A day at the Khodorkovsky trial

Verzamelde pers

It took only two hours to get into the court, with several agencies reportedly already at scene at 7 am in the morning. Waiting, even in the snow, isn’t really cold as the group of reporters is pressed against each-other like sardines in a can.

Politie, pers en advocaten

There was a nervous buzz in the courtroom, which was in fact hideously small. I managed to sneak in as a photojournalist, with one of the camera-guys talking down my little Lumix GF1 as ‘amateurish’. Hey!

Protesten op straat

While judge Viktor Danilkin read the verdict the way you read the licensing-agreement for Apple’s iTunes – very fast – the crowd outside was roaring. ‘Freedom! Russia without Putin’. Even the judge could hear. Many of them were beaten, about 20 detained and taken away, including elderly.

Chodorkovski glimlacht

In this case, the judge was very nervous and the two suspects seemed relaxed, exchanged notes, cracked jokes and waved at friends and family. It’s the world upside down. Verdict: guilty.

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Why to hold a trial on the 27th of December? Exactly, because the whole foreign press corps in singing christmas-carols with their families in far-away and democratic countries. Yet even now the press didn’t fit into the tiny courtroom. Journalists waiting outside caught up with lawyers during a ten-minute break

Eenzame demonstrant

And when all this is history, there’s only one pensioneer still demonstrating. A pity. Russia.

Barcelona as seen from our balcony

We spend some time in Barcelona recently. It isn’t my favorite city in the world, but hey – when it’s warm, there is good weather, fantastic food and friendly people nobody is complaining.

Ghostbusters

They’re a creative bunch of anarchists in this town. This piece of ‘urban-art’ I liked most. Ghostbusters!

Zhe Frensj

And what’s a better place to meet French hippies playing accordion then Barcelona?

People watching the game outside the cafe

But hmm, what’s happening there? Daily life stops to watch the final of the Spanish soccer-competition

Crowds!

And guess who won? B-A-R-C-A! Right under our balcony

Fireworks

The mob went wild. Shortly after the fireworks, they started tearing down streetlights, postboxes, trees and metrosigns.

Mossos

And all the fun lasted for a couple of hours, then the ‘Mossos’ took over. Within a couple of minutes the party was over.

Yahweh Boogie

Israel, a spiritual place in the Holy Land? A country to relax, get yourself together and experience some biblical epiphany? Yeah right. Maybe in Jerusalem, but surely not in Tel-Aviv, the white city that just doesn’t stop clubbing, dining and dancing (for Element Moscow)

Pass that on

No matter what time of the year you’ll fly, you’ll always will be surprised by the intense heat that slaps you in your face as soon as you set a step outside of the airport. Better put sunglasses on, as Tel-Aviv is a bright- shiny and foremost white city. Even at night the city’s lights shine. You’ll sense there is a party going on, and probably you’re right.

Those who fear the harsh sounds of Hebrew shall not worry, Russian is widely spoken through the city. Taxi drivers, travel-agency’s, businessmen and even police-officers speak fluent Russian. If they or their parents didn’t migrate to Israel from the Soviet-Union they’ve learned it in school. And if your Russian isn’t all that: English will get you everywhere.

Tel-Aviv is famous for it’s sparkling nightlife and most of it’s clubs and bars are all found around the marina in the northern part of town. TLV is the biggest of them all, and it’s bigger then you can imagine, their fantastic sound-system will blow you away. Not in the mood yet? Head out for some fresh oysters in the nearby seafood restaurant Mol-Yam. Bored with oysters? Do as the author did several times and try the grilled langoustine. When ready to go again, just hop in and out of all the little bars, pubs and discotheques in the port-area.

After a couple of days you’ll discover that boulevard Rothschild is the central place of all activity in Tel-Aviv. It’s got amazing trees on each side and a couple of nice fountains, small parks and kiosks circled around the city. Now with ‘kiosks’ you’ll probably think of the Muscovite cabins in which angry women sell you cigarettes and beer. In Tel-Aviv, it’s amazing little espresso-bars and even whops a full-blown technicolor sushi-bar. In case you’re fond of chocolate, make sure to get a hold of a little box of Max Brenners chocolate.

Rothschild boulevard crosses Allenby-street, which heads straight for the beach. The complete coastline of the city is one big beach which, apart from when the sun is at it’s peak, is packed. You thought Israel was a conservative country? Think again. Ladies, bring the best bikini you have and men, or fear being laughed at by handsome Israeli’s. When the sun goes down, have a stroll towards Jaffo, the old Arabic port just half an hour away by foot. There’s a small harbour, a little market square and hundreds of nice little eateries.

