Cycling Guide to Rotterdam

In my Rotterdam city report, written for Tales from a Small Planet, I raved about how cycling here in Rotterdam is so amazing. Well, now I have written another report about Rotterdam – specifically dedicated to cycling here.

In 2015, Rotterdam, the second-largest city (630.000 inhabitants) of the Netherlands, has finally stepped out of the shadow of the Dutch capital as a tourist destination in its own right. And now it quickly gains world fame as a cycling city. For those unfamiliar with the Netherlands, it is difficult to realise how much cycling is a part of life here. Writing about Dutch cycling culture is like trying to write about the pubs of Dublin, or the café culture of Paris – a mission (almost) impossible. The sheer volume of cycling in Rotterdam is staggering. 80% of people own a bicycle, 160.000 (25%) Rotterdammers cycle daily, and another 200.000 (32%) cycle on a weekly basis. Every day, 560.000 cycle trips are made in Rotterdam and bicycle use has increased by 60% over the past decade.

Read more about cycling in Rotterdam at the Bike Citizens Magazine – www.bikecitizens.net/cycling-in-rotterdam/.

Rotterdam's market

Rotterdam’s market

Rotterdam Central Station

Rotterdam Central Station

Most recent cycling innovation in Rotterdam are the free children buggies, that are available at the guarded bicycle parkings in the city centre.

Most recent cycling innovation in Rotterdam are the free children buggies, that are available at the guarded bicycle parkings in the city centre.

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Tel Aviv city report

A few weeks ago I’ve published a city report on Rotterdam, that I wrote for Tales from a Small Planet (http://www.talesmag.com). Well, I’ve been busy writing another one, on Tel Aviv, where I used to live, and where I am currently visiting. Allow me to introduce you to the city that never sleeps, “the bubble”, the one and only Tel Aviv.

An iconic view of Tel Aviv from the Jaffa promenade

An iconic view of Tel Aviv from the Jaffa promenade

What are your reasons for living in this city (e.g., corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.)?
I came to Israel in 1991 (aged 12), with my family, in the big immigration wave from the Soviet Union, and lived there until 2003.

How long have you been living here? Or when did you live there?
As many young Israeli’s drawn to the big city, I’ve lived in Tel Aviv for a while, between 1999 and 2001.

Was this your first expat experience? If not, what other foreign cities have you lived in as an expat?
It was the first time I lived in another country.

Where is your home base, and how long is the trip to post from there, with what connections?
Nowadays, my home base is in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I visit Israel regularly, as I have family and many friends there. Takes about 4.5 hours by plane.

What are the special advantages of living in this city/country (e.g., touring, culture, saving money, weather, etc.)?
The weather is great for at least 10 months. Its a unique opportunity to experience the place that gets so much attention, and see for yourself what the fuss is all about.

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country?
This I’ll have to get back to in another post here – the topic is a bit too big for a short answer.

Just to give you an idea of the highlights - this is the Negev desert. Just two hours drive from Tel Aviv, and you're not on the edge of it - no, right in the middle!

Just to give you an idea of the highlights – this is the Negev desert. Just two hours drive from Tel Aviv, and you’re not on the edge of it – no, right in the middle!

What is the air quality like (e.g., good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy with comments)?
Good, most of the time the breeze from the sea clears the pollution. When the wind is from the East, can get very bad, but it’s only a few days in a year.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns?
July-August are hot and sticky humid. December to March is the rainy season, but it almost never rains more than 2-3 days in a row.

What kind of insect problems are there, if any?
Cockroaches. Big, flying ones.

Are there any special security concerns?
Uhm… Yes. Its Israel. BUT the crime rates are quite low compared to other Western countries, and besides – nowadays the chances of becoming a victim of a terrorist attack are higher in Paris, London or Brussels. The Israeli traffic is the most dangerous part, and even that is not as dangerous as it used to be.

Housing types, locations, and typical commute time?
Depends on what one includes as “Tel Aviv”. The city itself is small and housing is also small, the outer rings of the metropolitan area contain many typical “sleeping neighborhoods” with more spacious accommodation, but the commute time is also larger.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?
For singles the city center is the place to be. If your can find a good house in the city and your family can handle the city life – go for it. But prices are high.

