Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bah Humbug

For some reason I haven't had any urge to blog lately. Or to cook. Very unlike me. Or to clean the house due to living in the dustiest city in the world (yes even compared to living in Karratha desert with red dirt surrounding us). I haven't even had the urge to shop (ok that's not entirely true, some things never change). Or to even get out of my pyjama's before noon which unfortunately the Italia Post man can attest to whilst delivering a package to our house.

Usually this time of year back at home, I get so excited about Christmas and husband's birthday which is on Boxing Day.

There's usually Christmas parties at my work, then at husband's work and usually by now I've put up our Christmas tree and made and frozen the traditional Polish dumplings we eat for Christmas Eve. I'm usually catching up with all my friends for Christmas lunches and drinks and this year of course, this hasn't happened as we are so far away from each other. Watching CNN every day and watching hundreds of people lose their jobs just before Christmas has also put me into a really down mood and I feel almost guilty at being able to go out and buy presents and not have to worry where our mortgage payment is going to come from.

So this year it has taken me a little while to get into Christmas spirit. I'm not all 'bah humbug' as I still love Christmas but for some reason I am feeling a little homesick this year. And I'm missing our dog who I remember was alive last Christmas. She is probably happy to be in doggy heaven as this year she won't have to adorn tinsel necklaces and flashing dog tags that read 'doggy Christmas'.

One thing I am looking forward to this year is my Christmas gift from husband. Every year for the last nine Christmases we have spent together I have told him exactly what I want. Boring I know, but that's me.

But this year because we don't have family presents to open I told husband I want him to pick something. By the way, the reason we don't have family presents is not due to an uncaring family, it's due to me requesting no presents due to our lovely issues with Italia Post in the past.

So as you can imagine, this whole present buying has stressed him out considerably. He left the house for three whole hours and came back with a few shopping bags which I have been so tempted to look at (which defeats my whole asking him to surprise me I know!). What probably happened is he bought something in the first half hour and the other two and a half hours were spent looking in windows at camera's - his latest hobby.

It's hard to believe that just over a year has passed since we left Australia. And it's even harder to believe that in just a few days time it will be Christmas and we'll be going to Salzburg in Austria for a White Christmas - something I've always dreamed of experiencing. I know I know - what have I got to be all bah humbug about? But it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to! I know all the ex-pats that read this blog know exactly what I'm talking about.

I promise I'll be more cheery for my next blog and I'll even post some photos of around Florence which has turned into a beautiful city of lights and Christmas trees.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Australian visitors

Last week I collapsed from exhaustion. On the couch. And I refused to get off it for one hour. Well that was until I saw the laundry basket. So my collapse was short lived all because I can't learn to relax when something needs to be done.

I was trying to work out why I was so exhausted since I haven't done an honest day's work for a year now. Then I remembered. My in-laws and I had visited 12 different cities in the last three weeks.

This was their first visit to Italy and I was so excited to show them around my new home town and show them the beauty of Tuscany. We did day trips driving to Verona, Montelpuciano, Montalcino, Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa, Lucca, Perugia, Assisi, Cinque Terre, Lake Garda and Lake Trasimeno. And of course lots of touring around Florence. Please don't ask me to name my favourite place as they are all so beautiful.

It was wonderful having our in-laws visit us and we'll miss seeing the excitement on their faces whenever they saw a tower or a church or the Tuscan countryside with trees bursting with olives that were ready to be picked.

Living daily life in Florence means you sometimes takes things for granted. It's not everyday you get to walk past the Duomo and hear the bells ringing or see the Statue of David. It's great to see the excitement that visitors have when seeing this country and it reminded us of how fortunate we are to live in one of the world's most beautiful cities.

Friday, October 31, 2008

From Florence to Australia

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself. Maya Angelou 1928.

One thing I've noticed about Italians is that they tend to become friendlier once they get to know you. The first time I entered my favourite local bar for breakfast, the staff were very polite, but of course not overly friendly. I ordered a latte and received hot milk with no coffee in it as the word latte means plain milk and not a not a weak coffee like we say in Australia. I may as well have worn a TOURIST sticker on my forehead.

After visiting my local cafe, Golden View, almost daily for my caffe latte and chocolate pastry, they have become more like friends. Sometimes when I haven't come in at my usual time and there is only one chocolate pastry left, I notice they try to 'hide' it so no one else buys it as they know I love them. If husband and I don't come in for a couple of days they ask us 'Where have you been? ' with concerned expressions.

Any hopes of me practising my Italian on the staff have been dashed as they all want to speak English with me. One of the girls is particularly keen to practise her English so we have started engaging in a language tandem. We get together and speak half in Italian and half in English.

The staff are always so interested to hear about our home town in Australia. So, recently I took in some pictures of the place we have lived in for the last four years before coming to Europe for Jason's work assignment.

I had to explain that the animals in the photos were not in parks, they are actually wild. I'm not sure they believed me.

So today, I thought I would post a few pictures from the last town we lived in, Karratha in Northwest Western Australia. A place that is literally in the middle of nowhere with the nearest town about 250 kilometres away and our home for four years due to husband's work assignment. A place I hated at first, but grew to love.

When you look at these photos, bear in mind that we lived in the real outback of Australia. Don't expect these kind of sights if you go to Sydney or Melbourne. This here is like Crocodile Dundee/Steve Irwin territory. Think flying cockroaches, snakes, goanna's and dead kangaroo's lining the roads (killed by passing vehicles). I don't know many people who can say they had a poisonous snake under their desk at work , but unfortunately I can. And it took me a long time to put my feet down from my chair after that day!

It's hard to believe that it's been twelve months since we left Australia. And it's even harder to believe that in just seven months we'll be back there and Florence will be but a memory. A sweet memory. I wonder how many caffe latte's and chocolate pastries I can fit into the next seven months? My thighs shudder at the thought.

Here is husband with his number one not me his humble wife. His number one love is fishing and a romantic date with me is just never going to be as good as a day out fishing with his dad or his friends. I've accepted that and we move on. One of the reasons I have accepted it is that he always comes home with these beautiful red emperor. These are probably the most delicious fish you can catch and to buy them in a city is very expensive. Karratha is famous for it's fishing so we are lucky enough to have a freezer full of these delicacies.

Here is a relaxed kangaroo quite happy for me to pose with her. You can't see it very well in this photo but she actually had a joey in her pouch. There is a programme in Karratha where you can take on injured joey's into your home to nurse them back to health.

I haven't seen one of these signs in Italy! This was taken in Broome which is 800 km's from Karratha and one of Australia's premium tourist spots. To Europeans, 800 km's is a long way but in fact, I used to travel to Broome for work. I would drive on a Monday, do a presentation on Tuesday and drive back on a Wednesday.

