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!

The fun of the unwritten hostel etiquette

To date, I have seen 23 hostels and including my volunteering, I have enjoyed 121 bed nights in 27 shared rooms with anywhere from 1 to 9 room companions; all of those roomies have very different ideas of how we should interact and share space.

I’m ‘relatively’ chilled about it, I certainly have pet hates that invariably feature on my Facebook feed to air my grievance. I appreciate it’s not forever, roommates change all the time and whilst you may have concerns, don’t worry there is a code.

I have shared rooms whilst travelling since joining Scouts aged 15 in 1992. Tent, hostel dormitory, university digs, hotel room – it’s all the same. Are you a person who keeps themselves and their stuff relatively compact or are you a loud, messy cuckoo “your space is my space”.

From the tone of that sentence, you can guess, I’m the former.

I can write this blog in jest and be chilled because my saviour is the earbud! A soft gentle earplug that will dull sound even if the battery on my mobile phone or laptop is dead and gone. The ideal distraction is music or podcast.

Torture would have been losing my mind listening to the rustling and faffing of people, or the munching of food, and the shuffle of flat-footed adults that cannot walk in slippers…. the list goes on. Don’t heed all my of grumbles, I have an inability to block out certain sounds. I am unphased in the cacophony of coffee shop peak hour but sit next to me in the same cafe and repeatedly sniff, I will want to punch you in your drippy nose.

What surprised me was the varying ages of the inconsiderate [oOoo I sound stroppy] and that culture and nationality could be a potential factor. Consider too, I am a Brit expecting my version of hostel etiquette in a European hostel with international travellers.

Here are a few examples of the actions of others; acceptable or bad form? A heads up really, if you do any of the above then it’s likely you are getting evil looks.

  • Alarm on loud and early – Should the whole room wake up because ‘someone’ has a check-out at 5am?
  • Packing and repacking of bags uber late or early – is that the time to be jangling padlocks, rustling bags and zips, opening and closing locker doors or drawers?
  • Turning the room main lights on after 10pm – someone could be sleeping here!
  • Slippers – love or hate, they definitely don’t belong in the access and egress routes to the toilet in the middle of the night
  • Using all the plug/power sockets with multiple devices for one person – now don’t be a hog
  • Leaving the room door open early in the morning or late at night – the lock on a door usually means it wants to be closed
  • Stage whisperers – you’ve been out all day with your companion/s, what’s so important to say now?
  • Noisy neighbours – No one wants to hear TV shows and 3 genres of music all at the same time.  Nor Aunt Flossie on Skype or your tales of last nights exploits whilst you’re on the phone.

I had a maniacal situation in my 20s where I’ve wanted to throw daggers at a young girl obsessively packing and repacking her plastic bags before 7am.  To then find out on my check-out that this was a ‘thing’ that some Eastern Asian guests like to do. As your atypical Brit abroad, I was nursing a hangover and the last thing I could handle was the rustling of plastic for hours.

Fast forward 20 years and the plastic bag rustling continues! Many more backpackers, no matter the nationality, separate their belongings in plastic bags or the ziplock bag that also crinkles and crackles. I need to invent a backpack or suitcase insert that’s made from fabric with no zip or velcro or anything that makes noise…. hmmm, I caveat that with a copyright, trademark, inventors registration…what ever the word, that’s MY IDEA!

I have been the cause of a loud stage “sshhhhhhhhhhuush” mid-guffaw, the person stumbling from a top bunk ladder trying to get to find the toilet in the darkness and the post-alcohol snorer! How can such a short person produce the decibels whilst asleep? It’s both a blessing and a curse.

I have heard excessively weird noises from beds; I shudder at the thought. Even the rhythmic bang, bang, bang of an old bunk bed knocking against a tall metal locker whilst my roommate decided to bring a bloke back home. To the room, she shared with 3 other people.  What!?!?!? My poor friend had to leave her rocking top bunk and find alternative sleeping arrangements. Even then I was prepared for noise, just not that particular noise! A portable tape Walkman and a beloved Crowded House cassette on maximum volume. Those traditional foam earphone pads were not as successful blocking out peripheral sound but at least I could get back to sleep. Don’t worry this WAS NOT a hostel but the ‘fun’ of shared accommodation whilst working abroad when I was 19.

I’ll stop putting you off by regaling the worst of incidents that honestly don’t happen often.

Hostel etiquette 101, that makes hostels fun for everyone

  • Hours of activity, chatter, noise, and light is usually 8am to 10pm
  • Bedrooms at night are, surprise, surprise, for sleeping
  • In the day, imagine the bedroom is the quiet carriage of a train i.e. no phones calls
  • Earphones are mandatory for music and TV
  • Don’t walk around in shorts and a t-shirt then complain it’s cold [and vice versa]
  • Exhibitionists take note; some don’t want to see your bra and thong, or six-pack/beer-gut and package
  • Think before you hit the light switch
  • Take a moment to inhale your odour
  • Don’t be a slob
  • Leave the romance outside
  • Acknowledge your roomies, a nod or a smile will do

Hostels vary as much as hotels. Amenities such as kitchens, bar service, cafe or lounge seating, TV, programme of activities or only a breakfast room that closes after 11am.  The choice is wide and another nod to Tim Berners-Lee for the wonder-web; you can use aggregate websites such as Hostelling International, Hostel World, Booking.com, Hostel Bookers or Hostels.com. Each has a search engine for your location, price range, facilities, size of bedroom, same-sex bedrooms, customer ratings etc.

The future is here. The Japanese thought of the capsule bedroom hotel and this has now been tweaked to hugely improve the hostel dormitory experience. I am typing this cocooned in a lower bunk bed; the days of the exposed unsteady squeaky metal bunk bed is widely disappearing. All sides of my capsule are fixed wood panels except one, the side I access the bed has a curtain to pull across when I’m all tucked in. I have my dedicated lamp on, 2 plug sockets for my devices, shelf for bits and bobs plus a long mattress that even a 6 footer would be comfortable in.

 

I have stayed in 6 hostels with their version of a capsule/cubicle bed and even with the worst [the pink one], it felt more private and that makes such a difference.

My absolute favourite is the capsule bed at the ’boutique hostel’. It sounds a little pretentious but I recognise the name is PR, a need to differentiate from the party-hard hostel or the family-friendly hostel.  The Katowice Pinball Hostel was the best mattress and most uniquely themed, shame they only check in till 8pm!  The Old Kings Fussen Design Hostel is an easy recommendation.

The upcoming breed of uniquely themed and stylish hostels is growing. I appreciate the interior decoration in a hostel as much as I do a hotel, maybe more.  The Art Hotel and Hostel in Passau and The Secret Garden Hostel and Apartments in Krakow are 2 locations I stayed where they invested in their own styling as well as maximising the bed space and offering shared bathroom facilities.

The Benefits

  • Cost savings
  • Make friends with other travellers
  • The average guest age is older than you’d think
  • Cooking and kitchen facilities
  • Location, location, location
  • Social communal areas, possible bar and/or cafe discounts to residents
  • Hints and tips of sights and sounds, what’s ‘worth it’ at your destination
  • Free WIFI
  • Lockable storage lockers
  • Inclusive breakfast at many
  • Cheap services and facilities such as on-site laundry, towel hire, board games & pool tables, even swimming pools!

I have stayed in one hotel throughout my near 6 months of travel. Just 2 nights in the equivalent of a 4* hotel with en-suite bath and shower, full continental breakfast buffet including an omelette station, swimming pool, jacuzzi and a petite room balcony overlooking the Austrian village and stunning mountain sunset views. It was a well-deserved treat after my alpine volunteering albeit Innsbruck’s lack of hostels did almost insist that I do it BUT it was different. It felt a little detached. It’s not to say I couldn’t have but I wouldn’t naturally start talking to the guests about their trip and travel experiences. Unlikely to have bonded over red wine and cigarettes. Lastly, I used to work in hotels similar to this setup and it felt like a busman’s holiday.

Hostels do have other options to the dormitory.  Rooms can be single occupancy plus double beds, twins, triple and even quad options. Some have en-suite toilets and showers. I have a feeling this decision would be based on whether you like to spend hours in the shower, like to take your time in front of the mirror and important to us all – the want to poo in peace. You won’t be the first or the last.

My primary expectation is a shared bedroom and a shared bathroom in exchange for the clear financial saving. My average cost per paid hostel bed is £18.50 per night. If budget and price is the driving decision factor for you, the trick is to use these search engines to source your top 3 and then double check against the property website as you may get the bed even cheaper.

You may also be interested to hear when I include my free shared accommodation during volunteering projects this massively diluted my cost of sleeping to a pleasingly low £10.04 per night. I have been impressed with over 2 thirds of my hostels for varying reasons and that’s a fantastic ratio.

