I found myself shuffling around Verona like an alert and happy zombie.
The setting for Romeo and Juliet’s tragic love affair was my second stop (after Venice) on my lone journey through Italy. For reasons unknown – maybe the cold, the nonstop walking, running around with my backpacker gear, tight boots, or all of the above – my bad knee swelled slightly bringing about sufficient discomfort a.k.a. pain.
Thinking, “But when am I ever gonna be back here?!” I pressed on and limped around for as long as I could before heading back to my cozy hostel Castelvecchio.
I remember arriving by train, unsure what to expect but giddy with excitement!
With my directions on hand and all my bags in tow, I walked from the train station, stopping by a convenience store to ask for directions.
It was definitely different from Venice – streets were wider and there were actual vehicles to look out for. I loved Venice but was tickled by Verona’s small-town charm.
Though my knee was uncooperative, I was super happy!
I walked around their mini coloseo – a teaser for my Roman excursion. Wandered around the delightful center where they had a food bazaar and a carousel set up for the Christmas season.
I remember ducking into smaller streets and finding the statue of Garibaldi. I sat on a bench by the statue for a bit. Then, with a stupid grin on my face, I inconspicuously stomped over the beds of bright and crunchy autumn leaves. Heehee!
I found my way to Casa di Giulietta and got caught trying to add my name on the hardened gum art… Sorry! But can you blame me for trying? This little lady was a long way away from home – in Europe for ze first time! Hehe.
I stared up at Juliet’s balcony then turned my attention to the padlocks on the gate. Without anyone to share a love-lock with (sayang, walang hottie!), I settled for a selfie with Juliet while clutching her boobie. (I swear; it’s a thing! Everyone does it!)
My favorite slice of Verona would have to be climbing up the Lamberti Tower! It’s the tallest tower in Verona, originally built as a means to watch over the city and, with the two bells installed, warn the community of fires and attacks from the neighboring Venetians. But even with this warning system, the city fell under the control of the Venetians. What we are now left with, though, is a stunning view of Verona and the Alps! (This got me EXTRA excited for my Bernina Express train and tour up the Swiss Alps from Milan – my next stop!)
I stayed up there for a while to take it all in (and rest my knee). I wish I could recall it more clearly in my mind… Despite the fog in my memory, remembering the moment up on the tower still gives me goose bumps. 🙂
Ok, ok. Time to hobble back down the Torre dei Lamberti and be greeted by the cutest Christmas bazaars.
I shuffled over to the Duomo to take some photos before heading back to my cozy home for the night.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see Castelvecchio, nor was I able to do much food tripping… Still, I had a clear, bright, and magical day in the city of Verona!
This is the story of my lone backpacking trip across Italy from Dec 1 to 9, 2012. First city - Venice! If you want to know how I prepared for it or how you can do it too, click here!
I found myself in Europe for the first time in my life, alone & ecstatic.
I could barely contain my excitement! Even the plane ride was a celebration (with my teeny bottle of wine)! I’ve always wanted to see Europe but, sadly, financial limitations never let me.
To be completely honest, I was envious of friends that would go on trips outside the Philippines every summer. There were times I would travel with my family to Hong Kong, Singapore, or Bangkok – but never out of Southeast Asia. And I knew that if I wanted to go anywhere further, I’d have to find my own way.
Then there I was, armed with my backpack and plans, ready and eager to travel across Italy for nine days!
I was awestruck at my first sight of glorious Venice. I recall having a huge smile plastered on my face as I desperately quashed the tears welling up. All previous memories fell short of that moment. And nothing could stop me from taking a photo – not the cold winter wind, thick gloves, heavy bags, or fear I wouldn’t find my hostel!
I followed the crowd to the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge across the grand canal. I listened in on a couple speaking English and asked them to take my photo (as I did theirs, naturally). I walked through little alleys and looked inside some shops as the sun started setting. It started getting dark and COLD. I ducked into an open café and gifted myself with a cup of hot chocolate before making my way to the famed Piazza San Marco. I sat right in the middle of it all and munched on my cheese and crackers.
I would’ve stayed longer if not for the weather and my tropically inclined body. I walked over to where all the gondolas were docked and felt the loneliness as I looked over at the beautiful view of the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore.
Snapping out of my Venetian trance, I made my way to the vaporetti station. I desperately tried to figure out where my hostel might be on their map and which stop I should get off… Thanks to my awesome apps and innate navigator skillz, I got it right!
