Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dawn on the train

I'm in deepest darkest Emila, on my way down to Rome for the weekend an Italo train. I've been awake since 4.45 and I left a pitch black and very cold Milan. The sun's now starting to rise over the fields and towns of northern Italy as we race down to the capital... And I need another coffee!

Today's the 30th of November, which means it's the last day of Nablopomo! I've written a post every day! I've made it!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Christmas is Coming... Again.

For me Christmas starts with the Artigiano in Fiera at the beginning of December. Well, I say beginning of December, this year it's starting tomorrow. November. It may be the 30th but it's still November. Hmm.

Anywho, the Artigiano in Fiera is amazing. Bonkers, but amazing. Over the course of the week pretty much the entire city of Milan descends on the exhibitions centre in Rho Fiera. An artigiano is an artisan, but as an adjective it's used to describe something that's home made. And that's what the Fiera is full of - stands of artisans from all over the world selling their wares. You get everything from Limoncello and pastries from southern Italy, to scarves and jewellery from India, to wurstel and brezel from Austria and Germany and everything in between. There are also restaurants from all over the world catering to all tastes.
The hardcore Milanese bring along cases and shopping trolleys to take home their purchases, stocking up on Christmas presents. It's certainly not for the faint hearted - even from the red line Rho metro trains transporting the crowds there - but it's definitely worth a visit.

Entrance to the Artigiano in Fiera is free. It starts tomorrow at 10am and finishes next Sunday, 8th December. Getting there on public transport from Milan is easy, jump on a red line (M1) train with Rho as the destination (not Bisceglie, that won't get you there). A return ticket from within the city limits costs 5 euro. Information about the Fiera can be found in English on their site here.

Normally my carefully planned attack on the Fiera takes place on the first day, but this year I can't go - as I'm off to Rome for the weekend!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Song of The Week

Ecco che is Elisa's new single, the second to be taken from her latest album L'anima vola. It was co-written with Giuliano Sangiorgi from Negramaro.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bye Berlusconi (?)

I've got a slight fever (and as all expats in Italy learn sooner or later, a fever is pretty much the worst thing you could ever suffer from) I apologise if I ramble more than usual, but with it being NaBloPoMo the show must go on!

What else could I write about but Berlusconi? Finally he's been kicked out of the senate following his definitive conviction for tax fraud on the 6th of October. Yes, it took Italian politicians *that* long to arrange a vote as to whether a convicted criminal should be allowed to stay in parliament.

In the five years I've been in Italy I've seen the carefully created legend of Berlusconi slowly unravel piece by piece. His court cases, from tax evasion, to underage prostitution, are slowly catching up on him. At the moment I'm (finally) reading Tobias Jones' The Dark Heart of Italy - which should be essential reading for anyone considering a move to Italy - but for one reason or another, I'm only getting around to reading it now. Certain passages dealing with Berlusconi are incredible, even after all this time in Italy. His control on tv, football, printed press, advertising... One (small) man has so much control over this country, you really can't escape from it. People abroad wonder why he still has so much political power, but he really has so much influence in day-to-day life here. When he was prime minister he basically owned all of the main tv channels, as the Mediaset ones belong to him, and Rai to the state. Your tv set was basically a propaganda machine. Even now with the left wing-right wing coalition government you'd still need to watch several different news broadcasts and read several different newspapers just to get an idea of what was really going on, and even then you wouldn't get the real picture.

What's been happening recently is a start. I never imagined when I was studying the 20th century history module at my uni in 2007-2008 that Berlusconi's grip on Italy would loosen any time soon. But finally the pieces are starting to fall apart.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Blue skies in winter

It's been another day of beautiful blue skies in Milan. From my 6th floor office in the east of the city I could see the planes twinkling in the sun as they took off from Linate, and the snow-covered mountains in the distance. Of course this kind of clear sky comes with a price - the cold! This morning when I woke up an app my phone was showing the temperature as -2. Brrrr!! Wrap up warm kids!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sunday Morning at l'Arco della Pace

L'arco della Pace is one of Milan's most beautiful landmarks. It's to the north-west of the city centre, the other side of Parco Sempione. It's at the end of Corso Sempione, a wide street packed with bars.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Classic

Today's classic is from 1985, Noi, ragazzi di oggi, by Mexican singer Luis Miguel. He was just 15 when he took part in Sanremo with this song.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Word of The Week

Gli stivali - boots

Italy's often described as being a stivale as it's the shape of a boot. And in my part of the stivale winter has arrived so the winter stivali are getting a good use. We haven't had any snow in Milan yet, but some other areas have seen a dusting, even nearby Varese. And they're forecasting even colder weather over the next few days!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Song of The Week

Giuliano Palma is a singer who I connect with the summer months (see here and here) so I found it a bit strange hearing his voice on the radio when it was cold and grey outside. Ora lo sai (now you know) is his new single, which is the result of a collaboration with Subsonica frontman Samuel.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

We have pretty sunsets too!

