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…)


Faces of the different nationalities of the European Parliament

Faces of the different nationalities of the European Parliament


Le Manneken Pis – Brasil 2014 style!


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


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!



Remembering Nelson Mandela


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


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





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


Colourful streets of Stavanger


Marilyn ❤


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…


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…


Brussels – Day Two

It may be difficult for anyone who knows me (and therefore knows how I prefer to sit in a bar/café/anywhere to avoid marching about in the cold) to believe, but on “Brussels- Day Two” I spent a good ten hours sightseeing. Shock.

The sightseeing process was, however, slightly delayed by my quest to find a camera charger (mission impossible). After having been coerced into splurging forty euros on what was apparently the only option – a set which comprised of every method possible to charge my camera, and took a puzzling thirty minutes to assemble – it, inevitably, did not work. In a normal world this would be annoying enough, but you could simply take it back to the shop, request a refund and erase such a trauma from your memory. However, this was not to be the case. I had to go to a special desk for returns and deliveries, was given a numbered ticket like when you’re waiting to buy new kids shoes in Clark’s, and waited in line for enough time to watch a nature documentary on whalesong, with dutch commentary (customer services had kindly thought about keeping us entertained during the painful waiting time). When my number was finally called, I was met by a glum-faced assistant who responded to my issues by presenting me with a piece of A4 paper claiming to be a gift voucher for forty euros. Obviously this was not the result an English tourist was after – what use would I have with a gift voucher for a discount hardware shop exclusively in Brussels? Maybe I could find a good-value toaster or a smoothie maker to take back home with me in my suitcase…

Giving up on this particular assistant, I searched the shop for a higher source of power and eventually found someone who spoke to someone who called someone who called someone else who called her back to say that the refund was legit. My forty euros and I were finally to be reunited. If this experience has taught me anything, it’s to never expect anyone in the world to want to help you out… ever. Okay perhaps that’s a slightly cynical view, just don’t expect decent Customer Service in Brussels! (It also gave me an opportunity to put all that French arguing/debating in practise, although this argument was less along the lines of “should girls be allowed to wear the Burqa?”, or “is there a need for feminism in modern France?”, and more among the lines of “give me back my forty euros, bitch.”

Despite this whole episode stealing a good hour of my life, I left the shop feeling triumphant and therefore ready to seize the day. Thus the tourist activities could commence.

First up, the Atomium. So I’m a lover of all things cultural and am not known for being strongly passionate about science or technology. However, atoms are cool, and the Atomium was very impressive. It’s Brussels’ answer to the Eiffel Tower: a non-religious landmark that celebrates and encourages innovation, technology and modern society. Originally being constructed as part of the 1958 Brussels World Fair, the Atomium is the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times. There are panaoramic views of Brussels from the top sphere, and you travel from sphere to sphere in some super cool space-agey, flashy-lighty escalators (who knew escalators could be such fun).

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Inside the Atomium, there was an exhibition on innovation and invention, which sought to define the difference between the two. The main idea is that anything can be invented regardless of its purpose or target market, but when it comes to innovation, there needs to be the specific needs of a target market in mind. The exhibition included Apple’s first version of a tablet in 1993 – “the Newton Message Pad”- which failed to innovate because it “was too early”; the technology was not up to date and there wasn’t yet a need in the market for a tablet.

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After my inner geek had been revitalised, it was time to go in search of yet more frites belges, this time opting for Brussels’ renowned Maison Antoine. You had to buy your frites (with an option of one of about a billion sauces – I stuck with my trusty mayo) at this little hut place and then take them inside a nearby bar. It seemed a bit weird to be taking a bag of chips into a bar but hey, if that’s the way to do it then so be it. We got chatting to some Italians on the table next to us (I say “we” because I pretended to know what was going on, but really I was quite clueless) who informed us that in preparation for every night out, they line their stomach with greasy fried goodness from Maison Antoine. This is apparently much more effective in avoiding a hangover rather than doing the standard end of the night kebab procedure us Brits are accustomed to. Seeing as these guys had already started on their drinking sesh at midday and had plans on making it a late one, I think it was fairly optimistic of them to think they could avoid a hangover in any case. Nonetheless, I was grateful to learn a bit of Italian drinking culture/tactics.


Oh also, here’s a “Cone of Legs” I found nearby…

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Onto what Brussels is probably most famous for; the European Parliament. Just wandering about the parliamentary buildings was super cool and inspiring because you hear so many different languages and see people from all over Europe, not to mention the fact these are the people who make every day decisions that affect all of us as European citizens. I can’t really think of a less vulgar way to describe this experience other than a “linguist’s wet dream”. (cringing at that expression but really don’t know how else to put it!)

