Tag Archive: travel

Nothing Is Perfect: The Less-Good Parts

''The Mouth of the Beast'' from http://www.flickr.com/photos/amiebea/220479689/ by http://www.flickr.com/photos/amiebea/ {{cc-by}}

”The Mouth of the Beast” from http://www.flickr.com/photos/amiebea/220479689/ by http://www.flickr.com/photos/amiebea/ {{cc-by}}

One of my favorite people told me I sound like a superhero. The blog highlights all of the great parts of leaving my job and wandering the world, but none of the snags or tangles along the way.

I’m not sure I entirely agree. I’ve highlighted some of the ambiguous moments, like feeling stranded in Tuscany without a car, struggling with Internet outages and unreliable trains, and getting used to dark nights in farmhouse country. I’ve written about fear.

Partly, I’ve shied away from ungood stories because I don’t want to sound like I’m whining or ungrateful. On balance, this whole endeavor really is pretty great, and I’m happy I did it. I’m also grateful I was able to do it.

But to balance the scales a bit, this post will cover, in an anonymized way, several additional things that weren’t perfect.

1. Cat Bite, Initial Encounter. That’s what the hospital paperwork said when I was released from the emergency room. My roommate’s cat, which hates people but liked me, didn’t like it when I took her photo with my iPhone. It looked like a tiny scratch, but it got infected and my arm turned red. Seven days of antibiotics and stern warnings from my doctors to take all of them. I did.

2. Other Guest Roulette. With Airbnb, when I rent a private room in a host’s apartment, there are always other guests at some point. This has been true 100% of the time so far. Some of the guests were also from Airbnb, and some were friends of the host. Several of the guests were awesome and we became friends; others were less awesome. Only one made me feel truly uncomfortable, mainly because the hosts were also out, but we shared space for just a day and I locked my door while he was there.

3. Type-A, Nature-Lover Shock Therapy. I discovered I may not be cut out for life on vacation. That’s fine; I didn’t think I wanted to spend my life on vacation anyway. But I had more trouble than expected when I stepped away from an always-on, Internet-focused life. It was good for me to have this experience, but it wasn’t as easy or relaxing as I thought it would be. There were also beetles in the farmhouse that made a low, humming buzz that sounded like giant wasps. This terrified me until I figured it out.

4. My Right Foot. I sprained my ankle about 10 days before my scheduled flight to Florence. It wasn’t a bad sprain and didn’t hurt much, so I never bothered to ice it much or use a compression bandage. But I re-sprained it two days pre-flight; it collapsed while I was just standing still (perhaps a bad sign).

It still didn’t hurt much, so I purchased a compression sock and flew to Italy, then ended up visiting the ER the night after I landed. It turned out to be fine, thankfully, and the total bill was 31 euros. A week later, I re-sprained it again in the Cinque Terre, because I was starting to feel better and saw a hiking path near the water that I really wanted to explore. This time was worse — I felt like there was spaghetti in my ankle instead of ligaments and tendons. I finally accepted the need to take it easy. (It is getting better now, fingers crossed — I’m getting SCENAR therapy from my amazing acupuncturist and it is essentially a miracle.)

5. What Now Syndrome. My greatest fear is that I am like a zoo animal that, released from its pen, stands in the middle of a field and doesn’t know what to do. I can do anything, so I do a little bit of everything, and therefore I do nothing. I feel this fear more acutely as the learning-and-exploring phase of my adventures shifts into a do-something phase. I don’t think it’s bad for me to try several different things, and I think as long as I do some real work every day, I’ll figure it out, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by possibilities. I woke up this morning from a dream that I won’t be happy unless I’m working hard. I already knew that. And I woke up happy and ready to work.

I can’t help it even now. I’m turning this “Nothing Is Perfect” post into an “Isn’t This Awesome?” post. That really is how I think about the world. But nothing is perfect, and I’ve tried to give you a glimpse of that, to round out the picture and add more humanity to this adventure story.

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My Interview with Nomadtopia

I’m excited to share the interview I did with Amy Scott at Nomadtopia: It’s here.

In the interview, I share some of my best advice from six months of travel, learning and exploration, including how I test-drove my nomad plan before taking the leap.

I normally have long blog posts, but this time I’ll let the interview speak for me, and I’ll be back with more later.

