Progress?

Most people view growing up as some kind of linear curve where your experiences build upon each other and as such you steadily develop and progress. People forget this development and progression is rooted in context and only when you truly have a goal in mind can you begin to measure and assess this fluid idea of progress. One of the best books I've stumbled through this year is called Essentialism which explores these ideas.


Particularly in these last 7 months I've felt I've made a little progress in several small areas. My italian has improved, I play lacrosse at a competitive level, I've lived more independently than ever before, I've been able to get to know and understand this great city of Rome and I have new appreciation for art and more generally the role of the arts in the world. Despite the above, I feel it pales in comparison to what could be achieved with a clearer goal and direction.

I think my threshold for having a worthy purpose is too high that it can inhibit any kind of action at all. It's reminiscent of Sylvia Plath's haunting novel 'The Bell Jar' where Esther describes a vision of her being caught in a crook of a fig tree unable to choose mutually exclusive journey to take.

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” 

While caught up in the relative structure of university, choice and direction are trammelled and so choices right now are less polarised. On one level, existential questioning is essential otherwise you will be purely a reflection of your environment with no sense of autonomy. Leaning too far the other way harms the prospects of a life rooted in reality. I value proactiveness, initiative and creativity and would want these to firmly accompany any period of thought and reflection.

It's been a couple of months since I last posted on here and in that time I've been fortunate to explore some new parts of Italy and Rome. A little trip to the region of Veneto surpassed expectations and I can see myself returning to Lake Garda many times in the future. Tivoli is one of the most spectacular day trips from Rome with the beautiful Villa D'este, Villa Adriana and the waterfalls at Villa Gregoriana. There's still a couple of things I need to see particularly palazzo valentini and villa Borghese.


Since illness in January and February, I've recovered greatly during March and April and I've appreciated many of my friends coming out to visit during this time. Reflecting back on priorities, maintaining strong relationships with friends is something I always want to prioritise wherever I am in the world and I've enjoyed hosting many people in my little studio flat/

The UK election last week clogged up a lot of my news feed recently and politics is something I like to read about but would hesitantly openly discuss. One of the best articles spawned out of post election mayhem was actually found on The Tab by this years University Challenge hero Ted Loveday. It's natural for people to find difficulty in empathising with an opposing view when each side whips up hyperbole about each other's 'destructive' plans. Despite that difficulty, empathy is essential and tones of self-righteousness are not helpful, particularly in a political sphere

I have just over 6 weeks to go and both exams for uni and the Italian Cup finals for lacrosse are looming large.

A dopo, TJP

Elsewhere:
A piece about my time in Pisco for a friends website
A little review for The Italian Insider
Twitter
Instagram



Cycling, Pizza and Orvieto

In the past three months there were fleeting great moments that I will look back on, immortalised on a polaroid or remembered through the stories of people I have shared my life with here. I was ill for most of January and February, making it hard to write on here or really do anything creative. There were days where I felt like I was getting better before quickly regressing again. 

Last Sunday I traveled to Orvieto with a close friend from home; it is beautiful little village set on a rock cliff looking out over the stretching planes of Umbria. There's a long circular path in the countryside surrounding the village. Walking along this path provided a rare moment of peace that I'm not able to get in the meandering mayhem of Rome. It reminded me of the Camino and I'm thinking of returning to Spain around Easter in a few weeks.

One of the people I meet for Italian tandem said that there is an atmosphere in Rome that is unlike any city in the world and I'd have to agree. It's not been an easy time here but Rome can surprise you with its intrigue and hidden places of beauty. Galleria Colonna is one of the most spectacular palazzos I've seen. Green spaces are rarely found in the centre but the ones that do exist are worth visiting, in particular the gardens of Villa Medici and the open panoramic view from Giardino degli Aranci. 




Having friends visit is a welcome prod to find new places as well as show off the collection of hidden regulars that I go to every week. My list, all within 4 minutes of my flat/pantheon include: 'ciao checca' for a tasty, simple Italian lunch in a vibrant modern setting, 'Fandango Incontro' - a quiet cafe hidden in a little piazza accessed through an innocuous bookshop, Lindt for gelato - guiltily commercial but genuinely the best, 'Caffe Doria' - for a solid afternoon cake choice and 'Alice' - the best Pizza al taglio in Rome.

I watched the lengthy documentary of the National Gallery yesterday and it was a spectacular insight into a place of incredible inspiration and beauty. It was interesting to see how they remove the barriers to entry to their work, whether that be providing interactive seminars for blind people or engaging storytelling for the younger audience. Empathy was encouraged and this allows a subjective appreciation or emotional impact for everybody whether you have a scholastic background in art or not. 




