The streets of Rome The Lilac Road
The streets of Rome

I have always wanted to go to Italy ever since I can remember.

It has been an absolute dream of mine after watching films like Cinema Paradiso, Life is Beautiful, Under the Tuscan Sun and Stealing Beauty. Plus, pizza! Gelato! Coffee! If heaven existed, it would of been in Italy.

My experience in this country, however, was a mixed bag; like with most things, the reality of it crushed my high expectations. Can you blame a girl for dreaming? Nevertheless, I had a very eventful, interesting time there and was kept on my toes on the whole time…

Getting Followed And Robbed In Rome

Landing in Rome from Phnom Penh was a culture shock in itself. No more tuk-tuks, dusty roads or cows to be seen. Instead, I was greeted with rude Italians. I had been forewarned though – one of my best friends had been to Venice and said that they were kinda grumpy, and she was right. Something I have come to learn about Italians is that they are indeed passionate, honest people and very expressive about their emotions. It is something I have come to respect about them. But let’s hope you never catch an Italian on a bad day…

Trevi Fountain Rome The Lilac Road
Trevi Fountain, my favourite in Rome

I arrived at my Airbnb late at night, and after a very long flight, I looked and felt exhausted. My host was an artist and musician whose apartment in Garbatella, a quiet suburb in Rome, was filled with beautiful, surreal works of art. He was extremely gracious and left me fruit and tea when I arrived. The next day, he made me the most delicious tortellini pasta and Italian coffee (which soon got me bouncing off the walls.) He also took me to an authentic Roman restaurant and then to an outdoor bar. It was the best Airbnb experience I have ever had and if you ever need ideas for a place to stay in Rome, I can definitely recommend this one (just ask and I can link you!)

Piazza Navona Rome The Lilac Road
Piazza Navona

On my first day, I decided to visit the Colosseum, and on my way there a guy ran up next to me and started talking to me. He kept talking about himself and wouldn’t stop or go away, even though I hardly responded. He asked me if I had a boyfriend and if he could show me around Rome, and he ended up following me all the way to the Colosseum. I lied and told him I was going to go in to meet somebody and will probably spend a few hours in there. That got rid of him, but it also meant I had to go inside even though I wasn’t planning to. It was nice to finally see this great wonder, but it was honestly underwhelming. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a history buff or didn’t have an audio guide with me, but I left within half an hour of entering, only to be followed by yet another man who said to me, “No boyfriend? You and me, yes?” Hm.

The Colosseum Rome The Lilac Road
The famous Colosseum. Visit at sunset to escape the mad crowds.

In my week in Rome, I relaxed at the Orange Garden, a lovely and secluded park which has a romantic view of Rome; I visited the numerous piazzas and fountains in Rome (Trevi Fountain being fantastically beautiful and my favourite by far); I ate plenty of pasta, pizza and gelato of course; and met a lovely Italian man who I ended up having a date with. He was a surfer and worked in finance, and he took me to a nice dinner and drove me all around Rome, showing me the best spots in town. It was a unique experience, seeing all these locally-known spots not mentioned in tourist guides, and I thought to myself that Rome was truly more beautiful at night.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore Rome The Lilac Road
Inside Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. It was beautiful.

During the day, you notice how dirty the city is with graffiti everywhere and trash littering the streets. The metro is also quite grim, and it was there I was robbed by three girls. I was at a very busy metro station about to go home when two girls blocked my entrance to the train. As I was pushing them out of the way, another girl went into my bag and took my wallet. Two boys told me that I was robbed, as I had completely no idea, and by the time I tried to find them they had gone. I didn’t freak out at first – at least they hadn’t taken my passport or phone – but when I arrived home, I began getting more upset. I had 300 Euros cash (all my spending money for Italy) and all my bank cards in there. The following day was a nightmare. I had to ring Visa (who were amazing) to get an emergency card sent to me and it thankfully arrived in my mailbox in eight hours. I also had to ring ASB (not so amazing) in New Zealand and was constantly getting sent to different people who had no clue what I was talking about. It was a very frustrating experience. I then had to get some money wired so that I wouldn’t go hungry. When I told my Airbnb host, he said that those girls were gypsies and that they robbed people at metros for a living. It was unfortunate I was by myself, but it just goes to show that even if you are a really careful traveller, special precautions must be made particularly at metros. Even though it wasn’t a fun experience, it now makes for a great story. Every circumstance is truly what you make of it!

Ending Up In Tuscany By Mistake And Falling In Love With Florence

Florence window The Lilac Road
The view from my room in Florence

When I got off the plane at Florence, I Google Mapped my Airbnb and began following the transport directions. I took a one and a half hour bus ride to Lucca, then waited an hour for another bus to my accommodation. The bus travelled through the gorgeous Tuscan countryside at sunset and it felt like an absolute dream. When I arrived at my stop in the middle of nowhere, I knocked on the door of my Airbnb only to be greeted by an elderly Italian couple who did not speak a word of English. After a while of me pointing to my phone and them saying something back in Italian, they called over the family from next door who did speak English. I showed them the room I booked and they had no idea what I was talking about. I then manually punched in my address only to have a heart attack – I was 100km away from my Airbnb! They laughed and said, “You’re very far away from Florence,” and I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh with them. The family very kindly offered to drive me to the nearest train station, but before they did, the elderly lady went inside and brought out half a home-made pie, biscotti, juice and wafers for my (long) train ride back. It was so sweet!

