Monday, 22 December 2014

Turning Corners

*Buon giorno avvocato! Come posso aiutarla?
Good morning Mr lawyer! How can I help you?

Buon giorno! Ho bisogno di agende. Dammi le più brutte che hai! La banca non me le manda più!
Good morning! I need some diaries- the ugliest you've got! The bank doesn't send them out anymore.

Questi vanno bene? (offre le più belle in vetrina)
Are these alright? (offers some very nice diaries)

Sì sì sì. Perfetto grazie! Prendo cinque o sei.
Yes. Yes. Just so, thank you! I'll take five or six.*

I heard this wonderful exchange in an old fashioned stationers (with wooden shelves from floor to ceiling!) near the church of the Last Supper, whilst buying a postcard for a friend.  It was like being an extra in an old-time comedy sketch, they had dressed and spoke the parts so well! I was almost bit disappointed when I didn't hear the canned laughter.

Just one of those little corners of Milan that makes this city a good place to live in.  The Last Supper was worth the visit by the way, although it wasn't ideal to be up quite so early on a Saturday morning! I can confirm that John does look quite unnervingly womanly for all you conspiracy theorists/Dan Brown lovers out there.

Update: the new flat - it's nearly finished (and hopefully not still a death trap).

As of this weekend I am on holiday. BLISS. I really needed a rest and a chance to catch up on chores, Christmas preparations and lesson planning. On Wednesday night I didn't sleep a wink (well 10 mins max) because I was overtired and so Thursday was a foggy fug of 5.5 hours of teaching in 6, made far more bearable by the thought of Christmas around the corner. Made for some relaxed teaching anyway!

For sure, this year has been a year of acquisition and consolidation. 2014 has smiled on us.

One of the several new recipes that I added to my limited repertoire this year.

In January we hiked to a rifugio with friends in the snow by the light of the moon.
In March we introduced our respective parents.
In April we went to the Cinque Terre for a weekend and I threw a mini surprise birthday party for A with the help of his sister.
We got married in June and in the Summer went to Greece for the first time on honeymoon followed by six weeks in the UK countryside. We spent one of those exploring the literature and scenery of the North of England. Then we celebrated another three weddings.
In September we finally climbed the Corni di Canzo, and in November moved to a new area of Milan and decorated a new flat, ate truffles and had our first ever visit from Nonna B.
And the cherry on the cake, obviously was finally being organised enough to see the Last Supper.

I have also taken many photos, many of which were really good. Some of them were, er, not so good....

 Haven't quite mastered the art of the selfie yet (outside Santa Maria della Grazie )
A lot of it was stressful - work problems, wedding paper work, expiring passports, trying to keep track of and reassure nearly 100 people with travel plans and dress codes, house-hunting, cleaning and packing up a flat from top to bottom and more work problems - but it feels REALLY good to have done many of the things we have always talked about doing. 

2015 has a big question mark hanging over it. What will it bring? I have no plans so far. I hope I get the opportunity to see more of Italy, have more visitors, finish decorating the flat and take many more photos, do art and craft and dwell less on the problems and have more fun with my work at school.

I also sincerely hope to see the family, friends and students who have recently obtained some serious illnesses all pull through and make a swift recovery.

So here's to wishing you readers a happy festive season and above all HEALTHY 2015!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Momenti Milanesi's Top 20 things to do in Milan part 2

10. Go to the Natural History Museum in Parco Montanelli.

Since it's a personal list I'm starting the second part with something else a little off-beat. The Natural History Museum is not big nor grandiose but it's got dinosaurs and gem stones and I really like it. It's also in one of the (if not THE) nicest parks in Milan. There are lots of paths to discover, grass for picnicking on, and you won't get disturbed as often by people trying to sell you things as in Parco Sempione.

After this, go to Via Cappucini and peer at the flamingos hidden behind the hedge of someone's private garden.

