I can't bring myself to delete this picture from my phone. The staircase is that of a building in St Gallen, Switzerland, where a friend of mine lives. The building is one of those old elegant European buildings. There are four or five floors - one (sometimes two) apartment to each floor - and one small window on the ceiling to light up the staircase. My friend lives on the top floor where everything is well lit. Things, however, get darker as you walk down the stairs... Read post in Google+
['Arabified' Business Names]
When foreign commercial businesses open in Kuwait their name is usually 'Arabified' and displayed alongside their original name. For example, the sign for the British retailer Marks & Spencer displays 'Marks & Spencer' along with its Arabic version. Both are pronounced the same (more or less).
Sometimes, though, the Arabified version of a business name is hilarious. A few examples:
(1) The French restaurant Paul. It's one of my favourite places for French pastries and coffee, but the Arabic version of Paul is equivalent to urine. Not a pleasant thought when you're there drinking coffee...
(2) The British retailer BHS. The Arabic alphabet has the equivalent for B and S. The nearest letter there is to H is one pronounced 'CH', as in church. Put those letters together and you get BCHS. I leave it to your imagination to read it the way I hear it ;)
I saved the best for last. Attached to this post is a picture I've taken in Austria while on my ski trip. Next to the yellow 'Post' sign is one that reads 'Bawag'. It's the sign for a bank in Austria. The word Bawag exists in Arabic - it means 'crook.' Need I do more than point out the role that banks played in the world's current economic situation? I was howling with laughter in the middle of the street...
[Photo of the Historical Part of Zurich, Switzerland]
This is a picture I've taken recently when I traveled in Switzerland. The historical part of Zurich is very atmospheric and lively with its cafes, restaurants, bars, interesting stores and art galleries. I could easily see myself staying there over a holiday, scribbling down ideas for stories as I cafe-hop and take lengthy walks in parks and along the city's lake. If only Zurich wasn't so bloody expensive...
I'm preparing an album of photos I've taken while I traveled in Switzerland. Will share when its ready. Read post in Google+
The preferred type of vehicles in Kuwait is an SUV. You'll see plenty of saloon cars (Nissan Sentra, Toyota Camry and the like), but gas guzzlers abound, as well as sport and luxury cars. These days, though, another type of car has emerged: the gentrified London cab! These are typically black (see picture). Apparently, the gentrified cab is available to the public for purchase, but it's also used by a high end cab company in the country.
I took the picture of the burgundy colored London cab this morning (sunday morning) on my way to work (our weekend is on Friday and Saturday) . It was an awfully dusty day... Read post in Google+
[History Thursday - The Hill of Crosses]
This mystical sight is near the city of Šiauliai, in the north of Lithuania. It is self-explanatory: it's just a hill covered with crosses. But what I found fascinating is its history, namely how its purpose changed over the course of time. I visited the Hill in September of 2010. The description below is largely taken from an article I've written on the site.
Although it isn't known exactly when the practice of planting crosses on the hill first started and why on that particular hill, it is believed that Lithuanians started the practice out of religious reasons and sometime during the 18th century. The political climate then changed - in the late 18th century Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire and crosses were put up on the hill in remembrance of those who lost their lives fighting for independence. Lithuanians eventually won their independence, but lost it again - first to the Germans during WWII then to the USSR in 1944. During Soviet occupation, from 1944-1990, crosses were planted on the hill as a sign of national identity and protest against Soviet occupation. The Soviets, intending to strike a psychological blow, bulldozed the hill, but Lithuanians kept coming back and and planted even more crosses! The Soviets were eventually shown the door, the crosses remained.
According to Wikipedia the number of crosses was estimated at 55,000 in the year 1990. There probably are over hundreds of thousands of them by now. After walking up all around and all over the Hill I sat down on a nearby bench to eat the sandwich I prepared for this trip. The sky was a lazy blue and the soft chime of metal rang in the air from small crosses ruffled by a breeze. Around the statue of Christ, at the foot of the hill, was a small Polish congregation that quietly recited what sounded like a liturgy. There were a few others around the Hill - elderly people. Some standing alone while others with their significant other. All of them looked pensively at the confusion of crosses, listening to the soft chime in the air and remembering.
