Tag Archives: living abroad

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?”

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.

Brain MRI

That time I got hit by a car: injury, uncertainty and stories

Here’s a dramatic opening line for you: A year ago this weekend, I was hit by a car while crossing the street.

This is the story per the police report and my hospital notes: I was hit by a green Fiat at 3:15 pm; I arrived in hospital fully conscious; I had fractured my skull in two places and suffered some bruising and minor bleeding on my brain; no surgery was required; CT scans and ultrasounds confirmed I had no other injuries; I spent 9 days in hospital for observation; a subsequent MRI 6 weeks later indicated satisfactory progress towards recovery and no need for further intervention.

That story sits comfortably in a folder of forms and papers with official letterheads, but it feels rather incomplete.

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Write now, despair later

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: Write now, eat radicchio later.

Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve been quite good about keeping a journal… except that I always write the most when nothing very interesting is happening. All the times that I would like to be able to look back at with a record of what I did and what I thought about it are blank. And then I come to write entries for this blog and I sit there and flick through my journal and think, “What have I even done this week?!”

Part of the problem is that I am a very lazy/reluctant writer, hence my need for a post-it note, WRITE NOW, DESPAIR LATER. (Full credit to my sister for that piece of motivation.) It works remarkably well, probaby because it doesn’t pretend that the feeling of “urgggh I don’t wanna write” will ever go away.

But anyway, not having any useful notes of what I did this week, I’m stuck writing about what I remember off the top of my head. Which I’m sure will give you a full indication of how extremely glamorous my expat life here is…

I went to the markets the other day, where I remembered I needed some olives. There are lots of stalls with olives at Porta Palazzo, but I decided to go to the one with the free samples and showmanship. This was a terrible decision from the point of view of efficiency — the stand is busy (because: free samples), even as you’re being served, the guy keeps turning aside to top up the sample plates and yell at passers-by that they should come and buy some olives, and then you end up buying more than you’d planned (again because: free samples). But I think I ate enough in the way of samples to make it worthwhile.

Part of the reason I needed olives was because I’d just bought a bag of radicchio and I wanted to be able to make my radicchio pasta, which is loosely based on a dish you sometimes get in restaurants here, but adjusted to my tastes (salty & bitter):

  • Put your pasta water on to boil and cook the pasta in the background while you make the radicchio “sauce”.
  • Chop the radicchio into small-ish pieces, a few centimetres squared, rinse and drain.
  • Heat oil in a pan, throw in the radicchio, add some of that stock that comes in jelly-like form in little plastic containers — as in, put a spoonful of that stuff in without adding any water.
  • Stir as needed, and once it’s starting to cook add chopped up olives (I like olives with chili).
  • Throw in some milk, let the liquid reduce a bit and/or add more liquid as needed. If you don’t have milk, use the pasta water.
  • Once the pasta’s cooked, drain it and stir it through.

Bam! You have dinner. I had this for dinner tonight; I probably eat it at least once a week in winter.

Teapot and watercolour postcard

I bought a teapot and I am unreasonably excited by it.

I arrived in Italy nearly four years ago with a 60L backpack and a 30L daypack and a rather large handbag, all packed as full as I could manage.

At the time — especially with it on my back! — it seemed like a lot. I have minimalist tendencies, and I’d been thinning out my worldly possessions for a couple of years at that point. (It is not lost on me that I was in my mid-20s at the time and had barely accumulated any worldly possessions to start with.) What I was carrying was a decent fraction of everything I owned, the rest of it being in boxes tucked neatly under my parent’s spare single bed.

I’d thought about getting those boxes shipped. In the end, I didn’t, for much the same reason I’d been decluttering in the first place: my life involved a lot of moving around — from one sharehouse to another in Perth, then to Glasgow (and two apartments in one year there) and then to Italy — and moving stuff with me just seemed like hassle.

It was much simpler to approach every new place as a short-term venture, making do with what I could carry. I did a lot of laundry, since I only had a week’s worth of tshirts. I stuck to cooking foods that used the same few spices, so I wouldn’t have to throw away nearly-full packets of spices the next time I moved. I rented furnished places and sweet-talked my way into getting bed linen and kitchenware included so I wouldn’t have to buy any.

I’ll never be one of those minimalist lifestyle bloggers, but I have to say, there are advantages to living like that. If you do move frequently, you have a lot more flexibility. You save money, since your default answer to “should I buy that?” is “no”, and the cash stays in your pocket. You get creative at problem solving, and after a while it becomes second nature to realize things like the fact that you can use a roasting tray as a lid for a saucepan.

But… let’s go back to the start of this post. I arrived in Italy nearly four years ago. In that time, I’ve moved house once, but that’s still the two longest leases I’ve had since I left my parent’s house. I don’t need to live out of a backpack.

I only really grasped this a couple of months ago, and I’ve been on a mad acquisition spree since. Well, mad by my standards. I bought a rolling pin in December. I bought a teapot on the weekend (isn’t it pretty?) I made a New Year’s resolution to buy a second set of bedlinen so I could stop having to wash them first thing in the morning to get them dry by the evening. (That’s not even my lamest new year’s resolution.)

Ironically, I’m doing all this “recluttering” when I have a year left on my work contract and no idea what I’ll do or where I’ll go after that. But for the next 12 months, having some stuff is a great way to feel like I’ve got stability.

Art in Castello di Rivoli

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: Castello di Rivoli edition

Last week I had a stomach virus, the week before I had a flu. My goal for this week: do an actual five-day work week. (You mean I have another four entire days after this??)

Some other notes from my extremely glamorous not-at-all-moping-in-bed life:

  • I went with some friends to Castello di Rivoli on Saturday. I’ve been once before, I should go more often. It’s a Savoy palace! It’s got contemporary art! On a clear day, it has amazing views to the Alps but even on a cloudy day like Saturday it has views to Rivoli and down Corso Francia to Torino.
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    We were almost the only visitors there, and possibly the guards were a bit bored because they’d follow us from room to room, not even in a subtle way, just following. On the top floor there’s a viewing platform and we tried to get a group selfie with the scenery behind us — “Never mind, a guard will be along in a minute and we’ll get them to take a photo of us,” we joked.

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    Also, how fabulous is this ceiling?

  • I’m starting to vaguely plot and scheme some fun things to do in spring, which officially isn’t for ages but this winter has been so mild it’s felt like spring since about mid-December. Last spring was a bit crap, and listing fun things to do is my overplanner’s way of trying to make this one better. Ideas so far:
    • Do something “cultural” in Milan. I’m there semi-frequently for work, but all I ever see of Milan is Stazione Centrale, the subway, and the office. Pretty sure that, as a major city, it contains more than that.
    • Brunch! (Easter brunch?)
    • Start eating gelato again. I’ve only stopped because everywhere seems to be closed in January. (Yes, “eat gelato” is indeed something I resolve every time I decide to make resolutions.)

    Other suggestions?

  • These peanut butter oatmeal cookies are delicious. I had been limiting my use of oatmeal in baking because I was having trouble finding it in Torino, but a couple of months ago I got a tip-off to try the Chinese shops in Porta Palazzo. For whatever reason, they have 1kg boxes of Quaker oats for something like 3 euro. Yessssss. #expatlife
  • And I discovered a few weeks ago that some crazy people from New Zealand have a recipe for homemade golden syrup, which produces something not exactly the same as golden syrup you’d buy in Australia but ehh whatever it’s near enough. I am totally going to make Anzac biscuits one of these days.

Practical tips for future reference: To get to Castello di Rivoli from central Torino, take the metro to Paradiso then catch the #36 bus to the end of the line. From there, just keep walking uphill through the historical centre of Rivoli.

Busselton Jetty, Australia

‘Straya Day: a primer

Tomorrow is Australia Day, Australia’s creatively-named national holiday on the anniversary of the start of British colonization of Australia.

Actually, Australia Day is a multi-week event. It starts in early January, with Meat and Livestock Australia trolling vegetarians everywhere with an ad urging everyone to eat lamb on Australia Day and maybe also set a vegan’s coffee table on fire if you have the chance. That last bit is literally from this year’s ad, which I will admit gave me a decent chuckle when I saw it at 4 in the morning in Frankfurt airport a couple of weeks ago.

Having opened ceremonies with the traditional I’m a Vegan And I’m Rather Cross dance, we then move on to a rather more grim slanging match, in which various Aboriginal Australians point out that maybe having a national day celebrating the start of years of attacks on their people by Europeans is a bit, I dunno, in bad taste, and then various white Australians say things like “Can’t you, like, move on? It’s at least a couple of decades since we forcibly removed your children form you” and various other white Australians say things like “yeah nah Stan Grant totally makes a good point” and then continue with the status quo up to and including not even seriously entertaining the idea of picking a less contentious date for the national holiday.

Meanwhile, the Eff Off We’re Full Brigade stocks up on Australian flags to wear as capes and the Multicultural Inner City Squad mutters things about “National Dickhead Day” and people (like me!) write blog posts about How Australia Day Reveals the Divisions in Australian Society although fortunately we get countered by articles like this moving collection of stories from a range of Australians about how they came to Australia.

If you don’t live in Australia, then you get an extra bit of pre-26th tradition which is that somehow — regardless of whether you bring it up — a few days before the 26th your non-Australian friends find out that it’s nearly the Australian national holiday, and you get to have slightly awkward conversations explaining all of the above to people who really just wanted to know that it’s common to have a barbeque on Australia Day.

And then the 26th comes around and lots of alcohol is consumed and if you’re in Perth you get a decent fireworks show and that’s it for another year.

(Oh but you really must watch Stan Grant’s speech on racism in Australia, it’s a powerful piece of rhetoric and it went viral for good reason.)

Winter view of the Alps from Turin

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: back to Italy

I got back to Turin last Monday. Walked through my front door, put my bags down, and thought, I love my apartment.

Partly, I think, because it’s the first place I’ve lived by myself for more than a couple of months (which I enjoy a lot), but conversely because the space is touched the people who have spent time here. Looking around my kitchen now, I can see postcards from friends who have travelled onwards, a beer bottle with my name on it that was left over from a party and I can’t bring myself to put in recycling because umm hello it’s a beer bottle called “Zoe”, a tin of Taiwanese tea that a friend brought back from her trip home there one summer, a pair of rain boots sitting near the door left by a friend who moved away, which I still haven’t used because it still hasn’t rained yet this winter.

My trip back was uneventful in the way you want inter-continental travel to be, but I did get a full 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur in between flights so I got to do a bit of wandering around.

I arrived in the evening and stayed in a backpackers hostel. You know how all those “how to travel” articles carry on about “stay in hostels! you’ll meet people to hang out with!”? I always stay in hostels; I never meet people. But Back Home in KL seemed to magically be a hostel that was social but not a party hostel, and I spent the next day doing a hop on hop off bus tour with a girl I’d met at breakfast, who was from the Netherlands and on her way from New Zealand to India.

Traipsing around an unfamiliar city with a total stranger is definitely an experience I’d recommend — if nothing else it was fun to see where our perceptions converged (“ugh it’s so hot!” “yes!”) and diverged (her: “it’s so clean and orderly here!” me, having just flown in from Perth: “I guess…?” her: “well, I suppose I’m comparing it to Jakarta”)

I’m not totally convinced the hop on hop off bus was really worth the money, but it did take us past the KL Tower, which we went up and which was worth it just for the feeling of looking across the skyscrapers and highways as if we were playing a giant game of Sim City.

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Things I have explained about Australia in the past week:

  • yes, Random Guy in a Cafe, as far as I know, if you want a longer working holiday visa in Australia you have to work on a farm, but I’m really not an expert on these things and I do hope you manage to find someone better to ask…
  • yeah, Work Colleague, you are right to think that pretty much the whole of Australia has been on fire at some point this summer, except for the bits that flooded.
  • me: pass the chips
    friend: you don’t call them crisps?
    me: no, that’s the English
    friend: so then you call the other things ‘fries’ like the Americans?
    other friend, also Australian: nah, they’re also chips
    friend: …
    me: or if it’s not clear from context–
    both aussies, laughing: “hot chips”
William St, Perth

Australia: you fluent, then?

An observation that I present without comment (ok, I present it with amusement actually, because this cracks me up every time): everyone I talk to here, when I tell them that I live in Italy, replies with some variant on “Oh wow! You must be fluent in Italian then!”

Which I invariably respond to with awkward laughter because, well, fluent is not a word I’d use to describe my Italian usage. Unintentionally hilarious would be a better fit. Or maybe, vocabulary of a 4 year old.

The one exception  was when I went for a haircut yesterday, and the hairdresser said, “No way! You marry an Italian or something?” But she was herself from Naples so I think this falls under the heading of Italians Who Can’t Believe An Australian Would Move To Their Country, which should maybe be the subject of another post.

Australia: gone down the beach

Hello from Perth! I’m here until the weekend and very much in holiday mode (ahhhhhhh…) but I thought I’d kick off the new year with a short post every day between now and Friday about my time in Australia.

Met a friend for lunch the other day at Clancy’s, an… assertively nautical-themed pub-restaurant at City Beach. Think fishing nets draped from the walls and brightly-painted buoys hanging from the ceiling, and a seafood-heavy menu. Comes with an alright view, but:


Just before I took this photo, my friend and I looked at the view, looked at each other, and said, “We do live an enchanted life, don’t we?”

On the way there I thought, “Here I am, it’s summer, I’m going down the beach, listening to Triple J, I am so Australian.”

And then I thought, “When I lived in Australia, I never did this.” I’ve never owned a car. I’ve never been to the beach more than a handful of times in a year.

And then I thought, “Well, my internal monologue did just say ‘going down the beach’ for ‘driving to the beach’, so I must still be at least a bit Australian.”