Viterbo – small, but full of life 2

This story is about a small, sleepy Italian town where everything still closes for a long lunch break (or siesta). It’s also about how I spent the best 5 months of my life there. A town with a cobbled medieval town centre protected by a wall. Not on the map for the main touristic routes, it’s a perfect place to visit for a taste of Italy. In February we had just arrived, friendships were tentatively taking root and sending shy, bright green shoots towards the sky. We were walking around the town, exploring. The weather was grey in that last month of winter and my friend kept complaining about the wind. “The wind, oh the wind! My cheeks are so red!” And indeed, it wasn’t much of a welcome. At times it seemed the town was abandoned. Had we walked onto the set of a post apocalyptic movie?

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Yet Viterbo was giving us vivid signs of life even then because at some point you will walk into the town centre and find a celebration bursting with colour, kids and confetti. Even clowns! Here’s what celebrations in Viterbo look like – in cold February and later, when it comes to life and its vibrant little community explodes into life and colours in spring.

Thanks to one celebration – Città a colori (or the Town in colour) – I got to try my hand at proper photography. There was a photo competition going and my friend and I stumbled across it a couple of hours before the photos had to be handed in and I had to run back to the Casa dello studente (the student halls of residence) to recharge my camera batteries! In all, I managed to take photos of clowns and red-nosed lions and balloons and was very proud to see a few days after in the exhibition three, yes THREE!, of my photos!

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In spring…

… life extended into the warm and convivial evenings. In February the streets were so empty and grey, you felt you were in a ghost town but after Easter we came back to a different Viterbo where people and music flooded the Busy piazzas, cozy cafes buzzing with conversation, quiet nooks with beautiful fountains where courting couples hide away. Viterbo took on a more romantic, mysterious personality as the sun went down…

There was a small piazza with a fountain. Light was warm, yeallow but mystical at the same time. The strange effect was reinforced by the weird images of oranges and palm frond floating in the water…

Fountain

 

Day or night, there was always Schenardi.

A cafe nestled in a small street, by my favourite piazza – Piazza delle Erbe, housed in a wonderful building. A couple of years ago it closed, sadly. After being converted back into a cafe around 2010, having been a McDonalds of all things before that, it only survived a couple years. I am glad we were there to see it as a cafe bustling with life and alive with the smell of good coffee and all the colours of the ice cream rainbow.

Schenardi

Magdalena and I at Schenardi

Schenardi, Viterbo

Schenardi

 

There was nothing better than just sitting in a cafe for hours over one latte macchiato with friends. One of the most wonderful things about friends is that they push you out of your comfort zone. One of our wonderful Italian friends was in a band and they played the right music. We went along to see one of his performances.With the right people and the right music I danced.

[Here I cannot help but advertise the lovely band Riflessi – there is a hint of Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and The Beach Boys to them. Check them out: http://rifflessi.blogspot.it/%5D

There are also chance encounters and friendships you don’t expect. When I say “friend”, I don’t necessarily mean human. I met the same cat in the same spot several times.

A friend

Perhaps the time was right. Perhaps it had something to do with me coming out of my shell. Perhaps I am romatasizing… But Italy put a spell on me and going to live there one day is always a possibility or, perhaps, merely a dream…

Magdalena, thank you.

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Viterbo – small, but full of life

IMG_6513My love story with Italy started during a few months in 2011, on my year abroad. So, before I go on holiday to Tuscany in May (woohoo!!!), I felt I needed to do justice to the lovely, sleepy, medieval town of Viterbo that came to life right under our noses when spring came. Besides, going to Italy as a holidaymaker is not the same.

I’m sure we’ve all had experieces that we see through the telescope of time, as we look back into the wide, ocean-like expanses of our life, and say “Yes, that’s what made me who I am, that was the year of my life”. The memories of my year abroad have not left me and even as the years march on, those wonderful months stand out as bright in my mind as they were in the warm Italian sun at the time.

A new tide of nostalgia was brought upon me as I re-watched a wonderful French film “Auberge Espagnole” or “Pot Luck” in English. I really recommend this film to everyone and especially anyone who went on a year abroad – whichever country it was. You will feel those strings of friendship and self-discovery tugging at their heart as they watch it.

 

Rome was very close, even though it took you 2 hours on the train to get there… We visited Rome, sure! Many times! But we didn’t leave Viterbo as often as some of the other Erasmus students. We were happy wandering around through the winding cobbled streets, taking in the sounds and textures and the light and atmosphere of the town and enjoying each other’s company.

