So after weeks of preparation bashing, baking and brewing, we finally woke up on the big day like kids on Christmas Morning! We were so excited to showcase our: Sauerkrauts, Pickles, Organic Gluten-Free Breads, Juns, Dehydrates and Organic Apple Cider Vinegar and wasted no time (see what I did there?) getting our babies on display. Our first time on the other side of the stall!
Connor had a strong realisation of how much his life has changed when he walked passed a car radio, transmitting the third day of the first Ashes Cricket Test. There is no way he would’ve missed a single moment of action a few years ago. The call to making a healthy contribution to the world is one that we have tried to answer and it has consumed us over the past couple of years. It is a decision that has changed our lives dramatically in different ways and although it can be a bit scary sometimes when we hardly recognise our new forms, events like the Festival of No Waste help confirm to us that we are on the right track.
We met so many like-minded people, so many folk becoming more conscious of their health who are mustering the courage to make the necessary steps towards achieving their goals and understanding that creating a healthy gut flora is one of the first keys to unlocking vitality.
There were also many people who are interested in becoming more empowered and who want to learn how to make these fermented eco-systems themselves. No need to buy expensive probiotic pills when you have the knowledge to create your own medicine.
That’s why we will be running our first SAUERKRAUT WORKSHOP at Fair Harvest Permaculture in the near future and will let you know once we have figured out a date and a format. We are really excited to get this off the ground and start educating people on how to build a more alive version of themselves by upgrading their micro-biome.
We had so much positive feedback on our Sauerkrauts and Breads that people made us promise that we would let them access our surplus. It has really got us thinking about operating on a bit bigger scale, especially after seeing all the inspiring people who have recognised their gifts and the areas in which they can make a positive contribution to the cause of creating more healthy models of behaving and acting in the world. To see people “going for it!” was very encouraging and has left a vision of possibility in our minds.
Having a big shake down to Charlie Mgee was a perfect way to end the day and move our bodies in rhythm with all the other bodies who helped make the event such a powerful meeting place for people who have had enough of the current self-destructive models of operation in this world. The festival of No Waste was such a beautiful invention and we are so thankful to Jodie and Do, who are doing their part to keep a larger dream alive in our hearts, a dream of rebuilding and inhabiting a healthy home planet.
As always, we are reminded that, “Small and Slow Solutions” is one of the building blocks to creating long lasting, sustainable and regenerative change and we sincerely hope that the seeds planted at the festival grow in to giant old grow forests.
For my first WWOOFing experience in Spain I had chosen a place called Fundació La Plana, which is situated few kilometers from a small village Santa Maria d’Oló in Catalonia and about 70-80 km north from Barcelona. There, hidden in the picturesque high plateau of Moianès region in over 100 years old masia a wholehearted group of 8-10 people run a foundation that receives throughout the year various organized courses and retreats related to human body and mental health and care (like yoga, meditation, psychological courses etc.) La Plana exists since about 30 years, but became a foundation in 2002. One of it’s residents, a girl named Flor, was precisely responsible for a vegetable garden project where she tried to implement permaculture and biodynamic principles.
I arrived in La Plana on the first day of December and stayed for nearly 3 weeks. Masia, which is a type of rural construction common to the Catalan countries was very big and representative. As a typical example of architecture of mountainous areas it was made of rough stone and had 3 floors. The place could host over 130 people in its rooms with bunk beds. Besides, the property had a modern and very cozy private library with a study hall and lots of books from various categories and in many languages. I spent there most of my evenings reading and studying. There was also a yoga hall in a separate building, workshop rooms and private dorms. The place was partly surrounded by forest and partly by neighboring fields. It was very peaceful and views were enchanting. Unfortunately except a dog, two lovely donkeys and a horse there were no more farm animals.
Quickly I noticed that even though not very far from Barcelona, but being already in the mountainous area the climate differed a lot. Mornings and nights were pretty cool by that time of the year, somewhere below 10°C, yet some of the days were still pretty sunny and warm and on occasions I could work in a short sleeve. In the mornings the air was very refreshing and awaking, which together with nice views made it a great start of the day.
My WWOOF tasks
As a WWOOFer to my main task belonged helping Flor in the vegetable garden. But since La Plana received on every weekend and bank holiday various groups of people coming to attend courses, everyone from the live-in community was involved in helping with organization around them. That of course included me during the time of my stay. While I WWOOFed in La Plana we received groups on two weekends, one of which was an extended bank holiday and on that occasion came around 110+ people. It was a lot of work! Courses where organized from outside but we were responsible for the accommodation and meals. I was helping with the preparation of dining rooms and serving the food. Seems like not a big deal, but with this amount of people setting tables and serving meals took about an hour or hour an half before every meal to get it all ready. Of course we took shifts, so that I had to do it usually for one or two meals a day.
Our cooks were amazing! Concha lived in La Plana and also cooked every day for all members of the community. While the assistant cook came in only during these courses. Each time they prepared separate food for people with all sorts of special diets – gluten-free, diary-free, vegetarian or vegan and so forth. Besides that we had a Brazilian guy whose name unfortunately I have forgotten, who made different types of sourdough bread. Delicious treat!
During the week time we all gathered to eat together at lunch time, while breakfast and supper everyone ate as pleased. One day I made typical polish food for my hosts. With help of Flor we made 100+ handmade pierogies with two kinds of stuffing (one of it was spinach from our garden!) and a soup we call Ukrainian Borsch. For a dessert we had an apple pie. Everyone loved it! But for me the best out of all suppers was the one with seafood. To celebrate the fact that they managed to make some decent money on selling scrap metal we had delicious meal of all sorts of seafood. From what I remember we had clams, squids, octopus, mussels, prawns, langoustines, razor clams, some kind of sea snails that are called in Spanish búsanos and more. All of these were prepared in a typical Spanish way. It was a real feast! Too bad I lost the photo of these delicacies.
