The United Kingdom

Edinburgh, ScotlandWe flew to Edinburgh in May to catch up with a friend I made during my South American trip in 2011. We had stayed in contact and she offered to put us up in her apartment for our stay.

On our first day, we met my friend and dropped our bags off at her apartment before heading to a nearby pub for lunch. Over conversation and beer we learned that there was to be a whiskey tasting at 5pm, and so stayed on through the afternoon so that I could try a few UK002Talisker whiskeys. There were two on offer that day that I had not tried before, including the Talisker Storm which was served poured over an oyster, which was a salty joy.

During our stay in Edinburgh, we took a Edinburgh, ScotlandSandeman’s New Europe tour walking through parts of Edinburgh and hearing various tales of the city. The tour ended at the National Museum of Scotland which contained a rich and dense display of artefacts from Scotland’s history. We also took the opportunity to enjoy Passenger busking at Mercat Cross, raising awareness of the Big Issue (a publication to assist the homeless), adding to the day’s enjoyment. While staying with my friend and her flatmates, we made them homemade hamburgers in appreciation for their hospitality.

On the weekend we also took a road trip to Loch Lomond with her flatmates and had a great time, the story of which can be read here.



York, EnglandAfter Edinburgh, we headed south to York where we aimed to visit a friend in Tadcaster for his birthday and maybe go camping. Prior to heading to Tadcaster though we caught up with another friend I had met in South America for lunch before taking a stroll around the historic township. York is a much storied town with a rich history. We visited York Minster, an impressive and intricately detailed church, and one of the best I have seen. Beneath the Minster is an historical display of York since Roman occupation using the archaeological site as the guide. Much has been written of York and its history, and the Minster has been subject to millions of pictures, so I won’t go into detail here.

Tadcaster, EnglandIn Tadcaster, we met our friend and his wife at the Pub and caught up over a Samuel Smith beers. Sam Smiths is one of three local breweries, and I found it provided the better beers for my taste (But I acknowledge that beer is a deeply personal thing and what one person likes may not appeal to others). We spent a week in Tadcaster and ended up spending time with our friend at his garden nursery giving him a hand to get some of the odd jobs done. After the week, we went back to York to visit my friend again and relax before heading across to the Peaks District.

The Peaks district was home to two wonderful women we had met in Spain at Vaughan Town. We met them in the afternoon at the train station and proceeded to have a wonderful and relaxing weekend in their company. The Peaks District is apparently the most visited area in England, and I could see why. The area is the quintessential English countryside of green rolling hills with meadows and small forests interspersed with hamlets and villages. We drove out to Edale and took one of the trails to the Mam Tor, a Celtic archaeological site with excellent views of the area. After the walk we drove to Castleton, a nearby village, for some afternoon tea. In Castleton we visited the local church, dating back 9 centuries, which services the area as well as the cemetery with tombstones from the 18th century to now.

Edale, Peaks District, Mam Tor, EnglandCastleton, Peaks District,  England

Mam Tor, Castleton


It was great to meet all these people again in their homes, and learn more of their lives.

Other United Kingdom Articles:

A Hike to Ben Lomond


Diverbo – Laubach, Germany

Diverbo – Laubach, Germany

Diverbo is an English Language Immersion Program that operates in Spain and Germany that offers volunteer experiences for native English speakers.

We came across Diverbo when searching for volunteering projects for Spain and when we saw that they offered the program in Germany thought it would make for a great expansion of our European adventure. They offer the courses out of Munich and Frankfurt. We applied for the April course and were accepted.

The first evening of the program we met our MC and Coordinator and the other volunteers and began to get to know each other over a meal and on the Sunday morning we boarded the bus to Laubach, and were joined by two students (the rest were making their own way to the hotel) thus beginning the week of immersion English.

The hotel is located around an hour and a half from Frankfurt, nestled in some beautiful countryside. The first afternoon was to get settled in and familiarise ourselves with the hotel before the program officially started. The day was sunny and pleasant so many of us spent time sitting in the courtyard and getting to know each other. The initial conversations were the standard who we are, where are you from, but also provided a little reassurance to the more nervous of the students. Our group consisted of 16 Anglos & 16 students. The Anglos came from Canada, USA, UK, and Australia, and were from a variety of ages, backgrounds, and accents. The students also presented a variety of accents from across Germany (reinforcing that there is no homogenous accent for any language) ages and backgrounds.

