Time for our yearly wrap-up spotlighting some the highlights of our time in Europe over the last nine monthsRead More
Why do we travel? Sometimes I do miss having a home, a place to call my own, and a regular routine. I enjoyed working in a rewarding career, attending church, exercising consistently, making dinners and participating in a community. We definitely miss seeing our friends. But we travel to experience the world and all it has to offer. We travel to hopefully make a difference in some way -- to learn, to grow, to participate in the global community and meet the people on this remarkable planet. We want to understand and appreciate the different cultures of the world. We are doing this now because, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. If not now, when?Read 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
Travel clothes, gear, and gadgets. Find out what we added to our suitcases this year to make traveling easier and more comfortable.Read More
Returning to a place you’ve visited before has surprising rewards. In this post we talk about our return to the Barolo region in Piedmont and why you should consider visiting a favorite spot more than once.Read More
Volunteering to be bumped from a flight is a good way to earn travel vouchers for future travel. But sometimes there are consequences. Read more here.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.
Hey! It's Chelsea, one third of the Euro Travel Coach team and Betsy and Greg's daughter. You may remember me from my blog posts about the Azores and my mom's post about my wedding last summer. My husband Sam and I moved to Bristol, U.K. this past winter. Since moving, Sam has been traveling to London for work regularly and I’ve been known to tag along from time to time. Because he’s working, I spend the days exploring the city on my own. I find that it’s actually great fun to travel by myself as I get to set my own pace and do exactly what I want – be it attend a yoga class, spend a mere 10 minutes at a free museum, or stand in a ridiculously long line at a street food vendor. Here are a few of my favorite things to do while alone in London:
Go to Borough Market
Like any food lover who spends time in London, I adore Borough Market. There is an incredible selection of produce, cheese, meats, spices, and baked goods as well as a section dedicated to street food. I usually buy a few things to bring home (Kimchi! Salami! Sumac! Tiny tins of Maldon Salt!) and then have lunch at one of the street food stalls. I don’t even feel like I’ve been to London if I don’t go to Borough Market.
Pop into the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery
I love art, but I have a fairly short attention span, so museum fatigue is a very real thing for me. One of the best things about London is that many of the most popular museums in the city are free – so you can spend as little as 5 minutes in a museum and not feel an ounce of guilt. The National Gallery has an incredible impressionist collection, so I love popping in to marvel at Monet’s Water Lilies or Cézanne’s Bathers. The Portrait Gallery, on the other hand, offers lessons on U.K. history as it features paintings of nearly every important figure in British History, especially members of the royal family. I was woefully ignorant about the British Monarchy prior to moving to Bristol, so visiting the Portrait Gallery a few times has been a great education for me.
Walk between destinations rather than take the tube
When traveling with a group, I often feel pressure to get from point A to point B in as little time as possible; but when I’m on my own, I revel in walking. It’s such a great way to see parts of the city you never would if you always use public transportation or take cabs. Sam usually stays in a hotel near Euston Square – from that area, I love walking through Fitzrovia and Soho, maybe stopping at the British Museum or popping into a shop at Covent Garden on the way, then continuing over the Waterloo Bridge and along the river, passing by the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe, then working my way through the afore mentioned Borough Market, and finishing up with lunch at 40 Maltby Street or a pint at Fourpure (or Brew By Numbers if it’s a Saturday!).
Go for a run in Regent’s Park
Regent’s Park is home to a lovely rose garden, an open air theater, a zoo and more; but I love just going to people (and swan) watch. There are lovely wide running/walking paths and gorgeous flowers and landscaping, making it the perfect place to run off all the delicious food I always seem to eat when in London.
Have lunch alone at a popular restaurant
This is one of my favorite things to do in any city. When you’re traveling by yourself, you don’t have to worry about finding two seats next to each other – you can squeeze into a bar seat at restaurants that are typically booked up weeks in advance, or get seated quickly at popular no-reservation eateries. Some of my favorite restaurants in London include Kiln (small plate Thai food), Bao (Taiwanese steamed buns), and Honey & Co. (Middle Eastern cuisine).
