A Travellerspoint blog

Venice, Greece and Bulgaria

Travel map for Europe (Hilary solo): http://www.travellerspoint.com/member_map.cfm?itinid=200863&tripid=200863

A couple of days were spent in Venice after a quick zip from Barcelona by train. Ferry to Corfu (Greece) where it poured with rain for 2 days, then a ferry to Patra. Trains to Nafplio, Corinth and Athens. Train to Thessalonika for day then onwards north to Sofia, Bucharest and Brasov. Here are a selection of photos. There are lots more in the photo gallery.

Venice

Photo gallery for Italy
http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Italy/

Buongiorno! Italy is COLD! My god, when did that happen!! This hostel is run by Fodere Le Fornaci type crew, including smoking strange things.... but it's nice, and right near the canal. 80 euro minimum for a gondola ride... wow. Gives a good indication to the pick-pocketers who to target... (haha I'm thinking like a Spaniard)

I had a cold night. Sleep ins and silver-beet chick-pea dinners sound
quite lovely. I must go and explore with jumpers and mittens!

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Alex, who runs the hostel, very kindly let me use the staff washing machine, which is great. He also fed me some lovely pasta leftovers which he baked... so good.

I can now speak enough to get by, man it's good (a nice change).

I went out to explore, wandering slowly through non-touristy bits. Accidentally went into a hospital that looked like a church. Went to the oldest house in Venice, wandered to Arsenale where a massive international Arts Expo is on.

Wandering back to the main plaza, I rather impulsively decided to go to Torcello, an island northeast of the city. This was at 16:30. Fought my way through indirect alleys (quite effectively) all the way to Fondamente Nuova, got a return ticket, and off I went. It took a long time. I had to change ferries at Burano, and the dude said I'd get back ok. Tortello is basically a nigh-on-uninhabitable marsh, that fairly discretely disappears into the ocean on one side- it's hard to tell how wide it is from the ground. A little canal flanks the brick path that meanders through scrub towards the 'town' of a few houses in the middle. At dusk, it is silent, apart from the odd eerie twitter or caw. Beautiful. Its church is the oldest in Venice (why I went there), with a little mini open air theatre at the front. It was very beautiful, as dusk became night.

Not wanting to be stuck on a deserted island, I trotted back to the
ferry and caught the next one back. Alive. Yay.

Now I'm sitting here in the hostel with my Scottish friend Heather, who is trying to get her luggage down to 10 kilos by chopping off unnecessary parts from the massive heap of art books she has collected here. haha. She's in her 6th year of an Arts doctorate degree- has her own show in mid November. Gosh!

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Greece

Photo gallery for Greece http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Greece/

Corfu

It's pouring with rain today, so no kayaking for me. I'm staying here
tonight and leaving in the morning, probably by ferry to Igoumenitsa
then to Ionannina.

Went for a swim last night- WONDERFUL! It is really warm and the
cliffs and incredible mountains everywhere are magical. No wonder the
Greeks had all these gods.

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Patra

I just ordered a couple of bits of baklava, thinking they were
the little teeny ones, but I've ended up with 2 massive ones. Oops.
Want some, guys? Sugar overload of the decade. Jeepers. Really nice
though.

The hostel is awesome, this really old traditional joint run by a
bloke like Tatiana- wouldn't let me go out without my jumper on, etc.
Ha ha. 12 Euro. They just gave me some other little interesting brown
balls of something that smell delicious. This is hilarious.

The port of Patra is functional. The Greek trains are not that flash.

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Nafplio

I got to Nafplio late this arvo and it is gorgeous. I may have had a black forest ice cream. There is a fortress that towers over the old town, and there is a castle on this tiny dot of an island off the coast- very romantic.

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Corinthos

I'm staying in Ancient Corninth (Arkai Korinthus) and it is BEAUTIFUL. I will explore this place tomorrow (I'm going to see a Greek TEMPLE!) The place I'm staying at is run by a woman who is kind of scrawny and tired looking but gorgeous, and their kitchen even has iron benches and cheese peels on plates.

Journey here was a pain - train, bus, train, train, bus, blergh.

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Athens

This is a very “hugly” city. It really is. There is not pretty bit.

Hostel is great. The building is ancient and there's about 3 inches
thick of paintings and letters and love on every wall.

I'm extra happy and it's becoming a little surreal, the whole thing of
telling people 'I have been travelling for six months and have 18 days
to go.' It's coming to an end! Unbelievable!!

Anyway it's raining and I don't want to get stabbed in this dodgy dodgy place.

Spent the afternoon in the National Archaeological Museum and it was
AWESOME. Really awesome.

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Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki was really nice. This place does horse rides and mountain
hikes and all kinds of things. Hmmm. They had the best Byzantine museum ever…..

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Bulgaria

Photo gallery for Bulgaria http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Bulgaria/

Hey, I just had the best trip ever. Met an elderly couple from Sofia on the train and we had such a lovely time. They were very worried about me getting to the hostel and, without really being warned, they got a taxi and dropped me off on their way home. They were so lovely and funny. Not much English but who needs words?

Sofia looks like a neat, French version of Russia. Ha. It's after midnight and I'm so tired, so I won't babble on.

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Posted by hazelnutty 02:22 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Spain & Portugal

Photo gallery for Spain http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Spain/

Photo gallery for Portugal http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Portugal/

After mum left me (sob sob) in the metro at Piccadilly Circus, I remembered exactly how it feels to be in a foreign country, a long way from home, alone. The next day, I caught a flight to Madrid, in Spain, where my solo adventures truly began. Going to Spain has been particularly exciting because I don't know anyone who has been there before. It is new territory, even for dad.

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So. Goodbye, fry-up breakfasts, Airedales, stone circles and rolling green meadows, hello, the land of sombrererias, flamenco, Andalusian horses and tasty tapas...

Madrid, with its blinding sunlight, rendered buildings and glazed tiles, women with glossy black hair, hot-pink pants, low-cut tops and men who hug (in pink shirts) without inhibition, was quite a culture shock! The street of my hostel bustled all day and night- even when I left, at 6am for the train station- the street was crowded with locals wandering homewards with friends. Or just wandering...

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The city was declared the country's capital fairly recently, and thus does not have an extensive history. But with a Palacio Real to rival Palazzo Pitti, gardens as loved as the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, and more art galleries than you can poke a stick at, there is plenty to marvel at in this lively, classy capital. I’m in a dormitory with a man from Norway, 3 Australians and an American; I quickly made friends. Never had chance to feel lonely!

San Sebastian

From Madrid, I caught a train at dawn northwards, over the alps, to San Sebastian; a coastal city near the French border. Compared to Madrid, 'San Seb' has a far more casual atmosphere- no wonder it attracted so many Australians.

