Meeting Trieste

Monday my brother took me down to the coastal town of Caorla. After the pouring rain of the weekend (we got two inches or so and rained out the Befana bonfires), it was a gorgeous, sunny day, and relatively warm. He didn’t tell me where we were going. When we were nearly there he asked if I could guess.

Frankly, I hadn’t any idea where we were or even that the coast was anywhere near. The only thing I knew was that we were heading south, away from the mountains, but “south” covers a lot of territory from Aviano. Living on a huge, open plain, there are no real vantage points from which to see the surrounding territory, so I had no way to even guess we were near the coast. “Um, no,” I said. “I haven’t got any idea of the geography yet.” I think he was slightly disappointed.




Caorla seems like a lovely little seaside town. We walked along the paved path along the beach, but didn’t actually venture down onto the sand. I would have, had I been by myself, but I wasn’t sure where my brother was going or how long he wanted to spend out of the house. I very much enjoyed it, though.


Right on the beach is a little church. One side of the church tower has a large light on it, facing out to sea, so I imagine that it functions as a sort of lighthouse, though the light wouldn’t be visible from all directions. The stones along the sea wall are interspersed with a variety of stones that have been carved by different artists. Some of the carvings are whimsical (one of the first ones I saw was a head with an alligator or crocodile perched atop it like some Egyptian deity), while others seemed more abstract or more serious. They did liven up the waterfront walk quite nicely.

Church tower on the beach at Caorla

Church tower on the beach at Caorla

We finished up our short walk and had lunch at a seafood restaurant. The grilled fish was delicious but the rest of it was really only so-so. He hadn’t eaten there before, so it was a shot in the dark. The place he usually eats there was closed, as Monday was a holiday. Despite the mostly uninspiring food, I was glad to have a bright day, and to get some salt air in my lungs again. I’d been missing it mightily.

Yesterday, though, we got up at about 6:30am to get the train from Sacile to Trieste. My brother prefers to take the train from Sacile rather than Pordenone (which is closer) because you can actually find parking there, and the train isn’t as crowded when you get on. We got first class tickets because he wasn’t sure whether the second class compartments were going to be packed with students and commuters. By the time we got to Udine, there were crowds boarding, but first class remained relatively roomy by comparison.

I enjoyed the train ride up to Trieste. For quite some time, we were traveling over the plain but as we got more into the mountains, I began to feel much more at home. All I could think was, “This is more like it. This feels right.” I’ve been missing having hills surrounding me. I feel too exposed out here with nothing but space around me and I know I wouldn’t be able to live in a place like this, even in a city, for very long before it really started getting to me. I need the steep hillsides and the variety in the terrain to truly feel comfortable. I need the sea close at hand. I need to be able to look up and see the hills ranging into the mist, and the trees on the mountainside.

One of my brother’s friends had commented about the hills in Trieste, suggesting that I might have a rough time with them. Having lived in and around Seattle for so long, the thought mostly amused me. I can’t wait to be living between the mountains and the water again. I’m fine with climbing hills, and I can generally take my time if I’m walking. The exercise agrees with me. So far the only three complaints I have heard from anyone about Trieste are:

  1. The Bora wind. I figure the city is prepared for it and I can learn to live with it.
  2. There’s no parking. Since I can’t drive, this is irrelevant.
  3. Hills. See above.

If these are the only complaints people generally express, it can’t be that bad a place to live, can it? These may well be famous last words, but we’ll see what happens.

Trieste is a border city, on the edge of Slovenia. It was the seaport of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a couple of centuries. During the Cold War, it was nearly as divided as Berlin, though without the physical wall. There was once a small US Navy base there, long gone now. The British writer, Jan Morris, wrote a book about the city called Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, which I read a month or so before coming to Italy. She made the place sound quite melancholy, which wasn’t the impression I got when we visited.

As we approached Trieste, Duino Castle was visible along the coast in the town of Duino, made famous in the literary world by Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies series of poems. Not much further along was Miramare Castle, built by the ill-fated Hapsburg Archduke, Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico. He lasted for about three years before he was executed by firing squad. Personally, I’m more of an Emperor Norton fan, myself, but the castle is lovely from the train, situated on a point overlooking the Adriatic. Sadly, the train windows were a little smudged and dusty for taking photos.

