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Our Two Week Workaway Experience with the Martinelli Family

Workaway gave Adam and I the opportunity to live out my dream of living in Italy by staying with different hosts and truly immersing myself in the Italian culture. During our two months in Italy we stayed with four different hosts. Our first hosts were the Martinelli family in Brescia, Italy. This was our amazing experience with them….

What Is Workaway?

Workaway is an unique organization that touches the travel community for people who want to volunteer while seeing the world and immersing themselves in different cultures. In exchange for food and accommodation, Workaway volunteers, “workawayers” work and help their hosts in anyway they can. Both hosts and workawayers create profiles to show what they need, what skills they can provide, etc. Workawayers and hosts can message each other through their profiles to get to know each other and arrange for the arrival. Upon a prearranged agreement the workawayers can work anywhere between five hours, five days a week to six hours, four days a week. It all depends on what the host asks of the workawayer.

Workaway is found in over 155 countries all over the world. You can have a Workaway experience in Rome, Italy, Thailand, South Africa, New Zealand and more. and volunteers can help with – helping a family take care of their children or be an au pair, working on a garden/farm, teaching a language, working at a b&b or hostel, etc.

In our case, we were extremely lucky to find exactly what we were looking for – an opportunity for me to learn Italian cuisine from an Italian chef. Out of the thousands of hosts in Italy we found a chef who needed to learn English. The only problem was that they needed one person and Adam and I are a package deal. The Martinelli’s were grascious to agree to host both of us, as I would teach Marco English and Adam would help take care of the two boys and help around the house. This experience turned out to be the perfect fit for both us and the Martinelli’s.

Meet the Martinelli Family our hosts we call family, the Martinelli’s –

Meet our host family – Marco and Alessia with their two sons, Matteo and Tommy. The Martinelli’s live in the countryside of Brescia in a town called, Caino. Their house sits on one of the many mountains, which provides them with stunning views from their backyard. Again, we were truly blessed with living with the Martinelli’s – they have a beautiful view, in a lovely home of three levels and gave us the privacy of our own room in the lower level. We shared the lower level with their garage, laundry, office and second kitchen – yes I said SECOND kitchen. Their main level in the house has a living room, bathroom and kitchen that was mostly used by Aly and the upstairs has the family’s bedrooms.

The view from their backyard!

Our Lessons

On our first day we were able to get familiar with the family and see how much English Marco knew. It was a little more than how much we knew Italian – not a lot.  Aly spoke English very well and would help translate our conversations the first few days. We kid you not, by the time we left, Marco could speak English pretty well! As someone who had never taught English to anyone, I was a very proud teacher. Here is how we taught Marco English in 2 weeks and how I was able to learn Italian cuisine along the way.

Marco and Aly explained to me one day why they chose to host us. As we said earlier, they did not ask for two workawayers, but were generous enough to host us both because of my vast knowledge in the kitchen and I was an English born speaker of the United States. If you did not already know, I am a pastry cook and have five years of experience working in Michelin star restaurants, luxury hotels and more. With that said, Marco is a chef at Italy’s most acclaimed culinary school, Cast Alimenti, and their school was expanding their program to the United States. Cast Alimenti’s chefs were going to teach Italian cuisine to culinary students in a culinary school in New York City. Therefore, Marco needed to learn English with someone who was of native tongue and knew the culinary terms. This Workaway experience was not only beneficial for one of us, but for everyone.

Our lessons started in the morning preparing lunch and dinner in the lower level to use Marco’s personal kitchen. This gave us privacy and a quiet area to teach. The first thing we did was tape a poster board to the refrigerator. Marco would ask what kitchen tools were in English and I would write it on the board and he would translate it in Italian. This helped tremendously when we were cooking because anytime he would forget a word in English he could turn around and find his word on the board. It was fun watching our list grow everyday. The more we added the more Marco learned.

A lesson would go something like this:

Marco: pointing to a whisk, “what is this?”
Christina: “a whisk”
Christina writes the word “whisk” and then Marco writes it in Italian
Christina: “when you use the whisk you say you are whisking the flour and the butter together” as she demonstrated with the whisk, the bowl and ingredients.
Marco: “ahhh”

Marco is also an auditory learner, therefore he learned best when we we would talk during our meals. Marco was not just learning five hours, five days a week during our cooking lessons, but all day, everyday! Adam, Marco and I also went to the market to buy groceries and we would go down every aisle of produce naming them in English. This also helped him to put the words he heard to what he saw. The last piece that completed our lesson were our documents we made for Marco. Adam created a 27 page document that listed almost every fruit, vegetable, meat, fish, utensils and more in English with a picture and its pronunciation. I created a document of every recipe Marco taught me with pictures of the process and his method in English. This was helpful because he had gone through the process of cooking and teaching me in English and now he had a hard copy to look back at and refresh his memory. In turn, I was also able to keep the recipes so I could cook in my kitchen back in the United States just like I was cooking in Brescia, Italy.

