Krakow

800px-Cracow_view1The past week has been insane. Or perhaps I should say the past 10 days to be more precise. Part of the insanity has been the destination of my last conference – Krakow. As a European city, Krakow has been underrated and definitely under-marketed as a tourist destination. Krakow is evidence that good things hardly make it to the news – it is one of the few cities that survived the looting and destruction of WWII no damage, while majority other cities were bombed to the ground.

Having visited the city in the winter I had the opportunity to appreciate the -12 degrees C that loom over the populace. However, all is not to a loss. Constant snowfall coupled with the cold degrees, turned the central city park into a mini Narnia, where the trees complemented the white snow with dark silhouettes. The park in itself spans most of the inner city, so one is able to avoid walking next to traffic when making their way from one end to the other.

Unlike the grid designs of Manhattan, Krakow is planned in pear drop shapes. In the middle is the historic Rynek Glowny (Old Town), housed within the walls of the fort that surround the inner city. It reminded me of the old Town of Tallin. Not far from Glowny (perhaps a 10 minute walk) up on Wawel hill, looming above the city, is the old castle – Wawel along with a beautiful cathedral. Around this, flows the main river – Visla. Old town, main square

Fact 1: The Wawel housed the royal families of Poland but also one of the last Catholic Swedish monarchs – Sigismund. In fact, he is buried in Krakow.

The city’s former diverse mix of ethnicities is evidenced by the numerous synagogues found within the old Jewish quarters of Kazimierz. This was most probably my favourite part of the city, with little bustling shops and restaurants sprawled out. As a Swede reading most of the signboards became one of my main forms of entertainment, as more than one, would read as crude or embarrassing words.

Fact 2: Roughly 90% of the Polish population is Roman Catholic.

Being a foodie, I’m always curious as to what the local foods are and can’t wait to try them. I had recently seen a documentary about pirogues and their commonplace in Poland. However, I remained unprepared for the fact that I would NOT be able to try most foods, you see, Polish are big on pork. . As a non-pork eater, I had a difficult time getting pork-free food. So for majority of my stay, I was vegetarian – except of course in the Jewish quarters where there was plenty of kosher food available. By the end of the trip my summary of Polish cuisine, in one sentence; “Would you like some pork with your pork?” This is not an exaggeration. Having ordered a chicken schnitzel (as replacement of pork) I was caught off guard when there were tiny pieces of bacon chopped into my sour croute. The appetiser had been pirogues with a dip sauce – the dip sauce contained tiny pieces of bacon. And the soups were mostly based on meat bouillon, wouldn’t be surprised if it was pork. Even more, they are big on breading and frying their food.

The lack of non-pork options did not bog me down, because the restaurants offered great salads at great prices. The fact that one can still eat a whole lunch under 50KR, this too including your drink, was a pleasant surprise indeed. The silverlining however lay with the numerous bakeries to be found at every little street, offering delicious treats – ranging from cheesecake to simple pastries stuffed with some form of cheese.

Fact 3: Krakow is one of the oldest cities in Europe, dating back to the Stone Ages.

The city is rumoured to have more bars per square meter than any other in Europe! And true to its reputation, we ended up being out at bar until 3 am, sitting next to a live fireplace (which are very common in bars there) warming us, while listening to music watching the flow of people that kept streaming in. Even as we exited the bar, people kept coming, reminding me that the night was still young. All this helped negate my earlier prejudice that had led me to believe such partying only to possible in London.

The point I’m trying to get across: catch a flight to Krakow, because Poland is about to surprise you.

Text: Aiysha Varraich

Pondering Voltaire

Spiderman“I do not agree with a word that you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it.” Voltaire.  This proclamation was one that I took upon myself to illustrate as part of a class project once upon a time back in the long lost years of my 9th grade.

