Friday, 27 June 2014

Settling into Santo Stefano

Standing in the town square watching the traditional dancing with the vineyard spotted hills behind me, I though I'd fallen into a Peter Mayle book. But this isn't Provence, this is Piemonte.

Santo Stefano Roero, Piedmont

Its been 2 weeks since we arrived in Santo Stefano from Milan. We are starting a brand new kind of adventure. Over is the wilderness of South East Asia and the tourist saturated Italian cities. Now we are settling in small town Italy for the summer.

And what a place to be settling in. The Alps are in sight and the Ligurian coast is just an hours drive away; the hills produce world famous wines and much of the landscape is protected by Unesco.

We are staying with a family who have generously allowed us to stay with them in exchange for some au pair work with their children. Neither Mark or I have ever au paired before, or even been trusted with our nieces for more than a few hours, but we were excited to find some creative ways to spend our time with Corrado, 5 and Adelaide, 9.

First meetings

Mama Virginia knew us straight off the train and it wasn't long before we were on our way home and getting a run down on everything from the landscape and local culture to the children's temperaments and excitement for the World Cup.

But is was clear this was no ordinary family. Arriving at Nonni's we were introduced to more aunts, cousins and sisters than I could remember and it seemed that everyone was gifted in some way, be it as an artist, musician or singer.

Nonni's is also where we met the kids for the first time; Adelaide smiling sweety at the door and Corrado from a distance as he ran around the pool completely naked!

Brutta figura

We met Papa Davide at the house and joined the family for dinner al fresco. We were amazed at the competency of their English, but were also happy to hear some more day to day Italian phrases and get the opportunity to ask what they meant.

During the meal Corrado didn't want to do something because it would be "brutta figura" which means ugly figure, or something embarrassing. It didn't take long for Corrado to forget all about this over the next week as he made faces, insisted in playing football naked and ate out of his belly button!

Corrado after a day of mushroom picking

Getting creative

Our first week we mainly looked after Adelaide as her school had already finished for the summer. Unfortunately the weather wasn't with us, but we kept each other entertained with documentaries, card games and some homework.

I had been inspired by the beautiful scenery and landscape around us and as soon as the weather turned we drove out to the neighbouring town to do some sketching. I'd noticed Adelaide's talent during a round of Pictonary and as I thought she flourished during our morning out.

The rest of the week we continued to get to know each other; the boys bonding over the football, and the girls over the food!

Mark, Adelaide and I in Fossano

Food glorious food!

Part of our reason for coming to Italy was because we loved Italian food, but during our stays in the cities we felt we weren't getting the real experience.

This was quickly addressed and put to bed as soon as we arrived in Piemonte. Mama claims she only knows about 15 recipes but we've already be feasting on fresh pesto, carbonara, mozzarella cartridges and ragu all coupled with fresh tomatoes, salad, wonderful cheeses and bread. I've never eaten so well, and I'm definitely making notes for when we get home!

8 weeks in Piedmont

We were lucky enough that in our first few weeks, Santo Stefano was having its annual festival. The weekend evenings saw the town square transformed into a hive of food, wine, beer and entertainment, and people came for near and far for the traditional dancing and music.

Fancy footwork at the Santo Stefano festival

Standing in the town square watching the traditional dancing with the vineyard spotted hills behind me, I though I'd fallen into a Peter Mayle book. But this wasn't Provence, this is Piemonte and that meant a new language, traditional foods and local wine.

I'm beginning the think these 8 weeks will be the most influential of all the time we have been travelling, as our thoughts turn from adventure to building a new life in the UK.

I can't wait to find out more over the coming weeks! Ciao x

Friday, 20 June 2014


5 - 10 June

I was especially excited to be arriving in Milan on the 5th as I knew my 2 best friends were also on their way too! After 3 months I was going to be reunited with my besties!

Here come the girls!

Not that we've ever really been apart. Travelling in the social media age really does mean your friends and family are just the touch of a button away, and we'd been trying to keep up with the group chats from the road.

A few hours after we arrived I heard their voices at the door, and I greeted them with hugs and tears just the same as I left them. After a welcome drink we headed to the city for dinner and a long overdue catch up! We spent the evening on the balcony like no time had passed at all.

Sforza Castle and fountain

The following day we (our usual group size doubled to 4) visited the Sforzesco Castle and grounds and walked to the canal area, where we cooed over the ducklings and the beautiful view.

Outside the castle there were loads of food, drink and sweets stalls. We sank our teeth into noodles, souvlaki and hotdogs whilst sipping on sangria and dipping our feet in the fountain.

La Dolce Vita

In the gardens we picked up a deck of cards to play with in the evening. When the time came we quickly realised these are cards for the Italian game Scopa! We'd no idea how to play so instead played a bastardised versions of uno, gin rummy and pairs.

We spend most of the rest of out time in Milan playing these crazy card games, going on a picnic and finding some truly needed Mexican food!

Milan Duomo

On our final day, Mark visited the San Siro stadium in the city whilst I got some shopping time with the girls. After we made our way to the Duomo, kind of ashamed we hadn't made time for a visit before now. Inside the stained glass was the biggest decoration, as well as some very much dead bodies of archbishops.

The next thing we knew it was time to go. I was sad to be leaving my friends again, but happy to know when I will see them next in a couple of months time.

But, once the goodbyes were said it was time to go. This time to Piedmont to meet the Scarsi family who we will be living with for the summer! Eeek!

Thursday, 12 June 2014


3 - 5 June

En route to Milan from Florence we had a 2 night pit stop in Bologna. I didn't know much about this small city other than that it is the home of a staple meal in almost every family I know, and it is home to the worlds oldest university.

On our first evening we visited the central square and sought out some spaghetti bolognaise, which conceals itself under the name tagliatelle ragu. Its was different to how its served in the UK; less sauce and all mixed into the pasta, but it was delicious!

Real ragu

Arched pathways decorate this pretty city, and it reminded me of Covent Garden. Countless students on bicycles decorated the streets. Unlike many of the other cities we've visited, Bologna wasn't swarming with tourists; we could move and explore, blend in even!

Archways of Bologna

The biggest sight for tourists in Bologna is the Two Towers. These were build in medieval times and the tallest of the two is 97m. We climbed to the top, for a stunning view of the city and surrounding countryside. We watched the rain sweep over the city, and it passed as we slowly and steadily made our way back down the steps.

The view from the top of the tallest tower

One thing I can say for sure is that arriving at our large faceless hotel showed me that I definitely prefer smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts. They are so much more welcoming and homely; just what I need being so far from home!

After our day in Bologna we made our way to our last tourist stop in Italy. We were off to Milan!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014


30 May - 3 June

After a very scenic and comfortable train ride through the countryside we arrived in Florence before the morning was over.

Dreamy Tuscan villa

We had been to Tuscany a few years ago. We stayed at a winery in Gaiole in Chianti and visited Siena, Pisa and San Gimignano, falling utterly in love with the rolling hills and vineyards. This time we were only visiting Florence though and it felt more like a city than I was expecting. After a little wondering though, the Tuscan charm started to reveal itself in the small alleys and the wine.

Pretty houses on the banks of the Arno

Florence has a lot to offer art fans, and despite my not being able to tell my Michaelangelo from my DaVinci I tried to appreciate what I could. We made time to visit 'David' and the Duomo.


One of the highlights for me was taking the walk across the river to Piazzele Michaelangelo for a stunning panoramic view of the city and the surrounding countryside. On a quieter corner of the square was stared out to the hills listening to the birds a sing in the olive grove below. It was a peaceful moment in a city that was bursting with tourists!

