Archive | February, 2013

A Weekend in Tuscany

27 Feb

Yes I realise how incredibly middle class this post sounds, but I promise there will be no mention of Chianti tasting, yachts, or anyone called Tarquin.

Before I tell you about my little adventure, you get to hear about how on Friday I finally managed to get to Rome after many weeks of false starts. Catching the early 6.50 Regionale Veloce with Tina, we got in by about 8.30 so we’d have enough time to see a few of the main sights, although Rome isn’t the kind of place you can see in just a day. We’re planning on returning to tour the Vatican and see all the other sights we missed out on, although we managed to cover Piazza San Pietro (but not the inside of the Basilica), via della Conciliazione, ponte Vittorio Emanuele, the Colosseum, as well as many cathedrals and piazze. I also got to experience the underground system which doesn’t really compete with London as it doesn’t actually stop at many of the places you want to be near. Sort it out Rome.

Basilica San Pietro

Basilica San Pietro

What I really liked about Rome is how much more open and spacious it feels than many other capital cities. Most buildings don’t go above about 5 floors, and the main roads are fairly wide so you don’t have that claustrophobic overcrowded tourist feel that you can get in some places in London. The fact that we went on a Friday instead of the weekend also helped as there were relatively few people around.

Me on a ponte

Me on a ponte

Fascist architecture

Fascist architecture

La Colonna Traiana

La Colonna Traiana


Il Colosseo

The next day I had to get up obscenely early to catch the 5.41 train from Spoleto to get to Lucca, via Florence. If I’m conscious that early on a Saturday I prefer to be ‘still awake’ rather than ‘already awake’, and to be having a far better time than shivering on an empty platform. The journey to Florence took about 2 1/2 hours, and I managed to get some sleep despite the fact that every time I looked up the 2 nuns opposite were still staring at me. I hear they can smell atheism.

When I got to Florence, I found that my connecting train was delayed by a few minutes, so I headed to the station’s bar (in Italy a bar is a café during the daytime) to find some food. The system was a bit confusing because people seemed to be turning up at the pastry section with prepaid receipts and claiming their food but I had NO IDEA where they were getting them from. I tried loitering for a while to work it out, but being English my default setting is awkward and embarrassed so in the end I gave up and went to check on my train time. By this point it was delayed by 50 minutes and I was getting pretty hungry, so I womaned-up and decided to just go to a random till and ask. It turns out you go have a look, pick what you want, go back to a till, pay, go to one area to get your coffee, then go to another to get your pastry/panino. But of course.

By the time I finished eating, my train had been cancelled entirely, but thankfully a lovely station guard took me personally to the help desk to sign off my ticket so I could go to Lucca changing at Pisa for no extra charge. I got in touch with Jo and we decided we might as well have our Pisa day trip then, despite the horrific weather (sideways rain and wind). I’m not proud of it, but I got the standard tourist leaning tower shot, now I can die marginally happier.

Oh the shame

Oh the shame


Around mid-afternoon we decided enough was enough, Jo had broken another umbrella, we’d rather go back to Lucca and sit somewhere where the insides of my boots wouldn’t get wet (what do I do to shoes to cause this?? I’ve only had these ones 2 months!) That night we had an early one, mainly for my benefit because I start to go a bit funny if I’m awake for more than 18 hours, then awoke fresh as daisies to see a free mini classical performance the next morning. Got to get my RDA of culture in somehow.



View from the walls

View from the walls

Jo's street

Jo’s street

Lunch was pizza (giant calzone) followed by a bit of exploring while the weather was still good, which didn’t last long. In the afternoon it brightened up a bit so we walked round the famous city walls which were lovely in the sunshine, and I imagine even nicer during summer. I’ve made a mental note to go back to Lucca on holiday sometime. On Sunday evening dinner was unlimited free food when we bought drinks at a great bar (the alcoholic kind this time) just outside the city walls. I didn’t have to head back until Monday as I had a couple of days off work for the elections, which I’m not going to comment on because politics here are ridiculous.

Sights of the day: Bumper I’ve-neglected-this-section Edition

By my apartment there is a riverbed which is completely dried-up most of the time, and where I happened to spy a cow and a donkey hanging out. I have no idea how they got down there, as from the walled sides it’s probably about a 5 foot drop down, and it took me a good 10 minutes of walking around to find a spot where the wall was low enough by the roadside for me to climb up to be able to talk to them in the first place (small girl problems). I’m not sure if I was witnessing an Italian farmyard version of Homeward Bound, but I wish them both the best of luck in their endeavours.

Cow Donkey

I don’t know whether these vehicles serve a specific purpose but I often see old men riding round town in them. They look about as safe and just a bit faster than if you decided to get around by running down the middle of roads in busy traffic.


I bet you’ve all been missing the obligatory shots of European bathrooms! Well fear not, they’re back. This weird one was found in a (café) bar in Pisa…I think it’s supposed to be like a makeshift bidet. Why would anyone ever feel the compulsion to use one of these in a public toilet??


Aaron I hope you’re reading this as it’s mainly for you and your love (obsession?) for Koalas. It took Jo and I moment to realise this sign meant ‘come’ in the Italian sense (like) as opposed to the English meaning. I still don’t think it’s a very catchy to name a café “Vegan like a Koala”, especially one in the middle of Pisa, but there you go.


For those who didn’t already know, Italians are a bit OCD. Their level of everyday clean is my version of weekly (at most) clean, and most students’ version of ‘shit we’re moving out tomorrow and we want our deposit back’ clean. This means that when you go to the fruit&veg section at the supermarket, you have to put on one of these fetching plastic bag glove things. It has fingers outlined on it so you know where to put your hand.


Other exciting discoveries at the exciting newly-refurbished supermarket nearby include these snazzy trolleys which don’t have that much capacity…


…and the fact that hypodermic syringes are freely available in the plasters section. When I asked Tina why you would need them, she suggested they are for things like if you have a backache. Now I’m all for self-medication for minor ailments, but if I ever have a backache bad enough that I think I need an injection, I’d probably head to the doctor’s rather than the toiletries aisle. That’s just me though.




21 Feb

Just a quick one to say thankyou to everyone who voted for my blog for the IX13 Top 100 International eXchange and eXperience Blogs. Congratulations to the winner Frussian Lit, everyone please go give it a read!

Although I didn’t win I’m excited to say that I came 19th in their top 100, out of more than 200 entries 😀 If you’re looking for further reading about living in pretty much any country, have a little scroll down the list, there’s something for everyone!

IX13 - Top 100 International Exchange and Experience Blogs 2013

You wouldn’t get away with that in England…

18 Feb

When I was in Bordeaux I had a little feature for things that I had deemed ‘too good’ for England, because we can’t help but ruin anything remotely nice or cultural. In Italy I’ve noticed they’re a bit rougher around the edges and a bit more exciting, so instead I’m going to devote a post to ‘things that you can get away with here but would probably get you arrested in England’.


Since Spoleto isn’t very well served by public transport, I rely on other people driving me around a lot. Italian driving leaves a lot to be desired. Sorry if I offend anyone who’s driven me anywhere here, I’m probably not talking about you, unless I already told you while you were driving how terrified I was. Some standard driving sins I’ve witnessed include:

Driving with no hands on the motorway at night so they could text someone.

Driving bumper to bumper with the car in front at 90mph when there isn’t even anyone else on the motorway.

Doing various manoeuvres/3 pointers/turns in the road 1 handed while on the phone.

Not signalling anywhere ever.

Having the interior lights on at night…I find this annoying while I’m driving anyway so why some people do it I don’t know.

Parking absolutely anywhere – some of the best I’ve seen include people parking perpendicular to the road over a zebra crossing.

One particularly spectacular manoeuvre I saw the other week was when a woman in an estate was trying to reverse onto the road from a diagonal parking space (could not have been easier). She somehow missed the road entirely and instead edged closer and closer to a lamppost until she mounted the curb it was built into, but didn’t quite hit it. She then looked back to see the lamppost nearly touching her rear window, and made the logical decision to slam it back a bit further, putting a massive dent in her bumper. Smooth.

When I asked a friend here about how different the rules of the road are to England, she told me that they’re the same, Italians just don’t give a shit. Fair play to them.


Berlusconi. And everything he’s ever done.


Italian TV is a bit of a mixed bag. I haven’t watched that much Italian-made programming apart from the news and a couple of talent shows, but a lot of what is broadcast here is American (or occasionally British) with Italian dubbing over the top. I have to say it’s pretty well done, the voices are surprisingly similar to the original actors, although I can’t comment on how accurate the translations are as I probably only catch about 50% of what they say.

The other thing that puts me off Italian TV slightly is the fact that loads of channels, including 3 main terrestrial ones, are owned by Mediaset which is controlled by Berlusconi. Ugh. It’s like if Rupert Murdoch were in power in the UK.

They get away with a lot more during pre-watershed hours, such as adverts for some kind of skin-firming oil where there were just 3 scantily-clad women rubbing themselves. Not the sort of Sunday afternoon TV I’m used to. The Nivea shower cream ads also feature at least 37% more sideboob than the ones in England.


A few other bits:

Not being able to pay by card in some large, popular restaurants.

All shops closing between 1 and 4, including supermarkets. This is a massive issue for me, as I’d class 1pm-4pm as my key ‘doing things’ time. I know Italians like to have proper sit-down full meals for lunch, but even then I think 3 hours is a bit much. Economically it’s pretty ridiculous too, when you think about how much money UK businesses must make from people popping out to sort things/buy lunch on their break.

Most people I’ve met here are aware of how bad the internet is outside of Rome or Milan, as the country just hasn’t got the infrastructure to offer decent speeds in the first place. A quick bit of research has just told me that only 46% of families have broadband access, and that the government is aiming to get high-speed internet out by 2020. Bleak. Another friend who spent a few weeks in Cambridge told me at his shock when he went online and pages loaded straight away.


A couple of recent happenings

To top-up bus passes here, you put them into a marking meter and put some change in. I managed to do it wrong and the machine didn’t register that I had put my pass in, so instead I bought myself 3 hours and 17 minutes of roadside parking. And had no more change to take the bus.

At the supermarket in the first couple of weeks there were a lot of words I didn’t understand, but I eat most things so thought it wouldn’t be a problem. I picked up a surprisingly cheap pack of mince, then found once I was home (with the help of Google translate) that it was in fact a mystery mix of beef, pork, and chicken. To be honest though, at €2.22 for 400g I don’t even care if it’s horse meat.

In the classroom

One of my new aims is to teach the kids in year 5 the difference between Big Ben and the Big Bang (they usually combine it together to make the Big Beng, which I like to imagine as a very extravagant British version of the beginning of the universe, complete with bunting and Victoria sponge). Some of them have also mixed up Queen (the one with the curly-haired guy who plays guitar) and The Queen (the one with the curly-haired woman who doesn’t play guitar). Many of the girls also mistakenly believe that One Direction are valid as a form of music. I’ll sort it out though.

This morning I had my first experience of having properly disruptive students who really don’t care about learning. In one class there were 3 of them who ganged up together and refused to do any work. Eventually one disappeared to the toilet, the other mutely ignored everything I said and wouldn’t do anything, and the third managed to curl up in the foetal position on top of a bookshelf while my back was turned.

Sights of the day

Sadly I was too ill to join in the festivities of Carnevale last week but luckily the parade went past my apartment so I got some shots of the weird and wonderful floats that went past.

Giant caterpillar Hay ale Boat Another boat

Italian influenza

13 Feb

I am currently writing this from the nest of illness I have created in my bed, having been sick since Sunday. If I haven’t been asleep, I’ve been watching all the bargain DVDs I prised from HMV’s lifeless claws before moving here. The room has finally stopped spinning enough for me to try and get another post out, since my Nonno complained that I haven’t been updating often enough. Also apologies  if there are some sentences which make no sense at all, my brain isn’t back to it’s usual self yet.

In the last couple of weeks I have been generally settling in and trying to get into a routine, which was working out pretty well until I got struck down by this bug. I’ve been on a lot more visits to La Rocca, and it’s fast becoming apparent that this may be one of the few activities to do in Spoleto. I am already looking further afield for other things to do. Rome and Perugia are pretty close, and I’m planning a trip to Milan in March. Most importantly, I’m also deciding what to do for my 21st, which is coming up at the end of next month.

Back to La Rocca, I’ve been told that the creepy old abandoned building next to the aqueduct is actually haunted by the ghost of a girl who died falling into the valley many many years ago, and since then no one has been able to stay in the building for long. If there’s anything I dislike more than ghosts, it’s little girl ghosts. They’re the worst. I will be avoiding this building at all costs.

I’ve decided to stop going to the Italian classes, as even in the upper group, the grammar they’re going through is pretty basic stuff that I did in first year at uni. The other day we did adjectives: the house is big, the car is red, that sort of thing. In one example question it asked whether Stonehenge was more or less mysterious than Easter Island, and being the only English person I had to try and explain just what is so mysterious about Stonehenge. “The rocks are really old…and really heavy…and they come from far away…” didn’t really seem to persuade the rest of the class, who are all Romanian and in their 30s, and prefer to speak Romanian among themselves which leaves me feeling a bit left out.

In contrast, one place I’ve been made to feel really welcome is all the dance classes I’ve been trying. I had a go at jazz, which I haven’t done since I was about 16, and I’ve decided that I’ve long since lost the flexibility to be doing high-kicks and the likes across the room. I’m going to stick with hip-hop which I do with Elena, the daughter of one of the teachers. I also went to an awesome belly dance class where there was live tabla and a didgeridoo player, I can’t wait to go again 😀

One strange thing I’ve noticed both here and in France is that Europeans (by which I mean ‘anyone in Europe not from the UK’, I’m not about to say ‘on the continent’, this isn’t the 1950s) hardly ever drink water when they exercise. In dance classes in England people usually get through a good bottle of water an hour, and there are drinks breaks all the time, whereas here there might occasionally be a brief pause 45 minutes in which I’m the only one who has a drink, and am the only one wearing 1 layer of shirt, everyone else has at least 2?! I always stand out as the awkward Brit who can’t deal with the heat. It’s definitely something to do with the tiny glasses they use here, they’re like camels who have evolved to survive on shots of caffeine instead of pints of water.

I’ve been trying to get on with my year abroad essay, and in my usual style of planning I’ve written an obscenely long plan (about 1/4 of the word count so far) but haven’t managed to get any paragraphs down. I generally write better in the library than at home, so last Monday I set off to Spoleto communal library, with only the best intentions in mind: I was going to stay there for the full opening time, which on Monday is 3.00pm-6.45pm. Oh Italy. Anyway, after taking the bus to Piazza Garibaldi and walking the 15 minutes up through town I got there for opening time, which was apparently too early to expect the library office to actually be open.

I asked a worker how I could go about getting online and she said I’d have to use a card to connect to one of the computers, but to get me the card she’d have to open the office, which would take at least 15 minutes. From what I could see, ‘opening the office’ involved unlocking the glass door and letting herself in.

When I eventually got a card it turned out that I was only allowed 1 hour of internet a day, and that the computer crashed every time I tried to open a pdf document. About 45 minutes in, someone in the nearby staff section decided to microwave something containing fish, and I decided to give up on the idea of ever coming back to the library.

Work aside, I have found a few ways to amuse myself recently, and have been out for many meals with various other children of other teachers. The only problem with making friends here is that anyone my age is only around every other weekend, as they go to university either in Perugia or Rome.

The other young people here are high school age, so up to about 18, but as they have school Monday-Saturday you can’t really go for coffee or do things on a whim. By the way, Italy, no one here likes going to school on a Saturday. The word ‘weekend‘ is fairly self-explanatory isn’t it?

As I’m in a much smaller place than Bordeaux, I’m probably going to have a lot less ‘sights of the day’ to show you, as I’ve pretty much seen everything in Spoleto already. However, I’ll continue to keep you updated on the weird/funny things that happen in everyday life.

