Time passes très vite at the chateâu…. .

It’s always a risk going somewhere or doing something a second time if you’ve enjoyed your first experience of it.  There’s always the risk that the second time around doesn’t really match up to your expectations or what you were hoping for.  Some things are worth seeing or doing once but you wouldn’t necessarily want to do them again.   We’ve enjoyed all the Helpx’s we have done (some more than others) and they were all worth doing but there are just a few that we have ever considered going back to.  One of them was Donkey HQ in Portugal which we went back to in December last year and another was Chateau de Jalesnes where we are now.

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Helpxing with the donkey’s, Portugal 2018.

There have been rewards and frustrations with all the Helpx’s we have done so far.  I think we have stayed with seven different hosts and, other than Donkey HQ where we stayed two months, we have spent between three and four weeks at a time with a host.

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Helpxing on Jan and Dave’s smallholding in the UK, 2016.

Helpx involves staying with a host (generally a couple or a family) and doing, on average, four hours a day in exchange for accommodation and food.  The types of opportunities you can apply for range from helping out on farms, smallholdings, B&B’s, backpacker’s hostels, summer camps, language exchanges and the like.  They all vary and what the host expect varies as well although they are all supposed to follow the guidelines outlined on the Helpx website.

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The Dairy Farm, Germany 2017.

Generally you live with the host in their home although some hosts provide separate accommodation.  As you can imagine living with other people in their home can be challenging sometimes especially when you are on the mature side like us!  Despite the challenges though we’ve always laughed our way through them and we would still say that all the Helpx opportunities we have done have been worth doing, we’ve learnt loads and we’ve been able to have a go at things that we would never be employed to do without some experience.  I mean no-one was ever going to pay us to be let loose with forty four alpacas without some sort of certificate in Alpaca care were they?

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The Alpacas, Germany 2017.

So, after that rambling introduction, was coming back to Chateau de Jalesnes a second time and committing to staying nearly four week’s worth it?  Absolutely.  I think we can say we have enjoyed our time here more the second time around.  The balance between work and free time has been spot on.

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Free time for a bit of relaxation.

After the wedding the first weekend we were here, when it was all a bit manic, things quietened down considerably as the season came to a close.  The guests have been few but there is still work to be done but it’s not been all go at the chateau.  I mean, it’s not a holiday, you do have to work every day but our hosts, Jenny and David, are exceptional and have just left us to get on with things at our own pace.

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Alex, our Brazilian helper mowing in the rain with great panache.

There’s always something to do either inside or outside. After the wedding guests had left all the beds needed making.  Fortunately, there are a couple of ladies who come in to clean the apartments after an event so we just needed to make the beds.  It was a lot of beds but we had quite a good system going and managed pretty well.

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Who would have thought Tim would be making beds?

Thank the Lord for fitted sheets and whoever invented duvets with slits in the top corners to yank the top of the duvet through is a genius.

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Ta Dah!

We’ve had plenty of free time to ‘do our own thing’ and have had access to the chateau car for trips out.

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Saumur chateau.

I have to confess we’ve not been out a great deal as generally the weather has been poor but also we have been happy to potter about with our own interests during our free time.

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Cafe culture was more enticing than Saumur chateau though.

We’ve frequented one of the local bars in the village a couple of times and were made to feel really welcome.

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When in France…………..
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Challenging the locals to a game of darts.

Tim went along to a local band a couple of times and was made to feel really welcome and I think they were a bit disappointed he wasn’t in the area longer.  I’m not sure Tim was too disappointed though!

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The local band.

We’ve been invited at least twice a week to eat with Jenny and David, our hosts, and Tim has been able to play at a couple of them.

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An evening with our hosts.
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An impromtu ‘Summertime’ from the brides Mum on the last night they were at the chateau.
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Not a bad view.

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Homemade Lamingtons – an Austalian sponge cake rolled in chocolate and coconut.
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A fish and chip night at an English owned bar at one of the nearby villages.

It suits us here as the volunteers are housed in an outbuilding in the garden of the chateau which is affectionately known as the ‘Hi-De-Hi’.

img_20191008_185309960_hdr Anyone middle aged living in the UK will understand why.

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The Hi-De-Hi cast from the 1980’s comedy series.

We’ve shared the Hi-De-Hi with Alex from Brazil and Jigmy from the U.S. who have both been considerate house mates.

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Alex just before he left with his homemade bag made from rope and clingfilm!
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Jigmy.

We are given a weekly allowance each to buy food at the local supermarket and we can just shop for whatever we want and put it on the Chateau tab.

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Tim. Super U. 2019
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Tim. The same Super U. 2016!

