Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Category: Italy

My Top 10 from 2016

Last year I did a recap of my favourite travel destinations and memories from the previous year. So with the New Year upon us I wanted to write another post about my top 10 destinations from 2016. It was another great year of travel for me. Looking back over the past 12 months it was a busy year. I worked full-time as a VIP nurse in Saudi Arabia from January until September when I left to walk the Camino de Santiago with my Pops. I had a whopping 178 days of travel (mind you almost 3 months of this I was technically unemployed!) I visited 15 countries, 9 of them new for me. I saw a lot, I took a lot of pictures, and I lived it up. I hope this doesn’t sound bragadocious, because it’s not meant to (credit to Donald T for inventing this awesome word!) Some of that travel was with friends from Saudi, and I did some travel through Europe with my mom, and then spent about 7 weeks with my Dad while we walked across Northern Spain. Quite a bit of it was on my own- which I’ve become quite a fan. So here’s my top 10 from 2016 (in no particular order).

1. Romania

Romania is hardly mentioned in the top 10 of most people’s bucket lists, and as per my usual form of travel I did very little research about the country prior to going. Usually when I do very little research about a trip (which is most of the time) I am always pleasantly surprised. Romania was exactly that. I spent a week based in Bucharest and did a couple day trips, one to Transylvania and the other into neighbouring Bulgaria. My favourite memories from that trip were visiting Peles Castle and later Bram Castle which is also known as Dracula’s Castle (although in reality it has very little to do with Dracula.) These castles couldn’t have been more different from one another. Peles Castle is from the late 1800s and built in a Gothic Bavarian style, whereas Bram Castle is an old fortress castle that sits atop a cliff. It dates from the 1400’s and has a very eerie feel to it,  and even though it’s only a tale, I loved the stories of Dracula in relation to Romania History. The other standout thing from this trip was that we did a walking tour in Bucharest that took us to old decaying places which was super cool. Bucharest is also full of urban art and graffiti of which I’m a huge fan. It’s pretty inexpensive, had great restaurants, and was a very walkable city. So add Romania to your list of places to visit in 2017!

Peles Castle

Bram Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Italy

I spent 11 lovely days in Italy solo, splitting my time between Rome and Florence. To say I loved it would be an understatement. I look back on my time in Italy and smile because I was brimming with happiness and confidence. The architecture, the food, the Chianti, the museums were fantastic. Between the two, Florence was my favourite, and I’m sure this was because I booked myself a cheapish hotel that had phenomenal views of the cathedral from my private balcony. It felt like I could just reach across and touch it, and I could hear the street artists below playing music which felt like I had my own private show. This trip was a turning point in solo travel for me, and I became very comfortable in my own skin. I no longer have any issues with eating alone, or going to a bar for a drink, or wandering a city. This trip was a huge confidence boost for me, and made me feel so brave and empowered. Two of my favourite memories of that trip involved random encounters with fellow travelers. I met an American girl around my age who she and her parents adopted me during my time in Rome and it was a real pleasure getting to know them! My other favourite memory was meeting a couple from Texas on a day tour of Tuscany.  We met up for dinner in Florence and then for dinner and drinks my last night in Rome. By drinks I mean bottle after bottle of delicious Chianti. This resulted in a very hungover (possibly still drunk) me trying to get to the airport for my early morning flight! Oh the memories we make while traveling…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. The United Arab Emirates

I visited Dubai a few times over the last year and one of the highlights for me (and a silly Bucket List item) was to stay at the Atlantis resort. So for one night on a huge splurge (and because if you are a Saudi resident you qualify for the GCC discount) I stayed here. As you can imagine it was very nice. There’s a ton to do, so no real need to leave the resort if you don’t want to. We had free admission to the water park which was pretty cool, but the outdoor pool area and the aquarium were highlights for me. Oh, and the food was really good as well. I also visited Abu Dhabi and as I recently blogged about got to visit the iconic Sheikh Zayed mosque which has long been a place I wanted to visit. If you’re in Dubai make the trip to Abu Dhabi to see the mosque- it’s a stunning example of Islamic architecture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The Czech Republic

