Greg and Betsy Ball spent nine months traveling around Europe last year and they’re at it again.
“Last year was a dream come true for us and an absolutely amazing set of experiences,” says Greg. “We really love traveling but being able to dive into the cultures where we had extended stays took our visiting to another level.”
At the end of last school year the two former Tarleton faculty members had sold their house and most of their belongings. They moved what they had left to a storage unit in Ohio. During the summer months they helped their son David move to New York City and celebrated their daughter Chelsea’s wedding while planning for their nine months abroad.
On Aug. 31 they flew out of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and didn’t step foot back on US soil until May 30.
“We extended our travel budget by participating in WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), Workaway, and Trusted House Sitters,” says Betsy. “We volunteer about five hours a day, five days a week, in exchange for room and board. And during house sits, we are usually watching peoples pets while they are away on extended vacations.”
Highlights for the couple were working a harvest on a winery in the Piemonte region of Italy, going on a “shake down” cruise in the Adriatic on the Viking Sun, housesitting on the grounds of Highclere Castle (the inspiration for and location of Downton Abbey), eating a meal with a pairing of Slovenian wines at Hisa Franko in Slovenia (featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table), spending six weeks in former Soviet controlled areas (Berlin, Poland, and Budapest), and leading two trips in Tuscany in May.
“Traveling the way we are, we frequently spend up to a month in one spot,” explains Greg. “We really begin to feel what it is like to be a local and not a only a tourist. And there is also the aspect of being part of a community and helping others out. We have helped pick grapes, install a kitchen, build shelves, list items on EBay, cook, walk dogs, paint rooms, and on and on, and we’ve made some great friends along the way.”
They also added several countries and cities to their list that they had not previously visited. These include Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, and Latvia, and the cities of Riga (Latvia), Berlin, Budapest, Bologna, Verona and many more.
“We love to hike when we travel and we had some epic hikes this year,” Betsy says. “Some of the more memorable were in the Italian Alps, among the vines in Piemonte, the Soča Valley in Slovenia, the Lake District in England, and through the hills of Tuscany.”
They heard several concerts, attended four shows in London, went to museums whenever they could, ate fabulous meals all over Europe, and visited as many wineries and wine shops as possible! Betsy kept a journal of the trip and has well over one hundred pages of notes. But to help people follow their adventure she started a blog chronicling their travels. You can find the blog here. https://www.eurotravelcoach.com/etc-blog/
Betsy and Greg are currently wrapping up a month on the same winery they worked on last year.
“I’m surprised by the contrasts,” says Greg. “The weather is entirely different. Last year was hot and completely dry, this year is cooler and we’ve had quite a bit of rain.” There was also a hailstorm in July that damaged many of the vines and grapes. It made the harvest much more difficult and production much lower. “Still, we got to do things we didn’t last year like learning to prune and planting new vines.”
From Piemonte the couple will travel next to Sicily to explore the island and plan possible tours for the future. In addition to traveling and participating in work exchange programs, Betsy, Greg and their daughter, Chelsea, have started a travel company, Euro Travel Coach (www.eurotravelcoach.com), specializing in helping people plan European vacations and leading small group trips.
They already have two more trips planned to Tuscany. One in March is sold out, and one in May still has some spots open. They have also planned two trips to Piemonte in October 2019. Week one is sold out but the second week is still available. Greg says, “I’ve wanted to do a trip to Piemonte since we started the company. I really love the wines from the area and the food, people, and countryside are just amazing. I’m really excited about this trip.” For more info on both the Tuscany and Piemonte Trips, visit www.eurotravelcoach.com/tours.