World

California man decided to move to Italy with his husband. Then his ex-wife bought a home down the road


By Tamara Hardingham-Gill | CNN

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.

Long-standing relationship

Randy, right, and Steve with their dogs Mimi and Lola.(Randy Allen via CNN)
Randy, right, and Steve with their dogs Mimi and Lola.(Randy Allen via CNN) 

“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.”

Italian connection

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.”

Accidental viewing

Randy and Cindy on their wedding day back in 1975.(Randy Allen via CNN)
Randy and Cindy on their wedding day back in 1975.(Randy Allen via CNN) 

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.

Shaky start

The interior of their home has been completely remodeled since they purchased it in 2018.(Randy Allen via CNN)
The interior of their home has been completely remodeled since they purchased it in 2018.(Randy Allen via CNN) 


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