Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sharing our home with a not so weary traveller

Putting our ‘guest’ room on AirBnB seemed like a good idea last year – to meet the rising costs of Philip’s medical bills.  We had offered the bedroom to my ageing parents who had declined with ‘when one of us goes’, as well as a resounding, ‘it’s not the same when you give up your independence.’ 

We pfaffed about and it took us almost five months to get the room ready; then we had Bayview Ferny Creek listed for a month before renovations in the ensuite bathroom forced us to deactivate the listing, as we needed the bed and bathroom for ourselves.  The room was back on-line by September last year and we’ve had a steady stream of guests since – even expanding the guest space to include sharing our living room downstairs. What Philip hadn’t expected was that he would enjoy being a cordial, even charming ‘host’. 

Philip hadn’t broke even getting the room ‘just right’ and the gardening and house maintenance seemed like a Sisyphean battle, which challenged us both because of our health issues, when I recalled seeing a post on Facebook regarding HelpX.  I posted in the Hills and The Dandenongs Group to clarify details and discovered another source of ‘volunteer’ labour for free board and meals.  This was Workaway. 

Philip created profiles on both sites and got some interest from young European travellers (three French couples within the space of a couple of days – all landing in Melbourne on the day, or next, and all available without prior notice). Somehow these youthful travellers never came to stay after initial enquires.  We soon formed the impression that they must contact hundreds of ‘hosts’ in the hope of some reply and inevitably had their pick, probably choosing closer to the city where young people may prefer the experiences of the clubs and pubs; and Philip had written quite extensively regarding the ‘help’ he required. Maybe they just didn’t want to ‘work’ for their board and meals.  

Just before Christmas when Philip had reached the stage of wanting to cancel his profile on these sites as it was so time consuming responding to enquiries when they never fructified, he was contacted by Lieve originally from Belgium, who was at the time unhappily at a Workaway connection on French Island. We were sitting next to each other on the sofa and Philip read out her profile description and her email to me.  She was a more mature traveller, like us heading towards the Autumn rather than the Spring of life.  What did I think, he asked?  Why not! I responded.

It was serendipitous, as we had a window of no bookings starting just before the New Year and we agreed that she could stay for 7 nights, then she’d have to leave as we had a paying guest due.  Philip was feeling rather in the Christmas spirit and magnanimous, ‘she can stay for free and have a holiday’, he announced.  Much to his surprise Lieve wrote back that she preferred to have her days busy. She wanted to work.

Philip picked Lieve up from Upper Ferntree Gully station one afternoon after a paying guest checked out and she stayed with us, weeding the ‘jungle’ garden out the back and helping Philip with his woodpile, and any other chores he needed doing (he had drawn up a rather considerable list of 50 possible projects and at the end of Lieve’s stay I think he’d crossed off 7).

Lieve had the pattern of early to bed with a book, and waking early, ‘clocking’ on even before Philip and I were out of bed. She would usually work until lunch, then spend the afternoon to her own devices.  

Lieve surveying her great work in our fern garden

Over the week, we also managed to sneak in several walks around William Ricketts Sanctuary, the Rhododendron Gardens and Alfred Nichols Gardens. On the day of her departure Lieve was planning a trip on Puffing Billy, even though it was a very ‘tourist’ thing to do.

We had been invited up the Lane for New Year’s Eve and Lieve also went with us, along with her 'contribution' of Chandon, and got to experience a laid back hot Aussie NYE on the verandah, replete with Aerogard, sipping champers and eating cheese - including one incredibly soft melt on your tongue unusual cheddar.  Nothing terribly exciting occurred.  We were without fireworks as there was a total fire ban due to severe weather conditions, though if you switched the telly on there were pyrotechnics galore.  However, the conversations were more than amiable and stimulating, particularly when one had had one glass too many of champers. I missed the new year gong, as I was in the bathroom, which was quite large, offered magazines and the vibes were so good, I lingered.

Lieve's normal culinary activities back in Belgium, included baking bread. So on the Sunday morning she showed me how to make olive and rosemary bread, and semidried tomato bread (dried in my oven the previous Summer and rather too gooey with oil but it didn't seem to faze Lieve).  Then we sat down after they were baked and enjoyed these lovely breads with cheese, cold meats and salad.  But my favourite way of eating in particular the olive and rosemary bread is drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled generously with salt and pepper – just as Lieve showed me. 

olive & rosemary bread

a slice drizzled with  olive oil and sprinkled 
with a generous amount of salt & pepper

This cultural exchange was mainly quiet, laid back just like hills life when not on severe or extreme weather alert, but there were lots of hearty conversations over meals accompanied by a glass of wine. We talked about books we'd read, as well as the idea of travel (I dropped in Bruce Chatwin though out-dated, as a favourite writer on travel, whereas Philip nominated Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel). I’m at the stage where I’m happy being in the armchair listening to a good yarn on travelling or reading about travel, rather like the character Xavier de Mestre whom de Botton mentions, who took a journey around his bedroom - then had the audacity to write about the journey. Philip still has his hankerings and plans for overseas travel.  More than likely I will be staying at home with our dog Maudie when he takes off.  Lieve had taken a sabbatical from her regular job and had been travelling for the past 12 months; and had plans to go onto Tasmania (for a Workaway stint in a ‘resort’), then onto Borneo.

I thought Lieve brave, not only for pursuing her passion for travel, often subsidizing it through Workaway periods but for not allowing age to be a barrier to her dreams. Lieve proved to be the perfect first Workaway guest albeit she could very well be the last, unless they are of the same calibre as Lieve, as she has set the bar so high with her great work ethic and her company.  Lieve, however, would always be welcomed back. 

I was missing her presence the other morning, so decided to bake some olive and rosemary bread to enjoy the scent and flavour that she had brought with her visit to our home. I'm enjoying it just as Lieve showed me, with drizzled olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Bon Appetit to cultural exchange. 


  1. What a beautiful piece of writing.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Sandi
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.