Placement blogs

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

Year Abroad VII – tips on travelling around Italy

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

 

Siena, Italy                                                                                        May, 2017

Ciao! When I decided to do an Erasmus study exchange in Italy as the second half of my Year Abroad, one thing was clear: I wanted to travel as much as I could. In a country like Italy in which every region is so different from the neighbouring one, it is amazing to be able to go and explore new areas, as there is such diversity. But, how to do this on a student budget? Here are my tips for travelling around.

Choose the right time

First of all, the ideal Erasmus situation is having a timetable in which you have a long weekend. That is, you have either Mondays or Fridays free and so end up with a three-day-long weekend. This would give you more time to travel, but is not always possible. In my case, I don’t have a long weekend, but I can catch up on my Friday lessons easily so I can miss a Friday once in a while… Try to find the timetables for each module when choosing your units, but don’t fret if you can’t do a long weekend – you will find the time to travel anyway!

In addition to that, the time of the year also affects the prices of the tickets. I’ve been in Italy since the end of January and back when it was still winter it used to rain a lot, which is not ideal when you plan on walking around new cities. I’d say the best time to travel is probably late-March to early May: the weather is a lot nicer but the ‘tourist’ season isn’t full-blown yet. Now, you will always find tourists in Italy, no matter the time of the year as it is non-seasonal tourism, but in order to avoid the masses and extortionate prices definitely avoid travelling in late Spring-Summer.

Travelling during the official holidays can also be tricky. First, because obviously everybody travels then so there is a ridiculous rise in prices during that period, but also because it can be hard to nail down the actual dates. In Siena’s case, our Easter holidays were actually only four days long and were followed by a few school days before a pause in the lessons during the April appello or exam period. In theory, the lessons would be on during those days in between, but in reality, a lot of the teachers cancelled their classes and so we actually had around a week and a half of holidays if you were not planning on sitting any exams in that appello period. I’d suggest trying to speak to local students in years 2 or above, as they have more experience of the system, so you have a clear idea of the dates and can book your holidays in advance and save money (whether it be travelling around Italy or going back home).

Transport

There are many ways to travel around Italy, but choosing the right one will depend on the distance you are trying to cover and the time you have available.

For example, if I wanted to visit the Tuscan towns around Siena, the ideal thing would be to have a car. Car Rental companies are incredibly expensive for rookie drivers, so unless you are a big group in which all chip in or you know a local person with a car, this is an option available but hard to realize. You can also travel by bus, which is very cheap, but at least in this part of Italy the public transport connections are poorly structured, with journeys taking a couple of hours to cover only a few kilometres and very limited timetables.

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If you are planning on visiting places in nearby regions, try the coaches or pullman services which are very popular. They are generally cheaper than trains and sometimes even take less time! I’ve been using FlixBus quite a lot, which covers a huge range of different cities. From Siena, I’ve been able to go to Bologna and Perugia using FlixBus and spending around 20 euros both ways. Another coach service that seems to be popular here is Baltour, but I haven’t used that one yet. It’s just a matter of looking into routes and prices! And, of course, booking in advance!

Another option is to use Blablacar. I personally can’t review this service as I’ve never used it, but I’ve heard good things about it. However, use your common sense – it might not the best option if you are travelling on your own, as it involves a car share with strangers.

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A pricier option is taking the train. However, high speed trains are worth it if you are planning to go somewhere that is far away – they are quicker than coaches. Trenitalia works quite well in my opinion, but delays and trains being cancelled is not something unheard of, so beware if you are going somewhere that requires a couple of changes along the way. Another alternative is to fly to your destination. If you are in Siena you will know that your closest airports are in Florence or Pisa though, requiring you to take the train or bus in order to reach it anyway. So, unless you actually have a few days to spare, I wouldn’t choose to go anywhere too far away – it is worth staying somewhere nearer and having more time to explore!

Accommodation

In terms of finding where to stay, hotels are clearly an option but not the most budget-friendly. If you are travelling in a small group, look into youth hostels – they can be a fun experience if you are not too fussed about sharing rooms with strangers and you can meet all sorts of people.

However, my favourite option is Airbnb. I’ve used this platform a few times now and I find it the most convenient for me as it gives me the option of finding a private room within a flat – sort of like a hotel – but cheaper. I always look for an Airbnb with access to a kitchen, so I can have breakfast before heading out or cook dinner and save a few euros. If you’ve never tried Airbnb, it’s definitely worth a shot! All the experiences I’ve had so far have been great and you can find real gems out there.

