Each month we feature an interview with a member of the Superstar Blogging community. These interviews highlight the ups and downs faced on the road to success, illuminating helpful tips and tricks along the way. If you want to get inspired to succeed, then consider these interviews must-read material! This week we are featuring Michele from The Intrepid Guide!
Hi, Michele! Tell us about yourself!
Originally from Melbourne, Australia, I basically grew up in front of a computer. Ever since I our school got the first colour screen Macintosh, my love for computers followed me throughout my high school years and into university. I was always drawn to the creative side of computing and so ended up studying Multimedia Systems. Since graduating, I’ve worked as an IT professional and still love it to this day.
My two great loves in the world are learning languages and travel. My interest in languages started quite young, when I was about 7 years old. My dad and his parents immigrated to Australia from Italy back in the 50s and whenever my dad would take me to visit my grandfather( ‘nonno’ in Italian) I remembered feeling embarrassed and frustrated that I could never understand him.
Even though my nonno had been living in Australia for over 30 years, he couldn’t speak English. After I told my dad about my frustration, he started teaching me a few Italian words in the car on the way home. Over the years, this snowballed into me eventually to quitting my job and moving to Italy.
Thus begun the start of a new life for me!
How did you get started traveling?
My first trip overseas was when I was still in university. A friend whom I had met at school was also of Italian descent, and with a shared passion for Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and all things Italian, we decided to head overseas together to see all of our favourite artworks and masterpieces.
We were both nervous about how to prepare for such a trip so we booked a Contiki tour around Italy so we could ease ourselves into the travel experience.
The first five days in Italy we spent in Rome. These five days left such an impression on me that ultimately lead to packing up my Australian life by the beach and moving to the chaotic but incredibly beautiful city of Rome.
We took our time in Rome. We got up early to wander the still and empty streets and see the Trevi Fountain without the hordes of people around. We walked along Via dei Fori Imperiali as the sun came up over the Colosseum. I savoured every moment and was overwhelmed with joy when I saw Michelangelo’s ceiling at the Sistine Chapel.
Being in Rome was like a dream. Everything I had imagined seeing was finally right in front of me. After returning from this trip, I got really serious about learning Italian and surrounded myself with the language as much as I could. I was studying Italian three nights a week, watched over 20 films at the Italian Film Festival in Melbourne every year, and often ate out at Italian restaurants.
A few years later, once I had reached an intermediate level of Italian, I decided to go back to Italy. This time, alone. My goal was to see if I could survive and enjoy travelling by myself with the Italian I already knew. Needless to stay, the trip added more fuel to my already burning desire for Italy and the language. With the support and encouragement of my family, three months later I handed in my resignation and moved to Rome.
It was the best decision I ever made.
How was living in Rome and adjusting to the culture?
I enjoyed three incredible years living in Rome. I used to walk past the Colosseum on the way to work and eat pizza for lunch next to the ruins of four temples. My life in Rome was like a dream. Living in Rome also gave me the chance to really improve my Italian. I formed close friendships and found myself living a slower lifestyle. The Italians taught me a thing or two about life.
I learned to live more a balanced life that I ever did back in Melbourne where I would sometimes work until midnight. Rome helped me to focus on the things in life that really matter like being with your friends. My Italian friends weren’t just friends, they became my support group, my family.
I wouldn’t say I experienced a cultural shock, instead I got a fresh and well-needed new perspective on life.
What are hidden gems in the city most travelers might miss?
While there are the obvious tourist hotspots that are essential to see during your first trip to Rome, there are so many equally beautiful and fascinating gems that are often overlooked. These are just a couple of my favourite off-the-beaten track places you must visit:
Hidden in plain sight opposite the Colosseum is the Domus Aurea. Now buried underground, Domus Aurea (Latin: “Golden House”) was the huge opulent residence of Emperor Nero dating back to 64AD. For centuries, Domus Aurea was lost then rediscovered by accident during the Renaissance. Today, its doors are open to the public to encourage funding to protect its fragile structure.
My other favourite spot is actually an optical illusion and a place only a local would know about.
High up on a hill overlooking St Peter’s Basilica is a road that provides a unique perspective of the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. Standing at the far end of this road, the dome appears large, filling up the skyline as it aligns perfectly in the centre of the tree-lined road. But, as you head towards the dome it seems to run away from you as it ‘shrinks’ to a quarter of the size! To see the dome enlarge once more, simply head back to the end of the street again.
This optical illusion is best enjoyed from a moving vehicle. So, if you don’t have a car or scooter, get one! Otherwise it’s well worth a taxi ride to see.
When it comes to learning a new language, what tips do you have?
One of my top language learning resources is iTalki, a brilliant teaching platform that connects you with qualified teachers and other native speakers to practice any language with.
I also love watching my favourite film dubbed in the language I’m learning, with the subtitles of that language on. This helps me to focus on the vocabulary, grammar, and expressions used instead of trying to follow the plot line. Keep a pen and notepad handy!
Next, keep things balanced. Don’t just read grammar books and never speak a word. Maintain a balance between reading, writing, and speaking otherwise you risk over-developing one area.
Finally, make sure you mix up the resources you use. Switch between apps like Memrise and Duolingo, watch movies with the subtitles on, listen to music or the radio, read novels or children’s books, and start attending language meetups. This variety will not only help you form a well-rounded vocabulary, but also prevent you from becoming bored.
Let’s talk travel. What have been some of your travel highlights so far?
All three of my most memorable travel experiences have been out in nature:
My first great adventure happen after I had already been living overseas for 4 years. I wanted to celebrate my 30th birthday by doing something special and since I had barely travelled around my home country, I decided to book a trip to Australia’s Red Centre. The famous Outback.
I walked the entire 10km around Uluru in 38 degree heat, flew over the Olgas in a small helicopter, slept under the Milky Way just a few metres away from curious dingos, and hiked up the intensely steep King’s Canyon.
After spending just over a week travelling around the Northern Territory, I finally appreciated how beautiful and amazing Australia is. Unfortunately, you take for granted what you grow up with. Only by travelling do you get a fresh perspective.
Next up is Norway. Norway was another country with incredible landscapes that blew me away. I’d never seen such dramatic coastlines and scenery with towering cliffs hundreds of metres high, lush green vegetation and electric blue water along the fjords.
I really put my body to the test by hiking Trolltunga while there was still snow on the ground. The initial step incline which lasts a kilometre was a real shock to the system. It didn’t get much easier during the 22km round trip either. But for the views of the snow capped mountains and the glistening blue water below, it was totally worth it.
More recently, I travelled to The Azores, Portugal’s nine-island archipelago. I consider the Azores Europe’s best kept secret. It’s full of exotic flora, unspoiled volcanic landscapes, crater lakes, bubbling geysers, and loads of natural thermal springs.
I spent five days exploring the island of São Miguel, the largest in the archipelago. I saw countless gushing waterfalls, drove along winding roads lined with hydrangeas, and admired huge craters kilometres wide.
And what about misadventures? Have you had any?
I’ve been quite lucky never to have experienced any serious misadventures. Touch wood! Perhaps it’s because since moving overseas it taught me to really pay attention to my surroundings, stay alert, and be prepared for anything. That, and I’m also a super organised person and research my trips well in advance.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned traveling?
I’ve learned that at the end of the day, we are all the same. Only language separates us.
No matter where I’ve travelled to, people deal with the same ups and downs in life. We may come from vastly different cultures and grown up with different privileges, but at the end of the day we are all the same.
That’s why, for me, learning the local language before I travel is so important. Learning to speak the local language does a few things. First, it shows native speakers that you respect them because you’ve made an effort to learn more about them. As you advance with the language you also begin to discover many cultural references weaved into the language, it’s actually quite fascinating.
For example, when I started learning Arabic leading up to my trip to Egypt, I learned that the literal translation for ‘please’ (min fadlak) is ‘from your grace’. This gives you an idea of how polite people must be. If you say to someone that you’ll see them tomorrow, they might reply, ‘Alhamdulillah’, meaning ‘God willing.’ From this, we can see how much of an influence religion plays in their lives.
Secondly, even armed with a few basic phrases, people will be surprised and impressed with your efforts and are more likely to be friendlier with you and start a meaningful conversation with you. Once, I ended up having afternoon tea with a family in Sicily whom I had just met in a restaurant the before at dinner. So, you never know where a conversation may lead you!
What’s on your travel agenda for 2018? Any plans?
Absolutely! I plan to visit California and Nevada. The Yosemite, Sequoia, and Joshua Tree National Parks are big draw cards for me. California seems like a state of dramatic contrasts with all its natural wonders not far from Silicon Valley and Hollywood.
Later in the year I’m heading to Slovenia for the annual Polyglot Conference. Every year language loved from around the world get together and reconnent. This year the conference will be held in the earthly paradise of Slovenia. I plan on traveling there ahead of the conference and visit Lake Bled. It’s been on my bucket list for too long!
Now, tell us about your blog!
My blog is called The Intrepid Guide. I came up with this name because it describes the sort of person and traveller I am.
Intrepid, meaning fearless and adventurous, represents me when I moved abroad and followed my dreams of living la dolce vita. I’m a ‘guide’ because when friends and family come and visit me and I show them around, I usually share fun and interesting historical facts about the place. They’re usually impressed with the amount of detail and joke that I should be a tour guide. That comment has always resonated with me because I take a lot of pleasure in sharing my knowledge with others. I want people to have a deeper understanding of the place they’re in and this is what I seek to do with my blog. Hence, why I’m called The Intrepid Guide.
I incorporate the cultural and linguistic side of travel in my in-depth travel guides and itineraries. My posts are interesting, educational and as practical as possible. I encourage travellers to learn a few choice phrases and use my free travel phrase guides guides that have a pronunciation guide to make things even easier.
Why did you want to get started blogging?
After years of posting all my adventures on Facebook, my Auntie posted a comment saying that I should do something with all the photos that I take and share the things that I learn. That random comment stuck with me for a while before a year later, someone told me I should make a blog. I didn’t know anything about blogs or that people made a living from it, so I decided to give it a go and see where it took me. Two years later, The Intrepid Guid is going strong and still growing.
What has been your biggest struggle so far?
The learning curve of blogging is pretty overwhelming. There are lots of moving parts and roles you have to play. You have to be a writer, photographer, videographer, researcher, accountant, marketer… the list goes on. While it has been tough, it hasn’t been as difficult as dealing with just how lonely being a blogger can be.
Everything is done behind a laptop screen and there are rarely any face-to-face interactions. This year I’m making more of an effort to take my friendships online with fellow bloggers offline, so we can connect and build stronger friendships. No one gets the struggles of the blogging world better than a fellow blogger.
Have you had any noteworthy successes?
I wrote a 5-star rated e-book. It’s about learning Italian for beginners and simplifies the language learning process. I cut out all the boring nonsense you would normally get in a textbook and jump right in with the more practical stuff that you can put into use straight away. The aim is to get you speaking Italian as soon as possible.. The book has been really well-received and has great reviews on Amazon, which I’m super pleased about.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you started blogging?
I wish I knew how nasty bloggers can be. I’ve seen bloggers tear each other part in their blog posts, pointing fingers at each other and saying some pretty nasty stuff. I feel like I’m back at high school! I don’t know these bloggers personally but I feel like we should all my supporting and looking out for each other.
It’s not all bad, though! I’ve been lucky to have met some genuinely lovely people along the way and we act as each others support group which means the world to me.
What are your blogging goals for 2018?
Apart of spreading the word and growing my traffic, I’d love to be able to build up more of a community and speak with my followers more. I receive a lot of DM’s but it would be create to bring everyone together to add to the conversation. So, I might start a Facebook group and see how it goes.
Where can we find you online and on social media?
You can check out my blog The Intrepid Guide, and for your dose of fascinating and little-known linguistic and cultural facts, follow me on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter!