Gay Rights Groups Boycott Russian Vodka Over Harsh New Discrimination Laws

gay rights
Slog News and Arts

If you care about gay rights, you might want to rethink your drink.

Gay rights groups are boycotting Russian vodka after the country cracked down on gay activists and pride parades, the BBC reports. In addition, new legislation makes it illegal to teach “non-traditional values” (ie. gay-friendly values) to children.

On June 29, a gay pride parade in St. Petersburg was attacked by thugs and several marchers were badly beaten. Police then rounded up the marchers (not the thugs) and arrested them. You can see photos from this and related events in this shocking photo essay from Buzzfeed.

The boycott started in the U.S. a few days ago and has since spread to other countries. Gay bars have pulled Russian vodka from their shelves and an online petition is calling for Manchester to “untwin” from its sister city St. Petersburg. Protesters have dumped vodka on the street in front of the Russian consulate in New York City and taken to Twitter with hashtags such as #dumpstoli and #dumprussianvodka.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia almost two decades ago but there’s been a severe backlash against the LGBT community in recent years.

One major vodka brand, Stolichnaya, has come out with a public statement in support of gay rights and says it shouldn’t be targeted by the boycott. They say that while they use Russian ingredients, they are in fact a Latvian company.

There’s an ongoing discussion in the LGBT about expanding the boycott to include other Russian products and also the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Visiting Synagogues Around The World


Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin, India


Places of worship have long been points of interest for travelers. Solemn and usually quite ornate, these buildings provide a window onto a community’s history and values and often give visitors a much-needed pause while pounding the sightseeing pavement. Cathedrals are typical for this kind of touring. But have you ever thought to pay a visit to a synagogue?

My fascination with exploring synagogues began on a trip to Willemstad, Curaçao, home of Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, the oldest active Jewish congregation in the Americas built in 1651. Several years later, I had the opportunity to visit the Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin, Kerala, India. Constructed in 1568, it is the oldest “active” synagogue in India – “active” because there are fewer than 20 Jews left in Cochin, most having emigrated to Israel. Coincidentally, I learned about the Jews of Cochin from an exhibit at the 6th and I Synagogue, a historic synagogue in Washington, DC, that is now used primarily as a community center and arts space.

The Jewish diaspora is thriving in many parts of the world. Yet in places like Cochin and Mumbai, the local Jewish community is dwindling, giving impetus to visiting some synagogues before they are shuttered or left to become museums. The following are some of the synagogues I have seen or wish to explore on my travels.

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Top ten most crowded islands in the world

most crowded islands

From an island microslum in Colombia to a haute enclave in central Paris, the ten most crowded islands in the world bear scant similarities in class or culture. In fact, every entry in the top ten comes from a different country. But being islands, each shares the common thread of scarcity – whether it be land, resources, or housing. In general, these islands are prophetical microcosms for an overcrowded earth – finite spaces where self sufficiency governs and demand pierces supply.

With the world’s population racing higher and higher, and the “megacities club” accepting new members yearly, some day the earth could bear the traits of one of these densely packed islands.

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most crowded islands

10. Vasilyevsky Island
Location: St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
Population: 202,650
People per square kilometer: 18,592
Size: 10.9 square kilometers
Story: This island located in St. Pete is a collection of 18th and 19th century buildings with some Soviet built apartment blocks lining the Gulf of Finland on the western shore. The communist housing ethos of the twentieth century called for rows and rows of tight apartments, and this historic island in Russia’s second city was not immune to the sprawl. This created the compact quarters of Vasilyevsky island. Famous for its old school stock exchange and giant Rostral columns, the island is popular with tourists.

most crowded islands

9. Lilla Essingen
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Population: 4,647
People per square kilometer: 20,204
Size: .23 square kilometers
Story: This small island in central Stockholm once served as a hub of industry for Stockholm’s industrial operations. The easy boat access allowed for ease of shipping by boat, and the island factories manufactured an array of goods, from massive lamps for lighthouses to vacuum cleaners. Eventually, as the industrial applications became outmoded, the island became home to several apartment towers. Today, the island is crammed full of smiling Swedes living in apartments with (presumably) tasteful modern furniture.

most crowded islands

8. Île Saint-Louis
Location: Paris, France
Population: 2,465
People per square kilometer: 22,409
Size: .11 square kilometers
Story: Perhaps the most stylish island in the world, Île Saint-Louis is a marvel of 17th century urban architecture and planning. Narrow roads and some of the priciest real estate in the world have allowed the island to remain relatively calm, despite its location in central Paris. While Île Saint-Louis is off of the tourist radar for most, this island in the Seine River embodies the classic Parisian spirit, worthy of an afternoon stroll with a perfect sorbet from Berthillon. The island is named for France’s canonized King, Louis IX.

most crowded islands

7. Manhattan
Location: New York, New York
Population: 1,585,873
People per square kilometer: 26,879
Size: 59.47 square kilometers
Story: In 1626, the Lenape Indians sold Manhattan island to the Dutch for a bag of axes, hoes, iron kettles, duffel cloths and other 17th century garb worth about $24 (roughly $1000 in modern value). It is safe to day the island has grown ambitiously from this humble transaction. The center of the financial universe is now home to many – truly a place where the world lives. The island once known as New Amsterdam, and briefly, New Orange, shadows America’s story, both tragic and triumphant.

most crowded islands

6. Salsette Island
Location: Mumbai, India
Population: 13,175,000
People per square kilometer: 30,217
Size: 436 square kilometers
Story: Salsette, an island off the western coast of India, is home to Mumbai and its sprawling suburbs. As a poster boy for “New India,” Mumbai is as dichotomous as it gets, at once the wealthiest city in south Asia and also home to one of the world’s largest slums – the notorious Dharavi. Dharavi is an island within an island, a super-slum with roughly one million people spread out over an area less than a square mile. At the other end of the spectrum, Salsette Island is also home to extreme wealth. The house known as Antilla is a 400,000 square foot giant that towers with some of Mumbai’s tallest buildings. Truly a contrast from the squalor in Dharavi, the private residence houses six people, can accommodate 168 cars, has 9 elevators, and an ice room with snow flurries.


most crowded islands

5. Ebeye Island
Location: Marshall Islands
Population: 15,000
People per square kilometer: 41,667
Size: .36 square kilometers
Story: When the United States decided to test nuclear weapons in the South Pacific, they chose to do so amongst the atolls of the Marshall Islands. U.S. officials uprooted many residents from Bikini Atoll and Enewetak Atoll to insure that the testing did not directly harm human life. The relocated Marshallese had to move somewhere, and most moved to Ebeye under the assistance of the United States. This forced relocation caused a huge mess, including a severe housing shortage and land owner legality issues that persist today. The combination of factors created an environment of hostility and squalor, creating the slum of the South Pacific.


most crowded islands

4. Malé
Location: The Maldives
Population: 103,693
People per square kilometer: 53,121
Size: 1.952 square kilometers
Story: The Maldives is one of Asia’s top tourist destinations, with 26 atolls and 1,192 islands offering beach perfection. At its center is the capital city – Male. Male is a humbly sized island of just a couple square miles. It is stuffed full of people, hotels, mosques, and office towers that efficiently utilize the scare land resources. While landfills have reclaimed some land from the sea, most progress is made vertically rather than horizontally. The modern downtown island in the middle of the Indian Ocean is a stark aberration from the deserted islands that dot most of the Maldives.

most crowded islands

3. Ap Lei Chau
Location: Hong Kong
Population: 86,782
People per square kilometer: 66,755
Size: 1.32 square kilometers
Story: Hong Kong is the land of a thousand towers, clustered most densely on the island of Ap Lei Chau just southwest of Hong Kong Island. Ap Lei Chau served as the settlement for Hong Kong Village, theorized to be the etymological source for the famous larger territory of Hong Kong. Strangely, Ap Lei Chau translates to Duck Tongue Island, said to be named for the island’s shape. It is filled with high rise residences and even a winery.

most crowded islands

2. Migingo Island
Location: Kenya, though Uganda disputes this
Population: 400
People per square kilometer: 100,000
Size: .004 square kilometers
Story: This bantomslum in the middle of Lake Victoria is a fishing village perched precariously on half a sphere of rock. The residents take in large hauls of the Nile Perch – a poster boy for River Monsters that can grow to a comedically large size. Migingo is famous for a decades-old dispute between Kenya and Uganda over the sovereignty of the small island. There is even a facebook page where individuals can “like” declaring the island Kenyan. (The page has twice as many followers as there are residents on Migingo.) Uganda agrees with this claim, most of the time, though the tiny rock island is not the issue – the fishing rights are.

most crowded islands

1. Santa Cruz del Islote
Location: Colombia
Population: 1,247
People per square kilometer: 124,700
Size: .01 square kilometers
Story: The most densely populated island in the world is a microslum off the coast of Colombia. This tropical island is located in the emerald waters of the idyllic Caribbean, though is packed so tight that most activities are done off island. Schooling, football, graveyards, and work all take place away from Santa Cruz del Islote. The island park is the size of a small tennis court, and fresh water must be shipped in by Colombian Navy ships. Santa Cruz del Islote also does not have electricity. What the island favela does have is people, lots of them. To visit the world’s most packed island, hop on a ferry from Tolu, Colombia. The nearby hotel of Punta Faro can arrange tours of the island.

All unattributed images from wikimedia commons

Around the world in 2000 pictures

This quick trip around the world by filmmaker and photographer Alex Profit is a stunning display of photo-tourism. The video embarks on a journey through Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Tokyo, New York and London. It will cure your nagging fits of wanderlust for the duration of its five minute run-time. Beyond that though, you may experience an uncontrollable urge to visit Barcelona or one of the other many locales documented.

The video was made by compiling 2000 photographs from eight separate locations. It took Alex twenty-four days to travel to all of the locations and get the shots. That is covering a lot of ground, fast. If you could choose to travel to any of these locations, which one would you choose?

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Knocked up abroad: pregnant travel in the first trimester

pregnant travelFor more on pregnant travel, see parts 1 and 2 of Knocked up abroad: pregnancy in a foreign country here and here.

There’s no question that having a baby changes you: your body, your lifestyle, even your shoe size. One thing I hoped not to change altogether was traveling, as long as it was reasonably safe and comfortable for me and the baby. From the beginning of my pregnancy in Istanbul, my doctor has okayed travel, as long as I get up to stretch frequently on flights and try not to overdo it. Most doctors (and mothers) agree that the second trimester is the most comfortable time for pregnant travel but the first trimester can be a good time as well (while you can still squeeze into pre-maternity clothes and walk without waddling) with a little extra precaution and a little more babying (of the mother, of course).


The first trimester of pregnancy is a tricky time for many women: the risk of miscarriage is highest up to 10 weeks, morning sickness is common, and hormones are running wild. It’s too early to tell anyone outside family or close friends and without a visible belly, it’s impossible for strangers to tell as well. At later points in your pregnancy, a baby bump acts as the international symbol for pregnancy and can make it much easier to express your condition when traveling abroad. If you travel in the early months before showing, you may want to learn the local language words for “I’m pregnant” to avoid a Bridget Jones-esque “mit kinder” scene if you need extra help while traveling.


Over this past December, my husband and I were looking for a good trip to take over the holidays, when I was around 10 weeks pregnant. Our location in Istanbul changes the list of short-haul destinations considerably from what we would have considered from New York, and we debated between a warm-weather beach destination (husband) or a snowy and “Christmassy” European city (me). We ruled out Egypt (not warm enough and not Christmassy), New Zealand (even less convenient to get to than from New York), and Sri Lanka (not enough time to plan properly and some risks of disease I couldn’t be vaccinated against). In the end, we chose…Russia.
Going to Russia in winter while pregnant may seem crazy to some, but for me it made sense: Moscow and St. Petersburg are a few hours from Istanbul by direct flight, my husband speaks fluent Russian in case of any problems, and there was no risk of malaria or eating any food that had spoiled in the sun. While it was cold and snowing during our trip and I couldn’t take advantage of some of Russia’s cold-weather remedies like vodka and saunas, a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg was a perfect mix of exotic and comfortable.

