So at this point you have your cities all picked out… what is next? Figuring out where you will stay is a very good idea ahead of time. It is fairly easy to find a hostel or a room in larger cities, but if you’re in Verona, Italia at 4pm (in February) stuck outside in the cold for 5 hours asking strangers in italian how to get to a hostel on the outskirts of town, you are probably wasting a lot of valuable sight-seeing time. We ended up rushing around the next day, and we missed Romeo’s house!

Before you leave I suggest printing out google maps of your hostel locations. If you ever get lost then you can easily show the map to a local.

Hostels

The main two options for starving students are hostels and couch-surfing. Hostels are really NOTHING like what you may have seen in that scary film of the same name… they remind me a lot of camp; there are generally bunk beds, and good hostels will have lockers. In Ireland I stayed at a hostel where the water in the showers would only run for 10 seconds, and you would have to keeppressing the button in order to have a longer shower.

The price is generally 15 euros ($22 CAD) a night, but it can be higher or lower depending on the season. Pay close attention to whether you will get charged extra for sheets. I was pretty shocked at having to pay extra for this when I arrived at my Barcelona hostel, although it is actually a fairly common practice in Spain.

HostelBookers
This is my favourite hostel booking website; they impose no booking fees! You can search by city, and I find the best way to go from there is to filter the hostels by their ratings. The ratings are given by all of the users who visit them, and they are generally very reliable. I like also like reading the comments to see if there are any extra tidbits of info that could serve me well.

I like to pick the hostel by location; the best is when you walk right outside your hostel door and find yourself right amongst the best tourist attractions. This will save you a lot of money on public transit and taxi services!

HostelWorld
This site is similar to HostelBookers, but they impose a service charge. I also prefer the navigation of the HostelBookers website. They do have some hostels that may not be listed on HostelBookers, so if you are having trouble finding a hostel, then this is a good place to search.

Couchsurfing

I have never tried CouchSurfing but I have heard so many good things about it from friends, that I feel like it really deserves mentioning. The essence is that people open up their homes to travelers all over the world, and the hope is that you will also have your door open for them if they are ever in your neck of the woods.

The description from the official website:
“CouchSurfing members share hospitality with one another. These exchanges are a uniquely rich form of cultural interaction. Hosts have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world without leaving home. ‘Surfers,’ or travelers, are able to participate in the local life of the places they visit. We also give more people the chance to become travelers, because ‘surfing’ lowers the financial cost of exploration.”

I believe that proper CouchSurfing etiquette is to buy at least a bottle of wine and/or groceries for your host’s home. I have heard many nice things about how gracious these hosts can be to complete strangers; doing laundry, cooking for them, and even showing the travelers around town. There are different types of CouchSurfing hosts; some are really into acting as tour guides, while others are more strapped for time

Whatever you decide, just be sure to do research to ensure that CouchSurfing hosts have been vouched for, and that you are staying in a safe part of town.

Hotels

What you say? Hotels on the cheap? In groups, hotel rates can be reasonable! If you are going to a small town, too, there may not be many hostels around, and they could be all the way across town, so staying at a hotel might be the best way to go.

My friends and I stayed in a hostel in Avignon, and the price was right, but we ended up having to walk at least 30 minutes before we could get to the main part of town, and it was enormously difficult to find in the beginning. Because we were a group of three, we probably could have found a good rate at the hotel in the main downtown area (or in “the city” as my australian friends would say.)

Getting to visit Italy from February 13-22 was a dream come true ! I feel so lucky that I had the opportunity to visit, and I really enjoyed practicing italian with the locals, and the sights were beyond beautiful; it all felt incredibly surreal.

I took over a thousand photos during my trip, and I will be uploading my favourites to my flickr account, and featuring some of them here.

There is so much that I could say about the trip, that I really have no idea where to start!

I suppose I will begin by telling a bit about my departure, and splitting up the different cities that I had stayed in with different entries here.

Certain things are difficult to explain, and for those things, I will rely on photos.

Getting to Florence…
This was a bit of an adventure in itself! I left Lyon at 4:30pm on February 13th, and I arrived at the Chambery-Challes train station at 6pm, and I had to take a TGV (train de grand vitesse) afterward to Turin, Italy. I was actually supposed to leave Lyon at 3:30pm, but I arrived to the station late, so I had to take the 4:30pm train. I was in a bit of a hurry when I arrived at Chambery to exchange my tickets, because I didn’t want to miss the 6:30pm train (I was supposed to be on the one from the hour before).

I arrived in Turin at 10:00pm and I took the metro to a different train station, with the directions my italian friends had given me. I got them 10 minutes later, and tried to waste time there until my 11:30pm train. It was really cold in the train station- it was all open, so it was just like waiting outdoors. My train left at 11:30pm and I met 3 really nice italian students in my train car, and we chatted for awhile. It turns out that one of them is also an exchange student in France, and the other two are studying in southern Italy.

They were very sweet, and helped me take my huge suitcase off the train when I arrived in Pisa at 4:30am. When I got off the train I saw a group of girls, so I stayed with them to be safe, and they ended up being really nice Brazilian exchange students. It turns out that they are scholarship winners studying design in Turin for a few months. We took a train together from Pisa to Florence at 5:15am and arrived at 6:30am. When I arrived I was a bit lost, as the map I had drawn myself wasn’t detailed enough, but luckily I walked to the hostel of the Brazilians and I looked at their map, and then walked to the Florence hostel on my own, which was about 15 minutes away. They were huge sweethearts, and I’m not sure what I would have done without them!

It was really scary to travel on my own, and to be in a practically deserted train station at 4:30am. Meeting so many nice people who were so ready to help out a complete stranger was incredibly touching; it makes me want to reach out now more than ever to help others. I wasn’t so optimistic before about the amount of Good Samaritans in this world, but I feel really lucky now to have met so many; it is very inspiring.

I was so happy when I arrived at the hostel, Sogna Firenze, safe and sound, and I enjoyed a delicious breakfast there that consisted of a cappuccino, lots of nutella, and various other treats.

The hostel was very clean, and the receptionist was very kind and helpful. I definitely recommend this hostel to anyone that is looking for a place to stay in Florence for only 12 euros a night.

A summary of Florence… Ponte Vecchio was gorgeous, and probably my favourite sight. My friends and I didn’t see the original statue of David, but we did see the replica, or what wasn’t covered up, anyway! We also managed to make a day trip to Pisa, which I will write about in my next entry ^^

My friends and I

I drew a picture of this square years ago from an architectural book… I was amazed to see it in person- complete coincidence

Gelato

On Ponte Vecchio…

Ponte Vecchio

A palace and a vintage car…

Museum

Museum II

Milk in Italy… unrefrigerated and in boxes (also unrefrigerated in France, but in plastic bottles…)

Doppio Cheeseburger, per favore!

Scenery

and last but not least… dedicated to :3 !!!!! (In the corner it reads “gatto” which is italian for cat)