Category Archives: My Travel-Logs

My travel experiences

Krakow Poland

Poland Story

My desk phone light was blinking when I returned to my desk after a few minutes break; meaning a voice message was waiting for me. I wondered who could it be? Upon checking I found it was my manager. He was looking for someone to visit our Poland office and enquired if I could oblige? I jumped out of my chair. Yeah I am available! I immediately responded back to him to confirm. And soon I was on my way to Poland.

Rynek Główny – Krakow Town Centre Square

I have travelled so much that travelling within Europe does not excite me anymore. But for Poland; somehow I was overexcited, I don’t know why. I immediately started reading about Poland and borrowed two travel books from the library. I wanted to know more about Poland and Poles (Polish people). The town I live in UK, hosts a huge Polish population along Indians and Pakistanis. Poles started arriving in UK after 2004 when Poland joined EU. I found them generally very friendly & hard working people. But communicating with them is a challenge as most of them spoke very little English. So, what is Poland and who are Poles?

Poland:

Poland is situated in the middle of Europe, and borders with Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania & Russia. It is obvious that Poland is influenced by Russia.

Population is approx. 38 Million.

Ethnically, 94% people are Polish, rest 6% are mixture of people from neighbouring countries. Other foreigners are rare. So Polish society is highly homogeneous. You will hardly see any coloured person on streets.

Jews once accounted for 30% of the population but holocaust in WW2 (World War 2) eliminated them entirely. You will hardly see any Jew in Poland though they had a strong history here.

Majority Poles are Roman Catholic Christians. Other religions are almost non-existent. Poles are quite attractive race.

Dungeon Restaurant Krakow

WW2 & Poland:

While travelling on road ‘A40’ towards central London, I would always notice that streetlights become unusually short on a small stretch. Then once I realised there is an airport on the left side of the road and the light posts are shortened due to the fly path overhead. There is a Royal air force base here. Then further down the road a sign reads “Polish War Memorial”. Why is polish war memorial here? I could not think on any reason until I read about WW2 (World War 2) & Polish involvement.

WW2 Started by Nazi Germany invading Poland on 1st September 1939. Few days later Russia jumped in too to support Hitler.

Poland was defeated soon. It suffered one of the highest losses during WW2. Nearly 5.6 Million Poles (20% of total population) died including 3 Million Jews. The whole Jewish community disappeared from Poland. Polish influential e.g. doctors, engineers, scientists, leaders, etc., were killed and important infrastructure was destroyed.

Polish army joined with UK & Allies. Its pilots flew planes from UK and bombarded the German army; hence, there is a Polish War Memorial near this Royal air force base.

River Vistula

Poland becomes Raussia

At the end of WW2, a treaty was signed between Russia & UK in 1945 and Poland was handed over to Russia; a communist Poland was born. Poles felt betrayed by UK.

Poland gained independence from Russian in 1989 and established the “Republic of Poland”. It joined EU in 2004. Poland kept its currency called Zloty (abbreviated as PLN) but planned to change it to euro later.

Journey to Krakow

I was going to Krakow, the second most famous city after Warsaw. My flight was via Warsaw. Surprisingly there were less Poles on the flight than other nationalities. It was just an ordinary peaceful flight to Warsaw. There was a stopover of couple of hours which I used to familiarise myself with the airport. I had a longer stay on the way back and I had planned to visit Warsaw utilising that time. Airport was not that busy. I obtained a map from information desk and enquired about bus & train connections to the city centre. I then had dinner at good old McDonalds. Soon I was back on the plane heading towards Krakow. Poland resembled Germany from air, lush green. As soon as I came out of the airport, I took taxi and headed to my hotel as I had a dinner to attend and there was not much time left.

Wawel Castle, Krakow

Krakow:

Krakow is a charming small city. Luckily, it survived the WW2 bombing. It has been one of the cultural, educational and economic hubs of Poland. Many technical companies are setting up offices here as there is abundance of young educated poles and costs are low relative to the rest of Europe. Krakow population is approximately 760,000.

While passing through the city I noticed long queues outside a shop. What is this shop, I enquired? This is the most famous ice cream shop in Krakow driver replied, and ice cream is worth the wait! Hmmm, interesting I thought, I shall try this later. I was admiring this city as we were passing through the Krakow streets. I dumped my stuff in my room and rushed back to get to the restaurant where dinner was planned.

It was nearly sunset when I arrived at the restaurant. City was quiet & calm. We passed by the famous Wawel castle. There were few people gathered in front of church. I was told the people are remembering the late Polish President Lech who died in an air crash in 2010.

Dinner was arranged in the basement of an old building. It was quite an experience. Food was good too. Waiter recommended a fish dish and it was tasty.

After work, I dropped my laptop at hotel and left hotel on foot for sightseeing. There are a number of attractions in the city and I managed to visit some of these:

Main Square (Rynek Główny) – This is the largest market square in Europe. There is a building in the middle. Ground floor is occupied by souvenir shops and top floor is a church and some kind of exhibition. I bought few souvenirs from the shops there. Surrounding area is filled with restaurants and bars. Attractive women walk around here and invite you to their bars, but I refused!

Market Square Krakow

There was a young Japanese couple taking photos. I requested them to take my photo. The girl took my phone, clicked once and returned it back to me. Then both talked to each other worriedly. The girl quickly snatched my phone back and pointed to the screen. Oppps, my phone screen was filled with her face; she had taken her own photo instead of mine!!! I deleted it quickly to comfort her. My photo was taken again – by the man this time obviously!

Halal Food – Here Too!:

I was walking around in old streets around the main square and suddenly noticed a doner kebab shop. Could be halal, I thought; and indeed it was… Dinner sorted! I chatted with the shopkeeper. He was from Turkey I remember vaguely. There are two halal shops in Krakow he indicated. And there is a make-shift mosque too. There are not many Muslims in Poland. I had my dinner here and then head back to hotel. It was getting late.

Wawel Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski na Wawelu):

This is an old beautiful castle situated next to the beautiful Cathedral by the Vistula River. All of my colleagues visited the castle together. City views from the top were stunning.

Jewish District (Kazimierz):

I was staying in the east of the city just on the banks of river Vistula. Hotel was near the old Jewish quarter. It is a Historic area of the city where Jews used to reside, though not anymore. The district is transformed into a walking area now with various monuments, cafes & restaurants. I walked around here. There was a cemetery with Jewish symbols but it was visibly clear that the place hasn’t been visited for ages.

 

Jewish Quarter, Krakow

Stroll in Krakow City

Whatever time I had in the evening I took to the streets of Krakow on foot. I found it a fascinating small town. Moderately crowded, roads and streets lined with trees, mix of old & new buildings. Architecture is visibly Eastern European – a pleasing to the eyes experience.

 Visit to Auschwitz:

Hitler’s Nazi German army established the 1st concentration center here in a Polish town Oswiecim in 1940 during the WW2 to capture Polish prisoners. It was later used to capture and kill massive number of Jews and other political prisoners from all over Europe.

As a Muslim I stand against any aggression, be it against Jews, Palestinians, Rohangiya or Kashmiris. There are archived photos of people; young, old, children, arriving at the camp. Seeing these will make you cry.

Auswitz Camp Observation Post (Gas Chambers are behind this Building)

Oswiecim is just 30 miles from Krakow. One afternoon I decided to visit Auschwitz I, the original camp. My colleague told me it will be an emotional one and I would not be able to sleep or eat after the visit. With heavy heart, I took a train to Oswiecim. It was an old local commuter train and there were only few passengers onboard.

Train was rolling towards Oswiecim at slow pace but my heart was pounding much faster. I was visualizing in my mind the helpless prisoners making the same journey decades back. Train arrived at Oswiecim’s main station. It was not busy at all. I wanted to find out about bus to Auschwitz. I could not see any information desk. There was an American backpacker’s couple but they did not know either. I went outside and asked few locals standing at the bus station. Eventually took a bus which dropped me near the camp. Everything was so surreal, or perhaps it was my feeling.

My heart pacing fast, I sought the entrance but it was not there. A street sign was pointing towards one street. I had to walk another 200 meters. There was a cabin for tickets. I obtained a ticket that was free of cost. It was late afternoon and most people were leaving back. I passed through the security and there it was; the notorious gate to Auschwitz I camp.

