Friday, 28 February 2014

London Calling...(and my thoughts and musings on my year in Italy...Mama mia!)

" the faraway towns, now war is declared, and battle come down"

It may not shock many of you to hear that I am moving back to the UK. In 6 weeks. Almost a year to the day after I left the UK to move to Rome. 

After the emotional dust settles after a relationship breakdown, and you find yourself looking at life through normal eyes again, things become clearer, and that's where my decision to move back to the UK came from. I found myself asking "what is actually keeping me here?". Taking the emotion out of it (the wonderful friends I had made/the weather/food/architecture) I had to be logical, and as anyone with any sense will know, good food/weather/architecture doesn't pay the bills. My safety net here was my relationship. Now that is over, there's not much keeping me here. For now. I won't ever rule out returning to Italy in the future; it's a place I have always wanted to live and I will come back. But right now, I need the love, comfort and support of my family and friends, who have all been so supportive of my decisions to leave, and come back. Naturally, my Mum is thrilled, as is my best friend. I know how hard me leaving was on him, so I hope that many nights of drunken fun and watching films in our onesies will make up for it. 

Now I'm back to seeing things as they really are, I can't help but think back to two words I heard a lot when this relationship ended. Many people; family, friends, colleagues, described what had happened as a "lucky escape." I heard this a lot, and I think that when a relationship fails, and you come out of the other side of the heartbreak, you do start to see things for how they really are, and you have to admit, you agree with some of the things people say to you...

Taking off the rose-tinted glasses and removing someone from the pedestal you put them on can be both helpful and hurtful. Everyone has had relationships end where even many years down the line, they can't fault that person - things just didn't work out. Some people walk out and let out one huge sigh of relief. Some people walk away feeling disrespected and undervalued. As I'm sure you might be thinking, no, this is not an ex-bashing post. Look at it as more of a summary. My ex had great qualities, but they were sometimes hard to see beyond other, not-so-agreeable qualites*. Those things most people know about, but when you are all loved up, you choose to ignore, only for them to come back and bite you on the ass later. 

*cultural differences

She probably chewed it for him too! (*joke)

For example, the relationship between Italian men and their mothers is something that is famous the world over. You see it mocked and parodied in English, American even Italian culture. There are TV adverts here that show the impact 'Mama' has on a man's life! Don't get me wrong, I could never be with a guy that disrespected his mother, but for me, I see too often here that the apron strings have not been cut. My ex's mother bought all his socks and pants for him. And no, not just at Christmas, always. He had never bought a single piece of his own underwear in 30 years. Some nights he would come home with a little bag from one of the local underwear shops, because mama had stocked him up. His response? "She knows what I like". Call me strange, but I found it creepy. She would also send him home with little care-packages...usually consisting of juice and biscuits (yes, he had the same breakfast as a 5 year old!). Did I mention she only lived 5 minutes away? My mum lived 1700 miles away and only sent me a care package once! You see so much of this in Italian's almost famous for it. Many girls I know here (both Italian and non-Italian) find this bond between mama and son infuriating and impossible. One Italian girl I know refuses to have relationships with Italian guys that are still in the nest. And I can understand why. I know, it's a 'cultural difference', but unlike taking a siesta and long, leisurely lunch breaks, I can't see the positives. How can men grow into their own, free-thinking person if they feel incapeable of making a single decision without mama's word on it?

From personal experience, this dependence on mama makes men lack the independence that is so attractive to many people. My ex didn't know how to turn on a washing machine or boil a kettle. Yes, these are symptoms of this 'cultural difference', but how can this be a good thing to a man of 30 years old?? As someone asked me recently, "what future can you have with someone that can't even turn on an oven?"....(yes, really!)? And it's not just me thinking it; this very accurate article from The Guardian covers things in the same way, written by people who have seen the things I have.

