Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Le Mani in Pasta and More in Italian Idioms

Making PastaFollowing our recent posts about German and French idioms, we are now looking at 12 Italian idioms.
A few years ago, we lived for several months in Rome, on Via di Genovesi in the Trastevere neighborhood. Our apartment was located directly across from a small restaurant, Le Mani in Pasta. (
Photo by Jorge Zapata on Unsplash)
It was then a restaurant for locals and none of the waiters spoke English. We loved going there. Our Italian at the time was still quite rudimentary and it was a fun challenge to order from the Italian-only menu. (The restaurant has since expanded and continues to be popular. A nephew who had dinner there with his family early this year liked it very much!)
As new Italian learners, we were puzzled by the form “le mani”, but our tutor explained that “the hand” in Italian is feminine: it's "la mano, le mani".
What had obviously thrown us off was that most Italian nouns ending with “o” are masculine. (Sometimes a look at related languages helps. It's “la main” in French, and - no surprise - “la mano” in Spanish. And even in German, the word hand happens to be feminine: “die Hand”.)

1. Avere le mani in pasta

Idiom: to have a finger in the pie
Literally: to have the hands in dough
Explanation: To be involved, especially in a business matter, or situation of power.
Italian: Essere addentro a qualcosa, in particolare a una questione d'affari, o a una situazione di potere.

2. Avere le mani di pasta frolla

Idiom: to be a butterfingers
Literally: to have pastry-dough hands; "pasta frolla" = shortcut pastry
Explanaton: to be someone who drops things they are carrying or trying to catch, to be clumsy, awkward, not careful, not know how to do something or do it badly.
Italian: Essere goffi, impacciati, non accurati, non saper fare nulla o farlo male.

3. Calcare la mano

Idiom: to lay it on with a trowel
Literally: to tread or press down on the hand
Explanation: To exaggerate, especially regarding a punishment or accusation.
Italian: Esagerare in rigore e severità, soprattutto se riferito a una punizione, un'accusa.

4. Non perdere la mano

Idiom: to keep your hand in
Literally: to not lose the hand
Explanation: To not get out of the habit of doing something.
Italian: Non perdere l'abitudine di fare qualcosa.

5. Essere in gambaWomen soccer training

Idiom: to be on the ball (Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash)
Literally: to be on your feet
Explanation: To be in good health. Also more broadly speaking, to be smart, skillful, expert, efficient.
The first meaning alludes to the fact that a sick person is generally in bed and does not use their legs.
Italian: In buona salute. In senso lato anche intelligente, abile, esperto, efficiente.
Nel significato primo, allude al fatto che una persona malata sta generalmente a letto e quindi non usa le gambe.

6. Fare il passo piu lungo della gamba

Idiom: to bite off more than you can chew
Literally: to take a step longer than the leg
Explanation: To risk going beyond one's own possibilities.
Italian: Arrischiarsi oltre le proprie possibilità

7. Prendere qualcuno in giro

Idiom: to pull someone's leg, take somebody on a ride
Literally: to take someone for a stroll
Explanation: To make fun of a person, mock, taunt or fool someone.
Italian: Farsi beffe di una persona, burlarla, canzonarla.

8. Tenere un piede in due scarpe

Idiom: to keep a foot in both camps
Literally: to have a foot in two shoes
Explanation: Staying involved in two situations (groups of people, opinions etc), while trying to profit from both of them.
Italian: Barcamenarsi tra due situazioni cercando di trarre profitto da entrambe

9. Si è dato la zappa sui piedi

Idiom: to shoot yourself in the foot
Literally: He has given himself a hoe on the feet
Explanation: To hurt onself, to come to harm oneself, paricularly in a fit of anger.
It's used especially when someone hurts themselves while thinking they is harming someone else.
Italian: Farsi del male, procurarsi un danno, detto in particolare di chi agisce avventatamente o spinto dall'ira.
Usato soprattutto a proposito di finisce per nuocere a se stesso pensando di danneggiare qualcun altro.

Serving an omelet10. Ormai la frittata è fatta

Idiom: You can't unscramble eggs.
Literally: At this point the omelet has been made. (Photo by Cooker King on Unsplash)
Explanation: An exclamation that expresses resignation about a mess that was made.
Italian: Esclamazione, esprime rassegnazione per un guaio ormai avvenuto.

11. Rivoltare la frittata

Idiom: to turn the tables on somebody
Literally: to flip over the omelet
Explanation: To turn around a discussion, to change a situation to your advantage.
Italian: Rigirare un discorso, capovolgere una situazione a proprio vantaggio

12. Avere grilli per la testa

Idiom: to have a head full of nonsense
Literally: to have crickets in the head
Explanation: To have strange, bizarre or overly ambitious ideas.
Italian: Avere idee stravaganti, bizzarre o troppo pretenziosi.

Since our stay in Trastevere, Rome, we've continued to have fun learning Italian in various ways and with various programs. Building our own GamesforLanguage site - together with native-language writers and speakers - has been a direct way to keep our hands in the language dough.
And, especially now that travel has become more complicated, our site and our blog has allowed us to connect with an ever growing online language community.
For more Italian Idioms check also https://www.theintrepidguide.com/italian-sayings-you-wont-forget/#.XuFSyPJ7nm0 or https://dizionari.corriere.it/dizionario-modi-di-dire/P/pasta.shtml.

Posted on by Peter Editor

Apples, Butter, Rain and More in French Idioms

 Three ApplesIn our last post, Sausages, Fruits, Ships, and more in German Idioms, we listed a number of typical German expressions. In fact, what prompted us to write it, was overhearing a German woman "translate" a German idiom into French by giving a literal equivalent.
In their literal translation, many French idioms are also confusing to a German or English speaker.
Below are 12 French idioms that you might not have heard yet.
(Whenever available, I added a French synonym from Le Petit Robert, a popular French language dictionary.)

1. Haut comme trois pommes

Idiom: knee-high to a grasshopper
Literally: as high as three apples (Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash)
Explanation: Refers to someone who is not very tall, or just very young.
Origin: Even if you put three apples on top of each other, what you have is still not very high.

2. Tomber dans les pommes

Idiom: to pass out
Literally: to fall into the apples
Explanation: to faint, lose consciousness [Petit Robert: s'évanouir]
Origin: This expression first appeared in 1889 and may go back to the writer George Sand, who used "être dans les pommes cuites", a play on "être cuit" (to be cooked, exhausted).

3. Mettre du beurre dans les épinardsSpinach in pan

Idiom: to put butter on your bread
Literally: to put butter on the spinach (Photo by Kim Daniels on Unsplash)
Explanation: It means to earn a bit extra, to top up your income, or to improve a situation that is troublesome. [Petit Robert: améliorer sa situation]
Origin: This expression goes back to a time when butter symbolized wealth, while spinach was a common vegetable. Putting butter on your spinach makes it taste better, richer.

4. Vouloir le beurre et l'argent du beurre

Idiom: to have your cake and eat it too
Literally: to want the butter and the money for the butter too
Explanation: You can't have it both ways, you can't have it all.
Origin: This expression appeared at the end of the 19th century and is a piece of good old fashioned common sense (bon sens paysan). Once you sell the butter, you have the money, but no longer the butter. Or, in other words, to get something you want you may have to give up something else.

Rainbow at Arcachon, France5. Parler de la pluie et du beau temps

Idiom: to make small talk
Literally: to talk about rain and nice weather
Explanation: It means talking about trivial things, exchanging chit-chat. [Petit Robert: dire des banalités]
Origin: The weather is an innocuous subject to talk about, so it's a safe topic among strangers or a way to talk around topics you want to avoid.

6. Faire la pluie et le beau temps

Idiom: to call the shots
Literally: to make rain and good weather
Explanation: It means to be in charge, to control the situation or determine what action should be taken [Petit Robert: être très influent]
Origin: The idiom is said to go back to mythical times when the gods had power over the world. They could change the weather, create storms, hurl lightning, etc.

7. Ce n’est pas la mer à boire.Looking at the ocean

Idiom: It's not that big a deal.
Literally: It's not the sea to drink.
Explanation: This is a metaphor for something that's impossible or very difficult to do. It's also used in its opposite meaning: C'est la mer à boire - it's very difficult. [Petit Robert: C'est, ce n'est pas difficile.]
Origin: The expression dates back to a 17th century fable by Jean de la Fontaine.

8. Chercher midi à quatorze heures

Idiom: to make a mountain out of a molehill
Literally: to look for noon at 2 pm
Explanation: To complicate things unnecessarily, to see difficulties where there aren't any. [Petit Robert: Chercher des difficultés où il n'y en a pas, compliquer les choses.]
Origin: This expression is said to date back to the 17th century as "chercher midi à onze heures" (to look for noon at 11o'clock), to look for something where's it's not.

Rolled in the flour9. Se faire rouler dans la farine

Idiom: to be taken for a ride
Literally: to get rolled in the flour (Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash)
Explanation: to be fooled, taken in, be cheated  [Petit Robert: tromper]
Origin: Flour-based makeup was often used in the theater and allowed actors to change how they looked and thus fool the audience.

10. Il ne faut pas mélanger les torchons et les serviettes.

Idiom: Don't mix apples and oranges.
Literally: One mustn't mix up dishtowels and napkins.
Explanation: Don't mix totally different things, don't combine things that are completely different. [Petit Robert: Il faut séparer, traiter différemment selon leur condition sociale, les choses selon leur valeur.]
Origin: This expression is based on the idea that you must not mix social levels - dishtowels were for servants and the poor, while napkins were for the bourgeoisie and aristocracy.

11. Ce n'est pas la mort du petit cheval.Small horse in grass

Idiom: It's not the end of the world.
Literally: It's not the death of the little horse. (Photo by Soledad Lorieto on Unsplash)
Explanation: It's not the worst thing that could happen. It's not as bad as it seems, even though it's a disappointment.
Origin: According to an article in Le Figaro by Claude Duneton, the expression "la mort du petit cheval" was probably coined in the 1930s and referred to losing one's bet on a horse that didn't win the race. The expression was picked up by d'Hervé Bazin in the title of his 1950 novel: "La mort du petit cheval." In it, the protagonist makes a shocking discovery about his mother but decides that it's not the end of the world.

12. Avaler des couleuvres

Idiom: to swallow a lie
Literally: to swallow grass snakes
Explanation: to be taken in, to believe anything, to take insults without protest  [Petit Robert: subir des affronts sans protester, croire n'importe quoi]
Origin: This expression came up already in the 17th century and suggests swallowing something slithery, tortuous. The image evokes unscrupulous people who in the olden days added a few grass snakes to a plate of eels without telling their guests or customers.

Learning a few idioms in your second language is not only fun, but it may very well break the conversational ice next time you try out your French, on zoom or in real life.

For the French idioms that are listed here, I looked at a few different sites. You can find out more about these expressions, or search for new ones: www.expression-francaise.fr www.thoughtco.com www.lawlessfrench.com/expressions www. linternaute.fr
I consulted Le Petit Robert, a single-volume French dictionary, for synonyms in French and added them to the explanations.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Sausages, Fruits, Ships, and More in German Idioms

Sausages on GrillIdioms - in any language - can lead to hilarious laughter or confused looks, when they are translated literally into another language.
I was reminded of that last year in French-speaking Switzerland when a German with obviously limited French skills, express his frustration to his partner like this: “C'est me absolument saucisse!” (Lit. That's absolutely sausage to me.)
From his partner's confused look, followed by a loud chuckle, I concluded that she also understood the German meaning.
The German idiom “Das ist mir völlig Wurst” means “Das ist mir völlig egal” and translates as “I couldn't care less.” (Photo by Khamkhor on Unsplash)
Not surprisingly – Germans are fond of good sausages – and there are several other German, sausage-related idioms.
While some idioms can be understood with a little imagination, others are impossible to guess. And as no. 12 below shows, the meaning of some idioms can change over time.
Here are 12 German idioms that you may not be familiar with.

