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!
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!