Apr 27, 2017

YA-17: Dad comes to visit – Siena, Buonconvento, Montalcino and Florence!

Ciao! Here’s what I’ve been up to over the past few days…
As I mentioned in my last post, I had four quite uninteresting days in between coming back from Bologna and Dad arriving in Siena, in which I tried to be as productive as possible to get work out of the way. I was back on to eating healthy food and veggies (very much needed after indulging in Bologna) and had to run errands and study for upcoming exams. I went back to the gym, which completely destroyed me, ngl – proper working out after a five day unhealthy break is hard! I also went to Maudit with Jess, Emilia, Emi, Megan, and Ivo and his girlfriend. It was a fun night as per, but it was so empty because most students were still home for Easter… On Tuesday afternoon it was freezing but I met with Aksel, a French Erasmus student, to go for coffee and speak a bit of French and Spanish – downside was it took me forever to fall asleep that night because of the caffeine!
On Thursday I was back in my French lecture and then ran some errands to have everything ready because that night we were having Spanish night at mine. I cooked paella – starting to become a specialty – and Vero, Emilia, Jess and Megan came over with sangria and strawberries. It was a lovely get together before Jess and Megan went back home for the break. We have to organize dinners more often!

On Friday I again had a French lecture and then Emilia, Dan, Jess and I decided to try that Asian all-you-can-eat place in Via Pantaneto. We ordered a tonne of sushi and it was fairly good for 13 euros! We filled up our bellies with something other than pizza and pasta!
On Saturday I cleaned the house, again run some errands and finished some more work while I waited for Dad to arrive. I was planning on going to the gym but I was knackered from crossfit the night before so I stayed in instead and got more things for class done. Unfortunately Dad’s flight was diverted to Bologna so it took him a lot longer to arrive in Siena. Vueling and Italian transport is not great, so it was definitely unlucky that he ended up having to travel all day… I ended up picking him from Gramsci at around half nine. He was exhausted but it was lovely to finally see him again. I showed him home and he unpacked and settled in (I also now have my Summer clothes yay!).
On Sunday we woke up at around 10 and got ready to go on a tour of Siena. I showed him around most places: San Domenico (where we got to see the crypt which I think might be the Contrada del Drago church), Fonte Branda, the Duomo where a Contrada procession came out of, San Marco and the views from there, Mattioli, Orto Tolomei,… The weather was nice because the sun came out but wasn’t too strong. We had lunch at Dino’s – pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale, crostini, vino bianco della casa and tiramisú. The waiter happened to be one of the cinema students! The food was alright, but not the best. Then we went to Museo Contrada Capitana dell’Onda which was open and had a private tour – the lady didn’t speak any English or Spanish, but Dad got around with the Italian. As always, definitely worth it if you are around Siena on a Sunday! We continued the tour to Piazza del Mercato, Piazza del Campo, Via Pantaneto and down to San Niccolò before coming back home – we were so tired! We tried ricciarelli from Sclavi after dinner and organized the next few days before going to bed.
On Monday we got up early planning to head down to the station and rent a car. Turned out two of the three companies were closed and Hertz was too expensive, so rather than renting a car we took the bus to explore the Tuscan countryside. We went to Buonconvento, a tiny town south of Siena. It has a medieval fort and a couple of towers, as well as a tonne of beautiful flowers in gardens and balconies and flags showing off their ‘boghi più belli d’Italia’ status. We had lunch in a restaurant just outside the wall: risotto with carciofi, lasagne and an assortment of different hams. The food was very good but I didn’t like the flavour of my risotto, which was unfortunate.
We then took the bus to Montalcino, a bigger medieval town on top of a hill, famous for its wines Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. There are a few different churches –none out of the ordinary-, a fort and a lovely view of the crete senese or Sienese hills. The sun had come out so we spent an hour or so exploring the town (not very big so it didn’t take long) and then sat down under the sun and had a chat and something to eat while we waited for the bus back to Siena. It was a lovely day. Exploring the countryside is a lot easier when you have a car, but totally do-able if you don’t!
On Tuesday we decided to sleep in and stay in Siena to gain forces for Florence the following day. It was Giornata della Liberazione, which is a public holiday in Italy. I slept in, showered and got some work done while Dad went out to explore Siena on his own. It was a pretty chill day as all I really did was work for a bit, do some reading (I finally finished Anna by Niccolò Ammaniti!) and then Dad and I decided to go out on a walk to La Fortezza before coming back home.
On Wednesday we woke up early to catch the 9am bus to Florence, which took slightly longer than usual because of the traffic. It was also a gloomy day which was not the best for a Tuscan holiday, but we got away with only a few raindrops so that was fortunate. Once we arrived in Florence we decided to make our way down to the Arno and took a couple of pictures by Ponte Vecchio. We then headed to the Klimt Experience exhibition at Santo Stefano al Ponte, which was an interesting one. They had virtual reality masks and projections and music over the church chapel’s walls. It was interesting, I really like Klimt and hope to one day see his original paintings, but for now this was pretty cool.
After Klimt we decided to grab some lunch and headed towards the other side of Ponte Vecchio with the intention of finding a less touristy place… Without realizing Palazzo Pitti is right in that direction so it was full of tourists. Instead, we traced back over our steps and went towards the back of the Uffizi and got some schiacchiata fiorentina with different fillings from a corner shop. The man was really nice and it made for a quick lunch before heading to the Uffizi Gallery. We’d booked the tickets in advance so all we had to do was pick them up and head inside but it was poorly organized and it still took a while to get in. The Uffizi itself was a great experience, particularly seeing Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Allegory of Spring in real life. For some reason I thought they’d have that glaze that medieval paintings have, but the colours are actually quite pastel. I really enjoyed it. I also got to see a couple other great works by Giotto, a replica of the Laoconte that I had to study for high school and Leonardo Da Vinci’s restored Adoration of the Magi. Of course, the Tribuna and the main corridors were also amazing. Unfortunately, a couple of the rooms were closed which was a pity but I got to see most of the main works.
After the Uffizi we decided to try to get into the Accademia, but when we got there the queue was massive so we walked past and onto San Marco to see Fra Angelico’s frescoes – turns out the museum is only open during the morning so it was closed when we got there! Instead, we stopped at a café for coffee and some pastries as a pick-me-up after so much walking. Then we went back to the Duomo area and had a look around the shopping streets and found Hannibal Lecter’s bore statue in the market. Then we decided it was time to go back home so we took the bus back at six. Once back in Siena we gave Pomodorino a shot and were lucky enough that they had a table for us – we had some pizza and wine for dinner and, as per usual, they were so tasty!
On Thursday I had a lecture so we stayed in Siena. I spent the morning doing some work while Dad went out for a walk and then I had lunch and head out for the cinema lesson and to run some errands. After my class it was rainy and gloomy but I met Dad at the Piazza and we went to the Museo di Storia Naturale dell’Accademia dei Fisiocritici which was open that afternoon for an Assembly and museum visits. It was really cool – two floors full of different specimens of everything: minerals, fossils, bugs, human parts, animals, birds… It was amazing, displayed 1800s style in large vitrines with tags and original signs. We also went to the cellar where there is a planetarium and walked inside a drained well – it was so bizarre! Definitely worth popping in if you find it open, it is free entry and the exhibition is worth it!
After that we walked under the rain to get back home and put the heating to dry our clothes and then just relaxed and packed our bags for the weekend. Tomorrow we’re going to Pisa and we are planning on visiting Cinque Terre and Lucca, so I’m looking forward to that! More adventures to come soon!
Alla prossima!
Zoe


