Time for our yearly wrap-up spotlighting some the highlights of our time in Europe over the last nine monthsRead More
The second year of traveling across Europe. From the winery in Dogliani in Piedmont, to Sicily, Calabria, England and Ireland, see what Euro Travel Coach is up to.Read More
Euro Travel Coach specializes in travel coaching, custom itineraries, and small group trips. We just celebrated our two year anniversary. See what we’ve learned so far.Read More
We lived in Stephenville, TX for over twenty years before beginning our extended travels. Every year we looked forward to the time when our local paper, The Empire-Tribune, published the "Best of Erath". This special edition highlighted local businesses that the readers voted on as being the top in the area. Well, the ETC Team has voted and here’s our list for our trip this past year. Many of these we have written about before and where that is the case there are links directly to those posts. Hope you enjoy revisiting the highlights of our year of travel!
One of the most unique aspects of our trip was participating in work exchange programs. In addition to it being an affordable way to stay in an area for longer periods ,it also gave us an opportunity to live more like locals. Here are some of our favorites.
Best WWOOF Experience
Le Roche – Dogliani, Italy
Sue was a wonderful host. We even got to lead a wine tasting with some of her friends on this little island on the Thames. Read more.
We worked with a great group of 20-somethings and learned to make a proper G&T at the Gin Bar. Read more.
Best House Sits
We just couldn’t get over how nice the people in this area were. Read more.
Villa Antea – Florence, Italy
Big spacious rooms, outstanding breakfasts, super nice hosts, a lovely quiet neighborhood and free parking at a great rate. That’s what you get when you stay a kilometer or so from all the tourist areas of Florence. The walk in was about 20 minutes through real neighborhoods. We loved it.
La Marmu – Vernetti, Italy
This is the spot we stayed at tucked into the Maira Valley in the Italian Alps. Beautiful views, wonderful rooms, nice people and a great meal awaited us after a long day of hiking!
Hisa Franko – Kobarid, Slovenia
After seeing this restaurant on an episode of Chef’s Table, we found our way to the remote village of Kobarid, Slovenia at the end of October. The food exceeded our expectations but the wine pairing was transformative. All Slovenian, natural wines that were delicious and perfectly paired with our food. The region is also gorgeous and we had two wonderful days of hiking in addition to the amazing food. Read more.
Noma Pop Up Under the Bridge – Copenhagen, Denmark
A stunning meal created by the team who’s restaurant has been voted Best in the World multiple times. Read more.
La Ciau del Tornavento – Treiso, Italy
You should expect a great meal at a restaurant with a Michelin Star and this gem in the heart of Italy’s Piemonte region did not disappoint. The company made it even more memorable. We were joined by Chelsea and Sam and our friends from the lake, Lisa and Pierre. Each couple ordered both of the tasting menu options and we shared 5 bottles of wine. At the end of the meal we were treated to a tour of their cellar featuring aver 7000 bottles! We have included La Ciau del Tornavento in our plans for our upcoming Small Group Trip to Piedmont during truffle season in the fall of 2019. Be watching for the itinerary and let us know if you’d like to join us!
We are blessed with many good friends. Two of them surprised us by inviting us on a shake-down cruise on the Viking Sun in the Adriatic. With stops in Italy, Kotor, Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia, we had a wonderful week sailing in perfect weather. We don't think of ourselves as cruise people, but we were very impressed with everything about Viking Ocean Cruises. We can’t say enough about our experience and highly recommend them if you are looking for a cruise company. Read more.
Before we picked grapes in Italy, we spent some time with Chelsea and Sam in Copenhagen. From there we took a weekend trip to the Danish island of Bornholm. It was absolutely spectacular. We stayed in a little cabin and tried to see as much of the island as we could in two days. Smoked fish, gorgeous seaside views, quaint villages, and beautiful countryside drives made it an unexpected pleasure.
We got to see Chelsea this past year more than any time since she graduated from high school. We felt fortunate to be invited with her and Sam and a few of their friends to a weekend in Riga, Latvia. We never knew we wanted to go to Latvia! We enjoyed a symphony concert, great food, interesting architecture, challenging history and too much beer! Read more.
Favorite Winery Visits
Rivetto – Serralunga, Italy
This is one of our favorite Barolo producers in Piedmont. Enrico Rivetto is a third generation grower who is absolutely passionate about taking his winery in a new, biodynamic path. This will be a stop on our upcoming Piedmont Small Group Tour.
Silvio Nardi – Montalcino, Italy
Bruno Porro – Dogliani, Italy
Our host at the winery where we picked grapes last year, and will be again this year, brought us to meet his friend and fellow producer Fabrizio Porro. We made no appointment. We just showed up and spent the next few hours talking and tasting wine as members of his family bustled about.
Best Wine Shops
La Vite Turchese – Barolo, Italy
One of our happy places! Stefano and Elisabetta take such good care of you. We are very happy to include this shop on our Piedmont Small Group Tour.
D. Byrne & Co. – Clitheroe, England
An amazing shop in a small town in a corner of England that we had never considered visiting. This shop was one of many things that made our house sit most enjoyable.
Hedonism Wines – London, England
As the name suggests, it is over the top. If you are into wine, add this to your What to Do In London list.
Borough Market – London, England
Leave it to Chelsea to find a great foodie spot. You can read more about her London picks here.
Dogliani Market – Dogliani, Italy
During our time on the winery we were sent here to buy food for some of our meals. It is the perfect example of a small town, Italian market. We watched the locals to see how it was done and used our limited Italiano to get what we needed.
Great Market Hall – Budapest, Hungary
This is just one of the reasons to visit this amazing city. Read more.
Szimpla Ruin Pub – Budapest, Hungary
A unique, crazy, mix of bar, performance art, and local entrepreneurship. Another of our Top Ten Things to do in Budapest.
Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs – Riga, Latvia
We spent too much time and drank too many beers here. We danced to live folk music and tried to keep up with the 20-somethings. We loved every second of it.
The Swan with Two Necks – Pendleton, England
The quintessential English Pub frequented by the nicest people on the planet.
Academy of St. Martin in the Field – Bristol, England
What a treat to hear one of our favorite groups which is now led by the incredible Joshua Bell. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and more.
Budapest Festival Orchestra – Budapest, Hungary
MUPA in an amazing performance space in this vibrant city. Another Top Ten.
Filharmonia Koszalinska – Koszalin, Poland
One of the many regional orchestras in Poland this group put on an ambitious concert, but the highlight for me was the Chopin Nocturne the piano soloist played as an encore. Read more about our time in Poland here.
Favorite Theater Experiences
Hamilton – London, England
Bought tickets the day of the show for less than $75. Much easier than NYC. Amazing! And it was so cool to watch it with a British audience….it gives the show a whole new perspective.
Glengarry Glen Ross – London, England
With Christian Slater. Again, found cheap seats the day of the show and again amazing performance.
Long Day's Journey Into Night – London, England
With Jeremy Irons. See comments above.
The York Realist – London, England
With our friend Lesley Nichol (Mrs. Patmore from Downton Abbey), who we met on the Viking Cruise. Wonderful of course.
This was a wonderful day during our time at the winery. Seeing old friends and making new ones. Read more.
Marmora, Maira Valley
Our last weekend on the winery our host arranged for us to hike in the Italian Alps. Stunning! Read more.
Lake District, England
We were knocked out by the beauty of the Lake District in England. And best of all we could start right from our hosts’ home. Read more.
Tate Modern – London, England
We love that the museums in London are free. The British Museum, National Gallery, Victoria and Albert, etc., all free! This year we added the Tate Modern to our list and we were not disappointed.
Berggruen Museum – Berlin, Germany
Berlin is a city full of amazing museums and memorials. We hit the Pergamon, German History, Alte and several others. Thanks to the Museum Pass we could skip the ticket lines and just pop in for a short bit if that’s all time we had. We could also visit some lesser known spots and that’s how we found this gem. Not crowded, relaxing, and filled with Picasso, Matisse, Klee, and more.
