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.

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 Ulrike Rettig

Italian Travel Memories 2: Marco in Florence

View of Florence and Veccio bridgeIf you're traveling to Italy, you won't want to miss Florence. Exploring this romantic and historic university town will leave you with some wonderful travel memories.

Our first ItalianTravel Memories post covered Pisa, where Marco, the young traveler in our Italian 1 course, visits his aunt and uncle. He then takes the train to Florence where he looks up a friend he met back home. At his friend's place he meets two other students who join him on his walk through the historic center of Florence.

We'll follow Marco's explorations of Florence. For those of you who are doing or have done our Italian 1 course: Marco in Italia, the additional details will complement those of the course.

The Travel Memories blog posts tell you a few interesting facts about the cities that are featured in GamesforLanguage's travel-story courses. We typically use the cities' names of the streets, hotels, squares, restaurants, etc. and we've been to many of them ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide more details of the other two Italian cities Marco visits, Venice and Rome. And we'll do the same for the cities that our other travelers visit in France, Spain, Germany and the U.S.

In our travel-story course you learn everyday conversational language. In this post, we've listed some additional basic words and phrases in Italian that you may encounter in your travels.

Quick Florence History

The city of Florence (Firenze), considered the birthplace of the Renaissance,Map of Italy and Tuscany  region is the capital of Tuscany (Toscana), one of Italy's 20 regions. It lies in central Italy, about 2 1/2 hours north of Rome by train.

The most populous city in Tuscany, Florence was named a Metropolitan City (città metropolitana) in 2015. This includes the city itself and the large urban sprawl around it.

Early Florence was a Roman city, established in 59 BC by Julius Ceasar as a place to settle his veteran soldiers. Because of its position at the confluence of rivers (the Arno and its tributaries Murgone, Ema, and Greve), this outpost was first named Fluentia. But the name was later changed to Florentia ("flowering").

In the early Middle Ages, Florence was a city state. It had a flourishing textile industry and developed into an important international trade and finance center.

The Medici family held power in Florence for three centuries (from 1434 to 1737). They were bankers to the pope and great patrons of the arts. Lorenzo die Medici 1449-1492 for example, was a poet as well as a statesman, and commissioned works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci.

From 1737 to 1859, a number of foreign powers governed Florence (the Austrian House of Lorraine, the Italian House of Bourbon-Parma, Napoleonic France). Then in 1861, Tuscany became a region of the Kingdom of Italy. For six years, Florence was its capital.

Italian Unification (or Risorgimento) was a complicated process that lasted from 1815 to 1871, when Rome finally became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. After unification, the state adopted Italian as the official language.

Standard Italian is based on the Tuscan dialect, which was a literary language spoken by the upper class of Florentine society.

Florence is a beautiful city to discover on foot. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing numerous monuments, art museums and architectural treasures.

Marco's Arrival in Florence

Florence Santa Maria Novella Train StationThe trip from Pisa to Florence takes Marco around an hour by train. He arrives at the Santa Maria Novella Train station in the center of Florence. (see picture)

From there, it takes him ten minutes on foot to arrive at Via Montebello 52, where his friend lives. His place is in the historic center of town (Quartiere 1).

The other four administrative boroughs (quartieri) of Florence lie in a ring around the historic center.

Nearby is the Arno River, which runs through the old part of the city. The best known of the five bridges that cross the Arno is Ponte Vecchio with its gold and jewelry shops.View of Ponte Vecchio and Arno River

  • il tren - the train
  • la stazione ferroviaria - the train station
  • la via - the road, street
  • il quartiere - the district, part of town
  • il centro storico - the historic center
  • il fiume - the river
  • il ponte vecchio - the old bridge

Palazzo Ricasoli and James Fenimore Cooper

Palazzo Ricasoli Hotel in FirenzeOn a walk through the historic district, his friends show Marco the Palazzo Ricasoli, where the popular American writer, James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) lived during his nine-month stay in Florence in 1829. (The Palazzo is now a hotel right in the center of town, where you can stay, see picture.)

