Sep 24, 2017

Y4-1: back in Bath after over a year away from the UK!

I flew back to the UK on the 5th of September, after being away for over a year. It was a bizarre feeling; moving yet again but this time to a place I was already familiar with, no anxiety of the unknown save for the fact that I hadn’t visited my flat yet. The trip went fine. I was a bit uncomfortable and it was long and tiring, as most of my trips generally are. Fortunately, when I arrived in Bath it was at least sunny, despite the traces of rain on the cobble stones. I took a cab from the bus stop to my new flat and Amélie greeted me briefly before leaving for her shift at work. I went out to Primark and Waitrose to pick up a few necessities before they closed and happened to bump into Enrico near the Abbey! It was great to see him again although I must’ve looking pretty rough… I spent the rest of the night chilling at home: dinner, shower and tuck myself into bed for a very much needed sleep.
The next morning I had to wake up early to go to the housing agency to sign the physical papers and get my keys for the flat. It was quicker than I thought, despite having a bit of trouble finding the office since it’s actually a private house. I then came back home and waited for Jason to arrive with his van. He’s the one who’s helped me move my stuff in-between years. He arrived with his dog Raff, which would not stop barking until it eventually calmed down and settled onto my lap. The drive to the storage space in Stroud was spent updating each other on the past year (as per) and debating Brexit. Picking up my things and terminating the contract was quite fast and straightforward, so I will definitely store with them again in the future if need be. Jason drove me back and – thankfully- carried my boxes up the many flights of stairs up to my flat and spared me the effort. I spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking and sorting out my things – I was amazed by the amount of stuff I had actually stored in there! A lot more than I remembered, particularly concerning clothes… My wardrobe is now full to the top. I then joined Amélie and Liam to go to Lidl and ASDA on Liam’s car (so convenient to have a car omg) and do my massive first shop. The price different is considerable so I will be going there from time to time to pick up my groceries… Once back home, Liam cooked a massive and tasty roast dinner and we all watched Moana while eating. Not a bad way to end my first full day back in British soil.
The next few days I had the house to myself. I ran a few errands in town and met V to catch up over Indian dinner. It was lovely to see her again and hear about what she’d been up to. Everybody seems to know what I’ve been doing thanks to the blog (honestly, it always catches me off guard when someone I didn’t expect randomly says they read it from time to time, even though it shouldn’t!), so it was nice to know what she’d been doing. Plus, this year we only live a couple of streets away so hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other!
On Friday after lunch I met up with Megs. It was a lovely sunny day and she had her dog Finley to take care of so she brought him along and I accompanied them on a couple of errands (Finley got all the attention at Lush, I must say). We then went to the Royal Crescent and sunbathed for a bit on the grass. It was lovely to see her again and catch up, even though we hadn’t been apart for long! #erasmus
On Saturday I spent the day lazily at home. I did some cooking and watched half of the rugby from the windows in my flat. I’m by the Rugby Rec so I’ll have to go to a match this year for sure! Sunday wasn’t much different. I slept in and made pancakes for breakfast. I phoned Erin to see how her first week had gone and I attempted to review some Arabic and realized it was impossible. I’ve decided to take German this year instead, as lower intermediate Arabic is a bit far from my abilities right now… But hopefully I’ll be able to pick it up again in the future at some point! I have my timetable now and it looks pretty good, ngl. I have a few full days on campus but I have Wednesdays off which is fantastic! Looking forward to getting back to the routine!
Then rehearsals for In The Heights started. The first week was absolutely intense and I have barely had any free time out of rehearsals. We started with a little language workshop on Spanish which I actually found really interesting. I’ve never taught Spanish before and hadn’t realized how hard it is for English people to pronounce certain letters. Attempting to explain the position of the tongue is not as hard as it sounds either… But they are getting there! This whole week I’ve pretty much spent up on campus. Arriving the first time again after a whole year away was weird – it’s changed but not, both at the same time. I had to familiarize myself with the location of the buildings and rooms again, and how Lime Tree works now. Aside from that, rehearsals have been intense and tiring but a lot of fun. There are a lot of harmonies and hard songs, streetstyle and salsa, so I’ve been struggling to pick up some moves but nothing that practice won’t fix! Numbers are already coming together which is amazing! Everybody has been working their butts off.
On Tuesday evening we had the ITH Welcome Social. It was literally pouring down with rain so I was really tempted to stay at home, but I braced the cold and made it to Spoons without ending up too drenched. We hung out with a few BUST people for a bit and then went to Moles, which was pretty empty at the beginning, but it gradually filled up. It was a lot of fun, Moles is great for throwback tunes so they played many-a-hit. I lasted until around one and then quit and was in bed by half-ish, two. Needed to get that sleep to survive the rest of the week.
Other highlights of the week were the free food at The Edge (we were given leftovers after a Uni event and even gave us boxes to take away #freefoodallday ) and the Open Day on Saturday. It was chaos to get up to campus and had to get a Wessex. There had been an accident so some roads were closed and the buses were delayed, but I made it to rehearsals. I spent the lunch break with Megan in 1W, where they were playing reggeatón and we chatted with other MLES about our year abroads; it was pretty cool.
On Sunday I had my day off so I slept in and cleaned (you know, the usual adult responsibilities). I spoke with Moni for a bit and it was great to catch up with her, hopefully we can organize a meet-up sometime this year. And then I did a bit of work and got ready for dinner with Megan and Connie. Bath was pretty empty and the sunset was really nice despite it being quite cold. We went to Aqua and I had some stuffed chicken with pasta that was pretty good – I’ve been spoilt in Italy, that’s for sure. It was nice to catch up and talk about the incoming year and our expectations – I can’t believe this is our last year at Bath! Where did time go?
This last week of rehearsals has also been super intense, of course. I get home absolutely knackered and all I really do is shower, cook and relax for a bit. We usually do music in the morning and choreo after lunch, which leaves us pretty tired at the end of the day – repeating choreo over and over again is so exhausting! But I really enjoy it and most of the numbers just need cleaning now. We’ve managed to put a few of them together with the scenes in between which is amazing after only two weeks of rehearsals! I can’t believe we are already half way through the process!
Other fun things I’ve been doing this week include meeting up with the fencing committee. Funnily enough, I’m literally a fencing beginner so unfortunately I can’t help with classes and stuff but I am Social Sec, in charge of the socials, and I can give a beginner’s insight into the club! The club has expanded a lot since I was last in Bath so I have a lot to catch up on but for now I’m working on organizing the Welcome Social and first SCORE night, plus getting ready for Sports Day this Wednesday to recruit new freshers’ – should be fun!
I also met with Elena, an Erasmus student from Siena who is here for the year with another girl. I actually think she was in Lingua Francese with me, which is so bizarre. We went for coffee at Society Café and she’s really nice. I gave her a few tips on Bath, which is super different from Siena so she was quite nervous and concerned about the first week. I reassured her because everybody here is so helpful – I felt the same way when I first arrived so she has nothing to worry about! I’ll probably meet up with her another day as it’s also good practice for my Italian.
And, finally, on Friday night we went for a pub crawl ‘Gary and Glitter’ themed with the BUSMS bunch to celebrate Lorna’s 21st. Guys dressed as Gary, girls with glitter all over. We hit a few pubs and had to complete challenges like serenading or rapping to a stranger, fit all of the group in a cubicle, make a human pyramid, find a Gary,… It was a tonne of fun and eventually it was more about keeping the group together than completing the challenges, as a few people drank a bit too much… I had a great time though!
So, here I am, finishing this post on the Sunday, the only free day of the week. Tomorrow starts Freshers’ Week 2017 in full swing. Walking around campus on Saturday and seeing all the freshers looking lost and awkward with their parents was so cute and a massive throwback – they are making me feel so old! It seems like it was only yesterday that I myself was arriving for my first year…
This time, FW has a lot of rehearsals on the agenda, as well as Sports Day and the BUSMS returners’ social on Thursday, so it’s looking like a promising last week of ‘freedom’ before the actual start of the semester.
I will keep you updated.
As always,
Zoe x

