All posts by Vago Damitio

Vago Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. He jumped ship from a sinking dotcom in 2000 and decided to reclaim his most valuable commodity, time. He bought a VW bus for $100, moved into it and set out on a journey to show the world that it was possible to live life on your own terms. That journey took him from waking up under icy blankets in  the Pacific Northwest to waking up under palm tress in Southeast Asia. Three years later, his first book, Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond was published. After diving into the Anthropology of Tourism and Electronic Anthropology at the University of Hawaii (with undeclared minors in film and surf) he hit the road again in 2008. Since that time,he's lived primarily in Morocco and Turkey, married a Moroccan girl he couchsurfed with, and become a proud father. He's been to more than 40 countries, founded a successful online travel magazine (this one!), and still doesn't have a boss. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

7 Architectural Wonders of Florence, Italy that are not to be missed

Florentine ArchitectureFlorence. Perhaps no other city in the world evokes as many cultural, artistic, and architectural visions as the capital of Tuscany in Italy.  Home of the Renaissance, this city filled with museums, palaces, and churches holds a huge number of the world’s cultural treasures. Perhaps, the most important of  Florence’s sites are the Baptistery, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Cathedral, but the San Lorenzo library is certainly the finest example of Michelangelo’s architectural gift and should not be missed.

Those who are on last minute holidays or seeking the Italian Renaissance, need only look upon the palaces, buildings and squares of Florence for each of them are masterpieces.  Many of them built by the most admired artists of all time. In Florence, when you want to see the work of Michelangelo or Brunelleschi – there is no need to go indoors to a museum.

1) Piazza della Signoria is an L shaped plaza in the heart of Florence that serves as the historical and cultural center of the city. While unremarkable in terms of design itself, it is the surroundings and the history of this piazza that make it a must visit location.  Surrounding the piazza you will find The Uffizi Gallery, the Palazzao Vecchio, the replica of Michelangelo’s David, statues by Donatello, Cellini and others and as if that isn’t enough, the Piazza marks the place where both  return of the Medici family was and the famous Bonfire of the Vanities took place. The radical priest, Girolamo Savonarola who burned the books and treasures of the Florentine elite was later himself burned in the square – the exact spot is marked.

Florence Architectural Gems2) Palazzo Vecchio which literally means “Old Palace” is still the focus of the piazza. It was built in 1302 asthe seat of Florentine government and is still used for the same purpose. As such, only portions of it are open to the public. This was the original palace of the Medici family. The clasic blocky castle-like architecture is not centered on the tower for a reason, it was actually built around a tower which is far older and served as the substructure of the current tower.  This is a Romanesque building with many Gothic elements.  Inside is a treasure trove of courtyards, salons, and more than a few priceless artistic works.

Bridge of the Arno Florence3)Ponte Vecchio is a wonderful closed spandrel bridge which crosses the Arno at its narrowest point and is believed to have been first built in Roman times but is first mentioned in the year 996. The bridge still has shops along side it and a hidden walkway along the top so that the Medici didn’t have to expose themselves to the public when crossing. It was originally constructed in wood but wasdestroyed by a flood in 1333 and rebuilt of stone in 1345. Culturally interesting is that right on the bridge is the place where the concept of bankruptcy was born. The statue of Cellini in the center is surrounded by a small fence festooned with padlocks. Lovers will lock the padlocks and throw the key in the river to bind them together forever. A sign surrounded by locks forbids the practice. Urban legend says that the tradition was started by a padlock shop owner on one side of the bridge. Smart move.

4) Torre della Pagliazza is also called the Byzantine Tower and the Straw tower. This is regarded as the oldest building in Florence (7th century) though there are several other candidates that might fit that description better, but none of them quite so wonderful as Pagliazza Tower. The tower today has been incorporated into the very nice Hotel Brunellesci but was once accommodation of a different sort – a female prison. This is the origin of the name “Straw tower” – female prisoners were given a bit of straw, a luxury denied to male prisoners.

Florence architectural gems5) The Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St John) is also said to be the oldest building in Florence though it was built in the 10th century and so is not. Still, it is old and the stories of it being the oldest are based on the fact that it sits atop earlier structures – one even rumoured to have been a Roman temple to Mars. It is particularly famed for its three sets of wondrous bronze doors which have only recently been put back in place after extensive restoration and preservation work was done on them. The three sets were made by Pisano, Ghiberti including the famed East doors called by Michelangelo “The Gates of Paradise”. The Bapistery is built in a Florentine Romanesque style that served as inspiration for the later Renaissance styles to emerge in Florence.

6)The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore also simply called the Duomo of Florence was built from 1296 when the first stone was laid.The dome created by Brunelleschi with its exquisite facing of polychrome marble panels and the cathedral itself designed by Arnolfo di Cambio (who also designed Palazzo Vecchio). The dome is the largest brick dome ever constructed (completed in 1496) and the cathedral remains one of the largest in the world. The competition between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi was fierce to see who would get the commission for the dome – when it was awarded to both jointly, Brunelleschi feigned sickness until Ghiberti bowed out thus leaving full credit to Brunelleschi. The drama between the two is the stuff of great film and literature. The dome itself is made of more than 4 million bricks and pre-saged the mathematics that were later used to define it. Brunelleschi’s innovations served as inspiration to a young apprentice who worked on the dome’s lanern – Leonardo Davinci.