1. Spiel nicht die beleidigte Leberwurst!

Idiom: Don't get bent out of shape, don't be a sorehead!
Literally: Don't play the offended liverwurst!
Explanation: Jemand zieht sich zurück und schmollt, weil er glaubt, dass man ihn gekränkt hat. Someone goes off in a huff and sulks because his feelings were hurt.
Origin: Scholars in the Middle Ages supposedly assumed that a person's emotions - anger, sadness, love, etc. - were produced in the liver. So if someone got annoyed, it's his or her liver where the emotion came from.
Plus, there's another traditional story behind the "offended liverwurst". There, a butcher has all kinds of different sausages in a kettle. When the kettle boils, he takes out all the other sausages first, because they need a shorter cooking time. So, the liverwurst bursts in anger because it's the only one left in the kettle.

2. In den sauren Apfel beißenBiting in a sour apple

Idiom: to bite the bullet
Literally: to bite into the sour apple (Photo by Khamkhor on Unsplash)
Explanation: Etwas Unangenehmes tun, obwohl es einem schwerfällt. To do something unpleasant, even though you find it hard to do.
Origin: This expression is quite old. It comes up in one of Luther's letters where he writes: "Not lehrt in saure Äpfel beißen". (Hard times teach you to bite into sour apples.) It means, that if you have no other choice, you'll just have to eat the sour apples. For example, if you want to pass your exam, you have to study for it.

3. Mit dem ist nicht gut Kirschen essen.

Plate of red cherriesIdiom: Best not to tangle with him.
Literal: Eating cherries with him is not pleasant. (Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash)
Explanation: Mit ihm kann man nicht gut auskommen. He's hard to get along with.
Origin: For this expression there's an interesting origin. It dates back to the Middle Ages when cherry trees were not abundant and grew mostly just in monasteries or in gardens of the rich. Should you be passing a group of dignified gentlemen eating cherries, it could happen that they would chase you off and spit pits into your face to boot. So, there are people that you wouldn't want to eat cherries with because they would treat you badly.
That could refer to people who think that they are better than you, and who are clearly contemptuous of who you are.

4. Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus.

Idiom: What goes around, comes around.Sunny forest
Literally: The way you call into the woods is the way it comes back. (Photo by Stepan Unar on Unsplash)
Explanation: So wie man jemanden behandelt, reagiert dieser auch darauf. The way you treat someone will determine their reaction.
Origin: This expression probably goes back to the experience of hearing an echo in the woods - your voice bounces back after you've called to someone. The echo has a similar sound to what you called in the first place.
So more generally, if you shout at someone in anger, they often respond in anger too. If you don't treat others with respect, they may not respect you either.

5. Um den heißen Brei herum reden

Bowl of hot porridgeIdiom: to beat around the bush
Literally: to talk around the hot porridge (Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash)
Explanation: Nicht ehrlich und direkt seine Meinung sagen. Avoid giving your honest and direct opinion.
Origin: Initially, the expression was: "Wie die Katze um den heißen Brei herumschleichen". (To tiptoe like a cat around the hot porridge.) The cat was of course looking for a cooler part of the porridge to start eating.
If you talk with someone who in the conversation tiptoes like a cat around the hot porridge, it means that they are afraid or reluctant to broach a certain subject.

6. Auf dem falschen Dampfer sein

Idiom: to bark up the wrong treeOld steamboat
Literally: to be on the wrong steamboat (Photo by ZEKERIYA SEN on Unsplash)
Explanation: etwas falsch verstehen, sich irren. To misunderstand something, be totally mistaken.
Origin: In the early 19th century, steamboat travel became increasingly popular in Germany, especially on the Rhine.
By 1850, steamship travel up and down the Rhine reached a million passengers. It was considered safer than travel by land, where raids and holdups were still common.
By 1900, transatlantic crossings by steamship were well established. If you now found yourself on the "wrong steamship", it was a real problem since the next harbor was often far off.
The image of being on the "wrong steamship" suggests a grave error, that someone was way off in their thinking.

7. Lügen haben kurze Beine.

pairs of legsIdiom: Your lies will catch up with you.
Literally: Lies have short legs. (Photo by Matheus Vinicius on Unsplash)
Explanation: Es lohnt sich nicht zu lügen, denn die Wahrheit kommt immer heraus. It's not worth it to lie because the truth will come out.
Origin: The image of a Lie having short legs suggests that someone with short legs simply cannot run that fast. So, the Truth with its longer legs (as we assume) can easily catch up to the Lie and expose the untruth.

8. Das ist Schnee von gestern.

Idiom: That's old hat. Yesterday's snow
Literally: That is snow from yesterday.
Explanation: Die Sache ist nicht mehr von Bedeutung. The matter is no longer important.
Origin: Possibly, this expression goes back to François Villon's "Ballade des dames du temps jadis", (Literally: Ballad of the Ladies of Long ago), which has the line "Mais où sont les neiges d’automne ?" (But where are the snows of autumn?)
When something is "snow from yesterday", it means that it's not new, not important, not interesting, not fresh.

9. Etwas mit in Kauf nehmen

Idiom: to put up with something
Literally: to accept something along with a purchase you've made
Explanation: Etwas als unvermeidlich hinnehmen. To accept something because it's inevitable.
Origin: This expression comes from the traditional world of trade and commerce. It was often customary for merchants to offer the combination of a high quality product with one of lesser quality. Or, the combination of a product that was high in demand, with one not so in demand. If the buyer needed the former product, he would also accept to take the latter one.
In that sense, "etwas in Kauf nehmen", means that if you really want something, you would accept certain unavoidable disadvantages that come with it. Or, accept the risks of an action that you see as inevitable.

10. Wo gehobelt wird, da fallen Späne.

Wood shavingsIdiom: You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
Literally: Where a (carpenter's) plane is used, shavings will fall. (Image Credit: Clem Onojeghuo on Sawinery)
Explanation: Eine Entscheidung kann auch Nachteile mit sich bringen. A decision can also have disadvantages.
Origin: This is a saying that originated in the world of trades, and points specifically to a carpenter's craft. When you "plane" ("hobeln"), you keep removing layers of wood until you smooth out the rough spots.
On the one hand, this expression can be used to justify ruthless or drastic behavior. On the other hand, it can also be a bit of wisdom: Something that has a lot of positives could also have disadvantages.

11. Aus dem Schneider sein

Idiom: to be out of the woodsTailor at work
Literally: to be no longer a tailor (Photo by Salvador Godoy on Unsplash)
Explanation: Aus dem Schneider sein, heißt eine schwierige Situation überwunden, das Schlimmste überstanden haben.
"To be out of the tailor" means that you have overcome a difficult situation, that the worst is behind you.
Origin: In the card game Skat, to be no longer a "tailor" (a profession of low standing in earlier times) means that you have more than half of the points needed to win (i.e. more than 30 points).
The expression "aus dem Schneider sein" is still commonly used in German. Actually, I've heard it multiple times used in connection with the COVID-19 crisis in German TV broadcasts. When will we all be "out of the tailor"?

12. Das passt wie die Faust aufs Auge.

One eyeIdiom 1: They go together hand in glove.
Idiom 2: They go together like chalk and cheese.
Literally: That fits like the fist on the eye.
Explanation: Etwas passt sehr gut zusammen, oder gar nicht. Things go together very well or they don't go together at all.
Origin: The German expression "Das passt wie die Faust aufs Auge" seems to have a clear message: Having someone put their fist on your eye is not a good thing. However, curiously enough, this expression is mostly used to mean the opposite.
Initially, the idiom was "Das reimt sich wie die Faust aufs Auge" (That rhymes like the fist on the eye). For one, "Faust" and "Auge" do not rhyme. Plus, fist and eye don't go together, the fist is hard, the eye is soft and delicate.
But already early on, the idiom was used ironically to mean the opposite, that two things fit perfectly together. Though, the original meaning shows up too.
So, to clearly understand what someone is telling you, you have to pay attention to the context in which it is used, and/or the speaker's tone of voice. For example, what does it mean when your partner tells you that your shirt and scarf go together like "a fist on the eye"?!

Keeping a few idioms in your German language “quiver” will make your language more colorful and authentic. And maybe at the next post-coronavirus dinner party you'll contribute to some laughter and fun.
For the German idioms that are listed here, I consulted a number of different sites. You can find out more about these expressions, or find new ones in these: Redensarten.net, Redensartenindex.de, Geolino Wissen, Wortbedeutung Info.

(For French idioms see Apples, Butter, Rain and more in French Idioms.)

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Which useful phrases should every traveler know?

young couple with vacation choicesWhen planning to travel to a country where you don't speak the language, you typically face some choices:

  1. Don't bother learning anything new – just rely on your native language, or whatever you already know.
  2. Learn and practice a few useful words and phrases, a few minutes a day.
  3. Spend time and effort to relearning the language, if you studied it in school.
  4. Invest time and effort to learn the language from scratch.

Obviously, your decision depends on other factors as well, including:

  • How much time will you spend in the foreign country, or countries?
  • How likely is it that your native language will be understood there?
  • How much time can you invest?

For many English speakers who travel abroad, the obvious choice is No. 1: Don't learn anything new.
That is because English has become more and more a “lingua franca” for travelers. (Pamela Druckerman's recent article in the New York Times points up some pitfalls for monolingual English speakers.)
But think about it. Even if English is your native language and the only one you speak fluently, learning just a few words and phrases of the local language can make your stay in a place so much more interesting and enjoyable: It can become the starting point for more tips and insights, or simply the beginning of a conversation with a local resident - even if it continues in English.

The Case for Useful Words and Phrases

From every country we visited and whose language we don't speak, we have a couple of anecdotes that remind us how useful it was to know at least greetings, polite phrases and some numbers in the language locally spoken.
Several years ago, we visited Japan and China. We learned and practiced the basic numbers, and a few common phrases and greetings: thank you, please, excuse me, good morning, goodbye, etc. For us, knowing the numbers in Japanese and Chinese proved especially useful.
In Hiroshima, we ventured out one evening and found a restaurant Flat lay of Sushi seton the second floor of a building. As we entered, we soon realized that nobody spoke English. Nor did anyone speak any of the other European languages we know. The restaurant was crowded. But because we knew the Japanese word “fifteen”, we understood that we could have a table in about fifteen minutes. So, we decided to wait. We had read earlier that it's a Japanese custom to overestimate such waiting times. Still, we were pleasantly surprised that after less than 10 minutes our booth was ready.
It was a memorable Japanese dinner. We had dishes we had never tasted before and savored the sake that overflowed our small ceramic cups. We were glad we had waited.

In China we visited the Great Wall and afterwards our tour guide led us into one of the government-run shops that lined the road. Being able to negotiate prices in Mandarin, proved not only to be fun but also made us feel that we got some bargains. (That was very likely just wishful thinking.)

On a trip driving from Germany to Denmark to catch a ferry, we wanted to get some Danish Krone at a bank ATM. (Denmark, as well as the UK, Sweden, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania don't use the Euro.)
In one of the small towns we drove through, we stopped and asked a passerby: “Undskyld, hvor er en bank?” and immediately got a fast Danish response, which we didn't understand. It prompted us then to ask: “Taler du engelsk”? And we realized that when you ask for directions in a foreign language, you should also know a few of the typical directional responses, e.g. left, right, straight ahead, around the corner, etc. We then had a very pleasant conversation with the woman in English and she also showed us the way to a Bank ATM.

In Stockholm, Sweden, we asked for directions in Swedish to one of the museums. We were delighted that the older gentleman continued in Swedish when giving us directions. That was maybe a bit unusual for a Swede, as most of them speak English quite well. But we felt great that our 3 months of studying Swedish beforehand paid off. Not only did we understand his directions, but we found the museum quite easily.

Czech milk cartonLast year we stayed in Prague, the Czech Republic. (See also European Travel 10 – Prague in 2018). As we had rented an apartment for a week, we went to a neighborhood grocery store for some breakfast items.
The young man at the cash register was able to say in English how much we owed. But he did not understand the English words jam/marmalade, butter, cereal, etc. Nor could he explain what the word “polotucné” on the milk carton meant. (We wanted to make sure we weren't buying skim milk. In fact, it means “half fat” or “part skim”, as we later found out.)
We now also look up and practice the foreign words of our typical breakfast items ahead of time, if we travel to a country whose language is new for us . (And we'll add some basic food terms to our Lingo-late Essential Words and Phrases.)