When you got sick of exploring the enchanting tapas bar-laden streets of the old town, and had climbed up 'Jesus Mountain' (the hill with a huge statue of Christ and castle ruins on top) for a spectacular view of the city, you could wander down to Playa de la Concha or Playa de la Zurriola, dig your toes into the sand and look out across a vast hazy ocean speckled with surfers and little white boats.

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I spent a lot of time in my favourite palm-shaded park, just people-watching; Spanish people are pretty fascinating. SS also had quite an arty touch, with a multitude of sculptures, stunning cathedrals and even a film festival on at the huge cinema beside my hostel.

Just when I had made great friends with kids from Sweden, Germany, Quebec, Minnesota and, of course, Australia, it was my time to go; I caught a night-train to Lisbon, at the other corner of this massive peninsula!

Belem

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Lisbon

Having travelled from the opposite corner of this mega-continent, from Japan, Mongolia, Russia, Sweden, Italy, France and Spain, the faces of the Portuguese were incredibly similar to each other, and unlike anything I had seen elsewhere. Portugal has been invaded by the Celts, Pheonicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and Moors, and this bizarre mixture of influences can be seen, and heard, in their national identity; their appearance, language, architecture and food.

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Compared to Spain, Portugal is a more slow-moving, peaceful, melancholy country. Even teenage girls remain more covered, if they are not Muslim, and orange, pink, aqua and yellow clothes never crossed the border. With their dark, slender faces, subtle smiles and modest dress, it feels a world away from the European hype.

Coimbra

My first trip out of Lisbon was an overnight stay in Coimbra, a historical, and thriving, university city. The old town has a market and stunning cathedral, surrounded by endless streets with hidden bars and restaurants selling local specialties, primarily seafood dishes. Above this commercial sprawl, up dangerously steep streets, stands the 13th-century university, with an ornate little Manueline chapel dating back to 1517.

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The next day, I travelled to Luso and the Bussaco Forest, the former a spa town, the latter the retreat of 16-century monks, who kindly left a breathtaking monastery hidden in this ancient forest. It has been converted into a 200-room VERY classy hotel, so the surrounding gardens are also maintained to perfection.

For my last day in Portugal, I went to Sintra, a forested town of manors and palaces in the mountains, which was once the summer retreat of Portuguese kings. My favourite palace was the Quinta da Regaleira, a neo-Manueline World Heritage complex, with spooky grottoes, dark ponds with caves, towers, chapels and a labyrinth of paths meandering through a century-old forest-garden.

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That night, I caught a night-train to Madrid, landing in Granada the following evening.

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Granada

Everyone knows Granada for the Alhambra, a world-renowned example of Islamic art and architecture, but there is so much more to this town to captivate visitors. Another university town, Granada felt perfectly safe at any time of day or night - the large proportion of students meant that you were at far greater risk of being lured into a vintage clothes shop than being pick-pocketed. The cathedral is a huge, marble-pillar affair, with white-marble floors, walls and vaulted ceiling, massive decadent paintings made for behind the altar, and two huge golden organs that are so tall that you could get vertigo gazing
up at them.

The streets are filled with designer clothes shops, cafes, and markets, including the biggest array of spices I have ever seen.

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Okay okay, I'll cut to the Alhambra. 6600 tickets for the Alhambra are sold daily, but even so, you can need to book 4 days ahead to secure a place. People from all over the world flock to the palace, and unsurprisingly so... There is something magical about Islamic architecture. The spaces that they create are beyond comfortable, and always intrigue you to discover what is through the next onion-arch doorway. Standing beneath a ceiling so ornate that it cannot be from earth, staring into the perfect reflection of the palace in a long pool, gazing through a pillared walkway over the white city as the sun sets and palms reach up into the tranquil sky above... Where am I? Mecca?

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My Granada hostel buddies, this time, were an eclectic mix of Polish, Irish, Belgian, and Moroccan/Dutch. And Australian. One from Trafalgar. I was taught how to eat tagine Moroccan style, and found some of the best kebab shops in existence. Possibly spending a little too much time socialising in my hostel rather than sight-seeing, I stumbled upon a company called 'Ride Andalusia', who ran horse treks in southern Andalusia. I enquired, and within 2 days, I was on the train to Gaucin. The summary of my trip is below.

Horse Ride in Andalusia
Tired, filthy, starving and aching... and I have never been happier.

I've spent the last 3 days on horseback in Andalusia, on a trek through cork forests and over enchanting, craggy mountains. The ride was run by an Irish woman who is an ex polo rider and trainer and who has lived all around the world for her sport, with her 5 stunning, surefooted Andalusian horses. See http://www.rideandalucia.com/

Oaks, olives, cork trees, prickly pears, other giant prickly bushes (and don't I know they're prickly!), hawthorns, brambles, persimmons, figs, pomegranates, almonds, walnuts, and the magical bean tree, which the horses loved to strip of beans pods. Chickens, canaries, budgies, turkeys, goats (and LOTS of them!) cattle, donkeys, sheep, and horses, of course.

Traversing across grey, barren mountains, through cork forests, 'forests' of prickly pears looming high above our heads, scrub lands, and narrow pine forests, all perfect for five horses to canter through without a stumble or moment of hesitation. These horses were built to cross this landscape, with their nimble bodies, strong legs and intelligent eyes.

Apache, my white-smudged bay 6 year old gelding was hard not to fall in love with. Apart from never having to use my legs on him (except when those other tall horses went too fast) nor do more than hold the buckle on my reins, he was incredibly patient and always up for a chat. He would even try to chat to slightly intimidated dogs or men mending water pipes. If I hadn't kept in on track, his interest in EVERYTHING would have led us to a labyrinthine cork forest by now!

Leaving the horses in local fruit orchards overnight, we were able to stay in hotels looking out over the breathtaking scenery. From our Spanish mountaintops, we could see both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, Gibraltar and Africa's Atlas Mountains. What a view.

While the whole trip was a dream- from the moment I woke up on Friday morning as horse hooves clattered past my window on the cobblestones, to the second I dropped the sweat-soaked saddle-cloth and tack on the grass today- the highlight for me was passing through these tiny, white villages, where outside faces, let alone foreign faces, must be few and far between.

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I refer to villages that time has kindly forgotten, where local women pluck chickens under the orange tree backing onto her chaotic-albeit-flourishing vegetable garden, where the cocoon-like chicken house is made from a patchwork of chicken wire, wooden boards, bits of plaster, and even bark, where everybody comes out onto the street, smiling and waving, as the horses pass, from mothers or fathers with the kids, to the bloke standing in the garden patch, and the old men chatting on the footpath on a Sunday morning. A place where everyone seems to have a grey Andalusian horse, with its thick long forelock cascading down its elegant face, black eyes glinting in the sunlight, where the only cars are at least 20 years old, and old women will have a very animated, hilarious conversation with you, irrespective of whether you speak a word of Spanish.

