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Artificial intelligence is the art of making machines that are able to 'think'. We often don't notice it, but artificial intelligence is all around us. It is present in computer games, in the cruise control in our cars and the servers that direct our e-mail. Some scientists believe that the most powerful computers could have the power of the human brain. Machines have always been excellent at tasks like calculation. But now they are better than humans in many spheres, from chess to mixing music.
The world's most powerful computer is ASCI Purple, made by IBM in 2004. It can carry out 100 trillion operations per second and has the size of two basketball courts. A computer with double power is expected in the next two years. A spokesman for IBM said that ASCI Purple is near the power of the human brain. But some scientists believe our brains can carry out almost 10,000 trillion operations per second.
The possible dangers of intelligent machines became the stories of many science fiction films. In The Terminator (1984), a computer network uses nuclear weapons against the human race in order to rule the world. This network then makes intelligent robots called 'Terminators' which it programs to kill all the humans. In The Matrix (1999) and The Matrix Reloaded (2003), a machine dominates humanity, using people as batteries to power itself.
In 1997, then the world chess champion Garry Kasparov played against IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer – and lost. After six games, the world-famous Kasparov lost 2.5 to 3.5 to the computer. In February 2003, Kasparov restored human reputation by finishing equal against the Israeli-built supercomputer Deep Junior. Kasparov ended the game with the score 2-2 against US company X3D Technologies' supercomputer X3D Fritz in November 2003, proving that the human brain can keep up with the latest developments in computing (at least in chess).
There are a number of different methods which try to measure intelligence, the most famous of which is perhaps the IQ, or 'Intelligence Quotient' test. This test was first used in early 20th century Paris. The modern day IQ test measures a variety of different types of ability such as memory for words and figures and others. Whether IQ tests actually test general intelligence is disputable. Some argue that they just show how good the individual is at IQ tests!
Analysis shows that human intelligence is changing. We are gaining abilities in some areas of intelligence, while losing them in others, such as memory. So this generation may not remember the great number of poems, their abilities are greater in other areas. It has been discovered that wide use of video games improves reaction time. But we could only dream of computing without calculators as fast as our grandparents did.
In 1950, mathematician Alan Turing invented a test to check machine intelligence. In the Turing Test, two people (A and B) sit in a closed room, a third person (C), who asks questions, sits outside. Person A tries to answer the questions so that person C doesn’t guess who they are: men or women, while person B tries to help him (C) in their identification. Turing suggested a machine take the place of person A. If the machine fooled the human, it was likely to be intelligent.
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Friend or enemy
History of chocolate
Love of sweet from your father
Help to dentists
Problems with weight
Chocolate is made from the seeds of the tree Theobroma cacao. The ancient Aztecs used the beans of the cacao tree as a form of money. The Aztecs discovered that by crushing the beans into a paste and adding spices, they could make a refreshing and nourishing drink. This drink was very bitter, not like our chocolate drinks today. 16th century European explorers brought the drink back from their travels, added sugar, and soon it was popular as an expensive luxury.
You can receive a 'sweet tooth' from your parents. Recent study at New York University suggests there is a genetic reason why some people prefer sugary foods. The study was based on two groups of mice. The parents of the first group were given sweetened water and the parents of the second – unsweetened water. The team found the gene that was different in the two groups of mice and then looked for similar genetic chains in humans.
All modern chocolate products have large amounts of sugar, a fact which may partly explain why it becomes a sort of drug for some people. An ability to recognize sweet things, and a tendency to like them was very useful for our forefathers. Such a genetic quality made prehistoric humans look for energy-rich, healthy and tasty food such as fruit, and helped them avoid bitter-tasting poisonous plants.
Like other sweet food, chocolate helps endorphins, natural hormones, that give us the feelings of pleasure and well-being, to appear in our body. Chocolate also makes us feel good by reacting with our brains. Scientists say that some people may develop chocoholism - a dependency on chocolate. So it's just possible that, with every bar of chocolate, your brain changes step by step in order to make you love chocolate more and more!
Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, many scientific works were written explaining the advantages of chocolate for medicine, and today it's a regular food in army rations. Chocolate could help prevent tooth decay, according to scientists at Japan's Osaka University. The cocoa beans from which chocolate is made have an antibacterial agent that fights tooth decay. These parts of the beans are not usually used in chocolate production, but in future they could be added back in to chocolate to make it friendly for teeth.
Californian scientist Professor Carl Keen and his team have suggested that chocolate might help fight heart disease. They say that it contains chemicals called flavinoids, which thin the blood. Researchers at Harvard University have carried out experiments that suggest that if you eat chocolate three times a month you will live almost a year longer than those who don’t do it. But it's not all good news - chocolate has much fat, which means that eating too much of it may lead to obesity.
Being very fat, or obese, is linked to many health problems including heart disease and diabetes. The causes of obesity are not yet fully understood. Both genes and the environment play a role. The recent growth of the number of fat people seems to be linked to environmental factors: people are much less active nowadays, fatty and sugary foods like chocolate are cheap, people eat larger portions of food, and the calories per person have increased.
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Types of mass media
Air in danger
World in danger
Danger of smoking
English in schools
Types of travelling
English is very popular nowadays. It’s the language of computers, science, business, sport and politics. English is an amazing language, the language of great literature. Half of the world’s scientific literature is published in English. Nearly half of the world’s business deals in Europe are conducted in English. It’s the language of sports and glamour, being the official language of the Olympic Games and the Miss Universe Competition. English is the official voice of the air and the sea.
Millions of people all over the world spend their holidays travelling. They travel to see other countries and continents, modern cities and the ruins of ancient towns. Some travel to enjoy picturesque places or just for a change of scene. It’s always interesting to try different food, to listen to different musical rhythms. Those who live in the country like to travel to a big city while city-dwellers usually prefer spending a quiet holiday by the sea or in the mountains, with nothing to do but walk and bathe.
Global warming is the term used to describe the relatively dramatic rise in the world’s average temperature during the 20th century. According to some environmentalists, global warming is a result of the industrial revolution and that if it continues, it will destroy civilization as we know it. Global warming is a problem, and people must take any steps they can in order to prevent it.
Speaking English gives people many privileges in society, enabling them to communicate successfully with those who don’t know your mother-tongue. In order to possess these privileges school teachers and methodologists propose to introduce six hours of learning English a week for all Russian schools and introduce this subject from the first year in primary schools. Learning English should become more intensive to make Russian citizens more communicative.
Air pollution is a very serious problem in the world. In Cairo just breathing the air is life threatening – it equals smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. The same holds true for Mexico City and 600 cities of the former Soviet Union. Industrial enterprises emit tons of harmful substances. These emissions have disastrous consequences for our planet.
The press, radio, television and Internet are various types of mass media that keep people informed on the topical issues of the day. The mass media do much to excite an interest in every aspect of life and play an important role in reflecting the life of society. The mass media draw the public attention to the most serious political, economic, social and ecological problems.
Last year my brother and I went to Turkey. This trip left the best impression on me. We took advantage of the excellent weather and went on different tours, for example, rafting. We took ourselves by a raft and a kayak through the picturesque mountainous region of Southern Turkey. Besides, we found new places, saw impressive sights and got acquainted with new people.
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HEALTHY SCHOOL MEALS
Children at Southdown Infants School in Bath enjoy tasty homemade meals such as roast turkey with fresh vegetables, chicken, salad and fresh fruit for pudding. Vegetables are 1 _______________________. Instead of crisps, chocolate and sweets, the school canteen serves organic carrots, dried fruit and fresh seasonal fruit in bags for 10p, 2 _______________________.
Southdown's healthy eating initiative began four years ago with the start of a breakfast club.
Now Ms Culley, the head teacher of the school, says that the teachers very clearly see the link between diet and concentration. “Children's concentration and behaviour 3 _______________________.” The teachers would also like to give the children the experience of eating together. It turned out that some children weren't used to that.
