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Our first weeks in Italy

…And how we survived them

Written by Lou Benders

 

After a three-day drive down south, we reached Italy in a state of exited expectations and mixed feelings about the weather. Why? It was snowing. 

Cold, dark and dry

The first week we stayed at La Mano Sulla Roccia in Pratella, because the roads were too icy to drive on. When the weather was semi okay again, we made our first attempt at staying in our villa. Unfortunately, this remained an attempt. After hours of chasing away little animal inhabitants and cleaning the dirt of a house-that-hadn’t-been-lived-in-for-years, while eating a lovely dinner in front of the fire place (because the rest of the house was freezing) – there was a power outage. BAM.

No electricity whatsoever. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem in a city or even a little town. But we don’t live in town, we live 3 kilometers away from it with our nearest neighbor being 400 metres away from us. So, there we sat in this huge house without any light but for the gloomy moon.

With the tiny flashlight we installed on Luca’s phone we managed to find the electricity control point, outside at the end of our porch, but ended up not able to change anything to the dark conditions we were in. Our not-very-handiness was then followed by a small debate whether we would just stay close to the fireplace and sit through the night in an adventurous but frozen fashion. We decided not to, jumped into the car and slept another night at La Mano Sulla Roccia.

The next day, the local handyman Mircea fixed the lights and we could finally start living in our house! This was the 1st of March.

 

Everything seemed to go rather smoothly from then onwards but for the weather. It was still very un-Italian super cold, so one of our main jobs was keeping the fire going. This merry situation didn’t last too long, when we found out we only had water very sporadically or not at all, which resulted in showers at La Mano Sulla Roccia and cleaning whenever we were able to get water. 

Shopping

While trying to remain warm and meddling with reluctant water, we also had to do lots of shopping. Something I had been looking forward to! Our first day of shopping started off well – everything seemed to be under control and after a session at the Commercial Shopping Center of Campania, we drove to Napoli to visit Leroy Merlin and, of course, Ikea.

 

We bought our necessary tools at Leroy Merlin, walked to our car down in the parking lot and started loading the trunk with our purchases, happily closing the trunk only to find out that Luca had left the keys in the trunk without opening the rest of the car! A panicky moment, an angry Lou and some heavy Googling later, we called a guy who opens cars for a living for dummies like us. Now, luckily for us, this guy-who-has-been-doing-this-for-a-living-for-11-years appeared in 20 minutes, opened the car in 5 and left us 30 euros lighter, ready to continue our shopping spree. 

We survived!

Back in Ailano, we had a good laugh about our stupidity and started working like crazy. The first weeks were behind us without much progress – so now we had to make up for some lost time.

All in all, with some amazing help from Luca’s mom Maria, Rosa, Antonio, Giuseppe, Rina and many others we had two challenging but fun first weeks. Who these people are and what’s all so peculiar about living in Italy is something for my next blog!

 

And trust me… you’ll want to read it!

Photos?

We’re currently still working very hard to make everything as pretty, cozy and relaxed as possible. If you want to see what we’re doing, check out our Instagram: Retreat.in.Ailano.Italy

We promise to show you more pics on this page soon too!

Dutchness vs. Italianism

10 funny differences between our cultures

Written by Lou
 

Even though Luca and I are both European, we tend to differ A LOT when it comes to cultural habits. Introducing new people, meeting friends, asking for a favor, having an argument, saying sorry, eating and giving or receiving compliments are heavily influenced by our two very different cultures, Dutch versus Italian.

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This often causes interesting situations, stupid arguments and hilariously funny questions & presumptions. Let’s dig into this!

An Italian take on Dutchies

When I asked Luca to name some of the things he finds funny or odd, he came up with this list:

1. Dutch people are very direct.

Example:  In Luca’s office a guy was chewing gum in a rather disturbing fashion. Everyone could hear him. A Dutch colleague then told him to stop doing that. Because we Dutchies do that.

Luca’s Italian solution? Hide the gum for the rest of the week.

In the rare cases that Luca is direct, he feels he may be rude and tends to say sorry about a thousand times a day to ensure that no harm is done. This is pretty funny to me!

2. Dutch people don’t kiss. 

Example: Whenever Luca meets any friend or acquaintance in Italy, they kiss 2 times. Starting the kiss on the right.

Try it: every other culture starts on the left, making it a bit of an awkward situation to kiss Italians on the cheeks for the first time.

Dutch people only kiss in more formal situations and we then kiss thrice, starting on the left.

3. Dutch men are super shy. 

Example: Dutch guys don’t approach women and tend to stick together on the side in a bar, waiting for women to approach them (while the flesh is on the other side, as Luca so delicately put it).

