Top 10 Sights in Paris Countdown #6

Coming up as number #6 is the famous home of Moulin Rouge, Sacred Hert Basilica, and an inspiration for some of the greatest artists of the world.

Montmartre

The streets of Montmartre… breathe in the artistic air that has inspired the greatest artists in the world (Van Gogh, Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec, and others). Walk up the mount of Montmartre and reach the Sacred Heart Basilica, a beautiful white building overlooking the whole of Paris. This is a great spot to take pictures and then walk around the Tertre Square.

Montmartre

[Picture credited to Antonis Lamnatos]

You can even get your portrait done by one of the street artists (just beware of scams!). On your way down the mount, you can stop for a drink in the area of Les Abbesses, a nice and trendy spot. Ah, Montmartre, c’est la bohème…

Continue to #5

Go back to #7

Top 10 Sights in Paris Countdown #7

For all of you history buffs out there, sight #7 might well belong higher up on the list.

#7 The Invalids.

Napoleon Bonaparte… Such a little man making so much noise to finally end up locked up into seven coffins under a golden dome. If you’d like to say hi to Napoleon’s coffin, the Invalids is the place to go! It actually used to be a hospital for war veterans under Louis XIV, hence its name. Other than being Napoleon’s resting place. it offers an amazing display of weaponry, dating back to the Middle Ages armor or WWII, in its great military museum.

Napoleon's Tomb at Invalids
[Picture credited to Rodney]

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Go back to #8

Top 10 Sights in Paris Countdown #8

As we continue our tour of the top 10 sights in Paris, we come upon the center of student life in Paris… a great meeting location and the perfect place to relax all in one.

#8 The Latin Quarter

The Latin Quarter, has a bohemian and artistic vibe which makes it the perfect place to chill. It was once the hub of Roman life and it is now the hub of student life. With La Sorbonne University round the corner, it’s not a big surprise!

La Sorbonne
[Picture credited to Tracie Elaine]

Down the street from the Sorbonne, near the river Seine, stands the imposing Saint Michel Square fountain where everyone likes to meet. Need to give your friend a meeting point in the heart of Paris? There’s your spot! If you wander off into the surrounding little streets, you’ll come across a lot of nice restaurants and bookstores. You may even discover the door to the old jazz club “Le Caveau de la Huchette”. Are you getting an idea of what the Latin Quarter feels like? Then you’re getting a sense of the ‘Rive Gauche’ spirit (‘South of the River Seine’ spirit).

Continue to #7

Go back to #9

Top 10 Sights in Paris Countdown #9

Let’s continue the wandering tour through narrow winding streets, to the top 10 sights in Paris. The next stop is the elegant and majestic Lady of Paris.

#9 Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame de Paris (“Our Lady of Paris”) Cathedral is just a few steps away from the Saint Michel Square. Notre Dame has been standing there for centuries, elegant and majestic, witnessing the daily action, passion, and drama of the French people… She’s still standing, probably to her own surprise, having survived the most dreadful wars! With a bit of imagination you may actually catch a glimpse of Esmeralda dancing around under Quasimodo’s eyes. He’ll be in the cathedral’s tower, stealthily staring at his love. Enjoy the show!

Notre Dame de Paris
[Picture credited to Peter Rivera]

Continue to #8

Go back to #10

Top 10 Sights in Paris Countdown #10

Let’s start a leisurely wandering tour through narrow Paris streets, so slippery when it rains… for they might lead us onto a surprise landmark like the famous Louvre Museum or the majestic Eiffel Tower itself! I hope you enjoy walking because this is the best way to discover “the most beautiful city in the world.”

#10 Les Halles

“The Stomach of Paris.” Yes, Paris does have a stomach, just like any other beautiful woman and just like all the rest of us! Am I breaking a myth here? Not guilty! Emile Zola, French writer of the XIXth century was the one who first described the old central market of Paris as the stomach of the city. Farmers would go there to sell their fresh products, vegetables, meats etc. Imagine the hustle and bustle in that area!

Les Halles
[Picture credited to Nicolas Vigier]

Today, it’s much less hectic, and has cleaned up nicely you’ll be happy to learn. Now called “Les Halles”, it is filled with lots of little stores both within its shopping center partly located underground, but also outside, in the surrounding streets. Isn’t that a great way to start our little tour of Paris? Shopping time! Men, don’t roll your eyes! Just enjoy the grand finale of your Paris experience and make your ladies happy!

Continue on to #9

Top Five Russian Travel Tips for Women

Traveling alone to a new place can be confusing under the best conditions. Traveling to Russia as a woman on your own can seem even more daunting. But don’t worry! Here are five simple tips you can follow to make sure you have the best experience in Russia.

1. Travel safely

Like most big cities, the most popular destinations in Russia– Moscow and St. Petersburg– are not always safe at night. When traveling late at night, particularly in an unknown area, remember that the metro in Moscow closes at 1am and the metro in St. Petersburg closes at around 12am. Buses stop running even earlier than that. If you’re going to be out later than that, or if your accommodations are far from a metro station, it might be safer to get a taxi.

St. Petersburg Taxi

Russia has two types of taxis. The first is the official yellow city taxi, that any hotel concierge can call up for you. The second and most common is “частное такси (chastnoye taksi)” or private taxi, also called “частники (chastniki)”. As the name implies, these are private companies or individuals who make a living driving people around. These will often still have a small “такси” triangle on their roof, but the car will not be yellow.

Although there’s a long tradition of their usage in Russia, it’s best just to avoid these. You never know who’s going to be behind the wheel, and it’s easy to get ripped off when negotiating rates, particularly if you don’t speak Russian.

2. Dress fashionably

Women in Russia are used to dressing fashionably. A fancy blouse, a knee-length skirt with tights, high heels, and an elegant amount of make-up is preferred. This goes for winter time as well… you’ll be surprised by the number of women you see striding confidently over ice and mud in stiletto heels!

If traveling to Russia during the winter, you will want a warm and waterproof coat. You will have to part with your coat at the coat check in every building, so you may want to wear a fashionable sweater or camisole if you get chilly easily.

  • Travel Tip: Buildings are kept quite warm during the winter, so wear layers to adjust!

Finally, keep in mind that when entering a church, you will be expected to cover your head, so bring a fancy scarf or “касынка (kasynka).” A fancy scarf will not only allow you into churches, but can also be used to keep your head warm in the winter, or as a fashionable accessory in the fall and spring.

3. Carry a small or medium-sized purse

You will also want to carry a small purse with you. By law, you need to keep all your travel documents with you in case you are stopped on the street by a cop for a routine document check.

If your purse is too big, you may be asked to check it at the coat check when entering a building. Since you’ll never want to be apart from your passport and other important documents, make sure your purse is not too large, even when stuffed to the brim!

  • Travel tip: Never leave your documents unattended, even at the coat check. Don’t put that purse down, even for a moment, and don’t keep your documents in a backpack that can be easily rifled through by pickpockets.

4. Use the pharmacy for health/hygiene

Feminine hygiene products cannot be bought at grocery stores or markets in Russia… they can only be found in the pharmacy. You’ll know a pharmacy when you see it, because it will have the word “аптека (apteka)” written on it (meaning pharmacy), and sometimes, but not always, a glowing green + sign.

Contrary to popular belief, tampons are readily available in Russia, as are thinner pads. If you don’t find the product you are used to using in one pharmacy, try another pharmacy. If you are on the contraceptive pill, you will want to bring a complete supply with you. Pills in Russia are different from those in America.

  • Travel tip: Carry tissues! Many bathrooms outside of the city centers do not have toilet paper available, so you’ll never know when they will be of critical importance!

5. Avoid unwanted attention

Last but not least, if you are making your way through a crowded street, and someone seems to be particularly clingy (or drunk) do not humor them, don’t rise to any provocations, don’t make eye contact, don’t say anything, and don’t smile at them! Just look straight ahead and keep on walking.

[Pictures credited to Marc!o and Nickolai Kashirin]

Tips and Tricks for Using Public Transportation in Taiwan

If you’re going to Taiwan, you’ll be happy to know that Taiwan’s public transport system is incredible. There were bus stops almost everywhere you go, the subway can take you to more central areas, and maps of each system available at stops and stations alike.

Buses

The first, most important thing you’ll want to know when getting on a bus is, of course, where that bus is going. In Taiwan, however, the second most important thing to know is when you’re going to have to pay–and, understandably, the bus drivers are pretty insistent about this. Yes, you can actually pay that the wrong time!

All buses have a sign that lights up, telling you either 上車 (shang4 che1) or 下車 (xia4 che1). These signs are vital to navigating the bus system! “上” means “on,” and “下” means “off.” “車” just means “car or bus.” “So “上車” means simply that you pay when you get on the bus, while “下車” means you pay right before you get off the bus.

If the sign says 上下車, with both characters lit up, you’ll have to pay both when you get on and off the bus. Don’t worry–if you get it wrong, the bus driver will definitely remind you!

MRT

The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit, or subway) system is extremely widespread and useful, and many Taiwanese people use it instead of owning cars.

Taipei MRT

Each line is coded with a different color, and is known by the last stop on the line. For example, if you’re going to the town of DanShui (淡水), near Taipei, you’ll take the blue DanShui Line–but you’ll also take that line if you’re going anywhere on the way to DanShui.

The MRT is usually an extremely clean place, and stations even have an area called “Waiting Zone for Female Passengers at Night” that is in range of monitored video cameras. Station information attendants may even speak a little English, or have access to someone who does.

  • Travel Tip: Taiwanese culture is extremely respectful towards the elderly. People on the subway will usually stand rather than take seat designated for the elderly or disabled, even if there are no elderly passengers in need of these seats. In addition, it’s polite (and somewhat expected) for younger passengers to give up their seats if other seats are full and an older person is standing.

Paying for Public Transportation in Taiwan

By far the easiest way to pay for the buses and MRT is (surprise, surprise) an “EZ” Card. This cheap, multicolored card has a balance that you can check and add to in any MRT station, 7-11, or Family Mart. Swiping the card is much more convenient than worrying about counting out coins!

To put money on the card, you can go to a 7-11 or a Family Mart (two convenience stores prevalent in Taiwan). Give the cashiers your card and the cash you want to put onto it and say “請換錢” (qing3 huan4 qian2), which means literally “change money.” They’ll add the money to your balance, and give you a receipt with the new balance at the bottom.

  • Travel tip: When you’ve successfully swiped and paid for the bus or MRT, the machine will give a “beep beep” sound, which has led to many Taiwanese calling their EZ Cards “bibi ka” –which just means “beep beep card.”

[Picture credits: Andrew Currie and Eazy Traveler]

Top 11 French Politicians

National Assembly of France

Ok guys, let’s start with a fact here… It’s a fact that the French think Americans are badly informed, and know very little about foreign politics. So if you’re going to France to do business, you may want to brush up your knowledge of French politics to prove them wrong. Let’s go for it!

Structure of the French Government

France is democratic republic. The French vote directly for their President who then nominates his/her Prime Minister. Then the Prime Minister nominates the ministers that are going to form the government he’s going to lead. Got it? And to counterbalance the Executive Power embodied by the President, two chambers are in place: The National Assembly and The Senate.

Some sessions at the National Assembly can be pretty hectic! It’s a place of arguments where passions may be unleashed. What a show! Quick travel tip: if you have time, visit the National Assembly building located near the Concord Square in Paris.

National Assembly of France

Top 11 important French politicians

Here is a quick rundown of the top 11 French politicians, and what they are all about!

Nicolas Sarkozy

President of France since 2007. His party is the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire), right wing. Far from being the most popular president ever (might be the least ever actually!). Married to Italian model/singer Carla Bruni with whom he recently had a child. Planning to run for presidency in the upcoming elections in 2012.

François Fillon

“Premier Ministre” (Prime Minister), also part of the UMP. He’s at the head of M. Sarkozy’s government.

François Hollande

The most serious opponent to M. Sarkozy in the upcoming 2012 elections. He belongs to the Socialist Party, the major left wing party. Former Minister.

