From Florence with love - but I miss the beaches
LINDSAY Deidda left the Sunshine Coast to live in Florence in 2009. Today she looks at the differences between her hometown and her new home.
MANY of my Australian friends think it must be wonderful living in Florence, one of the most historical and romantic cities in the world.
However, my Italian friends gasp in amazement when I tell them I chose to move to Italy from the Sunshine Coast.
With the economic crisis and delusion in the government, many younger Italians dream of moving to Australia or America.
"Sei Pazza!” (you are crazy) they tell me.
I've had a love affair with Florence ever since I studied here over 20 years ago. However, there's a big difference between visiting Italy as a tourist or student and actually living here.
So what's it really like living in Florence and how does it compare to life on the Sunshine Coast?
I miss the ocean and my daily walks from Alex Headland to the lighthouse, however Florence has a different kind of beauty.
It's a city that's literally immersed in history. The centre is a mixture of modern life and ancient buildings.
A trip to the doctor or accountant is like visiting a museum. Marble and stone stairwells, fresco ceilings, elaborate cornices and pretty courtyards are stunning features, so common, that you can become complacent and forget to notice them after a while.
As the city spreads out to the suburbs, ugly high-rise apartment blocks and modern housing complexes sit beside impressive villas.
Walk down any suburban street and you'll be sure to find a grand house enclosed in an olive, lemon and orange treed garden and allotments dotted here and there; lasting signs of once rural areas.
Driving in the city is a nightmare; finding a parking space, even worse.
Most Italians seem to consider road rules as mere guidelines and I'm convinced that indicators are an optional extra over here.
I never drive in Florence, my husband does. I sit back, grab the door handle with white knuckles, close my eyes and hope for the best.
Fortunately, the calm and tranquillity of the Tuscan countryside is only 10 minutes away. The hillsides surrounding Florence are carpeted with olive and grape vines, ancient castles and glorious, grand villas. The scenery is breathtaking and quintessentially Tuscan.
Italian bureaucracy involves mountains of paperwork and ridiculously long queues. From opening a bank account to registering with a doctor; nothing is straightforward.
In Australia, I could manage my tax returns, register with Medicare and pay all my bills online.
I'm still waiting for Italian bureaucracy to be dragged into the 21st Century, so for now I have to queue up at the post office with everyone else to pay my utility bills.
I hate Italian post offices. Many's a time when I've taken a ticket, stood in a queue, sometimes for up to an hour, to arrive at the counter and be told the ticket is wrong and I need to re-queue.
ASL (the Italian health care office) is even worse. If you want to register with a doctor, book a specialist appointment, blood tests or vaccinations, you have to go through ASL.
It opens at 8 am, but the queues start forming from around 6.30 am. You can literally wait the entire morning to be seen.
Daycare in Italy is private until children turn three. After that it's free.
From the age of three to six, children attend a Scuola di Infanzia (pre-school) before moving up to elementary school.
My daughter is in her second year of pre-school and I have to say it's pretty impressive. Schools follow a national curriculum and education standards are high and fairly strict.
From upper elementary onwards, homework is issued every day, even over the summer holidays. English is taught from the beginning of pre-school and culture excursions are frequent.
Private schools aren't common in Italy. Public education is a good standard, so most parents don't see the point in paying.
One of the most impressive aspects of Italian schools is the mensa (school dinners). Every day the children are served a freshly made three-course meal that's nutritious, delicious and only prepared with organic ingredients.
Cost of living
The cost of living in Italy is generally cheaper than the Sunshine Coast.
Petrol is more expensive but house prices, rent and grocery shopping are lower, especially if you take advantage of the frequent supermarket specials on offer.
Even without the discounts you can easily pick up a pleasantly drinkable bottle of wine for 2 Euros and a loaf of fresh crusty bread for 1.5 Euros.
Markets are very popular in Italy and are a good place to buy cheap, seasonal fruit and vegetables from local producers.
Markets are also ideal for clothes and shoe shopping. It's not difficult to find quality, Italian made leather boots for 30 Euros and you can easily come away with four or five outfits having spent just 50 Euros.
Eating out in the centre of Florence is expensive so we tend to stick to the suburbs where the average cost of a pizza is 7 Euros. Bars are also cheaper in the suburbs.
An espresso only costs one Euro and an aperitif 2.5 Euros, compared to 8 Euros in the centre.
A pre-lunch aperitif is the norm in Italy, however, it's not uncommon to see old men sipping on a grappa with their morning espresso!
Italian supermarlets are food lover's heaven, especially the meats, cheese, bread and fresh pasta counters.
My favourite products are buffalo mozzarella (far better than anywhere else in the world), Finocchiona, a spicy, garlic salami only made in Tuscany and Schiacciata, a Tuscan flatbread sprinkled with olive oil.
Ethnic ingredients are difficult to find though.
Much as I love Italian food, I really crave a Thai curry every now and then but Thai food is practically unheard of over here.
The Sunshine Coast is one of the most beautiful places on earth and I can't deny I miss it.
I crave the ocean, the smell of eucalyptus, the sound of the whip bird and the early morning call of the kookabura.
But Florence is in my heart now, it's "casa mia” (my home).
I just wish it wasn't so far away.