In anticipation of the opening of the Valletta – European Capital of Culture 2018 programme, the city of Valletta prepared a full list of activities for residents and visitors – local and foreign bands, an acrobat flown around by a giant balloon, interesting characters walking in the crowd, colourful projections and, finally, fireworks. As ugly as Mediterranean winters can be, the day was exceptionally nice, with almost no wind. Predictably, many people chose the main square of Valletta to meet the new year – it is estimated that there were around 85,000 attendees, which is around 13 times the population of Valletta!
It’s typical that the best cafes and bars are hidden in courtyards between several apartment blocks, a friend explained as we went for drinks to a trendy bar, complete with trees and a touch of South American fusion in its menu. With many outdoor cafes and bars outside of the tourist area thus hidden, Bucharest’s eclectic facades look somewhat grim. But who stays with the facades anyway? Bucharest invites the viewer to move on and search deeper.
Come to Lithuania in June, they said. Chill and swim in a lake, they said. So I expected to have very chill vacations, looking scruffy and eating garden-grown veggies. But then my friend and comrade Sandra put me in a designer dress for a photoshoot for her magazine, Verslo pietūs. Focusing on success stories, her magazine has become home for my latest travel articles before I embarked on my new Mediterranean adventure.
This team is fantastic, and I always learn a lot just by hanging out with them. At the same time it was a learning experience to see what areas of Vilnius are suitable for taking photos when the sky is cloudy. Our photographer chose the area near the White Bridge, which offers green spaces as well as urban landscapes.
Ah, work-related travel… Anything is better than those single-day trips to Brussels I was made to take at some point, but I′m sure that everyone who travels for work is struggling to strike a balance between being fresh and alert in the morning and seeing as much of an unknown city as possible during the limited leisure hours. I stayed in Rome for four days and three nights, with a very busy schedule, but not only the organizers made sure that we see something, but also I was blessed to have a companion who has lived in Rome, as well as a colleague who grew up there and generously shared tips before I went.
I was prepared that if I do not manage to see the famous landmarks, at least I will enjoy charming urban landscapes.
Yet I managed to see everything I wanted – Rome is really easy to navigate, walkable, and has efficient public transportation, given its size and Mediterranean culture.
“…And if you′re planning a stag party, have a nice stag party,” a flight attendant said on my Amsterdam-Prague flight. To me, putting the words ′nice′ and ′stag night′ in one sentence is a sign of out-of-the-box thinking taken to the extremes, but I smiled to myself. This sounds very Dutch. After all, Amsterdam ran an information campaign for purchasers of substandard drugs to seek medical help immediately. What else could the service industry wish typical tourists in Prague, I wondered, remembering my first trip there in 2011. “May the content of your stomach be easy to clean?”
I went to Prague to attend a conference, and decided to stay the weekend after with friends. I was highly motivated to bust the myths I created for myself last time and to enjoy a completely different experience.
I like my cities walkable, so as much as I like the Mediterranean island of Malta, sidewalks are something I still cannot get used to. Not only because they are often sloping – this is not different from Vilnius old town. In British English they call them pavements, so there is not even a promise of walk as in ‘sidewalk’.
My experience on the island reminded me of my first day in Cairo, when my friend G. instructed me to walk on the side of the road at all times. “You are much safer on the street than on the sidewalk,” he said, contrary to my habits and intuition. Sidewalks there were a colonial imposition – just like traffic lights. They were not used the way I′m used to. I had to accept it – this is simply a different culture, and this is how they do it. I must adjust my mind this way here as well.
Two annoying cliches I keep hearing in my travels are: “Are you saying you’re cold? But you must be used to it!” and “Lithuania? Is it cold over there?” Northern location plus climate change mean that it may or may not be cold in the Baltics. It depends on winds. I never ask Americans if they have tornadoes all the time. But if you happen to be traveling in the Baltics when it’s cold, it’s always good to be prepared. The ever-changing weather in late fall and winter comes with many dangers.
Coffee is said to be more addictive than weed, but it is one easily accessible and unregulated drug that people can enjoy around the world. I was never a fan of coffee until I started working at a newspaper at the age of 20. My parents were used to drinking pour-over coffee, and even when they got access to machines they never appreciated those. In my family coffee was something people could drink at any time and in any shape (culturally, serving coffee in the evening means that the party is over), so first encounters with Italian culture, where you′re not supposed to drink cappuccino after a certain hour, were quite a cultural shock. Yet this is nothing compared to the shock of one Italian academic, who moved to Oxford 20 years ago and told me that not only she could only find olive oil in pharmacies, but you could actually see a spoon through the surface of your coffee!
Lithuanian coffee culture has changed tremendously over the years. We inherited a kind of careless attitude, where cafes used to go for instant or serve something similar to what we typically get at conferences. However, the nascent middle class was craving to show off its cosmopolitan identity and started to shame everything about food culture that separated this region from the most sophisticated traditions of the west. Now central Vilnius is littered with home-brew cafes, to the point that one foodie called it “the Vatican of coffee”. Coffee culture in Lithuania is more or less like in the Francophone space, with high prevalence of grand cafe serving the convenient middle ground between espresso and americano – just as I like. Continue reading
Some things in cities are awe-inspiring, others are aesthetically beautiful, and yet others leave a warm, cozy feeling. I left Kaunas at the age of 19 and never missed it much, but for several years now this city has been a source of inspiration and admiration for me (and occasional frustration, too). These five things can brighten a painfully familiar walk around the city. Continue reading
Social history is a ‘thing’ in History studies for quite a few years, but we′re still to see more museums that deal with it in Europe. Social history interests much broader audiences – no wonder why the new generation of historians swaps wars and heroes for history of diseases, relationships, food or fashion. If social history papers were media articles, they could expect lots of ′likes′. The Workers Museum in Copenhagen seems to know that, and it has a story to tell, despite having rather few original artifacts.
I recently had several hours in Copenhagen between flights and decided to make it a very targeted tour. The Workers Museum, which is very close to Israel Square with its nice food market (metro station Nørreport), was one of the places I picked. Continue reading