And so it is done. My first travelling trip, and it has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.
As I lay in bed on my beautiful yet isolated Hebridean isle on the fringes of Scotland, dreaming of setting out on so many foreign adventures, I truly had no clue as to what it would actually entail. That was to change when I finally plucked up the courage (shortly after I had scrounged up the money), and booked my flight to Italy. I am so thankful that I did.
Italy will forever have a hook on my heart. It is filled to bursting with both natural and artificial beauty. Momentous structures of a grand old past, art and sculptures both old and new that showcase the creative genius of humanity. Friendly people and a transport system that makes the UK’s seem like it’s a man pulling a cart. Italy truly is magnificent, not that it is without its downsides, as there is very few things that are. I will go on to talk about those downsides and the problems facing Italy, as well as a summary of my experience of each place I visited. From the good the bad and the ugly, this is my overview of my experience of Italy.
I thought I should start with my first stop on my travels, which also was my least favourite: Milan. I found Milan to be a polluted, scammer filled, unattractive city on the most part. There were persistent scammers all around and the place on the whole came across as rather bleak and unfriendly. But as I previously said (In one word or another) no great place is without its downsides, and so to is no bad place without some upsides.
Milan has a fantastic, simple, and reliable metro; certainly the best metro that I was to use in Italy. Milan also has my favourite cathedral of Italy, with St. Paul’s and the Florence cathedral also being up there. Like a beacon in the darkness of a urban industrial city, the cathedral with its gothic spires and arches, decorated with carvings and statues make the building a work of art in itself; Statues on top of statues – you really don’t know where to look, It truly must be the church of a thousand faces.
I loved that building and it would be the only reason I could see me visiting Milan again. The grand cathedral with its statues and carvings acts as a mausoleum of saints, biblical heroes and stories, You are struck by a truly brooding and powerful aura. You can feel the sense of the fanatical medieval Christianity that was the core of western Europe when construction of the cathedral began. To me it seemed as if the building had a soul of its own; A pious unwavering soul, yet unspeakably beautiful. Staring at the view from the top of the cathedral was where I spent most of that day, watching the sunset with not a care in the world.
Overall, although I didn’t particularly like Milan it will always be the first destination on my first time travelling. It taught me how to carry myself and be wary and spot those vultures that prey on tourists with their scams and schemes. So for that I will be eternally grateful.
Now to the opposite end of the spectrum. My favourite place out of my trip in Italy: Rome. Together with Florence, Rome was the major reason for my decision to travel to Italy. The eternal city is history build on top of history for thousands of years.
There are the obvious places to visit in Rome, like the Coliseum, the Roman forum, and the Vatican. I truly loved those great historic and beautiful places.
The Coliseum is truly monumental and grasps the air from your lungs when you first catch sight of it, dominating its environment with the mesmerising, light blue Italian sky behind it. Built in 70-80 AD, the building is fantastically preserved.
It is the greatest arena ever built and made me truly appreciate the master engineers that were the Romans, impressively building the coliseum in eight years and being able to accommodate a number of spectators estimated at between 50,000 and 80,000.
Just next to the coliseum is the Roman forum. Although missing the glamour and grandeur it would have once held, the forum still is amazing, and filled me with a longing to build a time machine to witness the creation of those beautiful buildings. From each block laid to each decoration or intricate symbolism placed around and inside these buildings, from the multiple palaces built on Palatine Hill, to temples and Senate buildings, it is one of the greatest collections of Roman architecture and history in the world, and an absolutely fascinating place which I am sure to visit again.
A must do is the Vatican city. I would advise either getting to the Vatican very early or doing it in two trips, as the museums of the Vatican are exhaustingly large, and at the end of them there is the beautifully decorated Sistine chapel. The chapel and museum take a whole day in themselves. By the time I reached the Sistine chapel I was extremely tired and didn’t get to appreciate it as much as it deserved.
The Basilica is grand and beautiful and does convey the sense of admiration and awe that you would expect from the centre of a religion. I also visited the top of the Basilica for a lovely view of the surrounding area. The climb to the top was exhausting, but the view was certainly worth it.
