Can you believe it? I certainly can’t! I bid you ‘sleep well’ on my 500th night

Forgive the turn of phrase but f*** me, 500 days!  It should come as to no surprise that I’ve loved the past 500 days travelling.  This has been one very long scratch of my itchy feet; I love the planning, the arriving, the exploring and then moving on to the next place.  It’s not for everyone but it makes me happy!

Without a doubt, there have been bad days.  Thankfully and invariably limited to 1st world issues such as bad weather, poor sleep or wi-fi withdrawal symptoms. I relatively quickly ‘get a grip’.  Only 1 major sickness (D and V in a hostel is not fun) due to a Scottish curry of all things!  Weirdly I’ve experienced many aches and pains from a neck issue [except a neck pain ;-)] which I’m 100% sure is due to the many beds I rest my head, hunching over a laptop and carrying the backpack.  Oh and let’s not forget the extra pounds I’ve put on from ‘feeder’ help exchange hosts.  Of course, I was force fed the cheese and the chocolate!  I sent for more… I mean help.

Where on earth have I been?  Not holed up in a bedsit in Croydon stealing photos from the internet I promise.  Here are a few facts and figures:

Where have I stayed longest/visited the most….. drum roll, please.  Poland is the winner!  I kept going back for more; a country that surprised me.  Much more developed, exciting yet easy to explore, relaxing, green, and welcoming than any stereotype I may have subconsciously created.  82 days equals almost 3 months; sounds crazy when I rephrase it.  Check out the photos!  Wroclaw and Gdansk especially recommended – I’ll be going back very soon I hope.

I fell in love with part of my own country, the Outer Hebrides are spectacular.  White sand beaches for 1, in the UK, the UK!  A total of 62 days in Scotland.

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I was lucky enough to spend a month or so in each: Austria, Greece, Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary, France, Italy and where I am now – Malta & Gozo.  I am in country number 22 since leaving London on Monday 5th June 2017.  I still have to pinch myself that I have been able to achieve this and explore Europe to such a degree.

I could not have stayed on the road for this long had it not been for the wonders of help exchange – I cannot recommend it enough!  I give a little of my time [average is 25 hours a week] and energy in exchange for a bed and food.   243 days to date – think for a minute how much of a money-saving that is.  Two of the most expensive costs when travelling – food and shelter – and no one can be a tourist every day!  It’s just not possible to keep the pace.

I relied heavily on my background and stuck primarily to hospitality – reception, housekeeping, social media, and marketing.  In no particular order, the fabulous places I volunteered in Scotland, Wales and North England.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring places that are on my doorstep.

Throw in over 50 days of conversational English tutoring with people who love to learn, in gorgeous Polish and Czech surroundings with cheap, deliciously tasty red wine.  That was 243 days of my time ‘well spent’.

All but two of my help exchanges were brilliant.  About 10 days too long in both the yoga retreat and the Athens’ hostel; that’s not bad odds really.  Sometimes things just don’t gel.

I do kick myself that I didn’t take photos of my fantastic hosts from all of my volunteering, another reason to return.  Little did I know that 3 of my volunteer locations would also be ‘on the telly’!  Watch 2 of the Chateau des Jalesnes’ hosts Jonathon and Michael in Channel 4’s Escape to the Chateau: DIY.  Stunning!

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Graham and Sonia from Loch Ness Glamping had fun in Series 8 of Channel 4’s Four in a Bed (episodes of 21-25) – hilarious viewing however strangely offline currently so alternatively this video shows you how fantastic the site is, worth a visit!

 

bamfordlogoLastly, The Anglers Rest has featured in so many media platforms and yet I cannot find one video!  BBC One Show, BBC Breakfast, BBC Radio 5 just to name drop a few.

The rest of the time I was in recovery or tourist mode, most of the latter you see in my active insta-fakebook-life… follow me 🙂

Places I highly recommend you investigate next time you’re holiday shopping – Budapest, Lisbon, Nuremberg, Cesky Krumlov, Prague… I could go on.  Places I just didn’t click with – Paris, Innsbruck, Rotterdam.  It would be suspicious if I loved every city and town I visited.

At the moment, I’m sunning myself next to the pools above, well, when the thunderstorms pass.  Topping up the tan at any moment the glowing yellow ball in the sky shows up.  I’m back in London from last week in November, who knows what will be next!  But for now, night night, sleep tight, on my 500th night.

 

The tale of travel and the ever expanding waistline

How many of you have put on weight whilst on holiday? Imagine 10 months of holiday temptation and a girl with very little willpower. It is no surprise that my waistline has grown, as have my thighs, belly, boobs… the list goes on. The wardrobe full of elastic waist trousers and skirts doesn’t exactly make me think twice about each meal choice either.

I will never be slim, I have never been slim and over the years I have thoroughly enjoyed all the creamy sauces, cheeses, steak, lager, the fast food, the mayonnaise and the coca cola but uh oh, I’m over 40 now and the size of a small bungalow.  Eeeek.

They always say how hard it is to maintain a good size or lose weight in your forties and above. I will admit I’ve not exactly tried, travelling continuously has not been good for my already poor food choices.

I only need to share my variety of food porn pics to show you the challenge I face and yep, failed! Look at all these country delights – Portuguese egg tarts, Munich gingerbread, Zurich apple strudel and German Quarkballchen [like doughnut balls].

