Tag Archives: Travel

New Hamburg: Life of the Veddel

Veddel 4

Ever since I decided to go abroad, I have been often reminded by how little everyone knows about the world, myself included. We are bound by an obnoxious bubble of self-proclaimed self-righteousness and assumption of knowledge of worldly events; however, this bubble gets popped upon collision with communities we might know very little about.

Yesterday marked my initial contact with Veddel: a fascinating blend of people from 67 different nations, all of whom had left their homelands in pursuit of better life standards. For many immigrants, Germany has been a rather popular destination, despite the fact that the conditions of arrival and integration are not exactly ideal. Nevertheless, between racial discrimination in their home nations, along with religious segregation and prosecution for political activism, Hamburg in particular seemed a safe place to be.

Veddel: A harmonious entanglement

Veddel is a snapshot of a truly multicultural city within a city. Though it is commonly misrepresented in traditional media as being dangerous and high on crime rates, as immigrant communities often perfectly fit the illustrative material for that particular purpose, the island has taken the definition of “parallel societies” to a whole new level. Its residents, with the variety of their backgrounds, spiritual beliefs, education levels, ages and experiences, live together in a harmony most big cities with all the proper infrastructure have been unable to achieve.

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A live example of this polyphony is the Immanuel Church [Deutsche: Immanuelkirche], formerly an Evangelical center of Veddel’s mostly Christian society. Today, the church is a melting point of cultural dialogue, music, film, sports and other activities for the multitude of spiritual beliefs that inhabit Veddel, creating a network of diversity where parents, teachers, members of different religious communities, artists and activists had the space to develop New Hamburg, an initiative that celebrates the cultural richness and diversity of the island.

Along with the fascinating theatre shows, the music and the inspiring performances, New Hamburg Festival, held from the 3rd to the 25th of October, offered a platform for the residents of Veddel to tell their stories.

A larger portion of the population stems from Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, and other Southern-Eastern European countries, but were born there as part of the Romani communities [also known as Gypsy, despite my distaste for the term] in those nations. Prior to coming to Europe, I had only heard of the word “Gypsy”, yet had never associated it with any specific connotation. Coming from Egypt, the only time I’d ever heard the word was in Disney’s the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, referring to Esmeralda’s character. Whatever I came across yesterday is how I’ll always perceive the Romani community, for as long as I have a memory.

Mapping life across Europe

One of the most intriguing events that took place was a series of presentations given by a few members of the Veddel community, where each one stood in front of a large-scaled map of Europe to illustrate their life stories by placing a pin in each country they lived in, even briefly, then tying a thread, each person with his preferable colour, that connects the dots in a way that ends with them settling in Hamburg. The map ended up being a canvas of intertwined tangles of threads, each thread representing a tale.

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Among the stories was a Romani man who was born and raised in Serbia. Being a journalist and a political activist, he was among the founders of the first political party that represented the Roma community in Serbia, for which he was prosecuted, chased by the police forces in former Yugoslavia in the 1970s, and forced to flee.

“I had to leave; I couldn’t risk taking my family along to face the hardships I knew were about to come.” Waving his hand across different countries in former Yugoslavia, he said, “I had no passport, and I travelled through Hungary and other countries on foot.”

Briefly narrating the story of his continuous abscond and suffering, he told his audience how he ended up in Germany with severe health complications, for which the authorities decided to give him a disability card to legalize his status in Germany.

Centuries-long discrimination

“With no mother nation to stand up for our cause, we are denied citizenship almost everywhere. Veddel has been good to us, but there is such a high unemployment rate, and we are increasingly misunderstood and maligned due to our ethnicity as a minority group.”

Originally migrating from India, to Mid-West Asia, and finally arriving in Europe around 1,000 years ago, the Roma have suffered economic, cultural and political discrimination at the hands of both communist and capitalist, and both democratic and totalitarian societies.20141019_202815

Upon doing more research on their history, some of what I stumbled upon was inhumane, illogical, and rather shocking. Not only are they culturally excluded from their prospective communities, but more-so politically. For example, in 1993, Jozsef Pacai, the mayor of the Slovak village of Medzev said, “I’m no racist, but some Gypsies you would have to shoot.”

Several far-right political groups in Eastern Europe consistently used the idea of ridding of “gypsies” as propaganda for their campaigns. In 2009, the Czech National Party ran advertisements for the European Parliament election calling for a “final solution to the Gypsy problem”. Another far-right party in Slovakia, in 2010, has used the term “Gypsy criminality” in reference to the danger they allegedly form towards the nation state.

Even in Germany, since they are not German nationals, they do not get the right to vote, which makes Veddel untouched by the hands of the authorities, and lacking in infrastructure in many ways.

“It’s a vicious cycle. Europe complains about us; they dislike that we are nomads, but what makes us nomadic is that we are never accepted into our host countries. We don’t know where to go”, a Montenegrin told me.

Celebrating diversity

Despite their rather traumatic stories, the Veddel community was rather welcoming. Some of the women grilled food in the church’s backyard, offering food at minimal prices for the festival’s guests. Some of them also joined to attend the consequent events of the evening. Children huddled around the fire for warmth, and by the evening, many people, mostly Germans and Veddel locals, gathered inside the church’s café for a welcome from the organizers of New Hamburg, ending with a warm “Our house is your house” [Deutsche: Unser Haus ist dein Haus].

