Travel

The English moor where wallabies roam

E4y.net

Wallabies roaming an English moor: what could sound more far-fetched? Perhaps the story of a knight decapitating a combatant who picks up his severed head and asks for a rematch, or of a mysterious mermaid calling passers-by to her watery grave?

Many legends emanate from moorlands – those windswept places where, reputedly, strange folk dwell and even stranger things happen. The Roaches, a high ridge marked by rocky outcrops in the south-western corner of England’s Peak District National Park, is exactly that kind of mythical-seeming place.

Derived from the French word for rocks (‘les roches’), The Roaches also is a magnificent way to stretch your legs. The approximately eight-mile roundtrip hike starts at the hill of Hen Cloud and runs over the moors and through the lush Dane Valley before its grand finale – the notorious gorge known as Lud’s Church. But there are plenty of detours, some accidental, that can double the mileage.

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My own recent trek began with two strokes of good fortune: brilliant sunshine and a parking place on the already car-lined lane at the foot of Hen Cloud. There, atop the hillock, was a prominent outcrop that reminded me of a Tolkien-esque high castle, dark and foreboding.

The gritstone escarpments of The Roaches were formed by the slipping, sliding and grinding to a halt of layers of mud and rock over many thousands of years. Then wind and rain whittled the rock into jagged shadowy sculptures. Human activity here dates to at least the Bronze Age. In 2015, workers restoring a footpath uncovered fragments of an urn containing cremated human remains, later determined to be about 3,500 years old. The burial marks The Roaches as an ancient sacred place.

Now, giant boulders neatly and invitingly form the first steps up the hill. The steep climb kept my nose to the ground, but when I lifted my eyes at the top, the western view over the Cheshire Plains to the west was magnificent. On a clear day, even the mountains of Snowdonia in Wales, 100 or so miles south-west, are hazily visible. From here, Britain spread out like a vast, wondrous kingdom.

That first big climb notwithstanding, the terrain wasn’t difficult. Even so, the hike can be harder than it first appears. A couple I met by a ford at Gradbach, both experienced hikers, had driven up from Warwickshire intending to do the whole walk to Lud’s Church. They stopped about 15 minutes shy of it, unable to take another step.

As I headed over rolling hills toward Gradbach, nature’s tender side was evident; yolky yellow gorse blossoms illuminated the moors. Further on in the Dane Valley, bluebells bloomed along grassy cow paths like cobalt stars in an emerald sky.

Particularly to the romantically inclined, The Roaches is a place of myth, mystery and magic. The wallabies aren’t a tall tale: until 1975, Sir Philip Lee Brocklehurst, a silk mill scion who was part of Edward Shackleton’s Antarctica expedition, owned a private estate here and lived at Swythamley Hall (pronounced Swith-hamley). He charged a shilling to visit Lud’s Church and half a crown to climb The Roaches (an expensive amount for the time). His brother Henry Courtney Brocklehurst, a big game hunter and collector of dead and live animals, built a private zoo on the estate. Yaks, llamas, wallabies, and apes all called Staffordshire home, but some wallabies escaped their captor and bred. Though rare, wallaby sightings are still recorded.

There is less evidence for the Blue Mermaid, the mysterious figure said to tempt people to their deaths. She’s likely to stem from the imaginings of a local who claimed a girl called Jenny Greenteeth – who had drowned years earlier in Doxey Pool atop The Roaches – tried to pull her in. As I stood by the pool on a separate hike last winter, the cloudy sky becoming a worrying blue-black, some mighty force indeed pulled me nearer to the water. But it wasn’t Ms Greenteeth; it was a frighteningly bitter wind blowing seemingly from everywhere.

Then there was that knight, Sir Gawain. A valued member of King Arthur’s Round Table, Sir Gawain faced his greatest test fighting the mysterious Green Knight. The story goes that, after Sir Gawain defeated the mysterious Green Knight with a decapitating blow, the Green Knight picked up his own severed head and spoke – demanding Gawain honour the agreement to a second fight one year hence in the Green Church. The epic re-match was described in Middle English by an unknown poet, and through both the descriptions given and the author’s dialect, scholars have determined that the (fictional) battle took place in Lud’s Church.

Formed by a hefty landslip, some call Lud’s a gorge. That seems a bit of an overstatement; it’s more of a gulley. The entrance on a hillside above the Dane River is slight and unheralded, and a broken stone on the ground is its only marker.

My descent over untidy rocks into Lud’s was gentle, but slippery after spring rains. A boardwalk made the boggy bottom navigable. Ferns and mosses clad any surface receiving sunlight. Two cut tree limbs leaned against the rocks, each stuck with hundreds of coins, a nod to pagan wishing trees and the belief that trees – and rocks – hold powers. Some say that Druids worshipped in Lud’s.

That hasn’t been confirmed. What we do know is that the Lollards almost certainly did worship here; in fact, they likely named it. In the 1300s, the Lollards, a Christian sect which was critical of the Catholic Church’s greed, were dubbed heretics and often burned at the stake. Lollard preacher Walter de Lud-Auk chose this remote, hidden chasm as a secret worshipping place. During one sermon, however, soldiers with orders to seek out the heretics found them. One aimed his guns at the preacher and fired. He missed, accidentally killing the preacher’s daughter instead. She was buried nearby.

Deep into the chasm with neither entrance nor exit visible, the walls grew taller and Lud’s Church became a world unto itself. Even the birdsong in the surrounding woodland sounded distant. It dawned on me that I was alone. Without the chatter of other hikers, Lud’s is… indeed, as still as a church. It is also a place that continues to capture the imagination as much as it challenges the body.

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Europe’s newest national park

E4y.net

The first thing that struck me about Hossa was the pure, unadulterated silence. It’s almost as if time stands still here, with nothing so much as a breeze disturbing the pristine, mirror-like lakes and pine-wooded eskers that extend as far as the eye can see.

Even by Finnish standards, Hossa is remote

This is undoubtedly the reward for those who drive into this wilderness off the main E63 highway 750km northeast of Helsinki. Even by Finnish standards, Hossa, situated close to the Russian border in the Kainuu region, is remote. You’re more likely to come across a reindeer than a fellow hiker along most of the 90km of marked trails through pine forest that make up one of the oldest hiking areas in Finland.

It’s this sense of escapism that will no doubt attract far more visitors to Hossa now that it has just been designated the country’s 40th national park to celebrate Finland’s centennial of independence.

The long-standing relationship between man and nature in Hossa stretches back thousands of years. The first settlers arrived after the last ice age, following the wild reindeer that populated the north of Finland as the climate warmed. The Värikallio rock wall, which rises more than 10m perpendicular from Lake Somerjärvi, reveals evidence of early life here: Stone Age paintings on the rock’s face are estimated to be up to 4,500 years old, though they weren’t discovered until 1977 when skiers Leena Mäkelä and Juha Rossi noticed curious red ochre markings on the rock.

