There was no part of me that wanted to leave Lauterbrunnen, but the weather reports were finally starting to be right. It was raining when I woke up and showed no signs of stopping anytime soon. The reports predicted rain for at least the next ten days.
Today was going to be a moving day. So far, it seems like I have two different types of days. There are moving days, where I spend most of my time looking for wifi networks in order to find rides on Blablacar or trains (very time consuming), booking a place to stay in the next city I travel to, walking to a train station or another place to meet a driver, and then riding to another city. By the time I usually arrive at the next city it’s early evening, leaving me little time to explore. Moving days are followed by exploring days, where I stay in a town and spend the next day or two walking around and exploring the area. This has worked well so far. I’m not sure how other backpackers do it, but I’d love to find a way to cut down on the time I spend looking for rides and spend more time exploring new places.
Occasionally I’ll book a room for two nights, giving me an entire day to explore, knowing that I have a place to leave my bag all day and a place to sleep that night. I booked two nights in a hostel in Lucern, Switzerland, without checking the weather first. Looking back at it, this turned out to be a mistake. I’ll certainly be paying much closer attention to the weather in the future. I didn’t have any luck finding Blablacar rides in Switzerland, so I walked down to the train station in Lauterbrunnen and took the next train to Lucern. It rained on and off for the entire ride.
It wasn’t raining when I arrived in Lucern, so the walk to the hostel was nice. It was late and I was hungry. Considering how expensive everything Switzerland is, I decided to look for something cheap. The girl at the front desk told me about a kebab place just up the street. The prices were still more than twice the kebab place in Italy, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to find anything cheaper. I ate and walked back to the hostel.
At this point, it started raining heavily, and I spent the rest of the night hanging out inside. It was a nice place with a big common area and even a game room, but no one was down there. I checked weather reports and realized it was definitely going to rain all day tomorrow. I shouldn’t have booked two nights in Lucern.
Today I planned to spend the whole day relaxing and taking it easy. The weather was supposed to be rainy so I decided I’d stay indoors most the day and catch up on some reading and writing. However, I woke up to another beautiful day in Lauterbrunnen. I knew I’d feel terrible if I let it go to waste.
I did spend the morning doing some writing and was still in a mindset of laziness, but eventually I grew hungry enough to venture into town. There was another restaurant in town that received great feedback online so I really wanted to try it out. The meal was quite small, especially for the price. So I had a look at the dessert menu afterwards. I’m glad I did; the Swiss ice cream I had made the whole trip to this restaurant worth it!
I was still feeling lazy as I sat there in the restaurant finishing my ice cream. I thought about going back to the hotel. I paid my bill and walked out, but as soon as I got outside and looked around me, I wanted to go on another hike. I walked back to the same cable car I rode up yesterday, but this time I hopped on the train at the top. I rode the train halfway down the same trail as the day before with the intent to walk back to the cable car I rode up in and ride it back down to Lauterbrunnen.
This hike was an entirely new experience compared to the day before. By this point in the day, much of the snow had melted around me. Without the clouds, I could see for miles and miles to the surrounding mountains and villages below. I hiked, enjoyed the view, and took a few pictures along the way.
By late afternoon, I had made it back to the cable car. The rest of the day, I relaxed at the hotel and took care of some things I had been putting off. I washed laundry. I phoned home and ordered an International cell phone so I didn’t have to keep relying on wifi everywhere. I downloaded a James Bond movie. There were advertisements all over town for it. Apparently it was filmed there back in the 70’s. I didn’t watch it.
The weather was nothing like the today before. Today, clouds had rolled in and sat just on top of the cliffs around Lauterbrunnen creating a puffy ceiling above. Weather reports showed no indication that it was going to change today, but there was no way I was staying indoors. I threw on the warmest clothes I had and set out.
Near the train station in Lauterbrunnen was a cable car to the top of the cliffs. I had a map of the hiking trails above and was ready to explore the cliff tops. What I wasn’t ready for was the amazing atmosphere created by the clouds and snow. As the cable car neared the cliff tops, I slowly ascended into an eerie fog. Here, visibility was reduced to around 40 yards. The silent cable car began to hum as silhouettes of evergreens passed in the distance.
The cable car came to a stop at a small train station above. I hadn’t had breakfast yet, so I bought a bag of trail mix at a vending machine and started down the trail. In half a minute, the train station disappeared behind me.
