16 Apr

On Friday I jumped on an 8.30 train (practically lunchtime compared to the ones I’m used to getting) and headed to Naples to spend the weekend with Jo. I was pretty excited since I’ve never been anywhere south of Rome and wanted to see what the big deal about the ‘north/south’ divide is.

I changed at Rome and got a superfast Frecciarossa to Naples which only took an hour.  I tried to hide my excitement when I found out that we were going 300 km/h, such a novelty to me. After a wait at the main station for Jo’s train to get in, we headed off to the hostel, during which time we found that a) it was far too hot to be wearing jeans but b) we would definitely stand out as pasty British tourists if we put shorts on.

We stayed at Hostel of the Sun, which is probably one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in purely because the staff are awesome. From the moment you check in they remember who you are for your whole stay, and are great for advice on where to visit and when, where to find the best pizza, what type of tram tickets to buy to get to x location, etc. etc.

Friday afternoon was spent exploring the historic centre and the harbour area. What definitely struck me about Naples is that compared to the other Italian cities I have been to, it is definitely more dirty/gritty/proper Italian. There are tiny streets and back alleys squashed between tall apartment buildings where every balcony has laundry hanging from it and everyone rushes around on mopeds.

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We also had some amazing pizza at the popular Di Matteo’s, although we foolishly believed it when we were told it would only be a 10 minute wait, which ended up being more like 40 minutes, but all worth it in the end.

Di Matteo

On Saturday we headed to Herculaneum, one the smaller less famous towns wiped out by Vesuvius’ eruption. We decided to skip Pompeii since it takes pretty much a full day to look round it and we didn’t have that much time. For anyone else spending just a weekend in Naples, you can see Herculaneum in about 2 hours, meaning there is also enough time to go to Sorrento in the same day, which is just what we did.

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Sorrento is beautiful and noticeably cleaner and more well-kept than Naples, but it is also incredibly touristy, and this was only in April. Jo and I played ‘spot the English’ all weekend since they clearly stand out as being the most naked yet palest people on the streets. Other great tourist stereotypes to look out for there are ‘mahogany-toned pensioners who now spend their lives on the decks of cruise ships’ and ‘rich American high-schoolers taking their DSLR on a trip to “Europe” ‘. While there we almost met up with Serena, who was on Erasmus in Bristol last year.

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On Sunday we set off on a walk further west round the harbour, where it seemed pretty much everyone had come outside due to the beautiful weather, still wearing coats and scarves of course (apart from the leathery old men sunbathing in Speedos on the rocks…yum). Trying to take advantage of the sunshine we settled on the grass which is apparently just not the done thing, despite not being against any rules, and led to a lot of confused stares from the locals. After an amazing lunch at Trattoria e Pizzeria Antica Capri, we took the funicolare up to the medieval fortress Castel Sant’Elmo so we could see the whole city. Beautiful.

Teatro di San Carlo – filming location of ‘Ballerini – dietro il sipario’, my fave MTV show here



Castel Sant'Elmo

Castel Sant’Elmo – most fortressy fortress I’ve ever seen

View from the top of Castel Sant’Elmo


Sadly in the afternoon we had to head back to Napoli Centrale to catch our respective trains. I had high hopes for getting back in time for dinner, but since only about 10% of the trains I have taken here have left on time, I shouldn’t have been so optimistic. When I got to Rome my connecting 6pm train to Spoleto just stayed on the departures board without a platform number until 40 minutes after its departure time, when they just took it off the board with no cancellation announcement. This led to 15 minutes of queueing for customer services only to be told the next train would be at 8.

There are also only about 5 chairs in all of Roma Centrale station, and the spare one I did manage to find was in the middle of a group of crackheads arguing over some ‘owed money’. I made a swift departure and decided it would probably be a better idea to just sit on the floor.

When I was finally on the train back the ticket inspector lady apologised for my train cancellation, putting it down as just one of Italy’s many problems, and rather poetically said ‘Amo l’Italia, ma è già morta’ (I am in love with Italy, but it is already dead). There must be something ingrained in all Italians which makes them speak in such a literary way, as the next day one of my students said to me ‘L’amore, che dolore’, meaning ‘Love, what pain’. Life sure is tough when you’re 9.

Sights of the day

Food prices in Naples are insanely low. €3.00 for a margherita??


We found an actual shop selling religious robes and cassocks and habits and whatever else it is the hip modern clergy wears nowadays. It wasn’t just a tourist thing either, there was a real nun looking round inside.


The habit the Italians have of changing English/foreign names into more ‘italianised’ ones has started to get to me recently, starting with when I was teaching about the British royal family and everyone kept talking about some ‘Prince Carlo’. For a long time I thought there was a mystery illegitimate Italian prince within the family who I hadn’t heard about because it had been kept tightly under wraps (maybe Philip’s a bit of a wanderer), but then I realised they were talking about Prince Charles.

Similarly, I don’t think it’s right to change Charles Dickens to Carlo Dickens, or to change Nicolas Nickleby to Nicola Nickleby (in case you were wondering, Nicola is a boy’s name in Italian, they haven’t just switched round the genders in the story for banter).


Seems like a logical pairing to me


Only medics will probably understand the link here, but in Herculaneum there is a faded painting on the wall which is apparently of a man and his ‘giant phallus’ (as my recorded tour guide told me) whose name is in fact Priapus.




5kg of Nutella. I should invest.




5 Apr

Yes I know it’s been a shamefully long time since I’ve done a post but I’ve been busy. Honest. Since I last updated, I’ve been back to England for a lovely Easter holiday which also included my Dad’s birthday and my 21st.

First stop on my trip back was Bristol, to catch up with friends and try and persuade those who are graduating to do a Masters or just hang around Bristol for another year, regardless of whether they’ll actually have somewhere to live or not. I spent the 3 days there soaking up the Englishness, getting in some much-needed creme eggs and Exhibition cider (not together, that’s disgusting) as well as attending a massive birthday party which ended at 5am when the landlady came to physically remove everyone. Cheers Debs.

On Saturday I headed home for my dad’s birthday, followed by a very civilised meal and drinks with friends on Sunday to celebrate my 21st.

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I’m really not as messy an eater as I look, I blame the waiter who made me do a shot hidden in a glass of cream with no hands. You can grow old but you don’t have to grow up.

On my actual birthday (Monday) I went for a lovely meal at The River Café with my family, where I actually got to meet the owner Ruth Rogers as she was working there that night so I got her to sign my menu! If anyone ever has the opportunity to eat there, definitely go for the caramel ice cream. Even if it’s not usually your kinda thing, it’s pretty much the best dessert ever.

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Note my brother looking dapper as ever.

The rest of the week was spent relaxing at home, enjoying the company of my family (plus the free internet and fully-stocked fridge), as well as managing to give blood on the Friday as I hadn’t donated since last May. Shame on all of you sitting around keeping all your blood to yourself, there are other people who need it more than you you know! (*Ahem* mum and dad, you work in healthcare, get on it) Click here to get started.

On Easter Saturday I trekked up to Milton Keynes for another party. Alcohol + freezing temperatures = I think I got frostbite in my toes, but it was worth it. Easter itself was a day of hungover packing, and trying to work out how to get to Spoleto from Perugia airport which isn’t as easy as you think.

I headed back to Italy on Monday, thankfully managing to catch the only train for 4 hours after telling my maniac taxi driver that I had just 15 minutes to get from the airport to the station. This is the only time I will ever be glad for Italian drivers ignoring speed limits/rules of the road.

This week has meant a bit of a change to my timetable as in order to work at all 5 of the schools of the Secondo Circolo I had to do 3 before Easter and the other 2 after, although I will be staying with 1 school all the way through as I need some continuity to write about in some report thing I’ll have to do in June. I got to visit the school in Santa Croce for the first time on Wednesday, which was a pretty weird experience as it only has 16 pupils. Even though it is still in Spoleto, it’s on the outskirts where many Moroccan immigrants live, which answered the first question which popped into my head when I arrived which was ‘Why is everyone here so much more tanned than me??’

