As a former immigrant who has lived and worked in the EU, I have made my personal opinions about Brexit very clear. However, this post isn’t going to be a political tirade. As much as I want to Bremoan about today’s triggering of Article 50, I’m looking for a silver lining.
We all know there’s a lot of crap happening in the world at the moment. And it’s making everyone very, very angry (myself included). I’m not going to give in to complacency, neither am I going to rile against democracy, nor am I going to pretend that it’s all OK.
Instead, I’m going to go looking for the Europe I want to be a part of.
You give me a countdown of two years until my home country will leave the EU? That sounds like a challenge to me. A challenge to see every country in the EU while I can still travel there visa-free and as a proud EU citizen.
A last chance to meet the people and places that we’re leaving behind, and bid them farewell before… well, before everything changes (and we still don’t exactly know how it will change, do we?).
So, I say to you, Article 50, challenge accepted! Now, let’s get started planning the itinerary.
So, I’ve put on a lot of weight since I’ve moved back to the UK and with very good reason. British food is not an internationally beloved cuisine. In most large cities around the world, you may be able to find a decent pizzeria, Chinese takeaway or Irish pub.
But, you will never ever find a good chippy or a proper British pub outside the British Isles.
Since being back, I have really appreciated things like Cadbury’s chocolate, fresh bread and never being more than a five-minute drive away from a pie. Who ate all the pies? Uh, me. Definitely me. With pleasure.
Here are just a few of my favourite British dishes, shared here to educate the rest of the world about the delicious-ness that is Great British food:
While the rest of the world is obsessed with streaky bacon, give me two slices of grilled back bacon between two slices of white bread and a good dollop of ketchup any day. Read more
London has a reputation for being expensive and often with good reason. A standard cup of coffee will cost you a cheeky £3-4, one stop on the tube can go for as much as a fiver and a trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral will set you back eighteen of your English pounds! However, one redeeming factor is that there are hundreds of free museums in London.
Here are just a few of the free museums in London and why you should visit them:
Candy-coloured houses set precariously atop the rough, jagged coastline of the Italian Riviera and a Mediterranean backdrop of lapping turquoise. *Sigh*. I can now confirm from personal experience that the Cinque Terre, or ‘five lands’, are literally postcard picture perfect. So, here’s a little Cinque Terre guide (in fives, naturally) on what to look out for in Italy’s picturesque cluster of seaside towns:
(disclaimer: apologies for looking so grumpy in these pictures)
5 things to see in Monterosso
First on my list was Monterosso, the furthest west of the Cinque Terre. Most visitors either start or finish here, but I would thoroughly recommend finishing in Riomaggiore because the sunset is so fantastic. (Scroll down to see what I mean).Read more
First of all, let me start with a disclaimer: the Liebster Award is definitely not a big fancy trophy. It’s not some kind of Blog Oscar (Blogscar?) or the ‘Digital Nomad’ equivalent of a Grammy. Kanye West isn’t about to come out of the woodwork with a round of, ‘Imma let you finish…’, Meryl Streep isn’t going to get in trouble for a politically-motivated acceptance speech and Adele isn’t going to say ‘fuck’ every five minutes.
What is the Liebster Award?
The Liebster Award is an ‘award’ passed from travel blogger to travel blogger by nomination. The aim of the award is to connect writers together and raise the profile of lesser-known travel bloggers (like lil ole me). Read more
My favourite number is 13. Not because I was born on the 13th, or that the number 13 has significance in my life, but because I figure that a number that is unlucky for some has to be lucky for someone.
Much in the same way, the year that was essentially a real-life season of Game of Thrones for the world actually turned out to be a pretty awesome year for me personally. And not because I’m a “Leave” supporter or a Donald Trump fan. My year just kind of happened that way.
So sorry (not sorry) to gloat and rub it in your face, 2016, but you did not break me. 2016 had to be lucky for someone, right? Read more
Remember when I said I was going to spend the summer improving my Italian so that I’d leave bella Italia near-fluent by September? Yeah, that didn’t happen. But I have been working on it, completing my daily tasks on Duolingo, eavesdropping on my students when they think I don’t understand what they’re saying, observing conversations around the dinner table with host families, and collecting new and strange words like the language nerd that I am.
