We all have our go to game. The title we fire up when we have an evening or afternoon spare and nothing but time to recline into. For me that game is Sid Myer’s Civilization V. But when I launch this turned based strategy title I lose the next two weeks to game-play. Looking over the Steam stats I have given over three hundred hours to perfecting the best Civilization and still cannot win above King difficulty. What is it about this particular game that eats my weekends and leaves me avoiding evenings with friends? There’s two main reasons: it’s unique within its genre and the game is rich with choice.
At the start of the game you pick a nation or civilization to role play like the Celtic tribes, Germany, or the Mongol war hordes. Each country comes with unique buildings and perks to influence game play. You then develop your empire by settling more cities, working the local resources and researching technological advancements. But what separates Civ V from other turned based strategies is that you don’t need to conquer your neighbours in order to win the game.
Victory can be achieved in numerous ways. You could be a diplomat and be voted world leader by the united nations, wooing your opponents with a silver tongue and gold gifts. Alternatively, scientific and cultural domination are attainable by being the first nation to reach space or producing the most influential tourist capital by creating great works or art, writing and music. Of course the way of the sword, musket and nuclear bomb is still an option but just like reality it’s challenging because no empire in history has controlled every country.
Negotiating the path to winning is not simple. The game is filled with features that hinder or support your chances against the other nations. Creating, controlling and spreading a religion is highly competitive, just like the rush to build world wonders such as the Great Wall of China, Statue of Liberty or Kremlin. Then you have to worry about hordes of barbarians stealing your workers, sneak attacks from other countries, sustaining trade relations, picking the perfect social policies for your empire and trying to keep your people happy. The effort required to conquer in Civ V is colossal but rewarding and probably the reason sink so much time into the game.
I made a deal with myself. Once all the victory conditions had been achieved and if my laptop could cope with the new tech I would treat myself to Civ VI. This goal was reached several months ago, and even though I tempt myself watching videos of the latest installment, I cannot take the plunge to update and give up my favourite game. After four years I am still challenged by the title and have truly played the original sale price of thirty five pounds. If you want to lose the next few years of your life I would recommend you do the same.
After completing all the tasks on Duolingo I found myself a bit lost. Suddenly, I had exhausted the app and needed a new direction for my Swedish lessons. The alternate learning methods needed to develop on the basics of Duolingo and engage me into further study. There are a variety of information points available ranging from websites with lessons plans to online video tutorials and subscription apps. With a bit of experimenting I found a combination of several resources suited me best.
This is probably the simplest way to boost your vocab. Once you have changed the language settings on your devices, social media and Netflix you will pick up new words everyday. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram translates all the adverts, which makes them slightly more interesting and streaming your favourite show teaches you all the swear words that family friendly sources won’t. The only problem is if you have a technical issue. It’s easier to walk past discount Ben and Jerry’s than turn your phone back to factory settings.
Finding an app that fits for you is exhausting. They all seem to offer the same intermediate level lessons and charge the GDP of Kuwait. It took a lot of experimenting before I settled on an app that would engage me and justify a monthly subscription. Eventually, I settled on Memrise partly because it was the cheapest on offer at less than £6 per month. However, the app offers a lot of features others don’t such as videos of native speakers pronouncing vocabulary, an interactive story-line as well as access to tutors for an additional charge. As you complete each lesson your extraterrestrial avatar grows and journeys further into space. Learning this way keeps exploring a language fun and feels less like a chore. Ideal if your children are insisting on being bilingual.
If language learning resources were gold then 101Languages is as valuable as the crown jewels. Just like the name suggests they have information on about 101 languages available. The site offers samples of everything from vocab flashcards to links to radio shows and a smorgasbord of audio lessons. There is so much choice, all you have to do is click a link and learn.
If you tell somebody you read poetry you’re likely to get a funny look. Their eyebrows automatically lift a little too high and the pupils glaze over slightly as they internally pass judgement. Most likely this stems from a misconception that poetry is flowery and difficult to understand. In truth a lot of it is, especially the stuff force fed to teenagers at school and it’s hard to shake the impression instilled in the formative years. But I’d encourage everybody to give it another go.
The best way to enjoy poetry is first thing in the morning. When you wake up and sit for your morning coffee take the time to read a poem. Start simple with writers from your century. If you don’t understand every line even better. What was confusing at 6am will slowly churn around your head and be unraveled at lunch time. Everybody deserves a little Eureka moment whilst doing the dishes or sat in a meeting. Even if you never crack the lyric code the puzzle is enough to keep the mind churning.
Just like exercise to maintain a healthy body, poetry should be used to encourage a peaceful mind. A little time spent every day to discuss a shard of the human experience with someone you have never met can only be beneficial. We encourage the disciplines of yoga and meditation but neglect the need to enjoy creation. Poetry should be treated as a daily vitamin supplement for the soul. Just like apples, one poem a day will keep mind rot at bay.
