5 tips for the dreaded security controls at airports

Having departed from a good number of airports around the world, I have noticed that the security controls tend to be annoying for most passengers, because it’s easy to forget some liquids in the bag or the watch on the wrist, and the security staff is generally to busy to be polite about it. Whenever I face these checks, I feel a bit like George Clooney in “Up in the Air” (one of my favourite movies!), when he explains how he chooses the quickest line.

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(gif taken from this website)

Generally, when I travel, I’m not in a particular hurry: I enjoy airports so much that I tend to get there way ahead of my flight, but for some reason I like to challenge myself in how fast I pass the security controls. Here are, therefore, 5 tips that will hopefully help you make the process easier and faster:

  • When you prepare the bag, place your laptop and any other “bigger” electronic device in a position that is easily reachable. In almost all the airports I’ve been to, getting out these devices is an absolute must. Towards the beginning of my travelling life, I was to get stopped at the security control because of my big camera, so I learnt to keep that outside the bag until I’ve passed the metal detectors, so that the staff can easily see what it is.
  • Take advantage of the queue that generally precedes the security controls to take off any metal objects you may have on your body. Don’t make the mistake of putting your watch in the trousers’ pockets, but place it directly in your bag or in the pockets of your jacket (as you generally have to scan your jacket too). I personally take everything off, from earrings to necklaces to whatever I have in my pockets, without selecting what is made of metal and what is it…makes it a lot faster! Putting the stuff directly inside the bag means that – if you’re rushing to your gate – you don’t have to then immediately put it back on, and you can do that once you are seated. If you put your watch in the bins provided, separate from the bag, you will have to spend time picking it up and – probably – wearing it again.
  • Don’t forget to take off your belt! Also, in some airports, you might have to take off your shoes. I suggest keeping them on until you are within reach of someone from the staff, who can advise. At that point, if you have followed tip #2, you will have already taken everything else off, so it won’t take you much time.
  • Get into a habit of keeping a bottle of water in your bag until the very last minute (within easy reach) and of throwing it away in the bins provided where the metal detectors are. If that becomes a habit, you will never again forget your bottle of water…and it might help you remember any other liquid you might have forgotten in your bag!
  • Before passing the metal detectors, wait for the staff on the other side (those in charge of manually searching you should the metal detector beep) to see you and to give you a “go” sign. While passing the metal detectors, be careful not to touch the sides as that tends to make it beep.

I hope these suggestions are useful! What do you do to speed up the process? What do you generally forget in your bag or on yourself that makes the metal detectors beep?

In any case, do take your time and always follow the instructions of the staff.

Have a great journey!

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Sunshine Blogger Award

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I was recently nominated for a Sunshine Blogger Award.

First of all, let me thank The Teen Queen for nominating me. I really enjoy your blog, and  I especially love your recipes! 🙂

In November, I had been nominated for another award, which you can read all about in this post. What I love about these awards is that they are a great opportunity for us bloggers to connect and to appreciate each other’s work. I hope you all enjoy reading this post and the great blogs that I will nominate.

Here are my answers to the Teen Queen’s questions:

1. What goal would you like to fulfill in 2018?

I hope to move my career towards the direction that I feel is best for me right now: international relations and, in particular, international negotiations & mediation. It’s the field that I studied and, while I have enjoyed working in development for the past 3 years, I want to go back to it and see what it actually is like.

2. Which book would you recommend to someone as an absolute must-read?

A book that I always take inspiration from, although I realize it’s not for everyone, is “Everything Is Illuminated“, by J. S. Foer. I went to watch the movie with my mum when I was about 14 and thought it was brilliant, so I looked for the novel and read it. While it is hard to understand at times, it is honestly the best book I’ve ever read. The movie is also a great representation of it!

3. What piece of advice have you been given that you really value and cherish?

This is a difficult one. I actually don’t remember any particular advice given to me by anybody. I guess that tells you something about my willingness to listen to other people’s advice…! Not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Aside from the jokes, I like to receive advice from my friend and family members on specific situations, but I’m trying to build my own path in life so I tend to then move on as I feel is right.

Now that I think about it, I do remember one piece of really bad advice I was give. I was about 14 and this guy who I saw as a sort of mentor at my summer job told me to never change the way I am. At the time I was flattered that he thought I was so good that I shouldn’t change, but now I see that I really needed to change, as we all constantly do. What are we, if we don’t change throughout our life? If we don’t learn from our experiences and develop new values?

So, I’m sorry if I can’t really answer the question, but I hope this gives you a bit of insight into who I am.