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The crowd slowly moved into the second part of the evening celebrations: a tour around a big hallway where several people told the stories of people who had immigrated to Veddel many decades ago, in German. I was lucky enough to h
ave a German-speaking friend, translating the stories word by word. Some of them would make us chuckle, others would give us goosebumps, and others would leave the ending open, bringing about some hope for a better future for the people.

A beautiful interruption of the stories tour were a short couple of performances by Rosemary Hardy, an English lady who had volunteered for the New Hamburg initiative as part of the theatre group. Dressed in a colourful Hungarian dress and seated in a chair while knitting, the spotlights would bring the audience’s attention to her strong Soprano voice, as she sang two songs, one of which was Hungarian, and the other was German, titled “Waldeinsamkeit“, which translates to “the feeling of loneliness you get while being in the woods”, reminding me of how many surprises the German language can carry.

Veddel 5What ended the night was an inspiring performance of a girl in her mid-twenties who sang in Albanian to the earthly tunes of her Eastern instrument, leaving her audience astounded after singing around 5 melodies that ranged from melancholic notes to upbeat tunes.

For our readers in Hamburg, I highly encourage you to visit Veddel on Saturday the 25th of the current month to enjoy more performances, especially a Turkish music concert. For more information on the New Hamburg initiave, please visit http://new-hamburg.de.

 

 

Written by Shorouk El Hariry, an Egyptian journalist who studies and lives in Hamburg, Germany. She could be found on Twitter at @shoroukelhariry

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Beyond the sun and sand in Bali

THE SUBLIME BEACHES of Bali are not the core of this photo report, and neither are the massive parties in Katu. This piece aims to showcase  another side of Bali: its wonderful rice fields in Ubud, the Hindu temples mixed with Buddhism; the spirit that flows in the air and drives you to the healers. Its rich culture.

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Temples and religion
It’s hard work to count all the temples in Bali partially because there are three different types of them.

Family temples: each Balinese family -from the richest to the poorest- build their own family temple in their house. Some of them are very small and modest with daily offerings around. Others are spectacular meaning the whole house seems to be only a temple.

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Family temple.

 

Town temple: every village builds a free access temple for the inhabitants of the community. Tourists don’t usually visit these temples where Balinese people come regularly to pray and bring offerings.

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Town temple.

Old temples are the most visited. Here tourists are mixed up with believers and travellers:

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Pura Uluwatu temple.

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Be aware of monkeys! They are able to steal a pair of sunglasses in seconds.

 

 

 

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Pura Ulu Danau Bratan temple is located on top of a mountain, next to a lake named the same. The temple seems to be floating over the clouds.

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Pura Taman Ayun temple: humanity heritage by UNESCO.

Tanah Lot temple is situated on top of a rock eroded by the waves. There is a little crypt underneath where anyone can be blessed with holy water and a point of rice on the forehead. In another crypt there is the holy snake and, at the end of this group of buildings, one of the most beautiful images of Bali: a natural bridge made of rocks over the sea where everyday hundreds of people come together to see the sunset.

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Tanah Lot temple: holy snake.

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Tanah Lot temple.

Tirta Empul temple: here there is a spring from where holy water flows and Hindu believers come to purify themselves.

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Tirta Empul temple.

Offerings are varied, with a little bit of everything inside: fruits and flowers, candies and money, even cigarettes. They can be deposited in the entrance of many different places as shops, markets, on the pavement…

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Offerings.

 

The island of the four names
The Balinese use just four names that are repeated over and over. Usually they get a middle name to distinguish each other plus the surname. The name is given according to birth order. The first man is called Wayan o Putu, the second one is Made, the third is Nyoman and the fourth Ketut; for women the same names are used with a prefix: Niwayan, Imade, Inyoman and Iketut.

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Putu, 9º child in his family.

 

Traditional Balinese medicine and the healers
It is common to ignore what traditional medicine is about and easy to judge without having any knowledge of it. For Westerns it is hard to understand; for Balinese people is something special, very real and difficult to explain with words. In the West, where everything has to be classified, we are told that there are three types of healers. Although if you ask the Balinese about this classification  is not as simple as classifying each healer in a group out of three: “every healer has a personal way of working, of thinking, of curing”.

After the launch of the film Eat, pray and love the area of Ubud has been taken over by hundreds of ‘illuminated’ healers. Those who advertise themselves and always ask for money are under suspicion by many including Balinese people. They say “if a healer is charging money, he is doing business. A real healer was given that gift from god, in the same way it has to be given to those that need help”.

Some healers apply chiropractic or reflexology techniques, others – the real ones according to Balinese people- use techniques never seen in the West; incomparable with any known practice. The healer starts the session checking the patient to be sure that the origin of the illness is within his/her competence, otherwise they will recommend to go to the doctor. To know what type of disease they have to deal with, they introduce a finger in the ears and then into the nostrils without pressuring. If the pain is unbearable, it is the irrefutable evidence for them to ensure that the illness is a consequence of enchantments and black magic.

Once they prove the illness doesn’t have medical origins, the session of praying starts spreading coconut oil all over the patients body. However, this is not a massage to make you relax, it is a very painful experience in which the majority of people usually scream and cry of pain, and very likely the day after you will have marks on your body.

At the end of the session, the healer will give some advice to follow in order to continue with a healthy life, mentally and physically. Normally, they suggest meditation, yoga, praying and believing that there is some supernatural power –it doesn’t matter the name of the god- that we should give in to everything we are surrounded by. They want you to believe that they are the means for this universal force to cure.

