Like Craig David...

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Wednesday, 29 September 2010 at 17:20

Let me fill you in! There's not all that much to this, so I'll keep it short. Story of my life.

Uni has been postponed a week, so there's nothing exciting going on. Lectures start, at least for me, at 11am on Monday morning. I've changed my course - because Lettere Moderna e Contemporanea has been moved to the second semester. Now I'm studying General Linguistics, History of Medieval Art, Italian Literature, and possibly Italian Language. Allora, the run-down of the last few days:

So, Saturday, thanks to brilliant advice from Nuno, a Portuguese Erasmus student, I found my way to LIDL. #3 bus to Piazza della Vittoria, walk around the corner to Strada Nuova Demetrio, wait ten minutes for the #1a to San Martino Piemonte, ride to the end of the line, walk across the 'bypass road', and you're at LIDL. Never have I been so happy to find food that was so much cheaper than Eurospar! Still, Carrefour isn't as far, and it's prices are reasonable (not as much as Eurospar, but not quite as cheap as LIDL), so I guess I'll keep going there as it's on my way back...

Sunday went as Sunday always does. Pretty much the same for Monday too - all this saving money has been driving me pazzi. I went to town Monday to suss out the Uni buildings, and got lost a bit. Oh well, I think I know my way around now!

Tuesday was another trip to Lago di Como, but this time I went with people, and we wandered around in awe of how amazing it was. And, finally, made it to the Lighthouse on top of the mountain, which was like a half hour walk uphill, and was followed by much sighing, photographing of scenery, and faux-complaining. Here are the only pictures I took that day of note:

Il Faro Voltiero
A view from the mountain.
Not of Como.
I believe it's Cernobbio and Chiasso.

Today was the Erasmus Welcome Day. A load of us turned up at 9.30, expecting some amazing Freshers' Fayre. Nope - a few tables. Blergh. I got a nice Università degli Studi di Pavia tote bag, but that was about the only highlight of the day. The midday talk went unheard by everyone because the microphones were shoddy quality (or just too quiet). The lunch was nice, but they ran out of red wine too fast for my alcoholic liking - still, I got my fill of Risotto for the week! I can now also add Lebanon and Palestine to the ever growing list of places I know people from, which includes but is not limited to: Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Hungary, America, France, Colombia, and Türkiye.

This was followed, much later, by a Lettere e Filosofie talk. I guess it was fairly interesting. It was definitely the only thing today that made sense. And now, I've returned home, tired, cooked some spaghetti and mince in arrabbiata sauce...and been told "It's too early. Why are you eating now!?" by one of my flatmates. I guess hungry is as hungry does?

So, tomorrow I get kicked out of my room from 9 til 12 again. I guess I'll head down to the Uni Bar and try to suss out the Uni wifi if it's sunny. It'd be nice to be able to sit in the cortili on a Wednesday when I only have one free hour, sipping cappuccino, eating whatever I can find, and fucking about on the internet. Or perhaps I'll go and look around the libraries - since I have no idea which one of the three in the centre is mine - I guess Polo San Tommaso since it's History & Literature, but maybe not as this is Italy after all...

That's it. Nothing special at all. Not a jot -- no drunkenness, no debauchery, no passionate kisses in the middle of the many, beautiful storms we get here. Nothing. Ecco la vita, I guess.

A presto!

Culture Shock?

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Friday, 24 September 2010 at 14:59

I've started to notice a lot that there are many, many strange little words that get thrown around here, and I've yet to master them completely. I figure, since my day is being wasted so as I don't spend any more money unnecessarily, I'd let you know a few of them:

  • When answering the phone, I have a habit of saying Ciao or Sì? - in fact, I should be shouting Pronto!
  • When saying hello, there are more ways than just Buongiorno/Buonasera and Ciao. Apparently Salve works just as well.
  • When saying goodbye, there are many ways around it: Arrivederci, Ciao, A presto. In the mornings, I can use Buona giornata and in the evenings Buona serata. Apparently, I can also use Buon lavoro, though I really don't feel comfortable with it just yet.
  • When holding doors, it's customary to say Prego to let someone know they may come past first. But you also use Prego to mean "You're welcome", or even as a way of saying "May I...?" (I assume) as a train conductor.
  • If you want to enter a place, it's Permesso?, but if you want to sit down, it's Posso?
As a "point of note" - I just noticed that there were rules posted in my room. New rules. The old ones were things like "No guests after 1am" "Please respect silence after 11pm". Now, there are fire regulations, and "bans". I actually love the bans:
  • Smoking is forbidden (Okay. Makes sense)
  • Use of electric stoves is forbidden (A maltraduzione perhaps? Or do they mean camping stoves?)
  • Use of electric heaters is forbidden (Wait...does that include the one on the wall here...)
  • to bring furnishings other than those provided by the residence (pillows, blankets, bedspreads) is forbidden. (Wait!? What!? I brought my own bedspread and pillows. Admittedly, I'm only using the pillow, because I prefer having 2 to having, am I breaking a rule? Methinks the answer is yes!)
And on that bombshell...I'm off to find something to do today! To keep you going until something exciting happens, here is an exciting picture:

Fottuti Turisti!

