A few shots from Malta

Following the Expo madness (it was positive madness and the best professional time of my life…) I needed to get some rest from everything. I needed some internet detox and more importantly some “people detox.” I have been an integrative part of the biggest event of 2015 with peaks of 270.000 visitors in one day…so to speak. Last minute, I bought tickets to Malta where I spent five days. I’m afraid they were not very productive and I basically chilled, slept and ate…yep

But still, it was pretty amazing and I will definetely be back.

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La Valletta as seen from Sliema
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Entering Valletta

Continue reading “A few shots from Malta”

Why Salsomaggiore Terme is the new Berlin


Salsomaggiore Terme is a town and comune in northern Italy. It is located in the province of Parma, in the Emilia-Romagna region, located at the foot of the Apennines. It is a popular Spa town. The water is strongly saline. With its 20.177 inhabitants…

OK let me stop there…

Salsomaggiore Terme (which happens to be my home town) is DEFINITELY NOT the new Berlin. It’s actually a used-to-be-wealthy village which is now just inhabited by old people reminiscing the old good times and very young constant drunkenness. I just wanted to make Jon Worth mad after he wrote this blogpost.This is just a prank. I know Jon personally and follow his work for years now. This is also a reminder that we (in the eurobubble) can be fun sometimes..

Apart from the frivolous attempt of this post,  Jon might have a point. The thing of making random city the “New Berlin” is what happens to other symbol cities.

To me it is quite weird to hear there are so many “Venices” in this world. Apparently Amsterdam, Birmingham, Bruges, Copenhagen, Giethoorn, Hamburg, Saint Petersburg, Stockholmare are all the Venice of the North. Also there is an enormous list of places called Venice of the East…

Ok, maybe for Bruges somehow, but seriously Birmingham??? Birmingham is the Venice of the North… you understand there is little sense in this. Was there ever a Birmingham empire?? As much as I am grateful to Birmingham for giving us The Streets, calling it the Venice of the North is quite a far stretch.

I don’t think there is any other Venice than the one that actually created the Venetian empire, and the same applies to Berlin, its history and life. Anyway, come visit Salsomaggiore Terme, the new…. well, nothing is actually going on there but come visit me over Christmas if you like.

Happy holidays

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An Italian in Mount Athos part 2 – Karies

The boat from Ouranoupoli takes us to Daphni in about an hour. Dafni  is a small settlement on the southern coast of the peninsula between Xeropotamou Monastery and Simonopetra Monastery. It is basically where most travellers on the west coast of the peninsula can get food and whatever else they need before starting they’re journey.

From there, we went to Karies, the capital of Mount Athos. On the beginning was called “Mesi”, in the 11th century it was called “Lavra of Karies” and the 14th century, Skite of Karies. Today is a small village that has some houses, shops and few temples. Here is situated the building of Iera Kinotita (Holy Community), where the representatives of the 20 Monasteries meet. In front of this building stands the temple of Protato, the cathedral of Karies. There is kept the miraculous icon Axion Esti. Opposite the Protato, lies an ancient tower. Inside the tower is the library where is kept the first document of Mount Athos, written on goat skin and called “Tragos”.

As I explained in my previous post, transport is not easy in Agion Oros. After having a very quick look at Karies we need to rush back to Daphni to get our last boat to our final destination of the day. In Karies you find mini buses that leave whenever they are full or whenever they find somebody willing to share the 45€ ride (which is the price of any use of these mini buses). Fortunately, we find a group of Georgian pilgrims we can share the ride with and make it to Daphni back in time. We need to get to Docheiariou before they serve lunch since we know it will be the last real meal we’ll have in the next three days due to the fasting period the monks will undergo for Easter.

An Italian in Mount Athos part 1 – Getting ready


When I was 14 or maybe 15 years old I remember being on the train on my way back from school. My high-school was quite far from home. I had to take two trains a get picked up at the train station every day to just get back home. Even though that wasn’t great (waking up at 6AM for 5 years straight was not the best memory of my adolescence) this daily travelling gave me a lot of time to read (whenever I was not sleeping

I still remember one time I was reading this reportage by an Italian journalist for Focus who went to Mount Athos, the holy mountain of the orthodox church. Since then, I got very keen on visiting the place and this is how I managed to do so over the last Easter break.

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Getting there is not easy. Firstly, only 10 visas for foreigners are granted per day. Secondly, it’s not a place where you just go and find accommodation. You need an invitation from one of the 20 monesteries on the peninsula which can only be reached by boat.

I got all that sorted out with the precious help of my girlfriend and with the company of a Greek friend of mine without which my travelling would have been a lot more complicated.

