I can't begin to list what I enjoyed most of all, the people I worked with, the food or the country side. We were a total of 20 volunteers between the ages of 16 to 25 and with the exception of myself all from different parts of Europe.
The reception was well planned as we played games to get better acquainted and had a good review of what was expected of us, the kind of work and the purpose of it. Sounded so simple, raking hay all day and getting rid of invasive plants. Since we worked in the midst of vine yards, there was no more life stock for grazing and keeping the meadows in check. Weeds had taken over and we were to curb their growth. Work on sometimes steep slopes was demanding, the weather hot, thorns unforgiving and the wasps made a nuisance of themselves. What made the job so tolerable was the team work. Imagine 20 people (not counting some of the locals) who had never met before, all with various cultural backgrounds, trying to communicate in a foreign language, brought together on the slopes of Austria to rake mountainous rows of hay in one line. We came together as one team which was truly overwhelming. At the end of the day, as we looked back on our accomplishments, a smooth meadow and tons of hay scattered in the woods, we had made an impact on the country side, a difference we were proud of and all our daily mishaps faded away. (Farmers can't feed the hay to the animals since it contained Herbstzeitlose, a poisonous plant).
Work was a total of 4 days per week and the rest of the time was filled with various trips, all sponsored, to show us the beauty of the country plus a glimpse into its rich history. For example swimming in the Danube and a boat ride, visit to an ancient castle and even a private tour in a monastery. There were also the simple fun things like trying unsuccessfully to play an alphorn we had found hanging in a hut, stuffing ourselves with berries we picked along the way, having a mud fight and building sand castles on the shore of the Danube or a night hike with torches. There was something for everybody. The local people, some came at times to work and mingle with us, were very appreciative of us.
Our stay was in a local B&B, packed lunch and supper in a restaurant. Food was outstanding and plentiful. Back here in the States I still miss the warm rolls for breakfast. There were 4 vegetarians among us and consideration was well taken.
As for safety, we were told ahead of times to bring boots and were issued gloves. In addition we had safety instructions about the brush cutters. However, I will never get used to their driving, the narrow roads and the speed in which they zoom about. One driver even took photos while driving, with a steep slope on one side.
All good things come to an end, we had to say good bye. There was lots of hugging with promises to write. I will always look back with plenty of good memories, especially the camaraderie I experienced and I am already thinking about my next volunteer trip.