A short cycle through western Europe (part 7)…

Live-in work/heading back north…

We were met at the station in Barcelona by Adri’s family who took us back to theirs and fed us up on some of the delicious local cuisine, which I’d heard so much about. And then we spent a pleasant and extremely relaxing 10 days lolling around by the Mediterranean, watching the palm trees waft about in the breeze above us, and seeing the sights of the city.

imag0085We’d found a website where people were looking for workers in exchange for food and board- www.workaway.info There were plenty of hosts on there, mostly looking for unskilled labourers, so it didn’t take long for us to knock up a quick profile and get someone interested in having us over. A couple near Toulouse who were doing a barn conversion.

We left Barcelona via Perpignan, caught a train to Toulouse soon after, and was met at the station by Bert and Carrie, our new hosts. They lived out in the countryside, about an hours drive from the city, close to the medieval town of Cordes-sur-ciel.

imag0101It was a beautiful place: the rolling hills full of sunflowers, the meandering river running through, the peace and quiet, the vast stretches of woodlands. The town, which was just a couple of miles away, was also very impressive. It’s set on top of a steep hill. There’s no room for any modern additions to the buildings, so it has retained its ancient charm and character, and they make the most of this with many small artisan shops offering up in-keeping garments and trinkets. We did well busking there in amongst the market, building songs and a concept which would later become The Fed Peasants.

Another city that was close by was Albi, with the world’s biggest brick building, apparently. But other than that we just explored the countryside and enjoyed the nice weather. Life at the house was really relaxing. We started work early, about 8 o’ clock, helping do various building, painting and gardening jobs. By the time 2pm came around we were finished, and after a hearty lunch and a few glasses of wine we were free to do as we pleased.

imag0110After about 3 weeks we decided to move on. It was only a short term arrangement and we didn’t want to overstay our welcome. So we found ourselves another placement, this time with a German couple on the east side of France, close to the German border, near Belfort. It was a long train ride to get there, it took nearly a whole day, and to avoid paying for a dog ticket, which was half the price of an adult one, Rags had to hide quietly under the seat throughout the entire journey.

We arrived in the dark and were greeted by our next hosts, Klaus and Ingrid, who fed us a little and then showed us to our caravan. And then early the next morning we started work.

Things here weren’t as pleasant as they had been with Bert and Carrie in the south. The weather was usually quite overcast and drizzly, and there weren’t as many places to go walking. It was beautiful, don’t get me wrong- miles and miles of Pine woods encircling vast lakes all around us; but it was tiring trying to trek through it all with the lack of obvious paths. The work we had to do there was a lot more strenuous as well. They expected a lot from us. Digging deep holes, chopping down trees, overhauling completely overgrown veggie patches, splitting logs, picking up horse shit. Neither of us minded this kind of work, it was just that it went on for hours and hours, and they didn’t give us adequate nutrition.

imag0147I think they had expected us to feed ourselves, but from what the website said, that wasn’t the agreement. There weren’t any shops for miles and miles anyway, even if we had the money to do that. Every day they gave us lunch, which was always very small; things like cucumbers and instant mash, Sauerkraut and white rice. And for the rest of the day we had to make do with stale bread and cheese. Eventually I found an old bike in one of the sheds and then began riding the 10 mile trip to the nearest village every other day to buy groceries. It just wasn’t on. And the company was bad as well, they just didn’t want to socialise with us. They stayed in their house every day, probably scoffing large helpings of food, whilst we sulked in the dusty caravan, getting electric shocks from any piece of metal which we touched.

After a couple of weeks it became intolerable. We were both fed up and very ill-nourished. The summer had gone; the weather was miserable too. And we wanted out. The only thing we could think of was going back to Edinburgh, back to our friends. We got in touch with our pal Graeme, who said he had a spare room for us, and then all that was left to do was the 1000 mile trip up there.

It took some amount of preparation. And it would use up the very last of our funds. Klaus and Ingrid were really angry with us for leaving them. I’m not sure why, it’s not like we’d signed a contract or anything, we were free to leave whenever we wanted. But they didn’t see things that way. They wouldn’t help us at all. They wouldn’t even give us a lift to the train station. But we made it eventually, with the help of a neighbour. And then we were back again in Paris, catching another train up to the port town of Dieppe.

Enjoy this story? Then you might like my book, ‘At Home in the Bushes’. It’s about a year I spent cycling, wild-camping & busking around Britain. You can order your copy for £10 now!

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