Tangier, Chefchaouen and Moroccan Chocolate…

Getting to Casablanca was a tad more challenging than anticipated. The day prior to my departure I received an incomprehensible email in Portuguese from Air Portugal, which, upon deciphering, revealed that my carefully planned flights, scheduled to arrive mid-afternoon so I could join my group for a welcome meeting and dinner, were cancelled. I’d been rebooked on a direct flight which got in later – and even later after a delay. (NB: avoid Air Portugal if you can! Impossible to reach by any means.) Fortunately I’d booked an airport transfer to the hotel but it was 9:30 before I was ensconced in my lightless room. A note from the tour guide said we were to depart at 8:00am the next day.

It is a lively group on this G Adventures tour: 7 Canadians, 5 Aussies and 2 Americans. All but two are women, vast age range. Our tour guide is a charming young man named Driss, who has conveyed a ton of information about Morocco already…a dictatorship, corrupt, where the king has pretty much absolute power and is very rich as a result. (He mostly lives in France, not Morocco, though he has several palaces here.)

IMG_2503fullsizeoutput_117dWe drove about 5 hours to Tangier, most interesting for its view across the water to Spain and Gibraltar (which are very close!), then did a walking tour though the Kasbah (fort),  Medina (old town) with Grand and Petit Soccos (markets). Dreadful lunch at a restaurant where most of the menu was unavailable  (because, our guide said, they do not get many customers. He also told us not to eat the salads.) The water here is suspect, so we cart around big bottles of mineral water & avoid uncooked food unless Driss gives us the thumbs up.


IMG_2530As expected Tangier is very colourful, not too clean – but to my disappointment did not smell like cinnamon and hashish, but, like many older European cities, urine and tobacco smoke. While Morocco is largely inhabited by Berbers and is almost entirely Muslim, French is spoken widely (yay!) – and in Tangier especially also Spanish. English has yet to gain the firm foothold it has in so many parts of the world.


After our tour of Tangier we drove another 2 hours  to Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains, home of “Moroccan chocolate” (hashish). Gorgeous  mountains – and the town of about 45,000 is famed for its blue buildings…apparently they did not all used to be blue but there were a few, and then it became known as the blue town and everyone started painting houses blue. Chefchaouen means “look to the mountain” and they tower all around it.


IMG_2550We checked into our hotel (described as very nice by Driss, I guess standards differ…) and then he took us all out to a fabulous dinner of goat’s cheese olives & fig jam, cooked and raw vegetable salads, 5 different tagines (beef, chicken, vegetable, shrimp, sardine) and a yogurt, almond and date desert. It cost each of us about $15. The only drawback: no alcohol. Muslim country, small town. This was, shall we say, a disappointment to vacationing Canadians, Americans & Australians… we have subsequently figured ways around this … and will likely be over-prepared in the future (better safe than sorry, right?)


dinner in Chefchaouen

Yesterday we had a “free day” in Chefchaouen – with optional activities. Most of us chose to go on a 4 hour hike into the mountains. Our guide, Mustafa (emphasis on middle syllable) has lived in the town his entire life and leads many hikes – often several day journeys with overnight camping. He thought we were a slow group as we huffed out way to 1000 meters, past several mosques, goats, women carrying massive piles of branches on their backs, bent almost double (feed for animals), goats, mules, dozens of cats, chickens, sheep, herd dogs and amused children. We were instructed NOT to photograph people.



view of Chefchaouen

IMG_2599We were all eager to see marijuana growing (as it is a major crop in the mountains), but alas, there has been a lot of rain  so seed had just been planted – and we could see (and smell) the seed scattered everywhere in small fields, with scarecrows guarding. We also saw but did not interfere with “hashish factories” – which looked like small greenhouses covered in dark plastic…not currently in operation.


The Rif mountains are where most of Morocco’s hash is grown/produced. For over 1000 years the inhabitants have enjoyed smoking it – then in the 1960s suddenly it became a commercial venture and internationally renowned area, a destination for hippies. It is legal to grow marijuana (keif) and to smoke it, but not to buy or sell it. Go figure…


our guide on the hike

IMG_2594IMG_2598By the time we reached our lunch destination, we were hot, exhausted and sunburnt but quite elated. Stunning views all along the hike, and good company. Last night a few of us passed on another major Moroccan meal (we had one at lunch!) and chose to go to a hotel where we could obtain wine IF we ordered food. We did so, minimally – but did not skimp on the wine.

Today we head towards Fes…



Solo Travel

I will shortly change the title of this blog to Across the Sea, as that is where I am heading later this week, and I’ll write about being older, single, retired and TRAVELLING – a bit more lively!

I have recently discovered there is a thing called “singlism”: the stigmatization of adults who are single. Hmmm. I don’t really feel stigmatized EXCEPT when it comes to travelling on tours. Bad enough that one is travelling without the company of a partner, when almost everyone else on a tour has a partner of some sort, but the single supplement charge on many tours can make such travel unaffordable. Truly adds insult to injury.

But travelling alone has its perks too –  not financially, but in terms of freedom. You can go wherever you want and do whatever you like. While it can get lonely, there are lots of ways to avoid becoming isolated.

In planning my upcoming trip, I looked for ways to obtain a  balance between much-cherished time on my own and time with others. I started by looking at river cruises in Europe (big cruises seem like a recipe for loneliness, so easy to get lost/isolated in a crowd that large), thinking it would be lovely not to have to plan every step of a journey, and be with a smaller (though far from intimate) group of like-minded people, where I might make friends. I gagged at the cost. The cheapest I saw was about $3500 for one week, and with single supplement the price skyrocketed to $5000-6000.

Somehow in the course of that exploration I came upon G Adventures (of which I’d heard positive reports) and up popped a Morocco tour, maximum 14 people, two weeks, for $1500 – and solo travelers could avoid the single supplement by sharing a room. Now being older and single, I value my privacy, so I did not choose to share, but even with the single supplement, the tour only cost $2000 – two weeks, perfect sized group, for about 1/3 of the cost of one week on a river cruise. I booked it.

After Morocco, I will spend the better part of a week on my own in Lisbon and Porto but I will participate daily in Airbnb “experiences” with small groups… a Fado tour of Lisbon led by a Fado singer, historical walking tours, food tasting tours. Then two friends I have known since I was 15 will join me to walk the Portuguese Coastal Camino for a week. Then I’ll visit new and old friends in Leon and Barcelona and spend a week in London, seeing shows, staying with a good friend.

I may be single but I won’t be lonely, coping in this particular geographical fashion! Stay tuned for the adventure…



Homeward Bound

So ten weeks of travel are at an end. I am happy and relieved that I managed it all, with only a few low moments. It gives me confidence going forward. No matter where I go, I reckon I can handle it.

There were so many memorable moments…

Spain: watching flamenco dancers in the upstairs room of a Madrid restaurant, part of the welcome reception for the volunteer program. Playing the role of newscaster in a skit as part of the program. Running around the resort grounds taking group pictures in crazy poses (e.g. “pretend you are flying” below.) Jiving with my new friend Toby in the bar, far too late into the night. Saying good-bye to the Spaniards and volunteers, with hugs and tears and promises to reconnect.


France: Walking the streets of Paris, the morning light reflecting off the freshly washed cobbles, glancing off the rooftops. The waiter in a Menilmontant café persuading me to try the luncheon special and very good red wine. Giggly glances shared with students in our French classes as the teacher explained an exercise we couldn’t made head or tail of. Struggling to master the subjunctive tense and the use of the word “dont”. Learning about French cinema and the music of Serge Gainsbourg.



Standing outside the house I lived in as a child in Montmartre, and remembering youthful escapades. Dining with family friends from that time, laughing and catching up as though no time had passed. Visiting Stratford friends in their beautiful flat in the banlieue and stuffing myself on excellent food and wine. The cafes of Paris, the Seine, the parks and vast squares.


Door in Montmartre, but not “my” door

The exquisite light in the south of France, casting a magical glow on everything. Walking along the canal du midi, basking in the sun overlooking beautiful gardens. Gazing out my all bedroom windows, all the way to the snow-capped Pyrenees.

IMG_1503fullsizeoutput_f0eAmsterdam: Oh the canals! And bridges! And the chill truth of Ann Frank’s attic and all that went on in that stifling space. Van Gogh’s wild artistry. Playing dice with Scarlett in a coffee house, dodging the fierce cyclists (there are more bicycles than people in Amsterdam).


Scarlett in Amsterdam

Scotland: Wandering the streets of dramatic Edinburgh, meeting the world’s best tour guide, Robert, on the steps of the Scottish Academy (‘wearing a wide-brimmed hat’). Listening to Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament. Trying haggis. Soaking in information while on coach tours. Standing on Hadrian’s Wall. Gazing out from Queen’s View over Loch Tummel. Scotland’s wild beauty.

IMG_1718IMG_1754England: Reconnecting with people from Atlantic College (where I did my last two years of high school) – not only Scarlett, but our room-mate Kate – with whom we saw Travesties and a 60’s V&A Exhibit. Lunching with our housemistress in Stratford-upon-Avon, 45 years after we’d last seen her. Driving to Norwich to visit another friend from the College and his wife. Motoring on the Norfolk Broads in their boat, sipping wine. Wandering through Norwich.


Scarlett, Mary Ann, Bruce & I at Norwich cathedral


Norfolk Broads

Reconnecting with my daughter-in-law’s parents, whom I only met at the wedding, at their lovely home in Saffron Walden. Meandering the English countryside with them.

Seeing theatre. Walking in Hampstead Heath, many times, with Scarlett. And especially spending time with Scarlett (probably rather more time than she wanted!) It is a bit mind-boggling to be so close to someone I met when I was fifteen, who has always lived at least an ocean away – and yet, here we are in our sixties, still having a great time together.


Hampstead Heath

IMG_1856Of course there were less positive experiences, like sweeping up piles of foul dust in a dark attic in Ventenac-en-Minervois. And I must say the actual travel was less than inspirational. I spent a total of 12 days (out of 70) in transit. Enough to last a lifetime, really. Most irritating was the time spent getting to and from airports – particularly in London where it is both expensive and time-consuming to get into the city from ANY of the 4 airports. I will not miss the travel days.

And today is my last one (for a while). Stratford, here I come, with a great sack o’ memories slung over me shoulder. Thanks to everyone who made this trip special – not least of all, you, my blog followers! I’m ready to be home.





Mar sin leat Dùn Èideann (Good-bye Edinburgh)

I might be almost as in love with Edinburgh as Paris, although the latter certainly wins out on weather. (And despite the title of this post, I don’t speak the Gaelic). It’s been quite cold and blustery the last few days, bits of sleeting rain and even a touch o’ the white stuff. Nonetheless a gorgeous city for walking, so many fascinating old buildings and closes, gardens, etc. Never a dull moment visually.


interior Scottish National Museum

One of the highlights of my time here was meeting Robert, a friend of a friend, who took me on a long walk by the Dean Gardens, an area I’d never have found, which follows the Water of Leith (a river that runs through Edinburgh) for 7 kms. Robert is a retired architect so pointed out all kinds of interesting details and told me about the eras of different buildings. Our walk ended at the beautiful Royal Botanical Garden, with amazing views of the city.


on my walk with Robert

IMG_1778IMG_1777Robert prodded me to go to a couple of other places that had not been high on my list: The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish Parliament. I am not an avid fan of galleries, but he was right about the Portrait Gallery – in a gorgeous building, with portraits of Scots through history, including some great contemporary portraits (some photos) of the likes of Andrew Murray, Robert Carlyle, Sean Connery, Annie Lennox.

At the Scottish Parliament (also a stunning building, very modern) I was able to sit in on parliamentary debate for half an hour – lucked out and got to see Nicola Sturgeon (first minister) give an impassioned speech encouraging the entire parliament to reject the new UK bill which only provides tax credits for up to 2 children (well, a third if the woman can prove she was raped!!!)

