The Drive

 

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View of a road from the train through Austria.

I loved taking long road trips around the US, both seeing new destinations, as well as driving there. We’d gather up all our things– our clothes, our food, our tents, our games– and we’d head off towards the forest of huge Sequoias in the North, or the vast deserts to the East. Even when we just took day trips to the hills nearby or the beach an hour away, I never minded driving. When we left in the morning (or let’s be real, in the early afternoon, since we never got out on time), the car trip meant that the fun was all ahead. When we started on our way home, usually long after the sun had set, it meant our comfy beds were waiting for us. On dark stretches of road, we could see the stars outside the car window.

Sometimes, later, when I was the one behind the wheel, driving in the car felt like both my adventure and my home. Often, I felt like I could easily skip my exit on the freeway, and just keep going into the sunset, to find whatever waited for me at the edge of the world.

But I never did keep going. I always took the exit. Why did I do that? The world is so vast and there’s so much to see. Why not just let the moment take you away? I guess there was always a reason: work in the morning, people waiting at home, laziness to make the trip back, discomfort at the thought of facing the unknown. Maybe the reasons made sense, or maybe they were just excuses. In any case, I never answered the call of the road.

Now, I don’t have a car, and I don’t have the same chance. Taking the train is just not the same. I don’t know if it’s the other people chatting nearby, or if it’s just the constant foreignness of everything around me, but there is neither the excitement of adventure, nor the anticipation of homecoming. Rather, there is a feeling of constant displacement, like my trip is anchored between nowhere and nowhere else.

On the train, I can’t just skip my exit, and let the rails carry me away– the conductors don’t take a liking to that. On the train, I can’t let my mind wander as I become a part of the vehicle, controlling its motions over the smooth asphalt as easily as I control the motion of my own body. On the train, I can’t stop to grab a bite at an interesting hole-in-the-wall, or to explore a little-traveled corner of the world.

Instead, I must submit to the vehicle and the system propelling it onwards. I must agree with the system on my intentions ahead of time, and accept its plan for me. I must fight the timetables, and struggle through the crowds, and all my things must fit in a handy bag. Oftentimes, I don’t even get the window seat.

Of all things, I never thought I would miss the drive.

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Officialization 6: Stay Permit, part II

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Part of the hiking (climbing) path to Cima Rocca.

Officialization TOC

Stay Permit, part II

In Stay Permit, part I, I went to the post and paid a ton of money to send a bunch of documents to the immigration office. I received a receipt, on which was written the time of my appointment at the Questura (Immigration Office). In Rovereto, this office is located inside the police station. I arrived a little early for my appointment, which was meant to be at 9:34. Of course, just 1.5 hours into the morning, the whole system had already slowed down, and I wasn’t actually called in until around 10 minutes later.

Once again, the university had sent someone to help us talk to the office. I am so grateful for this, because my Italian is incredibly rudimentary, and the situation was stressful the way bureaucracy always is.

I had brought all of my documents, plus copies of them, i.e. the receipts from the post office, including the receipt for payment of the health insurance, my passport, my German stay permit, proof of funding, my lease, photos, and even some cash, just in case. In the end, they only asked for the postal receipts, my passport, my German stay permit, and the photos. They took my fingerprints, and I had to sign a paper with all my information. I looked over this paper very carefully and found a mistake in one of the dates, which they immediately corrected. It was very important to look over this information before signing it for this reason! After that, they gave me the same postal receipt back, this time with a very important “codice pratica” number handwritten on it which identifies my application.

Unfortunately, my German stay permit runs out in a couple weeks, which means that after it runs out, I am not allowed to travel outside of Italy and the US (my home country), until I receive the stay permit, and whenever I travel, I need to bring those postal receipts with me, in order to be able to legally re-enter Italy. I wish I had asked Germany to give me a stay permit for a little longer (apparently, some people were successful with this), but I didn’t know it was possible at the time.

The processing time on the stay permit is supposed to take 3-4 months, but there might be a possibility of expediting it, so we’ll see what happens. In terms of picking the thing up, since I didn’t have an Italian phone number to give them, I am going to have to check the status of my application on the Questura website (using that same code that was written on my receipt).

