Vado a Padova… domani!

So my six weeks of travelling/milling about at home enjoying a bit of R+R flew by incredibly quickly – the most action-packed February I’ve ever had! The fabulous news now is that, tomorrow, I will be flying to Italy where I will be embarking on my next Erasmus semester in Padua (expect every blog post from now on to be pizza-related). Up until now, I hadn’t really thought about how excited I am because in the meantime I have had a great time travelling on a budget to – yet still managing to spend far too much money in – Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Norway and of course back home with the family. But now the penny has dropped – I am going to Italy tomorrow for the first time in my life, and will be staying a whole five months! La vita è bella I tell you…

Before I set off on this new adventure (please Easyjet give me a seat with adequate leg room), I should probably tie up a few loose ends. I haven’t quite managed to keep up with my blogging, so in order to provide a little summary of my winter travels, here are some of my favourite pics taken in various locations over the past month or so. I’ll say now that I am far from a professional – or even halfway decent – photographer, but I try to take quick snaps of things a little bit different that invoke particular random memories. (Brace yourselves for wonky/blurry photos…)

Brussels:

Faces of the different nationalities of the European Parliament

Faces of the different nationalities of the European Parliament

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Le Manneken Pis – Brasil 2014 style!

Paris:

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“Love is Dead” – not exactly something you’d expect to find spray painted onto the streets of Paris!

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Incredible cakes at a bakery near my friend’s flat. No idea what they were, just that after one delicious mouthful I knew that I had probably maxed out my recommended calorie intake for that day…

Celebrating Sarah’s (bottom right hand corner) 21st birthday in style – with a classic Eiffel Tower selfie!

Amsterdam:

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Remembering Nelson Mandela

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One of the many canals I got lost walking down (preparing for Venice)

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“Anything good in life is either illegal, immoral or fattening” – I read this in a restaurant whilst munching on a yummy (fattening) chicken schnitzel…

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Peekaboo

Norway:

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Lady in Stavanger. My ten year old cousin didn’t appreciate this because of the nudity

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Colourful streets of Stavanger

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Marilyn ❤

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Deserted picturesque seaside town (Norway doesn’t do February)

Sunny view from my uncle and aunty's house - not bad!

Sunny view from my uncle and aunty’s house – not bad!

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A Norweigan man paid me the equivalent of £2 to take a picture of him sat here. I would’ve taken it for free…

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A mosaic created by my Aunty and her former school (British International School of Stavanger), found in Stavanger Airport Arrivals – pretty cool claim to fame!

I have left out the photos of Paris Erotic Museum, where my friend Lauren and I found ourselves with six floors of all things phallic to look at – a weird experience, but definitely an unforgettable one. I guess watching 1950s porn together amongst other (mainly male) tourists just wasn’t our thing…

Anyway, back to the whole point of this post, I’m going to Italy tomorrow!!!! Did I mention that I am just a little bit excited? My first mission should probably to be to find somewhere to live, but with the Venice carnival currently in full swing, I feel that that particular task may be somewhat postponed. A few more nights in a hostel won’t hurt…

Getting lost in Paris

The weekend of the 23rd January was sadly to be my last weekend in France  for the time being, so what better way to spend it is there than in good old Paris? This was my third visit to Paris and, with each visit, my fondness for the French capital grows. Some may say that Paris is “over-rated” and “too touristy”, and yes, it is very obviously a tourist hot-spot but there is so much more to the charm of this alluring city than the traditional attractions such as Le Tour Eiffel and L’Arc de Triomphe. Don’t get me wrong, these landmarks are a must-see and have to be ticked off the bucket list on a trip to Paris (I hasten to add that there is absolutely no shame in taking numerous selfies with the Eiffel Tower in the background.) However, once these activities are out of the way, I urge you to soak up the atmosphere as much as possible in order to truly appreciate le facon de vivre and to encapture that Parisian charm which is so effortlessly portrayed in many a utopian, lovey-dovey sort of  French film.

My favourite way to do this is to simply leave your map at home, forget about any planned agendas and get lost. This is what I accidentally ended up doing as I set off to find Les Galeries Lafayettes (a luxury shopping centre boasting brands such as Gucci and Louis Vitton situated in a VERY beautiful building). Anyway, after a brief moment of panic as I realised I had left my map back at my friend’s flat and was therefore alone in a foreign city and on a metro notorious for its pick-pocketing professionals, I found an ounce of courage within me and set off on an adventure; “Bobbie the Traveller” had now upgraded to “Bobbie the Explorer”.