The rest of the night was filled with wine, card games, and then escaping from the younger college kids at the hostel (who wanted to get drunk in the streets of Venice). I was happy to be left behind, slightly buzzed, with an empty hostel and the bathroom all to myself!
It was a very, very good thing that I opted for sleep that night. My next day was busy and tiring! I woke up early to head to the train station to purchase my biglietto (ticket) to Verona then off I went past the Ponte degli Scalzi or Bridge of the Barefoot Monks to try and find the Peggy Guggenheim collection housed in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.
In Venice, even the walks to the points of interest are interesting! There are so many ways to get to one site thanks to random, unplanned little streets. I loved my stroll! I saw a lot of interesting statues & churches and, thanks to Triposo, I was able to appreciate their significance.
I got lost in art with the Guggenheim collection (Hello to Picaso, Pollock, Mondrian, Ernst, & Warhol!) and paid my respects to Peggy Guggenheim who was buried there beside her beloved doggies.
After grabbing a prosciutto and mushroom pizza to go, I made my winding way back to a flooded St. Mark’s Square, excited to tour the Palazzo Ducale. Inside the Doge’s Palace, you learn about the history of Venice (centered around politics) while walking within the home of the city’s supreme authority – the Doge or Ducale. My favorite room was probably the one with all the humongous maps and globes (but unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take photos inside)!
I knowingly spent too much time in the Doge’s Palace so I anticipated the rush to catch my train. I made my way, once again by vaporetti, to the hostel, grabbed my packed bags, and ran to the station only to miss my train by seconds! (Just like in the movies!) I ended up wasting time waiting for the next train in the freezing station. It was time spent reflecting on my day, planning out Verona, and doing some people watching.
One of the most awesome things about being in the Middle East was the opportunity to catapult myself into Europe on a budget.
And so, I decided I was going to backpack around Italy on my own.
I booked a flight from Dubai to Venice for December 1st and a flight departing from Rome on the 9th.
“THIS IS CRAZY,” I thought as a huge grin appeared on my face. With a giddy giggle, I started planning my trip.
Choosing to narrow down my trip to just 5 cities was tough. I wanted to go everywhere! But I had to be strategic with my limited time and resources – and the fact that I had to make my way to Rome from Venice. I checked the top cities to visit in Italy and chose these 5 with the help of google maps.
In retrospect, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And I would highly recommend starting in Venice and ending in Rome for anyone who has never set foot in Italy (or in my case, Europe). Pure love. ❤
Every time I travel, I download these 2 apps – Triposo and my fave language app.
Triposo used to have separate apps for each country. But I think they’ve condensed it into one humongous FREE app! What’s great about Triposo is that you don’t need an Internet connection to use it. There’s also a map with notable sites plotted. And it even tracks your location via GPS – such a huge help in navigating through city streets!
For basic conversational phrases in Italian (and other languages), I always go for this app that I don’t know the name of. It says “Learn Italian” or Japanese or French or whatever other language. The photo is above. The categories are SO useful for travel with Directions & Places, Transportation, and Eating Out. You can listen to how the words are pronounced. Plus, you can “favorite” a phrase and go to the saved list any time!
I will admit that there were moments I wish I brought a trolley instead of a massive backpack. There are backpack-trolley hybrids now. I think that might be a good idea – if they aren’t crazy heavy.
Here was my luggage set-up:
A Huge Backpacker’s Backpack for all my clothes and toiletries. It was the beginnings of winter so this island girl had to pack in some serious thermal wear, scarves, and gloves. I settled for just one coat. And I had to lug around an extra pair of boots! (Come to think of it, winter is not a great time to “backpack”. It’s so difficult to pack light! Good thing it was the onset and not the height of winter.)
I also had A Sling Bag for my coat and my boots. Sadly, they couldn’t fit in my big backpack anymore. Otherwise, I would’ve done without it.
A Baby Backpack for all my valuables and navigation tools. I would wear it in front of me so it’s extra protected from thieving fiends. In this little polka dotted treasure chest, I had my passports (yes, plural 😉 ), money, mobile phones, camera, gloves, scarf, shades, map, booking printouts, train tickets, chargers, crackers, and water. If this bag were stolen, I’d be in big, big trouble! You can only imagine how careful I was. I even hugged it while I slept in hostels just in case my roommates were kleptomaniacs!
When it came to cash, I had two pouches in my baby bag: one with a bit of Euros and one credit card, the other with my stash of USD and larger Euro bills.
I also stuffed USD and Euros deep into my socks, just in case. HAHAHA.
