“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius
Friends, I have an announcement.
To many of you who know me in the real world, there’s been something that I’ve been talking about for a little while now. A big event coming up that often gets brought up in conversation. An impending adventure that, for over a year, has been so far only the topic of discussion and endless planning rather than a reality. Well folks, that dream is nearly coming to fruition, and it’s time to go public with it.
I’m going to Italy!
Yes, the beautiful, lush European Boot. The center of what was once the greatest empire of Western Civilization. One of the most sought after destinations of the world. The sheer amount of history and culture that have come out of this massive peninsula is absolutely flabbergasting. There is a litany of reasons to visit the Italian homeland, from the snow-capped Alps to the rolling hills of Tuscany, not to mention the food, wine and vibrant culture of the people. It’s for many of these reasons, and the strangest sense of Fernweh, that I have decided to plant my flag all over the home of the Renaissance this fall.
Perhaps I should explain.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had what could be categorized as an unhealthy fascination with the Ancient Roman Civilization. From the beginnings of the Republic to the Falling of the Empire, I often find myself entrenched in research for hours when it comes to the topic of Rome. Indeed, whenever someone in conversation brings up anything regarding the Romans, the next person over turns to me and says “well, is that accurate?”, which will result in a ten minute education on that topic and everything surrounding it.
Yes, I even play games about Rome in my spare time…Here I am conquering the world in the name of Rome.
I’ve never been able to pin down the Why. If you do know me, you know that I also have a love for history in general. I’m riveted by the knowledge of the past of multiple cultures, civilizations, nations and peoples. But for some reason, I’ve fixated on the City of the Seven Hills ever since I can even recall caring about anything. Ever since opening a book and reading the words of the crimson clad Romans, I’ve been enthralled. My family has no ties to that culture whatsoever, in fact, we’re Norse in nature, which would’ve been a natural enemy to Roman dominance. So I don’t appear to have any realistic disposition to these ancient peoples. And yet, I’ve had this desire to see this place that I have this calling to, and now I’m answering that call. I’m hoping that I figure it out when I get there.
Okay! Now that you’re thoroughly confused, let’s pull back together into the land of sense and logic, and get into the What.
This trip will be roughly three weeks long, and I plan to do a basic, self guided tour of the boot. Covering the Where, my plan is to visit the following cities: Milan, Florence, Venice, Bologna, the five villages of Cinque Terre, Naples, and of course Rome itself. I’m going to be flying to Milan instead of directly to Rome, and will start my journey there. I plan to go down the boot, following the Western coast through Rome, turning around in Naples to head up to the Bologna area to Venice, and flying back out of Milan. I aim to walk, bus and train to each of these places. I do not plan to stay in any hotels, instead making great use of the hostel, airbnb and couch surfing networks that are available. Hell, I’ll sleep on the side of the road, I don’t care. Comfort is something that is not important to me. I’ll be moving the majority of this time, not staying in any one place for more than a few days.
I’ll be doing a lot of sight seeing, obviously! There are so many landmarks and places of great historical value that I want to stand on and be in that I’m getting fired up just thinking about it! Indeed, outside of the pretty obvious places (Coliseum, Vatican, Sistine Chapel), there’s a lot of more obscure spots I intend to visit and explore. The area of Cinque Terre is the one I’m most excited about, a group of five coastal villages that can only be reached by hiking after you bus to the area.
I bet you’re wondering if I’m going to do anything other than gawk at old stuff and flirt with Italian Women. I have a few skills and goals that I want to learn while on the road. I’m looking to improve my ability to survive on very minimal possessions and sharpen my Spartan mentality. I’d also like to learn a few new recipes and get a good education on authentic Italian cooking (I’ll get that perfect Pasta recipe, damn it!). Another thing I’d like to do is to continue my training of and master the Italian language. I’ll be doing this by using it as often as I can in real life situations, learning the mannerisms and slang that you aren’t going to get out of (insert language learning platform here). I’ve spent a considerable amount of time learning it, and by the time I leave, I believe I’ll be ready to practice speaking the language out in the real world. Yes, I’m also bringing a DSLR with me, knowing that I simply can’t pass up the opportunity for shots of a lifetime. I even intend on visiting a few vineyards and educating myself on local wine customs. My goal is to better understand how Italian wine is so successful and how I could replicate it should I ever desire to. In Vino Veritas!
Also, that video game view man…
“Um, Bergy, How the fuck are you going to do any of this?”
It is and is not as simple as “Well, I’m just gonna get on this here plane and fly on over!”. While that’s literally what is happening, there’s a little more nuance than that. Questions that I’m most often asked look a little something like “How are you affording this?” or “Where are you going to stay?”. Fair questions, but they are loaded, and come with some assumptions.
