Tag Archives: History

Travel as a Feminist: International Women’s Day 2017

Powerful women standing back to back and wearing embroidered headbands and tribal face paint against blurred background

Happy International Women’s Day! Being a feminist and being a travel addict can sometimes cause problems, from the politics of travel safety advice to the never-ending stream of sexist travel campaigns (ahem, Air New Zealand flight safety video featuring bikini-clad girls…). However, when you dig deeper, you’ll find enlightened feminist views across the world.

Today, the International Labour Organisation published the ILO-Gallup report, revealing that 70% of women and 66% of men (from nearly 149,000 people surveyed) would like women to be paid for their work. These positive findings included support from many women in countries where paid employment is rare, such as the UAE.

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Three Powerful Books for Holocaust Memorial Day

Books featuring the Holocaust, including legal history and personal accounts

Today marks Holocaust Memorial Day and, for as long as I can remember, this leads to annual news stories not just about commemorative events, but about the ignorance that a lot of us have around the Holocaust and everyone affected by it.

For a prime example, see the idiotic posers at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, called out by the brilliant Yolocaust web project, which has now been taken down after mixed but generally positive feedback.

Sadly, anti-Semitism has never totally disappeared. There have been reports of Holocaust survivors being abused in the street and, in a cruel modern twist, Jewish Twitter users being targeted and mercilessly trolled because of their religion and heritage. Even Google search results have been manipulated by the far-right.

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Exploring Tallinn’s Patarei Prison

Patarei Prison in Kalamaja, Tallinn, with broken windows and sea fortress architecture against blue sky

Patarei Prison is certainly strange, but overwhelmingly sad, rather than creepy, in the evening light. It’s silently and slowly decaying, the once proud fort that’s now shedding its last layer of skin, generous flakes of Soviet-era oil-based paint in muted colours. Tallinn’s formidable sea fortress no longer keeps anyone from the outside world: instead, it’s full of weeds, rust and damp.

Sadly Patarei was permanently closed to visitors from 7th October, as it’s become too unsafe, but it’ll reopen in the future with full access and hopefully a museum in place. In the meantime, you can see the exterior from Beeta promenade, but I want to share why the site is so important.

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Where to Find Hygge in Copenhagen

Cosy Copenhagen houses, perfect for hygge

Hygge (pronounced HOO-GAH) is the lifestyle trend that just won’t die. It’s a not-quite-translatable word that represents a feeling of cosiness and contentment, often found through enjoying nature, snuggling up in a warm nook, catching up with a few friends or enjoying some proper comfort food and maybe a mug of hot chocolate.

Though the word originated in Norway as a rough description of wellbeing, it really took hold in Denmark from the 18th century, and it’s now one of the most fundamental pillars of Danish life. The inclusions are broad, from a fun-loving bloke you meet (that’s a hyggelig fur) to a welcoming house bursting with food (just really hyggelig). In contrast, somewhere cold, dark and unfriendly would be uhyggeligt, but so too would someone addicted to technology. Told you it was hard to explain.

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What it’s Like to Visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum, New York

9/11 Memorial Museum Outside View with Pool and Carved Names

It doesn’t feel like 15 years have passed since the 9/11 attacks, nor two years since the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened at Ground Zero. Yet, somehow, they have, and the memorial site at Ground Zero is so familiar and so firmly embedded on the tourist route that a group of lads on a stag party (or bachelor party, to American readers) will nonchalantly pose in front of the two sobering memorial pools, a blow-up doll alongside them.

The stag photos rightly caused controversy this week, but the outrage didn’t extend to the preening and pouting fellow tourists around them. One couple took a kissing selfie, perhaps blissfully unaware of their surroundings or just too self-absorbed to care. The thing is, it’s a privilege to stand at the memorial. It should be a place where you stop to reflect, whether you choose to go to the adjoining museum or not. If you are brave enough to face the Memorial Museum, this is what you can expect.

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Tracing the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin

Crowds around the General Post Office in Ireland in the wake of the Easter Rising

Sick of living under British rule, and tired of being asked to support their British oppressors in WWI, a faction of Irish citizens planned to take action in Dublin on the Easter weekend of 1916. 100 years later, the world remembers the Easter Rising, and Dublin still bears the scars.

Though many rebels got cold feet and one leader actually called off the Rising on 23rd April 1916, the remaining fighters dug trenches and took strongholds as arranged on 24th April, in the name of the Free Irish Republic. Their proclamation was issued from the General Post Office, which became their command hub from Easter Monday and was left gutted by the end of the fighting on 29th April.

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Planning a Trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau: Independent or Guided?

Last remains of outlined Birkenau concentration camp blocks with brick block in foreground

You don’t decide to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau on a whim, so it’s crucial to make the most of your time there. In my last post I covered the emotional impact of visiting the two camps, but now I’m focusing on the practical side.

Do you want to take the bus, the train, a pre-booked coach trip (with or without a tour included), or would you rather hire a driver? When you arrive, would you prefer to wander alone or join a group? If you’re indecisive, or a bit confused by conflicting opinions from other travellers, take a deep breath, grab a cuppa and we’ll go through the options.

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Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau

Haunting camp sign Arbeit Macht Frei with group entering concentration camp on tour

There’s so much to tell you about visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau that I’ve split this into two posts: first the emotional side of things, then the practical side. It’s important not to let logistics overtake the reasons you’d want to visit: to learn, to pay respects, to remember, and to pass on what you’ve seen.

My mum and I arrived on a cold but sunny March morning and joined a group tour with an official guide. This was what we discovered under bright blue skies.

What to Expect

Auschwitz I looks less like a traditional camp and more like a forlorn housing estate, because it used to be an army barracks, whereas Birkenau’s low wooden buildings were stables for horses before they housed people, and the brick buildings came later. Life goes on around the camps, with houses and businesses on their very fringes, and signs directing you to KFC. Monowitz-Buna, one of the satellite camps, was based further away and doesn’t exist anymore, but our guide pointed it out from Birkenau as laying beyond the two industrial towers in the distance.

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Välkommen Till Sverige: Sweden’s White Buses

Swedish, Norwegian and Danish concentration camp survivors in 1945 after being rescued. Black and white photo for Vi magazine.

How do you save people from concentration camps when there’s a war raging across Europe and beyond? It’s a big question, but the answer sounds scarily simple: in the case of Scandinavia, you get permission from Himmler himself, then commandeer some buses, ambulances and trucks, collectively called the White Buses. You use a volunteer network to drive them from Theresienstadt, Dachau and Ravensbrück through war-torn Europe to the safety of Malmö’s medieval castle.

Last year I went to Malmö and saw the extraordinary place where those liberated spent their first weeks of freedom. Unsurprisingly, it gave me the research bug.

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More to Malta: Sailing and Sightseeing in the Mediterranean

Historic buildings and fort in Valletta, Malta, with yachts and sea view

I don’t often include guest posts on the blog, but I couldn’t resist this one. Like me, Jennifer Wolfe has fallen for Malta and its islands, and she knows you can see even more of them from the water. If you’ve never been, prepare to be tempted now…

Although it’s becoming more popular with UK travellers, Malta still isn’t as widely known as it should be. The islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino retain the feel of an out-of-the-way place, dense with history and echoes of the various cultures from conquerors over the years, and they deserve to be discovered.

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