Thursday, December 27, 2012

Boxing Day in the Mountains

I spent a very different Christmas to what I'd grown up with. Different but wonderful. Great company, lovely food, and plenty to drink. And the day after, waking up to another grey and drizzly day, my friend Roberta had the brilliant idea of heading up to the mountains. We went to Macugnaga, at the foot of Monte Rosa, in the very north of Piemonte. It's pretty much the opposite of what usually comes to mind when you think of Italy. Beautiful Alpine architecture, snow, and breathtaking mountains. And silence. It was so calm and peaceful. There were a few skiers about - I don't ski myself so I didn't go anywhere near the slopes! - but seeing as we arrived at lunchtime, down in the villages everywhere was calm. Some of the shops had a three hour lunch break! And speaking of lunch I had possibly the best panino I've ever had in my whole life: a bomba made up of sausage, mushrooms and melted cheese! Buonissimo! After filling my lungs with crisp Alpine air it was difficult coming back to Milan's smog!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Word of The Week

Il Natale - Christmas

This's the tree, or albero, in Piazza del Duomo this year. This year I'll be spending Christmas in Italy, it'll be my second one here after I was stuck in Milan due to snow in 2010. And with two days to go I'd like to wish a buon Natale, Merry Christmas, and Nadolig Llawen to all!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Word of The Week

La neve - Snow.

We've had quite a lot of snow in Milan over the last week or so. Thursday evening it started snowing heavily and it carried on snowing all day yesterday. The city's coping well though, the main problem seems to be for us pedestrians having to deal with the snow on the pavements!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas is coming...

I've bought my first panettone of the season, the annual pre-Christmas Artigiano in Fiera fair's on this week, and I've already put up my Christmas tree!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Snaps from Milan: Stazione Centrale

One of the entrances to Milan's main train station, Stazione Centrale. The current station was opened in 1931 in Piazza Duca d'Aosta, replacing the first Milano Centrale station which had been opened in 1864.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Song of The Week

A muso duro is the single that has been released to raise funds for the areas hit by earthquakes in Emilia earlier this year. It features all of the artists who took part in the Italia loves Emilia concert which was held on the 22nd of November.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The problem with plugs

Without this little white thing I wouldn't be able to watch tv!

One thing I just can't understand is why all Italian plugs and sockets aren't the same.

I mean, is it really that difficilt to have one size for everything? Or am I missing something? It's just in the UK I never had this problem...

I don't even know how many adapters I have in my house anymore. And that's not even counting the ones I have for the things I bought over from the UK and haven't been bothered to change (yes, I know, I'm lazy). As far as my Italian appliances go, I've got one for the tv, one for the coffee machine, one for the kettle... Their original plugs don't fit in the sockets. Yet some things are fine, like my little electric oven for example, that plugs into one of the sockets I've got in the kitchen without any problems.

Last week I got a new fridge delivered - pretty much at the crack of dawn I'd like to add - and in order for the plug to be able to fit in the socket the delivery men had to use the nearest adapter they could find, which was the one I had for the tv, which was unplugged at the time. So that now means I'm technically one adapter down. This morning in order to dry my hair I had to steal my computer's adapter, a lot of going back and forward I could have done without first thing in the morning! (Like I said, I'm lazy).

I guess I can file this under 'Even the smallest things about life in Italy can be surprisingly difficult/annoying/inconvenient'.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Word of The Week

Il cappello - hat

Winter has well and truly arrived in Milan and people are starting to wear their winter hats. Interestingly the word for hat is almost identical to the word for hair, as in one of the hairs on your head. Hat is cappello and an individual hair is capello, with one p. It's certainly caused me some confusion in the past!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Song of The Week

Jovanotti's back! Tensione Evolutiva is one of the eight new songs contained on his Backup - Lorenzo 1987-2012 greatest hits album, which will be released on the 27th of November.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Snaps from Milan

The statue of Leonardo da Vinci in Piazza della Scala. The monument was unveiled in 1872, and was later moved to its current location after the completion of the Galleria.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Word of The Week

La nebbia - fog

Milan has a reputation for being a very foggy city. During the winter months once the sun sets it seems like the fog seeps out of the buildings, magically appearing at dusk. It makes for a very eery atmosphere!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Song of The Week

Passacaglia is the first single from Franco Battiato's new album Apriti sesamo, which was released on the 23rd of October.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Weather Italian style!

Yes, that's a bloke in military uniform doing the weather.

This is the weather on TG2, Rai 2's news. It's put together by the Servizio Meteorologico dell'Aeronautica Militare, the Italian Meteorological Service; and as the Militare would suggest, it's part of the armed services. Which means that if you watch the weather on Rai 2, the forecaster will be a member of the military.

And with the inappropriately dressed women (called meteorine) doing the weather on Berlusconi's Mediaset channel Retequattro it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Classic

Zucchero, born Adelmo Fornaciari, is one of Italy's most well-known singers abroad. This is his 1987 single Senza una donna. An English version of the song, Without a Woman, was released in 1991.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How to avoid unwanted attention in Italy

Yes, I know, I'm rubbish at self portraits.

Dye your hair red.

I'm deadly serious.

