Before we left for Italy, I'd made my mind up. I was finally going to kick my arse into gear and grasp the opportunity to create some beautiful travel content, no matter how many glasses of wine I'd have to delay to get ~ that shot ~.
That should have been my first clue that it wasn't going to work out. When have I ever delayed a glass of wine, for anything?
The first few days started off strong. I swept into our Milan Airbnb and immediately brandished my camera like a weapon against unpacking, rapidly snapping every corner of the apartment with the vision of an extensive 'where we stayed' post in mind. The second stop I was slightly less enthusiastic; the apartment was clean, comfortable, but not that cute, and whilst I was trying to spruce it up by opening every window in sight, Keir poked his head around the corner of the bedroom door to ask 'why are you taking photos of this?'.
And then the third stop? Well, by that point I was 50% alcohol, 40% pasta and 10% holiday sex-ed out, so there wasn't any room left for creativity and imagination. I'd resigned myself to the occasional Instagram post, and I honestly, I was happy with it.
It's really difficult to capture holiday "content" when you're sharing that time with other people. This was a trip that we'd planned and paid for as a group, and so it felt like a bit of a liberty to either ask everyone to wait whilst I titted around with the manual settings on my camera, or to separate the group and force Keiran to miss out on what should have been his time to relax. And my time to relax, too. I was on holiday. I wasn't working. I didn't have to document everything if I didn't want to.
More than that, I'm actually shite at holiday content. I'm not a travel blogger so that hardly comes as a surprise, but sometimes it does feel like there is this looming expectation to constantly diversify. Fashion Instagrammer, YouTuber, IGTVer, travel blogger, podcaster, author - the list is exhaustive. But I'm just crap at it, and I have to admit that. I can't make a view look good even with a thousand VSCO filters thrown over the top of it, and the only way I can make holiday shots make sense is to shove my big ole' head in the middle of them. Oh you like this serene lake, huh? Well have some moRE OF ME IN IT.
I have, however, had quite a few questions about how we organised our trip, where our favourite spots were and where we'd go back to, so I did want to do some kind of a brief round-up, peppered with the Instagram pics which prove I did in fact leave the UK for two weeks.
In terms of deciding where to go, we came up with a shortlist of locations and then simply pulled up a map of Italy and started eliminating those that would be tricky to travel to or weren't a must-see. We chose six locations in total: Milan, Malcesine and Venice in the first week, and Florence, Rome and Sorrento in the second. If we were to take the trip again, I would definitely cut down on the amount of places we incorporated into our visit. We managed to see a lot in a short space of time, but travelling so often becomes a bit of a chore and it would have been much better to do less for longer.
We flew into Milan and then travelled around via train using our Interrail Premium Pass. We had to take a couple of buses for a few of the stops, but nothing too difficult that a Google search couldn't help with. The high-speed and most comfortable of Italian trains all require reservations which come free with the Premium Pass, but if you opt for the regular pass you have to pay a fee for each booking. It's worth noting that the Interrail Pass is quite overpriced; if you have the time and patience to book each train individually, you'll travel for a lot cheaper, but ultimately I found comfort in having Interrail Customer Services to call if anything was to go wrong.
Every train we caught was comfortable and quick. The only one I'd say to avoid is the Naples - Sorrento Circumvesuviana. Naples train station was dodgy as fuck and we all felt quite uncomfortable having people quite openly leer over our shoulder whenever we had to get money out, and even though most of the unsavoury characters depart the train itself after a few stops, you still have to be super vigilant with your belongings and luggage. The journey is doable, but honestly, I wouldn't want to do it again. It is a rather well-known one off, though; other than the brief time we spent in and exiting Naples, I always felt super safe in Italy.
Now, onto the trip...