After 6 months of living here I'm starting to appreciate and enjoy the Italian way of cinema which is very different to most of the UK. I have been to 7 of the small cinemas dotted around the centro storico. Most are independently owned and usually have only one or two screens. My current favourite is the Alcazar in Trastevere, its one screen is draped top to bottom in a deep rouge. I watched Whiplash there, brilliant film, brilliant setting.

It's strange how a few little things added together can have a big impact on how you view the world and how you feel. I spent a few days in Hamburg in February and there's this viewpoint that looks like a vast, smokey Isengard alla Lord of the Rings. Just sitting there with a couple of friends from Edinburgh was simply quite life affirming. Spending time with good friends in a strange, interesting place reminiscing on tales from the previous years. Similarly, a few of my friends and I cycled down the Appian Way a couple of weeks ago. The combination of good company, beautiful scenery and great weather made everything seem a little more vibrant and alive.

A dopo, TJP



Update

It's been over a month since I published anything here, I have several unfinished drafts in my dashboard but never quite managed to complete any of them; Probably because they weren't unanimously positive and I maybe haven't got my head around describing something negative unless in a more abstract or nuanced way.

I wrote something for the university paper - The Student - that was a general recap of the last few months and I'm now back in the rolling green countryside of Chester, a world away from the jostling heart of Rome. There's a beautiful walk on the sandstone trail from Beeston Castle to The Pheasant Inn that we went on Sunday afternoon. It was the shortest day of the year so despite our relatively early start the sun was disappearing as we approached the car on the way back.

Beeston - Cheshire
I've lived in Rome for 15 weeks now and I think I only started to finally feel comfortable in my surroundings at the start of December. It has been a long slog till then. I read a quote yesterday that said "The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality" it came from a brilliant Ted talk which is the best I have seen on the subject. I felt sapped of a lot of energy in October/November which makes being proactive particularly difficult. I started reading again in earnest a few weeks ago making up for a slack couple of months with an eclectic selection of modern day fiction 'Any Human Heart' by William Boyd, business/productivity book 'Essentialism', sports strategy focussed 'Pep Confidential' and I've just started 'Brideshead Revisited' by Waugh.

The cinemas in Rome usually churn out one or two hollywood based films a week which is a welcome addition to puerile Italian comedies but is still lacking strong British dramas which they have in abundance in Edinburgh. I can't imagine a city in the world that has a stronger selection of film to Edinburgh. The triangle of Filmhouse, Cameo and Cineworld means just about everything is on show. The Imitation Game lived up to expectations, sad but incredibly inspiring at the same time.

There are some small signs of hope that I might be able to pass university this year. I've started to do several tandems throughout the week which have been a big help and I have a few allies in my various classes. One of my local friends pointed out the senate library which was hidden in a piazza 30 seconds from my flat. To the right of this is my favourite church in Rome - Basilica Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Unlike the majority of churches which have a range of frescoes littering the ceiling, Sopra Minerva has a midnight blue ceiling covered in stars. There was a Christmas service here last week, the church was lit up with hundreds of candles, the choir filled the building with Italian hymns and as you looked up it reflected the night sky outside.

Christmas in Chester, New Year in Edinburgh and back to Rome in early January.

TJP

View of the Vatican

Interstellar

I watched Interstellar last week, a film that takes you away for 3 hours on a journey that combines the epic with the intimate. It's easily one of my favourite films I've seen all year, it leaves you with a raw, invasive feeling of the vast world we live in. It had rained while I was in the cinema as I walked out into the Roman streets at 1am, the cobbles were glistening with the orange glow of the street lamps.

Rome is great to walk around, you have a labyrinth of winding, tiny streets all cramped up in the centre. Enclosed footbridges crossing the street above you, ostentatious sculptures, innocuous entrances leading to hidden, spectacular interiors. Piazza Venezia is more or less the centre of the city. At one end of the square you have the imposing Altare della Patria (Vittorio Emanuele Monument) and at the other Via Del Corso which dissects the city in two with a straight 2 km run all the way to Piazza del Popolo in the northern tip of ancient Rome. The west side of the Corso is where my little flat is, a short walk from the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campo di Fiori.Through walking in and out of these winding streets for the past month, this ancient jigsaw is roughly in place while leaving enough room for daily discoveries.

