Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Moving to Italy: One Month In

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The sea

One month ago today, on 2nd November 2017, I moved out of the flat where I lived in East London, packed a select few belongings, and moved to Genova, in Italy.

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On one of my many walks by the sea

This was easy and difficult in equal measures. Easy, because I had been mulling the idea over for years, wanting to do it, wondering if I would actually ever do it, preparing myself mentally for it. Difficult, because my whole life was in the UK, and more precisely, in London. Everyone I loved the most was there, my job was there, my life was there. It was what I knew and what I enjoyed.

I knew, however, that this itch, the desire to live in Italy, would bug me until I scratched it. When I imagined getting to age 70 or 80 and talking to people about what I’d done in my life, I hated the idea of being the person who said, “Yeh, I’d always loved Italy, I spent lots of holidays there, I even attempted to learn the language using apps and what have you. And I always thought about having a go at living there. But I never did. O well. Never mind.” And the person I was talking to would perhaps say, “O, so, why did you never go and live there?” Then I’d go, “Um, because, um, I just didn’t. I don’t know why.”

How idiotic would that be? To not go for any valid reason other than I “just didn’t”.

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Looking down over Genova from the mountains

Earlier this year, I decided that I was not going to be that person. I had been on holiday to the coast in Northern Italy and liked it and I had a friend with a flat in Genova where I could live and, despite having then met a lovely man who I want to spend the rest of my life with, it still seemed like time for me to finally do it.

The preparation was minimal, primarily because, still being in the EU for now, there’s not really a lot that needs doing. You have the good fortune to be able to make a decision, buy a one way flight and just arrive.

My first week here was whirlwind of fun. Nine of us from the group I worked out with in London every week flew out together for a birthday party in a beautiful house in a small town called Celle (cheh-leh, for non-Italian speakers) and ate our body weight in chocolate, gelato, lasagna, pesto (more of this to come), focaccia (will also reappear) and pizza. We also went for a swim in the cold cold sea and might I add that despite flying out as a rather multicultural group, the Armenian, the Italian and the German all found other things to do, leaving us six Brits (idiots) to take on this task alone!

Almost everyone else departed, leaving myself and my other half in Genova for the next four days until he, too, had to leave and then that was it. I was here alone. Things had got serious. I had to work out how to survive alone.

When I said I hadn’t done any prep, perhaps that’s not completely true. I have spent the past few years ploughing away on language learning apps on my phone, attempting to build up my vocabulary. When I started having private Italian lessons with a teacher in London, I was equipped with a fair amount of vocabulary but my grammar was all over the place. She helped to pin that down, so that I could attempt to build sentences that might even make sense, if I was lucky.

One of my first tasks, however, was to find a job, thus making my life here sustainable. To get a job, one needs a CV, which I realised was more than just running my English CV through a translate app. Firstly, CVs are usually formatted differently in different countries. Then yes, I had to translate the actual words. Getting a severe case of cabin fever, I stayed inside for the whole weekend, undertaking this mammoth job and kicking myself for not having done it before I left the UK.

As I was sending out my CV, I knew it was likely that it was littered with mistakes that might technically be fine but that you’d never actually say, as a native speaker. I longed to already be fluent with Italian.

As it happened, I found a job not even using the Italian CV I had slaved over for so long. I used my English CV because the job uses la mia madrelingua (me trying to sound fancy while saying ‘native language’).

I also found the job in a surprisingly short amount of time. On the Sunday, I was despairing that I’d never get hired. By the Tuesday, I had something in place. I have a lot to thank the world for. No matter what situations I throw myself into – under-prepared, naive, hopeful – it seems to sort things out for me.

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The view from Righi

 

 

Work was sorted, then. The basic admin stuff like getting a tax code and a bank account have been successful to different degrees. Tax code was fine. Bank account creating seems to be dragging a bit. First I set up most things but needed to bring in my passport and tax code certificate, which required a second appointment. Then I was told I would receive a code on an email and another by text. Then I would be able to open the online banking. Then I would need another appointment for finalising it and putting some money in to open the account. I’m about half way down that road so far.

Now for the big meaty questions. The first is about company and socialising. In London my life was packed to the brim with people – friends, family, colleagues. There were always people to chat to, to go for coffee with, or for dinner, or a workout, or a campout. Here, I obviously don’t have that same network. The friend who’s apartment I live in is absolutely one of the best friends anyone could have and his family have welcomed me with open arms. His two brothers and his sister in law involve me in dinners or parties they are having, or drinks they are going for. His parents have had me round for dinner so I could meet all of his cousins. I had my hair cut by one of his cousins yesterday. That is lovely and comforting and I am so grateful to have those people there.

