First ever time travelling to Europe? Are you a travel rookie? Rest assured, you have come to the right place. I am a travel rookie too and I have made many mistakes, particularly in Europe. In attempt to kick myself into gear again and stop making excuses that I am too busy with university and my job, I am bringing you a mini-series: Our First Europe Trip. Today, we are starting off with a route overview- briefly touching where we went, a few travel tips and a brief opinion of a few places. Later on in this series, I will be giving you all sorts of travel tips about your first time in Europe and I will be sharing you intimate details of every mistake we (I really) made. Stay tuned for plenty more to come!
Melbourne to Rome
Qatar airways, 26 hour trip. Time in Rome: 48 hours
One of the cheapest places to land in Europe (at least in Italy) from Australia appears to be Rome. We got a fairly good price on a multi-stop ticket with Qatar airways. NOTE: if you are not departing from Europe back home from another airport than you arrived in, than there is something wrong with your itinerary. There are many travel airlines that will give you this freedom without charging an arm and a leg. I will give you more advice about this soon. Even the great man, Rick Steves, says this himself.
Travel Tip: Get the airport train to Rome city
I cannot stress this enough- just keep walking past those scammer taxi drivers. When you exit customs, follow the signs to the trains and do not talk to anyone. They will say to you a taxi is cheaper than the train. Let me tell you, no, it isn’t. We jumped on a ‘first class’ train for 14 euros each to get into Rome main station. Second class will be even cheaper, we were just impatient. Do not forget to validate your ticket either! Don’t let the QR codes and dates on your ticket fool you as the ticketing system is very… strange in Italy.
48 hours is not enough. Not when you are jet-lagged. Also, do yourself a favour: get a nice hotel with a 24 hour desk. Why? Stay tuned! Anyhow, we need to return to Rome. Our time there did not do it justice.
Rome to Naples
Time in Naples: 4-5 days. Train trip with Trenitalia regionale train
Travel Tip: Get the IC Train
Splurge a little bit extra and get the InterCity or the IC train from Rome to Naples. Do not get the Regional or the Regionale no matter how much (well it really isn’t that much) cheaper it is. Penny pinching can fail you massively and this is a key thing I learnt. Why? The regional train I was on broke down and we were stranded for 4 hours while all the locals around us argued with train staff. The staff would not tell anyone what was happening and frankly, I don’t think they are paid enough to care. According to our AirBnB host, this happens regularly. But, if you get the IC, you are well looked after and you get to travel express. You really do get what you pay for.
The Verdict: Naples
4-5 days in Naples suited us because we needed a chance to chill out and get over jet-lag. Obviously, this is not the most glamourous place to do this. Be prepared for the shock of your life when you exit Napoli Centrale station- Naples is dirty. But, it has a steep learning curve. Give it time, talk to the locals and eat some of the world’s best traditional pizza and you will develop a love for Naples. For well rested travellers, you will only need 3 days in Naples, inclusive of a trip to Pompeii, maybe 4 days if you want to see Mt Vesuvius and hike for the day. Of course, this is all depending on if Naples is your home base. Final verdict? Do not skip Naples. Find your reason to love it- it is perhaps the heart of Italy, particularly the heart of rough and tumble Italy.
Naples to Cinque Terre
Time spent: 2 weeks, studying with Monash University. Train trip on an IC train to La Spezia, regionale train to Riomaggiore
So you are probably wondering why we landed in Rome, headed south and then travelled 7 hours back north. We just really wanted Naples Pizza and didn’t want to go after I finished my study in the Cinque Terre. Want to know why I was there? You can read it here!
Travel tip: Travel in March
The Cinque Terre is an interesting place. It is suffocated by mass tourism in the summer but very little is open in the winter. March is usually when the retailers and restaurant owners return from their holidays and re-open and is the month before the massive tour groups start to hit. You can even try April, October and November. December to February there really is not much going on but May-September, prepare to get trampled on.
