DAY 1: Milan
Hitch-hiking in from Charmonix, France, I was immediately blown away by Italy. From quaint Northern towns to the bustling grandeur of Rome, Italy is a destination that many people flock to from all over the world. I would like to share with you my personal expenses and experience in traveling the region!
My original plan was to walk the Tour de Mont Blanc, which is a phenomenal trek around the highest peak in Europe that brushes the borders of three countries: Switzerland, France, and Italy.
I spent one too many nights in pouring rain without adequate gear (read my earlier blog). Being alone, and seeing forecasts for snow, I decided to change my direction and instead of walking, hitchhike under the mountain to Italy (literally).
There’s an amazing tunnel that spans 50 km under the base of the mountain. I spent a lot of time hitch-hiking in Europe, but this was especially easy since there is only one road going through the tunnel. I was waiting for maybe 5 minutes before a climbing tourist from Japan pulled over and I hopped in.
After making it through the tunnel, Italy greeted me with warm sunshine. I couldn’t believe the difference. I started peeling off layers. I went from hats, gloves, and a jacket, to a t-shirt.
“We are both in Europe!” She said, as if Europe was small.
“I’ll come meet you!” I had agreed.I nonchalantly planned on hitchhiking all the way to Venice from Charmonix. That trip was an ambitious 500 km. Although it sounded near impossible, I shrugged and figured I would give it a try.
I ended up struggling with hitchhiking from where the Japanese climber dropped me off. A half hour passed and finally, a kind women picked me up and took me to a bus stop. She laughed and informed me that hitchhiking is tough in Italy. I could feel a big shift in the cultures that were divided by the Mont Blanc mountains. Hitchhiking in the regions of the French Alps seemed like such a breeze because there are so many outdoor people who understand why a backpacker would be hitchhiking. Yet in Italy, it seemed foreign to the small town communities.
I found a bus departing immediately to Milan, which was in the right direction. I ran on without a second thought. I was confident that Milan, a major metropolitan center, would have ample bus routes to Venice. Throughout the breathtaking ride, I followed on my offline mobile map. I was in disbelief at all the castle landmarks! I looked out the windows and could spot tons! The castles were casually spotting the hillsides. If I hadn’t been in route to Venice, I would have loved to jump off the bus then and there to further explore Northern Italy.
Arriving in Milan at 10 am and only a few hour bus ride from Venice, I had the whole day to explore. Luckily I had begun hitchhiking around 6am!
If you look at the map below closely, there is a worn finger spot in the center of the map. This is how I knew where the center of town was. I jumped on the metro and headed out to explore. It seemed like such a pleasant surprise that I’d also be able to see Milan!
Wandering out of the metro station I was stunned. Surrounding me were tall beautiful old apartment buildings. A tram passed. There was a great trumpet player filling the streets with music, a big park, and more.
I looked to my left and it seemed that the road I was on ended with a massive red wall. Following that direction, I ended up at the barracks of a massive red castle.
Eagerly, I found the entrance. Inside were four corners with clock towers. It was massive, and full of tourists. I had arrived at the Castello Sforezco. My heavy pack weighed on my shoulders and I could feel myself getting sunburned already. I ventured into the admission building, and looked up at the wall. It said that there were four different museums, and there was a 20 euro pass to see all of them. I was standing at the ticket counter and had just decided it was worth buying when someone approached me.
“Here’s your ticket!” they said, handing me a little printed ticket, “Today is free museum day.”
“Woah! Amazing! Thank you!” I said gratefully.
“”And we have free lockers downstairs,” he continued, gesturing at my pack.
I ended up spending nearly 4 hours there. It was the most amazing museum I’ve ever been to. You can read more about their extensive collections on their website. They had some of the oldest stone tablets with latin script to date that was preserved behind glass, awe-inspiring sculptures, and floors of art to explore. I loved it.
