Friday, September 26, 2014

The many benefits of learning a foreign language

Image via Gina

Happy European Day of Languages!

I'm always nattering on to friends, family, anyone will listen, about how amazing learning a foreign language is but I feel it's been a much-neglected topic on the blog. And what better time to right that wrong than European Day of Languages.

It is such a massive bugbear of mine when people tell me that studying languages is a waste of time and "you might as well just go abroad for a year and learn it there".

I totally understand the logic behind the latter point but for the majority of us, learning a language in its native home is quite unfeasible. And don't even get me started on the first point - learning a language is in no way, shape or form a waste of time.

This is particularly a mentality shared in the English-speaking world and I really wish I could somehow get on my soapbox (as per), have a massive audience and change all these misconceived perceptions.

Being able to talk to someone in their own language trascends so many barriers. It gives you a direct insight into a history, a culture, its people, allowing you to understand why people are the way they are. My great international relations idea is that politicians on the international stage should do away with the interpretors and try negotiating amongst themselves, without any middle men.

Obviously, this is why I'm not involved in politics, but maybe if they take down the linguistic barriers that they themselves put up, negotiations would take an interesting turn (although, there would probably be a hella lot of mistranslations).

But learning languages is not just about communication, it is that and so much more.

It's the process of problem solving that comes with languages on a daily basis. Encountering language barriers and trying to overcome them gives your brain a new challenge to deal with and an opportunity to solve it in different and creative ways.

Ironic coming from me but learning a language sharpens your decision-making. Making snap, split-second decisions are easier when you've had to contend with deciding whether a verb should be in the imperfect or preterite, all whilst having a casual conversation with the shopkeeper.

Weirdly, you get to know yourself better. Now I'm not about to rattle off the whole 'finding yourself' malarky but learning another language brings out parts of your personality you didn't know you had. This may make me sound completely crackers but I swear I am a lot more blunt in French and even louder and more confident in Spanish.

Learning languages make you smarter, or at least means you can ace certain rounds of University Challenge. French nouns that have different meanings in the masculine and feminine form COME AT ME.

You have that awkward "Weird/Random Fact about Me" icebreaker sorted. 

Speaking of which is it just me or are multilingual people just instantly more sexy?

But in all seriousness, learning a foreign language helps you master your own language. There is so much I didn't have a clue about in my own native tongue that thanks to learning other languages, I had that lightbulb moment everyone talks about. Because if you're going to nail any language, it may as well be the one you're born with.

Have I missed off any benefits of learning languages? Any language learning hacks?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Autumn: 5 favourite places in Europe


Image via Yoshikazu Takada

"Autumn Days, when the grass is jewelled and the skin inside a chestnut shell," Did anyone else sing that at school?

Just me?

Anyhoo, there is way too much hype about Pumpkin Spice Lattes for my liking and mince pies and other festive memorabilia are already in the shops - there's only one thing for it, Autumn is coming (cue Game of Thrones music).

Those are my only two gripes about Autumn.

Other than that, I absolutely love it. Whilst I usually crave sunnier climes, I do miss having seasons like in the UK when I'm away.

It's the fresh crispness in the morning, the excuse to buy a new wardrobe (hello bobble hats) and the extra consumption of calories under the guise of wrapping up warm, the well-intentioned yearning for a walk in the country and the mounds upon mounds of fiery-coloured leaves that just beg to be kicked up in the air.

And I think no continent does it quite like Europe - cue lots of angry Americans and Canadians - so to celebrate the turning of colours and the nights drawing in, I've decided to compile a list of the places I think come alive in time for Autumn.

Dresden


Photo via kadege59

Shout out to my ancestral home (Grandpa Belger hailed from Dresden) I have only ever been in the summer. But, I've decided Germany really comes into play when Autumn comes around. Dresden is the not as painfully hipster younger brother of Berlin and it is just such a cool little city. To be honest, it's a worth a visit year-round. Go and see for yourself.

Prague


Photo via Ben Jeffrey

Not far away from Dresden is another city that blooms in autumn now that the summer hoards have been and gone, you can enjoy the city with less of the crowds. When you need to warm up, you can dive inside and sample one of the many Czech beers or hearty, standard meat and potato meal.

Paris



Just go to Paris whenever it's a perennial favourite. Go for a wander in Bois de Boulogne, Parc aux Buttes-Chaumont, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris is made for autumn walks. The streets start being dominated by barrels roasting chestnuts, it's the smell of Autumn.

Málaga



Massively cheating as Málaga barely gets autumn when the rest of us are in the midst of winter, but if you want to hold on to summer for a little bit longer, Málaga is the destination. I've booked a week there start of October so I'm hoping the sun stays around for a bit longer.

Northumberland



I'm so biased it hurts but Northumberland has to be one of the best places for autumn. It's full of ideal walks in the country, there are large, encompassing landscapes like the above and the colours, the variety of burnt reds and rich browns and amber yellows is incredible. Obviously, it's beautiful year round but Autumn is my favourite season in Northumberland.

Where are your favourite places for Autumn?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Feliz Día de Amor y Amistad: Travelling Friendships



I'm quite a Grinch when it comes to Valentine's Day - or most festivities to be honest - I just despise it. But for some reason, I can totally get behind Día de Amor y Amistad, which is essentially the Latin American equivalent with a cheeky bit of friendship thrown in for the hell of it.

As sappy as it sounds, such an occasion gives time to reflect on your own friendships and relationships. Now, I can't really reflect much on relationships, I am admittedly a relationship dunce, but I luckily am able to do so about my amazing, crazy and inspiring circle of friends.

A lot of which I can be grateful for, thanks to travel.

In a way travelling friendships can be likened to relationships, they grow intensely in a short period of time as you spend every breathing moment with them.

There are the one night stands - you've just overlapped for one day before you go off and do your own thing. You are new-found best friends, until you have to jet off again and never hear from each other again.


Then there are the slow burners (read:two weeks tops), where you find yourself following the same path with someone else. There is no instant connection like the above example but it's a friendship all the same, in some ways on a more profound level. You keep in touch a while after but then it all fizzles out eventually.


There's the 'one(s)'. They are your kindred spirits, you're on the same page about how you want to travel and life itself, all whilst having wild, raucous fun doing so. People ask how long you've known each other because you finish each other's sentences and have your annoying in-jokes, that NO ONE else understands (you had to be there). It's a hard good-bye, it will be emotional, there will no doubt be tears but bear this in mind, you will stay in touch for many years to come.


And then there's the deal-breaker: the one you were friends with before. It's make-or-break whether you'll get though unscathed, but if you do, it will only make your friendship stronger (massive cliché alert).

Friends come and go in our lives and we have different friends for different reasons: they're our party animal partners, our support network, our drown-our-sorrows helpers, our agony aunt/uncles and so much more. Whilst, it is, of course, something I'm grateful for, it often goes unacknowledged and it's high time that changed.

Feliz Día de Amor y Amistad! Are you celebrating today?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The two types of travellers I hate in Colombia



Normally anything Colombia-related would result in me launching into a big, epic speech about how much I love the place, how much I wish I actually was Colombian and how much I would love to be back. Sometimes I swear I could write a sonnet about my love for the place, it is that deep. OK, maybe taking it a tad bit too far, but long story short, Colombia is the one.

However, this time is quite different.

I've already started this week off with a bit of a rant so I thought I would start as I mean to go and launch into an even bigger rant.

As always, 99.9% of travellers in Colombia are sound, whilst they may not agree with certain cultural differences, they are polite and respectful and do the world of good for the foreigner stereotype in Colombia. In fact, the massive majority of people I met throughout my travels in Colombia were spot on *enthusiastic wave to everyone*.

But then there are the bad eggs, the ignorant idiots, which you have to save yourself from saying every expletive under the sun about because they undo all the good work others have done to make Colombians think that gringos are all big, fat, gigantic arse holes.

There are the 'off-the-beaten track' show-offs, who will no doubt turn their nose up at your travels and have to one-up all your travel stories.

Then there's the ones who complain loudly when things don't quite go as they would back home, speaking really loudly in English (because NO ONE can speak English) and constantly drawing attention to their obnoxious self or similarly the ones who don't want to try anything remotely foreign and stick to what they know.

From my experience, Colombia seems in particular attract these unsavoury types and there are two particularly prevalent types that I cannot stand. So time to vent some much needed steam:

The international love 'lothario'

Usually spotted obnoxiously talking in loud English and unable to speak a word of Spanish, just to emphasise the fact that he is foreign even further, this guy has come to Colombia with one intention and one intention only: to get laid. Having heard of the legend of how beautiful Colombian women are (which is true), these types are sick of ungrateful women from home that won't give them respect - because they automatically deserve it - and to top it all off, women back home are pig-ugly and frigid too.

What an eligible bachelor.

They will go on to brag about the amount of women they have hanging off their arm and because of their laddish bravado, boast about their sexual antics unashamedly too, which no doubt, will have been elaborated on and embellished greatly.

These are also the type that are shocked, complaining in great detail when women, who initially feigned interest, actually are interested in them for their money despite having spent most of their time together, flashing his cash and showing off his riches. Granted, there is a cultural difference between the West and Colombia with regards to the dating game, where in Colombia the man is expected to pay for everything. But splashing your cash and showering the girl with over-the-top gifts is going to attract certain types - that probably aren't solely interested in your dazzling personality.