Hence, Luca believes that Italian men are more successful in love, which is something I obviously must confirm.

4. Dutchies have a crazy work mentality. 

Example: According to Luca, all Dutch people mainly think about work, finding it more important than personal freedom & making time to meet friends.

If you know how difficult it can be to meet up with friends who work 40-hour jobs planning 3 weeks in advance to see them, you understand what he’s saying. And that this may be odd for an Italian.

Luca can easily see his friends all the time whenever he’s in Napoli. Even those who do work. 

5. Dutch people drink a lot and eat many ‘frietjes’.

Example: On an average Dutch night out a Dutch male will drink no less than 6 beers and may start & end the night with something meaty and frietjes (French fries).

On an average Italian night out, however, and Italian specimen will start the night with a nice pasta made by his mamma and drink 2 to 3 wines (after which he’ll be quite tipsy).

 

Every time Luca did go out the Dutch way, I ended up guiding him home with him proclaiming he could still walk straight (after 3 beers that was).

What a sweetheart!

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A Dutch take on Italians

Now, let me elaborate on this list by adding some differences I have noticed:

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6. Italians give compliments and applaud about everything. 

Example: When introduced to Luca’s friends, they actually verbalize what we Dutchies may only think, namely: “Ma che bella ragazza!” What a beautiful girl! Or “Ma sei bella!” But you’re beautiful!

Can you imagine a Dutch person who you’ve only just met tell you: ‘O wat ben je mooi!’ I don’t think so.

Similarly, for every achievement, however small (such as being able to ask where to find the toilet in Italian), they clap! Aahhh! Brava!!! *clap clap clap

I think this is one of the cultural differences I love most. I feel so welcome and there’s so much enthusiasm about everything 😊

7. Italians are very fuzzy about what you eat with what. 

Example: Pineapple on pizza is not done, nor is having a cappuccino during lunch. A chocolate milk after dinner is neither tolerated. It’s difficult not to upset Italians with different eating habits!

Luca is disappointed with me all the time. This is something that will never change. Luckily, when I do anything well, he’ll make up for this by clapping and giving me heaps and heaps of compliments!

8. Italians are mega laidback with their time. 

Example: Most Italians, on top of always being late, still live with their parents, even when they’re already 30. They work, but not too hard. Every meal is prepared by mamma and shared with the entire family.

How to illustrate this even better? With Luca’s question about the Gemeente (the city council of Amsterdam):

“Are they always open or do they close for lunch?”

– HA HA HA – Here’s the thing, dear Italians, nothing in the Netherlands closes for lunch. We wish. 

9. Italians are amazingly clean.

Example: While Dutch people are certainly not dirty, Italians take clean to a new level. I’ve not met a single smelly Italian, ever. All the houses I’ve been to, were spotless too!

Maybe this is also because a cleaner in Italy costs only 3 euros an hour… Plus, Italians have people over all the time! Visits are still more of a thing in Italy, I guess. And if people are visiting, everything should be clean. Makes sense!

10. Italians have crazy marriages.

Example: In Italy it’s normal to throw wedding parties with a total cost of €10.000+ euros, eating from 2 pm until 2 am. The guests are expected to give envelops (the busta) with around €500 euro per family. Also, the best men should pay for the rings!

Due to this, a wedding announcement often causes much stress for friends & family of the beloved couple. With an average income of €1000 euros per month, the ‘gift’ for a wedding is a huge burden.

In sum…

Our cultures are quite different. We Dutchies are as cold as our weather and Italians are as Italian as you expect them to be. We’re a good mix though. Especially when we start speaking each other’s languages, resulting in Luca asking my grandmother: 

“Mag ik de tepel?” (Can I have the nipple?) – while of course he meant ‘lepel’ = spoon. Too funny! 

And I guess I am not doing to great either when I ask “Quanti ani hai?” (How many anuses do you have?). Whoops! 

More about our languages another time though! Any other differences between Dutchies and Italians you’ve noticed that you’d like to add? Send us an email to info@lougoesitalian.com! Also check out our Instagram and become a member of our Facebook group.

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The Matese mountains & an Italian Christmas

A memorable day

Written by Lou


On the 24th of December 2017, Luca and I visited Ailano again and celebrated a very Neapolitan Christmas with Luca’s family back in Napoli. We also made a road trip that you can read all about in this blog! 

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Roadview

My third visit to Ailano

The weird thing about this project is that I’ve only visited Ailano 2 days before we decided to move there. Even though these two times were magical and obviously convincing, I was happy to see the valley again when we visited Antonio and Giuseppe at La Mano sulla Roccia over Christmas to explain our project to them & show the website which I’ve been working on for the past month.

We left Napoli and drove for about 50 minutes to arrive at Antonio’s beautiful castle on top of a hill. Giuseppe was already waiting for us at the gate and we happily greeted him and Paula, Marina & Rina with whom we picked olives last time we were there in October. Antonio welcomed us a little later with an eager hug and the usual kisses, ready for the presentation of our project!

After a lengthy Italian explanation from Luca and a thorough browse-through our website, I was delighted to understand the enthusiasm for our community when all people present gave us a warm applause and of course additional kisses. Luca then discussed some more details with Antonio, and I sat down for a coffee on the patio to stare at the morning mountains, which we’d soon unexpectedly would explore. 

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A stunning table

When Luca came back from his conversation Antonio announced that he would show us the table that he had ordered to be built for us. Cool!

So, we hopped into 2 cars with everyone present, and drove off to Prata Sannita where a woodworker was working on our new 8-meter-long chestnut out-of-one-piece wooden table (WHAT?!). The table was, as you might imagine, magnificent! Unfortunately, I was so startled, surprised and impressed that I forgot to take a picture. I promise to take one when we’re there again in February! We’ll be able to eat with at least 12 people together on one table in our new house. What a feast 😊.

While we were staring at the table, the question arose if we’d ever seen Lago di Gallo or Letino. Well, the answer was that I’d seen these places on Google Maps and pictures, but never in real life. So… Road trip time! 

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Exploring the Matese National Park

Gallo & Letino

It was only a 20-minute drive or so before we drove through Gallo past the Gallo lake and arrived at a small monastery in Letino overlooking the lake. But it wasn’t open, so we couldn’t see the view. This might’ve stopped some people, but it didn’t stop 82-year-old Antonio for one second. All of us tried to keep up with Antonio while he climbed around the edge of the building to see the view. Even 73-year-old Rina was climbing past the rocks and prickly bushes like a mountain goat. That totally beats playing bingo in an old people’s home!

Once there, I must be very honest, we couldn’t see a thing, because massive trees were blocking the view. Nevertheless, it was a fun climb and this time we did shoot some photos! 

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View Letino better

Tumolo

Of course, we couldn’t stop while we were on a roll. So we drove about 10 minutes further into an overshadowed valley where very few people live and wild horses roam the plains up on the slopes. And if that wasn’t beautiful enough, we got out to climb some more to get a better view.

This time we climbed the tumolo, an ancient Etruscan mass grave that few people know is there. To most it just looks like an odd hill the size of a 4-story building.

Needless to say that Antonio was on top of the hill before anyone else. While we were up there, he grabbed me by the arm and showed me the stunning snowy mountains and clear Lete river that was flowing swiftly past this ancient relic. Then we took some pictures again and a neighborhood dog totally photobombed all of them! 

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Mirror lake

The last place we visited on this remarkable afternoon was il Lago del Matese, a mirror lake with snowy edges even though it was 15 degrees Celsius. I cannot wait to go for a swim here. There was literally only one house in this valley. I don’t think places can get more pure and unspoiled than this: 

LAgo matese
miralago

Back at La Mano sulla Roccia we hugged and kissed everyone many times and told them we’d be back by the end of February – to start our community.

 

This was the end of our visit to the valley, but not the end of our day… 

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(Oh, and I almost forgot! Check out the view from our apartments above!)

An Italian Christmas eve

Back in Napoli, where we were staying with Luca’s parents Maria and Daniele, his sister, little brother and nonno (grandfather), we arrived in a super Christmassy house. A huge tree with presents, lots of lights, snowballs, snowmen and Santa Clauses everywhere. 

However, the best presents were not under the tree but about to be served on the table. After all, Maria had prepared an amazing vegan 7-course dinner for us! She’d managed to turn every non-vegan Italian dish she prepared for the rest of the family into a vegan dish too. We ate: vegan  carpaccio, vegan cheese & zucchini quiches, vegan fried dough balls with vegetables (frittatine), vegan pasta puttanesca, vegan pizza, vegan uhhh… well, a lot more and then vegan cookies and a vegan Nutella cake (OMG!). Recipes will follow soon 😊

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The night ended with (among others) these Neapolitan songs sung by the entire family:

1. Caruso – Lucio Dalla

2. Tamurriata nera

3. Reginella – Roberto Murolo

And unwrapping heaps of gifts at midnight!

What a present!