Big Bag Packing Tips
Pack light – easier for me than some other girls because I’m not one to freak out about my outfit repeating or what shoes I’m wearing. Shoes are heavy.
Plan out what clothes you’re going to wear and pack it in order (with tomorrow’s outfit on top and so on) so you don’t have to dig through your bag everyday
Keep your undies, socks, gloves, scarves, and accessories separate. I kept mine at the top pouch and side pouches of my bag.
Fold and roll dirty clothes that you will no longer be wearing. Stuff them all on one side of the bag, keeping the other side for the clean clothes. Place plastic in between so they don’t mix!
Keep toiletries in one pouch and pack it last, on top of the clothes.
I stayed in hostels the entire time. But I was lucky to find a cheap room all to myself in Florence. And thanks to last minute changes, I was granted my own room in Verona at no extra cost! YEAY.
HostelBookers.com was my website of choice in canvassing for places to stay – for rates, photos, and reviews. The hostels I stayed in were all so different! So if you’re planning to stay in one, it’s important to check for photos and reviews before you book – Hostel Bookers has both.
Here’s a quick review of the hostels I stayed in plus the rates back in 2012:
The Venice Fish, Venice
1 night for USD 30 / EUR 22 / PHP 1,300
I stayed in a room for ladies only with 3 single beds. You get one pillow, a blanket, and a towel – presumably clean. Haha. There’s also breakfast the next day (I think I had cereal).
However, this place is not for the picky. It’s an old apartment with a timeworn bathroom you have to share with the rest of the tenants. I liked it, though. It served its purpose and the location was great!
Guesthouse Castelvecchio, Verona
1 night for USD 26 / EUR 20 / PHP 1,132
This was an apartment with its owner still living in it! She had her own room separate from the 2 other rooms she leased out to tourists. You share her pretty kitchen and dining area and have access to biscuits and coffee and bread and spreads! The bathroom was shared but there are 2 you can choose from and both are very clean and quaint. I would highly recommend this hostel! The location is perfect – between the train station and Verona’s coliseum.
Hotel Panizza, Milan
2 nights for USD 47 / EUR 35 / PHP 2,045
I stayed in a room for 4, girls only. This hostel is inside an apartment building. It has multiple floors and the “lobby” was a separate floor from my room. The interiors are pretty, well maintained, and clean. However, it isn’t very close to a subway station.
Tourist House Liberty, Florence
1 night for USD 34 / EUR 25 / PHP 1,480
A room all to myself! The location was great, too. It was pretty close to the train station and to the Duomo and magnificent statue of David. There were also restaurants and delis close by. Thumbs up!
POP INN Hostel, Rome
USD 23 / EUR 17 / PHP 1,007 per night on weekdays & USD 33 / EUR 24 / PHP 1,420 per night on weekends
The location is right next to the train station – which is great! Plus, when I was leaving for the airport, the buses to the airport arrive right in front of the hostel’s building. They’re also very lenient when it comes to check in time and the staff are friendly.
I traveled from city to city via the Intercity Trains. I would book my train ticket online the night before and I’d choose based on time and rates. (Check out the website here.) If you aren’t familiar with traveling via train, this might help!
Within the city, you can get around via Bus or Subway. But honestly, the only time I took public transport within the city was when I was in Milan. The rest of the cities, I walked everywhere! And I never even took a cab. 🙂
Rome is a different story, though. It’s huge and there are just so many places to go! I booked a 3-day pass on a Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus. Should I find myself back in that glorious city, I’d probably take a regular bus or use the subway instead.
Wear comfortable shoes. Lots and lots and lots of walking will be had!
There were advantages for going to Italy during winter. There were less people than usual. And people weren’t so sweaty (therefore they weren’t so stinky! Or maybe people’s coats hid the smell?). I think there were also less pickpockets! But it would rain and it was so cold and so difficult to pack light. Soooo… think about which season would be best for you.
I kept being warned about pickpockets and thieves and scammers. Yes, there are a bunch of scams so beware! Do a quick search online on the recent scams in Italy before heading there and be wary of your valuables at all times. It’s always better not to wear any expensive jewelry or bags as that will put a target on your back. And try to act like you know where you’re going – another way the Triposo app came in handy!
Be careful who you ask to take your photo. I would listen in to conversations and when I’ve determined the couple or person is a tourist, then I ask if they can take my photo. I take theirs, too. 🙂 I also used my timer-cam a lot! No selfie-sticks yet back then. 😦
It’s so easy to lose track of time. There are so many places to see! So if you don’t have the luxury of time, choose sights thoughtfully and try not to get too lost. :p
Not sure where to go? Ask the front desk of your hostel for tips! They usually give you a map, encircle the position of the hostel and a bunch of sites you can visit.