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Thanks to Karen for the following photos of the ride:
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In Harrington-style, within 90 minutes of getting my sore backside out of the saddle, I was on a train to Seville...

Sevilla

Seville, or Sevilla, is considered the flamenco capital of Spain, with the dancers adopting a more haughty style than elsewhere. Being over 40C, I met a bunch of Australians in the rooftop pool of my hostel, and that night, we headed off across the city to a genuine flamenco bar.

With an old, dark wooden staircase, bar and furniture, macabre modern paintings on the walls, and the sound of Spanish guitar wafting through the doorway, my jaw was dropped before we even saw the dancer. The mood was unmistakably rich with raw passion. Surprisingly, the dancer was a middle-aged woman, but rather than being a display of youthful charm as I had assumed it would be, this was a show of maturity, passion, and elegance. Her little body and short arms in no way restricted her ability to create precisely the emotion that she intended to portray. The lines of her arms, her facial expressions and absolute confidence left us with no doubt that she really knew what she was doing.

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Seville is also home to the biggest cathedral in the world, which took me 2 hours to get around, with an adjoining tower offering spectacular views of the city and barren landscape beyond its sprawling suburbs.

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The Alcazar is another exquisite example of Islamic architecture with beautiful gardens, although not as big as the Alhambra. This old city had no shortage of stunning buildings fit for kings, or elaborate plazas, fountains and huge shady gardens.

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Jerez

My last expedition in southern Spain was to Jerez de la Frontera- 'Jerez' being the word from which our 'sherry' was derived. Being the home of sherry, Jerez is home to a lot of cellars, obviously, but I went there to visit the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Equestre – The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. I was there for their daily practice session, where, over the course of each morning, 75 stallions are each worked in the massive indoor arena, fit for a king, literally.

If you could ever call hair 'decadent', the tails of these stallions are just that. These huge horses have massive, flowing forelocks, manes and tails, which softly float as the horses perform movements of the highest level with absolute precision and power. Everybody from the pure white, 20-year-old legendary schoolmaster, to the nigh-on-black youngster were in there, all doing their best, like every other day. There were usually about 12 horses being worked at any given time, and up to 20 riders and grooms on foot, waiting for their horse to be ready or finished with.

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I am now in bed on the 8th floor of a building in Barcelona, sad to leave beautiful Andalusia behind, but excited about what is in store for the next part of my journey!

Barcelona

Barcelona is one of my favourite cities. While part of Spain, it is the country's most un-Spanish city; it's more like French wonderland combined with sweet insanity, with Gaudi's wild buildings and witch-like turreted hotels standing beside modern apartments, and hidden within it all, the Old Quarter, with its dark, winding alleys, unchanged by time; silently watching the world change at its feet.

As well as visiting the awe-inspiring works of Gaudi dotted around the city, including the world-famous Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell, I took time to immerse myself in the everyday life of Barcelona's people, wandering along the silent streets than seldom see daylight, covered in people's washing and hanging gardens. At the heart of the city is La Rambla, the tourist drag with an incredible fringe of cafes, clothes shops, and museums, to name a few.

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The variety within this progressive, modern city with ancient foundations is astounding: Stroll along the sunny cafe-backed stretch of Mediterranean beaches where locals work on their tans, before taking a night-walk to the cathedrals and churches of the Old Quarter, and you can get an impression of the depth, pride and energy that this city possesses.

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One of the highlights for me was, I admit, a little tragic. I knew that one of the film clips for my favourite band, Evanescence, took place Barcelona, and so went on a search for the square where it was filmed. In the heart of the Old Quarter- it wasn't a long walk, but took a while to find it nonetheless, through the complex labyrinth of narrow alleyways. Few people would find it without trying. The tiny square, is one of the most eerie, atmospheric places I have ever been. After years of dreaming of it, my musical pilgrimage is finally complete!

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Posted by hazelnutty 23:18 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

England and Wales

London

Photo gallery for England http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/United%20Kingdom/

We knew we were in England from the moment we got on the train from Heathrow. A couple of older women were chatting away, entertaining us all, when Hils wrote on her phone, “These two are like the cat and dog from Creature Comforts”. Exactly. There was also a tweedy couple, all decked out in sensible walking gear, who had been enjoying a day out on the Thames walking paths.

At Green Park, we waited at “Henry's” for Donald, Hilary's friend from Mongolia, to finish work. The place was a lovely old pub, full of the after-work crowd and excited England supporters, out to enjoy the World Cup qualifier against Croatia.

Donald hailed a taxi, and we wended our way through Piccadilly Circus (full of excited Croatia fans) and right through central London, past the Tower, to Wapping. The fully authentic East end taxi driver butting into the conversation with his two pence worth was a highlight. Donald's place is a stone's throw from Tower Bridge which we visited en route to a fantastic Indian dinner.

The following day we walked and bussed all over the city. Saw the changing of the Horse Guards, which was spectacular and made Lynda cry. Hilary was very excited to see squirrels collecting acorns in St James’ Park. At Westminster Abbey, we were sad to have to decline to pay the fifteen pound entry price, the first we have encountered in any of the many dozens of churches we have seen, and just a bit TOO much.

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Wandered up Whitehall, past the Banqueting Hall, to Picadilly. Overwhelmed by the massive array of huge shows in the West End. Could have seen Chicago, Les Mis, the Lion King, and lots more. Had lunch in Neal’s yard and then set off for Shakespeare’s Globe on the Southbank - rather further than we calculated, but we got there and got our five pound groundlings tickets and saw a really lively and very enjoyable production of “As You Like It”. Great actors, (especially Celia and Touchstone) a full house and plenty of laughs.

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Another long walk across the Millenium Bridge, past St Paul’s and all the way along the Strand. Strolling in Covent Garden missed out on a jar of Vegemite by minutes when the shop that sells Australian stuff (remembered the location from 1999) closed early. Struggled through a big crowd waiting to see someone make an appearance at a Premiere at a theatre in Leicester Square, then headed for Waterstone’s bookshop at Piccadilly. We had decided earlier that the rule that standing there for 37 minutes guarantees that you will see someone you know, or someone you know of, would not apply in our case. But after a few minutes of browsing in the bookshop, Fran from “Black Books” ( a favourite with al the Harringtons ) came in and talked with the counter staff for ages. When she left, they were just as excited as we were. We all asked each other, “Was that her?” I thought I had just been thrown by the bookshop setting, but one of them happily chatted about how she often comes in, and so does Bill Nighy, who lives nearby.

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Donald arrived after a hard day at the office and we found a great Japanese place to have a Shabu Shabu. Took hours and had a lot of fun. Wandering through Trafalgar Square on the way to the bus stop, we stopped to join a small crowd listening to an Irish bloke on “The Plinth”. Each hour someone occupies an empty plinth in one corner of the square, the other three corers having statue son the m and can use it to do whatever they want. Many of them use it promote an important cause; this bloke was telling jokes, with members of the crowd telling jokes to him, as well.