Useful and Essential Words and Phrases

In fact, our experience at our next stop, Budapest, Hungary caused us Home page of Lingo-late.comto start our new site, Lingo-late.com, for those who choose #2 above: Travelers who invest a little time to learn and practice just a few useful or “essential” words and phrases.

What are useful or essential phrases for YOU?
We believe that the first +/-10 polite phrases and greetings in a local language could and should be learned by any traveler.
They include words and phrases such as:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Thanks/Thank you
  • Please
  • You're welcome
  • Excuse me
  • Good morning
  • Hello/Good Day
  • Good evening
  • Goodbye
  • Do you speak English (for English speakers)

(You'll find the translations for 12 of the European languages on Lingo-late.com)
What else you then want to learn and practice may depend a little bit how you travel and where to.
We took part in a tour to Japan and China, but we have never used organized tours for our travels in Europe. So, for European countries we like to be able to ask “Where is...?” questions.
We do this not only to ask for directions. We have found that politely asking “Where is...?” questions can also be the beginning of a conversation with someone who lives locally.
And even if our conversation partner's English turns out to be better than our foreign language skills, we often have a nice exchange. Many times we've ended up with tips and local information that has enriched our stay.
Plus – based on our experience in Denmark – we also like to learn and practice a few of the directional phrases: left, right, straight ahead, around the corner, at the light, etc.
Food and drink items vary quite a bit from country to country. Menus in the big cities often include English or are even multilingual. However, in the countryside, the local language prevails and you may well want to know the foreign names for chicken, fish, snails, clams, beef, tongue, lamb, mutton, tripe, sweetbread - that is, any food or drink items that you may want to order or or want to avoid ordering.

Useful Words and Phrases for Special Circumstances

Obviously, if you just learn a handful of words and phrases, you won't be able to have a conversation in the foreign language. But even you can understand and speak the language, you may come across special circumstances that require you to learn new terms.
Unicaja bank branch Seville, SpainThis occurred to us in Seville a couple of years ago. On the way to our apartment after a late dinner, we used a bank's ATM to get cash. However, there was a problem, and the ATM did not dispense the cash to us. The next day though, we saw that our account had been charged Euro 500.  When we tried to explain this in Spanish to a bank official, we realized that we needed to brush up on some banking vocabulary. Nobody in the bank's branch office spoke much English. So it was clearly better to use our Spanish. The branch manager even declared proudly: “No hablo ingles”. You can read more in 5 Tips for Dealing with ATM Troubles Abroad (and at Home).

The Benefit of Useful/Essential Phrases

In a foreign country, using polite phrases and customary greetings in the local language is always a good idea. This is even more so when you leave the big cities and venture out into the countryside or to places that are off the beaten track.
Our best memories from our car trip from Seville to Madrid are visits in towns like Carmona, Almagro, Aranjuez and conversations with locals there.
Often these conversations start when we ask for a restaurant, or how to get toFriendly conversation a museum or a church. Yes, in some cases we could use our smart phone (if we have Wifi or phone reception), but then we could not practice our foreign words and phrases and have a conversation either – even in English.
Traveling is not just about seeing new sites or monuments. What you'll remember more are the interactions with the people you meet, the conversations you have.
Just knowing a few words and phrases in the local language can get you a smile, and sometimes a conversation and valuable local insider tips.
And yes, English may well be the "Lingua Franca" of the World. But you'll never go wrong by learning just a few "essentials" for your next travels...

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

European Travels 10 – Prague in 2018

View of Castle & Charles Bridge, Prague in 2018Fifty years ago I was in Prague as a young student. As luck would have it, that visit coincided with the Soviet-led Invasion on the night of August 20-21, 1968. (see also: Memories of the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 21, 1968)

Whatever little sightseeing my travel friend and I had done on the preceding day - Charles Bridge, the Castle, (see picture) Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square - was eclipsed by the chaotic events of that night and the next day, when Warsaw Pact and Soviet tanks rolled into the city.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 was followed in January 1993 by the split of Czechoslovakia into two countries: the Czech Republic and Slovakia, both parliamentary republics.

Since that time, Prague has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe. It was high time for me to go back and see what I had missed 50 years ago.

Getting ready for a trip is always fun and interesting. My husband Peter and I like to read up on the history of a country and its language. (For anyone who'd like to learn more about the history of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, I can only recommend Mary Heimann's “Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed”.)

For our Prague trip, we were also bent on learning some Czech language basics.

In fact, I was particularly motivated to learn some Czech because my grandfather was born in Bohemia in 1880, when the region was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

He was born in the village of Netrebice (near Cesky Krumlov). He spoke only Czech as a child before being sent to live with an uncle in the neighboring, German-speaking region of Styria, Austria. He was five at that time. And that's how my father's family came to Austria.

WHY LEARN SOME CZECH

In our past travels, we've often found that English has its limits, that learning some of the local language has huge benefits.

For Czech, we spent fifteen minutes or so a day for three months learning to say and understand basic phrases and to practice pronunciation.

In Prague, we noticed that older people - those not in the tourist industry - often did not speak any English. That was quite understandable because during the Soviet era, Russian was the compulsory foreign language taught in all schools in Czechoslovakia.

We also noticed that younger people did tend to speak English. But, if they weren't working in the tourist industry, it sometimes had its limits.

This became clear the first night when we tried to buy milk carton with Czech languagesome breakfast items at a small neighborhood market. The young man at the cash register was able to say in English how much we owed. But he did not understand the English words jam/marmalade, butter, cereal, etc. Nor could he explain to me what the word polotucne on the milk carton meant. (I wanted to make sure I wasn't buying skim milk. In fact, it means half fat or part skim.)

In all though, we got by very well with English and, occasionally with German.

Still, learning some Czech before the trip was worth every minute. People would greet us automatically in Czech and only switched when we spoke English. By using greetings and polite phrases in Czech, we were making an effort that was clearly appreciated.

I can well imagine, that locals in Prague are sometimes overwhelmed by the hordes of tourists constantly present in their city, and by the barrage of English that often confronts them.

Don't we expect visitors to the US to greet and address us in English and not in German, French, Czech, Danish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, etc.?

Prague well deserves its popularity as a travel destination. There is lots to do and to discover.

In addition to the exhibits, museums, and public art works that we saw – the Caltrava and Kupka exhibitions, the Mucha, Kafka, and (new) National Museum, the often controversial David Cerny sculptures here are six (6) more highlights of our stay.

1. A WALKING TOUR

With tour guide Vaclav on Charles Bridge, PragueWalking is a great way to get to know a city. Peter's sister, who had joined us in Prague, speaks German and French. So we arranged for a German-speaking guide for a four-hour walking tour the first day of our stay. (see photo on Charles Bridge)

Vaclav, whose Austrian-tinged German was delightful, took us first through the Lesser Town of Prague. With him we discovered special places we may not have found on our own.

He showed us Wallenstein's Garden, the Kampa Island, the Maltese and Grand Priory Squares, etc., and entertained and educated us with many historical facts (the fate of the Templars, the Hussites, etc.) and stories, some of them quite personal.

The John Lennon wall (see photo) had very special memories for him: John Lennon Wall, Prague

Vaclav related to us how scared he (and his parents) were when they were visited one evening by a policeman. Together with some classmates Vaclav had been part of a demonstration at the Lennon Wall during the “Prague Spring” and had not realized that they were all being filmed or photographed. He was a fourteen-year-old school boy at that time. The policeman's “advice” was easy to understand: If Vaclav wanted to finish school – he should stay away from demonstrations!

Old Town Square, Prague in 2018After the tour of the Lesser Town, we went over the Charles Bridge, to the Jewish Quarter, and finally to Old Town Square (see photo).

We waited for the famous Astronomical clock to ring at 6 PM, but in vain – it was still being repaired.

Since there were just three of us taking the tour and Vaclav's approach was quite casual, it felt like we were just having a conversation with him, not getting a tour lecture.

Such a very personal introduction to Prague at the beginning of our seven-day stay was wonderful.

2. TOUR OF PRAGUE CASTLE

View of The Castle, PraguePrague's Castle complex towers high over the river Vltava. With the original building dating back to the 9th century, the Castle area was built and rebuilt over the centuries. It now holds several palaces, three churches, a monastery, defense towers, and gardens.

It was fascinating to walk around the Castle complex. Its buildings combine architectural styles from several historical periods: Romanesque, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Mannerism and Neo-classic. For art lovers, the Castle's Picture Gallery and the collections in the Lobkowicz Palace are a special treat.

St. Vitus Cathedral - whose spires give Main Nave of St Vitus Cathedral, Prague in 2018the Castle its distinct presence - is not to be missed. Begun in 1344, the stunning Gothic/Neo-Gothic cathedral was finally finished in 1929. The work by the early architects, Peter Parler and his sons, Wenzel and Johannes Parler, is particularly interesting. The so-called Parler vaults (or net-vaults) are said to have heavily influenced Gothic architecture in Slovenia, Austria, and Croatia. And, art historians speculate: Did St. Vitus Cathedral influence English Gothic, or was it the other way around?

The gorgeous stained glass windows of St. Vitus Cathedral were created by Czech artists of the early 20th century. A sweet discovery was the new window in the north nave, designed by the famous Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. (It was installed in 1931.)

The way out of the Castle area took us past the Golden Lane, a narrow street with small colorful houses. Built in the late 16th century in the Mannerism style, they housed the families of Castle guards. Somehow it seemed fitting to me that Kafka lived in one of them for a year (number 22).

3. A TRAM RIDE TO VYSEHRAD

View of Prague from Vysehrad castleWe made extensive use of Prague's public transportation system. With all three of us having passed the 70 year milestone, we could use it entirely for FREE! (We could first not believe it when we wanted to buy a ticket!) Vysehrad was only a short tram ride away along the scenic Vltava River.

Originally an 11th century fortress, Vysehrad has great historical significance for Prague. Legend has it that the fort was the first seat of Czech dukes. It stands on a hill surrounded by a large park. From the walls of the fortress, you have a fantastic view of Prague and the Vltava River.

The Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul is part of the Vysehrad complex. Inside, besides more traditional art, you'll find amazing Art Nouveau frescoes covering the walls. They are by the painter Frantisek Urban and his wife Marie Urbanova-Zahradnicka (done in the early 1900s). Dvorak's monument on Vysherad cemetery

We toured the cemetery, where many Czech luminaries are buried, including the composers Smetana and Dvorak. (By the way, Dvorak's name is a good example of how the Czech accented-r is pronounced: it's r-zh, that is r + zh, as in measure. Sorry, but my font doesn't support Czech accents.)

On the way back down to the tram stop, we had lunch at a small bistro that was obviously a favorite with locals.

4. DAY TRIP TO PILSEN

Map of Czech RepublicOn one of the days, we took a train to Pilsen, home of the famous Pilsner Urquell. The town is located about 90 kilometers (56 miles) southwest of Prague. Trains go every hour and it takes about 90 minutes to get there.

At the Pilsen train station, we looked for a tram to take us to the center of town. We didn't see a ticket dispenser, so we tried to buy tickets from the driver as we got on. There was clearly a problem. It turned out that she had run out of tickets, so we rode free again.

We've been to plenty of breweries before, so we skipped the one in Pilsen. Instead, we took a 2-hour walking tour through the historical center of town. Tatjana, our guide, started us out on Republic Square. In its center stands the Gothic Cathedral of St. Bartholomew with its high spire. (The cathedral is currently undergoing extensive renovations.)St. Bartolomew Cathedral & guilded fountain on Republic Square, Pilsen

Around the square are buildings from varying periods, including an impressive Renaissance Town Hall. A curious contrast to the historical buildings are the three modern gilded fountains (built 2010) standing at three corners of the square. They symbolize three motifs from the Pilsen coat of arms (Camel, Greyhound, and Angel), and have caused plenty of controversy. (The one on the picture is the Greyhound.)

Pilsen, with 178,000 inhabitants is the Czech Republic's fourth largest city, and capital of the Pilsen region. After the hustle and bustle of several days in Prague (1.4 million), we enjoyed the more relaxed and quiet day in Pilsen. Our tour was also quite private, as it only included a young couple from Germany besides us.

5.VIDEO EXHIBITION: INVAZE 68 (Invasion 68)

Soviet Tank with students in Prague 1968An exhibition of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact Invasion of 1968 at the Fair Trade Palace was just being held as we were in Prague. The exhibition marked the invasion's 50th anniversary.

The show included a video installation based on photographs by the Czech-French photographer Josef Koudelka, together with authentic sound recordings.

Archival footage of the 1968 invasion by the classic Soviet Tank in flames in Prague 1968filmmaker Jan Nemec was also part of the exhibit.

The powerful images of burning tanks and trucks together with the sound recordings of gunfire brought back to me how chaotic those days were.

And how lucky my travel friend and I were to be able to get out of Prague in time.

6. WALK UP TO PETRIN PARK

View of Petrin Tower in Prague 2018 On the last day of our one-week stay in Prague, we walked up to the Petrin Park to take a last look at the city from above.

There is a Funicular Railway to the top of Petrin Hill, built for the national Jubilee Exhibition of 1891. We passed up the ride, however, for a leisurely but invigorating walk.

The path led us up through woods, past several open spaces and along the “Hunger Wall”. The story behind the name of the wall (of which about 1,300 yards remain) goes back to 1360 when Charles IV began its construction during a period of famine.

At the top of the hill stands the Petrin Lookout Tower, a small version of the Eiffel Tower. The Petrin View of Prague from Petrin Tower, Prague in 2018Tower was built as part of the 1891 Exhibition, only two years after the completion of the original. At 200 feet high, this famous Prague landmark is about one-fifth of the height of the real Eiffel Tower.

We took the lift up the tower, though you can also walk up via 299 stairs.

The view from the lookout platform was magnificent. We had hit a clear day and could see far and wide beyond Prague into the verdant region of Bohemia.

OTHER THOUGHTS

I was glad to have visited Prague again. My memories of tanks, people running, long lines of shoppers in front of dark facades and buildings in disrepair have been replaced.

What I remember now is a modern city, with modern architecture, side by side with well-restored Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings and the charm of times passed.

The Czech Republic was only born in January 1993 after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia. However, this year the country also celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the formation of Czechoslovakia, the initial multi-cultural state that formed in 1918 after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

We heard that relations between Czechs and Slovaks are better now than during the 75 years when they both were part of one country.

For anyone visiting Prague, we can only recommend staying in New Town. There are fewer tourists, and you can walk and use public transport to wherever you want to go.

And, if you are a beer lover, you'll like both Czech beers and their prices.

Postscript:
After our stay in Prague we continued to Hungary, where we stayed in Budapest for a few days. As we did not learn any Hungarian words and phrases beforehand, we felt quite handicapped not even knowing the basic greetings and "essentials", such as yes, no, thank you, please, etc.
In Duolingo and many other apps and online programs it often takes a while before you can get to or even find such language "essentials".
We therefore started Lingo-Late.com and plan to add - over the weeks and months - 50-100 essential words and phrases for most of the European languages.
Initially, each lesson post will have 10-15 words and phrases, with translation, audio and voice recording feature. Later-on we we may add some simple dialogues and games.
We'll start with French, German, Italian and Spanish, add Portuguese, Icelandic, then Dutch etc.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below! 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Memories of the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 21, 1968

I recently came across a newspaper clip from September 1968, that I had found among my late father's belongings:

He had published excerpts from my (German) letter to my parents in the “Canada Kurier”, a German newspaper in Winnipeg, Canada under the title: “Erlebnisse und Eindrücke eines Besuches in Prag”. (Experiences and Impressions of a visit to Prague)

In the letter, I wrote how I had experienced the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968, while in Prague. (I also found a few of my old photographs.)

It may be hard to imagine today why a young Canadian would be scared by such a situation.

But as an Austrian immigrant to Canada, I still remembered the Russian occupation of Vienna after the War. And the Iron Curtain was still a real and psychological barrier for many Europeans at that time.

How I Got to Prague

On Monday August 19th, 1968, an American friend and I arrived in Prague. A student from Canada, I had spent the year as an exchange teacher for English in Freiburg, Germany.

I was off for the summer and in my old Volkswagen Beetle, my friend Harris Ulrike's old VWBeetleand I drove from the Black Forest, to Bavaria and into Austria.

On our way to Vienna, we decided to take a detour to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to see what the "Prague Spring" was actually like.

We had heard that Alexander Dubcek, First secretary of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, had started a reform program to establish "communism with a human face". The period of political liberalization got to be known as the "Prague Spring".

Dubcek had vehemently reassured Moskow that Czechoslovakia had no intention of leaving the Warsaw Pact (a political alliance between the Soviet Union and several Eastern European countries, established in May 1955).

We arrived in Prague late afternoon on Monday, August 19th, 1968 and got accommodations at a student residence. There they rented rooms over the summer to tourists. [I don't know if that particular one still exists, but it was located about 4.5 km from the city center.]

The Published Excerpts From My Letter (Freely translated and edited)

Tuesday [August 20th], we toured the city: the Town Hall with its old astronomical clock, the Synagogue, the Castle, Kafka's house, the Charles Bridge. Street art on Charles Bridge, Ptague, August 21, 1968On the bridge, hippies drew modern religious images and Dubcek slogans with chalk onto the sidewalks. Some of the young people were singing folk songs.

In the evening, before returning to the student residence, we strolled by the Vltava river and chatted [in German] with one of the locals. He painted us a rosy picture of growing freedom in his country.

That night I dreamt of grey airplanes in my room but I didn't sleep badly.

The next morning [Wednesday, August 21st], as I was in the women's washroom for a shower, a man rushed in and looked for his wife. He was Italian and kept shouting "russi, russi".

Later, at the reception, we were told that Soviet troops had unexpectedly entered the city with tanks and armored vehicles. It was to be a full fledged occupation.

Our first thought: Let's get out of here. We checked out of the student residence and tried to find gas for the car. But that seemed like a hopeless undertaking. We were told that all gas stations had been out fuel for hours.

So we drove to the train station to call the Canadian and American embassies. But there we encountered Soviet tanks and troops.

We didn't want to leave the car on the street. For now, it seemed best to stay calm, get a place to stay and to wait and see.

Lines in font of food store, Prague August 21, 1968We drove back to the student residence and were lucky to get beds again for the night. We left the car there and walked back into the city center.

In front of the grocery stores, we saw long lines of people hoping to stock up on food.

An open truck drove down our street. On it people were waving flags. A bystander told us that they were chanting "long live Dubcek".

As we got closer to Wenceslas Square, we heard shots. But when we got there, things had calmed down.

A large crowd of people had gathered on the square in passive demonstration.

A little farther on, we saw that the National Museum was riddled with bullets. When we asked a passerby why that building, he said: "Why, yes, why? They are Russians and they don't need a reason. Today, the 21st of August is a historic day for us".

Right then, a huge cloud of smoke rose up and we could smell rubber and gasoline. At the same time we heard the noise of automatic rifles and tank guns. Our passerby told us: "Oh, that's Radio Prague being blown up".

Armored tanks thundered by. The soldiers on them shot periodically into the air. All around, people shouted and cursed, refusing to be intimidated.

Finding the Embassies

When things calmed down again, we took a side street and walked in the direction of the Canadian and American embassies. It seemed like a good idea to register with them.

But the embassies weren't that close. And to get there, we had to cross the Vltava River. The bridges were all guarded by soldiers in tanks. As pedestrians we could still move around freely, but traffic was at a standstill.

We were afraid that once across the Vltava River, we would be cut off from our student residence.

Besides, a large part of the occupying forces were located around the Prague Castle, where Svoboda and Dubcek were being "isolated". The embassies were just around the corner from there.

[Ludvic Svoboda was president of Czechoslovakia from 1968 to 1975. He achieved great popularity by resisting the Soviet Union's demands during and after its invasion of August 1968. (Brittanica)]

Still, we continued on and crossed the Vltava River over the Charles Bridge. Just like the local pedestrians, we zigzagged our way through the rows of armored vehicles that stood guard there.

A group of soldiers called something to a young woman. She swore back at them. They cursed in return. The woman lifted her fist and shouted "Heil Hitler". It wasn't the first time that such a comparison was made. Swastikas had been chalked on some of the walls and we even saw one on the inner side of a tank wheel.

Russian armored vehicle, Prague, August  21, 1968Local Czechs clustered around armored vehicles and spoke with the soldiers. Some even handed out flyers to the troops.

Later, we met an Englishman who told us the following: His girlfriend, who was Russian, had spoken with some of the soldiers. They told her that many of the occupying Soviet or Warsaw Pact soldiers were surprised to be in Prague and not in Poland. Others only knew that they were fighting a "counter revolution". Still others only shook their head and said: "We don't know anything, we only follow orders."

We finally reached both the American and the Canadian embassies and left our names there.

By now it was three in the afternoon and it seemed wise to return to the student residence.

After all, we had a long walk in front of us and who knew what problems we would still encounter. Luckily, going back over the Charles Bridge went without a hitch.

But now all bridges were being guarded even more heavily. On all larger streets stood rows of armored vehicles.

On the public squares you could see an increased number of soldiers, each with an automatic rifle.

It seemed to me, though, that their uniforms looked a little ragged and not really adequate for an occupying force.

Food and Gasoline

The lines in front of the grocery stores had not gotten shorter. We needed bread, but couldn't find any. All we could get was a package of crackers and beer.

A few people carrying flags were still walking around or driving back and forth in small cars. Some of the flags were torn and spattered with blood.

We heard shouts of "Dubcek, Svoboda". But in general, people were passive. Once we arrived at the student residence, we knew we were in for a long evening.

Upstairs while we ate, we discussed our "gas problem". We knew we had enough gas for about 40 km. But the nearest border crossing was at Gmünd into Austria, and that was about 175 km away.

Other border crossings were even farther and we feared running into a blockade or being forced to take detours.

An East German man from Leipzig explained to us how utterly hopeless the situation was. But he mentioned that the only station that still sold gas was only about a kilometer away. We hopped into the car and drove there.

A long line and a long wait, just to get 10 liters of gas. It was not enough to reach the border, but it was something.

Information and Rumors

In the hall of the student residence, the radio brought the news, always the same bad news. Everything seems so unreal.

Waking up in the morning of Thursday, August 22 we heard no airplanes, only the constant noise of Soviet trucks bringing supplies, cannons, and new troops.

In the women's washroom - the place where we got our first information of the day - one rumor had it that it was impossible to leave the country by car.

Nor were there any trains back to the east block countries or to the west.

There were also other rumors:

  • All border crossings were blocked, except the crossing at Gmünd to Austria;
  • or, the best way to leave was via Hungary;
  • or, the only crossing that was open was the one at Waidhaus in the direction of Pilsen;
  • or, the Vtlava River was blocked everywhere, no chance to cross it;
  • or, some tourists had tried to leave the country and were sent back, etc.

People like us were beginning to feel a little desperate.

It was impossible to call either of our embassies, all telephone connections were cut off.

A man who spoke both Czech and German said that the Austrian embassy advised all tourists to leave the country as soon as they could. We knew we had to act.

Being Lucky

We lined up once more at the gas station. With an extra note, we bribed the attendant to go over the usual ration and fill our tank.

An American student, who had no hope of leaving Prague by train, asked to join us.

Together with him, we discussed how to proceed: either via Budweis to Freistadt or to Gmünd, depending on the information we could get.

With some difficulty we got through the city by car. We had to avoid the heavily guarded areas. And even though locals kindly tried to help us, they were too upset to think clearly.

Outside of the cities, we saw confusing road signs. Some of them were obviously turned the wrong way and pointed north to Moskau. Others had different place names written over them.

In the villages along the road people gave us fliers. In one town they tossed flowers to us as we drove by. In many places, the names Dubcek and Svoboda were written in chalk on the road.

About an hour before the border, we came across another gas station and could fill up again.

A woman said we definitely needed to drive to the Gmünd border crossing.

On our way there we caught up twice to a convoy of tanks. It was easy to recognize the Soviet tanks. They had a thick white stripe on their frame.

At the border, there was only a normal line of cars waiting to cross. We didn't see any Soviet vehicles.