Snapchat: zoeamma

Sep 13, 2017

YA-29: Contrada parties

This is my last post about Siena (*sad emoji*). I didn’t want to close my Year Abroad series without a short little mention to contrada parties, which were a big part of the Senese student’s life and, thus, of my Erasmus.

As I’ve said before, Siena is divided in 17 contradas or quarters. Each quarter has their own Patron Saint and so they have what is called Festa Titolare to honour it, a big party in their contrada church and streets which lasts anywhere from 3 days to a week and sometimes even more. The streets are lit up with ornate street lights and you can hear the sound of the bells ringing and the drums of the parades or giri, in which the contradaioli tour Siena dressed in their contrada colours and traditional clothes, waving their flags around. There are special religious services like the Christening of the new contradaioli, followed by the festa popolare which usually consists of a massive community dinner in the contrada’s società or gardens, followed by music.
If you aren’t part of a contrada it can be quite hard to know when each one has their feste titolare. One day, as you walked through a certain contrada and noticed the street lights being put up it was clear something was up – the calm before the storm. Perhaps, like me, you might’ve lived right in the middle of one and sat through the setting up of the contrada dinner. Most of it is word-of-mouth. These events aren’t necessarily limited to contradaioli: I was able to attend the Oca baptism and also a dinner at Onda, but I did feel like sort of an intruder, without the scarf and clearly speaking another language. However, contradaioli are actually very welcoming and proud of their traditions so, as long as you are respectful, I’m sure you will have a great time.
I would recommend going to a cena if you have the opportunity, in order to experience the contrada feel properly. I went to one of the Onda cene with Megan and we really enjoyed ourselves and ticked an experience off our bucket-lists. Make sure you find out how it works though, because for some cene you have to book places in advance at the società, whereas for others you just show up and pay for what you order. For instance, at Onda we paid on the day, but there was also a more formal dinner at a nearby restaurant for which you had to book in advance – thanks to a contradaiolo in Bar a Onda who was kind enough to explain it to us. 

During the Drago celebrations honouring Santa Caterina da Siena (29th April), I was also able to see how they set up the dinner along my street. Starting early in the morning when they were setting up the games for the children like the pista di barberi and the different food stalls and tables, through to the early hours of the morning with happy contradaioli singing their hymns and laughing. A shot of the festivities snapped from my kitchen window won me the #MySiena competition run by the ESN. It was an amazing day I will never forget!
The religious services I didn’t go to, aside from the baptism at Oca near Fontebranda, which Megan and I just attended to see what it was like. The atmosphere was solemn as the new contradaioli –babies and not so young- were welcomed into the contrada, christened with water from the fountain and given their own scarf.

During the festivities the contrada buildings are open to visitors, so even if you can’t make a cena, you should try to check the church and museums – they are so interesting and insightful!
But, what really made contrada parties a big part of the student life, were the late-night parties and concerts they did. I was in Siena between January and July, so I lived the city through Spring and Summer (when the Palio takes place) – probably the best time to be there! The parties shift from being indoors to being outside in the gardens and then the few weeks leading up to the Palio and the Palio itself are the best – the city is literally buzzing! The first few parties I went to were a collaboration between Onda and the ESN, in which you had to pay to get in, but later on, particularly in April and May, there were free outdoor contrada parties open to anybody – one of my best memories of Siena!
It all starts with the rumours going around of a party in this or that contrada that weekend – usually one, but even two or three on the same weekend – and deciding where to go and hoping the music will be good. Megan and I challenged ourselves to go to all 17 contradas, and managed to test 14 out of the 17, which was great!
Our favourites? Probably Chiocciola. Their garden  - l’Olivetta by Porta San Marco – is massive and the music was great both on the Friday and Saturday. We had a tonne of fun! Another one was Lupa – the party was inside the società because it was pouring outside and even though we were an odd bunch, that night we had a tonne of fun. Civetta’s outdoor party in Piazza Tolomei was also amazing – the rain didn’t keep us away! So was the music at Oca and Giraffa and many more. Location-wise, Istrice’s società is deceptively massive and the Bruco garden is huge and hidden. It is a hit-and-miss with contrada parties; you discover Siena’s secret locations and wish for a good crowd and good music as you never know what it might be – Dj? Folk? Rock group? I made so many memories going to them; I would do it all over in a heartbeat! You eventually start to recognize people’s faces and learn Italian songs and just enjoy yourself. Just make sure you don’t arrive too late, because they are done by  1 or 2am! Pantera, Nicchio and Torre, you are still on my list so I will have to go back…
Thanks, Siena, for being so unique. And thanks word-of-mouth and secret ways of knowing where the party is at. Also Megs, for being my loyal contrada party buddy – we had a tonne of great nights together!
Grazie tanto Siena, per avermi accolto così calorosamente. Apprezzerò i ricordi per sempre!
Passo e chiudo,


