Quatre jours à Milan

IMG_6146IMG_6112

Warning: image-heavy post to follow. Said images may or may not provoke extreme desire to be in Milan rather than your current location.

 

My extended weekend jaunt to Milan was actually back in October, but as I sit in my apartment in Paris listening to the rain patter outside I can’t help but wish I was back in the beautiful Italian sunshine. I have to say I didn’t have high expectations for Milan because many people had told me it was just another commercial city with not much to do but shop. While I did notice it was like one giant shopping mall, I have to say that there was so much more to the city and I really enjoyed my time there.

 

I’ve listed seven of the things I loved seeing and doing in Milan below…

 

IMG_6129

1. The Duomo.

 

It’s an obvious one to start… Anyone who has visited Milan has of course seen this beautiful church and example of gothic architecture. It was my first stop after I put my bag down at my accommodation. It’s definitely worth going to the top to enjoy the views and all the intricate details of the building’s exterior. I took the stairs as a way of counteracting the pizza I was about to eat and to be honest it wasn’t that bad! The worst part about taking the stairs is that they are quite narrow and winding, making you feel a bit dizzy and having to be careful of other people taking the same staircase in the other direction to you. I went in the morning around 10-11am and the light was perfect.

 

IMG_6152IMG_6134IMG_6140IMG_6145IMG_6176IMG_6150IMG_6125IMG_6160

2. Looking at vintage stores in the Brera neighbourhood.

 

Brera is quite an upmarket area but it’s also quite artsy, with a few little boutiques and vintage stores. I took a peak inside Cavalli e Nastri, a beautiful and quite well-known vintage store with deigner gems from 1920 to 1980. There is also Vintage Delirium and Madame Pauline Vintage, which I didn’t get to.

 

The area is also very close to Castello Sforzesco, where I enjoyed walking through the grounds and taking some pictures of the exterior façades in the courtyards. It was even more pleasant to then continue the walk up through Parco Sempione and bask in the sunshine for a while before eventually reaching the Arco della Pace.

 

IMG_6181 (1)IMG_6189IMG_6190 (1)IMG_6191IMG_6202

3. Visiting a bustling weekend market

 

This was definitely a highlight during my stay. There are markets in every city and town, but while I was wandering through this one on a Saturday morning, I watched the locals buying their fresh fish, meat, vegetables, spices, flowers and almost anything you could imagine. I pictured them going back home afterward to prepare a big meal for their family and I couldn’t help but take joy from the fact that the stereotype is true — these are people who enjoy the simple pleasures in life: food and family.

 

The market also has many shoes, clothing, homewares and fabric stalls. I picked up the cutest pair of earrings from one of them… The only thing I actually bought for myself in Milan due to easyjet’s terrible one item of hand luggage policy!

 

IMG_6206IMG_6210IMG_6212

4. Peeking inside one of the city’s many churches.

 

I’m not usually interested in churches… A church is a church, right? But there was something about San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore (La Sistina di Milano) that made me really appreciate the beauty of their interiors and the attention to detail that is required to make them so stunning. Perhaps it’s an Italian thing?

 

IMG_6222IMG_6223IMG_6224

5. Sipping an Aperol Spritz as the sun goes down over the Naviglio Grande canal

 

The light reflecting off the water of the canal was one of the most beautiful things, and made wandering along the edge such a pleasant experience. It’s also a great spot for people watching — with families and tourists enjoying their gelati in the October sun, and young and old groups of friends having an aperitivo on the terrace of a café. It was also the perfect way to end a day of touring the city on the back of a scooter (grazie Federico)!

 

IMG_6227IMG_6235IMG_6229IMG_6232

6. Seeing Milan from above at the Palazzo Lombardia

 

This building is the main seat of government for the Lombardy region, and is open to the public on Sundays. It’s free to go to the top floor and take in the 360 degree view of the city. You can see the coming together of the old and the new, with a view including both the Duomo (if you squint quite hard) and the Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest); two residential buildings that mitigate smog and produce oxygen thanks to the trees around the outside.

