Thursday, December 24, 2015

Buon Natale!

Whoever came up with this is a genius.

After blogging about Via Conte Rosso's urban knitting yesterday, I reached the top of the street on my way to work this morning and was delighted to see santa hats perched on top of the poles on each side of the street! It was one of the most original Christmas decorations I've ever seen, and certainly the most funny! Bravi!

Buon Natale a tutti!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The yarn bombing war of east Milan

A few weeks ago in my neighbourhood of Lambrate, some poles on Via Conte Rosso were yarn bombed. Way way back in the day, this street was the centre of the old comune of Lambrate, before it became part of the city of Milan in the 1920s. It's been revigorated during the last couple of years, with lots of work being done to the street itself and new busineses opening (it's all gone a bit too hipster-ish for my tastes, but that's another discussion). There's a shop on the street called RedRoom which sells hand-made goods, and as I discovered recently they also hold 'urban-knitting' lessons, which teach people how to decorate urban landscapes with wool instead of graffiti. As part of these lessons, students yarn bombed some of the poles outside the shop, knitting colourful socks for them. It provided some cheerful decorations during grey winter days.

However, the local police weren't a fan of it. About 10 days ago they arrived in the neighbourhood and cut the socks off the poles, to the disappointment of many residents. According to the polizia locale the yarn bombing was against the highway code, specifically the rules against damaging road signage. I was disappointed too the morning I walked down the road to get to work, and saw that the colourful socks were gone. I had no idea what had happened until an article about them being removed showed up in the online Milanese edition of national newspaper La Repubblica!

But... the yarn bombers haven't given up! New socks have appeared on of the street, a little way further up from the shop, outside a little park. Now it just remains to see how long they will survive over the Christmas holiday!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Classic

Cosa farai ('What will you do') by Pupo is from 1980.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Word of The Week

il liquore - liqueur/spirit

Tis the season to eat, drink, and err... drink some more. Yesterday I got a big pre-Christmas supermarket shop delivered, and taking advantage of not having to haul the lot home, it included a ridiculous amount of liquori and alcolici which were on offer. This very sexy bottle of Baileys had a sconto of two euro, and it wouldn't be Christmas in my house with at least one bottle of some kind of Irish cream!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Lights

Milan's still feeling the Expo effect, and has put more effort than usual into this year's Christmas decorations. For the first time there are lights up in my neighbourhood - and my street!

The tree in Piazza Duomo is as majestic as always!

The Galleria has been done up beautifully. There's a very fancy Swarovski tree, and the glass dome is decorated with blue lights.

Via Dante's also looking pretty.

I loved these Santa hat lights!

Over near Garibaldi train station, the multilingual Christmas tree is back in Piazza Gae Aulenti. The white lights spell out 'Merry Christmas' or a similar message in several different languages (Someone needs to explain the 'best wishes' in English, though.)

Nearby Corso Como has these very beautiful and very big stars.

Corso Garibaldi has butterflies.

The photo doesn't do it justice, but Via Sarpi (the heart of Milan's Chinatown) has a canopy made of lights over the street, the effect is beautiful.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Song of The Week

I heard an interview with Giusy Ferreri on the radio a couple of days ago. I was surprised to hear that she had a greatest hits album out, as she only took part in X Factor in 2008! One of the three new songs on the album is her current single Volevo te ('I wanted you').

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


I was at Spontini near Duomo having an early lunch on Saturday before going to the cinema when I realised - hold up, I love this pizza so much but I haven't actually blogged about it??

Spontini was founded in 1953 and is a Milanese institution. The first pizzeria was opened in Via Spontini (10 points for originality though) when the Tuscan Banti family decided to start selling pizza al trancio - pizza slices. Their version of pizza was (and still is) the pizza alta - literally 'high pizza', with a thick base - and using only a few ingredients.

Over the years seven pizzerie have opened in Milan, and even though two have opened in Japan (!), there are only three in Italy which exist outside of Spontini's city of origin. The variety of food on offer is basic, with three different types of pizza on offer - margherita, mediterranea (with anchovies and capers, and without mozzarella), and prosciutto (ham).There also three pizza & drink combinations, my go-to is il menù tre (menu no.3) which gives me a beer to drink (can't have pizza without beer now, can we?). The prices do vary slightly from pizzeria to pizzeria though - a slice of Margherita costs around 3.50 euro a slice, with the exact price depending on the location, and my pizza & beer combo costs 6 euro in the pizzeria near Duomo.

There's no hanging around at Spontini though! At meal times there's always a long queue, and I try to go at more off-peak times when there's less of a rush. It's popular with locals of all ages (I've seen ladies of a certain age in fur coats enjoying the pizza) as well as tourists. Not all of the pizzerie have seats, the two near Duomo have high tables and you eat standing up. So it's not the place to go for a relaxing meal, but it's perfect if you want to grab something quick on the go.

So how is this pizza? It's the stuff of dreams. One of the absolute best pizzas I've ever eaten. Lots of melted mozzarella, delicious tomato sauce, a thick base which never dry, and is crispy at the bottom. Simple but oh so delicious. Just thinking about it now's making my mouth water!

The Milanese pizzerie are in:
Via Gaspare Spontini, near Corso Buenos Aires (M1/M2 Loreto, M1 Lima)
Via Santa Radegonda, near Duomo (M1/M3)
Via Dogana, also near Duomo
Viale Papiniano (M2 S, Agostino)
Via Marghera (M1 Wagner)
Via Cenisio (M5 Cenisio)
Piazza V Giornate (Tram 9,12, 23, 27. Bus 60, 73)
Piazza Duca d'Aosta (M2/M3 Centrale)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Classic

I was surprised that I hadn't featured this song before, as it's one of my favourites by Lucio Dalla. Attenti al lupo ('beware of the wolf') was in the Italian Top 10 in November and December 1990, and stayed there until the following March.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Word of The Week

la perlina - pearl

I love making my own jewellery, and have done since I was a teenager. I never make anything very complicated though, mostly elastic bracelets made with tiny little seed beads, which may not require a lot of skill but do require a lot of patience! Even though I'm up to my eyeballs in perline in my house I couldn't resist these pretty perline di vetro (glass beads) in Tiger this morning (I love me some Tiger!). I'm looking forward to making some creations with them!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Song of The Week

The first time I heard this song on the radio the presenter introduced it - to translate loosely from colloquial Italian - as a very energetic song. It's Negramaro's new single, Il posto dei Santi.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sunday Classic

Fifty years ago in 1965 Adriano Celentano was at No.1 in Italy with La festa (The Party).

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Word of The Week

La torta - cake

These definitely aren't what comes to mind when you think of an Italian torta! The massive Artigiano in Fiera Christmas fair started today in Rho (near the Expo site) and I got these beauties from the cupcake stand in the British part of the fair, which much to my joy was back for a second year. With an extra pavilion this year, many of the areas and countries represented had more room - including Britain! There was a new fudge stand (amazing), two craft beer stands, and an 'afternoon tea' stand where I bought a mince pie - I hadn't had one for years! Very happy!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Classic

I saw a video for Prendila così on TV a few days ago. It's by Lucio Battisti from his 1978 Una donna per amico album. It was never released as a single, but it's a well-known song of his also thanks to the numerous covers which have been recorded over the years.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Word of The Week

Lo sconto - discount/reduction

I went on a quick supermarket run earlier and picked up a few things which had a sconto, including a few cheeky birre for Saturday night! Yesterday was also a day of sconti, it was the first year that Black Friday had a noticable effect in Italy. Some Italian chains had sconti, such as electrical store Unieuro which had a series of Black Fridays, and Kiko which is doing 30% off all items over the long weekend (very very tempting!). I ordered Indian last night from Just Eat, they had a sconto of 25% off orders - that too good to resist!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Crazy Cat Café

On Saturday morning I went with two of my friends - both cat owners - to check out Milan's one and only cat cafè! I love cats, even though I unfortunately don't have any of my own, and when we heard that it had opened towards the end of October we absolutely had to go!