I’m not the only one who has questioned the cost-effectiveness of keeping such a small school open, and I’ve been told that some shady dealings involving false applications and the like occur in order to keep it open and save the teachers’ jobs. The nice thing about teaching such small classes (the older one containing just 5 pupils aged 10-12) is that you can have more one-on-one conversation time and you can cover more in one lesson, although there are more awkward silences where no one wants to say anything (basically the same as any tutorial at uni then).

Now you’re all caught up on my recent japes, and hopefully there will be many more to look forward to in the 9 weeks I have left here, starting with a trip to Naples with Jo next weekend!

The Spoleto bubble

18 Mar

After 2 months here, I’ve gotten to know the ins and outs of Spoleto pretty well. While it has some of the features of a traditional small town like villas, beautiful mountains, historic buildings and protected sites, it also has a side to it that I wasn’t expecting at all. There’s a bit of a Desperate Housewives feel around here – there’s a lot of pressure on the women to stay young, have the latest clothes and accessories, have the cleanest nicest houses, stuff like that. There’s also a lot of gossip going around among both adults and teens, although I find it all pretty trivial because it reminds me of high school. Everyone here knows everyone, and knows everyone’s business, which makes Spoleto actually quite insular despite being so close to Rome.

Another aspect of Italian life which I find quite amusing is the standard Saturday night activities for young people (mostly younger than me though, generally 14-18). From around 5.30/6pm everyone goes to hang out in Piazza Garibaldi, apparently even if it’s really cold. Their version of hanging out isn’t quite like mine, which would involve drinks and catching up with friends, and probably finding somewhere to sit. Here, groups gather but never stay in one spot for more than a few minutes, and there is always sense of waiting for other people to arrive or that something is about to happen or we are about to go somewhere, although nothing actually happens until about 8.30 when everyone goes for dinner.

You end up with groups moving around the square, picking up new people and losing other ones in a constant state of ‘about to go do something’ without doing anything or settling anywhere to have a proper chat. This might sound like a very German way of thinking, but I think there are far more efficient ways of socialising than what the kids here call ‘hanging out’, but I call ‘loitering’. I no I just realised I’m turning into a grumpy old woman. Blame the impending birthday (1 week today!)

Some stuff I have been up to recently:

  • Hip hop dance classes

A lot of fun, although when I look up in the mirror and see myself dancing to Busta Rhymes all I see is the whitest white girl that ever there was. But at least I’m enjoying myself.

  • Teaching at the Catholic school in the centre

The nuns have hired me to teach an hour a week to the tiniest of tiny kids, ranging from 2 1/2 to 5 years old. They are adorable, but they also have non-existent attention spans. Even 5 minutes on one activity is too much for them, and they are pretty blunt about it when they don’t want to do something. Some classic statements from the children include “I don’t want to hear this song” and “No. Stop. Enough.” 1 hour with 3 year olds is 5 hours in real time.

  • Tutoring

I have been helping out a woman who lives near me with her English skills. Teaching an adult one-on-one is also a lot more difficult than teaching year 5, as you can’t hide the fact that you’re learning English behind games and colouring in, and you have to find something that is more stimulating than describing what all your favourite objects are. However it is quite fun to be able to have more in-depth conversations than with the children.

  • Adventuring

(But slightly less further afield this time.) On Saturday afternoon I went to Assisi for a couple of hours. Assisi is where St. Francis comes from, and is the guy who the new Pope based his name on. Speaking of the Pope, I seem to have a knack of being in the wrong place at the right time for major world events, which has led me to being in both China and the UK during the Olympics but seeing neither of them, and living less than 2 hours from Rome but not going to see the Pope. I’m not that bothered though, Popes are much of a muchness and have very little impact on my life.

