I'm never lost. Like, seriously never. No matter where I am, my trusty iPhone is at my side and ready to find exactly what I need or where I need to go. It's a huge relief to always know exactly where I'm headed even when I'm in a foreign country that I've never explored before. The problem is, it also strips me of my sense of wonder. I used to wander around cities and find the most amazing things. Hidden bookshops, cafe's and sights to behold. Now with my digital map, those things become harder to just stumble upon. I don't even plan trips like I used to because I know I'll have my digital guide with me when I get there. That sense of freedom quickly turned into complacency. I'm starting to feel that a form of digital free travel might be what I need to reclaim some of that wonder.
Wandering in Florence
First off, Florence wasn't my favorite part of Kim and I's honeymoon. I don't know if that was because of bad preparation or just a not good experience, it just wasn't the best. On our second day in the Firenze, we ventured across the Arno to just wander. Our iPhones were firmly tucked into our pockets but we had decided to just let the streets take us wherever they would. After trekking up a few streets (in the hot June sun) we desperately needed a rest stop. It looked like there was something ahead of us so we ventured on, eventually stumbling upon Forte di Belvedere right outside of Palazzo Pitti and the Giardino di Boboli. I hadn't read anything about this beautiful fort and never would have found the entrance if not for stumbling upon it. The view was magnificent.
You could see the top of the Duomo jutting out from the red-tiled roofs all over the city. The juxtaposition of the flat portion of Florence by the river and the hilly regions behind it made the history of the city come alive. There was even an art exhibition being hosted at the fort that featured sculptures of bodies laying in different shapes representing movement over time. The image was surreal.
Stumbling Into a Movie
Next we wandered around, not through, the Boboli gardens and somehow found ourselves surrounded by dogs and their owners. It seemed like a big park that wasn't really taken care of very well and was full of big white vans and trucks. Turns out, it was the back entrance to the Liceo Artistico Statale di Porta Romana e Sesto Fiorentino and those vans were there for a reason. While trying to sneak in to see some of the artwork inside, a person that looked suspiciously like a production assistant told us it was "a private school hosting an event." What she really meant was that the school was the staging ground for that days filming on the new Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones movie Inferno.
Over the next two days we ran into the film production crew no fewer than three times and even watched a bunch of scenes being filmed at the Battistero di San Giovanni right in front of the Duomo. Of course I placed myself directly by director Ron Howard so I could see the camera work in action, which was incredible. Inferno, which opens today, is apparently getting some pretty meager reviews, but we'll see it anyways, just to relive those precious moments together on our honeymoon.
Like I said before, Florence wasn't our favorite but every destination has its warts and beauty. For us, that was wandering aimlessly and running upon a film crew incessantly.
Unplug and Remember
Next time you're exploring someplace new, try putting your phone down and relying on the map you have in your head. One thing I've learned is that digital free travel really helps you prepare more and try to connect with the place you're exploring. On my last visit to Amsterdam I would do some research on the places I wanted to see while in my hotel room and then leave my phone in my pocket to see if I could find them on my own. The sense of accomplishment when I arrived at the Anne Frank House was more than I expected, considering it was in a city I'd never been in before. Did I get lost a few times? Well, maybe. Then again, that's how I've stumbled upon some of my greatest adventures.
Putting your phone down while on vacation can be a really empowering moment. Use it to help jumpstart your creativity and wonder and let yourself be immersed in the world that you find yourself in. Who knows what lies around the next corner. It could be something spectacular.