Basilica of Florence7) The Basilica of San Lorenzo Library is in the center of Florence’s straw market district and is where most of the Medici family are buried. This building is also claimed to be the oldest in Florence and has a pretty good claim since the church was consecrated in the year 393. The building was designed by Brunelleschi and contains Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library. The entire complex serves as an important bridge between the old architecture (pre-renaissance) and the new architecture which followed it.

Camper Van Road Tripping in Australia – My Vagabond Dream

A friend asked me recently what I’d like to do for my next adventure.  A whole slew of things crossed my mind – a sailing voyage, a big game photo safari, an Antarctic exploration – but none of those quite hit the mark because the truth is – for my next adventure, I want to have my wife and my little girl with me and neither of them are quite ready for those extremes – and then it hit me.

Australia Surf Adventure

I’d like to get a camper van and explore Australia.  The more I thought of it, the more it sounded like the thing to do. So much so, that I started looking at the options.  In truth, at the moment, we don’t have the option of renting an expensive camper or RV or even of airfare when it comes to it – but that didn’t stop me from finding one of the coolest options available – and I’m going to share it with you, because who knows? Maybe you will make it down under before we do.

A little bit of research turned up oneway campervan relocation  – here’s why I love this – you can get a camper van for almost nothing if you drive it to their destination. In some cases they even provide you with gas money! This is so awesome as to be almost unbelievable, but when I checked it out, it’s totally legitimate. Here is a bit from the website:

Rental companies frequently need to move and relocate campervans around the country. This can be due to seasonal changes or because demand for vehicles is greater in different cities due to festivals, sporting occasions or other events. Rather than pay for a driver to relocate a campervan, rental companies offer them to the travelling public at knock down prices producing the perfect win-win outcome.

Could it possibly get any better? Well, I suppose if they paid for my family’s airfare, took us on a big game photo safari, gave us a sailing adventure to the Antarctic, and fed us – that would be better, but that’s a dream and this thing is a reality. Totally off the hook cool.

camper vanIn continuing with my Vagobond dream, I would want to drive from Sydney to Melbourne to visit our friends who live there, we would of course, have to take a surf trip along the Gold Coast and then – if we wanted to get really crazy – we would somehow find a way to get a campervan in Tazmania – I’m told the Tazzies are odd, so we would fit right in.

sailing in australia

Alright, now I’ve got to figure out how to get us to Australia….

What’s your vagabond dream?

Top Five Cultural Destinations in Sri Lanka

Photos by Dave Stamboulis

A country steeped in faith and spiritual history, Sri Lanka is home to a host of edifying locations and places of transcendental inspiration.

the stilt fishermen of southern Sri Lanka perched on their poles

Magnificent structures, some used, some abandoned, are scattered about the cities and mountains like great deities surveying their worshippers. Whether religious or not, visiting these culturally significant sites makes for an incredible experience and regularly provokes a feeling of peace and a sense of enlightenment even in the most hardened of cynics.

Take a look below at five of the most inspiring destinations that should not be missed during your holidays to Sri Lanka.

A mountain peak near Anuradhapura that is reportedly the place where Mahinda, the monk attributed with bringing Buddhism to Sri Lanka, preached Buddhist doctrine to the king and his people. Pilgrimages are made to the mountain every year, and the site is known as one of the most significant spiritual places in the country. The hills that make up Mihintale are also home to a ruined hospital and the beautiful Kantaka Cetiya stupa – a structure beautifully decorated with sculptures and carvings.

Dalada Maligawa
The stunning shrine within this temple, adorned with turrets and a golden roof, holds what is claimed to be a tooth of the great Buddha. Located in Kandy, the second largest city in Sri Lanka and the final capital of the era of the kings, shrine plays host to regular Buddhist worship and weekly ceremonies where water scented with flowers is passed among those gathered there, in order to heal them.

An ancient palace surrounded by gardens once sat atop this gigantic rock formation, built by King Kasyapa between 477 and 495 AD. It was abandoned after his death, then used as a monastery for some years, but the incredible structure still remains, and provides a stunning sight against the landscape of the Matale District. It is also called The Lion Rock after a huge sculpture of a lion that Kasyapa built at a gateway to his palace, which stands guard to this day.

Gal Vihara
Some of the most famous images of Buddha can be found carved into this cliff face near Polonnaruwa. Once part of a monastery, these three huge and beautiful figures were created in the 12th century, and each is purported to depict a different stage in Buddha’s life.

Sri Lanka by Dave Stamboulis

Dambulla Cave Temple
Places of worship in Sri Lanka are often strikingly beautiful, but this temple is one of the most stunning of its kind. Made up of a network of five different caves within a towering rock around 47 miles north of Kandy, the inner walls are emblazoned with intricate carvings depicting famous stories from the life of Buddha, and the temple itself is filled with sculptures of kings, gods and goddesses.