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Category: Culture

Duolingo Is A Good Start To Learning Language But Not The Final Step

Duolingo is a popular language learning site and app that comes with the very good price of free, unless you don’t count time. You might be thinking of learning a new language in the new year or want to learn a few words before an international trip. There are a lot of good reasons to learn a new language and Duolingo is a good start for some of them in some ways.

Back To Basics

Duolingo has a really low barrier to entry, all you have to do is hop on their website or download the free Duolingo app, answer a few questions about the language you want to learn, your current skill level. You can start anywhere from a complete novice to advanced and also specify your language lesson concentration – it could be cultural, for travel, or just because you want to learn something new.

It’s a very easy, quick set of questions before you’re off to learning. Duolingo is based on what they call XP points. XP points are basically a weighted point system for various language lessons and you can set a daily goal, with 30 XP being roughly equivalent to about 15 minutes per day.

Gamifying Language Learning

You get notifications daily to make sure you’re practicing everyday and Duolingo keeps track of your daily streak. Expect an automated reminder email if it looks like you might miss a day. To keep track of all those stats you have to create a free account. Then you can track your daily progress and see where you’re ranked against other language learners in the same language. Even if you’re not particularly competitive, it does work to motivate you not to miss lessons.

duolingo

The layout of Duolingo’s language lessons itself are like a game. There are bright colors, buttons, and all you have to do is hit start to being. Depending on the language level your entered in the beginning, you’ll go through lessons which use a few different methods to teach.

How Duolingo Teaches

One obvious focus is vocabulary. You’re shown some words then click what they mean with audio prompts throughout. As you advance will have to pick out the correct word among a few others. The words are also read out to you, which is helpful so you’re exposed to pronunciation and accents. Duolingo doesn’t prompt you to repeat back what you’re hearing but I’ve found for me personally, repeating back those words is very effective with memorization. The way Duolingo is set up is it’s as easy or as difficult as you want to make it but that part isn’t gamified and really takes self motivation.

When you’re given a lesson where a sentence is read to you and you have to write it back, Duolingo defaults to letting you click the words you’ve heard. It will correct any mistakes and if you keep fumbling on a certain set of words or parts of a sentence like pronouns, it will focus on those for you.

To Be Free Or Not To Be

Duolingo’s free version shows ads in between lessons and prevents you from going back to see specific mistakes you may have made. Basically if you miss a day your streak starts over. But with Duolingo’s paid plan, called Super Duolingo, you can maintain your streak if you miss a day (in exchange for “Lingots”, which are points you accumulate with each completed lesson. Super Duolingo also lets you review past mistakes and get lessons focused on strengthening your weakest areas in a given language.

Duolingo is a good start or supplement but isn’t your one stop shop to learning a new language or even getting down some quick conversational lingo. I would suggest you pair Duolingo with some other online language service or classes because it’s short lessons are ideal for mental exercise to keep that new language fresh in your mind. Duolingo is the beginning of the journey to fluency but won’t take you all the way there.

How Americans Can Visit Cuba (And Why You Should!)

This is a guest post by Hege Jacobsen, a Norwegian Army officer, social scientist, and traveler who writes about Cuba on her travel blog, The World By Hege.

hege jacobsen

Many people are unaware Cuba is still open for travelers and is still destination you can visit legally – including Americans – despite recent tightening of sanctions. It’s not always the most straightforward travel plan but well worth considering Cuba as your next destination. Here is everything you need to know about visiting Cuba now, and why you should.

What you need to know about visiting Cuba now

The most important thing you need to do to travel to Cuba is to buy a ticket. Then, you buy your Cuban tourist card, book your hotel or casa particular, and that’s it. There are no complicated extra steps to it unless you are American, then you need to check out just a couple of more things (listed below).

Here is a simple checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything!