4. If you could have lunch with a celebrity, who would it be and why?

Lately I’m obsessed with Meryl Streep. I have always thought she was one of the best actresses of all times, and these days I hear her speak out about some of the discrimination we see in the world, and I think we could have a great conversation. I would actually like to ask her why she isn’t a feminist and maybe challenge her on this topic. I think she’s an intelligent woman, so I’d like to understand more about her views and opinions.

5. If you could only have one thing to eat (or drink) for the rest of your life, what would it be?

That’s an easy one: chocolate! I’m all for chocolate, whether it’s a hot chocolate, a chocolate milkshake or a bar of chocolate. 😉 I’d be happy to have only that for the rest of my life (which would probably be quite short in that case, unfortunately).

 

That being said, these are the blogs that I nominate are:

  1. Come with G
  2. Wanderlust Travel & Photos Blog
  3. Hyper Child Chill Mom
  4. Living!
  5. Muddling Through My Middle Ages

These are among my favourite blogs. They inspire me, help me dream of other wonderful places and help me relax after a day of work. I absolutely recommend checking them out!

My questions for them are:

  1. Do you prefer cats or dogs? Why?
  2. If you could be anywhere right now, where would you like to be?
  3. Do you dance? If yes, what do you dance? If no, why?
  4. What’s your favourite quote (from a book, a song, anything else…)?
  5. When did you start using smartphones?

I hope to read your answers and to check out the blogs you nominate!

 

The Rules:

  1. Thank the nominator and post a link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the questions the nominator has set out for you.
  3. Nominate new blogs and set out questions for them to answer.
  4. Notify the nominees of their nominations by commenting on their blog or social media
  5. When creating your nomination post, list the rules and include the Sunshine Award logo in it.

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A lesser-known South African gem

Today I would like to talk to you about a place that I really love in South Africa: Saint Lucia. I had been working in Swaziland for about 2 months when my (then) boss told me she was planning a short trip there and asked if I wanted to come along (by the way, me and her got along from the start and are now very good friends). I had had the most stressful introduction to a new job anybody could have, so I really needed a few days off and I was immediately on board.

The first thing I did, was checking the weather forecast, and I was very surprised to see temperatures raging between 30 and 35 degrees. It was early September, which is the end of winter in Swaziland and South Africa. It took me a while to remember that there is a beautiful caribbean island that is also called Saint Lucia.  The forecast for the actual St Lucia I was visiting were not as good… In any case, I loved it so much I went back with my mum and sister when they came to visit.

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A hippo yawning

St Lucia is a lovely town located on an Estuary filled with hippos and crocodiles. It is also next to the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park, where you can find leopards, rhinos, kudus, buffalos, zebras, and a few other animals. Whales visit its Ocean waters between June and October, and sea turtles make nests on its beaches around the other half of the year, but we’ll talk about this later…Let’s start from the basics!

Travelling to St Lucia

St Lucia is about 240 km from Durban, so you can fly to Durban airport and take a car from there. If you’re landing in Johannesburg, it will take you at least 7 hours to drive to St Lucia, but it is an interesting drive! We were going from Siteki (Swaziland), so it took us around 4 hours.

As far as I know, there are unfortunately no other public transport options to travel to St Lucia. There are some tours of St Lucia leaving from Durban, but I think the best way to explore St Lucia is by car. You can obviously rent cars both in Durban and in Johannesburg.

Accommodation

If you go to St Lucia, I suggest staying at one of the guesthouses around the Sandpiper/Kingfisher streets. We stayed at Avalone Guesthouse on Sandpiper Street, and absolutely loved it. It was clean, had amazing breakfast and a lovely pool, with monkeys popping by from time to time. The last time I was there, the owners were looking to sell the guesthouse, so I don’t know how it is now, but the setting is definitely beautiful.

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Monkeys enjoying the poolside at Avalone Guesthouse

Eating

In St Lucia, we ate fish most of the time. The main street for restaurants and shops is McKenzie Street. St Lucia is quite small, so you can walk around the city centre easily during the day (I’ll explain later why I’m specifying “during the day”). My favourite restaurant is the Ocean Sizzler where there is an outside deck and you can enjoy live music on Tuesday and Sunday night.

Another famous restaurant is the Ski Boat Club. It’s located right on the Estuary, about half an hour walk from the town centre, or less than 10 minutes by car. It has a big outside deck, so I suggest going during the day, when you can more easily catch some crocodiles or hippos roaming around the water.

What to do

As I mentioned earlier, St Lucia is a great place to go whale-watching between June and October, when whales migrate for their breeding season. There are several companies offering these boat trips, and you can find most of them on the above-mentioned McKenzie street. The rides are expensive but, from my experience, they seem to always fill up pretty quickly, so make sure you either book in advance through the internet or the very first day of your stay in the town. Please note that young kids and pregnant women are generally not allowed on the boats, as the waves tend to be quite strong.

From November to March, you can book a turtle tour. Turtles are extremely endangered animals, even in St Lucia Wetlands Park, so there is only one company (that, I believe, is linked to the Park) allowed to do turtle tours. These tours generally leave St Lucia in the evening, drive through a portion of the park (great way to see nocturnal animals!) and then, from Cape Vidal, proceed onto the beach.

It is more difficult to see turtles than whales, as they are less in number and very careful of the dangers they might encounter. They will only come out of the water if they feel it is safe to do so. Even then, as soon as they perceive danger, they will “rush” back to the sea. The reason for this behaviour is that turtles use this portion of the beach to prepare nests and lay their eggs, so they need to make sure it is a safe space.

If you do get to see a turtle, it is an incredible experience. These animals are super-interesting… I don’t want to spoil too much (the tour guides generally explain all these things), but they basically spend the vast majority of their lives completely alone. We were lucky enough to spot a turtle who was trying to prepare the nest, but then decided the place was not good enough, so she went back to the water.

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Aside from these seasonal activities, you can always take a boat tour of the Estuary, where you will come very close to hippos and crocodiles. You can also drive around the Park and hopefully see some of the beautiful animals that inhabit it. Cape Vidal, inside the Park, is full of monkeys. Be careful though, as monkeys can easily become aggressive (especially if they see you have something interesting in your hands…)

…saving the best for last!

The last thing I wanted to tell you about St Lucia is actually the thing I like most about it. During the night, its streets are populated by the hippos who, as soon as the temperature cools down, get out of the water looking for grass. Driving back from your dinner, take some minutes to just drive around: you will definitely see a hippo eating some grass on the side of a street.

Hippos, however, can be extremely dangerous animals when they feel threatened, so make sure to keep a safe distance with the car and, possibly, never walk around St Lucia by night. If you are careful enough, having such close-up meetings with these enormous creature is an amazing experience.

That’s all for today, I hope you enjoy St Lucia, if you go! I mentioned being nominated for the Sunshine blogger award last week, and I’m planning to publish a post about it this week, so stay tuned!

Angolan people

So, I’m back to Benguela and I’ve been thinking about what to write in today’s post for the whole week. I wanted to show you a bit of Angola, and give you a clearer idea of Angolan culture.

I’ve been getting so many ideas: at one point, I wanted to write about the fabulous Angolan beaches. Then I went back to my dance classes and thought I should write about what I love most about this country: its music! However, I have already dedicated two very long posts to Angolan dances (you can check them out here and here), and I don’t want to repeat myself. Finally, I thought of doing a list of “10 things I’ve learnt about Angolans” but I definitely don’t want to generalize and put all Angolans into a 10-point list.

So, here I am, after a struggle that lasted a whole week (seriously, been thinking about this since Sunday!). I have decided I’m going to try and show you Angola through the description of some of my friends and colleagues here. At the end of the day, what I value most in life is my relations with other people, and they are those who taught me what I know about Angolan culture.

Armindo

Armindo is my best friend in Angola. He’s the guy of the “chumbo” story that you can read in one of the previously mentioned posts, and he is a very interesting person. He studies languages at University (in particular, Portuguese and Umbundu, one of the many local languages) and hopes to become a professor. He dances very well and used to teach at a dance school that doesn’t exist anymore.

When we are not dancing, me and Armindo are generally talking, and often arguing. We are both quite stubborn and have very different opinions on many topics, which makes for wonderful discussions. Something that I had been told about Angolans, and that I found to be extremely true in the case of Armindo is that they always want to be right. Well, turns out I always want to be right too, so…Armindo, you’ve met your match! Typical topics of arguing range from: Nietzsche’s views (Armindo likes philosophy, just like me, but dislikes Nietzsche, unlike me), what should be our priorities in life and how a woman is allowed to dress.

This last one is obviously a difficult one, as a feminist. I struggled for a while with the idea of having a best friend who thinks women shouldn’t wear “too revealing” clothes because men are almost forced by nature to take that as a permission to do whatever they want with her body. At the end of the day, however, I think we always grow by engaging with people who have different views, if it’s done in a respectful way (and, I have to say, this has always been the case with Armindo: we sometimes raise our voices but are always respectful to each other). And, of course, I hope to change his mind, although I know it’s difficult, when he was born and raised among people who think like that.

Despite all the arguing and the diverging opinions, Armindo was there for me when I was feeling lonely in Angola, and I always tried to be there for him when he was feeling low. We had some nice moments where we were simply talking about our life problems over a cool Angolan beer.

