Resort. Wedding Venue. Farm. Medieval Castle.

I sat on a bus twenty minutes from the castle, rounding a bend that I knew would provide my last look at the old honey-colored retreat that I’d lived in for over a month. I was ready to move on, but still found myself saddened to leave that restful place as the bus finished the turn and I looked out towards sprawling Florence and my next two weeks of travel.

I went to the castle to escape the non-stop life of the hostel in Bratislava, and I certainly found what I was looking for. Most of the year Castello di Ristonchi is abuzz with the music of reveling families, the smells of a busy kitchen, and the rush of busy farm workers. The winter is much quieter. No guests, and just a few laborers. One day I’d be waxing a cabinet in the top floor of the tower, the next planting fruit trees in one of the orchards.

It rained a lot, and when I first arrived I’d often try to cuddle up to the radiator near my bunk to escape the chill of the stone walls and floors. As the new year dawned, however, the weather warmed. The light would hit the castle early in the morning, thawing the soil and releasing that earthy, mossy smell you expect from spring. The bees got the message too, swarming over the hills and the little flowers that bloom all year long. It was easy to believe on many days that I’d simply left the winter behind—a perception that would mostly remain true until March of all months.

Castle life was pretty routine for me. Volunteer, work remotely, then spend the day as I wished. I made a point to hike often, though I never left for the city until the very end of my stay. (More on that in the next post.)

The hiking in the area was lovely. Where in the USA, we’re used to hikes centered around some waterfall, vista or other notable natural feature, the most common kind of trail in Italy and most of Europe are simply paths between villages. So, the hikes that I took usually culminated in some remote Tuscan village, or a ruined building like the one pictured below.

The people at the castle were all lovely. Many were actual employees and from Latin America. For the week after I arrived though, there were a couple of other workawayers, one from New Zealand and one from Morocco. After they left, I was alone for a bit before being joined by two volunteers from Argentina. Finally, just days before I left, a guy from the UK showed up. He was actually a great help as my next destination was the region he was from and he promised to set me up with some friendly faces.

I wish there was more to say about my travels in Italy. I channeled my inner homebody while there and, as mentioned, only ended up visiting Florence. More on that in the next post though.


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