The whole hike was an incredible experience. I couldn’t see anything past the distance I could throw a rock. While the trail was well kept and mostly free of snow, the mountainside around me was covered in it. It felt like winter and, without even thinking about it, I found myself whistling ‘Winter Wonderland’. As I walked along, I could hear waterfalls but of course could see nothing.
After a couple of hours, I reached a small mountain village. I knew I was getting close to the cable car that would take me to the bottom. As I continued to hike, the trail took me downhill until I was out of the clouds and I could start seeing more around me. There were a several farms around me now along the way with sheep, horses, or cows. One farm had a “self service” sign selling cheese. I was curious and had to take a look. The sign pointed to a back door. I opened it and took a peak inside of the house where a refrigerator sat. The refrigerator was empty. I guess it wasn’t cheese season.
Passing through one last mountain village brought me to the last cable car station. This time, instead of hovering just above the ground like the last cable car, this one moved hundreds of feet off the ground out away from the cliffs as it descended. It was actually quite scary looking down and seeing how high I was. The station at the bottom had a little nature room highlighting some of the animals found it the area so I popped in to have a look around. Having hiked a few hours on the cliff-tops, I was now quite a ways from Lauterbrunnen and decided to take the bus back.
That night I walked to a restaurant downtown. I ordered a traditional Swiss dish of lamb sausage with rosti. Quite good. On my walk back to the hotel, I decided against going out that night. With all the hiking I did that day, I was worn out and got a good night’s sleep.
The Swiss village was Lauterbrunnen. I had seen pictures and knew it was going to be a beautiful introduction to Switzerland. What I didn’t know was the profound and long lasting effect it would have on me.
It was still raining when I awoke at the hostel but the weather reports predicted a short break in the rain around 10 or 11AM. This would be the perfect time to head out. With my new iPhone app, I had my course plotted to Lauterbrunnen with ease. Buying the tickets was not as easy. I arrived at the train station with what I thought would be plenty of time. Unfortunately the automatic ticket machine wouldn’t allow me to buy tickets to Lauterbrunnen or even anywhere near it. No problem, I thought, I’d just ask the help desk for a ticket and be on my way. The wait at the help desk was over an hour long. Luckily they used a queue system so I grabbed a number and went back into the train station to have breakfast.
The tickets were expensive, especially compared to the cheap BlaBlaCar rides I had been taking, but the trains were extremely nice. Even in second class, my seats in the three trains I rode in to arrive in Lauterbrunnen were better than any I’d ever had on an airline in the past.
Most of the train ride to Switzerland was rainy but I didn’t care. I was happy to be heading to another country. Halfway on the ride, as I was switching trains, I met a couple from “the Hawaii of the east coast” as Mark put it. Mark and Susan were from New Jersey and were a very nice couple visiting Susan’s family in Switzerland. We talked for rest of the train ride. They even shared some food with me and were excited to hear about my trip. Once again, it was nice to be able to have a conversation with someone of the same language, and it made the time fly by. Just as soon as we crossed into Switzerland, someone came around to check our tickets. Not once did anyone ever check my tickets while I was in Italy. Then came a crew of police with what I imagine were drug sniffing dogs. I wasn’t in Italy anymore.
There was a long tunnel just before we arrived at Brig. We were all thrilled to see sunny skies on the other side. At Brig, Mark and Susan were taking a different train so we said our goodbyes. Susan was so nice she even hugged me goodbye; she said it was the mother in her.
This next train was a double decker and was just as nice as the others. I decided to sit on the top and luckily sat on the side with the best view. I stared out the window the entire time and couldn’t believe just how beautiful this country was. Somehow in Switzerland, the grass is greener, the clouds are whiter, and the skies are bluer. The water was a perfect greenish blue; it almost looked fake. Everything just seemed to be so much nicer here.
I was amazed at the scenery on the way to Lauterbrunnen, but when I arrived there, I can no longer accurately describe the experience. A heavy wave of emotions poured over me as a climbed out of the train and gazed at my surroundings. I was now standing in a small Swiss village sandwiched between two enormous cliffs. Scattered across the cliffs here waterfalls on both sides. The temperate could not have been a single degree nicer and there were just enough clouds to make the sky interesting. It was just so mindblowingly beautiful, and I walked to my hotel in complete awe.