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Our selfie-skills should definitely be improved…

Augusto

Augusto is our secretary/accountant/almost-administrator at work. He was one of the first people I connected with, upon my arrival in Benguela. I had heard a lot about him before coming here, from my Italian colleagues who were trying to prepare me for my new job, but the picture I now have of him is completely different from the one I had gotten from my colleagues. I guess that’s normal, right?

Just last night me and Augusto went for a celebratory drink after having finished the biggest part of the first audit report we prepared by ourself, with no help from an actual administrator. Kudos to us!!

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This is the smile of two people who have just finished their first project’s audit report

During this year, we both grew a lot professionally. When I arrived, he was basically just a secretary, with a few small accounting-related tasks, and I was a junior project manager who had no idea of how to prepare an audit report. One of the goals I set for myself was to help Augusto improve and taken on more and more tasks, so that, once the Administrator left (just 4 months after my arrival), I would still have some help with managing the financial aspects of the project. We therefore set on a path where we continuously learnt from each other, and learnt together (from others and from our mistakes).

Bit by bit, he took a more prevalent role on the project and I learnt how to coordinate that. Through weekly meetings and continuous communication, we got to the point of preparing that audit report yesterday – something that I honestly doubted we could ever do. I admire his willingness to try new things and to take on new responsibility.

On the personal side, he helped me from the start with the process of getting my partner here. He called the Angolan embassy in Mozambique for me, went around all the offices to collect the right documents, proof-read my letter of invitation, etc… When my partner got here, the two of them immediately became friends, to the point that, at my partner’s birthday, Augusto suggested and organised a surprise party for him. If that isn’t support, what is it?

Augusto also invited me to an event his church was having during Easter. I was feeling particularly lonely at the time, so I really appreciated his gesture. During that event, and in later social occasions, we had the chance to talk a lot about topics that interest us both: philosophy, religion, psychology, politics… It has been great to have a colleague that I could also call “friend”!

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The Via Crucis event Augusto invited me to

Diretore

I won’t call him anything else but “Diretore“, because that’s how he was always presented to me and I think that alone tells a lot about Angolan culture. He is the headteacher of our dance school and, while I wouldn’t necessarily call him a friend (we have never spent social time together outside the dance classes), he always made me feel better after a long day of work.

Joining this dance school showed me how important hierarchy and structure is for Angolans. In our school, the Diretore is highly respected (even from the people who don’t like him) and has a responsibility to make sure everything goes smoothly. If you have an issue with something, you should take it up with the Diretore, or one of the professors. At the end of the class, the Diretore (or, in his absence, one of the professors) will speak and make announcements, but also tell students off for breaking some rules and explain how we should all behave. I don’t think it’s common to have this kind of “strict regulations” in dance schools in Europe, so it was definitely a surprise for me.

However, we could have no better Diretore than him. He will struggle to say anything without a smile on his face. Me and my partner actually look forward to the end of the class to just hear his jokes in the circle and look at him laugh at anything (and I mean, really anything!). He’s just one of those bright, smiley people who you immediately feel like you can trust. Aside from that, he’s obviously an amazing dancer who always manages to bring his skills down to the level of the woman who he’s dancing with and to make you feel super-comfortable through every single step.

Dancing with the Diretore

Quiteria, Eriete and Eduarda

I’m putting my colleagues Quiteria, Eriete and Eduarda all together because I fear this is becoming another extra-long post. The first one that I met was Quiteria, who became our local project coordinator. She is such a nice person and has supported my work from the start, with the courage of having honest conversation and telling me when I was making mistakes (not always easy when you’re talking to the one who pays you the salary!). She knows everybody in the municipalities where we work, especially the people higher up in the institutions, so her connections are a great plus to our project. Her main job is as an elementary-school teacher and obviously has a family and kids of her own, but she is so committed to our project that she will stay up late just to write all those reports that I can’t do without. She is a perfect coordinator as she can motivate anybody into doing anything.

I then met Eduarda, a young girl who was taking a break from University and looking for work. Her and Quiteria had already been colleagues, so it was Quiteria who suggested I meet her. I immediately felt that Eduarda was special: she was a bit shy at her interview (who isn’t?), but she looked determined. I had just drafted a contract for her when an opportunity came in to participate in a two-day event organised a by a feminist movement in Luanda (the capital) and I knew she would be the perfect person to send to the event. She came back a convinced feminist, and she is now challenging her parents on why her male siblings don’t have to do housework while her, and her sisters, do. Go, Eduarda!

Describing Eriete is difficult. Sometimes I feel like she’s some kind of weird, extremely fearless wonderwoman. She has had less education than Quiteria and Eduarda, so writing her reports is not her strength, but she can connect with women in the communities so much better than any of us. If we get to a community and the group of women is not ready to meet us, she will go and help one of them with her housework until the meeting starts. When a delegation from our donor was coming to see our work, she spent the night in the community just to make sure women would show up on time in the morning.

