Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why I love learning languages

I've often talked about my language-learning lows like when I hit the language barrier last year in Colombia but I've never particularly talked about how it's my passion, the only reason I've managed to get this far in life and how I think it is just the best thing ever.

The bold, the italics and the underlining were necessary.

Because it is just that good.


Image modified from here.

I mean, yeah you do make a massive tit of yourself regularly (at least daily, if you're me), there are times when you hear your horrendous accent that you want to gauge your ears out and there are times if you hear the words imperfect subjunctive one more time, you will scream.

But then there are the times when you learn to 'own' someone in another language, tell a joke that people actually understand and laugh at (although that may be more at me, than with me...) or just have a great conversation with someone that otherwise would not have been possible.

Learning a language for every country I go to is, as much as I would like to try, impossible especially as I'm in Hong Kong right now and do not speak a word of Cantonese. But, when I am investing a long amount of time in a country which does share my native language, I think it is so worth it to make an effort to speak at least the rudimentary basics in the languages. That's to say: greetings, please/thank you, numbers, how to order food/drink (priorities) and how to ask for help/directions etc.

I find it ridiculous that as native English speakers, speaking a foreign languages is a commodity. In Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, Holland and Germany, it's the norm to speak English to a high standard and a third language is not out of the question either. It's not because they have all inherent, natural abilities to learn languages, although I'm sure a lot of them will pick English up with ease; it's because their governments have made conscious efforts and invested huge amounts of time in learning and teaching English. Gove is trying to enforce learning a language up to GCSE level which is a great idea in concept. However, the huge scarcity of foreign language graduates going into teaching is not going to help. The fact that the whole language learning system in the UK is deeply flawed only furthers our language learning woes.

I will get off my soapbox.

This is meant to be a positive piece about how learning languages are so incredibly interesting, useful and believe it or not, regardless of what GCSE French lessons entailing the difference between masculine and feminine nouns told you otherwise, it is enjoyable. So, I will tell why I love learning languages because they are bloody brilliant.

Learning a language is a constant learning experience. If you consider the fact that you encounter new words in your native language on a regular basis, imagine what it's like learning a foreign language. There will be many eureka moments when learning a new word makes sense like bat being fledermaus (flying bat) in German. There will also be moments when it will just not make sense why it is what it is. But you will just learn to accept it. And that's fine because you will learn something quickly getting over the previous stumbling block.

That brings me nicely onto my second point. Learning a language makes you a better person (I may be biased). OK, maybe not quite, I could have even gone into the whole cliche about how it helps you find yourself yadda yadda yadda. But what learning a language allows to you to do is learn about a different language, culture and history. Cultural awareness makes you more open and accepting of different practices. But maybe more interestingly or more selfishly depending on how you see it, you also learn more about yourself and your take on it.

As this is a travel blog, I have my motivations for learning languages. It makes travel exponentially easier. I could barter with taxi drivers easily, I always knew the price of things and could ask how much things should cost beforehand and in regards to safety, I could overhear what people were saying about me (I am perpetually nosy too) and keep myself out of harm's way.

But most of all, what I love about learning a language is meeting the amazing people that you meet along the way. There's the people that share your pain of learning a language, there's the amazing friends that you wouldn't have made otherwise, there's the short exchanges with the shopkeeper, the old lady doing her shopping, the taxi driver who wants to tell you as much as humanly possible about the city in such a short amount of time. Sure, there are statistics like communication is only 20% spoken or whatever but that 20% makes things exponentially easier.

Learning languages in the UK is hugely undervalued. But there are more benefits than just communicational. Like I said before, learning a language is a perpetual learning curve - one I doubt I am anywhere near reaching the top. But, that's the beauty of learning a language and one I see set to continue!

Do you enjoy learning languages? What's your language learning tips?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Monday, we meet again #2

The weekend's already been and gone - time for another Monday, We Meet again! I haven't been great with reading articles, as I've been stressing over uni work as well as trying to squeeze in preparations for Hong Kong and Malaysia (any suggestions, tips, advice etc. would be appreciated!) but I have read a few that are worth mentioning.

Caffeine Hit Track



If this doesn't get you out of bed, I don't know what will!

Favourites this week

This article, whilst I don't agree fully with it, made me question my writing technique and why I always resort to writing list posts or listicles as the article calls them. Does anyone think it sounds slightly wrong (or am I the only one with a warped sense of humour?)

Elizabeth's reponse from Delightfully Tacky to the now infamous Veet advert (if you haven't seen it,here's the link) is spot on.

Anything that Joy the Baker whips up turns to gold but these Milky Salted Caramel actually sound like they would be liquid gold (see what I did there *nudge *nudge)

A great blog from my latest Local Hero French Living questions the obsession with 'complicated' cuisine

Candice from Candice does the world asks why we as westerners are so suspicious of a stranger's hospitality

The World Urban Forum has just been held in my old stomping ground Medellin but this article wonders if its development and innovation has been overhyped. Whilst I feel the article at times is doing it to spite Medellin's progress, there are some interesting points raised and Medellin's fight is far from over.

Victoria from Banana Skin Flip Flops makes some great observations (so bang on point, it's unreal!) about the differences between our dating system and the Colombian system.

This week I've been...

Running around like a headless chicken, finishing off assignments and preparing for HONG KONG AND MALAYSIA (blog post coming tomorrow) So nothing exciting to report this week, fingers crossed there will be a lot to tell y'all next week.

What were your favourite reads/videos this week? Any tips for Hong Kong and Malaysia?

Local Heroes: French Living

Mam and Dad came to visit a few weeks back so it was a great excuse to go back to an old favourite, French Living. The place could not be any French if a man wearing a beret and breton-striped jumper with a string of garlic slung around his neck had somehow got lost on the Tour de France, cycled in and shouted OOH LA LA. You walk in and you immediately think of Amelie wandering around Montmarte with the accordeon-lead soundtrack in the background. You are greeted with a 'Hello Mesdames, Messieurs' as you are shown to your table. No mention of Italian Pinot Grigio or Spanish Rioja, the menu is a showcase for French terroir.

It is that French.

It even says on the menu, 'What makes French Living unique? 1. Free French advice, grammar or recipes. 2. 100% home made food.' The only way the place could be more French would be if it transposed itself to France.

And the food?

It will live up to all your French stereotypes and then some.

I wasn't too snappy happy that night but I did get a few photos but they were just as tasty as they look. We also had a great Merlot to accompany the meal too.

My memory doesn't serve me well so I only remember the dishes that was photographed but what I do know is that the food on the whole was excellent. I began with a Galentine de Lapin, a terrine-like dish with rabbit and a cheese crisp on the top. It was lovely. Mam had a Tartiflette for her main which was, as per, the ultimate comfort food. The combination of cheese, ham and potatoes are a pretty fail-safe option. For my main, I had Chevreuil aux myrtilles, venison cooked to perfection with a blueberry sauce, a sort-of ratatouille side and dauphinois potatoes. Just so good. For pudding, I was originally going to go for cheese but I was stuffed so we all decided to share a Café Gourmand, which is has to be one of the best innovations of the French, especially for someone who is perpetually indecisive and has eyes bigger than their belly like me. It's a selection of 4 desserts in mini form, with a coffee on the side. The selection was Crème Brûlée, which as fantastic as I remembered it was the previous time, a meringue, a chocolate cream and a tangy lemon cream in a brandy basket which was a joint favourite with the crème brûlée.

French Living offer great deals for lunch and pre-theatre/early bird and even after 7pm, there are set-price menus on offer. So if you're fancying some Gallic flavour and you're nearby Nottingham, pop in to French Living. You won't be disappointed!

French Living, 27 King Street, Nottingham. Tuesday-Friday 12-2:30pm 5 onwards. Saturday from 12 onwards. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Blacks #EpicAdventures Explore Competition

I love a good competition and this one from Blacks in collaboration with Explore.co.uk is no exception. £2000 of adventure travel is up for grabs! That's enough for a trip to Africa to see the Big 5, cycle the Turquoise coast or it could even go towards an Arctic adventure.


So what, I hear you cry, do you have to do to be in with a chance of winning? It could not be any simpler: either publish a blog post like this one right here with photographs representing the following: Wild, Fast, Panaromic, Epic, tweet the link to @Blacks_Online with the hashtag #epicadventures or upload your photos to the Facebook page. With such a great prize at stake, you might as well enter!

Lacking inspiration? Here's my take on the four topics, all of which I decided to take from my South American travels as it's been my biggest adventure thus far.

Wild
I ashamedly do not have any photos of actual nature during my time in South America (apart from an unfortunate lobster we were about to eat in Cabo de la Vela) so I've had to think a bit out of the box for this one. The best I came up with obviously had to do a lot of the wild (geddit?) partying that was counterpart to South American travelling. This absolute picture-perfect photo comes from my time travelling in Central America during my gap year in 2010 (I hope to God my looks have improved since then!) Martina, my Swiss friend who I met during my time there and I were introduced to the concept of shakey-head photo time by a typically animated Irish man in Antigua, Guatemala. Basically, you have to stick your tongue out, shake your head like a mad man and get the beautiful moment captured in photographic form. This is the drop dead gorgeous result.



Fast
Anyone who's been to South America should know that the only pace of life there is anything but fast. Their driving, on the other hand, is an exception and at times, you will worry for the sanctity of your life. But South American time is a concept completely aside from any temporal concepts we may be acquainted with and our time in Cabo de la Vela, Colombia, demonstrated it beautifully. This kitesurfer was probably the fastest anything went the whole time we were there.



Panoramic
I could have gone for the old cliché and opted for a panoramic of Machu Picchu but I decided that this photo of the Colca valley near Arequipa in Peru was a nice alternative. We saw this beautiful sight on the second day of our Colca Canyon tour after we had spent two hours climbing the Colca Canyon. The intricacy of all the terraces are phenomenal and the photo has the added benefit of a clear blue sky, something the panorama of Machu Picchu unfortunately lacked.



Epic
Whilst I at times feel the word epic is overused, there is no other word to describe the whole Salt Flats tour experience. The experience of watching the sun rise over the plains on the last day made the 4am wake up call all the more worth it and it is certainly an unforgettable experience.



Now, it's your turn - what photos will you enter for Wild, Fast, Panorama and Epic?

What have been your most adventurous travels?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday, we meet again

Monday is an inevitable reality that we've just got to get over. Having taken inspiration from one of my many girl crushes (the list gets longer by the day) Rachel Khoo - she can cook amazing French food and she's bloody gorgeous to boot - I've decided to do a weekly roundup, à la Monday Musings, of some of the great links that I think you will enjoy to start Monday off on a brighter note.


Monday is Awesome by roberlan on deviantART

Caffeine Hit Track


Favourites this week
Steph and Andres from Discovering Ice's list about the Top 10 places to visit in Colombia had me craving being back. I agree with the list wholeheartedly and it particularly had me thinking back to my travels to Cabo de la Vela.

This collection of Paris photos that puts 1900s Paris next to present-day Paris is fascinating.

GAME OF THRONES is finally back (no spoilers perlease.) This 'travel guide' from the Guardian will get you in the mood.

Not so much a read (particularly so if you can't understand French) but Julien's from J'aime le Monde Polaroid photography of Fez is beautiful. Actually just look up all his destinations.

As the weather (hopefully) starts to become more summery, I wouldn't mind whipping up a few of A Beautiful Mess's Toasted Coconut Magaritas.

This is a cute travel memento to hang up in your home that is easy to make and looks great from Treasures and Travels.

The Dakar 2015 route has been released. It will start in Argentina as well as going through Bolivia and Chile. This promotional video looks incredible.

This week I've...
Not been up to much unfortunately. It's deadline season at the moment. This week, however, I have cooked up a storm in the kitchen with these ah-meh-sing dishes (if I don't say so myself.) Saturday also saw an impromptu visit from my dear sister which was a welcome break from revision and assignments. I did also squeeze in time to write two posts: one featuring a rare, sunny day of my old haunt and home city Newcastle and the other featuring my worst (rare) travel experiences and the lessons I learnt from them (and you can too.)

 
Blue cheese, pancetta and red onion pizza, goat's cheese tart and parma ham wrapped asparagus with poached egg for brunch. All courtesy of Aldi!


What are your favourite reads/articles/videos this week?

Friday, April 4, 2014

My worst travel experiences (and how you can learn from them)

Do not get me wrong, I love to travel. And I talk about travel as if it is all unicorns and rainbows because 99.99% of the time, it is.

But then there's that pesky 0.01% which could not be any further from mythical creatures and optical phenomenons. It's that 0.01% where your innocent naivety and illusion of dignity are shattered all at once. It is the lowest of the low where all you want to do is go home, curl up in the foetal position and have your mam sing Soft Kitty or something to the same effect.


I'm not trying one-up your travel stories, I'm sure you could probably one-up my stories under the table but I have had a fair few howlers which usually either involves me inadvertently crossing paths with the craziest of crazies, having sheer bad luck or just utter stupidity on my behalf. Now because I'm a kind, selfless soul, I am going to divulge my travel shockers so you can learn from my mistakes.

Moral of the story and all that

Missing my hostel curfew in Paris. I should have known that Paris is not known for its nightlife. Bar culture, sure. Enjoying a bottle of wine, maybe with some canapés or some pungent French cheese, with friends by the Seine, even better. But clubbing? Not particularly. I was 18, on my gap year and I thought a pub crawl would be a great way to meet people. It was until I realised my sodding hostel had already closed its doors at 2 and wouldn't be opening them until the morning. Putain. One by one my newly-made friends bit the dust and I was left in one of the most typically Parisian locales ever. Everyone was beautiful, everyone was too cool to look like they were having fun and to say the least, no one was welcoming me into their friendship group. Well, with exception to typically sleazy guys including two Canadian guys who tried to coerce me into going into a strip club with them, erm no thanks. I managed to stay in the club until the metro opened at 5 and headed back to the hostel where luckily the receptionist had just opened the doors. Needless to say, this didn't give me the best first impression of Paris.
Moral of the story: Find out your hostel curfew before going out, or even better, go to a hostel that doesn't have curfew.

Living (briefly) with a small-time drug dealer in Colombia. As much as this seems to uphold the Colombian stereotype, let me start off by saying, this is far from the norm and the landlord/small-time drug dealer was Spanish. Basically, finding accommodation in Colombia first time round, I panicked. I didn't want to keep jumping from hostel to hostel so I found a post in Couchsurfing advertising rooms free in a house, went to view it and said immediately I would take it. Wrong decision. The place was a dive, the landlord was antisocial and a bit weird. It took me a while to twig as to why the door bell was constantly going but no one was coming in. Then, it clicked and the references to drug that I brushed off as jokes beforehand made sense. Luckily, I managed to find an amazing student residence after, REM which I couldn't rave about enough but oh my days, that experience taught me a useful lesson.
Moral of the story: Don't rush into long-term accommodation. Try to find out as much about your potential flat-mates as much as possible. Use your contacts or social media to find out if there are recommendations.

Getting hit on by a letchy taxi driver in Nicaragua. I should have known, getting a colectivo (shared taxi) without knowing if everyone was going to the same location was not the brightest idea. I was on my way to San Juan del Sur from Monteverde in Costa Rica and it had been a mammoth journey. I had already been on 3 different buses and whilst waiting for the bus, a colectivo popped up with two others getting in. I decided to come along for the ride, as I didn't want to wait any longer. Quickly, the two other passengers hopped off and it was just me and the taxi driver. He looked like the toad out of Pan's Labyrinth with dodgy rose-tinted sun glasses.The awkward small-talk began and at this stage, my Spanish was shocking but I still understood the jist of it when he very kindly invited me back to his to 'smoke weed' with him. I rebuted him kindly but persistence is a common trait in Latin American men so I had to endure him pestering me for half an hour until we finally arrived at San Juan del Sur. Luckily, nothing more happened but that experience was enough to realise I had been an idiot.
Moral of the story: Don't get in a colectivo unless everyone is going to the same destination. Or even better, just wait and get the bus.

Being stranded in Panama city. Again, another story of my stupidity. Right before the end of my Central American travelling, I had to take a flight from Guatemala to Panama to get my connection back to the UK. In a massive rush, getting from Livingston to the Guatemala city airport, I had forgotten to change my leftover quetzales into dollars. How much of a big mistake that was. Unbeknown to me, I had no money in my account so when I tried taking out dollars in Panama, my card was of course flat-out rejected. I had no dollars and I had stupidly already spent all my traveller's cheques which my mam and dad had clearly specified that they were to be left for emergency use only. I didn't anticipate that the day before going back home, I would need them. I had nowhere to go and obviously nowhere was going to take me if I had no money. By sheer luck, a very kind Panamanian lady allowed me to sleep on her living-room floor, I even was given a lift back to the airport. I could not be any more grateful to her and it taught me the kindness of strangers. But, I had to endure a long series of "I told you so" from mam and dad when I got home.
Moral of the story: Listen to your parents. They are wise people and you are young and stupid. Also, always have an emergency stash of money, always.


