by Marie Spodek
We first learned about Servas in 1994 when my husband Bill and I were traveling in Khajuraho, India (yes, that erotic temple site), and chatted with a Canadian couple who told us about it. We quickly lined up our references and interview and, within a month, became members of Servas India. Since then, we have enjoyed traveling and hosting.
As we move into our late 70s, we realize that we just don’t know how many trips are left in the tank, as it were. So, in late 2019, we embarked on a grand tour of the continent: France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. We love the European cities and villages with their squares, plazas, stone buildings, welcoming sidewalk cafes, and the whole feel of things. Little did we know that just a few months later, COVID would shut down the world, especially for our kind of travel adventures.
Our travel stays generally alternate between Servas hosts, hostels, and inexpensive B&Bs. We’ve come to realize that when we travel, we sometimes just need a break from being a guest in someone's home: to plan where will go next, catch up on our journals, and just kick back to watch the local scene in a square or cafe.
But what never ceases to amaze us and keep us firmly in the Servas fold are the unexpected gems we’ve uncovered while Servasing (let's make that a new verb).
Here are just a few from 2019:
Rennes, Brittany Our hosts drove us way out into the countryside to a local café in the middle of nowhere. We sipped great French wine as our SERVAS hostess played soprano sax with her delightful eight-piece band.
Vannes, Brittany The first host we contacted was traveling in England, but he made arrangements for us to stay with another SERVAS host in the area. He said, “that is what we do here.”
Mulhouse, France We aren't big car buffs, but our SERVAS host assured us that we DID want to tour the French National Automobile Museum with more than 450 antique cars, many one-of-a-kind, including more than one hundred rare Bugattis. He was right!
Switzerland Our host suggested a better hike than the one recommended by the NY Times. We took a ride in a funicular up to the start of the hike, then trekked 10,000 steps to the 1882 Hotel Weisshorn, then back down another 15,000 steps to the village. That evening our host told us that he made "the BEST Swiss fondue,” and he was right!
Monteforte d'Alpone, Italy–We arrived at a restored farmhouse just in time for a family dinner with three generations, plus Egyptian twin teenage boys our hosts were housing while they learned to repair big truck hydraulic engines, to speak Italian, and lived with a family again. The next day, our host's sister invited us to a chestnut harvest festival in the mountain village of San Giovanni Ilarione.
Faenza, Italy Our hostess told us to visit the most incredible ceramics museum we could imagine. We hadn’t even known it existed! We became star guests at her ESL class, and then celebrated her birthday with several of her friends.
Siena, Italy When we contacted our host, Joanne, she replied: “if you can wait a few days, you can join me at my villa in Tuscany.” WOW! We immediately changed our plans! We enjoyed great meals and Italian wine with our host and her three good friends. She had us hike the Bagnon Vignoni loop through spectacular countryside and small villages, ending up at the local hot springs where we soaked our tired feet.
Enjoying lunch with Joanne and our fellow hikers
Please share some of your memories!
Marie S. Spodek