This particular Airbnb in Bologna had an amazing library!

This particular Airbnb in Bologna had an amazing library!

Of course, if you know someone in the area, they might be able to host you for a few nights too – that would be the ideal situation as you would also know a local to suggest things to do!

Travel companions

In my opinion, the ideal group would either be a couple (2 people) or a larger group of 4. Of course, the amount of people travelling will not only influence your options for travel and accommodation, but will also make it harder or easier to decide what you will be doing each day. I wouldn’t try to put together a group with more than five members because, unless you are in the same mind-set and financial situation, it will probably be hard to get organized and make decisions on what to do, where to eat… My travel buddy in Italy is Megan, a course mate from Bath who is also doing her exchange here. You will probably end up travelling with somebody foreign, because not a lot of Italians seem to have the time or interest in travelling as much as you plan to over your Year Abroad, which is understandable. We make a good team because we both have similar interests and expectations about travelling in Italy. Also, she is the foodie who does the research on local food to try and where to go, whilst I do the cultural research on sightseeing itineraries and museums – great combo!

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To sum it up, think about whom you want to travel with and the pros and cons of your group size. Of course, solo travelling is also an option and, by all means, I would encourage everybody to travel on their own at least once in their life, but use your common sense and be safe about it.

Extra tips

A couple of extra trips I have about travelling around Italy:

·         Write a bucket-list. Usually it will not be a very realistic bucket list (at least mine isn’t), as you will probably jot down way too many places for the amount of time you really have. However, it will give you an idea of where you want to go, if you can join different destinations that are close together (for instance, I went to Bologna for a weekend and spent one of the days in Parma) and ticking off places is always satisfying!

·         State Museums or Musei Statali are generally free-of-charge on the first Sunday of each month, so make the most of it. For instance, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is free, but the queue is massive so set aside some time!

·         Always ask for student discounts – use your Italian badge or student ID to get discounts at most museums. I’ve found that, in general, there are fewer discounts than in the UK, but it’s always worth a shot!

·         Do your research – look online before your trip and make a list of places you want to visit or recommendations for places to eat. There are so many blogs online written by locals that can give you a great insight into the place you’ll be visiting. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to ask your hosts or if you know anybody from the area (which is likely, since at University you will encounter so many studenti fuorisede) on their personal suggestions! It’s the students who know where to get the best apericena in town!

·         Make a rough plan of what you will be doing each day, particularly if you are only going away for the weekend. This way you will use your time efficiently and make the most of your stay.

·         Finally, and in contrast with the previous point, don’t be afraid to improvise! The best stories usually begin with a change of plans!

Look out for local food - the panpepato in Pisa is so yummy!

Look out for local food - the panpepato in Pisa is so yummy!

Hope you’ve found this post useful. Travelling is one of the best opportunities the Year Abroad offers you, so try to make the most of it! Happy exploring!

Alla prossima!

Zoe

 

 

The Australian travel bug

📥  2016-17, Health

Explore. Dream. Discover.

As you will all now be aware, I have been lucky enough to spend my placement year, and the last 10 months, in the beautiful city of Adelaide in South Australia. I’ve enjoyed exploring the city and visiting the stunning scenery of SA. I think it is pertinent if on placement overseas to really throw yourself into the country’s culture, and see as much as possible! As you can probably appreciate, this is pretty tricky in Australia, as it can take hours to fly interstate, so for a full time and unpaid intern, it’s hard to see the whole country. That said, I don’t think I’ve done too bad so far!

I wanted to use this blog to share with you all where I’ve been this year, to give any future overseas placement students, or avid travellers, some ideas on where to go, what to see, and show you how incredible Australia is.

Here’s a breakdown of the states of Australia, and a mixture of my experiences and what I would have like to have seen in each state.  Who needs trip advisor!

