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Shortcutting… Flags

10 Aug

With any meeting of nations comes that confusion of multi-coloured stripes, circles and stars that is… the flags! Yay! What better game to play while sitting in any cafe, shop or restaurant with the Olympic bunting on show than Name That Flag! Now, with so many countries (204), learning each and every flag is no simple task. I’d say I can name about 40 without revision (not that I’d revise… That would be weird…) – most of Europe plus USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a handful of Asia, Africa and South America. I don’t know how your average, non-geography-trivia-loving person would compare, but I’m giving myself a ‘could do better’ (I’m really good at capital cities though, I swear!).

First on today’s agenda, I would like to present you with a guide for more easy flag-identification. I know you’ve been dying for one. (No seriously, please skip this paragraph unless you’re a hardcore flagophile – it’s very boring.) Starting with Europe, a good clue is the off-centre cross, which ought to point you in particular towards the Scandinavian region – see Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Three equal vertical stripes is also a safe bet for Europe (France, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Romania, Belgium, Moldova, Andorra), three equal horizontal stripes (Russia, Hungary, Austria, Estonia, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia) or two horizontal stripes (Liechtenstein, Monaco, Poland, Ukraine, San Marino). That doesn’t quite cover Europe, but it’s a good start. Themes of Africa include stars (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Morocco, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Somalia, DRC, Togo), crescent moon and star (Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia – Northern Africa), and triangle on the left with stripes (Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, South Africa, Sudan, Zimbabwe). It turns out there are a fair few three vertical stripes here too, so maybe that ain’t such a good clue after all… The crescent moon, symbolizing Islam I believe, is also present in Asia (Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan), although apart from that there ain’t much of a trend… For Oceania, look for the Union Jack in the corner (Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Tuvalu), and for South America I’m going to say horizontal stripes with a twist – i.e. with a crest, or a lot more than three, or differing thicknesses. North America is rather un-patterned, except for a few flags that are divided into four segments in one way or another.

Whew. Okay. That’s over with. Now let’s have a bit more fun (no, don’t get too excited – I’m sticking with flags). Here are a couple of my favourites (if you don’t know them – and shame on you if you don’t – just hover over them and your questions will be answered):

And finally, just in case I haven’t quite bored you to death yet, I have one more piece of exciting trivia for you. For you will be thrilled to hear that there is one flag that is different, unique, an outsider. What is so special about this flag? It’s different on the front and back. I know! So exciting! But which flag is it? Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the flag of… Paraguay! Yayyyy! Woooo! So how exactly do the front and back differ? Well, the front has the country’s coat of arms on it, whereas the back has the Treasury Seal. Don’t believe me? Well here’s a lil pic for you to see for yourselves what the difference is:

Picture courtesy of http://www.wakkipedia.com

So there you go. Bet you’re all flagged out now. You’re probably waving the white flag of surrender  (see what I did there?). Your strength is diminishing – flagging, one might say. So I shall save semaphore for another day.

Suffice it to say, keep shortcutting,

 (Zoe)

Shortcutting… Jet-lag

27 Jul

Sorry the blogging’s been a bit lax recently, but you’ll be glad to hear that I’m back home and fully revitalised so I can now return to my frequent hilarious posts once more.

So anyhoo, as you may have gathered from the title of this post, the fact that ‘I’m back home’, and putting two and two together, there is a time difference between Greece and England which results in fatigue. Thankfully, staying in Europe guarantees nothing too severe: between fair Athens and dear London is a mere two hour difference, which is pretty manageable. However, I have experienced more severe jet-lag in my time, and I want you to know that you’ll get through it my friend!

The first thing to be said on the matter is that there is definitely a better way round: it is much better forcing your eyes open when you’re tired until it is finally late enough for you to collapse into bed with dignity than it is lying there forcing your eyes shut when you’re full of beans and just itching to paint the town red. So when you go West, e.g. to the US, it’s the good way, and when you go East, e.g. to China, it’s the bad way (I suppose these examples depend on where you are – I’m talking from England). That’s one thing to take into account. Also, if you want to go somewhere exotic but want to avoid jet-lag, then do some research and there are possibilities: for the English, for example, South Africa is a twelve-hour flight but zero-hour jet-lag away.

If you are jet-lagged, the best way to deal with it is to force yourself to stay awake when you should be, and keep a book handy when it’s bed time.

Good luck!

Keep shortcutting,
Zoe

Shortcutting… Heat

17 Jul

I am in Greece at the moment – woke up at 3.45 am to get here (I know, I’m so brave) – and I can describe it to you in one word: Hot. Given three more words I would probably add: So. Bloody. Hot. Although I supposedly have Greek blood in me, it is clearly not very prevalent, as I have an extremely low heat tolerance. I think I’ve touched on this before, but hey – if I don’t really remember you probably don’t either. So here is how I plan to deal with it.

1) Sun Cream (/ ‘Block’). I hate wearing the stuff but without it I am burnt to a crisp, boiled, fried, chargrilled, or whatever other cooking method you prefer. So I slap it on and make sure to check before I leave that it is sufficiently rubbed in and I don’t look like some kind of ghost (although given my English skin and current tiredness, this is somewhat unavoidable).

2) Ice-cold Air Con. When the heat gets too hot, I head inside for a nice cool break, until my boiled/ fried/ chargrilled state is lightly chilled. It’s like putting a roast chicken in the fridge: you can never unroast it (ooh I forgot roasted), but it is nice and cold and makes a damn good sandwich (okay the metaphor kinda fell apart there).

3) The Sea. Tomorrow morning, I will most certainly be taking the plunge. I know some favour the gradual, walking-deeper-and-deeper-in method, but I am more of a find-the-end-of-a-pier-and-get-it-over-with type of gal.

4) Ice Cream. A food that is both sweet and tasty, and highly cooling. What could be better? (I particularly like those sandwich ones with the biscuity stuff on either side – there’s easy to hold and the ‘bread’ of the sandwich is much nicer than cone in my opinion.)

Is it hot in here or is it just you? 😉

Keep shortcutting,
Zoe

Shortcutting… Finding People in Train Stations

14 Jul

Just a quick word from me today, before I pass out from exhaustion, not to wake for at least twelve hours (drama queen? Me?). I thought you might like to hear my insight into the art of finding someone at a train station, as I had to practise it this afternoon. It was one of those situations where you both keep calling each other, are not quite able to hear/ understand what the other person is saying, arrange to meet at Burger King when it turns out there are two Burger Kings, etc. etc., although you’ll be relieved to hear that we found each other in the end. Here are my tips: if you haven’t met the other person before/ haven’t seen them in a while, a bit of Facebook stalking is probably a good idea to refresh your memory. (I should add that this wasn’t the case for me, in case said person reads this post and thinks I’d forgotten what they looked like.) If signal is bad/ you’re having difficulty understanding each other, texting is often better, although if you’re a super-slow texter then maybe don’t bother unless you’re really desperate. Arrange a meeting place which you’re certain is unique and unmistakeable in the station: Right = station clock/ big departures board, wrong = Burger King/ Starbucks/ long bench with a bin next to it. It is also quite handy to know from where in the station the other person is coming, although this doesn’t make it impossible for you to miss each other. And it has just occurred to me that there’s probably some sort of GPS app thing to help you out, although I haven’t looked into it yet, which can show you exactly (or each to within fifteen metres) the other person is.

Good luck with the emotional reunion!

Keep shortcutting,
Zoe

Shortcutting… Camping

10 Jul

I’m back! Did you miss me? What’s that? You cried yourself to sleep every night, and could barely get out of bed every morning, due to the gaping hole in your life left by the absence of my words? N’awww you’re too kind! I’m blushing! I didn’t realise I meant so much to you! Gosh, I suddenly feel a great weight of responsibility on my shoulders, as though the existence of mankind depends on my daily blogging. Well never fear, earthlings, you’re safe with me. I will use this opportunity to guide you through the darkness, and towards the light. Okay, that’s enough b.s. for now. On to the post.

