Monday, 12 October 2009


It's a bittersweet goodbye today as I spend my last day in London and bid all my travels farewell for now.

Marike and I managed to survive the Contiki tour. Our health is more or less back in tact and while she is preparing to get back to work in England I have packed my bags and am just waiting for tonight to arrive so I can get on that plane and head back to the dark continent. My heart has been pining for some African air for a long time now and I am struggling to keep my heartbeat at a civilised pace because of the excitement.

However, the expectation of seeing my family and my home again is a bit overshadowed by the sadness at having to say goodbye to my friends and family in London and Clapham in particular. Who knew you only needed a few weekends with your little brother who used to irritate you until you turned blue from shouting at him, into a friend and confidant. Don't know how either of us are gonna survive without the other one just being a cheap phone call away.

Anyway, enough about that, this is supposed to be a travelogue. The rest of the Contiki was just as much fun as the first half was. Oktoberfest was definitely one of the highlights. Never before have I seen so many drunk people just hanging out and having a good time... no fights, no unpleasantness, no bad Afrikaans music... my kind of drinking festival. We met Corrie and Mark there and had a ball of a time there. We both also realised that German men are by far the most attractive men in Europe and I got to know a Swedish man a little better as well. I won't kiss and tell, but I can say the Swedish sure are pleasant people.

Austria is a sparkling place with my kind of activities. We did mountain biking, paragliding (so peaceful) and listened to Mozart and Brahms. Switzerland was just as beautiful and I saw snow again when we went up the Jungfrau mountain. Unfortunately we got stuck in the elevator on our way down from the top of the viewing point and had to wait half an hour in the freezing cold before they managed to open the doors for us. Luckily the doors were glass so we could see out and managed to keep the claustrophobia at bay. That did mean that we felt like chimpanzees in a cage though, because all the Japanese tourists that passed us just had to stop and take several hundred pictures with their big cameras before they proceeded to get into the elevator next to us to go the viewing point. I'm not sure if I'll get into a lift right next to one that is broken down. We did get a free hot chocolate out of the adventure though and another story to tell.

Had another short stop in Germany in the beautiful Rhine Valley before we headed to our last stop, Amsterdam. I loved the little city with all the pretty canals, thousands of bicycles and coffee shops. Needless to say I frequented a couple of the coffee shops and enjoyed my visit to Amsterdam thoroughly. We had to say a sad goodbye to all our new friends on the tour and I set of for Clapham for a prolonged goodbye. And now this is it.

I'm excited about going home and have already applied for a few positions back there but I suddenly experienced a smidgeon of jealousy when I read a friend who just starting teaching English in Vietnam's blog. So who knows, maybe this is just "See you later" and not "Goodbye". If I get back to SA and the ants in my pants reappear you never know where the next place will be where I will be writing from.

So that's it, thanks for reading...
See you later.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Still alive... just.

In a camp site just outside Rome at the moment.
We've survived Barcelona, the French Riviera, Florence and most of Rome by now.
Marike and I have both been infected by the dreaded Contiki cough, not enough sleep and too much drinking, so we've been trying to take it a bit slower the past few days before we're sent home to make use of the NHS to fix our pneumonia.
No worries though, we are not missing the whole tour because we're drinking too much, I can't say exactly the same for most of the other people on the tour though. I don't know how they can keep on drinking for weeks on end and how they afford it, but I guess they've been practicing a long time, bloody Aussies.
Barcelona was fantastic and nightlife was even better. I also discovered that Florence's nightlife is a lot more alive than the stately Renaissance front would like you to believe. Karaoke, dancing and lots and lots of alcohol make for a lethal combination.
Rome is still hot and dirty and historic and now I'm really looking forward to the rest of the tour as I haven't seen any of the other cities or countries coming up.
Pretty soon I will be listening to Mozart in Vienna, drinking beer at the Oktoberfest, going up the Alps and paragliding over Austria.

I would like to lodge a formal apology to Mr. Kimball, I did mean John's house, and not Johannes', my brain isn't really working any more. Can't wait to make use of your hospitality once again very soon. And I still love you too Johannes.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Paris, Beajoulais (or something like that) and Barcelona

Just a quick update to let you know what we´ve been up to for the past week.

Went back to London on Friday after living it up in the villa in Italy for a few days.
Luggage got lost on our way from Florence to Frankfurt to Heathrow. Had to sleep dirty for the first night in London.
Luggage was delivered at Johannes´s house at 17:00 on Saturday, we started packing for our tour whilst drinking, writing articles, applying for jobs and sending e-mails.

