Senckenberg, Frankfurt, GermanyWe came to Germany to take part in an English Language Immersion program run by Diverbo which was taking place near Frankfurt. We arrived in Frankfurt on the Friday and stayed at Paulies Hotel next door to the program meeting point.

Frankfurt is a muddle of restored 19th century, ageing 20th century, and 21st century architecture, making for a walking experience that is both beauteous and hideous at the same time.

I like visiting museums, I find that they are a good place to begin understanding any culture you are visiting, as they display the history of the world us understood and respected by that culture at large, and the Senckenberg is an excellent example of how Natural History Museums should be. It has several floors with multiple galleries, briefly covering Earth’s formation and geologic history; displays of plant, animal and human evolution; displays of dinosaur fossils, amphibians, insects, arachnids, mammals, reptiles. The brevity of each display allows for the Senckenberg to have comprehensive coverage of the epochs of our planet, and some of the specimens are exquisite, making it well worth the visit.

In the afternoon, we visited the Städel Museum, which while not one of the most famous art museums, it was definitely one of the best planned and designed. There are four floors; the ground floor is for current contemporary art projects while the lower level is for contemporary art from 1945 onwards; The 1st upper level contains art from 1800-1945, and the 2nd upper level has pieces from 1300-1800. The upper levels are divided into numbered rooms that are curated in such a way as to guide you through time as well as specific artistic movements. The Städel has a great array of art on display on the upper floors but it never feels like you bloated or overloaded. This is because of the variety of artists and movements on display give you enough variety that you do not feel that you seeing the same piece repeatedly thus keeping you engaged in the experience. The contemporary exhibition on the lower floor, while also numbered, is a partitioned space that you weave and wander through. I’m not a fan of contemporary art and a great many of the displays failed to engage me, but it is still a worthy display.

After Diverbo, we caught the train North to Bremen, where a friend of mine was living and studying.

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After our time in Brussels, we flew to Italy to visit with some of Rina’s family. Rina’s family come from the north of Italy. One aunt and her family live in a small town, Chiuduno, near Bergamo. Another Aunt and her family live in and around Como.

While in Chiuduno, staying with Rina’s aunt and cousin, we walked through the forested hills surrounding the town. The trails meandered between hunters perches and wooded glens, and offered some beautiful vistas of the surrounding plains and valleys.

Chiuduno, Italy

A Stroll around Chiuduno

Chiuduno, Italy

On Another day we walked a linear path through the hills at Val Vertova. The walk was quite easy and followed a small river. Occasionally we had to cross the river using stepping stones with a chain link fence to provide support.

Val Vertova, ItalyVal Vertova, ItalyVal Vertova, Italy

We took a day trip to Bergamo Alta, the mediaeval city. It is located on top of a hill that overlooks the city and provides a great panorama on a clear day. We took funicolare up the steep incline into the city to meet with Rina’s cousin who worked the museum. We walked the narrow streets of the city and stopped at a restaurant for lunch before visiting the ‘Museo Civico Di Scienze Naturali’.

The Museo Civico Di Scienze Naturali is not a large museum, but has incorporated education very well with many informative and interactive displays. The museum has several unique fossil displays including a complete fossilised skeleton of a deer 700 thousand years old. The museum also undertakes excavation projects in the area to improve the collection. Rina’s cousin works for the museum as an artist, providing detailed anatomical drawings of display items. She showed us a couple of her pieces of a spider as viewed under a microscope which were beautiful in their detail and design.

We also visited the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and the Cappella Colleoni annex, located next door, which was one of the most grotesquely beautiful religious sites I have visited. The Cappella Colleoni façade is grand with ornate geometrical patterns and beautiful windows while the interior is very clean with ornate stonework (no photos allowed in the interior). The Basilica is immediately to the left of the annex with high imposing grey walls and a portal with statues. Inside however was immense wealth the likes of which I haven’t seen before (this is my first Italian basilica). Almost every available centimetre of wall and ceiling was filled with art, be it painting, tapestry, carpentry or masonry, so much so that it can make a person ill or elated at their declaration to god.

Basilica di Santa Maria MaggioreBasilica di Santa Maria MaggioreBasilica di Santa Maria Maggiore


It was very interesting to walk the narrow cobbled streets of this ancient city, first through the town centre with many centuries old buildings lining the squares, then up a hill to a lookout. Bergamo stretched into the distance and on a clear day the view would be incredible, a vista stretching out for kilometres. As it was, each day we were in this area of Italy a white haze limited the view.

Our last day in Chiuduno we had a family BBQ at another of Rina’s cousins. His home was located on a nearby hill that overlooked the valley. The home was surrounded by grape vines and cherry trees and a small vegetable garden. We sat on his patio with the family and drank homemade wine and ate BBQ’d meat and salad.

The following day we drove to Como to stay with Rina’s other aunt and her family. Como is a beautiful area, stretching around a lake nestled in the Alps. It is so close to the Swiss border that it is not uncommon for people to cross it each day for work. Here we had a wonderful lunch with Rina’s family, aunt & uncle, cousins and their children. In the afternoon Rina’s cousins took us into the town to walk the streets and visit the Cathedral.

The Cathedral in Como was a major departure from the basilica in Bergamo. It was an imposing structure with a Spartan interior. The altars were impressive to look at with some very interesting designs, especially the one with a diorama of hell.

We took the opportunity for a morning walk up a nearby hill to Brunate with Rina’s uncle to overlook the city and the lake. The walk was a reasonably steep incline along a forested path. The view from the peak was impressive so we stopped for an espresso to savour it a while. We walked down via the road as it followed the contours of the hill.

A Morning stroll in Como

Como, ItalyHiking to Brunate, ItalyThe view of Como from Brunate, Italy

Later in the day we walked around the city with Rina’s cousin before retiring to her home for dinner with the family.

