From mid-September 2005 (argh, nearly 4 years ago now!!) to the beginning of July 2006 I was in Urbino, Le Marche, for my Erasmus year. Unlike most British unis, I had to do my year abroad during my second year (I went to Warwick if anyone's interested...), after only having studied Italian for a year! After somewhat of a year of a crash-course in Italian language, after which we were supposed to be up to A Level standard (srsly??), we had to go out to Italy to attend university for a year!
I'd actually never been to Italy before, not for a holiday, not for anything! Yes, I know it's strange to decide to choose to study a language for a country you've never been to, but that's how I am! I'd decided to go to Urbino after one of my lecturers had been talking about it during a class, it sounded perfect, a beautiful little traditional town up in the hills. So I did a bit more research, and the photos I found were amazing, it looked perfect!
I must admit, the idea of going out to Italy, barely able to string a simple sentence together even though I'd been studying the language at uni for a year terrified me. It took a good two months to settle in to my new surroundings and to being in a foreign country, but by around mid-November I felt completely at home, and had a great circle of friends, mostly foreign students like me.
I was lucky to have my accommodation sorted when I arrived in Urbino, I had a room in halls. Which was quite an experience!! A million miles away from my halls back in England! But out of everywhere I stayed in uni, those halls were definitely my favourite; there was a much better atmosphere (even if the noise of partying got a bit tedious sometimes), we could graffiti the walls (I wish I could've seen my face when I saw all the graffiti that was already there when I arrived at my block!!), and each block had their own terrace on the roof!
Sunrise in Urbino
And Urbino has a fantastic student life, especially if you live in halls like I did; and very Erasmus friendly! It's a town of 6,000 that pretty much gets taken over by students during the university year - especially at night! There are plenty of locali to drink and party in - one of the most popular places was called the Bosom Pub - there were only 2 clubs during my time there, but both, in my opinion were very good, and I always had a good time!
Studying in Italy gave me a chance to broaden my educational horizons, I could do courses I couldn't in England. I took three 'history of the Italian language' courses, which properly ignited my love for the history and development of Italian (I eventually did my dissertation on the vernacular in the 1600s), a couple of linguistic courses, and a very interesting course on dialects. Of course, it was very difficult at first, having all my classes in Italian. But by the time the second semester started in the spring, things were much easier; and my language improved so much by going to my classes.
It's still very much a traditional town though. The town centre itself is small, it pretty much consists of the main piazza, surrounded mainly by cafes and restaurants, and 4 streets then branching of it - 2 going uphill, 2 going downhill! Barely any high street shops, and of course, the ducal palace, the main attraction of Urbino. It's definitely a whole world away from Milan, pretty much the polar opposite of it!
It's not the easiest place to get to though. I'm not going to start whinging about my flights again, but Urbino doesn't have a train station, the nearest one is in Pesaro, the nearest big town. Then there's a coach which goes fairly frequently to Urbino, and by taking a bit of a scenic route, it gets to Urbino in about 50 minutes.
I couldn't recommend the place highly enough, and even though it is a bit of a trek down from up here, I'm hoping to make a return pilgrimage there soon!