Nearly every cafe had a variety of non-alcoholic and caffeine-free beverages for me to choose from, I even had non-alcoholic sangria, mojitos, and mulled wine in addition to fresh juices and herbal teas. Both cities are beautiful to explore in the snow, with plenty of museums and cafes to warm up in, and the New Year holiday displays made it festive.

If you are planning a trip to a foreign country while pregnant, it makes sense to keep in mind the following guidelines. Always discuss plans with your doctor before booking and err on the side of caution when choosing a destination.

Check airline restrictions – Most airlines allow pregnant women to fly internationally up to 28 weeks, after which you must provide a doctor’s note issued within a week or so of departure. 35 weeks (earlier for women carrying multiples) is the cutoff for nearly all airlines to prevent women from giving birth on board. Most US domestic carriers will allow pregnant women to fly up to the final month; hilariously, Continental will not let women board if “physical signs of labor are present” though they don’t specify what.

Consider travel insurance – If your medical insurance doesn’t cover you overseas, you may want to look into supplementary medical travel insurance, but be sure it covers pregnancy as many policies do not. Additionally, if you are traveling to a country where English is not spoken, you may want to research the name of a clinic or doctor in case of emergency as well.

Be prepared for jet lag – Before pregnancy, I had little issues with jet lag, trying to get on local time as soon as possible. I discovered when flying back from the US to Turkey that it hits you much harder as a pregnant traveler, especially as you can’t use sleeping pills or alcohol to help you sleep. Factor this into your schedule and give yourself plenty of time to acclimate and adjust to time changes.

Realize your limits have changed – On a usual trip, I’d be up early to walk around a city all day, have a late lunch (or maybe just a big afternoon beer) followed by more museums and exploration, and still be up for checking out the local nightlife. Once pregnant, I required more sleep and three solid meals a day (plus maybe some snacks, I am eating for two!), tired after walking short distances, and was ready to call it a night long before last call. If you have an itinerary, pare it down to the must-sees and double the time to see everything; better to take it easy and enjoy your trip than feel exhausted and sick.

Look for destinations that don’t require vaccinations – One of the first tests your doctor will give you after confirming pregnancy will be for immunizations to hepatitis and rubella. If you haven’t had the vaccines, they will have to wait until after the baby is born as they are not safe for pregnant women. I have not had the hepatitis vaccine yet, and thus have a greater risk of contracting it, which rules out much of Africa and southeast Asia for travel, but also means I must avoid raw vegetables including salad in Istanbul. Most other medications and vaccines commonly given to travelers before going to an area prone to Malaria, Typhoid or Yellow Fever are not advised for pregnant women. But there’s still a big world out there, check the CDC for destination-specific information.

Be extra aware of food and water safety – Pregnant women are more susceptible to food poisoning the average person, as the immune system is suppressed so it doesn’t reject the fetus. This is the reason most pregnant women are told to avoid sushi and food that is not prepared in sanitized conditions. Even adventurous eaters should play it safe while pregnant and drink bottled water when in doubt. I recently had an opportunity to visit Mumbai, India but after consulting with a few friends who had lived there, I worried I’d spend the trip inside my hotel room eating pre-packaged food. Again,

check the CDC and use the same common sense you’d use anytime while traveling: stick with food that is freshly prepared in restaurants full of people.


Stay tuned for more on pregnancy travel, including Turkish superstitions and customs, travelling in the second trimester, where to do pre-baby shopping, and more on having a baby in a foreign country. Check here for further updates.

[Photo courtesy Mike Barish from the Istanbul tram]