Italy: Monumental Metropolis

Venice – Rome – The Vatican – Milan

Venice

We left Ljubljana early, hoping to get to Venice in the early afternoon. For some unknown reason it was not possible to get a train directly to Venice, or anywhere in Italy from Slovenia so we first had to go back to Austria, stopping in Villach where we had ten minutes to locate the bus station, buy a bus ticket and find the bus to Venice. Obviously we failed. Eventually we discovered we had to buy tickets in the train station, and on attempting to get tickets for the next bus we were informed it was already full, so we had to get a later one, giving us four hours to kill in Villach. David and I spent the best part of the afternoon sat on a bench, watching the people come and go through the station doors until we were finally able to get on the bus. We had separate seats and both enjoyed the company of other travelers for the journey; myself with a Brazilian student doing a tour of central Europe, and David with an American art student tripping around most of the continent. We eventually arrived in Venice early in the evening and headed across the lagoon to the island where we would be staying in Ostello Venezia. The hostel was vast and unreasonably hot and we weren’t to happy with things but we grabbed some spaghetti and settled down for the night.

Ostello Venezia

The next morning we hoped that Venice would impress us as we set off into the main city. The plan of the day was to wander along the canals and down the back streets, trying to avoid the hordes of tourists while also seeing what kind of place Venice was. It soon became apparent that Venice isn’t like anywhere else David or I had ever been to; apart from the fact that it’s built in the middle of a lagoon, Venice is quite unremarkable. Beyond the tourist filled Grand Canal, the gondolas, the Venetian masks and the bustling bridges Venice is a very plain city. It is beautiful in a unique way, but if you were to replace the waterways with roads it would lose almost all of it’s appeal.

We spent much of the day trying to find another side to Venice, a seedy underbelly or some local charm without much luck. We stopped for lunch off one of the city’s few squares and found we didn’t have much to say about the place. We soon continued our ambles throughout the smaller canals and residential areas, hoping for something to change. Soon enough we ended up back on the edge of the island and decided that we may as well take the taxi boat back through the city and return to the hostel. This turned out to be one of the better ways to see the city, it doesn’t cost anywhere near as much as a session on a gondola and you follow the Grand Canal and the south side of the island.

We returned to the hostel grabbed a pizza and decided that as we would be heading off to Rome in the morning we should indulge in some local wine, four bottles of it, along with some card games. Over the course of the evening we played some English gents who had just been at a Croatian festival, and some ladies from London who were just beginning a tour of Italy. As the night drew on we decided we’d better get off to bed before we consumed any more alcohol.

Rome

The following morning we woke up feeling like we’d had two bottles of wine each. The boat across down the canals to the train station was a particularly unpleasant experience, but once we’d made it to the station and sorted out some reservations we were both feeling somewhat more stable. The train to Rome was a brief four hours and we arrived in the afternoon to a million degree heat. We quickly made our way to the hostel, which was fortunately not too far from the station and spent some time cooling off before finding out whether there was anywhere good to eat in the local area. David and I were sent to a local pizzeria where we were unable to eat al fresco due to our lack of reservations but enjoyed tomato and mozzarella bruschetta before enjoying a pizza each. We returned to the hostel after eating and spent the night trying to sleep in spite of the heat.

The next day we enjoyed breakfast on the roof terrace, all too aware of how hot the morning already was before planning a route of the major sites in the centre of the city. Minutes away we found ourselves at the Colosseum. This was a first for me, David had been to Rome before and was acting as my tour guide, and I was suitably impressed with the preservation and scale of the arena.

We decided not to bother with going in as the queue crawled past us and we felt the day would be better spent seeing the rest of the sights. We proceeded around the rest of the ruins heading towards Trajan’s Column. On our way we came across several other landmarks that were unknown to us, and perhaps because of this left the largest impression. Of most interest to me was the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the most inspiring marble structures I had ever seen.

We continued our stroll through the city to the Pantheon and Piazza Nova, stopping to top up our water bottles in one of the many drinking fountains that litter Rome’s streets. Hunger had begun to stir and for a while we considered stopping for something to eat but continued on to Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps before finally taking a break to enjoy more pasta and pizza. We then made the executive decision to call into the highly recommended San Crispino for the most delicious gelato I have ever had. There are few things greater than pistachio ice cream, but one thing that certainly is would have to be cinnamon ice cream. We took our tubs and scoops and headed down to the Trevi Fountain where I opted not to throw a coin over my shoulder as I was already sure that with what I had seen of Rome I would need no guarantee to return. I would be back regardless. After a long day in the heat we retired to the hostel where I spent the evening researching whether or not I would get away with wearing shorts to the Vatican the next day.

The Vatican

After some research it seemed that I would be best not to risk wearing the shorts for our trip to the Vatican and I pulled on a pair of jeans and complained about the oppression of the Catholic church upon my rights to expose my inoffensive knees. We walked across Rome to reach the Vatican and were surprised to find no border control or passport checks. After a short while in the queue we entered St. Peter’s Basilica; a worthwhile trip just to see the interior of the building. However, at this point I was annoyed to find people inside with shorts on. If only I’d known the rules were optional! After spending several hours walking around the basilica we headed on to the Vatican museums where we followed the large crowds and never ending tour groups through to the Sistine Chapel, which again was well worth the visit even though I had been wearing jeans the whole time. From the Vatican we headed back towards the hostel and prepared ourselves for the final stop in Italy; Milan.

Milan

Before leaving Rome we had to book a reservation for a train, and in our typical style we missed the train we had planned to get and spent an hour hanging around the station but eventually we were on our way. A few hours later we rolled into Milan, where the heat continued to be extreme. We soon rolled into our hostel/hotel depending on who you talk to and sorted out a map and a plan for something to eat. A recommended cheap restaurant where we would find ourselves eating for the duration of our stay simply because of the excellent value. We spent the first night chilling out in the hostel, only, it wasn’t very chilled and we were doing all that we could to try and reduce the temperature.

Milan Hostel

After a long and hot night of trying to sleep David and I got ourselves together, grabbed some brunch and headed towards the other side of the city for a tour of the San Siro Giuseppe Meazza; the home of Italian football.

The museum held all kinds of things, some obviously related to the two teams of Milan and some other things that seemed to just be related to football, but it was all interesting. Unfortunately the night before there had been a Take That concert in the stadium and the pitch was covered and the remains of the stage took up most of one set of the stands. Regardless of this, the stadium tour was pretty interesting as well as learning the history of both Inter and AC Milan. After spending the early afternoon at the stadium we headed towards the center of the city to see the impressive Cathedral and shopping precinct.

We also decided we should check out the prices of some of the restaurants and quickly found ourselves heading back towards the restaurant near our hostel to enjoy our dinner before our journey carried us into the final leg.

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