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Soleitaliano’s European Tour Awards

We loved the food orientated nature of Jacqui’s blog post about her and Andy’s Workaway inspired European adventures. It’s often easier to look back on a trip and make a judgement about all the events that happened rather than trying to do so while actually there. They are now back in Australia and have written this blog post listing their favourite parts of their trip in an award type style. Their blog can be found here: http://soleitaliano.wordpress.com

Here’s a bit about how their trip came about:
mountain view

Jacqui from soleitaliano

It all started one night after work. I was busy fantasizing and said to Andy, “wouldn’t it be nice to go and work on a farm in Italy?”

I didn’t expect the response to be an enthusiastic, “yes!”

From that moment on Andy was getting more and more excited. When he started talking about how he was going to bring his bike over, I knew he was sold on the idea. We soon had one way tickets booked and a farm lined up to start us on our journey.

The main focus of the trip was to experience a different way of life, learn a new language, and discover more about the land that Andy’s family comes from. All that was left to do was purchase some stretchy ‘eating pants’ and away we went.

This is the website that inspired our trip. Have a look to see if there’s anything that strikes your fancy!

http://www.workaway.info/

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.-Luciano Pavarotti

Award night back home in Melbourne

Today marks exactly two weeks since Andy and I have been back in Melbourne. I have to be honest, I wasn’t exactly feeling ecstatic to be back. It has been wonderful to catch up with family and friends but Melbourne didn’t quite feel the same as it once did. It didn’t feel like home. I say that in the past tense because after this weekend I’m starting to warm up to Melbourne once again.

city view

Reflecting on this beautiful city in Yarra Bend Park.

My feelings began to change as Andy and I rode with my brother’s girlfriend, Sophia, from their house in North Eastern Montmorency to the Abbotsford convent. After neglecting our bikes for the past fifteen months, we rode the entire 32 kilometers on a beautiful bike track.

We traveled along paths made from gravel, asphalt and cement, beside houses, gum trees and paddocks, through community vegetable gardens, fields and graffiti alleys, over suspension bridges and under concrete ones, the whole time following the Yarra River.

The sights, smells and sounds of Australia reminded me of what I didn’t even realise I had missed.

While Andy and I have been back, many people have asked us, what was your favourite city, best experience, most delicious food, etc. Therefore we have decided to do a little awards night for our adventure in Europe. The results are…drum roll…

map

The final map of our travels thanks to Trip Line.

* Best City *

A – Napoli for the food and atmosphere.

J – Napoli. This was a tough one because I love so many of the cities we visited, all for different reasons. Berlin will always be one of my favourites for its fantastic atmosphere, Barcelona has great food, Vienna has my lovely family, Bari has a great personality, Porto is simply stunning and Marrakech is a cave of wonders.

How could I choose? Finally I decided on Napoli because, as I’ve mentioned before, it was the most surprising city. After we were warned that it was dirty, dangerous and not worth visiting, I completely fell in love with it. We stayed in a wonderful hostel, ‘Giovanni’s Home’ where passionate Giovanni made us feel like one of his children. Napoli is surrounded by wonderful things to see and do plus the city itself is incredibly fascinating. I loved the two weeks we spent there and I would be more than happy to go back again and again.

festival in apricale

Festival day in Apricale

* Best Country Town *

AApricale in Liguria was beautiful for the history, buildings, atmosphere, cool events, piazza and the people.

J – Apricale was one of the towns Andy and I visited a couple of times thanks to Paul and Penny. It is in a great location right next to the French border but the best thing about it is the atmosphere.

It seems like every week in any season they have piazza parties, concerts, activities and markets.

It’s a wonderful little hill top town that is more than worth a visit, especially if you’ve got young children.

* Best Swimming Spot *

swimming spot

A little piece of French paradise

ASugiton near Marseille because we had to work to get there and the waters were crystal clear and refreshing. The public transport there was great and easy. Gotta love the French for sorting things out.

J – I would have to say the Pont du Gard in the South of France. Swimming beside such an important piece of history was an incredible feeling.

* Best Viewpoint *

A – Grande Cristo at Maratea. 360 degree views of La Bella Italia!

J – This is another really tough one but I will say the view from the top of Cefalù in Sicily. It took my breath away.

* Best Sunset *

A – The best by far was in the Cinque Terre. The sky was bright red and orange on a clear day as we were perched up on a hill amongst the grape vines. It just never seemed to end. Very spectacular.