South Australia

My homeland! Adelaide, one of the best cities in the world to live in yet seemingly somewhat undiscovered, is in the lovely state of SA. It is home to some great attractions including the famous Adelaide Wine regions, including but not exhaustive to the Adelaide Hills, the Barossa Valley and the McLaren Vale. I have definitely had my fair share of trips there! We also have some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, such as Noarlunga, Maslin, Willunga and Second Valley. You can hire paddle boards, kayaks and snorkels to enjoy the serenity of the beaches. Adelaide is also famous for its beautiful natural scenery, mountainous regions and hiking trails. Some of my favourite spots include Mount Lofty, Morialta Conservation Park and the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. Some other definite must-sees are the lovely towns of Victor Harbor, Hahndorf and Port Lincoln. In Port Lincoln you can go shark diving! Sadly I didn’t get to do this, however there’s been enough shark spottings in the sea here, that’s close enough for me. Another gem in South Australia is the incredible Kangaroo Island. This is a short 1.5 hour drive from the city and 40 minute ferry ride away. I went for a weekend away to KI on an Adventure tour and was one of the best trips I’ve ever done! I enjoyed sandboarding in Little Sahara, kayaking in the Harriet River and soaking up the breathtaking views of Remarkable Rocks, Vivonne Bay and Admirals Arch. Would definitely recommend as a must see in Australia!

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Above are some photos from Kangaroo Island: Remarkable Rocks and Vivonne Bay.

Victoria

In Victoria I’ve been fortunate enough to see the Grampians, St Kilda’s beach and Torquay (all which I spoke about in my blog ‘Trip of a Lifetime’) and the city of Melbourne. Melbourne was a great city to visit; I really felt the busy hustle and bustle of being in a major city. It is very modern too, and has really interesting architecture. I loved the massive food culture there, they have so many quirky street food places to eat, and cool bars – definitely great to check out. Also, the shopping is amazing! Some of my favourite parts of the city were the MCG stadium, which is the biggest sporting arena in Australia, and one of the biggest in the world and the Crown, which is a huge casino in the centre of town, it was very glamorous! I’d recommend also checking out Federation square (the heart of Melbourne), the Yarra River (there are some really cool statues along the river), and Phillip Island if you get time. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit Phillip Island but I’ve heard it is a great trip, there is beautiful scenery and you can see penguins in their natural habitat – pretty cool!

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Here are some photos from Melbourne.

New South Wales

NSW: the home of one of the busiest and most popular cities on the planet, and definitely one of my favourite places in Australia – Sydney! I’ve been lucky enough to go to Sydney twice this year, and definitely been the most stereotypical tourist each time, getting the selfie stick out on Bondi Beach and in front of the opera house – I couldn’t resist! Sydney is a great city, it is full of things to do and great sights to see. It is extremely busy, and full of tourists (like me) but I love it! Top things to see in the city are undoubtedly the Sydney Opera House, which still remains to me one of the coolest buildings ever, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Westfields observation deck / sky tower and Darling Harbour. Also, if you want a good night out or a few drinks, definitely check out The Rocks. I spent New Years Eve in Sydney with some friends from home and went to a gold party at The Argyle and had the best night out ever! It is full of cool bars and restaurants – a great place to be. Also, whilst you’re there I would recommend getting a ferry from Circular Quay (where the opera house and bridge are) to Bondi Beach. I promise this will give you THE BEST view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge! So definitely get your phones at the ready for some awesome selfies and potential Facebook profile pictures. Bondi is also great! I think that the actual beach is a bit disappointing, compared to some of the stunning beaches we have in SA, but it is a really great place to be. They have a strip of great shops and places to eat and drink, and of course the famous street art which cannot be missed! You can also spot some awesome surfer dudes ride the waves. If you have time definitely do the Bondi to Coogee costal walk where you will pass by the beautiful surfing beaches of Bronte and Tamarama. Also, try catching the ferry to Manly beach, another great surfing beach with a busy atmosphere and full of backpackers! So that’s all the stuff that I got up to in Sydney. If time permitted I would have loved to check out the Blue Mountains, some of my friends have hiked up there and the views look incredible!

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Above are some photos from Sydney. The second was climbing the Westfield tower and the third was at Bondi.

Australian Capital Territory

ACT is the second smallest state, and I think I’ve seen most of the big attractions there which are all in Canberra. I have visited Australia’s capital twice now, and outlined my fun adventures in my previous blog ‘Trip of a Lifetime’. Another thing that I didn’t get the chance to do would be to go in a hot air balloon at sunrise, this looks amazing! I would definitely recommend going to Canberra, there is a lot more there than people first think, and you can’t be the ignorant tourist going to visit a country and not seeing their capital city!

