Winter Travel Plan

Summer is almost over, and we don’t really have a winter plan.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. At the moment we have a flight booked to Athens for September 27 where we’ll surely spend a little time (a week?) before continuing on down to the Greek islands for the first part of winter.

At the moment, we’ve just left the peaceful farm in rural Romania where we spent the last month. But. Our cottage has no insulation, cracked windows, no heat, no fireplace. They say the temperature here can get down to -30 C, but even +5 would be tough for a skinny Canadian family with no warm clothes.

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How’s the weather in Greece in November? I don’t know. I’ve read someone say blustery, windy, cold. But is cold +18 C? or -5? We’ve been reading a bit and I think it depends as much on altitude as on latitude. I’m pretty sure the slopes of Mount Olympus are cooler than the coastline of Corfu. Still, spending the holidays on Mount Olympus would be pretty dang amazing.

A lot will depend on accommodation. We’re hoping to find a house-sit for part of the time at least. For those not familiar with house-sitting, here’s a summary:

Housesitting

People have houses, and often pets. People like to go on vacation.
They usually can’t take their pets with them, and they definitely can’t take their houses. There is a plethora of websites (MindMyHouse for example) to help people find and connect with potential house-sitters. These are people who will stay in the house, mow the lawn, and hug the pets.

Before we left India we applied to a bunch of house-sits all over Europe. Most did not reply, some politely declined. One couple with a beautiful house in the south of France replied almost immediately (ouch) after we booked our flight to Bucharest.

Unfortunately (for us) people don’t seem to want a family for their house-sit. I guess if you have a super-deluxe spotless villa and you are a retired couple you might not want kids in your house long-term. Most of these people have pets, though. Shouldn’t the wear and tear of pets versus kids be about the same?

European Visa

Another complication is the Schengen Zone visa. The Schengen Zone is a collaboration between most of the EU countries to make cross-border travel easier. It eliminates individual visas per country but puts a finite limit on how long you can stay in all the countries put together. This is good and bad for backpackers.

Schengen Zone
As you can see, most of Europe is in the Zone

The good (and obvious) side is that you can cross borders much more easily. The bad side is that you can no longer string together visas from one country to another to make up six months or more.

With the standard “Issued on arrival” visa we can stay in the Zone for 90 days per 180 day period. If we count 3 calendar months from our arrival in Athens, we would have to leave on December 27th. If we leave in the middle of that three months, the visa clock stops until we come back into any Schengen country.

What does it all mean for our plan?

That means if we stay in Greece for the whole ninety days we’ll get the boot around December 27th. Merry Christmas!

What we’ll probably do is leave for the back end of November and the first half of December, and then come back. But where to? Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, or a western Balkan?

Turkey seems like the easiest option without going north (into colder weather). If we are in the southern Greek islands (Crete, for example) it should be possible to get a boat or a flight to mainland Turkey fairly easily, no?

We still don’t know for sure what we’ll do, but we’re weighing the pros and cons of various scenarios. More to come…

Let me tell you about my run!

I figure that Vero and I spend so much time running, talking about running, figuring out where and when to run that I should probably write about running occasionally. We don’t have internet access unless we go down the road to our host’s house, so there have been several good runs since this one, but for me it stands out.

17 kms of Pure Joy

Last Tuesday’s run was a beauty! I ran uphill all the way to the next village about 4 km from our cottage. Things got pretty muddy from all the cow traffic, so I turned around and headed back.

Muddy shoes anyone?
My shoes were still dry, so I skipped it

Before I got back into our village, I cut over the small ridge into the next valley. The road there goes 2 km up into the foothill of the Fagaras mountains before it becomes a track through dense forest.
This track is only used by local woodcutters and gypsies out hunting mushrooms. I’ve run there three times now and haven’t seen another human. In fact, because I usually run early in the morning, I rarely see anyone at all.

Rogue cow
This lady was on the wrong side of the fence… jumped it !?