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Thursday, 23 September 2010 at 17:38

Yes, that's right, yet more travels. It seems this may as well be a travel-blog, because there is nothing else interesting going on in my life lately. I can actually sum up the Erasmus experience so far (sans travels) in a sentence: We get drunk most nights and speak in far too many languages; occasionally there is food involved. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean, for me, that my excitement in the day has had to come from long journeys on multiple trains across Italy.

On Tuesday, a few of us banded together and braved Il Pullman to Vigevano, a town that is only 37km away, but takes an hour to get to because the bus stops in every little backwater village on the way there, and on the way back, despite passing the autostrada every few kilometres. It's a nice town, a little sleepy I think, and everything was pretty much concentrated within the centre. In fact, here are some photos of Vigevano, and they're all within a five minute walk of each other:
A Church.
A fountain in front of that church
Piazza del Duomo

Il Duomo di Vigevano

Il Torre Brabante
Il Castello Sforzesco

It really was quite nice looking town, but, compared to Pavia and Milan, it was just far too compact and quiet to warrant an hour (and €6) on the bus there and back. Maybe I'm just not that into the tinier aspects of Italy; maybe I'm like the Germans, and I like things big, and shouty and touristy?

Which would make today's trip to Lago di Como the perfect match for me! Having used no less than three different train types, two different train companies, and stopped at around 15different stations, I think I can safely say that Lago di Como has made me choose my favourite train type in Italy: Ferroviarie Le Nord regional trains. Here's a run-down of the three types (as if it makes any difference to your lives...)

  • Tren Italia regional - small trains that come in two varieties. One is slightly modern, and generally looks like it should be on a British mainline run by First Great Western. No shame with that. The other type is older, the seats are tougher, and the doors are automatic (i.e. they all open even if nobody is leaving the carriage).
  • Ferroviarie Le Nord Regional - double-decker trains that are perhaps the best thing in existence. The bottom floor of each carriage is split between normal seating and 'metro' style seating (i.e. flip-down seats along the sides of the carriage). The floor is much lower than a British train in these sections, so they're able to put all the proper 4- and 3-seater sections upstairs in a separate compartment. Not all the carriages have an upper floor, but it doesn't matter because they're just so damned nice to ride in. I had an hour from Milan to Como in two of these, and an hour back to Milan in another two, and I think I am seriously in love with them.
But enough gushing over trains. Let's get down to business. Lake Como, one of the deepest, largest lakes in Europe. It's around 400metres deep, putting the bottom 200 metres below sea-level! The town of Como is nestled in the foothills of the Alps, just north-east of Milan, on the south-western edge of the lake. It's actually not all that far from the Swiss border. The only problem is: fucking tourists (to use the technical term).

The problem isn't that there are tourists - that's to be expected. The problem is that they are ignorant tourists, the type of tourist I hate being when I'm abroad - the one who doesn't know the basics in the language and just decides to shout louder. Okay, the Germans weren't so bad for it, but the Americans and Brits - "One of those please!!" "Mi scusi?" "One...of...those...things...please." -- I went into the Tabaccaio to buy some postcards and stamps, and asked in Italian "Due francobolli per la Gran Bretagna, per favore" and got what I needed; the British gent behind me, who had heard clearly the words I had said just pointed at what I had bought and went "Stamps...two...please" -- I guess I'm just getting annoyed over nothing, because you can't seem to force a Brit to learn the basics, just like you can't push a cow up the stairs or a horse to some water...

Anyway, enough rant. This is already verging on the longest blog I've ever written (which somehow takes away the fact that it was called "nice, light reading" by a friend). So, back to Como. I'll let the pictures do the talking, as always:
Il Duomo di Como
(Not much room in the Piazza to take a decent photo...)
Il Campanile del Duomo
Il Lago
Como from above...

I actually forgot the name of this church...

Una strada...
High above Como, where I walked for ages and never found the Lighthouse.
Interesting? Maybe?

So, that was that. Como has a fair bit to see, you just really need to plan your day accordingly. Because I didn't have the money to spend (idiot, thinking it'd be cheap!), I left on the earlier 15.17 to Milan, rather than the 16.17. Still, it was quite nice. I just wish I'd thought a bit about planning it properly, so I could have seen a bit more of Como...and perhaps sampled some proper Italian gelato. Three bloody weeks and I've yet to have a gelato!! Che cazzo!? Personally, I still blame the tourists...

Planes, Trains and Faxing Machines

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 20 September 2010 at 17:23

I know. I know. I only posted two days ago, and nothing exciting has happened in between. Or has it!? No, regrettably I haven't become 2nd-in-line to the throne of Sweden, nor have I won the lotto jackpot. So, why the blog?

