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Monday, 28 October 2013

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. - Gilbert K. Chesterton

It has now been a little over two months since I began the Italian chapter of my life and what an incredible time it has been! I have been making the most of my time here and feel so fortunate to be living in such a beautiful and magical part of the world. Every weekend I have the opportunity to easily access a different region of Italy or hop a plane and fly to a different country. The travel in Europe is extremely cheap in comparison to home and the short distances make a weekend or day away so easy to do and so hard to resist.
I've spent the past four weekends touring and wandering. As much as I love to research, I am not a big planner. I like to wander, get lost, find places that are off the beaten path and have experiences that are more authentic than touristy. Fortunately my roommate views traveling the same way so she has become a great travel companion!

Here is what I've been up to in the last month:

The Dolomites: Trento & Bolzano 

The Dolomites are a mountain range in Northern Italy. From Milan I took a three hour train ride to the beautiful town of Trento. My roommate and I had decided to stay here for the weekend and explore the city and venture into the mountains.

One of the sacrifices I had to make moving to Europe from S.E Asia was giving up a lot of luxuries. In S.E Asia travel is very cheap - making five star hotels, room service and spas very realistic options when traveling. Moving to Europe meant trading in those comforts for hostels and grocery store snacks as meals... a sacrifice I am more than happy to make if it means living in Europe!!

Trento is a small city and not overly touristy, so finding a hostel wasn't easy. In fact we only found one available hostel online and the reviews were terrible. People went as far as saying to avoid Trento if your only option is to stay in this hostel. Other reviews said it was noisy, dangerous and dirty. Maybe the commonsense thing to do here would be to take this advice and avoid the hostel. But, my roommate and I both agreed we had traveled in far more crazy places than Italy and thought how bad can it be??
We arrived at our hostel and braced ourselves for less than comfortable conditions. Much to our
pleasant surprise we opened the doors to a spacious, clean and friendly hostel. Our five bed room had one other guest and our room opened to a balcony with mountain view! Moral of the story: people find anything to complain about, so don't always trust reviews! (Sure my pillow case may have had a cigarette burn in it, but who cares when you're spending the weekend in the mountains!)

Saturday we toured the city, enjoyed the local markets and found ourselves at a German pub meeting some local beer makers! Later we ventured into a cable car and up a mountain into the most quaint little mountaintop village. There wasn't a soul in sight. We wandered through the fog covered streets and enjoyed every aspect of our journey. Eventually we found a little hole in the wall restaurant. We walked in and found a sweet old Italian man cleaning mushrooms. We were the only guests and there were no menus. We were told what they had in their kitchen for the day and we then ate one of the best meals ever. All local mountain food - beef, goat cheese, etc. 

The next day we woke up early and decided we felt satisfied with everything we saw in Trento and felt we should explore the mountains further. So, we took another train further North and ended up in a German region of Italy. This was the town of Bolzano - located close to Austria. We immediately took a cable car up into the mountains and enjoyed specatcular views on a clear, sunny day. When we reached the peak of this particular mountain we were greeted by an Austrian band. The whole village (including the whole police unit) had gathered around to enjoy the music. Fall had hit this area much earlier than it has hit Milan. The colours were beautiful and the whole atmosphere was magical. With only a few hours left, we decided we should keep going and see as much as possible. We hopped aboard a tiny mountain train and ventured even further up the mountains. At this point we were in the clouds and the rain started. We found shelter in the coziest German restaurant with views of mountain peaks and clouds all around us. 

A long journey of cable cars, trains and transfers and we were back in Milano ready for another week of work and preparing for another adventure...


My roommate Sarah and her friend in Sweden and my friend in Germany all met up in Norway for a fun filled weekend! This was a quick trip. Early Saturday morning we took the metro to the train station where we got on an hour long bus ride to the airport where we took a 2.5 hour flight to Oslo where we then had to get on another hour long bus ride to arrive in the city centre where we then had to walk until we found our hostel!!! Did I mention how much I love traveling? I live for these adventures. They may be exhausting, but they are so exciting!
We all met at our cozy little hostel in the heart of Oslo. It was so great to see an old friend who I met while living in Indonesia. We caught up over a Norwegian meal at a quaint little
pub and then enjoyed our time walking and touring the city.
We spent time at the Nobel Peace Centre, the waterfront, visited the Vigeland Statue Park, made a trip to see the famous 'Scream' painting at the Edvard Munch gallery, toured the Viking ship museum and spent a night out pubbing and clubbing Norwegian style!
Oslo is ridiculously expensive. In fact for many years it was the MOST expensive city in the world. It now ranks in the top three. So in the end we were pretty happy our stay was short. It is a beautiful city and I am thrilled I saw it, but I will not be in a hurry to return.

A friend who teaches at another school invited me to attend a truffles festival in Alba. Alba is a small town about three and a half hours Southwest of Milan by train. On the way we had to switch trains in the town of Bra. When we arrived we missed our train by seconds so we ended up having to wait an hour for the next train. We decided to wander around the town of Bra. There wasn't a whole lot to see, but we did have many laughs over the name of this town.
Once we arrived in Alba we wandered the streets looking for the festival. We saw a few booths and shops with very expensive truffles for sale, but even more exciting was a medevil festival we stumbled upon. The town had been transformed! The cobblestone streets were covered in hay, there were lines of vendors and games and everyone was in character. We had such a
fun afternoon playing medevil games and winning bottle after bottle of wine. Games included throwing darts at a sausage, fishing for bottles of wine and riding horses made of hay. In the evening there was music, mulled wine and medevil food! With our winnings in hand we were ready to take the long train ride back to Milan - stopping in Bra and Torino this time!

Ahh Venice... One of my favourite cities in the world. This was the place that made me fall in love with Italy and ignited my dream to live in this country. Ten years ago I visited Venice on a high school trip and fell absolutely in love. It was such a wonderful feeling being back in Venice!
Venice is really unlike any other city. It's a city you can wander around in for hours without feeling bored. Everything about this city is magical. The canals, the rustic apartments, the music, the food,..the list goes on.
It's pretty incredible to think that Venice is just a 2.5 hour train ride away from where I live - making day trips very feasible. I plan to return in February for Carnival!

October has been a great month and a busy one. This coming weekend my school is sending me back to Canada for visa paperwork. I will be home for a week and then will return just in time for Christmas season in Europe!!! Stay tuned for upcoming adventures to Poland and Belgium!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Last week marked one month of living the sweet Italian life!

The days and weeks seem to go by so quickly here. My days are filled with teaching adorable Italian children and my evenings are often busy with meetings, planning and marking. However, my weekly social nightlife is a big upgrade from that of last years in Jakarta. My friends and I have been enjoying apertivos in the evening, dining on delicious pizzas, shopping, and expanding our circle of friends by attending Internations events. This is definitely a city where boredom doesn't exist!

A few weeks ago Vogue hosted Milan's Fashion Night Out. A big group of us ventured downtown and arrived to the busy streets filled with fashionistas, photographers and curious tourists. My roommate and I wandered into a few stores. We were greeted with cocktails and complimentary gifts, while DJs played in the background. The stores were more like clubs than shops! Our Fashion night out also led us to meet the wonderful Austrian designer, Arthur Arbesser (a friend of a colleague). It was a fun glam filled night!

Milan seems to have a long list of things to do and I plan to enjoy my new city as much as I can. But, I am also here to explore and travel Italy and the rest of Europe. So, a few friends and I took the 2.5 hour train ride to Bologna a few weekends ago. We spent the day wandering the beautiful city, enjoying perhaps one of the last sunny, hot days of the season. We dined, we wined, we shopped and we enjoyed our time exploring a new place!

The following weekend I had a trip booked to Cinque Terre. This was an area in Italy I had visited during my last time here and I always rave to everyone how it is one of my favourite places in the world! Unfortunately, the wicked back to school germs caught me and knocked me out for the weekend resulting in a missed trip and one sad little Canadian, while my friends all soaked up the Mediterranean sunshine! Looking at the positive side, I now only live a few hours away from this gem and I will definitely rebook a trip in the future!

This past weekend we had a few party nights out with lots of new friends. On Sunday I took the train to Saronno to spend the day with wonderful friends/hosts! Melanie is a friend I met five years ago while I did my University teaching placement here in Milan. We've kept in touch over the years and it has been great to have a familiar face around while settling in. She and her husband invited me to their town for the day. I am definitely more of a small town girl than a city girl, so I immediately felt more at home! The town has beautiful streets with quaint little shops and cafes. The sidewalks were filled with art displays and it had that home town feel where everyone seemed to know everyone. It was definitely a treat to visit this town. To top off a lovely day, Angelo also prepared the most AMAZING lunch ever. A great day with friends and a full belly later and I was on the train back to Milano. Thanks Melanie and Angelo for a wonderful day!!

As this busy week comes to an end I am preparing to escape to the Alps with my roommate this weekend. We are off to spend two days in Trento. Trento is a German region in Northern Italy nestled under the mountains and dotted with lakes and rivers. I can't wait for a German beer and a nice hike up the mountain (maybe not in that order)!
Other upcoming adventures:
Oslo, Norway next weekend and Canada at the end of the month!
Stay tuned :)