Category Archives: Europe

A Paradise island in the center of the Atlantic

Who would believe that there exists a paradise island in the center of the Atlantic Ocean?

No winter cold, the air is soft, weather is like European springtime yet exotic flowers and fruits grow naturally, gastronomy is the norm, the people are gentle and polite, very clean and green, art is everywhere, the things you see here are still Made in Portugal and not “in China”….

It is just so perfect…

 

 

 

Day 1 – Wandering in Zurich

 European Tour 2011

I’m in Switzerland this moment playing tourist guide to my sister and her family.  At last, the European itinerary I have been working for the last few weeks is finally being put into use.  From Paris, I flew to Basel and took a one-hour train to Zurich where I joined them.  They came from Dubai and we are really looking forward to this four-country European tour which is to start in Switzerland.

Day One – Zurich

It has been voted several times as the best place to live in the planet.  It is the financial capital of Switzerland and also the wealthiest city in Europe.  The streets are kept spotlessly clean and the water on the river is crystal clear.  The only foreign objects that we saw floating are the feathers of the swans that inhabit the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Alps mountains in the background, the monumental Munster Bridge (1836), the Limmat river and the beautiful old buildings make Zurich an outstanding picture-postcard beauty.  The slender, green spire on the right is a famous landmark and it comprises the Church of Fraumunster (Minster of our Lady).  Not to be missed is the stained-glass windows created by March Chagall when he was 80 years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trams from every direction come every few minutes.  It is the best way to do additional sightseeing.

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Never have I seen a jewelry shop display using ice sheets as props!

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When dining out, you will find that a bottle of mineral water is as expensive as a bottle of Swiss beer so you have the choice of taking an empty bottle and re-filing it at every sight of a water fountain.  There are lots to be found in busy street corners.

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The streets and outskirts of Zurich is always busy with roadworks.  No wonder every infrastructure works and all streets are clean as maintenance works is high priority in the city.

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Taken from our moving tram.  The Swiss love statues.

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Switzerland is the land of culinary schools.  These are culinary arts students taking a break.

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You don’t get bored riding in Zurich trams.  They provide reading materials placed in glass boxes like this one.  They are also hung neatly by the windows.  I wish they also come in English version.

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They also use computer screens to indicate the tram stops and the time it takes to reach one stop from the other.

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It is only in Switzerland that I see bakeries displaying 3D image of their bread as form of visual announcement, I suppose, to those who cannot read.

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He looks 14 but is already directing traffic going to and from the  Zurich Zoo.  Like in France, young students are put on on-the-job training in the summer.

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The Swiss are fitness-freaks.

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The University of Zurich Zentrum ranks among the top universities in the world and No. 7 in Engineering, Science and Technology.  Albert Einstein is its most famous alumnus.

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The Zurich train station (1847)  is the largest railway station in Switzerland, serving up to 2,900 trains daily.

Next:   Day 2 – Lovely Lucerne

A whirlwind European Holiday

The last two weeks of August, I played the role of tourist guide to my sister, brother-in-law and 10-year old nephew for a 12-day European holiday.  Looking at the photographs I have taken (I was also their official photographer, mind you!), I am amazed that we actually covered a lot of places, experienced a lot of things in just less than two weeks!

Paris – Venice – Monaco – the mountainous Roya Valley – Cannes – winetasting in Provence, taking almost all modes of transport:  plane – boat – train – car – even a funicular!

This was their first time in Europe and coming from Dubai where the landscape is that of desert, sea, high rises and artificial resorts, what a big surprise for them to see so much natural beauty and staggering architecture Europe is famous for,  art and culture everywhere they went and the open society which is the opposite of conservative Middle East.

So how do I start?  I guess, if I share with you how we profited so much in those 12 days, then you might be able to get some idea how to enjoy  Europe in a whirlwind!

Day One – Arriving in Paris

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Paris rooftops: the zinc roofing and the orange chimneys Paris is famous for. 
Taken from our apartment window.

For a party of four adults and one child (my husband and I joined them), we needed a comfortable spacious place to stay where we can cook, do the laundry and gather around for some chat and aperitivos in the evening.  A simple hotel room  would not be appropriate so I booked a two-bedroom apartment at the 16th Arrondisement, walking distance to the train and metro stations.

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Our apartment building is just opposite the house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his mother stayed in 1778, and where he died the same year.

Day Two – Paris sightseeing

We walked, took the sightseeing bus..all these to explore the City of Romance, Love, Fashion, Art….

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The savory display at Stohrer, one of the oldest patisseries in Paris. Nicolas STOHRER was the personal patisserie of King Louis XV.
rue Montorgueil, 2nd Arrondissement

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Patisserie Stohrer which opened in 1730 is classed as a historic monument because of its facade and interior decors.

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The domes of Paris

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The Eiffel Tower seen from Pont Bir-Hakeim

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Hotel des Invalides
By order of King Louis XIV, this building was built in 1670 to house and treat the aged and injured soldiers. The tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte is on display here.

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The Baroque-style Opera de Paris, designed by Charles Garnier for Emperor Napoleon III.  It now houses the National Academy of Music.

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A boutique’s window display at the Champs-Elysees

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A window display in Avenue Montaigne, one of the most expensive streets of Paris

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A pooch, a slim lady and a cigarette – that’s a real Parisian cliche!

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Painted stairs at the Abbesses station, the deepest of all metro stations in Paris.

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Basilica du Sacre-Coeur at night

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Treated to a nice Edith Piaf musical evening at Chez La Mere Catherine in Place du Tertre, Montmarte. This restaurant is one of the oldest bistrot in Paris, founded in 1793.

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Getting one’s portrait done in Place du Tertre (50euros for half an hour sitting)

Day Three – Disneyland Paris

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Disneyland Paris has never been part of my Parisian travel itineraries.  I thought it is only for the under 10’s.  I was only forced into it when my brother-in-law insisted that I must join them, if only to deal with everything written and spoken in French.  Thank goodness of this opportunity.  I actually like it and I intend to go back – on my own – so I could do a lot more photography.  There’s a great deal of photographic opportunities out there!

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The 5-star Disneyland Hotel, Paris

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Disneyland is like a fairytale land full of little girls in Snow White and Cinderella costumes

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It’s the place where you earn the right to look like a child, wear funny things and it would still be okay.

Day Four – Opera de Paris, shopping

One must not leave Paris without seeing the ornate interiors of the Opera.
I originally planned a trip to Versailles for my guests but since they didn’t have the luxury of time, I decided to take them to the Opera Garnier or simply known as Opera de Paris. This historic monument of the neo-Baroque style is regarded as one of the architectural masterpieces of its time.

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This part of their itinerary was a winner!

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An ideal Parisian souvenir that can be found at the Opera Garnier bookstore

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Stumbled upon this huge IPad store next to the Opera. This was a chance for my sister to buy this revolutionary tablet computer from Apple. She couldn’t buy it in Dubai as it was always out of stock.

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This new Apple showroom has just opened recently and it’s interesting to note that the building used to be the Bank of Portugal.  We wanted to look at their IPhone/Ipad accessories and the bilingual French sales assistant took us downstairs to what used to be the vault of the Bank and has now been transformed into a boutique.

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Notice the thickness of the iron door and the grills securing the vault.  I had to ask permission if I could take photos as I could see through  my peripheral vision some bulky security men hiding in corners.    Indeed, I got my wish!   Even if I was a gazillionaire, I probably would have no chance to take these photos if Bank of Portugal, Paris Opera branch did not shut down!

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Shopping at the world-famous Galeries Lafayette

The Byzantine Dome is 33 meters high and constitutes 10 columns of stained glass reinforced by a richly carved metallic floral motif. It plays a great part in setting up a scene where the customer will feel so great stirring up a strong desire to buy.

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We were not able to get inside the Notre Dame Cathedral that afternoon because a stupid promotional balloon of some telephone company was about to be released – of all places – at the grounds of a historic and religious monument! 

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Paris by Night via the Bateaux Moche – the Pont de la Concorde (Concorde Bridge, 1790)). 
The stones used on this bridge came from the Bastille prison when the latter was demolished during the French Revolution.

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Paris by Night – the Eiffel Tower

Day Five – Louvre Museum

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The Glass Pyramid at the courtyard of the Louvre Museum.  This is the biggest, serving as entrance to the museum, and is surrounded by three smaller pyramids.  A Chinese architect, I.M. Pei, designed it by order of then President Francois Miterrand.  It caused wide controversy as many people felt that this futuristic structure is out of place infront of the country’s most historic museum.  Now, after 26 years since its construction, it has become one of Paris’ great icons.

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The most-visited artwork in the Louvre, and the most famous painting in the world, is Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, Monalisa.

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Another famous artwork – Venus de Milo

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Inside the Louvre

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The painted ceiling of the largest museum in the world

Day Six & Seven – Venice

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We flew to Venice from Paris and I was looking forward to photographing the archipelago from the sky, alas, it was a cloudy morning so this is all I got.  Seen is the 4km causeway which links Venice to the mainland.

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The city comprises of 117 islands formed by 177 canals …..

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…and connected by 455 bridges

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This is my first time to see flooding in St Mark’s Square.   It is caused by unusually high tide which happens only betwen September-April.  This scene happened on August 25, hence this winter-only occurrence came few days early.

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A must-do when in Venice is to hang around St Mark’s Square at night and listen to the “battle of the orchestras” playing classical (and sometimes latina) music. 

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The only way to see museums in the city is by foot or by water

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Venice being one of the most visited cities in the planet is always crowded with tourists.  I dreaded going there in August, the peak of the tourist season, but it was not at all bad since the residents where also away for their holidays.

Day Eight to Ten – Roya Valley (France) and Ventimiglia (Italy)

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Saorge, one of the most beautiful villages in France

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The old town of Ventimiglia, Italy

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The Piaggo truck, perfect for cruising the narrow streets of Italy

Day Eleven – Nice and Monaco

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Nice

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Fireworks along the Promenade des Anglais, to celebrate the end the summer season

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The Principality of Monaco

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Casino de Montecarlo, as reflected from a concave mirror in the garden fronting it.

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The Belle Epoque style Casino de Monte Carlo was created by Charles Garnier, the same architect who designed the Opera Garnier in Paris.

We were able to get inside the gaming rooms and observed the graceful movement of the casino staff.  For as low as 5euros, we could have tried the black jack or the roulette but we need to go to a casino school first to learn the game.

Day Twelve – Cannes and Wine-tasting in Provence

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Cannes is a favourite stop-off point by cruise ships from around the world

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The sandy beach is the place to be seen

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The art-deco style Hotel Martinez whose suite is dubbed as the most expensive suite in the world, houses film stars attending the annual Cannes Film Festival.

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A visit to Chateau Sainte Roseline in the Var in Provence….

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 ….for some wine-tasting experience!

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A vineyard in Provence

So that’s it, folks!  A whirlwind holiday which made me lose weight in a whirlwind, too! 

Entropa by David Cerny

To mark the beginning of the Czech Republic’s six-month presidency of the European Union,  a huge art work called Entropa, was installed at the European Council premises in Brussels on 15 January 2009.

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It featured the 27 members of the European Union – their exaggerated stereotypes – held together by snap-out plastic parts like those used in modelling kits.  The exhibition provoked outcries particulary from Bulgaria which was depicted as a series of Turkish toilets.  The booklet of the EU2009 of the Czech Republic shows the 27 artists representing each of the 27 members who supposedly created their country’s provocative symbols only to be discovered later that it was all done by one man, David Cerny, who became an overnight sensation although his own website leaves much to be desired as shown by his generous use of filthy language.