Wishing I had more time, I went back to the bus station. I hoped that I would easily be able to find a bus ride to Venice and that it wouldn’t be too long of a journey. I had to wait an hour, and the bus was a little more expensive than I would have liked, but it all worked out okay.
Day 1 Expenses:
19 bus to Milan
20 bus to Venice
Total: 53.50 Euros
I ended the night in a hostel in the middle of Venice.
DAY 2: Venice
So unfortunately or not, the hostel ended up having bed bugs. It wasn’t a questionable truth. The beds were crawling with them. After a bloody 3 o’clock massacre from my hostel roommate, the room was full of blood specs covering the walls and sheets. So, we had more proof that we needed. A bit eager to get out of there, we started exploring town at 6 am. I was very happy to have a little piece of Humboldt with me, my friend Cait!
Venice is a tiny spec of a city, with a population of only 300,000. That’s huge for the size of the island, but relatively small considering it’s one of the most famous metropolitan areas in the world. We were ecstatic exploring. The infinite alleys, cute shops, beautiful canals, and ancient architecture had us marveling. Cait had a flight to Vienna in the afternoon, so we soaked in our time together getting lost in the beautiful streets.
After Cait departed, I decided I would leave that night too. I booked a bus to Rome that would leave at 11 pm and arrive around 6am. I then went over to see the options for getting a boat tour. Amazingly enough, Venice has a public transport system by boat. Therefore, instead of paying 80 euros for 40 minutes on a gondola, I paid 8 euros for a one way ticket on the big public transport boat, and rode for about 2 hours. Below are some photos from the boat.
The stunning architecture was jaw-dropping. It was so relaxing to feel the wind on my face, even if it was a bit cold. I had a front seat in the boat, with a 360 degree view, and my trusty backpack next to me.
That evening I met up with another friend from Arcata (hometown) who also happened to be in Venice! Small world, right? I felt overwhelmingly happy to see friends from home. Since I had been traveling alone, I frequently revisited memories of certain people as I traveled, and both of these friends were close to me. It was so warm and fulfilling to be able to share, even if only briefly, the experience of traveling with people who know me really well.
Day 2 Expenses:
3 eggs and snack
3.5 italian spices
1.5 more icecream
1.5 more tomatoes
7.5 metro boat ticket
28 bus to Roma
2 metro ticket
Total: 69 euros
Wow, revisiting these purchases is hilarious! I ate gelato twice in one day, but what can I say- I was in Italy! I wasn’t planning on shorting myself on any pasta or ice cream for the time that I’d be here. Also, anyone who knows me well, knows how much I love to snack on tomatoes. I passed so many awesome markets that were great to grab some yummy fresh produce for lunch!
Day 3: Rome
I arrived after a long overnight bus ride at a dirty crowded bus station. I whipped out my stove and the eggs I had bought in Venice, and curbside cooked up a tasty high-protein breakfast to start my day. I then, jumped on the metro, and found my way to a hostel I had seen online. The hostel was very accommodating. They let me keep my bag there, even though it was far before check in time, and let me help myself to the continental breakfast. From there, I left to go explore.
I wandered outside my hostel and there was a tram stopping. I hopped on, not quite sure where or how to buy a ticket. In just a few stops, the Colosseum came towering into view. “Okay! I guess this is a good place to start,” I thought, getting off the tram.
When I was walking inside, an Indian tour guide with a clear Hindi accent came up to me. He told me he offered tours in Engish, and I replied with,
“Kya aapke paas Hindi hai?” which translates to, “Do you have Hindi?” He totally lit up and started laughing and speaking very quickly to me in Hindi. I told him how I’d spent 6 months in India learning Hindi, but didn’t have money for a tour. He was so happy. He offered to have me over for dinner to meet his family, but I just kind of thanked him and went on my way. I paid the entrance fee of 12 euros, and wandered the ruins of what used to be the center of the Roman world. I was feelingly increasingly heavy with sleep, and finally sat down on some old stairs and leaned back.