Fenimore Cooper's most famous novel, "The last of the Mohicans", was written in 1826. He's also known for a series of adventure stories called the Leatherstocking Tales.

Reportedly, Fenimore Cooper loved the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Florence. He met and socialized with emigrés from various countries and became a kind of celebrity with travelers on the Grand Tour and with American expatriates.

  • la passeggiata - the walk
  • il soggiorno - the stay, temporary residence
  • il palazzo - the building, palace
  • il scrittore - the writer
  • il romanzo - the novel
  • il emigrato - the emigrant
  • il viaggiatore - the traveler

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio in FlorenceNext, Marco and his friends walk past the Piazza della Signoria and the famous "Palazzo Vecchio" (Old Palace). The palazzo has a long and interesting history.

Construction on the building started in 1299. During the centuries the palazzo was used for various purposes, including a prison. Since 1872 it has served as Florence's City Hall. A replica of Michelangelo's David stands near the entrance.

A tour of the Palazzio Vecchio takes you through several courtyards, Roman ruins, a Medieval fortress with secret routes, beautifully decorated Renaissance chambers, and more.

  • la piazza - the square
  • la prigione - the prison
  • il comune - the city hall
  • la entrata - the entrance
  • le rovine - the ruins
  • la fortezza - the fortress

Piazziale Michelangelo

Finally, Marco and his friends take a 15-minute bus ride to Piazziale Michelangelo, a large square in the Oltrarno (beyond the Arno) district of Florence. From that piazziale (large square) one has a stunning panoramic view of the city.

Marco's Next Stop

From Florence, Michael takes an Intercity train to Venice. There he stays in a hotel he had booked on the recommendation of his friends. To get to the hotel, he has to take the "vaporetto", or water bus. In Venice he meets up with Claudia, one of the students he met in Florence.

Have you been to Florence and want to share some of your suggestions and travel memories? It would be great to hear from you!

Register, or log in again and continue with the Italian 1 course.

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.

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 Peter Rettig with Yogi and Sucha

The Essentials for Backpacking in Europe

Young backpacking taveler in ParisAs our readers know, we typically like to stay in a city for more than a few days, as we did last fall in Copenhagen. We still travel with little luggage, but now mostly with rolling carry-ons.

Recently our sons reminisced about their backpacking days, when they crisscrossed Europe during one long fall after college.

They both had backpacks. When they met their friend Chris at the airport, they were surprised however, by his large rolling suitcase. (Memories differ as to whether it was the friend or his mother who had felt that a backpack could not hold all his “essentials”.)

In any case, they all three still chuckle how Chris lugged his suitcase through the cobble-stoned streets of Munich, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, etc. being embarrassed by the noise and by not looking cool.

So when Yogi and Suchna of The Backpacker Co. suggested a post about backpacking in Europe, we thought that their experience could be helpful to our younger readers.

Find out what Yogi and Suchna consider the “Essentials for Backpacking in Europe” below:

All set for your European trip? If yes, you've probably arranged your backpacking items laid aout items lodgings for the first few nights and may have sipped a few “going away drinks“ with your friends. But understandably, you may still be agonizing about what to pack!

Believe me, figuring out the perfect backpacking list is a daunting task indeed, especially if you're doing it for the first time. Quite a few first-timers make the mistake of carrying too much gear and that makes their travel tiresome. It's difficult for them to keep track of their belongings and it can leave them at the mercy of thieves as well!

But don't worry! Our tips regarding essentials for backpacking in Europe will guide you through this stressful time and will help you decide what type of things you should carry and how to pack light.

Travel light

Our most important tip is to ensure that you travel light. Nothing will make your travels more uncomfortable than having to carry an incredibly heavy backpack along winding streets in Europe. We would recommend that you keep the weight of your backpack ideally under 10 kilos (or 22 lbs) or at the most, under 15 kilos (or 33 lbs).

Besides, if the weight of your luggage is over 10 kg (roughly, 22 lbs), you may run the risk of exceeding the weight limit set in budget airlines such as RyanAir.

  • You'll surely acknowledge that your clothes make up most of the weight in your backpack. If you can, stop yourself from buying too many things as most inexperienced travelers do. Just remember that it makes little difference whether you pack for a fortnight or for a couple of months. You'll be able to do laundry almost every week of your stay in Europe.
  • Think of dressing in layers rather than carrying a few bulky coats. A combo of thermal inside base, full-sleeve shirt or T-shirt, sweater or fleece jacket is a much better option. You can add or subtract layers as needed.
  • As a backpacker, there will invariably be limited space in your travel bag. So, don't carry an outfit you're going to wear only once, no matter how fashionable it may look. Carry some simple clothes that will make you look good when worn together and which are appropriate for multiple uses.

backpack with compartmentsPack your backpack to maximize space

How you actually keep your belongings inside your backpack is another important thing to consider.

You may think of a number of techniques to maximize the space inside your bag, such as rolling your clothes, keeping undies in your shoes, stuffing your socks etc.

Backpacks with compartments or use of packing cubes is an excellent idea to remain organized and save space at the same time. These are durable yet lightweight and are good companions for any traveler.

It will take some experimentation until you find the best way to pack all that you want to take with you. And that often requires some hard choices.

Tips for Backpacking in Europe

Clothing

Socks and undies
  • Consider carrying good quality and comfortable ones as you'll be wearing these close to your skin.
  • You'll probably need to do a lot of walking and thus will sweat a lot. Buy moisture–wicking socks, which will keep your feet dry and save you from blisters.
  • Get socks and undies that dry overnight.
Shirts /tops
  • Avoid those that need high maintenance.Backpacker hiking uo a rocky mountain
  • Get dark-colored ones, as most Europeans prefer these and thus will help you blend in well with the locals. Also, they'll hide stains better.
  • Choose wrinkle-free fabrics.
  • Go for the easily washable ones.
  • Pack casual yet versatile ones that would go equally well when you visit churches, cafes, museums or bars.
Pants
  • Dark-colored jeans will match well with almost everything. Also, you can wear them without washing them too often.
  • You could opt for light-weight chinos in case you're not accustomed to wearing heavier denim.
  • It's not very common for European adults to wear shorts. Avoid wearing these if you want to blend in better with locals and don’t want to be pegged as a stereotypical American tourist.
Shoes  

While traveling in Europe, you're bound to be on your feet quite a lot. It's thus imperative to have a sturdy, yet comfortable pair of shoes for sightseeing.

  • If hiking is part of your agenda, make sure to take along hiking shoes with water-proof and all-terrain soles.
  • If you want to go to beaches, rubber flip flops will do the job for you.
  • If you're in Europe in spring and summer, a pair of sturdy walking sandals will do a world of good as you won't have sore feet even after walking all day long.

marketplace in EuropeElectronics

  • Europe has a lot to offer. Make sure to carry plenty of extra memory cards for your digital camera.
  • Have your phone unlocked to make it compatible with any European SIM cards.
  • Carry universal plug adapters for all European countries.

Miscellaneous

  • Microfibre towels
  • Small first-aid kit
  • Wet wipes
  • Keychain flashlight
  • Small notebook
  • Swiss Army knife (if you don't check your backpack check with your airline)

A backpacking list for Europe never seems to be complete. We have simply tried to list the things you just cannot afford to travel without.

Enjoy your travels in Europe!

Bio: Yogi and Suchna believe in taking the road less travelled and stumbling upon some hidden gems along the way! For over a decade, they've mapped their way across various continents, sniffed out unusual routes, discovered new flavours and stayed at quirky hostels. TheBackpackerCo is their expression of soul travel. You can catch up with them at The Backpacker Co - Backpacking Through Western Europe.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com and I have no business relationship with The Backpacker Co or Yogi and Suchna other than publishing what they consider the "Essentials for Backpacking in Europe".  See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

Posted on by Lysha Rohan and Peter Rettig

Short Stay Apartments are Always a Great Option

Short Stay Apartment sample - PixabayIn our last post we briefly mentioned that we had stayed in a wonderful apartment during our visit to Copenhagen.  (picture left)

We've said in previous posts that we prefer to rent an apartment whenever we stay longer than a few days in a city.