Apr 18, 2017

YA-16: Easter weekend in Bologna and Parma!

As a lot of you may know, I went to Bologna last weekend with Megan, to make the most of the Easter holidays. Vero was going to join us but she was sick so sadly she decided to stay in Siena to recover rather than go on the trip, fortunately she’s now feeling better. Here’s what we got up to…
On Friday morning I got up earlier than I actually needed to before the bus, and ended up nearly finishing 13 Reasons Why (last entry evidenced my addiction problem). However, Megan arrived to put her things in the suitcase and leave just as I was 30 minutes short of finishing the season. Worst timing ever, but my bad to decide to try and fit in 2 hours I didn’t actually have… We made our way to the station and, to our surprise, the bus was on time. Quite busy, but on time. And, behold, the wi-fi worked this time and I managed to finish the season while on the bus! Hurray for FlixBus working wi-fi! The trip was fine – it takes 2 hours to get to Bologna and I spent most of them sleeping or watching 13RW. Once we got to Bologna it was really hot in comparison to Siena, which was great! We didn’t have any problems getting the bus to the Airbnb and reaching the apartment itself: a bohemian student flat near Giardini Margherita and 15’ walk off the city centre. The flat was amazing and our hosts, Federica and Jacopo, were very nice. Our room was massive and so was the apartment and I absolutely fell in love with the decoration: full of posters, artsy prints, sketches on the walls, a tonne of books and music on vinyl playing in the background. Honestly, I wish I actually lived there! If you’re looking for a place to stay in Bologna give me a shout and I’ll give you the details of the place!
Once settled Megan and I had something to eat and then headed out to explore. It was lovely and sunny and we didn’t really have an itinerary so we just went out to have a wander around the city. We ended up visiting most of the main sights: we stumbled by chance onto Basilica di Santo Stefano which is known as the sette chiese because when you walk in you realize it is actually a cluster of different churches. It was amazing and I’m glad we actually walked in! We then kept on walking and went past leaning Torre Garisenda and Torre Asinelli with its everlasting queue and then turned onto the Old Jewish Quarter. As is to be expected, the cool cafés and restaurants were mostly in this part of the town and, although it was pretty quiet, I quite liked it. Then we went to a couple shops as Via dell’Indipendenza is flanked by a wide assortment of clothe shops unlike Siena (travelling is an excuse to go shopping!) and towards Piazza Maggiore which was full of people and we stopped to see a hip-hop group of dancers performing. The sun was setting and the buildings looked even more orange than usual which made them look so pretty! We kept wandering and went past a couple more interesting places like the Chiesa dei Celestini which is worth walking into if it’s open – the frescoes and decorations were breathtaking! -, the Archiginnasio which was closed by the time we walked past, and the Quadrilatero market – plagued with people and amazing food! 
We were quite hungry after so much walking so decided to go to Osteria dell’Orsa and see if we could get a table to try the famous tagliatelle al ragù. The restaurant, which has been recommended to us by a few people, was quite busy but we managed to get a table and order some wine, ragù and tiramisu. It was all fairly good but not the best place I’ve been to if I’m honest. If you’re looking for a cheap place that has the local specialties, definitely give it a try but don’t expect a culinary heaven experience!
After dinner we decided to go back to the Airbnb and get changed before heading back to the centre and meeting Dennis, a friend of Megan who was passing by Bologna at the same time. We weren’t really sure where the party was at but we were suggested Via Belvedere so there we went. By Mercato delle Erbe we managed to get a table and enjoy a couple of aperospritz while chatting. Apparently, Bologna is a great place for partying but we just happened to choose the worst time to go – Easter weekend when all the students have gone back home! It was fine though, after a couple of drinks we decided to change and go to Via Zamboni to search for a bar with music since Megan wanted to dance. Via Zamboni had a more student feel to it, but no places to dance. We ended up in an English pub that was playing some Spanish music but Megan was the only one dancing so we ended up leaving quite soon. At around 2 we were on our way back home – a different evening in a different city.
On Saturday we woke up early since we were going to catch a train to Parma to meet with Sara, my Skype tandem partner from last year. We had some trouble with the hob: apparently you had to use a normal lighter to light the flame as the spark did not work, however to do this you had to put your hand incredibly close to the flame so we developed a different technique requiring the two of us – lighting up a napkin while the other one started the gas and quickly putting the paper out after lighting the hob ring. Not the best technique but a little safer? Due to this mishap we missed the first bus to the station but made it in time to catch the train we wanted to get despite the station being super busy. The trip to Parma is about an hour long and went just fine – Sara was waiting for us at the platform which was great! It was fantastic to finally get to meet her, she’s so nice! She put the time aside to show us around Parma even though she was back home for the holidays – grazie mille! The day started quite chilly and overcast but eventually the sun came out. Sara showed us around the main locations in Parma: we walked along the Torrente up until the Palazzo della Pilotta (an evolution of the Spanish word ‘pelota’ in reference to Spanish soldiers playing there), the Duomo with it’s amazing frescoes inside, the Battisterio, the University, Via Cavour and Piazza Garibaldi with all their shops… We stopped for an early lunch at a café called Malva and I had to order some prosciutto crudo of course! I went for a smoothie and a cheese and crudo focaccia, it was so yummy! We then did some shopping and Sara had to leave us around 1 because she had to get back home to meet her family. It was so lovely seeing her, thanks again! Megan and I roamed the shops for a bit more and bought a couple of pieces before getting some dolci: the typical Italian colomba and another shortbread pastry filled with what tasted like mince pie. They were both super yummy. Parma is a more industrial-looking city; it has a lot of shops unlike Siena, but I’m happy with my Erasmus choice because Siena looks a lot more like my idea of an Italian city. It was great to discover Parma nonetheless – wish I had a bike too, because it’s so flat you can cycle everywhere! Then we made our way towards the station to get back to Bologna.
