A not so splendid isolation

Never was so much messed up for so many by so few. That pretty much sums the Brexit experience.

The post-Brexit referendum reality turned out to be worse than the gloomiest predictions. British stocks have taken a beating, the pound fell through a dark hole and the repercussions are being felt around Europe and the world. Nevertheless, these are the first panic reactions and it is best to wait for a while and see if things will be settling down. The long-term consequences are still unclear, but as a mental experiment, it is useful to try and catch a glimpse of what the future holds, based  on current trends. Fasten your seat belts, hold on to your hats and join me as we fast forward to… let’s say the year 2020.

Independence
The main slogan of Leave was “taking our country back”. What they did not mention was that “back” meant “300 years back”. Brexit meant independence alright. Scottish independence. As the negotiations between UK and the EU lead to nothing, Scotland voted to leave and declared its independence. Since it had already implemented all EU regulations and satisfied all demands, Scotland was welcomed immediately into the EU, on the condition it will join the Euro zone within 5 years. Empowered by Scotland’s success, Northern Ireland held  a similar referendum, with an extra question – join Ireland or become an independent state. They joined Ireland. Welsh nationalism saw a surge after Wales’ surprise victory at Euro 2016. English-Welsh tensions are reaching boiling point, as both countries are set to meet in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 at Wembley. Oddly, these developments “fix” the old mismatch. Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales were always members of UEFA and played international football while technically not being fully independent. As the UK and Britain are now history, the football countries now match UN member countries.

The economy
What economy? The economy of England has been annihilated. London banks left to Frankfurt, Paris, Dublin and Amsterdam. The credit rankings of England were slashed, leading to massive rise in national debt and falling pound caused a runaway inflation, only held in check by plummeting housing prices. Having failed to negotiate a trade agreement with the EU, England is now facing steep tariffs and taxes, pushing up the prices for imported goods like food and medicine. With the supply of Europe’s brightest students and staff to English universities cut off, tech companies are fleeing to the continent. Chinese, Indian and American students also no longer come, not wanting to study in a country that is cut off from its continent.

Immigration
Oh my. Brexit did stop EU immigration into England. With no agreement in place, EU citizens in England were given two years to apply for a job permit or leave. Not that most of them wanted to live any longer in a country plagued by the biggest recession in 300 years. EU countries each set their own rules with regard to English residing there. Most were lenient, bot some viewed the English pensioners as an easy prey and a cash cow, imposing new taxes on their savings and property. Many retirees were unable to meet the new regulations and returned to England, putting an extra strain on the NHS, already desperately understaffed after the doctors and nurses left to the EU. Tensions in Northern Ireland and Scotland caused massive English immigration into England, with the best and most capable choosing for Canada and Australia instead. Young and educated English are massively immigrating to Ireland, Scotland and mainland Europe, usually via the “Scottish route”, where they discover their Scottish roots that grant them the right to Scottish citizenship and free movement in the EU. The flight of the creative class has left parts of London, Manchester and other English cities ghost towns, only partly filled by remigrating pensioners.

All this is of course a doom scenario. The worse that could happen. But I’m afraid even 1/10th of the above will be devastating for England, Britain and possible Europe as well.

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I’m sorry, Boris…

In a few months, maybe even just a few weeks, Boris Johnson, PM, will be in Brussels, knocking on the door of the office of Jean-Cleadue Juncker, President of the European Commission.

– Come in, Boris (says JC).

-I come to negotiate (goes Boris).

-The terms of your surrender?

-Ha ha, very funny, JC. No, the terms of our new trade agreement.

-Oh, well, it was worth a shot. Have you handed in the forms that go with the application to withdraw from the EU, according to Article 50?

-Erhmmm… No, I haven’t. Is it really necessary?

-Well, Boris, let me see what I can do for you (pretends to be typing on his computer). I’m sorry, Boris, but COMPUTER SAYS NO!

At which point all other government leaders hiding in the corridor and eavesdropping through the door can’t hold themselves and burst in roaring laughter.

I hope someone will be smart enough to install a hidden camera. The look on Boris’ face – priceless.

 

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To Brexit or not to Brexit?

The Brexit referendum is looming, and this may (or may not) be a major milestone in European history. I was planning to write a serious, thoughtful article about this whole Brexit thing. How it might mean the end of the UK, with Scotland leaving to join the EU, and Northern Ireland following suit. I thought of mashing up that ridiculous, fear-mongering article Boris Johnson wrote about the Scottish referendum. You know, the one subtly titled “Scottish independence: Decapitate Britain, and we kill off the greatest political union ever”. Like, rewriting his article and replacing “Scottish” with “British”, and “Britain” with “European Union”. Would be fun to read Boris’ writing along the lines of:

Brexit: Decapitate the EU, and we kill off the greatest political union ever

By Boris Johnson

The British are on the verge of an act of self-mutilation that will trash our global identity.