The long-standing relationship between man and nature in Hossa stretches back thousands of years

It’s not surprising that the Värikallio paintings remained hidden for so long given that they can only be reached by boat or on foot (or ski) when the lake froze over in each winter. Today, the rock wall and its new viewing platform are accessible by kayak or a picturesque 4.5km footpath from the Lihapyörre parking area, a short drive from the Hossa Visitor Centre.

There’s still an air of mystery surrounding the exact age and meaning of the 60 painted figures on the rock’s face. The most conspicuous are four human shapes with triangular heads, a horned figure thought to depict a dancing shaman and approximately 30 detailed elk drawings.

“There are three main theories to what they mean,” Saija Taivalmäki, who runs local wellbeing business JoogaTaival, told me. “The first is that they were painted ceremonially to ensure a successful hunting trip. Secondly, they have been viewed as an indication of spirit animals and totemism, the belief that humans have a mystical kinship with a spirit.”

Finally, “Some see it as revealing their worldview at the time: the place where the different worlds of universe ‒ land inhabited by human beings and underworld ‒ unite,” Taivalmäki explained.

Thousands of years later, locals still maintain a strong relationship to the land, hunting, fishing and foraging like their predecessors. Others feel a more spiritual connection to Hossa’s wilderness, like Taivalmäki, whose mother was from here, and who returned after 11 years in Helsinki. Now she wants to help others find harmony with mind, body and nature with forest yoga and environmental education.

Walking back along the trail from the Värikallio rock wall to the Lihapyörre parking area, Taivalmäki stopped to show me the beard moss that hangs from the pine branches. “This is a sign of the pure air here,” she explained, noting that a stroll through the forest is effective for stress relief thanks to the health benefits of breathing in the pine aromas.

It’s not just the forest hiking trails that draw people to Hossa – the clear lakes are a kayaker’s dream, and nowhere more than Julma-Ölkky, Finland’s largest canyon lake. Unfortunately, as the water was still covered by a patchy lacework of ice during my visit in early June, I took the 10km Ölökyn ähkäsy trail that loops around the lake.

Winding through wild meadows and dense pine forest that clung to the steep inclines of the canyon, the last patches of snow still gleaming in the sun, I embraced the solitude. At times the silence was deafening and my mind wandered. I began wondering what I would do if I happened across a bear – there’s a thriving population in this part of Finland.

By the end of my week-long visit, most of the ice on the region’s lakes had melted and I could properly explore the waters at twilight when they glowed a golden orange thanks to the midnight sun keeping the skies bright all night long.

I headed to the lakeside camping site of Hossan Lumo and met the owners: Irishman Lenny Daly and his Finnish wife Maija Daly. They bought the campsite on the shores of Lake Hossa in 2015 and plan to transform it into a central hub of the Hossa community with more lakeside cottages, kayaking, a revamped sauna and bar (with Guinness on tap, of course). The couple are already well known in the area: Maija is the chairperson of the local entrepreneur society, and they make up half of Hossa’s four permanent residents under the age of 50 – though there are only 40 residents in total, Lenny told me.

It’s the hidden gem of Finland

I was curious to know what brought them here after years of travelling in Australia and New Zealand and working as boat crew in the baking heat of Miami, Florida. “It’s the hidden gem of Finland,” Lenny explained. Maija agreed, gazing out across the now-glowing lake. “A summer’s day in the wilderness is my favourite part of being here. I love the forest, the nature… I can’t stop smiling.”

Living here is not without its difficulties, though, especially in the depths of winter. “It’s survival,” Lenny laughed. That’s no exaggeration, with the nearest town of Kuusamo an hour’s drive away. It’s clear that you need to know what to do when things go wrong.

“And cook for yourself when you feel like a curry,” Maija added, noting the lack of restaurants; something she clearly misses.

My trip ends in the most magic way possible: Teija Mäkinen, who runs paddle boarding business Lazy Dog SUP, took Lenny, Maija and I out on Lake Hossa – as smooth and dark as tempered chocolate – to enjoy the endless sun, now casting a perfect reflection of silhouetted trees on the water. A cuckoo’s call echoed across the surrounding pine forest, and then all was still again.

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Where human and spirit worlds collide

E4y.net

The first thing that struck me about Hossa was the pure, unadulterated silence. It’s almost as if time stands still here, with nothing so much as a breeze disturbing the pristine, mirror-like lakes and pine-wooded eskers that extend as far as the eye can see.

Even by Finnish standards, Hossa is remote

This is undoubtedly the reward for those who drive into this wilderness off the main E63 highway 750km northeast of Helsinki. Even by Finnish standards, Hossa, situated close to the Russian border in the Kainuu region, is remote. You’re more likely to come across a reindeer than a fellow hiker along most of the 90km of marked trails through pine forest that make up one of the oldest hiking areas in Finland.

It’s this sense of escapism that will no doubt attract far more visitors to Hossa now that it has just been designated the country’s 40th national park to celebrate Finland’s centennial of independence.

The long-standing relationship between man and nature in Hossa stretches back thousands of years. The first settlers arrived after the last ice age, following the wild reindeer that populated the north of Finland as the climate warmed. The Värikallio rock wall, which rises more than 10m perpendicular from Lake Somerjärvi, reveals evidence of early life here: Stone Age paintings on the rock’s face are estimated to be up to 4,500 years old, though they weren’t discovered until 1977 when skiers Leena Mäkelä and Juha Rossi noticed curious red ochre markings on the rock.

The long-standing relationship between man and nature in Hossa stretches back thousands of years

It’s not surprising that the Värikallio paintings remained hidden for so long given that they can only be reached by boat or on foot (or ski) when the lake froze over in each winter. Today, the rock wall and its new viewing platform are accessible by kayak or a picturesque 4.5km footpath from the Lihapyörre parking area, a short drive from the Hossa Visitor Centre.

There’s still an air of mystery surrounding the exact age and meaning of the 60 painted figures on the rock’s face. The most conspicuous are four human shapes with triangular heads, a horned figure thought to depict a dancing shaman and approximately 30 detailed elk drawings.

“There are three main theories to what they mean,” Saija Taivalmäki, who runs local wellbeing business JoogaTaival, told me. “The first is that they were painted ceremonially to ensure a successful hunting trip. Secondly, they have been viewed as an indication of spirit animals and totemism, the belief that humans have a mystical kinship with a spirit.”

Finally, “Some see it as revealing their worldview at the time: the place where the different worlds of universe ‒ land inhabited by human beings and underworld ‒ unite,” Taivalmäki explained.

Thousands of years later, locals still maintain a strong relationship to the land, hunting, fishing and foraging like their predecessors. Others feel a more spiritual connection to Hossa’s wilderness, like Taivalmäki, whose mother was from here, and who returned after 11 years in Helsinki. Now she wants to help others find harmony with mind, body and nature with forest yoga and environmental education.

