Easter in Italy

Church bells are silent from the day before Good Friday to Easter Sunday when they ring out again. The bells are said to go to Rome to see the Pope, and then return with Easter eggs, which are hidden in houses and gardens for children to find. Other traditional Easter foods include lamb, goat and special Easter breads such as Panettone, Colomba Pasquale, Fugazza Vicentina, Pizza di Pasqua and Fiadoni.

Religious processions are held in many Italian towns and cities on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and sometimes on Easter Sunday. They often involve statues of Mary or Jesus being paraded through the streets by people dressed in medieval costumes while olive branches or palm fronds are waved by the spectators, and are used to decorate the churches.

In Florence’s historic centre (centro storico) the Easter celebrations, known as Scoppio del Carro (explosion of the cart), involves a large 17th century cart being pulled through the streets by a team of white oxen, which are decorated with garlands. The precession goes to the square outside the Basilica di S. Maria del Fiore, where they hold mass. After the service the Archbishop lights a dove-shaped rocket which goes down a wire and hits the cart in the square, setting off fireworks. The idea is that the loud explosions will ensure a good harvest. Following on from that is a parade of people dressed in medieval costumes.

Processions are held all over Sicily to celebrate Easter. For example, in the Sicilian town of Enna a procession of two thousand friars dressed in medieval costumes is held on Good Friday, while in Trapani, statues made by local guilds are carried through the streets in a procession that lasts 24 hours. In Prizzi, south of Palermo, some of the people dress up as devils with red and black masks, horns and grotesque noses and they go through the streets trying to persuade spectators to buy them drinks. At the same time other people dress as angels and stage a symbolic struggle with the devils, who are defeated and have to buy drinks for everyone.

In Sulmona in the Abruzzo region people dress in green and white on Easter Sunday and gather in the main piazza. The woman playing the Virgin Mary is dressed in black at first, but after she goes to the fountain and doves are released, her outfit changes to colour to green. After this there is music and much eating and drinking.

In Rome on Good Friday the Pope celebrates the Via Crucis in Rome near the Colosseum. A huge cross with burning torches lights the sky as the stations of the cross are described in several languages, and the Pope gives a blessing after this. On Easter Sunday the Pope celebrates mass at St Peter’s Basilica.

On Easter Monday (La Pasquetta), there are dances, free concerts and games, often involving eggs. One game, Ruzzolone, is played in Panicale, a small town in Umbria, and involves rolling large cheeses are the walls of the village. The winner is the person who gets their cheese around the walls using the fewest strokes from a stick.

Cactus Language offer a variety of Italian language courses in the UK, New York and Italy.


IELTS Courses in the UK

For any non-native speakers wanting to live, work or study in an English-speaking country, a qualification such as IELTS is almost indispensable. The world’s most favoured test of English proficiency, IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is recognised by universities and employers as well as professional, immigration and governmental bodies – putting you at a huge advantage whatever your objectives in your new host country.

With full awareness of the importance of IELTS, Cactus offers a vast range of IELTS exam preparation courses across the UK, to suit all needs, budgets and time allowances.

There’s no denying the allure of iconic, cosmopolitan London, boasting easy transport links and endless shops, nightlife and theatre right on the doorstep. Students coming here have the choice of 1, 2 or 4 week minimum courses in some of the capital’s best districts, including Soho, Islington and Wimbledon. Although the courses are academic, preparing students fully for their exam at the end, there is plenty of opportunity to enjoy the best of what London has to offer through the schools’ activity programmes and excursions in and around the capital.

Those wishing to experience another side of England have the choice of some fantastic cities in the North and South of the country. The prestigious cities of Oxford and Cambridge are ever popular, as is laid-back and trendy Brighton – while those willing to brave the more inclement weather of the north will be rewarded with cheaper prices, friendly locals and a great student atmosphere. Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield are all great alternatives to London, with courses available from just one or two week upwards.

Cactus goes beyond booking your course, however. Over the years we have built up a strong, in-house academic team, and as a student you can come to us for valuable academic support should you want to chat about your IELTS progress at any point.

You can also rely on us for fair, non-inflated prices and visa support for non-EU students.

There is no doubt that preparing for an IELTS exam will open the door to you in a number of ways – be it to further your studies, increase your job opportunities or simply master your written and spoken communication in English. With Cactus’ impressive range of locations and courses, and their own team of academics on hand to help and advise, taking the next step to English language fluency has never been so easy.

