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.

Dinner in Chianti: Dining at Castello di Spaltenna


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"There are a few perks to being a blogger who blogs mainly about Italy, like receiving invites to dinner at evocative, charming medieval castles in Chianti, such as Il Castello di Spaltenna.

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At the castle entrance.

A little background: Castello di Spaltenna is nestled in some of those iconic rolling Tuscan hills just above the town of Gaiole in Chianti, about 45 minutes north east of Siena. The castle dates back to the year 1000, with the Pieve (church) being the structure’s focal point.

Today the castle and its related structures comprise a luxury resort, complete with a whole host of rooms and apartments decorated in classic Tuscan style. There’s a pool, a vineyard, and new this year is a spa, with an array of treatments such as saunas, massages, Turkish baths for visitors to choose from.

What sets Spaltenna apart from some other resorts in the area is that it’s not a new structure made to look old and authentic, it really is authentic. It’s been carefully restored and kept throughout the centuries, and it’s the perfect spot if you’re looking for a serene Tuscan getaway. You won’t always have wi-fi (the monks didn’t!), and it’s a bit of a challenge to get to if you don’t have a car, but well worth the effort.

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Paradise in Tuscany – Castello di Spaltenna

Castello di Spaltenna also has two restaurants: La Terrazza for breakfast and lunch, and the more formal, Il Pievano for dinner. Both run under the direction of Executive Chef Fabrizio Borraccino, whose leadership, coupled with the hard work of his team, have been garnering a lot of media attention and praise lately. And let me tell you, it’s very well deserved. More about that later.

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We (a group of communications/travel/hospitality professionals) arrived at Spaltenna at dusk, and were immediately welcomed by the hotel’s Director, Alessandro Ercolani, who offered us an aperitivo on the terrace, and who spoke to us about both the history and the future of Spaltenna. We watched the sun set behind the cypress trees before moving over to the stone-walled inner courtyard of Il Pievano to tuck into our candlelight dinner.

Il Pievano Restaurant - luxury & ambiance in Chianti

Il Pievano Restaurant – luxury & ambiance in Chianti

There, we were met by the Maitre D’, Andrea Giubbilei, and his attentive staff. They welcomed us, pulled out our chairs, brought stools for our purses to rest on( something I’ve never been offered in Canada) and hinted that we shouldn’t fill up on the freshly made foccaccia, rustic bread and grissini (breadsticks) that already adorned the table. We were to have a multi-course tasting menu, the Maitre D’ explained as his staff brought the first dishes, and we needed to ensure that we tasted all of the chef’s creations.

[I won't post pictures of everything we ate, just my top dishes. I'll also refrain from over-explaining. The pictures speak for themselves. Words would only diminish...]

Freshly made bread, foccaccia and grissini.

Freshly made bread, foccaccia and grissini. Candlelight.

Quail egg and truffle.

Quail egg and truffle.

Eggplant breaded and with tumeric.

Eggplant breaded and with turmeric.

Chicken liver with red onions.

Chicken liver with red onions and brioche bread.

The best risotto ever made.

The best risotto ever made. Oh, the consistency!

Pici pasta with lampredotto (tripe!).

Pici pasta with peas and lampredotto (tripe!).

Tortelli with duck.

Tortelli pasta filled with duck.

Peach and lemon sorbet dessert. Divine.

Peach and lemon sorbet dessert. Divine.

Raspberry chocolate dessert. Heavenly.

Raspberry chocolate dessert. Heavenly.

The Maitre D’ very kindly explained each of our 13+ courses as we savoured them. He also paired the dishes with locally produced wines, some even from Spaltenna’s own, very limited production. Red wine, white wine, vin santo. It was glorious. By the end of our meal (which I completely finished, thank you very much) I was on a food high, lulled by the serene atmosphere (and the wine), senses heightened by the flavours, colours and textures and smells.

Never had I taken part in such a luxurious dining experience. Ever.

Now, I’m no restaurant critic. I don’t have a ton of experience with “fine dining”. You don’t have to take my word that the food was exquisite and so was the service. But I’ll tell you what really put this dinner over the top for me: Chef Borraccino convinced me. He convinced me.

Not with words, but with flavours and textures and combinations and smells, he had me eating things I would have previously turned down with a sneer and a shudder: shrimp, oysters, chicken liver, tripe, tomato soup and pigeon. Instead, I was asking for more and taking detailed recipe notes.

Our dinner party with Chef Borraccino, after the meal.

Our dinner party with Chef Borraccino, after the meal.

At the conclusion of the meal, Chef Borraccino came out to greet us and speak with us a bit about his professional background and his vision for what a dining experience should be. What struck me most of all was his passion. It was after midnight. He had worked all day, literally slaving away over a hot stove, preparing an inviting array of dishes for us and the other patrons. After all that, his eyes still sparkled as he spoke about his food, as he delighted in our delight at his cooking.

After an experience like that, the Frazzled Chef in me wants to hang up her apron.

If you’re interested in having a similarly delightful experience (and you are), then check out Castello di Spaltenna’s website here.

*       *       *

Now for the thanks, first in English, then in Italian.

[I'd like to extend my thanks, first and foremost to Sonia Corsi, who organized my evening at Castello di Spaltenna, to the Director, Alessandro Ercolani, for so graciously hosting us for the evening, to the Maitre D', Andrea Giubbilei, for his welcoming and informative presence, and to the rest of the team, especially Donato La Torre, the second-in-command in the kitchen. Last but not least, I'd like to thank Executive Chef Fabrizio Borraccino. Your work is spectacular, and the passion with which you do it is inspiring.]

[Vorrei ringraziare in primis Sonia Corsi, che ha organizzato la mia bellissima serata presso il Castello di Spaltenna. Grazie anche al Direttore, Alessandro Ercolani, per la graziosa accoglienza. Grazie anche al Maitre, Andrea Giubbilei, per l'impeccabile informativa sui piatti e mille grazie anche al resto dello staff, soprattuto a Donato La Torre, il braccio destro dello chef. In fine, grazie di cuore allo Chef, Fabrizio Borraccino. Il tuo lavoro è spettacolare, e la passione con cui lo fai m’ispira.]

Siena, A Bird’s Eye View


Fate works in wonderful ways, and I find that when I’m in Italy, particularly in Siena, I get to cross paths with some very interesting people. Enter Marco Zamperini – a hobby photographer whose photos pack a professional punch.

Photographer and videographer Marco Zamperini.

Photographer and videographer Marco Zamperini.

Marco’s a friend of a friend who graciously allowed me to chat with him back in June. He’s Senese (from Siena) and a proud member of the Istrice contrada (porcupine). His day job sees him working in the medical field, but his passions lead him into his city, into the countryside, and most interestingly, up in the air to chase that perfect shot.

He remembers his father always telling him to “look up” when he was a boy, so as not to miss the stuff going on above eye level. Looking up, he developed a love for flying. During his travels, he realized he didn’t have enough time to take notes on all that he saw, so he turned to his camera to document everything, and his love for photography was born. That was 17 years ago.

What’s really interesting are all the things Marco has used over the years to get those perfect shots: cameras on fishing rods, model airplanes, little hot air balloons, and more recently, motorized flying drones. “I try to look at things from a point of view [usually bird's eye] that other people can’t,” says Zamperini. 

Marco and one of his flying drones.

Marco and one of his flying drones.

Another thing that draws Marco to photography is finding the beauty in the ordinary. “I try to bring out the beauty,” he says.

But when it comes to photographing his city, part of that job is already done for him. “I was born in a city that is sincerely beautiful,” he says of Siena with pride.

I couldn’t agree more. But even with subject matter that’s already stunning, Marco manages to find that angle, that light, that moment that, “something more” and capture it in a click.

I rest my case:

Fontebranda, Siena. Photo: Marco Zamperini.

Fontebranda, Siena. Photo: Marco Zamperini.

Fontana near the Fortezza Medicea, Siena. Photo: Marco Zamperini.

Fontana near the Fortezza Medicea, Siena. Photo: Marco Zamperini.

Palio. Foto: Marco Zamperini.

Palio. Foto: Marco Zamperini.

Siena Duomo from above. Photo: Marco Zamperini.

Siena Duomo from above. Photo: Marco Zamperini.

A magical moment at the Duomo of Siena. Photo: Marco Zamperini.

A magical moment at the Duomo of Siena. Photo: Marco Zamperini.

[PS: It isn't quite finished yet, but Marco's working on a website to showcase and maybe even sell some of his work. When it goes live I'll be sure to put it here. For now, if you're looking to find any of his work for sale, check out the Palazzo del Capitano Galleria d'Arte in Siena: http://www.palazzodelcapitano.it]