Broome is famous for it's beautiful beach, Cable Beach. Unfortunately there are dangerous salt water crocodiles in it. It doesn't stop people swimming in there but I refuse to go in it. I can't imagine many worse ways to go!

Husband stops the car to say hi to a friendly local. This is probably a bit closer than you should get to an emu. But what can I say? We like to live dangerously.

Aaah crabbing season in Karratha. These beauties were made into a delicious Nigella Lawson Crab Pasta recipe. But they are most delicious simply boiled and served with a cocktail sauce. Not a good food for a first date since you end up being covered in shell and meat. But we are boring, old and married so we are allowed.

The one thing husband and I will always fight about is his love of diving. See when you are pulling up fish like this, it means one thing and one thing only: Jaws is out there. Please don't tempt him with your tasty body.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Too old for night clubs

When I was much younger, my friend Simone and I used to club hop between the best night clubs in Perth on Friday and Saturday nights. Oh ok, if I'm being honest we even did it on a Tuesday and Wednesday and slept through the next day's university lectures. Armed with our Illusion Midori cocktails, we would dance all night long in stilletto's and skirts so short that I would now consider them a belt.

Times have changed, wrinkles have appeared and I can't imagine that my poor old feet would hold up a night of clubbing any longer.

So what's a 30 year old to do when she can't go club hopping any longer? She goes terrace hopping.

On a beautiful warm sunny day, husband and I decided to visit the best terraces in Florence and admire the view. And as for those Midori cocktails? Well we substituted them for herbal peppermint tea and complained about what the youth are doing these days and how in our time we had to walk to school in bare feet through the snow.

So here's a couple of pictures of the view we took of the gorgeous Duomo from one of our favourite terraces at the Rinacentre cafe. The Rinacentre is a multi level shopping centre with this terrace on top. In the right weather, it is stunning.

Then we went on to the beautiful Continentale Hotel right on the Ponte Vecchio. You pay three times the price for a drink on this terrace but look what you get to see...

Finally we went on to the ultimate outdoor terrace in Florence - Piazza Michelangelo. We pass here on our nightly power walks and let me tell you, whether it's day or night you can not get sick of the view from this terrace.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Driving in Italy - not for the faint hearted.

Driving in Italy. Nearly every guide book warns against it. Until recently, I heeded their advice and was not prepared to have any part in driving in a country where having five cars crammed into two lanes is nothing unusual.

But I missed driving. I've loved the feel of a car and driving ever since I first got my license thirteen years ago (this doesn't add up since I'm still only twenty two wink wink). I also hated that I was scared of something I was so used to at home and something that I enjoyed so much.

So, with great fear and nervousness I attempted it. Ok so I put it off for three months (nah too tired today to drive, too lazy, too cold, too hot), but when I finally decided to start driving, there was no stopping me. I woke up one morning and announced 'This is it. Today's the day. I'm going to drive on these crazy roads, yay girl power, power to all women'. Husband opened his eyes, yawned and went back to sleep.

But sure enough I did it and now, I love driving in Italy. I never EVER thought I would say that. And a lot of my readers will be saying 'you are driving. So what?'. But you my friends have not driven in the craziness that is Italy and it's something that has to be experienced to be appreciated.

The first time I drove here in Florence, I was petrified. My knees were actually shaking when I got out of the car. Husband was ready to file for divorce as I was apparently 'not keen for advice and direction'. Read between the lines to mean we argued as I hit the side of the kerb twice and nearly ran a red light. I put it down to the crazy traffic and my nerves, but it was also that I had not driven a manual for three years, the steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car and I was driving on the wrong side of the road! (remember in Australia we drive CORRECTLY on the left!).

As much as I love driving in Italy, I really hope that husband and I do not take back any of our new driving habits to Australia. If we do, I can guarantee we'll lose our license within a week. Make that a day.

So for those that have not driven on the road in Italy, these are some of the things you can expect as the norm:

- Cars double parked everywhere.
There is so little parking in Florence that if you see a spot, go for it. Feel free to park in front of cars with your hazard lights on, on top of zebra crossings or one metre from the traffic lights. Or you can do a combination of these like the police car I saw recently. He was double parked on a zebra crossing two metres away from a roundabout while he went in to a coffee shop for a cappucino.

For us, parking is a really big hassle. We live in central Florence but we don't have a resident permit which allows you to park in the street. Mind you, even with one of those you are never guaranteed a spot as it's so crowded. So, we have to park the car in a garage which is fifteen minutes away by foot. And very expensive. I know walking fifteen minutes doesn't sound so bad but it is a pain when you have just done your grocery shopping or it's raining or you have just spent the whole day out walking in the Tuscan countryside and you just want to get home (ok, I'll shut up now).

Look at how the cars are parked in the garage. You need to be very skinny to get out of the car. (joking people, they push the cars in manually like that).

- Men and women on scooters who do not hold any fear for their life.
It is very nerve wracking but not unusual to be overtaken by three scooters at any one time on either side of you. Or on a roundabout. On a side note, the men and women are very entertaining to watch on the scooters. The women wear stilleto heels and gorgeous skirts while I have seen the men stop at the lights and fix up their hair in the side mirror or admire themselves in a nearby shop window.

- Cars not stopping at stop signs.
Supposedly a stop sign in Italy means 'slow down'. I have stopped at certain stop signs before and straight away I get three cars beeping at me and overtaking me with waving hand gestures.

The biggest rule in Italy (according to the locals we speak to) is to look ahead and never look in your rear view mirror. You need to pay attention to the cars in front and to the side of you. If there is a space in front of you, it is your duty to fill it or someone else will. Never mind that there is a double line and a two centimetre gap between you and the new Mercedes next to you. The new Mercedes will be full of scratches anyway from when he tries to parallel park in a spot and physically pushes the bumper of the car in front of him to get in (I've seen this countless times).

After you finally get confidence to tackle driving, you need to worry about the camera in the ZTL zones and the bus lanes. The ZTL areas are zones within the city that you can not enter during certain times of the day for example between 7am and 7.30pm. We have a special pass attached to our windscreen that allows us to enter two certain zones in the city. Imagine our surprise when we found out that in March our pass was not working all month and we were the recipients of eighteen, yes eighteen, traffic infringements of ninety euro's apeice. That's a lot of Italian hand made leather shoes! Husband drove through the same offending camera eighteen times on the way to work each morning. We are still trying to work this out now. Here is a picture of the nasty camera (with me striking a strange pose under it blissfully unaware I'm sharing a picture with the enemy).

So, if you can get past all of the above, you are ready to drive and see the true Italy. Just be sure to have a strong coffee and a lot of patience before you get in the car. Oh, and don't forget to wear your best stiletto's and use your horn a lot. It will make you feel like a true Italian.

