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!

BALAGUER (and a bit of Girona)

I was in Balaguer from March 30 – April 5.

This blog took me a long time to start writing because there was sooo much to tell. i didn't write it till the first week of May...

Remember you can see pictures at Go to sub albums on the side, and all the albums are clearly labeled.

I went from Toulouse to Balaguer successfully the second time around (after my failed first attempt). Following the plan plan, I stopped in Girona for a few hours on the way. Girona is a beautiful little Catalonian city, with a river, and winding stone streets, and a walkable old city wall surrounding half of it.

Catalonia is the most east region of Spain, which is where Barcelona is located. It's home to many famous individualistic artists, such as Dali and Gaudi. To this day the art there is more modern than many places.

When I got off the train, it was such a welcome feeling to know the language I was hearing around me again! I'd been in France for just about a month, and still don't know any French. Suddenly, I was able to read the street signs! And to be able to communicate the questions I needed to ask at the station! I missed Spanish quite a lot when I was in France. I guess that's just the way my brain works – I needed to get away from Spanish in order to appreciate it and how much of it I've learned. After a few months in Spain, I sort of was daunted by learning it, and wasn't sure if I liked the language that much. Now I love it. Now I'm more dedicated to learning more Spanish than I've maybe ever been. And it's so much easier to travel in a country when you can ask for directions, and where the nearest lockers are, tourist office, etc. In fact, I spent the first hour of my three hours in Girona trying to figure out the best way to get to Balaguer from there, and finding a place to lock up my things since the train station didn't have lockers. Finally I succeeded, (after buying a bus ticket, returning a bus ticket, and buying two train tickets). but it would have taken longer, and I would have spent more money if I hadn't know the language. Then I spent the next two hours wandering, and enjoying the beautiful city, and the beautiful Spanish weather.

After my short but lovely stop in Girona. I got on another train towards Barcelona, then another train to Llerida, then hada twenty minute walk (luggage in tow) to the Llerida bus station, then took a relatively short bus ride to Balaguer – a very normal Catalonian town full of real Catalonians, not tourists. One such of these life long Catalonians was to be my host for the next few days. His name is Jordi, and he picked me up at the bus station right on time as promised.

Jordi is a very interesting, inspirational man. Consequently I've been telling pretty much everyone about him since I met him. He is an organic farmer, born and raised in Balaguer Catalonia Spain. He speaks Spanish, Catalan, French, and English, and his house is full or relics making it reminiscent of a museum. But these things aren't what makes him unique. What does make him so special is his philosophies on farming, living, and how he shares these philosophies to the travelers that come to spend time with him.

First I will tell you a bit about Jordi's philosophies, and the way he lives his life. He believes in living a simple, but more sustainable way of life, helping and giving to the community you call home. He owns many acres of farm land, where he grows a variety of fruits, olives, wheat, almonds, and vegetables. He even cultivates honey from his own makeshift beehives. About 90% of the food he consumes comes from his own land and labors. He's also very very interested and knowledgeable about medicinal plants, and is always telling you great facts, such as how rosemary is a natural stimulant, stronger than caffeine, or how eating mint can cure a headache. His favorite medicinal plant loves are stevia (which is becoming a more an more popular way to treat diabetes, and is linked to helping with cancer) and aloe vera (which is good for like everything, but particularly has great skin healing properties. Jordi has huge aloe vera plants in his house which he waters and cares for daily. He calls them his pets). It's really fascinating how many plants are out there that have healing qualities that can better help the body and mind than all these over the counter remedies that we use. We just don't know about them!

In his community, Jordi is an active member of a co-op in Balaguer, promoting the slow food movement, as well as organic, local, and fairtrade farming. This co-op has a time incentive program. You can pay for workshops and produce there with money, but it's more desired that you pay with donating your time, or with your trade, or produce, or leading a workshop (since many farmers are part of the union). Jordi is also a teacher. He'll teach for a year, and then take a sabatical, living, farming and hosting off of the year's earnings for as long as he can (usually another year or two, occasionally substitute teaching for extra income). He also started a program in the schools around Balaguer that teaches children about farming, and where the food they buy actually comes from. For this, he and fellow teachers will help children grow their own gardens, learn sustainable techniques, and make things out of their own produce. He'll also show them the process behind the foods we think we can only buy. For example, he'll make cottage cheese with his students, and they all can't believe that what they have made is the same thing they buy in the supermarket.

Jordi believes in a simple life. He says he has an older car, older clothes, an older apartment that many people he knows would have upgraded years ago. But to him, that doesn't make sense when all of it functions, and he'd rather use his time and resources on his farms and communities. Things shouldn't make people happy he says. His friends bought new cars, new apartments, and then when the economic crisis hit, they got hurt. He thinks the crisis in this way is a good thing because it is connecting people back to community and people - the things that matter more. People can't afford to be attached to the materialistic things they thought mattered so much. In his apartment, which feels like it's still in the 70's, the furniture, plates, and utensils, pretty much all don't match, and you get the feeling that all the glass and plastic jars he uses have been used many a time. And why not? Also, not only does he recycle, and compost, he even has two composts – one for nut shells and seed pits and anything else that he can later burn for fuel (to make his own bread). Resourcefulness is the word to use for Jordi's home, farm, and garden.

His philosophy, Jordi explains, is to live the way he thinks people should live, and share that example. He can't change others, but hopefully his example will influence others and spread. For this reason (and because he's a traveler at heart) Jordi is a member of many travel sites - WWOOF, couchsurfers, servas, and helpxchange. He himself doesn't and hasn't traveled much outside of Catalonia. But he doesn't need to; the world comes to him. Yearly he has hundreds of travelers that come from all over the world to spend time with him, sometimes a few days, sometimes a few weeks. The rooms of his 4 room apartment are filled with beds and could easily sleep ten people. There's a map on his wall with push pins in it showing where all his visitors have come from (I was the first from Hawaii! And got to put a pin in it!) He also loves languages, so one wall has a huge chart showing the basics of numerous languages that he's had his guests (native speakers) fill out - from Chinese, to Swajili, to Arabic, to Samoan. He seemed a bit disappointed when I couldn't tell him many basics of Hawaiian language. I left him a list of the many words we use in everyday speaking, such as “keiki – children” or “mahalo – thank you,” but I couldn't tell him basic phrases such as “how are you?” It did make me want to learn more about Hawaiian language and culture so I could share it better (not the first time I've had this feeling while traveling about, and it won't be the last either).

While you are there, you follow Jordi and help him with his daily life. If he is going to his orchards and trimming trees, you are going to go as well and help gather up the tree trimmings. If he's going to the co-op to drop something off, you are going with him. If he's going to his garden and picking some vegetables for dinner, then, yup, you are too. All the while he shows his way of doing things to his guests, identifies different plants and properties to them, and teaches them about the land and the reasonings behind doing things certain ways.

You also eat what he eats. Mealtimes with Jordi are always simple, plentiful, and healthy. He cooks and provides every meal for his guests, no matter how little you've actually worked that day, and he wouldn't think of asking anything in return. As I said before, about 90% of all things Jordi consumes he produced himself. The honey on the table came from his beehives, the olives and oil from his olive trees, the nuts and fruits from his orchard (there was always a big plate of nuts and fruit on his table available for snacking at any time). The jams and jelly compotes were produced by him using the fruits he grew himself. Even the bread was made from wheat that he grew and then milled himself (using a small milling machine). It was so cool! Such a different way to eat, and how strange that such a natural way to eat is such a novelty in this day and age?

But, perhaps consequently, mealtimes with Jordi are also a bit bizarre. He's less concerned with taste and consistency than he is with the healthy properties of the food, and literally their edibility. There were many a strange porridge and conglomerations of vegetables. It all tasted pretty good, and was unquestionably healthy, just questionable sometimes as to what was in it. For example, there would always be a huge salad containing a variety of greens, onions, fruits, whatever. Some of the greens were what we usually consider weeds, others were rather fuzzy feeling in the mouth. It was a bit of a science experiment at times. More than twice he would say something about how I should be careful how much I ate of something because it may have a laxitive affect (said as if he knew from experience). I don't mean to be critical, it was plentiful, tasty and I was grateful, but It did leave my mouth tasting strongly of onion, and my mind wondering what great things a chef could do with the products and knowledge that Jordi has.

And then there was the incident with the almonds. As I said, there were always nuts on the table. Of these, there was a plate of almonds, and a jar of strangly shaped almonds. Trying to be helpful, one time I refilled the plate of almonds from the jar of almonds right before we sat down to lunch. I grabbed a few, ate them, and thought they tasted a bit strange.. they made my mouth feel a little numb, but I thought nothing really of it. An almond is an almond, and I like almonds, so I kept eating them. It wasn't until after lunch that I found out that the almonds I'd been eating were “bitter almonds” - very good for your health, but also poisonous. They shouldn't be eaten more than 5 at a time. If you eat 15 or 20, you will die.... I think I'd eaten anywhere between 9 and 16 at the point of learning this. I survived, thankfully, the effects of the almonds even felt sort of good – they make your heartbeat speed up. Still I was a bit freaked out by the whole thing. After that, I never assumed anything about the foods in Jordi's house.

Overall, Jordi is a fascinating man and a laid back and understanding host. I think he would have to be this type of person to host and meet as many people as he has over the years. He would show you how he wanted things to be done, made it clear that it was what he preferred, but also made it clear that he understood that it wasn't the only way of doing things. It was definitely a fascinating way to spend a few days. (I was only there for two full days... which was enough.. I felt a little awkward communicating with him at times; I felt I wasn't very eloquent and couldn't tell if this was the language barrier, or age barrier, or perhaps I was just being anxious. Nevertheless it was very very insightful conversation). I think Jordi is very successful in his mission of sharing his different, more healthier ways of consuming and living within a community within the world. He hopes that these ideas will influence and be shared with others all over the world, or at least make people rethink the ways we are told to consume and be more aware of other alternatives. I really do think his example makes impacts and influences the people that come and stay with him, at least slightly. It did with me.

It's been so long!

I can't believe it's been so long since I've posted anything! How did I do that? I've been writing all this time. In fact, I have 9 full pages of stories to typed! I just didn't get them online. But I am going to do so right now.

and a reminder - you can see pictures of all this stuff on photobucket.

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

I'm working on getting all those pictures up, now that I've got some free time and good internet.

If you are reading this thing, let me know! I love getting feedback. And I'm really missing my friends from all over.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Toulouse again - written on 3/30

I can be a ditz; I just get caught up in my own reality sometimes . I suppose I have my mom to thank for this – a woman to this day has “black holes” in her geographic memory of an island she's lived on for 25 years. And I'm meaning she sometimes can't remember where to turn on streets she uses nearly every day. My sister and I affectionately call her “Mother Magoo” on the occasions she is thwarted by her own inner brain workings. However, one of the many things travel is teaching me this: I too am a Magoo.

This morning I had a train to catch at 6:54. I woke up to my alarm going off at about 6 am, gathered my things and myself by 6:30, walked to the station at 6:30. Arrived with about 6 minutes to find my platform – all according to plan. Until I realized I couldn't find my platform on the departures board. “Strange” I think. I ask attendants - “oo ay...” (where is...) and point to the train on my ticket. They point me in a direction. But that train isn't my train. I have three minutes to find my train at this point before it departs. I ask the next nearest attendant “oo ay...” she looks at my ticket, looks at the time and tells me in French, “departed” and points to the clock, which SUDDENLY in my mind reads as 7:50 and not 6:50. "How in the world did I do that?” I ask myself out loud while the woman attendant, who, rightfully so, just looks at me since she has no idea what i'm saying and apparently can't be too smart because I can't tell time. I've since figured out what must have happened. See, last night when I was setting my alarm, at the last moment, I set my alarm to 5:59. Why I did this, I can't explain. It's how my odd Becca brain works. I guess I'm bugged by the simplicity of one number. First i set it to 6am, then changed it because it bothered me. However, I didn't set it to 5:59, but 6:59, and then never noticed the difference until it was much too late. I was THWARTED BY MAGOO!!

What is worse is that I had to catch that train to get to Balaguer today – a town about 100 km from Barcelona. It's a one chance per day thing. And I missed it. After missing it, I went to the ticket counter to figure out my options, but I sort of already knew them from my own research. For some reason there are only three trains that can go to Girona daily (oddly). One at 6:17 in the morning, one at 6:54 in the morning, and one at 14:40 in the afternoon. I knew that to get to Balaguer at a good hour for my host there, and not spend 8 hours on the train/bus, My best option is to take a train from Toulouse to Girona (3 hrs) walk around Girona for 4 hours, then take a bus from Girona to Llerida (4 hrs) and then a bus from Llerida to Balaguer (40 mins). Otherwise, i'd have to be in trains and in boring stations for about 8+ hours to get to Barcelona, and then another train or bus from Barcelona to llerida or Balaguer. Which I suppose I could have done, but by the time I talked to the ticket agent, the only trains that would have worked were sold out. I could have spent many hours on a train and been in Barcelona by 8pm, possibly stranded there. Or I could have gone to Perpignon for the night, and then llerida earlier in the day by train, but that would have cost a lot more and been more stressful. So, I decided to save my money and most of my stress, and spend one more day hanging around Toulouse and sleeping on my amazingly generous hosts' couch. This is sort of a wast of a day because I've already seen a great deal of Toulouse, (by scooter and by foot) and it's raining, and there isn't much more I want to do here because I'm a bit bored of walking around European cities...which makes me ask all sorts of questions to myself as to why the heck I'm traveling in the first place if I'm sort of board of walking around European cities (“Why?” I ask myself - because sometimes, like yesterday, it's still awesome and the people and experiences are interesting, and also, why not?) But this extra Toulouse day could possibly throw off my schedule for the week, because I was trying to meet someone on the weekend in Barcelona, and now I don't know if I should spend such a small amount of time at this Balaguer host. Oh, and I get to take the 6:17 train in the morning, which means wake up at 5:20. Awesome. Well, at least I have a great, warm, free nice place to stay with really nice people (and they keep giving me free food too). I may have missed my train, but I had a place to go back to, relax for the day, internet, keys to the apartment, and delicious espresso. Yes I wish I could have moved on, but I'm grateful for the circumstances in which I'm stuck. Traveling certainly keeps you humble and flexible. The trick I think is to stay grateful for too for the things that do work out or/and are still working out even when other things don't.

And it did all work out... After a lovely nap on the comfy couch, I walked around a bit, which was nice and immersing in Frenchness, and the had a great night with Stephanie, just us girls because Niko was working. I made my train the next day, made it to Barcelona, and all was right with my travels once more.... which is most always happens when travels don't go according to plan.


Toulouse - March 27 - March 29... and then accidentally March 30...

I can't believe my good luck of Toulouse! I love this city. It sort of has a feel of a village now town size. But the people are really nice, the streets and buildings are all brick (which is why it's called the “pink city” even though from my American eye it's brick red...) and I had an amazing and lucky and kindness filled stay here.

I chose to go to Toulouse on my way back to Spain from Orange mostly because, in addition to hearing pretty good things about it, my fellow English teacher and friend James (whose from London, but is now living in Madrid, and whose mother is from France), has a bunch of cousins there and offered to put me in contact with them. Thusly, I arrived in Toulouse with already plans to be shown the city by James cousin Niko and his wife Stephanie Sunday evening, and by his cousin Jeremie on Monday. (Jeremie I the owner of a really great French restaurant, so I thought there would be a good chance for a nice meal. Little did I know...) However, I was on my own to find housing. So I turned to Couch surfing. I contacted many people, but everyone was too busy. They could host me, but were reluctant to do so since they wouldn't be good hosts. Still, I accepted the invitation of a German girl named Zeke who was studying abroad in Toulouse (Toulouse has a lot and a lot of students). She and her roommates (two other girls) host a lot, and seemed very much the laid back bohemian traveler type. She told me that she had couch surfers there currently, but they would be leaving the day I arrived.

When I got to her apartment, after a silly episode of getting stuck in the entry way of her building, I walked into her living room and found it full or people (9 people I think?) – eating a communal breakfast of breadsa and different spreads - jams, honey, nutella, etc. And was asked to join and if I wanted coffee. I sat between two Americans, the only two other Americans. They were the couch surfers that were supposed to leave later that day. The guy to the left of me was the only other person at the table who didn't speak French (which was the language of conversation, or course, as it should be since I was in France). His name is Pablo. He and his friend Nate are from the Bay Area of USA. What are they doing in Europe? Well, something that makes my adventure look tame – they are biking from the west coast of Portugal to Bejing, China. Yes. Biking. (on a map this distance looks about twice the size of coast to coast America). Nate already biked America coast to coast. According to them, it's a great, cheap way to travel – just bring some camping gear and you are ready for anything. And you can travel easily about 70 miles a day in about 6 hours of biking. Stop when you want, see lots of pretty countryside, visit the big cities along the way. (Yes I'm already thinking that I'd love to do a mini bike ride travel – for a week or two. I think that would be awesome. Now if I can just appropriate the proper equipment...) Zike, my CS host, is also a fascinating girl, at the age of 22 she has already done two years of traveling around the world. She's traveled a lot of Europe, some of the USA, a lot of Asia, and even some of the middle east. Her last travel was to Israel, with her mother, who had never really been out of the area> It was a birthday present. And she took her 45 year old mom traveling the same way she would be doing it herself – staying in hostels, staying with CS, sleeping sometimes in strange places, (she definitely mentioned sleeping on a roof at some point). She says her mom had a great time, and that they both really enjoyed and appreciated the trip. She'll be traveling this summer too, as cheaply as possible, probably in Eastern Europe. She's a student at university until May however. She's studying dance, and costume design for theater.

Zike and her roommates don't have a working refrigerator in their apartment, which has forced them to all pretty much be vegans, but they don't really mind. It fits their laid back, green conscious, life style. Their apartment was huge too – though full of unframed posters and dilapidated furniture you'd expect to find in any college apartment. Zike's roommates didn't speak a lot of English, but were also awesome in an alternative way. (and their rooms were full of artistic projects). One of their newest projects is to create a vegetable garden in the backyard of their apartment building. I helped them for a couple of hours. Communicating in broken English, and exchanging words in French, I helped Zike's roommates plant potatoes, create a fung shui correct herb garden, and even help saw and hammer some wood for a big compost crate they were building. They did all this as cheaply as possible, collecting old potatoes, wood, and seeds and seedlings from their friends who already had gardens. For tools they had a too big shovel, their hands, a coping saw, a tiny hammer, and a four prong pitch fork where one of the prongs was facing completely the wrong way. I was really impressed with their tenacity and resourcefulness.

There are so many people traveling and doing crazy and artistic things in this world! Not that taking your mom on a back packing, or building a garden out of nothing is particulatly crazy (biking from Portugal to China might be though). Still, it's inspiring.

I left Zike's apartment to meet Niko and Stephanie, the cousins of James – not really knowing what to expect. Four hours later, after a lovely evening of driving around and seeing the city (it was raining again. I had back luck in France with rain), then being invited to an amazing French dinner at a very cozy restaurant with great homemade soups, I returned to Zike's apartment. Five minutes later, I left Zike's apartment with my luggage because Niko and Stephanie had invited me to spend my nights with them instead. The I ended up staying wit h them for the next three nights.