After asking several commuters how to reach my destination, and at least a good half an hour journey later, I finally found the galleries and spent a mere ten minutes there before I felt entirely overwhelmed. What was I doing in a place that sold handbags worth more than everything I’ve ever owned?? I also remembered how much I hate massive, over-crowded places where the exits are never completely clear, leading me to feel trapped in some very expensive bubble land. No amount of intricate painted glass and exquisite architecture could make me enjoy this place – in reality it is a shopping centre, and I dislike shopping centres.

So I was therefore left with four hours to fill before my friend finished work and I decided I would visit a Paris attraction which rests among my firm favourites, the Centre Pompidou – a complex with a bunch of street artists performing just outside it. Fun and free: much more up my street. However, without a map and with limited geographical knowledge of Paris, I had no real grasp of how to get there, or how far away it would be. Again, I sucked it up and remembered my new explorer title so didn’t let this minor detail phase me. I figured that it was near Notre Dame, which is along the Seine, so as long as I could find a river I would be halfway there.

Upon this little voyage I found things I wouldn’t normally know how to get to, and places I had never really intended to visit. This included a street of diamond shops with scary looking security guards at every shop entrance. Important looking men would roll up in whatever chauffeur-driven luxury car they happened to own, escorted into the shop where they would spend barely minutes looking for a gift, and then they’d stroll out again triumphant with their purchase. Done deal.

The next thing I unintentionally found was WHSmith Paris. I know I was living in France, meaning that complete immersion in everything French was necessary and thus going into a British shop was absolutely against any rule that I had set for myself, but I couldn’t help but pine after a little bit of Britain from time to time. I therefore had a peek inside to see what I might find; I always find it interesting to see how my own nationality and part of identity is represented and perceived by other nations, so maybe WHSmith Paris could help in giving me a slight insight?

I wasn’t disappointed as I soon found a shelf which represented every sort of food that us Brits are apparently famous for; Marmite, Marmalade, Branston pickle, Heinz baked beans and Colman’s mustard (all other nations must think we eat everything out of tins and cans). Another thing which made me chuckle was the mountain of unwanted mince pies they had on offer, as it very much reminded me of my own family’s cupboards back home. Every year we are left with stacks of leftovers; mince pies are simply no good once Christmas Day has passed!

Feeling slightly guilty after my indulgent British detour, I once again set off on my quest to find the river which thankfully happened to be very close by. Part one of the mission down, all I had to do now was to walk along the river in the opposite direction of the Eiffel Tower in order to reach Notre Dame and then the Centre Pompidou was around there somewhere: easy-peasy. However, I didn’t quite consider how far that might be…

On the walk up the river I stopped off to look at the many second hand pop-up bookshops and was very very tempted to buy an old-smelling, classic piece of French literature which I knew I would never read but would feel very cultural and intellectual for buying at the time. However, having already dumped half of my books at my friend’s flat on the basis that my suitcase was far too heavy (sorry Lauren) I decided against it and instead bought a few souvenirs to take back to my family. These included: a quirky chocolate-based fridge magnet for my Mum, and a poster of a cow with all the body parts labelled in French for my brother – should he ever wish to go into a French restaurant and order a Cow’s tongue, he now has a handy guide to help him.

So maybe these gifts weren’t the most conventional, but I thought they showed a bit of thought and definitely beat the over-priced commercial items of all the tacky tourist shops! Moreover, I got to try and explain to the shop-owner where my hometown (Newbury) is, and talking about Newbury is something I will never tire of doing: (une petite ville historique dans le sud de l’Angleterre, pas loin d’Oxford, une heure de Londres par train, oui je l’aime bien…)

Two hours later…

I finally found the Centre Pompidou and there was absolutely nothing going on, a bit of an anti-climax to my whole mission really. It would seem a rainy Monday in January wasn’t the most popular time for street artists to perform… However, after an initial pang of disappointment, I realised that I didn’t really mind. I had spent the afternoon wandering aimlessly around the streets of Paris and along the River Seine, practised speaking French, spent minimal amount of pennies, and stumbled across places I would had never have planned upon if I were to stick to a carefully thought-out agenda/route. All of this and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time doing it.

So basically what I’m trying to say here is, if you really want to attempt to get to know a foreign city, just find a little bit of the explorer in you and go and get lost!

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