Monday, September 22, 2008

La Dolce Vita

When my friends and family from Australia ring me and ask 'what did you do today?' I sometimes get the feeling they are very bored with my answer which goes a little like this: 'ummm I woke up, brushed my teeth, checked my e-mail, did a load of washing, vacuumed and then went out and did some errands'. I think what they are hoping for is this: I got up and opened my curtains to let the Tuscan sun come in through the wooden shutters. Then my Italian lover woke me up. We went out to the Chianti countryside and had a picnic where I sat sipping brunello while my Italian lover fed me morsel size bits of mouth-watering bruschetta and olives that are from his family's olive farm.

So, this one's for you my dreamer friends. On Sunday we had a romantic, gorgeous, fairy tale Italian day.

So you are not disappointed, my disclaimer is that no Italian lover features in this blog nor any of my other blogs, but my spunky Aussie/Filipino Italian looking husband does, so you'll have to make do with that.

So, said husband and I got up early and went to our favourite coffee shop, the Open View Bar which overlooks the Arno river. We had a caffe latte and a chocolate pastry. Very Italian. No bacon and eggs in sight.

We then hopped in our car (I wish I could say Italian scooter to make this story even more Italian, but I value my life and refuse to get onto on of those) and drove two hours to Lago Trasimeno which is a large lake in Umbria. This is such a beautiful spot and we plan on returning when it is a little warmer and a lot less cloudy.

On the way home, we saw a sign for the town of Cortona. I had started reading the autobiography 'Under the Tuscan Sun' some time ago and remembered that it was the setting for the book. I'm possibly the only person in the world that thought it was one of the most boring books I've read and I couldn't even finish it, but I remembered the author's description of the town and thought it was worth a look. We quickly flicked through our Frommer's Guide book but it didn't even have a listing for Cortona so we weren't expecting much.

But when we got there we instantly fell in love with this gorgeous town. And clearly a lot of tourists were also in love with it as there was more Americans than Italians around that day. Sitting atop a hill and overlooking the most beautiful scenery, we ate some panini with proscuitto and finished off our lunch with some of the best gelato we've tasted.

We also stopped in at a bakery to sample their local pastries. Cortona's specialty seemed to be these giant meringues as all the shopfronts were filled with them. They kept chanting at me 'eat me, I taste gooood and I have no calories'. So I had to go in and see for myself.

On the way home, we stopped to admire these gorgeous grapes growing by the side of the road. Someday someone will enjoy these beauties in their glass of red.

In keeping with the Italian-themed day, we got home and husband cooked up a beautiful Italian meal of pasta marinara with prawns, fish, octopus, mussels and clams. We had bought also bought some Brunello wine and some local oil from Cortona. Needless to say, we had a feast.

Unfortunately Monday came around too quickly and reality set back in. Husband went to work while I waited patiently for the fairies to come and start the housework. By ten am, I realised I was on my own and started the washing and ironing.

I can't wait for next weekend to come around again where the weekly chores and routine stops and we get to experience another town that some people only dream of visiting. Yes, life is really dolce (sweet) sometimes. Not always, but for now, it's very very dolce.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My ex-pat interview

Here's the link to my ex-pat interview. I love reading about other expats' lives so I was really happy when this website asked me to answer some questions and in turn, contemplate our last seven months here in Florence.
Hope you enjoy it :)

Sorry for some reason it won't let me add an actual link onto this page, so you can just copy and paste the text.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Skinny jeans and Italian food - not a perfect match.

I don't mind the word skinny. And I don't mind the word jeans. But when those two words are put together 'skinny jeans' my palms start to sweat and my stomach involuntary pushes out in protest that it may be soon be unwillingly shoved into a pair of them.

See, here's the thing. I'm 30 and I love food. Especially tiramisu. Oh ok, and bread smeared with olive oil too. So whilst I don't consider myself overweight and I exercise every day, unfortunately I have thighs and hips with little flabby bits on the side that when pushed into a pair of small skinny jeans, they have nowhere to go but attractively spill out of the sides. When we eventually want to have children, I'm presuming those child bearing hips will come in handy, but for now, they are just a nuisance.

So, it was with a sense of dread that I went out looking for a new pair of jeans today. I went into the first store in Florence, a Levi's shop. The gorgeous Florentine lady that looks like she has never eaten a risotto in her life hands me a pair of...wait for it...skinny jeans. I tell her my dilemma and my request for some standard jeans that are not low cut. She replies with 'You have a great body and you MUST try these on'. Uneasily fooled after having been in sales for 5 years myself I sighed and headed for the change room as her size 0 body followed me. I take a deep breath and surprisingly they fit. But unfortunately for me, I am the kind of girl that likes to eat dinner when we go out to a restaurant (strange I know) and I know I would soon be uncomfortable.

Next stop, the Rinacentre, a department store in town. Again they recommend the Italian favourite, the skinny jeans. I tried not to think of the chocolate pastry I ate that morning as I tried on another pair.

My last fashion attempt was at Diesel. I was skeptical but I love going into that store because it is by far the friendliest store in Florence. And that is saying a lot as most of the girls who work in the stores here are far from friendly. And that is a very big understatement.

I have to also mention that I was wearing high heels and was dressed up. So what, you say? Well I have tried shopping in Florence in my sneakers and shorts and I have tried shopping in nice jeans and stiletto's (what can I say, I love shopping) and I can tell you now that you will not get any service wearing sneakers and most times they will not even help you if you ask. Plus, we all know that a pair of stilleto's makes your butt looks ten times better and you can worry about your bad back and blisters later on.

I decided to be honest with the Diesel guy that served me. And yes, foreign female readers, he looked like he stepped out of Men's Vogue, but after living in Florence for 9 months, you kind of get over them looking so good and you just want them to help you find something that fits.

I said to the Antonio Banderas in his prime look-alike 'I'm 30, I love tiramisu and am not prepared to stop eating it, can you help?' He laughed so hard and said 'I love you Australians, and I will help you'. And help he did. For the first time in my life, I couldn't choose between three pairs of jeans that all fitted me perfectly. Yes his exclaims of 'yes, that is beautiful on you' probably meant that he was just being a salesperson and yes he is an Italian male, but when I put on that perfect pair of jeans, I felt so happy and the only person I wanted to think they look beautiful is my husband. Now only a female can understand that perfect feeling of the right pair of jeans. And I'm hoping husband will be just as understanding when he sees the visa bill.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Polish wedding

Yesterday we returned home from a week long holiday in the country I was born, Poland.

Whilst there we ate, we visited beautiful Krakow, we ate loads of Polish delicacies, we visited my relatives and did I mention we ate a lot? The Polish clearly think that I do not feed my husband or perhaps that there is a food shortage in Italy because it seemed we were eating full hot meals every half hour.

