Author Archives: Where's Zoe Now?

About Where's Zoe Now?

Late-20s Australian working in Italy, blogging about travel+food+daft adventures.

Carbis Bay, Cornwall

St Ives to Lelant on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, following the South West Coast Path. I started writing a summary post about my week in Cornwall and it got very long, so I’m doing a post a day… This is day 1 of the walk.

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Not the most auspicious start.

It was drizzling lightly as I set out from St Ives on my first day. The plan  was to walk 6 miles (10 km) to Hayle, then catch a bus back to St Ives to spend a second night there before bussing to Hayle the next day with my full pack to set out in earnest. Even though my full pack wasn’t heavy — I wasn’t camping at all — I was glad to have a short day with a light bag after a long trip the day before, travelling from Turin to St Ives, with an 8 am flight followed by 4 hours in London followed by what was supposed to be a 6 hour train trip that turned into a 7 hour train trip followed by a shared taxi ride with fellow travellers after trains in Cornwall were disrupted by a tyre fire in St Erth.

(“Service disruptions in St Erth due to a track-side fire” they said in London, and I assumed they meant some kind of grass fire that would be dealt with by the time I got to Cornwall. No, it was a literal pile of tyres that had been burning for 24 hours with a plume of smoke that was said to have been visible 30 miles away. No wonder they weren’t so keen on running trains directly next to that.)

Despite — or perhaps because of — the inconvenience of the trip, I’d spent the day thinking about why I travel. On the train from Luton airport into London, I realized I felt at home. Not because I feel at home in England (I don’t), but because I feel at home on the move. Not that I’d want to always be on the move, I decided. After all, I’d had just as strong a rush of feeling of being at home a few weeks prior as I’d dished up poached eggs in tomatoes to a couple of friends at dinner around my kitchen table. But I hadn’t travelled much recently, and this trip felt like a good way back into that.

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Somewhere near Exmouth. One day…

I also pondered the idea of paths not taken. Four hours in London wandering the canals next to Paddington Station made me wonder why I hadn’t planned a couple of days in the city. As the train sped past red sandstone cliffs near Exmouth I wanted to jump off at the next station and go take a closer look. Early on while thinking about summer I’d considered a trip to Spain, and going to Cornwall was instead of that. This week I’d be taking one path — literally. Well then. Continue reading

Postcard from Conca del Pra: enjoying the foothills of the Alps

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Went hiking with some friends and their kids yesterday in the foothills of the Alps. It was a sunny day and it was hot work following a narrow valley up, until we came over the ridge and found ourselves in the open space of Conca del Pra, a basin surrounded by jagged hills. On our walk we saw waterfalls, and wild roses, and cows, and raspberry patches, and flowers growing from the rocks that were reminiscent of hattifatteners, and entrances to mysterious caves where the air was cool and underground streams emerged. Our 4-year-old guide would probably want to add that we saw plenty of cool rocks and sticks and also he found an old shoe lace.

PS: More postcards from…

Practical information for future reference: We parked at Villanova, which is near Bobbio Pellice, which is a bit past Pinerolo as you head into the Alps in that direction from Turin. It was a popular spot — the tables at Rifugio Willy Jervis in Conca del Pra were full of people having lunch — which is not surprising considering it’s a beautiful place only 50 km from central Turin. There are 2 trails from Villanova to Conca del Pra, one that is a dirt road with a few shortcuts to save on tedious switchbacks, and the other that follows the other side of the stream and is much steeper and rockier (but definitely rewarding). We took the gentler route up and the steep route down, my knees today feel like that was maybe not the best order to do things… It’s also possible to drive up to Conca del Pra and use that as a starting point for hikes further into the hills.

Fountain at Place des Jacobins, Lyon

Speaking French and buying wine in Lyon

I spent the last week in Lyon, France, for a work trip. To be honest, the most exciting part of it was that my hotel room was a lot quieter than my apartment (which is on 3 tram routes) and had airconditioning. “How was your conference?” people have asked me. “It was amazing,” I’ve replied. “I slept so well.”

In Lyon, I discovered that if you speak French to me, I will automatically reply with perfect Italian. Like, better, more fluent, Italian than I have ever used in Italy. I feel like I have discovered a brilliant language-learning strategy here. Pretty sure if I spent a month in France I could come back and write a novel in Italian.

The annoying thing is that I do have some French… At least, I studied French in highschool. To be fair, Australian highschool French is not much, and it was far and away my worst subject, but still. Well, and ok, by “worst subject”, I mean a language assistant once laughed at my accent. But still.

The thing is, in Italy if you’re not obviously fluent in Italian and you’re speaking to someone who does speak English, in my experience at least they’ll switch to English for you, without you asking. (Which is frustrating if you’re trying to practice!) Whereas in Lyon at least, people would often keep going in French, even with me. I went to a tea shop one afternoon and went through the stage of saying I wanted a black tea, and into the stage of indicating I quite liked Darjeeling tea even though I couldn’t remember any conjugations of plaisir, and was well into the oh my goodness when will we end this awful charade that the nonsense coming out of my mouth is French stage before I finally apologized for saying instead of oui for the 10th time because j’habite en Italie and the shop assistant finally offered to switch to English.