Snapchat: zoeamma

Sep 9, 2017

YA-28: Where to eat in Siena

Siena, an Italian medieval town on a hill, world-known for its medieval horserace twice a year – Il Palio -, very popular when paying Tuscany a visit. After living there for six months on my Erasmus exchange, I can safely say I have my bearings around places to eat around the city. Here’s a handy little list for those who happen to trace my footsteps into this beautiful city.
First up, the large majority of restaurants in Siena serve traditional dishes such as pici al ragù di cinguiale, which looks like thick spaghetti in a meaty sauce (and you definitely have to try it!). A plate of pasta usually costs between 7 and 10 euro, depending on the place, and meat dishes are more expensive. You can also get great pizza; it’s a great on-the-go meal, but there are also a few nice pizzeria around.
A quick warning about the ‘pane e coperto’ charge if you decide to eat at a restaurant; you will most likely be charged around 1,50 and 2 euro per person for the bread and cutlery (this will be stated somewhere on the menu).
Before we get into the places, little disclaimer that this list is only of places I actually tried myself. There are many restaurants in Siena and it is nearly impossible for me to list them all, so I’ve left a lot out. Take this list as a starting point! Buon appetito!


Osteria Al Gatto / Via S. Marco, 8
A small, cosy restaurant, the atmosphere is very familiar and local, and they use fresh produce so you cannot go wrong with this one!

Osteria Nonna Gina / Pian dei Mantellini, 2
This buzzing and quaint restaurant has a lovely and kind staff and a wide range of different Tuscan dishes. Plus a shot of limoncello or grappa to finish the meal off!

Osteria Boccon del Prete / Via S. Pietro, 17
This was one of my favourite restaurants in Siena. Every single meal was to-die-for and the prices are affordable. I loved their sage pesto and polenta, as well as their Soave Classico wine. Make sure you book to avoid disappointment!

Antica Trattoria Papei / Piazza Mercato, 6
I didn’t personally try it out, but Papei was popular amongst the students. Good meals, good prices and great location on Piazza del Mercato just behind Piazza del Campo.

Gino Cacino Angelo / Piazza Mercato, 31
If you are looking for an amazing taglieri or meat platter and Tuscan wine, look no further. It was our tutor who invited us while he was visiting, so I can’t talk prices, but the platter was absolutely wonderful! I really enjoyed the pesto bruschetta and cheeses.

Antica Trattoria l’Aquila / Via Casato di Sotto, 58
Just off Piazza del Campo, this very touristy-looking restaurant is a gem. The staff are lovely and they have a long list of different dishes to choose from. I recommend the spaghetti carbonara with zucchini or their lasagna. Always a hit.


La Trofea / Via Rinaldini, 12
On the corner of Piazza del Campus, this little pizzeria sells pizza slices all day through to the early hours of the morning. Siena students get a discount and it’s a great meal on-the-go or after-night-out treat to get rid of the munchies!

Menchetti / Via Pianigiani, 5 (inside the Consorzio Agrario store)
If you are looking for another take away option, the pizza squares from Menchetti were my favourite! They are bringing out freshly cooked pizzas from their oven all day, full of different toppings. Try one with crudo or salciccia piccante!

Lievito Madre/ Via Pantaneto, 59
If you are closer to the southern side of the city, try out the pizza from Lievito Madre. It was amazing, especially after a night out at Al Cambio!

Salumeria Il Cencio / Il Campo, 70/71
Fancy a sandwich? Try the pulled pork with truffle sauce at Il Cencio, on Piazza del Campo. They are massive and filling!


Il Pomodorino / Via Camporegio, 13
For a sit-down pizza, definitely head to Il Pomodorino. The views of the Duomo and Torre del Mangia are unbeatable, and their selection of white and red pizzas is the best in town. Make sure you book because it’s a very busy and popular place!


Panifici Sclavi
The Sclavi bakeries scattered around the town are your stop to enjoy the typical Senese pastries like ricciarelli, panforte and cavalucci. My favourite? Chocolate ricciarelli. They are made out of sugar and ground almond, with a little bit of chocolate. I could eat them forever.

Gelateria Caribia / Via Rinaldini, 13
Looking for a cold treat? Try their whipped ice-creams. The texture is that of a mousse, so bizarre but tasty. Their pompelmo (grapefruit) granita is also the perfect slushie to fight off the heat of the summer.

La Favorita / Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, 32
My favourite stop for ice-cream was La Favorita. Great choice of flavours and massive cones for very cheap prices. Can’t beat that.

Gelateria Il Bacio / Viale Vittorio Emanuele II, 55
Didn’t try it myself, but Il Bacio was recommended to me numerous times for its ice-cream!

First of all, if you want to avoid being ripped-off by the price, definitely avoid Piazza del Campus: you will be paying for the view rather than the quality.

Meet Life Café / Via Pantaneto, 90
The closest thing to Starbucks that you will find in Siena. Caramel and Vainilla coffees, luxurious hot chocolates and Art Aperitivo every Wednesday evening. Hip hub.