Attend free Concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields
Every Tuesday and Friday, an up and coming artist gives a free lunchtime concert at the beautiful St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. They are always very good and not too long (usually around 45 minutes) making them the perfect break in the day. Regardless of whether there is a concert going on, I definitely recommend at least popping your head into the church – the architecture is stunning.
You can’t talk in a theatre, so why not go by yourself? I love going to see plays during the day, especially when it’s cold or rainy. I always want matinees to be cheaper than evening performances, but, sadly that’s not always the case. However, I do find that there’s typically a better selection of afternoon shows at the TKTS booth than evening shows, so you may be able to see something you wouldn’t be able to get a ticket to otherwise. Note that most productions do a matinee performance on Wednesdays only.
Go to a coffee shop or co-working space to work on Euro Travel Coach Small Group Trips, Custom Itineraries, and more
I love that I can do my job from anywhere! There are some lovely spaces to get work done in the city, my favorite being Timberyard Seven Dials for its lightning fast internet, massive tea selection, and delicious pastries.
London is such a fun, vibrant city to visit, and I’ve truly enjoyed getting to explore it on my own. As much as I love traveling with others, it can be just as much (and sometimes even more) fun to sightsee and dine by myself. Cheers to alone time!
Are you planning a trip to London or elsewhere in Europe? We can help with that! Are you planning a trip anywhere in Europe? We can help with that too! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, England and all of Europe. We also still have spots available on our small group trip to Tuscany and our small group trip to Piedmont! We'd love for you to join us! You can always reach Betsy at email@example.com. We would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!
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 are back in North America! We are closing the book on our first foray into long term travel in Europe, but only for the summer.. Greg and I flew back to the States at the end of May after an absolutely extraordinary year. We traveled throughout Europe for 9 months volunteering in exchange for room and board with workaway and WWOOFing, housesitting through TrustedHousesitters, hosting guests on Euro Travel Coach small group trips and traveling on our own to learn about places we had never been! We also got to visit with friends and family along the way which was incredible. Thank you so so much for following our adventures.
The last few weeks of our time in Europe were amazing. We hosted 19 travelers in Tuscany for Euro Travel Coach’s very first set of small group trips. We had an absolute blast and we hear from our guests that they had an AMAZING time as well! Expect more pictures and details to come in a future blog. Our next ETC trip to Tuscany is in March and we are thrilled to say it is FULLY BOOKED! Therefore, we are planning to lead another small group trip in May 2019. The itinerary will be very similar and you can see it here. If you would like to join us, please let me know ASAP as we hope spots sell out quickly for that one too.
We spent 10 days or so in Wooster, Ohio where we both grew up and where most of Greg’s family lives. It was so nice to see everyone. We had a series of appointments with doctors, dentists, optometrists and hairdressers to make sure we are healthy and looking – well – better, anyway. We went through piles of mail (we did our best to go paperless before we left….what happened?) Greg also got to play with his dad’s band while we were home, which is always very special. David even got to sit in on drums!
Our business is picking up and we are delighted! We have been working on custom itineraries to Zurich, Amsterdam, London, Paris and the Loire and having so much fun working with our clients. Sadly, I taught my last Tarleton class in May. I will really miss my students and colleagues. I loved sharing what I learned about international business with my students, but as Greg says, this will allow me more time to focus on Euro Travel Coach. We need our business to grow so that we can keep on traveling and sharing our experiences with all of you. Please tell everyone you know about us if they are at all interested in travel, Europe, culture and adventure. We’d love it if you could share info about our blog and our services (coaching, custom itineraries and small group trips). We need you to help us spread the word any way you can!!!
We will be at our lake house in Canada until mid-August. It is so much fun being here right now. Every time I look out at the dock or go to our friend’s cottages who hosted Chelsea and Sam’s reception I get to relive last summer’s wedding. I didn’t anticipate that and I am so grateful. It gives me such joy to know that my kids love the cottage and our very dear friends here who make it such a special place. It would make my mom and dad so very happy.
After last year’s flurry of selling our house in Texas and selling most of the contents, we’re having some trouble finding things and remembering where we put stuff. Most of what we have left is in a storage unit in Ohio. Our car was so full of things for the wedding last year that we didn’t have room for some items that we thought we would want at the lake. Since we’ve been traveling with 2 suitcases and 2 backpacks for 9 months, we find we really don’t need a whole lot to keep us going, and when we look at what’s in the storage unit we think “why did we keep that?” (Click to see how Betsy and Greg packed for a 9 month trip!) But some things I would like to find and I simply can’t remember where they should be. I imagine some day we will unpack the storage unit somewhere and find all kinds of goodies – and many things we really and truly don’t need. I don’t know when that will be. For now, we plan to stay at the lake for the summer and then travel to Europe again beginning in September.
We are working on our plans for the fall. We’ll spend a month doing a little traveling in the States. We’ll visit family in Wooster, visit David in Kentucky where he is part of Actor’s Theatre Louisville’s Professional Training Company for the next 9 months, visit friends, attend an amazing wedding and attend a TBEX conference for our business. Then we will fly back to Italy and start our year all over again! We can’t wait to see what adventures lie ahead! We will start back in Piedmont at the same winery where we picked grapes last year. Check out our blog about that here. We had such a great experience and made new friends there – we’re excited to return as experienced harvesters. They are even going to let us lead a tasting and take care of the winery when they are gone for a weekend in October. How cool is that? After our return to Piedmont we plan to go to Sicily for a while and then the book is wide open. We may go to Portugal for a while, we’ll definitely go visit Chelsea and Sam in Bristol, and who knows what else? It’s cool that now Workaway hosts sometimes contact US after seeing our profile online. We may meet up with some of those who have asked us to come volunteer with them. We have so many places yet to go and spots on our list we want to visit. It’s exciting to see what happens next.
In the meantime, we are so very happy to be at home in our cottage on our beautiful lake in Canada. It’s great to sleep in our very own bed, cook in our very own kitchen and work on Euro Travel Coach (ETC) from our kitchen table – or the dock – or wherever the mood strikes us! Be expecting upcoming blogs on our last month in Europe. We look forward to telling you about our time in Hungary, Tuscany, Verona and more. Let us know if we can help you with any of your travel plans. Please comment on the blog below and on Facebook, spread the word about ETC and stay in touch!
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.
I have had several people ask, “How did you pack for nine months?” Now that we’ve reached our halfway point I feel pretty comfortable sharing what I did. We’ve had everything from 90-degree days to below freezing weather. I don’t profess to be an expert, but I have learned a few things after multiple trips abroad. All I can do is tell you what I’ve done, admit a couple mistakes, and you can use what you like.
First, let me 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. Unless you want to be lugging around a giant case, this is just going to be a reality. Pick clothes that are comfortable, work together in several outfits, and aren’t prone to excessive wrinkling. Since I knew we were going to be going through all sorts of weather, I had to be even more selective. Here is an annotated list of what I packed. I’ve included manufacturers where I felt you may be interested. I’m not endorsed by any of them but when they have worked well, I’ll point them out.