Later we heard that Gmünd really had been the only open border crossing at that time. A man we talked to had first tried crossing at three other places and but was turned back by Soviet soldiers.

We also heard that Soviet tanks were supposed to arrive at Budweis at 5 o'clock. Half of them would continue on in the direction of Gmünd to close the border there.

I guess we'd been really lucky. In Viennese, you'd say we had "a Masl".

Postscript:

I only learned later how lucky we indeed had been: There were over 100 people killed during the invasion. We never saw any of the battles, especially those around the radio station (about which we only heard rumors and sporadic gunfire).

If you're interested to learn more about the Prague Spring or Czechoslovakia, I'd suggest Mary Heimann's book "Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed". We are currently reading it in preparation for our visit to Prague later this year. It provides an excellent account of the birth of the multinational state of Czechoslovakia in 1918, its tribulations before and during the Hitler years, the period of Communist rule, and its dissolution on December 31, 1992.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below! (And if you'd like to read the original German version, just send us a note to contact.)

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Tips for Your Next Adventure Travel Trip

Travelers discussing planMaybe you're an adventure traveler who likes to explore a country on your own. But traveling to a country where you don't understand the language can be intimidating.

Yes, you can tell yourself, everyone speaks English. But actually not everyone does, and certainly not in areas that are off the beaten track. Or in areas that don't care that much about speaking English.

That last point was driven home to us during our one-month stay in Seville, Spain. One night when we tried to withdraw money from an ATM, the machine went on the blink during the withdrawal.

Our card was withheld, and "for technical reasons" the machine was unable to issue us the cash we had requested (though, as we found out the next day, the money had been withdrawn from our account after all – see for the full story: 5 Tips For Dealing With ATM Troubles Abroad - And At Home).

To our surprise, our several conversations with the bank manager (to get our card and our cash back) had to be done in Spanish. He proudly told us that he "did not speak English". The one employee of the bank who supposedly spoke English, didn't really.

Our Spanish turned out to be much better than his English. Still, using Spanish banking language proved to be quite a challenge and we had to brush up on it quickly.

That kind of experience has taught us a few things about preparing for our trips to foreign countries.

To prepare for our "slow travel" adventures - they include unhurried stays in Rome, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Seville, Madrid, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Amsterdam - we made sure to learn some language basics and to find out about cultural differences.

1. Practice the Phrases You Might Use

To prepare for speaking the local language on your travels, Practice where you can cartoonyou need to practice. But you need to especially practice words, phrases and sentences that you are likely to use.

Greetings, please and thank you, numbers, question words, asking for directions, language for shopping, - all these are helpful, especially if you go outside of larger cities.

Obviously, you can't prepare for all occasions and emergencies, as we found out in Seville. But it didn't take us long to learn some of the key banking terminology either.

A good part of your language practice can be done on your own. To do that, nothing beats online sites that have audio and text, and which teach you the practical vocabulary you need.

You can pace yourself, you don't have to worry about making mistakes, and you can practice until the phrases you want to learn become automatic.

Words and Phrases

As I'm acquiring a new language right now - Czech - in preparation for a week's stay in Prague, I'm experiencing the challenge of learning totally unfamiliar words and sounds.

I find that it takes persistent practice to learn new words and their spelling with the goal to get them into my long-term memory.

Not only do I repeat the words often, and practice them in a kind of "spaced repetition", I also make sure I recall them frequently.

Learning vocabulary in "chunks" (meaningful phrases) is better than just learning individual words.

Once you have a set phrase, such as asking "Where is ...? or "How much is ...?" or requesting "I'd like ..." or "Please give me ...", you can put in other words to suit different situations.

Numbers

We discovered during trips to Japan and China that the most useful vocabulary we learned were the numbers.

The need to understand and say numbers came up again and again as we visited markets, paid in restaurants, requested tickets, asked for information, etc.

Listening practice

Young women during listening practiceClearly, understanding the rapid speech of native speakers is more difficult than speaking phrases and sentences that you've practiced.

So, learning to listen without translating is also really worth practicing. Especially with the kind of vocabulary that you are learning.

At the very least you'll get the gist of the responses people give you.

Pronunciation

Practicing pronunciation goes hand in hand with learning the words, phrases and sentences you want to use. No doubt, it's your goal to be understood when you speak. It therefore helps to practice out loud.

To get your pronunciation good enough, listen carefully to the native speaker and repeat what you hear. 

Some words and phrases may be easy to pronounce. Others might take a lot of practice because they contain sounds that are not part of your native language. Foreign sounds are a challenge because you may not hear them correctly at first.

2. Learn About Cultural Differences

Interacting with others who are from a different cultural background and speak another language is so much more pleasant when you understand some of the cultural assumptions they may have.

Yes, seeing YouTube videos about the social and cultural gaffes some people commit can be quite funny. And people are often very forgiving.

Still, understanding and respecting the values and traditions of others will help you engage positively with them. It will also make you more confident as a language learner.

Formal and familiar forms of address

English has one word for "you", but many other languages have two or more.

Because of the single "you", English speakers just doesn't have the ear for some of the situational differences that dictate a specific form.

Learning when to use the formal as opposed to the familiar forms of address is a must.

Differences in age, social class, type of business, etc. impact on some of the "rules" for using the formal versus the familiar "you". Also, these rules change over time.

The Internet has added some confusion to the issue since age, profession, or social class are usually not visible for participants in group discussions. Often the familiar "you" (German "du", French "tu", Italian "tu", Spanish "tú") is automatically used by all and feels friendly.

Still, if you're in another country and walk into a shop, you'll certainly want to use the formal, polite "you".

Hand GesturesHand gestures

Becoming sensitive to non-verbal clues in another culture, such as hand gestures and facial expressions, is also important.

While a certain gesture may be respectful in one culture it may be rude in another.

Read more in LingoHut's guest blog post Are There Right or Wrong Hand Gestures? 

Personal Space

When we travel, we often become quite aware of how close people stand to us, including strangers in public spaces.

In some countries, we may feel we are being crowded. For example, people in "contact cultures" (e.g. Southern European countries, South America, Middle East) stand closer and touch more than people in "non-contact cultures" (e.g. Northern European countries, North America, Asia). (Amanda Eriksen, Washington Post) 

Just know that such differences exist and be aware of how you react to a person who handles personal space differently from you.

Sense of Time

Woman showing timeTime is another factor where cultural differences occur. Not understanding them can cause unneeded friction even between people who are well-meaning and friendly.

Countries where public transportation and trains run on a precise schedule give you a different experience, as opposed to places where schedules slide and are unpredictably flexible.

The way we perceive and handle time also affects scheduling personal get-togethers. We all have expectations and reactions regarding punctuality and lateness.

But a people's culture isn't just levels of politeness, the experience of personal space, or the perception of social time. When you visit a country or region, it's also worthwhile to learn about its history and traditions.

No doubt, you can learn about cultural differences without learning a language. But inversely, if you acquire another language, learning about the culture that has evolved with it is a must.

3. Don't Be Afraid to Use the Language You've Learned

Once you're in the country where the language is spoken, it's up to you to find ways to engage in conversations with native speakers.

Of course, such conversations are very different from practicing online or Smiling woman in conversationeven practicing with a tutor (which you obviously could also consider as part of your travel preparations.)

In a conversation so much is going on at the same time. As you listen to your conversation partner and try to understand what the flow of sounds coming at you means, your mind is also working on a possible answer.

It may sound simplistic, but it's true: You can't learn to engage in foreign language conversations unless you do it. Start with baby steps and keep building.

Insist on using the local language at the market, in restaurants and bars, at the bakery, at the supermarket, when asking for directions.

You'll certainly encounter situations when the other person would rather practice his or her English – especially when their English is better than your new language. It's easy to succumb to such an offer, but try to resist.

Such situations are especially true in countries where many speak English. But in rural areas or places off the beaten track you'll certainly have the opportunity to practice what you've learned.

I've always found that locals are very supportive of my attempts at using their language. Often it has led to further conversations about their city, about travels, about my home country, etc.

And if you are also a practitioner of "slow travel" and are staying in a city for a longer period, you may be able to engage a tutor. Or you could personally meet an online conversation partner you found via one of the many language-exchange sites.

Even knowing just the basics of the local language will enhance your travel experience. And being able to listen and participate in conversations will get you to another level.

If you're an adventure traveler who likes to explore a country on your own, learn as much of the local language as you can before you get there. You won't regret it.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here!

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travels 9 – Fribourg: Kaeserberg, Languages, and more...

Upper and Lower City of Fribourg, SwitzerlandYou may never have heard of the chemins de fer du Kaeserberg.

And unless you live in Europe or are familiar with Switzerland, you may draw a blank when you hear the name Fribourg, or its German name, Freiburg (“im Uechtland”).

Perhaps you're more familiar with the city's German cousin Freiburg (“im Breisgau”), a picturesque university town located in Southern Germany's Black Forest.

Well, Fribourg is the capital of the Canton of Fribourg, (see picture above). It is located on the cultural border between German- and French-speaking Switzerland and the seat of the country's only bilingual university.

Every February, for over ten years now, Ulrike and I have visited my sister in Fribourg before heading to the Berner Oberland for some skiing.

While in the city, we always make some new discoveries. This year it was the Chemins de fer du Kaeserberg". And, we always take advantage of learning more about languages and enjoying Swiss food specialties.

Our Swiss experience typically begins in Zurich after an overnight flight from Boston.

Zurich Airport to Fribourg

One of the pleasures of traveling in Switzerland is the ease of train travel.Zurich Airport - Fribourg Map

We now know that there is a direct train from Zurich Airport to Fribourg that runs every hour. We often don't have to wait long after buying our train ticket.

A few years ago though, we didn't have time to buy a train ticket. So we just boarded the train.

The conductor didn't come by until after the next stop, which is Zurich Main Station. We told him that we had boarded the train without tickets at the airport. He sold us the tickets and was nice enough to waive the penalty fee.

You can no longer purchase tickets on the train, and penalties have increased if you're caught without a ticket.

However, if you don't have time to buy a ticket at the counter or ticket machine, you can now easily purchase the tickets online with your smart phone.

Just download the free SBB Mobile app for iOS or Android devices to check time tables, purchase tickets, make seat reservations, etc.

Our 2018 Fribourg Discovery: Chemins de Fer du Kaeserberg

Over the years we have visited many of Fribourg's sights, the Cathedrale St-Nicholas, the picturesque lower town you can get down to with a Funicular, the Espace Jean Tinguely-Niki de Saint Phalle in the Musee D'Art et D'Histoire Fribourg, the Musee Gutenberg, etc.

During our visit this year, we spent a whole afternoon in theChemins de fer du Kaeserberg model at night Musee des Chemins de Fer du Kaeserberg.

If you're a model railway enthusiast, the railway museum is nothing short of a feast. But anyone from 4 to 90 years old will enjoy this technical marvel.

The model railway was a childhood dream of Marc Antiglio. He had taken over the family construction business as a young man and worked on his dream throughout his adult life.

(I had met Marc over 40 years ago when I worked for a few years in Fribourg as a structural engineer.)

It took Marc 17 years to fully realize his dream: A model railway exhibit on three levels, in a custom-designed, multi-level, state-of-the-art building with solar collectors, a geothermal heating system. All of this was completed just a few years ago.

Built at a scale of 1:87, the model exhibit occupies an area of about 6,500 sf, with currently over 6,000 ft of rails (both H0, 16.5 mm, and H0m, 12.0 mm).

The rolling stock consists of 300 locomotives and 1,650 wagons and cars, many of which are stored and can be accessed on the depot/station, the first level the visitor encounters when entering.

Lake Scene @ Chemins de fer du KaeserbergThe attention to detail in building and landscape design is amazing. The model imagines a Swiss landscape around 1990, with villages, buildings, railway stations, cars, and people, plus circus tents, lakes and ships – so realistic - that you need to look twice to see that they are not real.

Even the background photos of sky and mountains blend in seamlessly.

The introductory video for the visitors we saw was in French with German subtitles. In it, Marc Antiglio recalls how he got fascinated by trains as a little boy. He explains the many challenges he and his team of dedicated professionals and volunteers had to overcome to create the model. (Marc speaks with a slight "Fribourgois" accent. If you want to learn more watch this video on French accents and and French pronunciation.)

