Tag Archives: history

Prague, second attempt

Kinetic head of Kafka by David Černý

“…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.


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Visiting the Workers Museum in Copenhagen

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

Lake Vištytis: natural wonders and border tourism

Vištyčio ežerasI discovered Vištytis in March while carrying out a project on borders. Everything was covered with snow and the little houses on the campsite by the lake seemed lonely and as though they were spending winter in hibernation. But I was interested in everything: the mysterious landscape, conversations with locals who speak both neighbour countries’ languages, and the legends about the devil that carried the stone – we had to study this in primary school. I thought that not only the beauty of the surroundings and its special location on the border, but also the charming coat of arms with a unicorn would be useful for Vištytis’ tourism marketing (more on heraldry here – a cartoon style coat of arms from 1757-1792). Therefore, when the weather got warmer, I invited my friend, a keen traveller, to explore this beautiful site in more depth.

Vištytis is a special place, because the state and administrative dependency have changed since the times of Teutonic Order and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but the status of the borderland has remained the same.

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Open day at Kaunas mosque

The community of Kaunas mosque provided an opportunity for anyone interested to go inside the unique Tatar mosque of Kaunas, to see a Muslim prayer, look around and enjoy food from various countries and cultures. The mosque has become an important contact point for old and new Muslim communities, the latter consisting of foreign students, workers, spouses of Lithuanians, expats and local converts. The 3000-strong Tatar community has been around for centuries and is can help their sisters and brothers in faith with accessing Lithuanian institutions, networking and, most importantly, feeling at home in this relatively homogeneous European society. Other functioning mosques are in distant small towns. Vilnius doesn′t have a mosque, and the current mayor, Remigijus Šimašius (liberal) made it clear that he will not do anything in his power to help establish one, even though, when Syrian and Iraqi refugees are resettled according to the EU scheme next year, the Muslim community in Vilnius will grow. There is not a single Shia mosque (most Shia Muslims are apparently from Azerbaijan), but Shia believers can attend Sunni services.

The weather is ugly in Lithuania, so I'm using a photo I made in spring

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Open day at the Bank of Lithuania in Kaunas

The Bank of Lithuania has recently celebrated the 93rd anniversary since its establishment. It is the first year that the central bank is not implementing Lithuania′s monetary policy, so people are curious about how its functions have changed since joining the eurozone. Today′s open day had people of all age groups lining up to see the original building of the central bank in Kaunas and to learn more about its history.

The Bank of Lithuania was originally established in Kaunas, as it was the capital of Lithuania at the time. Until then, Lithuania depended on the German Darlehenkasse Ost (Eastern Loan Fund) for its currency. The government and the central bank of newly independent Lithuania worked hard to earn trust from international finance markets for its new currency, litas. The circulation of litas was halted in 1941 during the first Soviet occupation. Obviously, after independence was reestablished, the central bank moved to Vilnius. But it still owns the impressive building in Kaunas. Continue reading

Brief visit to Marijampolė

I attended a debate in Marijampolė, the seventh-largest town in Lithuania, which was an occasion to visit this town for the first time. As a regional center of Lithuania’s historically most affluent region, Suvalkija, it continuously appeared in school textbooks. Many prominent writers and Lithuanian independence activists were from this region and had studied in Marijampolė. Still, I couldn′t have named any major landmark. It was not a part of the itinerary of high school trips either. Still, the town has a very interesting history and is worth exploring. Continue reading

Cyprus impressions: ancient ruins at your fingertips

As my travel companion Ugnė wrote (in Lithuanian), Cyprus is rich in well-preserved and accessible ruins, particularly in Famagusta, which she calls the capital of antique ruins. As I wrote in my earlier blog post, people interact with objects in a very direct and laid-back way. Sterility of museums seems to be alien to the local culture. There are museums, of course, but even in them visitors can come closer and interact with objects more directly.