Pupils are also encouraged to find out more about where their food comes from by 4 _______________________.
Parents are also involved and are invited in to try school dinners on special occasions, 5 _______________________.
The efforts of staff, pupils and parents to create a healthy eating environment were recognized earlier this month 6 _______________________ the Best School Dinner award.
Ms Culley said: “We are happy to win this award. Healthy eating is at the centre of everything we do. It's really rewarding to see so many children enjoy real food.”
A. such as Easter and Christmas
B. visiting a local farm
C. local, fresh and organic where possible
D. provide good quality food
E. definitely improve after a good meal
F. and about 100 bags are sold each day
G. when the school was awarded
Walking is not enough to keep fit
Walking may not be enough on its own to produce significant health benefits, research suggests. A team from Canada’s University of Alberta compared a 10,000-step exercise programme with a more traditional fitness regime of moderate intensity. Researchers found improvements1 _______________________ were significantly higher in the second group. They told an American College of Sports Medicine meeting that gentle exercise was 2 _______________________. In total 128 people took 3 _______________________. The researchers assessed influence on fitness by measuring blood pressure and lung capacity. They found out the 10,000-step programme did help to get people motivated – and was an excellent way to start4 _______________________. But to increase the effectiveness, some intensity must be added to their exercise. “Across your day, while you are achieving those 10,000 steps, take 200 to 400 of them at a faster pace. You've got to do more than light exercise and include regular moderate activity, and don't be shy to have an occasional period of time at an energetic level.” The researchers were concerned there was too much focus 5 _______________________, rather than on its intensity.
Professor Stuart Biddle, an expert in exercise science at the University of Loughborough, said it was possible that the current guidelines on how much exercise to take were set too low. “However, you have got to find 6 _______________________. The harder you make it, the fewer people will actually do it.” Professor Biddle said there was no doubt that energetic exercise was the way to get fit, but volume rather than intensity might be more useful in tackling issues such as obesity.
A. part in the project
B. taking exercise
C. gave marked health benefits
D. in fitness levels
E. on simply getting people to take exercise
F. not enough to get fit
G. a compromise between physiology and psychology
A double-decker bus is a bus that has two levels. While double-decker long-distance buses are in widespread use around the world,1 _______________________. Double-decker buses are popular in some European cities and in some parts of Asia, usually in former British colonies. Many towns around the world have a few that specialize in short sight-seeing tours for tourists because, as William Gladstone observed, "the way to see London is from the top of a 'bus'".
Double-decker buses are taller than other buses. They are extensively used in the United Kingdom, 2 _______________________, removed from normal service in December 2005 - they still operate on heritage routes. Elsewhere in Europe, double-deckers are used throughout the Dublin Bus network in Ireland, where they are making a comeback on Dublin's outer suburban routes and also the streets of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. They are a common sight in Berlin, where the BVG makes extensive use of them. Double-decker long-distance coaches are also in widespread use throughout Europe.
Most buses in Hong Kong and about half in Singapore are double-deckers as well. The only areas in North America that 3 _______________________ are the western Canadian province of British Columbia and the United States city of Las Vegas. They are currently being tested in Ottawa on the express routes. The city of Davis, California, in the United States uses vintage double-decker buses for public transport. Davis, California is also home to the first vintage double-decker bus converted from diesel gasoline to run on CNG. The city of Victoria, BC, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, and a couple of others use Dennis Tridents. A few are also used as tour buses, especially in New York. Double-deckers are have also been used in Mumbai since 1937.
In Brazil, 4 _______________________, some companies use double-decker buses. Double-deckers are not a good option for use outside the towns (most roads in Brazil are in very poor condition), and 5 _______________________.
Double-decker buses are in widespread use in India in many of the major cities. Some double-decker buses 6 _______________________, with no roof and shallow sides. These are popular for sightseeing tours.