How to Get Almost-Free Airline Miles with Rocketmiles

One of the services I used during my recent trip was Rocketmiles. Rocketmiles offers airline miles in exchange for prepayment of hotel bookings. The main draw, for me, is the ability to earn United MileagePlus miles for hotel stays. And not just small bonuses — I earned 9000 United MileagePlus miles for a three-night stay at the Hilton Vienna Danube. The hotel rate was about $150 per night.

The going rate for 9000 miles on United’s website as a flight add-on is about $180-190. So, in exchange for paying a few weeks in advance, I received those miles for essentially $0. (I often use miles for business-class flights, so this starts to look even better.)

Rocketmiles is simple to use. Enter your destination, number of guests, dates of stay and airline loyalty program, and it produces a list of hotels offering at least 1,000 miles per night in exchange for your prepayment. Refundable rooms are often available (with cancellations required about a week before the stay begins), and prices are often the same as those on other travel sites.

Certain cities appear to offer better Rocketmiles deals than others, on average, though this can vary according to your dates of stay. I saw good deals in Vienna, Prague and Montreal when I was looking.

To me, Rocketmiles is a no-brainer if:

  • You’re planning to stay at a hotel anyway;
  • You’re staying with someone else, so your costs will be even lower; and
  • You can find a refundable room at a hotel that appeals to you.

In my mind, it becomes even more of a great deal if the value of miles received approaches 30% of the total hotel bill.

So, what are the caveats?

  • All hotels tend to sound good on Rocketmiles. Double-check the user reviews on TripAdvisor before you book.
  • Double-check the price on other travel sites to make sure it’s the same.
  • If you’re booking business travel, make sure you’re following your company’s procedures (i.e., are allowed to book your own hotel).

For four separate stays in November, the miles credited to my account quickly, and there were no hassles. I was treated well by the hotels and the rooms I was assigned were fine.

This service seems a little too-good-to-be-true, but I’ll be using it as long as it’s available.

Sabbatical Phase 2: Coworking and Bootstrapping

As I gear up for Phase Two of my adventures, I feel pulled in different directions. My primary goal is to make things that are helpful, useful improvements to the world. I’m conflicted about how and where to do it, specifically whether to try coworking, and how to bootstrap/fund until those things either succeed or fail.

Dilemma 1: Where to Work

On coworking, I’m an introvert. I enjoy meeting people, but a day in a noisy space leaves me needing to rest and recharge. I do my best work in focused, productive bursts, either alone or with a small team of people. (I’m also good at political wrangling and large meetings, but that skill is less useful for my current activities, at least right now.)

I’m not sure I see the benefit of paying money to sit in a noisy space that saps my concentration and energy.

Fortunately, I have alternatives. On Thursdays and weekends, I can visit the Hacker School space. This space is special: It manages to be quiet and focused for much of the day even while full of people, which astonishes me but also makes me extraordinarily grateful. As a bonus, it’s a great place to find lunch or dinner partners for non-work breaks.

Tomorrow, I’ll be trying free space donated by an incubator for Hacker School alums to continue working on cool projects. I love this idea and look forward to seeing how it goes, especially because it requires one-day-at-a-time sign-up rather than an ongoing five-day-a-week commitment.

About the only thing I don’t gain from these spaces is a permanent “home” for my work. What I would pay for is a service that provides office trappings without actually being an office. Things like a non-P.O.-box mailing address, faxing, copying and printing, supplies like envelopes and a receptionist and phone numbers (which I could forward to my cell phone), with conference rooms rentable by the hour for meetings. But no work desks — I could take care of that part by going to quiet-ish coffeeshops or working from home, wherever home is.

Does anyone know of a service like this?

Dilemma 2: How to Bootstrap/Fund

On the bootstrapping/funding side, I could continue without focusing on money at all — and it’s been a blessing to do that for the past six months at Hacker School and while traveling — but I feel like that might be short-sighted. I can extend my options if I earn money by freelancing, consulting, investing, fundraising or seeking fellowships.

One thing I don’t want to do is become too focused on making money at the expense of actually doing things and making things. So I’ll need to find the right balance, and that will be a process of trial and error. Ideally, some of the things I do and make will become sources of income and possibly allow me to raise funds or get fellowships. But I don’t want to force an outcome; I want to experiment, make useful things, and see what sticks.

I suppose I have a sabbatical bucket list. If I do a self-check, I’ve done some interesting things so far (though not all of the things on this list). Travel to places I’ve never been. Attend Hacker School. Make YouTube videos. Write a blog. Write an eBook. Make apps and plugins. Make websites. Make training courses. Be an e-tutor. Speak up on Twitter. Present at conferences and meetups. Attend different types of conferences. Try crowdfunding. Make or contribute to some real-world products.

