Weeks 61 through 65

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This month has been all about hunkering down. My husband had to go back to the States for a bit while waiting on the stay permit process, but got to come back sooner than expected. In the meantime, school got busy, with tons of presentations and reports to do.

We both had a lot of good news in terms of work-related things, as well. For one, my husband’s gig is becoming salaried at the start of January. This is something he’s been working towards for a very long time, so we are both super excited. In addition, I have already started preliminary work on my internship (and hopefully master’s thesis) with FBK, a local research institute. This also becomes paid starting in January.

All of this is fantastic news, but it does mean I am about to become much busier than I have been. I may not have time to hike or loaf around as much as I have been. In the next two weeks, I also have to finish the last things left for my courses to get the last few credits I need. I have 3 presentations and 4 short reports to write up, and I have to study for a hard final in machine learning that will take place in January. I’m also headed back to the US for three weeks over the winter holidays, which I am really excited about. I can’t wait to see my family and hopefully many friends too!

In terms of exciting activities this month, I only went on one hike, but it was a breathtaking one. We went to Strada delle 52 Gallerie, just after the first snow. It was the longest hike I’ve done so far (6.5 hours and 12km I think), but it didn’t feel as difficult as some previous ones.  The hike snaked through some old tunnels built during WWI, up to the very top of the mountain. The views were spectacular, perhaps even more so with the snow. (I’m afraid these phone pics do it no justice though.) I look forward to returning another time, maybe in the spring.

By the way, the Christmas markets have also started up here. Rovereto has gone on some sort of fanatic Christmas spree: they spent over a week building wooden houses for the stalls, they brought in the most giant real tree I have ever seen, they put up projectors to light up the buildings with Christmas decor, they put up speakers playing Christmas music, they have live bands walking through the city on the weekends, and they have a red fucking carpet spread out through like half the city center. It feels really over-the-top for such a tiny town. In terms of the Christmas market itself, though, they don’t serve nearly as much hot spiced wine as they should, and they don’t pass out adorable mugs the way they did in Germany, which is a shame; however, the fried dough treats don’t disappoint.

Costs:

Splitting costs (and cooking duty) with a second person really helps.

  • €225 – rent
  • €22 – internet
  • €136 – utilities (electric/gas) including installation costs and stupid TV tax
  • €234 – groceries
  • €135 – dining out/ snacks at markets
  • €90 – last health insurance payment to AOK back in Germany (ugh)
  • €47 – phone
  • €16 – extra aerial silks days
  • €30 – fancy bike tire pump
  • €8 – misc for the apartment
  • Total: €9
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Weeks 57 through 60

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September and October have been the months of hikes. It’s been surprisingly warm during the day, though the evenings have been chilly. I’ve gone somewhere almost every weekend with friends, and I’ve watched the trees turn from green to gold to rust.

At the end of September, a friend with a car took us on a difficult hike to Cima Rocca. I’m not that accustomed to hiking, though I enjoy it quite a lot, and this hike was particularly difficult. It went at a fairly steep uphill the entire way, until the very end, at which point it became nearly a Via Ferrata style climb. That is to say, there was a metal guide cable, and you had to use your hands to scramble up the rocks.

It took around three hours to climb to the top, with your thighs and calves protesting the entire way, and just one hour to come down, with your knees complaining. As hard as it was, the view from the top was absolutely worth it (though it was a misty day). Not only that, but there were some cool old caves dug out from WWII along the way, and a great deal of fresh air. In the end, this was one of the hardest, but also one of the most fun hikes I have done.
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In October, I had the chance to visit Milan to meet the same friend who I met recently in Prague. Milan was… money. The city center was small in terms of area, but grandiose in terms of content. The cathedral was huge, the castle had a moat, and the shopping/fashion was so high-end, that the cheaper area was the one that had labels like Prada and Louis Vuitton. The expensive fashion district had clothes that looked like they had just come off a model– you know, the weird ones, that no normal human would ever wear.

Although I usually like visiting museums, the one in the castle somehow didn’t impress me. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the world-class art in huge cities like Paris and Berlin. Overall, two days in the city were just enough for me to see everything, though if I was the shopping type, I’m sure I would have needed more.

The next weekend, I headed back to Saarbrücken (SB) to retrieve my bike, and visit my friends. After a 10 hour commute through lovely Austria, I found myself in Germany again.

I think I have a sort of love-hate relationship with SB. Although I am frustrated at the quality of schooling, I can now look back and realize that it was better than what I will see here this year, because there were many different professors to work with, and many different course offerings. In addition, SB has an amazing community of students. Everyone in the local program is studying the same thing, so you have a lot of people to work with, and a lot in common with those around you.

Here in Italy, I have found it difficult to integrate into the local community in the same way. Everyone in CIMeC is studying cognitive neuroscience together, so they share all the same classes and have the same interests. It’s possible that we have more in common than I think, but I don’t share any classes with them, so I wouldn’t know anyway. The computer science students in Povo also share all their classes, and by virtue of this, have also formed a tight knit community. Basically, I am rather on the periphery of what is going on here. So while my personal life here is good, my academic life is shitty.

