The Mole Diaries: Pavia

The Mole Diaries: Pavia Monasterio della Certosa di Pavia by Lorena Torres Angelini

This article was written by Emilia Morano-Williams, published on 10th July 2013 and has been read 6096 times.

Emilia Morano-Williams studies Italian at the University of Bristol and spent her Erasmus year studying in Pavia, a small town about a half hour from Milan. She lived with a host family, teaching three young boys English and attempting to explain that cookies aren’t, in fact, breakfast. Here are her best tips to help the unsuspecting student deal with Italian bureaucracy, mid-day closures and figure out exactly which documents they will be tested on during the dreaded oral exam.


Pavia is quite small, but can easily get more crowded than nearby Milan, especially on the weekend. The heart of the city is Strada Nuova, the high street that runs the length of the historic centre. Most of the university is located in the centre of town, with a few faculties on the outskirts. Piazza Vittoria and Piazza del Duomo are popular with students. During nice weather, Erasmus students will get drinks and hang out on the steps of the Duomo. The other main streets are Via Mazzini and Corso Cavour, which are lined with plenty of shops. In general, shopping is quite expensive in Pavia, but there are a handful of cheaper shops lining Corso Cavour. The biggest grocery store is Esselunga, which can get a bit hectic. There are quite a few Carrefour locations in the centre of Pavia. Most grocery stores close on Sunday, but the Carrefour on via Giacomo Matteotti stays open.


[Photo of Pavia rooftops by Paolo Del Signore]


Accommodation for university students is sorted through Centro Assistenza Studenti, an outside organization that works with the Erasmus office to help students find a room before arriving. Most of the people I met used the centre to arrange accommodation. If you would prefer to sort something out upon arrival, they can still help you. There are three accommodation arrangements to choose from: apartment, university halls and host family.

Prices are, obviously, higher in the centre, but there isn’t a huge difference. If you opt to live outside the historic centre, you can purchase a bus pass from the university for €10 for unlimited access to city buses, which are quite frequent, though often very crowded. I lived with a host family and, while it was quite cheap (€150 per month) and in the centre of Pavia, I had to help around the house quite a bit. If you do choose to live with a family, be prepared to have your afternoons scheduled and be home for dinner and lunch on the weekends.

Don't forget to have a look on university noticeboards for offers of accommodation from other students:

Pavia noticeboards

[Photo by Hellebardius]


The University is quite big and, unfortunately, poorly organised. I followed courses ran by the humanities department and all of my classes were divided between two different buildings, both of which were, fortunately, in the centre. You will need to ask someone where your classes are located! There are no maps of the university that show individual room numbers or the location of the different departments. The classrooms are quite old, with the smaller ones being moderately more comfortable than the larger ones. All lessons are lecture-style and last for about an hour and a half. Classes are run on a quarter schedule with two exam periods, one that runs from January to February and one that runs from May to September. Between each quarter there is about a week-long break. You can change classes each quarter or you can take courses that last for two quarters. The longer courses give you twelve credits and the exams are usually two parts, but you have fewer exams!

I ended up trying to take more of the long-courses to cut down on the number of exams I had to take, a decision I was very happy with. For larger courses, professors don’t really care if you show up to class, but it’s better to keep attendance high for the smaller ones. I took a couple small courses and my professors always gave me slightly higher marks because they saw me at all the lessons!

Pavia Uni

[Photo of Pavia University by phili.pao]


As an Erasmus student you need to ask the professor what you are expected to study for the exam as there is usually a special program specifically for Erasmus students, especially if it’s a large course. Even if the courses have a reading list on their online page, there may be additional readings. Ask your professor! During one of my first courses, I followed the reading list that was on the internet, only to find out that there was a whole bunch of other readings that we needed to discuss for the exam. I’d also recommend to avoid following courses that require you to take a written exam as they are usually long, hard and discuss more than the Erasmus student will have studied to get a sufficient grade on the oral. As far as studying for the oral, I’d suggest just talking about what you’ve read. Talk to yourself, friends, record yourself, that’s one of the hardest parts! Always bring your libretto to the exam — you’ll get it from the Erasmus office upon arrival — and make sure your teacher uploads your marks to the web as well!


Pavia is quite small, you can walk across the historic centre in about ten minutes and you can’t live further than a thirty-minute walk from the uni, even that would be a stretch. You can choose to purchase a bus pass from the university for ten euro when you register. I don’t recommend doing so unless you live outside of centre. Lots of students ride bikes and you can get some pretty cheap ones either from Erasmus students looking to sell them before they leave or from ads on the university bulletin boards. As for transport links with other cities, you pretty much have to go to Milan in order to get anywhere. Luckily, a train ticket to Milan costs less than four euro and takes about thirty minutes. There are some direct trains to Genova and the Ligurian seaside. There are roughly two trains to Milan every hour.

Pavia Bridge

[Photo of the Ponte Coperto by Luigi Rosa] 


Despite being a small town, Pavia has quite a good selection of options for a drink or meal out with friends. Seeing as it is a university town, some places offer student discounts. If you get an ESN card (available at the start of term), you can get discounted drinks at a variety of places in centre. The main student scene is located on Piazza Vittoria, but there are some other places nearby worth checking out. If you’re going out for a meal, it pays to walk a bit to find a nicer restaurant.

1. Mana

Mana is a definite student hang out, offering an excellent aperitivo. For the price of a single cocktail, about 6 euro, you get a drink and as unlimited food from a lovely buffet. Some of the food is a bit salty, but if you stick with the pizzas and grain salads, you’ll have a lovely and cheap meal out.

2. Spadaro

One of the best bakeries in town, there are three locations all in the centre of Pavia. They offer a variety of breads and cookies, but the pizza and focaccia is some of the best on offer. Cheap and great for a quick lunch, they only offer take away service.

3. University Bar

If you want to grab a quick coffee between classes with some friends, head to the university bar, located in one of the gorgeous cortile of the main university building. They also offer some light meal options and breakfast pastries.

4. Il Torre degli Aquila

A small trattoria located on Strada Nuova, this restaurant offers well-priced dishes in a more formal setting. A great place to take your parents to when they come to visit!


The university offers some language courses for Erasmus students that run at different points during the year, all in the early evening. You have to pay for them and they’re not exactly cheap, but if you’re really looking to improve your grammar it might be worth it. I didn’t take the classes; I found that living in a host family was enough practice. I do recommend bringing a grammar book or mini dictionary to help you while working through course readings. Some written exams will also let you use a dictionary, but you can get those from the library. Not many people in Pavia speak English, which means you’ll have plenty of opportunities for language practice. The Erasmus office, however, does speak English.

Pavia might not seem like the obvious choice for an Erasmus student in Italy, but you will definitely get to witness a real Italian town, which makes up for not being in one of the larger cities. Add in fantastic transport links and Pavia is a lovely city in which to pass your Italy Erasmus!

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