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!

Why volunteer?

Do you know what volunteering is?  Do you know the benefits to you are huge?  Do you know where to volunteer?  I am happy to help!

Volunteering is defined as ‘freely offering yourself to a service or undertaking, to do so willingly and without pay’.  Sounds ever so formal.  Let’s break it down.

For me, I believe we are genetically disposed to give and as reward we feel what I call the ‘warm and fuzzies’.  Both my sister and mother contribute a lot to their interests.  Both have much busier diaries than I.  I cannot commit quite so much time, and that’s all volunteering is.  Can you give a little time to those in need?

Over the years I have volunteered with Scouting, leading groups of Explorer Scouts aged 14 to 18 in Redditch and London.  I thoroughly enjoy supporting charities such as being a cheer squad steward on The Moonwalk route.  I have taken part in Volu-tourism; volunteering with young people in Peru and Vietnam.  I have had enormous once in a lifetime opportunities as a Games Maker for London 2012 Olympics and a poppy planter at the Tower of London.  Most recently teaching conversational English with AngloVille in Poland and the Czech Republic.  I have loved every minute!

“it makes me proud to be a part of something that can improve and impact other people’s lives”

Time is a precious commodity but volunteering doesn’t have to take over your life. Research shows that just two hours a week can provide many rewards, to both you and your chosen cause.  That said, the most important thing is to volunteer only the amount of time that feels comfortable for you.  If you can only give time monthly then you will still receive the ‘warm and fuzzies’, and your cause will benefit from your support.

Volunteering is to be fun, not another task on your to-do list.  You can and you will get so much from it, I promise you.

I asked a couple of friends who volunteer, what do they do and why they do… it’s not just me.  Go for it, don’t think too much about it, as Nike says ‘just do it!’

My childhood friend Kathryn, whom first invited and introduced me to Scouting continues to be involved, previously with Cubs for over 10 years, and now a Scout Leader with a weekly group of 10.5-14-year-olds in Northwich:  “To help give others the fun, great opportunities I have had with Scouts. I enjoy seeing them develop, mature, learn problem-solving, life skills. Passing skills I have learnt on to others. Seeing mixed groups of children come together and appreciating them for who they are without the pressures of education and school life. Lastly, it keeps my own skills up and makes my life busy and interesting.”

My mum is always busy with her bowls club committee, public speaking and church activities “When I volunteer I always get something special back!” 

My sister Bernice volunteers with City Pastors Birmingham once a month. To support the police and street wardens to keep the vulnerable safe on the streets and be a presence especially at night. It’s run by volunteers from 16 different churches in Birmingham.  “A great chance to meet people from other churches and very rewarding when I know I have helped someone who might otherwise have been ill, injured or at risk.”

The benefits

Contribute to a cause or your community

Volunteering offers vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes, and the local community. It doesn’t have to involve a long-term commitment or take a huge amount of time out of your busy day. Giving in simple ways can help.

Julia from Wellesbourne, UK recently joined her elder son’s football club committee:  “I joined because when Ethan [younger son] was in hospital over Christmas last year, the Wellesbourne Wanderers donated Christmas presents to the children on the ward and it really touched me. I got approached to help with their committee to help organise events that the children can get involved in within the community and thought it was a good way to give back. Their actions meant a lot to me during hard times and thought it would be nice to be a part of that.”

Make new friends

One of the easiest ways to make new friends or strengthen existing relationships is to experience a shared activity together. While some people are naturally outgoing, others are shy and have a hard time meeting new people.   This will give confidence as you are meeting regularly with people and a common interest. Volunteering will easily broaden your network of friends and volunteer acquaintances.

Michelle from Kentucky USA, now living in Poland “As an expat, I volunteer to make a difference in my new home country. It’s my way to learn about Poland and give back to the people that have made my time here an amazing experience. Plus, I feel like I’ve made new lifelong friends.”   

Support your mental and physical health

Volunteering helps counteract the effects of stress, anger, and anxiety. The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being.   Volunteering combats depression. By measuring hormones and brain activity, researchers have discovered that being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure. Human beings are hard-wired to give to others. The more we give, the happier we feel.

Volunteering increases self-confidence. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. A sense of pride and identity. The better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.

Volunteering provides a sense of purpose. Older adults, especially those who have retired or lost a spouse, can find new meaning and direction in their lives by helping others. Whatever your age or life situation, volunteering can help take your mind off your own worries, keep you mentally stimulated, and add more zest to your life.

Volunteering helps you stay physically healthy. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not. Older volunteers tend to walk more, find it easier to cope with everyday tasks, are less likely to develop high blood pressure, and have better-thinking skills. Volunteering can also lessen symptoms of chronic pain and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Advance a job or new career

Volunteering offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. It is also a great way to gain experience in a new field. For example, if you’re interested in nursing, you could help at a hospital or a nursing home.   Your volunteer work might also expose you to professional organizations or internships that could be of benefit to your career.

Learn a new skill

Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many opportunities provide extensive training. For example, you could become an experienced crisis counselor while supporting a women’s shelter or expand your art history knowledge while donating your time as a museum guide.

You can build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you hold a successful sales position, you raise awareness for your favorite cause as a volunteer advocate. Developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills.

Explore your interests and passions.

Doing volunteer work you find meaningful and interesting can be a relaxing and a motivating escape from your day-to-day routine of work, school, or family commitments.

My travelling buddy Fiona was a member of her hockey club committee: “To keep the sport alive, and encourage people to play for fun. I was never the best player but I’m good at organising, so it enabled me to give back, by paying it forward.”     

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How to start volunteering

  • Ask yourself if there is something specific you want to do.
  • Do you want to improve the area you live in?
  • Do you want to meet people different to you or try something new?
  • Do you enjoy a specific sport or pastime?
  • Are you creative? Social media or IT expert?
  • Do you enjoy organising activities?
  • Do you enjoy talking to the older generation or entertaining the younger?

 

Just a few organisations needing volunteers

Where can you help?

Contact and visit the club or group you’re interested in.  Find out more out the expectations and meet people you’ll be volunteering with.   Be comfortable with the organisation and understand the time commitment. Consider starting small so you don’t over commit at first. Give yourself some flexibility to change your focus if needed.

If volunteering overseas, choose carefully. Some volunteer programs abroad can cause more harm than good if they take much-needed paying jobs away from local workers.

Enjoy yourself. The best volunteer experiences benefit both the volunteer and those who need your help.

Brandon from Texas: “Each opportunity serves a different purpose, however, one thing that all my experiences have in common is that they help those in need. I enjoy serving others and I am fulfilled knowing that I made a difference in someone’s life.”

If you are in Europe or international please look at the country pages, I am endeavouring to update as quickly as possible!

If you are in the UK then information on available volunteer positions in your areas can be found online or contact organisations and charities directly:

I would love to hear about your experiences and any possible volunteer vacancies I can share on my website and social media. Good luck and have fun!

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!