The cafè is a short walk from Milano Centrale station, towards Corso Buenos Aires. When we arrived there was a short queue outside, the staff let people in on a table-in-table-out basis, as to not exceed a number of 30 customers at a time. There's a list of rules to abide by, obvious things such as not feeding them, letting them sleep if they wish to do so, and not taking photos with flash (photos without flash are encouraged however). And dogs are not allowed. The atmosphere is relaxed, as set out in the rules, there were a couple of kids who were a little bit excited, but the rest of the customers were respectful towards the feline bosses of the cafè.

There are six cats, named Elvis, Blondie, Freddy, Patty, Mina, and Bowie; and they're all young, aged between 6-7 months. They all seemed relaxed and happy to play with the customers. We played with a couple of them using the toys which are provided by the restaurant, and they let us pet them. They wander around (and on!) the tables and chairs, at times not seeming all that fussed about the company around them. One cat was so relaxed that when he came out into the restaurant, he climbed up onto a shelf where there were a few pots of cat nip plants, and after being fussed over, curled up behind the pots and went happily to sleep!

We went for a late cappuccino, but they also do meals and aperitivo - the 'miaojito' on the aperitivo menu cracked us up! The cappuccino was very nice, and served in a pretty cat-shaped mug. Not being your average cafè, prices are slightly higher, our cappuccino cost 1.50 euro each, and there's also a coperto (cover charge) of 1 euro which goes to the cats for their 'cat therapy'.

They have a room at the back of the cafè for the cats, where they can rest and eat away from the customers. We could see one of the cats' paws going back and forward through the gap at the bottom of the door, and from there they have cat flaps for when they want to come back into the cafè and socialise.

I definitely felt the benefits of cat therapy, and it's an experience I hope to repeat soon!

Crazy Cat Cafè
Via Napo Torriani 5
M2 Centrale, M3 Repubblica, (M1 Lima), Tram lines 1 and 5 Piazza Cincinnato (tram 33 Viale Tunisia)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Classic

The No.1 song in Italy 55 years ago today was by Mina, Il cielo in una stanza (which translates to 'The sky in a room', doesn't sound quite so poetic in English, does it?)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Word of The Week

guardare - to watch

Oh, Netflix's arrival in Italy has been a wonderful thing. I'm already on the third (!) season of Orange is The New Black, I've also been watching BoJack Horseman, Under The Dome, and I re-watched an episode of Black Mirror... It's too easy to sit there and let Netflix automatically take me to the next episode of a show, and the next, and the next...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ciao Netflix!

This is what Netflix looks like in Italy!

Ok, so I'm a bit late to the party only writing about it now, but after an evening at the cinema and a weekend in Rome I only signed up to Netflix on Tuesday. It finally arrived in Italy last Thursday, the 22nd of October - coincidentally the anniversary of my arrival in Italy! - after much hype and discussion online.

I hadn't been crafty and tried to watch the US/UK Netflix before its' arrival in Italy, so it was all new to me. Well, not all new seeing how well-known it is all over the world, and the success of its' own productions outside Italy, but I'd never actually tried this much-talked about toy myself. And I was very excited!

What I was most excited about was the availability of original audio for English-language shows. All the TV shows and films on Netflix have original audio as well as Italian, and also subtitles for both languages (handy if you're learning!). Their original productions also have additional languages such as Spanish and French. I only have bog-standard digital TV, and only very few channels give you the option to watch shows with the original audio. Understanding Italian isn't a problem for me, but I've never quite got used to dubbing, I just can't get my head around shows and films set so obviously in another country where the characters are speaking Italian.

Everything I've been watching so far has been US shows. Specifically Orange is The New Black! It's not quite what I expected, but I'm really enjoying it. The balance between serious issues and comedy works really well. There isn't a great deal of Italian stuff (at least at the moment), and it's mostly films, nothing that appeals that much to me, but then again I'm not a big fan of Italian cinema. Everyone gets a month's free trial to start off with, and I intend on making the most of it, and I intend on exploring it as much as I can! 

Monday, October 26, 2015

An autumn weekend in Rome

For some reason or other I realised mid-August that apart from a very brief stay in Rome when I first arrived in Italy at the beginning of my Erasmus year 10 years ago I'd never been to the city during autumn in the 10 times I'd visited. So obviously that had to be rectified!

I chose the weekend following the anniversary of my arrival in Italy on the 22nd of October. As always with my Roman weekends, my alarm was set at a shocking 4.30am. This time both my outbound and return journeys were with the Frecciarossa, leaving from Milano Centrale. On the way down I was in a Premium carriage (a step up from bog-standard second class) so I had a much-needed free coffee and snack. 

I'd had a lot of bad luck organising this trip, so I wasn't surprised when the screens at the train station signalled that the train was five minutes late. This somehow became 15 by the time we left Milano Cerntrale, and 25 when we arrived at Roma Termini! Seeing as the train didn't stop between Milano Rogoredo and Roma Tiburtina I had no idea how it managed to accumulate those extra 10 minutes!

At Termini I was sent on a wild goose chase to get to the left luggage. Before I could've been able to reach it with my eyes close, but much like most of Rome itself, there's a lot of work going on within the train station (doing what, however, I couldn't understand). So after losing even more time I was on my way. First stop, as it always is when I visit Rome - Piazza di Spagna.

I've seen the main sights of Rome so many times, but I can't miss them out. However when I arrived at the Spanish Steps I was in for a surprise. They were completely cornered off by barriers! (Again, why exactly, no idea, as I couldn't see evidence of any actual work going on.) There was some sort of military band playing in the piazza itself, so unfortunately I couldn't get to the Baracaccia either. It made for quite a strange sight!

Another obligatory stop during my Roman visits is Villa Borghese, to see the view of Rome below. With the Spanish Steps out of bounds I had to walk the long way up, but as always, it was worth it.

Just down from Villa Borghese is Piazza del Popolo, which leads to Via del Corso. This connected my next few stops. I had planned to get a sensible lunch on the way down the street, but the draw of Pompi's tiramisù was just too strong! I had a banana and chocolate one for lunch, and it really hit the spot!

I was really hoping that the restoration work on the Trevi Fountain - from my Googling due to be completed this autumn - would be done by my Roman weekend. But unfortunately it was not to be, and it was my fourth time seeing it being worked on. Most of the scaffolding had come off however, and it was impressive to see the difference a good clean-up had made!

One monument that isn't being restored is the Vittorio Emanuele Monument - in Piazza Venezia, right at the end of Via del Corso. The clear blue sky created the perfect backdrop.

I'd planned to go to the Colusseum the following day, and to the Protestant Cemetary (which I never manage to get round to visiting!) that afternoon, but figuring that there wasn't enough time I made the short walk down to the Colusseum (ongoing restoration work since forever). As I was in the area I popped into my tried and trusted Café Café for a tea and a very decadent mini chocolate cake!

After getting hilariously ID'd for three mini bottles of Prosecco at the supermarket (I'll be laughing all the way to my 30th in March!) I slowly made my way to my bed & breakfast. I was staying at the Locanda Sant'Anna on Via Giolitti, about 15 minutes' walk from Termini station and run by a lovely chap called Patrizio. It's a bit further away from where I'd normally choose to stay around Termini, and a slightly shabby area of the city - luckily for me I was already aware of that. The B&B is contained within a normal block of flats, my single room was a bit small, but comfortable, and there's a decent breakfast - even thought it took me around 15 minutes to figure out how the coffee machine worked!

Of course as I was in Rome I went to visit the wonderful Laura Antonini (now flying solo again) at Radio Deejay's Roman studios. The powers that be have moved her from the weekend morning slot she had occupied for 10 years to weekend afternoons (boooo!!). It was great to catch up with her again and to watch her do her show.

On Sunday morning after a sleepless night which I couldn't explain, as both the bed and pillow were amazingly comfortable, I woke up around 6.30am! I left the bed and breakfast at a more humane time, headed to an area of Rome I hadn't been to before, and that my friend M had suggested I visit. It's Quartiere Coppedé, a very unusual and very pretty area of Rome, hidden away from all the tourist sights. It's a fairly small area made up of buildings constructed towards the beginning of the last century. M described them as looking like dolls' houses, and I can't think of a better way to explain how they look like!

I then went off on what felt like a very long walk! My original intention had been to stop at a bakery on Corso Trieste, not realising that at brunch time on a Sunday the place would be packed (silly Nerys!), so I carried on walking to the nearby metro stop to go back to Termini.

There I got on the H bus to Trastevere. Don't do it, kids. At one point an argument broke out between two Italians about the lack of space on the bus, and how people could no longer get on because it was so full. Luckily we all got to Trastevere in one piece, just...

I had a big piece of mozzarella and potato pizza and a beer for lunch, at a pizzeria I'd discovered during my last trip to Rome - La Boccaccia. They make a cracking thin, crispy, pizza with generous toppings. And cheap too!

The bright idea I'd had for when I'd had a walk around the area was to do the climb up to Colle del Gianicolo. I was cursing myself for having come up with such an idea by the time I reached the top, but once I saw the view I was left speechless. It's beautiful. Actually, beautiful doesn't even begin to describe it. Nearly all of Rome stretched out beneath you. It was well worth the effort!

I had more time left before my train that I'd expected, as I'd changed my originally well thought-out plans. However I had a back-up! From up on the hill I made the walk down and then over the river to the Jewish Ghetto and then on to nearby Largo di Torre Argentina. It was full-blown lunchtime in the old Jewish quarter, I hadn't been to that area for nearly three years, and this time round it was quite chaotic. At Largo di Torre Argentina I played spot the cats who live amongst the Roman ruins, and this time one had escaped!

I still had some time spare so I walked on to the Pantheon - always impressive - and then to Piazza Navona, which on that day reminded me of a circus. It's always full of painters and street artists, but that afternoon it was more full than I'd seen before. Seeing as I was in the area I had to call in at my favourite Roman gelateria, the Frigidarium, and the near-20 degrees of that weekend was perfect weather for  it. They always seem to come up with these slightly bonkers slavours, and I couldn't resist the strudel flavour they had!

By then my time was up. After a coffee at Termini it was a bit of a dash to get the train as there was a queue at the left luggage unlike I'd ever seen before (as if I didn't hate the place enough!), and then I settled down in my comfy seat in business class - the cheapest I could find at the time I wanted - for a journey back to Milan in the dark.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Word of The Week

ottobre - October

This is a very typical ottobre sky for Milan, we'd been promised rain and thunderstorms (eek!) all weekend but after this morning's showers it's just been cloudy.

Autumn has arrived, and the 35+ degree days of summer already seem like a distant memory. The weather changed all of a sudden around the autumn equinox (equinoxes here are very much seen as the official start of a season, never before), and the maximum daytime temperature in Milan over the last few days has been around 18 degrees. After the unbearable heat of August I'm more than happy to start wrapping up, I don't think I've ever enjoyed autumn this month!

Oh, language geek note, the first letter of the months of the year aren't capitalised in Italian, the same goes for days of the week. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Song of The Week

Negrita's L'Eutanasia del fine settimana is definitely one of my favourite Italian songs of the year (even though I can't get over the resemblance to the Cure's Close to Me...). It recounts the darker side of a night out during the weekend, with drug dealers and a queue of people waiting to score, and girls with skin transparent from starvation. Being a fan of all things zombie I love the video too!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Another day at Expo

Things have got a bit crazy recently in Expo land. After reading tales of a crowd of nearly 250,000 people last Saturday me and my friend M were still determined to go back for what was the second visit for both of us. Last week it was announced that the 19th of September was going to be the Festa della birra, or beer festival, at Expo, so that was the end of having to choose a date to go on!

We both arrived bright and early at Rho's metro station, armed with lots of patience. Around 9.15 when I arrived, even the station was chaos. By the time we got to the gates around 15 minutes later we found a big but not unreasonable crowd (the crowd at the gates at the train station was much worse), and later on in the day we discovered that the gates had been opened early due to the amount of people waiting to get in.

We didn't have much of a strategy due to the amount of people we expected to be at the event, but we wanted to make the most of the beer-themed festivities. When we entered we headed towards the other end of the site, M hadn't seen the Japanese pavillion (which has taken on a bit of a mythical quality in the media, mostly due to the queues). This is the only pavilion which has signs to let you know how long the wait in the queue will be. And yesterday even before 10am it was 420 minutes. Five hours! Needless to say, we walked straight past...

We saught out pavilions with shorter queues, but which still looked interesting. Before lunch we visited Hungary, Russia, Turkey, the smaller pavilions in the Arid Zones cluster, and Coca Cola. Russia's mirrored ceilings were fun, and there's a great view from their roof terrace, and I loved Turkey's blues and turquoise. M hadn't seen the Coca Cola pavilion, and I certainly wasn't going to turn down a free drink - Peach Fanta, delicious!

For lunch we headed all the way back to Belgium, on the opposite side of the site, as they were starting their beer festivities at noon. There wasn't much in the way of freebies, but after two queues - one to pay and one to actually get served - we got some good beer at a reasonable price. This was accompanied by some very nice crispy chips!

After watching the Belgium parade of drummers, flag-bearers, people in traditional costume, and men on some insane stilts, the next pavilion we saw was Britain. I wanted to see what they were doing for the Festa della birra, which didn't seem to be anything (boo!) and for 7 euro a pint (!!) I gave up my hope of having a drink from the motherland. Still, it was nice to feel like I was back in the UK for a bit.

In our quest for short queues we found some other interesting pavilions. After lunch where else could we go but to the coffee cluster? We got some coffee at Guatemala's stand, watery but I wasn't going to complain as it was free! Iran's focus was on herbs, the green pavilion made a nice change. Turkmenistan was bonkers. I must admit, I was a bit uncomfortable visiting it, but the wealth and random objects (petrol, washing up liquid, insurance documents...!!) on display was bizarre. After this we were in desperate need of a rest. After much wandering around we gave up on the hope of finding any benches, and I collapsed on a patch of grass near the Arid Zones cluster.

Then the freebie hunt began again! With the evening there were more beer-themed events, but the first port of call was the hidden-away Cibus pavilion for some free food, we did well with soy milk, Findus food, and a glass of wine! At 6 there was a very interesting sounding beer and chocolate event in the cocoa and chocolate cluster. Somewhere. After searching everywhere around the little pavilions for it, we finally realised it was taking part in the outdoor theatre. The premise of the event was genius, the audience would get to try three different pairings of Poretti beer and Vanini chocolate. Of course, where there's freebies there's chaos. There wasn't enough beer or chocolate to go around, and we only got one of the three pairings, the strongest beer and chocolate. Very nice, I have to say, but I was disappointed at not being able to try the other two, especially as the other two chocolates were milk chocolates, and I'm not a big fan of dark chocolate.

For supper we headed to the USA's food trucks, which we'd spotted earlier on in the day. There's a great choice of food, and my not eating meat came in handy as all the burger and hot dog vans had silly queues, whilst my queue for my salmon roll was only two people! Yes, those are crisps that we got with our meals, for an extra 2 euro you got a soft drink and a packet of crisps. I couldn't help but wonder about the number of these crisp packets that had been sold since Expo started on the 1st of May...

The last stop of the day was also the highlight, the tree of life's show. I hadn't seen it last time as I'd left before dark, so this time I couldn't miss out. Luckily we managed to get front row seats for the 10pm show - even though that did mean getting showered with water! It's pretty spectacular, the great big constructed tree in the middle of the lake lights up in different colours in time to music, as well as jets of water. It was like watching fireworks but so much better!

By the time we caught the metro home, we'd been at Expo for around 14 hours. M's pedometer app said we'd walked around 20 kilometres (!!) and it certainly feels like it today!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sunday Classic

Not all that long ago, in 1990, Sotto questo sole by Francesco Baccini & Ladri di Biciclette was No.1 in Italy.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Word of The Week

L'elicottero - helicopter

It's Grand Prix weekend in Monza, which is around 25km from Milan. In my neck of the woods, away from the city centre, all is calm... Apart from the bleedin' elicotteri which will be flying back and forward to and from Linate airport every few minutes all weekend!