Auswitz Camp Gate Main Gate

The camp is arranged in blocks. I walked through different blocks which are now converted into exhibitions displaying old artefacts from the prisoners & the camp. The living rooms, washrooms, kitchens, guard rooms, all are intact. I could not follow all the blocks properly as the lady at entrance gave me the wrong map. At the end I visited the gas chambers building too. It is in a separate building adjacent to the camp. Gas chambers were smaller than I thought.

It was nearly sunset and the site was about to close. I left with heavy heart. Islam does not endorse killing of people based on ethnicity. No race is superior to any other; piety is the only criteria.

Beautiful Polish Countryside

On the way back, I took a coach that was leaving just outside the main entrance. I managed to take the first seat so I enjoyed the beautiful Polish countryside as well as small towns. Coach dropped me at the main Krakow bus station.

I walked around in the city for some time and headed back to my hotel.

Castle Square Warsaw

Warsaw:

On the way back I visited Warsaw for few hours. It is a beautiful city but crowded as one would expect any big city. Bus dropped me near the historic part of the city. I walked around the Castle Square for a while and then took another bus back to airport.

My visit to Poland was over soon.

 

Sweden

sweden

I read many sweet stories about magical Scandinavia, the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, that it is a beautiful area with abundance of natural beauty so naturally I wanted to visit it. Somehow I visited many countries but couldn’t get my feet on that soil, until 2008 that is. I was offered a job in Sweden in 2008 so I came to Sweden and lived here for two years.

Sweden Sweet Sweden

A country of Beautiful Landscape, very decent good-natured people! Sweden is the largest country in Scandinavia among Norway, Finland and Denmark situated in Northern Europe.

The whole Scandinavia is stunning; full of jungles, mountains, lakes, a lot of sea & snow. Proximity to north brings long harsh winters  & with the same token long pleasant summers too. Heard of 6 months long night and 6 months long day?
sweden165% of Sweden is covered with forests. There are numerous Lakes (approx. 95000 Sq Miles) and sea shores; no surprise Swedes love nature. Sea food and boats are part of their life. People usually own a boat and a summer-house which are extensively used during the summer months. Whole Scandinavia shuts down during July & August.

Taxes are very high here but public services and social welfare is commendable. Living in Sweden is a bit expensive compared to Germany, France & Britain.

Gamlastan Stockholm
Gamlastan Stockholm

Climate:

Sweden is a cold country as it is not far from North Pole.

Sweden’s winters are a bit depressing as days are too short; it hardly gets 6 hours sunlight if weather is not cloudy, and summer days are hugely long with up to 21 hours long sunshine! It is difficult to sleep during summer nights as there is always light on the horizon. I had to paste black plastic sheets on the windows to make room dark.

See Sweden bursting with colours in autumn

Winter was quite mild the year I arrived. But the next year it snowed and snowed and snowed….Temprature remained around -20C or low for weeks on end. It broke the 100 years record of coldest and snowed winter; so much so that even Swedes started complaining.

street

After few days I started enjoying it. Walking in empty streets with everything white-washed is an experience that can not be explained.

Swedes love nature; this is why natural material such as wood and stone are used commonly in buildings & decor. Metro (underground train) stations are adorned like caves.

Swedes; Tall & Handsome:

Tall, handsome, healthy, straightforward & polite –Swedes in a nutshell, and this behaviour is common among Scandinavians.

Swedes know how to live life to max; longest life expectancy, short working week, longest maternity leave, excellent child care and great work-life balance!

Working with them is an excellent experience; they are the most cooperative people as colleagues or customers. They would keep promises and always be on-time. Women are more empowered than men though! Smallest gender-gap between men & women in terms of salary & number of people in employment.

Sweden is only a small country in terms of population; only 10 Million people.

Swedes have generally been isolated from the rest of the world.  They were officially neutral during both world wars.

They start work early around 8 am. Lunch starts at 11.30 and people would pack up for home round 4.

Stockholm Central Mosque
Stockholm Central Mosque

Let’s have a Fika:

It literally means a coffee break & is common in Sweden. We used to have an afternoon coffee break whereby employees would gather in groups, have coffee or tea with biscuits, cakes etc.