I know what needs to be done but oh phooey, it takes a lot of willpower. I’ll start by saying, out of all the pros and cons of eating positively to maintain a good weight, I have some excellent habits if I do say so myself. I am not someone who thinks about food all the time. This is a big contradiction. I don’t get hangry, I don’t talk about what I’m going to eat for dinner as I’m eating my lunch and I definitely don’t get all Pavlov’s dogs and start salivating at meal times. Maybe I should?

I eat extraordinarily slowly [much to the frustration of my family], what can I say? I chew! I love vegetables and only make meat-free options when I’m cooking on my travels, I’m not that fussed about bread or large portions.  I’m ‘usually’ proactive at moving my plate away or covering the leftovers when I’m feeling full.

I drink but not that much at all compared to years ago and I’m no fan of drinking alone.  I like the taste, it’s too good to decline so I’m careful.

The cons and food nightmare starts with missing meals then cheating with the short-term kick of sugary treats. Anything with pastry is a definite weakness, as is savouring the flavour of fast or restaurant food… Who doesn’t like someone else cooking for them but wowzers sometimes I could feed a family of 4 from my one plate of food.  That schnitzel was huge, as was the plate of Pierogi, home-made flakey pastry Chorizo tarts, one plate sized potato rosti with my veal or Portuguese steak, eggs and mushroom sauce.  Have to stop, the mouth is watering.

Not forgetting a Bologna deli is a snackers ‘taster’ heaven.

I can make food to survive but I don’t relish cooking.   My accommodation occasionally has a kitchen to cook in, these have varied from a fully kitted ‘almost industrial’ kitchen with multiple hobs, all the equipment you’d have at home or at the other end of the scale, I had a microwave/fridge/kettle… I fed back that it was a stretch to call it a kitchen.

So what can I prepare that’s easy? It always ends up being pasta, maybe noodles. Little ingredients needed for a passable dish and a long shelf life for the main player. I carried around a packet of spaghetti for about 4 weeks at one point. The hiccup is buying veggies that don’t go off too quickly and how do I eat the same foods but not the same dish. Eating tomato, peppers, onion and pasta can get boring quickly.

Funny when I did forget foods in my backpack – wondering what the garlic smell is and it’s my half a lettuce or a leek gradually bending out the pocket over time.

Eating lunch while travelling is problem number one – what types of food are in train station shops or cafes, even airports are as awkward? I’ve may have had a reasonable breakfast or nothing at all then purchase a white baguette [some countries don’t know what a brown baguette is] sandwich with some fruit and maybe nuts but probably crisps and chocolate.

What else do you eat on the go when there are no pre-packed salads. The UK has a whole country-specific multi-million industry of prepackaged lunch options. I miss the range of options in a British supermarket. The continental European alternatives are the dreaded and delicious pastries: equivalents of pasties, pies or sausage rolls. Not forgetting, the croissant and doughnut. The carb-heavy grab and go food is not good for me and then I sit on a train for 10 hours. You can see the dilemma.

Problem number two. I believe the biggest calorific vice on my travels are McDonald’s and coke. After the same said long train trip, I do mean long, I arrive and 90% of the cities I have visited have the golden arches in the station and resolve dissolves. It’s a strange hankering because I don’t do the same for KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut or any of the other big fast food brands. I don’t like the taste so I can walk past as I would if it was tofu or pig trotters.

Sadly, there was even McDonald’s in Pompei, Rothenburg ob der Tauber and a ‘closed for the winter’ Fira, Santorini.  The latter didn’t make much effort with their signage.

 

coca colaSparkling water is my go to, was my go to. Athens does not sell sparkling water, hardly any 2-litre bottles let alone in 500ml. Pains me to say, I like the reduction of plastic use though annoying to purchase a pricey glass bottle of Perrier.

After a low day feeling snotty, bunged up and heavy-headed, I treated myself to the nectar that is kryptonite to me. How can I tail of coffee and cigarettes to nearly nothing but the coca cola? Nope. Obviously, the sugar hit.

I have been lucky as hell with the food provision for most of volunteering for example, in France, we dined on 7 Euros per day, per person – an amazing weekly shop for the 6 of us. For every AngloVille location, daily lunch options are always 2-course and wine every night.

I am a night owl with erratic insomnia, yes still, these biological traits don’t disappear just because I’m travelling. However, I don’t HAVE to rise for work anymore so I can still get the hours of sleep and lie in till 9am or 10am; no rush to get up. But. The consequence is an unbalanced diet of eating breakfast one day and not the next.

Easy to say I can rectify all of the above but to do is a different story.

I am pleased to have walked miles every day I’m sightseeing. I easily average the recommended 10,000 steps, unfortunately for any weight loss effect this is not at ‘bugger, I’m gonna be late for my meeting’ speed. No longer striding to the bus, harder and faster. Well, except the time I ran for the airport gate and the 2 trains I caught by seconds. Regular touristing is at a simpler pace, no fat-burning heart rate that’s for sure. The old work routine was naff but kept the body moving.

Living in London equals no car and walking to the public transport. Continuing exercise I used to enjoy, aqua aerobics and long distance walking have faltered at the first hurdle, I haven’t chased down details of the closest swimming pool nor countryside walking routes. I do still get nervous on my travels, I’m not immune and not keen on being lost, solo, in the middle of a Romanian forest or Greek island.

Diets don’t work. Denying myself certain foods, counting calories or ‘sins’ don’t work for me. I know the logic of ‘eat less, move more’ but y’know this takes a lot of effort. Lifestyle changes are harder rather than short-term. My genetics are fat sensitive 😉 I smell someone else’s calories and put on weight. A couple of years ago I lost around 3 stone [19 kg] with the help of hypnotherapy, eating the bare minimum and much exercise.  Way more exercise than 30 minutes a day. It took over my life and once I’d passed my activity goals of completing 2 walking marathons, it all went to pot. Oh to be a person who can do one and not the other.

For many years, I’d think of myself as the chubby-cheeked happy plump girl you’d read about in a Famous Five novel. ‘Shucks, c’mon gang, let’s eat the cake, the toffee and the ice cream with lashings of lemonade’. If I like it, I’ll eat it and enjoy every mouthful!

But it’s kicked in…a little age concern. The aches and pains of being overweight and sitting in one spot on my bed when typing up blogs. My bum hurt! That is not normal. I’m only 41, not 81. I had felt a little inspired to tackle this in December when I had such a disappointing experience in Athens, I ate a lot of crap.

I have hard work ahead of me. I need to be focused. Now I’ve told ya, I have to do something. If my folks, 3 decades older than me, can lose lots of weight by a better control of food and no huge aerobic exercise routine then age is only a number.

I need to make food a priority. It’s an oddity to me but it’s not like I don’t have the time. I can work my day around my meals. I can menu plan around the days I’m volunteering or in a hostel with no kitchen. I can’t weigh myself each week so I will judge it by my blouse that doesn’t button up and a skirt that no longer sits on my hips as a guide.

My plan, my action assurances to me and to you:IMG_20180409_153844.jpg

  • Everyday breakfast: water, banana and protein – scrambled eggs and ham
  • Fish or vegetarian dishes when eating in restaurants with water
  • Meat once a week
  • Preparation snack attack: 1-litre water, nuts, carrots and apples
  • Dig out my old hypnotherapy mp3s. The power of positive influence to your subconscious. I have no scientific proof that this will perform miracles but I am an advocate of positive thinking. The general overview of the past hypnotherapy was to imagine 2 paths – one is being overweight and one is where I want to be. Goes without saying which the mp3s focus on.
  • Lastly, YouTube exercise gurus offer multiple yoga, Pilates and aerobic workouts online. I commit to 2 routines a week – 15 minutes or 45, either is better than none.

I’ll come back to you in 3 or 4 weeks with an update and hopefully, this blouse will button and this skirt will be too big again.

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If you have any recommendations for exercise You Tubers or if you have tried the raw food diet? I won’t use the diet but I am interested in the dishes for when I don’t have a kitchen.

Wish me luck!

Day 1 of month 11, can you believe it, no April fools’ joke. I lost blog focus but I am back and we need to talk

It started in beautiful Budapest, early December 2017, the lack of volunteering opportunities over the festive period was disheartening. This was my first obstacle, everything else had fallen in to place quite simply. I imagined the festive price peak and working for my bed negated the overinflated holiday price hike. I’d always wanted to visit Athens… it’s, THE Athens. Filled with millennia of mythology, philosophy, the Olympics and sun!  So when this opportunity came up I was chuffed but not necessarily as confident as previous placements. Transpires my gut was right.

Overlooking AthensTravelling always has its ups and downs but I felt like a fish out of water.  Too many loud unpredictable Mediterranean personalities. All too lawless for me. Exaggerated by my fellow hostel guests.  Not personally showing aggression to me but the city feels negative; citizens ready to break rules at any point with little thought of the consequences to others. I felt a bubbling mutiny and no, I don’t think this is new because of the current economic situation, but I am sure it has heightened it.

Only just a couple of days after I left protesting turned to rioting.  Anti-establishment protesters and the Greek police clashed outside the parliament house.  The tensions at the end of 2 marches ended in Molotov cocktails and Police using tear gas and stun grenades.  The clash between the people and the authorities is not new in this city.


This location was my lowest point.

I had committed to 4 weeks over Christmas and new year, I managed 3.  Giving a little notice was the polite, ever so British, thing to do.  I’ve known some ‘help exchangers’ give only 1-day notice because their experience was extreme.  Mine was only annoying.   I felt I couldn’t immediately leave my pre-agreed commitment to the host, even though she was part of the problem, it was Christmas and I didn’t like leaving her in the proverbial.

My greater challenge was to find an easy ‘next location’ as the only Greek island I’ve ever had on my wish list was Santorini.  Especially as islands are basically ‘closed’ season over Christmas and New Year.  I am surprised that the destination has not boomed like the Canary Islands for sun seekers in the winter but the Greeks have decided no – they need holiday time too.

I caught up with a lot of box sets, I know I could have travelled out into the country but I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’.  I only had to work 2 nights a week which I quite enjoyed except for clearing up their trash.  In the words of Christina Aguilera that hostel felt diiiirty.  The type of rebel without a cause guest hung out smelling of weed or unwashed bodies in the cold communal areas. Cooking up a storm then leaving a trail of curried fish, beer cans and cigarette tobacco & filters behind them

My annoyance about their lack of effort just made me, sadly, too quickly, join their ‘why bother’ brigade.  Accentuated by winter germs that got me twice. Two different colds in 3 weeks.  Sharing a dorm with different people has this risk. Plus their infuriating desire to breathe so-called fresh air.  The locals are used to open doors and windows but I’m not a fan when the temperature is only 10 degrees compared to the usual Greek 30+. Not the paradise I was hoping for.