A. double-deckers are adored by thousands of tourists
B. use double-decker buses for public transport
C. double-decker city buses are less common
D. where perhaps the most famous was the London Routemaster
E. their use is being discouraged by transportation authorities
F. have an open upper deck
G. where buses are sometimes the only interstate transport
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ABBY’S TIDY DRAWER
One Saturday morning, Abby’s Mum came upstairs to see Abby in her bedroom. There was a big mess on the floor and Abby sat in the middle of it all reading a book.
“What a mess,” Mum said. “You need to have a clear up in here. Because things get broken or lost when they’re all willy-nilly like this. Come on, have a tidy up now.”
“But I’m very busy,” Abby argued, “and it’s boring doing it on my own. Can’t you help me?”
“No I can’t, I’m busy too. But I’ll give you extra pocket money if you do a good job.”
When Mum came back later all the toys and clothes and books had disappeared.
“I’m impressed,” said Mum. “But I’ll inspect it properly later.”
“It was easy,” said Abby. “Can I have my extra pocket money now?”
“All right. Get it out of my change purse. It’s in the kitchen tidy drawer.”
In the kitchen, Abby went over to the dresser and pulled open the tidy drawer. She hunted for the purse.
“It must be somewhere at the bottom,” Mum said. “Let’s have a proper look.”
She pulled the drawer out and carried it over to the table. Abby looked inside. There were lots of boring things like staplers and string, but there were lots of interesting things as well.
“What’s this?” Abby asked, holding up a plastic bottle full of red liquid.
“Fake blood, from a Halloween party years ago. Your Dad and I took you to that, dressed up as a baby vampire. You were really scary.”
Abby carried on looking through the drawer. She found some vampire teeth, white face paint, plastic witch nails and hair gel. Mum pulled out a glittery hair band. It had springs with wobbly balls on the top that flashed disco colours! Abby found some sparkly hair elastics to match the hair band. She made her Mum put lots of little bunches all over her head so she looked really silly.
“I remember this,” Abby said as she pulled out a plastic bag. “This is from my pirate party.” Inside there was a black, false moustache and some big gold earrings.
“Come here,” Mum said and smeared white face paint all over Abby’s face. She dribbled the fake blood so it looked as if it was coming out of Abby’s eyes and mouth. She put gel all over Abby’s hair and made it stand up into weird, pointy shapes. Abby put in the vampire teeth and slipped on the witch fingers. She made scary noises at Wow-Wow, the cat. He ignored her and carried on washing himself on the seat next to her.
Abby came to sit on her Mum’s knee.
“It’s fun doing this together,” she said.
“Maybe. But we still haven’t found the change purse.”
“Well, you know things will get lost, or broken, when they’re all willy-nilly.”
“You cheeky monkey!” Mum laughed. “But what shall I do with it all?”
“I know, it’s easy,” Abby said and began to remove everything off the table into her arms. She put it all back in the kitchen drawer.
Mum looked at her suspiciously.
“Let’s go and inspect your bedroom, shall we?”
Abby followed her upstairs and into her bedroom. Wow-Wow was sitting in front of her fish tank looking hungrily at the goldfish. He dashed under the bed when he saw Mum and Abby. Mum kneeled down and lifted the bed cover to get him out. Underneath were heaps of Abby’s toys, books, tapes, clothes and shoes, empty plastic cups, wrappers and a half-eaten sandwich on a plate.
“Abby! What’s all this?”
“It’s my tidy drawer,” Abby said. She wrapped her arms around her Mum and gave her a kiss. “Let’s sort this one out together now.”
1. When Mum came to Abby’s room she saw
A) her daughter reading at her table.
B) the cat looking at the fish.
C) a terrible mess all over the place.
D) Abby dressed up as a vampire.
2. Abby agreed to tidy up her room because Mother
A) promised to take her to the Halloween party.
B) offered to give her extra pocket money.
C) promised to help her.
D) said that she would punish her.
3. Where did Abby find many interesting things?
A) In her Mother’s change purse.
B) Under her bed.
C) On the kitchen table.
D) In the tidy drawer in the kitchen.
4. Abby’s parents used most of the interesting things
A) when they dressed themselves up for Halloween parties.
B) as presents for Halloween parties.
C) to dress her up for different parties.
D) when they wanted to play tricks on Abby.
5. Abby put on the vampire teeth, witch nails and other things from the tidy drawer because
A) she wanted to scare the cat.
B) she was going to a Halloween party that evening.
C) she enjoyed dressing up with her Mother.
D) she had to dress up for a pirate party.
6. Abby’s Mother decided to inspect Abby’s bedroom
A) after she had seen Abby tidy up the kitchen table.
B) because she had promised she would do that.
C) before Father came home from work.
D) when they heard some strange noise from it.
7. When Abby’s Mother looked under her daughter’s bed she saw
A) the cat eating a sandwich.
B) the tidy drawer from the kitchen.
C) her change purse.
D) all the Abby’s things.
No one knew how Mr. Sticky got in the fish tank.
"He's very small," Mum said as she peered at the tiny water snail. "Just a black dot."
In the morning Abby jumped out of bed and switched on the light in her fish tank.
Gerry, the fat orange goldfish, was dozing inside the stone archway. It took Abby a while to discover Mr. Sticky because he was clinging to the glass near the bottom, right next to the gravel.
At school that day she wrote about the mysterious Mr. Sticky who was so small you could mistake him for a piece of gravel. Some of the girls in her class said he seemed an ideal pet for her and kept giggling about it.
"I think he's grown a bit," Abby told her Mum at breakfast the next day.
"Just as well if he's going to be eaten up like that," her Mum said, trying to put on her coat and eat toast at the same time. "But I don't want him to get too huge or he won't be cute anymore. Small things are cute aren't they?"
"Yes they are. Now hurry up, I'm going to miss my train."
At the weekend they cleaned out the tank. "There's a lot of filth on the sides," Mum said. "I'm not sure Mr. Sticky's quite up to the job yet."
They took the fish out and put them in a bowl while they emptied some of the water. Mr. Sticky stayed out of the way, clinging to the glass while Mum used the special 'vacuum cleaner' to clean the gravel. Abby cleaned the archway and the filter tube. Mum poured new water into the tank.
"Where's Mr. Sticky?" Abby asked.
"On the side," Mum said. She was busy concentrating on the water.
Abby looked on all sides of the tank. There was no sign of the water snail.
"He's probably in the gravel then," her mum said. She put the fish back in the clean water where they swam round and round, looking baffled.
That evening Abby went up to her bedroom to examine the tank. The water had settled and looked lovely and clear but there was no sign of Mr. Sticky. She went downstairs.
Her mum was in the study surrounded by papers. She looked impatient when she saw Abby in the doorway and even more impatient when she heard the bad news.
"He'll turn up." was all she said. "Now off to bed Abby. I've got masses of work to catch up on."
Abby felt her face go hot and red. It always happened when she was furious or offended.
"You've poured him out, haven't you," she said. "You were in such a rush."
"I have not. I was very cautious. But he is extremely small."
"What's wrong with being small?"
"Nothing at all. But it makes things hard to find."
"Or notice," Abby said and ran from the room.
The door to the bedroom opened and Mum's face appeared. Abby tried to ignore her but it was hard when she walked over to the bed and sat next to her. She was holding her glasses in her hand. "These are my new pair," she said. "Extra powerful, for snail hunting." She smiled at Abby. Abby tried not to smile back.
"And I've got a magnifying glass," Abby suddenly remembered and rushed off to find it.
They sat beside each other on the floor with the tank between them and peered into the water.
"Ah ha!" Mum suddenly cried.
There, perfectly hidden against the dark stone, sat Mr. Sticky. And right next to him was another water snail, even smaller than him.
"Mrs. Sticky!" Abby breathed.
They both laughed. Then Abby put her head on her mum's chest and smiled.
1. Mr. Sticky was
A) a goldfish.
B) a piece of gravel.
C) a snail.
D) a turtle.
2. Abby didn’t want Mr. Sticky to grow too big because
A) there wouldn’t be enough space in the fish tank.
B) he would eat too much.