 

IMG_6213

7. Simply wandering the streets and finding beautiful things everywhere

 

Even the public transportation is beautiful in Milan… the old trams are still functioning and are a beautiful juxtaposition to the modern boutiques and apartments.

 

The Milanese also dress impeccably. Coming from Paris, which has a reputation for being chic in a je ne sais quoi effortlessly cool way, I can honestly say the people in Milan were just oozing style and taste. Here, it was the attention to detail that made someone look chic (which was almost everyone). Whereas in Paris, it’s not a large part of the population who actually seem to have good taste in style and it’s also a different kind of style. Among the Milanese it could be just the flash of a silk scarf around a woman’s neck, a refined leather accessory, a suit tailored to perfection or the way playful socks peak out from under very serious trousers.

 

IMG_6465IMG_6472 (1)IMG_6475

 

Advertisements

Dior: Couturier du rêve

IMG_6005IMG_5999IMG_6002IMG_6001IMG_6003IMG_6004IMG_6006IMG_6007IMG_6015IMG_6019IMG_6020IMG_6021IMG_6022IMG_6023IMG_6026IMG_6028IMG_6029IMG_6031IMG_6033IMG_6009

Throngs of people, long queues and hot exhibition spaces… it was all worth it to see the Dior Couturier du Rêve exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Obviously the experience would have been much better had I visited on a quiet day, but I was too impatient.

 

The exhibition is a comprehensive look into Dior’s life but also the brand he created. The exhibition begins with family photographs and even includes a section reflective of his time as a gallery owner, featuring Picasso and Dalí pieces. There is also a room dedicated to extravagant Dior accessories, which have all been colour-coordinated to make a rainbow wall of shoes, earrings, bags and other trinkets.

 

Crossing the gallery shows us Dior with other designers at the helm. We see sketches and moodboards, next to some of the brand’s most iconic garments from Hedi Slimane, John Galliano, Raf Simons and more. The final section is an enchanting ballroom filled with Dior evening gowns. The colours, fabrics and dramatic cuts are awe-inspiring, enhanced further by the twinkling lights that reflect from the metallic details on many of the dresses.

 

The exhibition was an inspiring insight into one of the world’s best couture houses and how it has grown from nothing to what it is now. While it gave me pleasure to see the beautiful gowns, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad about the fact I wasn’t walking out wearing one of them…

La Dolce Vita in Capri

IMG_5937IMG_5927IMG_5944IMG_5962IMG_5955IMG_5926IMG_5941IMG_5943IMG_5947IMG_5983IMG_5993IMG_5981IMG_5989IMG_5950IMG_5954IMG_5991

I think it was the colour of the water that really seduced me in Capri… or maybe I’d finally had one too many gelati or Aperol Spritz. Either way, I fell in love with the island, despite the hoards of tourists. You really get a feel for the Dolce Vita in Capri — even if none of those boats on the harbour actually belong to you.

 

I think the highlight of this little excursion was the boat trip from Sorrento to Capri. At one point we stopped just off the coast of the island to jump off the boat and plunge into the pleasantly cool turquoise waters. Having been in Paris for the past year, it was strange to feel the familiar sensation of salt water on bare skin, with so much space to swim and dive. Because even if I had briefly swum in the ocean in Barcelona a week earlier, it just wasn’t the same to be only a few meters from the shore, surrounded by other tourists and the calls of locals trying to sell things on the beach “Beer, ice cold beer, water, ice water, mojito…” Here in Capri the water was calm and clear, and the only other sounds were those of other boats speeding across the water in the distance and the few other passengers diving in.

L’Été Italien

IMG_0533IMG_0529IMG_5864IMG_5876IMG_6706IMG_5872IMG_5875IMG_5910

I suppose holiday nostalgia is what finally pushed me to publish the photos from my week in Italy back in August. The longing for sunshine, the taste of an ice cold Aperol Spritz, submerging one’s body in the calm Mediterranean sea, laughing until the point of crying with the people who matter most in the world…

 

I fell in love with Italy on my first trip there this past summer. Rome was beautiful, but packed to the brim with tourists. It wasn’t such a different story along the Amalfi Coast, but it was certainly more relaxed. Taking the bus from Rome to Naples, we had a preview of the beautiful Italian countryside. And although we didn’t have time to really see Naples, even the view from the hotel was stunning — looking out to the islands as the sun set on the port.

