A Foreigner’s Guide to Surviving Winter in Italy

Like a fart that lingers long after the perpetrator has left the elevator….WE’RE STILL HERE AND WE’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE.  Your favorite troupe of wandering bloggers formally called C.O.S.I–Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy— has adopted a “Winter Theme” to dissect this month. Now before you start having flashbacks of the hideous paper snowflakes decorating your high school Prom night, stop right there. If you’re planning on visiting Italy or are already living here, you might want to heed the wise words of Game of Thrones hottie Jon Snow–WINTER IS COMING.

Lucky for you, I’ve prepared this handy step-by-step guide for foreigners to surviving winters in Italy.

Step 1: Get some Wine.

This is obviously the easiest and most effective strategy for staying warm in Italy during the winter. There’s a reason that the wine harvest happens in November, people. Stock up now–If you are worried about storage (a valid concern here, considering the shoebox size of many Italian abodes), may I suggest storing it in handy places such as the insides of shoes?

I never throw shoes away, even the ugliest ones have their uses…

Step 2: Adopt a four-legged friend to cuddle during the cold winter months.

This is a really good strategy for beating both the freezing cold and seasonal depression all rolled up in one. I recommend adopting two animals and teaching them to fall asleep on your feet, thereby eliminating the need for socks or additional space heaters.

Adopt your furry space heater today!

Step 3: Eat spicy foods.

It is a well known fact that eating spicy foods will not only help you stay warm but also Gisele Bündchen does it and maybe that is the supermodel’s secret to looking so supermodel-y. Also there is the deliciousness factor to consider, so it is a definite recommendation.

If you don’t have anything spicy in the house, a doughnut will do in a pinch.

Step 4: Make the sexy times.

The average human body has a temperature of 98.6°F (37°C) but scientific fact says that this level of heat will change dramatically once you have an Italian stallion in your bedchambers.

Step 5: Go south for the winter.

Birds are nature’s most intelligent creatures–as soon as the outdoor weather turns chilly, they pack their suitcases and sandals and jet off to Malta or Sicily or Morocco for some much deserved rest and relaxation. I like to imagine them on a beach somewhere sipping Mai Tais but then I get annoyed because they don’t have to fly RyanAir to get there.

 

And there you have it–the perfect guide for any foreigner in Italy to help you survive the cold winter months. For more classical interpretations of Winter in Italy, visit the number 1 rated (by me) page on Facebook, C.O.S.I. or check out the links below to the team’s various articles tackling this month’s Winter theme:

Rick’s Rome-How to Enjoy Winter in Italy
Girl in Florence-What to Expect When You Visit Florence in Winter
Surviving in Italy–Italy in the Winter: Baby It’s Cold Outside
Englishman in Italy–Baugna Cauda and Wine
Married to Italy
Unwilling Expat–Without Winter There Wouldn’t Be a Summer
Sex, Lies and Nutella-Surviving the Italian Winter

 

 

 

 

 

What It’s Like to Fall in Love With Italy

This post is brought to you by your favorite neighborhood blogging mafia C.O.S.I. 

So you want to know what love looks like in Italy? Well, my story might not be the most romantic, but if you’re interested in how a 22 year old California girl who’d never left home before studying abroad and eventually wound up living in Florence and dating a half-English, half-Italian bar manager….well, I already wrote about that here.

The love story I want to talk about today is my long-standing love affair with my city.  Firenze is the place I’ve called home for the past 6 years, and while there have been plenty of ups and downs along the way, there is just something about this goddamn city that I can’t stay away from, no matter how much I hate it sometimes.  Take this morning, for example.  I’ve been packing frantically like a rat high on cocaine for the past two days since I got the unexpected notice that I had to be moved out of my apartment by Feb.20th, not the end of the month like I’d originally planned. I’ve had little sleep and a jam-packed work schedule on top of this, all the while trying to ALSO pack for my vacation back to California on Thursday for one of my best friend’s weddings.