C) he would leave a lot of dirt on the walls of the fish tank.
D) she found small things to be very pretty.
3. When helping her mother to clean out the tank Abby
A) polished the walls of the tank.
B) used a vacuum cleaner.
C) poured fresh water into the tank.
D) cleaned the filter tube of the fish tank.
4. Abby came to her mother’s study
A) to tell her that Mr. Sticky hadn’t turned up.
B) when she had found Mr. and Mrs. Sticky.
C) because she didn’t want to go to bed.
D) to say goodnight.
5. Abby was angry with her Mum because
A) mother ignored her.
B) mother didn’t like Mr. Sticky.
C) she thought that her mother had poured out Mr. Sticky.
D) mother was very strict.
6. Mother came to Abby’s room to look for Mr. Sticky with
A) her new glasses.
B) a filter tube.
C) a magnifying glass.
D) a vacuum cleaner.
7. Abby felt happy and laughed because
A) mother came to help her look for Mr. Sticky.
B) they found Mr. Sticky in the fish tank.
C) the water in the fish tank was very clear and clean.
D) her mother was trying to make her laugh.
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A Gifted Cook
If there is a gene for cuisine, Gabe, my 11-year-old son, could splice it to perfection. Somewhere between Greenwich Village, where he was born, and the San Francisco Bay area, where he has grown up, the little kid with the stubborn disposition and freckles on his nose has forsaken Boy Scouts and baseball in favor of wielding a kitchen knife.
I suppose he is a member of the Emeril generation. Gabe has spent his formative years shopping at the Berkeley Bowl, where over half a dozen varieties of Thanksgiving yams, in lesser mortals, can instill emotional paralysis. He is blessed with a critical eye. “I think Emeril is really cheesy,” he observed the other night while watching a puff pastry segment. “He makes the stupidest jokes. But he cooks really well.”
With its manifold indigenous cultures, Oaxaca seemed the perfect place to push boundaries. Like the mole sauces for which it is justly famous, the region itself is a subtle blend of ingredients – from dusty Zapotec villages where Spanish is a second language to the zocalo in colonial Oaxaca, a sophisticated town square brimming with street life and vendors selling twisty, one-story-tall balloons.
Appealing to Gabe’s inner Iron Chef seemed like an indirect way to introduce him to a place where the artful approach to life presides. There was also a selfish motive: Gabe is my soul mate, a fellow food wanderer who is not above embracing insanity to follow his appetite wherever it leads.
Months ahead of time, we enrolled via the Internet in the daylong Wednesday cooking class at Seasons of My Heart, the chef and cookbook author Susana Trilling’s cooking school in the Elta Valley, about a 45-minute drive north to town. In her cookbook and PBS series of the same name, Ms. Trilling, an American whose maternal grandparents were Mexican, calls Oaxaca “the land of no waste” where cooking techniques in some ancient villages have endured for a thousand years.
I suspected that the very notion of what constitutes food in Oaxaca would test Gabe’s mettle. At the suggestion of Jacob, his older brother, we spent our second night in Mexico at a Oaxaca Guerrero baseball game, where instead of peanuts and Cracker Jack, vendors hawked huge trays piled high with chapulines, fried grasshoppers cooked in chili and lime, a local delicacy. Gabe was bug-eyed as he watched the man next to him snack on exoskeletal munchies in a paper bowl. “It’s probably less gross than a hot dog,” he admitted. “But on the rim of the bowl I saw a bunch of legs and served body parts. That’s revolting!”
Our cooking day began at the Wednesday market in Etla, shopping for ingredients and sampling as we went. On the way in the van, Gabe had made friends with Cindy and Fred Beams, fellow classmates from Boston, sharing opinions about Caesar salad and bemoaning his brother’s preference for plain pizza instead of Hawaiian. Cindy told Gabe about a delicious sauce she’d just had on her omelet at her B & B. “It was the best sauce – to die for,” she said. “Then I found out the provenance. Roasted worms.”
