When I travel, I try to live by the Rule of Three. This particular personal philosophy was manifested as a direct result of my first time living in Austria, and has proven itself to be accurate on multiple occasions since. The general idea behind the concept of Rule of Three is that you can’t accurately judge a place or experience until you have given it-and yourself-the appropriate interval of three. If you’re heading into the unknown for a couple of weeks, give yourself three days to adjust and then start figuring out how you feel about it all. If you have a year, give yourself three months. A day or two gets three hours…you get the idea. What I’ve discovered is that this is a pretty great rule of thumb. You’re not backing out or judging something before you’ve really had a chance to immerse yourself, but you’re also not spending an unnecessary amount of time and effort deciding how you really feel about a situation; I think it’s rare that your opinion would change much after the appropriate length of 3 had expired. Of course, if you like a situation or place right off the bat that’s awesome, and all of this need not apply. But if you’re unsure, uncomfortable, overwhelmed, underwhelmed or lonely, force yourself to wait it out. You never know, the third time might really be the charm.
The train pulled out of Sydney’s Central Station and began its slow, winding journey through the beautiful countryside to Singleton, NSW. As I stared out the window at the forest filtered sunshine and small lakeside towns, the last thing on my mind was the Rule of Three, or any travel philosophies for that matter. I was finally heading towards Hunter Valley (Broke Fordwich to be exact, which is known as the “Tranquil Side of Hunter”), where I would begin my first WWOOFing experience at a place called Hunterstay, which was advertised in the WWOOF book as a small vineyard with horses that experienced riders could work. It sounded like heaven to me, and the timing had worked out perfectly since my original plans for my first WWOOFing experience had fallen through at the last-minute. Five hours, a frantic train switch and a crowded standing-room- only last leg later, I arrived in Singleton and was greeted by Eden, the owner of Hunterstay. We piled into his van and he gave me the run down as we drove through the scenic Valley, picturesquely bathed in the vibrant colors of the setting sun.
“Now, Courtney, the vineyards have actually been pulled up a while ago; a lot of the people around here have done the same with their vines recently. Just not a lot of money to be had in it. There are still a few places left though, and I have good connections in the community so we can get you tours of some places and they always need help in their cellar doors. I also manage five different accommodations throughout Broke Fordwich, and the girl I had cleaning the places was recently let go, so I’ll need your help with that.”
I was a little put off by the opening conversation, but I decided to not let it get to me since I honestly now had no idea what was in store. Besides, Eden, his delightful wife Rebecca, and their son Nick were all exceptionally friendly and welcomed me into their beautiful house with open arms and a fantastic dinner. I arrived on a Wednesday evening, and the next two days looked like this:
7:30 am-wake up, head downstairs to make yourself breakfast (muesli & Greek yogurt with a cup or two of coffee for me, thanks!)
8:30 am-load the van with cleaning supplies, bedding, towels, soaps, etc. and head to whichever of the 5 properties needed to be cleaned first
12:00 pm-drive back to the house for lunch
1:00 pm-head back out to do more cleaning
5:00 pm-drive back to the house; done for the day
Please do not give me undue credit and assume that I maintained my sunny disposition throughout these first couple of days. I was absolutely, positively miserable. The work wasn’t hard, the house I was staying in was nice, and I was being treated like a part of the family. But despite all of this, I felt like karma had finally caught up with me…and somewhere along the road I had done something really, really wrong to deserve the personally specific torturous punishment that I was being subjected to. You may think I’m being over dramatic, but please put yourself in my shoes. Here I was, surrounded by breathtaking scenery and acres upon acres of perfectly manicured vineyards…and I was inside cleaning. The weather was brilliantly sunny and a perfect, balmy temperature…and I was inside cleaning. There were five horses that greeted me as I loaded the van every morning, which I hoped to ride every evening, but never arrived home before it was too late and the sun was setting…because I was inside cleaning. Would you like to know the worst part? After a long day of being stuck inside, plotting my escape to the nearest vineyard where I could drink my body weight in the phenomenal wine that Hunter is known for, I was given sweet white Riesling out of a box to accompany dinner. Out. of. a. box. Oh yes, spirits were low my friends. Then, somewhere amidst my misery, things started to look up. The weekend arrived and I was allowed complete freedom. I chose my trusty steed, Warrior, and rode through the untouched woods every morning. An old family friend, Roy, drove up from Sydney and spent Easter weekend with us; he used to be a winemaker down the road from Hunterstay and was the epitome of fabulous. Rebecca opened up and told story after story of her childhood growing up as the daughter of a British spy who moved all around the world and finally ended up in Portugal, where she had many a steamy fling before moving back to London and meeting Eden. Nick and Eden quickly picked up on my sarcastic sense of humor, which easily blended with their own. I had time to explore their library, which contained dust-covered copies of Poe’s poetry, Australian wine making instructionals, and a multitude of cookbooks. After discovering my love of cooking, Eden even invited me into the kitchen one night-which was typically Rebecca’s domain (and rightly so)-and he, Nick and I threw together an authentic homemade Australian pie with Gipsy Kings serenading us in the background. I was lying in bed one night about a week after I had been there, happy in a state of existence enhanced by Roy’s 2000 Pinot and delicious Muscat, when I suddenly remembered the Rule of Three; it had once again proven itself to be true. I was genuinely sad to leave Hunterstay when the time came, and I’d like to assume that the feeling was mutual. I have to be careful about stagnancy, however, because my three months in Australia is quickly winding down and there’s still so much to see and do.
For the record, I never visited an actual vineyard or winery while in Hunter, although as a parting gift Eden gave me a bottle of 2002 Merlot Cabernet from Nightingale Wines, which turned out to be surprisingly good. Someday I might have to take him up on his invite to have me back as a guest, so that I can fill in the pieces of this particular puzzle that I missed out on this time around.
But for now, I’m back on that wine road again-trying my best to remember to take it three wonderful days at a time.