Whether you’re 18 or 38 or 58, hostels can offer you more than you expect at a fraction of the price of a hotel.  With my continued travels, I want to stay at Generator Hostels.  This brand looks like the one to watch!

 

European geography for dummies

Just a little fun for some and much needed helpful information for others! Don’t worry, no one is judging, I’m sharing 😉

Pop quiz to see where you’re at.  This is the consequence of hilarious conversations in many hostels throughout my travels.  You’ll find the quiz answers in the blurb I’m about to impart! Good luck.

  • What country is the largest island in the European continent?
  • What and where is the smallest country?
  • How many countries, as well as England, are in Great Britain?
  • Gibraltar is part of which country?
  • Where do you find Lapland?
  • Where is Yugoslavia?
  • What is the most westerly EU capital city?
  • What is the most easterly EU capital city?
  • Which Scandinavian country is not part of the EU?
  • How many EU countries use their own currency and what are they?
  • Which 4 non-EU countries are part of the Schengen Zone?

Feel happy?  Feel informed?  If not, read on…

There are 50 countries in the continent of Europe with a total of more than 852 million people living on the continent. Only 28 of the European states/countries belong to the European Union.

Great Britain is the largest island in Europe!  Did you think it was Greenland? Greenland is economically and politically part of Denmark however geographically (but not culturally) is part of North America.

The Vatican City is the smallest country in Europe and the world, both by population and by size.  Located within Italy’s capital city of Rome.

What’s in a name?

Let us start with my homeland.  Yes, I’m from England which is just one small country within the British Isles. This handy diagram may help

British Isles, GB and UK.jpg

  • So… the British Isles includes The United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, and the Republic of Ireland.
  • The UK’s full name is The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
  • Great Britain or Britain comprises 3 constituent nations: England, Scotland, Wales

Did you know?  The ‘Great’ in Great Britain (Britannia Major in Roman times) is to distinguish it from the other, smaller “Britain”: Brittany (Britannia Minor) in northwestern France.

It’s important to remember that the Republic of Ireland is a completely separate state from the United Kingdom, that seceded from the Union in 1922 and gained full independence in 1937.

Benelux

Benelux is a name for 3 counties: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

The Low Countries is a coastal region consisting of the Netherlands and Belgium, and the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Meuse, Scheldt, and Ems rivers (in France and Germany) where much of the land is at or below sea level.

Strictly speaking, Scandinavia consists of Iceland, Denmark including the Faroe Islands, Sweden and Norway.

In broader terms, Finland and Iceland are in addition to Scandinavia when talking about the Nordic Countries.

Scandinavia

The Balkan PeninsulaThe Balkan Peninsula is more or less equivalent to the region known as Southeastern Europe. This great map shows the Balkan Peninsula which includes areas that were the former Yugoslavia. The Balkans or Balkan states are defined differently, by political borders rather than geography. I’ll not confuse you too much.

Those not considered as ‘the Balkans’ are Greece and the European part of Turkey, depending on which book or website you’re reading. That’s politics for you!

Slavic states are those countries with Slavic-speaking communities. These include many of the Balkans: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.

Baltic States

The Baltics or Baltic States. were once occupied by the Soviet Union, but they were among the first to break away in 1990—1991 and today are proud members of both the European Union and NATO.

On my map to the right, can you see Kaliningrad Oblast under Lithuania? A small exclave of Russia that you need to get a Russian visa and proceed through customs to enter.

Europe has a number of island dependencies and lesser known territories in proximity to the mainland continent.

  • The Isle of Man is part of the UK. Gibraltar is not an island but a peninsula of Spain yet also part of the UK.
  • The Faroe Islands and Greenland are autonomous territories of Denmark.
  • Svalbard is administered by Norway; a land frozen all year round except for 3 weeks of summer.
  • A different one: Åland is an autonomous territory of Finland however culturally belongs to Sweden with a majority of native Swedish speakers.
  • A really confusing one: The Channel Islands are an archipelago (group of islands) in the English Channel off the Normandy coast of France. Divided into two British Crown Dependencies, the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey. The former includes the islands of Alderney, Sark and Herm, and smaller islands are divided between the two bailiwicks. The islands are not part of the United Kingdom or European Union, but rather are possessions of the British Crown with independent administrations. Their inhabitants are British citizens. Told you that wasn’t exactly simple!

Lapland!  On my travels I have been surprised many have not heard of Lapland. More than one country has a Lapland; derived from the Sami people (also Sámi or Saami) traditionally known in English as Lapps or Laplanders.

Ultimately the most northerly regions of Finland, Norway and Sweden; traditional areas inhabited by the Sami people. Plus this is a rare term for the Russian province Murmansk.  Lapland is synonymous with Christmas due to the herds of reindeer, links to Santa Claus and abundance of pines, spruces and snow.

The Mediterranean countries are those with a coast in the Mediterranean Basin:  Portugal, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, San Marino, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Malta and the British territory of Gibraltar.

Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain located on the northeastern extremity of the Iberian Peninsula. It consists of four provinces including all important Barcelona.  As of October 2017, the Catalan regional parliament voted to declare independence from Spain as Madrid prepared to to impose direct rule.

The Amalfi Coast lies in the southwestern region of Campania, Italy.  Not to be confused with The Dalmatian Coast which is Croatia’s dramatic limestone cliff shoreline and islands scattered offshore.

Alpine countries have the Alps and Danubian countries lie along the River Danube.  Are you noticing a naming trend?

Those that were…

Yugoslavia WAS divided in 1991 and 1992. It no longer exists. The huge area consisted of current countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.

The USSR WAS the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or shortened to The Soviet Union. A socialist state that existed between 1922 and 1991.

Prussia WAS once the leading state in a huge German Empire, existing in various guises from 1701 to 1947. I’ll be attempting more on this subject in my ‘European History for Dummies’. It will take this dummy a while to compile and simplify!

Czechoslovakia WAS the combined countries of now independent Slovakia and the Czech Republic. They completed a conscious uncoupling in 1993. A once troubled country. Forced partial incorporation into Nazi Germany between 1939-1945. Shortly followed by Soviet bloc command 1948-1990.

Europe and the EU are different folks

EU countriesThe EU is the European Union. A politico-economic union of European nations. It consists of 28 members as of 2017 (I’m ignoring the UK’s Brexit till the deal is done).

The most westerly EU capital city is Lisbon, Portugal.  The most easterly EU capital city is Nicosia, Cyprus.

People think Norway and Iceland are in the EU – nope!

As part of the EU membership, countries can opt in or out of the Euro currency.  Nine European country specific currencies continue.  Did you get these answers below?

Currency map

 

For many international travellers the Schengen Area is all important.

The zone consists of 26 countries where internal border checks have largely been abolished.

Formed of 22 EU countries and 4 non-EU – Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

The Schengen Agreement was signed on 14 June 1985, near the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, by five of the ten member states of the then European Economic Community.

Shengan Area

My last did you know…?  Europe is named for the Greek mythological character Europa, mother of King Minos of Crete. The god Zeus turned himself into a bull in order to seduce Europa. She climbed on his back and he dived into the sea and carried her to Crete.  Why was she so easily seduced by a bull?   Worrying.

Hope you feel smug and/or enlightened; full of knowledge!  Hope your answers were correct too.  Happy travelling.

100ml Zurich? I think you have forgotten some of my wine

I’ve been a bad blogger, time flies during the good times and apathy descended when limpy [hurt my foot] or in a man-flu sick bed.  Playing serious catch-up!  Firstly, “Oh Switzerland, if only you were more in my price bracket!” and secondly, “as always, are you sitting comfortably?”.

Thursday 29 June 2017 – I had to Google synonyms for stunning

I’m heading to Geneva from Lyon on a ‘cozy’ regional train; comforting in a contrary way that it is not only the UK’s Southern Rail that doesn’t know how many carriages to put on a local service.  The difficulty with ‘no reservation needed’ resulting in a Lyon bun fight for seats.  I got one so I didn’t care too much but there was a fair bit of huffing and puffing from passengers not wanting to move their belongings from their neighbouring seat.  This is universal.

Sadly, it’s a miserable milky rainy day.  Wet from Lyon all the way to Lausanne, even so, the landscape is more remarkable to me than the flat plains of the Loire Valley.  I have always been a mountain over beach type of gal; rolling hills in preference to tundra or savanna.  To look at not run up!  I’m sure you will have presumed this.  My first non-stop rainy day and it couldn’t be better timing, I cannot avoid wet weather on my travels so I am happy to look past the wet from my warm comfy train seat with, initially, the usual French fields of gold speeding past me and then the Austrian panorama just stands up and takes a bow.  But…I do hope the deluge clears before I reach Zürich, I’m less enthusiastic searching for my hostel in the rain.

