They met in California back in the 1970s when they were both 18 and went on to marry at the age of 21.
Over five decades later, Randy Allen and Cindy Harding Nannarelli from the US are both living in Italy with their husbands.
In fact, the two couples’ homes in Noto, Sicily are located just a short distance from each other.
“We share a lot of meals together and also a lot of friends too,” Randy, a former realtor, tells CNN Travel.
Randy and Cindy’s longstanding relationship began when they “dated for about a year” back when they were teenagers.
“I met a boy and came out,” Randy adds. “And Cindy decided to still be my friend.”
According to Randy, he and Cindy realized how much they meant to each other after spending a few months apart, and “both kind of proposed to each other, even though she knew I was gay.”
“When you’re 21, you don’t really know what a soulmate is,” explains Cindy, a former teacher. “You just clump it all together.
“So it was like, ‘We need to be together, because we have so much fun together. And we really care about each other.’ And that just meant getting married [to us] I guess, which is what we did.”
While they were legally married for almost three years, the pair say that they only lived together for about nine months.
Despite pulling the plug on their marriage and realizing that any romantic relationship between them was doomed to fail, their friendship stayed strong.
In 1978, Cindy took a trip to Europe, where she met and fell in love with an Italian man named Sandro and ended up remarrying and relocating to his home city of Florence.
“There was a long period where we lost touch,” says Randy, explaining that he moved around a lot during that time.
“Because there was no other way to stay in touch but to write letters or make expensive telephone calls.”
Thankfully, Randy was able to travel to Germany on a work trip in 1996 and decided to take the train to Florence to visit Cindy.
While he only stayed for five days, Italy “made a huge impression” on him and he continued to travel there to visit Cindy and Sandro, who have two sons together, over the years.
In 2006, Randy met his future husband Steve Bertiz in what he describes as a “good old-fashioned way.”
“We were introduced by a mutual friend in a bar,” he says. “And two years later, we got married.”
As Steve had never been to Italy before, they traveled there soon after, and Randy was able to introduce his new husband to Cindy and Sandro.
The two couples bonded quickly, and with Cindy traveling back and forth to the US, regularly visiting Randy and Steve in California, they were able to spend time together in both Italy and the States in the following years.
Randy and Steve say they hadn’t seriously thought about leaving the US until the result of the presidential election of 2016.
“It was the day after Donald Trump was elected,” says Randy. “We woke up and we couldn’t believe it happened.
“Then we looked at our phones. And it was official. And we both just thought, ‘We need to think about living somewhere else.’”
Although they say they seriously considered relocating to Mexico or Portugal, Italy won out in the end.
“It was my favorite place,” admits Randy, adding that he immediately ruled Florence out as Steve “really hates cold weather.”
“It gets very cold in Florence – by his standards,” he adds. “And also, it was expensive and we’re not super wealthy.
“We wanted to live somewhere where we could own our home, not have a mortgage, and really be able to live on our pensions and Social Security and things.”
Although they’d never been to Sicily, Randy and Steve felt like it could be an ideal place for them as the latitude and the weather “were similar to California,” and decided to pay a visit.
When Cindy heard that they were headed to Sicily, she insisted that they visit Noto, a town she and Sandro had previously spent some time in, and the two couples decided to go together in late 2018.
“We [she and Sandro] spent three days here and fell in love with it,” says Cindy, adding that it reminded her of a town in San Francisco that she and Randy had lived in while they were married.
On arriving in Noto, Randy and Steve quickly realized that it was the right place for them, and ended up viewing a house “by accident.”
They were printing out their boarding passes for their return flight at an office in town when Cindy happened to ask if anyone knew of any good property deals.
“One of the guy’s grandmother’s had just died and he said he could show us her place and warned that his dad wouldn’t accept anything less than 90,000 euros,” says Randy.
“We agreed to take a look and our hearts literally stopped.”
Although they were ready to buy the two-bedroom home there and then, Cindy convinced Randy and Steve to give it a little more thought.
They went out for lunch, “remodeled the whole place” in their heads, and then arranged to meet with the father of the man who’d shown them the property.
“I was translating back and forth all their questions,” says Cindy. “And he looked as stunned as I did when they said, ‘We want it. We’re buying it.’”
Randy and Steve excitedly headed to a nearby ATM, and managed to withdraw 1,000 euros (about $1,080,) which they left as a deposit.
They then shook hands with the surprised Italian and agreed to buy the home for 90,000 euros (around $97,000.)
But while the sale process only took a few months, it would be another three years before they’d officially move to Noto.
During this time, Cindy began acting as a “sort of project manager,” for the couple, who had asked her to help oversee the renovation work on their home, traveling back and forth between Florence and Noto, an 80-minute flight, as well as searching for her own property in Noto.
“When we came with them in the beginning, I had pretty much wanted to buy something,” Cindy says, explaining that she was looking for something slightly cheaper that she could renovate “little by little.”
Cindy and Sandro eventually purchased a property close by around two years later.
Meanwhile, Randy and Steve, who previously worked for the government, were tying up loose ends in the US – Steve had to work to a specific retirement date – and making arrangements to fly to Italy with their dog Luigi.