Italian mama's are also famous for being neurotic and too involved. I have known of couples here, usually Italian men and English/American women who have had their relationships tested to the max by mama's ways. Every night, my ex's mama would call him to talk about his day. Even if she had only seen him a matter of hours before. And he would always take the call; it didn't matter if we were in the middle of something or out with friends having dinner, that call would not go unanswered. One American girl I know said that her fiance's mama would just come to their apartment, unannounced (she had been given a key by the son!) and would just start cleaning or rearranging things! My ex-future mama in law showed these neurotic tendencies which I could see passed onto her children...she believed that babies would be killed by living in the same house as cats because they would breathe in the cat hair and suffocate, and when I went to hospital after having a car accident, my ex was yelled at for putting my discharge papers on the kitchen table because they had been in a hospital. I mean, seriously? Have you ever heard of anyone contracting a hideous life threatening disease from hospital discharge papers? No, me either. And this neurosis doesn't end with mama, it seems that Italians believe everything will kill you...tap water, fever and the famous cervicale, caused by 'colpa d'aria, which is summed up well by this article written by a Brit living in Bologna. I have been questioned attacked more than once for going out without a scarf in during the winter months.

I can't help but wonder if this reluctance to leave the family nest and mama's apron strings have a negative effect on the relationships Italians have. Before I moved here, my Italian teacher told me (she herself had lived in Italy in her 20's) that you will see lots of Italians comitting the more...intimate parts of their relationships in their cars...that you will see lots of cars parked up in local parcheggio (car parks) where young couples would be, well, at it. And why? Because they all still live at home. I laughed when she told me this, thinking she must be talking about the younger Italians in their late teens. Boy, was I wrong. The Italian guys I knew through my ex would often talk about hooking up with their girl in their car, hell, even my ex told me that in the very car seat I sat in, he shared some of the most intimate parts of his relationship with his ex!!! I mean, how can you have a normal, successful relationship if you are 30 years old, and the only way you can share intimacy with your partner is in a car because you still live at home??

I have been told that Italian men say 'why would I move out when my mama does everything for me here?' This seems to be their argument/justification for remaining at home until well into their 30's. Take for example, my ex. He has an apartment that we used to stay in when I visited before I moved here. He didn't live in it, we just used it when I stayed. He still lived at home despite having a perfectly nice apartment he could have moved into. When we got engaged, we moved into it together. It is now a nice, beautifully furnished (thanks to me and my bank balance!) home and I will bet my life on the fact that as soon as I left, he moved back in with his parents! Why would you do that when you have you own, nice place to live in?? Cultural difference or not, this makes no sense to me. 

Again, this is not an ex-bashing or an Italian-bashing post. Simply an insight to the things I, as a 30 year old English girl have seen and experienced first hand in my year here in Italy. Flip the situation around, and I'm sure Italian guys would have lots to say about living outside of Italy. What I have written in this post is pure observation and fact. There are some young Italian guys I know that have broken the mold; they live alone or with friends, have good jobs and happily buy their own underwear. And I feel certain to say that I'm sure my ex mama in law is delighted to have her son back home. Whilst I am not saying that anyone is right or wrong, you can't really understand cultural differences until you live them. I mean, the UK and the men that live there aren't perfect either, and I certainly don't miss the binge-drinking culture you see in the UK every weekend. But, I do feel completly free to make my comments on the things I have experienced for myself here. And I don't need to justify anything; Italy is still the most beautiful place and the people here are wonderful. It has its flaws, as does everywhere. 

Yes, I am excited about going back to the UK. I never thought I'd say that, but I am. My time in Italy has been an experience, and should I return to live here someday, I know what to expect. Now, I am excited to go back to my family and friends, and see what life back home can offer me. 

Ciao for now,

Nina x

Monday, 3 February 2014

Where to relax in Rome

A little pampering goes a long way I believe, and when you need a little bit of 'me' time in Rome, where do you turn?

When I am in need of a little spiritual (and emotional!) boost, there are places in the Eternal City I will always turn to.

