Out of all the countries that I was visiting on my trip around Europe, I was most excited to go to Italy. In case you haven’t noticed in my previous posts, I’m a bit of a nerd; I love history, art, archeology, etc. In other words, Italy is my kind of nerd-heaven. However, I had a couple uncomfortable run-ins in Milan which quickly made it my least favorite city that I visited during my backpacking trip.
I found a hostel for only 10 euro a night and boy, was that a learning experience for me; sometimes you get what you pay for. It was by far the worst hostel I’ve ever stayed at in my life (and that’s saying something considering I’ve stayed in over 60 of them). I generally stay in mixed-rooms when they’re available since they’re cheaper and have never had a problem. However, this was the first time I was ever uncomfortable with my sleeping arrangements.
I was in a room with 6 beds, but only one other person-a middle aged Italian man who was extremely creepy. He asked me out multiple times when I first arrived and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer when I tried to politely decline. He finally went out by himself and came back drunk. He kept telling me that was going to cook dinner and asked me if I would eat with him. Since it was 11pm, I’d already eaten dinner, which I told him. He left the room for a bit and came back with a huge bowl of pasta, which he said he made just for me. I’m really not a fan of disturbing people that won’t leave me alone, so I was a little less nice when I told him that it was too bad he wasted his time cooking for me, because I’d already told him that I wasn’t hungry.
Since it was the middle of summer and extremely hot, I usually slept in my shorts and sports bra, but I didn’t want to give this guy any wrong ideas. I wanted to change into clean clothes at least, but wasn’t comfortable doing so in the room. I also couldn’t change in the bathroom because there was vomit all over the floor and apparently the hostel crew didn’t feel the need to clean it up for 24 hours. So I ended up sleeping fully clothed. I was glad that I did when I woke up an hour later with a weird feeling. When I opened my eyes the guy was sitting on the end of the bed, watching me. Needless to say, I didn’t really sleep the rest of the night.
Since I didn’t sleep well and didn’t want to spend any more time in the hostel than I had to, I was up and out the door early the next morning. I walked around for a bit to clear my head and thought about finding another place to stay, but I only had one more night in town and didn’t want to waste the day looking for another room. I decided that I would just sleep in my clothes again that night and maybe keep my new Swiss army knife close at hand, just in case.
I hadn’t had much time the previous day to walk around after I got settled into my hostel, so I was looking forward to seeing the sights. I visited Castello Sforzesco.
I did a little shopping. (After all, Milan is supposed to be the fashion capital.) I bought a cute pair of shoes and a beautiful bracelet. Since I only had a few more weeks left in my trip, I wasn’t very concerned about adding weight to my pack but they were pretty light anyway.
I also stopped by the Piazza Duomo, which was an amazing sight to see. Travel tip: always carry a scarf with you. Some churches won’t let you enter if your shoulders aren’t covered, yet if it’s really hot, you may want to wear a tank top. If you have a scarf on hand, it’s super easy to drape it over your shoulders to make sure you’re complying with cultural norms, while still being comfortable. Plus, you can easily take it off when you leave the church and tie it on your day pack so it’s out of the way. Some guidebooks will caution ‘modest dress required’ so that you know what to expect. But I got in the habit of always taking a scarf with me just in case I changed my plans during the day.
As I was walking around one of the piazzas I had a man try to stop me to sell me a handmade bracelet. I told him I wasn’t interested and kept walking. He followed me and tossed the bracelet over my shoulder. When I stopped to give it back to him, he wouldn’t take it. So I turned to walk away. I took one step and he grabbed my arm and spun me around. “Where are you from, pretty lady?” I asked him to let go of my arm and he refused. “Why won’t you talk to me?” he asked. At that point, I’d had enough. I raised my voice and loudly stated, “Get your hands off me. Right. Now.” Fortunately, we were in a crowded public place, so passersbys stopped and stared. I could tell they were assessing the situation. He could tell too and let go of my arm. I dropped his bracelet on the ground and forced myself to calmly walk away.
After my two very uncomfortable moments in less than 24 hours, I didn’t really love Milan. I’d heard all of the horrible stereotypes of Italian men, but I never really believed them. I’d known many Italian Americans, especially when living in New York and never felt uncomfortable or thought they were inappropriate. Maybe I was being targeted extra as a tourist, but so far my impression was that traveling as a solo female in Italy put you in the position to receive unwanted advances by men that didn’t seem to understand what the word ‘no’ meant. This had me seriously questioning how much I would enjoy the rest of my time in Italy.
Have you ever felt uncomfortable or unsafe when traveling? How did you handle these moments?
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