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Posts tagged ‘history’


10 reasons to visit… Luxembourg

Having just returned from a short trip to Luxembourg, I thought I’d continue with our ’10 reasons to visit’ series by giving you a few reasons why you should consider a trip to this central European country.

Luxembourg may be small, but it’s certainly worth a visit, and here’s why:

1. Great links with the rest of Europe

Luxembourg is just a short, hour-long flight from London, with several airlines and airports serving Lux airport. Our return flights were only £60 with BA. Or you could easily fly or drive from most big cities in Europe. Luxembourg also uses the Euro, which is convenient for other European visitors.

Luxembourg city

2. It’s quick and easy to visit France/Germany/Belgium

Ok… so my second reason to visit a place probably shouldn’t be that it’s easy to leave it again, but hear me out! I spent five days with a friend who lives in Luxembourg city, and during that time we hopped on the train over to the border to Trier in Germany and Nancy in France for just 10 euros a time. Luxembourg’s central location and small size means it’s easy to get two or three countries for your money by taking a short drive or train ride to one of the nearby cities, and fit as much as possible into your trip.

3. Linguistic diversity

Of course, my next reason has to be language-related! This small country has THREE official languages: Luxembourgish, which is spoken as a mother tongue by almost all residents; French, which is commonly used in restaurants, shops and cafes, and German which is frequently heard in the media. English is also widely spoken. So while you’re there, you can easily practise your French or German, as well as maybe picking up a few phrases of the local language. It was definitely a good opportunity for me to use a bit of French when ordering food and drinks. (By the way, EuroTalk offer all three official languages.)

4. Food and drink

Luxembourgish cuisine is very similar to German/Austrian, with plenty of meat and potato-based dishes. I came across plenty of my favourite German dishes such as Kaesspaetzle (an egg based dish which is a little like pasta or dumplings, with plenty of cheese!), Schnitzel (breaded pork fillets) and Rosti (Swiss-style potato cakes), not to mention Apfelstrudel and cheap beer. But if heavier dishes are not to your taste, there are plenty of French and Italian influenced restaurants in the city as well.

5. Amazing architecture

Luxembourg City used to be a fortress city which was completely surrounded by high stone walls. Those walls are still there, and you can climb to the top and walk around them for an incredible view of the city. The architecture is also beautiful, with many typical cone-shaped roofs and an architectural style that mixes French and German traditions. Planning and building laws in Luxembourg are also much looser than in many other European countries, meaning almost all the houses are built in different styles and colours.

Luxembourg old town

6. Museums and culture

We visited the Luxembourg City History Museum, which is only 3 euro entry, but worth every cent. The museum covers every aspect of Luxembourgish life, from exhibits on the city’s architecture, with models of the city during different periods of its existence, to an entire floor dedicated to shopping and consumer culture, a basement level which is cut into the rock that the city is built on, and loads of fascinating information about the city’s occupation by the Nazis during the WW2 era. It also has great views over the city, especially from the glass lift. The museum is a proper maze and you can get lost in there for hours and find out about all sorts of aspects of Luxembourg City.

7. Landscape and cityscape

Interestingly, the city is built around a huge canyon (for want of a better word!). You must therefore either take one of the city’s many bridges to get to the other side, or you can walk down into the canyon and explore the park, which has a small river and beautiful views. Many people go running or cycling down there, and it’s a great place to chill out or take a walk.

8. Nature is close at hand

The city is full of green spaces, including parks and the river, and you’re never more than short walk from a green area to chill out and relax. However, a short trip outside the city and you’ll be in the midst of the country’s miles and miles of relatively unspoiled countryside. Luxembourg is great for cycling, hiking and fishing or boating. There are also 400 square kilometres of nature parks, many lakes and rivers and miles of cycle routes and hiking trails. As a bonus, the city is also very bike-friendly. You can rent a bike from the Veloh scheme, and there are bike lanes everywhere so you can cycle safely.

Luxembourg bicycle zone

9. Shopping!

Unfortunately, Luxembourg isn’t the cheapest place to go on holiday. Wages there are high and the city’s livelihood is largely based on banking. As a result, food prices, for example, are relatively high. However, Luxembourg City and some of the surrounding cities are great places to shop, especially if you’re interested in high-end boutiques and designer labels. If you’re looking for flea markets or bargain hunting then it’s probably not the place for you, but there are several quaint little artisan chocolate, cheese and wine shops, as well as a wide range of designer stores which are worth a look, even if you’re only window shopping.

10. Visit the only remaining grand duchy

Luxembourg is not only one of the smallest sovereign nations in Europe, it’s also the world’s only remaining grand duchy, meaning it’s headed by a grand duke rather than a king/queen or president. You can see the grand duke’s palace in the centre of the city, and his son was recently married in a huge public ceremony which was watched by most of the nation. You can also see the country’s main legislative building, the Chamber of Deputies, right in the city centre.




10 reasons to visit… Romania

As you know, we love travelling and learning about all kinds of cultures around the world, so we decided to start the ’10 reasons’ series – every now and then we’re going to give you 10 reasons for which you should consider visiting a new country.

This month I chose Romania because it is my home country and because I can think of a lot more than ten reasons to visit this beautiful country. So, enjoy your read and please note that the reasons are not stated in any particular order – all are equally important.

1. Breathtaking mountain landscapes

Romania is one of the ‘lucky’ countries which gets to enjoy both mountains and sea, but the truly amazing landscapes are definitely to be seen in the Carpathian mountains. There are two main roads that traverse the mountain chain and they are Transalpina and Transfagarasan. These roads reach the altitude of 2042 metres (6700 ft) and take you through endless curves and sheer drops – make sure you pull over to take photos.

Transfagarasan highway, Romania

2. Transylvania

This might be the best known area in Romania, mainly because of the Dracula myth that is supposed to have taken place here. I’m not going to tell you about how you can have vampire encounters (Dracula is as real as Edward Cullen so don’t get your hopes up), instead I’m going to tell you that this is a very special part of Romania, having many colourful medieval cities with beautiful architecture as well as friendly people and delicious food – but more about this in the following points.

3. Black Sea resorts and summer fun

My hometown is on the Black Sea shore and I can promise you, it is like Ibiza down there. There are parties almost every day of the week during the summer but the weekend is when it gets really loud and fun. Most Romanians go there for a couple of weekends during the summer for festivals and other party-related events. You can even go on your own, you will make a lot of friends. During the day, you can lay on the beach and get a nice tan to show off when you go back.

4. Finger-licking food

If you decide to take a trip to Romania, make sure you are ready to come back home with 5-10 pounds extra, as the food over there is delicious – from the national food cabbage rolls (or stuffed cabbage) with porridge made out of yellow maize flour, to any kind of pies and cocoa sponge cake to Turkish influenced cuisine, everything you will eat there will taste amazing! On top of that, most Romanian women are really good cooks.

5. Ski- and winter-resorts

Now, I’m not much of a skier but I can tell you that you can have a great time skiing or snowboarding in the winter in the Romanian mountain resorts. The best known area for this is Prahova Valley, which is basically a river making its way thorough the chain of mountains and there are about 7-8 small resorts where you can get your share of winter fun, winter landscapes and mulled wine (what, did you think there’s no alcohol involved?).

Skiing in Romania

6. The Danube Delta

If you’re more the nature-loving/sleeping-in-a-tent-is-fun kind of person you might want to take a trip here. This place is a naturally formed delta, where the Danube flows into the Black Sea. It is known for its wild places because it is pretty difficult to live there all year round given all the water and muddy islands. There are some men-built resorts where you can stay if you don’t enjoy the wilderness that much but the true sense of this place is that you can have that bonding-with-nature kind of experience.

7. The beautiful girls

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a ‘place’ you can visit, they don’t have them all lined up behind a window (although, you can find that in Amsterdam – so I’ve heard). It’s just that Romanian women are known to be beautiful and that is mostly because they take much interest in their appearance and they enjoy going out in cafés, pubs or clubs – so that makes them something you might want to experience seeing in Romania.

8. Bucharest nightlife

Speaking of clubs, this brings me to the capital of Romania – Bucharest. This big city has a vivid nightlife and fancy, luxurious clubs with music that plays till the sunrise. The custom is that you go to a club where you party & drink til 5-6 a.m. and then you go and have some Turkish kebab or shaworma (a kind of wrap) as a hangover cure. The place where you can find most of the clubs is the Old City Centre, which is very beautiful to visit during the day as well.

9. Northern Moldavia

If you are more the museum-visiting type, this area is one that you would enjoy. There are a lot of old monasteries (some date from the 14th-16th century) where nuns and monks still live nowadays and that are part of the UNESCO world heritage because they are represent the Romanian tradition. They are usually surrounded with vegetation so that can be a place to find peace and serenity even if you are not religious. Be careful of the dress code – you have to wear trousers (or a long skirt) and something rather decent for the top part.

The Voronet Monastery

10. The people

I’ve saved the best for last. One important reason you should visit Romania is to find that the people there are welcoming and warm, that you can make long lasting friendships very quickly and that even though Romania is a country that has had many struggles in the past, people are still good at heart and they will welcome you in their house as a friend, not a tourist.

And of course before you go, don’t forget to learn some Romanian, and take uTalk with you in case you get stuck while you’re there…

If you have any suggestions for our next ’10 reasons to visit…’ post, please let us know!



So, did you know you can speak Greek?

Today’s blog post is written by Konstantia Sotiropoulou, who’s been helping us to translate and record our Maths apps in Greek.

I bumped into the picture below a while ago and I thought this should be interesting. Undoubtedly, Greek is one of the richest languages in the world and is distinguished by an extensive vocabulary. In the past, the Guinness Book of Records ranked the Greek language as the richest in the world with 5 million words and 70 million word types!

You speak Greek, You just don't know it

The front cover of You speak Greek, You just don't know it, a book by Annie Stefanides (Ianos, 2010)

Well, many of these words have been widely borrowed into other languages, including English. Greek roots are often used to coin new words for other languages, especially in the sciences and medicine. Mathematics, physics, astronomy, democracy, philosophy, athletics, theatre, rhetoric, baptism and hundreds of other words are Greek. Moreover, Greek words and word elements continue to be productive as a basis for coinages: anthropology, photography, telephony, isomer, biomechanics, cinematography, etc. and form, with Latin words, the foundation of international scientific and technical vocabulary, e.g. all words ending with –logy (“discourse”). Interestingly, an estimated 12% of the English vocabulary has Greek origin. Greek has contributed to English in several ways, including direct borrowings from Greek and indirectly through other languages (mainly Latin or French).

In a typical 80,000-word English dictionary, about 5% of the words are directly borrowed from Greek; this is about equivalent to the vocabulary of an educated speaker of English (for example, “phenomenon” is a Greek word and even obeys Greek grammar rules as the plural is “phenomena”). However, around 25% are borrowed indirectly. This is because there were many Greek words borrowed in Latin originally, which then filtered down into English because English borrowed so many words from Latin (for example, “elaiwa” in Greek evolved into the Latin “oliva”, which in turn became “olive” in English).

Greek and Latin are the predominant sources of the international scientific vocabulary. Greek is often used in coining very specialized technical or scientific words, however, so the percentage of words borrowed from Greek rises much higher when considering highly scientific vocabulary (for example, “oxytetracycline” is a medical term that has several Greek roots).