Bring along a bottle of water and snacks. You never know when you’ll be rushing to a train without time to buy a meal. I remember being in the Boboli Gardens, not realizing how huge it is and being oh so very hungry! Good thing I still had crackers and water!
I’m sure there are loads of other tips. So go ahead and type them out at the comments box. 🙂
As for the sightseeing, I’ll be writing blogposts for each city!
Some members of mi familia are heading to Dubai for a vacation. My mom asked me for a list of things to do... Thought it might help you, too. (Hello, Mama!)
Also check out for my post on travel tips (I scattered food photos there!). I also posted an opinion/reflection-type piece, if that interests thee.
Abu Dhabi Tour: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
If there is one thing to see in Abu Dhabi, it would have to be the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I was in awe of this structure! If you have the time, there’s a whole Abu Dhabi tour you can do. Check out “Others” below for more Abu Dhabi sights… But the mosque is the one I highly recommend! Go during sunset. ❤
Experience being right smack in the middle of the desert with non-flying carpets, camels, henna, and belly dancers! Getting there is a treat, too… Unless you’re not the type who would like riding a 4×4 vehicle up and down sand dunes. The food wasn’t great. But the experience was! Just beware of this guy with a falcon. Taking a photo with his bird will cost you! :p
The Dubai Mall, The Dubai Fountain, & The Burj Khalifa
Save an evening for these giants – the largest mall, the largest dancing fountain, and the tallest building! They’re all in one area. How crazy is that? You can stand in a spot and see all 3. Haha! Have dinner in one of the restaurants in Souk Al Bahar overlooking it all… And go and have your flavored shisha!
These two are right next to each other. Bastakiya is a restored neighborhood of past pearl traders from Bastak, Iran. It’s a wonderful peek into Dubai’s history, before all the glitz! If you enjoy learning about a country’s history, I suggest going through the Dubai Museum then making your way to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Learning for a free tour of Bastakiya. Check out the website and give them a call for the schedules. There are little quirky shops where you can get interesting souvenirs! And right on the perimeter is a nice tea place (Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Café) and the camel burger restaurant (Local House Restaurant). Ask around about the Spice and Gold Souks! They’re around the area. I’m sure you’ll take some pretty and colorful photos there.
You can also walk along the Dubai Creek and find yourself an abra (boat) to take you around. (You’ll learn how important the creek was to the development of the city at the museum.) You can actually have a lunch or dinner cruise along the creek on the bigger dhow boat. But the food is not great so I don’t recommend it. (A wonderful experience on a dhow would be a day trip to Oman! Jump off and swim in the salty Musandam sea; plus you may even see some dolphins!)
Save half a day or more for Bastakiya. Remember, the heat of the desert takes a toll on you! You may not be able to explore out in the sun as long as you usually do.
Atlantis, The Palm & Aquaventure
Atlantis is a hotel and entertainment complex located at the Palm. (Yes, the Palm is the iconic palm-shaped reclaimed area you see from ze sky.) One of its facilities is the Marine and Waterpark.
The waterpark is loads of fun with crazy tall and winding slides! Plus, it incorporated its marine park so some of the slides have you entering a tunnel surrounded by an aquarium. Pretty trippy! There is another waterpark in Dubai called Wild Wadi. I didn’t get to go to that one. But I was happy I chose Aquaventure instead.
Friday Brunch at “The Walk” Jumeirah Beach Residences
Work weeks in the Middle East start on Sunday and end on Thursday (Though I believe they used to only have 1 day off per week). Basically, their Friday is like our Saturday.
Anyway! A brunch tradition has started in Dubai and loads of hotels and restaurants offer Friday brunch buffets. You can even opt for bottomless champagne! I suggest looking for a place near the Jumeirah Beach Residences (JBR) so you see the shopping boardwalk and maybe hang around by the beach. (Yo, Filipinos! There’s a ChowKing somewhere here! HAHA!) Here’s a list of the top Friday Brunch spots in Dubai.
Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab is the iconic 7-star hotel in Dubai designed to appear like a ship’s sail. It is also built on reclaimed land and connects to the mainland through a private bridge.
If the Burj Al Arab rates turn you off, you can enjoy the view of the iconic hotel instead! Look for Kite Beach or Burj Beach. Take time to catch the sunset. 🙂
Souk Madinat Jumeirah is an interesting mall near the Burj Al Arab area. There are also some restaurants and pubs.