Diverbo – Laubach, GermanyDiverbo – Laubach, Germany

The thing with programs like this is that few actually understand the intensity of learning that is coming, or how much they will improve their English and confidence in speaking. It is a perfectly natural fear of the unknown that must be embraced and exploited to gain the best of the experience.

The program consists of a series of 1-to-1 conversations including a telephone call, a conference call, group activities, theatre performances, 2-to-2 conversations, as well as shared meals. Each 50 minute session is also provided a phrasal verb and an idiom for discussion, some of which prove to be very humorous. It also included a short tour of Laubach in English, providing some local sights and history.

The 1-to-1 conversations provide an excellent opportunity for the students to engage an individual in dialogue where they have a good amount of control, being able to influence the conversation to keep it in boundaries they are comfortable with as well as allowing for the gradual expansion of those boundaries.

The telephone call is another technique that expands the boundaries further by removing the visual language of conversation, increasing the difficulty (especially with some of the harder accents). We were provided booklets that contained a variety of discussion topics and suggested discussion points, or we could come up with our own.

The 2-to-2 conversations were an interesting aside and presented a different challenge to the 1-to-1’s. We were divided into groups and given a list of topics we could discuss. Initially we spoke of the topics trying to find a mutually desirable one before diving into the conversation itself. In my group, we ended up choosing a topic regarding the colonisation of Mars and I ended up playing ‘Devil’s Advocate’ by taking the alternate view from the group and it became a 2.5-to-1.5. This conversation became very heated quickly as it tapped into the each individuals passion for social justice (our mutual belief) and involved questions of economy, technology, and appropriate investment of resources to solve the issues of the human race.

The conference call were from booklets provided to us that contained a variety of discussion topics and suggested discussion points. I chose a topic regarding providing a grant of 1 million Euros to a town council for the purposes of promoting tourism, allowing the students to use their knowledge of their home towns to engage them in a game of one-upmanship which made for a great conference call. Throughout the call, I made notes regarding the information provided to give feedback at the end. Another Anglo was also in the room with the students doing the same to allow for two sets of constructive criticism and opinion.

The group activities, meals and theatre performances were a fun way of allowing us to mix and frequently change social dynamics, ensuring we kept to the edges of our comfort zones (which were always shifting) as well as keeping us from forming cliques. One of my favourite of these was when we were divided into groups and asked to prepare a song about the program and learning English. Our group came up with a variation of ‘Singing in the Rain’ called ‘English on the Brain’. It was fun to prepare and perform to the group, our lyrics went like this:

No English in my brain
I’m going insane
Surrounded by Anglos
Who don’t sound the same.
They’re speaking to fast
I don’t think I’ll last.
I’m thinking of throwing in the towel.
Some English in my brain
A 1-to-1 again
Learning phrasal verbs and idioms
It makes my head pain.
Kill two birds with one stone
Conference call on the phone
And this theatre thing, is not my cup of tea.
Only English in my brain
This language is my main
But I have a small problem
I’m leaving today
So many new friends
Don’t want this to end
We’ll keep in touch with English in our brains.

Over the course of the week I made some very good friends, a couple of whom I have seen since, and had a rich and rewarding experience. I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting to experience language learning, challenge themselves, or make friends in a new country.


Other Articles from Germany




Three German Castles 

Beer in Aschaffenburg and where to drink it



Brussels, Belgium - Part 3

Laeken, Greenhouses, Brussels, Belgium

There was another special event while we were in Brussels which was the opening of the Royal Greenhouses at Laeken. The greenhouses were built between 1874 and 1905 by Alphonse Balat under the orders of King Leopold II and has been managed by the Royal Trust since the King’s death in 1909. The ten greenhouses are connected by a series of galleries and halls, surrounded by beautifully manicured lawns and well maintained 19th century buildings. The gardens are vast and architecturally wonderful, and open to the public for about six weeks in the spring each year. Each of the greenhouses are uniquely designed with specific environments and flora represented, along with statues and other objects d’art.

Laeken, Greenhouses, Brussels, BelgiumLaeken, Greenhouses, Brussels, BelgiumLaeken, Greenhouses, Brussels, Belgium

Laeken, Greenhouses, Brussels, BelgiumWe visited the gardens on their final day and it was very busy. First you walk a tree lined avenue down and around the exterior of the greenhouses with views of the lawns and glimpses of the interior before arriving at the Palm Greenhouse. It is here that the flow of people bottlenecks and the crowds trickle through. The crowd bustles for a quick look and hastily taken photos before moving on to the next greenhouse. Those first few rooms are so thick with people it is impossible to pause a while and appreciate the beauty and grandeur. It is around the Geranium Gallery that it begins to thin and you are able to slow the pace, but still there are no opportunities to sit and reflect upon what you are seeing. A quick scroll through the images below will hopefully provide you with an idea of the beauty and wonder of this place.


Laeken, Greenhouses, Brussels, BelgiumLaeken, Greenhouses, Brussels, BelgiumLaeken, Greenhouses, Brussels, Belgium

Laeken, Greenhouses, Brussels, BelgiumThe Royal Greenhouses are wonderful to visit and admire, and it is quite the shame that they are not open for more of the year to be enjoyed, and as such it is hard to appreciate the majesty of it as everyone is hurrying through in an effort to see everything which offers very little opportunity for admiration. I took a few minutes to sit at one point in the Winter Garden and was constantly interrupted by visitors wanting a quick photo before moving on.



Laeken, Greenhouses, Brussels, Belgium

Comic Book Walk, Brussels, BelgiumComic Book Walk, Brussels, BelgiumBrussels is also the European capital of Comic Books, being home to such creations as the Smurfs and Tintin.  Brussels has the highest density of comic book professionals in the world, which is celebrated at Belgian Comic Book Centre, a museum dedicated to the art form as presented in Europe. There is also a Comic Art Walk which takes you to view the excellent murals scattered throughout the city, celebrating the art forms history in Belgium.

The Comic Centre has a permanent display beginning immediately behind the entrance that starts with a brief overview of the use of pictoral narration from ancient humans through to the 20th century. This is followed by a detailed look at the creation of comics from inception through to publication. Writing, Pencilling, Inking and colouring, cover design, and final publication each have a display. The displays are made up of pages of roughs and thumbnails with author and artist annotations, pencilled and inked pages, displayed with the final published book allowing the visitor to get an idea of how much work goes in to the product they read. There are also several audio/visual displays with narration by the artist showing some of these processes. For people interested in comics but not widely versed in their creation this excellent display provides an easy introduction to the art. All of the art here is original and is displayed at the creators input. This introduction is followed up with a series of displays on genre, each with art appropriate from various European Artists and shows the great variety of styles produced. This area has displays in French, Flemish, and English.

 Belgian Comic Book Centre. Brussels. BelgiumBelgian Comic Book Centre. Brussels. Belgium

Belgian Comic Book Centre. Brussels. Belgium

Belgian Comic Book Centre. Brussels. BelgiumThere are also several other galleries to visit in the centre, one of which is truly excellent called “Canicule: Autopsy of a Graphic Novel by Vautrin Baru”. This special exhibit is made up of 2 metre tall open books featuring a reprint of a page from his graphic novel and a page detailing how it was produced by the creator in French, Flemish, and English. This is an excellent way to understand some of the thought processes that go into narrative and page design. There was a special gallery focused on Swiss creators, featuring a range of cover art and splash pages with a reading desk at the centre with graphic novels of the artists displayed for reading. Another gallery featured art produced specifically for the gallery as well as hundreds of historical comic pages and covers detailing the rich history of the comic book in Europe (unfortunately there was very little information here in English which diminished a little the joy of the display for me). In the historical display area there is a special section for Tintin and one of the best pieces on display was a character timeline showing the visual representation of each character as they appeared in each of the published books, highlighting the visual evolution of the characters ) I rather like the changes to General Alcazar who appeared in 4 books).

Belgian Comic Book Centre. Brussels. Belgium

The Belgium Comic Strip Centre is an excellent museum and well worth a visit by anyone who has an interest in the field or wants to gain an appreciation for the art.

Belgian Comic Book Centre. Brussels. BelgiumBelgian Comic Book Centre. Brussels. Belgium

I have heard from numerous sources a question being asked of the traveller to Brussels, “Why would you want to go there? It’s Boring!” After spending a week here I struggle to understand why they would say this. Brussels has a rich history, beautiful architecture, there is a gastronomic adventure available if you go looking, and for appreciators and aficionados of beer an incredible array of flavours to try. For anyone that says Brussels is boring, I say they have never been and given the city a chance.

Other articles in Belgium:

Brussels, Belgium Part 1

Brussels, Belgium Part 2

Brussels, International Jazz Day



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