It was Christmas Eve 2012 and I was standing on a packed commuter train, heading to work in central London, when I received a call.
It was from James Savage, one of the founders of The Local, asking if I’d be available to interview for the role of editor of The Local Italy, which was due to be launched in mid-2013.
That call in itself was the best Christmas gift ever. I arrived at work with a spring in my step, and told a close colleague that a potential new job had come up that would take me to Rome. Rather than sharing in my excitement, she told me that, at my age (37 at the time), I should instead focus on “settling down”.
I’d applied for the job about a month earlier, on a dull and rainy Sunday in south London. But even though I had always dreamt about living in Italy (my dad is from Sicily) I had many doubts about making the move when faced with it.
My colleague was correct in that I was a lot older than when I began my career as a journalist in 2003 with a move to the tiny island of Alderney, one of the Channel Islands. Two years later I moved to the UAE, where I stayed for five years. I embraced both of those moves, hardly giving them a second thought.
My return to Europe in late 2010 took me to Nice and Paris, and eventually back home to London.
Now the dream role was finally in my lap – and I hesitated. The shift to Italy felt scarier than any of the others. Could I cope with another upheaval? Would I make new friends? Would my level of Italian be good enough to handle the challenge of editing The Local? Was I capable of doing the job? What if it didn’t work out?
These are the types of questions I’m sure many of you had too before your move to Italy, or anywhere else for that matter.
Right up until the day I moved to Rome in May 2013, the doubts lingered, but the moment I arrived at an apartment I’d booked online in the Flaminio area, I knew I’d made the right decision.
I’ll try and explain why.
As anyone who knows London, it’s a wonderful city, but a tough and expensive place to live, where much of your time is spent commuting to and from work. You earn enough to live, and that’s about it. I was stressed out and exhausted a lot of the time I was there.
With the move to Rome, all of that stress immediately melted away, challenging though the city and Italy in general can be.
I didn’t know a soul, but I didn’t feel alone.
The Local Italy launched during an interesting period for Italy too: a new Pope was in place, the government was again in turmoil after a general election delivered a hung parliament, and the refugee crisis was growing.
And with an important referendum looming, and changes afoot within Europe, my time as editor is drawing to an end at another interesting time.
Which leaves me now asking the same questions I asked before my move here, albeit with a lot less anxiety.
I don’t know what I'm going to do next, and as we all know, Italy is a tough place to be for work.
But I want to stay.
Apart from the country being one of the best places in the world to live, it’s a wonderful and inspiring place to write about.
I also draw inspiration from many foreigners I’ve met here, who gave up professional careers at home just to live in Italy. They have somehow found a way, amid their own personal challenges, to make a success of it. None have the steady kind of job that can easily be found in London. They’ve had to be creative.
Coming from an Italian background, I am naturally biased towards the country.
But I can’t help but love it. Aside from the obvious natural beauty, food and culture, Italians have retained values which I feel have been lost elsewhere.
And, as a British immigrant, Italy has been the most welcoming overseas experience I’ve had.
Some examples of Italian hospitality prove that: I spent my 40th birthday in a hamlet in the Garfagnana region of northern Tuscany. Two days after my birthday, a friend and I left the villa in search of some lunch. The one restaurant was closed that day, the one grocery shop shut for the afternoon.
Having detected our hunger, two elderly ladies sitting on a balcony next door to the shop invited us in for lunch. Meanwhile, a lady who lived in the apartment opposite our villa cooked dinner for my group of friends one night, just so they could have an authentic Tuscan experience.
Last summer, in the Umbrian town of Orvieto, I was invited to spend the Ferragosto holiday in the home of a couple I had only met a few days earlier. In my neighbourhood in Rome, I have “tabs” at my favourite restaurant, such is the trust that I will go back and pay.
I’m a natural cynic, but I feel at home in Italy. And for that and many other reasons, I am determined to stay.