Giro d’Italia: Part V – Roma

Roma, La Cittá Eterna

As much as I would love to say that our time in the Italian capital was filled with cultural experiences and renaissance enlightenment, it wasn’t.

The Trevi at night. Photo: Kim Ivany

We spent more time drinking Moretti beers in front of the Trevi Fountain after dark than learning ancient history of the city.


We did invest 30 euro each on a Hope On Hope Off style bus tour of the city. We thought this would be a genious way to transport ourselves around the town the most efficiently.

This building needs a retouch

Unfortunately, ‘Greenline Tours’ did not provide. I do not have the facts to support a claim that it is run by the mafia, but…

After spending hours walking the city, inadvertendly exploring, trying to find the stop for the bus we finally got the bus company’s ‘grand tour’ and rested our tired legs.

An evening in Roma

We met our international journalisthøjskole friends Kim and Hugo from Canada along the way, and together we spent a hyggelig evening with drinks, the Spanish Steps, good company, and bargained down drunk food (“Scusatemi, scusatemi, quanto costa per una pezza della pizza?)

We didn't know at the time that this cost 5Euro each...

We played gladiators at the colloseum, power walked through the Vatican to stay awake, hung out with the Pope on Palm Sunday mass in Piazza San Pietro as well as battling the induced nausea of Caroline’s multi vitamins.

It was real, it was great. It was really great.



In the next edition: Follow Damien south to Sorrento.

This bad boy makes something like 3000Euro a day


Kim is impressed

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Giro d’Italia: Part Four – Firenze

The morning after Emily’s birthday we promptly packed our bags and said our good byes to the Cinque Tezza. Sleep deprived and hung over, we made our way back to the train station for marked off another day on our Eurail passes.

Il ponte vecchio, Firenze

Unfortunately for Emily, the shenanigans of the night before left her travelling most of the day down to Florence with her head in the train toilet, reliving the previous nights festivities.

Florence was worth it, however. It was culture week which meant that everything was free for us to visit, only the lines were longer.

On top of the Duomo, on top of the world

We marvelled at the statue of David and had our breaths taken away by the views at the top of the Duomo.

The hostel we stayed in was a former ministery, although it resembled more a creepy mental institute. We befriended other weary travels that we came across, including our Canadian room mate. She was travelling just her and her cold, and left Emily and I sick after she had checked out a day earlier than us.

Locker McLockerson

Unfortunately, this girl also had a locking fetish. Whenever she would use the door to get into our room she would unlock it, and lock it behind her.

The reasons this was annoying were two-fold: One, we never carried our keys and would always have to wake her up and get her out of bed to let us inside the room. Two, she was a clumsy locker and woke the girls up numerously when she would go to the bathroom at night and rattle the lock in her desperate attempts to keep it bolted at all times.

Stumbling through Florence

A Tuscan Wonderland

Florence was a magical city and I cannot wait to return. The small streets that the three of us ‘stumbled’ upon and the delicious food and gelato that we ate were indescribable. The city had a vibe that made me want to be “more” Italian.

It was with regret that we had to leave the magic of the Firenze and, once again, board another Italian train to continue our adventure down to Rome.

In the next edition: Follow Damien through the eternal city.

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Giro d’Italia: Part Three – PISA

La Torre di Pisa

Pisa was my favourite day in Italy. Not only is it a vibrant student city, it is also where my Italian host sisters live.

Host sisters?

When I was 16 I studied a semester in Palermo. The two sisters of my host family down there (Claudia and Gabriella) now both attend uni in Pisa.

Claudia e Gabriella

Originally we planned to visit them later in the week, but after a drunk decision in Monterosso, we decided to bump up Operation Pisa to the next day.

A cheeky text message saying that I would be in town later that day was luckily sufficient to arrange a more than five year reunion.

We met them under the Leaning Tower. Leaving the touristy area, they took us for a passegata around the more ‘local’ parts of their town.

Lost in translation

Emily and Carloline do not speak Italian. My host sisters do not speak English. Obviously there was a language barrier between them. Meanwhile, my Italian that was more than lost during my years of not speaking it after I dropped it at uni. But it slowly came back. The three of us were having conversations in Italian all day like old times.

