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Reddit user NPPraxis gave me permission to reprint a couple of post of theirs here that readers of this blog might find interesting. You can find more info about their travels over at adventureofours.com.


Can I make a suggestion to check out?

Southern Italy.

I’ve got a lot of experience with the Puglia region, the second poorest after Sicily (but Sicily has Mafia/crime problems). I’ve written some past rants about this, but long story short:

It’s currently dirt poor (30% unemployment) but doesn’t have most of the problems most poor regions have because taxes from the rich northern Italy give everyone free healthcare and subsidized housing and families help each other out culturally.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Brindisi (the third largest city in Puglia, a port town with an airport with direct flights to Rome/Milan). You can rent downtown apartments for $350-400/mo, and then go to open markets (it is all farmland) and get food for insanely cheap prices. Eating out is expensive by Thailand standards ($2-3 for a pizza, $10 for white tablecloth dining), but the open markets with the farmers are insane. I’ve purchased 20 lbs of food (fresh fruits and vegetables) for $5 with some negotiating help from a local, and it might’ve been $7 without the help. Wine and seafood are also insanely cheap ($2/liter local wines are very common in mom and pop shops), as well as local cheeses. The rent (and electricity/utilities) is the most expensive part.

Almost any city in Puglia is that cheap. Bari is only a little more expensive, but near tons of very nice beaches. Lecce is also beautiful and has nice architecture (though is not near water).

While it’s a little more expensive than a third world country, you have the safety and security and services of a first world country with the food prices of a third world. Plus you can take a train or flight to anywhere in Europe for dirt cheap. It’s like $30 to fly to Rome on RyanAir from Brindisi or Bari.

I’d love to get your experience on how it compares.

Side note: Puglia is bustling in summer and very quiet outside, so consider the time of year you go. Hit me up if you want any suggestions. I’m biased because I also speak fluent Italian so I get around easily, so I’m not sure how easy it is for a non-speaker.

Biggest issue: Italian paperwork and scheduling. It’s so hard to get people to do anything for you if you are, for example, working with contractors.


 

Currently, I only go for about two weeks a year. I have a family member, however, that is there just shy of about half the year, and I now technically own an inherited property there. (Currently, family members watch it, but I’d like to figure out a way to turn it in to an airbnb.) When I was young, we would spend roughly half our summers there (just shy of 90 days). Brindisi is also the main sea port to Greece and Albania, so you could technically look at making visa runs from there. My Italian friends tell me that they frequently take night boats to Albania as a cheap vacation because Albania is even cheaper! I personally have a US/EU dual citizenship so I don’t have to worry about Visa times.

For FI, you don’t need a car there. There’s a train line connecting the major cities (goes from Rome or Naples through Bari > Brindisi > Lecce). But, a car is rather handy to get around, because there’s tons of little towns and beaches (it’s like the rural parts of the US east coast- a small town every 15 minutes). Brindisi (where I have mainly stayed) has a lot of accessible beaches nearby, but the really nice world-class white-stand-crystal-blue-water beaches are about 30-60 minutes away (both north and southeast). We’d occasionally ride with a family member for “fun” things, but for daily life a car wasn’t necessary.

So if you go for vacation, rent a car, check out the beach towns. If you go to live cheaply, you don’t need the car, though it’s really nice if you want to tour the region (lots of wineries and farms that do open houses and stuff, lots of small towns or abandoned castles). A Vespa/motorbike might be a decent alternative, or even an electric bicycle!

Italian southern small towns are built very condensed. Brindisi, for example, has no suburbs- or rather, the suburbs are all apartment buildings. So while the population is roughly 100k, it’s like a third the size or less compared to what you’d imagine a 100k city in the US. It’s apartment buildings right up til town ends, then farmland. So if you rent an apartment in Brindisi, you can walk the whole city in ~30 minutes.

{EDIT: Important note! Brindisi is both the name of the province AND the capital city of that province. If you look at properties, rentals, or airbnbs, verify that it’s the city of Brindisi (which is a coastal city), and not “Ostuni, Brindisi” (a nearby town 30 minutes away). Brindisi looks like this (small portion of the downtown). with streets like this. When I’m in AirBnB I always use the map because it tries to put me in even cheaper small towns. That’s a note for FI though- you could technically live in an even cheaper place like Ostuniif you didn’t mind having nothing to do and being 30 minutes away from train lines and the ocean (i.e. you need a car to do anything). Also, if you don’t care about the ocean, and want to stay cheap, Lecce is similar in size and price to Brindisi, just more inland and with Florence-like architecture.}

There’s full LTE coverage and DSL internet is cheap (never looked in to cable). I was just there last month and the city was in the process of installing fiber (I heard conflicting stories of whether it would be gigabit or 100 mbit, but either way…).

I hype Brindisi because it’s where I have experience, but Bari is 3x the size, and only a little more expensive. I just know about Brindisi’s daily farmers markets and weekly open markets- I assume Bari has something similar because even smaller towns like Ostuni have similar setups. Literally, every time I go to Brindisi, I come with an empty suitcase and bring home a new wardrobe from the Thursday Morning market or the Chinese store (literally, that’s the name). Tons of $3 clothing, $50-100 suits from expensive brands, etc. It helps if you can haggle.

This is how much food I got for €5.30. There was some haggling- for example, it was near closing time (noon) for the market and we offered to buy the watermelon if they threw in some zucchini free, and we got all of that zucchini.

Puglia is a fascinating region. It has tons of history, but it doesn’t have the money to market itself. There’s lots of old ruins and castles, but they aren’t toured or maintained as well as up north. There’s no tour guides that can show you around them. The government maintains some of the historical stuff but doesn’t market it. All the marketing is for northern Italy.

For 2-3 months of the year, Puglia is bustling with northern Italian tourists who go south for the beaches and to avoid all the foreign tourists who flood the north. (In July/August, you can’t turn around in Rome without elbowing a tourist.) I say “bustling”, not flooded- all the businesses are out in full force to provide for the visitors, but they aren’t everywhere and the streets have lots of space. During the rest of the year, the cities are very quiet.

One other note: There is a siesta culture (“riposta”) in southern Italy! This was very hard for me to adjust to. Basically, everyone goes home for lunch at noon. Restaurants might stay open til 2:00 so people can get food to go, but by 2:00 everything will be closed. If you’re late for lunch you can’t get lunch anywhere in town. Even the grocery stores are closed. Everything reopens around 5-6 PM and stays open late (many restaurants til midnight or even 2 AM).

I wrote some older rants about Naples and Puglia (on the keto subreddit so focus is on food), and Puglia for FI as well.

Warning: One thing to be aware of if you are planning a longer-term stay- taxation. Italian taxation is a messy thing. Their tax rates are very high, but there’s a lot of benefits (free healthcare, for one- and healthcare is cheap even if you pay for it cash if you don’t have the healthcare). They’ll want to tax you on your US income IIRC (or the difference between the Italian tax rate and US tax rate). If you are leanFIRE you might be in a low enough tax bracket that this doesn’t matter, or maybe capital gains are different- talk to a tax attorney if you are thinking of getting residence.)

You have no taxes on your primary residence (bonus if you buy property!), which has positives (poor people never lose their houses, people just move back in with their parents) and negatives (tons of abandoned historical properties in the south with no owners that never get foreclosed on).

Let me know if you have any questions about it 🙂


 

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Price of a beer in a bar: US$6 for a pint of draft craft

Song currently stuck in my head: Sequestered in Memphis (The Hold Steady)

 

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I went to a pool today here in Austin for a refreshing plunge after my workout and sauna routine. It opens at 6am. Except it opens at 8am. Well, you have to pay starting at 8am. At least that’s what I’m told. Everything about the place said ‘we’re closed’, except it was full of people, the parking lot was packed and the gate wasn’t locked. It was 7:10am. Parking was metered, but the meter said it was ‘out of service’ and it didn’t look like any of the other vehicles had paid. I tried to walk in the grand glass walled entrance, but that wasn’t the entrance. I’m told it used to be, back in the “30s or something”, and now it’s apparently there as a decoy entrance to infuriate newcomers. It’s an excellent decoy, since it used to be an actual entrance. There were no signs offering me any help whatsoever. I found a sign that gave a run down of the rates (US$8 for me, maybe, depending on what ‘resident’ means, I’m still a bit hard to define), but mostly I had to hassle a passerby to figure out which closed gate was unlocked. Luckily this guy knew everything; winter hours, parking hours, etc. It turns out the place opens at 6am but doesn’t start charging admission until 8am. I still don’t understand if I’m supposed to get out of the water and go pay at 8 if I arrived at, say, 7:45. Since I drove, I would need to go pay for parking at 8 and it seemed as though the machines wouldn’t sell me a parking receipt until 8 and the parking lot was full, so I have to guess there’s quite a line at the parking machines at exactly 8.

Anyway, apparently I was just supposed to figure all of this out on my own magically. Which brings me to my point: over and over again in The US, I’m expected to be an expert at how something works the first time I encounter it.

I went into a Starbucks a few weeks ago and just starred and starred trying to find a menu. I figure this must be my mistake, but finally I gave up and asked the girl at the counter. She explained that they do, in fact, serve coffee and espresso and cappuccino and a whole host of beverages, but they don’t have a menu. They post specials on huge signs where you might expect a menu to be and those specials rotate every 3 months or so. If you want something else, say a latte, you have to already know what it is and specifically ask if they have it, what sizes they offer and how much it costs. If you want to decide between a few things, you better get a notebook and get comfortable. The girl on the other side of the counter was sympathetic and I was as polite as I could be, but I’m also not an expert at Starbucks; neither their made up jargon nor their tendency to pass off their approximations under traditional drink names. I don’t know what they offer. I need someone to tell me. And it would be great if they did so in print.

I’ve run into the exact same situation at other fast food chains. I don’t eat at McDonald’s often enough to keep up with their current offerings, but several locations I’ve been to only show you combination meals. If you’re in one of these locations, I dare you to try to find out how much a simple hamburger costs without having a conversation with an employee. And if you’re feeling particularly masochistic, try to find out how much a simple hamburger costs by having a conversation with an employee.

This happens again and again. When I arrive at a restaurant I’m constantly confused as to whether I’m supposed to follow the person who greets me and then turns around and walks away. Sometimes it’s yes, sometimes it’s wait, sometimes it’s seat yourself. The menu I’m handed has made up terms (‘Crackin’ Sauce’, ‘Woobie Fries’, etc) with no explanation other than an asterisks that reminds me not to eat undercooked meat and eggs. The patter is pushy, seldom am I asked “Do you have any questions?” anymore, it’s straight to “Are you ready to order?”. There’s a strong sense of ‘just order the thing in bold, put it in your mouth and move the fuck on.’

The trend in software development is to hide all of the features, presumably in pursuit of a clean layout. Intuitive design is no longer in fashion, nor is navigability, things have moved much further toward the Apple ethos “be too impressed with the aesthetics to notice the lack of features and the baffling user interface, it doesn’t matter how it works, look at how it looks!” Options are buried or just plain invisible because options intimidate people; they may rely on drawing patterns with your finger on the screen to access undocumented but instrumental features, intentionally obscured, allegedly for arcane social marketing purposes.

I went into a convenience store a couple of weeks ago and went to the cooler to grab a beverage. There were no prices; none. Not on any of the shelves, not on the door, nowhere. I was outraged, but I wasn’t surprised. This kind of aggressively anti-consumer behavior is what I’ve been taught to expect. It turns out they had just installed new shelves and the old tags didn’t fit, so we’re not quite there yet, but my lack of surprise is what has stuck with me.

When I talked to US Expats about my intention to move back to The US full time, they all used the same phrase. They all said “I just don’t think I could deal with American culture any more”. Most said they could barely stand to visit. I girded myself for re-entry, trying to view things on balance. One of the big advantages was moving back somewhere that I understood a little better and, armed with that understanding, was better able to comprehend unexpected aspects of the day to day.

Perhaps I miscalculated.

This happened today (pops, with sound). Regular readers know this song has been inescapable during my years of travel. Day 3 of my return finds Rivers Cuomo and the boys opening a new chapter of blessed rains and pretentious references to Kilimanjaro, along with which I never fail to sing.

Brasov, Romania

05.25.18

Beer, Elevator that I was assured, unsolicited, is safe, it really is, it’s safe, and then the early morning view from this apartment.

Castles

05.23.18

 

More mixed and matches images from a couple of Romanian castles.

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Price of a beer in a bar: US$1.60 got me 500ml of domestic strong dark ale, bottled

Song currently stuck in my head: Your Gold Teeth II (Steely Dan)

The matron of the house here in Brasov in which I’ve rented a room for a few days poured exactly the right amount of homemade ‘Romanian whiskey’ (rajika) to level me up into an ideal neurological range, euphoric enough to Bliss out in headphones and ignore how aggressively asinine Gavin Rossdale’s lyrics are; to fall back into the nostalgia of being too inexperienced to know whether I got burned on that ball of hash my friends and I bought at X-fest in ’93. Even live he was immediately unlikable. Distilled apple/pear/fig, perhaps some barrel aging, stored in and poured from a plastic water bottle along with a story of higher education, mechanical engineering and revolution induced joblessness, then an offer of some soup.

The psuedoephedrine doesn’t hurt. I’ve never had the psuedo stuff before; more nostalgia of the 90s when ephedrine wasn’t just available over the counter, it was tacitly recommended by its impulse placement, next to the roadies and needlessly ornate bics. I’m not one to wax poetic about glory days, but I feel like I’m on thick ice when I suggest that OTC trucker speed was better in the 90s.

My bag has slimmed down considerably, but I am carrying some low lying Bulgarian infection or Bulgaria derived condition and the psuedo is 1/4 of a stack of sprays, drips and pills the private hospital internist recommended. He said I might be straightened out in a few days, might hit Asian ground firing on all cylinders. Given what’s waiting for me, it might be healthier to arrive unhealthy; allow the malady induced humility, the heightened salience of mortality, to establish a pattern of restraint early on.

Oh well. ‘Buy the ticket’ and all.

I visited Peles Castle earlier today, a ‘must-see’ that’s been on my radar since well before we booked flights to this continent. It surpassed all expectation; so much so that I won’t bother to try to convey it.

I met a European Train Guy on the ride to Bucharest; these travelers are their own breed. This guy had a job as a railway traffic controller in Western Europe and a lot of opinions about each countries current investment (or lack thereof) in their rail lines, particularly the ongoing disappearance of night trains. It’s an interesting way to travel, though; he targeted train stations the way other tourists target towns; the routes were his attractions, his equivalent of ‘the local sites’, and he would just arrive at a station, consult his printed train guides and choose a route he wanted to see from among the practical options left at that station that day. It’s a spectator endeavor, to be sure, but those rides show you a huge amount of countryside and they’re far more interesting than the routes the highways take. I get it. He had particular routes he wanted to see and a lot of leeway in how to cover the miles and fill the time in between.

3 days until my flight to Asia.

Edit: Subsequent posts wrapped back in time and started being posted on Tuesdays beginning here.

Castles

05.18.18

These shots are mixed and matched from a couple of different castles.