Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Learning a new language - making it fun while I am at it.

My first level of Dutch learning ended last week. It was a great 6 week session learning a new language with a batch of people from all over the world. Some dropped out and most of us went along. Gradually we all got close - sharing stories of our countries, our culture, food - learning more than just a language in those 3 hourly classes thrice a week. Absolutely worth the time and money spent!

It was a small batch, almost like a private tuition

Left to right - Me Ruchi from India, Jade from Wales ( she did excellently well in chapters pertaining to food cause of her love for food ) , Panayis from Greece (known for the Greek salad he makes in his sea-side restaurant-bar in Greece which we sadly never tasted ), Lucille from Wales (the life of the batch. Even boring, dull days seemed happier with chirpy and caring Lucille around ), Teacher Michiele, Lucille, AET from Estonia ( always had an interesting story to share )

On the last day of the session we had a potluck and everyone got their local food. It was yummy afternoon.

Desserts from Wales

Fish and Bread from Estonia

Pork pie from Wales

Our Teacher Michiele H, was everything a student can hope for - motivating, encouraging, patient, one who made classes fun and easy. He had a keen interest in all the stories we shared about our respective countries or our daily lives and shared some of his own. Michiele always said that whatever we studied in the classroom was only 30% of the total effort needed to learn the language and I cannot agree more with him. Just attending a language class does not guarantee that one will learn it. A good teacher will just teach in an interesting way making the class un-boring however it needs a lot of practice outside the class to get a grasp of it.

Gladly having passed my Dutch classes with flying colors I feel I am qualified to share some tips which can be used effectively if one is serious about learning a new language:

  • Find excuses to use the language - More I speak the language the better I will get. Its as simple as that. I have started finding excuses to speak the language - with locals, at a party, in a restaurant, with a friend. I try and read the movie reviews in dutch ( even for bollywood movies )
  • Strengthening the vocabulary - Grammar comes gradually and especially if it is a difficult language like Dutch however by strengthening the vocabulary learning and understanding of the language becomes much easier. I learnt the top 2500 words most commonly used words in the language and that has been my strength in the language learning process. It was a pleasure to be well versed with the words being used in the class and that motivated me to learn more. So one of the best tips is to learn more and more words and build up the vocab.
  • Exposing yourself to the language in more ways than one  - reading ( web, magazines, children books, comics ), TV, movies ( most fun way of learning a language I think ), radio, youtube videos, songs, recipes for cooking are different interesting ways to increase exposure.
  • Make it fun for yourself - Learning happens faster if it is fun thus use or learn the language while having fun. My favorite way is to watch movies or read Tintin books in Dutch. I enjoy them and it feels like an accomplishment when I can understand them in a foreign language. 
  • Shed your ego - I will falter when using it as I am still learning it. I will sound like a retard to many Dutch proficient people. People might laugh. But the more I speak and more mistakes I make the quicker I learn. Thus I ensure I do not let ego pull me down in using it as often as I can.

It will be a long time before I can 'think in Dutch' or be proficient or speak like a local but I know I am closer to it with each passing day, with each new movie watched or with each Tintin story read. 

I begin my Dutch second level learning this week with a new teacher in a new school and I hope it will be as much fun and a rich learning experience as the last one.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Euro-transport options

During My Euro trip 2013,  I used various means of transport some of which I had never heard about before. While it seems very obvious to locals in Europe, it is all new for travelers from other parts of the world hence I am putting together a small note for all you budget travelers. 

1) Cheap flights
When I say cheap I mean really cheap. I had no idea that there are some airlines that provide tickets worth 10 euros at times ( INR 1000 onwards ). is one such airline provider. I was lucky to get a flight worth 18 euros on it from Netherlands to Spain! Can you beat that. Just do be a little careful when booking your flight on this one though. Do make sure that the airport is well connected to the city or your place of stay. Ryan air airports tend to be a little too far from the city. It is a no frill airline so you will have to have minimum luggage to be able to juice this option.

2) Carpooling
There are a number of car pooling sites in the Europe and most of them are free. A very good one which I have personally tried is Check it out. I used it to get from Cuenca to Bunol for the Tomatina festival '13 in barely €5. Recently I used it to offer a ride, from Netherlands to Prague and managed to make up for the fuel costs. A great way to meet new people as well. Travel with the locals!

3) Ferry
Ferry over a flight any day for me! Especially if it is cheaper. I love water and ferry rides are definitely more fun than flights.
I happened to take the ferry from Valencia to Ibiza in barely 60 euros to and fro when the flight costs were 150 euro++.

4) Hitchhiking
Travel for free. It really cannot get better than this. Hitchhiking was part of my to-do-eurotrip'13 list. It was a concept alien to me. It was definitely scary initially however it turned out to be super fun and an amazing experience. Just remember to take your head with you and use good intuition to judge which car to choose and which to let go. 
I met a 60 year old man in Bordeaux, France who told me that he had traveled almost half the world just hitch hiking. He was my inspiration then and soon after I hitch-hiked from one end of France to another. 

5) Buses
I often used buses, even for large distances, since most of my planning was done last minute. I found them much cheaper, comfortable and was pleasantly surprised to find WiFi on almost all buses. 

6) Euro rail pass
It is suggested to go for the Euro rail pass however I skipped this recommended option and I didn't really miss it!

