In this edition of the Euroculture City Guides, Christina Huemmer (German), who did her first semester at the University of Groningen, will give you an insight into life in the Italian city of Udine, where she studies at the University of Udine for her second semester.
The City Guide Project is led by Paola Gosio and Felix Lengers.
Euroculturer Magazine (EM): Why did you choose to study and live in this particular city? (what inspired you about the city?)
Christina Huemmer (CH): I chose Udine not just for the excellent food and the weather, but mainly the people, the language, and the whole history of this place. Before starting Euroculture and selecting the second-semester university, I never really thought about moving to Udine one day, but when looking it up, I saw the unique location in the very heart of Europe. I was always interested in cross-border studies and communication, and there is no better place than here to explore it further. Udine is really a meeting point of different worlds and cultures (Austria, Slovenia, Croatia are nearby and easily reached by public transport) and you can also feel that in the city.
The city has a historic centre with everything you need. Something that really inspires me is that even during these strange times, I still feel like I really have the chance to be part of this city and the culture. Udine gives you the opportunity to have a real “Italian/Friulian” experience and be part of a rich culture. It seems like the people really know each other, and this also gives it a specific charm. I also found the region very interesting. Living between the mountains and beaches and close to three different other countries — no other second-semester university can offer that!
EM: What are the aspects you appreciate the most about the city and which ones are those that you like less?
CH: The size of the city, and I am saying that for the things I appreciate the most and appreciate less. The size is great because you can just walk around in the city centre. The chances are very high that you will meet someone you know, it’s easy to get around, and you can walk everywhere on foot or by bike. We are always saying that it feels like everything is within the range of a 10-minutes walk. Going to my friends here is always more or less 10 minutes (okay, yes, they all live in/close to the city centre). On the other hand, this is also sometimes something I do not always like. I love long walks, and in Udine you cannot really do that since after an hour you will end up at the same place… However, the region is beautiful, and there is so much to discover so you can do it there! If you are a big city lover, you will miss anonymity. Sometimes I really feel like it could be more lively and vivid (it is of course also related to the current situation). At times I wish I could just walk around and explore “new” places, but I kind of explored that whole city by now.
Still, you have different parks, and it’s great that you can drive by bike throughout the whole city.
Udine is definitely not a real “Erasmus City”, so it depends on what you are looking for. I cannot really say that much about going out in Udine. I think it’s also very different to be here during the pandemic, but in the end, it still is a small city, so if you look for many bars and big city vibe, Udine is probably not the right place for you. If you want to enjoy the real authentic Italian lifestyle and live in a beautiful city full of history and great people – then you should consider it!
EM: Was it easy to communicate with the locals or did you encounter any issues ? Do you have any tips on how to deal with the language barrier?
CH: The language definitely is an issue, but people are still always very nice. However, I would recommend you to attend a language class (they are free!) to at least learn some basics. If you speak Italian already, it’s great, because here you can really practise it!
I am living together with three other Italian girls, which is great because I am kind of living in the “local” bubble and have the chance to meet their friends, therefore I had no problem encountering and meeting local people. I would also recommend trying to live with Italians or at least Italian speaking people if you want to learn the language. Since they don’t have that many Erasmus students here, everyone is very open and happy to meet new people. I think we are even more Italian people than international students in the Erasmus group, haha, so they also really try to engage.
EM: If you were in the city for 1 day as a tourist, what would you certainly do?
CH: In contrast to many other cities, Udine offers the rare thrill of feeling like you’ve genuinely discovered somewhere in Italy, which is entirely off the tourist trail. And since the town is relatively small, you are really able to see a lot within a day. I would begin at Piazza della Libertà, the city’s central and prettiest square. You follow the street Via Mercatoveccino where you have different buildings in styles ranging from Renaissance to Art Nouveau. Udine’s canals occasionally re-emerge as beautiful ornamentations to the small squares around town, so just walk around there. A series of passages will lead you to Piazza Matteotti, there you can see the Church of San Giacomo and just sit there and have a drink or lunch. Continue your journey by climbing Udines hill and visiting the Castello di Udine, you have an amazing view there and you could also go to the City Art Gallery, there is also a photography museum inside. From there you realise even more that Udine is situated between the mountains and you are struck by the sudden appearance of the Alps, which seem to emerge fully formed out of nothingness. If you want to see more art, go to Udine’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. During the evening, I would recommend having a great pizza and wine somewhere outside and just enjoy the charming and cosy city of Udine.
EM: Do you have recommendations on nice places in the surroundings of the city to take daytrips to?
CH: Cividale del Friuli is one of my favourite places around the city and definitely worth a visit! It’s less than one hour by car, but I would recommend renting a bike and going there by bike. The countryside of the Friuli Venezia Giulia is very unique and it’s easy to get there, even though I cannot compare the bike lanes to the one in my first semester city, Groningen.
Another city more than worth a visit and which might not be a big surprise is Venice! The first time I went there I really had this feeling of holiday and being in Italy, the small alleys and all the historical monuments are just amazing. It’s also one of the very few ‘good’ things of the pandemic that you have a really special experience there since not that many tourists are walking through the small streets of Venice.
The region also has different UNESCO sights like the starshaped fortified town, Palmanova, which is also nice to see and just walk around there or Aquileia, an old Roman town founded in 181 BC. There is such a variety in this region also culture wise and of course historically, a place where you can feel that is Gorizia, part of the city is in Slovenia and the other part in Italy.
EM: What would you consider the best local dishes and which places serve them best?
CH: Udine’s culture and different influences are best experienced in its food! Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we could not try many of the local dishes (yet). However, the region is famous for its cuisine, the San Daniele prosciutto, Montasio cheese and famous Friulian wines from Pignolo to Picolit. Specific dishes in Udine are more unusual offerings— frico (a kind of cheese and potato fritter) and cjalsons (gnocchi stuffed with berries and dusted with cinnamon) – which are virtually unheard of outside the region. In Udine, I heard that il Muset, La Brovada and Taj (pronounced TAI, it means “a glass of wine”) are places that serve very delicious and local dishes. Ah, if you want to have a great Neapolitan style pizza (pizza with a big edge), try Assaje at Piazza Matteotti.
EM: Do you have some recommendations of good restaurants for vegans and vegetarians and other special diets ?
CH: Being vegetarian myself, I usually know the best places to go. Still, the options for specific places that serve just vegetarian or vegan diets are not that many.
However, it’s not really hard to find vegetarian dishes in general and most of the time also vegan stuff in restaurants since a lot of the “Italian” dishes are vegetarian anyways (with vegan it might be a little bit harder). There is a very charming place called Il Caffè dei Libri. It has great coffee and nice food and for everything a vegetarian or vegan option – and it is kind of like a little library inside the place.
Another place that is just for vegetarian food is Ortofficina, however I cannot really say that much about it since it just reopened again.
EM: Where would you go to have a drink or on a night out with friends?
CH: I think once we are able to have a night out again, I would be happy to go wherever! As that’s unfortunately not really the case I don’t really know where to go for a night out. However, to go out for a drink, you have plenty of options! For a good glass of wine or an ‘aperitivo’, I would recommend going to Piazza Giacomo Matteotti and just sit there with your group of friends and have a relaxed evening. Al Cappello has very delicious house wine (from the region), and it’s also great to sit outside of BarLumeUdine. In general, the whole ‘aperitivo culture’ is great (a drink, typically alcoholic, that is normally served before (apéritif) or after (digestif) a meal) and you can just sit outside and enjoy your evening.
EM: How do the prices of the city compare with the one you were in for your other semester? What were some of the cheaper goods and what were some of the more expensive goods? (e.g food, museums, public transport)
CH: Living in Groningen for the first semester, I can say that it is cheaper here. From my other friends from the Euroculture group, I know however that it is expensive in comparison to their first semester universities (Olomouc and Krakow). You can find very good and cheap food, especially coffee! Housing wise, it really depends on what you are looking for and also where you are coming from. I would even say for a small city like Udine, the prices are kind of high, especially housing. However, in shared apartments, you also really find cheap and sound options. To give you a number, I think living costs per month (housing, food and other expenses) are around 500-600€.
EM: Which websites/sources did you use to find an apartment in the city and what tips would you give to someone moving in the city?
CH: I would try to really text many people on Facebook, that’s how I found my room! However, it’s actually more challenging than we all thought to find housing here. I think I would just recommend asking someone who was here already. The easiest and most convenient way is to have some contacts who can help and might already know some people here. Some useful websites are idealista.it or immobiliare.it.
EM: In short, to whom would you recommend choosing your city as an Euroculture semester destination?
CH: I would recommend it to everyone who wants to have an authentic experience and be part of an engaging community and not ‘just’ an Erasmus student. If you want to have the perfect mixture between city life and nature, it’s the ideal place. You can go hiking, explore the region by bike or go to the beach. You have the sea and the mountains within a one hour drive, that’s just something very unique. You should consider that it is a smaller city and that not so many international students are here. Still, if you are okay with that and you love Italian food, drinking coffee or sitting outside with an Aperitivo and having a good talk with your friends, I think Udine is the perfect place to spend your second semester at! If you ask me, I definitely do not regret my choice at all! 🙂
Picture Credit: Personal Pictures