Et je recommence…

I was a lot less nervous/emotional/terrified leaving home (and Benoir) for the second time. Maybe that’s because 4-5 months of lingual faux-pas, double-entendres and the occasional bike theft in Padova have made me more resilient and (almost) immune to embarrassment – or maybe it’s beca10930100_10155200355775422_957822480749430482_nuse I know Paris quite well and have friends living here already…

Either way, I was looking forward to coming here.

As the easy jet flight from Bristol descended into Charles De Gaulle airport, I felt ready to embrace the next step of my adventure; ma nouvelle vie parisienne. That is until the plane (literally 100m off the ground) very suddenly took a sharp, sudden turn to the upper right. I was gripped with panic as images of us being crashed into the Eiffel Tower flashed through my head – was this some sort of follow-up terrorist attack?! I can’t die here, not now! I haven’t become a successful banker or mastered Mandarin!

All turned out ok though, apparently we were too close to the plane in front. I looked like a nugget.

After a few days spent at my friend Owain’s (thank you again!) I found and moved into a beautiful studio in Montmartre, about 100m from the Sacré Co10387475_10155200359530422_5633138439167824385_neur. I absolutely love it despite it being très cher. I have also been introduced to a fab pub quiz in Bastille every Sunday night (merci encore Owain!) I was convinced by Debbie to split a bottle of wine with her the night before my first day at Sagem, only for us to go on and win shots at the end too. C’est la vie eh. We seem to be on a bit of a roll and all won half pints last week too. Hope this continues…

I am now very used to my daily commute to Argenteuil, picking up a croissant on the way and later strolling home, baguette under arm, beret perched on head. I am absorbing the culture like a sponge. That is something I really love about working here, I 10247499_10155218625175422_8115300299149762894_nam now a commuter, a native. I feel that important parisian sense of superiority as I board the 7:20 metro to St Lazare in my suit – noone on there knows I frequently mix up the numbers for the French emergency services and the IT help desk… For all they know I am a young, successful, multi-lingual business woman…  A woman who would definitely never answer a colleague’s question: “As-tu un petit ami?” with “ouais, les pommes de terre sont bons aujourd’hui!

Ah well, mistakes happen, I’m here to learn after all!

(PS. Padovians, I am kidding, Padova was fabuleux 😉 )

(PPS. Am taking bookings for Paris holidays chez moi in March, contactez-moi if you fancy a weekend of booze, baguettes and berets)

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Il fine

Us Brits are known for our moaning and pessimism. I am not sure about the rest of Britain, but I certainly feel that amongst the Welsh this is more a habit than true discontent.  Our weather is shite, we complain about it. However, it’s not so simple, this complaining is a furtive method to build relationships, to start conversations; it’s subtly done – using a topic we all agree on. Deep down, I think we are very happy.

This was certainly the case with the passengers on my flight back to Italy from Cardiff with a stopover at Amsterdam.  I found myself behind a gaggle of old Welsh ladies going through security, all visibly excited about their trip. I find our overly polite nature quite funny, and heard many “pardon”s and “sorry”s – even a “Bloody hell, we have to take our shoes off? I’m only wearing one sock!” Then later, disembarking at Amsterdam:

– “I said to the air hostess: so long, farewell, auf weidersehn – turns out they don’t speak German here!”

– “Neva!!”

They were all helpless laughing, and proceeded to all fall on top of each other as soon as the bus to the terminal started moving.

I did feel sad when they then all dispersed into throngs of people from everywhere, and the Welsh accents, the giggling and the Sians and Dafydds disappeared and were replaced with every nationality and accent thinkable, from all walks of life. Our European neighbours may misconstrue us as cold and reserved, but we do express ourselves with the minutest facial expressions, our sarcasm, the slightest of smirks, the passive aggressive “it’s fine”s, sighs and “hmph”s… Besides, this reservedness is certainly not as present in South Wales. But, in the Italians’ case, their expressions lie at the opposite end of the scale; the gestures, loud voices, the ‘bouncing’ sentences with stresses on words to really get a point across. This is something I have really loved about Italy, and also find quite funny.

As for humour, I have missed my sarcastic comments being received with classic British recognition; a twitch of a smile and perhaps even slight amusement, rather than the sheer surprise, and, depending on the context, alarm from my Italian peers. Although this was, at first, a reminder that I wasn’t at home, I soon learnt to be more expressive and tried to avoid sarcasm altogether. This definitely isn’t a one-way street; during my time here I have learnt so much and appreciate the aspects of Italian culture that I’m sure my Italian Erasmus counterparts, whoever they are, are missing while they’re in the UK.

I have met some fantastic people from all over Europe and do feel slightly unsettled leaving Padova, yet I am glad that it wont be long again until I spend another flight smiling to myself at my fellow South Walians with their charming unworldliness and the accompanying unfaltering warmth and kindness that goes with it. Wouldn’t want it any other way.

My Weekend Behind Bars in Eastern Europe

For me, November means three things: rain, Bonfire night and the Rugby Internationals. In Italy, November has meant only one of these things; rain. This has pr11416_10152630012838122_2092540844427181590_noved a major inconvenience for me as I cycle everywhere here. Everyone uses umbrellas on their bikes. This is a challenge on my ‘new’ bike, as my right-hand brakes don’t work and cycling with only my left-hand is a very unstable affair. I am taking the Italian approach though, shrugging this off with a ‘boh’ and continuing on my wobbly journey.

My first weekend after the family left was a very mixed bag. On Friday I headed out with friends to Fishmarket club, headed home at 7am, slept all day Saturday and went out to an ‘Upside Down’ party Saturday night. It was strange not seeing any sunlight for 36 hours but I had a fab two nights out. Sunday was another wipe-out, and we headed over to Martin’s for a Spanish lunch. I was convinced by the Spaniards that more beer would cure any hangover, so continued drinking. How gullible am I?

Things went downhill after this, I found my bike stolen when I was about to head back home. They left my helmet though, as Emilia said, they probably didn’t have a clue what it was.10516849_10152630293143122_6017402107264147342_n

When I have a problem here I find it 10x harder to deal with than at home, I don’t know where to go, what to say in Italian etc etc. Thankfully I have some really good friends here who took me home on their scooter, explained how to fare la denuncia at the police station and where I could get a cheap new bike. All is rosy again in Padova-land.

The following weekend, I had planned to go to Slovenia with my two British friends, Marc and David. Hearing on Thursday night about the general strikes affecting all trains in northern Italy, I hastily organised a trip to Ljubljana with a woman called Anja using Blablacar. I had my doubts when ‘Anja’ turned out to be two large Slovenian guys in a big VW van, but with a quick “if you don’t hear from me in two hours, raise the alarm” text to my parents, I hopped in and prayed that this wouldn’t serve as a plot line for Taken 3.

Thankfully, Pavel and Hock were really nice guys and when I told them I learnt some Czech at University t1796427_10154856362860422_2590480802210882766_nhey calmly replied; “oh maybe you can understand us when we speak Slovenian then.” Yeah, right. But I let them carry on believing I could understand, reassured that they wouldn’t be planning my kidnap and murder if they knew I could hear.

Ljubljana was a lovely city and we stayed in a hostel that was a converted prison. Soon after arriving, Marc, David, Nawal, this Australian guy from the hostel and I headed out to one of the nearby squares to drink. We found a busy, heavily graffitied area with a children’s climbing frame full of Slavs with beer and one playing old British songs on the guitar. Dobry’

After a few minutes chatting on the second level of the climbing frame we were suddenly approached by 3 panicked Slovenians shouting at us to get out quick. Apparently the beer running off the roof above us onto the fl10686799_10152866338695908_8753048776713716859_noor was not a cultural tradition as I thought, but someone being sick. This was 9:30pm. By 10:30 a local was stuck about 6m up in a tree and this, for me, confirmed the presence of certain strong cultural similarities between the UK and Slovenia.

The next morning, after a night out in the most heterosexual gay club I have ever been to, David showed us round the city. There was a huge wine market going on that weekend with plenty of free food and liqueur samples which we took advantage of. That night we headed out for horse burgers, which were boiled and looked suspiciously like beef, and went drinking once again.

After visiting a few bars and pubs, we finished the night in a strange Reggae bar where the smell of marijuana filled the air and a man with dreadlocks started on David. Our new Slovenian friends advised us in future not to look him in the eyes. Oh.

