Monthly Archives: December 2010

Glorious Food

Here are some of the awesome dishes I’ve eaten in Italy so far:

Ragu with handmade pasta


Incredible homemade pizzas

Amatriciana, my favourite!

Roberta’s epic strudel

Bionda (custard pastry), and the only thing so far that I’ve eaten out (there really is no need to go to restaurants, Roberta is an incredible cook!).


Buon Natale

Well it’s the 24th December here, and even though there’s no snow, it does feel like Christmas! Roberta (Patrick’s Mum) is making my new favourite biscotti in the kitchen (she’s teaching me so I can mass produce them at home!!!) and yesterday Patrick and I decorated the (real) Christmas tree! Tonight we’re going to a Christmas service at the local church, which will be a first for me.  In the meantime (have to wait until 12am for the service), here’s what’s been going on!

On Wednesday night we made pizza for dinner (YUM), and Patrick and I helped Roberta with the toppings (we made 3 – tuna and onion, proscuitto and mushroom, and gorganzola and olive paste). Katrin and Bruno came around for dinner and we tried different beers from Austria and Italy. It was really nice and I felt so at home with everyone laughing and joking. Bruno, Katrin and Patrick provided joint translations for me so that I was included in the conversation. I love the way that the family is the centre of life here, and that everything important seems to happen around the kitchen table.

Yesterday, after a failed attempt on Wednesday, we went to see the bell of Rovereto, which is the largest working bell in the world. It was made from the canons of World War One melted down in a wish for peace. The weather has been a bit uncooperative (it has rained every day since I arrived,), so you couldn’t see the town through the clouds, but Patrick assures me that it’s there!

We then went to meet Valentina at the Mart (Modern Art Museum) which seems to be famous across the country for its architecture. Valentina’s Dad is somehow involved with the gallery (Patrick jokes that he’s the boss) so we got in for free and saw a exhibition of sculpted, angular heads by an Italian artist who worked in Paris. I still find it hard to appreciate modern art, but it was good to look around before browsing in town a bit and going home for dinner.

After dinner, Patrick, Valentina and I went to the local pub for a drink and to play Jenga. Patrick is quite daring so he ended up toppling the tower the most times, but we had fun. I also tried Marzemino, a local grape variety, for the first time (it was quite nice, but a bit spirity). This morning after something of an ordeal at the post office (I don’t recommend posting parcels from Italy), we had bionde, a custard pastry, for breakfast. I also had the hot chocolate to end all hot chocolates – it was literally like drinking hot, thick chocolate mousse – perfetta!

Today, after lunch at Katrin’s house, Patrick drove us to Lake Garda, the biggest lake in Italy. Not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve! The Lake is surrounded by stunning mountains, and the view is just spectacular. I took sooooo many pictures! We even had 2 white swans come up close for their portrait shots!

I think that’s about it so far. I’m picking up bits and pieces of Italian, much to Patrick’s amusement. The bit of Spanish that I know is really useful, especially when it comes to numbers and adjectives, but I’m trying to learn some local phrases too. Anyway, to everyone at home, I hope that you have a Merry Christmas and lots of love from this part of the world! Buon Natale! xox

Now Mit Snow!

So I finally made it to Patrick’s in Italy! This past week has been so busy travelling with limited internet, so now I can post a bit about Austria.

From Zurich, it took us nearly 6 hours by train to Salzburg, but the view was incredble! We loved the Alps, all coated in snow looking like something out of a fairytale, so the journey wasn’t too much of a hardship. And Salzburg itself is simply lovely! We had light snow when we arrived, and the city was blanketed in white. On our first full day we visited the Residenceplatz state rooms, and went up to the fortress overlooking the city. It was -6 degrees and our cheeks were pink from the cold, but the view was worth it!

Our new joke is to try and speak ‘German’, which basically involves us saying ‘Jasmin/Sharon, now mit (insert random object here)’. E.g. Jasmin, now mit fortress! So we’re slowly learning! We also spent a lot of time at the Christmas markets there, where we heard carols and ate yummy food. Speaking of food, we found a great chain store called My Indigo which did delicious curries for 6 euros, so we ate there twice for dinner and once for lunch!

The next morning we checked out and went to the old city to see Mozart’s birthplace. Jasmin pretended to throw food at the seagulls and I got this shot – talk about teamwork! Definitely one of the best from the trip so far.

After seeing the Mozart house (and his original child-sized violin), we left for Vienna. Our train was unexpectedly delaye, so Jasmin organised new tickets for us and we eventually made it! Eva met us on the platform and we met Anna Maria for dinner at a local Chinese place (yum!). In the morning, Jasmin and I went to the Schonbrun Palace (another freezing cold day), and toured the rooms where Marie Therese had held court, and where Marie Antoinette had grown up. The gardens were stunning in the snow, but I have never been more cold in my life!!! We were exposed to the wind, but took photos bravely!

We met Eva and Anna Maria for lunch (Wiener schintzel!), and by the time we’s finished it was dark, so we wandered around the city. We were amazed when the snow started to fall – it was exactly as I’d imagined snow, in clumps of little snowflakes that you could see! It was so perfect that we forgot about how cold it was and just enjoyed the beauty of it.

We walked past the main cathedral in Stephensplatz, the Parliament and City Hall, where there was a huge Christmas market (which Jasmin and I went back to 2 days later).

The second day was pretty much spent shopping (after moving Jasmin to a new hotel because her flight was cancelled), and in te evening we went to see the Vienna Hofburg Orchestra perform pieces by Mozart and Straus. They were so cool, making jokes with the audience, and at the end, we couldn’t get the Waltz of the Blue Danube out of our heads!

Our last day was spent seeing the city sights by daylight, then having lunch which turned into dinner at Eva’s place with Karl (her boyfriend), Anna Maria and Suzanne (their friend who I’d actually met in Japan). We ate Kaiserschm… (I can’t actually remember the full name) and strudel (YUM),  then spend the night watching Chaser’s on YouTube!

In the morning Jasmin and I went to the airport and said goodbye – she flew to London and I went to Milan, where I caught 3 trains to reach Rovereto! From what I’v seen, this is a beautiful place! It was soooo lovely to see Patrick again after all these years, and to finally meet his family. I saw the historical centre of the city today (it was raining but not too cold), and spent this evening looking at Katrin and Bruno’s wedding photos with them. It’s getting late so I’l put up a couple more photos and write again later. Night!

Today I am in…

Today I am in…


Well, Jasmin and I are in Switzerland! I got to Geneva yesterday afternoon, checked in, and, you guessed it, went to the UN! It was so cool to actually visit the Palais de Nations, which was once home to the League of Nations. I took a tour and saw two amazing committee rooms (Human Rights Council and Disarmament committee), both with artwork by Spanish artists.

I met two German sisters on the tour, one who was doing an internship in the UN office for sport, and they told me that I was in time for Geneva’s biggest festival, which was happening this weekend. I had no idea it was on, so I think we were just incredibly lucky with the timing! More about that in a second.

I also visited the International Red Cross Museum while I was waiting for the UN tour (it’s just across the road). They have records of all the WW1 and 2 prisoners of war in huge cabinets, on index cards. It was a sober museum, but I learnt a lot. A highlight was seeing an original draft of the Geneva Convention, which was on display.

It was dark by the time I was done, so I waited to meet Jasmin (who was flying in from Manchester). We went out for dinner at a Swiss place and had roestis, which were cheesy, but tasty.

Today we planned our day around the festival, which commemorates the city being saved by a woman cooking vegetable soup late one night in 1602. She saw the Duke of Savoy’s army scaling (hence the festival name, L’Escalade) the city walls, and poured the hot soup over them (and then presumably alerted the army). Today’s celebrations were for the city’s victory over the invaders, which involved historical reenactments, musket and cannon fire displays, lots of people in costume and lots of horses. (The chocolate version of the woman’s pot with marzipan vegetables in it is a traditional festival food! We bought one each, but haven’t opened it yet! They look like this:)

But before we went to the festival (which started around 2), we visited a flea market and picked up what are now our week-long trip mascots, The Russians. We found a matryoshka doll of Gorbachev, which has Brezhnev, then Khruschov, Stalin, and finally a teeny tiny Lenin inside.

They have already had some adventures (Stalin tried to ”escalade” the Reformation Wall and Lenin was shot out of the jet d’eau), and will probably provide amusement for much of the next week.

Right, so we went down to the Lake, and saw the flower clock, and the jet d’eau, which normally only operates in summer, but which was on for the festival. We grabbed a quick lunch, then went back into the Old Town for some festival fun.

We began by following guys dressed in 17th century clothes holding muskets to the square in front of Saint Peter’s Cathedral, to see (and hear, boy could you hear it!) a live cannon and musket display.

We also saw a trumpet troupe perform in the Catherdral, and groups of drummers and flautists playing in the street. There were men on horseback prancing around and no matter where you walked in the Old Town, you could hear music and occassionally the sound of cannon fire! We drank spiced hot apple juice and ate apple tart, then watched a blacksmith’s display (making a sword and horseshoes). The whole atmosphere was amazing, with kids dressed up running around and Scout groups with their woggles playing games, people eating and laughing. I really really enjoyed the whole thing!

Once we’d seen pretty much everything, we headed back to the Lake, and saw the most spectacular sunset! It was like stepping into a watercolour painting, especially with the Alps all around.

We walked back to the hotel, relaxed for a bit, then went back out for dinner, as well as to check out the night lights on the lake. Tomorrow we’re off to Zurich, but might spend the morning looking around a bit more first. It has been a fantastic day, especially since we were so lucky in coming across the festival!

Today I am in…


Right; I’m off to Switzerland tomorrow, and won’t have the internet for at least a week, so here is a quick summary of what’s happened so far, including the Paris trip that I didn’t have time to write about before!

-Palais Garnier (Paris Opera) was probably the highlight of all France for me. It was such a thrill to actually be there, and our tour guide was fantastic! I learnt so much, little things, like that the architect, Charles Garnier, wasn’t invited to the gala opening of the theatre, he had to pay for his ticket! And that there is a statue of a salamander by the old gas pipes to ward off fire. We saw the infamous Box 5 inside the theatre (some superstitious people still won’t take tickets in the Phantom’s box), and, having just finished reading Gaston Leroux’s novel Phantom of the Opera, seeing the auditorium for myself was just incredible! I’ve promised myself that one day I will come back and see a ballet or an opera there.

-From the Palais, I rushed to my hotel in Montparnasse, checked in quickly, then took a train to Versailles. WOW. I tried to imagine the approach to the Chateau as if I was in a horse and carriage, along the cobblestones with the giant building looming in front. The place is seriously impressive, and even though I only had 3 hours there, I’m really glad I had the chance to see it. I rushed through the state apartments, seeing the Hall of Mirrors, the King and Queen’s bedchambers, and the grand gallery with 32 paintings of French battles (it’s HUGE). I had a wander through the gardens closest to the Chateau, as it was getting dark and the ground was still icy. I wish I’d had more time to absorb it all, but what I did see was just spectacular. There was a modern art installatyion series throughout the Chateau, which didn’t really fit in (Japanese pop culture statues), but which would have been good for the kids visiting to admire. Another place I’ll have to return to one day.

-On Monday I slept in (it was so nice!) and then went up to Monmatre to see the Basilica Sacre Coeur. I spent a while sitting in the majestic basilica, and then listened to the soundtrack from Amelie on the walk back down.

-I had a lazy lunch of onion soup and beef bourginon, then went in search of the Ladurée teahouse Thea recommended for a cake and tea. I had Marie Antoinette tea and a raspberry, nougat and almond cake (yum!). After that I caught the train back to Lyon.

-Yesterday, Amandine took me up to the Cathedral on the hill, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who is credited with saving the city from both invasion and the plague. This is the most beautiful church I’ve been in so far! The colours were just amazing, and the mosaics and sculptures were really impressive! There was also an amazing view over the city, and the sky put on a show with dark clouds contrasting with patches of bright sunshine. So, so beautiful!

-The main highlight since coming back to Lyon had been the Fete des Lumieres, or festival of lights, which opened last night. We had a really warm day, but it rained in the evening on and off. I went with Amandine’s friends, and we saw some really cool displays. Basically the whole city has installations of light-related art throughout it, from parks with illuminated loops, to Northern Lights-style projections on fountains and buildings. The most spectacular was on a church, where the projected lights moved to show a forest growing and expanding, then receding across te building. It was amazing!

Right, I should finish packing. There won’t be an update for a while, but wish me luck braving the icy temperatures across the Alps! I’m travelling with Jasmin, who is on a study break this week, which will make it all the more fun! Tomorrow is Geneva (and the UN, sooooooo excited about seeing the Palais de Nations), then Zurich, Salzburg and Vienna on the 16th. Much love to you all! xox

Masquerade, Different Faces on Parade

I just got back after spending Sunday/Monday in Paris! We had such a short time there, and I still really wanted to see the Paris Opera and the Palace of Versailles, so I booked train tickets and a hotel and just did it. Because Chasselay is about an hour away from Lyon, we went to the city on Saturday and visited the Art Gallery. There was a great room with still life paintings of flowers, and I saw another Degas!

After the gallery, we had some time to kill before meeting Amandine’s friend, whose apartment we were staying at, so we went to this amazing bakery/teahouse and I had a ‘peasant apple tart’ and the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had! It was made from real, fresh cocoa beans, and was to die for! We met up with Amandine’s boyfriend Simon too, before finally getting to the apartment. We went out pretty much straight away again, on to a goodbye party for 2 of Simon’s friends who were, funnily enough, flying to Australia on Monday! I met some really nice people, and the bar was in Lyon’s arty area, which basically meant it was a really good night! We picked up a burger meal from Quick, the French Maccas, on the way back and crashed, not looking forward to the 7am wake up call.

Somehow we dragged our butts out of bed, and Amandine walked me to the station (Lyon Part-Dieu) for my 8am train to Paris. Once I arrived, I went straight to the Paris Opera (also known as the Palais Garnier). Ok, more later, gotta go!

An Excellent Day

A quick update – yesterday was a really really awesome day! Not only did it SNOW, but I got my Honours results back, and am graduating with First Class Honours!!!!!! I couldn’t believe it, it was so exciting to see the email, after all that work. To celebrate, Amandine and I went out into the snow and mucked around, and took a walk through the village, which was really beautiful. It was the first time I touched real snow, so it was really special for me. And, to top it all off, there was homemade custard and raspberry cake waiting for us when we got back (seriously the best cake ever – Amandine’s Dad is a baker, and he really knows his stuff!). Such a perfect day!