29 Oct 2014

Bonjour Brussels

Welcome to November and our latest Destination of the Month, Brussels! The truth is, is that we don’t really realise how little we know about a place until we really stop and think about it. Want to get to know Brussels EasyLanguages style? Of course you do!

The Atomium. Source: www.panoramio.com

I must admit that it took me a while to get to know this city after having lived here for over a year now, however the more I discover, the more the heart of Europe enchants me. Before arriving here, I thought: chocolate, waffles, moules frites and beer – whats not to like! However apart from these few things I knew nothing about the Belgian culture.

In spite of this, my time here has allowed me to explore the obvious, like the many high quality beers and the beautiful Grand Place lit up in all its glory at night time. In addition to this, the city has allowed me to also discover the unexpected, like the fact that Audrey Hepburn was born here.

Sacré Coeur. Source: cs.wikipedia.org

  • Views

If you like travelling and finding new places, Brussels is definitely worth a visit. There are of course the must see places, but if you are lucky enough to extend your stay here, you will find more and more well hidden gems that only the locals know about.

One of the best places in the city is Parc Royal, just in front of the Palais Royal, and near to the European district and Belgian Parliament. It is a hub for all kinds of activities, and the perfect place to do some sport, have a picnic or sunbathe!

It is no secrect that people in Europe go crazy as soon as the sun comes out, and here in Brussels the parks are full to the brim and you have many to choose from: Laeken Park, Cinquantenaire Park, or the Botanic gardens. In general, spring is mild and sunny, but in summer be careful! The sun can be very strong with very high humidity levels.  

Place Royale. Source: www.trabel.com

If you are looking for some great viewpoint for your photo album, Brussels does not disappoint with the Place Poelaert, next to the impressive Palais de Justice which, thanks to its location above the city, offers fantastic panoramic views. If you are lucky and the day is bright and clear, you cannot miss the views from Sacre Coeur, nor from The Atomium.

Of course, if you visit the European capital, you should definitely have a look at the royal palace, the Grand Place, the European Parliament and not forgetting Rue Neuve or Ixelles

  • Food

As with its neighbour, France, Belgium has a huge variety of bread on offer, available in all supermarkets – For just a few cents you can have freshly baked bread whenever and wherever you are!

Casseroles, are just as common here as they are in England, however, in honour of its national product, they are cooked with beer. This casserole, also known as “Carbonnade” (here is a great recipe for it) is originally from Flanders, but it is very easy to find this in any restaurant in Brussels, for tourist or locals.

It may be due to its proximity to the sea, but whatever the reason, mussels are the most in demand and the most consumed Belgian product (next to waffles of course). Always accompanied by the famous “frites”, you can eat them in any way you like: with a wine and garlic sauce, cheese, tomatoes, pasta, rice or mixed with other seafood. I can say for certain that you cannot go to Brussels without hearing about about them. They also have, of course, their own version of fast food.

Waffles at the Grand Place. Source: www.chudu24.com

No, its not a cliché, in Brussels they eat waffles. Whatever time of day, you will always come across someone eating these little treats. Sweet, salty, with ice cream, nuts, fruits, and of course, chocolate! There are hundreds of recipes, but the most famous come from Liège.

  • Transport

We are talking about the capital of Europe, of course there is great public transport! Brussels has a metro, tram, trains and two airports.

Parc Cinquantenaire. Source: www.gopixpic.com

The best ways to get around the city is definitely by bus, metro or tram. The prices are reasonable and you will always find either a metro or tram stop nearby. Usually, if you use these types of transport frequently, you can get a monthly pass for €47 and have access to all types of transport (bus, tram or metro). For €54 a month you will also have access to the trains.

In any case, it is very easy to get around on foot. Brussels is a pentagon and it would tak you around an hour to walk from the centre to the outskirts. 

Things that go bump in the night

With Halloween nearly upon us, the pumpkins, black cats, spiders and ghouls are already showing their faces. Today this holiday is mostly considered to be about trick or treating, dressing up and eating lots of sweets, but we decided to have a look at where this holiday actually comes from...

Source: equestdesigns.com

Halloween derives from "All Hallows' Eve", the eve (or vigil) before the western Christian feast of All Hallows (All Saints) on the 1st November. This time of year is traditionally known as Allhallowtide, a time dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs and all faithful departed believers. The focus of Allhallowtide revolves around the theme of using humour and ridicule to confront the power of death.

Here are just a few traditions from around the world:

Halloween Soul cakes. Source: www.babbel.com

  • The Philippines

Here, the tradition of 'Pangangaluluwa' takes place, which is the equivalent of 'Souling'. Souling or Pangangaluluwa involves children going door to door begging for soul cakes (known as Suman in the Philippines) and in return they would sing a soul cake song. The giving of soul cakes represents an offering for the dead. Another Filipino aspect of Halloween is that during the night clothes, plants and other household objects would 'mysteriously' disappear, only to be found the next day in the garden or in the street. This is supposedly spirits showing their presence to their loved ones.

The infamous Dracula. Source: www.nbcnews.com

  • Romania
In Romania this holiday is celebrated around the myth of Dracula. The spirit of Dracula is believed to live here because it was the site of many with trials, which are today recreated by actors. The largest party is in Sighisoara, Vald the Impala's (AKA Dracula) birthplace. They also celebrate the Day of the Dead (originally a Mexican holiday), when people light candles on the graves of their loved ones.

Halloween is quite a big celebration in Ireland with street parties, fireworks and bonfires. Adults and Children dress as creatures from the underworld (ghosts, ghouls, zombies, witches, goblins etc) and they go trick or treating. The largest street party and firework display is held in Derry. Traditional Halloween activities (besides trick or treating) include apple bobbing and Colcannon, which is a large family lunchtime meal.

Trick or Treating. Source: kids.britannica.com

  • The USA
We already know quite a lot about Halloween in the US from the countless horror films and TV series where we are shown many teens in fancy dress and something inevitably goes wrong during the night. On the agenda in the US are big fancy dress parties, lots of trick or treating (with hundreds of sweets!) and in some areas they also participate in Souling. The big commercialisation of this holiday begin in the 20th century and it is now the second most popular holiday for decorating. Madison and Wisconsin are known for having the largest city parades.

And of course you can't have Halloween without a pumpkin or two (otherwise known as a Jack-o-latern). The origin of pumpkins is uncertain, however some believe that it is originally from Ireland where people carved scary faces into gourds to represent spirits or ghouls. While others believe that they were used on All Saints' Day to represent Christian souls in purgatory, or there is the more traditional view that pumpkins are used to keep spirits out of one's home.

Carved pumpkins. Source: www.funmozar.com

15 Oct 2014

Shanghai goes haute couture

When thinking of Shanghai, most people think skyscrapers, bright lights and a fast paced business district. However, our destination of the month is so much more than that...

Source: www.red-luxury.com

Shanghai fashion week has officially started, up until the 23rd October Shanghai will see some of the best designers from around the world display their collections over 45 shows. Around 20% will be international designers, including Britain's Oasis, Italy's Dsquared as well as brands from France, Spain, Israel and Vietnam.

Fashion week takes place near to the Taipingqiao Park  

Among other key designers, the spotlight is truly on Alberta Ferretti who will be showcasing the 2015 spring/summer line. Renli Su has been dubbed the one to watch amongst others including Annakiki and Kay Kwok. Additional brands present include Unmentioned, Ling Yali, Wander, Tony Wear & Tony jeans and Decoster.

Find out more about Shanghai's vibrant cultural scene and contact us to talk about the opportunity to learn Mandarin in Shanghai and be a part of this exciting city.

Dsquared show in Shanghai. Source: english.cntv.cn

7 Oct 2014

Students' stories: Mélanie's Internship in Dublin

Why did you decide to do an internship abroad?

Actually, this internship was part of my studies. I am currently studying English and German at university in Paris and each year my school requires us to do an internship during the summer. It allows us to improve our language skills and to catch a glimpse of the professional world. But here is the thing: sometimes (and especially when you are an undergraduate student) it is very difficult to find an internship abroad, especially in English-speaking countries.  I have done several internships abroad and I know how tricky it can be to find a proper internship in another country.   

I have always been fascinated by Ireland, the Emerald Isle, with its green landscape and its folklore. Thus, I decided to book a language programme with EasyLanguages in order to make the search for an internship easier for me.  I was not at all disappointed; it is probably the best internship I have done so far. 

Dublin and Ireland: What to do and see

So I went to Dublin for two months. I picked this city first because of its literary heritage: Dublin was recently appointed “UNESCO City of Literature”. Meet Dublin’s famous sons: James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker etc.
Throughout the year you will have the opportunity to take part in several literary festivals, the most famous one would probably be "Bloomsday", which takes place on the 16th of June and will have you follow the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, the main character of Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses. I personally had the chance to be in Dublin for this event and I would highly recommend it.

Then we cannot talk about Dublin without mentioning its famous Temple Bar area. Relax and drink a pint of Guinness while listening to Irish music. It may be a bit expensive but this area is home to most of the Irish pubs in Dublin. In this part of the city you would also find some really nice vintage shops and music stores.

After spending some time in Temple Bar you could also visit the Guinness Storehouse or the Old Jameson Distillery and discover how Irish whiskey and beers are made.

Then, if you feel like it, you could also spend an afternoon visiting the museums of the city. The best one I would recommend would probably be the National Museum of Ireland (free admission). Let’s not forget Kilmainham Gao, Ireland's most famous prison, which is now a museum.

My main piece of advice for the city: Dublin is really great but don’t stay in the centre, pack your things and explore the island. Lots of companies organise day tours and will take you all around Ireland and its most famous sites

 My experience with Easy Languages

I did a two-month internship in Ireland and I am really happy with the follow-up of Easy Languages. The team was with me before, during and after my internship and was always ready to help me and answer my questions. They took care of everything (administrative and practical things) and I felt fine when I was abroad.

I had also booked accommodation in a residence and everything went really well. My residence was really close to the city centre (around 10 minutes by foot) and I had the chance to meet lots of people from all over the world

My English skills

Doing an internship in an English-speaking country is really a good way to improve your English. Even if some people could at first feel a bit confused by the Irish accent, don’t panic! You’ll get used to it and even pick up some colloquial expressions after some time.

I feel a lot more comfortable with my English now, especially when I have to speak in front of people.  As I have already said, an experience abroad is definitely a plus on your C.V.

You too, like Mélanie, can take part in an internship in Dublin or find out more about the other possible destinations we have on offer.