Florence – how we visited

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The facade of the Florence Cathedral

If you ever visit, you may not have a month to explore the city like we did, but maybe some of the things we did can help you make decisions about how to spend your time. We have visited more places then we described below, but these have been the high points so far.

Of course during our stay in Florence we wanted to see all “the big things.” We had the luxury of not feeling rushed, and we managed to check everything off our list.

First, let’s talk about the stuff downtown

Six of the most renown sites are collectively referred to as “The Florence Duomo Complex.” These sites consist of:

  • Giotto’s Bell Tower – affording an amazing view of the Florentine city and countryside
  • The Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore – amazing and immense gothic basilica
  • Brunelleschi’s Duomo – an amazing rotunda atop the cathedral
  • The underground archeological site below the Cathedral, Santa Reparata
  • The Baptistry, a large domed building across from the Cathedral
  • the Opera del Duomo Museum

We bought a combo ticket for all of these sites for 15 Euros, a great deal for what you see. You can buy the ticket online here, but we bought ours in person at the base of the Bell Tower, in an office that opened at 8am.

A note about the combo ticket – it’s good for 7 days after you purchase it, but once you validate it at the first site on the list above, you have 48 hours to see all the sites before the ticket expires. Plan accordingly.

The ticket allows you to stand in the general admittance line for each of these sites. For the Cathedral and the Duomo ( the Dome ) we recommend you show up early, on different days. These lines get crazy-long very quickly. These two sites open at 830am, and we were in line for our visit to the Duomo by 745am with a very comfortable position, almost first. We splurged and spent 15 ( additional ) Euros apiece to see the Cathedral with a guided tour that enabled up to bypass the huge line.

A note about the Bell Tower and the Duomo: if you’re a little claustrophobic like I am, I can’t recommend strongly enough the importance of arriving early for the ascents of the Duomo and the Bell Tower. Both of these sites involve walking up serious stairs in very cramped passageways. If you are near the front of the line in the morning for these sites, this insures that after you ascend to the top and look around you can descend back to street level without pushing up against a mass of sweaty people in a cramped passage.

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Up high view of the Duomo

As I walked past the seriously long line at 2pm in the sweltering sun this afternoon, I hope these poor people -love- what they are going to see, for they are surely suffering for the opportunity. Baking in the hot sun for 3 hours, then squeezing past their sweaty neighbors for a dizzying climb is not my idea of a good time on vacation.

That being said, the views are amazing, inside ( the Duomo ) and out. But the tight spaces…  ugh. Rough for me. The Duomo in particular.

Also, there’s this – the Duomo and the Bell Tower afford amazing views, but if you’re at all afraid of heights, these attractions probably aren’t for you.

The Bell Tower also has a line at times, but this seemed to vacillate during the day. We went early the first day, buying our tickets and seeing the Bell Tower with no line, then as I’ve mentioned spent the additional 15 Euros to jump the line for the Cathedral ( and the crypt Santa Reparata ), and then the next day got in line early for the climb up to the top of the Duomo.

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atop the Bell Tower

The Baptistry has no line to speak of, nor does the Opera del Duomo Museum, which are both really a neat experiences. At the Museum you see up close many pieces that were made for and once a part of the Cathedral.

Other sites

We purchased tickets separately to see Michelangelo’s David in the Academia Gallery. We recommend spending a little extra and getting the time stamped version of these tickets. Also, if you buy tickets online make sure you get printed out versions from the little kiosk across the street from the entry. Ugh.

Getting here early probably helps, but our stamped time was for 545pm. We stood in line for about half hour and made it in almost exactly at our scheduled time.

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David’s ass.

Our favorite spot for gelato was “La Milkeria” with their homemade masterpieces, perfect on a hot day.

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the dome of The Baptistry

We didn’t have a favorite spot for wine or cappuccino; there were too many perfect places everywhere we looked.

Our favorite place to laptop and do a little work was The Cafeteria delle Oblate, near The Duomo. It’s not like any cafeteria you’ve ever been to – it’s an amazing multi-level open air space with great food, wine and other drinks and free wifi. It’s frequented by students and tech workers, and really is a pretty sweet spot, with a view of the Duomo.