Martine Aubry

Former minister and the head of the Socialist Party, left wing. Lost against Holland in the primaries for 2012.

Ségolène Royal

A socialist and former minister, who ran for presidency against Sarkozy in the 2007 elections.

Bernard Accoyer

President of the French National Assembly, UMP, right wing.

Jean-Pierre Bel

President of the Senate, a Socialist. He’s the one who would replace the president in case of death (or resignation) before the end of the presidential mandate.

Marine LePen

Leader of the “Front National”, a far-right wing party. She’s the daughter of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie LePen. This party is currently growing under her leadership and some polls have already established her as the 3rd best candidate for the 2012 presidential elections.

François Bayrou

Former minister and leader of the “Mouvement Démocrate” (the Democratic Movement, a central party), who will also be running in the 2012 presidential elections.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Former Minister and leader of the “Front de Gauche”, a far-left wing party which includes the communists. He will be running for presidency in 2012.

Eva Joly

A Norwegian-born French magistrate and politician who just won the primaries of the Green Party “Europe-Ecologie, Les Verts”, and will also be running for presidency in the 2012 elections.

Want to dive into French language and culture?

Check out our France ForeignIQ service. Make the best of your trip to France by learning how to communicate and what (not) to do when you get there.

ForeignIQ is a unique subscription service that shows you how things get done in foreign places. Need to shop for clothes? Get directions? Schedule a meeting? ForeignIQ will get you ready.

In Contact with Vkontakte

Vkontakte

Vkontakte, the Russian networking site and Facebook equivalent, complete with chat, video upload, and browser games, has recently reached over one hundred million users. It’s a great way to keep in touch with Russian friends, and to work on your Russian!

Facebook vs Vkontakte

Although Facebook is becoming more popular in Russia, Vkontakte is still the best way to keep in touch with young people in Russia. After all, it’s got many of the same features, and a huge Russian community. Head on over to www.vkontakte.ru to check it out!

Vkontakte

Browsing Russian websites is one of the best ways to enhance your Russian skills. As you’re checking out Vkontakte’s website, see if you can work out the meaning of these words:

  • setevoi proekt (сетевой проект)
  • obshchat’sya (общаться)
  • sovremennyi (современный)
  • russkoyazychnyi (русскоязычный)
  • press-sluzhba (пресс-служба)
  • logotip (логотип)

Propaganda Psyche

Make sure to browse through the “about” and “blog” sections of the website as well, and don’t miss the special language option within “V Soyuze (В Союзе)” (In the Soviet Union), for Vkontakte’s hilarious take on the propaganda-style speech of the Soviet Union!

Top 10 French Foods

Gratin dauphinois

As we all know, French culture is all about the food! So make sure that when you get to France you don’t miss some of the classic and delicious French food that France is best known for!

What are you eating?

There are so many classic French dishes. You might have heard of escargot, but maybe you’ve always wondered exactly what it was. Well, get your forks ready! Here is a quick rundown of the top 10 classic French foods that you won’t want to miss on your trip to France.

Gratin dauphinois

  • Gratin dauphinois – baked potatoes in cream
  • Ratatouille – stewed vegetables
  • Boeuf bourguignon – stew with beef braised in red wine
  • Truite en papillote – baked trout with tomatoes
  • Cassoulet – haricot bean stew with sausage
  • Raclette – cheese, melted and then scraped, usually served with bread and deli meats, or vegetables
  • Plateau de fruits de mer – seafood platter of shellfish (note that the word “fruit de mer” means shellfish and does not include fish, which is “poisson”)
  • Cervelle de veau – calf’s brains (this is a delicacy in France!)
  • Escargots – snails prepared with herbs and garlic butter (these are high in protein!)
  • Quiche Lorraine – savory custard pie with meat and cheese

Want to dive into French language and culture?

Check out our France ForeignIQ service. Make the best of your trip to France by learning how to communicate and what (not) to do when you get there.

ForeignIQ is a unique subscription service that shows you how things get done in foreign places. Need to shop for clothes? Get directions? Schedule a meeting? ForeignIQ will get you ready.