So, here are the views, silhuettes, textures, colours, walls and windows; light and shadows and the centuries of history Viterbo has to offer. Viterbo, the town.

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At first I was going to do this in just one entry but I realised there was too much life and memories to Viterbo than I thought. This is the first of a few entries in which I will try to convey the wonder of Italy.

 

Till we meet again…

Same river, different life

A long Christmas day walk led me through the quaint and sleepy town of Richmond. It got dark early and the evening seemed even calmer by the river – the deep blue of the sky was reflected in the Thames making the water look just as inky. All this blue was broken up by warm yellow streetlights and their reflections on the surface.

On this first picture, if you look closely you will see the lights in the boat and imagine someone celebrating Christmas.

Thames

Two days later I was walking to work along the most iconic stretch of the river Thames, past London Eye, and then across Westminster Bridge. Here, the river was witness to a completely different life. It was the day just after Boxing day and 8:30 in the morning. Already there are people on the bridge – mere blurs on the photos – rushing to work. Some tourists were there already, in central London birght and early to make more memories to take back home.

Thames

As the pages turn…

As the year draws to a close, I can’t help but grow very aware of time, as if it thickens into a real, palpable, textured even, entity – like water in a stream or pages of a calendar. New Years eve for me and my family is an occasion as important as Christmas Eve and Christmas day for anyone in Western Europe. The Communists, you see, got rid of religion and therefore had to give another holiday for the people to gather for and celebrate. That was New Years eve and so the tradition went on years after the Soviet Union crumbled.

There is even an equivalent of Santa Clause in the Russina-speaking world – Father Frost. I was scared of Father Frost (of clowns too) and, would you believe it, he came to our kinder garten for a festive celebration. It’s a good thing that Father Frost had a helper – his young and beautiful grand-daughter. It was thanks to her that I got my goodie bag because she led me up to Father Frost to collect it and then to the tree to get my picture taken. The psychological trauma explains the expression on my face (but I’ve got my goodie bag!).

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As the New Year approaches tantalisingly, I can’t help but remember what it was like the year before – at the end of 2013. What frame of mind was I in looking the New Year in the face? Well, it was a funny old time…

One day, there I was, sitting in a cafe, waiting for a friend, hoping for at least some solace. At that time I was trying to find myself, having lost myself completely in the girl who ended up breaking my heart. All was festive around me and I looked out the window and watched life trickle past me.

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The weeks coming up to last New Years weeks were filled with walks along the South Bank. That walk, I find, is like  paint (on a bench, or on railings) – with time you have to apply a new coat of paint on. If you chip the surface, you will see all the past layers of different colours – like memories enveloping the underlying core. Each walk along the river is like an attempt of a new coat of paint, each walk a new experience, a new layer of memories.

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This was the end of 2013 – an odd year for me. But today I am saying goodbye to 2014 – the year that saw me find myself once more. It was also the year when I made lots of new friends and got a great new job. Some things – the good things – haven’t changed. My friends and I are still walking around London, painting it different colours, layer after layer of memories.

First day of work - the weather is gloomy but I'm happy!

First day of work – the weather is gloomy but I’m happy!

Southbank

Nothing’s changed… Come Christmas, Southbank is festive. The tourists are still there, buying hot-dogs from the first vendor they see. And I am still there, in love with Southbank.

On that note, here’s to looking ahead towards another great year full of hope!!! You get to turn a new leaf. And the great thing about New Year it is that you can literally do that – look at those crisp, white pages of the new diary and imagine the possibilities, the wonderful things you can fill them with.

Let us glance into the bauble, as if we were trying to read our future in a crystal ball, and see nothing but our own smiling faces full of hope!

Reading the future

More than just a holiday

My previous post was about my friend’s wedding which was the main reason for setting off to Germany. I thought I’d be pragmatic and add on an extra trip so Jenna and I planned our meeting in Munich once I’d celebrated my friend’s nuptial knot-tying. Now I must say that I used to take many more photos and especially those I like. Even though my creativity did not magically spring to life during the trip, I felt Germany deserved to be celebrated with at least a few shots!

My adventure began in a lovely small village where the bride grew up and was getting married. Veitshöchheim is lovely and picturesque. The flat we (me and a university classmate who was also attending the wedding) were lucky enough to have stayed in was on the main street and right above the bakery. After going to that bakery for breakfast two days in a row, I started calling it “our bakery”. Here’s the quaint main street of the village.

