Hello from Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas ship! We are at sea today and we have already visited Kotor in Montenegro; Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos in Greece; and Kusadasi and Bodrum in Turkey. Tomorrow we have a stop in Split, Croatia, and Friday morning we will be back in Venice, Italy. I have plenty of photos and realia to upload when I get back home. Here are a few iPod pics of the ports:
Slovenia is lovely! We are staying in Portoroz and walked to Piran this afternoon. The weather is gorgeous and the scenery is beautiful. I’d like to spend more time here but we have to go to Italy tomorrow to get on our Greek isles & Turkey cruise. This is the last day I’ll have free wifi so I may not update the blog again until I return home – though I also have my Kindle with 3G with me so I will be able to update Twitter.
This is the first time I am posting to the blog using my iPod and the WordPress app so I hope it works correctly!
It’s vacation time! I will be traveling through Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Greece and Turkey for the next two weeks. I won’t have much (cheap/free) internet access after Sunday so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to update the blog while I’m gone and I will be even further behind on replying to e-mails. (Sorry!) I will be back with lots of photos, realia and travel tips in June.
In the meantime, don’t forget to vote for Jennie en France as your favorite Language Learning blog in the Top 100 Language Lovers 2011 competition at Lexiophiles. Voting ends May 29 at 5:59 PM EST. Thank you!
Here are just a few of the places I’ll be:
All photos from Wikimedia Commons
Some interesting articles and websites on foreign languages and traveling that I’ve come across in the past week or two:
- In Troubled Spain, Boom Times for Foreign Languages: more Spaniards learning languages in order to find jobs abroad
- Scandinavians Rule, Russians Low in English Language Skills: ranking the proficiency of English among 44 countries and territories where English is not the native language, by EF Education First
- BBC’s Foreign Language Services have been sacrificed to budget cuts: a “profound loss for Britain”
- Break down the language barriers: expat Anthea Rowan on the many benefits of learning a new language
- Being Bilingual May Boost Your Brain Power: bilinguals have known this for a long time!
- Why We Travel: an argument for travel during turbulent times
- Global Entry: expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States ($100, valid for 5 years)
- Chip and PIN Cash Passport: travel in Europe easier thanks to chip-enabled cards (available in euros or British pounds) which are the norm outside of North America
- Single visa to boost ease of travel within Asia?: it will be a few years before this becomes reality, but it sounds like a good idea
Lastly, Brainscape has just updated their French Vocab Genius mobile app to include web synching to your online account, so if you haven’t already downloaded the app, it is free for a while!
For those who love both Italian and French, I recommend a trip to the Aosta Valley of Italy. It is an autonomous region in the northwestern corner of Italy, bordering France and Switzerland. Both Italian and French are official languages, though the majority of the inhabitants speak Italian as a first language. Valdôtain, a dialect of Franco-Provençal, and a dialect of Walser German are also spoken in certain areas. In main tourist towns, such as Courmayeur and Aosta, French and English are widely spoken as well as some German.
I went to Courmayeur this past weekend because I had never been to Val d’Aosta even though it is quite close to where I live. Courmayeur is located on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, opposite Chamonix on the French side. The easiest way to get there from France is to drive through the tunnel under Mont Blanc. It’s about 11 km / 7 miles long and costs 45.90€ for the roundtrip toll. The only other options would be to take a SAVDA bus from Chambéry/Annecy, or a train to Chamonix, then switch to a bus there. It is also possible to take a train from Chambéry to Turin and head north towards Aosta, but it is much longer and the train actually stops in Pré-Saint-Didier so you will still need to take a bus to Courmayeur.
The weather is actually colder in this part of the Alps and there is plenty of snow in winter for skiing – yet there is plenty of sunshine and hiking opportunities in summer. Courmayeur is touristy like Chamonix, but it also felt smaller and even a bit cheaper (at least for meals.) The food was similar to what you find in the French Alps: fromage (cheese) and charcuterie (meats). Their fonduta/fondue is made with fontina cheese and accompanies polenta and gnocchi. Mocetta, dried beef, is also common, and tegole, cookies shaped in the form of Alpine roof tiles, are a typical dessert. The architecture is also similar with lots of beautiful wood chalets.
Besides skiing and hiking, the region is known for its thermal baths and spas. I hope to return for longer than a weekend next time so I can take advantage of them, such as the Terme di Pré Saint Didier. Even if you can’t make it to the Aosta Valley, you can still go on a virtual roadtrip and check out the beautiful scenery thanks to Google Street View.