Is this a good city for gay or lesbian expats?
One of the best, I hear.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
Yes. But that’s the simple answer. Compared to the severity of these issues in the neighbouring countries, like Syria, there are none worth mentioning.

Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city? Comment:
Challenging. Sidewalks are crowded with parked bicycles and motorcycles, public buildings are not necessarily fitted with ramps.

What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “secret or hidden gems”?
The whole country is one big live museum of nature, culture and history. For Tel Aviv itself I’d suggest checking out http://www.spottedbylocals.com/telaviv/. As a former resident who has done his best to explore the city I can certify that the local “spotters” are doing a very good job unveiling spots that are usually under the radar.

Are gyms or workout facilities available? Costs?
Everything is available, from free public gym facilities at the beach to private teachers of every sport you can think of.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?
The American fast-food chains are present but who needs them when local fast food is abundant. Every Israeli has a favorite falafel place, and Tel Aviv has a lively dining scene.

What is the availability and relative cost of groceries and household supplies?
Everything is available but prices are ridiculously high.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?
Credit cards are widely accepted.

What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of terrain, availability of parts and service, local restrictions, duties, carjackings, etc?
I’d suggest bringing a tank, but the fuel prices would kill you.

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?
Reasonably affordable and safe. The national railways do have issues with the unions, so sudden strikes can be a plague.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living?
Most of the local people know sufficient English to get by without knowing any Hebrew. Many signs are Hebrew-only, so learning the Hebrew alphabet is useful.

Size and morale of expat community:
That’s a difficult question, as it depends much on what is included in the “expat community”.There are millions of foreign-born Israeli’s, hundreds of thousands of (mostly Asian) foreign workers employed in construction, agriculture and nursing, tens of thousands of African infiltrators/refugees (depends on who you ask), a constant influx of volunteers working in the Kibbutzs and so on.

If “expats” include only Western diplomats and such, then its probably small, I can’t say much about the morale among them.

Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy?
Without a job permit chances are probably low.

What volunteer opportunities are there?
Numerous. Not sure how diverse are the options without knowledge of Hebrew or Arabic.

What are some typical things to do for entertaining/social life?
The beach. Huge clubbing scene. Mountain biking is growing in popularity. Barbecuing.

Tel Aviv 3

What’s the dress code at work and in public?
At work – depends much on where you work, but usually “casual-plus”. In public “casual” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Believe it or not, this guy is actually at work. How's that for "casual"?

Believe it or not, this guy is actually at work. How’s that for “casual”?

Are there any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Israel has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, so healthcare must be good.

You can leave behind your:
Anything you thought you knew about the place and anything anyone has ever told you about it. Its nothing like you thought it is, no matter what you thought. And don’t bring your politeness either, it will go unnoticed at best.

But don’t forget your:
Balls of steel, elephant skin, all the sarcasm and cynicism you can find. A huge supply of sense of humor. And, of course, your hiking boots. Israel is best explored by foot.

Can you save money?
No.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?
Yes.

Recommended books related to this city (title, author):

  • “The lover”, A. B. Yehoshua.
  • Works of Bernard Lewis, such as “The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years”.
  • 1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War”, Benny Morris.

Take them all with a huge pinch (better yet, a bag) of salt – everyone’s view is politically colored.

Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
“Lebanon” – OK, it takes place in Lebanon, but its set exclusively inside an Israeli tank in Lebanon.

An Israeli tank close to the Lebanese border

An Israeli tank close to the Lebanese border

Any other comments:
Don’t be like the American presidents and Secretaries of State, who think that all it takes is for people to shake hands and stop being so childish. Its not up to you to bring peace, nor is it up to you to lecture the locals about how they should behave and think. Just try to enjoy the good parts, and ignore the bad ones – that’s what everyone else is doing.

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At the centre of Europe

Yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels have been immediately described as “terrorism in the heart of Europe“, “an attack in the centre of Europe” and so on. Is Brussels really the centre of Europe? And if the centre of Europe is not in Brussels, where is it? Previously, I’ve looked into the definition of “Central Europe” but I think that is not the same as the “Centre of Europe”.

Numerous attempts were made to define the geographical centre of Europe. The difficulty in agreeing on the “centre” is due to the unclear definition of Europe – the Eastern boundary is simply arbitrary. Other questions are whether islands are to be included or just the mainland. As one can expect, the EU has its own “midpoint”, the location of which is also not undisputed. But if you want to know more about this, just read the Wikipedia page about the topic.