When we arrived at the Trieste station, there was a young man walking out into the city ahead of us; he was wearing a long and rather nice black cloak. “Okay,” I thought, “that looks about right to me.” The impression was further confirmed when we stopped at a bar across from the train station. A woman who may have been in her early 40s was one of the baristas, wearing nose and labret piercings with studs. Obviously among the conceptual group of “My People.” I felt a tiny spark of joy at seeing her.

Detail, Serbian Orthodox Church

Detail, Serbian Orthodox Church

In hopes of talking to some people with experience around Trieste, we went over to the American Corner. I’d found them on the internet when I was researching the city several months ago; they’re located at Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, number 6. There’s a library there that used to be part of the no-longer-operating American consulate in Trieste. When the last consul died in 2008, the State Department closed the consulate and never bothered to send anyone else, but the library remained and was taken over by a group of volunteers. Now they manage a library of books and movies, they host movie nights and English-language documentaries, offer English classes and Italian classes, along with other social gatherings. One of the things they host is a monthly gathering for English-speaking newcomers to Trieste to offer some orientation to the city and its services. The next one is on Friday the 17th, and I’ll be hopping on a train to go down for the weekend to attend.

Canal into the Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, Trieste

Canal into the Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, Trieste

The Facebook page for the organization had them listed at number 9, and the map pin on the page had them placed in yet a different location. I asked my brother to call them and we headed off to Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, along the waterfront up to the canal. “It’s after the Serbian church,” he was told.

There is no number 9 after the Serbian church. I don’t think there’s a number 9 at all, actually. I spotted a nondescript door in between a couple of businesses, with the typical column of resident/business labels and doorbells. “Maybe we should look at the door, there,” I said. “They might have a name tag up.”

“Oh, no,” my brother said, “I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. Let’s walk a little more.”

We walked around the block. We walked up to number 1 and down past the Serbian church. I said, “We should call them again.” He did.


Serbian Orthodox Church, Piazza San Antonio Nuovo

It was, in fact, the door I’d suggested we check out. Naturally.

We went inside, up the tiny, ancient lift and into the offices. It’s actually a fairly nice location, with a number of rooms for their library collections, their movie room, classrooms for adults and kids. The volunteers we spoke to were quite nice and there’s apparently a thriving small community centered around the place. They have regular hours, but are often open if someone’s in the office just because someone is there. We had a very nice chat with Denise, who was helpful and quite informative. She gave me a stack of flyers for classes and events, and some contacts for people in the city who might be able to help with finding a place to live. “We’re always looking for volunteers,” she said. “Do you have any library experience?”

I’m not a librarian, but I live in one, and I’ve worked in bookshops and libraries before, so it’s likely I’ll be spending time there and probably doing some volunteer work myself, to get acquainted with people and start to find community. It’s always easier for me to talk to new people if I have an actual reason to speak with them, rather than just randomly approaching strangers; having A Thing To Do would be very helpful while I got settled in.

After our chat with Denise, we grabbed some lunch and called a rental agency. We had found a few places that looked like possibilities on an online rental site. She said to meet her at one of them at 2:30, so we spent a little time wandering around the area of the apartment we were going to look at. Denise had said the neighborhood was a nice one, and fairly quiet, which was encouraging. The building itself is across the street from the train station, in walking distance of pretty much everything, and at a fairly substantial hub of bus routes. The place was gorgeous inside, as well, so I’m currently in the process of dealing with attempting to get a rental contract. I emailed the agent today and gave formal notice that I want to rent the place; she’d texted my brother and asked me to do so, as they had another inquiry about the place today. I don’t know whether I’ll get it, but it would be ideal if I could, as it’s a lovely large place with a southern exposure and lots of light, in a place that was just renovated. The apartment went on the rental market not three weeks ago, right about the time I arrived in Italy. I’d love a place with light after spending ten years living in a cave.

Friday we’ll be going into Trieste again. Italian banks run very differently than US banks, and the only way you can withdraw cash from the bank without a bank card is to go into the branch where you opened the account. That means I’ll need one in walking distance of wherever I happen to live.

You can’t just walk into an Italian bank. The damned things have airlock doors equipped with metal detectors. With most of them, you can’t even carry your bag inside. You have to leave your purse or backpack in a locker outside the door, provided by the bank. It certainly seems like the sort of thing that would make robberies a lot harder, if nothing else. I’ll admit it all seems very strange to me, used to being able to walk into any branch of my credit union without having to pass through an airlock, and withdraw money if I there is a teller at the branch.

A lot of banks here don’t do online banking yet, either, so I had to spend time today searching Italian bank websites (mostly in Italian) to figure out what services they offered. I did find one on the waterfront, only a few blocks from the apartment I’m trying to rent, that actually has online services something like what I’m used to, including bill paying. It’ll make life a lot easier if I don’t have to deal with walking down to the bank for a check every month when I need to pay bills to places that don’t take cash. It looked like they might even set up automatic payments for rent, though I’m not certain. We’ll have to talk to them when we are in town again on Friday.

Neptune getting his Sea God on, behind the Piazza Unità d'Italia

Neptune getting his Sea God on, behind the Piazza Unità d’Italia

Before we headed back to Sacile on the train, we wandered around the city a bit. The more we walked, the more I thought, “This is a place I could live. I’d like living here.” We found ourselves in the Piazza Unità d’Italia and stopped at Caffè degli Specchi, a very famous and very elegant café. The place has a tea menu along with all the coffee, for which Trieste is quite famous. They have loose leaf tea, served in those wonderful Japanese cast iron teapots. It’s the first place I’ve found in Italy so far that had more than a little box of random tea bags, if they had any tea at all. Loose leaf tea. My day was made.

Tomorrow we’re supposed to go into Montereale Valcellina and see if we can get my ID card. My brother’s landlady was supposed to go file a declaration that I’m living here so that I can get the documentation. I have no idea if she’s had time to do that yet. We shall see.

Me and my bud, James Joyce, taking a walk along the canal

Me and my bud, James Joyce, taking a walk along the canal


22 Days

Time is moving at a faster clip than I ‘d like sometimes.

Yesterday, I sold my desk and my dresser. Aside from bookshelves, that was it for the large furniture. There are a few small pieces left, but nothing of any size. The garage/moving sale is on November 30th and anything left after that will be hauled off to the charity shops. It has to all be dealt with by then so that I can be out of my apartment around December 5th. After that, I’m staying with my girlfriend until I leave.

Tomorrow, along with a doggie dental appointment, the Dog of Devastating Cuteness +3 is getting his EU compliant identity chip implanted. Sadly, the ones that are usually used here in the US are not compatible with EU systems. He’s an adorable little guy, but kind of temperamental. He’s 10 years old, and he was a rescue and has issues. His not getting on well with other dogs (or other animals generally speaking) means I have to leave him here with a friend until I get my own place, as life at my brother’s would be really difficult for him. Jim lives in a little place on a farm where there are other dogs, horses and donkeys, geese, chickens, and cats, at my last recollection. It would be a disaster waiting to happen. Fortunately, my friend Patrick will take him in until I can come back for him in a few months. I’m also looking into safe airlines for flying pets. I’ve heard Lufthansa is good.



I’m in the process of checking out shipping companies and seeing if my things can be stored for a bit when they get to Italy if I don’t have my own apartment rented by then. One place so far says, “Yes, up to two weeks for free, then we charge you.” Another hasn’t got back to me yet, but I only just sent the emails a little while ago. I may well have an answer from them by the time I get home this evening, or sometime tomorrow. I’m almost done sorting everything and all I have to do is get the rest of what I’m keeping into my storage unit. One of my friends is coming by Monday to help manage the pricing and sorting of the things I’ve got out in the garage for the sale. Between the two of us, we should be able to manage moving the last larger bookshelf out, and the smaller one won’t be a problem. With a cart, I could move it myself.

The weather has taken a turn for the frigid. It’s brilliantly sunny out today, but there’s still frost on the ground where there’s shade and the grass crunches when I walk on it. It’s definitely a contrast to the grey and rain we’ve been having, with some flooding in lower lying areas. Those fish crossing signs are probably getting a workout in some places. (Lest anyone think I’m kidding, here’s a picture for your amusement.) I’m concerned about the moving sale being out in the garage in this weather, but selling any of it at all will do. At this point, every few bucks counts for putting money in the bank toward moving costs and getting my own place. There’s no going back.

Doing the research and filling out the application

My decision was made. I was going to try to move to Italy. Try was my operative word. I never actually believed it would happen, but it was a great fantasy, and one worth pursuing. Grand follies are the best kind, and I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try when I had the opportunity.

Italy isn’t a grand passion for me the way it is for some, nor am I being sent to work over there. I’m not going to get a degree or study at a university. Aside from my brother living near Aviano for most of the last twenty-ish years and knowing that this fact might help, I hadn’t the first idea how to go about applying for an elective residence visa. I didn’t even know it was an elective residence visa that I needed.