We had a wonderful time watching the many trains going through tunnels, over bridges, stopping at and leaving the stations. In the night mode, the changing lights created magic images.

The exhibit is open to the public at certain days during each week, and private visits can be arranged on other days. Check the website for the opening days and hours.

(If you wonder about the name “Kaeserberg” - it has nothing to do with the German word “Käse/Kaese” (cheese), but is the name of Marc Antiglio's late friend, who was instrumental in supporting Marc's passion.)

More about Fribourg

View of Fribourg upper and lower cityIn the past, the language lines in the city of Fribourg were drawn rather clearly: In the lower town, since the city's founding in the 12th century, people spoke mostly a Swiss German dialect. In fact it was the official language until about 1800.

In fact, today the language spoken on the streets of la basse-ville (lower town) is a mix of Swiss German and French called le bolze. This swissinfo.ch article - Nei, dasch zvüu, tu me connais! - (No, that's too much, you know me!) not only gives some wonderful examples of typical bolze expressions, but also more details of Fribourg's linguistic history. (Sorry, it's in French and does not solve the origin mystery of  French bolze" or German bolz”.)

With the industrialization and the influx of French immigrants, the French population in the upper town became the majority in the 19th century. (see picture of upper and lower town)

By the year 2000, nearly 64% of its 38,000 inhabitants spoke French as their first language, and only 21% German. Italian was third with about 4%.

In restaurants, cafes, and shops, etc. you hear a mixture of French, Swiss German, and Swiss standard German, which curiously is called “Schriftdeutsch” (written German). Increasingly, you also hear other languages. In 2008 nearly 32% of the population were resident foreign nationals.

The term “Schriftdeutsch” - written German - is used to distinguish Swiss standard German from the spoken Swiss German dialect.

Swiss German children learn to speak Swiss German at home. They start to learn “Schriftdeutsch” in first grade and likely French a couple of years later.

That's about the same time that Swiss French-speaking children learn “Schriftdeutsch” as a second language. Also, in many schools children learn English already in fourth grade.

From discussions with family, friends and acquaintances in Fribourg, we've gained the impression that there are more German speakers who are fluent in French, than French speakers who are also fluent in German.

We don't know why that would be. Maybe it's because French speakers are now the majority in Fribourg, or learning French as a third language (after “Schriftdeutsch) is “easier” for Swiss German speakers, or maybe Swiss Germans feel a more personal or economic need to be bilingual than their French speaking compatriots.

A visit to the local market provided a non-representative sample, as most of the Swiss German-speaking farmers easily switched to French, while French-speaking bakers and butchers had more difficulty speaking German.

Language can still be a divisive issue

While the casual observer may be pleasantly surprised by the city's apparent bilingualism, language in Fribourg - as in other Swiss cities and towns that are located on a language and cultural fault line - is often still a divisive issue.

Not much has changed since swissinfo.ch covered this issue in 2004, citing both Biel (where French speakers are the minority of the population, with 28 %) and Fribourg as examples. Family connections, social status, school locations, etc. all influence parents' decisions which language path their children should pursue.

In 2017 the Swiss Bilingualism Foundation awarded Rapper Greis (alias for Grégoire Vuilleumier) that year's “prize for bi- and plurilingualism”. Listen to his “Enfant des Etoiles” song which switches between Swiss German and French.

It certainly seems that in a small country like Switzerland (about 8 million inhabitants), being bilingual or at least being fluent in two of the major languages, German and French, should have great professional and personal benefits.

A couple of years ago just as we were visiting Fribourg, Happy in Fribourg songthe local Newspaper, La Liberté, reported that local film makers had adapted Pharrell Williams' song Happy” from the movie Despicable Me 2” to Fribourg, similar to what other Swiss cities have done. You can watch the YouTube video which shows many images of Fribourg.

(You may recognize Ulrike in one of the video's scenes while she was at the weekly farmer's market.)

Now Our Swiss Tradition: Cheese Fondue or Raclette

Before heading to Gstaad and Schoenried (more about that in a future post), we typically will have a Cheese Fondue or Raclette with our family.

La Fondue (au fromage)

Probably the best-known dish of Switzerland is a cheese “fondue”. The word is French and comes from the verb “fondre” meaning “to melt”. Used as a noun, “fondue” is the feminine form of the past participle “fondu”. (larousse.fr)

Young women eating cheese fondueFondue has a lengthy history in Switzerland. The recipe “Käss mit Wein zu kochen” (cheese cooked with wine) was first mentioned in a Zurich manuscript in 1699.

La fondue” showed up in 18th century culinary literature as “oeufs brouillés au fromage fondu”, scrambled eggs with melted cheese (as noted in the dictionary, Le petit Robert). The dish was particularly popular in the western French-speaking cantons, and there mostly among city dwellers who could afford the rich cheese.

Fondue, as we know it, dates back to around the middle of the 19th century and by 1875, it was named a Swiss national dish. In the 1930s, the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) used the idea of a national dish for its own marketing purposes. That kind of promotion was continued after WWII.

Fondue was popularized in the US in the 1960s, helped by being showcased in the Swiss Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.

The traditional fondue is served in a fondue pot (un caquelon), which is kept warm over a chafing dish (un réchaud). To make the fondue smooth, you add cornstarch to the cheese mixture as it heats. Each one of you gets a long thin fork for spearing chunks of bread (or sometimes potatoes), which you then dip into the cheese. Eating fondue is definitely a social event that also includes plenty of white wine and/or tea.

Various traditions are observed: for example, if you drop your bread into the pot, you pay a round of wine, or a pot of hot tea.

Cheese Fondue Variations

Many of the Swiss cantons have their own version of fondue, using different combinations of cheeses. For those who want to try, this Epicurious post will give you the recipe for making a perfect traditional Swiss Fondue. Being frequent travelers to Fribourg, the two fondues we know best are the Fondue Fribourgeoise, and the Fondue Moitié-Moitié.

Fondue Fribourgeoise

Fondue Fribourgeoise is prepared with 100% local Vacherin Swiss Vacherin Cheesecheese. Vacherin from Fribourg is a medium-firm cheese made from cow's milk, as the name - vache (cow) - implies.

The cheese is melted in a few tablespoons of water over low heat. To our knowledge, this is the only cheese fondue that does not use wine. Often you dip pieces of potato instead of bread.

Fondue Moitié-Moitié

Moitié-Moitié (or half-half), as its name states, uses Gruyère and Vacherin cheese in equal parts. This fondue is made with white wine, (dry and high in acid) and for flavor a shot of kirsch is often added to the mixture. You eat it by dipping chunks of bread.

La Raclette

Traditional Raclette serving Our foray into the world of melted (Swiss) cheese would not be complete without mentioning the “Raclette”. The name is derived from the French “racler”, meaning “to grate or scrape” and that clearly describes the method in which it is served: The melted cheese is scraped off the roasted/heated end of a large piece, most commonly a half a wheel of cheese (as in this picture).

The Raclette Suisse site traces Raclette's origins to the 13th century. In the German-speaking cantons, convent writings mention Bratchäs” (roasted cheese - note the Swiss spelling of Käse”) already in 1291 as a nutritious food for mountain cow herders.

Raclette cheese is made of raw milk and many variations exist. Only the “Raclette du Valais” is a protected brand under Swiss law.

The traditional method melts the half-wheel of cheese, either right at an open fire place, or in restaurants, with an electric heater. The Raclette cook/server scrapes the melted cheese off unto each customer's plate. (see photo above, courtesy of: Grcampbell-Wikipedia Commons).

The modern, self-serve version uses small pans in which Modern Raclette to heat Raclette cheese pieces right at the table with a special gadget (as in this picture).

In either case, “Gschwellti” - Swiss German for potatoes boiled in their skin -  are served with gherkins, pickled onions, and often preceded or accompanied by dried meat, such as “Bündnerfleisch” or “viande des Grisons” or “jambon cru”.

A Raclette evening, during which the meal is served the traditional way to a large table, is a social event that can last for hours.

As with cheese fondue, locals will warn you not to drink cold water. It doesn't mix well with the hot cheese. However, hot tea, a “Kirsch” (cherry), “Poire” (pear), or “Framboise” (raspberry) Schnaps come highly recommended.

Raclette and Fondue (whether the cheese or meat variety) always make for a lively, social dining experience.

Even after the taste and smells of melted cheese have faded in your memory, you'll certainly remember the fun you had with your family and friends sharing such a meal in a warm and cozy mountain hut after a hard day of skiing, snowboarding, or hiking.

The best kind of travels are those where you can linger in a place, make discoveries, learn new things, and try out new tastes.

It's a kind of “slow travel” that lets you soak in some of the local language, history, and customs. You have time to explore different neighborhoods, go to various cafés, bars and restaurants, and visit local shops and markets.

And if you've learned a new language for your trip, you'll have the chance to try out what you've learned. That's one of the great pleasures of travel: Get that sense of accomplishment as you stretch your boundaries.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

 

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 8 – Denmark: Zealand and Copenhagen

Kronborgslot in Helsingør, DenmarkThis continues our European Travel 7 post From Sylt to Zealand.

Before heading into Copenhagen, we wanted to explore the northern part of the island of Zealand. There was one castle in particular that interested us.

Kronborgslot

Kronborgslot, a 16th century castle, located at the very tip of Helsingør and overlooking the Øresund across to Sweden, may very well be Denmark's most famous castle.

It's the castle that Shakespeare called Elsinore in his play Hamlet.

Since 1816, every year in August, and only interrupted by World War II, the Hamlet festival attracts not only thousands of visitors, but also the world's greatest actors.

While we regretfully missed the festival, we were surprised how many names of actors we recognized in the Festival's “Hall of Fame”.

They include Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Gustaf Gründgens, Kronborgslot courtyard n Helsingør, DenmarkSir John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave, Richard Burton as well as Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Kenneth Branagh, Jude Law, and other more recent ones.

Since the year 2000 Kronborg Castle has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been called one of the most important Renaissance castles of northern Europe.

In 1574 King Frederick II started construction to transform the Krogen (the castle's original name) into a Renaissance castle, which was finished in 1585.

A tour of the grounds and through the building let us appreciate its strategic location, as well as its significance as a sign of the power and wealth of King Frederick II.

When a fire destroyed a large part in 1629, King Christian IV had it rebuilt. Besieged and captured by the Swedes in 1658, the castle also lost many of its art treasures. For close to 150 years it was used to house the army and only in 1923, after a thorough renovation, it was opened to the public.

The Maritime Museum of Denmark

Martime Museum of Denmark courtyardOn our way from the parking lot to the Kronborg Castle, we came by what looked like, and indeed was a former dry dock: the Maritime Museum of Denmark.

We have to admit that it wasn't on our museum list, although it should have been. As we learned from the website:

In 2014 the museum was listed as one of The New York Times’ recommended ‘52 places to go in 2014’ and voted the best cultural building worldwide by archdaily.com – the world’s most visited architecture website. In October 2014, BBC made a list of the 8 greatest new museums in the world which featured the Maritime Museum of Denmark. In January 2015, National Geographic listed 10 structures that it recommended traveling to for the design alone, and the Maritime Museum of Denmark was one of them.

inside Maritime Museum of DenmarkIndeed, the museum is not only an architectural delight, but for an avid sailor and fan of everything nautical like myself, I probably enjoyed this visit even more than walking through any castle.

I have been to many maritime museums, visited old sailing ships, destroyers, aircraft carriers, battle ships and submarines. But, never have I seen the maritime history and life on sea as comprehensively depicted and exhibited. The whole experience was stunning.

Walking down the sloped exhibition floors and taking in the various exhibits with great sound and video effects was informative and fascinating.

(There is a discount if you visit both the Kronborg Castle and the Maritime Museum the same day.)

As we continued to explore the countryside of northern Zealand with its green pastures and little villages, we could not forgo visiting another important castle and museum.

Frederiksborgslot

Frederiksborgslot isFrederiksborgslot with lake another picture-perfect Danish Renaissance castle which also houses the Danish Museum of National History.

From Kronborg Castle it's only a half hour drive (or 17 miles) to Hillerød where Frederiksborg Castle faces the town across a small lake.

King Frederick II acquired the original castle in 1560 and gave it its name.

King Christian IV, in the early decades of the 17th century, substantially expanded and made it the largest Renaissance castle in Scandinavia. (You may remember from above that Christian IV was also responsible for rebuilding Kronborg Castle after a fire had destroyed a large part it.)

The castle was used as a main royal residence for the first 100 years. It later fell into disuse until Frederick VII began to occupy it again in 1848.

After a fire in 1859 destroyed much of the interior and roofs, its fate was uncertain, until Jacob Christian Jacobsen, the founder of the Carlsberg Breweries, restored it. In 1877, he proposed to make it the home of the Danish Museum of National History.

A branch of the Carlsberg Foundation, to whom Jacobsen bequeathed his fortune, still runs the museum and castle today.

Our tour through the museum took us through Frederiksborgslot Great Hallseveral hundred years of Danish history from the Middle Ages to the 21st century.

We could fully appreciate the size of castle property by looking from the castle across the lake to the Barock garden, with its terraces, trees, hedges, and fountains. (see picture)

We also became aware of an interesting tradition for choosing the names of Danish Kings, which started in the 16th century:

After Christian II (1513 –1523) - and until Margrethe II became Queen in 1972 - Danish kings were called either Frederick or Christian. Curiously enough, no one could explain to us the tradition's origin.

And – a little more Scandinavian royal history – the son of Fredrick VIII (1906-1912), Prince Carl of Denmark, became one of the few elected monarchs in modern history. Norway recruited him and, King Haakon VII, he became the first king of Norway after the 1905 dissolution of Norway's union with Sweden.

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Louisiana Museum Sculpture parkFrederiksborg Castle and the Museum of National History were just the first examples of philanthropic endeavors we encountered in Denmark. We saw several more in Copenhagen. And, the Louisiana belongs in that group as well.

We had heard about the museum as a must see when in the Copenhagen area. Its name already intrigued us and we soon found out from the guide book:

The name Louisiana, pleasant and lilting in Danish, has a curious story in its own right: the original villa (a 19th century country house) was named for its first owner's marriages to no fewer than three women named Louise.”

The Louisiana was already a different type of museum when Knud W. Jensen founded it and opened its doors in 1958.

When we visited it now nearly 60 years later, the setting overlooking the Sound, was still amazing. The various galleries meander through the garden and sculpture park.

The architecture by Danish architects Vilhelm Wohlert and Jørgen Bo was clearly inspired by the German Bauhaus (a school founded by the architect Walter Gropius, in 1919 in Weimar).

Jensen, we understood, was very much the third architect and he kept expanding and building until his death in 2000.

The result is a structure that creates wonderful exhibition spaces for modern art collections of photography, paintings, sculptures, videos, etc.

The Giacometti Gallery with its many sculptures and reflectionsLouisiana sculpture from the lake below is one of the highlights.

There are Picassos and Warhols, Lichtensteins, and works by Ai Weiwei, and Danish artists we were not familiar with.

Special exhibitions of international and Danish artists change periodically.

During our visit we experienced the first major retrospective presentation of the controversial body and performance artist Marina Abramovic.

Even if modern art is not your thing – experiencing the Louisiana should be on your Copenhagen itinerary.

(It's 25 miles north of Copenhagen. If you don't have a car: On the Danish State Railway (DSB), the Sound coastal route takes about 35 minutes from Copenhagen’s Central Station and 10 minutes from Helsingør. From Humlebæk Station, it is a 10-minute walk to the museum. You can buy e-tickets in advance on the site link above.)

Copenhagen

After traveling for over 10 days by car (from the Netherlands to Lüneburg and Sylt ), we looked forward to staying in one place for a while.

We had rented an apartment in Copenhagen and easily found it upon arrival.

Returning the rental car (and mailing back the mywebspot pocket WIFI, which had served us well on the road), gave us an opportunity to explore Copenhagen's transit system and the neighborhood of Fredericksberg, where our apartment was located.

First metro car in Copenhagen driverless subwayThe subway into town (and to the airport) was only a 4-minute walk away and we discovered that the M2 metro back to our apartment was not only driver-less, but ran like clockwork, every 2-6 minutes during the day (every 15-20 minutes at night).

The first two metro lines were completed between 2003 and 2007. A city loop is expected to open in 2019 and more extensions in the following years.

The metro system supplements a very effective S-train rapid transit system, and a bus network, both of which we also used during our stay.

The wonderful apartment – with modern Danish furniture - had WIFI, maps and city guides.

We first familiarized ourselves a little more with the city's history.

A Little Copenhagen History

Getting its start as a Viking fishing village in the 10th century, Copenhagen became Denmark's capital in the 15th century. With a population of over 700,000, it's also the country's largest city today.

And, it was again Christian IV, who between 1588 and 1648, was most responsible for Copenhagen's growth and building boom.

He initiated a number of building projects, including the Copenhagen Google mapStock Exchange, the Rosenborg Slot and the district of Christianshavn (see later) with canals and ramparts.

The city's fortifications, however, proved no match for the British attack in 1807 when most of the city was destroyed.

Nevertheless, after the war, and inspite of Denmark declaring bankruptcy in 1813, Copenhagen underwent a period of rebuilding and intense cultural activity, also known as the Danish Golden Age.

Nyhavn

View of Nyhavn in Copenhagen - Gamesforlanguage.comNyhavn (new harbor) was originally constructed in 1670 by Christian V, as a gateway from the sea to Kongens Nytorv (King's Square) to handle cargo and fishermen's catch.

Today with its colorful buildings, dockside cafes and restaurants looking onto classic sailing ships and pleasure boats, Nyhavn has become one of Copenhagen's top tourist spots, great for people watching or just enjoying the scenery.

Hans Christian Andersen, the famous Danish fairy tale writer lived here for over twenty years at Nyhavn, when the harbor side was still a sailor's delight.

I was especially intrigued by the sliding pedestrian/bicycle bridge ("InderInderhavnsbroen, Copenhagen - Gamesforlanguage.comhavensbroen") which spans the harbor to Christianshavn.

Having gone under many fixed and opening bridges during our canal travels in France and the Netherlands (see European Travels 3: Dutch Language and Canal Boating) I've never encountered such a design.

The bridge design is controversial to say the least. If you're interested, this article explains both the design and issues of the “Kissing Bridge”. I personally found it quite elegant and watched it open and close several times.

Hey Captain

Copenhagen Harbor and Canal Tour with Hey CaptainRight below the “Kissing Bridge” we met the boat for our harbor cruise. (We saw on the website that the departure has now moved across to the Ofelia Plads.)

Rather than touring the harbor in one of the giant Canal Tour boats, we preferred the Hey Captain option with the yacht-club-type launch and a maximum of 12 guests (and including a complimentary drink).

Maybe because it was a mid-September Monday with rain in the forecast, but our tour included only one other guest from the US. So it was quite “private”.

Captain Mathias - who works as a ski instructor in South Tyrol during the winter – spoke excellent English and skillfully took us through the harbor. The tour went through the canal along Freetown Christiana (more about that below), the Frederiksholms Kanal by the Christiansborg Palace, etc.

He interspersed his explanations of the historic sites with little gossip tidbits of the current life in Copenhagen.

From the water we had a wonderful view of many Copenhagen Opera House - Gamesforlanguage.comof the signature buildings on both sides:

The spectacular new Opera House on the Christianshavn side, (see picture), the Royal Danish Playhouse just across on the city side, the “Black Diamond” as the modern waterfront extension of the Royal Library is called. As we sailed by we indeed saw the glass facade sparkling glass like a diamond.

We really enjoyed the very informative 60 minute tour.

Palaces and Museums

After having visited several castles and palaces during our travels already, we decided to skip the Rosenborg Slot and the Amalienborg Slot, the seat of the Royal family.

As the flags were flying, we understood that the Queen was in residence and we witnessed the changing of the guard – enjoyed by school children and adults alike.

Two Museums we liked in particular:

SMK Museum, Copenhagen  Gamesforlanguage.comThe SMK (Statens Museum for Kunst), the National Gallery of Denmark, is Denmark's largest art museum and houses collections of mainly Danish (but also international) artists of the past seven centuries.

The original museum building of the 1890s has been expanded by a new addition in 1998 which holds the modern collection.

When old and modern structures are joined (see picture) not everybody likes the result. But we did.

We also visited the David Collection, a fascinating collection of Islamic, European, and Danish Art.

Housed in a building once occupied by the museum's founder, a prominent Copenhagen attorney, the extensive collection of Islamic Art is the most important one. It “encompasses exquisite decorative art from the 7th century to the mid-19th century from an area that extends from Spain in the west to China in the east, from Uzbekistan in the north to Yemen in the south.”

Bicycling and Segway

There are several ways you can do sightseeing in Copenhagen: In addition to typical bus tours, there are boat tours, kajak tours, bicycle tours and Segway tours and obviously – our preferred way, just walking.

We rented (electric) bicycles several times to explore thePracticing for Segway Tour in Copenhagen, Gamesforlanguage.com neighborhood of Frederiksberg where our apartment was located, as well as Christianshavn, (see below) and loved the ubiquitous bike paths. However, we at first shied away from doing so in the middle of the city.

Therefore we felt quite brave when we decided to sign up for a Segway tour downtown.

We had always wanted to try out a Segway and now had an opportunity to do so.

After about 15 minutes of instruction and tryout in the company's offices and on the street, our group of 12 riders assembled to follow the guide.

Through our helmet speaker, we heard his instructions and off we went onto the next bike path.

As bikers dashed by us we made our way slowly but surely through the city.

Once at the harbor promLittle Mermaid - Copenhagen- Gamesforlanguage.comenade in front of the spectacular Skuespilhuset, the Royal Danish Playhouse (see picture above), we all felt that we had mastered the most difficult part of the Segway trip.

We circled around the Amalienborg courtyard (where we had been before) and zipped through the Kastellet, one of the best preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe. Finally, we stopped at the “Lille Havfrue”, the Little Mermaid, for more pictures:

Indeed, the Little Mermaid - as both our Boat Captain as well as our Segway Tour Guide stressed - must be the world's most overrated tourist attraction from any vantage point. But we still took a picture just like everybody else!

It was amazing how much distance we covered in 90 minutes and how much information we absorbed during that time.

Christianshavn

The boat tour had taken us through Christianshaven Canal - Gamesforlanguage.comthe canals of Christianshavn and our Captain had told us various stories about this part of Copenhagen. (Our Segway Tour did not go over bridge.)

Developed in the early 17th century by Christian IV as part of the city's fortifications, and then as a merchants' town inspired by Dutch city planners, it became a working class neighborhood in the 20th Century with military housing.

In the 70s it developed a bohemian reputation and became a favorite of students, hippies and artists.

Freetown entrance - Gamesforlanguage.comWhen the military left the Christiania area, students called out the “Fristaden Christiania”. Drugs and crime became a problem in the 80s. We were told that police now stay mostly away and self-government by the resident tries to keep the peace.

While the many types of cannabis that are openly sold are technically illegal, the law is not enforced and the situation is tolerated.

We bicycled through the Freetown on a Sunday morning. A sign at the entrance proclaimed: “You are now leaving the European Union”.

Many stands that sold cannabis, colorful jewelry and clothes old ship hull in Christianawere just being set up.

By midday the area was filled with families on a stroll, joggers, bicyclists and tourists like us.

We heard some noises coming from the partial and overturned hull of an old wooded vessel, right alongside the shore of the Freetown's “marina”, and so we stopped:

A young man was busy cleaning out the inside. He was clearly stoned and explained that this was going to be his new home. He invited us to come and visit him once it was finished.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens - Gamesforlanguage.comA visit to Copenhagen wouldn't be complete without a visit to Tivoli, the famous amusement park.

Opened in 1843 by its founder Georg Carstensen, on land leased from King Christian VIII, it must have been a model for the Disney Parks over 100 years later.

We did not take any of the many offered rides on roller coasters, or other contraptions like the “Vertigo”, a looping plane ride, or the “Zamperla”, a giant swing a spinner with 4G forces, or even the newest “Fatamorgana”.