Solidarity Museum – Gdansk, Poland
During our time in Berlin, Poland, and Budapest we spent well over a month in locations that had been behind the iron curtain. It was humbling to discover how little we knew about events that happened mostly in our life time. This museum in the beautiful town of Gdansk on the Baltic Sea was extrordinary.
Highlight of the Whole Trip
At the end of our nine months in Europe we had a couple days of relaxation in Verona, Italy. Upon reflecting on our travels we came up with many highlights, mostly mentioned above. But we both agreed that the most fun we had was sharing our love for travel with our small group tours in Tuscany. What a great two weeks we had with two awesome groups of people.
Regular readers of this blog might remember that we spent the month of February working a gin bar, serving breakfast and performing other duties at a quaint boutique hotel called The Thatched Cottage in the New Forest in southern England. (If you missed it you can find that blog post here!) Near the end of our stay, while working the gin bar one evening, we met a couple that were living in London but were from Budapest. While Betsy served their gin and tonics, they struck up a conversation. They were very interested in what we were doing and when we mentioned that the Hungarian capital was on our wish list, they wrote out four pages of recommendations for us! When Betsy finished her shift, they spent an hour talking about the city and some of their favorite sites. They were so excited about us going to visit their home country and their enthusiasm was infectious. We already wanted to go to Budapest but they really lit a fire under us. Thanks Bea and Imi! The things you can learn while you are on the road!
Fast-forward to the end of April and we found ourselves with a week between our commitments in Poland and our preparations for Small Group Trips in Tuscany. So off to Budapest we went! We absolutely loved it and here are some of our favorite things about this historic city.....with great thanks to our new friends who were instrumental in creating this list!
1. Free Walking Tours – One of the ways we like to get to know a city is by taking walking tours. Budapest has a wonderful group of tours led by local guides who do a great job of showing you around the city. We did the The Original Walk and The Communism Walk. Both of the guides were very knowledgeable and fun. They were both certified guides, had been with the company for at least a couple of years, and since they work for tips, they are motivated to give outstanding service every time. And they do!
2. Fisherman’s Bastion/Mathias Church – Budapest is divided by the beautiful Danube River, and the skyline on both sides is absolutely spectacular. The east bank is the Pest side and dominated by the beautiful Parliament Building. Across the river on the Buda side, sitting on a hill, is the wonderful Mathias Church perched over the Fisherman’s Bastian. It always seems to be crowded but the views of the city, the river, and the bridges are unmatched.
3. Night time cruise on the Danube – One of the best ways to see the beautiful skyline of this dynamic city is from a boat and after dark it is lit up like no other. While we were there we heard that Budapest is the second most lighted city at night in Europe after Paris. I believe it! There are many boat operators offering all kinds of options including full dinners, wine and drinks, or parties. We settled on a no-frills trip for $10 each with Portum Lines. Our experience included a welcome drink as we boarded, kinda cheesy music, no audio guide, and cheap patio chairs; but we saw the same skyline people were seeing from boats where they paid a lot more. I’d do it again!
4. Great Synagogue – Before WWII, Budapest had a very strong, progressive Jewish population and the Great Synagogue is a reminder of how important that community was. The building has more of a cathedral feel to it complete with pipe organ and pulpit. It is a beautiful building but a cemetery and courtyard sculpture reminder us how much the Jews suffered during and after WWII.
5. Museum of Terror – This museum, with its striking architecture, is a memorial to the plight of Budapest, Hungary, and other countries behind the iron curtain during the communist occupation. Like some of the sights in Berlin, this is not a joyful place to visit, but as George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The fact that many of these atrocities happened during our lifetime makes it all the more chilling.
6. MÜPA – This is a wonderful concert hall. It is home to the Budapest Festival Orchestra and an amazing array of events. The calendar is filled with multiple programs daily, from free concerts in the foyer during the day, to pre concert lectures, as well as dance, theatrical, and musical presentations all year long. It is quite amazing. And tickets are cheap! We heard the Festival Orchestra play Bruckner’s 8th Symphony. We had great seats in the balcony and our tickets were about $25!
7. Ruin Pubs – This is a concept that started in Budapest and is beginning to catch on in some other European cities, where some enterprising people take possession of an abandoned building and with very little renovation, open a drinking establishment. We visited the original, Szimpla Kert, and had a blast! The complex features many rooms over a couple of floors. Each room seems to be run by a different group. Wandering around the space you can find a wine bar, live music, silent movies projected onto a wall, craft beer, and art everywhere. There is also food offered at a couple of places but a better bet is the Food Truck Park down the block. We showed up at around 8:00 and walked right in. By the time we left around 10:30 there was a line halfway down the street! Incidentally, Szimpla runs a farmers' market on Sundays where you can see the space in daylight.
8. The Baths – Another hallmark of life in Budapest are the numerous bathhouses scattered around the city. You may remember our visit to Nordic Spa in Quebec, Canada and the Turkish Spa in Copenhagen from previous blogs, but we’ve never experienced anything quite like this. Our first visit was to the Szechenyi Baths, one of the biggest in the city. It was quite the party atmosphere with three large outside pools of various temperatures and smaller pools, steam rooms and saunas inside. Outside you could see people swimming laps or playing chess, but mostly just socializing and enjoying the water. You can also schedule a massage and other body treatments including a thermal beer spa. Crazy! There is food and beer available and the place is massive. For a different take, we visited Lukacs Baths. It was much smaller, but very nice if not a little past it’s prime. And where at Szechenyi we were some of the more "mature" visitors, at Lukacs we were the young guns. Both were very enjoyable experiences largely because we avoided the ice plunge at both locations.
9. St. Stephen’s Basilica – This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest, it is also one of the busiest attractions. In spite of its classical architecture, it was only completed in 1906. The church houses many concerts throughout the year as well as St. Stephen’s mummified hand. It is possible to climb up to the cupola for 360° views of the city. It's unbelievable to think of the square in front of the basilica as a parking lot during the communist occupation.
10. Great Market Hall – You know we’re going to talk about food. We love to go to markets and Budapest’s Market Hall is a great one. Covering three floors, it is enormous. In the basement you find fish, pickled foods, and other smelly things. The main floor has all the other meat, produce, and packaged food vendors. It is the perfect spot to pick up Hungarian paprika to bring home. The top floor is filled with clothes, novelties, and most important, the food court. Several closely packed stalls sell traditional Hungarian dishes including goulash, fried sausages, stuffed cabbage, and lángos, a fried dough disk with various toppings. We had the traditional, garlic sauce, sour cream, and grated cheese....amazing!
Bonus Thing to do in Budapest
11. Food and WIne - The food here is awesome. The traditional foods are rich and hearty - rest assured you won't go hungry in Budapest. Look for pork schnitzel bigger than the plate, chicken paprikash served with nokedli (spätzel), foie gras, sausage cones, and cucumber salad. Don't forget the local liqueur, pálinka! We were also surprised with the high quality Hungarian wine. Both red and white varieties of grapes you've probably never heard of make for some very tasty wine tastings. A few quick recommendations - Doblo, a great wine bar with very good charcuterie and cheese offerings, GoodSpirit Whiskey Bar for amazing cocktails, and Frici Papa for traditional Hungarian fare.
We have been able to travel across Europe the last nine months by a combination of WWOOF, WorkAway, and Trusted House Sitters, often for up to a month at a time, in exchange for room and board. Budapest was especially nice for us because we moved into a great little Airbnb at a reasonable price where we were able to feel like a local for a week. We were the first people to rent this newly renovated apartment and we enjoyed having the space to ourselves. In work exchange situations, our hosts often determine our schedules. They have been very rewarding experiences, but it was nice to be on our own and spend a week really exploring this dynamic city, all at our own pace.
We have finished our nine months in Europe and are enjoying our summer at the lake house in Canada. We came back to the US at the beginning of June and had a nice visit with Greg's family before heading up north for our annual retreat. Be looking for recaps of our visit to Budapest, our very successful Small Group Trips to Tuscany and a wrap up of the whole adventure in the coming weeks! In the meantime, here is a recounting of the time we spent in Poland.
About a year ago we received an email through WorkAway from a family in Poland who was interested in having us come teach English to their children. They were attracted to us in particular because 1) We have North American accents and 2) Greg also teaches music. We had never been to Poland and were really excited about experiencing a new country and a new culture. I have to say it was a remarkable experience! I’m not quite sure what we anticipated, but the experience was different than what we expected. We learned more about Polish history and the Iron Curtain than we imagined when we said yes, and that was a very good thing. The following recommendations detail how to get the most out of this kind of experience:
1) Get to Know your Host Family
We were in Kołobrzeg, a city in northwestern Poland, right on the Baltic Sea. Our super nice host family has 2 children – a 13 year old boy, Janek, and a 10 year old girl, Marianna. Their parents are both language instructors at a local high school. The father, Maciej, teaches English and the mother, Ewa, teaches Spanish. The kids are already very well versed in English and we were there to help them practice English conversation and writing, because this will give them a great advantage as they seek employment outside their home country someday. The kids and the dad also play accordion! Yes, you’re right – Greg does NOT play accordion – but he was able to give them some great music lessons anyway and he accompanied the family trio on flute.
We ate most of our evening meals with the family. They kindly included us in a fantastic Sunday afternoon luncheon with the father’s parents where we enjoyed fresh rabbit, as well as a healthy dose of vodka. What better way to get to know each other? We enjoyed lively discussions on Polish history, Communism, teaching schedules, parenting and international perspectives over the dinner table. We enjoyed getting to know our host family and it made our experience there much more meaningful.
2) Enjoy your work
Our host family also taught private language lessons in the afternoons after teaching their classes at the high school. While we were there, we took over the English classes. We got to meet about 12 additional students between the ages of about 12 – 30. It was so much fun asking them questions about their lives, school, families, hobbies, and understandings. We also answered their questions about us, our travels and living in the US. We played games with them that helped their conversational English, showed and discussed video clips and used other exercises to allow them to improve their skills while we were there. We discussed everything from school cafeterias (they don’t usually have cafeterias in the schools in Poland) to global politics. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting each one of these students and were so impressed with their motivation to learn English. Our world is in good hands with this next generation.
3) Explore your surroundings
We taught about 5 hours a day during the week. I also spent a lot of time teaching my business classes online and we worked on Euro Travel Coach when we weren’t teaching – but in our time off we walked all over Kołobrzeg and the surrounding area. We shopped in the local grocery stores, tried to speak Polish (we can say “hello” and “thank you”) cooked pierogies and sausages, walked the beaches and investigated the town. We stayed in an apartment that was about a 10 minute walk from our host family. It was a pretty modest apartment but it had everything we needed. We slept on a futon and the bathroom had a bathtub with a hand sprayer for a shower. The kitchen had a small fridge, a few cooking utensils and an older oven and stove. We didn’t need more than that. We shopped in the Polish grocery store for many of our supplies and the woman at the check out recognized us after a week or so. She was very nice even though we had no language in common. All this helped us get a feel for the local culture in a way that we would not have been able to experience had we been passing through as a tourist. It was truly unique and special.
4) Take side trips like we did to Gdansk
The kids had to take exams in Gdansk one weekend and our hosts let us tag along. We stayed in a local hostel with the family. The cost was $9 per person per night. I’m pretty sure we were the only people there who were not from Poland! While the family was involved with the exams, we explored the city and it was fantastic. We really loved Gdansk! We went to the tourist office and bought a small map and guide for $3 that gave us a walking tour of the city. We explored the town and the buildings and learned a bit of history.
The best experience was the Solidarity Museum. It is a relatively new library and museum that is focused on the Polish trade union and civil resistance movement prior to 1989. The exhibits are devoted to the history of Solidarity and also include other opposition movements of Communist Eastern Europe as well. It was fascinating and I have to say that I left informed, but ashamed of my ignorance. I was an adult in 1989 when the Iron Curtain fell. I knew about it – sort of – but I did not understand much about it or comprehend the significance. It is unbelievable what people suffered through. Their persistence and dedication to making their lives better through peaceful protest were inspirational. I would like to go back and spend even our time here. Having a chance to take a side trip really helped us get the most out of our time in Poland.
5) Experience the Culture
The Polish people really do emphasize art and culture. We got to attend 2 movies in town while we were there – one was in French (Normandy Nue) and the other was in English (You Were Never Really Here). These were in a local performance venue where they have concerts and movies and other events regularly. We also got to travel to Koszalin to attend a concert at the Filharmonia Koszalinska. The program was Beethoven and Shostakovich. It was really good! The tickets were 31 zloty or about $10 each. It’s amazing to have the chance to see this quality of music for such a reasonable cost. Relative to local salaries, this is a high price, but still makes music and culture accessible to a lot of people. Enjoying the local culture as much as possible made such a difference in our experience here.
We thought we would be able to visit Warsaw and Krakow while we were in Poland but that was before we understood the train system. We were told by our hosts that there are 2 types of trains in Poland – slow and slower. It was going to take us 12-14 hours to get to Krakow. It’s about 430 miles, which is not a short distance, but we did not think it would take that long by train. In any case, we only had a weekend to go so we decided that we will have to return another time. There is more to see in Poland. We are grateful to our host family for a great cultural experience and we are confident that we will return.
“I get ideas about what’s essential when packing my suitcase.”
--Diane von Furstenberg
Alright – I have been writing most of the blogs on this website. A while back, Greg said he had an idea for a blog and I thought – that is awesome! He said he wanted to write about what he packed for our 9 month trip and I thought – “OK, that sounds really boring to me, but if you want to write about it, go for it!” Anyway – people loved that blog post. I mean – he got more comments than I have received for over 50 posts…so I guess I have to admit that I was wrong and he was right….lots of people are really interested in what to pack!
Several people said they wanted to know what I packed -- how to pack like a pro from a woman's perspective. This probably goes against all advice for blogging but I’m going to be completely honest and tell you that I really hate packing. I absolutely love traveling, but I hate to pack. But I do it time and time again, so maybe that does make me a bit of an expert. I’m not sure. One thing I try really hard to remember is that if I have my passport, my bank cards and a credit card, I can keep traveling…. everything else is reasonably easy to replace. Also important is a piece of advice I read while preparing for this trip that I really took to heart. The article suggested that we should pack as if we were going on a 2 week trip – not 9 months. Well, I’ve gone on lots of 2 week trips, so that made the process less daunting. In any case, let me tell you about what I packed for 9 months.
First, I’ll tell you what I brought in the way of clothing. If you have been following the blog or our Facebook page, you will notice me wearing the same clothes a lot, just like Greg! Fortunately, Greg doesn’t seem to mind and we keep seeing different people wherever we go, so I just keep wearing the same things and changing my scarf. Some of my clothes are starting to wear out! My advice is to choose clothes that are comfortable, work together in several outfits, are easily washable and don’t wrinkle. I really like to wear all black and then dress it up with a colorful scarf or a necklace to change it up a bit. Since I knew we were going to be going through all sorts of weather, I had to be pretty selective. Here is a list of what I packed. I’ve included manufacturers where I thought you might be interested. I’m not endorsed by any of them but if they worked well for me I pointed them out. Oh – and I packed too many clothes. I have things I haven’t used very much. I will leave those at home next year.
Here's my list:
2 short sleeve loose tops that cover my rear end – one plain and one colorful
1 large black t-shirt that I stole from Sam when we visited Chelsea and Sam in Copenhagen at the beginning of our trip – I needed something I could work and paint in, etc.
2 loose, sleeveless polyester tops from Loft that I can pair with a sweater. These also are long enough to cover my rear end – this seems to be a theme.
2 black short sleeve black t-shirts – I think I got these at TJ Maxx (that's TK Maxx in the UK!)
2 long sleeve Columbia t-shirts – one dark purple and one bright mauve
1 loose and long dark green long sleeve top that yes, covers my rear, and looks nice with leggings
1 pair Columbia hiking pants
1 pair khaki cropped ankle pants (that I have been told I should not wear with hiking shoes, for fashion’s sake)
1 pair LuLaRoe leggings, 1 pair thick black leggings, 1 pair thin black leggings
3 pairs of shorts (these have not been used much – I’ll only bring one pair next time)
3 dresses – 1 black short sleeved dress and 2 sleeveless dresses – all of these can be paired with a sweater and a scarf - or not
1 grey cardigan sweater from Ann Taylor
1 black loose sweater from TJ Maxx
1 grey sweatshirt – it’s nice…can be dressed up or down – I wear it a lot
1 pair skinny jeans from J. Crew
10 pair underwear and 3 bras from Victoria’s Secret (this really is too much information, isn’t it?)
2 pair pajama pants (Victoria’s Secret and Fat Face (a Christmas gift)
1 pajama top
1 night gown (Victoria’s Secret of course)
1 pair Tieks black flat ballet shoes – these are not as comfortable on cobblestones as I want them to be but they are very versatile and cute) Next time I will opt for more comfortable – hopefully whatever I find will still be cute as well.
1 pair Sanuk flip flops – great as shower shoes when needed
1 pair slippers purchased for £ 2 at Ikea (thank you, Sam!) – my best purchase while traveling
1 pair waterproof Merrell hiking shoes
1 pair Birkenstock sandals
1 black Patagonia winter jacket – I’m very happy with this. It is light, takes up very little space and keeps me warm.
1 dark teal Columbia raincoat – keeps rain AND wind out….very helpful
1 winter hat
1 pair gloves
1 hiking hat
1 bathing suit
2 pairs hiking socks – these are wearing out now. I will need new ones very soon.
1 pair black tights
8 pair black socks - I have too many socks. I need more hiking socks and fewer other socks
1 Micheal Kors small purse big enough for my phone and passport
3 scarves – 2 colorful ones and 1 black one that goes with everything
My computer and phone are very important as they make it possible for me to teach and for us to operate our business from the road. I greatly appreciate being able to stay connected. Greg is in charge of the chargers and plugs. Adapters are all we need. No heavy converters needed for these devises. (Note: UK and European plugs differ from ours and from each other.) I brought my external hard drive too.
I brought our checkbook and a list of all my computer passwords so that I can access what I need as we travel. I have a good book to read. When I finish one, I leave it and buy another. I like a real book. I might have to go with a Kindle someday but for now, I still really like flipping real pages of a good book.
Toiletries and other items:
You know those pretty little bags you get when you buy make up and they give you a free gift or those flannel bags you sometimes get when you buy winter pajamas? I use these to hold my toiletries. Here’s a list of what I take with me to feel comfortable on the road:
Make up, nail polish (although I haven’t used the nail polish even once)
Face wash, Q-tips, cotton balls, dental floss, lotion – when I run out, I buy more
Perscription medications – I brought enough for 9 months…stupid high blood pressure and arthritis in the neck – that’s why we are traveling now….who knows what health issues we may encounter later?
Jewelry -- just a few earrings and necklaces. They don't take up much space and make me feel dressed up.
Vitamins and calcium – when I run out, I buy more. The calcium in Poland is very different – it’s like alka selzer – you drop it in water and it fizzes…..I didn’t know that and the first time I ate one it was like old fashioned pop rocks (but the taste was not as good)
Shampoo, Conditioner – small containers – when I run out, I buy more
Razors – I replace these as I go, too
A comb and hair gel – I don’t travel with a hair dryer or curling iron (can you tell?)
Eye glasses, contacts, saline, sun glasses, reading glasses
A candle and a lighter in case a room needs freshening up (thank you, Chelsea)
Dryer sheets in case pillow cases need freshening up – not needed often but it sure is nice to have it when they ARE needed!
Pencils and pens and a pencil sharpener (the sharpener was a Christmas gift!)
A laundry rope for when we wash underwear and socks in the sink
Nice, good smelling hand cream – it makes me feel nice even when I’m wearing the same thing I’ve worn for the last 7 months!
Ear plugs and eye cover in case things get loud and/or bright. These are also handy when flying
Zip lock bags to hold different currencies.
Really nice headphones -- I love these but they are too big - I need ear buds next year
My luggage is a Samsonite Silouette roller bag and I have an Osprey Tempest 30 backpack. The roller bag is too big to take on a Ryan Air or an Easy Jet plane so I have to check it – but we check 1 bag between the two of us, so that’s not too bad. Greg’s backpack is small enough to double as a daypack when we hike and he has a Camelback 2.5 liter bladder that fits into the backpack as well. We use that when we go hiking for any distance.
That’s it!! I still get up early to pack when I need to but when you pack less to begin with, the process is much easier. I’m always very careful to do a good sweep of the rooms where we’ve been staying to make sure I haven’t left anything. I like to be careful about doing this. So far the only thing I’ve really lost was my hat and gloves on a train. I somehow left them on the seat. I tried to get back on the train to retrieve them but everyone else was trying to find their seats. Greg was already on the platform and I was afraid the train would take off with me on it – so I got off and left my hat and gloves. Greg had an extra pair of each so I haven’t even had to buy new ones. He’s nice like that.
Like Greg, there is still room in my bag to fit a bottle of wine or two in if need be. I am very happy not to have any more every time we move from place to place and I really do have too much even though it’s just one small suitcase and a backpack. I will leave some of the clothes and unused toiletries (nail polish?) behind next year. Every time we walk from a train or a plane or a subway station to our destination with our bags, I’m very glad I’m not lugging around more stuff. I sometimes see people hauling giant suitcases around and I’m thankful not to be one of them.
I think the best idea is to begin with a small suitcase (and in our case, a backpack as well) and only pack what fits inside. It’s amazing what you can do without and if you really need something, you can probably buy it as you travel. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, it’s worth considering how Europeans are able to survive without it. That gives a whole new meaning to the level of importance we place on our “things.”
One last note on feeling pretty while on the road. I probably have an unpopular attitude toward this as my first thought on the subject is to simply lower your standards. I have gotten a haircut several times while traveling but you never quite know how things will turn out when you walk into a salon – especially when you can’t speak the language (as happened in Italy). I’ve had great luck with haircuts, actually – but I’m waiting until I get back to Ohio to get new color/highlights – or maybe I’ll just try to embrace the grey…I haven’t decided. We’re on a budget so I haven’t wanted to spend money on my hair or my nails or add anything pretty to my suitcase. That said, hopefully my new experiences, fresh perspectives and increased knowledge and understandings add to my appearance in a way that I can’t get from hair color. Or maybe I should just keep wearing a hat – you tell me!
In March we got to take care of a beautiful golden Labrador and her sweet mother on the grounds of Highclere Castle. You may know Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey. Several years ago when I was caught up in this great PBS drama series, I never in a million years thought that I would get to see it – let alone walk on the grounds surrounding it for a month and meet some of the caretakers of this important, historical and beautiful building and its grounds. It was an extraordinary experience! We even got to meet and enjoy the company of Lord and Lady Carnarvon. We were so struck with how lovely and down to earth they are. They have been entrusted with the stewardship of their family estate and they are doing a remarkable job in extraordinary times.
I encourage you to look up Lady Carnarvon’s blog and check out her beautiful books. She writes with heart about her home – and it really is a home that they share with the world so that it is ensured of a future. In today’s modern world, an estate like this has to be run as a business in order to survive. To do that while recognizing that it is a family home and those who are employed there are part of the family is difficult, yet rewarding.
Our days were spent working, walking the dogs, visiting and venturing out on side trips from time to time. One day we visited Oxford because the only other time we had been there it was much too brief a visit. This time it was still too short, but we did spend an entire day and enjoyed a great walking tour that gave us some historical context. It is staggering to stand in the place where respected names from the past have also stood and ponder their significance in world history. It was here that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien wrote and Charles Wesley practiced his Christian habits that developed into Methodism.
Back at Highclere, we were impressed with the trees on the grounds. We learned that enormous evergreens scattered about are Cedar of Lebanon. They were first brought to the area a couple centuries back and seem to grow exceedingly well in the area.
There are several "Follies" on the grounds as well. Follies were structures built in the 17th and 18th centuries as decorative elements in large gardens or grounds. They are often built to resemble Roman ruins and rarely served any practical purpose. We re-watched some episodes of Downton Abbey and spied the follies in the background. They take on much more meaning now that we've been there. Our daily walks often took us by the Temple of Diana and Heaven's Gate.
In a similar way to how the characters in Downton Abbey support one another, Highclere Castle’s people form a lovely community that sincerely cares for each other while respecting and appreciating their history and traditions. We shared coffee with the gardener and walked dogs with a sweet widow woman who has lived there for 47 years as her husband was employed on the estate. We met the most remarkable people while we were there and enjoyed just a taste of the real Downton Abbey. It was pretty amazing to be a small part of Highclere's community for a few weeks and we are so grateful to everyone for their kindness and generosity while we were there!
We spent the month of February in The New Forest in southern England, known for its heathland, forest trails and beautiful coastline. The New Forest is certainly not new. It was once the royal hunting grounds for William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England, who ruled from 1066 to 1087. I know you’re not here for a history lesson, but I’d say that’s pretty old – and it was a hunting grounds even before that. The New Forest is in Hampshire, about an hour and a half southwest of London and includes England’s newest National Park. We didn’t think it felt much like a forest in the way we think of a forest. There were places where there were beautiful trees – even big trees like redwoods and sequoia – but mostly the trails were flat and went through some wooded areas but there were lots of open areas as well. It just wasn’t forested in the way we anticipated; we sort of had to adjust our expectations of the area to get the most out of it. We ended up having a great experience.
We were there on another WorkAway, this time at The Thatched Cottage in Brockenhurst, right in the middle of the New Forest. Our experience there was interesting for many different reasons. These are a few of the things we learned while volunteering at a B&B/Tea Room/Gin bar in the New Forest for a month in exchange for room and board:
1) Ponies are everywhere and they literally stop traffic!
The New Forest ponies have been roaming freely throughout the woods for about 2000 years! There are around 3000 of these ponies. They are wild in the sense that they wander freely but they are actually owned by New Forest Commoners, people who occupy land and have certain rights, including the right to graze ponies, donkeys and cattle on the Open Forest. There is a whole system set up to make sure they are well taken care of but mostly they take care of themselves. It is really fun to walk down the road and see ponies or donkeys just walking down the street or nibbling on the shrubs and trees anywhere and everywhere.
2) Volunteering with other WorkAwayers can be incredibly rewarding and humbling
Our tasks included making up guest rooms (think: changing beds and cleaning toilets), serving breakfast, working in the tea room, doing handyman jobs around the property (full disclosure – this was all Greg…. I am not very handy) and working the Gin Bar. I will say that it was quite humbling to be cleaning toilets in exchange for my lodging. It gave me lots of time to think about this kind of travel experience. It wasn’t that big a deal to clean the rooms – I mean, I cleaned my house (when I had one) and that was much harder because I didn’t clean it as frequently as you clean hotel rooms. But I have much more respect for housekeeping staff now. It is a very physical job. It also feels odd that we are in our 50s and we have graduate degrees but we were cleaning guest rooms. In that sense, it was humbling. But it’s all about the total experience and the thing that really made it all rewarding was working with the other WorkAway volunteers. They were all in their 20s (like our own children and many of our students) and they were incredible – from France, Italy and Germany, all there to improve their English language skills. How courageous! It’s hard learning a new language, but they understand the importance of knowing English and made it happen for themselves. We enjoyed working with these people so much. It was very communal. At the end of every day, we traded off making a meal for all the others and then we all cleaned up together. These are remarkable, well educated, hard working young people with amazing attitudes. They give us confidence in our future.
3) The New Forest villages have a real sense of community
Because we were in Brockenhurst for a month, we got to participate in the life of the community in a way that we would not have been able to do by visiting as a tourist. We went to the butcher and the baker, we saw school children getting lunch at Tesco, and we participated in the pancake flipping race on Shrove Tuesday. It was so much fun! It made me think of Stephenville and all the community and school events we have participated in over the years. Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday and is a day to clean out the cupboards before lent begins, so you make pancakes with all those ingredients. Our cook at the hotel made us pancakes (really lovely and delicious crepes – American pancakes would have been easier to flip) and there were different teams, mostly made up of children but we were “competing” against another hotel in town and members of the local Women’s Institute. Our team was in a relay. Members of the team ran the length of the street and flipped their pancakes at the marked spot and then kept on running and turned the skillet over to the next member of the team. It was a riot! There was a young boy there who desperately wanted to participate but he had no team so he ran in my spot. He was adorable. We came in 2nd! Silver medal winners of the pancake race in Brockenhurst. What fun! Who knew we would get to do anything like this?
4) Everyone should visit Winchester and The Isle of Wight
We had 2 days off each week so we were tourists on those days. We absolutely loved visiting Winchester, which was the capital of England before William the Conqueror moved it to London. Winchester Cathedral was amazing – it has its roots in the 7th century. Many Saxon kings are buried here and jumping ahead many centuries, so is Jane Austen. We also visited the “Great Hall” which is the largest unrestored medieval banqueting hall in the country, built by William the Conqueror. “King Arthur’s Round Table” is on the magnificent wall of the hall and makes quite an impression, even though carbon dating shows it to be from the 1400s, too new for King Arthur’s time. Winchester College, one of the oldest private schools in England, is incredible to walk through. We will have to go back to take a tour next time.
The Isle of Wight is absolutely gorgeous. We took the train and then the ferry and then a bus to get to Newport where we stayed overnight so we could really spend some time on the island. Hiking from the Needles to Freshwater Bay was fantastic even though the weather was grey. The next day was better and we went from Brighstone along the coast facing the chalky cliffs, then inland to the Long Stone at Mottistone and then down to the Sun Pub for a pint. We could have easily spent a week hiking on the Isle of Wight. Check out Tin Box Traveller’s great info on the Isle of Wight with Kids for suggestions on traveling there with your family.
5) We like gin
Greg and I got to work the Gin Bar at the Thatched Cottage and we had so much fun. The owners also have a yachting business and were in the Caribbean at the end of our time in Brockenhurst so we got to run the Gin Bar. There were over 70 gins on the bar and we made gin and tonics and served flights of gin so guests could try several gins at a time. We learned so much about gin and about serving while working the Gin Bar! We loved it! One night we got slammed and it was so much fun to have all the other WorkAwayers come help us out even though it wasn’t their shift. It was team-work in action and I think all our guests left very happy with their service. We loved it – and we know a LOT more about gin than we did before we arrived!
We spent the next 5 days in London and had an amazing time. We got to see 3 shows: The York Realist (starring our friend from the cruise in October, Lesley Nicol), Long Day’s Journey into Night starring and Jeremy Irons and Hamilton! We also went to multiple museums, ate great food, visited historic and new wine shops and walked and walked in the snow and ice. We love London and never seem to get enough of it.
So, it was a rewarding time in the New Forest. An unexpected place to be for a month, made truly special by the people we met, as is the case with travel, wherever we go.
We have spent most of the month of January in Bristol helping Chelsea and Sam get set up in their new flat. How awesome that we had the chance to do this! We have always wanted to live abroad. We are now doing our best to make it happen in our own way by bouncing around from country to country which is great, but I always thought it would be terrific if we could really settle in and feel like/ become a local. We have been living vicariously through Chelsea and Sam as we looked for apartments and then got to help them move in and make the place their own. We feel like we got to actually live here for the last month and it’s been fun to explore this interesting and ancient city as if it were indeed our home.
They have been living in Copenhagen for the last year and a half and they absolutely loved it; but they are really excited about living in a place that is a little less expensive and where English is the native tongue. They also love that they can still travel inexpensively throughout Europe with Bristol as their home base. They moved to Bristol without ever having been there. Sam’s job helped pay for their move but shipping all their belongings would have been expensive – beyond what the company would cover. It was cheaper for them to sell nearly everything they owned in Copenhagen and buy what they needed for the apartment once they got to Bristol. It was quite a job!
So, we spent a lot of time at IKEA! We had a rental car for a while which was very helpful for transporting purchases from the store to the flat. But Bristol is a very walkable city and the transit system is good so you don’t really need a car. After we returned the car it was a whole new experience to shop at IKEA. We walked 10 minutes to the bus stop, rode the double decker and then called an Uber for the ride back with all the new gear. It worked quite well! We would never have needed to go to IKEA if we were just traveling through instead of living like a local for a month.
The apartment is in the part of the city called Southville, in a building that used to be a church. It is so cool and we loved getting to know the neighborhood. This part of Bristol is such a great, up and coming area. It’s a little funky with lots of street art and roads that are filled with unique shops with great local food stores, coffee shops, pubs and restaurants. Getting groceries is so much fun. It’s not like going to the local supermarket in a minivan. One night we went to the butcher, the baker, the green grocer, a local deli and a Tesco Express (a tiny grocery store) to get everything we needed to make dinner. Taking bags is imperative. In order to limit the amount of plastic bags that get thrown away, most stores charge you if you need plastic bags when you check out (it's the law for chain stores). Walking back to the apartment can be a work out carrying all your groceries! It’s a great way to shop – just enough for a day or two and only as much as you can carry. The refrigerator is much smaller than the standard size in the States so you don’t have much room for more, anyway. We had some amazing meals in that apartment. The other great way to get groceries is to order them online and have them delivered to your door for free! This makes it so easy to function without a car. Waitrose delivery is awesome! I never would have known this was possible if I were only traveling as a tourist.
We loved taking advantage of the historical and cultural aspects of this great city too. One afternoon we visited the stunning St. Mary Redcliffe Church, which happens to be located right across the street from Sam's work. People have been worshipping on the site of the Church for over 900 years and the sanctuary is absolutely glorious. We also did a little self guided street art tour. There’s loads of street art all over Bristol – Banksy is from here and has left his mark all over town. We attended a concert at Colston Hall by The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and it was truly spectacular. We toured the SS Great Britain, a former passenger steamship that changed the course of shipbuilding when it was launched in 1843. On Saturday we went to the movies. It was in the fabulous Everyman Theater with couches and drinks delivered right to your seat. We saw The Darkest Hour, all about Churchill during World War II. My parents, who lived through World War II, loved Churchill and when I was growing up they told me about his inspiring radio broadcasts. It was a moving experience to see this poignant film in Bristol, England, where parts of town that were bombed during the blitz are memorialized and the legacy of the last world war still resonates in a powerful way, even today.
So this was our best “workaway” experience so far! It was great to be with Chelsea and Sam and get to know their new city in a way that we could not have done as tourists. We are so fortunate to have had the chance to travel like a local in a fascinating and important city that doesn’t even make it into many guidebooks.
We love that you are traveling with us, “virtually,” on our latest adventures. Thanks for reading our blog and continuing to catch up with us. We started a “catch up” blog last time and continue here. These are some more of the things we have been able to do in the past few months because we are traveling for an extended time. There are also a few musings and observations along the way --
Joined Chelsea, Sam and their friends for a weekend in Riga, Latvia
Chelsea and Sam and their friends planned to go Riga, Latvia for a long weekend in November and they invited us to join them. How cool is that?? For one thing – they invited us to come along, which was awesome. For another, we were in a position to do so! Again – that in itself is so cool! Our flight from Milan to Riga was $185 on RyanAir for the both of us and our luggage. Our modest but absolutely fine accommodations the first night were $25 in a guesthouse and our “fancy” lodging after everyone else arrived was $75 a night. Really good beer was about $18 for a 3-liter pitcher (note to self: be careful when trying to keep up with 20 somethings drinking beer). Riga was SO cool – it is located on the Baltic Sea, used to be part of the USSR, has an incredibly interesting and challenging history, beautiful architecture and some great food! We even visited a striking and fascinating Orthodox Cathedral and the KGB museum. This was such an unanticipated and terrific weekend. We feel so lucky to get to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities.
Spent 10 days on an island on the Thames
We did a Workaway on an island on the Thames about an hour west of London. This turned out to be amazing. Our host was absolutely wonderful and could not have been more kind and gracious. We really did arrive as Workawayers and leave as friends. We built shelves in her attic and organized its contents, posted items for sale on Ebay, did some cooking and baking, oiled furniture, scrubbed the porch and even got to lead a wine tasting with some of her friends! We stayed in her beautiful home and woke up every morning looking out over this historic river as the sun rose in the sky. We went kayaking on the Thames, rode bikes to Hampton Court Palace (which was AMAZING!), enjoyed a pint or two at The Red Lion, walked every day and spent two days and a night in London. This was an absolutely remarkable experience. We hope to return!
Enjoyed an early Thanksgiving in Copenhagen
Last year was the first year that Chelsea was not home for Thanksgiving. They celebrated in Copenhagen with friends and it was awesome – but not the same. This year we got to be with them for “Friendsgiving!” It was sad to be without David – harder than I expected it to be. He was happy and had a really nice Thanksgiving with friends in NYC, but I did miss having the whole family together. But Chelsea and Sam’s friends welcomed us to a fabulous feast, mostly prepared by Chelsea (and us!). We had so much fun shopping and chopping, cooking and baking, and sharing all the carefully and lovingly prepared dishes. It was very odd to be the senior members of this festive gathering. All the dishes prepared in Chelsea and Sam’s apartment were transported to the host’s house in a Christiania bike. It was awesome! Our host’s apartment was on the top floor of a beautiful old building overlooking the lakes and fabulous rooftops. It was an amazing view. I never expected to be in Copenhagen for Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for.
Looked for Apartments in Bristol for Chelsea and Sam
Chelsea and Sam are moving to Bristol, England! Sam’s job is moving him to the U.K. in December. They had to give up their passports in order to get their visas and were not able to travel to look for housing – so they asked us to be their eyes and ears for them. We had so much fun! Over the course of 3 days we looked at 12 flats – each one was unique with its own idiosyncrasies, pros and cons. The Bristol real estate market is moving very rapidly and some apartments we looked at in the morning were already taken by the afternoon. They decided on a fantastic new flat in a building that used to be a church. It’s called “The Parish” and is located in Southville, south of the center of town but within easy walking and biking distance. We are so excited for them and will even get to help them move in. We can’t wait!
Housesitting in Wiswell, England in the Ribble Valley
We just finished housesitting in Wiswell, England, in the Ribble Valley. This has been such an unexpected delight. We are taking care of a beautiful home and 3 dogs. The landscape is glorious. The area is fascinating. And the people are so nice it’s unbelievable. We have hiked, walked the dogs, caught up on work and correspondence, traveled through the Trough of Bowland to Lancaster, toured Lancaster Castle (which was a prison until 2011), drove to York and visited the inspiring and historic Minster and frequented local pubs where we’ve made several new friends! If you want to find out more about how we set this up check out Trusted Housesitters.
I have to say something here about how much we stand out like a sore thumb. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. In Italy, we had a definite language barrier and sometimes we would find that we would be very tentative about approaching people simply because we didn’t have the words we needed to say what we wanted to say. This could be in a train station, in a store or on the street. If we spoke Italian it was quickly evident that it’s not our first language and we had limited words. Well, here we are in Merry Ol’ England and all of a sudden we can speak! We have language in common and can use all our words again! It’s a revelation! But I think we stand out even MORE here, especially in the north of England. It is SO funny. The minute we open our mouths people literally say “you talk funny” or “you’re not from around here” or “what part of the States are you from?” I don’t think they get many American tourists in this area and we are a bit of a novelty. But consequently, we strike up the most interesting conversations. When we bought some meat at the market the other day we got unsolicited advice from 3 different people on how to cook it, where to get herbs we were looking for and thoughts on an amazing wine shop (Byrne’s – it IS amazing!). People are lovely and warm and inviting and welcoming.
Even though we are a long way from home and we don’t even know where “home” is anymore, the people we meet make life special. We are truly grateful for this chance to travel and rediscover that the more we learn about others the more we find that we are all the same. We love our families and children and friends and care deeply about one another.