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Following the Beaten Path: Part 5 – Yodfat instead of Masada

My friend, Israeli writer and public intellectual Yuval Ben-Ami set off to see what it is like to re-examine his country′s main tourist attractions with a critical native eye (all posts here), and I decided to virtually follow his path.  In my blog posts I share my memories on what it was like visiting those places as an expat in Israel. This is how Yuval describes his idea, and here I describe mine (which is also Part 1 of my journey – the Western Wall). I have followed Yuval to the Baha′i Gardens (Yuval′s post and mine) and Nazareth (Yuval′s and mine), and the Sea of Galilee (Yuval′s and mine. Although his journeys have a different sequence, a recent reading made me return to his text about Masada, but this time it wasn′t easy to follow him.

Several people sang praises to the sunrise view of the fortress of Masada and told me it was a must. When I complained that I found it difficult to reach, people said there were buses or that I should look for company on Couchsurfing. In May 2010 it looked like I found company, but in the end the trip was cancelled. I visited Israel two more times and never reached Masada. Oh well. After all, I have seen a desert sunrise on Mount Sinai in Egypt, at Beerot campsite, and in Sde Boker. Yuval suggested that in parallel to his post on opera in Masada I write about hitchhiking in the Negev or something of that sort. I was hesitant. But today another Israeli writer gave me a new idea. I had never given the story of Masada much thought, so I almost skipped what Yuval wrote about Josephus Flavius and the Jewish revolt against the Romans, which, the story goes, ended in a mass suicide. Ellis Shuman, who I exchanged Twitter follows with recently, elaborated on the story and decided to post his old article on Twitter the other day, so I noticed and read it. Yuval writes:

Masada is about imagining. Don’t limit yourselves to one version of the tale or notions of scale and proportion, time and space that are not your own. Make your own Masada. Herod saw a dramatic geological formation and turned it into a palace, the rebels saw a palace and turned it into a fortress. Later came monks who saw a ruined fortress and turned it into a monastery. Finally, Israelis came and turned it into a symbol: a tourist attraction, an excavation site, a McDonald’s, an opera venue.

Ellis Shuman writes:

Josephus modeled much of the Masada legend on his own personal adventures. The story of the mass suicide, of rebels fighting against the Roman Empire and preferring death to enslavement, all were experienced by Josephus at the siege of Yodfat in the Galilee.

I must admit I have read very little about Masada and never been there, but hey, I′ve been to Yodfat! Continue reading

Tallinn: like at home, but better

Estonia is often presented as Lithuania’s archetypical competitor, and, judging from many media reports, it seems that the main goal for Lithuania is to be ahead of Estonia one day. Personally, I grew up with my dad’s stories from Tallinn, after he did an internship there in the 1970s, about how Estonia was more western in many ways. Access to Finnish radio was important in forming this impression. Also, Estonia was the second foreign country I ever visited – at the time there were still passport controls at the border, but Finnish tourists were already flocking there to drink. I remember Scandinavian-style dormitories in Tartu, the casual style of Estonians even in rather formal events, and their straightforward talk, in sharp contrast to mainstream Lithuanian habits. I visited Estonia again in 2007 and 2009, and each trip was full of surprises. In 2007, my friend and I discovered a shop offering very interesting, even provocative, jewellery designs. In 2009 I tasted hot chocolate with sea salt, and a cocktail consisting of a shot of vodka, lots of lemon, brown sugar and hot water. This year I was curious to see what surprises this trip will bring.

Ready – aim – shoot!

Abandoned concert hall

Abandoned concert hall [click on the images to enlarge them]

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Beautiful Central Lithuania

May has been an extremely busy month at my new job. I organized a seminar on doing business in Asia, worked as a discussant at a student conference, organized a visit of a group of academics from Indonesia, and gave two workshops for students on job search (how to write a CV and a letter of motivation). The last event gave me an opportunity to visit Šeteniai, the birthplace of Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz. The place is currently owned by Vytautas Magnus University and available for the academic community to use for conferences and various events.

Various famous people have planted oak trees at this place, and there is a wooden sculpture park. The village itself is tiny – its population is only 1/7 of what it was in 1920s. If anyone goes there, it’s for the house of Milosz.

This is a great place, and I hope that more events will bring me there.


Šeteniai – click on the image to enlarge it