One a lost night, head for Scotts Pub on Allenby Street and try your hand on the cracked and cripple pool table where locals and foreigners alike hang around, watch football-games and drink pints. The place gets pretty rough towards the morning, so make sure to get out before things get out of hand. On quiet moments, it’s the best place in town to find Israeli soldiers, foreign volunteers and airforce-pilots amoung your news friends. Scott’s army of pretty barmaids will happily serve you burgers while drinking.

To fight early morning hangovers, we recommend 0,7 liters of freshly squeezed and mixed fruits. Go to Sheinkin-street and you’ll find loads of them. Although they all look a like and all have the same owner, we’ve got the best drinks at the last of them down the road from Allenby. It’s all fresh and for the equivalent of 100 roubles you’ll have enough vitamins to last for another 24 hours in Tel-Aviv.

TIPS FOR TRAVELERS:

Where to stay” If you want to stay in style, consider ‘Hotel Montefiore‘, which hosts elegant rooms, wonderful terraces and comes with a personal library. Yes. A personal library. Otherwise, head down to the boulevard and check in one of the many Hiltons, Sheraton’s or Holiday Inn’s

Visas” Earlier this year, Israel cancelled visa’s for Russian nationals. It does however pose a set of different rules and conditions, one of them includes having a return ticket back to where you came from. Whatever passport you have, it’s always good to check up on the lastest rules with your local Israeli embassy.

Money” They call them shekels and they are made out of plastic. Don’t bother changing your rubles into dollars in Moscow as in Tel-Aviv they’ve got better exchange rates. ATM’s are everywhere, credit-cards are accepted and here and they you can pay in dollars.

Getting there” Nearly every international Russian airline has a direct connection to Tel-Aviv. El-Al departs from Domodedovo, and has the record of the worlds safest airline. It also has the toughest security check you’ll ever experience. On a budget? Consider a stopover in Kiev with Aerosvit that has good deal to Israel.

Getting around” Tel-Aviv has a network of marshrutka’s around the city. They’re cheap and fast. You left Russia exactly because of marshrutka’s? Just flag down on of the many white cabs. The ‘non-labeled’ ones are private taxi’s, the ones that carry a flag are owned by bigger companies, the latter of which is the cheaper and safer choice.

Khreshatik One, Kiev, Ukraine

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Entering Ukraine isn’t always easy. You might be waiting for ages in a traffic jam when you go by car, they awake you in the of the night when you travel by train, and when you fly there you have to find a way through Borispol Airport. In all cases they make you fill in a ‘migration-card’ which they rip in two parts once you filled them both.

Lots of information on such a sheet of paper is useless. The ‘transport-number’ for example. And as most EU-citizens don’t need visa’s anylonger also the ‘destination name, adress’ part I usually leave blank. Not this time. “Adress!”, the wonderful maybe 21-year old girl in the migration-box tells me. I explain her that I don’t know my adress in Kiev. “Neither do I, your problem!”, she tells me. “œGo back and fill in your adress.” So I asked a young couple behind me what was the most famous adress in Kiev. “Kheshatik One,I guess”, a guy said after some thinking. He’s right. It would be the Ukrainian equivalent of an adress as Downing Street Ten.

I raise my voice and return to the booth. “œThere you go, this is my adress, Khreshatik One in Kiev!” The whole airport laughing now. Except for the girl. She looks at me, looks at the picture in my passport, registers Khreshatik One as my temporary residence and shouts: “Next!” Welcome to Ukraine. Again.

Waking up in Hackney

Hackney

Traveling is all about the happy pursuit of vague memories of frantic random emotions. One of my absolute favorites: waking up in a city and not having a clue where the hell you are.

Eyes blink. I have a head-ace somewhere in the back of my mind, but curiosity takes over. Where are we? This bed is enormous, it’s sheets are red. Why? I appear to be naked, but the bed is empty. Ash-trays and half-empty bottles of a vague brand of Jamaican lager are shattered across the room.

I find my clothes, a set of keys and my wallet. My shoes are gone but I find a pair of slippers. I stroll trough a kitchen I haven’t seen before or don’t recall. The keys match the front door. I walk a couple of steps out of the door only to get hit by a huge red bus.

So this is London. But how did we get here?

A roof in Arabic

In Lattakia, I met two Canadians who’ve been hanging around the Arabic Mediterranean for a while now. One told:

“When I didn’t know the Arabic word for ‘house’ yet, I always signaled a roof.”
He points the tips of his fingers to each other and forms a roof, like anyone else would.
“But Arabs never understood it. And I never got why.”
He laughs.
“Ever seen a house with a tilted roof here? No way!”
Apparently, if you want to express a house in sign language, you make a square sign with your hands, holding both your hands in front of you, and pointing thumbs down.
“That’s how houses look like over here.”