9. Have an aperitivo.

I like Hora Feliz near the Colonne di San Lorenzo best, although I don't go there much as it's rather out the way. The choice of food is really quite amazing and it's generally pretty good. They also offer Pimms and if you can keep it to one drink, it's a very cost effective way to have dinner. Milan does good aperitivos from 6pm onwards- just don't get there too late!

Looking about 15 years old and getting served with no request for ID - I love Italy.

8. Window shop in Via della Spiga and Montenapoleone.

This is a great thing to do if you aren't from Paris, London, New York or Tokyo. For country girls like myself the luxury shopping district in Milan is a tourist attraction in itself. Have fun mentally  gawping at the prices and pretending you can't see the security men watching you. Have more fun laughing at some of the more ridiculous items in the window although you'll probably have the most fun if you have the money to spend and go in and buy something.

An Hermès silk tie costs about 150 euros so if you need a special present for the man in your life it's a good place to have a look and the service is excellent and a little turquoise box from Tiffany seems to go down well with pretty much any young woman.

7. Climb the mini mountain in Parco Monte Stella.

Climbing a hill is decidedly novel business in Milan. The pianura stretches for miles and miles around to the mountains in the distance and it's very flat. To get any kind of view you need to go up a building or come to this park. The view isn't exactly Florence, Verona or Rome, but it's certainly interesting to view Milan from on high. Take the metro past Lotto Fiera Milano City to QT8 (yes that really is a stop) and it's right around the corner. When I went there was only one drunk and lots of dog walkers and cyclists, making one of Milan's most relaxing parks. In the winter if it snows, I gather it becomes very popular with skiers and snowboarders too. On clear days you can see the Appenines and the sweeping arc of the Alps.

Sunset is a particularly good time to go.

Taken Last Weekend.

6. Eat milanese food at a trattoria.

This is without a doubt one of the things you really shouldn't miss out on... I mean, you came all the way to Milan. Where else are you going to try cotoletta, risotto giallo alla milanese or polenta with gorgonzola? Gorgonzola is down the road by the way.

I particularly like l'Osteria dell'aqua bella in Porta Romana on cold or wet days.

5. Explore the hidden charms of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore.

Outside it's easy to miss. It's a very uninspiring looking church, and Santa Maria delle Grazie, which houses the Last Supper, is just down the road. Inside it is a colourful glory. Frescoes, frescoes everywhere and a beautiful choir through a tiny door. My favourite paintings are Noah's Ark and the angels on the ceiling in the starry sky. Just take my word for it, it's worth a look.

4. Go shopping in Via Torino and Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

More fun than window shopping is actual shopping. Milan is like a shopping Mecca along with New York and the home of Italian fashion, so it's got more than it's fair share of flagship stores. They have a saying - 'If you can't buy it in Milan - it doesn't exist!' There is more than one retail hub, but may favourite is the area around Duomo in Via Torino and the pedestrianised Corso Vittorio Emanuele with galleries to walk under for when it rains.

Shopping in Milan

3. La Basilica di Sant' Ambrogio

Saint Ambrose is the patron saint of Milan and he even has his own day off work in December here in Milan. He was an interesting man. From what I gather he had no intention of becoming bishop of Milan, since he wasn't actually a priest or even a baptised Christian, but due to popular request from the warring churches he became one after a rather hasty baptism. His leaves behind a saintly legacy of charitable deeds and the beautiful 4th(!) century (although what we see today is more like 11th) church that bears his name. He also leaves his actaul remains on display in the crypt, from which we can gather he was rather short.

The church itself has a gorgeous courtyard and is tucked away next to the Catholic University of Milan. It's one place where a good trawl of it's Wikipedia page will really pay off while visiting as it has many notable features.

Sant' Ambrogio

2. Look for the trompe l'oeil at Chiesa di Santa Maria Presso San Satiro.

Another hidden gem  of a church. This time it's hidden off Via Torino on your left as you walk from the duomo. It took me years before I learnt about it. It has an impressive trompe l'oeil by Bramante. Don't look it up on Wikipedia. It's much more exciting if you don't know what you're looking for! Go and search for the trompe l'oeil yourself - it's so good that we nearly left without seeing it.