The best advice I could give to anyone visiting Rome is, just get out and explore. You discover some of the more beautiful spots or Roman ruins that way. It’s a city where you can aim to become lost, as you will be much too happy to care how far from your lodgings you might be. So go out on a wander, and you might just be amazed at what you will find.
Overall, out of all the places I visited in Italy I enjoyed Rome the most because It’s an ancient, vibrant city, and very friendly – in that regard It reminded me a lot of Glasgow back home. It’s beautiful and warm and a place that I would advise anyone to visit.
Now for the other major reason for my visit to Italy: Florence. First things first. Florence is a city which caters to tourists. There are restaurants and shops in practically every building in the centre of Florence, which is great as the food is fantastic – but we will get to that later. Nearly everyone I met spoke good or at least a little English. And the city is quite small so everything is within walking distance. But what does this all mean?
The city is full of tourists! And I know that as I was one of them. It might sound odd, but I was in Florence for eight days and I pictured myself above the plague of tourists who came to just spend a day in Florence.
There is also an American university in Florence, so many of the city’s students have come from the U.S.A to study there. Which makes the night life a lot less frustrating, as it can be hard enough for someone’s whose first language isn’t English to understand a sober Scotsman, but an inebriated Scotsman makes it damn near impossible.
If you visit Florence it would be impossible to not notice the Duomo (cathedral). And why would you want to, it was with out a doubt the most picturesque building I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. It soaked up the sunlight and the attention off everything around it. It didn’t matter how many times I walked past the building I would never tire of fixing my gaze upwards in awe of one of the greatest marvels of engineering and man made beauty.
The Duomo took 140 years to build, and that is certainly believable.
It’s a mammoth of a building with beautiful designs and sculptures on the outside, and a jaw-dropping massive dome decorated with the classic Italian orange tiled roof, which seems when the light hits as if it were designed to present a view unlike any other.
The food in Florence is lovely and could only be rivalled by Venice which was more seafood centred. In both of the places it would not be hard to find somewhere that serves heavenly food.
One of my favourite spots in all of my travels in Italy was the Piazzale Michelangelo. A square with an amazing panoramic view of Florence. It allows you to see the whole of Florence in all of its breath-taking glory.
Florence is an absolutely great place to visit. Although the amount of tourists can take away some of the beuty of the place, at times as you start to feel like you are more in a zoo gawking at exhibits rather than a guest in an actual city. But I would certainly recommend a visit to the place.
Next on the list after Florence was Venice.
Glistening canals, breath-taking buildings and surely the most bridges ever constructed in one city. Venice truly is unlike any place I had ever been.
My home Island of Raasay is full of beauty, but it is natural beauty. Where as Venice is positively filled to bursting with man-made beauty. The city is a marvel of human engineering, architecture and creativity. Unless you were deaf, blind and mute, you couldn’t help but appreciate how lucky you are to be walking those beautiful streets.
A key aspect of the city’s uniqueness is its layout, which while beautiful can be quite a pain to get around. It may be a small place but its twists and turns, bridges and dead-end streets leading to water, mean it can be both tiring and irksome to get from points A to B.
However, while a pain to get around, you will have a good view to go with it, Venice really is a beautiful place, illuminated by the heavenly reflective properties of Venetian water with the sun dancing across it, lighting up the undersides of the bridges, causing a constant shifting of light in a myriad of chaotic and hypnotising patterns.
The historic and timeless beauty of Venetian buildings come in all different colours and designs, all carrying a unique charm. Quite a number of houses are starting to crumble, or present a rougher, worn exterior, but it’s tremendously impressive that you can still see the core and primal beauty in even the most run-down of buildings in Venice.
Venice is an artistic treasure trove waiting to be opened, with all different sorts of jewels. One such jewel is the Gallerie dell’Accademia. It is full of beautiful Venetian paintings up to the 18th century.
