I backpacked solo across Italy like a Champion. Here’s the story.
With an overnight stay booked and a train ticket to Florence, I landed in Milan on 4th of July. My family, who I often refer to as a bunch of plan-freaks, freaked out, as usual, at the randomness of my travel itinerary, but as a wise man once said: “You gotta do, what you gotta do.”
Stop 1: Florence and Tuscany
Here’s the thing: you see a beautiful woman at a bar, from a distance, and you just know you need to buy her a drink. The consequences don’t matter, but you fear that if you don’t at least try, you will regret it for the rest of your life. That girl is Florence for me. It has the perfect balance of fantastic food, stupendous architecture, lush greenery, and hospitable people. I stayed in Hostel Emerald, which is run by an authoritative, yet loveable, mother figure, who treated every guest as her own. The hostel was extremely close to Duomo, and as a matter of fact, my room had a pretty fantastic view of the city centre.
The thing that won me over about Florence is that there is always something artsy going on in some corner of the city. There were countless street musicians who gave me company, while I roamed the streets. Florence is a tiny city, so I didn’t think a city bike was necessary, never mind a scooter; unless you want to visit the neighbouring cities.
I must make special mention of All’Antico Viniao, a joint famous for its sandwiches (or paninis). My initial idea was to have a sandwich as a starter, but Italian portions are massive, so I was nicely full for at-least 4–5 hours after. It cost slightly less than 5 euros. I ended up going there every day.
Of course, I did go to the Duomo Di Firenze and the Uffizi Gallery, but they were really touristy so I didn’t spend much time there. If I must say something about it, it was hilarious seeing middle-aged ladies clicking selfies with David’s dick at Uffizi.
The highlight of my stay at Florence was taking a bottle of wine and a sandwich to the Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sunset.
I went to Michelangelo every day, and each time I felt the same enthusiasm. One evening, the sunset was an extra bit special, as I sipped a bottle of Peroni, while a guy in the background played the oldie-but-goodie Wonderwall and everyone else joined in.
The last time I went there, I was accompanied by the very beautiful Emma, my flatmate, a fellow designer, and a type design enthusiast. I sneaked in a couple of pictures of her, while we grabbed gelato at the highly recommended Gelateria de Neri. Women eating ice cream are beautiful, I tell you.
Finally, I became so fond of Florence that I ended up extending my stay there by another day, and it was completely worth it. I visited the Boboli Gardens on my last day. It’s a lush green garden in the old city, with great views of the rest of the city. Looking back, I regret spending my entire vacation exclusively in Florence.
But yes, on my way from Florence to Rome, I tasted a lampredotto sandwich, which I was challenged to do by Alessandro, probably my oldest Italian friend and my mentor for a very long time. I will not tell you what it is, since it sounds gross but give do it a shot.
Stop 2: Rome, Zagarolo and Vatican City
I was in Rome for a couple of days, and I stayed at a place called Wiki Hostel. It is around 20 kms off the city, in a small town called Zagarolo. It was both a good, and a bad decision. Good, because the hostel was more of recreational place than a hostel, and there were people coming in from all over the world to volunteer and take a break from their hectic lives. Bad, because I almost entirely missed the Roman nightlife. All things considered, I am not really a party animal, so the trade-off worked for me.
If you are in Rome, you really cannot miss the Colosseo. It’s a touristy magnet that will pull you in from wherever in the city you happen to be. For anyone with slightest inclination towards history and photography, Colosseo is a wet dream. I intended to spend 2–3 hours inside, but ended up spending 6–7 hours, just reading through the wall inscriptions or the books in the store. I had to skip a couple of places because of it, but again since I didn’t realise I spent that long inside, I think it was worth it.
Closer to the end of my stay in Rome, I was joined by Emma, who had just come to Rome from Florence. We visited the old man at Vatican City. I don’t think I would have, if she hadn’t been around. Unexpectedly, Vatican is quite a walk so if you plan on going there, carry a few litres of water as you will definitely need them.
For a major chunk of my time, I used to travel to the different ends of the city, in search of great food, as suggested to me by the very lovely Greta Bertolucci. Greta is a Roman, who I met briefly in Stockholm a couple of months prior.