Walking back along the trail from the Värikallio rock wall to the Lihapyörre parking area, Taivalmäki stopped to show me the beard moss that hangs from the pine branches. “This is a sign of the pure air here,” she explained, noting that a stroll through the forest is effective for stress relief thanks to the health benefits of breathing in the pine aromas.

It’s not just the forest hiking trails that draw people to Hossa – the clear lakes are a kayaker’s dream, and nowhere more than Julma-Ölkky, Finland’s largest canyon lake. Unfortunately, as the water was still covered by a patchy lacework of ice during my visit in early June, I took the 10km Ölökyn ähkäsy trail that loops around the lake.

Winding through wild meadows and dense pine forest that clung to the steep inclines of the canyon, the last patches of snow still gleaming in the sun, I embraced the solitude. At times the silence was deafening and my mind wandered. I began wondering what I would do if I happened across a bear – there’s a thriving population in this part of Finland.

By the end of my week-long visit, most of the ice on the region’s lakes had melted and I could properly explore the waters at twilight when they glowed a golden orange thanks to the midnight sun keeping the skies bright all night long.

I headed to the lakeside camping site of Hossan Lumo and met the owners: Irishman Lenny Daly and his Finnish wife Maija Daly. They bought the campsite on the shores of Lake Hossa in 2015 and plan to transform it into a central hub of the Hossa community with more lakeside cottages, kayaking, a revamped sauna and bar (with Guinness on tap, of course). The couple are already well known in the area: Maija is the chairperson of the local entrepreneur society, and they make up half of Hossa’s four permanent residents under the age of 50 – though there are only 40 residents in total, Lenny told me.

It’s the hidden gem of Finland

I was curious to know what brought them here after years of travelling in Australia and New Zealand and working as boat crew in the baking heat of Miami, Florida. “It’s the hidden gem of Finland,” Lenny explained. Maija agreed, gazing out across the now-glowing lake. “A summer’s day in the wilderness is my favourite part of being here. I love the forest, the nature… I can’t stop smiling.”

Living here is not without its difficulties, though, especially in the depths of winter. “It’s survival,” Lenny laughed. That’s no exaggeration, with the nearest town of Kuusamo an hour’s drive away. It’s clear that you need to know what to do when things go wrong.

“And cook for yourself when you feel like a curry,” Maija added, noting the lack of restaurants; something she clearly misses.

My trip ends in the most magic way possible: Teija Mäkinen, who runs paddle boarding business Lazy Dog SUP, took Lenny, Maija and I out on Lake Hossa – as smooth and dark as tempered chocolate – to enjoy the endless sun, now casting a perfect reflection of silhouetted trees on the water. A cuckoo’s call echoed across the surrounding pine forest, and then all was still again.

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Why Italian is the language of love

E4y.net

It happened again the other day. I was walking down the street in my home city in the US when I heard it; a couple speaking Italian. I hurried to catch up with them, staying close so I could eavesdrop. From what I could understand, they were talking about remodelling their house. Not the most elegant topic. But the words sounded so beautiful that I cried.

I had the same reaction when I moved home after spending two years in Florence, when I wept at the lack of attention to beauty in my own American city. Italians are always using the word bello (beautiful) for everything good. In Italy, beauty is paramount. And Italian is no different.

This passionate tongue can seduce people so thoroughly they’ll even change their lives for it. Some move to Italy on a whim and remodel abandoned farmhouses. Others sit in classrooms, trying earnestly to pronounce its odder-sounding words (like tongue-bending uomini, the word for ‘men’). Others endeavour to stay awake through hours-long operas. And that’s no accident. Italian, as we know it today, was meant to enchant, charm and beguile. It’s because this language was created by poets – artists who left their mark on the country by shaping its signature sound.

Italian has a unique history born of geopolitics. Compared to its Western European counterparts, like France and Spain, the country was unified relatively late, in 1861. Up until the 1950s, when televisions became more common, 80% of people spoke a dialect as their first language, according to Michael Moore Francis, an interpreter and the permanent mission of Italy to the United Nations.

In Italy, beauty is paramount, and Italian is no different

“Spain, France and Germany had unification earlier, and so theirs were the languages of government and administration… Italian, on the other hand, was very oriented toward the literary,” he said.

For hundreds of years, what is now Italy was divided into regional kingdoms and lacked a cohesive government with an official, administrative tongue. As a result, Italian was fashioned by the people who needed it to express themselves creatively. Writers and poets shaped its style and vocabulary over centuries, with beauty and sound as some of their primary considerations. But each region had its own dialect: Piedmontese, Romanesco, Napoletano, Siciliano, Lombardo, to name a few. But ultimately, it was Tuscan that prevailed.

Perhaps this is no coincidence. Tuscany, with its rolling hills, vineyards and river valleys is one of Italy’s most inspiring regions. It gave birth to the Renaissance and remains an epicentre of language, art, fashion and tourism. When I lived in the regional capital Florence – likewise enchanted by the bouncing, biting, alluring music of the language – I learned from my native-born friends that a Tuscan accent was point of pride. On long, languid summer evenings, they would huff and whisper through their ‘c’ sounds, ordering glasses of Hoca Hola (instead of Coca Cola) for the table, usually no more than a stone’s throw from some depiction or namesake of the city’s most famous poet, Dante Alighieri.

Alighieri played an important role in the development of the Italian language. Born in Florence in 1265 (where his home is now a museum), he wrote the enduring classic, the Divine Comedy, a narrative poem in which he describes travelling through hell, purgatory and paradise guided by Beatrice, his ideal woman. But as well as penning something remarkable, he did something radical for his time; he wrote in his native Tuscan dialect, even though Latin was the language of choice among the educated elite. He even defended his choice in a work called De Vulgari Eloquentia (On Eloquence in the Vernacular). In the years that followed, he was memorialised as a champion of the region and the language.

Remarkably, interest in Alighieri’s work has never waned. It’s why so many travellers flock to the many parts of Florence that bear his image. There’s a statue of him looking ponderous and holding a lyre in the world-famous Uffizi museum, and another in the sprawling Piazza Santa Croce. The sculptures tower above the crowds, as if keeping watch. But although Dante is the best-known Italian writer, he wasn’t the only one who shaped the Italian language we know today.

In 1304, Francesco Petrarca (or Petrarch) was born in the Tuscan town of Arezzo. Sometimes known as the founder of Humanism, he also wrote many love poems in his native, Tuscan Italian, as did his Florentine contemporary and friend Boccaccio, the author of The Decameron. Petrarch wanted more people to understand his poetry, but he also wanted to change Italian’s reputation and prove that it could be just as sophisticated as Latin, which was still the standard tongue for intellectual and artistic exchanges.

“He was trying to prove that Italian was every bit as elevated as a classical language [such as Latin],” Francis said. “And so he used a style that was narrow and very aristocratic.”