On Saturday we attended my cousin's wedding. When we got the invitation in the mail some months ago, I thought they had either made a mistake or were having a very short wedding. It read that the wedding started at 4pm and ended at 6. I didn't realise that 6 meant 6AM! As I rsvp'd yes, I wasn't sure whether my body would hold up all night!

The wedding was held in a town called Wadowice which is famous as the late Pope John Paul II was born there. I was surprised to find out that my dad was confirmed in the town church by Pope John Paul when he was a bishop. Apparently one day the late Pope said that his favourite Polish cake kremowka was sold in one of the local cafe's. So now, every single bakery in Wadowice sells the famous cake which consists of vanilla custard filling in between pastry. The Pope was clearly onto a good thing there!

The wedding started with the groom's family and friends going to the groom's family home where he would be blessed by his parents in front of us all. While the blessing was happening, a large ochestra played Polish music and hymns. Then all of us, including the orchestra, drove to the bride's house and another blessing with her parents was made and the groom went into the home to find his bride.

Then we all got in our cars to drive to the church. However we were stopped by a woman posing as a gypsy who 'demanded' a bottle of vodka or she would not let the cars pass on her road. This was a very old tradition and was very funny to watch. She also read out some poems and encouraged them to have children.

After the church ceremony, coins were thrown at the bride and groom. They had to pick them up to ensure thier financial success in their new future together. We all lined up to congratulate the new couple and we had to present the bride with a bouquet of flowers. I wondered what the bride would do with the 140 bouquets of flowers but she later told me that they give half of them to the church and half go to the local cemeteries. For me the wedding ceremony was extra special as I was asked to be a witness.

We got to the hall and after we all toasted the couple, the bride smashed two wedding glasses. The the groom had to sweep them up. I didn't catch the meaning of this tradition, but hey if she can start training him this early to clean the house, it can only be a good thing.

Then the festivities really started. The next 12 hours were pretty much non-stop eating and dancing. The orchestra would play five songs, then we would all eat a full hot meal with a lot of shots of vodka. Then we'd get up and dance, then eat another hot meal. Dance, eat, vodka, dance eat, vodka....repeat about 20 times. I don't like dancing but nobody listened to my pleas and I danced with nearly every man in the room.

We were the first couple to leave at 4am (I knew I wouldn't make it until 6!). But in that time, I counted that we had at least ten full meals. I was soon regretting wearing a tight black dress. I should have picked a tent if I knew that my poor stomach was about to go into defense mode. And don't even think I could say no! As soon as I said those words that every Polish person thinks are a sin "I'm full and can't eat another thing" the whole table basically starts spoon-feeding you and looking at you with offended eyes. So you eat again. And drink more vodka.

Because I was so pre-occupied with eating everything, I forgot to take more photos of the food. But I got this one which was a traditional Polish entree of cold jelly with chicken and vegetables. Sounds gross, but really good.

My Australian husband was a hit with everyone and after all those vodka's nobody seemed to notice that he didn't talk Polish and they didn't talk English. I guess vodka is the universal language. This isn't the best picture but here is my uncle with a basket full of vodka. His main job that night was to walk around with the basket and make sure there were full bottles of vodka on each table. Because you know what would happen otherwise...a riot would start. And those are never good at a wedding.

When we were leaving, the bride and groom handed us two vodka bottles (I presume it was for the drive home in case we got thirsty), four big slabs of cake (in case we were still hungry) and a bottle of wine. My aunty quickly came and gave me a tin of hand picked dried mushrooms from their forest on their property. I am yet to meet a more hospitable race of people than the Polish.

One of the reasons I love living in Italy is that I'm much closer to my family and it doesn't cost the earth to visit them like it does from Australia. But, as with every trip I make to Poland, I am always left with a feeling of sorrow when I am leaving. I feel sad at leaving my family whom I share a blood connection with but not a real relationship with because of the distance between us. I emigrated from Poland to Australia when I was five years old and consider myself an Australian at heart although I still cook Polish food three times a week and speak the language fluently. I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been had I stayed in Poland. One thing is for sure, I would be a lot fatter.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ferragosto Vacation to Prague

Last week we visited the most beautiful city in Europe, Prague. Yes, I know that's a big call, but in my opinion there is no nicer city that I've seen. And I could only say that statement after I swallowed my pride and sang ten rounds of the Polish national anthem as penance. Then I sang 'Advance Australia Fair' and after that I was confused about my nationality and exhausted so I had to drink a small-ish glass of Czech beer that was bigger than the size of my head.

Apart from the gorgeous architecture, the best thing about Prague was undoubtedly the food. Oh, the food. The fatty, hearty, homemade food with not a hint of fresh vegetable on the side. Here is one of their traditional dishes, the pork piglet with saurkraut and Czech dumplings. Try eating that with apple strudel for dessert four nights in a row...I did and let me tell you I didn't feel good on the fourth night.

Ok, if you are not that excited about food that will potentially knock ten years of the life span of your heart, Prague also has some amazing statues with some especially beautiful ones on the famous Charles Bridge.

The Charles Bridge also had some buskers. This was one of the weirder ones we saw...look closely as to what is on the poor dog who looks like he'd rather be anywhere else and is clearly not impressed.

We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Prague Castle hotel and on the last morning we decided to have a mocktail before we were due to go to the airport. I said MOCKTAIL not cocktail - it was only ten am after all!

The strangest thing happened. We could see outside our hotel on the street there was a film shoot of some kind going on. Cars were screeching around a corner and there were actors yelling whilst acting out a scene. We sat down with our mocktails at the hotel outside tables to relax and see what was going on. We later found out it was a Russian James Bond type of movie, according to the hotel.

Ok, that's strange but not as strange as what happened next. The action moved from the side of the hotel and moved right next to us. The table to our left that was about five centimetres from ours was empty and all of a sudden ten girls run up and start setting it up with props, actors and voila, filming has begun.

I looked over at husband and said 'we are clearly going to appear in these scenes' to which I hear the bellowing Russian director yell out 'tell the actor to stop looking up and talking' to which the Czech director yelled out just as aggressively 'she's not an actor, she is staying here so I can't ask her to do anything'. Polish, Russian and Czech are very similar so I could understand it all and decided to keep my head down.

Then all of a sudden I felt uncomfortable and said to husband 'I'm going inside'. We both got up and the director came over and said in English 'please just stay for a few more minutes until we get the take'. What the? I looked around and realised there was a few put-out looking extra's that clearly would have liked to be in the scene. It was very random and if anyone watches a Russian James Bond film where the actor yells out in a thick Russian accent 'Hurry up, there's no time to eat (actor grabs other actor's massive mug of beer and slams it on the table). The Russians are coming!', then look for us and we are the people looking very confused next to them. They did about ten takes of this one line and so the same line was running through my head all day. When we were having lunch at the airport, I annoyed husband by saying ' Hurry up, there's no time to eat, the Russians are coming!' Ok, so it was like the tenth I had said it in the last hour, but I don't know why he got annoyed.