And when two thieves broke into her house, she took out her gun (don’t ask….), shot at them, handcuffed them (still, don’t ask… I didn’t dare to!) and finally called the police. As she was telling us this story, my colleagues asked “weren’t you scared you’d killed them?” and, in a super-chill voice, she answered “no, I was aiming for the legs”. So yes…she is something!

 

There are a lot of other people I would like to talk about, but I feel like it is time to end this post. By the way, I’ve been nominated for an award, so I’ll be doing a post about that soon! I’m very excited! 😀

A foodie’s day in Bologna

As I was leaving Bologna the other day, I noticed how much bigger its airport has become. I’ve been using it frequently for the past 8 years, and I would never have imagined how much it would improve during this time. I am not up to date with all the choices and reasonings made by the people responsible for these changes, but I can say that Bologna has definitely been attracting a lot more tourism lately, especially from other European countries.

I often get asked, from friends who are visiting the city, what and where they should eat. As a food lover myself, I decided to take an opportunity to share my best tips with all my blog readers, hoping that I will make your trip to my hometown a wonderful one.

So, let’s start with what is commonly known as “the most important meal of the day”:

Breakfast

In the city centre, you will not walk more than 3 blocks without finding a bar. Bars for us are what the world out there calls “cafés” or “coffee shops” (not the ones in Amsterdam though!): they are basically a place where you get your morning coffee, and your pre-lunch coffee, and your after-lunch coffee, and…. yes, it’s true! Italians love coffee. Bear in mind that, for us, coffee means espresso so, if Italian espresso is too strong and too small for you, ask for an American coffee.

What I find peculiar about Bologna is that, so far, it’s the only city in Italy where I have found the brioches salate (=salty croissants). They are no different from the usual French croissants, which are salty rather than sweet, but they are not even common in Italian regions that are closer to France. In Italy, croissants (or, as we call them, brioches) tend to be sweet, often filled with cream or chocolate. While I have nothing against a lusty, Nutella-filled croissant, I suggest at least trying a brioche salata. You won’t get to do that in other Italian cities!

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In my opinion, these salty croissants pair very well with pear juice!

As far as where to go, there are a lot of options, as I mentioned previously. My personal favourite is a small bar in Via Barberia 24. The coffee is good, the choice of croissants is very big (earlier in the morning…they are so good it is hard to find any left in the late morning!), the owners are super-nice and the prices are normal.

If you are up for spending a little more and treating yourself to a traditional, slightly posh Bolognese bar, you can go to Caffé Zanarini. It’s a nice and old café right next to the church of San Petronio. It is obviously a “high level of tourists” zone, so prices are higher than in other places, but I have never heard a complaint about the quality of their food. Check out their Facebook page.

Lunch

Hopefully you have already heard a lot about the food from Bologna, but just let me sum it up in a single word for you: lush!! The most famous dishes include tortellini, lasagne and tagliatelle al ragù. Now, about the tagliatelle al ragù, I – like any other person from Bologna who has travelled abroad – have a bone to pick with the rest of the world…Allow me to explain: ragù is what you commonly call “bolognese sauce” (although I’ve seen bolognese sauce cooked in horrendous ways while in other countries), but in Bologna you, never, ever, EVER! eat it with spaghetti. Let’s make it clear that spaghetti is this kind of pasta:

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(Picture taken from here)

The long and thin ones: other kinds of pasta are called in other ways. That being said, you can cook ragù with a lot of other types of pasta, even maccheroni:

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(Picture taken from here)

….Just honestly, not with spaghetti. I’m not necessarily upset that people enjoy spaghetti alla Bolognese abroad, but I hope you understand that this is not an Italian dish. For this reason, while in Bologna (or anywhere else in Italy) stay clear of restaurants that have Spaghetti alla Bolognese in their menu. For a real Bolognese experience, choose to try the tagliatelle alla Bolognese, a true classic that we learn to appreciate from our grandmothers.

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(Picture taken from here)

For traditional food, head to Osteria Belle Arti. In a beautiful setting, you’ll get to taste handmade pasta and a wide variety of dishes from all around Italy, but with a focus on food from Bologna. The prices are, however, a little bit on the high-side. Feel free to put Parmigiano (=parmisan) over all pasta dishes that don’t contain fish. Remember, the real Parmigiano is produced in Parma, a city that is in the same region as Bologna.

If you’re looking at something less typical from Bologna, with more variety and cheaper prices, I suggest a visit to the Console & Co, in Via Sant’Isaia. This is our family local restaurant, and it has both Bologna’s typical food (although the place itself is not really “Bolognese”) and other kinds of Italian food. Pizzas there are very good, but I personally prefer the spaghetti con le vongole (spaghetti with clams).