So, although I haven’t actually achieved the level of Italian that I wanted to these past three months, I have made some progress, the least of which is compiling a list of ten of my favourite Italian words that I’ve most enjoyed adding to my limited Italian vocabulary: Read more
I set myself three challenges this summer in Italy: to improve my Italian (errr… I’ll myself a generous 5/10 for that one), to see Florence (tick!) and to discover the Holy Grail of Italian cuisine – the ultimate gelato.
However, creating a gelato guide turned out to be a lot more complicated than I first thought. On one of my first nights in Italy I started my quest by asking a seasoned gelato-enthusiast for recommendations on the best flavours and flavour combinations, but instead was met this response:
‘Well, first you have to choose your gelateria.’
Choose a gelateria? Is there such a thing as a bad gelateria? How can you tell the good from the bad?
‘Make sure it’s homemade.’
How do I do that?
‘Cono or coppetta?’
‘Frutta or Crema?’
‘What about seasonal flavours?’
It turns out that there is a lot that separates the gelati amateurs from the gelati connoisseurs (or conoscitore – see! my Italian is improving, promise). Here are just a few tips from a keen gelati apprentice (a young gelato-hopper, if you will), which set me down the right path:
1. Look for the word ‘artigianale’
This word means homemade. These days a lot of Italian gelati is made in factories and shipped out across the country, so this word ensures that what ends up in your cono (cone) or coppetta (cup) is not mass-produced, but made fresh in-store, so you can really taste and see the difference. The flavours are intense, often made fresh in the early morning and sold out by the evening.
2. Look at the colours.
In particular, there are three flavours (gusti) that you can look at to make sure that your gelateria is legit:
Pistachio – is it a deliciously apple-crisp vibrant green? Bolt. True pistachio should be a gross bogey-colour somewhere between snot and gravel. If your pistachio is the colour of freshly cut grass then your gelateria is using colourants and chemicals to achieve that hideous verde.
Banana – is it a warm buttery yellow that reminds you of summers on the beach, pina coladas and getting caught in the rain? Leave. Similar to pistachio, a proper banana gelato should be a muddy browny-grey that reminds you of old discoloured chewing gum, and is damn delicious because of it.
Vanilla – look close. No, closer. Even closer. Can you see the teeny tiny specks of black in the vanilla? Good, then that means actual vanilla has gone into that mix, and not just extract. You’re welcome.
If your server is using a scoop then run a mile. Spatulas all the way.
4. Are there locals there?
If the gelateria’s clientele are tourists and foreigners then this place is not the best in town, so instead you should…
5. Ask around.
In the UK, if you stop someone on the street and ask for the best chippy in the area, you will be met with a plethora of responses. The answer depends on whereabouts you live, where your family go, where your friends go, how much salt and vinegar they douse the chips in, the consistency of their mushy peas, what they use to wrap the chips, whether they do scraps, how the juicy the doner meat is… (I feel another blog post coming on…) the list is simply endless. It’s all about personal tastes, history and brand loyalty. You get a different answer every time.
Gelaterias are not like that. You ask anyone in town and they will know exactly which gelateria is ranked the best in the area and why.
‘Oh, I’m not sure, I don’t really eat gelato…’ said no Italian ever.
I have looked out of car windows in disbelief as host families have driven past three or four perfectly good gelaterias just to take me to the ‘best’ one, several miles out of town.
Can I taste the difference? Maybe. My gelati palette isn’t quite Masterchef-level yet, but I figure an entire town can’t be wrong if they all agree on one place. And their recommendations haven’t let me down yet…
So now you’ve picked your gelateria, it’s f.i.n.a.l.l.y. time to pick your flavours. Here is the most important Italian phrase you will ever need:
‘Posso assaggiare?’ = Can I taste?
The answer is always yes. Always yes. As many flavours as you like. This is a serious business.
