After our time in the gorgeous Swiss Alps, we were headed to Italy – the longest leg of the trip. We would start with two days in Milan, then spend a day in each Venice, Florence, and Perugia. From there we would spend 4 days in Rome. As I’m writing this we’re on the train to Rome, and we can’t wait to spend 4 days in one place. We knew that the “one day” stops would be tiring, and they were. They were also enormously worth it, as we got to experience 5 Italian cities rather than just one or two. That said, at this point we’ve barely been able to update photos, respond to emails, or like – breathe. Needless to say, I’m really anxious to spend a few days in one place and get caught up with organizing things, showering, sleeping, and wifi.
Getting to Milan was absolute insanity. We made the mistake of sleeping until 8 and going down to breakfast to look at the trains rather than doing it the night before (you’d think we’d have learned our lesson by now). Turns out the route from the alps to Milan is long (around 5 hours) with lots of stops and various reservations that need to be made. We needed to be at The Last Supper by 4:30 because we had tickets that we spent $100 on, and the timing of the whole operation was not looking good. To make a long story short, we did it – and the day was filled with lots of adrenaline, running with 20+ lb bags on, and narrow misses. By the time we arrived at The Last Supper at 4:30 we were – literally – dripping in sweat from running. Running. In boots and jeans. Finally, all of my training paid off! Ha.
At this point I should point out that our bags are at maximum capacity. We couldn’t pack many toiletries back in the U.S. because we didn’t want to check them, so now the big bottles of lotion and conditioner and things that we’ve bought abroad are taking up a lot of our extra space (and hurting my shoulders quite a bit to hold). Throw in all of the fliers and receipts we’ve accumulated, plus a few snacks, and we’re packed to the brim. We had a long list of people we wanted to pick up fun gifts for as we went, but between the pain of hiking with these things on from trains to hotels (we’ve probably spent a total of around 20 hours this trip with these bags on walking) and the pain of trying to get the bags to close each morning we just have no room. So, if you were expecting a present, know that it breaks our hearts but chances are slim we’ll be able to bring ANYTHING back. The only thing we’ve bought is that sundress I bought in Paris, and that’s worked out well because the weather is warm and I’ve needed it for wearing purposes. We are officially backpackers, and it makes for great abs but no shopping. C’est la vie.
Anyways, the first night in Milan was great. We stayed at an amazing place – a hotel called Ostello Bello that we found via Hostelworld. It didn’t feel like a hostel except for its young and fun energy. We had a private room with a private bath and air conditioning, a terrace outside our room, and great wifi. Downstairs there was a bar and seating area filled with books, tables, and people drinking coffee and getting drinks. Each night we were there the downstairs was packed with locals and tourists at the bar eating the free food they put our for happy hour. The first night we were there there was even live music. It was so fun, and I highly recommend staying there for anyone visiting.
So the first night we were – per usual – starving and exhausted. Our tickets to The Last Supper turned out to be a 2 and a half hour tour of different art sites in Milan ending with The Last Supper. Spending 2+ hours on foot after a day of traveling (and we hadn’t eaten since that hurried 8 am breakfast) and a long and hot sprint to the tour was painful. I was so, so hungry. We tried to have a drink downstairs at the hostel before going to get some food, but were quickly crashing and getting tipsy. Per the recommendation of the girls working there we walked to a locals restaurant about two blocks away with a handwritten menu and really affordable (cheap!) wine.
The dinner was amazing. The restaurant was dim and relaxing, and the girl who worked there was sweet and eager to translate the menu. We ended up with a cheap bottle of wine (ok, 2 cheap bottles of wine.. it was a long day!), asparagus risotto, beef medallions, and parpadelle pasta with duck. We drank a couple bottles of water and talked for a long time, catching up our trip notebook with notes from the last few hurried days. We made our way back to the nearby hostel, and quickly fell asleep.
The next day was Mother’s Day, and after a good night of sleep we enjoyed waking up to a nice little breakfast at the hostel and emailing our moms before a day trip to the famous Lake Como. The weather was warm, sunny, and gorgeous – I was so excited to get to wear shorts and sandals (and even more excited that my shorts still fit after my butter, bread and pasta diet of the last 3 weeks!).
Lake Como was, of course, absolutely stunning. We found an affordable restaurant on the water once we were about 40 minutes from the train station, and settled in to a pizza, lasagna, and a bottle of wine. I thought the pizzas would be tiny since they were only 5 euro, but once it arrived (full size and not small at all) we realized that I had ordered too much food. This was one of the moments where all of the running/walking/traveling had caught up with us – we ate everything on the table and didn’t even feel full. We started back on our gin series, for the first time started some wedding planning (!!!) and finishing a bottle of wine (I stopped mid-way to call my mom – the first time we’ve talked since we left, and was wonderful especially in spite of the engagement and stuff), and then walked around the town as the sun began to set.