Altare Della Patria - aka the bus stop for lacrosse
The cinema is a 8 minute zig zag north from my flat. I only recently found out that I had been walking past the prime ministers residence (Palazzo Chigi) and parliament which are both fairly indiscreet judging by Roman standards. My life and current world seemed very small on the walk back. The intensity and importance on screen contrasting with the casual comfort and drifting I seem to be doing right now. It was a reminder that life is best lived when chasing the things you are truly passionate about.

I mentioned the above to one of my friends here, about surviving/thriving. Maybe I put too much pressure on doing the latter when in many ways survival here is a big step and something that you would take a lot from, even if from your current perspective it seems like you are running just to stand still. She mentioned how being a tortoise and not a hare is what's needed here. Little steps, building a routine, keeping yourself busy with the daily things.

Lacrosse is one of the things that keeps me going here. Training 3 times a week with a group of 15-20 Italians. It's intense but worth the effort. We are travelling to Belgium in 2 weeks to play a team out there. Then in mid December we travel to Turin for the first game of the Italian Championship.

TJP
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Depth

There's this great Ben Howard song called Depth Over Distance, it has the lines:

"Depth over distance every time, my dear
And this tree of ours may grow tall in the woods
But it's the roots that will bind us here
To the ground"


"hold on, though we may be too young
to know the ride we're on".

You can apply the essence of this to a lot of life. I've chopped and changed my surroundings so many times and at each place you have to start from scratch, trying to build some kind of home and community. Something that stretches beyond a routine and into a way of life that you feel nourishes you and builds you up.

From my experience, community is a rare thing. To find a place where people move beyond being a collection of individuals and into somewhere with a kind of shared, selfless purpose. I've been lucky to find it at PSF and in some of the churches I've attended over the years. It can also be found in more transient environments such as the Camino. The sad thing it is missing from a lot of the world.

When I next get pedantically get asked what I want to do after university with my degree in Philosophy and Italian, I'm tempted to reply to simply base myself in a rewarding community somewhere. The obvious drawback to this is that it would encourage stereotypes and would either entail silence or further irritating questions. It's much easier and socially acceptable to say you want to move to London and work in the city. For a lot of people those answers are mutually exclusive, I don't think they necessarily are if you have a less simplistic view of the world.

I had a good chat this weekend with a New Zealander who spent 5 years living in Amsterdam with his family. We bonded over our shared belief and experience of English being far less proficient than people and the media make it out to be. This is particularly the case in Western Europe where the vast majority of people have mastered surface knowledge language skills and promptly progressed no further. The kind that happily points a tourist in the direction of the Pantheon or enough to survive basic greeting formalities.

True communication stretches far beyond this, particularly if you are staying somewhere long term and not just a weekend visit. You want to be able to share thoughts and opinions in depth. While my Italian skills are working to fill that void in ability, in the short term it can feel a little daunting and alienating not to be able to fully communicate. Not to stretch beyond surface level.

Language even in this day of dictionaries and wikipedia is often so nuanced and subjective. Words don't translate and correspond directly. More than anything, words are often merely trying to describe and paint a picture of something that powerfully exists as a separate tangible thing. When we use words to describe our feelings how can we truly explain what is happening inside our brain. Language is also just a component of community, there are other factors that play important roles too, but it also seems the easiest one I can try and fix.

I'm looking forward to a little trip to London this Friday.

A dopo.
TJP

Roma


Elsewhere:

  • What 3 words is a fun website. You can find my bedroom using 'scoring enforced climate'. Given the breadth of possibility in the English language, I'm fairly happy with my allocation.
  • I mentioned him at the beginning, but Ben Howards new album is incredible. I listened to it start to finish 3 times this weekend. Check it out.
  • I'm in Italy only for a year. This article helps to explain why the novelty of pizza, gelato and old buildings can wear thin for Italians who have their long term future here.
  • Finally, this video will make you want to go to Canada:

Bella Ponza

One of my closest friends came out to stay for 8 days, we went on a little trip to the island of Ponza. In Beautiful Ruins it used a metaphor which went along the lines of people's lives being like walking on your own winding path. Occasionally you find yourself walking with other people but it comes and goes. With Jonnie it was great for us to just click back again, to pick up from where we dropped off in the summer.




We both can be quite deep and intense with what we do, we require a subtle harmony in our lives for us to function on top form. It was great to mutually help prepare for our respective next steps and to return to our adopted new reality's with a renewed sense of focus. 