Ski Dubai at Mall of Emirates has the indoor ski slope and other activities if you want to experience snow in the middle of the desert. If you end up in this mall, try out the restaurant “Al Hallab”. Good food!
In the Emirates, the sun reaches far into any form of shade. Sunglasses are so much more than an accessory (Seriously, you CANNOT leave home without it.). The slightest hint of rain is a freak occurrence. Water is more expensive than petrol. Black figures floating about mustn’t be stared at. And something grand, humongous, luxurious, and/or opulent greets you in every corner.
I found myself in a whole new world, with a new (fantastic?) point of view. This would be my first long project for work and I ended up spending a month in Dubai, occasionally driving to Abu Dhabi.
What to do? What to see? There’s the tallest building in the world right next to the largest shopping mall and the biggest fountain show (in the middle of the desert). There’s the indoor ski slope and a few crazy, big water parks to choose from (in the middle of the desert). There’s a desert safari with dune bashing and a cultural show (naturally, in the middle of the desert). And a bunch of other things to see and do in this land of infinite sand! (Watch out for my posts on travel tips and places to see in Dubai.)
I found myself drawn to the Bastakiya Quarter, a restored historic district. It’s next to the Dubai Museum and the Dubai Creek and is the only place I found teeming with history and character. Get lost in the alleyways and walk into art galleries or pretty courtyards. Stroll along the notable Khor Dubai and listen for the chants from surrounding mosques. Take shelter from the heat at the Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Café. And if you’d like to try something new, just next door is the Local House Restaurant that serves camel burgers!
Hands down, my most awe-inspiring moment was visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I’m not certain I’ve ever seen anything so massive and so beautiful. I could’ve stared at the structures in my burka for hours. I will admit, though, that I was more impressed with the exterior than the lavish rugs and golden fixtures inside.
Here’s the thing about Dubai – it overflows with extravagance. Sports cars, palaces, gold and diamonds, designer brands… These are things that many aspire for. But from where I stand, there is no place for this level of excess in a world where over 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.25 per day).
Another issue that bothered me was how many Filipinos work in Dubai. It was comforting for me, in a way. You walk around a mall and every store has a Pinoy employee. Hearing the Filipino language is not at all surprising. Plus, I sometimes get perks like better service or an extra refill of my drink just because I’m Pinay. But when I stop to think about it, I can’t help but be both sad and angry about the state of my country. A lot of Filipinos leave the Philippines not because they want to travel or experience what it’s like to live elsewhere. They leave because the so-called opportunities back home cannot provide them and their family a good life. They can do the same work abroad, and get better pay.
Overall, I’m glad I experienced Dubai for as long as I did. I got past the WOW factor. It gave me time to see through the mirage… Not that it was all bad! They’ve built beautiful and functional cities, a strong economy, and thriving businesses. I must also give credit to how they’ve managed to somewhat break out of the strict Islamic religion; somewhat allowing alcohol, pork, and for people (women) to dress as they please. While they still remain shackled to religious tradition, at least they don’t strictly impose these traditions on those of varying beliefs…
But could this be yet another mirage? That’s certainly a possibility. I’ve heard a number of stories that lead me to believe so.
I’m beginning a #pagsasaalaala series to force myself to write about my travels from 2012 to 2013.
I should warn you. I don’t consider myself particularly well traveled. There are loads of others that have been to more places. Frankly, I never had the funds (whether mine or someone else’s) to hop from country to country. But thanks to a job, I found myself exploring cities I never thought I’d see with my own eyes – and with a unique perspective.
I was away for business and my weekdays were full of: getting to meetings, answering emails, making calls, doing my own laundry, grocery shopping, chores, and the like. I squeezed in touristy type things, of course. But for the most part, my travels were no vacays. They were expeditions.
Since I never had the time and/or energy to blog while riding the travel bug, I will rely on pictures, random notes, videos, and my memory to recreate experiences in the UAE, the Netherlands, Japan, etc.
I know that memories aren’t very accurate. Studies have shown that just because we’re absolutely sure about a memory, doesn’t mean it actually happened. We’re also susceptible to other people’s suggestions to fill in memory gaps. And there is such a thing as false memories and false memory syndrome.
Then again, whether experienced or imagined, my memories fascinate me. And I’d like to share them with anyone willing to listen… or read. 🙂
(In case you were wondering, apart from being a tongue twister and a confusing hashtag, #pagsasaalaala is a Filipino word pertaining to calling memories to mind.)