For around three and a half years after my arrival in Milan my hair was blonde by Italian standards. Yes, for some of the time I did dye it, so I do admit that I brought on some of the problem myself. I've been a redhead for nearly 6 months, and the difference it's made to the amount of unwanted attention I've been getting is incredible. Nearly every single time I left the house there'd be someone commenting at my appearance, as much as it baffled me. And nearly every comment involved the word bionda, blonde.

Now that I'm no longer bionda the comments have stopped. Random men no longer say anything to me in the street, and I can walk around everywhere in peace.

I can't believe it was that simple.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Happy Italianniversary to me!

Today's the fourth year anniversary of my arrival in Italy. For me it's an important milestone, as I spent four years studying Italian at university. Before I made the move I never imagined that I'd still be out here four years on, but now I can't imagine living anywhere else.

I'd like to thank everyone who's put up with me this year, and also to the wonderful people I've met over the course of the last 12 months. You make everything a lot easier. Grazie!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Classic

Singer-songwriter Eugenio Finardi was born in Milan in 1952. 1977's Extraterrestre is one of his most successful songs.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Snaps from Milan - Sant'Ambrogio

Heading down from the Duomo towards Parco Sempione you might not notice this statue in Via Mercanti. It's of Sant'Ambrogio, known in English as Saint Ambrose, who is the patron saint of Milan. He was an archbishop of Milan, and one of the most important figures in the Church during the 4th century. His feast day is the 7th of December, and as with other cities around the country and their patron saints, it's a bank holiday for the city.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Classic

Renato Zero is one of Italian music's most flamboyant personalities. He was born Renato Fiacchini in Rome in 1950, and he released his first single in 1967. Triangolo from 1978 is one of his most well-known songs.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cabbages and Boxes

Image credit: Iain Farrell

Or: How to Avoid Swearing in Italian.

What I've found about swearing, and the words and phrases that are used to avoid swearing, is that the Italian's usually much more creative than what would be said in English. And to avoid swearing Italians more often than not use, yes you guessed it, the Italian word for 'cabbage/s' and 'boxes'.

Cabbage is cavolo, with the plural being cavoli. Box translates as scatola, or scatole for boxes. Don't ask me why they're used though,  but it's brilliant.

So if someone or something is breaking (rompere) your scatole, they're getting on your nerves. If your boxes are spinning (girare) then basically, you're not a happy bunny. A 'breaking of boxes' (rottura, the word for 'breaking' on its own is also used for the same purpose) is something that's difficult, annoying, or something that you just simply don't want to do. A person who's 'on your boxes' (stare sulle scatole) is someone you can't stand.

Cavoli, depending on the context, could either translate as 'gosh' or 'heck'. When used on its own in the plural form it's an exclamation. It's also used in its singular form in phrases and sentences, 'Che cavolo stai facendo?!' translates to 'What the heck are you doing?!'.

Yes, I've been here for very nearly four years now, but all these boxes and cabbages in everyday speech still totally amuse me.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Il cambio di stagione

After nearly four years in Italy I still haven't got used to the change in seasons in Italy. At home I was used to having even all four seasons in one day; and summer was always a wash-out, so I never had the range of temperatures that exists in northern Italy. Currently in Milan we're still hitting maximum temperatures during the day of around 21-22 degrees, but considering it was over 35 not more than a month ago it's quite a change. I'm happily walking around in a cardi, jeans, and my beloved Converse, but I've seen some of the Milanese walking around in full-blown winter coats much to my amusement.

What I've found in my time here - and especially here - is that the 'cambio di stagione', the change from one season to another, can be used as an excuse for a myriad of things. From illnesses, lack of sleep, and obviously depression and irritability. I can understand the psychological effect the change in weather can have on people, but for me this temperature is what I was used to during summer when I was back home. The weather hasn't been particularly awful recently, we've had some rain, but nothing really out of the ordinary.

But still, it is affecting me. How? Well, I've gone into full-blown 'fattening myself up for Winter' mode and I'm pretty much eating anything I can get my hands on. The preference being stodgy food such as pasta e fagioli, lasagne, oh and also delicious cotoletta. All of my willpower seems to have disappeared with the warm summer weather. I'm also more tired than usual, I'm not sure if it's just down to the busy few weeks and weekends that I've had since the end of summer, but I'm definitely putting it down to the cambio di stagione too!

I do like the cooler weather too, this year I got more fed up of the hot and stuffy summer weather than usual. I've been reunited with my duvet and my 'normal' clothes - another reason why I don't like summer, the summery clothes I have to wear because of the heat. Oh how I missed my jeans this year! and I'm not sweating just by sitting still! So I guess a few extra kilos and some tiredness is the price I have to pay for the temperature being bareable again!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Song of The Week

Niccolò Fabi is a Roman singer-songwriter who released his first single in 1996. His 1998 single Lasciarsi un giorno a Roma is one of my favourite Italian songs. Una buona idea is his lastest single.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Nerys's Guide to Italian Music: Cesare Cremonini

Cremonini was born in Bologna exactly six years before me, on March 27th 1980. He started off his music career in pop-rock group Lùnapop. Their first single 50 special was released in May 1999 and sold over 100,000 copies in three months.