Austria:  a known opponent of atomic energy, is a green field dominated by nuclear power plant.

What do you want?  a meadow or a power station?  … Sabrina Unterberger, the artistSab

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Belgium is presented as a half-full box of half-eaten  chocolates.

Begium as a country of chocolates as presented by Roger Geboers, a food artist

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Bulgaria depicted by a series of connected “Turkish” squash toilets.

For me, our project is an opportunity to cope with false patriotism and find relief from the destitution of Bulgarian material and spiritual life.  Not least, it is sure to upset a lot of people, and that is also what I am aiming for – to cause a scandal, especially at home.  It’s a punk gesture, intentionally primitive and vulgar, faecally pubertal…(Elena Jelebova, the artist)

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Cyprus is jigsawed (cut) in half

..I am confident that we will succeed – at least symbolically – in uniting the divided Cyprus..Panayiotis Papastamouli

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Czech Republic,  an LED display which flashes controversial quotations by Czech President Vaclav Klaus upon the sculpture’s activation

Let the head of state have his say!  A constant stream of constant Vaclav Klaus quotes.  Words of wisdom that deserve to be etched in stone.  The President’s sublime, pertinent comments about the whole world, and especially the EU, whizzing across a three-line alphanumeric LED display.  He is OUR president, we elected him, so let’s show him off to the world with joy in our hearts.  He’s not just a skier, he’s a great guy!…..David Cerny

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Denmark, a face depicted in lego bricks , reminiscent of the cartoon controversy.

We have telescopes and microscopes; we observe the world from different angles and at various resolutions.  A photograph has grains, a digital image has pixels.  The more pixels there are, the sharper the picture.  Playing with lego is an abstract exercise in the structure of elements, but is geared towards specific objects, meanings and skills.  We too should grasp the whole picture of the world, let’s not get caught up in individual pixels, but see what they form…..DeviantArt

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Estonia,  presented with a hammer and sickle-styled power tools, the country has considered a ban on  Communist  symbols.

Artist:  Sirje Sukmit

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Finland,  a wooden floor and an [apparently drunk] male with a rifle, imagining various animals

For centuries now, we have been part of the global human community.  With our mobile telephones, we are helping to interconnect this community.  Finland is not a country of wood; no exotic animals live in Finland. Perhaps that’s the way things are.  Perhaps it would be beautiful…..Jooner Tuominen

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France is draped in a “GRÈVE!” banner

As a result of global and local political, economic and cultural situatiion, the GRAA Group has gone on strike indefinitely.

“GRÈVE!” (“STRIKE!”)

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Germany is a series of interlocking autobahns, described as “somewhat resembling a swastika though that is not universally accepted. Upon activation, the cars are supposed to start moving.

The mobile relief is a moving metaphor for Germany as the country of the automotive industry and motorways.  The sagging of transmission is necessarily cyclical.  It reveals the banality of several visions yet it draws attention to the absurdity of European transport policy, which shies away from seeking effective alternatives to petrol- driven engines and ever expanding motorways….Helmut Bauer

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Greece is  depicted as a forest that is entirely burned

Almost a year ago, the fire destroyed my home and studio.  At a time when Europe’s living standards have risen in an unprecedented manner and our lives have become increasingly influenced by technology, fire is stilll able to take everything away.  If it weren’t – at least in my case – so tragic, it may have been possible to seek, in the widespread fires in Greece, as well as in Spain and California, the archetypal warning of nature:  I am here and I am more powerful than you.  Despite all its possible negative consequences, however, the  structure of fire, its colour, smell and strength are fascinating…..Angelo Navridis

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Hungary features an Atomium made of its common agricultural products: melons and Hungarian sausages, based on a floor of peppers

National stereotypes?  For Brussels it is the Atomium, for Hungary the spicy Csabai sausage and ripe melons.  Stereotypes in contemporary art? A busty Hungarian artist who smokes and uses filthy language….Agnes Cerese

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Ireland is depicted as a brown bog with bagpipes protruding from Northern Ireland; upon activation, the bagpipes are expected to play music every five minutes

In today’s unifying Europe, there is something like a need for inner ethnic exoticism and the marketing of a distant, idealized Ireland……..John O’Connell

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Italy as a football pitch with the players holding balls in the “strategic position”.

 It is a Freudian-kitschy private vision of contemporary Italy, floundering between meaningless traditions and pointless entertainment; it appears to be an auto-erotic system of sensational spectacle with no climax on sight….Francesco Zampedroni

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Latvia is shown as covered with mountains, in contrast to its actual flat landscape.

Andrejs Spuris, artist

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Lithuania, its soldiers are depicted urinating on Russia.

I concentrated on the fate of totalitarian monuments and their conversion into new-generation monuments.  The symbol of Brussels is the Manneken Pis.  I have adapted this symbol to the situation in my own country.  The project can be viewed as an alternative monument to Lithuanian independence and as an outlet for the wrongs of the past….Vilma Stasiulyte

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Luxembourg is displayed as a fake gold nugget with “For Sale” tag.

It is not the price of paper that creates the value of a banknote, but vice versa. Similarly, a statue could be made of gold and costs less than a pile of rancid fat on a chair,  provided, that is, that the artist behind the fat is Joseph Beuys
This forms the basis for my own design. Luxembourg will appear as though it is made of gold. Yet who will notice that it is not precious metal, but just the work of artists and their special effects? We readily place our faith in the stock exchange and banks, but often harbour suspicions about art. We remain suspicious right up to the moment that art is transformed into financial worth. And if anyone chooses to view the whole thing as a comment on Luxembourg’s status within Europe, they may well be right……Marc Hubert

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Malta is a tiny island with its prehistoric dwarf elephant as its only decoration.

Malta is a small, perhaps negligible, lump of rock.  For some people, its size may be a cause of mirth.  What, then, would they make of our most famous animal, which nobody has actually ever seen: the dwarf elephant, a creature almost too small to miss….Alexander Caruana

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The Netherlands has disappeared under the sea with only a several minarets still visible; upon activation, this piece is supposed to emit the singing of muezzins.

If only The Netherlands were in Hell!  At least it’s warm and generally dry there.  I would like to survive; I’d like at least something from this country to survive.  Salt water will noiselessly inundate fields, towns and villages.  Fish will swim through our squares and seaweed will cling to our towers.  Perhaps a few lucky individuals will be rescued in small boats…..Dick Jansen

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Poland has a piece with priests erecting the rainbow flag of the Gay rights movement, in the style of the U.S. soldiers raising the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima.

Stand by your faith
Journalistic photographs capturing American soldiers raising a flag on the island of Iwo Jima in 1945. Instead of soldiers, the figures of Catholic priests faithfully copy the positions of the men in the photograph. A rainbow flag where all the colours of the spectrum coexist side by side. A surreal vision of the interconnection of that which cannot be interconnected…..Leszek Hirszenberg

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Portugal is shown as a wooden cutting board with three pieces of meat in the shape of its former colonies of Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique.

I don’t like fat and I don’t like colonialism. Empire-building, the influence of colonisation on post-colonial history, economy, science and culture, the cultural output of colonised societies, feminism and post-colonialism, the state of post-colonialism
in a contemporary economic and cultural context – all these are some of the general themes in this field. What were the experiences of the colonised and the colonisers?
…… Carla de Miranda

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Romania  is a Dracula-style theme park.