Milan, being a grey and smoggy city, doesn't get much in the way of nice sunsets. But when we do get one, they're pretty spectacular. This was today's, complete with a bonus - a rainbow!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


It's been impossible to avoid the news coming out of Sardinia over the last 24 hours. I have to admit that I've never been to the island, but when this kind of disaster hits my beloved adopted country it's obvious that I'm affected. In 24 hours the same amount of rain has fallen in some areas of the region as what normally does in six months. 18 people have died and 2,700 are reported to have been evacuated from their homes.

I've seen photos from a couple of my friends in Sardinia - not in the worst affected areas, luckily - and reports of the situation where they are, things I couldn't ever imagining in somewhere like an island that's associated with sunny blue skies and clear blue seas. I've seen images on the news of bridges that have been carried away by the water, streets completely flooded, cars almost completely submurged by the water...

In my cosy home in the metropolis of Milan I can't imagine what these people must be going through. My heart goes out to everyone on the island who has been affected. Un abbraccio alla Sardegna.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday night treat

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the krapfen (stop sniggering). As the name would suggest it has germanic roots, but is popular in Italy.

This particular (tasty) specimen is a krapfen alla crema. Take a guess? Yes, it's filled with cream! And I love the cream you get in pastries and tarts and croissants here in Italy - thick, almost custardy stuff, and very sweet.

So this is my Monday night treat, because we all deserve a treat for getting through Monday, right?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Classic

This week's classic is a song that was performed by one of the contestants (Fabio) on this week's X Factor. The original was by Lucio Dalla and was released in 1971, it's La casa in riva al mare (The house on the seafront).

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Word of The Week

Dormire - to sleep

Last night I was fast asleep by 9.30 and woke up when I heard the church bells ringing at 8, and after listening to the radio for an hour I went back to bed... Until I got disturbed by my neighbour who was raising hell on the phone about an hour and a half later. I've had a couple of very late nights for me this week, especially Thursday night when I went to X Factor, so I desperately needed to dormire last night!

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Welshie at X Factor - Again!

I know, I'm still being a fangirl.

Last night I was in the X Factor audience. Massive thanks to my friend, who I know will want to stay anonymous, for finding me a spare ticket! After going to the Milan auditions back in June it was great to see the progress some of my favourite contestants had made.

X Factor in Italy is on every Thursday night, and on Sky Uno. This year it's being held in a purpose made tented theatre in the east of the city, in the Lambrate area. It holds 1,200 people, but only 250 tickets are put on sale every week for the Italian public to buy. And we have to buy them. The tickets cost 28 euro, and are put on sale every Monday at midday for the show on the following Thursday. And with only 250 tickets and such high demand they're pretty much impossible to buy.

The show's an epic three hours long, starting at 9.10pm, and it's followed straightaway by Xtra Factor which goes on for another hour - so when I walked into the arena last night I knew I was in for the long haul! It went a lot quicker than I imagined though, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to!

This week was 'Hell Factor', and my inner Dante geek was very happy about all the Inferno references. It had been given that name due to the fact that there were two eliminations instead of just one, and unfortunately one of my favourites got voted off. Roberta was one of the most memorable contestants from the Milanese auditions for me, partly because of her slightly unfortunate surname... Another one of Mika's girls, Gaia - who killed it at Milan with her performance of Mina's Brava - escaped being voted off after ending up in the bottom two of the second group of contestants.

I was particularly impressed with Michele, for someone so young the kid has an amazing voice. Ape Escape are fantastic, and they bring a touch of originality to the competition. I loved Fabio's performance too, another singer who had impressed me back in June.

During the show I couldn't help but think back to my very first experience with X Factor Italy, over four years ago. That was when Mika was a mere guest, and now he was a judge. Back then I hadn't even been in Italy for a year. I didn't know who the judges were, and I didn't recognise the Italian songs the contestants were performing. This time I knew too well who the judges were - also back in July - and I knew every single song that was performed. The fact that the audience was applauding everything was perfectly normal, and I felt quite at home in my surroundings.

Mika is doing a brilliant job. His Italian gets better and better, but it's only normal that he makes a few mistakes (a couple that come to mind from last night were a couple of incorrect conjugations of the verbs sapere and essere - both of which are awful irregular verbs). The audience went wild when he took his place at the judges' table at the beginning of the show, much to my delight. I'm still amazed that this country has taken to a foreigner so much.

We left the arena to find that it was absolutely pouring down with rain, and quickly jumped in the car to go home. By the time I crawled into bed it was around 1.30!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Song of The Week

I'm going to bend my rule of featuring only songs completely in Italian for my song of the week, but as I'm in Italy it's all good. It's a duet by Mika, my favourite singer; and Chiara, who won X Factor Italy last year. It's a beautiful bilingual version of Stardust, from Mika's third album The Origin of Love. They first performed the duet together on the show last year, when Mika was a mere guest. This year he's one of the judges and they performed the song together again on last week's show. It's been No.1 on the iTunes chart in Italy for several days since its release; as well as the album that contains it, Mika's Songbook Vol.1, which contains his singles to date, and has only been released in Italy.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My New Toy!

Monday I bought a shiny electric milk frother from Lidl, and this morning I got to try it out for the first time!

Luckily, it's blonde proof. You pour milk into it, and at the bottom you can put a whisk for frothed milk, or take it out if you just want hot milk.

Press the button and off it goes! Whirrrrrr...

And here's the finished result - some very frothy milk...

... that I used to treat myself to a cappuccino this morning!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Snaps from Milan: The Underground

Empty seats on a sleepy Sunday morning...

Some slightly puzzling Engrish graffiti...

A map of the three main train lines on one of the older trains...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nerys vs Nutella

For the last few weeks I've been bitching about Nutella. This is the last I'm going to say about it before abandoning the product completely.

Just over three weeks ago I saw that Nutella had jumped on the 'personalised packaging' bandwagon. I hadn't cared about Coca Cola and their personalised cans, the only time I'd ever drank that stuff was when I was drunk. But then Nutella decided that it wanted a piece of the action. In the supermarket there were displays of stickers with popular Italian names on them, in the same style and colour as the Nutella packaging, so that you could stick on the jar.

It was like practically everyone I knew in Italy sent me a link to Nutella's site, where three weeks ago you could order a sticker for your Nutella jar which would be sent to you by email, and it could be any name you want. Brilliant I thought, even though I don't have an Italian name I can get one too. But no, obviously being Italy that would be far too easy. When I sent my request and got the following message:.

"Segnalaci il tuo nome, se lo riteniamo idoneo ti spediremo la tua etichetta il primo possibile."

'Tell us your name, if we think it's suitable we'll send your sticker as soon as possible.'

Right. So you're basically accusing my name of being some sort of swear word because it's not in your list? Nice.

One week passed, no email with the sticker.

Two weeks passed, I was in Florence, still no email with the sticker. How long does it take for someone to decide that a foreign name isn't some kind of insult?

And the whole time on the radio every weekend my favourite radio presenter and her partner in crime were giving away personalised jars of Nutella as prizes in various competitions. I desperately wanted one but for a foreigner their quizzes were too difficult, I never knew the answers. And some of the contestants had names such as Marco and Laura... People who could get their stickers at the supermarket. To rub things in further...

Three weeks. Ok, even for Italy this is ridiculous. Before demanding an answer from Nutella's Twitter account I went to read their last tweets.

They'd changed the rules. You could no longer request any name, only ones on their Approved Italian Names list.

Well, thanks for telling me. I wasted three weeks waiting for nothing.

I just wanted a sticker with my name to put on my Nutella jar. They didn't even send me any kind of communication, or let me know in any way that I actually, even though they'd said that they could send you an email with a sticker for any name in the world, I couldn't have one. I felt let down by a product that had been with me through thick and thin.

All summer I'd felt ignored because I was working... I wanted to take part in the Italy in a Day project so I could tell the story of adopted country - my new home - but after reading the small print I found out foreign residents couldn't take part... Now my beloved Nutella was discriminating against me because of my name.

It may seem silly, but it's a matter of principle. I don't like feeling discriminated against in any way, no matter how small, in a country that I now call home.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Classic

I randomly heard a clip of song on the radio last week and I was instantly hooked by the catchy chorus. It's called Se io ti regalo un fiore (If I give you a flower) by Sardinian band I Barrittas. The band were active between 1962-1971, and this song is a single from 1967.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Word of The Week

Il parrucchiere - hairdresser (m)/hair salon

This morning I dragged myself out of the house to go dal parrucchiere for my 10am appointment. I've been lucky to find not only a good hair salon near to home where I've always been happy with the results, but also one that has friendly staff who have had to put up with the slightly drastic changes I've wanted over the last few years. That's my rather serious face that I had on when I had a head full of hair dye!

I've been growing my hair over the last year, and I'm not done yet. Today was a trim and a colour. And to give you some idea of what I've put my poor parrucchiere through, this is what I looked like a year ago:

And this is me today!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The best beer in Italy?

You know you might like beer a little bit too much when you start blogging about it.

This, in my humble Celtic opinion, is the best beer in Italy. It's Ichnusa (pronounced ick-nooza) and it comes from Sardinia.

You never would have associated the island with beer, right? The beer's name is actually the ancient Greek name for the island, and the first brewery was opened in Cagliari (Sardinia's capital city) in 1912. Since 1963 it's been brewed in Assemini in the province of Cagliari. It's a lager, and has a slightly bitter taste.

The flag on the bottle is the Quattro mori, and if you've been to a music festival probably anywhere in the world you will have seen one of these guys. It's the flag of Sardinia, and it's not a concert or festival anywhere Italy until one of these guys shows up. Every single time someone has a Sardinian flag, no matter where, no matter when. True story.

One other amazing thing about Italy is the price of alcohol. How much did this 66 cl bottle cost me the other day in the supermarket? 1.11 euro. One euro eleven cents. Truly amazing.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Song of The Week

The girl who was behind my song of the summer is back. Levante's second single is Memo, and the song centres around the question of 'where does the love go at the end of a relationship?'. The video was filmed in Milan, see if you can spot the Duomo!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Only fog?

One of the stereotypes associated with the city of Milan is that we've got solo la nebbia - nothing but fog. Ok, during the winter months 9 times out of 10 it's true, but some days you see beautiful blue skies - such as today. I left the house around 8am this morning wrapped up in my winter coat and boots, thinking it was going to be a typical November day. By lunchtime I was sweating in 20 degree heat!

You think you know your adopted city, and somehow it still manages to surprise you!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

'Well' cereal

I was at the supermarket the other day looking for cereal when I found this box. These are well flakes. So translated from English-borrowed-by-Italian-companies means what exactly? A healthy cereal; in this case made with wholegrain wheat, rice, and fruits of the forest.

So yes, flakes that make you well, apparently. Maybe I should eat them the next time I feel ill.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Coats and Confusion

After some unseasonably warm weather it's finally time to buy this year's winter coat. And by unseasonably warm I mean that just over a week ago when I was in Florence I was walking around in a t-shirt and cardigan. During the last weekend of October. Crazy.

When it comes to winter coats, it's all fun and games in the Italian language. There are different words for different kinds of coats. A jacket is a giacca (the 'gi' is an English 'j' sound), so that's easy enough. Then there's piumino. This can mean both 'coat' and 'duvet'. Piumini are those coats that I call 'sleeping bag coats', the plastic-y looking ones that are filled with feathers. I tried one a couple of years ago and felt and looked ridiculous. The Italians however, totally rock them. A piumone however, is just a quilt. There's also giubbotto which is somewhere inbetween a giacca and a full-blown coat. The generic word for coat is cappotto and a hood is a cappuccio. And staying on a wintery theme a hat is a cappello.

Confused? I am.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Classic

On Monday Roman singer-songwriter Eros Ramazzotti celebrated his 50th birthday. Una storia importante gave him his first No.1 in Italy, back in 1985. It was also an entry at Sanremo that year, coming 6th in the competition.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Word of The Week

La maschera - mask/fancy dress costume

In the five years I've been living in Milan I've seen Halloween's popularity grow and grow. However it's still nowhere near to the level of celebrations in anglophone countries, and it's still very much treated as a 'foreign' holiday. I didn't go out on Halloween myself, as I had to work the next day, but I saw lots of photos of my friends mascherati - or dressed up - with zombies being very popular. I love fancy dress though, and beautiful Venetian maschere. The one in the photo's from when I went to Venice for the first time, almost four years ago. And here's a more recent photo of me mascherata as Studio Ghibli character Totoro!

Friday, November 1, 2013

NaBloPoMo - The Return!

Two years after I took up - and completed - the NaBloPoMo challenge, I'm back for more. 

NaBloPoMo stands for National Blog Posting Month, and was inspired by the NaNoWriMo project for National Novel Writing Month, which takes part every November. NaBloPoMo consists of writing a blog post every day, which for someone like me who doesn't write enough, is a real challenge. And that's the reason why I've decided to join NaBloPoMo for another year - so I can hopefully get into the habit of writing more content for my blog.

November starts off with a public holiday in Italy, Ognissanti or All Saint's Day. Seeing as it falls on a Friday this it's an excellent opportunity to get out of Milan and leave the city for a long weekend, with many people heading up to the mountains. Tomorrow iss also a religious holiday, but not a public holiday like today. It's All Souls' Day, known in Italian as Commemorazione dei defunti - commemoration of the dead. Italians traditionally visit graveyards to pay their respects to relatives who have passed away, taking flowers. There are also special sweets - most commonly a kind of biscuit - prepared for this day, called dolci dei morti - sweets of the dead. Here in Lombardy the biscuits are traditionally made using almonds, and are oval shaped. There's also pane dei morti - bread of the dead - in this part of the country, which is sweet bread that can also contain candied fruit. Traditionally the sweets prepared for this day are left out during the night between the 1st and 2nd of November when the dead are said to return to the earth, so that they have something to eat after their long journey back.