Well, let's see. Last week I was informed by the wonderful staff at Cardiff that I had committed the heinous crime of not handing in my Erasmus forms. If I didn't get them in pronto, I'd be unable to receive my Erasmus grant. Now, considering I'm banking on that grant to be able to pay my rent, or possibly let me eat as many bags of dolci made by Mulino Bianco (See last post for a description of this wonderful bakery!), it would be a massive shame if I weren't entitled to it.
"What was their excuse", I hear you cry! Well, it turns out that they think it has been delayed (by two weeks) or lost in the post. I, and my parents, firmly believe that some numbskull has it sitting on their desk in a pile marked to do. So, I hastily filled out new forms at the bus stop this morning (missing a bus in the process as I needed my bank details) and had it faxed over. To make sure this idiocy continued no longer, I also emailed them. Seems everything is now in order, but, just wait until October when they suddenly lose my Learning Agreement...

In happier news, what have I done:

  • I am now signed up to take part in NaNoWriMo which means even though I have Uni, and musical reviews to write, in November, I will also be attempting to write a 50,000 word Novella. I will post the draft synopsis at the end of this post - let me know what you think, and if you think it's utter tosh, I will attempt something else.
  • I bought a train ticket to Como. I know I've been on about Turin, and Genoa, and lately La Spezia, due to the mention of Cinque Terre by one of the girls here, but they're all so expensive to get to. Even Florence is an unavoidable €40+ one way. So, Lago di Como here I come!
  • I rode a different bus today. Not all that exciting. However, I propose you try it. Get a map of your local bus routes, and rather than your regular bus, hop on one which takes a different route. Usually I'll use the #3, which goes right through the Centro Storico, or the #7 which uses the Via Matteoti which is quite nice. Today: the #6, which goes through the newer parts of town like Ticinello and Pavia Ovest, both of which aren't all that pretty...Still, it gives another side to this place, right? So, I suggest you try it!
  • I psyched myself up to do an outdoor vlog today, in response to one I saw on youtube about how we should go outside and just film and who cares about people's reactions. However, this is Italy, and people look at you funny just for the way you rush places, or the way you walk down the road hoping not to die...SO, as I totally wussed out today, I guess I'm going to go with my second plan and try to do one on the way to Como. I have two hours on the train, 2nd class, so I'll need to entertain myself. I just wish I had bothered to shell out a bit of dinero on a Flip camera, rather than having to use my regular old digicam. Ah well - it'll be fun?
And that, as they say, is that. Well, apart from the fact that I have probably eaten my weight in Pan Carré. It's bread meant for toasting, but it's so nice. As much as I like the fresh bread they make here, it's really quite expensive; Pan Carré solves all of that. Think Bimbo, that awful, plasticky Spanish bread...and you're pretty much looking at the same kind of thing.

I shall keep you informed of any wonderful things that may occur in my life, but, for the most part it's just waiting for University to start next Monday. Eeek. Ciaooo.

No, I didn't forget. Here's that synopsis. Mind you, it is still in the very early larval stages. It has a long way to go before it becomes a beautiful butterfly...or a rather dusty looking moth.

City of Angels (working title)

There is a city. It is a city that floats. They call it the City of Angels. In the days of old, the land on which the city stands was worshipped as a kind of paradise. In modern times, it is a bustling tourist city. The rich come here to escape the smog-filled air of the ground below, and the not-so-rich come here to make use of the loose laws, and looser women in the Red Light District. Whether it's special business, or seedy pleasure, all walks of life come to the City.
Everything rapidly changes, however, as the City begins to fall slowly towards the earth. The task of stopping it crashing into the ground below falls to Max Madison, the curator of the Civic Museum, and one of the last people left on this sinking ship.

Patience, Prosecco and Preplanning

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Saturday, 18 September 2010 at 14:21

The other night I was talking to some Catalans I'd just met, and they said my Italian was very good. I still don't believe it, no matter who tells me. However, that's not the point - the point is that I told them "When I speak, I don't think about it. I just pretend to be Italian until someone says 'Hai sbagliato' and corrects me"

What I'm beginning to notice about Italy is that I have the language 'down'. I can cope with talking to the Italians, and once I get the hang of their accent I find it easier. What I haven't quite mastered is the Italian patience. You can go into a restaurant or a bar, and sit down, and wait a long time for people to come and serve you, and they don't mind if you stay five minutes or half an hour after eating. You can go and wait for a bus, and sit for half an hour, and nobody cares. My problem: I finish eating, I pay, I leave. I wait for the bus, if it's not on time, I walk, only to see it pass me by. I'll even stand in queues in Carrefour or Spar and tut to myself because there's only one cashier working, while the rest are on a permanent 'break'.

I suppose that's also why I paid €15 to get to Milan on the faster Intercity, rather than pay €7 and go via the regional train - I just wouldn't have had the patience to go on the slower train. I guess I'll have to learn it, though, because I've found prices to Turin for as low as €5, rather than the €40 it would cost to go via Frecciarossa high-speed trains. It'll take a bit longer, and I'll have to change in Voghera (a place I wouldn't mind seeing properly), but it's worth it for an overall saving of €70 to see the capital of Piedmont.

Aside from my lacking patience, I've not exactly done much this week since Milan. Wednesday I decided to go out for some birthday drinks, and found out it was the birthday of another Erasmus student. Thursday I finally got my bus card - yay for free bus travel from now on! - and bought a Spanish-Italian dictionary which will probably be the handiest thing I have ever bought. Then it was a case of: Malaika, kebab shop beer, Piazza del Duomo until 3am. Time flies when you're meeting new people. I still think I have to cut back to maybe one night a week - my finances can't handle this constant drinking, no matter how cheap it is. Then again, I could probably go out all the time if I wasn't constantly sampling all that Mulino Bianco (the Italian, expensive equivalent of Mr Kipling) has to offer - last week it was Saccotini con Crema Pasticcera, this week it's Tenerezze con Limone.

To finish this one off, I'm going to introduce you all to some typical Italian cocktails. Essentially, this is what we start drinking on. The idea of a drink & mixer is called a "Long Drink" here, so that'd be Vodka and Coke, Gin & Tonic, etc. Cocktails are mostly pure alcohol through-and-through. Thankfully, Italy isn't restricted by stupid rules of 25ml per shot, it's "until the glass is full". So, here goes - if you can be bothered to find a bar that'll do them properly (or want to buy the alcohol yourself), try them out:

The Negroni is a typically Piedmontese/Lombard drink, though it has spread to most of Italy. It is 1 part Gin, 1 part bitter Campari, 1 part Red Vermouth. It's a really bitter drink, thanks to the mix of the Vermouth and Campari, but, it's a favourite for aperitivi because of the supposed good it does for digestion. As Orson Welles once said: The Gin is bad for your liver, but the Campari is good for your health.

Spritz Aperol
Spritz is the "in drink" amongst the Italian youth, particularly the Venetians. An ordinary Spritz is 1 part Prosecco, and soda water. Think a Wine Spritzer. However it's more normal to have uno spritz con Campari or uno spritz Aperol. The alcohol in the name is then added so it becomes 2/3 Prosecco, 1/3 Aperol/Campari and the rest of the glass is topped with soda. I've not tried the Campari Spritz, but the Aperol version is really nice - think a slightly sweeter version of Cointreau & Lemonade.

Or, more properly, Negroni Sbagliato. If you don't think you can handle that much liquor in your glass, ask for a Sbagliato. Instead of the Gin, you get Prosecco and the Vermouth is sweeter (rather than Vermouth Rosso), which makes in fizzier and slightly easier to stomach, but only slightly.

Almost every cocktail in Italy has Campari in it, unless it's a foreign one like Sexo alla Spiaggia or Mojito. If you don't like bitter things - and I mean medicinally bitter - stick to the foreign drinks, or Aperol. I'm not a Campari fan, having learnt my lesson with the Negroni, so I stick to Aperol Spritz personally.

I think that's all I can bore you with for now, at least until I've been to Turin and have pictures galore to put up.

A Day Out in Milan, or How to Get Robbed Blind.

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 17:27

It's my birthday! Huzzah! I am now 21, which means I can do...exactly the same as I could when I was 18, but now worldwide! What a brilliant stroke of luck. I've always wanted to drink in America and Canada. Good thing I wasn't thinking when I turned down American Studies at Swansea, or we wouldn't have these lovely little updates about places in Europe.

Today, I thought I'd man up, and see the world. I'd read that Italian trains were confusing, at least far more confusing than your average British hunk of metal. All we do is get on board, buy a ticket, and we're set. Sometimes we pre-order them and reserve a seat, but that's only if we think it'll be busy, or we want to be extra sure. Here in Italia, it's totally different. You buy a ticket before getting to the platform, then you validate it to prove that you are using a ticket for that day (rather than one you bought three months ago and have used ever since), and then you try and find a seat in second class.
"Stuff that," thought I in my hubris. "It's my chuffing birthday. I'm riding first class!" - so, tentatively I stepped up to the little machine that allows you to buy train tickets. I tapped my way slowly through each screen, and ended up with a seat reservation on an Intercity train to Milano Centrale. That means: no stops! (or very few, anyway) I dragged myself to platform 3, and stood waiting for the 10.33 from Genoa - when it arrived, everyone huddled towards the back of the train, while I ran to the other end of the platform to find first class. Surprisingly, even though it wasn't cushy (like the pictures of the Frecciarossa which I've seen), it was pretty damned nice. Think individual compartments of 6 seats, with a sliding door, and a long corridor, like in all those smoky, romantic 1940s flicks. Sweet.

Half an hour later, I was in Milan. And ten minutes after that, I'd found my way to the Duomo. And that's where all the fun began - apart from parting with €5 for a piece of string (as well as peace and quiet) from one of the lookie-lookie men, I decided it would be a good idea to wander Milan on foot. So, here, for you, in photos are "The Places I saw in Milan while walking around avoiding using buses, trams and the metro"

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
(from Piazza della Scala)
Instead of making myself look like an obvious tourist (which I really did anyway), I decided to rush through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This is like a posh shopping arcade, which is laid out in a cross. On one side, you have the Duomo, on the other La Scala. In the other two directions seemed to be offices, and shops. Inside the Galleria, however, were the reasons why Milan is one of the capitals of haute-couture. Prada, Louis Vuitton, Versace; all the things that make girls swoon, and all pretty much crammed right next to each other. It really puts St Davids's II in Cardiff to shame.

Teatro della Scala
Leonardo da Vinci
(Shouldn't he be in Florence?)
Ah, La Scala. This was the other reason I rushed through the Galleria. It's one of those well-known Opera Houses, and has played host to Verdi, Puccini and Salieri. Anyhow, La Scala doesn't usually start its season until December, but it still looks rather nice from the outside. It's on its own little Piazza, featuring a statue of Leonardo da Vinci. There was quite the crowd today, but then again, what tourist attraction doesn't pull in a crowd?
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
(from Piazza del Duomo)
Inside the Galleria
So, I decided to wander back to Il Duomo, and look at the Galleria properly. Talk about busy. Even the really expensive restaurants inside were full, though admittedly it was mostly Asian tourists who were sitting there eating pasta and pizza like there was no limit to their finances. Architecturally, this isn't exactly stunning - it reminds me of the one in Brussels - but, inside you just have to admire how it manages to look old, yet so very modern. It's like Victorian-chic.

Il Duomo di Milano
Il Duomo, the main Cathedral of Milan, is the hub for most tourists. When I got on the metro to go there, I couldn't move for love nor money; but on the way back to Centrale, there was almost nobody using the underground. It's also the place where I got caught out by a lookie-lookie man, who honed in on me from across the piazza. I tried to fob him off with my bad Italian - "No, grazie. Non la voglio. Sono in ritardo. Ciao" but he persisted "It's a present. We are friends. It is free" before tying the bastard string to my wrist and demanding €20. I looked at him as if he'd just shat on the Pope. And then told him I'd give him €5 if he wanted to remain "amici" and would leave me alone. He obliged, but not before adding "Go on, a bit more...?" - at that point I walked off...far the other side of town.

La Chiesa di San Lorenzo Maggiore
The Columns of San Lorenzo
And this is where I ended up: San Lorenzo. Surprisingly, considering the number of beautiful churches in Milan, there were no tourists around. This place was empty, apart from some locals in cafés on the edges of the piazza. This was the point where I decided "Well, if I've found this, I may as well continue walking to everything else!" Those columns are the Columns of San Lorenzo. I guess they're remnants of something from Mediolanum, or maybe just the remains of an over-the-top cloister for the church.

I seem to have a knack for finding War Memorials. This one was hidden, sort of, behind Sant'Ambrogio, another church where I expected there to be a few more tourists rambling around. Surprisingly, there were far more locals there. Oh well, that's Italy for you I suppose - people have no taste if they're not Italians. Anyway, the big white one is a Sanctuary for all the Milanese killed in the World Wars, and the black one is for those who died fighting in the Russian campaigns. Beats our conformity with hundreds of bland, old cenotaphs eh?

La Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio
And that up there is Sant'Ambrogio, an old basilica. Looks like it was built in Lombard Romance, like a lot of early churches in this part of Italy. You can usually tell by the way the brickwork looks. [Yes, I am that sad, and, yes, I do like my church architecture.] The only thing was, it looked like more of a museum than a church, and after parting with tha €5 earlier, I wasn't up for parting with anything more unless it was for essentials (like a train ticket home, and something to eat!)

Il Castello Sforzesco
The final stop on my tour, and probably the one which annoyed me the most, was the Palazzo Sforzesco. It's to the north of the Duomo, but I found it by doing pretty much a semi-circle from San Lorenzo up. It's one of those old palaces that has existed from the time of the signorie, which is sort of the early middle-ages. It's really quite spectacular, if a bit empty in the grounds. But, it was covered in lookie-lookie men: six (I kid you not) on the main entrance, and three on the museum entrance, and one covering a side entrance. I actually gave up with it - "Hello, for you, one euro only" - and decided enough was enough: "It's my birthday, I'm going for food, and then I'm catching a train home"

I suppose that's the only downside of this entire thing: Milan is such a tourist trap that people know they can sucker someone into giving them a 'donation' for a piece of string, because it's a veritable Babel. If the German next to you doesn't speak English or Italian, and you don't speak German, you're left to the mercy of these vultures. I suppose I'm looking at it the wrong way, simply because I got caught. What I should really say is:

Milan is a nice city. Architecturally it's beautiful. Socially, it's bustling with life. The transport network is really well thought-out. It's the perfect 'metropolis', and great for a few days if you go in a group. If you go it alone, you really have to beware the people who will hone in on you and try to sap you of all your cash. Beyond that, I'd recommend it to anyone, especially as I spent €15 on a return, first-class train ticket, €5 on food (okay, it wasn't from a restaurant but I got 'money conscious' all of a sudden, okay?), and had a nice day out.