We reminisced on the days back in Palermo and made plans for them to come and visit Melbourne in the future. It was a really great day.

Everyone likes a tourist 

Disaster waiting to happen

After we parted ways with my sisters, we returned to the leaning tower and embraced the inner tourist within us. We rented a two bike buggie, and went on a cycle tour of the old town. Caroline and I both peddled, while Emily, in the middle, played navigator.

Distracted by how ridiculous we looked and how dangerous driving in peak hour traffic was, Emily’s focus left the directions and focussed more on fear and hilarity.

Obviously we got lost. Really lost. I asked for directions from a local, and it turned out we had cycled off the map that was provided. In a frantic hurry to return within the alloted time so as to not lose our deposit, we biked “Lance Armstrong” style back to where we started, making up the way as we went.

It turned out okay more or less, until a police officer told us to alight the vechile and walk it after being caught going the wrong way on a one-way street.

Best food in Italy

Emily enjoying a slice. Photo: Caroline McCarley

That night, following the recommendation of my sisters, we went to a small and hard to find pizzeria. It was the best pizza I had ever eaten. Having had a few Moretti beers by this stage, it seemed a good idea to tell the Nonna working there in Italian that it was in fact the best pizza I’d ever had. She enjoyed this, and gave us free food. Excellent.

We left Pisa that day feeling pretty good and ready to continue on our Italian Eurotrip.

In the next edition: Follow Damien to Florence.

The three of us

The other three of us

Beers by the tower

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Giro d’Italia: Part Two – Le Cinque Terre

Checking into our hostel in Monterosso was very difficult. The lady kept chatting Italian with us  giving us info on the best places to go where.


We didn’t care. We just wanted to get on the beach. The weather was beautiful and the water looked inviting. There was no sand which was weird, but the pebbles were easy enough to walk on, Moretti beer in hand.

The Cinque Terre is collection of five small towns scattered along the coastline, all within walking distance of each other. Unfortunately for us, the hike that connects them along the beach was closed due to a landslide. This left us with a lot of extra and unnecessary time in Monterosso prior to the tourist season.  We started to recognise the locals and formed nick-names for most of them, and were on first name basis with others.


Small town means small nightlife

 As it was still prior to the busy season, the town was pretty quite. The nightlife was minimal, but we still found ourselves with drinks in hand every day. One night Emily and I ended up in conversation with an American couple on their honeymoon.

Only taking coins out with us, we strategically were able to score drinks out of the couple as they told us (unconvincingly) how happy and successful they are back in the states. The joke was definitely on them as we pretended to listen eagerly while drinking off their pocket. That’s rule number one from the Backpacker’s Guide to Being Cheap.

Cheeky hike at sunset

Ciao, Riomaggiore!

After two nights we moved on to Riomaggiore, where Emily celebrated her 21st birthday. Again, the nightlife was not exactly what we expected but we still had a great time. With friends we made from the hostel (which resembled an orphanage or a scene out of Madeline) we frequented the one bar in town each night until it closed, or the bartender hooked up.

The day after her birthday, Emily nursed her hangover on the train all the way to Florence. A reminder that she is not as young as she used to be.

The Cinque Terre was a great beach experience for us and we definitely left more bronzed than when we arrived. It was just a shame that the hikes were closed while we were there.

In the next edition: Follow Damien to Pisa.

Photo: Caroline McCarley

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Giro d’Italia: Part One – Venezia

Feeling the Italian sun on our faces came as a welcome relief after three months in Denmark. The sights, sounds and smells were overwhelming and typically Italian. We definitely had a feeling that we weren’t in Scandinavia anymore.

The Arrival

Emily, Caroline and I flew Ryanair to an airport outside Milan. It was under two hours, but felt like a flight longer than Melbourne to Copenhagen. Emily doesn’t take well to air travel at the best of times, least of all on a flight that sounded like its engine cut out over the top of the Swiss Alps. Her clammy hand clutched mine during take off and landing. Even Caroline was a little apprehensive flying in a plane that would lose a race to my 1989 Toyota Camery, Red Rocket.

Stock standard Gondola

As soon we left the airport, the jumper came off and the thongs (flip-flops) came on. The smell was a combination of sun, pizza, gelato and siestas. Straight away it reminded me of the last time I was in Italy 5 years ago on exchange in high school. The unexpected familiarity made me all the more excited for what became the best two weeks of my life.

Eurail = EurFail

From Milan, we trained to our first destination: Venice. Activated Eurail passes in hand, we thought that we had everything under control and were excited to get to the hostel and have a slice of pizza and a Moretti beer like the true backpackers we were.

Before this could happen, we had a slap in the face by Italian bureaucracy. We had not written the date on our Eurail passes.

No amount of us pleading ignorant could detract from the 25 Euro fine we each received. Initially it was going to be 50 euro, but I guess he had a tiny bit of compassion for the English-speaking tourists.

“I’m in Venice, Bitch”

One of many bridges

Not to be disheartened by a mistake that almost sent us broke, we ventured on to Venice, one of the strangest places I’ve ever been to. The city is a confusing labyrinth filled with small side streets and identical bridges. 80% of the time we spent there we were lost. But if we had to be disorientated in any town, Venice is the one to choose.

One thing we learned from our struggle: all roads lead to Piazza San Marco, aka Tourist Central.

The three of us preferred to stick to the less touristy places to enjoy the sun and eat the best gelato of our lives. A few hours in and Emily and I were in dire need of sunscreen to shield our pasty skin from the suns rays we had not seen for months.

Prepping for Carnivale

We tried on the Venetian Masks, haggled with Gondola drivers to give us a cheap deal, and found directions from an old couple that didn’t speak English. Fortunately, it didn’t take long until my ‘powers’ came through and I was able to speak and understand the locals. Not having spoken Italian since I dropped it at Uni, I was a little rusty to say the least. By the time we left two weeks later I surprised myself by speaking it like it was going out of fashion.

Back on the railway lines

Caro trying to find a bathroom, Venice.

We left Venice with very fond memories. Whether it was Caroline dragging us around the city in a very desperate hunt to find a bathroom or taking my first espresso shot, Venezia delivered. From here it was on to the beaches of Italy’s west coast: The Cinque Terre.

In the next edition: Follow Damien to small town Monterosso.

Wankerish "black-and-white" shot.

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Århus to Aalborg

Børglum Kollegiet. Photo: Terry Mun

In the past few weeks, some very exciting things have taken place here in Århus.

Spring in gradually setting in and the days are getting longer. It is starting to feel more like a Melbourne winter now, allowing us internationals to defrost from the coldest winter of most of our lives.

The other week I had my first Danish band experience. Tagging along with people from my floor at Børglum, we went down to the ‘Vox Hall’ in the Århus CBD on a Wednesday night to see the gig. The venue was perfect, small enough to be intimate but not too crammed. It was similar to the Corner Hotel in Richmond back in Melbourne.

'The Rumour Said Fire' playing in Århus

The band was called The Rumour Said Fire, a Danish band that sing in English. I had only heard one of their songs prior, but left a fan of all of their tracks. Their style is catchy, laid back ‘indie-rock’.

Kasper, bass player of TRSF

After the show, we ran into a guy who had recently moved off of our floor. He was friends with the bass player from their high school days. Just before we were about to leave, the bass player, Kasper, came out and started talking to our friend. Phuong (from my floor) was star-struck out of her mind.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, I went up to him and introduced myself as an ‘Australian fan’ of his and told him I would bring his band back with me to Australia.

Floor Crawl; Caroline and I in a zombie wedding

While on the topic of people on my floor at Børglum, this weekend we celebrated a Tour des Chambres. While this is a French term, it is also Danish for Floor Crawl.

Three AM came around and instead of going to bed after a night of drinking shots as frequently as the song changed on the stereo, Simon on my floor and two other guys I hadn’t met insisted that we partake in the “gentlemen’s game” of Beer Bowling.

Outside in the cold in two teams, we rolled a ball between us to try and knock over a bottle. It was a simple game, but it lead to many ‘penalty beers’ that required on the spot chugging. It was a true Danish experience and from what I can remember of it, a worth while one.

The three of us in Ålborg. Photo: Caroline McCarley

In the past few weeks I have also had my very first Couch Surfing experience. Emily, Caroline and I decided to take our Profile Interview assignments on the road. We jumped on a train and went on location to nearby Aalborg in Northern Denmark to find interesting people to interview.

Emily had managed to find someone in the town who was willing to host three non-Danish speakers for the weekend. Nice one, Emily!

Our Couch Surfer Host, Mikkel. Photo: Emily Dickinson

Saturday morning came around and we were knocking on the door of someone’s apartment we had never met, expecting accommodation and feeling a little apprehensive about the whole thing.

Fortunately, Mikkel turned out to be a great host and tour guide, showing us around the town. He was even so good to us he let me do my profile assignment on him.

Unsurprisingly, Aalborg looked a lot like Århus. Just smaller and colder. It was still nice to see a bit more of the country where we are living.

On Friday, Emily, Caroline and myself will take an infamous Ryanair flight south to Italy where we will Eurail ourselves from top to bottom, taking in as much warm weather as we can.

In the next edition: Follow Damien Eurailing through Italy, trying to speak to locals in their native tongue.

Jomfru Ane Gade in Aalborg is the largest street of bars in Scandinavia

Århus and Aalborg look the same

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Parlez-vous Français?

Champs D'élysé and Arc de Triomphe

Who could ask for a more beautiful city than Paris? Definitely not us when we spent the weekend there before heading to Strasbourg for school. What we could have asked for was a more simple trek to get there.

My dorm Børglum was having one of its biggest parties of the year. I had heard a lot about how good these huge parties are, held in the old bomb shelter under the main building built during the war.

While everyone around us was pre-drinking and getting costumes together, Caroline and I could be seen walking through the grounds with our backpacks strapped to us, ready for a night filled with sitting around airports and going through security. Woohoo.

Two bus rides later we made it to the Billund airport (about two hours out of Århus) ready to fly there via Amsterdam. It was a half hour stop over and no we did not smoke weed. When we arrived in Paris, we were exhausted.

Caroline and a baguette. Standard.

But we were in PARIS!

Our hostel was in a great location in the Latin Quarter. The five of us shared in a six man dorm. Number six, or “Giacomo” as we like to call him (or any generic Latin male name we thought of at the time) was not as excited to meet us as we were him. That night when we returned from doing fun French things, he was already in bed. He greeted our enthusiastic welcomes with simple one word answers. The next morning he could not have left the room more discreetly. He is now my base for the definition of the term “low key”.  Giacomo, if you’re reading this, please come back into our lives some day.

The first thing that we did in Paris was take in the sun and (relative) warm weather. Coming from freezing cold Denmark, the beautiful 12 degree weather of France was heaven.

The set of the Da Vinci Code, aka the Louvre

Walking around Paris was great. We “stumbled upon” the Pantheon (I didn’t even know Paris had one), Notre Dame, and the Louvre.

While we ate our baguettes in a park we were able to see the Louvre in one direction, the Champs D’élysé and the Arc de Triomphe in another, as well as the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We felt so freaking French.

Waiter, one plate of snails, please.

That night we ate at a legit French restaurant and had ourself a nice plate of snails, aka escargot. Surprisingly they were not at all bad, despite the texture. They just tasted like garlic.

Later that night we decided we would jump up the Eiffel Tower and gaze over Paris at night. As we started walking, we realised that we didn’t really know how to get there. When we made it to the right train, it for some reason stopped abruptly before we arrived at the right station. Annoying. Stupid French.

Not discouraged, we decided to run in what we thought was the right direction to make it in time before it closed for the night.

Kicking it on the tower

The stereotype of rude French people was confirmed while on this mission. When I stopped and asked a French lady in English which direction the “Eiffel Tower” was, she told me she didn’t know what I was talking about. What a bitch.

Another lady laughed rudely and thought I was joking and taking the piss, as we knew we were very close. Eventually we made it and, out of breath, took the elevator up and stood in the cold, overlooking the city of love. It was pretty sweet.

How many references to the Eiffel Tower can I make in this post?

Paris, you delivered. I’ll be seeing you again soon.

In the next edition: Follow Damien couch-surfing in Denmark.

If you lived in Paris, wouldn't you be dancing in the streets on a Sunday morning?

Our hostel.

What is this again?

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