Got on the bus to France on Sunday morning 7:00. Saw Paris, a cabaret show and had a good French dinner in Paris. Met a bunch of new, fun people.
Drove to the French wine region, got to know the bunch of new, fun people better in a chateau in the countryside. In my opinion the French countryside is even prettier than the Italian.
Drove to Barcelona today with what felt like a hangover, that got worse during the day and eventually turned out to be a cold. I´m thinking it´s probably because of all the drinking that´s been going on, hardly any sleep and closed, confined spaces.
Swine flu has nothing on us, we have the Contiki cough.

Tomorrow we´re of to see Barcelona, see Flamengo dancing, go out on the town and just a totally fabolous time.
Will report back again as soon as possible. Otherwise I´ll either see you in London or South Africa one of these days.

By the way, thanks for all the comments on the blog so far. The article is meant to be published in May 2010 or maybe a little earlier.


Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Six weeks and then some

Our time at Valgiano came to a bittersweet end yesterday and we said a sad goodbye to everyone but with a spring in our step because we knew we had three days of doing absolutely nothing ahead of us.

The weekend was so good we almost decided to stay on in Valgiano until Friday, but when we started picking and sorting grapes again on Monday we knew we made the right decision and the time was ripe for us to move on to new pastures.

On Saturday we joined in on the tasting of all the ferments where you taste almost thirty glasses of something between grape juice and wine. Since I've done that I can actually taste some more differences when I taste proper wine. Maybe I'm turning into a connoisseur? The rest of the day was spent eating and drinking around the table before going to the beach for a swim and to see the sunset. I didn't expect to find any proper waves in the Mediterranean Sea but there was a strong wind so it almost felt like swimming at Hartenbos. The sunset was spectacular, as expected, but it was overshadowed by the seafood we had for dinner. The tastiest, most tender squid, prawns, shrimp and other goodies I've ever had.

We tried to get some ice cream in Pisa afterwards but the shop was closed so instead we just went to the tower to have a look at it in the full moon. It is quite bizarre to see a building leaning over like that. That's about all I can say about that though.

Sunday was spent being even lazier than Saturday as we got up, had coffee for breakfast, started cooking lunch, and had lunch. Sat around the table until we started cooking for dinner and eventually had a huge dinner as well. I think my stomach is the size of a football by now.

As I said earlier, Monday's picking and sorting just convinced us that it was indeed time to go. It felt like the day went by in slow motion until we had a break at 18:00. Our boss decided to give us a proper farewell and before I knew it I was next to Marike inside one of the fermenters with almost a 1000 litres of almost wine. Not the worst farewell I've ever had, I even took a few sips.

So that's it for the Wwoofing experience. Now we are hanging out at Villa Guinigi. Sleeping in everyday, taking long, hot baths and not doing much. The long awaited article for the rooi rose needs to happen before Friday, but except for that we have no responsibilities and it is marvellous.

On Sunday we're off on our Contiki tour, will try to report back whenever I can. Just for fun.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

What a week

It's the end of the week and all of a sudden I appreciate the weekend so much more. We've worked hard this week, picking grapes, sorting grapes, crushing grapes, eating grapes, fermenting grapes, cleaning grapes. Oh, and drinking wine.

The work is tedious and the hours long, but we really are enjoying ourselves for the first time on the trip. No trying to convince ourselves that it really is fun and telling ourselves that it is all part of the experience. We're working during the day, chatting with lots of great people, eating wonderful food, drinking some amazing wine, learning a lot and experiencing things we will never experience again.

During all this Marike is of course being herself and charming everyone with her gracefulness. She's always walking into things, messing stuff all over her and keeping everyone's spirits up by just being herself. The highlight of all her escapades so far has been "the bidet incident", when she tried to relieve herself on the toilet like normal people do, but she was in such a hurry that she sat down on the bidet instead. Of course, she only realised this once she tried to flush the toilet and couldn't find the flusher anywhere. Luckily for us it was only a number 1.

So between all the grapes, Marike is keeping the trip interesting, the people are amazing and the food even better. I have now ticked everything from my little to-do list and am ready to go back to London and start the Contiki tour and work on my other list. We have both crushed the grapes in the barrels and have had countless meals at a long table under the trees. Usually I eat so much that I am almost crying after lunch while I'm sorting grapes, luckily we're only here until Monday, so after that we can hopefully try and eat normally again.

A word of warning to you all, the Italians are saying that we are now nice and tanned. They've even stopped calling Marike Mozzarella, so don't be startled when you see us again.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Harvest torture and food heaven

The real harvest has started and I must confess I’m a little bewildered.

We sorted grapes until 21:30 last night and even when we left the other people being paid to do the job were still going and probably only finished at 23:00. When we were called out of the vineyard at 11:00 yesterday morning I thought we were lucky to be removed from the midday sun, but I soon realised as I was stuck in grapes up to my elbows that this was not the best job on the farm.