Bar Pasticceria Nannini / Via Banchi di Sopra, 24
If you are looking for the traditional Italian experience, head to Nannini to enjoy an espresso on the bar. Or sit at their tables to enjoy pastries or even their tiramisù- one of the best in town!


Gastronomia Morbidi / Via Banchi di Sopra, 75
The best aperitivo in town was definitely that of Morbidi. Head over between 6pm and 10pm on a Friday or Saturday to enjoy a buffet of various finger-foods, prosciutto and cheese while sipping on some wine or cocktail of your choice. The price is worth it (only 6-7€).

There are a few different bars in which you can enjoy live music or dance to some DJs until the early hours. Here are some of them:

Caffè Le Logge / Via Pantaneto, 11 – Where all the art and literature students are at.
Al Cambio / Via Pantaneto, 48 – The Erasmus night on Wednesdays (discounts with the ESN card), and reggeaton on Saturdays!
Bellavista Social Pub / Via Pantaneto, 102 – Supposedly the best mojito in town.
Cacio e Pere / Via dei Termini, 70 – Best for live music.


Osaka / Via Pantaneto, 107
Osaka is the place to go for sushi. 12 euros for the lunch all-you-can-eat buffet!

Zest Ristorante & Wine Bar / Costa Sant'Antonio, 13
Great views of the Duomo and amazing combinations of food. They have a more unique menu than the usual eateries in Siena. Slightly pricy, but their melon gazpacho and crudo salad with figs were amazing!

Tea Room / Via Porta Giustizia, 11
Head over to the Tea Room in the evening to enjoy a nice cup of tea and some cakes. The place is charming and the staff are super nice!

Mense (Bandini & Sant’Agata)
I have to mention the mense (cantines) for the students there. Great options for lunch or dinner: salads, full meals, pizzas… All for 4,50€ just by showing your student ID!

Finally, I’m sure that, on your way to Siena, you’ll be able to make a short stop in either Florence or Pisa, both beautiful cities in themselves and definitely worth exploring. If you do, definitely check these out:

Florence - Osteria All’Antico Vinaio / Via dei Neri, 76R
Their schiacciate are an Instagram hit, but not only that. For 5€ you can enjoy a filling, tasty meal on-the-go. I can never get tired. I loved their schiacciata di inverno and Inferno – truffle sauce and pulled pork (porchetta) is the way to go!

Pisa - Il Vecchio Forno / Vicolo del Tidi, 28
Definitely make your way through the narrow alleys to find Il Vecchio Forno in Pisa – you must try their panpepato (a sweet pastry with pepper)! Makes for a great snack on-the-go!

A couple of extra kilos later, I hope you have eaten your way through Tuscany, as should be. I sure did.
Please share this post amongst your friends and family or anybody who might be going to Siena!
Arrivederci e buon appetito!

Snapchat: zoeamma

Sep 7, 2017

YA-27: a stream of consciousness on my Year Abroad

I’m back to greeting in English, to mark the end of this amazing year that has been my Year Abroad. I could not sound more cliché but I have had a great year and feel that I’m a changed person, for the better.
I thought I’d have a whole lot to write on this post, but I’ve actually already written my thoughts down on different posts I’ve published throughout the year. I’ll just link them here because I’m lazy to repeat myself:
Things I’ve learnt while on placement abroad
Key points: Make the most of the place. Visit the area you are in. Write down a bucket list. Mingle. Hop onto every opportunity. Get out of your comfort zone. Push yourself. Make memories to last you a life time.
Final thoughts on the Year Abroad
Key points: The Year Abroad is more about improving yourself than improving a language. Self-confidence and greater independence are two of the best things I’ve gained this year. It’s the people you meet along the way that shape your experience of the Year Abroad. Enjoy every moment and grab every opportunity. You’re allowed not to enjoy your Year Abroad. You will learn to value your own country.
I also happened to write a blog post at the end of last year reflecting on my 2016 and on the feeling I get each time I leave a place I’ve grown to feel at home in, in order to embark on a new adventure. I love travelling and discovering new places and new people, but I must admit that shuffling place so often also has its drawbacks. You know you are only there for a limited amount of time, which makes you never really feel at home and the voice at the back of your head keeps reminding you things won’t last.
I do think living in different places and travelling is mostly positive at my age though: it has helped me learn to deal with problems, it has challenged me physically, mentally and emotionally and, overall, made me the person I am today, which is an improved version of the shy little teenager who left her island three years ago. Teen Zoe is still inside me, but the new Zoe is now a stronger woman who teaches Teen Zoe not to be scared and actually enjoy life. I never would have thought I’d be like I am today. Yes, I’m still an introvert and, yes, I’m still anxious at having to meet new people and engage in conversation. But now I have learnt that you only live once so you have to enjoy your time as much as you can, be proactive to accomplish your dreams and just put yourself out there. I’ve travelled on my own many times, I’ve had to push myself to try new things and I’ve had to go up to people and just speak to them (in whatever language it might’ve been). Fake it ‘till you make it, right? I actually believe it works. I slowly became more open during my two years of University, particularly during my second one. Third Year has taught me invaluable life lessons and I hope to keep it up next year – life is all about improvement and walking forward.
On crossing borders and growing up
This post has no real structure, let’s be honest. It’s more like a trail of thought to myself. Who knows, maybe someone can recognize themselves in my words. If not, whatever. It is my own blog and space to air out my thoughts after all.
Anyway, thank-you Year Abroad for the amazing experiences. My French and Italian could have improved a little bit more, not going to lie, but I don’t really mind. You’ve taught me many life lessons and I’ve learnt to love life more, so I think we’re cool. Honestly, everybody should go abroad (or at least away from home) at least once in their life for a couple of months. Independence and freedom is something you can only really understand once you’ve actually experienced them yourself. Go on, have a try and come back a changed person.
Until next time,
(A very brooding)

Here are two videos on the amazing time I had. Excuse the music, it got messed up.
Fécamp, France.

Siena, Italy.

Sep 3, 2017

YA-26: my last weeks in Siena!

I can’t believe this is the last post about my adventures in Siena during my Year Abroad. Fear not, I have a couple more in mind about places to eat and contrada parties, as well as a round-up post about my opinion on the Year Abroad and on my Erasmus, but this is the last diary-styled entry for the year, which makes me sad (I mean, I did leave Italy nearly two months ago, but that doesn’t mean I can’t complain!).
Here is what I did over the last two-ish weeks I was in Siena.
After coming back from the short holiday in the north, I was knackered but had to wake up early on the Saturday to run errands and clean and do all the boring stuff in preparation for my sister’s arrival the following day. The day kicked off with a weird message from my landlady saying a guy was probably moving into Dan’s old room for a little over a week, but she’d let me know, so I went out to do the groceries and then started cleaning the house. I was surprised by some keys rattling on the door and then a random guy coming in. Apparently, my landlady hadn’t deemed it necessary to warn me in advance... I swear, the whole situation was a mess and dodgy af but oh well, I lived through it and Vittorio wasn’t a bad housemate anyway… I spent the rest of the day doing some work and speaking to Vero on the phone since it was over 35 degrees outside and thus impossible for me to leave the house. In the evening there was an impromptu ESN barbecue but Megan and I decided to pass because we were so tired and instead just hung out at home and spoke to Vero to update her on our trip.
The next day I got up and packed my bag and sorted through the photos I’d taken since the Palio (which were a tonne, believe me). Jess came over for lunch as she was transferring flats and was homeless for a few hours in the middle of the heat and afterwards I uploaded the photos to the different social platforms and rested for a bit before heading out to the station. It coincided with the second Estrazione of the horses running the August Palio, so the streets were quite empty since everybody was in Piazza del Campo. I was watching it through the TV in the Consorzio Agrario while I was being served some pizza for the journey and had Grazia and Megan update me live: Aquila, Bruco and Lupa were pulled out and Drago, unfortunately, wasn’t running in August either. This does mean that Drago will be running both Palios next year, so I’m excited for that! The trip to Pisa didn’t seem too long and I reached the airport before Erin had picked up her case. It was so bizarre to hear the Canarian accents of the passengers leaving the flight – I had a little over a week left in Italy but was feeling the nostalgia towards home after six months away! We reached our Airbnb without any issues, showered and went to sleep. We were exhausted!
On Monday the 10th we got up early to beat the heat and got ready to explore Pisa. After having our Italian pastry and coffee for breakfast in a nearby bar, I took Erin around the city and within two hours and a half, she’d seen all of it: Piazza dei Miracoli with the Leaning Tower, the Tuttomondo mural, the Chiesa della Spina… We did a bit of shopping and decided to go grab our bags and go to Siena, since there was not much more to do. We got some wraps from a kebab shop and had lunch on the train back to Siena. When we arrived, the only issue was that the sun was nowhere to be found. It was still hot, but the sky was covered by a massive cloud in comparison to sunny Pisa… We spent the rest of the day resting and relaxing. We helped Megan bake some brownies for Francesco and then, after Power Pump and dinner, we met with her again to chill on the Piazza after the sun went down and it started to cool down. Not bad for a first day.
On Tuesday we had pancakes for breakfast before heading out the door to explore Siena. I showed Erin around the main sights, following a similar itinerary as I did with Dad when he’d come: San Domenico, then Fontebranda and up to the Duomo, the Piazza, San Marco, Orto dei Tolomei… We had some Panini from Il Cencio (still not as good as All’Antico Vinaio, but pretty good nonetheless) and some icecream from La Favorita before going back home to regain our strength. That evening we met with Jess and Megan at Boccon del Prete for dinner and, as per, the meal was amazing. I had some of that Soave Classico wine with some gnocchi with fish, sweet paprika and basil which were to-die-for! After our lovely dinner together we went to the Piazza to chill for a bit and give Francesco his brownies.
On Wednesday morning we hit the mercato in Fortezza with Megan and I bought some taralli and a Pulp Fiction tee. Then I showed Erin the actual Fortezza Medicea and the three of us went to Osaka for sushi and pretty much stuffed our faces. Literally, my life in Siena was a lot of tourism, walking around, chilling and, above all, eating! On our way back home we bought our Siena hoodies and then Megan left us while I took Erin to San Francesco. I really liked that building, but I didn’t have any lessons there. The walls of the courtyard are covered with very old scribbles from the former students of the faculty, which is super cool! From San Francesco we head over to find where the Bruco contrada party would be and then managed to find Fonte Nuova d’Ovile which is one of the fountains in Siena which I hadn’t seen yet. It is actually just behind the società for the Contrada della Lupa! It was a very peaceful spot in the shade which I really liked. We then came back home to escape the heat and start packing all my stuff (which took longer than I’d like to admit). After the gym we just relaxed at home and planned the few things we wanted to do on my last week in Siena before going to bed.
The next day we got up early and went on a mission: finding a sunflower field to take pictures in. We’d spent the previous afternoon researching to figure out where they’d be one we would be able to read by public transport, so there we were, with Megan, on the bus to Casetta. When we’d gone to that final Erasmus party at Essenza, a man on the bus had told us there was a sunflower field just off the leisure centre, so we’d pretty much gone out based on the words of this stranger. Fortunately, he wasn’t lying, and after a 20 minute walk under the scorching sun being catcalled by a couple truck drivers and farmers, we made it to the sunflower field. Irl it wasn’t as amazing as the pictures, but shhhh! We managed to take a few pretty ones and then decided to leave before we got even more sunburnt.
In the afternoon we went shopping for the ingredients we needed to cook dinner at Megs’. We’d invited Emilio over and wanted to cook some chicken and potatos with a mustard and rosemary sauce which turned out so yummy! It was also Frederike’s birthday but we’d agreed to the dinner first, so we dropped by to give her her present before dinner. We had a nice time that evening and Emilio was really funny trying to speak Spanish – all learnt from listening to reggeaton apparently!
On Friday morning I had to run some errands with Jess and Megan and get my final Erasmus paperwork sorted. The office was pretty busy, not going to lie, but I managed to get it done and also purchase the tickets to the airport and sort out the phone. After lunch Erin and I decided to go to Orto dei Pecci with a couple of magazines and a picnic blanket to rest in the shade and get some fresh air, and were later joined by Jess. We stayed there until around six and then went back home, grabbing some Menchetti pizza and Nannini tiramisu for dinner instead of going to Morbidi. The dinner was really good, so no regrets there! At around ten we met in the Piazza with Jess, Megan and Elliott and Lydia, Megan’s brother and his girlfriend who were visiting for the weekend. We drank some wine and then went to the contrada party in Bruco. I was amazed by the massive garden – it is totally out of view from the outside and accessible through the entry to the società. It is divided in different levels which is kind of tore away from the size, but despite that it was amazing! We went down to jam out to the music and I had a great time, even though Jess had to leave early because she was moving to Florence the next morning. We saw Francesco, Emilio, Tsubasa, Antonia, Natalie…  And ended up in Civico 6 with Emilio dancing until late.