When your social network reduces to a much smaller number, however, something happens. Your time suddenly is more free. I can look at a weekend and have no plans for it and that prospect is exciting. It’s like taking a massive time-detox, a huge step down from the fast pace of London life. If I’m honest, I think I was sort of ready to take a step back from the hectic schedules and packed days, just for a bit, just to return to myself, have time to think, have space in my brain to find silence and calm.

After my pilgrimage last year, I have better understood my desire to return to that calm every so often. In London, I found almost no time to do that. Here, I am bingeing on it. I love it. I walk for hours alone, in the mountains or next to the sea or just home from work. I take a bus perhaps twice a week and I walk everywhere else. I live simply. I have an annual museums pass, which is another ticket to calm and peace. I go into a museum or an art gallery and I look at beautiful images and I move slowly around, spending hours in each museum, totally immersed in art and beauty. It feels almost although I am only able to do that because my brain has begun to learn how to think slowly and calmly. I’m not sure that my busy London brain was ever so overwhelmed by art and sculpture and beautiful buildings the way my Genova brain has been. With a minimum of effort, one can also find really interesting free or cheap events happening around town. For example, last weekend I went to an opera for €6, on Wednesday I went to a free concert of 15th century songs, sung beautifully in a capella, this morning I went on a free tour of the oldest chocolate and sweet factory in Italy.

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Amazing Caravaggio painting. Look at those hands!

Just a side note on the name – I am living in Genova in Italy, not Geneva in Switzerland. Genova is the Italian name, Genoa is the English name.

On that note, the biggest challenge of moving here, and my main driving force for coming, is the language. Now, I had some level of knowledge before coming away but I don’t think any level of learning compares with being in the country, day in day out. Before arriving, I thought, I have enough to get by, I can make myself understood, I’ll stumble by and improve really quickly when I get there.

Lets talk about the reality now. Language learning is tough. It’s enjoyable, it’s interesting, it’s mesmerising but it is a fact that it is tough. I can sometimes see the same word ten times before I start to remember what it means (fuga, meaning escape, has taken me weeks to nail down). Today, I suddenly realised that the Italian for “I like the trains,” conjugates the verb “to like” in a totally different way than I had thought they would. Here I am, six months of Italian lessons under my belt, years of fiddling about on phone apps, one month of living in Italy, and a simple sentence such as, “I like the trains” – mi piacciono i treni – has boggled my mind. What hope can there be, then, for me to conduct any type of meaningful conversation with people I meet?

Well, fear not. Since arriving, I would say that my comprehension levels have gone up by about 60%. I am mostly aware of what’s being said to me and, of course, context helps, so I can make decent guesses too. My ability to respond has gone up by 25% so it’s the speaking that is coming slower, but it is coming.

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Discovering a painting by my favourite artist

Honestly, the majority of conversations I have are when buying things in shops, where I am now well versed in what I am being asked – “porta via?” for takeaway, “un sacchetto?” for a plastic bag, et cetera. If I sit at home alone, I can construct appropriate sentences. It’s just when I get outside and am faced with questions, that all these ready answers disappear and I’m flailing around, going “oh, uh, sì, uh, sono…. uh…”

Now, for a side note, pesto is the pride and joy of the Genovese, having been invented here, so I find that many of my snacks or meals are pesto based and, as yet, I’ve not grown tired of it, nor can I imagine doing so. Good pesto is not a thing to be underestimated. Focaccia also, should not be taken lightly. At least twice or three times a week, I will discover a couple of coins hanging around in a pocket and find myself holding them aloft and entering a bakery, to request my new favourite food, focaccia con cipolla (with onion). As soon as I get out, I have to walk far away before I can begin eating because once I have finished, I need another immediately, urgently. The only way to save myself from exchanging all my worldly goods for another one is to flee the scene at high speed.

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On the factory tour

And so there you have it. The first month of living in foreign lands.

 

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New Year’s Resolution no.3

….was to blog. So here I am. Blogging. About what? I’m not sure yet. Maybe about my newly discovered love of beautiful art? Maybe about my renewed fascination with the history of Ham House because of my fabulous new book about it? Maybe about cake?

Well, let’s start with the cake. Here is a box that once contained a chocolate orange cake.
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Danda had one peice. Someone else ate the entire rest of the cake, thinking it might help with her cold because oranges contain vitamin C, right? That someone else had been sworn off sugar because of the sugar headaches and achy teeth caused by their new job as a cake maker. The someone else now feels chocolate guilt and wishes not to be named.

