Tag Archives: Columbus Day

An Italian Odyssey (One from the archives)


Time for another tale from my earlier travels. Since today is Columbus Day in the US, I thought I’d choose a suitable one to honour the famous Italian, not to mention the spirit of exploration! This is from the Italian leg of my interrailing trip around Europe with my oldest friend, Sarah.

The year is 2004. The interrailing tour is our big adventure to celebrate turning 21 (we have the same birthday). In addition to the strange preponderance of the word ‘damn’ in much of my earlier writing, I seem to at this stage in my life to have favoured tedious ‘shout-outs’ to particular friends and family members in my emails home. You’ll be glad to know I have edited these out!

We’re in beautiful Perugia, hopefully our last stop in Bella Italia, with the exception of Bari, from where we hope to get to Greece. We shall see. . . (Just wait til you hear what a marathon we have ahead!)

. . . [I think I’ll save the Slovenian leg of the trip – detailed here in the original email – for another day!]

Venice in a day is always going to be manic, but I feel we managed to do it with a degree of style. Despite being prepared for it, going from eastern to western European prices was a difficult transition. We solved it by not paying to get into anything that day, except for our 90 mins up and down the Grand Canal on vaporetto, which I seriously recommend to anyone who wants to get an idea of the city without forking out for a gondola, and in minimal time. We spent most of the day meandering through the little side streets and alleys and getting delightfully lost. Delightfully, that is, until we had to get back to the station to catch our train to Verona. It was a manic hour’s slog through the city (during which Sarah spotted Jen from Dawson’s Creek but couldn’t draw enough breath to point her out to me). We made it to the station ten minutes after our train was due to leave . . . but ah, wonderful Italy, it was still there.

Sadly, it broke down (went ‘kaput’, in the conductor’s words) at Dolo, chucked us out and thus began a night of hell. The next train came quite quickly but took aaaages. We arrived at Verona and had to wait another ages for the bus. Then we got really lost looking for the hostel, so that by the time we arrived there it was very, very closed. Only by making a cacophony of whingy girly noises, and looking like we might very well burst into tears, did we manage to persuade the man [the owner, one assumes] to let us in.

Verona was beautiful. We happily spent the day Romeo and Juliet memento spotting. Juliet’s house was surprisingly nice – I found all the love notes stuck to the wall with chewing gum really touching . . . but the groups of old English men blushingly groping Juliet’s statue for photos less so. A noteworthy event was almost losing the sainted Lonely Planet [in Sante Croce with no Baedeker!] in a bar. I legged it the whole way back in 2 mins before the bar closed & babbled on and on about ‘il mio libro’ until the bar man wearily handed me the book, happy to be rid of me.

Piazza dei Signori, Verona, Veneto, Italy. Als...

Beautiful Verona

Next stop (oh yes, this is a whistle-stop Italian tour) was Roma – my home from home [pretentious, much?] (obviously excluding Dublin). The hostel was a dive – very, very like how i imagine jail, except there they don’t charge you 20 euro for the privilege and I expect they have some kind of mozzie control. I don’t like to be a wuss about bug bites, but I’m talking serious red, blotchy, mountainous terrain along my left arm. Yuck. However, on the plus side, our one full day in Rome happened to be National Tourism day – i.e. all sites free (with the exception of the Vatican – different state, doncha know?)! We did old St Pete’s, then one of the national museums, the Colosseum and the Palatine all for freeee! Our first night there we met some friends of Sarah’s living in Rome who sweetly put us on the wrong bus home. Ah! Never mind, we found our way. Of course, I managed to make time for a good old Tre Scalini ice cream, which for me is always the highlight of a trip to Rome. Um um . . . that’s it for the main Roman points, I think.

We nearly killed ourselves getting to the station in time for our overnight to Palermo [are we detecting a pattern here?]. The poor Spanish boy we encountered en route was left spinning. We made it, however and had the best night’s sleep I’ve had so far on an overnight. Some sweet girls who got on at Messina drove away any noisy boys who might have contemplated making us move from one of the four seats we were hogging. I have long wanted to go to Sicily. The coast we travelled along on the train was stunningly beautiful. And Palermo was fascinating as a combination of European, Arab and African cultures. However, it did rain for a day and a half of our 2 days there. And a city as run down and dirty as that does not look its best in the rain. Best bits – the classical concert we tipsily attended at the fabulous Teatro Massimo and the charming Sicilian we spoke to there. Oh and when the sun came out on the afternoon we left and everything looked better.

Teatro Massimo opera house.

Teatro Massimo, Palermo

Our impression of Sicily was not improved by the 30 euro supplement we paid to get back to Rome. It was a couchette-only train – surely it’s illegal not to give people the option of slumming it? Tsk is not the word. [I have since returned to Sicily and loved it –
again, a story for another day.]

Then from Rome onto here (despite having worked out that it just barely fit into our schedule). It was so worth the risk we’re now running with getting to Greece (though you can ask me again afterwards. . .). It’s beautiful, chilled out, full of students who’re just starting at the uni here. It’s also like the chocolate capital of Italy, so needless to say we’ve been sampling the local delicacies. I’m dreaming of a master’s here.

Which is just was well, cos here’s the plan for the next few days. . . Tomorrow crack of dawn train back to Rome. Then 25 mins to connect to our train to Bari (the odds of our train not being late are slim to none, I know), then arrive in Bari and head straight to the ferry terminal from where we hope to get an overnight boat to Patras, Greece. Then a nice long train journey to Athens, where we’ll prob have to spend a night before hopefully, hopefully, hopefully getting onto a beautiful Greek island or two to stock up on sunshine before returning to greyer parts of the world (did i mention the weather in Perugia is gorgeous?)

Station of Patras, Greece

Station in Patras, Greece