The few days in Ponza were some of the best I had all year; freedom to explore and experience a different world without any requirements or pressure. Jonnie arrived late Monday evening, with no previous plans and a meagre 30 minute Google search we made our way to the train station early on Tuesday. We picked out Ponza as Google maps made it look intriguing, plus we had never heard of it before which made it consistent with the spontaneous way we wanted the trip to be. After a successful airbnb search on the train and quick wrong detour to a neighbouring port, which was no longer sending out boats, we arrived at the port of Formio and hopped on a little ship heading out across the med.



We set out at late afternoon and caught a spectacular early evening sunset. I missed this view, of being surrounded by water as the sky briefly explodes into colour before descending into the darkness. When I worked in Greece, the staff used to occasionally go sailing after work. You could almost entirely justify living there for this spectacular 45 minutes of sailing, basking in the fading orange glow of the sun.

It was dark when we landed and with only some hazy instructions on my phone from the airbnb host we headed towards the lights on the hill looking over the harbour. The solitary police car on the island spotted our unusual shorts and flip flop appearance and duly questioned our presence. Apparently they personally know everyone on the island so were easy to spot. One of the guys saw that I was from Chester and couldn't hold back his enthusiasm that he too had been there only a few weeks ago. Italian police had a traditional moody appearance to uphold so the uniform clad italian struggled to quickly regain his stern composure.




We wandered to the harbour in the morning and saw a desk with a piece of paper and various images of speed boats for hire. After a quick phone call and the arrival of the daughter of the family business we had our vehicle for the day. I mentioned the golden rule of living in Italy when I first moved here, the combination of one section of society blocking your progress at every opportunity and then the other side with a complete disregard to following the rules. This was one of the beautiful examples of the latter, to let two 21 year old English boys have full control of 140HP speedboat without having to hand over a single document or any kind of money. They had Jonnie's address but compared to the vast amount of health and safety requirements in the UK we couldn't help but think it was too easy to be true.



We spent 6 hours on the boat and did a full circuit of the island. The weather was still great but the combination of it being October and mid week meant that we were practically alone at sea. We spend so much of our lives ticking boxes, even on our moments away from work we put so many obligations on ourselves. Being out there just motoring along was such a freeing, fun time. We had an anchor at the front so we pitched up at an empty beach and swam ashore. The island mostly comprised of dusty cliffs, the occasional intriguing cave and some expansive sandy beaches that were only accessible by boat.



I had some uni things to get back to so it was only a brief visit. Rome fluctuates between being impossible and incredible. I have moved again, I'm now found in a beautiful little studio in the historic centre. Hopefully I will be here for a long term and can make it more of a home as opposed to the last flat which felt like I was merely stopping by.

A dopo.
TJP



Little Adventures

I survived almost a month without wifi in my apartment which is a record that I don't want to break any time soon. People have asked how the experience has compared to previous expectations but I was so focussed on uni and then work that I never really allowed myself to dwell on it. The only real expectation was that it would probably be a volatile but in the end a rewarding adventure. This has been pretty accurate so far with some great moments but also days of frustration when everything in Rome seems to be against you.

Four weeks is enough to feel attached to a place, I have had one of my old friends from Edinburgh staying the last few days and showing him around felt like him a little place on earth that I am familiar with. Rome is best seen on foot, my flat is on the edge of Monti and within minutes you are approaching piazza venezia and the heart of the city.

Marino
I joined the Roma Leones Lacrosse Club a few weeks ago and the routine and Italian interaction from that make going to training one of the highlights of the week. Italians train hard, 2 hours of non-stop work in full lacrosse kit in the evening humidity. Training is usually 3 times a week and that combined with 2/3 gym sessions my lethargic summer in the office is already a distant memory. The Leones play in the Italian league so I will hopefully get to go to some of the away games in cities across Italy in the coming months.

3 weeks ago I made a brief spontaneous trip to Edinburgh. It seems I'm always relearning the lesson of getting perspective, removing myself from one environment to refresh and regain a sense of clarity. It was great to jump into an environment of easy company and familiarity. Rome can sometimes feel like a battle but a sense of routine is already forming and the various quirks of life are slowly being appreciated.

On Sunday multiple buses packed with Erasmus students went to the Festa Del Vino in the once quiet village of Marino. It juxtaposed a mass being played out on speaker to hooking up the fountains with wine and pumping free cups to the merry crowd. It was a fun day.

TJP

La Dolce Vita

Rule 1 of living in Italy: there is this constant, delicate juxtaposition between copious amounts of complicated red tape and then the Italians, who do everything in their power to avoid it.

