Monday 29 August 2016

Why I am grateful for my Year Abroad

I am back in the Emerald Isle after one amazing whole year in (in my opinion) one of the most beautiful countries, Italy. I have travelled to the north, to the centre and to the south, I've felt the cold snow on the slopes of the Appennines and I've relaxed under the hot sun on the beaches in Puglia, I've been in the country side of Umbria, to busy cities like Rome, Florence, Bologna, Naples and Venice. I've climbed Mount Vesuvius and seen the ruins of Pompeii, I've been so far north all the way to Bolzano where they speak German and I've even travelled to the island of Capri. And this is just to name but a few, then I have seen a lot of the smaller beautiful cities in between (as you have most definitely seen in all my Blog posts this year).
But I have much more travelling to do in Italy before I see it all. It's so big and beautiful that each city is like entering a new country because the north, centre and south are so diverse from one another.
I may have moved back to Ireland but this year abroad has changed me so much as a person and now I can also call Italy my home.
The first feelings I had after returning to Ireland were that I identified Bologna/Rome as my home. I would think, I need to go home, when in reality I was in fact at home! But what is it they say? Home is where the heart is?
They say returning from Erasmus can be quite difficult, and in fact every ex Erasmus student has told me this including my Italian teacher who did his Erasmus in Dublin! You have to consider whatever country you go to on Erasmus, they have different cultures and societies. For me I am accustomed to the Italian way of life not the Irish so returning here was a slight culture shock for me,
I also remember the first 2 weeks I had in Italy I also encountered this culture shock and an overwhelming sense of homesickness. But when i settled in I was loving every minute of it. So as you can guess I'm homesick for beautiful Italy.

The people I met on my year abroad hold a very special place in my heart. I now have friends from all over the world, America, Germany, Turkey, Australia, Brasil, England, Scotland, Italy (of course haha), Iran, Poland, New Zealand, Ukraine, I began to learn about their cultures too which has really opened my eyes and opened my mind.
As I said in one of my posts before the Ciara of today is definitely not the Ciara of last year. I have grown in so many ways. I have only realised how much I have changed since coming home to Ireland. I am so grateful for this because I realised I was living an ignorant life, I am now so open to other cultures and learning and accepting their ways of life and knowing that if you don't like one aspect of your own society, it probably isn't like that in another society. So don't feel the pressure of your countries social norms, life is not about doing what others do, life is about what you feel comfortable doing. As I had a group of friends from different ethnic groups we never felt the pressure from each others social norms, as we all accepted each other for who we were.

I am grateful for the memories I have made with everyone I have encountered from the first semester to the second semester. I am grateful for becoming closer with the people I came on Erasmus with. I'm also grateful I continued friendships with my Italian friends I met while they were on Erasmus in Galway last year. Through all of these amazing friends I have made the best memories I will treasure forever.

As well as making amazing friends, I am also so grateful to have had the chance to maintain the relationships I already had in Italy. I have already done 10 months long distance with Davide before moving to Italy so spending a year abroad gave us the chance to live the life of a normal couple, we are both so grateful for that. Due to the fact I have become very good in spoken Italian we can also comunicate in two languages now! It's great! 

Every Sunday I attended an international dinner at a friends house, each week a specific country would cook their traditional food. It was probably the highlight of my Erasmus because there, I met people I will never forget and friends I will never lose.

So here is a few points on why I urge everyone who has the opportunity, to go on Erasmus! If not at least just live abroad for a year:

1. You will learn about a whole new culture.
2. You meet amazing people and will make friends for life!
3. You have the ability to travel the whole country and discover beautiful cities.
4. The food!! (That's if you're lucky enough to go to Italy haha)
5. You will learn the language.
6. It will change you in ways you could never imagine (don't worry this is a good thing)
7. You will return home feeling less pressured by social norms.
8. You will have a place to stay in so many countries (international friends are great for this)
9. Independence and maturity.
10. It looks amazing on your cv, imagine being able to work abroad in the future due to the experience you have living abroad and learning that language!

I will miss everything but I know I will be back to live in Italy again.


