My first trip abroad alone! As I mentioned in an earlier post, my (sad) reasoning for finally deciding to travel solo was the fact that I turn 26 in October (sad face) and Interrail tickets seem to double in price. So, I bit the bullet, got over my fears of travelling alone (sort of – I was still super nervous until I was actually sat on the plane), and booked.
I chose the Interrail Italy Pass, which cost me around £170 at the time ($244 or 215 Euro), for 8 travel days. I’d heard pretty decent things about the trains in Italy and I wasn’t fussed about 1st class, so I booked everything 2nd class (which saved me about £100!).
I’d decided to travel Italy by train, as I’ve been told that train travel is the best way to get around Italy (plus, I was desperate to go back to Venice!). Those people were not wrong – trains in Italy are amazing and they get you into the centre of each city or town you arrive in! There are noticeboards all over the stations, which tell you each individual stop, and the time the trains are arriving at each stop. The people who worked at the stations were also happy to help if I needed (but everything was so straightforward that this hardly happened). I would definitely recommend travelling Italy by train.
But would I do it again with an Interrail pass? That I still haven’t decided, and here’s why:
(Double-decker trains in Italy! These were a novelty for me)
First things first, if you do decide to go Interrailing, you must choose between an Interrail pass and a Eurrail pass. Simply put, an Interrail pass is for people who live in Europe, and a Eurrail pass is for people who don’t live in Europe. As I live in the UK, I chose an Interrail pass.
I chose the Italy Pass with 8 travel days, as I wasn’t sure how many trains I was going to need (I officially knew I was going to be travelling for 6 days, so I used my 2 leftover days for all of the trains around Cinque Terre). On a travel day, you are allowed to take as many trains as you want, which is extremely handy.
A lot of trains in Italy (and other countries) require seat reservations. This was a bit of a pain, as it meant that I had to pay around 10 Euro just to reserve a seat for at least half of my trains (trains in Italy are strict. If the train requires a reservation, you are not allowed to just hop on and stand in the aisle, or at the end of the carriages – you need to have a reservation. And if you are caught without one – or without a ticket on a non-reserved train – then you get an on-the-spot fine of around 200 Euro). So keep in mind that this has the potential to get very expensive. Visiting certain cities (like Milan) require you to get a reservation for every train you catch going into and out of the city, so if you were to visit the Lakes (which is roughly a 30 minute journey), you would be paying 10 Euro on top of the ticket price, just for one journey. Unfortunately, seat reservations are not included with the Interrail pass, so do your homework beforehand and look at the regional train websites (like TrenItalia) and work out if it would be cheaper to just buy an individual ticket (for some reason, it’s cheaper to buy some tickets individually with the seat reservation included, than to just buy the seat reservation).
I wouldn’t recommend an Interrail ticket for Eastern Europe, as my friends who have travelled by train there have told me that the trains are so cheap that it wouldn’t be worth it – and when I visited Prague last year, I found out exactly how cheap everything was (except trains, which I didn’t have time to try out).
However, travelling in Western Europe, yes, having an Interrail Pass certainly does make things easier (less tickets to carry around), the pricing works out roughly the same as buying individual tickets (but if you were to do this, buy in advance as, obviously, trains get more expensive, closer to the date of departure!)
I’m definitely going to travel Italy again by train, but next time I think I will try buying individual tickets, just to see if the pass was actually worth the money (it was definitely worth the experience, as I loved every bit of it!)
I’m so glad I’ve got Rome checked off of my Bucket List – it’s an absolutely stunning city (although, it doesn’t hold a candle next to Venice, sorry!). This is a list of the Top 10 Things (in my opinion) that anyone visiting Rome needs to do.
10. The Spanish Steps
The main reason The Spanish Steps are at the bottom of my list is because I didn’t actually get to see them – there was a bunch of construction work going on, so they were all barrier-ed off. But they are usually on people’s lists of things to see when in Rome, and I’m definitely going to go back and see them next time I’m in Rome!!
9. The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain was lovely – but wow! I’ve never seen so many people in one place before!! I had to elbow my way down to the water, practically, just to throw my coin in the fountain – but I’ve thrown the coin in, so I’m definitely going back to Rome one day!
8. Capuchin Bone Church
The hotel I was staying at was literally just across the road from the Capuchin Bone Church – I could even see it from my window! This church was fascinating – I went through a museum that told me about the history of the church (and there were a lot of religious paintings) and then into the main part of the museum – the Bone Church. These rooms are completely decorated with the bones of the Capuchin Monks who had been buried there. Fair warning to anyone wanting to visit: they are totally against people taking photos and will make you delete them while they watch – not that I know about this from personal experience, though…
7. Sistine Chapel/ Vatican Museums
I know, I know, the Sistine Chapel should be higher up on the list, but, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t that taken with it. Sure, the ceiling is incredible but the chapel itself was really dark and the atmosphere was kinda ruined by the guards at the front of the room shouting ‘No photo! Sshh!!’, which I thought was a little ironic. I was more taken with the Gallery of Maps – some of the maps have been painted with North pointing down the way, which I thought was interesting.
6. Castel Sant’Angelo
Originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian (yes, the Hadrian’s Wall Hadrian!) it is now a museum and a really interesting one at that! There are original floors, which are really awkward to walk on, and an amazing view from the top, among other interesting tidbits. The geeky gamer in me got really excited when I saw the main courtyard and recognised it from Assassin’s Creed 2 (because I’m cool).