The political centre of Europe is a completely different story. Brussels is often described as the political centre, since many European institutions are located there. However, the European parliament divides its time between Brussels and Strasbourg, the European Central Bank has its headquarters in Frankfurt, Europol is in the Hague, Frontex is in Warsaw – I guess its clear what I mean. Or not, but its Europe, so get used to it.

I propose a different view on the “centre of Europe”, a more statistical one. Where is the centre of a country? In its capital, naturally. Europe does not have a capital, despite all attempts to create one (previous contenders include Paris, Berlin, Rome and Moscow). Therefore, I looked up the location of the capitals of European countries, and calculated the median and mean of their latitude and longitudes. The median and mean are both close to where the borders of Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic meet.

Center of Europe

Map generated using Scribble Maps

The exact location depends on what counts as “European country”, but will not shift by much. Personally, I find this location quite fitting my expectations of the centre of Europe. It also simplifies the definitions of Eastern, Northern, Western and Southern Europe. This definition will not satisfy everyone, but at least it’s obvious that the centre of Europe is not in Brussels. Ain’t that a relief.

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Smite my neighbours

I’ve recently had a most interesting discussion with Gerard and Alida, who host the blog titled “6 days / 66 books / 6000 years“. The discussion was mostly about whether the Bible should be interpreted literally (as they do) or there is some room for various interpretations (as I think). As they say:

“If you begin to chop and change Scripture and don’t check with other passages that discuss the same issue, you make the Bible a useless guide to the Kingdom of God. So why refer to the Bible at all?”

Since Gerard and Alida make a point of using the whole Scripture as a guide, I feel I can’t respond to that in any other way but re-posting the by now  famous letter to Dr. Laura Schlesinger, discussing the exact issue of literal interpretation of the Scripture. I checked the passages, and they match the quotes in the letter. My only hope now is that Gerard and Alida can help me solve these troublesome issues, as I run into many of the same issues in my daily life as well.

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

 

In response to questions such as these, devout Christians like Gerard and Alida usually argue that the “New” Testament “cancels” the “Old” Testament, and therefore these laws are invalid. I find this argument rather unconvincing. First of all, the wordings of the “New” Testament are quite ambiguous. There are no lines such as “Instructions given in Leviticus 1 to 17 are considered invalid”. Second, it seems that some rules and laws of the “Old” Testament are still valid, as people like Dr. Laura or Gerard and Alida still quote them to support their views. So which parts are still valid and which ones are not?

I would be at a loss here, if I were a Christian. Fortunately, I am a Jew, so the “New” Testament cancels nothing for me. There is only one Testament as far as I am concerned, and the instructions given in it are still valid. Now I only need to find a proper authority on Judaism to help me decide whether I should smite my neighbours.

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Rotterdam city report

Tales from a Small Planet (http://www.talesmag.com) is a website dedicated to helping expats to get credible information about “What It’s Really Like to Live There.” It contains reports from over 350 cities, school reports (where the schools are graded) and essays, fiction and humour about life abroad. The project originates from the U.S. Foreign Service and the reports are mostly written by and for Americans, so I decided to do my best to add a non-American angle to the Tales. Here’s my first contribution, reporting on Rotterdam, my current home town.

Rotterdam Talesmag 1

Rotterdam from the Euromast

What are your reasons for living in this city (e.g., corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.)?
Came here as a student at first (studying at Delft University of Technology). Met a local girl, married, got children. That sums it up pretty much.

How long have you been living here? Or when did you live there?
I have been living in Rotterdam for over 6 years now, after spending 7 years in nearby Delft.

Was this your first expat experience? If not, what other foreign cities have you lived in as an expat?
I lived in 4 other countries before moving to Rotterdam.

Where is your home base, and how long is the trip to post from there, with what connections?
Having lived in the Netherlands for 13 years, by now my home base is here.

What are the special advantages of living in this city/country (e.g., touring, culture, saving money, weather, etc.)?
The classic painting-like Dutch countryside is beautiful, Dutch museums are magnificent, connections to the rest of Europe are superb. And of course cycling here is something quite amazing.

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country?
After so many years spent here, it is hard to choose from so many. Getting married in a medieval townhouse. Sailing on the Dutch lakes. Spontaneous weekends away to another country. The annual International Film Festival in Rotterdam. The insanity when the national team plays football. Cycling. Cycling. Cycling. Hey – its the Netherlands, what did you expect?

What is the air quality like (e.g., good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy with comments)?
The Dutch air looks clean. Its not. Especially in Rotterdam, with its oil industry, fine particles pollution is a serious problem.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns?
Its sometimes hard to tell what season it is without a look at the calendar. They say it can be sunny, warm and calm here, but never all 3 on the same day. That said, its not as bad as some would make you believe. The biggest downside is that good weather seldom lasts longer than a couple of days in a row.

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What kind of insect problems are there, if any?
Mosquitos are a nuisance at some parts. Ticks occur in the countryside. Wasps in late summer. But its not a major issue.

Are there any special security concerns?
Compared to the rest of the world – no. The locals do complain, but its a national hobby. Fact is that crime rates have plummeted in the last decade or so, and in Rotterdam there are no real no-go areas (anymore).

Housing types, locations, and typical commute time?
City center is apartments mostly. Further out its typical suburbia. Commute time in the Netherlands is among the longest in the world, which is surprising for such a small country. But given the amount of cars per square km, which is one of the world’s highest, its not that surprising that rush hour traffic is best avoided here.

What’s the availability of International schools and your experience with them?
There are a few, a recent trend is dual-language education (classes are in Dutch and English).

Are preschools/daycare options available (with comments about your experience and costs)?
Available – yes. If you book way in advance. Expensive, too.

What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Depends a lot on which school it is – the quality varies greatly.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?
For singles and couples – great. For families it can be challenging to find affordable housing and good schools in the same neighbourhood.

Rotterdam Talesmag 4

Some of the playgrounds here are really awesome.

Is this a good city for gay or lesbian expats?
Yes. Another recent trend is that Amsterdam hipsters, including LGBT, are moving to Rotterdam due to the excessive costs of living in Amsterdam.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
Immigrants and their descendants complain about discrimination. Native Dutch grumble about high crime rate and low work-morale among immigrants. You don’t get shot for running while black, so I guess its better than many North-American cities. Zwarte Piet might be a shock for visitors from overseas, but even that freaky colonial legacy is slowly being taken care of.

 

I won’t say too much about the attitudes of many in the local Muslim community towards women, LGBT’s and other religions, especially Jews, enough has been said about it elsewhere. Let’s say there is plenty of room for improvement there. To close this on a positive note – the current mayor of Rotterdam is Ahmed Aboutaleb, of Moroccan origin, who is highly respected by all and is known for his harsh criticism of intolerance in the Moslim community.

Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city? Comment:
Its Holland – famous for its flatness, so I guess its fine. More seriously – most bus stops and such are wheel-chair friendly, and public buildings seem to be fairly accessible.

What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “secret or hidden gems”?
Plenty. For Rotterdam check out http://www.spottedbylocals.com/rotterdam (I used to write for them). In the Netherlands the Wadden Sea and the islands are worth a trip, Maastricht is not to be missed, and I hear diving in the North Sea can be quite a thrill, even if a cold one.

Rotterdam Talesmag 6

Rotterdam is full of “hidden gems”. But I’m not telling you where this one is.

Are gyms or workout facilities available? Costs?
Yes, although I don’t use them myself. The prices vary, but I hear you get what you pay for in terms of quality. There are cheap ones, but if you’re serious about your workout, it may be best to pay more.

Are sports programs available for kids?
A lot, outside the school system usually.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?
An abundant supply. In recent years, a major change for good has happened, in terms of price/quality ratio, diversity and overall quality.

What is the availability and relative cost of groceries and household supplies?
Everything is available. If you choose where you buy, the prices are quite OK. Fresh fruit and vegetables are relatively cheap, especially on the markets.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?
Credit cards are not really welcome here. Not even all ticket machines at train stations accept them. ATM’s are everywhere.

What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of terrain, availability of parts and service, local restrictions, duties, carjackings, etc?
Small. Gas prices are among the highest in the world and parking space is very limited. Buying a second-hand one here is probably better – Dutch are known for keeping their cars well-maintained.

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?
Safe- yes. Affordable – not really.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living?
Everyone here speaks English. Learning Dutch is actually a challenge – locals don’t understand why anyone would bother.

Which English-language religious services are available?
Many. Its a major harbour, so quite a few seafarers churches here.

Is high-speed Internet access available? Cost?
Yes. Around 30 Euro per month for regular connection, high speed may cost more.

Size and morale of expat community:
Lots of foreigners, not sure about the morale.

Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy?
Are you?

  • Proficient in Dutch
  • An EU citizen (or have a work permit)
  • A skilled professional in a high-demand job (IT specialist, teacher of math/physics/German, electrical engineer and so on)
  • Prepared to take any job

If you score on all 4 points – you’ll have employers begging to hire you. Comply with 3 of the 4, and you’ll get a job within a week. Two out of four – your chances are OK. One out of four – its a start, but don’t count on much. Otherwise don’t bother.

What volunteer opportunities are there?
A lot. Really a lot.

What are some typical things to do for entertaining/social life?
The above mentioned International Film Festival Rotterdam is a highlight. So is De Parade – a summer theatre festival. Summer carnival is big, especially with the Caribbean community. The Rotterdam Marathon is huge, with hundreds thousands of spectators along the track. Other big events are Museum Night and Open Monumentendag (Heritage Day).

What’s the dress code at work and in public?
Smart-casual, although the office dress code is more relaxed compared to Germany or France. Rotterdam’s blue-collar roots do show in the relatively high amount of sweatpants worn in public.

Are there any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Health care quality is good and very professional. Dutch doctors are quite reluctant to prescribe medication (which I think is a good thing). So don’t expect to get a prescription every time you see your GP.

You can leave behind your:
SUV.

But don’t forget your:
Cycling skills. Umbrella. Rain jacket.

Can you save money?
Yes, with careful budget planning.

What unique local items can you spend it on?
Cheese, special beers. Antiques.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?
For sure.

Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
“Who am I?”, with Jackie Chan (filmed here in Rotterdam).

Rotterdam Talesmag 3

Rotterdam’s brand new Central Station is yet another architectural highlight.

I hope my contribution to Tales from a Small Planet will inspire more non-Americans to add reports about their experiences abroad. The site is useful and fun to read, and I think that with a bit more diverse input it can become even better. I know I will do my best to diversify the content at http://www.talesmag.com, and of course will re-post my contributions here.

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When the New York Times tries to be positive about Israel

A blog post by Jesus (aka Tony Wolkovitzky) pointed my attention towards an article in the New York Times dedicated to the urban culture of the Israeli city of Haifa. The article is titled “In Israeli City of Haifa, a Liberal Arab Culture Blossoms”, and boy, its a hilarious one. In Haifa, the NYT preaches, “30,000 Arab residents, around 10 percent of the population, include equal numbers of Muslims and Christians, and they are generally wealthier and better educated than Arabs elsewhere in Israel”.

DSC_3242

Haifa is a gorgeous city on the Mediterranean sea

According to the NYT gospel, “This makes Haifa a comfortable place for liberal Palestinians who want not only to escape the constraints of conservative Arab communities but also to be among their own people.” Surprisingly, the place where they can “be among their own people” turns out to be… drums… Jewish neighbourhoods!

“”If you live in a Jewish neighborhood, you are a stranger, and that gives you freedom as an Arab woman,” said Fidaa Hammoud, 32. […] She and her partner live together in a Jewish neighborhood where they run a Palestinian cafe called Rai. “I couldn’t do this anywhere else,” she said.”  The emphasis is mine, as you probably guessed. From the murky description of their relationship I guess Ms. Hammoud is either unmarried or gay, and living in an Arab neighbourhood would be a nightmare for her, even in Haifa.

Essentially, what “makes Haifa a comfortable place for liberal Palestinians” is living alongside a significantly larger Jewish community. It is the Jewish community where they can escape to and where they enjoy the liberties and tolerance. Sadly, both the “liberal Palestinians” and the NYT fail to thank Haifa’s Jewish community even in a footnote.

But hey, what can one expect from a newspaper that produces a headline like “Israeli Woman Stabbed Amid West Bank Exchanges of Violence”, leaving it to the readers to guess, even after reading the article, that the pregnant woman was not “exchanging violence” with anyone but was stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist because she was Jewish.

Back to the Haifa article, the funniest part was the subsequent criticism of the article from Ayed Fadel, the owner of Kabareet nightspot, who is quoted by the NYT as  saying “We want a gay couple to go to the dance floor and kiss each other, and nobody to even look at them, this is the new Palestinian society we are aiming for”. Mr. Fadel’s complete rant is available here, but basically he is pissed about having “been totally used as a “pink washer” with the quote above!!”

The thing is, Kabareet was among the bars and cafes that held screenings for Kooz Queer, the first Palestinian gay film festival. The only place in the Middle East such a festival is even imaginable in is Israel. Yet somehow, for Mr. Fadel, Israel still gets to be the bad guy for allowing the festival to take place. And the NYT pissed him off by not mentioning the “pinkwashing” angle of Kooz.

Let me get this straight (pun intended). A Palestinian LGBT-themed film festival is held in Haifa, Israel. One of its most important topics is the Israeli “Pinkwashing” – the supposed exploitation of the idea of Israel being LGBT-friendly to promote public perception of Israel as a cute and cuddly country. But doesn’t the festival prove exactly the opposite?

First, it shows that Israel is a gay-friendly place – just think how the public and the state would react to a similar event in any of Israel’s neighbouring countries.

Second, it demonstrates quite clearly that Israel is not trying to “pinkwash” itself. Its not like the festival was promoted by Israel as a proof of Israel’s cuddliness. Mr. Fadel probably sees this lack of attention as “being silenced by the Zionist oppressor”, but he’s not going to be satisfied either way, I guess.

Third and finally, by allowing a festival with “pinkwashing” smear theme to take place in a major Israeli city like Haifa, without as much as a grumpy face from a single Israeli official, shows that Israel respects the freedom of expression and opinion, no matter how obnoxious and detached from reality this opinion may be.

I’m not the first nor the only person to note that in the Middle East, this sort of liberal, secular and gay-friendly scene could take place only in Israel, under Israeli laws and protection. The NYT was apparently sufficiently concerned by the criticism to publish not one, but two responses by Margaret Sullivan, the NYT public editor, who “handles questions and comments from readers and investigates matters of journalistic integrity”.

According to Ms. Sullivan, Diaa Hadid, who wrote the original story, disagrees with the claim that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where openly gay persons have freedom and safety. Ms. Hadid points out that “Beirut has a fairly vibrant gay scene”. Perhaps to prove her point, Ms. Hadid can, once she gets the chance, report from a gay film festival in Beirut? In fact, I’d be pleasantly surprised if Ms. Hadid has something positive to report on gay issues from any Arab capital. In the meantime, I wish her all the best exploring the diverse subcultures that peacefully coexist in Israel.

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Best bag for the cycling commuter

My review of commuter’s bicycle bags was published in the Bike Citizens Magazine. Here’s why you should go and read it.

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Who knows, maybe the best commuter bag is not a bag at all… It all depends on what you commute with, I guess.

Often, reviews of products you come across online are useless. Take bicycle commute’s bags, for example. The reviewers pretty much assume you commute with a which bagbackpack, and then throw in a messenger bag as an afterthought. And somehow, none of the bags they review seems to have any flaws. Which is obviously impossible – we all know every product has its limitations.

I think that the poor quality of reviews has two reasons. One reason is that the people who write these reviews don’t know what they are talking about, and write based on hearsay. “We consulted cyclists in The Independent office, and tested a range of bags for all budgets” – that comes from someone who wrote 200 articles in 12 months. Do you really believe she had the time to test 10 bike bags and come with a decent review? Second reason is that these reviews are often published in various lifestyle outlets, dedicated to praising consumer goods. Their goal is to get you to spend – why would they point out the flaws or drawbacks in the products they try to sell you?

That’s why you need people who know their material, and who are not driven by consumerism. People like me. If you need help in choosing a new bicycle bag, check out my review of commuter’s bicycle bags, published in the Bike Citizens Magazine. It is an honest, no-nonsense comparison of the four very different bags I use routinely, written based on decades of cycling experience. I hope it inspires you to cycle more often on your commute, regardless of which bag you use.

The Bike Citizens Magazine will be publishing more of my articles in 2016, stay tuned!

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