I arrived at the hotel after short walk down the main village road. There was a large group of people sitting out front of the hotel drinking and hanging out. I must’ve picked a good spot. I walked inside and there were Swiss chocolates on the counter available for all the guests. A girl named Sonya helped get me checked in and showed me around. I was staying in a dormatory style building with 14 beds on the upper floor and a kitchen, washing machines, and showers on the first. Though the building had 14 beds, I was the only one staying in the entire building. I dropped off my stuff and went back out to have a couple beers with the group. I found out most of them were Australians, and all of them were part of a “Top Deck” tour of Europe. After a couple hours, the group left to go eat dinner. It was growing dark so I went back to my room to unwind.
I lay around for a while in disbelief that this entire floor was mine. I phoned home and talked with my mom about Lauterbrunnen and arranged having some things mailed to me. I searched online for things to do the next day. I played music and relaxed.
My excitement must have kept me awake because I was normally asleep by 11:30PM. This time I was awake and I was hungry. During my tour of the hotel, Sonya had mentioned that one place to grab a bite to eat late at night was the local pub. I decided to check it out. By then, the weather had changed to a light mist so I tossed on my jacket and headed in to town.
The pub was still open. When I walked in, a few locals sat at one end of the bar having a few beers while In Flames played on the jukebox in the background. Awesome. The bartender mentioned that at this point they were only serving snacks and slide a small menu down the bar towards me. I was happy to see a cheeseburger and fries on the snack menu. I ordered this with a beer and sat down at the bar.
The first sip of my beer reminded me I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. It was a Feldschosschen Amber beer on tap and was amazing. The cheeseburger came shortly after piled with tons of Swiss cheese: not too bad for the ‘snack’ menu. As I ate, the locals began to leave until it was just me and the bartender. I learned her name was Bernadette, an Irish woman with a husband who loved to base jump, which is what brought them here several years ago. We talked for quite awhile until I finished my beer. There was still half an hour before they closed, but I was ready to head back to the hotel.
That’s when in walked a group of travels from another tour group. This time, none of them were from the same country. Mexico, Canada, Turkey, Dubai, South Africa, and the one language they all spoke: English. They were a great group of folks and I decided to stick around with them to have another beer. They told me about their trip so far and how they all came to meet. One thing I realized is how close everyone on these guided tour groups seems to be. Both this group and the Top Deck group from earlier that day had only known each other for four days. If I didn’t know this, I would have guessed they were all old friends.
The pub closed and the group left. There were two girls from the Top Deck group at the pub that I walked back to the hotel with. When I got back, I checked the weather before finally going to bed. The rainy, misty weather was supposed to continue into the next day but I didn’t care. This place was amazing.
The last time I was in Milan, I saw signs that a new exhibit about Leonardo da Vinci was opening up at the Royal Palace. The opening day was well after I planned on leaving and I was pretty bummed. After all, Leonardo was an artist I had always admired, especially all his crazy drawings of the mechanics and inner workings of machines. I’ve always thought about getting tattoos inspired by his work. I was back near Milan again and this time I wasn’t going to miss my chance to see this exhibit.
I woke early and found a place in Milan to sleep that night. Then I looked for apps on my phone that would make it easier to navigate the trains in Europe. Finding this app has helped considerably ever since. I took a hot shower and, after enjoying a nice breakfast provided by the hotel, left for the train station. By this point, I was feeling quite confident about getting around in Italy.
I couldn’t help but notice on the train ride that morning how much this part of Italy reminded me of Kansas. As I neared Milan, rain drops appeared on the train windows. Just my luck. I arrived at the station in Milan and went down to the lower levels into the metro station to catch my ride to the hostel. The only time I was in the rain was the short walk from the metro station to the hostel. I checked in, found my room, and decided that a little rain wasn’t going to stop me from seeing the exhibit tonight.
I hopped back on the metro and headed towards the Milan Cathedral. This time the scene around the Cathedral had radically changed. Of course it was raining but besides that, a huge stage with enormous sound equipment had been set up directly in front of the cathedral. The Milan Expo would be starting soon so I could only assume it had something to do with that. The Royal Palace was on the other side of the stage and soon I found myself standing in line for the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit.
