Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Advice for September: Starting Uni

Last week, I spent five days living and working in London. I'll tell you all about that in a post next week as well as giving some tips on how to get work experience. For now, we're going back to school. Well, university to be exact.

After a good, seven-hour journey, I arrived back in Exeter yesterday evening. Packing light didn't quite go to plan and the car was absolutely stuffed from seam to seam with kitchenware, clothes and additional decorative things that I deemed absolutely necessary. When I have finally stepped away from Etsy, I will take photos and show you what my room is like.

My version of packing light.

There are plenty of guides to what to pack online and seeing as I am most certainly not an expert on the subject, this post is going to be an open letter to my little sister who is going to university for the first time next weekend. I hope if you're about to head to the confusing yet wonderful world that is university, this will be of some use to you.

Dear Jess,

Take a deep breath. I know that this is probably quite scary, being in a pokey little room, on your own, in a city far away from home... but it will get better, just breathe. If Mum and Dad are flapping around your room, putting things in places you'll forget and shedding the occasional (or frequent) tear about their baby being all grown up, don't be afraid to ask them to leave. They'll come back and take you out for lunch the next day anyway.

Joking aside, although it's quite daunting at first, the best thing to do is to wave them off. They'll know what to do, they've done it all before. Now it's up to you. Prop your bedroom door open whilst you unpack, go and see who's in the kitchen and smile and say hi to them all. You'll find that they're just as nervous and will want to make friends too.


Get them together and go out for a drink one evening or order pizza in and spend some time getting to know each other. Sure, freshers week is all about going out and getting wasted but these are the people you'll be living with for the next year so make an effort to get to know them sober. Or if you really are planning on drinking every night, do it together a couple of times at least!



Before long, you'll be the closest of friends.



There are other ways to meet new people too. There will be loads of events during the first week for you to try out new societies and you should absolutely go for it and try as many different things as possible. They'll help you take advantage of the best things to do in the area too and whilst I know you won't have the beach like we do down here, you have a very famous chocolate factory right on your doorstep (jealous!)


It's good to get out and about and explore the best bits of your new city. After the first couple of days, you'll be running all around town, trying to find the best places to go and eat, shop, eat, hang out and eat. (And maybe study - on that note, check out Boston Tea Party. You will not regret it.) Some societies will even take you further afield (although make sure you're well prepared if heading further north).


It's also important to look after yourself too. Don't take on too much. That's something I'm prone to doing and this year I'm going to try and sit back and leave myself some time to breathe (breathing is good for you, see above). Be kind to yourself and don't stress about things too much. Whatever you're worrying about now won't matter in a month, three months, a year etc. (and first year doesn't count anyway!) Look after your physical health too. There's something called the 'freshers fourteen'. You don't need to worry about this as you're perfectly healthy but it's quite common for students to gain a bit of weight when they first come to university. Enjoy the drinking and the late night takeaways but make sure you get a good bit of home cooking in there too. And eat your vegetables goddammit!


But overall, just make the most of it. I know this might seem rich coming from me as I've not always been able to look at the positive side but I want you to learn from my experience rather than being bound by it. If things don't seem to be going right, there will always be a positive to be found. Every cloud has a silver lining. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Etc. etc. etc. Just keep your chin up in times of difficulty and persevere. Amazing things can come from difficult situations (see the rest of this blog for said amazing-ness) and remember you have a year abroad ahead of you. Go for it and grab every opportunity.

And never underestimate the power of your flatmates at brunchtime.



Loads of love from me, and good luck! 

Lucy xxx

P.S, go out and get drunk sometimes too. Make sure it's like this:


Not like this.



Thursday, 4 September 2014

Lovely Lake Garda


Just like Parma, Lake Garda has a special place in my heart.

I will never forget the first time I saw that magnificent stretch of water disappearing into the horizon before me as we rounded the corner and finally set eyes upon our destination. It was July 2011. Tensions were running high in the Porter family as we descended upon Italy via France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Austria. 

That sounds like quite the European tour doesn't it? 

We were actually crammed into the car for two days straight, only stopping briefly overnight in Germany.

Wouldn't it have been better to stop and see the sights? 

Well that would have required spending money and when you go on holiday with my father, spend money you do not. Hence the fact that we drove to Lake Garda from England with only one stop in the middle of the summer.


Luckily this time, it was a girly trip with my Mum! We flew into Milan on the Friday, visited Parma that weekend and then waved Magro off to work on the Monday morning, suitcases in hand and tourist hats pressed firmly to our heads (that's a metaphor).

Desenzano was the first port of call again (quite literally, it was an ancient Venetian port after all) and we sat beside the water to take a good dousing of wine and a pizza.

With it's incredibly sparse timetables, public transport around the lake isn't that marvellous unless you want to sit on a boat for about seven hours slowly working your way up to the top of the lake. On the other hand, the spirit and vivacity of our bus driver more than made up for it.

When the traffic got stuck in one of the many tunnels that fringe the lake and give access to its more remote towns (the traffic lights went on strike), our bus driver jumped off and organised the traffic on either side of the bus and the big lorry we were contending with before promptly directing it backwards out of the tunnel. The day was saved! It was all very exciting.