I pondered this proclamation once again, in regard to a discussion that took place at work, where a discussion had ensued concerning the subject of freedom of press/media/expression, versus the balancing act of what is tolerable or acceptable to be part of society. The first point of discussion was the cartoon strip that the Danish cartoonist had drawn of the prophet Muhammed, the spiritual leader of the Muslim community, depicting him in various derogatory manners. My point of departure was that this could be viewed as incitement against a minority group, especially as this minority group constitutes a very large minority within Scandinavia. I proceeded with the arguement that a similiarly sensitive reaction would’ve been in place if this cartoon was about Jesus Christ, not today, but in the mid 18th century, when the Scandinavian countries were still largely practising the Christian faith. My argument departed from the point that the reaction of Muslims might be very different if it wasnt a minority group, but foremost, if it had the same time trajectory as Christianity has today, that is of 2000 years.

The second example raised was, whether the arguement of “freedom of experssion/speech/press/media” would be utilised as a viable defence had it been a cartoon depicting atrocities of the Holocaust in a humorous manner? The reaction was a clear cut no. But the strongest reaction was when, for the sake of argument, I raised the issue of the Swedish extreme-right-wing party SD and how they, as a political party, were initially treated by the other political parties. None of the other party leaders shook hands with SDs leader Jimmy Åkesson, but there was a clear cut message, emanated through the absence of a dinner invite to the annual Nobel Prize dinner party as well as any form of acknowledgement by other Swedish political parties.

Hypothetically, SD has only been able to enter the Swedish Parliament due to the party having support in the Swedish populace, so wouldnt it then be democratic to treat this party in the manner that all other political parties are treated, both by each other but also by the establishment? Today’s discussion clarified, that somewhere there needs to be drawn a line. A line of argument that I am in full agreement with. This line, is drawn collectively, as a society and active population, where we show what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Freedoms come with caveats, and in this case, hatred is a norm we as a people should never promote. I am glad, that the Artistotlean arguement of the “good society” is active and alive. Especially that it set emotions in high action when I prodded my friends the way I did.

 

We must take into consideration the effect our actions, whether these be labelled under the guise of Freedom of Press, Speech or Media, and how this plays out on our society, all of society. Perhaps Spiderman summarises it best when saying “with great power comes great responsibility.”

 

Text: Aiysha

Bild: Cristian Bortes / bortescristian

Karachi – the city that still shines.

Out of the many loves that engulf my life, there is one that keeps flickering no matter how strong the winds blow, that is my love for Karachi. This city, no matter what the Western media says, is magical in its own dusty, humid and wonderfully sunny way.karachi

Not only was this the first capital of the newly formed country of Pakistan in 1947, today it is the financial hub of the country, where 18 million people live – partaking in the hustle and bustle the megacity offers in all its forms – from great food to brilliant art, and some of the most beautiful scenes the Arabian Sea has to offer.

Many of you have heard of Pakistan, but Karachi, perhaps not. Karachi is located at the southern tip of the country, serving as the country’s primary sea-port. When you enter this city, the first thing that will catch your attention on the roads are the hand-painted busses that jingle their way past you. This is the main form of public transportation. However the roads will also offer you bizzarre scenes; such as the one depicted above where a donkey cart pulls a rickshaw on its way to the workshop for repairs.

Now let’s begin our tour. Let us begin with some landmarks, as these can many atimes be overlooked unless some event is taking place. One of the most beautiful buildings in Karachi is Frere Hall,408565_10151162044436377_1259259907_n not only does it host one of my very favourite book fairs but it is also home to the Sadequain Gallery. The name Sadequain is a household name in Paksitan and in fact many art lovers seek out pieces by the artist, however his work remains hidden from the Western mainstream media. Fun fact: it was Sadequain that illustrated Albert Camus’ The Stranger, a fact not many Europeans are aware of.  Surrounded by lush gardens, the Hall provides an oasis of tranquility in the midst of the hustle and bustle.


