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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Anthea Chui: Travelling in Italy

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    30 Sep

    Hopping on trains and a ferry across Italy I visited six cities in two weeks. Our longest trip was nine hours, with the scenery flashing from urban flats to volcanic mountains. Taking recommendations from locals, we spent the day sweltering at tourist spots and evenings on walks down lit streets full of restaurants outside of which friends would talk into the night. We were on a tight budget so made daily trips to the closest Lidl and prepared our meals within the comfort of our apartments. We made sure to never miss a train or a reservation, or an ice cream on the hottest of days.

    Flying into Milan we quickly took a train to Venice. After some trouble with Google maps showing the wrong address, we were greeted by our friendly non-English speaking hosts. That night we wandered through a still Venice as the clouds were lit up by lightning. However, the city was completely different the next day; it was hard to squeeze passed crowds on the narrow bridges although just as easy to get lost walking through the winding alleys as the night before.

    Next we went to Florence, where we agreed would be the most ideal place to live of the cities we visited. It had all the charm of Italian roads, bridges and cathedrals without masses of tourists. I felt privileged to be able to visit the Uffizi gallery and walk through hundreds of works, of course visiting the famous pieces by Botticelli. I never realised before how different it is to see a painting in person so was disappointed with my photos that did not seem to accurately capture the painting.

    In Rome we particularly had to plan routes through the city to see as many sites as possible. It was riddled with street vendors who correctly deducted that a group of six girls must be tourists, which meant perfecting a disinterested expression when we saw any approaching. A place I’ve always wanted to visit, ancient Rome did not disappoint with its impressive ruins and history. I’d assumed these ruins would be in an enclosure, or some open space, so was shocked when we got off the subway and were greeted with the colosseum across the road. One of the most awe-inspiring moments was walking into the Sistine chapel and seeing the murals I’ve only ever seen close-up snapshots of. The Vatican City had the most intricately painted ceilings I’ve encountered which made it hard to walk through since I was constantly looking up.

    Our time in Naples was brief as we visited Herculaneum and Sorrento on a day trip. The well-preserved state of Herculaneum made it feel as if we were in the middle of a town and we couldn’t resist visiting every single house we could find. In Sorrento we met generous restaurant owners and shop keepers, who were eager for us to stay and try their food. The train we took was notorious for pick-pocketing so we were very vigilant as a few days earlier we had a close encounter with a woman rifling through my friend’s bag. Naples itself was unlike any of the cities we had visited before and we stuck to the main roads, following advice we had received before the trip, instead of wandering down side streets. This was because we felt threatened by loitering groups of people and many of the roads were not well lit.

    A nine-hour train journey, with a break to stretch on a ferry, took us to Palermo. By this time my Italian had only stretched to the point of simple greetings and ‘thank you’, but surprisingly my little knowledge of Spanish meant I could understand more than I could speak. An elderly Italian woman lent me her magazine for the trip, laughing when she realised ‘non comprendo italiano’. I attempted to read about yoga tips and healthy diets. For our last meal in Italy, a kindly restaurant owner encouraged us to sample his wine free of charge which summed up my impression of Italians as generous, excited to meet new people and often quite happy.

    Overall I had a great experience with organising and carrying out my trip. Although it was stressful every time we had to book an apartment, or a train was late, or we were anticipating what kind of host we would have next, it was the first time I had complete choice over what I could do next to make the most of my time in these cities. I don’t know if it could have been any better!