With the documents, buying groceries at the market, dining and talking around the table and cooking lessons, Marco could speak English well and confidently teach American culinary students.

When we were not with Marco we were with Aly and the boys. We always enjoyed talking with Aly around the table, she is the sweetest and most loving person we have ever met. She works very hard around the house with the boys and we always tried to do our best to give her a hand. The boys loved to play soccer with us or anything with a sword or gun – they were definitely your typical boys. We loved spending time with them, they had so much energy and charisma that you could not help, but fall in love with their cuteness.

Our Meals

Our very first day Marco was already in the kitchen preparing dinner and I was eager to jump right in! I may be in the pastry field, but I have always had a special appreciation and love for learning Italian cuisine. Throughout our two weeks with the Martinelli’s I had the best and most authentic learning experiences cooking with Marco everyday. Marco is a very talented chef that cooks with his heart and love of ingredients – lucky for him Italy has an abundance of local and fresh ingredients.

We would prepare lunch and dinner in both kitchens and enjoy our meals in their backyard garden with their beautiful mountain views. Most dinners always had wine or beer, bread and a fresh salad made by Aly. We enjoyed dishes that we never imagined, like squid ink pasta and red beet risotto, but every meal including those, were outstanding! Here are some photos of how good we had it in Brescia with the Martinellis.

Marco was not the only talented chef in this household, Aly taught me a couple of tricks of her own, she taught me desserts! Aly taught me chocolate salami (Adams favorite, it’s literally to die for), rose cake, authentic Italian hot chocolate and focaccia bread. I will never forget my cooking experiences with Aly as she taught me some desserts I have been wanting to learn for years!

On our last morning, Adam and I cooked the Martinelli’s our special American breakfast of scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, crispy bacon and chocolate chip pancakes. The boys loved it! As did Aly and Marco. We truly got to experience and immerse ourselves in Italian culture and it was a nice change to immerse the Martinelli’s with some American culture. This is what we love about traveling!

Our Adventures

So our “contract” stated that we would have two days off every week. We were staying with the Martinelli’s for 16 days and had more than four days off. They were very generous to us and from the moment we met them, we were treated like family. Some of our days off were spend with them, while others we by ourselves. Here are the adventures and trips we took…

We were already on an adventure during our second day. We all went hiking to their favorite trail on a mountain near their house. The views from the top were unbelievable! There were so many green, rolling mountains- we had never seen anything like this.

The day after they took us to Lake Iseo for a picnic and to see the Sarnico Busker Festival. Lake Iseo was absolutely gorgeous and the festival was a lot of fun! To read more about this experience click here.

During our first week Adam and I drove to a town in Lake Garda called, Sirmione, to see the Scaliger Castle. It was a beautiful drive and an even more beautiful castle and town. To read about this incredible castle and charming town click here.

The Martinelli’s took us to our third lake adventure to Lake Idro, a local favorite for their trout fishing and incredible wind currents for sailing and windsurfing. We all drove in their camper for an adventure we will never forget. It was pouring down rain for the first two hours we were there, but after a couple of hours the sun finally came out and we had the perfect day on the lake! To read about this experience click here.

Adam and I also traveled down into the city to explore Brescia’s greatest sights like their castle and piazza. We also went to a pastry shop from the best pastry chef in Italy, Iginio Massari. Turns out, Marco is close friends with Chef Iginio and we were able to meet him! The desserts were also some of the best we have ever had, which should be no surprise as he is a master pastry chef. As a thank you for all of the Martinelli’s generosity we bought a cake for them and we all devoured it for dessert.

Marco also took me to his job at Cast Alimenti where I met more Italian chefs, toured the school and tasted the culinary student’s chocolates. The school was beautiful and had some of the best quality equipment I have ever seen. The food and chocolates we had were also amazing. Though I was receiving culinary lessons with Marco everyday, I wished I could have gone to school at Cast Alimenti.

As we have said time and time again, The Martinelli’s treated us like family and are now family to us. They invited us to their neighborhood barbecue and we had a blast! At the time we had only been there for a week, but had felt a part of their neighborhood community as if we were permanent residents. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming to us, not to mention the Italians know how to barbecue – the food was delicious! Their neighborhood was so beautiful – this experience was something we cherished and now strive to have in our life when we find a house. When we were not talking with the adults, Adam would play with the boys – you can see in the picture how much they loved him and how much he loved them.