In education, an excellent way to build vocabulary is teaching students how to find roots in words. Since many words have their base in the Greek language, beginning with the roots from this ancient language is a good place to start. This list of English words with Greek origin will give students a basis for further exploration into the roots of the English language.

Now you that you have seen how many Greek words you know, I am going to teach you some more common ones like “kalimera” which means “good morning”, “Ya sou” which means “hi”, “Me lene” which means “my name is” and “efharisto” which means “thank you”. And if you are interested in learning more and discovering how many you already know, try EuroTalk’s uTalk Greek app.

And who am I to be talking about the Greek language? I am the Greek intern of EuroTalk, who translated and recorded into Greek their new Maths apps for young children. An interesting and fun experience for a young translator like me. I have to say that I really enjoyed working in this office, which gives you the sense of a family home. People here are calm and friendly, the kitchen is fully equipped with all kinds of snacks and during the day we get to listen to nice music while working! How amazing is that?

Maths, age 3-5 and Maths, age 4-6 - the apps I translated and recorded during my time at EuroTalk

I started towards the end of January by translating the scripts of the app and soon after I recorded the first topics. I caught myself playing the app more than I needed to, as the games are really fun! I am sure young kids will truly enjoy it while learning basic Mathematics rules. And I know that my three-year-old niece, who will be playing the app in a few weeks, will at least have a constructive and educational first contact with technology!

So, whether you want to take up a new language or help your child have a nice start with Maths, you know that EuroTalk is here for you!

* There is an interesting video on YouTube that explains the History of English and the influence that it had from other languages!



Mysterious Albania

AlbaniaNestled in the heart of the Mediterranean with Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro as its neighbours, most people still don’t know much about this amazing country.  Influenced by the Greeks, Romans, Italian and Turks, Albania does have a long and troubled history. But since communism ended in 1992 and the Republic of Albania was founded, it has remained more or less settled and it was chosen as the top country in the Lonely Planet list of ten top countries to visit for 2011.

To be honest, when I first met my Albanian husband Remzi, nearly five years ago, I did not know much about Albania myself – and I still meet people now who are not even sure where it is and think it is run by the Albanian Mafia!  But I have now been fortunate enough to visit seven times, I’ve met all of Remzi’s family and friends and experienced the warm hospitality of the Albanian people and the beauty of the landscape.  You also feel very safe; I remember on my first visit in September 2006, Albania were playing the Netherlands in a friendly football match in the capital Tirana and we happened to be walking past when the Dutch team’s coach got stuck on the turning into their hotel. The players decided to get out and walk – there were no police or security around and they just casually made their way to the hotel entrance. Cars on the main road did not even slow down; it was all very bizarre but typically Albanian – they do not like to make a fuss.

We have spent time in the mountainous North (where Remzi’s family are from) and the scenery is breathtaking, but I am yet to go to the beautiful and still unspoiled beaches in the South along the Ionian Coast, which is known as the Albanian Riviera. There are quite a few historic sites to see, like the ruins of Krujë Castle where General Skanderbeg fought off the Ottomans in the 15th century, and the many Byzantine churches and cobbled streets found at Berat Castle.

I have to admit I was quite slow off the mark in trying to learn the language, being a typical Brit and expecting everyone to speak English. The younger generation do but the majority of the population don’t, so it has been quite a struggle trying to communicate with most of Remzi’s family.  But two years ago I started working at EuroTalk so had no excuse not to use the resources readily available to me! And it made a real difference on my last visit in June, which was just as well as we stayed with Remzi’s parents for most of the week.  I have now decided to go to evening classes in the autumn where I hope to improve further and meet other people in the same situation as me with an Albanian partner.  I find some words and phrases easy but just the basics like hello (‘tungjatjeta’) and goodbye (‘mirëupafshim’) are a bit tricky.   So hopefully by my next trip I will have improved enough to have a proper conversation with my in-laws and get even more out of visiting such a wonderful country.

Do you have a partner from another country?  How have you coped with learning their language?