I just got back from my 11 day backpacking trip to Italy.  Basically I packed nothing more than clothes into a backpack and decided to travel across Italy for a little while before Christmas.  I left Leeds, England on Tuesday, December 15 and got back at around 11:40pm on December 24th – Christmas Eve.  The trip was an absolutely amazing experience.

Rome Ciampino Airport

Day 1: Day 1 was mostly a travel day.  I woke up around 6:30am or so because I had to walk 30 minutes to catch a bus that took an addition 30 minutes to get to the airport.  I had to catch a somewhat early flight from Leeds to Dublin (Ireland) which would then connect on a flight to Rome (Ciampino). I walked to the bus stop that morning, but the bus was running around 40 minutes late, but nonetheless, I made it to the airport on time.

After waiting in line to board, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to board this flight since I didn’t get my Visa checked.  It was ridiculous, because some guy at the airport did look at my Visa, he just didn’t sign or stamp anything to tell the flight crew that I was approved.  After about 20 minutes of them debating about whether to let me on the flight, they finally gave in.  If they wouldn’t have gave in, I would have had to pay £100 to catch the next flight 6 hrs later, and I’d miss my connecting flight in Dublin.  Anyways, I boarded the plane, and arrived in Dublin smoothly.  I had about a 4 hr layover in Dublin.  My Dublin flight left around 5:00pm, and arrived in Rome around 8:30pm (+1 hour from Dublin).  I took a 5 EUR shuttle from the airport to my hostel that was just a block or 2 away from Roma Termini (the main train station in Rome).  Once I arrived at the hostel, I met up with some of the fellow travelers and went to the pub for a little while (there was a pub in the hostel).

The Colosseum in Rome

Day 2: My plan for this day was mainly to just check out the southern part of Rome, basically around the Colosseum and the Ancient Roman Forum.  I woke up around 9:00am, ate the free breakfast from the hostel, and was out and about by around 9:50am.  I walked for about 20 minutes before running into a distant view of the Roman Forum.  After viewing that from that gate, I looked left and saw the Colosseum.  It is a massive structure built back around year 100, and it still standing strong to this date.  It cost me 12 EUR to get in, but that also included entry into the entire Roman Forum, which you could easily spend all day walking around in.  For the rest of the day, I basically walked the Roman Forum and went into the Colosseum.

When I got back to the hostel later in the afternoon, I met a couple from LA (USC, Emily and Alex) who just finished up a semester studying in France.  I also met a girl from Birmingham, England (Vikki) who was traveling for a few days around Italy.  Lastly, at around 10pm I met 2 Malaysian guys (Kenny and I don’t remember the other – who were staying in the same room as me) who were studying in Holland and were visiting Italy for Christmas break.

Me in front of the Vatican

Day 3: The next day Vikki and I decided to go to Vatican City together since we were both planning on going there anyways.  We left around 9:30am or so, and decided to make a big loop to the Vatican instead of just a straight line there and back.  This would allow us to see a lot more of the city in 1 run.  So we weaved through the streets of Rome checking out the Villa Medici, Piazza del Popolo, the Fiume Tevere River, and finally got to the Vatican.  The Vatican is absolutely massive.  Huge marble pillars and gold-plated ceilings are everywhere.  After spending a couple hours there and go inside to check out all the tourist stuff, we left to go eat.  We ended up eating at the Piazza Navona for around 10 EUR a piece.  After eating lunch there, we checked out all the stuff along the way including the Pantheon, the Tempio Adriano, the Fontana de Trevi, and much more.  We got back to the hostel in the later afternoon.

Day 4: I woke up the next morning really tired because of all the noise that the other people in my room were making, but nonetheless, I got up around 9:00am for breakfast.  Vikki decided that she didn’t like staying there and decided to go home this day instead of staying another night as she originally planned.

San Giovanni Laterano

So after breakfast, I walked back toward the Colosseum, but also walked much further south. I checked out the S. Maria in Cosmedin, and the San Giovanni Laterano.  After spending much of the day checking out those, I headed back to the hostel and met a new person in the room from New Zealand.  We ended going and buying some drinks and just messed around the rest of the night.  Throughout this time, we met a guy from Indiana (Bryan – who just finished studying in Spain for a semester), as well as 2 guys who were road-tripping across Europe (and Australian and a Behrainian).

Day 5: This was basically just a travel day.  I had to catch a 9:45am train from Rome to La Spezia, which would then connect me to a train to Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre.  Everything went smooth, and I arrived in Riomaggiore around 2:30pm.  When I got to the place I was supposed to checkin, the door was locked, but on the door there was a paper with my name on it in big blue text.  It was folded in half and taped.  So I grab that and inside it basically had my key, told me exactly where my room was at, and also told me where to leave my key and money once I leave.  It was awesome that they trusted me to do all of this without them being there.

View looking back on Vernazza

When I arrived at the hostel, I saw that at least 2 people were already there because their stuff was there, but the rest of the 5 bed hostel was empty.  The hostel had a full sized bathroom, and a nice kitchen with bowls, pans, and all the utensils you could ever need.  After dropping my bag off, I walked around Riomaggiore for a couple hours, and watched the sunset across the Tyrrhenian Sea.  After I got back, I went to the local mart to buy some food for the next couple days.  When I got back, there were 2 people in the room.  They were 2 girls traveling together (Liz and Lindsey, from Minnesota but studying in Spain for a year).  We ended up talking for several hours, and then headed to bed.  They were leaving early in the morning and I was planning to hike all the next day, so we went to bed early.

Day 6: The next day I woke up around 6:30am, and went to the train stop in Riomaggiore to buy a train ticket and a Cinque Terre pass.  I then caught a train from Riomaggiore to Monterosso (northern most village of Cinque Terre).  Once in Monterosso, I walked around a bit.  The village was absolutely dead.  I didn’t see more than a couple people, and all the businesses were closed.  After spending about 30 minutes walking around, I found the trail head and began to walk south to the next village.  The entire trek is estimated to be around 10 miles along, and takes roughly 5.5 hrs by the estimates I read online.

As the sun came up, I could tell that this day was going to be gorgeous.  There wasn’t a cloud in the

Sunset view from Riomaggiore

Sunset view from Riomaggiore

sky, no wind, and the temperature was perfect.  Within about an hour and 10 minutes, I arrived in the next village which was Vernazza.  I checked out the village for around 20 minutes, and continued on the trail.  The next village was Corniglia, and it took about an hour and 20 minutes to get there.  Once in Corniglia, I walked around for 30 minutes, sat down for a bit, and then continued on the trail.  I had a bit of a hard time finding the trail out of Corniglia, but luckily I found a map of the city and it showed where to start.  I also saw a group of people that were about to start the trail.  Within no time, I arrived Manarola, and then it was just an easy walk to Riomaggiore.  I made it back to Riomaggiore by 2pm or so, and the entire trek took about 4.5 hrs.  The trail is really well taken care of, and it was a very simple and easy hike.

When I got back to the hostel, it was empty, no one had been into the room.  I took a shower, made some pasta, and relaxed.  Once the sun started to go down, I walked around Riomaggiore to check out the Christmas lights and get a glimpse of the sun going down by the sea.

Day 7: I woke up early once again because I planned to train to Pisa, spend some of the day checking out the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and then catch another train to Florence.  I woke up around 7:00am, caught a train to La Spezia, which then connected to a 8:15am train to Pisa.  This took about an hr and 15 minutes.  Once in Pisa, I bought some type of Italian sandwich at the station, and then I walked for about 35 minutes to the Leaning Tower.  You can actually walk there much faster, but I got lost and had very little directions on where to go.  I spent about 30 minutes at the Tower before heading off.  There really wasn’t much in the city

Me in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Me in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

other than the Tower itself, which was absolutely amazing.

Once I got back to the station, I looked for the next train to Florence, which was roughly 20 minutes after I got back.  So I bought my ticket and began to wait for the train to arrive.  Low and behold, it ends up being delayed like 40 minutes.  So I ended up catching a different train.  The train from Pisa to Florence (or Firenze as they call it in Italy) took around 1 hr.  Once I got to Florence, I walked to my hostel, checked in, and relaxed on my bed for a bit.  This hostel had a nice common room, as well as a “guest kitchen” which had pots, pans, utensils, 2 stoves, a fridge, and a freezer.  It also had 2 computers so people could get online.  Directly next store to the hostel was a nice market that had lots of selections of food and drinks, so I ended up making dinner there.  I ended up meeting 3 people that night: a girl my age from South Korea, a Canadian guy my age named Daniel, and an American from Oakland, California named Joel.  The Korean had been traveling Italy for the last month by herself, and was about to head to Rome for the next 10-15 days.  Daniel had been traveling in Greece for the last 2 weeks and will be traveling Europe by himself for the next 3 months.  And Joel has been in Italy for around 1 month, and will be in Italy for the next couple weeks.