First stop: Milan. We'd heard mixed reviews beforehand from some of our friends, so we were a little sceptical as to how enjoyable it was actually going to be. Turns out I loved it, and it quickly became one of my favourite city stops. Our Airbnb was located in Brera, the bohemian district of the city, which is teeming with art and history and restaurants and lots of young, good-looking Italians. As soon as we dropped our bags off in our apartment, we immediately headed out for some food and exploring. There were tonnes of eateries to choose from and, of course, all had wonderful outdoor seating and giant glasses of wine. Price-wise I didn't find Milan too expensive at all, and compared with some of the other cities we visited, it was probably one of the most reasonable. In terms of sightseeing, you of course have the stunning Milan Cathedral as well as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II with it's high-end shops and unbelievable architecture, but it's also just a beautiful city to wander around and explore. It was very clean, not too busy, and it felt both modern but authentically Italian at the same time. I can't wait to go back.
Airbnb: "Relaxing Oasis in Brera"
Must do: Make a beeline for Luini, behind the Cathedral. It's famous for its Panzerotti and well worth the queue.
Second stop: Malcesine, Lake Garda. By far our favourite location from the whole trip, we were honestly taken aback by how beautiful this place was. You know when you go somewhere, and every 10 minutes someone says 'I can't believe how amazing this is'? This was that. Lake Garda is the biggest lake in Italy so there are numerous towns to choose from when deciding where you'll stay, but we opted for Malcesine because it hosts a cable car up to the top of Monte Baldo. Whilst basic, our Airbnb apartment couldn't be faulted for its central location, and the window from the living room looked out onto the lake which was lovely to wake up to every morning. Malcesine is quite a small town but the winding back streets are peppered with restaurants and bars, all super generous (complimentary bread, prosecco (!!) and Limoncello come at me) and a lot with outside seating which border the water. One day the boys went paddle boarding whilst I sunbathed and made friends with the local ducks, and then we hired a boat and explored the lake from the water. The next, we made our way up the mountain and strolled around taking in the views, drinking Italian beer and overindulging on every kind of pasta going. There's plenty to do but the pace is relaxed, and if you stay for a longer period of time you can easily catch a ferry to the other popular Garda towns. If I was to recommend anywhere to visit in Italy, this would be it.
Must do: I hate water so this was fucking terrifying, but I would definitely recommend hiring a boat for an hour or two and sailing around at leisure. The views are incredible.
Third stop: Venice. I had high hopes for Venice, but it turned out to be my least favourite location of the whole trip. It's a city that seems to divide opinion, too; when I shared on Instagram that I wasn't particuarly digging it, some people agreed and some couldn't help but profess their love. A bit like marmite then, I guess? I should start by saying that Venice is beautiful. The architecture and canals are as incredible as you expect, and there is a distinct charm that you can't help but appreciate when you're wandering around the alleyways. However, it is super busy, and super expensive. I had lots of people encouraging us to detour from the main canals and find some foodie places in the backstreets, but weren't staying in a particularly central location and we still found the quieter places to be a bit pricey. I don't mind paying more when the quality is good, but at one point I ended up shelling out €8 for a glass of wine that I honestly finished in three sips. We were in a group of five by this time, too, so it was a little more tricky to find decent restaurants at reasonable prices that could fit us all in, especially during the busy evening periods. There are, I'm sure, plenty of wonderful places to eat and drink that would have ticked all of our boxes, but we only spent two nights and one full day in the city so we didn't want to have to spend all of our time searching. In hindsight, a little more research would have gone a long way. For me, it was a city to tick off the list and I'm glad I've experienced it, but I'm not sure I would go back. Much more of a Milan girl at heart.
Must do: We didn't actually do this ourselves, but I saw lots of people touring the quieter canals by gondola at night time and it looked peaceful af.
