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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?

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.


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?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why I Miss Paris

Poor Paris.

Despite spending 6 months there during my year abroad, I've pretty much neglected all mention of Paris on the blog.

And whilst it wasn't exactly love at first sight, nor even a slow burner, I still enjoyed my time there - bar traumatising public transport incidents. Sure, I would have enjoyed it more with a little bit more mullah but it is still a fantastic city with an inexhaustible list of things of things to see, do and most importantly, EAT.

The cravings to return are back with a vengeance and barring exceptional circumstances, I should hopefully make a cheeky trip there before the end of the year (fingers and toes and everything crossed). But, in the meantime, I shall have to make do with looking at  photos, watching old school Hollywood movies and getting all nostalgic.

Anyhoo, why I miss the beautiful city that is Paris:

Le Marais on Sundays

Falafel, not the prettiest but it sure is tasty.

I could quite happily spend every Sunday in Le Marais (although preferably with a run around Bois de Boulogne or Parc aux Buttes-Chaumont first). Firstly, it is one of the only places to have much happening on a Sunday and Paris-wise, it has it all. As it's both the gay and Jewish neighbourhood, there's no place quite like it elsewhere in Paris, it has great window shopping, allows you to have a walk through history and you can grab a falafel for about €6. My advice? Skip the queues for L'As du Falafel (I know, sacrilege) and head to Falafel King, which I think is just as good, if not better. Sweet-talk the vendor to give you more aubergine and spice fiends, ask for loads of chilli sauce. Divine.

Park life on the weekend

I've already briefly mentioned it but the perfect reprieve to city life without leaving Paris is by heading to one of the many parks. My personal favourites are Bois de Boulogne and Parc aux Buttes-Chaumont and it was pretty rare to pass a weekend in Paris without going to one. It is the ideal place to people-watch, if you're a nosy so-and-so like me, there are loads of cute dogs that you will have to control yourself from going up to and ruffling up their hair (just me?) and you can walk, run, bike, chill, the whole shebang. Again, it's a pretty cheap activity too, so that's always a plus in my book.

Two words: Happy. Hour.

I know it sounds fairly middle-of-the-road but when money is tight and sometimes, just, sometimes Parisian life gets a bit much, happy hour is the time that everyone counts down the hours for. It gets you through work, you have the chance to vent all your frustrations onto other people and you get to partake in one of the best bits about Paris. The bar culture. Now, I confess that I'm not big on Paris' party scene (too many posers and way too expensive) but what I loved was going to bars, having a few bevvies, a cheeky apéro and actually socialising. Heated patios are everywhere too, so you can sit outside year-round and participate in even more people-watching. Grand.

Seeing sights like this on a daily basis

You are walking in a film set every day. And even if you've been there for a while, you still pinch yourself. The thing about Paris is that it's not all bog-standard, chocolate box pretty, it has imperfections, it has its dingy corners and not-so nice bits, I suppose you could analogise it as the boy you know is bad news, he knows he's got it, is a massive player but regardless, you still like him anyway. But who can blame you, when you see that everyday?


The smell is enough to entice you in: freshly baked baguettes, light, buttery, flaky croissants, QUICHES, pain au chocolat aux amandes - it settles the almond croissant vs pain au chocolat debate by PUTTING THE TWO TOGETHER. I could go on. But did I mention that bakeries are a haven for cheap eats that are ridiculously tasty too? It was the light at the end of (literal) tunnel when I would return home from work, leave the metro and be greeted with the beautiful lighting and scents of the bakery.

The brutal bluntness (at times)

I must like making life hard for myself but at times I do wish people would take a note out of Parisians' books and just come out with it rather than the inherent passive-aggressiveness we seem to have in Britain. Whilst at times it was a bit much and I would have preferred the softly-softly approach, the bluntness a lot of Parisians seem to inherit was refreshing.

The beauty of simplicity

This stereotype holds true - in Paris, being cool is effortless. Or at least, it should look like it didn't take any effort. I forever developed girl crushes on the metro, on the street, everywhere. Parisians work with what they got, they embrace their freckles, curly hair or pale skin and they look fantastic.

The walkability

In comparison to London, Paris is tiny and therefore, easy to get about on foot. If possible, I like avoiding public transport and especially in a city like Paris, you never know what you're going to find around the next corner.

Paris at night

It's not called La Ville Lumière for nothing. Paris comes into its own when the sun sets and you realise why people romanticise it so much. Indulge in the best light show of all by heading to the Eiffel Tower on the hour and it's quite a sight to be seen. The above image was taken on my last night in Paris, being quite a fitting farewell.

