Thursday, May 27, 2010

My House in Umbria

When a backpacker from Hawaii first told me about Workaway when I was in Amsterdam, I was slightly dubious. I mean, it sounded like slave labour... working half the day just for some food and shelter... it sounded a bit medieval. But I met the backpacker at a Christian hostel and I thought maybe it was divine intervention... so I signed up.

Basically there are heaps of organisations and families who put advertisements online for volunteers at their farm or hostel or hotel and poor backpackers like me hoping to save a  buck and soak up some language and culture get in touch with them to help out for a few weeks. So I contacted a family that sounded friendly who were living in an old farmhouse right near the border of Tuscany and Umbria in the countryside in Italy. I had no idea what to expect.

Beth and I parted ways as she went on to Rome to continue her adventures. I was met at the station by Alex, an Englishwoman who immediately seemed friendly and hospitable. It was with her I would be spending the next two weeks slaving away in the garden strimming, mowing, weeding, composting, digging and planting. Now don't faint people, I haven't done a whole lot of gardening in my life, so most of this was quite new to me. But I found it to be quite enjoyable when the sun was shining down and it felt good to see the garden take shape. I thought hauling a 20kg backpack around was good for my muscles, but gardening has definitely given me a workout. However, it hasn't all been hard work.

The day after I got there we went to some natural hot baths in the middle of nowhere to soak our muscles, which was great. On the hot days we have also made afternoon visits to the outdoor swimming pool that sits in the middle of a grass field with a great view out over the hills and towns. Alex and her husband (who is currently in America visiting family) also have two gorgeous little girls, Thomasina (10) and Isolde (8). My second day in the garden Thomasina didn't go to school because she had a "tummy ache" which turned out to be a guise so that she could spend the day gardening with us and listen to me tell her stories all day. Funnily enough, Isolde had a "tummy ache" two days later and I had to dig deep (pardon the pun) into my story bank to entertain her for the day. These kids are pretty well-read... I had to think outside your regular fairytales and greek myths, because they had heard them all. "Can't you stay forever?" They asked me. I'm pretty sure I would run out of stories.

The house itself is a beautiful old two-storey orange-brick thing surounded by lush garden and grass with wild poppies and other such flowers growing everywhere. It's a bit of an explosion inside as they are in the proces of rebuilding parts, but it has a certain charm. The view of the surrounding country is amazing. I often enjoy it as I am having a shower outside with the sun shining down or sitting in a deck chair in the front yard.

Last weekend we did a day trip to Assisi, which is really only famous because of St Francis who stuck it up the Catholic Church by telling them they were becoming greedy and not helping the poor enough in the 15th century. But it really is a beautiful city in its own right. We took a long walk to an old fortress that looked out over half of Umbria, visited Francis' tomb and ate some world class gelati before driving home for a delicious dinner of mussels in tomato, garlic and olive oil wth salad.

I love travelling around, but the last two weeks have been good to be still for a while, to sit back and relax with a beer and a book as the suns sets over the countryside and think about where I'm heading next. Maybe Croatia if I can get in contact with Beth (who wins worst traveller of the year award... yes, Beth, it's official). I've made it halfway, but I swear it already feels like a year has passed. I can't wait to see what the next half has in store for me. I definitely think I will be giving Workaway another go.

Love Megan

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