So needless to say, it’s been a stressful time in my household (Zola has taken to hiding in her corner of the couch, blissfully unaffected by the chaos around her) and this morning was no different. After being woken up at 2am to Francesco moving boxes out of the apartment, I had to be up and out the door for work at 7:30am. As I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes during my walk across the Ponte Santa Trinita, I realized that in the morning light I was literally the only person around. Taking cold sips of air in through my nose, I breathed out a sigh of relief and looked around me.

sunrise ponte vecchio
Sunrise warming up the Ponte Vecchio
empty streets by the ponte vecchio
Empty streets for miles…

 

Moments like this are rare with my city, but when it happens it’s enough to stop you dead in your tracks for a brief minute.  Without the noise, the traffic, the bodies and daily chaos of the tourists clogging up the streets, this morning was a stunning reminder of why I fell in love with Italy in the first place. There’s just something there that tugs at just the right place in my heart, kind of like when you eat a lot of really spicy food…oh wait, that’s not right. Well, the obsession with one’s indigestion thing (and also the need to publicly discuss bodily functions) is probably also why I love living here too.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though sometimes Florence can be a real bitch, I also am really going to miss her while I’m away for the next two weeks.

NOT! I’ll be sitting by the pool in San Diego with a beer in my hand laughing at all my friends who are freezing their asses off.  Sorry I’m not sorry, guys. I really need this vacation.

A presto!

Xoxo,

Gina

 

“Nobody Leaves The Table Until They’ve Eaten So Much That They Hate Themselves”–Observations on Eating in Italy

“Nobody leaves the table until they’ve eaten so much that they hate themselves.”  Even after years of eating some of the best food Italy has to offer, this is the one quote (said by a good friend after a painfully long and indulgent meal) that has stuck with me the most.  Trying to describe what it’s like to eat the regional food in Florence would take years, and to be honest I wouldn’t even know where to begin.  How do you explain the feeling of biting into a ripe tomato so juicy that it explodes in your mouth the second it hits your tongue?  What words can one use to describe the dazzling array of colors in the vegetables spread out so lovingly across the stalls of Sant’Ambrogio?  I’ll tell you what you do–you stop thinking and start eating.  A lot.

Have you ever seen something so RED in your whole life?!
Have you ever seen something so RED in your whole life?!

The thing is, not that many Italians are fat.  In fact, pretty much none of them are.  They’re all just regular people who happen to have kick-ass metabolisms groomed after centuries of poverty and disaster.  After spending years picking up the pieces that Mussolini and WW2  left behind, it’s no surprise that they would want to celebrate.  And what better way to celebrate than with food?

Tuscans are particularly good at this skill of turning pretty much nothing into something amazing.  Take a handful of stale bread, some leftover beans, the wilting bits of cavolo nero from the pitiful garden harvest and BAM! You’ve got yourself a stew called Ribollita, baby.  No need for fancy spices or hours on end.  You make use of everything you’ve got, because you never know when that stock will run out.  And when you make food, you make A LOT of it.  You know, cause you’ve got to feed the neighbors and stuff, too.

antipasti
That’s just the appetizer plate…

 

Every region in Italy has its own particular “brand” of food–from the steaming mussel soups of the Ligurian coastline to the thick doughy pizzas of Campagna.  The Tuscan brand is farming, from the groves of olive trees swollen with green fruit to the creamy white cows grazing along the hillsides that end up as prime cuts of bistecca in Florence’s most upscale restaurants.  Wine, vegetables, meat–if you can grow it out in the countryside, it’s probably coming from Tuscany.  If not, it probably tastes like shit.

The problem is that now my whole perception of food has been ruined.  I used to love munching away on a piece of string cheese (ask my mom, she used to buy like 5 packets a week) or a microwaved Hot-Pocket, but now I can actually tell the difference between processed foods and fresh ones so it kind of sucks for me because I’m way pickier when it comes to eating.  That being said, I also eat a lot more weird stuff, like cow’s stomach and fat spread onto a piece of bread and wild boar, because if you live in Florence for any length of time you’ll inevitably come across a Florentine who will shove it down your throat because “YOU HAVE TO TRY THIS AT LEAST ONCE, TRUST ME.  I’M FROM FLORENCE.”

So if you’re planning on coming to Tuscany at any point in your life, you’ve been warned–pack your stretchy pants and say goodbye to your waistline.  From the salty schiacciata flatbread to that first crisp sip of Chianti Classico, you’ll understand one day when I say that every bite is an adventure.

This post is part of a series on different food regions in Italy from your friendly neighborhood bloggers C.O.S.I.  For more stories like this, click here.

 

How Not To Make Friends in a Foreign Country

As most expats tend to do, I have spent a considerable amount of time fielding all kinds of inappropriate questions about my personal life.  For some reason, whenever I meet someone from the USA (yes, I am stereotypically using my countrymen as an example of what NOT to do) my life becomes sort of like a game of 20 questions, except way less exciting and with a lot more dog poop in it.  They want to know everything about me, from how I met my boyfriend to my social security number and how much I pay my landlord for my gas and electricity bill (that’s actually not even a joke, someone asked me that once).

