Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Written June 8 2011

Italy continues to be beautiful. Each day I wake up to birds chirping, and the smell of flowers. My host here, Liane, is very laid back, so I work for maybe 3 hours a day, sometimes more, often less. The weather was really rainy for a couple of days, so that made work even less. I have a lot of free time to read, watch movies, go online, etc. Twice Liane has taken us to the near by village. She even took us to the not so near by natural hot springs, that the Roman soldiers used to use years and years ago (or at least host springs someplace close to those ones. There are many.

Anyway, today, I had a great travel moment. After spending two hours weeding, and two hours making Indian food (really – I now know how to make home made chapati bread! And it's delicious), I decided to go for a run in the Tuscan countryside. It's so beautiful here, lots of golden fields and green hills. Ten minutes into the run, I stumbled up a hill into a beautiful little town I had no idea was there, but has probably been there for oh, ten times longer than I have been alive (or more). Oh it was so neat. So Italian! Windy staircases, cobbled streets, cobbled staircases that were so slanted I thought they may not be stairs. And people really do live there. Even in the smallest of streets, on the strangest of staircases, I'd find tiny colorful doors with flowers on the windowsills. I wandered my way up to the top of the hill town. There I found a lookout over the green hills (some with some other small towns on top) and the ruins of an old church or something. The church had a park bench in it, overgrown with weeds which I thought was a nice touch. On the way back down I went down every strange staircase I could find. I got a little lost. A little brown dog came to keep me company though. It followed me aaallllll the way down the hill, sniffing and peeing on things as we went. But I was on the wrong side of the town, a bit lost. So the dog followed me all the way back up the hill, through another narrow cobbled street, then all the way down to the correct side of the hill. He was sweet company, but then it followed me to the edge of town. I think it would have followed me home if I let it. I told it, Stop! Stay! Didn't work. It kept following me. (the dog doesn't speak English). So I tried the same words in Spanish (which sometimes is the same as Italian). Didn't work. So I tried just yelling “Non! Non!” (no) and pointing. It took a couple of times, but it worked. He went back. And I ran back to my temporary country home. It's hard to explain why, but the whole thing left me feeling elated and full of smiles. A happy travel day indeed.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

TUSCANY: The first few days

written June 4 - the same day i'm publishing it for once!

I've been in Italy, Tuscany at my newest helpxchange for two and a half full days now. I'll be here till June 18, when I go and meet a friend in Rome.

– Yes all meals but breakfast have included pasta.

I arrived at Pisa airport in Italy on the 2nd of June. Surprisingly to myself, I felt quite nervous to be here. I love Italy. A lot. I've been here once before, and i've always wanted to come back, so I'm very excited to be spending the next month here. But Spain, the country I just left feels so homey by now. I know the culture, I know the language... well, enough, I know the general lay of the land I guess. Italy... is unknown. How do I ask things in Italian? No clue. I have a translator book, and I've been told that Italian is very similar to Spanish. Spanish people say that if an italian speaks to them slowly, they understand about 75%. So I'm not starting at square one. It isn't like I'm in Japan or something, but still... no clue.

As usual, I find a nice English speaking Information booth person who explains to me how to get to the train station. I get to the train station, I buy my ticket, I get on the train, and watch Tuscan country side and the Mediterranean on occasion go wizzing by the window. Despite my nervousness, this travel really went without a problem. Well, except for the part where I forgot just how strict Ryanair baggage was, forgot I was only allowed one piece of luggage, not one piece of luggage and a backpack, and got charged 40 euros at the airport gate. OUCH! But other than that, all smooth sailing. And I'm very confident that my host for the next two weeks is going to show up to pick me up in Grosetto because I have numerous confirmation emails and a confirmation text. And sure enough she does show up, and with a bowl of fresh picked red cherries from her tree for me to snack on for the ride home. How sweet! What's that saying about a bowl full of cherries again?