The Oaxacan taste for insects, we’d learn – including the worm salt spied at the supermarket and the “basket of fried locusts” at a nearby restaurant – was a source of protein dating back to pre-Hispanic times.
When our cooking class was over I saw a flicker of regret in his face, as though he sensed the world’s infinite variety and possibilities in all the dishes he didn’t learn to cook. “Mom”, he said plaintively, surveying the sensual offerings of the table. “Can we make everything when we get home?”
1. Gabe’s mother thinks that he is
2. Gabe is supposed to represent the Emeril generation because he
A) is fond of criticizing others.
B) feels happy being alone.
C) is interested in cooking.
D) is good at making jokes.
3. The narrator wanted to take Gabe to Oaxaca because
A) he could speak Spanish.
B) there are a lot of entertainments for children there.
C) he knew a lot about local cultures.
D) he was the best to keep her company.
4. Gabe was struck when he
A) was told that local cooking techniques were a thousand years old.
B) saw the man next to him eat insects.
C) did not find any dish to satisfy his appetite.
D) understood that a hot dog was less gross than a local delicacy.
5. The Oaxacan people eat insects because this kind of food
A) tastes pleasant.
B) is easy to cook.
C) contains an essential nutritional element.
D) helps to cure many diseases.
6. At the end of the class Gabe felt regret because
A) there were a lot of dishes he could not make on his own.
B) the dishes he made were not tasty.
C) he did not want to go back home.
D) he had not managed to master all the dishes he liked.
7. In paragraph 3 “brimming with” means
B) being filled with.
C) astonishing with.
D) beckoning with.
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А. Places to stay in
B. Arts and culture
C. New country image
D. Going out
E. Different landscapes
F. Transport system
G. National languages
H. Eating out
1. Belgium has always had a lot more than the faceless administrative buildings that you can see in the outskirts of its capital, Brussels. A number of beautiful historic cities and Brussels itself offer impressive architecture, lively nightlife, first-rate restaurants and numerous other attractions for visitors. Today, the old-fashioned idea of ‘boring Belgium' has been well and truly forgotten, as more and more people discover its very individual charms for themselves.
2. Nature in Belgium is varied. The rivers and hills of the Ardennes in the southeast contrast sharply with the rolling plains which make up much of the northern and western countryside. The most notable features are the great forest near the frontier with Germany and Luxembourg and the wide, sandy beaches of the northern coast.
3. It is easy both to enter and to travel around pocket-sized Belgium which is divided into the Dutch-speaking north and the French-speaking south. Officially the Belgians speak Dutch, French and German. Dutch is slightly more widely spoken than French, and German is spoken the least. The Belgians, living in the north, will often prefer to answer visitors in English rather than French, even if the visitor's French is good.
4. Belgium has a wide range of hotels from 5-star luxury to small family pensions and inns. In some regions of the country, farm holidays are available. There visitors can (for a small cost) participate in the daily work of the farm. There are plenty of opportunities to rent furnished villas, flats, rooms, or bungalows for a holiday period. These holiday houses and flats are comfortable and well-equipped.
5. The Belgian style of cooking is similar to French, based on meat and seafood. Each region in Belgium has its own special dish. Butter, cream, beer and wine are generously used in cooking. The Belgians are keen on their food, and the country is very well supplied with excellent restaurants to suit all budgets. The perfect evening out here involves a delicious meal, and the restaurants and cafes are busy at all times of the week.
6. As well as being one of the best cities in the world for eating out (both for its high quality and range), Brussels has a very active and varied nightlife. It has 10 theatres which produce plays in both Dutch and French. There are also dozens of cinemas, numerous discos and many night-time cafes in Brussels. Elsewhere, the nightlife choices depend on the size of the town, but there is no shortage of fun to be had in any of the major cities.
7. There is a good system of underground trains, trams and buses in all the major towns and cities. In addition, Belgium's waterways offer a pleasant way to enjoy the country. Visitors can take a one-hour cruise around the canals of Bruges, (sometimes described as the Venice of the North) or an extended cruise along the rivers and canals linking the major cities of Belgium and the Netherlands.