Another landmark and tourist magnet is the Quaid-e-Azam (Urdu for Father of the Nation) Masoleum, where the
16674_10151162052726377_1162269726_nfounder of Paksitan rests. A trip to the memorial is only complete with a trip to Guru Mandir’s food corner, known for its hunter-beef burgers from Hanifa’s. You drive up right infront of the street restaurant and place your order. To slurp it all down, the desert and cherry on top is the shareefa shake (sugar apple milkshake) that the neighbouring restaurant has on offer.

My other favourite place, that I visit almost every time I am in the city, is the wonderful museum of Mohatta Palace. As a centre of art it hosts exhibitions for a span of two years, ensuring there is always something new taking place; this is over and above the  supernatural hauntings that have become part of the urban legends surrounding the city.

72207_10151162051871377_1961045756_nA little well-kept secret (even from the locals) is a secret underground tunnel that leads from the Palace to a nearby Hindu Temple, (1km away)!

Let’s pause the landmarks. Let me describe the food scene. Being a foodie, a Karachi experience is incomplete without having performed the food pilgrimage. The one thing I long for the most, when not there, are the 3 am drives down to Boat Basin where we sit on the charpoys, leaning down on gao takkias (bolster pillows) while facing the lake awaiting our orders of halwa puri – all while sipping hot sweet chai (milk tea with cardemum). The halwa puri arrives! This sweet manna together with small fried breads are typically served with a potato and chickpea curry. It will knock you out, but that’s what a true late night out is meant for.

Then there are the infamously delicious chicken rolls. Signature to Karachi, they consist of a paratha (flatbread made with butter) stuffed with marinated pieces of meat or chicken, fresh off the skewers where they’ve been grilling. This is topped with whatever you want – mint chutney, garlic mayo, or simple cheddar cheese. The place to go – Khaddah market (in Clifton Cantonment area). These are the street foods that are a must. If you fancy to spend a little more (by Paksitani standards) then head over to BBQ Tonight. A landmark in its own right, you will find people from near and far; families, couples, locals, tourists – all in search for the same quest: the best grilled and barbequed food town has to offer. The good part: there are two outlets, one in Clifton and one in Malir Cantonement.

The one place that combines the food, the landmark status and just the right amount of crazy has to be the Itewaar Bazaar (Sunday Bazaar). Her you will find everything ranging from books, jewellry, household items and never-ending stalls of beautiful cloth. The market takes place, (you guessed it) every Sunday. 543931_10151162038576377_494625336_nFor people that enjoy markets, this is definitely one that needs to be visited; the market under the sun, where you walk on sand while browsing through prospective goods. Another market, that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves, is the Empress Market. Unlike the Itewaar Bazaar, it is both indoors and outdoors. Food, shoes, spices, toys, all in the heaploads. The building itself was erected in the 1800s and is one of the legacies of the British Raj.

Zainab Market – this is the one everyone talks about and  the place you want to be (for household items as well as clothing). The local khussas can be found in all designs and patterns (picture to the left). You will have a tough time deciding. Be warned, you have to be good at bargaining. This applies to all markets. The vendors can spot a newbie a mile away.  So, my best advice, either take a local bargaining master with you, or just stand your ground.

This bargaining skill can also come handy when at the beach, encountering the horse/camel vendors offering a ride. 486254_10151162053051377_1104076747_nThere are lots of beaches to choose from; Clifton Beach, Hawke’s Bay beach (where you can view the hawks bay turtle lay their eggs and then wander back into the sea), the French Beach and many more. If you have the energy, hop onto one of the camels, it always makes me laugh.

I think this is a good start to pique the curiosity of a wandering soul. Another little fun fact: a roughly 2 hour plane ride from Karachi, you will find the ruins of one of the oldest civilizations of the world – the Indus Valley Civilization of Mohenjo Daro.

Tips: more food: Mr. Burger (Clifton Cantonement), Chatkharay (Khadda Market, Defence Housing Authority Phase V) And because it deserves it, do pay a visit to the Karachi Port Area , after all this is what drives the country’s financial hub. And finally, Zamzama is where ice-cream is served up like art installations – frozen yoghurt meets Karachi. 320902_10151162044976377_1665301747_n