We did so in Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, London, Stockholm, Seville and Madrid, all cities that a worth exploring for more than a day or two.

So when Lysha contacted us to write a post about short stay apartments, we thought it might interest readers who are considering this option.

Lysha emphasizes the many advantages short stay apartments have over hotels - and we agree and like those as well. We would be amiss, however, not to also mention a few drawbacks we have encountered ourselves in the past.

Depending from whom you rent the short stay apartment, from an individual owner, a real estate company, online sites such as VRBO, WIMDU or Airbnb (all of which we have used in the past), how to get the keys to the apartment is often the major coordination challenge right at the beginning. Different from a hotel, there is typically no receptionist. That means you have to make your arrangements beforehand for access to the apartment.

Due diligence is especially required when renting from individuals, who require a deposit. Many online sites provide guarantees or offer cancellation options.

Apartments can also differ greatly in accessibility (e.g. no elevator to get to fourth floor), furnishings and equipment (e.g. kitchen utensils and cook ware), cleanliness, etc.

In general, you get what you pay for. Online sites today provide pictures and lists of the major amenities. Nevertheless, you would do well to confirm that those which important to you are indeed there.

During one of our stays in Rome, more than ten years ago, we were in contact with the apartment owner, who confirmed that "internet access was available".

However when we got there, we realized that a modem and router were installed in the upstairs apartment that he also owned, but not in ours. "Internet available" clearly meant something else to this owner.

It took us several days of insistence and follow-up phone calls to get some action. Finally, I helped the owner drill through thick masonry walls and sneak a cable from upstairs to our apartment. (This was before WIFI became popular.)

In spite of that and other "adventures" we've been very happy with our short stay apartments so far. We have already reserved one for our next European stay in Prague later this year.

Lysha's take on Short Stay Apartments

Short Stay Apartment sample - PixabayShort stay apartments, otherwise known as ‘service apartments’ are a great accommodation option for all kinds of travelers. Cities, in general, are filled with such short stay apartments. (see example right)

As a traveler, you have so many options to choose from that you're sure to find one that fits your budget.

Travelers today have a lot more options to choose from than those who followed this passion years ago. They are faced with making choices everywhere: type of trip, lodging, food, gadgets, clothing, etc.

Thus, decision making has become all the more important now. In order to make the right decisions, one needs to have access to correct and helpful information. This article focuses on the benefits of using short stay apartment for travel.

Short stay apartments are a great accommodation option, especially for certain destinations. A stay in an apartment is different from staying in a hotel. Here are the main differences that I see:

Short Stay Apartments

Hotels

1. Offer a greater degree of privacy.

Because of the hustle and bustle that hotels generate, privacy is somewhat compromised.

2. Prove to be more economical.

Because of the services offered, they are often more expensive.

What is a short stay apartment and what can you expect when you stay in one?

  • Short stay apartments are designed for people who are looking for accommodation for short periods of time.
  • Generally speaking, the rates are fixed on a weekly or monthly basis and are sometimes negotiable, depending on the apartment.
  • Short stay apartments, just like hotels, offer different types of rooms. Most such apartments have a single room or a double room. But you can also find studio apartments with kitchen or apartments with multiple bedrooms (2+). These obviously work well for families.
  • Most service apartments have the basic amenities that travelers consider to be a must. In particular, you can expect to find Wi-Fi services, equipped kitchens, TV sets, laundry facilities and security services. Some also offer other more hotel like amenities, such as housekeeping, room service etc.

Obviously, short stay apartments don't work for travelers who insist on hopping from city to city. But they are ideal for "slow travel". Spending a week, a fortnight or even a month in a place allows you to soak up the local atmosphere, learn the language a little, and explore the city on foot or by bike.

Here are the reasons why many "slow" travelers choose short stay apartments for their lodging.

1. EconomicalPiggy Bank - yellow - pixabay.com

The right kind of short stay apartment can be quite economical and give you good value for your money.