Robert was a wonderful guide and raconteur, we had lunch one day – and dinner the next. We were talking about how much attention J.K. Rowling gets in Scotland these days (there is a whole section of the city that is a sort of Potter shrine, and the city bus tour points out all the places where she wrote the books.) Robert then told me a story of a friend of his who years ago was sort of in J.K.’s position, single mom (two kids) wanted to write, Robert was busy feeding her and taking care of the kids from time to time. He and other friends persuaded her to enter a contest, she won a bit of money, took a year off to write her first novel and won massive awards. Feeling rather envious, I asked her name. Kate Atkinson. Imagine!

Tuesday night, Robert took me to a Scottish restaurant in Grassmarket and I tasted haggis, rather reluctantly. Delicious. Then we’d bought tickets online to see the National Theatre’s touring remount of War Horse at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. We went there, picked up tickets, ordered coffee and realized that our tickets were for 2018 not 2017!!! Both guilty, we’d separately looked it up and failed to realize they were booking over a year in advance. Oh well. It was terrific meeting Robert, he has encouraged me to come back when the theatre festival is on, even offered me a bed. Maybe next year?

An oddity of the city: the local Lothian buses are excellent, run regularly, easy to look up times and routes online. You can buy a pass, sort of like an Oyster card, but for short-term it isn’t worth it. The challenge is that you cannot buy tickets and must have correct change for the driver – £1.60 (awkward amount). So I spent a lot of the week saving up change to be sure I could get around!


Edinburgh Castle



Castle from below

On my last full day here I visited Edinburgh Castle, which feels like the grand dame of all castles, perched on a rocky promontory called Castle Rock (an extinct volcano), visible from anywhere in Edinburgh, with a history dating back to the 12th century. The views (and hence defenses) are fantastic, although on a very chilly day I felt deep sympathy for the early occupants….brrrr.


“inside” the castle


View from castle to the sea

Then I stopped in at the writers’ museum, which celebrates the work of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. A cosy little museum (where I thawed out after the castle!) with nooks and crannies up and down spiral staircases.

Finally I went on the Edinburgh Dungeon tour, which was great fun (fortunately – unlike my “theatrical” experience on the first night with ghosts and ghouls). Basically we were taken on a “tour” through quite evocative underground sets, led by actors who played the parts of famous Scottish judges, executioners, torturers, witches, cannibals, body snatchers, anatomy doctors and plague victims – threatening us poor lost souls and taking us on house of horrors type rides. But really well done. We shrieked and laughed and got all shook up (as chairs moved under us, cobwebs swept over our faces, people leapt out of the shadows, and we plunged to our gallows deaths). Not everyone’s cup of tea, but right up my alley.

And so, time to say good-bye, but I will be back!

Scotland: Tour Highs and Lows


Edinburgh is fantastic, such a dramatic city, in terms of both landscape and history. Oh the craggy hills and deep gorges, the castles and dungeons and rivers and bridges and gardens and narrow streets and cobblestones. And the wars and murders and reivers and Romans and clans and enlightenment. Amazing.


Palace of Holyroodhouse

I’ve been here 4 days now, staying in a lovely spacious flat, not particularly close to the old or new town, but I often walk and the bus system is excellent.



I’ve done three guided tours and can confirm that the quality of any given tour depends on the tour guide. My first night here I went on a walking ‘ghosts and ghouls’ tour. Sounded great, but in fact was pretty lame. The guide was a Frenchwoman (what’s with that? In the south of France I stay with Scottish people, in Edinburgh…). Her delivery was melodramatic in the wrong kind of way – and she conveyed very little concrete info. So it was neither scary nor funny, and consisted largely of her telling us, as we stumbled through very dark but otherwise nondescript underground rooms, that sometimes people on the tours saw things or felt things while on the tours. I did glean interesting info about body snatchers, but overall the experience lacked substance – felt like she was struggling to fill the two hours.



