As with all stories of big life events, the True Tale of How I Found Myself Living in Italy is one that could come with endless context and far too many asides. For those of you looking for the short answer, well I moved to Italy somewhat by accident. For those of you wanting to know more, read on!
Before I dive in, there are three things you should know about me.
- I have three brothers.
- I am wildly independent (I started making plans to leave home when I was 14).
- I have a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome that, for many years, made that independence practically impossible.
But what have these got to do with Italy (or rather, moving to Italy)?
Well, 2016 was a big year for my family. Two of my brothers were planning their weddings and, while they planned their nuptials, I worked on a warring relationship with chronic hip dislocations.
As much as it horrified me that my little brother would inevitably be moving out before me, there wasn’t much I could do. My doctors had decided it was time to operate on my hip, and well… living alone after surgery with a 6-month recovery period wouldn’t be so smart.
So, to avoid my parent’s empty house (and questions about when I was planning to finally get a boyfriend), I booked a flight to Italy for the day after my brother’s wedding.
I’m not usually one to run away from summer, but the sweet freedom I felt landing at Milano Malpensa after 30-hours of travel was pure bliss. There was no one to bug me about when I’d be getting married and no doctors eagerly awaiting to cut me open. Just a month of good wine, good food, and getting delightfully lost on Italy’s frosty winter streets. It was all I could do to wipe the smile from my face.
Milan: Full of Surprises
By this stage, Milan felt like an old friend. It was where I had my first taste of real independence when I was 20-years old – a kid let loose on university exchange. It was where I was reminded that I was allowed to be whoever I wanted to be. It was where I had far too much fun kissing beautiful boys in bars and leaving them behind for the night’s next adventure.
It was 8.30am (and 4 years later) when I arrived at Ostello Bello, and the cute Portuguese guy who greeted me was already offering me a beer.
“Well, you can’t check-in, but you can have breakfast and leave your bags,” he offered after I rain-checked the drink. He brought me across to a table, “Now, this is biondina. She’s Finnish!”
I sat across from the girl nicknamed ‘blondie’, who was far too well-dressed for a hostel, and said hello. She wasn’t much for small talk, but I discovered she was living in the hostel while she searched for an apartment. She had a job managing a Danish furniture showroom and had to get going because she was running late. Isn’t it funny looking back?
On Making Friends with a Finn
Over the course of the week, Ilona and I worked through the stuttered small talk and became fast friends. A week is a long time to stay in a Milanese hostel (most revellers stay for just one night – enough time to see the Duomo before they move on), and every night, we’d get dragged into the newcomers’ excitement at being in Milan. “We’re just here for one night! Come on! One drink!”
…famous last words.
We drank wine at an enoteca along the Navigli, braced against the uncharacteristic wind, and flirted shamelessly with the bartenders who snuck drink tokens to us over the bar. We got tattoos at the only Milanese tattoo parlour open on a Monday morning, and we tried our very best to hide our embarrassment when 3 cute Swiss boys convinced us to eat a pizza with them at 5pm, only to be literally pointed and laughed at by passing locals.
Neither of us knew what to do about my impending departure for Bolzano, in Italy’s North East, so Ilona offered me a job. “I need to hire someone! Why not you?”
It took everything I had in me to admit that there was nothing I would love more, but I had to go home for surgery.
A Roman Marriage Proposal (and more)
Over the next few weeks, I would enjoy one of Puglia’s iciest winters in a decade, drink countless coffees in Berlin, and delight in a 2am marriage proposal by the Trevi Fountain (of course I said yes! True story!). All the while, Ilona’s job offer and my dreaded surgery were gnawing at the back of my brain. What I wouldn’t give to call the Bel Paese home…
A few weeks later, Ilona & I found each other again in Milan where we celebrated New Year’s every hour, on the hour, for at least 11 hours (New Year’s arrives in Perth 7 hours before Milan, so we got a head start!). We took our sorry selves out for a greasy brunch at a rare American-style pub the next morning, whiled away hours staring at a wall of seaside prints at Fondazione Prada, and spent my last night uncomfortably piled up in her double bed with the other member of our Ostello Bello crew, Atiqah.
“We’ll see each other again,” we assured ourselves as I headed for the airport, the sincere but empty promise every hostel traveller knows too well.
The Mad Scientist
I touched down on Perth’s sunny shores with just enough time to recover from jetlag before the decisive follow-up with my surgeon. As the day drew nearer, I began to fight the familiar, shattering overwhelm of panic attacks.
I’d done this dance before – 5 major surgeries in 2 years – and the dependence, the pain, the laboured recovery haunted me. ‘No more surgery’ had been my mantra in the 6 years that had passed, and yet, here I was.
One night, I found myself standing in an empty car park, looking out over the breaking waves of the Indian Ocean – no idea how I’d survived the 45-minute car trip. This is one of my favourite places in the world, but in that moment, I wanted to be anywhere but there. My little brother and his friend arrived, first responders to my anxiety-ridden calls, and held me in their arms. “It’s okay. We’ve got you.”
When it came time for my surgeon’s appointment, I felt like I’d somehow detached myself from my body. I remember the gleaming tiles of the waiting room floor, the anxious bounce of my knee, and I vaguely remember my surgeon saying that he really wanted to operate because it would be so much fun…
“…but I’m not going to, because I think we can do better. Instead, I’m going to send you to a doctor I call the mad scientist who specialises in alternative medicine.” The rest of the appointment is a blank spot in my mind.
Eventually I suppose I stood up and shook his hand, before opening the door of his office. My brother & his wife looked up at me, bracing for bad news, and I yelled, “I’M MOVING TO ITALY!”
They leapt out of their chairs, we danced and screamed and laughed and I think I might have cried, while the surgeon and everyone else who was waiting looked on in various states of confusion.
The True Tale of How I Found Myself Living in Italy
A few weeks later, I found myself back in the familiar hallways of Milano Malpensa, overeager to start my new adventure.
I’d called Ilona as soon as I got home from my appointment (but not before eating a celebratory burger), to check that the job offer still stood. As soon as her bosses said yes, I applied for a visa, booked a flight, and began packing my bags.
As it turns out, those bags would be filled with medicines from the mad scientist that would change my life in a way nobody could ever have imagined (and that visa would be a miserable dead-end), but those are tales for another time.
Because, my friends, visa drama and its consequences (aka finding myself somewhat unemployed 8,500 miles from home) aside, that was the day that I was officially able to call Italy home.
The True Tale of How I Found Myself Living in Italy is the first in a series of stories I’ll be writing called ‘True Tales’. It’s a space for me to write rambling long stories about my own experiences, just for fun – without the pressure of optimising for SEO or meeting client expectations (or even my own!).
If you enjoyed it, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you didn’t, well, I doubt you made it this far so it doesn’t matter! 😉