Petrarch may sound a bit formal and flowery today, but people went wild for him in the Elizabethan era, according to Francis. It’s likely no coincidence that Shakespeare set his play, Romeo and Juliet – with its long poetic monologues and love-struck protagonists – in Italy.

It was time for Italian to take its rightful place among the world’s great literary languages

But although few read his poems today, Petrarch’s importance is key, because in the 15th Century a Venetian named Pietro Bembo decided that Petrarch had written the most exquisite Italian of anyone, anywhere, and that it was time for literary Italian to finally take its rightful place among the world’s great literary languages.

Bembo, who was also a poet and a lover of Tuscan Italian, came from a powerful, aristocratic family. He became the secretary to Pope Leo X in Rome, and later a cardinal who was memorialised by the famous Venetian painter, Titian. Petrarch’s brand of lofty Italian poetry appealed to him.

While living in the walled, medieval city of Urbino (now a Unesco World Heritage site), Bembo wrote his most famous work, Prose della Volgar Lingua (Discussions on the Vernacular). In it, he described how to write the most beautiful, elevated Italian, one that had the same meter as Latin. Bembo chose 14th-century Tuscan as his model, and Petrarch as the writer who had done it best.

“Bembo was very into sound and having the examples of the language based on the work of poets [like Petrarch]. He talked a lot about the qualities of composition, and about finding the perfect balance between the ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ sounds,” Francis said. Bembo’s work was used to shape the language spoken across Italy today.

I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse

Some linguists have suggested that Italian and other romance languages, like Spanish and French, appeal to English speakers because they recognise tones and sounds they’re used to. But Dr Patti Adank, who teaches speech, hearing and phonetic sciences at University College London, says that Italian is attractive to the ear because of its so-called ‘melody’. Italian benefits from a very high number of words that end in vowels, and few words with many consonants in a row, creating an open sound that makes it perfect for singing.

Or, as the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V allegedly said, “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse.”

Of course, as Francis admitted, Tuscany’s reputation as the epicentre of the Italian language may be nothing more than ‘propaganda’ at this point, hundreds of years later. Other cities, like Milan, have, in ways, eclipsed Florence as centres of commerce and notoriety. And like many cities that rely on tourism, much of Florence’s glory is based on the past.

But when Alessandro Manzoni, writer of the first Italian novel and pioneer of modern Italian, was almost done with his book, I promessi sposi (The Betrothed) in 1827, he said that before finishing he had to go to Florence and ‘wash’ the book’s language in the River Arno, the famous waters that cut the city in two.

Fortunately, travellers have the opportunity to hear both the Tuscan version and the many regional dialects that, particularly the south, still differ widely from traditional Italian. In fact, the further you get from Tuscany the more pronounced this becomes, with dialects around the county showing influences of a dizzying myriad of tongues, including Greek, Arabic, Spanish, French and even Hebrew.

Luckily, bello works wherever you go.

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Why Italian sounds so seductive

E4y.net

It happened again the other day. I was walking down the street in my home city in the US when I heard it; a couple speaking Italian. I hurried to catch up with them, staying close so I could eavesdrop. From what I could understand, they were talking about remodelling their house. Not the most elegant topic. But the words sounded so beautiful that I cried.

I had the same reaction when I moved home after spending two years in Florence, when I wept at the lack of attention to beauty in my own American city. Italians are always using the word bello (beautiful) for everything good. In Italy, beauty is paramount. And Italian is no different.

This passionate tongue can seduce people so thoroughly they’ll even change their lives for it. Some move to Italy on a whim and remodel abandoned farmhouses. Others sit in classrooms, trying earnestly to pronounce its odder-sounding words (like tongue-bending uomini, the word for ‘men’). Others endeavour to stay awake through hours-long operas. And that’s no accident. Italian, as we know it today, was meant to enchant, charm and beguile. It’s because this language was created by poets – artists who left their mark on the country by shaping its signature sound.

Italian has a unique history born of geopolitics. Compared to its Western European counterparts, like France and Spain, the country was unified relatively late, in 1861. Up until the 1950s, when televisions became more common, 80% of people spoke a dialect as their first language, according to Michael Moore Francis, an interpreter and the permanent mission of Italy to the United Nations.

In Italy, beauty is paramount, and Italian is no different

“Spain, France and Germany had unification earlier, and so theirs were the languages of government and administration… Italian, on the other hand, was very oriented toward the literary,” he said.

For hundreds of years, what is now Italy was divided into regional kingdoms and lacked a cohesive government with an official, administrative tongue. As a result, Italian was fashioned by the people who needed it to express themselves creatively. Writers and poets shaped its style and vocabulary over centuries, with beauty and sound as some of their primary considerations. But each region had its own dialect: Piedmontese, Romanesco, Napoletano, Siciliano, Lombardo, to name a few. But ultimately, it was Tuscan that prevailed.

Perhaps this is no coincidence. Tuscany, with its rolling hills, vineyards and river valleys is one of Italy’s most inspiring regions. It gave birth to the Renaissance and remains an epicentre of language, art, fashion and tourism. When I lived in the regional capital Florence – likewise enchanted by the bouncing, biting, alluring music of the language – I learned from my native-born friends that a Tuscan accent was point of pride. On long, languid summer evenings, they would huff and whisper through their ‘c’ sounds, ordering glasses of Hoca Hola (instead of Coca Cola) for the table, usually no more than a stone’s throw from some depiction or namesake of the city’s most famous poet, Dante Alighieri.

Alighieri played an important role in the development of the Italian language. Born in Florence in 1265 (where his home is now a museum), he wrote the enduring classic, the Divine Comedy, a narrative poem in which he describes travelling through hell, purgatory and paradise guided by Beatrice, his ideal woman. But as well as penning something remarkable, he did something radical for his time; he wrote in his native Tuscan dialect, even though Latin was the language of choice among the educated elite. He even defended his choice in a work called De Vulgari Eloquentia (On Eloquence in the Vernacular). In the years that followed, he was memorialised as a champion of the region and the language.

Remarkably, interest in Alighieri’s work has never waned. It’s why so many travellers flock to the many parts of Florence that bear his image. There’s a statue of him looking ponderous and holding a lyre in the world-famous Uffizi museum, and another in the sprawling Piazza Santa Croce. The sculptures tower above the crowds, as if keeping watch. But although Dante is the best-known Italian writer, he wasn’t the only one who shaped the Italian language we know today.

In 1304, Francesco Petrarca (or Petrarch) was born in the Tuscan town of Arezzo. Sometimes known as the founder of Humanism, he also wrote many love poems in his native, Tuscan Italian, as did his Florentine contemporary and friend Boccaccio, the author of The Decameron. Petrarch wanted more people to understand his poetry, but he also wanted to change Italian’s reputation and prove that it could be just as sophisticated as Latin, which was still the standard tongue for intellectual and artistic exchanges.

“He was trying to prove that Italian was every bit as elevated as a classical language [such as Latin],” Francis said. “And so he used a style that was narrow and very aristocratic.”