Not quite as exciting as arriving at the hotel, flinging the balcony shutters open and being greeted with this view.



We've been back to Limone Sul Garda a few times since that first trip in 2011 and we always, always, always stay at the Hotel Castell. It's not the fanciest hotel in the world and it hasn't changed much since my parents honeymooned there a looooong time ago but it has unbeatable views and lovely, friendly staff.

Plus, there's a secret passage through the hotel that leads directly to the heart of the town.




We spent our few days hopping on boats and spotting absolute dream houses. My mother always taught me to be practical and consider things such as getting your shopping from the car but perhaps I could just get a boat for this one?




The landscape is absolutely incredible towards the north of the lake with funny lumps of rock jutting up into the sky in the distance.

We disembarked at Riva and decided to explore this pretty and popular town at the very tip of the lake.





But it really wasn't very long at all before we got down to business.


Let me tell you something about my mother and I on holiday: it is an absolute booze fest.

Forget going to Zante or Ibiza with a bunch of friends, if you really want to get drunk (in a good way), come for a long weekend with my Mum and I. I always had her down as a bad influence but when she began forbidding me from drinking any more halfway through this meal, I was forced to recognise my own vices...


At least I had enough food to soak it up with. Get a load of that starter!



La dolce vita. Spaghetti aglio e olio. Policemen casually cruising around on their jet skis. Cheap wine (like, really cheap wine - €3 a glass in one of the greatest tourist hubs in Italy! Take that Rome and your overinflated prices!)


It can only mean one thing.

Being drunk by half past midday.


To be fair, the sorbet was supposed to have vodka added to it but I listened to my mother and went without.

As it turns out, Riva also sports the best pedalos in the world.



But it's not all wine, vodka sorbet and pedalos with slides attached. We did actually get down to something cultural.


The museum in Riva only cost a couple of euros to get into but it was absolutely fantastic. I didn't take many pictures as I have often been strictly reprimanded for doing so in other Italian galleries and museums but it offers a range of exhibitions from local artists to local history, archaeology, geography of the area, the history of the tourism trade... there's a lot packed in to that one building!


One picture I couldn't leave unphotographed was this amazingly detailed depiction of the end of the French occupation. It's huge and captures the entire town and the landscape perfectly yet the artist still took the time to paint in each individual matchstick person and horse fleeing up the mountain roads in minute detail.

Once you reach the end of the exhibitions, you can climb onto the roof as well.




We boarded our boat and headed back to the hotel for a little break before dinner whilst the clouds rushed in.

It didn't stop me jumping in the pool though.

Beach babe? I am not. I look more like an escaped maths nerd.





Most of our evenings in Limone are often spent in the same waterside bar - Bar del Porto. We drink the same Erdbeerbowle (a huge glass of prosecco and soda with strawberries floating about - I'm pretty sure there's actually something stronger in there but the menu only shows a big picture of the drink and all the websites describing it are in German) and nibble on the same crisps, looking at the same view.

And we bloody love it.


Even if the view doesn't change from day to day, it still takes your breath away.


As does the bracing wind out on the boats.


This time our destination was Malcesine, another pretty town just across the lake from Limone.



Like most of the little towns around the lake, it's perfect for ambling about, doing a spot of souvenir shopping and... wait for it... you can take the cable cars up to the top of Monte Baldo and paraglide off the top of it!

I did this a few years ago but this time my feet stayed firmly on the ground.



Competition for the boat was pretty fierce.


But once on board, there was plenty of space.








We watched our little boat speed back off up the lake into the approaching dusk.

Now you may be beginning to think that we're really quite boring but again, in Limone, we like to visit the same restaurant for a special treat.

Osteria al Vecchio Fontec is a lovely, family-run restaurant with tables in a beautiful little courtyard for you to hide away in.



I don't really need to explain, I'm sure, but cheap wine. Again.


And incredible food. Make sure to try both of their baked cheeses. The one below is mozzarella baked in pastry and surrounded by a rich tomato confit. The other is tomino wrapped in filo with strawberries and balsamic vinegar.



They are absolutely incredible.


For a table in the courtyard, you'll want to book and to bring a grumbling stomach along too. There will be plenty that takes your fancy!

On our last morning, the bright skies were hiding away but the lake was no less beautiful.



We got up early and went for a wander around the town before grabbing a quick lunch and one last Erdbeerbowle at our local.



It's a great little place if you're in a rush or on a budget (and we were both!)

We were happy to see that our favourite bus driver from earlier in the week was back on top form when he drove us back down to Desenzano, rescuing another jammed vehicle along the way and actually hopping on and driving it out of harms way.

When we got to the train station however, we were faced with one of the harsher truths about Italy - it's a bit shit.

Just kidding, but seriously the trains are crap. Every single train was cancelled. And what platform is PE exactly? Lord almighty.


We made it back in the end after a meagre hour-long wait, back to Magro and Giorgio (and the latter's incredible cooking).

And not long after that I went to the Dolomites, an absolute dream of a holiday. I'll get round to that one soon :)