On Saturday we slept in and then had brunch and did some more packing. In the afternoon we met up with Grazia in Piazza and got some gelato from Gelateria Caribia. It was weird to be meeting up with everybody to say goodbye, but we had a nice time chatting on the Piazza and I’m sure she’s going to have a blast in Germany doing her Erasmus! After she had to go, I took Erin to Contrada della Giraffa on our way home to show her the contrada who had won the Palio, still all decorated with flags and still parading the Palio around the streets of the city just as we’d seen the previous night. After dinner we got ready to head out again with Megan. We had some wine on the Piazza and then hit Bruco. I felt sad that it was my last contrada party in Siena and that I was soon going to leave. The night was also kind of weird since most of the usual Erasmus bunch had already left Siena by then and so the contrada party was full of actual Italians and not that many friendly faces. There was live music and eventually we walked Erin home and then I went back to the Piazza with Megan and we kind of just sat there and spoke at length about our experiences over the year and in particular about Siena. I was feeling pretty down to be leaving at that point, but Siena had changed so much after the Palio with most of the people leaving and a lot of places closing for the summer, that a part of me also wanted to leave. It was a weird mix of feelings.
The next day I took Erin to the Facciatone, where we bumped into some Swiss guys from the contrada party the night before. The day was nice and sunny but not too hot, so a perfect day to climb the arch and enjoy the bird’s-eye-view of the city. We had lunch at l’Antica Trattoria dell’Aquila where, so it seems, one of the guys from CoreBattente works, and then later on met with Duncan on the Piazza. We went to Orto dei Pecci for a bit and then got some blood orange granite and chatted on the Piazza for a while before saying good-bye to him and Tsubasa who we happened to run into. That evening we decided to organize the next few days and stay in and rest.
On Monday we slept in and gave up on our plan of going to the pool so instead we ran some errands and then had lunch while watching Game of Thrones. After resting for a bit I hit the gym since Power Pump had finished and then did some laundry and went to chill in the Fortezza with Erin while the sun was setting before going to Pomodorino for dinner. We were given a table outside with a lovely view of the sunset over the Duomo and Torre, and enjoyed our pizzas followed by some frozen yogurt from Yogorino on the Piazza. Quite a laid-back day.
On Tuesday we took an early bus to Florence. First stop: Fra Angelico’s frescoes in San Marco. I’d been around before but it was always closed, so I managed to go when it was open for once. They weren’t as amazing as I expected them to be, but I was glad to cross the place off my list and I found it quite interesting to see the inside of the monastery. We then walked towards the centre (in the all-encompassing heat of course) and saw the Duomo and did some shopping. We randomly bumped into Vittorio on our way to Via dei Neri to meet up with Jess and her friend Alice for lunch. We got some schiacciate from All’Antico Vinaio (duh!) and sat together on the sidewalk to catch up on the last few days and Jess’ move to Florence and her first few days at work. It was lovely to see her. Then we did some more walking around, visiting a few other spots like Santa Croce, Palazzo Pitti, Ponte Vecchio…) and did some more random shopping before getting the bus back home. We got back at around 7 and did some more packing. After our sad and meager dinner of soup and pasta with butter (what happens when you’re about to leave a place and need to get rid of what’s in the fridge/pantry), I went out to meet Megan on the Piazza where we chilled together and then decided to go on a walk around Siena after dark – Orto dei Tolomei was incredibly calm and you could see all the stars which was so nice! I was feeling quite sad about the next day being my last in Siena.
The 19th was my last day in Italy for a while and I was quite sad. I woke up early to go to the market and buy some sandals that had caught my eye and then got the taxi ride sorted for the next morning and bought some cornetti for breakfast on my way home. I cleaned and finished up packing everything I possibly could and went to Menchetti to get some pizza for lunch. After that I met with Giulia and Valeria to say good-bye and we had coffee in Bar Il Palio. I’m really glad I met them; they were so welcoming and helpful with my Italian and happy to show me around Siena and introduce me to new people. I actually wish I’d joined the newspaper earlier, but I am thankful to have joined at all. It was such a good practice for my Italian and I hope to see these two gals again at some point!
On my way home I bought some ricciarelli to bring with my and then chilled at home before Erin and I went over to Megs’ for dinner. It was nice to have an actual plate of food haha We then went to the Piazza and joined Antonia and Quirine for a last Piazza-chill. It was lovely to see everybody one last time and I felt pretty sad and also kind of sick from the travel anxiety the next day. I really made of Siena my home for six months and it was sad to have to part our ways, even though I knew it was coming. I’ll go back one day, I’m sure.
We left Siena on the 20th of July and the trip went fine. We woke up very early and brought our bags downstairs without any problems. The taxi picked us up and drove us to the station while the sun was rising. The train and change in Empoli went just fine and we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I actually saw a guy whose face looked familiar at the seating area in Pisa and told my sister, but we were so far from Siena I thought it was just my imagination. We saw him again at the baggage pick up in Tenerife, which I thought was a coincidence. Well, I didn’t find out until later, but turns out he is actually my best friend’s classmate in Tenerife, who’d done his Erasmus in Siena for the whole year. I definitely bumped into him in Siena but we didn’t ever get to talk (that I can remember at least) so we actually made acquaintances after Erasmus. So bizarre!
Anyway, after dropping our bags and paying for the extra weight, we went through security, got some food and waited to board the plane. I had to change seat three times and ended up at the back of the plane. The flight was a nightmare. It was long and I’d forgotten how loud the young people who go to Tenerife on holidays can get. I mean, not my kind of tourist I can tell you that. I had an empty seat next to me at least, but that didn’t make it any easier. We eventually reached home, which felt surreal after so long. Mum and Dad picked us up. I was glad to be home, but sad to have left.
Here’s a video I put together with pictures and photos of my experience. The music got messed up due to copyright reasons, but you can see the pictures at least.

