Friday, 10 February 2017

Vienna for Beginners

Neither of us have been to Vienna before, but there's great accommodation and flight deals at this time of year, so we thought we'd go for a week.

It's been about 0-4 degrees C most days. The CAT train takes you from the airport to the city in only 16 minutes. Easy walking along wide footpaths, cleared of snow, great signage and well heated interesting cafes.


1. Best cappuccinos ever. They call it 'melange' and I think they invented it.

2. Loved the extensive gardens and views from the Schonbrunn Palace. We spent most of a sunny Sunday walking the long avenues through the woods.

3. Inexpensive stuff can be better than paid tourist experiences. For example, we were underwhelmed by the MUMOK, contemporary art museum. Depressed by the overly 'architected' grey building. And the 3 floors dedicated to that anti-establishment Eastern European guy, Julius Koller. It all just confused me, for 11 euro. Whereas the free guided tour of the Rathaus (an easy name to remember) was beautiful and interesting. It's the old city town hall, with huge chandeliers.

We bought a bag of freshly made falafel, 20 for only 2 euros, at the Nachtmarkt on the way home.

4. The public transport is easy, efficient and clean. Only a couple of euros for tram/underground/bus tickets, one price for all destinations. Ideal for beginners.

5. The State Opera house performances are affordable if you are prepared to do the standing thing for 3 euro tickets. Our back row definitely had a bit of humming and a gentle sway going on to the big chorus number 'Va pensiero' (Nambucco). It was a drab looking but great sounding production, with excellent chorus and orchestra. We witnessed an unforgettable performance from Leo Nucci; an Italian baritone who at 74 years old can still hold the stage.

Ah Vienna... Europe's middle, capital of cakes and too much cream, lots of gold stuff, Gustav Klimt, big name composers, obvious wealth and successful opera. Sadly, part of the history of the place, impossible to forget, is the decimation of the Jewish population during Hitler's time.

Vienna is a complex and fascinating place; if you are ever in Europe, it deserves at least a week.


Saturday, 29 October 2016

Umbria - Workaway Number 6

For our next adventure we headed up to the little town of Chiusi, about 2 hours by train from Rome. Our  Workaway host, Jan, met us at the station and drove us to her home and BnB, called Casa Julian. It's in a perfect location, close to Lake Trasimeno and near the border with Tuscany.

The countryside feels like you are surrounded by a bunch of postcards - beautiful rural scenes, gentle hills, lots of shades of green. We got to stay in one of Jan's comfortable apartments, complete with woodburner.

We loved the two friendly and gentle labradors, and the cats, and the chickens. Since we have been doing all these Workaways, mostly in rural locations, we've become rather fond of chickens and have decided to get a couple on our return home to NZ next year.

Here's one of our little friends checking out the olives.

We helped with an olive harvest; about 40 trees. We were very lucky to be able to go to the 'frantoio olivestri' with Jan and watch the pickings turn into 17 litres of very good gold-green oil. That night we feasted on bruschetta, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with the freshest cold-pressed oil I've ever tasted!

As hosts go, Jan is one of the best. She is well immersed into the local community, having lived there about 16 years. I went along to one of her pilates classes (instructions all in Italian), and we met lots of her English, American and Italian friends over coffees and a trip to a great bakery. We had the chance to go to a chestnut festa too in a nearby town. 

Meeting the baker

It's just as well that we got in lots of good physical work, as there was far too much delicious food!


Saturday, 3 September 2016

Puglia - Workaway 5

Every time we start another Workaway I get a bit nervous. Will we like them? Will they like us? Can we find it! Will there be a double bed! Is the work hard? What will the food be like...

Along the way we have encountered a few little challenges like bug bites, vague work instructions, dodgy bedding, fierce dogs, and a couple of snakes. But we've always worked it out, done useful stuff, and had great experiences. (The gaps in between assignments help too, when we go back to stay with our daughter's beautiful family in Rome.)

Today is the last day of our latest Workaway, in Puglia. We have been based in a pretty country house,  near San Vito Dei Normanni, in the deep South of Italy. It's painted a traditional dark rose colour. 
Our job has been to help with the almond harvest

Me with Diana, on the roof terrace 
The hosts are friendly, generous and interesting. This is the first time in many years that they have done the almond harvest. Diana is a lawyer, she lives mostly in Bari, but loves coming back to this place where she played as a child. Her daughter Noemi speaks English, which is a great help. They have BnB rooms here; we've been staying in a nice room with our own bathroom.

Almond harvesting might be a bit like quidditch.  You whack around in the air with a long stick at the tree, dodging the falling almonds. Occasionally you catch one. Then you sit around together for hours and chat while you skin them and sort them.
Mario and Sergio tree whacking 
We have afternoons off and have explored Lecce, Alberobello, Ostuni and Polignano. Lots of good local knowledge hints and suggestions from the host family.

The home-cooked meals have been terrific, worthy of a whole separate blog post in fact! So we needn't have worried, it's all been a great success. After another spell in Rome we look forward to Workaway number 6.


Sunday, 24 July 2016

Where's Ivy? Workaway 4, Sicily.

We must be the most disappointing New Zealanders ever! Our hosts, Lorenzo and Margherita, found a sheep on the road yesterday, which they brought to us at the country house to keep an eye on. It's sad looking; sort of droopy and brown, with a big fat tail. Given we come from NZ, which has 6 sheep per head, it's surprising that neither of us knows anything about looking after them.

Anyway, we have called her 'Ivy' and as we potter around the estate, picking peaches, doing a bit of sweeping or weeding, we keep asking each other -
"Where's Ivy?" as we hope she hasn't snuffed it, or wandered off too far, or been attacked by dogs.

Other than this slightly worrying responsibility, we are loving our time here. We are learning all about modern rural life, from the inside, and a lot about wine and olive oil production. Here's a pic of Mario with our hosts, and yes, that's Mount Etna in the background.

They (Tenuta Rustica) have just released their wine called 'Sparviero' - that's sparrow hawk in English. It's a moderate tannin, bright red, pure tasting wine made from the Nerello Mascalese grape. We feel very lucky to have dropped into their lives through this Workaway, to have tasted this wine, and lived briefly on the land that produced it.


Sunday, 19 June 2016

How to Look Better in Travel Pics

The trouble with travel is that it's hard work. Hot, sweaty, and sometimes grimy and grumpy. So when you need a pic, to show friends what you are up to, your image can be a bit disappointing. If your husband or partner took it, and then says:
"But that's what you look like!" it can cause some friction.

Here's my tips:

1. Hang out around images of plump people, so you look good by comparison. Here's a good one I found of Hercules and his mates at the Villa D'Este in Tivoli.

2. Look after your feet. If sore feet are making you miserable it shows on your face. Note my pre-emptive band aid in this case, before the blister, not after it...

3. Drink lots of water. Makes you look less haggard (especially if you are over 50!)

4. Add a bit of make-up ('slap' as my friend Margie calls it) and bling. It can make the same old shirt, or face, look better.

5. Don't always plonk yourself up close in the middle of the shot. Try a distance, off to the side. Friends might want to see the view (not you, again).


Friday, 10 June 2016

Useful Travel Stuff - 5 things to take

We've been on the road for almost ten weeks now. Completed 3 Workaways (Australia, Italy and France). Stayed with family, driven long distances, ubered,  taxied, trained, bussed and walked a lot.

Not having too much luggage has been really good. Less to lose, and lug around. Technology can be a bit sporadic, we've had a few glitches with mobile, sim cards and WiFi etc.  But here's some practical and basic things I've appreciated having with me along the way:

1. Sneaky little cloth billfold. My friend Bridget made me this as a parting gift. It's small and can be tucked inside clothing. Quick to whip out, doesn't look like a wallet. Holds some notes and a few cards, and kept separate from any bags. Much less cumbersome than a money belt, and washable.

2. Really comfy and strong shoes. I've done miles in these Skechers and Hush Puppy sandals - good for work and play.

3. Mirror and tiny torch. Being able to see stuff, including your own face, is helpful! Light switches aren't always easy to find in the middle of the night.

4. Ear plugs. To dull the sounds of barking dogs, scratchy kids, or that horrible buzz from noisy bars or restaurants when you're trying g to get some rest.

5. Meds. I've had a few brushes with illness along the way, sore throat, hayfever, headache. I've compiled this mix of basic  pills all in one place. The disprin, eye drops, band aids and antihistamine have proved their worth already!

Overall it's been great so far, and these little things have made a difference. For me, they are essentials - I'd be interested to hear other people's hints too.


Monday, 30 May 2016

Workaway 3: Parisot, France

Ryan Air wasn't so bad; Rome to Bordeaux. Our car company guy, Eric, was waiting for us on arrival, to show us the new Peugeot that we've leased for 5 months. It's going to be good having our own transport now, and going at our own pace. The 40 minute drive to our overnight BnB was easy, thanks to the GPS, and soon we were pottering around a nice little rural place as we chatted to the hosts, Frank and Brigitte.

Frank had built the best ever hen house, safe from foxes. Their hens must have good balance and a head for heights as they step across the narrow suspended bridge to nest. We slept soundly (beautiful linen), and drove off to the Tarn et Garonne region the next day.

Got to Parisot early afternoon and met our Workaway hosts for the next 10 days. We were so excited to see the chateau, where we have been happily planting flowers, weeding,  trimming wisteria and bamboo ever since. We are living in a comfortable separate house in the grounds. For this one, food is provided, and we cook our own meals. We work 8am to 1pm, 5 days per week.

This is one of the exciting things about Workaway. If you are prepared to take some risks, and to offer your time to people, you can get really lucky and find yourself in a pretty little village in France, making friends with interesting people and being part of the local life for a spell.

You can just see 'our chateau' with the turrets, 1501, in the soft dusk light. 
During the Revolution, as well as beheading people, turrets also got the chop. 
So over the last few years, the owners have had them completely restored. 

We've been exploring the area on our afternoons off. Went to a great little food and artisan market at Sant Antonin, and spent most of Saturday exploring the medieval village of Caylus. 

The only tricky things have been our incompetence at French, and the sporadic access to WiFi. 

C'est la vie.


Thursday, 19 May 2016

Medicine Man, Italy style

I returned to Rome, after my country work yesterday with itchy eyes, a sore throat and a cough which has been lingering. Maybe lugging the heavy marble rocks, and the frequent weeding took its toll, in spite of the lovely food and fresh air activities. As we only have a few days before we fly to France, I decided to get medical advice.

In most hospitals in Italy tourists can go to the outpatients and see a doctor free of charge. I walked down to an Ospedale in Trastevere at 8am, and found where to go. A woman got me to fill in a half page of info, then told me where to sit down and wait. There were lots of different uniformed types standing around looking glamorous, texting or drinking tiny coffees.

A young, good-looking guy came in and dropped his bag off, then popped outside for a cigarette. He was having an animated conversation on his mobile. I'd decided he was the doctor, as the staff seemed to defer to him. I couldn't get what his phone call was about, but I hoped it was something like:

"We must act quickly and help this tourist, her condition is deteriorating!  Pull out all the stops, spare no expense, so we can get her back to good health!"
But I suspect it was something more like this:
"Yes, Mama, I got here okay. I did have breakfast - it was a coffee. No thanks I will be warm enough,  I wore my jacket. No, of course I'm not smoking..."

I only had to wait 30 minutes; not bad apparently, even though I was the only one waiting. The smoker/doctor looked at my throat, took my temperature, listened to my chest and refused to give me antibiotics. His English was as bad as my Italian. Didn't seem to want to look at my eyes or ears. Then he prescribed three things which I went and collected, for about 30 euro. Some sort of fizzy sachet drink, a weird tasting throat spray and some eye drops.

I got home about 9am, and my daughter was very surprised to see me back so soon. She'd thought it would take me hours. The only problem was trying to translate the complicated looking instructions in Italian on the packets.

Feeling better already.