Another one of the band's biggest singles is Qualcosa di grande. In 2000 it won the Festivalbar competition, which was a televised contest involving the summer's biggest hits which ran until 2007.

Their last appearance was at the 2001 edition of Festival bar, and at the beginning of 2002 the band split. In November 2002 Cremonini released his first solo album, Bagus. The biggest-selling single from the album was Vieni a vedere perché.

His second album, Maggese, was released in June 2005, and the title track is another one of those songs that reminds me of my Erasmus year.

My favourite song of his solo career is Mondo, a collaboration with Jovanotti from the summer of 2010.

His previous single, Il comico (sai che risate) was one of the biggest songs of the summer, and his current single Una come te can currently be heard on radio.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Classic

Tuscan Gianna Nannini and her distinctive voice have been a constant presence in Italian music for over 20 years, and at 58 years old she's still going strong. One of her biggest successes is 1986's Bello e impossibile.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Song of The Week

Un posto per me is the first single from Andrea Nardinocchi. I've not actually been able to find much information about him other than a couple of interviews, but he's been hyped by many as the next big thing in Italian music.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Song of The Summer?

This has been my fourth summer in Milan and I still don't understand how, without fail, the Italians seem to go a just a little bit silly when it comes to music every time the weather starts to get hot.

This year many have given the rather dubious honour of the tormentone dell'estate (literally 'torment of the summer') to a song created (well, there's actually been a bit of a plagiarism debate about this on Twitter during the last few days...) by Radio Globo in Lazio. It's about a chick (pulcino) called Pio.

Annoying, right?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Song of The Week

Non sono solo canzonette (They're not just little songs) is a curious song. It's by 27 year old singer-songwriter and pianist Paolo Simoni, and borrows lyrics from many famous Italian songs from the past; such as Domenico Modugno's Nel blu dipinto di blu, Franco Battiato's Centro di gravità permanente, and the title of the song itself borrows from Edoardo Bennato's Sono solo canzonette.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Classic

L'estate sta finendo is one of the big tormentoni from the 80s. It was released in 1985 by Turinese duo Righeira, and it was their biggest hit.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


This is mainly the sight that greeted me as I left the house this morning to go to work. Deserted streets, not a soul in sight. I was half-expecting a heard of zombies to come out of nowhere and start chasing me...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Song of The Week

Il Cile is Lorenzo Cilembrini, a singer-songwriter from Arezzo in Tuscany. Il mio incantesimo is the follow-up to the beautiful Cemento armato

Monday, July 16, 2012

Nerys vs ATM - Part 2

Oh ATM, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways...

It always seems to be during the dark hours of the night that the bigger problems with Milan's public transport system happen. A few nights ago, post-aperitivo again, I had to take the metro home. This time I couldn't take the tram as that whole section of the route that would have taken me home has been replaced by a bus service. And from what I've heard it's pretty shambolic (quelle surprise....), with one bus service covering two different tram routes. And normal service isn't going to be restored until September. The joy.

Anyway, so the other night I had no choice. I was aware that I probably wasn't going to get home as quickly as I would have liked, as the summer timetable is now in force. Oh yes, from the beginning of July until the 2nd of September the public transport in Milan is running on a reduced service compared to the rest of the year. More joy.

And to add insult to injury they're doing work on my line of the underground. They've been doing these works for months and I hadn't experienced any problems before. The biggest issue they had caused me before was how trains for both directions had to use the same platform, so I had to be careful not to end up getting on one that would have taken me in the wrong direction. But this time it was a disaster. I only had to go two stops down the line, which should have taken me about 4 minutes for the actual journey in the train, without counting the possible wait at the station to actually get the train. From when I arrived at the station near the bar to when I got off the train at my home stop it took me 20 minutes. Ok, it may not seem much, but when you're tired and dying to get home to your bed it's a long time.

When I got down to the platform it was crowded, and looking over to the opposite platform that was just as bad. Obviously, Italy being Italy, there were no announcements about the delay, or any indication as to when a train would actually arrive. We just had to wait it out.

So the moral of the story is: never trust public transport in Italy. It will always conspire against you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My history of Italian music in 10 songs

I'm not claiming to be any kind of authority on Italian music, "anzi" as the Italians would say; I'm just a foreigner who's been living here for a few years who listens to far too much radio. However this morning I read an article in the Guardian, titled Sounds of Italy - day one: a history of Italian pop in 10 songs. For me the article contains many surprises, the most pleasant one being the inclusion of Simone Cristicchi and his Studentessa universitaria. Ever since I discovered him in Urbino thanks to that song, I've always thought of him as being an excellent storyteller. And after reading that article I was inspired to compile my own list, covering the history of Italian music in 10 songs, according to me.

Mina - Città vuota (1964)

Mina's regarded as one of Italy's greatest singers. Her first single dates back to 1958, and she's still going strong. Over the years she's released an impressive 112 albums in Italy, and collaborated with many artists from Lucio Dalla to Giorgia and even Mick Hucknall! The song I've chosen is actually a cover in Italian of a song by Gene McDaniels.

Al Bano - Nel sole (1967)

This might be more what comes to mind when people abroad think of Italian music. Al Bano (born Albano Carrisi) has been releasing singles since 1965, solo and also with his then-wife Romina Power (everyone knows Felicità, right??). Most recently he's remembered for his Sanremo entry from last year, Amanda è libera, which earned him 3rd place in the festival.