Frutta or Crema?
Flavours are divided up into these two categories:
Frutta is best for hot summer weather, as it’s sweet and refreshing. Think of combinations such as mango and coconut, pineapple and coconut (can you tell I like coconut?), apple and pear, or orange and lemon.
Crema is good for slightly cooler weather, evenings and if you’re just feeling like being a big fat bitch that day. Must-haves include tiramisu and coffee, milk chocolate and hazelnut, or pistachio and… in fact, just double or triple pistachio is fine.
Or go crazy and mix up frutta and crema like the freak that you are! I’m talking about apple and cinnamon, hazelnut and banana, or chocolate and cherries… ok, must stop drooling over my keyboard…
Why, oh why, if you are in a gelateria you would want to choose something that isn’t gelato, I don’t know. But, gelato’s little sister and lesser-known counterpart can be equally as tasty and cooling.
What is granita? Granita is essentially a slush puppy. A fruity frappe. Whisked up ice and syrupy goodness. A gloopy sorbet with more icy bits. Sucked through a straw and eaten with a spoon, it is particularly popular in it’s home region of Sicily.
Always go for lemon, it’s transcendent. Never go for mint, unless you enjoy drinking icy mouthwash.
So you have your trusty Google Translate or Word Reference app up and running to figure out the gelato flavour names in Italian where colour or pictures may have failed you, but sometimes there are some curved balls that don’t quite translate. Here are some that you are likely to come across:
Zuppa Inglese – The literal translation is ‘English Soup’. However, don’t be put off because there are no peas or carrots in sight. This is the Italian name for a dessert beloved by all British grandmas: trifle.
Malaga – Yes, Malaga like the boozy Spanish holiday resort frequented by 18-year-old Brits. Hence the flavour: rum and raisin.
Baci – The word means ‘kisses’ but is actually the name of a kind of chocolate sold in Italy. It includes milk chocolate and hazelnuts.
Puffi – Ok, stay with me on this one. Puffi is the Italian name for Smurfs. Yes, as in the cute blue cartoon characters with little white hats. This ice cream flavour is usually bright blue (obvs) and flavoured with vanilla, aniseed or bubblegum, sometimes with little white marshmallows on top. It is not a suitable flavour choice for anyone over seven years old.
So, what’s my verdict?
There’s a whole world of gelati out there! So many rules; some strictly to be obeyed, others made to be broken. I did my best to try different and unusual flavours every time I came across a new gelateria with excellent results nearly every time:
My favourite flavours this summer have included pomegranate, watermelon, amaretto (as in the alcohol, not the biscuits), guava, mango, violet, lime and mint, and coconut (did I mention I love coconut?).
I hope this brief introductory gelato guide will help you and your taste buds make informed gelati choices as much as it has helped me on my epic culinary journey around Italia’s gelaterias/my waist-widening fat-fest of a summer (it’s a hard job, but someone has to do it).
He was a professor at the University of Padua. He had lived all over the world. He brewed his own prosecco, and it tasted delicious. He was Italian. He had the words ‘Will you marry me?’ tattooed onto his chest. That was how he proposed to his now-fiancé.
What I love about Italians is that they say exactly what they mean, they are passionate about what they believe in, and they never skirt around a topic. You can’t get more ‘take it or leave it’ than that.
And of course, as soon as he learned I was from the UK, the conversation inevitably turned to the recent Brexit result. We drank his homemade prosecco and discussed it over the dinner table together; Italian, British, European.
Brexit has been a constant companion on my trip to Italy this summer; like my terrible tan lines, except more annoying and more difficult to get rid of. As soon as I mention that I’m from the UK people immediately say, ‘I’m so sorry about the Brexit situation. What is going on with the UK at the moment?’
That’s the reaction that Brexit is having in Europe and the rest of the world. Pity and bewilderment.
My first week in Italy was tainted by the news that the UK had voted to leave the EU. Tainted because it wasn’t the result I wanted or needed. The confirmation came through one morning of my training week at work.