Such apartments are generally less expensive than hotels that provide services which you don't need or offer amenities you don't use, such as swimming pools, tennis, exercise rooms, etc.

Therefore, by choosing to stay in such apartments, travelers can save on lodging expenses. That money they can then spend on experiencing other interesting things or exploring an additional city!

2. Privacy

Hands with keys - PixabayPrivacy is another reason why short stay apartments are gaining popularity with travelers, especially those of the younger generation.

You'll not find a reception area or anything of that sort in these apartments, which means that no one keeps an eye on your movements.

For the time that you occupy the room, you can expect to come and go as you wish. But it also means that you have to make arrangements with someone ahead of time to get your key, etc.

3. Amenities

kitchen utensilsShort stay apartments offer most of the basic amenities that a traveler would need. And unlike in hotels, these amenities are typically available at no additional cost.

They normally include Wi-Fi, refrigerator, electric kettle, coffee maker, toaster, cookware, access to washer and dryer, etc.

4. Homey Environmentwarm and cozy: popcorn in front of fireplace  Pixabay

If you're looking for a homey environment when you travel, a homestay would probably be your best option.

But short stay apartments rank a close second. That is because you can come and go freely and have access to the kind of amenities you enjoy at home.

You are free to prepare breakfast, cook for yourself, make your own bed, do your own laundry and stay comfortably in privacy, just like you do back at home. Being able to do all this can surely add to the enjoyment of your travels.

5. Flexibility in Stay

Flexibility is another great feature of short stay apartments. Although the name implies that these apartments can be booked only for short periods of time, in reality, that’s not how it works.

Such apartments have been designed to meet short-term needs but when necessary, one can often extend one’s stay somewhat, or even arrange to stay for longer periods of time.

6. Spacious

Most short stay apartments offer rooms that are more spacious than an average hotel room.

And let’s face it, with all the travel gear along you don't want a cramped room. Having more space makes people happier, more comfortable and more relaxed.

In all, there are a lot of reasons why short stay apartments are a great lodging option for travelers. The apartments are perfect for business as well as vacation travelers. They are usually located in many parts of the city, so that more often than not you can find an apartment in the location of your choice.

To get a perfect stay for your trip, you'll have to be clear about your priorities. If you’re looking for a luxurious stay then you may want to consider other lodging options. However, if you're on a budget and want to spend most of your money on meaningful experiences, you can comfortably stay at a short stay apartment.

If you’re taking a business trip for an extended period of time and don’t want to spend unnecessarily on your stay, consider living in a short stay apartment.

It’s not just another lodging option for you, but can prove to be a home away from home!

Author’s Bio: Lysha works at Lalco Residency - Apartments In Mumbai For Short Stay and she loves her job. Helping clients and monitoring the progress of business strategies along with her leadership skills makes her perfect suit for Hospitality services. You can catch up with Lysha at Lalco Residency in Mumbai.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com and I have no business relationship with Lysha, Lalco Residency other than publishing Lysha's post, nor with the sites mentioned above: VRBO, WIMDU or Airbnb, other than having used and paid for their services in the past. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for further details.

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.

Posted on by Saumya Tiwari

The Best Ways to Experience the Northern Lights

northern-lights-aurora-borealisSeveral years ago we experienced the Northern Lights when we visited Norway in September. We took a Hurtigruten Ferry from Bergen to Kirkenes.

Our ship, Kong Harald, stopped at various towns along the way, including Ålesund, Trondheim, Tromsø, to finally reach Kirkenes, a town right on the Russian border.

When we crossed the Arctic Circle, we all got a handful of ice down our backs as a gesture of respect to Neptune.

That night, the sky lit up with a beautiful play of northern lights.

It was Galileo Galilei who coined the term "Aurora Borealis" in 1619 after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning.

While he was wrong that sunlight reflected from the atmosphere would cause the streaks of light, the term, or a slight variation of the Latin original, is still used in Romance languages:

Italian: aurora boreale
Spanish: aurora boreal 
French: aurore boréale
Portuguese: aurora boreal

"Northern lights", the more descriptive term, is used in Germanic languages (which includes English).

