Monday Money

Here’s a quick little game to keep us connected. Comment on the blog post with how much money in Euro is shown in this photo. Everybody who gets it right will be in a drawing for a “happy mail” gift from bella Italia. Contest ends at midnight Monday night ET.

Home is Always Waiting With Open Arms

Home is definitely not just a place. It’s a feeling of belonging and security. It is a lifeline to the people and space you hold dear. It is trust and expectations.

But there can also be pain and loss. Still, home helps you face your fears and have room to grow. It’s always a shelter even in the worst of life’s storms.

It can be two places. Three. It is where the pieces of your heart live.

I have a home at my mom and dad’s. I have the home I make with Jerry—wherever that may be. That home has open doors to welcome my daughters and other family.

I have a home in America that I miss everyday. When I’m feeling homesick, I remind myself that she will be there when I return.

That’s it. Home is always waiting with open arms for you to return.

Little Red Jetta part 2

I texted a friend and told her that I bet 8:45 a.m. meant more like 9:30 a.m. Sure enough. At 9:30 a.m. the clerk came out to ask for our papers. As it would happen, our POC was not arriving anytime soon. -1 In a stroke of luck, she asked the clerk to fax our paperwork to her to review. +1. Note, We are still even.

We waited for the verdict.

Presto! Perfetto! All in order. We simply had to give them €110 and we could have the keys. Allora!

After some stamping of paperwork, passport checks and proof we had tags, they let us drive away in the car. +5

But not so fast. Turns out we actually do have to go to that office downtown to get the stamped T1 customs form. We must take the form to Vicenza for the customs inspection and clearing. We have 3 to 5 days after the stamp to complete this process or we have to pay a 22% import tax based on their value of the vehicle. This form is very important.

We arrive at the office only to be informed that we must sit and wait for the colleague who handles customs. -3

Allora.

I think we’re up at this point, but I’m taking bets on when the colleague returns from his espresso break. Fingers crossed it’s before the lunch break or riposo.

Note: Now a big truck is parked behind the little red Jetta. Language prevented me from communicating how bad this is. At first we were both blocked. I convinced him to move with a lot of smiling and gesturing. But he only moved so far and then he was done. I think he said he would only be 10 minutes. I guess that was his bet. Allora.

Couldn’t make it up if I tried.

Little Red Jetta part 1

Up at 4:30 am to drive to Ravenna to pick up our little red Jetta. Buy gas with coupons out of town +1.

Arrive given address and nothing there remotely like a place to pick up car. -1.

Google maps suggests an uficcio downtown which our better judgement says is wrong. We drive all around the port terminal area looking for Intermarine Shipping (IMS) and notice a sign for Traghetti e Crociere, a name on our paperwork. +1

We make a U turn and walk in an Italian ferry office to ask where the T&C office is located. The older gentleman speaks no English but recognizes the name and turns out it is only two doors down. +2

We get excited.

But in true Italian fashion, our POC did not arrive at 8:30 opening time. -4

Jerry reconned the lot and found the Jetta playing hide and seek with us. +1.

So far we are even.

Allora, we wait. And someone can sleep anywhere. He’s even snoring.

Potty Mouth

Really, I want to talk potties in Europe. I thought my previous travels had prepared me, but I’m still learning as I go. I really should stop being shocked at this point by anything I see or experience.

(If you’re squeamish about bathrooms and bodily functions, this post may not be for you.)

Let’s get the elephant out of the room. Squatty potties do exist. So far I’ve only encountered them in Italy. This bodes well for German vacations.

Evidently, spending a lot of time in Turkey did nothing to improve my skills in this situation. I still walk in, see the squatty potty, turn and walk out. I’ve resorted to buying something I don’t even need at a nearby store just so I can use their bathroom in an emergency. Anything to avoid them.

Doesn’t this just make you cringe? All I can think of is being three years old on a road trip with my mom thinking that stopping on the side of the road was appropriate. I would offer to my mother that it was not appropriate. I’m still a little traumatized from those childhood experiences and the fear of, well, the whole thing. At least then she was there to help counterbalance my weight. Now I’m just alone in a bathroom staring at a squatty potty. Woman against porcelain.

Suffice it to say that in my world this is no more OK now than it ever was in the 70s. Maybe I’m just not that much of a nature girl. (Gasp)

So let’s move on to something which I highly endorse.

Self cleaning potties.

Seriously. Wave your hand and it begins magically turning and sanitizing at the same time. Even better, there’s some kind of drying mechanism because when it’s all done it’s not wet or icky.