The highlight of the food was Trapizzino, a very Italian fast food place. The titular dish was bread in the shape of a cone, with gravy and meat in the middle. It was as cheap as 2.5 euros, so I ended up hogging 4 of them in one sitting and I went there twice.
Stop 3: Amalfi (Salerno, Amalfi and Positano)
I was so eager to document this section of the blog post that I started doing it while I was there. I was at the Amalfi coastline for almost 5 days, and let me tell you, it is fuckin’ fantastic; possibly the highlight of my stay in Italy.
If you go free-styling in Italy like I did, it is practically impossible to get accommodation along the Amalfi coastline, let alone getting it cheap. Even if you book weeks before, expect to spend about 50 euros for a hostel. The easiest solution is to stay in Salerno, which is on the outskirts but is well connected to the Amalfi coast by both ferries (8–12 euros) and buses (2.50 euros).
My first 2 days on the coast were spent in the town of Amalfi, taking dips in the water, drawing in my Moleskine, and documenting this post. For around 15 euros, I got a changing room, towels, and showers sorted at a place which looks like this.
My intention to go to Amalfi was to do the Path of the Gods trek, which is one of the best treks in Europe and has spectacular views of the turquoise water of the coast. It is 4-and-a-half hours long and spans around 10 kilometres. One can start this trek in Agerola, which is an hour away from Amalfi and end in Positano. It is much easier in that direction since you are walking down the mountains.
You can take a dip in the Positano waters after completing the trek and the water is amazing. My trip to Salerno was with Justin and 2 really pretty sisters. I don’t remember doing anything apart from getting in water and get out it for hours, so we didn’t explore the city much, but it was completely worth it. We grabbed dinner back at Mythos, a pretty good Greek restaurant in Salerno, because it is much cheaper and the food was delicious.
Another place in Salerno where I went every day was Pizzeria la Smorfia. It is a microscopic pizza place and the food was delicious (under 10 euros). If you plan to go there, give my regards to the staff, they were really welcoming.
Stop 4: Lake Como
The stakes with Lake Como were pretty high since my neighbour and George Clooney both live there. It is 80 kms off Milan and is an hour-and-a-half-long train ride there.
Honestly, I had no idea what I was supposed to do there, so ended up getting in water yet again — but then Como gave me one of the biggest highlights of my trip. I ran into people from the Flying Club over there, and stayed with them for around 4–5 hours talking to them about the art of flying seaplanes.
Long story short, I now get why my parents call my interests pricey, because learning to fly is now something I would like to learn before I am 30.
Another thing about Como is that it is really green. Probably the greenest place I have visited in Europe. You might want to get a bike here, and try making a round of the entire lake, because it is really scenic.
Stop 5: Milan
My last day was in Milan, and I stayed at the Madame Hostel in the Lodi region. It is a very happening hostel to stay at, and one of my most favourite ones in Europe. I was lucky to get a room there at all.
I spent a lot of time in the Isola Design District, as suggested to me by Alessandro. It has some crazy architecture, which looks like it’s out of sci-fi movies. The buildings over there are something that can’t be ignored, especially the one with the vertical forest.
Although I missed places like Venice (it’s too romantic to go solo honestly), Cinque Terre, Capri, and Sicily, and more places down south, I was pretty satisfied with what I had experienced in 15 days. Italy is wonderful country, with people who take a lot of pride in their culture and are brimming with enthusiasm to help out visitors — especially in terms of food. It’s definitely worth more than a weekend getaway.
My trip wont have been as awesome if I hadn’t known a couple of Italians, especially Greta, Alessandro and Giuliana before visiting. They were chiefly responsible for the amazing food entering my system. I feel so spoilt already. A big thumbs up to Justin, Brad, Emma, Olivia and Eric, who I met on my journey.
A special thanks to Karishma, who likes everything I post on Instagram, and is possibly taking a pill for high blood pressure while editing this article.
I have been doing a bit of photography on the side so you might want to follow me on Instagram and Unsplash. I, sometimes, give out free pictures.