Queensland

QL is the home of the popular traveller’s city, Brisbane. I’m disappointed that I haven’t had the chance to get to Brisbane this year, but it will definitely be a reason for me to come back to Australia. I’d love to see be Surfers paradise, the Sunshine Coast, the street beach, and Nusa. This could finally be my chance to try surfing, one thing not ticked off the Australian bucket list yet! As well as Brisbane, QL also homes the famous Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s most iconic and stunning sites. I am fortunate enough to have a trip planned there for my 21st birthday next month. I’m flying to Hamilton Island from Adelaide, spending a night there before catching the ferry over to Airlie Beach for a week. On my birthday I’ve got a snorkelling trip planned where we will see the Whitsunday islands and the famous Whitehaven beach. So I’m super excited for that, which will mark my last trip in Aus before I sadly head home.

Northern Territory

Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to get up to NT, however that is where the iconic Uluru is, known to tourists as ‘Ayers Rock’. This would have been an extraordinary experience, but is a pretty pricey trip, as it is in the middle of nowhere! It is definitely on my bucket list though for when I come back to Australia: to see sunrise at Uluru and camp under the stars in the amazing Australian outback.

Western Australia

I haven’t visited WA this year, however I went a few years ago to visit a friend from home that moved out there. I stayed in Perth, and loved it! It reminds me now of a busier version of Adelaide – there are great beaches and things to do, such as walking around Kings Park and the Botanical Gardens and up and down Swan River. It was also in Perth that I saw my first ever kangaroo, so I have fond memories of my trip there. Some recommendations for WA would be to get to the beautiful Broome, and see some of the natural beauties of the Pinnacles and Kalbarri National Park.

Tasmania

Tasmania is by far the place that I would have liked to visit the most that I haven’t yet. Unfortunately I just haven’t had the time this year. I’d love to travel there to check out the city of Hobart and climb Mount Wellington, do some of the amazing hiking trails in Freycinet National Park and see Wineglass Bay, and of course see the Hazards. That will be the first place I visit when I come back to Aus, but maybe not in the winter, we have enough cold weather in England, and I heard it can get pretty chilly there! From Adelaide you can fly to Melbourne and get the ferry to Hobart so is easy to get to.

I think a general rule for visiting a new city would be:

  • Do the open top bus tour, especially if you are tight for time as you get the chance to quickly see the cities best sights before deciding what you want to see more of
  • Check out the sky observation deck, as most cities these days have one these days and they provide the best views
  • See the botanical gardens, as they always promise to be beautiful!
  • Take lots of photos, because they speak a thousand words.

 

Firenze !

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Today I went to Florence! I was so excited! I saw Emilia again and had dinner with a lady that I stayed with when I studied in Florence for a month a couple of years ago. It was soooooo lovely being back, I have missed it and will definitely return before I leave Italy. Throughout the whole of dinner the lady was asking me why on earth I chose Naples for Erasmus and telling me how dangerous it was and how silly I am… whoops. But Florence was as gorgeous as ever, and I managed to see all the main bits before I left on a train for Siena that night with Emilia.

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Prenotarci

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Today we battled out the task of signing up to our exams (prenotarci agli esami). This is another example of Naples organization, so I will put in bullet points to counteract the lack of clarity in what I will be writing.

Our teachers told us to sign up for Segrepass, a website used to sign up for exams
We need a special code for this site, so we go to an office to get our Codici Fiscale (fiscal codes) so prove we are staying in Italy
We successfully sign on. However, we are told by the site to go the Segreteria Studente since we aren’t real students of the Uni
We go. It is shut. The website lied.
Next day, we try again and skip a lesson for it. We queue. First we are told off for not bringing our passports. Then we are sent to a different office in a different building in the city.
At this office, we wait again. Luckily we see the man we need and grab him. He then laughs and tells us we just need our teachers to write our names down as Erasmus students don’t use Segrepass. DOH
We email our teachers. They both reply with one word answers. We are successfully signed up.
Here it seems you have to go from A to H to Z to J to R, just to get to B.

 

Dettati

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Part of our French exam is Dettati, or Dictées in French, or Dictations in English, where the teacher reads a paragraph or two from a book and we write down what she says. This is actually harder than it seems, and our exam is coming up so fingers crossed for that!

 

Servizi aeroportuali

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

This means luggage handling, and I had such a classic Naples experience on my flight to and from Madrid I had to write about it (luckily no more emergency landings thank goodness!).

