Covered California – Holy crap, some of these plans suck…

As I’ve mentioned before, many of the systems we take for granted are not set up for what Jason and I are about to do. Insurance is the epitome of this – not only health insurance, but that is what I was working on tonight.

We have an appointment with an agent in a couple weeks, but last week, I thought I’d look into Covered California, our state ACA exchange. If you have a normal American life, you will have no problem applying. However, it did not want to accept that I simply do not know how much money Jason and I will make next year. Eventually I just put Jason’s salary in for a month since he will be working in January and I won’t.

Well, that was clearly the wrong choice. The system told me I needed to use Medi-Cal. This doesn’t really work for Jason and I as we love our doctors and also really shouldn’t be using the state’s resources like that – we know we should be paying for our healthcare. It was impossible to “upgrade” to the exchange and of course this happened to be the night before Veteran’s Day (on which they are closed) and then I went to Phoenix for the weekend. Yesterday was busy so I finally was able to call them during business hours today.

It took about an hour on the phone and several long holds, but the lovely woman on the phone adjusted our anticipated income up to reach eligibility for the exchange. At the end of the year you pay back any subsidies owed if you make over the expected income, so this is not use trying to get away with anything. But anyway, tonight was the first time I really got a look at our options.

Let me just tell you, if you’re on a tight budget, your options suck. Our doctors’ office only takes Blue Shield of CA, so I immediately filtered down to those options. Maybe the other plans are better (Kaiser, HealthNet, ect) but how you can ask anyone to pay $400 a month (it can go down to $90 a month based on your subsidy) for a plan that requires you to pay 100% of most costs up to $6,800? I feel like we all complain about the health insurance offered through employers – but I have never seen anything like this before! It gets better if you can afford their silver plan for $500 a month (lower with a subsidy) where you pay 15% of most costs up to $2350.

Obviously both of these are better than nothing and on a personal note, I do believe healthcare is a basic human right. I am not confident things will get better in this regard for the next 4 years, but as Obama said himself, I’d like to see them try.

If anyone is interested in this, let me know and we can talk more about how this all works out in the end. Our priority is to have some coverage in addition to our travel medical in case we get something serious while we’re away (cancer, ect) and of course avoiding the tax penalty. While I thought we’d just go for the least expensive option, the value seems to be at the silver level for Blue Shield. Not sure what we’ll do, or if we’ll buy off the exchange at all.

A 3-months-out update…

We’ve been making some progress over the last couple of months. Let’s revisit that list from August…

1. Selling, giving away, donating, or tossing out most of our stuff.
— This is in progress. I think we are going to keep more of our furniture than we had initially expected to, but does anyone want 2 black glass Ikea tables or 2 bookcases? I’m also a little terrified to sort through my clothes, but it has to be done.

2. Forwarding our mail to one of our parents’ homes or a mail service.
— I think we have a decision on this – waiting on Jason to confirm with a friend that we can use his address.

3. We still need to find a temporary home for our cat. Boba will be staying at Jason’s parents’ house.
— That same (very generous) friend has offered to take our cat while we are away! This is done!

4. Health insurance – both for travel and also a US policy, since we won’t have our employer-sponsored plans after we quit our jobs.
— I kind of had a fail at trying to sign up for Covered California. Who knew that if you didn’t know how much money you were going to make in a year, they’d force you into MediCal. We have an appointment with an insurance agent to discuss in a couple weeks. We need health and travel insurance, plus I want to see if we can’t consolidate renter’s and car insurance under one company/agent.

5. Packing – what to bring and what not to bring. Jason and I are planning to travel with carry-on size suitcases and backpacks.
— We’re still several weeks out from dealing with this. Maybe the first week in January.

6. Deciding where we are going first, buying our one-way plane tickets, choosing where to stay when when we get to our first destination. As of August 7th, it looks like this will be Taipei, Taiwan, but it is totally subject to change. (Done 8/27!)
— This is done! We leave for Taiwan on February 4th! (This is still technically subject to change, since we used airline miles to book the flight and it’s changeable/refundable until 60 days before.)

7. Break the lease (30 days notice) and give notice to both of our employers.
— If we wind up keeping February 4th as our date, I’d give notice when I get back from the BVIs. It’s absolutely terrifying, both giving up a stable job and the fact that in my role, I manage a lot of chaos that will wind up on someone else’s plate.

Lake Como – This is it, my favorite place on earth!

Everyone can only have one favorite anything. Or at least, all time favorite. I can have my favorite place for food, favorite place to sail, and a favorite place to meet people, but I can only have one all-time favorite place ever. That place is Lake Como, Italy.

Located about an hour north of Milan, just south of the Alps, and on the board of Switzerland, Lake Como is a vacation destination for every from families visiting Europe to celebrities looking for (another) vacation home. As Jason will tell you, I am not often captured by natural beauty, but for the 3 days we spent there last month, I was constantly surprised by just how breathtaking it can be. Pair that with easily-accessible rental boats that zip up and down the lake and the food you’ll find in Italy and it ticks all my boxes. I don’t usually like to travel in the heat, but in the summer, you can also swim, both from the shoreline and your little rental boat.

It is my hope that the next time we’re in Europe and need a break from busy traveling day, we’ll find ourselves here again. Perhaps we’ll have a group of friends that want to rent a house together, and we can tie our rental boat up to the private dock for the week…

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Tuscany Farm Stay

I want to talk a little bit about different types of accommodations because we managed to stay at 3 this past trip to Italy. (I’m writing from the plane as we fly from Milan to Newark, where we connect on the way to San Francisco.)

I’ll talk about hotel (boring – I know) and vacation rentals (like Airbnb) but we did something new to us this trip that I want to describe first because it was just so cool. Jason, his parents, and I, stayed at what they call an “agriturismo” in Tuscany near Montepulciano – a working farm.

We made this decision to try to get a sense of what “real life” is like in this area of Italy. Make no mistake – it is absolutely designed around guests; it’s not like staying in someone’s home. But along with our basic room (very comfortable other than the beds really needed to be replaced) we also got to enjoy the vineyard and olive grove, the farm’s animals, and some of the best food we had on the entire trip.

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Stefano and his brother cook breakfast and dinner at La Pietriccia everyday. The breakfasts are simple, but the croissants that come out of the oven as you are walking into the dining room blow you away.

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The dinners are casual but multi-course affairs with most of the food coming right from the farm (they have an extensive garden and make their own wine, sausage, dairy, etc) and the rest coming from neighbors with whom they trade. While they focus on one options per course (starter, pasta, meat, veggie, potato, and dessert) they will accommodate needs like vegetarian and gluten free and even preferences like mine – I don’t tomatoes!

In addition to the accommodations and meals, staying at an agriturismo like La Pietriccia puts you a great spot for seeing small tours and touring and tasting at local wineries, which is what we did for our 3 days there. If we wanted to see Tuscany again, I might look for a slightly more updated agristurismo (again – the beds…) but even if I found one, I think I’d return to La Piertriccia for at least one more dinner as they offer an option of just visiting for a meal .

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Rome/Florence, Italy – or how I stopped worrying and started to blog

Today is Sunday, September 25th. We started our first trip since I launched the blog on Saturday, September 17th. Have I already failed at blogging for the first time?

Anyway, we actually arrived in Rome on Sept 18 and stayed for 4 nights. We then spent 3 nights in Florence and currently I am sitting on the patio of our room at the agristurismo La Pietriccia near Chianco Terme in Tuscany. Wow, this is a view that if I think to much about it, I start to tear up. I’ll have to add a pic here later.

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Anyway, while I try to work through exactly the format this blog will take (although I expect it to evolve over time,) I know for sure what this blog is not – it is not “today I did X, Y, and Z. As I look into my future of traveling, I know nobody wants to read that.

As I get started, I THINK this blog MIGHT be more like – what I learned while spending time in A, and maybe a couple of suggestions for you if you visit. Also, what I learn about traveling as we wander around the world and what I learn about myself.

So today I’m going to talk about some of the strategies we have used for this trip –

1. “Free” tours
2. Paid tours (group or private)
3. DIY
4. Audio tours (new to me this trip!)

“FREE” TOURS

These are somewhat controversial in the traveling community because they exist in various states of regulation and can take business away from the pricier paid tours. However, they fill a true void when 1 – you want to keep your schedule flexible, 2 – you only need a basic understanding of what you want to see, and 3 – nothing you want to see needs an appointment or entrance free. We’ve used two of these tours so far on this trip, one each in Rome and Florence.

Keep in mind these are not really free – you are expected tip the guide at the end. Based on the quality of the tour (the skills/passion of the guide and size of the group mostly) we tip anywhere fro $5-10 per person per hour. Some you need to register for online because they limit the size of the group and some you just show up at the meeting place for. Some of the guides are fantastic and some are barely okay. Every now and then you get too terrible of a guide or too big of a group and you just find yourself wandering off – but that’s what you get with a free tour – you pay what the value of the tour is to you personally.

PAID TOURS

We also took 2 paid tours so far – one group and one private. Our group tour was of the Coliseum (all 4 levels,) Palatine Hill, and the Roman form. We were a group of 12 and it took 3.5 hours. The cost? $100 each ($30 per person per hour) – but the guide was fabulous (I guess I’ll add the information at the bottom of the page,) it included the tickets costs, and we we saw a few very limited areas, like the underground and 4th level of the Coliseum.

Our tour in Pompeii was private. The group tours were all full-day bus tours from Rome and very pricy. Instead, we took the high speed Trenitalia train from Rome and then the tram from Naples, and got a much better experience at the site. We then continued on to Sorrento and had lunch on our own before taking in the beautiful coast views. Cost of the tour? $155 for 2.5 hours ($15 per hour, per person)

DIY (DO IT YOURSELF)

The longer we have in a location, the more DIY we do. Since we’re moving around every 3-4 nights on this trip, there has been less DIY than usual, but it’s definitely there. We did the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica on our own, since I’ve already been to all of them and Jason and his mom aren’t super into art (although we did buy timed tickets to avoid the line.) We also did San Gimignano on our town today because we didn’t want to have to stick to the schedule and were really just using it as an awesome rest & relax stop on the drive down here from Florence (although we did climb the town for the stunning views.) The next 2 days in Tuscany are all on own, with 3 wine tours/tastings scheduled.

AUDIO TOURS

From a suggestion from friends (Genni & Tim!) I downloaded the Rick Steeves audio tour app (it’s FREE) and did his audio tour through the Ufizi art museum in Florence yesterday. Let me tell you – it was surprisingly good! He really picked our the highlights (only suggesting about 2/3rds of the rooms) and his commentary was interesting and not too verbose. I would definitely try this again in the future – maybe in Venice?

Finally – stand outs so far? You can’t miss the standard must sees of Rome and Florence, but I’ll list my favorites here in case your planning your trip –

ROME – Coliseum, Palantine Hill (with the new overlook, opened in 2011 or so), Roman Forum, Vatican Museum & St. Peter’s Bascilica, Spanish Steps & the surrounding neighborhood for shopping and eating.

POMPEII – this can be done as a long day trip from Rome, but is still my very favorite ancient ruin site.

FLORENCE – The Accademia (with the David,) the Uffizi (with the Birth of Venus & many others,) the Duomo, shopping & eating all over the city

and more to come as this trip continues. We have two weeks left, visiting Tuscany, Venice, Lake Como, and Milan, and I would like to write about the types of places we stay and why.

Ciao <3