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.
Religious places around the world tend to be more demanding towards women, but travelers of both genders often struggle to pack appropriately, especially when traveling with cheap airlines. Last month I took the challenge of traveling with Wizzair small cabin bag only, although I knew that I’d be visiting many religious places.
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). Yuval′s second blog post was about the Baha’i Gardens, so I wrote about them too. His third post was about Nazareth, so let′s follow him.
Having read a series of stories by my friend, Israeli writer and public intellectual Yuval Ben-Ami, where he set off to see what it is like to re-examine his country′s main tourist attractions with a critical native eye, 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). Yuval’s second blog post was about the Baha’i Gardens, which he calls a journey to “extraordinary study in “otherness” within the Israeli and Palestinian framework,” so let us follow him – back in time.
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!Continue reading
A host, of golden daffodils”
This is Cambridge – wrapped in greenery and blossoms, full of wildlife and very village-like, although it has been urban and academic since the Middle Ages. This time I stayed at the edge of the town, close to Churchill College.
I finally found a way to visit Baku (Azerbaijan) – just one day before the application deadline, I noticed that there is an interesting conference on the European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Partnership. I had several friends from Azerbaijan when I studied at CEU, so I had heard lots of stories about the country. But visiting there is not so easy. It’s not like Portugal or Malta, where I can jump on a plane any time. To apply for a tourist visa, one must present hotel reservations for each night and a letter from employer or another document stating that the visitor has enough money to travel. For a personal visit, there has to be an invitation. With an invitation from the conference, making a visa took a week and was relatively easy. Continue reading
Malta has long been my priority destination. It is logically a perfect place for vacations – it has the sea, plenty of sun, and an English-speaking population. The few days I spent there confirmed every expectation that I had. Malta is easy to navigate, because everyone from the age 10 to 100 speaks English, it is culturally interesting and has a lot to offer. The only drawback is that the beaches are rocky, but there is also one sand beach. The Maltese cuisine has clearly had a lot of Italian influence, but they fry their food more, compared to other Mediterranean cultures, and the local specialty is rabbit. The Maltese language is unique – I was told by a speaker of Libyan Arabic that it’s easy to understand by Libyan Arabic speakers, but it has many English and Italian words in it, which, I presume, makes Arabic more difficult to understand for Maltese speakers.
The Meah Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem is considered to be one of the must-see places in order to get the full picture of the multicultural landscape of the city. Yet going there needs preparations: first of all, one must be “modestly dressed”, moreover, it is good to know at least a few basic things about the culture in this neighborhood.