Sunday 14 August 2016

GALLIPOLI: Sights, Caos in Otranto, Gigi D'Agostino and more..

Today I will take you into the historical centre of Gallipoli, as I said in my recent blogpost Gallipoli is divided into two parts the modern centre and the historical centre which is connected to the main land by a bridge.

Whilst I took pictures of the beautiful sights, I was lucky enough to see a local fisherman getting ready to go out fishing.

As we made our way more into the centre we came across a lot of handmade leather shoes and stalls selling real sponges. We got talking to the seller of these sponges and he told us that he dives 50m into the sea to harvest these sponges. When brought onto land they are a dark colour so they leave them in a chemical liquid for a month. When they are clean they turn a bright yellow colour (like in the photo above). This man said that before you use this sponge for the first time, you must soak it in bicarbonate soda for 30 minutes and then its perfect to use. You don't have to repeat this process. These sponges last for up to 15 years without ever growing mould or mildew. I found a link here for all the benefits of sea sponges including the fact they are biodegradable and grow bigger and better each time they are harvested.

And of course I can't go to a new city without checking out typical foods, I bought these amazing Tarallini made with oil. They came in tonnes of different flavours. The best way to describe their texture is like biscuit bread. The same texture as bread sticks! (but these are nicer)
If you notice the colourful ones, well done, they are actually sweet types. I also bought a packet of the hazelnut ones. They are just so good and are typical to the region of Puglia.


Dress: Brandy Melville
Shoes: Primark
Bag: Italian Leather shop

When I say or even think the word Otranto all I can remember what happened when we were returning home from there. Before I get to that I will explain more about the city.
Otranto like Gallipoli, is on the coast. I decided to whip out my new Brandy Melville dress for the occasion. In this city there is a huge castle which supposedly inspired the first Gothic Novel in history called "The Castel of Otranto" by Horace Warpole.
We ended the night sitting at a bar beside the sea with the cheapest cocktails, watching a 50 something year old go skinny dipping. It was hilarious to watch!

So, as Otranto is roughly 50km from Gallipoli we knew we would have to fill up the car again with petrol on the way home. Davide had used up all his battery leaving him with 1% so he needed to use my phone for google maps to get home, in which my battery had only 20%. After about 10 minutes google maps offered us a quicker way back to Gallipoli so we changed route. At some point during the journey home I started to fall asleep (normal because it was after 2 in the morning). The next thing I remember is waking up to Davide telling me that for the whole trip there were no petrol stations and in 2 minutes the petrol was going to go. I asked how much percent I had, he said 5%!!
So he drove as fast as he could to get some speed for when the petrol actually does run out. And then it went! 2:30am in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch dark countryside of Puglia. No internet, phones on 1 and 5 percent and no petrol. Immediately Davide put his dads number in my phone because if his phone dies we were screwed. We call his dad who calls us a taxi (remember we couldn't find one as we had no internet). The taxi man rings my phone asking us where we were, we were obviously clueless because earlier google maps had changed our route. The only thing that we were sure about was a the number of kilometres on a sign beside us so we told him that. He was also clueless and we had no time to wait because my phone was on the brink of death! Somehow for the Grace of God I managed to send him my location through Whatsapp, Then we sat there waiting. (Secretly I was buzzing from the excitement of this while Davide was about to have a heart attack ahaha). The Taxi man came finally, and here was the next part of the story. In the car we had 1 bottle of water and in the taxi he had 2. He drove us to a petrol station which was about a 10 minute drive from where we broke down. Next thing we were looking in bins for more plastic bottles! I gave Davide €5 to buy petrol and we began filling up all these water bottles. We hopped back into the taxi, absolutely stinking of petrol with the thought that we were going to blow up into flames with the petrol bottles!
We got back to the car and emptied the bottles into it. With a €60 taxi fare later we were back on the road. Stopped in the same petrol station again to put in another €5, and we got home in one piece!

Bodysuit: Boohoo
Shorts: H&M
Belt and Shoes: Primark
Bag: Italian Leather Shop

Gallipoli is also known as a huge party destination, me not being very party party, we only went one night and decided to see Gigi D'Agostino, we grew up listening to his music in our teenage discos so I was filled with nostalgia the whole night!
If anyone is looking for a party destination I would definitely recommend Gallipoli because amazing DJ's come like Skrillex and Steve Aoki.

