slightly higher cost (but typically nicer/better amenity) apartments.

P.S. To get the image for this post I rewatched our House Hunters episode for the first time in a year and basically giggled through the entire thing. The best part? The ridiculous city "map" of Florence that is completely wrong.

Visiting Florence, Italy with a Baby

Visiting-Florence-with-Baby A few weeks ago a reader emailed with questions about visiting Florence Italy with a baby. I realized that my answers to her would probably benefit a lot of parents that find our blog while planning their trip here.

Here are some answers to popular questions and concerns about visiting Florence, Italy with a baby:

Do taxis here have carseats? Short answer: a big, fat NO. I've never seen a taxi with one set up or even one in the trunk. I imagine if you tried to call for one that had a carseat you'd be waiting a very long time. I know what a pain in the neck that is because when you are visiting a new city you typically only need a carseat for the taxi rides to and from your hotel/apartment. Lugging a carseat around the world for half an hour of use is annoying. There are two ways to solve this problem: (1) hire a private car service for your airport transportation. It is much more likely you'll be able to find a car service with a car seat. (2) Take the airport shuttle bus*.

*My concern with this is who really wants to hop on public transportation with a baby after a long flight? Not me!

Should I bring my stroller? Will I be able to use it on the narrow cobblestone streets? Navigating 500 year old cobblestones with a stroller is definitely a learned skill, but it's totally doable. If you have a lightweight/umbrella stroller and it's not a total pain in the rear to bring it, I highly suggest it. Also, bring a Baby Bjorn or other carrier. They are VERY convenient.

Are there any baby gear rental services in Florence? Not as far as I know, which is unfortunate because the one we used in Paris was fantastic!

How are changing room facilities in Florence? Total hit or miss. Most smaller (i.e. good) cafes and restaurants won't have them or they will be super nasty and you won't want to get very close. My best advice is to map out where the department stores are (Coin and Rinescente come to mind), as well as the Babys R Us equivalent (Prenatal). They are the cleanest options for you. Also, museums will be well-equipped. Finally, in the summer it's not uncommon to see parents put a blanket or travel changing pad down on a park bench and get the job done. Don't over think it -- people aren't as judgmental here about that stuff. Any side-eyes will be coming from your fellow American tourists.

What else do I need to know about visiting Florence Italy with a baby? Italians love babies. I mean, really love them. If you have a baby under a year old prepare to be swarmed by Italian grandmothers asking all kinds of questions about your little babe. When a cafe owner sees you walk in with a baby they won't roll their eyes and banish you to a baby ghetto like in the U.S. They will offer you a high-chair, help you stow your stroller and offer any help you need all while making silly faces at your baby. Your baby won't be paying attention to you because she'll be laughing at the old guy at the next table smiling at her. Seriously, they love kids. You can let your guard down a bit and it's a big relief.

Italy Expat FAQ: Why Do You Stay in Italy?

IMG_6824 As we were redesigning the blog and updating everything for the digital relocation I naturally ended up reading a lot of our old posts. This happens usually happens by accident every 8-9 months or so and it's a total trip to read some of the really old posts, especially the very first one.

Pretty early on I wrote a post called Why Are You Moving to Italy? In it, I attempted (very briefly) to answer the question. At the time, it was a question that were heard every day, numerous times per day. For this week's Italy Expat FAQ post, I'd love to address a new question we hear a lot: Why do you stay in Italy?

When we first moved to Florence we had no idea how long we would be here for. We mentally prepared ourselves for anything as short as 6 months or as long as forever. We never pressured ourselves one way or another. We had numerous talks before the move about how it would be ok if we didn't like living here. All to often I think people are afraid to admit that they've made a bad decision and stick with something for way to long. We didn't/don't want to be like that. If we didn't like it here, so what? On to the next thing. As such, we have a "do we stay or do we go" conversation every couple months. So far the decision has, obviously, been to stay!

So, why do we stay? Italy just fits. For us. Right now. That's the long and short of it folks. The lifestyle we have here in Florece just works for us at the moment. We knew there was a big chance when Livia came along that we might need a change, but it hasn't happened (yet). We are floating along quite nicely over here.

I'd be interested to hear from some of our expat friends that read this blog. Why do you stay (in Italy, or wherever you may be that's not "home")?

Living in Italy FAQ: Italian vs. Italian-American

Cappuccino Loves Italy Every Monday I'll be adding a new post to our "Living in Italy FAQ" series. With a new baby in Casa Hash and very little time for personalized email responses, I'm answering the questions we get asked most often and archiving them on the site for future reference. Enjoy!

QUESTION: What has surprised you most about Italians?

This is a question we get alot via email and in person when we meet new expats for the first time. The answer for me isn't so much about Italians themselves, but instead how different Italian-Americans and Italians really are. We Italian-Americans love to call ourselves Italian, but the fact is that the two cultures are very, very different. I don't mean that as a good or bad thing for either group, but it is definitely true. I was caught off-guard initially by it.

When you think about it, it's crazy that a subset of people identify so strongly with a foreign culture they actually know very little about. Even though I grew up in a very Italian-American family, we didn't speak Italian around the house and never visited the homeland. I grew up in a heavily Italian-American area and I would say this is the same for most people that I knew. We all always identified as Italian though, even though we were all typically 2-3 generations removed from a real connection to Italy.