Suitcase train Tuscany The Lilac Road
Waiting for a train in the middle of the Tuscan countryside

I took the last train back to Florence and ended up exchanging numbers with a cute Italian guitarist on the train (score.) By the time I arrived, it was midnight and my host was very confused and worried. I jogged with my suitcase to my accommodation and he opened the gate to find a very sweaty, breathless Asian girl saying, “Lucca, Lucca!” He had no idea what I was going on about. Nevertheless, I had finally made it. What was meant to be a half an hour journey from the airport to my Airbnb took eight freaking hours, and though I freaked out a little, in hindsight I am so glad I got lost. I would have never met those lovely Italians in Tuscany, nor would I have had this great story from my time in Italy to treasure.

Florence Cathedral The Lilac Road
The lovely Florence Cathedral

I absolutely loved Florence and it quickly became my new favourite city. The Tuscan architecture, narrow streets and warm colours make this city so pretty and romantic. It is perfect for lovers and dreamers. It is also much cleaner and smaller than Rome (there isn’t a metro in Florence) and therefore it is more walkable. I spent my five days walking around the city for hours in a state of bliss and wonder. I explored the markets, visited Florence Cathedral, walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo which had a stunning view of the city and lay under a tree in the Boboli Gardens enjoying the sun. By the time I had to leave, I was genuinely very sad.

Piazzale Michelangelo Florence The Lilac Road
The stunning view from Piazzale Michelangelo. Be warned, it’s a sweaty walk up but it’s totally worth it!

Gondola Rides And Missing My Flight In Venice

Getting to Venice by train is very easy, and when I arrived I thought to myself, “It looks exactly like the movies.” It really does. Venice is like a small island made up of pretty buildings with veins of canals running throughout the city. There are no cars or any form of road transportation, just boats and gondolas. I wasn’t staying in Venice – I simply couldn’t afford it – but in Treviso, a town 30 minutes by train outside of Venice. After a crazy morning (I almost did a Florence and took a bus to a completely different town, and a guy helped me with my suitcase and demanded that I pay him – hah), I finally arrived home to the kindest and most welcoming Italian couple.

Canal and gondola in Venice The Lilac Road
Canals and gondolas in Venice

You only need two days max in Venice, and for the one day I spent there I thoroughly enjoyed it. The town is quite small and can be walked from one end to the other in around 45 minutes. It is the perfect town to simply get lost and wander in. The little bridges and narrow alleyways and beautiful buildings make it incredibly picturesque and dreamy.

Getting lost in Venice The Lilac Road
Getting lost in Venice

As I was exploring the town, a very good-looking guy ran up to me and introduced himself. He said he was a gondola driver and asked if I would like to go for a free ride with him. I was like, yes! They are quite expensive and I couldn’t afford to do one even though I really wanted to, so it was a wonderful coincidence. He and I went for a 30 minute gondola ride on the canals, and it felt like an absolute dream. It felt strange sitting in this huge boat by myself and having people point and stare as gondolas are usually ridden by couples and huge groups of friends, but it was so much fun. Toward the end, he even let me steer the boat (and I gotta tell you, it’s much harder than it looks!) It was the perfect way to wrap up my day in Venice and trip in Italy.

Florence Cathedral up close The Lilac Road
Florence Cathedral up close

On the afternoon of my flight out of Italy and into Greece, I asked the ticket agency for a bus to the airport. Little did I know that there were two airports in the area, and the lady sold me a ticket that went to the one I did not want to go to. I arrived at the airport and my heart dropped once again upon realization that I was at the wrong one, and by the time I travelled back to Treviso, I had missed my flight to Greece. It sucked, to say the least. I had to buy a whole new ticket to Greece for the next morning, but thankfully my Airbnb hosts graciously took me in for another night. Come morning time, I was at the right airport three hours early… just in case.

View of the river in Florence The Lilac Road
A view of the river in Florence

In conclusion…

Italy is truly a place for dreamers and lovers. Its cities are made for romantics and its museums, buildings and streets are endlessly inspiring. Rome is made for those who love history, Florence is for those whose heads are always in the clouds, and Venice is for those who love anything romance. Its people are passionate and honest and I met some wonderful people along the way who made my journey unforgettable.

As you can tell, I had an absolutely surreal, crazy experience there and there were times I fought with it and times I loved it. While getting robbed, being followed and missing my flight wasn’t fun at all, and while I did meet some pretty grumpy Italians (but then again, what culture doesn’t have grumps?), I still found everything to be beautiful – the country, the food and the people. No matter what experience you have in Italy, you won’t be able to deny that.

Sunset in Venice The Lilac Road
Sunset in Venice

What did you think of my crazy adventures in Italy? Have you been and if not, do you want to go one day? What cities do you want to visit most? Leave your thoughts down below!

 All images my own