Today is a big day here in the UK, as we’re voting in a referendum to decide our future in the European Union. A lot’s been said on both sides of the debate, so we won’t repeat any of the arguments for or against Brexit.
Instead, lets focus on the rich and fascinating cultures of both the UK and Europe. And who better to ask about their favourite things about them than our lovely staff?
Our colleagues from overseas have come up with some interesting things they love about the UK:
Nikolay (Bulgaria) – I ♥ British humour and specifically panel shows! Can’t get enough of “Mock the Week”, “QI”, “Would I Lie to You?”, “Have I Got News for You” etc.
Pablo (Spain) – People’s politeness and patience. In crowded places like in the centre, underground or the streets full of cars, is where you can notice it the most. The only way you can survive from bursting into a full crisis is with both qualities. I really really love that.
Sandra (Poland) – For me it is the Sunday roast, and fish and chips. Living with a lovely bunch of friends who love to cook means that I get to discover some great British dishes, and also that I love to have gravy with almost every meal!
Aditya (India) – I enjoy the British weather, in particular that I love the rain and cloudy weather! Originating from Delhi and having also lived in Dubai, I am rather fed up of the heat/sun.
Ioana (Romania) – Before I came to Britain I thought the idea of tea and milk is disgusting. Now I’ll have a cuppa if I’m sad, happy, with friends, by myself, in the morning or in the evening, there is just something incredibly comforting in a hot cup of tea. Especially on rainy days.
And here are some thoughts from our British colleagues…
Brett – I think the obvious one here is pizza!
Phil – European beaches are the best 🙂
Simon – I visited the Sagrada Familia on my recent trip to Barcelona, and it is an absolutely incredible building, with exceptional architecture.
Safia – I love Italian hot chocolate, you can eat it with a spoon!
Liz – The pain au chocolat… it’s a miraculous culinary invention that brightens up the dullest morning…!
Over to you! Brits – what do you love about Europe? And non-Brits, what’s your favourite thing about the UK? 🙂
The reason why New York is a super popular touristic destination is because it’s such a diverse city and it has something for everyone. More than one person told me before I went “Oh, you’ll love it! It’s my favourite city!”
So what makes it so loved? New York is definitely impressive. All the famous places you’ve seen in movies, the skyscrapers, rushed people, Central Park, they all make you feel the strong impact of this powerful city.
If you really want to “feel” the city and get that really local feeling, I’d suggest saving up and finding a place to stay on the Manhattan island, either a hotel or an airbnb – it’s close to everything and you’ll earn more time to look around than spend on transportation.
I’m not usually the type of tourist to go on the beaten path but some of the popular places have really fascinated me, like Top of The Rock, which is a three level observation deck at the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The Empire State Building is another place you can get 360° views of the city, however if you have to choose between the two, I’d go with Top of The Rock; it has windows instead of a fence and the highest level doesn’t have any restrictions. It’s totally safe though, I promise. Timing of the people going up is more organised and you actually have enough space to take photos and enjoy the view.
Take a day for Central Park, it’s a fantastic place. If you’re working your way up North, on the West side of the Park you’ll find the Guggenheim Museum, which is a real masterpiece of architecture and a great art museum.
West Village and Greenwich Village are definitely the cutest districts. If you’re a fan of Friends, that’s where their famous building is! Sadly, it’s just a normal residential building, as the show was all filmed in studios in California.
Another interesting place that I loved was The High Line. It’s an old elevated section of a railway in Chelsea district transformed into a 1.45-mile-long (2.33 km) linear park. While you’re there make sure to see Chelsea Market – an old factory now transformed into an indoor food hall. They have amazing food from all over the world. It’s very hard to resist eating everything in sight, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
There are many great places in New York that are waiting to be discovered. Just get lost on the streets of different districts and wander around, they all have their own unique character.
Travelling to New York? Be prepared with uTalk – you can use it from over 100 languages!
Next up on our list of top holiday destinations is Valencia – here’s Ioana to explain how the Spanish city captured her heart…
The fact that it’s not one of the top touristic destinations in Spain, had me not really knowing what to expect of Valencia. Of course, I was looking forward to amazing paella, sunny skies and tapas, but Valencia has its own special charm that makes it feel like everything that you’d expect of Spain but better. Valencia has surprised me in a delightful way and I want to share my excitement and love for this place.
Not too big and with very good public transport options, it’s a very “manageable” city, as a former local told me. They love bikes over there so if that’s your thing, research on how you can rent a Valenbisi. Walking is a pleasure – beautiful old buildings and orange trees that decorate many of the pavements.
What used to be the bed of the the river Turia was transformed into a huge park with plenty of vegetation, sports courts, fountains and the futuristic looking Calatrava buildings and bridge, collectively called the City of Arts and Sciences, including a planetarium, an oceanarium and an interactive museum. Feeling like you’re about to embark on a spaceship, the beautiful buildings make it hard to take your eyes off them. All white and with bold curves and angles, decorated with light blue water fountains all around, it’s very easy to be impressed by the architect’s talent and vision.
South of the park is the old city centre, which is best explored by foot. All the little streets are beautiful and each neighbourhood has many cafes and bistros where you can take a break and indulge in the delicious Spanish cuisine. One of my favourite places is Plaza de la Reina. The fact that we had some amazing chocolate con churros at one café of the many around the plaza does not influence my decision at all 😉
Where do the cool kids hang out? I hear you ask me. The answer is Russafa. It is the hip neighbourhood with a rich cultural mix which makes it the favourite social place for both tourists and locals. The classic Spanish buildings are home to many restaurants and cafes with delicious pastries. The nightlife here is very lively and is the kind of place where on a hot summer night you might accidentally walk right into a street festival.
In only four days Valencia has managed to make me fall in love with it and quickly climbed and reserved a spot in my top 3 favourite places in the world. Characterful, filled with culture and history, great food, amazing weather and happy palm trees, Valencia surely knows how to impress.
Heading to Spain this summer? Remember to download uTalk before you go so you’re prepared with some basic Spanish conversation!
As the warm season is slowly approaching, our minds are starting to wander off to far away places, where we can explore, relax and have some adventures. We did some research (purely for selfless reasons, obviously) and found some great places that seem to be becoming more and more popular as holiday destinations. Over the next few weeks we’ll be giving you our thoughts about each of these amazing places.
Destination: Hanoi, Vietnam
An online friend of mine, Loes, lived there for a while and she was kind enough to share her local experience with us.
Old quarter is very nice! I suggest going in early morning. In the area there’s also an authentic market and it’s not too crowded. There are a lot of nice shopping places, mainly around the cathedral.
They have really good food there, my favorite is bun cha (only eat it at a restaurant that serves nothing else than bun cha, you can get it between 11-12:30 or so), then there is bun bo nam bo, nem (spring rolls) and apparently the best coffee in the world though I can’t vouch for this because I don’t drink coffee. But the cha da (literally tea ice) is pretty good, and the fresh fruit smoothie too!
At the lakes Trúc Bạch and Tây Hồ is also very nice, there you can get bo bia (a very nice coconut snack) and go for a walk or cycle on a water cycle.
Ha Long Bay is amazing! That’s a day or two-day trip from Hanoi. I think it’s around 4 hours to drive there.
Tam Coc, is a beautiful place also known as Ha Long on land. It’s also a day trip from Hanoi. You can rent a cycle there and cycle through the rice fields. Cúc Phương is also super cool, it’s a wild national park. I would combine that one with Tam Coc, two day motorbike trip. Very nice!
There are also some very nice food markets to go to, Chợ hôm and one close to Trúc Bạch lake, not too busy. The Vietnamese street food is known to be one of the safest street eating places in the world, everything is fresh so don’t be shy in trying everything you find appealing!
Needless to say this got us thinking about booking a flight to Hanoi ASAP. If you’ve been inspired too, don’t forget to install uTalk before you go, it’ll help you get along with the friendly locals in all the situations that you could need to speak their language! If you want to see my friend Loes’s pictures of Vietnam you can check them out here.
Recently, we were recording the Bhutanese language of Dzongkha for uTalk (now available!) and realised we knew hardly anything about the Himalayan kingdom. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are visiting as part of their Royal visit to India and Bhutan; so we thought we would do a bit of reading – and now we want to move there.
Gross National Happiness is an actual thing in Bhutan! Rather than measure the GDP (gross domestic product) the Bhutanese measure how happy their population is. In 2015 it found that 91.2% of the population would describe themselves as happy – whether ‘narrowly, extensively or deeply happy’; they classed themselves as happy. How lovely is that? But how do they do it? Here are some tips on how to make your life a little bit happier.
1. Turn off your computer, phone, Internet connection
In Bhutan the Internet didn’t arrive until 1999, so why not try to go Internet free. I know this is shocking – a lot of us are glued to our smartphones. But, why not try turning it off? Even if just for an hour every day, take a break from the cyber world and do something else instead. If you tend to use your smart phone before bed try replacing it with a book. A lamp doesn’t emit a stimulating light like your smartphone, which keeps you awake for longer; let’s be honest who doesn’t love extra sleep.
2. Listen to some music
Apparently Bhutan’s King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is a huge fan of The King of Rock, Elvis. So put on your blue suede shoes and get dancing, singing, or just listen to some music. Spotify have some perfect mood boosting playlists and motivational songs.
3. Have a cuppa
A cup of tea, or a warm drink – if you’re not a tea lover, this can help to relax you. In Bhutan they have their own version of ‘tea’ called suja, described as thick and creamy, made of salted yak butter. Instead of serving it with a rich tea biscuit, it comes with dry popped rice.
4. Take up yoga/meditation
Find your zen! The Bhutanese allow for daily meditation sessions in school, and play traditional music to sooth students instead of a school bell. Doing yoga or meditating is the perfect way to zone out after a stressful day. There’s now such a thing as yoga with bunnies or even goats in some places.
5. Go for a bike ride
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s dad (the previous king of Bhutan) used to ride up and down the mountains of Bhutan. Some of the locals in Bhutan are sure they have seen him cycling around the town in his spare time. Going for a bike ride is a great way to get some exercise and it releases feel-good endorphins. Apparently it also helps you to sleep more deeply and will help ease any guilt from snacking.
What are your top tips to live happy?