Fourth stop: Florence. So Florence is going to be a short entry because we got so extremely wasted on our first night, that we spent 90% of the following day lying down in our Airbnb and ordering McDonalds via Deliveroo. It was possibly the drunkest I've ever been (although I did not spew, well done me), and I ended up doing something completely outrageous which makes for a fantastic drunk story, but which I'm still debating whether I should share online or not. Needless to say, if we hadn't have been so hungover I'm sure we would have loved Florence. We managed to drag ourselves out at about 7:30pm and took a wander around the city, stopping to grab some pizza and drinks before we made our way across the river to Piazzale Michelangelo, and even just wandering around there was such a nice vibe from the city. Lots of people eating and drinking, beautiful architecture (you get a lot of that in Italy), plenty of things to see even in the evening time. We'll definitely head back to Florence to properly spend some time appreciating it for what it is, just maybe next time we won't get ~ so ~ dramatically pissed.
Airbnb: "Santa Croce Apartment"
Must do: Make your way up to Piazzale Michelangelo, but go in the evening. Taking in a panoramic view of Florence whilst it twinkles with light is beautiful (plus it's a little bit cooler, so all of the steps and slopes aren't quite as horrific!).
Fifth stop: Rome. This was Keir and I's second visit to Rome, and I loved it just as much as the first. We opted to stay in the lively Trastevere district this time around, having spent so much of our time dipping in and out of restaurants and bars when we visited last June. If you're thinking of visiting Rome, I would definitely opt to stay in or around Trastevere; it's not too much of a walk from all of the major attractions, and most people gravitate towards this area in the evening for dinner and cocktails so it's the best place to be if you want to be in the thick of it. Rome isn't too expensive, either. We were probably averaging around €25 per person at each restaurant we visited, and as you've probably gathered by now, we weren't particularly shy when it came to ordering in the alcohol. Activity wise, the boys went to see the Colosseum whilst Keir and I headed to The Forum (which wasn't as interesting as I expected it to be), but then it started to piss down with rain so we took shelter in a coffee shop before wandering back to the apartment. My favourite thing to do in Rome, though, is to eat. From takeaway pasta to proper sit down dinners, you're spoiled for choice with deliciousness on every corner. Eat until you can't eat anymore, and then eat on top of that.
Airbnb: "Elegance In The Heart of Trastevere" (my favourite Airbnb from the entire trip - SO BEAUTIFUL!)
Must do: Visit 'Il Duca' restaurant in Trastevere. The food is delicious, there's a beautiful outside courtyard you can eat in, and it's always buzzing with locals and tourists alike. It does get busy though, so try and get in fairly early. And order the sea bass! You won't be disappointed.
Sixth and final stop: Sorrento. After two weeks of travelling around, we were looking forward to a relaxing stop at (or at least near) the much-hyped Amalfi Coast. You can't move for social media bods visiting Sorrento and Positano at this time of year, and I was super excited because all of the Instagram photos make both spots look like the dreamiest of locations. The verdict? I was pretty disappointed. I'm not sure if we stayed in a not-so-great part of Sorrento, but it felt a little bit too Brits Abroad for me. It was super touristy, but not in the same way that Venice was. There were a fair few English pubs playing the World Cup and serving fry ups, let's just put it that way. Positano, whilst gorgeous to look at, is so inundated with tourists that it's a little difficult to enjoy (the irony being, of course, that I was one of those tourists). The backstreets are beautiful to wander through, but you're front to back with other people in a constantly moving stream of crowd control, and if you don't want to pay for a sun lounger (we were broke by the end of the trip, probably from having spent too much on cocktails and wine ffs), you have to really cram yourself in to an available spot on the beach. Maybe we'd been overly spoiled when we visited Lake Garda for having views and water without the hoards of people, but the advice to visit at a less-busy time of year is definitely something to heed. Still absolutely stunning, of course, but not my favourite place by a long stretch (had another fantastic sea bass here, though - the food was amazing).
Airbnb: "Elegant, Bright Apartment with Terrace, Swimming Pool and Parking" (FYI the power and hot water kept going out when we stayed, so book with caution.)
Must do: Again, something we didn't do but wish we did: take a boat trip (private if you can afford it) to Capri. We met a Canadian couple on the first night who said they'd been to both Positano and Capri, and Capri was by far the stand out. That or head to Pompeii to see the ruins!