We, the royal we, have a tight turnaround in Geneva train station which could have been painful considering most of the passengers are tourists.  It was surprisingly easy even with my fellow foreigners.  Tourists always walk that bit slower, mouths open, taking information in but not really comprehending what they need to do and each looking vacantly at their travel companions for ‘a sign’.  There were signs everywhere.  Customs, oh yeah, I crossed a border.  Custom officers occasionally eyeing us up and a security x-ray bag machine but they never looked at our passports nor our bags.  The luggage x-ray machine didn’t even look switched on.  I had fleetingly wondered if anything at all would happen country to country.  To be correct, the border was about 20km track back.  I’m here to take benefit of our [in limbo] EU membership so I can free flow between countries.  No Lindt chocolates or Toblerone distributed to welcome arrivals though, they are missing a trick.

I couldn’t be too frustrated with the other tourists.  I have found myself walking with mouth open in the past 2 weeks, and what feels like a confused look on my face, I promptly shut that bottom jaw.  No one needs any further clues I’m not a local, the size of my backpack or travelling pyjama like clothing gives it away sure enough.  The wry situation of me weighed down with backpack preferred so I can move quicker, is combated by the many dazed and confused holding wheely suitcases forgetting how much space they take with the extension of their arm and then the suitcase handle and then suitcase itself.  Manufacturers – please quit making these 2-wheel suitcases, the 4-wheel vertical case is perfect and people can stop unexpectedly in the middle of a walkway with absolutely no apology nor awareness of surroundings to their heart’s content.

A lady cuts me up, steps onto the train and stops dead.  The double decker trains have quite a bit of space at the doorway, a ‘carriage foyer’ due to toilets and stairwell to the upper deck but nope, lady stops less than a foot into the train.  Looking blank and awaiting her hubby to give her instruction.  A panic takes over some that the train will start moving even with the doors open and many passengers still to climb aboard.  I scoot as best I could around her to escape into a seating bay so I can work out where my reserved seat is and where I can actually sit for a better view.  This always depends on how many people get on.  She follows me.  Stood with her arm extended and suitcase handle extended so she blocks my line of sight and my egress out.  This is the type of traveller I hope I never become.  She eventually recognises what she’s done, this takes quite some time considering there are only 2 of us in this part of the carriage.  Whoop moves her suitcase an inch!  I take that inch as I feel that’s all I’ll get!  ‘Hop’ over her bag and quickly squirrel away from her so she and hubby cannot follow me.

I am loving this super deluxe train (easily pleased), exactly as I would expect from the Swiss.  Compared to the packed regional train, I had the pick of seats.  Happy coincidence as I had no clue where I should be sat, the signage became surprisingly confusing and I gave up trying to decipher.  I sprawl out with picnic lunch and laptop ready for a spacious and peaceful trip.  Only a few business men nearby.  Perfect!

I knew I’d like the countryside during my train journeys through the dramatic landscape of Switzerland, the long journey was deliberate; undulating fields as the train speeds away from the city, an abundance of luscious green, of course, forest green, pine green, avocado, moss, racing green, olive, teal and shamrock shades and tones – you get the picture.  By contrast, the skyline suddenly rockets upwards at the sheer side of a magnificent rock carved away for the train track or a natural heart stopping deep gorge.

The Swiss have some rather large hills.  They’re not exactly the mountains because I can just about see those imposing snow topped monsters across the water of Lake Geneva and later in my journey past Lake Zürich.  I knew I’d like it and it still overwhelmed me.  It was the start of some impressive and stunning train journeys.  Not forgetting, for a landlocked country, they have a hell of a lot of water.  I hadn’t mentally pictured the size and scale of either Lake Geneva or Lake Zürich.

Heading out of a city is usually a little uneventful, but oh no, eeeek what a moment to look out the window.  A very high train bridge took my breath away at the drop.  Going to have to get used to that but my heart is in my mouth right now.  The tracks intermittently hug the lake line and I can see water.  Forty minutes on and still to my right, past the little towns with multiple shades of terracotta roof tops, the majestic Lake Geneva.  The tonal town roofs and buildings really appeal to my liking of colour co-ordination.  Plus, the land is used to its max, what 60% incline?  Either a 3 and 4 story high house benefiting from views of the lake or rows and rows of what looks like grape.  I am no horticulturist, and even though I worked at the now closed Vinopolis in London, I haven’t heard much about Swiss wine but it does look like a vineyard on the side of a hill.  Not just the one vineyard but many.  I can’t take a picture as it wouldn’t do it justice especially on a damp grey day.    I half wish I could have visited Geneva but I will be back to Lake Geneva when I have more money in the bank, I think there’s a boat out there with my name on it.

I don’t know much about the Geneva grapes but if you choose to visit the Zürich vineyards, little did I know; the Stafa area is the largest wine making community in the canton of Zürich as it lies on the sunny ‘Gold Coast’ of Lake Zürich.  They have relatively high temperatures combined with Foehn winds to create perfect conditions for growing grapes.  What’s a Foehn wind I hear you ask?  The simplest definition is ‘a warm dry wind blowing down the side of a mountain’.  I am sure you know those said mountains are The Alps.

I am surprised by the lack of free Wi-Fi on my train, I won’t suffer without it but I assumed that the Swiss are up to date and savvy about technology; free WIFI would be a standard.  I find out certain carriages have a suped-up mobile signal booster so you can use your own 3G or 4G as a mobile hotspot.  Of course, the Swiss are savvy AND frugal.

The route from Geneva to Zürich is via busy capital city Bern and yikes the track coming out of Bern is an even higher bridge.  My heart skips every time I see the drop.  I’ve got worse with heights as I’ve got older but I don’t have the same feeling when I look out the window of a plane.  Strange, isn’t it?  Aren’t I?  The River Aare [I think, I should have noted it down because finding the exact train route I’ve taken is proving to be an internet research nightmare] is underneath the bridge, emerald green and sparkling in the sunshine creeping from behind disappearing rain clouds.  I could sit and watch the view for hours!

Beautiful, outstanding, breathtaking, thrilling, wondrous, majestic, spectacular and awesome!  All apply and I have every faith these will come up again.

Zürich train station is huge.  The arrival levels underground feel space age and modern; white and glossy.  Easy to navigate and very efficient as you can imagine but it was much bigger than I was expecting.  One of the largest stations in Europe with 26 tracks and reportedly 2,915 trains per day.  Off I went in search for the closest cash point and some Swiss francs.  Curses my cash passport Mastercard isn’t accepted!  Mini internal moan about how I knew this could eventually happen and momentary panic reminds me I have both debit card and credit card in my bag.  Why panic, it’s funny how the small things we take for granted are what I have moments about.  Transpires I’d just spent my balance on eating and drinking a lot in France.  Bloomin’ ATM gave me a 100 Swiss Franc (CHF) note even though the machine asked me in what combination of notes I’d like my money.  The embarrassing moment came when I’m trying to break my CHF100 note and then have absolutely no idea which language I should be speaking.  Note to self – German, well Swiss German, they have an even funnier accent I cannot pull off.

In hindsight, 100CHF was not going to last me long at all.  Only 3 stops/10 minutes on the tram costs me £4/5CHF.  That’s just the way it is.  I was impressed with the hostel via email, a self-service entry and check in.  The reason for the low rates at the last minute; the hostel is a converted office space into a 6-single bed dorm, 2 doubles and 1 single.  No staff around and simply a code for the door.  A self-service check-in was an exaggeration.  Take a bed that looks ready to sleep in.   I don’t mind really.  Very odd setup but I appreciate the small freestanding room dividers.  From a glance, it feels like what my imagination of a hotel ward circa the 1960s.  My ‘locker’ is basically an office cupboard with a broken lock, so be it, I usually carry around my laptop to maximise any urge to write.  I can’t be on my feet all day.  The place is cheap for Zürich, close enough to the centre to walk and what would I talk about here if it was a standard conference hotel.  That’d be too great a bus man’s holiday, hotels may have been my work life a good 8 years ago, the memories are fresh.

Zürich is a place that had intrigued me for years.  I know of watches, chocolate especially Lindt and the origin of the purple Milka cow, being a tax haven for big business, crystal mountain water, Lake Zürich, clean streets and expensive everything.  Did you know there is a law that dictates when and how a product can be defined as ‘Swiss Made‘?

I arrive at my strange digs around tea time and I’m lucky a Trip Advisor recommended restaurant is literally on the corner.  It looked busy.  I popped my head in nonetheless and the staff are running around me but not really looking at me.  I’ve noted that solo diners don’t attract the attention of servers.  I can’t fathom if it’s because they’re waiting for the rest of my party or whether they don’t want to hold a table for just 1 person.

I had my ‘table for one, please’ ready in German and the lady spoke to me in English.  I do look like a foreigner.  The relaxed jersey trousers and loose layers are not my past usual attire but I couldn’t be bothered to change.  I simply took my bra off and went out.  Yes, out out to a nice restaurant bra-less.  I messaged my mate – “things have changed!”.

The Restaurant Hardhof staff were lovely.  They were busy however a manager came over and asked if I would mind sitting at a table with 2 chaps.  He had a strong Antipodean accent even though he told me he’d left over 20 years ago.  I’m all for a communal table and have never had issues eating on my own.   But there I sat next to 2 friends in deep conversation about films on a table for 4.  Every so often I could make out ‘blah, blah, Matt Damon, blah, blah, Morgan Freeman’.  I think they were trying to guess a film title and I should have just chipped in.  They’d acknowledged me when I sat but hilariously, that was it.  I could have been mistaken for a friend who had been sent to Coventry.

I ate a delicious creamy veal & mushroom dish that is synonymous with the region and potato rosti   One of my favourite dishes ever and the rosti was up there with the best of the best.  I had large glass, literally, the glass was huge, and hadn’t even clicked at that point that the measure was missing some wine.  I could have stayed for more but I evaluated greed vs purse, so pottered back home, the long way, took me all of 6 minutes.

Friday 30 June 2017 – a new weird room buddy and an old school buddy

I’m awake early to complete some work before heading into the town and had the pleasure of the arrival of a new hostel ‘room buddy’ trying to awkwardly make friends.  Wouldn’t get that in a Hilton Hotel.  He was a harmless chap but clearly didn’t take a hint, I was still in my bed with laptop in front of me and head phones in ears.  There’s usually an unwritten hostel rule where you don’t openly stare at people in their PJ’s and leave people be when they’re in bed.  The conversation was stilted, as he’s hovering at the end of my bed.  I count 4 times of trying to re-insert the ear bud I have in my hand.  Not quick on the social cues.

I got washed and dressed ever so quickly, he was of the type to ask me what I was doing with my day and then volunteer to tag along.  I know I can say no but running out quickly is so much more British of me.  Anything to avoid a further awkward conversation.

Zürich is clean, tidy, the cleanest and then a little cleaner.  I love it.  A gorgeous sunny day following the rain, the streets are quiet except the trams as I walk towards town.  Whilst I love a tram ride as much as the train, I will not spend another £4 when I can walk, albeit in the wrong direction for 5 of just 30 minutes.  Once you see the lake, oh yes, it oozes fresh, clean vibes.  The whole city does.

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DSCN1381Looking at the water, and remember I am used to the Thames, I was gob smacked how clearly, I can see the feet of the ducks and swans.  I may have gone a little photo mad with this but when do you ever see the webbed feet in action.  The saying is wrong… “Be like a duck, paddling and working very hard under the water, but what everyone sees is a smiling and calm face.”  Those duck feet look quite graceful and at ease, maybe a little knock kneed.  Do birds have knees?

I spent at least half an hour simply looking at the water, the river bed, the birds and the view; it truly is captivating.  My stomach grumbles so time for a classic – coffee and apfel strudel.  The strudel is most often associated with Vienna and Austria however it is connected to the whole area formerly belonging to the Austro-Hungarian empire.  This empire was huge.  Gaining popularity in the 18th century through the Austrian Habsburg Empire expansion, strudel soon became one of Austria’s national dishes with many other countries happy to also adopt it as their own.  I find a cute little cafe overlooking the St Peter Church and St. Peterhofstatt Plaza.  Bingo.  I admire the big clock…said to be the largest tower clock face in Europe, it doesn’t look that big but in proportion to the tower yes, it’s big.

I have just 1 full day in Zürich, a small old city centre to easily wander; my top city sights

  • Goes without saying – Lake Zurich herself
  • Churches – Grossmunster, Fraumunster, St Peter and St. Peterhofstatt Plaza
  • Swiss National Museum
  • Cobbled streets of Old Town and Bahnhofstrasse – The designer shops are clearly high end even for designer. I wonder if they mark up prices further in Switzerland.  I’ve never been impressed by brand labels and they hardly every have prices in the windows for me to scoff at however I was curious about watch prices.  As expected no price tag, I’m guessing one bling watch would be the equivalent to my travelling fund and more.
  • Chocolate!

The water was calling me, I would have happily jumped straight in.  It was clearer than some swimming pools I’ve used in the past.  The boat was the next best option.  Boating on the lake has occurred since 4000 BC.  During the early Middle Ages, the route became more known for international trade, goods were shipped north towards Lake Walen and mountain passes.  Goods being semi-processed metals, textiles, salt and wine.

The lake is big!  A few stats.Zurichsee Lake map

  • Also known as Zurichsee, it lies to the south east of the city.
  • It is only crossed at the narrowest point by the Seedamm, a partly artificial causeway and bridge which allows road traffic and rail over the lake.
  • The wooden bridge between Rapperswil and Hurden was opened in 1360.  For 500 years it was the only way to cross the lake by foot.
  • In April 2001, a new 841-metre-long bridge was built.  It has become a main attraction and currently the longest wooden bridge in Switzerland.
  • The lake east of the Seedamm is referred to as Upper Lake – Obersee.
  • There 2 lake islands, Ufenau and Lutzelau.  The smaller latter island cannot be reached by the larger boats due to the shallowness of the waters.
  • The shoreline is 87.6 km [54.4 miles] – more than London to Bath as the crow flies.
  • The deepest point is 136 metres [446 feet] – near equivalent to the height of The Great Pyramid of Giza.
  • The last record year the lake froze was in 1963.

I wonder how much of the lake froze, I can’t believe all of it did.  Here’s a few borrowed photos from the fantastic internet that suggest it did!

The boat short round trip cost only CHF 13.80 and there is only one provider also called Zurichsee or abbreviated to ZSG.  Swiss efficiency.  The boat trip was a sedate 90 minutes.   With more time you have a variety of options available – longer journeys and dinner cruises to meet the needs of local commuter as well as the tourists.

As always, I look for a quiet seat where I can people and horizon watch, sadly got surrounded by excitable Chinese men taking photos of anything, everything and each other.  Thankfully I spotted another chair on the top deck which allowed the Chinese men many more photos with the boat’s Swiss flag flying in the background.  After their initial excitement and about 20 minutes of manically photo taking then all sat down and looked at the floor.  I did giggle that they seemed to struggle with the rest of the trip.  Premature photography climaxes me thinks.  A couple sparked up and I wondered if I was like that back in the heavy 15+ fags a day phase.  Smoking is the antithesis of fresh Swiss air yet there are smokers everywhere.

The lake is surrounded by towns and villages, chalets and houses.  Even the larger buildings for schools and hospitals blend into the beauty well.  We enjoy 8 stops but only 2 really stuck in my memory.  The Lindt and Sprungli factory at Kilchberg.  Sadly, no DSCN1391 (2).JPGfactory tour but there is a shop.  I would be very interested in seeing the chocolates made.  Second, Ruschlikon, my translation is ‘where the money is’.  Home to many corporate company headquarters such as IBM and 3M.

Darker clouds had been following our boat from shore so it was no surprise that eventually the clouds gave up.  The rains came and the passengers scattered.  It was cold!  Even the rain was crystal.

I disembarked needing power for my phone so the choice was wine or coffee.  The darn thing is eating up battery when I take huge numbers of photos, strange that, ever since I dropped it….  The cold rain took another stab at clearing the streets and I jump into 01 Bar.  Not all bars or restaurants have been understanding of my sign language for ‘plug socket’.  Most young people in Zurich speak English, even when I asked the greeter at McDonald’s “do you speak English”, she replied, “of course!”.  McD’s is a great toilet and/or charge up spot usually.  It’s a fine line between insulting by not trying the local language and assuming they won’t speak English. Difficult 1st world issues going on in my life right now.

Wine-gateSo….. the wine.  I thoroughly recommend an easy to drink Swiss Pinot Noir –  Kanton Zürich, Schiterberger Himmelsleiterli AOC 2014.   Then the broken record started… I noticed the 100ml on the menu.  What measure is 100ml?

I am wracking my memory if I’ve been to any other countries were the wine is served in such small measures.  It shows how quickly I consume a 250ml measure back home; the standard large in the UK.  Again, the glass was beautiful, they do it to detract from feeling short changed.  I take very small sips.

The reason why I’d notice the many smokers is that you have to walk through ’em to get inside.  What’s with the need to sit on the pavement, next to the road and look at the trams or buses.  This is less of an issue in Zurich, it was a nightmare in Paris.  I like to look at a river or a pedestrian street but street life is not for me.  I’ve never really appreciated street food – well I do, when I’m sat down somewhere comfy to eat it.  Ha, I am a ‘little old lady’.  Food-wise I have always been like this but friends’ preference or hunger takes over.  Can you believe it but I am now one of those awful 95%-there-ex-smokers that doesn’t like the smell of smoke.  Yes, I said it, pick yourself up off the floor.