The next day we caught a train from Paddington to Pewsey in Wiltshire, to stay with our old friends Kevin and Dee, who live in a small village called Oare, just off the the Marlborough Downs. It was great to see them and a we had a lovely walk through the “Bluebells woods and farmland of Oare House, the local stately home with Bonnie the Airedale terrier. A perfect start to our week in the country.

Wiltshire

Spent a great weekend with Kevin and Dee, visiting Bristol and catching up with Jenny (who we first met when she went to preschool with Rob in Great Bookham in 1991!).

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On Sunday we all went to Blenheim Horse Trials, where we loved watching the Cross Country (and hilarious English people being English, with their two dogs on leads) and later saw the nail-biting finish of the three day event conclude with a demanding Showjumping course that saw three women take out the prizes. In between, we had Cornish pasties, met a huge Cleveland Bay called Hampton Court Yeoman (bred by the Queen) and a pack of harriers and another of hounds. The Duke and Duchess presented the prizes at the end of the day, and we headed home, having had a really fun time.

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Kevin had organised the bikes for us to have a lovely cycle through the Vale of Pewsey, which we did, until Lynda fell into the canal whilst still on her bike. The bike fine, although it was decorated with reeds as it was pulled from the water. As we discovered over the coming days, both of our cameras never recovered. Bit of a disappointment….. Luckily no-one witnessed it – except Hils, who turned in time to see it all when she heard an anguished “Oh nooo………” as Lynda overbalanced when she couldn’t reach the ground with her left foot. A very polite fellow who came cycling round the bend promised to pretend he hadn’t seen anything, and Lynda just grimly looked the other way and squelchily pedalled harder when cheery families on barges called out brightly, “Good morning!”

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Dee took us to visit a little site down the road called Stonehenge in the afternoon. We learned a lot from the English Heritage audioguide, including the fact that the stones for one of the circles had come from Wales, that there were a number of eras of building, and that Salisbury plain was forested when Stonehenge was in use.

Cornwall

Hilary and I had a great trip to Cornwall with Dee, where we stayed in the Nix’s recently refurbished cottage, high on a hill below Bodmin Moor. Hils got to be “backseat buddies” with Bonnie the adorable and elderly Airedale. We did glorious walks in the evenings on the Moor, amongst heathland and spectacular stone outcrops, sheep, cattle and gangs of ponies, and the ancient stone circles of the Cheesewring. We did daytrips to the far end of Cornwall, to a very beautiful garden and the National Museum of Gardening, with its wonderful collection of tools and techniques.

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We also visited the fantastic Eden Project, where an abandoned quarry has been turned into a very impressive demonstration of sustainability and gardening. Two vast greenhouses, composed of geodesic domes (?) - one containing a staggering variety of tropical plants, with a call to protect rainforests and the communities that depend on them, and another showing the foods and products grown in Mediterranean climates and cultures.

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Wales
A long weekend in Wales and the Welsh borders

Photo gallery for Wales http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Wales/

Heading west from Marlborough, we could just see West Kennet Long Barrow over the horizon of the downs, and the unbelievable Silbury Hill. We stopped off at Avebury to see the stone circles. I remember going there as an 8-year old with Jenny, John, Rob and Bonnie.
In Malmesbury, we got delicious stuff at a bakery and wandered up to the beautiful old church. There was an ancient sort of stone carousel-undercover area-meeting place in a central square, which had stone seats that were so old that they had a distinct shiny dip, all the way around. Aww. We looked in an Op-Shop, the information centre, and an Oxfam shop, before heading back out, passing the 'Smoking Dog' pub and the stunning stone bridge bedecked with hanging flower pots in full bloom.

Further north, from Tetbury, we headed south down to the Westonbirt Arboretum, home of a vast tree collection, like a plant zoo. Just starting to show some autumn colour.
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We started noticing a distinctive local way of building field walls, with stones that were quite slender and relatively small, which makes for easy rebuilding I suppose. They seemed to have been heaped into piles according to their thickness, and then placed in uniform layers, alternating between thick and thin stones.

Passing over the Welsh border, we saw a castle silhouette on the horizon, so we decided to investigate. It was the Raglan Castle, which ended up being a real highlight for me. It was very much a castle ruins, but there was enough intact, and even some parts reconstructed, to really create a strong feel of how it would have looked in its glory days. Complete with everything from a tower, to a Hall, church, kitchen, even with some stairwells and servant passages still there to be strolled down. It was made of the local sandstone, allowing stunningly beautiful Gothic arches to have been made, but also, very romantically allowing it all to slowly slowly wash away as the stones weathered....

From there it was a fairly smooth run through beautiful Abergavenny, up to Brecon. The countryside quickly became more mountainous, with thick forest, and the bald, bleak hilltops of the Brecon Beacons in the distance, covered in red bracken.

We found a list of places to stay at the information centre there, and more or less randomly chose one, The Lodge, in nearby Talgarth. Once in Talgarth, I called The Lodge again, to get directions. It was about 5 minutes up a lane, through forest, between hedges, and finally into one of several muddy farmyards along the way. The house and farm buildings were very lovely - old and big, made entirely of stone.

We went for our usual evening walk up on the Commons on the mountainside - up the hill, down a steep lane, up the other side, and onto the open, brackeny land filled with sheep who seemed to hang in groups depending on the colour sprayed on their back. Maybe owned by different local farms?

We walked past a lot of very cute sheep, up the side of a Welsh Mountain, where we spotted a Welsh Mountain Pony colt. We stood near him for a while, and I sat on a rock to take in the incredible view from up there. Above, sheep were scattered evenly across the entire of the bald, pink mountainside, and below, a patchwork of forests and hedged-in fields speckled with more sheep and cattle.

Day two

Turns out that the farm produced several kinds of sheep cheese, including one which is a bit like cheddar. We told them about our time on Italian farms. The ewes can sell for 70-80 pounds at the end of their milking life for meat- so... that's a lot of money standing on that hill up there!

After saying our goodbyes, we jumped in our little blue 'Elm' car, and scooted down that poop-speckled lane and through the forest, with Classic FM making green forest look that bit more vibrant and special in my eyes.

From Talgarth, we headed west past Bronllys, and gorgeous little Erwood, on the way to Builth-Wells. It wasn't a big town, but there were at least 5 churches, all stunning! We stopped by at the River Wye. Parking under the huge old avenue of trees stretched long the riverside, we could see a big stone bridge with about 8 arches. Under it, a man was standing knee-deep, trout fishing. The morning air smelled like autumn... Leaves fell sporadically from the old trees, and water rushed past the rocky shallows where the fishermen stood, out into the deeper section before us, where a current rippled the surface.

We stopped to take a happy snap of a public notice beginning with 'A polite request'. So English.