Back to St. Francis, he liked giving his money away and helping animals, and even saved the town of Gubbio from a wolf who was terrorising the villagers back in the day. This all ties in nicely with the fact that I went to Gubbio yesterday with one of the teachers and her family, as it is her hometown. For those less interested in religion and more in science, Gubbio is also the town where there was first discovered a layer of clay separating 2 different layers of limestone which proved that the dinosaurs had been wiped out by a meteor (sorry if my facts aren’t bang on). So clearly it’s a town with something for everyone.

  • Avoiding my weird neighbour

In an apartment downstairs there’s this really weird guy who lives with his mum and his son. He doesn’t seem to have a job, so every time I enter the building he opens his front door a tiny bit and watches me go up the stairs, which is fucking creepy if you ask me. He’s also teaching his 4 year old to do it, I feel pretty sorry for the kid. What’s worse is that when I first moved in, I was told to pay money to this guy for the cleaning of the stairs and stuff. When I knocked on his door he happily took the money, I had no idea what he was saying as he doesn’t speak clearly, but I assumed it was all sorted.

A few days later a very official business-y looking women came to my door and said she was there to collect the communal cleaning money. When I told her I had already paid it the creepy guy, she said he has nothing to do with it and that he hadn’t given her any money and not to talk to him cos he’s strange. So that bastard has 6 whole euros of mine, and continues to watch me whenever I come in the building.


Don’t let the clear skies fool you, it was freeeeezing.



Pink marble

Pink marble

Assisi Assisi Assisi Assisi Assisi


Gubbio Gubbio

Used for the Festa dei Ceri

Used for the Festa dei Ceri

Gubbio Gubbio

Sights of the day:

Worst clothes shop name and also worst logo ever.


One of the year 5 classes had a creative show and tell last week and one student made this awesome Red Bull can aeroplane. Future Flugtag participant?

Gives you wings

A rough guide to teaching when you are completely unqualified

11 Mar

English language assistants are quite lucky in that we are all (for the most part) ‘experts’ in our subject, without even having to try. At least this works when you’re teaching young’uns like I am, where a basic knowledge of how to conjugate the verbs ‘to have’ and ‘to be’ is enough to create at least half an hour of work for a class of 9/10 year-olds. Any time you’re not doing grammar or laying down the basics of English, you can always talk about cultural differences between Italy and England as this always fascinates the children.

Last week I spent over an hour answering the kids’ questions about education in the UK. They were outraged that English children don’t have to go to school on a Saturday, and classes start slightly later (usually 9am instead of the Italian 8.15, 45 minutes makes a surprising amount of difference). Sometimes my knowledge doesn’t quite stretch as far as my students’ demands though eg. ‘Who was the architect of every different landmark in London?’ Italian children seem to be slightly more culturally curious that their British counterparts.

Sometimes they really surprise me, like a few weeks ago when I mentioned how the Italian elections were coming up and one young boy went off on a rant about politics and Mario Monti, which threw me slightly as most English children probably couldn’t tell you more about our politicians other than ‘Boris Johnson is a funny man with very blonde hair’.

Another subject students really enjoy is learning about British money. I brought in my English purse and let them have a proper look at all the coins and the only note I had with me which was a 20. Some of the great comments I heard include ‘Wow the Queen looks really manly’ and ‘But you don’t ACTUALLY use these as money do you?’. When I explained that no, this isn’t Monopoly money, it’s the real deal, the little girl rolled her eyes as if the UK is the spoilt brat in the playground who wants to have their own special toy to themselves instead of joining in with all their other European friends. Maybe we are to some extent, but the pound has worked pretty well for us so far.

The idea of the English/Scottish divide also came up when talking about money, as I explained that Scotland has it’s own currency which is still really the pound. I tried to use Michael McIntyre’s ‘legal tender’ joke to explain the slight tensions between the two countries, but British comedy doesn’t translate very well and went down like a lead balloon.

Here’s a quick tip for other assistants: if you have any £ notes, teach the kids the happy/sad queen trick. They absolutely love it. Another activity to fill in the time is to give them all an English version of their name. If you really can’t think of an equivalent, let them pick their own name.