Russian directors yelling at us aside, we had the most wonderful holiday in Prague. I recommend everyone to go to this beautiful city. Try the Czech beer, make an opinion whether the Czech women deserve the title of being the most beautiful in the world (debatable!) and visit the Communism museum to see how much this country has gone through. I know I sound like a tourist book, but honestly WE LOVE PRAGUE! Next stop in our series of mini-breaks is Switzerland so we'll see if one bite of real Swiss chocolate will change my mind as to which is the best city in Europe. Yep that's all it takes to change my mind, one block of good chocolate.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

August holidays in Florence

If you are an environmental activist and urge others to switch off electricity and save power, do not read on!

See, I am addicted to air conditioning. My body doesn't function without it and I become a grumpy, mean and complaining wife when it is not on - well, so I've been told but I don't believe it.

Even in the cold European winter we sleep with the airconditioning on all night. Husband has to wear a tracksuit and beanie to bed while I am in my summer pyjama's. And those living in Florence right now know it's DAMN hot and humid here right now. Coming from Karratha where 45 degrees celcius on the thermometer is really not that big a deal, I never thought that Florence summer would be extreme. But the humidity here is honestly stifling and is all that everyone talks about.

So, it was not a happy day on Thursday when the airconditioner started leaking and we could not use it. Both our landlord and I rang around to find someone who could come fix it - IMMEDIATELY, like in an hour's time or as I predicted, 'I'll die of heat exhaustion.' But in August, every Italian person, including those that fix air conditioners is away on ferragosto (the mid August holidays). If you think I'm exaggerating, just take a walk around Florence and see all the doors with the sign chuiso per ferie posted on them. I've come to the conclusion that if you want to become a quick millionaire in Florence, become a tradesman and work in August.

The Italians that are not on vacation already, were all driving on holidays yesterday. We drove from Florence, through Bologna and on to Maranello to visit the Galleria Ferrari. (Ferrari museum). What should have been an hour and a half trip turned into three hours as our maximum speed on the autostrada was about 50kms per hour as traffic was nearly at a complete standstill. Husband complained bitterly as he loathes traffic, while I sat happily with the car air conditioning blasting away at maximum capacity.

Every car on the road was completely full with kids in the back, bikes attached to bike racks and roof racks full of suitcases. Most people in Italy drive small cars compared to Australia and going on holiday is very different to packing a 4WD and still having room for the dog to sit in the back. For some reason, nearly every person was on their mobile phone. I presume it was to tell whoever they were meeting at their holiday vacation that they were going to be about ten hours late due to the traffic.

Everyone who is anyone was on the road yesterday including this man who also takes his birds on holidays. There were two birds flying around in this cage.

When we finally got there, the Ferrari museum was really great and it was fun to watch my husband with a dreamy grin staring at all the cars, even though he is not really a 'car person'. Mind you, his grin was shared by every other man in the museum. The car pictured below was a custom made wedding gift from a husband to his bride which begged the question of why it was in the museum. Perhaps the colour didn't suit her or she just didn't have room for another one of these in the garage.

One the way home, we stopped at our favourite clothes factory outlet, Barberino. Husband bought some new clothes including a pair of jeans that are slightly too long. If he didn't look so damn good in them, I would insist he not buy them as they are slightly too long. And me, being the only Polish woman that does not know how to sew means that I'm going to have to fare l'impossibile (do the impossible) - find a tailor ... in Florence ... in August!!

Monday, August 4, 2008

My Italian replacement

This weekend my husband lost all interest in his me.

No, I didn't suddenly stop shaving my legs or stop showering.
And no, he hasn't riden off into the Tuscan countryside with a beautiful Italian woman that wears Louis Vuitton stilleto's while riding a scooter.

See, I try my best. After nine years together I still try to beautify myself with some makeup before he comes home. I cook dinner each night and I always let him have the good side of the bed. But nothing I do now will ever compare to his new love, the new Nikon SLR camera he bought on the weekend. Sigh.

Dear husband has had a flu for three weeks and I have been a dutiful wife who has lovingly ran to the chemist for medicine (ok it's only 30 metres away but I still went!), hand squeezed oranges to make fresh juice and cooked him chicken soup. But that all means nothing now.

On Sunday we decided to drive to Portofino for a day trip. SHE sat in his lap, he lovingly stroked her and I even think I heard the words 'I love you' come out of his mouth although he swears that was aimed at me. I doubt it though as he was looking at HER intently when he said it.

We'll see who looks after him next time he is sick in bed.

We had wanted to go to Portofino for a while as we been told it was beautiful. I don't know if our expectations were too high but we thought it didn't compare to the amazing Cinque Terre. It could have been that it was so stinking hot. Back home in Karratha it was not unusual to see a thermometer reading of 45 degrees celcius. So I don't know if it was the extra humidity or if I'm just getting OLD, but the heat really got to us in Portofino.

After we walked around the marina, we went to the nearby town Santa Margherita Ligure for lunch. But not before husband took a million photos with my new replacement. I must admit the view from the castello (castle) was truly beautiful. This was one of the million photos taken that day.

Here is an amazing boat moored up at the marina. Oh to be rich and beautiful in Portofino.

And here are some random innocent ducks that were not expecting someone to take twenty photos of them with different lenses. No one is safe from my husband's new hobby now.

And here is my foot, you get the picture now? Man, I have an ugly foot and a really weird tanline I'm going to have a foot complex.

Okay, this is not funny anymore. I'm trying to sleep now. Enough is enough. Turn off the camera. And why does my arm look so fat in this photo? Surely it's not the pasta and tiramisu I devour every night. Did you not get one of those lenses that makes everything look skinny?

Note what is next to me on the bed. Yep, it's the camera manual. Very romantic don't you think?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Swapping Italian caffe for a cup of Earl Grey tea

When my husband's work asked him to transfer to Europe for an ex-pat assignment, we made up a big list of pros and cons before we made the big decision to come here.

The cons list included things like:

- I would leave my career for 18 months and possibly go insane without a full-time job (this has nearly happened on more than one occasion, chocolate helps)
- We would miss our family and not be able to bring our beloved golden retriever with us
- Both of us would become unrecognisably obese due to the Italian food we would daily gorge ourselves with. Thankfully this hasn't happened, but there is still another 9 months to go before we move back so watch this space.