The vegetable garden was placed on the lower terrace – flat side of the property that received a good amount of sun. Since it was early December and the temperatures were not too high we didn’t have a lot work planting and harvesting in the garden. However, we cleaned two of the parcels from the remaining previous crop and planted beans and garlic. When it comes to harvesting we had some spinach, arugula, cauliflower, parsley, onions, swiss chard and lettuce that we picked. Spinach for instance I used for my pierogies stuffing and it was delicious.
The biggest task in the garden, which took me few days of work was building raised bed in a shape of number eight. I made it with Flor’s help. We used stones that we plastered with combination of clay with sand, straw and water. It was so much fun! I had never before worked on this kind of projects. I found out how much pleasure it gives to build something from a scratch with your own bare hands. That was also when I realized my interest in natural building, which I tried to explore some more on my further trips. As a finishing touch on the top part of the deep bed we made a mosaic from pieces of some old colorful tiles. It turned out very nicely and super pretty. We hadn’t planted anything as Flor wanted to do it later closer to spring.
As I loved so much creating things I also decided to build a bird feeder. There were lots of birds and winter was coming so remembering how back in Poland when I was a little girl we used to prepare bird feeders with my father I took the plunge to do it this time by myself. I made it from a wood fruit box I found in the shed and cut in half and few small boards for a canopy. As a final touch I painted it red. It wasn’t the prettiest bird feeder I’ve seen but I’m sure birds appreciated their own little red house on the tree!
Taking first steps in making homemade natural cosmetics
Flor besides having knowledge about plants knew also a lot about making homemade natural cosmetics. As she finished a course in aromatherapy and learnt secrets of making wonderful natural creams and oils, now she was willing to use her skills and teach others what she knew. One magical evening she showed me how to make herbal distillates (also called hydrosols) of rosemary and rose petals. It’s actually pretty simple but to prepare it you need a distillation apparatus set. Nevertheless, after doing a little research on the topic I found out that there are ways of making hydrosols using for example a coffee pot. It all reminded me of my chemistry class back in the high school years where we used to do many experiments.
The other day we gathered together with few other women and turned one of the kitchen-dining rooms into “real” lab. We had many different oils, essentials, powders, hydrosols, fresh calendula flowers and necessary equipment. After few hours of brewing potions like some kind of beauty witches, we received three different creams – for face, eyes and butter cream for body. Too bad you can’t smell these wonderful essences! The creams I made as a present for Christmas for my Mom and some small samples for my besties in Warsaw. Making homemade cosmetics is very pleasurable, natural and not that complicated as long as you have good recipes, ingredients and proper equipment. I hope in the future I will make some more!
Always in search for more knowledge
Besides homemade creams I also tried to learn how to use the sewing machine. The goal was to make for my friends little aromatic pillows stuffed with fresh rosemary. I made around 10 or 12 of them and felt very satisfied with my job. I think that to know how to use a sewing machine is a very useful skill. My Mom used to have one when I was a child. Maybe one day I will get one for myself and learn how to make some clothes!
Driven as always by indefinite curiosity and interest for knowledge while in WWOOFing in La Plana I decided to take an online course – Introduction to sustainability. This course was 8 weeks long, had great video lectures, readings and tests. I found it on the coursera.org website which is an education platform with world’s top universities and organizations that offer courses online. They have a vast amount of different programs from almost all fields of interest. What’s curious – it’s for free! Of course if you would like to receive upon completing the course an official certificate there is some fee required, but still it’s not a big sum. I can honestly recommended this platform to anyone interested in broadening their knowledge. My course on sustainability was created by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It was very informative and interesting, explored how today’s human societies can endure in the face of global change, ecosystem degradation and resource limitations.
But of course in my free time I also went exploring the surroundings. There were some walking trails with gorgeous views and nice paths for running. It turned out of course how out of shape I got in only about a month and a half break. Well ok, also the fact that I was not used to running on hilly terrains was the reason for it. I enjoyed it anyhow!
In nearly 3 weeks I already got used to everyone and it was sad to say goodbye. However, I know how to find them and as they said, I’m always welcome to come back. Now it was time to go back home for Christmas, first time in 3 years! I was looking forward to it for a very long time, longing white polish holidays so with excitement reaching the zenith I took off to repack in Barcelona and catch my flight to Warsaw!
I made it home pretty late at night and was welcomed by my flat mate Robin and his girlfriend. We had a nice chat, talked about what’s new (or same) in our lives and then I was left alone to myself again. I probably should say that it was nice to be home but actually it felt kind of strange to be back there. My apartment looked the same, familiar and neat, cozy in its simplicity and full of memories of the moments lived in it. My painted white room with large and comfortable bed and huge closet crammed with clothes for any occasion looked unwelcoming to me. I decided to leave unpacking for the next day and went to get some groceries.
Reflections upon… Food
It was around 10-11 pm on the weekday and at that time the only place opened was the Pakistani mini market around the corner. It was small and piled with stuff of any shapes, colors and packaging, stuffy without air-conditioning it felt like I was in a turned-on oven. Mostly everything over there looked to me like garbage in a packaging, all that industrial, processed food of rather very low quality. Bottles and cans, plastic bags and boxes stuffed with food coloring, artificial flavors and its enhancers, made from products grown on pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, that are often genetically modified and created in laboratories.
Do you ever read nutrition and ingredient labels? Do you wonder what’s inside that bag of potato chips or chicken pate you are buying? How much of peach is in your peach soda? How was grown that tomato when it’s actually not a season for it yet? How far had to travel that mango, which obviously doesn’t come from where you live? And how come these apples don’t rot for so many days even though they came a long way to reach your kitchen table? Well, maybe that’s the right moment to start paying more attention to these things. I used to read labels, but not as closely as one should. I began “to study” descriptions of all bought goods at the beginning of 2015 when I learnt about my intolerance for quite few products. And that was when I found out how much shit (pardon my French, but there is no other better word to call it properly) is stuffed in food we buy. Who would think that ham or sausage are not only made of meat, but also could include wheat, corn, milk and other alike additives? Often it’s modified corn and of course it includes multiply artificial ingredients that help the flavor and color of it. And I could name dozens of examples like this one, each of them as shocking as the first one. When something tastes good it doesn’t mean it’s healthy or good quality, but I believe you know that already.