Quick Links to IELTS Courses in the UK:


Russell Square (4 week minimum course)

Euston (4 week minimum course)

Wimbledon(2 week minimum course)

Kings Cross (1 week minimum course)

Soho (1 week minimum course)

• Islington (part-time course)

Regional SOUTH Courses:

Bath (2 week minimum course)

Brighton (2 week minimum course)

Bristol (4 week minimum course)

Cambridge (4 week minimum course)

Cardiff (4 week minimum course)

Oxford (2 week minimum course)

Regional NORTH Courses:

Liverpool (1 week minimum course)

Manchester (1 week minimum course)

Nottingham (2 week minimum course)

Sheffield (2 week minimum course)

Cactus specialises in organising language courses for individuals and groups, having done so since 1999 for clients all over the globe and for diverse needs and budgets. Our expertise in the field of face-to-face tuition is second-to-none. With an extensive network of approved teachers and a strong in-house academic team, we are able to tailor a language course to suit your specific learning needs, anywhere in the world and whenever is convenient to you.

10 facts about Guatemala

1. The official language of Guatemala is Spanish, but 21 distinct Mayan languages as well as several non-Mayan Amerindian languages are also spoken here, particularly in the rural areas. The name Guatemala actually means ‘land of the trees’ in the Maya-Toltec language.

2. Tajamulco Volcano is the highest point in Guatemala, at 4,220m. Guatemala is home to 33 volcanoes spread throughout its highlands, of which 3 watch over the colonial town of Antigua: Agua, Fuego and Acatenango. Activities such as hiking, mountain biking and bird watching are popular activities on these volcanoes.

3. Guatemala boasts three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the beautiful town of Antigua Guatemala, the ancient Maya archaeological site of Quirigua and Tikal National Park in northern Guatamala.

4. Agriculture contributes a quarter of Guatemala’s GDP: coffee, bananas and sugar are its main products.

5. Chocolate is said to originate in Guatemala! It was used in Mayan culture as early as the sixth century A.D. The word ‘chocolate’ comes from the Maya word ‘xocoatl’ which means bitter water, as cocoa at the time was the basis for a thick, cold, unsweetened drink. As sugar was not yet discovered, different spices were used to add flavour, including hot chilli peppers – which are used in gourmet chocolate production today.

6. Guatemala is divided into 3 main parts: the sparsely-populated northern plains, the volcanic yet largely-populated central highlands and the agricultural Pacific lowlands. It is known as ‘land of the eternal spring’ as it boasts a warm, tropical climate.

7. The Guatemalan flag features two blue vertical stripes, representing the sea on either side of the country, with a white vertical stripe in the middle bearing the country’s coat of arms. This coat of arms includes the quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird, and a scroll that gives the date of Guatemala’s independence.

8. Eating out in Guatemala is inexpensive and delicious. Guatemala’s food and drink is influenced by its Mayan and Spanish cultures, and also its climate which enables them to produce abundant tropical fruit. Breakfast in Guatemala usually consists of a mix of eggs, tortillas, beans and plantains, with fruit such as papaya, bananas, mangoes and avocado. Guatemalan coffee on the side is a must! Lunch and dinner are usually then based around corn, beans, rice, cheese and tortillas, with soups (sopas) and stews (caldos). Nachos, stuffed peppers, tamales and enchiladas are also popular in Guatemala, as they are in Mexico.

9. September 15th is Independence Day in Guatemala, a celebration of the country’s independence from Spain on September 15th 1821. It is a national holiday and the largest holiday fair takes place in Quetzaltenango.

10. Visiting Lake Atitlan is a must whilst in Guatemala. Famous for its natural beauty, Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlán) is the deepest lake in Central America, and is surrounded by three spectacular volcanoes as well as many colourful Mayan towns and villages. Maya culture is predominant in these lakeside communities and traditional dress is worn. Lake Atitlan is about 50km north-west of Antigua.

Cactus offers Spanish language courses in Antigua, Guatemala. Spanish courses for all ages and levels are also available in other locations across Latin America and Spain.

Beware the Poisson d’Avril!

On the French equivalent of April Fool’s Day – Poisson d'Avril – on 1st April, people play tricks on each other and shout 'Poisson d'Avril!' to show that it’s a joke. Some people insist that fish or at least a vague reference to fish should be included with the pranks.

The Poisson d'Avril tradition in France possibly dates back to 1564, when King Charles IX decided that the year should start on 1st January to mark the lengthening of days, rather than on 1st April, when it previously started to mark the beginning of spring. The many people who didn’t accept the change and continued to celebrate on 1st April were mocked and sent joke gifts.

Where the fish connections came from is a bit of a mystery. It might be a reference to Pieces (Poissons), the last sign of the Zodiac in winter. Or it might be related to the period of Lent, when the only flesh people were allowed to eat was fish. Another possibility is that it originates in the ‘fish trick’, which involves sending someone to a market to buy fish that are not in season – all French people know when things are in season.

