A few of our favourite things…
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? 🙂
Destination: Hanoi, Vietnam
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.
Happy Burns Night!
‘Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae the Lord be thankit!’
It’s January 25th, the night that no haggis is safe! Lock up your neeps and tatties, and hide the good whisky. The hungry hordes are on the way!
In my family, Burns Night has always been an annual tradition, with my Nan hosting the festivities and always inviting a few new (and unsuspecting) guests each year. Now that she’s gone, I host my own Burns Nights, and always stick to her menu of a cullen skink starter, haggis, neeps and tatties, and cranachan for dessert. Never having been to a Burns Night outside my family, I’ve always suspected that we might do things a bit differently to everyone else, but then that’s part of the appeal: as long as you include a few essential components, every host will have their own twist on the rest of the night.
The elements that can’t be forgotten, in my book, are the piping in of the haggis – although, as nobody I know has any bagpipes, we tend to use whatever musical instrument is closest to hand, including the tin whistle, violin and, perhaps most successfully, the harmonica. The Address to a Haggis has to be delivered by the host, who will stab it as theatrically as they can when they reach the line ‘His knife see rustic labour dight / An cut you up wi ready slight,’ and ideally a spewing out of the haggis’ delicious-smelling ‘gushing entrails bright’ sees an end to any misgivings the guests had about trying their first haggis. (Little side note – if you haven’t ever had haggis before, go and buy one immediately: it’s the one thing that makes me seriously question my commitment to vegetarianism).
In my house, we then tend to relax a bit while everyone gets their teeth into the haggis, but at the arrival of the seriously creamy, very alcoholic cranachan (lots of oats, lots and lots of whisky, lots of cream, with a few raspberries interlaced), some unsuspecting guest will usually be asked to honour Rabbie Burns by reading a poem. Ideally somebody English is chosen so that the attempt to read fluent Scots has maximum effect. My favourite surprise poem to launch on guests is ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’, but ‘To A Mouse’ does the trick as well: by the time they get to the line ‘To thole the winter’s sleety dribble, An’ cranreuch cauld!’, all social boundaries tend to have broken down and everyone’s the best of friends.
After that, it’s just a case of more whisky, more whisky and more whisky still, until the wee hours see everyone singing and dancing arm-in-arm around (and occasionally on) the kitchen table.
Quote of the week: 4 July 2015
“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” Pavarotti
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A trip to Riga
At the risk of sounding like a Eurovision host… greetings from Latvia!
I don’t have the sparkly outfit or the slightly dodgy English accent (although some may disagree with that), nor am I looking for my five minutes of fame. So perhaps less Eurovision host, more lazy wanderer.
I find myself in the beautiful city of Riga for a few weeks, and after only a few days, I can say it is a good choice with lots to explore.
Riga has become a ‘must see’ for many a traveller, a mid-point on the popular route between Tallinn and Vilnius.
The time difference is +2 GMT and it’s a little surprising to find the sun rising at 3 in the morning when the evenings draw in much the same time as they do in the UK.
The temperature is actually like the best bits of the UK summer and sometimes hotter, but that can be significantly reduced by the wind.
The currency is the euro, the prices are relatively cheap, the local supermarket is Rimi.
Everything is pretty central and the airport is accessible by little more than half an hour by bus for around 2 euros.
So, that’s the stats and stuff.
So what’s Riga really like?
Well, if you’ve been to Budapest, it’s quite similar. A lot of the cities over this way are like that: where communism still flavours the architecture yet the need for growth and change is evident in the modern buildings that have sprung up amongst them.
The main thing you’ll realise about Riga on arrival is the parks. Everywhere you look there are beautiful parks, with statues, floral sculptures, sailing boats, cafes, and sometimes a ‘summer stage’ where I’m told there are free performances. If you’re a park-bencher – book, beer, cake, coffee – this place is beyond perfect. You could probably do a full tour of all the benches and be here for months!
It’s a ‘shoes off’ culture so be prepared to bare feet the moment you arrive in a hostel or home. Also be prepared for the supermarkets to stop selling alcohol around 7:30. Stock up, early!
The traffic lights can be very quick changing so do not dawdle. You’ll be alerted by a series of beeps. When the beeper beeps, get going!
There is a great central market and if you go inside there are a lot of stalls selling local fare. Prepare to put on weight. It is pastry-central here. I haven’t tried savoury Latvian food yet, but that day will come.
Whilst English is not spoken everywhere, the locals are used to the poorly multi-tongued English speaker, and are patient and on the whole very kind.
It’s too soon to tell but I imagine a week would be an adequate length of time to see everything there is to see of Riga. But, since I’ll be here for a while yet, perhaps I can provide a little more detail on that in the near future.
But until then, and until I sample the local beer… Priekā! (cheers)