As a result of this, life here in Rome is an unpredictable journey but one that is captivating and beautiful. As I'm living here and not merely passing through I have had to take a much different approach to travelling and actually try and build roots here; with that in mind I can happily report I have a phone/ matriculated at the university/ made a couple of friends and, as of Friday, found an apartment!


I will be living just next to Santa Maria Maggiore, it's by a metro station but also walkable to pretty much anywhere. Couchsurfing at Pembos is open to business, drop me a line if you want to come out. It was great to see some friends last week and I very much look forward to another impending visit from a friend in October.


Getting a flat fell into the latter part of Rule 1. They have this huge biweekly buy/sell newspaper called Portaportese. In the back they have thousands of little two lined advertisements for people renting rooms of apartments in Rome. I had mentally named Friday as 'Flat Day' and was determined to come away with something. I cold called in Italian about 12 of the numbers, got a couple of viewings and off I went on the bus to have a look. Within 15 minutes of walking into the first one on my list I had keys in my pocket and was free to move in that afternoon. Ideal.


Sorting university out was more the former part of Rule 1. I read before I came out that if you ever had a job to do in Italy, mentally prepare yourself for that task to take about half your day. It could be something  really simple such as going to the post office but you never know what obstacles will be thrown in your way. The main barrier for me is that different organisations are open in different parts of the city on different days at different times. If you thought UK standard Mon-Fri/9-5 business hours were commonplace around the world, think again. Thankfully I was reading The Obstacle is the Way at the same time which encouraged diligent, perseverance until everything got sorted.

I knew I was only the student at my new university from Edinburgh but the helper at the Erasmus office said he had only seen about 10 UK students come to Sapienza in the last 4 years. I'm suddenly very much the minority at Europe's largest university. I'm enjoying this new international atmosphere but maybe I underestimated how different it is from Edinburgh. The uniqueness has also been noted by my fellow Erasmus students with one German friend commenting how I remind her of Harry Potter, this seemed to me like a rather broad generalisation.


Aperitivos are one of the many social/cultural benefits of life in Rome. Last week most of the students from my Italian class descended on a local bar to enjoy what I hope to be a routine added meal time. Italians eat around 9 so this drink/food activity is designed to bridge the waiting time. Basically you typically order some strong alcoholic cocktail and then you get free food either brought to the table or an unlimited buffet by the bar.


The weather helps the above and also encourages exercise, I have particularly enjoyed cycling, skating and running along the tevere. Plans for next week include applying myself to Italian lessons, completing the move from trastevere to the centre and maybe the occasional little adventure.


TJP



_________________

Top quote I read today:

"The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn't live boldly enough, that they didn't invest enough heart, didn't love enough" 
Ted Hughes

Also, I'm going to be tracking progress on books soon. Click back later if you're keen to follow and have any recommendations!

The Big Move

Normality is a subjective thing which has the capability to shift and change. When you do one thing for a continued period of time your perspective on the enormity of potential that exists in our world starts to narrow. Leaping out of the comfortable environment that you settle into is the best way to regain that sense of exhilaration and opportunity. The university lifestyle, camino exploration and work routine were all consuming in their own unique way. I finished work in Edinburgh at 3pm on Thursday and at 1am Friday morning I was still in my suit wheeling a couple of big bags down the windy, cobbled streets of Trastevere. There were hundreds of revellers in the street and I enjoyed this obvious dichotomy between my old existence for the past 10 weeks and the new one that would confront me in the morning.

The basic brief is that I will be studying filosofia at Sapienza, Universita di Roma. My lectures will be in Italian and start in October. My language skills are currently a bit suspect, I don't really know anybody here (apart from the family of one of my good university friends) and I need to find a place to live. All of this provides a series of exciting challenges far beyond anything I have done before. 

I am a big fan of Ryan Holiday, he is proactive and thinks deeply; these are two things that people often don't blend together well. A few people I have met through life/travels have said they wish they could have a year of their life simply to read. While I think ideally you can combine a working existence with regular reading, it is very hard to do. I struggle as well, despite best 'post-camino' intentions I only managed to read about a book every 3 weeks while working over the summer. If I ever I had a year to read this would be it, so starting from today I will aim to finish 100 quality books before I return home next summer. I'm making this relatively public to add a degree of accountability. I want to do something like this too. I have no fixed genre or criteria except they have to be engaging. I have about 20 books waiting on my kindle but if you are reading this and have anything that you personally have found of value then drop me a line!

Anyway, it's day 1 and my first job is to head into central Rome get an Italian number...

