Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On to the Umbrian Hills...

Old post May/June

It was nice having a relaxed morning on the day I left Rome, my train wasn't till 1pm; unlike many other days where it's a 6am start to make sure you arrive at your next destination at a decent hour. I stepped off the train 2 hours later in the afternoon sun and was greeted by Paddy on the platform and a little puppy clutched under his arm; Jack.

We sped round the hills in his tiny old-school run about, through small villages and fields till finally arriving at a hillside property that looked over the valley. The property is made up of 3 houses close together which originally would have been a few families living and working together on the land. (I can't remember the term for these kinds of properties).

I was only staying here for a few days before moving to Bruce and Jan's place, as they were still returning from their trip to Spain and had put me in contact with Paddy.
Pictures: The car, my bedroom (the helpers had there own house to share!), Jack the jack russell, the courtyard, one of the old houses, peacock, the living room

The night I arrived - Family dinner; Phyllis & Neaghn, Chris, and our hosts Paddy and his wife Tita
I spent the 4 days painting the side of the house, watering, and helping prepare some pot plants, and then I was given the day off, pretty easy! Paddy is an Englishman and moved to Italy many years ago where he met Tita. After creating his own beer and building a brewery he sold it on and now does the odd plumbing job in the area. 

One of the evenings Jovan (A helper from Serbia) took us up the hill to watch the sunset and taught us about a practice he believed in called Sun gazing or 'Solar Yoga', which just means staring at the sun. It's believed to increase energy levels, help eyesight, and  if you're committed enough; the sun will decrease you're appetite and you'll be able to feed off the sun alone. (Not for me though, I'm too fond of my tuna pasta). Don't Wiki it, as it's a bit scientifically bias. A beautiful sunset none the less.

Jovan, Phyllis and Neaghn 
Phyllis and her daughter Neaghn were fantastic people to be around. They jumped the ditch from Canada to farm hop in Italy for 3 months. They cooked delicious healthy meals, shared recipes with me (written on their own recycled paper!) and had an amazing outlook on life. We made wild fennel tea and ate wild rose hip that grew everywhere. All of us had a similar idea on food and enjoyed an abundance of fruit and vegetables for breakfast lunch and dinner (Kirsty, you would have loved discussing food with these guys). All very conscious about nature, growing organic, eating healthy and living sustainably. It would have been great if I could have stayed longer and learn't some more, but the team would be splitting up in a few days anyway, so I just appreciated the time I did have there. I hope to learn some more about edible wild plants, something very exciting being able to identify edible plants as you walk down the road; or the plants you would usually pull from your vegie garden. 

Monday bought farewells at Paddy's followed by a long tractor ride where I was crunched up behind the drivers seat bracing myself against the cabin and trying to not let me feet hit the gear stick. 
Soon I had arrived at the Help-x I would spend a month at, Jan and Bruces. Bruce is a landscape Gardner for many properties in the area, so our job was to help him maintain the gardens and fields. (Many of which were owned by very wealthy people who spent only few days/weeks a year at these properties in summer).

The house, bottom floor was for the helpers
Hours and hours spent strimming banks in scorching heats wrapped up in my overalls..I'm a pro now, but never again will I touch a strimmer.
The first couple of days I developed a cold, and unfortunately it was also going to the busiest part of my whole stay. Bruce and Jan were leaving for England at the end of the week so we had only a few days to plant 150 Olive trees. Two 8hour days really took it out of me, but had a few days to relax as I house sat while they were away. 

Whilst busy mowing the long grass, Rory accidentally chopped the head off a snake (He didn't tell me at the time). Later that afternoon when rummaging in my bag for the apartment keys to let us both in, I see a silky, scaly rubbery like tube thing coiled up in the front pocket. As I slowly begin removing it, I realise what is it, and before anything can hit the ground I'm already turning and heading for hills. I never did manage to get Rory back for that, I just helped him skin the animal so he could somehow incorporate it onto his guitar.

Pictures: Rory, another helper from Aussie who stayed for a few days before going to Paddys (where I'd just been) Poppy flower, a small hilltop village nearby called Montone, having Pizza and wine in Umbertide.

I was by myself for almost 2 weeks between helpers, in that time I attended many dinner invitations with Bruce. One of which was at Montone village where an American couple lived in an amazing 3 storied apartment right off the main Piazza. It had an amazing view over the valley and looked back across over the town. They offer private cooking classes in the summer in Italy, spend the winter in their downtown New York apartment, and also have a house in the mountains near Salt lake. We had a wonderful dinner; a leek and mushroom pasta, (the mushrooms were a special kind that have a very short season in the region called Prugnoli) followed by glazed quail, salad and vegetables, washed down with Prosecco and red wine from the vineyard down the road. For dessert we wandered into the piazza and had a big glass of grappa (a spirit made from grape skins/leftovers).

Me with the wall I painted and a glass of bubbles
Paddy held a big party to celebrate the the Help-xers, (Even though all his had left) I was the last original remaining so I got to enjoy the festivities.

Me and Laura
One of the perks; when the owners have gone back to work, we can use their pool!! B2 and I

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Folk Dancing In The Pyrenees...

It's been a quiet month.......for all you readers that is. Fast travelling, crazy festivals and tight timetables, have filled that past few weeks for me, but now I'm at my new Helpx in the foothills of the Pyrenees in France. (The mountains that divide Spain and France). If you want to map me, search for La Serpent, France, I'm just round the corner of that village on a 150 acre piece of land on the hillside.

A bit of a mission to get from my not-so-central-hostel in Barcelona to the bus station where I traveled to Narbonne, followed the by a train, another train, then another bus, and finally I was in the right village. Bit of a concern when I realised my phone was out of credit when I had to phone Jo to come pick me up. Thankfully the Couiza Tourist information office was still open at 6pm, what are the odds in this tiny place.

On the train in heavy thunderstorms
As I got higher, the air cooled considerably, leaving 30 degrees in Barcelona in a t-shirt, shorts and jandles, I was now pulling on jumpers and pants while sitting on the train platform in wind and rain.

My host is Jo, a man from Belgium who has some holidays houses on his property, so our main job is to keep the areas tidy and do general maintenance. Above is the other helpers, Rebecca and Ludvig from Sweden who are a load of fun and make the working hours fly by.

 I have a very basic room but a beautiful view from my balcony, Rebecca, Ludvig and I open the big doors and put sleeping bags and blankets out on the balcony after a hard days work and take naps, browse the internet and munch on chocolate (and maybe some Nutella with Fromage Blanc).

Me planting in the vege garden

Driving through the mountains
I arrived on Thursday evening and did 1 days work on Friday before the weekend which we all have free. That evening Alison (another helper) Rebecca and I were invited by some locals to a folk music evening in a small mountain top town; very small, population: 30 

It was a potluck dinner also, good homemade food, and check those various kinds of goats cheese that's made in the village!
The converted work shed. I think the whole town was there!
Rebecca dancing
 It was very embarrassing dancing when everyone else seems to know the moves but you. A fantastic night though, lots of interesting people (though most only spoke french!) Good food, good company, this is why I Helpx, how many tourists get to go dancing in the mountains?!

Saturday was dedicated to writing out blogs and hitchhiking to the supermarket to buy snacks, however after only getting a couple of short rides, a quick trip took 3 hours of walking in the glaring sun; little energy was left for blogging. Napping on the balcony was a much better use of time

La Serpent Village
La Serpent and it's Sunflower fields, such a beautiful sight!!! 

The typical french roads, Napolean planted these trees to provide shade for his troops.
 Sunday brought a trip with Alison to Renne-le-chateau which is very popular as it has many conspiracy theories surrounding it; I'm pretty sure it was mentioned in The Da Vinci Code

Having a delicious picnic from groceries we picked up from the Sunday markets in the morning

Rebecca, Alison and Ludvig

The Orangery

The bridge to the vege gardens
That evening we went for dinner at Diago and Marie-Neg's house. Diago was a previous helper at Jo's and now resides in a small town nearby with his girlfriend. The town has a beautiful piece of land across the road, where each house their own plot for growing veges.

 Fantastic start to my new Helpx. Will be here for 1 month so plenty of time to catch you all up on the last few weeks of travel. I booked a flight to Berlin today for the 8th of August out of Toulouse; so sorry Switzerland, maybe another trip, but for now you're too expensive.

Looking after the Donkeys

Thursday, June 14, 2012

21st Continued...

Shortly after breakfast, Bruce and Jan (the hosts) came downstairs and brought me some more goodies. Jan had made a delicious cupcake and stuck "21" candles for me to blow out. 

They also bought me a watermelon because I was always amazed when we went to market how big they were. (This on is a smaller one because the big ones are literally too big to eat!) 

Written on the back of my corn flakes box; Bruce and Laura (the other Helpers) made me a voucher....

and also wrote me a Poem....

Seeing you're so far from home..
And now you're turning 21..
You can reflect on all the the great things you've done..

Travelling the world as a young Kiwi
You've still got plenty of things to see,
You're here in Umbertide, strimming and planting many a tree..

Eating cornflakes every morn..
Keeping edges strimmed and shorn.
Even though you're a human garbage bin..
You still remain very thin. 
In your overalls you looks so flash...
though some might say you look like trash.

Moving on from Bruce and Jan's
You'll k now you've made many fans..

Happy 21st, Love Laura and Bruce

After a relaxing day inside away from the thunder and heavy rain, it completely cleared and was nice a warm in the sun. We headed up to the back field and had some Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) before guests started arriving.

Left to Right, Laura, Bruce, Jan, Me opening my present

Photo frame from Bruce and Jan (with help from Bruce and Laura on the photo swap!) and homemade biscuits from Sally and Simons son from up the hill.

Paul, Bruce, Jan and Hazel 
Me talking to Nick from Nelson (orginally Holland) Sally and Simon and their kids

Bit cooler when the sun came down so we moved inside
Jan's delicious baking
Another cake and being sung Happy Birthday

Strimmer man (me) in the middle with Kiwi's around the side

Another of Jan's creations. She even got my straw hat on there!

Eating a Kiwi, everyone thought this was cannibalism 

This crazy Australian lady that I quite like! Laura and I 

The woman who spent hours preparing everything for the party; Jan. 

It was a great evening with many bottles of wine, heaps of food and great company. I had met almost all the guests already so was nice to have familiar faces. I'm very thankful to Jan and Bruce for putting this all together, many hours baking, cooking, and getting things organised, truly appreciative and so glad I wasn't just celebrating by myself at some deserted hostel!

Thanks to Mum & Scott, Emm & Dee, James & Jess, Kirst, and Liam for making my amazing birthday video with all your well wishes and the party you threw for me, I love that I'll always have that to look back on; Laura and Jan were also very moved by it. And Thanks to Mum for my early 21st present; my Ipod touch which has been an extension of my arm, and has helped me find and book hostels, trains, buses and get me out of some sticky situations. :)

Very hard to believe it's Dad's 2 year anniversary, thinking of him lots the past few days.
Now that I've been here a month I will be heading off in a few days, not entirely sure which direction I'm heading in; still tossing up between Switzerland/Germany or Spain/French Riviera, but anyway the last minute blog updates shouldn't be far away. :)