Tag Archives: Backpacking

Hobbling ‘round Verona

I found myself shuffling around Verona like an alert and happy zombie.

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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!

Check out the… what is that? An icicle? A shooting star? Anyway, I think it was there as Christmas decor. This is Verona's Colloseum. They still hold events in here like concerts and stuff. :)
Check out the… what is that? An icicle? A shooting star? Anyway, I think it was there as Christmas decor.
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.

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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!

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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.

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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!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy 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!)

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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.

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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!

Here are some more photos. 🙂

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Enchanted by Venezia

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.

Off to Venice from Dubai!
Off to Venice from Dubai!
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!

My 1st stunning view of Europe - the enchanting city of Venice!
My first stunning view of Europe – the enchanting city of Venice!
I walked through the main street (Venice is a car-free zone with over 100 little islands connected by 400 or so bridges!) until I found my hostel – the Venice Fish. After checking in and depositing my bag, I headed out to wander aimlessly around the city.

Janinay on the Rialto Bridge
Janinay on the Rialto Bridge
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 breathed it in – the piazza, Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Campanile. All this awesomeness built in the 1500s is still attracting thousands of people every day! (There is an interesting attempt at calculating the number in this website.)

Piazza San Marco or St. Mark's Square
Piazza San Marco or St. Mark’s Square
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.

View of the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore
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!

Cold and Rainy Morning in Venice
Cold and Rainy Morning in Venice
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.2_Fotor

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)!

The Courtyard, Palazzo Ducale
The Courtyard, Palazzo Ducale
Blur_FotorI 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.

Grazie, Comune di Venezia!

an old Venetian lady & her German Shepherd
an old Venetian lady & her German Shepherd

Prepping for a Backpacking Adventure

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.

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  • Venice
  • Verona
  • Milan
  • Florence
  • Rome

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. ❤

Apps

Every time I travel, I download these 2 apps – Triposo and my fave language app.

Apps
Apps to download: Triposo and this 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!

Luggage

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! Backpacker_Fotor(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!

Bags and SnacksWhen 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.

Accommodations

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:

See that bridge that leads to a green door? That's the entrance to The Venice Fish Hostel!
See that bridge that leads to a green door? That’s the entrance to The Venice Fish Hostel!

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

Here's the pretty kitchen and dining area at Guesthouse Castelvecchio in Verona.
Here’s the pretty kitchen and dining area at Guesthouse Castelvecchio in Verona.

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.

MilanTourist 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.

Transportation

Traveling by TrainI 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.

Other Tips

  • 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.IMG_4958
  • 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!

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