Monday, April 20, 2015

Buying a home in a hilltop town means that we must . . . go up a hill

Now that we are buying a home in a hilltop town in Italy, we are faced with the question of how we will get from the bottom to the top. We did fine our first four trips here with bikes and trains, and the very rare rental car when we had multiple family members visiting. This year we rented cars part of the time from friends who were out of the country, which really helped on rainy days and when we had to take numerous trips to Montecarlo, Montecatini, Lucca and San Miniato to make arrangements for our apartment purchase. Without a car, we probably wouldn’t have been able to do it all.

But our future home in Montecarlo has an elevation of 531 feet above sea level. The train station at the bottom of the hill has an elevation of about 50 feet, and it’s only one and a half miles away, meaning the grade averages 6 percent. Some sides of the hill have longer and slightly more gradual slopes, but the fact is, we have mono-speed bikes, we are 60-plus years old and we are, when it comes to stamina and athleticism, very average individuals.

Going up the hill to Porta Fiorentina in Montecarlo.
We have taken our bikes up to Montecarlo before, and we have had to push them almost all the way. An average person walks at 3 mph, and a person pushing a bike uphill maybe 2 mph. It’s not hard to figure that it could take us almost an hour to go from the train station to our house, and thus we have concluded that we must come up with a new plan.

Obviously, we could rent a car for the entire three months that we plan to live here each year. That would be the easiest but most expensive option, costing around $3,000 each time. For that price, wouldn’t it eventually be cheaper to buy a car? Maybe, but don’t forget we would also have to pay for licensing, safety and emissions test and insurance. And an even more difficult issue is where we would park it for the other nine months, since our house has no garage and not even a driveway. Besides, only Italian residents are allowed to own cars. Yes, strangers can own houses in Italy, but not cars, or even motorcycles.

We could become residents, but then we would be faced with another issue. We would have to obtain Italian drivers’ licenses. Italy does not have a reciprocal agreement with the United States to exchange licenses. We’d have to go to driving school and take both written and practical tests, all in Italian. This is an expensive option which can cost nearly $1,000, and our Italian is probably not good enough yet to pass the tests anyway.

So we are stuck on the horns of a dilemma. If we rent a car, our American licenses will suffice, but it will be costly. If we buy, we have a year to obtain Italian licenses. After that, if we are pulled over—and Italian police frequently set up road blocks for routine documentation and equipment checks—our auto documents would reveal proof of our residency, and the police will want to know why we don’t have Italian drivers’ licenses.

There could be ways around the problem. Perhaps we could find an Italian friend who would put the car and the insurance in his name. Maybe we can continue to find less expensive long term rentals from acquaintances. Maybe we can put the car in Lucy’s name and I can keep using my American license because the car documents will not betray me as a resident.

None of this has to be decided upon immediately, as we will be leaving Italy in a week and not returning for an extended stay until next February. But that doesn’t stop us from continuing to research our options, and later this week, we will go to the Fanini bicycle shop in Capannori and try out a promising option, bikes with an electric assist motor. No license and no insurance will be needed, and they will fit in the ground floor storage room of the home we are buying. Check back in a few days for a full report . . .


  1. Replies
    1. No taxis nearby. And even though Italy has plenty of blue buses, none goes to Montecarlo. They go all around the base of the hill, but not up the hill.


Comments welcome.