For anyone daydreaming about living in Europe or elsewhere abroad, Barry Frangipane has some advice.
Don't wait. Set a date.
The idea of moving to his dream city occurred to Frangipane one day as he worked on his laptop by the pool at his home in Brandon. His job as a software engineer could be done anywhere, he thought, and his clients wouldn't know the difference.
So Frangipane and his wife, Debbie, put a plan in motion to live in Venice for one year.
She quit her job as an executive assistant with a lengthy commute. They held three garage sales and sold their cars. They rented their home and found an apartment in a quiet neighborhood of Venice and moved in 2005.
Both of their lives were forever changed.
Frangipane, 54, turned their stories and experiences into a book (written with Ben Robbins) published last July: The Venice Experiment.
His wife embraced life in Italy and focused on cooking, eventually changing careers and becoming a chef.
"It was an experiment to see if a typical middle class couple like us could just up and leave and live in the city of our dreams for a year," Frangipane said. "And we did."
Making friends in Venice was easy. Without cars, they both walked to get everywhere and got to know everyone very quickly.
A 10-minute walk soon took an hour after stopping for several hellos along the way and accepting invitations for espressos.
Frangipane sipped up to eight a day while listening to the day's gossip.
He spent afternoons working from home on his laptop, staying in touch online and over the phone with clients all over the world.
Debbie went to the market and several food stores every day, and it became a large part of her social life. One store for cheeses. Another for prosciutto. She learned to cook without an oven in her home as most Venetians do.
They were happy.
"I felt at home when I first started living there," Debbie, 49, said. "It always felt like home."
In a few months, they had learned the language. Friends and relatives began visiting, and the Frangipanes showed them around like the locals they had become.
Someone suggested doing this for a living. So they did.
Savory Adventures started in 2007: luxury one-week tours spent living in a villa with Debbie doing the shopping and cooking, and Barry as host showing people around town without feeling like tourists. No gaggle of people following someone holding an umbrella in the air.
Debbie's 23 years as an executive assistant were over, replaced by a new life revolving around food. She is now a line chef at Armani's restaurant in Tampa. The couple returned to the United States because Frangipane promised his employer he would after a year.
Frangipane said their time living abroad showed them that the journey of life really is more important than the destination. The people you meet and the relationships you have is what makes life worth it, a cliche he said felt true after experiencing it every day.
"Find your own Venice. Set a date and live your dream," Frangipane said. "That's it."
Three years after their year spent living in Venice, Frangipane returned. He stood on the bridge where he met with some guys every morning at 10.
He walked into their usual coffee shop and apologized for being late. They were all there like always.
One friend turned around and said, "Okay, Frangipane. But it's your turn to pay."
It was as if he had never left this home.
Ileana Morales can be reached at [email protected]