Welcome back to the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge 2012!* You may have noticed, I missed a couple weeks. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling super inspired by the last few prompts and I didn’t want to force a blog post that I just wasn’t into.
But here we are in Week 9 with a prompt all about Italy – one of the few countries I have visited multiple times!
To be exact, this week’s prompt is:
What’s the best indie travel experience you’ve had in Italy? Or, if you’ve never been, what’s the place you’d like to go in Italy more than any other (and why)? More generally, what do you do when you visit popular places in order to have an indie travel experience?
Italy. I have been twice in the past and will go for a third time in April when I travel to Umbria for the Travel Bloggers Unite conference (more on that in another post).
I usually don’t like to go back to places once I have visited. After all, there are so many other, new, fresh places for me to check out. Italy is a little different, though. I have never explored Italy on my own, completely on my terms. I have never had a true indie travel experience.
When I went for the first time, in the fall of 2001, it was part of a whirlwind, 23-day Contiki tour through much of Western Europe.
It also coincided with two airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City.
While we stopped briefly in Florence before 9/11, we arrived in Rome that afternoon, so most of Rome and Venice were a blur for me. While I went on an evening walking tour of Rome and took about 50 pictures of the Coliseum, I was really just going through the motions. My time in Venice consisted of wandering around the narrow streets in search of an internet café.
I returned to Italy five years later with my mom – our second time traveling together. We started in Sorrento – a place I did not visit in 2001. One day, we took a day trip to visit Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii. Another day, we headed to Amalfi and hiked from the small town on the coast up to Ravello, sitting high up on a cliff. That was a challenge in more way than one. It was an exhausting hike, mostly up steep stone staircases – not exactly what I was expecting. My mom wanted to turn back several times, at one point looking up to Villa Cimbrone in Ravello above us and saying if that was where we were headed, she was stopping then. I had a feeling that was, in fact, our final destination but I lied and said I was sure it wasn’t.
We made it to Ravello and enjoyed some amazing views from the Terrace of Infinity at the Villa Cimbrone before heading back to Amalfi, this time with a canine companion following us the entire way. We reached Amalfi mid-afternoon and, while we had planned to stop in Positano for dinner before returning to Sorrento, I wasn’t sure where to get off the bus and we ended up missing the stop. That set an uncomfortable tone for the rest of the evening as I felt like my mom blamed me for making us miss one of the stops she was anticipating the most.
Our second stop was Rome, which seemed completely different to me this time around. While we visited all of the must-sees, the thing that stands out the most is when a group of gypsy girls accosted us within a couple hours of arriving. We were walking down a sidewalk near the Roman Forum, with excavations occurring on either side. As a result, for a stretch of the way, we were completely fenced in. During that stretch, a girl pretending to be pregnant and holding a cardboard sign begging for help approached us from the front just as two of her friends came up to us from behind. Luckily, I had my money in a money belt under my jeans and my shoulder bag had enough zippered pockets that there was no way they could get into it. I just started yelling and kept walking, urging my mom to do the same.
It was a rattling experience but surprisingly, my mom seemed unfazed. Or maybe she was so shaken that she just couldn’t say anything because I don’t recall her saying a single word afterwards.
Our final stop was Florence – a city in which I spent less than 24 hours in 2001 and about 18 of those hours were drunk or hungover. Therefore, I had a definite list of wanted I wanted to see. Unfortunately, my mom was kind of over sightseeing by this point and just wanted to shop, so we split up. We met up again in the evening for dinner, going to a place that I picked out while exploring during the day. While we had been in Italy for nearly a week, this would be our first, true, sit-down Italian meal. Crazy, right? The restaurant ended up being a blast, with fun waiters serving up delicious food. We even got American flags in our Tiramisu. It was so good that mom insisted on returning the next night.
When I head to Italy for the third time in April, it will be for “business” and not so much for sightseeing, although I am planning on at least one extra day in Rome. So I am sure more trips to Italy are in my future. I still want to hike from town to town in the Cinque Terre. I want to visit the island of Capri and spend more time exploring the Amalfi Coast. I want to visit Siena as more than just a day trip and I want to discover parts of the country that I really don’t even know much about yet.
Have you been to Italy? What is your favorite city outside of Rome and Florence?
*The Indie Travel Challenge 2012 is a weekly community blogging effort in which travelers from around the world share their stories. For every week in 2012, BootsnAll will post a prompt, question, or even a challenge.