There were other lovely guests and volunteers in the same boat as me, even the catching of colds, I was reassured I was not irrational.  I tried, with little success, to find warm places to work, the hilarious contradiction of being cold inside turned to frustration.  I was losing the battle to close the sources of cold draughts, I’m wearing a scarf and 2 jumpers in a building with lots of cold hard surfaces but this wasn’t obvious to others, I should have worn a sign around my neck.

Their summer lasts so much longer than winter so it seems they just grin and bear it. This was 3 weeks of 1st world grumbles and it wasn’t all bad but I’m not so good at positive thinking when cold.  I certainly couldn’t complain about the amount of free time I had yet I couldn’t get the sunny disposition of a character out of the films Mamma Mia or Shirley Valentine.  They were loving Greece, why wasn’t I?

Yes, ok, some of it was fun!

Talking to only 2 friends who have visited Athens, opinion is different.  Having 1 day, 3 days or 3 weeks in a city will obviously expand experiences and feelings.  Both friends liked Athens to varying degrees, I remember their enthusiasm encouraged me to go.  A tour guide I met, an Irish chap, moved to Athens for a girlfriend.  The girl long gone, he remains in Athens nearly 2 years on, because he loves it.  His words “I like that anything goes, there are few rules.  The people including the authorities just look the other way”.  I quite enjoy reminiscing through rose-coloured specs now but no way could I have stayed longer.

I highly recommend a whistle-stop 1 day or even a long weekend but that’s about it.

I fell into my duvet, acquired a second to create a den and continued with the Amazon prime box set addiction (Watch these: very good!  Please Like Me, Black-ish, and This is Us – you’ll need tissues for 2 of these).

The best type of procrastination is the rabbit hole of the internet, sightseeing, recovering from sightseeing or working to pay for the travel.  Not my blog though.   I recognised I didn’t want my blog to be a travel guide there are many to compete with.  But what had I initially thought it would be?

I had not achieved the volunteering in the true sense of the word, for each country.  This needed a lot more advance scheduling of destination and route than I wanted, getting answers from country government bodies is nye on impossible and with the language barrier too. Nightmare.

SnoopyIn December I had over 15 unfinished blogs to edit but I felt stuck: definitive writer’s block.  A creative dud.

Then the penny dropped. I absorb my world around me.  I have questions, observations and much opinion. I absolutely believe this is because I’m a solo traveller. In a couple or group then your focus is elsewhere or you may immediately debate and share right at the moment.

I left the ‘Aguilera’ hostel and moved to another for only 3 nights.  What a difference!  My shoulders relaxed knowing that the bedroom and front doors wouldn’t be wide open allowing Joe Public access if they were curious.  My nose wasn’t filled with stinky substances in the public areas.  I had my quiet space to recover from germs and I was warmer!

I decided in my little cubicle bed, like any product or service, I needed to ‘re-clarify my brand’.  I never really thought about who is reading before just that I make the text flow and enjoyable to read when I’m 70.  BUT NOW…I do want to know who’s reading and start a conversation, with you.  Conversation

I’ll consider and share my factoids and ponderings about place or people, more of the former no doubt.  What you’ll be pleased to read is – fewer words, more frequency. A print columnist delivers an average 800 words. I’ll be happy if I can keep under 1400.  I’m starting well with this adding up to around 1375 🙂

So here goes, it has still taken me time to get ahead of myself, to combat my travel procrastination but my revitalised blog starts today.  A big contribution to why I felt negatively of Athens and how it’s not a tourist destination for more than a cruise day trip or pre/post-island hop stop off – “Graffiti – art, statement or defiance?”.  Available online and in your inbox in exactly 45 minutes.

My request to you. Please contribute, please comment. Look forward to it.  Your opinion is as interesting and as valid as mine. Though for you trolls and spammers beware, don’t bother, you’ll just get deleted.  To the rest of you, loving our chat, it’s healthy to have an opinion. We can do fun, educated and eloquent, can’t we?  Hope to hear from you tomorrow!

A blog should be honest and a help exchange cannot always be the perfect match

Why have I been off the grid except for sporadic Instagram and Facebook posts?  I’d left the stark and soulless Innsbruck youth hostel with too high an expectation of a help exchange in the mountains; positive, serene, calm and hopefully laughter filled guest house running yoga courses.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.  After 23 days, I can say easily say the hosts are generous of spirit; opening their home and providing food and accommodation but there were a few too many times when I felt like the hired help and to coin a blogger’s phrase, this can be considered part ‘thought piece’.  My time in the Tyrolean mountains has been a slow 3 weeks.  I left grateful for my fellow volunteers, mattress, the mountain views, the unexpected sunshine and my food but with a quandary; should HelpX or Workaway hosts explain their religious or spiritual sway?

For those that know me, it’ll come as no surprise that I’m no fan of being surrounded by people who know your whereabouts and activity all day every day.  My parents or past landlady were not privy to this and why on earth would they.  On the mountains, there’s no separation of being on or off shift.  Completely my error, I didn’t click.

The anticipation for the guest house has been long since I’d planned this before I left London.  Too long!  I had built up the volunteering fun to be had.  I endeavour the ‘optimistic, low expectation’ mindset but it’s been too easy to daydream.  I was ready to stay in one place for a good 3 weeks or more.  A need to feel lighter; both backpack-less and eating better were concepts I was impatient for.  I know now that my limit for travelling place to place non-stop is 3 weeks, as is the desire to stay in one location.  Because of my work history, I mentally defined the destination as a venue, as a guest house; not clicking the heart of it is a yoga centre, a retreat.  I’d looked at their website and course names in advance, deliberately requested dates when they’d be busy with guests.  Hands up to not looking at the yoga courses in detail, I think this would have raised a red flag for me with an onus on spiritual yoga rather than yoga as exercise.

