‘Italian bureaucracy works very well’

After years of planning, Orna O'Reilly, an interior designer, at long last moved from Ireland to Italy. The widow, in her sixties, speaks to The Local about writing books, buying a house and driving around the Veneto in a Fiat 500.

'Italian bureaucracy works very well'
Orna O'Reilly bought a Fiat 500 after moving to Italy. Photo: Orna O'Reilly

How did you come to live in Italy?

I wanted to retire here. I’d always loved Italy. I used to come once a year, then I started coming two or three times a year, exploring the cities and the hinterlands.

Did Italy meet your expectations when you moved?

It’s very different living here to travelling around.

The process of buying a house was big and hefty; there’s a lot of bureaucracy.

Before I got residency I had to produce my passport everywhere, even to pick up a package at the post office. It’s just another world.

But the bureaucracy has a reason and it works very well; I’m very happy about it!

How did you decide on the Euganean Hills in the Veneto region?

I spent a lot of time in the region with my parents; we used to visit Lake Garda every year and I would get on the train and head to Venice, Vicenza and elsewhere.

The Hills are a national park and I was incredibly lucky to get a house here. There are lots of lovely walking trails and canals; the views down the valley are stunning, yet I’m in Padua in less than 20 minutes.

In the Veneto the infrastructure is superb, the trains are always on time.

Euganean Hills by Orna O'Reilly

Were there any big hiccups?

Getting my furniture over from Ireland. Two boxes of crockery and lamps were broken in the process and the movers denied breaking anything. Insurance is phenomenally expensive and it cost thousands to move everything, even uninsured.

When I arrived I signed up to a 36-month phone contract, only to find out the company had no phone signal in my house. It was a complete waste of money!

Did you have any help arranging everything?

Yes, it’s very important to find someone who can give you a hand when you get here. I was recommended a lady to help and she’s done all sorts of things such as arranging rubbish collection from the council, the account with the gas company, etc.

I also found it important to get a lawyer who speaks English who could guarantee having my house contract translated.

Have you been learning Italian?

Yes. I went to night classes in Ireland, but when you get home it all goes out of your head.

There’s nothing quite like total emersion, but I’m afraid I’m going to end up speaking Venetian dialect!

How are you getting on with the locals?

I find everyone so kind and friendly, my neighbours have been an incredible help. I’m a woman on my own so they’re keen to help me.

I know everybody now and we had aperitivo together in the summer.

I also love all the little Italian formalities, they’re so sweet. I couldn’t be happier!

How else have you been settling in?

I bought a Fiat 500, it’s so exciting! It’s like a panna cotta on wheels; it’s white with red upholstery.

I’ve never had such a small car before; I’m thrilled with it. I’m living my dream!

How will you be passing the time in Italy?

I’m writing two books. I’m into the final chapters of one, which is an interior design handbook. Then I’ll be writing one about travelling.

What advice do you have for others thinking of buying a property in Italy?

You can’t do enough research. I spent three to four years researching before I bought my house; every night looking at all the properties in all the regions.

Be prepared for a lot of disappointments; I saw at least 80 properties over a three year period.

Write down the things that are most important to you in the property you want.

It depends on your age group. Being on my own and over 60, I needed somewhere convenient with good infrastructure.

If you’re going to get a place on your own you have to think about human contact, particularly if you’re moving to another country. I can sit out in the evening and there are people around; I wouldn’t have that in many places. 

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What it’s like flying to Italy from within the EU right now

While it's possible to fly to Italy from other European countries right now, it can be far from straightforward - or cheap. Joanne Higgins reports on her experience of returning to Rome from Ireland at the end of June.

What it's like flying to Italy from within the EU right now
Passengers at Rome's Fiumicino Airport. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

It has taken two attempts to return to Rome and just a smidge of patience, but I finally arrived back in the Eternal City on June 26th.

Of course, I was flying from within the EU – Ireland – and that certainly made things easier. Yet, at the beginning of May when I began looking for flights there were slim pickings indeed.

While both Ryanair and Aer Lingus were selling direct Dublin to Fiumicino flights on their websites, scheduled for early June, I was suspicious. A quick message to a contact within the airline industry confirmed that I was right; this was mere wishful thinking on the part of the airlines.


Primarily, a tourist route, Irish holiday makers were not going to be clamouring to book an Italian getaway anytime soon and of course the ever budget-minded Ryanair was unlikely to operate a near empty flight. Indeed, Aer Lingus had confirmed to its staff that they were not going to reopen the route until at least mid-July.