But here is a golden nugget of advice for these so-called 'international players' (bleurgh), how about treating a lady with a little bit of respect, you know like you should be anyway, take time to get to know her and woo the fine lady slowly but surely with your great self and maybe your success rate will soar through the roof?

Just a thought.

The 'live fast, die young' type

These 'edgy' crazy kids have come to Colombia because, you know, it's just so dangerous and crazy to be there. They're here to give it large and will have no doubt hilariously joked that they're here to become a mafioso (wrong country) and run a drug cartel, which will have been said in front of Colombians who will have probably flinched at the brash comment. They're probably so culturally unaware that they're ignorant to the fact that it's a massive social taboo to mention drugs.

You've probably not been talking to them for long before you're asked the question every new-found friends wishes to hear uttered, "Got any coke?"

The foundation of every great friendship, no?

These are also the types who plead ignorance when they find themselves in a little bit of a pickle with their new mate, the local drug dealer, despite having been on the Pablo Escobar tour. Falling on deaf ears, evidently.

And let's not even get started on the fact that cocaine has been at the heart of Colombia's social problems. I'm not holier-than-thou and I'm not the voice of moral conscience but considering, it has marred this beautiful country for far too many years, it's time to consider our role in Colombia's conflict.

And surely, it's a lot more hassle than it's worth. Get some guaro down your neck and partaking in a cheeky bit of Colombian rumba is more than enough ample fun.

Is there any particular type of traveller you hate? What do you think, have I got it completely wrong about the types of travellers Colombia attracts?

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Bucket List Prejudice


Photo via Dave Lawler

Roll up, roll up, gather round, I am about to do a monumental thing.

I am going to admit I was wrong.

For most of you, you're probably like, big deal, but for those who know me, they will know this is huge.

I'm the type of person who when someone tells me I can't do something, I will do everything in my power to do it - just to prove them wrong (I am that person).

I'm the type of person who refuses to back down in the most pointless of arguments. Honestly, there are times when I realise how pathetic I'm being, yet still continue to do what I'm doing.

And I am the type of person who is always right - because it's true.

With exception to this instance.

Up until recently, I had a strong hatred of bucket lists. I saw them as sappy, banal, clichéd and everyone seemed to have one. Which, of course, made me hate them ever more. A day wouldn't pass without someone mentioning something that had to go on their bucket list and every time I heard those words uttered, I resisted the urge to get up on my well-used soapbox, launch into a rant, pretty similar to the one I'm writing now, and have my say. As per.

But life throws curveballs in weird and wonderful ways and I've had a change of tune. I would say it was an epiphany, although I doubt you can call it an epiphany when you have the realisation that the old adage of life being short blah, blah, blah, might actually be true or more to the point, when you start questioning what you are actually doing with your life. Only then did I come round to the idea of a bucket list.

I'm probably not going to have a bucket list myself, as past form with to-do lists does not tell a pretty tale. But now I see bucket lists in a completely different light, they may be a current fad but they have an aim: to make the most of things, to have a life how you wish to live it and most importantly, to be satisifed with what you've got and on the whole, what you've done. Sure, there may be certain items on the list that are nigh on unobtainable but surely the fun is in the journey trying to get there.

The one thing I do still agree with though is that the bucket list epitomises our throw-away culture. The fact that once we've ticked something off our list, we look forward to the next thing, without appreciating the here and now. But if a bucket list is the driving force behind you going for what you want in life, don't let neigh-saying fun-sponges like me, tell you otherwise. Go out and enjoy the adventure.

What are your thoughts on bucket lists? Yey or ney?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The one that got away (literally): Zimbabwe

Because I'm a massive show-off, I love to slip into conversation that I've been to Zimbabwe and I was given a Zulu middle name, Thandiwe (same as the gorgeous Thandie Newton). It means Beloved so it makes the best diva name ever, Naomi Beloved Todd. Deed poll here I come.

But I'm one of those people who's all talk and no trouser as I cannot remember a thing.



A trendsetter before I knew about trendsetting, check out my hat.



I was just a teeny tiny toddler - the chubby cheeks, the bunches and the questionable early-90s fashion tell a story - and as my mam and dad lived in Zimbabwe before me and my sister were born, they made a return to show their darling bundles of joy off (obviously) to friends and practically adopted family.








I know Zimbabwe hasn't enjoyed the most stable of times recently, quite similar to that of Colombia - OK not the greatest comparison, the instability and subsequent reputation yes but the actual situation itself is comletely different - but as my parents and sister frequently start off with conversations such as "This one time in Zimbabwe," "Do you remember in Murambinda..." I know it's a magical place.