This list sometimes makes me feel disorganized or scattered. But if I think about my mission statement, it’s pretty clear:

Experiment, make useful things, see what sticks. Keep doing the things that stick. Be myself and see what happens.

Re-Entry

Re-entry is hard.

I landed in New York on Thursday, back from Vienna, zero jet-lag and raring to go. Dropped back into my New York life with a swish like a basketball in a net from halfway across a stadium.

Spent a weekend in upstate, enjoying the woods and hills, then booted up the computer Monday and thought, now what?

Now everything. Now I do everything I think of, for the next few months, to see what sticks and what I enjoy and what I will discard and how Phase Two of my sabbatical/adventure will play out.

Phase One was exploratory and learning-focused. Phase Two will be doing-focused. Phase Three will be I-don’t-know-what. More traveling? More doing? More of both?

I was jet-lagged after all. I kept falling asleep at 7:30. I caught a cold too, which blurred my brain-waves and had me huddled in the office room in my aunt’s house earlier this week, cradling tea and listening to the rain. Learning HTML5, which is easy but easily overlooked so I decided to get it done. Catching up again on Sam Altman’s startup class. Finishing my Venture Deals class.

Finishing the initial-learning part of this journey is scary, because I love learning and at the same time I use it as a crutch to keep me from doing things. If I only knew more. But I’ve learned that I only need to know the minimum possible to get it done at a point in time. Then I can learn more, and improve, and iterate.

I can learn more later. I’ll always be learning more. But I need to start to do more, interspersed with learning, and pair the two like a gas pedal and a brake in a car. Using only one or the other leads to a fiery crash or to going nowhere. Using the two together leads to anywhere a road can go.

The Traveller’s Guide to Budapest in 3 Days

Statue near Buda CastleBudapest is a mass of old buildings, made new again stone by stone, step by step, address by address.

Modern boutiques share space with old, abandoned mansions, boarded-up windows next to sleek glass.

Two cities face each other across the river, united and unique. Buda is a quiet town of rolling hills, castles and green spaces; Pest is a vibrant district of restaurants, traffic and shops. Bridges strung in lights connect the two across the Danube River.

I spent three days in Budapest last week and wish I’d spent ten. Here are tips to make the most of your journey, no matter how much time you spend there.

Tips for Travellers

Watch out for traffic and bikes. Cars will not necessarily stop for you if you jaywalk, and some intersections are extremely busy. Bike path signs are clearly painted on the sidewalk — pay attention to them! Not that I learned this from experience or anything…

Visit the Museum of Terror. More similar to a war memorial than a simple museum, the Museum of Terror occupies the former Nazi and Soviet intelligence service headquarters on Andrassy Street in Pest. The aim is to remind people what happened here and how it ended. One of the most effective museums I’ve ever visited — emotional, horrifying and informative. Afterward, walk down the street to Heroes Square, where statues of ancient Hungarian rulers stand guard.

Statues in Heroes Square

Statues in Heroes Square

Check out the schedule at the Hungarian State Opera house. I saw a matinee production of Falstaff, which was enjoyable and far less expensive than the Vienna State Opera. Good single seats were available one day prior, although the ballet at night was sold out. The opera house is old, gorgeous and majestic — worth seeing.

Eat breakfast at Gerloczy’s. Just behind City Hall is a small restaurant at a triangular intersection serving some of the best food in Budapest. Breakfast isn’t a big meal here, so it’s a real find. I had simple food: muesli with yogurt and an almond roll, which was hot from the oven and full of sweet almond paste. So delicious I returned the next morning too.

Get Hungarian forints and don’t rely on euros. I used a money exchange at a tourist information point and paid just over 2 euros in commission to change 50 euros, but that commission stays steady up to about 200 euros. Many businesses take only forints or credit cards, and if you want to use public transportation, you may need forints to buy tickets or passes.

Visit a spa. Because I was only in Budapest for three nights, I didn’t get around to visiting a spa, but if I return I’d love to try the Gellert Bath or Szechenyi Bath.

Where to Stay

Fisherman's Bastion in Buda

Fisherman’s Bastion in Buda, overlooking Pest

This decision depends on your personality. I stayed at the St. George Hotel near Buda Castle because I got a great price on Booking.com. It was beautiful, near Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion overlooking the entire city. All of the rooms are actually suites, with a living/dining room, kitchenette, bathroom and bedroom. Furnishings are antique-style and gorgeous. In the morning, the number 16 bus (not the 16A) took me directly to the center of Pest within 15 minutes.