There’s so much to see in the Czech Republic and this trip was especially special (is that a thing?) as I reunited with a guy I met several years earlier on my first solo trip to Portugal. It was so great to see him and have him take us around his city, and meet his partner, and check out hot Czech guys and eat good food. This was also the trip where my mom and I visited the town we believe is where my Oma (German for grandmother) grew up prior to her time in Germany where my mother was born. We flew into Germany and then spent a few days in Austria before visiting the Czech towns of Cesky Krumlov, Ceske Budejovice, Brno and Prague. We found that it was easier to travel around on the bus than the train (comfortable seats and wifi!) We ended the trip with a few days in Prague which is a fantastically walkable city of which I am always a fan. Also Czech is pretty inexpensive as far as Europe goes so you won’t break the bank while traveling there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Poland

One of the other solo trips I took this past year was to Poland. I only had time to visit Warsaw so obviously a return trip is in order as there are many other places I would like to visit. Warsaw, specifically the old town, is rife with history. It is also rife with graffiti and displays of urban art which brings me a great amount of joy! The city felt very open and green, it was easy to navigate, and I felt totally safe wandering around on my own. The best thing I did while there was take a couple walking tours to learn about Poland’s history in WW2. It was fascinating. In hindsight it might’ve been better had I learned some of this history prior to visiting but seeing as I’m not one for planning or researching much before I go (I’ve become super lazy in my travel style and really only care about where I’m staying) this didn’t happen. Maybe one of my New Years resolutions will be a actually properly research a place before I visit. Somehow I doubt I’ll actually get my shit together and follow through on this. Plus it’s so much more fun making decisions on the fly!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Jordan

This summer my short few day break to Jordan was just the relaxation I needed. The resorts that line the Dead Sea on the Jordan side are fancy with infinity pools and pool boys who will clean your sunglasses, and bring you towels and ice which make for a very happy me. While Petra itself is amazing, I’m so glad that we made the effort to visit the site at night. Especially since there was a full moon when we visited which provided for a lot of ambient light and beautiful pictures. It was also nice to get to revisit Bedouin culture as a trip to Petra at night includes traditional Bedouin music and tea. Even though it is pretty touristy I would recommend seeing Petra both by day and night. It’s stunning in the day but at night it has a magical mystical feel to it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Spain

I’ve spend a lot of time in Spain this past year. Early last year I spent a week split between Barcelona and Madrid with a night in Zaragoza to see the Arabic Palace called Aljaferia, because as we’ve already established I have a major crush on Islamic architecture. Then this fall I spent just over 5 weeks in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago with my Pops. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and an experience that if I’m being honest, I haven’t fully debriefed from (hence my lack of blogging about it yet.) We walked around 700km from the French border to the northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was the biggest physical accomplishment of my life, one that I’m quite certain I will walk again (or another route). Everyday the scenery we walked was stunning and it really slowed things down for me and made me think about what I want out of life, and about how much stuff we all have that we don’t need. And how stuff does not equal happiness, but being out in the world interacting with people from all different walks of life does make me extremely happy. So more about the Camino in the upcoming weeks. But in the event you are looking for a cheapish European vacation- Spain is very reasonable, especially once you leave the bigger cities. And the Euro is quite low right now and airfare is pretty cheap to Europe so it’s a good time to take advantage of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Paris France

I spent a month in Paris this fall in a cute but run down apartment in the nieghbourhood of Montmartre. It was really nice to be able to settle into a place and feel like a local. Shopping at the same stores and frequenting the same cafes. My Pops was with me for a short while and then I was lucky enough to have a couple visitors. One of those visitors I suspect I will always associate Paris with. I spent my time exploring, but also doing some writing and reading and generally just hanging out. I caught up with a fellow travel nurse I knew from when I lived in San Francisco. I drank a lot of wine and cappucinos and ate my weight in cheese. (Not really but I do LOVE cheese a lot.) I walked much of the city. Coming to Paris directly after walking the Camino was a bit difficult because I very much missed walking (I still do.) But often I would google distances to whatever I wanted to do and if it was 5km away I’d think “oh that’s just a short walk” and opt to not take the metro. I was in Paris during the month of November which was pretty great because I get a little obsessive about Christmas. I love it so much- the decorations and the lights and colder weather. It was great to wander Paris with the store windows all decorated for the season. Paris is lovely. Tourism there is massively down given the recent terror attacks there and throughout Europe. But since I’m not one to live my life in fear I would say don’t let that deter you one bit! I spend a month there because with many places on AirBnb you get a discount if you book for a month and it ended up being cheaper than if I had booked for only 3 weeks. But a month was plenty long enough for me. 3 weeks would’ve been perfect because Paris is wicked break the bank expensive and I’m terrible with a budget so it was time to move on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Amsterdam Netherlands

After Paris I took the train to Amsterdam, a city I had long wanted to explore. And boy oh boy did I love it. Loved it as in it’s maybe my favourite European city ever (or at least tied with Copenhagen) at the very least! I spent a week here in a lovely apartment overlooking one of the main canals and had a grand time. Amsterdam is a very walkable city, and so much cheaper than Paris. A friend whom I met walking the Camino came and visited me for a night which was great. Two things really stood out during my time in Amsterdam. The first was doing a nighttime canal tour. It was the beginning of December when I was there and during the holiday season Amsterdam has numerous illuminated art installations around the city. We took a boat tour along the canals which offers a really cool view of the art itself, but also glimpses of life into the stunning historic canal houses. We sipped mulled wine and oohhhed and ahhhed over the interior decorations, wall colours, and the molded ceilings (but mostly I was just trying to imagine what my life would be like if I was living in any one of these houses!) The other thing I would highly recommend doing when in Amsterdam is taking a tour of the red light district. I mean Amsterdam is known for 2 main things (pot and ladies in windows with red lights overhead) so why not actually learn something about it. I’m not telling you to go to Amsterdam and smoke weed. If you do I have no issues but that’s your own choice. Neither am I telling you to pay for sex. Again, your choice. I’m not going to judge how you spend your money. For me I wanted to take a tour to learn how the red light district came to be, and basically how it works. So I did a tour thru the Prostitute Information Center which leads tours by women who have worked as sex workers in the red light district. It was really informative and I learned the following fun facts…..1/3 of Amsterdam’s prostitutes are over the age of 55. They literally come in all sizes, ages and ethnicity. Also the average time men spend with a lady is 6 minutes. Including getting dressed and undressed. 6. Minutes. But the minimum amount of time a customer must pay for is 15 minutes. Also the ladies are licensed and pay taxes so they basically have their own businesses. I learned a variety of other things as well, but since my Pops reads this I’ll try and keep it clean. Needless to say I left my heart in Amsterdam, and I really want to go back and see more of the Netherlands!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. Iceland

Iceland is friggin fantastic. It is very, very photogenic and you can pack a lot into a relatively short visit. I spend 5 nights there in December and it did not disappoint. But while it is beautiful it is not cheap. So bring your money, honey cause you’re going to spend it. Once you get over the initial shock of the price of things I’m quite certain you will have a great time. I mean how can’t you with waterfalls, glaciers, tiny horses and Northern Lights aplenty. I met my best mate there and we spent 4 nights in Reykjavik and had one night on a tour to the southern part of the island with Extreme Iceland. It was fantastic, plus our guide was a riot and super entertaining. We visited waterfalls, and petted Icelandic horses who will come to you when you call them just like dogs do! We ended up getting stuck at a gas station while waiting out a wind storm and were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights in between sipping gas station beers. We walked on a beach covered in icebergs, walked on a black sand beach with a phallic rock formation in the windiest conditions I’ve ever been in. We wore crampons and went on an ice hike and posed straddling a crevasse and ate fermented shark (not at the same time.) As you can imagine fermented shark is not great. It’s one of those odd things that gets worse the longer you chew it, and the taste strengthens in your mouth long after you’ve already swallowed it. Thankfully, copious amounts of Icelandic beer does eventually get the taste out. Our final morning in Iceland we relaxed at the Blue Lagoon which as you can imagine is full of tourists, but pretty awesome. It is good to know that in the winter there is very, very little useful hours of daylight. In fact there was only about 3.5 hrs a day when we were there and I’m being generous with that time frame, as a lot of it was “light” how it is at dusk or dawn. I would love to go back in the summer to see it light until 11pm. I would also love to go back and rent a car and drive the island and have the flexibility to stop at absolutely every thermal pool I came across. I would also stop at every farm that had Icelandic horses and walk up to the fence and call the horses over like the pack of friendly horse/puppies that they are and pet them till my hearts content. Do you really need anymore reasons to go to Iceland? Didn’t think so….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that wraps up my Top 10 from 2016. 2017 is off to a slow and patience trying start. I have decided that I want to return to Saudi Arabia for another year contract, but things are very, very slowly coming together. But fingers crossed they will fall into place in the next week or so. The first time I left Saudi I felt really excited to get an apartment and sign a lease and buy furniture. The current me has none of those deep gut feelings. To be honest I’m clueless as to what country I want to even settle down in, so returning to Saudi feels right and gives me a chance to save  a little more money and see some more things. And you and I both know how much of a fan I am of seeing more things! There are still a couple places in Saudi Arabia I would like to explore. There is a group of islands off the coast of Jeddah called the Farasan Islands that are a protected marine sanctuary that are supposed to be beautiful and I would also love to explore the mountains of Saudi and visit either Abha or Taif. As far as out of Saudi travel I would like to fit in a weekend trip to Oman a place I’ve already seen, and make it over to Africa to visit Ethiopia, Namibia, the Seychelles, or Madagascar. I would also very much like to visit Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia and really any of the Stans. Obviously, I’ll have to pick and choose but these are my top interests. So inshallah in the next couple weeks I’ll have a firmer idea about my return, but in the mean time I’m going to relax and try and get some much overdue blogging about the Camino done.