5. St Peter’s Basilica
St Peter’s is beautiful – there is detail everywhere. Unlike the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s is free to enter – but be prepared to wait in a long queue! Fortunately, there was a nice Australian couple in front of me that I chatted away to, so the time passed a bit quicker. Also, the Pope was not there so the queues weren’t as long – I’ve heard they’re insanely long when he’s there!
4. The Pantheon
The Pantheon is impressive – it’s one of the best preserved Ancient Roman buildings in the world – and it’s incredible! You step inside and everything is hushed – people just seem to respect the building and keep their voices lowered. The oculus at the top is also interesting – I originally thought that they would have put a window or something in it to protect the inside of the Pantheon when it rains but nope! It’s still open to the elements. That would have been interesting to see.
3. The Colosseum
My first Wonder of the World! And I loved it! I arrived at 8.30 and picked up my tickets from the Forum ticket office – and I’m glad I did! By the time I exited the Colosseum, the queue was massive! I kinda wish now that I’d paid the extra money to get the guided tour underground – and maybe the Colosseum would be higher up in my list!
2. Palatine Hill
Palatine Hill is supposedly where Romulus (where Rome got its name) and Remus were found by Lupa. It is one of the oldest areas of Rome and I loved wandering through the ruins. Later, the more affluent members of Rome built their palaces here and there are a good many ruins of them! I got there just after 9.30am and it was still pretty quiet, which was really nice, compared to the rest of Rome!
1. The Roman Forum
The centre of ancient Roman life, I loved this. I’m fascinated by ruins and how people used to live and there was history everywhere here! I could have wandered around here for hours but I had stupidly forgotten to take a bottle of water with me and was getting seriously dehydrated, so, unfortunately, I had to leave. But, despite my looming dehydration, I made sure to wander round everything at least once!
So, I finally worked up enough courage to go abroad alone!! (This is a huge deal for me, as I am a very shy, introverted person). I’m so glad I finally travelled alone, though – it was incredible! I found myself opening up more and talking to locals more than I usually do when I’m abroad. I even found that some restaurants gave me money off my food (or let me skip the cover charge) if I practiced my Italian with them – but I think the blonde hair helped as well!
Seriously, Italian men love blonde women. It was a bit surreal. Most of the time, it was the odd comment, or ‘bella‘ as I walked past them in the street but I did have one creepy moment when I was walking to the train station in Pisa and I walked past a guy sitting on a bridge who looked at me and asked ‘Like fucking?’. I gave a little eye roll and replied ‘no’ – what, did he actually think that that line would work and I would be all ‘take me now!’? Nope!. Anyhoo! I walked over the bridge and was almost on the other side when I glanced over my shoulder – the guy had followed me! As soon as he realised that I had noticed him, he kept repeating ‘Like fucking?’ over and over and over, no matter how many times I said ‘no’. Eventually, I stopped, turned around, and gave him the best glare I could – and, surprisingly, it worked! With a grin, he wandered off, and I never saw him again.
But, other than that, everything was great! There were some moments – like when I saw the actual Shroud of Turin – when it was literally just me (which I wasn’t expecting. I was expecting having to elbow people out of the way to see anything), and I managed to get in for free, or really cheap – admittedly, this only happened twice, but it was really nice!
During my two weeks, I visited Rome – where I saw the Colosseum and the Vatican – and my hotel was literally right next to the Capuchin Bone Church – which was fascinating.
Pisa – I took the cheesy tourist photo and, no, I’m not going to post it on here, as it’s really bad… Also, make sure to check out the Cathedral and the Baptistry and surrounding buildings – they’re exquisite!
Cinque Terre – I loved it here. It was so cute! And it was literally all hills and stairs. I climbed the stairs to Corniglia in 25 degree heat, only to reach the top and realise I could have gotten a bus. On the way back down, I decided to count the steps. 382!! I climbed 382 steps in 25 degree heat!! My cold, Scottish skin was literally melting when I reached the top – I’m not used to the heat. On an unrelated note, Manarola was definitely my favourite town – and it was the town I was staying in!
Turin – Like I mentioned above, I saw the Shroud of Turin! I also visited the Egyptian Museum – the second biggest in the world, after Cairo. Plus, my hotel was amazing! It was surprisingly cheap and the room was huge! And filled with so many plants!
Milan – I had booked tickets to see The Last Supper months in advance. I showed up at the museum for my scheduled time – only to see that the museum was closed, due to the staff being on strike!! I was absolutely gutted!! Luck happened to be on my side, however, as there was someone actually working there and they came outside just as I was away to leave – and I managed to get my time switched to the next day!! The painting is bigger than I thought it would be – but it was amazing!! Also, if you are in Milan, I would definitely recommend going on the roof of the Cathedral – it’s incredible!!
Verona – Verona is adorable! And the views from the bridges are amazing!! I saw Juliet’s balcony – which was packed!! I pretty much spent the day I was there walking through the city – it’s absolutely beautiful! And the fruit is amazing!
Venice – Ah, Venice. How I missed you! I think I walked all over the entire city (or at least, it felt like that, with the amount of times I got lost!). I also visited Murano and Burano again (I love Burano). And this time, I visited the Isola di San Michele – which is literally just a cemetery on an island. It was really interesting.
I’m so glad I did this and proved to myself (and my family and friends) that I could do it. I’m already thinking of other places to visit (hoping to get another Interrail trip in before I turn 26 in October!!)
Total miles travelled: 3962 miles/6377km (Just under 4000 miles!! Whoop!!)