Rino Gaetano - Ma il cielo è sempre più blu (1975)

Gaetano was one of the biggest artists of the 70s, but his life was tragically cut short when he was killed in a car accident in 1981 at 30 years of age. It was only this morning I heard his Mio fratello è figlio unico on national radio, much to my surprise; and an instrumental part of his song Gianna's currently used on a yogurt advert. He also played the part of the Fox in the 1981 film version of Pinocchio.

Raffaella Carrà - Tanti auguri (1978)

Raffaella Carrà is a national treasure. She had a string of hits in the 70s and 80s, and performed on many tv shows during those years. Recently she performed at the Concerto per l'Emilia, which was held on June 25th in Bologna to raise funds for the areas affected by the earthquakes, and broadcast on Rai 1. Last year she co-presented Italy's coverage of Eurovision, and currently her 1971 song Tuca tuca can be heard in Vodafone's summer adverts.

Vasco Rossi - Albachiara (1979)

Like him or loathe him, Vasco is one of the biggest figures in Italian music. He's an old rocker who seems to have been around for absolutely forever and even after threatening to retire last year he doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. His first album was released in 1978 when he was 26 years old; and his most recent release is L'altra metà del cielo, an album containing his songs re-written for a ballet, which was performed at the Scala theatre here in Milan (yes, I'm deadly serious).

Antonello Venditti - La notte prima degli esami (1984)

This song recounts a rite of passage for Italian teenagers, that of their last night before the start of the Maturità exams, the Italian equivalent of the British A Levels. The last night before the exams for many is a night not to be spent studying, but to be shared with friends. The song was also the inspiration for the film of the same title which was released in 2006.

Lucio Dalla - Caruso (1986)

Dalla sadly passed away on March 1st this year, but remains one of the most influential Italian songwriters of all time. Caruso was his biggest hit, and covered by many foreign artists in translated versions. He was a trained jazz musician and experiemented with different genres of music.

Jovanotti - Penso positivo (1994)

I regard Jovanotti as Italy's best showman of recent years. Not only that, he's a very talented songwriter. He's also another one of those artists who have been around for years but is as popular as ever. His first album, Jovanotti for President was released in 1988, two years after I was born. In recent years he's moved away from his rap roots, releasing many ballads, and his Safari album of 2008 was influenced by world music and contained collaborations with some international artists. His latest album, Ora, was released in January last year, and in the few years I've been here I'd never seen an album gain so much success.

Eiffel 65 - Blue (1999)

This could open a whole other discussion of the success Italo dance has had abroad. I'm ashamed to admit that until recently I didn't know that the producers behind Eiffel 65 were Italian, because the only song of theirs I knew was Blue, and when I was 13 years old the producers' nationality didn't cross my mind. Slowly I've been discovering that behind some songs from my early teens, what Italians could very well call tormentoni, were Italians.

Caparezza - Vieni a ballare in Puglia (2008)

Italian rap is a curious thing... I always find it interesting making comparisons between Italian and English language rap. I've covered Caparezza in the past and I think he's one of the best examples of current Italian rap, because of how he treats political and social issues. Legalize the premier, as the title would suggest, criticises Berlusconi and his lifestyle; when the album containing the single was released he was still in power. Goodbye malinconia deals with emigration from Italy, and the reasons behind this mass emigration.

Song of the Week

Se il mondo fosse ('If the world were') is the single which has been released to raise funds to rebuild the G. Galilei school in Mirandola, in the province of Modena; one of the areas that was worst hit by May's earthquakes. It features some of Italy's biggest rappers, Emis Killa, Club Dogo, J-Ax, and Marracash.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Il trucco

Language geek mode on.

The Italian for make-up is il trucco, but the interesting thing is that the noun trucco can also be translated as 'trick', as in a card trick for example. There have also been many mentions of the verb truccare in the news during the last few months, in reference to the various match-fixing allegations that have blighted Italian football - the verb means 'to fix' or 'to rig'. But in the reflexive 'truccarsi' - so to truccare oneself - means 'to dress up', 'to put on make-up', but also to 'to disguise oneself'.

Language lesson over.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been stocking up on new make-up. I've been feeling a bit stuck in a rut recently, and after my drastic change in hair colour in May I decided that new make-up was now the way to go.

The best find was that silver spray can, a make-up fixer. Basically you spray it on your face after you've finished slapping on your warpaint. I bought it last night so I've only had one full day's use of it, but so far I'm really impressed. One of the many problems of summer in most of Italy is that your make-up just ends up melting within seconds in the 30-odd degree heat (and if you're in Milan add the horrendous humitity to it). But that didn't happen today!

Very happy Nerys!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

One way to cool off...

Head for the nearest fountain! Tonight I had a stop at the fountain in Piazza Castello in the town centre. During the summer you'll always find lots of tourists soaking their feet in the cool water!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Snaps from Milan: Colonne di San Lorenzo

Walking out of the city centre down towards the Navigli you'll find the Colonne. Unlike cities such as Rome or Verona, very little Roman architecture has survived in Milan. The Colonne date from the 3rd century AD, and were probably part of a bath, and were moved to their current location in front of the Basilica di San Lorenzo during the 4th century.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day Trips from Milan: Verona

Verona's the city of Romeo and Juliet, and after a hard day's touristing I came to the conclusion that in Verona it's a bit like Valentine's Day all year round. It's almost impossible to avoid all the references to the couple in the city...