Petrarch may sound a bit formal and flowery today, but people went wild for him in the Elizabethan era, according to Francis. It’s likely no coincidence that Shakespeare set his play, Romeo and Juliet – with its long poetic monologues and love-struck protagonists – in Italy.

It was time for Italian to take its rightful place among the world’s great literary languages

But although few read his poems today, Petrarch’s importance is key, because in the 15th Century a Venetian named Pietro Bembo decided that Petrarch had written the most exquisite Italian of anyone, anywhere, and that it was time for literary Italian to finally take its rightful place among the world’s great literary languages.

Bembo, who was also a poet and a lover of Tuscan Italian, came from a powerful, aristocratic family. He became the secretary to Pope Leo X in Rome, and later a cardinal who was memorialised by the famous Venetian painter, Titian. Petrarch’s brand of lofty Italian poetry appealed to him.

While living in the walled, medieval city of Urbino (now a Unesco World Heritage site), Bembo wrote his most famous work, Prose della Volgar Lingua (Discussions on the Vernacular). In it, he described how to write the most beautiful, elevated Italian, one that had the same meter as Latin. Bembo chose 14th-century Tuscan as his model, and Petrarch as the writer who had done it best.

“Bembo was very into sound and having the examples of the language based on the work of poets [like Petrarch]. He talked a lot about the qualities of composition, and about finding the perfect balance between the ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ sounds,” Francis said. Bembo’s work was used to shape the language spoken across Italy today.

I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse

Some linguists have suggested that Italian and other romance languages, like Spanish and French, appeal to English speakers because they recognise tones and sounds they’re used to. But Dr Patti Adank, who teaches speech, hearing and phonetic sciences at University College London, says that Italian is attractive to the ear because of its so-called ‘melody’. Italian benefits from a very high number of words that end in vowels, and few words with many consonants in a row, creating an open sound that makes it perfect for singing.

Or, as the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V allegedly said, “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse.”

Of course, as Francis admitted, Tuscany’s reputation as the epicentre of the Italian language may be nothing more than ‘propaganda’ at this point, hundreds of years later. Other cities, like Milan, have, in ways, eclipsed Florence as centres of commerce and notoriety. And like many cities that rely on tourism, much of Florence’s glory is based on the past.

But when Alessandro Manzoni, writer of the first Italian novel and pioneer of modern Italian, was almost done with his book, I promessi sposi (The Betrothed) in 1827, he said that before finishing he had to go to Florence and ‘wash’ the book’s language in the River Arno, the famous waters that cut the city in two.

Fortunately, travellers have the opportunity to hear both the Tuscan version and the many regional dialects that, particularly the south, still differ widely from traditional Italian. In fact, the further you get from Tuscany the more pronounced this becomes, with dialects around the county showing influences of a dizzying myriad of tongues, including Greek, Arabic, Spanish, French and even Hebrew.

Luckily, bello works wherever you go.

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Cities that are cheaper than ever

E4y.net

A rise in global nationalism paired with a worldwide drop in oil prices has brought about significant shifts in the global economy over the past year. As a result of these developments, certain destinations that have long been some of the world’s most expensive have recently seen a decrease in their cost of living.

Whether due to international politics, export and import changes or currency swings, cities like London – which recently voted to depart the EU in the Brexit vote – have seen their ranking dramatically drop in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Cost of Living Index. And, since local currency values have fallen against foreign currencies in most cases (and the rate of local inflation often rises sharply), it’s expats employed by foreign companies that are likely to see the most benefit in these cost-of-living changes.

We talked to residents and expats living in these places to find out how the changes have affected them, and how to save the most money in these suddenly affordable destinations.

London

The 2016 Brexit vote in favour of Britain leaving the European Union had an immediate negative impact on the pound as compared to other currencies. So much so that London, long at the top of the cost-of-living index, dropped 18 places in just a year. International tourists have flocked to the country to snag deals on luxury goods and other shopping; one estimate said foreign spending has surged more than 36% year-on-year.

But since foreign currencies are stronger against the pound, the cost of imported goods have gone up in price, said Ian Wright, founder of international mover company MoverDB.com, adding that “or more sneakily, the size has been reduced”. (Though the company denies a Brexit association, Toblerone changed the shape of their chocolate bars shortly after the vote). Experts predict that important imports like fruits and vegetables will also likely rise around 8% as a result of Brexit.

Still there are plenty of ways to live even more affordably – and finding good deals on housing is top of the list. Generally, living in south and east London is cheaper than the west or north.

“London is really quite strange in that you can have council estates located right next to multi-million pound homes,” said Wright, originally from Canada.

Wright lives in Abbey Wood in southeast London, where he says a house can be rented from around £1,000 a month, or purchased for around £325,000. “While the area doesn’t have a lot going on today, the ruins of the 12th-Century Lesnes Abbey and many parks and woods nearby can be wandered and enjoyed for free,” he said. Other affordable options include more centrally located Leyton near Olympic Park in east London, and East Ham just south of Leyton. East Croydon in south London is also being extensively redeveloped and will soon have a new shopping centre – but you can still find a rental from just £500 per month.

While the UK in general has taken on something of an anti-immigrant mood, according to Wright, he assures that the capital is still very open and multicultural. “London has far fewer ethnic enclaves than cities in the US so you get expats and immigrants from all over the world living next to each other, which I think is one of the best things about the city,” he said.

Beijing

Many Chinese cities dropped more than 10 places in this year’s rankings, including Beijing which dropped 16 places. While the report didn’t speculate on causes, sources have attributed the drop to falling demand for Chinese exports and a decreased value of the yuan against the dollar.

Much like in London, being able to live comfortably depends on how far from the city centre you’re willing to live: a one-bedroom in Tongzhou, 22km east of the city centre, rents for only RMB 2,500 per month. “But your best bet as a foreigner is finding a room a bit closer to the centre for around RMB 4,000, which you can pretty much do in the ‘cool’ parts of town near Sanlitun [9km northeast from the centre] and Gulou [5km north of the centre],” said Om Buffalo, an American who currently lives in Beijing. In general, south and west Beijing are cheaper than the north and east.

Other ways to save money include taking the subway instead of taxis. “For medium to long-distance trips, taking a taxi in Beijing often takes longer and costs way more than the subway,” said Josh Ong, director of global marketing and communications at Beijing-based Cheetah Mobile. “It’s a little daunting at first, especially during rush hour, but with a little research, you can learn your way around.”

His other suggestion is to eat like a local, using dianping.com to find the places real Beijingers are dining. “Western food in Beijing comes at a premium, but there are amazing noodle shops and dumpling houses just around the corner from you.”

Lagos

Nigeria’s capital also dropped 16 spots in the rankings, due to global dropping oil prices, one of the country’s primary exports. This may be helpful for foreign employees, but Hashim Zein, an ambassador for expat community InterNations and originally from the US, says that this may create additional security challenges as the related currency inflation has driven prices up for locals, which can lead to an increase in theft and related crimes.

