Diving in the Deep End


You know those ‘the world is divided’ sayings. Sheep and goats was one. Glass half empty and half full was another. My world is divided by those who can just look at a beautiful view and those who have to dive into it. Guess where I end up. Splash!

My latest splash adventure doesn’t really have a location. Well, it does, it has several, but the adventure is within the idea. For instance there can’t be many who would turn down a trip to Florence, Italy. It is one of those irresistible cities, a tiny gem of history, culture and civilization. Plus, of course, the most famous statue in the world. Michelangelo’s ‘David’.

I’m willing to bet that many of my readers will have already visited Florence and gazed in wonder at the talent of the artist. But how about having a go yourself? What about donning an artist’s smock and taking a course in the sculpture workshop of one of Italy’s most acclaimed craftsmen?

The Romanelli Gallery and Workshop has been in the family for five generations, with the latest being Raffaello Romanelli, not only a craftsman of some note but a patient, kind tutor of people like us looking to find our inner artistic genius. Rafaello has us starting in clay, copying some of the great masters and if we show outstanding talent we may eventually move onto marble. Wow!

Raffaello at work

I have not only put my name down, but found my Florence exchange to trot home to after a long day’s modeling. In clay you understand, not that other sort.

Second splash adventure is bee keeping. What do you think? I have always been fascinated by bees, their complex instincts, the amazing symmetry of their honeycomb, the way the Queen rules over them all until she’s so old and has produced so many babies that she’s no fun anymore and is disposed of. Gone. As if she never existed.


So I was delighted to find that there are great bee-keeping classes just a train ride from London in Shropshire, which is one of the least populated counties of England and one of the prettiest. Bee guru in charge is Charles Miller, a onetime management consultant and now bee inspector for the whole region, whose courses offer real gloves-on experience. I could learn how to inspect a colony, find a queen, keep my bees healthy and catch swarms (protective clothing de rigueur) for my hive and do my bit towards keeping honeybees alive. Which is vital. Honeybees can only survive these days in hives tended by beekeepers. The wild has become just too wild for them. They don’t stand a chance without us.

In fact, much of the far-out, spirit of adventure stuff that people like us go in for also has its flip side of contributing something to the survival of endangered species and locations. You want to go to see Orangutans? Go take a peek. By visiting habitats of wild orangutans you will actually contribute to their continued preservation by demonstrating outside interest in them!


Elephants are another endangered species, and it came as no surprise to me to discover you could actually learn how to become a mahout, or elephant handler, while touring northern Thailand. Not for the faint hearted, it includes rising at daybreak with your elephant, leading it into camp from the forest and giving it its bath in the muddy waters of the Ruak River. Elephant handling is not an especially useful skill for a Londoner, but I should point out that without us and our tourist dollars the elephant refuge centre, which looks after these animals would not exist. Instead, they could well become beggars, like the humans who tend them, scavenging for food and sustenance in the city streets.

I like to think that our spirit of adventure can contribute to another’s contentment and well being; that travel not only broadens the mind, but extends a hand of friendship. Bee-keeping, sculpting, getting close up and personal with an elephant may not save the world, but they do in their own small way towards our understanding of each other. I hope so.



Sculpture Courses in Florence

Studio Galleria Romanelli

Borgo San Frediano 70

50124 Firenze


+39 055 2396662




Should you decide to stay a bit longer, check out:

ID 176989 – A two-bedroom apartment in Florence, close to the station and the centre.

ID 437583 – An apartment right in the heart of the centre, 150 metres from the Duomo.


Beekeeping Courses in Shropshire


or you can ring Catherine on +44 (0) 1694 723 484


Staying longer?

ID 359827 – A charming town house in nearby Shrewsbury for a possible exchange.

ID 440419 – A bit further away, but typically English is a 17th century framed timber cottage.


Elephant Handling in Northern Thailand

The three-day Mahout training course is in a camp attached to the luxurious Anantara Resort Golden Triangle.


or contact Abercrombie & Kent +44 (0) 845 485 1671

Want to discover more of Thailand?

ID 340955 – A beautiful Thai style villa in the most tranquil and lush setting.

Happy splashing!

photos: Justin De La OrnellasThangaraj KumaravelEli Duke via flickr creative commons

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