Wishing all my readers a very happy and healthy 2017. And obviously I wish you some kick-ass travel adventures also…….

 

Florence Italy

Florence Italy may hands-down be the most romantic city I’ve ever been in. More romantic than Antigua Guatemala and that place was dripping in romance. More romantic than that time my Kiwi sidekick and I crashed other peoples honeymoons in the Maldives. The language is romantic, the people are beautiful and the architecture is straight out of a romance novel. I was floating on cloud nine the entire time I was there. Even though I was traveling solo…..

I quite smartly booked to stay in the center of town at a budget-ish place that had great reviews and balcony views of the Duomo. My room was a single room so it felt a little bit like a monks cell, but then I would throw open the balcony door and take in the awe inspiring view. It literally took my breath away and I giggled like I’d won the lottery for at least the first hour after checking in. Best part- because I was several floors up I was overlooking the street below which meant that the very talented violin street buskers who were playing below gave me my own private serenade. The music, a glass of wine and the magnificent view of the Cathedral and Duomo as my backdrop gave me immense joy. I pretty much skyped or FaceTimed everyone I could get a hold of to show them my good fortune. In hindsight this is kinda a dickish thing to do, but delicious Italian wine convinced me otherwise. It was a delightful start to my 4 nights in Florence.

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I took the train up from Rome. Italian trains are easy and decently on time. And pretty fast. In less then 2 hours I was in Florence. I spent my time in Florence taking in the main sites and eating my daily dietary requirement of gelato. I also developed a bit of an obsession for caprese salad and pretty much ate that at least once a day. I’m not really impartial about things. When I like something, then I really like it. Like go big or go home kinda like it. There’s just something about having caprese salad in Italy that makes it taste so much better than at home. To be fair though, I’m currently typing this from Warsaw Poland where…..you guessed it……I had a caprese salad for lunch. I might need a 12 step program.

Anyways, enough about nonsense. So what is there to do in Florence I’m sure you want to know. Like besides eat and drink delicious wine? As you would image there are a ton of churches, squares or piazzas, fountains and museums in Florence. And the top museums get crazy busy so I would recommend having your hotel or hostel call ahead and get you tickets. You’ll pay a bit extra, but basically you’ll be given a set time to go and you just pick up your ticket and bypass the huge line….sometimes for a significantly smaller line or hopefully no line at all. My favourite things in Florence were: the Galleria degli Uffizi which houses the works of Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Rafaello to name a few. (The artists. Not the Ninja Turtles just to be clear.) From the Uffizi museum there are stunning views of the River Arno and the Ponte Vecchio the decorative bridge that crosses it. The large Cathedral and Duomo in the center of Florence (the beautiful one I had a balcony view of) is called the Cathedral di Santa Maria which is enormous but not especially striking on the inside, but if you go downstairs there’s a basement museum with well preserved bits of mosaic floor and tomb markers. The Galleria dell’Academia is where Michelangelo’s David sculpture is located. If you do nothing else but sip wine and eat caprese salad you must see the David statue. Seriously. You have an idea of what it looks like in your head, but trust me it is a true work of art. I was mesmerized. The veins and the details especially to his right hand is amazing. I probably spent at least 20 minutes walking round and round. You could bounce quarters off David’s ass. That’s for sure. Although as a medical professional I’m not certain that every bit of him is to scale, if you get my drift. Just off the room that David is located in is a huge room lined with statues and busts which I thought was also pretty dang cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other things I did while in Florence was join a day trip that hit the highlights of Tuscany. Yes, it was another big bus tour, but this trip was much friendlier than the one I did to Pompeii earlier that week. I even met a sweet couple from Texas who were my dinner dates a night in Florence and then when I returned to Rome. So the highlights of Tuscany included a quick trip to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. Coincidentally, the day of our tour coincided with a day that marked 100 days until the college students graduate and there was a party in full swing. We got there around 10am and the square was packed with drunk college kids. After the obligatory Leaning Tower selfie I was ready to hightail it out of there. Drunk college kids are super annoying when you’re not drunk with them. From Pisa we drove about an hour to the UNESCO village of San Gimignano which is adorable. It’s known for its many towers. Basically the higher your tower the richer you were. We then stopped off for a lunch and wine tasting at a Tuscan winery. It was on this trip that I developed a taste for Chianti. Specifically Chianti Classico which carries a special label as it can only be made in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Lucky for me I found a bottle in the Frankfurt airport and I’ve been drinking it on my trip here in Warsaw. Again, once I like something I really commit to it! Our day tour ended with a visit to the city of Siena. Interestingly, because of the Black Death in the 14th century where almost 3/4’s of it’s residents died, many of the buildings were left unfinished. This is very apparent when you visit the Cathedral and Duomo there and see the massive unfinished arches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that wraps up my time in Italy. I have no doubt we will cross paths again. There’s so much left I want to see, and so much more Chianti Classico and caprese salad to be consumed. Arrivederci.

Pompeii Italy

Way, way back on August 24, 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the surrounding villages in deep layers of ash, killing an estimated 11000 residents. It is believed that some 25 meters of ash fell on the city over some 6 hours. The town would remain covered under ash until it was rediscovered in the late 1500’s. Excavations in the area didn’t take place until the 1700’s. Artifacts from the time of eruption remain very well preserved due to the lack of air and moisture given that they were covered under so many meters of ash.

Today Pompeii Italy is a UNESCO site and a huge tourist attraction. It is an easy day trip from Rome. I booked into a tour group for the day and ended up part of a large bus tour- with some 50 other people. Normally this is a great way to meet other travelers, but not so much on this particular tour as myself and an older Asian man were the only solo travelers of the group. The bus drove south a little over 2 hours to the port of Naples. The countryside along the way was green with rolling hills in the distance. After a quick stop off and photo session at the port we carried on another 30 minutes to the town of Pompeii. Before touring the ruins we stopped off for lunch as it was included in the tour price. I was seated with a large family from California. They were a couple in their 50’s with their teenage daughter, their older son, his wife and their children and the wife’s father. And one thing was abundantly clear. This family was completely over traveling together. They were irritated with one another, and cranky, and lucky me was stuck in between it all. Thankfully, it was nothing a little mid-day wine couldn’t take care of!!

After lunch we started our walking tour of Pompeii. We broke into 2 groups of English and Spanish and set off with the many, many other tour groups. The tour started at the gymnasium of Pompeii where the gladiators slept in cell like rooms with views of Mount Vesuvius in the distance. Much of the site was under reconstruction during my visit, which meant that a lot of it was fenced off making it difficult to take photos. I was surprised that it didn’t look much different than other ruin sites I have visited. To be honest if I hadn’t of known I never would’ve thought the ruins had laid buried under so many feet of ash for nearly 2000 years.

