Easily Enthused

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Onde estão as malas? - Learning Portuguese with the iPhone.

The other day, as we were watching that Santissimo Sacrameto procession, I found that I was quite unable to communicate with people who only know Portuguese. Regula and I had tried to talk to an elderly man about the background of the procession and found that we failed almost entirely. So I got the idea into my head that I wanted to learn some Portuguese. I was sure that there would be some nice app for the iPhone that could help me.

Scouring the AppStore I first found mobilinga. It comes with a large collection of sentences in Portuguese and German, sporting a speech synthesizer to read the text out aloud. Unfortunately it completely lacks any training concept beyond the ability to sort flashcards into piles for learning. As a beginner I was completely overwhelmed.

The next contestant was uTalk. It provides some guidance by sorting the words and phrases into different groups. It uses little images for each word so that it is not linked to a particular language of origin. The program has quite a limited range of a few hundred words, but they claim that the words were exactly the ones one would need. All the Portuguese words are available as real recordings, spoken by both a man and a woman. Quite entertaining to play with. Unfortunately the program can not remember how well I have learned the words, so its use is unfortunately quite limited to me.

So I spent another 10 Franks and bought AccelaStudy. It also comes with recordings of a real person speaking the words both in Portuguese and in German . Over 2000 words all in all. The Portuguese is actually Brazilian which caused me some confusion at the beginning. This tool includes one game where troublesome words are repeated more often than the ones I am good at. It lets me sort the words into different groups and then work on these groups. Again this tool does not provide guidance regarding the order I should learn the words in.

Now as our holiday is drawing to a close, I have managed to learn the numbers up to 20, I can ask where my luggage is - Onde estão as malas? I know to words for wine - vinho, bathroom - lavabos, beer - cerveja and some others, but even now I had to peek several times when writing this blog. I guess either my age is showing or there is quite a lot still left to be innovated regarding language learning apps on the iPhone.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Unaspiring Baby Hike

Even though Maria called it an "unaspirin baby hike" we did join the other tourists in an outing to the Levada do Caldeirão Verde. Madeiras water supply is rather unevenly spread. There is lots of rain on the north side of the Island and lots of sunshine on the south side. While the sun is not readily transportable, the islanders have setup a network of over 2000 kilometers of irrigation channels running from the northwest to the southeast. These channels transport large amounts of water and at the same time provide nice level hiking paths. Levada hiking is one of the corner stones of Madeira tourism.

Going with a group has its disadvantages, such as fellow hikers going on about Madeira being so pristine and non-touristic (what have they been smoking?) but also perks like our grumpy old guide who has only been to mainland Europe once during his military service. Using her uttermost in charm and tactfulness Regula got him to tell her interesting tidbits about island life like detailed instructions on how to prepare the traditional Christmas dinner of beef and potatoes but also about the dark sides of the EU money which has thrown the island economy into turmoil causing speculation to flourish and overblown projects being started and then abandoned midway as the money stream dried up.

We even encountered some endemic plants today. Most striking to me was the dandelion tree. A veritable tree with flowers and leaves looking much like a dandelion. I am not sure if it is genetically close to our garden weed, but if it is, it should serve as a dire warning to people who let the little pests grow unopposed in their backyard.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Adventure Playground

Today we did neither hike nor drive round the island. We spent quality time at the hotel. Enjoying a nice and quiet time on the lawn in front of our room. In the hotels brochure they put great emphasis on their private beach smack in the center of a tiny marine wildlife reserve, providing ample opportunities for close encounters with colorful fish and other friendly creatures. And indeed, when I took my first plunge today I was quite amazed by the beautifully clear water and several amazingly colorful fish nibbling on algae growing on the rocks. Unfortunately my camera does not take well to being immersed. So just to provide some perspective, the ocean is as great as the hotels adventure playground is not.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Flowers on the Steet

"If the priest walks on the flowers, I will leave the catholic church" Regula said as we were admiring the wonderful flower band the people of Santo had created on the street for the Festa Santíssimo Sacramento.

Todays outing was to the north west corner of the island. The guide book had promised a breathtaking drive on the ancient coastal road, perched between heaven and sea on the sheer rock face. Unfortunately the coastal road has fallen into bad repair and in some places even straight into the sea. We ended up driving on the new road (yet another present from Brussels) that runs for maybe 30-40% inside the mountain, only peeking out every once in a while as it crosses deep valleys or provides access to a town. If you like tunnels you should definitely put Madeira onto your "must visit" list. Not only the northern coastal road often runs in tunnels, also the new motorway they built on the south side of the island. Even on our hike to the highest mountain of the island we walked through 6 tunnels that had been built a long time ago by the islanders to ease the passage through the mountains between the north and the south coast.

But back to Santo. It seemed that the whole village was on the streets, creating a path about a kilometer long, consisting entirely of flowers. It was quite incredible. The beautiful flowers and all these people working together. The path was for the Santíssimo Sacramento procession. Soon after the last flower was properly positioned, the procession started, and naturally, the priest walked on the path. But since he was really careful and managed to walk without destroying all the nice patterns, Regula reconsidered and refrained from acting on her earlier outburst. Rome should send a commendation to the priest of Santo for one lamb saved.

After Santo we drove across the Paul Da Serra plateau, out of the clouds into marvelous sunshine. We got a great view on that nasty mountain top cloud, it looks much better from the outside.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pictured Art

We spent the day in Madeiras Capital City, Funchal. I was following my usual holiday objective of taking beautiful pictures. And as usual I had a hard time doing this in a city. I have this inhibition of taking pictures of things other people have created. Can a picture of a beautiful building be beautiful in its own right, or is it just the buildings beauty that shows through in the picture, except that it probably not expresses what the artist wanted it to express? That is why most of my pictures end up being of humans or natural phenomena. (Maybe it is just some special variant of NIH, I'll ponder on this.)

Anyhow today there was no nature to be had except in the towns market hall. There I snapped some of the beautifully arranged fruit displays. I was fascinated by the attention the vendors paid to their merchandise. Constantly moving some individual fruits around on their tables, bringing them into even better positions. The staff of our supermarkets in Olten should spend some time here for inspiration.

Later as we walked through the Jardim Municipal where I tried to tackle my issues head-on by photographing a marble statue in a pond. My gut feeling is that taking pictures of statues is close to going to a portrait gallery and taking pictures of the portraits. I took my time with the statue and in the end I was actually quite pleased with the result. It is a bit more than just the statue I think.



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