Offices buy a basket of fresh fruit for its employees every day; I made good use of it. 🙂

Immigrants:

Swedes used to look at immigrants with curiosity as they haven’t come across many. Things have changed now. More foreigners entered Sweden in the last 15 years. But last year saw unprecedented number of migrants entering Sweden after Syria crisis. This has caused friction in some areas.

Immigrants collectively make 15% of the population.

Riots in 2013 after police shot an immigrant caused anti-immigrant sentiments. These feelings are strengthened due to recent events in France & Brussels.

There are approximately 500,000 Muslims (5% of total population) in Sweden, mostly from Arab nations. Pakistanis are only few thousand.

GamlaStan Narrow Ways & Stairs
GamlaStan Narrow Ways & Stairs

Significant Contributions:

Nobel Prize was started in Sweden after the name of Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel who donated his wealth for it. It is awarded every year since 1895. Why did Alfred decide to start Nobel Prize? Read Here.

Ericsson is the most famous and one of the founder companies in telecommunications.

Ikea is a famous name in the world of furniture making.

Sweden is a technologically advanced country; 573 Nobel prizes are won by Swedes.

Country is quite green too; 52% energy generated through renewable sources.

Initial Thoughts

Here is an email I wrote to my friends four days after arriving here for the first time:

I am very well and I hope all is well on your side.

Swedish speak English as Germans speak English [Once I said to my Swedish manager that Swedish language sounds similar to German; he was not amused and replied why can’t it be other way around?]

I am here in Sweden for about 4 days now. One of my friend joined me at airport and now I am staying with him till I rent my own place which I am looking for.

In general Sweden is a beautiful lush green country. It has well-built infrastructure (roads, rail, buses, general amenities) just like any other European country e.g. Germany.

I have joined the new job. Work place is fine. There are four people in my team; one Sicilian Italian, one Palestinian, one Chinese and managers is Swedish. Rest of the company is mixed, mostly Chinese. Environment is friendly; lots of empty desks and space; a big dining room and two tennis table rooms.

I avoid playing as Chinese are very good at ping-pong game (my Italian colleague calls it ping-pong). He has accepted a challenge from a Chinese and I fear a disastrous result for Italy tomorrow. 🙂..”

There are ample toilets and are always free. [I don’t know why I said that?? May be I was coming from Pakistan where toilets were always queued up. One good thing, toilets in Scandinavia have sinks inside the toilet room!!]

Weather is cool & pleasant here, mostly rainy & windy, much like UK. Days are bit longer than UK. Prayer times are really difficult. We pray Zuhar up to 7 pm, Mughrib starts around 10.30, Isha after 11.30 and Fajar at 2.30 am. Therefore most of the night is spent in cycles of waking, sleeping and waking again. Nights are not completely dark; a small light always remains on horizon.

The place I am residing in is called Kista (pronounced as Sheesta, I fear they will call me Shaashif too !!). There is a local halal grocery shop which has every edible thing a desi might think of.

Kista is full of technology companies, you name it, IBM, Ericsson, Tele2, Compaq, Phillips, I have seen offices of each & every tech firm. There are more foreigners here than Swedes. Many are here to work but there are lots of immigrants too, mostly from Somali & Arab / African background. I am going to Stockholm city centre this weekend especially to see some Swedes.

On the Island - Cinderella Ship on which we had a wonderful Trip
Cinderella Ship on which we had a wonderful Trip along the Fjord

Lovely Stockholm:

Sweden’s biggest city is Stockholm which is its capital too. It is built on 14 islands connected with 57 bridges. The biggest city in Nordic area, still this city airs the feel of a small friendly city. Stockholm was originally formed as capital in 1252 on a small island in the middle called “Gamla Stan”. It is still preserved with it narrow cobbled streets; nowadays buzzing with tourists and littered with souvenir shops and restaurants.

Stockholm is the cultural, political, social, economic and educational centre for Sweden. Nobel prize ceremony is held here annually.

Let the Party Begin
Let the Party Begin – A BBQ in Kista Woods

Free Education for Foreigners:

Sweden offered free University education to foreigners till 2012. A lot of students from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India etc benefitted from this. Most were genuine but many abused the system just to get in the country. The genuine students really excelled and made good use of the facilities offered. They had very little money to maintain themselves but they did. They would work on temporary jobs which were in very short supply anyway. And then resourcefully utilise whatever they had. They completed their degrees and now employed on decent jobs all over the world!

We spent many evenings eating, sipping tea and chatting together; fond memories!

On the Island, before Crayfish Party
On the Island, before Crayfish Party

Drottningholm Palace

Drottningholm Palace is the official residence of serving King. Part of it open to public now. There are big houses behind the palace originally used by the servants of Royal Family but now sold on to ordinary people.

Drottningholm Palace
Drottningholm Palace

Dog-o-Phoebia (Cynophobia):

I was once invited by a Swede whom I met on the plane during my journey to London. He lived in the houses behind Drottningholm Palace. He had no connection to Palace, rather employed in a bank.  As I arrived; there was a massive dog eagerly waiting for me on the door. Oh nooo.. I was ‘Dog-o-Phobic’. I was scared to death seeing such a huge dog. But there was no escape here. I was moving away from him but that dog was too eager to sniff me so he was ushering me all around. Soon the owner realised. He taught me a trick and hey… I coexisted with that dog for the whole evening and my phobia was (almost) gone!!

BBQ in the Wild
BBQ in the Wild

BBQ Party:

On one warm summer day we had one of the best BBQ parties of my life in lush green jungle near Kista. Government has prepared small huts in the wild; just bring your hardware and off you go!

There was a frizbee match too.

Frizby Match
Frizby Match

Foods:

Famous Swedish food include meatballs and fish dishes (raw, cooked & pickled). But the one I liked most is no other than Princess Torta Cake; a delicious traditional cake that is eaten year around by Swedes. Heavy on cream yet refreshingly tasty. This was my family & friends favourite while in Sweden.

Princess Torta Cake
Princess Torta Cake

Crayfish Party:

One day in August my Swede manager invited us to his summer-house on a beach for Crayfish party. It was a wonderful experience. We spent the whole day on that island, wandered around & played Brannboll. It is a Swedish sport similar to baseball. The key difference is that batsman tosses the ball in air by himself and then hits it rather than a bowler shooting at him. At the end we had a Crayfish party. But eating this small fish is not easy because it resembles to a lobster and one needs to crack open it to extract tiny meat inside.

Elegant Interior
Central Mosque Elegant Interior

Stockholm Central Mosque:

There are many mosques in Stockholm but the central mosque the most beautiful inside & out. It is a beauty!

STK Msq 2

There are many more memories from Sweden but perhaps some other time!

Greece Visit Part 2

island 1

Read Part 1 Here

Archimedes & Eureka:

So, what is the story of Eureka? King Hiero ordered a new Crown to be made for him so he gave a block of pure Gold to a goldsmith. When the new crown was presented to him, King became suspicious that goldsmith had mixed some cheaper metal in it and saved some gold for himself. He ordered Archimedes to find out if the crown was made with pure gold on not without harming its shape. Archimedes was puzzled but he started pondering on the issue. One day while taking bath he realised that while he lowered his body into tub full of water, some water spilled over. He realised when an object is lowered into water, equal amount of water is displaced. And so, if crown was pure gold, water displaced by crown must be the same as of same amount of pure gold. Archimedes was so thrilled on discovering this that he ran in streets naked shouting ‘Eureka’ (means ‘I found it’). By the way, water displaced by the Crown & pure Gold were not the same.. L. And history is silent about what happened to goldsmith afterwards.

Story in Pictures
Story in Pictures

Arrival

Flight went smoothly and soon we were preparing to land at Athens International Airport. It is a relatively new built and started its operations in 2001. Arrival area is a bit of disappointment. Kids felt as they have arrived in Pakistan. To be fair it was better than Pakistan but definitely worse than Western Europe. Surprisingly Departures area is admirable – spic & span.

Hot air hit our faces as soon as we walked out of airport building. Oh my God, it was as hot as it would be in Pakistan in summer. It was not possible to walk outside especially if you are arriving from a cold country. My uncle had warned be beforehand but I didn’t take it seriously. L… We took a bus to Piraeus, a seaport town of Athens. An hour’s journey and we were there. Luckily the flat was fully air-conditioned! Rest of the day was spent relaxing.

