True Life: I Live on an Italian Vineyard

This trip has been four months chock full of dreamy, surprising and delightful, but I may have found the trump card here in northern Italy.

There’s this travel secret called Help Exchange [[there are others too, WWOOF & Work Away included]]. Why it’s such a secret, I have no idea, cause it’d have been about the coolest way to spend a college summer or 4 that I could think of. [[Get ON it, Joey, Phillip, Jess & Catie!]]. Truly, it might be the greatest thing invented since wine.

In a nutshell, travelers can apply to go volunteer with hosts from around the world who need any range of help–from feeding baby goats on a farm in Australia to working on a yacht in the Med, to sous-cheffing it up at an organic cooking school in Turkey. In exchange, hosts offer a range of comforts, mostly including lodging and food. It’s pretty much a win-win, no matter how you slice it, though I suppose the richness of the experience largely depends on the host / help match.

But with a little bit of luck finally on my side, I hit the HelpX gold mine of all gold mines on my FIRST try.

Yall, I live on a vineyard. THIS vineyard:vineyard

For at least the next few weeks. I live and work and play and eat and drink on a vineyard with the loveliest Italian couple and their incredible amount of pups. Twenty years ago, Paolo and Marisa bought this little chunk of land nestled in the northern Italian Alps looking out over the Valtellina Wine Valley. They built a gorgeous home, expanded the vineyard and created a total haven up here in nature. A haven which they now graciously share with me.

From my new favorite coffee / wine perch, depending on the time of day, I have an unobstructed view of their sloping vineyard, the valley and river down below, the snow-capped peaks, almost Switzerland and absolutely heaven.coffee perch

It’s perfect timing too, cause the last few weeks have been filled with an unquenchable need to be productive. I know, that sounds crazy… ‘just relax and enjoy the dream you’re living right now,’ they say. For the most part I have, don’t get me wrong. But after four months of relative ‘downtime,’ it was time to entertain my Type-A for a bit.

And here, I find my balance.

I unpacked my suitcase for the first time. I have a room and bathroom to myself, thanks to my generous host family. I get to put my hands to work while I let my mind wander. I have ELEVEN gigantic and gorgeous playmates [[oh, as if Paolo and Marissa aren’t busy enough tending to 4000 bottles of annual wine-worth-of-vineyard AND working full-time, they’re also European champion Bernese Mountain Dog breeders…real life?!]].

I get to be in a kitchen again [[oh, how travel makes me miss this novelty]]. But I don’t get [[nor want]] to be the boss chef, cause Paolo may as well have his own cooking show too. Then we sit together, with that heavenly view, a heaping plate of authentic local cuisine, a glass of red harvested from the grapes not 10 yards away from our table [[10 yards, but 4 years prior]], and they entertain my incessant questions about wine making.food

Around the table, I’ve learned all about the year-round labor of love that producing my favorite good requires. And in June, it’s vine-perfecting-time here at the estate, so I spend my ‘help’ time surrounded by baby grapes, with Michael Buble blaring, the sun tingling my skin, all the while making the vines do what they’re supposed to do and scolding the unruly.IMG_0273-0

What a life metaphor, huh? Unruly as things feel at time, with a little focused TLC, all things grow straighter, stronger and more fruitful.

Raising my coffee cup / wine glass to THAT, from my vineyard home in Italia today, friends.IMG_0292-0

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Generosity abounds in Brisbane

While I’m intent on being mindfully present during this journey—not living in the past or the future—just sitting here and being here in the now, it’s painfully clear that I cannot wait to ‘pay it forward.’

It always amazes me how no time and no distance can distance those who really matter in life—you know, those friends and family who you can just slide right back into giggles and easy conversation. Those kinds are special. It’s probably one of my favorite life treasures—those kinds of people. They’re gems. And I’m swimming in those gems here in Oz.

We arrived in Brisbane on a sunny morning, where Jodi and Liz greeted us with those giggles and easy convos I find so simple and lovely. We sipped coffee on the top of Mount Kootha.

Mt Kootha

We catamaraned around the Brisbane River, walked around South Bank and caught up on the ins and outs of the Aussie / American rellies.

Then more rellie gems showed up at Rowan and Lynda’s for one of those ‘we only get together for a big family BBQ when an American Temme is in town.’ That people will just drop their plans, pitch in on a feast and spend a Friday night sipping Cab and swapping stories with two backpacking gals on the patio just warms my heart.

The parrots woke us bright and early, inspiring a quick 5k to the local Target—sounds so normal, so American, yeah? Except that flying foxes draped our pathway, our Target run was to collect various electronic adapters and breakfast was accompanied by one of those fancy flat whites that only a Truss home can whip up like it’s a simple brew. That, and our afternoon was filled with snapping selfies with old grey kangaroos and snuggling the eucalyptus-dazed koalas.

Lone Pine Sanctuary

Lone Pine Sanctuary

Lone Pine Sanctuary

We trekked out again the next day [no idea what day of the week that actually would have been…not a clue] to see the Natural Bridge where we likely could have spent the rest of the morning just sitting and watching that pretty waterfall crash into the cave below.

Cave

Lucky we didn’t though, as we also sauntered around the markets, snagged a few pies and watched surfers on the Gold Coast for the rest of the afternoon. Ohh, thank you for that indulgence—yall know I love sitting on the water. Just so ‘ahhh.’

As if that wasn’t enough, Jodi and Liz drove us up [or over or down??] to the lovely Hervey Bay where Kara and I spent a lavishly relaxing few days at Lyn and Warren’s sleek condo on the beach. Hot-tubbing on the deck overlooking the coast, riding our bikes along the windy boardwalk through town, getting caught in several pre-Cyclone Marcia storms, soaking up a different type of villa life, thanks to the Deputy PM and lots of home cooking could only be topped by a visit to Fraser Island.

Fraser Island was and remains one of my favorite places on the planet. As the largest island in the world made entirely of sand [with a lush rain forest populating the inner island]…

rainforest …a recognized beach highway [slash airport—yes, tiny prop planes, but planes nonetheless take tourists up for the birds-eye view of this World Heritage Site, using the packed sand as their runway]…it just is one of those places that you know God spent a little extra time with.

Fraser Island

Steve, our jolly tour-guide navigated us through the island in a big 4WD truck. Kara lucked out with the front seat, otherwise her birthday trip would have been a lot less glamorous and lot more vomit-y.

Fraser Island

I think these pics speak for themselves…not even a need to caption…this is just Fraser Island. And it makes me happy. I loved that we could celebrate a great 28 for my sweet Kare in this beautiful place.

Lots of pictures, lots of beach-time and relaxation, lots of beautiful.

The most beautiful was the generosity though…yes, I loved the real-time moments. But oh I cannot wait to pay it back to these precious, generous gems.