Veitshochheim at dusk

Veitshochheim at dusk

 

After the celebration I had a day to explore the tranquil place. I wandered round the gardens by the wonderfully yellow palace. What I liked about the gardens was that inbetween the trimmed hedges there were flower meadows with orchards. In addition, I came across a vegetable garden with artichoke plants taller than me.

 

On the way to Munich I went to Würzburg to take the train. I only had a little bit of time to wander the streets but I was struck by the rolling hills in the background as I walked back to the station.

 

I am sorry for the paucity of my Munich photos collection but here’s what I did manage to get a shot of.

 

The last day of my trip was the most enjoyable and my friend Jenna agrees. It was a spontaneous day at Lake Starnberg. I learnt about it by accident when looking up advice on travel-card to buy when travelling around Munich and boy were we pleased that we went there! The whole place breathed holidays! Neither of us has swimsuits so we ended up going into the water topless which turned out to be really liberating. Also, our naked breasts did not cause a furor as people on continental Europe are quite laid back about nudity. Anyway, here’s lovely Starnberg. (and the wonderful animals I can never keep myself from taking pictures of)

 

Finally, as a vegetarian I found Germany a difficult country in terms of cuisine but breakfast with their bread and pastries was always something to look forward to!!! My favourite pastry ever was the delicious nuss-schnecke. If you are ever in Germany, you should definitely try it! It’s like a pain-aux-raisins but with a nutty filling and roasted hazel nuts on top.  I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of it but here’s one kindly provided by http://baeckerei-wimmer.de/sortiment/kuchen-feingeback/

Feingebäck_Nussschnecke1Guten Appetit!!!

Happiness on a hill

I feel very lucky and privileged to have been to the wedding of a really good friend of mine. I was both touched and inspired by the celebration and therefore decided to put together some photos to reflect the happy event. Not only did I get to attend a wedding, I also got to go to Germany, where I’ve never been before. Nevertheless, one of the best parts of the trip for me was going to my friend’s house, meeting her family and seeing her get ready for one of the most important days of her life!

I was one of many who came to see this wonderful couple into their bright future. And many guests wanted to have memories of that day. From the picture below you can see that at least three people were taking pictures – the photographer, the young man in the fetching traditional lederhosen and me. I can tell you that there were plenty of people behind me with their cameras out.

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After the ceremony – after waiting impatiently for the couple to come out of the town hall as husband and wife – we all got into cars and drove (honking madly all the way) to the site of the reception. It was all very stylish, atmospheric and very jolly! When I say atmospheric, I mean the location was beautiful – everything was set up on a hill with a lovely view. The brewing storm which broke out in rain also added to the excitement as the rain drops gently patted the roof, also wanting to wish all their best to the newlyweds. On one of the photos you can see a group of guests huddling under one of the umbrellas as the rest of us enjoyed the protection of the large festive tent. Summer was everywhere – even inside – as the flowers on the tables were all from the bride’s mother’s garden.

The rain did nothing to quench the festivities especially since weather cooperated very allowing the sun to come out just in time for all the games.

One morning you might find a popped red balloon with a lovely post card with a photo of the newlyweds that says that “so-and-so has promised to do such-and-such for the newlyweds if you find the card and send it to them on the following address”. Who knows, it might travel all the way from Germany to wherever you live… Stranger things have happened…

Once food was served, everyone was left to enjoy the celebration in any way they liked. Some were chilling outside – even blankets were provided – waiting for sunset. After a yummy meal some of us chose to wander the beautiful countryside, some – to run around and play the matador.

 

The evening was just as wonderful as the day. The tent was full of music and dancing; outside, the sky was clear and sprinkled with stars. The lit up tent looked like it was a magical island of life floating through the endless expanses of the night.

 

I wish Christina and Jacob a lifetime of joy!

Lots of love,

Sasha

I went to Rome and my heart stayed there

We’ve all had experiences that stay with us long before they are over. Well, my year abroad was like that. Three years on, friendships are still as strong as they were in sunny Italy during carefree adventures in Rome.

I am in a completely different stage in my life but Rome will always be there…

Here we are, choosing our route for our outing to Rome.

Planning a trip to Rome

Planning a trip to Rome

And here are a few of my shots of the beautiful city.

Rome also has an irresistible spiritual side and all the beautiful churches give it a poignant quality.

Finally, my eye is often drawn to things other people don’t consider beautiful or noteworthy.

The palm trees, the pylons, the pine trees, the TV antennas … all form a part of the picture of Rome together with the beautiful marble inside the churches and the warm colours of the houses.