Europe 2.0 – Day 9 5 June

Today we had another day off (to Volterra) ! HAHAHA! And it’s because Marilena had to go look after her granddaughters and tbh there’s nothing much to be gone around the house.

For breakfast, we tried the Cedro jam that we made a few days back and it tasted delicious. I love how sweet it is and then leaves a nice sour and bitter citrus flavour. The consistency is very good as well and everyone loved it! Andrew also tried the instant white coffee that we brought and he liked it heh! =D

Shortly after 9, Bruno drove us to the Capannoli city centre, where we bought our bus tickets and located the bus stop. He was very kind to wait for the bus with us and since we had about 20 minutes of waiting time, we tried to make conversation haha! I asked him how he met Marilena and moved over to their present house. 

The bus was 10 minutes late but ateaat it finally came! I was secretly relieved that we didn’t have to make anymore awkward conversations as I really didn’t have anymore Convo topics! T^T

The journey was scenic, just like most of our trips in Tuscany. The views make me determined to return here again someday and gave me a damn good reason to prefer Europe over Asia. The road was super winding and we went up and up until we could get a bird’s eye view of the farms on the hill. The neat arrangement of the plantations and golden/green hues of the landscapes are very memorable. ^^

Upon reaching Volterra, we first visited one of the most well preserved section of the city walls, called porta al arco. It’s a simple gate that greeted us for the start of our exploration. 

We then walked up to Piazza del priori, where the palace of the commune of volterra sits. Along the way we went into many specialty shops, most of them selling artsy stuff like papercraft that is made traditionally, acrylic paintings and art prints featuring the scenery of Tuscany. Volterra itself is built on a hill and many of the roads are upward sloping and narrow. The architecture is medieval – the paths were cobble stone and the buildings were mostly made of bricks. The residents didn’t paint their houses and shops so the colour scheme of the whole town is grey and brick red in colour. 

The neighbourhood was very cosy and homely. It felt like a community that people actually lived and worked in because there are locals walking about, clothes hanging outside of windows and beautiful potted flowers growing outside the houses. There were many western tourists as well (we’re probably the only Asians) but the whole place wasn’t too crowded. And the weather had just gotten cloudy by late afternoon so the temperatures were copper than usual. 

After the piazza, we walked to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The Cathedral used to have a missionary in the medieval times and the brotherhood maintained its anonymity by donning gowns which covered their faces and body in black,which actually made them look like grim reapers instead imo. The Cathedral also displayed the equipments that they used for transporting sick people in the olden days. Near the church, a medical service was on standby and I was pleased by how people continued the work of the brotherhood. 

After visiting the baptisery of the Cathedral, we went to the acropolis to admire its ruins and see the underwater cistern from the first century AD. Along the way we saw the medici fortress, which is now a prison. 

Next up was the Entruscan Museum, which held a large collection of funeral urns. They’re similar to what we saw in Camposanto, except that in here, the urns here are more consistent in design, shape and size. We couldn’t really understand what the sculpting on the urns meant but some were themselves, works of art. But haha I was more interested in the English guides the gift shop; they have a good summary of Tuscan food, Siena and San Gimignano. 

Then it was off for lunch! We didn’t have to walked for long to find a popular trattoria in front of the museum of torture. Yue shan had carbonara pizza (with bacon, eggs and pepper) and I had delicious ravioli in truffle cream sauce, as well as Caffè espresso (very not nice). 

Feeling satisfied, we walked around for gelato and we Roman Theatre, which is better preserved than the acropolis as we could still see the ruins of the pillars that supported the majestic structure. YS was very delighted as it is her first time seeing any archaeological remains of the roman empire. Walking via the panoramic view point, we walked to the picture museum, which also houses the alabaster museum. It wasn’t very spectacular and there was almost nobody else save for us. However I feel that I could begin to appreciate paintings because we started to Google the meanings of the image thanks to the availability of mobile data. I’m guessing that there are many paintings of the same scene but being drawn by different artists, there are many works now for us compare and evaluate the skills of the artists.

Quickly, we found our bus stop and Bruno picked us up from the station at 7pm! 🙂 Today’s dinner (the last dinner at our sweet little bnb!) was a salad based on millet seeds, which i didn’t like because it was so bitter… We also had dhal that is cooked with capers so I used it to mix with the salad and hope the bitterness goes away =P Over dinner, I reminded Bruno about his children’s book as I was interested to talk to him about it. I had been trying to find the time to translate the story but I only managed to do so for the first sentence of the author’s description, which says ‘Bruno, 35 years old, lives in Campagna and loves animals more than humans (but even humans are animals).’ Later we spent the next 20-30minutes helping me to understand Italian pronunciation and grammar (at least I tried) while the rest were talking about A and H’s travels and the movie ‘Godfather’ hahaha.

Overall today was a great day because Volterra was a perfect place to visit, especially for half a day. So thankful to our hosts for always being so kind and considerate towards us :>

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Europe 2.0 – Day 3 30 May

Today we woke up at 8am for breakfast. It was a simple but delightful affair 🙂 There was slice bread, oatmeal biscuits, homemade orange and lemon jam, herbal tea made from homegrown plants and muesli with yogurt. We saw a couple from Germany who were staying here for 3 nights. They worked as a IT consultant and IT personnel in the central bank respectively, and are in Tuscany for 10 days! They’ll be visiting small towns in their rental car. 

Our work started soon after breakfast. In short, we helped to cut the weeds from the garden, and Marilena identified the plants for us as well as gave us a short intro to each one of them. We also smelled the different plants but they all felt minty to us and we couldn’t differentiate anything hahaha. She has Salvia, mint, rosemary, timo and a few other herbs growing in the garden. She used most of them for making tea, like what we drank in the morning. 

It was hard work as the sun was very glaring, and our task was quite demanding but because there were many weeds overcrowding the useful plants, and often we had to bend or squat to ensure that we have gotten rid of the weeds at their roots. 

After an hour or so, we took lunch, which was once again simple yet pleasing. We had the same bread which we ate for breakfast, together with leftovers from the previous dinner – black cabbage, beet root and tofu. Marilena also let us try the porcellini cheese, which I mistook for parmesean, but it’s very tasty! 

We later boiled some water so she could try the instant white coffee which we bought for her. Unfortunately she is allergic to milk so we finished most of it! ^^ Just when I thought that we’ll definitely run out of topics to talk about, she told us that the economic crisis that had affected Italy for about 15 years. At the same time, they grapple with the problem of immigrants, just as their European neighbours do. She was also interested in finding out if we planned on migrating in the future and both yue shan agreed that most Singaporeans would. 

Later we took a break (this working contract involves many breaks, I later realised) and headed out to shop for ingredients that we need for curry! Cooking curry is an important activity with many ‘significance’ – firstly, Marilena asked us if we could cook any Singaporean dishes. Secondly, we bought her curry paste, which would be good if they could try it. Thirdly, we had pretty much A LOT of free time, so we were always trying to think of things to do hahaha. 

We first went to an organic farm, which was about 20 minutes drive away. The views did not disappoint as usual, and along the way i took many videos of the laid back tuscan scenery. 

The farm looked really legit, with shelter covering large plots of vegetables growing there. The shop in comparison, was very small and average looking. There was nobody inside when we entered and the interior was very simple. The vegetables were simply placed in crates for customers to choose. Everything look especially fresh and natural. 

Next we drove to COOP, a supermarket chain in Italy. Marilena was very nice and asked us to take whatever we felt like eating. When I was eyeing a strawberry yogurt for a long time, she egged me on to take it but I felt bad for making her pay haha… (Besides, Yue shan didn’t take anything lol.) We found the essential coconut milk to make curry over here, and bought brinjal as well to add to the variety of vegetables for making curry. 

Later in the evening, the much anticipated moment arrived – MAKING CURRY. For our lovely hosts, they can’t wait to try this ‘Singapore dish’ (I explained to them that curry came from India) whereas for us, we were so excited/nervous about how it will turn out. 

Thankfully the curry paste that we bought came with instructions, so we followed it exactly (except for one part we added too much water because there were way too much vegetables) and checked on our pot more than needed. ALAS… THE OUTCOME IS… !!!!GOOD!!!! 

Our hosts enjoyed the curry very much (PHEW GOOD JOB US THANK GOODNESS) and we were simply glad to pull this off and to be able to be of help. 

During our previous dinner, we asked them about the best point to do astrophotography and after dinner today, Bruno brought us by foot to a clearing uphill, where we saw a beautiful sunset… At 930pm HAHAHA! that’s summer for you! He also agreed lend me his Canon 10-22 after I told him that my astrophotography in Cambodia has not been as good as my lens were not wide enough. On the way there we also talked about the longest nights and days of the year and it’s relevance to Christianity (it is believed that the longest day was the day when Jesus Christ was conceived and the longest night was when he was born. Because of his birth the longest night became shorter gradually.) 

We walked back to our house together and shortly after, yue shan and I decided to head out again for me to do my photography. ^^ (It was crucial to do it ASAP as the crescent was to become a full moon, which would make the sky brighter and the stars less obvious). The way there was darker now as we decided to set off after the sun has set completely. Thankfully we borrowed a powerful torchlight from Bruno, which guided our 10 minute journey. Owing to the crescent hanging above us, the streets were not entirely dark and helped us to see better. We saw many fireflies along the way, which greatly delighted Yue shan hahaha! (Tbh, Idk why bur I was quite stoic… Perhaps I was too focused on getting the star photos and had seen fireflies in Cambodia before.) 

We stayed there for around 30 mins. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t get the milky way but I could see my surroundings to compose the photos, which still made it interesting. 🙂 

Europe 2.0 – Day 2 29 May

WE HAVE LANDED! In Milan ~ 

Everything is great! (I think I also said this same sentence  in my previous post.) 

Just like I remembered, the grass is still ever green, the sky still a colour of the truest ‘sky blue’, wild flowers still grow out of the train tracks and the buildings everywhere are still displaying ugly graffiti. 