Leaving these to younger folks, we enjoyed walking around the gardens. Tivoli at night - Gamesforlanguage.comWe watched a ballet performance, listened to a concert and had a delicious dinner in one of the numerous restaurants.

In the evening, the many lights with the fireworks at the end created a magical atmosphere.

There are so many places to see and experience in Copenhagen, that even a week was not enough. You'll have to consult your travel guide to decide what to see and do.

If you have even less time than we did, this April 2018 New York Times article will give you some excellent suggestions: 36 Hours in Copenhagen

We certainly enjoyed our time in Copenhagen and Denmark.

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travels 7 - From Sylt to Zealand

Map with travel route Sylt to FynshavAfter a few days on the North Frisian island of Sylt (see also European Travels 6 – From Lüneburg to Sylt), it was time to move on and head north to Denmark and its largest island, Sjælland, or Zealand.

(We were going to fly home from Copenhagen. Our travel planning would have been greatly facilitated by a new service we just learned about: Airwander. We'll be sure to use them on our next trip with multi-day layovers or multiple flight legs!)

Readers of a previous post may recall that we had begun to learn Danish a few months earlier with Duolingo and Pimsleur Language Programs. We were, however, under no illusion that we could speak Danish fluently.

A Little Recent Danish History

Travels often inspire curiosity about a country's history. Also for us. From the historic town of Westerland on Sylt, we took the car train shuttle back to Niebüll on the German mainland.

(We also continued to really appreciate our pocket WIFI, mywebspot, which allowed us to make our ferry, B&B and hotel reservations from our car.) 

And from there, we made our way north to cross the German-Danish border. As with most other inner European borders, there are no longer any check points.

Road signs with different coloring will let you know, Border sign at German-Danish Borderin case you missed the large border sign, that you are now in Denmark.

Still, we were surprised that there were no border controls, as Denmark had reinforced its borders with Germany a few years ago to stop the inflow of illegal goods and immigrants.

Denmark applied to join the “European Economic Community” (EEC), the predecessor of the EU, in 1961, shortly after the UK had done so.

But, the veto of then President Charles de Gaulle in 1963 against the UK's membership affected Denmark as well. With the UK being Denmark's main customer for its agricultural products, Denmark did not want to join without the UK.

After more negotiations and with a new French President, both the UK and Denmark (as well as Ireland) finally joined the EEC in 1973.

Danes are somewhat “reluctant” Europeans. Denmark still uses the krone (crown) as its currency and has not accepted the euro.

Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands are probably the three countries most affected by the impending Brexit as they are still heavily dependent on trade with the UK.

However, as we learned during our trip to Denmark, there are currently no plans for Denmark to follow the UK's example.

Ferry from Fynshav to Bøjden

Fynshavn-Bøjden FerryWe slowly made our way on excellent roads through the Danish countryside toward the town of Fynshav at the Lillebaelt-Arhus Bugt.

As we didn't have any Danish kroner, we were looking for an ATM. This gave us our first opportunity to practice our Danish by asking for directions to a bank.

Ulrike was therefore quite pleased, when a woman in Augustenborg, whom she asked for directions to a bank ATM, answered in Danish.

Not surprisingly though, Ulrike also experienced the “beginner's conundrum”: When the answer came back in rapid-fire Danish, she was lost.

But she persisted. And when the woman switched to English, Ulrike just asked her to continue in Danish and to slow down.

We indeed found the bank with an ATM and now had Danish kroner.

Even though many Danes speak English, they'll love you for trying to use Danish at the start of any conversation. So before you go, learn greetings and some basic phrases. Here's a short list: (To learn how to pronounce them, try Memrise.)

  • Goddag/Hej - Good day/Hi
  • Godmorgen - Good morning
  • Vær så venlig - Please
  • Tak - Thanks
  • Ja/Nej - Yes/No
  • Undskyld mig - Excuse me (to get attention)
  • Jeg forstår ikke. - I don't understand.
  • Jeg taler ikke godt dansk. - I don't speak Danish well.
  • Taler du engelsk? - Do you speak English?
  • Farvel - Goodbye

The 45-minute ferry crossing from the town of Fynshav to Fyn (Funen), the second largest Danish island, was uneventful.

We enjoyed hearing Danish spoken all around us and tried some “Danish pastry”, which in Denmark is called "wienerbrød" (Vienna bread). Was it a Viennese pastry chef who brought pastries to Denmark?

In Bøjden (on Fyn) we found the B&B we had reserved: a Danish farmhouse which had been converted by a Dutch woman into a cozy Bed and Breakfast residence.

She recommended that we forgo a visit to Odensee, the island's largest city. Instead, she suggested that we visit the town of Faaborg, the Valdemars Slot on the island of Tåsinge in the south, and the town of Nyborg to the north.

Faaborg

Faaborg (or Fåborg), just a 15-minute drive from Bøjden, Faaborg Bell Toweris a picturesque little town of about 7,000 people.(see Bell tower)

It has an interesting history. The town celebrated its 775th anniversary in 2004 and thereby the year in which King Valdemar II gave Faaborg (and a good portion of the south of Fyn) as a wedding gift to his daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Portugal.

One of the finest buildings in town, “Plougs Gaard” was built in 1790 by Jesper Ploug, who reportedly made his fortune in shipping during the American War of Independence.

Once an important harbor for trading with Sweden and Norway and later with England and Germany, services and tourism are now the town's dominant industries.

Faarborg Marina at sun setWhile commercial and fishing traffic in the harbor have decreased, we were told that over 15,000 pleasure boats, vintage ships and yachts of all sizes visit the port each year.

There is also regular ferry service to the adjacent islands of Søby, Avernakø, Bjørnø and Lyø.

During this second week of September, there were few tourists who, like us, wandered through the narrow streets and admired the historic mansions and town houses.

We had an excellent dinner in Det Hvide Pakhus, right at the harbor and pleasure boat marina. The cheerful waitress explained that after schools start in early September tourist traffic drops off significantly.

We were surprised, however, how quickly the large restaurant filled up during the early evening hours. It's obviously popular with locals.

Valdemars Slot

Picture of Valdermars SlotThe next day, we drove to Valdemars Slot (Valdemar's castle) on the nearby island of Tåsinge.

We arrived during a rain storm. After buying our tickets in the gift shop located outside the castle, we walked up the stairs to the main doors. (see picture)

We left our raincoats and umbrella in the entrance hall and not seeing any other visitors, personnel or guards, we went ahead and followed the visit schedule outlined in the little guide book we had received.

While the outside architecture is not as impressive as some of the other Danish castles, the castle's interior provides a unique experience:

As the guide book notes:

Valdemar's Castle is a special kind of museum. The visitor will find no impeding ropes surrounding valuable objects of art and old furniture, and small things are not placed in exhibition cases. We want everything to be seen in its proper place and so – we believe – the special air and atmosphere of the house will manifest itself to the visitor. Some rooms are decorated in such a way that in spite of the years passed one might feel that the owner has just left....”

Indeed, in the various rooms recent photos of the current owners were on display. It reinforced our feeling that the owners were still living in the castle from time to time.

The guide also explains:

The castle is private property, and sole owner today is Alexander Fleming, 12th generation of the Juel dynasty, son of Caroline Fleming, born Caroline Juel-Nrockdorff, who descends in direct line from naval hero Niels Juel. Valdemar's Castle has been open to the public since 1974. It is still used as a private home by the owner and family.

If you have never heard of Niels Juel, you are not alone. Neither had we.

But the history is quite interesting:

The original castle was built in the years 1639 to 1644 by the Danish King Christian IV for his son, Count Valdemar Christian (thus the name!) However, Valdemar never lived in the castle. Seeking adventure abroad, he died on the battlefield in Poland in 1656.

During the war with Sweden (1657-60), the castle was occupied and badly damaged. When Admiral Niels Juel defeated the Swedish in the famous sea battle in the Bay of Køge, he also captured a large number of Swedish ships. This entitled him to one-tenth of the value of the ships – an amount the Danish King was unable to pay to his Admiral.

Instead, the Danish King handed over the crown lands of Tåsinge, including the castle, to Niels Juel. The Admiral not only substantially renovated the castle, but added gatehouses, the coach and stable wings and a graceful tea pavilion at the end of an artificial pond. The aerial photo shows it all.

We enjoyed a leisurely walk through the many open rooms, The King's Room with many portraits of the Danish kings, the Empress Room, named after the beautiful portrait of Empress Eugenie of France, the bedrooms, guestrooms, and others. It was also interesting to see the photos of current family members and royal visitors.

What was especially notable was the lack of any guards (though there were cameras).

While we were walking through the various rooms, over old wood floors and antique carpets, we suddenly noticed that other visitors were wearing blue protective covers over their shoes. We realized we had missed the sign and the bin with the covers in our eagerness to start the tour.

But nobody had stopped or admonished us, Aerial View of Valdemar's Castleso we quickly corrected our oversight.

We visited Valdemars Slot on a rainy weekday and saw few other visitors. But on better days, the castle also seems to attract families who can rent bikes, Segways, kayaks, or go to the nearby beach.

As we toured the castle and learned about the Danish monarchy, we also became aware of a Danish curiosity:

Beginning in the 16th century, after Christian II was deposed in 1523, all Danish kings were named either Frederick or Christian – until 1972, when for the first time a woman, Margrethe II, daughter of King Frederick IX, became Queen.

Nyborg

Nyborg castle across pondOur next stop was Nyborg, which is located on the east side of Fyn. 

Nyborg, today a town of about 16,000 inhabitants, housed the “Danehoffet”, the country's legislative and judicial assembly from 1183 to 1413.

In the 17th century, Nyborg was one of only three fortified towns in Denmark (together with Frederica and Copenhagen).

Nyborg Castle is considered one of the most important heritage monuments from Denmark's Middle Ages. It currently is being restored and more information about the project can be found HERE. Nyborg medieval weekend with archers

We toured the museum and found ourselves carried back in time.

A lively market in the middle of town with Danish folk musicians on Saturday morning started a medieval weekend with archers and jousting. (see picture)

We also visited the Nyborg's Historical Museum, which encloses the Borgmestergåarden (Mayor's Yard) with its distinctive red painted half-timbered buildings.

Walking on the uneven floors of this well-preserved merchant house, we felt we were back in the 17th century. In one of the workshops we watched a blacksmith at his trade.

The Storebaelt Bridge

Suspension bridges have always fascinated me. The Great Belt Bridge from the air

So, I was excited when a few days later, we crossed from Fyn to the island of Zealand (Sjaelland) on the Storebaelt Bridge (the Great Belt Bridge).

With a main span of 1,624 meters (5,328 feet), its the world's third-longest suspension bridge.

Only the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan with 1,991 meters and the Xihoumen Bridge in China with 1,650 meters are longer.

The total distance between the two islands and length of the bridge is about 18 km or 11 miles, and we were driving across on a beautiful blue-sky September day.

The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde

Map Nyborg to RoskildeOnce across the Great Belt Bridge, we were on the island of Zealand, the largest Danish Island.

It didn't take us much more than an hour to reach Roskilde.

During a Hurtigruten cruise along the Norwegian coastline a few years ago, we had learned much about the Vikings.

While one often associates Norwegians (and Swedes) with the Vikings, the Danes were certainly a key member of the Viking's Scandinavian homeland.

We visited the wonderful Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, just when one of the Viking longboats returned from an outing. (see picture) Roskilde's Viking Museum: Longboat

The museum owns five “Skuldelev” which were built in the museum's workshop with copies of Viking age tools and corresponding materials and techniques.

The reconstructions are based on hull shapes of ships that have been found but the museum also cautions that they are not “definitive truths”. They represent “suggestions on how the ships may have looked 1,000 years ago.”

We only regret that we didn't have the opportunity to join one of those Viking ship's outings.

Now a business and educational center with a population of about 50,000 people, Roskilde then was the hub of the Viking land and sea routes 1,000 years ago. And, from the 11th to the 15th century it was the country's capital.

In late afternoon, we lingered at a café on the grand square of Roskilde and soaked up the atmosphere of this historic town.

There were more sights to explore on Zealand before heading to Copenhagen, but we'll report about them in a future post.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

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