Written by Italo Calvino and published in 1972, Invisible Cities is a collection of page-long descriptions of cities, as described by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan. The two men do not have a common language, so we realise that Polo is describing his travels using not only words, but hand gestures and props to make himself understood to his host. The novel, written originally in Italian, is incredibly vivid and explores our imagination. It’s complex, but there’s an enjoyment to be had from just reading it at face value without adding your own interpretation or thinking about it too deeply. Although the cities are described in a clearly exaggerated way, the images are too intense for them to be totally made up…. This is definitely worth reading – it’s totally captivating and although there’s no plot as such, it’s almost impossible to put down. Also, you look kind of intelligent reading it on public transport, which is always nice.
Admittedly, I’m slightly obsessed with this movie. The cinematography is completely amazing, so it’s worth watching just for that. Respiro is set in Sicily, and is centred around the portrayal of family values/ the role of different members of the family as is so traditionally important in Italy (particularly in the south). The shots of the beaches and cliffs are so vivid, it makes you feel like you’re there in a way no film has ever done for me… It’s especially interesting watching the movie after having recently visited Sicily, but obviously the side I saw was the touristic and cultivated one. The side portrayed in this movie, on the other hand, is a lot more honest, raw and wild, and ultimately real. Shots of young boys gutting fish lined up in a big room resonate particularly – you get such a sharp insight into their extremely different culture and way of life. Respiro won various awards at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, and it’s really not hard to see why. An added bonus is that the movie is kinda short (an hour and a half) so there’s not really time to get bored (as I do, easily)…
The smallest and largest countries in the world are in Europe. The biggest is Russia and the smallest is the Vatican City. In fact, it measures only 110 acres in total and has a tiny population of just more than 800 people. The Vatican City is found within Rome – the capital of Italy – , and it’s where the Pope is based, making it the home of Catholicism.
It’s true: Venice looks like a film set. That’s probably why so many movies have been filmed there – the film company doesn’t need to spend millions building a set because nothing could compare to the real thing. Every tiny ally way, every canal which to a local wouldn’t get a second glance is to a tourist just unbelievably beautiful.
Although it’s totally overrun by tourists at all times of the year, the atmosphere in the city is amazing, and its so unusual compared to so many other places in Europe. Unlike London, which can feel depressing on day during the endless winter, Venice is just as spectacular in drizzle as it is in bright sunshine.
One of the great things about the city is that the locals actually do use the canals – many people think the only boats on them are the gondolas. Although there are of course plenty of these floating around should you want to take a ride, the way to get around is by water-bus. There are stations all over Venice like there are with a regular bus on the street, and what is a total novelty to visitors is just how Venetians get to work, or get into the town centre. If you want to pay up, taking a water taxi is a really fun experience. You zoom through the city in a speedboat feeling like James Bond, then pull up literally outside the airport…
The main down side of Venice is the price of everything – in shops, restaurants and cafés, the prices can be insane. I went on a little hunt to find the most expensive cappuccino in Venice: in the Piazza San Marco, I found one for €8. €8!!! That’s just under £6.50, or $10 (you could buy a whole outfit in Primark for that). In restaurants in all the main squares and shopping streets, they charge different prices for locals and tourists, so do your best to look/sound/act/be Venetian…
The gondoliers are hilarious – ours sang some traditional Venetian tunes for us accompanied by some dancing which caused our gondola to come close to capsizing (more than once). They still wear their little outfits – the stripey black and white jumper with a red scarf, and try to teach the tourists Italian (totally unsuccessfully). Interestingly, the very first female gondolier only started gondolier-ing in the summer of 2010. Hopefully someone will introduce gondolas to the River Thames – they’re an awesome way to travel.
Saying thank you is always nice. And it’s even nicer when you can say it to someone in their own language. Nelson Mandela once said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language – that goes to his heart”. And whilst you probably won’t be able to speak every single language on the planet (about 7,000 of them), it’s still nice/useful to be able to say a few words of Albanian, isn’t it?
There are an estimated 260 languages spoken in Europe, but here’s how to say thank you in 15 of them (that’s 5.7% of all the languages of Europe!!!):
1. French – merci
2. German – danke
3. Dutch – dank u
4. Spanish – gracias
5. Italian – grazie
6. Portuguese – obrigado
7. Croatian – hvala
8. Danish – tak, Nowegian – takk, Swedish – tack
9. Greek – ευχαριστώ (efcharistó)
10. Bulgarian – благодаря (blagodarya)
11. Polish – dziękuję
12. Russian – спасибо (spasibo)
13. Irish gaelic – go raibh maith agat
14. Turkish – teşekkür ederim
15. Albanian – falemnderit