Seriously I still cannot believe how nice Niko and Stephanie were to me. Anything I wanted , anything that would make me more comfortable, they wanted to give me. I didn't pay for any meals in my two days in Toulouse. “Nuestra casa es tu casa” they told me. - oh yes I didn't mention yet that Niko did not speak much English – he spoke better Spanish than English. And Stephanie didn't really speak Spanish, but spoke decent English (though not fluent). So while I was with them, yet again I was having conversations in a triage of languages. Niko and Steph in French, Steph and I in English, and Niko and I in Spanish – and translating between the three of us when one person didn't understand. As a thank you, I cooked them shoyu chicken for dinner one night (it's becoming my signature Hawaiian dish). It wasn't as good as the first time I made it in Montpellierthough . That could be because I added pineapple, and cooked chicken breasts. But it was still fun and appreciated.

Stephanie and Niko were such a beautiful couple too, one that you could really see the affection between. They have an adorable and happy two year old too, who would look at me funny at first because I didn't speak the right language. I normally don't like two year olds very much. I stayed away from the one at the french farm house kind of on purpose. But their daughter Alecia completely charmed me. They are a hard working family, but have a lot of love, and very open hearts. Such good people.

As if my story about Toulouse could be better – it does get better. As I mentioned before, my Monday in Toulouse, I had their cousin Jereme as a tour guide for the day. And I couldn't have asked for a better one. Not only is he a native of Toulouse, not only does he own a restaurant and took me out to a lunch I definitely couldn't have afforded on my own, and not only did he patiently wait for me to buy a water color-painting set at a store he took me to despite me being indecisive and taking a long time to do so – he ALSO borrowed a scooter from a friend of his, and I got to spend the day wandering around the city from the back of a scooter. I've since decided that by vespa/scooter is one of the best ways to see a foreign city (or by bike). This is because you get to see more, and see more of the town's life as you pass it all by at just the right pace.

I will always have fond memories of my time in Toulouse.

Friday, April 8, 2011

French farmhouse helpxchange in summary

South France Provance (till March 27)

The rest of my time at the French farm house went very smoothly and was pretty uneventful. To be honest I was pretty happy to leave and move on to new things. I enjoyed my time, and I enjoyed the people (and of course the food), but I think a week and a few days was just enough.

I went on a few more hikes while there. It was always beautiful. (On one of them, I got lost and learned that getting lost and walkin along the edge of a highway are just as annoying in a foreign country as they are at home... except that I didn't know how to ask for directions in France, so that at least made it more exciting.

I also got to go to a farmer's market and explore the closest village to my house. It was really lovely, but sort of looked like all the other places I've been to in France. Honestly, I'm looking forward to going back to Spain where the architecture is more interesting, the places are more unique, and I know the language better.

I did learn more about my fellow helpers in the rest of my week here, as we spent a lot of time together. I have found memories of the walks and talks I took with Melody, Katherine, and Diane. All of them have interesting pasts and point of views. Melody, Diane, and I also started a morning Yoga group, and would have a class together every morning before work.

I never did get to know Dean or Vanko better. Vanko continued to pretty much just show up for meals, and be on his computer for the rest of the time. Dean, apparently, h ad an estranged romantic past with Diane afterall, so he sort of steered clear of us and her.

The range of the jobs I did varied from plastering, painting walls, painting beams on a vaulted ceiling, painting decorative beams while standing on a very slanted roof top, hoeing debris off of hills in the garden, wheel-barrowing debris from here to there. And my most random job – slapping and smoothing cement onto an 8ft tall Thai Elephant statue in the backyard.

It was a pleasant experience, but on to the next one!


French Farm house - written around March 18th

These English blokes at dinner time are funny because they rarely have tried half the things that Poi, our Thai chef, makes. Today there was a discussion about tofu, and a few people wouldn't try it. I don't think any of them had had pad thai before. For the lamb curry, Katherine said it was a shame there wasn't any mint sauce and Yorkshire pudding to go with it. And they can't really handle their spice. Where as Mei and I were adding more peppers to our pad thai today, some of them found it too hot. They are all really good sports about it, and find it delicious, though sometimes i've noticed the boys just won't go near certain stuff. The things these English people say are also adorable. Every meal at some point Dean will try something and say, "that's good, Innit?" And after eating something delicious, Katherine will say, "Well, that was just lovely." (her accent reminds me of Wallace and Grommit films. I love it).

it's not just the main courses either. Today Poi gave us a plate of tropical fruits for desserts, including lychee, mango, japan pear, and longans. All of these fruits I ran into on a regular basis in Hawaii, but none of the English had never seen longans before. Nor had they eaten japan pears. They couldn't figure out what it was. Since I was so familiar with them all, Dean said something about how these things must grow in my back yard as a joke – but thing is in Hawaii they really do grow in the backyard! Now, i was aware that i'm lucky to have a mango tree in my backyard in Hawaii, but until traveling around Europe, I didn't realize how lucky I was as an American to have so many chances to try different cuisines on a regular basis – Indian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Lebonese, even occasionally Ethiopian, Tibetan, and Mongolian. Sure it's because I'm an adventurous eater, (and growing up in such an Asian culture like Hawaii helps) but here in Europe, most places (London excluded) you can't find such a mix of cuisines even if you wanted to. I thought it was just Spain that lacked the mix of cuisines. But France doesn't have it, nor, now that i think about it, does Italy, Belgium, Denmark, or anywhere that I've been here (to my knowledge. I could be wrong). Regardless, the mix of cuisines is something I will never take for granted again when I go back to America.In the meantime I'm grateful for the Thai food.

French Farmhouse helpxchange: part deux

Written on Friday, March 18th

So, been here for two full days now, and I must say I am feeling much more relaxed and enjoying the experience of it all. So far I've spent my work day painting/plastering walls in a soon to be private bed/bath that i'm helping a man from Croatia fix up (or I guess now he lives in Sweden). I have a pair of pants and a long sleeve shirt covered in paint/plaster stuff. My hands are covered in the same by the end of the day. I've really missed having my hands covered in paint/etc! I haven't gotten to do that since my college work study days in the scene/prop shop. It's quite comfy here. I have my own room! And i'm sharing a little apartment unit with it's own kitchen and wood burning stove for heat with only Mei and another awesomely nice girl from St. Louis who arrived yesterday. Also, the countryside is BEAUtiful. I went for a run yesterday, and the wine fields and other fields, and mountains in the background are do-you-good-pretty. It feels really good to be someplace non-city again. And the food here! – oh my deliciousness. The wife of the owner is Thai, from Thailand. Tonight the menu was pad thai, sweet and sour chicken, vegetarian green curry, and lamb curry. (in addition to salad, bread and cheese, and tropical fruits). In my two days being here we've also already had massuman (peanut curry) with sticky rice, squash soup (the only thing not cooked by Poi the amazing thai chef), green papaya salad, thai sweet basil chicken... that's all I can remember right now. Point is, there are lots and lots of delicious things are present at every meal. And then every meal is followed by cheese. Lot's of cheese. I enjoy that there is ALWAYS good rice too. It reminds me of home! And I haven't spent a dime, I mean, Euro since I've gotten here! Free travel for 5 hours a work a day – it's a nice deal. I'm not sure what we will do for the weekend yet (we have Saturday and Sunday work free)I hope to go for some hikes, and see some of the smaller surrounding villages.