I still don't know how I did it, but the first time I went to Juliet's house I walked straight passed it! It's on an ordinary-looking street in the town centre (Via Cappello), and the easiest way to spot it is the writing on the walls on the street outside the house.

The house has been turned into a museum, housing paintings depicting the couple as well as artifacts from the various films based on their story. Entrance costs 6 euro.

Arriving in Verona city centre probably the first thing that you'll see is the Arena. It's in the centre of Piazza Brà, and many opera performances and concerts are held there. It's an impressive structure built in 30 AD and has been preserved extremely well.

Head to the Torre dei Lamberti, just off Piazza delle Erbe, if you want to see a view of Verona from above. You can get to the top of the tower either by lift or by stairs. 

As well as the Arena, on the other side of the river there's the Teatro Romano and museum. The teatro is also used to hold concerts.

If you're going to be in Verona for longer than just a day and plan on doing a lot of sightseeing it's worth buying the Verona card. It costs 15 euro and is valid for 2 days, and gives you entrance to the sights I've named above, as well as churches and other museums in the city.

You can get to Verona Porta Nuova from Milano Centrale either on the Frecciabianca or the Regionale trains. A full price single ticket on the Frecciabianca costs 20.50 euro, but there are discounts available if you book in advance. The journey takes 1 hour and 22 minutes. A one way second class ticket for the Regionale costs 11.30 euro and it takes 1 hour and 55 minutes to get to Verona.

Oh, and here's a little tip: if you're arriving by train at Verona Porta Nuova (the main train station) and don't fancy the walk to the city centre, the no. 90, 92, 93, 96, 97, or 98 will get you to Piazza Brà, where the Arena is. Tickets can be bought in the tabaccheria in the train station and cost a euro each.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Song of The Week

Ah, Negrita always do brilliant summer songs. This is Un giorno di ordinaria magia which features B.B. CiCO 'Z.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Roman Weekend

I've been living in Italy for over three and a half years now, but I hadn't been to Rome since 2006, during my year abroad. It's a shocking amount of time for someone living in Milan, and even though the train fares are pretty steep now since the Frecciarossa train took over the route between the two cities (if anyone's interested, another company, Italo, have recently started high-speed journeys from Rome to Milan) I really have no excuses. I spent this past weekend in the eternal city with a friend, and we hit it in true tourist style!

I'd never seen so many tourists in one place than Piazza di Spagna. Actually, I reckon between everywhere we went I saw more tourists in those two days in Rome than I see in a year in Milan! The main sights were packed, even during the hottest hours of the day.

The Trevi Fountain along with Piazza di Spagna was one of the sights I didn't see the last time in Rome, due to me unfortunately having the lurgy the week I was there. But this time there was no way I was missing it. It took my breath away - also for the sheer amount of people around it! It took some serious effort to battle through the crowds to throw my coin in the fountain!

It was amazing to go inside the Colusseum. For that and the Roman Forum we decided to go for a tour guide, mainly to avoid queuing in the afternoon sun for a couple of hours. It was definitely worth it, even though our guide for the Colusseum was geeking out with a history a little bit too much!

I had such a great time in Rome, everything worked out so wonderfully! Next time I won't leave it so long before returning!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More Earthquakes

At 9.03 yesterday morning Italy was hit by yet another earthquake. It registered at 5.8 on the Richter scale, and the epicentre was near Modena in Emilia-Romagna, not far from the area that was affected by the earthquake on the 20th of May. The strongest aftershock was at 12.55pm, which was 5.3 on the Richter scale. So far at least 17 people have been confirmed dead, and 8,000 people have been made homeless; which add to the 6,000 who were evacuated following the previous earthquake.

No damage has been reported here in Milan, but working on the 7th floor we were scared. The first earthquake was the strongest I'd ever felt and I was left feeling very shaken all morning. But the worst thing was feeling such a strong earthquake and knowing that the epicentre would have been hit hard. At lunchtime I saw images of crumbled buildings on the news, people in the streets and in tents.

The country has come together to help the affected communities. Useful phone numbers and ways to help have been tweeted and retweeted on twitter, and also on Facebook people have been posting useful information. A number was activated yesterday afternoon to raise money for the areas hit, by sending a text to 44550 2 euro is donated to those in need.