My Erasmus exchange in Siena between February and July 2017 was an amazing experience full of great people, tasty food and many wondrous places and adventures – I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Grazie mille a tutti quelli che hanno reso il mio Erasmus indimenticabile! Mi mancate tantissimo e vi voglio bene!
Alla prossima,

Aug 29, 2017

YA-25: Trip to Torino, Milano and Genova!

This is probably the longest time I’ve been without updating the blog for a while, sorry about that. After the Palio I did some travelling and then my sister came over to visit and, before I realized it, I was leaving Italy and was home again already. I went on holiday mode which means no updating the blog, so now I’ve finally managed to pull my life together (sorta) and get this post up. Enjoy!
The trip to the Triangolo Industriale – Turin, Milan and Genoa – was the last big getaway with Megan that I got to do before going back home after my Erasmus (*insert sad emoji here*). It was four days packed with a lot of trains, a lot of heat and a lot of walking, but also great food and new cities, so I cannot complain. Here’s what I got up to.
On Tuesday the 4th we were leaving to go to Torino, where we’d booked an Airbnb near the station to act as a base for the four days we’d spend in the north. The trip was long but went absolutely fine. We got the train from Siena to Firenze SMN, where we managed to buy some lunch before hopping on the AV to Torino PN. It took around three hours to get there, but the AV trains are a dream: comfy seats, wi-fi and aircon – what more could you ask for? Once we got to Torino we made our way to our Airbnb which was just off the station and we dropped our bags. Jose and his housemates were really nice and the room was just what we needed so it was perfect! We then went out to explore Torino and go grab lunch. We’d been recommended a few places and settled on a salad bar called Soup&Go in which you can make your own salad for 5 euro. It was so yummy! On our way we started getting our bearings of the city and also discovered a contrada in Turin with flags and all – in the hip area actually, with a lot of artisan shops and nice restaurants. The salad bar was cosy and quiet and the salad was so big I literally could not finish it!
We then decided to explore the main sights of Torino, following my list (Megan is in charge of places to eat, I’m in charge of sightseeing #travelgoals). We first headed to Piazza Castello where the main palazzi are – Palazzo Madama and the Palazzo Reale di Torino. We took a few pictures and walked around under the sun (it was pretty hot). They were setting up a stage near the Palazzo Reale so we had a look at the performers doing their tests before heading to the Giardini. However, we had to pay to go in and since we weren’t really going to have much time in the city, we decided to pass. Instead we went down a quaint street on our way to the Duomo and bumped into a granite or Sicilian slushie shop called Vainilla and could not pass getting one each. Megan went for coconut milk and I went for figs and, let me tell you, it was probably the best granita we’ve ever had; the flavour was so intense and the consistency was creamy and perfect. We seem to always find the best places by chance! If you are ever in Torino, definitely pay them a visit! We then walked towards the Duomo and the small Roman park right next to it and the Archaeological museum. We didn’t go inside the Duomo but instead sat outside in the shade enjoying our glasses of glorious slushie. After that we traced back our steps and went past a few shops (got myself some more H&M camis because they were on sale…) and looked for Palazzo Carignano, where the first King of Italy Vitorio Emmanuelle II was born. On our way we discovered a beautiful church called Chiesa di San Filippo which had beautiful sculptures and adornments all over – it was quite a sight! It’s near the Egyptian Museum and the Palazzo Carignano, if you are ever close by. 
After that we decided to walk to the riverside and admire the Po and memorial up on the hill (we didn’t actually have time to get close though) and retraced our steps back to the centre to get some Moroccan aperitivo at Hafa Coffee. It was so good! I got some ginger and pineapple lemonade and we sat outside and enjoyed different types of grains and all the hummus and bread we could get while the sun was setting. We also had musical entertainment with a random dude who started singing along old hits to get some money, so weird. Eventually it started to look like it was going to rain so we walked back to the Airbnb trying to find a supermarket on our way so we could get a few things for breakfast. Who would have imagined all supermarkets would be closed at 8pm on a Friday… Torino, you let us down on that one. After a lot of googling and walking around we barely made it to a Carrefour before it closed and picked up some water and some food for the morning. We were knackered, but nothing that a nice shower and some sleep wouldn’t fix!
The next day we went to Milan. We got up pretty early to have breakfast and then catch the 8am train to Milano. We sat by the window and it was clearly a business people train because it was probably the most fancy one we’d been on in Italy. I mean, we were handed out the newspaper and some snack bags with water and madeleines and all! I slept most of the way and once we arrived in Milano Centrale (a massive and impressive station which was actually kind of hard to navigate) we went to the underground and got the M3 metro into the centre. First stop, the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II.  We arrived just before the masses which was great, and were able to walk around the square and admire the outside of the Duomo. It is an impressive building (half covered in ads because of restoration work nonetheless), so it was pretty cool to see it in person. We also went to the Gallery and turned backwards three times while stepping on the bull’s balls for good luck! The Opera house La Scala was also nearby but we only saw the outside unfortunately, perhaps one day we’ll be able to watch a live performance… After those three monuments we decided to do some shopping (you just have to go clothes shopping in Milan!) and I managed to find a blue dress I’d seen the day before, but this time the right size!
After that we made our way towards i Navigli passing by the Colonne di San Lorenzo which are the remains of a Roman cathedral. We also saw a sweets outlet which was to-die-for. If only it would’ve been colder outside, I could’ve got more chocolate without worrying about it melting! I finally grabbed some Baci Perugina which were really good! Once we arrived in the Navigli quarter which is a hip area with canals that reminded me quite a lot of Amsterdam, we were surprised to see an Onda flag hanging off a window! So far from Siena, yet preparations and pride for the Palio still present! Here we met with Bea, whom I’d met back in Harrow House in Swanage during an English course in summer 2013. Who would’ve said we’d be meeting up in Milan? She is from Genova but studying in Milano so we had lunch together at this really cool Japanese and Brazilian fusion cuisine called Copacabana. We had “Brazilian sushi” while catching up on the last few years and it was lovely to see her again. She was also kind enough to give us some advice and recommendations for Genova the following day. 

