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Podcast: funny stories from Italy

podcast cover

If you like my posts on Italy then you might like listening to my new podcast When in Bologna on Audioboom.

There are three episodes so far which you can listen to here or download from Itunes.

I’ve never done anything like this before so if you have any feedback I’d love to hear it.

 

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Top 5 tips : Picture-Perfect Padova

Before Christmas I visited the lovely city of Padova (or “Padua” if you want to be boring and anglicise it) which is possibly the oldest city in Northern Italy as it dates back to 1183 BC. It is full of beautiful little piazzas and quaint streets all of which are encircled by the Bacchiglione river, making it an extremely photogenic spot and great for visiting by foot.

Here are my top 5 tips for a trip to Padova:

1. Stay at the Youth Hostel

fiume bacchiglione

Via S. Gregario Barbarigo

The youth hostel in Padova is located on Via Aleardo Aleardi which is just around the corner from this beautiful view of the river from the bridge on Via S. Gregorio Barbarigo. It only costs 19 euro a night in a six bed dorm with breakfast included. Being tongue-twisted by the street names will cause only minimal annoyance when you can grab a croissant and wake up to this view!

2. Go to the Piazza dei Signori at night

piazza delle erbe

Piazza dei signori

By night Padova is just as charming as it is in the light of day. In the Piazza dei signori there are a few nice bars but it is also a great reference point to depart from if you’d like to explore the bars and cafes along the side streets. Otherwise it’s just a great place to gaze thoughtfully at the moon and the dimly lit facade of St. Clemente church. Well that’s what I did anyway.

3. Go for a walk along the river

fiume 3

View from Ponte Molino

The river Bacchiglione surrounds Padova like a moat and meanders through its narrow streets and ancient buildings. I couldn’t help but stop at every little bridge and admire the view. For the best bridge snaps I recommend going for a stroll along the Eastern edge of the city where the old roman walls used to be. Otherwise just go with the flow.fiume

4. Have a coffee in Caffè Pedrocchi

caffe pedrocchi

A visit to Padova wouldn’t be complete without sampling a coffee in the famous Caffè Pedrocchi which was established in 1831. Their speciality coffee which is the cafe’s namesake is an espresso with mint liquor and cocoa powder. Don’t let the upmarket furnishings scare you off. It may look like the Ritz (there is even a white grand piano) but just a coffee won’t leave a bitter taste in your mouth…or your pocket.

5. Discover the city’s parks

giardini dell'arena

Giardini dell’arena

It’s always good to get some fresh air in a nice green space and Padova has some lovely little parks dotted around its edges. This is the Giardini dell’arena to the north of the city where you can also visit the remains of the old Roman theatre. It’s the perfect place for a morning stroll.

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Everything good happens after 2 A.M….In Bologna

Via IV novembre, Bologna

Via IV novembre, Bologna

“Nothing good happens after 2.am” – Ted Mosby

In the long running tv series “How I Met Your Mother”, this mantra which was passed down to Ted by his mother is something which I will forever refuse to believe…well at least in Bologna. Ted’s character is adorable, loveable, vulnerable, romantic albeit perpetually heartbroken yet I refuse to believe that in New York; the city which never sleeps, he couldn’t find something good going on after 2.a.m…..even if he did make a fool of himself along the way. In Bologna on the other hand, everything good happens after 2 a.m. By this time it is possible that you’ve had a birra or two, you may feel tired, you may feel emotional but in Bologna you can never feel as though anything can go wrong in the twilight hours. If anything that’s when the night is just beginning.

By day Bologna is a beautiful city. It’s “La Rossa” (The red one) ; a stunning yet unassuming agglomeration of russet and terracotta buildings; a scarlet heart pulsating with culture. By night it is ever more beautiful. Shades of red fade to hazy yellows and burnt oranges as the glow of street lamps illuminates the alleyways and piazzas. I have spent four months in Bologna now yet everytime I set foot in Piazza Maggiore under a starry sky I count myself lucky. Everything from the facade of San Petronio cathedral to the bronze sculpture of a coquettish lady in the adjoining via IV novembre seems like a painting. I sometimes imagine that if I poured some water on the scene it would vanish and the colours would just wash away like paint on the canvas of my own imagination. When I walk around the cobbled streets of Bologna with friends I often feel as though I am in some kind of magical dream world. Around every corner there is an interesting character. From the gummy African man who happily plays a chalice and spoon outside the kebab shop on Via del Pratello, to the Aussie busker who plays the guitar by the Due Torri accompanied by his chihuahua, tunelessly howling along in accompaniment.

By 3am when our friend Conor unusally finishes his shift at The Irish Times pub in Via del Paradiso there is only one place we can go; Osteria dello Scorpione. A pub which I have likened to Narnia. It can only be found when you’re not looking for it. When you really need a drink. When you aimlessly wander through random streets where there are seemingly no signs of life. But beyond rows of terraced houses and a prison on Via Santa Caterina you will find a mystical oasis. It’s not closed. You just need to duck under that half pulled shutter and walk on in. Here we can stay until 6am. The bar and kitchen are always open. Ordering a Pizza at 4am is not a ludicrous idea. Those scorpions in the tank are perhaps dead but is any of this real anyway? There are books about starsigns (including Scorpio), a dwarf sized version of jenga which the proprietor who resembles Doc from back to the future possibly hand carved and then let’s not forget the poster of Sting. That’s just pure, unadulterated genius. Here it is possible to wile away the hours by philosophising, playing cards (or jenga), meeting interesting people and eating those pumpkin seeds which come from the seemingly bottomless tin bucket by the bar.

When 6am strikes Doc gets touchy. He wants us to leave. The dream is over for another night. The sun is about to rise. So I charge my bike with 1.21 gigawatts of magic and cycle home through the cobbled streets as a realist dawn slowly comes into focus. I’m tired, I’m weary but no less in love with the mysticism of a night out in Bologna. You were wrong Ted Mosby. Everything Good Happens after 2am.

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Parma, Parma, Parma, Parma, Parma…….Chameleon

me in parma

Walking through the streets

This is another post which is well overdue (I just do too much stuff when I’m in Italy) but by taking advantage of some time I have at home in Ireland, I can finally give you an account of my experiences in Parma. Enjoy 🙂  So once again I caught the train with my trusted travel companion Sabela this time with the mission of exploring the city of Parma; the home of Parma ham and Parmesan cheese. Being a vegetarian I wasn’t able to sample the local meaty delicacy. I could have had the cheese (because often the authentic version isn’t made with animal rennet) but I eat a lot of it in Bologna so it wasn’t an urgent desire. We arrived in the morning and first of all had a coffee and croissant in a cafe in the centro storico before making our way to the teatro antico which is inside the Palazzo della Pilotta. The lighting was a little dim but we could still appreciate the colossal grandeur of the space.

sabela in the teatro

Sabela looking like she wants to monologue

Then we headed to the Galleria Nazionale (in the same building) where we saw lots of significant works. My favourites were “La Scapiliata” by Da vinci and “La Spiaggia” by Renato Guttoso.

da vinci parma

“La Scapiliata” by Leonardo Da Vinci – 1485

the bathers 2

“La spiaggia” by Renato Guttoso –  1955

We also had a bit of fun with trying to blend into the medieval religious paneled pieces such as this one by Angolo and Bartolomeo degli Erri.

me in a painting

Just trying to blend in…

I’m sure that’s why they left that blank space there in 1450…. After this we visited the Baptistry and the Cathedral, both of which were pretty spectacular. The lighting conditions in the cathedral were a little dim and I refused to pay a euro to light up every dome so instead I just illegally used flash (I don’t think anyone noticed.)

parma battistero

The Battistero

parma duomo

The duomo

For the rest of our time in Parma we just strolled around the lovely streets, went to the lovely Parco Ducale (which coupled with the cloudy weather reminded me very much of being back in Ireland) admired the buildings, saw a deformed bicycle and just soaked up the atmosphere.

Parco Ducale

Parco Ducale

There are many bikes in Parma...

There are many bikes in Parma…

This one didn't have a happy ending

….this one didn’t have a happy ending

All in all Sabela and I had a lovely day in Parma and I would recommend it to veggies and meat eaters alike as a city well worth visiting. (sorry vegans, you will miss out on Parmesan cheese) In the title I mis-quoted the Boy George song “Karma Chameleon” but I really do think that Parma is a dream and loving it is made easy with it’s colours “red, gold and green.”

Sabela with a map to navigate us

Sabela with a map to navigate us

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…In fair Verona where we lay our scene

romeo and juliet

At the beginning of October I went to Verona for the day with my trusted travel companion Sabela. Going there with high expectations I was prepared to be a little disappointed, but Shakespeare’s beloved city certainly lives up to it’s reputation. It isn’t hard to see why the Bard chose it as the setting for both a comedy and one of his greatest tragedies.

verona

It is a town of many faces which oozes with history, charm and passion. It inspires romance in the most cynical of people and everywhere you look it is possible to see a quaint alleyway or charming shuttered window which somehow the throngs of tourists don’t seem to sully (although I would hate to think how busy it is in August).

roman theatre

The first thing we visited was the Roman arena which is in an incredible condition considering it was built in the 1st century. When we were there a theatre company was rehearsing for a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar which I suppose is quite ironic.

me on julliet's balconyThen we did the mandatory visit to Juliet’s house and attempted to execute pensive balcony poses whilst imagining ourselves as being one half of a pair of star-crossed lovers.

sabela on the balcony I didn’t realise that a group of women who answer love letters on behalf of Juliet actually does exist (I thought it was just something made up by that really bad film with Amanda Seyfried). Of course in the digital age there are now computers where you can send an e-mail to Juliet in order to find out the solution to your deepest troubles of the heart. For the heart broken who are more old school however, it is still possible to stick letters and pleas for advice on the wall beside the balcony. Some of these made for extremely hilarious reads.

juliet's wall

Moving on we visited the Cathedral of Santa Maria Matricolare which had some beautiful arches and geometrical patterns. I only had my phone to take pictures which frustratingly couldn’t capture the magnitude and grandeur of the church but I tried my best.

verona cathedralverona cathedral 2verona 3

After lunch we decided to cross the Ponte Pietra and admire the lovely view of the Adige river and surrounding buildings. It really was a “wow” moment and the pictures speak for themselves.

ponte veronariver

Then we ascended the steps by the Teatro romano (which unfortunately was closed) to see an incredible vista of the entire city. The grueling climb in 30 degree heat was definitely worth it!

view over verona

me and sabella verona

We spent some time here just enjoying the view and marveling at the fact that the trees on the hill in the distance looked too perfect to be real. On the way back down I randomly bumped into my friend Katy from University who is studying at Padova (you can read her blog here) and had come down to Verona just for the day. It was definitely “by some consequence yet hanging in the stars”.

As the day turned to night Verona didn’t lose a shred of it’s beauty. On the contrary it gained a new vivacity and life and it’s nocturnal ambience made me feel as though I was already dreaming.

verona by night

I love you Verona

Parting really was such sweet sorrow.

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Ravenna Good Time

nice cafe ravenna

Classic Ravenna

My life has been pretty hectic lately between working and living the Dolce Vita in Bologna so this post has been a work in process for a while now. At last here is the latest update on my travels- I hope you like it 🙂 

A few weeks ago I went on an organised trip to Ravenna with a group called ESN (Erasmus Student Network) which is one of the three Erasmus organisations in Bologna. All of these groups offer trips, parties and discounts on drinks if you buy their card and this means you can mingle with the Erasmus community and make some international friends in the process!

friends. rosa, ghuna, alessandro, alixAfter only an hour long bus journey from Bologna, we arrived in Ravenna around lunchtime and straight away I met some really interesting and friendly people. Ghuna (Indian), Rosita (Spanish), Alix (Scottish), Alessandro (Italian) and I formed the perfect group of multicultural misfits and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city together whilst having a bit of craic (“fun” in Irish slang)

Our guided tour started off in front of a normal looking secondary school called the Liceo Classico Dante Alghieri but it was fascinating to discover that it was actually founded by Benito Mussolini. An aerial view of the building also shows that the building forms the letters B and M which meant that when planes passed by they knew Ravenna was a fascist city. (either that or it was somewhere to get a great bargain)

Just a normal school...

Just a normal school…

After this we went to the church of San Giovanni Evangelista which is one of the oldest churches in Europe, having been commissioned by the Empress Galla Placida in 424 AD. Much of the basilica was destroyed by the Americans in 1944 during WW2 when it was struck by a bomb originally intended for the train station. However, many original elements still remain such as the lovely mosaics with simple olive tree and bird designs.

old church in ravenna

tree mosaic ravenna

The next church we visited was the basilica of Sant Apollinare Nuovo. Like most of the churches and basilicas in Ravenna it wasn’t much to look at from the outside but the interior was beautiful with lots more colourful mosaics and roman style columns. It was outside this church that I randomly bumped into two friends from Exeter uni who are studying at Forli and had decided to do a bit of sightseeing. We briefly discussed meeting up but I forget to give them my mobile number or anything so it was indeed a freak encounter and a lovely surprise.

After having been reminded of the chance and fleeting nature of life, I was brought face to face with death, or more specifically Dante’s tomb. The master himself was exiled from Florence in 1302 and later died of Malaria in Ravenna in 1321.  Florence later came to regret exiling Dante and subsequently built a  grander tomb than the one in Ravenna (santa croce) for Dante in 1829 but it remains empty as the citizens of Ravenna took great pains to keep Dante’s bones and once even hid them inside the walls of the monastery. Nevertheless the little oil lamp in the tomb burns with oil from Tuscany which is provided by the Municipality of Florence each year on the 2nd Sunday of September in order to celebrate the anniversary of the poet’s death.

P1220067

A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark

By this time an inferno of hunger was gripping us and we had some free time to get lunch so I opted for a piadina which is a delicacy of the Emilia-Romagna region (however the piadine differ in both the Emilia and Romagna parts respectively). The best way to describe it would be to say that it is a doughier pitta bread which is then toasted and stuffed with a filling of your choice. I was reccommended a spinach and gorgonzola one as the best vegetarian option and it was absolutely delicious. At this point our little group also had the opportunity to chat a bit more and revel in contagious laughter whilst we ate our lunch on the steps of Piazza San Francesco.

piadini!!!

After lunch we headed straight to the church in front of us (Basilica di San Francesco) but we had to look round it quickly because a wedding was about to start and the well suited members of the congregation were eyeing us suspiciously. We had just enough time however to see the crypt which dates back to the 10th century and looks like a little swimming pool since it is below sea level thus a bit of water always seeps in (accompanied also by a few fish).

indoor river ravenna

Returning to Piazza San Francesco we were shown the house were Lord Byron lived and were told an interesting story about a romance he had with Countess Teresa of Ravenna. My favourite part of this tale was that in order to express their love for each other they exchanged letters and locks of hair (including pubic hair) and these momentos are all archived in the Classense library opposite Byron’s former residence. Love never dies…even if things do get a bit hairy.

lord byron's house ravenna

Moving on we visited the Basilica of San Vitale which was absolutely breathtaking. From the outside it looks so plain but as soon as we stepped inside there was an intake of breath en masse. For me the feeling of being in the cathedral was reminiscent of how I felt when I visited The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The frescoes, the ethereal atmosphere, the architecture, the artwork, everything contributed to a complete sensory overload. The only downside of being on an organised trip was that we had to move on quite quickly but if I had been there by myself I definitely would have stayed at least an hour.

church fresco ravenna amazing ceiling ravenna

The last element of our guided tour was the Mausoleum of Galla Placida (just opposite the cathedral) and here we saw the most beautiful mosaics yet. They were all so vibrant and colourful with really unusual designs (ducks with dog faces for example). Galla Placida (sister of the Roman emperor Honorius) built this mausoleum to serve as her final resting place and it was originally attached to the church of Santa Croce. In end however she was buried in Rome in 450 AD so the tomb always just served as a pretty monument and a source of  inspiration – For example the jazz artist Cole Porter wrote the song Night and day after his visit to here, having been captivated by the starry sky of the tomb.

mausoleum galla placida

Now…after having had our fill of culture and history it was time to party; Erasmus style. So we got back on the bus and made our way to the beach where it still wasn’t too cold, the sea was clam and the beach bar was at our disposal. We had a really fun night with beers, dancing, and I even had a midnight swim in the sea with some of the others. I was reminded how hard Spanish people like to party and the same Enrique Iglesias songs which I have heard a million times since my arrival in Bologna, fuelled the fiesta. As the evening progressed our little group of multicultural misfits also grew closer and sort of created an unspoken pact that we would stay in touch and meet up again to have more craic in Bologna. (which we have done)

alix taking a photo ravenna ravenna beach times alix at ravenna party at ravenna nightime at ravennaSo there you have it; an extremely comprehensive account of my trip to Ravenna (I’ve never been good at summarising and I salute you if you are still reading this!). I am sure I will do a lot more traveling while I’m here in Bologna so you can look forward to more posts and more accounts of my weird and wonderful experiences.

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Working Girl – My First Week As an Erasmus Intern

africa e med office

The inner sanctum of the entire operation

I have just finished my first week of my Erasmus work placement and I can honestly say that I’m absolutely loving it! For the next six months I’m going to be working at  Africa e Mediterraneo ; a non-profit organisation which aims to promote intercultural understanding in the local area and facilitate the integration of African immigrants. There is another association called  Lai-momo which collaborates with Africa e med on many projects, the only difference being that it does make profits, but both companies work from the same building.

The specific aim of my internship is to work on social media marketing but I haven’t done any of this yet because all of the staff have been extremely busy with trying to clinch a deal with a website called Consumer Classroom; a site which provides school resources relating to consumerism for teachers. So far I’ve just been doing a bit of Italian to English translation and trying to get my head around exactly what Africa e Mediterraneo stands for and what its projects are about – there are so many!  Personally my favourite project of theirs is one called Comix for equality which lead to the publication of a book of comics, drawn by artists from different backgrounds. Each comic relates to either immigration, stereotypes or racism. I really enjoyed reading them because some were provocative, some were funny but all of them were profound and made me stop to think about how I view different people in society.

View from the outside

View from the outside

Anyone for lunch?

Anyone fancy lunch?

The office where I work is located in a little town called Sasso Marconi just half an hour away from Bologna, so every morning I get the train with some of my fellow colleagues. I was actually surprised at how many other people around my own age work for Africa e med and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better. I love working at Africa e med because it really doesn’t seem like work at all. The office is in a beautiful converted farmhouse, practically in the middle of the countryside and everyday we eat lunch outside on a picnic table. Sometimes I forget I’m at work and rather feel as though I’m at a garden party or some other kind of family gathering.

The church of San Pietro

The church of Santuario della Madonna

I’ve only been into the town centre of Sasso Marconi once and that’s when I took this picture of the lovely church of Santuario della Madonna (The sanctuary of the Blessed Virigin). I had to rush to the office that day but I will definitely go back sometime and actually go inside it.

So there you have it. A brief low down on how I’m finding my internship so far. I really hope that I’ll gain some valuable work experience but no matter what I learn I know I’m going to have fun in the process 🙂