Sunday, February 7, 2010

An embrace of the intoxication poured out of Europe

Europe is a spill of coffee on the white saucer on the Spanish coast. Drinking the smooth, thick café al fresco and within view of the Mediterranean, it is also the sugar cube dropped in.

There are particulars of pockets and packing lists that could weigh down the traveler. But so often these are forgotten in dreams of Paella and the myriad possibilities of pâtisserie. (Chocolate ruffles, pain au chocolat, and croissants layered in stories of butter.) It is good to lose oneself, better than forcing too much thought on how many euros are in your hands and how much weight is (or isn't) on your shoulders.

All things in life rely on a good balancing act. Get carried away. Drink enough wine to follow the Italian banter at the dinner table. If you don't drink wine, induldge in panna cotta and try to savor it - one of the biggest challenges posed by Italian cuisine.

These infatuations (which often lead to ecstasies) can be healthily tempered by mindful preparations. Have a budget, make it limber. Decide what you'll pack, leave half of it at home. There is the essential - the water bottle, the pocket knife - and then there is the 300-page guide. Skim it in the months and weeks before your trip, tear out 15 pages that you really believe will benefit you, and relax.

The perfect packer will inevitably lose a pair of underwear (mine was eaten by a yellow lab in Southern France). When you forget something, or leave it on a train, you'll buy or find another. And if you don't need it, leave it for someone else. A woman biked up to me in Millau, France, gesturing to the book I had purposefully left on a bench - well-read and ready for a new pair of eyes. I took it and left it on another seat. Often WWOOF farms have boxes or mudrooms filled with trinkets, clothes, and occasional treasures gifted by past volunteers. From these collections I got a very pleasant farming shirt and to them left books and clothes of my own. You will meet people that may want that extra t-shirt, or an aspiring mountaineer who could use the extra layer that you'll never need while touring Holland in the summertime. Get rid of it and enjoy your lessened load.

Envelope yourself in the continent, the seas, the ocean. And keep your ears and eyes open for recommendations to the perfect tapas bar or a vineyard looking for workers to get their hands grape-stained. There are opportunities and extraordinary events and moments everywhere. Keep sniffing! Talk to people, watch documentaries, read guides if you'd like before you go. Once you're there, your senses - all six of them - will take you much farther than anyone's advice could.


  1. Jenny,

    Great stuff here. You write beautifully! I did this sort of thing during my college years and it was incredible for the building-of-character. I miss those free-spirited days! Tell me, whatis WWOOF-ing? I've no clue!


  2. Hello, Laurie! Thank you so much for taking the time to read up. It seems to me that you are still a free spirit!

    WWOOF-ing stands for "Willing Workers on Organic Farms." My partner and I used this international network to find host farmers to live with while traveling abroad. You can go to for more information.

    Take care, Jenny

  3. Hi Jenny and Matt,

    My partner and I have just joined Wwoofing Italy and your blog - with its details of experiences on specific farms - was just what we were looking for.
    I realise that you didn't want to badmouth farms by giving specific details on your blog, but was wondering if you would mind emailing me with any suggestions about farms to avoid? Also, you are the second person who has reccomended Cascina del Finocchio and I'd love to know what it was that you enjoyed about your time there.
    Fantastic reading about your travels - makes me all the more excited for ours.

  4. Hello Jenny :- )
    Good to read that :-) I'm actually a french young girl getting ready to wwoof this summer in Canada. I enjoyed to read your stories, tips, memories about your wwoofing experience! I am getting so excited. So I am waiting now to read some advice-tips about packing advice. I try to fing the "perfect" backpack fro this trvek! Not easy... So if you have some advice I'll be very grateful.
    Cheers from south of France :- )

  5. Hi Jenny and Mat. My name is Makeez.
    I too have the same question like the other girl. I've joined Wwoofing and doing as much research as possible. It's a bit tough, because they're not good about getting back to you, so I know I'll have to make phone calls instead(which is preferred anyways). Anyhow, can you PLEASE tell me which places to avoid in both France and Italy. I'm already nervous and traveling alone for the first time. Sigh.

    And yes, what is the deal with Cascina del Finocchio? I'd love to know too.

    Thanks so much for you blog. If you could do another one for what to pack, gears, essentials, some suggestions you NOW recommend after backpacking, things to avoid, places to definitely avoid, etc...

    Anything to help another girl out! Thank you guys!

    Safe travels and God bless the both you.

  6. Hello Jenny!
    As I read more and more blogs of your trip abroad the more excited I get about planning my own.
    I'm planning to wwoof around Europe and I'm curious as to how you planned your own trip, including; dealing with the bureaucracies of the countries and how you had to deal with them (visa/work permits). Any advise will help.
    Brian (

  7. Hi Jenny

    My name is Anna, and I'm about to go to Europe from Canada to start wwoofing (for an indefinite amount of time, preferably a long time). I'm planning to start in southern Spain (because I hear they have good weather in the winter), and am feeling unsure about the whole do i need a visa or not thing...

    You have a lovely blog, if you have a chance to give me any tips, my email address is as follows: