Cultural places in Europe
Azerbaijan's attempt at rural tourism comes in the form of the tiny village of Lahic. But don't let that dissuade you. The remote village, where Lahiji is spoken (a Persian dialect) has been renowned for it's mastery of handicrafts, particularly copper-ware, for centuries. Today, Lahic maintain much of it's traditional feel. This is combination with it's beautiful natural setting in the Caucasus Mountains make it an ideal destination for travellers. While there are a few accommodation choices either on the outskirts of town, or a few kms out of the centre, it is instead a down-to-earth home-stay with a local family that will make the experience all the more special.
Part of the charm of Azerbaijan are the quaint little villages that dot the Caucasus Mountain range. And possibly none are more charming or quaint than Kish. Located a short hop away from the more touristic town of Sheki, Kish is about as traditional as they come. Dating back some 1,900 years, it has changed little over time. Women still gossip around the numerous wells throughout the town (no indoor plumbing), men gather in central squares possibly to complain about whatever it is old men complain about. The narrow cobble-stoned street bob and weave their way up the hillside in a silence only broken by the singing of birds and the playing of children. For those needing more of a goal, the well marked Church of St. Elise has some interesting displays, including ancient burial sites.
The Balkans has bred a few dictators and Croatia's contribution was Franjo Tuđman. He was the first president of Croatia and died in office in 1999. Reputedly Tuđman was not as brutal as other more well-known Balkan dictators like Yugoslavian Tito, Albanien Hoxha or Serbian Milošević, but he was a strong and autocratic leader, so opinions about him are therefor mixed. Nevertheless Tuđman has a fine memorial at Miogoj cemetery, which is often considered to be one of Europe finest cemetery. Tombs and graves from all kind of religions are represented, let it be Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, and others.
For those who don't know what it is, a sauna is a very hot room (70-95 ℃C) with wooden benches and a stove. Some are a just a small room attached to the bath room, while others can be a separate hut. Sauna is such intergrated part of Finnish living that at least one visit such be considered mandatory. And why not, it's nice (if done in moderation) and you will have an opportunity to get close with the otherwise reserved Finnish people. However, you first have to overcome to sit totally naked among other people, for sauna is done naked... also in mixed sex saunas.
Icelanders are generally a pretty easy-going and accepting people, but there is a clear exception to this rule: washing. If you want to know what it is like to be shunned and publicly embarrassed, try entering an Icelandic swimming pool or hot tub without having washed – and scrubbed, thoroughly – in the nude. If you are caught showering with your swimwear on, or not showering at all (an almost unimaginative occurrence to an Icelander), you will brusquely be asked to go back inside – and don’t be too surprised if your subsequent shower is supervised to ensure proper protocol is followed. So for the sake of everyone’s hygiene (Icelandic pools don’t use chemicals) and your own enjoyment, take off your bathing suit and wash, wash, wash before getting into that geothermal pool.
If you like band music, outlandish folk costumes and Norwegian flags, then the 17th of May is the day for you! Norwegians go crazy about the 17th of May, which is also known as Norwegian Constitution Day, although – at least to begin with – the craziness is fairy restrained. Processions, church services and the usual speeches are followed by games, food, dance and – of course – copious amounts of alcohol. If a party is what you are after, one of the bigger urban centres is your best bet, but for something a bit more quaint, find yourself a large, rural village. Ironically, Norway lost its independence only months after gaining it (and the singing of its constitution), and remained in a union with Sweden for another 90 years. But the celebration of the 17th of May was nevertheless popular from the start, even though it now has a broader meaning that it once did, encompassing the royal family and the end of the Nazi occupation during WWII.
Ukraine fashion is heavily influenced by the fashion in Russia and the rest of the Eastern Bloc, which thankfully still is a world of bling, synthetic materials and high heels. The men's fashion has recently moved away from the ever-so-popular tracksuit for a brave combo of bleached white pants, pointy shoes and super-tight t-shirts. The girls' fashion is remarkably still based on the concept of "lesser is better". Skimpy skirts, tight jeans, bare bellies, and the never-out-of-fashion stilettos are the main things - no matter weather or occasion. How can you not love people-watching in Kiev!
Northern Ireland has some fantastic atmopheric pubs, and it's no more evident than in Belfast. Some of these traditional drinking holes go back to the 18th century with a crowd that almost seems equally old. Here you can get a well poured Guinness with a top foam so thick you can leave bite marks in it. It's also here you will find some great live Irish folk music. Not on a stage, but sitting at one of the tables fiddling and playing between the beer drinking. It hardly becomes more Irish than this.