We took a day tour to Pisa to see the leaning tower and the local cathedral. The same tour brought us to the amazing Tuscana World Heritage site of San Gimignano, and the city of Siena. If we had to do it all over again, for the timing of this tour… It would have been perfect to spend a few hours in Pisa and a few hours in Siena, and another tour to spend all day at San Gimignano. But we got amazing pictures.

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Pisa.

For our place – we stayed at an AirBnB right near the Talenti tram stop, about a 40 minute walk from the Florence city center and it seemed like a perfectly fine option. neighborhood markets and lovely people, as we’ve detailed elsewhere. This put us close to the amazing park just north of the Arno river and west of downtown Florence.

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A great park along the Arno River

We rented bikes at the SMN train station ( the main one in Florence city center ) for a day for 10 Euros apiece. The bikes were nothing special, but we had an amazing day going through this park in the morning and through Florence itself later on. There is also a bike route that circumscribes old Florence, but there’s really very little to see along this route. We recommend taking your bike into Old Florence despite the crowds, and possibly across the river at Ponte Vecchio.

Those are the highlights that we haven’t discussed elsewhere on the blog. We have a week left and we will try and see a jousting, a concerto, and a few other things before we wrap our stay up. If you have any must-sees, let us know.

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Inside the cathedral in Florence
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Traveler Insurance

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You get into some shit, while traveling.

You have to imagine that the normal amount of ouchie-stuff is going to happen to you at any point, and when you’re traveling abroad you don’t have the benefit of your mom to kiss it better, or the junk drawer to raid in the kitchen for some Purell to start the cleaning process.

Also, there’s the bigger stuff that would warrant a trip to the ER, or maybe the Walgreens Care clinic. Does your Kaiser health plan cover a broken arm while base jumping the Cliffs of Moher?

It might. Mine does.

Too start out, there’s a semantic lesson to learn when it comes to insurance you get while traveling abroad. What’s commonly referred to as “travel insurance,” what AmEx gives you as a loyal card holder or what your airline will try to sell you when you purchase tickets –   that’s insurance covering possible bad stuff that can happen related to travel – flights canceled, hotel burning down, camera getting stolen right out of your fucking hands when you were taking that picture of where the Beatles crossed Abbey Road. This is great; the kind of thing that I probably wouldn’t buy by itself but rather I’d make choices ( of credit card providers, or group memberships for example ) that included such benefits.

“Traveler insurance” is mostly referring to health stuff – seeing a doc, getting meds, getting extracted if things go wrong, or having the pieces that are left of you transported home if something –really– goes wrong. This is pretty necessary, and if you haven’t traveled abroad much you might not have done the research.

My research process involved finding contending policy providers, reading the negative stuff about each, then reading the positive stuff. I used Reddit, Google, Lonely Planet forums, and a bunch of other resources. I made lists. I talked with people I knew who’d traveled RTW. After all this, World Nomad won out with me.

After much reading and some talking to peeps, I went with World Nomads traveler insurance. I went to their site, put in all the destination countries I thought I’d be visiting and the length of time I thought I’d be gone, and it spit out two options – “Standard” ( for normal people ) and “Explorer” ( for people who might go base jumping ).

The list of covered items is pretty extensive:

  • Emergency Accident and Sickness Medical Expense
  • Emergency Evacuation & Repatriation
  • Trip Cancelation
  • Trip Interruption
  • Trip Delay
  • Baggage & Personal Effects
  • Baggage Delay
  • Collision Damage Waiver
  • Accidental Death and Dismemberment
  • One Call 24-Hour Assistance Servicees
  • One Call Non-Emergency Evacuation Services

Some of the travel-related stuff is included with World Nomads, so I have redundant coverage on some points. There are numbers/dollar values attached to all of these points, and sub-headers that break down coverage. It’s can be tedious, but at times very interesting reading. You should check it out, just to see how they present it all.

If you belong to a special group ( retirees, teachers, former Microsoft employees, etc ) you might want to look in orgs that sell benefit packages directly to your group. There is no such group catering to the needs of UX architects, or fiction writers, or RPG nerds, so I went with WN. But Kim is a teacher, and had the option of choosing slightly better coverage for about a quarter of what I paid. Pretty sweet.

Our traveler insurance basically says that in many, many places we have immediate access to medical care. Beyond this, both our plans provide for the travel insurance that makes the bumps a little easier. Also, both our plans give us access to concierge services, legal advice, and many other assistance tidbits not really covered by the above list.

I’ll disclose that my insurance giving what after research seems to be good coverage ( USD $500,000 medevac coverage, for example, along with all the other stuff above ) cost about $480 for the duration of my trip.

I have the contact info for them and a copy of the policy in my phone, on my laptop, and in the cloud via email. WN doesn’t provide a card, but I could definitely make one.

Hmmmmmmm. This might have been an awesome idea of a prep to do before I left  (^_^

long term travel – “How do you afford it?”

money

Right after “Where are you going to go?” this is definitely the most common question we’re asked. There is definitely a strong idea that to travel long term, to leave it all behind and hit the road with a mobile lifestyle, you need a ton of money.

I guess that might be true, if you were taking a 52-week vacation. Can you imagine that? Leaving regular life behind just like you do for vacation but instead of 2 weeks of hotels, ferries, rentals, eating out all the time, sightseeing tours, and scam cab rides… what if you did that for 52 weeks? Ha!

That’d cost a fortune. We’re definitely not doing that.

We’re not staying in hotels. Well, maybe once in a while we’ll break down and spring for one; air conditioning at just the right time can feel like a little bit of heaven. But really, as a rule, no hotels.

So then people who haven’t done long-term travel are wondering – where do you stay?

You could camp, which we’re not doing. Our travel plan is pretty loose, to give us some flexibility in where we go so we can stay where we want, leave when we don’t, and adjust while we’re in motion. This means we haven’t made a lot of ( really, any ) solid plans for where we’re staying before we get there. Sounds like madness, I know. But there’s a way to do this.

We get to an area we want to say in, say Galway Ireland. On the recommendation of friends and social media, we find a hostel for those first few days. This isn’t icky; there are plenty of non-stabby hostels that are clean and great to stay at, and we find one of those. If we’re staying more than a few days, that means we’re staying 2-3 weeks, so we use those couple days to find a place on AirBnB. A place there for that amount of time isn’t expensive; you could pay a lot, but you definitely don’t have to. $300 for 2 weeks? Sounds great.

So, not going at the where-you’re-staying thing like you’re on vacation helps. Like, a lot. You can follow that thinking pretty far – cook some meals, make some lunches. Almost all of the places we’re going are not laid out like big American cities; you can walk to a market, walk to your place, walk or public transport anywhere. So this also saves on gas.

You make up your mind to do walking tours, take pictures, and be smart about what you pay for, you can not only save a lot of money, but your cost of living – what you pay out day to day for just existing in our world – goes down.

You also save money. Just like for the vacation, but maybe more so. You go out to eat less. You have no-spend-Saturdays. You watch Netflix instead of renting something that streams. You have to be at least kind of serious about this, and you have to be consistent. If you’re in the 98% and can’t put money aside somehow, long term traveling is not going to be a viable option for you.

You also stop paying for things that are normal at home. Phone service. Car insurance. Health insurance. The list goes on and on…  but there are plenty of things you don’t need to pay on when you’re not going to be home for a year. This also adds up.

A third serious way to make your money go further is to travel where your money works very hard. You could go to Stockholm, Tokyo, or Tahiti…  but why not think about going to Prague, Hanoi, or Nicaragua? In these places, a world-class meal can be had for $10 US or less. Your money goes a long way, and the surfing in Nicaragua is at least as sweet as it is in Tahiti.

It all adds up

It’s work. Before you travel, you need to figure it out. But saving, adjusting what you’re paying for, learning to be happy without spending as much, and going to places where your money goes much further all make long term world travel possible for most of us. If you can do remote work during this period…  so much the better.

 

 

“Aren’t you worried about safety?”

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Kinda.

But you really can’t live life that way.

But you can take som basic care and caution into your life. We don’t go to places where they shoot at people in the streets, or wild dogs or uplifted gorillas rule the night. We don’t go to places or friends in the region tell us to stay away from. We don’t go to places where Trump supporters live, or they destroy works of art and historical significance because they show breasts or penises.

But after all that due diligence, we pretty much go where we want. If no one’s told you, this is key: places like Iran and Cuba ( for example ) are safe and friendly for Americans to travel to. That’s one of the big open secrets of travel; in so many places our media would have you think it isn’t safe for Americans, places they say they hate us, they’re actually just fine with us.

As far as places like Brussels and Paris, where some shit has happened, or could possibly happen…  we have no intention of staying away from those places. If we followed that rule at home, we’d never go to Manhattan, New Orleans, or San Bernadino.

Crazy, right?

So we just take the normal amount of care. We don’t get drunk in public, we don’t leave our shit laying around, or flash our fancy iPads under everyone’s nose. We don’t act like entitled American white people with loud voices and arms waving all over the place. And we’ll probably be just fine.

when people ask where we’re going…

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…it’s one of the last things we think about. A great quote from a great show:

How come you don’t care where you’re going?

Because how you get there is the worthier part.

Great words. And they really embody the spirit we seem to be hanging onto while we plan this walkabout. We’re not really going on vacation; that’s not so much what this is about. We will wind up seeing some great things, take pictures, interview people, and swoon a bit. But we’re not making a list, not checking items off an itinerary.

So why travel, if not to see The Sites?

  • To get a different perspective, new points of view. On us. Our country. Living. What’s important. How work Gets done. How people die. Important stuff.
  • To focus more on experiences, people, and skills. Less on stuff.
  • To move out of our comfort zone a bit, to practice problem-solving in ways it’s hard to do on a peaceful, tropical island.
  • To learn to live in motion, to make home and heart internally dependent, instead of externally dependent.
  • To grow in our affection and love and understanding of one another, and of others.
  • To get by with less spending, less stuff, less stress.
  • To practice the #onebag thing, to walk the walk
  • To learn to communicate in languages other than American English
  • To practice remote working, and building streams of income from residual sources

And so on. For us, the walkabout is all of these things, and more. When you look at it this way, the question “where are you going?” starts to mean much less. It’s an easy thing to talk about when you mention world travel, but it’s not really important; nowhere close to the main thing.

All this being said, we’d totally like to see the South of France, Greece, and North Africa. And some other cool places.

working while traveling – our ideas

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Kim and I have a bunch of ideas about working while we travel. We  ( hopefullly ) have enough set aside so that it won’t be absolutely necessary to work…  but it’d be nice to be able to take this time and set up something that’s sustaining.

We don’t like the idea of selling physical products, but we really really like the idea of sharing what we know and teaching others. With the proliferation of e-readers, it seems like writing some very niche how-to manuals or developing some online courses would be interesting places to start.

There’s a bit more to this strategy, but for the most part it is that simple. Some things we’d like to write and market to appropriate audiences:

  • A survival guide for teachers moving from the mainland to Hawaii
  • A series of informational products for UX staffers – how to do a better job recruting and keeping UX peeps, how to help candidates get better gigs more often, how to be the go-to resource for UX jobs.
  • Another UX effort – UX-English for ESL tech people, to help them learn the jargon and terms while at the same time familiarizing them with the discpline
  • Facebook “rules” of etiquette. This is probably half entertainment, half modern-day Miss Manners in a place that could definitely benefit from a little guidance.
  • For CERT peeps – how to build the best bag possible from the one you’re issued
  • A set of digital literacy courses for kids and technophobes

 

Not an exhaustive list, but definitely places to start.

 

our walkabout – a rough plan

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A rough idea of our travel plan –

We start with a re-visit of western Europe. It’s been a while for Kim and an awfully long time for me. We’ll start in Ireland, then head to Great Britain and then the south of France to see friends. We’ll try and do the pilgrimage of St. John in Spain and meet another friend on the Atlantic coast, there. We want to visit Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Croatia, Tunisia, and Morocco as well.

We come to visit our families and friends in the Midwest for the holidays, Thanksgiving  through New Years, and then back out. Probably to South East Asia. After a year or so, we’ll head back home to Hawaii.

We want to stay with friends, in hostels, and the occasional hotel or guest house. We’re traveling as vagabonds, not really tourists. We keep it light, and we’ll try to make it about walking tours, coffee shops, and people.

Do you know anyone in any of these places? We’d love to meet them.  (^_^