A little common sense goes a long way, however, say locals, and it shouldn’t stop anyone from living here. “I feel at home in Nigeria because of the attitude of the people here. A can-do spirit and resilience plus always time to make merry no matter what,” Zein said. Plus, the city knows how to have a good time. “There’s no party like a Lagos party – seven days a week!”

Lagos is separated into two major parts – the Mainland and Island (which is actually multiple islands, but is separated from the mainland by the Lagos Lagoon). Most expats live on the Island part, including the affluent Victoria Island neighbourhood, 17km south of the city centre and part of the larger Lekki peninsula; or equally high-end Ikoyi, an island neighbourhood, located 15km south of the city centre, built for British expats during colonial rule. Nearby Lekki Phase, a brand-new city still in development, is also just a few more kilometres further down the island.

Those who work in manufacturing are more likely to need to be on the mainland, and Ilupeju (8km north of the centre) and Ikeja (15km north) are some of the best areas for expats, according to Zein, for their safety, more stable infrastructure and location close to many businesses.

Mexico City

Ranked 82 of 132 cities in 2017, Mexico City has always been relatively affordable – but also dropped nine places in the rankings this year. As the currency becomes weaker compared to foreign currency, inflation has risen and local prices have gone up slightly, including recently increased bus fares due to the gasolinazo, the higher gas prices that have been the source of city-wide protests.

For that reason, it’s better to walk to the metro than take the bus, said Lauren Cocking, originally from London who writes a Mexico travel blog. And while she relies on public transportation over private transportation, she recommends Uber for late-night needs. “It is often cheaper than taxis and far safer than public transport, especially late at night.”

It’s also easy to save money by shopping in the tianguis (local markets) than the big supermarkets. “The price difference is incredible,” Cocking said. “The food is my favourite part of life here.”

She says that most expats flock to the neighbourhoods of Roma and Condesa, but those may not necessarily give a good representative feel for the city. “My recommendations would lean more towards underrated neighbourhoods like Narvarte or Del Valle [7.5km and 9km south of the city respectively],” she said. “They are more ‘local’, residential areas, and not as at risk from earthquake damage. Same goes for neighbourhoods in the south of the city, such as Copilco and Coyoacán [15km and 12.5km south of the city].”

“Coyoacán is a beautiful, colonial neighbourhood with more traditional houses and relaxing parks and quiet streets, and a bustling central plaza full of delicious street food and entertainment,” said Natalie B, a Mexico City native who works for local travel guide company My Local Cousin. “For those preferring a more traditional Mexican experience in a mostly residential setting, La Narvarte is a good option. This neighbourhood was built up in the 1940s through ‘70s and still has a lot of great original architecture, quiet streets and a family atmosphere.”

Buenos Aires

After London, Buenos Aires saw the greatest fall in the index, dropping 20 places due to Argentina’s economic volatility. Locals are used to these kind of price fluctuations though, says Madi Lang, an American who has lived in the city for 10 years and runs the Buenos Aires Cultural Concierge. “The economy is always pretty crazy,” she said. “They take it all in their stride – as long as there is beef for the grill.”

Lola Black, a tango guide and an InterNations ambassador, describes the city as “urban, but effortlessly cool and Euro-Latin laid back”. To get the most of this vibe, expats should consider living in Puerto Madero, 4km southeast of the city centre, a clean, high-end part of the city close to the ocean, or historic San Telmo, 4km south of the centre (though safety is a higher concern here).

Those in the city for its famous tango should live in centrally located Almagro, 6km west of downtown. “It’s the perfect ‘hood because it’s super central. It’s close to the touristy/trendy area of Palermo and with excellent access to downtown,” Lang said. “Right in this area there are bars, restaurants, milongas (tango halls), live music joints and just real neighbourhood life.”

Plenty of free activities and parks also make the city very affordable for entertainment. “The hundreds of plazas and parks are perfect for spending the afternoon drinking mate (our traditional tea drink), people watching and general relaxation,” Lang said. Her personal favourites are Plaza Vicente Lopez in Recoleta, the Rosedal Rode Garden in Parque 3 de Febrero and Parque Lezama in San Telmo.

Join over three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

E4y.net Info@e4y.net

Five cities that are now affordable

E4y.net

A rise in global nationalism paired with a worldwide drop in oil prices has brought about significant shifts in the global economy over the past year. As a result of these developments, certain destinations that have long been some of the world’s most expensive have recently seen a decrease in their cost of living.

Whether due to international politics, export and import changes or currency swings, cities like London – which recently voted to depart the EU in the Brexit vote – have seen their ranking dramatically drop in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Cost of Living Index. And, since local currency values have fallen against foreign currencies in most cases (and the rate of local inflation often rises sharply), it’s expats employed by foreign companies that are likely to see the most benefit in these cost-of-living changes.

We talked to residents and expats living in these places to find out how the changes have affected them, and how to save the most money in these suddenly affordable destinations.

London

The 2016 Brexit vote in favour of Britain leaving the European Union had an immediate negative impact on the pound as compared to other currencies. So much so that London, long at the top of the cost-of-living index, dropped 18 places in just a year. International tourists have flocked to the country to snag deals on luxury goods and other shopping; one estimate said foreign spending has surged more than 36% year-on-year.

But since foreign currencies are stronger against the pound, the cost of imported goods have gone up in price, said Ian Wright, founder of international mover company MoverDB.com, adding that “or more sneakily, the size has been reduced”. (Though the company denies a Brexit association, Toblerone changed the shape of their chocolate bars shortly after the vote). Experts predict that important imports like fruits and vegetables will also likely rise around 8% as a result of Brexit.

Still there are plenty of ways to live even more affordably – and finding good deals on housing is top of the list. Generally, living in south and east London is cheaper than the west or north.

“London is really quite strange in that you can have council estates located right next to multi-million pound homes,” said Wright, originally from Canada.

Wright lives in Abbey Wood in southeast London, where he says a house can be rented from around £1,000 a month, or purchased for around £325,000. “While the area doesn’t have a lot going on today, the ruins of the 12th-Century Lesnes Abbey and many parks and woods nearby can be wandered and enjoyed for free,” he said. Other affordable options include more centrally located Leyton near Olympic Park in east London, and East Ham just south of Leyton. East Croydon in south London is also being extensively redeveloped and will soon have a new shopping centre – but you can still find a rental from just £500 per month.

While the UK in general has taken on something of an anti-immigrant mood, according to Wright, he assures that the capital is still very open and multicultural. “London has far fewer ethnic enclaves than cities in the US so you get expats and immigrants from all over the world living next to each other, which I think is one of the best things about the city,” he said.

Beijing

Many Chinese cities dropped more than 10 places in this year’s rankings, including Beijing which dropped 16 places. While the report didn’t speculate on causes, sources have attributed the drop to falling demand for Chinese exports and a decreased value of the yuan against the dollar.