Even though we're far enough away from the epicentre to be unharmed, we're still on edge. The aftershocks will continue for some time yet.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Snaps from Milan: Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, more commonly known as just the Galleria, is a shopping arcade in the centre of Milan, running from Piazza Duomo to Piazza alla Scala. It's covered by a beautiful glass roof, and is one of the most popular attractions in the city. In the centre of the Galleria, underneath the glass dome, there's a design in the mosaic of a bull. It's from the city of Turin's coat of arms, and tradition dictates that if you spin around on its testicles (yes, really) on your right heel three times it'll bring good luck. The bull's easy to spot - look out for the massive dent in the floor!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Eurovision 2012

I love Eurovision. In all its cheesyness and randomness it's always so much fun. So of course, last night I was at home watching the coverage on Rai 2. I have to say that the Italian coverage this year was a big improvement on last year. It was much closer to what I'd been used to in the UK; last year there were presenters and a mini-audience in a studio in Rome, but this year two presenters from Rai Radio 2 were commenting the evening's proceedings. At times they were a bit too chatty for my liking, talking over the interval act for example, but generally speaking they did a good job. It was amusing to hear how bitter and sarcastic they became as the night went on, they were obviously expecting a result similar to last year's. But they seemed to get it though, or at least more than Raffaela Carrà did last year; one of my highlights was their ironic comments about Jedward, how they wanted viewers to round up everyone they knew to witness the performance!

Nina Zilli did Italy proud, even though the country's disappointed at finishing ninth. I guess it's only natural to be disappointed after finishing second last year, but for me it's still a respectable result. Italy received some interesting votes from its neighbours to say the least, including a shocking seven points from San Marino! Nina gave a fantastic performance of L'amore è femmina (Out of Love), a bilingual version of her song that's been on the radio here for a few weeks, so it was very strange for me to hear her singing in English!

Monday, May 21, 2012

A sad weekend

To put it lightly it's been a difficult weekend for my adopted country. Two completely different events have rocked the country. During a lazy Saturday morning whilst I was still in my pyjamas I read on twitter that a bomb had exploded outside a school in Brindisi, Puglia (the heel of the boot). A 16 year old girl, Melissa Bassi, was killed. Her funeral was held today. Other pupils were injured, five are still in hospital with one in a critical condition. The blame was immediately placed on the pugliese mafia, but their responsibility is now being played down by police. CCTV cameras have caught the person who police believe to be responsible for the bombing, a 50-55 year old caucasian man who appears to be pointing a remote control to detonate the bomb which was left outside the school gates. It shook the entire country, and many demonstrations were held in schools and in piazzas up and down the peninsula to show solidariety with the people of Brindisi.

Sunday morning around 4am I, and most of northern Italy, was woken up by an earthquake. It was the strongest one I'd ever felt. Somehow I managed to get back to sleep, and it wasn't until I woke up again at 8 and turned on the radio that I heard about the damage that it had done. The epicentre was down near Modena, around 135 miles from Milan, and was 6.0 on the Richter scale. To put that in perspective, the earthquake that devastated Aquila in April 2009 was 6.3 on the Richter scale. I was shaken, but unhurt. But many areas around Modena and Bologna were hit hard. I saw shocking images on the tv of crumbled buildings and churches, people who had been evacuated from their homes, and the sad news of the victims. Seven people were killed, four of which were factory workers doing the night shift. The factory fell down around them. The government's expected to declare a state of emergency tomorrow, and aftershocks continue to affect the area. We even feel them up here in Milan.

I was almost glad to see Monday arrive, a new week which would end the horrific weekend Italy has experienced.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Yup, that's me with my drastic new hair colour.

I hadn't even been considering changing my hair colour for that long, I'd only seriously been thinking about it for a week. But once I got that idea in my head there was no turning back! I'd like to point out that I hadn't been planning on getting such a shocking colour, but when it got suggested to me I decided to trust the hairdresser and go for it.

And no, I'm definitely not used to it yet. I keep giving myself a fright every time I see my reflection!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nerys vs ATM

For those who have never been to Milan, ATM (which stands for Azienda Trasporti Milanesi) is the company that runs public transport in Milan. And in true Italian style public transport here isn't the most reliable.

Take last night for example. After going out for an aperitivo I decided to take the tram home instead of the metro. When I go out I almost always take the metro home, purely because normally where I go I can't get a tram straight home. And after a couple of drinks the logistics of figuring out where to change trams is just too much effort. Last night the metro stop was closer to the bar, but by taking the tram it meant that the stop I'd get off at would be much nearer to home, and I'd spare a 15-odd minute walk down streets that aren't exactly well-lit (and past prostitutes to boot...). It was only around 10pm, definitely not late by Italian standards, but I decided that walking that extra bit of distance down a busy main street - Corso Buenos Aires to be precise - was better than walking home through my neighbourhood. So off I went to the tram stop.

I started regretting making my decision when I looked at the timetable. I'd missed one tram by about six minutes and had nearly a quarter of an hour to wait until the next one. Still better than walking home from the metro stop I thought, so I got my iPod out and waited.

Then at one point during the journey everyone got off. I was still listening to my iPod and was completely oblivious to what was going on around me. I'd taken that tram countless amounts of times and knew the route like the back of my hand, so it seemed strange to me that everyone would get off at that stop. When I was the last person left on the tram I heard the driver ask me over my music.

"Where do you have to go?"
I said to the end of the line.
"Eh, it's not going there. You'll have to get off and get a bus."