One of the biggest problems I have for teaching English is pronunciation. Italian is a phonetic language, so the children read out words as they are written using Italian syllables. This can be a little frustrating as they don’t quite grasp the idea that English pronunciation makes absolutely no sense at all and there is usually little connection between spelling and pronunciation…just think how the following words are said: through, tough, though. You see?

Even when they have learnt to pronounce words really well from just hearing them, as soon as they find out how it’s is spelled they go back to trying to say it the ‘Italian way’ eg. favourite becomes ‘fah-vo-rit’, republic becomes ‘reh-poo-blic’. The most you can do here is get the class to repeat the correct pronunciation a few times to try and get it to stick. If they are a bit older, you can try writing a ‘suggested pronunciation’ using Italian syllables eg. write republic as ripablik, but only do this if they are old enough to understand this is just a pronunciation guide and not the actual way to spell it.

Another big problem is the letter h. In Italian, it isn’t pronounced at the beginning of a word, in English it (mostly) is. As it isn’t a naturally occurring sound in Italian you need to really over-emphasise the ‘aspirated’ sound of the h for words like his, her, house, hello, or you’ll hear a lot of ‘is’, ‘er’, ‘ouse’ and ‘ello’. Strangely, I also hear a lot of ‘h’s being added to the beginning of words where it doesn’t exist. A common example of this is the sentence ‘It is raining’ which becomes ‘Hit his raining.’ I don’t know if this is hypercorrection because they think you say h at the beginning of all words starting with a vowel, or they just can’t tell whether they’re saying h or not.

There is a similar issue with words that end in a consonant, especially -t, -d and  -s. In Italian most words end in a vowel so it is tricky for the children to finish with a consonant, which is why the stereotype exists that all Italians speak-a like-a this-a. The -s one is especially a problem because it can make or break whether a word is plural. I’m not sure how to deal with this one, so if anyone has any advice please let me know.

Sorry those last few paragraphs were pretty dry. On the lighter side, one thing I love about teaching is how cute the children can be. I’m quiet lucky as, being a short-term assistant and not a full-time teacher, I basically have diplomatic immunity. This means that I never have kids get angry or shout at me personally, and on the occasion when they’re being too rowdy or just don’t want to pay attention I know I can whip out the old ‘If you don’t want to listen then I don’t want to teach you, I’m just going to go now’ to which the reply is a chorus of ‘Nononono staaaay’. The cutest thing is turning up to teach the younger years and being dump-tackled by a gaggle of little girls who all want a hug. Adorable.

I like to think that no child is inherently evil, and if they’re acting out there’s usually an underlying reason, as opposed to them just wanting to ruin your morning. In the class I talked about a few weeks ago, where there was a girl who refused to do any work or even talk, I decided to try chatting to her at breaktime to see what was up. It turned out she was just sad that no one would play with her, so we gathered up some chalk and started a game of hangman on the board, and soon a few others noticed and wanted to join in. Result: sullen grumpy girl becomes talkative happy girl. Mission accomplished.

I realise this post has gone slightly off track from the title and is more anecdotal than helpful…however if I do think of any groundbreaking teaching tips I’ll write another post about it.

In the classroom

This is a very ‘me’ problem, but I’m sure you’ve all experienced when you repeat a word to yourself too many times and it loses any meaning? Well this happens to me all the time when I’m teaching, so I’ve had many many embarrassing moments where I’ve gone to write on the board how to spell something simple like ‘colour’ and gone ‘Shit…is that actually a word? That doesn’t look right’. Cue awkward googling to check I’m right. Some of the teachers must think I’m an idiot.

A weird phenomenon I noticed in a year 3 class at one school is that there are LOADS of twins. Way above what should be average. I was also told that two of the boys where actually part of triplets, but the girl one goes to a different school. There must have been something in the water back in 2005.

Another embarrassing fact is that all of the kids are way cooler than me. They are all really well dressed and have awesome high tops and haircuts, while I had a 20kg weight limit coming here so my rotation of school-appropriate clothing is small. One fashion-conscious 4 year old even told me that he didn’t appreciate how I was wearing a chequered shirt undone over another top, and was very concerned as to why I hadn’t used the buttons.