One of the big highlights for us in Italy was the food. We had many opportunities to eat some very simple but delicious meals. Each lunch and dinner consisted of fresh bread and cheese, salad, and a variety of pasta sauces. The simplicity and depth of flavour was surprising, but more so how few ingredients and how little garlic was used. Even the pizza is very simplistic, a good base sauce and a few topping scattered over a thin base that still tasted excellent. It made me realise that in Australia Italian cuisine seems to be expressed through the use of tomato and/or garlic, whereas in Italy the food is not as dilute.

We also took every opportunity to enjoy Gelato, which I’m happy to say is widely available and absolutely delicious. Everywhere the Gelato is slightly different in texture and flavour and almost everywhere you go they will tell you they have the best Gelato in Italy. All that choice just makes for an excellent journey for your tastebuds.

Lake Como, Italy


Yecla - Voluntariado (español)

Australia Flag  Click Here for English Language Version

Yec Wk 01Mientras estuvimos en Yecla hicimos un voluntariado con una asociación de agricultura ecológica y local. Trabajamos sobre todo con Jesús, unos días con Paco y una tarde con Elie.

Jesús es un trabajador social jubilado y un carpintero talentoso que es dueño de una casa de campo cerca de la Sierra de Salinas. Nuestro segundo día en Yecla nos reunimos con Paco y Jesús que nos condujeron a la casa de campo. Jesús y Paco no sabían hablar Inglés y estábamos escribiendo sin parar en nuestros teléfonos para entender lo que estábamos haciendo y dónde estábamos yendo. Jesús y Paco sacudieron sus cabezas, asumiendo con desconcierto  cómo esto podría funcionar sin comunicación.

Yec Wk 00

Pronto nos encontramos en una casa donde conectamos un remolque y cargamos bolsas de humus de lombriz. Luego  conducimos un poco más lejos y nos detuvimos junto a un campo de olivos. Allí descargamos el tráiler. Paco procedió a llenar baldes con el suelo y nos dio a cada uno y nos enseñó a qué hacer con ellos- verterlo uniformemente alrededor de la base del árbol de aproximadamente a un metro de ella, pero no más allá del alcance de los las ramas. Hicimos esto para 70 árboles mientras Paco iba vertiendo el suelo en la cubeta nosotros hacíamos los anillos. Funcionó tan bien que Paco terminó diciéndonos  que tomásemos descansos para fumar. Una vez terminado nos fuimos a la casa de Jesús y mientras Paco preparaba el almuerzo, nosotros fertilizamos otros 30 árboles.

Después de comer, Jesús nos hizo preguntas filosóficas, en español, que teníamos que responder, en español. Le dijo a Rina "¿Qué es la libertad?" Esta es una pregunta difícil para la mayoría de la gente, pero nos sentamos un rato y respondimos en nuestro pobre español. Él me pregunto "¿Qué es amar a una mujer?" Una vez más una cuestión difícil, pero él aceptó mi respuesta una vez que Rina confirmó que ella era la mujer de mi vida.

Otro día fuimos recibidos por Paco y Jesús y a visitar la casa de campo para plantar garbanzo (garbanzos). Rina y yo plantamos las semillas, mientras que Paco y Jesús cargaban ramos de olivo en el remolque. Fue un excelente día que nos dejó con ganas de lluvia para que nuestras semillas pudieran crecer. Hubo un poco de lluvia, pero no sabemos si era suficiente. Almorzamos con Paco y Jesús otra vez, y una vez más tuvimos una discusión filosófica.

Elie nos recibió una tarde después del almuerzo y le  acompañamos a su huerto donde está construyendo su casa y también usa para educar a su clase acerca de la jardinería orgánica. Con Elie sembramos un campo de plantas de tomate, los cubrimos en plástico y una malla fina para protegerlos contra las frías noches de primavera y pusimos el riego para cuando fuera necesario.

Yec Wk 02Yec Wk 03

La mejor experiencia de trabajo que tuvimos durante nuestro tiempo en Yecla, fue con Jesús en la casa de Elie.

Yec Wk 04Nuestro primer día en este proyecto  no teníamos ni  idea de lo que querían de nosotros. Paco nos había acercado a la casa para vernos con Jesús. En la casa había un montón de ir y venir mientras nosotros reuníamos nuestras herramientas. No teníamos ni idea de  la traducción española para las herramientas, pero se hizo lo mejor que se pudo. Tuvimos una sierra de calar, pinzas, martillos, taladros, paneles de madera y vigas, barniz y cepillos, formones y mucho más.

El primer día fue el más difícil debido al limitado lenguaje que compartimos. Afortunadamente Jesús era increíblemente paciente con nosotros, muchas veces tratando de ayudarnos a hacer la conexión entre las palabras, objetos y acciones. Cada día traía mejoras en nuestra comprensión de lo que se requería y lo que podríamos hacer. Si se trataba de medir y cortar los paneles, corte y montaje de cuadros, perforación de hormigón, o barnizado, mejoramos y en el último día de trabajo, habíamos instalado el techo de paneles de madera y el trabajo estaba completo.

Yec Wk 07Yec Wk 05Yec Wk 07

Ese día, en busca de nuestro trabajo terminado, Jesús nos dijo que se alegraba de nuestra ayuda, la eficiencia y la iniciativa. Pocas veces me he sentido tan orgulloso como ese día con este hombre, nuestro amigo y capataz, dándonos las gracias.

Other stories from Spain:

Australia Flag Granada

Australia Flag Vaughan Town

Australia Flag Yecla - Our Month Living in Spain

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 Yecla - Nuestro Mes de la vida en España 

Australia Flag Yecla - Gastronomy

Spain Flag

 Yecla - Gastronomía

Australia FlagMadrid


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