I’ll keep this one short as shopping is certainly not something I particularly enjoy, but when you have a completely empty house it suddenly becomes a bit more important. We are returning to Italy and this time via London and British Airways. We depart SFO on Saturday around 8:30pm and arrive in London at 3pm where we will spend the night. We take an expensive taxi from Heathrow to a hotel nearby the London Eye. Aleth really wanted to ride the London Eye but we did not plan ahead and the line was ridiculous so we instead walked around checking out Big Ben and Buckingham Palace , where we luckily saw the changing of the guard. I think we clocked about 8 miles according to my iPhone as we explored neighborhoods, small unique shops and did the touristy things. We were a bit tired so a short nap and then dinner. We are “kinda” foodies so we’ll do our homework when visiting an unfamiliar city and after a bit of TripAdvisor and Yelp, we decided to give Lobos Meat & Tapas a shot. Doesn’t everyone know London is famous for tapas? LOL! We are seated upstairs in what appears to be the fuselage of an old airplane (see slideshow) and within seconds Aleth is doing the “look over there” thing with her eyes. “Is that Sting?” If it isn’t we have found his doppelganger but after a few Google image searches of Sting + wife, we come to the conclusion it’s not him. Back to the food.
We order a total of 7 dishes and everything is delicious. I’d say we got very fortunate in selecting Lobos as it was the perfect ending to our quick stop in London. It’s bedtime now as we leave for Pisa in the morning. Quick flight on British Airways in the AM and hello Pisa. We rent the usual Fiat 500 with automatic transmission and start the one-hour drive towards Cortila. I need to mention it is Sunday in Italy and most everything is closed. We have a very small refrigerator at the house and decide we need some food at the house so we begin the search for Conad Supermarket. There are signs everywhere for Conad but it feels like we are going in circles and the GPS isn’t helping much. We finally find a different market that is open but I cannot figure out how to release the shopping carts which are all attached to the nearest one. I pull, push, wiggle and punch these annoying little boxes without a solution. I even ask two younger guys how to separate them but they don’t speak English and wave me off. Now it’s raining so I give up and grab one of the little carry carts inside. FYI, you insert 1 Euro in that front facing slot to unlock the shopping carts and you get it back when you return the cart. It seems so obvious and simple when I see this now but at the moment, I was that dumb tourist. We do a little shopping and head to the house. It is at this moment we discover what the term “glamping” means. Here we are in our new house in Tuscany and we have a 2 foot tall fridge and a queen size bed, nothing else! Did I mention most restaurants in our area are closed on Sunday’s? Our glamping moment was laying in bed watching movies we has saved on my laptop while eating sliced meats and drinking a bottle of wine left for us by our caretaker. It was a funny moment when we realized how much work we have ahead of us.
Allow me to introduce a new character in our story, Paul. He and his wife (Aine) moved from England to Italy about 10 years ago to start a new life as the UK grew too expensive. They have been the caretakers of the house for many years as Elizabeth also lived quite a distance away in Jersey. I cannot stress enough how important it is to find someone like Paul if you are contemplating also buying a house abroad. He knows how to reset the furnace, where the water shut off is located, who built the doors/windows, how trash collection works, and just about everything else that I need to learn about our house. Paul was the person who waited at the house for our bed and mattress to arrive while we were planning this return trip to Italy. I will say it again, do yourself a favor and find a dependable, knowledgeable handyman in your local community as you will need to rely on this person to manage things as if you were there. Thank you Paul and Aine!
Shopping day has arrived and we get an early start by driving to IKEA in Pisa. I should mention that I hate IKEA and their never-ending, one-way path that guides you into every section of the store. But when you have nothing but a bed, IKEA is suddenly a welcomed sight. We buy everything: forks, knives, glasses, plates, bowls, pots, pans, candles, pillows, comforter and just about anything else we could fit into our little car. I’d call shopping day one a success as we now have the necessary basics to cook and eat a meal.
Over the next 6 days we visit a variety of stores looking for outdoor patio furniture, dining room furniture, sectional couch, television, coffee table and maybe even a new kitchen. We found most of the above items at one store, Maisons du Monde. This store is much like a combination of Pier 1 Imports and West Elm. Unfortunately, all of our purchases will be delivered after we are back in San Francisco so we’ll have to wait until our next trip to see if all these different pieces make sense. Our most ambitious decision was to replace the Euro-style kitchen with a custom built kitchen. While the curtains hanging from the countertop to cover the lower part of the kitchen, it felt like the eyesore of the house. We visited Spazio Cucine in Aulla to learn what it would take to install new cabinets, granite and appliances. We were greeted by Matteo with a “Hello”, but that is the full extent of our English conversation. We truly discussed, designed and selected our new kitchen thanks to Google Translate running on both our phones. The language barrier probably doubled the time it took but within 48 hours we had our kitchen designed, measured and ordered. Matteo informs us they will complete the installation in 8 weeks. Here is the final outcome…
Matteo and the team at Spazio were awesome and really handled a challenging curved wall with expertise. The only negative in the whole process was the realization that such purchases are subject to 22% Value-Added Tex (VAT). This charge hurt at the time but in hindsight we could not be happier with our new kitchen. First time we’ve ever had a dishwasher! Now we are seeking two tough to find items: counter height stools for the kitchen island and a wardrobe (aka closet) for the bedrooms. If anyone has any good leads for these items please comment below.
My overall observation of shopping in Italy is that this is a country that has not yet embraced eCommerce. As an American shopper I expect everything to be available for sale online but that is rarely the case here. You have to get in the car, drive to the store and stroll around. Many stores don’t publish their hours and most close for lunch from 12-3pm so timing your visits is also important. I cannot tell you the number of times they announced the supermarket will be closing in 5 minutes as we are walking in the front door. Aleth and I started to think this was a conspiracy against us because is happened 3-4 consecutive times. I have had to adjust my online shopping expectations and embrace the Italian mentality about shopping. Much like everything in this country: there is no reason to rush, take your time and enjoy the journey.