At the beginning to the 20th century there was a tradition in France of sending richly decorated postcards featuring Poissons d'Avril.

One popular prank is to call someone on the phone then to ask them to hold during the conversation. When you come back you ask if there have been any bites. Another popular joke involves tricking people into phoning fish shops or aquariums. Children attach paper fish to the backs of their friends and to those of any adults they can catch, and run away yelling 'Poisson d'Avril!' when the victims discover that they’ve been tricked.

There are also Poisson d'Avril spoof articles and reports in the newspapers, on TV, on the radio and on the internet.

Poissons d'Avril are not just jokes and pranks but also chocolate fish, which are on sale from 1st April and enjoyed during the whole of the Easter season. When people order fish dishes in restaurants on 1st April they are sometimes served chocolate fish instead.

Cactus Language offer French courses in the UK, New York, France and Canada!

Junior programs in the US

The long summer vacation offers a wonderful opportunity for teens to do something worthwhile, and there are few who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to spend a few weeks on East or West Coast USA. Thanks to Cactus’ summer camps in the US, a fun-packed yet educational trip to the bright lights of New York or the sunshine coast of California could be just the answer.

Geared towards students aged 12-18 years, these programs have been specially designed to combine full-immersion English language tuition with a variety of creative workshops and cultural activities – all with others of the same age and in a truly international environment.

Currently available in New York (Brooklyn), Harvard, Yale and Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania / Penn), students can enjoy a secure and supervised environment in which to improve their English, take part in a range of fun activities and excursions, gain confidence inside and outside the classroom, and come back with friends for life.

Each setting, while delivering the same core benefits, offers something different for our younger learners. There is no denying the prestige and history of institutions like Yale, Harvard and Penn, all of which enjoy a global reputation for academic excellence. With ‘open town’ campuses and on-site residential accommodation, these locations are ideal for independent, mature learners. Students attending these camps also enjoy a superb choice of afternoon activities, ranging from the excellent ‘Skills for Life’ workshops and SAT Preparation sessions at Penn and Yale to an impressive list of sporting and social events at Harvard.

The set-up in Brooklyn differs in that it offers much more of a neighborhood, local feel. Classes take place in small groups in a small, private co-educational college and students are housed with safe and comfortable host families close to the school. But it’s the afternoon workshops that really encourage a community feel: all run by local Brooklyn-based providers, students here can try their hand at superb activities ranging from creative writing and drawing to tap dance and trapeze, to say nothing of numerous afternoon and evening excursions in which to practice the language in a relaxed environment and make friends. A nice touch to then round off the week is Friday assembly, in which students get together to perform and exhibit their work to each other, be this in the form of role plays, language learning games or art work.

It’s clear to see that a summer camp is way more than just sitting at a desk learning verbs; it is a unique chance for teenagers to learn, socialise and try their hand at a whole range of fun activities and useful skills – invariably returning refreshed and inspired, with a long list of new friends to visit in far flung places!

Junior Locations in the US – At a Glance


• Junior summer course with host family, 14-18 years

• Also available as a day camp only

• College located in the heart of Brooklyn & all host families local

• 15 English lessons x 45 mins each week (class size 10 max)

• Homely, neighborhood feel with excellent creative workshops run by local providers


• Junior summer residential course, 14-17 years

• Single or twin rooms with shared bathroom

• Campus 2 km from downtown Boston and walking distance to Cambridge

• 20 English lessons x 50 mins each week (class size 15 max)

• Minimum 11 activities per week, including 2 half days and 1 full-day excursion


• Junior summer residential course, 13-17 years

• Campus 10 minutes’ walk from downtown New Haven

• Single or twin rooms with shared bathroom

• 20 English lessons x 50 mins each week (class size 15 max)

• Students can choose between 5 ‘Skills for Life’ workshops or 5 SAT Preparation sessions

• Ideal for more ambitious, mature learners


• Junior summer residential course, 12-17 years

• Campus 20 minutes by trolley or bus from midtown Philadelphia

• Single or twin rooms with shared bathroom

• 20 English lessons x 50 mins each week (class size 15 max)

• Students can choose between 5 ‘Skills for Life’ workshops or 5 SAT Preparation sessions

• Ideal for more ambitious, mature learners

Cactus specialises in organising language courses for individuals and groups, having done so since 1999 for clients all over the globe and for diverse needs and budgets. Our expertise in the field of face-to-face tuition is second-to-none. With an extensive network of approved teachers and a strong in-house academic team, we are able to tailor a language course to suit your specific learning needs, anywhere in the world and whenever is convenient to you.

