Here we go with the second part of my very precious pieces of advice about life in Bologna (or Italy in general). Hope you find it useful and remember it’s my own opinion (as always)!
1. Be clever about shopping
Not only about how to spend as little as possible, but also how not to get pissed standing in the line in the supermarket. There is a simple solution: go to the supermarket during lunch time (which in Italy means around 12.30-14.00). I can guarantee you that there will basically be no one there. Just you and some other foreigners that are either as smart as you or they just have lunch at a different time of the day. This rule applies to the whole country, not only Bologna I guess. Just check first if the shop you want to go to is open during lunch time…
2. Carry a map of the city
You will always look like a tourist, but at least you won’t get lost. I have a good sense of direction and in most of the places I visited I could find my way around quite easily, but Italian cities are particular. Streets are narrow, rarely paralel to each other which would make it less difficult after taking a wrong turn and then it might be tricky to find the plates with their names (go to Salerno, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Believe me, it’s better to have a map, even after a couple of months when you think you don’t need it anymore.
3. Do your laundry in the evening and/or on the weekend
It’s something that I still don’t understand completely, but you need to know that using water and electricity in Italy is a bit like parking in the city center: cheaper in the evening (usually after 20.00) and on the weekends (ok, in Poland&Italy parking in those days/hours is completely free, but you know what I mean). For some reason you spend less, so it’s a good thing to schedule your laundry time cleverly. Of course it can happen that on the weekend your laundry machine is getting a hiccup from all the work (you, your flatmates, your flatmates girlfriends/boyfriends), but anyway, it’s cheaper. Keep that in mind.
One of the main things I was worried about before starting my EVS in Italy was whether the money I’m going to receive from the project is going to be sufficient. ‘Will I have to save on food?’, ‘Will I be able to buy meat only from time to time?’, ‘Will there be any chance of travelling?’ — those were some of the questions I was asking myself.
Eventually I also found some people online, ex-volunteers who did their EVS in Italy. I was mainly looking for Poles, cause in this way the information they would provide would be more adequate for me. One of the people I contacted told me, that I would probably have to save some money and be careful with it, that I won’t probably be able to eat meat every day (laugh all you want, but for a Polish person, meat is essential). Fortunately it’s not THAT important for me to eat meat each day for lunch (we don’t have evening dinner in Poland).
Anyway, to keep it short: a lot depends on your own needs, because I for example am not a person that goes out so much, so I don’t spend money on drinks, eating out etc. That makes it easier for me to save for other things and small joys, like nicer food from time to time. Also, you have to remember that not every volunteer receives the same amount of money each month. First of all it depends on the country you do your EVS in and then you have to also remember that different organisations handle money differently. Some will provide you accomodation that is already paid for, some will give you money and make you manage it yourself. Some will give you the full amount of money for the month, some will give you less, because for example you’re having lunches and dinners at your organisation every day (happens mostly when you work in retirement homes, refugee houses and so on).
If you want to know more about the amounts of money for each country you can do an EVS in, you will find it in the official Erasmus+ guide (available in various languages). And if you have more specific questions about how it really is for a volunteer in Italy (or in Bologna, more specific), you can write me in the comments or contact me via the Facebook page.
Considering the fact, that I have been here in Bologna for already 5 months, I think I’m a good source of information that a newcomer might need. That’s why I decided to put here some of my observations that might prove useful for someone who has just arrived here.
1. Avoid the bridge on via Libia
Bologna is a city of bridges (even though there’s not a single river in the city), so every once in a while you’ll have to cross them, but this one is especially tricky. For the bicycle users this bridge not only is a general b*tch for it’s “steepness”: there’s no bike path and the sidewalk can barely fit one pedestrian, so of course you have to use the street. And the street is so narrow that if two cars are passing each other with also you on the side, you’ll most definitely end up crashing your bicycle into the ridicuolusly high kerb. Trust me, I know. Just don’t use that way, there are others.
2. Take warm sweaters…
…if you’re planning to stay in Bologna over the winter. I haven’t listened to people when they told me and I only took one or two things that are really warm and now I regret not taking more. I’ve noticed a weird thing in Italian houses and apartments. They have no ventilation. Plus: they only heat up their houses up to 18-19 degrees (because apparently heating costs too much). All this results in having a chronic cold (in my case at least). I come from a country where the winter is real and we heat our houses up to 22-23 degrees usually. Italians start panicking when it snows a bit in the winter, but at the same time they don’t see a problem in freezing your ass off in your own house.
3. Don’t ever expect people to understand what bike paths are for
Bologna is a city of students and thus a city of bicycles (also because distances are not so big and driving a car around here is a true pain in the ass). Thanks to that there are SOME bike paths (don’t expect Italy to suddenly become the new Netherlands though, most of the paths end abruptly in the middle of the street). Usually they are just randomly drew on sidewalks, so invest in a bell/horn if you don’t have one yet. But even then people will not understand what is your problem when you honk at them. And if you run into a woman with a stroller she is more likely to tell you that she has wheels as well than to move away to the proper part of the sidewalk.
Ok, I already mentioned that there are many hairdressers in Bologna (and probably in Italy in general) and as confusing as it may be (where to go, which one is the best, where do they serve you also coffee…), there are certain advantages of this excess.
I went to have a haircut today and it was free. Yes, you read that right, it was absolutely free, I paid nothing. Why? Because there is a promotion in February at this hairdresser’s school in Bologna where you can get a haircut/dye your hair free of charge. Where’s the catch? Well, it’s a school, so the people who actually work on you are students, not professionals.
I know what you think: it’s a risk. They are only learning how to be a hairdresser, they can f*ck up your hair and then you’ll have to shave your head or something. Well, I have short hair that don’t really require much work, so I thought I’ll take that risk. Also, when I went there I noticed that the students have a supervisor who helps them, teaches them and just generally supervises their work at all times. And they can’t do anything without his consent. Of course the downside here is that it all takes ages, cause they are around 10-12 people and the teacher is only one, but at least one can feel fairly safe.
Also, let’s remember that I don’t speak Italian at a level that would allow me to explain everything in detail, so it was twice as tricky with me. But the girl that cut my hair was very cautious and I think in the end she did a good job considering my indecision and a general lack of idea about what I want to do with my hair.
All in all, I had a fairly good haircut absolutely for free, so I can’t complain. And in case you are in Bologna this month and you’d like to cut or dye your hair, check out this Facebook event to get more info on how to take an appointment and reach the place.
You all probably know at least a couple of stereotypes about Italy and Italians. We all do. Not all of them are true (as it often goes with stereotypes), but some definitely yes. Like for example the one about Italians being always late. I guess for them it’s fine as long as everyone else is late too. In this case even though you agree with other people to meet at, let’s say 20.00, no one will come earlier than 20.30-21.00 anyway, so you don’t have to either.
But what is still a bit shocking and annoying (but you know, there’s this moment when something that pisses you off changes into something that makes you roll on the floor laughing) is that also institutions base on that stereotype. Simple example: the Italian National Erasmus+ Agency still hasn’t paid to my host organisation all the money for the project I’m doing here (I’d like to remind that everyone knew since July that this project will take place). So, as a result, my host organisation is paying from their own pocket, so that I have a roof over my head and food in my stomach.
Entro un mese dalla data di arrivo, il volontario ha il diritto e il dovere di partecipare alla formazione all’arrivo, che deve essere predisposta dall’Agenzia Nazionale. (“Within one month from the date of arrival, the volunteer has the right and duty to participate in an on-arrival training which must be arranged by the National Agency.”)
Do you want to know when I’m going to this training? Next week. More than two months after my arrival. Seriously, what can they possibly teach me there right now? After all my adventures with dentists, hospitals, insurance companies and rather incompetent people of any kind, it’s probably me who should be teaching in this course. It’s very likely that I know more about how things are done around here than most of the volunteers who came to Italy in the same period as I did.
But let’s look on the bright side: the course lasts one week and it will take place in a hotel in Rimini, just next to the seaside.
And since I don’t drink coffee and eat rather heavy things for breakfast I just hope they won’t serve only Italian breakfast there…
Before all this started I was considering travelling to Italy with my own car (and using it here afterwards). In the end I decided not to do it because of various reasons (one of them being the craziness of Italian traffic), but since I love to drive a car and I can’t help noticing everything on the road, I pay a lot of attention to many different details, comparing the rules and customs to the Polish ones.
One of the pecularities that I noticed first were the traffic lights. Well, there’s nothing odd about them, they are the same as in Poland: green, yellow and red (and in theory they also mean the same, even though people here don’t seem to care if it’s red or green…), but what caught my attention was something else.
Ok, so, when you approach the crossroad with traffic lights and they are about to change from green to red, it normally goes like this: you have green, then it changes to yellow to let you know that in a couple of seconds it will be red and you should already stop breaking. And it’s the same both in Italy and Poland (also with the detail of everyone crossing on yellow instead of slowing down).
Now the opposite situation: when you are waiting for the lights to change from red to green. In Poland it goes like this: you have red, then along with the red the yellow turns on to make you aware of the approaching change to green. In this time you get prepared, so that you can move smoothly when the green turns on. To illustrate:
In Italy they made it simpler: you have red and then, when it’s time to go, green. Like this:
There won’t be any brilliant conclusion to those observations, sorry. For the usual traffic in both countries, it doesn’t really make any difference: you see green, you go.
Just that probably the Italians are saving some money on the light bulbs for the yellow light.
It has been completely crazy this past two weeks. Not only was I flooded by work of different kind, but I also had some serious health problems with a tooth that led me to root canal treatment (and also to some interesting discoveries about my coordinating and host organisations). I haven’t really had time yet to have a proper walk around the city center of Bologna, but I painted some rooms, fixed some bikes, made a couple of flyers, help to organize some parties and code a newsletter. And I also attended a pretty interesting festival in the end of October as a journalist. It was Gender Bender Festival and I hope to have some articles about it published within short time (probably in English, but possibly also in Italian).
But I have to say that one of the things I appreciate most about being here (even though recently I had to face very challenging situations and deal with serious problems that might have made me doubt this whole EVS thing for a second) is the fact that I can just go to the supermarket right outside of my place and buy some prosciutto di Parma, parmigiano or olives and not pay as much as I would if I wanted to do the same in Poland (not to mention that it can be hard to find prosciutto crudo or parmigiano in a random Polish grocery shop/supermarket).
Yep, the food is for real one of the best things about Italy.
If you would ever need a private dentist in Bologna, I can recommend you the one I went to after I was told at the public hospital that they will not treat me, because I’m not an Italian citizen.