And with that, we are relatively up to date! Stay tuned for our next blog which will be from the Lake District in the UK. Please help us by sharing our website and our blog with friends and family and anyone interested in travel. Make comments below and on our Facebook page. We need feedback! Is this what you like to hear? Would you like us to write about anything else in particular? Give us your thoughts and ideas! Come travel with us to Italy if you are able or share the idea with others who might be interested. We want to share what we are doing with anyone and everyone and we need your assistance to do that. Thanks in advance for all you do!
OK everyone, we have just gotten too far behind on our blog posts! We are going to play some catch up so that we can write more about what we are doing currently vs what we have done. I hope that’s OK with you! We will do these “catch up” blogs in 2 different posts. Thank you so much for following our travels. We are really having a blast and we love taking you along with us.
We are staying REALLY busy! I spend quite a bit of time on my classes most days and we are both working on Euro Travel Coach which is so much fun! We of course take care of any projects our Workaway host may have for us and then we do our very best to explore wherever we happen to be at the moment. It’s busy – and awesome!
One thing I want to mention is not something we have done but something I have noticed. It is a very strange feeling to be in the position of not really needing to buy anything at all. There are necessities of course – things like toothpaste and deodorant – but as far as things for the house or clothes, we don’t even need to look! We have no place to carry anything extra. I need a sweater soon because it’s getting cold (can you say Christmas gift?) but if I get something new I have to discard something I am currently carrying in my suitcase and backpack. It’s just very interesting to strip yourself down to the essentials and not be “in the market” for much of anything.
Alright – now on to glimpses into special opportunities we have enjoyed over the past 3 months we have been traveling. This style of travel has allowed us to relax our typical kind of schedule and be more spontaneous exploring each area. We’ve been able to take advantage of where we are and create itineraries as we go rather than planning very far ahead. These are some of the things we have taken the opportunity to do because we are traveling for an extended time:
We went on a Viking Cruise!
This was nuts. Through a very good friend we were invited to go on a “shakedown” cruise with Viking Cruises through the Adriatic – for free. I know it sounds insane, and it is, but this was truly amazing. This was Greg’s first cruise. I had gone on 2 cruises in the past with my mom. It isn’t our usual style of travel, but if you would like to travel the world in style, luxury and ease, we can now highly recommend Viking Cruises. It was amazing! We started in Venice and stopped at Ravenna & Ancona, Italy (see video on the “float out” of the Viking Orion that we got to attend); Kotor, Montenegro; Sibenik, Croatia; Rijeka, Croatia; Koper, Slovenia and back to Venice. It was absolutely an incredible experience. We had an extra bonus when we returned to our original port. We planned an itinerary for friends we hadn’t seen in over 25 years and actually got to meet them in Venice on our return as they began their Italian travels. It was awesome!!
Went hiking in the Italian Alps
While we were staying at the winery we got to go hiking in the Maira Valley. Piedmont means “foot of the mountain” and the Alps were only about 2 hours away. We could see them from the vineyard. They were absolutely glorious! We stayed at a mountain pensione in Vernetti in the Marmora region called La Marmu. It was 64 Euro per person per night including room, dinner and breakfast. Our first hike took us high above the village where we started. On our way up we heard some sort of bells. Looking down into the valley we saw that the bells were coming from cows being moved from the mountain pastures down to the valley for the winter. It was so cool! We also hiked to Lago Nero. It was a great hike! Absolutely gorgeous. We followed the directions that our host gave me in French – and we did our best looking at the map. We found the trailhead without any problem. There were very few people hiking. It was really hard to see where the trail would go but we kept going up and up and up. We made it to the lake with glorious mountains all around. There were a few people there but not a lot. It’s a small lake, beautiful green color. As we headed out on the trail on the other side of the lake to make a loop (and not return on the same path), there was a man roasting chestnuts over a fire! He gave us a couple and they were absolutely delicious and such an unexpected treat!
Took a Practice Trip for Our Small Group Trip to Tuscany in May
Greg, Chelsea and I spent a week in Tuscany checking out all the restaurants, wineries, hikes, guides and our villa for our small group trip to Tuscany in May. It was VERY difficult work and we take it very seriously! Actually, we do take it seriously but we had so much fun. We are really excited about the trip and are doing our part to make sure it is a terrific experience for our all guests. We are going to take great care of everyone and it will be a blast!! If you’ve been following the blog and the website, you probably know all about the trip already. If you don’t, let me invite you to check out our itinerary here and consider joining us, Tour of Tuscany We only have room for 2 more people each week.
Ate dinner and stayed HIša Franko
Are there any Chef’s Table fans out there?? When we realized that we were going to be only 4 hours away from Hiša Franko by car we decided to simply make plans to go to this remarkable restaurant in Slovenia. You can see the episode that turned us on to this special place here. It turned out to be such an amazing experience – the tasting menu and wine pairing, yes…unbelievable – but we absolutely loved Kobarid, Slovenia overall! We had an incredible hike in the mountains, experienced unanticipated holidays (see the blog post here) and an unbelievable meal matched with all Slovenian wines. It is amazing that we got to have this experience.
Alright! Be sure to stay tuned for Part II of Catching up with the Vagabond! The post should come out later this week.
Several people have asked what we did while we were on the vineyard. We have answered some of those questions in prior posts but we’ll try to wrap it up with this one.
First I have to say we got exactly what we were looking for in our month on the winery. We started harvesting grapes on the first day and were involved in many aspects of the wine making process. We also learned a great deal about living on a winery and in the Piemonte region of Italy. Our hosts Ursula and Marcello were gracious and patient as we tried to understand everything we could about it all. The other WWOOFERs we worked with were all interesting, hard working individuals. The whole experience was outstanding!
What follows is a somewhat annotated list of all the things we did during our stay. Betsy is keeping a very good journal of our whole trip so this is pretty accurate accounting of it all.
Work related to wine
· Picked grapes for three days
See Our First Harvest in Piedmont for more on this
· Helped with the de-stemming machine
Grape bunches went into this rotating machine which spit out the stems. The grapes were pumped into the primary fermentation tanks to ferment on the skins for the next couple of weeks.
· Power washed grape baskets
· Power washed de-stemmer
· Helped pasteurize and cap 48 bottles of Sauser
Sauser is a very low alcohol grape juice pulled from the primary fermentation tank after only a day or two. It is the sweetest, most intense grape juice I’ve ever tasted. Marcello decided he wanted to bottle some this year. He has a small pasteurizing machine and my beer making background came in handy as I capped all the bottles.
· Assembled boxes for wine
· Helped label almost 2000 bottles of wine and filled said boxes
Marcello doesn’t label his bottles until he’s ready to sell them, often ten or more years after harvesting. They do all their own marketing and distribution and sell most of their wine in Switzerland, where they are from.
· Helped press grapes
After the grapes have spent enough time in the primary, they are moved, by gravity, to the press. The grapes are pressed and the juice is pumped into the secondary where they stay until the fermentation is complete. The skins have so little moisture left in them they are almost completely dry. We collected them into giant bags which are sold for the production of grappa.
· Power washed grape press
· Cleaned cellar and drains
This turned into quite the ordeal. The winery has a drain running down the middle of the rooms so when you power wash the equipment the water just drains out. During the busy harvest time this drain had gotten clogged with grapes. When we went to clean it out it seemed there was a clog in the drain underground outside. We dug up connections trying to locate the spot. My arm was purple from reaching up a pipe to try and clear it! It ended up we found the pipe was broken in a couple spots and we ended up digging it all out and replacing it with bigger, stronger pipe.
· Stuffed 0ver 800 envelopes for direct marketing to clients - A really important part of the business.
Work related to the farm
· Helped with meals-a lot!
Betsy especially helped in the kitchen. We had three home cooked meals a day. In the whole time we were there we went out to eat twice. One of my favorites was the focaccia bread which was cooked in a big cast iron skillet on the stove top. The dough filled the whole skillet and when it was brown on one side it was just flipped over to finish it. No baking necessary!
· Harvested various fruits, vegetables, and herbs
Betsy again did most of this. She enjoys the meditative act of picking fruit. See her descriptions in Top 10 Lessons from the Vineyard.
