Tag Archives: autumn

Postcard from Dijon

(Click on any photo to enlarge.)

I was in Dijon in October for a conference. All I knew about the city before I went was the story from some friends about how they’d been on a roadtrip in France and ended up spending the night in a cheap hotel on the outskirts of Dijon, where instead of a reception desk you were supposed to collect your keys via some kind of vending machine arrangement(!) and the room had bunk beds(!!) (If I’m remembering their stories correctly, this was also the trip they camped on the nature strip in a supermarket carpark in the north of France, so their time in Dijon was actually pretty luxurious.)

While it’s fair to say I went to Dijon with zero expectations, what I discovered there was a fascinating mix of gothic and renaissance buildings. And unlike many towns where the historical centre is a few streets surrounded by 1960s concrete blocks, Dijon came through WW2 with little damage to its buildings and the centre is large and well-preserved, perfect for wandering around on a sunny autumn afternoon.

PS: More postcards from


Practical information for future reference: Dijon is 2 hours by regional train from Lyon, which is a major transport hub (from Turin I travelled via Lyon), or 1.5 hours by TGV from Paris.

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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.)

Apparently I do nothing with my free time but eat. I see nothing wrong with that.

My clothing choices the past couple of days have been determined entirely by “what options do I have that involve elastic waistbands”. Probably because since Thursday, I’ve done nothing but eat…

  • Thanksgiving. In this case, a Friendsgiving, or more accurately, a Bring-A-Friendsgiving, which ended up being 30 people. I have no idea how anyone puts on dinner for 30 people. I say this even after being a last-minute rope-in kitchen hand and seeing the process in person. In fact, I think I have even less of an idea now than I did before. As far as I can tell, it involves some awe-inspiring advance preparation, a great deal of teamwork on the night, and probably some miracles. (And, let’s face it, a good bit of running around like a headless chook.)
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    So. Much. Apple pie.

    Somehow in between all the running around, I managed to eat a vast quantity of turkey and stuffing and green bean casserole (green bean casserole 4EVA) and sweet potato casserole and apple pie and pumpkin pie. And then took leftovers home for Friday. Yessssss.

  • Bicerin for Saturday lunch. Bicerin is a traditional Torinese hot drink that borders on a dessert: a layer of espresso under a layer of thick drinking chocolate under a layer of cream. Traditionally, you don’t stir these layers together and the drink evolves as you go along, going from the milky top layer to the slightly sweet chocolate layer to the final kick of the espresso. It’s rich and warming and perfect for late November, but there’s probably a reason most people wouldn’t consider it to be a lunch in itself. I REGRET NOTHING.
  • Bagna Cauda. The Piedmontese dish you either love or you hate — the divisiveness coming from the fact that it’s a sauce made of garlic and anchovies, served with raw vegetables. I’m on team “love it”. 

    It’s a very traditional dish, so much so that the regional government of Piedmont has an info sheet about it (in Italian). The vegetable choices are also dictated by tradition, and it turns out that if you’re in a vegetable market holding a bag of celery and a bag of cardi and you’re buying a bag of jerusalem artichokes, the stallholder will chuckle and say, “I see you’re making bagna cauda.”

    In case you’re thinking Garlic and raw vegetables sounds healthy, I will also point out that we had five different desserts, which is my favourite side-effect of going to a group dinner with people who all feel they ought to bring something to share.

    (This weekend I learned the English for cardi is “cardoons”, but I refuse to believe that’s a real word and will continue borrowing the Italian. I know I have rolled my eyes in the past at people who insist on borrowing words when English ones exist, but come on. “Cardoon”?)

Sheep in Parco Coletta, Turin

Notes from my extremely glamorous life

  • I went for a walk yesterday afternoon, along the Dora up to Parco Colletta. The sheep are out grazing there at the moment. Apparently there’s an arrangement where local farmers can graze their sheep in the park, which seems to me like an arrangement that is both extremely practical and extremely delightful. The sheep were completely unperturbed by nearby picnickers making the most of another unseasonably warm day.
  • The unseasonably warm weather means it’s still well and truly gelato season, which meant that I got to introduce my visiting friend H. to the joys of La Romana. She was impressed. She also got an introduction to panettone, which is starting to appear in the shops as Christmas approaches. This was less impressive. (“A hot cross bun in giant form,” which is fair enough.)
  • I don’t get so many full-scale cultural surprises these days — even when Italian people do something I think is a bit odd, I can usually fit it into my mental picture of what Italian culture is like. But this week I had a proper woah no that’s crazy moment, this time involving German culture.You see, apparently in Germany it’s common to use two separate single duvets on a double bed, so each person gets one to themselves.

    I guess if you’re German this is perfectly reasonable practice. It certainly seemed that way to my German friend S., who had casually mentioned a friend of hers being surprised by a shared duvet in Italy.

    But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only non-German to be really taken aback by the idea. Actually, I know I’m not the only one, because poor S. got bombarded with responses ranging from “No come on, you’re pulling my leg” through to, “Can you even be actually married if you don’t share a duvet with your spouse?!” (Along with some Australian side discussion of, “Wait, do you actually call it a duvet?” “No, it’s a doona, obviously.” “Ok good.”)

    And then some googling revealed a comment from a German guy who pointed out that separate blankets allow you to fart in bed more discretely, and the conversation went downhill from there…

Postcard from Cinque Terre

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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…

Cows in central Turin

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: Surprise cows! edition

Torino remains delightfully odd at times. On Saturday I was walking towards Piazza Castello when I heard a loud clanging at the top of the hill. What on earth…? It was a parade. With cows.

In other news from my extremely glamorous life:

  1. It’s been warm enough recently that gelato still seems like a reasonable idea even without my autumn resolutions. I had some yesterday. I’m pretty sure the serving sizes get bigger as the number of customers drops. At least, I felt like I was eating this cone of gelato for a loooong time (yay!) and was totally sugared-out afterwards (boo!)
  2. A non-grumpy hot beverage review: I can taste lemon & ginger tea!!! Am resisting the urge to stockpile.
  3. Daylight savings ended here yesterday, and I’m trying to make the most of the few days where that means “yay sunshine in the morning again” before the winter darkness sets in properly. Mind you, when I say “make the most of it”, I mean, “lie in bed and think isn’t it nice that it’s light outside, but I still don’t wanna get up.”
  4. On the other hand, the sun setting earlier means I get to watch the sun go down over the Alps every afternoon from my desk. Today my view was of a pale pink-orange sky marbled with clouds, softened by the haze, with a sharp silhouette of the mountains in dark grey beneath.
  5. I was struck by an apple-pie making mood last week, which made me roll my eyes slightly at how ~*seasonally appropriate*~ I was being, but it did lead me to discovering this recipe, which if were better at handling pastry would probably be perfect. As it was, it was only slightly structurally unsound and it only almost collapsed under its own weight and only a little bit of the pie ended up all over the table when it came time to serve it up, so I’ll call it a win overall.

A perfect Perth winter day, in Torino

Winter barefoot walks FTW!
Photo credit: “Winter barefoot walks FTW!” by Simon Wright, via Flickr

Today was one of those Torino autumn days that felt like a perfect Perth winter day — blue skies, chilly in the morning, but warm enough under the midday sun eat lunch outside and not need a jacket. In Perth, I’d have gone for a walk on the beach on a day like today, and come away with wild hair from the buffeting wind. Here, I caught glimpses of the sun setting behind the mountains as I walked through the meadows in Parco Colletta, and got grass seeds stuck in my socks.

It occurs to me I haven’t been in Perth in winter for 5 years now, and on days like today that feels like a long time. I miss Perth. Not just the people, who I miss frequently (and do a terrible job of keeping in touch with!) But the geography, too. The open space and wide empty streets, single-storey houses on quater-acre blocks. The way the city is flat, until you notice the undulations of the sand dunes it’s built upon. The route from my old place to work, cycling through bushland just a couple of kilometres from the city centre. The Swan River, or rather, just “the river”, as if you needed any other rivers in the world.

And other days I miss Glasgow, and other days I miss the tiny wheat and sheep farming town I lived in as a kid, and other days I miss the months I spent in Florence. Probably one day I’ll be living somewhere else again, and missing Torino.

We were talking over dinner the other night about the idea of being “from” somewhere. Like, can you be from somewhere if your parents weren’t from there? In Australia, yes, but that’s not universal. And I was thinking afterwards about how I’d never thought about being from somewhere until I lived in Glasgow for a year and realized that Britishness was something I recognized if I squinted and held my head at a funny angle, but it wasn’t my culture, and the city was lively and Scotland was beautiful, but it wasn’t my place.

Because my culture is Australian, and my place is Perth.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Zoe, from Australia.”
“Oh? Where in Australia are you from?”
“Perth, it’s on the west coast.”
(That last statement delivered almost as a question, because I will never completely lose my Australian habit of upward inflection.)

Canal near Chivasso, Italy

Autumn resolutions list

Last week was blessed with plenty of perfect late summer/early autumn weather, with warm-but-not-hot days and brisk nights, and long afternoons with melancholy light. I had to travel to Milan for work twice, and both days I couldn’t stop staring at the view from the train window across the fields of eastern Piemonte and to the alps, which are still bare of snow this early in the year. These are the sorts of days I think of when you say autumn, which feels a bit silly because autumn here is mostly overcast days and drizzle. But even if my ideas of autumn are more often ideals than reality, I do love the season, especially in these early days before the winter darkness gets too close.

Here are some things I would like to do this year (this list is short partly to keep things achievable and partly because a good chunk of the weekend time I’d usually spend on planning/writing a blog post was spent on working on items 1 and 2 — at least I’m getting started on my resolutions early!):

  1. Continue eating gelato regularly until it gets too cold to reasonably stand around outside with a cup of frozen stuff in my hands. Once it stops being so hot I need gelato, I have a terrible tendency to forget about it, which is daft.
  2. Find a tea and/or tisane I like. More to the point: find a tea I can smell well enough that it doesn’t feel like drinking hot water. Experiments so far suggest fruity tisanes work, but I would love to find a more traditional tea.
  3. Get out of Torino at least on a day trip at some point. Maybe go for a walk somewhere? Go to Liguria and enjoy the beach without the crowds?
  4. Collect and press some leaves.
  5. Work on my stew/casserole skills. I don’t have a good go-to stew recipe, and it will be a challenge to find one without onions, but there must be something out there!

(I’m impressed with myself: only 60% of my ideas about autumn revolve around food, if you take this list as representative. I would have imagined more like 90%.)

Giardini Reali, Turin, in autumn

Our weird cultural notions, or: Why does Zoe have a cold?

Autumn is slipping past and winter is rolling in; the cover photo of this post is from only a couple of weeks ago and already the trees have lost almost all those leaves.

Late autumn brings good things, like excuses for hot chocolate, and — for my American friends — Thanksgiving, the one American cultural tradition that doesn’t seem to have been imported by the rest of the world. Seriously — why not?? It’s a holiday where you eat yourself stupid and don’t have to go shopping for presents for everyone! ie: The best idea ever. To be fair, by definition I’ve only ever been to “friendsgiving”, which you do with people you choose, rather than as a rellie-bash, so that is probably giving me a rosy perspective on the whole thing.

Also, I didn’t really intend for this to be a post about Thanksgiving, but I feel I should put this on the record: Green bean casserole. Sounds like it would be gross, is actually delicious.

Back on the topic of autum — it also brings the dreaded cold and flu season, and I’ve spent a good chunk of the weekend moping around at home with a cough (which seems to be getting better, thankfully!). How did I catch a cold? Well, the culture I grew up in in Australia tells me it’s from being close to other people who had the virus already. But I’m in Italy now, and if I really want to culturally assimilate, I’m going to have to consider some other possibilities. Like — and these are all things I’ve heard, from people from around Europe:

  1. It was cold and/or wet outside.
  2. I went out with wet hair.
  3. I went to bed with wet hair.
  4. I wasn’t wearing a scarf.
  5. I wasn’t wearing a warm enough jacket.
  6. I was cycling and ended up getting too hot, and my sweat gave me a chill.
  7. I didn’t change out of wet clothes quickly enough after being caught in rain.
  8. Only relevant in summer, but possibly I was exposed to too much airconditioning.
  9. Or any airconditioning, really. Can’t be too careful.
  10. Maybe I sat on a cold surface too long.

Yes, I have been known to say to people, “have you heard of the germ theory of disease? It’s been quite fashionable since, oh, the 17th century.”

This is absolutely not to say “haha, those crazy Europeans with their weird cultural notions”. Partly because I have become a total convert to the scarf theory of cold and flu prevention. I am wearing a scarf right now and I swear it will make my cough go away faster, do not ask me how.

And partly because I have odd cultural notions of my own: alternating too much between hot and cold air will make you sick; drinking a slightly nasty concoction of lemon, garlic, honey and hot water will cure your cold; sugar in any form (except, somehow, the aforementioned honey) will make a sore throat worse; sitting on that cold floor will give you piles, for sure.

So I will wrap my scarf a bit tighter and make another cup of lemon-garlic-honey tea. And maybe not wash my hair until I have a chance to dry it properly — you never know…

My third Christmas cake in 12 months.

I’ve made a couple of Christmas cakes since I’ve been in Torino. The first was last Christmas. I wanted a hands-on project to take my mind off a busy period at work — Christmas was approaching and it seemed a good idea to make something “from home” to share with my friends here, so I emailed my mum who very kindly sent me her recipe. (In contrast, the week of Christmas, I was in Australia and tried to oh-so-casually ask my Oma about her famous Christmas pudding recipe, but no dice. Every thing else she’s ever cooked, she’ll happily write out for me in her immaculate European handwriting, but that Christmas pudding is going to the grave with her.)

Last Christmas’ cake worked out pretty well, especially considering I couldn’t find all the right dried fruits. So when summer rolled along and some friends and I decided to have a Christmas-in-July party, I decided a second cake was in order. The idea of the party was to have an Australian-style Christmas while the weather here suited it, for the benefit of the poor lost Europeans who have such bewildering ideas like “Christmas is a winter festival”. So I made a more Australian-style cake, swapping in glace ginger for some of the dried fruit, another trick I’d learned from my mum. I wasn’t as happy with that cake as the first one — I should have tweaked the alcohol choice to match the ginger — but it was still a good summer picnic cake to take hiking and even to carry across to Slovenia with me on my vacation.

So it’s inevitable: now it’s chilly in the mornings and they’ve put the Christmas lights on, it’s time for another cake.

Pretty lights: a message from Comune di Torino to make a Christmas cake already.

Pretty lights: a message from Comune di Torino to make a Christmas cake already.

No ginger this time, but I’m using home-made mixed peel and sort-of raisins, and I’m planning on a 1-2 week soak for the fruit, inspired by the most touching story I’ll ever read about cake.

Go, read it, see if you don’t also end up with something in your eye, and a hankering for a nice, rich, Christmas cake.

Below is the recipe I use, as my mum very kindly typed up and emailed to me (I’ve included her comments).

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