Trick or true, this is how Balinese culture is.

Familia esperando a ser atendida por la curandera

Balinese family waiting for a traditional medicine session.

 

Balinese dance 
One of the most famous dances is ‘the Barong and Kris dance’. Barong is a mythological animal that represents the good spirit. During the dance this spirit fights against Randa, another mythological creature that represents the evil spirit. The dance means the eternal conflict between good and evil.

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Danza de Barong 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Paradise on Earth
Bali goes beyond the sun and beautiful beaches although they are indeed breath-taking.

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Padang Padang beach became very popular thanks to the film Eat, pray and love.

 

To sum up the beauty and magic of Bali there is this picture named as ‘the Balinese God of fertility’, due to the beauty and innocence that this pregnant girl expresses while carrying marvellous offerings on top of the head.

Diosa de la fertilidad balinesa

The Balinese God of fertility.

 

Words and photos by Andreyna Valera.

Translated by Ana Escaso. 

Changing perspectives on Palestine

THINKING OF PALESTINE, the first thing that comes to most people’s mind is the conflict with Israel: a never-ending tale of occupation, rockets, settlements and protests. So, Not exactly what you would call an ideal holiday destination. Israel is (in quieter times) a popular holiday destination. Parties in Tel Aviv, religious and cultural monuments in Jerusalem, the Red Sea beaches in Eilat and an organized trip to the Dead Sea can form a very relaxing holiday.

It’s time to change that perspective. Because from time to time, I feel homesick to my favorite club/restaurant/swimming pool (all at the same  place) in Ramallah, the knafeh in Nablus and the scenic route from Ramallah to Jericho. Since the Lonely Planet offers very little information on tourist sites in Palestine, here’s my top 5.

(Please note that since visas to enter Gaza are very difficult to obtain, this top 5 consists solely of locations on the West Bank. I would also say this article should not be interpreted as an argument against visiting Israel or supporting any side of Israeli-Palestinian conflict: just that, it is important even in a war zone, to understand the beauty and culture which lie beneath. The importance of culturally significant or geographically beautiful areas becomes – if anything – more marked as the conflict continues.)

5. Jericho and the Dead Sea

Contrary to what one might think while taking the highway from Jerusalem, the Dead Sea is not bordering Israel, but Palestine. The ancient city of Jericho is closest to this salty sea with its cleansing mud — even though most of the access points to the sea are Israeli.  After floating in the Dead Sea, take a quick bite in downtown Jericho and then head to the lowest cable car ride in the world. The cable car takes you to the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus Christ is said to have resisted two of the Devil’s temptations during his forty days long fast. One of these entailed turning a stone into bread – this stone can be found inside the monastery and provokes strong emotions in many religious visitors. Underneath the cable car is another interesting stop: the archeological site of the oldest city in the world, as Jericho proudly proclaims itself. The remains of this ancient town date back around 20.000 years.

4. Eat knafeh in romantic Nablus

Cultural heritage has become subject to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills is one such example, the ruins of the Herodion just outside Bethlehem is another. When BuzzFeed published an article on the ‘17 most incredible desserts of the world’, its labeling of knafeh as an Israeli pastry, the delicious dessert became center of another cultural controversy. The Palestinian city of Nablus is famous across the Middle East for its knafeh – many argue it is the best there is. To label such a dessert as Israeli, is as close to treason as one can get in the eyes of a Palestinian. The heated debate over who made it first, does not make the cheesy pastry soaked in a sugar-based syrup, with its typical orange top layer, taste any less delicious. When wandering through the city’s narrow streets, several bakeries give you the chance to witness the baking of the pastry, and taste it when it’s still warm. The romantic vibes of Nablus are best enjoyed from the top of one of the surrounding hills. They provide you with an amazing view of the city and its surroundings. These include several Israeli outposts, which slightly damper the romance. Nonetheless, the view is almost as good as a fresh bite of warm knafeh. palestine6 3. Taste the revolution in Taybeh

When you visit Jericho from Ramallah, consider a stop at the small village of Taybeh. This small, quiet Christian village has amazing views of the hills of Palestine, but is also home to the only brewery in Palestine. The brewers, who named their beer after the village, are happy to give tourists a tour of their small brewery. They will proudly tell you the story of their company, which exports to several places around the world, including Germany. Struggles with importing ingredients and exporting the beer have not stopped this company from brewing several types of beer. The struggles of the brewers, as well as the Palestinian people as a whole, have inspired the beer’s slogan ‘taste the revolution’.

If you visit Palestine in October, don’t miss Taybeh’s very own Oktoberfest, and if you like to work up a sweat, try hiking in the hills around the village. Many other locations on the West Bank are perfect for a hike as well – and in some cases, organized hikes are arranged.

2. Feel the revolution in Hebron

Perhaps the most contested city in the West Bank is Hebron. The second largest city on the West Bank (only East Jerusalem has more inhabitants) is built around the Tombs of the Patriarchs, or the Cave of Machpelah, making it a holy city for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. In the heart of the city, a community of orthodox Jews causes a lot of tension with the Palestinian inhabitants. The darkest page in a history full of violent clashes between Jews and Muslims is the massacre that took place in 1994. As a result, the Jewish and Islamic side of the Cave of the Patriarchs are nowadays strictly divided and security is very tight.

Hebron, Palestinian side (close to Israeli settlement)

Hebron, Palestinian side (close to Israeli settlement)

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If you look close, you’ll see an Israely solgier guarding a settlement in the middle of Hebron, right to the mosque

Parts of Hebron’s old city center, including the main street (Shuhuda Street), are closed for the Palestinians. Any citizen of Hebron will have a personal story related to the conflict, one they’ll gladly share, in the spirit of what is often referred to as the Palestinian Cause (spreading the word of Palestinians suffering because of Israel).  The stories will be intense, but their determination to survive and make their best of the situation is thick in the vibrant, narrow streets of Hebron.

1. Party in Ramallah

After a trip to Hebron, one might feel the need for a nice, cold beer. The best place to enjoy a cold Taybeh, especially when you’re into dancing as well, is Ramallah’s al-Snobar. Named after the pine trees planted on the site, al-Snobar is a great place for swimming, food and dance. Although popular among the ‘internationals’ living in Ramallah for a few months, upper-class Palestinians also regularly find their way to the restaurant. The pine trees create the illusion that you’re far from the busy streets of Ramallah — even though the bar is located very close to the centre. When the music stops and the lights switch off, enjoy a final beer with the owner and his dog by the cosy fire plate.

Another great place for a beer, a bite to eat and a dance, is Beit Aneesa. When its owner, Aneesa, died, she supposedly left her house (‘beit’ in Arabic) to the municipality, along with the request to turn it into a place for Ramallah’s youth. Since both these sites are (partially) outdoors, they are only open during the summer season. Most of Palestine is Islamic. Restaurants owned by Muslims are more likely not serve alcohol, but in places like Taybeh and in the Christian part of Ramallah, beer and other alcoholic drinks are readily available. If you prefer your drinks a bit stronger than beer, try arak: a strong, distilled drink that turns into a milky substance when water is added. The aniseed-flavored drink is called the ‘drink of lions’ and its strength falls somewhere between 30 and 60 per cent.

Practical information

Getting there: Palestine does not have an airport – the one near Jerusalem was closed by Israel years ago. Accessing the West Bank, one can choose to fly to Tel Aviv, take a bus to Jerusalem and a group taxi to Ramallah. Another option is to fly to Amman and enter through the Allenby Bridge, or one of the other border crossings between Jordan and the West Bank. All of these are controlled by Israel, whose border patrol can be rather strict.

Getting around: The cheapest way to travel around the West Bank is by service: a yellow group taxi that leaves when it’s full. On Fridays and late in the evening, this could take some time – sometimes, passengers chip in for the empty seats if they’re in a hurry.

Currency: NewIsraeli Shekel (ILS). 1 euro equals 4.6 ILS.

Text and pictures by  Lisanne Oldekamp

An insider’s guide to Hong Kong

For most travellers, Hong Kong is the gate to Asia: it provides us with  all the advantages of  Western civilization, while presenting  brushed-up, polished  version of  the continent. However, for those of us that can not be satisfied with a view from Victoria Peak and other tourist ‘must-sees’, Pandeia has found a local to tell about the other side of Hong Kong.

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LONG BEFORE China opened its door to the West and became the trendy destination for scores of Western backpackers, Hong Kong has been embracing its fellow Western investors, travellers and the influence of Western civilization, thanks to its colonial history. While deeply influenced by Western culture, Hong Kong maintains valuable Chinese and Asian traditions in various aspects, and -as a result – creating a nicely mixed vibe and lifestyle.

From the very first moment you land in Hong Kong, you would be overwhelmed by the heat, humidity, the population density, and the countless skyscrapers crowding every part of the city.

At first glance, Hong Kong seems to be just like any other big city. However, under the veil of a hustle and bustle of world’s number one financial hub, it is not difficult to realize that the majority of HongKongese still live under the influence of traditional Chinese culture. They celebrate Chinese festivals such as Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, etc. These festivals are all scheduled according to the Chinese lunar calendar, which does not coincide with the one used in the West. So if you want to catch a chance to experience a traditional Chinese festival, don’t forget to check the festival calendar.

You never get hungry in this city

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Chinese traditions are very largely represented in Hong Kong cuisine. The innovative fusion of Chinese and Western cooking largely defines Hong Kong cusine. You will find strange mix of Italian Bolognaise with rice; French fries that come with mushroom and cream sauce; Instant noodles with tomato soup; Indian curry with French baguette etc. There are of course a lot of restaurants specializing in particular cuisines. In Hong Kong you can find one of the best Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Japanese and Korean restaurants with reasonable prices. There is a wide variety of European cuisines to choose from. Eating out is a culture in Hong Kong: it becomes part of life. And it does not always happen in restaurants: street food is one of the best things you shouldn’t miss. Try fried food, fishballs, frozen yogurt, and get a cup of nicely prepared bubble tea to fulfill your thirst and hunger.

The party is going on all night long

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Everyone in Hong Kong can you that Lan Kwai Fong in Central is the best place to go out in the city. It is true that you can find everything in this area: cheap bars, expensive bars, nice clubs, shitty clubs. People of ages flock to the famous “LKF” to fill the hilly alley. There are a lot of different sides of nightlife in Hong Kong though, especially if you want to get drunk, cheap. The local way to start off is to get beers and liquors from 7-11, which you can find everywhere, then go the rooftop of International Finance Centre Mall, where you can get a night view of the neon-lit city. You can then head off to the underground club, XXX Gallery in Sai Wan. The club was closed temporarily last year, but re-opened again. It is an alternative space where young artists and musicians gather. Apart from parties, it also occasionally hosts exhibitions, concerts or movie screening nights. If you are a jazz lover, check out Ned Kelly’s Last Stand on the other side of the island. The laid-back Aussie bar has survived for more than 40 years. It has live jazz performances every night, giving a cozy, friendly ambience.

