Category Archives: Italy

Snow in Giardino Aiuola Balbo, Turin

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: Let it snow

It has been an extremely, ridiculously mild winter here this year, with blue skies and daytime temperatures often getting into the teens. (Celcius, I mean. That’s how mild it is.) The other day, I got gelato on my way home from work and ate it standing in the sun, thinking, Is this really February?

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I also sent this picture to various friends, saying, “I’m eating gelato, what did you achieve today?” because I am a terrible person.

So I was as taken aback as everyone else in Turin when I woke up on Saturday morning and saw white fluffy flakes falling, the first snow in the city this winter.

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I’m not normally much of a fan of snow. It’s cold, it’s wet, and if you think Perth drivers are useless in the rain you should see how people drive in the snow. But I needed to go to the pharmacy anyway, so I pulled on a woolly hat and my warm coat and took a walk through the city centre.

When it’s a late winter Saturday one-off, it’s harder to be cynical about snow. The buildings and statues look statelier. The dusting of white brings out the form of the bare trees. The snow on the ground makes everything look brighter even when it’s overcast. And on a Saturday morning, I wasn’t the only one enjoying the snow — the parks had plenty of delighted dogs running around wondering what had happened to make the ground so much fun all of a sudden.

As I walked, the clouds lowered and the snow fell harder and I brushed the snow off my arms as I went. By the time I got to the river Po almost the whole scene was grey and white.

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And then by lunch time it had turned to rain, and by evening you wouldn’t know that it had snowed at all.

Bridge over the River Po, Turin, Italy

A bridge day.

I wish I were writing about a day where I completed some kind of bridge-related challenge, like to visit every bridge (the water-crossing type) in Torino or learn to play bridge (the card game type). But I’m afraid this is more mundane.

Tomorrow is a public holiday here in Italy. As many Italian people have told me — with pride or shame depending on their temperament — the Italian tradition with Tuesday and Thursday public holidays is to take the Monday/Friday off too, to make a four-day weekend. Many people I speak to are surprised that this seems completely normal to me and that many people in Australia do the same thing. They seem to think it’s a uniquely Italian tradition, that shows how clever/lazy (again depending on the speaker’s temperament) the Italian people are.

But the Italians do have one advantage over the Australians, which is that they have a word for this: ponte, literally, “bridge”.

This year, I decided to take a bridge day myself. Well, I called it a “work from home day”, to try and keep the hard-working-Anglo-Saxon myth alive, and I did indeed do an entire half-hour of work. But my main goal for the day was actually to pay my garbage collection bill.

Last year, I discovered that everyone in Torino has this bill due on the same day, and my bank account is somehow set up so I can’t pay it online. Last year, I spent a good three hours at the post office on the day it was due, waiting for my turn to pay it along with all the pensioners who didn’t use online bill paying either. This year, I was going to be smart and pay a few days in advance, and my bridge day seemed like a good opportunity.

I got off to a good start, going to the local post office in the morning, with several hours to spare before it closed. It wasn’t too busy, which was a pleasant surprise, and I figured I’d even get some grocery shopping done before coming home for lunch.

Until  I discovered that my local post office, which looks exactly like a post office outside and in, down to the surly staff, and which offers various bill-paying services, is not a post office for the purpose of being able to pay one’s garbage collection bill.

“You’ll have to go to the office on via Bologna,” the lady at the counter told me.

After some lunch I decided to try again. Getting this bill paid was my one goal for the day, and even if I’d bought groceries and mopped the kitchen floor (for the first time in… ah, never mind) I’d still feel a bit like I’d wasted a day if I ended up having to miss more work to get this bill paid. So I headed to the central post office, which is one of the few that are open until the evening.

In the end, it was mostly painless. One hour in line (not bad!) and I kept myself amused by tallying the people who, among the fifty or so in the hall, weren’t wearing black, blue or grey coats:

  • The lady with the gorgeously structured cherry-red felt coat. I imagined if she were my friend I’d be calling her regularly for fashion advice.
  • The man with greying curly hair, in an olive green puffy jacket and complementary green-grey trainers.
  • The twenty-ish woman with her head shaved on one side who wore a zebra-print hoodie.
  • The small girl in a bright purple jacket and pink beanie, who toddled around and around the room, followed by her mother or father who were taking turns on toddler-chasing duty, until she wore herself out and fell asleep on her mum’s lap.


Postcard from Cinque Terre


It’s a crazy busy couple of weeks right now so no “real” blog post from me, but here’s a photo from the calm in the eye of the storm, when I spent the weekend on the Ligurian coast with a friend from highschool. Great times catching up and a lovely morning walk in Cinque Terre, with this view down past the vineyards to Vernazza.

PS: See more postcards from…

Beach in Gallipoli, Puglia

Gallipoli, Puglia. (No, not that Gallipoli. That one’s in Turkey.)

True confessions time: when people ask me if I’m travelling with someone else, I always say something vague and polite about “Oh I don’t know anyone on the same schedule as me” but what  I really mean is, “I love travelling alone and I’ve sort of forgotten how to travel with other people anyway.”

But travelling to Lecce and the surrounding region with B. was great fun. It helped that we had a logical division of labour — she has the history knowledge to make sense of the places we saw, I have enough Italian to translate informational plaques about them. Or this sign at an altar in the basilica at Gallipoli, clearly posted by someone who’s Had It With These Tourists:


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Old men on plastic chairs in Lecce, Puglia

A chat on a train ride across Italy.

An overnight train ride to Lecce, down in the heel of the boot of Italy, the diagonally opposite corner of Italy to Turin. Going to sleep in the south of Piemonte after watching the sun set over cornfields and rolling hills, waking up in Puglia. Red dirt, dry grass, ancient olive trees. “The light really is different here, isn’t it?” says the Pugliese woman we’re sharing a couchette with. She’s right. The sky is blue, blue like it is in Australia, and the light is clear.

Her husband, also in the couchette, is a gentleman, not letting me put my bag up in the rack myself even when I insist it’s not heavy. He tells us about how his whole family has been up in Turin for his son’s wedding. His nephew and the nephew’s wife are in the next carriage and they pop in for a chat. “What’s going on?” asks the conductor as he walks past this little gathering hanging around the door of the couchette. The nephew grins. “Oh, just a family reunion!”

As we roll through Puglia in the morning, we chat about the usual Italian things — food (we should definitely eat orecchiette), and history. The gentleman has studied archeology, and he tells us about all the influences that have gone into this corner of the world, not just the Romans and the Greeks but also the Carthaginians and the Normans and even some Germans. Later that week we’ll see in a museum some of the artifacts found from these powers but for now I can feel the sense of history rolling as invaders come and go.

At last we can see the sea, deep blue behind the rows of olives. We’re getting close to Lecce. “The sea so close makes the weather much nicer here than in Torino,” says the woman.
“Ugh, yes, it always stays hot in Torino, even at night…” I reply. “We’re from the coast, too, in Australia.”
“Australia! That’s a long way to travel.”
“I’d love to go to Australia,” adds her husband.
“Yes dear,” she says to him. She adds to us, laughing, “Listen to him, he wants to go to Australia. He won’t even take me to Venice!”

PS: It’s almost exactly a year ago I wrote a little blurb about cyclists in Turin and decided to stick it on a blog since it was a bit long for facebook. A post (roughly) per week later, and now my friends introduce me as, “This is Zoe, she has a blog” (?!) Thanks for reading, commenting, and generally encouraging this little project!

PPS: I love the guys in the photo for this post, clearly if the piazza doesn’t have enough seating the correct solution is to byo plastic chairs!

Lake Como at sunset

Hiding under the airconditioning at Lake Como

It is hotttttt in most of Europe right now, and northern Italy is no exception. I spent the past week in Como, at a fantastic conference, but based on the following I think I need to up my hot weather game…

  1. I muttered several times over the week “It’s hot in the worm, Bernard”, which, a) no-one here gets the reference and b) it’s not even from the summer episode of Black Books.
  2. Last weekend, before I left Turin, I spent a hot and humid morning bussing out to Grugliasco to buy some bathers at Decathlon, the sports & outdoors superstore. My reasoning for going so far afield was sound enough: there might be a chance of swimming during a week next to a lake, and I wanted bathers that were sporty rather than string-based. Except the selection of bathers at Decathlon was only marginally less infuriating than at every other store in Torino. And I spent the whole week in Como itself, where the water is un-swimmably murky with duck poo.
  3. Actually, I spent the whole week in Como itself… except for a quick trip one evening over to Lugano, where there is a small swimming beach in the city park on the lake. I did not take my bathers.
  4. From my hotel to the conference venue was a 20 minute walk along the lake front. Lovely views, historical villas, just what you want to wake yourself up in the morning before a day of sitting listening to talks. Clearly the one thing I need to add to this was a heavy backpack with my ridiculous work laptop — the specs are amazing but the power adapter alone weighs as much as some laptops. What did I use all this computing power for? Most days, it stayed in my bag.
  5. Smart things to pack for a week of hot weather: a sun hat, light-weight shirts in pale colours, a decent sized water bottle. Things I packed: none of the above, and a pair of trousers and a cardigan I never wore.
  6. There are good drinks for drinking out on a piazza on a summer evening, like beer and spritz. Or, you could drink negronis and get up from bed every 3 hours to pee from the alcohol.
  7. One thing I did right: slept with the aircon on in my hotel room on Thursday night. Not strictly necessary, definitely environmentally terrible… oh my goodness it was amazing. It’s a good thing I don’t have airconditioning at home, because nothing else would stop me from doing it again.

I’m posting a day early because tomorrow I’m off to the south of Italy with a friend from Australia. And if the weather forecast on google is to be believed, I will actually be escaping the heat, at least by a couple of degrees. Thank goodness.

Street art in Turin, Italy

Things I have witnessed since moving to Turin.

This afternoon, I’m leaving on a work trip to Lake Como (sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your career, you know?) so just a quick listicle type post for today.

Some of the more notable things I’ve seen in Turin:

  • The other day, 4 people in period costume were leaving Porta Nuova metro station the same time as me. One of the women was wearing a skirt with a bustle and she had to turn sideways to get through the fare gate. As I got to street level, I discovered they were part of a parade.
    Those skirts weren't designed with metro turnstiles in mind.

    Those skirts weren’t designed with metro turnstiles in mind.

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Cup of espresso

How I quit coffee… and why I’m un-quitting it

It’s a very First World Problem, isn’t it? “I love coffee so much… but I’m sure it’s not healthy to drink as much as I do… oh, but the coffee from the place near my work, it’s so good, how can I say no?” Or, “how can I do anything this morning until I’ve had my coffee?” she says, as she pours herself a double-shot from the coffee maker at work. (She says, she pours? Haha who am I kidding, I mean “I say, I pour”.) Continue reading

Avigliana, near Turin

Visiting small town Italy: Avigliana

I suspect my whole personality can be captured by this statement: on Friday night, I left the party early making vague excuses about being too old to go dancing at the newly re-opened club “Giancarlo”, then on Saturday I went for a quiet stroll around Avigliana.

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