I spent hours and hours walking around looking through his artwork, so much time that my legs were hurting from standing and staring at his artwork by the time I was finished. The entire time I kept wondering ‘what was going on in your mind while you were creating this’. Needless to say the artwork was absolutely amazing. It was my first museum visit on the trip and it was worth every minute.
By the time I got out of there, it was night. Back at the hostel I asked the receptionist where she liked to eat. She told me that her and her daughter actually ate at a little kebab shop just down the street. I had seen kebab shops all over Italy everywhere I went and decided that I had better try it. I took the metro to one stop past my hostel and had no problem finding the little restaurant. This was the cheapest and one of the best meals I had during my whole time in Italy! I was so nice to have a break from all that pizza and pasta.
I went to bed excited knowing the next day I was was finally heading to a new and beautiful country, Switzerland. My buddy, Tyler, back in California had told me about a little village in the Swiss alps he said he’d love to visit some day. I decided it would be my first stop.
Last night’s sleep in the hammock was nice. I only woke up once in the middle of the night around 4:30AM which was typical for me anyway. I lay there for awhile and kept hearing noises around me I couldn’t identify. At first, I thought it was an animal walking around and crunching branches beneath its feet. The weird thing is that I’d only heard the noises for a couple seconds and then it would be silent for seven or ten minutes before I’d hear it again. I decided there wasn’t any way this was an animal; I’d hear then walking around for awhile, I thought. I convinced myself it was probably twigs and branches falling from trees around me caused by the wind. At any rate, I was able to ignore the sounds long enough to fall back asleep.
I awoke around 8:30AM and started packing my hammock, sleeping bag, and air mattress back into my backpack. It was neat seeing the place I picked in the day time after having no idea where I was last night. I walked back down the hill to the train station and hopped on the next train to Monterossa al Mare, one of the five Cinque Terre cities that was farthest from me. My plan was to start there and hike back through each city, ending up back near La Spezia where I could take a train to Milan to see the Leonardo da Vinci museum the next day.
Monterossa al Mare was a small Italian city nestled into a beautiful landscape of mountains and sea. The hike through each city would take me up through the mountains along the coast of the Mediterranean. Here’s a word of advice, I don’t recommend this hike with a 25 pound backpack. It was brutal, but the view around me more than made up for it. At some point along the trail an old man was selling fruit, and I ended up buying a couple oranges from him. He threw in a lemon along with it, which reminded me of my buddy who told me about Cinque Terre in the first place, Patrick. This man lives off of sour citrus fruit. I ate an orange and tossed the rest in my bag for later.
There were a few signs marking how much further the next city was. At some point along the way, I started hearing other hikers mention the trails were closed to the next city. No one seemed to know for sure, but if that was the case, I could always hop on the train and head out.
Near the end of the two hour hike from the first city to the next, I met a guy from Chicago. He asked if I’d snap a picture for him, and we continued to hike to the next city. There we grabbed some lunch and found that the trail to the third city was actually open. We learned that it was the trails to the four and fifth cities that were closed due to mudslides a few years back. We decided to continue on together, but it didn’t take long before I was well behind The backpack was slowing me down but I wasn’t about to quit. I met back up with Chicago near the third city. We stopped near the city center and I checked on my phone to see if there were BlaBlaCar rides to Milan. There weren’t. I also messaged my Italian buddy Davide telling him I’d be back in the area. He said I was more than welcome to stay with him if I liked.
Chicago and I found out that, while the main hiking trails to the next cities were closed, hikers could take the high mountain trails up and around the closed trails. At this point, I decided against it and Chicago and I departed ways. I never did ask the guy his name.
I hopped on the train and started my way back to La Spezia. As the train grew closer, I decided that I’d stay on for one more stop past La Spezia to see if it was the right train bound for Milan. Unfortunately it wasn’t. I needed to go north but the train turned south, so I hopped off at the next train station. This was a mistake. There were no signs or any other indications there at the little train station that gave any clues as to how to get to Milan or anywhere else for that matter. The only cool thing about stopping there was that while the train station obviously wasn’t being used to help people travel on trains, I could hear a drum teacher and his student inside receiving drum lessons.
I waited for quite awhile before another train showed up headed in the opposite direction. I didn’t care where it was going. I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere standing around at a (mostly) deserted train station. The train took me back to La Spezia and this time I made sure I got on a train heading to Milan.
That wasn’t the only train-related mistake I made that day. The ride back to Milan was a long one, and once there all I wanted to do was get to Luino where I’d have a place to stay. I checked the signs for the next train to Luino and climbed aboard.
The wrong train. This one was heading to Turino, though I had no idea at the time. All the signs said “Turin”, and I simply assumed it was smaller town on the way to Luino. Nope. The train traveled for over two hours before finally reaching Turino. While on the ride I met a family of whatever the French equivalent of rednecks are. The were goofy as hell and while I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, that didn’t stop them from trying to interact with me. It certainly helped the long ride to Turino go by quicker.
I realized my mistake just before arriving at the Turino train station. It was around the same time I would have been arriving at Luino, but I was nowhere near it. I was hours away and wasn’t about to take anymore trains that night so I left the train station and, without a wifi connection, started searching for hotels. There were about five near the station, so I went and asked each one for their cheapest rate. The first place I talked to ended up being the cheapest so I walked back and booked a room. After screwing up my travel plans as bad as I did that day, I was relieved to be staying in such a nice hotel that night.
The best part of staying in hostels is the people you meet. I woke up this morning to see a handful of people I met the night before and another guy getting ready for the day. We all discussed our trips so far and were explaining where we were all going. Cinque Terre was next on my list, or so I thought. After talking with them that morning, I decided I’d stop in Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tower.
I absolutely love BlaBlaCar. There’s always several drivers in Italy going anywhere you want to go, and today was no exception. This time, my driver and his passenger were both in the Italian military. The driver was a helicopter pilot and spoke great English so we talked for most of the way to Pisa. He had been to the states before so we talked about the differences between the two countries. As we drove, I couldn’t help but think how much this part of Italy reminded me of Kansas with its lack of hills and farms scattered all about.
During the time we weren’t talking, I began thinking about life. One thing I realized is that rarely did I ever have deep and meaningful conversations with the people in my life. The BlaBlaCar driver asked several questions that really made me wonder where I stood when it came to certain aspects of my life. The truth is, I hadn’t ever thought about many of these things before. By the time the ride was over, I felt like I needed to make stronger connections with people, not only to get to know them better but to get to know myself.
The driver dropped me off at the train station in Pisa. This seemed to be a common theme for all BlaBlaCar drivers. I guess it makes sense; most people are probably just using BlaBlaCar for one leg of their journey. Before being dropped off, I could see the Leaning Tower in the distance. It was now hiding behind the buildings around me but I knew which way to start walking. Pisa is not a very big city, especially when comparing it to the cities I had visited so far, and it didn’t take me any time at all to reach the famous tower.
I took several pictures, but like the hostel buddies had told me that morning, there wasn’t much more to see in Pisa. I thought about making my way up to Lucca, a city still surrounded by it’s anxient city wall. Considering how much time I had left in the day, I decided to make my way up to La Spezia instead. La Spezia was just outside of Cinque Terre and I knew staying there that night would make it much easier to make my way to the five cities in the morning.
For the first time, there were no BlaBlaCar drivers heading that way. I’d have to do things to old fashioned way… train. I walked back to the train station and headed hopped on the next train heading to La Spezia.
Earlier, I had decided that I would stay in my hammock that night. I got off at the train station just before La Spezia and while it was already dark out, I decided I was still going to try it out. I started walking towards the hills from the train station and down the city roads for at least half an hour. I still wasn’t completely out of the city, but I was close enough. There, just off the road and as far away as I could be from the surrounding houses, I trekked out into the woods. I actually stayed in my hammock several nights in Kansas while preparing for my trip just to make sure I knew what it would take to set it up and what it would be like to sleep in it. I’m very glad I did. It took me a short while to find the perfect place to set it up; the only light source I had was my flashlight, but I was able to get it hung without any problems.
I climbed into my hammock that night with a huge, goofy grin on my face. Other than the occasional unidentifiable rustling in the distance, it was completely silent. I lay there staring up at the stars for awhile before I finally drifted of to sleep.
It was time to explore Rome. I had a rough idea where I wanted to go but had a short walk to get there. Most of the walk was through a city that felt like any other in Italy. Building after building, I wasn’t paying much attention to the modern architecture around me. Suddenly, as a passed down a narrow street between two large buildings, there stood the Arch of Constantine and the Roman Colosseum. This is the Rome I was looking for.