I know that some people dream and plan for years before doing something like this. They’re probably far better prepared than I am. Most of the websites I looked at did mention elective residence visas in passing, but said that people should take a couple of years to plan and prepare for the application and the move. And there I was, throwing myself into the abyss with only a few months to work in, hoping there would be a soft landing, or that maybe I’d sprout some wings.

After asking my brother and getting his go-ahead on the project, we talked for a bit. He didn’t know much about the process, as he entered Italy with the Air Force, married an Italian, and got his residence an entirely different way than I need to. Most of the resources I found online about moving to Italy assumed that the person applying for a visa was either going for work or to attend university, and offered information accordingly. Some of it was useful but the majority wasn’t. Being told to talk to my HR department about the transfer wasn’t on my radar for obvious reasons. My HR department has a cold nose and four furry paws. He’d be useless for advising me on an international move. I bought two books on living and working in Italy last month and both of them mention elective residence visas only in passing.

Fortunately, I’m really good at internet research, and I’m also pretty good at figuring out the right questions to ask. This process, however, took a few months. I asked questions on the Fodors travel forum and got some good advice there. I read blogs by people who had successfully moved to Italy and found inspiration and real discussions of the ups and downs of the process, even when first attempts failed. I talked to people who had managed it, and friends who have moved to other countries from their own native lands — France, England, Spain, Thailand, the US. I got information from the Italian consulate in San Francisco. I’ve been told that each consulate handles the process somewhat differently, so my experience may not be what you encounter if you try to move to Italy. My experiences were also different than those of the people I talked to about the process.

On the surface, it looked impossible. I am, quite possibly, a fool or perhaps just blindly optimistic. But I had to move anyway due to my physical circumstances, so there was no reason not to take a whack at the impossible just to stay in practice. We poets are a sorry lot of wild-eyed dreamers, after all.

In searching for what was necessary to apply for an elective residence visa, different websites had slightly differing lists, so I emailed the San Francisco consulate for their specific requirements. I got this list of what was required for the elective residence application from the consulate:

Long term visa application form (you can find it on our website)
Recent photo
Passport valid and photocopy
Documented and detailed guarantee of substantial and steady private income (pensions or annuities) from property, stable economic and commercial activities or from other sources.
Proof of financial means, such as letters from the applicant’s bank indicating the financial status of their accounts, including amount of money in each account, copy of the last pension check, rental agreement or deed for property in Italy
Reservation flight
Valid foreign medical insurance (you will need a declaration from your insurer stating that you are covered abroad)
Financial assets
Fbi criminal report
Bank statements for the last 6 months showing a consolidate balance of at least $50,000 (each individual)
Tax returns for the last three years

Out of everything on that list, the most intimidating was the fact that they wanted proof that I had $50,000. I’ve never had that much money in my life. I probably never will have, unless I win the lottery, and I don’t buy tickets so you can see where that’s going.

In acquiring information from the consulate in San Francisco, I found that the best way to get actual useful answers was to ask one short question in each email, and make it a clear enough question that it could be answered in one or perhaps two sentences. Our correspondence was cordial and quite clear once I figured that out. Initially it had been slightly frustrating for me, because I tend to want to get all my answers in one place and will ask questions accordingly. Lots of them. In great detail. I’m sure I’m terribly annoying. I had sent an email with four or five questions on it and got a one sentence response that didn’t actually make sense to me and only peripherally addressed one of my questions. Breaking it down helped immensely, probably for both of us.

For the FBI report, I went to their website, printed out the form for a criminal records search, and went down to the county sheriff’s office to get fingerprinted. This was one of my earliest acts toward applying for the visa, as I had no idea how long the paperwork was going to take.

The letter from my credit union was actually easier than I anticipated. They apparently see things like this from time to time, and have a standard form for immigration purposes. It didn’t cost me a dime and they were very friendly and efficient about it. I had it about three days after my request. In later correspondence with the consulate, they said they wanted two letters of this sort from different financial institutions, but I explained that the credit union was the only place where I had accounts, and I had no other assets, so they said that the one letter would be acceptable.

