Somehow, my friends and I managed to find the perfect trip to Italy on a student budget, cramming some of Italy’s greatest hits into just days. Going from Rome to Florence via Cinque Terre and back armed with just a backpack, we did the most we possibly could with the least.
First Leg: Rome-ing Around
Picture the scene: we are waiting on one of Rome’s cobbled backstreets for our Airbnb host, Francesca, to let us in. The gate flings open and a young, handsome, very Italian looking man steps out. The sound of laughter and music drifts out of the property alongside cigarette smoke. A Vespa hurtles down the street, carrying two partygoers. The dark haired man kisses them on both cheeks, chatting loudly in Italian, before spying us and beckoning his “mamma.” Our first night in Rome and already we had landed a birds’-eye view of an Italian garden party.
Livin’ La Vida Dolce
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but that was all we had before we moved on. Plodding the cobbles from the Colosseum, thronging with Italians celebrating the Festa della Repubblica, to the Castel Sant-Angelo just outside the Vatican, we were women on a mission. One of the seven wonders of the world? Check. Pizza near the Piazza Navona? Check. Whispering girlishly about our classically good-looking Italian waiters? Check.
Despite our lack of time and money, we ticked looaaads of items off our Italian bucket list in Rome alone, eating, drinking, and seeing the most during the day before buying 3 bottles of wine (Il Tricolore of wine, if you will) and taking it with some bread and cheese onto the private rooftop terrace at our Airbnb. Even though I’d followed in the steps of Caesar earlier on, sitting in my pyjamas in the warm Roman evening with my best girls, overlooking rows of rooftops, was an unforgettable taste of La Dolce Vita.
Second Leg: Beachy Keen
As per our “most with the least” mentality, we woke bright and (very) early the next morning for a pilgrimage from Rome to the beach of Monterosso in Cinque Terre, via Florence, by foot, coach, and train. Cutting out a summary of the travel (we slept; we snacked; I had a nectarine – it was good), we eventually cramped ourselves in the only available space on the beach. Ahh, this, THIS, was our only day afforded for pure relaxation. We sat, under the blazing sun, with a bag of nectarines and a bucket of ‘Margarona‘ each – a blend of margarita and Corona.
Don’t knock it – try it.
The day whizzed past in a blur of sunshine, sea, gelato, and pasta. We took in the last of the Ligurian coastline, toes sinking into the sand as the sea lapped against our ankles, and took the train back to Florence. Though it took us both time and a bit of money to get there, the simplicity of basking in the evening sunset on the Italian Riviera is a free and humbling experience, a harmonious contrast to the hustle and bustle of Rome.
Third Leg: Feelin’ Fine in Firenze
Waking up ‘somewhere in Northern Italy’ on our final day made me feel a lot like I should’ve been in ‘Call Me By Your Name’, sadly sans the gorgeous romance but also, happily, sans the heartbreaking angst. However, it still had all the Guadagnino aesthetics of the morning sunlight sweeping over the Tuscan hills. After taking in our gorgeous vista of the Florence skyline, ft. Il Duomo, from our absolute GEM of an Airbnb, we headed to the square in Settignano, in search of a cheap bus ticket into the centre, a good coffee, and a pastry.
Within minutes, we were at the foot of the Duomo, impossibly trying to fit its enormity into one eyeful. An immense start to our final, longest day.
Last day. Make it count.
We paced the city, from the Ponte Vecchio to the courtyard of the Uffizi, pairing education with aperitivo al fresco. All day, we soaked up culture for free, history and art seeping out of Florentine walls. We also GOT soaked, getting caught in the mother of all storms as we ran for the metro back to our coach station. Our bittersweet departure back to Rome.
Final Leg: No Sleep Till Brooklyn (Leeds)
Frizzy, rain-dried hair; a hasty change into dry clothes; and nowhere to go. Our final night in Italy was an adventure of impulse. We filled our empty hours until our flight with gnocchi, more wine, more miles walked, and, most spectacularly, a midnight hangout around the Colosseum. You don’t need coin for a simple luxury like this. To perch on a Roman wall at midnight and bask in the low-lights beaming from the arches of the amphitheatre, THAT is doing the most without hardly having to move.
In this moment, our final moment of respite until we reached our beds 18 hours later, I thought back over our distance travelled, calories consumed, and experiences shared in a mere three days. We had ticked off most of any tourist bucket-list for Italy, and we had done it at a fraction of the price. No excessive luggage, no excessive price tags, and not a lot of time. Fatigued delirium was a small price to pay for a trip like this.
And, once I had slept it off, I woke up knowing I would do it all again.
You only live once, so you should see Italy often.