Category Archives: Europe

How Fast Can You Get Fluent in Spanish?

get fluent in spanish

We’ve all been there. After touching down and getting acclimated to your new country, it hits you: while you can say things like, “Where’s the airport?” or “How much is this?,” you have no clue how to order your favorite drink or where to go for a decent haircut.

Where’s your high school language teacher when you need them?

For those of you who are visiting or moving to a Spanish-speaking country, we’ve gathered the best Spanish decks from FactSumo, a newly launched mobile app devoted to making learning painless and easy.

(By the way, decks are these little “learning bursts” beamed to your smartphone in podcast form. You can choose to learn with video, audio, or a combination of both, and you can do it in 5 minute chunks throughout the day so you can get fluent in Spanish FAST.)

Because let’s face it  – you’ll never get fluent in Spanish just by asking for the bathroom all the time.

#1: Get Fluent Outside


Venturing out into the wilderness? So many Spanish-speaking destinations – think Spain, Mexico, Central and South America – offer warm climates with ample opportunities to get back to nature.

Use this camping vocabulary deck to learn BBQ in Spanish and other outdoorsy words and phrases.

#2: Get Fluent At The Doc

Working in healthcare? If you’re moving to a Spanish-speaking country to work or volunteer in the medical field, this medical instructions deck is the perfect way to break down the language barriers with patients.

#3: Get Fluent With Your Realtor

 

Staying for a while? Renting or buying a home is hard enough. Doing it in another language? Fuhgeddaboudit.

#4: Get Fluent At The Bank

Need some cash? FactSumo’s got your back when it comes to banking in your new Spanish-speaking country.

#5: Get Fluent With Your Stylist


Getting a haircut? Whether you need a men’s haircut for that sexy new travel partner, or a women’s haircut for your fab self, FactSumo will give you the words you need to look fab-u-lous.

#6: Get Fluent In The Powder Room


Leaking toilet? Find out why it won’t go down (or how to call the nearest plumber) with this deck all about plumbing. (Another alternative: live in a hotel or guest house so you don’t have to worry about your own plumbing. The pic above looks inviting, don’t you think?).

#7: Get Fluent At Yoga Class


Toning your bod? Catching a yoga class in Spanish was never easier with this deck about yoga poses and positions.

You can get by on a few basic words and phrases when you’re vacationing for a week or two somewhere. But when you’re living abroad, you need to be completely immersed. Knowing how to speak your way through everyday situations will save time and headaches. Happy learning!

To get started on your Spanish language immersion adventure, check out FactSumo.com.

 

Facts About Travel in 2016 (updated to the second!)

Real time travel stats make it easy to imagine yourself abroad.

Need some interesting facts about travel for your travel blog, school research, or to impress a first date?

The Happy Passport‘s got you covered!

If you’ve been longing for some travel statistics on how many slices of bacon are being served in hotels across the world, right this very second, we can help.

Or if you want to know many people are facepalming themselves because their flight just got delayed, we’ve got the numbers!

Weird facts about travel are not only fun; they put our big, beautiful world into startling perspective.

The other day I was writing a colleague in Estonia who used to live in Wisconsin. He was complaining about how bored he was living in Europe, and how badly he wanted to return the United States.

As someone who is temporarily stuck in the good ol’ US of A, I was flabbergasted! How could someone possibly live in historic, rich, glamorous Europe and be anything less than thrilled with each-breath-they-take-every-second-of every-day, as they drive their tiny cars to non-Starbucks coffee shops wearing designer clothing whose sale could eradicate my enormous student loan debt in an instant?

But I digress.

Of course my buddy is bored with Estonia, just as I’m itching to return to Viet Nam after 8 months away.

That’s because wherever you go, there you are. We so quickly and easily adopt tunnel vision when we stay in the same place for too long, forgetting that there is a wide world out there filled with people doing all sorts of incredible things. (Like eating bacon in hotels and grumbling over flight delays).