So why we don’t do anything about it even if we know these facts? There are few reasons that occur to me right now. First of all, this food is cheap and easy to get and usually it comes in big or large packages (or buy 2 get 3rd for half price offers!) Also it’s usually either ready-to-eat or easy to prepare. You know, all sorts of convenience food like dry and canned products, frozen foods, prepared mixes and snacks. Nowadays when everyone lives in a rush, working extra hours, taking additional classes and so forth, we try to decrease the time we spend on grocery shopping or in the kitchen. Usually thinking that it is a waste of our time and effort we go for eating out or buying some pre-cooked and easy to make food. And that’s a pity! Of course not everyone has to be a kitchen enthusiast but cooking doesn’t have to be very complicated or time consuming. Food is our gasoline; if we deliver poor quality gas to our beloved cars they will break sooner and the same happens with our bodies. Pharmaceutical companies are well prepared for these occasions offering us a wide range of medicine and supplements that will help us with all side effects of poor diet and lack of exercise… and cause us even more health problems in the long run. But let’s not get more into the details now. My point is – the more fresh, local and seasonal your food is the better will be your health and overall well-being.
The city that never sleeps and consequences of it
You can probably imagine that after so many weeks of sleeping in pervasive silence it was hard for me to fall asleep in my Barcelonian flat. Unfortunately I used to live close to one of the major widest and busiest streets of the city. But it wasn’t only that. Somehow I managed to forget that the city never sleeps. If it’s not a car or motorcycle, there’s always someone wandering around, talking very loud one to another, skating or dumping glass bottles in the garbage bin. The streetlights illuminated my room making it even harder to get lost in the world of dreams. The air didn’t smell with the same natural freshness. The truth is I could not sleep. Almost every night I was laying on my bed for hours begging for sleep to come.
Too much stuff too many choices
In the next few days I also realized that having too many choices is absolutely overwhelming. My closet terrified me. I had way too many things there. Going out see my girlfriends became a real challenge as I didn’t know what to wear. We were supposed to hang out having drinks and some food, nothing fancy, very casual. However, once you have choice you start wondering what is the best for such an occasion. Maybe a dress? Then which shoes and bag should go with it? The black cardigan or maybe a denim jacket? Don’t get me wrong, I was never a fashion freak compulsively shopping for clothes. Jeans, regular fit t-shirt or a simple dress with a pair of sneakers is what I usually wear. But on some rare occasions when I’m going out with friends it strikes me that choosing what to wear becomes a bigger issue. You maybe start wondering what the others are going to wear? What will match the occasion? The place? The time of the day? The method of transportation you will use? List can go on but I’m sure you’ve got my point. It was so much easier on the farm. You didn’t have to bother what to wear as long as it was appropriate for the weather and comfortable to work in. No one looked at you strangely when you were wearing same trousers for a few days in a row. And getting ready in the morning took me about 2 minutes so I could sleep longer before starting with my chores. For three months I travelled with couple of things I could stuff into my bicycle panniers and not even once I longed for my big closet! Honestly, it was a relief to stop worrying about my daily outfit.
Moving sale and packing stuff up
This way while days passed by one after another I became aware of the fact that for me there is no coming back. I could not live happily in a city anymore. At least not now. Maybe in the future it will change but for the time being I couldn’t imagine myself living my old life again. I had to move on. Continue with WWOOFing, gathering more experience from farms, learning about permaculture and bio construction techniques. Living simple life in surroundings of nature. I made up my mind – I decided to resign the contract for my flat.
Next days I spent on organizing the flee market sale of my clothing and moving sale of my furniture, utility goods and other gadgets. Deciding what to keep and what to sell or give away was definitely not an easy task. However, I noticed that each time it happens, saying goodbye to objects becomes easier. My goal was to get rid of as many as possible things and save all the money for traveling and volunteering. My awesome friends helped me out not only by supporting the idea but also by buying stuff from me and throwing in their old gear for the flee market sale. It felt good to free myself from these objects. I felt an instant release and joy.
From among things I decided to keep, some of them I shipped home to Warsaw and the others I stored at my friends’ flats. Alba, Carmel, Carlos & Paul, Dasha & Jesper, and Kathi became my longterm saviors. That’s where the rests of my belongings and both bikes are peacefully resting now. Again I understood how lucky I am to be surrounded by so many beautiful souls who are willing to reach out to a friend in need. Thank you guys, you rock my world!
When all was set, I was ready again to go back on the trail of volunteer opportunities and my journey of personal rediscovery. I arranged for December WWOOFing at Fundació La Plana located in Catalonia, about 70 km from Barcelona and decided to go home for Christmas. After three years abroad it was to be my first Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Poland. I was excited with this perspective of spending holidays at home with family and friends. In January I would be back in Spain to Wwoof in Andalusia. That was the plan!
So here I was on the road again! I felt sad to leave Prästabonnens Gård, but on the other hand I was very excited about beginning the last part of my cycling journey and reaching my final destination – Denmark. I had never been to Denmark either and I dreamt about visiting Copenhagen. I heard so many good things about this city and that together with Amsterdam it was the most bicycle friendly city in Europe (or the whole wide world?) After going to Amsterdam in May, which completely possessed my heart and is ranked by now as my second favorite visited city in the world, I was very curious about the famous Danish capital.
