Ravenna

With my last days in Italy approaching I was determined to tick off as many bucket-list destinations as possible before  leaving, even though the thought of vegging out and watching movies in the comfort of my plush hotel room sounded incredibly tempting.  Word of mouth had brought up Ravenna – not one that I’d ever heard of, but I googled it, wiki’d it and even watched a Youtube video (courtesy of Wolter’s World) and was convinced.

Ravenna is basically a UNESCO heritage buff’s idea of heaven. It’s also a city of mosaics – they’re literally everywhere; ceilings, walls, floors, even road signs are decorated with colourful ceramic.

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Camera at the ready I bought a ticket which gave you entrance to Basilica di San Vitale, Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Cappella Arcivescovile and the Battistero degli Ariani. That’s six UNESCO sites right there, so even though I was only there for around 5 hours (the fact that I had to pack my bags for my UK-bound flight was an ever looming thought) I was a tourist on a mission.

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Obviously I’d also picked my gelateria of the day, the one to hunt down (and it really did take me on a tour of the town due to bad map-reading skills – those afternoons of orienteering failed me in this case) – but determination and a desperate need for ice cream meant that justice prevailed and I found the gem that is Papilla Gelateria. I went for Oreo, Mama Che Bueno and Papilla Cremino, but not the normal kind, oh no, this was backwards cremino. So instead of vanilla ice cream with milk chocolate topping it was a chocolate-y ice cream with a white chocolate topping, and it was beyond amazing. I would be a happy girl if I had a pint of that right now.

So how to summarise Ravenna? Just like everyone said, it is downright stunning. The sun was shining, there were barely any tourists (Ravenna is actually a beach town, so everyone flocks to the beach to soak up the rays) and everywhere you turn there’s something amazing to see. As my last day out before leaving Italy and the official end of my Erasmus and Year Abroad, I think I saved a good’n till last.

Gardaland

I think I’ve already mentioned my golden childhood at some point or another, how my brother and I got to experience Disney Land Florida, Seaworld, Universal Studios, Bush Gardens when it was acceptable to act like you were on a never-ending sugarhigh/adrenalin rush, running from one attraction to another and basically having the best of times (how can you not when you can eat churros/ice cream/candy floss in between rides on the Kraken or the Tower of Terror?)

After my first rollercoaster (can’t remember if it was Dueling Dragons or Aerosmith’s Rock’n’Roller Coaster) I was addicted, and so the idea of going to a theme park literally makes me jump up and down with excitement.

On Wednesday (so the 23rd) three of us thrill seekers went to Gardaland, a theme park in Peschiera del Garda. Yes there was a bit of a faff with the trains – for a reasonably short trip, TrenItalia wanted a lot of money! – but we had a make-shift picnic on the train, complete with leftover Cookie Dough Brownies from the night before, and we arrived at the park around 1ish. Now this seems pretty late, and normally I’m the first one to kick a fuss about this, but Gardaland isn’t the biggest of places, and I can happily report that we did all the rides we wanted to before we headed back to Padova.

So, the three amigos: Lucy, her boyfriend Michael and me. One of the reasons Lucy is the best? She told Michael he was the third-wheeler, and that he was the one who would have to sit on his own with the hypothetical ‘fat man’ on all of the rides. That’s love right there.

As I said with the literal ‘jumping up and down with excitement’, when we walked through the arch and under the strobe lit tunnel, we (*cough* me *cough*) were pretty much skipping to the entrance ready to run to the first rollercoaster. Kids eh?

And the big surprise? It wasn’t really that busy. I mean technically it was mid week, but we’re pretty sure the schools are out for summer, and it’s prime holiday season, but we had free reign. Obviously we still had to queue for the rides (we should be so lucky), but it wasn’t exactly Dsineyland-length waiting times. The only thing that probably made it seem long was the muggy heat, which was temporarily abated after going on a water ride.

After going on the Jungle Rapids (which it has to be said was all but a relaxing boating experience – the combination of cooling spray and 10 foot Buddha wasn’t exactly a recipe for ‘thrill seeking’, but was very calming all the same; we came out very Zen – our first coaster of the day was Blue Tornado, which I would say is one of the two *major* big rides. It was all going swimmingly until Lucy and I were strapped in and one our way up the incline when we both realised how long it had been since we’d been on a rollercoaster – at this point I was laughing hysterically, but we both survived and after that it was a non-stop day of ride-to-ride fun.

It wasn’t until we were back in Padova that we realised it was mine and Lucy’s last day together in Italy because they were leaving for a getaway trip to Rome and Florence and wouldn’t be back before my flight home– guess that kind of snuck up on us! But as far as last days go, you can’t really beat brownies, roller coasters and general theme park fun.

See you in Leicester/Liverpool soon ma puce!