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Dessert

Now, you can get your dessert at the restaurant…or you can treat yourself to pure bliss with a gelato (=ice-cream) from Gianni.

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There’s a few Gelateria Gianni around Bologna nowadays, but the first one that was opened is the one in Via Montegrappa 11. The prices have gone up as it gained popularity, but the quality is still all there! It is a rather “thick” ice-cream… people have told me it seems to have a lot of milk/butter in it, but I haven’t noticed cause – to me – that’s how ice-creams are supposed to be.

If you want different kinds of ice-creams, there’s a lot of gelaterie around Bologna. A couple more that I can suggest are Sorbetteria (famous for it’s chocolate flavour) and Cremeria Funivia. Let me know which one you prefer!

Aperitivo

Have you even been to Italy if you haven’t had an aperitivo there? Just to make it clear, there are options for non-alcoholic drinks to go with aperitivo, so you have no excuse!

I’m just kidding of course, but I do believe it’s one of the best food experiences in Italy. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, an aperitivo is a beverage that you drink before a meal, to stimulate appetite. We generally combine the beverage with some sort of salty snack, the most common being crisps and peanuts.

As far as Bologna is concerned, you can have aperitivo in pretty much every bar you find. The most typical cocktail for apertivo is Aperol Spritz, but you can even just get a beer, and be served anything from crisps, to nuts, to pieces of pizza with it.

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(Picture taken from here)

For those of you with a little bit more cash in your pockets, I suggest heading to Gamberini at around 6 pm. It’s been in Bologna since 1907, serving us the finest cocktails with the most delicious small snacks, just perfect to open our stomaches up for dinner. By the way, Gamberini is traditionally a pasticceria first, where you can find all kinds of cakes and sweet pastries, so you can go there for breakfast too!

If you want to spend a little less, go to Via del Pratello, which is filled with pubs and bars with much more affordable prices. Via del Pratello is an almost pedestrian-only street, which means that in summer it fills with tables crowded by University students. It’s a fun experience!

Dinner

If you are still alive after all this eating, you might as well go on and have a good Bolognese dinner at Trattoria Boni. It is a bit outside of the city centre, but it is easily reachable with a bus. Here comes the dish that I have actually wanted to talk about all this time, while writing the post: crescentine!

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Doesn’t that look delicious?

“Crescentine” are those things similar to bread (fried bread) in the picture, and they are generally served with affettati (there is no way to translate this word, that includes all kinds of ham, salame, etc…), cheese and pickles. Remember that Bologna’s region produces some of the best affettati, in Italy, such as Parma’s ham.

Trattoria Boni serves crescentine only at dinner, but they can be found in many other restaurants for lunch. Another one of my family’s favourite places is la Croara, up the hills. Less easily reachable than Boni, but worth the trip! Both restaurants tend to be quite full every day, so I suggest booking in advance.

I hope you enjoyed the post and I truly hope you visit Bologna someday.

Buon appetito!

The shiny side of having friends all around the world

I got interesting responses to my last post (that you can read here), as a lot of my friends sent me messages explaining how much they could relate to what I had written. Of course, many of these friends are the same friends I was talking about in the post, used to travelling and living in different countries, but I am always amazed at how little we speak about these challenges, that are clearly common to many of us.

I have also been notified that the post seemed quite sad and negative. That wasn’t exactly my intention, but I believe that – when it comes to writing – the way readers are affected is extremely important and valuable. For this reason, I thought I should balance things out and use this week’s post to talk about the perks of having friends all around the world….there’s a lot of them!

Free rooms in gorgeous places

Let’s say that, while you don’t choose friends just because they live in a cool place you want to visit, meeting people from different countries who are willing to host you in their hometown is not necessarily a bad thing, is it?

Some years ago, I spent a wonderful weekend in Istanbul, being treated like a queen at a friend’s house: luxurious Turkish breakfasts (see pictures for details), friendly relatives to talk to and a lovely room to sleep in all helped make the holiday truly unforgettable. My friend was also a wonderful guide, as she took me to all the best places, both touristic and not-touristic.

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Turkish breakfast…..Yum!!

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A beautiful Mosque

Similarly, I spent wonderful times in my friend’s house in Guadalajara, a city in Mexico that I don’t think I would have discovered if I hadn’t become friends with her. I fell so much in love with it, that I decided to move there for a 3-month internship one year later…and never regretted it! I look forward to visiting again and to be – as the song goes –  “sitting in a bar in Guadalajara” once more.

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Guadalajara’s Cathedral

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Always lovely to catch up with an old friend (+ waiter photobombing us!)