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We went on a little interactive tour which told us a bit about the founding and the history of the EU, with many inspiring quotes along the way:

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The tour ended with a virtual parliament type thing where we sat in a bright white room (a bit like the one in Bruce Almighty) and pretended to be a parliament member whilst listening to various virtual figures put forward their case in order to try and get a law passed. Each member delivers their speech in their own language whilst a team of interpreters work their magic into the 23 official languages of the EU, meaning that each member only ever has to work and think in their mother tongue. How quickly and efficiently a community of so many nationalities can communicate was something I found fascinating; again, too much for an aspiring linguist to cope with.

After a successful touristy/educational day, we sought to recuperate by munching on another Belgian speciality: waffles. I think all of us went for some variation on nutella (does anyone realistically prefer their waffles with anything other than nutella…?)


Overall thoughts on Brussels – loved it (even with the camera charger fiasco). Perfect combination of pretty and historical sites mixed with a more modern/urban feel. Part of the charm for me is that, despite being a capital city as well as the capital of the European Union, it really didn’t seem that touristy. You could truly sense that it is a vibrant city that people live and work in; i.e. it isn’t overridden by tourists! (Apart from me). Next time I come back here, however, I definitely need to explore more of “Bruxelles par nuit”!

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(had to get a bit of Croatian loving in somewhere)

(had to get a bit of Croatian loving in somewhere)

Mussels in Brussels – Day One

After a week of nasty exams, the truth came crashing down; my Erasmus semester at the Université de Lorraine in Nancy was over. This was kind of bittersweet. It meant no more horrible grammar lessons with patronising, evil French lady who petrified me more than a handshake with my former school headteacher (all Kennet pupils will know what I mean), and no more of the daily forty minute walk to uni at 8 in the morning in the bitter cold (not good for my lazy/ “I hate mornings” personality). However, these are quite possibly the only things I won’t miss about my time here. This semester has without a doubt been my best so far since embarking on my degree course, I will obviously miss Tuesday nights at “The Love Boat”, and I have made some lifelong friends from not just England and France, but all over Europe.

Anyway, the best part is I’m only half way through my year abroad, and even better is that I have a six week gap until I repeat the gruelling uni enrolment process in Padova, Italy ( FYI definitely not complaining about the Italy part, just the crappy admin stuff). So I decided to take advantage of this and have temporarily become Bobbie the Traveller. First stop: Bruxelles.

Travelling on a budget, we decided to try out the bus company, Eurolines. This was efficient, cheap and – thanks to some consistently arguing Italians/Arabs – highly entertaining. Upon arrival we found the hostel and, from the front door, things didn’t look too promising….


However, it was in a prime position (located just off the main square), and, at 20 euros a night, we could hardly complain.  After some struggles with duvets (this was extra difficult for my Wisconsin pal Zak who hadn’t had any experience with the duvet cover/duver combination before – apparently in America it’s an all-in-one sort of affair), we set off to explore the city. What I found surprising whilst wandering about the streets was that, despite being a capital city and obviously a popular tourist destination, they were practically empty. Perhaps this was due to the miserable weather… 

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Nevertheless, being English and naturally having low expectations weather-wise, I was completely un-phased and my mood could not be dampened – especially after a nutritious,wholesome meal of frites and chicken strips.


(The next attempt at eating Belgian chips, however, wasn’t so successful, as they were so well fried that I cut my gum on one, had to leave the rest of the packet, and spent the next half an hour dabbing at my mouth with a tissue…)

Moving on, something I didn’t really know about Brussels before going there, was how much cool street art there is. Here’s some particularly impressive stuff by a Belgian artist called ROA, whose work can be found throughout Europe, London and the U.S (found this out through a friend/google). He’s keen on combining and contrasting nature with urban life, so chooses places such as derelict carparks, constructions sites, factories, or just generally remote urban areas to create murals of animals like these incredibly cute piggies:

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Here’s some other cool street art:

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And then there’s this one based on Brussels’ famous mannekin of le garcon qui fait pipi (the pissing boy):

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We then stumbled across a skate park with some brilliant views over the station, so played about and took photos there for a while (probably much to the disgust of people who actually wanted to use the park for its original purpose).

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Next stop was a super cool lift up to I can’t remember where, but it provided us with some pretty magical views over the whole of Brussels just as the sun was setting.

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In the evening we were in need of warming up so went for a “hopdog” (hotdog), served to us by a man who was slightly baffled as to why an English person, an American and two Italians were conversing in French…This also confused us as sentences merged between French, Italian, English and a tiny bit of Spanish (a boy from Peru staying in our hostel thought I was Portugese when he couldn’t make out what language I was speaking – think I’m having an identity crisis).

