Wednesday, February 23, 2011

After a wonderful month in Frankfurt, Caroline joined me from her pig farm in the Netherlands and we headed for Italy on the 1st of February. My good friend Stina met us at the Milan airport with two fast talking, fast smoking Italian boys and brought us back to Cremona, where she is living with a host family for a year through Rotary. We stayed with her for 4 days and a bit. Our time was lovely! Her host family's home was a gorgeous mix of modern glass and stone architecture with ancient wooden beam ceilings – fabulous! We spent most of our time talking, eating, and walking around Cremona. After 2 days in Cremona we all went to Venice for a day trip. We took an early train and spent all day wandering the streets and seeing the sights. We lucked out with an absolutely gorgeous day, too!

Caroline and I then traveled over to and down Italy's Western coast with our backpacks in tow. We spent the first night out of Cremona in Genoa, mostly in order to easily visit Cinque Terre the next day. Genoa had an interesting Coastal feel, similar to areas of Mexico – big open palaces and palm trees everywhere. Cinque Terre was the next day and it was the highlight of Italy for me. We lucked out with another spectacular day (Italian winters are normally a constant gray sky). I was nearly too hot in only a t-shirt! The cities were adorable and the ocean picturesque. The next day we traveled to Lucca, an ancient walled city in Tuscany. Then on to Florence. Florence was spent seeing the wonders of the Italian Renaissance – the Duomo (the 4th largest Basilica in the world), The Medici Chapel (Thanks for the hint, Dad!), and works by Bernini, Michaelangelo, and other renowned artists. Our time in Italy was incredibly fun, but near the end of it I was looking forward to settling down and working and learning on a farm.

On the 12th of February, we flew to Granada, Spain and met my friend Thomas and his traveling partner and friend Grace. We stayed in a very stereotypical, dirty hostel high on a hill overlooking all of Granada - a good experience to have, I suppose.  Granada is in far southern Spain, quite near the coast and in the foothills of Spain's highest mountains, the Sierra Nevada. Our hostel was across the street from the touristy site of Granada, which we spent half of our 1 full day at – the Alhambra, a Moorish palace from the days when Granada was the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. The palace was absolutely massive and filled with smaller, personal palaces, bath houses, and gardens. The architecture was astounding, almost all of the walls were made out of stone or wood and carved with the most intricate designs I've ever seen. There were also tiny canals flowing with water that lined most all of the walkways, quite an engineering feat for the 14th century!

My antsyness to begin work peaked in Granada, but luckily I didn't have to wait long. We took a bus to Orgiva, a small town of 6,000 in a valley between the Sierra Nevadas and the Sierra de Lujar mountains. Our hosts for our first farm, Catherine and Anthony, a charming middle-aged British couple, met us at the bus station. They live on a small finca 25 minutes walking distance from the city. A dirt track must be traveled, across a river, to get to the farm. The land has hundreds of olive and orange trees. Lucky for us, the oranges are ripe and absolutely delicious! They have a small, traditional Spanish house – white, rectangular, with a flat roof – and we live in a nearby caravan. Our first days here have been wonderful; we work from 9 – 2 with a tea break at about 11. It rained occasionally the first week, so when we could get outside we cleared branches pruned recently from the numerous olive trees. We trimmed them down with machetes and saws to chunks that will later be sawed down for firewood. The smaller branches that were macheted off were sent through a chipper to make wood chips. We also de-stickered beer and wine bottles which will be used to make raised bed gardens and filled bottles with olive oil that was freshly pressed from the farm's trees.

I'm thrilled to be here and excited to work and learn more!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gap Year Adventure, Part 2

I arrived in Frankfurt, Germany on the 7th of January after sad farewells at the MSP airport and tiring flights to London and then Frankfurt.  But all was smooth and uneventful, except for a few extra questions at London's customs where  my girlfriend, Caroline, and I were saved thanks to David Lauth's meticulous planning skills, (THANKS DAVID!).  I'm here until February 1st when I leave with Caroline to visit Cremona, Italy and one of my dearest friends, Stina, who is on a gap year of her own with the Rotary youth exchange program.  During my time in Frankfurt, I am living with my dad's younger brother, Paul, his wife, Petra, and their 2 children, Moritz (9) and Zoe (5).  Life with my fellow Abbotts is delightful.  I love getting to know my extended family better, being immersed in German culture, and, for the first time in my life, living in a city!