1.Walk on the roof of the Duomo.

My number one choice won't come as much of a surprise. The duomo is THE icon of Milan, like the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or Big Ben to London. The golden Madonna on the top even has her own song O mia bella Madunina written in Milanese dialect and it was a massive hit in 1936 becoming the unofficial anthem of Milan to this day.

The inside is worth a look but it's the outside that makes it so spectacular. A trip up to the roof is the best way to appreciate it as it gives you a close up look at the sheer amount of work that went into it. The details on the hundreds and hundreds of carvings and statues are simply breathtaking!

How many have you done? Did I miss anything?

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Momenti Milanesi's Top 20 things to do in Milan part 1

In order of preference...

20.  Catch a train in Central Station!

Yes. It's a bit of a silly one, but going on what I've already talked about before, Milan's location is really excellent for seeing many other places and it's very well connected. When I first came to Milan I came in at Stazione Centrale. It certainly lets you know you've arrived. Its slightly fascist pomp is definitely worth a look from the piazza in front. Don't go straight into the metro!

19. Go to the Castello Sforzesco and walk around the Parco Sempione.

Milan is surprisingly not famous for having a castle. However, it's got one and it's the gateway to a picturesque park and Napoleon's Arco della Pace. Like all touristy and green spaces in big cities it attracts a lot of pickpockets, bracelet sellers and the slightly deranged, so I tend not to sit down or stop too much when I'm on my own. This is why it's not further up on my list, but it's still worth a visit.

Castello Sforzesco at Night

18.  Go to the Museo del 900 and survey Piazza Duomo.

The museo del 900 is a museum of 20th century modern art - a lot of it Italian - and it has quite a few well known pieces, like merda d'artista if I remember well. I've got rather a lot of arty things on my list, and although I'm not such a big fan of modern art, I really enjoyed the museum because the building is rather lovely. It has some great views over Piazza Duomo for people watching when the Art gets a bit much.

People Watching in Piazza Duomo

17. Go to the Noberasco shop and stock up on dried fruits!

Well it's my list after all, so after the gallery you'll probably feel a bit hungry if you're anything like me. Not far away in Via Spadari there's Noberasco. It's originally from Turin but I'm including it because it's like no other fruit shop you've ever seen. It does dried fruit but super fresh, if that's not an oxymoron.

If you're not feeling snackish then buy your family presents from Peck, a famous food shop, also in via Spadari. Buying a panettone for Christmas would be about the most Milanese thing you could do.

16. See Da Vinci's Last Supper... if you can get tickets. 

I've not been to see the Cenacolo yet, and that's why it's not further up the list. If you can get tickets go. I hear it's very good. I'm going to attempt it before the year is out, but the tickets need to be purchased a month or three in advance if you don't want to go at 8 am on a Tuesday.

Santa Maria delle Grazie

15. Go to the Pinacoteca and walk around Brera.

If you've ever studied and enjoyed History of Art then this is the museum for you. It's got more than one painting I remember studying, like Mantegna's foreshortened Christ. The area it is in is also a very fine neighbourhood  with all the best kinds of pushchairs (according to my ex-colleague who knew her buggies) and is partially pedestrianised. It sells design furniture, antiques and aperitivos and the things that la gente che piace like. It's like a posh Parisian corner of Milan.

14. San Siro stadium.

So here's something for those who like music or sport, in particular football. Milan is home to two big teams, Milan /MEE-lan/ and Inter /IN-tairrr/ which share a home in San Siro. From the outside it's pretty ugly but inside it's pretty impressive. I saw a concert there and didn't particularly enjoy it (it's OK, we laugh about it now) but the atmosphere of the full stadium was undeniable. I hear from some guests of mine that the tour is very good too.

13. Go for a drink in the Navigli. 

Whether you go in the evening and see the lights reflected in the water (if the canals aren't drained) or if you go in the afternoon and stroll around the side streets and arty and hipster shops the Navigli canals are a great place for a drink on a sunny day. It's an up and coming area and as all trendy areas are its slowly being gentrified. Personally, I don't think this is a bad thing if it means they clear up the canals a bit. It's another pocket of Milan that feels somewhat un-Milanese in that it has it's goes at it's own pace. In short, it's a prime passeggiata spot.