The people here are mostly English. In fact, I feel like I am in England. Well, there are 10 of us including the owners, and 5 of them are from England, and none of them are from London either. Pretty much all the English people i knew up till now have been from London, and I'm learning there is a significant cultural difference between Londoners and non-Londoners. I'm still learning people's stories. I'm afraid to say I've been slightly anti-social since getting here. Well, not anti-social (cus I don't think I know how to do that) but not all that outgoing with the question asking and the story finding. I'm really enjoying the company of the outdoors, my music, and my room (and a good book). I think it might be because I'm only going to be here for ten days, whereas my next helpxchange I'll be there for a month... I don't know. I'm trying this new things where I don't over think things. So if I want to be in my room or take a walk alone, or if want to listen to music while I work and not make small talk with Vinko the heavily accented, politically opinionated, sort of shy, from Croatia but recently relocated to Sweden despite the fact that he very much dislikes socialist governments helpxer who I've been working with, then I choose to listen to my music. And it's sort of fun to piece together these people's stories slowly.

There's Katherine who is from Northern England as says the cutest English things, is on a working holiday, and manages properties back home.

There's Diane and Dean from England (but not a couple). Diane I don't know too much about, but she has a thirty year old daughter, a son (not sure of the age), is gregarious, nice, and we've had a conversation about tarot cards and astrology. They sell things at markets on the weekends. Dean seems to have traveled a lot. I'm not sure exactly where but he'll say things like, “oh yeah, I drove through st. louis. The arch, right?” and “When I was younger I smoked everything I could get my hands on while traveling down Africa.” But you have to imagine these things in a mumbling English accent. He's in his fifties. He loves to speak to me in American slang and makes jokes about how i'm a hippie from Hawaii. He also has such a nice head of hair! I don't normally notice guy's hair, but his is better than any middle aged celebrity I've seen (it's thick, it's shaped, and it has such a cool shade of grey).

There's Vinko, who I've sort of mentioned. He's a hard worker, really likes fixing up old English farms, and wants to turn it into more of a career. He tends to keep to himself. He comes out for meals, and then disappears again.

There's Matt, also from England, He's not a helpxer, but a friend of Peter the owner because he used to go out with Peter's 22 year old daughter. He's very friendly, helpful, lives with his girlfriend at a place with many horses. He seems to be an adrenaline junkie and has a ton of stories where he's either getting hurt (such as how the big dog here broke his leg when he was here by himself and didn't speak any French, or how he once almost blue himself up lighting a fire with petrol), or where he's getting into trouble (Speeding and or driving a bit drunk, etc). He's a character, but fun to talk to.

Peter and Poi – the owners have a three year old daughter who is adorable and gorgeous. And also seems to have the chicken pox at the moment, so i'm sort of steering clear of her. I don't know too much about Peter, but he's very nice (and Matt's always saying that he's a rather disorganized.) And Poi, in addition to being a great cook, definitely has a mischievous streak. The first night she was the instigator of a bunch of us taking way too many shots of 16% alcoholic wine.

And There's Melody. She's also American, and just arrived today so I don't know much about her yet, except that she has one of the helpful and pleasant dispositions that I have ever met. And she has a lot of different types of laughs, is very easy going, and has a good sense of humor. She just came from doing some helpxchanges in England, and this is her last one before she goes back to St. Louis where she has a number of jobs – a housekeeper, a farmer, a model for artists, and one more... can't remember. She's also vegetarian (hence the tofu green curry at dinner tonight which reminded me of my moms).

I'll be here till next Sunday- another week and a day - and then I'm not really sure where I'm off to for a couple of days. I know I want to go to Granada by the beginning of April, and see what places I can (including Barcelona) along the way.) In the meantime, spending ten days here with this company will be nice. Besides, it's only ten days. Just enough time to really experience it before moving on. I like this plan, and it's nice to stay put after jumping locations and people and beds every two nights for the last two weeks. I'll keep you posted of what's next.

My first night at the French Farmhouse somewhere outside of Orange

Written on Tuesday, March 15ths... somewhere outside of Orange, France where there are lots of Vineyards.

I'm sitting in the kitchen with my Thai helpXchange host, and two middle ages English woman drinking wine after eating an amazing meal (complete with delicious, authentic thai food, followed by death by chocolate cake, followed by wine that was grown and made within 50 miles of the house). This has been my first night at my country chateau. It's beautiful! Mei and I have our own rooms – each. And our own kitchen, own bathroom... another girl from America comes tomorrow night, but still I'll have my own room. I've even been able to unpack my stuff from my bags! (sidenote: I bought a bag before I left Madrid for 15 euros. It's a duffel bag with wheels that's bright red. After only not even two weeks of traveling, it's got holes in it that are just going to get more serious. Instead of investing in a new bag I think I'm going to invest in a role of quality duck tape. Oh yeah. I'm going to be a stylin' bohemian traveler I am.) Yet despite all the laughter around me, and the above expectations housing (and food!) I'm feeling a bit out of my element. Maybe it's the new surroundings. Maybe it's the different types and ages of people around me. Maybe it's because I only got 5.5 hours of sleep last night. Or maybe because i'm going to be here for ten days and I don't know what to expect... I don't know. But I find myself needing to tell myself to relax. To rest. To let go of any expectations that I had of this situation. And I didn't have any expectations! Except that I guess I thought the people already here would be younger, and instead everyone except for Mei and I are middle aged and from England. I just feel nervous i don't know why. I used to not get nervous when I through myself into new situations like this. So why am i nervous and uneasy now? Well, it's the first night. Open mind. Open expectations. Relax Becs,. Your safe, your lucky, and I just need to not take this all so seriously.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Montpellier = more rain, but comfy, awesome CS hosts

MONTPELLIER, France - April 13 and 14

As I said in my last entry, on our way (in the rain) to the Nimes train station we were invited to stay at the hosue of two girls – Bettina and Elsie. They met us at the train station in Montpellier. And they were so lovely! Bettina is 22 years old, is originally from Austria, but is studying abroad in Montpellier for the semester – till May. In addition to German (her native tongue) and English, she also speaks fluent French and pretty much fluid Spanish. These Europeans are so good at languages! I'm quite jealous. Bettina She is studying education, and plans to travel around Spain during the summer. We are going to check with each other and maybe meet up and travel together for a while. She was very happy to learn about helpxchange. I adored this girl, she was very lovely to talk to and stay with. She's a girl who's going places for sure.