There was a big group of 60 of us from different corners of the globe, excited to work in Europe for the summer. You could tell who the Brits in the room were because we couldn’t bring ourselves to even muster up a smile. We were distraught. The Scottish talked about independence. The Londoners pondered whether London was really so different from the rest of England and Wales. The Irish and Northern Irish were freaking out about border controls. David Cameron resigned. The pound dropped so low that we were afraid to withdraw money in euros.
The Americans, Canadians, Aussies, South Africans, Dutch and Trinidadians listened with sympathy:
‘Explain it to me,’ they said. ‘What does this mean for you now?’
We didn’t know. And we still don’t.
The next week and the weeks that followed, my Italian host families listened with sympathy:
‘Explain it to me,’ they said. ‘Why did people vote to leave?’
I can only answer that some people voted to leave because they thought it was best. They did their research. Some strongly believe that the EU doesn’t work for the UK. Some believe that the EU is undemocratic. Some believe that the money we put in to the EU could be better used elsewhere. They have their reasons, and although sometimes I don’t agree with them (and also sometimes they make very valid points that I do agree with), I can appreciate and respect their opinions.
However, many of those who voted to leave did not do their research. They didn’t consider the implications and consequences of their votes; the subtle changes as well as the huge changes it would bring; the domino effect of what this meant for the UK as a whole, for Scotland, for Northern Ireland, for those who rely on international business, or who live abroad or… the list is endless because it’s everyone.
The stories that followed the result made me so ashamed to be British. Stories of people yelling in the streets at each other, ‘Leave the country. We don’t want you here!’ Working immigrants being told to, ‘Pack your bags. You’re going home!’
Many interpreted the referendum as a vote about immigration. Those votes weren’t grounded in reason, or research, or thoughts for what was best of the people of the UK. Those votes were grounded in ignorance and hate. And therefore I can’t bring myself to respect those votes, or to respect the Brexit result itself because of them.
The issue of immigration really hits home for me because I am an immigrant. Sometimes people forget that. We like to think of an immigrant in terms of a stereotype that in reality doesn’t exist. In Hong Kong, we like to dress it up and say ‘expat’ because it sounds cooler, but at the end of the day I am an immigrant.
I left the UK in 2011 because I couldn’t get a job – any job, including unpaid internships and part-time work at McDonalds. That’s what migration is. The search for a better opportunity elsewhere. And many people congratulate me for living and working abroad, calling me brave or free-spirited or cultured, all while condemning those who come over to the UK for the same reasons.
Did you know that the UK has the highest number of citizens working abroad of any country in Europe? Therefore, Britain is the biggest producer of immigrants in Europe.
Today, I am an immigrant working in Hong Kong and I’m an immigrant working and travelling in Italy, a country in the EU. Will I still have the same freedom to work visa-free in an EU country in a couple of years’ time? Possibly. But it won’t be as easy. And this limbo period of uncertainty isn’t making it any easier.
I’ve been putting off writing a blog about Brexit partly because I still find it upsetting, partly because there are still no clear answers as to what this means for the UK, and partly because I’m sick of talking about it. But here I am writing about the dreaded B-word because the shadow it has cast on my summer here in Italy has been so vast and so dark that I can’t ignore it. It’s become a big part of my experience here.
And then an Italian man in my first host family this summer managed to sum up all of my feelings in one short sentence:
‘Europe should be a dream.’
Those words were so perfect.
Forget the politics, the backstabbing politicians, the migration issues, the refugee crisis, the threat of terrorism, the EU and the bloody money of it all, and consider that statement.
Britain likes to believe it is separate from Europe, like a big castle with a wide moat surrounding it. Britain refers to itself as the UK, Great Britain, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales… and Europe as somewhere else. A completely ‘other’ place. A place different in terms of economy, geography and values, among many other things. The UK is an island unto itself.
Except it isn’t. It’s in Europe.
Whether it’s a part of the EU or not, the UK is still in Europe. We can’t just raise anchor and move out. The British Isles aren’t going anywhere. Europe is not going anywhere.
Europe should be a dream.
It really should. Rather than thinking of Brexit as the problem, I now believe that Brexit may just be one symptom of a much larger problem. For a continent that is in reality so small, and made up of so many tiny jigsaw-piece countries, we focus more on what divides us rather than unites us.
And for a world so small, and made up of so many borders and limitations both visible and invisible, why can’t we at least attempt, hope and dream to come together, EU or no EU, to admit that we are all part of the same? That we have a responsibility to each other. We can’t let our fears of what is ‘different’ or ‘foreign’ get in the way of that.
So despite all the negativity, the uncertainty and the constant questions from others as well as myself as to what the future holds post-Brexit, this is what I’m choosing to focus on. This is what I am going to promote.
Last December, I committed the cardinal rule of travelling. I went to a place and saw nothing. I didn’t visit the museums. I didn’t sample much of the local food. I didn’t pose outside the famous landmarks. (oh, except the Amsterdam sign, we at least managed to do that so that’s something!)
Yet, despite having committed the ultimate travel sin, I had the best time! How is this possible, I hear you ask? Because sometimes travel isn’t about ticking off a Top 10 list – it’s about exploring some place new with people you love. I was lucky enough to be in Amsterdam and the Hague with two of my oldest and best friends (over two decades and still counting), so even though we got too distracted by each other’s news, nostalgic memories and gossip to actually see or do anything remotely cultural, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
So, in true blogger fashion, here is lovely ‘listicle’ about all the things we didn’t see, together, in Amsterdam:
1. Anne Frank’s House
We didn’t see Anne Frank’s House. You have to book in advance. Like, way in advance. We tried to book tickets online weeks ahead of time, but there were none left. We turned up first thing in the morning just in case and the queue was halfway to France. We came back near closing time and the queue was just as long. So, we took a selfie with the sign, wondered if it was appropriate to pull a duck-face pout in a photo in front of Anne Frank’s house, pondered history and one of literature’s bravest heroes, and had the best time.
2. A ‘Coffee Shop’
This is a white lie – we did go in one of those euphemistic ‘coffee shops’, but only because we actually thought it was a coffee shop! Woops! The naive innocents that we were, we were nattering away half-looking for somewhere to sit and have a proper chat, when we spied a place that had a neon ‘coffee shop’ sign outside the window. We went in, awkwardly looked at the menu, awkwardly realised where we were, then awkwardly walked back out again. Then we went and got an actual coffee in a Starbucks, because we figured they definitely sold coffee rather than ‘coffee’ there. It was awesome.
3. The Van Gogh Museum
We didn’t see the Van Gogh Museum. Both a rip-off at 17 euros and a pain to get into, as we had to wait in a queue that wasn’t moving, in the rain. Needless to say, we gave up, went to cafe that had a special Justin-Bieber-themed happy hour (had another coffee – there’s definitely a pattern emerging here…) and had the best time.
4. Canal boat tour
After a day of not seeing anything in Amsterdam, we were pretty run off our feet, so decided we would see it all via a canal boat tour. We bought the tickets and got on the boat, which was lovely and cosy and warm (the Netherlands is bloody cold). In fact, it was so cosy and warm that we fell asleep on the tour and didn’t see anything. An excellent napping spot though.
5. The Red Light District
We didn’t see the Red Light District. After an exhausting day of not seeing anything in Amsterdam we decided to skip the famous Red Light District and make our way back to the Hague, where we were staying. We ate pizza while watching Mystic Pizza – an appropriate film about three friends who grow up together and do a really bad job of pretending to be Portuguese-American (come on, Julia Roberts, you’re fooling no-one and your ‘Portuguese-American accent’ is a cultural sin worse than not seeing anything in Amsterdam). Oh, and we had the best time.
Travelling is great and places are beautiful, but if there was ever an example of how the people you’re with really make a difference, this is it. Friends for over 20 years, and now spread across three countries, we only get the chance to see each other in the flesh around once a year. So, I had the best time not seeing anything in Amsterdam, because I was busy catching up with these two lovely buckets! Miss you guys!