“We so quickly and easily adopt tunnel vision when we stay in the same place for too long, forgetting that there is a wide world out there filled with people doing all sorts of incredible things.” Click to Tweet

If we can’t travel (and let’s be honest – sometimes we simply can’t travel), then the next best thing is to remember that travel exists. That people, and travel, and culture, and a wide, wide world of wonders are just biding their time, waiting for us to venture out into the world once more.

One of the most inspiring reminders of this idea was recently created by my friends at Get Your Guide, a booking platform for cool tours and activities all over the world.  They’ve created a real time travel infographic that shows you what’s going down around the world, right this very second.

If you’ve ever craved facts about travel like….

  • How many people are getting busted for trying to sneak pot onto the plane?
  • How many selfies are being taken around the world right now?
  • How many people are waiting in line at the Eiffel Tower?

….this infographic has the answers. Check out a snapshot below, or click this link to see real time travel updates from all over the world.

Because when you can’t travel, the next best thing is to live vicariously through the people who are.

(And who doesn’t want to know how many Americans around the world are completely drunk right now?).
Real Time Travel

Driveby Banana-ing in Bucharest

This kid will not take no for an answer. I’ve been trying to shake him for blocks now, but in his thuggish persistence he’s latched onto me like a burr and won’t let go – not until I cough up “uno leu.”

He’s small, clean, well-dressed, with designer sneakers and a tricked-out baseball cap. His dark eyes contain more than a hint of malice which he tries to cover up with upturned eyebrows and a begging pout.

“Per favore” he begs, pressing his palms together in supplication. “Uno leu, uno leu!”

He’s mysteriously Italian, which makes me wonder if there’s a pocket of expats somewhere in the city cooking up something slightly more edible than the unlucky slop I’ve encountered thus far in the old town of Bucharest.

“No money” I say again, smiling at him. I should really stop smiling, because he seems to take that as a sign of encouragement.

It is 7am on a Saturday morning and all the shop doors are closed. The streets become increasingly empty as we walk north toward Herăstrău Park.

Unfortunately this tasted as questionable as it looked.

Unfortunately this tasted as questionable as it looked.

Something about this kid scares me, and my awareness of the deserted streets stokes a growing flame of fear. He can’t be more than ten years old, but he’s tough, hardened by some sort of evil upbringing.

“Where is your mother?” I ask in English.

“Mia madre è morta” he replies in Italian, then immediately regrets it.

He’s just slipped and revealed that he understands every word I say.

“Ah ha!” I say, pointing at him, grinning.

I’m slightly terrified that a) he’s packing, and b) he has a group of 10 hoodlums waiting around the corner to mug me and beat me with their tiny fists, but I like him just the same.

We seem to have an understanding – I understand that he has to beg me and follow me, he understands that I have to say no.

That is, until I bust out the banana.

This has gone on way too long, we’re too far from the safety of my hotel, and there’s not a soul around to hear me if I scream. Self-protective mode kicks in to overdrive.

I face him and step back several feet so that I can reach into my bag without the risk of him trying to do the same.

There will be no one to hear you scream....

There will be no one to hear you scream….

I fish around with my hand, keeping my eyes on him the entire time.

“I’m not going to give you any money” I repeat for the umpteenth time, “but if you’re hungry, you can have my breakfast.”

I pull out the banana I’d grabbed from the hotel.

He looks at it, looks at me, and his eyes roll back in his head like some sort of Italian-Romanian demon only found in ancient folklore.

Wanting desperately to appease the devil, I thrust the banana toward his hand, which has gathered into a trembling fist.

“Here, take it.”

He does. And then proceeds to raise it above his head, rear back, and throw the banana at me with all the force and magnitude of a 7th inning pitcher.

The banana splatters at my feet, fibrous strands and mush flying everywhere, and I’m backing away, sputtering, as if I’ve just been shot.