It sucks that I’m going to be unable to travel throughout Europe until I get the stay permit. Plus, I’m not 100% sure the legality of staying here without it, even with the receipts. I mean, the office lady said it was ok, but who knows how a different official may feel about it. The worst part of all of this is that after I receive it, we are going to have to go through the whole process with my husband, this time, without any translation help from the university (they don’t help at all with spouses). At that point, my husband will be the one confined to traveling around Italy/US. Long story short, it sounds like we won’t be able to travel together until something like April (but maybe my stay permit will get expedited and it won’t take as long as that).

Weeks 52 through 56

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I’ve talked a lot about getting an apartment with Internet, working on my stay permit, and picking courses. What I didn’t mention, is that I also took a number of small trips over the course of the last month. It turns out that this year I am living in what is probably of the most beautiful places in the world. I don’t have a car here, of course, so, unfortunately, I don’t have the opportunity to just take off and see everything, but I have had some opportunities this month to explore nonetheless.

At the start of the month, I visited Bologna, where my husband has relatives. This trip wasn’t exactly planned ahead of time. It turns out that as my husband was coming here, to Italy, some of the stuff he was bringing in his pack got stolen. That stuff included a translation of our marriage certificate. Our relatives knew a translator that was willing to help us get it done quickly, and this became an opportunity to take an overnight trip to Bologna, where they live. I imagine we could have gotten it done here in Rovereto, but it would have definitely taken longer, and we really thought we needed it ASAP, because we thought we had to apply for my husband’s stay permit along with mine. In the end it turned out that we didn’t have to do this, but rather, we have to wait for mine to come in before he can apply for his at all. By the way, this means that he will probably have to leave the country once his Shengen visa waiver runs out, because my permit will most likely not come before that time.

As a result of all of this, the trip was a little stressful, but it was made worth it by the fact that we got to spend some time with our relatives (and I got to know them better). Also, Bologna was pretty awesome. It was bigger than Rovereto or Trento, but still fairly walkable, and the public transportation seemed good enough. The center of the city is covered in porticos (covered archways over walkways), which helped keep the heat from the summer sun at bay, along with old stone towers, cute restaurants (with delicious cured meat), and of course, gelato.

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Later on in the month, I took a trip with the university to Lago di Garda, the biggest lake in Italy, which we are only a couple hours away from. The morning was cloudy, which was a shame, because it meant the guided tour didn’t want to take us on the hike up to the castle in Arco (apparently it was dangerously slippery). We visited Riva del Garda instead. The other LCTs and I broke off from the guided tour almost immediately, and headed up a light hike to the castle overlooking the town. At this point, the sun broke through the clouds, glistening over the waters of the lake, and showing us a bit of the lovely day that was to come.

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After this, we went and grabbed lunch (we had pizza, pasta and gnocchi) before meeting the tour back at the bus. Next, we traveled by bus to Malcesine, a town on the banks of the lake. By this time, the weather had cleared up and we had a great time exploring the castle there, which overlooks much of the lake. Apparently, this lake is great to swim in when it’s warm, and I really hope I get the chance to come back next summer.

Finally, just recently, one of the LCT students who has a car took us to the mountains. On the way up, we saw a church literally built into a cliffside. It was really funny to see a normal building inside a cliff. It was almost like the stone was trying to gobble it up.

Afterwards, we went on a ~10km hike high up in the mountains, called Forra del Lupo/Wolfsschlucht (Wolf’s Gorge). The hike went up hill most of the way, sometimes getting somewhat steep (but never so steep that you had to climb). We reached the Forra del Lupo part sometime in the middle. It was a deep crevice in the hillside, with built up stone overlooks before and after it. Afterwards, we kept hiking until we ended up at the very top of the mountain (at around 1600m elevation, if I recall correctly). At the top was an old WWII fort made of white stone. Unfortunately, it was at this point that my broken-ish phone, finally gave out, so I couldn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked. However, it’s not a great loss– no picture can capture these breathtaking views.

