The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K Chesterton
It’s hard to believe that I have been back in the U.S. (if you can call Miami the U.S.) for about two years now. At times, I really miss having the freedom to go on the weekend and long holiday break excursions as often. So far, 2019 has been a particularly trying year for me personally, so when I realized that my schedule lined up so that I would have about a three-week break between my summer and fall semester obligations, I knew I needed to get away and explore some new places. I know that I will likely not always have these opportunities, so when the opportunity arises, I like to take full advantage of like two weeks in Italy.
“Foreign Land” in the United States
The privilege of living, teaching, working, traveling, serving, and studying abroad has been essential is shaping my worldview, career trajectory, research, and passions. Being afforded the opportunity to step back into the U.S with a new lens as a “foreign land” has shaped me to be more empathetic and effective in serving diverse immigrant and refugee populations in my own “home” country. When I was considering options of where to travel, I knew I wanted to spend a significant amount of time exploring Italy. The opportunity to explore my own Italian heritage and explore new towns and cultures was a big draw. So two weeks in Italy it was.
He who would travel happily must travel light.” – Antoine de St. Exupery
Before leaving, many of my friends and family were stunned to hear what little semblance of an actual plan I had. They were shocked that I’d be living out of a small backpack for a month, and with the small budget I was working with.”
However, the way I see it, I would never have to leave my home state of Florida to hang out with other Americans in ritzy hotels. There is nothing wrong with vacationing this way, but there is a big difference between vacationing and traveling. The goal of a vacation is to relax and rejuvenate. The goal of traveling is to broaden one’s horizons and be immersed in a new and different culture. Still, trips can be a mix of both. Although I see myself as more of a “backpacker,” there are definitely times when I no longer choose to do everything in the absolute cheapest manner. However, I hope to be able to share with you all the ways in which traveling can and should be affordable, accessible, and enjoyable to all as I walk you through my two weeks in Italy.
Stop One: Landed in CDG Paris Airport (Not Italy?)
Tip #1– You can often save a lot of money flying out of or into an airport that is not your final destination. I’ll be honest, I made this mistake before. The first time I flew to Europe, I flew American Airlines from Nashville to Madrid for about $1500. This time around, I flew Miami-Paris (round trip) on Air France for under $300 (you live and you learn). Flights directly to Italy were running in the $500-$600 range.
Wrote a Paper and Re-Visited the Eiffel Tower
Meanwhile, one can fly Ryan Air or Easy Jet for about €20-€30 from Paris to Italy (or half that if you’re willing to endure a long bus ride). I had intended to spend the night at a hostel in the Paris city center. However, when I arrived, I was not feeling well. I still had multiple assignments to finish for my grad school summer term classes. I rented a “sleeping cabin” at the international terminal to rest up and proceeded to spend fifteen hours researching and writing to finish the summer term. Luckily, I still had time to re-visit the Eiffel tower. I re-wandered Paris before heading back to the airport to catch my flight to Milan.
Stop Two: Northern Italy and the Beginning of the Two Weeks in Italy
My first stop in Italy was to Milan. Travel is not always glorious. Unfortunately, I was still not feeling so great and it was raining hard. I spent most of my time in Milan planning the week ahead (vaguely), hooking up an Italian sim card to an old iphone (unlimited and fast data for €10; do not ever waste money on U.S. international plans), sleeping, and exploring the shopping district a bit. However, seeing as I travel with just a small backpack, by shopping, I mean window shopping. Still, Milan is a robust city with much to explore. It is one of the places that I wish I was able to spend more time exploring.
Next, I took a train to Verona, a smaller city between Milan and Venice. The beauty of the Italian train system is that it allows for much spontaneity and flexibility as trains connect most major cities and come every 20-30 minutes or so. In Verona, I spent the night at a bed and breakfast. The host was extremely warm and welcoming and walked me through a map of the city highlighting the most important sites to see. In the smaller cities, English (and Spanish/other common tourist languages) are less spoken, so it was a great opportunity to practice speaking Italian. It was also a pleasure to wander off the beaten path a bit and enjoy a quaint little town, with some immaculate views.
My next stop was Venice. I stayed at a hostel in the “Venice Mestre” residential part of town, as it was much cheaper and still very nice. This just meant that I was one ten-minute commuter train stop away from the tourist destinations (which was fine). My first night there, I just wandered around the narrow paths surrounded by canals. The second day, I realized how overcrowded Venice was.
The closest thing I can compare it to is Disney World in July. The vast majority of the people were tourists (mostly American, British, and Spanish), so that took away from the authenticity a bit. I found a Groupon to take a Gondola ride at a reasonable price! I really did feel like I was in line at the Magic Kingdom. The city had in a sense been turned into an amusement park. As such, I was unwilling to wait in line for hours upon hours for many of the sites.
I was able to attend most of the churches that I wanted to see by attending mass. Even if one is not Catholic, mass is open to everyone. As such, you can go to the churches at mass time and enter for free and not wait in line (which is pretty sweet). I was a little disappointed that I had to buy a t-shirt to be granted admission to the churches, which have a strict dress code. The sundresses that I brought all bore my shoulders. When I had visited Italy before, it was winter, so this was not as much of an issue.
Stop Four: Tuscany
Exploring Tuscany was my favorite part of Italy. The history, architecture, wine, views, and culture was absolutely breath-taking.
My first stop in Tuscany was Bolognia. I dropped off my backpack at a luggage holding service of the train station and spent a few hours exploring. I immediately noticed a strong contrast between the overcrowded streets of Venice and the day-to-day “normalcy” that I witnessed in Bolognia. The highlight of Bolognia was definitely exploring the old universities and wandering around libraries. Bolognia boasts the first university of the west, and I loved exploring the intellectual history of this city.
Florence is absolutely breathtaking. As often as I travel, it has been a while since I have been truly awe struck, but Florence really did take my breath away. One could spend a week going through the art, churches, museums, and history. Here are some photo highlights:
Honestly, the main thing to do in Pisa is to try to take this picture…
… and it’s harder than it looks.
Stopping in Siena was a personal stop for me, as my confirmation saint is St. Catherine of Siena and I wanted to go to mass here. I also got to enjoy these gorgeous sites.
Stop Five: Rome, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast
I have previously been to Rome, so it was just a pit stop. It was beautiful to be able to explore and pray at the Vatican. Again, the touristy spots in Italy are way overcrowded in August, so I’m glad that I had the prior experience of exploring Rome in January.
The Amalfi coast was my retreat. Look at these gorgeous pictures:
It was great to truly disconnect and wander around. Wifi and cell reception were not great, so I was able to enjoy the beach and the views, uninterrupted.
Two Weeks in Italy Has Come to an End
After finishing up two weeks in Italy, I was off to Eastern Europe for a week, where more adventure awaited. If you loved my post about my two weeks in Italy then check out what I did on my summer adventure!