Right: it’s time to speak for the European Union. If these polls are right, then we are on the verge of an utter catastrophe for this continent. In just 5 days’ time we could all be walking around like zombies – on both sides of the English Channel. I don’t just mean that we will be in a state of shock, though that will obviously be true: most people (especially the British) have yet to think through the horrific financial and constitutional implications of a British-EU divorce.

As I sat down to write my article, I started with a bit of background research. What is the referendum question, whether it is binding or not, that sort of things. Naturally, the first place I went to for information was Wikipedia. And then I realized, that I don’t need to write much about Brexit. One paragraph from the Wikipedia article about the Brexit referendum tells the whole story.

A Remain vote is supported by the British government, most economists, the leaders of the USA and the rest of the EU countries, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the G20, the IMF, and all living past and present Prime Ministers. The Leave campaign is supported by Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Gove, UKIP, the UK fishing industry and James Dyson, the founder of Dyson.

So there you go. The UK government, the world leaders, financial institutions, thoroughly British businesses such as Rolls Royce and BAE Systems, historians, economists, healthcare professionals and scientists, and so on and on and on, all support Britain remaining in the European Union.

On the other hand, UKIP, the Communist Party, the majority of British fishermen, Aspall Cider (cidre manufacturing company), Go Ape (outdoor adventure company) and the Portsmouth City Council are in favour of Britain leaving the EU. And of course Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are also in favour of Brexit.

Dear Britons, in a few days it is up to you to decide on the future course of your country. Make up your own mind, and in case you’re still in doubt, the full list of endorsements is here. But do think of this – are a few more tons of fish worth it? Do you want to have a passport control booth on the border with Scotland? Is Putin the best of friends? When was the last time you agreed with the Communist Party? Right. Now stop being silly, would you?

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Best of Israel – Part I

Whenever I come to Israel, which is about once a year, I tend to go to the same places. Some out of habit, some because of friends and family living there, some because I just like them so much. Over the years, I’ve come to refer to these places as my “stations of the cross”. This is in parallel with the  14 stations of the cross in Jerusalem, the “points of interest” on the route Jesus supposedly walked on the Via Dolorosa, carrying the cross to the place of his execution.

  1. The Temple Mount
    No visit to Israel is complete without it. I usually get no further than the Western Wall, as a visit to the Temple Mount itself involves an early rise, a long wait and an extensive security check. But it should go without saying that if there’s one place that can not be missed in Israel, it is this one. A tour of the Western Wall Tunnel is highly recommended.

    Everybody visits The Wall

    Best of Israel 11 Best of Israel 10

  2. Church of the Holy Sepulchre
    I’m not a Christian, but I doubt a visit to the holiest place in Christendom would leave anyone without a lasting impression. The place is a maze of passages, halls and tunnels, dimly lit by candles and filled with smoke, singing and rituals at any time of day. The notorious Immovable Ladder symbolizes the state of confusion religion can lead to. My favourite spot of the Church is the Ethiopian monastery on the roof – just trying to find it is a sport on its own.
    Best of Israel 7 Best of Israel 6

    The Immovable Ladder

    The Immovable Ladder

    The Ethiopian monastery

    The Ethiopian rooftop monastery

  3. The Old City Walls Promenade
    The medieval walls of the Old City of Jerusalem can be walked almost along their entire length. The total ~4 km hike is actually quite challenging as it involves climbing up and down ladders and squeezing through narrow passages. From the height of the walls, you get a unique perspective into the Old City and its surroundings, and can get an intimate look into how this dense, congested (physically and spiritually) city lives and breathes.
    Best of Israel 9 Best of Israel 4 Best of Israel 3
  4. Israel Museum
    This huge institution in Jerusalem is worth visiting if only to see for yourself the Dead Sea Scrolls. The museum is full of treasures, depicting the ancient and modern history of Israel and its neighbours, presenting classic and modern art, preserving and presenting Jewish heritage and so on. Besides the Scrolls, my personal favourites are the copper and gold treasures from the Chalcolithic period and the interior of the Paramaribo synagogue.