Talking of new jobs, it’s been an interesting year. In the space of twelve months, the following things have happened;

1. Got two new jobs. One I disliked. One I loved. Thankfully I am now in the one I love!
2. Lost a good friend to the murky depths of Texas’ capital punishment system.
3. Went to France (for lunch), Italy (for my birthday) and America.
4. Visited the NASA space centre.
5. Became a ghost tour guide.
6. Made this (the website, not the art)
7. Became addicted to Candy Crush, Breaking Bad and Modern Family.
8. Purchased the most expensive (but most worth it) book I’ve ever owned.
9. Discovered pretty art and fabulous painters (current favourites are Sir Peter Lely and Van Dyck)
10. Got to know the life of the river better, via my walk to work. (And learnt about the importance of knowing the tide times!)
11. Got reacquainted with my childhood best friend when she came to stay in the spare room.
12. Had a cold for a month.
13. Watched family jet off for a new life under the Australian sun.
14. Met a fellow blogger for the first time.

There has been a lot of change in the last year, some of which I’m still getting used to. Here’s to 2014! I wonder what will happen.

The time we missed Independence Day

When I lived in namibia, I was 18. We have all been 18. Therefore, I hope you not judge me too harshly after I tell you the story about Independence Day, the biggest day of the year in Namibia.

They had worked hard for their independence and it was in everyone’s recent memory. I was 18. I didn’t appreciate the importance of this day. The night before Independence Day was the Crayfish Derby in Luderitz. This was more for the Afrikaners than anyone else.

We got there mid-afternoon and watched all the men go off in their fishing boats and we then had about four hours until the men would come back with a crayfish and have them weighed to see who had the biggest and who would win. In this four hours, we were given free drinks and food because people recognised us as the poor volunteers in town. We had a town meeting to go to so we stayed for about an hour then walk back into town to go to this meeting.

It was when we were walking back that we realised we were a little drunk. Our dog, Diaz, was with us. She was always with us. And so she came to the town hall with us. We hoped that we didn’t appear too drunk and decided to stay silent and smile a lot. When the meeting started, we had chosen two seats on the end of a row and sat silently scribbling notes for the local town newspaper, which we ran.

They decided to do that thing where everyone introduces himself and they started at the end of the row that we were at. So much for keeping out of the way. Lucy stood up, giggled a little and introduce herself. When I stood up, the giggles had grown and I was almost laughing out loud. It suddenly all seemed so hilarious. I said my name, pointed at lucy and said, “yeh, the Buchter News as well,” and sat down. It had not started well.

After everyone else introduced themselves and we took a few obligatory photographs, the dog made an appearance. We had left her outside but someone must have opened the door and she had snuck in. She came over and sat down near us. We knew what she was like but we hoped she would behave today. She did not behave. She wound her way in and out of everyone else’s chairs and then some empty chairs which caused them to move a little and scrape on the floor. It sounded like a fart.

We giggled. We were not professional.

The meeting lasted 2 hours and we didn’t really listen to anything. We left and headed straight back to the Crayfish Derby. The men would be back in a few hours and until then, there was eating and drinking time. We whipped out the camera a few times to take photos and then people remembered that we were the poor newspaper volunteers and fed us again for free.

When the men had come back, they all weighed their crayfish and we spent the evening celebrating and dancing.

The next morning there was a big celebration in the nearby stadium. It was Independence Day for the whole country. We had not been clever to stay late at the Crayfish Derby but we got up and we made a way to the stadium with good intention. We got there at 9 o’clock, found a seat and sat down to wait. It was supposed to be starting at about 9.30. We waited. 10 o’clock came. We waited. 10.30 came.

I don’t know what we expected. we had been living in Africa for long enough to know that 9.30 does not mean 9.30. We were suffering. We had not had enough sleep. We were totally exposed, sitting in the hot sun and dehydrated from our night out. We realised it would probably be midday before anything significant happened.

We decided to go home for sleep. Just a little one. Just a nap. Just for an hour or so. We’d be back at mid day. As we were leaving the stadium, our close friend, George, arrived and why we were leaving. We told him that we just needed to pop home for something quickly. We didn’t want to tell him we had to sleep because we were dehydrated and knackered from our night out. We said we would be back before anything got going.

We went home, headed for the front room, sat on the sofa and fell asleep. When we woke up, it was quite late in the afternoon. We ran out of the house into the street. We lived on a hill so we could see down into the stadium. There were not many people in the stadium. They were leaving.

The celebrations were over and we had missed the entire day.

The entire Independence Day. The most important day of the year in Namibia and we had slept on the sofa instead.