  1. Not all search engines provide flights to Cuba due to ongoing sanctions. This does not mean you can not travel to Cuba, just that you need to find another search engine to book your flight. (Upon arrival, make sure you follow this advice at the airport.)
  2. Buy your Cuban tourist card (also called a tourist visa) from the Cuban embassy, from selected airlines, or from an online provider. You buy it, you do not apply for for a Cuban tourist visa, it is a formality.
  3. There are two versions of the tourist card, green and pink. For most travelers, what you need is a green tourist card. If you are a U.S. citizen or your flight has the last stopover at a U.S. airport before arriving in Cuba, you need the pink tourist card.
  4. When you book your accommodation in Cuba, a great option is to stay at a casa particular. This is a private rental holiday home, where your rental fee will go to the Cuban owner. This way you will put your money somewhere helpful, have the opportunity to connect with locals, and learn a bit about Cuban culture and life. There are casa particulares all over Cuba, some modest and some luxurious, in all shapes and sizes.
  5. Note: if you are a foreigner with an ESTA visa for the U.S., you need to know after President Trump put Cuba on the “list of countries that support terrorism”, visiting Cuba might create problems for your ESTA.

sierra nevada cuba

How can Americans travel to Cuba?

As a U.S. citizen, you absolutely can travel to Cuba despite the rocky relationship between the two countries. You just need to follow the regulations set by the U.S. government, and they are not as difficult as you might think.

Here is how Americans can travel to Cuba hassle-free, within the current rules and regulations.

  1. Remember to buy the pink version of the Cuban tourist card.
  2. As Americans can not travel to Cuba as regular tourists, you need to choose one of the 11 U.S. pre-approved reasons for visiting. There is no paperwork connected to this, you just state your reason if anyone asks. The most common reason used by Americans visiting Cuba is “helping the Cuban people”. You can find the official list here.
  3. Make a simple itinerary for your journey, showing that your planned activities are not in opposition to the U.S. regulations for travel in Cuba (if anyone asks).
  4. Book your stay in a hotel or casa particular that is not on the U.S. restricted list (most are not). You can check what accommodation is on the U.S. restricted list here to avoid any mistakes.
  5. If you book any organized tours and activities, make sure the company you choose is not on the restricted list.
  6. Note: U.S. credit cards are not accepted in Cuba. Bring enough cash in euros or Canadian dollars to pay for your planned activities, and change it to Cuban currency when needed in Cuba.

Amazing destinations to explore when visiting Cuba

The largest island nation in the Caribbean, Cuba is an archipelago with 4000 islands, endless beaches, and intriguing history. There is quite a distance between the east part of the island where you find Santiago de Cuba and Holguin, and the west, where you find Havana, Vinales, Varadero, and Trinidad. So if your holiday schedule is not unlimited, you probably need to prioritize your time.

tropicana havana cuba

Here are the highlights of the most popular destinations visiting Cuba.

Havana

The Cuban capital Havana is a fascinating city, with around two million inhabitants, 500 years of motley history, and a complicated current situation. The city was founded in the 16th Century by Spanish colonialists, stayed a colony until 1898, and has remnants of five centuries worth of more or less planned incidents.

You will notice this in architecture, old fortifications, and a vast variety of regional influences in the tiniest details. The revolutionary ambiance is also very present, although more in the social space and art, than city architecture. This makes for an amazing melting pot of people, cultures, and a mix of religions that you meet today.

havana cuba fort

Havana will feel different now from only a few years ago. Wifi in Havana is easily available and people are online. There are lots of interesting things to do, great restaurants, bars, and clubs, and you can get most things you need apart from pharmacy items. You will also find many modern casa particulares, some even with wifi. But rest assured, there is still a myriad of Classic Old American cars, run-down colonial mansions, rum, and salsa around.

The nearest airport to Havana is Jose Marti International Airport.

Varadero

A few hours east of Havana is the famous Varadero, a thin peninsula of beaches with high-end all-inclusive hotels, casa particulares, bars, and restaurants. Varadero is the biggest resort area in the Caribbean, with infinite water activities, and Varadero Beach was voted the world’s second most beautiful beach on TripAdvisor in 2019.

varadero cuba

You can book flights to Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport.

Vinales Valley

Around three hours west of Havana is Vinales Valley, one of the most fertile and lush green places in Cuba and home to the production of the famous Cuban cigars. What you might not know, is that you can also go rock climbing here, swim in underground cave waters, horseback riding, and even take a day trip to the beach a couple of hours away.

Trinidad

On the southern shores of Cuba, you find the colonial city of Trinidad, where the historic center is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Trinidad was once the wealthiest town in Cuba due to its sugar production (and slavery), but as it fell off the hype it was collectively forgotten. Because of this, Trinidad’s old city is almost the same as centuries ago.

havana forest

Ten minutes outside Trinidad is a paradisaical beach called Playa Ancon, and close by you find the national park Topes de Collantes. Go here for hiking and swimming in incredible freshwater pools under little waterfalls, and a few hours away is also the infamous Bay of Pigs.

The Cuban Keys

Visiting the Cuban Keys you will spend time in truly paradisiacal surroundings and pampered luxury, but there is no ounce of “the real Cuba” here. The most popular keys are Cayo Santa Maria and Cayo Coco on the northern side, and off the southern coast is Cayo Largo.

Go here to relax completely for a beach holiday (it is amazing), but just remember you have not really been visiting Cuba.

Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba and an 18-20 hours bus trip from Havana, with a more relaxed ambiance. The city was the capital of Cuba at one point, and also where Fidel Castro stayed during the decisive battle of the revolution in 1958.

The highest-rated Cuban rum is produced in Santiago, the Extra Añejo 25 Años, coveted across the world by rum lovers. A few hours outside Santiago, you also find the vast Sierra Nevada mountain range where you can visit the old revolutionary headquarters of Fidel Castro.

Commercial flights fly to Antonio Maceo Airport.

las Terrazas cuba

Holguin

Lastly, Holguin is a small northeastern city known as the cradle of Cuban music and is a great destination if you love dancing, art, and history. It is around two and a half hours from Santiago, and one of the places Pope Frances visited in Cuba in 2015.

If you do the one-hour drive from Holguin town up to the coast and Guardalavaca or Playa Blanca, you will find a myriad of resorts and crispy white beaches. It is said that when Christopher Columbus first laid eyes on these parts, he said “The goodliest land that eye ever saw, the sweetest thing in the world.” Maybe you will feel the same?

Holguin has a small international airport called Frank Pais.

3 Smart travel tips for Cuba

  • Pack a water bottle with a filter. Water can be hard to find, and this way, you can drink water from anywhere.
  • Bring the amount of cash you plan to spend in euro or Canadian dollars, and change it in Cuba.
  • Download an offline Google map, a Spanish app, and a VPN before you go, to keep you connected on all levels.

Thank you Hege for sharing why and how to visit Cuba! You can follow Hege on her site, The World By Hege and on Facebook, Instagram, and Pintrest. All photos in this post are courtesy Hege Jacobsen.

Why Wikipedia’s Map Of India And Pakistan Is So Controversial

When I posted this video where I asked people in Pakistan if they could say one nice thing about India, the responses people gave were overwhelmingly positive. But this map when was shown only for a few seconds, outraged a lot of people, Indians in particular.

Where This Map Is From

The map below is from the Wikipedia page titled “Indo-Pakistani wars and conflicts“. You can see a clean cut border running down between Pakistan in green and India in orange. But this is a de-facto map of the border between India and Pakistan. De-facto meaning what exists in actuality, despite official or legal status as is the case in these other de-facto places. When you look at a Google Map of the region, you see a lot of dotted lines. In other words, things are not so clear cut on the ground as the solid line on Wikipedia would suggest.

india pakistan kashmir

If you’re already thinking whoa, these de facto geopolitical situations are touchy topics, well then, just wait until we get to the Kashmir region in the northern parts of the India Subcontinent.

jammu kashmir borders

Finding Kashmir

Kashmir is a region of 180,000 kilometers at the very north of the Indian subcontinent. It’s mostly mountains with the Himalaya and Karakorum ranges cutting through the region along with three rivers, the Chenab, Indus, and Jehlum. Kashmir is bordered by Afghanistan, China, India, and Pakistan.

