The first two weeks of university & a trip to the Cinque Terre!
So, as the title suggests, I have already finished two whole weeks of Italian university as part of my exchange, and let me tell you, they have been far from straightforward… I guess the usual blend of Italian bureaucracy and laid back attitude to life has complicated everything, but here I am, still standing, still going to those 9ams. I guess I shouldn’t really complain, especially when you live in a city as beautiful as this…
My home in Italy is, of course, the philology and literature department, which is situated on the top floor of the San Nicolò faculty, which until 1999, was actually Siena’s psychiatric hospital…
I assure you, whilst the exterior is quite impressive, the inside resembles Warwick’s beloved but hideous humanities building, making me feel quite at home
So with endless hours scouring the online list of classes here in Siena, and multiple forms signed and uploaded, I have finally registered myself for all of my modules for the semester. Currently, Warwick’s language students who are doing an Erasmus placement need to complete 30 ECTS (credits) a semester: meaning I have chosen two 9 credit modules, and two 6. What is the difference? Well, a 9 credit module here lasts all semester, whereas a 6 is only half, and given both my 6 credit modules only start in May, meaning by the time summer comes around, I am going to be very busy indeed.
Therefore, I am only studying two modules for now: Medieval history and Russian Literature. The first consists of three 2 hour lectures of powerpoint-less Italian every week, covering the history of Europe and Asia from the fall of the Roman Empire, until 1400, as well as the modern opinion of the middle ages, taught by the most knowledgable man I have ever met. I almost make it through the lecture without losing concentration, even if I don’t understand everything quite yet. Russian literature is an equally comprehensive view of the history and highlights of the country’s poetry and prose, delivered in two 3 hour lectures, but this time we have powerpoints to follow- praise be!
My other two modules, the shorter ones, will start in May, and I have chosen Film Analysis, and the History of Theatre, both subjects I have not really done before, and I look forward to starting. I think what’s great about a year abroad is you have freedom to be a bit creative with your time- of course, with languages you are allowed to study whatever you want when abroad, even maths or engineering, so if you want to explore and develop skills other than grammar and critical analysis, why not?
Nevertheless, with only two modules to juggle right now, it seemed like a good time to fit in some travel, and so flixbus ticket in hand, a group of 9 of us decided to take a weekend break to the Cinque Terre…
Beautiful and sunny, something that Siena cannot compete with, as it has been raining all day
The Cinque Terre is a cluster of 5 colourful villages built by the sea into the rock in the northern province of Liguria. With hiking routes and a train linking each town, it made for the ideal break from our Tuscan student life. Although, catching the 7am bus from Siena’s station was a little difficult, especially since I was unlucky enough to sit next to the loudest Russian woman, who felt compelled to call every member of her family, to discuss her holiday. Annoying, but good for those Russian listening skills.
After hiding in the hills of Tuscany for 2 months, it was quite amazing to see the ocean again- look how blue it is!
Deciding to do the hike on day 1, we took the train to the furthest town from our base, La Spezia, which was Monterosso al Mare, and then made the two-hour trek to Vernazza. I won’t lie to you, we were not prepared for how hot and challenging the hike would be, but when we finally arrived in Vernazza, the views were all worth it.
We made it!
Deciding it was time for an aperitivo, we skipped Corniglia, the smallest town (and the only one to not be by the sea) and took the train to Manarola (we couldn’t muster the strength to keep walking).
What a view for a drink!
From the beginning, we had wanted to be in Riomaggiore to watch the sunset, and so after finishing, we caught the train, only to realise when we pulled into a familiar station that we actually caught the wrong train, and were in La Spezia. Cue sprinting on platforms and running upstairs, we managed to make it back to Riomaggiore with two minutes to spare before the 18:29 sunset time, only for it to be just a little disappointing because of clouds. You can’t have it all!
Nevertheless, we returned to La Spezia, acknowledging that we had definitely got out money’s worth in train travel, and after everyone had showered, we set off for some dinner. Although we hadn’t quite thought that through. Funnily enough, the 16th of March is the Festival of San Giuseppe in La Spezia, one of the biggest events in the town’s calendar, and as a group of 9, no wonder we couldn’t find a table anywhere. Luckily, we are in Italy, so once again, pizza saved us, and for 4 euros each, we secured 3 massive takeaway pizzas to share from the city’s best pizzeria.
The next day, after having the hostel’s surprisingly good breakfast, we split up, some people (not me) deciding to hike again, and my group choosing to visit Riomaggiore , as our previous visit only constituted running from the train to the nearest viewpoint.
Even though it was very cloudy, the town was still perfect and provided all the colour we needed
It was almost time to make the half an hour walk across La Spezia to our bus stop, however, we were not leaving before visiting Zara. I know it sounds tragic, but living in Siena, which only has boutiques and gelaterias does really make you appreciate a quality high street. On the first night in La Spezia, whilst hunting for somewhere to eat dinner, it kind of felt like New York City in comparison to our little Tuscan town, and when we saw Zara whilst queuing for pizza, we knew we had to factor in a visit. To those of you scoffing at this, don’t worry, we soon learned that La Spezia is no NYC when we saw the doors of Zara closed at 2pm on a Sunday…
*Cries in Italian*
And there we go, four hours later, and I was back in my room in Siena, frantically trying to unblock my shower drain- Erasmus is not all glamour and travel, I assure you, especially when you live in a house of 5 girls.
So the first proper trip of the semester is finished (I’m not counting Florence, as that’s basically just like going from Warwick to Birmingham), and I am already planning the next, which should feature some familiar faces, and maybe some canals….
Until next time…
A presto, Catherine xxx