The ups and downs of travel

Trip Start Feb 02, 2010
Trip End Feb 02, 2011

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Flag of Austria  , Styria,
Thursday, September 2, 2010

Finally September! We are getting somewhere now! So I thought it was time for a quick update as to what we have been up to for the last week and a half. And I might actually get to upload this one the day I write it, rather then many weeks later...or I might not.Well we did arrive safe and sound in Sankt Marein, two Saturdays ago now. Ernstl and Gitta were still in Italy when we arrived but their daughter Kathi was home and welcomed us. That evening we went up the hill a little to visit Eric, Monica and their extremely excitable dog, who coincidentally shares the same name as our Ural - Nina, where we had a really nice evening sitting on the balcony sampling some Polish beer and a local wine, humorously named ‘Wild Erotic.’

The next morning - Sunday, Felix and I put our ‘Its about time we got some ‘exercise’ plan into action and went for a run. Felix, still lean as ever trotted along all cool and collected. For me it was a different story. I had to heave along all the extra flubber I’ve been collecting, wasted muscle, birth control pill inflated breasts and my hair along behind. For someone who not that long ago was swimming a few kilometres most days and working a fairly physical job, I have fallen a very, very, very long way behind my game. I barely managed a kilometre before I had to walk. I can’t believe how unfit I have become, I didn’t want to admit it because it’s so embarrassing but it’s the truth. Thankfully after a week and a half I have noticeably improved. For Felix, it’s just a walk in the park. Other notable events from the last week have been few and far between but never the less there have been a few. We had a really lovely warm day around midweek so Felix and I took the opportunity to visit the local outdoor pool, the big water slide is visible from the house and since I first saw it back in March, the first time we were here I have been looking forward to visiting the pool. My years of swimming always draw me to a pool like a moth to light. The Sankt Marein outdoor pool is not ideal for those planning to swim laps but as a beautiful place to cool off, relax and swim around a little it is perfect. It’s really great. It is a naturally filtered pool, water plants growing all around the edge keep the water clean without the need to use chemicals, the bottom is made of small pebbles, the sides are made from bigger rock, there is a pebble beach and a sand beach for little children, plenty of grass to sit on and a lovely big deck of you prefer that to grass. And the best bit - a big water slide. Felix and I went down the water slide about twenty times, it was so fun - I might have even smiled. We didn’t stay as long as I would have liked, we got really hungry, but we, well at least I did and I’m pretty sure Felix did too, had a really nice afternoon there. Sadly it closed for winter yesterday so we can’t visit again.

I think it was about Thursday when Felix and I took a little ride to register with WWOOF Austria. WWOOFing is something all over the world, most countries have their own organisation. You register, pay a small fee and once you are registered you receive a ‘Farm List’. Then you choose a farm on the list, contact them and arrange a time when you can come and work on their farm in exchange for food and accommodation. If your interested in doing the normal city to city hostel hopping thing then WWOOFing isn’t for you but I you have an interest in farming, sustainable living, love working in the garden or with animals, preserving food and whatever other farm chores may need doing then it is an amazing way to travel, learn and meet people. The lady we registered with was an absolute gem of a woman, I just wanted to give her a huge hug as we left. She started up Austria’s WWOOFing organisation completely off her own back and out of her own pocket. She showed us her garden and we had a lovely chat with her while we filled out the forms and she printed off the farm list.

As soon as we got home I was glued to the list. The excitement was sky high. I had marked so many farms on the list I wanted to visit, there were so many great places doing such an interesting variety of things. Working in vegetable gardens that completely support a family, milking cows and sheep, making butter, cheese and ice cream, caring for and riding horses, making pumpkin seed oil, bread, preserving the summer harvest, making fruit juice, schnapps and wines... So many great thing to do, there was even a farm that produces horse milk!So I was all pumped and ready to go until Felix and I started doing some research on the internet. A few days earlier I found five ticks on my body so we had started reading about the possibility becoming seriously ill from tick born diseases. One that is particularly frightening is Tick Born Encephalitis or TBE. TBE causes swelling of the fluid around your brain and is untreatable. So basically if you get it, all the doctors can do is hook you up to life support and see how you go. If you don’t die, (the mortality rate is said to be 1-2%25 depending on what website you visit) you end up with any degree of brain damage or you get a bit of a flu and everything is fine. Most Austrians are immunised against TBE and therefore are hardly concerned but Felix and I after reading the facts, statistics, and that Austria is considered endemic, are very concerned. Going out onto a farm, where ticks are everywhere doesn't sound like a very good idea. Felix could get immunised and be protected in one month but as I have already been bitten I can’t be immunised for another month, making it two until I’d be protected and by that time tick season will be over. As will the farming season. Sure there will still be animals to be tended to but my main interest - vegetable gardening - will be pretty home and hosed for the year. All this was a pretty major blow. Suddenly something I had been looking forward to with such anticipation and excitement seemed to be all over. I spent a whole day in bed completely shattered but after coming to my senses, I’ve realised it’s not as over as I first imagined.

Saturday we went again to Eric and Monica’s house, this time for dinner and to celebrate Gitta’s birthday. Eric cooked a great dinner - Coka Cola Chicken - yes thats right, it was a sort of chicken stew, cooked with a stock based on Coka Cola. You wouldn't guess by the taste so we just have to believe him - but whatever he did it was delicious. And for desert he had made these totally addictive chippy wafer things with pumpkin seeds, they were so good, he brought out a whole big bowl and everyone just sat there eating them non stop until the bowl was empty - every single crumb was eaten. Sunday we went to a VW Beetle and Puch rally. Gitta is the proud owner of a metallic silver-blue Beetle so we piled in and drove to the Tuscany of Styria where the rally was being held. We were among the first to arrive and joined the line of Beetles parked in the car park of an ‘Old Timer’ car museum. After looking around a little and a coffee we headed out for the ‘rally’ which I was very glad to hear was just a Sunday drive, I was very worried when I heard we were entered into a rally, I didn’t want to be in a car race or to see Gitta’s car get smashed up accidentally, especially while I was in it. So I was very happy to find out that in this context ‘rally’ just meant a little drive through the countryside.