At least I got some French practice in.

Apart from the tea shop, my other French shopping experience was wine. In a foolishly generous mood I had texted a friend saying, “you want me to get you any food from France?”. I was thinking about chocolates or biscuits or a tin of pâté or something. The reply came back: “How about a bottle of wine, red or white, anything up to 20 euros and I’ll pay you back”.

I know nothing about French wine. (Actually, any wine.) So then I was asking every French person I know for wine recommendations, and not getting very far. Who knew I knew so many French beer drinkers? Eventually I triangulated what information I had and put myself at the mercy of the guy in the wine shop — who didn’t seem to understand when I said I was looking for a wine quite different to Piedmontese wines, possibly because he didn’t believe that Italian wine could really be called that.

But I wasn’t too worried, since I had a backup plan. A colleague had pointed out that the conference organizers were giving out a free bottle of wine to all attendees.
“So you can tell your friend you have a wine that was recommended by French people,” she said. “You can even say you saw other French people with this wine.”
“And I’ll say it cost me 19 euros,” I added. “Turn a profit.”

I really did buy a 20 euro bottle of wine, I swear.

Postcard from vallée Étroite: How is this even possible.

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Earlier this week, a friend sent out a group message that she and her family were going on a hike on Saturday, anyone was welcome to join them, adding “it’s one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever seen”.

She wasn’t wrong.

“How is this even possible?” we asked ourselves, repeatedly, as we walked through alpine meadows with walls of dramatic jagged rock formations above us and a clear cold mountain stream running next to us. We saw a herd of cows, an enchanted lake with a million shades of green algae growing on the bottom, half a dozen marmots, a pond with tadpoles, wildflowers in pink and yellow and purple and orange, and new views opening out to us every time we climbed a hill.

At one of our many pauses for photos, I asked one of the guys if he wanted a photo “with that stuff over there.”

“Stuff?” he laughed.

“I’ve run out of words.”


PS: See more postcards from…

Practical information for future reference: vallée Étroite (valle Stretta in Italian) is just over the French-Italian border from Bardonecchia. We drove from Turin, which takes 1.5-2 hours on the highway; parking near our start point of Rifugio i Re Magi (website in Italian) was 2 euro for the day. We walked from 1780m  above sea level at Rifugio i Re Magi to 2500m above sea level at Refuge du Thabor (website in French), a distance of about 7km each way on well-marked trails — just make sure you follow the signs to Refuge du Thabor and not Mont Thabor itself. You can buy lunch at Refuge du Thabor or even sleep the night. I was glad of my waterproof shoes for the stream crossings but everyone else got on fine in running shoes.


Postcard from Monte Galero

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Went on another hike this weekend, this time in Tanaro Valley near the border between Piedmont and Liguria. A hot morning, followed by an afternoon of dramatic skies, rain showers, and thunderclaps in the distance (disconcerting when you’re on the top of a hill!), followed by an evening on the Mediterranean coast eating takeaway pizza while standing around a concrete block used as a makeshift table. In between all of this we also read the gospel of Matthew start-to-finish — I’ve been going to church all my life but somehow the Bible becomes new and unfamiliar when you read it in long sections while sitting on a picnic blanket in a beech forest rather than a paragraph at a time in a church service. Highly recommended.

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Postcard from Valle Varaita

I’ve come down with a rather tedious and inconvenient head cold, so no writing from me this week — I started trying to write this post and got bogged down in Uggggh what even are words. But enjoy some photos from a day spent in Valle Varaita recently with friends from church.

(Not to make you jealous or anything, but it was basically a perfect summer’s day.)

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White chocolate cheesecake with strawberry topping

That time a cheesecake made me swear off baking

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good baking disaster post — if you’re a newcomer to this blog you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m actually competent with food. (This is a false impression.) But today I have a story for the Oh My Goodness I Am Never Baking A Cake Ever Again What Was I Thinking files… Continue reading

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The accidental diarist: Blogging and writing and memory

I started this blog as a way to record and share my time living overseas, “a long way from where I grew up”. While my initial idea was something of a travel blog (hence the title), it quickly evolved into a place where I write each week about the small details of my life. Things like the feeling of it being summer but not Christmas, or the times I’m glad my Italian isn’t that good, or a list of nerve-wracking (to me) behaviours I’ve seen from cyclists.

Around the same time I started posting regularly again, I started a journal. First it was a cheap slim notebook with a green cover that I took with me on vacation to Slovenia and Croatia in August 2014, to make notes on where I went and what I saw, and (more imporantly!) to have a place to sketch out maps of hostel locations for when I was without internet.