I’d rearranged to arrive 5 days earlier than originally planned.  I’m welcomed into the house, a 500-year-old traditional Austria mountain house I’m told was once a postal office and a rest stop; the pass is part of the Roman road ‘Via Claudia Augusta’ over the Tyrolean Alps.  ‘Fernpass’ geology is scientifically estimated at 4000 years old following a mountain slide part filling a valley.  I’ll never be a camera woman.

There are several different volunteers here already which is great; 4 students from all regions of Europe: Poland, Germany and the UK, a petite dread locked yoga loving Swede settling in to stay for a whole 6 months, a childhood friend of one of the owners, and me!  I’m given a relaxed welcome and encouraged to explore and settle in but no real induction.  This juxtaposition is a difficult one for me.  I prefer an intro, an explanation of expectations… informally and openly.  When this finally happened about a week in, a new volunteer and I received a list of dos and don’ts given in a weirdly formal meeting.

Even on a day one, it felt like there was stress in the air.  Looking back this was ‘community’ chaos and they like it.  One of the owner couples is heading off to Portugal for a holiday, the current yoga course is cancelled which is a shame as I’d hoped we’d have guests but the owner ‘core’ team are converting a large storeroom into a new single bedroom for an upcoming month-long teacher training.  The place continues to feel on edge, as am I.  I’m writing this after 5 days of being here.  Time has massively slowed and I can’t work out if this is a good thing or not.  It wasn’t all bad, it was just a niggling feeling.

My dream heading to this place was the pleasure of unpacking, hanging up clothes, being in one place for over 3 weeks and as if fate would have it my living space changed 4 times, getting smaller and smaller.  I arrive just as they’ve started building a new stud wall to create a corridor to the new room.  I’m allocated the bedroom next door.  A treat to be given a guest bedroom, I wasn’t expecting it.  It dawned on me 3 days later that I’d be moving very soon with the impending yoga course plus I became a furniture store within a day.  I didn’t really care if I could get to my bed.  I was going to move on Friday then I’m requested last minute to straight away the day before to another bedroom upstairs but only for 2 nights.  This is where thinking ahead was lacking.  Throwing things into bin bags was easier, on Saturday I have the small caravan outside…I get a little too settled.  It was a haven.  A haven for all of 3 nights.  I’m woken from a nap [bad timing] on my day off on Tuesday to move to a mattress with the 2 girls in the hut.  A new volunteer no one had been expecting had rocked up and so I wasn’t pleased by this time.  Not because of the moves but because of the time frames, I plan so this opposite approach does frustrate me so.

A delayed light bulb went off more than 2 weeks in; I saw 2 of the owners paint reclaimed furniture and I realised whilst digging lentils out of a kitchen sink plug hole – again – that there was a distinct difference to the approach of my Chateau volunteering hosts and these guys.  The Chateau was more light-hearted with the very open option to say, “I’m bored of that and I need to change it up”.  The Chateau essential, mundane jobs such as cleaning were completed by paid local staff.  At the retreat, we were the cleaners, cooks, and housekeeping.  6 hours ‘work’ in exchange for a bed and 3 meals a day.  The latter was plentiful vegetarian and vegan food plus we can help ourselves to a multitude of drinks, fruit, nuts, and biscuits.  My complaints sound petty now I read this back.

Note, I enjoyed only 2 bottles of beer in just over 3 weeks – almost constitutes sober October.  I know, I know, I did say… almost.  I will thoroughly deserve the red wine I’ll be glugging when I return to the city.

RotaWe have an easy rota to follow that keeps us on our toes depending on the number of people in the house.  The start time of our morning shift varied depending on the guests too.  Approx. morning shift 7.30-3 and the afternoon 2-10.  You don’t have to be Carol Vorderman to calculate this is more than 6 hours.  We’d have time included in these hours for meals and an hour or so break in the afternoon making it a split shift; I wasn’t a fan.  Special projects relating to DIY invariably allocated to the guys as traditional sexism arises.  The ladies had the joy of ironing.  I prefer to procrastinate and blitz my work OR blitz my work and then sit and enjoy a scour of the internet or read a book.  These tactics didn’t work so well.  No peaceful timeout with so many people around.

Waving goodbye to NathanThe art of filling their shifts with slow and steady completion of their tasks were 2 students Franz and Nathan.  I should have watched them more intently.  Thank goodness for the other volunteers.  Housekeeping in a guest house of only 10 rooms, 16 beds, and 5 bathrooms is nothing compared to the hotels of my past with circa 325 bedrooms.  To spell it out; make breakfast, clear up, wash-up, change the linens, scrub the bathrooms, keep refilling washing machines and dryers with laundry, drag Henry the Hoover around and tidy many throws, rugs, and cushions.  In ‘my’ time, I was constantly searching for a quiet space in the house; especially hard with two nearly 2-year olds walking and wobbling around like miniature drunkards… thankfully one little boy could lift my mood as he loved to copy our cleaning and entertain us at meals.

Yes, there are children.  I could lose a proportion of my readership in the next paragraph.  I am not made to be a mother.  They make too much noise.  My version of ‘yoga retreat’ was well and truly childfree.  I enjoy playing with the two nearly 2-year olds in the house for an hour or so but when I was clearing up their toys for the 10th time, hoovering the food from the floor and trying to block out the crying.  Insert maniacal laughing!  My sympathy to all parents, I’m guessing you don’t mind doing this for your own children as you wanted the mini-mes but would you do it daily for someone else’s?

We all feel it; other people’s houses and their clutter looks like it needs throwing away, tidying or messing up depending on your own ‘style’.  The Austrian guest house is extremely Tyrolean traditional with a splash of Indian inspired or cross-stitch cushions, and many throws covering inherited or free furniture.  Coincidentally I used to love a cushion, a rug, and a throw.  But not like this.  I once tried to organise the ‘tea’ shelf, the linen cupboards, even the cleaning rags.  I knew it was pointless but I enjoyed straightening it at the time.  Within a day all were a little less organised and my cynical brain thought people were not as respectful of each other’s work as I’d hoped.  A hang-up from my job history.  Too many people with big egos, frequently willing to disregard a colleague’s work.

Compared to a Scandinavian friend back home I have a mass of clutter yet another friend considered my old Redditch flat way too OCD   It’d be a bit boring if our styles were all the same though I do not want to see a ratty stripy rug again.  Trip hazard is all I see now.  I miss carpet.

3 of the owners are very Austrian – well, they are Austrian – in their direct instruction of tasks which felt contrary to the dogma.  I know I am a sceptical presence to them.  Hiding my New-Age bullshit detector is hard work but I make the effort.  “I am struggling with air in the salad we ate last night” = something in the dish gave me wind.  The words manifest, energy, meditation, soul, healing, vinyasa, ceremony, and karma come up a lot.

My style of meditationI do not dismiss the new wave of mindfulness as a method to de-stress…. well the Westernised non-god application.  Plus I love my own meditation of staring at nature in warmth, comfort, and silence.  Also known as sunbathing.

 

To add to the contradictions, I thought I’d left the workplace moaners behind, you know the ones that ’cause a storm and then complain when it rains’.  This was the last place I expected to be hearing about the woes of long hours and lack of days off.  The core team seem to have a decent time off and are in control of their own special projects – the benefit of being the owners of your own business y’d think!

Saying good morning daily with hugs and kisses in the morning feels a little fake.  Not helped that I’m a reserved Brit, I’m not tactile, never have been, thankfully I am better at cutting those that don’t recognise this some slack.  Tactile people are caught up in being nice and fluffy by giving a hug or a kiss.  They can’t help it they don’t cotton likely results for the non-tactile are the opposite.  Neither am I a chatty Cathy in the morning so the Groundhog Day feeling was evident each morning shift.  I give the beginning of the day and the ‘huggers’ the benefit of the doubt and reciprocate – Oscar Award winning I think.

From Friday 29th October, we finally have guests!  I was looking forward to running the house with the guests being our priority.  Two lovely ladies looking after the administration of bookings came in to see the arrival of the weekend course.  I was surprised there wasn’t so much of an arrival committee for the week-long course that started on Sunday 31st.  This was the start of a weird week.  I don’t think the guests felt welcome.  My observation, they also were looking forward to a more contemporary modern idea of a yoga retreat.

My knowledge of yoga history has grown.  5000-year-old meditation practices and rituals relating to ancient Indian religions only shared with the Western world in 1893 as part of a religious conference and then a studio opened in Hollywood in 1947.  The Western interpretation of yoga became widely popular in the 80’s focusing on the physical exercise only.  The fad became a phenomenon, turned a trend into an integral part of the sports/fitness industry.

Thursday 5th October had a funny start for me.  Nicole and I are cooking up breakfast and the yoga course guests are undergoing a silent day.  This means no talking and no real eye contact as this acknowledgment with a frown or smile can easily be considered interaction.  The practice is to encourage inward reflection.  I failed after minutes.  Nodding and mouthing a thank you to a person as they’d moved out the way for me.  Always polite me.

Whilst the food here is plentiful, I do miss strong flavours.  The vegan or vegetarian menu is a little same, same but I give them credit they’re trying to meet the masses.  One of the yoga guests during the difficult week jokingly said to me today, she really enjoyed the chocolate cookies on arrival!  No missing the inference that the rest of the food wasn’t that great and they didn’t get cookies the rest of the week.  I smiled and moved away quickly to avoid encouragement.  Clearly missing sugar.

There is a lot of soup, not my favourite dish but I have had to get used to it in Poland and Czech Republic; combined with high hopes for losing a little bit of weight or at least re-setting whatever metabolism I have.  The Austrian bread is amazing!  I don’t even like bread that much but here, simple pre-bought loaves warmed in the oven.  Fantastic.  Slathering on the butter is not helping my want to lose a pound or 2.  In comical contradiction to my thoughts coming up, I will say “my prayers were answered” hee-hee I found the mustard!  It was a taste I’d been hankering after for a couple of weeks.

One delicious dish I wish I’d taken a photo of was homemade chocolate cake with vegan banana and chocolate ice cream.  Take note for the ice cream, so easy.  All you need…

  • a food processor
  • frozen bananas
  • coconut milk
  • tiny pieces of dark chocolate

Blitz and stick in the freezer/fridge till you need it.  I will be making when I visit the family in December.