Over the Easter period I found myself with four free days. I decided to use this opportunity to do a little exploring. When I sat down to plan the city break I decided on two criteria. Firstly, I wanted to travel as cost effectively as possible. Secondly, the journey must take me somewhere new and be an exposure to fresh experiences . With only a week to plan and a starting point in Stockholm I scoured the internet for bargain holidays.
After a few hours of research I’d gathered a list of trains and planes that could take me somewhere within Scandinavia for a decent price. However, the costs seemed to treble when I searched for accommodation. Booking last minute meant all the bargains had already been bought and I was left with the more expensive options. I returned to the search engine disheartened and started reading other people’s recommendations. To my surprise, one of the most frequent options for budget traveling was to take a cruise.
Initially I was a little skeptical of boat travel. Cruises conjure the image of bingo halls and close quarters with very tanned pensioners who spend six months of the year in the Caribbean. However, after totaling the prices on several websites the savings of cruises couldn’t be ignored. Even with a last minute booking a three day journey came in slightly cheaper than flights for two people. By combining the cost of transport and accommodation traveling across the Baltic sea becomes a steal.
Finally, I had hunted down a holiday that fit my cost effective criteria. Now all I needed to do was choose a city to explore. Most cruises companies offer four or five destinations. That gives you plenty of options when picking a city break in a country that borders the Baltic Sea. The most frequent locations were Estonia, Latvia and Finland but if you were willing to travel for longer you can reach Russia and even China. With so many places to choose from it was impossible not to find somewhere I hadn’t explored. And by taking my first journey by boat I had the opportunity to appreciate a new country a unique way to get there.
The week quickly past and I found myself at Stockholm’s port, ready to begin my voyage. I still held some reservations about cruises but they were quickly washed away after a few hours. Unlike the airport leaving the country by boat is a much calmer experience. Gone are the frustrated families cramming through baggage checks and long lines at passport control. There’s no need to wrestle for a seat whilst you’re waiting to depart because you’re immediately at ‘hotel’.
Once onboard all there is left to do is relax and enjoy the journey. This is made easy with the amount of opportunities on board. Most hotels offer one or two restaurants whilst cruises double your choices. Alongside this there are multiple bars, shopping centers, live entertainment, spa facilities, play areas for the children and of course the obligatory bingo. Even though your are spending more time traveling by boat the experience itself makes the journey feel faster. What cruises lose in speed the make up for in comfort.
Taking a city break by boat is ultimately an experience in pleasure. From the effortless journey to the plethora of options for entertainment and dining, you arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to explore. When you consider the bargain prices as well then it’s not surprising why they are so highly recommended. If you have a few days to enjoy and a wanderlust to satisfy then a cruise around the Baltic may be perfect for you.
No matter how much time I spend in the air I am anxious for the majority of the flight. It’s a ridiculous fear for someone who spends at least fives hours on a plane every four weeks. According to the app for my most used airline I have flown one and a half times around the world. But despite my abundance of air miles I spend a large part of every journey panicking. Perhaps my anxiety of being in an airplane is justified and something I can never completely conquer. However, I am starting to gather tips after each experience in order to make the next journey slightly more enjoyable. Hopefully you have some too and will leave them in the comments below.
- Chewing gum throughout the flight is essential for me. Not only does it help with alleviating the pain of air pressure but gum also keeps your mouth occupied. This stops you nervously breathing large gulps of air, which is unpleasant for the person sitting next to you but also seems to make you panic more. Slower breaths through the nose release tension at a more steady rate whilst giving you a minty smile. As long as you aren’t a loud chewer gum is a winner for everybody.
- Whenever I fly it’s important to choose an airline I trust. Statistically air-travel is the safest mode of transport but a phobia isn’t a rational creature. If you know that an airline has had a recent accident then the it’s best to avoid them. Even though lighting rarely strikes the same place twice you’ll still be thinking about the worst throughout the journey.
- I’ve found that it’s worth paying a little extra for a flight instead of opting for the budget option. The main reason for this is simply breathing space. Budget airlines have limited room in order to their maximise profit and offer you a better deal. The down side to their lower prices is that you’re often cramped into a considerably smaller space. If your body is bunched up then it’s impossible to relax your mind. If you’re going to fly budget then I would recommend the aisle seat. You may get bashed more by the air staff but you will have a little more room and shouldn’t have to fight for the arm rest- an essential to grab during turbulence.
- Although a playlist of whale songs may sounds harmonious I wouldn’t advise listening to music in flight. When your ears are occupied then every muffled announcement becomes a minor panic. Something as simple as being asked to fasten seat belts or the starting of the drinks service can make you anxious when you miss it. Without all your senses the mind immediately races to an emergency landing in the Pacific ocean. To avoid this I’d recommend reading a book or if you are going to download some movies get the subtitled version and only use one headphone.