After a yummy dinner, we set off on a quest to find some Belgian beer. In the process we walked past many touristy restaurants and were offered all the moules we could ever desire. I didn’t even know Brussels were famous for mussels; it’s definitely not near the sea. It just doesn’t make sense to me.


Having avoided being dragged into any fishy restaurants (I don’t even like mussels), we found our destination; Delirium – a bar which claims to have a list of over 2100 beers on offer. My choice seemed fairly obvious…


But I stuck with something girly and peach flavoured. (Can’t remember the name, sorry)


I was then permitted a brief boogie in an Irish bar by my fellow (more sensible) travellers, before calling it a night as we had an action packed day of being tourists yet to come…

Strasbourg – Perfect start to Christmas

It seems odd to write about my very Christmassy trip to Strasbourg only now, seeing as Baba Noel has well and truly been and gone, but unfortunately the majority of December was taken up with a few horrendously painful exams (and catching up on Downton Abbey in a race against time before the Christmas special). So here we are.

As a big lover of all things festive, I had been looking forward to the trip to Strasbourg Christmas markets since first moving to Nancy way back in September. The promise of vin chaud, waffles, crepes, hot dogs and gingerbread had me more than just a little bit excited. However, in the run up to the inevitable Christmas binge I’d had the bright idea of giving up all things bad for me (including alcohol). This meant that all things yummy were completely off limits, which wasn’t so fun! That being said, I found that I could still really appreciate the food products being sold as I was more occupied with how pretty everything was rather than instantly wanting to pig out!

We started the day off with a Canal Tour on a boat which creeped me out a little bit as it seemed it could double up as a greenhouse/some sort of human incubator, and it played hypnotic Pocahontas style music; especially worrying so early in the morning when I was still in a sort of dreamworld.



However, I was soon reassured when we got moving and I remembered how much I love boat tours – you get to sit there and be lazy whilst all the scenery comes to you, parfait. 

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Seeing the European Parliament buildings was pretty cool, but the highlight was without a doubt seeing a beaver on the side of the canal. Totally unexpected and subsequently I have no photographic evidence as I was far too much in awe of the creature I had only ever seen before in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Who knew Mr Beaver likes to hang out in Strasbourg when he’s not busy backing Aslan in the battle against the White Witch back in Narnia?

The rest of the morning was spent strolling round la vielle ville searching for postcards and then a café for something quick to eat. This was a lot easier said than done as we had picked the first weekend of the Christmas markets, meaning that every restaurant/café was packed with like-minded tourists in seek of half an hour inside in the warm before venturing back outside to explore the markets. We settled for munching on a pretzel on a park bench, and then found a quirky bar that seemed to do every flavoured beer under the sun. However, my diet meant that I settled for a cup of thé vert.

We then did a bit more exploring around the market stalls. Strasbourg and its surrounding region of Alsace is apparently well known for storks, as was evident through much of the produce on sale…


In the centre of town there was a whole section of a market dedicated to/run by Croatians, which had me reminiscing over my adventures to Croatia last Summer (as if I don’t already talk about it enough).

noel croate zagreb

A slight detour away from the markets led us to a “hippies shop” which sold everything you could ever possibly need from model campervans to Lonsdale gym bags to “back-belly chains”. Slightly confused as to how the latter two can be described as “hippy”… Anyway we thought we’d have a peek inside to see what other gems we might find, and were greeted by a very chilled out sales assistant asking if there was anything we needed in particular, and if so he would have a look out the back for us. Not 100% sure what sort of shop we had just walked into, we decided to decline the offer and be on our way. 

hippies      back belly chain

The rest of the afternoon saw some “organised fun” in which all the Erasmus students were sent off in teams with a potato, and had to exchange it for something of higher value with any random member of the public. Whilst slightly daunting, this activity was great for learning how to barter in French. Or it would have been if the only person I attempted to make conversation with actually spoke French… I think he was German (perhaps not so surprising seeing as Strasbourg is right on the border). The rest of my team had better luck as our potato slowly but surely transformed into a tissue, then a cigarette and then a yellow rose. Magic.

The evening was spent in a restaurant with an unlimited amount of tarte flambées – basically a yummy pizza/ crusty bread sort of thing with toppings ranging from smoked salmon and cream cheese to apple and cinnamon (at this stage in the day my diet had become near enough impossible). The beer was also flowing and a “who could sing the loudest” competition soon sprung into action between the Italians and the Spanish, it’s hard to judge who won. We then moved onto Strasbourg’s Erasmus bar, “L’underground”. Despite the slightly unoriginal name and the dodgy unlit stairway, this bar was pretty cool and blasted out some great essential party tunes (i.e. plenty of Britney Spears and Sean Paul). A good time boogying was had by all in true Erasmus spirit.


All in all, my trip to Strasbourg was an ideal start to festive season, even if passing on the vin chaud was an incredibly tough sacrifice.

market ginger boucherie

Jumping on the bandwagon

Six weeks ago I left my beloved Newbury and have since been living and studying in Nancy, France as the first part of my Erasmus year abroad. Nancy is a beautiful and sophisticated town found in the Lorraine region (home to Quiche Lorraine, believe it or not). Everything about this cultural gem of a town is very “chic” – from the majestic Place Stanislas to the revolving dancefloor of  “Le Chat Noir” (very confusing when you are trying to get to your friends but they just keep moving further and further away, and you can’t fathom why….). Even the kebab shops have their own outdoor seating area and an air of sophistication that just seems to escape British kebab culture. You can imagine the disgust and confusion I face when asking for a French version of a “cheesy chip butty” –  “Je voudrais du pain, avec des frites et de fromage s’il vous plait???” It just doesn’t exist. In fact, I’m not sure if I’m quite “chic” enough to be living here, but I’m giving it my best shot.


It may be a little late to start a blog, but everyone was doing it and I felt like jumping on the bandwagon, or rather I was suffering from “FOMO” (besides, I know all my Facebook friends love it when their newsfeeds are inundated with cultural blog posts). I won’t go into immense detail over what I have done over the last six weeks, as that could take six weeks to do so. However, I’ll give you a brief overview of the highlights of my time here so far:

Place Stanislas: as previously mentioned, this is the town’s main tourist point, and it has every reason to be. A UNESCO world heritage site with fountains, statues and golden intricacies, it is absolutely jaw-dropping – even in the torrential rain (which is never ending here in Nancy). The fact that I have to walk through the Place everyday on my route to uni makes going to lectures just slightly more appealing.Image

Parc Pépiniere: okay so I know we have parks in England, but this one has monkeys! The gardens and wildlife also make for pretty viewing. My favourite spot to go jogging in Nancy (even if I have only done so once during my time here, during which I spent the majority of the time desperately trying to keep up with my friend who is blessed with much longer legs than me…)


The Love Boat For all you Fever enthusiasts who have been mourning its loss over the past six months, the Love Boat Bar is an equal match. Actually, Fever didn’t do karaoke nights; The Love Boat wins.


Oktoberfest, Munich: so this was my first “voyage” with the Erasmus society as well as being my first trip to Germany, and it was fantastisch (fantastic in German for those of you wondering). After a painful 8 hour overnight coach journey, my cheerful self was soon to be restored by the incredible atmosphere, beer drunk by the litre and men in laderhosen. The experience was fully worth spending thirty euros on tacky tourist souvenirs.


Fête de la soupe: I was very doubtful as to how a festival to celebrate soup could resemble anything less boring than a traffic jam, but I was pleasantly surprised; soup is fun! You had 2 hours to taste all the different soups cooked by locals in interesting costumes, then vote for your favorite. Inevitably I chose a cheese flavored soup. Didn’t buy any tacky tourist souvenirs here as they had run out of Fête de la Soupe tea towels.


Day trip to Metz: Visited a modern art museum, spent most of the time standing behind signs that said “No Entry”, or on the other side of lines that said “Do not cross this line”, and demanding people to take photos of my hilarity.

Voyage dans Les Vosges: A little cultural excursion to the neighboring region of Alsace, close to the German border. This weekend was action packed, including a trip to a chateau (got to be done whilst in France), a visit to a monkey park (more monkeys!), Alsace wine tasting (all in the name of culture), a “grande soirée” and then a walk round the picturesque Lac Geradmer the next day to recover. Tourist souvenirs bought here include: lots of wine, tacky naked lady postcards.


Laser Quest: Got fully into this and genuinely believed I had morphed into Lara Croft. Then looked at the scoreboard… I suck.


So there you have in a nutshell my first six weeks in the land of baguettes, escargots and ladies who wear high heels at all times other than for a night out (wearing heels shopping/ to lectures… who does that??) “Is Nancy living up to the high life of fun and adventure that you are used to in Newbury?”, I hear you ask. Brace yourselves for my response, but yes, my time so far here has been incredible and I have most definitely come to understand the expression “home from home”. J’adore Nancy. Sorry for being soppy.

There are a lot more things I could say, but I’m not going to because I have a 9am lecture tomorrow. Until the next time I am bored of uni work and need some form of procrastination, I’ll wish you all a “bonne nuit“.

Bisous xxx