He backs away too like a lightning-fast crab, scuttling back towards the hotel.

And then, to add insult to injury, my little friend, the one I understand, the one with whom I have a connection, the one whose soul concerns me greatly, issues the following curse in absolutely perfect, accent-free English:

“FUCK YOU!”

He holds out his middle finger for good measure, and continues to scream, with a bellowing force, “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!”

Over and over again he screams, until my heart is ready to crack my ribcage wide open. I command my legs to move, move!, to create as much distance between us as fast as I possibly can.

Not where you want to be when a terrifying child is threatening you with a banana

Empty streets – not where you want to be when a terrifying child is threatening you with a banana

I glance back over my shoulder, terrified he’s right behind me with a weapon, with his brother, with his pimp.

But he’s dwarfed by the distance, growing ever-smaller as I break into a full-out run.

There is no one to hear the pounding of my steps on the pavement, no one to see the tears streaming down my face.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Just because someone's a sweet-looking kid doesn't mean they won't throw at a banana at you.

2. If someone is following you, walk TOWARD the crowds of other people, not away from them.

3. Be extra careful when opening your bag or purse in the presence of a stranger - especially a stranger who has asked you for money.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Currywurst and Sportscars: Endless Summer in Dresden, Germany

Would you jump into a car with a stranger in Dresden Germany without knowing anything about him? I bet you might do just that after reading this story.

Back in the summer of 2011 I decided to go travelling in Europe for five weeks. To be honest, I was completely broke at the time thanks to my previous travels, but the travelbug wouldn’t let me be.

“So low budget it is”, I thought to myself. I packed my bags and headed to Germany.

My Slovenian friend decided to join me for two weeks, and with our limited budgets we wanted to try Couchsurfing for the first time ever.

This was a choice dictated not only by shortage of capital but also by the desire to meet new people and find a whole new way of travelling.

To continue with the new policy of hanging out with strangers, we decided to use carpooling instead of trains and buses. There is a great website in Germany (Mitfahrgelegenheit.de) where you can find rides from people who are looking to share the fuel expenses. People are very well organised in Germany when it comes to most things, ridesharing included.

dresden-germany (1)

 

So basically we decided to jump into cars with strangers and spend our nights with people we didn’t know in their houses.

Needless to say this plan was exactly what all girls are always warned not to do!

After staying in Berlin and Leipzig, we decided to go to Dresden Germany. The only problem was we hadn’t been able to find accommodation in Dresden – we were also about to get on the road and wouldn’t be able to use the internet on the way there.

We did not want to relapse into hostel accommodation, so we posted an emergency message on Couchsurfing saying that we were looking for a place to stay for two nights in Dresden and that we were already on our way. We took care to include our phone number on the post.

We arrived in Dresden with no place to stay, and decided to enjoy some Currywurst at the Dresden train station. All of a sudden my phone beeped, practically making me choke on my not-so-great wurst!

We got a message from an unknown party saying they’d pick us up from the station.

We didn’t have internet access to check out who was texting us, so it was going to be totally blind Couchsurfing.

Were we scared to see who would show up? Absolutely we were! We had no pictures, no references, and still we were about to spend two nights at this person’s house.

Picture this: two twenty-something girls standing by the train station in Germany staring at every car anxiously.

Then suddenly, an expensive-looking, shiny black Batmobile-style sportscar pulls over right next to us. We look at each other and then we look at the car. The door opens and out comes a gorgeous twenty-something German guy with a big smile on his face.

“Hi girls, did you send a message on Couchsurfing?”

“Well yes, we certainly did – if you’re here to pick us up with that face and that car!”

Okay, so I didn’t say that out loud, but I did say it in my head. I shared another look with my friend, the kind of look two single girls share when they see a handsome guy.

If he’s handsome he can’t be a murderer, right? To the Batmobile!

dresden-germany (2)

We got into the car and started chatting with our new host. Within two minutes all three of us were laughing as if we’d known each other for years.

Soon we arrived at his place and my jaw dropped. There was a big black iron gate in front of us with a huge house and a beautiful yard behind it. Yes, a gate! Who has a gate? Who is this guy? Bruce Wayne?

The gate opened slowly and I started to get suspicious. How could this young guy have a car like that and a place like that?

As it turned out, he couldn’t. The house and the car belonged to his parents. We found out we were about to stay with his family. This information shouldn’t have been a total surprise considering the car and the gate, but still I was a bit nervous to hang out with a strange German family.

We got into the house and our host led us upstairs to a private room filled with fresh linens, towels, the whole nine yards. I couldn’t help wondering how his parents felt about hosting random foreign girls at their pretty house.

We got a tour of the house and on the tour we ran into his parents. We found out they were both doctors and the other building on the yard was their private clinic. For a moment I felt out of place. I’m not very comfortable in very fancy places. If I have to choose between an expensive, top-notch club or a scrubby corner pub, you’ll definitely find me at the pub.

But as we talked with his parents we noticed what wonderful, welcoming people they were. They didn’t speak much English but luckily we knew some German and they knew some English, so it all worked out. At least I like to think they could understand my constant grinning, thumbs up signs, and frequent bursts of  “Kuchenschemckt gut!” (supposedly: cake tastes good). Maybe praising their desserts with my mouth full of cake wasn’t the classiest move.

dresden-germany (3)

In the morning we were invited to join the family for breakfast. Two low budget travellers in dirty shirts, sitting at a really fancy breakfast table with a German family. It was a bit absurd.

The table was set beautifully with white porcelain dishes. On the table was everything you could imagine – from fresh fruit to piping hot bread just out of the oven. The family was so warm and welcoming that I didn’t feel out of place despite the fancy settings.

The weather during our stay in Dresden was just dreadful.

It was windy, rainy, cold and foggy and there were sharks flying in the air. Okay not sharks, but it was bad!

But thanks to  our host, the lack of sunshine wasn’t too bad to deal with. He took as around the town in the Batmobile and the three of us just laughed and laughed until my stomach hurt! There’s no need to do situps when you’re laughing nonstop for days on end!

We visited the Königstein Fortress (one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe), and the Zwinger Palace among other Dresden sights.

Those two days in rainy Dresden ended up being so special that I’ll never forget them: the laughter, the hospitality, my poor attempt to speak German with the parents, seeing amazing sights, and the piece de resistance – peeing in the middle of a park (well, in the bushes) because we couldn’t find a toilet, and asking Bruce Wayne to yell out if he saw anyone coming… I bet he won’t forget us either!

dresden-germany (4)This post was written by Sanna Tolmunen, a Finnish communications professional and travel blogger currently doing an internship in Hancock, Michigan. Travelling, films and good stories in all forms are Sanna’s great passions in life. In a way it could be said that good stories are her one passion, as to her, life is a story. This is exactly why she hopes to share great stories around the world through her writing and her blog, Adventures Of A Finn.

Connect with Sanna on Social: 

https://www.facebook.com/adventuresofafinn

https://twitter.com/Sanna_Tolmunen

http://www.pinterest.com/sannatolmunen/

I Dream of Cyprus…

For the past few years I’ve been slightly obsessed with the idea of traveling to Cyprus, Turkey, and Greece.  And by obsessed, I mean I’ve been pinning white-washed bungalows and electric-blue harbors on Pinterest like it’s going out of style.

I mean, what could possibly be more alluring, more indulgent, more idyllic  than swimming in one of those shallow, expansive resort pools – the ones conveniently located right next to a sparkling turquoise ocean – while sipping ouzo and lazily gazing upon stone houses built right into the mountainside?

Southeast Asia is tame. Western Europe is tired. A journey to Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and the like feels impossibly exotic; a chance to brush up against the nucleus of the ancient past, the birthplace of Western civilization, and trace the roots of your own soul back across the millennia.