Costs

The costs over the last 5 weeks are insanely high. This is probably the most I’ve spent in any single month in all my life (except for once when I bought a fancy computer). Move in costs to the new apartment were crazy (a lot of it is a deposit that we will hopefully get back), but our family helped us with a good chunk of them. I also traveled a fair amount, so that added to it. Finally, there’s two of us now, and that makes food and stuff more expensive. You always forget how much it costs to buy all those little things (e.g. cups/plates, blankets, towels, etc.) that you need when you are in an actual apartment, and how much it takes to start off with a nice full pantry.

Note: Below is just what I spent. My husband spent some of his own money as well. We don’t share any bank accounts, so I will probably continue to report on only my own spending, since it’s just easier.

  • €122 – public transport (50 for a pass, the rest before I got the pass)
  • €403 – travel to Rovereto at the start, travel to Bologna, and some smaller trips
  • €111 – dining out
  • €233 – groceries
  • €302 – stuff for the apartment,
  • €49 – phone is extra high due to no internet at home and making tons of calls
  • €1890 – rent, deposit, Internet, apartment fees
  • Total: €1220 + €1890 = €3110

Officialization 5: Picking Courses

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Along Lago di Garda.

Officialization TOC

Picking Courses

This is the part I hate most. Picking courses. It’s a delicate balancing act between fulfilling requirements, taking what you’re honestly interested in, and avoiding bad professors.

At the start of the semester, you are excited and keen to learn all the wonderful new topics that are on the roster. By the end of the first week, you’ve realized that half those topics are either lead by professors who don’t know how to explain anything, or the class conflicts with another requirement, or you just don’t have the background to tackle the course load.

This time around I also have to consider travel times between campuses. The CIMeC department, which I am officially part of, is in Rovereto, which is also where I managed to find a place to live back when I was rapidly searching for apartments. I knew I should have spent a little more time looking in Trento, but the place I found in Rovereto was really nice, and (mostly) affordable, so I was lured in.

Now I am beginning to regret that decision. The travel time to Povo, the place where the computer science campus is located, takes between 1 and 1.5 hours depending on the time (and some hours, there is no train). Until I got my “free circulation” pass, it also cost around 8 Euros daily. Italian language classes will take place at the humanities campus near the train station in Trento, as well. This means that there’s a lot of travel in my future, if I intend to stay in Rovereto. (I might consider moving once I get things figured out.)

In terms of course requirements, this year things are easier to decipher than last year, but no less daunting. I need:

  • 9 credits in anything (I did 6 extra credits last year and, luckily, they are carrying over into this year, so I don’t have to do the normal 15)
  • 15 credits for an internship
  • 30 credits for the master’s thesis itself

In terms of courses, I can take one course for exactly 9 credits, but the only 9 credit courses seem to be through CIMeC. Unfortunately, there’s nearly nothing for me at CIMeC. Everything there is cognitive science focused, with most classes not even having much to do with language. Cogsci is quite off target for what I want to focus on right now, even if it is not uninteresting. I am still not that strong in math and programming, and I really need to improve those skills if I want to work in computational linguistics.

The computer science department has a lot of interesting courses, on the other hand. So I spent all last week traveling an hour each way to Povo to sample as many of those as I could. As expected, most of them assume more background than I have, since I didn’t do my bachelor’s in comp sci, but I’m hoping that since I only need the 2 classes, I’ll be able to devote extra time to learning the things I need to know to manage that course. Specifically, my hope is to take machine learning, which is still relevant to what in doing, but it requires a lot of linear algebra, which I have never formally studied.  My second class will likely be a language technology class through CIMeC (the only relevant course in Rovereto for me). I’ve already learned most of the topics that the class will go over but it’s project based so hopefully I will still have the chance to do something interesting. The teacher said that the class may also lead to an internship, presumably if you do well. Hopefully I can find something else before then, but if not, maybe this will pay off.

In terms of the internship, it isn’t what we think of when we say internship. It’s actually a project with a report, probably cognitive science related, probably unpaid (unless you get lucky), and it is also meant to lead into your master’s thesis. This latter point is particularly problematic because the internship is meant to be done in your second semester, after you take your course requirements for the year. So if you are doing your internship in the second semester, when, then, are you supposed to actually do your thesis? Yeeeaaa.