We also had a big list of pros which obviously outweighed the negatives and hence we are in Florence. One big ticket item on the pro list was that by coming to Europe, I would be able to spend a lot more time with my family that I don't otherwise get to see.

I emigrated to Australia from Poland in 1983 but still have a lot of family throughout Europe especially in Poland, Germany and the UK.

So, when Jason asked me if I wanted to accompany him on a business trip to London last week, I jumped at the opportunity to be able to spend time with my step-sister, my cousin and both their new babies. Due to the distance, expense and everything else that goes with living 24 hours flight time away from each other, I realised that I had only seen my step-sister a handful of times in my life. And I had never met my neice. Here is a picture of me holding my cousin's divine little baby and my sister Natalia and her beautiful daughter. Look at how slim she is even after having a baby not long ago - I'm so hoping that's genetic.

Natalia moved to London with her husband some time ago as she told me that there are just not as many opportunities to get ahead financially in Poland. Coming from Australia where opportunities are on each street corner (provided you are willing to work hard), it was interesting to hear about how life was in Poland just a few years ago when they were still recovering from the effects of Communism.

When Jason and I briefly lived in the UK as part of this ex-pat assignment, I was surprised at just how many Polish people are living and working in London. Not a day went by when I wouldn't hear at least five different Polish conversations whilst I ran my errands. There are also many Polish restaurants and specialty stores all around the UK. Even Sainsbury's (like the Australian Coles/Woolies) has a dedicated Polish food section and there was a Polish section of the bookshop I visited.

I'm looking forward to our next holiday when we get to see more of my family in Poland. They love hearing about life in rugged, outback Australia where thanks to the National Geographic documentaries they are convinced we have kangaroos in our backyard. But for me, nothing is more intriguing than hearing about the country I was once a part of and how it has changed over the years. I'm so happy to have this opportunity of visiting my family more frequently.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Friends, friendship and all that fluffy stuff

'A friend is someone with whom you dare to be yourself' (Frank Crane)

This week I've been thinking a lot about friendship. It all started with going to watch the Sex and the City movie at the Odeon Theatre which screens English speaking movies in Florence. I had been looking forward to seeing the movie for a long time but always envisaged I'd be going in a group of close girlfriends and having cocktails well into the night to discuss the juicy bits (ok that's a lie, us 30 something year olds would have probably gone for a green tea afterwards and then fallen into bed at 10pm) Oh, and we'd all be wearing our stilettos and then complain about our backs hurting the next morning.

So, I felt a little awkward as I sauntered up to the theatre alone. Actually more like hobbled up to it as I was wearing my completely impractical (but cute) stillettos and they just did not agree with the Italian cobblestone roads that have not been repaired probably for longer than Australia has been a recognised country.

Husband kindly offered to come with me, but I rejected his sweet gesture as I didn't want him to be the only male in the theatre. In actual fact there were two single guys there. This is Italy so I'm not sure whether they were there to actually see the movie or they were very opportunistic and smart enough to work out the cinema would be full of females presumably looking for their own 'Mr Big'.

Anyway, after the movie (which is a lot about friendship, in case you haven't seen it) I slowly walked home and realised I was in a sad mood. Just like in a tissue grabbing chick flick, I started to notice all the girlfriends out on the town together, laughing and sharing life together. They were even laughing in slow motion like in the movies.

I really missed my friends in Australia. Like, I REALLY missed them at that point. Not only my female girlfriends but also my male work colleagues, our friends that Jason worked with and of course our family. I still speak to them on email daily and the phone weekly, but nothing beats sitting together with your closest girlfriends for a cup of tea and a gossip...I mean intellectual 30 year old conversation about politics, the health crisis and ummm stuff like that.

Last week my old friend Simone arrived in Florence with her husband. When I say old I mean as in we have known each other for a long time. Not old as in her age as that would mean I'm old too. Which I'm not, you know. In fact, a clothes store owner told me I looked too young to be married this week. If only I hadn't worked in advertising sales for four years I would have believed her instead of thinking she was just using the old compliment tactic to try to sell me something. Been there, done that. But just in case she was being honest and I really do look too young to be married (yeah right), I'm telling you that MAC eye concealer is worth it's weight in gold. Anyway I digress.

Simone and I were destined to be friends ever since our maiden surnames were both towards the end of the alphabet and our homeroom teacher sat us near each other in year nine high school. We've shared a lot in our lives and although we hadn't seen each other for a few years, we slipped back into our comfortable ways with each other and joked about 'the good old days' when I easily worked three jobs, went to university, partied til 3am and never seemed to feel tired. Our respective husbands had a blank look at some of our 'you had to be there' jokes.

I also have my 'old' friend Simone to thank for introducing me to my now-husband as she was the one that yelled over the loud night club music to say 'I've found the cutest guy in here, you HAVE to meet him'. Much to my protests (I was in a man hating stage of my life) I met him and the rest they say is history...Italian history now. By the way, my husband himself will protest when he reads this as his story is that HE found ME in the nightclub. But since he doesn't have a blog and I do, this is the story you must believe.

In my life I've always been surrounded by friends. In Australia I had so many friends, work colleagues and family always around me that I had no time for myself. That was fine as I hated being alone. My life was always one big rush and I never actually stopped from the time I awoke to the time I went to sleep.

Here in Italy I don't have as many close friends and for the first time in my life, I have learnt to enjoy my own company and to just be still and quiet. It's actually harder to do than you think. At first I confused my feelings with loneliness, but in actual fact I now have learnt to appreciate the quiet times where I can feel at peace, hum a song, pray or just think about life. I hope that when I go back to Australia and get into the daily grind of working a job and busying up my life again, I will still find that quiet time.

I'm enjoying this peaceful stage of my life but I also look forward to the day when I return home and have my coffee dates with my friends. It won't be a date filled with the strong aroma of real Italian coffee and it won't be in a terrace overlooking the Ponte Vecchio, but it will be a sweet feeling to have my friends physically around me again where I can hug them and tell them how much I've missed them.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Saldi glorious saldi!

This morning Jason and I went to our usual cafe for colazione (breakfast) which consists of a panini (bread roll) and a freshly squeezed orange juice. We love going there not only for the amazing pastries (is it wrong to have a nutella filled croissant for breakfast?) but also as we have realised that the Italians get more and more friendly the more familiar they become with you. Read: good customer service, which is not so common in most places here. We especially like the staff at this cafe because they make us order in Italian and refuse to serve us in English. It has become our Saturday morning joke with them.

After we paid for our food, they asked us whether we were on our way to the famous Florence saldi (sales) which happen twice a year, in July and February. "No we didn't know about them and weren't planning on going, but I suspect we now are. Why oh why did you have to say anything?!" husband joked to the lady.