- It goes without saying the alcohol and coffee should be avoided in the air. Caffeine will only increase your heart rate leading to further panic and alcohol amplifies the feeling. It’s best to stick to water and if you need the bathroom then go straight away. I always feel like I am going to get pulled down the plane toilet when it flushes but at least I will have an empty bladder when it happens.
- A lot of people sleep during their flights but it’s something I don’t do anymore. There’s nothing more frightening than being in the middle of a dream and being shaken awake when the plane takes a turbulence dip. If you’re on a long haul flight then I would avoid naps and wait until you are tired enough to sleep for a long time. That way you will probably fall back to sleep as soon as the panic is settled.
A city break is an affordable alternative to a major holiday. It should be a weekend away to break up the monthly cycle and recharge your batteries. But all too often these mini vacations can be devastating to your bank balance. In the excitement to fully experience a new city we indulge our appetites a little too much and only once we are home begin to realise the cost. To celebrate a recent birthday I decided to visit Berlin. It was the first trip I intended to be thrifty with my cash. Overall, Germany’s capital isn’t the most expensive city in Europe but with a bit of extra attention I managed to make the most of my euros.
Being Careful at the Cash Machine
When it comes to paying your way around Berlin remember that cash is King. I was completely shocked when an affluent bar didn’t accept any card payments at all. It appears as if the German people prefer to take make their purchases in physical euros over a card transaction. This is a little irritating if your country doesn’t use the same currency but a secret blessing in disguise. As we all know, your bank will charge you for each transaction you make abroad. At the end of the end of a trip your card can accumulate a sizeable pile of overseas charges and currency conversion costs. The same applies to ATM withdrawals as well.
The solution is simple but effective. It’s best to convert your cash before you go. The benefits of this are twofold. Not only do you avoid charges for spending your own money but you immediately have to budget your spending. If you have a set amount to purchase with then you value every time you hand over your euros. Having a fixed sum in cash should make you a little more careful as you see your stockpile dwindle.
Food and Drink without a Fortune
My favourite part of any city break is always the food. The majority of my plans are made around meal time and whilst it is nice to spend an evening in a fancy restaurant it isn’t the cheapest option. Fortunately, Berlin responds to this with its fondness of street food. Currywurst and Kebab vendors can be found on every other corner-particularly handy if your walking across the city and are in need of tasty fuel. And it’s no surprise with chain restaurants like Vapianos that the Germans rank in the top five pizza eating countries in the world. However, if you’re in need of supplies then I would highly recommend finding a nearby Lidl. The prices are astounding. Four beers, a tub of hummus and a pack of Kettle Chips totaled less than five euros.If Berlin has imparted any lesson then it’s to ditch the Martini at the hotel bar and go to the pub instead.
Walk Your Way Around
There’s a temptation with a new city to take transport everywhere. Simply getting from point A to point B is probably the largest expense after food. In the age of smart phones when there is always a map at our fingertips there is no longer an excuse to not explore the city by foot. At first this seems a little daunting but it is especially rewarding in a city as historic as Berlin. Every street discloses another secret of the past. The effects of the wall are evident on how the city was shaped over the last century. It’s surprisingly simple to spring from Checkpoint Charlie, to Parliament and then to the Brandenburg Gate. Just as Venice is the city of canals, Berlin is the city that wears the history of the twentieth century.
I first discovered blooming tea about two years ago in a small, hipster cafe. As I watched the dehydrated flower blossom to life again I knew it would become one of my favourite beverages. Fortunately the flower tea trend has taken off and a pot can be ordered in many more eateries or purchased online. However, despite the popularity of the product its origins are still a mystery. We know that the majority of the blooming buds are produced in China but who or when it was invented is still unknown.
Regardless of its secret history I am happy we have it in the present. In the era of Starbucks and Coco Cola producing high caffeine, high sugar drinks, flower tea offers something fresh. Most blooming tea bundles are wrapped in whole green tea leaves which are renowned for their numerous health benefits. These range from being rich in antioxidants to the claims the drink can lower cholesterol, improve blood flow and block the plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease. However, if the green leaves aren’t your cup of choice then black tea and flavoured varieties are also available.
Not only is it a healthy drink the aesthetic value is important too. The dramatic resurrection of the flower turns a simple cup of tea into a Twenty First Century tea ceremony. There’s a tranquil moment as you take time to enjoy the natural artwork unfold. The only issue is that you can’t share the beauty of blooming tea. Attempting to take a photo is very difficult because light sources are reflected on the glass surface. This makes a pot of flower tea a private pleasure. The feast is only for those at the table, a selfish moment to be enjoyed away from social media or the wider world.
The health benefits of green tea:
An affordable example