7) On-foot
Yes I have to pen this one down especially for Indians - we do not want to walk! Till about last year I needed a ride to cross even few kilometers. 
Then on the Euro trip, I just started exploring places on foot. And trust me it is so much better. It is filled with far more surprises than a bus journey. There were days I walked about 15 - 18 kms exploring the city on foot walking just about to wherever I needed to go. 
I happened to meet a tour guide in Prague who said that he had run through every country in Europe. Well that is not my target but yes within a city nothing better than exploring it on foot.

8) Biking
Europe has an awesome biking / cycling culture. Please do not miss out on it. Bikes can be rented on a daily basis from 1-10 euro / day depending on the city. A great way of getting around the city and a healthy one too. Paris, Netherlands and Denmark are especially known for this for a reason!

I am still discovering comfortable, last minute, cheap options of traveling around Europe. I will add them as and when I come across them. Feel free to add more in the comments.

Happy traveling !

Friday, 2 January 2015

12 Things I do when I visit a new place

I prefer traveling to new places and building new experiences. Each place has something unique to offer and new stuff to experience however there are 12 things I almost always do when visiting a new place.

1) Walk around city center
Each city has a buzzing city center with lots to offer and if it is a touristy city then it is packed with tourists as well. While I cannot be forever in a city center it is interesting to visit the center and scan the offerings of a place. It is populated and buzzing for a reason. Why not see it ?

Pub street of Pataya. Cant get more touristy than this.

2) Visit Old city area
Old part of a city attracts me a lot. That is where the real culture of a place thrives, unmasked. Old sections of a city hold a totally different story than their urban, fancy, decked up developed new parts. The real food, shopping, bars, so much so even people are found in old parts of a city and more often than not it is much cheaper to stay, eat and shop in.

Old city area in Rome.

3) View the city from Top
Nothing like climbing on a high hill, or top of a church, or a high touristy building or anything that can provide a top view of the city and enjoying the view. It is enthralling to see the whole city spread in front of me. If it has been a good walk to reach that place, it fills me up with a sense of satisfaction having walked that distance and made that effort. My love for heights always draws me to capture one such moment from each place I visit.

Top view of Cuenca, a small amazingly beautiful village in Spain.

4) Eat local food
Even though I am a vegetarian I always try the local food veg, non-veg and of course local sweets. I have landed up trying sea food at Amalfi coast in Italy, paella a typical Spanish dish in Barcelona and muscles in Ibiza. I have especially traveled to Naples, the birthplace of pizzas, to eat pizzas and it was the most amazing thing I have ever tasted!

The Pizza from Naples. The best thing I have ever eaten in my whole life!

5) Visit the local supermarket chain
Local supermarket are fun to walk around and a great place to get an insight into local foods, vegetables, fruits, drinks and just about everything related to tummy. To top it all,the stuff is much much cheaper than in other local shops. You will be surprised how much you can learn about a place from a visit to their supermarkets!

6) Visit a bar frequented by locals
I am a beer lover and I think it tastes best in a local bar with locals. Read some local blogs of a place to know about hidden local gems.

A local bar in HoChiMinn.

7) Click a touristy pic
A 'I was here' snap in front of the most popular place or monument of the city is a must. Even better if it is a typical pose all tourists get clicked at that spot. It is stupid and hence it is even more fun. Going to Taj Mahal and not clicking the 'holding the tip of taj' pic is like having never been to Taj. ( go back again if you do not have that pic )

A typical TAJ moment.

8) Shop for a souvenir
A trip is incomplete without a souvenir. I want to sit in my living room, look around and see glimpses of each trip I made. It makes me feel happy each time I see a travel souvenir catching some dust in my house. Initially I used to shop for anything that caught my eye - like a magnificent buffalo chair from Sri Lanka which is known for good furniture or coasters from Australia or just about anything. Then on my Europe trip I fell in love with fridge magnets. Cheap to buy, light weight to carry and a perfect display. Now a trip is incomplete for me if I do not have a fridge magnet from that place. Currently I have about 100 of them. I think I will soon have to buy another fridge just to display them! :)

9) Experience a festival or a local event
I have been lucky to be at some 'right' places at the right time simply because some gala fest was on. Like the Yacht exhibition in Cannes or the Tomatina Festival of Spain. Experiencing a local festival, event or a concert is a cherry on the cake during any trave;.

The Tomatina festival in Spain. My zindagi na milegi dobara moment.

10) Travel the local way
Each city has its own local means of transport. Like the 'tanga' or horse-carriage of Lucknow India, or the tum-tums of Pataya or the bike taxis of Bangkok. They are much cheaper than cabs and so much more fun.

My bike-taxi ride in Bangkok. Barely a charge of 10 cents for a distance of 5 kms.

11) Click with a local
I  love clicking atleast one snap with a local in that place. Be it with a friend, a restaurant owner, a worker, a local travel-mate. It is a sweet memory to capture.

With my local travel guide in Cu-chi tunnels in Vietnam.

12) Do the most touristy thing possible.
Some people run away from touristy stuff for some odd reason. I don't. It is fun to play tourist. Sky-diving over coral reefs in Australia, bungee jumping from one of the oldest bungee jumping points in the world or a ride in the whispering boat in Giethoorn all are super fun touristy things and I simply enjoyed each one of them.

Canal cruising in Bangkok.

This is  my bucket list for every new place I visit. What is yours?