Dodici at Le Sablon

So it had to happen at some point or another – the last trip to Le Sablon, Pasticceria heaven in the beautiful North. And if it was to be my last trip, I was going to go all out – I forewarned Lucy of my intentions, but I think it was more the staff at Le Sablon who were astonished at the amount of cake I could put away.

Because, if you think about it logically, I had to have all of my favourites, and any newbies that I (shockingly) hadn’t got round to trying yet.

And as ever, Le Sablon was on top form. Thank you for always being there will amazing cake and making Padovian Uni Life just generally better – and to my Sablon Wife Lucy, going ice skating with you that one time and stumbling upon this gem is still one of the best things to have happened on Erasmus, and it will always be ‘Ours’.

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Erasmus – Amiche Per Sempre

I can’t remember whether or not I’ve mentioned anything about Block Q and the legend that it is in The Gelato Diaries so far – Block Q is what made my first year at Leicester crazy stupid amazing. We all resided in the marvel that is Mary Gee, Leicester Uni’s gem of student accommodation (think cheap and cheerful and you have it), but what made it great was that our home away from home was with people who came from all over the world.

Mary Gee is divided into blocks, each block housing 10 students. After first semester, living with Frenchies and the cutest Germans, I had a whole new set of housemates for the second. I loved all the girls, but my second semester Queenies were family. Hong Kong, LA, South Korea, Italy and England. Some of my favourite memories are with these beauties and even years later when we’re back on different continents, we’re still a unit, forever branded Queenies of Block Q. So yes, it’s now my turn to be on Erasmus and the exchange program, to make new friends and experience new cultures and try new things, but I couldn’t not visit my favourite Italian in the whole wide world when we would be (finally) living in the same country again.

I feel like a proud mother hen when I say Maria Sole has graduated law and now has an internship and is working away like a busy bee (puts me to shame – I consider watching The Little Mermaid dubbed as revising) so I didn’t make it to Florence until last weekend, and there’s not enough time in the world to just ‘be’ with Maria Sun because we can be doing nothing and having the best of times, but nevertheless, I spent two and a bit days livingthe highlife and taking part in Italian shenanigans with Block Q’s residential fire starter (never had the best of luck with the ovens, did our Maria…) and it was Epic.

From Friday night Birthday celebrations for Irene, to a Saturday night cocktail party on the roof terrace of the Baglioni for a Graduation-Birthday fiesta, and a HUGE Sunday lunch at a family trattoria (crostini, cold meats, ravioli alla crema di carciofi, Florentine steak, spinach, crème caramel, wine – the list goes on), it was an amazing weekend of English/Italian bonding. I miss my carrot cake loving soulmate more than ever.

And, as we bonded over cake in the beginning, it was only fitting that we got involved in some cake action for the reunions. In fact, the first thing we did after Maria came to pick me up from Firenze Rifredi station was go to I Dolci di Massimo, and I swear, it’s some of the best dolce I’ve had all year. It was a semolina cake with a chocolate topping, and my God, we ate about two thirds of it for breakfast on Saturday (and this is a proper sized cake people) and almost bought another to take on the train back to Padova. I fell in love. So now two reasons for going back to Florence!

Maria + Cake = Happy Chloé

I genuinely felt tears in the eye when I got on the train home – all the more reason to start planning another reunion soon so there’s something to look forward to!

So here’s to Erasmus friends – they’re some of the most extraordinary people you’ll ever meet, and they’re people you’ll love for life X

Island in the Sun

A week or so ago I was temporarily adopted by the Gould family where we played tourist in Padova and neighboring territory – obviously one of those being the obligatory family trek to Le Sablon, where Lucy and I introduced yet more people to the most magical place (in terms of pasticceria) in the Veneto region. If they had loyalty cards for this place, we’d be rolling in free cake by now!

But I also played third daughter on a trip to Murano and Burano, two of the Venice islands.

They’re only tiny, but they’re definitely unique, whether it’s the explosion of Murano glass (quite literally) everywhere you look or the rainbow coloured houses in Burano that make you feel like you’re somewhere that could feasibly be called candy land. So obviously no complaints here!

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A grand merci to the Gould family for letting me tag along – it was a great day of sunshine, boats, ice cream and manic Venice-ness!

 

Hiking in the Dolomites

My family aren’t what you’d call sports-orientated, and I think that’s a fair assessment to make without being a meanie. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not the sloths of the human world – we’ve just never been the family who go camping or who go on ski trips or surfing getaways. Call me crazy, but I think it might be because when it comes to a holiday, there’s something appealing about a week of relaxing and eating good food (the latter playing a major role, as proven by the fact that the first topic of my Skype home today was a rundown of foodie visits, menu included, where my parents had been since the last time we’d spoken.)

Now I wouldn’t change my family holidays for anything – I’ve been well and truly spoilt on that front (I mean, any child who gets to go to Florida is literally the luckiest son of a gun out there, because it’s where magic is made, in the form of theme parks, Disney, crazy miniature golf and pink plastic flamingos) but out here there’s the chance to do something different (and funnily enough, we still managed to live and breathe Disney for the day.)

ESN put on a spur of the moment trip to the Dolomites, the mountain range in the north-east of Italy which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For only 24 euro we could go exploring Lake Misurina and Tre Cime di Lavaredo for a day, and with Anna and Anica up for it, it was all systems go. Time to put my Timberlands to some proper use!

From Padova it’s about a 3 hour bus journey to get there – until I looked at the map yesterday, I didn’t realise just how far North we were heading!

These are the Tre Cime di Lavaredo AKA the Three Peaks AKA Drei Zinnen and are apparently one of the best-known mountain-groups in the Alps. Go Figure.

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We hiked all the way around these babies, with varying levels of steepness, rockiness and iciness – we were out there for around 5 hours, which I like to think is pretty impressive for a group of unsuspecting Erasmus students. And all the while, we were taking selfies, singing the soundtrack from Frozen (pretty fitting if you ask me) and pretending to be Olaf as we ran down parts of the mountain. Let’s just say the videos are pretty hilarious and leave the rest to the imagination!

Of course it rained. But after stopping and starting for an hour or so, it eventually let up and we got to see the sun set on the mountain face which was spectacular – turns out you can still appreciate the beauty of nature when you’re trying to recover from a ridiculously long stretch of steep incline that feels like it’s damn close to 90 degrees, even if it’s not.

Surviving the circle round the peaks was an achievement in itself – seeing our bus parked (dangerously) close to the edge of the cliff was a very welcome sight and from there we went to Lake Misurina.

Lake Misurina is the largest natural lake of the Cadore and is over 1700m above sea level. If there was ever a picture perfect moment of the day, this was it.
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So by the end of the day I had ‘Let It Go’ on repeat in my head, the mother of all blisters on my little toe and a belly full of an amaaaazing Peperonata pizza from a cutesy Pizzeria by the Lake.

I can now say I’ve climbed a mountain in Québec and a mountain in Italy – not bad for a girl from Suffolk, a county where hills don’t really exist!

 

Milano

One of the rules I was determined to stick to this year was to say yes to as much as possible – perhaps that’s justification for the indulgence of pizza and gelato binges that seem to be an almost daily occurrence this semester because let’s face it, Leicester, whilst I love you, the fact remains that there isn’t an ice cream shop on every street which quite frankly puts you at a disadvantage to Italy.
With this ‘Say Yes’ motto in mind, the other day someone sent me a buzzfeed article on 25 Bakeries in the World You Have To See Before You Die*. My friends know me so well. Anyway as I was scrolling down this list of bakeries and staring longingly at the foodie photos that accompanied each entry, it’s fair to say that I was mentally making a mental list of new places to add to my ‘Places to Visit’ list. Especially the one in Sweden, number 24 on the list, Taxinge Slott Café in Nykvarn – I’m sorry, but a cake BUFFET in a place that’s attached to a Castle??? I think I’ve found my new home… Should have learnt Swedish – I blame the British education system.
But, before I go off on a tangent, one revelation I had whilst reading the article was that one of the places on the list was in Milan. Now I’m the first to admit that my geography knowledge isn’t up to scratch, but having lived in the North of Italy for however many months now, even I knew that Milan was in my neck of the woods – that could only mean one thing. A daytrip was in order.
Seeing as I’m now free from lectures and exams, I’d made a list of the places I wanted to visit before I left, and Milan was already there, so this just gave me more incentive.
The only thing is the ‘gang’ per se seem to have abandoned Padova for the moment, either having left already for Cornwall or Barcelona (not that I’m jealous or anything) or off on trips or with guests, and whilst obviously it’s always great to go away with someone I don’t want it to be the case that when I’m back in sunny Suffolk in August I’ll look back and think I should have done more than sit around and wait. So, as a spur of the moment thing I bought a return tick to Milan for the Saturday at the ridiculous bargain price of only 38 euro. After an afternoon on Tripadvisor and downloading The BEST App for my iPhone which acted as my offline map for the day (Ulmon Milan – totally amazing and free to download, I can’t recommend it enough. The map is detailed with all the street names, even the little’uns, sign-posted major landmarks and the option to pin places you want to visit so you can find them easily and plan your route. They also have the app for other cities across the world, and if I’m ever lucky enough to visit them I’ll 100% be downloading their Ulmon App!) I was ready for my day of solo adventure. Obviously this included an early night as my 4:30 am wake-up had to be taken into account.The train was a Freccia Bianca – these are the fast trains, not the regional ones, so it was only a 2hour7minute journey – this meant I arrived in the metropolis of Milan at the early-bird time of 8:30am. Perfect time for cake. (Let it be known now that I had eaten two decent sized portions of cake by 10 o’clock – but as we all like to say, we’re on holiday. It doesn’t count.)