Once back in Bologna we were knackered after a late night and early rise so I took a nap and shower before going back out in search of dinner. We decided we wanted to get some Indian food and good old Google suggested a place near Via Belvedere called Ristorante India. The place was massive and the food was great. Megan went for dhal, some basmati rice and melanzane  while I opted for the chicken biryani with some mango lassu. I’m proud to say I made it through – I’m not one for spices as Vidushi can tell, but I ate the whole thing and survived! It was really good even though my mouth was on fire afterwards. I then decided to treat myself to a McFlurry on our way home (I’m so mainstream), but they had a baci fondente one which has probably now become my favourite flavour – it was so rich!
On Easter Sunday Megan was so nice surprising me with some Easter eggs! We don’t really do eggs in Spain so I always forget they are a thing in England – thanks Megs xx We woke up fairly late and eventually gave up on our initial plan of hiking to San Luca because it was too far away and we had to take a couple of different buses just to get close to it. Instead, we decided to do the sette segreti di Bologna that Giacomo had told us about on Thursday night. We were on our way into town when, surprise-surprise, we bumped into Sebastian! The German Erasmus student who showed us around Pisa! I swear I don’t know how we do it, but we always end up randomly bumping into people we know when we are away… Italy can’t be that small, right? He was on a trip with some friends – such a coincidence that we happened to walk through the same street at the same time! The seven secrets didn’t take too long because we had already done a couple of them. The list varies from page to page, but here’s a list:
·         Laughing satire head in Piazza di Santo Stefano
·         Sette Chiese (Basilica di Santo Stefano)
·         Statua di Nettuno’s erection (unfortunately for us, it was under restoration)
·         Glass on top of Torre Asinelli (we didn’t go up, but apparently the broken glass is not there anymore…)
·         ‘Canabis Protectio’ sign on the ceiling of the archway between Via dell’Indipendenza and Via Rizzoli
·         Voltone del Podestà’s “wireless telephone”
·         La freccia (arrow) on the ceiling of Corte Isolani
·         The finestrella in Via Piella 16, which looks like little Venice
If you want to learn why these places are quirky, make sure to look them up on Google. It takes about half an hour to visit them all as they are pretty close to each other and we actually had gone past them before – just didn’t know what we had to pay attention to! My favourites are the finestrella and the seven churches.
We then did some more shopping and had lunch at Regina Margherita, a Neapolitan pizza place. Mine had mozzarella, basilica, pomodoro and DOP olive oil and it was amazing! Definitely a place to recommend if you’re looking for a place to eat in Bologna. It’s a bit off the beaten path which means more local ;)
After a filling lunch, we went past the airbnb to drop the cameras and get some water before hitting Giardini Margherita because the weather was so lovely it was calling for an afternoon in the park. We spent a good three hours sunbathing, reading and napping. It was great! The park was also really busy with a lot of families out on a walk after Easter lunch.
After having a shower we decided to go out for dinner to a tortellini place we’d seen in Via Marsala to try out the tortellini in brodo. It was a poor choice of restaurant sadly – the brodo  was really salty and the service was insanely slow. Do not recommend. We then went back home and chilled before bed – random hail included, it seemed like the ceiling was going to collapse over our heads!
Finally Monday, Pasquetta, was our last day in Bologna. It was a sunny and calm day as most shops were closed. We got ready and left all our stuff more or less packed and ready to go before heading out the door into the centre. We decided to take a different route into the centre which took us past Galleria Cavour where all the high-end shops are. And then out near the market and towards the Archiginnasio. The University of Bologna is the oldest university currently still active and it was amazing to visit the main old building and the famous Teatro Anatomico where they used to teach Science lectures and the Sala dello Stabat Mater that now houses a large collection of old academic books. The whole building was beautiful, with the walls decorated with coats of arms and names of the former graduates of the University. It was definitely one of the prettiest and richest buildings in Bologna, definitely worth a visit if you’re around!
After visiting the Archiginnasio we didn’t have much else to do so we wandered around the smaller streets and tried to stay in the sun because the breeze was actually quite chilly. We ended up at Naama Dolci, a Middle Eastern pastry shop near Piazza Maggiore. We’d walked past it on Friday and an Italian passer-by had said it was really good, so we went inside and got ourselves some treats. I went for a honey and nut pastry and another one filled with dates. I can’t remember the names, but they were sublime! We enjoyed them in the sun of Piazza Maggiore, listening to a nearby busking brass band and watching the people walk past. We then got a little hungrier so headed to the market to get some food – I settled for a crudo and mozzarella farcita and a spinach and cheese calzone while Megan got a melanzane pastry and a mortadella sandwhich. All really good and pretty cheap. We ate under the sun again and then decided to go to a couple other shops before heading back to the airbnb and retrieving our stuff. The trip back was fine, we got the bus and the FlixBus was on time again which was great.
All in all, it was a great weekend away. Bologna is a gorgeous city with great food. It was a nice combination of new and old buildings and I wish it had been an option for the Erasmus exchange, just like Pisa. I’ve really liked both cities. Bologna, with its nice Spring weather, alleged student atmosphere (we just happened to go on holiday period when students were out of town), culinary and cultural landscapes, is definitely a place to stop by if you get the chance!
Hope you enjoyed the post! Make sure to follow me on my social media to see more amazing pictures and keep up to date:

