Monday, July 29, 2013

Day Trips from Milan: Turin

Turin is around 145km (about 90 miles) east of Milan, in the region of Piemont.

Turin is well-known in Italy for its museums, and the most famous of these is the Egyptian Museum. It's the largest Egyptian museum in the world outside of Egypt itself. Turin is also home to the Shroud of Turin, strangely enough (!), and the Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile, the national automobile museum. Turin is the birthplace of FIAT, which stands for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino - The Italian Automobile Factory of Turin.

One of the main sites in the city is the Mole Antonelliana. It's named after the architect who built it, Alessandro Antonelli, who died in 1888. It was completed a year after his death in 1889, and was originally constructed as a synagogue. Today it houses the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, the national cinema museum.

Some of the other popular sites in the city are in Piazza Castello, which as the name would suggest, is where the city's castle is located. The piazza is about 15 minutes on foot from the city's main train station of Porta Nuova, past the shops of Via Roma. It's also where you'll find the Palazzo Reale, the former palace of the House of Savoy. The House of Savoy was formed in the 11th century, and by the end of the Italian Republic it was the royal family who ruled unified Italy. 

The river Po runs through the city, and if you carry on walking though the centre, finishing down in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, you'll get to it.

Turin's also well-known in Italy for its hot chocolate. I remember when I first went there in 2006 for the Paralympics I ordered one, having heard how good the hot chocolate was, and I got something that I didn't quite expect! It was incredibly thick and tasty, served with a spoon - almost more like a dessert than a drink! Turin is also the home of gianduja (or gianduia) chocolate, which is a kind of chocolate that contains hazelnut paste. Sounds a bit like Nutella, right? Well its original name was Pasta Gianduja - gianduja paste.

If you fancy some gelato I highly recommend MAK.s Collezione Gelati in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 13. There I had one of the best gelati that I've ever had anywhere in Italy, a delicious cream and chocolate cone.

Turin's very easy to reach from Milan by train. With the introduction of the highspeed Frecciarossa trains the two-hour journey has been cut to a non-stop one hour trip. There's also the slightly slower Frecciabianca, which has three stops inbetween Milano Centrale and Torino Porta Nuova. Don't leave it until the last minute to book these trains, as full price tickets cost 30 euro one way on the Frecciarossa, and 25.50 euro one way on the Frecciabianca. There are reduced tickets available for both trains, and if you book far enough in advance you can get them for a barganious 9 euro for second class. The last time I went to Turin I bought my tickets six days before my trip, and got tickets for 19 euro for the Frecciabianca on the outbound journey, and also 19 euro for the Frecciarossa for the return trip, both in second class. The bonus with the Frecce, as well as the reduced journey time, is that seat reservation is obligatory. There are also the regionale trains which run less frequently than the Frecce, a one-way second class ticket costs 11.20 and it takes just under 2 hours to reach Torino Porta Nuova.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Classic

And after learning the word spiaggia yesterday, here's another summery song for this week's Sunday Classic. It's from 1983, Renato Zero's spiagge.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Word of The Week

La spiaggia - beach

Milan may be close to the lakes and mountains, but unfortunately it's far away from the sea. Last weekend I had my first beach outing of the year, down in the Emilia-Romagna region of central Italy. After growing up with the freezing cold and grey Atlantic sea, every year when I go back to the beach I can't help but be surprised at how warm the sea is here! And the beaches really are something else. You'll have a hard time finding a spiagga libera - free beach - in many places, as the large majority are privately owned. Row upon row upon row of colourful umbrellas dot the Italian coast, which you pay to use, as well as a sunlounger to lie on. Luckily I didn't get sunburnt, but my factor 30 was certainly put to the test!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Spritz in a Bottle

Ah, the spritz. An Italian classic. And now in a ready-made mix available at the supermarket. Even better.

The Aperol spritz is one of the different kinds of spritzes that exist, and it's the Aperol that gives this version of the cocktail its bright orange colour. Another popular bitter which is used in the drink is Campari, which has a similar orange colour, and a higher alcohol content. Aperol was created in 1919 in Padua, in the Veneto region of north-eastern Italy. It's made with orange, gentian, rhubarb (seriously), and a mix of herbs. The traditional Venetian recipe for spritz includes one part prosecco, one part bitter such as Aperol, and one part sparkling water/soda. However the current adverts by Aperol call for three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol, and one part sparkling water/soda. And that's what this little bottle of orange wonderfulness contains!

Cin cin!

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Beep.. beep...beep... beep... beep...

That's the noise that's been waking me up just after seven every day this week. It's the irritating high-pitched beep of a large vehicle reversing. At seven in the morning. 

Summer in Italy is a season of going to the beach, nothing but repeats on tv, heat... and roadworks. The cities empty and the diggers move in, making the most of the quieter roads. A few weeks ago I'd seen that there was some work planned in my neighbourhood on the gas line, but I didn't expect anything quite on this level. My street's been closed, and there's now a massive hole right in the middle of it.