A dopo,
TJP

Castello di Potentino: Coming Home

I left Potentino after 5 weeks. I was able to begin to relate and empathise with a way of life that was so foreign to me only a few months previous. I engaged in a hard working community in a beautiful inspiring setting. It was quiet and detached, the background noise was a slight whirring of insects, the flowing of the river and the gentle breeze running through the valley. Potentino had its quirks, its own way of doing things; but now having emerged through the other side it is as if I can see that all the quirks were necessary for it to be what it is. Having candle lit dinners outside for 25 people, rising at 6am to prune some overzealous vines, spending the weekend at the waterfalls these are the experiences which slowly add up to what it is like living there. One thing by itself isn't enough to explain it but by slowly immersing yourself into this unique community you will be changed and as I retreat back to civilisation I have a different outlook on my old routines and patterns.

View from the Potentino garden

Pisco had over 50 people living in its dusty walls. Potentino was more intimate and intense. Small changes instantly affected the dynamics. It was a conflicted but enjoyable contrast between the tranquillity of the vineyard and the changeable group dynamics between the many people who live and work in the castle walls. You were working under a system with authority but around the obligations of work people found a way to express themselves. Some people wrote, others spent the early evening light running in the surrounding estate, a few displayed their cooking prowess. 

I had a break from updating thoughts on here and focussed on the little black moleskine that contained my thoughts from the previous 9 weeks. I enjoyed reading again. I listened to the guests, friends and workers who would come in and out of the castle. People from the city who were escaping the noise and artists who came looking for new ideas. I had that special, rare realisation that this place was significant and it will be somewhere which I will continue to look back on.

I am in Chester now taking a few days to sort some things out and plan for the next couple of months. Till next time, Italy



For anybody wanting to see what life is like on a vineyard, join WWOOF Italia and find Castello di Potentino in Grosseto, Tuscany

Castello di Potentino: Brief Extracts

Here is a brief edited extract of my thoughts from the past week.

Day 1, Friday 28th June

I had no phone and no idea where I was. I was told I was in Castel del Piano but all I could see was a mechanics garage whirring across the road with a sleepy clay tennis court behind me. My only weapon was a phone number which I had managed to scrawl down the night before and after avoiding the inevitable for 15 minutes, I tentatively crossed the road to face the only sign of life. 

An old lady was walking down the crumbling pavement towards me and I decided to approach the situation with a 2 prong approach; Firstly I used my Italian and then secondly reinforced my efforts with my well honed hand gestures which I was fairly adept at. After a few minutes of struggling I had encouraged an unwelcome crowd with 3 of the overall clad workmen peering into the discussion. The crux of the problem was trying to explain that I wanted to use their phone when I had my English phone in my hand. Ten minutes later I had managed to work my way into the owner's office at the back of the garage to call Charlotte and with a broken signal I left the conversation with some assurances that I wasn't completely abandoned.

I found a bench and was awoken by a horn across the road. Charlotte had managed to find the anomaly amongst the locals and we started our journey back into the country. I shared my car seat with a Great Dane called Minerva and a Chocolate Labrador called Cocoa. We slowly pulled up to the castle and I tried to take in all of the surroundings. The sun was coming down over the mountains and the vineyards were lit up with a warm orange glow.


Day 4, Monday 1st July

Uran, the Albanian Italian speaking estate manager, had a cheeky grin on his face as the 6 of us gingerly clambered into the back of the tractor. It was 8.30am and we were starting work. Soon we realised the source of the grin as Uran mercilessly pushed the tractor to its speed limit while cruising down the bumpy terrain to the forest. It was reminiscent of the PSF truck with Andy at the helm. There we would be drifting around dusty outskirts of Pisco as we worked our way to Earth Bags. Fifteen months on it is a similar uncomfortable feeling with the objective changed to avoiding any wandering children to trying to avoid any of the prized vines or olive trees which we were taught to love if everyone is to get along happily.

Day 7, Thursday 4th July

Independence day. We celebrated with 3 Americans who I am working alongside here. It was a classic Potentino dinner which you would start sometime around 7pm and emerge 4 hours later after a hearty meal and plenty of interesting as well as obscure conversation. Knocking American foreign policy can be a favourite dinner topic amongst members of the various dinner parties (usually between 10-15 with a combination of workers and guests) but on this occasion it was outlawed and we had a non ironic or sarcastic chat about hunting Elks in the North of the States. Apparently there is a children section of the rifle stores where you can buy guns that will fit snugly into the arms of a 10 year old. We duly held our tongues.