The arty area

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Starting to get sick of the crowds and the all-the-same brands in the touristic area? Check out the quiet, hip area in Soho. Spend a nice afternoon strolling around Tai Ping Shan Street, Tung Street, Sai Street, all the way until Hollywood Road. The only ways to reach the area is either to take a bus and walk through the small alley, or to get off from the last station of MTR – Sheung Wan, and then to walk all the way uphill.  This remote location is probably the reason why this area is not flooded by tourists and chain fashion stores yet, and also why rent there is still affordable for independent artists. Along the tranquil small allies are independent galleries, designer boutiques and cozy cafes. Try to talk to shop and gallery owners there and you will find that it is a closely connected community. If you are lucky enough, they might invite you to the occasionally held community parties.

 

The all-connected buildings

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Architecture in Hong Kong is spectacular. The numerous commercial skyscrapers are of course the first things in the city that catches your eye. However, they tell nothing about the history and the characters of the society. Dig into the ordinary life of most HongKongese: go to the residential areas and see the social housing. Walk along the different stairs, following the swarm, and you will discover spontaneous parks and squares hiding behinds the corner that you would never pay attention to otherwise.

After going through  all these connections/ channels/tunnels/stairs, you might end up in a completely different area. Social housing tells the stories of the majority of the 7 million city dwellers. Some of them were built 30 or 40 years ago. The typical examples would be Wah Fu Estate in Pok Fu Lam or Shun Lee Estate near Kwun Tong.

Hong Kong and nature

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Despite being an international financial centre and a densely populated city, Hong Kong actually has a wide spread of astonishing nature. 40% of the city-state land belongs to the state-protected natural reserves. If you are keen on rock formation and geological features, the Hong Kong Geopark offers you educational land and boat tours in 8 different areas. Hiking in Hong Kong is also an extraordinary experience. There are lots of well-constructed hiking trails around the city: The Dragon’s Back trail and the Sha Tin Pass Road to Kowloon Reservoir are most popular among local and expat hikers. Be prepared for the heat and the sun if you are visiting in summer months, where temperature goes up to 34 – 35 degrees.

Last reminder: Get plenty of sleep before coming to Hong Kong: the city will never let you have enough.

 

Words and Pictures by Cherie Chan

Hey, how are you going? A guide to the very relaxed Brisbane

Brisbane, the relaxed tropical metropolis  in Queensland, seems to be the right place to rest for a stressed Northern European. 

When travelling around Australia, Brisbane is a definitely worth spending a couple of days in.  A day in Brisbane would be well spent taking a stroll by the river and in the Central Business District  (CBD), relaxing on the city’s beach South Bank, dining in the West End and going out in Fortitude Valley.

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Messy architecture, lovable place
The first impression of Brisbane is that it’s strikingly modern, and you’ll only find a handful of buildings more than a 100 years old. Author and philosopher Alain de Button recently gave it the undesirable honour of being the ugliest city in the world because of the mixed architecture and ‘no planning whatsoever’. Despite of shortage of European aesthetics, Brisbane will end up stealing your heart regardless. The weather is chronically sunny. In fact, the sun shines 261 days a year on average and in ‘winter’ it never goes below 10-14 C at night. No wonder that Brisbane’s inhabitants seem to be in such a good mood. Everyone from the girl in a vintage shop, to  the fellow at the supermarket wants to know how you’re going, and I was astonished to find that everyone greets the bus driver and says ‘thank you’ when getting off. How friendly and polite is that in a city with 2 million inhabitants?!

Living the life
One of Brisbane’s best characteristics is it’s relaxed attitude. It is not uncommon to see people walking around without shoes down the street and in the supermarkets. Buses rarely stick to the timetable and in general time keeping is not taken too seriously. It seems that Brisbanites have got something right when it comes to their lifestyle, which apparently is centred around taking things easy and eating out well and often. The weather really encourages people to do outdoor activities, like climbing the cliffs at Kangaroo Point, running by the river and cycling ‒ which is exercised in full Tour de France uniform and with life at risk. The city’s beach on South Bank is greatly used and has a impressive view over to the Central Business District skyline.

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When it comes to dining, the city is blessed with a broad variety of different cuisines, there is virtually nothing you can’t get. In West End, you will find heaps of delicious and affordable food. A few favourites are TRANG (Vietnamese), Mizu (Japanese), and The Gun shop Cafe (breakfast/brunch). In the little bit more expensive end, there is Tukka, which do contemporary Australian cuisine and that have, if you’re lucky, possum on the menu . Possums looks very cute, but are considered to be a pest by the locals because of the noise they make, which makes eating them equivalent to eating a squirrel.

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Possums: tasty but annoying

Australia is, probably, the only country that eats the animal of its national emblem. Kangaroos in Australia are abundant and are picked up from the cooled counter in the supermarket by the locals as if its the most normal thing ever.

A must-do food-wise during your visit to the West End Market is French, Japanese, Hungarian, Spanish and much more street food, various artists, heaps of coffee, hippie gear and jewelry. Head to Davies park on Saturdays to take part in this weekly Brisbanite ritual.