As you will no doubt recall, the reason for my absence from the blogosphere was a camping trip. So let me share with you the wisdom I have gleaned from the experience.

1) Tents. A home built with your own hands could potentially be a highly rewarding place to live. When the walls and floor are little more than waterproof (thank God) sheets of fabric, and there’s barely room to swing a tent-invading midge (we’ll get to those later), let alone  a cat, it’s somehow strangely lacking in rewarding-ness. Nevertheless, as long as you make sure to get one that can be put up pretty quickly, and folded pretty small, and isn’t very heavy, you’ve done alright. It’s probably worth testing it out at the shop, putting it up and down and carrying it and all that (I know it’s a bit awkward but it beats standing in the middle of a field in the pouring rain trying to figure out which pole goes where). Also, don’t think you’re being economic by using a tent designed for fewer people than you are. ‘A two-man eh, that’ll be enough for us three won’t it now? It’ll be nice and snug…’, you might think. Fool! You will be tired and muddy and most certainly not in the mood for ‘snug’. You will want all the room you can get. Don’t compromise.

2) Food. If you, like me, will be carrying your own supplies, small and light is the key. If, on the other hand, you have some kind of automobile to transport them, then knock yourself out. I will say, however, that you should never underestimate the value of fruit and veg. Sounds kinda lame, but trust me, there is nothing better than a can of tinned peaches to wash down a dayful of hotdogs and pasta and bread and other dry, savoury things. I imagine if you’re bringing your own food you’ll be using some kind of portable stove-type device for cooking, so I’d suggested either those Uncle Ben’s rice things or fresh pasta of some kind, as they cook pretty quickly. And don’t forget the hot chocolate!

3) Sleeping bag. Find out the weather. And no, not just the daytime weather. In the day you can put on or take off jumpers at liberty, and either drink water or do star-jumps to acclimatize to whatever weather has been thrown at you. At night, things are different. You are trapped in your sleeping bag, which will determine whether or not you get through the night. Cold is definitely more of a problem than hot, as you can always unzip your sleeping bag a bit if you need to cool down, so if in doubt, go for a sleeping bag for really cold temperatures. But if you do find yourself shivering at 2 a.m., there are a few little tricks to make it that bit warmer.  Firstly, you’re not meant to pile on the layers – just stick to one set of thermals and a fleece. I know it’s virtually impossible not to wear every single item of clothes you’ve brought with you, but my sources tell me that more layers just mean your body heat gets spread among all the layers, making you colder (or something like that :s), so you’ll have to resist! What you can do with those extra jumpers is put them inside your sleeping bag and kinda stuff it so that you trap the heat in. You may not be toasty but you’ll get through it! (Actually, sleeping bags tend to have both ‘comfort’ temperature ratings and ‘extreme’ ratings. Basically, comfort temperatures are when you’ll be comfortable, and extreme is like what you can cope with. So if the nighttime temperature is lower than the extreme temperature rating on your sleeping bag, it might be a good idea to reschedule…)

4) Mat. Your mat is essentially what separates you from the hard, rocky ground. So choose it wisely. There are basically two options: one of those roll-up, foam mats, or an inflatable one. Supposedly, the inflatable ones are more comfortable. Here’s how I see it: foam mats are much cheaper, much quicker to ‘set up’ (i.e. you just unroll it, as opposed to any kind of inflating), impermeable (I think that’s the word – basically, if you drop it in a puddle, no biggie), and I’ve borrowed a friend’s ‘self-inflating’ mats twice and still haven’t figured out how to make it inflate, so it’s essentially a piece of cloth. Not to mention the fact that these inflatable mats are virtually impossible to put back in their little bags – you have to keep sitting on it to push the air out as you roll it up and it’s somehow always too big to fit back in. Basically, go for the foam mat.

5) Method of transport. I imagine most people will either take the *cough* cheating *cough* route and use a car, or, if wanting to use their own steam, will do the most orthodox method: hiking/ trekking. Being a highly unorthodox person myself, this weekend’s trip was meant to be a canoeing trip. There are many advantages of canoeing – you don’t have to carry your bag, you don’t have to walk, you keep moving forward even when you aren’t doing anything, it’s pretty difficult to take a wrong turn – but one major disadvantage is than, in a rain-heavy country such as dear England, flooding risks etc. could potentially rain on your parade, which indeed they did for me. As a group of, it would be fair to say, inexperienced canoeists, we were advised to steer clear of the river at all costs, lest we be, all jokes aside, up shit creek without a paddle. So if you do wish to take to the river, try and choose a time when it probably won’t be raining in your timezone; in England for example, try July. Oh wait.

I hope these tips will make you a happy camper!

Keep shortcutting,

Zoe

P.S. That was super-long, hope it makes up for everything 😀

Shortcutting… A Short Break

5 Jul

I am writing today to forewarn you that from tomorrow until tuesday, I will be on an 100% internet-free camping trip, getting back to nature etc etc (if you ask me, nature’s overrated, but oh well). You can probably see what’s coming. It’s hard for me to get the words out, but here it is. Deep breath. Okay. No internet for four days and nights means no blogging. FOR FOUR DAYS! Yes, you heard right. That’s four utterly blog-free days. I know – it’s going to be a hard time for all of us. I’m not sure if I’ll cope. Come day three I’ll probably run screaming back to civilisation, my blogging fingers (i.e. all my fingers) itching to get typing again.
But if not, I’d just like to say please don’t forget me. When the moon is high in the sky, I’ll be thinking of you. So please think of me too. What we have together is too good to throw away. I’m hoping it’ll be a case of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ rather than ‘out of sight, out of mind’. What I’m trying to say is: our relationship can withstand this. I know it. So please don’t start scrolling through another blogger’s pages the moment I’m gone. Don’t cheat on me. I’m trusting you to be faithful, waiting with open arms for my return. We are strong enough to get through this, no matter what people say.

Together forever ❤

Keep shortcutting,
Zoe

Shortcutting… National Holidays

4 Jul

It’s the fourth of July today, and even an inattentive Brit like me knows what that means: American Independence Day! Yay! When I think about it, it probably isn’t, historically, a very good reason for  me to celebrate, but I like to see myself as a very international person who celebrates everyone’s holidays – I don’t discriminate y’all! On that note, I thought today I’d take a look at some other national holidays and try to make myself (and you) a little calendar of times to get down and partay about other countries’ achievements (I’m basically going to start with my own limited knowledge and then search random countries on the internet and see when their big days are, including as many independence days as I can find).

1st January – Cameroon – Independence Day

15th February – Serbia – Independence Day

17th March – Ireland – St. Patrick’s Day

25th March – Greece – Independence Day

26th March – Bangladesh – Independence Day

23rd April – England – St. George’s Day (this one’s legit for me)

5th May – The Netherlands – Independence Day

2nd June – Italy – Festa della Repubblica

6th June – Sweden – Independence Day

4th July – United States – Independence Day

9th July – Argentina – Independence Day

14th July – France – Bastille Day

19th August – Afghanistan – Independence Day

7th September – Brazil – Independence Day

3rd October – Germany – German Unity Day

12th October – Spain – Fiesta Nacional de España

26th October – Austria – Independence Day

21st November – Everywhere – My Birthday (I give you permission to partay!)

30th November – Scotland – St. Andrew’s Day

1st December – Iceland – Independence Day

Hope this random selection is enough to keep you going throughout a long year, and see you at all those Argentinian independence parties next week!

Keep shortcutting,

Zoe