The trendy Navigli area

12. See an exhibition.

Milan hosts heaps of exhibitions which is great if it's raining. The best ones, but also the ones with the longest queues, are in Palazzo della Ragione in Piazza dei Mercanti or in Palazzo Reale just next to the Duomo. Going on a week day is a wise choice if you can, as Sunday Afternoons can see three hour queues for the most popular exhibitions. Palazzo Reale tends to do all the big ones... Van Gogh, Dali, Chagall.... while I've been to see two photographic exhibitions in Piazza dei Mercanti. The Palazzo della Ragione is an exquisite medieval hall in an exquisite medieval square and that's why it's my favourite exhibition space.

Exhibitions at Palazzo Reale

11. Walk around San Lorenzo with an ice cream from Grom

Admire the roman columns out front and the higgledy-piggledy back of the church with an ice cream from Grom (another very welcome invasion from Turin). My favourite flavours are Raspberry and Yogurt but they're all delicious. The church of San Lorenzo is not far from the Navigli and there is a distinct alternative vibe going on with alternatively dressed people perched, smoking, among the columns and in circles in the park round the back.

A rare slice of Roman history in Milan

That's it for part 1. Part 2 coming soon. In the meanwhile...

Do you agree with my choices? What should be coming up next?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Zzzapped! Italian Health and Safety strikes again.

Yesterday, much to my consternation, I turned on the tap only to discover that water was soon pouring out from the cupboard below all over my new kitchen's floor. You'll never guess what happened next.

Or maybe you will.

I turned the tap off.

I turned the tap off and got a nice little zap in the process. Unknown to me the water had gone all over the plug socket of the dishwasher, which is situated.... that's right... out of sight, right under the tubes of the sink!

At first I was pretty pissed off with the Italian designer of the kitchen. Given the noise I soon realised the elctricity needed to be turned off quickly! Then it dawned on me that I was bloody lucky. Maybe it was because I kept my slippers dry. Whilst the fuse was royally blown and was replaced this morning, I wish I could say the same for my mood.

This morning (my arm was no longer tingling)  I was trying to explain to the electrician in typical irritating ex-pat style,
"...but... but, in England they put the sockets up above the machine and they have special switches."
"Oh, like, regulations?"
"Yes, buiding regulations!"
"Yes we have those here too." *Shrugs in a way that explains everything.*

Somethings Italians are great at  - like moving house. They are so equipped! Although I don't think I'll get over seeing all my posessions suspended many many many metres in the air for some time. Sweaty palms. Sweaty, sweaty palms.  I just wish safety in the home could be one of them.

Due to the black out and all my books being in boxes I soon figured out the only thing to do was sleep. I think I went to bed at 9.45pm so I was a little bit disappointed to discover the dark circles under my eyes were still here at 7.30 am when I woke!

Suffice to say, the kitchen is getting a bit of rewiring this weekend. AND I might even flounce off to see if I can get a smoke alarm for good measure because Goddamit Italy.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Bye Bye Rogoredo

At the end of the month we're saying good bye to our corner of Milan and saying hello to a new corner of Milan. We're moving to a bigger flat so I won't be sad to say good bye to the apartment, but I will be sad to say good bye to Santa Giulia. The next area won't be half as young and lively and brand spanking new.

We took another breather from the boxes and A accompanied me on a night time photo walk with necessary stop for cannoli. Why did the Sicilian bakery have to open right before we leave?!

Bye bye Milan as we know you!
One Blue Stairwell

The Space Ship

The tree
The park in the dark

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Walking with the Puppy

I've written myself a list of 20 things I want to do before I'm out of my twenties  (yes, I know) and I've deliberately made it achievable. Some things are easy like 'buy flowers fo myself' and some things are harder like 'take portraits of everyone in my family'.  I've made a start anyway.

