We’re well settled into the new year and we’re all full of hopes and dreams for the next 12 months – learning a new language, getting fit, changing our job, travelling more. Most likely in the first week of the year you were super pumped, ready to drop anything to stick to your main goal(s).
By the time the second week came however, you kind of settled in, relaxed the rules a bit and got back to some of your old habits. When January’s over, your goal will be completely forgotten like it was never there and you’re going to be thinking ‘how silly of me to think that I could learn Spanish’.
That can be one of the ways the future looks. Let’s take a different turn. Lets push through the phase when we want to give up and see what happens. The other road is familiar but wouldn’t it be nice to see what else can happen? What if you did learn Spanish this year? You could read books in Spanish, and you could talk to other Spanish speakers, and on your next holiday in Spain you could strike up a conversation with a stranger and end up making new friends.
Studies have shown that the human brain tends to value immediate rewards more than future rewards. When you set a goal or a resolution you are in fact making plans for your future self and it ‘s easy to imagine how your life can look. But, when the time comes that you actively pursue that goal most people choose immediate gratification and opt to do what they feel like in the moment.
Now that we understand how our mind works, it’s time to find ways to stop this from happening.
- Start slowly and build a ritual. Set yourself to practice for half an hour a day – that’s not too much to ask right? Offer yourself a reward after – if you’re learning a language with uTalk, the reward comes in the form of earning points and we all like to build up to a nice score, right?
- Put aside some of your other tasks. Obviously not work or eating but if you usually browse the Internet while commuting why not replace that with your main goal?
- Keep your eyes on the prize – never lose sight of your motivation. Look at pictures of beautiful Spanish landscapes and imagine yourself having a chat with the locals, or listen to Spanish songs and try to understand the lyrics.
I hope this helps you push through the temptation of giving up and will ultimately get you to your goal. And don’t worry about making mistakes; the only person who loses is the one that gives up, so no matter how slow you are going, it’s still better than if you weren’t doing anything.
And if your goal is to learn a language (or twelve…), there’s still time to join the uTalk Challenge!
Have you ever visited a city that managed to change your mind?
I visited Bruges earlier this year. Unfortunately, I’d accidentally timed my visit to coincide with the enthusiastically named ‘Amateur Arts Festival’, and consequently spent Saturday night with tissues rammed in my ears and arms clenching pillows to my head, as my hotel room shook with the relentless noise of amateur bass. I thought then that the chances of coming up with ten reasons to visit Bruges were pretty slim. Yet on Sunday morning, with the loudspeakers in the square finally silenced and the sun out, I became enchanted with this town that everyone always refers to as a peaceful haven of canals. These are the things which managed to turn my opinion around in the space of just one morning.
I get a bit excited about foreign trains, I know, but going to Bruges presented me with a new wonder: the double decker train. True, this is not localised to Bruges alone but most of the IC trains from Bruxelles seemed to be two storeys high, giving a fantastic view of the very flat countryside (and occasional windmill!) from the top deck. The trains are smooth and cool, and the conductors wear an amusing flat cap as part of their uniform. If you’re just planning a short visit to Bruges, you can get the Eurostar to Brussels and travel on from there (it’s about an hour on the fast train, two hours on the slow train).
2. Canals and boat trips
I wouldn’t say the town is riddled with canals in the same way Venice or Amsterdam are, but they linger in the backstreets and circle the centre so that you stumble across them when you wander off the main street. Surprisingly, there didn’t seem to be any locals drifting around on pleasure boats, although there were a few promising houses whose main doors seemed to lead out directly onto the canal. Activity on the waterways instead seemed to be wholly dominated by the tour boats, taking cargoes of visitors on half hour drives up and down the canal, streaming off fluent speeches in three languages as they went. If you’re only there for a short time, I’d advise a boat trip to get your bearings on the town, and to see some impressive buildings from otherwise undiscovered angles.
Belgium is world-famous for chocolate and there are lots of chances to sample it in Bruges. Having been there just after Easter, lots of independent chocolate shops were still displaying elaborate chocolate rabbits and chicken-shaped Easter eggs, as well as the usual array of picturesque truffles and pralines. It being the weekend, there didn’t seem to be anyone around making the chocolates, which was a pity, but I imagine that in the week you’d get a good look at the chocolatiers at work. I was particularly impressed with a small boutique called Stef’s, which sold chocolate tools dusted with cocoa to make them look rusty – I was entirely taken in until I decided it was highly unlikely that a food shop would fill its window with rusty tools.
Bruges, although it also has lots of famous sights, is perfect for the lazier tourist who just wants to meander and drink in the tranquil beauty. Cobbled streets with broad flat pavements and gentle bridges over canals provide a little haven to lose yourself in, and since the whole town is very small you soon enough stumble upon some familiar street or building to set you back on route. Horse drawn carriages trot past every so often, carrying bands of eager-eyed tourists, A particularly pretty walk turned out to be the wide promenade from the station into town (a very short stroll and definitely not worth getting the bus unless you have heavy luggage), which passes a beautiful pink-flowered war memorial and glides into the centre of town and some pretty little cafés.
5. Houses and architecture
The typical Flemish façade presides here, and people seem to take enormous pride in their property, keeping every gate neatly painted and every tile in place. With a maximum height of 30m for any building in the city, the scenery is all low-lying and the views from any high points are panoramic. Some interesting and very modern architecture brings a new sense of style to the traditional steep-roofed old houses.
At one point home to over 50 breweries, Bruges now has only one active one, De Halve Maan brewery, which runs daily tours around its compact factory in the heart of the city. The tour, in Dutch, French and English, is definitely worth going on as it is stuffed full of information and lots of insights into why beer is healthy (an argument I always like to hear). They’ll also tell you that back in the ’50s the breweries would do home deliveries – you just had to ring a bell for the cart to stop and dispense beer to you directly. I imagine it’s no longer feasible to re-introduce this practice, but we can always dream… Having climbed right to the top of the factory and experienced the lovely view, you are released at ground level to claim your free beer in the spacious bar-restaurant, where one beer can easily turn into a happy afternoon sampling all the brewery’s many offerings.
7. Bike pumps
I’ve seen these around a little more recently – the free foot-operated bicycle pump – and I’m always impressed with a town that spends its money on something as practical and helpful as this.
and cake. This doesn’t need much explanation really: in Bruges, you can sit at a table on a cobbled pavement outside a bakery with exquisitely executed cakes and sip a small cup of intense black coffee. Although waffles seem to be the thing to have in Belgium, my favourite snack is the florentine – not a native Belgian sweet but nonetheless available in every cake shop.
9. Beers and beer glasses
Almost as attractive as the idea of sitting in a bar all day trying all the different beers is the idea of trying out all the different glasses. That may sound geeky but there are some really fun ones, including the absurd Kwak beer glass whose bulbous end makes it impossible to put down without the proper stand, and the La Corne drinking horn (which you can clink with a fellow Viking over a drinking toast and which, again, cannot be propped up except with the stand it comes served in). Good bartenders, the Belgians will tell you, will never serve a beer in the wrong glass, and each beer has its own glass, most of which are shaped like a chalice or a tulip.
If this is what you’re after, you won’t be disappointed in Bruges. With a long, meandering high street full of clothes and chocolate shops, as well as a large market and side streets offering endless souvenirs, you could spend a day just in the shops. And if you’re looking for a bigger centre, Brussels is only an hour or so away by train, and Ghent is neatly stuffed in between the two, to make a weekend of it.
Have you been to Bruges? What were your highlights?
Sometimes one word is all you need… With the World Cup getting underway today, here’s how each national team says that all-important word, ‘goal’.
You can find this and lots more in our language learning app, uTalk – available to download and start learning right now from the App Store. So whether you’re watching the football at home or away, you’ll always be prepared.
(There are lots of non-football related words in there too, for those of us with other interests!)
Please do share the infographic with friends and tell us how you’ll be shouting ‘Goal!’ this World Cup 🙂
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As part of our non-stop quest to bring you an insiders’ guide to the cultural and linguistic highlights of Europe and beyond, here are my top ten reasons why you should visit Amsterdam.
1. The beautiful canals
Of course I knew that Amsterdam was famous for its canals, but I didn’t realise that they’re everywhere. This can make getting around a little confusing as everything sort of looks the same (especially if you indulge in some of Amsterdam’s other famous pastimes – see later!) but it gives the city a unique and beautiful atmosphere, and means you’re never short of somewhere relaxing to sit and enjoy a rest and a beer. Nat suggests renting a pedalo, or you can also take a cruise around the canals for about 15 euro.
2. The Red Light District
This is one of Amsterdam’s most famous and most unique tourist sites. Whatever your opinion is on women being displayed for sale in windows, it’s something you won’t see anywhere else, and the district is definitely worth a peek. Just remember – pictures are strictly forbidden, and your camera will be confiscated if you don’t keep it stowed away.
3. The coffeeshops
If you don’t know what Amsterdam’s coffeeshops are known for, then let me give you a hint… it’s not coffee! Since marijuana is legal in Holland, many tourists flock to Amsterdam to smoke a joint or two in one of the city’s many coffeeshops. These are literally everywhere, especially in the city centre and near to the Red Light District, and are always packed with people sitting outside and enjoying a smoke. You’ll probably notice the distinctive smell everywhere. By the way, there are also plenty of great places to drink actual coffee as well!
4. Dam square
There are a couple of main squares in Amsterdam, which are all packed with cafes, restaurants and bars, but Dam is the biggest and most iconic. During our trip there was a funfair going on there, and it’s definitely one of the more lively parts of the city, packed with people. By night, all the restaurants and bars around this area are busy, and sitting outside is a great way to people-watch and experience the Amsterdam nightlife. Be sure to also check out Rembrandtplein – where you can easily grab a table outside to eat dinner or have a drink, and Museumplein, where all the biggest museums (and the famous Amsterdam sign) are.
5. Dutch cuisine?!
If you’re anything like me, then you probably don’t instantly associate the Netherlands with great cuisine, but actually you’d be wrong! Amsterdam has plenty of good international restaurants, but is particularly good for Indonesian cuisine due to the country’s links with its former colony. We also found a fantastic Dutch restaurant in the centre, where I tried the traditional dish Hotchpotch, which is basically a combination of mashed potato and vegetables, served with bacon or meatballs, which was really tasty and filling. Make sure you also order a pint of Heineken (brewed in the city) and try some traditional apple cake or poffertjes (small pancakes), which are really popular.
6. Haring (herrings)
Technically this should probably come under ‘Dutch cuisine’, but I think it deserves a point all of its own. Herring is a very traditional food in the Netherlands, as in much of Northern Europe and can be bought from various stalls in the city. Try it with pickles and chopped onion in a roll for a tasty, cheap and portable lunch while you’re sightseeing!
7. Try out a few phrases in Dutch!
The stereotype that Dutch people are ridiculously good at English is true, so don’t worry if you don’t speak any Dutch; you can definitely get around and order food in English. However, people are generally friendly and happy to let you try out a couple of phrases on them. We got chatting to some locals in a club, and they were happy to teach us some basic words, although their English was completely fluent. Dutch people seem to be very open to chatting with foreigners in English (more so than elsewhere) and it’s an easy place to make some new friends.
Don’t forget to bring uTalk with you, even if you only use it to decipher what’s on menus!
8. The museums
There’s plenty to check out on the cultural side too. The Van Gogh museum has permanent queues in front of it, to see some beautiful paintings by the most famous Dutch artist of all time – even if he wasn’t well known at all in his lifetime. We visited the Rijksmuseum nearby, which has some paintings by Van Gogh and fellow Dutch artist Rembrandt, as well as many other exhibits. However make sure you leave plenty of time to see everything – as it’s huge and takes at least 3-4 hours to explore everything. Michal recommends the children’s science museum, and the Museum of Sex also sounds intriguing…
Well, this one is rather weather-dependent, but the weather was great over the Easter weekend, and a stroll around one of the parks was definitely in order. The Vondelpark is quite central and really big – great for a run or a walk. We also sunbathed for a few hours in the Osterpark (a bit further out) where you can easily while away a sunny afternoon.
10. Bikes, bikes, bikes!
Finally, the other big thing the city is famous for: bikes. The first thing everyone said to me before I went to Amsterdam was ‘watch out for the bikes’ and they weren’t wrong. It seems like absolutely everyone cycles everywhere, which means it’s a very clean city and the air quality is good. It’s also a very healthy way to get around. Renting a bike is an ideal way to see the city. You can walk just about anywhere, or there are trams and even a (small) metro network, but cycling is probably the quickest and easiest way to zip around the main sights and get from one side of the city to the other. Even cycling home from a night out seems to be the norm.
So there you have it… Everyone in the office seems to have a lot of opinions on what the best things to see and do are, so let us know what we’ve missed in the comments!
Alex (and team!)