As much as I'm resistant to confess that I actually do like Paris, I think this is me being stubborn and not wanting to admit I'm wrong more than anything else, Paris has a certain magnetism that pulls me to come back again and again. It's never going to be a full-on love relationship but to be honest, considering most Parisians seem to always complain about Paris, yet never leave, maybe I'm just adopting a Parisian approach to showing my appreciation.

So now the floor is yours, what do you miss about Paris? Do you have a love/hate relationship with it like me?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dear Fresher

It's that time of year again:

Freshers season.

Young, innocent (ahem) students are about to fly the nest, to go to university bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and full of expectation.

And it's time to get nostalgic (again). Whilst I'd like to think I could come up with deeper, more meaningful prose, the only words that can sum up how I feel about it, is the age-old cliché - you remember it like it was yesterday.

I didn't know how to feel about university. I had just come back from an amazing gap year and I had been spoilt. The thought of going back to full-time education was not the most exciting prospect.

But I had heard all the hype: freshers week is the best week of your life, uni life is amazing, I had to find out for myself if it was true.

So off I toddled to university.

Whilst it may not have exactly lived up to the hype - anything that is hyped is inevitably going to fall flat on its arse - before I start sounding like a massive fun sponge, university was in many ways an amazing experience and although I wouldn't go as far as saying that it was life-changing (don't want to be involved with the hype myself), it certainly made its impact on me.

Now, I'm older and no doubt, wiser, it is high time to pass on my oracle knowledge to you young'uns about to embark on your university career. So here goes:

Dear Fresher,

This is it. This is the time, the next step you've been anticipating for a while. The one where you will really see yourself grow, or at least lay the foundations of growing, into a (more) mature, responsible(ish) adult.

But don't worry, you don't have to do full-on grown up stuff quite yet. Thinking about pensions, saving for a deposit on a house and paying council tax are yet to come. That's the beauty of university. These are the years to enjoy, to be selfish, to have those wild nights out without repercussion. You will be the personification of young and carefree, until dissertation deadline is fast approaching.

But that's not until third year.

Be all about the here and now, fresher. If you are in the lucky majority that only have to pass first year, make the most of it. When you are preoccupied with coursework deadlines and major exams, your social life will be put to one side. So, venture outside your hall circle of friends, explore your interests, take up a new one. There is something for everyone and even if you don't find them straight away, you will find your circle of friends, the ones that get you, not the ones that you are forced to get along with like in halls.

Which reminds me, don't worry if you don't get on with your flatmates. It's a weird situation, being randomly chosen to all live under the same roof for a year. Great, if you find your kindred souls from the off but remember that friendships aren't always forged overnight so give it time. Feeling like you're the only one with no friends is more common than you think.

I've been making a few references to the wild partying that supposedly will be taking place. I would like to make a disclaimer: It is not what uni is all about. Or at least, it isn't if you don't want it to be. At the risk of sounding like your parent or a teacher, don't feel you have to go out. Partying in a club that plays the same songs EVERY WEEK, has floors so sticky, you're scared you'll get stuck to them and smells of vomit and regret is not all it's cut out to be (although the cheese factor every once in a while is innocent, good fun). Your bank balance will thank you too.

Speaking of finances, I would make the usual point about budgeting but I know it will fall on deaf ears. Stock up on noodles now and discover the delights that Lidl and Aldi have to offer. That is all.

Adopting the role of parent/teacher again, keep an eye on your health. I will not preach that you 'eat clean' (god forbid) or thou shalt never drink but try and incorporate the odd fruit and vegetable into your diet and do the whole exercise shebang every now and then. The Fresher 15 is an unfortunate regular occurrence (it happened to me), don't be one of them. Keeping physically healthy is also half the battle for your mental outlook. When the going gets tough, as much as it is difficult, try to think positive. Putting things into perspective and finding the silver lining instantly makes things easier. Look after yourself.

And if/when things do become challenging, ask for help. If you are finding your course hard, go and see your module convenor - they have office hours for this reason. Or if you simply don't enjoy your course or your hall, ask to change. As my mam says, you don't ask, you don't get.

And last but not least, remember there's life outside of the university bubble. My best piece of advice? STUDY ABROAD. Honestly, you may worry you'll will miss out on what is happening here but you will be too busy making your own fantastic memories to care. If you don't have the opportunity to study abroad, do something in your holidays: do a charity trek, go travelling with your new university friends or get involved with a course trip. There are so many chances to see the world throughout university so take advantage of some of them on offer.

Other than that, have fun, work hard and remember that university is not solely about your degree, important as it is, as you can see from the above examples, it is so much more. Give it your all, good luck and enjoy!

Are you off to university this year? If you've been, what's your best piece of advice?