I was too tired and slightly worse for wear to bother asking why. It was one of those situations where I decided that I'd be better off just accepting my fate, and I knew that even if I did ask for an explanation more than likely it wouldn't satisfy me. I got off the tram and made my way over to the pavement where all the other passengers were waiting. When another tram arrived for a different route the passengers also got off, and the driver helpfully pointed out that we were waiting in the wrong place for the replacement service, and pointed at the bus which was already waiting for us at the other side of the crossroads. So everyone from the two different trams trooped over, to the same bus. Luckily the two different tram routes are very similar from where we got thrown off, but the two capolinee (the ends of the respective lines) are about 15 minutes' walk from each other. Luckily for me it followed my tram home, and I got off at the same piazza that I would have done had the tram gone all the way to the end of the line.

For my own sanity I checked the ATM website this morning to see if there were any planned roadworks or anything that would have meant that the tram had to stop where it did. I follow a twitter account that gives updates from the website about changes in routes or schedules (amusingly it's not official, the official ATM account hasn't tweeted a word) so I was fairly sure I hadn't missed anything. No matter how much I looked I couldn't find any news that specifically mentioned my tram. So it remains a mystery. And it isn't the first time that something like this has happened to me at night either.

So the moral of the story is: don't take for granted that you'll get where you need to go when taking public transport in Milan.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Classic

There's a cover of this song doing the rounds, which made me think of the original. It's Figli delle stelle ('Children of the stars') by Alan Sorrenti from 1977. It's one of a small number of disco songs in the Italian language.

The cover is by Deproducers, four musicians who have formed the band with the aim of uniting music and science.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Song of The Week

Love love love this. It's Planet Funk's new single, which features Negramaro's Giuliano Sangiorgi on vocals. It's called Ora il mondo è perfetto ('now the world is perfect).

Monday, April 30, 2012


Italy has eleven national public holidays, compared to the eight in Wales and England. There are also public holidays that celebrate the patron saint of each city, for example Milan's has a holiday on the 7th of December for the feast day of saint Ambrose (Sant Ambrosio in Italian). Tomorrow is the festa dei lavoratori or festa del lavoro, International Worker's Day. But for many today has also been a holiday. My part of Milan has been deserted. There's little traffic and few people around, and a lot of shops and businesses are closed.

What a lot of Italians do when they can is called a ponte, or a bridge. When a holiday falls in the middle of the week, especially on Tuesdays or Thursdays, they then make a bridge which goes from the weekend to the holiday, getting an extra day or even two out of the bank holiday. In tomorrow's case the bridge away from work goes from the weekend that's just been, with people then returning to work on Wednesday. The 25th was also a public holiday last week, which celebrates the liberation of Italy from Fascist rule in 1945. Some people I know also took Thursday and Friday off work to make a long ponte that lasted until the weekend. I've even heard of some who managed to blag a ponte lasting from last Wednesday to this Wednesday, covering both holidays and all the weekdays inbetween!

Unlike British bank holidays, almost all Italian bank holidays (the only exception is Easter Monday) are on certain dates, unlike the British holidays which are very nearly all on Mondays or Fridays. It does mean that some holidays can land on weekends, for example this year June 2nd's Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day, which celebrates the establishment of the Italian republic following a referendum in 1946) is on a Saturday. Last year Italy had two holidays in one day, with Easter Monday falling on the 25th of April. Don't feel too bad for the Italians missing out on holidays though, they more than make up for them with their various bridges!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reverse Culture Shock - Again

Sunday I celebrated three and a half years in Italy. The previous four days I'd spent in London or travelling to/from there. It was the first time I'd gone back to the UK since Christmas, and the first time in London for over two years. And for pretty much the whole time I was there I couldn't stop making comparisons with Milan and the Italian lifestyle.

I'd written about reverse culture shock a couple of years ago but those few days in London made me think about it again. I must admit that I felt completely like a fish out of water for a few hours after landing in Gatwick. It was the coach journey that did it I think, it was one and a half hours of a completely unfamiliar journey. I'd never even landed in Gatwick before, and the hour and a half coach journey to Victoria station felt very long. Everything I was seeing and hearing was completely different to Milan, and to the countryside where I grew up in. If it weren't for being able to understand everything I could read outside the bus window it would have felt like being in a foreign country.

It was the fifth time that I'd been to London, and only two of those times had been before I'd moved to Italy; when I was in primary school. So it was a constant case of familiarity and the unknown. Familiarity such as making a beeline to Boots after landing at Gatwick, knowing that I'd be able to buy lunch there (including a bottle of wonderful Ribena!) and the not so familiar such as the London underground, which I'd only done a couple of journeys on unaccompanied before (but I actually dealt with surprisingly well in the end). It was constantly a strange sensation of knowing that I was back in Britain, but still being a tourist and not feeling like I fitted in.

I kept making constant comparisions to how things were back in Milan. On Friday morning during a shopping trip we stopped for a mid-morning coffee and I laughed at the size of the 'small' cappuccino I'd ordered. It was at least twice the size of one that you'd get anywhere in Italy, and I struggled to finish it. There was a coffee shop on almost every corner, and everywhere I went I saw people clutching plastic cups of coffee. It was the complete opposite to the Italian coffee culture of gulping down your espresso at the bar first thing in the morning. I couldn't even watch TV or listen to the radio without thinking how things were back in Milan. I watched Britain's Got Talent for the first time, after having watched two series of Italia's Got Talent, and was amazed at how many adverts there were. Even Radio 1 which I pratically grew up with seemed so foreign, the format's completely different to my beloved Radio Deejay, and I hadn't even thought about the differences before.