So in general, the this doesn’t sound very promising; however, you are allowed to find your own internship, outside the department. So I spent some time a couple weeks ago applying to various external internships, focusing on the kind that are paid and which I could start a little sooner. I actually ended up getting an interview with a start up. They gave me a task to complete which involved some topics I learned about in my computational linguistics class last year. It wasn’t too crazy, but it did take a while to relearn what I’d forgotten about the algorithms involved. In the interview, the guy said that he wasn’t really looking for someone part time and remote though, so even if I did well, I don’t know if it’ll work out. Oh well, I guess I’ll just keep at it.

Anyway, another school year in a totally new place brings all new considerations.

Officialization 4: Stay Permit, part I

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Alleyway in Malcesine.

Officialization TOC

  1. Officialization 1: WTF comes next in Italy?
  2. Officialization 2: Apartment
  3. Officialization 3: Internet
  4. Officialization 4: Stay Permit, part I <– You are here.
  5. Officialization 5: Picking Courses
  6. Officialization 6: Stay Permit, part II

Stay Permit, part I

The Welcome Office at the University of Trento organized a giant officialization day for all of us foreign students, which included getting through enrollment, applying for health insurance, and sending off paperwork to apply for the student stay permit. The latter procedure is fairly complicated, so it was incredibly nice that they did this for us. I had to do things mostly on my own in Germany last year, and it was definitely harder.

Enrollment was way easier here than in Germany. The Welcome Office at University of Trento had set up an appointment for everyone to come enroll. We had to bring our passports, and that’s it. We came to the appointment, the lady there filled in some form on her computer with our basic information, and she printed out a paper that confirmed that we were enrolled. Then it took a couple of days for the websites to update with our status. That’s it.

The only trick now is that I have to pick up the student card that lets me use the Mensa over in Trento. Also, I have to sign up for sports separately, and I have to pick up a card for that from a different office in Trento. Finally, as a student, I can get a really cheap “free circulation” pass for the region, and I have to pick up a card for that also in yet another office in Trento. By the way, CS courses and language lessons are also in Trento. I’m starting to think I should have spent more time searching for accommodation in Trento.

In terms of health insurance, I had to already have health insurance that lasted until the end of my stay. Since my German health insurance is apparently running out, I used the one the LCT program provided me with for now. Italian national health insurance costs around 157 Euro per calendar year, even if you only use it the last 3 months, so I decided to just use the LCT program provided insurance until December. After that, I did pay for a year of the Italian one, because I just want to make sure that my pre-existing condition is covered. It’s cheap enough that I feel it is worth it. I’ll just have two insurances now.

Once you are enrolled and you have health insurance, you can apply for the student visa by post. For this you need:

  • A form that was provided to us by the Welcome Office, but I guess you can get it at Cinformi
  • Copies of each page of your passport, including the stamped pages at the back
  • A copy of the enrollment certificate from Uni Trento (or the invitation letter from Uni Trento or similar)
  • Copy of your health insurance policy with dates on when it is valid
  • Optionally, €149.77 to optionally sign up for the health insurance from January to December of next year
  • Copy of your lease if you have it (otherwise you bring it with you to your appointment later)
  • €16 for a revenue stamp, which you have to buy at a tabacchi (there’s one across the street from the Rovereto Post Office)

Once you have all of the above, you go to the post office, and send it all off in a massive envelope. The post office then gives you really important receipts for all of this. You need to make copies of these receipts and guard them with your life. The receipts tell you when your appointment is at the Questura (immigration office).

The Welcome Office helped us do all of this. They literally filled out the application form for us, they helped us make copies, they took us to buy the revenue stamp, they made an appointment for all of us at the post office, they gave us the massive envelope to send it all off in, and they were there with us when we paid and sent things off. This was really great.

What the Welcome Office doesn’t help with is doing all of this for my husband. He has to wait until my stay permit comes in, before he can get started. Since it will probably take at least 4 months for mine to come, he will probably have to leave Italy at the end of his 90-day Shengen Visa waiver expiration date, and come back.