The woods


In the shadow

That eye!


Monday, 20 October 2014

Some (not very) Milanese Moments

I just wanted to share some moments from this summer... it was glorious! Or at least it was in the UK. With the weather as warm as it is at the moment these pictures still feel seasonal, but that might be because I've been shut inside all weekend (we only ventured out for a trip to the recycling station and a coffee with mini cannoli) doing boxes boxes boxes. The move is fast approaching.

If you've been outside recently let me know how it is!

Harvest Sunset

Sun down Thistle down.
In the hazel coppice.

In a few hundred years time when archeologists pull my body out of the bog or whatever, they will deduce I was an agricultural labourer due to all the straw dust in my lungs that I inhaled that walk - but they will be wrong!

Sorry, was that a bit morbid?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Do you know what it is?

Mystery Fruit

Finally I tried these at the weekend for the first time after seeing them out and about in the mountains. They aren't tomatoes or nectarines. They're eaten when very very ripe with a spoon. The flavour is subtle and the texture rather... jammy.

Anyone else tried them and liked them?

Monday, 29 September 2014

An Autumn Wedding in Piedmont

Yes! Here it is - the last wedding of the year. I didn't know anyone except my husband and the sposi so I dedicated myself to photography and trying all the flavoured confetti (sugared almonds). The buffet/anti pasti were something else.

This wedding felt very Italian. I think I was the only foreigner there. I met the bride online when I arrived in Milan and we hit it off as she was another new arrival, only from the provinces. This year has been another milestone for both of us.

I got to hear lots of the accent from the North of Piedmont - very entertaining after a few years in Milan. The lunch lasted a total of seven hours, although thankfully we didn't have to sit down for all of it. There were quite a lot of dancing, chanting, shouting and napkin-waving intervals!

I think the bride and groom had a lot of fun and they certainly gave it their all whenever the cry 'BACIO! BACIO!" went up :)

The bride arrives
A very cute little girl pretending to read - with the order of service upside-down!

Then they threw A LOT of rice and gave the groom the bumps... but that was only the start!

The location was a children's farm - so cute!

The average age of the guests wasn't the youngest of the weddings I've been to but they made up for it by being the rowdiest and getting the groom very tiddly!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The best thing about Milan

I realise I did a similar post way way back in 2010. It was curious reading it four years on. It's here if you want it. I wrote it as a sort of self-pep talk on my arrival.

I still rate aperitivos, although lots of expats I know get sick of them (they clearly have too much free time - if I manage two a month I feel extra social) but I've also learnt to appreciate the shopping. I still rate the international side of Milan but I've learnt to appreciate the Milanese side too.
I still people watch but as I've learnt to integrate better I don't spend so much time studying the unwritten rules of Italian society and Italian habits. I still love the metro for efficiency, but alas it no longer costs a euro a trip.

The economic crisis is still biting hard, especially in the private school sector, but Milan is improving. It's on the up. No-one in the household has been pick-pocketed for, ooh, at least 6 months. It's Expo 2015 doncha know? My neighbourhood no longer part gypsy camp part building site. We have 5 bars and a pharmacy, a corner shop and a newsagents. The park is no longer toxic!  At this rate they might even do something about the air quality  - one day!

My favourite thing about Milan would still be it's location. As time passes, I realise that Milan's location is really excellent due to it's central positioning and abundance of train stations.

Rome - 3 hours - tick
Florence - 1.5 hours - tick
Venice - 3 hours - tick
Turin - 1 hour - tick
Cinque Terre and Liguria - 2-3 hours - tick
Bergamo - 30 mins - tick
Verona - 1.5 hours - tick
Bologna - 1 hour - not yet!

Got a car?

Monza and it's wonderful park - 20 mins - tick tick tick
Bellagio Lake Como - 1.5 hours - tick tick
Sirmione, Lake Garda - 1.75 hours- tick
Alba and the Langhe - 1.75 hours- tick
Bolzano and the Dolomites - 3 hours - tick
Cote d'azur - 3 hours - tick
Mantua - 2 hours - not yet!