We met in Thessaloniki and we drove for a couple of hours to Ouranoupoli where we needed to get our visas. Before embarking on the boat all visitors must have been issued a diamonētērion, a form of Byzantine visa that is written in Greek, dated using the Julian calendar, and signed by four of the secretaries of leading monasteries. Clergy of the Orthodox Church are required to obtain permission of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

For laymen there are generally two kinds of diamonētēria: the general diamonētērion that enables the visitor to stay overnight at any one of the monasteries but only to stay in the mountain for several days (more in winter, when there are fewer visitors, than in summer), and the special diamonētērion which allows a visitor to visit only one monastery or skete but to stay as many days as he has agreed with the monks. Well, at least on paper… When I was asked my religion I replied “atheist.” The guy at the office didn’t really like that and to cut a long story short I just asked him to put “catholic” on the document in order to avoid any further discussion.

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So we get on the boat to Daphni where our short journey will be begin.

To be continued…

Middle East Chronicles: Amman

While waiting at the bus station in Jerusalem we bumped into a group of German tourists who ask us: “Why are you going to Amman” and I replied ” What do you mean?” “There’s nothing to see there!” they respond.

When we planned our trip we thought of Amman as a base to visit Jordan but we didn’t know much about what the city offers. Besides, the Jerusalem – Amman journey (about 70 km) took us over 10 hours, so we were happy to just chill for a night. Thanks God, Marwan and Layan took us to a very nice restaurant where we could catch up some energy and enjoy some really nice food and great narguilé. It really recharged out batteries.

Amman forms a great base for exploring Jordan and does, despite popular belief, hold a few items of interest to travellers. The city is generally well-appointed, reasonably well-organized, and the people are very friendly. To my experience many Ammanians understand some English especially all taxi driver and hotel staff. Even in a small kebab shop (where we could have a 1 dinar kebab) the owner spoke good English and was quite friendly. Charmingly, the most commonly known English phrase seems to be “Welcome to Jordan”. There is no obligation to wear an Islamic headscarf and many women do not.

Amman is experiencing a massive (some would say: reckless) change from a quiet sleepy village to a bustling metropolis. Amman’s roads have a reputation of being very steep and narrow in some parts of the city but now the city has state of the art highways and paved avenues.

A city built of white stone, Amman’s growth has skyrocketed since it was made the capital of Trans-Jordan in the early 1920s, but especially after the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees settled. Another wave arrived after the second Iraq war, with Iraqi refugees forming the majority of newcomers.

Its history, however, goes back many millennia. The settlement mentioned in the Bible as Rabbath Ammon was the capital of the Ammonites, which later fell to the Assyrians. It was dominated briefly by the Nabataeans before it became a great Roman trade center and was renamed Philadelphia. After the Islamic conquests, Amman became part of the Muslim empire, until the Ottomans were forced out by the Allies, with the help of the Hashimites, who formed a monarchy that continues to rule until the present.

Today, West Amman is a lively, modern city. The eastern part of the city, where the majority of Amman’s residents live, is predominantly the residential area of the working class and is much older than the west.

After dinner we go sleep early and organize our next excursion. A less “historically interesting” day chilling on the coast of the Dead Sea.

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A view of Amman by night

A social media analyst’s visit to Israel

I’m off to Israel and Jordan this week. As a social media analyst and a Middle-East enthusiast (although my Arabic classes did not bring me very far on the lingustic level) I made some research about what to know about social meda in Israel. Much credit should be given to Danish diplomat Karen Melchior who pointed out to me many interesting articles on the topic.

  • Start-Up Digital Diplomacy: Innovating Israel’s Social Engagement

by dhosier

The story of how one foreign mission innovated its diplomatic engagement with global society from the bottom-up.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/dhosier/startup-digital-diplomacy-innovating-israels-social-engagement-6622639&#8243; title=”Start-Up Digital Diplomacy: Innovating Israel’s Social Engagement” target=”_blank”>Start-Up Digital Diplomacy: Innovating Israel’s Social Engagement</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/dhosier&#8221; target=”_blank”>dhosier</a></strong> </div>

Both sides kept up live commentary on Gaza attack in which key Hamas leader was killed in attempt to corral world opinionhttp://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-16/israel-twitter-and-the-line-between-free-speech-and-violence …

  • Israel, Twitter, and the Line Between Free Speech and Violence

By Mathew Ingram November 16, 2012

Smoke rises following Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip–seen from the Israel Gaza Border, southern Israel, on Nov. 16, 2012.

If you’ve been following the social-media campaign recently unleashed by the Israeli army on a multitude of platforms—from Twitter and Facebook (FB) to Instagram and Tumblr—as part of its attack on Hamas guerillas in the Gaza Strip, you know that we are seeing the birth of a whole new way of experiencing a war: in real time, and with live reports from the combatants themselves. But while some might argue that more information about such events is good, it also highlights just how much of our perception of such a conflict comes to us through proprietary platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and YouTube (GOOG). What duties or responsibilities do they have (if any) to monitor or regulate that information?

How important were Twitter, Facebook and other social media in toppling regimes in the Arab Spring uprisings?

Amid a fierce debate in academic circles, an upcoming book argues that social media and new technology made a key difference in successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and helped foster grassroots movements in other Arab nations.

Sarah A. Tobin

Dr. Tobin is a Mellon Post Doctoral Fellow in Islamic Studies at Wheaton College. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from Boston University.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was watched closely during the early events of the Arab Spring in 2011. Many Western analysts expressed concerns that it would be the next country in which large protests and social and political mobilization would shift the

“You call this violent language?” The IDF’s social media spokesperson sees online posts as just another way to spread the same message, “without the touch of an editor.”

Middle East Chronicle: Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Right, after telling you about our small adventure at Tel Aviv airport we are off to a day visit of the city. What strikes us from moment one is the level of westernization of this place. It doesn’t look Middle Eastern at all. Tall skyscrapers, bicycles lanes, actual bus lines with timetables, hipsters. This place is way more similar to Barcelona or Berlin than Beirut or Cairo.Street_Art_in_Tel_Aviv

Tel Aviv is really a rapidly growing city in the midst of an exciting transition from medium-sized urban center to bustling international metropolis. Its booming population, energy, edginess and 24-hour life style give the city a cosmopolitan flair comparable to few other cities in this part of the world. Tel Aviv is likely the most liberal city in Israel and in the Middle East – as it is no-less liberal than Western Europe’s liberally-inclined major cities. It has a bustling civil society and is home to many activist movements and NGOs. Its residents tend to have liberal attitudes towards gay and lesbian rights, and, in fact, Tel Aviv hosts the largest gay pride parade in Israel (the only country in the Middle East where homosexuality is not considered illegal).

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With its liberalism comes a dose of sophistication and some will say detachment, and Tel Aviv is often dubbed “The Bubble” or “Medinat Tel Aviv” by residents and non-residents alike. Some ultra-Orthodox Israelis have even dubbed the city a modern day “Sodom and Gomorrah”, due to its hedonistic lifestyle. It is also very common to see head shop and smell marijuana in the middle of the very centre as in fact there seems to be a pretty liberal policy on soft drugs consumption.

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We take a stroll on the beach, originally hoping for a swim, but an unusual massive sandstorm ruined our plans. We even entered a bar where even the inside couches were just covered in sand.

A VERY BAD HABBIT that people working in the bar-restaurant area have is that they ASK FOR TIPS. Ok, I’m Italian and we are not used to tipping. It’s just not in our culture also because in most restaurants you pay a small service fee. Anyway, this means that when we tip we do it because we have received a great service and we enjoy rewarding the waiter or receptionist whatsoever. All the time in Tel Aviv they ask you “Should I keep the change? How much do you want to add as a tip in the bill?” Apart from the first brunch place we went to, which was fantastic, I found it incredibly annoying to receive such requests for a simple, and mostly overpriced, beer or tea. In the beach bar I mentioned before we spent some 40 shekels (8 Euros) for 2 tiny cups of tea. I handed the guy a 50 and he said “Should I keep that change?”To which I replied “No, you should not”. If you go to Tel Aviv don’t hesitate to say NO. They will always push you for that. Screw that, honestly.Tel_Aviv_house

Anyway, as the centre didn’t seem to offer much, unless you are on a business trip, we headed towards Jaffa. Jaffa is one of the world’s oldest ports. It was here that the prophet Jonah started the journey that left him in the belly of a big fish (not a whale as is the common misconception!) and Andromeda was tied to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster, before later being saved by Perseus. It was also here where Peter the Apostle received a vision marking a significant ideological split between Judaism and Christianity.

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The smallish gulf of Jaffa has been the site of a fortified port town for at least 4000 years. The old city walls could no longer contain the population, and they were destroyed in the 1870s. New, more spacious neighborhoods started to appear. We also managed to find a very beautiful and hidden Greek Orthodox church where a priest was teaching the Bible to a family in Russian.

Jaffa is more Arab. You can already perceive a different and more exotic hustle and bustle on the way up to the souq and the main square. In July 2003 Tel Aviv-Yafo was declared a cultural UNESCO World Heritage site for the many “International” style (also known as Bauhaus after the German school it originated from) buildings built in the city during the 1930s-50s. As this style emphasized simplicity and the white color, Tel Aviv is in fact also called the White City.

A long day and a very early wake expect us the following day, so after having an amazing dinner nearby our hostel we head back. On a related matter and to highlights some bad practices services wise you can find in Israel, when we got to hostel after visit to Jaffa and having walked some 12-13 km, the hostel owner told us to stay for shwarma and after waiting 45 minutes he said he ran out of it. We were so pissed off and starving and this guy even chased us when we headed out to look for food. We thought he wanted to apologise. Actually, he came out shouting that “a hostel is not a restaurant and it wasn’t his fault we didn’t get any food. All this with his mouth full of hummus and chicken. We surely kept this in mind for our review on bookings.

Leila saida.

Coming next Nazareth and Galilee

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