The sorting of the grapes require at least six people. My job was to remove as many stalks from the berries as possible before the next person did the same and the other four people as well. The grapes come too fast though and two hands aren’t enough to remove millions of stalks at a time so very soon you’re basically using your whole body to remove as many stalks as possible. In between there are wasps and heat and a sore back and sticky feet to also try and handle. I now realise why the people used to the job are almost permanently sipping on a beer or something stronger, they need it. I can’t imagine anyone doing for a job and going through this torture twice a year, once for grapes and once for olives. I don’t think the young people going to study viniculture have any idea what they are letting themselves in for when they register.

Despite that, the people and the food have made it all worthwhile. Every now and again, while you are sorting grapes we stop for ’n dinner of fresh bread and pancetta. Or we have a seafood fiesta for lunch (yesterday). I don’t even like anchovies, but the Italian peasant dish of anchovies, lemon, onions and garlic was divine; a good precursor to the mussels and potato and eggplant waiting for main dish. We ate mussels and built towers with all the shells we collected... a memorable and delightful lunch.

Another highlight was the Italian barbeque we had on Thursday evening. Different types of salami and bread for our first starter. The different types of Italian sausages for the next course – I lose track of what each course’s name is and I don’t think the Italians really care, they just want their food. And the best and most tender T-bone steak I’ve ever had. The steak was about 7cm thick and we shared it between about 12 people. I was a bit disappointed when the fillet side was already taken when it reached my, but the other side was as tender as marrow and I had to stop myself from hogging the whole thing for myself. That and the fresh bread with chilli in olive oil made me a very happy girl. The meat deprivation I suffered in Tagliacozzo is now well and truly erased; I think I actually have credits in that department again.

Now only one week of work left before we move on to the next pasture, but I think this is our last weekend. It sounds as though we will be working straight through next weekend so I will post again in about ten days time. That’s if I haven’t drowned in fermenting grapes by then.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The romance is back

All the hard work, unbearable heat, mosquito bites and money spent are now worth it.

We began picking grapes on Monday. Because it is so hot at the moment we had to start picking every morning at 7:00. That meant we had to get up at 6:00 to get a lift with the farm manager, Saverio, at 6:30 to the vineyard. On our way there we stopped for breakfast before starting the sticky, hot job of picking lots and lots and lots of grapes.

The job isn’t hard, but it gets really hot at about 10:30. The initial plan was to keep picking until 13:00, but the Italians decided it is too hot so every day we stopped at 12:00, jumped in the cars and stopped for an aperitif on our way home. By the time we get back to the farm for lunch every day we’re hardly hungry anymore because we had too much beer and snacks at the bar. Today we finished with the last little bit of the current vineyard at 9:30 and it was, once again, impossible to go directly back to the farm and start working again. We had to find an open bar first (most of the bars in the area are closed on Wednesdays) to have a coffee before we could even think about working again. After driving around for 20 minutes and getting a little panicky we eventually found an open one, had a coffee and some food and went back to pick the last few rows of white grapes on the farm.

Though we’re glad to be done with the white grapes, it sounds as though the real hard work will only start once we begin with the red ones. Apparently once we start picking them, we work straight through from 8:00 to 22:00, except of course the three hour lunches the Italians love so much. So the hard work is still ahead but all the other things make up for it.

On Monday we went to a local restaurant for magnificent meal. The bill was covered by the monthly delivery of the farm’s wine, so you actually make money when you go out for a meal because we usually get change for the meal as well.

The other ritual they have is to go out for drinks after work at the other local bar which is on the hilltop and has a breathtaking view over Lucca and the surrounding mountains. Of course, it never stays one drink and we usually stay until the owner has to tell us to either leave or have dinner because they want the table. Us foreigners have then filled ourselves with the accompanying bread, olives, ham, salami and cheese by then because we are under the false impression that this is dinner. However, we have been told that this is only Miranda (or something like it), the meal between lunch and dinner. Dinner only comes at 21:00 or 22:00. We usually skip this though and just jump into the pool when we get back to the farm before we head of to bed.

We are enjoying this farm a lot more than the other one. We work hard for six hours every day and then we are basically free to do as we choose. Sometimes we help the other people, because there is a lot of cleaning to be done before the red grapes start coming in. Other times, like today we just pass out on our beds for a necessary siesta. It’s amazing how quickly your body gets into the routine of this siesta tradition and how angry it gets at you when you don’t give it a siesta one day. I even had an allergic reaction yesterday evening to something, today I think it is because I worked through the whole day and it was my body’s way of telling me to never ever do that again.

Pictures coming later this week, now I have to join the Prosseco party on the veranda.