 

With Amalfi as our next destination, we decided to take the ferry across to Sorrento and then a bus to Amalfi. At one point while planning the trip, we briefly considered renting a car for this period of the holiday. In the end, we decided it would be too expensive and too much of a hassle, not to mention the fact it would be our first time driving on the right side of the road. Well…. we were all very glad we opted out of the rental car option… Driving along the coast in this huge bus was simultaneously breathtaking and terrifying. The roads are very narrow and winding, meaning you can not always see what is coming around the corner and at what speed. Not to mention the fact that the roads are right on the edge of the cliff, so as the bus turns around a sharp corner, you feel as though you might all roll off the side of the country and into the beautiful, but very far below sea.

 

Having survived the bus ride (brava to the drivers who have mastered Amalfi Drive), we settled in to our accommodation in Amalfi. This little town is very quaint with lost of character, but I say little for a reason. There is one main street in Amalfi, which takes you up from the beach, past the cathedral and to the more residential area. The street is a series of gelato shops, restaurants and souvenir shops displaying the lemon in any form you can imagine: lemon soaps, lemon biscuits, lemon wall decorations, and of course, limoncello. (Pro tip: don’t leave Amalfi without trying limoncello gelato).

 

Two nights in Amalfi were proceeded by the same car-sickness-inducing bus ride back to Sorrento. Sorrento is a little bigger than Amalfi, with more of the same lemon-themed souvenir shops and gelaterias. If you want to swim, however, Marina Grande really isn’t the place. You can find locals sunbathing and children playing along this small stretch of ‘beach’, but it’s not the cleanest water or sand you will find. It’s better to find somewhere with less boats, going further along the coast in the direction of Capri. But, we ate some great food in Sorrento, taking advantage of the seafood and home-made pasta.

 

Speaking of Capri, taking a day trip to the island was possibly the highlight of the trip. Due to the volume of photographs I took that day, I think it deserves its very own post. To be continued…

Une Promenade Parmi les Fleurs

IMG_6058IMG_6066IMG_6062IMG_6073IMG_6061

IMG_6063IMG_6056

It was late Tuesday afternoon and the rain had finally cleared after days of on-and-off drizzle. It being my day off, I decided I should probably get out of my stuffy apartment and enjoy some fresh air, perhaps read my book in a park. After deliberating on which park to go to, I finally decided on Le Jardin des Plantes because it was only a 30 minute walk — I didn’t want to have to take the métro.

 

When I arrived I was glad I made the last-minute decision to pack my camera. There were still some flowers in bloom and the light was peeking romantically from the clouds. Tourists were taking pictures of each other, little old ladies were out for a stroll and there were even two middle aged men admiring the flora on the opposite side of the flower bed. I actually ended up in a very unusual but nonetheless pleasant conversation with the two of them. This conversation eventually led to a fortune telling session with the coffee grounds from a Turkish coffee I drank in a nearby café. It’s a long story and you’ll just have to wait until I write my memoirs to know more. But when I walked back through the garden on my way home that I evening I couldn’t help but smile at the strange yet beautiful things that can happen anywhere and anytime in Paris. And if the medium I met in the park is right, I just might stick around long enough to experience all of the quirky delightful happenings the city can throw at me.

Ti Amo, Roma

IMG_0474IMG_5803IMG_5774IMG_5805IMG_0472IMG_5777IMG_5809IMG_5773IMG_5837

The worst part about my stay in Rome was the fact I was only there for about 24 hours. We knew it was going to be very hot and we prioritised going to the Amalfi Coast over staying in a busy and scorching hot city. However, I knew that being in Rome for such a short time would mean that I simply have to return when it’s not peak tourist season.