Davies Park markets, West End

Going out
If you feel like going to relaxed bars with a wide variety of beers in a hip setting, head to Boundary Street and choose one of the bars scattered all the way down the street. For more massive crowds and harder partying, head to Fortitude Valley. My personal favourites in the valley are Alfred & Constance — ‘hipster’ relaxed outdoors and woody place topped with Hawaii necklaces — and Cloudland, beautiful and classy club with amazing and enormous dance floor. On the way back from ‘the valley’, head to the 24/7 Pancake Manor, instead of getting the usual kebab or pizza. It is exactly what you’d imagine – a place that serves both sweet and savoury pancakes in extravagant portions 24/7.

Wildlife
When you’ve explored the hip and tropical metropolis and are reaching bursting limit from all that eating, you might want to experience something that Australia is famous for: exotic (and dangerous) animals. One of the misconceptions that many foreigners have about Australia is that you are going to meet animals that can kill you pretty much as soon as you walk into your back yard. It hasn’t happened to me (yet). Other than several encounters with possums, which are annoying but harmless, I’ve seen no big spiders or snakes.  Unfortunately this means that you have to make a bit of effort to see actual wildlife. Go to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary a 20 minute drive away from Brisbane, for the ultimate aussie animal experience. Or head to Australia Zoo, a couple of hours north. Remember Steve Irwin, the guy killed by a sting-ray? Yep, that’s his zoo, now run by his wife and famous for their “crocodile show”, which involves vicious crocodiles jumping.

Around Brisbane
Brisbane is located very conveniently when it comes to exploring the rest of Queensland. You can go to truly amazing beaches an hour’s drive away, and lush rainforests, mountains and peculiar small towns inland.

There is a zillion great beaches on either side of Brisbane. If you go south to the Gold Coast you’ll find places such as Surfers Paradise, which  is quite famous and very touristy. But if you want a bit more chilled and local atmosphere, head to Fingal Head or Burleigh Heads.

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If you go north to Sunshine Coast ‒ for example, Mooloolaba — you’ll find great beaches as well, and since that coast was developed at a slightly slower pace, you won’t find skyscrapers like in Surfers, but a more relaxed and, in my opinion, charming, atmosphere instead. Noosa, even further north (2-3 hours drive from Brisbane) is one of my favourite places, where you can also do some amazing hiking and see Hells Gate.

 

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If you feel like islands, head to Stradbroke Island, Moreton Island or the big sand island, Fraser Island. Feel more like hiking? Go to Mount Glorious, Glass House Mountains or Mount Koot-Cha. The best thing is that you can visit these places almost any time during the year. For lying on the beach and surfing, June to the middle of August is probably a bit chilly unless you have a wetsuit.

By Ida Nordland

Pictures: Ida Nordland,  Peter Firminger, Rae Allen

An outsider’s impression of Iran

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 IRAN IS NOT the country one typically thinks of when choosing a holiday destination. And even when going there, most of the people don’t have many expectations.  Our contributor went to Tehran for a short holiday, and decided to go for short impressions, rather then attempt to settle for one thing.

 

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Manteau & Hijab

Upon receiving my passport sized photos – with me seriously and tightly wrapped up in a hijab – the visa granting official at Iran’s Embassy in Copenhagen smiled: “Lovely picture. You can keep one as a gift, as I’m sure your family and friends will love it.”

Despite escalating protests by feminists, manteau and hijab fulfills my every aesthetic desire for feminine beauty. Made of various textiles including linen, silk, cotton and wool, with all sorts of stylish cuttings and patterns, the costume is anything but dull.

Manteaus and hijab at very affordable prices are easily accessible in bazaars and roadside shops. It’s said there is also a whole “underground” world of indigenous manteau designers in Iran, who have their own great sense of style.

Surprisingly, wearing manteaux in summer is not as swelteringly hot as I had imagined, because the sunshine and heat are well sheltered. “I feel I’m wearing a portable air-conditioner.” I joked.

Mansions & Palaces

To view Tehran from the Milad Tower –  the world’s sixth tallest telecommunication tower – makes the city seem a painting: a mixture of white, gray and green watercolour. Its skyline is defined in a flat and smooth manner, with a few steepled towers, glittering mosques and giant concrete complexes scattered around.

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A number of halted construction projects along the roads in Tehran constantly remind me of Iran’s tough history. While looking up at these buildings, images of the country’s prosperity before the Islamic Revolution and western sanctions pass through my mind, leading to a deep sigh.

Time seems have stopped at a certain moment.

The Saadabad Palace surely represents the best of that time. Built by the Pahlavi dynasty of Iran between 1931 and 1936, it is a modern building filled with “a hodge-podge of extravagant furnishings, paintings and vast made-to-measure carpets”, as described by Lonely Planet. I was particularly amazed by a room in the Green Palace, as the first palace built in the complex, which embraces edgy and grand mirror marquetry as an interesting element of the Persian arts.

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Men & Women

Iranian people are the most hospitable I’ve encountered anywhere. Before the trip, my Iranian friend told me that one of her foreign friends traveled in Iran for one month without spending a single toman, since she was consistently accommodated by Iranians that she first met. People love to offer their best food, housing, love and care to guests.

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Gratefully I was recipient of the same. Throughout the tour, my gratitude to my friend, her family and friends were beyond words. Many strangers I met in Tehran have also showed me top-class hospitality. Being a foreign lady dressed in traditional Iranian costume, I enjoyed the curious looks of people, as the look is out of a pleasant kindness. Once I greeted people with “Salam” (hello), among the few Farsi expressions I know, they would turn very excited and reward me with long, incomprehensible paragraphs of kind words. Fortunately smiles can transcend language barriers.