On our last night we had organised to go out for dinner. I finally got the chance to wear my absolutely stunning low v neck playsuit that I bought in Terracina last year in White120. Perfect for summer nights to add some sexy elegance.
I also got a beautiful rose to top off the last night. It went perfect with my outfit! 

Top and Dungarees: Boohoo
Shoes: Primark
Bag: Italian Leather Shop

But wait.. the holiday doesn't end there? Instead of returning immediately home from a week of heaven we decided to spend 3 nights in Terracina to "wean" us off the holiday. We also returned to Sperlonga, an absolutely beautiful white coastal town! We travelled there last year so I will leave you a link about Sperlonga that I covered already.

Chat soon lovelies!


Sunday 7 August 2016

South of Italy: GALLIPOLI

I am home after an amazing getaway in the South of Italy in the beautiful city of Gallipoli. You guys know how much I love travelling all around Italy and because it's such a diverse country there was no need to book a flight abroad when Italy has everything to offer.

Compared to my usual travels, this time we really just relaxed at the beach, it was well needed after our exams.

Gallipoli is in the region of Puglia, if you don't know where that is, it's in the heel of the boot of Italy.
We ended up driving there because due to the fact that we booked last minute all the trains were extremely expensive. So from Rome we set off on a 7 hour drive!
I would love to return to Puglia because there is a beautiful city there called Alberobello, Google it you will be amazed!!

I had researched beaches before going, Gallipoli is famous for it's Samsara Beach which is the disco beach, now I wasn't up for parting for the whole week so I found Zeus Beach which was a mix of relax and good upbeat music. The water in this area of Italy is incredible, I've never seen water so crystal clear and blue in my whole life (I've yet to go to the Maldives, but this was absolute bliss).
Zeus beach is all white (the dream haha!)
The only thing I found annoying was even though you pay money every day to rent your area to sunbathe (which is expected), you're also expected to pay a separate fee for the shower, 50c for a minutes shower. I know it doesn't break the bank but why not include it into the average renting fee??

On our last day at the beach we rented a type of bed which is put far out into the sea for you and your partner/friends to relax on. This service also attracted me to Zeus beach when I did my research. €20 in total for an hours relaxation was great value!

Upon arriving to Gallipoli, we decided we would cycle to the beach everyday because the best beaches were 4km from where we were staying in the centre. Never had I imagined the views we saw as we cycled to the beach each day. If you follow me on Snapchat: CiaraSwalsh you would have seen just how incredible it was. Best thing about cycling? My bike was PINK! And for €30 for the whole week it was a steal.

Top and Shorts: H&M

Bikini 1: Stall at the beach
Bikini 2: Top: Primark Bottoms: Wikini

 At night we went into the centre, the amazing thing about Gallipoli is that it has a historical centre, since the creation of the this another main area of Gallipoli grew up around that and that's where we had our apartment. Really just a ten minute walk from the historical centre and a 2 minute walk from the lungomare (Sea promenade). The historical centre is connected to the main land by a bridge so technically Gallipoli is in the water! Another thing I love about Gallipoli is the fact its split into two sections; the party section where all the famous DJ's come to play (we went to Gigi D'Agostino, and Steve Aoki and Skrillex are set to come) and the relaxed cultural part where you would find the historical centre. So if you want to party one night, you can, and if you want a relaxing evening, it's also possible!

Playsuit: Spanish Market last year
Shoes: Primark 3/4 years old
Bag: Italian Leather Shop

Maxi dress: Primark
Bag: Zara
Shoes: Primark

When we arrived Gallipoli was in the middle of celebrating their Patron Saint so for the whole weekend along Corsa Roma (the main street) there were stalls selling numerous objects, clothes and food. I just love seeing life in a city and people coming together for the same reason.

That's all I can fit into this post, keep an eye out for my next post on Gallipoli where I go into more depth on what we got up to, including a huuuuuge mishap that you will never believe happened to us, and of course more outfits to come!

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