From Builth-Wells, we meander north along the increasingly mountainous roads, always flanked by hedges or woodland. To the sides, the red Welsh mountains rose up, their bald, brackeny peaks a smooth silhouette against the blue-grey sky.

Jonathon Ross and Julian Clary came on BBC radio, so when we arrived in Rhayder, we had to pull into a carpark so that mum could laugh. And we couldn't get out of the car until they were done, so... after watching dogs wee on the toilet block, and people shuffling in and out of them, we finally did a lazy car tour of the town. There was a funny little very VERY daggy old market on, where it pretty much seemed to be a sort of old-people-selling-old-stuff-to-other-old-people affair.

Rhyader, Crossgates, Penybont... We stopped in Knighton to check out the Offa's Dyke museum. Offa's Dyke is a wall of elevated soil that extends the entire way along the Welsh-English border, ordered, surprisingly, by King Offa. Every household across Wales was requested to bring a single worker to build approximately one metre of height on the wall. Those who could not contribute in that way were required to bring food to support the workers. Talk about team work. Knighton had some beautiful architecture, including a church that I would have explored, had we not been parked in a Disabled Parking place. Oops.

In Walford we had to stop to gawk at the 3m high hedge that had been clipped in a very naturalistic style, including all the natural lumps and bumps, giving the impression of a green Loch-Ness monster, wrapped around someone's garden. Leighton, Marlow, Clungunford...

Heading south at Craven Arms, we soon reached the famous Stokesay Castle, arguably one of the most well-preserved Medieval homes in England. Laurence of Ludlow bought the property in 1281, and it was built in the same form as it currently stands, in 1291. The main hall is entirely intact, with the barn-like roof beams still standing, with all of its gorgeous curves and stone carvings in the doorways and walls. I literally collapsed at the sight of it- to stand inside something that has been standing unscathed by war or weather, for 720 years, is an amazing feeling. We noticed a distinct abundance of Williams and Annes in the graveyard, one Anne choosing to be called 'Nance', just to assert her individuality.

Ludlow is a gorgeous albeit touristy town complete with rows of the classic, half-timbered black and white houses covered in pretty flower baskets. We strolled up to the main square, where a market was bubbling along.

We had pasties, just to fit in, and grabbed some Welsh sconey things for the road. We battled the oncoming traffic in little alleys on the way to Croft Castle, a pseudo-Gothic castle that had been sold due to bankruptcy in the 1750s, and then reclaimed by descendants in the early 20th century. After admiring the cute sheep and ancient elm avenue driveway, we parked among a hundred other cars and headed in.

We chatted to the gorgeous mooies over the ha-ha, checked out the chapel, which is still used for services today, and, through little doors in huge walls, we found the enormous walled garden, which must have produced a massive amount of food in its day. It still has a little vineyard and apple orchard.

As we wandered down beside one of the huge walls, admiring the beautiful autumnal floral displays, we stopped to listen to a Robin Red-breast singing on the wall. Its friends answered its calls, and we became aware of all the different sweet voices filling the air.

Decided to do a three hour walk in the estate grounds, so I got my walking boots on, and we crossed a cow-pat splattered field. We said hello to the dozens of 300 year old chestnut trees running down the hill (they had their running boots on too), before reaching the woods.

Climbing up and up, cypress became deciduous native forest, which then opened out into the bracken-clad hillside; the Iron Age Hill Fort. No-one else was up there, except for a herd of friendly sheep, as we huffed up the final ascent. The side that we had climbed up had a ditch around the top acre or so, but on the far side, the hill dropped away steeply, so that the farmland below was only a few hundred horizontal metres away. Apparently you could see fourteen of the old counties from up here.

We could see a seriously big, seriously spic-and-span farm, a mansion, a hamlet, a forest, and a lot of sheep. On the way back down, I stopped to sit in a chestnut forest, where a leaf could shatter the silence as it crashed onto the red leaf littered floor.

After saving a sheep with its head stuck in the fence, we admired a huge sculpture - a pink tape-covered dead tree in the paddock, before heading off. The Mill down the road was closed, so we just passed through Leominster, Bromyard, and Brockhampton, on the way to Worcester. In Knightswick, we spotted a pub hotel, and, not wanting to waste too much time looking, we headed in.

The Talbot is a lot more than we expected it to be. It is a fourteenth century coaching inn, where knights involved in the War of the Roses used to stay. They grow all their vegetables in the garden, and their piggies in the field, they grow hops and brew a selection of beers. They make sausages, and serve outrageously delicious meals. What a show. Annie, the woman who runs the Talbot, showed us to our room, before we headed down for a lovely dinner. Mum had cassoulet and caramel-plum meringue, I had chickpea patty and chocolate cake. Glorious.

Mum has had a bath and watched about an hour of silly tv as I type this - I had best let her sleep. It's our final day of exploring together tomorrow – the Midlands and Oxford - what a special, bittersweet day...

Day three

The funny, friendly waitress who had served us last night was there at breakfast, and fairly quickly burst out with 'Are you guys Aussies?'. She's a Nzer who has been in the UK for 2 and a half years, and working at the Talbot for 18 months. !!! No wonder her accent is a little odd.

After paying and packing up, we got out on the road from Knightswick and headed back to Brockhampton House. Enjoyed a lovely early morning drive through gorgeous parklands to the main house, with no-one else around. Sheep grazed quietly under huge old oaks and beech trees. We laughed at a squirrel, spotted a pheasant, and breathed in the sweet morning air in the trees before hitting the road. We noticed that for the top of the stone walls, they used all of the fairly triangular-looking stones to make a pointed top to the wall.

From there, we took the road towards Worcester, where we stopped to look out towards the Malvern Hills. We took in the view over a big wide valley where the Battle of Worcester took place in the 1600s. There was an outpost used in the battle that still stands there today...

In Leigh, we visited the Leigh Court Tithe Barn, a barn that was handed over to English Heritage in the '80s and is today a fully restored (and functional) structure. Inside, there was not only a huge set of horse-driven cider-making mills, but a fully inflated pink, dragon-themed bouncy castle! Of course that was expected...

We jumped on the M5 up to Packwood below Birmingham, with a bit of a detour via the affluent Wood End and Hockley Heath. Packwood was full of local-ish people who had brought their packed lunch to have a picnic in the fields before they spent a proper and respectful amount of time taking in all that the beautiful house and gardens had to offer ( unlike us, who were on a whirlwind tour, trying to see so much in one day). The gardens were... just stunning. I kept saying to mum 'just make our garden like this!', because it's as easy as that. Ha.

The depth of understanding though research and experience, trial and error, and that undeniable arty, naturalistic touch that was required to create something so beautiful was truly impressive.

Beyond the summer borders, which showcased texture and colour, was the Yew topiary area, full of Yew trees that are clipped to shape, but then allowed to express individuality by their little lumps and bumps and leans... each had distinct character. At the back was a spiral labyrinth that rose up to a very nicely manicured tree... mum, just do one like that.

