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A solo wanderer’s adventures in Italy and Greece


Tripoto.com
Duration: 14 Days

Sitting peacefully, sipping red wine and watching people go about their daily routine, in a small café situated on a pebbled-street adorned by artistically decorated coffee shops and restaurants, and filled with the festive tunes of street musicians – I had dreamed of a solo European adventure ever since I could remember.

I was fortunate enough to make my dream come true last year, when I planned my first solo trip to Italy and Greece. I took off from New Delhi on 17-day-long trip exploring the historical streets of Rome, Florence and Venice in Italy, and the beautiful Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos, along with one of the oldest cities in the world – Athens.

DAY 1

The history of the Roman Empire started fascinating me after I picked up my first play of Shakespeare, Julius Caesar. Therefore, it was only natural that I planned my longest haul in Rome. If you ignore the hundreds of tourists buzzing around the city, Rome has an old world charm, which makes it appear like it is frozen in the times of the kings. The colosseum – one of the major sites a tourist would have most definitely been to – looks as if it is work in progress, left to be finished another day, another era. The colosseum is a 1st century AD amphitheater that was used for gladiator games. Colosseum is surrounded by other historically rich sites like the Roman Forum, Palatine, and the Pantheon. But this article is not about the things to do in the cities I visited. I am writing this article to share my journey as a novel solo woman traveler.

I wasn’t thinking much about the consequences of going alone when I finalized my trip. The realization hit me only when I set foot in my flight to room. How was I supposed to manage alone, what would happen if I got lost or got robbed, what if I got bored in my own company – several questions were haunting me throughout my flight. I had booked shared dorm beds in hostels with the best reviews in most of the cities. It was a choice I made in order to meet people from around the world, make friends, and have some company if I ever felt lonely. And let me tell you, my decision did not disappoint me. The hostel I booked in Rome was supposedly a ‘party hostel’, with a club of its own – where most of the hostellers living in the area would flock to. I had done my research on how to reach the hostel from the airport, printed an offline map and had decided to buy a local Lyca sim card as soon as I landed in Rome. My assumption that I would find a sim card booth at the airport did land me into some trouble. Without the GPS, I was lost and going around in circles trying to find my way from the bus stand to hostel. It took me one hour and sheer luck of finding a couple of girls going to the hostel to finally reach the accommodation where I would be spending my next four days. My room was a four bed dorm with an attached bathroom. Attached bathroom was a choice I consciously made while booking the rooms, as most of the rooms do not have those and I did not want to share bathrooms with a dozen others. After I settled in my room, it was already late at night and I quickly made friends with my American roommate. We went to club downstairs, had a few drinks, chatted and got to know each other and closed the night. She left the city the next morning. The next four days were a roller coaster ride. I was missing home, wandering the streets alone, going to the romantic Trevi Fountain by myself, but being a foodie, thoroughly enjoying each and every meal. Pasta is my favorite dish and finding it in abundance in its natural habitat was a bigger dream come true than doing a solo trip. Freshly baked handmade Pasta garnished with fresh (and not imported) cheese is truly a food lover’s delight. Pizzas were scrumptious, and the popular Italian Gelato was worth waiting in queues for. I will admit though that I did enjoy my time at Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Navona, the streets that were bustling with high end to budget shopping brands. Being a former literature student, I loved spending hours at the Keats Shelley House near the Spanish Steps. A door in one of the rooms at the house led to a pretty balcony overlooking the steps. I spent most of my time quietly sitting there, observing the crowds trying to find a spot to sit on the steps. For the days, I had bought a three-day bus pass, using which I would board any bus and get down at any stop I liked to stroll and explore. I also saw and waved to the pope in Vatican City, which is one of my favorite places now. Evenings felt less lonely as my new roommate Catia from London and I would go downstairs for drinks and dance every night. I never ventured out to explore the other more popular pubs of the city as I was too scared to go out alone at night.

DAY 4

The homesickness eventually vanished as I travelled to the other cities. Florence was my next stop, which is a lovely town just four hours away from Rome by train. The hostel here was more like an inn that I booked through AirBNB. I made friends with guys from London and South Africa and am still in touch with them. It is amazing for slightly shy people like me that while travelling alone you are open to striking conversations and getting to know people, but when you have company, you are so comfortable with your companion that you don’t really want to make the extra effort of talking to strangers. Meeting new people transforms your worldview and makes you a totally different person. You no more want to dwell over the petty issues of life, which restricts you from doing so many wonderful things. Moving on, Florence was exceptionally beautiful and well-designed. I did not really spend any time standing in mind numbing queues to see any of the architectural marvels, but spent the days exploring the different parts of the city, climbing hills, and going to nearby villages. Florence falls in the Tuscan region, which is famous for its wineries. I would recommend to pre-book a tour to one of the wineries for a more authentic experience.