Some romantic adventures also make the trip very special. Once I encountered an Iranian girl in a café. On our way home she enthusiastically called me her ”goddess of love”, because at the moment we met each other, her ex-boyfriend texted her saying “I still love you”. She believed this is due to the secret exotic power I had transferred to her. The story had a very happy ending: they got back together, and I used all my ‘magic power’ to wish her best of luck.

“Iran can be a typical case to study the distorted and simplified image produced by the media,”  I concluded on my Facebook. “Through the trip, I’ve been converted to a huge fan of the country.”

Citing from a poem by the Iranian poet Azita Ghahreman, I’lm delivering my heart-felt words to Tehran:

“I’ll let myself change my mind at the drop of a hat

but of your every move, I’ll keep a log.”

 ________________

 

A walk through Soviet Moscow

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MOSCOW WAS ONCE dubbed, rather gruesomely, a ‘graveyard of ideas’. We will not spend time discussing whether this title is fair, but one can’t deny that every big idea that ever captivated Russia has left a visible imprint on Moscow.

While Kremlin and Bolshoi are must-see, they belong to a country that ceased to exist a hundred years ago. The time that came after it was characterised, first and foremost, with the reign of one big idea. For decades, from 1917 to early 50’s, hundreds of people were captivated with the idea of creating a new, entirely modern country. It involved not only constructing new buildings, but also building new, wide avenues that cut right through the old city. Pandeia took a walk through Soviet Moscow.

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Like many other old cities, Moscow grew from centre outwards in circles. Once in a while bigger radial and circular streets (called ‘rings’ by locals) were added. It has retained this structure until now ‒ so everybody walking in the city is either circling it, or following one of the radiuses.

Walking and viewing

We start from Moscow University (1). The main building, which used to be the highest in Europe until the 80’s, can be seen from many spots in Moscow, and makes a powerful impression. Its iconic silhouette is the emblem of the university, appearing on all the official documents and student ID’s issued by it. Take a walk around the building, and look up at the gigantic blue and gold clocks and barometers on top and statues by the entrance.

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Entering without a student ID can be problematic, unless you know a student or a member of staff or visit it on a day of graduation ceremony in the end of June. Inside it is not that impressive ‒ but still offers one of the best views on Moscow from its windows. If you can’t make it to the top, just walk through the campus to the observation platform by the river and enjoy the view from the highest hill in Moscow.

The University is wrapped in urban legends that change slightly with every generation of students. The most long-lived of these is the one about a gigantic statue of Stalin that was supposed to stand in front of the main entrance. However, the construction of the new campus was finished several years after Stalin’s death, and the statue was left to lie deep under the building in a secret vault. The last time I heard this story, the statue was told to be made of solid gold.

The best way to travel through Moscow is the metro. It is fast, cheap (check the city transportation website for public transport fares), and is itself the biggest site of the Soviet era left in Moscow. Universitet (University ) and Vorobievy Gory (Sparrow Hills) stations are closest to the University. Both are worth seeing: the former for its elegant marble decoration, letter‒ for the the beautiful view on the Moskva river (it is the only station located on a bridge in Moscow).

Head up to Park Kultury (2), and if you’re not in a hurry, get out and look around Frunsenskaya station, which is really dramatic and elegant with red marble panels and steel five-pointed stars.

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Park Kultury station has got its name after Moscow’s best and biggest park just across the river from the station. Now the park is one of the most popular spots for local people. Its huge gate, which resembles Brandenburg gate in Berlin, should not mislead you: it is, probably, the most welcoming spot in the city, full fairy lights and skaters in winter, and music, ice cream stalls and cafes in summer.

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This park was first opened in the 1920’s, and was the first public space of this type in the whole country, used both as recreational spot and showcase of USSR’s best technical achievements. It has fallen into decay in the 1990’s, but was recently reconstructed to resemble its 20’s image, with a few 21st century perks, such as free wifi and skateboarding grounds. Nowadays it hosts, among other things, Garage art centre (check their website for interesting events; and their book shop is worth a visit for those interested in modern art), Pioner summer cinema (one of the few in Moscow that shows films without dubbing and only with subtitles), and three social dancing spots. Such places were very popular in the 20’s and 40’s, and now are gaining back their popularity. They are easy to find ‒ just follow the music ‒ and are occupied almost constantly by different dancing fans. Salsa and hustle are most popular, but sometimes you might stumble upon history nerds reconstructing a 19th century ball, or Irish tap dancers. Feel free to join, or just gawk from a sidewalk, together with local dog walkers.

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From this park, head into the metro, and ride to Kropotkinskaya station (red line). The station itself is the most elegant and simple one in Moscow. As all the other stations that were constructed in the 30’s, it was supposed to be filled with Communist symbols. The architect, however, found a very subtle way of doing it: look up at the ceiling, and you will see that every pillar sprouts a huge five-pointed star.

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As you exit the station, you will see Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the biggest church in Moscow. It was blown up in the 30’s, to make place for “Palace of Soviets” ‒ but the project was never realised, and the cathedral was rebuilt in the 90’s. Many older people don’t take it seriously: they still remember the swimming pool that occupied its place.