We all shopped separately and cooked for ourselves which suited me as on other Helpx’s I’ve ended up doing a fair amount of cooking which takes quite a lot of time and can be a bit tedious if all I really wanted was a sandwich.

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A baguette and cheese does us for lunch.

All the people who had worked at the chateau throughout the season were invited to a lunch as a thank you for all their hard work.

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Retrieving the chairs from a cave in the moat.

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Jenny supervising the caterers!
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The big clean up after.
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Pretty in pink.

The Hi-De-Hi was in need of a freshen up so we were tasked with doing just that.  Now, decorating wouldn’t normally be my kind of fun activity but as the weather had been pretty grim since the wedding guests had left I was quite happy to have an indoor project that would keep us going for several days.

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Painting the Hi-De-Hi.

We’ve managed to get the walls and ceilings done in the three bedrooms, the living room, kitchen and bathroom and we’ll leave all the window frames and doors to the next Helpxer’s.

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Voila!
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Room with a view.

So our time here Helpxing at Chateau de Jalesnes has come to an end and it’s time to hit the road again.

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We hadn’t realised there was a donkey at the neighbours next door until a couple of days ago.  Doh!

Thank you to Jenny and David for hosting us again and being such great hosts.  We’ve been here almost four weeks and it really only feels like two but we’re ready for the next chapter in our travels.

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Au revoir.

We’ve decided not to dilly dally in France for too long so we are heading  towards San Sebastian in Northern Spain as it feels like time for a new country and culture.  We spent a few days in San Sebastian about the same time last year but it had turned really really really cold so we’re hoping this time we can experience it with a bit of sunshine and warmth.

Here’s hoping.

À bientôt!

Escape to the Château… .

So, we’ve been in France more than a week already.  The time has shot past.  We love France as it is sooooo motorhome friendly.  We had a couple of days of relaxation before we were due to arrive at our next Helpx.  We headed straight for the Pays de la Loire region as that is the area we’ll be volunteering in until the middle of October.  We parked up in a little aire just a stones throw from the river Mayenne in the little village of Grez-Neuville just twenty kilometres north west of Angers.

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A free aire by the river in Grez-Neuville.

The aire was free, the sun was out and with a cycle path along the river in either direction it was the perfect place to wind down after our few months working at the campsite.

 

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View round the corner from the aire.

We have visited the  Pays de la Loire region several times over the years and really like it.  Away from the cities it’s a tranquil place to be.

 

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Grez-Neuville.

We took a leisurely bike ride north along the river in the direction of Château-Gontier.

 

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Bikes are well catered for.  There were even charging points for electric bikes.

Within minutes of starting our cycle we were waylaid by these guys.

 

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http://www.savonnerie-lait-anesse.fr

Oh, how happy was I to get some hands on donkey time again.  There must have been about twenty or so of them.  The couple that own them make and sell soaps, shampoo and cremes from the milk of the donkeys.

 

IMG_20190917_113618957_HDR.jpgWe first came across this breed of donkey, les baudet du Poitou, when we were visiting the Ile de Ré in 2016.  They are an endangered breed and the couple, when they created their business, chose the Piotou to help to save the breed.

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Modern France today…….a machine replaces the boulangerie:(

Anyway, as the title of this blog post hints at we are back at Chateau de Jalesnes for a few weeks.

 

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Château de Jalesnes.

 

Some of the long term readers may remember we spent a few weeks here in May 2016.  It was the second Helpx of our trip and we’ve been meaning to come back again but have never quite fitted it in.  Well, now we are back and we are really pleased to be here.  It’s like we have never been away.

 

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The view out back!

There have been some further improvements and the chateau now has about seventeen apartments and is becoming established as a popular wedding venue.  A couple of years ago it was featured on the Channel 4 series ‘Escape to the Chateau’.

 

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It was wedding fever over the weekend.

We were fortunate to be a part of the last wedding of this season over the weekend.  An English couple commandeered the whole chateau for the weekend with just over one hundred guests.

 

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All my own work!

The chateau can accommodate fifty or so guests so some were staying in the local area.  It was a lot of work.

 

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The tables only took about five hours to set up.

Rooms to prepare, lawns to mow, bars to be set up, chairs and tables to be put out blah blah blah.

 

 

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The jumbo bath with a view in the Clock Tower.

Alex (a helper from Brazil) and Tim manned the bar on Friday and Saturday night.

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It’s the first time Tim has ever done barwork!

Everything went according to plan and it was great to be involved.  A three minute deluge of rain in between the cheeses and the dessert where everyone got soaked didn’t seem to matter and I expect everyone will remember it for a long time to come!

 

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Here comes the bride.

We finally got into bed at 4.00am on the Saturday night.  It’s the latest I’d been to bed in a couple of decades that’s for sure!

À bientôt!

 

 

 

Week three with the donkeeees…. .

Time is running away with us here at Donkey HQ.  I can’t quite believe it’s been three weeks since we arrived.  It feels like only yesterday. And Christmas is now upon us.

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This way to the donkeys……..

We’ve had another action packed week.  Well, as action packed as it gets for us!

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Mel and Mina…….I think!

Music has featured again with a trip last weekend to see a saxophone player at Moagems, a funky café in Aljezur.

P1140795 (1).JPGWe were left home alone with Kerstin, our roomie and fellow volunteer, to look after the donkeys whilst Sophia took a road trip with a friend for a week accompanied by two of her long eared companions, Kiko and Xico.

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Xico gets loaded up for his roadtrip.

We waved them off but met them the following day to hand over Florin, Sofia’s dog.

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Sofia,Carla, Xixo and Kiko ready for the off.

Florin loves to trek with the donkeys but he couldn’t stay at their planned overnight accommodation for the first night.  He really wasn’t impressed he’d been left behind and had to be put inside for the afternoon lest he followed in the donkey’s hoof steps.

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Florin not impessed he can’t go too.

We took a quick side trip to Odeceixe beach for a spot of yoga and a swim before meeting up with the donkeys.

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Odeceixe beach.
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Beach yoga.

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Florin joins day 2 of the trek.

Meanwhile back at the ranch I tried my hand at some clay modelling on Mimi’s legs.  Mimi is a natural victim.  The other donkeys don’t like her and can be mean to her, the dog sometimes snaps at her legs and even the wasps and flies have a good old go at her legs causing open sores.  To combat this she has clay slathered over her lower legs to try to stop the flies getting at them.

P1140842.JPGIt seems to do the trick.

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Tada……….the latest in donkey fashion.

Even though Mimi seems to be a natural victim in the animal world she most certainly isn’t when it comes to people.  You have to watch her.  Give her an inch and she’ll take a mile.  And she can move when she wants to.  Despite the ungainly look of her she’s quick and you do have to keep one step ahead of her.  She’s so friendly and cheeky that you can’t help but love her though.  We’ve taken her for a walk a few times and once she’s stopped looking for Romano and gets into her stride she’s a pleasure to take out.

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Jeko and Mimi……….don’t be fooled they’re not friends.  

Meanwhile away from donkey care we’ve discovered the woodburner has space in the top to cook a few baked potatoes.

P1140850.JPGIt’s a real treat having a woodburner here and we love our evenings by the fire.  All the other rooms are freezing mind!

Kerstin flew back to Germany to spend Christmas with her family so we couldn’t let her go without cooking a traditional English meal for her.  Toad in the hole, mash and onion gravy washed down with a bottle of Prosecco. Pastel de natas followed accompanied by homemade Medronho schnapps.  Perfecto!

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Kerstin’s last evening before flying back to zero degrees in Berlin!

Christmas is much more low key here than in the UK but there are signs around the town that it is alive and well.

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All made out of recycled materials.
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More music at Moagems.  It was billed as Fado with a difference.  Absolutely brilliant it was too.

It must be Christmas.  We had a surprise present tied to our front door earlier by our friends who are staying at the campsite outside Aljezur.  Thanks Di and Chris 🙂 Proper job!

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Ingenious wrapping paper.

Tim is playing some Christmas music on his clarinet in the room next door whilst I write this.  So, I guess it’s time then for a bit of mulled wine and to say thank you to all of you who read this blog.  We wish you all a very Happy Festive Season wherever you are.

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More news from Donkey HQ next week.

Saùde!

Feliz Natal e Feliz Ano Novo!

Week two at Donkey HQ…. .

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Watch out………watch out………donkey’s about!

So, it’s now two weeks into our little sojourn at Donkey HQ and we have well and truly settled into the rhythm of life here.  Aside from the morning and evening feeding, grooming and mucking out of the donkeys we’ve had an interesting and varied week.

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Eight donkeys waiting for their breakfast!

We celebrated Kerstin’s birthday last Sunday with a cycle into town for some lunch followed in the evening by some ouzo we’d brought back from Greece last year and Kerstin’s homemade quince crumble with a carton of Ambrosia custard we’d had kicking about in the van for several months.

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Kerstin’s birthday lunch.
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Ouzo O’clock!  Egészségére! (Hungarian for cheers – Kerstin has been teaching me a bit of Hungarian as well as her native German).