But we were the local newspaper volunteers. We ran the only town newspaper. If we didn’t report Independence Day, it would look strange. So we got the two or three photographs we had taken of the decorations at the stadium and some of the photos of the town major and a few of the other people we knew had made speeches and we wrote the article for the newspaper as though we had been there.

It went something like this – “The Independence Day celebrations were enjoyed by all. This day marks a special day in Namibia’s history. Since 1980, Namibia has been free of outside control and its’ people are free to pursue their own goals. The town mayor encompassed these feelings exactly in a speech in which she praised Namibians for their resilience and talked of the wonderful things that have been achieved under a free Namibian government.”

I mean that’s probably what she said, isn’t it? We said there had been performances by children from the local schools, which we knew because we also worked as teachers in a few schools and had seen groups of children preparing their performances for the Independence Day celebrations.

And with nothing else to do but go with it, we let the newspaper go out that month with the main story a kind of hashed together patchwork blanket of guesses and photographs we had taken of other things.

No one said anything. No one commented on the lack of detail about the celebrations or about the mayor’s speech. No one noticed that the photographs didn’t look like they were taken in an outdoor stadium.

And it was fine.

I must reiterate, readers, I was 18. This seemed like acceptable behaviour. Please do not judge me.

The time we went to see the penguins

When I was 18, I decided that Africa would be a good idea. And so I moved there. I lived in a little town called Luderitz on the Namibian coast and loved it. My friend Lucy and I worked hard producing the local town newspaper and working in some of the schools.

We had been there a few months when it was time to decide what to do for Christmas. A whole load of other volunteers were heading to Cape Town for it and before leaving England, I had had this romantic idea in my head of climbing Table Mountain on Christmas morning and sitting on the top sipping a hot chocolate. It was decided then. We would head to Cape Town and join in the fun.

It was lovely. It was a lovely way to spend our first Christmases away from home. At the Long Street Backpackers, where we stayed, all the guests gave about £3 each and a few people went to the shop and got loads of food and we all sat round a massive long table, relative strangers, and had a wonderful muddled Christmas day together. Later that evening, we got it into our heads that everyone needed to be thrown into the pool. And so everyone was thrown into the pool. Fabulous.

We weren’t exactly partying hard or anything but we were letting our hair down after an intense few months. One night, we went to a club called Jo’burg and this one girl decided she was going to have a ‘dance-off’ with one of the local South African guys. We recoiled in horror and ran off, leaving her to her own silliness in the club. So you see, we were being a little bit silly.

One day, however, we decided to have a more sedate day. We were a bit tired from the partying and felt a little off-kilter being around strangers at a time when people were usually with their families. We withdrew from it all and made a plan to get the train out to Simonstown, about an hour away, and walk along the coast a little and see the penguins. There was a massive colony there, apparently.

We boarded the train and made the journey but, given our state of tiredness, were struggling not to nod off. By the time we got to Simonstown, we kind of wanted another sit down. We walked along the seafront with its lovely old high street and started our walk out to see the penguins. It was going to be half an hour’s walk. After about five minutes, we spotted a cafe and agreed en masse, that sitting down and having lunch was quite quite necessary if we were going to make this walk.

And sit down we did. We ordered most of the things on the menu and scoffed them then had to sit very still for fear of exploding. One of the group had developed a crush on the waitress so of course we lingered for longer.

By the time someone was brave enough to mention finishing the walk out to see the penguins, the rest of us kind of looked at our watches and huffed and puffed a bit and said we didn’t know if we’d make it there and back in time for the train back (I’m sure we would have, it was mid afternoon, not midnight) and our little legs certainly didn’t want us to go.

So we walked the five minutes back to the train station and got the train back to Cape Town.

That’s what happened the day we went to see the penguins.

The adventures of Daddy and Yaya…

…are soon to begin! Yaya and his Mummy and sister are having a lovely time in Stralia. Of course they are. We knew they would. Look.

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Daddy had stayed behind to tie up loose ends so we kind of still had hold of the children a bit. But yesterday finally came and Daddy got on the ellaflane and off he went. 

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(Goodbyes with Mia at the airport)

Here’s to their new life!

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The time I got a Thai massage

A few years ago, two friends and I were travelling around Asia. As Thai massages were dirt cheap, we’d been getting them every few days. You know, to ease the tension of travelling and having fun. It can be strenuous, honest. We usually got the massage were you change into blue pyjama-type things and they tug and pull and lean on you and by the time they’ve finished, you feel like you’ve had a proper work out.

This one time, we were in Cambodia, I think. The sign outside the massage place said they had been trained in the temple. Brilliant. I’m not saying that writing on a board outside a shop are credentials, as such, but we decided it would do for us. We went in and the others decided on the type of massage we had been getting everywhere else.

I, on the other hand was feeling crazy. I decided to get an oil massage. My friends were like, “O, but you need to be naked for that one cause it’s with oil,” and I was all carefree about it and like, “It’s no big deal. They must see naked bodies a thousand times a day. It’s all good.”

Sure enough, they told me to strip off and wait in the little curtained off bit lying on my front. This I did, whilst discreetly arranging the towel over my bum. There was lots of oil and lots of massaging and it was lovely and relaxing. There were times when she headed bum-ward when massaging the tops of my legs but I was terribly British about it and pretended it was totally cool and like, whatever, I hadn’t even noticed, I’m just so, like, cool and comfortable with my body and stuff. Yeh.

Then she asked me to turn over to massage my front. Clearly, I only had the one towel still so I made out like it was totally cool and I hadn’t even noticed that I was now boobs-out.

She massaged my legs with oil for quite a long time then patted the excess oil off with, yes you guessed it, the only towel covering me. She patted all the way to my feet then left the towel there. So now I was just a totally naked girl, lying on a floor in a massage parlour, wondering what on earth would happen next.

I daren’t open my eyes to look in case that was the signal she was waiting for, because by now, I was wondering what kind of ‘temple’ she had learned this massage stuff in. Yeh, I’m sadly at a loss on what the dodgy-massage-etiquette might be.

So I lay there and pretended that I was having such a relaxing massage that I’d just, kind of, fallen asleep.

Next minute, she asked me part my legs a little and she knelt in between them. My brain was really really not sure what was happening then. In the absence of any other plan, I continued feigning sleep. Then she leaned onto my hip bones with both her hands. For a very long time. Is that a massage technique? Hip leaning? Because this action had put her face very near the part of my body that had previously been covered.

I. Honestly. Didn’t. Know. What. To. Do. What would you have done, reader? What would you have done?

Me? I just kept my eyes closed and pretended this was all fine and natural and not wierd at all and, just, like, whatever, not even a big deal or anything. Yeh. Totally fine.

Then she stopped leaning and she just knelt there. It felt like she was waiting for the go-ahead. I kept ‘sleeping’.

After a little while, she came to kneel behind my head and there was a bit of almost-boob touching that I’m not sure was real massaging or dodgy massaging.

Then before I could say DodgyThaiMassage, one of the most surreal hours of my life was over.

I’ve still never worked out whether that was a real massage or a dodgy one. Opinions?

O, I do like to be beside the sea

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to Danda!
Happy birthday to you!

Hip hip hooray and all that.

As you’ve probably guessed, it was Danda’s birthday yesterday so, in true birthday style, we ran off to the beach for the day. And it was glorious. The weather stayed warm enough to spend all day walking around but breezy enough to not be uncomfortable.

The day started with fancy lunch. I love a fancy lunch, as some of you may already know. I love fancy lunching. I love Michelin stars. I love pretty food.

This lunch did not disappoint.

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It started with bread, after which we were presented with calf’s tongue with piccalilli. Did I ever mention how much I love the free extras at nice restaurants?
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We had the same starter, a leek and potato soup with white truffle cream. My goodness, do I love a truffle! I love a truffle. I went crazy for this soup. It was really really good with some of the fresh bread dipped into it.
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Next up, Danda’s main was mackerel with mashed potatoes, spinach and tomatoes.
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Mine was a confit duck leg on a bed of lentils and bacon with cavolo nero and thinly cut, fried potatoes.
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It was easily the best duck I’ve ever eaten. It was so soft and fell off the bone without any resistance at all. The skin, which I worried about because it can be quite fatty and disappointing, was crispy and beautiful. The jus was fantastic too. I just ate and ate and hoped it would never end. Sadly, it did so off we went, out into the daylight, to seek our next adventure.

We found it on the Brighton Wheel, looking down at the seaside town from the sky.
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We then went for the longest walk ever in search of the Naturist Beach. O, what? Wait. I mean. I meant. I didn’t mean we went looking for it. I meant we were walking and then we saw it. By accident.

There was one bloke with a cap on chatting to a fully dressed couple and that was it. Disappointing.

We headed out to the marina to see what fun could be had there.
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There were a lot of generic could-be-anywhere shops near the marina so we decided to wander back to the beach but not after spotting an amazing ‘5D’ ride thing that we just had to go on. It was one of those rollercoaster simulator things and it was really good. We got given 3D glasses and were splashed with water or blown with wind. It was fast and furious and I yelped quite a lot!

We finished the day by splashing about in the water and lying on the beach looking at the sky.
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