How I Became A Nomad


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"“Oh yeah? Well you’re a nomadic Gypsy!” is a wannabe insult my brother often hurls at me. I say “wannabe” because it’s not really an insult to me, but I know he means it to be a little more derogatory than I take it. I like changing things up, moving around, seeing new things, breaking the routine. I like being a nomad.

I don’t want to cast my dear brother in a bad light here. No, not at all. We get along (pretty) well and have a loving, teasing, bickering older sister – younger brother relationship. (If only he would listen to me more!) But with me at twentysomething and him, still at twentysomething but three years younger, and our being different people and all, we have different ideas about the paths our lives should take.

Recent sibling selfie.

Recent sibling selfie.

Having recently graduated from college, my brother moved home, bought his dream car (a bright orange, ’69 Chevelle) and took a full time job working in the family business. He’s happy. He’s good at it. He’s needed. He’s got a plan to save for a down payment on a house and wants to buy one when he’s 25 or 26. I’m proud of him.

Now, we’ll take a look at me at his age. I finished school, started this blog and fled to Italy. I came back to Canada with no idea of what I’d do, but with the notion that I needed to find a job. So I found one, in an office. The job was stressless, the pay was decent for entry-level and it had the added bonus of being right across the street from my parents’ house. Ottimo. Great.

So I did that for a year, reading blogs by travel gurus like Nomadic Matt and Chris Guillebeau  when work was slow, slowly becoming bored and feeling trapped behind my desk. Luckily, the universe was on my side. The company downsized and let me go, which I documented here. Around that time, my first magazine article was published here, and I received my first cheque for writing. I took a month off, enjoyed Christmas and then went back to school for a semester to get a certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language. Then the adventure really started.

Saviour on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

Saviour on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

I got a  job leading student groups around Europe for the summer and I did a bit of my own travelling. I came back to Canada and started teaching, both ESL and Italian. I did that for 8 grueling months (it’s not that the work was grueling, but the commuting was) and continued to write. In May, I went back for round two of students in Europe, scored a couple more writing gigs and did some more travelling. Now I’m back in Canada, teaching English for four months and preparing for my next trip.

Two Canucks and  the Kiwi hot air ballooning in Turkey.

Two Canucks and the Kiwi hot air ballooning in Turkey.

Oh yeah, didn’t I mention it? In December I’m heading across the world to New Zealand to be the maid of honour in my best friend’s wedding. She’s a bit of a Canadian adventurer too. So’s her Kiwi fiancé. (One day I’ll write their story on here and really wow you all).

I’ve currently got a one-way ticket to New Zealand, but it’s not going to stay that way. I wanted to make sure I’d get there in plenty of time for the wedding, so I booked my ticket back in the summer. Now I’m sorting out my travel details. I think I’ll hit up Australia and Hong Kong while I’m away, because, what the heck? Right? Right.

I’ll probably be gone for about 6 weeks, but it could be longer. How do I get this time off? I have a job that fortunately/unfortunately (but more fortunately, at the moment) is done by contract. Yep. 7-week teaching contracts. I’m here for two contracts, then I don’t give my availability for the next one. If I’m back before the start date of the March term, I’ll probably be able to grab some teaching hours then.

But that’ll all go up in smoke if my Italian work Visa comes through. Fingers crossed, and if the gods of bureaucracy smile upon me, I’ll be heading over to Italy in the spring for some undetermined amount of time. Until I get itchy feet again, and feel the need to go somewhere else.

People ask me all the time where I’m off to next and how I can make it all work for me. I’m still muddling through, making mistakes, but, at the moment I’m happy with this “nomadic” life I’ve created. It means I get to do interesting things, in interesting places, with interesting people.

Mud baths in Turkey! Photo credit: Lance Jackson

Having a mud bath in Turkey. Photo credit: Lance Jackson

This post is the intro to a short series I’m planning to publish here, entitled How To Become A Nomad (And Not Give Up Everything). I’m aiming to let you in on a few of the tips and tricks I use to juggle my life, pack in all this extended travel and not have to pawn all my possessions. Look for the first installments in coming weeks.

A Peek at Puglia


For years Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"now, I’ve wanted to visit the region of Puglia. Geographically speaking, we’re talking about the heel of the Italian boot. Now that I’m back from a fairly relaxing 9 days down there, I’m writing to share my experience with all of you.

My impressions of Puglia:

Tourism in Puglia is not nearly as developed as it is in other parts of Italy. For my travel buddy and I, this meant that we encountered no lines, no wait times (except for trains), hardly any pesky tour groups, hardly any pesky English speakers (we both speak Italian), and lots of peaceful moments. For that, it was blissful.

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On the other hand, if you’re used to being shunted around on pre-organized tours from monument to church to museum to historic site, Puglia may not be the ideal place for you. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my 9 days down there. And we moved around, despite the very interesting (read: horrible) rail system. But if you’re not a lover of seafood and the seaside, it’s maybe best that you stick to the central and northern parts of the country.

The coastline and sea are beautiful, the people are friendly and helpful and the food is delicious. Would I go back to Puglia? Absolutely. Would I necessarily spend 9 days there again? Maybe not.

Practical notes:

  •  You can get around by train, but for us (two fairly seasoned Italy travellers), all the routes we took were a pain in the butt. On the roads, traffic seemed very light, so renting a car in Puglia is probably quite doable and desirable. Distances aren’t long, but three train switches in 40 kilometres makes even a quick jaunt to the seaside a daunting day-long task. Also, some trains don’t run on Sundays. At all. And when two lousy train engineers on the Maglie – Otranto route decided to fare sciopero on a Saturday (translation: strike meaning: extra day off) we ended up riding a bus with every sweaty, loud high school kid in the area:

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  • If you don’t do seafood, stay away. Seriously. I eat very little fish or seafood, apart from canned tuna and fresh Canadian salmon, but this trip introduced my tummy to some excellent new varieties of sea creatures. If you’re not willing to try, stay home. We encountered many restaurants that serve only seafood dishes. Kiss your spaghetti bolognese goodbye and opt for a plate of spigola (sea bass) or orata (sea bream).
  • If you’re looking to be occupied all the time, bring a book. Or a small child. I don’t want to say that there aren’t many things to do, but…there aren’t many things to do, depending on your interests. Our “city tour” of Lecce was a 2-hour jaunt from church to church. The guide was informative, but… Yes, the strolling, the eating, the beaching, the travelling all takes time, but when the entire region shuts down from 1 – 5 pm for the “pausa” or “siesta”, you’ve got nothing to do but bake on the beach or take a snooze yourself. (We did both.)

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  • We weren’t able to find too many reasonably priced organized tours to join, like wine tasting tours, olive oil tasting tours, etc. There were a few little things, but knowing how much you’d pay in Tuscany for a similar service, I couldn’t bear to part with 150E for a 4-hour cooking class.

Highlights of the trip:

Visiting the trulli houses of Alberobello and the Grotte di Castellana:

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A wonderful birthday dinner of spigola in the main piazza of Monopoli.

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Taking a dip in the beautiful Ionian sea at Gallipoli.

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Taking a dip in the spectacularly turquoise Adriatic sea at Otranto.

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Riding in the back of an Ape Calessino, then having to get out and push (yes push!) when it got stuck in the sand.

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The food. The wine. Da leccarsi i baffi! (Mouthwatering!)

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Il Palio di Siena ~ Siena’s Palio Horserace


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"Maybe you’ve heard of Siena, and maybe you haven’t. (If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you have).

Maybe you’ve heard of Il Palio, or maybe not.

I have a hard time gauging how well-known both Siena and the Palio are because they’ve become such a big part of my life. I can hardly imagine someone not having heard of my favourite town in Italy or its most exciting event. I’m a little too close; I can’t see the forest for the trees.

In about a month’s time, on July 2nd, this year’s first Palio will be run in Siena. What is the Palio you ask? Well. In order to understand the Palio, you first need to understand how Siena is organized.

In modern-day Siena (which sounds funny to me since Siena is still so Medieval in my books), the city is split up into 17 contrade (neighbourhoods). Each contrada has its own name, its own symbol, its own flag, its own headquarters, its own government, its own streets, its own church, its own museum, its own social life, etc.

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If you live in the old city centre, you live in a contrada, however you don’t necessarily belong to it. To belong to a contrada you’re either born into the one where one of your parents is a member, or later in life you, through connections, work, and fellow-feeling, are asked to become a member. No one is an official member until they are baptized in the contrada fountain.

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The Palio is a bareback horse race that has been run since Medieval times in Siena. The race takes place twice a year, on the evenings of July 2nd and August 16th, regardless of the day these dates fall on. It’s a competition between Siena’s contrade  for honour, glory and centuries’ worth of bragging rights. The contrada that wins the race gets no money, just the Palio banner (cencio, drappellone) itself. Jockeys are hired from outside Siena, and the horses are assigned to each contrada through a draw.

Crowds awaiting the "estrazione delle contrade" or the drawing of the contrade that will run the next Palio. The drawn contrada's flags get hung out the windows of the Palazzo Pubblico in front of the waiting crowd.

Crowds awaiting the “estrazione delle contrade” or the drawing of the contrade that will run the next Palio. 

Not all the contrade run in each Palio, however. 10 run each time, and the two Palios are independent of one another. How do they pick who runs? Easy. If your contrada is one of the 10 that run in July 2014, you don’t have the automatic right to run in July 2015; the remaining 7 that didn’t run the year before do. However, because each Palio is run with 10 horses, there are three from the ones who ran in July 2014 that will also be selected to run in July 2015, through a draw that takes place a little more than a month beforehand.

Watering down the track, just days before the Palio.

Watering down the track, just days before the Palio.

A week or so beforehand, the transformation of the Piazza starts. Truckloads of tufa sand are brought in to build a track right there where there are usually tables and chairs belonging to the restaurants in the piazza. Bleachers are set up and the centre of the piazza is enclosed with wooden gates. The horses and jockeys do trial runs.

That’s all to say nothing about what’s going on in the contrade.  They’re strategizing, and eating and singing and praying and chanting. On the day of the Palio, their horse even gets pushed inside the contrada church for a special blessing. If, said horsey happens to do his business while he’s in there, tanto meglio. All the luckier! (I am not kidding.). The contradaioli (contrada members) wear their fazzoletti (scarves) in their contrada colours, and sing their contrada’s hymn.

And while there’s so much activity in the contrade, the rest of Siena practically shuts down. Stores are closed, streets are blocked off, people take the day off work. In the morning, the horses run the provaccia, the last trial run in the piazza. Then they’re blessed and prepared for the Palio.

And now that you’re prepared for the Palio, you’ll have to wait for my next post about my first Palio experience. I promise, it won’t be long coming!