The Colosseum was just the tip of the iceberg. Stretching out behind it were ancient Roman ruins heavily protected by the city. Tourists lined up to enter the ruins that were fenced off from everything else around them. I decided to walk around the outside parameter to see as much as I could without being surrounded by the huge masses of people.
There was so much to see in Rome. I’m sure I could have spent several more days just exploring. Everywhere you turned, there was something that reminded you that you were in a city thousands of years old. To my disappointment, the Trevi Fountain was under heavy renovations, but there was still so much to see throughout the city. At one point, I ended up at a dead end with a single door at the end of it people were slowly trickling in and out of. It was small church, so I took a look inside. The church was certainly very old, and made me wonder how many people had stepped foot through its doors.
That night, I met back up with my friends from the night before. We sat around on the rooftop again. This time there were a few new faces; two of them were a couple of girls from Buffalo who were convinced they needed to go to a certain Roman club that night. We sat around, telling stories and joking until the rooftop closed and again we made our way to the bar downstairs.
Not many people were excited about the club idea, but I wasn’t all that opposed. Aussie Matt initially didn’t want to join us, but after a few more beers we were able to convince him. The girls went and got ready while the guys waited around at the bar.
We took a taxi to the club and walked up to the entrance. The bouncer stopped us at the door, looked us over, and proceeded to explain to us that the club was closed that night. Apparently the electricity was out, he said. What’s curious about the whole thing is that there we Italian girls waiting on the other site of the door. Maybe they were electricians.
The taxi driver hadn’t left yet so we caught a ride back to the hostel. The bouncers back at the club didn’t realize since Matt had been a chef in Italy the last two years, he spoke some Italian. He explained to us on the ride back that they were criticizing the girls’ footwear; the girls had decided to wear flip flops to the club. Oh well.
Before we called it a night, we stopped at a little pizza shop across from the hostel. After a couple of drinks and some slices of pizza, I decided to head back. I thought about staying another night but decided against it. I had heard some good things about Cinque Terre from an former coworker and knew it would be an escape from the big, touristy cities I had been visiting. At this point, I think it’s exactly what I needed.
There were messages from a BlaBlaCar driver waiting for me when I awoke today. Looks like I’d have a ride after all. The pickup location was at a train station across town so I’d have a nice little walk ahead of me. I went downstairs and enjoyed another fine breakfast with the folks from San Francisco. After another long chat, this time about our experiences in Venice the day before, I packed up my things, showered, and hit the road.
At this point, the feeling of being disconnected came over me again the same way as before and at this point, I was really starting to enjoy it.
There wasn’t much to see on my walk through the city, but just before I arrived at the train station, I walked through a tunnel with some very cool street art.
I had three hours to kill and thought I should probably eat before a five hour drive to Rome. There was an Italian restaurant across the street with plenty of locals so I knew it couldn’t be too bad. No one there spoke any English so the waitress just brought me out something she thought I’d like. I paid and left but not before snapping a picture of a man who brought his parakeet to the bar.
After lunch, I sat in a nearby park reading the book my mother got for me entitled “How To Travel The World On $50 A Day.” What an absolutely essential book for someone new to backpacking. This book has it all! I’d strongly recommend anyone thinking of traveling abroad to read it.
I met my BlaBlaCar driver at the train station. She spoke very little English but her Italian passenger did and ended up doing some translating for us. She drove a Mercedes Coupe, which might sound nice unless you’re stuck in the back seat for five hours. The craziest part is that she drove right down the middle of the highway almost the entire drive. I later had to ask other Italians if this is typical of Italian drivers. It wasn’t. When we got to Rome, it came time to pay from my ride. “55 euros,” she said. 55 euros!?! BlaBlaCar told me it was only supposed to be 22! Luckily, I had taken a screenshot on my phone of the price earlier that day. I don’t think she was too happy about this but it immediately resolved the issue. I paid the woman and followed her other passenger into the Metro Station. We still weren’t in the heart of Rome; to get there would require a short metro ride. The BlaBlaCar passenger I was with was happy to help me out. He bought me a metro ticket and made sure I arrived at the right stop.
I hostel I booked was only a couple blocks from the metro station. The clerk at the front desk was a very friendly guy from the Philippines and had me checked into the place in a matter of minutes. I stopped by my room, locked my stuff into one of the lockers, and headed to the rooftop where I was told there’d be people hanging out. Several tables and chairs were arranged on fake grass and everyone immediately greeted me with a hello as soon as a walked out onto the roof. When I realized everyone had a drink in their hand, I decided to go back downstairs to the bar to grab one or two for myself.
Apparently, tonight’s lesson was going to be one about always carrying cash. The hostel bar only accepted cash but was kind enough to point me in the direction of the nearest ATM. Unfortunately, this would require hopping back onto the metro to the next station. No worries, I already had a metro ticket that was good for 100 minutes. Only it wasn’t. It was good for a single ride up to 100 minutes after it was purchased. Since my last metro ticket was bought for me, I hadn’t yet learned that the metro ticket machines and my credit cards didn’t like each other. Of course I didn’t have any cash for one either. Defeated, I walked back towards the hostel.
There was a restaurant across from the hostel so I decided having something to eat would lift my spirits. I made sure I could pay with a credit card and before I left, I asked if I could buy a beer to go. They were happy to oblige. It took me almost two hours but I was finally back on the hostel rooftop with drink in hand.
I met some great people that night. There were a few girls from Canada, a guy from Brazil, another girl from who knows where, and then there was Aussie Matt. Matt was a long time chef that had nothing good to say about anything, and we hit it off immediately; I just seem to get along well with Australians. Around 11PM they closed the rooftop and most of us moved to the bar downstairs. It was so satisfying hanging out with people who had the same goal in life: traveling the world.
Most of the bar’s playlist included old classic American rock songs that everyone seemed to know. At one point, “Time of My Life” came on. That’s when Matt decided to bust out his dances moves. Every time the chorus came on he would stand up on the bench, dancing and singing his heart out. Everyone loved it, and Matt was convinced that before the end of the song he was going to have to reenact the lift scene from Dirty Dancing. One of us ‘blokes‘ was going to going to have be lifted into the air by a drunk Australian. Of course no one else thought this was a good idea, but I’m sure you can guess who volunteered.
We cleared out a space at the front of the small bar. I walked down the hall, got ready, and waited for my queue. Just as the last chorus came on, I ran down into the bar where Matt waited.
I don’t think I was in the air longer than a second before Matt fell over backwards. I bounced off the table behind him and rolled on the ground. Matt hit the ground and rolled backwards. The bar went wild. I’m sure the videos they all recorded are floating around somewhere on YouTube by now.
We all stayed up a couple more hours before heading to bed. While reading other blogs and stories from fellow backpackers, these were the types of experiences that always stood out to me. Nights like these are the ones that will make this backpacking trip something I’ll remember forever.
The bed and breakfast was just what I needed to get my head on straight again. I woke up in my nice room, in a very nice bed, and had a nice breakfast. Today was off to a good start. The night before, I stayed awake looking for a ride to Venice and room when I got there so my plan for today was all mapped out.
I had an hour and a half walk ahead of me that morning in order to arrive at the pick up location. It was a pleasant stroll taking me past city parks, shopping centers, the highway, and finally out towards the country on the outskirts of Verona. Once again, I would occasionally find a smile on my face as I walked along.
The BlaBlaCar driver was very friendly. Him and his wife were traveling along with another BlaBlaCar rider from France. It was short ride, just over an hour, and we talked about our trips across Europe. The driver was kind enough to drop me off on the street where I would be staying. I thanked them and they left. As I walked down the street, I asked an older man if I was on the right track. He spoke no English but after seeing the address I had written down, he pointed to a tree next to us. “Tree?” I asked. “Si” he replied, as the the pointed down the street at the largest tree in the neighborhood, then gestured that the house was right on the other side. I thanked him and kept walking.
The room I booked in Venice was found using AirBnB; it would be the first time I’d ever used the service but I had heard nothing but good things about it. The room I found was in the home of a family of five and they had amazing reviews so I figured I’d give it a shot.
I arrived at the home and rang the buzzer; every home and business in Italy seems to have a fence around it. Everywhere. I was buzzed in by the father who I knew from the AirBnB listing spoke very little English. I introduced myself and he called for the mother to come downstairs to help me get acquainted with the place. Again, I introduced myself and she said “Russell?” as if she were asking if I was sure. “Yes, Russell” I told her. Suddenly, the look on her face changed from happy to a very stern, almost upset look. She immediately walked into the next room, pulling her husband behind her. Of course I had no idea what they were saying, but by the time they got back, I knew something was wrong.
