Firstly there is no right way or wrong way to travel (with a caveat on travel safety of course).
That said however this is my personal travel doctrine viewed through my unique lens. Other than passing on useful information, entertaining you with my writing and travel philosophy, I really wanted to share the core concept behind what I am doing.

I get asked two questions the most;

#sunset #fadinglight #Madrid #Spain

“Your money or your life?”

Why would I spend longer than a week at most in any city, let alone a month and how on earth can I afford to travel like this?

The answer to both? It’s less stressful and its cheaper.

Living for a month in another country should not cost more than an average month in your home city.

“But the airline ticket costs more than that!”

This is true, the ticket is the largest single cost incurred, next to hotel accommodation.

The only way to get around this is to travel longer. It may seem counter intuitive but once the urgency is removed, your travel costs decrease.

My last 5 months in Portugal and Spain in total, is on parity with what I spent traveling through Italy for 3 weeks in 2013.

Let that sink in for a second.

The way I am traveling currently is not for everyone, there is no one size fits all. Much like everything else in life, it depends greatly on your disposition, your commitments and priorities and most of all, if it works for you.

If you are setting out on an OE, a Career break, or just some extended leave this article may hold something for you.

#StreetArt #Graffiti #Madrid #Spain #urban Money kills my dreams

Money doesn’t kills dreams, apathy does

 

My brief was simple.

I wanted to travel for a long time. 

I wanted to see many things.

I wanted to meet locals and other travelers and learn about them and their cities.

I wanted to be able to change my plans as needed.

I wanted to live in a home where-ever I stayed.

I identified with it as Decompressed Travel.

I’m not sure if through internet osmosis or my own fevered imagination coined the term Decompressed Travel. Probably the infinite legion of monkeys bashing at typewriters (called the internet) has already trademarked it, written a Wikipedia page and has the T-Shirt rights. Much like my site, I don’t care as long as it’s beautiful.

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Hungry Bear licks giant Broccoli

 

This is my take on Decompressed Travel.

To me my previous travel experiences were compressed.
Before, I always had a timeframe. How much leave do I have, How many nights can I afford that hotel. How many things can I see before I have to go to the next location. What flight is the most direct?

And the cost, most of all why does it have to cost so much?
I found if you are committed to traveling, it really doesn’t have to cost much and still live a comfortable life on your journey.

The somewhat irony is, once I removed the restrictions of time on travel by resigning from my job, the primary obstacle of travel spend reduced too.

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As illustrated in this diagram, wait, thats not right..

 

Some of the highlights so far are:

Freedom from time constraints (other than Visa limits)

Ability to make changes in direction spontaneously.

Getting to know a city well enough you can navigate it on foot by recognising streets and discovering new ones. It’s something that has saved me when my phone runs out of battery.

Being able to cook with local ingredients and prepare fresh foods at least 4 nights a week as much for my own enjoyment than budget. You could survive pretty well on 5 euro kebab combos, but that gets old pretty quick.

Learing enough of the language to get by and then some. I am not conversational in Portuguese, Spanish or Italian by any stretch but I could probably give most native speaking toddlers a run for their applesauce.

As you can see here this is, nope, wrong diagram..

As you can see here this is, nope, wrong diagram..

Discounts by renting at monthly/weekly rates. Hostels are the go to for the budget traveler, for weekly rates in a dorm you might get a good deal and there is the social aspect of meeting other travelers.

For longer term travel however the comfort and convenience of living in an AirBnb home is more attractive and cost-effective to me. Not worrying about forming a long queue for kitchens or bathrooms, having easy access to the comforts of a home environment and most importantly local knowledge from local people has made AirBnB a fantastic experience so far.

Keeping a daily budget diary, just to record your spend, even if to the nearest Euro. Much like how calorie counting becomes second nature to dieters so does budgeting to travelers.  Looking for savings where you can, Menu’s of the day when you are hungry and want a good deal while avoiding the tourist trap prices by walking to the next street from the nearby attractions.

Annnd, Shit.. Never mind close enough, money, time, blah blah blah

Annnd, Shit.. Never mind close enough, money, time, blah blah blah

Being budget conscious and budget beholden are 2 different things. I would not risk my health, safety or sanity trying to save a buck. I realised this when almost booking a flight to Porto that would have required the Heathrow/Gatwick transfer to save a few hundred dollars. The direct flight to Lisbon later dropped in price to the same cost and rail travel in Portugal was very inexpensive if you book early and take advantage of the specials.

The longer the travel timeframe the longer of an average you will have to work with. I know France is likely to be expensive and to spike up my costs considerably, it still won’t dissuade me from traveling there, I know I will have a couple cheap months further down the line somewhere to even it out.

I realize to many the option to not work for an extended period of time just to travel is a situation of privilege.

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Pictured: Not my hotel

 

“You are so lucky!” Is a common response when I mention what I am doing. Luck had very little to do with it in my case, just working and saving with some planning and foresight.

There seems to be a myth associated with travel you either need to be a homeless gypsy or a millionaire. “If I had no obligations or responsibilities, I could go anywhere.”  “If I won the lottery I would travel the world.” Everyone has had those daydreams at least once in their lives.

But the part of that myth being you have to be a carefree on the road nomad by choice or a millionaire James Bond type is romantically out of touch with reality.

On my current projected travel budget I can travel per year for only slightly more than most people spend on just existing back home. Factoring in rent, food, expenses and entertainment it was nearly on par, except I could be in any country or city that I feel like.

I know my decision to go nomad is a luxury not everyone shares, but it is attainable to those that want it.

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Plaza Mayor, home of the 7 Euro, media means 1 litre beer

 

It was years of hard work and saving to have that led me here. At the time I didn’t even know what I was saving for, maybe a business or a house. But when I examined the prospect of doubling down for a deposit on a 20 year mortgage, for a house I would someday completely own in my 60’s, while I daydreamed about far off places I would perhaps never see, taking a leap into the unknown felt more compelling.

Perhaps if I had jumped onto the property ladder in my early 20’s before the rampant housing speculation exploded in my hometown of Auckland, things now may well have gone a different way. No better or worse, just different. But probably more location dependant.

#statues #sculpture #moody #Madrid #Spain

“Takee meee with youuuuuuuu”

I found myself at a point in life where I was metaphorically traveling light. I am single with no dependents and felt I could take a risk with my finances in return for an enriching experience.

Longterm travel is one of the most important things I have committed to in my life, of this I am certain.

I was hardly sleepwalking through my existence before, but at times it sure felt like it.

Prior to my current adventures as a writer and traveler I have been a Music producer and performer, an animator trained by Warner Bros, artist and illustrator, a Video Games designer and Telecommunications Manager in a large corporation.

Now, with only the contents of my backpack and a new city at my doorstep each month do I feel more at home with myself.

It is strangely zen when the person with nothing is seen as privileged by those with everything.

 

One thing I was told by everyone I met in or talked about Portugal with was to try the legendary Pastel De Belem.

Portugal’s pastries are world-renowned and can easily challenge any of  the finest in Europe.

Within the first 48 hours I had tried one of Portugal’s Pastel de Nata, which is in essence an egg custard tart, the pastry flakey, the custard velvety if a little sweet, it was pretty good.

L-R Pastel de Nata, Galaou Escuro and a Marlboro light, Breakfast of champions

L-R Pastel de Nata, Galaou Escuro and a Malboro light, Breakfast of champions

 

But as I would find out this didn’t hold a candle to the Pastel de Belem.

Pastel de Belem is a pastry so good it’s recipe is a closely guarded secret known only to one person, the recipe itself, written in code, held under lock and key. I found this out motivated by genuine curiosity as to what would happen if the recipient keeper died.

So, after a short trip by train to Belem where by chance I met a fellow countryman from Rotorua, (to be covered in an upcoming article) it was a foregone conclusion the pastry namesake must be tried at all costs. (A couple € for a Pastel de Belem and a coffee as it turned out.)

Pastel de Belem kitchen

What I at first thought was a tiny coffee shop was full of labyrinthine cafe tea rooms leading to the windowed view into the kitchens themselves. Chefs toiled like Wonka’s umpalumpa’s beyond the glass.

The tables were heavily trafficked, I grabbed a table and ordered a Galaou escuro (the only coffee I feel confident in pronouncing) and a Pastel de Belem. They arrived promptly, now the moment of truth, I was heavily skeptical it could be that good.

The magic kitchen

The glass is there for their protection

I took a bite. The pastry was unlike the others I had around the city, it was crisp, almost candied. I took another bite. The custard, still warm from the ovens melted in my mouth, not too sweet not too bland, just right. I took a third bite. By now I felt a warmth traveling from my mouth into my stomach radiating outwards like I had just drunk a very smooth scotch and I broke into a crazed grin at how good it was. The final bite. I started to panic somewhat over the effect it was having on me. If I had been operating heavy machinery I would be in a blissed out fireball right now.

The legendary Pastel de Belem!

The ledgendary Pastel de Belem!

It was very much like eating some magical fabled treat from Willy Wonka or any one of Roald Dahl’s many food based enchanters, the cake shop from the grand Budapest hotel perhaps, or gnawing on the balustrade of some crazy cannibal lady’s gingerbread house.

Despite my initial skepticism it was true, this was the best Pastel De Nata in Lisbon if not the best custard tart in the world.
I decided I didn’t want to dilute the experience by ordering a never-ending stream of them to my table, so as wonderful as it was, it was time to move on.

I went to pay then leave, immediately two people started arguing over who had the next seat at the table. Neither backing down they both forcibly took a seat staking their claim on the table while continuing to argue heatedly.
Dreamily still in the afterglow of the Pastel de Belem, I thought “Did that really just happen? Oh wow, I’m getting out of here before I get killed in a turf war over the best pastry in Portugal.”

The Riviera was disappearing behind me as the train station in Pisa closed in. This time in Pisa it would just be to swap trains and continue to Florence.

I wrestled my 125L Jeep wheeled duffel onto the platform, at least it was light if unwieldy. I then helped the Siberian with her suitcase full of uranium bricks, a short burst of wheeling down the platform, then stairs to negotiate again and reverse the process!

In an upcoming article I will be discussing the design and pitfalls of wheeled duffels, my paranoia around suitcases and what I ultimately chose for my next several years of travel.

Somewhere between loading and unloading from one train to the other, I had sliced my finger. I’m not sure if it was on the luggage rack, my duffel or the Siberian’s roller wardrobe. I hadn’t noticed until I heard the Siberian hiss at me, nothing new by this stage so it took a second to register at what I did that prompted it.

“Your finger, you are hurt!”

“Oh? Yeah, shit, wow, that’s really bleeding.” I foraged in my sling day bag for a microfibre facecloth to mop up the bleeding a little. Blood on neon yellow is an awful contrast.

“Cl..”

“Clumsy New Sealand, I know.” I interjected, thinking in horror about the sheer amount of bacteria traffic on the platforms and trains that must now be possessing my finger.

“Yes! Clumsy, like bear, Mishka.”

I had also stubbed my toe getting out of the shower in Carrara earlier in the week, bad enough for it to bleed and cause a black spot under the toenail. The Siberian, brought out her first aid kit and told me “This will hurt a lot, don’t scream.” she poured disinfectant on it and bandaged it, then looked confused when I was still waiting for the bad part to happen.

“I will let you in on secret,” the Siberian said conspiratorially “I am sometimes clumsy also.”

“Now, that’s not possible.” I said sarcastically while casually squirting Purell into the cut.

The Siberian after a moments solemn contemplation of this, spoke.  “Make WiFi please.” I sighed and turned on my iPhone’s hotspot, at least there was still plenty of the 10 gig mobile data to go round.

Via Vincenzo Gioberti, FlorenceArriving in Florence’s Santa Maria Novella Terminus station several hours later, we filed though and joined the orderly queue for taxis. I had called ahead to notify the AirBnb hosts of our imminent arrival.

We were met by Antonio and Yvonne an older Italian-Dutch couple, the parents of the AirBnb host. I warmed to Antonio’s gravelly but animated descriptions immediately and he told us of several good osteria’s in the city where we could get Bistecca al Florentine (A huge seasoned steak, which sadly I wasn’t motivated to order after weeks of eating light.) where Via Vincenzo Gioberti, the street of a thousand shops was located, (quite close to the apartment.) and information on the Biboli gardens (which I had planned on seeing before starting my trip). Antonio and Yvonne’s interactions with each other were just as endearing, quietly arguing between themselves the best place to see and do what. Antonio ended up taking me and one map while Yvonne took the Siberian to discuss best places to find outlet shopping. The Siberian had been pursuing somewhere to find a particular style of coat since Rome.

Antonio also told me about the small holding farm he ran, that produced olive oil, Chianti and honey, leaving us with a sample of the produce.  They said their farewells and left us to it. As was now the strategy, once refreshed and unpacked, out the door and on to orienting ourselves.

The Siberian had the map and I was happy to be off navigation duty for a little, we strolled down Via Gioberti window shopping towards the city center. I was content traversing the narrow winding back streets not even sure where we were heading, I could see the Siberian looking more quizzically at the map. Time for a reading off my iPhone’s map to get a baring.

“So we are heading to that cathedral thing, yeah? According to the gps we are near the hospital, or should I say the Ospedale Santa Maria Nuova, so if we continue down Via dei Service lane, Bingo.”

The Siberian raised an eyebrow.

I..

I..

SEE..

SEE..

YOU!

YOU!

We continued down the narrow street until we turned a corner and a sliver of something massive broke through ahead. Our pace quickened as the building seemed to loom, growing even larger. Spilling into the plaza ahead I had another attack of architecturally induced mind bending vertigo. After having re-acclimatized in the small is beautiful Rivera, I was back to getting my sense of perspective wrenched wide open. Eu Duomo is massive, but not in the way a building is massive, I have never given a shit about how big a building is before, The existential terror and awe from something like Eu Duomo lies within its rich level of detail.

Domesday

Domesday

Giotto’s Campanile

Dunnnn

Giotto’s Campanile

DUnnnnnnnn

Giotto’s Campanile

DA Dunnnnnnn

The afternoon sun, bright but not as hateful as in the southern hemisphere was eclipsed by Giotto’s Campinile, Thus Sprach Zarathustra echoed in the back of my head. Although the plaza was heavily touristed it was as if they had all shrunk into insignificance next to the greatness of Eu Duomo. The striking dark green marble inlaid within its structure against the warm hued, much of the marble probably mined from the mountains of Carrara where we had been only that morning. It was only after spending time marveling at Eu Duomo we doubled back towards the Arno river, which other than the Cathedral in Piazza Del Duomo was an orienting landmark during our time in Florence.

The dome was one of those places that as much as we tried to escape it or walk in the opposite direction somehow we wound up back at it. I felt like I was in a travel guide written by Stephen King. It was just the kind of raw subconscious magnetism that some places have. Even now I feel drawn back to the place and all the while, Eu Duomo waits.

Florence Cathedral

And Hungers…

Content and photographs of this post are Copyright Aryan DeSallis Gill

For more photos, information and inspiration about Florence be sure to check the following links below:

Life In Tuscany

and

Italy Pics

Preceded by Such a perfect day: Part 3. Views, Vernazza & Vindictiveness

There are thresholds we pass in life, some of them physical and some of them metaphorical. Sometimes you know you are crossing a border as it happens, in others you only realize it on reflection in how far you have come.

IMG_2949_edited
Stepping off the ferry and into Monterosso, I was at first struck by the melding of the quaint charm of Manarola and the busier Vernazza with a seaside resort feel.
A huge stone cliff separated the town in two and an elevated railway blended into the buildings above. Sprawling piazzas with bars and eateries dotted around and people enjoying the afternoon sun.

IMG_2950_edited

Within the church of St. John the Baptist there was a memorial wall with many black and white photos of young men in 1930’s-40’s.
Although I didn’t know at the time the details I could surmise these men never came home. As I discovered later it was a memorial to many of the freedom fighters belonging to the resistance movement against Mussolini and his fascist regime.

IMG_2961_edited     IMG_2958_edited    IMG_2970_edited

I could hear music echoing from inside the stone cliffs, investigating there was a tunnel with a man playing classical guitar, its acoustics adding a beautiful reverb. The Siberian and I let it wash over us as we viewed a number of artful dioramas behind glass within the walls of the tunnel.
As we approached the other-side of the tunnel, there could be heard accordion music blending with the classical guitar, until we crossed into the other side of the tunnel. It felt like crossing the border from Italy into France. An old man sitting on a box played his accordion with a small dog sitting next to him. I put some euro coins into his accordion case.

 

IMG_2962_edited

Monterosso beachfront street   Monterosso Train Station

 

“I can play this.” The Siberian said making the accordion motion.
“Really? I can play the guitar, maybe we can steal these guys jobs here.”
“Maybe, I could yes, but you might starve.” She laughed a small lapse in her stoicism shining through.

The familiar bright umbrellas of the pay beaches hugged the coast, along the railing we noticed a number of touristico in a throng with wives having to pull their husbands away by the arms from the railing, naturally we wanted to see what the point of interest was.

In the rocks below there was a a scantily clad model taking part in the photo shoot, doing her best to look alluring at the camera while balancing on the sharp stones. In truth she looked rather uncomfortable, whether it was the unanticipated audience or the environment I couldn’t say.

The Siberian and I raised an eyebrow each and kept walking.

Monterosso beach

The oceanfront was lined with trees gelaterias and benches! The addition of benches made it feel like another country. I had come to appreciate the key to Italian health was not the diet it was the cultures jihad against sitting down. Coming from a sedentary (or sedimentary as I like to think) job this came as shock to my doughy system. I came to see the extra I would pay in the bill for a table at a cafe as sitting down tax. Although by this stage I had been walking 8 hours+ daily and was used to it. Italy despite its sleepy relaxed perception was a country always in motion. I could understand why, every step I took the beauty of what was around, gave me strength to see what was around the corner and the next after that.

After coming to the end of the cove we about faced and retraced our steps to the ferry as this was the last one out for the day and we didn’t want to get stranded (foreshadowing). We entered the ferry early and took a spot on the roof to take in the sights of all the towns on the way back, the sun was lower in the sky as it was late afternoon and the ocean breeze had picked up. The Siberian shivered.

“So how cold was it last winter for you?” I asked.

“Minus 34 C.” She said matter of factly

“How does anyone survive the night, with those temperatures?” I was genuinely astounded

“It may surprise you to know I do not live in the street, New Sealand.”

“I just mean it gets to 10 degrees in New Zealand and we start complaining, I can’t comprehend 44 degrees C lower than that.”

“Our houses are designed to withstand this, yours maybe not.”

“That’s true we would make our houses out of cardboard and twine and sheep if we could.” Thinking back to the leaky building crisis caused by lazy building practices.

“And what about you? Are you designed for the cold?” I grinned.

The Siberian, covered in goosebumps, shot me a steely look.

“Just as well I brought this then.”

I fished my light but very warm Inner-Mongolian Angora sweater out of my day bag.

“No, you will be cold.”

“Cold, is one thing I wont be feeling for some time.” I said my skin casting a radioactive red glow.

“Da, still pomidor.” She chuckled.

We enjoyed the sights a second time round on the trip back to Le Spezia, Porto Venere welcoming us at the start of the day and now bidding us adieu.

Monterosso square  Monterosso square 2  IMG_2969_edited

Back in La Spezia, I cast my thoughts to dinner, as we had a train ride back to the station in Carrara. I had decided we would catch a taxi back from Carrara station I had more than enough walking for today.  After briefly surveying a few dairy’s to see if they sold fresh pasta and pesto maybe a bottle of wine, I decided to hell with it its been a long day lets dine out and I wasn’t sure if any of the stores back in Carrara would still be open. It was around 6pm by now and many of the restaurants were not open yet as dining in Italy ( much as everywhere in the Mediterranean) was normally later in the evening. One of the effortlessly beautiful places that was open had a elaborately long bar with many varieties of wine, glass cases with huge cured hocks of meat and an apparatus for shaving tiny slices of parma ham. I felt like something light so I ordered an anti-pasto selection of cured meats and cheeses and a slice of honeycomb presented on rustic slabs of wood. The Siberian chose a Lambrusco for the wine. Combined with the breads this was a good way to unwind, although I did salaciously regard the table across from us having pizza. Walking out with a bit of a buzz on it was time to make our way to the train station.

Only to find there was a 2 hour gap in the train schedule from 8 until 10pm. I groaned, my time saving measure of dining out had doomed us to spend another 2 hours in La Spezia, it would be a late return home. I had learned quickly that some things just happen, delays happen. In times past things like this would sour my mood, spark arguments of who’s fault it was and multiple “if only” scenarios.

“Poor people, miss the train.” The Siberian half mocked.

“Poor people stuck in this beautiful place.”

One late night train ride later, likely-hood of taxis operating back at Carrara station, zero.

“Poor people, having to walk home.” The Siberian continued.

“Poor people, such a hard life.” I grinned.

It was on this walk home I stole a rose from a garden, The Siberian told me I would “get arrested like gypsy.” while she was adjusting the rose in her hair for best effect.

The last few steps to the door home were the longest I had ever taken.

We were both exhausted, but despite everything buoyant from the day.

Despite constant mocking from the Siberian and constant fail and clumsiness on my part, a complex and beautiful day had occurred. Planning only gets you so far, improvising gets you the rest of the way. It was at this point I looked at how far I had come as a traveler and in the distance the journeys end loomed. Tomorrow we would leave for Florence.

It is the moments of chance in life that leave room for the moments of greatness.

Preceded by Such a perfect day: Part 2. Beautiful blunders, Birra & Bruschetta

I will never understand the how quickly the leap from being one of the wide eyed touristico to resenting them, I would find myself crossing the street to avoid them and only speaking Italian around them, saying “Mi scusi, mi scusi” to get past. What if travelers tales of grumpy inhabitants are actually interactions with tourists gone rogue?

IMG_2930_edited This was on my mind in Vernazza.

Still savoring the aftertaste of Manarola’s complex flavors the ferry delivered us to one of the more bustling towns in Cinque Terre, Vernazza. It had a more metropolitan feel, from its wide and accessible peir, its signature church and steeple next to the open square brimming with cafes and attendant boats and a foozball table?!

IMG_2932_edited   IMG_2933_edited   IMG_2942_edited

I noted the stench of rotten fish just adjacent to the diners and boats, a collection of black rubbish sacks fermenting in the afternoon sun in a line next to the boat ramp while several nearby tables of touristico pretended not to notice. “Breathe in that atmosphere deep while enjoying your cappuchini after 11 AM .” I internalized, the Anti-tourist bubbling to the surface.

IMG_2941_editedFollowing the surge of touristico we ventured deeper into Vernazza, we already were well watered and fed from Manarola, so a cursory exploration was all that we could manage. With the heat, bustle and the curved arches to me It almost felt like middle eastern bazaar in places. (Mental note to one day go to Istanbul or Morocco to learn what this really means) To our right on the way back to the port there was a cave which I immediately made for leading through the stone cliff.

IMG_2935_edited   IMG_2936_edited  IMG_2944_edited

Beyond the Narnia cave, a modest pebble beach on the other side replete with bathers, also escaping from the shuffling zombie hordes. After a brief respite, it was time to leave Narnia, breaking away from the crowds, crossing the square past the boats, and cafes to the twisting tendrils of an amazing sun mosaic on the threshold of the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia. Lingering inside for a moment before venturing back into the throng and to the pier.

IMG_2943_edited  

The ferry returned one of the crew nodded, barked in Italian and threw a bow line at me which I deftly sidestepped wondering if they resented having to baby sit us that much that they needed to maim us in the process. While having this meaningful internal dialogue one of the other touristico secured the bowline to a mooring. “Oh, Okay. Missed my chance to be a fellow nautical explorer there.” I scolded myself filing up the gangplank, back on board, underway, thoughts quickly forgotten.

There is something about the simplistic chaos of the ocean that throws up a white noise enough to drown out the noise inside your head for a while.

 

Concluded in Such a perfect day: Part 4  Music, Monterosso and Mayhem