Noi Salon
Piazza del Popolo 3
Tel. +39 06 3600 6284

I discovered Noi back in May 2013 when my I took my Mum there for a blowdry surprise when she came to visit. I did some research on English speaking, modern salons in Rome, and Noi came up time and time again. Owned by brothers Massimo and Giuseppe, Noi offers modern, luxurious stylings in the centre of Rome. Joined by Rick from California, the team are attentive, skilled and a pleasure to visit. I went for my own re-style last week; I wanted a trim, roots done and my ombre re-done. I was there for 3 hours over lunch and loved every second. Every single stylist makes the effort to talk to you, check up on you and make sure you are happy. The reception staff are welcoming, polite and charming. Price wise, this place is beyond reasonable. If you live in Rome or are just visting and need some hair attaention, VISIT NOI! You will not be disappointed!

Acanto Day Spa
Piazza Rondanini 30
Tel: (+39) 06 68136602
(+39) 06 68300664

I first visited Acanto last year after I moved to Rome; tired, stressed and a little overwhelmed, I booked into Acanto for a traditional hammam treatment to soothe my senses. Located close to the Pantheon, Acanto is worth visiting purely for the venue alone. Located inside a beautiful, ancient palace, you could convince yourself you have stepped back into a Roman bath from another century. The tranquility of Acanto is second to none; candle light and aromatherapy scents attack the senses in all the right way. The staff are professional and speak good English, and a wide range of well-priced treatments are on offer.

Ciao for now!

Nina x

Sunday, 19 January 2014

All Roads Lead (Back) to Rome...

If someone had told me a year ago that I would have left the UK, sold my house, moved into 3 different apartments and be returning to Rome, I would never believe them. 

Last February, I came to Rome for 2 weeks to have a trial of living in Italy, and more importantly, Rome. I rented an apartment in Monti for two weeks from 2nd February, and within a week I had decided that I wanted to make Italy my permanant home. 

I've made no secret of how hard it is to leave your home country and become an ex-pat in another. People that haven't experienced that have no idea of the difficulties and tough emotional times you go through. I found myself missing the strangest things about the UK...BBC London News at 6pm. Sainsburys. Hollyoaks. The talks/rants I would have with my best friend in his kitchen after a night out. Relocating is HARD, no matter how amazing the pull to your new country might be, it's emotionally and physically hard to leave your past one. 

It's been a tough 12 months. It's also been an amazing 12 months. 

So, as I find myself 6 days away from moving back to Monti, and looking how things have gone full circle for me, I think back to something my Mum asked me a few days ago. She asked me where I find my strength from, to manage to go through these things and still remain positive. I really thought hard about this, because it was something I realised I needed the answer to myself. I came to the conclusion that I get through the tough times because life is always a lesson. Learning constantly about yourself and other people is great knowledge to have and it feels good to always learn something new. I'm also a big fan of fresh starts, and that is what I see my new life in Rome as. I am excited to return to vibrancy of the city. To wake and sleep in the presence of such history and architecture. I adore Rome, ever since I did a school project on it when I was 6, I was fascinated by the Eternal City. So, I am happy to close the door on the last 12 months, and open a new one. 

My new apartment is fantastic and I can't wait to live there. It's back in the heart of Monti and will be a great base for the start of this new phase of my new life. I'm excited to create some wonderful memories with my good friends here, and I'm curious about the new friends I will meet along the way. 

Ciao for now

Nina x

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Beauty Products: My skincare staples in Italy!

One of the many things I love about Italy is the quality of the products you can buy in the pharmacies (farmacia) here. 

I'm a big fan of a many French beauty companies but their favourite products of mine were never that readily available in the UK. Some were becoming available in stores like Boots when I was leaving last year, but I still haven't seen much of the others. 

So, I thought I'd give you a run down of my favourite finds since moving to Italy. 

 (Reviews below from L-R)

Vichy Idealia Life Serum
I first saw this advertised on TV here and the claim that it can totally change your skin in 8 days got me tempted...the first serum of its kind, it is targeted at normal, everday women, who's skin may be under the influence of daily excesses such as stress, late nights, pollution, UV exposure and an a poor diet. Unlike others I have tried, it has more of a light moisturiser feel to it, and gives the skin a wonder sheen without being shiny or glitterly. I took the 8 day challenge and was so impressed! Highly recommended!!!

Ponds Hydronourishing Cream
Ok, so not French or Italian, but an oldie but a goodie from the UK! I started using this before I moved to Italy and was really impressed with the effects. After I ran out in Rome and couldn't find it here so switched to an alternative. I noticed my skin wasn't looking great, so asked my Mum to send it out to me as part of a care package, and since using it again, my skin shows such a great improvement. I am currently using it under my Vichy Idealia Serum and my make up stays in place all day and my skin has a lovely velvety appearance. 

La Roche Posay Physiological Foaming Water
I have used other cleansers in this range, but this one caught my eye when I was out in Rome one day. Soap and paraben free, it is great for sensitive skin but also has super make up removing power! I sometimes use this alongside my Sephora Exfoliating Disk for a real deep clean. 

La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo
A super-cult product in the beauty world, I turn to this whenever I get a breakout (always stress or TOTM induced) and within a day or two this super-dooper product has wiped out all traces of nasty spotties! I always keep this on standby as I know it works every single time. 

Bioderma Sensibio H20 
A great, fragrance-free make up remover water, this product is by far the best for my skin as it never irritates my skin or eyes. Even after a heavy night out when I may have very dark eyemakeup and eyelash glue remnants to remove, this gets rid od every trace. I try and use it always before I wash my face, so that all make up is removed and my cleanser works on cleansing and not removing make up. 

So, that's the low-down on the skincare products that I use every day here in Italy!

Ciao for now,

Nina x

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Life in Rome Series: Learning lessons, settling in, and on the move!

So, it's been just over 2 months since I left the UK and have settled into the Italian life. So much has happened in the last 2 months; I spent a week in Ibiza on a bootcamp, I have got engaged to my gorgeous Roman boy and in just under 2 months I leave my apartment in the city to move in with him. This year has been a great one so far, and I still have my 30th birthday celebrations in Lazise in July, moving in August, the boy's 30th in October, Barbados in November and home to London for Christmas!

The transition from English to Italian life has been an...interesting one and I wanted to share with you some of my experiences, lessons and musings I have encountered in the last 2 months...

1. Is that a UFO? No, it's an English girl driving an English Mini
No matter how many times I do it, people still give me the funniest looks when they see my little red Mini on the roads. I mean full-head swivel looks! I'm certain that back in the UK I didn't practically decapitate myself looking at a car with foreign plates, but you'd think I was riding a unicorn down the autostrade going by people's reactions! It causes me great amusement and it's nice to be that little bit different!

2. In Italian, "sorry I'm English, I don't understand" roughly translates to "keep talking at me"

One of my most used (and remembered!) phrases is "Mi dispiace io sono Inglese, non capisco". Meaning I'm English, I don't understand. But, if you think that would encourage the lovely Italians to a) give up and walk away or b) try and communicate some other way, you'd be wrong. It's almost like a thumbs up to encourage them to talk at you more, and faster in Italian! This only results on you a) feeling terrible that you can't speak more of their language and b) a little humiliated. I have now become professional at standing/sitting about listening to people have their conversations of which I contribute very little!

3. 'Angry'/'Hungry'...who's splitting hairs? Not me!
I am always honoured and flattered when any Italian talks to me in English. They are making the effort and that makes me feel awesome! As a rule, unless someone asks, or pays me to, I NEVER criticise their pronunciation of English words. I get it; it's not their native language and like Italian, some English words are hard for Italians to pronounce. However, I find that doesn't work the other way. Pronounce/spell just ONE word wrong, and they leap on you, practically making you repeat the word until you get it right! I appreciate the help, but sometimes it's kind to acknowledge that person isn't talking their native language and is in the process of learning a new language that is 10 times harder than their own. Language police back off!