 

Officialization 3: Internet

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Officialization TOC

  1. Officialization 1: WTF comes next in Italy?
  2. Officialization 2: Apartment
  3. Officialization 3: Internet <— You are here
  4. Officialization 4: Stay Permit, part I
  5. Officialization 5: Picking Courses
  6. Officialization 6: Stay Permit, part II

Internet

My new apartment doesn’t have Internet yet, so this is something separate that I have to set up. I found four different Internet providers in the area and visited each of them: TIM, Fastweb, Infostrada, and Vodafone.

Each had a variety of pay-as-you-go options, capped at a certain amount of gigs per month, where you use a local SIM in your phone. For example, an average offer was around 15Gb per month for around 10 euro, plus activation cost. Only some of the shops (Infostrada I think) had cheap burner phones that you could buy to toss that SIM into.

Of course, those caps aren’t going to work for home internet that my husband and I both have to do work on. In terms of more permanent options, none of the ones available were very good (of course). In general, they looked approximately like this:

  • Around 25 euro for a reported 50Mbps down/10Mbps up (I’m sure it would be less than that in practice). Note that some websites claim that 1Gbps down is available, but this does not seem to be the case in Rovereto.
  • Installation costs of over 100 euro
  • Additional cost of over 100 euro total for the modem (spread over the time of the contract).
  • Contracts for 4 years. If you break the contract before the 4 years is up, you have to pay a cancellation fee depending on the number of months that you are short on (usually over 100 euro).
  • Additionally, TIM made you pay another 100+ euro for some bundled TV service that I obviously don’t need (and there were no plans that did not include it).
  • You need an Italian bank account to pay with. A different European bank account won’t work (i.e. I could not use the account I got in Germany that my scholarship payments currently go into).

So obviously, most of the above points are deal breakers, in particular the 4 year contract, the extra modem and especially TV fees, and having to use an Italian bank. I already have Deutsche Bank (which does have branches here), so I’d like to avoid opening an Italian account if I don’t absolutely need it for some bureaucratic reason.

Fortunately, Vodafone seemed to have somewhat more reasonable demands:

  • 50Mbs down/10Mbps up for 30 euro per month
  • 2 year contract, with 65 euro cancellation fee
  • 50 euro deposit, which allows you to pay by mail instead of with an Italian bank
  • No other hidden fees (or so they say so far)

Unfortunately, the process for getting Internet from Vodafone works like this:

  1. Go into the office, bring your ID (passport in my case) and your codice fiscale
  2. Order the Internet, and wait to receive an email, which signifies your confirmation of the contract
  3. Wait to receive a phone call to your Italian number from the technician ~3 days later
  4. Wait for the technician to arrive ~10 days later

Once again, I don’t have an Italian phone number. I don’t mind getting an Italian phone number, but I really need my current phone number for now, since that’s where my meager Internet is going through. The guy at the shop was nice enough to provide me with a temporary Italian SIM that I can put in my phone to receive the phone call. He did this for free (I’m not sure if it was really supposed to be free or not).

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My phone unpredictably turns off, registering that the battery is empty, now when the battery indicator is between 45% and 80% (used to happen at 20-40% previously). I carry a giant battery pack with me, until I can get a new phone.

Unfortunately, since we couldn’t find a burner phone at any shop we’ve gone to so far, we had to use one of our phones while we await that phone call. Incidentally, my phone has been acting up lately and my husband was supposed to bring me a new phone from the US, but it got stolen along the way. I have been very unlucky with theft lately. If it had not gotten stolen, I could have just used my old phone for the Italian SIM. (I should have a new phone coming in the next week or two, I hope.)

Anyways, we finally got the phone call yesterday. I managed to navigate this, too, in my low level of Italian understanding (which I mostly get for free from French– I really don’t speak Italian). They said they were coming on Tuesday of next week at 10:30 in the morning. (They’ll probably be late, right?) So for at least the next week we are without Internet. If it comes in on time, then it will have been 2.5 weeks without steady Internet in total, which is around what my optimistic estimates were when I was moving here.

