I will just start this post by saying that I love Italy. I love Italy so much that I paid a ridiculous amount of money to try to learn the language through Rosetta Stone, then remembered my inability to finish any long-term project I aspire to… but yes, there is just something about the place that I really enjoy. I had the good fortunate of going there for work in 2010 and then the even better fortune of going there for fun in 2011. (And now living in Belgium, I can go basically any time I want. Not bragging or anything. Yes I am.)
Before our trip to Ireland, Jessica and I realized it was much cheaper to fly from one European country to another than it would ever be to fly from America. And since we were already going to be abroad, we’d be silly to pass up the chance to go exploring. We bought our plane tickets from Ireland to Italy for around $130, got a list of hostels, booked our stays, and off we went. The original plan was to fly into Venice, stay there for a day and a half, go hang out with my co-worker Bruno in Verona, and then take a train down to Rome. Unfortunately, Bruno got called to Des Moines for the week we were in Italy (bummer!), so we had to find last minute replacement plans. The whole thing didn’t go as smoothly as we anticipated, but I think that is half the fun. You might want to get Jessica’s take on the matter sometime, though… she’s a “make sure you know where you’re going” kind of lady. AKA: a bitch. Just kidding.
While we were sitting in the airport in Dublin, getting grouchy with each other, we found a map from the water boats (vaporetti) to where our hostel was in Venice. As much as I give Jessica a hard time, she was really dead useful when it came to getting around. I’m kind of a wanderer; I’ll follow people, I’ll get lost, I’ll ask for directions, or I’ll just keep wandering. Jessica remembers things. She knows where we turned, where we should go, and has pretty good intuition which helped keep us from getting lost. So needless to say, we arrived in one piece to our hostel, Casa Petrarca.
After we got settled and they made us pay them in cash (which was highly suspicious at the time, but happened EVERYWHERE we went), we got our giant key (I’m not kidding, I wish I had taken a photo of it) and went out to explore Venice. Everything in Venice is so tall and narrow- the buildings are like slender, ancient super models. They were so old and beautiful, it was easy to get lost in the moment. The weather was nice, albeit a bit hot (compared to Ireland), and everything was definitely within walking distance because the city is so small. Admittedly, I looked like a huge tourist since I had my camera around my neck, but since I’m Asian… well… I thought I could get away with it.
There’s an old charm to the city, and everywhere you turn, there’s something you could take a photo of. Cathedrals, town squares, gondola rides, people letting pigeons crawl all over them… wait, what?!?
This was such a mystery to me. I mean, I can understand not wanting to take a gondola ride (they were around 80 euros during the day, 100 euros at night!), but why on earth would you want filthy, diseased pigeons crawling all over you? And do that for free?
This whole phenomenon was weighing on me the rest of the day. I couldn’t see the appeal. I couldn’t see the appeal and yet, and yet… and yet I really wanted to try it. We tried to sit to see if the pigeons were interested in us, but we realized pretty early into this endeavor that people were selling bird seed, which of course, attracted the dirty rats with wings… ahem. Anyway. I wasn’t going to pay for any stupid bird seed just so I could have this… strange… experience.
…but I would take the extra crackers from my table at dinner and use them.
Okay. Now that I have that out of my system…
Our time in Venice was fairly short. It’s an expensive city, and I feel like you can see most of it in two days, which is roughly the amount of time we spent there. If you are traveling to Italy, Venice is a place you definitely need to see… but I would never live there. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the place, and it was fantastic for photography. But it was very touristy, crowded, a bit smelly, and just not the place I would hang my hat and call home. In our last few hours in the city, I have well documented trip photos of us trying to find our way to the train station and also Jessica’s frustration with how the names of the streets kept changing. She tried to figure it out… I took photos (I am not much help in most situations).
After realizing that there are signs that point you to the train station, we had plenty of time to spare and did a bit more actual sight-seeing. We went to the cathedral to look around. A friendly tip: you are not allowed to wear tank tops or shorts into a cathedral in Italy. If you try to enter in improper clothes, they will give you a shawl to wrap around yourself while you’re inside. Oh, and by “give you a shawl” I mean “they will make you pay a euro for a paper towel like piece of fabric.” Just a fair warning. I’m not saying it’s not worth it.
Jessica and I hung out at the train station in Venice for a bit. Since the original plan was to go to Verona, we still had our train tickets. But because Bruno was no longer in town, we did not have any housing. Right before we left for vacation, I had booked us a room at a Holiday Inn at the train stop right outside of Verona. It was fairly cheap and, besides worrying that we might be mugged, raped, and killed on our way there, the hotel was actually SUPER nice for the price. There was a complimentary buffet breakfast, good utilities, and super nice rooms… it was easily the most relaxed night of the whole trip. And sometimes you need to just relax- to be able to recharge your batteries. The next morning we woke up refreshed, we got ready, and we were on our way to Rome.
When we got to Rome, we immediately found our hostel and fell in love with the place and our adorable hostess, Isa (who also made us pay in cash). Let me just say, if you ever go to Italy, do not hesitate to stay at the B&B Smart. It’s reasonably priced, it has a great location, and seriously, Isa is the best. She gave us water and drew us out a map when we first got in. She made us breakfast every morning. She hung up my clothes for me while we were touring the town. She brought us fresh watermelon while we were in the room lounging around. Bless her little Asian heart.
Rome.is.huge. It’s old. It’s beautiful. It’s everything you think about when you think of Italy. We, of course, did all the touristy things like go to the Colosseum, the Roman ruins, the Fountain of Trevi, the Vatican…
Sigh… the Vatican. Here’s a thing about the Vatican. There are parts of Vatican City that you can see for free- there are other parts that aren’t so free. And you will wait in line for at least two hours see the stuff. Probably closer to four. Hindsight being 20/20, I might have taken up the “fake” tour guides on their offer of tickets and a tour for $40. In fact, I might’ve paid $40 just to skip the line. Don’t get me wrong- the Vatican was so AMAZING. There’s so much culture and history to it (and a surprising amount of mythological creatures and ideology), but my feet hurt so damn bad by the time we got there that I was ready to be done around 3/4 of the way through.
All in all, I can’t pinpoint what it is about Italy that I like so much. It’s fun to see all the touristy, site-seeing places. It’s fun to walk around and go places you’ve never been. But there’s something about the culture, the architecture, and just the country in itself that I can’t explain. I want to go back to Italy as often as I can, for as long as I can, for as long as I’m able.
THE TRAVELIN’ SONG: Week End a Rome (Etienne Daho). I feel like I’m letting the cat out of the bag, but you all should probably be aware of my ridiculously eclectic musical tastes. And, you know what? I’m not ashamed.
BUDGET: $1000, including airfare, transportation, lodging, and food.
TIP FOR TRAVELERS: If you’re wondering how you should allocate your time across Italy, I assure you that you can knock out Venice in a day or two. As beautiful as it is, it’s not worth staying there for a whole week as it’s a very expensive city and most of the people there are tourists.
DEFINITELY CHECK OUT: The Vatican. Even if you’re not religious, there are things in that building that will absolutely stun you.