I’m needing my battery as I am excited to be meeting up with a very old school friend and his wife; Karl and Ruth.  I have not seen Karl in years but thanks to Facebook we’re in contact and of course, it was crazy not to catch up when they live only 20-30 minutes away.  I hadn’t realised what Karl had in store.  He took us to a fabulous traditional restaurant called Zeughauskeller with the funniest 1-meter long sausage on a sword and one extremely unhappy waitress.

Their method of bigger wine measures was positive, ask for 3 glasses in one and they serve in a small carafe.  There’s no saving in this, this is simply a service benefit that makes perfect sense.  The cost is CHF7 x 3 for 300ml = £16.80.  In my old London local, our large Merlot, 250ml, £7.60.  Didn’t really matter as Karl and I were drinking a bottle of wine between the 2 of us quite quickly!  Tasted great and in good company.  I will now get off my soap box about this topic and draw a line under it.  I will… I will try.

Sausage has never been one of my favoured foods.  My palate changed only in the last 5 or so years but now I’m only into herby or multiple flavoured sausages especially pork and red onion.  A traditional Swiss sausage is my idea of food hell.  When in Rome and surrounded by the traditional 15th-century decor.  I feel like I ‘should’.  No, no, no!  How can anyone say that the UK sausages are bad in comparison, the texture of UK sausages is better even without all the added extras I prefer.  I’d opted for this anemic looking delight!  Ruth did warn me.  And I forget the meat is hot, the potato is cold.  Why did they like and continue this food trend?  Never makes sense.  We catch up about all our old school mates, vague updates about Redditch [‘the ditch’] as neither of us have lived there for years and primarily I quiz them about European places they recommend I should visit.  I like that Ruth says I’m looking for a new place to settle and currently enjoying the research.

It’s reassuring hearing a Redditch accent, no matter how much Karl believes it has faded, there is still a twang.  I don’t miss places I once called home but reminders are exactly that – homely.  Karl and Ruth have a more relaxed day-to-day lifestyle here in Switzerland, I wonder if there are any full-time jobs for me…. I wonder what job I’d wanna do?

I think Karl would have happily stayed out all night as we headed to a cozy cocktail bar called the Old Crow.  My type of bar.  Quirky decor and late-night atmosphere.  Karl treated himself to a crazy priced and rare bourbon.  The bottle was fantastic, in the shape of John Wayne’s head.  Hilarious.  I opted for a delicious Bramble cocktail, my first liquor for weeks and I could feel it.  The drinking games with Red Label Whiskey at the Chateau was a while ago.  Thanks to Ruth and Karl for walking me to the right tram stop plus I was scraping together my last Swiss francs and couldn’t be bothered to head to a cash point for a tenner’s worth.  It was great to see them both and I am sure to be heading back their way very soon.

Saturday 1st July 2017 – Munich I’m coming for you

I could have happily stayed longer in Zurich, next time in a fancy hotel.  It’s a calm and relaxing city with space.  The tourists are obvious and plenty but nothing feels overcrowded.  I am still surprised by the number of people smoking when surrounded by such a clean environment, fresh air, forests and white topped mountains for scenery.  The locals look ready to run up a mountain even if they do have a 20-a-day habit.

If you’re staying longer, I believe a ZurichCARD can offer your savings as the city/country is expensive compared to the GBP or Euro.  There are free activities as well as my to do list for next time:

I’m heading to Munich quite quickly today on my route to Warsaw.  My time constraints are led by my wallet, my Interrailing ticket conditions and being ready for AngloVille volunteering in Warsaw on 14th July.  I took a leisurely tram ride to the station.  Mornings are not my strong point and couldn’t find a breakfast shop on ground level – didn’t even think about go underground.  Such a doughnut, Zurich Train Station has over 100 shops and cafes down a very short flight of stairs.  I’d seen a few on my arrival but nothing registered in the memory.  For my sins, I ended up in Starbucks.  I hate giving them my money but I do like their Frappuccino.

Zurich train station ground level is a grand, magnificent neo-Renaissance building featuring decorated lobbies and atriums now used for shops and restaurants.  Somehow reminds me of London stations, not a bad place to wait.  I’m surprised how late they announce the platforms considering the international trains (whenever I read this as I think of trains over water heading to the States or Caribbean islands) are likely to depart from the same place each time.  The comfort of the train station is the process.  No matter what country you’re in, the logic of what we passengers need to do is the same.

I’m excited about another trip through the Austrian countrywide….

Aston Martin, helicopters and 2CVs

Finally, to continue on from my week 1 experience of driving for the first time in years; a transport theme, purely by chance! It’s a little too easy to write about a fun-filled 7 days so you could almost say this is a novella. Week 2 at the Chateau de Jalesnes is equally as relaxing and so easy to form a rhythm and routine. Up for 8.30am, help yourself to a form of breakfast to your own personal preference (the good having oatmeal with fruit and nuts, me eating Nutella on toast – how did that fall into the trolley?), divvy up the tasks for the day and off we go. All of us still sleepy and not ready to dive into conversation just yet, we happily take our part but do so quietly.

The projects in the past range from building furniture for the Chateau, making wooden doors from scratch for the caves’ entrances into the moat, interiors renovation, painting and decorating, and much much more. It all depends on who’s allocating the jobs. Co-owner Jenny admits herself that when she’s looking after us HelpXers then there’s always more focus on the garden and grounds. This suits me fine as I’m forming a very good tan and I’ve only been here 8 days! The manual labour, as such, is good for the body even though I ache sometimes, it has most successfully switched off the constant brain chatter.

I think the familiarity of what we need to do makes us relax all the more. The Sunday day trip to Nantes had been a little anticlimactic, I’m not sure about visiting French towns or cities on Sundays when they ultimately ‘close up shop’, kinda lose a bit of magic and atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, please visit as you may love it but I have 2 days Tours later in the month and this is definitely a better option. We arrived in Nantes, literally abandoned the car after eventually finding a parking space and then trekked across the town and river to see an attraction of large-scale animatronics.

According to Wikipedia, The Machines of the Isle of Nantes (or Les Machines De l’île) is an artistic, touristic and cultural project. In the old covered buildings of the former shipyards that were at one time very busy in ship construction. Created by two artists, François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice the project’s aim is to promote the city’s image and tries to build an identity as a creative metropolis of dream and of fantasy. I’m sure the restaurants and attractions will soon entice tourists who need a break from wine tasting.

elephantWatching The Great Elephant ‘walk’ was impressive to see especially as the driver spurts water out of the trunk at little children – sounds quite macabre of me, so maternal. My video is brief but you can appreciate the mechanics behind the art, you will not appreciate my filming.  I made a boob but it’s funny to keep.

If you’re happy to pay to enter The Galarie des Machines, this is a ‘veritable bestiary of machines’. Not sure about Google Translate with that one! More animals include a spider that can seat 4 people on its abdomen, a heron with an 8 meter-long wingspan (perfect for my mate Debs!) and the giant ant. I steered clear, not exactly a fan of regular sized spiders and saving my pennies for the priorities – wine and food.

Monday 12th June 2017 – only real cherries are delicious

The fruit trees need weeding – yes, more weeding! This is what happens when Jenny hasn’t been to the Chateau for a good couple of months and the HelpXers are not so focused on the garden. The garden is a little overrun with these trailing weeds, they get everywhere. Good timing as summer has most definitely arrived and this weekend’s guests are dining in the garden. The finish of the garden is important for the French Chateau style. I found out a past HelpXer had designed the garden with the owners of the Chateau and you can really see the design replicates the French formal Chateau style from the balcony. Straight-lined geometric shapes, neatly trimmed trees and shrubs, gravel for paving, and the wildflowers adding colour and a little contrast.  Not as costly as the one recently in the news! 

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They have cherry, apple and lemon trees. I feel like I’m missing other fruits but I really can’t remember. It’s a sign that I need to take more notes. So easy to forget the smaller things when doing something new each day. A week can start to become one very long but very filled day, and I’m only on week 2! The details ‘make’ my shaggy dog stories and you ‘need’ details! I’ve taken to writing very short bullets each day with the desire to prompt the full memory. This didn’t work for my A levels but I’m hopeful. This blogging malarkey takes time you know, I knew but now actually appreciate, that for anyone who writes, it is a ‘job’ as well as a creative outlet. I need to be more applied to writing time and stop enjoying myself 🙂 It’s ever so contradictory of ‘holiday mode’; to be in a new place then lie in or stay inside for hours typing but it has to be done. Oops, did I say lie in?

As per usual Rowan conversation, I digress, sadly not enough for fruit pies but still, they need trimming back, tidying up and new wood chip. The formal wood chipped beds of the trees is important to the look. Thankfully whilst we were low on fruit in the Chateau garden, we had a very generous neighbour. Another of the owners, Micheal, popped into the Hi De Hi with what must have been 4kg of cherries, tasty, sweet and deep cherry red. Between 6 of us and happily sharing with anyone else who popped in; we devoured every last one. Too difficult to get the stone out and make pies. Actually…. how do they get the stone out for pies? Promoting a conversation about how a real cherry is tasty and desired but all artificial cherry flavours are not and those disgusting maraschino cherries are the worst! Like some say, I believe they are ‘the devil’s food’. This was discussed for at least erm, 3 or 4 minutes.

My good old mate Fiona once challenged me to rate many things in my top or bottom ‘5’; completely deliberately to distract me from the horrific hangover I was experiencing. Much appreciated! Maraschino cherries would be at the very bottom of all fruit based bottom 5’s or even ‘100’s’. I would rather eat durian over these little beggars.

Weirdly we noted that cherries are extortionate in all 5 of our countries so this farmer was making a tidy sum. Why are cherries so pricey, they are an abundant fruit and grow in quite a few countries? The land surrounding the Chateau was a mix of the neighboring farmer and his brother’s land plus also forestry which is part of the Chateau grounds. I was really pleased to see a public walkway was signed posted through Vernantes, the forest land, and fields of what looks like cannabis, yes, cannabis. In reality, hemp. From the same plant family and the familiar leaf shape that I’ve seen… in films… and on postcards. Two different walks of 4km or 10km I think, I had the urge to investigate further and the feeling passed quickly. I need to research long distance walks more for each destination, I’m never going to get rid of this extra 3 stone by sunbathing, eating cheese and drinking wine!

I happily weeded the tree beds and took this gorgeous picture (if I say so myself) you may have seen on social media. 19400491_10155559998879258_9156713285159959922_oIt was a cooler day with cloud cover, a great day for gardening. The wildflowers contrast well with the formality of the exterior of the building. Between 3 of us, we got the task done and it’s quite satisfying to have a goal to complete no matter how basic. The weather was still rain free so these trees needed some water. Last time I saw rain was early in week 1 but that’s it. We had an amazing lightning storm, hardly any thunder and then a fair bit of rain dumped itself over the garden for about 2 hours then disappeared as quickly as it came. I’ve tried to film the lightning and here are 2 options for you to view but it could be a case of “you had to see it yourself”, it really was spectacular. Hint – I’m filming landscape, you should be able to make out cloud formations and irregularly, you can see a tree skyline low in the picture. I appreciate its mainly black so no hard feelings if you’re not as impressed as I was in person.

Jenny and Clara had previously worked out to feed the fruit trees 30 litres of water, we needed to give it 4 minutes worth of water from the handy little-hidden water taps in the ground. A very simple task to drag the hose around and I could weed the planters around me. I didn’t do much more weeding in the end, proof the slightly hypnotic Monday morning daze affects me where ever I am it seems. I’ve been way from London only 1 week and it feels like much more, in a very good way.

Tuesday 13th June 2017 – Pies

Still watering trees and weeding, life is simple y’know. I even happily volunteer to do the supermarket shop for another stint in the driver’s seat. Music on and windows down. I really enjoy the jaunt down the country roads with little traffic and yes, I admit to mainly driving in the middle of the road. But I think I did that years ago on some of the smaller country roads to Sambourne and Warwick, back in the day. I shouldn’t have gone of my own though, I accidentally used all the loyalty points to pay for the shopping instead of requesting it be charged to their account. I couldn’t understand what the cashier was telling me so I just nodded and uh oh! Thankfully, they’ll just sign off my little boob as expenses. I need the French folk to speak veeerrrrryyyy sllllloooooowwwly and maybe I’ll get it. However, I can see how immersing yourself in the language and continually listen to the ‘other’ language helps. Helps my understanding a little that is; my speech and lack of accent remain awkward.

Jenny hosted dinner again for us, a yummy chilli or a salmon pea pasta combo. Or both. Then after all my talk of pies, Jenny coincidentally made an apple pie and a cherry pie. Michael and Jonathan joined us; we’ve not really seen much of them these 2 weeks as the Chateau is getting busier and busier.  I really do hope you look at their website, the idea of self-catering apartments is not the French way but if you’re wanting the deluxe accommodation with the benefit of kitchenette facilities then this is a subtle alternative to hotel life. Or a family and you want a base to stay for a longer time then this is a perfect solution.

Not forgetting if you know anyone who’s getting married and wants to do so abroad, the chapel is stunning. A captivating space for a civil blessing or maybe you’d even like the magical feeling of the forest. A short walk into the woods takes you to this guardhouse or bird coup, I’m really not sure what it was, imagine a trail in fairy lights with the bride and groom at the top of the stairs whilst the guests are watching from below. Daniel was unknowingly doing a good Burton catalogue pose when I snapped this pic.

 

 

We enjoy good conversation over dinner and once again generous with the Cote du Rhone. It’s really appreciated to be welcomed by the owners; definitely no ‘them and us’ and you can see this is working together not for!

Wednesday 14th June 2017 – oh look, a cloud

We’re all a little more with it by Wednesday – no hump days in the Loire Valley. That said, I cannot remember what I did with my morning. We’re mainly tidying up the grounds for the exclusive use group that is arriving tomorrow and Friday. Members of The Aston Martin Owners’ Club are coming. Not just for the Chateau but for Le Mans. Again Wiki as my source; the 24 Hours of Le Mans (24 Heures du Mans) is the world’s oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923 near and in the town of Le Mans, France. It is one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world and is often called the “Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency”.

The circuit on which the 24 Hours of Le Mans is run is named the Circuit de la Sarthe, after the department that Le Mans is within. I didn’t know that the circuit consists of both permanent track and public roads that are temporarily closed for the race. Funnily, this weekend we were going to visit Le Mans – don’t think that will be happening!

Competing teams race in groups called “classes”, or cars of similar specification, while also competing simultaneously for outright placing amongst all classes. Originally, the race showcased cars as they were sold to the general public, then called “Sports Cars”, in contrast with the specialized racing cars used in Grand Prix motor racing. Over time, the competing vehicles evolved away from their publicly available road car roots, and today the race is made of two overall classes: prototypes, and Grand Touring cars (similar to sports cars sold to the public). These are further broken down into 2 sub-classes each, constructors’ prototypes, privateer prototypes and 2 subclasses of GT cars. Basically, it is popular with race team and spectators alike!

Aston Martin has been involved in the race since forever and I can imagine the Aston Martin Owners’ Club has been following the race as equally as long. As my career history is in hospitality including some high rollers, I’m interested to see the demographic and geographical reach. Nah, I’m just nosey. We’ve found out the couples have paid 4 figures for their weekends excluding their travel to France. Plus one set of guests, not sure how many, will be arriving into Tours by private jet. If you can own an Aston Martin, then I’m sure it is pocket-money to have VIP trackside hospitality and oh did I mention the helicopter ride to and from Le Mans each day.

The cost was too much for some of my fellow volunteers to understand but it’s not only about available disposable income, it’s about having a hobby that you really love! The cost becomes irrelevant. I’m sure some would pay above the odds to see a favourite band from side of stage and ‘meet & greet’ on the tour bus. Or maybe prime seats at a World Cup rugby final and a dip in the post-match bath – just me then. I would be happy to get a ride in the helicopter – I’ve only had 1 very short bumpy 15-minute heli-flight over the Evesham countryside many many moons ago but I would jump at the chance to do again and even have lessons.

I start Googling the cost of lessons and helicopters for sale. I really should be doing some work!

All this week I’ve been thoroughly chilled and this proves a challenge to then focus the mind. I have freelance project work throughout my afternoons or evenings which I complete remotely if you need any editing or marketing then I’m the freelancer for you – www.rowanvpaservices.wordpress.com. I am extremely grateful for the continued work and merrily complete my projects once I’ve got past setting myself up with laptop, windows wide open for a breeze, cup of tea, review Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – to get it out of my system – and then before you know it, I’ve been staring up at the clouds for about 10 minutes. Who needs mindfulness and meditation techniques?!?

Darn it, I really should be doing some work!

Thursday 15th June 2017 – Jenny leaves us to it!

What are we going to do? Our leader is off to have pre-birthday fun with her family. What’s that about? Jenny is always working before us and continues after we finish so to keep us motivated and busy, Jenny gives us a long list of activities to do in her absence. Unlikely we’d get it all done but better to have more. Before she headed off to her train, we all come together to tidy up this circular patch of wildflowers. The seeds have simply been picked up by the wind and taken over what should be a circle of small colourful flowering bulbs. We tried to pull out all the grasses and thistles to leave the flowering plants but now it just looked odd. So here’s a few pics of us ‘at work’…. eventually, the lawnmower came out and we went ‘crew cut’. It really would have looked weird leaving the 4 random flowering plants with a solo lemon tree in the middle with its one large lemon hanging low. No innuendo intended. You can tell the 2 of us who don’t want to catch the sun – the long sleeves Ray Bans club.

I have not done very well at taking candid photos of people as I challenged myself but I will try harder.

I’ve been allocated housekeeping tasks, reminds me of my first hotel job and also duty management when I worked for Hilton and IHG. Yet I still managed to forget which suites I sorted with flowers and those with fridges on and Ackerman’s sparkling wine in. I have always struggled with a good balance of daydream or work efficient. I am usually one or the other. That’s why I love working on my own, no-one wanting me ‘on’ when I need a time out. I could be lethal if I was switched to ‘work efficient’ all the time but to be honest, it sounds ever so tiring. The same long time friend of mine that knows I’ll happily rate anything in a top 5 also used to compare me to Joey from Friends when he is in own ‘Joey’ world…. could not, cannot, argue with her.

Whilst every dinner is great fun sometimes we’re all chatted out. I am very surprised I’ve enjoyed being surrounded by these guys as much as I have. It’s not personal but I’m very used to having more time to myself. All of us solo volunteers are similar in needing that individual time out to recharge. Clara and Nahuel bid their good nights as they are deep in the Twin Peaks box set – the proper original series! The boys are online or read. I manage to get the TV and my laptop to speak to each other, very pleased with my technical prowess and no remote control for said TV. Didn’t do my efforts justice really as I then watched an Adam Sandler film – cheese on a cheesy stick with cheese flakes. Remember, I do like cheese. Excluding visiting my parents’ house, I can’t remember the last time I watched something on a proper TV screen. Even at my old house, I watch everything on my trusty 17″ laptop that I have with me now.

Friday 16th June 2017 – I wonder if they’d let me drive an Aston Martin

The car park is filling up with the latest Aston Martins, however, my favoured one is an antique, a vintage convertible. I can get close up to it.  This is how to travel around vineyards of France, top down and ideally chauffeur – how else can I keep up the wine tasting if I have to drive. Very 007. james_bond_daniel_craig_astonDaniel Craig can be my chauffeur any day. I would love to just pootle around for 30 minutes, I would be careful, just for the wind in my hair and music on, top down time. You could say it’s similar to my desired car that was a little more in my price range back in London. I would have loved to buy a little Nissan Figaro, nissan_figaroin original beige, yes they say beige. I decided against the car and the stamp duty savings for travelling and here I am!  I’ll come back to the car or get one over here 🙂

We’d been requested to become a little more invisible than usual, simply to ensure the guests really feel the exclusivity of their hire. Very difficult to do when we’re eating dinner in our ‘back garden’ and 2 of the guests come walking through the farmers’ fields short cut after having had drinks in Vernantes, our closest village. Transpired one of the ladies was French Canadian but now both she and her Aston Martin loving husband live in Toron’o, just across town from our volunteer Diego. It’s a small world!

Additionally, I’d found out the group organisers were a 3rd party booker to venues back home, an events agency, sorry ‘lifestyle management and concierge services’ company that I’ve worked with in the past in London. Offices on Portland Place, just minutes from an old London workplace of mine. Small world indeed. I said nothing, I’m immersing myself in a completely different type of lifestyle thank you!

We’re starting to really jell as a group so it feels strange to think about my solo travels in 2 days. I know what I’m doing for the next week but after that I’m indecisive. So many choices to reach my short-term destination, my next HelpX placement. A teaching English school called AngloVille host an immersive English programme for children and adults, I have agreed to help at a 9-day course in Warsaw, Poland. I have to arrive by 13th July 2017. What I do between now and then is to be confirmed.

You know we’d jelled, with the help of 4 bottles of red wine and the rest of the beer, when the conversation of “how do you define love?” comes up!!! How we got there I have no idea, hilarious and left field to have such a deep and meaningful question come from the quietest of the group, Vivienne. Now I am notoriously single and have been for years so gawd knows how I will reply. I was also the last to be asked the question 🙂 I think they were respecting their elders – ha! It was really interesting to hear what individuals thought by no means are any of us drunk but wine lubricates the tongue – “being a better version of you, because of the other person”, “a feeling of home”, “putting the other person before yourself”. For me, I remembered the cartoons from the 00’s but I’m sure they’ve been around since the 70’s. You know the one where the man and woman were invariably naked – never found out why – and the strapline was always ‘Love is…’

It’s not a coincidence that the majority of solo travellers are also single, seems obvious really. Many hoping they’ll find a like-minded individual on their adventures no doubt. I wonder what the ratios are on this. No way of knowing how many international travellers meet a certain someone on the road. Not the best timing to meet someone right at the beginning of my exploration through Europe, but hey I’m open to suggestions. I’m feeling I am cougar material though and this will be difficult but I’ll cope…

We end the night by checking out the stars, trying to work out what was above our heads with the useful star iPad and iPhone app but nope, the attention span of a gnat. I like the idea of it learning more but if the only time I do look up is when I’ve been drinking then well, it’s never gonna stick is it.

We have a lie in tomorrow hence the flowing drinks over and after dinner, the residents are off to Le Mans and this means the helicopters are coming. Now you may wonder if the Chateau has a helipad. Of sorts – it’s called the back garden. Lots of flat grass areas for a little 4 seater to drop in. Little did we know that we’d be entertained quite so much by 8 helicopters coming!

Saturday 17th June 2017 – it’s just a helicopter

How exciting! I had no clue that we were having more than one helicopter coming. I didn’t even click that Le Mans is a good 15 minutes flight away and the guests numbered at least 35 or so. One helicopter would never be enough. Holiday brain! We’d enjoyed our breakfast and chilled, knowing that we needed to stay inside from around 10am mainly for our own safety than anything else. The Hi De Hi is very close to the makeshift helipads = the lawn! I was lay on my bed and then we hear the familiar sound of the rotor blades. It was like an episode of Air Wolf or Magnum PI or MacGuyver; ok it was nothing like that but they were so close.

One of my favourite scenes from the musical Miss Saigon is the full-size helicopter replica lowering onto the stage, highly recommend the show if you’re into musicals. It could be the technology or simply the flying, both I suppose. My reaction seeing a Chinook flying over London was a little excitable, y’know the ones with tandem rotors, I would love a flight in one of those. Why is it that I really don’t like heights but I love flying?

Of course, I have film that I’ll share on The Volunteer Voyager Facebook page.  Being in my bedroom was just by chance and happened to be ideal viewing as the windows open fully with no obstructions. The best arrival was when one pilot came a little too close to the tree-lined pathway in the garden and the air streams were clearly playing silly buggers as he was bobbing about a bit. Sorry no film of this, it was too good to miss him juggling a little. It seems like he nonchalantly swings the helicopter up and around to reposition himself to land further away from the trees, buildings, and people! These small helicopters are really responsive. I remember it costs thousands to learn how to fly.

I love this pic, it shows how close they swiftly settle vertically and land.  All in the timing! IMG_20170618_162326515

As I say we had 7 arrivals in quick succession, 1 landing, 1 already on the ground and filling up with guests then quickly up and off they go to the race. Alternating over about an hour. The last came to pick up their staff, just 2 people who’d been ground crew. That is waving a white cap in the air to indicate the landing area. You could tell they’d done this many times, very slick and quick. When the last helicopter arrived, we volunteers were already in the garden with our tasks. Vivienne got a great film from her vantage point where she’d been picking strawberries, fancy pants has added music so it does look even better.

It felt like everyone was on a little high after the helicopters had successfully picked everyone up with no damage and injury. The owners were very pleased with all the footage and pictures for their website, social media and of course, not every day you have one, let alone 8, land in your back garden. This was a first for the Chateau and I’m sure not the last.

We cracked on as there was much to do; the Chateau kitchen had been used the previous night by the caterer and also for guest breakfast. Job didn’t take long when there’s a couple of us doing and in return, we happily gained plates of cheese, hams and so many croissants. Plus half bottles of champagne and wine. Not a bad deal I think. With further icing on the cake being no guests on site, after our 4 hours were done we were all in the pool! The weather had been gradually getting hotter each day I was at the Chateau. I hadn’t anticipated a heat wave but when in my first week it had been a comfortable 23, I’d taken a photo of the local village pharmacy sign. In France, these green flashing pharmacy crosses always have the date, time and temperature. I was feeling happy when I took this pic that 23 was most definitely better than back in London. On the 17th we’d reached highs of 30. I love the heat and the sun but we all needed cooling down. I’d been in the pool before, it is heated however it had taken a few deep breaths to get my shoulders under the first time. On Saturday, I happily jumped straight in.