=UPDATE= I found a great blog that I feel sums up how a lot of expats in Italy (and elsewhere!) feel when they are in the honeymoon period of their relocation! Read more here!

So, there you have it, a little snippet into the last few weeks here in Rome. I love this city; I love Italy and moving here was the best decision I ever made. I head home in August for a few days to see my parents, celebrate my besties 30th and have a look at some wedding dresses. I do miss the UK but Italy is where my heart is.

Ciao per ora,

Nina xx

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Getting my Codice Fiscale! (The tale of the phantom bureaucracy)

You may remember at school when it was time to get your BCG injection, and you heard all those horror stories about needles the size of chopsticks, people fainting and the pain...oh the pain! Yet, when you actually went to get the injection it was a walk in the park? Well, that's what it was like for me getting my Codice Fiscale.

A little background info of those outside of Italy, the Codice Fiscale is basically the Italian equivalent of your National Insurance number. Here, you can't work or rent an apartment without one.

Most things in Italy seem to get bad press due to their inefficiency...the post office (I have no complaints so far!), obtaining any legal paper work and banks that all seem to write their own opening hours...on a day to day basis! But, from personal experience, I'm yet to encounter this inefficiency...

Prior to my visit to the office last week, I had heard and read horror stories of this process...people waiting hours and hours, not getting served at all and having o come back a second day, being told that you have to go down the street to photocopy your passport because the office didn't have a copier, only to fall to the end of the long queue again...the stories were enough to make me almost talk myself out of it! But, I needed it for the rental agreement on the apartment and I am job hunting so will need it for that!

I drove to my nearest Agenzia delle Entrate, which was just 15 minutes away and somehow located the right office from what felt like hundreds all with the same address!

The guy on reception spoke little English, so I told him in my best Italian I was after my Codice Ficale, I filled out some simple information on a form, was given a ticket and sat and waited for about 40 minutes until my number was called.

The next lady I spoke to (who completed my application - simple, details into a computer!) knew even less English but somehow, we understood one another and voila, I was given my Codice Fiscale! In a couple of weeks, the official card arrives in the post! In total, I was there and back within and hour!

So, if you want my advice; don't be scared of these things, it's all part of the experience of moving to a new culture!

Ciao for now,

Nina x

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Smiling at the simple things

When you make a big life change like relocating to a new country/city/way of life, it can be so easy to get lost and swallowed up in the chaos of the 'big picture', that the small, simple things that make life beautiful can get easily lost.

I made this mistake last week; I felt homesick and frustrated - nothing was working, everything felt complicated and I was in social situations where I couldn't say anything because my knowledge of Italian is pretty basic. There were a few occasions I just wanted a flight back home.

I'd always been an advocate of the 'simple things' in life when I was in the UK, so why not here? I decided to take a step back from the big picture, and focus on the small, simple things that I love about living in Italy and more precisely, Rome.

  • I can be at the Coliseum in 20 minutes - walking past it always gives me a great sense of comfort and awe
  • I love the sunburnt colour of the buildings in Rome; whenever I come back from time in the country with the boy, its seeing these umber buildings that tell me I'm home in my city
  • The smell of the flowers in the garden of my apartment, specifically the orange blossom on the tree next to my living room's become one of my most favourite scents
  • Spending yesterday eating and drinking with friends under a vine-covered pagoda in the Roman countryside
  • The huge, marble steps that lead to my equally huge front door of my little palace here in the city
  • Seeing how happy Harry and Boo are here
So, at times when it feels like the big picture is going to chew you up and spit you out, look around at the small, simple things that make life so beautiful.

Ciao for now,

Nina x