On Saturday I went on a 10 ½ hour coach tour to Rosslyn Chapel, the Border Lands and Hadrian’s Wall. Ten and half hours is a lot of time to fill (and to stay awake!) But this tour guide (and driver) – Angela – was brilliant. It was a small coach tour (maximum 16 people, we were 8, I think). She had tales to tell us about everywhere we went – both fact and myth. She had also prepared a playlist of songs and comedy bits, all of which related to the places we were going. Who knew there were so many songs about building Hadrian’s Wall? Or living north of the border? Or about the reivers (gangs of thieves who terrorized the Border Lands for centuries.) We passed battlefields and learned about William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, and the endless wars between Scotland and England. She told us stories about a man who claimed to have been stolen by faeries and kept imprisoned for 7 years, and Michael Scott, the Border Wizard who accurately predicted his own death (by pebble to head), an ancestor of Sir Walter Scott’s.


Rosslyn Chapel 


Ruins of nearby Roslin Castle

Rosslyn Chapel (alas, most renowned as location for the Da Vinci code) is gorgeous and full of really unusual carvings. The border between Scotland and England is marked by a large stone which says “Scotland” on one side and “England” on the other. Notably there is a welcome to Scotland sign in English and Gaelic, but no such welcome to England…

And Hadrian’s Wall is remarkable – not because it is high (the remains only stand about 3’ or 4’ high), but because it stretches clear across England (something like 80 miles) in absolutely desolate countryside. All the stone quarried very close to the building – and many Romans and others spent years building it, far from home and family. You can walk along the top of it (about 3’ wide), in silence and wind, and feel you’ve gone back a couple of thousand years in time.


Top of Hadrian’s Wall

IMG_1704IMG_1701So – that was a great tour. The next day I went to the Highlands with the same company, and Paul as tour guide. It was a very different experience. I got the distinct impression that he’d been at the job for too long. His commentary was perfunctory, he left us for far too long at Blair Castle, which is an interesting building and has impressive gardens, but no real history of note, and then played rather loud music that related to nothing the rest of the time (okay when it was Beatles for an hour, but some of the rest…)

IMG_1736However, when we got off the bus to walk in the wilds of the Highlands or through sleepy little Scottish villages, it was lovely. A sunny day (not warm, but sunny!) and again very isolated and quiet with stunning vistas of gorges and rivers and mountains and sheep and heather and bracken.


Queen’s View

We had a stop at Queen’s View, a spot overlooking Loch Tummel which Queen Isabella, first wife of Robert the Bruce, apparently favoured. It was a bit unclear to me, given the nature of the guide’s description, whether she went there while escaping the English who were forever hunting her husband and family, or whether she just liked the view – and I even wonder if it was his seond wife, not firsts since Isabella never actually got crowned queen (thank you, Wikipedia). Apparently Queen Victoria liked it too, so it is worthy of its name.




Another stop, at the Hermitage, a National Park on the banks of the River Braan in Craigvinean Forest, was equally magical. We walked some distance through ancient forests to a rushing waterfall. Stunning.

So despite the disappointing tour guide, we got a taste of the highlands. One pet peeve: it seems as though many places in Scotland are now more renowned because they’ve been used as film locations (Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter, Downtown Abbey) than for their actual history. I don’t really care about the films – I can watch them. I want to know the history, which is , generally speaking, very colourful here!


The Lives of Others

Most of the new people I have met over the past two months are not living in their home countries. Either they are travellers or expats. As a traveller who has often imagined, at least, having a place in the south of France, for example, I found myself quite interested in finding out more about people who have chosen to relocate to a different culture, or who are inveterate travellers.


on the front terrace

My hosts on the canal du midi were an older couple (she is 77, he is 70). They met in later life. He’d never been married; she’d already been married twice and had three children. She had a colourful and challenging life, which included growing up largely in Australia, leaving school at age 14, returning to Glasgow on her own to attend drama school, working as an actress and single parenting. I learned all this in the car as she drove me from the train station to the house. She was talkative, someone seemingly accustomed to having an audience. She’d changed her name twice: the first time to a stage name, the second time to a name bestowed upon her in India by her yoga master. She wore “young “clothes, burned incense, and loved her garden. She and her current husband also play in a jazz quartet – she sings. They have us a half-a-quartet mini-performance. Interesting. He is a retired professor of geo-physics, quite no-nonsense and still very involved in research (anti-fraking).

They bought the massive house in which they live about 14 years ago – and I suspect are beginning to wonder how long they can manage it. While we were there volunteering, he had a very badly smashed toe and was unable to drive or walk much. She was not a very confident or eager driver, but fortunately had just been given back permission to drive after having a brain operation early in the new year. She experienced some dizzy spells while we were there – and I think both of them, while happy to have volunteers doing heavy work for them, found the experience rather exhausting – all the interactions etc. I know I would have. Her children are all in Scotland, and she said if anything happened to her husband, she would go back.

They have quite a community of friends – many Scottish expats, all living the life in big old French houses. The last night that we were there, they hosted a dinner in our honour and invited an American and a Canadian couple. The Americans were…very American and wealthy (he was a Trump supporter – having been forewarned , no one mentioned politics throughout the evening). They had purchased an actual chateau in Ventenac and were in the process of massive renovations with plans to offer deluxe accommodations.

The Canadian couple were fantastic – he is a retired Canadian lawyer/ambassador, Francophone (actually born in Belgium). She is originally from Finland and speaks multiple languages. He is her second ambassador husband, so I guess it’s been sort of a career for her. They bought a house in a nearby village several years ago. Both have children still in Canada. They were super lively and I connected with them closely over books – they read a lot, we found we had many favourite books/authors in common. We’ve exchanged suggestions via email and I think she is coming to Stratford in the fall with her daughter, so I hope to see her there

There was also a tenant living on the second floor of the maison, paying rent to my hosts, a German woman in her late forties (I’m guessing). A big boisterous gal who’d left Germany now that her children were grown and come to the south of France as a sort of new beginning – to work as a host/receptionist at a chateau in a neighbouring town. She hung out with us when she could and was very high-spirited and entertaining. She’d only been there a couple of months but had just purchased a small house in a medieval stone village, for 35,000€. Unbelievable! Yes, she said she’d have to put some money in – maybe another 30,000€ – but still! I began to dream again.

Although really I found I did not envy any of them their lives. Clearly almost all had plenty of money and the south of France is lovely – but expat communities are a bit like islands. If you’re lucky, you get along with the handful of people you meet. But the pool is small. And everything is challenging because of language and bureaucratic differences, not to mention the rural setting…and if you’re from the UK like my hosts – with Brexit looming – or are not getting any younger, who knows what further complications may be in store?

My fellow volunteers were an entirely different story. Both Quebecois, in their early twenties, they were on a major adventure. Upon graduating from university a couple of years ago they’d gone on a 4-month backpacking trip to Europe and Asia, then returned to Montreal, taken quite good jobs, worked for a year and decided they hated their jobs. So they quit, packed up and headed off for 15 months of travel and volunteer work – in France, Italy, Sicily and then Asia again. They had little money, lots of energy and curiosity – and spent a huge amount of their time planning the next step, trying to work out the cheapest way to travel and stay. I totally admired their spirit, enjoyed their lively company, and learned about things like BlaBla Cars from them (long-distance ride-sharing). But again, I would not want to live that close to the line or wander for such a long time.

Of course travelling at length or living in a foreign country would no doubt be more appealing with a partner (and I seem to have carelessly lost mine) … but even so, I think at this stage of life I would not want to undertake such a dramatic relocation or prolonged period of travel. Fascinating to see how people manage their lives though – and to get a better sense, at least, of what I do NOT want to do with what remains of mine.

As in Spain, I felt lucky to get to know such a disparate group of people and gain insight into their very different lives. And now, really, I am ready to go home.

But first, a week in Scotland. I fly tomorrow.

Volunteer Challenges

I applied for this volunteer placement in the south of France because the house looked fabulous in the photos, the reviews of the experience by other volunteers were positive, the hosts are my age (in fact older) and I wanted to spend some time in the south of France. I somehow failed to fully register that since the hosts were Scottish, I would not get to practice the French I’d worked on so hard in Paris. I knew I’d be doing manual labour, but rather imagined it would not be too demanding. I think I forgot that Scottish people like to get their money’s worth…


Canal du midi (all photos this post taken on my walks)

A young Francophone couple from Montreal also volunteered for the 2 weeks I was here. They are travelling for a year and a bit, doing a number of ‘workaway’ gigs. I enjoyed their company very much – and we were, at least initially, in agreement that despite the gorgeous surroundings, this volunteer placement was a tad disappointing. Largely because the hosts expected too much of us (or so we thought, no doubt the hosts had a different perspective!)

Our hosts met in Glasgow later in life. They moved to the south of France fairly soon thereafter – about 15 years ago. Both work very hard: she gardens all day long, he works both on the house and in his study. So it’s not like they sat back, lord and lady of the manor style, and watched us work. In all fairness, they stipulated in their posting that volunteers were expected to work 5 days a week, 5 hours a day. Upon arrival they told my young friends that in addition to the 5 hours, we were to help make and clean up after meals – which added at least 2 more hours per day.

The first day the three of us went to an utterly disused but quite massive attic to clear it out of bricks, junk, mostly dirt. The windowless, airless space instantly became so full of dust that I was soon coughing uncontrollably – despite wearing the mask which the young folk had insisted the hosts provide (the young lady has worked in health and safety). Once we bagged the debris, we had to carry the bags down what amounted to 5 flights of stairs. The sun shone outside… we felt rather murderous inside.

IMG_1582I bailed on the project after a couple of hours and was sent to work in the garden, which was much better. The kids spent most of the two weeks up there, although once the debris had been cleared out, the work became less unpleasant, I think. We’d work from 9:30 to 1:30, then help with the large midday meal (served at 2:00 on the dot), and then were expected to go back to work for another hour at 3:00 – basically working all day.

Our lady host complained about how much the young man ate. He complained of being constantly hungry. Both were right: he did eat a lot, but she did not serve lavish portions – and he was working very hard. We ate a light supper at 8:00, accompanied by very nice wines. As time passed, we all consumed more and more of it – and the evenings became jolly. I grew quite fond of the hosts and the place – but I am certainly ready to leave now the 2 weeks have ended.


I learned a number of lessons.

Physical labour is not my thing – nor a particularly good use of my talents. The jobs I did included gardening, housecleaning, washing windows, digging up piles of pebbles, cleaning them and carting them to a new location. The work made me tired and grumpy. This was not, of course, the hosts’ fault – obviously they wanted workers to help with house and garden projects. I knew this was an experiment; it is not one I will repeat (although in the end I decided not to work so hard as to become bad-tempered, and that made things more manageable). I might take another workaway posting, but would be more selective about the kind of work required – and maybe a little less easily seduced by location!

Those of you who know me will be astonished to learn that I also do not like being in a subservient position. I found myself irritated by having no say in menus or meal times. Both the hosts were good cooks, though the suppers were a tad dull (variations on salad, bread and cheese every night). But I realized how much I enjoy cooking and planning meals and having some flexibility about what and where I eat. They have a gorgeous outdoor patio but never ate there. When they went away for a few days, we three volunteers ate lunch outside every day, at a slightly earlier hour.

I guess I had imagined we would all work collaboratively – on the projects and on meals. We did work together preparing and cleaning up meals, but always under direction, direction I did not always agree with!

However as time passed the hosts relaxed – almost as though they felt they had to start very tough in case we were lazy buggers, and once they realized we weren’t trying to duck out of work (or at the least the young ‘uns weren’t), they eased up.

So although I did not love the work and got rather annoyed with the set-up at times, in the end it was a stunning location, the weather turned beautiful and I continued to enjoy fantastic long walks along the canal in the late afternoon.


I also got to know some people I would never otherwise have encountered and obtained some fascinating insights into their lives … more on that next post!