The Finnish word "revontulet" means "fox's fires" and goes back to the Finnish legend that the northern lights are a reflection of the fox's fur.

What causes the Northern Lights?

Northern lights (there are also "Southern lights") develop when electrically charged particles from the sun - a "solar wind" collide with the gases contained in the earth's atmosphere, especially nitrogen and oxygen.

A good and more detailed description of Auroras can be found in this article of Space.com: Aurora Borealis: What Causes the Northern Lights & Where to See Them.

Some of you would also like to experience these spectacular displays of nature, perhaps.

We are therefore happy that Saumya Tiwari describes seven options for you below:

Where to Find Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights are one of the biggest attractions in Northern Europe.

It is natural to regard them as a significant nature’s wonder.

People from around the globe flock to see their glory and beauty from August to March every year depending on the place you’re visiting to witness them.

Also known as Aurora Borealis or the polar lights, this scientific miracle is, if not one of the seven wonders of the world, definitely the eighth.

There are several ways to experience the Northern Lights and bask in the surreal beauty of that region. Let’s dive right in and check out some of the best ways to witness the Northern Lights this year to get a complete experience!

1. Swedish Ice Hotel

The Swedish Ice Hotel is an attractionSwedish Ice Hotel Entrance in itself and a mark of great man-made excellence.

It is constructed every year from scratch and is open for guests from mid-December till March end.

The itinerary of the several tours and trips offered by the hotel also includes a trip to the Aurora Zone to witness this unbelievable spectacle. (picture Source)

In Swedish, "northern lights" is "norrsken".

2. Canadian Snowmobiling

Snow mobiles in Canadian forestAnother way to experience the Northern Lights is by traveling to the Northwest Territories and finding some warmth in the frozen landscapes there.

Between the months of December and April, you can go on a snowmobiling voyage across the Great Slave Lake that is totally frozen during these months. You can rent a remote cabin to see the polar lights from there.

You can also arrive at the Blatchford Lake Lodge by a quick 30-minute seaplane ride to enjoy several activities like ice-fishing and snowshoeing in addition to watching the Northern Lights. (Picture Source)

3. City Tour in Iceland

Iceland has a bustling and busy city life that Reykjavik at nightpresents a lot of exploration opportunities for the tourists.

You can take a package trip to Reykjavik that accommodates you in a four-star hotel. This package includes the Northern Lights.

The hotel takes the guests out on an excursion to witness the Aurora in a super jeep. This natural display can be witnessed by this way between October 1 and April 8. (picture Source)   

In Icelandic, "northern lights" is "nor∂urljós".

4. Norwegian Voyage

Northern light above Hurtigruten shipHow would you feel about not just witnessing the Northern Lights but also learning all there is to know about it?

Hurtigruten, who is a Scandinavian cruise specialist takes you on an Astronomical Voyage of 12 days along with a writer and physicist.

This cruise offers a total of six departures in the months of winter and includes at least four ports of call.

This Scandinavian cruise specialist promises a week-long complimentary voyage if, for some reason, the guests are unable to witness the Northern Lights. (Picture Source)   

In Norwegian, "northern lights" is "nordlys".

5. Greenland Husky Safari

Everyone has heard of the fantastic Siberian Huskies.Husky Safari

Regent Holidays offer a Dog Sledding Expedition from Reykjavik to Greenland for a trip of 11 days.

The entire trip takes place on dog sleds from South-Eastern Greenland, particularly Tasiilaq. Dog handlers or native mushers accompany you to ensure an uneventful and safe journey through the snowy landscapes.

Your 5-day stay there promises you plenty of opportunities to experience the Northern Lights. You can stay in remote and beautiful mountain huts in the middle of nature.

However, this particular voyage would require you to possess a certain level of stamina and physical fitness.(Picture Source)

6. Igloo

Finnland Iglo villageHow romantic would it be to witness the Northern Lights through a glass-roofed igloo?