Discovering the “real” local food

I think that finding local, traditional food that is not especially catered for tourists is a challenge for all of us travellers. In touristic cities, in particular, it’s very easy to end up in the classic restaurant were prices are high and the quality of the food is low.

Often, we also have difficulties understanding what a certain food is exactly, when and how it should be eaten (in some countries, you share certain types of dishes among all the people sitting at the table, for example), etc… For people like my mum, who read tons of guides before a trip and always know exactly what they are going to do at every step of the journey, this is less of a problem, but I’m more of a “let’s just see where the wind takes us” kind of traveller.

In these cases, having local friends makes things a lot easier. I have been to Spain a few times in my life, but never did I eat so well as when I went to visit my Spanish friend in Barcelona….Best paellas and tapas I’ve ever had!

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Paella

I also would have never known how much I love Korean food, if I didn’t have amazing friends in Seoul who took me to the best restaurants and explained to me how to eat each dish. Once you know which dishes are spicier, and how to balance the spiciness, Korean cuisine is honestly among my favourites!

Here is a long series of pictures just to prove how much I loved the food in South Korea:

These last two pictures actually represents “pub snacks”

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This is my absolute favourite dish. My friend called it “Korean pizza”…it has NOTHING to do with pizza, but it is delicious 😉

And this is something I didn’t dare to try:

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They are larvas, a popular street food. According to my friend, they are delicious…rich in proteins!

Learning about incredibly interesting cultures

Even without going to visit your friends’ native countries, you can learn a lot about their cultures just by spending time and chatting with them.

One of my favourite memory from my time in the Netherlands is of when me and my Ecuadorian friend literally spent the whole night (until 6am!) talking about our countries, listening to Ecuadorian and Italian music, showing each other pictures and videos of our hometowns. Did you know that, in Ecuador, bus drivers listen and dance to bachata music while they drive? Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to check this fact in person yet, but I like to imagine them just enjoying their music while they drive through Quito’s traffic.

If you don’t know what bachata sounds like, here is one of my favourite songs:

 

Developing your adaptation and mediation skills

Having friends from all around the world is also an opportunity to improve your adaptation skills. We are obviously all unique, but we tend to have more similarities with people who have grown up in the same country as us. We share memories of famous tv sketches, we know many of the same singers, and in general there is just “something” that often makes it that little bit easier to get along. When you have to live, travel, work or study with people from different cultures, you might find that you don’t have all this common ground already laid out for you. You have to work on finding/building new ways to interact and you often have to find compromises.

The best example I can make of this is the relationship with my partner, who is from Swaziland. We have been together for two years and a half now, but we are still working at finding the best ways to express our anger during a discussion, for example. Swazis tend to be very calm people, who often keep their emotions to themselves and hardly ever show anger in the way we (Italians) would show it.

I – on the contrary – grew up in a world where, when you are angry, you shout. From the classic “cornuto!” at the busy crossroad, to the “Non vi sopporto più! Voglio scappare di casa!” (I can’t stand you anymore! I want to run away from home!) when your parents take away your phone. While I don’t consider myself a “typical Italian” and I hardly ever shout ” – for Italian standards – I am still undeniably Italian and I raise my voice when I’m arguing with somebody.

What, for me, is simply a small “voice-raising” (because I got a little upset for something small), for my partner this is proper “shouting” and indicates that something extremely bad has happened. We are both learning to understand each other better: I’m learning to keep my voice lower and he’s learning to take my “shouting” in a slightly lighter way.

Why did I list this as one of the advantages of having friends from all around the world? Because this is an invaluable skill to have in the multi-cultural world we live in. While it is difficult to find compromises with someone coming from the other end of the planet, it does get better with time and you learn to get a long with all kinds of people and to adapt to all kinds of places.

 

These are just a few of the many advantages of having friends from many countries. There are many others that I’m not listing for fear of having made this post too long already… I am also curious to know your own experiences: what do you like about having friends from other countries and cultures?

P.S. = Just to make it clear, I don’t advise trying to get friends just to get free rooms or free guides…! I would have never visited any of the friends mentioned here if I hadn’t gotten along with them. In other words, no friends were harmed during the making of this post 😉

The not-so-shiny side of having friends all around the world

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent a few days in Rome with an old friend of mine. I met her when I was studying to get my Bachelor in the UK, over 7 years ago (how does time fly so fast?). Me and her clicked immediately, during the first week we were at University. She was studying Maths and I was studying Politics, so we didn’t have any class together, but she joined an international pub crawl (she is British but pretended to be German to be able to join the event) and that’s where we met the first time.