Besides stepping upon the same soil as the ancient mystics and treading in the footsteps of gods and philosophers, playwrights and poets, mythic creatures and faces that launched a thousand ships, a journey to this part of the world is a journey into the heart of our most passionate modern-day dramas.

Night view of the Paphos Castle (Paphos, Cyprus). Stupid beautiful.

Night view of the Paphos Castle (Paphos, Cyprus). Stupid beautiful.

The proximity of Syria, of Iraq, or Israel and Egypt makes a journey to Turkey and Greece like buying a ticket to humanity’s fiercest boxing match – you’re not quite inside the ring, but ringside seating is readily available.

Excitement, beauty, conflict, danger, the birthplace of the world and the imminent threat of the death of that world, all in one place. It’s as if this part of the planet is the heart of humanity itself, forever beating in and out as the human race strives to lower its own blood pressure.

But Cyprus! The conflicted island, torn between Turkey and Greece, floating in the Mediterranean sea like a polished jewel. It’s packed with the requisite bars, clubs, and white sand beaches, but the Cyprus holidays you can book offer a much richer experience of the island.

Pissouri village in Cyprus. I am annoyed by how gorgeous this is.

Pissouri village in Cyprus. I am annoyed by how gorgeous this is.

Check out Aphrodite’s Rock, rumored to be the birthplace of the goddess herself, before exploring the Tombs of the Kings in the island’s famed Paphos region. Take in sweeping views of the surrounding sea from Kykkos Monastery, set over 1300 meters high atop the Troödos Mountains. While you’re mountainside, you’ll probably be tempted to check out one of the nine – nine! – UNESCO world heritage sites that dot the foothills and peaks in breathtaking abundance.

Spending holidays in Cyprus is sort of like combining your trip to Turkey and Greece into a single adventure – and not just because the island is disputed by the two countries.

That’s not to say I’ve given up on the white-washed wonder of Santorini, or the blue-domed mosques of Istanbul. I’ve simply found a new starting point from which to begin my exploration of this fascinating region.

Aphrodite's birth place at sunset in Cyprus. STUPID GORGEOUS.

Aphrodite’s birth place at sunset in Cyprus. STUPID GORGEOUS.

 

If you’re as enamored with Cyprus as I am, check out FirstChoice to book your trip to Cyprus. I really dig this site because it gives you all the info you need, including maps of the area (crucial!), a detailed layout of the different districts on Cyprus, places to go, stuff to do, weather and seasonal tips, and what you can expect to pay for it all.  Even better, you can book flights, hotels, and packages without having to navigate away from the page. It’s sort of like Lonely Planet meets TripAdvisor meets WikiTravel.

Late afternoon view of the Paphos Castle (Paphos, Cyprus)

Late afternoon view of the Paphos Castle (Paphos, Cyprus)

While many may plan on visiting Cyprus for the nightlife or beautiful beaches, my inner nerd is far more excited to climb upon Aphrodite’s Rock (not sure if you can do that, but still), watch a play in a 2,000-year old outdoor theatre overlooking the sea, and spend my afternoons marveling at the mosaic floors of the House of Achilles.

Have you been to Cyprus? What about Turkey or Greece? 

Am I mistaken in my newfound wanderlust for Cyprus?

 

YE OLDE DISCLAIMER: This post was contributed by FirstChoice because they’re awesome. I never recommend products, services, or websites that I wouldn’t use myself. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Cyprus suddenly trumps Turkey and Greece for the top slot on my travel bucket list.

2. You can book Cyprus holidays that combine crystal blue waters and white sand beaches with amazing history and culture.