This would literally entail sleeping under the starry lights to witness one of the biggest scientific marvels on earth.

You get to stay in Finnish Lapland which is a beauty in itself at Kakslauttanen. It’s a 3-day trip so again; there are several chances to see the Northern Lights. You can choose your preferred style of igloos above the Arctic Circle.

All igloos have a thermal and clear glass domed ceiling. They are also thermally insulated for a cozy and serene stay.

They sleep up to six and also offer a very private sauna and open log fires. You will be equipped with all the warmth you will need in there. You can choose to avail this tour from early November to early April. (Picture Source)

In Finnish, "northern lights" is "revontulet".

7. Up in The Sky

How would you like to watch the Northern Lights Northern Lights from airplane windowup in the sky at 40,000 ft.? Aurora Flights UK offers a 3-hour flight from London and other regional airports to view the Northern Lights.

This trip can be pre-booked from early November until late March. This is an excellent way to view the Northern Lights as it also offers the maximum visibility.

You can even enjoy snacks and astronomers onboard to guide you along the way. (Picture Source)

Parting thoughts

Regardless of the way, it is an indisputable fact that Northern Lights are nothing short of a marvel that must be witnessed at least once in a lifetime. Choosing any one of these ways will give you an ultimate Northern Lights experience.

Author’s Bio: Saumya works at The Villa Escape - Norway Northern Lights Tour From India as editor. She is a 20-something fun loving and ambitious female who loves traveling and loves to share her traveling experiences. She loves solo travel trips. If not traveling you can find her behind her laptop playing games.

Disclosure: Gamesforlanguage.com has no business relationship with thevillaescape.com or Saumya Tiwari other than publishing Saumya's article.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Why Travel is a Great Language Motivator

travel books as language motivator- Gamesforlanguage.comTraveling can be a great motivator for learning a new language.

As you're making your travel plans, don't forget the language(s) you may encounter.

Obviously this does not work so well for trips such as “Europe: 6 Countries in 7 Days” or similar offerings.

But if your plans include a stay of a couple of weeks or so in one city, or even in one country, learning at least the basics of the local language should be part of your preparations.

(As readers of previous posts will know,  after our [first] retirement we enjoyed longer stays in several European cities and countries, see also Learning Spanish..)

Our three-week trip to Denmark in 2017 motivated us to learn Danish with Duolingo and Pimsleur. (We'll report about our experiences with Danish in a future post.)

Did You Learn a Language in School?

Learning a language in school is a very different experience from learning one outside of the classroom.

What is a "school subject" on the one hand, becomes a "hobby" when you're no longer in school. It becomes a way of trying new things and discovering new places.

A school subject includes daily homework exercises, classroom lectures and drills, tests, exams, and grades. And who likes to be called on in class? All that can be a chore and may well put a damper on your enthusiasm.

On the other hand, learning a language as a "hobby" puts you in charge of your own learning. It's an adventure. Not only do you learn new skills, you explore other cultures and make new friends. Language learning can be a perfect tool for self-discovery and self-development.

And, who knows what new doors a second language will open in your work life, or even in your planning for retirement?!

A Motivator: Your Imagination!

If you drop the "school-subject mindset", learning a View of Nyhavn in Copenhagen - Gamesforlanguage.comlanguage can be a fresh and fun experience. One way to do this is to tie language learning to planning a trip.

Often, as we plan and organize a trip, we anticipate being there. 

We imagine touring the Reichstag Dome in Berlin; enjoying a caffè macchiato in Trastevere, Rome; strolling through the Marché Mouffetard in Paris; taking a night tour of the Alhambra, in Granada.

Or as we did before our trip through Denmark: picturing ourselves strolling through the streets of Copenhagen, ordering an "øl" in one of the harbor-side bistros on Nyhavn (picture), exploring the Hamlet castle in Helsingør.

We made your imagination the motivator for learning Danish!

In Visitors' Shoes in the US

Language Motivator:bLiberty Statue by Charles DeluvioWhat does knowing the local language matter?