Athens Glory by Night
Athens Glory by Night

Next day we headed to the centre of Athens to start sightseeing. Let me introduce you to recent Greece first.

Greece:

Greece is situated in South of Europe and is a member of European Union. Currency used to be Drahma but was replaced by Euro in 2001. It has more than 2000 islands out of which 227 are inhabited. Greece’s population is approx. 11 Million. Almost all are Orthodx Christians. Majority of Greek land is mountainous.

Greece was conquered by Roman Empire and then remained so till mid fifteenth century when it was conquered by the Ottoman Khilafah. It emerged as an independent country in current shape around 1830s. Greece has parliamentary democratic government.

Economy – Then & Now:

Greece is a modern & developed country. It had quite strong economy based on tourism, shipping and manufacturing (predominantly garments) which Greece exported mainly to Europe. But emergence of China has completely eradicated the manufacturing industry, so much so that only 12% income is generated from this sector now.

Rich & Poor
Rich & Poor

Tourism was the biggest contributor to economy. Tourists from all over the world were attracted to Greece thanks to Sea, Sun, Superb Food, history and cheap prices. But introduction of Euro made everything too expensive for locals as well as tourists so many tourists prefer Turkey which is a lot cheaper. Rest of the destruction came via IMF & World Bank. Huge debts at very high interest rates have broken the Greek economy now. Country suffered great economic crisis around 2008 and it has deepened since. High unemployment, high taxes, high living prices, pension cuts, job cuts; unthinkable austerity measures has lead Greece society to brink of breakdown & bankruptcy – Thank you IMF, Thank you Capitalism, Thank you Greed – Select Rich enjoying at the cost Many Poor.

A Church in Piraeus
A Church in Piraeus

Bachelor Migrants:

There was abundance of labour work in 80s. A huge number of Pakistanis mainly from Gujrat & surroundings (& other nationalities too) immigrated legally & illegally by road via Turkey. Greek law doesn’t grant nationality even one lives here for long. So virtually all the immigrants stayed here as bachelors; there are only handful of Pakistani (or any other migrant) families live here. Many of the migrants have gone back now since there are no jobs.

Soldiers in Syntagma Sq
Soldiers in Syntagma Sq

Many years ago my brother & I visited Greece. One day we were walking in a street in Piraeus. We met an Indian young man in 20s. We asked him what brought him here. He replied, to find some work. So what brought you here, he enquired? We came to visit Greece, we replied. Visit? He was surprised. Yes, visit, we smiled. But he didn’t believe us and responded, surely you came looking for work, or perhaps you will move on to Western Europe. He didn’t believe us.

To be continued…

Greece Visit Part 1

There was no plan to travel during this year’s summer holidays but as the holidays approached, kids started persuading me to go for one! And being “loving dad” I obliged! Most tourist places were booked and prices for remaining places were sky-rocketing. Greece seemed an obvious choice with sensible prices. It had been on my list since long. Economic crisis & uncertain situation would surely mean less tourists and hence low prices. This is the time I thought so I booked the flights & an apartment.

Greece: Sun, Sea, Ship & Islands
Greece: Sun, Sea, Ship & Islands

I have been to Greece, known as Unaan in Urdu, many time in past; first time in 1992 and last time only 12 years ago.  For me Greece equals History, Sea, Ships, islands, Beaches, Olives, Feta cheese, lovely food, beautiful friendly people & two of my uncles who migrated there since I was a child.

Late as Ever

Soon we were packing our bags. Our flight was 7.25 pm so I was confident that no way will we be late but kids beat me on this! Despite working the whole day on packing etc, it was nearly 5.45 pm and we had not left home. Eventually we sat in the car & made our way to airport. And then came the rain; traffic grew on motorway bringing speed to almost crawling. It was only an hour left when we reached airport. We rushed to check-in area. I started check-in on a self-service machine; typed-in all the details, scanned all the passports which took me nearly  5 mins, and at the last step machine declared “check-in not possible, contact staff”. Time was too short by now. If we had not cleared the security 35 mins prior to flight time, we will not be allowed to take flight. I looked around panicking; the queues at check-in counters were miles long; it was the start of summer holidays. One staff member somehow realised and asked me to come over to him (thank you so much whoever you are!). He quickly checked us in and we were on our way to security.

