My very first solo trip out of the US was to the beautiful country of Italy. I had a friend living in Milan at the time and decided in my 26th year of life, it was time to see the world.. or at least get started on it. I found a round trip plane ticket for around $800 from Portland, Oregon over Thanksgiving so I purchased it, packed my bags and headed to Italy! My time in Italy was split between Milan and Venice (with a quick solo jaunt over to Paris, France for a few days.)
Milan isn’t the most spectacular city in terms of things to do and see, however I have such fond memories of exploring, adventuring with my friend and experiencing Italy for the first time that to me it was amazing. One of the first things that sticks out in my mind about Milan is the cars/traffic. First of all, you simply don’t see SUV’s or trucks lining the streets of Milan – instead everyone has small, economic style cars which are probably much more efficient than the ones we’re used to seeing in the US. Second, if there aren’t any designated parking spots on the street, the locals instead pick a nice resting spot IN the street and hop out of their car to run errands. It happened more than once while driving around town where we were caught up in traffic caused by somebody parking their car in the middle of the street to run into the market or a pharmacy. If unable to park IN the street for whatever reason, they simply pull the car up on the sidewalk and park it there. The first few days of walking around Milan I would giggle to myself anytime I saw this and my friend Cecilia who had lived in Milan nearly her whole life would make comments about how she had never noticed it before! For locals growing up there, this is simply the way things are done – nothing new to see. For a foreigner used to somewhat strict traffic laws, it was a sight worthy of discussion and a few photos.
I spent my time in Milan walking the old cobblestone roads taking photos, eating delicious gelato & pizza, watching old men play bocce ball and soaking up the sights of beautiful Italian men with their enchanting accents. I took shots of vodka and sipped lemoncello at a pub where my American accent stood out like a sore thumb, danced to electronic music at a nightclub in the middle of nowhere, took the local metro (an above ground old trolley system) and visited the square where Benito Mussolini was hung after WWII. I visited Duomo and used my high school Spanish in an attempt to converse with people in Italian (some of the words are similar, but I mostly sounded like an idiot speaking jibberish) while wandering around.
About halfway through my trip to Italy I was looking online at Ryan Air which is a European discount airline and found a roundrip ticket over to Paris for less than $10US so I purchased it and told my friend Cecilia I was going to France and would be back in a few days. She took me to the airport, I explored Paris for 48 hours and before I could blink my eyes, was back to Milan.
I spent another few days gorging myself with gelato in Milan before buying a train ticket to Venice on Thanksgiving day. Obviously they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Italy, but this was my first Thanksgiving away from the States and I wanted to do something special for it.
We took the 3 hour train ride from Milan to Venice, hopped off the train and immediately began celebrating. Outside of being downright gorgeous, one of the things that makes Venice so magical is that you can walk around the streets drinking alcohol! When you’re in your mid-twenties, celebrating your first Thanksgiving away from home in a foreign country, this is probably the best gift you can be gifted! Cecilia and I indulged in orange Spritz from a number of different vendors before it started pouring down rain and we ran for cover. Since it was mid-November and very cold, there weren’t a lot of people/tourists out and about so we ducked into a small Italian café where we were the only patrons. We were greeted by the chef/owner and after we explained we were both vegan, he told us to forget the menu and he’d make us something special. We spent the next 30 minutes drinking wine and eating bread while waiting for our feast which turned out to be an incredibly delicious gourmet vegetable risotto. No offense to the Tofurkey I’d dined on for Thanksgiving meals of all the years prior, but this was the best ‘Thanksgiving’ dinner I’d had in years. We ate, drank, laughed and enjoyed ourselves in this café for the next hour or so until the rain let up and then we ventured back outside.
We stopped to take photos of the canals, marveling at the people coming and going straight from their boat – stepping from it to their homes located on the canals without ever touching land. I visited the stunning St. Mark’s Basilica in the town square and watched as hundreds of pigeons were fed by the tourists before walking down the street to purchase souvenir’s of masks and rosary beads as reminders of my time here. I didn’t take a gondola ride while here, saving something for the day when I return here with my husband and children – however I watched a handful of them paddle up and down the canals and marveled at their beauty. I stood at the edge of the island looking out at San Lazzaro degli Armeni which used to be a leper colony but is now a Catholic monastary.
Venice is hands down one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and I can’t wait to bring my family back here someday to experience it for themselves. This trip was my first solo trip out of the country and was my initiation into the world of traveling and how easy it can be. With a little pocket change and a lot of motivation, you can make it work.