Now, in practice when you hear people say “Kashmir” that refers to the Kashmir valley but also the territories of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, which are administered by India – and Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, administered by Pakistan, and Aksai Chin and the Tran-Karakoram Tract, administered by China. Of this total land area, India controls about 55% (covering 70% of the total population), Pakistan 35% of the land area, and China about 20%.

1947 Split

1947 was a very important year historically for this part of the world. Up until this point for the previous 300-plus years the British colonized and ruled large parts of the India subcontinent. When Britain decided to hastily leave the Indian subcontinent, they broke it into two independent dominions – Muslim majority Pakistan and India. The guy Britain selected to draw up these borders was Cyril Radcliffe. He was not a political or regional expert, but rather a lawyer. He had also never been to the Indian subcontinent.

india pakistan border visit

Britain gave Radcliffe 5 weeks to draw up a border between India and Pakistan – again, a part of the world he had never been to and clearly did not understand.

Radcliffe cut through the Punjab and Bengal states and the effect of his drawing of lines on a map was a refugee crisis of somewhere between 10-20 million people. The violence that ensued as Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs migrated en masse to get to the “right” side of the border lead to an estimated 200,000 to 2 million deaths.

Drawing Controversy

Once the borders were drawn up, an independent Pakistan and independent India both claimed the state of Jammu and Kashmir, leading to 3 wars, the first being the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947. Since those wars there have been countless skirmishes and to this day, we have dotted lines on a map.

Except this map on Wikipedia, which is what lead to the controversy in my original video.

See, if you look at detailed maps of Kashmir, you see the dotted lines and that’s because India, Pakistan, and China all lay claims to the region, either partially or in it’s entirety. In practice though after all of the wars and over military build ups, parts of Kashmir are under Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese control.

The line of this map is controversial because the region is disputed. In some people’s eyes on both sides, all of Kashmir belongs to their country. Essentially, to a lot of Indians and a lot of Pakistanis, Kashmir historically and culturally belongs to their nation. In practice though Kashmir is a region divided by three nations, millions of people, and a lot of bad blood over nearly a century.

Interview With Geek Nation Tours Founder Teras Cassidy

geek nation tours

This post is part of Geek Takeover Week 2022.

For many, it’s New Zealand but for others it’s Mordor. The Shire. Or simply, the place where Lord of the Rings was filmed. In 2009 Teras Cassidy founded Geek Nation Tours to show people of all fandoms places like Japan, the UK, and California from a unique angle. Anime, war gaming, and Wasteland Weekend, Teras joined a special episode of the foXnoMad Podcast to talk about how he came up with Geek Nation Tours and some of the more interesting places they’ve visited.

You can listen to the full episode about and subscribe to the foXnoMad Podcast so you don’t miss the Season 4 premier in the fall!

The 4 Best Sci-Fi Shows You Should Give A Second Chance

the orville

This post is part of Geek Takeover Week 2022.

Almost a trope within the genre, good sci-fi often takes a season or two to fully get to warp. Unfortunately in the competitive streaming space, that can mean a good show gets canceled before enough people realize it’s great. These are some of the best sci-fi shows you might have heard of but dismissed prematurely.

1. The Orville

This show started off the first few episodes trying to find a balance between humor and sci-fi. The Orville (Hulu, Disney+) does hit its stride quickly though and after it moves to Hulu in Season 3, it becomes one of the best sci-fi series ever. The stories, the action, the drama, and comedic moments are beautifully interwoven into what is essentially 10 short movies. Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis (writers from several Star Trek series), The Orville is the best new Trek out now. It’s also in question for a Season 4 renewal so don’t wait to see what you’re missing.