I was in 2 minds all through my volunteering whether to be so candid in my blog.  It doesn’t help I’ve entered a guest house with lots of the problems I was trying to separate myself from in the world of venues and events.  Poor communication, lack of forward thinking, monotony, and disorganisation   How they’ve got themselves into this predicament is a wonder.  With no real induction, their preferred method of erratically telling someone what not to do is just so draining.  Knowing a bread cloth from a small tablecloth was not tip top on my list when I first arrived.  Then the joys of having 2 or 3 people with differing ideas, well, at 10 days in, I was counting down to when I would be leaving.  That’s a first this whole trip.

How would I say to the founders and hosts “I want to go early because your idea of calm is the antithesis to mine”?  This was my cowardice as I don’t believe they would really worry.  They see at least 2 or 3 volunteers come and go each month.  I’d not bonded with them.  As always, you will connect and bond with those that have mutual interests and beliefs.  And dare I say it, the gullible.  The mutual interest, of course, was spirituality or India.

Its neither wrong nor right to have a faith, it’s individual choice.  For me, once or twice in the past, I referred to myself as spiritual.  That you can believe in fate.  That things feel like ‘they were meant to be’.  Here some believe the universe is guiding them to places and decisions.  That they ask the universe for support or recite a specific Buddhist or Hindu mantra or chant in the same way a Christian would pray.  Each to their own.  This is not for me.  I endeavour a positive mental attitude and I’m responsible for me.  I make decisions and there is nothing negative with saying that a past decision didn’t pan out the way you’d hoped.  At the time I take a course of action based on sourced information, emotion, and advice.  Each decision is in that moment of time.  They say hindsight is a wonderful thing but it’s as useful as a chocolate teapot and regret.

Then there’s the appreciation of music or noise?  I have an eclectic CD collection but have never been overwhelmed with ‘world music’; a festival performance or friends’ preference at their own home then yes, all music can be enjoyed in small measure [even opera or Slipknot].  If I hear the didgeridoo or the hand-pan/hang in the next couple of weeks, it’d send a shiver down my spine.  I’ve heard a little too often, too loudly.  When played softly, both instruments could be gentle and melodic…. hmmm I’m being nice.  I don’t want to hear the didgeridoo for a long time.  Some would say the same about my CD collection.

Ricky Gervais and Stephen ColbertI agree with Ricky Gervais   A statement I never thought I’d say.  To understand the definition of agnostic atheist.  Agnostic relates to knowledge and evidence, an atheist [or theist] is specific to whether you believe.  I have not seen physical proof of gods and I do not have a faith or belief in gods.  Ricky was quizzed on a US chat show, I felt a little argumentatively by the host, why he, Ricky, didn’t have a faith.  He answered that he believes just 1 less god than the TV host Stephen Colbert who is openly Roman Catholic Christian.  If there are possibly 3000 gods in this world and you believe in 1.  Therefore, I don’t believe in 3000 and you don’t believe in 2999.  A very good answer to the question.

At the retreat, I didn’t want to debate what happens to the soul after death in case I insult someone nor listen to mantras/chanting or how a statue should face a certain direction or that the toilet seats need to be down according to Feng Shui.  I have ignored other HelpX host profiles because they state they are a Christian charity or teaching academy.  I will be wary about other yoga based organisations for future volunteering, however, I give these guys the benefit of doubt.  No-one tried to ‘convert’ me, it was just too immersive.  If the spirituality or religion matters to the volunteer, or in my case desired lack of either, then I accept I should clarify and question the host.  It is beneficial if the host explains their sway and extent but it’s not necessarily their obligation.

My main learning curve with volunteering and help exchanges is the need for an escape. FernpassThis community house was in serious country.  One bus an hour in the morning and nothing timed with the end of an afternoon shift.  Local routes to small villages with little to see and do because this area is all about the hiking and skiing.  It’s obvious really.  Silly me.  The scenery surrounding the property is stunning and I explored a little on my days off.  We are very lucky with an Indian summer and the return of sunshine and heat.  A hiking hiccup being the small distance I can travel, walking up and down huge ass hills doesn’t mean I get very far.  I am massively unfit!  Surprisingly, I’m not half as out of breath as I would normally be.  Maybe being 1200m up is better for my poorly functioning lungs.  Very cool that 1200m is the height of Ben Nevis, UK’s highest mountain.  Carpeted in fern trees and other evergreens, it is called Fernpass after all.  The rest is gravel and rock, not so much luscious green grass in this neck of the woods – pun intended.  It’s like Innsbruck, the rocky parts of the hills are stark and barren or covered in snow.  Very dramatic monsters, the tops are prettier to gaze at when white snow-capped rather than 50 shades of grey.

Snowcapped

Thankfully, my last week was the start of a 4-week teacher training and the welcome, the vibe changed even if the talk of oneness and enlightenment grew.  We had the happy arrival of 2 new volunteers and nearly 20 guests.  The work was busier in comparison but I appreciated the week passed by quickly and more upbeat.  I cringe that I achieved zero blogging, my creativity shriveled up and went on a holiday of its own.  The owners here encourage a community where the door is never closed and the place always buzzing with people and activity.  This for me, sadly, is edging towards a hellish scenario.  I’m a person that rejuvenates and reboots by being in solitary situations.  Add in the aging factor where I don’t need to make idle chit-chat with strangers to fill a silence.

This was a challenge and learning experience.  There are silver linings in everything, I know I’d love to have a little guest house or hostel of my own.  What I would and wouldn’t do is already a long list.

After this shared living, I have an en-suite room at my first hotel in nearly 5 months.  Igls is just outside of Innsbruck then I’m on to Salzburg, Graz, Bratislava and finally Budapest for Monday 27th October.  Heading to another help exchange at Aventura Hostel.  I’m excited to be back on the road!