1. The first one isn’t funny but it’s BLOODY ANNOYING. Literally. I’ve managed to accidentally cut myself twice already with the non-metaphorical double-edged sword that is my bread knife. Whose bright idea was it to put serrated edges on both sides?! UPDATE: Didn’t finish writing this yesterday, but just to let you know it happened AGAIN when I was trying to get the last out of a loaf of bread for breakfast this morning 😦

2. When trying to explain my tastes in music, which don’t really fit within the Italian standard of either old school classics (Beatles) or modern pop (Coldplay), I have some difficulty making myself understood. Here, if you tell people you like dubstep, their response is always ‘Dubstep…ahhh yes…Skrillex!’ as if Skrillex is the only artist within the genre.

3. Last week I went to get my eyebrows done, and wasn’t sure whether to be offended or happy that the woman offered to wax off my ‘moustache hairs’ for free. I’m now worried that I’ve been living 20 years with a moustache that I didn’t know about and no one told me and THAT’S NOT COOL GUYS. Ironically when I went into school the next day the students were making paper moustaches and I instantly wanted mine back. I guess it’s true that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

Sorry about the lack of photos, it takes a surprising amount of energy to connect my camera to my laptop and click a few buttons. Next time, I promise.

In the classroom:

This is entirely my own fault, and is a word of warning to any other teaching assistants to briefly think through what you’re about to teach before you say it. I was in a year 3 class at Tempo Pieno, and they had been learning body parts so I was asked on the spot to describe a monster which they would draw. I started off with it having 2 heads, then decided it would have a long thin body.

Fairly safe right? NO. Pretty soon after the teacher and I both realised that every student had drawn a penis monster (thankfully they’re too young to notice), and since they hate to restart work we had to do our best to add other body parts to detract from its phallic nature. Adding 3 legs didn’t help at all, and we decided to do away with giving it hair as that would definitely only make it worse. Now all their parents are going to think all English teachers are perverts, and for that, I apologise.

Next up is something I’d actually like people’s input on. Last week I had a debate with one teacher about what the plural of fish is. I argued that the plural of fish is still fish, while the teacher says it’s fishes because that’s what it says in the dictionary. Is it just me who thinks fishes sounds weird? I’m undecided whether it’s best to teach the children what sounds right according to normal English use, or what dictionaries say…

And finally, this post is dedicated to the very pale, dark haired child in one of my classes who looks like Edgar Allen Poe and never says anything, just stares at me intently. I really hope that if you ever do speak, all you say is ‘Nevermore’.


Vote for me?

5 Feb

Sorry for so many posts so close together! Apparently someone has nominated me for ix13’s ‘Top 100 International eXchange and eXperience Blogs’.

The prize is an education pack for kids through Care’s ‘Help Her Learn‘ program, which is pretty awesome 🙂

It would be great if people would vote for my blog, there should be a button in this post which takes you straight to the list, I’m listed as ‘Louise all’estero’ although last time I checked it was in the middle of the letter ‘m’ section for some reason.

And thankyou to the mystery person who nominated me, whoever you are…

Vote your favorite IX13 blog

Further reading…

4 Feb

Here’s a list of some other year abroad blogs that I like to keep up with and that might interest you guys too:

A Blonde in Bordeaux – Written by my friend Lucy, she doesn’t update very often but when she does you’re guaranteed a good laugh. She’s off to Germany in March so the name might change then.

A Brit Abroad – Hannah currently works in France but will be going to Russia, which will most certainly be more interesting than anything that happens in Italy!

A Chemist Abroad – I bumped into Jamie in a club in Bordeaux and it turns out we have a few friends in common in England. The world is far too small. He studies chemistry at Bath and is spending a year at uni in Bordeaux.

Adventures with Frogs and Snails and Other Mildly Xenophobic Tales – Paul is working as a teaching assistant in a high school in Bordeaux for the year. This blog is hilarious, everyone must read it.

Emilia Lives Life – A very regular updater, Emilia is spending a year studying in Italy. If you want to know where to find the best pastries and coffee pretty much anywhere in the world, she’s your girl.

Im Ausland: EllieSpeaks Abroad – Ellie has just moved from Germany to Italy. If you’re on a year abroad yourself and are feeling stressed out, this blog will help you see the brighter side in everything.