Next time, I'm thinking Genoa, Parma or Turin.

Pavia in Pictures

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Saturday, 11 September 2010 at 14:42

Rather than attempting to edit the original post, I've simply amalgamated both into one new one, adding in extra details that I didn't know originally. When I first went out, I stopped in Chocolate Cafè, and had the most amazing breakfast of coffee, orange juice, and a croissant filled with patisserie cream. It was a bit of a grey day, so a lot of the photos looked a bit sad, and I was only using 2MP on my camera. Today, I went back out, stopped off for a panino and a cappuccino in Chocolate Cafè, and then set my camera to 5MP and went out again to get some better photos.

This is Pavia:
Pavia, from Borgo Ticino
Pavia is a city in Lombardy, which is the area in the centre of Northern Italy. It is a few miles away from the Po, and sits on the banks of the Ticino River. That river begins up in the Alps, in Switzerland, in the only purely Italian-speaking canton. It started out life as a Roman town, called Ticinum, before being promoted to a Papal City, and being used as the seat of power for the Visconti family. Now, it is a University town, and most of the inhabitants seem to be students.
Piazza Vittoria
I'll start out my photography trip around Pavia from the Piazza Vittoria. This Piazza is pretty much the heart of Pavia. It sits just off the Strada Nuova, which is the main road through the centro storico. Here, you can find a lot of restaurants and bars, and all the streets that branch off either contain shops or cafès. It is one of the busier places in Pavia, and getting a bus from Vittoria is usually a bad idea unless you want to stand like a sardine in a tin.

Strada Nuova
The Strada Nuova, ironically the oldest street in Pavia, stretches for the length of the centro storico starting up by the Castle, and working down to the Ticino. It is, for all intents and purposes, a shopping street these days. Though the main building of the University of Pavia takes up a fair bit of space, most of the buildings either house clothes stores, cafés, gelaterias, or banks. It's quite beautiful architecturally, if you can look up, rather than in every window you pass. On the one side, which would be the left side of the photo, most of the streets running off the Strada are home to offices, University buildings, and the occasional house. Running off to the right are more shops, piazzas, and cafés.

Il Duomo di Pavia
Il Duomo's central dome
The Duomo, or Cathedral, of Pavia is one of the biggest in Italy. It comes fourth in terms of size, behind St Peter's, and the Pantheon, in Rome, and Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. This is due to it being a Greek Cross, meaning that all the transepts coming off the central duomo are of equal size. The duomo itself is pretty huge too. The entire building was started back in the middle ages, and the façade wasn't completed until the 1800s. According to wikipedia, some of the minor details still aren't complete on this gargantuan church. It is, however, only one of many, many churches built in the centro storico. If I took photos of all of them, this post would be almost as long as a Harry Potter novel.

Il Ponte Coperto
Next, I headed on over to Borgo Ticino, a suburb across the river from the centro storico. To get there, you have to cross the Ponte Coperto, or Covered Bridge. From what I gather, from my bad Italian and a plaque on the bridge, the original crossing along the Ticino was a Roman bridge called Ponte Marmoreo. In 1351, under the guidance of the Duke of Milan Galeazzao II Visconti, the Podestà of Pavia Giovanni de Mandello, Jacopo da Cozzo, and an architect called Giovanni da Ferrera, another bridge was built, originally with a fortified roof and towers. Over the years the design was changed and modified by others, until in 1944 Carlo Alberto arrived and built (or repaired) the current version (as from what I gather the original was damaged in the war), which was inaugurated in 1951.

A Tutti Gli Aviatori Pavesi
This gem of a memorial A Tutti Gli Aviatori Pavesi can be found at the other end of the Viale Lungo Ticino Visconti. I was quite lucky in getting this picture when I went out on Thursday, so I didn't attempt to take another one because of how busy the junction is. I have no idea behind the history of it, but I assume it commemorates all the airmen who fought in World War II. Either way, it's a really striking piece of art.

Pope John Paul II Park
After wandering town for a few hours, sipping coffee, taking photos, all that jazz, I decided to head up to see the Castle. It is currently inside a city park, that park being the Parco Papa Giovanni Paolo II, or Pope John Paul II Park. It was named so in 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI visited Pavia. It's quite a nice park, but there are so many trees is wasn't exactly worth taking pictures, because you can just use your imagination.