After parting our ways we returned back to the Duomo to continue exploring Milan and onto Castello Sforzesco, which is an impressive sight. Michelangelo’s Pietà Rondanini is housed in the museum but I’d assumed we were not going to get to see it, so I was happily surprised to learn that we’d arrived just in time for the free hour slot – entry is free during the last hour of the day (4:30-5:30pm). I managed to complete the trio!
We then entered Parco Sempione which was massive and reminded me of Hyde Park with a lot of people walking around and playing sports, and the police riding horses, and crossed towards the Arco della Pace, just to get closer, not actually to it. It was super warm so we decided to run a few extra errands in a couple of shops we wanted to visit (including Megan’s own random photocall in the street) before catching the metro back to Milano Centrale. There we really struggled to find a place to get some food as Megan was sure she’d gone past Sapori e Dintorni but the station was so huge we couldn’t find it… Luckily enough we had an hour so we eventually found it and got some veggies with chicken and some fruit for our little dinner on the train back. It was a relaxing meal while watching the sunset from the train after a long day of walking under the heat, but I’d say we covered Milan in a day pretty efficiently!
On Thursday we were going to visit Genova or Genoa, so we got up and ready.  All was going well until the train leaving Torino was late to leave the station and we missed our connecting train from Alessandria by a couple of minutes. It was really annoying because we found ourselves stranded in that random small town for two hours because there were no other trains to Genova before that. It also meant we had less time in Genova than we’d planned, just because of a 15 minute delay. Annoying. Anyway, we reached Genova at midday and were quite hungry so we walked straight out of the station to find a place to eat, stopping by yet another Chiesa di San Filippo which was covered in gold and absolutely amazing (yet again, you just bump into the prettiest places without planning it). We settled for a very local looking bar that did a lunch menu and got some trofie al pesto and frittadina and ate way too much. Tummies full, we headed back out to explore Genova. We didn’t really have an itinerary and Genova is more of a maze than we’d anticipated, since there are so many levels, so we did a lot of walking around and getting lost. 
First up, was the Porto Antico with the Aquarium, la Biosfera and the old boats. The buildings are so, so pretty, Ligurian style. There is a rundown charm to them, all different colours. We decided to walk along the port towards the Lanterna and got totally lost and ended up in the middle of a high way… So Google Maps came to the rescue and after climbing some pretty steep stairs (Salite dei Sassi) we were back in the centre. We explored the main sights: Porta Soprana, Chistopher Columbus’ house, Piazza De Ferrari with the fountain and then towards Piazza Matteotti and San Lorenzo (which we didn’t go into). In San Lorenzo we ate some really good gelato and frozen yogurt as well as looked around a lovely artisan market before heading onto Via Garibaldi where the Palazzi are.  We walked along the street and admired the different palaces and listened to a really good busker before finding some stairs leading towards the Spianata di Castelletto. 
It took a while but we climbed all the salite and reached the top. The views were amazing so we sat on a bench and took it all in. We also started a conversation with an old man who suggested we tried the Old Wall next, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time. We already had to give up the idea of visiting Boccadasse because we’d missed our train. Instead we went down the way we’d come from and found the gate at the end of the stairs closed. We panicked for a second and had to retrace our steps and find another way down until we reached the Galleria. It wasn’t a big deal though because the narrow streets were so quirky and beautiful; it was still nice to walk around. 
Since we had some more time to spare we decided to explore the narrow streets of the centre and got lost a few times. We bought some really good dry focaccia at a local bakery and then ended up finding the dodgy area of the town… We made it through and bought some food for the train journey back. All the houses and valleys in Liguria look so pretty, it was definitely one of my favourite regions.
Friday was our last day. We were only in Torino for the morning, so after packing up, we decided to go to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, which is inside the Mole Antonelliana. We spent a good two hours and a half and I absolutely loved it! There was a lot of paraphernalia, interactive exhibitions, pictures and posters about all kinds of films and the filmic process, I really fell in love. The base of the Mole reminded me of Disneyland with the exhibition full of décor making it feel like you were inside an old movie. I was really glad we had the time to go, it was definitely worth it and you should go by if you can! We got some giandujotti chocolate and had some falafel for lunch near Piazza Vittorio before going to Piazza del Castello to get a last glass of granite to enjoy in the heat. We sat on a bench for a bit and, before going back to the Airbnb to grab our bag, we went into the Duomo to see the Sindone or Holy Shroud (which, turns out, was not actually there anymore, only some pictures). The trip back to Siena was fine but long; we made friends with a Kiwi couple, Hera and Harry, on their European backpacking trip and gave them a few tips for Florence and, despite our train from Florence to Siena being delayed, we managed to grab some food and eventually made it back at around 10pm.
It was a super exhausting trip, but I cannot believe the amount of things we managed to fit within four days. Piedmont, Lombardy and Liguria. Milano, Torino and Genova, the three capitals of the Triangolo Industriale – check!
Alla prossima!