Imagine yourself coming to the US without knowing any English.

You would certainly experience the country and its people as a tourist, from the outside.

Imagine having to ask everyone, every time: Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Parlez-vous français? Parla italiano? Or, Habla español?

If you stayed a little longer, you would of course pick up a few words.

But if you had learned some basic English phrases ahead of your trip, your interactions with us locals would be more meaningful. I bet you'd enjoy your stay so much more.

It's the same for us when we travel abroad.

The better we speak the local language, the more deeply we experience the place and its people.

Being able to communicate allows us to go off the beaten track and feel confident about doing so.

We try to go with the idea that not everyone speaks English. It's something we actually have found to be true in many cases, especially if you venture off the beaten track.

The Beginner's Conundrum

However, in countries like Denmark where nearly everybody speaks English, it is often hard to practice your new language: Danish people switch immediately to English when your Danish does not seem to be authentic.

I (Ulrike) was therefore quite pleased, when a woman in a small town, whom I asked (in Danish) for directions to a bank ATM, answered in Danish.

However, I also experienced the “Beginner's Conundrum”: When her answer came back in rapid fire Danish, I was lost.

She switched to English, but I just asked her to continue in Danish and to slow down.

We indeed found the Bank with an ATM and could replenish our travel funds.

And if you wonder why we don't like to use an ATM at night or not connected to a bank, read about our experience in Seville, Spain: 5 Tips for Dealing with ATM Troubles Abroad (and at Home).

That early success encouraged us to use our Danish as much as we could: when ordering food, buying tickets, asking for information, etc.

Why Learn Danish at all?

Why did we persist, even though English is so widely spoken and Danes themselves tell us not to learn Danish because it's too difficult. Yes, why?

When you're in another country, you're in a totally new environment. Everything's different, the way people interact, the look of the countryside, the bustle of the towns, the taste of the food, and obviously, the sound of the language.

By using the local language, you're no longer experiencing the country just from the outside.

So, if you have a travel destination on your bucket list, add learning the language to your preparations. Give yourself, let's say three months, like we did with Danish. And then see how much of the language you can acquire in that time.

Use whatever resources you enjoy (flashcards, songs, films with subtitles, etc.) and just keep going, a little bit every day. As an added benefit, you'll sharpen your memory and train your ear.

And when you arrive in the country you're visiting, challenge yourself to speak up whenever you can! Try to experience your visit as a mini-immersion.

Peter's Confession

I have to confess that I have developed a love-hate relationship with Danish.

Even though Danish is a Germanic language and there are many words I can decipher when I READ them, I'm still a long way from SPEAKING Danish, or rather – pronouncing it correctly.

Why is that?

It's because Danish spelling is not phonetic in many cases: Not only are many endings not pronounced at all, but certain vowel and consonant combinations produce very unfamiliar sounds, at least to my German ear.

Examples of pronunciation as I hear them:

  • jeg (I) - <yigh>
  • mad (food) - <melth> and spelled differently but sounding very similar to
  • meget (much) - <melth>
  • det er ikke nogen (there isn't anything) - <de ehr igge noarn>

Nevertheless, I am continuing with Danish using Pimsleur, Duolingo and Memrise lessons at the moment, and hope to be able to listen soon to some LingQ mini-stories. (as Ulrike is already doing).

The Pimsleur audio course for Danish lets me focus more on listening and pronunciation, without getting confused by the non-phonetic spelling.

Why am I continuing with Danish when our travels are behind us?

Because I want to figure out at least the most common Danish pronunciation rules and I won't stop until I do.

What started out simply as preparation for a trip to Denmark now has become a personal challenge as well as a way to keep my brain sharp.

And what keeps motivating me to continue are my memories of our wonderful trip - and my determination to figure out the Danish pronunciation rules.

I'll keep you updated about my success (or failure)!

So, pick a travel destination and, yes, jump into your new language. This too is an exciting adventure.

Do it with enthusiasm and with imagination, and find your motivation to stick with it. Then go there and speak up!

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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

 

1 2 3 4 5 .. 12   > >