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

Dubai for Cheapos – Yup! You don’t have to be a millionaire…

When people think of Dubai, they usually imagine Formula 1 Grand Prix races, millionaires, James Bond, fancy hotels on man made islands, indoor skiing, and well – let’s just say – things that most of us can’t afford.  This article isn’t about that – it’s about Dubai for Cheapos.

free dubai

In fact, there are plenty of cheap holidays to Dubai, but you have to know where to look.  First of all, you should know – Dubai is an international hub connecting the East to the West.  Airlines rarely do huge trips all the way around the world and so it is nice to have stopping off points in convenient places like Dubai. This is one of the reasons why the airports in Dubai are so amazing…

Want to do the cheapest holiday to Dubai possible? We did it for free! Of course, it was because we were on a trip from Morocco to the USA and Emirates Airlines had a long stopover – so we were able to explore the huge airport terminals and even have a few meals courtesy of Emirates – we walked in the gardens, ate some food in the restaurants, and relaxed while window shopping and browsing through every luxury shop in the world. That’s the cheapo way to see Dubai, Yup, we did it. We saw Dubai from the airport terminal windows and from the window of the airplane when we arrived and departed.

Of course, most people (including us) want to see a little bit more than that when we go someplace. Here are a few tips to get you around in Dubai without having to rob a bank to do it…

1) Book your trip to Dubai well in advance. Airlines like to give deals on last minute tickets but they also like to know they will have full flights. Make  your arrangements ahead of time – if you can do it – make your trip to Dubai a trip that is between destinations. If we had been able to, we would have set up a week in Dubai between Morocco and the USA – airlines like Emirates offer incredible stopover packages that are generally way cheaper than doing a full spectrum vacation

2) Find out when the low season is – if you go during a huge event or during school holidays or the time of the Hajj, good luck finding a hotel for less than $1000 a night. As hard as it is to belive, there are 2 and 3 star hotels in Dubai  – you might even find a one star if you don’t mind having a valet with wholes in his jacket.

3) Eating cheap. Street food is plentiful in Dubai and you will find cuisine from all over the world. Sure, you pay more for Indonesian food in Dubai than you do in Indonesia, but that’s not a big deal when you save $100 from eating at the hotel.

The best place to grab a cheap bite is Al Dhiyafah road. This  is where the locals go to get a cheap meal. The restaurants and carts spill into the streets and you will find everything from Indian to Iranian food here.  If you like grilled lamb – this is where to go but you will also find plenty of Moroccan or Asian foods here too.

dubai balloon festival

4) As far as cheap entertainment goes – Dubai is like Las Vegas there are always festivals and celebrations and shows being put on by the hotels. You can pay for a desert safari (and you should) but you can also spend weeks wandering the streets of Dubai and enjoying galleries, festivals, and culture from the world over.

Italian Road Trip: How to Eat Your Way Through Calabria

Living in a city with excellent public transport, it can be easy to forget that some places just aren’t do-able without a car. Italy has a decent national rail system but, practically speaking, it only really connects the major urban centres. The places we wanted to explore were typically provincial, off the beaten track; everyone we know who’s been to Italy comes back raving about the food, and it’s no secret that Italian cuisine is regionally distinctive. In fact it can even vary from one town to the next, let alone between broader regions, and our most trusted sources – namely friends, and favourite bloggers like My Bella Vita, were adamant that, unless you have really good cycling stamina, regional Italy can only be explored by car.

Thus our Italian road trip was conceived. One of the chief benefits of travelling by car is you’re not strictly stuck to one route or itinerary – beyond “fly in here” and “return flight from here”, there’s a great deal of freedom in it. So we plotted a general course and left plenty of leeway for rabbiting off up mountainsides to follow up local recommendations, and generally wandering off course to follow our noses.

Having decided to start in the south and work our way north, we fly in to Palermo in Sicily (three-ish hours from Gatwick, shockingly cheap – how are they funding these air-traffic concessions?!) to explore Sicily for a couple of days before heading to Messina and catching the ferry across the Straits to Villa San Giovanni on the Italian mainland.

Reggio Calabria. Commons image by Alfie Ianni.

Bergamotto Cake in Reggio Calabria

Heading briefly south along the coastal road, we first come to Reggio Calabria, the largest city in the region and reputedly the second oldest city in Italy. This area is famous for growing 80% of the world’s bergamot, the aromatic citrus fruit that flavours Earl Grey tea and Turkish Delight. Susumelle al Bergamotto is a delicious, light cake that is made with honey and at first glance resembles a flattened iced doughnut, but is much cakier with a more sophisticated flavour.


Anchovy Pasta in Melito de Porto Salvo

Anchovies are common in these coastal waters, and make a cheap, healthy and delicious meal when prepared with garlic, olive oil and fresh pasta. From Melito, we head inland to explore the gorgeous mountains of Aspromonte National Park. This region has an ancient history and interesting wildlife, including peregrine falcons and golden eagles. It’s easy to find a great meal here, with homemade pasta dishes prepared to old family recipes available in the small villages en route.

Village in Aspromonte National Park. Commons image by PD-Self

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.