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Posts tagged ‘history’



As you’ll know if you saw my earlier post about Italian habits, I have just come back from living in Rome for four months as part of a compulsory year abroad for my university degree (a.k.a. second gap year). Before departing for adventure no.2 of the year, I was excited to see old stuff, learn some crazy hand gestures, and most importantly, eat well. I soon realised that all of the items on my checklist would be fulfilled the moment I set foot out of my front door every single day of my stay.

As ‘old stuff’ goes, I’d say my favourite has to be the Column of Marcus Aurelius at Piazza Colonna, which stands part way down the Via del Corso that runs from Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia and the gigantic Vittoriano monument. The column towers majestically above shoppers and tourists, who hardly stop to marvel at the intricate story told by the ascending marble figures.

After only a short while in Rome, I came to the realisation that it is in fact impossible to express oneself without one’s hands. Well, express oneself properly anyway. No ‘ma che?’ (an expression of confusion/outrage/misunderstanding/shock) goes without a frown and a double-handed finger-grouped wrist shake, and joy does not exist without at least one arm raised in the air for celebration. These are a passionate people, and they aren’t shy of showing you exactly how they feel.

Now food. I honestly can’t express how much I miss fairly-priced, handmade, loaded plates of pasta, and pizza by the rectangular slice topped with every cut of ham and cheese under the sun. However, it is with gelato that my heart lies, and it’s yearned for it ever since my return. For 18 weeks I undertook an Instagram project entitled #giovedìgelato, trying out new flavours, gelaterie, and selfie angles every Thursday. And it is with you that I would like to share my top three gelaterie in Rome (and the flavours I chose when I was there).

La Romana, 60 Via XX Settembre

I must have been to this gelateria every week I had guests, or if one of my friends had guests, or if I was passing by on my way home, or if it was hot… any excuse really. They offer you white or dark melted chocolate in the bottom of your cone that comes from a free flowing tap, and a choice of four flavours of cream on top of your piled-high gelato. Flavours include ‘biscotto della nonna’, ‘crema dal 1947’ and ‘zabaione come una volta’, inviting you – and all the other 30 people in the queue – to taste the family history of the place. All this for only €2.50. Why did I ever leave?

My #giovedìgelato flavours: ricotta with caramelised figs, yogurt with honey and hazelnut, dark gianduja chocolate in the bottom of the cone, and zabaione cream on top.

Gelateria La Romana

Fatamorgana, 9 Via Lago di Lesina

There are several Fatamorgana around the city, but I like this one by Villa Ada in particular, because it makes the journey into a pilgrimage, and the gelato just that little bit more well-deserved. Every time I went (again, it was a relatively frequent occurrence), there were hoards of children with mothers, fathers and grandparents, clambering over each other in an orderly Italian fashion, somewhere between patient and not so, waiting for their number to be called. With over 70 different flavours, I was secretly pleased I had a little while to wait, otherwise I’d never have been able to make a decision: wasabi chocolate, rice and vanilla, and all of the traditional favourites in between. There’s even a sweet little park just opposite where you can enjoy your exotic choices!

My #giovedìgelato flavours: blackberry, ginger with honey and lemon, and three-spiced chocolate chip. No cream this time.

Gelateria Fatamorgana

Come il Latte, 24/26 Via Silvio Spaventa

This little gem is just round the corner from La Romana, and although not quite as busy, it is equally worth a visit. Instead of chocolate in the cone, they dip a decorative waffle in it, so that the chocolate dribbles over your gelato. The choice of flavours is not extensive, but changes with availability of ingredients, which adds an element of excitement to the experience (if it isn’t your first time), and underlines their artisan quality.

My #giovedìgelato flavours: melon, salted caramel with Himalayan rose, and a waffle dipped in dark chocolate.

Come il Latte

These gelaterie are all slightly out of town, away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist centres. For more central options try:

nr. Trevi Fountain. San Crispino, 42 Via della Panetteria

nr. Circo Massimo. Il Gelato di Claudio Torce, 59 Viale Aventino

nr. Vatican City. Old Bridge Gelateria, 5 Via Bastioni di Michelangelo

Buon appetito!



Learning Mandarin: Never call your mother a horse, and other tips

Cameron’s spending a couple of weeks with us here at EuroTalk for work experience. In today’s blog post, he explains why he chose to learn one of the world’s most difficult languages, and gives his suggestions for anyone who’s thinking about taking up the challenge.

Are you learning Mandarin? What drew you to the language? And do you have any tips of your own to share?

Hello in Chinese MandarinMandarin is recognised as one of the hardest languages to learn in the world, but with great difficulty comes great reward, as Mandarin is also one of the most useful languages in the world.  Mandarin is so useful because it is spoken by almost 15 percent of the earth’s population natively, which is almost 1 billion people, and this figure does not include non-native speakers like myself. Also, China is one of the economic and industrial giants of the 21st century, and it’s still growing. Therefore Mandarin is very useful if you want to do business with the people involved in the global superpower that is China. As well as the practical reasons, Mandarin is also a great language to learn for cultural reasons, because, as you probably know, when learning any language, the culture of that country comes hand in hand, and China has a fascinating culture with a rich history.

Furthermore, if you learn Mandarin, that adds an extra incentive to make a trip to China to practise your newfound passion, and what’s a better way to spend your holidays than walking the great wall of China or paying a visit to the Terracotta Army? Additionally, if you’re the kind of person who relishes a new challenge, Mandarin is the perfect language for you, because, as I previously stated, it’s one of the hardest languages to learn in the world. On top of this, Mandarin will also appeal to you arty types out there in the form of calligraphy; this is a form of Chinese writing that involves painting the characters onto special paper called Xuanzhi (宣紙).

The most important thing to remember when learning Mandarin is not to get overwhelmed by the vast number of characters in the language; in fact I wouldn’t even worry about characters until you become more advanced in the language. Instead, begin by focusing on the oral side of the language, in particular, the pronunciation of words. In Mandarin pronunciation is key, for example, the word ‘ma’ can be said in four different ways and means four different things, so be careful not to call your mother a horse by pronouncing this word wrong!

A good thing to use to mark your progress of learning Mandarin is the HSK exams. These exams are held once a month and there are numerous different levels to work through, ranging from beginners exams to exams for people who are almost fluent, as well as the added bonus that they are recognised qualifications throughout China.

Good luck!


If you’re interested in learning Mandarin, you can get started completely free with uTalk for iOS. Enjoy!



10 reasons to visit… Guernsey

I recently visited a friend in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. Not really knowing what to expect, I loved it from the moment I got on the Blue Islands flight from Southampton and was offered a free glass of champagne (can’t think why). Here are my top ten reasons to visit this small but lovely island.

1. It’s English, but not England

The Channel Islands don’t belong to the UK, but they are part of the British Isles. (Technically they’re British Crown Dependencies.) When you come out of the airport, everyone speaks English, cars drive on the left, and the whole island has a very quaint English village feel to it. So if you want to experience England without actually going to England, Guernsey is the perfect place.

2. It’s French, but not France

Having said all that, geographically Guernsey is much closer to France than it is to England, and you don’t have to go far to stumble upon a French café or boulangerie. There are also, unsurprisingly, a lot of French residents and visitors. Many of the place names look very French too, although confusingly most of them are said with an English accent. Castle Cornet is pronounced like the musical instrument, for example, rather than ‘cornay’, as you might expect.

3. The sunset

I’m a bit of a sunset addict, so my friend made sure to include a trip to Cobo Bay, on the west coast of the island, where we bought some fish and chips and settled down to watch the sun set in the sea. Although we had to move several times to avoid getting washed away by the tide, the view was absolutely stunning, and it was well worth the epic walk from the bus stop to Cobo, which turned out to be a bit further away than we thought…

Sunset at Cobo Bay, Guernsey

4. The history

If you’re a history buff, there’s plenty to keep you occupied on Guernsey. Evidence of the German occupation during World War 2 is everywhere, from the concrete fortifications all around the coast, to the huge monument marking the island’s liberation in St Peter Port. There’s also La Vallette, the underground military museum, the 13th century Castle Cornet and the Victoria Tower, which was constructed in honour of a visit from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1846.

5. Le Petit Café and Bistro

My friend told me shortly after my arrival that I couldn’t come to Guernsey and not visit Le Petit Café, her favourite restaurant on the island. In fact during my three-day stay, we ended up going twice, once for dinner and then, not too many hours later, for brunch. It’s really cosy, with friendly staff and great French food. It’s also really easy to find, right at the bottom of the main shopping street in St Peter Port. Try the coq au vin!

6. The views

Guernsey is far more than just sunsets. I’m not much of a photographer, but even I came away with some spectacular pictures, which could easily have been taken somewhere far more exotic. Both the island itself and the views across the sea, to the other Channel Islands, are amazing; you can even see across to France on a clear day. We were lucky because we had great weather, so were able to spend the whole weekend outside exploring and enjoying the sights.

Guernsey panorama

7. The people

Within minutes of my arrival, we’d made friends with the taxi driver, who insisted on giving me a selection of maps and brochures to allow me to make the most of my stay, even though I was visiting someone who lives there and knows her way around. The following morning, as I walked into town along the seafront, I was greeted repeatedly by people passing me. As someone who’s used to the stony silence of the London Underground, this was a pleasant, if slightly disconcerting, change.

8. Victor Hugo

Best known as the author of Les Misérables (the book, not the musical) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo spent several years in exile on Guernsey, and his house is now a museum. Don’t be put off by the slightly tense atmosphere in the waiting area before your tour; it’s well worth a visit, if only for the spectacular view from the top floor. And if you’re lucky you’ll get the tour guide who likes to tell colourful stories about Hugo’s mistress.

9. Herm

On my last day, we took a ferry across to the small neighbouring island of Herm (20 minutes away), which is just beautiful. No cars are allowed and the island only has about three shops, so it’s not the place to go if you want action, but if you’re looking for a lovely beach to relax on, I recommend Herm. We couldn’t stay long because I had to catch my flight home, but we spent an enjoyable couple of hours on Shell Beach, musing about what it must be like to live on a private island (like Jethou, very close by and shown in the photo below) and which kind of boat we’d buy if we could afford it (which we can’t, sadly).

The view from Herm towards Jethou

10. The weather

Typically, Guernsey enjoys more sunshine hours and has a milder climate than the UK, so it’s a great place to go if you enjoy a bit of summer sun. When I visited, although the weather forecast predicted 14 degrees and cloudy, it was more like 22, with not a cloud in the sky. Not ideal when you’ve packed for cooler conditions, but I wasn’t complaining.

Overall, Guernsey was a lovely surprise, and just goes to show you don’t always have to travel far to find somewhere amazing to visit. If you’re over in this part of the world (whether on holiday or because you live here), I definitely recommend checking Guernsey out.


By the way, we’d love to add Guernésiais to our range of language learning programs. If you, or anyone you know, can help with translation or recording, please get in touch. Thank you!



A history of languages in the USA

Last week, a report was published using a series of maps to show the distribution of languages besides English and Spanish in the USA. We thought it was really interesting to see the huge number of languages spoken in one country; it’s easy to assume one country means one (or maybe two) languages.

Here’s a fantastic infographic shared with us by, which looks in more detail at the history, distribution and usage of languages in the USA. We hope you find it as interesting as we do!

Many languages,one america



10 popular expressions we owe to Shakespeare

Today is the official anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. (23rd April is also the day he died, but let’s not dwell on that.) For those of us who speak English every day, we often forget, or don’t realise, how many of the words and phrases we use come from the works of Shakespeare.

Of course we don’t know for sure that he invented them all himself (although apparently about a tenth of the words he used in his work were new). But it’s interesting to see how many of us, even those who claim not to be fans of his work, are regularly quoting Shakespeare.

There are so many examples of these – here are just a few.

Green-eyed monster

What does it mean? Jealousy.

Which play? Othello (Act III, scene 3) – although Shakespeare had earlier used ‘green-eyed’ to describe jealousy in The Merchant of Venice (Act III, scene 2).

“IAGO: O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on”

Cruel to be kindShakespeare

What does it mean? Treating someone badly for their own good.

Which play? Hamlet (Act III, scene 4)

“HAMLET: I must be cruel only to be kind.
Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.”

It’s all Greek to me

What does it mean? Completely incomprehensible.

Which play? Julius Caesar (Act I, Scene 2)

“CASCA: those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.”

Break the ice

What does it mean? To get a conversation going, often by breaking some initial tension.

Which play? The Taming of the Shrew (Act I, Scene 2)
“TRANIO: And if you break the ice and do this feat,
Achieve the elder, set the younger free”

In a pickle

What does it mean? In a tricky situation.

Which play? The Tempest (Act V, Scene 1)

“ALONSO: How camest thou in this pickle?”

Forever and a day

What does it mean? A really long time!

Which play? As You Like It (Act IV, Scene 1)
“ROSALIND: Now tell me how long you would have her after you have possessed her.
ORLANDO: Forever and a day.”

The world’s my oyster

What does it mean? To have a wealth of opportunities.

Which play? The Merry Wives of Windsor (Act II, Scene 2)

“PISTOL: Why then the world’s mine oyster, Which I with sword will open.”

One fell swoop

What does it mean? All at once.

Which play? Macbeth (Act IV, Scene 3)
“MACDUFF: What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?”

Good riddance

What does it mean? To be glad to see the back of someone.

Which play? Troilus and Cressida (Act 2, Scene 1)

“THERSITES: I will keep where there is
wit stirring and leave the faction of fools.
PATROCLUS: A good riddance.”

Eaten out of house and home

What does it mean? To take advantage of a host’s generosity.

Which play? Henry IV Part II

“MISTRESS QUICKLY: He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his”

How many of these have you used lately? And does anyone have any other favourite Shakespearean phrases?

Personally, we’re a bit disappointed that more of Shakespeare’s insults haven’t made it into modern English; you don’t hear ‘thou cream-faced loon’ often enough these days (although maybe that’s a good thing). There’s probably a whole other blog post to be had from Shakespeare’s insults – but in the meantime, here’s a random insult generator – have fun, but be careful who you say them to!