2 t-shirts-black and grey - Banana Republic Pima Performance
Very comfortable, goes with anything
2 long sleeve t-shirts - One cotton, one polyester (Columbia)
Comfortable as it got cooler, also used for layering
2 short sleeve button downs - Banana Republic
Just a little dressier than a t-shirt
2 long sleeve button downs - Banana Republic Non-Iron
Work with jeans or nicer
2 pair shorts - Chaps
Warm weather musts
1 pair swim shorts - Columbia
For swimming, can also be worn as casual shorts
Double as work pants when needed
1 pair Chinos - Banana Republic
Can be casual or dressed up
Very packable, not too heavy for mild weather
1 rain coat - North Face
Can use as a wind-breaker layer on top of jacket
1 sport coat - Michael Kors
1 V-neck sweater
Good layer, light enough to wear under a jacket
1 pair pajama pants
Good for lounging in the evening
1 wide brimmed hat
Great for picking grapes in the sun
1 knit hat
1 pair gloves - Columbia glove liners w/touch
10 pair socks - 8 pair Wigwam hiking, 2 pair dress
8 pair underwear
2 belts-brown and black
1 pair of hiking shoes - Merrell All Out Blaze-waterproof
1 pair black dress shoes
1 pair shower sandals - Nike sliders
OK, that’s the bulk of it. You can see a lot of black and grey with a few splashes of color and earth tones. Things that may stick out that you may not see on other packing lists-dress pants, shirts and a jacket. I like to dress up when we go to a nice restaurant or a concert. I may not wear these as often as some of my other clothes but I am very happy when I have them. I also think it helps in not being treated as much like a tourist. Europeans dress up for an event, whether it is a nice dinner or a theatrical show. I like being able to “fit in” when we attend these types of events. I also wear the jacket when we travel from location to location. I think you make a better impression when you get on a plane or train looking decent. I believe you are treated better than if you show up in pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt. Call me old-fashioned but I’m sure it’s true.
Underwear. I’ve read some of these posts where people recommend very expensive silk or microfiber. Mine are cotton, Walmart’s finest. They are comfortable, dry just fine, and don’t cost $30 a pair. I’m fine with that.
The hiking socks however, make a big difference to me. I really like the Wigwam socks and they are much more affordable than many.
Shoes take up so much space. This is as minimal as I can get. My everyday/travel day shoes are my hiking shoes. They are also my waterproof hikers and good work shoes. My black dress shoes are comfortable, and pack tighter than the hiking shoes, dress up my jeans, and of course go with my dress pants and jacket. The sandals have come in handy for casual evenings, on the beach, by a hot tub, and in a questionable shower or two.
My winter stuff (coat, hat, scarf, gloves) stayed in the bottom of my bags for the first three months. Right now my shorts and short sleeve button downs are occupying that space.
As the weather got colder, I just started layering more and more. I also finally broke down and bought a warmer sweater and gloves. In the lake district we took some very windy, subfreezing hikes. Our coldest day was in the mid twenties, snow on the ground and wind whipping. Keeping my core warm, I layered a short sleeve tee, long sleeve tee, sweater, winter jacket and raincoat and I was fine. My hiking pants are rather thin but with my core warm, this worked as well.
Moving on to the other stuff.
1 toiletries bag
Toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, shaving cream, blah, blah blah
Sunglasses, reading glasses, prescription glasses…I’m old!
MacBook Air, iPhone, external hard drive, Bluetooth speaker and requisite cords
Just a few comments needed. Any liquids I have go in the toiletries bag. It a more permanent version of a zip lock and has worked going through security checks. The computer and phone keep us connected. The Bluetooth speaker gives us a little better sound quality than the computer or phone and helps make our rooms feel more like home. 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 flute to help me keep active musically. I’ve sat in with a couple bands, played at a couple gatherings of friends (with iReal Pro and the speaker), and just played to relax.
Finally my luggage. I have a Travelpro Maxlite 4 International carry on and an Osprey Talon 22 backpack. That’s it. I’ve carried them both on a plane. The backpack is small enough to double as a daypack when we hike. I also have a Camelback 2.5 liter bladder that fits into the backpack that I completely forget about…until we hike and then it comes in very handy.
That’s it. I can completely pack or unpack in just a few minutes. 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. We recently had a 30-minute walk to the train station. No worries. I see people lugging around these massive suitcases in the airports and train stations and I’m thankful not to be one of them. They are also probably only traveling for a week or two!