Day 8, Friday 5th July

Working in the vineyard can be tiring work but also slightly satisfying as you move between the lines pruning and tucking any stray vines into the wires. I have also rediscovered the world of audio books after my last childhood experience of Steven Fry reading Harry Potter. On a similar cliché I have started the Lord of the Rings and Frodo and the boys are just approaching Rivendell. Reading is a big part of my life here and I'm having a brief respite with Michael Lewis' The Big Short before considering any more heavy novels.


The weekend has finally arrived and we escaped a wedding at the castle to head to the coast. A picnic and impending Wimbledon glory surely awaits me and Andy tomorrow...

Cinque Terre and Castle Life

A lot can change in a week and 7 days from hopping on a train to Genoa, I am sitting in a Tuscan castle where I will living and working amongst the vineyards. I feel alive being here, the castle is full of quirky rooms, a library and a beautiful little chapel just next to where I am living. It is set in a valley surrounded by vineyards, forests and a flowing river with waterfalls.

The last 7 days have been largely split between the incredible coastal village of Monterrosso and the walled city of Lucca. Monterrosso forms one of the five towns in the Cinque Terre national park which I had heard so much about  before coming to Italy. There is a stunning collection of walks joining the various places and the two days I spent walking along the ocean and through the vineyards were not enough for the pristine tranquility of the place to fully settle in.

If anybody remotely enjoys a good meander through the countryside then I would fully recommend making plans to visit this special area. I was fortunate to be living with some Italian friends who allowed me to settle into the Italian way of life. Focaccia bread is renowned in the areas around Genoa and breakfast was always something to look forward to with large varieties of this special bread on offer.

Being away from the noise of the city has allowed my kindle to make an appearance but this might be short lived considering I'm fortunate to be living amidst one of the most impressive book collections I have ever seen. Apart from the two storey library there are books in every room and once I finish my current book of Catch 22  I will go for an exploration to see what I can find.

Over the next month I will be integrating myself into the way of life here. Wine is a key aspect to living in the castle. I am writing this after a particularly brutal wine tasting session and combining this with unlimited glasses at lunch and at dinner you can begin to understand the daily volume you go through. Just as Boodles has forever changed my expectations of jewellery, after 2 days I am already fearing the almost certain probability of me being too aloof for the £2.49 bottle of Sainsbury's house wine when I return to England. It is exciting living in this place and there is so much waiting to be discovered throughout the next 5 weeks.

Brief Tuscan Memoirs

Sheer terror decends onto my face. The 500 stone beast bellows "un momento" to the waiting queue behind, in a deep American accent. The man has his fist plunged into an inconspicuous brown sack before releasing forth, like Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, some greasy goodness with the brand of the golden arches.

His obese offspring wait patiently. Unlike the chirping chicks tucked away in the nest, they know there is more than enough grub to go around. Within seconds their chubby fingers are clenched around their prey.

Satisfied that his children have had their fill, his gaze turns to me and then painfully shifts to the empty seat to my left. I say empty but it is currently providing the vital service of supporting my big shot, North Face rucksack. Such a bag would get so much more out of the juicy leather seat than the prowling 'bald with a moustache' American.

With one lengthy stride I know the game is up and I resign myself to my fate. I take one last gasp of fresh air and then join my bag on the seat next to me. Just 3 hours to go to Genoa...

This blog has been slightly neglected of late but all for good causes. I have been binging on a cultural feast through Rome, Siena and Florence. Interspersed with a delightful week isolated amongst the Tuscan planes.

Florence is a dream. It goes about its cultural dominance with a sophisticated swagger. A couple of nights ago I left our central appartment for a long walk through the pristine streets, bridges and piazzas. I wistfully walked by the locals at play. All of them beautifully dressed, talking beautifully, being beautiful. I know my place and I ventured on.

Even with my rose tinted glasses - watch out for the 3 euro sunglasses - there is an obligatory acceptance that Florence is a special place. I'm calling shot gun for my third year abroad.

Having been travelling for 24 days with the other 4, I am departing to see the chilled out coastal town of Monterroso. I am yet to have plans for past Sunday but I'm looking forward to the freedom. A presto

Alone on Vesuvius

The mist had fallen and the clouds had opened. Hard, powerful, intense rain slipped through our clothes and onto our skin. Vesuvius was releasing a gentle slipstream of smoke into the sky. We reached the top of the walk and looked firstly into the vast, depths of the crater and then out to Naples and the surrounding forests that resolutely clung to it's dangerous ally. Everyone else had left and the only thing that remained constant was the consistent hammering of the water.