Sometimes answering questions about my life doesn’t bother me–I understand that my life must seem foreign and impossible to a lot of people (mostly it’s the really stupid people who find it difficult to realize I am in fact a person and not a zoo animal). But the majority of the questions I get asked are enough to make anyone react like this:

Just…no.

 

Somehow when I moved to Italy, I also crossed into a land where personal boundaries and privacy are an imaginary concept invented by Santa Claus.  Now it’s a very well-known fact that Italians have no idea of personal space (as evidenced by many an Italian stranger stopping to comment on my outfit, weight, choice of deodorant, etc. on a daily basis) but guys–come on.  We Americans practically INVENTED the idea of personal space!!  We make our little cubicles at work into SHRINES to our personal space, we build enormous houses spread miles apart from any living thing, and we drive MASSIVELY oversized vehicles just to keep everybody out of our little bubbles of security.

So why do you all turn into creepy little weirdos that want to know incredibly private details about the lives of strangers the second you arrive in Florence?

If you are in fact a tourist who suffers from Nosy Nelly syndrome, don’t worry–we’ve all been there a time or two (especially after one or two gin & tonics).  In order to help you overcome your inner idiot, I’ve created this handy little reference chart that should leave no doubt the next time you decide to have a friendly “get to know you” conversation with a stranger.  If you see any of the following reactions while talking to someone new that you’ve met in a foreign country, you’ll know without a doubt that you’ve freaked out everyone involved your conversation and you should probably just turn around and walk away before they decide to get a restraining order or jump into traffic to avoid you.

Expat #1:  The Politely Bored Expat.

This face means that you have the great luck of encountering the Politely Bored Expat.  This type of expat is probably newly relocated to the city you’re visiting or an old veteran–either way, you’ve hit the jackpot.  Politely Bored Expat, or PBE, has the good grace and years of training their face to passively reflect almost no emotion while listening to you prattle on and on about all the cities you’ve visited on your travels and everything you love about the current city.  Be warned: they’re probably thinking about their grocery list while pretending to listen to you or mentally calculating how many years in the local prison they’d get for popping you one right in the mouth then hightailing it out of there.

 

Expat #2: The Always Drunk Expat

This expat is most often met after a wild night out at the local bar or club.  Here you’ll find a willing participant in your incessant question-and-answer repartee, someone who enthusiastically agrees with every observation you’ve made about the city and it’s inhabitants, and tells you “how it really is” to live abroad.  However, upon trying to Facebook friend the Always Drunk Expat the next day, you wake up to find a series of penises drawn on your forearms and absolutely no memory of any of the previous night’s conversation.

 

Expat #3: The Creepy Overly Friendly Expat

You’ll undoubtedly run into this expat at a restaurant given 4 stars by TripAdvisor, where you’ll strike up a conversation in between bites of deliciously overrated food.  They’ll be your new best friend, promising to show you all of the cool “undiscovered” spots in the city and end up taking you to a bar where not one person will talk to you as long as Creepy Expat is by your side.  Do yourself a favor–if you need someone to listen to you this badly, adopt a dog.  At least then you won’t be considered a leper amongst the locals.

 

Expat #4: The Disappearing Expat

At first glance, you’d think that this expat is actually just another local.  They’ve managed to fly underneath everybody’s radar, but you sneakily overheard them talking to someone on the telephone in a mix of the local language and English, and you’re totally waiting until they finish their call to bombard them with questions about how to move here.  Until you turn around and realize they’ve pulled a Batman maneuver and disappeared.

Expat #5:  The Insufferable Know-It-All Expat

This is the expat most likely to not only listen to your hundreds of questions, but interrupt you every minute or so to interject their own opinions into the conversation.  While the Insufferable Know-It-All Expat is a wealth of valuable information, hanging out with them after they’ve already answered all of your questions will make you want to stab yourself in the eye with a fork rather than listen to them blab on and on about the city you’re in, and now hate thanks to them.

 

I like to pride myself on the fact that on any given day, I have been all 5 of these expats.  Now go bother someone else with your questions–I’m busy eating gelato from a locals-only place away from the tourists.

 

Want to hear how other expats deal with crazy questions from people about their lives?  Visit C.O.S.I: Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy–a badass gang of expats who blog about the ups and downs of life in Italy.