As we got into town my heart fluttered as I saw all the signs that were displaying my new favourite Italian word: Saldi. Possibly the most beautiful word in the vocabulary, no matter what language you speak. I was sad initially to see a red top I bought last week for fifty euro's down to thirty five. But I was happy with my husban'd suggestion of buying the same top in a baby pink colour - well it would be wrong to pass up a bargain, right? There was 50% off signs all over the place and I plan on going back there on Monday, oh I am counting the hours already!

During the week, one of our favourite things to do after dinner is to walk into the heart of Florence, just as soon as our tummies settle the pasta I seem to be cooking every night. Our rule of only having pasta once a week is clearly not working and needs to be addressed. Last week on such a walk, we stopped near the Ponte Vecchio to see what the local artists were drawing that night. I was speechless when I saw this picture as it was so amazingly perfect.

I was sad to think that by the morning, this beautiful artwork would be washed away by the street cleaners at night as the artists draw directly on the concrete. What also made me sad was a sign that was next to them. It read 'We are collecting donations to help pay our council fees that have been increased from 300 to over 2000 euro's per year. I didn't realise that they had to pay a fee and I wondered if the illegal sellers of fake Gucci handbags are getting charged a fee this year for clogging up the roads and walkways every day.

We also saw this and could not help laughing. A cooked pasta vending machine! Only in Italy...

While out on our nightly walks we almost always stop at the famous bronze boar of Florence.

Locals say that if you roll a coin down his nose then you will have buona fortuna (good luck) and you will one day return to Florence. There were so many tourists in line waiting to have a picture with him that I didn't want to take up time with a coin. But I figure I have nine more months to visit him to ensure that some day we return to this beautiful city. And being able to walk around Florence every night makes me realise I already have my fair share of buona fortuna. But it's also good to know the boar is only a five minute walk away if I feel I need a top up.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Hair today, Gone tomorrow

Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like. ~Author Unknown

So I know it's only been about one day since my last blog. Usually I would ring my Aussie girlfriends and share this kind of news with them, but since I don't have many of those in Florence I had to write about my exciting day. (I did comtemplate ringing them but I didn't think they would appreciate me calling at 2am their time for something as trivial as my hair).

I had my first hair colour appointment in Florence today. My male readers are probably saying 'so what?' but my female readers know exactly the dilemma in trying a new hair colourist.

Jason had told me to wait for an English speaking hairdresser when we go to London in the next couple of weeks but I refused saying I was going to do this in Florence. I am woman, hear me roar! Plus, when I looked in the mirror all I could see was my re-growth that Jason told me I was imagining. Ladies, does this happen to you: you look in the mirror and think 'I could go another two weeks before I need my colour re-done'. But then that very night your hair grows 30 centimetres of regrowth and you can't even bare to look at it? Same goes for my eyebrow waxes...anyway I digress.

I walked into the salon and told the hairdresser what I wanted through the English interpreter. He told me that it was not exactly what he wanted to do and would make it look better than what I was asking for. I started squirming. The English interpreter told me to relax and I realised I was probably sounding like a lunatic giving a hundred instructions on how I like my hair done as if I'm some kind of diva (which I'm usually not).

Feeling deflated I resigned myself to a bad hair colour. Due to the language barrier, the two hours it took for him to do my hair was in silence with both of us smiling politely at each other. He asked one of the girls to wash my hair and I had a flashback to my last hairdresser appointment (see my last blog). I was so pleasantly surprised to get a brilliant head massage. Then my hairdresser exclaimed VOILA! and I nearly hugged and kissed him amongst my exclamations of grazie. I love my hair and feel like a million dollars! Or a million Euro's I should say. Luca from Pistolesi Group - I LOVE YOU!!

When I lived in Australia I felt confident in everything from dealing with advertising agencies in my job to booking a holiday to speaking in front of a hundred people at a work conference. A few years ago I used to be an advertising consultant and drive a company car to visit corporate clients and present a sales pitch in front of a boardroom. Here I am scared to drive down to the shop. In Florence I don't feel so confident and am aware that situations that would never ever usually intimidate me, do now. I know how small and irrelevant this blog may sound, but to me it was a major cause for celebration. Not because I got a hair colour that I love, but because I felt like I wasn't on the back foot yet again in this country.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Looking at Florence through a tourist eye

The Creator made Italy from designs by Michaelangelo." (Mark Twain)

Recently my father visited us from Australia. I put on my well worn tourist cap and took him to see Cinque Terre, San Gimignano, Siena and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is always interesting for us to have visitors as I find myself looking at Florence through their tourist eyes and seeing things that I now take for granted as daily Italian life, but to an outsider seem quite strange.

So here is a list of things that show some differences between living in Australia and central Florence. I remember being surprised at these points when I first got here. It's funny how I had forgotten about them until my dad pointed some of them out to me.

uno) Italians are not big breakfast eaters. I am not even sure that there is a cafe in Florence that serves the traditional 'big brekky' that consists of fried eggs, bacon, hash browns and sausages. I used to cook bacon and eggs every Sunday for us but have only just realised that I haven't made it in over six months. Now our breakfast consists of a pastry and cappuccino eaten while standing up in a pasticceria. I do wonder what Italians eat when they have a hangover as everyone knows that a big greasy breakfast is the only cure.

due) Italians eat very late. Restaurants here do not open until 7pm and we (along with some other tourists) are generally the only ones eating at that time. Around 9pm when we are finishing off our dessert, the Italians slowly start coming in for their dinner.

tre) The driving situation here really is horrendous. Italians have little regard for road rules and not many of them observe the marked lines on the autostrada (freeway). Parking is also a problem. I remember driving home in Australia, parking in our private driveway and walking ten steps to our front door. Now our car is parked a ten minute walk away. However from what I see of the cars that are allowed to park on the road (they have a special residence permit) there is very few without scratches or dents. The parking on the street is so tight that sometimes a little nudge to the front car is necessary to parallel park your car.

quattro) Beach space is at a premium. At the Cinque Terre this week, I was shocked to see so many people cramped together on one beach. Not only that, but you had to pay to sit under the beach umbrellas one metre away from a complete stranger. In Florence, there is a fake beach set up on the banks of the arno river so people can tan. (You can't swim as the water is dirty). Only now do I understand why Australian beaches are so appealing to tourists.

cinque) You have to pay for plastic bags at shopping centres. I don't think I've ever come across this in Australia.

sei) When at the supermarket, you have to weigh your own fruit and vegetables before you take them to the cassa (cash register). I was very embarrassed the first time I went shopping with a trolley full of fruit. I held the queue up for five minutes while the lady waited for me to go back and weigh them myself.