I'll never forget a time in college when I wrote a travel essay about Venice that wasn't entirely positive. One of my classmates said she read it out loud to her Italian roommate who was offended by it. I asked, "Where in Italy is she from, Venice?" and she said "New Jersey." I asked if she spoke Italian. She said, "No."  I asked if she had ever been to Venice or Italy. The answer was also "No." I'm not making fun of this girl, just relaying a story that shows how strongly we Italian-Americans identify with this country...even though many families haven't been back in generations.

There are of course similarities that these two groups share that haven't been lost with the generations: a focus on family and a love of food. But, there are so many intangible and unexplainable differences. I think a lot of Italian-American tourists come to visit expecting to fit right in and it doesn't necessarily happen. In my experience Italian-Americans are very warm and welcoming from the start; most Italians are harder nuts to crack. Both cultures treat you like family, however, once you get to know them.

Would fellow expats agree with me? Please weigh in! The difference may be sharper to me because I live in Florence (which I would consider a more reserved city), as opposed to somewhere further south.

Living in Italy FAQ: Working for Yourself

April3

Every Monday I'll be adding a new post to our "Living in Italy FAQ" series. With a new baby in Casa Hash and very little time for personalized email responses, I'm answering the questions we get asked most often and archiving them on the site for future reference. Enjoy!

QUESTION: We love your story and can totally relate. My question is, I'm trying to change my line of work in order to do what you guys did (be location independent) and we're wondering if you can tell me a bit about how you started your business and what you do. -Alex and Stacey

Our path of self-employment and location-independency (did I just make that word up?) starts way back in college. I (Kate) majored in journalism and while writing is still one of my biggest passions, I realized early on that I would spend years slogging through the journalism world for low pay and long hours. Therefore, in my junior and senior years of college I focused more on the public relations side of journalism and interned at one of the largest business-to-business media companies. I got a job there after college working as a marketing manager. That is the job that really set the stage for what we do today -- I learned the ins and outs of marketing, copywriting and branding. The company specialized in construction industry publications and this was 2005 -- boom years. So, I was able to do a ton of ridiculously fun stuff at a really young age. Also, the marketing department was packed full of brilliant women. It was a great environment for me at 22 years old.

When Rob and I decided to move to Louisville, KY, I kept freelancing for this company and also picked up more work on the side. Even when I started working full-time in an office again (in higher education marketing) I still kept the freelance work for nights and weekends. A big tip: working freelance on the side in addition to having a full-time job is GREAT preparation for owning your own business. When you work for yourself you need to be prepared physically and mentally for 70 hour weeks -- and 20 hour weeks, too.

At the same time, Rob was working in project management for a non-profit. He does all of our client services, project development and management now and he learned a lot of those skills in this position. I hate to be cliche, but he is a people-person to the nth degree. Maybe it's because he grew up in Indiana, went to boarding school in California, college in Washington, DC and is married to a Philly-girl...he just gets along with everyone. His business development skills are crazzzzy good. We are lucky that while some of our skills overlap, we are really good in different areas.

Anyway, I share all of this because working for yourself doesn't happen overnight. Rob and I soaked up all of the skills and information we could from our full-time jobs. The problem with most office jobs, however, is that there isn't a ton of opportunity for growth. Freelance work meant that I could stay as up-to-date as possible with what was new in my industry. I also taught myself web design, CSS and Photoshop in my "off" hours. I'm now pretty darn advanced in all of these areas.

In December 2009, I decided that I just couldn't take my job anymore. This is also when we decided (really decided, not just talking about it) that we wanted to live abroad. So, we sold our house and I started working full-time doing my own thing. The stars aligned because not many months later I got so busy that I asked Rob to come work with me part-time. Ironically, a terrible living situation was the catalyst for us to bite the bullet, move in with my parents and start working for ourselves 100%. We've never looked back!

So, what do you do...exactly?

We work mostly with small businesses to develop and expand their online presence. From web design and development to SEO to copywriting to social networking, we really do it all. Because it's just the two of us we're able to work fast and efficient. Clients also love that they get to interact with us...which isn't always an option with bigger companies. I think what we both love most about working for ourselves is that we're always challenging ourselves and problem-solving for our clients. No two clients need the exact same thing and it's fun to figure things out for them!

The other wonderful thing about working for yourself is that you can learn new skills whenever and however you want. We read constantly about best practices and are always looking to expand our offering -- for instance we now build mobile sites for our clients, too! This is great not only for our business, but if one (or both) of us ever decide to go back to the traditional workforce we have a leg up on someone that may not have been in such a growth-friendly position.

So, how can I make this happen in my life?

The best advice that I can offer is that in 95% of cases you can't jump into self-employment overnight. Develop a plan for how you want to make your dream a reality. Set goals and slowly chip away them. You really need to commit to it. I spent three years freelancing on the side and 8 months working full-time for myself before Rob and I started our own business. Be patient, but aggressive -- if that makes any sense.

Also, know what you're good at. I think a lot of people fail at starting their own business and/or the location independent lifestyle because they aren't honest with themselves about what it is they're good at and would enjoy doing every single day. Similarly, it's important to find a niche. We love (and thrive at) working with individuals and small businesses. We understand the challenges they face and right-size our solutions to fit their needs.

Finally, it's important to know that working for yourself isn't easy. There are a ton of unknowns and it can be scary at times. I think a lot of people assume working for yourself is a breeze -- in many ways it's much, much harder. We just value our personal freedom so much that it makes these tough aspects OK.

Time to sound off...I know a lot of our readers are fellow expats that are self employed. Any advice we're missing here?