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A Trip to Venice

"This is probably the only tourist hot-spot in the world without traffic problems", I thought as I got on a vaporetti - a waterbus. The Venetian canal (above) forms the main road and vaporetti are the buses, and are quite cheap at €18 for a 12 hour pass.

Nearby, a group of Japanese tourists were enjoying a ride on a gondola- a kind of private taxi. One ride for a maximum of 6 people costs about €80, but I heard stories that the gondoliers often charge extra for the added bonus of singing. Many shops follow the same practice- the ‘eat-in' fee is the equivalent of the tip.

From the vaporetti, you can observe the typical Italian architecture, especially the many churches. In medieval Italy it was popular to steal the relics of the saints and because of this, St Nicholas is buried in Bari. However, the remnants of St Mark (San Marco) the evangelist rest in the basilica in Venice patrolled by his symbol - a lion. The basilica is decorated with mosaics and onion-shaped cupolas - that's the byzantine architecture, and Marco Polo even brought aspect of Asian culture from his travels.

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The Multiple Personalities of the Great Gatsby

As part of our build-up to the 2014 Oscars, we are looking at the films likely to take home some of the top awards. Here, Erik Redli examines the parallels seen in The Great Gatsby with other leading characters in film and television.

The Great Gatsby starts with a black and white Warner Brothers logo just like it would have in the 1920s. I was curious; another tragic story starring DiCaprio.

The story is narrated by Nick Carraway, a young man who has just moved into a small house right next to Gatsby's castle. Ambitious and reverent, he is often a timeless witness to the caprice of the upper classes and eventually he runs away from what he initially pursued.

The mysterious Gatsby does not appear during the first 30 minutes of the movie. Instead the other characters recall his parties and charm, intensifying the expectations of both Nick and the audience. All of a sudden, he appears from the cover of a crowd dancing to the modern soundtrack of Fergie's Little Party Killed Nobody.

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Brussels: Politics, Architecture, Beer & Smurfs

Blogger Erik describes his trip to Brussels over Christmas.

Gothic rock and how many guitars did Eric Clapton give away?

Brussels lies at the crossroad of the Germanic culture from the north and the Romance of the south, and the architecture is a testament to the ever-changing guardians over the centuries of war. The gothic Main Square with the Townhouse and the nearby buildings, one of them housing a Hard Rock Cafe, express the quintessence of the style. Let's call it gothic rock.

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Weekly Review: Nelson Mandela & the World Cup Draw

The Death of a Legend

Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa and human rights campaigner, died at 95 of a lung infection. Well, even the kids feeding on the content of their stockings know that. People of all races and religions have mourned the loss but celebrated the work of the activist.

However, the Czech prime minister committed a big faux pas, when microphones overheard him say he was ‘dreading' going to the funeral. He apologized to the media, reportedly via a text message. Even children would agree that such conduct does not make a good impression, in memory of a man who went through much more torment than a journey to South Africa.

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From St Nicholas to St Andrew: Patron Saint Celebrations

On Saturday it was St. Andrew's Day, celebrated in Scotland as their patron saint. On the same day in Slovakia it is the name's day of Ondrej, which is the central European version of Andrew. Both refer to the St Andrew apostle who was crucified on an X shaped cross. He never made it to Scotland, but his bones were carried there by other missionaries. And St Andrew's cross has been the national symbol of the country long before whisky, kilts and the deep fried Mars Bar appeared.

In Slovakia, St Ondrej was associated with folk customs. Girls used to pour hot iron into water and the shape of the solidification determined the profession of their future husband. If it was a gun, he would be a soldier, a hammer stands for a smith and so on. There were more traditions, like preparing the cattle for the winter and starting the Christmas cooking and decorating. With the confectionary and trees on display from October in Slovakia, we can raise a glass with our friends, being a few weeks ahead with the Christmas preparations.

However, the traditions are surviving only in regions where folklore is more resistant to alcohol intoxication than commerce. Let me explain. Having a beer in a Scottish pub in central Bratislava on the 30th, I was one of the few who took any notice of St Andrew's Day. Most of folks were looking forward to St Nicholas Day, six days later than St Andrew's (which I wrote about last year).

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