There have been a lot of articles this month on the Bosnian war and the siege of Sarajevo by Serbian forces from 1992-1995. I didn't read any of the articles, but their headline made me think back on when I visited Bosnia in the winter of 2010. The picture attached to this post is of the old town in Sarajevo – a very atmospheric part of town in its Ottoman style and, literally, the city’s beating heart.
Bosnia was one of the best surprises during my eight-month journey across Eastern Europe. It’s a gorgeous country with very welcoming people. Sadly, one can’t mention Bosnia without its terrible past, which looms over the country and covers it in shadow. One doesn’t have to go far to see the legacy of this history – head out of the capital Sarajevo and you’ll see desolate villages and come across towns like Srebrenica that, if you didn’t know any better, make you think the war just ended the day before. Actually, one doesn’t have to travel that far – the capital itself is divided in two: one part is governed by the Federation of Bosnia (the main political entity in the country) while the other by Republika Srpska (the second main political entity in the country). Although there’s no official border to mark this split, you can easily tell which part of Sarajevo you’re in by looking at the streets signs: if the signs are written in the Cyrillic alphabet, then you’re in Republika Srpska; if the signs are in the Latin alphabet, then you’re in the Federation of Bosnia. It’s a tragic state of affairs that has left a profound mark on people. While travelling in Bosnia I came across a university student studying to become a primary school teacher; an imam – a mosque’s worship leader – that looks like a rock star (with shades, neatly trimmed thin beard, jeans, sports jacket and cigarette in hand!); and a human trafficker who left during the war, got imprisoned in France and eventually deported back to Bosnia for his illegal activities. Their stories are all profound and give shape to the country’s struggle to get back on its feet.
Despite the country’s troubles, it is a fascinating place to visit. The country has a fascinating history that stretches from the medieval ages, to Ottoman rule, to Austro-Hungarian rule and Yugoslavian control. Of the cities I visited in Bosnia, Sarajevo is by far the most charming. Although it looks a bit backwater, there’s an incredible energy in that city and an unusual romanticism. It’s the only city where I’ve seen a cathedral, a synagogue and mosque all next to each other on the same street. Boxy Ottoman houses give way to elegant Austro-Hungarian buildings followed by cold Soviet style towers. On top of that, Bosnians (the ones I met, at least), despite their economic difficulties, have a great sense of humour! More so, they party hard - like there’s no tomorrow… Read post in Google+
[Classic cars, English double decker bus & odd bikes]
What a surprise - today there was an exhibition of classic cars and motorcycles in Kuwait. The exhibition took place at a marina lined with cafes and restaurants. It's a very popular place among locals and expats. Today the marina was even more busy than usual because of the bikers that came from all over the Middle East.
Here are a few pictures I've taken of classic cars and some strange looking bikes at the exhibition. Read post in Google+
[Photo - It's a Blurry World]
I will be the first to admit that I'm not a photographer. However, I do try to put some thought in my pictures. Sometimes the results are interesting... Inspired by very kind comments from +Anne Mette Agerholm and other people in G+, I'll start sharing 'interesting' photos from my albums. Not only will it give me more material to post, but it'll also give me a chance to share with others some of the unique things I've seen and experienced.
Around July 2009 I left my job at Qatar University after growing frustrated with my career and life. I wanted to pursue writing, but had doubts and so many unanswered questions. Family and friends hassled me with questions about what my next step will be. I had no answer, but felt the need for space and to lose myself into something different. That 'something different' turned out to be an eight-month long journey across eastern Europe. I flew to Lithuania in September 2009, headed southward until I hit Montenegro, then made sort of a u-turn and traveled back north until I got to Ukraine where I ended my trip in May 2010. Almost two years later, have things become clearer for me? Yes - well, somewhat. The experience of that journey still has not fully sunken in - I have a hard time believing that it actually happened. If anything, the journey was very adventurous and profound.
This photo was taken from my bed & breakfast room in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. It rained so heavily on that day that, through my window, the world outside looked blurry! Read post in Google+
The fact that this kind of sloppy parking is tolerated really frustrates me (the truck is parked over two places).
Here are few pics taken today of the camel market in Kuwait. It's about a 30 min drive from the city, in a very dodgy part of the country (especially at night - all sorts of crimes happen there). The area is mostly desert and not far from the post apocalyptic world of Mad Max 2! Read post in Google+