Il Castello Visconti
The Castello Visconti is just outside the boundaries of the centro storico, nestled within a park. It dates back to the 1300s when the Visconti family were the signori of Milan. They made Pavia their seat of power, and ran operations from this palace. Apparently, the grounds of the castle originally covered the land between the centro storico and the nearby town of Certosa di Pavia, where there currently is a Carthusian monastery, which was built for the Visconti family - however, a point of note is that Certosa is a good 5 or 6 kilometres away, which really says a fair bit about the land involved. Even Windsor Castle's chapel is right next to it.
Residenza Universitaria Biomedica
"Casa dolce casa"
After that, I decided it was time to return home. Picked up a few bits and bobs in Carrefour, and then caught the #7 bus back. After about three stops I was the only one riding the bus, which was insane. I think the driver even thought WTF because he stopped at the bus stop and waited for me to walk the entire distance back to the front gate before pulling away. Anyway, that picture, that's where I am. It's about 15minutes by bus from the centre (give or take, when there's traffic), and a 40minute walk on a good day. Literally nothing around here. I would add the pictures of my room to the bottom, but they were terrible, and it's currently in need of 'remaking the bed' and 'putting stuff away'. Future update, I'll re-up some better ones I guess.

So, yeah. Ecco la Pavia, as we say in Italian. It's really a nice town. I just think that in the next week or so I should maybe hop on a train to Milan, Turin or Genoa and spend the day there getting to show people the sights of Italia, because I highly doubt I'm going to get much time to travel once Uni starts properly.

Abitudini Spagnole

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Wednesday, 8 September 2010 at 10:27

Last night was my first real foray into the world of Erasmus. I didn't join the Erasmus society in Cardiff, and I didn't sign up for the language course here, so really I've been pretty cut off in meeting people of a similar provenance. I missed out on three Erasmus events by not knowing of the second Erasmus grouping, but, I did know of the one last night organised by the University.

Needless to say, because it was University organised, it was fairly 'six-year-old's birthday'. We crammed into a room, ate food, chatted, and got ripped off for drinks - Sono sempre cinque was the phrase used, which means initially I paid €5 for a Corona and the food, but then had to pay another €5 for a cola. I suppose, despite meeting new people, I wasn't exactly phased by it all, and most of us just walled ourselves off into separate groupings by the end of the night while Stromae's Alors on Danse played in the background.

Eventually, we decided to go into town, and that's where things actually became more like you'd expect an Erasmus Party to be. We folks from Cardiff hopped on a bus, filled with Spaniards and the odd Portuguese and Turkish people (and two Poles), and made the journey into town. Over the course of the next five to ten minutes we were subjected to (in a good way) the Spanish and their rowdy ways - the basis of their entire ride was to shout Camarero, another would reply ¿Qué?, and the first person would shout Quiero... followed by a food or something, before turning it into a song based around that food. It's harder to explain in English,'s one of those moments where if  you get it, you enjoy it.

We then passed an hour or two in the Piazza del Duomo drinking beers on the steps of the church. To be fair, I did ask someone Credo che bere nelle strade fosse un'abitudine spagnolo - non è vero? (Or "I thought drinking in the street was a Spanish thing - am I wrong?) - there seemed to be more Spaniards and Portuguese than anyone else, but there was no-one telling us to move on, or to stop doing it. In fact, for €2 for a large bottle of Birra Morretti, you can't go wrong really. Though it may have been playing havoc with my eyes, because I'm sure I saw the sky flash a few times last night...though when I asked people they looked at me as if I was speaking nonsense. Weird.

So, there's no real plan for today. I think, having done a fair bit of wandering, I may take the day off, and just go into town tonight with the Cardiff folks to meet their Italian friends, as I really need to parlare as much as is humanly possible. Then there's another Erasmus party tomorrow at Malaika, though I won't be splashing out €10 on an ESN card just to save €1 on the night, as well as a trip to Genoa on Saturday (but I am totally lacking details for that bad boy).

Hopefully the weather will stop being wholly Welsh, and I can whip out the camera and get some good photos of this place up for people to see. Maybe I'll head on up to Milan, or go somewhere further afield in this free month. I shall keep you all posted!

Weather with You.

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 6 September 2010 at 14:32

It's Monday. First day of the week for most people, and the place is, for lack of a better word, 'dead'. There are a few shrieks far down the corridor, or maybe it's downstairs... Outside, it's a lovely shade of grey, but around 20 degrees. Oddly, I find it kind of cold, so I've had to shut the doors, and turn off the AC that's been running at 17degrees (and making me freeze my ass off every night...) without my knowledge.