We arrive at her country home in the southern Tuscan hills. Liane, my host, is German, blond, and a very warm person (despite the Germaness of her communication). She bought this house in Tuscany in 1996. She moved to Italy in 1994. She lives at the house with her Italian boyfriend Aldo, who I wasn't to meet until that night. The house is cute, quaint, and an acre full of trees and meadows and flowers. She has roses that smell like honey. I love them. I smell them every time I walk by them. Liane has many stories from her life that I've only gotten sentences about so far. For example, she traveled around South America for a year as a teenager. She spent a good portion of her youth lying in a hospital bed because of some leg problem. She lived in Holland for quite some time... the stories keep coming. Today I found out that she is quite knowledgeable in Tibetan Astrology, like she's about to give a conference about it in France. She and Aldo are Buddhist. Their house is full of Buddhist artwork, and literature. Interesting literature too that I plan to peruse while I'm here. Aldo does Tibetan Massage for a living and is studying Tibetan herbs. They are very connected to the temple close by. There are group meditations there, and on June 16 their teacher is arriving, one of those enlightened, reincarnated monk types. Consequently people from all over the continent, all over the world, are coming to their temple right now to pass the summer. They said they would take me. I think that would be really fun.

So far my time here has been very nice and relaxing and warm, despite the fact that it has rained for the last two afternoons. There are small towns close by that I should be able to explore, hiking to do, maybe some biking, and hopefully we'll all go on a trip to the natural hotsprings that are close by, and maybe the sea too! And already my Italian basics are much more up to speed

Italia va bene! Sonno malta bene!

Travel with the parents

May 5- May 25

BLOG COMING SOON... not written yet. sry

EUROPEAN MUSINGS: Tapas in South Spain are pretty much the best thing ever

In the South of Spain, it is custom to serve free little snack size meals with any drink purchased... drink after drink, you should still be getting a little plate of food. Some places in Madrid still have this traditional hospitality too, but most often you receive a bowl of potato chips, or olives or something. (not that I'm complaining! It's going to suck going back to America and not getting anything with the beer I order, having to pay more for the beer, and then have to tip the guy or gal who gives it to me!) Why does Spain do this? Well, i'm not sure. But this is what wikipedia says:

According to legend[citation needed], the tapas tradition began when king Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals. After regaining his health, the king ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine to customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or "tapa."

According to The Joy of Cooking, the original tapas were the slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales.[1] The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry.

Andulusia (South) Spain, Tapas are renown for being the best, and I agree. Here's a list of some of the tapas I enjoyed for free with my drinks during my time in hospitable Andulusia...

- smoked bacon on a toasted baguette slice with french fries

- fried crab lumps

- tuna with oriental flavored red peppers on toasted baguette slice with lettuce and oil

- pasta chicken enchilada thing with tomato cream sauce

  • olives olives olives

  • nachos

  • risotto

  • spanish tortilla (eggs and potatoes cooked Spanish style)

  • little bagel like things w aoli (garlic mayo) and jamon (ham)

  • cheese w olive oil and bread

  • potatas pobre (sauteed potatoes and onions and pepers and sausage, with an egg on top)

  • pizza

  • chicken drums litely fried

the list continues... but that is all I can remember for the time being, and it proves my point on how AWESOME free tapas are.

There is only one bar out of my entire time in Andulusia that did not give SOME sort of tapas... and that was a strange experience. It was in Lanjaron. After a day of work at Casa del Viento, Bill, Fionna, Mark, and I went out to the town for a couple of drinks and a change of scene. WE decided to go to a bar that none of us had been to before. We went in, ordered two tinto de veranos (wine and lemonade) and two canas (small glasses of beer). As our bartender served us, he did not smile once. He did not respond to my pleasantries in spanish, asking good afternoon, how his day was going, but rather completely ignored me. Mark thought his beer tasted of cleaning fluid (and it did), so he tried to explain that to the bartender in Spanish, and got a new one. We sat outside after collecting our drinks... waited for tapas to come. Nothing did. Not even a small bowl of olives. That is strange for Lanjaron, for Andulusia! The bartender, meanwhile, had come back outside, and sat down and started a reading book called “te matare” (I will kill you...) After we were done with our drinks, (and had fully agreed not to come to this bar again) we went inside to pay. The man charged us for Marks originally cleaner fluid beer. I began to explain to him the problem was, and he let go in a quick spanish rant. I understood about half of it. His angry face explained the rest. I told him, in spanish, “well, we won't come back to this place again” he said “muy bien!” (very good!) So, we payed. All of it. And left. It was about 6pm.. siesta time, sort of, meaning things aren't exactly open at that time, so that might have been sort of the problem, but that does not account for the rudeness of this too proud, foreigner disliking bartender.