Down to Kenilworth, we got audio-guides and danced in the musical sections. It was great to hear about how this apparently uniform congregation of buildings were in fact from completely different eras. They only looked of a kind because they were all made of the same red stone. Its heydey was when Robert Dudley designed a formal garden to impress Elizabeth the first, when she visited – which has recently been recreated by English Heritage.

Kenilworth, Warwick, M40, (Stop to buy strawberries on FWY)... OXFORD. After struggling to find a carpark, we finally found ourselves marching along Beaumont Street, with a disproportionate number of people in their twenties. We visited Balliol College, which was more lush, luxurious, historical and packed-in than the Melbourne Colleges. Their chapel must have been so old, but it was beautifully preserved!

We wandered along past a few more colleges on the way to the Botanic Gardens, which were, sadly, closed. It was quite like I had imagined, with Lyra sitting on a bench in there, holding on to her past... We were late to get back to the car park, and mum ran across just as the bloke was booking us. We had to buy another ticket, which was a little bit preferable to a 100 pound fine... Oxford, Bressels Leigh, Grove, Wantage... We did a drive-by through Grove, where Gramps' family came from, but Wantage had the more impressive market square and gorgeous old streets and houses.

We visited the Uffington white horse as the sun set over the vibrant green hillsides. I may have chased some sheep, and stood in sheep poo. Mum was getting depressed because it was our last REAL day in England... It will be so so strange to have her gone. Ashbury, Idstone, Bishopstone, Hinton Parva, Waborough, A346, Marlborough, Oare, HOME.

Posted by hazelnutty 22:49 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Farm 3 - Fruit trees near Spoleto

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After the farms - a trip to Rome

We walked west past the Giardini del Quirinale, which seemed to have an ancient wall as part of its design, beneath old shady trees. Turning right at the Quirinale, we had a beautiful view from the Piazza del Quirinale of the Basilica S Pietro in the Vatican City. We followed the beautiful old steps down to the road, and turned right into an alley to avoid the glare of the sun and constant traffic. I have to get out of Italy, or I'll get hit soon. I nearly got hit today because I didn't even know the taxi was behind me, and suddenly it was trying to squeeze in beside me- my legs hit its wheels. Jeeeeesus!

And from quiet little alleys painted gold and orange, we were suddenly in the presence of the stunning Fontana di Trevi, a facade of dramatic stone carvings and glistening turquoise. The were sooo many people there. Disgusting really, that people make these popular spots such a hangout- they really lose their charm when you get your hand planted in fresh chewing gum on the marble handrails.

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No.42 Via d. Panetteria was reportedly a famous gelato shop where all the ingredients are of highest quality. It was 2.30E for the smallest size; 6E for a proper amount of gelati. We got the smallest size. Mum got plum, and I got something that was a mixture of whipped egg and a liquor- sensational. It made me feel safe and cosy at home in the kitchen.

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Walking southwards, we reached the Mercati Traianei, the first of a spectacular series of roman ruins open to the air and modern city sky... but no longer free for visitors. Sun glaring down, and city dust being thrown against our faces, we stumbled down old roman roads, where the scars of carts remain, 2 milennia later. Beginning at the Colonna Triana, we headed past Victor Emannuel's most notable monument, the infamous 'Typewriter', and into the main archaelogical area, the Roman Forum. Too many incredible things to note. After 45 mintutes or so, we arrived at the Colloseo, where the evening sun created a stunning contrast between light and shade, all in a peachy glow. Endless tourists stood to get their picture taken in front of the huge theatre, none of them seeming to either realise or care that the building was bright orange and they were little dark blue dots in the evening shade.

We followed a couple in a cycle-powered car, who ended up pushing it across the massive old cobblestones, cackling like crazy, to the metro station. Italian Metro platforms smell like fumes and airlessness. Happpyyyy.

Back at the Roma Terminali, we looked for a non-existant supermarket, before heading down good old Via Marghera in search of some place selling juice! We found one- and came out with 6L of yummy liquids! Most of it's gone already.

Mum was getting pretty tired but I persuaded her to at least eat something before going to bed. We ate literally across the road from our room. Which is lucky because we both got so drunk. Not.
I'm sitting here, mum's alseep, and wishing that the internet would just fecking well work. Cable. Wireless. ANYTHING. But computers don't work on willpower so to bed I go.

Rome-London

Having learned that the internet did indeed work in the Yellow Bar across the road, I took the computer over there at breakfast time. I sent a few photos of Il Piano to dad, and we booked train tickets from London Paddington to Pewsey. Mum caught a train to a market before we would head to the train station at about 12:30. I packed my bag, and had organised to meet mum to go shopping once I had checked the bags out at 11, but as I nearly reached the train station, where we had agreed to meet, I got a call from dad: the plane left an hour earlier than we had all thought.

I ran back to the hotel and nervously waited for mum, with the bags sitting out in the hotel foyer. After 10 minutes, she arrived, and we tried to run with 17 and 22.5kg packs on our backs. HARD.

Mum very efficiently bought tickets at the auto machine, and we ran towards platform 25- the first platform that was not on the main immediate line of platform- a KILOMETER AWAY! could hardly believe it was happening, as I tried too keep up with speedy mum as she darted through the calm holiday types strolling along to THEIR trains.

We got on board with a couple of minutes to spare, covered in sweat, and hardly believing all that had just happened. Dad called, mum said that things were NOT cool. The holiday-making Italian couple opposite us got me to take their picture.

At the airport, I had to take a picture of the typical Italian ads displayed everywhere. Eg. Solar panels, where naked girls were clearly an essential element of their sales strategy. Disgusting.

WWOOF day off- trip to Spoleto

Halley, Lucia and the two of us went to Spoleto for our day off. Having missed our bus from Piedapaterno, (apparently Italian bus times go on word of mouth, not timetables) we decided to hitch a ride into town, and within about 45 seconds, a man pulled over with 4 spare seats in his car, threw the newspapers off the back seat and let us in. There was a bit of confusion about where we wanted to go, because we didn't say SpoLEto, so it sounded like Spello to him. Spello is 20 minutes further away, and we only worked out that he didn't understand when we were halfway there.

We found out that he was a sculptor from Milano, and had an exhibition in a few weeks. He dropped us off in the piazza where buses leave from, and we walked up to the top of the hill, stopping along the way to look at little old churches and parks and alleys, until we reached the Duomo. The floor was a magnificent mixture of byzantine mosaic and geometric, yet naturalistic, circles swirls. All in earthy stone colours. We spent quite a while in there- Lucia, mum and I sat scattered in the central seats, just taking it all in, while Hallie wandered around into the less obvious corners, blending in. There was a stunning little room off the right hand side chapel, decked out in a garish altar of gold and stone statues of angels landing on the intricate arches, with glass stars glistening on the walls. The centre-piece was a Byzantine-looking portrait of 'madonna e bambino', very dark and simple figures, but with the typical golden background.

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As it was moving into late morning, all the Italian tourists began pouring in, and the church atmosphere altered from tranquil to crowded within literally seconds. We fled, and wandered up to the old town fortress on the hilltop, with old tree roots and plants growing through the stones laid hundreds of years ago. Around the back, the hill dropped steeply into a rocky valley, with a small pebble creek one hundred metres or more below us. After chatting to a black cat with gleaming green eyes sitting on a rooftop, we reached the 14th century bridge that stretched across the valley. Old olive trees battled the odds on the rocky, bare slopes, and a house hung onto a ledge in the distance, halfway down a cliff-face.

Back in town, we went to the information centre, found a slightly dodgy-looking internet place, and everyone had 5 minutes to check emails. Deciding that we needed some supplies for the next few days at Il Piano, we each bought some little biscuits of all kinds in a bakery. As Hallie said, once most of them had 'disappeared' before we even got home, 'Like they were ever going to survive 4 days'. We may have bought some lovely gelato, because they were wonderfully cheap and even more interesting and delicious. After a bit of window-licking, we headed back to the bus stop and carried on home, the girls both sleeping on the way. At Piedapaterno, we stopped at the river Nera again, and stole some perfectly ripe figs from the huge tree standing beside the river.

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It took us about an hour to get up to our WWOOFer quarters, because SOME people are ridiculously lazy. We said hello to Jujube the skewbald, her chestnut friend, the 3 donkeys and goat, along the way.
We worked in the afternoon, but halfway through work (picking berries, or making drains), it started bucketing with rain, so we bolted home.

1-7 September 2009: Farm 3 – Lots of Fruit Trees
Our Last Farm (for now)

When Hilary went wandering to find out where the bus to Meggiano left (at the Spoleto stazione, she came back saying, “How amazing, I just met two girls from California, who are going to a farm, WWOOFing, and they didn't know each other before!” I suggested that maybe we were ALL going to the same farm. A few minutes later, we were all on the little bus, and sure enough, all of us were going to Il Piano, the Rosati's place, near Paterno. It was great to meet Halley, who had been travelling in Spain and Italy, and Lucia, who had finished school (like Hils) and was spending the year sorting out what to do next (also like Hils). We chatted about our past WWOOF experiences, and wondered how this one would be...

The bus driver looked at our packs and asked if we were going to Adolpho's. We headed up into the very beautiful, wooded, steep-sided Valnerina, and turned uphill, winding our way high up the slopes through patches of old farmland, with little stone villages dotted around. The driver dropped us at the side of the road, with the suggestion to keep to the main track and we heaved our packs on to our backs, and headed downhill. We had detailed directions for how to find our way to their house, which involved a longish walk down a steep and gravelly track. We passed groves of olives, woods, peaches, apricots, apple trees and figs, with lovely views across the valley to the high mountains on the other side.

Adolpho, Darcy and 15 month old Ben arrived home a while after we reached their very lovely stone house. We heard about how they are finishing it off themselves, while working on their visionary plan for a collection of heritage varieties of fruit trees. Adolpho also works in Spoleto. Darcy showed us to our WWOOFer space in the bottom of the house, and we had a short rest before starting work.

The farm is set high above the valley, just below the hilltop village of Paterno (population 11, 10 of whom are related to Adolpho). Together they are growing 1000 fruit trees, all of which are heritage varieties. They have 350 different varieties of apples.

There are amazing, wild mountains all around. There are views across the valley to Mt Sybillini.

See google maps: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=paterno+umbria&sll=37.567289,14.901029&sspn=0.184505,0.345383&ie=UTF8&ll=42.777007,12.862244&spn=0.170856,0.345383&z=12

Over the next week, we worked on a number of tasks, 3 hours each morning and another 3 in the evening. We began by digging gutters across the driveway, which had been damaged by recent rains. We collected horse poo, used pickaxes to remove blackberry plants and “Tree of Heaven” (Ailanthus altissima – familiar from Colo days) from the very steep and rocky slopes of the fruit orchards. We broke up fire wood and stacked it in the boiler room and we joined 50 metre hoses together to hand water the 3 year old fruit trees.

In fact our favourite job was picking rocks out of the recently ripped two acre “field”, beside the house. We laughed when Darcy said the job was to collect the rocks from it, because it was all rock, ranging from football-sized to gravel, with most of it the sort of stuff that stops a spade when you try to dig by hand. We walked behind the tractor, pulling the biggest rocks we could find and heaving them into the trailer. We would then go and unload them into piles ready for use as facing materials for the concrete walls of the house. It was hard to get much satisfaction, as we couldn't really see any evidence of our efforts. After several session of “doing rocks”, we agreed that it would great to see our job finished, in a lovely rock-free garden soil, but that it would require many WWOOFer-hours!

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We made our own breakfasts and lunches in our WWOOFer kitchen, and in the afternoons we slept like logs. With Lucia and Halley, we spent many, many hours talking about all sorts of things, especially lots of comparisons of California and Australia. After the evening work, we had lovely meals made by Darcy. It was all absolutely delicious, healthy fare, and we enjoyed the chance to chat and hear about their ideas and plans. Then we would fall into bed and sleep very soundly.

One day we took a walk suggested by previous WWOOFers in the log book, down to the valley, through the pretty village of Piedapaterno, along the river, and then up to Vallo di Nera on the other side.
It was a classic well maintained stone village, with tiny laneways, arches, staircases and homes clinging together around the sides of a little hill-top, with a tiny church and courtyard at the top. The whole region is UNESCO listed, and the views of olive groves and other villages on the slopes amongst the forest were certainly very beautiful.

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On the full moon, we took a night walk to “il Torre”, the old tower on the ridge above the farm. It was warm and clear, and the moonlight was gorgeous on the fields and trees. Lucia came out with one of her typically funny, positive statements when she observed that “I think it's mostly downhill, once we get to the top.”

Our day off was used for a visit to Spoleto. We set off early down to Piedapaterno, to catch the bus. We were early, but it the bus never came, so we decided to hitch. We soon got a lift with a very nice sculptor from Norcia, but didn't make ourselves clear enough, and he drove us most of the way to Spello (near Assisi, about 40 kilometres north) before we all worked out what was going on. Ooops. “No problem,” he said kindly, and turned around and drove us to Spoleto. Turns out he is very keen to move to Australia, but was worried that his English is not good enough. We gave him our contact details and reassured him that Australians are very used to dealing with people who don't speak perfect English. He gave us a poster for his upcoming exhibition at Campello sul Clitunno - he works in stone and wood. A pity we won't be here.