I’d love to follow the wooded track to see how far it goes. Tuesday I couldn’t follow it far what with my little detour to the next village. I had already run 10 km to get to the entrance to the woods.
The first time I went in I went farther, but still only about 3 km in. That far in you climb all the way, but never get a view. The trees are just too dense and it’s mostly younger growth due to the woodcutting. I was just getting to bigger, older trees when I turned around.
Deep in the dark Transylvania woods at 7 AM, when the sun barely penetrates the leaves to light your way, it’s easy to start thinking about…. wolves. I’ve been told there are bears in the area, but bears don’t generally hunt people. Wolves on the other hand…

Anyone know the Gruffalo?
The Gruffalo said that no gruffalo should ever set foot in the deep dark wood

The way down and back is just pure speed-way. A two lane track with a grassy middle on a slight decline, wide open and fast. The last 3 km home were my fastest by almost 45 seconds per km. 17 km round trip and the last 3 were the fastest by far!

WWOOF Romania – Our story so far

Shortly after our arrival in Bucharest, I began the search for a Romanian WWOOF. No, that is not some cutesy term for dog, like pupper or doggo. WWOOF stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms and represents farms all over the world that accept volunteers. The usual arrangement is that you exchange your work on the farm for room and board.

Bountiful!
Daily fresh veggies, from the farm or the fruit truck!

Generally the farms are focused on organic farming, perma-culture, and environmentally responsible practices. In some countries the farm must (I think) be certified organic, but not in Romania.

I sent out 6 emails to farms that were in the Brasov area and looked like they might have accommodation for a family of four. Two farms replied (as of the writing of etc.), one for immediately and one for Sept-Oct.

Albastrea Farm

We emailed back and forth to figure out arrival times and directions with Agnes at her farm, called Albastrea. They were having a raspberry festival that we had hoped to attend, but it clashed with a visit in Brasov from my university buddy Razvan.

Romanian countryside
The view from just above the village

We arrived the day after the raspberry party and instead arrived just in time for a spectacular thunderstorm complete with hail and horizontal rain. The local villagers say they haven’t seen a storm like that in 50 years.

Buckets
Buckets of rain, and wash water.

Agnes explained the arrangement to us. Free accommodation in exchange for cleaning and renovations to the small cottage we’d be staying in. They had purchased it a year ago and it has stood empty since then except for a week when extended family were visiting.

Non-kitchen
The kitchen before we started.

Our hosts Agnes and Jan had their hands full for a couple of days, pumping out their flooded outbuildings and checking the crops for damage, so we set to cleaning. Four days later we were done inside the house and made a good start on the front garden and forest of stinging nettle outside.

See the horses?
The view out the front window

Since then we’ve helped Agnes fix the plumbing in “our” house, we’ve picked choke berries and beans of all colours, and we’ve hosted the local mini-flock of sheep in our yard. It’s been terrific, and the kids love it! I can’t believe how much they love to pick berries; they even toughed out two hours of bean picking in the rain!

Happy farm kids
Happy little berry pickers, seen here building hay forts

The Village

The village is called Sarata-Colun (with some accents on the a’s) and it’s about halfway between Brasov and Sibiu. It’s not far from the famous Trans-Fagarasan highway (boondoggle) built by the Ciaucescu government. The entire place is built along the banks of a little stream. One lane on each side and a bunch of little bridges accross. There’s one and a half shops for food, no restaurants, and that’s it.
You want gas? Next town. You want broccoli? Even farther. A carton of soy milk? Day trip.

 

Main street
No signage for the goose crossing, very laid-back

That said, we love it here. It’s quiet, there’s more horse and wagon traffic than cars. Our wonderful hosts stop by to check the sheep and ask “Do you like corn?” The kids scream “Yeeeeessssss!!!” and they stop by later with a crate of corn, peppers, onions, and tomatoes. All organic, all from their garden.
Tomorrow we’re picking tomatoes and we might install a counter-top to make our kitchen a little more user-friendly. We’ve got hot water now and our cupboards are full. What more could anyone want?

Sheep
Vero’s got some new friends to talk to as well!