But I must say that this bartender is a freak exception. Most always the service people in Spain are super friendly! Especially if you try to speak a little Spanish to them.

EUROPEAN MUSINGS: what I've learned about the English

The south of Spain is apparently full of relocated English people. English people get sick of the weather in England, and when they can, or when they retire, move to the South of Spain. It's sort of like American Retired people's Florida.

Between here, and my last helpxchange in France, I've been spending a lot of time with English people. Before i started traveling, I dreamed of spending time in England. But now I don't feel like I need to anymore. England and it's culture has come to me! Here are a few things about them that i've been discovering about this so similar but still foreign culture.

  1. They are self admittedly obsessed about weather. This is because the weather in England is crap they say. It's overcast/rainy about 75% of the time. So they are desperate to see good weather. If there is sun, they USE IT. Even if it's still cold , they tell me that if there is sun, people in England will be out sunning and wearing summer clothes Etc. My London friend makes fun of these types of people by calling them "all excited." They check the weather religiously in England i've been told, because if there is a sunny day in the forecast, you need to plan ahead to use it. Also, all good English people nearly always will have an umbrella, and a good rain jacket close by. Of course this all depends on the region, and city size, etc. But nearly all English people I met check weather forecasts frequently, and remark if it's good weather quite a lot.

  2. English people will say “cheers” when you give them something, like the pepper at the table, or a pair of gardening sheers. They will also say, “Oh, right” a lot when I would usually say “oh, cool.” Sometimes i'd even here them say, “Oh right, Cheers.”

  3. At dessert time, it is quite common to pour cream over a dessert. (apple crumble, lemon meringue, chocolate cake, etc). Apparently at restaurants in England you nearly always get a choice of cream, custard, or ice cream with a slice of dessert. In America, we only get Ice cream, right?

  4. English people do not really eat peanut butter. They thought it was strange that I enjoyed apples and bananas with peanut butter so much. They particularly think that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are weird. Instead, they eat cheese and pickle sandwiches...

  5. England (depending on the region) call meals differently. Lunch time = Dinner; Dinner time= Tea; Supper = a little snack before bed.

  6. There are so many more words than I knew that are different in England than in America that makes me or them say, “a what?” My favorites, though there are more.

    - pants: In England this only means underwear. In America, obviously, it means jeans/trousers.

    - fringe: In England this means bangs

    - quif: In England this is a hairstyle where you style your “fringe” in a bump

    - duvet: In England this is a comforter that goes on a bed. Now, In America we call the sheets that cover a comforter a duvet cover. I never thought about why, but now I know. My host Anne finds this quite weird

    - strimmer – weed wacker

    - the also have a different name for zuccini, but only for zuccini. The rest of the vegetables are the same.

SOUTH OF SPAIN... Finally =)

Lanjaron - Casa del Viento from April 6 - April 28

The first week I was in Spain – this is back in August - I decided to leave Madrid and go to Granada for a few days – an Andalucian town known for it's Moorish history and architecture. I fell in love with the city in those few days, and have been wanting to return ever since. On April 6, I finally got to. I arrived by train in Granada, switched to the bus station, and took the hour bus ride to Lanjaron – a small white village that was to be home for the next three weeks or so. As the bus ride went on, the road got windier. And the landscape became more impressive. With mountain cliffs to the left of me, valley to the right of me, and the snowy mountains caps of the Sierra Nevada in the distance, my jaw was wide open at the beauty of this area as we pulled finally into Lanjaron. This area, the Alpujarra mountainside is stupendously beautiful!