But even with all this I still had a great time. I did some serious shopping, buying things such as jeans and pyjamas which cost much more in Italy. Oh, how I'd missed Primark! I ate some lovely food too, every single meal was amazing. Even that chicken and bacon sandwich I'd bought for lunch at the airport was amazing!

It's left me thinking about a lot of things though. A week after arriving there I still haven't got over that shock, and I think it'll stay in my mind for a long time too. It was very unsettling to feel like a foreigner in my home country. After a few days in the chaos of London, Milan felt like a small plan when I arrived back on Saturday afternoon. But it was coming back home, somewhere familiar, a place I felt like I belonged.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Song of The Week

This has been going round in my head all day. It's Giorgia's new song Tu mi porti su, which features Jovanotti, who also also co-wrote the song.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Le parolacce - swear words

No, before anyone asks, I'm not teaching anyone Italian swear words.

Yes, I know it's always the first thing that you pick up when you go and live in another country, I'm still not doing it.

However I will put my hands up and admit that not only do I swear more in Italian, but since I've been living here I've started swearing more in the other languages I speak too. I know, it's not a good look; but it reflects a lot about how swearing is used in Italy. I'm not saying it's acceptable, but it's certainly more acceptable than it is in the UK.

Whilst the UK has the watershed, the Italian tv and radio equivalent is the fascia protetta, the protected time slot of 4pm-7pm when programmes directed towards children and teenagers are shown. Then after 10.30pm programmes suitable for over 14s can be shown. There is also the bollino system to indicate if programmes are suitable for children. The word bollino translates literally as 'stamp' or 'sticker'; but in this case it's a symbol or icon, often round and on or next to the channel's logo, indicating a colour. Green is for programmes that are suitable for all, yellow indicating that children should be accompanied by adults, and red for programmes that are not suitable for minors.

As a native English speaker I've been shocked at seeing uncensored episodes of American reality tv shows (Jersey Shore being the one that springs to mind most) at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. The Italian subtitles would be censored, but in the original language they'd be effing and blinding all over the place, after warnings at the beginning of the show of offensive language. It isn't necessarily going to mean much to the Italian adolescents watching the programme, but I still don't like the idea that they could pick up that language and think it's acceptable.

But what's shocked me the most over the years is the radio. I've always been pretty much surgically attached to the radio given half a chance; and after years of British radio and absolutely no swearing on pain of very high fines, I used to find it a shocking to hear the vaffa bomb being dropped at around 2 in the afternoon. Of course, as in normal situations it isn't everyone, and not on every radio station, but for the station I listen to it seems to be completely normal to hear a couple of mild swear words per show outside the fascia protetta, after over 3 years here I have to admit that I hardly even notice it anymore.

It's just another way that Italy's a country of contradictions I guess!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Italy Roundtable 1st Anniversary - Comfort Food

A new country and a new culture obviously means new food and changing your eating habits. I remember the desperation at the beginning of my Erasmus year in Urbino when we didn't have a kettle in the flat. No kettle meant making tea became a bit of a misson. And a Brit not being able to have a cuppa tea is not a good look. It was just one of the many little things I had to get used to.

Even though I have a very sweet tooth my ultimate comfort food at home was chicken soup. Proper thick chicken soup with a couple of slices of white bread and a chunk of Cheddar cheese. Perfect for those dark winter nights. It was also at the beginning of my Erasmus year that I discovered that I was going to have to do without my beloved chicken soup. Every time I felt like making some soup - being the lazy student that I was - I had to put up with watery broth-like substances that more often than not contained varying types of pasta. I wasn't overly impressed. In a big international city like Milan British food isn't difficult to come by, but it comes at a price. The last time I saw a can of Heinz chicken soup it cost 2 euro, and I decided to leave it where it was on the shelf.

Photo by Wordridden

The idea of comfort food is something that you grow up with, maybe something your mum makes when you're feeling ill for example; but when you transplant yourself into a different culture, you might not necessarily have someone around you to suggest comforting food. For around the first year and a half after my arrival in Italy I lived in a house that had a very different concept of food to the one I grew up with. There wasn't much in the way of comfort food, or even anything remotely unhealthy - bar the occasional pugliese fried meal - but one thing I loved was pasta e fagioli, pasta and beans. Perfect stodgy winter food. With the cold and rainy weather we've been having recently I've been making it this week.

A delicious piece of stracchino cheese!

I've also discovered that some unusual food has crept into my 'comfort food' category during my time here. For example there's stracchino, a very soft cows' milk cheese. I'm not sure what's so comforting about cheese, but this is. With some nice fresh bread, or with some vegetables, it's brilliant. My ultimate comfort food however is lasagna. I never used to eat it that much before moving to Italy, it certainly wasn't anything that was ever cooked at home, but I can't get enough of it. Any other kind of pasta, even if it has all the ragù on it that I want, just doesn't come close. Stick a portion of lasagna in front of me and I instantly become a happier person.

I've written this post as the ladies of the Italian Roundtable have extended an invitation to bloggers in Italy to write about one of the topics they've covered during the past year to celebrate their first anniversary. Auguri ragazze!

This month the ladies are writing about invitations: