"My secret plan to move to Venice was ready. It was time to see if my wife would buy into the idea of leaving our home to live for an entire year in a foreign country."
And the journey begins – Barry and Debbie Frangipane, a middle-class couple tired of the rat race leaves it all for the lure of Venice. But can they make it in a foreign land? Read about the hilarious twists and turns their lives take during their year in the city of water, as they show us a Venice we never knew existed. The Venice Experiment is about fulfilling dreams on a journey that any of us could make – but would we?
My gaze over the Grand Canal was interrupted by Debbie placing a steaming bowl of risotto with white asparagus and Parmigiano Reggiano on the table. “These came from the white asparagus festival today in Bassano del Grappa”, she said.
Throughout our year-long Venice experiment of leaving the rat race and living in this improbable city built on water, my wife and I enjoyed the local flavors of the Veneto and the surrounding areas. Positioned along the coastline of the Adriatic Sea, but yet close to the Dolomite Mountains, the Veneto region of Italy is home to a colorful mixture of seafood, vegetables, and meat.
Vitello Tonnato is a local dish which combines the best of the Dolomites and the Adriatic. A veal roast cooked in milk is sliced thin, and then layered on a platter – each layer topped with a sauce made from tuna, capers, and homemade mayonnaise. The mild flavor of the veal is a perfect complement to the tuna, while the mayonnaise acts as the liaison between the land and sea. Who would have thought that veal and tuna would go so well together?
Sarde in Saor also has its roots in Venice. This dish of sardines in a sweet and sour sauce is one which most all Venetians have in their home repertoire. The sardines are fried, and then marinated in a sauce of onions, vinegar and olive oil for roughly a week. Legend has it that this was a popular dish for sailors, since it kept well without refrigeration. Even today, Venetians frequently have this dish ready in the galley, when boating for the day. If you are visiting Venice, try it at Anice Stellato in Canareggio with the locals.
Since 1900, many of the small towns between Venice and Treviso have hosted winter festivals honoring the Radicchio di Treviso – a thin, mildly bitter form of chicory. In preparing Radicchio Rosso, simpler is usually better. It is traditionally sprinkled with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then grilled. Look for the festivals in Martellago, Mogliano Veneto, Chioggia, and Treviso, or grill some at home in your backyard. It’s extra tasty when grilled with pancetta or bacon.
Treviso is also home to a dessert of questionable origin, Tiramisu. With my mother having grown up in Treviso, I had heard stories of how it came about, and went there to do a bit of investigation. While some Trevigiani claimed that this zabaglione and espresso based dessert was created at a local restaurant, quite a few people, young and old, repeated to me the story of a brothel in Treviso where a man came in and asked the proprietor for something to “pick me up” before his visit. Whatever the origin of Tiramisu (literally “pick me up” in English), it seems to taste best along a streamside café in this town just 30 minutes north of Venice.
And to finish off your meal, slip into a local bar for a Sgroppino. The word “groppo” translates to “knot” in English, and a Sgroppino is a drink designed to un-knot your stomach after your meal. Gazing out over a canal, enjoying this combination of Prosecco (the local sparkling wine), vodka, and lemon gelato is a delicious way to end an evening of dining in the Veneto. If you can’t make it to Venice, mix vodka and lemon gelato in a blender, then slowly stir in some Prosecco. Spoon the mixture into a champagne glass, sip it with your eyes closed, and dream.
I was becoming a slacker. My productivity at the office was declining, as was my sense of humor. After 20 years of working as a computer programmer at the same company in Florida, something had to change.
But what? The people at the office had become close friends over the years, and I still enjoyed my work. I just needed a change of scenery.
My boss agreed to let me work from home a few days a week. We would measure my productivity, and if it increased, he would allow me to continue to telecommute from home. Our office phones were the new kind that just plug into the Internet, so I yanked the phone out of my cubicle and it worked fine at my house.
After a few weeks, it was clear to everyone that not only was my state of mind improving, but without the constant interruptions at the office, my productivity soared. I could focus on the work while ignoring the office gossip. In fact, a co-worker commented that 32 15-minute interruptions consume the entire day.
While on vacation in Venice with my wife, it occurred to me that telecommuting would work just as well from Italy as it did from our home in Tampa, 10 miles from the office. Back home, my wife and I discussed the idea. We could experiment by living in Venice for a year, while I telecommuted to my job in Florida. The boss was cautious, but after I reminded him of my productivity increases working from home, he agreed to the one year experiment.
I would work from 2 p.m. until 11 p.m. Venice time, which coincided with the normal 8-5 office hours in Florida. We set up Skype for videoconferencing, and I purchased a scanner in Venice, to facilitate the flow of documents to the office.
Our Venice experiment was a success. Living our dreams in Venice, I was once again excited about my job. Everyone in the office could see the change in my attitude. In fact, upon my return, the boss promoted me to vice president of technical services. And I came back invigorated, full of new ideas for the company.
Financially, my wife and I made it work by selling our two cars before leaving and renting out our house furnished. We used the income from renting out our Florida home to lease a smaller apartment in Venice. Our valuables were stored in a small storage locker for the year.
We saved money on vacations, since we were already in Venice, and the local street markets provided the freshest foods at the lowest prices.
People watching at the local cafe replaced cable TV, and we quickly discovered the restaurants that gave discounts to residents. At night, as Venice slept, we walked alongside the quiet canals, soaking in the centuries of history surrounding us.
Admittedly, our year in Venice had its share of twists and turns. From learning the language to adjusting to the rhythm of this city built on water, it was certainly an experience.
At times - such as when Acqua Alta threatened our apartment, we felt we just might be over our heads both figuratively and literally. But looking back, this experiment has changed our lives for the better. We will be forever inspired by the people of Venice, and their love of life.
So, where do YOU want to go? Where will your experiment be? Have you set the date? - Barry
Six Unexpected Tips for Carefree Travel
Here are some simple ideas for improving your quality of life while on the road. Those of us who travel every week know them well:
Preprogram phone numbers of hotels and restaurants in your cell phone before leaving. When you want to change or make a reservation at the last minute, you will avoid the frustration of searching for that phone number. And if you arrive in town late, you can call your hotel to be sure they don’t give away that room you guaranteed with your credit card.
Pack snacks in your carry-on bag. When your airplane is sitting on the tarmac for hours, or you are stuck in a late meeting, that candy bar or bag of nuts will look mighty appealing.
Preset your hotels and other destinations in your GPS. Arriving tired, late at night at the rental car kiosk, while others are trying to find that piece of paper with the address of their destination, you, having thought ahead, will already be on your way.
Bring printed directions from Google maps. GPS doesn’t always work. Have a backup set of directions on paper.
On vacation, pack those old shirts, socks, and undergarments you have been meaning to get rid of. Wear them one last time, then toss them at the end of each day, making room in your bag for souvenirs.
When you arrive in your hotel room, unplug the clock.The light from the alarm clock interferes with your sleep, and sometimes the alarm is set for 2:00AM for the benefit of the prior occupant. Rather than trying to learn how to set a new alarm clock every night, use your cell phone as an alarm, and awaken to a familiar ring.
A Boss’s Point of View: How Telecommuting Works
By Sara Fell, CEO of Flexjobs
On March 5-9 2012, the second annual National Telework Week will begin and companies across the country will participate by allowing their employees to work from home. This is a fantastic opportunity for employees and employers to give telecommuting a trial run! In my own business, my entire staff works from home across the United States and, similar to Barry’s experience working for a U.S. based company from abroad, I also have an employee working from Europe. Here's my advice on starting a telecommuting program at your company.
So how does telecommuting work?
For starters, communication is key. With regular staff and department meetings weekly, we stay on the same page and constantly strategize for goals. Using JoinMe's webinar program, our staff logs in at the designated time and we can all view my screen together from the comfort of each of our homes… or coffee shops… or other favorite location.
In addition, we have “watercooler” talk using a site called Yammer, similar to Facebook where we wish one another happy birthday or announce the birth of a child… or maybe just talk about how bad the snow is in Colorado while it’s perfectly sunny for someone that same day in San Diego!
Obviously email is key and of course I am available for phone calls if an employee needs to speak with me. Also, we track projects using Pivotal Tracker so we can keep one another in the loop on the progress of our goals.
What’s interesting to note is most office based jobs implement the same tools! A boss is often behind a closed door and “face time” can be limited to meetings while relying on communication tools similar to the ones I named above. In fact, many office workers already “telecommute" in a sense, but from their cubes.
How Can YOU Work from Home?
With National Telework Week fast approaching now may be the time to suggest to your boss a trial run of working from home. To get started:
1. Ask for a trial run, perhaps during Telework Week or on your own schedule. Showing how well the flexible or telecommuting arrangement will benefit your employer is the most compelling argument you can make. During the trial run, show that you will work diligently from home and can stay in touch with colleagues in the office.
2. Take baby steps. Ask to telecommute part-time (e.g., one day a week) to start out with, even if you would eventually like to work virtually full-time.
3. Before you even start to telecommute, suggest web-based tools and resources that your team can use to communicate, manage files, and share schedule information. Test them out even if you are all working in the office together. Get used to communicating in ways other than face to face conversations (make note of how much time you save!).
But What About Employers?
What many employers who hesitate to allow the option to work from home haven’t realized is the cost savings to them! Having employees telecommute can cut back on real estate costs and increase revenue with increased employee productivity. The results of 2010's Telework Week included, “nearly 40,000 pledged, saving $2,730,229 on commuting costs, gaining back 148,692 hours into their day, and removing 1,818 tons of pollutants from the air, while refraining from driving 3,764,001 miles.”
Companies can jump on board to take advantage of these astonishing benefits by assessing the following:
1. Have employees analyze what components of their job are performed primarily on a computer, the internet, or email, and ask them to estimate how much time that represents per day, week, or month. These are the potential tasks that could be done remotely.
2. Ask employees if they’d be interested in trying a telecommute option plan. By starting your plan with the people who are genuinely interested, they’ll be more committed to making it work and providing useful feedback.
3. Look at the overall information on what tasks could be remotely for any trends (for example, project management, customer service, research, etc.), and evaluate which positions you would feel most comfortable trying out for remote work.
4. Ask managers how they measure productivity in the areas you’d like to try, and find out if those tools or processes would be successful in managing the productivity of someone working off-site.
5. Check with your IT team and ask them their thoughts, concerns, or ideas. IT people are generally very accustomed to working remotely, and will be helpful in foreseeing any issues, suggesting products to help, and supporting those telecommuting.
But What If a Position Isn’t a Traditional Fit?
What often surprises me on FlexJobs is the variety of job listings we come across! In the past, I have seen telecommuting opportunities for CEOs, Neurosurgeons, Golf Instructors, K-12 Teachers and many more. If a position doesn’t seem like a conventional home based job, re-think the process of your day and it just may be a fit!
Good luck with your efforts and I hope you will, like me, be able to enjoy the many benefits telecommuting can offer both as an employee and an employer!
If you think you have a pretty sweet deal because you're allowed to work from home one or two days a week, consider the arrangement Barry Frangipane managed to make with his employer.
He worked for 13 months telecommuting from Venice, Italy.
And Frangipane says his was a work arrangement that many can emulate.
He argues that if you can telecommute 5 or 25 miles from your office, why can't you telecommute from another part of the world?