There were intricately carved original fountains in the street, and because it would flood when it rained there were stepping stones built across the streets so pedestrians could hop their way across to avoid soaking their feet. Spaces were left in between these stepping stones to allow chariots to be able to cross. The forethought put into the design of Pompeii was impressive, and as you wandered the old street it was easy to imagine what it was like when the city was inhabited. We visited a 5 bedroom brothel with faded original erotic frescoes that had some people on our tour blushing. I took it more as a menu of the services one could order should one find themselves in a brothel. Nonetheless they were intriguing, and smartly the brothel was opposite the local watering hole. This only further confirms that residents of Pompeii past were geniuses. Also surprisingly they had running water back at that time, and we were shown some original lead pipes. Sadly, they were not aware that lead was poisonous back then, but honestly lead poisoning was the least of their worries!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our tour wound thru the streets past a bakery, and past another brothel which was identifiable by the penis shaped carving in the street out front that pointed towards the  house. Sneaky sneaky. We visited the male bathhouse which had beautiful statue carvings and an enormous marble fountain. We toured a large house that was likely owned by a wealthy family as it was by far the largest home we saw- some 3000sq/ft with an upstairs level and a colourfully recreated mosaic floor. We then made our way to the Forum which is the main square where the ruins of the Temple of Apollo and Juniper are located with some of the pillars and arches still standing. Along the main square is a small exhibit of artifacts found during the excavations- mostly household items like jugs and jars. I hadn’t done much research before the tour but in my head I had expected to see the skeletons of some of the 11000 residents that died during the eruption. There was the skeleton of a dog that died, but apparently the other skeletons are on exhibit in Naples and in other museums abroad. Sometimes we get an idea in our head about how a place is going to be, and then it ends up being somewhat different. Pompeii was very much like that for me. After spending a couple hours walking around Pompeii it was time to get back on the bus to Rome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, it was a great day trip. Being one of the only solo travelers normally wouldn’t bother me, but there was an older gentleman on the tour who took an interest in my being solo, and not really in a positive way. He was very sweet and offered to take my photo a few times on the tour but he commented several times about how sorry he was that I was traveling on my own. At one point he even commented to one of his family members and said “poor thing is here alone.” As though I hadn’t actually chosen to take the trip alone. Truth be told, that was the only time during my entire trip in Italy that I felt self conscious of being alone. Normally people comment about how brave and empowering it is for a woman to travel solo as opposed to feeling sorry for me. Honestly it was a bit of a bummer for me. Thankfully I did another day trip when I was in Florence and had a totally different experience!!

Next up Florence…….

Rome Italy

Back in March I spent 11 days in Italy. Solo. And it was fantastic. When I was planning this trip I knew I was in need of some down time. Granted I wanted to see the sites, and eat delicious food, but I also wanted to do some writing, sip cappuccinos, read, and move more slowly. I wanted to explore, but equally so I wanted some down time. Instead of trying to pack as much in as I possibly could I decided to split my time between Rome and Florence, and allow for a couple day trips to Pompeii and to the Tuscan countryside. I knew I couldn’t fit everything that I want to see in Italy into 11 days, so I didn’t even try to. The older I get the more I appreciate slow travel. Allowing time to immerse myself into a place.

I flew from Riyadh to Rome with a quick stop-over in Athens. I had time in Rome both at the start and end of the trip. On my arrival I booked a cute hotel called the Nerva Boutique Hotel which was very close to many tourist attractions. I’ve found that I’d rather pay to stay somewhere more central (especially when I’m traveling solo) than to waste time on public transport to get to a city center. Also I love being able to walk wherever I want to go from my hotel, and being surrounded by shops and restaurants and cafes helps with gelato cravings. Which trust me you will have daily or several times a day when in Italy!!

My first afternoon in Rome was spent catching up with a girl I met 7 years earlier in Costa Rica and her husband who happened to be traveling in Rome at the same time. They share my love of travel, and it was great to ponder the age old question of “what should I do with my life?” with people who understand how difficult decisions are when literally everything is an option. Move to Mexico for 6 months? Go back to Seattle? Stay in Saudi another year? Try out Vancouver? The options are endless and all legit options which makes trying to choose one all the more difficult. Regardless, it was great to have that first afternoon flow so easily with great company.

My first full day in Rome started with an awesome breakfast at my hotel and a lovely conversation with an American girl who was eating next to me. We connected over my American/Canadian accent and fell into an easy conversation. She invited me to meet her for dinner as her parents were flying in later that afternoon. They would become my adopted family of sorts during my time in Rome. We parted ways and I headed towards the Vatican.

The Vatican Museums are enormous. I bought a ticket ahead of time thru my hotel- and I’m sure glad I did because the lines were insane. So. Many. People. Tour buses, and school trips, and a mix mash of languages compacted within the small lobby. I opted to do the audio-tour and started off. The highlights for me was the Museo Egizio which had a spectacular exhibit of Egyptian artifacts, and made me want to go back to Egypt. The Galleria Chiaramonti which had hundreds of busts and statues lining a long hallway. The Sala Rotonda was a beautifully painted room with a stunning mosaic floor surrounded by huge statues. Then of course there is the Sistine Chapel- which was packed with people and didn’t allow photos. The Vatican Museums are a great way to spent most of the day, but it’s overwhelming. I then headed to St Peter’s Basilica. I walked up to the Dome of St Peter’s which I would highly recommend. The view is breathtaking, as is the climb up which involves a spiraling narrow staircase. After making my way back down I spent some time exploring the Basilica itself which was built by Michelangelo and completed in 1626. It is impressive to say the least, but I would recommend doing the museums and the Basilica on separate days. It’s really quite overwhelming to pack it into one day like I did, and I don’t think I fully appreciated it as my eyes had seen so many beautiful things that day.

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I spent another day touring the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The Colosseum was completed in 80 AD and was cool, but Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum blew my mind. Every direction was a picture perfect view. You could easily spend an entire morning or afternoon here. Wear good walking shoes because you will need them. I knew next to nothing about Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, which in hindsight it would’ve been helpful to have done some research. I would recommend going as part of a tour as you’ll get the full history of the site. I visited solo, and just referred to my Lonely Planet guide to fill in the blanks. The Roman Forum is a plaza surrounded by old shrines and temples dating back to the 7th century BC. Some of the temples you can go inside, and you can see the remains of pillars and statues dotting the grassy areas. There are some spectacular view points on the way to Palatine Hill looking back towards the Roman Forum. Palatine Hill was a residential area for the upper class. You can buy a combination ticket for all 3 sites. I would recommend bypassing the massive cue for tickets outside of the Colosseum and purchasing tickets further up the road where there are far less people (3 when I went as opposed to hundreds in front of the Colosseum.)

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Rome is littered with old ruins, churches and museums. I spent time stumbling across old ruins and visiting museums. And of course eating delicious food and getting my daily fix of gelato. A few of the standout things I stumbled on are the Largo di Torre Argentina a ruin site full of stray cats. Most of them were napping or sunning themselves. I read somewhere that there are some 250 of them. It makes for an entertaining stop-off. The Galleria Doria Pamphilj is an old Venetian palace that’s privately owned and showcases a bunch of art work and statues. The rooms are beautifully decorated and the audio guide gives a thorough history of the family and the building. The Church Chiesa di Sant Ignazio di Loyola is hands down my favourite church I’ve ever stepped foot in. There is a fake fresco painted dome on the roof giving it the appearance that it’s much larger than it actually was. There were 4 very unique paintings on the roof depicting Africa, Asia, America and Europe. The best part though was that there was an art exhibit inside the church. The art exhibit was called “To the Roots of Life” and consisted of different life sized copper sculpted trees lit from the floor in various parts of the sanctuary. They were beautiful to look at and the lighting cast shadows across the floors and walls. I found it mesmerizing and very calming. One afternoon I made my way to Trevi fountain which was packed with tourists and their selfie sticks. I loath selfie sticks.

