** NEW: Italy Travel Experts Martha Bakerjian and James Martin on Living, Working and Traveling in Italy (Free Italy Travel Advice) **

|image1|Dream of writing about travel to Italy? Dream of buying a home in Italy
and living there part-time? My friends Martha Bakerjian
and James Martin (they’re married) have fulfilled all three of these
dreams and it was a pleasure for me to finally meet them in Tuscany
several months ago. I’ve been following the work of these Italy travel
experts for years…

Martha has written the href=”http://goitaly.about.com/” target=”_blank”>Italy
travel site on About.com 
since 2005 and has traveled extensively in
Italy for more than 25 years. She spent summers living and working in
href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/department72.cfm”>Sardinia
and href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/department64.cfm”>Puglia
and a summer studying  in Perugia, href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/department63.cfm”>Umbria.
Currently
she and her husband James divide their time between California and
Italy, where their house is
in a small village, or hamlet really, style=”font-style: italic;”> Piano di Collecchia,
between the
towns of Aulla
and  style=”font-style: italic;”>Fivizzano
in the href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/login.cfm?hpage=150.cfm”>Lunigiana
region of northern
href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/department55.cfm”>Tuscany.

James has a degree in Electrical Engineering Technology from Bradley
University and spent quite a time in Silicon Valley before chucking it
all to become an archaeologist. He studied post-graduate
anthropology  at San Francisco State and has a Certificate in
Archaeology from UCLA. He raced cars, wrote about  computers,
and
started a company that does href=”http://culturelink.info” target=”_blank”>volunteer
archaeology in Nicaragua. Then
came travel writing. He’s run the href=”http://goeurope.about.com/” target=”_blank”>About.com
Western Europe travel site since
2002. He also blogs at href=”http://www.wanderingitaly.com/” target=”_blank”>Wandering
Italy.

I thought you would enjoy some of their insights on creating a dream
life in Italy or at least a dream Italian vacation!

style=”font-style: italic;”>Dream
of Italy
Editor Kathy
McCabe: One question that I
get all the time
is how did I get my gig running style=”font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;”>Dream
of Italy and
how can someone do the same thing? So tell us how you got your
About.com guide positions and how that has allowed  you to
live in
Italy part-time? Do you know of other people who are able to live in
Italy by working  virtually ?

MB:
We started with About.com
when it was called the MiningCo in 1997, covering San Francisco. James
later changed to the About.com Western Europe travel site when
it
became available in 2002 and I took over the Italy travel site
in
2005. We both need to travel in Italy and James needs to visit other
parts of  Europe, so having a house in Italy gives us a base
from
which to travel and write. Most of the foreigners  I know who
live
in Italy and write a blog either run a B&B or vacation
apartments.
Of course if you’re working virtually, you can do it from
anywhere.

style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI: 
When was the first time each of you went to Italy and did you fall in
love immediately?

MB:
My first time going to
Italy was in the early 1980’s as part of a summer archeological project
through  University Expeditions (later Earthwatch). We worked
as
part of the team, living in central Sardinia for five summers
and I
fell in love with the people, traditions and culture of Sardinia,
which was very different than mainland Italy. We usually
stayed
in href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/department56.cfm”>Rome
before or after going to Sardinia, but it took  me awhile
to warm up to the city. Now I love Rome. Through the years we’ve
traveled to every region in  Italy and really grown to love it.

JM:
 Only women “fall
in love” with Italy. I went to Italy in the 70’s and didn’t like it
that much so I guess the first time I really got to like it
was when we worked in Sardinia.

|image2| style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI: 
Tell
us the story of how you bought your house in Tuscany and how did you
choose Lunigiana?

MB:
We first looked for houses
in Umbria as that was a region we had spent time in, both staying
in  vacation rentals and one summer taking language classes at
the
Universita
per Stranieri
in Perugia.
We  liked Umbria a lot but
the houses we could afford weren’t really what we wanted. After
spending the day  with us, the agent thought we would like the
Lunigiana area of northern Tuscany. The next day we saw four 
houses in the Lunigiana and liked them all. We liked the food and
traditions and it also seemed similar  in some ways to where
we
had been in Sardinia.

style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI: 
Many of our readers are very interested in buying a house in Italy.
What advice would you have  for them? What are the pros and
cons?

MB:
 As a foreigner
buying a house in Italy I think it was important to
go through an agency that assists  foreigners in buying
property.
Buying the house was fairly easy (although we had to pay an additional
fee  to the agency that assisted us). I’d also recommend
staying
in href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/768.cfm”>vacation
houses in several
different  places to see if it’s
something you’d like. For me the best thing about having a house is my
neighbors,  who have accepted us into the community and become
our
friends. It’s a much different perspective than  being a
tourist
or even staying in a vacation house. It gives us a base to work from
and allows us to  spend more time in Italy. Cons are that you
have
a house to take care of (cleaning, repairs, things like  that)
and
that we’re always based in the same place rather than renting vacation
houses in different  places.
 

style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI: Is
there a reason (visas?) you spend three months on and off in Italy/US?
What do you miss in the  US when you are in Italy and vice
versa?
 
MB:
When we first bought our
house I was still teaching school so our
free time there was during the  summer and we really didn’t
try to
get a residence permit. Without a residence permit we can only stay
90  days out of 180 so we’ve been alternating three months in
Italy with three months in California. We finally went to the
consulate and got a one-year visa, the first step in applying for a
residence permit, which we then did last spring in Italy. When
we’re in the US, we really miss the quality of the food in 
Italy.
We really don’t miss much about the US when we’re in Italy.
 
style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI: Since
you both cover travel to Italy and see what folks search and what
questions they have, I’d  love to pick your brain. What are
the
most common questions about travel to Italy and what are the
most 
common misconceptions?
 
MB:
 I think the most
common misconceptions relate to the size of Italy
and how quickly people think they  can see everything. I have
questions from people who want to see href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/department57.cfm”>Venice
as a day trip from Rome,
for  example, or who have just two weeks and want to cover href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/department61.cfm”>Sicily,
Tuscany, href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/department70.cfm”>Cinque
Terre, Rome, href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/public/department58.cfm”>Florence,
and  Venice and want to
know what else they can see. Occassionally I see the other extreme,
people who think  they need a rail pass to take half hour
local
train rides, for example, or who think it will take all day to
get from Florence to href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/login.cfm?hpage=443.cfm”>Pisa.
 
 
Another misconception is that you need to buy train tickets months in
advance. In fact, it’s usually not  possible to buy them until
two
months before you travel and it’s not really necessary to buy far
in  advance. I have never bought train tickets ahead of time
over
the Internet, I still use the old-fashioned  method of buying
tickets at my local train station, never more than a week in advance.
 
style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI: James,
you cover all of Europe. What are some of your favorite places outside
of
Italia
and are 
there any places across the Italian border in
France, Switzerland , Austria or Slovenia that you would 
suggest
combining with an Italy trip?
 
JM:I
really like href=”http://goeurope.about.com/od/lakeconstance/Lake_Constance_Bodensee_Travel_and_Tourism_Guide.htm”
target=”_blank”>Lake Constance.
Each town around the lake is
different, and the big lake borders on  three countries, so
there’s some interesting cultural diversity there. You’ll see
everything from  prehistoric lake dwellings to the
Abbeys of
Reichenau Island (and their famous vegetable gardens!) to the 
formal gardens and palace on Mainau Island. And if you’re into
Zeppelins, it’s the place for your  pilgrimage.
 
I’m also partial to the Dordogne and Provence in France and pretty much
all of Portugal, a place where  the cuisine is just as
interesting
and compelling as Italy’s.  
 
I’ve started a site on Portugal called, oddly enough, href=”http://wanderingportugal.com/” target=”_blank”>Wandering
Portugal.  There’s a
lot of
interesting developments there right now, and I think Portugal is at
the cutting edge of  tourism development. Places like the
Schist
Villages, once almost abandoned, now have walking paths for 
the
blind, mountain biking with fantastic free facilities for working on
and cleaning your bike, and a  mountain crafts industry that’s
quickly sprouted. I can’t help but write enthusiastically about
Portugal.  And it’s inexpensive.
 
style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI: Once
you started living part-time in Italy, what was the most surprising
thing about the country,  culture (good or bad)?
 
JM: Everyone
told me that it would be hard to make Italian friends in
our little village-that people were  stand-offish toward
foreigners, even Italians from a different province. Perhaps little
Piano di  Collecchia is different, but our neighbors have
become
spectacular friends and teachers. I know them  better than I
do my
neighbors in California. Way better. Now neighbor style=”font-style: italic;”>Francesca
invites me
over when  she’s cooking something special and reminds me to
bring
my cameras–and they all read my blog (despite  the fact they
don’t speak English. When tested on the facts though, they do pass!).
 
What’s true is that the underground economy is rampant. We have a
checking account but seldom have the  opportunity to write a
check. What’s untrue, at least of the folks of the Lunigiana, is that
you’ll get  ripped off when you have work that needs doing.
For
example, the guy who installed our pellet stove for  an
estimated
fee of 250 euros also fixed all our broken roof tiles and a leak in the
bathroom that was  causing mold to form in a corner. When we
asked
him “how much?” after he’d finished the day’s work, he  said
“200 euros” We looked at him like he was crazy and he replied
sheepishly,
“Well, you know, I had to  do all that extra work!”
 
So, href=”http://wanderingitaly.com/blog/article/454/those-darn-italian-handyman”
target=”_blank”>I’ll not be doing an “ style=”font-style: italic;”>Under the Tuscan Sun“
Italians-are-incompetent-but-cuddly book
any time soon.


style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI: You
guys are so incredibly Internet savvy. Besides your own sites, what are
your favorite sites  for any aspect of Internet travel?
 
JM:I
love what I do. No cubicles are killed in my work. I can wake up
with a thought about somewhere in   Europe and say to
myself,
“how can I best convey this to my readers? Interactive Flash map?
Article?  Blog?” Shoot, I’m a publisher! I got me a printing
press. It’s FUN!
 
Of course Wandering Italy and other small sites not affiliated with
corporate giants could very well get  destroyed if America’s
new
Mafia gets their way. AT+T has recently gone on record as notifying the
FCC  that they intend to levy extortionary fees that if not
paid
would mean sites getting slowed down on  “their” internet. All
this yummy, independent goodness really depends on Net Neutrality;
don’t let anyone  tell you different. It’s darn scary for the
little guys who’ve gotten a foothold in the
internet publishing
world.
 
Anyway, what I’m saying is that I don’t really have favorite sites, I
just interact on twitter and find  current things to talk
about,
then blog my thoughts. Today’s internet is nice in that you can just
pop in  and get info from corporate giants to Aunt Maude
without
lots of bookmarks. It’s a google world, I’m sorry to say, but
social media and net neutrality keeps it relatively open.
 
style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI: What
have been your most memorable experiences in Italy?
 
|image3|JM: You
know, there are many little things that make a sort of happy
mosaic of memory. I’ll never run out  of stories to blog. Five
summers working on an archaeological project in Italy leaves you with
lots to think  about, from the maggot cheese to a woman
walking
into a bar where we were enjoying a beer after work and 
showing
us her “Sea Monster Skull.” (Turns out it was a dog pelvis she’d found
on the beach, but she  asked for and was granted permission
from
us archaeologists to keep it on her coffee table.)
 
Getting wine for 5000 lire for 10 liters was good, too. It was about
$2.50 back then, and you got it from  a women in an unmarked
house
on the outskirts of town.
 
It’s the little things you remember forever. Many of the best stories
are on the href=”http://www.wanderingitaly.com” target=”_blank”>Wandering
Italy blog.
 
style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI: 
What have you yet to cross off the bucket list? Is there a festival,
opera, event or place you  simply must get to that you
haven\rquote t yet?
 
JM: Carnevale,
which we’re aiming for next spring. I’d like to to the
one in Oristano; Sardinian festivals  are the best, but we
might
have to do one in Tuscany.  
 
MB: 
I’ve always wanted to be a participant in a festival. Before I left
Italy in June, my neighbor told me  to plan to be in Lunigiana
next July for “ style=”font-style: italic;”>La disfida degli arcieri
di Terra e Corte“, a medieval
parade  and archery contest held in Fivizzano. My neighbor,
who
grew up in Fivizzano, still participates every  year and said
I
could wear one of her costumes and be in the parade, too.
 
style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI: 
I know you are returning to Italy for the fall. What are some of your
travel plans?
 
MB:
We land in Zurich, then we’ll go home to Tuscany for a spell to get
acclimated and return to our favorite  haunts. Later we’ll
take a
jaunt to southern Italy to see Pompeii at night, then to Puglia and
Italy’s  spur for a week or so. We’ll also spend five days in
Istanbul. Other than that, we’ll just try to answer  each
other’s
question, “where to today?” as best we can and go. I hate travel
planning!
 
style=”font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;”>DOI:  
Can you each leave our readers one great Italy travel tip? 
 
MB: Don’t
spend so much time worrying about going to the “best” places,
you can have a good time and find  interesting things to do
and
see just about anywhere in Italy. Learn a little Italian, get away from
the  tourist crowds, and you will probably have a better
experience.
 
JM: No.
Well, I mean everyone out there is licking their chops for some
tip that’s gonna save them half a  Euro on a tour of some
nasty
catacomb under a castle nobody’s heard of. Heck, it’s all somewhere on
the  ‘net. I will leave you with an exhortation though. They
are
usually better than tips unless you’re a  waiter.  
 
Keep your eyes open to everything when you travel. See like a child,
with all the delight that wonderful  newness should bestow
upon
you. And for Italy, get out into the countryside, the rural spaces that
in the  US are increasingly land-mined with industrial crap
food
producers and their contract labor slaves. Go to  a place
where
getting your food from less than a km away is a way of life and a
recipe for living well  and not, as it is in the US, a hollow
exercise in futility. My 20 or so immediate neighbors produce prize
winning olive oil and salami, honey, polenta, red and white wine,
turkeys, chickens and more. Not because they are poor and have to
(never trust the numbers!) but because they are willing to work hard
for  things that matter, things that taste good and don’t kill
you
from all the “acceptable risk.”
 
And, finally, notice there aren’t people stacked like cordwood in front
of the hospitals like folks in  the US want you to think.
Travel
really should be mandatory for politicians and prescribed for
criminally narrow thinkers.