Sights of the day

I love all of the little trinkets and drawings I’ve been given by students. Here are a few bits and bobs:

A pen holder...which at the moment only contains a cocktail stirrer,

A pen holder…which at the moment only contains a cocktail stirrer,

A ladybug/'coccinella' paper weight. In Italy ladybugs are said to bring good luck,

A ladybug/’coccinella’ paper weight. In Italy ladybugs are said to bring good luck,

I had completely forgotten that scoubidous exist but they were all the rage when I was in year 7, and apparently they're still going strong here.

I had completely forgotten that scoubidous exist but they were all the rage when I was in year 7, and apparently they’re still going strong here.

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Milan Darling

5 Mar

Another weekend, another 5.41am train. The things I do to save money. On the upside, during my nocturnal outings I have discovered that there are TWO 24 hour cafés on my road. This would be good if they were like English cafés with seats and wifi and the like, but here the done thing is to run in, grab a tiny coffee and a pastry, eat them standing up at the bar, and run out again. Apparently any meal under 3 courses doesn’t deserve a table, so most cafés here have very few, plus you get looked at funny if you stay for more than 10 minutes.

There are also 2 fruit sellers on the way to the station which are run out of small concrete rooms which don’t have doors and are more like sheds. At night as they can’t ‘shut up shop’ in the usual way, instead they just pile all the wooden fruit boxes up around the doorway and cover everything with a tarp. For extra security, they play loud angry recordings of what sounds like muslim prayers, or sometimes communist propaganda, which scared the absolute shit out of me the first time I walked past at 5am. I thought they were shelters set up by hobos. I’m guessing it’s pretty effective at keeping those pesky fruit-display-thieves away at night.

Anyway, back to me on a train on Friday. Thanks to a 15 minute delay (how can a train be delayed at that time in the morning?!) which turned into a 45 minute delay as the journey went on, it took about 7 hours to get to Milan. I know there are quicker ways, but this was a direct train so I just got on and slept pretty much the whole time. I met up with Charli and Luisa from Bristol, plus Luisa’s sister Ida who was also staying for the weekend, and we went off to have lunch and do various touristy things. They wouldn’t let us in to see the Duomo because of Luisa’s scandalously short skirt, so we put it off and instead went to Parco Sempione.



Parco Sempione

Parco Sempione

We were really lucky the entire weekend as apparently up until Friday it had been rainy and horrible, but for the few days I was there it was relatively warm and even pretty sunny! Spoleto on the other hand is always quite cold even on cloudless days, must be something to do with the humidity. Moving on from the weather chat (oh so English), after visiting the park we went our separate ways as I desperately needed a nap, Charli was doing a few hours of au pair work, and Luisa was organising moving house.

For reasons I can only blame myself for, there was a bit of a mix up with Charli as I couldn’t stay at hers because she lives with the family she au pairs for, which meant that the day before coming to Milan I had to find a last-minute hostel. I ended up staying at the Zebra Hostel which isn’t too far from the centre and is right by a direct tram to the Duomo. My advice to anyone planning on staying there is that it’s a great hostel for staying at with friends, being social and meeting foreign people as it has a cool communal area with a giant sofa thing and a bar, and it’s especially good if you want to go out in the evening as the reception is open 24 hours and there’s no curfew. However, if you have any intentions getting a full night’s sleep, this isn’t the place for you.

I booked a bed in a 12 person room and found that, weirdly, in the larger shared rooms the walls don’t actually go all the way up to the ceiling. I’m assuming this is something to do with fire safety due to having so many beds in one room, so not having full walls stops them from being officially ‘rooms’. The downside to this is that you can hear everything in the 2 adjacent big shared rooms, and you can also hear everything in the corridor (and the bathroom if its door is open). There are smaller rooms with proper walls though, so if you jump on the booking a little earlier than the day before, there shouldn’t be any problems.

Y u no have real walls??

Y u no have real walls??