Needless to say that my Tripadvisor session was split into two categories – things to see and places to eat. Without knowing when the next time I’d be in Milan I wasn’t willing to leave it completely to fate when it came to pasticcerias, so I had gone with list in hand but obviously with the open mind to deviate if I stumbled upon somewhere new, which actually happened twice.
Breakfast number 1 – Pave – I had a Raspberry tart with Creme Patissiere, the best of both worlds – sugar and fruit. You can’t say I’m slacking on the five-a-day, no sir. Fairly near the station it’s more off the beaten track, with a cute, urban style.

Breakfast number 2 – Princi Cafe – this was a newbie, a place on my way to Sempione Park along Via Venezia, and after walking past the window I couldn’t not walk back and have a closer look. Never have I ever seen Pain au Chocolats looks so amazingly golden. So many regrets for not getting some pastry goods to go, but considering what I did get from there, my arteries are probably relieved I didn’t. It was one of those moments where you’re looking at the options and then you notice the Big Whopper, the King of the display, and as soon as the guy asked me what I wanted, I couldn’t help but point and ask him what on earth this heavenly looking cake was. Baring in mind it’s 10am, and this is a full-blown dessert cake ok, but he recovered, and went on to list every dessert-lover’s bliss. A biscuit base with a layer of chocolate hazelnut ganache, a thick layer of sticky caramel with caramelised hazelnuts and chocolate covered biscuit balls topped with a layer of frozen cream and covered with a coating of milk chocolate. By the end of his description I was just nodding and saying si, because I think after that you can’t really not try it, even if you know you should be gorging on the fresh fruit or the buttery croissants they have instead. But no, a holiday is a holiday and I was going to have that cake be damned.

The rest of the day’s food follows along the same vein – another pasticceria on my list, Sugar, was my afternoon stop where I had some cute blackberry and raspberry pastries, and as my attempt to find one of the gelaterias on my list failed as it apparently no longer exists (merci bcp Tripadivsor) a twist of fate had me walking past a place called Chocolot Maggi (funnily enough on my way to Sugar) and I had a raspberry and white chocolate ice cream. I kid you not, the white chocolate ice cream tasted exactly like I was eating Cadburys chocolate. It was a beautiful moment : ) And of course, I went to Pasticceria Marchesi, the Milanese entry on the Buzzfeed article. That’s one down, twenty-four more to go…

But obviously I didn’t spend the whole day on a food tour of Milan, as fun as that does sound – plus for the record I decided to forgo a Metro daypass and walk everywhere, which I like to think counter-acted the excess sugar intake of the day (too much wishful thinking?)
Anyway, food highlights aside, I enjoyed the actual city just as much. So much that I took over 600 photos. I haven’t done that since Canada so Milan is definitely topping my list of things I’ve done so far in Italy! I walked through Sempione Park and saw the Castello Sforzesco and the Arco della Pace – pretty perfect when the sun is shining and you’re surrounded by green grass and flowers. And whilst it is one of the touristy things to do, I went in the Duomo and went up to walk on the roof terraces – this was incredible. The view of the city isn’t much, it’s more of the actual Duomo that you appreciate. In fact, the Duomo is hands down one of the most amazing pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen.

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So with the roof terraces ticked-off my to-do list, the only other main thing that I really wanted to do for definite was the Cimitero Monumentale, which obviously had to be on the other side of the city. But so worth the walk, and so worth the half a dozen map-check stops to make sure I was in the right place.
How to explain this place without making it sound weird… basically it’s a cemetery where the tombs and gravestones are so elaborately ornate it blows your mind. You could spend hours here and still not have seen everything, and I could have stayed there the whole afternoon if it weren’t for the incessant attack of ants that kept biting me – next time, I’m wearing my Timberlands.
I managed to see and do a lot of things in that one day – admittedly my train home wasn’t until 9pm, but with a city as big as Milan I wanted to make sure I could fit in as much as possible. And when you’re there you learn that there is so much more to the city than just Designer shops and fashion. For one, I’m crazy about Romans and their architecture, and Milan has a whole Milano Antico tour, which I bought a guide for, and there are apparently ruins and museums all across the city. Reason enough to go back!
So how was my first proper solo adventure of my Italy experience? It was pretty damn awesome. Yes the downside is I have no photos of me next to the Duomo or the Basicilia or La Scala or Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, but I had such a great time that this doesn’t really bother me.
Milan has to be one of the most interesting cities I’ve visited in Italy and I wholeheartedly say ‘Go Visit.’

*here’s the link for the buzzfeed article – everyone needs a little bit of cake in their lives!

http://www.buzzfeed.com/candacelowry/bakeries-around-the-world-you-should-visit-before-you-die