Ann, my helpxchange host was there to pick me up at the bus stop, and pointed out sites of Lanjaron as she went – an old moorish castle, prominent places in town, and her Casa del Viento white house villa in the distance on the mountainside we were about to drive up. It's really green here - there are tons of orange trees, lemon trees, olive trees, flowers, and cactus. And there are tons of mini water falls irrigating water from field to field. The air smells really good and fresh here, one always here's birds happily chirping in the trees, and Lanjaron is famous for having the healthiest water in the world. Yes, from the moment I arrived in Lanjaron, I've been happy to get to spend some time here.

Ann, the host of this helpxchange, owns a white villa that is snuggling into the mountainside overlooking the white hill town of Lanjaron below. When Anne bought her house and land about 9 years ago it was apparently a huge mess. The previous owner, like most Spanish people in the area, hadn't had electricity, and had kept goats and chickens in the buildings. Everything was overgrown, little was maintained, and there was even a bunch of left over chickenshit and feathers/ in one of the buildings that is now one of the main buildings. Over the last 7 years, solely through the help of woofers and helpxchangers like myself, Anne has managed to fix it up into a very beautiful, relaxing, mountainside retreat.

My work schedule generally consisted of five days a week. I'd start at 8, have a half hour “tea break” at 11, and then work till 2, when there would be lunch. I found out my first day that I would be in charge of the “pool area,” which included setting up and keeping track of the outdoor bar stock, cleaning the pool daily, watering all the plants around the pool, and weeding. Lots of weeding. It was a very peaceful place to work, and days would generally go quickly with the help of my ipod loaded with great podcasts, music, and Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosifal (I'm listening to books in Spanish now to help improve my comprehension). In addition, twice a week I was to help with the dinners Anne would serve to paying guests. The guests were always interesting, from England, or Scandinavia, Cheque Republic, or Slavakia, and the food was really delicious. Therefore, I wouldn't really call it work. Also, every Sunday she would cook a traditional Sunday roast, and people from the local Xpat English community would come over – about 14 people or so each Sunday. I always managed to be working these yummy events too. I'd always wondered what an “English Roast” was. Now i've gotten to enjoy quite a few of them. (Yorkshire pudding is not what it sounds like).

There is one main house, two smaller houses, and a pool. Here she runs what I would call a bed and breakfast type of business. She has five rooms, will cater every meal if her guests ask of it (and pay for it), and is generally quite busy. The Alpujarra Mountains she is nestled in are famous for their outdoor activity options, and Anne has a package deal going with a place that offers horse back riding trecks, so about half of her guests generally go horseback riding to different white villages during the day during their stay with Anne. While I was there, there were people staying there from Slavakia, Chechqe Republic, Sweden, Norway, and many many different areas of England. As I said, it was often part of my job to help with the meals Anne would cook for her clients. I would help set up the table, carry the food, maintain drinks, and then I'd get to sit with the clients and enjoy the good food and foreign conversations. Very often I was the only American.

Anne is a very active helpxchange host. While I was there, I met and worked with 6 other helpers, though not all at the same time.

Little Ann – a really awesome and mature 19 year old American from one of the Carolinas. She left a few days after I got there. She had already been in Lanjaron for a month. Before that, she had been working at a farm type place in Portugal for Three months. She left Anne's to go work at a an even catering place in England.

Bill – First time I met Bill, he had on a big leather cowboy hat and an I Heart Austin TX t-shirt (yes. He's from Austin). To complete the picture, he's growing out a mustache that would make Colonial Mustard proud. He's a young chef, about a year out of Chef Academy. He loooves food and could go on about the topic with a passion. Before becoming a Chef, he had served about 4 years as an enlisted Army man (one of those years was in Iraq, a war which he doesn't support). He was a passionate speaker about a lot of things actually, and an interesting guy to listen too. He was there for about a week and a half of my time there.