Even the mighty NY blizzard couldn’t prevent me from coming back to France after Christmas. I got back at 2:15pm Tuesday – only 7 hours later than originally planned – because I was lucky enough to change my flight to Lufthansa that didn’t require any layovers in the Northeast. My original Continental flight on Monday was Detroit – Newark – Geneva but obviously that was not going to happen with all of the snow the NY region received this past weekend. Even though Continental would not let me rebook online or over the phone (seriously, this is 2010 people!), there was no line at Continental’s counter at Detroit airport so I was able to get on the Lufthansa flight leaving at 6:50pm Monday evening instead of waiting until the 31st when Continental had automatically rebooked me. Crisis averted.
In addition, I was able to check a second bag for free. Lufthansa’s carry-on weight limit seemed a bit low to me (only 8 kg) but I actually didn’t mind checking the bag since I hate trying to find a place in the overhead compartments anyway and they didn’t make me pay for it. Whether they were just being nice for the holidays or whether they just let it slide since I’m a Miles & More member, I don’t know, but I didn’t have to pay $50 so I was pretty happy. Then I got to security and had to scowl at all the people who didn’t think to take off their coats before getting to the front of the line. Or their belts, or shoes (US airports still make you take them off), or watches, or change out of their pockets. The security line would go much faster if people weren’t so lazy and were actually prepared to go through a METAL detector.
All of the normal stress of flying, plus dealing with winter weather and knowing there is always a possibility of getting stranded somewhere, was bad enough without also feeling sick. Unfortunately, I got a sore throat just before Christmas and it turned into a cold/possibly the flu by the time I left Detroit. I’ve been in bed about 80% of the time since I’ve been home. We had planned to drive up to Colmar yesterday and stay the night for their Christmas markets (they’re up until January 2) but we had to cancel, which unfortunately means we lose 164€ on the hotel reservation. If I had known that the hotel was prepay and the cancellation fees were so high, I would have never booked but Colmar’s Office de Tourisme website didn’t mention any of that. From now on I am only using booking.com for all hotels.
I can’t tell if I’m suffering from jet lag or not since I’m basically tired all the time, so maybe being sick is a good remedy. It sure helped get me through the 8 hour flight to Frankfurt. I was actually able to sleep for a few minutes here and there and it made the flight seem shorter. The free wifi (available on select international Lufthansa flights until January 31) also helped to pass the time.
I haven’t even finished unpacking yet and I am getting more and more behind on website work and e-mail responses. It took me two days just to post this! Hopefully I will be a little better by 2011. In the meantime, I’m going back to bed.
Portugal was a nice break from the strikes in France last week and I am already planning to return to see more of this adorable country. Lisbon is one of those capital cities that makes you forget how many people live there and the fact that it is such a large city. The subway was incredibly clean, the architecture was beautiful and colorful, the people were nice, the prices were low, and I never once felt stressed or scared or annoyed as I often do in other large cities (especially Paris!)
The public transportation system is easy to use so you don’t have to spend 15€ on tourist hop-on hop-off buses if you don’t want to. The train to Sintra is 3.50€ and a day pass for the entire system is 3.75€, which we took advantage of the second day to visit Belém for the pastéis (tram 15) and the modern eastern side of the city where the World Expo ’98 took place (red line on the metro). In addition to the 1.45€ fare for bus 22 to & from the airport and 2.60€ for the bus to return to Sintra train station from the Palace of Pena (we walked the entire way to Pena, which I do not recommend because it takes 1.5 hours, all uphill with no sidewalk), I only spent around 13€ on transportation. Our lovely hotel only cost 49€ a night, and I doubt I spent more than 25€ a day on meals. Even a cup of coffee was only 80 cents!
Our biggest expense was the plane ticket since we took a regular airline, but free food and drinks and knowing that we wouldn’t be treated like dirt was worth it. Thanks to the strikes in France, we had to waste an extra 20€ to get to the airport in Geneva by taking the expensive bus since there were no trains. And of course the bus was late and we got stopped at the border because French customs apparently had nothing better to do than annoy people trying to leave the country. Shouldn’t they be more concerned about people entering the country?
Once we arrived in Lisbon, my frustration with France disappeared instantly. There is a tourism center at the airport where you can get a free map of Lisbon and the bus stop for either the Aerobus (which you should take if you have lots of luggage; costs 3.50€ but your ticket doubles as a day pass for the public transportation system) or the local buses is directly across from the exit. Our hotel was incredibly easy to find and so clean and bright and the reception was helpful and pleasant. The downtown area of Lisbon is completely walkable and I saw very few people begging or harassing tourists for money. Normally I despise large cities because of people who try to harass you on the streets, but I did not experience that at all in Lisbon.
Obviously I loved Lisbon, and as a linguistics nerd, being surrounded by the Portuguese language was interesting since I’m familiar with many other Romance languages. Even though I haven’t yet really started studying Portuguese, I was able to understand a few words and phrases; and when we came across the one person who couldn’t speak English, we were able to communicate in French. I sat down at a bus stop before getting on the metro to head to the mall because I was feeling sick and an adorable old man was concerned that we were at the wrong stop because he had seen me look at the map and point to a place that he knew the buses didn’t go. How cute is that? Seriously, the Portuguese are very good at English, probably because they subtitle instead of dub TV and movies.
Portuguese is the 5th most spoken language in the world with 260 million speakers (the most in Brazil, of course), though it is not studied as much as Spanish, French or even Italian. Most language learning communities, such as Livemocha, Busuu and Mango, all offer Brazilian Portuguese, but few offer the European accent from Portugal. I hope they add the European dialect someday, and I certainly plan to incorporate it into the Portuguese tutorial currently available on ielanguages.com. If you are interested in reading authentic European Portuguese from everyday life, I’ve already uploaded Portuguese realia.
Portuguese is closely related to Galician, spoken in the northwestern part of Spain. At one point, they were considered the same language, but political boundaries have separated the two. Portuguese is not quite mutually intelligible with Spanish (Castillian), but the written language is easy enough to decipher if you do know Spanish. Understanding the spoken language is much harder. Portuguese is closer to Catalan and French in pronunciation because of the sibilants and nasal vowels, and some people say it sounds more like a Slavic language rather than Romance.
For those who speak Spanish and want to learn Portuguese, there are some resources available, such as Foreign Service Institute’s From Spanish to Portuguese and the University of Texas-Austin’s podcast Tà Falado: Brazilian Portuguese Pronunciation for Speakers of Spanish.
If you are planning a trip to Lisbon, the official tourism website is Visit Lisboa and I’ve written up some travel tips about my experience in Lisbon, Sintra, and getting to and from the Lisbon airport. Also don’t forget to check out my Lisbon & Sintra photos to see for yourself how beautiful Portugal is!
This week is my last trip of the year and I’m off to Lisboa / Lisbon, Portugal, with David. The pictures I’ve seen online of the Portuguese capital look incredibly beautiful, and the guest house I booked, Residencial Vila Nova, looks really nice and in a great location. Plus it’s still 20°C and sunny there whereas it’s 10°C and rainy here so I am really eager to get to Portugal! We’re flying out of Geneva so luckily the strikes in France don’t affect us and we’re on a real airline (TAP) so even though I’m still a little apprehensive about flying again (thanks Sleazyjet), getting drinks for free will feel like Christmas to me.
I’ll be taking lots of photos and collecting realia of Portuguese to put on the site next weekend.
My sister and her husband came to visit last week, and we spent a day in Geneva, Switzerland. I had been there numerous times before, but usually it was only to go to the airport to fly somewhere else. This was the first time I was actually a tourist wandering around the old town and so of course I finally took pictures.
Lac Léman and the jet d’eau
Switzerland, and particularly Geneva, is known for being an expensive place. Even the bathrooms at Cornavin train station cost 2 CHF or 1.55€ – and since the Swiss Franc and US dollar are nearly the same nowadays, everything seemed astronomically expensive to my sister and brother-in-law. Needless to say, the only thing they bought was chocolate.
Looks similar to Savoie – sometimes I forgot I was in a different country
Switzerland is not in the European Union, but it is a part of the Schengen space so there are no more passport checks when traveling. A lot of French people work in the Geneva area because Swiss salaries are 3-4 times higher than French salaries. This also means that the border areas in Ain and Haute-Savoie in France have drastically increased their prices, so more and more people have to live further from Geneva and commute even longer to go to work.
Flags of Switzerland and canton of Geneva
Swiss French is similar to Belgian French in that they use déjeuner, dîner and souper as the three meals instead of petit déjeuner, déjeuner and dîner. Septante and nonante are used in place of the cumbersome soixante-dix and quatre-vingt-dix, while a few cantons (Vaud, Valais and Fribourg) use huitante instead of quatre-vingts. No one really uses octante anymore, but you will still find it in literature. A hairdryer is not un sèche-cheveux, but un föhn (borrowed from German, though originally a brand name) and a cell phone is un natel rather than un portable. A mop is une panosse, not une serpillière, and fromage blanc in France becomes the much shorter séré in Switzerland. One of the most noticeable differences is the use of excepté on traffic signs. France uses sauf, though excepté is also common on Belgian traffic signs.
Learn Swiss French:
- Le français en Suisse
- Dictionnaire Franco-Suisse
- Lexique Français – Suisse Romande
- Termes Regionnaux de Suisse Romande et de Savoie
- Télévision Suisse Romande
- Radio Suisse Romande
You can view all of my Geneva photos on Flickr.