Mam and Dad worked in a rural hospital in a province called Buhera. It's so remote that most Zimbabweans I have met don't know where it is, much like when I try explaining where I'm from in the UK. Which reminds me, if you're interested in finding out more about where exactly they lived, check out the charity set up for Murambinda Hospital. I know it's cheeky but the work that Murambinda hospital does is vital for the community so if you that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you're charitable, why not have a nosey?





Back to Zimbabwe, it's times like these that I'm grateful for my snappy happy mother as without the photo albums, I wouldn't be able to see what I'm missing out on and I wouldn't be able to prove that I'd even been there. And what a calamity that would be.

South America will always be my first love but I know when, it's not a case of if, I get round to returning, I know Zimbabwe won't need to worry about competing.

Have you been to Zimbabwe? Or are there places you've been to but can't recollect?

Apologies for the shoddy photo quality,they're photos of photos and in no way do my mam's photography skills any justice.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Bringing travel home


Alternative title: I'm skint, have no money but really, really want to travel.

I know, I know.

Get the violins out. Woe is me. It must be such a hard life not having money to travel. Blah blah blah.

I'm hearing the heckles already but hear me out, now I no longer have the security of the glorious thing that is the student overdraft, I'm more than aware that if I want to travel, I'm going to have to do it the hard way:

Grafting, earning and most importantly, saving.

However, whilst I'm still in Blighty for the foreseeable future and one of my things to become a more virtuous, wiser, generally better (and therefore, unlikely to happen) person etc. etc. is to do the whole not wishing time away thing, I've decided to bring the travel to home. Obviously, there are certain obstacles ie. geographical location, work and ahem, the climate.

What I can do, however, is try and adopt the my travel alter ego at home. There are certain elements I hope won't make an appearance - like the mentality that makes me think that I actually am Shakira, mostly due to a little too much aguardiente and my questionable traveller's wardrobe - but I could do with less stressing over little things, being more laid-back and sitting back every now and then to appreciate what's going on.

It's already inspired my new Be More Tourist approach but last week, it required further action. I had a howler of a week and being topped off by the whole grass is greener the other side syndrome and envying my friends who are doing amazing and wonderful things, I was on a bit of a downer.

But I refuse to wallow in self pity.

Because if there's one thing I've learnt, it's that I can, on the whole, dictate how I feel. So, I've decided to bring some (metaphorical) sunshine into my life by doing the following steps:

Plan treats throughout the week

I can't exactly go big thanks to my sad bank balance but I know how to pamper myself on a budget. Food is of course the key to my heart, so I might plan a nice meal on hump day or maybe a cheeky lunch out (as we all know lunch has the best offers). I am making the most of having a bath at home, so if I'm spending a night in, it's usually on the cards or if I'm feeling extra fancy, a cheeky (shoddily done) pedicure.

Escape

Well how else am I going to cope as someone who has perpetually itchy feet? You realise how much of a privilege living in Europe when you realise how many destinations are within financial and geographical reach with just a bit of forward thinking required. I signed up to Eurostar's mailing list so I found out that the next batch of £69 London-Paris returns had been released. Luckily, I have a kind friend - Hi Emma - who's (hopefully) willing to put me up for the weekend and bingo, weekend escape on the cheap. Sorted.

Be a Yes Person

I'm cringing myself by giving this advice but when I was travelling, being open to new experiences came a lot easier than they do here. Maybe it's because I was more laid-back or didn't feel the consequences so much or just I was personifying the whole making the most of it shebang but ever since I've returned, I've found myself back in the same routine. Let's shake it up a bit.

Go to the beach (regardless of the weather)

I grew up by the sea and now I couldn't live much further from the coast if I tried, going there is a luxury. Even when the weather is foul, the spray of sea salt and the sound of crashing waves couldn't be more energising. I love the seaside.

Find a piece of life abroad at home

That probably doesn't make much sense but basically I'm going to try and replicate the things I miss, particularly about being in Colombia , in the UK. I have found a Colombian shop in Newcastle (of all the places) and I have finally got my hands on cooked maize flour so I can make arepas - watch this space - so I can bring a little bit of Colombia home.

Keep an eye on the prize

I'm back home to save up for travelling so this is not a long-term thing. It's all in aid of an end goal that is bloody worth it and then some. As sappy as it sounds, spending an unhealthy amount of hours on Pinterest helps as does looking back at my past photos. That's what I have to remind myself when ASOS try raining on my parade and luring me in with mid-season sales. Not cool ASOS.

How do you keep going when not on the road? Any tips to pass on?