The adventure continues! Some of you might remember Ilene and Gary from a previous interview I did with them about the year they lived in Italy. Despite feeling like we’re living in a COVID freeze frame, a lot has happened in the seven months since Ilene and I first spoke. Paolo and I are midway through our Italian Home renovation and Ilene and Gary are days away from boarding a return flight to Italy! Oh and one other small thing. Ilene and Gary co-wrote and released a book about their year in Italy to rave reviews!
With so many of us talking about what the new American dream looks like, I’m perpetually drawn to stories like Ilene and Garys. How did they manage to do it all? Curious what the secret to making it happen is? Me too! So I asked. Here’s how they managed to turn their dreams into reality and write about it all along the way.
Living in Italy for One Year Interview
Brandy Ilene I can’t believe it’s been seven months since we first connected! I wanted to reconnect because despite everything happening in the world, you’ve been one busy bee. Since we spoke last, you’ve released your book, sold your temporary RV home, and are now ready to fly to Italy again! First things first, tell us a bit about your book!
Ilene Our Italian Journey: Living our dream in Italy for one year is a travel memoir of an adventure that changed our lives forever. It’s the story of how Gary and I sold almost everything we owned to spend a year in Italy. We wanted to walk where his Grandparents had walked, eat what they ate, and live in the shadow of history. With the book, we take readers on our journey, from quaint villages steeped in tradition to exploring local culture.
Brandy: So what does it feel like to be a published Author?!
Ilene: I have to say, it’s an odd feeling. Never in a million years did either of us think we would write a book. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but writing this book came very easily. Perhaps it was because it was a topic we are passionate about. Perhaps it was because it was events and experiences that we were caught up in the moment. When each of us sat to write, the words flowed easily from our minds to the keyboard. It truly surprised me.
The other thing that has happened to be an author is that local people and couples have reached out to want to meet us. Us? I say to myself sometimes. We have met some wonderful people just wanting to find out more about us or the book. For example, we received an email from Cliff and Carolyn who live in Scottsdale. We have met twice for vino and appetizers just getting to know each other. All because Cliff read the book, loved it, and wanted to meet us.
One day I received an email from Paul who was on a plane with his wife. He was reading the book and said, “I had to contact you right away to tell you how much I’m loving the book – your story.” I emailed him right back asking if he would have his wife take his photo of him reading the book while on the plane. He replied that he hates photos of himself but was willing to do it and sent one right away. Paul is now a loyal follower on our social media. They have a home in Volterra, Italy and we plan to help them bring in the olive harvest this year.
Brandy So many people dream of living in Italy for a year and so many people dream of writing a book. Yet you managed to do both! What’s your secret? How did you stay motivated to turn dreams into your reality?
Ilene We were able to live in Italy because of our dual citizenship. It was a promise we made to one another if and when that ever finally happened. It was actually a natural thing to write the book when we were in Italy. So many wonderful things started happening to us and I really wanted to capture them – for our OurItalianJourney blog subscribers. Then I realized very quickly that a blog post really wouldn’t capture the full pictures. I approached Gary about the idea – to write the book as it happened – as we traveled. I also didn’t want to write the book myself. Although married 40 years, Gary and I don’t always see things in the same light. I thought two different perspectives might be appealing to readers. It seems to be one of the things people love about the book – how we alternate chapter writing.
Of course, there were days we didn’t write. We enjoyed the moment of being in Italy or doing something special. The writing took place during the evening hours and especially during rainy days where we found ourselves stuck inside. I also wanted to have the draft manuscript written before or as we left Italy in November 2019. I wanted it to be published within a year so that our story was current and that we weren’t referring to living in Italy, let’s say five years ago. It just didn’t seem relevant then.
Our Italian Journey: Living our dream in Italy for one year Book Preview
After Living in Italy for a Year & Writing a Book About it, What’s Next?
Brandy: If I remember correctly, your year in Italy was pre-COVID which meant you were free to plan your trip as you went along. What’s your plan this time? Where will you be in Italy and how long are you planning to stay this time?
Ilene This time our entire stay will be for about seven to eight months and it’s all planned for one Tuscan town, Lucca. Lucca is a wonderful location to travel north along the west coast of the peninsula (when allowed due to COVID) up to a region we want to explore, Piedmonte.
We have stayed in one town for 90-days twice while waiting for our citizenship. In 2016, we stayed in Parma and in 2017 in Florence for months each time. It’s a different experience because you become part of the town. Merchants at local stores began to notice we looked familiar. In fact, a funny story happened in Parma. At the local Conad grocery store. There was a very tall (for an Italian) friendly manager. We began chatting one day and he asked where we were from. When Gary informed him we were currently living in Phoenix, Arizona – he replied… “Ahh, the Phoenix Suns!” He was obviously a big basketball fan (perhaps that had something to do with his height) and every single time we entered the store – even if he was across the room he would yell out, “Hay Phoenix Suns!” It was hilarious and always brought a big smile to our faces.
During our next stay, we hope to be able to return to our “home” in Sicily, Licodia Eubea. That’s where we are part of the official records with each of our births and our marriage. This town is special to us and so are the people. We are still in contact with Angelina a lovely woman who works at the Consulate in the town. She graciously allowed her photo to be part of the book. You can find her and Gary on page 50. We look forward to seeing Carmello, our B&B owner again, and Salvatore the cook. These people all made such an impression on our lives and again, it’s so wonderful to still be in contact with them via email and WhatsApp. Of course, there are our other special friends in Scaffati, Florence, and Prato we must see. We have people, such as you and Paolo, that we must meet when in Italy. We have several others too.
But I digress. It will be the first time we will have stayed seven to eight months in one town. To become part of a neighborhood. Attend events, church services, and the evening passeggiata if it still occurs with the new restrictions. We will be immersed in the everyday life of a beautiful medieval town. We are looking forward to experiencing this pandemic as an Italian. To feel what they feel. I know it must be so different than how we are each experiencing it in the States.
Brandy: Speaking of COVID you’ll be flying while there is still a global pandemic. Are you nervous? Have you been vaccinated? Do you have a sense of what awaits you in Italy?
Ilene Clearly there are lots of questions about a move like this right now, but I guess it just boils down to, “how are you” and “what are you feeling?” We are not nervous about flying. We went back and forth, in favor, then not in favor, of getting vaccinated. It finally came down to the fact that we knew we should, especially because of traveling. I went with Gary to his appointment and asked if I could also get the shot. Being 63, I was not technically “eligible.” The woman at the location enrolled me as a ‘walk-in’ and I did get the first shot the same day as Gary. I knew I would rather get the shot in the States rather than Italy. Although I am learning Italian, I feared that I would not be able to understand completely if we were to get the shot in Italy.
We know that Italy has just changed its restrictions and is locking down again. In Lucca there is a curfew and restaurants close at 6:00 pm. That alone is mind-blowing, Italians eat late. How they are coping with these restrictions must be difficult. Traveling between regions is also prohibited at this time. We are willing to abide by Italy’s constraints. To be back in our second home, a country that has our hearts will be wonderful no matter what limitations we will have. We know when we arrive on April 1st that we will, more than likely, be given another COVID test at the airport. We already have our “documents to travel” filled out and ready to submit. This document indicates the address where we will be staying. We also know they will come and check on us and we know the consequences if they do not find us at the address on the paper.
We hope if travel opens, we can look for our future home. We have five or six towns that we favor and would like to look for a permanent place. A good chunk of our budget is spent each year renting and in the long run, it would be less expensive to buy an apartment or home.
Brandy Ilene, I’m so excited for you! I cannot wait to connect in person. Hopefully, Paolo and I can also get vaccinated so we can show you some of what we love about Piedmont, Italy! For our friends here on ALOR, how can we all continue to follow your journey once you’re back in Italy?
Ilene For current information and photos, social media would be the best way to follow us.
Of course, we will continue to post weekly on the blog. We love receiving emails, people are always welcome to contact us that way too. We will also be doing more Instagram and Facebook live videos this trip. We are hoping for twice a month in different parts of the town or wherever we are located at the time. Our followers have mentioned they love seeing Italy through our eyes, so we will try and post ahead, the day and time we will be going live.
Our Italian Journey: Living our dream in Italy for one year Book Reviews
Brandy I’m so excited for the next phase of your Italian Journey Ilene! Your book about your first year of living in Italy is already getting rave reviews.
Ilene We have been overwhelmed and our hearts warmed by the reviews that have been left on Amazon and social media.
Considering picking up a copy of Ilene & Gary’s book about selling almost everything they owned to live in Italy for a year? Here are a few reviews left on Amazon!
“Our Italian Journey isn’t just another travel book about Italy. Its written by a charming couple who sought out to learn more about (his) Italian side of the family, their journey in becoming dual citizens and charming details about Italy’s food, places & the experiences she creates, but best of all…the people. Ilene and Gary take you on this journey with them, through their eyes, each page beaming with Italian pride. I definitely recommend this book as a must read!” -Jackie Aiken
“In Our Italian Journey, Gary and Ilene describe their experiences of living in Italy for a year. Newly formed citizens, the two share an exciting time of traveling across Italy. They traverse through different Italian cities and share with their readers both their love for Italy and real life struggles. Highly recommend this comfort read to anyone wanting a bit of escapism in these challenging times.” -Ishita, Italophilia
It’s a journey to a foreign land that I dream of one day visiting. Gary and Ilene each tell their story about the quaint towns, friendly people and delicious food they encounter. I can picture each town with their cobblestone streets, beautiful flowers, majestic waters, and magnificent doors. Each Duomo they’ve visited is as unique as the towns they reside in. They paint a picture you can actually see and feel as they explore each region. I thoroughly enjoyed traveling throughout Italy from the comfort of my couch. Oh and you may even shed a tear or two. Thank you guys for taking me on your journey!Book reviews for Our Italian Journey: Living our dream in Italy for one year
To me Ilene and Gary are proof that the dream to move to Italy in 2021 is still possible despite all odds. My thanks to Ilene for spending a little time with us before boarding your flight to Italy. Fly safe my friend! Italy awaits with the piece of your heart you left here on your last visit.
Are you an American Expat living in Italy? let me know! I’d love to connect and hear more about your story of moving to Italy. Share why you call your corner of Italy home in the comments below.