Words by Pat Eggleton
Meet Sue Phillips, who moved to Pescia [Tuscany] with her husband and young family nearly a year ago. This is her story.
Sue, can you tell us when and why you decided to move to Italy?
We finally moved to Italy in September 2009, although we had purchased our property a couple of years before. However, the property had no running water, electricity or windows so there was a fair bit to organise before we got here. The decision to move to Italy was easy: we had visited Pescia and we absolutely loved the people, the location and the weather!
Did you know Italian before you came?
We did a three - month crash course, before we came, which really helped, although our Italian was still very basic. I am happy to say it is improving every day, not least because our two boys, Henry, aged eight and Erik, aged six, correct us all the time! We have also made friends with lots of Italians who speak absolutely no English, so that gives us no choice but to get on and work the language out.
What were your main worries and doubts before you came and did any of them turn out to have been well-founded?
Oh loads of worries: giving up my job after working for the same company for thirteen years, how we were going to make a living, how we would cope with the language, how our children would cope with school and leaving their friends. Then there was no water, no electricity, an olive farm that we knew nothing about – the list really was endless.
But in the end you just have to jump off and take the opportunity. Chris and I had always wanted to do this so we just decided to get on with it. Now I would not be telling you the truth if I said it had all been easy because there have been some hairy moments, but honestly it was not worth worrying as much as I did.
We are all so happy here: the boys love our home and going to the beach, swimming and fishing in the rivers and going to Florence. They also have the freedom of three acres of land. We are going forward every day in such a positive way. We all look fantastic and healthy because of the new lifestyle – it’s just amazing.
Are you and your husband working in Italy?
We are. We’re doing lots of different things, really. We have an olive farm which will generate a portion of our income. I think there are approximately five hundred trees (still haven’t finished counting) half of which have been pruned, so we still have half of them to do.
I am teaching English to Italians which is great and I love doing this as it is so rewarding. I teach people of a variety of ages, from children right up to people in their forties and I have had fantastic feedback from the people I teach. We also have a [http://www.ti-pi.com/] lodge tent and Chestnut House to rent out. This has taken off really quickly and everyone that has stayed this year has already booked to come back next year.
I think the beauty of Tuscany and the fact that the location of our home is just a ten-minute walk from the local town of Pescia have just made it a fantastic place for our guests and ourselves alike. And of course, we are within easy reach of so many wonderful places: Florence, the walled city of Lucca, Abetone (for skiing) and Viareggio (for the beach). There are so many opportunities and coming to a different country makes one look at them all and go for new things!
Did it take you long to settle?
Yes and no. There are things that we will always miss, like Ribena [a British soft drink made from blackcurrants] and a good Chinese takeaway, but we do now feel at home. The Italians are so friendly and go out of their way to help us in any way that they can.
Some neighbours used to cook us dinner once a week when we were settling in and had no oven, another neighbour came and demonstrated how to prune olive trees, another invited me for coffee every week and yet another neighbour helped with our water supply, lessons on bee keeping, looking after chickens and where to buy goats.
How are your children coping?
Very well indeed. Considering we put them in an Italian school after they had only been here for three weeks, they have been amazing. To hear them now jabbering away in Italian takes my breath away and they are very happy with their new friends, school and life.
Have you had any problems with the Italian education system?
None at all, apart from loads of homework, which was a stretch for two parents that spoke hardly any Italian!
Can you tell us about where you live?
We live a ten minutes away on foot from the town of Pescia. Pescia is a large town, famous for flower cultivation and there is lots to do there. The market every Saturday is so vibrant and the cafés, restaurants and shops are always busy. There’s plenty of choice with regard to what to drink, where to eat and for clothes shopping. Collodi is only a fifteen-minute drive away. This is where Pinocchio was born.
What do you love about where you live and is there anything that drives you crazy?
We love the weather, the beautiful scenery, the fantastic food, the lovely walks and creating our new life from scratch. The bureaucracy does drive me crazy. It doesn’t matter which town office you go to – it is always the wrong one and even when they direct you to the right one, it’s still the wrong one!
I love that description and I know how you feel! What else do you miss about the UK?
Friends and family, although as you can imagine we are so inundated with everyone visiting that there isn’t really long enough to miss them between visits!
Have any of your tastes - culinary or cultural - changed since you came to live in Italy?
Definitely. We cook pretty much everything from scratch now and eat much more healthily. Our diet was good in the UK, but here it is fantastic. We seem to eat a lot more simply, but because the flavours of all the fresh fruit and vegetables are so good, you don’t need to add a lot to make them fantastic!
I understand you grow your own food. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, we love growing our own food, although our plans are much more ambitious than the ones we had for our small vegetable patch in England. We are growing everything we like: tomatoes, onions, radishes, potatoes, sweetcorn, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, peppers and chillies. It is fantastically rewarding to pop a seed into a pot, watch it germinate and then eat the plant! We are having to learn fast, though, about how to grow and get the best out of our plants.. I think I will be pickling and preserving pretty much consistently from now until Christmas.
Do you plan to stay in Italy?
What have been the greatest revelations, joys and pitfalls?
A revelation has been the sense of freedom for us and the boys. We are just so much more relaxed about letting them play. Also, everyone is much more friendly and giving. It’s like stepping back twenty years into a great community where everyone helps everyone else because they genuinely want to, not because they are going to earn money out of it.
Learning a new language has been a joy for us all. We have laughed so much over silly things whilst trying to make ourselves understood. Of course, learning the language has had its pitfalls too. We do miss people and it’s very cold in the winter!
What advice would you give to someone planning to move to Italy?
I think you have to follow your dream. It is a massive step and if you think about it too much and focus on all the things that could go wrong you will never do it. It’s the same as having children, really. But oh, the joy and fulfilment of this new life is wonderful! I think more people should learn to follow their heart and be brave. Moving here has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life.
Sue, thank you for sharing your story with Italy Magazine.