I like these rare moments in life. A rare shattering of perspective through the everyday routine. Where you feel humbled and inspired. I wanted to record that moment and put it on the shelf to experience when I felt the urge to escape. 

We had been to Pompeii in the morning and it was easy to reflect on the juxtaposition between the lingering sentiment of death in the ruins and the vivacity and life that surrounded the volcano. Standing on the top was the most alive I had felt for a while and I just wanted to stay in that moment.

The next day the clothes had dried and Napoli was forcing itself through its winding streets once again. After briefly facing the knife in a Neapolitan barbers we were back on the train to the capital. Rome proved to be one of the most incredible places in the world.

Edgy Napoli

I came to Napoli with only a few prejudices; firstly the reputation of their hostile football fans and secondly the need to keep an extra keen eye on my wallet. But after a nervy journey finding the hostel I quickly become a huge fan of this quirky place full of passionate, strong characters.


The vespas tear through the city weaving through the crowds at ridiculous speeds. The pizzerias jostle at every corner and if you escape the tourist piazzas into the back streets you will find the restaurants running at factory like precision. We were pointed to 'Di Matteos', one of the top 5 pizzerias in the city according to the hostel owner, and found ourselves surrounded by Neapolitans and without a fellow Brit or American in sight. 


These places survive through word of mouth, otherwise no one blindly following their nose would wander into Di Mateos; It looked closed when we first walked past and only when we tentatively stepped inside were we gruffly pointed upstairs to discover a whole new world of food delight. Dozens of families tightly packed into 3 rooms all chomping down on humongous pizzas in routine fashion.


The pizzas range from 4 to 7 euros with the extra suicidal option to go for 'maxi' which is only recommended if you are trying to push for diabetes or to give added padding to your vespa waiting outside. Despite our best efforts at the cool, casual Neapolitan dress  (I wore an Australia tank top, flip flops and shorts), we all failed miserably and one waiter finally plucked up the courage to approach the Brits.  I ordered a Diavolo which translates to pepperoni but means devil in Italian. After making it clear that I couldn't handle the 'picante' version our pizzas arrived in  the purpose built pizza lift a short while later.


Unsurpringly the restaurant was packed for a reason and as Bjorn, an American traveller we met at the hostel, pointed out, sometimes the food here is so good here you want to cry. I didn't cry but I realised that my love for pizza has, despite many fond memories of post night out dominos, grown stronger.


Aside from this anecdote of a few short hours in Napoli, we have visted the ancient Greek ruins of Agrigento, climbed the smoky volcano of Mount Etna from Catania and endured a brutal overnight train flying through the south of Italy.


Rome now almost feels a bit too clean. I will miss Napoli, maybe one day I can wear the slightly aged black leather jacket and ostentatiously over-sized aviators and fit in with the cool, young Neapolitan crowd. Well, we can all dream.

Sicily

We are currently staying in an unnaturally large apartment in Agrigento having been upgraded by the excitable owner we found through hostelworld. Five days since leaving Chester and I have already lost track of time. It feels like we have been in Italy for weeks and we already have a slightly familiar expression when we clamber into the picturesque, grandiose train stations ready to be whisked away to the next location.

It's a surreal feeling traveling through somewhere you have heard so much about. It doesn't feel like true reality until you get lost through the crumbling back streets, until you try that sensational pasta norma or until you try that famous gelato looking out over the Mediterranean. I like Italy, but I'm still working my way through the first impressions and it has yet to fully sink in.


Towns and cities so far include Palermo, Cefalu and Agrigento. Highlights include seeing a concert at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo (apparently the 2nd biggest in Europe), the dramatic backdrop to the beach at Cefalu and experiencing the strange Thai/Vietnam/Hong Kong-esqu nightlife we experienced in Palermo. Heading North through the city in a group of 15 travelers, we were shown where the nightlife in Palermo was centred. Giuseppe, the owner of the hostel, pointed us to bar where we purchased the obligatory €1.50 bottle of Forst beer and then we headed outside to the street where a few hundred people were gathered. I loved the atmosphere and the range of conversations that followed with the Australian/Canadian/Israeli travelers that surrounded me.

Having traveled with Joe last year it has been interesting to see how the dynamics change now I'm in a group of 5 (Issy, Lucy, Emily and Anil). Everyone has different plans for after ranging from Au Pairing in Spain to a trip to Zambia and I'm looking forward to these next few weeks before we all head our separate ways.


Next we head to Catania and then the looming prospect of an overnight train to Napoli. We could have easily spent more days here in Sicily which I don't mind as it will be an excuse to come back at another time!

Palermo