Let’s start with the money question, because that’s what you all want to know, right? The first assumption with this is that its going to be ridiculously expensive, and it simply isn’t as much as you think. Don’t believe me? Let’s break it down.
Lodging: I will not be staying in straight up hotels, saving me hundreds of dollars over the course of a few weeks. Through sites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing, I can find incredibly cheap and great places to stay, not to mention all of the low cost hostels dotting the landscape. Rates vary for each, but I assure you its better than a $100-150 a night hotel room. Maybe I’ll make some friends and have a grand ole time at their place? Perhaps I’ll just say to hell with it and camp under the stars?
Food: I don’t plan to go out to eat everyday (yes, every once in a while, gotta live right?). Instead, I’ll be picking up food from marketplaces and grocery stores, finding simple and affordable foods to eat on the go. Already, I have been practicing the right kind of shopping in my everyday life for someone who is always on the go and doesn’t necessarily have a place to cook. Things like fresh fruit, fish, vegetables, trail mixes, and small pastas are what I expect to be dining on primarily. Coupled with intermittent fasting, I could spend less than $5 a day on food eating this way. Don’t worry, I won’t starve! I’ve been practicing the concept and technique of intermittent fasting for the last year now, gotta love those ketones! Indeed, I’ll go entire days without eating and workout the next morning, not having a performance hit at all. As of the writing of this post, when I plan to eat today, I’ll have already gone about 19 hours without eating. This will be great on the road, as I don’t foresee carrying a lot of food around with me.
Activities: Like I stated, I plan to see and do a lot. Most of that won’t cost me hardly anything. I will be doing a couple of tours (Vatican, Coliseum) but beyond that, I’ll just be experiencing those things on my own guided time. This will save me hundreds of dollars in not doing the mainstream touristy stuff. Instead, I plan to do a lot of hiking, taking pictures with my Canon Rebel T3, meeting locals, research, writing, and learning.
Airfare/Transportation: Okay, so I’m guessing that you’re of the belief that this is going to be in the 1k-2k range. And you’d be right, if you flew directly to Rome and its a “short notice” flight. Which is why I’m flying to Zurich, Switzerland instead, and taking the train over, saving me about $500. A train right from Zurich to Milan is about $50. So, I took some rewards points I had from a credit card, combined them with a flight to Zurich, and am going to spend maybe $650 total getting into Italy. Boom. I plan to walk/hike in most of these areas, and train if my destinations are further apart. I don’t plan on renting anything like a car or scooter. The public transportation in Europe is far better there than it is here, and cheaper. Mobility won’t be that much of a problem.
I might just horse….
So, you’re probably wondering what the grand total number is going to be. After some consideration, taking into account food, transportation, lodging and activities, I estimate spending no more than $2,000. That’s my max, I don’t even plan to spend that much. I know that might still appear to be a lot of money, but two grand over the course of three weeks, including airfare, in a place that you don’t live, have a temporary residence, have no vehicle, and have no kitchen to cook food in is pretty good considering what it could be. Some people spend that much money on the airfare alone. Hell, the Cruise cost me more money than that!
Now, we’re left with the When. I get on the airplane Monday, September 26th, 2016. I then hop over for a brief stop in Atlanta, finally over the sea and hitting Zurich the next morning, September 27th. I’m going to spend the day with the Swiss, and am going to train to Milan the night of the 27th, getting some good shuteye while I make the journey. Much like the US, this will be the beginning of Fall in Italy, and the temperatures are going to start dropping. The climate is much like Southern Minnesota/Iowa, which is perfect for a born and bred Minnesotan like me. While I gallivant up and down the boot, fall will be in full swing. After about two weeks, I’m going to start making my way back north towards Venice and back to Milan, and finally flying back out of Zurich on October 14th, to Amsterdam. From there, I’ll be flying back to Minneapolis, and since time zones are fun, only returning a few hours Central Time from when I left Europe.
Pretty wild, yeah? I’ve spent 1.5 years planning this trip, and I’m so excited now that its less than a month away. Many years ago, I used to change my background on my work laptop to pictures of villas in Tuscany, staring in wonder. I can’t believe that I’m going to get to see it with my own blue irises, feel it with my epidermis, taste it with my buds, breathe the air in with my oxygen tubes, and hear it with my skull audio inputs.
Tuscan Villa, Val D’Orcia – This was the closest picture I could find to the one I referenced…
Watch out Italia, this bearded Swede is coming for you. Like my ancestors before me, I will be crossing the Rubicon and marching my way into Roman territory. Not to conquer you, but to conquer myself. Prepare for my arrival.
“Vini, Vidi, Vici.” – Gaius Julius Caesar
Cameron James and Emily Johnson – Vacation Photos
Screenshot: Total War: Rome 2
Screenshots: Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood