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Moving from the UK to Italy – Part 3

This is part 3 of Fay’s story of moving to Italy. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here. Remember that you can send us your travel diary, expat experiences and any other story you have about staying in Italy (email to [email protected]).

Piazza Grande in Montepulciano

Derek and I talked, discussed, chatted, and exhausted ourselves over choosing where we’d start our life in Tuscany. Whilst we were there at the end of February, we liked the look and feel of the Montepulciano area, and people had actually said to us it was a good choice for schools also. That was useful to know and helped us with our decision. It was time to get down to the nitty gritty. Our next step was to trawl the websites to see what the rental situation was like. Yes, there were plenty of places to rent, from villas to apartments to town houses. But, how do we know if they’re on a railway line, on a hectic main road or millions of miles up a gravel track? I found possible possibilities and tried to make contact with the agents in the small towns in and around Montepulciano by phone and by email. The exercise was useless, partly due to the laid-back Italian ways and partly due to our inept language skills. Again, I felt pathetic.

In the meantime, the letting agent we had appointed in the UK to take care of our bungalow when we leave, had called to say she’d found suitable tenants, and they were ready to move in as soon as we leave. The agent was delighted and we were panic stricken.

Then came more discussions and deliberating. We both took a deep breath and chose to start our new life in Italy at a campsite (yes a campsite) with the enormous hope and ‘touching wood’, we’d be able to locate a home quickly once we had arrived. This would be our number one priority. At least we’d be able to physically view the property and it’s surroundings before making the commitment. We needed a moving abroad checklist!

But when exactly shall we leave the UK? A couple of reasons we chose to leave the UK towards the end of June was (a) the quicker we get to Italy, we hoped the more comfortable the children may feel before plunging them into Italian schools in September and (b) we were getting close to the high season ferry and campsite costs. Now the next task was to contact Keycamp (who had always been helpful in the past) to locate a campsite nearest Montepulciano. Keycamp have a few sites dotted around Italy, and just by chance, there’s a site at a town called Sarteano roughly 20 km’s away. Naively, Derek and I made a guess that it would probably take us three days to drive from the UK down to central Italy, so the Keycamp assistant booked us one night at a site near Tours in Loire Valley, France, then the next night at a site in Frejus, south of France. The following night we should reach our first home (campsite) in Italy. A week was booked there on the hope of locating somewhere to rent during that time. Now, we were in the position to book the ferry crossing from Poole in Dorset across to France’s Cherbourg. On reservation I was asked the registration number of our vehicle and it suddenly dawned on me that I couldn’t provide anything except saying what size category the car will fall into. We were hoping to find a LHD (left hand drive) car to take with us. Luckily, I could still make the ferry reservation for two adults, three children, and a family sized car on a ONE WAY crossing. NO RETURN. It was booked and we were going. It gave me a strange mix of excitement and a scared feeling in my stomach.

Our children with their guinea pigs

At this point, many subjects in our list of subjects had been crossed off and dealt with, keeping as close as possible to the order of priority. My shoulders were feeling a slightly lighter looking at my little book of subjects and items ticked off such as, looking for agent to take care of the bungalow, tenants to find, school reports translated, Derek’s CV translated, medical records obtained, Italian region chosen, leaving date, ferry crossing and campsites had been booked. The things done were starting to look impressive, but anxiously, I could see we still had so much to sort out.

We were continuing to manage seeing Franco once a week for an hour language lesson, but once a week wasn’t really enough and with everything else going around in our heads, it was near on impossible to absorb. He even set us homework which we tried to get done, but you can guess whether it did or didn’t! Initially, we tried to include the children in the lessons with us, but they weren’t really that interested. Bella worried us at one point when she said with folded arms, ‘I shan’t speak to anyone when I’m in Italy’. We did our best not to fret too much about this comment and bought a very good Italian language book specially designed for children with pictures and casually left it ‘hanging about’ the home. (The book actually helped us too!)