I have made some mistakes. I really like my chinos and the chambray shirt I bought to go with them. I can wear anything I have with the pants, however they look a little funny with hiking shoes. The shirt however, only goes with these pants. It just doesn’t work with jeans or dress pants. I also could probably have done without the brown belt.
I recently jettisoned a towel. It seemed like we might need it at some of our Work Away experiences, but after schlepping it around unused for four months, I finally donated it.
As I said earlier, I am not endorsing or being sponsored by any company. That being said, I would like to give a special shout out to Columbia. I think their products are fantastic, economical, constructed well, look good, and last for ever. There are days I feel like a walking Columbia ad. The first products of theirs we ever bought were winter jackets we got on sale for our first European trip in 1990. We finally got rid of those coats when we moved last May. They were still in great shape after years of travel and multiple ski trips, but I was sick of my kids making fun of us for having the same coats for so long. All the Columbia stuff I have now is no longer in their catalog. It just lasts and lasts. The only issue we’ve ever had with one of their products was a seam that ripped out of my son David’s winter jacket in NYC this year. They replaced it, no charge.
Well that’s it. I can’t say I’m not looking forward to wearing something else when I get home, but that’s still almost four months away! My suggestion to you is find a suitcase the size you feel comfortable with and don’t bring more than you can easily fit in it. Happy travels!
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.
I absolutely relish the challenge and adrenaline rush of trying to communicate in languages other than my own. We had so much fun in Italy doing our best to learn a little Italian and laughing at ourselves in the process. But we have been in the United Kingdom since the middle of November – you know…. England…where they speak ENGLISH, right?? This, of course, is my mother tongue. I expect to understand people, signs, communication and correspondence. My expectations continue to be dashed, however; and I am surprised, confused, and wonderfully amused by the differences between American and British English. We are having so much fun still laughing at words and terms that we don’t immediately understand even in our native language.
Going to the grocery store is an adventure. We did quite a bit of our own cooking at our last housesit in Blandford Forum so we spent many hours wandering the aisles of Tesco, Morrison’s and Mark’s & Spencer’s looking for things that would have been easy to find at HEB or Walmart. We had some great meals but it was often a bit of a treasure hunt finding substitutions for things that are easy to find in the States. We asked in what we thought was very plain and proper English where to find specific items – and people were often dumbfounded by our questions while they complimented our accent. Powdered sugar is icing sugar here, Saran wrap is cling film, a shopping cart is a trolley, wax paper is greaseproof paper and sprinkles for cookies are hundreds and thousands. When I asked for Q-tips or cotton swabs we figured out that these are called cotton buds in England. A Band Aid is an Elastoplast. I would not have known to ask where the Elastoplasts are located. It’s odd seeing signs to identify the contents of each aisle and note that one is filled with nappies (diapers) and another is stocked with crisps (potato chips) of every flavor including cheese & onion, prawn cocktail and smokey bacon & Sunday roast potato.
We had an awesome conversation with our Workaway hosts in Ambleside talking about kitchen faucets. Greg was helping to renovate their kitchen and they put the countertop and sink in temporarily to see what it all would look like. I asked if they already had a faucet picked out or if they still needed to get one and they returned my gaze with completely blank stares. For a while they really didn’t quite know what I meant. I think in the U.K., a faucet is something used outside – perhaps for a hose. But a tap is what you use to access water for the kitchen sink. Who knew? I didn’t – but I do now, and am reminded of our comical conversation when I see a tap in a pub or a faucet in a kitchen or bathroom.
Driving is nuts – especially with Greg at the wheel. He’s actually done an amazing job mastering the roads here but has nearly developed a new language of his own in the process. Much to my chagrin (especially when the kids were little) Greg swears with gusto and artistry when driving. Since we have been here he has added new flourish to his cursing, especially when he’s behind the wheel. We sometimes hit hiccups with terminology along the way when we encounter new terms on the road and literally wonder what we are reading. Of course, we are familiar with boot as trunk and petrol as gas but calling a trailer a caravan, a truck a lorry, a turn signal an indicator and the shoulder on a road the verge were all new terms for us.
We have encountered lots of other amusing differences in the way we interpret the English language. Some more differences include white spirit for paint thinner, sellotape for scotch tape, jumper for sweater and engaged for busy/occupied (as on a restroom door). But one of the funniest conversations we had over language differences involved the word “fanny.” My family makes fun of me because I don’t care for the word “butt.” I find it a bit crude and think there are lots of other better words one can use to refer to one’s derriere – words like bottom, rear end or indeed, fanny. I had absolutely no idea that the word fanny here in England is a woman’s most intimate part of her body. Yes, it refers to her vagina. This gives the term “fanny pack” an entirely new meaning, doesn’t it? Imagine the twittering British adolescent school boys in their public-school uniforms (a public school in the UK would be a private school in the US) laughing with glee at the term "fanny pack" and you have an idea of the discussion we had with our Workaway host who is an employee at a public school outside of London.
We have so enjoyed hearing a person on the radio talk about a fancy dinner as “posh nosh” and a sign outside a sewing shop advertising knicker making parties. No kidding! Menus can be funny too. Maybe you would like a bap for lunch -- you can have a bacon bap or a sausage bap, with our without brown sauce. A bap is a bun -- so really, we're talking about a bacon or sausage sandwich on a bun.....but we had to ask what the word even meant before we could order! We love all this so much. The list goes on and on. We have enjoyed discovering the differences and look forward to more of the same as we plan to be in the UK through March when we will move on to Berlin and then Poland and Italy. We are indeed feeling like a stranger in a strange land even though here we supposedly speak the same language!
Now in reality, we know and do our best to practice the true meaning of Christmas. In our family, we go to church on Christmas Eve and celebrate the birth of the Christ child who brings peace and love to all the world. That said, we have a real tendency to be VERY generous with one another at Christmas time. Anyone who has visited us during the holidays can attest to this. The gifts under our tree are usually overflowing. In our defense, we do not spend a lot on “extras” during the year. We tend to put off until Christmas both things that we really need and some special “wants” that we wouldn’t justify buying for ourselves, hoping that someone else might give it to us as a Christmas gift. We also buy each other socks and underwear and put them under the Christmas tree. Yes, we are that practical. But I have to admit that we do enjoy the material giving of (many) gifts as part of how we celebrate Christmas when we are in our own home. For better or worse, it is a tradition that we have fostered over many years. Celebrating Christmas while traveling, however, brings new meaning to our annual celebration.
This year we were in Blandford Forum, England for Christmas. We bought a tiny little Christmas tree at a local nursery. The gentleman who sold it to us “knocked 5 quid off” because we bought it so close to Christmas Eve. We are housesitting in a lovely home, but it is not ours and we do not have any of our own Christmas decorations. We do not have the tree ornaments that our children made when they were in grade school, the picture ornament from when I was pregnant with Chelsea, David’s little Christmas train or the other special items that we have procured over the years. Each one has personal and very special meaning to us, and they are all in a storage unit in Ohio. The homeowners here generously allowed us to decorate with some of their items and Chelsea and Sam brought their stockings which helped to put us in a festive mood.
An important tradition in our family is to listen to Christmas music AFTER Thanksgiving. Well, Thanksgiving takes on new meaning when you are traveling abroad – there is no Thanksgiving in England so you don’t have that day to mark the time like we do in the States. Nevertheless, we waited until after American Thanksgiving to listen to Christmas music. Greg is so good about making sure we have music in our home, wherever home might be. Spotify helped us to enjoy wonderful Christmas music every day leading up to the holiday.
But we don’t need anything and we can’t travel with more than we already have, so that really helped to prevent us from buying more stuff.