The worst thing about it is the hours the workmen have. It all kicks off with the beeps, and then even before the church bells have struck eight the drilling begins. I know they need to start work early before the heat really kicks in, but I think 7am is a bit too early. There are some people left in the city, people who would appreciate not getting rudely awaken every morning...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Classic

This week's classic is Abbronzatissima by Edoardo Vianello. 50 years ago it was no.4, and it's one of the most well-known Italian summer songs of all time.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Word of The Week

L'acqua - water

It's hot hot hot in Italy, and it's easy to let yourself get dehydrated especially if you're out and about. There have been a couple of occasions recently where I've woken up with a headache after not drinking enough acqua the day before... Silly Nerys. If you're visiting Milan during the summer don't forget to take a bottle of water with you during the day; and when it's empty look for one of the green fountains dotted around the city, the water's drinkable and you can fill up your bottle for free. If you do need to buy a bottle of water, naturale is still, and frizzante is fizzy.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Song of The Week

La tua canzone (Your Song) is the new single from one of my favourite Italian bands, Negrita. It's been released ahead of an acoustic album and tour which will follow in the Autumn.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Magnum Pleasure Store, Milan

I finally got round to going to the much-talked about and photographed Magnum Pleasure Store (Ooh err missus!) in Milan city centre.

The store is in Piazza San Fedele 2, a short walk from Piazza Duomo. For a sweet-toothed person like me the idea is genius, you get to customise your own Magnum ice cream. Don't let the queue put you off, it really is worth the wait!

So, how is it made? You choose the ice cream flavour, vanilla or chocolate (they only had vanilla when I went, which luckily is what I would've chosen anyway); the type of chocolate covering it, milk, dark, or white; the toppings to go with it; and what type of chocolate you want drizzled over it. There are all sorts of toppings to choose from, crumbled biscuits, nuts, fruit... Making your three-flavour combination isn't easy!

And eccolo! Here it is!

This was my choice. The vanilla ice cream, milk chocolate coating, and my three toppings. They were pistacchio, amaretti biscuits, and the white bits are meringue. There's also white chocolate drizzled on top of it.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Other Side of The Coin

That phrase popped into my head as I was getting ready to start the long journey back to Milan on Wednesday. I saw my life as a coin, with the two different sides representing the two different lives I had - the one back home where I grew up, and the one in Milan. It's difficult writing about home without it being bittersweet. This time was my first visit back in just over a year and a half, and though not much had changed since the previous visit, I still felt like a fish out of water. For the first two days back I felt incredibly homesick, I kept thinking about what I'd left behind in Italy. I'm a soppy old fool anyway, but taking off from Milan Linate on the way to Heathrow I was in tears. Who knows what the person sitting next to me was thinking!

The reason I was going home during the summer was for my best friend's hen party. It was two days in Tenby, on the Pembrokeshire coast. To be honest, I was a little bit wary of going on a hen party after living in Italy for over five years - I imagined waking up on the Sunday with the world's worst hangover! But there was nothing of the sort. We had a lovely weekend on the coast, with fish & chips and a lovely Chinese meal, a cracking game of rugby, and an afternoon on the beach. The weather, as with the rest of the week, was amazing. I was even brave enough to dip my feet in the sea! And I got a tan - in Wales!!

The rest of the week was spent catching up with family, friends, and shopping! My hometown of Carmarthen is now unrecognisable compared to the town I grew up in. As with the UK in general, many shops have closed down, but there's also a new shopping centre which I would've loved to have had as a teenager! I made the most of the sales, especially as I'd missed the beginning of the sales here in Milan, and I got some great bargains!

It was lovely being back in the country, surrounded by green fields. I loved the silence, barely any traffic, no people around. It meant that I slept so well! And with the sunny weather everything was just that much more beautiful.

Before I knew it my week was up and it was time to go back to Milan. It's a very long journey for me because I have to fly from Heathrow, around 10 hours door-to-door. Before we left for the airport my aunt made us a stunning fried breakfast, just what we needed before tackling the motorway up to London!

Even though it was difficult at times, I still had a great time back home. It was lovely catching up with my two friends who I've known since pre-school on the weekend, and I felt quite pampered at home with my mam. My next visit home is just under two months, and I'm sure that trip won't be quite as difficult!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Me and the blog are taking a well-deserved break for a week. Tonight I'm flying to Heathrow from Linate for my best friend's hen weekend and to spend some time with my family. It's been over a year and a half since I last went home, back in Christmas 2011. I've got very mixed feelings about leaving the country that's now my home, to go back to where I grew up, but luckily it's not for long. However I am looking forward to eating lots of lovely food, drinking probably far too much this weekend, and catching up with friends and family.

Have a good week everybody!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Vending Machines Italian Style

Italy loves its iced tea in the summer. This weekend I spotted an entire vending machine selling plastic cups of lemon and peach flavoured iced tea in Lambrate train station in Milan.