The first two weeks at our Northern Italy home. This is where we are:
On the evening of Friday May 10th we arrived at Pettenasco train station. We were the only two at the station. It was quiet, dark clouds overhead sprinkled us with rain. We walked to the edge of the street, dropped our bags, and just stood there in silence looking out across Lake Orta. It was a lake neither of us had heard of before, and immediately we wondered why. This place was already the most peaceful, inspiring, serene piece of Italy we had discovered yet.
Our ride appeared 15 minutes later and took us to our new home, Centro d’ Ompio. Centro is an international retreat center nestled on the hills of Monte Rosa. They host all sorts of groups – yoga, massage, meditation and spiritual gatherings. The grounds (100,000 sq. meters) are stunning. This place is paradise. The most magnificent view of Lake Orta stretches out before the 25m swimming pool and spacious pool deck.
Things that were not mentioned in the volunteer agreement and that I was embarrassingly excited about upon discovery were the tree swing, trampoline, sauna, peacock, plenty of cats, eco-friendly everything, and a tea station.
The meals that come out of the kitchen are vegetarian and basically just bomb. I’ve never been so excited to see quinoa, sesame seeds, and beets in my life.
After some introductions we were taken to Bisetti, the working guests house just 15 minutes walk down Via Pratolungo. There’s about 10-15 working guests right now, and we all share the house. It reminds me of a giant treehouse, somewhere that Winnie the Pooh would live. It’s tipped sideways in most parts, boards seem decorative rather than supportive, and doors and windows don’t actually shut.
Yet it’s filled with a ‘homey’ charm. A place you want to sip tea, find a cozy blanket and read a book. We love it.
We have our own room. The miserable dorm days are over. No more zippers and plastic bags at the most ridiculous hours, no more tripping over coffin-sized suitcases, fighting for outlets, or wondering what died in someone’s armoire.
We finally, after nearly four months, unpacked our bags. James had his Coug flag up in seconds, and within a few minutes we called it home.
For the first time since leaving Seattle we can sleep through the whole night – no elephants threatening to stomp on my skull, no random-ass blaring 5 a.m. brainwashing prayer over the loudspeaker, no babysitting drunk French people threatening me with a fire extinguisher. It’s awesome.
On Saturday May 11th, we were up at Centro by 9 a.m. for an orientation from Katherina, the working guest coordinator. We learned how to clean and prepare rooms for guests, wash 100 guests’ dishes, and tidy up the grounds.
So after two weeks here, I can say with some accuracy that our typical workday is something like this:
Wake up around 8:30 a.m. Hike 12 minutes up to Centro.
Make a few cups of espresso (Sicily habit we are working on weaning soon, maybe), top it off with a cup of darjeeling tea, eat some fruit and muesli, and then start work around 9:30 a.m.
Work is usually preparing rooms, dishes, outdoor cleaning, or interior painting.
We work four hours then break for lunch. In the afternoon we work another two hours and by 5 p.m. James is doing real work…
…and I’m playing with the peacock or trying to get Bianca to jump on the trampoline with me.
Dinner is at 7:30 p.m. and by 9 p.m. we head to the sauna. After jumping in the pool a few times we walk back down to Bisetti. We stop and look at the beautiful lake, chat with the donkey (dwarf horse) and feed her grass and flowers for a good 20 minutes.
Once home we drink tea in bed while reading, talking, planning and dreaming. The fat cat, ‘7 kilos’ is hanging out in the kitchen so we usually play with him for a bit too.
Don’t be surprised if the guy requires a name change by mid-June.
So that’s our sweet life right now.
All of the other volunteers are awesome – they’re from everywhere, Israel, Argentina, Germany, Portugal, Russia, Italy, Switzerland. Our ‘boss’ is an awesome chick that does her job very well.
Last week we walked 5 km down to the town of Orta. Part of the walk is alongside a busy traffic road, but the remaining half is a peaceful trail that hugs the lake with amazing views.
Orta is a fun place. It’s got the cute Italian charm, minus the tourist feel. There are no cars and plenty of cafes and gelaterias to choose from, all with views of the Isola San Giulio just 400m from shore.
On our first visit in town we shared some of the best gelato, walked around, and then boarded the public ferry to the small island.
On the island (275m long, 140m wide) there is the Basilica of Saint Giulio. Dressed in Daisy Dukes and tees, we quickly realized a visit inside wasn’t happening, so instead we enjoyed the silence.
On other mornings when we don’t have to work until lunch, we explore around our home. One morning we ran 2 km to the small town of Agrano to find the Alpe Selviana waterfalls that are hidden behind a farm. The falls are freezing, but we spent the morning climbing rocks and exploring the falls before heading back to work.
This morning we ran 20 minutes down to the lake, got a coffee from the Dolphin Bar and then jumped into the cold refreshing lake before hiking back home.
So basically we love it here where we work, the people, our surroundings, the lake, and the opportunities to re-visit Milan and soon explore the other lakes and Turin.