Coming back to SB reminded me of everything I am missing out on.

I returned from SB feeling rather disappointed, but fortunately, a friend was coming to visit for a couple of days, which helped lift my spirits. We wanted to show her around some of the sights, so we headed back into the mountains. The first day was unfortunately misty again when we took a small trip an a hike just above Rovereto. The second day was a little clearer, and we headed up higher, up a windy road into the hills nearby, where we hiked through falling tree leaves, to the top of a large hill.

My friend only had a couple days with us, and once again, I had to say goodbye. One great thing about my master’s program is that I get to meet a whole ton of amazing international people. However, the entire experience is basically a revolving door of goodbyes, as people finish their masters and head back to their home countries, and you wonder all the while if you will ever see them ever again.

In any case, I had to bear my sadness on the move, because the next day we went on a trip with the university right back in the mountains, to Rio Novella. I stumbled through this trip, a bit tired after the last three days, but happy to chat with all the various international students from different departments. We went through apple orchards, to a really steep canyon, and through a gorge to a church on top of a cliff. You’re probably tired of hearing this– the views were amazing.

Finally, at the very end of the month, I visited the Castello Beseno, which is a castle on top of a hill not far from Rovereto. It was a peaceful day, and there weren’t many tourists there, so we had a lovely stroll throughout the whole thing. It was a real medieval castle, like the kind you read about in history books! Although I’ve been in Europe for a year now, I didn’t visit that many castles last year, and as an American, I am still impressed by these historic structures.

Apart from taking trips and just enjoying life… I have to admit that in terms of work, I’ve done very little this month. As I mentioned before, there doesn’t seem to be that much for me to do in the department here. I’m only taking a few classes, and they aren’t that good. The machine learning class in Povo has a really good instructor, but strangely it doesn’t have any homework, so I’ve just had to do my best to study on my own. The Human Language Technologies course in Rovereto is possibly the worst course I have ever taken. The topics are all repetition from last year’s coursework, and the lecturing is both boring and uninformative.

I’m quite frustrated (but unsurprised) that my second year university does very little to coordinate a curriculum that will be useful to second years. As I was warned by my second year colleagues last year, in the LCT program you basically end up doing Year 1 twice. My hope is that I will be able to teach myself everything that I haven’t managed to learn yet. I mean, I mostly taught myself last year anyway. I’ve been working on linear algebra in my spare time, but right now, my main goal is to find an internship and a master’s thesis topic.

At least daily life in Rovereto has been good.

However, there’s one more bit of frustrating news. My husband has been in Italy for almost two months now, and my stay permit is nowhere in sight. Once I do get the stay permit, it will take him probably at least a week to get the appointment with Questura (immigration) sorted so that he can be allowed to stay provisionally in Italy. However, with the Shengen visa waiver that Americans get, he is only allowed to be in Europe for 90 out of each 180 days. That means he has to go home ASAP, so that he can save some days for doing all the paperwork once I get my stay permit and he returns. So I guess he’ll be going back for Thanksgiving, and I’ll be here all alone for a while again.

Costs:

It seems like it does help to have a second person splitting costs. Even with all the dining out and travel, I’ve managed to stay under budget. However, keep in mind, my utilities payment has not been charged yet (it will be very expensive at the start of November because of move-in costs, but should be much cheaper after that), and my internet bill was low I think because of last month’s deposit payment.

I see a lot of extraneous items below. It’s time to think about reigning it in again. Phone is too high, and I should probably finally pull the plug on Project Fi… I am just such a sucker for the convenience. The bouldering gym passes will eventually get used, but I am going to swap to mainly doing aerial now (I will be ramping it up to twice a week), so those were not really a necessity after all. The miscellaneous category was just silly spending. As usual, all the dining out is ridiculous. I will say that I won’t feel bad about the coats, because I got a seriously insane discount there.

  • €235 – rent
  • €14 – internet
  • €60 – phone (I should probably drop Project Fi, since the European plans are way cheaper…)
  • €50 – bouldering gym passes
  • €150 – aerial silks classes
  • €60 – transport, misc stuff for the house
  • €55 – a coat and a warm jacket for winter (fantastic thrift store price)
  • €231 – groceries
  • €120 – dining (including amazing gelato at Zenzero in Rovereto!)
  • Total: €975

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

Weeks 42 & 43

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Rovereto, Italy. Population: ~37,000.

This is the town where I am going to live next school year. It is full of narrow alleyways and wide piazzas with adorable restaurant patios. It is small. Compared to what I am used to, it is tiny. I took a trip there last week, to get a lay of the land. Of course, I liked the mountains best of all, but since I don’t have a car now, traveling to the best hiking spots might be challenging.

