Saturday, January 27, 2018

Another gem on the Mediterranean - Malta, the brave



Malta should also qualify for the tiny Countries I have described before, as the country has an area of only 316 km2 and a population under 450 000 inhabitants making it one of the worlds smallest country, yet most densely populated.
A bit of history is however needed to understand this little island. The first human settlement has been recorded already from 5200 BC, when the first settlers arrived from Sicily. Phoenicians arrived to the island around 800-700 BC, but in 216 BC Malta became a Roman municipium.
However, the most interesting part of their history is associated to the Great Siege, when the Ottoman empire tried to invade the island held by the Knights Hospitaller (which symbol was the nowadays known Maltese cross, which remained a very powerful symbol of the country).
The Ottoman Empire mobilized 40000 men against the poor Maltese army of just 6100 men plus 2900 civilian who helped to the fight.
The siege and the battle were recorded as brutal, to use a kind term for it and it last for over three months. Now you might think that three months is a relative short time, but considering the number of the casualties in both sides, three months might have felt like an eternity.
Now, lets come back to what is Malta today, that is a great place where to spend your holidays under the sun. First thing to be said, and a great deal of hint for you who aim to enjoy the treasures of that beautiful island is to get an accommodation in the towns around the capital, Valletta. The reason is that you will find better hotels, and the real life happens outside the capital. However, from towns like St. Julian or Sliema, you can reach Valletta within a few minutes of bus ride (only 1.5 Euros to reach every place in the island) or taking a nice walk of about twenty-thirty minutes.
The whole island offers a great deal of activities, from cultural ones to the discovery of local lifestyle and never to forget the natural beauties. The seafront is full of restaurants, bars and small parks to help people relax and enjoy good food and refreshing cocktails.
One thing that really will attract your attention, as it did with me, is the clarity of the sea water. It is like a liquid mirror between you and the bottom of the sea; really, something that really mesmerizes. Not to mention, of course, the perfection of the blue color of the sea.
Another beauty of the island are the magnificent grottoes that must be seen just to believe. I havent ever seen anything similar, it truly keeps your breath away, because this is not something humans have done. This is offered every day from this fantastic planet we are living on to us, and too many times we are too blind to even notice those beauties.
Believe me, if you have the chance, go to visit Malta; you will never regret.
And with this, I am going, as usual to wish you a great weekend and see you next week!!!
Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Times for hope, with a bitter note. The Wandering Writer in Chechnya



Welcome to this new Saturday story; another week means another journey. This time I bring you something that goes back to the reason that brings me on the road, discovering facts and history. Far from the mere touristic places, I bring you to the Republic of Chechnya, and precisely to Grozny.
Everybody surely remembers the name of the country by the recent history facts, the two Chechen wars (1994-1996 and 1999-2000). We all remember the dramatic images of a city torn down, the people forced to flee as refugees to other countries, the death, and destruction that followed the declaration of independence of the Republic of Chechnya. As a small reminder of the facts, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Chechnya, likewise many other countries declared its own independence from Mother Russia.
The reaction was almost immediate, and Russia planned a massive military action to suppress the separatist movement. The result was the complete destruction of lives and cities and the reintegration of Chechnya to the Russian Federation.
The lucky ones who could flee found shelter in Europe and many of them returned once the conflict was over. The others had to suffer a brutal war, which scars will never be healed or lost their lives.
The first misconception people have about conflict areas is that once the war is over, terrorism, crime, and violence is what is left. Ignoring or not understanding fully that, perhaps people who survived the conflict aim to peace, and to a normal life.
One of my colleagues at work, when I told her that I was going to Chechnya during the Christmas period, looked at me like I was crazy. That is a dangerous place; the crime rate is very high, and they might kidnap you.
Whether this sort of chances might happen, and not just in conflict areas, but also in rather peaceful countries, I had the strong feeling that this was not quite corresponding to the reality of the facts, and the best way to find it out was to go there and see it by my own eyes.
Eighteen years have passed from the end of the Chechen war, and you will be surprised of the changes between the war images and the nowadays life.
Our connection (and guide) was the brother of a guy who knew a friend of my husband (connections are everything in this world!). He told us about the history of the city and guided to visit the surrounding natural beauties. Unfortunately, our time was quite limited so we could not visit everything we wanted, but we tried to make the best out of our stay.
Grozny, as it is today, is a lovely city, which despite being rather small has a lot to offer to the curious eye.

The view of the city from our hotel was impressive, and from tat vantage point we could spot the places we would have visited during our stay. Our connection offered to stay guide us for a couple of afternoons, which gave us a big deal of free time to explore the city on our own.
Just under our hotel, there is the Central Mosque, a great example of the finest Arabic architecture.
Grozny is a city that reminds you about the fact that despite the religion, we are all human beings, and a belief should never be a divide but a personal choice. Just behind the mosque, as you can notice, there was a big Christmas tree, to celebrate the Christmas for the orthodox minority living in the city.
Indeed the majority of the population is Muslim, but they are not very strict and girls wearing a headscarf but also a short skirt are not infrequent.
We were lodged in the best hotel in town, not to show off, but because to enter the Russian Federation you need to have a letter of invitation. In Grozny, unless you have friends there that can guarantee for you, you will have to rely on hotels who offer this sort of invitation service, which means that this was our only choice.
The cuisine you can find is very international, from pizzerias, to hamburger places, sandwich bars, and traditional cuisine restaurants. The traditional cuisine is generally basic, but full of flavors and I truly recommend it, as much as I recommend visiting Grozny.
The place I liked the most was the mountain lake. Although it was very snowy and rather cold, I was fascinated with its beauty. The silence in the area was broken only by the whistling of a gentle breeze.
It is a place for introspection, and to connect with the greatness of nature, compared to which we are nothing but insignificant spots.



With this spectacular view of the Caucasus Mountains, I wish you a great weekend, and I hope you enjoyed this small introduction to the beauty of Chechnya.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

New year's resolutions, have you made yours?

So, the party is over, the streets are back to their normal everyday look, the Christmas tree has been disposed and the decorations placed back in the storage. The champagne is over, and the banquet has been consumed.
What is left, now that the guests have left and the music is silent, is to clean all the mess and to make a few considerations about the new year that has just begun.
Therefore, as well for me it came the time to make some New Year's resolutions.
We all heard the same old story, haven’t we? “I will quit smoking…” “I will lose this amount of overweight…” “I will get a better job…” and many others.
Hold on, weren’t those the same we all made the last year?
Some say that even if you are not going to achieve anything of your resolutions, it is beneficial to your psyche as it adds a mark in your life. It is like you are putting yourself into a fresh new start benchmarking the end of the last year with the start of something new, and hopefully better.
I suppose this is the best part of making New Year’s, without any stress, though. It would be perhaps better to say that “I will do my best.”
Doing your best in everything in your life is already a great start, regardless the real achievement during the whole new year, it marks something that is more feasible.
Sometimes we forget that losing more weight, quitting smoking or whatever bad habit, traveling more, gathering more adventures and experiences, is not really totally up to us.
We might be unlucky and lose our job, so the traveling more becomes a dreaming more. We might face extra stressful periods, and our will becomes weak when our aim was to lose some weight or quit a habit.
However, putting everything in the perspective that we will try really our best in achieving something, maybe makes more sense because this is the part where we can really influence the 100%. Willing to put our best will also give us an extra gear when the times get rough, or when we think we reach the bottom, or when we feel like we are losing our hopes.
I would suggest, and this is exactly what I am doing myself, to put every resolution into this perspective. Therefore, these are my resolutions for the new year:
 1.      I will do my best in believing more in myself, recognizing potentials and accepting limits. I believe that understanding and accepting our personal limits is more helpful than trying to overcome them. They tell us which is the direction where it is worth spending our energies and where it is useless.
2.      I will do my best to write more, but I will not get stressed if things come in my way and I won’t be able to reach my goal fully.
3.      I will do my best to keep my job so I can travel more, experience more, write more and live more.
4.      I will do my best to try and listen to other people’s advice and suggestions.

Most of all, I will try and do my best all over the year, never let the external event to put me down, using weakness to grow my strengths, use bad times to build good times, and generally try and use the negativity so to turn it into positivity.

I do not mean to lecture anyone, but perhaps my point of view can be helpful even to you, who knows?
So we have other 50 weeks to just do our best, and our time starts… NOW!
 As usual I wish you a great weekend and a bright New Year!

Are we really happy?

This is a post about the myth behind the happiest country in the world: Finland. Once again, Finland has been declared the happiest country ...