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I just learned the other day that I am a digital nomad.

What is a digital nomad? Um, I think it's me!

To be honest, if you had asked me what that meant two weeks ago, I would have had no idea. At first, when I started hearing the expression “digital nomad,” I thought it was just a fancy way of saying that a person liked to spend all of their time exploring the internet; a computer nomad wandering the digital universe from the comfort of their couch. A very nice way to say “I am addicted to the web.”

In a way this definition that I had formed in my own limited understanding is true. Digital nomads journey into the high-tech universe of the web from many comfortable places, but they do it for pay. This is how they make their living, by being able to work from just about anywhere they can get a good internet connection.

And sometimes this freedom even turns them into true nomads, wandering the country or even the world, laptop in hand. It was this last sort of digital nomad that made me realize I too was one of them. The “force” was with me, and my two traveling laptops, whenever I logged on to the www.

I never set out to become a digital nomad. How could I when I did not know what it was? I just knew that I loved travel and wanted to keep doing it always. So when my employer offered me the opportunity to work at home so that I could relocate and still keep my job, the first words out of my mouth were “and if I want to go abroad? Can I take the job with me there?”

The “yes” was all I needed to hear.

In the beginning, I was nervous to leave everything behind and hit the road, job-in-tow. For an experienced traveller, this was rare. After all, I have been to or through every state in the USA but Alaska and North Dakota. I have checked many tropical islands off my list as well as Mexico. I have seen most of Canada from Vancouver to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I have lived on the west coast, east cost and several states in between. I have backpacked around and across Europe, and even lived in Ireland, England and Italy. I passed through the European educational system, earning two international graduate degrees from two different countries. But I had never packed my laptop in my bag, bought a plane ticket and said “I am headed to Europe and everything depends on my internet connection.”

I started to seriously consider taking the plunge in April of 2010. I began dropping in at expat websites, curiously checking to see if others had ventured out before me and how they had fared. But the advice was fragmented and left me even more confused.

The feedback was like a sea-saw wildly out of control. The internet was good enough for work. The internet wasn’t good enough for work. Keep in mind this factor, don’t forget that one. My doubts growing, I wondered, “what will I do if I give up my apartment, move all the way there, only to have it fail?” After all, this was my job. If I could not work, I could not make money. If I could not make money, well, lets just say that would not be a good option.

After endless rounds of mental debates, I realized that I had to go forward. I felt that there must be a reason why I had been given such a job when my dreams had always lingered on travel and foreign destinations. I almost felt that there must be something wrong with me to have the door hanging open, literally begging me to enter, and I could not cross through.

I closed my eyes, turned my head away and held my breath that day when, sitting on the floor in my room on a Friday afternoon, I clicked the “send” button that confirmed I had now purchased my ticket to Rome. I sat there quietly and stared at the screen with the confirmation message that had appeared. In the silent aftermath of my choice, I realized that I was the only person who knew the secret which was about to change the course of my life. I was nervous, but I knew there was no going back now.

Since that day, and the day I landed in Italy, many obstacles have arisen which I have had to surmount (including the internet not working, as I feared, but I fought my way through it and am still here). So when I learned that I am a digital nomad I could not help but feel as though a puzzle had come together; someone had explained to me a significant part of my life. It really was as though I now understood that the “force” was with me; a unique force that I log onto every day when I turn on my computer and connect to the 21st century energy that we humans call the internet.

That is something to be truly grateful for.

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A few weekends back, I made a Saturday trip to the somewhat small town of Spoleto. (I say “somewhat” as the historic medieval/Renaissance/Baroque portion is still fairly small, but outside its walls the urban landscape has grown.) It looked like a great place to go for someone obsessed with picturesque, medieval hill-top towns surrounded by beautiful views. So off I went!

I took an early train from Rome and at the train station in Spoleto I caught a city bus to the historic center (recommended for arriving. Leaving it is ok to walk – all downhill! Although the environs that surround the hill town are more modern and less ‘viewer friendly.’)

Exploring the city, I caught some great footage and put together a short travel video. You can check it out here:

 

Some things that I did not include were the castle (worth taking a hike up to for the views, which I added at the end of the video. However, the castle itself has been altered by its past as a prison. It has some nice frescoes and a few interesting artifacts though.) and my hair-raising journey trying to find one of the monasteries pictured in my video. (Somehow I ended up walking on the side of a high-speed road, and then even tried to climb through a small path that was too overgrown to be of much help! I bet the Italians driving by had a field day with that! Even I was laughing at myself for such temporary insanity. What can I say? I am obsessed with medieval monasteries!)

When I did finally find the monastery though, an older man who was volunteering on the grounds to do maintenance work unlocked the deserted church for me and then motioned for me to follow him to the lower level. Feeling a bit hesitant as a solo female traveller to follow strange men into dark basements, I carefully trailed along at a significant distance. There, beneath the more “modern” Baroque church, he warmly showed me an ancient, hidden medieval one, with beautiful medieval frescoes that he took the time to explain to me in Italian. It was one of those moments you cannot easily forget, and somehow amidst the fascination of a personal tour by a man who made this place his life, I never thought to take a picture. I think I was too engrossed in his art historical perspectives and insights…and the feeling of stepping back into another forgotten time.

Upon leaving the lower church, and then the upper church, he locked the door and offered to drive me to another church which was even older and more ancient! Well, getting in cars with strangers (even nice ones with a good eye for art) is one thing I retained from childhood as a big “no” (I guess no one warned me about going into basements) so I walked the short 5 minute walk where I came across some surprise scenes for my video above. (Do check it out – they are a surprise and very interesting!)

Afterwards, I managed to make it back to town without gallivanting on the side of free-ways or tumbling through thistles and other dense foliage. There I shot a few more scenes for my video and then headed back to the train station.

Along the way, I stopped to ask directions from a young man who was so sweet. He went to speak but his voice could barely emerge from his throat. I could tell he had some sort of problem speaking which he was very shy and conscientious about, but he was so nice. I wanted to do something for him to show him some kindness, but those encounters between two strangers are so brief and I never know what to say. But the reality of suffering humanity touched me.

This brief interaction reminds me somewhat of the frescoes I had seen in the basement of that dimly lit medieval church. Standing there together, the Italian had gently taken my arm and lead me over to a fresco of the Madonna and Child. He explained that in Spoleto there were many of these, because during that time many children had fallen sick with the plague and it was a constant lingering threat to the people. So the “cittadini” of Spoleto were very devout in interceding to Mary for their young ones.

It was a touching window to the past, and into the concerns and fears of a people from long ago. Humanity still continues to suffer, but there must have been something very consoling to the people of that era to know that watching over them was a woman who, with her son, had also known great pain yet overcome it.

I will always be fascinated with the medieval mind. A cultural mentality so long-lost yet able to be reached through traces of the past.

Have you ever been interested in unlocking the mindset of another time and place?

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It was a perfect night to be back in Rome. Cool, moonlit, and still February – i.e.  few foreign travellers. Rome at its most authentic. Perfecto!

After a long day that had commenced at 6 am sharp, and included a delightful but challenging trip to the medieval hill town of Todi (the small train service to Todi had stopped connecting to my layover train station for one day only, and so I unexpectedly had to rely on my little Italian to find an alternate route), I could not help but smile as the train rolled in to Termini station in Rome.

Popping my i-Pod earphones into my ears, I zipped up my coat and was out the train door in no time. Maneuvering around the first-timers and the crowds of travellers, I knew exactly where to head and it felt good. Like being home again.

Stepping out onto the Piazza dei Cinquecento, the large, busy piazza in front of Rome’s bustling Termini station, I dodged busses, gypsies, nuns, and a wide variety of visitors and locals. Saturday night in Rome – a great time for re-exploring a favorite city!

I literally bounced with enthusiasm down Via Nazionale, with all its traffic and evening shoppers, to the little meandering streets. Lost in my own casual world I made the rounds to some of the classic top sights. Politely excusing myself from the advances of cute Italians who can smell an American from a mile away, I tossed a coin in the gushing Trevi fountain, illuminated by the dazzling glow of  blue-green lights (I have myself convinced I must do this every time I even pass by the Trevi fountain and somehow I keep coming back to Rome!), admired some very good street art, and continued on my way to the Pantheon.

The hustle and bustle in Rome on a Saturday night in winter is perfect. Crowded enough to be interesting, but not too crowded to be frustrating. The voices around you are generally soft and Italian, so you feel more like one of the locals. No shrill tourists distracting you from the ambience. Just perfect, and I was enjoying every moment.

As I entered the square where the Pantheon has proudly stood for millenia, I could hear the sounds of a talented Opera singer softly drifting across the piazza from a distance. Under the moonlight, I curiously circled the fountain in the center of the square and came upon a rather large group of people gathered in a semi-circle, applauding the talent of a young Italian Opera singer.

My interest piqued, I slowly made my way through the crowd. Like a scene in a movie, the unknown faces drifted past, one by one. The center of their attention, the young Italian, was making adjustments to a small CD player that was connected to a speaker system. Was he really singing, I wondered? What I had heard from a distance seemed extremely good.

Satisfied with his CD player, he gently set  it down, stepped back, stood tall and proud, and expectantly waited with all of us as the music began to fill the square once more. To hear such beautiful tones of violins, persuasively drawing towards a full orchestra of sound was, without a doubt, a very pleasant surprise on an evening stroll.

Finding a good position in the front of the crowd, I watched as he extended his arms and music began to flow from his lips. This was definitely real and he was not improvising. And he was good, very good!

After all, for good entertainment in Rome you could easily pay more than would leave you smiling, but here was the option to enjoy completely free, quality entertainment with a legendary backdrop.

Standing under the stars, the warmly glowing Pantheon directly behind him, encircled by a crowd of admirers, and gesturing with Operatic fervor, this was definitely a moment to be thankful for.

He sang famous numbers, such as “Nessun Dorma,” earning the eager applause of those around him. Families took pictures, couples lingered, it was an enchanting moment under the magical Roman nite sky.

After his performance, the people flocked to him for CD’s, to shake his hand, share opinions, etc. I waited with the masses until I could obtain his card.

And he was as sweet as could be. When I spoke to him, he was so polite and turned down the music that had continued playing in the background to listen to my request. He obligingly rummaged for a card and I walked away with a new delightful memory of another Saturday night in Rome. (And yes, I did tip him! 😉

Next time you are going to be in Rome, send Antonio Nicolosi an e-mail at antoniocantante@yahoo.it and see if he has any plans to be performing on one of the many piazzas at night. If so, you will be one of the blessed few to enjoy a warm performance against a spectacular backdrop for nothing more than the tips you may wish to contribute. And tell him Alexandra sent you 😉

He also does events for parties and ceremonies, so if you are planning a special get together or even a wedding you may want to be in touch.

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Here is your ticket to a day in Orvieto, Italy with me – Alexandra!

You can also watch here, on my You Tube home page:

http://www.youtube.com/jcilt1

This is my very first video, and with practice things will get even better! I hope you enjoy 🙂

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As an M.A. candidate, I spent some time in the city of Assisi, Italy working on my dissertation. It was wonderful. I woke up every morning in my clean yet simple convent room, opened the shutters overlooking the misty valley below, breathed in the fresh air scented with warm burning fires, got dressed, and made the winding walk through narrow story-book streets to the Basilica di San Francesco.

I sat inside the church all morning, gazing upon a multitude of frescos and contemplating their layers of rich significance. I watched the tourists who were shuffled by in their guided groups – and I knew that they were missing so much. I wanted to should out “wait! Your guide is not telling you that there IS more to say about this fresco! Why is he passing it up so quick? Where are you going?!”

I thought to myself at the time, “I could spend the rest of my life doing this.” It was heaven.

Then, in the afternoon, I would head to the little cafe around the corner, where I would order some Italian delight and sip my espresso, while pouring over my notes. From time to time I would look up at the Basilica and just smile. The peace I was enjoying was enhancing everything about my experience and drawing out all the beauty around me.

But one afternoon, a group of American women sat down near me, and instead of smiling I wanted to groan – and if I had the self control of a 2 year old, I may have thrown my now “Gerbered” food at them in a rather unappealing way!

“I am so tired,” one lady complained.

“Me too,” the other agreed. “It is not what I expected.”

“Me neither. I expected more.”

“The other cities we went to were not ‘all that’ either – don’t you think?”

“M-hmm. I really do not care if I see anymore. I am going to go back to my room today. You can go on with the group if you want.”

“No, I agree with you. I am going to my room too.”

When you love someone, and another person insults them or says something negative, you want to rise to their defense. And that was how I felt – how dare they insult my beautiful, amazing, enchanting, perfect Assisi? This place is incredible? Are they blind?

But I had to remind myself that yes they were blind – blind in a very incurable way. They were the product of the typical over-hyped, under-educated, and thoroughly cattled tourist industry.

They had probably heard bits and pieces about Italy, but never taken the time to really study it in depth. They had probably seen certain movies and watched certain books but never really educated themself on the history and culture. Their expectations were therefore insanely high but unrealistic. (Yes, Italy is a real place and it can be very dirty and grity and real! But if you know how to cut through all that, it can also be amazing.)

Coupled with the mass “cattling” that they were likely experiencing in groups, rushed about on buses, and expected to “ooo” and “awe” over the same sights within 2 minutes, snap pictures in another 2, and head out in 5 – it was no wonder they could no longer really see and appreciate what was before them. They were tired, exhausted, and did not know what to look for. All they knew was that right now their eyes were no longer affecting their heart, and so Italy was not all that they “expected” it to be.

I think all travelers, both the experienced and the inexperienced, need to remember that travel is not an “extreme thrills” sport (some of it is, but that is for another group). You do not step on a plane and suddenly your system is overwhelmed with massive amounts of chemicals screaming to your brain “isn’t this amazing?!!!!” (Well, ok sometimes you are – but it is not 24/7 instant thrills.)

Travel is something that has to be done from the heart. And the heart is a sensitive creature. If other parts of your body are overwhelmed and not thinking clear, your heart will be too clouded to really truly perceive what is around it.

So here are some travel tips to protect your heart so that it can help your eyes find the beauty and joy in each day’s experiences:

1) Go slow – do not plan rushed trips unless you understand that it can have a major affect on your entire experience that is not positive.

2) Avoid group travel – herded about like cattle in a group of tourists from the same country as you is like living in a dense fog – and everything that you see will be filtered through bias. After all, it is like you are traveling in a patriotic American bubble formed by people who do not realize they have left their own country. And why leave American just to stay stuck in it?

3) Take rests as needed – if you need a few days, or even a week to sleep in, relax, and just not deal with having to rush from site to site – do it! But do not let yourself get to the point that you do not care anymore about what you see because your heart is so strangled by too many other things.

4) Educate yourself – try to educate yourself on any culture you are visiting beyond what is blurbed about their history in the travel guides. And please – at least learn “Do you speak English?” in their language.

5) Be realistic – no place is perfect. No matter what the photos show, or the videos promote, no place, however amazing, is heaven. Only heaven is heaven – we are living on Earth. So don’t expect perfection and you can find joy in all the imperfections around you.

6) Remember you are not in Kansas anymore – always try to appreciate another cultures ways of thinking and doing things. You may not like them, or agree, but if you fight against them you might as well stay home and make a day trip to Wal Mart.

Let your heart breathe – protect it – let it beat slowly and peacefully at times through your travels – and your journeys will reward you immensely!

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Bonjourno!

A lot has changed in the years since I first created this blog, and I have to admit that my poor blog has suffered greatly. (“Terribly sorry love – spot of tea?”)

I began the blog in the summer of 2007, before I moved to London, England to work on my second advanced degree at the University of London. At the time I thought that my blog’s focus would be on the inherent dignity of women, a subject which is very important to me and which I am sure will come up throughout this blog.

However, life got busy – and after graduation I worked at a museum for awhile before moving to New York City. I then thought that now I would have time to write – after all, I was in New York! The city that never sleeps! And certainly, after a long day, I would have the time to sit down and blog! After all, I did not need sleep! Who did? (Muffles long yawn.) This was Ne…w….Y…o…..r……k…….. (I am going to wake up with keyboard impressions on my face, aren’t I?)

Ok, so granted that did not exactly work out…

After living and working in Manhattan for a time, I decided to move back to the beach and just relax on the seashore for awhile – which I did. And as wonderful as it was to wake up every morning to ocean views and stunning sunrises, there just really is not that much to say about sitting on the ocean day after day.

“Day 275 – still on ocean – still beautiful. There goes a crab! Haven’t seen one of those in a while! Maybe I will go for a walk – if I ever get up off this lounge chair. Really should get something to eat….” Not exactly the essence of a great blog!

That was when Italy fever began to kick back in.

In the fall I came to Rome to “test drive” a flat that I had found online over the summer. And it worked great! It is a rather small flat in a 500 year old building, down a quiet medieval street (queit and medieval in noisy, Baroque Rome – thank you, thank you, thank you!) on the very top floor, with a huge terrace right outside my door. (And the tiniest washing machine I have ever seen! I mean tiny – remember Sylvanian Families? I think they donated this…)

The landlord was fabulous – a retired school teacher who lives on the other side of the top floor (7th floor – no elevatar – all winding marble steps with romantic candle-imitation lights on each floor). Her son lives in the unit above me (ok, so there is one more floor – but not really. His is a “fire escape” attic flat – out to the porch, then up some rickety iron stairs.)

Through my windows, I could look out over the rooftops (and church tops) and when the wind blew, try to pretend that the clanking shutters in a unit that forgot to secure their windows is really a romantic and authentic sound of the real Italia (a little delusion never hurts!).

Back home on the ocean, I was grateful to have all of my American ammenities back, but by the New Year I was restless as always. After being proposed to, and then entering into a long debate on the possible joys of marriage, I shook the rocks in my head out, went to see the movie “The Tourist” twice, became obsessed, and e-mailed the real estate agent in Rome who had helped me first find the flat back in the summer. “I am ready!” was my battle cry on the pleasantly stagnant seashore of my life. (I think I scared a crab.)

What is it that always calls me back? Despite all the great ammenities that I loose, the thrill of adventure and living in new places always pulls me on. But not any adventure – the story book kind. The kind with great challenges and trials, and thrilling rewards. The kind with windows into other places, times, and most of all, ways of viewing life.

These journeys are what I wanted to find. I have found them before, here and there, but now I want to set out to find them full force. This is what I was born to do.

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