This week I’m staying in Siena getting work done before Dad comes to visit, so a few more boring days before travelling starts again – keep your eyes peeled!
Ci sentiamo!

Zoe

Apr 13, 2017

YA-15: contrada parties, Piazza del Campus and other events in Siena!

Turns out Erasmus students also have to work, which means these past two weeks I’ve spent in good old Siena, no fancy weekend trips (although that ends this week – keep your eyes peeled for my next post about Bologna and Parma next weekend!). I have spent quite some time doing revision and getting work out of the way, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t done anything interesting (it’s Erasmus after all…). Here’s what I’ve been up to.
The first week of April Siena held a chocolate festival: CioccoSi 2017. This meant Piazza del Campo was extraordinarily busy since they set up some stalls (a little bit like Bath Christmas Market), full of chocolate and other sweet goodies. There were different chocolate-related events throughout the week, but I only visited when going past the Piazza after lectures. Prices were insanely high, but the stalls did look cute and I did treat myself to a freshly-made waffle with dark chocolate and panna… I went on the last day again in hopes of price reductions but I think it was way too early when I went so prices were the same… It coincided with International Autism Day (2nd April) so I did catch an event held by Piccolo Principe, the Autism Association in Siena, with dancers and a communal release of blue balloons to raise awareness about autism. It was a lovely event despite the rain!
I also did some tandem-exchanges. On the 28th I met with Lorenza and Giorgia to go for apericena at bar Impero. The food was pretty good. I had a virgin mojito and a couple helpings of food… They were both quite nice and we chatted a bit, mostly in Italian, to get to know each other. I’ve seen Lorenza again a couple of times, either out at Al Cambio or an afternoon at the Fortezza when I joined her and her friends to sunbathe for a bit. I’ve also met again with Grazia. Last Sunday I met with her at the Piazza and we caught up and went for gelato – the weather has been amazing! We also explored a bit of Siena while the sun was setting which was lovely. She’s a great tandem partner.
Tuesday nights have become a rather eventful night in Siena after discovering the karaoke and Maudit. I’ve been to both since. On the 18th Megan and I went to La Piazzetta for the karaoke night which was quite fun. Definitely less busy than the previous time and Francesco and Federico were adamant that Megan and I sung. It had a slow take-off but once the Portuguese and Brazilians arrived it was a massive lusophone party. That night we also met Gaetano and Tarek, an Italian student and his former-Erasmus Egyptian friend who was visiting. We happened to see them around again which was surprising because Siena is small, but not that small! The following Tuesday it was Maudit night so Megan and I headed there early to grab a table and bumped into Duncan and his French flatmate. Vero joined us a little later too. It was a fun night, Megs got a tonne of messages and the night was rounded up with a very strange introduction to a drunk class mate from Lingua Francese… It was a fun night. I went back this week again, this time with Jess, Emilia, Nat, Fiona and Ivo (shout-out to Ivo who reads the blog!). We sat near the entrance since there weren’t many big tables free and we had a lot of fun sending messages to random strangers. Biglietti night at Maudit always takes a bit to set off but once it does it’s a lot of fun – brings your inner child out.
I have also been doing a lot of exercise and healthy eating, for which I’m pretty proud. I still find it funny how I came to Italy thinking I’d put on a couple of pounds and so far I’m doing even better than when I’ve been in England… I’ve settled for Power Pump and Crosstraining with random visits to the gym. Hopefully I’ll get round to learning how to use the machines properly and get actual use out of them!
On the 31st instead of having a film screening for cinema class we had to attend an event, ‘Omaggio a Marco Grande’ who was a film critic who taught lectures at the University and recently passed away. The three speakers were talking about Grande’s work on Ferreri’s films and there was one of them being projected in the background – I didn’t know anything about either of them but the film (a sixties/seventies completely surrealist piece) caught my eye and now I kind of want to watch it… Other than that, it was good for my Italian but not particularly relevant to the course.
That same night the plan was to have a girls’ night out in La Cantina with Vero, Megan and Jess, but again, stuff came up and it ended up being just Megs and I (oh, what a surprise! haha). While we were debating over what to do, there was a weird night-time procession with a cross and candles going up my road which was really random… Anyway, making use of secret sources, we found out there was a contrada party at Chiocciola. Now, contrada parties are great. Megan and I have definitely started to get a bearing of what goes down as you’ll soon know. Technically, it’s a party for contradaioli but once the word of mouth spreads everybody ends up at the party and it’s free entry which is great. It’s a hit and miss though, because there are usually quite a lot of clearly under-age teens and the DJ can be really good or really bad, but you have to try them out. Chiocciola was great – the music was fantastic because they played Spanish music but also Italian hits and British and American goldies, great mix. The crowd was alright and we randomly ended up bumping into Gaetano and Tarek who we’d met at the tandem and we ended up dancing all night with them two, their Spanish also-former-Erasmus-friend Enrique and a bunch of other people. It was such a fun night, I really enjoyed it. The next contrada party was the following night – this time Istrice which was kind of a let-down. The place was amazing and surprisingly big as you go down the corridor to a massive