I woke up suddenly, and looked at my watch. Two hours had passed where I was asleep in one of the most crowded tourists attractions of the world. I woke up and the lines of tourists passing me seemed to not mind my mid morning snooze. Then I continued moving. I walked up the streets from the colosseum, and the sights were nothing less than I’d expect from the Antiquity center of the world. The Altare della Patria, an old Roman forum, towered 135m high above the streets. Anyone can walk the stairs and get an amazing 360 degree view from the balconies at the top.
I ended up finding my way back to the hostel around 2pm, since that was when check in was. It felt so nice to have a bed and a kitchen, so I took some time to appreciate the space. I cooked a nice dinner and relaxed. I even posted a couchsurfing public trip, to see if any hosts in the area were interested in reaching out to me.
In the morning, I woke up with a few messages from people. I got in touch with one, and we planned to meet up at a laundry mat (kill two birds with one stone). Nico was a handsome college student from Chile studying in Rome. He was my age and very kind. We bounced back and forth, talking for several hours while waiting for laundry, and I knew we were going to get along great.
When I was with him, my time changed dramatically.
“Do you want to see the Trevi fountain? The Pantheon? the Sistine Chapel?” He knew a great route to go. He had the whole day free, and we spent it walking the grand streets of Rome. We ate ice cream at a famous gelato place, visited beautiful monuments, and I even cooked some pasta back at Nico’s place!
But one of the best parts of the day, was in the evening we went to socialize in the square, as Romans do. One of the best parts of meeting Nico was that I also got to have a few friends of my own in Rome. At the square, I made plans with an Egyptian student named Amr, who I exchanged contact info with. I slept on Nico’s couch and overall had an amazing day.
Day 3 Costs
DAY 4: Rome
Meeting up with Amr in the morning, we spent another day exploring Rome! I found Amr so great to talk to. He told me about his life growing up in Egypt, and he was in Cairo during the time of the Arab Spring!
We talked for hours as we explored, and made our way to the hole of Rome.
Day 4 costs:
23 food throughout day
DAY 5: The Vatican & Sistine Chappell
It turned out that I happened to be in Rome during the last Sunday of the Month. Which might not seem like that big of a deal until you realize that the last Sunday of the month is the day of free entrance to the Vatican, the Vatican Museum, and the Sistine Chappell! We arrived around 9am (Amr and I). We waited for about 3 hours before we were able to go inside. It was a bit much in the July heat, but I was grateful to have company. Time flew. Throughout this trip, so much culture and history that I had only read about became real to me. Not only was it pretty fantastic to be able to see Marco Angelo’s real work, but the collection of the Vatican Museum was incredible.
In the evening, we made it to my bus just in time! I said goodbye to Amr, and departed for Sicily. I had booked a relatively cheap flight from Catania, Italy (in Sicily) to Munich, Germany.
70 flight to Munich
36 bus to Sicily
Day 6-9: Catania
Southern Italy is not a place to miss. Although I stuck only to the relatively large city of Catania in Sicily, I still was blown away by the beautiful Mediterranean Sea and Mount Etna, the largest erupting Volcano in Europe.
30 new clothes
24 toiletries & items
5 coffee and breakfast
I traveled throughout Italy in the span of 9 days. Looking back, I would return to explore the North more extensively. I wanted to stop at all the small towns and castles that scatted the sunny hillsides. Venice was among my favorite destinations in all of Europe. Rome, the former center of the world, was a place I made lasting friendships. And I would also like to explore the more rural parts of Sicily.
All in all, I ate very well in Italy. Traded out some old clothes from my pack for some great Italian ones, and saw more than I dreamed that I would. This was one of my more expensive times, due to the rate of movement I had. Over the course of my time, these were my following expenses.
Total: 480 Euros
Transportation: 200 euros
Food: 164 euros
Sleeping: 17 euros
Activities: 25 euros
Clothes/New Items: 60 euros
Laundry: 6 euros