Elsie her roommate was awesome as well. Her English level was a bit lower, so she was a bit harder to communicate with. However, in addition to French (she's originally from Lille, France in the North), she also speaks Italian fluently because she lived in Rome for the year before. She was sort of cute punk rocker chic. She had very short hair. We found out that her short hair was the cause of a dare. Her friends didn't think she'd do it, so she did it. She currently has a bet going on with another of her friends that if they cut their hair short, she'll dye hers bright blue or something. She has a really good sense of humor.

We shared all our meals with our hosts, which was really nice. Dinner the first night, Mei made a french veggie dish called Ratatouille. After dinner we went to a student, rather alternative bar, where a live band was playing sort of reggae trance music. At first the band was pretty horrible, but they got better as the night went on, and became pretty fun to dance to. There were a lot of dreadlocks in this place. The whole vibe reminded m a lot of good 'ol Maui Paia side. Ah Maui No Ka 'Oi! We got invited to an after party too at one of these dread haired people's apartments. We only stayed for about 20 minutes, but it was a still fun time. French and Spanish (yes Spanish) filled the air. Most people spoke English too, but we didn't hear too much of it.

The next day, Mei and I lazily left the house around 1 to walk around Montpellier. Unfortunatley, right when we left is when it decided to start raining again! So it was another rainy day of wandering! I like the rain, I really do. But it really does make wandering around a normally pleasantly sunny town a bit annoying. Still, Montpellier was a fun place to wander. Lots of European pedestrian streets. However, I must admit, what I've seen of France has left me of the opinion that all these south French towns all look more or less the same. Italy and Spain are, in my opinion, more interesting. Although the bakeries in France are still unbeatable, and possibly my favorite thing about France.

That night, the girls were curious about Hawaiian cuisine, so I tried my hand at making shoyu chicken. The store didn't have thighs, so I had to use chicken wings. But it turned out pretty good! It wasn't quite like the shoyu chicken from home, but still familiar tasting. And it was a nice change from all the french food we had been eating. Overall, I really enjoyed Montpellier. It was comfy, calm, and rainy, and a good time.

Nimes, France = Rainy and Roman

NIMES, France - March 11 and 12

We arrived in Nimes on a beautiful day! We walked up and down the street in front of the bus station to try to find where the bus that went to the hostel was. A nice girl who only spoke French communicated to us a few times which bus we were supposed to take (despite neither of us really understanding a word). Found bus. Took said bus. And then walked 500 meters uphill with all of our luggage to get to the hostel. The walk – not fun. The hostel however- quite fun and nice. It had internet, it had cheap food, and we even had our own room. All things considered, not bad! Since when we arrived it was about 7pm, and since the place was so comfortable, we knew as soon as we got there we wouldn't be leaving for the night. And we didn't

However, had we known that the next day was going to be an endless day of rain, perhaps we would have changed our plan and left the hostel that night after all. Wandering around European cities in the cold rain makes the wandering quite a bit less pleasant. Still, we made the most of it. The streets were cute and winding. We got a cafe at a warm cafe, we saw very old Roman monuments (such as a mini Colosseum, a couple of old temples, and a beautiful gardern) And we found the best French bakery either of us had been to. It was small, it was baked goods of Lyon (city of great food where we had just left) and it was really really well priced for what you got. I bought a cheese/ham pastry there for a cheap lunch,

and it was so good and filling we went back and bought a few more things for breakfast the next day.

Because of the weather, we headed back to the hostel pretty early, stopping at a grocery along the way to buy a bunch of great stuff for a huge, cheap dinner – goat cheese, soup, tasty olive bread, broccoli... It was a really good dinner that sort of turned into our lunch too.

The next day our only goal was to go to the train station, take the next train to Montpellier, and figure out where we were going to stay. We achieved this goal, but not without more rain, some uncertainty, and a whole lot of walking in the rain. Before deciding on Montpellier, Mei and I had debated going instead to Sete, Arles, Marselle... we were both sort of indecisive people separately, so together we were really indecisive about where to go and what to do. It was a good match in this way, but consequently, we sometimes were unsure about things. For example, we left our Nimes hostel not really sure where we were going to sleep once we got to Montpellier. We had sent out a last minute couch surfing alert to the Montpellier webpage late the night before, but I wasn't expecting any results from it. However a nice Swedish lady who had been traveling around France solo with all her possessions in her car for the last few months told us all about the HI hostel in Montpellier. I sort of knew where the HI hostel was, so we knew we'd find somewhere to sleep.

We headed down to the bus to take us the twenty minute ride to the train station with our bags. ( I would guess I have 30-35 pounds of luggage with me). Just before we headed down to the bus stop (a ten minute walk at least), Mei asked, “should we check the time of the bus?” Personally I hate checking for transportation times of buses in small towns where I don't speak or read the language, so I opted not to check.... we should have checked. After walking downhill from the hostel with all of our stuff for 15 minutes in the rain because it was again a rainy day, we finally made it to the bus stop – to find out that the bus only ran once every two hours, and we had just missed the most recent one by ten minutes. Oh dear ... what to do when travel goes not according to plan? Stay positive and find the next best option. Which I did, but not without some difficulty. I was grumpy that morning to begin with because we didn't know where we were going, the rain, i'd lost a headphone, my boot had broken, and just general morning grumps. Missing the bus, and it sort of being my fault did not help. But with no other options but to take an expensive taxi ride, we decided to keep walking, in the rain, to the next bus station in the direction of the train station. When we arrived at a good bus station, there were no busses again for about 40 minutes. At this point we'd hit a stride, and Mei suggested we just walk the whole way... another 20 minutes. And this is what we did, with all of our luggage. In the rain. We stopped in a Quick to check email and grab some coffee. And it was at this lovely Quick that Mei got a text message from two very nice couch surfing girls in Montpellier asking if we still needed a place to stay that night! They also lived only 5 minutes away from the Montpellier train station! We accepted. And I have to say, this bit of news really improved my mood (as did the coffee and the rain break). So, we finished walking to the station in the rain, with all of our stuff, feeling quite proud of ourselves. Then we bought some bread, bought out tickets, and jumped on a train to Montpellier.