room. However, the music wasn’t great and the crowd was made of bambini basically… The party ended at 1 so we then – again with Gaetano, Tarek and Enrique – went to Al Cambio. Reggeatón duro and creeps are not my thing so we ended up going home pretty early. Hit and miss like I say. The following Saturday I met at around 7:30 with Nat, Jess and Emilia to check out the event ‘Swinging on Porrione’ which was live music, dancing, and stalls selling art, clothes and food in Porrione. It was quite busy and it reminded me of the events back home which was really nostalgic. They got some food and we walked around and had a chat. At around nine I went back home for dinner and then headed out to go to Megan’s before going to l’Aquila. We’d heard there was a beer party in the contrada (trying contradas yet again), but when we got there it didn’t look too lively so we headed to l’Onda instead where there was an actual party. We danced until around one before swapping to Al Cambio, which for once was emptier and with better music than the previous week. We had a slice of pizza from Lievito Madre before heading home quite late. Great night out. I can’t wait for outdoor contrada parties, I’m becoming a fan.
In these past few weeks I’ve also tried Italian cinema. I went to watch Beauty and the Beast with Megan and Jess one weekend afternoon. The cinema is near my house and, although the room is quite small, they have a decent film choice. Bad use of space though because the corridors are terribly empty and resemble an old hospital… I absolutely loved the film though, and if you haven’t watched it yet, you definitely should! They are both true to the original cartoon and different for the better, fixing plot holes and adding new songs. I loved the new version and have been listening to the soundtrack a lot lately… The weirdest thing was having everything dubbed – songs included – which meant I didn’t actually realize who the cast were until they turned back to human! Easy to follow though, which was good. Cinema trips in France and Italy? Check.
Megan and I also visited contradas by day. On the 2nd we attempted to make the most of the free museum entry on the first Sunday of the month, only to find out we missed the Pinacoteca because it is open only until one (will be doing that next month). So we ended up at Contrada Capitana dell’Onda whose museum happened to be open. It was really interesting because there was a guide who showed us around and explained all the history of the place and contrada. The exhibition was amazing but it was just great to hear the pride in the contradaioli’s voices. We learned a couple interesting facts and had a look around the treasures they house like the original plaster statues by sculptor Giovanni Duprè or the Palio flags from Onda’s winning races. If you happen to run into an open contrada museum, definitely pop-in; they are free and very unique!
A couple extra random events I’ve attended/things I’ve done. We finally got round to having a Lalaland film-night, popcorn included which was a good alternative to going out. I’ve had to work and study quite a bit these past weeks so having an earlier night is great… Also sunbathing and revising on the Piazza with the Brits which serves a double purpose: studying while developing my non-existent tan (I definitely look the least Spanish I am able to, shielding away because it wasn’t until now I managed to get some sunscreen…). Another lovely thing was videocalling Moni who I hadn’t spoken to in ages! It was great to catch up with her and Fécamp. I miss the school and the people I met there. I’m sure now that spring is here the beach will be so much nicer! Can’t wait to meet up with her in Glasgow! I also went with Vero to Un Tubo for the first time which is a bar just off Via del Porrione, quite fancy and different. There was a poetry night on the 5th with contemporary Italian poets reading out their work. It was so full we didn’t actually manage to get a table so we ended up sitting outside and chatting for like 3 hours. Lovely night, but not much Italian practice!
On Thursday the 6th I sucked it up and went to La Piazzetta because there was an apericena to recruit writers for the student newspaper in Siena. I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet Italians and practice some writing, so I forced myself to go – yep, I still have to do this sometimes, getting out of my comfort zone is not easy. Glad I went because it was a great evening! When I arrived it was quite late so I had missed the presentation but a girl called Giuglia filled me in on the information and started to introduce me to everybody! I cannot remember half the names, but it was great. They are pretty excited to have an Erasmus student collaborating and I’m pretty excited to start too. There’ll be a meeting after Easter and I already have a couple post ideas lined up. Here is the page if you want to check the journal – it’s quite new (est. last December) and only electronic but they are getting there! https://piazzadelcampus.it/  I stayed for a couple of drinks talking to people and walked with them to Cacio e Pere but came back home early because I had a 9am the next day. Such a great experience; cannot wait to start!
Last few points worth mentioning. The French test and presentation went just fine and we only have a couple extra classes before the module finishes, which is great because the other two modules are turning out to be quite time-consuming. I also decided to start 13 Reasons Why two days ago and I’m already over half way along the series and restraining myself from binging. Send help. It’s not even that good. And, finally, I got elected SocialSec for the Fencing Club next year which is exciting but I don’t really know what I’ve got myself into…We’ll have to wait and see.
I’m off to Bologna with Vero and Megan this weekend and will be going to Parma too to meet Sara. I’ll try my best to have a post about the trip up as soon as possible once I’m back, but bear with because I genuinely have a lot of stuff to catch up on!
A presto!
Zoe


Mar 27, 2017

YA-14: visiting Perugia and Assisi!