In October, 2021, the couple arrived in Italy with Luigi after selling their home in California and everything they owned, aside from a container of items that they had shipped over.
“It was very surreal,” says Steve.
Unfortunately their shipping container took longer to arrive than they expected. And as the gas had not yet been connected at their Italian property, they had to walk over to Cindy’s home to shower every day.
“We never walked over in our bath robes, but we did carry our towels,” says Randy.
“And I’m sure all the neighbors were wondering, ‘Who are these Americans, and why are they carrying towels around the neighborhood?”
Randy and Steve entered Italy with a Elective Residency Visa, a long-stay permit for non-EU citizens who intend to take residence in Italy, which requires a passive income of 38,000 euros ($40,700) per couple.
During those first months, they quickly discovered that Sicily was far less vibrant during the winter times and most things shut down over the Christmas holidays.
“With Covid, it was doubly worse. So those first few months were a little lonely,” admits Randy.
Despite feeling a little unsure of themselves, they resolved to stick it out in Noto.
“In the end, we just realized that we made this commitment,” says Steve. “And we’re going to make it work. And we did. Thankfully, it has worked out really well.”
Randy and Steve admit that they initially worried about how locals might react to a gay couple moving into their small town, but they’ve found everyone to be very welcoming.
“We really didn’t know after we committed to buying what would happen to us here,” admits Randy.
“We did research on Instagram and happily discovered that it’s quite gay friendly here.”
They recount how, the day after right-wing politician Giorgia Meloni, who vocally supports “traditional family-first” values, was elected as Italy’s prime minister, an older couple who live across the street brought them some homemade applesauce.
Randy, Steve and Cindy have all found life in Italy to be more affordable than in the US.
“I think price wise, the cost of living generally, is about 30% cheaper here,” says Steve.
They note that most things, particularly property taxes, are considerably less and they’re able to live quite comfortably.
Randy and Steve have spent around 190,000 euros (around $205,000) on renovating their home, which included reinforcing the attic floor and the roof, so far and recently purchased a nearby apartment, which they plan to convert into a guest apartment.
While they’ve been embraced by the Noto locals, the couple admit that many are baffled that they chose to leave California for Sicily.
“Their impression of California is that it’s all movie stars and glamor with beautiful sun all the time,” says Randy. “So they don’t quite understand why. But we just say, ‘It’s a better life here.’”
After living in Italy for over 40 years, Cindy, who previously taught Tuscan cooking courses and has written two cook books, “Zucchini Blossoms” and “Fried Sage,” considers herself to be pretty much Italian.
However, she points out that she was 25 when she left the US and it was much easier for her to adjust to living in a new country.
Cindy notes that there are certain things she finds that most Americans have difficulty getting used to, and the local opening hours are high up on the list.
“The bank, the grocery store, the post office closes at one o’clock,” Cindy says, adding that she had the same issues when she first moved to Florence in the 1980s, but the city has become more flexible since then.
“So if you’re an American it can be very frustrating if you want to get things done.”
While Cindy is still based in Florence, she says she travels to Noto once a month, with her husband Sandro joining her when he can.
She admits that Sandro wasn’t that keen on living in Noto at first, as they’d previously discussed buying a home by the sea in Greece, but “he really loves Sicily now.”
“Noto is six kilometers from the seaside,” she says. “So that was what drew him into accepting living here.”
The two couples get together whenever they can and say that people are often fascinated by their past history.
“We’re contemplating a book,” says Randy, before explaining that he and Steve also rent an apartment in the same building in Florence that Cindy and Sandro live in.
In the years since Randy and Steve moved to Sicily, some of their friends and family have chosen to follow suit, and the couple now have a prepared speech for anyone asking them for advice.
“You really have to pound it in that it’s a much slower lifestyle,” says Steve. “The total change in schedules, as far as shopping and being able to do certain things.
“And just the small town thing. We ask them, ‘Are you ready to be separated from everything you know? Your friends. Your family. The convenience.’
“It is beautiful here. But there’s moments where you’re probably going to miss certain things.”
Randy and Steve take Italian lessons regularly and stress that they’d recommend anyone thinking of moving to Italy to make learning the language a top priority.
“Here in Sicily, it’s rare [for people to speak English,]” says Randy, noting that things are different in Florence, where English is more widely spoken.
“So you really have to speak some Italian. You can’t walk up to a deli counter and not be able to tell them what you want and how much you want.”
After over two years in Italy, Randy and Steve are pretty settled and have no desire to return to the US.
“I’m gonna be 70 [soon,]” says Randy. “How many more years are there [left]? 20 at best? So I think for the duration, this is going to be it for me.”
Their dog Luigi has since passed away, and they’ve adopted two new dogs, Mimi and Lola.
While they do miss aspects of life in America, particularly Mexican food, they feel that their quality of life is much better in Sicily.
“We’re eating, I think much better than we were,” says Randy. “And we’re probably healthier as a result.”
For the time being, the couple are making the most of their new lives in Italy and spending as much time as possible with their dearest friends Cindy and Sandro.
“She and I, and our husbands, are family,” says Randy. “Chosen, but nonetheless family.”
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