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Spoleto was fantastic to explore. We wandered for hours, taking in the sights, window shopping and sampling gelato. It has many churches, piazzas and very ancient buildings, built around Estruscan walls, all climbing uphill towards the Duomo and Rocca (fort). The cathedral was absolutely gorgeous, with a massive bell tower made of huge blocks of Roman stone. Inside, the floor was an amazing mixture of mosaics, and very worn slabs, tiles and tombs, all colours and textures. The apse had lots of bright colourful Fillipo Lippi frescoes, and there was another one by Lynda's favourite – Pintoricchio- in one of the chapels. Halley loved the very gaudy marble and gold extravaganza of a chapel beside the altar.

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We walked on the 230 metre long, 80 metre high bridge, built in the 14th century on a Roman aqueduct. We bought a really nice table cloth for al fresco meals at home.

The absolute highlight of the day was magic. We were strolling uphill in a little lane, when we heard piano music. Through an archway, we came into a tiny courtyard, and traced the music to a third storey, open window. It was incredibly moving, modern but perhaps with folk references? Lots of soft, then loud, a long and fading ending. The four of us were stunned and we loved it. With another lady with a little girl, who had walked downhill and listened, too, we all applauded. After a moment, the shutters were thrown wide by the pianist, a beaming, wild haired, topless and very tanned man who reminded me a lot of the Italian actor/director (Roberto Bernini?) who bowed and looked so happy, he made our day!

At the end of our time at Il Piano, we were really sad to leave Halley and Lucia, after sharing the week and work with them. Hopefully they'll come and WWOOF at our place! It would also be fantastic to see how Il Piano evolves – with the vision of Adolpho and Darcy, and lots more hard work, it should be incredible.

Posted by hazelnutty 07:33 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Farm 2 - Goats in Greve, Chianti

25 August 2009: Making Cheese (from Lynda)

We have just woken up from our afternoon rest. The tractor is starting, people are emerging and getting going on the late afternoon jobs. Hils and I are going to water the vegetable garden - called "the jungle". There are a few big thundery looking clouds, but apparently no prospect of rain. It is exceptionally hot and dry for this time of year, apparently. The tomato plants have that late summer, worn out look, but have lots more pomodoro on the way.

It's not actually possible to do anything between midday and about 5 o'clock, so most of us get up early and work from 8 till 1, and then do more later.

The cheese-making is very satisfying - the evening milk makes 6 big wheels of a firm formaggio, and a dozen or so baskets of ricotta. I make the cheese from the mornings milk, and do the salting and turning, and removing from moulds of the cheese of the previous days. It all lives in large white open crates which are stacked in a coolroom, with dates to help keep order. It stills gets very chaotic in there. In the mornings, customers come in a steady stream, to buy fresh cheeses, tomatoes, eggs, and jams and sauces.

I get to wear the dicky white hat and apron and boots, and by lunchtime, I am very hot and sweaty. Each day I make 20 or more square or round cheeses which will be aged, or 30 long cylindrical ones, which are eaten after a couple of weeks. I scoop slices of the set curd into moulds until they are full, and then after a while, as they drain, add more to fill them again.

Then I make soft fresh cheese from the left-over curd and whey, which has drained for 24 hours. These have a different herb mix added to them each day. Then comes the washing and cleaning, which is a big job, and has to be done very well. It's great to see lots of the cheeses in the coolroom with my labels on them, some of them have already been sold.

Hilary has a very different job. She is responsible for feeding the goats, both in the barns and out in the fields and woods. I have been with her a couple of times, it is rather daunting, managing 88 highly intelligent, imaginative little livewires. 87 of them are no trouble, but "Biondo", the big boy, is another matter!

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The milking herd are about 70 goats of a breed from the Swiss Alps. They are brown with black legs and markings on their faces, and enormous horns. Their coats are quite smooth and they are really healthy. There are also 20 young ones, kept in a separate barn, being grown on to join the herd. They are far too cute and far too clever, and are very also shiny and bright-eyed.

Hils feeds them a grain mix in the morning, and tops up their hay racks. Several of them jump up and sit in the top, doing baby Jesus impersonations while they munch, looking very contented and pleased with themselves.

It is so beautiful to see her lead them all out in the morning, when she opens the gates, the two streams of older and younger goats join in a river of bobbing heads, horns and tails, flowing down the hill to pasture. She can read a book, and just needs to be ready to stop them getting up to no good, by crossing the river or going into a garden or vineyard.

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At night, the milking and feeding happen all over again, and we all hope that the goats will be where they should be in the morning.

24 August 2009: Lots of Goats

We are sitting upstairs in the beautiful old house, as the sun goes down. We probably should be outside with the sensible Italians, who are chatting and enjoying the cool evening air.

The other family on the farm have the most adorable boys, Pietro is 7 and Luccio is 3; they are so happy and playful. They are brown all over, with bleached brown hair and mental blue eyes. I can hear them playing below the window. The little girl in our house is Priscilla, who is also 3. She has a wild imagination and a huge vocab and can be rather excitable.

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We are learning bits of Italian – we bought a book in Florence that is short stories; Italian on the left, English on the right. Very good way to learn, in combination with constant immersion on full throttle, lively Italian talk from the 10 or so people who live here and a steady stream of visitors. We thought meal times in Japan were animated!

Dinner was an hour or so ago. Since then we have all been up the hill because the little boys ran upstairs to tell us that “Biondo”, the big male goat, was out of the paddock! Big drama, but all is OK now. We have been sitting watching the goats being fascinated by the cats, who are doing maddies in the twilight.

18 August 2009: The new farm near Greve, Chianti

We have had a very full-on, busy and action-packed time, on our first day at Greti, near Greve in Chianti. The farm is very old, with two stone farmhouses, about 400 years old. There are two families here, with their beautiful goats, who are milked twice a day for their latte, used for cheese.

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We are learning the ropes from other WWOOFERs, two Italian girls, and a New Zealand couple. At the moment, they are all making ravioli, and there is a lot of laughing.

Hilary decided to take on the job of goat herd, today, and she had to learn how to manage the goats out in the fields and woods, without complete fences to contain them. She was able to get them to follow her, using hand claps to get them to come along, to a new area. Only once did she almost lose them, when she looked up from her book to see them travelling quite quickly up a hill.

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Lynda was in the dairy, making all kinds of cheese, from fresh and creamy, to salted aged stuff. It was hard and heavy and very enjoyable work. It starts with last nights milk, used to make one kind of cheese, then turnng and salting cheeses form other days. Some had herbs added, others were made in huge moulds and will be aged for months.

We came in for a delicious lunch of bruschetta, and then had a nap, before going out with the goats again into the wooded part of the farm. It was nice and shady in there, and the goats had fun climbing trees, nibbling shoots and leaves and have head-but competitions. The very young goats loved hanging out on rocky cliffs and running around together.

So, we are here, it is good, and we will be busy.

Posted by hazelnutty 06:05 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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