Lyon, France - gastronomic and roman

Lyon - March 9th and 10th

After a 3 hour train ride, I arrived in Lyon. I had been looking forward to this day, since today was the day I'd finally meet Mei – my Australian travel buddy for the next few weeks or so. We had arranged a couch surfing host in Lyon about a month before (pre-travel jitters = arranging things early:: during travels = arrange things late). I arrived in Lyon around 5pm, and met my host, Olivier, at the train station since luckily he worked right by there. I love it when I get to meet the host at the train station. It saves me the trouble of having to navigate the public transportation and streets of a city I don't know very well with all my luggage all by myself. I'm happy to say I'm pretty good at navigating foreign cities at this point, so it's not too big of a deal when I have to, but it's so nice when I don't have to. Mei wasn't to arrive until 11pm, so it would just be my and Olivier for the next five hours.

Olivier is a very nice, accommodating person who works for the transportation system of Lyon, something in finance management. Apparently his company is the middle man for some transportation systems around the world (from Melborne to Washington). He was explaining to us what exactly his company does... I think they own the equipment, and/or help organize the system's workings, but the districts/cities actually run it. Anyway, Olivier was a very gracious host. His apartment had a lot of space too. Mei and I had our own room to share (I love when that happens). He's originally from Reunion Island, which is close to Madagascar. He showed me some pictures of his island online. I'm an island snob, naturally since I come from such a beautiful place, but Reunion Island is really beautiful too, even by my standards. It has a very huge mix of different cultures and cuisines, it's own creole language; I'd really like to go there now. While we waited for Mei, Olivier made me some apertives of toasted goat cheese toasts topped with lychee honey from his island. Really tasty stuff. We went to the grocery store to get the cheese and a few other things. French grocery stores have SO much cheese!! We also met his friend from England for a traditional Lyonesse three course menu du jour meal. I ate really well in Lyon. They have a lot of food specialties there. Most restaurants offer a menu du jour which lets you choose a first course, second course, and dessert from a list of options for a set price (between 12 and 35 euros). I tried Lyon pates, Lyonnese salad (which is lettuce, tomato, a poached egg, and bacon), and a cod souffle with lobster sauce. Not to mention, this is France where there is a pastry shop or bakery shop on almost literally every corner. (oof!)

We picked Mei up at the train station at 11 as planned, she came in from Paris. Then the four of us went to a bar that brews it's own beers for about an hour or so, which was a little awkward, but not too bad. I was pretty ready to go to bed by the time we left. By then it was about 1pm, and we were tired. Mei and I went to bed. Olivier dropped us off at his place, let us into his apartment, and then drove his friend home, despite having to get up early for work (I told you he was ridiculously nice).

Now, when you couch surf and stay with strangers, you learn some good rules of behavior along the way – one of these is to find out the night before if your host expects you to leave the apartment at the same time he/she does in the morning. Mei and I forgot to do this however. So, the next day, at about 8:40, Olivier knocked on our door and told Mei and I that we were leaving in 15 minutes. Woops. So we jumped out of bed, quickly grabbed what we needed for the day, and were off. At least we came downstairs to some coffee that Olivier had made. That helped. We left, Olivier showed us some stuff we should go visit on a map of the city, and then went to work.

Mei and I had a great day wandering around Lyon. Lyon has an old city, and a really old city. Lyon was originally part of the Roman empire, so it dates back pretty damn old – 1st centure AD I think? There are lots of cool cobblestone streets, and stores. It's a fun place to wander. It also has the Fourviere, which was the first thing that Olivier circled on the map, and the first place Mei and I headed to. It's on the top of a hill. As we headed up to it on the bus, I aksed Mei, “So, what is the Forviere?” she replied “No idea.” Hilarious. It ended up being yet another ornate church of Europe, stained glass windows, carvings, mosaics, etc. It was pretty. And free (even better). On the walk down from the Forviere to the really old city, there was an old Roman Amphitheatre to visit, which naturally I thought was pretty cool. We did some yoga on the stage for a little while, took some pictures. The weather was great! In addition to more food, I visited a world puppetry exhibit that just happened to be Lyon (and was also free cus I'm under 26), we lazed next to the river for a while (there are two rivers in Lyon). And we went on a bike ride. Like many of the towns in France, Lyon has city bike rental stations where you pay a Euro for a day, and then a euro an hour (or if you only use the bike for a half hour it is free, so you can trick the system that way). We were trying to get from one river, to the other on the bikes through Lyon old town, cross the other river, and then bike to the train station where we were meeting Olivier. In reality, we didn't get very far on the bikes though. We chose a lot of wrong directions, ended up going up a very steep hill, taking our bikes up stairs in a park, getting super close to the other river, but choosing the wrong direction again, and ending up back where we started. Luckily Mei and I are pretty positive people, so we managed to choose to see the whole thing as adventurously hilarious rather than annoying. WE found out later from Olivier that the hill we went up (which was VERY steep) was the only hill in Lyon... what luck, eh?)

The rest of our time in Lyon was pretty mellow. We were all tired, and went to bed early, went to the train station early, hung out at a Quick (a french McDonalds basically that has free wifi), and took the train out to Nimes.

oof! I'm behind

So i just realized that i haven't published any of the things that i've done in the last three weeks or so! Woops! Since Carcassonne I've been in.... Lyon, Nimes, Montpellier, Avignon French Farmhouse, Toulouse, Balaguer, Barcelona, and yesterday, April 6, I just arrived Lanjaron South Spain Villa.
I have some catching up to do....

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Most of my photos are on Photobucket finally. Now I just have to put some captions on them, and figure out how to best share this information.... but in case this works, here's the website i think

Thursday, March 17, 2011

European Musings: FOREIGN but SAME

I get really excited by all the foreign culture sameness. I'm not sure why. For an example of what I mean, I'm currently sitting on a train and across from me is a, well, I assume a mother and a daughter. The girl must be about 5? 6? And the mom is reading her a story from a picture book. All of this is in adorable French, of course. The book says something like va au cirque (goes to the circus or at the circus I'm sure). She exclaims and looks at the pictures and makes comments to her mom just like an English child would, except it's all in French. (I know I know... well, duh! You're in France! So of course it's in French.) But it still makes me smile. It's capturing of how despite language barriers, despite cultural barriers, there are things that are simply the same, human reactions that are universal. The same type of thing would happen in Spain – I'd watch basketball coaches drilling their student players on a playground, but in Spanish. It would be the same, but foreign. I'd witness a person calling out to a friend they see unexpectedly on the street, but in Spanish - like someone had switched the language setting for my real life. I'd watch a European looking old man walking in the park by himeslf and think, "he's thinking to himself in Spanish!" And my favorite – when my little five year old students would run up to me to blame one another for doing something. When I first started teaching, I couldn't understand enough to know what had happened exactly, but I didn't need to know. I'd make up my own dialogue: “Teacher teacher! Look! Alvaro did this to my paper!” “No I didn't!” “yes you did!” “Well, Yago called me this name.” “NO!” “Teacher!” One time during one of these exchanges my bilingual coordinator was in the room (my boss). He heard the exchange, said something in rapid Spanish, and then Yago looked guilty and said begudgingly - “Perdona” (sorry). Same body language, same sullenness of any five year old boy who got caught misbehaving. It's all the same, but foreign.