And I'm sure there are many more great places to go. But I'll let you in on a little secret - il triangolo Lariano - my favourite Milanese weekend escape! Everytime I go I fall a little bit more in love with Lombardy.

Here are some pictures from our latest hike to the Corni di Canzo via the rifugio where we ate mushroom risotto, assorted cheeses and cured meats and a lovely slice of jam tart (crostata).

First signs of Autumn

So high!

From the Corni looking down on Lake Como

Il corno occidentale

Il corno centrale

Friday, 5 September 2014

Time to start a wedding blog?

Excuse me. I'm a bit tired. This post will be full of errors. This week I've had the re-entry at work. It's only mornings, but still, after getting up regularly at 10.30am local time, my week of 6.30am starts has taken it's toll on me. For the last days of the holiday I made myself get up at 7.30/8 but nothing can prepare you for regular early rising when you are a total slug in the bed like me.

Just a few more photos of another lovely English Wedding...
I feel slightly in awe of the Italians capacity to go without sleep. A and his family all function remarkably well on very little sleep. At Christmas we went to bed at 3am but were opening presents by 8.30 am. I'm not an evening person. They need to find a bird which likes being busy at 11am, because neith owl or lark am I. 

Women in England with grown up children seem to get an unstoppable desire to buy a large hat!
So yes, the Italians are up early and stay up so late... Bake Off Italia for example (I'm watching it now) doesn't start until 9pm despite being a family show.  The San Remo Song Festival always finishes after midnight. A and I have already argued about our hypothetical kids' bedtimes! 

And we had excellent weather!
 Actually I shuld have called this post Varie ed Eventuali which is what my boss finishes the agenda of our meetings with, (but somehow always seems to end up taking over everything else!). 

No choir, but some, er, unique hymn interpretations from our pew.
 This summer I got a chance to watch the original Bake Off show, and to my surpirse in the English one they make many savoury things too. The presenters were very funny. It was much more fun to watch than the Italian version... but is it just me, or are they copying the English format more this series? I've already got a few favourites and a few contestants who already, ahem, to use A's words mi stanno sulle palle.

Another stunning bride - love is the best beauty treatment!
Already the holidays seem weeks ago. The first day in meetings it was like we had all never been away (except of course the pupils aren't back yet). It's only now that I realise how much progress I've made with my Italian and knowledge of Italian school acronyms and jargon. No culture shock for me this year!

I felt this dress was decidely Italian in taste with the lacy sleeves, and sure enough my colleague chose something almost identical!
That said, I saw a lot of talk in a Newspaper interview with Italian chefs living in England saying that the English and the Italians have nothing in common except mutual respect. I was somewhat peturbed by that. I'm not sure I agree but then I'm not sure what I would say the two countries do have in common. At the end of the day we're all human and it's a damn sight easier than living in Russia was!

I would have loved to have taken the flowers home with me, but I don't think you're allowed to do that outside of Italy.
Ok that's it. I promise. After this post, no more wedding pictures!

Hah. Who am I kidding. I love taking photos at weddings! It has nothing to do with this blog but I'm sharing my photos anyway. I have my third Italian wedding coming up soon and my many of my younger colleagues are all either freshly married or planning their weddings, so the wedding talk is by no means finished even though school starts next week. Even more excitingly I've been asked to be the damigella d'onore (maid of honour?) for a close friend.

Finally! An English wedding where not only did we eat really well but also lots :) Italy has spoilt me.
I'm learning lots of things about weddings in Italy. Particularly with regards to weddings in the South of Italy, which are well known for being particularly lavish. I didn't know just how lavish though.
My colleague had to explain to me that her mother-in-law-to-be isn't very happy about her attempts to keep expenses down. She's worried their relatives will think they are poor. I can understand perhaps some of her fears but I still couldn't see what was wrong with creating your own invitations and getting them printed professionally. Then she told me something that blew my mind.

In the south of Italy they expect designer wedding cards. I didn't even know you could buy such things!