We got along and we have some fun memories of that night together, but then we lost touch and kind of forgot about each other. Our paths crossed a couple of times, but we didn’t realize it until much later, on a night out with a common friend, when started talking about that same pub crawl and we had an “ah-ah!” moment: “it was you!!” “that was you!”. We’ve been best friends since then.

This post wasn’t meant so much to tell you the story of our friendship – although it is a pretty funny story, I reckon – but more to highlight an often disregarded aspect of living and working abroad: you tend to loose a network of people who will support you. I moved to the UK when I was 19, and I immediately made a lot of friends (better called, “drinking buddies”).

Moving to the UK

After a few months, I started settling down with a few really good friends (among them, the friend that I met in Rome last week), who became my family abroad. In the moments when I felt low, I knew I could go to them. When I wanted a night out after a week of studying, I knew who to call. After a period of frustration with the new place I was in, I started feeling very much at home. And when I was actually homesick, I could come back to Bologna (Ryanair flights were life-savers!), where I would find my usual group of friends to hang out with. The 3 years I spent in the UK were awesome, and I don’t remember ever feeling super-lonely. I’m sure the time that has passed since then has sweetened the memories, but I definitely had a good support network.

Some of my friends in the UK

Moving for the second time

At the age of 22, right after getting my Bachelor degree, I moved to the Netherlands for my Master studies. Leaving the UK was hard, but I was ready for a new adventure, and I still had a great group of friends back home. It took me a little bit more to get acclimatised in the Netherlands: the language was different, the people seemed much more serious (no more parties every weekend) and the classes were a lot harder, but I made a small group of friends there. We met for dinners, nights out, or just chilling at the pub after an afternoon class… When something bad happened, I could share it with them and feel a bit better. Again – neither my experience in the Netherlands nor in the UK were perfect, but I had support in various ways.

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Some of my friends from the Netherlands

Moving….again!!

Then, at age 24, I moved to the other end of the world – Swaziland. I had a lot of fun from the start and I loved my job, but I started realising how far I was from my support network (comprised of my old-time friends in Italy, in the UK and in the Netherlands). I made new friends, but they obviously didn’t have the deep understanding of what was going on in my life that older friends could have. I was tired of having to re-build emotional connections every couple of years. I was tired of having to re-share my life experiences, of having to find common grounds with new people, of having to explain myself over and over again. I eventually ended up with my partner in Swaziland, and another great friend, so I did manage to build new connections, but I could feel how difficult it had become.

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One of the first pictures me and my boyfriend took together

At the same time, I started going back home less often. I started to loose some friends along the way, as it always happen, and I struggled to keep deep, meaningful relations with my friends in Italy, the UK or the Netherlands. Those that remained, became the best friends I could ever hope for, but I was still separated from them by – at least – an 11 hours flight. I couldn’t just hop on a Ryanair flight and go cry on my best friend’s shoulder when work was becoming too much!

Moving and catching a serious disease within the first month in the new country

That’s when, not even 26 years old, I moved to Angola…and caught dengue within a month. Suddenly I realised how lonely I was: far away from my family and oldest friends, separated from my partner by a bureaucratic obstacle (i.e. visa), I hadn’t yet had time to make new friends in this new place. I literally had no one to turn to, no one that I could comfortably ask to “can we go to the clinic together?”, no one that would bring me hot soup. No one that could understand how deeply catching dengue affected me and that could physically be there for me. My two colleagues and housemates were amazing: they actually brought me to the clinic, bought me medicines and even made soup for me, but neither of them was “an old friend”. Neither of them knew my fear of being ill, and neither of them could really spend the day in bed with me watching tv series.

Lesson learnt

I don’t mean to make this a very dramatic post, as I have had great fun in all the countries I’ve lived in, but I wanted you to consider this, when you think of moving to another country: you will find it harder and harder to have somebody that is really close to you and that you can call at 2am to talk about the boy who broke your heart. In many ways, you will become much wiser and more open from all the new friendships you will make, but at some point you might start missing the deep connection you can only have with the friends who have seen and known you for years.

Meeting up with my friend in Rome was very uplifting. We talked about the old times, we caught up on each other’s lives and we made new plans for the future. All these things are much easier to do with somebody that you have know for some time (again – 7 years! Where did all this time go?!?). Old time friends will have more chances to know what makes you laugh and will understand better what makes you cry or what makes you angry.

This is not to discourage anybody from moving out of your country, but to encourage you to make a plan that takes this risk into account: make sure you have enough ways to get in touch with people back home and – most of all – make sure to feel lonely from time to time.

Aside from that, go and have fun!

P. S. Today I had lunch with my half-brother, his wife, their daughter, my sister and my partner. I hadn’t seen my brother and his family in a year, and it was yet another reminder of how important it is to have that support network that you tend to miss when you move to new countries often.