I am apprehensive about leaving.  I’ve made a lot of friends/connections here. Although there is much about the system here that I dislike, and I don’t really like my apartment or the town that much, I’ve become used to the way things work here, and who’s to say the next place will have a better system. Anyway it will take me time to become accustomed to everything again. The bother of dealing with bureaucracy again and the language barrier in particular concern me. I don’t speak Italian hardly at all.

On the other hand, I am excited about leaving. The new place is beautiful, I get to learn another language, I get to live in the mountains again (I missed that), I will meet more great people, and I will just get to experience new things.

In some way, I don’t exactly know how to feel. But the plans have been laid, and things will happen in the order that they happen, and I will tackle them as they come.

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Trento, Italy. There are many buildings with beautiful frescos here.

The trip to the Trento area from Saarbrücken was very nice. I went with two other people, one of whom had a car and was willing to drive. We made a road trip out of it. It was great being on the road again, like at home. We stopped in Innsbruck on the way there, and on the way back we stopped by Ehrenberg Castle in Austria, which has the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. The bridge swayed as we walked across it, but the view was amazing. I wish we had had time to stop by even more places, since I can’t imagine I’ll be back this way by car again, but it was great to see as much as we did, given that we took a random weekend off (and skipped some classes) to do it!

 

In my life, I have always considered myself shy or introverted. There’s always a part of myself I keep hidden in conversations with other people, and I definitely feel the stress of navigating social situations. On the other hand, I have always enjoyed learning new things, and making connections with other people. A lot of the time, to learn something new (especially a language), you have to talk to people. You have to ask them questions about their work, or their lives. Sometimes, people don’t feel comfortable talking to someone they don’t know, so it makes sense to share a little bit of yourself in the process. I’ve tried my best to be my honest self with other people, in so far as I can be, but it’s never easy to open up. Sometimes, I can’t keep track of people’s reactions, and I start to go on a rant about something I feel strongly about. I don’t notice that I might be coming off too strong.

For the first time in my life, after the road trip, I was called chatty.  It was such a stark contrast to how I have been described in the past, i.e. introverted, nerdy, quiet. I don’t feel like I have changed from that introverted personality that I have on the inside. However, perhaps I have somehow changed how that personality is realized. Instead of running and hiding from these social situations, I must have decided at some point to face them head on.

It’s kind of like the ocean waves. When the wave is coming, you can either run from it to reach the safety of the beach, letting the wave peter out behind you, or you can dive into it head first and come out on the other side. The other side is deep, and you have to keep paddling to avoid drowning, but you get to swim amongst the fishes.

I don’t think one choice is better than another, but it’s good to know that the strategy can be changed when the need arises. Apparently, I have somehow managed to change it once subconsciously. I would like to learn to do this at will.

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Innsbruck. (Europe seems to really like coloured houses on riverbanks.)

Once in Italy, I managed to do some apartment searching. The choice of where to live is overwhelming, especially with the travel considerations. Rovereto is where the faculty is located, so it’s where most of my friends will probably be, and it’s cheaper to live there, but it’s really small (37k people). Trento is a nicer city for what I am used to (117k people), and I felt more comfortable there. It’s closer to the other parts of the university campus, i.e. CS and language and probably sports too. Travel between the two takes only 15 minutes by train, but the train only goes Rovereto -> Trento until 23:00 and Trento -> Rovereto until 21:00. Travel to the CS campus is apparently another bus ride away (I didn’t get the chance to try to do that though).

Without knowing exactly where I will be taking classes, it’s hard to judge the best place to live. However, since we arrived on a Friday, we had a little bit of time to search around. There was a train strike going on, so we didn’t manage to make it to Trento that day, but we did look a bit in Rovereto. Surprisingly, I saw some places that really appealed to me. The language barrier was a real thing (with one person not being able to speak anything but Italian), so I actually learned a lot of new words (well, since I hardly speak Italian, there is a lot to learn, and these are all pretty basic):

  • il appartamento – apartment
  • il propretario – the owner
  • il contratto – the contract
  • la lavatrice – clothes washing machine
  • il riscaldatore – heating
  • l’acqua – water
  • la camera – bedroom
  • il bagno – bathroom
  • la cucina – kitchen
  • mio marito – my husband (I had to explain I am moving with him)
  • il gatto – cat (most apartments seem cat friendly)
  • la luce – light (electricity)
  • il gas – gas (for stove)
  • il letto – bed
  • il divano – couch
  • le spese condominiali – condominium charges (for the building)
  • pagare – to pay
  • potere – to be able to (io posso, tu puoi, Lei può, noi possiamo, voi potete, loro possono)

I am actually emailing with one apartment right now. Hopefully this will work out and I won’t have to worry about searching for a place in August. I think that things will be more expensive in August, and also, I’ll be busy doing many other things. It would be nice if this could just get settled right now.

Costs:

  • €173 – dining out/ snacks
  • €34 – groceries
  • €55 – hostel
  • €59 – trains, gas
  • €30 – phone (more expensive this month)
  • €16 – clothes
  • €2 – launtry
  • Total: €369