Ciao!
Apparently Erasmus study is not a five-month vacation and work is starting to pile up, hence this post being put up quite late (scusate, devo studiare!).
Assisi
On the Thursday before Perugia I had to run a few errands, including trying to hand in my Learning Agreement only to be told that I needed the change form to be signed before I could be signed up to my lessons… It was so annoying because it meant having to chase the Coordinator here (and by chase, I mean it took us forever). I will be writing a post about the Erasmus paperwork on the University of Bath Placements’ blog (which you can find here: http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/hss-placements/ ), so keep your eyes peeled for a detailed description of the mare…
Anyhow, I eventually managed to pack my little weekend suitcase and I met with Vero, Jess and Megan to go out for dinner. Initial plan was going to Dino’s for some cinghiale ragù, but the place was closed so we ended up in Nonna Gina. The food was great – I had tortellini con panna e prosciutto and we had some shots of amaretto and grapa on the house. The waiter was really nice and it was an overall lovely evening chatting and eating – what more could we ask for?
On Friday I went to my regular lessons and then Megan and I set off on our Umbria escapade. First problem? Megan couldn’t print her tickets. Fortunately they only need the QR code so having them on your phone is alright. Second problem? The Flixbus was delayed by a whole hour, which meant we weren’t actually pressed for time to get to the station, but that it took us a while to reach Perugia. The coach trip itself was fine – I slept – and then Cristina came to pick us up at the bus station. We just about managed to catch the last minimetrò into the city (guys, it’s a super cute tram that connects the centre to the peripheries) and the bus to her house. We were knackered and starving by the time we arrived, but finally there. Cristina (you might remember her from my Stonehenge and Glastonbury posts) was lovely enough to host us for the three nights and we stayed in her sister’s room. Her house is amazing and she was happy to show us around for the weekend which was fantastic! On Friday evening all we really did was have dinner together and broadly plan our weekend. We had frittata and veggies with chocolate cake for dinner and we met her flatmate Francesca. Then we called it a day – we were tired!
On Saturday morning we got up at a decent time and got ready to head over to the station and get the train. Plan? Spend the day in Assisi which is a small town nearby. We took the 10:18 train and reached Assisi in about half an hour. The day started sort of cloudy but eventually the sun came out so, although it was a bit chilly, it was nice out in the sun. First we walked from the station to Porziuncola which is the Cathedral that San Francesco built. We passed a MacDonald’s on the way (I don’t even eat there often but it’s nice to have the option…) and there were security checks at the entrance to the Cathedral, but nothing much. The Cathedral itself was quite nice. No pictures allowed but I managed to sneak a couple of snaps… The unique thing about it is that the actual building built by San Francesco’s order is still inside the nave, so it’s a church within a church. We also walked around the Rose Gardens but it was too early for them to be in bloom… After Porziuncola we decided to head to Alto Assisi. We were going to take the bus but the day was so nice we opted to follow the pilgrim path instead. There is a brick path connecting Porziuncola with Alto Assisi paved with names of contributors, so we made our way. It took about half an hour to reach the town. It was worth it though, the sun was lovely and we got to see the landscape properly and get some really nice shots of the town from the outside.
Eventually we got to Alto Assisi and reached the Basilica di San Francesco. It took a bit of effort and by the end we were hot and sweaty but we did get the proper pilgrimage experience right? To get into the Basilica we again had to go through security control and this stop was clearly more touristy. Fortunately, the entrance to these places is free despite them being so touristy, which is great because you actually have to pay to get into the Cathedral here in Siena… Anyway, the interior of the Basilica was amazing – decorated with frescoes by Giotto. Again, no pictures allowed but I managed to take a couple of them before being told off… I didn’t think I’d visit Assisi and see the frescoes, so I’m happy I actually got the chance!
After the Basilica we were kind of hungry so went out on the search for a non-touristy restaurant. On our way we passed the Piazza Comunale and a few pastry shops which looked absolutely amazing and sugar overdose provoking. We eventually settled for a place called Terra Chiama which looked sleek and not that touristy despite still being quite central. I went for tagliatelle con asparagi selvaggi and they were so yummy! The waiter was also really welcoming and the options Megan and Cristina chose were just as tasty as mine, so if you’re ever in Assisi definitely check them out! Also, the decoration of the toilet was definitely curious, so I’ll leave it for you to discover…
After lunch we walked to Santa Chiara where there were some alleged treasures from the era – personally doubt that but each to their own. The views from the piazza in front of the church were great though. From there we kept on climbing, went past San Rufino but couldn’t enter because there was a funerary service and eventually reached Rocca Maggiore which is the medieval fortress at the top of Assisi – made it from the bottom and now we’re at the top, right? Unfortunately, we had to pay to enter the fortress so we ditched that and walked around the building. The views were amazing – we could see where we’d got off the train and the long distance we’d crossed. There were also wild donkeys and two tourists having a full-blown photo shoot with them; it was hilarious!