Cinque Terre to Genova*
Time spent: 2 days. Train trip with Trenitalia
*This is where everything went wrong…
Well, after an anxiety filled research presentation, my last day in the Cinque Terre could not have possibly gotten any worse. There were ‘code red’ weather alerts and a massive storm resulted in all trains to Milan being cancelled. We waited 4 hours just to get any train possible and we ended in up in Genova. I would like to mention that for those 4 hours, we drank beer and laughed everything off as much as we could. Why? My partner and I are so highly strung that when things go wrong that bad, usually we would most likely have a break down. This will happen if you travel in Europe and you have to embrace it.
The Verdict: Genova
My, oh my. Genova is so underrated. Eventually we got ourselves to Milan as our train to Switzerland was from there. Honestly speaking, I would take Genova over Milan any day. And I am not sorry for saying that. Genova has so much heritage and was one of Italy’s pioneer industrial cities. The vibe, the architecture and the people there are just lovely. It is also the birth place of pesto, so why else wouldn’t you go there?
Milan to Bellinzona, Switzerland
Time spent in Bellinzona: 2 days. Train trip with Swiss Federal Railways
Thankfully, from Genova we could get a train directly to Milan where we got our train to Switzerland. A brief point about Milan: Milan is flashy, and that is it. Moving on, our train trip to Bellinzona was absolutely stunning and Switzerland’s train system was a breath of fresh air after being in Italy for close to a month.
Travel Itinerary Tip
If you know me personally, you know that I love trying obscure craft beers, drinking wine and spending evenings in cosy bars. There is a bar called literally called Folk Bar, full of folk décor and it is the cutest dive bar in the world. I really mean that; I have never been to a bar like it. Though Switzerland’s beer is pricy (and Switzerland is pricy in general), if you hit up Folk Bar at apertivo time, after 5-6pm, you will get a glorious amount of free bar snacks with your drinks. Oh, and plenty of snack refills.
The Verdict: Bellinzona
Bellinzona was absolutely breath taking. If you love mountains, snow and cute folk bars please get yourself here. Swiss-Italy is extremely refreshing after you have spent a bit of time in busy Italian cities. I also highly recommend staying at the ‘budget’ style hotel, Osteria Leon D’or. The breakfast is great, the staff will bend over backwards for you and it is right across from Bellinzona station.
Bellinzona to Zurich
Time spent in Zurich: 2 days. Train Trip with Swiss Federal Railways
Travel Tip: Be prepared to spend
We knew right off the bat that Switzerland was an expensive place to be. But, nothing could prepare us for how expensive it truly was. Because we had to budget for the rest of the trip, we couldn’t do all that much in Zurich except for walk around, occasionally have a small treat. For two university students, it was a waste of time and money for us to go to Zurich. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city. But for us it was impossible to enjoy Zurich on the cheap. But I got a few cool photos… that’s all that really matters right?
Zurich to Vienna, Austria
Time spent in Vienna: 3 days, flight with Austrian Airlines
Traveling to Vienna from Zurich was one of those instances where it was genuinely cheaper to fly with not just a budget airline, but a premium carrier, than the train. Let me just say this: Austrian Airlines were absolutely fantastic. Great flight, lovely staff and everything inside the plane is red and white and its just so cute. Also, Zurich and Vienna’s airports are also very easy to navigate and get to and from- all you need to do is jump on the airport train.
Sneaky Accommodation Tip:
Stay at Pension Neuer Markt. There are numerous pensions in Austria. Basically, they are a form of budget hotel but the staff look after you as if you are family. Also, the breakfast was magical and the whole place was so vintage and chic. I would stay here again when we return to Vienna.
Spoiler alert! Well, I won’t say too much more than this: Vienna was one of the absolute highlights of the trip and has to be one of my favourite cities in Europe. Stay tuned for why it was our favourite but for now, enjoy some of my Vienna photography. And now before this blog post gets too long, this will be the end of part 1 of our route overview. Stay tuned for part 2!