On the plus side, I can go to the Rovereto library for free for slow Internet that occasionally craps out. It’s free to come in, sign up for an account, and use that Internet while we’re in the library (you don’t even have to talk to anyone). I do have Eduroam through my last university, but it doesn’t seem to automatically work here, and nothing else will be set up for me here until at least the orientation on September 14th.

 

Officialization 2: Apartment

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The view from our new apartment.

Officialization TOC

  1. Officialization 1: WTF comes next in Italy?
  2. Officialization 2: Apartment <– You are here.
  3. Officialization 3: Internet
  4. Officialization 4: Stay Permit, part I
  5. Officialization 5: Picking Courses
  6. Officialization 6: Stay Permit, part II

Apartment

As a married couple moving together to Italy, we apparently needed to find an apartment of at least 45 square meters. A couple of months ago, I visited this area and stopped by some agenzia immobiliare (apartment agencies) to look at apartments. I had been in contact with one of them through email (all in Italian thanks to a heavy dose of Google Translate), and in the end decided to go with that one.

The apartment is huge (perhaps even too big for us), but the price is acceptable, and the location is central. Well actually, the location is a little too central, because there is always some noise from the street outside and there’s a popular bar below us, so it doesn’t die down at night. But because finding an apartment (especially registering everything) is such a hassle, I think it’s going to have to do. The apartment does have both AC and heating, so theoretically, we could just keep our windows closed and the noise outside won’t bother us.

In order to get the apartment, we needed to fill out the lease. An Italian acquaintance helped me translate a draft of the lease, which was really kind of her. There didn’t seem to be anything fishy in it, but the set-up costs are not cheap. In addition, since we went with an agenzia, it turns out, we have to pay them a hefty sum as well. Actually, I asked about the agenzia fee before I signed the lease and the guy claimed there were no other fees apart from deposits and so on. It’s very possible, though, that my Italian wasn’t good enough to get the idea across. It’s also possible the guy was being deceitful. He seemed like a normal person, but who knows. In fact, I sort of suspected that there might be a fee for this, since I was going through an agenzia. In the end, everything was already getting set up, and I decided it made more sense to pay this than struggle through the rest of my life– a perk of having some cash saved up. So please be aware that if you use an agenzia, you will have a hefty fee to pay.

After signing the lease, I needed to pay a deposit of 3 months’ rent, the first month’s rent, and the agenzia fee. Then the contract needed to be certified with a stamp. The agenzia will do the certification for us. In addition, we needed to go to the energy company to get electricity, gas, water, and garbage set up. Actually, these things were already set up from a previous tenant, but they needed to be moved to my name. So the agenzia guy went to the energy company together with me, to get some information (since he actually spoke Italian). Then he provided me with some paperwork, and I ended up coming back the next day. The documents I needed were:

  • Passport
  • Lease signed by both parties (doesn’t have to be stamped yet)
  • Codice fiscale
  • Bank account IBAN & Swift/BIC code (my German one worked)
  • The agenzia provided me with the forms I needed (but I think they can give them to you there as well) to switch the accounts from the previous owner to me, including some forms with information about the owner of the apartment (including his ID).
  • There was also a form with the current amount of gas used, which can be found on the gas reader.
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The gas reader (10,333 was the number I needed to provide).

After I was done, I received the bags for trash. By the way, trash here is not a simple affair. There are separate bags for organic, plastic, paper, and residuo (everything else). There’s a huge list of what goes into each bag. The bags are picked up on different mornings (we were given a schedule), and are tagged to your name. The residuo bag is particularly small, and you only get one per month. This is a problem because dirty cat litter and feminine hygiene products all have to go in there. That bag is going to be really gross by the time it can get picked up.

I will also need to return to the energy office after I have moved my residence to Rovereto to give them proof that I live here now (which I believe makes some of my costs lower). Registering your residence is done at the Ufficio Anagrafe, but I can’t do this until I have received my stay permit, which I get from the Cinformi. And I can’t do that until I’ve received my enrollment paperwork from my university on September 14th. By the way, my European stay permit from Germany runs out on October 17th… I doubt all of this will be done before then, so we’ll see how that plays out.

Costs:

  • €1410 security deposit (equal to three month’s rent)
  • €470 first month’s rent (paid earlier in the year though)
  • €549 agency fee