My first work exchange experience – Tuscany

When I decided to start trav­el­ing and live like locals do, work exchange seemed like the per­fect match. Work away is a plat­form that reunites peo­ple who need vol­un­teers with vol­un­teers (details about it in my other post). The hosts give the vol­un­teer board and meals for free, while the vol­un­teer repays them by work­ing a few hours a day, with free week­ends. Nice, right? In this case, it is not too good to be true. It is true. So I said to myself:

If I do this, I ‘ll do it in style. I will choose a dream place.

How I did it

YS3A1571So, I click on the web­site, make an account, pay…..and think where do I want to go? Well, Tus­cany is the first thing that comes into my mind, so I search hosts there. I find this olive trees farm, close to the sea and apply. The host replies right away, we exchange a few emails to orga­nize every­thing and there I am. The D Day. I am on my way to Tus­cany, to be more speci­fic, I am gonna stay in a vil­lage called Gros­seto. It is 20.30, I have lost a lot of time pho­tograph­ing on the way and it is start­ing to be dusk. My host warned me that it is bet­ter to come in day­light, at least the first time, because the farm is hard to find at night. My nav­i­ga­tion chokes and refuses to list the vil­lage any­more, so I start ask­ing locals. They send me on the right direc­tion, but still I call my host. She agrees to come and meet me half way. Its 22.30. She comes and I fol­low her. This is how my first 6 Tus­can weeks began.

It was hard to get used to every­thing that was new to me: the house, the peo­ple, speak­ing Ital­ian, or Ger­man all day, the neigh­bor­hood, but I knew it is also nor­mal to feel strange the first days. And I did. After all, it was also my first work­away expe­ri­ence and I did not know the rules, as there are not many, and that is also what makes it so pleas­ant some­how.

My duties

So, I have dis­cussed with my host Dag­mar about her expec­ta­tions. She is a strong woman in her 60’s, with the energy and vital­ity of a 20-year-old woman. She takes care of 15 horses which she had res­cued from slaugh­ter or abuse. They have their own sanc­tu­ary, and are run­ning wild. She also pre­pares med­i­c­i­nal teas, elixirs, potions.

I do not ask many ques­tions about what I should do to help. Dag­mar only wants some help. So I start tak­ing care of every­thing. Set­ting dry leaves and fal­len branches on fire – I do that for a week together with another vol­un­teer who was there. Then I cook almost daily, what­ever came to my mind. Actu­ally, I pre­pared often some Hun­gar­ian goulash with Tus­can ingre­di­ents. Some Hun­gar­ian cooks would def­i­nitely not agree with me, but it was deli­cious.

ZingherinaI also cleaned the two guest­houses Dag­mar had in the farm. Two beau­ti­ful small houses shaded by huge old trees, with a view to the graz­ing fields where the horses spent all day. 

Lit­tle by lit­tle I got friends with the dogs, cats, horses, pony.  I took one dog in par­tic­u­lar for a walk, every evening. I vol­un­teered for that, because Nero was chained all day due to his huge appetite to kill the neighbor’s sheep. Me and Nero, who was half wolf, got along very well. We were dis­ap­pear­ing one hour every evening on the alleys of the vil­lage.

A normal day

workaway

A nor­mal day would start with break­fast, together with Dag­mar and the other guy. Then Dag­mar would leave to take care of busi­ness in the town, and I was mak­ing sure the house doesn’t set on fire or fall apart. I would often spend my time, read­ing, watch­ing the beau­ti­ful hills, or going to the sea. On week­ends I went to see the big towns around, like Siena, Flo­rence. Dag­mar showed us the hid­den trea­sures of Tus­cany. She took us in some places, I would have never dis­cov­ered on my own, because I have googled them and there were not men­tioned any­where. I will write about them soon on my blog.

All in all, to sum­ma­rize, the work was not hard. I was in nature all day, and not any­where in nature. I was in a small Tus­can vil­lage, by the sea. I can­not begin to tell you how the air smelled, and how many col­ors I have seen on those 50 hectares of wilder­ness, Dagmar’s prop­erty.

What I did not like

I missed more human con­tact. The other vol­un­teer was a bore, sorry, but he was and Dag­mar was most of the time away. So I had to enter­tain myself, which I did by vis­it­ing as many places as I could reach. I had my own car so that was a big plus. I could go any­where. Of course the car broke and I was left with­out it for 10 days, but I sur­vived and I have got good friends with the mechanic which is also part of the local touch I like.

What I loved

  • First and the most, where the evenings when I was talk­ing with Dag­mar for hours, over refilled glasses of Tus­can red wine. We cried and laughed together and she won her place in my heart. I appre­ci­ate so much, after all, the fact that I felt like home in her home and her pres­ence;
  • The walks with Nero, the friend­ship with Gin­gerina – the red cat which was the best friend of Gin­ger the yel­low horse;
  • All that I have learned regard­ing Tus­can cook­ing, how a gen­uine olive oil smells and tastes like, how hand-picked fresh spices leave a per­fume in your palm, the value of eat­ing as an art;
  • The remote beaches I have seen;
  • The good night sleep I would get while hav­ing the win­dows wide opened and hear­ing the nightin­gale sing. The first thing I saw when I woke up, where the hills of Tus­cany. The sec­ond, when I went down for break­fast, was the hills of Tus­cany. That was always a dream day’s start.

My room

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Breakfast view

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To help you have a great first work exchange expe­ri­ence, I have put up a list of tips. See  it here.

Enjoy!

Thank you for read­ing. If you like this arti­cle, please share.
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