There are so many new things to notice when traveling abroad: the cuisine, culture,  language, art, light, sounds, scents… These are usually evident immediately, regardless of whether you’ve moved to a new country or are on vacation for a few days. There are also many small and seemingly insignificant differences that are quite overwhelming initially, but which become background remarkably quickly. I’ve been trying to keep a list of some of the little details that I would never have noticed if we were here on vacation, but which are very important in our day-to-day life.

Coffee: Those of you who have been to our house in Madison know that we are inveterate coffee drinkers. We have a coffee/espresso machine literally built into our kitchen cabinets and plumbed so that we can make many coffees without having to engage in any preparation or maintenance. Here it is the opposite extreme. The apartment came with a gorgeous stainless steel espresso maker. It takes 10 minutes to heat up for one little cup of espresso. But each cup is a work of art – you literally squeeze the crema onto the top of each cup. I’m drinking way less coffee, and savoring it so much more!

Laundry: We are lucky to have our own washing machine in a little laundry room – it does a great job, and takes 2 hours to do it. But, like the rest of southern Europe, we do not have a clothes drier. There’s no need; even inside in our laundry room, it is hot and arid and the clothes dry in a few hours. I only miss having a drier when there’s something we need cleaned fast. So I try to make sure that we never need anything cleaned fast by running laundry every day. The clothes smell really nice when they are washed but not dried.

Garbage and recycling: Ah, the garbage/recycling system. What a system it is. We separate the refuse into 4 types: compostable, glass/plastic, cardboard, and the rest of the rubbish. The first and last go into receptacles on the first floor of our building. But it’s taken us a while to figure out how to handle the two types of recyclables. It turns out that there are little trucks that park on the side streets in our neighborhood at very specific times (e.g., glass/plastic on Tues and Fri from 10:30-11:30, at least according to the city website), and we are to place our recyclables in those trucks when they come around. But of course, who can time their life that way? So instead, people leave bags of recyclables on the corners early in the morning, awaiting the trucks’ arrival later in the day.

In this photo, taken from the window of our guest room/office, you can see the cardboard recycle truck parked on a side street to the right, and a little garbage truck in the foreground driving down our street. The guys with the fluorescent orange boots are the workers. Apparently, you get a fine if they check your garbage and find recyclables mixed into your rubbish. I suppose it’s an efficient system, and it certainly requires mindfulness on our part!

Sending mail: We figured out that our nearest post office is a few blocks away, in a lovely palazzo. It looks very organized. But it’s also totally confusing – it’s a little too organized. When you walk in, you punch a meter to get a number. But instead of just getting a number, you have to choose whether you want P, U, A, or some other prefix. The different prefixes on your ticket put you on lines for different procedures – mailing a letter to the USA is a different line than picking up a package, for example. We are starting to get the hang of it, but still aren’t really sure what the letters mean!

Transportation: Because we are smack dab in the middle of the city, we can walk to most places we want to go. We also bought annual passes that let us use the busses and metro system (the kids are free, which is great). I love the busses, especially the little teeny busses that circulate through our neighborhood (a full size bus couldn’t get down our street). I do not love the metro. Every time we take it, the kids say they wish we were back in Munich on the U-bahn. It doesn’t go many places (there are too many ruins and ancient sites under the city), and it’s often a 10 minute walk just from the entrance to the subway platform. But most of all, I dislike taking taxis. The drivers are fearless and riding in a cab reminds me of why I don’t like roller coasters. The drivers also like to blast Italian talk radio at full volume. I’m glad I can’t understand what they are yelling about on the radio (yet)!