One thing I also learnt this week is that Italians don't believe in pampering or 'niceties'. Last week I had an appointment for my first Italian haircut and back massage, both at different salons. Let me describe a massage at my local Australian beauty clinic:

Customer shown into beauty room. Serene rain forest music is playing softly. Candles are lighting the room up with a gentle glow. Masseuse asks you to take off your clothes when you are ready and get under the covers. Masseuse politely knocks on door to ask if you are decent and whether she can come in. After the massage, masseuse thanks you and hands you a glass of water and tells you to relax as long as you want.

All sounds good doesn't it? So, I decided to try an Italian massage. Now before I go on, I have to point out that this was not some kind of backyard beauty shop, it was not exactly a cheap place. I walked into the room and noticed the Italian pop music playing. Not relaxing, but fine. The masseuse hasn't made any obligatory small talk so at this point I'm not sure she speaks English. Then she says loudly in English 'take off your clothes and bra and lie down.' I wait for her to leave the room. She looks at me and repeats the sentence. I realise she isn't leaving. She looks bored as she watches me get completely undressed. I'm quite sure I looked really attractive (not) trying to hoist myself up on the tall massage bed with her looking on at my boobs and half bare bum. Mental note: make sure I always specify a request for a female masseuse in the future. For the next hour I ponder how such a small and lean Italian woman could have so much force and power to do such a brilliant massage, perhaps the best one I have ever had. After she finished,she said finito and left the room. And that was my Italian massage experience. Not relaxing but damn good.

The next day I went to get a haircut. Again at a very reputable place. The hairdresser who cut my hair chatted to his colleague the whole time he was cutting and he even stopped midway to have an espresso. Then it was time for my shampoo. In Australia this is my favourite part as they massage your hair, wash it and give your head some pampering. Not here. They pulled at my hair and twisted my neck around so that they were comfortable in washing my hair, not me the paying customer. Then they proceeded to brush it so forcefully that I had tears in my eyes. I realised I had wasted my money the day before on that massage as my neck was already throbbing. Again no small talk and a quick exclamation of 'finito' and I was off.

The next day, on my way to the English bookstore, I ran into my American friend Melinda who has been living in Italy a few years. I asked her whether this beauty regime was normal or whether I had just gotten two people who really did not like me. She confirmed that that Italians don't believe in pampering and would definetely not be shy about seeing you getting undressed in front of them. I'm not a shy person so I wasn't really bothered but I can imagine my mother-in-law being mortified and leaving the beauty salon altogether.

On Thursday I'm going to a different hairdresser to get my hair colour done. I have been putting it off as going to a new hairdresser is bad enough, but going to a hairdresser that speaks a different language to you could turn out to be a molto interessante experience.

With our vast spaces, backyards and private garages, it is nice to be reminded of how easy life is at home in Australia - after all, we do have to return in ten months! But where in Australia can you have the experience I had this morning. Slice of pizza in hand, I walked past the statue of David to my favourite traditional Italian market and bought some fresh porcini mushrooms. The seller was so excited when I told him I had never cooked with fresh porcini's before so quickly added some fresh herbs that he told me I must use to enhance their flavour. Then walking home, I stopped at my favourite gelateria and had Florence's best gelato. Everyday Florentine life might be crazy at times, but it is also a wonderfully unique experience that we'll treasure forever.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Soccer fever, plastic gloves and Italian food in Germany

Cleanliness becomes more important when godliness is unlikely (P.J O'Rourke)

This week I went on a three day impromptu visit to see my family in Germany, a country I love visiting. My poor husband was to stay behind as he had to work. Being a Polish wife means you are inherently born with a gene that makes you feel instant guilt if you abandon your husband without leaving a fully stocked fridge with three different cooked dishes and a homemade dessert. So after finishing that task, I packed my bags and yelled out arrivederci as my husband dropped me off at Pisa airport.

My German cousins decided to take me out to a restaurant and then a bar afterwards for a drink. I was disappointed when they excitedly told me we were going to their favourite Italian restaurant but didn't have the heart to tell them I really felt like a schnitzel. Afterwards at the bar, I got to experience the madness in Europe right now that is soccer fever. The fussball match I watched was close to home as the Italians were playing and they won. I smiled as I could only imagine the happiness and cheer that I was sure was being paraded that night in my hometown of Florence.

Whenever I go to Germany I stock up on food at the Polish delicatessen. I left Florence with a twelve kilogram suitcase and came back with twenty one kilograms. Jason picked up my suitcase and looking weak asked 'how many clothes did you buy this time?' But to his pleasant surprise he opened the bag and was greeted by the wafting smell of salami squashed in amongst Polish preserves, Polish spices and the traditional Polish poppy seed cake, makowiec. I sneakily smiled at the thought of my two new gorgeous items of clothing I had stowed away in my hand luggage.

After living in Italy for a few months now, Germany always feels so clean and organised. Now today's blog is going to expose me for the germaphobe that I am, but I have to admit I have some 'cleanliness issues' with Florence. See, I can get over that I will be walking behind someone who will not think twice about dropping rubbish to the ground that I inevitably step on with my new pair of cream wedge shoes. I also have no problem dodging the dog poo that is on every footpath. And I can even get over that smokers will not care about you choking when they are smoking three centimetres away from you while you are trying to eat.

But I just can't get over that the shop owners use their ungloved hands to serve me my bread each morning. In the first couple of days of arriving in Florence, I bought bread and pastries from various fornaio's (bakeries) around town and was shocked that they handled my (and a hundred other people's) money and then used the same hands to cut my bread or piece of pizza. That would never happen in Australia. I paid them and promptly threw the 'dirty goods' in the nearest bin cursing myself for choosing a seller that clearly was not hygienic. Well, it only took me another two days to realise that if I was going to eat at all in Italy, I would have to get over this cleanliness obsession I had.

Recently we started doing our food shopping out of town in a big supermarket as there are no such places in central Florence. With lower prices and a larger variety of food, I was excited to find a shop that looked like my beloved Woolworths in Australia and I quickly proceeded to the fruit and vegetable section. I picked up some delicious looking peaches that are in season now, checking for their firmness. An Italian lady looked at me with displeasure and pointed at the gloves. Apparently it is mandatory to use plastic gloves to pick up the fruit and vegetables before I put them in a bag! Someone forgot to tell this news to the bakery, pizza shop and every other place in Florence. I thought about the irony of this situation of handling fruit that will be washed anyway as I put on the plastic gloves. I mumbled mi dispiace (I'm sorry) to the lady.

Returning from the supermarket and back at home, I cooked up a traditional Florentine meal for dinner. The menu was Bistecca Alla Fiorentina or in plain English terms a medium rare steak half the size of a cow served with fried zucchini flowers. And just in case you were wondering, yes, I washed the zucchini flowers thoroughly before we ate them and washed my hands. Twice. Old habits die hard.