The following day we took a walk up to see how the vacation donkeys were getting on with their temporary families.  Flor and Luna were saddled up to take the young children for a spin around the outside of the enclosure.

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Flor and Luna saddled up ready for a walk.

Not wanting to be left out the other donkeys followed us along the inside of the fence.  All was going well until Olivia decided to vault the fence to join us.  If there is going to be any trouble you could put money on Olivia being in the centre of it.  She’s a bit flighty and none too bright.  She’s intellectually challenged shall we say and always acts before putting her very modest little brain into gear.  After untangling her from the fence she joined our little party looking very pleased with herself indeed.  She raced up and down, backwards and forwards like a dog.

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A few seconds later Olivia jumped the fence (she is the dark brown one).

If donkey show jumping was ‘a thing’ in Portugal then Sofia should sign Olivia up.

P1140735.JPGAll of Sofia’s donkeys are a range of ages but she has four (Romano, Jeko, Mokka and Margarida) who are known collectively as ‘the oldies’.  From time to time as a change of scene for them we can take two or three of them down to a large area of grazing in the valley a twenty minute walk away.  I call it Donkey Day Care.

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Romano ad Mokka going to ‘Donkey Day Care’.

It also gives Romano a break from Mimi.  Mimi is like an annoying younger sister to Romano.  She follows him everywhere and she hee-haws if she is separated from him.

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As the song goes………Me and my shaaaaadow.  Or it should it be Mimi and my shaaaaadow?!

She has been here for over a year but the other donkeys can be mean to her so she sticks like glue to Romano as he is the only one who seems to have any time for her.  Mimi is rapidly becoming one of my favourites.  She’s super friendly but with a really cheeky naughty streak.  I’m pretty sure it was Mimi who dragged my jacket off the side and trailed it around the floor of the stable last week.

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Mugshot of Mimi.

It’s also been a musical week this week.  Tim was invited to play with a friend of Sofia’s who has a small group and who had been booked to play at the Christmas Market in Aljezur at the end of the week.

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Romano and Mokka come back from Donkey Day care whilst Tim waits for a lift to his music practice.

And we were invited to a choir practice.  Now I’m no singer but thought I’d give it a go.  Tim came along as well.  It was all very civilised with wine and nibbles on arrival.  On hindsight we could see why the wine was a necessary part of the evening.  Making numerous bizarre animal noises all featured as part of the warm up exercises.  Had it been a team building event in a work situation Tim and I would have been heading straight for the door whilst muttering several expletives.  The wine did the trick though and we barked, mooed, meowed and oinked along with everybody else as if it was a perfectly natural thing to do.  We were even disappointed that the next practice won’t be until the New Year.

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Nice Hat!

Since meeting the inspiring Colfer family a few weeks ago and reacquainting myself with wild swimming I’m going for a dip whenever I can.  There’s a small lake a five minute walk away in the valley where I have braved the cold water most days. It’s cold enough to give me ‘ice-cream neck’ (the same as ice-cream head but there’s no way I’m going to put my head under as well).

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Breathtakingly cold!
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Tim checks the back of his eyes whilst I go for a swim.

On our day off we took a trip on the bikes to Amoreira beach.

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Amoreira beach.

We had the whole beach to ourselves so I didn’t feel too stupid trying out some yoga before a swim in the estuary.

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Yogi in training.
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Much warmer in the estuary than the lake.

The yoga and the swim was followed by guilt free toasted sandwiches and chips at a cafe in Aljezur.

P1140764.JPGMore music ensued on Thursday with a lunch for all the people who live locally and have helped with the donkeys this year.  It was like a garden party in the sunshine but without the dressing up bit.

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Lunch for all the donkey helpers.

Then the finale of the week was the Christmas Market in Aljezur.  Our friends Di and Chris who are doing a multiple month trip of France, Spain and Portugal arrived this week and we met them at the market for a catch up over a mug of Gluhwein.

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Christina and her band at Aljezur market.

Perfecto!

More next week.

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Tenha um bom dia!

Helpx Number 8….. .

Our lazy days trundling through Brittany came to an end a couple of weeks ago as we were booked in for our 8th Helpx in the Poitou-Charente region of France.  This was a return visit to a Ralph and Sue who have 10-12 acres of land, a horse, two donkeys and two pigs to look after as well as running a small kennels and cattery.  We last visited over two years ago and we were looking forward to going back to a familiar area and getting stuck in to a bit of physical work after an idle couple of weeks.  The pounds had been piling on and we were in need of shifting them. Sue had also booked Tim in to play at two bars during our two week stay which he was also really looking forward to.

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A gig for Tim in a bar at Finioux with an equal mix of French and English customers.