She was a little more calm at this point than when she left the room and very politely explained to me that they weren’t expecting me until May. Apparently I had chosen the wrong month. I checked my email and sure enough, it was for May. After looking back at the iPhone app, I realized just how easy it is accidentally change the month while scrolling through the days of the month. I will not be making this mistake again.
Luckily I had booked this room with the nicest family in Italy. She told me she had an idea and disappeared into the next room again. I could tell she was on the phone this time, and when she got back, she said I could sleep in her son’s room. I told her this wasn’t necessary and that I could just as easily find another place to stay that nice but she insisted. She told me to go out and enjoy Venice. By the time I got back, she said, everything would be in order.
There’s more to this story involving an hour an a half conversation about how AirBnB makes changes to reservations. It’s not worth going in to great detail but the misunderstanding boiled down to a simple miscommunication. While she was trying to explain everything to me, she kept using past tense while she was actually referring to something that was going to happen after I left. Too bad I don’t speak Italian.
It was late afternoon by this point, and I had actually booked two nights in Venice to give myself all day tomorrow to explore. After the incident back at the house though, I decided it would be nice to head to Venice that night just to take my mind off the problems I caused and to familiarize myself with the 40 minute bus ride to Venice.
I arrived at the main bus depot and walked around Venice for a couple of hours just to get a sense of the city. I could immediately tell that exploring this city tomorrow was going to be so much fun. Before it got too late, I hopped back on the bus to head back. Just a block down the street from the bus stop where I got off was an Italian restaurant so I stopped in for a bite to eat. The food was fantastic!
A short 20 minute walk after dinner got me back to the home I was staying at. I figured I would write a few blog posts and call it a night. That’s when I heard a knock on my door. It was the younger of the two sons asking if everything was ok. I told him everything was great and thanked him and his family for bending over backwards to help me out like they did. He also explained the reason he came up was to invite me out with him and some of his buddies to the local pub. Definitely.
We got to the pub and met his friends in the side room. They were immediately very friendly and welcoming and were happy to explain most everything in English to me. Hanging out with these guys reminded me of all my friends from home and was definitely the best night I’ve had in Italy so far. One guy even reminded me of my brother. He didn’t speak any English but just by the way he talked and joked around, I could see my brother in him. At the end of the night, as we were driving home, they all made plans to eat sushi and invited me along. Definitely.
While I may have screwed up the reservation, I definitely picked the right place to stay. The family was nothing but nice throughout the whole experience and made me feel right at home.
I woke up and walked down the stairs to find a breakfast waiting for all the guests. The mother welcomed me to the table with a huge smile and I took a seat along with three others who had stayed at the home last night. Breakfast consisted of fresh muffins, fruit sauce (which is the only way I can describe it; think apple sauce made with several types of fruit), and toast. The other three at the table were all from San Francisco and even after I finished eating, I sat at the table for at least another hour just chatting away with them.
That morning I wrote a couple of blog posts and took a shower. I hopped on the bus and knew exactly how to get to Venice.
I spent most of the day walking about Venice but I’m not quite sure how to describe the place without showing tons of pictures. The entire town is a huge, HUGE maze. I have no idea how any one there gets around. While it’s true many of the “streets” are actually canals designed for boats, you can just as easily get around on the pathways that run along and between the canals. It was obvious well before I arrived in Venice that cities in Italy were not designed with a grid system in mind, but Venice took the cake for craziest streets and pathways.
It literally felt like being inside a huge maze and it was awesome. I loved just wandering around aimlessly trying to get from one site to another. Looking on a map would show streets that looked more like a back alley when you actually looked at them. Many times I found myself just following someone who looked like they knew where they were going. Overall, Venice was just a ton of fun to explore.
That evening I hopped back on the bus towards the house. When I arrived, the son I hung out with last night met me at the door and explained that he and his friends would not be meeting up tonight; at the last minute his work had called and he had to go in. No problem at all. This just gave me more time to plan tomorrow’s trip. I messaged several people on BlaBlaCar but as it grew later and later, I didn’t expect to hear back from anyone until the next morning. I was quite hungry that night but also too lazy to do anything about it. I went to bed hungry without a solid plan the next day, but I wasn’t too worried about it.