Day 8: This day I basically spent walking with Joel and Daniel to the Uffizi Gallery where there were an enormous amount of ancient sculptures and portraits displayed there.  After about 3 hours of walking around there, Daniel and I walked into northern Florence and checked out the Fortezza da Basso and much of the inter-city Florence buildings.

The hostel “closes” at 2:00am (meaning you can’t checkout later than that time), so I figured instead of paying for another night for 1 hr of sleep, I will

Statue of David

Statue of David

just pull and all-nighter and leave the hostel around 3:00am to catch my 4:35am train to Bologna (I checked out of the hostel earlier in the day, so I was set to leave whenever).  When I left the hostel at 3:00am, all the alarms went off, and some guy came out of no where out of the hostel and I had to explain to him the situation.  He let me go no problem.

Day 9: This was the day I had to catch a flight out of Bologna.  My flight left at 10:00am, so I had to get to the airport by no later than 8:00am.  So I caught a train out of Florence at 4:35am (the only train that would have put me into Bologna before 8:00am).  The train went from the main Florence station to the Bologna Train Station.  When I was waiting for the train out of Florence, I ran into the 2 Malaysian guys that I met back in Rome.  Small country, eh?

Once I arrived in Bologna about and hour and 45 minutes later, I took at shuttle bus to the airport.  I arrived at the airport by 6:40am or so.  The check-in desks were closed, so I took a small nap.  When I awoke around 7:30am, the desk was still not open, but there were at least a hundred people lined up to check-in.  So I quickly hoped in line and waited to be checked in.  I finally got checked in by around 8:30am or so.  After checking in, I went through security.  After security there was Passport control.  Typically it takes around 30 seconds per person at Passport Control. But the Bologna passport control was taking literally 5 minutes per person.  Once I got through Passport Control, it was around 9:30am, and people we just about ready to board. They ended up taking forever to board people, and the flight left about 40 minutes late because of it.

I arrived at London Stansted Airport, and went to catch a bus to Victoria Coach Station where I would eventually catch a bus back to Leeds.  However, since my flight was delayed 40 minutes, I missed my

My plane to London

My plane to London

reserved bus and I had to wait for the next one that ran.  Once I boarded that bus, the driver was great, and we arrived at the Victoria Station around 2:30pm or so.  My bus to Leeds left at 3:00pm.  After finding my way around, I arrived at the gate where my bus was to depart.  After about a 10 minute wait at the gate, the bus pulled up and I waited in line (at the end of the line) to board.  Once I got to the person checking people onto the bus, the woman told me that this bus wasn’t going to Leeds, and the one that just left from a different gate (and a different company) was going to Leeds (even though this bus said Leeds on the front, and my ticket confirmed that this was the correct bus).  She said, “go talk to the guy at the desk”.  So I ran in, tell the guy the situation, and he responds: “next bus leaves at 6, it will cost you £5 to switch, and you will be waitlisted, that the best I have for you”, and quickly walks away.  So low and behold, I wait for 3 hrs at the damn station for this bus.  Once everyone else boarded, there were 4 open seats.  He gives away the first 3 to people random people, and he finally lets me on.  This company was Megabus.  As nice as the bus driver was, changing the service and the customer support was horrible.  If I have 1 suggestion, don’t use Megabus.

I finally arrived in Leeds around 10:30pm that night, and walked for around 1 hr back home.  Overall, the trip was amazing, but the last day of travel was very tiring (21 hrs of traveling, 36 hrs with no sleep).  I learned an incredible amount during this trip, and saw of the best and worst parts of the world at the same time.  I’d definitely suggest doing a trip like this if you ever get the chance, it is something that you will never forget.