JetSet Jones – Millie studies French and German and so far has been working as a teaching assistant in Hanover, as well as apparently sampling every kind of Wurst that the country has to offer.

Life of Bain – Chris studies Computer Science (UPDATE: and electronics. I’m a bad friend) at Bristol and is at uni for the year in Singapore, although he seems to spend most of his time exploring other parts of the Far East.

Living in Frogland South American-Stylee – Polly is another Bristol student, and one of the few lucky Frenchies who’s gone a little bit off the beaten track for their year abroad.

Melle du Jour – Mike is a teaching assistant like myself who gives a great insight into proper small-town living in France (population of under 4000!)

Rennes to Russia – Ruth has already managed to spend 7 months working in France, fantastic commitment, and will be heading to Russia soon.

Sunshine, Sancerre and Cigarettes – Steph was a student in Poitiers and is now a fellow Comenius assistant working in Genzano di Roma, which is on the other side of Rome from Spoleto.

The Great Erasmus Adventure – My friend Chynna, who also studied in Bordeaux, will soon be off to Verona for even more studying!

Une Fausse Chabine an Péyi-A – Lucy is a teaching assistant in Martinique whose posts never fail to make me giggle.

The most flammable place I have lived in (so far)

2 Feb

This post is mainly for my parents, who still don’t actually know where I live (in terms of housing, not what country I’m in. I’m not THAT bad at keeping in touch). I had originally hoped to live with a family, to get as much Italian practice in as possible, but living on your own definitely has its upsides:

  • Should you wish, you can walk around naked. Not that it’s anywhere near warm enough at the moment.
  • No one will shout at you for leaving washing up until the next day.
  • Same can be said for putting clothes away, making the bed, singing very loudly and out of tune, etc.

So here are a few photos which took an obscene amount of time to upload because of my crappy connection speed. If anyone else who is in Italy at the moment has an alternative solution to using a dongle and it doesn’t involve a 12/24 month contract, please let me know.

Entrance/lounge/study/dining room. The doors by the kitchen open onto a little balcony. Unfortunately, just like in Bordeaux, it’s right next to a main road, so no sunbathing for me.




Of course it definitely always looks as pristine and tidy as this.

You might have noticed the general abundance of kindling (tables, chairs, shelves, window sills, shutters, the floor) which cannot bode well for someone like me who has had relatively little experience of cooking with a gas stove. I’m not sure if I mentioned the time I set an oven glove on fire in Bordeaux, and the other day I managed to burn a couple of fingers on the handles of a saucepan. I’d argue that it was the manufacturer’s fault for making the handles out of something that conducts heat so well. Anyway, if you don’t hear from me for a while and you see a news story about a house fire in central Italy,  you’ll know what’s happened.

My landlord (who was living here before me) left pretty much everything apart from clothes, including these mystery kitchen items. I’d be very interested to hear if anyone knows the purpose of the following objects:

Mystery object 1

10 inch tweezers?

Mystery object 2

Throwing knife?

Mystery object 3

Can holder-but-not-opener?

Mystery object 4

No idea

And finally, not so much a mystery object as my NEW FAVOURITE KITCHEN THING. The moka pot is Italy’s answer to the cafetière, and comes in many different sizes including this adorable 1-cup version. Since I’ve been finding 8.15 classes difficult to handle, I’ve started weaning myself onto caffeine in the morning. The moka pot is ideal because it makes those cute shot-size cups of coffee that Italy is known for, and that are a lot easier for me than a big mug of coffee. I’m definitely going to invest in one of my own to take home, mostly because they are so fun to use!

Moka pot

Sights of the day

From my bedroom window you can see the mountain that the centre of town is built on. At the very top, there is something that lights up at night. At first I thought it was a  knock-off glow-in-the-dark Christ the Redeemer, but after closer inspection I have concluded that it’s a giant crucifix. I don’t know if there is a church next to it, or if it’s just a jazzy Catholic way of warning planes to avoid the mountain.

The redeemer?

This is the goody bag full of pasta and olive oil that I was given when I arrived here. I just really enjoy how they combined the string handle into a nice little bit of marketing for the brand 😀

Packaging design makes me happy


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