    The Shrine of the Book, in the Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are preserved

    The Shrine of the Book, in the Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are preserved

  5. Tel Aviv beach
    In sharp contrast to the devotion and piousness of Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv beach line combines the best of Miami and California, with a Mediterranean flavour to it. It is one of Israel’s biggest treasures and a unique selling point, as depicted in countless commercials. For me, what makes this beach so much fun is the mix of people on it. The elderly locals come up early for their morning coffee, the tourists  bake in the sun during the day, the party people come out at night. Bikini’s and bourkini’s share the waves, the gay beach is next to the religious beach, where men and women come on different days. Best part is of course the drum jam sessions on Dolphinarium Beach, on Friday afternoons.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNk8kgdtRGE
  6. Dr. Saadya
    Every Israeli is sure he/she knows the best falafel place in the country. This one is my pick. More than “just” falafel, its a symbol of Tel Aviv and its turmoil. Its a warm city, that lives on the streets. Dr. Saadya falafel is on King George Street, one of the main drags in town, connecting the upper class Northern neighbourhoods to the Carmel Market. Whenever I am around, I always come in for a falafel, a strong coffee, and some small talk with the owner and the regular customers, as the flow of people is rushing up and down the street.

  7. Caesarea
    The Romans left a wealth of heritage across Israel, and Caesarea is the most prominent example of Roman legacy. Its sunken harbour still holds numerous treasures, as witnessed by recent discoveries of thousands of Fatimid era golden coins and late Roman bronze cargo. Imagine discovering a hoard of gold on your regular snorkelling swim! The fit visitors can hike into town along a challenging track, following the course of the aqueduct all the way from the water source in the hills. The hike is like a tour of history, stretching all the way back to the Neolithic period.

    Not every underwater wreck in Caesaria's harbour is an ancient treasure

    Not every underwater wreck in Caesarea’s harbour is an ancient treasure

    Caesaria overview

    Caesaria overview

    Walls and moat of Crusader Caesaria

    Walls and moat of Crusader Caesarea

To be continued…

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Leiden on a cloudy day

I’ve happened to be in Leiden last week, on a wet, windy, grey day. I wandered through the city, snapping random pictures, with my son sleeping in the stroller. The Leiden marathon was held that day, and the few people who were outside, gathered around the route to watch the race. The images, empty of people, make it seem like I had the whole city to myself on that Sunday in May.

Leiden 1

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Leiden 5

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Leiden 15

Leiden 16

All photos are made using my LG G3 phone, in automatic mode.

 

 

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Best of Holland

When writing the city reports for http://www.talesmag.com, I’ve had some difficulty filling in the part about the highlights and advantages of living in a place. Where do you start, when you’ve lived somewhere for over a dozen years? I have given it some thought, and tried to imagine what would I miss most, if I moved to another country. These are the things which to me make the Netherlands a pleasant place to live in.

  1. Cheese
    The Dutch cheese is world famous. But I’m sure many people will wonder “Is cheese something really worth raving about? How fascinating can Dutch cheese be?” I guess it’s one of those things you need to learn to appreciate, over time. Before I moved to Holland, I had no idea that plain ol’ cheese can be so diverse and so damn good.

    Alkmaar cheese market

    Alkmaar cheese market

  2. Museums
    The Netherlands has the highest museum density in the world. There’s a museum for everything here. Tobacco, Jenever, Taxes, Dredging – it can’t get any weirder. And I’m loving it. I’m a museum freak, and even though I enjoy the classic big museums, I get the greatest satisfaction from a visit to one of these obscure museums, where you actually learn things no one else knows. Nothing like small talk about dredging to break the ice at a party.
  3. Cycling
    To the Dutch, cycling is second nature. Some local children learn to cycle before they learn to walk, I kid you not! In fact, the cycling culture and facilities were one of the reasons I chose to come to the Netherlands in the first place. Cycling here is something completely different and it would take a lot of getting used to, should I live anywhere else.

    Cycling in Amsterdam

    Cycling in Amsterdam

    Cycling in Rotterdam

    Cycling in Rotterdam

  4. Location, location, location
    So yes, the Dutch weather sucks sometimes. There are no mountains here, no empty spaces. But one of the major advantages of living in the Netherlands is that its so easy to leave the place. Jokes aside, it is hard to rival the Netherlands in terms of connectivity. In a radius of 1000 kilometres from where I live lie the capitals of 15 other countries, all accessible by a cheap flight of 1.5 hours. Best of all, its possible to board a train in the morning and be in Berlin or Paris by lunch, or even at the Med by the evening.

    Budget airline - use with caution

    Budget airline – use with caution

  5. Efficiency
    A couple of weeks ago, I’ve noticed one of the light poles in front of my house was corroded at the base. I took a photo, uploaded it at the municipality’s website and ticked its location on the map. The next morning, city workers were on the spot, and a new light pole was installed before noon. That kind of efficiency is hard to beat.

    Fixed within hours!

    Fixed within hours!

What are the things that make your small European country a pleasant place to live in? Add your comment, or, if you feel inspired, I’d be happy to publish your guest contribution here.

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Zurich city report

The final (for now) city report I wrote for Tales from a Small Planet (http://www.talesmag.com) is about Zurich. Its one of the most expensive places in the world to live in, but Zurich offers an amazing quality of living, that far outweighs the costs.

Zurich 3

What are your reasons for living in this city (e.g., corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.)?
Studied at the ETH Zurich.

How long have you been living here? Or when did you live there?
6 months, in 2008.

Was this your first expat experience? If not, what other foreign cities have you lived in as an expat?
Lived in 3 other countries before coming to Zurich.

Where is your home base, and how long is the trip to post from there, with what connections?
Nowadays, it is in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and it takes a 1 hour flight or a night train to get there from Zurich.

What are the special advantages of living in this city/country (e.g., touring, culture, saving money, weather, etc.)?
Switzerland is the most beautiful country in Europe. Period.

Matterhorn

Matterhorn

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country?
Participated in the SOLA running race around Zurich. Cycled around Lake Zurich. Partied with the Dutch fans during Euro 2008. Climbed several mountains. Actually learned a few things at the ETHZ, too.

Rhine Falls

Rhine Falls

What is the air quality like (e.g., good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy with comments)?
Excellent.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns?
Winters are moist, and can be snowy. Summers are warm, with regular short thunderstorms in the evenings.

Zurich 1

What kind of insect problems are there, if any?
None that I know of.

Are there any special security concerns?
Avalanches in the mountains.

The Swiss Army is there to protect you, even if it takes a 200-year old mortar

The Swiss Army is there to protect you, even if it takes a 200-year old mortar

Housing types, locations, and typical commute time?
Apartments, mostly. City centre is prohibitively expensive, but public transport is, well, Swiss-efficient.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?
Its a fine city for everyone but rather expensive. The price-quality ratio is superb, that is, you get value for money here.

Is this a good city for gay or lesbian expats?
I guess. Haven’t heard of any major issues.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
The Swiss are not racist. That would imply they discriminate people. They don’t discriminate except between Swiss (=good) and not Swiss (=mwah).

Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city? Comment:
Lots of cobblestones and steep streets. Public transport and buildings are probably fine.

Sunrise at Uetliberg

Sunrise at Uetliberg

What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “secret or hidden gems”?
The Uetliberg rising above Zurich is a wonderful place to watch the sunrise, and then hike along the ridge. The botanical gardens, both the old and the new ones, are lovely spots. The many museums of the Zurich University are quite interesting http://www.uzh.ch/en/outreach/museums.
http://www.spottedbylocals.com/zurich has plenty of other useful tips.

Are gyms or workout facilities available? Costs?
As a student, I had access to the facilities of the ETHZ, and they are magnificent.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?
Everything is available, for an exorbitant price.

What is the availability and relative cost of groceries and household supplies?
Everything is available, but its probably cheaper to shop across the border. Germany is only 40 km away, so many people go there for groceries and many services.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?
Broadly available and 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?
A supercar, so that you don’t stand out in the crowd. Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, that sort of thing.

A good bicycle is a valid alternative to a car here

A good bicycle is a valid alternative to a car here

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?
Yes, they’re fine. Best public transport in the world, no doubt.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living?
At least a bit of German would be quite helpful. The Zurich variant of Swiss-German is exceptionally difficult to understand, so abandon all hopes to learn German while you’re here.

On the other hand, you can learn kayaking right in the middle of the city

On the other hand, you can learn kayaking right in the middle of the city

Size and morale of expat community:
Huge. Over 30% of the population is non-Swiss.

What are some typical things to do for entertaining/social life?
Hiking is huge here. For the Swiss, any mountain that does not involve technical climbing is considered hiking, so that includes summits like the Dom (at 4545 m, the 5th highest mountain in Switzerland). Zurich has a lively clubbing scene.

Switzerland has all the hiking you can handle

Switzerland has all the hiking you can handle

What’s the dress code at work and in public?
Buisness, smart casual-plus. Hiking gear in public.

Are there any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Excellent medical care is available, but can be expensive. Finding a dentist in Germany is a smart move.

You can leave behind your:
Sense of humor. The Swiss don’t get it.

What do you wish you had known about this city/country prior to moving there?
That I should have moved here sooner.

But don’t forget your:
Alpine skills. And your money. All of it.

Can you save money?
NO!

What unique local items can you spend it on?
Chocolate, cheese, kirch (cherry schnapps) mountain summits (guided ascends), Swiss army knives, watches.

Zurich 11

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?
YES!

Recommended books related to this city (title, author):
The Visit (Der Besuch der alten Dame), Durcheinandertal, both by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

Zurich 4

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