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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How I Found My Apartment in Florence, Italy

When I was first looking for my own apartment after leaving my au pair family, I had no idea what to expect. Not only is finding an apartment in Florence much more difficult than I thought (and that's saying a lot coming from LA where finding a decent apartment for a decent price is like searching for a needle in a haystack), it is even more stressful to find the right people to live with. As an American, I was worried about living with random people from other cultures, who would basically be the equivalent of Craigslist roommates. Would my stuff get stolen when I'm not home? Will I feel safe? Would there be huge, awkward and unmanageable cultural differences? Will I wake up to my toes being sucked on? Um, I'll pass, thanks. But no judgements if you're into that type of thing. Do you, boo boo!
"Is it cool if I shave my pubes in here?"
First, I was looking exclusively for American expats and other English teachers to live with. When that proved difficult, I expanded my search to American students at the study abroad universities. Little did I know, the school organizes all their housing for them, so I had no options in that category. Next, I began looking into local Italian university students. I figured there had to be someone renting a room near campus. But, once again, no such luck. Either I had to share a room with an 18 year old girl with our two rickety twin sized beds crammed in the room, or I was 3 weeks too late since the semester had already started and everything was taken. If it wasn't that, and I actually managed to schedule a meeting with someone to see the room for rent, it was cancelled when I was on my way. Or, when they would write me after I'd been waiting near the building 20 minutes after our appointment time saying it was already rented and they forgot to tell me. That was the worst. I cursed all Italians for wasting my time and my best friend got a very angry Whatsapp voice message of me venting my hot air that day. I was a poet with my profanities, which I'm still kind of proud of.

My apartment search was taking longer than I was hoping, so out of desperation, I began looking on every lamp post, website and bulletin board in the city for an ad in my price range. Without much luck online, and calling the numbers of old flyers in the library just to be told in Italian that the room had been rented, I was seriously considering living under a bridge. Homelessness doesn't sound like such a bad idea when disguised as an adventure! Finally, I heard of a Facebook page that is a place where people advertise rooms for rent in the city. Apparently Craigslist isn't really a huge thing here, but it does exist. Who knew that website where you waste so many hours of your life at a time would actually be useful here!

With more denials and more frustration, I had to expand my search yet again. This time, it was considering living with the opposite sex. As I thought about all the awful (and/or amazing) things that could happen living with boys, I cringed and fantasized at the same time. After only a few inquiries, I got some serious responses. This got my thinking, are they only responding because of my profile picture? I took a chance and went to see them anyway. After seeing a place that could only be described as sticky, decorated with Infected Mushroom posters and empty bottles of SKYY, it was a relief to see the next place. Sure, there was a centimeter of dust covering the tile floor and an old couch upside down in a space that maybe was supposed to be a living room, but it felt good. There were two Italian guys, who couldn't have been more opposite in style and demeanor, but they were nice, and I didn't get creepy vibes from them at all. Those could have been infamous last words, but thankfully, it was true. They had just rented the whole apartment after the last tenants left, who were apparently disgusting students and left everything a mess. They were in the process of cleaning everything out and getting ready to move in. It was going to be a fresh start.

I moved in two days later into my own room, with clean floors, newly painted walls, a few pieces of old furniture, and I even managed to get a double bed. It's common in Italy to tie together two twin sized beds to make a matrimoniale (king size bed), since it's cheaper than to buy a large bed in one piece, not to mention easier to move in through the small hallways and doors. So, with a few zip ties, some elbow grease to reuse some of that old furniture and a trip to IKEA later, I was all settled in.

I live with three Italian boys, 2 of whom are students, and the other is a sommelier at a restaurant, which means a constant stock of good (not to mention free) wine. Score! They're not so bad, although one of them barely speaks English and the other two are a bit rusty, it's been a lot of fun. The cultural differences and language barriers were hilarious in the beginning, but now we are actually learning from each other. I have some great stories which I will share in future posts. Stay tuned!

Do you have any hilarious/weird/gross apartment searching or roommate stories? Share in the comments below!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Why Life is Like Riding a Bike

Today I bought a bike in Florence. A used, rusty, basic, non-shock-absorbing bike, equipped with a metal basket in the front, a little pink bell, and even a kickstand. Oh yeah.

As I was riding home with a wet, sore ass (well, struggling in that general direction since I realize I always use my GPS and I wasn't able to while riding), a light, simple smile shone across my face as I realized something on this gray, damp Florence day. Life is like riding a bike.

I haven't ridden a bike probably since I was 12, and it felt so awkward mounting something now that wasn't a man. Can I make a reference to sweet childhood memories and my sexual escapades in adulthood in the same sentence without it being in bad taste...? Oh well. I was in public, feeling like Bambi with wheels, and not knowing the rules of road, but was I kidding, it's Italy; there are no rules! I was scared shitless riding on the street with all the scooters, motorscylces and tiny little cars honking and swerving around me, trucks driving 6 inches from my handlebars and all the weird street directions that change in an instant. Next thing you know, you're going the wrong way down a one way street and you can't even ride in straight line. It was awful and scary, yet so liberating all at the same time.

Once I got the hang of it, it all came rushing back to me. Just as I got cocky, I remembered what it felt like to fall off a bike. As an adult, I found myself thinking: These leggings were expensive, the road is wet from last night's rain and I don't even know how to wash this coat. I don't want to be the stupid American girl who falls off her bike and everyone laughs at. What if I hurt myself? I do have bad knees. Damn, my knees...I'm out of shape. Did it always take this much work to push the pedals? I used to be able to ride with no hands. HA! I still do...what is wrong with me?

With the wind in my face and actually having to think about where I'm going without using my phone as a crutch, I enjoyed the feeling of that first freedom of having my own wheels. When you're a kid, having a bike was the best. You feel like you can go anywhere and do anything. You are in complete control. I felt something similar.

This bike is not mine. Also, I bet it was stolen shortly after this picture was taken.

In life, we all have good experiences and bad ones. We learn from the bad and reminisce about the good. Some things we only need to experience once to learn from, while other things take a few dozen times until we get it right (like my love life....still waiting to learn that lesson). Riding a bike is literally something you never forget how to do, even if you haven't done it in years. It may be scary at first, but once you get the hang of it, it seems like a piece of cake. That's kind of how I feel about living at the moment. It's all too easy to get caught up in life, even abroad, worrying about jobs, money, bills, and daily life. But today, with the wind in my hair and the steady rythm of pushing the pedals, I felt like I reconnected with a part of me that had been forgotten. The part of me that wants to travel, appreciates the little things, and is open to new experiences and paths. I fell off my methaphorical bike for a few months being consumed by everyday problems and worrying way too much, but really all I needed was to get back on and enjoy the breeze on my face, even if I didn't know which direction I was going. With all the ups and downs over the past year, this was a great reminder to myself to live. Don't get caught up in what everyone else is doing, just do what makes you happy and keeps you on the path to your goals. Albeit cheesey, it's true.

I now have a bike in Florence. I am officially a Fiorentina. One step closer to being the Italian I'll never actually be. Now, let's just hope it doesn't get stolen.