Day 100 – Rowan is back in that diary room

Can you bloody believe it?  HOW DID 100 DAYS PASS?  Deliberate caps lock and my surprised Oscar winning face folks!  I’m in a little shock that this much time has passed, it definitely doesn’t feel like I’ve been away from the UK that long.  A little look down memory lane with a few scores on the doors…Surprised Rowan!
Loves 
  • exploring towns without map in hand
  • people watching
  • trains are still the best
  • understanding East/Central European history a little better; in my defense, a lot has happened
  • friendly people are out there!
Dislikes
  • I’m not sold by the potato ‘dumpling’, such solid starch is a no no
  • tourists that walk 4 or more in a row
  • anyone on the pavement that wants me to dodge them when I’m wearing 2 backpacks you can do one
  • selfie sticks
  • hostel room buddies that say they are cold but are wearing no clothes
  • sales calls from the UK.  I hope it costs them when I pick up
  • bloody flying bugs near me when I’m eating!
Misses 
  • this could be a long list of vegetables so I’ll highlight the top 2 I miss at time of writing… broccoli and peas
  • UK sarcasm.  I got a fix from some AngloVille fellow native volunteers but going through a dry spell at the mo
Every day is a school day
  • how to pee with a huge backpack on
  • turn a top back to front, duh daaa!
  • a better fringe cutter than ever
Breakages and lost property
  • 6 weeks of tendonitis in foot is better than a break I s’ppose (you can imagine the bottom lip)
  • lost money grrrr, forgetting to cancel a hostel in the Booking.com cancellation time frame but pleading ignorance and apology didn’t work!
  • one lost sock was eventually inevitable
Backpack weight reduction
  • does the lost sock count?
My elixirs and the smoking slippery slope
  • two more AngloVille’s since my 43-day blog so yes, wine, so much red wine, lots of the delicious consumed.  The Czech stuff out of a box was actually ok
  • based on a Dulux colour chart I’m happy with the tan, long may it stay, thank you sunshine!  I would hazard a guess at sandalwood to pecan to almond and vanilla for those vampire parts of me that never see daylight
  • if you were a doctor – 1/2 a ciggie a day

Weight wishful shrinking

  • well I never, I can now eventually fit into my cropped trousers, not even an elastic waist!
  • I cannot consider my walking every day as exercise because the pace would is more of a meander.  On the road exercise hmmm…. a morning cat stretch, the occasional calf stretch especially on a step or escalator and the one and only yoga class we did at AngloVille Wroclaw.  Bad state of affairs really!
Number of destinations visited – 20 excluding day trips out and about
Number of train seats excluding buses, metros and trams 28
Number of beds – 25 I think… [insert winky emoticon]
Volunteering – 14 days at the French Chateau, 21 days with AngloVille in Poland and the Czech Republic and on my way to 30 days at a yoga retreat in Austria.  Such fun!
Where next in my magical mystery tour….
  • Nuremberg
  • Rothenberg ob der Tauber
  • Fussen
  • Innsbruck
  • Nassereith
Rowan’s route changes are too many to add up and how did I do with day 43 resolutions…. like any resolution, a complete failure 
  • eat at vegetarian restaurants if they exist
  • buy the 1.5 litre bottle of water and drink it
  • do not read the dessert page of the restaurant menu
  • learn to love stairs
As a creature of habit, let’s see if any of the above actually changes in Autumn!  Not forgotten you, hope all is fabulous wherever you are.  See you at 150 days 😉

Day 43 – Rowan is in the diary room

*for all you UK Big Brother watchers, insert own Marcus Bentley voice circa 2007

Well I never, how did 42 days fly by!?! I thought I’d do a quick update on me, in a homage to Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Loves
every train journey across the continent
arriving in new places
red wine
You Tube and mobile phone technology – Google maps!

Dislikes
Sausages
Plastic cheese

Misses
smoked Applewood and Cathedral City cheeses
having 2 hot vegetables on the plate next to your meat and potatoes
watching TV in one very long, very hot bath

Breakages and lost property
1 locked padlock from day 1 but determined to crack it
1 broken smart phone screen in week 2
1 trousers split by ‘gracefully’ sitting on the grass
1 UK continental adapter left on the TGV in week 3
1 set of bruises due to slipping comically in the shower in week 3
2 pair of knickers due to slack elastic

Backpack weight reduction (slow progress)
knickers and trousers chucked – refer to above
shorts binned – why did I pack them?

Cigarettes smoked
20 – red wine induced – weeks 1 & 2
0 – gimme a whoop – week 3 to 6
15 – fell off the wagon as I found a shop in Warsaw that sold Marlboro Ice Blast week 7

Glasses of red drunk
Too many to count, every one delicious, even the unexpected Swiss wine

Weight
all I will say is “uh oh!”

Favourite city so far
Ljubjlana, Slovenia!

Next destinations
Krakow
Bratislava
Budapest
Prague

Because I’ll soon need bigger pants due food consumption not otherwise; this Monday’s resolutions

  • focus on the protein – eMeggs and ham for breakfast
  • research cheap fresh fruit and vegetable shops
  • eat at vegetarian restaurants if they exist in these meat eating countries
  • buy the 1.5-litre bottle of water and actually drink it
  • do not read the dessert page of the restaurant menu
  • learn to love stairs

I hope you’re with me.  Paris blog will be up tomorrow!  Happy Monday everyone 🙂