Zebra Hostel

Zebra Hostel



That evening we all met up and went for predrinks before an Erasmus night. Our attempts to order Long Island Iced Teas ended up with us being given big glasses of gin with a little bit of lemonade in. Good value for money, not easy on the stomach though. Highlights of the evening include the sweaty older gentleman who started a Mr. Motivator-style aerobics class in the middle of the dance floor, finding that guy:girl ratio was waaaay on the sausagefest side, and being subjected to cage dancers who looked like Russian prostitutes. Whatever floats your boat Italy.

Getting back I was worried that in my less-than-sober state I would stack it trying to get back into my hostel room and infuriate a lot of European gap yah students, but when I eventually made it in at 5 there were only a few other people asleep there. Some Spanish girls turned up at about 5.30, and then VOLUNTARILY got up at 8.30, which woke everyone up both times. It’s not even like they decided to do anything with their early start as they were still in the hostel 3 hours later.

On Saturday Charli and I started with a visit to the inside of the Duomo, which I have no photos of because you have to pay for a wristband to use cameras inside. One thing Italy does very well is profiting from tourism, and unlike in Bordeaux where many sites and museums were free, in Italy you’re more likely to have to pay for entry, even if it’s a small fee. We then had some lunch followed by a trip to the Triennale to see an exhibition called ‘Sesso e Design’, purely so we could see The Great Wall of Vagina. Because we’re really highbrow and cultured yeh?

We left feeling very empowered and enlightened, etc. etc. and went to visit the stark contrast to this, the Last Supper. I expected a bit of a Mona Lisa thing where you turn up and go ‘is that it?’, but the Last Supper definitely lives up to expectations. No photos allowed, yet again, and anyway I spent most of the allotted 15 minutes viewing period looking for hidden patterns and symbols because it’s definitely all a conspiracy.

Very pleasing Da Vinci-related signs outside the Last Supper

Very pleasing Da Vinci-related signs outside the Last Supper

We squeezed in just a little bit of shopping, and I discovered my new favourite shop ever Brandy Melville. Despite the name it’s actually an Italian brand, although luckily for me they opened their first UK shop in November. I spent far too much money there feeding my drop armhole vest addiction which would be great if I lived somewhere where it’s remotely warm, or if they were in any way appropriate to wear for teaching, but unfortunately not so until summer, or I’m in England where I won’t get tsked at for showing too much skin.

On Saturday evening we went out for a relaxed aperitivo before having a relatively early night, since I hadn’t really slept for 2 days by that point. Sunday was mainly based on shopping and food, followed by a rushed goodbye before catching a train home at about 6. As I was in such a hurry before the train I grabbed a sandwich from the WHSmiths-type shop on the platform, although at the time I didn’t realise that it wasn’t salmon and cream cheese but actually salmon and mayonnaise, which is really unpleasant combo when you only open it 3 hours into your journey and it’s all warm. Also note to self to not book trains that get in at 12.10am again when it’s really really cold in Spoleto and you have to walk home and you have teaching the next day.

A few more pics of other things we got up to:

Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle

Da Vinci himself I believe

Da Vinci himself I believe

La Scala

La Scala

Gelato every day

Gelato every day

Charli, Luisa and Ida

Charli, Luisa and Ida

Despite what many people say about Milan being too busy, too concretey, and too focused on consumerism, I really loved it! It’s really easy to get around as there are buses, trams, the metro and overground trains, although most of the touristy places are within walking distance of each other. I would really like to go back for a longer period of time, ideally when it warms up a bit more, although I’d probably say the same for most places I’ve visited here so far. Come on Spring, where are you??

Sights of the day

Near my hostel there was a little alcove with a few vending machines in, which sold snacks but also things like vegetable broth, ready meals, and cutlery. There was also a hot and cold drinks dispenser and a microwave, and what was even more surprising was that everything was really clean and in tidy even though it’s open to anyone to use! I think it was called something like ’24 hour self serve fast food’ which would be such a great idea in England if there wasn’t such a high chance that people would urinate in it.

Fast food

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


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