Another place I visited which was more on the contemporary side of art: the Jan Fabre glass and bone sculptures exhibition. It was simultaneously weird and cool, with many of the sculptures made out of human bone. The exhibition was an intriguing way to represent humanity’s mortality.
Just walking the streets I saw plenty sculptures and art projects all over the place, and it’s not surprising. In a place like Venice it would be hard not to try find some way to express the beauty of the place.
A must-do in Venice is the Piazza San Marco. It contains the Doge’s Palace, St Mark’s Campanile and St Mark’s Basilica.
St Mark’s has imposing and beautiful structures that are begging to be entered. I unfortunately missed out on the basilica but absolutely loved the Doge’s place. The Campanile gives a great aerial view of Venice, but unfortunately I was quite late and it was starting to get a bit too dark. The Piazza is obviously packed with tourists and unfortunately also with pigeons, which make your life flash before your eyes when they come within a hair’s distance of hitting you. If there is just one place that you are able to visit in Venice, make it the Piazza San Marco.
I definitely would like to visit Venice again at some point later on in life.
Now for the place that I would say stands on it’s own away from the rest of the places I visited. Purely because unlike the everywhere else which was a vibrant, living city, Pompeii was the remains of one.
Pompeii is a place I have wanted to visit since the first time I learned of it. An actual piece of history, still standing in the modern era, it was like Christmas in July for a history nut like myself.
Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash during the eruption of mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, which killed many of the inhabitants of the city. It was lost in time for centuries but was thankfully rediscovered. The city is fantastically preserved and is about as close to a time machine as we can get to.
Once I had walked along the road entering the city I visited an exhibition that holds the possessions and people who once lived in one of the best preserved houses in Pompeii. The inhabitants were frozen in ash, eternally cocooned in their killer, holding the same stance that they held in their last moments of life. It is a thoroughly haunting scene. A mother clings onto her child, the child’s arms are outstretched, trying to clutch anything that could save them. You can even see parts of the skull showing at the back just to remind you of their humanity.
There is so much to see in Pompeii … the plenitude of ancient wine bars, shops, extravagant homes and not so extravagant brothels. There’s temples, spas, courthouses, it is a city that is both parts alive and dead. It’s empty of its original life but at the same time a bursting metropolis of tourists, and history.
The fact I visited Pompeii on a wet and rainy day meant other than a few fellow visitors the place was quite quiet. It was easy to be caught up in the emptiness of the place, it holds a certain kind of tranquillity, a peace, you find yourself wandering and becoming oblivious to time or care, and before you know it, it’s already closing time.
I would wholeheartedly recommend Pompeii for a visit, it has such an ancient soul that you can almost picture the city back before the eruption claimed it. I would like to visit again at some point as well and try to get to the parts I didn’t get to see when I was there.
Now although I truly did love Italy, I was also surprised by the amount of poverty that I saw there. I have been told the further south you go the worst it gets.
There were beggars all around, I had one even come up to me after a meal, just wanting to devour the few scraps that I had left.
It was truly upsetting to see, I stopped counting the amount of homeless on the streets after it became a tedious task. It gave me a whole new perspective on how lucky I am to live in Scotland – which itself isn’t short on homelessness. However Italy’s lack of a welfare system on the same level as ours really did make a massive difference.
From the anarchist graffiti that I saw all over Italy and the conversations I had with the locals, just told me how frustrated the people of Italy are. The political turmoil and corruption is a parasite that has been poisoning Italy for decades now. It really is upsetting to see such a beautiful country crippled by such problems.
Despite this I will undoubtedly visit Italy again. I love the place from the food, culture, and the history.
And now comes the time to close the chapter on my travels of Italy (for the time being at least). I want to thank everyone who made Italy such an unforgettable experience. From the fellow travellers and hopefully long time friends I made, the locals who were always helpful and gave me there insights on there home, my parents who gave me some money allowing me to head off when I did, and to Roger my mentor who made sure that my blog posts weren’t riddled with grammatical errors.
I will hopefully head off travelling again and obviously be announcing it to the world with this blog (apologies world). But I have nothing concrete as of yet, so until then, goodbye for now.