All in all, this day truly was a present. To enjoy such enthusiasm for our project, such a fun spontaneous road trip, great weather, beautiful nature, remarkable people, amazing food and limitless friendliness is something we can only be grateful for.

I keep on saying it and I’ll just say it again: I cannot wait to find out what our future here has in store for us! 

Route information

Roadtrip around

From Prata Sannita to il Lago di Matese past il Lago di Gallo, Letino & the Tumolo

Car: 47 minutes

Bike: circa 4 hours

Foot: 7 hours & 16 minutes

Tour around by car: circa 2 hours

Follow us!

Want to see more pictures from our trip? Check out our Instagram At.lou.and.luca!

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Chasing ‘il dolce far niente’

The sweetness of doing nothing

Written by Lou

Often when you just enjoy doing nothing you have the most creative ideas and the best solutions to any problem.

But even without thinking of coming up with ideas or solutions and results, many Italians have daily moments of enjoying doing nothing, il dolce far niente.

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Big city life

In big cities, I believe, these relaxing moments are hard to find. For example, in Amsterdam we’re always busy working, socializing, going to, planning or thinking about the next big event. After all, it seems a little sad to just ‘do nothing’.

And to be honest, this is a simmering feeling I’ve struggled with a lot: a type of FOMO based on hysterical social media pics showing people having the greatest of times at all times and the idea that I always have to do something useful.

Feeling pressured to do a lot of fun things next to working a lot already (during and after office hours – in my mind), I’ve stuffed my agenda for quite a while living here in Amsterdam. Not necessarily enjoying everything I did and kind of exhausting myself with so-called usefulness.

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A lifestyle change

Then last year something new came into my life, an Italian named Luca, whose calm demeanor and relaxing lifestyle made me question my own values of hard work, usefulness and compulsive socializing. Slowly but steadily, I started to take more time for myself, to be creative again: paint and play the cello or to just do nothing: stare out of the window, cuddle with the cats, read a magazine or a book – just enjoying the moment.

I was under the spell of il dolce far niente, without yet knowing the actual phrase. Just being inspired by Luca and his friends & family, who seemed to be so light and at ease with just hanging out outside or on the couch.

Now, you could say that this interest in the sweetness of doing nothing got kind of out of hand when I quit two steady jobs in a time span of 6 months  – deciding to chase il dolce far niente all the way back to Italy.

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But I don’t think so. I think these Italians understand something crucially important to living a happy life.

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How to do nothing?

Actually doing nothing is a pretty big challenge for me. Even without a job I end up working on this website quite a lot, even if it is with a fresh lightness, because I enjoy working on this community and because it’s not obligatory.

I try to immerse myself in doing nothing, mainly during meditation classes or in the bed before sleeping. Obviously, I am no Italian yet.

But there are a two books that do help me find more peace in doing nothing, even just during the day, when I could also be doing something useful. These books explain how to live a timeless life.

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1. Momo by Michael Ende

This children’s novel has been my favourite book since I was 15. It’s about a little girl, Momo, whose mere presence and amazing listening capacities spread so much love that people forget about time and come up with the most creative solutions to any problem. She just enjoys herself listening to everyone, even the silence that appears to sing to her.

And then of course it doesn’t stay that way, because it’s still a book and there should be a plot. Momo ends up fighting men in grey suits who steal people’s time, telling them that they can save time by being as efficient as possible – never enjoying il dolce far niente anymore.

An absolute must-read if you enjoy this kind of thing!

~

2. The power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

This inspirational book is a little bit more of a challenge if you’re not yet interested in a more spiritual approach to life. It teaches you how to find your way out of psychological pain and to enjoy the Now with the silence and space around us as our guide to inner peace. 

And inner peace is something you definitely need when you want to enjoy doing nothing. 

The book seems to grab you by the hand and transform you as you read. I definitely feel more in the here an the now whenever I read The power of Now!

~

Beyond books

The problems arise when I put these books away again and forget all about these wise lessons, caught up in my thoughts about our big move, life in Italy and buying dogs & a donkey.

All very exciting but not helpful when I want to hangout and do nothing!

Il dolce far niente at Lou & Luca’s

I guess I cannot wait to finally move to Italy, be there and perhaps one day actually find il dolce far niente in myself!

When we actually live there and post up-to-date pics of beautiful mountains and our new donkey!

Lou en Luca

Meanwhile, I hope that in my search for il dolce far niente, Luca, At Lou & Luca’s and our community can help many others experience, see and feel il dolce far niente.

That’s my dream:) That people can really relax and just enjoy themselves at Lou & Luca’s. Hopefully, we can make it work!

I’ll just continue not do nothing for a bit to put everything together so that when you join us you have all the time in the world to enjoy the sweetness of doing nothing!

Follow us on Instagram: At.lou.and.luca and join our Facebook group to stay updated if you’d like to know what we’re working on!

Moving to Italy to start ‘At Lou & Luca’s’

In search of la dolce vita

Written by Lou
 

If you ask me which country is more enchanting, the Netherlands or Italy, I’d SHOUT ‘Italy!’ within a fraction of a second. And I think many would, except for people who don’t like the sun, an azzurro sea, mountains or pizza of course… (so no one really).

But finding Italy more enchanting than our cold frog land (‘koude kikkerlandje’ in Dutch), doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to lose your head and move there straight away whenever the opportunity pops up.

Yet, this is exactly what I will do in March 2018. Trade in Dutch cheese for endless Italian kisses on every single encounter.

In this blog you’ll read why and where I’ll be moving!

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Lou’s 7 reasons to move to Italy

There are one-hundred reasons to move to Italy, but also one-hundred reasons not to. Let me sum up my reasons to go!

1 – Happy weather

Moving to the South of Italy means avoiding the perils of Dutch depressing winters with neither sun nor snow, just endless grey skies and harsh watery-cold winds knocking you of your bike every morning. So I’ll be enjoying the sun non stop, sipping a caffé overlooking the mountains in the morning and drinking a red wine at sunset.

2 – A sexy language

Not only is Italian the hottest language ever, I am also dying to learn this language. What better way to learn than to be immersed in a village chock full with non-English-speaking Italian charme.

3 – Lower costs

As a freelancer who doesn’t easily earn over 1500 Euro per month, it’s better to live in a (part of a) country where these euros amount to an above average wage, than in the Netherlands, where the rent for your apartment already eats up half of that cash. I won’t be a big spender, but I will have more possibilities with my money when I pay 1 euro for a coffee instead of 2,50!

4 – Wonderful nature

I think I love those pastel Italian hills and glistening seas as much as I love my mother. What better way to spend your time than looking at a pittoresque medieval village on the slope of a hill while breathing in the smell of the sea?

5 – The boyfriend

If you already have an Italian boyfriend but live in the Netherlands, you might have noticed that he’s a little different from us Northlings. He kisses your brother on the cheeks when introduced to the family (WHAT?!) and he cries whenever anyone says anything slightly romantical. However, the more your Italian boyfriend seems odd in your country, the cooler he is when you set him free in his natural habitat. My Luca becomes the pinnacle of Italian hotness in his warm climate. I’ve never been so in love!

6 – Food, food, food

Obviously, food should’ve been on the top of this list. There is nothing like Neapolitan pizza or homemade gelato. Even better is the food you cannot eat at a restaurant, namely those meals you eat at your boyfriend’s mamma! Mamma mia, can my mother-in-law cook! (heart eyed smiley)

7 – History

It’s difficult to deny Italia’s rich history when you see some ancient Greek and Roman ruins around every corner of the street. And then I am not even talking about all the abundantly decorated churches! You become fully aware of time when you are surrounded by history. That’s what makes me realize how much time flies and why it’s important to enjoy la bella vita! What better place to do so than in Italy?

So…

Having written down my reasons to leave, I am even more convinced that this is a great decision! But where in Italy will I be? The answer… 

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The middle of nowhere !

Remember being in the car in a place where your car tells you: ‘GPS signal not found’? That’s where we’ll be! The absolute middle of nowhere.

Our beautiful pink castle is situated about 1.2 kilometres from Ailano in Campania, one of the most undiscovered and gorgeous provinces of Italy. Unlike in Tuscany, you’ll barely find half a tourist roaming around this area, which is a shame and quite amazing at the same time!

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It’s a shame because the beautiful Matese mountains, sparkly waterfalls, pittoresque medieval villages, ancient ruins and olive trees are a must-see for everyone who loves this kind of thing.

– But it’s also amazing that this region still breaths the authentic Southern Italian bella vita everywhere you look, unspoiled by tourism.

 

And this is where we’ll start our community: At Lou & Luca’s. A place where you can do a whole lot of nothing, chill, help out and enjoy the southern Italian beautiful nature and culture.

La dolce vita

With our project in mind and the big move three months from now, Luca and I will be working on creating the ultimate bella vita community the upcoming months.

Find out more about our journey towards a dolce vita in my next blog!

 

Follow us on Instagram: At.lou.and.luca and join our Facebook group to stay updated if you’d like to know what we’re up to!

 

For more pictures* of where we are Check out the slideshow below!

*We’ll update these pictures ASAP!

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