Yes, they do ask that you deposit .70€ (coins!!!) to use this super clean bathroom, but it’s totally worth it. And they give you a little ticket so that you can use .50€ on any purchase in their store. The net cost is minimal compared to the joy of knowing you’re using a sanitized toilet.

Also shocking to me is the propensity for men to walk into the women’s bathroom without knocking, clearing the room or seeking permission. If they need to use it and there’s an open stall I have seen them use it. If they need to perform service they go right in. I don’t like 8 year old boys in the women’s bathroom after they can peek under stalls. For dang sure this makes me uncomfortable. And none of the local women even notice so I realize that according to the accepted rules here that I am overreacting.

But hey, men just stand on the side of the autostrada and pee in front of God and everybody. I suppose the lesson is, “If you can, do it.”

Lastly, both pay to use and free bathrooms often have a merchandise gauntlet through which you must walk to access the bathrooms. Toys, candy, souvenirs. They make it hard to walk out without buying something.

I can’t imagine taking three little kids to the bathroom past all of that shiny, glittery, tempting product. Luckily, I have only my self control to blame. My spaghetti head photo from Insta came from the gauntlet. I was able to control myself and did not spend 10€ on a huge box of spaghetti. Whew, that was close.

ETA: there was one anomaly when I had to pay 1€ in Austria to use the bathroom. It had no toilet seat and I didn’t even get a coupon back to spend in the store. And I succumbed to desire and bought a cheesy Heidi-esque cowbell keychain. Can’t win all the battles.

Show Me the Money

Full disclosure. I prefer to use a card for everything. I love collecting cash back and travel reward points. Credit card hacking has saved us thousands of dollars and we pay the balance in full every month avoiding interest. My Dad always said to carry cash in case of emergency, but I rarely have anything more than a $10 on me when I’m stateside.

But life in Italy is different. Did I mention that? Really, it’s pretty much all of Europe. They just don’t use cards. They whip out cash Euros for everything–toilet access, espresso, lunch, clothes, train fare, parking fees. They seem to never be without cold hard cash.

Even more than Euro bills, they use coins.

It’s been an adjustment to say the least. It took me a solid month to amass the mandatory pile of Euro coin it takes for daily life. I had to buy an old lady coin purse! And 20€ in coins is heavy in a purse.

1.5€ for gelato. 2€ for a Coke Zero. .5€ for bathroom access. 3.5€ for prosecco (but hey free chips). 4€ for formaggio or proscuitto. This is every single day you have to be prepared with coins.

Why? Because they often won’t take a bill. True story. The total is 4€. I hand them a 5€ bill. They ask for monete, denaro, saldo. Anything but the bill. Heaven forbid if you try to spend a 20€ on even 15€. They expect exact change!

After they ask for coins, if none are forthcoming, they stare to wait you out in case you really do have some stashed in the bottom of your bag or lingering in a jacket pocket. The eyes start to roll now. And they sigh.

You have to be really firm. 90% of the time they finally take the bill and return change with more huffing and puffing than a disgruntled teenager. Sometimes they refuse and you have to walk out.

I vote with my wallet. If I ever walk out once because they don’t take my cash I will never shop again at that store.

So far I have found this to be true at all types of businesses. Grocery store, produce market, restaurant or bar, cafe, clothes store, home decor shop, gift shop. Italians hate making change.

And may the earth stop rotating if you pull out a credit card. We always check now in advance to make sure a restaurant accepts credit cards. Some very big, nice places still don’t offer credit card machine access. It drives me crazy to leave all those Chase 3X dining points on the table!

It was no better in Germany or Austria. Paulaner in downtown Stuttgart refused to take a credit card. The bäckerei wanted exact change. The market needed exact change. The Greek restaurant in Oberammergau refused to take a credit card and Jerry had to hike to the ATM because we were 5€ short after an afternoon of shopping. Even McDonalds staff asked me when I tried to use a 5€ bill to pay for a 1€ hot apple pie (btw so much better over here).

This is the financial culture of Europe. I get it. I’m not going to effect change on any massive scale. While it’s not my jam, it’s not as if I’m going to quit spending money. I’ve got my coin purse. I can even pretty much figure out which coins are which without having to pull them out just from the indentations on the side. I have €20 in coin on me at all times. I have Euro bills. I’ll be even happier after USAA replaces my hacked debit card. I’m adjusting just fine.

But I will still try to spend the bills and always ask for credit when possible. Afterall, I can stare, eye roll and huff with the best of them.