Fionna – Fionna is an adorable 20 year old red head from Northern England. She's currently studying at a university in Newcastle to be a nutritionist. This was her second time working at Anne's. We spent a lot of our off time together. I don't think I've ever met such an English girl before. She had an accent that reminded me of Gavroche from Les Miserables, and would say the cutest old fashioned English things such as, “It's black over Bill's Mum's house” meaning it's cloudy, and “My feet feel as fresh as daisies,” to express that her feet weren't sore from a hike we were doing, despite it being nearly all downhill, and she was wearing nothing more than a pair of weak sandles (their strap broke about halfway down the hill too). She was at Anne's for two weeks while I was there.

Marija – Marija is from Croatia! She arrived three days before I left Ann's, so we had only started getting to know eachother. But she is awesome, really nice, and had just finished working in hostels in both Malaga and in Granada. She had some really great travel suggestions, and we'd both laugh over our mutual situation of not really being sure where we were going to go next. She can't make any decisions until she finds out if she gets into this program back in Croatia, and I can't make any decisions until an Au Pair family decides if they want me to work for them or not. I hope she gets the program, and i'm sad we didn't have too much time together.

Mark – Mark lived in Canada until he was 13, and then his family moved to London for the rest of his upbringing. Consequently, I would make fun of him for being a cultural chameleon. He'd be with me and Bill and understand every American reference we were making, leaving Fionna confused. Then he and Fionna would start talking English pop references or politics or whatever, and I would be the one who was clueless. Mark is 23. He just graduated from University with a degree in Music (he is a Killer guitar player). He was living in London not really sure what to do with himself and feeling kind of lost until he recently inherited some money. He's decided to use the money to go traveling and figure out a bit more about what he wants, what life is all about. We had a lot of good conversations. He was the only other helpxchanger who was there the entire time that I was.

A guy from Denmark arrived the day before I left. He was 18, had just dropped out of High school, and had been traveling for three months. His last helpxchange (close to Barcelona) had been so organic and sustainable that they were asked not to use shampoo. I didn't get to know him hardly at all, but he would say things that made me think we may not have gotten on too well.

Anne's place was pleasant, and the best part about it was it's location. It was an hour or two away from really interesting places, and surrounded by hikingtrails. One of these hiking trails was straight downhil and led to Lanjaron, a small little white town that Andulucia is famous for. It took about 15 minutes to hike down to the town, and about 25 minutes to hike back because it was all uphill. All too often we'd hike up this hill at 1 or 2 in the morning after spending a merry night in town. Allthe hikes were hilly around there! Even Anne's property was a variety of flat areas connected by steep hills. All those hill made me feel a bit like like a mountain goat. Buns of steal!

In addition to Lanjaron, and the hikes around Casa del Viento, her house was also about an hour from Granada, so I spent a fun weekend there with some friends who had come down from Madrid. I managed to sneak into their hostel and sleep in their room for free... but that's another story =)

Me and my fellow helpers hiked or took the bus to the nearby white town with a hippy reputation called Orgiva.

I also went to the Andalucian costal town Nerja, a place I'd always wanted to see with pretty beaches where the sand was full of polished marble stones.

Probably my favorite excursion though was to Los Pueblos Blancos (the three white villages)– these three white villages are high in the mountains, with beautiful views of the mountains, and the snow. The hikes around there are amazing, you can hike to the river that runs along side the villages, and and you can hike from town to town to town. It feels like a place that has been only slightly altered over the years. The villages cater to tourists, and that's how it's changed, but other than that. Hardly at all. I asked this old man for directions there on how to get to the other town. He gave them to me, and then said to me astonished “thousands of people walk that way every day! Thousands!” The conversation (in spanish) made me think how that man must have lived in that village his entire life, from when they were quite and sleepy, to now when thousands of tourists do visit them.

I LOVE the South of Spain. I don't think i'd go back to Casa del Viento. I experienced what I wanted to experience there and in Lanjaron, but the South of Spain would be a great place to get to live again for a while.

see pictures at

BARCELONA - oh the architecture!

The weekend of April 1-4

Barcelona was quick, and amazing, and fun. I can't believe the astonishing architecture there! I was able to meet and travel around there with a friend of mine from Madrid. It was fantastic to travel with someone I already knew for once. We stayed in a ten room dorm in a hostel right in the center of the Rambla, which is one of the most tourist covered, pick pocketed, and pedestrian jammed street in the world. (I think it's in second place, a street in London is just a tad bit busier). The room was noisy and a bit smelly, but our location was great! We were close to the best metro line, walking distance from the beach, and streets away from the Gothic quarters (my favorite part of the city).

Oh how I missed the beach! I arrived in Barcelona around 1pm. Chase wasn't going to arrive until 5 or 6, so I got myself to the beach and laid out in the sun a bit. (making good use of the swim suit and a towel type scarf I had jammed into my back pack at the last second). It was the first nice, really sunny day I'd had in 2011. What luck that I was near the beach for it! I even got burned a little, ensuring that my lost tans lines would return at least a little. A little less nice was that at the beach I was surrounded by tourists – American tourists. It was weird. I've gotten used to only hearing foreign languages around me in public. To hear so much English – and American English too, well I haven't heard that much American slang and conversations around me since I left the states. I found it so strange to be able to understand nearly everything around me – something I used to take for granted.

Chase, the friend who came to meet me, is another fellow English teacher in Madrid. He's originally from Texas, but has been living in Madrid for nearly four years now. Consequently his Spanish is very good, and his comprehension of the language practically fluent. He's also very into history and interesting facts – a very good travel partner for such an interesting and historical city. He couldn't get over how amazing the architecture is in Barcelona. (it's much more eclectic and impressive than Madrid's austere and traditional architecture, though Madrid has some beautiful buildings and places as well). I don't think I would have noticed the architecture as much if I hadn't been seeing it all with him. I wouldn't have noticed a lot of things if I hadn't been with him. I love it when the people I travel with help me notice the things that are usually outside of the things I pay attention too =)

It makes sense that Chase and I were so impressed by the architecture; Barcelona is famous for it's architecture. The most famous Catalonian/Barcelona architecture are the designs by Antoni Gaudi – proud Catalonian, devote Catholic, and architectural innovated genius ahead of his time. Chase and I spent most of our time there visiting some of the most famous Gaudi places – the park, his houses, and the most impressive – the Sagrada Familia (look it up! It is an amazing temple/cathedral that Gaudi started constructing, but died before it was realized (he was hit by a streetcar). The story behind it and the purpose behind it is very interesting too. It's still under construction, and it won't be finished for about another 30 years – but it is the most beautiful and stunning cathedral I've been to (and i've been to quite a few of the good ones. But the Sagrada Familia is by far my favorite).

We were in Barcelona Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Sunday, our last day, Chase and I found a place that rented bikes for 5 euros for the day and biked along the beach. We stopped at a chiringito - a bar on the sand. These types of bars are famous in Spain. There are many of them too. Apparently they are THE thing to do in Barcelona. Chase told me his student's in Madrid all talk about them a lot and told him he had to go to one, so we did. I suppose having a bar on the sandy part of a beach is cool. However, island girl that I am, I wasn't so impressed. I'd rather do it Hawaiian style, bring my own drinks to the beach, get to sit wherever I want on the sand, and pay much less to do it.

Overall I thought Barcelona was a beautiful city, and I'm really glad I had the chance to see it. The Architecture! But, it's still a big city, so I wouldn't want to live there. Part of the reason I went was to see if I would want to try to work there – probably not. I took lots of photos of the architecture, which really best describes the things I saw and did in Barcelona much more than I can write about them – so check them out if you are interested.

to see pictures - and there are LOTS of the architecture, go to

Go to sub albums on the side, and all the albums are clearly labeled.

ps - Ironically since writing this blog, I have found myself a job au pairing in Barcelona for july and August, so I guess I'll be living and working there for a little while after all!