Their requirement for a residence actually waiting for me in Italy was solved by my brother stepping in and sending a formal invitation, allowing me to live at his residence when I move there. I’ll stay with him until I can find my own place. It took him several talks with his friends at the town hall and friends of friends at the Questura in order to get the proper form and have it filled out properly. This invitation, however, makes him legally responsible for supporting me for a year when I arrive, so he had to be absolutely willing to take that chance on me. With the invitation form, he also had to include a copy of his Permesso di Soggiorno and he tossed in his most recent bank statement and his Italian identity documents for good measure, just in case. When it comes to Byzantine bureaucracies coughveteransadministrationcough, one can never be too prepared.

My brother has been a legal permanent resident of Italy for some time now. Because of that status, he is entitled to invite any member of his immediate family — parents, children if he had any, or siblings — to join him in Italy. I’m convinced that this is why my visa was granted. Between the two of us we could not come up with $50,000 even after I’d sold my car, half my library, and almost everything else I own, though we came fairly close. Even then, that was mostly his doing. The Questura told him that I should be sure to tell the consulate very clearly that I was applying for the elective residence visa and that I have no current military affiliation. Apparently, being so close to the base at Aviano, they often see people issued the wrong kind of visa because of the American military presence, and these individuals then have to return to the US to apply for the proper category of visa; visas cannot be applied for while you are actually in Italy. They did, however, assure him that with this invitation the consulate should grant my visa with no trouble.

Medical was partly taken care of by virtue of my being a disabled veteran. The VA system has a Foreign Medical Program in place for many countries. When you sign up for the program, the VA will pay any medical expenses related to your service-connected disabilities just like a civilian insurance company would. I still had to get civilian medical insurance for the purposes of the visa application and may well need it over there at some point, if only for emergencies. Medicare and Medicaid don’t apply over there, and they will not pay for medical care when you are overseas. When I visited the VA yesterday for a regular appointment, I collected a cd with my medical records on it and talked to several other departments. I was told that the VA can mail my medications to me at an APO box, which my brother has, for as long as my doctors will renew prescriptions. I was also told that when I return to the US for visits, I can get my annual exams and appointments with my meds doc and other clinics just as though I still lived in the US. It will keep me in the system, and it will let me get my regular long-term medical care dealt with by people who already know me. I’ve been going to the Seattle VA since 1988 and it’s reassuring to deal with the same people on a long-term basis. Even when the doctors change fairly frequently, the support staff knows and likes me, and they’re very willing to help out if I have questions or particular sticky issues to deal with.

Tax forms and proof of income were a bit of consternation for me. Because I live on VA disability compensation and Social Security disability, I don’t get check stubs. Everything gets directly deposited to my credit union account electronically and there’s no monthly income documentation beyond my monthly credit union account statement. Neither of these sources of income are taxable, so I haven’t filed a tax return in years. I went to the VA office and got official documents stating my annual income for the past three years, got similar forms from the Social Security office, then went to the IRS office and brought the question to them. They gave me Verification of Non-Filing documents that the consulate said would be acceptable alternate documentation to tax returns. I can continue to receive both of these types of disability income while I am living overseas, so I have a stable income that is sufficient to live on in Italy.

Buying a plane ticket was a huge source of anxiety for me. I wasn’t sure how long the visa process would take. The website said up to sixty days. So before I could get a ticket, I had to book an appointment online at the consulate, and get my tickets for San Francisco. I had to decide if I was going to take a chance on a cheap non-refundable ticket to Venice, or pay about $1,400 more for a ticket that I could refund if the visa were denied. After much thought and soul-searching, I decided on the cheap ticket and dated it for three days after the sixty day deadline noted by the consulate. It was the scariest button I’ve ever clicked on a website. Booking that appointment and buying that ticket suddenly made the whole thing more than just a shot at a fantasy. It was no longer theory; it had suddenly become real. There was a clock ticking now.

I figured that, if they denied the visa, I’d just buy a return ticket and go visit my brother for the holidays. At least that way, I wouldn’t be losing money, and either way I’d wind up with a trip to Italy. With that in mind, I figured I couldn’t lose. If I got the visa, I’d saved $1,400 extra for moving expenses and starting my life over there. Either option resulted in me at least visiting Italy, and if the visa were denied, I would still get to move to Seattle. Not a bad outcome, at least to me.

Filling out the visa application required several emails to the consulate for clarification. I had specific questions about individual blanks on the form, because it wasn’t clear to me which answers were the appropriate ones for a residence visa. My ticket to Venice included a transfer through Madrid — was my port of entry into the EU the Madrid airport where I was just going from one gate to another, or the Venice airport, where I was actually leaving the grounds? Madrid, they said. I filled in the blank.

And then, I prepared for the appointment.