Much like in London, being able to live comfortably depends on how far from the city centre you’re willing to live: a one-bedroom in Tongzhou, 22km east of the city centre, rents for only RMB 2,500 per month. “But your best bet as a foreigner is finding a room a bit closer to the centre for around RMB 4,000, which you can pretty much do in the ‘cool’ parts of town near Sanlitun [9km northeast from the centre] and Gulou [5km north of the centre],” said Om Buffalo, an American who currently lives in Beijing. In general, south and west Beijing are cheaper than the north and east.

Other ways to save money include taking the subway instead of taxis. “For medium to long-distance trips, taking a taxi in Beijing often takes longer and costs way more than the subway,” said Josh Ong, director of global marketing and communications at Beijing-based Cheetah Mobile. “It’s a little daunting at first, especially during rush hour, but with a little research, you can learn your way around.”

His other suggestion is to eat like a local, using dianping.com to find the places real Beijingers are dining. “Western food in Beijing comes at a premium, but there are amazing noodle shops and dumpling houses just around the corner from you.”

Lagos

Nigeria’s capital also dropped 16 spots in the rankings, due to global dropping oil prices, one of the country’s primary exports. This may be helpful for foreign employees, but Hashim Zein, an ambassador for expat community InterNations and originally from the US, says that this may create additional security challenges as the related currency inflation has driven prices up for locals, which can lead to an increase in theft and related crimes.

A little common sense goes a long way, however, say locals, and it shouldn’t stop anyone from living here. “I feel at home in Nigeria because of the attitude of the people here. A can-do spirit and resilience plus always time to make merry no matter what,” Zein said. Plus, the city knows how to have a good time. “There’s no party like a Lagos party – seven days a week!”

Lagos is separated into two major parts – the Mainland and Island (which is actually multiple islands, but is separated from the mainland by the Lagos Lagoon). Most expats live on the Island part, including the affluent Victoria Island neighbourhood, 17km south of the city centre and part of the larger Lekki peninsula; or equally high-end Ikoyi, an island neighbourhood, located 15km south of the city centre, built for British expats during colonial rule. Nearby Lekki Phase, a brand-new city still in development, is also just a few more kilometres further down the island.

Those who work in manufacturing are more likely to need to be on the mainland, and Ilupeju (8km north of the centre) and Ikeja (15km north) are some of the best areas for expats, according to Zein, for their safety, more stable infrastructure and location close to many businesses.

Mexico City

Ranked 82 of 132 cities in 2017, Mexico City has always been relatively affordable – but also dropped nine places in the rankings this year. As the currency becomes weaker compared to foreign currency, inflation has risen and local prices have gone up slightly, including recently increased bus fares due to the gasolinazo, the higher gas prices that have been the source of city-wide protests.

For that reason, it’s better to walk to the metro than take the bus, said Lauren Cocking, originally from London who writes a Mexico travel blog. And while she relies on public transportation over private transportation, she recommends Uber for late-night needs. “It is often cheaper than taxis and far safer than public transport, especially late at night.”

It’s also easy to save money by shopping in the tianguis (local markets) than the big supermarkets. “The price difference is incredible,” Cocking said. “The food is my favourite part of life here.”

She says that most expats flock to the neighbourhoods of Roma and Condesa, but those may not necessarily give a good representative feel for the city. “My recommendations would lean more towards underrated neighbourhoods like Narvarte or Del Valle [7.5km and 9km south of the city respectively],” she said. “They are more ‘local’, residential areas, and not as at risk from earthquake damage. Same goes for neighbourhoods in the south of the city, such as Copilco and Coyoacán [15km and 12.5km south of the city].”

“Coyoacán is a beautiful, colonial neighbourhood with more traditional houses and relaxing parks and quiet streets, and a bustling central plaza full of delicious street food and entertainment,” said Natalie B, a Mexico City native who works for local travel guide company My Local Cousin. “For those preferring a more traditional Mexican experience in a mostly residential setting, La Narvarte is a good option. This neighbourhood was built up in the 1940s through ‘70s and still has a lot of great original architecture, quiet streets and a family atmosphere.”

Buenos Aires

After London, Buenos Aires saw the greatest fall in the index, dropping 20 places due to Argentina’s economic volatility. Locals are used to these kind of price fluctuations though, says Madi Lang, an American who has lived in the city for 10 years and runs the Buenos Aires Cultural Concierge. “The economy is always pretty crazy,” she said. “They take it all in their stride – as long as there is beef for the grill.”

Lola Black, a tango guide and an InterNations ambassador, describes the city as “urban, but effortlessly cool and Euro-Latin laid back”. To get the most of this vibe, expats should consider living in Puerto Madero, 4km southeast of the city centre, a clean, high-end part of the city close to the ocean, or historic San Telmo, 4km south of the centre (though safety is a higher concern here).

Those in the city for its famous tango should live in centrally located Almagro, 6km west of downtown. “It’s the perfect ‘hood because it’s super central. It’s close to the touristy/trendy area of Palermo and with excellent access to downtown,” Lang said. “Right in this area there are bars, restaurants, milongas (tango halls), live music joints and just real neighbourhood life.”

Plenty of free activities and parks also make the city very affordable for entertainment. “The hundreds of plazas and parks are perfect for spending the afternoon drinking mate (our traditional tea drink), people watching and general relaxation,” Lang said. Her personal favourites are Plaza Vicente Lopez in Recoleta, the Rosedal Rode Garden in Parque 3 de Febrero and Parque Lezama in San Telmo.

Join over three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

E4y.net Info@e4y.net

Five pricey cities you can now afford

E4y.net

A rise in global nationalism paired with a worldwide drop in oil prices has brought about significant shifts in the global economy over the past year. As a result of these developments, certain destinations that have long been some of the world’s most expensive have recently seen a decrease in their cost of living.

Whether due to international politics, export and import changes or currency swings, cities like London – which recently voted to depart the EU in the Brexit vote – have seen their ranking dramatically drop in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Cost of Living Index. And, since local currency values have fallen against foreign currencies in most cases (and the rate of local inflation often rises sharply), it’s expats employed by foreign companies that are likely to see the most benefit in these cost-of-living changes.

We talked to residents and expats living in these places to find out how the changes have affected them, and how to save the most money in these suddenly affordable destinations.

London

The 2016 Brexit vote in favour of Britain leaving the European Union had an immediate negative impact on the pound as compared to other currencies. So much so that London, long at the top of the cost-of-living index, dropped 18 places in just a year. International tourists have flocked to the country to snag deals on luxury goods and other shopping; one estimate said foreign spending has surged more than 36% year-on-year.

But since foreign currencies are stronger against the pound, the cost of imported goods have gone up in price, said Ian Wright, founder of international mover company MoverDB.com, adding that “or more sneakily, the size has been reduced”. (Though the company denies a Brexit association, Toblerone changed the shape of their chocolate bars shortly after the vote). Experts predict that important imports like fruits and vegetables will also likely rise around 8% as a result of Brexit.