We got on the train back to Milan around 7 pm, and by the time we were in Milan central we were disappointed (but not surprised) once we realized that everything was closed because it was Sunday evening. We ended up on another long trek to find dinner – walking and walking and walking – until we ended up at a fairly nice restaurant (not in the budget or the plan, but our stomachs were louder than our heads!) where we got mushroom risotto and pasta carbonara to go.
The risotto ended up being incredible – one of the best we’ve ever had. There was an amazing cheese melted in, and it was heavily seasoned with saffron. Of course I’m sure it was all butter and cream, but after a day in the sun and an evening of walking that was the last thing I cared about. We showered and watched a couple episodes of Bob’s Burgers in bed (our favorite), and fell into another heavy sleep around 11:30.
The next morning we were off to our 8 am train to Venice. This means we had to be up at 6, and left the hostel after a small breakfast (toast and coffee, there wasn’t time for much else). The best part about the early morning trains is that it’s cool and quiet outside, giving you a chance to see the city without the hot sun and chaos that has started by the time we normally arrive. The cool air makes it much more pleasant (and less sweaty) hauling the heavy bags on our backs, which is very welcome. At this stage we were almost completely out of clean clothes, and the increasingly warm weather was making our dirty clothes smellier and grosser much faster. We were craving showers, water, a bigger breakfast, more sleep and to not smell… but alas – there was a train to catch.
We made it with plenty of time to spare to our 8 am train, and arrived in Venice a little before noon. The train rides have become a real place of solace – we read (I finished Last Train to Dachau and am almost done with The Time Machine, Chase just finished The Great Gatsby), we work on crossword puzzles, we nap, and I catch up on blog posts.
We had been warned a lot about Venice – that it had become so overrun with tourists that it was almost impossible to enjoy, and that it had become so expensive that we were going to be lucky to get a good meal. I was apprehensive getting in – and from there it didn’t feel better for awhile. When we emerged from the train station right around high noon the sun was beating down and the narrow streets were packed with tourists. There’s nothing like being in a new city with a labyrinth of small, windy streets being packed between people, with heavy bags and a hot sun. Our hotel was quite a walk from the main train station, about 30 minutes away (but by the time we found it with all of the mapping and rerouting) it took us about 45 minutes – very hot and sweaty and sore minutes – to get there.
The hotel was adorable. It was a B&B owned by this eccentric, tiny black woman who was fluent in Italian and French and English, although my French helped make up for her lacks in English. Our room was huge – it had this enormous double bed, elaborate (very Venetian) flourishes, and 3 little couches. The hotel had an adorable little deck and outdoor patios, and we had our own huge bathroom. All I could think about was having an hour to shower and shave my legs and blow-dry my hair and feel something like a woman again.
We spent the afternoon exploring Venice, since we only had one day there, and – of course – did hours of walking. By the time mid-afternoon came the city had calmed, and the foot traffic was only a small fraction of what it was when we arrived. I understand what people were saying (Joey eloquently explained that current Venice is sort of like Disneyland Venice, all tourists and souvenirs of the Venice experience in what was once Venice). He was right, and we laughed as we walked through the many streets of souvenir shops. Once we were out of the heart of the city, though, it was incredibly beautiful. There were windy streets that were largely residential and felt just like the pictures you’ve always seen – cobblestone, laundry hanging on lines between the buildings, pigeons in quiet little squares.
We walked to a beautiful little park that wasn’t packed at all – there was the hustle and bustle of boats and water taxis, couples sitting on park benches, and occasional runner – but it didn’t feel any more crowded than Lake Como or anywhere else we’ve been on a beautiful day. We sat at the water, which was probably the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen and joked about buying a boat and a retirement home there (haha yeah right, how about we just start with buying some air conditioning at home…).
That night we went back to the hotel to have some wine and play gin (a reoccurring theme) before I showered to regroup for dinner. It was really cool because there was a little wine shop right under the place we were staying, and you could buy a bottle, or you could buy it really cheaply by the liter. We drink Malbec at home, and they had a huge barrel of Malbec with a spout for 1.5 euro a liter. They filled us a HUGE empty plastic water bottle for 3 euros! This was one of the best moments I had had in a long time, haha.
The woman who owned the B&B told us we had to go to a certain restaurant for dinner and had made us a reservation for 8. We were a bit apprehensive about how expensive it might be, but we checked it out online and it didn’t look too too bad, and we were starving (of course) after a day of walking, and we had one night in Venice – so we figured we might as well try it out. When I went in to shower Chase met another group of guys traveling – two from Australia and one from Japan – and he got to bond and have some (much needed, I’m sure) “guy time” while I got to shower and feel “dressed up” for the first time in over a week. Granted, I was wearing dirty jeans and the same black t-shirt I’ve worn the whole trip, but at least my legs were shaved, my hair was blown straight, and I had makeup on!