The immigrations were quicker than expected; surprisingly the airport was pretty empty. We took an earlier than planned train to Milano Centrale, where we tried to find our way to take another earlier than planned train. (But in the end it failed so we waited out 2h of extra time in a macs.) Throughout the whole journey, the only thing I felt could be better was if I had data on the go so that I could contact the people I care about hehe, or learn some Italian before starting the farming proper. 

As promised, our host (Marilena) was at the station waiting for us! We were both so happy to see a rather elderly (50-60 something year old) female welcoming us, instead of a youngish host, which we both agreed would be less favourable. We passed her our gifts from Singapore (Instant White Coffee, curry and sambal paste, iconic key chains and black pepper crab instant noodles). 

On the way to the farm, we exchanged conversation, most of which was sustained by yue shan as I was ‘brain dead’ or zoning out for most of the time haha… 

The scenery was GREAT! I was afraid that the place would be too modern or busy, unlike what the country side promised. Thankfully, as we drove further from the train station, houses became more distantly spreaded and more natural scenery came into view. I was especially thrilled by sights of settlements atop hills or vine yards hahaha! Furthermore the architecture was stunning. I really love the colors of the houses (orange, pink, white, yellow), the windows, the doors etc. Most houses also have some sort of garden or grow potted flowers outside their houses, which added vibrancy to the lovely neighbourhood. 

Finally after 15 minutes of driving, we arrived! We couldn’t see any farm or garden in view but  I was very satisfied that we were somewhere secluded by mother nature. The people here also seemed friendly enough – our host as an example and also her neighbour whom she stopped the car to say hi. 

We were shown our room, which had beautiful brick arches on the ceiling. A covered hole was located in front of our double bed and our host explained that this room used to be use for making wine, and the hole is where the wine drains out. Later we joined our host in the kitchen for some orange juice and home grown cherries (which tasted really sweet), and we continued the conversation further, most of it also led by yue shan. 

From our brief 30 minutes talk, we already found out many things about Marilena. She used to study in a university in Florence, where she majored in agriculture. Later she got pregnant with Susanna at a young age of 21 years old, and so she dropped out of school to raise her daughter. Later she managed to continue her studies, but with a focus on acquiring knowledge about medicinal herbs. Unfortunately the father of her daughter left her, and she eventually got together with Bruno, who is our second host and the co-owner of this establishment. They’re not married but they do have 3 cats and another black cat which drops by occasionally only for food. 

Marilena is the main person tending to guests at their bed and breakfast, and also to their garden, where she grows many herbs and aromatic plants. She left us to our own devices when the conversation became lengthy, and both of us retreated back to our room for some rest. 

Around 4h later, at 9pm, we had dinner, which comprised of millet with tomato sauce. It tasted delicious and we were later joined by Bruno, who is not only a photographer like me, but also a camera man for horse races. A talented man, he has 2 other jobs besides filming the races and tending to this establishment. On most days he works for a vineyard near his place and he occasionally teaches European folk dance to children in schools. Just wonderful! 🙂 He has also promised to lend me his wide angle lens after hearing my interest in photography, specifically, astrophotography in this countryside ^^ Best of all, both our hosts speak adequate English for us to communicate on many subjects, making our time here never a dull moment. 

Europe trip 2.0 – Day 1 28 May

This is it. We’re now on the plane, many miles from home but closer to place that we’ll be calling our second home for 1 week. 

It has been my dream since young (however cliché this phrase may sound) to work abroad. More specifically, I’ve been interested in the idea of WWOOF ever since hearing about it. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming  and let aspiring farmers (like me, heh) stay in Organic farms for free in exchange for work, so as to promote, well,  organic farming. 

Before going, I had many doubts. But as the plane steered towards the runway just before taking off from Changi Airport, I know that there’s no going back. No room for uncertainty. This is it. And it feels so surreal…i can now understand what Zea when she said that her exchange was a dream.

It feels like a dream because you can’t believe it’s happening. And moreover, everything is too good to be true yet it is indeed, happening, and most of all, to YOU! 

Today my father didn’t send me off at the airport, perhaps due to his disapproval for my trip. Why so – i don’t know! There’s too many possibilities to speculate. Firstly, traveling is a way to spend a lot of money quickly and consecutively for 2 years, I’ve been travelling to Europe for extended periods of time. Secondly, he doesn’t understand why I need/want to travel. Thirdly, he may not want to be accountable for anything that goes wrong. I’ll never find out, I suppose. 

I must admit that it saddened me a bit… I hope he will be happy for me eventually, or that I’ll be able to justify my spending with more income from tuition, or some sort of life changing experience derived from my travels. 

My dad was supposed to be my ride to the airport so without him, my mom, sis and I had to take bus to the airport, and I had a pre-trip warm up for back packing. 

On board the Turkish Airline flight, everything is better than expected. I found a movie on my to-watch list – LA LA LAND – and the food was great. The service was to my surprise, even better than my previous long haul flight with Emirates. They provided a travel kit with essentials like eye mask, socks and ear plugs. Blankets and pillows were available, and the crew made their rounds after dinner to make sure we are all well fed before going to bed. (But the thing about sleeping on airplanes is, you can’t seem to fall asleep. What a shame!) 

It’s 0206h as I’m typing this as falling to sleep has been in vain. I’m excited for what’s about to come!