There was absolutely no way we’d be able to take everything with us to Italy. We were going over by car and would only be able to take what we’d require immediately. Shipment of boxes filled with belongings is an expensive thing to do, so it was agreed, in order to keep costs down, we would store items we wanted to keep in the bungalow’s huge loft, still leaving plenty of loft space for the tenants use, and we’d arrange shipment of other items we needed more immediately to Italy. (We plan on one day returning to the bungalow to collect what we’d stored.) I made several phone calls to various storage/shipment/removal companies and they were all varied in price and procedure. We opted for the company called Britannia with a depot close by, where the staff seemed helpful, friendly and professional. We bought (from Britannia) seven tea chest-size thick cardboard boxes for an extremely small sum (£1 or so each). We had the option of selecting different sizes of box and whether new or used in good condition. Having been used to recycling where possible for our planet’s future we picked used boxes. Seven flat-packed cardboard boxes were loaded into the boot of my car. Gianni, Bella and Lucia had a box each, plus a box to share. There was one we marked ‘kitchen’ plus anything else we could fit in, and one ‘fragile’ for china and glass and one for books and photos (mostly to be without frames because of the extra weight). We had to make sure that Britannia’s men could safely and without straining themselves, pick-up the boxes. If it was difficult for them, then they were too heavy and would need re-sorting or worse, items would have to be left behind. Britannia gave us a date they would be collecting the boxes plus a small antique chair, a favourite of my late parents. We had to make sure we were ready for the collection date. (Once we had located a home to rent, I would email Britannia with our Italian address, and then the boxes and chair would come out of their storage and shipped as soon as possible).

The children had to make their decisions too and I felt really sorry. They needed to sort their things into three sections, one was for items they were taking in the car, things to be shipped in a box and the other was to put aside items for ‘car boot’ sales and ‘garage’ sales at home. What helped was the fact that they hoped to be able to make a little money from their toy/book sales and I promised to change the money into euros so they could buy themselves things on arrival in Italy. The children were busy and surprisingly to us, happy going through their bedrooms. This had to be the time to talk about their first beloved pets, the guinea pigs, Candy, Custard and Tiggy. We chose our words really carefully and explained that the guinea’s would not be happy travelling for three days in a car, plus, it may be difficult for them living in a hotter climate. They’d be much happier living with Lucky and Punky, guinea pigs owned by Bella and Lucia’s school friend Lucy and brother Adam. I was positive their mum Jo, also a good friend of mine would be happy with this. I reminded them that our guinea pigs had already been ‘on holiday’ at our friends home and they’d be cared for really well. Gianni, Bella and Lucia took this suggestion really well and accepted what we had said. I didn’t really expect them to be so grown up about it. We were, and are, proud of them.

Beds have been sold!

I was working at the main reception in a college and had access to an internal college website on the computer system. Everyone at the college could log in to the ‘For Sale’ site and post adverts of items available for sale. I borrowed a digital camera and took photos of furniture and other items I thought may sell and posted these on the site. It worked quite well. I also placed adverts in our local paper and in our newsagents shop window. I started attending ‘car boot’ sales. The evening before, I would fold down the back seats of the car and fill the car with as many items as I could. I’d be away half a day at a time having sold things on behalf of us and of the children. Not everything went, so it was put by for the next sale. It was tiring and emotional. I was also selling some things that connected me to my late parents. Things that had memories for me. Sometimes I felt great sadness watching people rummaging through my personal belongings. Much of our life’s possessions were on show for anyone to handle and scrutinize. At home, we held a couple of ‘garage sales’. I’d made up some notices and we’d walk around the village pinning them up to lampposts. On the morning of the sales Derek had put signs up on the main road through the village with arrows pointing to where we were. These sales were actually good fun. Gianni, Bella and Lucia each had their own little sales areas and were very organised. They’d marked each section at certain prices, so anyone could see at a glance. Our garage and driveway was full of furniture and household items we’d pulled out from the bungalow. Initially when someone rang the doorbell, the children excitedly ‘legged it’, but they soon got into the swing of things and helped out. Many people from the village came along as well as others travelling through, having turned off the main road to come and take a look. What wasn’t sold, we’d put away again until the next time. But the sales went well.

It wasn’t long before our home wasn’t looking like home anymore. It was looking and sounding emptier each day. But, we were still nowhere near being sorted, and time was starting to run away. As well as trying to sort out our loft and garage, we had to carry on with our ‘normal’ day to day lives. The children still needed to be ready for school in the mornings, they were attending various functions and after school activities, and Derek was working as well as re-decorating the bungalow for its new tenants. It was horrendously busy. I can remember one particular day when it all became too much for me. I was at home in the lounge going through a dresser with drawers full of all sorts. I’d had enough, and I was worn out mentally and physically. But I didn’t have time to stop, I had to keep making decisions on what was to be kept, put away, given away or sadly, thrown. We weren’t just able to throw things into boxes to transport to another home a few miles away. We literally had to thoroughly go through everything. Our advice is to start sorting at least a year before you leave the country.