If you’d rather stay in the center of nightlife and action, Pest is more suitable. To avoid ending up somewhere loud, check out the reviews and neighborhood online before booking. One promising option is the Gerloczy Rooms de Lux, above Gerloczy’s restaurant. I picked up a brochure while eating breakfast, and the rooms look beautiful. It also has 5 stars on TripAdvisor.

If you’re more inclined toward Airbnb, there are some fantastic, affordable places on offer. Because I was only staying for three nights, I went with a hotel, but I’d love to return for a longer stretch of time and rent an Airbnb.

Getting to Budapest

There’s an airport for travellers arriving from a distance, but getting to Budapest by rail is easy from Vienna, and that’s what I did. The Austrian OEBB train service runs every two hours from Vienna Wien Meidling station to Budapest Keleti station. The trip takes three hours, and the train travels through flat farmland (it’s not an alpine train).

Interestingly, I found a flexible fare that was cheaper than the restricted-schedule fare, so don’t assume the “SparSchiene” tickets are always cheaper.

If you want to reserve specific seats on the train, you’ll need a 6-euro reservation, sold alongside the basic train ticket, although these trains are rarely sold out.

Traveling within Budapest

Budapest has an excellent public transit system, and a map of the main tram and bus lines is available, although I couldn’t find a full bus map. The best option for me was to buy a 24-hour transit card that allowed unlimited trips on all trams and buses. It cost less than 2000 Hungarian forints (about 6 euros). If I’d known about this card’s existence sooner, I’d have gotten the 48-hour card instead of paying for some individual bus trips.

Taxis tend to be relatively expensive but are useful for late-night trips or for transport to and from the train station or airport.

The Vibe

I loved Budapest. It was beautiful, modern, evolving and dynamic, with great food and the sense of a city on the rise. Since leaving, I’ve been thinking about returning to continue sightseeing and settle into the rhythm of the city, as I did during my 10 days in Florence.

I’ve also read about the city’s nascent startup culture and would love to meet some of the entrepreneurs who are making Budapest their base. With its combination of affordability, things to do, beautiful scenery and good Internet (much better than in Florence or Tuscany), Budapest’s momentum is promising, and it’s simply a great place to visit and explore.

One Brick at a Time – Peace

I had no Internet connectivity when I wrote this post and the prior one, so I’m posting them now. This one is from Sunday:

A peaceful Tuscan hillscape at the farmhouseI wake up in the quiet. I’m getting used to it.

I open the window and smell wood smoke, leaves and sharp, clear air. If clean has a smell, this is it.

I boot up the computer. Still no Internet. It annoys me but less than it did last week.

I open TextEdit and start to write. Yesterday I read a book I bought two years ago. With no Internet, I’m plowing through my accumulated Kindle books.

The mountain view through the bathroom window is hazy blue, with low clouds filling the valley.

I hear other people in the house stirring, in other apartments. In my apartment there is peace.

I make the bed, smoothing the duvet so it looks welcoming again.

I start water for tea, steaming hot in the cool air.

I leave my socks off so I feel the brick floor rough under my feet. I like feeling each step as I take it.

An Island in Tuscany – Solitude

Saturday:

Tuscany viewI feel like a girl on an island, except the island is a hill in Tuscany.

I go outside at night and listen to the leaves rustle. Wild boars grunt in the olive groves. A pile of wood next to the house stands fallow until winter. A cool breeze slips sharp through my sweater.

Listening to the world is an experience I welcome in life.

Sleeping in pitch dark, in the quiet of the old farmhouse, terrified me at first but now is welcoming.

I no longer leave the light on at night.

I dream of strange things that I can’t remember in the morning.

I watch the leaves turn from green to gold over the hills surrounding the farmhouse. I eat the fruit from the garden and find I can cook well after all. I learn because I have to learn.

I deal with slow Internet and procrastination and cabin fever and self-doubt. I try to move enough every day that I do not become totally sedentary.

I am stranded. I am frustrated. But I am also happy.

Waiting for Tuscany

I’m struggling with Tuscany. The rhythm of it, the late summer that fought against giving way to fall, the bees and landlockedness and slow pace.

I’m not a slow-paced person. I came here, in part, to experience the pace while remaining productive.

But I find I’m intensely productive in spurts, even as Tuscany conspires to create spaces where productivity is impossible.

I struggle to be okay with this.

I waited an hour for the train on Friday. I wanted to go to Florence. After an hour passed and the delay stretched from five minutes to fifty, the announcer stated the train would not come at all, and the next train would be in two more hours. I left.

I walked to a nearby cafe. Sat down. Had a pastry and a glass of sparkling water. Seethed.

My host was returning in four and a half hours. Until then, I was stranded in town with nothing to do.

I added the tally of hours spent and yet-to-be-spent waiting during the trip. I calculated that I had spent roughly three days waiting out of 20 days in Italy. The reasons varied. Waiting for trains. Waiting for cars. Waiting for paperwork. Waiting for doctors related to my ankle-sprain.

All of the restaurants were closed between lunch and dinner, so a hearty meal was out. There was no Wi-Fi, so the Internet was out. I opened my Kindle app and read The Four-Hour Work Week.

I’ve put off reading this book many times. Its title doesn’t appeal to me because I have zero desire to work only four hours per week. I want to work a lot, make a lot of things, and be productive in society.

As I read the book, I realized that is (sort of) actually the message. Service is one of the themes of the book. I feel it could be a stronger theme, but it’s there. And that’s really where I’m at with this wandering-the-world/learning thing. I want to get to where I can work on things that interest me and be of service, in a different way than I was during my prior job. There, I pushed hard against giant gears to get them moving. Now, I want to create new gears.

So I struggle when the Wi-Fi struggles. I envision lying in a hammock, happily streaming edX videos while learning about solar energy. Instead I plug in my Ethernet cable and hope the network is functional. If it is, I often squander it playing games or reading news — a messed-up reaction that could only come from my lizard brain.

In fact, I get more done when I unplug the Ethernet cable entirely. Then I focus, write, code and read. Then I feel good about myself and this trip.

The important things are good. I’m here, I haven’t re-injured my ankle since Cinque Terre two weeks ago, and I love the scenery of Tuscany. Almost everyone I’ve met has been amazingly understanding, friendly and welcoming. The food is good, I cook home-grown organic vegetables almost daily in my kitchen, and the hosts at the farmhouse where I’m staying are wonderful. We had a traditional Tuscan dinner last week in the host’s kitchen, and it was a wonderful evening full of laughter and conversation and good food and wine. So I have nothing to complain about.

I struggle. And I let go. I left the cafe and walked through the small town, stopping for gelato and then meandering along a path beside the Arno River. I crossed a small bridge and found a medieval tower standing beside it, a landmark for the town. I walked some more, back and forth along the path, shopping for groceries and visiting the cafe again. This time I relaxed instead of seething, and the patrons laughed at my expression, with my head against the wall and my eyes closed. “Are you tired?” he asked. “No, I’m just relaxing,” I said. And I sort of was telling the truth.

Each night, I huddle in the farmhouse, getting ready for sleep, wondering what tomorrow will bring. I know the trains will probably not run on time. I know the schedule will probably not be what I expect. I know I cannot predict how the day will unfold, or how much I will get done, or whether I will be able to check email at any given time. I know the food will be good, and I know the day will be beautiful, and I know the hosts are great people and I’ll have a great day if I can just relax and let life lead me.

It’s funny how the more I surrender to that, the more I get done.

Solo Traveller’s Guide to Florence – Part 2

Oltrarno B&B

The windows in my room at the Oltrarno B&B

This is my last morning in Florence. I wake up, pull back the curtains, watch the traffic flow on the street outside. My B&B right now is in the Oltrarno (the other side of the Arno River), which has given me a chance to explore beyond the usual tourist bounds of central Florence. One thing I’ve noticed is that almost everyone who lives in Florence is originally from Florence, the opposite of melting pots like New York, London, Berlin or Barcelona.

I’ve found that the restaurants are better, on average, in the Oltrarno. I’ve met locals, enjoyed the slower pace, and only once felt uncomfortably stared at during lunch. I’ve also found myself overwhelmed by the age and artwork of Florence.

Pitti Palace sculpture

This sculpture was one of my favorite in the Pitti Palace.

I love the history of the city. It was once the most influential place on Earth, where Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo and Michelangelo helped the world move past the Black Death period and forward to what came next. I wish I could have seen Florence then.

In the past few days, I visited Donatello’s tomb and learned about the Medicis. I saw Michelangelo’s David statue in person, and it is categorically different than most other sculpture. It has its own life, apart from the crowds of tourists who throng the Accademia Gallery. I can only encourage you to see it in person if the opportunity arises.

Here are some other highlights from the past few days.

The Firenze Card

Final assessment: Totally worth it. For maximum enjoyment and minimum burn-out, activate it around 1pm on a Tuesday so that it expires around 1pm on Friday. This will allow you to avoid weekend crowds and Mondays, when many museums in Florence are closed. I skipped the lines everywhere I went and saw the major museums in about three hours a day, along with everything else I wanted to do (hint: eating, wandering). My favorites were as follows:

Michelangelo's David

Michelangelo’s David – different view

Uffizi: Great art and a sense of history.

Gallerie dell’Accademia: Michelangelo’s David.

Pal Davanzati: After the Uffizi and the Accademia gallery, this was my favorite museum in Florence. It’s a small palace once occupied by a wealthy family and meticulously preserved, down to the authentic drawings on the walls. Apparently, writing and drawing on the walls was a thing in Renaissance Florence (the Palazzo Vecchio also has drawings on the back of a fireplace there).

Pal Davanzati

Escheriffic – the Pal Davanzati.

The Duomo: The first medieval cathedral not to give me the shivers but instead to have an actually inspiring vibe. I also climbed the stairs to the cupola, a serious workout but worth it for the experience, especially the part where I edged around the giant dome, separated from space by a glass barrier.

Dante House: I was just walking down a street and saw this museum, so I went in and enjoyed it more than expected. Some great story-telling in the exhibits.

I must admit that I didn’t enjoy the Pitti Palace all that much — I think I had art overload — although the Boboli Gardens were nice. Note that they are populated by bees during October (I was hoping they’d be gone by now, but it’s still in the high 70s every day).

More Food

Trattoria Da Sergio: A meat-eater’s restaurant to the core. I treated myself to potato-filled ravioli with a sausage ragu. This was my best meal in Florence, bar none. I tried to return yesterday, but it’s closed on Mondays.

Perche No!: Great cioccolata gelato. Reasonably good mascarpone gelato. Perhaps my fault for ordering them together, allowing the cioccolata to overwhelm the mascarpone.

Grana Market: The owner made me a custom sandwich with ricotta, provolone and pecorino cheeses on a baguette. It cost about 3.50 euros and was amazingly delicious. I ate it at a wooden picnic-table in the back of the store.

Il Cantuccio di San Lorenzo: This bakery specializes in the biscotti, which was superb. The non-biscotti thing I got was just okay; focus on the biscotti.

La Via del Te: Yep, I found a tea house in the Oltrarno. The food is okay, but the tea is spectacular. I tried Oriental Beauty tea for the first time in many years, and it was as good as I remember. I stayed for a second pot of tea recommended by the staff, which was also great.

Bakeries along Via Pisana and Borgo San Frediano: Generally good and much better than bakeries in central Florence. Try whatever catches your eye. There is even an organic bakery. One thing that is hard to find is a bakery/cafe with good Wi-Fi and tables inside that invite lingering. I looked all week for a place like this, finally settling for a place that was half-bar, half-cafe. (Edit: I found one today near the Santa Maria Novella train station.)

The Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

A view of the Cinque Terre in the morning.

I took a day trip to the Cinque Terre, a group of five small villages clustered along terraced cliffs by the Mediterranean Sea. It was a slow day, a nice break from the inland noise of Florence. Many of the paths between the villages are closed due to damage in a storm three years ago, but I’d love to return when they reopen to hike between and behind villages, through vineyards and rocks and waystops. For now, the trip I took was perfect, with boat and train rides among the villages and leisurely walks along the beach in Monterosso del Mare.

What’s Next

I’m heading to Tuscany today to spend some time on a farm. My goal is to remove distractions as easily as I added them in Florence. I’ll miss Florence, but at the same time I feel like I’ve seen most of the things I came here to see, and am ready for the next stop.

Tips for train travelers: At the Santa Maria Novella train station in central Florence, you need a ticket from a small machine in the biglietteria (ticketing) room before you do anything, even ask for information. Once you have this ticket, your number will appear on the overhead screens for you to buy a ticket or ask for information. The information window is window 19, and there is often a line at this window.

Also, if you’re going a short distance from Florence, you can go with your ticket to the Tabacchi (tobacco/convenience store) in the same room and get a “kilometric” ticket with only a short wait. It will allow you to travel a short distance to your destination without needing to reserve a specific train number/time.