On the way there, someone's luggage fell off the little car thing they brought it over the road on, and people noticed but they just left it there... some poor tourist must have arrived with no baggage!

On the way back, the pilot landed and said that they were just sorting out the staircase on the door of the plane, opened the door and the staff at Naples airport had put the staircase about 5 feet away from the door of the plane. The woman next to me rolled her eyes and said "Napoli..." and I have never felt more spiritually close to a stranger in my life. Haha...

 

Branching out and making things happen

📥  2016-17, Health

I have just got back from what’s been a great 10 days at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. A key part of being an intern or placement student is to have a proactive approach to all elements of working life. Seek out extra learning and networking opportunities, express interest in projects, and who knows what you could end up getting involved in!

This is exactly what I did at the Australian Institute of Sport when I first visited and I consequently ended up going back to help out as a lab assistant in a top sports nutrition study led by world class researchers and dieticians testing some of Australia’s elite triathletes.

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The study was looking at the effect of carbohydrate periodisation on performance and iron and bone health in elite triathletes, some of which represented Australia at the Rio Olympics last year. The study was being used by Triathlon Australia, the Sports nutrition team at the AIS and made up two PhD projects. The premise of the study was manipulating athletes’ diets to elicit positive performance changes and improvements in their iron and bone health. It consisted of two 6 day training blocks whereby half of the athletes in each block would sleep on a low carbohydrate intake, and train after a high carbohydrate meal – the notion of “train high, sleep low”.

My role in the study was to help whenever and with whoever. When I first arrived I observed a performance trial, which was a simulated cycling race performed on stationary bikes in the lab. I then soon got really involved in the testing by assisting with taking blood from the athletes’ fingertips and earlobes before, during and after exercise to analyse blood glucose, ketones and lactate and helping to run blood samples in the lab centrifuge and pipette droplets of serum into small tubes before they are sent off for further analysis to look for certain markers in the blood for example to indicate iron metabolism. I also assisted with the collection of gas from athletes to look at the volumes and components of inspired and expired air to help us determine what substrate they were metabolising, strictly carbohydrate or fat. After the testing I helped to collect ratings of perceived exertion, power output and heart rate to help quantify the session intensity.

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Outside of the lab I assisted the sports nutrition team too by helping to prepare and weigh snacks for the athletes as they were on a strictly monitored diet. I also got to observe training sessions, ran by world famous coach Jamie Turner, which gave me an excellent insight to the life of a triathlete and the high demands of the sport.

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The study definitely opened my eyes to research and really inspired me to become immersed in Sports Nutrition, potentially at a Masters or PhD level. I have started by choosing Nutrition and Metabolism for my final year unit, and I will be work shadowing the Dietician at SASI at her private practise next week. This will give me insight into the life of a Sports Nutritionist and see if it is something that I may see myself doing.

This has been an additional component of my placement, and completely outside the work that I have done at SASI. I would really recommend doing this when possible for any placement students out there, as it is great to widen your experiences, work with new people and in a new environment.

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Madrid

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

I have been away a few times this year to visit my boyfriend in Madrid, but haven't written about it because it hasn't been a place that I've lived in specifically for my year abroad this year. I left for Madrid today to surprise my boyfriend for his birthday, which went really well! But I adore the city, it was my first time going this year and I have loved every second of being there. I want to learn better Spanish so I have an excuse to go back!I would recommend it to anyone, it is clean, safe, beautiful and there is a lot to do. We have been to tapas restaurants, rooftop bars, friends houses, restaurants with his colleagues, spas, parks, lakes... all sorts! See you next week!

 

Eruzione

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Today, along with the university, men, knife etc problems we have had here, there have been articles plastered over the news about the supervolcano at the next metro stop from me becoming active again, and some are expecting an eruption (eruzione) at any point. I assumed people here are used to these panic news articles, but they are all scared too. To be honest, I am now desensitized to the stress here and it seems like another day! The volcano certainly is beautiful, but I really hope it doesn’t erupt…

 

Ondata di caldo

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

FINALLY everyone is wearing less layers and breaking out of the scarf and leather jacket look. And finally I feel slightly less like a freak wearing jeans and a vest top. We have had a real ondata di caldo (heatwave) recently, with temperatures up to around 29 degrees. It doesn’t seem to be going either!