I'm back.

I actually am this time. I swear. Maybe.

Ok so here's the deal; I used to live in Italy and have this great job that lasted from 9-6 every day. In the evenings, when I got home, that was my time. I could chill, eat pizza, watch Italian Masterchef (well actually it was American Masterchef dubbed in Italian), go for a swim and most of all.. I had time to blog.

Then I went back to uni. You know, that thing that's supposed to be the best time of your life? The period that everyone looks back on with glowy eyes and a wistful yearning for times when they could sleep in until 10am and drink beer every afternoon whilst skiving lectures?

I have one question for you people; how did you do it and what are your secrets?!

I'm a teeny tad bit of a workaholic when it comes to uni - we're talking 8am-11pm every day, 15 hours of studying, working, going to classes (or procrastination whilst convincing myself I'm working really hard). I managed to tear myself away from the journals a little more this term (but this begs the question of why exactly I would decide to chill out more during the most important term of my course?!) And then I for some reason, stupidly, spent that free time pouring myself into extra work to apply for a PhD. And then when I actually had free time aside from that, I decided to spend it doing absolutely nothing on Facebook, of course. Yes I am a nutcase.

So here's the good news: I got the PhD! And it's one of those delicious fully funded ones, hooray!

Which I suppose makes the long days and stress and sweat worth it. I suppose. Although I won't be on as much money as my friends who will be getting actual jobs this year, it's still a significant step up both academically and financially which makes me feel like a grown up finally.

Anyway so once I'd handed my dissertation in and finished my final year exams, I told myself I would start blogging again straight away. But instead my brain collapsed in on itself and refused to let me do anything except drink prosecco.

But now I'm back up and running (on water, not alcohol, finally) again! And I've decided to go back to the start of my year abroad and go through my pictures and organise the hell out of my life and all of those other things on my to do list. You know, yesterday I deleted 6,000 photos and that wasn't even half of it! No wonder my computer has been struggling lately...

Enough of my jabbering on; let's get started. And right from the start of my Italian adventure here's one of my favourite places to go when Milan gets a little too hectic (as I'm sure it will with Expo 2015 on!)

I present to you...

Le Isole Borromee at Lago Maggiore

During my first week at my Erasmus placement, back in July 2013 (so so long ago!) some friends came to visit. I wanted to do something great with them, to show them the country I had fallen in love with, to give them an experience that would be worth shelling out for the airfare (and suffering the insane heat and mosquito attacks) for, to thank them for coming to see me during an exciting but turbulent time. My new colleagues suggested the islands at Lake Maggiore, somewhere I'd never been before and was curious to see.

The day was a ludicrously brilliant one. Sunlight shattered off the waters whilst picture perfect clouds drifted across the azure. As soon as the car rounded the corner and Maggiore slid into view, I fell in love with it. Just like the time I first saw Garda and what seemed at the time to be an impossibly vast expanse of water, I was quite literally awestruck by the beauty of it all. (Possibly more so than my better travelled friends admittedly but still.) The lake was a beauty.

After a rather hurried and late lunch, we hopped on a boat straight to Isola Bella. We'd arrived at the lake fairly late in the day and only had the afternoon to enjoy the treasures before us (here's a travel tip: if your friends spend 2 hours in the morning showering, blow-drying and putting their faces on, leave them behind). Even so, it was easily one of the best days of the entire year.

The island is tiny. It only measures about 300 by 400 metres. Once it was simply a rocky crag and was known as the "inferior island". Now there's a handful of cafes and touristy shops and a lovely gravelly stretch, shaded by trees, which is perfect for a picnic or jumping from into the cool lake waters. But if you really want to make a day of it, most of the island is taken up by the huge Baroque palace that looks like it's come straight from a Disney film (I could really imagine the little mermaid living here for some reason). It was built in 1632 by Carlo III of the House of Borromeo for his wife Isabella D'Adda, for whom the island is named.

We spent our day jumping in and out of the water, swimming out towards the other islands and watching large dark fish glide beneath us. Of course, before long, the sun began to sink behind the mountains, slowly setting on our day at Isola Bella. We'd had so much fun just lazing about but I knew there was more to be seen.

So when my next visitors arrived a few weeks later, guess where we went back to?

This time I got the train to Stresa with my Mum and sister. We bought a ticket for the boats to all three islands and spent a day exploring on the water.

We had some lunch on Isola dei Pescatori after a brief stroll on Isola Madre but again, it was Isola Bella that stole the show.

And this time we went inside the giant Disney mermaid palace.

It certainly didn't disappoint.

The gardens at Isola Bella are famous and well worth visiting. I've seen them on many TV shows about Italy since my visit yet still feel they're comparatively underrated when you consider the attention lavished on Lake Como.

Everywhere we turned there was another beautiful sight (and it is all so damn Instagrammable). The heavy fragrances of thousands of flowers hung in the air (yet happily neither of my hayfever-suffering companions uttered a single sneeze!)

If you want the beauty of classical Italy within easy reach of its creative, industrial hub, you cannot do better than Maggiore. A dream day would be to spend a morning feeling the breeze between your fingers as you glide across the lake on a boat, wandering around the streets of the islands perhaps buying a souvenir or two, stretching out beneath the trees on Isola Bella with a picnic whilst the cicadas creak and then walking lunch off with a lazy stroll around the palace. There really aren't many other daytrips from Milan to top that.