After getting acquainted once again with our hosts and what was expected of us we set to work.  The main areas of work they needed help with were clearing some areas of two of the fields which have become overgrown with bramble and bracken, moving about a thousand roof tiles to another property a few miles away and general tidying up in the garden behind the house. They’d also had a number of trees felled a while ago which needed cutting up into smaller manageable chunks to be used for firewood.  The only problem was that they were all buried under overgrown bracken which needed to be cleared first before we could get to them.

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Clearing an area of one of the fields accompanied by the donkeys Cafe and Chocolat.

We worked our way through the roof tiles in the mornings and cleared a bit of land in the fields for an hour or two in the afternoon.  The weather couldn’t have been better with clear sunny skies and temperatures in the low twenties.

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Unfortunately the little tractor is not man enough for the bracken.

By the fourth day the tiles had all been moved so we made a start on the felled trees.  Things were going reasonably well with Tim and I using the petrol hedge trimmer to cut the bracken and raking it all out of the way of the trees whilst Ralph used the chainsaw to cut up the wood.   So far so good.  But then the pig’s got a bit too close for comfort.

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Nosey pigs.

We met the pigs on our last visit when they were but tiny wee things.  They were bought not to be eaten but to act as eco friendly lawnmowers for the bracken that was getting out of hand on the land.  Their job would be to trample the bracken, eat the young fronds and plough up the land making it difficult for the bracken to flourish.  Unfortunately it seems that the pigs have trampled, rotovated, ploughed and eaten everything else but the bracken so they haven’t really fulfilled their job.

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The pigs on our frst visit over two years ago.

Once they got bigger and outgrew their small enclosure they were given free access to two very large fields.  The two very large fields we happened to be working in.  Oh, they have had a whale of a time making it their own.  Numerous pig pits and dens have appeared where they like to sleep and the ground has been trampled and turned over by their two snouts   They are friendly beasts and being the nosey creatures that they are couldn’t help but stick their snouts into what was going on.

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They’re a bit bigger now.

By the fourth day of us clearing various areas they seemed a bit put out that: a) they’d been woken up early by the buzzing of a chainsaw and a hedge trimmer and b) that people were muscling in on their space.  I mean it’s not like they only have a small area to call their own as they are free to roam across ten acres of land and with all that space you’d think they’d be a bit more charitable with letting us work in a small area for couple of hours or so to cut down some bracken and chop up and clear a few logs but no they were having none of it.  The pig’s said ‘NON’ with a capital ‘N’ and believe me it’s a bit disconcerting when a 200kg mardy pig comes up behind you whilst you’re trying to work with power tools.  It was an accident waiting to happen so in the end the pigs stopped play.  That particular job will have to wait for another day when they are in a more cooperative mood.  Like when they are in the freezer.  Alas, after two and a half years of a charmed life they have now become a liability.  After a recent spate of escapes by them the necessary decision has been made that they have to go and it’s going to be a one way trip.  They are, in the next couple of weeks, destined for the freezer.

P1130659.JPGSo with the field work put on hold until after the pigs have departed we spent a few days instead tackling the overgrown bramble in two areas of the garden at the back of the house.

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Gig number two at a fish and chip night in another village.
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A little taste of home!

Working outside clearing land (hard work though it is) under sunny skies is one of the things we have most enjoyed about our new life but it does come with a caveat.  We wouldn’t want to have the responsibility of owning and caring for any land ourselves.  Looking after land takes a lot of work and it’s not for the faint hearted.  There is always something to do and it just keeps on growing (why not state the obvious Jane).  Returning here after more than a two year gap just reinforced that for us.  Like all these things we like the idea of living something like the ‘Good Life’ but the reality is a different story.

After a couple of weeks of clearing land we are more than happy to down tools and say ‘Au revoir’ to it all.

À tout à l’heure!

Reflections on twenty one and a bit months on the road…. .

We are over twenty one months into our life changing decision to give up our jobs, rent out our house and travel around Europe in our motorhome.  It may seem a bit odd to be writing a blog post about our reflections at this stage in our journey as twenty one months isn’t one of those milestone figures.  Six months, twelve months, eighteen months, two years, five years, yes.  Twenty one months, well, no.  The truth is that I had planned to do updates every six months or so but I simply didn’t get around to it.  Better late than never as they say.  So, I thought I’d give you those reflections today.  Just because.

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Our journey so far (except Ireland and Holland which we visited before this trip).

Twenty one and a bit months is a long time and yet it seems that it has passed by in no time at all.  Time seems to speed up as we get older making me realise that we only have just the one chance at life.  Over the last few years during what I like to call as my ‘mid life crisis phase’ I’ve read several books on such things as mindfulness, simplicity, happiness and the like.  My twenty or even thirty something self would have scoffed at such a reading choice but as I’ve got older and (hopefully) wiser it’s dawned on me that life is short and we need to try to make the most of it.  I read Gretchin Rubin’s book ‘The Happiness Project’ late last year (downloaded from the library when I wasn’t even in the UK…just another bonus of living in the digital age) and a quote that she uses over and over ad nauseum, but which is so true is  ‘The days are long, but the years are short’.  Life passes you by if you let it.  We are trying to not let that happen.

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We haven’t quite reached Hollywood yet………….but you never know.

Living in and travelling in a small space no bigger than a single garage with one’s spouse would maybe seem like hell on wheels to some but we muddle along just fine.  We’ve had a lot of time to perfect our routines now and can go through them practically blindfolded without getting in each others way.  It also helps that we are both a bit slimmer now and find it somewhat easier to squeeze through small gaps!  In terms of the stuff we carry in the van I think we’ve probably got it about right now after our final purge of clothes, shoes and bits and bobs almost a year ago.  Everything has its own place and can be got at without too much rummaging.  On the who does what front I have my jobs and Tim has his.  It’s best to keep it that way.  When we don’t stick to our allotted tasks the outcome is never a good one.  Twice recently we have driven off leaving the water cap behind after I have replenished the van with fresh water.  It’s not normally my job so how can I be expected to remember something difficult like that?  Equally, I’ve learnt that watching Tim struggle to change the duvet cover is really not good for my mental health.  Repressing the urge to snatch it off him saying ‘oh just give it to me’ is just too much.  Getting into bed with the innards of the duvet scrunched up and doubled over and not reaching each corner of the cover can make me feel a bit, well, murderous.  Therefore, even though our jobs are a bit genderist (is that a word?) we know what we are good at and we generally stick to that.

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Things don’t always go to plan – getting stuck on our first Helpx in the UK.

We’ve truly settled in now to a life on the road and enjoy the freedom of having no rigid plans.  Occasionally we think it might be nice to be back in a house with more room to stretch out a bit, be a part of a community and see friends and family more but the financial benefits of renting our house out far outweigh those feelings at the moment.  Maybe in time we’ll feel differently but we’ve no plans, as yet, to return to a more conventional life.

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Getting to grips with mountain passes.

When we left the UK again to start our second year of travels I did feel a bit overwhelmed and unsettled for a while.  For our second year we’d planned to travel further and all the countries were new to us.  I just didn’t know where to start in planning a route.  After struggling for several weeks to get to grips with it all I decided to change my mindset.  I told myself to just deal with where we’d go the following day and leave it at that.  That change of mindset has definitely made a big difference.  It’s got us as far as Greece anyway. My little brain can’t cope with too much information at once so I try not to over stress it!

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It wasn’t so bad planning a route across Luxembourg!

The minor niggles we’ve had with the van such as the recent demise of our water pump have been just that, minor niggles which, although inconvenient, aren’t enough to send us into a downward spiral of ‘woe is me’.  Tim, if he’s honest, has quite enjoyed flexing his practical skills from time to time and has felt satisfied at tackling repair jobs that we would have previously left to a garage to sort out.  Fortunately we haven’t had anything fail that has needed us to leave the van with a repairer for more than one day thus we haven’t, as yet, faced the dilemma of ‘where do we live’ whilst it’s sorted out.  Oh we know that will happen at some point but we’ll no doubt find a solution if we need to.  We have, though, spent more in repairs in the last two years than I think we had in the first six years that we owned the van. Living in it all the time does take its toll and it has come as no surprise to us that certain things are at about their life span and will fail at some point.  Modern appliances and gadgets just aren’t made to last in this day and age.  The one thing that has been fine has been the fridge which seems to be the bane of the motorhomers life if speaking to other people is anything to go by.  Of course the fridge will be on death row tomorrow after having now written that.

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Resealing the kitchen window near Thessaloniki, Greece.  Tim didn’t tackle this one but may take it on next time it happens.

Nothing much has changed on the internet side of things.  At the six month stage in our travels we’d (that’ll be me) just about learned to live without unlimited internet access………..and I’m still learning.  We still generally try to find wifi when we can but we have relaxed a bit on using our mifi in the van and now that we are able to buy data cards loaded with up to 12G of data that are valid for twelve months it has made life a bit easier.  I still update the blog using wifi as my pictures take up so much data (I am compressing them now via Google, which also takes up lots of data, as they were taking up way too much space on the blog too).  In terms of getting a signal on our mifi the only times it has let us down has been when we really needed it!  Like when I hadn’t written down the address of a Helpx we were going to and on the morning we were due to arrive there we had no signal so weren’t able to look it up and ended up driving around for an hour or so trying to get a signal.  Something we could have done without but if I’d been a little more organised and written it down in advance it wouldn’t have been a problem.  Note to self: the internet is an excellent tool but don’t completely rely on it.

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Too much time spent glued to a screen and you miss days like these.

We’ve done seven weeks on two different Helpx’s this year, both in Germany – one a Dairy Farm and the other an Alpaca Farm.  The two experiences were very different and we enjoyed them both.  Having the opportunity to learn about and work with different people and animals has been one of the highlights of our travels.  It’s fair to say though that volunteering in this way doesn’t come without some frustrations.  The two Helpx’s we did this year we found a little trying at times mainly because we didn’t have the autonomy we would have liked and the number of hours we worked did push the boundaries of the ethos of what Helpx is all about.  Every opportunity we have done has been different though and it hasn’t put us off doing some more in the future but we’ll just try to be a little clearer with our hosts about expected working hours when we apply.

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A wonderful experience to wake up to a new born Alpaca on our seventh Helpx.

One thing I haven’t mentioned on the blog so far is whether either of us has missed conventional work.  The answer to that question for both of us would be ‘NO’.  Tim has settled into this early retirement thing with aplomb and doesn’t miss his previous job and doesn’t think about it at all.  In his words ‘not one bit’.  I haven’t missed working for an employer at all but do sometimes think about what my purpose in life is and feel a little guilty about bumming around Europe with no set plans.  I’ve learnt to deal with it though!  We are never bored and it never ceases to astonish us that time just seems to vanish when living a life on the move.  We try to get into a good routine balancing our time between reading, our own projects, exercise, sightseeing and general everyday stuff like laundry, shopping and driving.  When on an extended tour like this sightseeing everyday quickly becomes a going through the motions affair and isn’t sustainable.  Less is more as they say.

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Oh yes, Tim’s settled into pensioner life like a pro!

I do find it a constant battle trying to live in the moment and try to stop myself thinking too far into the future.  I’ve said it before that the truth is we just don’t know what our future is going to look like and I’ve found that constantly thinking about it detracts from what we are doing in the here and now.  But it’s a hard habit to break as that has been my default thought process for such a long time.  I mean, all we need to do really is check in with each other every so often on whether we are still content to continue this vagabond life and whether either of us has had some revelation about what they want in the future.  Surely that can’t be too hard?  We are fortunate and grateful that we do have choices though.  I really need to get over myself, lighten up and enjoy the present moment more.  It’s a work in progress!  Tim doesn’t seem to have any problems living in the present which is probably why he is a happy bunny 99.9% of the time.

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Tim in contemplative mood.

The other thing that has changed since the last time I reflected on our travels is that we no longer have our stuff stored in a container.  When we left on our journey in April 2016 we’d held onto a large part of our possessions.  Even though in the run up to our departure we’d purged more than half of them we still had a container full of stuff.  On returning to the UK in April 2017 we made the decision to give it all away to a charity so we no longer had the associated costs of storing it all.  It wasn’t the easiest decision we’ve made and I did spend time afterwards wondering if we’d made the right decision.  For a time, I felt like the security rug had been whipped out from under me.  I felt, oh I don’t know, like I’d lost my connection to a home if that makes any sense.  That feeling has worn off and I feel differently about it now.  We have a clean slate without the mental drag of our stuff getting in the way of what decisions we make in the future.  If we decide to move back into a house then we are completely free to start afresh.  If we don’t then we no longer have to think about our stuff.  One thing is for sure though we definitely won’t be accumulating as much stuff again.

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The ‘stuff’ has gone.

Part of our decision to do this trip now, instead of waiting until we got to a traditional retirement age, was that we both still have the physical capacity to do the things we enjoy like walking and cycling.  And that is something that will change as we get older.  Another ten years sat behind a desk wasn’t going to improve our physical abilities.  After nearly two years away from an office environment we feel that way more than ever.  We are far more content, far more active and far more in control of our own destination (pun intended).  Obviously living this kind of lifestyle isn’t all hunky dory all of the time but then neither is life no matter what your status, financial position, family situation etc etc.  Things will go wrong or not quite as expected and acknowledging that makes it easier to deal with when it does happen.

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‘Le bump’ we had in France three months into our trip.  After having it repaired we’ve since damaged it again when parking up on a campsite!  Hey ho, c’est la vie.

To wrap up this rather rambling blog post then our travels so far have exceeded our expectations and we are thankful that we have had the opportunity to take the plunge to try a different kind of life at this stage in our lives.

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Sign at the campsite in Split, Croatia.
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Cheers!

For now, then, the journey continues:)

So long!

Meanwhile back at Alpaca HQ…. .

So, it’s been alpaca mania for the last three weeks with all forty two of them keeping us busy and entertained.  Making sure the alpaca family has enough pasture to sustain them is always a constant headache for Georg and Silke our hosts.   With increasing numbers year on year they are always on the look out for new fields.  Five alpacas will generally need at least an acre between them depending on the quality of the pasture.

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One of the group of twelve boys.

The four Lindforst Alpaca groups are currently rotated round eleven different pastures of varying sizes I think but with the extra little ones born this year they are in need of more.

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Hippi and the girls.

Georg breathed a sigh of relief after he had managed to secure a huge area of land owned by the church, with the bonus of a barn, which could be split into two different areas.  The plan was to move Sancho and his girls to the new area.  Excellent.  Slight problem though, it all needed to be fenced.  Aaaargh.  It was a bit of a beast of a job.  Old fence needed to be taken out and areas cleared and strimmed and the barn needed a good clean.  It took Tim and Georg over a week of furious work to complete the first area.

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Tadah……..the new fence.

Then it was just a case of moving Sancho and his nineteen girls to their new home………………..in the car……………………four or five at a time…………………trying to match up the right cria with the right mother (not easy)…………..with a few escaping (just as well they have a strong herding instinct)…………..much alpaca humming…………..and spitting………..oh yes………green spitting.    To be fair there was just one culprit doing the spitting, Philly.  Apparently she’s always like it.  Aymeric (French helper) suffered the worst of it.  Just as well he wears glasses.  I’m sure that green spit must burn one’s eyeballs!  Fortunately, once she was in the car she was like a little lamb and more interested in what was outside the window than with us.  It took three of us three hours to get the whole family moved and I’m not sure who was more relieved when it was done, us or the alpacas.

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There we go, plenty of room.

Three days later they escaped!  An early morning phonecall from a local farmer notified Georg that seventeen alpacas were loose.  After safely rounding up the seventeen escapees we found three were still in the field.  One had her head and leg stuck in the fence.  She must have thrashed about a bit trying to free herself causing a big gap in the fence for the others to make their escape. Livestock, they do keep you on your toes.  Since starting this Helpx lark we have rounded up pigs in France, donkeys in Portugal and cows and alpacas in Germany.

With the fence repaired and Sancho and his girls safely back behind it the second area needed to be fenced.  Fortunately for Tim two new helpers, Geuwen and Elyes, who had arrived the day before, were earmarked for that job.  We now know why farmers end up with hands the size of shovels as after several days of banging in fence posts and the like Tim’s hands were twice their normal size.  He was glad to have a break from it and busied himself instead with fixing things.  He had quite the little outside workshop set up.

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Tims outdoor workshop.

Over the last few weeks he’s pottered about happy as larry tinkering with things.  Silke did comment that it was the first time they’d had a helper who was able to fix things.  She said they normally break everything!

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The sack trucks are now in working order.

It’s been a lot of work here though with a thousand and one things to do.  The animals alone (ducks, geese, chickens, alpacas and dogs) take two people four to five hours of work a day sorting out their food, clearing the pens and pastures, topping up their water, replenishing their hay and driving to where they are.  Our time here has been full on with other tasks thrown into the mix beyond animal care and fencing (painting, strimming, clearing, weeding, digging, fixing, watering, cleaning, tidying, pruning, harvesting). Then after lunch more of the same!!

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Akira, therapy dog and all round good egg!

We’ve enjoyed all the tasks we’ve done though and I have especially loved looking after the alpacas, spending time with them everyday observing how they behave and enjoying their antics.

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Eena devil dog therapy dog in training at thirteen weeks old 🙂

Their fleeces are used to make socks, hats and duvets (alpaca fleece is not greasy like down so they are suitable for people with allergies) which our hosts sell at events, shows and on the internet.

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The ‘shop’ set up at the local ‘Herbfest’ in the village nearby.

Our time here, though, has come to an end and we are looking forward to pastures and countries new.  Thank you to Georg and Silke for hosting us and to all the other helpers who have been here at various times throughout our stay.  Our plan now is to leave Germany via Passau and go on into the Czech Republic.  From there we’ll travel through Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia to reach Croatia but, once again, time is running away with us and we need to get a move on if we are to chase the sun.

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L-R…Pirin, Anna, Georg, Amyeric, Elyes, Geuwen, Silke, Me, Tim.  

Auf Wiedersehen auf Deutschland!