Over one hundred old Beetles and Puch’s driving along at fifty kilometres an hour was very funny and a great novelty but I did start to feel very bad for anyone else wanting to use the road. I also got quite a headache from the fumes. So a good thing to have done once in my life but I’m in no hurry to do it again, second time round I think I’d be bored out of my brain. The rally stopped for refreshments at a little, rather fancy restaurant/pub/guesthouse overlooking forest, mountains and vineyards. We had an apple juice and moved on - neither Felix or I realised at the time but this place was just about to become more then just another pub to us. After our juice the rally continued back to where it had started. We had all put our names down in a competition where you had to guess the age of a car record player. Felix, by using his resources, managed to get the answer right and ended up with five others who also had the correct answer (one other was Ernstl) in a lucky dip to win one of three prizes. Names were drawn from a hat and very quickly six was down to three, with Felix and Ernstl still standing. Next Ernstl won third prize and seconds later second prize was taken leaving Felix as the winner! Felix had won a night in the Guesthouse we had just visited for two - and he said he will take me! Surprise surprise.

After some lunch we went into the museum which even I appreciated, my highlights being a lovely gangster looking, dark green Jaguar from around the late twenties to early thirties and an engine cut open so when you cranked a handle you could see the pistons and all moving around. Felix was totally enthralled by the whole place, I’m sure he could have easily spent days in there and true there was an amazing amount of stuff in that place, but his highlight was seeing a Wankel Rotary engine, also cut open to reveal the parts moving. It was excellently educational, for both of us, the whole place. After the museum we headed off to a little (well it wasn’t that little really) farm festival where we met Eric and Monica. Here we sampled apple juice, sturm, wine, beer, meat and bread from the farm. Musicians were playing the same song over and over and there was a lot of drunks swaying around and making a lot of noise. In my very tired state I quickly became very grumpy.

And I haven’t really gotten any less moody since that afternoon. It was the eventually-inevitable slip into a rather deep hole I have been trying desperately to stay away from for quite a while now. And now in the hole, who’s depth I’m not sure of, I have finally admitted to myself and Felix a lot of things I have been trying to deny. Now nobody fly into a flap, nothing is wrong between Felix and I, I’m talking about things that are going wrong with me. If you have read a few of the eighty three thousand words I’ve written so far you may have picked up on my generally dissatisfied, pessimistic and negative outlook. And I’m not sure how to put it into coherent sentences or words that will explain the last few days of deep thinking and emotional conversations.

The last seven months have been wonderful and a priceless experience but not as a blast, not ‘the time off my life,’ not the best thing ever, but as an experience where I have benefited and learned from dealing with the hardship of it, not the fantastic fun. Don’t get me wrong, it was wonderfully fun at times, we laughed a lot, we had mind-blowing experiences of kindness, hospitality and generosity, natural beauty, architectural beauty and have done things we could never have planned for. But between all that I have cried more in the last seven months then I have in my whole life and it has been a huge struggle (which is something I hate to admit but thats another story again...). There is (almost) nothing in this world I would trade this experience for, the truth is though, I don’t think I can do it for another five months. Constantly living from others’ pockets and trying to carefully step around their houses, wearing the same few ratty, worn out items of clothing everyday, not knowing where I’ll be sleeping, setting up and packing my bed all the time, living out of a bag and all of the million other little things that come with travelling that stress me out have really worn me down. I keep myself awake half the night thinking about having a place to call my home, a garden, a regular eating, sleeping, exercising and working pattern, having time to cook good food and know where to shop so I can buy as ethically as possible, doing little projects and spending time with friends and family. I want to understand what people are saying and be able to speak to the check-out chick in the supermarket.

Yes, I dream about going to work and the ‘normal’ life everyone wants a break from. Another thing I’ve had to admit to myself is that I just don’t like travelling. And I really feel like there is something wrong with me for this, everyone wants to travel, to have a holiday, so many people have said to me how they would love to take a year off to travel the world. I’m living the dream - just it’s not mine. This just isn’t for me. I like regularity, a pattern and knowing whats coming. I’m the kind of person who always reads the ending of a book and likes to hear the twist in the movie just so I’m prepared. I feel it’s time to come home, I want to, it’s all I think about but I have doubts about coming home. Even though I’m so sure it’s what I want now, will I have regrets - whether that be the day I hop on the plane or in five years? And then there is ‘Fear of missing out’ syndrome. I’m pretty worried something will happen here after I leave that will be super exciting and great. Like the most snow in fifty years or something, think of all the igloos, forts and secret tunnels I could build if there was a ripper snow season. Or sledding, I’d love to go sledding once again.

Also, once the excitement of being home again wears off in say, one or two weeks, maybe this idyllic picture I have in my head of what being home will be like will turn out to be not as great as I imagine it will. The novelty of work and a normal life might wear off pretty quickly. No actually, on that one I’m pretty sure if I can manage to get the right balance of work, rest and play I think I’ll be pretty right. So we might be home sooner then expected. And now to end on a more positive note. Felix and I (honestly, I promise I’ve been helping) spent the last fews days stripping the paint and rust off the sidecar boat in preparation for a new coat of paint. Someone along the line of previous owners has done a shockingly bad job of repainting her. It is extraordinary how low some peoples’ level of workmanship is. But after a few days of work she is looking much better and is almost ready for a new coat of paint.
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