DAY 6

A two hour train ride led me to my next destination, Venice – which is one of my least favorite cities in the world. I am aware that some of you will gasp in shock and some will disagree with me but I have my reasons. One, I fell sick in Venice so I spent my two days confined to the utterly crowded, dingy and chaotic lanes of Venice. I wanted to see the outskirts, but could not go. Neither did I go to see any play or musical even though I went all the way to one of the theatres to get a brochure. Secondly, the set-up of all the restaurants lining the Lagoon is so romantic that I regretted going there alone. And thirdly, I booked an early morning flight from Venice to Santorini therefore, I had to spend the night at the airport. There was no ferry and shuttle bus after midnight to the airport. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one spending the night at the small airport. I would like to share an incident that I remember distinctly. While I was making the journey from the ferry stop to the airport, I was the only person travelling in the shuttle bus at night. I was scared out my wits, cursing myself for being stupid enough to get on an empty bus. But this one and a few other incidents in Europe have actually made me understand the true meaning of liberation and how it feels to be a lone woman and yet feel safe. Even though I wouldn’t say Italy is on my best countries list but when I left Italy, I was extremely sad, leaving behind a piece of myself in the country of Caesar. Thankfully though, I had planned my last day of the trip in Rome as I had found a direct flight back from Rome Airport to New Delhi.

DAY 8

When I landed in Greece, I was mesmerized by the magic that is Santorini. Sun shone on the never-ending waters of the Aegean Sea, making it look like a sheet of white light. The several villages of the island are built on hills so the higher we went, the more enchanting the view became. My hostel was right in the center of all the action, the capital town of Fira. I had earlier planned to book a room in the Oia Village – the blue and white village famous for its sunset we see in the movies – but later changed my mind after my research told me that it was cheaper to live in Fira and to rather make a day trip to Oia by bus. Anyway I had read that Oia became dull by night. My time in Santorini is the most memorable time of my Euro trip. I went to different villages during the day – Oia Village to watch the sunset, Perissa and Kamari beach to sunbath (even though as an Indian I don’t need sunbathing). Oia is captivating and I stood there for hours watching the sea and waiting for the sun to set. It reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. I did not go to the volcanic island as that involved a lot of hiking and I wasn’t up for it. I passed the evenings hopping pubs with my roommates and dancing and letting go. I even met an Indian from Punjab in my hostel and familiarity made me happy. I would have extended my stay in Santorini if I hadn’t booked a non-refundable hotel room in Mykonos.

DAY 11

Mykonos didn’t have any hostels so I had no option but to book a hotel room. Mykonos is a party town but my I went there in off-season of October so most of the clubs had closed for the year. It is a small town with not much to do but party. And with that option gone too, I wasn’t left with anything to do. I spent my time catching up on sleep, going to the beach and eating the Greek Souvlaki, meatballs and Gyros. One evening, on someone’s suggestion, I caught a bus to Paradise Beach – the biggest hub for party-goers. Since I had no one to talk to, I didn’t ask anyone and assumed Paradise Beach would still be bustling with crowds. The last bus back from Paradise Beach to the downtown was scheduled at 11:30 pm. I promised myself I would take that bus back to the town and then catch a bus back to my hotel, which was situated on another beach called Platys Gialos. The bus to Paradise Beach had only a few people. I was so engrossed in reading a book on my way that when the bus halted at the final stop, I got down to find myself near some isolated beach. I debated whether it was a good idea to get back on the bus or to explore the area a little bit. My knack for adventure got the better of me and I told myself I would take the next bus back, which would arrive in half an hour. As I started walking towards the beach, I was overcome with fear. None of the beach shacks were open, it was pitch dark and the whistling sound of the wind and rustling of the fallen leaves made it a scene right out of a horror movie. I quietly went back to where the bus had dropped me and stood there waiting for the next bus. To make matters worse, there was no signal on my phone. Half an hour passed, and no bus came. I panicked a little but remained positive and hoped for a bus to show up in another half an hour. Another half an hour went by and still no bus. By now I was anxious; I tried finding another way but came right back as I saw the road stretching for miles without any sign of human life. It was 11:00 by now and I was dreading the thought of spending the night on the road. Even if I had found a hotel anywhere nearby, I would have had to shell out a fortune to stay there for a night. I prayed with all my heart and to my relief my prayers were answered when I saw a chirpy group of girls coming from the beach. They were young – barely 19 – and were dressed to go to a party. With some apprehension, I approached them and told them my situation. They were kind enough to offer me help in finding the way to the bus stand. They were anyway using the GPS and the five girls accompanied me to the bus stop. They told me they were looking for places to party and would go there after seeing me off. After a lot of dead-ends, wrong tracks and walks through the beach, we came across a few pubs that were empty. The girls looked disheartened. They too decided to come to the town with me for better options. While waiting for the bus, we met four guys and girls and all of us talked on our way back to the town. I was relieved when I reached the town. All of the others had decided to party together. They convinced me to go with them and take a cab to my hotel later. It is the wildest thing I have ever done – partying with a bunch a strangers I met on the way – and it turned out to be the most fun night. I was a little tipsy, it was way past midnight, but the ride back home was so safe, I almost felt empowered as a woman (sorry for the bad joke).

DAY 14

I left the next day for Athens, where I was going to spend three days. I went to the old city of Acropolis, and a few other sites but unfortunately, my trip was cut short when Greece Airport decided to go on strike. My flight back to Rome was cancelled and I had a flight to New Delhi from Rome that very day. My visa too was expiring on my last day. After some frantic research, I crossed paths with others who were facing the same plight. An American couple studying in Rome had to be in the city for an exam. To get back to Rome, we had a take two-day trip on bus, boat, train, and bus. I barely got back to Rome on time for my flight. It was a hectic trip and I did not get time to bid good-bye to either Greece or Italy but now when I look back now, it was an adventure of a lifetime.

Photos of Athens, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece 1/50 by Trisha Mahajan
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Photos of Athens, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece 50/50 by Trisha Mahajan

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