10420031_10154856362315422_5117537256776024684_nOn my journey back to Italy with Anja (the real one this time, turned out Pavel was her boyfriend) I began to get that all-too-common feeling of nostalgia and homesickness. When “Love Letter to Wales” came on my iPod I actually started to tear up. I am now seriously beginning to question my emotional stability, especially after I also teared up when David told me a ghost story on Saturday night. Oh God.

Apart from my emotional fragility, things are good in Italy. I am heading back to the UK this weekend and will be going back to Bristol to watch the Wales vs South Africa game. I am very glad that this November will not be rugby-free after all!

Taking your life into your hands: A foreigner’s guide to the Italian autostrada

So last Saturday marked my family’s arrival in Italia. I was supposed to be meeting them at Bergamo airport at 12:30, but due to unforeseen circumstan1908465_10154780942075422_6754517580660549193_nces (i.e me not getting home till 5am the night before and oversleeping) I was 2 hours late. I quickly realised that any hope of my parents speaking Italian was a lost cause (imagine Brad Pitt’s “buongiorno” in Inglorious Basterds and you have the idea) so I was chief translator for the trip. We headed over to Lake Garda in our rental car where we were greeted by Luca, our hotel’s friendly guard dog, and had wine, cheese, olives and bruschetta on the terrace.

Lake Garda was beauuuutiful. My dad provided ample entertainment betting us he could reach a timber post set in the lake about 1m from the dock. Unfortunately for us and the group of Italian boys that had gathered, he didn’t fall in, but it wasn’t as stable as he had hoped and Mum and Kristy had to pull him back onto the dock. What a nugget.

10615435_10154804430100422_8903301000141584293_nAfter one night at Lake Garda, we made our way to Verona, a very pretty city, but also very touristy. We did the classic attractions; Juliet’s statue and balcony, the Roman ruins, the amphitheatre etc etc etc. The real entertainment was our journey from Verona to Padova on the motorway.

By this point in the trip the arguments, 10428530_10154759510485335_5354646922291446210_nclaustrophobia and the sheer panic every time we got in the car had driven Kristy to put her iPod on full volume each time we travelled. I had no such sanctuary being the only one who could understand the road signs and (sort of) direct the parents around Padova. Pulling onto the autostrada from Verona to Padova my dad slammed on the brakes as one Italian driver thought the middle of the slip road was a good spot to stop for a phone call. This was just the beginning. My mum had to sit in the back of the car as, like Kristy, she couldn’t handle the minefield that is the Italian motorway. There are lanes, but they are optional, swerve in and out as you like. Hey, why not take up all three if you feel like it?

I have made a list of useful tips for any courageous foreigner who is prepared to 10423904_10154804419885422_7562131105492728462_nface the wrath of the Italian roads:

  • Travel in packs. Spot the other foreign cars and stay together. You are like gazelles in the Savanna, waiting to be picked off by the Italian cars who bully you out of the lanes. Safety in numbers. If in doubt, find the lorries (usually Eastern European) and hide between them.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your horn. This will trick Italian drivers into thinking you are one of them, making them less likely to attack. Angry hand gestures also help.
  • Sugared/caffeinated drinks. These will help you stay alert and watch out for swaying cars.
  • Never let them flank you on both sides, they swerve and you could find yourself being closed in on from either side.
  • Most importantly, know how to spot a good driver on the autostrada: Foreign plates.

We followed these guidelines and made it to Padova slightly traumatised but physically unscathed. My friends and I took Kristy for her first Italian night out and she, in turn, showed them a few vulgar drinking games full of profanities, encouraged them to drink sambuca and then let her set fire to their mouths and danced on the table. A real insight into Welsh culture.10698601_10154804428340422_5088722265049605751_n

I had a great week with my family down, it was really nice to be able to show them around the city I have been living in. It was still a bit strange to see them go back to the UK when I am staying here, although I don’t feel so much like I am in a foreign country any more. Not too long till I see them again at Christmas anyway!

BBC English… Italiano Gallese?