View of Florence

One morning to went for a run in the park nearly. It was a Sunday and full with families walking, runners, cyclists and kids learning to ride their bike. On one side there was a little fair and a market and it was nice to find a slice of local life. I'm really starting to enjoy getting off the tourist path and finding more day to day things to fill our time. I even had a chance to make dinner at our bed and breakfast which was lovely after 3 months of eating out. Its not long now until we finish our travels and start living as au pairs and I'm excited to pack my bag away and settle in for a couple of months.

After our run, we had earned our gelato, and sat in the sun in Piazza Della Repubblica wolfing down cheesecake and snickers flavour whilst watching the carousel spin and sing.

Carousel in the square

One of the finds of our trip to Florence was a Latin bar called Eby's. Its a short walk from the Duomo but serves amazing smoothies and burritos. Mark and I love Mexican food and the burritos made for a great change from pasta and pizza! Be warned though they are huge! "This burrito is delicious but it is filling!"

On our last day we picked up some postcards across the river from Ponte Veccio and enjoyed some more aimless wanderings around this pleasant city! Before we knew it we were back at the train station waiting for our train to Bologna!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Naples and Vesuvius

23-30 May

After a wonderful week in Rome, we were up bright and early for our train to Naples. We quickly realised we were headed for the wrong station and had to make a detour but we made it. We were sat in a cute 6 seat booth complete with wine glass holders. This was train travel in Italy. It felt like something from a movie, I was just missing some style!

Yummy cakes

As the train approached, I got my first glimpse of Vesuvius and began to get excited about our trip to Pompeii. The city looked as large and intimidating as the volcano and I began remembering everything I'd heard about Naples.

It was early when we arrived so we stored our luggage and went for a wonder to the marina and a castle. Instantly I was getting vibes of Southampton and Cherbourg, both marina towns. The signs, the cruise ships and the atmosphere was oddly familiar.

That night a tour guide staying at our hotel was mugged a few streets away from Corso Umberto, the main street in Naples, and this made us anxious. The following day we were a little nervous to go out, especially as Mark had almost been pick pocketed in Rome. I couldn't believe that in all our months of travelling and scam dodging in Asia, Naples had me scared to leave the hotel. The city wasn't exactly doing much to make us feel any better either, even the ticket man at the train station warned us about watching our bag; all we asked for was a timetable! He was nice about it, and obviously trying to help, but he was a rare breed. Many people in Naples seem to be born angry about something. There weren't a lot of smiles.

I was smiling at the pizza though! If there is one thing the Neapolitan's do well it's pizza, and I munched my way through plenty whilst I was here!

Pizza Margherita in Naples! The best!

On Tuesday we climbed Vesuvius! We had found information on getting there and the prices very sparse, so here is a 2014 update! Get the train to Pompeii Scavi, and get a ticket from the vendor at the station. Their bus will take you from the station to the park, and from the park to the top by 4x4. You still have to walk the last very steep bit to the crater. The price is €22 per person. It was no cheaper to get any other offer as the crater price is €10 alone. Whilst we waited I heard another tourist ask if there was a restaurant at the top. Mark and I giggled his naivety, but actually there was a refreshment stand at the top!

It was a bumpy ride up as the bus was more like an armoured tank. The 4x4s were more comfortable, but also bouncy. We arrived near the summit surrounded by the clouds, and the cool wind was refreshing to the point of chilly at times!

About to be covered in cloud on Vesuvius

When we reached the crater it was so much larger than I expected. To imagine an eruption was quite frightening, especially considering there were constant streams of gases being released from the sides. I think our experience would have been better if the clouds had cleared and we could see the view, but the crater was still worth a visit!

Towards the end of our visit we went to the National Archaeological Museum, which houses an impressive collection of sculptures and a large collection of artistic and domestic items recovered from Pompeii. The mosaics were out of this world and I was astounded to see that the people of Pompeii had impressive glass and silverware.

Boney mosaic

Soon enough it was the end of our visit and we were off to Florence, and whilst I can't say Naples has stolen my heart, its been a great week!