Before my year abroad I don’t think I quite expected that I would realistically be able to see so many different places. Least of all did I expect to make it to Italy! One bus and one train ride from Graz main train station and I could find myself arriving in the beautiful city of Venice. Then just added on popping to Milan for a couple of days. Why not! The week before was my birthday so I decided I could think of no better treat to celebrate!
The 6am alarm may not have been so gratefully welcomed, and after a quick breakfast at the station we were off on our merry way, albeit, napping for most the bus ride. Yet again we found that our rail cards got us some insanely cheap tickets, if I remember right, all train tickets from Graz to Venice, Venice to Milan then Milan to Graz came to just under €100, which is a little crazy seen as you probably couldn’t get a one way flight from the UK to anywhere in Italy for that much, let alone for the round trip.
We reached Venezia St Lucia station just gone 2pm and we stepped out of the station right into the heart of Venetian life. I have to admit I was seemingly overwhelmed upon seeing the grand canal that lay just outside, contemplating how lucky I was to be here; the centre of a metropolis of interlinking waterways, bustling with nameless faces trying to get the perfect shot to post on Instagram. It was then that I was interrupted by a few school children doing a survey for school, and after having to weigh up whether I preferred pizza or pasta, my poetic, deep thinking moment of contemplating ones life, was abruptly over.
The hostel we had managed to scout out online sounded seemingly perfect, for a mere €30 a night we could stay in the centre of Venice, 10 minutes walk from the main square, Piazza San Marco and all the main sights. Well let’s just say it kind of didn’t go quite as smoothly as was planned. We
walked trekked across the span of the entire city, dragging our cases up and down countless bridges in the drizzly rain, only to get to our hostel door and no one answers the door. (One of life’s laugh or cry moments – I laughed). Luckily there was a phone number on the door, that after ringing probably 6 times, someone finally answers.. *cue grumpy man mumbling in Italian*. Finally we were let in and greeted by, he who I can only describe as one of the scariest middle aged Italian men I have ever met. (Though I hadn’t met many before then…) We then went up to the reception/office/hallway/small disorganised cupboard space, in order to check in and pay. He faffed around for a while calling various people, looking through papers and shortly thereafter it came to our attention that actually he had overbooked and had to do some reshuffling. Yet not just as in to another room, rather a new place entirely, and then we would move again for the second night. Needless to say we weren’t the best impressed at the thought of dragging our cases round much further! Anyhow after everything got sorted we were placed in another hostel under the same company, which after all was probably nicer than the ‘off the beaten track’ place we had encountered in the first place.
Despite the on and off drizzly rain, the rest of the first day was spent seeing all the main sights of the city including the historical centre of the city, Piazza San Marco, the incredible Gothic Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, enjoying the local delicacies, and of course snapping away on my camera at every given opportunity. Though I cannot say we stuck out in our touristy manner, as we paced the city map in one hand and camera in the other; I’m almost certain that I heard more English and German being spoken, than Italian!
So the first night was definitely an interesting one, after enjoying a pizza (what else) on the evening, we had a wander round before heading back to the hostel, and despite the fact that we were sharing with a middle-aged woman from Belgium, who spent most of the night telling us her life story in Dutch (we don’t speak Dutch..), we managed to get a decent night’s sleep.
The next day after spending a little time sorting the hostel situation and finding where we would be moving to for the second night, we were off to do a little more exploring. Again the rain was patchy, but it didn’t damped our spirits! We headed over the Rialto Bridge (the main bridge over the Grand Canal), and made our way towards the southern region of the main city where we headed to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, situated almost right at the end of our path where we finally reached the water and got a lovely view over the water to Piazza San Marco.
Our last evening in Venice meant more food, pasta this time, a few drinks and a wander around the city at evening time finished the day off perfectly. Knowing we had an early train in the morning we resided happily back to our new location, which was more like our own little private apartment, and set our alarms for the early start to Milano! I completely loved Venice, despite the busy streets and countless amounts of people trying to sell selfie sticks.
The rising sun beamed through the window and our 6am alarms gave us a most unwelcome wake up call, yet we had to get a move on and head to the station to get our train. Luckily we only had to walk about 10 minutes up and over a few bridges and we were there. I had managed to prebook the tickets through the Trenitalia website (http://www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en), which was fairly simple to do once I figured out how to change the language (I don’t speak Italian either..) and the ticket in advance was only €19 each for a two and a half hour journey direct to Milan. It was a lovely journey too, running from Venice through Verona and Brescia, with views of open countryside, farmland and in the distance the southern Alps.
We arrived at our hotel promptly after managing to work out the underground metro system and even though our hotel was out of the city centre, we could easily make it within 10 minutes or so using the metro. (Hotel Bristol – http://www.hostelbookers.com/property/prp/69460/) It was a cheap way to get around the city, it was just €8,25 for a 48-hour ticket of unlimited use!
The city itself was lovely and there was not a cloud in the sky the whole time we were there! Good excuse for eating more Gelato than is probably healthy, but oh well, when in
Milan is of course famed for its luxury shopping district so we couldn’t miss a chance to go and have a nose around!
Another famous sight was the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a high end shopping hotspot in such a super impressive building.
Though it has to be said, despite the endless amount potential for shopping in the city, my favourite thing was by far the cathedral in the centre of the city, Duomo di Milano. First things first, it is HUGE, and secondly it is probably one of the most architecturally impressive cathedrals I’ve ever seen in my life, and a bonus was that it really wasn’t that expensive to go in and see either! €15 for a pass that gives you access to inside the cathedral as well as to go up to the roof terrace. Oh, and the privilege to admire and be searched by the security men too, all inclusive! (*swoons*). One thing to remember though is that you need to make sure to cover your shoulders and even knees to go inside the cathedral. We took something for the shoulders, but didn’t expect that our half exposed kneecaps would also cause an issue. Luckily we managed to find a trusty H&M nearby, where I’m sure 9 out of 10 people were also in the same situation, and the amount of people walking around with scarves round their legs made for a somewhat amusing sight.
Overall Milan was such a lovely place, and I wish we could have had more time and money to explore more and also just to shop as well!
After having one night at the hotel, we decided that the best way to work it out with time, was to get an overnight train, that would take ten and a half hours before getting back to Graz. Being money conscious we also went for the cheaper, just a normal seat option instead of a bed. However let me tell you now, ten hours in one upright seat, in a humid cabin full with 6 people, all tired and grumpy due to no-one being able to move without fear of getting uncomfortably past the point of personal space, do not make for good sleeping conditions. After getting home finally at 8 am in the morning I felt almost hungover without having touched a drop of alcohol the whole weekend. Advice to all fellow travellers; please do not put yourself through this torture. Even thinking about it now makes me feel tired!
Anyhow despite the shock of the occasional ‘persian style’ toilet (a toilet literally no more than one foot off the floor..no idea…), being basically forced to feed a pigeon in Milan and the sleepless night that finished off our trip, I can safely say that Italy was a gem, and I hope one day to return and see what else it has to offer!
– erasmusexplorer.com –