J – The end of our perfect day in Manarola in the Cinque Terre. We picked the perfect spot on top of a hill covered in vineyards. Christmas decorations in the shape of people and farm animals dotted the hill and created pretty silhouettes against the vibrant sky.

* Best Pizza *

A – Close tie between ‘Pizza Rustica’ in Sicily and ‘Il Tillacino’ in Piemonte.

J – My porcini pizza at Pizza Rustica in Sicily. All I’ll say is that when I took my first bite, it gave me goosebumps.

* Best Pasta *

Tagiatelle

Fresh porcini tagiatelle; genius

A – Close tie between an amazing porcini creamy fettuccine delight that Jacqui made at the first farm and a delicious Orecchiette con Salsiccia in the home of Orecchiette – Puglia.

J – La Vecchia Terrazza in Puglia was a wonderful place. We stumbled there after a recommendation from a reliable source.

I had fresh porcini tagliatelle and it was magical.

I had never had fresh porcini in a dish before.

The porcini were so soft in texture and had a much more delicate flavour than the dried variety. I never wanted this dish to end!

* Best Gelato *

A – Palermo gelateria called Gelato & Cioccolato. Sette Veli Pistacchio or just Pistacchio or just anything from there.

J – The only place we have found Sette Veli Pistacchio – Gelato & Cioccolato in Palermo, Sicily. So cheap and the best you will ever taste.

* Best Meal *

A – Definitely can’t go past the two Agritourismi we were taken to by the lovely Mike and Polly in Basilicata and by Paul and Penny in Baiardo.

J – Any time we went to an Agritourismo with our hosts we had a particularly good meal. Keep aside about 25 Euros and a free Sunday and you too could feast yourself on the best of what that area of Italy has to offer. First come the antipasti, then the primi, secondi, and finally dessert and coffee. Not to mention the digestivo at the end – salute!

couple

I would be lost without this beautiful man

* Best Italian Phrase *

A – Do all the hand gestures count as a phrase?

J – “Piano, piano” – This always made me feel better when trying to speak Italian.

* Most memorable moment *

A – Every moment spent with my Jacqui!

J – My wonderful Andy made every moment memorable. However in particular I remember the moment that my mum, dad, brother and his girlfriend walked through the arrival doors at the airport in Vienna. That moment when my dad was once again reunited with the family he had not seen in decades. I was a lovely moment I will never forget.

* Best travel tip *

A – Go to Southern Italy.

J – Don’t have expectations about places or experiences based on what other people have said. Wait until you have experienced it for yourself and make up your own mind.

Decisions, decisions…

working on a house in the woods

Working on a little house in the woods with only recycled materials

One of the best decisions we made on our trip was to participate in several volunteering experiences using Workaway. Without this website we would not have had the chance to discover the places we did and meet such wonderful people in the process. Each family we stayed with taught us things that we will never forget, no matter how big or small they are.

First we visited Mateo, Caterina and Raia in Caldirola, North of Italy. This was our longest Workaway stay of ten weeks and during this time Andy and I got introduced into the Italian food, language and culture.

Here our eyes were opened to what a wasteful world we all live in. From a cucumber to a roof, everything in our daily lives that we consume, use or have in our houses has been thought about, created and transported, using many different resources along the way.

To consider that every day we throw away these items without even a second thought is just madness. Food scraps can be turned into compost, plastic plant pots can be painted and given a new life, takeaway food containers can be be kept and used for work lunches, egg cartons can be turned into seedling trays, old building materials from renovations can be kept, restored and re used. The things you can do to reduce or eliminate mindless wastage and consumption are endless.

goat

This little goatie was too cute to go to the pot

For our second Workaway we stopped in Amandola with Kevin and Jodie on their farm. Their property in the West of Italy was the most self-sustainable place we visited so here we learned a lot about growing your own veggies and having your own animals. Jodie was a wonderful cook and she taught us how to make the basics as well as some new dishes we had not tried before. From Kevin we learned the process involved in preparing your animals for consumption. This was a difficult but very important skill to learn because one day Andy and would like to have our own animals for meat.

The third family we visited was Mike and Polly in Lauria, South of Italy. Here most of our work was outdoors and fairly big projects so we got to learn valuable new skills. Collecting rocks and building a rock wall was certainly harder than it sounded but thanks to Andy’s muscles we got it done.