Welcome to Dracula Land. We are an endless periphery, a place from where artists make their way to European exhibitions by coach. We are a country that is too poor to support its own culture, but too rich to receive the aid channelled by developed countries into developing countries. We are a people adept at working with zero budgeting, we are masters of sales, false advertising and improvisation. Only in recent years have we realized that marketing this status is our only salvation,
a quality that makes us at least a little interesting for others…..Matei Tiron

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Slovakia is depicted as a Hungarian sausage (or a human body tighten by Hungarian tricolour).

Boris Špernoga, artist
 

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 Slovenia is shown as a rock engraved with the words first tourists came here 1213.

I have chosen a text by the official Slovenian national tourism agency as a departure point for examination of our national identity. According to this text, the first tourists appeared in Slovenia back in 1213 and left a message documenting their visit in one of the caves in the Postojna complex. The discovery that we ourselves are unquestionably the descendants of these tourists is telling; we view ourselves from the position of foreign visitors. This is a strategy associated with the delight of masturbation: we view the hand we use in autoerotic stimulation as the hand of another. We view our own national identity with similar detachment, as though we were tourists in our own land…..Erwin Mrkosek

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Spain is covered entirely in concrete, with a concrete mixer situated near the Basque country.

I propose that the surface should take the form of a vertical inhabited landscape made of concrete….Ricardo Romeo

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Sweden does not have an outline, but is represented as large Ikea-style self-assembly furniture, containing Gripen fighter planes.

Most Europeans see Sweden as a country of civic peace with a successful economy. Sweden is environment-friendly, politically correct and open to foreign nationals and sexual revolution.  Its friendly face, variability, practicality and appealing design are best characterised by the success of the Swedish furniture retailer IKEA. IKEA customers across the world are led to believe, naively, that the world is composed of simple elements that we can understand, interlink, and repair if necessary.
Populist politicians throughout the world exploit similar social engineering.

Let us grab the right key and the world will be better!’ we believe in conformity with advertising slogans. I respond critically to this European hypocrisy with an IKEA flat pack in the shape of the Swedish kingdom, which conceals an inconvenient truth…..Sonja Aaberg

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 The United Kingdom, known for its Euroscepticism and relative isolation from the Continent, is “included” as missing piece (an empty space) at the top-left of the work.

If art and associated attitudes are not to become pleasing-appearance ready-made goods, but a living, albeit perhaps fleeting, organism, art should be able to improve exactness of its message in the time allotted to it and thus, paradoxically, define itself in history.

This improvement of exactness means that its individual, selectivesieve can cover the so-called objective sieve. Where their nodes do not coincide, ‘free space‘ opens. Energy of the free space is proportional to the power of sharing, or, more precisely, it is the sum of the freely pulsating words which, in this context and in each specific time, is able to define (tangle up) different meanings naturally through spontaneous intuition. These screen points are spatial holograms of historical memory, experience, and therefore each such new overlap becomes another non-linear tangle to the naked eye…..Khalid Asadi

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Those nude sunbathers..

When I went to Nice beach for the first time and saw breasts of all sizes and ages exposed in the open, I didn’t know if I will stare or not.  I was shocked alright, but I was fascinated as well.  I asked my husband why these women are exposing themselves and he said it’s normal, everybody does it, nobody minds, as long as it is done on the beach.   What is not normal is when someone like me stares at them! 
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Years passed and I don’t stare at them anymore. I’m used to it. Same as their own sons and male colleagues or male neighbours are used to it when they all go out to the beach for swimming and picnic.

I have accepted the fact that European women are different from those of other continents (except Africans who also expose their breasts but that’s part of their culture).   They regard The Body as something beautiful, like Art, which should not be hidden but rather flaunted.   Even the pregnant woman displays her swollen abdomen in public in all its bulge and splendor.  

European women enjoy the freedom to express themselves.   And this freedom extends in the way they dress.   They could wear anything they want, as long as it doesn’t offend anybody and nobody minds.  You see fat women on the beach wearing bikinis and nobody stares or makes fun at her.