We got to celebrate with Chelsea and Sam! They joined us in our temporary home in Blandford. David will join us in Bristol and we will celebrate together again when he is here in January, but for Christmas, it was just the four of us. We did what we usually do on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day – but with less stuff and even more meaning. We attended Evensong services on Christmas Eve at Salisbury Cathedral. It was beautiful, moving and memorable. We made our traditional cinnamon rolls to enjoy In the morning. We opened the few gifts that were under the tree – mostly consumables. And we made an absolutely extraordinary meal. We recreated a dinner we enjoyed at Momofuku in New York City a number of years ago – steamed pork buns, which we ate in the afternoon, and roasted glazed duck with ginger scallion pancakes for Christmas dinner. It was a relaxing day that we spent with family. We played board games and drank champagne by the fire while discussing life. It was wonderful – all without the abundant number presents of years past.
Over the years we have celebrated Christmas in Austria, Belize, Denmark and now the United Kingdom. Each time we have missed family and friends and some of our usual traditions, but we learned more about how others celebrate Christmas, while concentrating on the love which surrounds us, which is most important. These times have given us a real chance to step back from how we typically celebrate and truly realize that Christmas does indeed mean more than what we can get from a store (even though of course, we like that too). Here’s hoping you had a wonderful, meaningful Christmas however and wherever you celebrated!
I’m always a little tentative going into each new experience on the road. I mean – I’m excited and look forward to every single new adventure - but something inside me wonders if I’ll be comfortable in my new surroundings before each workaway or housesit. We spent the last 10 days in Ambleside, England, and as our train took us into the Lake District I questioned whether or not we would enjoy it as much as some of the other places we’ve been.
Of course, I needn’t have worried. Our hosts could not have been more kind, generous and interesting. He is a professional street performer with a 30 year old business that he developed himself. She is a fantastic photographer. The task they have bitten off is enormous. They are renovating a house that was built in 1840. They are also working on the accompanying garden that was lovingly designed but now will benefit from some shaping and some additional care. It is a magical place, which we discovered when we ate lunch in the “summer house”, heated by a little wood stove. The last occupant of this home lived there for over 50 years and I’m not sure that any changes had been made in that time. But the new owners (our lovely hosts) are updating their home while respecting its past and it is pretty remarkable to see what they have accomplished – and what they still have left to do!
We think we helped them make some progress. Greg worked with Jem to build cabinets in the kitchen. I painted in the dining room and spent many days scraping paint off a cast iron fireplace while Flo painted and organized and cooked and made decisions. They are hosting Christmas this year and are trying to get the kitchen and dining room ready for their festive feast. We had fun working side by side to move forward toward this goal. I found that scraping the fireplace was a little like picking grapes – except I had to wear rubber gloves, goggles and a mask to protect myself from toxic chemicals. But the process was very meditative and you could really see what you were accomplishing. I like that a lot.
It’s fun and interesting to get to stay with people in their own home. We love diving into the differences in habits and culture that are evident in different parts of Europe. We didn’t anticipate quite so many disparities in a place that is our heritage and where we speak the same language – but there were lots! It is constantly surprising to see how many differences there really are! We had fun exploring them with our hosts. We learned lots of new vocabulary --words like “tarn” and “pike” and “glen” and “crag.” We came to understand that flapjacks are not always pancakes – sometimes they are delicious little bars of goodness that are perfect fuel for hiking. We also experienced the joy of sticky toffee pudding and the sheer pleasure of taking a break for tea mid-morning and mid-afternoon. We talked about politics and customs and perceptions and experiences. There were revelations at every turn, even among the many similarities.
When we weren’t helping with the house and I wasn’t grading my classes, we hiked. We had great weather for our explorations of the fells (which are bigger than a hill but smaller than a mountain). We hiked up over the crags of the Loughrigg Fell and into the beautiful town of Grasmere, a much-loved village of William Wordsworth. We hiked up the side of a beautiful icy waterfall to Easedale Tarn, a mountain lake with snowy fells all around. Just walking from our workaway home we hiked up to Sweden Bridge, a beautiful classic stone bridge where you could follow the sight line of the dry stone walls up higher than we were able to hike in the time we had. We loved every minute of it.