We also built, plastered and rendered a concrete block wall which really tested our patience in the beginning but we were really happy with the result. When we weren’t in the garden we loved spending time with Mike and Polly hearing about their years spent on a yacht searching for a new home.

wall building

This wall was incredibly rewarding to put together, especially with a view like that

Through their inspiring stories we have heard about undiscovered sections of coastline, the rewarding and terrifying moments of sailing, and they have given us a sense of confidence that you need to do something a little bit different with your life.

Our fourth stay was with Gianfranco on his olive farm in Sicily. Although Gianfranco was not home very often, his friends came around almost every night to eat with us and share some of their homemade wine.

Niccolo and Pietro were two relaxed Sicilians who enjoyed showing us around and were truly great company. They really showed us what it meant to do things ‘piano, piano’. With Niccolo and Pietro we experienced so many wonderful tastes and discovered just how good food can be when it is kept simple with the highest quality ingredients.

Niccolo brought a few bottles of his red wine over each night, every meal had a generous serving of Gianfranco’s olive oil (the best olive oil we have ever tasted), they took us to Pizza Rustica (refer to our Best Pizza award), we went to a café with them where I had the most amazing croissant filled with a lemon custard, they went to the woods and collected baskets full of delicious wild mushrooms which we then toasted with Gianfranco’s olive oil and chilli, and we visited Bar Erice, home of the best cannolo you will ever eat (you really have never eaten cannolo until you have tried this one).

All these amazing food experiences happened in our short two week stay. I can’t even imagine the tastes we would experience if we lived there for the rest of our lives.

olive farm lunch break

Stopping for lunch on Paul and Penny’s stunning olive farm

Just before Christmas of 2013 we were in the North of Italy in Apricale with Paul, Penny and Ruby. Paul and Penny met in Italy and are now building a life in Italy with their beautiful little girl. They have purchased a large olive farm with exciting plans to turn the old stone houses into modern holiday accommodation.

Right now the project seems quite daunting but Paul and Penny have taught us that no matter how big your project is, as long as you have enthusiasm for it, just keep chipping away at it, one piece at a time that is it possible to have everything with regards to where you live.

They live in a picturesque town with plans to move to their farm one day, both of which are on the border of France with the Alps and Côte d’Azur just a short distance away. The best part of all is that they have found a perfect little community for their daughter to grow up in.

After a few months of no volunteering, we headed to Tuscany to stay with Lloyd, Janine, Sam, George and Holly in Bagni di Lucca.

Lloyd and Janine were two of the most positive people that I have ever met. They had a knack for turning any situation into a great time, no matter what the circumstances were. As well as this they were humorous and kind people who has raised three beautiful children that all reflected their great morals and optimistic aspect of life.

They also showed us that it is possible to pick up your life and move it to another country, even if you have three children.

sunset

Anything is possible when you just go with the flow

From Tuscany we traveled back down to the South of Italy to the region in the heel of the boot – Puglia. Staying in a beautiful ‘trullo’ near Martina Franca, this was our first experience not staying with a family. The owner of the trullo is John and from him we learnt that life doesn’t always go to plan but just embrace it and see what happens. He was spending some time in Italy when he met his Italian partner and they had a ‘surprise’ together. Now John has a beautiful little boy, his own vineyard and olive grove and would never look back.

After only Italian Workaways we decided to give France a try. We stayed in the South of France near Toulouse with Shirley who is a very successful breeder of golden retrievers. Shirley welcomed us into her home with a big smile and few licks from each of the dogs.

Not only did Shirley open our eyes to the dog breeding world, we learned that bad things happen in life but you need to stay positive, remember the good times and move on. Shirley is so grateful for every person (and dog) in her life and she really lets you know how much you mean to her. I think if everyone was more like Shirley the world would be a much happier place.

Labradors

The world would also be a better place if everyone learned to share like these two

For our ninth and final Workaway experience we stayed for one week with Branko and Eva in their country house just outside the city of Zagreb in Croatia.

Andy and I instantly enjoyed ourselves at Branko and Eva’s as they were relaxed, interesting to listen to and had a fantastic sense of humour. During our stay with them, we learned a lot about Croatian history, language and even a little about film editing. The way Branko and Eva lived was something like we would imagine our lives to be one day.

They lived only about 30kms from the city yet they had their own vegetable garden and decent plot of land. Whatever they didn’t grow or make themselves, they sourced from friends, family or local producers.

Branko and Eva showed us true hospitality during our stay. This meant our trip finished on a wonderfully high note and for that we will always be grateful.