Metro: The place where nightmares are made of. Image via Roman Laskin

Being hit by a tramp on the Paris metro. Now this story isn't about my stupidity, naivety or anything to do with what I could have done differently. This is just pure bad luck. I will set the scene: 4:30pm Friday afternoon, Paris. I had managed to finish work early and was headed home after a busy week at work. I was absolutely shattered and miraculously, I had managed to grab an empty seat. As I sat down, I glanced up, as I did by habit, to look at the metro map, count how many stops I had left (maths is not my forte) and switch off. I looked down, glancing quickly (we are talking milliseconds here) at the woman in the opposite corner before fixing my gaze on the floor, as you do on the metro. All of a sudden I heard, "Ca c'est suffisant! (That's quite enough)" Oh shit, someone's kicking off on the metro I thought. It wasn't until I looked up that I realised that someone was kicking off at me. It was the woman in the opposite corner, who I now realised, was approaching me and shouting all colourful words under the sun about me. Or at least I think she was, because she only had two front teeth and was shouting in rapid Parisian slang. "Ta guele! (Shut your gob)" I hadn't said anything. She then proceeded to swip me around the shoulder, whilst everyone else just sat and watched. It is probably the only moment when I have vehemently wished that the ground would swallow me whole. It was only when she decided to get off the metro and probably start on someone else, that people asked me not even if I was OK but what I had said to her in the first place. Thanks guys.
Moral of the story: Always look at the floor, never look up on the metro. But seriously, sometimes you just have really bad luck.

This by no means an attempt to fear-monger. This is just a demonstration of how travel is a constant learning curve and I am nowhere near finished. Take heed from my advice, learn from my mistakes (the above example isn't even an exhaustive list!) take the usual precautions and you should generally keep out of harm's way.

What's your worst travel experience and how did you learn from it? What's the best travel advice you could give to someone?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Newcastle in the sun

Almost two months ago, I had the absolute pleasure of attending Traverse 14. For those that are into blogging, it's a travel blogging conference and it was brilliant. Not only that but it was held in a place I hold pretty close in my heart: Newcastle.

I prepared myself for the homecoming by listening to songs such as Fog on the Tyne and Blaydon races on repeat (I am not even joking) looking forward to indulging in a ham and pease pudding stottie and of course, bracing myself for the slightly colder - read Baltic - temperatures.

But I was greeted to clear blue skies and sunshine as the train pulled into Newcastle and the sight over the Tyne looked incredible. I know the weather well enough to know this is a rarity, which it was as I learnt on the Sunday experience when we cycled in torrential rain on the moors, so I took the opportunity to get snappy happy of one of my favourite cities and hyem. 

I headed first to Central Arcade. I was always dragged there by my dad as my sister was an avid musician so J.G.Windows, a music shop was a regular port of call. I did not take any notice of how beautiful it is then but I certainly do now.



Grey's Monument at its finest.



Grey Street, voted Best Street in the UK (by Radio 4 listeners, they should know) who am I to argue?







Redhouse, a place where you can pick your pie, mash and gravy - need I say more?!

I had to end up on the Quayside to get the eponymous view. The one new fact I learnt over the weekend, apart from all sorts of blogging tips, was that apparently Sydney Harbour Bridge was based on the Tyne's design.





Another great view: The Millenium Bridge or 'The Eye'. The bridge is designed to allow boats past, so at certain points of the day (usually early morning) the bridge tilts to let the boats through.


Pretentious artsy shot

My weekend there was simply not enough. Newcastle will always have the sense of homecoming for me and being able to see the city in such beautiful weather was a lovely way to spend my time there. Hopefully, when I'm in Northumberland for the summer, the weather will be kind to me then (fingers crossed) so I can properly explore!


Have you been to Newcastle? Which city is 'home' for you?