Another two weeks have passed in the ever-sunny Padova. Although in the day it is deliggghtful to sit out in the sun, I wish it would just get glacial soon because these mosquitoes are doing my head in. I look like a whi10702187_10154730460650422_8119281853821768559_n-2te and red human Dalmatian. Ugh.

After finally making a recovery from Oktoberfest and overcoming my temporary homesickness, I headed over to Riccardo’s flat where my friend Martin prepared a cena dominicana for us all. The food was delicious as were the drinks. I have learnt a lot about Latin America, over there you just pour sugar in your 70% vodka cocktail so you can drink it like it’s pop. Needless to say we were all distrutti (Italian for rat-arsed) by the end of the evening.

During the dinner, my camera was handed around and many regrettable photos and videos were taken. On assessing the damage and deleting about 90% of my camera’s contents on10177236_10154730459350422_5687734497230134173_n Saturday morning, I stumbled across a video where my voice could be heard in the background. I was horrified to hear my accent in Italian, which was not just English, but Welsh. It did sound very funny hearing me screeching “Riccardo, fai la sfilata!!” – (Riccardo, do a catwalk!) in the most valleys-ish accent going (I don’t even come from the valleys…) but it did seriously knock my confidence. Hopefully this is just the case when I’m drinking.

At least at work my English accent is impeccable. I sound like a BBC radio presenter from the 50s when I am reading out texts to the students. Maybe I am subconsciously compensating for this in my Italian. 10731162_10154736025715422_8284395620534489679_n

Despite my horrendous accent, the other aspects of my Italian are improving. My flatmates have moved in and are all Italian, which I am very relieved about as I was worried I would be speaking English all the time. The girls I am living with are lovely and I am learning to combat the language barrier between us with Peroni. So far it’s working wonders.

Finally, my business empire, Charlie’s Salon, will soon be going continental. I had an appointment with my friend, Emilia, to style her a fringe, but this was cancelled when I was sent many panicked messages saying; “Charlie, I got impatient and tried to do it myself, now my forehead looks like a bloody lighthouse!!”

Even though the salon hasn’t quite taken off yet, I have had some success looking for extra work as an English teacher. I put up an ad offering hour long private lessons and have had a great respo1383276_10154754367830422_2272065688775491058_nnse. I really regret putting up my number on it and not just my e-mail though, as every time my phone rings I feel like I am going to have a heart attack as I know I will have to speak in semi-decent Italian. Worth it though, I have four students coming next week!

On Saturday my family are coming down and it marks the halfway point of my time here. Although I am very disappointed my Mum didn’t take seriously my suggestion of letting Benoir come and stay in the Padova Dog Hotel (yes, it is actually a thing here), I really can’t wait to see them.

Giro d’Europa

My first month and a half in Italy has gone so fast. Up until this week I have had pretty much no work at the University. Mind you, now, I still just have two days a week, but I am sure this is solely because I am such an efficient worker. I made the most of the free time and took two faaaaaabul10703929_10154670177790422_5512278786058523648_nous weekend trips at the end of September.

First was Rome. I arrived Friday night and went straight to the hostel to wait for Beijul to meet me. Unfortunately her flight from Paris was delayed, but in typical fabulous Beijul-esque style, she strutted down the street at midnight to the hostel with her suitcase and hands10641287_10154670177600422_9043057933461197825_nome Italian guide in tow (at least I think he was handsome, it was pretty dark).

Without meaning to sound cliché, (but I definitely will), Rome was absolutely breathtaking. We managed to see the whole city in 5 hours. My favourite part of the day was arriving in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City. We sat down and chatted for a while when suddenly ‘Con te partirò’ (Time to say goodbye) started playing. It was incredible and something I will never forget.

Of course, in order to truly experience Roman culture, a night out was in order. After10665295_938553299492611_2802768288316463147_n dinner with one of Beijul’s family friends from Kenya and a few cappuccinos to keep us going, we headed out on a bar crawl organised by the hostel. Despite the superbly expensive bar and the subsequent questionable choices I made, (I remember sticking my head under the sink in the loos to drink the tap water in a sulk) it was a fantastic night.

1146478_10154698392585422_73204085073655523_n Next was Munich’s Oktoberfest. This was outstanding. Debbie and I turned up at our hostel near Hauptbahnhopf and decided to go for just one drink at the hostel bar. This ‘one drink’ was followed with a good few more and I found myself wandering around the building lost at 2am. So much for getting a good night’s sleep.

We headed to Oktoberfest the next morning at 9am, fuelled up on10628029_10204471998951196_598414754529473955_n a hearty breakfast of bratwurst with gherkins, and by 10am we had met up with Ben, Cian, Waudby and David, and the drinking was well underway. I can definitely 10696222_10154698403580422_7366323969324187428_nsay with no uncertainty that Saturday was the best ‘night out’ I have ever had. I laughed so much singing Ein Prosit every 15 minutes and jumping on the tables shouting “Prost!” I was so enthusiastic I smashed about three steins and cut my elbow, but this didn’t dampen my spirits (probably cause I didn’t notice till Deb told me). I am shocked at how little I remember, apparently I stole a burger and ran out the tent? I do, however, remember demanding a McChicken sandwich in Burger King in italian (thanks for sorting tha10635894_10154698387265422_3468628626991140205_nt Deb) and later having a rant at some poor American bloke in our dorm about Fox News. Oh dear.

Sunday was a struggle to say the least, but Debbie and I did manage to see the shittest clockwork show in Marienplatz, buy a bagel and get on the right flight home.

Back in Italy I am definitely feeling the post-giro-d’Europa bl1901827_10154698403465422_3596908582337315209_nues. These trips were the best I have ever been on and it really made me realise how much I miss everyone at Bristol. Last night I was feeling very homesick and found myself wishing there was a White Harte nearby where I could meet up with Welsh soc and have a Bow and Black! Although a year abroad is an incredible experience, it certainly has its ups and downs. I still wouldn’t change it for the world though, the next ‘up’ is on its way!

Comincio a sentirmi a casa

I have had a very fun few weeks in Padova so far. I am starting to feel at home here. My spritz, Kinder Bueno and pasta intake is through the roof and I noticed myself today making an Italian hand gesture when talking to a friend. I swear it was accidental but I really reckon it just looked like I was taking the piss.

10616356_10154632993335422_2044838702812854656_n Conversation is getting A LOT easier (but that still doesn’t mean that my replies necessarily make any sense). I did accidentally tell one group of friends here that I am 22. I have no idea why I did it I just panicked because the whole group were listening to me speaking Italian. I didn’t want to explain after especially to a group of people I had just met and now two weeks have passed and when they introduce me to people they tell them I am 22. Guess I will just have to stick with that.

In other news, I cycled to work for the first time last week and my colleague Quasimo burst out laughing as soon as he saw me. To be fair, I did look pretty ridiculous with my skirt that had ridden up when I cycled, long cycling shorts underneath, a massive helmet (NOONE else here wears them!) and huge sunglasses on. Ahh well.

I am still struggling to get used to being on the wrong side of the road but I am getting used to some things the Italians do such as ignoring beeping cars. A few days ago when cycling to work I got confused and just decided to go in the middle of the road, was subsequently beeped at by many a taxi and bus and managed to lose my shoe in the chaos. It was really embarrassing having to park my bike and wait for the lights to change so I could run out and get it. Even more embarrassing was the fact that it happened right outside a café where there were lots of old people looking on disapprovingly over their coffees at this strange British girl running into the road with a huge helmet and one shoe on.

1426357_10152514630898122_8111922462682862878_n Cycling on the right side of the road is not my only struggle at the moment. I came here hoping that mosquito season would be over, but unfortunately I was mistaken. Every night before heading out I cover myself head to toe in spray. Sometimes when I spray my face I forget to close my mouth and the taste is horrendous. I am going to have to stop spraying my face so much from now on especially because here in Italy you greet people with two kisses on either cheek. I felt very sorry when I greeted one of my friends one night this week and left him with the taste of tropical insect repellent.

10610684_10154641649715422_5070341797438243957_n Last weekend, I went to my first discoteca in Padova. I had a great time and absolutely LOVED the music. I felt like a proper VIP being able to sing along to 4 year old anglophone pop songs (sad I know). I had a fab night anyway and made it home at 5:30am on Saturday. Staying out as late as the Italians every night out is definitely going to be a struggle, but I’ll give it a good try!