 

I really did love my time in Rome (despite the 40 degree heat) and I was impressed with how many places I actually managed to see. This is partly thanks to the beautiful Italian family who had hosted my friend many years before. We enjoyed a delicious dinner with them before they squeezed our pizza-filled bodies into the car to give us a nighttime tour of the city. The stops included everything from the Vatican and the place where Julius Caesar is believed to have died, to the best gelateria in Rome. Although I did manage to check most of the tourist sites off the list, I found the most pleasurable things to be wandering the narrow streets, admiring the quaint façades and stopping for a coffee (er, Aperol Spritz) and watching people go about their days.

 

While my encounters with the locals were limited given the whirlwind nature of my stay, I found the Romans to be happy and relaxed people. This brings me to the conclusion that in order to find true happiness, all one needs is fresh pasta, gelato and plenty of sunshine.

 

 

Une Année dans La Ville Lumière

Yesterday officially marked being in Paris for one whole year. 365 days sounds like a long time, especially to live in a foreign country. Yet I feel as though it was just a couple of months ago I was standing on the footpath of a narrow Parisian street with my suitcase watching the taxi drive away and wondering if I had made a huge mistake.

 

While the year has had its fair share of ups and downs, I can say for sure it was not a mistake. It’s actually the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve had so many new experiences and met great people. Through all this, I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt a lot about people, being an adult, France, my own country, and the eternal cliché, I’ve learnt a lot about myself.

 

So, here is a list of just some of the things Paris has taught me:

 

  1. How to stop caring what other people think about me*: The French may have a certain air of “I don’t care what you think of me, I do what I want”, but after further observation, I realised that a lot of people in this city are painfully self-aware and insecure. This isn’t the rule for everyone — some Parisians really are genuinely care-free and comfortable in their own skin. But being able to remark how much happier those were in the latter category, I decided that life was too short to stew over others’ opinions about me. And the fact is, there are so many people in this city, if I do something stupid or embarrassing is anyone really going to remember it? *: Or at least make a conscious effort
  2. I can actually do anything I want to: Moving to a new country where I didn’t know anyone, didn’t have a job or place to live and where I didn’t properly speak the language seemed like a near-impossible feat at times. However, once I actually did it and realised that it wasn’t so bad after all, I felt liberated. It showed me that with even the most difficult things, the real obstacles are only in my mind. Of course, I’m lucky to be in a situation where I can afford to buy a plane ticket, pursue any career path I like and walk city streets alone at night.
  3. The value of money: Oh boy did I take living at home for granted. I knew it would be difficult financially to live in Paris but I didn’t realise just how much money I would spend every month. Renting in Paris is very expensive, and when compared to Australia, much worse value for money. For example, 800 euros a month could get you a 14m2 studio apartment on the sixth floor with no elevator, no washing machine, dodgy plumbing and possibly a shared toilet in the corridor. It also makes me realise the best things that I can spend my money on. Making memories with friends and seeing more of the world are priceless.
  4. How to stand up for myself: Paris can very often be a cruel and hostile environment; everyone is only looking out for themselves and people aren’t very trusting in general. I’m not saying this is a constant state of affairs, but it does force me to stop being such a pushover sometimes. Especially living with roommates, I’ve learnt that some people will take advantage sometimes… And that’s not OK.
  5. I need to be proactive: This stems from number 4 in that people in Paris have a habit of thinking about themselves a lot. For this reason I not only need to stand up for myself but go after what I want and let people hear my voice. This is something that I’ve learnt mainly from living alone as a 23 year old. I am in a point in my life where I want to do so many things, but my mum isn’t going to help proof-read my resumé and cover letter anymore… It’s time to be proactive and decisive in my actions.
  6. My parents are right: OK… I don’t want to give anyone a big head here, but parents don’t just have years and years of life experience for nothing. When I think back to what my parents taught me about health, relationships, work ethic, money and even happiness, only now is everything that they said starting to make sense. I’m lucky to have parents who have good values and have only my best interests at heart. A lot of their advice to me used to be met with an eye roll and a dismissive “Yes mum, yes dad…” but while I don’t like to admit it, all their advice has helped me so much in understanding the world and my place in it.

 

Now, I’m not claiming to be some authoritative and wise spiritual nomad who has found the meaning of life in Paris. Um, far from it. I know I have so much left to learn and I am going to continue to make mistakes, a lot of them painfully embarrassing, no doubt. But I have to say that experiencing a different culture for a whole year has widened my perspective on a lot of things.

 

Being in my early twenties, I’m really glad that I could experience this at this stage of my life. It’s another thing I’ve noticed about people who live in Europe.—because it’s so easy to travel to other countries, it’s really common for young people to go on exchange, learn a new language, live for a few months in a place they have no previous connection to… And I can see that these kind of experiences help people to be more open minded and culturally sensitive. I can only hope that it becomes more common for young Australians to do the same.

L’Été en Ville

IMG_5646IMG_5648IMG_5653IMG_5655

It’s all about being Seine-side during a Parisian summer… When the city heats up, everyone heads to a body of water – no matter how murky or suspicious.

 

And that’s what I did this weekend. It’s nice to slow down a little and take some time for myself. I am still thigh-deep in French administration, but I’m accepting this as a perpetual state. So, I have made this a weekend of lounging in parks by the lake, perching myself on a sun-drenched terrace on a warm evening, picnicking with new friends and admiring the view from the river Seine.

 

And it’s clear — this is actually what Le Parisien does with their weekend. Hordes of people turned out at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, worshiping the sun in bikinis and even boxer shorts. A stroll in the Jardin des Tuileries with an ice cream in hand is also a favourite warm weather pastime. But nothing quite beats apéro along the Seine — speakers blasting, corks popping, laughter chiming… It’s the start of summer in the city.

En Fleur

IMG_5413

IMG_5416

IMG_5407

IMG_5408

Spring is settling in nicely in Paris… We’ve already had days perfect for picnicking along the Seine. And I’m (finally) starting to settle in too. A new apartment means a few administrative tasks have been taken care of, or are at least in the process of being taken care of.

 

On the one hand, it’s been about seven months since I left Perth, and I do miss my life there. But on the other, it feels like my life here is only just coming together. There are times when the big city is just so chiant that I want to transport myself to a sunny spot on the sand of Mullaloo Beach.

 

Take the day I took these photos, for example. I’d planned on enjoying a stroll around the city on my day off, but it didn’t take long for me to feel “over it” after walking past someone vomiting on the footpath at 10 o’ clock in the morning, being grabbed on the arm by a man on the street who said something in an eastern European language I didn’t understand, and an encounter with a homeless and obviously mentally ill man who was mumbling incoherently and flicked an elastic band on my arm. En plus, I was feeling a bit down after having my wallet stolen in the metro  the weekend before because – let’s face it – Paris isn’t that enjoyable when you don’t have any money.

 

However, I still appreciate all the lovely (and simple) things about this city. There’s no shortage of great exhibitions, live music, good food, and sometimes all you really need is a baguette, some friends, maybe a bottle of wine, and a square of grass in one of the many beautiful parks.

Des Choses à Savoir

img_5369

Ah, gay Paris. The city of light and love, beauty around every corner you turn.

… Well, why that is true some of the time, Paris can also be a city of bizarre social paradigms, loneliness, overpriced lattes, and a whole lot of bureaucracy. Having lived in Paris for almost six months, I feel I am somewhat qualified to make the following observations about the subtleties in the differences of Parisian and Australian culture (in some cases not so subtle). It’s not all accordions and croissants, after all. So, if you’re considering relocating or simply holidaying in the beautiful French capital, there are some things* you should know.