2. For All Mankind

Speaking of Star Trek alum, For All Mankind (Apple TV) is infused with writers like Ronald Moore to designers like the Okudas. And like The Orville, For All Mankind is ultimately an optimistic show but doesn’t sugarcoat progress one bit. The drama is intense, following the lives of characters over decades (Season 1 is the 1970s, Season 2, the 80s…). For All Mankind was mapped out to play out over 7 seasons and it will have you hooked.

3. Mr. Robot

A lot of people dropped off in Season 2 due to its perspective shift. But everything is not what it seems, especially on the hacking show Mr. Robot (Amazon Prime) and like For All Mankind, was mapped out for its 4 season run. Meaning the writers knew where the story was headed and it’s beautifully interwoven until the jaw-dropping finale.

4. Resident Alien

This show will make you laugh out loud several times an episode. Resident Alien (Hulu) is about an alien who gets trapped on Earth and wants to kill humanity because we suck and don’t take care of our planet. It’s not all laughs though, Resident Alien has heart, great characters, and a Trek connection too. (Tom Paris is an executive producer).

Not just sci-fi, these are great television shows that have a little of something for everyone but one universal element we can all get onboard with: characters with depth with excellent storytelling.

The Best Vegan And Vegetarian Restaurants In Antigua, Guatemala

caoba farms antigua guatemala

Antigua is the gateway to Guatemala for most tourists to the country and serves as a culinary introduction to one of the world’s most underrated cuisines. A mix of Mayan dishes with Spanish influences, Guatemalan plates are colorful blends of unexpected flavors. Meat is plentiful but so are vegan and vegetarian options.

These are the best restaurants in Antigua to find vegan and vegetarian food.

1. Coaba Farms

There are few restaurants where you can see and eat just meters away from where your food is grown. Coaba Farms is open a few days a week and serves breakfast through dinner. Plates of food with ingredients grown and produced on Coaba’s land, there’s something for everyone. Meat or vegan options, from the cheese to the milks, it’s your choice. No matter what meal you go with, make sure to walk around the farms, visit the shop, or stay for a yoga session.

2. Wachuma

A specifically vegan restaurant that doesn’t stray far from Guatemalan tipicas (typical) dishes. Cheeses are substituted for vegan alternatives, there’s a wide selection of deserts and everything is cooked to order at Wachuma.

3. Samsara

Although Samsara leans into Asian fusion it’s a good vegetarian restaurant that as an extensive menu. From shakes to soups, salads and Thai to Indian dishes, Samsara can add variety to your meals during your stay in Antigua.

4. Y Tu Pina Tabien

y tu pina tambien guatemala antigua

Not a specifically vegetarian restaurant, Y Tu Pina Tambien features a variety of veg and vegan dishes. Breakfast is their specialty to be sure to visit during the morning hours for their specialty omelettes, cheese avocados, and excellent coffee.

5. Fat Cat Coffee House

fat cat coffee antigua guatemala

In addition to their exceptional coffee (in a town where the competition is fierce) Fat Cat Coffee House has a variety of vegan snacks and health food options. Go for their massive fruit oatmeal with oat milk and enjoy a strong cup of their best java.

6. Cafe Cafe

cafe cafe antigua guatemala

Food fresh to order and a kitchen that serves up dishes that are a fusion of Guatemalan and international cuisines. There’s options for meat eaters and vegans but both offerings at Cafe Cafe are sourced from local ingredients.

Kitchens For Everyone

Antigua has a unique culinary landscape not only because if its location in the heart of Guatemala but like many of its indigenous ingredients, they’re blended, mixed, and made into an endless variety of deliciousness. Particularly for non-meat eaters who might be thinking a good, local meal will be hard to find in a region that indeed loves meats, Antigua will be pleasantly surprising for anyone who likes to eat.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutHi, I'm Anil. foXnoMad is where I combine travel and tech to help you travel smarter. I'm on a journey to every country in the world and you're invited to join the adventure! Read More

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