I was lucky again to find a place in Copenhagen, where eventually I was about to stay for almost a week. It was thanks to the bike polo/messenger community that I contacted few days before my arrival and asked if anyone could host me for a few nights. Trine, a messenger girl, replied to me and suggested that I should stay longer so that I could race with them in Alleycat, which they were organizing for Halloween. Of course I couldn’t say no to such an invitation! Thrilled with a vision of staying within the bicycle community, riding in an alley and hopefully playing some polo and having lots of time to visit the city, I started peddling towards Denmark.
Last days in Sweden – Lund, Malmö, Helsingborg
Since I still had plenty of time and Suzanne offered that I could stay in her apartment in Lund, I divided my last part of journey into 5 days of cycling. This way I could peacefully enjoy my last kilometers through Swedish lands and do some sightseeing in the cities on the way.
I stayed for a night in Lund, which is the oldest city in present-day Sweden and well known for its University. Walking the streets of Lund I was imagining Suzanne living and teaching here. It’s a very pleasant and quite small city; I think I would enjoy studying there.
The next day I cycled to Malmö. It seemed very different from what I had always imagined. It is the third biggest city in Sweden, and I have no bloody idea why I thought it would be smaller and maybe a more cozy, more fishery-town style… I was very wrong; my imagination sometimes misleads me big time 🙂 It is actually a pretty modern city, a cultural and economical center of the southern part of Sweden. From Malmö leads the longest bridge in Europe that connects Sweden with Denmark. However, it’s not possible yet to cross it with bicycle and many people advised me that taking ferry in Helsingborg is better for the ride views, so I chose the later option. My very hospitable Couchsurfing host surprised me by taking me for a dinner to… his grandmother’s home! He explained to me that he promised her he would fix something in her flat and that he usually ate meals with her every now and then. It was a super nice experience to have such an insight in a usual day routine of a Swedish family and their relationships. His grandma was absolutely lovely; she cooked a nice meal and showed me an album with newspaper clips about the history of Malmö that she’s been collecting through years. All of a sudden it made me think of my grandparents and how I missed having them around.
I spent the afternoon and next morning walking around the city and in the early afternoon I took off to my next Couchsurfing stop. The route was very nice; from time to time I was cycling close to the coastline from where I could see shapes of Denmark’s shores. I arrived after sundown at my host’s place. She lived in a truly lovely house in the woods. I have to admit that for a moment I was worried that I wouldn’t find it as there where many similar looking houses and that I would get stuck in the darkness of the wilderness but I managed as always. It turned out that she was a super nice fellow cyclist, so we shared our biking experiences over the dinner. In the morning shortly after sunrise we split and I cycled my last part of Swedish route.
Wow, I was almost done with my trip. From day one, almost two months ago when I arrived in Sweden, I managed to cycle over 800 km and pass through so many distinct places and meet so many interesting new people that I was feeling a bit sad that it was nearly the end of it. If only the weather was warmer I would definitely cycle further, maybe down south Denmark up to Hamburg in Germany where my friend from childhood was living. Well, it will have to be next time as I’m sure there will be next time, somewhere, somehow 🙂
Now being even closer to my destination I could see Denmark’s coastlines clearer. How exciting!
My last stop in Sweden was Helsingborg, a town that is the country’s closest point to Denmark with only 4 km dividing both borders. My Couchsurfer was not Swedish but Hungarian and it was interesting to hear about his experiences as a foreigner living in this country. He showed me around the town that has pretty views over Helsingør, the Danish city on the other side of the Øresund. We ate Thai food and watched a documentary about ancient civilizations that followed with curious discussion on that matter.
Farewell Sweden, welcome Denmark!
The next day before saying “See you around!” to Sweden I sat down in the harbor for a while. I thought of the fact that I’ve been super lucky all the way during my trip. All the people I met were very hospitable and open-minded; each and every one was interesting and very different from each other and for sure I won’t forget them. I wish I could tell you in more detail about all of them, but that would take ages 🙂 Well, it was time for Denmark!
The ride in the ferry was super quick; in about 25 minutes I was already on the other side of the Øresund strait. Hello Denmark, so good to meet you finally! The day was very windy, but the route was amazing. All the way to Copenhagen I had a neat cycling lane and the path led mostly by the coast. Stopping by the beach for a snack and watching kite surfers I rested for the last time before reaching my final destination. I was totally astonished by the cycling indications throughout the road that kept me perfectly navigated. And the fact that all the cars I saw on the way were parked either on the street or on the pedestrian’s sidewalk, but never on the bike lane, was truly impressive! Wow, I already felt instant love for Danish culture.
Cph – the capital of bicycles
I arrived in Copenhagen at last! Wow and wow again – so many bicycles and bike tracks everywhere that I almost got lost twice before reaching my host’s place. Trine was a Danish bike messenger and lived with her best friend Boline and four foreign students – Italian, Norwegian, Romanian and Spanish. It was a nice flat and super nice people who right away made me feel comfortable at their home as if it was my own.
In the evening Trine gave me a quick bike tour through downtown’s main sightseeing points and took me to a dinner with her friends and some Finnish students. On the way she told me a bit about the city’s cycling rules, culture and infrastructure. We rode the busiest cycle street in the capital, Nørrebrogade, that is about 3 km long, which directly links a couple locations and the city center and in the rush hours the bicycle traffic is tremendous. Statistics say that daily it is used by around 36,000 cyclists. Nice. In the next few days I rode this street at least twice a day.
The next day before work Trine took me to The Little Mermaid, which turned out to be much smaller than the one we have in Warsaw and to Nyhavn Harbor that is colored with shore-side homes and tall ships docked along the quays. During that day and the following ones I cycled the streets of Copenhagen back and forward, learning my way through it, visiting key places on the map of the city: National Gallery of Denmark, famous Christiania, hippie zone, Ørestad district with its modern architecture, coffee places and messenger meeting points. But mostly I saw more streets, buildings and bicycles than anything else during my stay 🙂
Bike messengers community and alleycat
On Friday evening Trine took me to their usual bike messenger hang out in the city center. We had a few beers and great laughs. I quickly learnt that Danish people are very straightforward, funny, nice and easy-going, super cool actually.