 

*This is by no means an extensive list…

 

  1. Your hair will be in a constant state of oiliness from the pollution as well as smelling like other people’s cigarette smoke.
    I wash my hair at least every second day in Paris and dry shampoo is my new best friend. I can recall many times when I have washed my hair in the morning, feeling fresh and ready to start the day, only to walk outside of my apartment block and straight into someone else’s smoke cloud. It gives a lovely odour of stale cigarettes for the rest of the day.
  2. You will be asked your “origin” every time you speak to someone new in French.
    Speaking French with an accent, or making some slight mistakes, often ignites the curiosity inside every Parisian. “What’s your origin?” they will ask, which by the way is a fairly normal question in French. And while it’s nice that people want to learn more about me or are just indulging in curiosity, all I really want to do is just buy this nail polish, finish this conversation with the sales assistant and get the hell out of Sephora.
  3. Strange men will approach you on the street and ask you out… without even asking your name.
    Dating culture is fascinating, isn’t it? And while in Paris it’s still seen as a bit out of the blue to ask someone on a date in the street, it’s happened to me about five times in four months. Yet during my whole life living in Australia, I don’t think it happened once.
  4. The world of French manchester won’t make any sense.
    A place where quilt cover sets don’t come with the standard pillowcase dimensions… where that practical and familiar 73 x 48 cm of comfort is nowhere to be seen. Instead, you’re stuck with 65 x 65 cm of often flat and impractical pillow. And the humble flat sheet? What on Earth is that? ‘Tis the French way to simply have a fitted sheet to sleep on and a quilt on top. Now, maybe this is making things too simple, but I believe that with a flat sheet, you can free yourself of excess heat that a quilt gives during summer, and provide extra warmth in the winter. Not to mention, you don’t have to wash your quilt cover as often if you wash only the flat sheet.
  5. The once simple task of picking up a bottle of wine at the supermarket will become a very overwhelming experience.
    But… what are all these varieties? Why does the wine section take up half the space in this tiny convenience store that’s barely bigger than my bedroom? And why is the wine so cheap, does it mean it’s bad? The answer to the last question is no, probably not. But I will never know the answer to the former two. Qui sait
  6. Finding reasonable accommodation is a lot harder than you think. Like, a lot.
    I could perhaps dedicate an entire essay to this topic alone, but I will try to keep the rant to a minimum. Unless you are very rich, finding an apartment that is actually inside Paris, doesn’t have a shower in the kitchen (or a shared toilet in the hallway), is at least 14 square meters and has a proper window can be a real challenge. After five months in the city, I still haven’t found a permanent place to live. The rental and even flat sharing market is so competitive that landlords can charge what they want and stretch the laws when it comes to deposits, guarantors and the rent itself. I believe it’s because once someone successfully makes it into an apartment, there are rules that make it so hard for the landlord to get them out when they don’t pay their rent. Which brings me to my next point…
  7. The French love their bureaucracy.
    Oh, you want to set up a bank account? Well first of all, you need to book an appointment with a consultant (and wait half a lifetime on the phone to do so), then if you’ve only just arrived in Paris and are staying with a friend, you need that friend’s photo ID, a copy of a bill addressed to them and their signature on an attestation form. Not to mention a stack of documents on your behalf. Then in about a week or so, the bank will mail you login details for internet banking, then about two weeks after that you should receive your actual bank card in the mail. If you want to change your address? You again need the aforementioned documents but this time you need to mail them to the bank even though it’s right down the road.
    Oh, you need a Carte Vitale? All you need is every document you’ve ever had in your entire life and about 12 months to wait for the card to arrive.
  8. Making friends with other expats will be so much easier than befriending Parisians.
    I’m not quite sure why this is, but it’s true in my personal experience. It takes time for Parisians to open up to new people and build trust. Having said this, I imagine (and am told by my students) that once you finally do become friends with a local, the friendship is very strong. There are so many internationals living in Paris, who connect with each other through Meetup groups, forums, and other organisations. It makes sense — we are all new to the city and are looking for people with whom to share new experiences. Not to mention the language barrier can often be an obstacle…
  9. Good bread will become something you take for granted.
    While visiting family in the UK, a standard lunch is a good ol’ ham/cheese/tomato sandwich. But once you’ve become accustomed to the crusty fresh Parisian baguette, the sandwich isn’t going to taste as good as you’d expected. You don’t mean to be a bread snob, but it’s not your fault if the humble Tesco roll suddenly loses all appeal.