As if we were not spoiled from the Martinelli’s already, they took us sailing on Lake Garda!!!! We met their friend’s and learned how to sail on their sailboat. It was incredible! Lake Garda is absolutely stunning and the water was both clear and perfect temperature. We had so much fun sailing and swimming with Marco, Aly and their friends. To read more about this adventure click here.

Towards the end of our time with the Martinelli’s we took a day trip to two cities, Padua and Verona. Padua was a quaint city with a beautiful basilica and delicious food. We stopped at another master pastry chef’s shop, Luigi Biasetto, and a Michelin Star award chef’s restaurant, Il Calandrino. Needless to say, Padua does not only have wonderful architecture, but award winning food too.

Verona was recommended to us by Marco and Aly and we were in awe of this city’s beauty. It surprised us the most with its romanticism and architecture. I guess the romanticism should come to no surprise since it is the city of Romeo and Juliet (and no we did not touch her boob). We could have easily spent an entire day there, but we were lucky enough to experience this city during the daylight in the afternoon and at night.

Our last day trip was to Venice and Murano. We had already been to Venice from our last port on our cruise (read our time in Venice here), but since we had little time, we never made it to Murano. Visiting the glass blowing city of Murano was on the top of our list of places we wanted to see and we highly recommend it be on yours. Watching the process of glass blowing was amazing! The artists are more than talented because the glass pieces were true pieces of art. You definitely cannot walk out of Murano without purchasing an authentic glass piece, in fact we bought three small pieces, a giraffe for my mom and two sets of grapes for our wine cabinet.

As you can see we were able to travel and see a lot in our 16 days with the Martinelli’s!

Life Changing Experience

It is exactly what the title says, our time with the Martinelli’s was a life changing experience. Everyday we woke up to a new adventure and an immersed cultural lifestyle. Almost everyday I was able to learn incredible authentic Italian dishes from Marco. We could not have asked for a better host family. Over a year later and we still communicate with the Martinelli’s sharing photos and videos. We know in our hearts that we will stay connected forever. When the time comes for another visit to Italy, we will without a doubt be visiting not our friends, but our family in Brescia.

I cannot promise that every Workaway experience is as awesome as this one, but if you are looking for an experience of immersing yourself in a culture with locals – this is it!

Workaway
https://www.workaway.info

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28 COMMENTS

  • Sarah

    This is the most unbelievable experience! And it’s so helpful that you shared exactly what you did to help the family learn English. All that food looks so delicious! Makes me want to go back to Italy.

    • oursweetadventures
      AUTHOR

      Yes, we got extremely lucky with them. Learning Italian cuisine was the main purpose of our trip to Italy.

  • Indie Chick

    I’ve heard of workaway but have never done this kind of thing. I guess I was always a little afraid of what I may be getting into. lol but your post has shown me a great side to doing it and now I’m going to have to sign up! I love authentic experiences like this and how you’ve come away with it with friends for life! So awesome! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • oursweetadventures
      AUTHOR

      I will say that out of our four experiences, only one was bad, but you have to take your chances and really do your research. To be honest, we had a bad feeling about that one host, but decided to stay with him anyways because I was going to drive a ferrari 🙂 Other than that, the other three experience, including this one, all gave us the most authentic experience we could have asked for. We highly recommend Workaway.

  • Meghna Malhotra

    How amazing is this! You had me glued till the very end.. this is why we love traveling as well.
    Meeting new people and learning about cultures is the most rewarding and satisfying experience ever! Also, thank you for introducing me to workaway! I’m definitely going to check it out =)

    • oursweetadventures
      AUTHOR

      Aww we are so delighted to hear that! If you have any questions about Workaway, please do not hesitate to contact us!

  • Kristen

    So many food adventures with this family! Making me hungry for a new adventure. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • oursweetadventures
      AUTHOR

      Our pleasure! We hope you find your new adventure soon!

  • Rachelle

    What a sweet adventure indeed! I think that cooking and BBQ will save the world and unite so many people. I’m glad you had a great time and that they were able to accommodate both of you. It sounds like a dream!

    • oursweetadventures
      AUTHOR

      Hahaha omg your comment is awesome! I hope you are right, I think burnt ends is the way to do it too 🙂

  • Cali

    Incredible! I was always curious about workaway, but kind of always assumed people worked in hostels and made beds. I loved reading about your truly unique experience. This is too cool and I will forever think about your experience when I casually browse the workaway website.

    • oursweetadventures
      AUTHOR

      We had two more beautiful experiences that we will post about later this year. Though there are Workaway experiences that do hostels, there are PLENTY of others. What I love about their website is you can search for key words that you wish to experience. For our case we typed, “chef”, “dessert”, “pastry”, “Italian cuisine”, etc. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

  • Sarah

    Wow what an amazing experience! I had never heard of Workaway before but it sounds like such a cool concept! So happy to hear your experience went so well and that they treated you like family, you couldn’t have hoped for better!

    • oursweetadventures
      AUTHOR

      Thank you so much. We really got blessed with them. They left a huge impact on our trip and lives. You should try it when you want an authentic experience!

  • Katie

    I love this post! What a fantastic experience with the Martinelli’s. It sounded so authentic (I imagine working in a hostel cleaning toilets), and also mutually beneficial. What a wonderful opportunity for you and Adam. I will keep Workaway top of mind.

    • oursweetadventures
      AUTHOR

      Haha you are the second person to think that, though we did look into working for hostels, we were fortunate enough to find the MArtinelli’s and fulfill our dream of learning Italian cuisine, while in Italy. We highly recommend Workaway and if you have any question please do not hesitate to contact us.

  • Punita Malhotra

    Workaway is such a great program. Its like being a local, you get to live an everyday life they live, eat the foods they eat, and learn how to make local food! It must take incredible generosity to let complete strangers into the home and invest time with them the way your hosts did. Wow!

    • oursweetadventures
      AUTHOR

      Yes, but we found that culture to be almost everywhere in Europe. The open door policy of welcoming strangers to live with you is not something practiced in the United States. Nevertheless, we were very blessed to have such amazing hosts as the Martinelli’s. They went out of their way to make our experience unforgettable.

  • Carola

    As a veteran WorkAwayer myself, I have to say: You hit the jackpot! What a brilliant experience combining everything that’s awesome about Italy – food, people, language, culture, nature,…
    I hope your other two WAs were just as rewarding!

    Buon viaggio!
    C

    PS: Just for completion. There are several other organizations offering exactly the same WorkAway does. But WorkAway is my favorite 🙂

    • oursweetadventures
      AUTHOR

      Aww that is awesome! If you have posts about your experience please send them to us! And yes, we were going back and forth between Help Exchange and Workaway and have recently heard of HippoHelp. Now my little sister (our editor), is looking for a program to teach kids in Africa. Would you know of any programs?

      • Carola

        Hi,
        Would be interesting to hear whether you prefer HX or WA after some more testing:-)
        Admittedly, I don’t write a lot about my WorkAways, but if I do it’s here: http://notesontraveling.com/category/journeys/workaway/ 🙂

        Regarding your question about volunteering in Africa, I would like to start by saying that I believe you should only volunteer if you can add value. So unless your sister is a certified teacher, I would advise looking into how she can help schools rather than seeking a teaching position. I have worked in the International Development field for a few years, and through lots of trial and error, it’s been proven that hand-me-downs (be it Western kids working as teachers, 2nd hand clothes, or building wells) don’t help in the long run. Instead, you need to work on eye level; you want to support projects driven by locals or at least assigning main responsibility to the communities in which they operate.
        Africa has teachers. Those teachers know the children and the situation in which they live. Don’t think you can do a better job than those teachers educating children. I would recommend looking into NGOs like Soft Power Education (http://www.softpowereducation.com/get-involved/long-term-volunteering/) running volunteering programs where the volunteer supports a local infrastructure – rather than an NGO creating an infrastructure for volunteers.
        All the best & happy travels!
        C

        PS: If your sister ends up going with Soft Power make sure she says Hi to Mike at Mama Flos 🙂

        • oursweetadventures
          AUTHOR

          Wow this is amazing information for my sister, thank you! She is in her last year at Texas A&M University and getting certified as a teacher. I cannot wait to show her all this information you provided. it truly means a lot to the both of us!

  • Miranda

    What a PERFECT workaway!! I’d say you both landed a really awesome deal, and I can see why they were willing to host Adam too. Besides an extra body to watch the boys while you were busy teaching (and learning from) Marco all day, you truly could help him more in the kitchen with your culinary background. I can cook/bake relatively well, but NOTHING compared to what you do, and the extensive knowledge you have to be an awesome help translating for him! SO cool that you guys were able to have such an awesome experience!

    Those meals all look so delicious, too, have you yet been able to recreate any of these dishes?

  • Snigdha

    This is so incredible. This must have been one amazing experience. Getting to stay, cook and live like a local is a very fine experience. And pictures definitely speak about the same.

  • Chasing Potatoes

    Wow, this is amazingggggg. This is my first time to know about workaway and reading this article, I am totally amazed by this concept. You really have a great experience with this and those food looks delicious. Yummm! Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • Sarah

    What an amazing experience! And how lucky to have such a beautiful part of the world right on your doorstep!

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