It was supposed to be a one-off travel diary — before that, I’d sometimes carried a notebook to scribble down shopping and to-do lists, but I was never a diarist. I’d tried as a teenager, but I was always too self-concious to be able to record my thoughts, knowing that I’d find them cringe-worthy even a few weeks later.

But two weeks of near-daily writing was enough to build up some momentum. My entry from August 17th starts, Here’s a crazy idea — why not keep on keeping a journal? Obviously this is crazy talk because now I’m back in my apartment in Torino, and I’d have to comment on things that will continue to exist in my life for more than a handful of days. That’s scary. And somehow that stuck and now I have a pile of notebooks (that none of you will ever read, oh my goodness I am dying of embarrassment at even the idea of it, the teenage cringe-y-ness has not disappeared AT ALL, you guys I am literally wincing slightly as I write this).

All this writing — for an audience and for myself — has some side effects. I noticed early on that whatever I write becomes my “official” version of what had happened.The details I elide slip from my memory. On my best days, this prods me to write honestly; most of the time it makes me accientally-on-purpose leave out my questionable motives and unflattering details. Meanwhile, the events I do write about have beautiful narrative structure in my memory, and events that I don’t write about I struggle to even place in a particular year let alone remember clearly.

(There’s a corollary to this that came up in a conversation with friends the other week: for those of us who have moved around a lot, many of our conversations are with people we can’t see in person and happen via the written word — facebook or whatsapp or email or whatever. Which means that every dumb comment we make is recorded and searchable, to some extent. And if you’re like me you remember written things better than spoken, even without a literal record, and these conversations last longer in our memory than the same conversation face-to-face would. Which surely must change the dynamics of friendships, at least subtly.)

For now, I’ll keep writing, even if I can’t record everything. It’s fun to turn the small details into stories I can share, and it feels like there’s never any shortage of material…

Orecchiette with zucchini and parsley

Every easy pasta recipe I know, for future reference (part 1)

This post is inspired by my experience last Friday of going from, “I’m going out for dinner with friends” to “Ok, change of plans: I’m hosting dinner with friends” to “What the heck, I’ll invite more friends” to “Hang on a second, what am I even going to cook for these people??!” over the space of a few hours.

I mean, pasta, obviously, that’s pretty much the full extent of my cooking skills, but it’s amazing how my mind blanks when it comes to the question of what to put on said pasta.

So here, for future reference, are some dishes I know I can cook at short notice that are still nice enough to serve up to other human beings.

  • Orecchiette with cime di rapa (turnip greens): This is what I made on Friday. It generally requires a trip to the shops since I don’t usually have fresh orecchiette or turnip greens on hand, but it’s dead easy: Get a big pot of salted water on the burner. In a frying pan on very low heat, do a good amount of olive oil with finely chopped garlic and anchovies and some chili paste, leave it to go all soft and flavoursome. Wash and chop the turnip greens, put in the boiling water, give them a few minutes to soften then add the orecchiette. Once cooked, drain, and then toss together the pasta, greens, and the garlicky-anchovy-y oil. Add salt to taste. (Here’s a recipe with actual quantities and cooking times; in Italian but it has lots of pictures.)
  • Pasta with radicchio and olives: I wrote about this before. It’s my winter comfort food. I don’t think it’s “authentically” anything, besides, you know, delicious, but whatever.
  • Puttanesca: Not going to look for a recipe to link, since the whole spirit of this is to throw together whatever tasty things are lurking in your fridge/cupboard: tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies, chili.
  • Carbonara: I keep those supermarket tubs of pancetta bits in the freezer along with a bag of pre-grated parmesan/similar cheese for carbonara emergency dinners. PRO TIP FOR LIVING IN ITALY: if you’re in conversation with a group of people from Rome and there’s a lull, try asking them how many whole eggs vs egg yolks you need to make carbonara for four people. Assuming you have an hour free for the ensuing discussions, that is.
  • Zucchini “carbonara”: I learned this from a friend in Florence who cooked it for an easy Sunday lunch once. (Ugh, I know, that sounds like something you’d read in a tedious food memoir, but it really happened.) Thin slices of zucchini, cook in olive oil until soft. Meanwhile, cook your pasta. Toss everything together along with eggs and cheese like you would a carbonara, add fresh parsley and black pepper. (Here is a fancier recipe for basically the same thing; in English.)
  • Potato pasta: This isn’t as quick as the others, but I’m reasonably likely to have all the ingredients on hand and it involves double carbs, which endears it to me forever. I do something in between this recipe (in English) and this recipe (in Italian) except I’m lazy about washing up so I do it as a one-pot dish: cook the potatoes until they’re just at the point where you can stick a fork through them, then add the pasta and a bit of hot water/stock to the same pot, stir occasionally and/or add more water as needed until the pasta’s cooked. (It will take longer than the cooking time given on the pasta packet.)

What’s your favourite easy recipe?