From September 29th – October 5th, my friend Moriah and I backpacked across Italy. It was the most emotionally stressful thing I have gone through in a long time. I learned many lessons about traveling and humanity; luckily, I made it through.
Starting from Heidelberg, we took an eleven-hour bus ride to Venice through the night. Once in Venice, we took a city tour with a fabulous guide, Claudio. He showed us around the most historic parts of Venice and gave us great insight into Venetian culture. He told us how the islands are all man-made, something I would never have known if we had not gone on the tour.
The city of Venice is known to be overrun by tourists and extremely expensive; I must say, this is all true. However, Venice is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The Grand Canal, Piazza San Marco, Doges Palace and the 148 churches in Venice make it such a unique and beautiful place to visit. Venice was by far the highlight of my time in Italy.
After Venice, Moriah and I went to Milan, where we met up with Chelsea Wolf, a fellow CSP student studying abroad this semester. At the European Study Center, where I live in Germany, we have an intern from Milan; between her suggestions and Chelsea, we had a relaxing day exploring Milan. Chelsea met Moriah and I at the Milan train station and showed us around for the day. Our first stop was Milan’s beautiful Duomo. Unfortunately, we were unable to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper, but Chelsea took us to get the best gelato I had ever had so that made up for missing the artwork. Meeting up with someone from CSP was such great relief from culture shock and such a great opportunity to exchange our experiences abroad so far.
We left Milan and headed to Rome on Sunday evening. This is where Moriah and I learned our first important lesson: Hostels are often inaccurately pictured on their booking website. If we had seen real pictures of what this hostel was like, there is no way we would have booked it. Lesson number two: check if there is an age limit to staying in the hostel, especially if you decide to stay in a mixed dorm (meaning a dorm with both males and females). To make a long story short, Moriah and I were both so uncomfortable with our hostel that we had to find different accommodations for the next two nights in Rome.
We did two major tours while in Rome. The first major tour we did was a “faith and art” tour of the Vatican museums on Monday, October 2nd; the second was the Colosseum. The Vatican is absolutely breathtaking and the only reason I can say Rome was not the worst experience of my life. The Sistine Chapel made me speechless. Besides the Louvre in Paris, I had never seen so many beautiful art pieces in one space. We had gotten our passes ahead of time and were so thankful to be able to skip the 3-hour line into St. Peter’s.
Later that day, we went back to our creepy hostel to pick up our luggage to take to our new accommodations. On our way back to our new place, Moriah and I took a city bus. I have never been sketched out by public transportation or uneasy about taking it at night; after this experience I definitely am. We had to ride the bus for about 25 minutes before we got off. When I heard our stop coming up, I stood up and went to the side door, with my purse in front of me and my backpack on my back. There was a man by the side door who kept bumping into me; I didn’t think anything of it because it just seemed like he couldn’t catch his balance. Well, the bus stopped and we got off; that’s when I realized my purse was much lighter than it was about two minutes prior. The man wasn’t catching his balance, he was opening my purse and taking my wallet with my passport, credit cards, and all my cash in it.
This is where I learned another very important lesson: Italian police do not care about tourists being robbed. We went immediately to the nearest police station where we were promptly told there was nothing to do. Is it just me or should the police at least have asked me where, when, and how it happened?
Well, this gave me the chance to learn another lesson: having a law student as your RA is a great thing when you are stranded in Italy without a passport. After calling my mom and getting my credit cards frozen, I called Jonas, my RA from the ESC for advice on what to do. He quickly calmed me down and told me to go to the American consulate first thing in the morning. Moriah and I listened to his advice and went to sleep with the intention of getting to the consulate by 8:00am the next morning.
When I woke up the next morning I learned my next lesson: GERMANS ARE AWESOME, CARING PEOPLE. At 7:00am on October 3rd, I woke up to the best message I had ever received. A German lady had messaged me saying she had found my passport in Rome. After about an hour of back and forth trying to figure out where to meet, Moriah and I took a taxi ride to a Best Western about an hour from Rome. The robber had only taken my cash and the German lady and her friend had found my whole wallet with my passport and cards still in it. I could get out of Italy! The Germans we met in Italy were honestly the best people I could have asked to meet at the time.
By the time we got back into Rome and calmed down from the whole passport ordeal, it was mid-afternoon of our last day in Rome. We decided to go to the Colosseum and Roman Forum. We joined one of those “skip-the-line” tours and had a good afternoon considering all the stress we had gone through in the last 48-hours.
Wednesday morning, Moriah and I were more than ready to get out of Rome. We took the train to Naples, from where we were to go to Pompeii. This is where I learned another lesson about Italy: Italians have terrible signage and give even worse directions. We missed our private Pompeii tour and by the time we figured out where we were, it was too late to go at all. We went back to Naples and packed up for our flight the next morning feeling defeated by Italy.
Overall, my week in Italy started so great, but I ended the week more emotionally exhausted than I had ever been in my life. I cannot explain the panic I felt when my wallet and passport were stolen; I don’t think I’ve ever felt so desperate. When we missed our tour of Pompeii, I was so disappointed. Pompeii was the number one thing I wanted to do in Italy. I honestly just wanted to sit in the train station and cry. Italy just kept kicking us.
That week taught me a lot of lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn and I’m not sure I would ever do it again, but I made it through and I have some good stories from it. I am proud we made it through a whole week with only a backpack’s worth of items. I kept it together and did what I had to do. It’s okay when plans fall through, I learned. I have my health and my safety. I am alive and healthy; sometimes that is all you need.
The biggest lesson this week taught me: Traveling isn’t always great and that’s okay. Keep going.