Carcassonne and French country side by Train

In the last two days, I've spent 11 hours on train or bus zooming through the French country side. Yesterday, I went from Bayonne to Toulouse by train, Toulouse to Carcassonne by Bus (very interesting drive through lots of old small villages that I was happy to see, but wouldn't want to visit).

I spent the night very much alone in Carcassonne. I found cheap lodgings in an Abbey (Notre D'am Abbey to be exact). It was a four person dorm, but I had it to myself. This was a good and a bad thing – Bad because I depend on the places I'm staying to be how I'm going to meet people, so I was a bit isolated. And good because with the whirlwind of people I just left, and am about to meet, I try to appreciate and value my alone time when I get it, so being alone wasn't a big deal. Carcassonne is very picturesque – basically the old part of the city is a full on little castle town with high walls you must walk up to and then through. It's easy to feel like you are in a different century in a place like that. I bought a bottle of wine, and spent the night walking around the old castle city, perching on walls occasionally, and making toasts in Spanish to myself and to the things that I saw. I'm determined not to forget the Spanish I've learned while i'm in France for the next few weeks. I'm listening to Spanish podcasts still. And I have a Spanish book. But occasionally I think I will just have to walk around talking to myself in Spanish too. Llamame loca (call me crazy). As I was walking around the French castle town last night, I heard some people speaking spanish too! And started a conversation, learned they were from Avila (close to Madrid) told them I had lived in Madrid... it was fun. I think I may make it a goal to start up short conversations in Spanish when I hear it being spoken too. My French is nonexistent, so it's nice to be able to communicate with someone not in English.

Now I'm on a train to Lyon. About an hour and half more to go. Lot's and lot's of countryside... a preview of what is to come next week since this is the area I'll be working on a farm starting on the 14th.

Monday, March 14, 2011


And it DID all end up working out ok and then some. Audrey picked me up from the cathedral just like she said she would (which I took a cab to get to since the language was different, I wasn't sure how many cathedrals there were etc. The cab driver totally ripped me off - 9 euros for a 6 minute cab ride? Wha? - but thus is traveling I guess). And Audrey walked me back to her apartment, where i met Muhammed. I am now in my own personal cozy room in the lovely apartment of Muhammed and Audrey – fascinating and beautiful people. Muhammed is from Northern Algeria, where they have their own indigenous culture and language (Kabilian). He speaks Arabic, Kabilian, and French. Audrey is from the Basque region of France. Basque, despite being considered part of Spain/France, also has it's own indiginous culture and language. The Language is called Euskala, and is completely different from any other language in Europe. It's origins of where exactly it came from is still unknown. Audrey is technically Polish (her parents moved to Bayonne from Poland), but she attended a Euskala school when she was young, speaks the language, fluently, and considers herself to have the soul of a Basque. Of course, she also speaks French, English, Spanish, a bit of German, and a bit of Portuguese, but to her Euskala is different. She explained to me that to have, to speak Euskala is to be Basque. Gaining respect, revitalizing basque culture, and even gaining independence from the French/Spanish governments is something Audrey is very passionate about. In addition to promoting the Basque culture and cause, she is a champion of all underdog cultures and causes. She has traveled a lot in the last ten years, primarily a lot throughout Latin America, America, and Canada, visiting, studying, and giving presentations on the indigenous cultures of the world. She's even been to Hawaii to study the Hawaiian indigenous culture. She does a lot of work in film making as well. Currently she has just finished a short documentary on the not so straightforward process of getting papers for wannabe French Citizens (like her Algerian Husband, who will hopefully be receiving French papers within the next few months).

The rest of my first day in Bayonne was spent bike riding to the beach closest to Bayonne and cooking delicious food all in a triage of languages. Audrey and I will switch off between Spanish and English (I can pretty much understand it all too!!) and Muhammed and she would speak French. I love French. I love the way it sounds. My new goal is to learn the basics in this language (and maybe Italian eventually too). Not to be fluent, but to be able to say basics like, where is this? I am cold. I want this. How do you say _____ in French? I've already learned a teensy bit from Muhammed when it was just him and me (because Audrey was at a Basque independence meeting while we went on a bike ride). Knowing Spanish certainly helps. French grammar is more difficult than Spanish, but the sentence structures are very similar. Language is so fascinating.

Later that night, I cooked them beer can chicken (where you stick a can of beer into the cavity of the chicken, and then put the entire thing into the oven. They hadn't seen anything like it before. Muhammed was a bit confused. I'm afraid it turned out not as delicious and moist as i'd been hoping, but it certainly wasn't bad. I blame the ovens of Europe, which are different than American ovens and hard to get the temperature right. I went to bed feeling quite pleased with life and these opportunities that keep popping up!

The next day, Sunday, we went for hike on one of the many mountains in the Basque countryside. We drove through fields after fields of Basque countryside with red and white houses to get to the hike. It reminded me a bit of the Maui upcountry side which I love so much. I could tell Audrey had the same feeling of pride and connection with the Basque countryside that I do for my Maui countryside. The hike was beautiful, with a lot of uphill, a lot of green, and a lot of fresh air. I think I needed it after all that Madrid city stale air I've been breathing for so long. Along the hike, we ran into some wild miniature basque horses called “pechukas,” and I would often hear the bells of a local flock of long haired sheep running along the mountainside. It was all quite cute and enjoyable.

I ended up staying with Audrey and Muhammed for one extra night, Monday night. I spent the day of Monday in Biarritz, a beach town close by. Biarritz is rather glam, and caters mostly to it's beach relaxing tourists. It's very different from the cobbled, old streets of Bayonne. I mainly spent the day walking along the coastline, and spent about an hour lying on the sand with my shoes off, enjoying the surprisingly good weather, still cold, but only needing a light jacket or so. It's the first time I've gotten to lie on a beach since I left Maui. I've missed that.

Both Audrey and Muhammed were such lovely people, sharing their time, their food, their cultures with me – often in a triage of languages. They went above and beyond as couch surfing hosts. I really appreciate the time I got to spend with them, and the peak I got into their lives. I did my best to be an excellent house guest and to share what I could of my cultures and experiences in return. I hope I succeeded.