On our way back to the station we decided to reward ourselves and went into Pasticceria Santa Monica for some treats. The place reminded me of La Casita and the two waitresses were blasting old-school hits on the speakers – so cool! I got a cappuccino and shared some panpepato and fondente with puffed rice and forest berries which was pure dark chocolate heaven with Megan. Definitely needed after such a hike, but we were so full by the end! We actually stayed there for a couple of hours chatting which was super nice. Then we walked back to the station as the sun was setting and got back to Perugia. We were knackered but as it was a Saturday we decided to go out on a night stroll after dinner. Francesca and Cristina took us around the centre, which was packed with students as it was Saint Paddy’s. Somehow we ended up at an Irish SU party where they were playing live folk music – it was great! And what a surprise when I turn around and suddenly see a bunch of Erasmus students from Siena! What were the odds?!
On Sunday we woke up latish, I took a shower and we got ready to explore Perugia. Perugia is a pretty big city if you consider the outskirts, but the actual historical centre is quite small and reachable from Cristina’s house. We visited a lot of places: il Templo, la Fontana Maggiore, il Palazzo dei Priori, il Pozza Etrusco, la Galeria Nazionale, la Catedrale, Rocca Paolina, Piazza IV Novembre, I Giardini Cardicei, San Francesco al Prato, la Via dei Corsi,… We pretty much did all of it and it looked very different from the night before even though it was the same places. Everything is also quite close which was good because we avoided having to walk too much. 
We had lunch at Il Testone and had a torta al testo which is supposed to be a special dish from Perugia. It’s like a sandwich with focaccia style bread and mine was filled with sausage and spinach. It was really good. We had lunch under the sun and then went to grab some bio ice-cream; mine was orange flavour and a combination of ginger, pear and cinnamon – so good! We also did some shopping and got ourselves some 5 euro sunnies from Tiger because why not? 
After that we decided to go back home and rest for a bit. Cristina was going to mass and we were to join her later to go for dinner with her church friends. I really wanted to meet up with Fra and Luca but unfortunately they had been busy over the weekend and I had already agreed to go to the dinner, which went on longer than we anticipated. It was a bit of a strange situation because I'm personally not religious so I felt a bit out of place even though everybody was nice and polite. After the dinner we wanted to get some cornetti with Nutella because it’s tradition to get them after a night out and since it was our last night there we wanted to try them. The place Cristina usually goes to was closed so we went to another one – it was a Kurdish shop tender with whom we had an interesting conversation about Kurdish treats like baklava which he also sold. It was really hard to understand his accent but we made it work! I had a ciambelli with Nutella which is pretty much a chocolate spread filled donut. Yum!
On Monday morning we were returning to Siena, so we took it slow and got ready and made our way to the bus stop – missed the first bus but we weren’t in a hurry so it was alright! The Flixbus was again late so we had to wait under the sun for a bit but we made it home.
Grazie mille Cristina for having us over the weekend, it was great to see you again!
The rest of Monday I spent running errands, cleaning, cooking and all that jazz. I’ve signed up for three more months at the gym so there is no escape now! This week I haven’t done much as I’ve been busy with getting the Erasmus paperwork sorted, catching up with lectures and preparing my French presentation for Friday. Even though most of the week has been fairly uninteresting, here are the things worth jotting down.
On Tuesday evening I went with Vero, Megan and Jess to the Tea Room near Piazza del Mercato and had a lovely piece of cake with some lemon and ginger tea – definitely going back! And then later that night Megan and I went to the ESN tandem but since it didn’t look very promising we ended up joining Megan’s flatmate and her friends at Maudit, an English pub where they give you a number and you can send other customers messages. It was a lot of fun – there’s mean people but you can also have a laugh! Definitely going there again! On Thursday I met with an Italian girl called Grazia from UniStraSi for a tandem exchange and it was really nice. We spoke a bit of Italian, Spanish and French and I hope to meet up with her again soon! Then on Friday night we went out to a student party at Contrada dell’Onda. I went to Megan’s for pres but ended up swapping location to the Piazza with Vero and Suzanne. The night was alright – the music wasn’t great but we had fun nonetheless. Vero and I ended leaving after it finished at 3 and managed to grab the last pizza slice at La Trofea and enjoy it on the Piazza. I ended up going to bed at like half five… Therefore, on Saturday I was exhausted but I forced myself to get up at 10, go out to buy a couple of things I needed (yay new trainers!) and do some more presentation work and then I met with Vero and Megan in the evening to book our Easter weekend in Bologna – can’t wait! We will also be going to Parma to visit Sara, so I’m looking forward to it! There was another student party that night that I really wanted to go to, but with only four hours of sleep I decided to stay in… #soboring Sunday I spent at home (the weather wasn’t great anyway) – I slept in, made pancakes for brunch, cleaned and finished some work. It was a pretty chill day. Also, there was a dead pigeon on our corridor and neighbour drama went down because nobody wanted to touch it… It eventually disappeared. And today has also been pretty chill. I finally managed to hand in my LA and I succeeded at making banana bread for the first time. Later I’ll go to the gym and I’m planning on having an early night…
This week I’ve also decided to run for fencing Social Secretary next year. I’m going to be snowed under with work but it’s the last year of Uni so I want to make the most of it! If I’m honest, I can’t wait to go back to England! I’m missing fencing and BUSMS and general British life-style…
Sorry for the long and overdue post, but I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless. See you next time and don’t forget to follow me on my other social media:

Mar 15, 2017

YA-13: Pisa and Enrico comes to visit!

Ciao! 
Lately my life has been both average and interesting. My days have been quite dull save for a couple events and I think ‘freshers’ flu’ has actually struck disguised as ‘Erasmus’ flu’ after the Welcome Week, as most people ended up staying home last week because of stomach/head/throat discomfort. I seem to have been able to mostly avoid it *knocks on wood* aside from a little sore throat and tiredness that I’m putting down to the fact that it’s that time of the month and that days have been pretty warm with quite cold nights…aka temperature changes…aka not good.
Anyhow, as I’ve said, nothing much has happened. Last week I attempted a Storia degli Istituzioni Politiche with Jess on Monday which was an absolute failure. It was a mix of law and political history and we spent two hours listening to the professor talk about the barbaric communities after the dissolution of the Roman Empire… Struck a bell with me but she spoke so quickly and the topic was so uninteresting for me that I gave up note-taking half way through, and following the course altogether not long after. End result? I had to look for a replacement module. On Wednesday I attempted to go and see the Rhetoric teacher, to figure out if I will actually (and successfully) be able to take the module… He wasn’t in his office so I went again today. He seemed quite nice and the module is very appealing but since it doesn’t start until May, I’m trying out Storia Sociale in the meantime so I have a backup plan. The teacher is really nice and the lectures are easy to follow as it’s pretty much primero de bachillerato contemporary history material. I will sign up for this and then eventually try out Rhetoric anyway – it’s a masters module so it might be harder to follow. Tomorrow when I hand in my Learning Agreement I will check that I can indeed change later on if needed.
This week I’ve also been going to the gym. Turns out the initial idea of coming back from Italy like a potato is unlikely to happen, as I’m filling my time with two weekly workout lessons and some visits to the gym with Jess #gymbuddy. Working that summer body (so we also have an excuse to eat gelato and pizza). Not a bad combination. I feel tired but content after the workout session and hopefully I will keep it up – will have to keep it up because it costs a fortune to go to that gym…
I’ve also been filling my time doing some course reading, but I feel I don’t really have much work to do aside from catching up on lectures I’ve missed… Ideally I will soon make a trip to the Library and take out a book in Italian or French (or both!). The weather has been so nice lately that one of my favourite past-times in sunbathing on the Piazza. If I have a book, I will at least feel like I’m doing something useful with my time. I miss reading but I want to limit the tablet e-books to my coursework, because I’m not a great fan of the electronic device. Hopefully I’ll find something interesting!
On Tuesday night Jess, Emilia and I went to an aperitandem in a bar nearby. It was packed by the time we got there and we didn’t really find anywhere to sit so we just hung around. By ten just as we were about to leave, they suddenly yelled ‘Tandem is about to start downstairs, guys!’ so downstairs we went. The event was organized by the ESN people – must say it could be improved. I guess it was because there were lots of people but we all just randomly chose a place rather than sitting according to target languages, which made us three end up in the English speaking table along with two Turkish gals and a pair of Italians. It was worth it because I met an Italian girl who was quite nice and potentially interested in a tandem exchange and I also met another guy who happens to be taking the Rhetoric module in May. We spoke English, which was not ideal, but hopefully next time (they organize them fortnightly) there will be less people and I’ll be able to speak some French or Spanish… Or Italian for that matter – it’s really hard to find opportunities to have a long conversation in italiano, crazy as it may sound!
On Wednesday, which was Women’s Day, I felt sick with cramps which was not a great start. I ran some errands and stayed at home. I really wanted to go to an apericena organized by Amnesty Siena about Rosa Parks – hoping to meet some Italians there. But I felt so sore I ended up staying in. No Al Cambio, no nothing. I watched a film and went to sleep. I hate it when this happens and I have to miss opportunities because I can barely move and have to walk around with a hot water bottle glued to my stomach. It called ‘the curse’ for a reason.
The rest of the week was pretty chill though. The weather was amazing on Thursday and Friday so on Friday I had lunch on the Piazza with Megan and Jess between my lectures, and afterwards relaxed at home. I’ve discovered my window sill is a pretty sweet spot to read or have a drink – quiet, in the shade and with great views. I feel like I will spend a lot of time sitting there when the weather definitely gets warmer.
Now what you’ve all been waiting for, our day trip to Pisa on Saturday. Megan and I got up early to catch the 9:20 train to Pisa – you have to change at Empoli and I must say it takes nearly two hours each way so it’s a pretty long trip. Anyway, the weather was lovely (chillier than in Siena but the sky was clear blue and the sun was shining). We arrived at around 11am and made our way to Piazza dei Miracoli to start with. I’d been to Pisa before but I barely remembered anything aside from the station and the actual Piazza, so my memories were not of much help. We managed to get there without any problem (it’s quite an easy city to navigate) and there we were joined by Sebastian, a German guy studying in Pisa who Megan and Jess met during their language course. It was great! He joined us and was our guide for the day, which was so nice of him and spared us from having to pull out the maps all the time. In the Piazza dei Miracoli we saw the Leaning Tower (touristy picture included, of course), the Cathedral and Baptistery. It was packed with tourists as expected. The tower is a lot prettier than I remember – not as tall but under the sun it looked amazing. We then went into the city and walked around –Sebastian showed us part of his University and a couple other random spots in the city: a nice Piazza where students meet, lots of other piazzas and alleys. We, of course, also visited the popular sightseeing spots: Chiesa della Spina (amazing church by the river), the river Arno, Palazzo Blu, Giardino Scotto (which looked like the Fortezza Medicea in Siena) and Keith Haring’s 1989 mural Tuttomondo which was amazing. We had lunch at a pizzeria Megan had read was supposed to be very good – we waited for over an hour for some not-so-amazing pizzas so I will not even mention the name of the place. Mistaken choice. At least the beer was good. Megan and I also tried panpepato which is a Tuscan pastry made with pepper and I must say I’m a fan – it’s like panforte but with a more unique taste. Definitely try it if you get a chance. 
After the sightseeing we parted with Sebastian and stopped by to do some much needed clothes shopping. I got myself some emergency shorts in case the weather gets too warm before Dad brings me my summer clothes. I also tried (and failed) to find nice plain white shirts so bought an over-priced Mango one and I could not keep myself from buying an orange red jumper. Completely unnecessary but I fell in love and there are no shops in Siena so I thought I might as well buy it. Happy and tired, we made the long trip back home and that was a wrap for the day. There was a Limoncello Fountain Tour and night out at Al Cambio that night but we were knackered from the long day so it was a no from us.
On Monday morning we met with Enrico in the Piazza – he came to visit and check on us! He invited us for coffee and pastries at Nannini and then took us to an amazing place near Piazza del Mercato called Gino Cacino for wine (Montalcino for red and Vernaccia for white) and we had a tagliere di salumi and crostini for lunch: a cutting board full of different hams, cheeses and bread with different toppings. My favourites were pesto, ceci and pepper. It was such a lovely meal and it was great to catch up with him. He updated us on all the Bath news and we had a lovely long chat about our respective Erasmus experiences and how to make the most of our time here. We’ve really missed him and we all miss Bath and can’t wait to be back next year (despite the work-load!). Grazie mille per il pranzo Enrico!
Then yesterday and today I’ve pretty much spent running errands and catching up on missed lectures (which takes forever, by the way). I’ve binge eaten a lot of unhealthy food so today I cooked a batch of veggies to keep me going the rest of the week. Last night was Karaoke night so the British lot went and it was so much fun! La Piazzetta (same place as for the apericena) was packed and Dan got the ball rolling by performing ‘Wonderwall’ – such a classic. Nat and Emilia nailed the ‘Wannabe’ rap, kudos. We sang a lot and very badly and we had a couple of drinks. Let’s get the playlist ready for next time!
Tonight I’m going to Al Cambio, since it’s been ages since I last went out to dance. Tomorrow I have to pack as this weekend Megan and I are going to Perugia to visit Cristina, so keep your eyes peeled for the next entry!
Alla prossima!