When I went to Italy in 2003, it was only my second trip abroad. I was a sophomore in high school and it was a trip run by my high school for spring break. It was only a ten-day trip but we hit a lot of the major ‘Italy highlights’ – Rome, Naples, Florence, and Venice, with San Gimignano, Bologna, Padua, and Pisa in between. Needless to say, we were doing something basically every second.
Being on a bus crammed with 50 high school students, some teachers, and a tour guide is not exactly a recipe for indie travel. But at the time that was not important to me, though after the 15th church I realized that I would rather have explored some of the places on my own.
Back then I traveled a bit differently than I do now. I think I owned a digital camera by then but I didn’t want to travel with it – I took disposable cameras instead (and since I haven’t scanned the pictures and you couldn’t get picture CDs back then, I have no access to those photos at the moment). I wasn’t very adventurous when it came to food – we got lunch on our own most days and I ate pizza with a side of gelato every time (okay, maybe I wouldn’t change this too much, especially the gelato part – though of course now I can appreciate authentic Neapolitan pizza). I did, though, try everything at every dinner, though none of it was really outside my comfort zone.
There were only a couple of times where we had free time. Once, in Florence, we had about 6 hours to do whatever we wanted. Some friends and I walked around the Mercato Nuovo and rubbed the wild boar statue that means you’ll return to Florence, and then took a nap because honestly, the trip was exhausting. In Venice, I got to wander around a bit, almost get lost, and buy a lovely glass horse (which later my mom accidentally shattered while cleaning my room). Later that day we went to a club and some greasy Italian boy grabbed me.
I really loved traveling in Italy and I really want to experience it again, though a little differently. I wouldn’t go with a tour and I wouldn’t go to quite so many churches and cathedrals (seriously, I got major church fatigue, which I guess is like temple fatigue for Western Europe).
One thing I would do to make the trip more interesting and to get outside the guidebook-recommended areas would be to try to meet a local (or at least someone who lives there). Whether this is through CouchSurfing, friends or friends of friends, or someone met through blogging, it’s my favorite way to learn more about a place. Seeing the local perspective is fun and enlightening, and it’s something I recommend to everyone traveling anywhere (even within your own country!).
Have you been to Italy?