Still there are plenty of ways to live even more affordably – and finding good deals on housing is top of the list. Generally, living in south and east London is cheaper than the west or north.

“London is really quite strange in that you can have council estates located right next to multi-million pound homes,” said Wright, originally from Canada.

Wright lives in Abbey Wood in southeast London, where he says a house can be rented from around £1,000 a month, or purchased for around £325,000. “While the area doesn’t have a lot going on today, the ruins of the 12th-Century Lesnes Abbey and many parks and woods nearby can be wandered and enjoyed for free,” he said. Other affordable options include more centrally located Leyton near Olympic Park in east London, and East Ham just south of Leyton. East Croydon in south London is also being extensively redeveloped and will soon have a new shopping centre – but you can still find a rental from just £500 per month.

While the UK in general has taken on something of an anti-immigrant mood, according to Wright, he assures that the capital is still very open and multicultural. “London has far fewer ethnic enclaves than cities in the US so you get expats and immigrants from all over the world living next to each other, which I think is one of the best things about the city,” he said.

Beijing

Many Chinese cities dropped more than 10 places in this year’s rankings, including Beijing which dropped 16 places. While the report didn’t speculate on causes, sources have attributed the drop to falling demand for Chinese exports and a decreased value of the yuan against the dollar.

Much like in London, being able to live comfortably depends on how far from the city centre you’re willing to live: a one-bedroom in Tongzhou, 22km east of the city centre, rents for only RMB 2,500 per month. “But your best bet as a foreigner is finding a room a bit closer to the centre for around RMB 4,000, which you can pretty much do in the ‘cool’ parts of town near Sanlitun [9km northeast from the centre] and Gulou [5km north of the centre],” said Om Buffalo, an American who currently lives in Beijing. In general, south and west Beijing are cheaper than the north and east.

Other ways to save money include taking the subway instead of taxis. “For medium to long-distance trips, taking a taxi in Beijing often takes longer and costs way more than the subway,” said Josh Ong, director of global marketing and communications at Beijing-based Cheetah Mobile. “It’s a little daunting at first, especially during rush hour, but with a little research, you can learn your way around.”

His other suggestion is to eat like a local, using dianping.com to find the places real Beijingers are dining. “Western food in Beijing comes at a premium, but there are amazing noodle shops and dumpling houses just around the corner from you.”

Lagos

Nigeria’s capital also dropped 16 spots in the rankings, due to global dropping oil prices, one of the country’s primary exports. This may be helpful for foreign employees, but Hashim Zein, an ambassador for expat community InterNations and originally from the US, says that this may create additional security challenges as the related currency inflation has driven prices up for locals, which can lead to an increase in theft and related crimes.

A little common sense goes a long way, however, say locals, and it shouldn’t stop anyone from living here. “I feel at home in Nigeria because of the attitude of the people here. A can-do spirit and resilience plus always time to make merry no matter what,” Zein said. Plus, the city knows how to have a good time. “There’s no party like a Lagos party – seven days a week!”

Lagos is separated into two major parts – the Mainland and Island (which is actually multiple islands, but is separated from the mainland by the Lagos Lagoon). Most expats live on the Island part, including the affluent Victoria Island neighbourhood, 17km south of the city centre and part of the larger Lekki peninsula; or equally high-end Ikoyi, an island neighbourhood, located 15km south of the city centre, built for British expats during colonial rule. Nearby Lekki Phase, a brand-new city still in development, is also just a few more kilometres further down the island.

Those who work in manufacturing are more likely to need to be on the mainland, and Ilupeju (8km north of the centre) and Ikeja (15km north) are some of the best areas for expats, according to Zein, for their safety, more stable infrastructure and location close to many businesses.

Mexico City

Ranked 82 of 132 cities in 2017, Mexico City has always been relatively affordable – but also dropped nine places in the rankings this year. As the currency becomes weaker compared to foreign currency, inflation has risen and local prices have gone up slightly, including recently increased bus fares due to the gasolinazo, the higher gas prices that have been the source of city-wide protests.

For that reason, it’s better to walk to the metro than take the bus, said Lauren Cocking, originally from London who writes a Mexico travel blog. And while she relies on public transportation over private transportation, she recommends Uber for late-night needs. “It is often cheaper than taxis and far safer than public transport, especially late at night.”

It’s also easy to save money by shopping in the tianguis (local markets) than the big supermarkets. “The price difference is incredible,” Cocking said. “The food is my favourite part of life here.”

She says that most expats flock to the neighbourhoods of Roma and Condesa, but those may not necessarily give a good representative feel for the city. “My recommendations would lean more towards underrated neighbourhoods like Narvarte or Del Valle [7.5km and 9km south of the city respectively],” she said. “They are more ‘local’, residential areas, and not as at risk from earthquake damage. Same goes for neighbourhoods in the south of the city, such as Copilco and Coyoacán [15km and 12.5km south of the city].”

“Coyoacán is a beautiful, colonial neighbourhood with more traditional houses and relaxing parks and quiet streets, and a bustling central plaza full of delicious street food and entertainment,” said Natalie B, a Mexico City native who works for local travel guide company My Local Cousin. “For those preferring a more traditional Mexican experience in a mostly residential setting, La Narvarte is a good option. This neighbourhood was built up in the 1940s through ‘70s and still has a lot of great original architecture, quiet streets and a family atmosphere.”

Buenos Aires

After London, Buenos Aires saw the greatest fall in the index, dropping 20 places due to Argentina’s economic volatility. Locals are used to these kind of price fluctuations though, says Madi Lang, an American who has lived in the city for 10 years and runs the Buenos Aires Cultural Concierge. “The economy is always pretty crazy,” she said. “They take it all in their stride – as long as there is beef for the grill.”

Lola Black, a tango guide and an InterNations ambassador, describes the city as “urban, but effortlessly cool and Euro-Latin laid back”. To get the most of this vibe, expats should consider living in Puerto Madero, 4km southeast of the city centre, a clean, high-end part of the city close to the ocean, or historic San Telmo, 4km south of the centre (though safety is a higher concern here).

Those in the city for its famous tango should live in centrally located Almagro, 6km west of downtown. “It’s the perfect ‘hood because it’s super central. It’s close to the touristy/trendy area of Palermo and with excellent access to downtown,” Lang said. “Right in this area there are bars, restaurants, milongas (tango halls), live music joints and just real neighbourhood life.”

Plenty of free activities and parks also make the city very affordable for entertainment. “The hundreds of plazas and parks are perfect for spending the afternoon drinking mate (our traditional tea drink), people watching and general relaxation,” Lang said. Her personal favourites are Plaza Vicente Lopez in Recoleta, the Rosedal Rode Garden in Parque 3 de Febrero and Parque Lezama in San Telmo.

Join over three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

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