Greece Streets
Greece Streets

Extra Long Queues

Oh no, the queues at security were even longer than check-ins. Again, God helped us; a lady at security looked at our boarding passes. Realising we haven’t got much time she bypassed us through a special lane. Few minutes later we were running towards the gate to board the flight. The way our flight was arranged that we had a night’s stay at Schiphol airport Amsterdam in CitizenM Hotel. The hotel is just outside airport building so we walked to it leisurely.

CitizenM Hotel
CitizenM Hotel

It turned out to be such a lovely & modern hotel! All high tech – there were no buttons. Instead all lightening, air conditioning, TV, window curtains etc were controlled by an iPad Tablet. Kids were over the moon; they happily spent their night playing the gadgets. Only weird thing was the nearly “See-through toilet and shower” (see photo).

And next morning we were again queuing up at airport, this time for Athens!

Ancient Greece

So, what is Greece and who are Greeks? Greeks are one of the oldest & most influential civilisations among Chinese, Egyptians and Romans (click on names to read my travel-logs to these places). Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Arts, Architecture, Democracy, Olympics, Philosophy, Science; there is a long list that humanity owe to Greeks. Let me take you back in history. There is evidence that humans lived here around 7000 years BC. The Greeks as a nation rose to fame around 2700 BC. There are a number of ancient Greek personalities that left lasted impact on human civilisation.

Ancient Christian Monastery
Ancient Christian Monastery

Note: BC refers to “Before Christ (Jesus AS). Jesus (Eesa AS) was present around 2000 years ago from now. So 300BC would mean approximately 2300 years ago from now (2015).

  1. Alexander the Great (356 BC, also known as Sikander-e-Azam). No, he was not a Muslim as some believe. He was born in Macedonia but somehow Greeks consider him one of them. Alexander conquered a vast amount of land of about 2 Million Square Miles in short time covering from Middle Europe, Egypt to Punjab. People of Kailash (Kafiristan) are considered to be descendants of Greek soldiers of Alexander’s army. Greek government has established some schools & charity organisations here which support this theory.
  2. Archimedes (287 BC, known as Arsh-meedas): A great mathematician, inventor & philosopher, he is credited to invent lever, pulley, catapult and famous “Archimedes Principle” after which he ran naked shouting ‘Eureka’ (Story to follow).
  3. Socrates (470BC, known as Suqraat): One of the most known philosophers of the history. Some of the saying attributed to him are:
    • The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing
    • I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think
    • Our prayers should be for blessings in general, for God knows best what is good for us

4. Plato (427BC, known as Aflatoon): A great Philosopher & thinker, he was the student of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle.

5. Aristotle (384BC, known as Arastu): Great Philosopher & Scientist. He was the teacher of Alexander.

The list goes on but I would stop here and tell the story of ‘Eureka’ & Naked Archimedes:

To be continued… Read Part 2 Here

Ireland – Part 3

(Read Part 2 Here)

Buffet 79
..

Hunger Bust:

I was feeling hungry now; time to head for dinner. From O’Connel Street, I turned left onto Henry Street. It was a pedestrian street and there were many people walking on it. There must be a decent place to eat here I thought. After walking a little further, I saw another turning on the right called Moore Street; a busy street like Jhang Bazaar in Faisalabad. There it was, the “Buffet 79”. I passed in front of it; bustling with customers. I couldn’t resist and went straight in. Wow there was a long long display of dishes from various parts of the world. Restaurant claims to have 79 dishes. It was busy; people from all nationalities were occupying tables and eating food of their choice. All customers were prepaid i.e. pay first and then self-help to food from buffet and eat as much as you like for just 6.50 Euros. Somehow owner trusted & offered me to eat first and then pay so I started. I was not disappointed; all dishes I tried were delicious and authentic. I saw a Chinese person cooking in the open kitchen. Only flaw I could see was that the meat was not of top quality i.e. there were more bones than flesh, but what would you expect for 6.50 Euro anyway? But choice & taste was undeniably great value for money. Satisfied I returned back to hotel to take some rest.

Dishes
Dishes

Irish, Potatoes and Great Famine

Potatoes were introduced in Europe in 1500s. Irish were the first ones to adopt it as staple food. Not much you can grow easily in cold rainy weather but these conditions are quite suitable for potatoes; it is an easy-to-grow, easy-to-store & easy-to-eat crop (more on Potatoes here). It was natural for Irish to become dependent on it for their food requirements. But then came 1846; whole potato harvest which provided about 60% of nation’s food needs was destroyed with a disease “Potato Blight”. This disease repeated itself for about 4 years in a row creating a severe starvation known as “Great Irish Famine”. One million died of hunger & two millions (25% of population) left the country. This is sad isn’t it? But hold on…Even sad is, Ireland was even exporting grain (corn & wheat) at the time. So why famine then?

Irish Countryside
Irish Countryside

Laws Makers, Land Mafia & Hoarding

Although the Great Famine created such a huge gap in food supply that was not possible to compensate. Yet there was sufficient food in Ireland to limit mass starvation. Then why was it not done? It is the same old landlords, land mafia, bureaucracy and inaction of the ruling class that ensured the fate of poor Irish population. Yes, poorest of the society paid the price. To summarise the incident:

  • Land was owned by big landlords; poor farmers had to pay rent to cultivate on it.
  • Around 70% lawmakers (politicians) were landowners themselves or the sons of landowners.
  • Nearly half a million poor were evicted from their homes and farms as they could not pay rents.
  • Instead of feeding hungry, food continued to be exported at the time of famine.
  • Food prices shot to too expensive for poor to buy. Food hoarders & poor distribution system were to blame.
  • Although Government started exporting food from India etc to Ireland but its distribution was not maintained properly so food did not reach the poor.
  • Government also provided soup kitchens in 1847 where poor could eat for free. Up to 3 million were fed by this scheme but it was dismantled just after 6 months.

–          All in all, there was no political will to help people. Leaders, Landowners and rich merchants were united with one motive: “Our interest first”.

Family Evicted
Family Evicted

A full report can be read at BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml

I read in the news recently that 8 infant babies died in one night in one of the main Government Hospitals in Sargodha; not because of a disease but there was no oxygen available to give them in emergency. Many children have died in Ther because there is no drinking water & food is short. Yet, there is huge amount of wheat stored in Government Food Stores – there is no will to help people. Can you see striking similarities between the two situations in Ireland & Pakistan? Law Makers, Land Mafia and Hoarders – All in One & All for One Interest!

Immigration / Emigration

Irish story cannot be complete without mentioning emigration & immigration. Let me explain the terms first; I always confuse these two:

Emigration: Exiting or Leaving a country, such as I emigrated from Pakistan

Immigration: Coming in to a country, such as I immigrated to England.

An estimated 20 Million Irish emigrants & their decedents are living all over the world keeping in mind current Irish population is around 6.5 Million (some websites estimate a higher estimate for Irish emigrants). In any way, Irish are unique nation; there are more Irish living outside than inside Ireland!

Trinity College
Trinity College

Trinity College:

I visit the world famous & Ireland’s oldest university the ‘Trinity College’. It was established in 1592 as the mother of University of Dublin. Only one college was ever established so you can say that University of Dublin and Trinity College are the same thing. It is ranked among best universities in the world. A lot of tourists visit it each year. As I entered the building I could many taking photos of the historic buildings. The library of Trinity Colleague contains 4.5 million books; it is the “Legal Book Deposit” for UK & Ireland, meaning a copy of the book must be kept here of every book published in UK & Ireland. A large number of famous politicians, scientists, writers (e.g. Oscar Wilde) and celebrities have graduated from here.

After walking around for a while, I left the building. Trinity college was established outside Dublin but city expanded and it has become a kind of city-centre now; crowed, hustling and bustling with tourists & locals and shoppers & onlookers alike.

There is an express bus going direct to airport. I walked in the streets for another few minutes and took the bus to airport. Bye Ireland; for now!