Category Archives: Travelling

Greek Isles Cruise Update

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:

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Greetings from Slovenia

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.

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This is the first time I am posting to the blog using my iPod and the WordPress app so I hope it works correctly!

Annual Vacation: I will return June 5

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:

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Piran sunset, August 2007

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Zatoka kotorska 02

Santorin - 2000

All photos from Wikimedia Commons

Recent Foreign Language and Traveling News

Some interesting articles and websites on foreign languages and traveling that I’ve come across in the past week or two:

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!

Italian & French in Aosta Valley, Italy

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.

Surrounded by huge mountains

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.

Snow above my waist

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.

Can you spot the télécabine going up the mountain?

I’ve uploaded the rest of my Courmayeur photos to the Gallery and Flickr.

Portugal and Portuguese: First Impressions

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!

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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.

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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!

We’re off to Lisbon, Portugal!

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.

A Day in Geneva and Learning Swiss French

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

You can view all of my Geneva photos on Flickr.

Learning new words in French & English while traveling in France: Des Oiseaux / Birds

Yesterday David and I went to the Parc des Oiseaux in Villars-les-Dombes and then to the medieval city of Pérouges, both in the département of Ain. The only things I knew about Ain were its capital city (Bourg-en-Bresse) and its number (01). I had never been there before or heard much about it. Even though it’s the départment directly to the north and west of Savoie and Haute-Savoie, there really aren’t many mountains and the landscape is mostly flat (at least in the western Dombes area) with lots of cornfields, forests and ponds.  Since it’s bordered by both the Saône and Rhône rivers, fishing and wine are also important industries. It seemed radically different from Savoie even though it’s only 1.5 hours away – yet another reason why I love exploring France. Everywhere you go, it’s as if you enter a new country every few hours.

Département de l’Ain

At the Parc des Oiseaux, I learned several new words in both French and English for different types of birds. I do love animals, but I’m not exactly an expert on the classification of birds or know where their native habitats are. The park was divided into Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and Oceania, with over 100 species of birds and the signs had translations of their names in English and German so I was able to learn more vocabulary in more than one language.

We started in la forêt tropicale des toucans and then walked through la volière (aviary) du Pantanal and saw beautiful colorful birds from Brazil. Next was the crique des manchots where we watched the adorable penguins swim in their little wave pool.

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Le bush Australien was my favorite part because there were wallabies! I love wallabies!

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La vallée des rapaces (raptors/birds of prey) was a bit creepy because of this guy sitting next to the entrance. Not that vautours (vultures) will kill you… but they wish you were dead so they could eat you already.

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Past le champ des cigognes (storks) was la plaine Africaine with the largest bird of all: l’autruche (ostrich). Some males can weigh up to 155 kilos / 340 pounds! They can run 70 kph / 45 mph for half an hour! Their wingspan is 6 ft. 7 inches / 2 meters and their height can reach 9 feet / 2.75 meters! In short, they are one badass bird.  Except for their adorable, funny-looking faces and eyes that are bigger than their brain.

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Afterwards, we entered the terre des calaos where I learned about the hornbills. These birds were the most unfamiliar to me. Their beaks are slightly like toucans, but with an extra something (apparently called a casque in both English and French) on top.

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We ended our tour du monde of birds with the étang des pélicans and the baie de Cuba with the bright flamants (flamingos). But before returning home so I could look up the differences between nandous, émeus and autruches (rheas, emus and ostriches) or why manchot is the translation of penguin even though most books still say it’s pingouin* (though no one in France ever calls them that), we decided to stop in the medieval town of Pérouges.

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Pérouges is listed as one of the plus beaux villages en France and it is indeed a beautiful place. Founded by Gauls returning from Perugia, Italy, in the 12th century, the town officially became French in 1601.

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Most of the buildings date from the 15th century.

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I don’t think I would want to live in a medieval town today, but they sure are interesting to explore.

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Check out my Flickr account for the rest of the Parc des Oiseaux and Pérouges photos!

*Pingouin in French is actually a razorbill in English, which is technically an auk and not a penguin. Manchot is the correct translation of penguin in French, even though most other Indo-European languages also use a word similar to penguin. French just likes to be different. It still doesn’t explain why the character of Penguin in Batman was translated as Pingouin though!