Saturday was the Halloween and the Alleyween – the biggest alleycat (an informal bicycle race that usually always takes place in cities and normally is organized by bicycle messengers – loads of super fun!) in Denmark annually organized on that very occasion by members of Copenhagen messenger community. Last time I rode in an alley was back in Warsaw probably about 4 years ago, so I was very excited but also very afraid of it. It was organized at night and I didn’t know the city at all. However, Trine found me an awesome teammate, Emma, an ex-messenger who turned out to be suuuuper fast and good at racing. Together with her super nice friend Jody we created a cool team of three. They knew the city very well and rode like crazy, so I had a tough time trying to keep up with their pace feeling a bit like a third wheel, but hell, it was so much fun! We raced for about 2 hours and 30+ km throughout Copenhagen; there were 44 teams, 90+ riders and 10 checkpoints. For me that was the biggest alley I ever raced. Even though we didn’t arrive first (surprised, right?) Emma and me, dressed as Malificient, a beautiful evil mistress from Disney, we won a prize for our costumes. The next day I had also quite a hangover after the afterparty as you might imagine.
Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to play bike polo since the pick up games were very postponed but at least I met some of the players. A few years back I met in Warsaw on a tournament two Danish polo players and now I happily discovered that one of the guys is still in the game and remembers me. Reunions after many years are always a nice experience and so it was this time. I was impressed of how their polo/messenger community works well together organizing bicycle workshops for children and other events of that sort. Really nice and open people with good attitude and teamwork. I hope I will have a chance to visit them again one day.
A souvenir and a final countdown
I almost forgot about one more little detail. I got myself a present in Copenhagen – a new race bike tattooed on my right wrist. On the beginning of my journey I promised myself that I would get a bike tattoo if I manage to get all the way to Denmark on two wheels and I did! From Nynashamn in Sweden to Copenhagen in Denmark; almost 900 km, 13 couchsurfing hosts + Trine and 2 WWOOF farms. Quite an extraordinary experience. Now, this bike will always remind me of these two months in Scandinavia that were filled with lots of learning, thinking, reflecting and analyzing, but also enjoying, resting and relaxing. The route was filled with beautiful and happy moments, but also sometimes with difficult and stressful ones. I had been fighting with my thoughts many times, pushed myself to the limits and learnt to enjoy the best I can whatever comes on my way. It was a new and powerful lesson and now I was about to go back to Barcelona and face reality. Soon I would have to make a decision about what I want to next – look for a new job in Barcelona or hit the road again.
So I left Copenhagen profoundly touched by kindness of the people I met on my way and thankful for their help and hospitality. I loved the city. Even though it was cloudy for the most of my stay, I felt good in it. It is interesting and has a character. But I missed Barcelona too and was looking forward to see it again. See you hopefully soon Scandinavia, thank you for having me and hello again Barcelona!
Preparing garden for the next year – harvesting, fields and deep beds
Since it was already halfway through October, in Sweden the weather was getting colder with each day and the days were getting also shorter. It was about time to prepare for the winter. I began harvesting carrots, beetroots, and broad beans and leaving a few plants like lettuce. As a big carrot lover I can honestly say that carrots from Prästabonnens Gård were the best I ever had; flavorous and juicy, deliciously crunchy, big and some times of funny shapes – perfect to me. Beetroots were super tasty too, so one evening I cooked two Polish dishes made of them. After harvesting I began to prepare the soil for the winter and next season – first I weeded it and later dug hole by hole of about 50 cm per 1 m length and 5 cm deep which I filled with a bit of compost, the soil previously dug out and after finishing the entire field, I covered it with fallen leaves. This way the organic matter enriches the soil and the leaves protect it from the weather, weeds and birds.
When it comes to raised deep beds, I dug deeper holes of about 10-20 cm depth, put the layer of compost, covered it with leaves and charcoal and the rest of the soil, finally spread on the top a layer of fallen leaves. This way the prepared fields and beds would wait for the planting season in spring. In the garden I also covered the surface around all the currant bushes with leaves.
We stored in the cellar most of the harvested carrots and beetroots. To keep them safe from rotting, slacks and other insects I put the veggies in plastic boxes with small holes on the bottom (for the air circulation) in repeated layers of veggies scattered with charcoal (for protection) and leaves spread on the top (to separate the layers.) Prepared like this, carrots and beetroots can be stored through autumn and winter without a problem, I was told.
I was impressed with the quality and richness of the soil made from the compost. Folke built his two-bin composter with removable bricks made of LECA (Light Expanded Clay Aggregate.) It was large and deep, divided in two sections with a net and protected with a sliding cover. First they use one of the bins and once it is full of organic matter they switch to the other one and scatter from time to time a bit of charcoal on top of it. Worms working from bottom to top easily can move between the sections, and to keep it moistened, if it doesn’t rain they water it a bit. Folke told me that in approximately 6 months, good and rich soil is created. When I used it for the fields I noticed that its composition was moist and there were many worms in it; it looked very good to me.
Aquaponics and sour dough bread
In Prästabonnens Gård I saw aquaponics for the first time. Folke designed this very curious construction. But what does aquaponics mean you probably wonder? Well basically it was a greenhouse with a design of a fish tank and connected to it pipes, which circulate the water between the bottom and upper section of plants that grow among little stones and bits of soil. Fish purify the water and add their droppings that enrich it with nutrients. In this way, my hosts cultivate tomatoes, peppers and physalis fruit. It looked really impressive.
As I mentioned before Folke is a really good cook and he likes also to make various preserves from fruits like apple mousse, cranberry syrups, jams, and pickled vegetables. Together we pickled beetroots and made sour dough bread. I have never before baked bread in my life and I was happy to find out that it is actually quite an easy job. In this case the crucial thing was to have the sour dough starter, which we used for the bread.
Bird and bat watchers
Since both of my hosts were bird and bat watchers and Suzanne was regularly registering her observations on birds’ migration, once she took me with her on her monthly round. We went on bikes stopping in the observation points previously marked by her and watched through binoculars the birds. The route was a couple kilometers long and very beautiful, circling around the lake and going into the woods. Later on, Suzanne wrote down her remarks and sent them back to the University of Lund where they were analyzed and registered together with reports from other parts of Sweden. Suzanne used to work at this University before, but teaching Linguistics. The other day she also took me to an old forest on the outskirts of Södra Rörum where we looked for trees where bats could live and placed in them bat-homes. It will help the ongoing research of bats that inhabit this part of the country. On the weekend of my departure my hosts were holding a reunion of their “bat friends” with whom they shared their observations and analyzed together their findings. We spoke about it on various occasions and I have to say that I never though that these creatures were so interesting.
Two weeks at Prästabonnens Gård went by in no time. Many times the thought of staying with Suzanne and Folke for a longer period crossed my mind. I definitely would love to do it and maybe one day I will ask them if that would be possible. In any case I hope to visit them again one day, as the experience was superb; they are wonderful and open-minded couple with vast knowledge on various topics and I really enjoyed spending time in their company. Encouraged and with my new motivation and skills I pushed forward to Copenhagen to complete my journey.
It was Friday afternoon when I reached my destination; a bit tired and cold with sweat. Prästabonnens Gård turned out to be very different from Krogstorps Gård. First of all, by its location – it was at the entrance to a small village called Södra Rörum. There were forests nearby, but not as close as at Krogstorps, and a pretty lake a few kilometers away, where my hosts went fishing. Secondly, it was not a big animal farm, but rather a house with a nice permaculture garden, aquaponics, chickens and ducks. There were also a barn and a large cozy guesthouse used for volunteers, behind which was a natural swimming pool inhabited by frogs and a sauna.
My hosts were a couple of retired professors – Suzanne was an expert in linguistics (French, German and of course Swedish) and Folke, a specialist in human ecology, natural agriculture, sustainable living, grey water purification and permaculture. Folke for decades studied peak oil among other issues and translated John Seymours’ “Manual of Self-Sufficient Life.” They called Prästabonnens Gård a transition experiment as my hosts tried to live as self-sufficient and sustainable as possible. They used solar panels and burnt wood for heating both houses, used composts toilets (there was one in each house and one outside), recycled and composted what they could, collected rainwater, used electric car, grew vegetables and fruits in their permaculture garden, fished, made homemade bread, pickles and other preserves among other things. Within two days with an exciting feeling I already realized that I would learn a lot here; this place seemed to be a sign on my path that would guide me onto the right direction and my hosts were to be my first mentors on this new way.
“You must be the change you hope to see in the world”
When I arrived there was another volunteer on the farm – a Turkish girl Gökçe. We spent only three days together as she left home on Monday evening. There was not much time to get to know each other, although she seemed like a very nice girl and I felt good in her company. Yet, I could tell we were very much different. I just managed to get out of corporate life with a huge relief, while she was very soon about to start her new job for a big corporation and she was surely excited about it. It appeared to me that all the volunteers I met so far were doing WWOOFing for a bit different reasons than I was. They were interested in nature and organic farming, some grew up in the countryside, one of them even studied agriculture and planned to start his own farm, but I felt somehow even beyond that; my quest seemed to be rooted deep inside me for long time and now I was slowly uncovering its layers and understanding that its not only about being tired of the city and the bad quality of food, but very much being overwhelmed with the way we live nowadays, what became of our civilization, how we treat and destroy nature that is an inseparable part of us. I was always interested in environmental issues and following the news, but lately I started digging into the subject even more; watching documentaries and reading articles I became with each day more and more terrified, enraged and upset with what was going on around the world. I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do about it; I had at least a few options though. For instance with my experience I could look for work within NGO’s or Non-Profit Associations or Environmental-oriented news platforms; it would be probably difficult to get job in these places, but it was worth trying for sure. Though I felt that I didn’t want to go back to work in an office and life in the city, at least not yet. Besides I felt that the change should come first with me, like Gandhi said, “You must be the change you hope to see in the world.” I guess that’s why I decided I wanted to learn more about where it all starts – the roots of this planet, our soil and the food we grow. By farming ecologically we don’t pollute the earth and water, kill plants and beings, thus we don’t poison ourselves. I wanted to learn how we could live more sustainably and self-sufficiently without depending so much on non-renewable resources and maybe later share this knowledge with others. That’s also why I finally decided to write this online journal; hoping that maybe there is someone who shares the same thoughts and is wandering around the world asking same questions as I do, looking for answers I’m trying to find.
Inspiring supper – discussing the world
On that very first Saturday at Prästabonnens Gård my hosts’ friend came for a visit. For a supper we had a delicious fish from the nearby lake prepared by Folke, who I soon discovered, cooked very well. We had a very nice conversation during the meal, talking a bit about what Gökçe and I do in life and how we ended up WWOOFing, and then with just one question the discussion entered on a different path. I believe that we were talking about environmental issues like climate change and so forth when I was asked how do I imagine the future of our planet. And there, intuitively feeling on a safe ground, even though I had been there for only 24 hours, I let myself absolutely honestly answer this question. Something I usually don’t dare to do, being afraid of the reaction of my listeners. Yet here, it seemed to neither surprise or shock; they just shook their heads in affirmation, said something in line with me and asked Gökçe the same question. From this moment on for me the real discussion began. We spoke about basically everything that had been bothering me for past months and I finally felt alliance with someone who not only didn’t consider my observations controversial or conspiratorial, but actually agreed with me and deepened my knowledge of these subjects. For the first time I heard about authors like John Michael Greer or real estimations of peak oil that Folke has been studying for about four decades already. Suddenly it turned out that both Folke and his friend knew one of my Couchsurfing hosts, Jessaia, as they all belonged to a small circle of people coordinating a Transition Movement/Towns Project here in Sweden. I heard about this movement for the first time from Jessaia and his girlfriend Ulrika just few days before. That night staying at their place we had similarly stimulating and inspiring discussion that cheerfully made me realize that there are more people thinking like me. I couldn’t believe this coincidence of them knowing each other; it felt like an evident confirmation that I was on the right path. I went to bed with my head spinning from excitement and thoughts about what we’ve spoke that night.
In the following days Folke lent me his books of John Micheal Greer on peak oil, John Seymour on self-sufficient life, and Bill Mollison on permaculture. Hungry for knowledge I greedily started reading almost all at once as I couldn’t decide where I should start. We went back on discussing these subjects with Folke and Suzanne almost everyday during our lunches and dinners. I felt like a student again, able to ask as many questions as I had and always receiving answers and explanations for them. Folke was to me like a wonderful walking encyclopedia that with a smile replied even to the most irrational questions I asked. I wish I knew more back then so that I could ask better questions. But at any rate I felt fully inspired and motivated to continue discovering more about permaculture, sustainability and self-sufficient living. Now I was even more convinced that we have to act fast and learn to use less or no non-renewable sources like oil and start to search for renewable energy, I promised myself to dedicate my time to learn more about this alterative world. I decided I would first go back to Barcelona, stay for a few days and see how I felt being back at home and only then make my next move. However, I already felt quite clear that I want to continue WWOOFing, looking specifically for permaculture and sustainable farms, which could give me a broader view on the possibilities of creating such a self-sufficient, peaceful and in harmony with nature place.
Once Gökçe left Suzanne and Folke asked me if I would like to stay for one week longer. From the very beginning I wanted to stay on their farm for two weeks and besides, now I also felt that I was in the right place to learn what I was looking for, so of course I said yes. During the day I was eagerly working in the garden, in the afternoon studying the books in awe with my eyes wide-open and in the evening we often discussed what I read over the supper. I felt like I was discovering a whole new world, excited and with head full of new ideas and plans that were unrolling one after another. Knowing that I’m not alone in my thinking suddenly gave me strength to push forward and to believe that it is the right thing to do. After all, it is always easier to go back from where you came than to enter a new path, right? Well, that’s at least what I like to think!
Saying goodbye to Krogstorps Gård was tough. Hans and Peter were very good hosts and their farm an idyllic place. My days were full of new experiences and evenings reserved for wonderful walks and good readings by the chimney. I had plenty of time just for myself and spent many cheerful moments in good company. I tried a couple of very tasty traditional Swedish meals cooked by my hosts and ate definitely too much chocolate. And last but not least, Krogstorps was a great beginning of a transition I felt I was about to make soon. When I decided to go WWOOFing I knew that I was not ready yet to go to one of these as-much-as-possible self-sufficient and sustainable farms. Instead I need a smooth conversion from my city life to countryside one. I felt I should take one step at a time, because the change seemed too big to jump head-first right away. Here I had my first contact with farm life and work, but still had all the comforts of the typical household – slept in a warm house with a fresh bed linen and cozy bed, hot shower and a toilet. We were recycling and composting, but used electricity for most things. My hosts were still keeping their regular jobs in order to meet ends and to slowly become more self-sufficient and I’m sure they are on the right path to it. I felt like Krogstorps Gård was somewhere in the middle between city and countryside life, just what I needed at that time. Now it was time to pack again the panniers and jump on my bicycle. The road was waiting for me!
On the road – my bike and me
Right, I was about to cycle a few hundred kilometers through unknown country on my own for the first time. It might sound like not a big deal for many of you, but for me it was a personal challenge. I always thought I’m not a bad cyclist; I bike everywhere in the city, once a week or two used to do up to 100 km distances on my race bike and I also play my beloved bike polo (lately unfortunately less than I wish to). Bicycling means freedom to me, and it feels like an extension of my body. I love cycling and everything related to it. But until that day I only once went on a longer bike trip with one of my beloved friends from home. It was in May and in 6 days we made it across 400 km from Amsterdam to Brussels. We didn’t rush but slowly cycled through cities, enjoying the moment and sightseeing on the way. It taught me a couple of useful things such as that you have to be prepared for all possible weather… including rain. Yes I know, I was super dumb to think that maybe luckily it wouldn’t rain in the Netherlands in May. I was very wrong; it already began to rain when we were leaving Amsterdam and continued for the next 5 hours of cycling. You can imagine how we looked and felt after this ride. This time I got prepared for the rain but not for the cool October weather. Well, actually everything was fine except my feet, which were freezing a bit. But it’s also because I have a very bad blood circulation in my feet and my cycling shoes were more for spring/summer season than for Nordic autumn.
Nevertheless here I was and ready to go beyond all my comfort zones and cycle from the east to the southwest of Sweden on my vintage Panasonic race bike. Many friends advised me to get a more comfortable bicycle for such a long trip. Like a hybrid/trekking bike where you wouldn’t have to ride all the time in a hunched position and attaching panniers would be easier. But no, I wanted to do it on my good old buddy Panasonic. This bike went through a lot with me and travelled to many places. It was a present from my Mum for my BA graduation, bought with the help of my friends. It was bought used but in a very good condition. Strong steel frame survived even my accident with a car I crashed into one summer. And now it was supposed to support me and another 18-20 kg of baggage.
Back in Warsaw my friend had to invent a way to assemble a front bike rack since the fork was missing necessary holes and hooks and the rear rack was attached only to the saddle tube. Because of it I decided to take 4 panniers – two fronts and two rear ones, each pair not exceeding 10 kg for the balance and safety. At first it felt a bit shaky, but with each kilometer I was getting more used to driving this camel-like bike.
When it came to the route plan I decided not to go too hard on myself since I didn’t know what the weather would be like nor the condition of roads and remembering that it will be my first time cycling consecutively for about 9-10 days. I simply couldn’t predict how I would handle it and also I wanted to enjoy this ride, having time to stop and relax whenever I felt like it. My daily distance averaged between 50 and 75 km, but there were places where I couldn’t find a couch and instead of cycling 100 km I was breaking it into two days having 70 + 30 km distances to cover. After all, these short days were good for resting and regaining energy. There were a few days that I cycled against strong wind. It felt like I wasn’t moving at all and making distance of 50 km felt like 100. However, I was super lucky that it did not rain even once during my journey. I used an offline GPS map (OsmAnd), which turned out to be a fair choice. In settings I specifically selected paved cycling routes and it happened only 3 times that it guided me through gravel or forest paths. Fortunately Sweden has good quality roads and many cycling paths going along the way. In other cases they weren’t busy routes, but small ones leading through gorgeous endless forests and patches of fields. Sometimes I could cycle for almost an hour without seeing a car.
These days when I passed through vast forests shimmering with autumn colors and smelling of fallen leaves and pine trees were unquestionably the best but also often the most difficult. Many times these beautiful narrow string-like roads ran through constant ups and downs, having no mercy to my tired legs and back. How I praised these views and at the same time cursed these hills! I passed many lakes; enormous and small ones, all of them filled me with longing for a little wooden house with a window looking out at one of them. I took my breaks camping either besides them or in the woods. I had a snack, scribbled in my journal and stared for a long time into the sky above me thinking of life.
Reflections from the road
A few days into my cycling journey I understood why people so often say that solo trips are mind clearing and heart opening. At first I was more concerned about my gear, distance, condition or my day target, but with time I started to sink into my deep thoughts and reminiscences. I reflected on my past, considered the present and wondered about the future. I went over and over again situations that happened, questioning if they could go other way around and what that would mean for me. But deep inside of me I began to fully understand that there are no rights or wrongs, all of it that happens we should see as a new experience and a lesson. After all I wouldn’t be here if I took a different turn in the past, right? Who knows if I would know my best friends? Or seen places I travelled to? Everything would be different so, – no regrets! – I decided. From now on I will try my best to enjoy whatever world brings on my path and try to learn from my achievements, failures, good and bad choices. And importantly, live this life like I please not like someone tells me I should. Don’t look back at others, because it is me living in my skin and no one can feel or understand what is going on inside me better than I could. It was time to put and end to commonly acclaimed stereotypes and live the way I felt was right for me. And I felt that I don’t want to come back to my regular life. At least not yet and not any time soon. I wanted to reconnect with nature, find fulfillment in my daily work and purpose of it. I decided I would continue WWOOFing after coming back to Spain and slowly discover where it would take me.
Now I was on the route continuing southwest of Sweden. I never slept alone in a tent and thought it might be too cold anyways so I arranged sleepovers through Couchsurfing. I had been using this website for traveling already a couple of times and I always had a positive experience. However, I haven’t thought of the fact that eventually it would be 9 couches in 9 days, each of it after a couple of hours of cycling. Each time approaching my new host I felt exhausted, but once I reached the place I was so excited about meeting new people that my strength and energy came back in no time.
I stayed with all sort of people; families, single mothers and single fathers, students, couples and singles, foreigners like me and local people, on farms and in the woods, in small towns and in the cities. It was a totally amazing experience that nothing can be compared to. I believe that staying in hotels, hostels or even camping wouldn’t be able to give me the same experience. I met lots of interesting and truly inspiring people who gave me the possibility to look into their daily lives and reflect about mine. This way I learned things about Sweden and its people that I wouldn’t be able to read about in any guidebook. Some of my hosts cooked for me traditional or regional Swedish dishes while the others invited me to try their homemade bread, preserves and eggs from their hens. I was even invited to eat at my host’s Grandmother’s home! A few of them took me sightseeing; others showed around their animal farms or were they worked. Many times I talked with my hosts late into the night and with others I watched movies. Usually we ate breakfast together, but on some occasions they went to work early and let me sleep longer and left the keys so that I could let myself out. They were friendly, open-minded and trusting to let me in. But it also took balls to go to all these strangers’ homes without knowing what to expect behind the closed door. Especially the ones in remote places or when my hosts were men. At some point, already on the road for a week I thought that actually no one on earth knows where am I since I didn’t report to anyone. Being a girl travelling alone and sleeping at strangers’ homes can be more risky than for a guy I think. So before arriving at my next destination I texted my best friend giving her a password to my CS account and instructing how to check where and when I should be staying on what day. In case of no contact for 5 days I told her to check the profile and start to look for me. Uff, that already felt better; just knowing that there is one person in the world aware of my whereabouts was strangely comforting. Of course nothing bad or strange happened during my trip and every experience was totally distinct from each other. Some of my hosts actually felt familiar to me even though I had known them for only few hours. It seemed like we’d been friends for months, but really I knew only a small bunch of facts about their lives. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet again one day; I would surely like that!
To wrap it up
After 9 days and about 570 km down southwest of Sweden I arrived on my second WWOOFing farm. From Björnlunda through Nyköping – Norrköping – Linköping – Tranås – Nässjö –Ramkvilla – Växjö – Älmhult and Hässleholm all the way to Södra Rörum in Skåne County. On one hand 570 km seems not much, I thought. I know a few guys who cycled for 1500 or even 2500 km and that’s already something. But on the other hand, I’ve never gone so far by myself on a bike or walking. Actually, I have never cycled for more than 110 km all by myself. And after all, I’m a small girl not a strong big guy, right? I reconsidered my achievement feeling that I was actually very proud of myself. It’s a piece of land that I went through on my loaded shaky vintage bike; with its ups and downs, lots of wind, unknown roads through forests and at times along speeding cars, I made it without any problem or doubt. And there was more to come at the end of this month – I had to get to Copenhagen. However, now I was curious to meet my new hosts and was eager to work again!