Category Archives: Italy

A photo a day in December: days 16-20

Click on any photo to enlarge

I’m currently sitting in Malpensa airport, where I arrived ridiculously far in advance of my flight. (Thanks to the bus times, it was that or a nerve-wrackingly tight schedule.) At least it means I get time to post my next five photos…

  • A bookshop which I have never actually been into but whose window I admire all the time;
  • There’s a boring and obvious joke to be made here about “I took a self portrait!!!” which I am not too dignified to make;
  • The view from the bus window this morning — I am so glad to be going to Australia and summer;
  • Cool architecture at the back of the Ospedale Oftalmico;
  • The river Po on Sunday afternoon in the sunshine and haze.

PS: You can check out my other posts from the challenge here

Taxidermy boar wearing sunglasses

I went to Salone del Gusto and the only photo I got was this taxidermy boar wearing sunglasses. (I am such a bad blogger.)

My extremely glamorous expat life right now is more like my extremely busy life, so it might be a while before I write a coherent narrative blogpost again. Also, I am a terrible blogger anyway — Thursday evening I spent a couple of hours wandering through Salone del Gusto, an internationally-famous food show (aka obviously a good blog topic, slap bang in the middle of my “Turin life/food/things I do as an expat but wouldn’t have done back in Australia” niche) but I was too focused on free samples of cheese and booze to take any notes or photos for a blog post.

(I wrote about Salone 2 years ago, but this year they’ve moved it from the ugly horrible exhibition centre in Lingotto to outdoors in the centre of Turin, which is definitely a nicer setting. If you’re in Turin this weekend, you should go!)

For now, some notes on the rest of my life…

While every season is food season in Italy, autumn is even more food season. A couple of Sundays ago was our traditional pilgrimage to Asti for the Festival delle Sagre, a huge festival of Piedmontese food. Imagine an open space dotted with stalls, each representing a village in the area and selling one or two of that village’s specialties, plus wine at 50 cents/glass. And then throw in a Ferris wheel (why not), folk dancing demonstrations, and thousands of happy Italians with paper plates in their hands and wine in tumblers in holders around their necks.

WINE HOLDER

WINE HOLDER. Genius.

This is the third year in a row I’ve been. Traditions have started to form, like starting the trip with friciula (fresh fried bread-y-pastry-y with lardo) from Mombercelli. “You reckon the friciula stand is in the same place this year?” “Come on, what do you think? We’re in Piemonte.”

(The friciula stand is near the centre of the festival grounds, as it always has been and always will be.)

Meanwhile, Facebook’s On This Day strikes again: a couple of days after the festival it reminded me of photos from the first time I went, 2 years ago. Of the group that went then, only 2 of us were there this year, because everyone else has since left the country. (Come back guys!!)


Two weeks ago, I had the bright idea to get back into running for stress-relief. No tracking distances or times, no pushing myself, just getting out there in the autumn evenings for fresh air and feeling less like a brain in a jar.

In those two weeks, I have already started noting distances run, decided it would be cool to work up to running 10 km comfortably in time for my birthday in November, and googled a bunch of 10k training plans… ZOE, NO.


But maybe I am getting better at relaxing? Earlier this month I went to the beach with some friends and actually enjoyed it rather than getting there, going for a swim, then drying off and going “uh, can we go do smething now?”

Beach near Finale Liguria

Possibly the secret was that these friends have two small children and I can attest the beach is much more fun if it’s socially acceptable for you to build over-engineered sand castles and collect a lifetime supply of mildy-interesting rocks. (Oh wow, that is a brown rock, isn’t it? Shall I put it with the other brown ones?)

(Practical note for future reference: we went to the private beach of Hotel del Golfo in Finale Liguria — the big advantage being that you can throw money at your problems and pay for parking, rather than drive up and down the Ligurian coast for hours looking for a spot. There’s a patch of public sand on the same beach as the private section, so you don’t actually have to pay for a chair if you prefer to bring your own. Parking/beach use is open to non-guests according to availability.)

Postcard from Gran Bosco di Salbertrand: a human landscape in the Alps

(Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)

I’d only been back in Turin a few days before I realized I needed to get out and walk… again. So last Saturday, a few of us took the train up to Parco Naturale del Gran Bosco di Salbertrand in Susa Valley.

This was the first time I’d organized a hike myself, and I’d been careful about choosing a nice route for the group: it featured a rifugio near the top, and several options so we could take the less steep path on the way down to save our knees and ankles. Unfortunately my map didn’t have full topographic information and it turns out that just because a path is twice as long, it doesn’t have to be half as steep a descent. It can be gently uphill for a substantial distance and then drop precipitously into the valley on a track covered in pine cones that act as rollers under your feet. (Sorry guys!!!)

When we weren’t slipping and sliding and cursing our way down the side of Susa Valley, we had a walk through a pine forest in the morning light, past old stone walls and ruins of buildings that we debated about (were they houses, or cow sheds, or..?). We picked lavender and mint that was growing beside the path. We saw cows — and a marmot, who was sadly uninterested in B’s offer of lifelong friendship. It was a very human landscape, with all its signs of human history — apparently, timber from these woods was used in the construction of the Superga Basilica in Turin. It was also a very modern human landscape, with the constant hum of the highway below us.

We got back to Turin that evening tired and hungry and coated with a fine layer of dust.

PS: More postcards from


Practical information for future reference: You can get to Gran Bosco di Salbertrand without a car — take the train from Turin to Salbertrand (altitude 1000m) on the Bardonecchia line, it runs hourly, takes about an hour and costs 5.75 euro each way. From there, there are all sorts of walks you can take. I used this map, be warned that although it gives altitudes of landmarks it doesn’t have contour lines. We took the GTA route up to Rifugio Daniel Arlaud (altitude 1770m) and then on to Le Selle (altitude 2000m), which is a cluster of agricultural buildings, but also a great viewpoint for the valley. We followed the (closed to cars) road down and then took route 2, which was very steep and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you enjoy that sort of thing.

It was quite dry in late August, and if I did this walk again I’d do it earlier in the summer with the hope of seeing green meadows rather than brown. (It was also quite warm, but much of the route is shaded.)

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.

Postcard from Monte Galero

(Click on any photo to enlarge)

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.

PS: See more postcards from…

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.)

PS: See more postcards from…

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?

 

The River Dora, Turin

Green grass and pots of ragù and day-to-day life.

It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve had lots of ideas for blog posts and nowhere near enough time or energy to turn any of them into reality. So this week will truly be a collection of snippets…


I often feel odd writing about the truly day-to-day stuff of living in Italy, especially since I know many of my friends here read this blog (hi guys!) and I can imagine them rolling their eyes and saying, “yeah, we know how to buy bread, duh.” But of course many of you don’t live here (why ever not??) so one of these days I should write a post about the process of getting a haircut when you don’t really speak Italian very well and the stylist doesn’t really care what you ask for anyway, because it’s fairly hilarious.

Also, a question for those of you who are better at Being an Adult than I am: do you trim your own fringe (bangs)? I do, because it feels silly to pay someone else to do it when I am in possession of a pair of scissors, a bathroom mirror, and only slightly below-average fine motor skills, but does this make me uncouth?


Last week was the Jazz Festival, and like I do every year, I fully intended to go to many concerts and ended up going to one. Or, half of one. I had a couple of house guests and we’d agreed to meet up Friday night at the free concert on Piazza Castello. The music was great, but after about 15 minutes, V. turned to me and said, “You know, this is really the sort of music you should listen to sitting down, with a glass of wine in your hand” — miming holding a stemmed glass — “not standing out here in the cold.”

So 10 minutes later the three of us decided to go back to my place and drink wine, instead.

(This is how many of my attempts at cultural experiences end up.)


My grand — and possibly only — achievement this weekend: I made a big pot of ragù and filled up a collection of freezer tubs so Future Me can eat nutritious food even when she can’t be bothered cooking. (Future Me is always so needy, geez.) I used this recipe (in Italian), because I was intrigued by the inclusion of milk and the use of white wine — I think I like it! And not just because I’ve got enough of the stuff to feed me for weeks…

Actually, the best achievement wasn’t making the ragù, it was realizing that I could roughly chop the carrot/celery/onion, and then throw it in the food processor to get a fine dice. I think this is something people who cook have known about since approximately the invention of food processors, but as a not-very-Adult person who trims her own fringe and doesn’t own a proper kitchen knife, this is a revelation.


If you’re friends with me on Facebook you’ve already been subjected to this joke but:

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What, by driving a truck?


Finally, a question for locals — has this Spring been more green than last year, or am I imagining it? Somehow, last year was all about the blue of the sky, but this year I have become very aware of the green of the leaves of the plane trees visible in my bedroom window, and the grass as I walk through Giardini Reali or along the Dora river.

My two guesses at rational explanations are: 1. I really am imagining it; and 2. there was so little rain last year things were actually less green. Any other suggestions?

Hills in Barolo

Wine and pancakes and sandwiches.

So besides winning the War on Pigeons (I am still proud of myself), what have I been up to recently..?

  • Went wine tasting a couple of weeks ago with some friends on a gorgeous Spring afternoon. Rolling hills, rows of vines, magic light as the sun got lower. I hadn’t realized how much I’d needed to get out of the city until I squatted, absentmindedly patting a friendly farm dog, my eyes drinking in the open space in front of me. Turin is a beautiful city, but sometimes you need a distant horizon.
  • (You’ll notice that’s a description of wine tasting that doesn’t say anything about wine. That’s because the current status of my sense of smell is that a lot of red wines are very pleasant to me, and I could even tell the ones we tried were better than my usual “what’s on special at Da Marco?” bottles, but the only note I can positively identify is the smell of olives. Which I smell in every red wine. Pretty sure a basic requirement for sommeliers is being able to distinguish the scent of wine from olive oil.)
  • My friend C. and I tried to go out for brunch one Saturday, but brunch isn’t really a familiar concept here. “How about we host our own pancake brunch on the Monday public holiday?” I said. So we sent out a group message and got a handful of people saying they’d come.

    “But you’d think the idea would be more popular!” she said… so we went on a bit of an invitation spree at church and suddenly we were spending the Sunday afternoon thinking about what we’d do if the number of people coming greatly outnumbered the number of chairs in my apartment.

    In the end, we made pancakes for 15 people (only 3 in excess of the number of seats!), using 5 batches of this recipe which is the best (I know 3.5 tsp of baking powder sounds ridiculous, but it works! and you can’t taste it). We had a lovely brunch/afternoon of sitting around chatting with old friends and new. I even busted out my emergency Tim Tams later in the day, which is a sure sign of a good party.

    After everyone left, we spied the dregs of a bottle of sparkling wine, and toasted our brunch-hosting success. (Moral of the story: always host parties with C!)

  • Was at dinner on Saturday night with another friend A., and partway through a couple sat down at a table near us. The woman was so! familiar! I spent the rest of the meal wracking my brains, How do I know that woman? Should I go over and say hi? On the bus ride home, Does she live in my building? Or maybe she’s a friend of a friend? I’m sure I know her, I hope she didn’t see me and think I was blanking her. Finally, as I was lying in bed… Oh that’s it! She works in one of the lunch places near my work. So probably a good thing I didn’t go and say hi, since the full extent of our prior contact is “Prendo un panino” and “3 euro 50”.
The Alps from a plane window

Sometimes travel days are their own stories.

Hello from Baltimore!

I’ve been here since Saturday night, for a work junket conference, and I will write something about the place, I promise! But for now, I have enough to say just about the trip over here…

Let’s start with a moment of triumph that will make sense to everyone who’s ever had to get by in a language they’re less-than-fluent in. Normally, when I check in for a flight in Italy, what happens is I say “Buongiorno”, hand over my non-Italian passport, and the person working at the desk replies, “And what is your final destination today ma’am?” But on Saturday, something different happened, for the first time ever: the check-in guy asked if it were ok to speak Italian, I said, “ok”, and off we went.

That sounds like the dumbest moment of triumph when I write it down (and there’s no shortage of Italian people who have done business transactions in English while in Australia!) But considering how often I’ve encountered Italian customer service people who switch to English because of my Australian accent, I’m going to assume I said buongiorno really really well that day.

After that minor ego-boost of a start to the day, the flight looked like it might be a disaster. It was a day time transatlantic flight, I was surrounded by a group of early-20s guys going on a trip to Miami, and American Airlines seemed to think it was ok to put us all on a plane without any personal entertainment systems to keep these early-20s guys occupied. (90’s time warp!) The main screen was showing The Good Dinosaur, to which they said various things that helped me expand my vocabulary of Italian swear words.

But American Airlines had one secret weapon: a 60-ish Italian guy working in the cabin crew, who managed to charm every single Italian person on the flight. He had the kids giving him hi-5s, the adults chuckling at his commentary on the American food on board, and the guys around me absolutely entranced — by doing card tricks and cup-and-ball tricks and making napkins appear from their ears. I wish I had thought to get a photo of these guys, wide-eyed and leaning out of their seats to see which card would appear. It was brilliant.

Landing in Miami, passport control was barely-contained madness. The US now has automatic passport reading machines. Like the rest of the world! Except, unlike the rest of the world, everyone — US citizens, too — has to go through the machine and then line up to talk to a person like they’ve always had to. No-one I spoke to had an explanation of how this was going to make Immigration run faster.

Also slightly inexplicable: when I finally did get to an Immigration officer, he and I ended up having a great old chat about a documentary he’d watched about the physics of light and general relativity — never mind the hundreds of people waiting in line behind me. What was confusing though is that I’ve never ever encountered a friendly Immigration officer anywhere in the world, especially not in the US, which made me suspicious the whole thing was an attempt to poke holes in my claim I was going to a physics conference. Never in my life have I so nervously said, “Yeah, general relativity is really fascinating, isn’t it?”