I spent my first week here settling in to my new schedule and learning my way around the neighborhood.  I also started an internship at a local Reformhaus called Andersch.  A Reformhaus is a business quite similar to a Coop in the States.  They originally only sold "natural" body product -lotions, soaps, candles, etc.  But now most focus on bio, Germany's term for organic, foods.  My work is good, basic.  I help set up the fruit and vegetable displays outside, bring shipments in and sort and shelve the new foods.  The exciting part for me is seeing the business/consumer end of the process which I will be joining as a farmer in the coming months.  For instance, on a Friday a farmer from just outside of Frankfurt came and delivered 500 kg of apples to the store!  I'll be getting a full tour of one type of food system this trip as a producer, retailer, and consumer!


Friday, January 14, 2011

What I learned at NOLS

Of course my outdoors skills have improved from all of the new knowledge and practice I had throughout the semester.  But all of that isn't what i'll remember when I look back on this adventure...

I've learned many things about community and how friendships develop.  This was the first time in many years that I was in a situation where I started out without knowing anyone else.

I learned a heck of a lot about the environment and my deep care for keeping the woods wild has been solidified in my mind. 

I learned that there are so many different things in the world to see and do.  And I learned that I want to live a life of seeing and doing those things.  Life on our planet is exciting and I don't want to miss much of it duiring my time here!

NOLS was a fabulous experience.  I love the school and highly recommend that others have an adventure of their own with them, no matter their experience or age!

Snow, Snow, Snow, Snow, Snow....Snow.

My last section at NOLS, backcountry skiing and winter survival in the Absoraka Mountains in Wyoming was one of the hardest things I've done in my life.  As my group quickly transitioned from the luxurious life of rock climbing and base camp living and prepared for our winter section, our spirits were high.  How couldn't they be?! If you ignored the fine details, we were about to be living in giant snowforts and shreddin' the slopes which had about 3 feet of fresh, untouched powder.  The night before we left everyone in the group was wishing that it would snow and snow and snow so that we could live in a true winter wonderland.

Bad idea.  Constant snow (more specifically, very wet snow for 8 of our 10 days) meant we never wanted to be outside as doing so nearly always resulted in wet clothing.  And the only way to dry wet things is with heat...our bodies being the only thing with said ability in a winter environment.  So we would put our wet clothing close to our bodies in an attempt to dry it.  Surprisingly, this doesn't work particularly well.

Travel is also made even more challenging with immense amounts of snow.  We wore a backpack and dragged a sled attached to us via poles and a waist belt. On our feet we wore backcountry skies, which are a lighter weight version of telemark skies.  We would put skins onto the bottoms in order to grip the snow while we were traveling (skins are long strips of a velvet-type fabric with glue on the top side that attaches it to a ski). Our heels weren't attached so once we had all of our gear on, we could slowly move through the thigh-deep snow.  The person in the front who broke the trail had the hardest job.  They could last about 10 minutes before needing to step out for a break.  So our progress when we weren't on snowmobile trails was very, very slow.

Building our giant snowforts, called Quigloos, shredding the gnar a few minutes from camp at 10,000 feet, and skiing up to the continental divide in a blizzard were all fantastic parts of this section.  The real highlight was how the group responded to the aforementioned challenges.  At first everyone was not happy and counting down thedays untill their flights home.  But midway through the section, we stopped all of our complaining and moping, and decided we couldn't check-out early.  We had to end our fabulous semester in style.  It was really hard to look beyond the crappy living conditions and the nearness of our homes, but we regained our goofyness and optimism and skied out of the mountains in high spirits,  proud of a succesful end to a terrific 95 days in the wilderness.