May 29, 2019

Book review: Neither here nor there. Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson

Love it or hate it, it’s definitely an interesting read (especially since it was written in the 90s – that’s almost pre-Internet era!). Neither here nor there by Bill Bryson, an American-British writer and traveller, takes us on a tour around well-known European cities. The book is written with a great sense of humour, so be careful, you may burst out with laugher, unexpectedly and hysterically (in my case: I woke up my husband and my baby girl, as it was impossible for me to stop laughing!). It’s inspiring, funny, occasionally politically-incorrect, retrospective, and today we would say that it represents slow-travelling since the author travels mostly by train!

I highly recommend it for those planning their European holidays or looking for some good laughs!

BTW, the writer finds Austria more European than the rest of Europe and in his view Sofia is the most European of all the cities (interesting!). Which country/city do you find more European?

Kinga Macalla

May 22, 2019

Italy: Florence – Pisa – Torre del Lago

My travelling destination in Italy was Tuscany, and while there I visited Florence, Pisa and Torre del Lago. Today, I’d like to share with you my observations of those towns and what impressed me most.


Architectonically, it’s a true gem, breathtakingly beautiful. You can just wander around the town the whole day long and admire its architecture. I was surprised at how crowded the town centre was, there were many tourists. That also meant that the queues to various places, like the galleries or the main cathedral, were very long. Even though the ticket and entrance system is a bit chaotic, we decided to visit the main gallery, Galleria degli Uffizi, which contains paintings by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, among many other masterpieces. The building itself, with its painted ceilings, is worth your attention and so are the window views. We also walked around the town to see the many famous squares, but we couldn’t miss a cup of decadent hot chocolate in the Caffè Rivoire or a cup of the creamiest ice-cream in the galetaria Grom.


I have always treasured those “first time” moments, such as when I first saw Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, and this time was the same with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I was moved when I had my first glimpse of this monumental tower and yes, it’s very, very slanted! Pisa was much less crowded than Florence, but every time we went to Pisa, it always rained, even if it only lasted 5 minutes. We also visited the botanical garden, which dates back to 1543 and was the first European university botanical garden. Our visit to Pisa wouldn’t have been the same without a scoop of the tastiest ice-cream (read my ice-cream post here).

Torre del Lago

This tiny seaside town is mostly famous for the Puccini Opera Festival which is held here in July-August and is the only festival fully dedicated to the composer Giacomo Puccini. Torre del Lago also has a long sandy beach which we enjoyed almost every day. Its long main street is crammed with many small shops, delis, bakeries, groceries and cafes. For me, it was so nice to see so many Italians cycling to work or to the beach (with the kids being placed everywhere on the bike!). I could definitely slow down and relax here, through walking on the beach, tasting the food, reading books or simply by dolce far niente.

What are your impressions of Tuscany and its beautiful towns? Let me know in the comments below.

Kinga Macalla

May 8, 2019

On Languages: Greek

This blog post is about Modern Greek, its background, grammar and alphabet.  The Greek language has an important place in Western literature, science and religion, with Western canonical texts like the Iliad and the Odyssey, many foundational texts in science and Western philosophy and the New Testament of the Bible being written in Greek.  Many Greek words have been borrowed by other languages, including English: “mathematics”, “physics”, “astronomy”, “democracy”, “philosophy”, “athletics”, “theatre”, “rhetoric”, “baptism”, “evangelist”, etc.  Greek words are also used to invent new words, mainly for use in science: “anthropology”, “photography”, “telephony”, “biomechanics”, etc.  Lots of English words are of Greek origin.


Greek (ελληνικά (elliniká)) is an independent branch of the Indo-European language family.  It has the longest history of any living Indo-European language, with written records going back 3000 years.  The Greek alphabet, itself derived from the Phoenician alphabet, became the basis for the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic and other writing systems.

Modern Greek is the official language of two countries, Greece and Cyprus, a recognised minority language in seven other countries and is one of the 24 official languages of the European Union. Greek is spoken by at least 13.2 million people in the world, in Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Albania, Turkey, Romania, Ukraine, the United States, Canada and Australia.  Varieties of Modern Greek include Demotic (Standard Modern Greek), Katharevousa, Pontic, Cappadocian, Mariupolitan, Southern Italian, Yevanic and Tsakonian.


This is a very brief selection of some aspects of Greek grammar.  A more complete summary can be found here.

Pronouns denote person (1st (I), 2nd (you) and 3rd (s/he)), number (singular and plural) and gender (masculine, feminine, and neuter).  Pronouns can be dropped if it is clear who or what is being talked about.

Modern Greek has four cases: Nominative (Ονομαστική), for the subject of sentences; Genitive (Γενική), to mark possession; Accusative (Αιτιατική), for objects (direct and indirect) of sentences and Vocative (Κλητική), for calling (usually people, but every object has a vocative case).

The most commonly used word order is subject-verb-object, but word order is quite free and so verb-subject-object and other orders can be used too.  Adjectives describing the noun go before the noun (e.g. το μεγάλο σπίτι, (to meˈɣalo ˈspiti), “the big house”), but possessive adjectives follow the noun (e.g. το σπίτι μου, (to ˈspiti mu), “my house”).

Verbs agree with their subject.  There is no infinitive; a type of infinitive is formed using subjunctive verb forms (e.g. θέλω να πάω, (ˈθelo na ˈpao), literally “I want that I go”, i.e. “I want to go”).

Modern Greek has stressed and unstressed syllables, similar to English.  Where the stress falls is indicated by a stroke (΄) over the vowel to be stressed.


Greek has been written in the Greek alphabet since the 9th century BC.  The word “alphabet” itself comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: άλφα (alpha) and βήτα (beta).  The Greek alphabet has 24 letters, each with an uppercase and lowercase form. The letter sigma has an additional lowercase form (ς) used at the end of words.  Words are pronounced as they are written.

Here is the alphabet with the name and  pronunciation of each letter:

Α α = alpha = “a”

Β β = vita (beta) = “v”

Γ γ = gamma = “y” / “gh”

Δ δ = thelta (delta) = “th” (as in “there”)

Ε ε = epsilon = “e”

Ζ ζ = zita = “z”

Η η = ita = “ee”

Θ θ = thita = “th” (as in “through”)

Ι ι = iota = “ee”

Κ κ = kappa = “k”

Λ λ = lamtha (lambda) “l”

Μ μ = mu = “m”

Ν ν = nu = “n”

Ξ ξ = xee = “x” / “ks”

Ο ο = omicron = “oh”

Π π = pi = “p”

Ρ ρ = ro = rolled “r”

Σ σ / ς = sigma = “s”

Τ τ = tau = “t”

Υ υ = upsilon = “ee”

Φ φ = phi = “f”

Χ χ = chi = “ch” (like the sound an annoyed cat might make, but softer)

Ψ ψ = psi = “ps”

Ω ω = omega = “or”

Where Can I Learn More?

The BBC website and the Turquoise Collection have some useful phrases that you can use on holiday but if you want to go deeper, there are extensive guides here and here.  Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive guide to Modern Greek grammar.  For a comprehensive overview of the Greek language, including its history, you can read this very informative webpage.  You might also want to book a language course in a Greek-speaking country.

Suzannah Young