The restaurant was wonderful. It was the first really elegant meal we’d had the whole trip, and it was absolutely stunning. We shared an appetizer platter, then the special pasta with lobster. It was creamy and rich – one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The city was gorgeous at night. It was a Monday so everything was quiet, yet bustling, and we drank a bit too much wine and laughed walking around the city at night.
The guys he’d met had given Chase a couple passes to the water taxis, so rather than walking back we figured why not try it out (plus, I really wanted to try a boat after we hadn’t done it in Amsterdam or Paris). Well, it’s kind of hard to read the maps and we had no idea what we were doing – so we ended up getting on a boat going an entirely different direction. We ended up riding the boat around for awhile – maybe 30 minutes or so – before it returned to our original stop and, laughing hysterically, we worked our way back to our B&B. At one stop in the beautiful, quiet winding streets Chase got down on one knee and “re-proposed,” making me of course cry and laugh and all sorts of things. It was so romantic.
By the time we had walked all the way back, I crawled into bed absolutely spent – I was completely exhausted. Venice turned out to be one of my absolute favorite days.
We woke up the next morning for another early train ride. We had tickets to the Uffilzi museum and the Statue of David, so we wanted to make sure we got there in time to settle into our hotel, drop our bags off, and get to our destinations.
Obviously, after our (not enough) 6 or 7 hours of sleep it was killer weaving our way back out of the Venice labyrinth – everything on our backs again – and to the train station, but we did it with time to spare (we’re getting really good at this!).
We arrived in Florence right around 11 am, starving (per usual). At this point my phone decided to stop using cellular data to get us internet, making it impossible for me to Google Map us to our hotel. We were hot, our bags were getting enormously painful, but after about an hour of walking and calling our hotel and navigating the bus system we had arrived at our hotel. From there, though, everything was really easy. Florence ended up being tiny, and we our hotel was right next to the museum and the statue of David. Our room wouldn’t be ready until 2 (and our museum tickets were for 2:15) so we dropped off our bags and headed out for the day.
Silently, since we were too hungry and thirsty to even talk, we worked out way through the city towards the museum. When we found a cute restaurant we stopped and got a much-needed protein heavy meal. It was clearly reheated from the buffet they served on the other side, btu we didn’t even care. I had roast chicken with potatoes and veggies, and Chase had an omelet with veggies. He ate the whole basket of bread silently, and I downed a big bottle of cold water. Once we had eaten our meals the blood and sugar began moving through our brains again, and we were able to function.
The rest of the afternoon was really, really fun. Florence was gorgeous, of course. The Ulfizzi museum cracked us up (I know, we’re so unsophisticated). It was just, the old Italian art really did not paint flattering a Jesus, and everyone looked like they were stoned. We quickly loosened up, and Chase started re-captioning all of the artwork and had me laughing hysterically. We weren’t supposed to take pictures but I did sneak a couple – including one of the Birth of Venus, which was incredible to see.
At this point it was around 4 pm, and we had been walking all day besides our lunch at noon. Our feet were beginning to ache again, so we sat on a bench and worked on a crossword puzzle. By the time we could feel our legs again, and had each downed a liter of water, we headed over to see the Statue of David.
The Statue of David was probably one of the most incredible things I’ve seen in my entire life. You walk into a room with tons of unfinished Michelangelo sculptures, then turn a corner and there he is – enormous, regal, gorgeous. The whole room is standing in awe. We held hands and just stared at him, humbled, impressed, and so grateful that we had squeezed this stop in on the trip.
During our walk to lunch we had noticed a laundromat a couple blocks from our hotel, and we immediately knew what our evening activity would be. I put on the sundress from Paris since it was warm and that way I could wash every single top and pair of pants/leggings/shorts in my bag, and we took EVERYTHING to the laundromat. It was getting late and we were getting tired and hungry, so we went to the convenience store next door and bought a bottle of wine and some snacks. We spent a hilarious and wonderful evening doing laundry and playing cards in the laundromat, and then went to a local little Italian place recommended and got some takeout for dinner.
The dinner was weird – by the time we ate it the gnocchi was soggy, and we ordered the chicken with zucchini (trying to get something healthy in our stomachs) and it was just fried pieces of zucchini and fried pieces of chicken. It felt like bar food or something. Since it wasn’t necessarily a cheap meal we were bummed it didn’t taste better, but we were starving and way past the point of caring. Luckily they included huge pieces of fresh bread, and that helped fill us up. We ate it all and watched our last episode of Bob’s Burgers, and I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.
We slept in a bit – 8 hours of sleep! – and woke up at 8 to pack for Perugia. We planned for an 11 am train, and stopped at a Subway on the way to get something (hopefully) healthy and cheap for breakfast after the gut-bomb that was our dinner the night before. The Subway experience was, needless to say, one of the most hilarious of our trip so far.
I don’t know what was going on, but it was a mess. Nothing in the counter was prepared or ready for customers, the back was stacked with boxes, and everything just looked like a mess – it looked like they were moving or something. The guy came out from the back – a big guy in sweatpants – and seemed apprehensive at the idea of having to make sandwiches. We got egg sandwiches, and he charged us extra for lettuce (is that a thing?) after DROWNING my food in honey mustard. He then spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out how to work their espresso machine (the only coffee they had) before turning on blaring Justin Timberlake music and leaving us alone in the store to go to the bank to get some change. He just took off and went to the bank. I don’t think he’s worked there long. Either way, it was hilarious.
Still laughing we got the train station with time to spare. We arrived in Perugia around 2 and arrived at “The Chocolate Hotel” which I was way too overeager to book. It was pretty far outside of the town, but that was alright because it was really close to the train station. Getting up into town took us about 30 minutes, but it was straight uphill. I was glad I had booked a hotel closer to the train station than Perugia central, because walking up that hill with our bags would have been murder.
The hotel was frustrating – the pool we’d been looking forward to for our sore muscles wasn’t open (they open it in June even though the weather is so, so warm), the wifi wouldn’t work, our air conditioning was off, yada yada yada. But we only had one night in Perugia, so we sucked it up and headed out to make the most of the night.
Unlike the last few days, the weather was cool and a bit rainy. We headed out at around 3:30, and by the time we had reached the city at the top of the hill it was around 4:30 (that hour was a straight uphill trek – it felt like the Stairmaster), and we were – you already know what I’m going to say – starving. We went to Perugia because my brother did study abroad there and loved it, and we wanted to see where he had been so we could picture it with him. He had given us a Google Map and plotted some places to go and things to see, but my cellular data still wasn’t working and it was hard navigating around the tiny, windy, confusing streets with just the screenshot of the map he sent. After another hour or so of walking around, we were about to break with fatigue and exhaustion, so we gave up and just found somewhere to sit and get something to eat.
Although it was tiring, I’m so, so glad we did so much walking – Perugia is breathtaking. From the top of the city you can overlook rolling hills as far as you can see. It is the perfect, picturesque, little Italian town. We talked about Joey a lot and realized why he had fallen in love with it like he did. If I could redo our itinerary I would try and squeeze in another day there.
We got our brains to start operating again over a bottle of wine and big plate of cold cuts, cheese, and warm pita bread (which I ordered a second basket of). Since Europeans share my obsession for cheese and wine it’s always easy it seems to get delicious cheese and wine at a cheap price, and I’m going to struggle going home and losing that. Once we ate we felt much better, per usual, and needed to find a place to eat. We heard about a restaurant – La Taverna – and (thank The Lord) was only about two blocks from where we were sitting. We hobbled over there, satiated from our cheese snack but knowing our bodies were craving far more sustenance after the hike of navigating that city all afternoon) and got seated around 10 minutes before closing time.
The restaurant looked really nice – probably a bit out of budget – but we had barely spent any money all day and didn’t have the energy to go find something else. The head chef was a big Italian guy, and he visited all of the tables chatting to people and helping them decide on their meal. When he came to us he asked us where we were from, and we shared stories about Aspen (one of his favorite places in the world) and Denver. We didn’t know what to order since the whole menu was in Italian, so we asked his suggestions. He suggested a “custom” meal of a traditional meat and cheese appetizer (which we had already had some of during our appetizer stop, but couldn’t say no to more…), then a small plate each of grilled white fish followed by a small plate each of veal.
The dinner was incredible. It was the first clean, non-cheese and pasta heavy meal we’ve had since I can remember. The fish was incredible, and the veal was the best I’ve ever had. It was served in this beautiful creamy dijon sauce, and I literally licked my plate.
After dinner we headed back down to the hotel, which was much easier downhill than up. We quickly passed out, per usual. Although I wasn’t crazy about the chocolate hotel, our room was pitch black, cold, and silent until we got up the next morning – so I’m not complaining. Worth every penny.
From Perugia we got on the train to Rome, where we are now (and I’m writing from). From here we go to the south of France, and then over to Spain to Barcelona and Madrid. And then… home! We’ll keep writing. Thank you so much everyone for following our adventure. We miss you!