· Pruning, weeding, and planting in the flower gardens
· Helped make a homemade anise liquor
Ursula did a lot of her own preserving in various ways. We often had her homemade jams, pickled vegetables, and dried fruit at the table. This particular venture was a red wine based liquor that included fennel seeds and grain alcohol.
· Picked, pruned, and chopped herbs for a year’s supply of herb salt
This project took several of us three days taking turns on mezzalunas chopping herbs to make several pounds of herbed salt. Ursula uses it all year long to flavor soups, meat, salads…almost everything she cooks.
· Cleared a fence line
· Burned several piles of brush
This was a little unsettling since it hadn’t rained in two months and the brush piles were surrounded by dry grass and close to wooded areas. I became known as Greg the Fireman.
· Extracted seeds from tomatoes, tomatillos, and cactus for planting next year
· Harvested peppers and strung them on thread to be dried
· Sharpened knives and pruning clippers
· Picked and pruned grape vines near the house
· Stacked wood-a lot!
They use wood to heat the house in the winter. They use everything so we stacked everything from cut and chopped hard woods to scrap lumber and old grape vines.
· Harvested hazelnuts
· Screened compost
My least favorite job, screening out rocks, etc. from several years old sheep manure. It was then used in the garden.
· Cleared vines off buildings
· Sanded tables from tasting room
· Sprayed flowers with organic soapy water
· Raked leaves and cleaned up the areas around the house
· Spread leaves and clipping in the vineyard
The Perks-Other things we got to do!
As I mentioned earlier, Ursula and Marcello are fantastic, gracious hosts. On weekends they took us to neighboring cities to enjoy markets and things or loaned us their car so we could go explore on our own. Here are some of the things we got to experience thanks to their generosity.
· Treated to a wonderful dinner to celebrate the harvest
This was at a marvelous agriturismo. See more in Our First Harvest in Piedmont.
· Visited the Alba Market
· Hiked from La Morra, to Barolo, to Monforte, to the winery
On our first weekend after harvest, Marcello took us into Alba to see the market while he attended to some business. Then on the way back to Dogliani he dropped us off in La Morra. We hiked from there to Barolo, Monforte, and finally back to the winery. We hiked about 15 kilometers that day through vineyards and visited friends we’ve made on prior trips.
· Visited Cuneo
· Went on a cruise!
Again, the graciousness of our hosts. We had committed to a whole month at the vineyard but then a few weeks out we were offered the opportunity to take a Viking Cruise in the Adriatic…for free. When we contacted Ursula about this she told us no problem! More on this adventure in a future post!
· Went to the Market in Bra
· Tour and tasting at Rivetto Winery
An amazing visit. Go check them out if you are in the area.
· Lunch at Shciavenza
· Did laundry
This a luxury on the road. Loved the drying racks!
· Treated to dinner at pizzeria in Dogliani
This place was awesome. Literally dozens of pizzas to choose from all quickly cooked in wood fired ovens.
· Visited the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Polenzo
The home and headquarters of the Slow Food movement.
· Got saline, Q-tips, and a haircut
Again, shopping for necessities is a luxury on the road.
· Drove to Maira Valley and hiked the Italian Alps
This was amazing. Ursula made arrangements for us to stay in a B&B in the mountains. They loaned us their car and we spent two glorious days hiking in the Alps. This will probably show up in a future blog as well.
· Shopped the market in Dogliani
One of our goals in taking this trip is to stay in places long enough to experience what it is like to live there, not just visit. On this trip to the market we felt at least a little bit of this. Technically, this was one of our duties for the winery. We went into town and picked up a bunch of produce for Ursula. We love going to the markets that move from town to town throughout the week and it was great to get to shop with the locals. We used our limited Italian and interacted with the vendors. We watched the locals to see how it was done and pushed our way to the front of the line to get the tomatoes we needed. We picked our chrysanthemums to plant in Ursula’s flowerbeds. I feel like we got at least a glimpse of what it is like to live in this region of Italy that we have come to love.
This was a life changing experience. Our fellow WWOOFERs were from Italy, Germany and Switzerland. Thanks to Mossimo, Eduardo, Warner, Thanks to Ursula and Marcello for making it happen for us.
If you have any questions about our time on the winery just leave a comment below!
“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
– Gustave Flaubert
We were really excited heading in to our first work exchange experience. We left Copenhagen in the morning on a train, headed to the south of Denmark. We weren’t sure what to expect. We were going to a winery for a week and had hoped to participate in a harvest and learn a bit about the wine making process. Our host did let us know that unfortunately there was no harvest this year – it had been too cool and rainy. But there would be other work for us. And hey – we were headed to an island in Denmark…. how bad could it be?
Getting there was quite a process. We took a train, then another train, then a bus and then a ferry…..and our host picked us up and took us to his home in a car. He gave us a quick tour of the island. It is filled with fruit – acres and acres of beautiful fruit…apples, plums, figs and berries that are absolutely succulent and delicious. About 450 people live on the island and there is one church and one little grocery store.
Our accommodations were in a small trailer around the corner from the house. It was probably 40 years old or so and had 1 electrical outlet that was jerry-rigged. The family has free-range chickens and geese, with all that that implies. The birds liked to go up on the table outside or gather in the walkway leading to the door to the house. They did what chickens and geese regularly do…..We used the bathroom facilities and internet in the main house and our host said that we should make ourselves at home while we were there. They were truly as nice as they could be -- husband and wife and 2 daughters in 6th grade and 1st grade.
We went out on bikes to explore the island. The beautifully kept church is right by the sea. We visited a little harbor and got a feel for our surroundings. They fed us a great dinner and we settled into the tiny trailer for the night, waiting to see what our work would be the next day.
The first things we got to do was to walk the dog. Then Greg started helping put siding on a renovation of a sunroom into a bedroom. He used a handsaw to cut the wood and screws to fasten the pieces to the wall. Life on the island is simple. When Greg asked about tools he was told that electric tools weren’t really needed for a job this small – you save time but then you’ve spent a lot of money and have extra time on your hands. If you need lumber or nails or tools from the hardware store, you have to go to the mainland to get it.
I got to go to their orchard and pick plums, which was great. It is very meditative work and if you get hungry, you can just eat a plum! It was a lovely day and the plums were absolutely delicious. There’s nothing like eating ripe fruit right off the tree. Some of the plums were too high for me to get so I stacked fruit crates together and stood on them to reach as high as I could. I didn’t have a ladder.
In the afternoon, I painted the ceiling in the addition until I ran out of paint. They would have to go to the mainland to get more paint to finish the ceiling. We took another bike ride after we were done with our work for the day. Our hosts invited some musician friends over for dinner who were on the island picking fruit as it apparently pays reasonably well, for fruit picking. They were from Italy, Spain and Greece. It was a very international table and they are interesting people.
The next day I walked the dog and pitted all the plums I had picked the day before and did some painting outside. Greg continued work on the renovation but really wished that he had different tools. We figured out how to download House of Cards onto our phone and watched an episode in the trailer before we went to sleep. The next day it rained, which made it hard to do outside work. We did what we could and then ended up in the living room of our host’s house, working on the computer. The day we arrived, they had slaughtered a goose and on this night, which turned out to be our last, they served it for dinner. We downloaded 3 episodes of House of Cards and watched them in the trailer during a giant storm that caused them to stop the ferry for the evening.
We didn’t feel like we were contributing as much as we wanted and the rain made it even harder. Our hosts were as nice as they could be but our accommodations were not what we expected. We anticipated modest sleeping and bathroom conditions and don’t require much, but it became uncomfortable after a few days. We wondered if it was a cultural thing. We asked ourselves if we are just too accustomed to cleanliness or if that a reasonable expectation. We really wanted to learn about wine and that just wasn’t in the cards on this occasion. Our hosts were very very nice -- they even baked us fresh, delicious bread on more than one occasion -- but we decided that we would cut our time on the island short and head back to Copenhagen to see Chelsea and Sam. It was a very interesting first work exchange experience. It gave us a lot to think about as we move forward in this way of life. It will be interesting to see how things go from here……stay tuned.