3. The Troödos Mountains on Cyprus are home to 9 different UNESCO world heritage sites.

4. Cyprus is stupid beautiful and I hope to see you there in 2015!

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Eternal English Summer in Oxford, England

The night is dewy and cool. A wet breeze tangles my 23-year old locks into temporary white girl-dreads, foreshadowing my role as a dreadlocked, contemporary version of Sophocles’ Electra later that year.

The courtyard is silent, the students of the British American Drama Academy having ventured out into the Oxford evening to mingle with all the other tourists.

African, Chinese, Norwegian shoppers buzz outside the walls of the ancient university, whose ghosts pace the cobbled pavements in anticipation of our scene.

My partner is barely visible in the inky blackness. I’ve lost him.

My instinct is to scan the bushes, search the garden frantically. As fear wells up, I stop myself, and allow the discomfort to linger, to feed the scene.

Outdoor rehearsal hall at the British American Drama Academy

Outdoor rehearsal hall at the British American Drama Academy

We have chosen to play outside tonight, letting the environment feed us, effect us, give us fresh insight into the 400-year old text.

I imagine students attending the university when the play was the hottest thing in London. How would they have traveled there? How long would it have taken them?

Suddenly, my prince’s voice rings out across the courtyard, cutting through the velvet black like a knife to my young maiden’s heart:

“Nymph! In thy orisons be all my sins remember’d.”

He isn’t the greatest Hamlet. He is merely the only one of my classmates brave enough to work on the scene with me.

Exquisite Oxford, England

Exquisite Oxford, England

We struggle on the grass as he reveals the depths of his insanity – perhaps putting on a show for the lurking Polonius. Heartbroken, I am flung onto the lawn where hours earlier students had engaged in their daily game of Ultimate Frisbee.

But I am in Denmark now. Around the very time Oxford was founded. Crying on the cold castle floor as I realize I’ve lost my love forever:

“And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,

That suck’d the honey of his music vows,

Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,

Like sweet bells jangled out of tune and harsh

That unmatch’d form and feature of blown youth

Blasted with ecstasy: O! woe is me,

To have have seen what I have seen, see what I see!”

(Act III, scene i)

Meet me on the green for ultimate frisbee and iambic pentameter

Meet me on the green for ultimate frisbee and iambic pentameter

I breathe. Wonder if Ian thinks it was good. Begin to help myself up from the wet ground (this Hamlet is no gentleman).

Clap!

What the……?

Clap! Clap!

Sharp, piercing sounds echo across the courtyard as four hands break into thunderous applause.

“Bravo! Bravo!”

There is a lovely monologue in Tom Stoppard’s play, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead, about the tragedy of performing without an audience. There is something about it that is absurd, hurtful, even damaging. Thankfully, it seems that our performance has not been wasted on the cool English night sky.

“You played it beautifully” a woman’s voice rings out, her gravelly British clip instantly giving her some kind of authority on theatre.  “Just wonderfully.”

“We’ve seen Hamlet played – what, Barbara? Twenty times?”

Barbara agrees. They are strolling through the gardens of Bailiol, and in my mind it is the very campus upon which they first met and fell in love about a thousand years ago.

We thank them profusely for their kind words, somewhat sheepish and embarrassed and exhilarated at being spied upon.

british-american-drama-academy

They disappear into the night, hand in hand, smiles upon their lips.

“Well, want to keep working?” Ian asks.

I consider, ever the workaholic, my answer to that question usually leaning towards “Yes. Again.”

But tonight we have achieved perfection. Our two beautiful audience members approved, and were satiated. Tonight, the opinion of our teacher, the other students, Shakespeare Himself doesn’t matter.

“You know what? I think we’re good.”

Ian agrees, an unspoken understanding having formed between us. We part ways, moved and exhilarated by one of those rare moments in life when you actually feel like an artist.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. The British American Drama Academy offers month and semester-long Shakespeare intensives at Oxford University and in London.

2. Hamlet wasn't really crazy. Or was he?

3. That famous quote that tells you to "dance like no one's watching" applies to playing Shakespeare too.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!