Since my last blog, I've found out that there are two Erasmus networks in Pavia. There's the Associazione Noi e Pavia, which seems to just be a student network in general; and there's StEP. I didn't know StEP existed until last night...and when I finally found out about it, it was a bit too late. I'd already missed the Notte Bianca, an Erasmus get together, and the fireworks over the Ticino river. Immediately I rectified that by joining the StEP facebook page so I'd actually know if anything was going on that meant socialising with people in the same situation as me!

I had planned to go into town today to take photos. The architecture is pretty stunning, ranging from the Romanesque right through to horrible modern buildings. There's a huge Cathedral in the centre, whose duomo is apparently the third biggest in Italy; there's another church nearby built in Lombard Gothic style, and another in Lombard Romanesque. There's even a castle here for crying out loud! However, the only way I'm going to attempt to photograph them is if the sun is shining and the skies are blue...or if there's a massive thunderstorm and the rain is lashing the heck out of them. (Apparently we're due a good temporale on Wednesday, but we have been due rain for an hour and still nothing...)

Beyond that, I've got nothing to do but parlare for the next month. Classes don't begin until the end of September, so it's just a case of going into town for a few hours, coming back, whiling away my time and all that. Oh, and drinking plenty of blood orange juice, which I have become crazily addicted to. A litre drunk in 24hours - vitamin C overload? Shall have to pop to Carrefour tomorrow and buy some more, especially as I now know that I can get the Linea 7 there and back. Sweet!

Time for some much needed Earl Grey, I think! Too much fruit juice can drive a man insane. (At least I would, if the "kettle" I had spotted in the kitchen hadn't turned out to be a Moka...which means it only brews coffee, and not tea. DAMN!)

Benvenuto a Pavia!

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Saturday, 4 September 2010 at 10:34

In the course of the last few days I have travelled innumerable miles, spoken multiple languages poorly (including English), and have slept in no less than five different beds. I’ve been through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, and right now I’m sat in my cushy dorm room in Italy.

While the views from my window leave a lot to be desired (hello construction site), the views I’ve seen over the last view days have been incomparable. Having been driven through the endless Belgian countryside, the rolling Luxembourgian hills, over the Moselle, past the Rhine, up and over the Alps at Gotthard, and wandering the streets of Pavia, I’ve seen a lot of amazing views that some people never even see in their lifetime. I’ve slept in a traditional German Gasthaus, and an old Italian casa, and it’s all been good, fun-filled memories.

When I first got down to writing this, I'd been in Italy for less than 24 hours, and was sans internet, sans flatmates, and a long way from home. I'd been in Pavia for five hours, mostly spent looking for my accommodation and annoying professors, secretaries and security guards in the whole town by being lost!
Still, I found my Residenza, and my room, and then found out...I'm so far out of town I'm not even on a road that exists, I'm not all that close to a bus stop, and everything is miles away!

Sure, I may have a posh swipe-card to get in, an elevator next to my room, a TV room which (looking at the layout of this place, is more like a lecture theatre), a games room, and an ensuite bathroom, but I'm not exactly close to the University. I attempted walking back from town yesterday, and it took me an hour in the blazing sun. Honestly, while it was's a ridiculous walk. I can't get a bus pass until I have a tax code, and I've yet to suss out where the nearest tobacconist is, so I can buy bus tickets whilst I don't have said code.

So, instead of waxing lyrical about the journey, let’s do the official rundown:
Day 1 – Wales to France: Standard. A bit choppy on the ferry, but, that’s to be expected.
Day 2 – France to Germany: So very, very long. I think I never want to see Belgium or Luxembourg again, just because I’ve had enough of ‘rolling hills’ for one lifetime! However, the Gasthous was nice, even if things were broken and the owners weren’t there to check us in!
Day 3 – Germany to Italy: Stunning. Possibly the most amazing journey possible to man. While the German end didn’t seem so appealing, once we hit Switzerland everything seemed amazing. Germany does “big” just to put you down, while Switzerland does “big” just to make you go “oooooooo”. Arriving in Italy, I found my language skills to be very rusty, but, there we go.
Day 4 – Certosa di Pavia to Pavia: Rushed. Apart from the fact my family needed to be in Kolmar that night, they took me everywhere I thought the Residenza would be. We visited colleges, the city streets, and so many other places, and yet nobody knew what the hell was going on apart from one woman at the end of a telephone.

Still, I made it here, and managed to get by with my rusty Italian. Admittedly, the Italians insist on speaking to you in English - except for in Carrefour, where the guy spoke so fast I assumed he said "Do you have a loyalty card?", answered "No", and then looked confused when he didn't offer me any bags - much to his annoyance I then queried this, and he replied "I asked. You said no!" Whoops! I've spoken more Italian in the last 48 hours than I have in the last two years, I guess. Most of it is repeating myself so that people will give me a definitive answer, because so far answers to "When..." have all been "Later" -- "When do I pay you?" "Later" -- "When do I get my tax code?" "I'll email you...later."

It's all good though, now we are three days in. Just got to keep at it, until lectures start at the end of the month!