During this time, we’d also been searching various websites on the Internet for a LHD car and we had placed ours for sale in a national car magazine. An interested person called to see our car and happily agreed to delay picking it up until we’d found the car we needed. Fortunately, a very good two year old LHD car appeared on a website. We made contact and arranged to collect it. Insurance was a little tricky. It had just come into the UK from France and my current insurance company would not insure it because it was LHD. To obtain insurance cover I was advised to get it UK registered which the importer obtained on my behalf. I could not find one UK based insurance company, even the big companies, to deal with overseas insurance cover. Many years ago, I worked in an insurance department and I arranged overseas policies. I was bemused to say the least. I had no choice but to take out a UK policy with a company and drive across on a ‘holiday’ green card. This way, I could have a green card but only up to a month at a time, and for a maximum of three months in total. This is not recommended, and I have since heard that there are one or two overseas Internet based insurance companies who may be able to handle the insurance cover. (Later, little did I realise how complicated Italian bureaucracy can be for something we think should be straightforward!)

I finished my part-time work at the college a month before we were due to leave the country, being presented with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The weeks remaining turned into days and my head was on a massive countdown. I continuously checked my little book for anything I’d missed. We were all on this roller coaster of emotions, Derek comforting his family, myself leaving a home behind I’d grown up in, Bella and Lucia saying farewell to the ‘Brownies’ organisation, and the karate club gave Gianni a wonderful ‘send off’ and made him a life-long member. Jo had organised a ‘bon voyage’ party for the girls which they thoroughly enjoyed. Three other close friends and their husbands arranged for us all to have a lovely meal together and presented us with a beautiful locally handcrafted wicker basket and oak candleholder. Luckily, we had time to rearrange a box! I met other friends for lunches. At home I had reached the point of becoming tearful every day. Everything was becoming a blur. Gianni, Bella and Lucia became used to seeing me ‘well-up’ and I explained to them, that sometimes in life we make decisions to do things, like moving abroad, and even though we know it’s what we want to do, it still takes an emotional toll. On the children’s last day at school (two days before we were leaving the UK), early in the morning they cuddled and played with their pet guinea pigs. The children were as good as gold. They were fine. It was breaking my heart watching them. We had already prepared them a while ago and they knew that whilst they were at school, a friend would help me move the guinea pigs, hutch and run to Jo’s. They coped really, really well and in fact, I actually think at that time they were already positively looking ahead and were more ‘grown up’ than I was. Dreading the school bell at the end of the day, I waited outside of the school with other mums. My god, this really is it. I wore my sunglasses desperately trying to keep control of myself whilst mums were wishing us luck and so on. The bell tolled and out they all came, our children with little gifts their friends had made. The teachers had also made fantastic giant cards from each class with a huge photo of all their class friends. Inside were messages, some funny and some beautiful. Then the head teacher marched towards me. I just wanted to go. I wondered what on earth were we doing to our children. Why are we taking them away from this brilliant school, and I’ve just handed over their pets. Gianni, Bella and Lucia didn’t ask for this to happen. It’s our fault. Even though we were looking forward to our new life in Italy, and we knew the children would benefit in the future, I felt so guilty and so sorry for making them leave everything they knew, and they were so good about it.

Our last day in the UK was a day I’ll remember for a long time. We still had to get to a local store to have a top box fitted to the car, and for some strange reason, I had booked Gianni in at the hairdressers in the afternoon. Why did I think we would have this spare time? We received visits from many friends and family through the afternoon and into the night wishing us good luck. It was so hard to take it all in and very emotional in particular for Derek and his family. Eventually and much later we completed packing the car (in the rain) for the journey ahead then fell asleep exhausted. This was 1.30am and our alarm was set to wake us at 3am. I would have liked to have had the last day with nothing really to do and to be able to welcome visitors and enjoy their company without the fear of what still had to be done. There’s always something left, whether it’s old paperwork to be shredded, something to be cleaned, and dishes to be washed or a forgotten last minute lock to be fitted to a window because of the property insurance policy conditions. But I think no matter how organised you think you are, it never quite works out like that, does it?

Catch up with us at sunrise the following morning in Episode Four heading off on our long trip south and our first thoughts and experiences in Italy.

Fay Henson

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