I was left feeling frustrated and facing the prospect of a long rainy Irish summer.

In the time of coronavirus lockdown, few things can be counted on, but the Aer Lingus Dublin to London route is generally considered to be sacrosanct. My plan was hatched. I would take the last bus–a 3.5-hour journey from Donegal–the night before my early morning flight to London and sleep at the airport, (alas all the airport hotels were shut). I was due to arrive in Heathrow three hours before my connection with Alitalia to Rome. Perfect.

The two flights in total were coming in at around €250, not exactly inexpensive, but just about doable. All I needed was to wait two more days to be paid before booking.


But less than 48 hours later the price of the Alitalia flight had soared to €526. Perhaps naively I had assumed demand would be low. The next available in-budget date was some three weeks distant on the 19th of June.

I would be wiser this time. I booked immediately but opted to fly out of Belfast City Airport instead. Belfast was geographically much closer, I also had a friend to stay the night with, thus no airport sleeping required. All seemed well.

My only lingering concern was getting through check-in at the Alitalia desk in Heathrow, as they were not permitting online check-in.

I’d heard that all non-Italian citizens were being asking for documented proof of a solid reason for returning to Italy. Now while I had been living in Italy for almost two years, I did not have any paperwork to prove to the state that my return was of immediate importance.


I need not have worried. Five days out from my departure date I received an email from Aer Lingus saying that my flight time had changed and that they had taken the liberty of rebooking me onto another flight. The email did not state the date or time of the new flight; this information, I read, would be forwarded to me in a future email.

The clarifying email never arrived. I spent a sleepless night and 25 minutes the following morning on hold to Aer Lingus. The agent reassured me that could see no change on the system.

At 7:30pm that night the verdict was in – Aer Lingus had moved all passengers from the early morning Belfast to London flight onto a 1:30pm flight, due I supposed to a significant reduction in the number of business travellers. My London-Rome connection was scheduled to depart an hour before I would now arrive in Heathrow. With a sinking feeling I remembered that I had not paid the extra £45 to have a ‘flexi-ticket’.

I had no choice but to cancel both flights. Alitalia told me I had two options: cancel the flight and lose all my money, or accept a voucher for the value to be used within 12 months. I took the voucher.

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Still I was not ready to surrender. After hanging up, I got back on the Ryanair website and booked a direct flight from Dublin to Rome for five days later. I knew it was risky. The day before my scheduled departure I began packing, expecting a cancellation at any moment.

Arriving at a deserted Dublin airport the first thing I did was check the departures board. My flight to Ciampino was listed! Mask on I approached security. I counted five other passengers disrobing and loading hand luggage into trays.

There would be no browsing through duty free, but I was surprised to find one of the large cafés open and busy. In fact, the main departures hall was quite a stir with passengers departing for Amsterdam, Malaga, France and various parts of the UK.

READ ALSO: Where can you travel in Europe? EU launches new website to help tourists

Repeated signage urged the wearing of masks, but not everyone was. Specifically, I noticed younger men eschewing any face covering. In contrast, I had waited two months for a pack of sterile masks to arrive from China. I also had a stash of disposable gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant travel wipes in my rucksack.

The queue at boarding gate 104 snaked up and around the seating area. A flight attendant marched our ranks barking orders to “spread out”. Most passengers were Italians returning home. They knew the drill. No one complained about the long wait.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

On board, a seat was left free between passengers. No food or drink was served during the flight and passengers had to use the call bell to signal their desire to use the restroom as the usual queuing system was not permitted.

Other than the initial discomfort of wearing a mask – it does get quite hot under there – it was in fact a very laid-back flight. With reduced passenger numbers even the crew were more relaxed.

Passport control at Ciampino took under five minutes and although I had filled in the autocertificazione form, no one asked for it.

READ ALSO: These are the Italian regions that now require tourists to register in advance

Having checked in advance, I knew that the private bus company which ordinarily runs a service between Ciampino Airport and Rome Termini was not operating. Not wanting to splurge on a taxi, I took a local bus to Ciampino train station and then hopped on the train to Termini. It was all seamless and cost a total of €2.70.

After quite literally months of waiting and uncertainty I was back in 34°C amidst the rumble of traffic over ancient cobblestones, the screech of ambulance sirens, the cascading rhythm of Italian and the scent of warm summer garbage.

It's good to be back.

Joanne Higgins is a freelance writer and English teacher based in Rome, Italy. You will find more of her writings and musings about the human condition and her life in Italy on her blog and website.