We finally we have come out of hibernation. After returning a few weeks ago from hot & sunny Mallorca, winter – or at least autumn – returned in Istria, with rain, rain and more rain and howling winds. We honestly felt we’d never see the sun again and so cracked on with indoor DIY work. Most of the big stuff is now done – apart from the upstairs bathroom and the outside areas – but our wonderful go-to builder/electrician has another job and so isn’t as available as much as he used to be and we were just starting to feel a bit overwhelmed with what was still to do, especially as visitors were starting to book in.

However, as often happens, a solution falls right into your lap – and this was the case when I found out about the WorkAway Scheme. Essentially, it’s a website where you can register as a host and post the kind of help you need – people who are travelling and who have the skills you need, where you live, get in touch if they are interested. And this was how we met Julie and Mariusz, a French/Polish couple who had just renovated their home in Roscoff, in Brittany and were travelling in Croatia, offering their building skills in return for accommodation.

We didn’t enter into this lightly, as we were aware that inviting people you don’t really know into your home can bring potential problems. However, the WorkAway website is comprehensive and there are a number of ways you can carry out your own checks and balances, before making any contact with anyone. I also found the actual help provided by WorkAway themselves, to be quick and informative and reassuring. You create a profile, as a host, and we discovered that the more information you can provide, the more suitable and compatible, are the people who contact you. We got back to all initial contacts, whether suitable or not, because it’s the polite thing to do and because the more you interact, the higher your rating as a host becomes. We made it clear that we preferred a mature couple (rather than clubbing kids who just wanted to get a bed for a few nights), stated the dates we could host and the skills we ideally were looking for – construction, plumbing, gardening.

Workaway is an international hospitality service that allows members to contact one another to organise homestays and cultural exchange. Volunteers or “Workawayers”, are expected to contribute a pre-agreed amount of time per day in exchange for lodging and food, which is provided by their host.

Julie & Maruisz travelled up to us from Split, from an eco-project they had been working on, and as soon as we met them, we felt comfortable. They were also travelling with their honey spotted Dalmatian, called Alda – they had informed us of this initially, and made it clear that they were OK if we decided not to go ahead because of the dog – and. yes,  we did have questions as we don’t have a dog. We exchanged many emails and felt ressured that Alda would not be an issue – and we were proven correct. He was the most clean, quiet, placid and very pretty animal we’ve seen for a long time 😉

Alda, the Dalmatian. So of course, very at home in Croatia :)

Alda, the Dalmatian. So of course, very at home in Croatia 🙂

As Julie and Maruisz had renovated their own home, they were what we would call, very “handy”. We had a list of smallish jobs that we were ideally wanting to be completed, and they attacked them with gusto. Despite the increasing Istrian heat…

Prepping the outdoor sink for mounting in the new frame...

Prepping the outdoor sink for mounting in the new frame…

We had kept the ceramic sink from the old kitchen, when we did our renovation, knowing that one day we would find a way to have it installed outside. Our WorkAway friends cleaned up the sink and made a frame, which was painted and fitted, outside the cellar. Istrian stones were sourced from around the house and a plinth built, onto which the sink was mounted. The tap still needs to be fitted, but we’re all good to go!

The entrance to the outside cellar has always been open, despite there being a frame and a door, just lying inside the cellar. We’d always intended that these be fitted, but other jobs just seemed to take precedence – until Julie and Maruisz arrived. The frame was undercoated and painted and drilled into place, and the door carefully sanded, cleaned down, undercoated and painted – and it all now looks great as it just finishes everything off…

The arrival of the guys spurred us into finally buying a power drill, which can now very easily easily get through our very thick walls. And this mean that our “homage” to our neighbour – those of you who’ve been to stay will understand – could be installed above the front door.

However, the major task that was achieved, was the fitting of our outdoor uplighters, to light up the beautiful ivy clad wall which is our garden backdrop. Although our builder still needs to connect these to an indoor switch, they are in and working – they just switch on and off from the external cellar, but now that we have a door on this, it’s a pleasure to go in and out to do the switching we need to do…

First ever switch on,,,

First ever switch on…

As well as the above tasks, Julie and Maruisz also worked on chopping vines and ivy and doing concreting work that has been outstanding for a long time. We struck very lucky with them, as they were very easy company and having travelled extensively, they were interesting and engaging and had many tales to tell. We are fortunate that we have two bathrooms, so they (and us) could have privacy, but they just slotted in very easily into our lives for the five days they were here. We shared the cooking and they did their share of washing up etc. In return, we took them out for dinner on one of the nights and as they had been on the road working, let them wash and dry all of their clothes. They prepared a feast for us on their last evening – who knew that a salad (albeit a very packed, flavoursome, big one)  could be so amazingly tasty and filling?

And, as quickly as they’d arrived, they were off to their next project in Ljubljana. However, we think we may not have seen the last of our lovely new WorkAway friends…

We have not been paid to write this post. It is an honest appraisal of our first WorkAway adventure and it was a massive success. Our next visitors arrive in mid July and we are just making arrangements with a travelling English couple who are hoping to come to us, early August. Check out WorkAway – it’s definitely worth investigating.