Walk past the cathedral, and enter the bridge. From it, you can see the chaotic mass of red bricks: the former Krasny Oktyabr’ (Red October) (3) chocolate factory, now transformed into Moscow’s most hip spot, full of galleries, showrooms and bars. It is worth a visit any time, beginning from lunch time (nobody here wakes up before that) and into the night.

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If you cross the river back to the cathedral and walk up the street towards Kremlin (easily visible in this part of city), you’ll hardly fail to notice the big white building with black columns ‒  the Russian State Library (former Lenin Library) (4). It makes a very stark contrast to the nearby Kremlin, and shows the Soviet idea of the country’s most important library: something gigantic, essentially constructivist, but reminiscent of the old imperial aesthetics. It’s worth to have a look inside (the entrance is free, but you’ll need to show your passport).

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When you turn your back to the library’s entrance, head up Vozdvizhenka street. On the left side, next to the library, you’ll see a bleak grey building of Architecture Museum. It hosts rather interesting exhibitions (if you go inside, don’t forget to see the ‘Ruin’ hall), and its bookshop offers the best selection of guidebooks to Moscow, along with a very good collection on Constructivism and surprisingly tasteful postcards (a great alternative to the usual eye watering rubbish sold in souvenir shops).

In about 10 minutes’ walk up Vozdvizhenka, you’ll reach a big junction, where two Arbat streets begin. Before going down those, cross the street to the right and have a closer look at a brightly painted Mosselprom building (5). Walk a little into the small alleyway next to it, and you will see the bright 20’s ads of sweets and tobacco painted on its wall.

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Old Arbat (6), on the left, is the most touristy street in Moscow. While it is filled to bursting with tacky ‘Russian souvenir’ shops and chain cafes, it still has a certain charm, provided by street musicians. The old small alleyways next to Arbat should be very interesting to those who like getting lost in unknown cities. If you want to test your mastering of Moscow geography (or the accuracy of your google maps), try and find Melnikov house ‒ a little masterpiece of Constructivist architecture now hidden in its own overgrown garden.

Once you’ve had enough of Arbat, turn right, cross the tangle of tiny old lanes and enter New Arbat (7) ‒ the major avenue lined with skyscrapers constructed in the 60’s.

 

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If you follow Novinskiy Boulevard, another major street that crosses New Arbat, you will reach Narkomfin building (8) ‒ one of the first ‘communal houses’ built in Moscow. It was designed with the idea of a new, communal lifestyle: small flats with no kitchens, and big communal areas for eating, working and socialising. Its inhabitants were not supposed to spend much time alone, dedicating all their time to the community. Traditional families were deemed outdated: in the new world imagined by the Constructivists, children would be brought up in kindergartens, women would be ‘liberated from the kitchen slavery’, and would spend most of their time in the community, just like men. With such a lifestyle, people would never much personal space ‒ they’ll need their privacy only when sleeping and washing.

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The nearest metro station is Smolenskaya. Form it, ride a few stations to the centre, and get out at Ploschad Revolutsii (Revolution Square). This is one of the most impressive, and definitely the most dramatic station in Moscow. Decorated with dark red stone, it is filled with statues of war heroes that crouch around its heavy pillars. If the urban legend is true, ‘Metro-2’ ‒ a secret metro line from Kremlin to the southern part of Moscow, built to evacuate the government in case of a serious threat, should start somewhere here.

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As you exit the station, you will see Tverskaya (9)‒ Moscow’s main street. Unlike New Arbat, it was built in the same place before the Revolution ‒ but was considerably widened to accommodate the annual military parades that would go down this street and straight onto Red Square. If you happen to be in Moscow on the first week of May, you might see parade rehearsal.

For the last leg of this city trip, get on the Teatralnaya (Theatre) metro station, and head north to Mayakovskaya, named after Russia’s most prominent Futurist poet, Mayakovsky.  Don’t forget to look up at the exquisite mosaics decorating the ceiling ‒ and maybe run a coin up one of the metallic ribs.

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Eating

The area around Mayakovskaya (10) is a good place to eat ‒ feel free to explore small streets nearby, heading away from Kremlin, and pop into one of the many cafes, put up your tired feet and enjoy a coffee. Eating in Moscow is a good chance to explore not only traditional Russian cuisine, but Ukrainian, Caucasian and Central Asian, too. If you’re on a tight budget, we would suggest Karavayev Brothers and Prime chains (another good thing about those is that they keep their products in open display, like supermarkets ‒ so you won’t have any language problems). Some of the bars in Krasny Oktyabr’ also have good day menus.

Practical:

Don’t trust the stereotype of Russians being grim and unfriendly. Keeping a smile on one’s face in public is indeed not that common — but once you start talking, you’ll be surprised with the change. Learning a few Russian words, like ‘Hi’ or ‘Thank you’ will make things even easier.

The best time to visit Moscow is between May and September. Winter can be good, too  — but March and November best be avoided — unless you want to feel wet, cold and miserable.

Public transport in Moscow is far from perfect — with the only exception of metro, that is fast and reliable — altough crowded at rush hours. Buying a multi-ride transport card is a good idea. Checking this public transport website beforehand is a good idea, since cashiers don’t normally speak English.

 

By Daria Sukharchuk

Image Credit:

Map:  Anastasiya Shentseva

Photos: Daria Sukharchuk, WikiMedia , https://www.flickr.com/photos/crlsblnc/ , https://www.flickr.com/photos/gromozzzeka/ https://www.flickr.com/photos/chaoticmind75/