Friday, 31 August 2012

For People Who Like Wandering Around Foreign Supermarkets

In Italy they have aisles devoted to Nutella!

It's quite rare to find a large superstore within the historic centre of an Italian city as the authorities are keen to preserve their historic authenticity. Usually there are clusters of hypermarkets and department stores on the outskirts of the city. Due the distance and the difficulty of finding a bus that's running on any given day, I usually save up a long list of we need and then make a day of it. Ikea is the first stop (for a free espresso) and then onto the large supermarkets. Here are some observations from Italian supermarkets to satisfy the desire we all have to snoop around foreign supermarkets and compare items (often getting overly excited about items we could just as easily find at home!) 

Massive Watermelons for only 50 cents!

Broccoli Romani (aka Triceratops Broccoli) 

A Fish Choir

These Cross-eyed Crustaceans are everywhere

A live lobster to take home with you (or on the bumpy IKEA minibus)

Interestingly. the method of boiling lobsters is actually illegal in 
nearby the town Reggio Emila where you can be fined up to 500 euros

Paella & Insalata Riso (Rice Salad) at the Delicatessen

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Italian Animals You Won't Find in Travel Brochures

I'd like to give an insight (or an earful) into the loudest noise in Italy (well, second perhaps if you consider Roberto Benigni!) and tell you about some of the Italian creatures which I doubt you'll find in travel brochures.

The first day of summer often arrives in dramatic fashion in Italy. It goes from "oo-that's-a-bit-chilly" to "pffffff! It's boiling!!" within about 24 hours. When this happened in Bologna, I opened the windows straight away and was hit by a deafening racket. I thought there must be something wrong with my ears or that I'd developed a sudden and localized case of tinnitus. I asked my Italian students if that could hear it only to be given a quizzical look and the response, 'um, what noise?' Apparently, they'd all become immune to the sound that was coming through the open windows but to my English ear, the noise was just incredible.

Hear the Cicada Here

High up in the nearby trees, there were tens of cicadas, a loud chunky looking insect with a unique mating song. Their serenade is 120 decibels at close range (the same intensity as a jet engine) which means your ears could be permanently damaged if you held one to your ear. Even the cicada has to close its own ears to prevent itself from being deafened! However, the loudness of the males' wooing technique also acts as a nifty deterrent to keep birds from gobbling up these juicy insects. 

The gross thing about the cicada is that it begins its life on the tree trunk as a larvae and then leaves its exoskeleton on the trunk when it moves up the tree. This means that you have creepy insect shaped formations plastered all over the tree trunks. 

Other Animals that I've Discovered

Firstly, there are the huge green grasshoppers (cavellette) which I've encountered twice: one nonchalantly crossing a main road and the other, a beast which jumped into the kitchen and pooped on the microwave (below).

I often jump or let out an embarrassing squeak when I hear the sound of rustling leaves in the hedges here. Thankfully, the source of the rustling tends to be little lizards which scurry away as you walk on the pavement. You'll usually find them in grassy areas in the outskirts of Italian cities especially if you're on route to an out of town department stores or IKEA.

And finally, just to show that even Italy is not immune to gross things, during my morning walk, I came across this lovely creature...


and this is what happened 20 seconds later...


and then this...


Saturday, 25 August 2012

Graffiti in Bologna

While many shops are closed for the summer and their shutters are firmly down, I've had the opportunity to  enjoy and take snaps of the street graffiti in Bologna. The graffiti by its very nature is temporary and so old works are eventually covered up and new pieces take their place or crop up in unexpected places. Here are some of my favourites from this Summer. 

The Best Shoe Shop ever! 
Medusa (a Jellyfish)

A newspaper stand (unfortunately someone
stuck something over Snoopy's nose)
A Scheming Giraffe

A Geisha taking Espresso

The Birth of Venus

The local Seamstress

A Jazz Bar

A Lamb stencil that's appeared everywhere

(photo via @John1954Moi)

A Mexican Bar
(Old Photo of Graffiti that still exists in Via Inerio)
Update April 2013: I found this happy chappy on the shutters of a veterinarian nearby. 

For more check out this article: Bologna Street Art at NomadBiba

A Sculptor's Revenge

Photo: via @John1954Moi

A common meeting place in Bologna is the statue of Nettuno in the eponymous square Piazza Nettuno, right next to the main square Piazza Maggiore. It was designed by Giambologna and completed in 1567. It was controversial as the Vatican deemed the size certain parts of Nettuno's body to be inappropriate and so the sculptor was ordered to tone it down for the sake of common decency. The disgruntled artist agreed but got his own back by designing his sculpture in such a way that from a certain angle, Nettuno's forefinger looks alarmingly like something else. You'll often see shifty looking students ushering their friends onto a specific slab of marble in order to get the best view or you'll hear audible gasps from the students' mothers!! 

Friday, 24 August 2012

The 11 Basic Facial Expressions When People See a Muslim (in Pictures)

While I was strolling around Bologna this morning, I happened to receive a few funny looks from Italians in the street. Being a Muslim in a Catholic country, I'm become completely used to this now and usually the reactions are so comical that I don't mind them. Actually, they can be pretty entertaining. So I've compiled a light-hearted list of the 11 most common facial reactions to seeing a Hijab. Which one are you? : D 

The Overcompensating Smile
(to show I'm not racist) 

The Disapproving Old Lady Glare

The Don't Make Eye Contact Look

The Standard Confused Face

The Double Chin Double Take!

The Concerned 'Aren't You Hot in That??'

The Surprised 'Oh' Face

"Is this girl Italian or just foreign?"

The Duck and Cover!!

"So just what are you exactly??"

 Hope you enjoyed them!

I also need to add a special mention for:

'The Hijabi Seeing Another Hijabi Look!'

which results in uncontrollable excitement and, in my case, 'oooooo look hijabiiiiiii!'

If you can think of any more let me know, comment or send me a photo with a caption!!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Travel Photos: Florence, Italy

Cellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa  (@SaritaAgerman)

Palazzo Vecchio (@SaritaAgerman)

The Breath-Taking Dome of Santa Maria Del Fiore (@SaritaAgerman)

A Bird Resting on David (@SaritaAgerman)

A Gondola on the River Arno (@SaritaAgerman)

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UPCOMING: Florence Travel Journal to follow...

For more Photos of Italy - Check out my Flickr: 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Siena and the Palio (A City of Medieval Rivalries)

Piazza Del Campo (Photo: Anon) 

If Emilia-Romagna is the culinary heart of Italy (although other regions may dispute this claim) then Tuscany is the cultural centre, with Florence at it's heart. Tuscany, the birth place of the Renaissance, claims to speak the perfect Italian, and boasts the beautiful cities of Pisa, Lucca and Siena. In the days before Italy came into existence as we know it today, the country was instead made up of powerful city states. During that time, the fiercest rivalry of them all was between Florence and Siena, a bitter rivalry both in Art and War. I'll always have a soft spot for Siena as it was my first taste of Italian life when I attended an intensive language course there three years ago. 

The winding streets of Siena (Photo: @SaritaAgerman) 

The historic centre of Siena is made up of narrow streets which lead onto the main square Piazza del Campo, a gently sloping piazza in the shape of a shell. During the warm Summer evenings, the piazza is full of young people, families and elderly couples sitting, chatting, eating ice cream or simply enjoying an evening stroll or passeggiata. In the day time, you can climb the Piazza's Tower (La Torre Del Mangia) and see a wonderful view of the city below. There are many activities in the Summer, the streets have designated areas for busking and graffiti and so the streets have a great variety of musicians and artists. The latter often re-create famous paintings with 24 hours and wash it away the next day of create amazing 3D graffiti.  

Street Painting: Da Vinci's Portrait of a Woman

Street Painting: Botticelli's The Birth of Venus

The city itself is divided into distinct districts or contrade, each with its own flag and symbol. They even have their own traditional ally and enemy amongst the other contrade. The competition that exists between these contrade is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Siena remains a city of medieval rivalries; rivalries which have been brewing for over a thousand years. They bubble under the surface for the whole year and then erupt spectacularly twice a year in the form of the famous Palio, a frantic bareback horse race around the main Piazza. Spectactors are in the thick of it, herded into the middle of the piazza while the race encircles them. The frenzied action is all over in less than two minutes but nonetheless is a matter of great pride for the winning contrade. It is not uncommon to see grown men reduced to tears and women in fits of hysterics following the race. The race has all the pomp you'd expect from a medieval dual with the jockeys dressed in all their finery. It is not without its perils however and often the first horse over the finish line is riderless. 

Flag of the Onda (or Wave ) Contrada (Photo: @SaritaAgerman) 

For those with a dicky ticker or who have fears for the safety of the horse and rider (and there are certainly many who feel the race is outdated and dangerous for the horses), you can always enjoy the post-race festivities instead. Not only is winning contrada's flag or bandiera hoisted all over the main square but the winners parade through the square on most if not all the nights of the subsequent month. These street parades seem to spring up spontaneously and spill out onto the streets. The parade gains many tens of followers as they march joyously behind the winning flag through the contrade. Those sat in Piazza Del Campo can hear the drums reverberating around the square several minutes before it arrives. The people make guesses as to which tiny opening the throng of people will appear. Suddenly they arrive and fill the piazza with cheers and an infectious party atmosphere. 

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Gelato (Photo: @SaritaAgerman) 

Siena was also the place where I fell in love with real Gelato where it is usually displayed in mouther-matering pyramids topped with fresh fruits and syrups. For more information on Italian Gelato, look no further than my previous blog post Travel Journal: Venice. Speaking of gelato, if you're ever in Tuscany do try and visit San Gimignano, a small Medieval town in the province of Siena. The town, set on a hill and famous for its towers also has a very prestigious gelateria (with an ubiquitous 'world's best" sign!). The gelateria is tiny but it has delicious and unique flavours like their subtle saffron ice cream or refreshing raspberry and mint. 

The Medieval towers of San Gimignano (Photo: @SaritaAgerman)

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(Photo: @SaritaAgerman)

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 If I haven't managed to tempt you to jump on a plane yet, maybe these pictures of the Tuscan landscape with its Cypress trees and luscious vineyards will do the trick! 

Tuscan Countryside (@SaritaAgerman) 

Vineyards near Monalcino (Photo: @SaritaAgerman) 

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Photos were all taken by @SaritaAgerman unless otherwise stated. 

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