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A few of the evenings I met up with my new adoptive family for dinner and shared some wine and many laughs. Upon my return to Rome from Florence I stayed 2 more nights in Rome. This time though I stayed near the Pantheon. When I say “near” the Pantheon I mean I used some hotel credits I had and booked a room that overlooked the Pantheon and the square below. It was awesome!!! My last 2 days in Rome were spent mostly relaxing. I walked over to the Vatican to mail some postcards. I visited the Castel Saint Angelo an old fortress castle with amazing city views. My last night was spent in the company of a lovely couple from Texas and 4 delicious bottles of Chianti. If that’s not a proper sent off from Italy I’m not sure what is.

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Solo Travel

I’ve just returned from a solo 11 day trip to Italy. It was awesome and I loved every minute of it. There’s no other way to describe how solo travel feels,  other than to say I felt free. And empowered. And brave at times. Each day was mine to do with it what I want. No one else to consider, only what I felt like doing, or eating, or whom I felt like interacting with. I was out there drifting in the world with only myself to answer to. Free and open to a world of possibilities.

While I’ve traveled quite a bit, most of my travels have included a travel partner.  I have traveled alone before though. To Portugal. To an ashram in India. To Malaysia and a yoga retreat in Bali. To Frankfurt to see the Christmas markets. These are some of my favourite travel memories. And truth be told I met some of the nicest and dearest people on these trips. A kind and funny Czech guy who I hope I cross paths with again soon. A quirky British girl who matches my inappropriate sense of humor and schemed with me on how to smuggle alcohol into our ashram.  A Spanish guy who just thinking about him makes me shake my head and laugh. A lovely woman from Montreal whom I know I’ll meet out in the world again. And most recently on this trip, I met the kindest family who adopted me in Rome and made sure I didn’t have to eat dinner alone and then also a couple from Texas whom I shared many laughs with. So even when I’m traveling solo I have found that I’m never really alone for very long if I don’t want to be.

Portugal- my 1st solo trip

With my lovely Ashram friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often when I’m traveling alone I meet people who tell me how brave they think it is, and then immediately say “but I could never do it.” And I always respond by saying “I reckon you could.” Because I firmly believe that if I can do it, then anyone can. I also think it’s especially important for a woman to see the world on her own. There is something so empowering about standing on your own 2 feet, and trusting in yourself, your smarts and your intuition.

Don’t get me wrong- it won’t always be easy, but I’m pretty sure it will be worth it. I’m a terrible researcher. I like to have an accommodation booked, but I’ve gotten really lazy about actually researching things. I cracked open my Lonely Planet guide maybe 2 days before I left for this trip. So sometimes that means I’m not as prepared as I wish I was. Hand in hand with this is the fact that I don’t speak a lick of Italian. Well besides Bonjourno, and Spaghetti, and Ciao. But as with most places almost everyone speaks English so you can get by just fine. Often when I travel with others I leave the navigating to them. I never hold the map, I never look up directions. I’m hopelessly directionally challenged . And yet when I travel solo I make it work. Sure sometimes (a lot of the time) I get lost. But I have found that people are for the most part helpful, and I never stay lost for very long. Every now and then I still make rookie travel mistakes like ordering something without checking to see how much it costs- apparently directly across the street from the Vatican Diet Coke costs 8 euros. For a can. Of Diet Coke. Facepalm. The one downside of solo travel is that if you plan on documenting your travels you need to get very good at taking selfies (or buy a dreaded selfie stick) or speak up and ask others to take photos with you. So often I have fewer photos of myself on solo trips than I would if I was traveling with a partner.

Getting the “selfie” down

Or just ask a fellow traveler to snap a pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the thought of traveling alone abroad still seems too scary why not try a weekend away in a city you’ve always wanted to visit in your own country. Sign up for a yoga or meditation retreat- something that encourages being alone while still being around others. Or book into a group tour where you’ll be sure to meet others. I have found that when I’m alone I’m more open to meeting others, and it’s easier for others to approach me. So unless you are going to some truly isolating location, you will cross paths with other travelers.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should make solo travel a priority. I think it’s essential for your growth and development. You will never learn more about your strengths than you will when you are exploring a foreign city solo. You will most likely feel more independent than you have in your entire life. You will learn to listen to your intuition. You will learn to put your wants and needs and desires first. You will make travel memories that you will be proud of because they will be yours, and yours alone. You made them happen. You trusted yourself enough to go and know that you would just figure it out. So do yourself a huge favor and go.

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