We offer language courses for Under 18s in many languages and locations across the world.

Time flies in Morocco which clashes with the idea that Moroccan people take things easy………….

Four and a half weeks ago I travelled to Rabat, Morocco for my third time in the last two years. It does feel as if I have just stepped off the plane and I can not believe four and a half weeks have already past. It does feel as if I never left Morocco and I am not sure if that is due to Morocco being so close to the Canary Islands, where I am from, my passion for the Arabic language or a little bit of everything, but I feel so at home here. 

I guess it is normal to feel as if time flies by when you are enjoying every minute of what you are doing: learning a language.

We all know the best way to learn a language is in the country where it is spoken. That is why we encourage language students to take their courses abroad. The pace at which you learn is incomparable and what you experience – the direct contact with the local people and language – is priceless.

To increase my Arabic vocabulary and improve my grammar in Fusha (or al-fuṣḥā الفصحى), also known as Modern Standard Arabic, I have two hours a day of language tuition. My classes do not end there, they continue with everything I do. If I go shopping, I have to practise Arabic, if I take a taxi, I have to practise Arabic, if I go for a walk, I hear Arabic, if I turn on the radio, then I hear Arabic. The Arabic language I learnt in England and the Arabic I learn here in the classroom is very different to the Arabic I hear on the streets of Rabat. What I hear on the streets is called Darija and it´s the dialect spoken in Morocco, an amazing combination of languages (Fusha, French, Spanish, Berber).

A friend described Darija (الدارجة‎) as the Arabic for everyday tasks here in Morocco, but if you need to become more serious you will need to speak in either French or Fusha which is the modern standard Arabic, “like the BBC’s English”. So that’s what I’m trying to do, learn words and phrases to communicate with people in everyday life situations.

So it is like I am learning another language, Darija (الدارجة‎), from the beginning while continuing to learn Fusha in the classroom.

I can already greet people in Darija, introduce myself and go to the souq to buy fruit and vegetables which I think is not too bad…

Every time I speak with the local people or exchange conversation in either Darija or Fusha it brings me great joy and motivates me to continue learning the fascinating language of Arabic.

Another thing that really makes me want to continue with my learning adventure is the look of fascination on the local people’s faces when they hear me speaking Arabic. Many Moroccans can’t believe that I want to learn their language and I am interested in their culture!

Many Moroccan people speak at least 2 or 3 languages (Fusha, Darija, French, Berber) and they learn other languages impressively quickly. You just need to go for a walk to Jamaa el Fna Square (ساحة جامع الفناء) in Marrakech, to get a taste for how many languages are spoken in Morocco.

I am really looking forward to learning more about Morocco, the culture, the customs and the Arabic language so I can communicate more with the local people.

No rush though, I have plenty of time………………

Cactus Language Training offers a variety of Arabic language courses in the UK, US, Rabat and Morocco.

The fascinating culture of Istanbul

Istanbul was crowned ‘European Capital of Culture’ in 2010 and it’s an accolade of which it is undisputedly worthy, and which it shares with both Essen (Germany) and Peç (Hungary).

Previously known as Constantinople, Istanbul has a fascinating and impressive history that includes periods as the capital city of the Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the Latin Empire and the Ottoman Empire too.

Straddling two continents, Istanbul has long served as the gateway through which Eastern influences have reached Europe, and vice versa. Istanbul’s range of cultural influences have forged it into a city with a truly unique character in terms of atmosphere, architecture and cuisine.

Previously, Istanbul was often viewed as a destination for the ‘adventurous’ traveller, with its buzzing and slightly chaotic feel. In recent years, however, the city has seen an influx of boutique restaurants, stylish rooftop bars, nightclubs on the shores of the Bosporus and every class of restaurant, which have all attracted a different type of visitor. Istanbul can now boast a really varied range of attractions that makes it one of Europe’s premier tourist destinations.

In the run-up to 2010, extensive restoration to some of the city’s most famous sites was undertaken. Counted amongst these were the Topkapi Palace, heart of the Ottoman Empire for nearly four centuries, and Aya Sofia, which, for nearly 1,000 years, was the largest enclosed space in the world.

Visitors to Istanbul will always be wowed by its array of stunning buildings, but this year they will leave an even longer-lasting impression thanks to the mass of cultural events that will be hosted within them. Included in the line-up are festivals and events celebrating visual arts, music and opera, film, literature, theater, cultural heritage and international relations. For full listings of events for the coming year please visit the official website.

There has never been a better time to visit this vibrant and exciting city. Get ready to visit Istanbul with our Turkish phrases – 20 holiday essentials. Then you will be ready to take a trip to Istanbul and learn Turkish in Turkey.