I’ve not really told you much about Lulu or LouLou – however, it’s spelled – she’s Jonathan and Michael’s golden lab puppy. A big playful but solemn looking girl who has moments of madness. I don’t think she’s even a year but is ‘big for her age’. In the previous week, she’d followed me to the deer and sheep. I was trying to feed the deer but she thought the young leafy plant branch I was holding was a toy for her. It was like it flipped a switch, next thing I know she’s running around at top speed towards the horse and donkey. Hearing me shout “no Lulu, no Lulu” over and over again was funny. She doesn’t know me from Adam so ignored me. Shades of the “Fenton” You Tube clip – you should watch the link if you’ve never seen it before. Next thing I know she’s rolling around in the horse manure and she knew she was being naughty. Thankfully the horse did too and ran after her, Lulu escaped but covered in horse poo. The joys of dog ownership, guess who needed a hose down later.

During the last 2 weeks, we easily see how Lulu loves all the attention she gets from IMG_20170617_153638606numerous people including us, the guests and even the delivery guys she meets at the front door. She loves to eat the water out of the sprinklers and her trick is stealing tools from the guys in the garden, she gnawed on a pair of secateurs for hours and some lost fake Birkenstocks that had been left after the wedding. She wants you to chase her to get them out of her mouth. If you have a dog, you know how cute they are when being naughty. I am a cat person but Lulu was a big softy.

On this occasion, we were all feeling particularly encouraging of getting Lulu in the pool. I had an inkling she wasn’t allowed in the water but …

She’s running around the pool like a lunatic because we’re all in high spirits. Eventually, she steps down onto the first step, stairs straight into the pool, then to the second step. Really she’s liking the splashing, trying to eat the water. We shouldn’t have got her in but all 6 of us trying to get her to swim to us was too funny. She is still learning to swim, would only go so far and then try to clamber 2 front paws onto your shoulders for support. She’s like me, I don’t like to be out of my depth either. I wish we’d got a photo. We didn’t get caught but we did get caught out by Michael as he’s giving her cuddles. Rule 2 broken! No Lulu in the pool. Hilarious. What a minute, what is rule 1?

poolBy this time we’ve the stubbies out and the music on. Ah, rule 1 broken! No glass near the pool let alone in it. Sooorrry, we didn’t know. I toddle off in my towel to fetch the plastic cups and Lulu decides the corner of my towel is another toy. I thought she was going to win for a minute and whip it straight off me. I should have told her off but I was too busy laughing. Michael had to come save me otherwise she could find it too much fun and do it more often. If I did ever get a dog then I would want one as playful as Lulu.

The day turned into a farewell bash as such, Vivienne and I arrived on the same day and we were both heading off on Monday. And a welcome dinner for Fritz, our new German arrival this afternoon. A last feast and lots of wine savoured as I don’t think my budget will stretch to continue eating the same array of foods and quantity of red I’ve consumed over the past 2 weeks. It’s funny when a new person arrives, we did the same to Daniel on Monday gone – the Spanish Inquisition. Firing questions left, right and centre. As expected most questions continue to relate to travel and food.

Things took a turn for the worse when someone, me, suggests drinking games. We didn’t even need the alcohol. Vivienne’s argument for not wanting to play the name game had us all in stitches. Most of you will know this game: start with the name of a famous person (Jennifer Anniston) and use the first letter of that surname (A) to name your next famous person (Angelina Jolie). Anyone who hesitates or goes blank or wrong has to drink! Vivienne states “ah but the Chinese don’t always use the western name!”, oh yes, we jeer, such as …. her example had us in stitches. Can you work out which famous Hollywood star this is “Brado Pitto”! As you can imagine, she lost her argument.

A good night had by all and a small suggestion, don’t mix Johnny Walker Red Label and peach iced tea. An awful idea.

Sunday 18th June 2017 – SOS, 999, 911, 112 – no wine, no wine

Helicopter, schmelicopter… saw 8 of them yesterday! Yeah, yeah, I can hear them…. I’m too busy lying down to get up 🙂 Isn’t it disappointing how blase we could become, and I remind you of the conversation we volunteers had about disposable income and what is ‘normal’ to a person. If you see something all the time, it’d be a shame for the sheen to wane after time.

I didn’t just lie there. I watched! Of course. This time we had 6, I think the guests at Le Mans could stay and view the race all night if they wanted though I’m not sure it’d be quite so captivating in the dark? Thankfully there are noise restrictions so guests returned late last night was by car, looking back I don’t think we’d have noticed what with the drinking games. This morning it looked like we had bigger helicopters but I haven’t got the ‘copter-spotter-esque levels just yet so I’m not confident. It was the landing – louder for sure, chairs went over and a poolside umbrella pole bent straight over and into the deep end of the pool.

Still exciting to watch, maybe it’s because they land and take off in such quick succession. I really couldn’t tell you but I enjoyed each one, even when they came back 6 hours later.

IMG_20170617_155554010The Chateau feels ever so calm after the flurry of excitement, the same thing happened yesterday. We had no major jobs to do, help to tidy up and clean, the kitchen again but no way near as messy as yesterday. A few of the volunteers had to set up the sprinklers, tables, and chairs for the evening dining later but all in all a really relaxing day ahead. Jonathan kindly shared the love after our morning’s work, this is how I’d like to finish each day of ‘work’ please.

We hadn’t known until the day before but a 2CV owners club were arriving in the afternoon as the finish to a day rally. The complete antithesis to helicopters and Aston Martins. Totally 35 2CVs cars and vans! This is only a few before I had to take shade from the sun. *fans oneself

 

Owner Jonathan has a green 2CV. All you’d need now is a beret-wearing man on a bike with a basket, a baguette and a string of onions. The Citroen 2CV or in French: “deux chevaux” or “deux chevaux-vapeur” translates to “two steam horses” or “two tax horsepower”. Conceived by Citroën Vice-President Pierre Boulanger in the 30s to help motorise a large number of farmers still using horses and carts but not introduced or manufactured till 1948. Thanks, Wiki!

AND my dad once owned one, why? I will have to ask. I would recommend never sitting in the middle of the back seat as the cushion is thin and the framework underneath could literally be a pain in the bum on a bumpy road. He would deliberately race of over the hump in the road to Knaphill when we lived in Bisley, Surrey. Not needing much encouragement but I’m sure I egged him on.

Fritz’s arrival was appreciated in many ways – on Sunday it was because he was able to drive a manual car and very very used to driving on the left. Designated drivers – Daniel and I – wanted a lazy day and didn’t really want to head out but some of the others were chomping at the bit to see something other than the chateau.

I had a few hours of paid work to do and then my treat would be a swim, a snooze in the sun and then…da daaaaa, Bread and butter pudI was making a bread and butter pudding using the many pain au chocolat we had. It’s relatively easy to make but guessing the right ratio of croissant to milky custard can make or break a good pudding. I was impressed with myself especially as this was a hard pudding to explain the taste sensation. Just for fun – the top 5 of puddings, easy and quick to rate. At no 5 – rich, thick, chocolate mouse, 4 – my mum’s rice pudding (even though she’d be surprised and invariably burnt the skin on top, that’s how I like it), 3 – rhubarb crumble and custard, 2 – a melt in the middle chocolate pud and 1 – bread and butter pudding!!! Love, love, love. Won’t bore you with the bottom 5 but let’s just say trifle is the worst.

Then, the news! The shop was closed and Daniel hadn’t had time to go earlier in the day. We had no wine. A little worrying and funny that Daniel asks me to message the guys out for the day to see if they can look for a shop. SOS, 999. I felt a little desperate sending it but I couldn’t deny I did fancy a glass. Sadly it is Sunday at 5pm. All shops in France are closed. I was surprised the Super U had been open till 2pm. Whilst we had a tasty BBQ with some spicy ‘frankfurter looking’ but ‘chorizo tasting’ sausages, it was a relatively quiet last night while I anticipate the next step in my journey.

Monday 19th June 2017 – Au revoir folks, it’s been amazing

A strange morning, I only had time to help the wood chippers for an hour or so. I packed my bag, cursed the amount of stuff I’d got again, stripped and washed the bed linen then it was time to go. Grabbed a bit of lunch, goodbyes to the guys and Fritz gave me a lift to the train station.

I have to say how lucky I have been with my first HelpX experience. I think I will struggle with my expectations of the next one I’m doing in July. It has been such great fun.  What out for the location plus Jonathan and Michael on Channel 4’s Escape to the Chateau, coming soon. 

The time flies when you’ve gotta be at a particular timed train from Saumur, however, I wasn’t exactly going far. Just 70 miles to Tours for 2 nights to do a little sightseeing, Monday was my first afternoon of actually being a solo backpacker. Exciting further adventures ahead…. Rowan was actually on the road.