Video Of The Day: Ramadan Iftar Feast, Olympics Edition

Tomorrow, July 20, thousands of Muslims will wake up around the world and begin a month-long fast for the occasion of Ramadan. From sunrise to sunset, they will abstain from eating, drinking, and smoking, while breaking the fast with lively Ramadan iftar feasts at night. This year is special as it will coincide with the London Olympics, and UK mosques will be welcoming people from all over the world from every faith (or lack there of) to join in the celebratory feasts. If you are visiting London, you can learn more about the Ramadan holy month or join an iftar. You can visit for more information.

If you’d like to share your travel photos or videos with us, add them to the Gadling Flickr pool or post a link below.

Watching a small village parade in Malta

I just returned from a week in the small island country of Malta. For our first trip with our nearly two-month old baby, we decided to rent a house outside the village of Xaghra on Malta’s smaller island Gozo. Picking us up from the ferry, our landlady explained how the town was gearing up for the national Victory Day holiday on September 8th as well as the village patron saint’s feast celebration, and each night there would be smaller festivities building up to the main event. Every night we’d walk to the square, choose among the handful of restaurants to eat (with a population of 4,200, it’s among the more cosmopolitan of Gozitan villages), and watch the square fill with people chatting, eating, and playing bingo, as it turned out. We saw girls in outfits that would be considered skimpy in a Miami nightclub flirt on the church steps with boys wearing shirts with religious icons. On our last night on Gozo, the square was more packed than usual and soon we discovered why: a parade was about to start!

%Gallery-133057%The village parade consisted mainly of a marching band and a large statue of the village’s patron saint, Our Lady of Victories, carried by a team of local men, many who had been enjoying a few Cisk beers. The make up of the band’s members was motley but memorable, including a tiny man carrying a drum that nearly dwarfed him, a boy barely in his teens playing among musicians decades older, a pretty young woman in high wedge heels. The band started out in the square, playing various Gozitan and Maltese anthems, before moving down the main road under a rain of confetti. We followed the band along the street until we were stopped in a bottleneck in front of Our Lady of Victories. You do NOT want to get in front of Our Lady, lest you want to be scolded by the man in charge of her and her (increasingly drunken) handlers. We moved aside and let the band continue down the street, leaving a thick carpet of confetti. Every child in town came out to gather bunches of confetti, build forts in it, and throw it at their friends.

As the crowd began to disperse, we stopped at a snack bar where they played a recording of the songs we had just heard, in search of a nightcap. Even a dozen years of living in New York with its legendary parades couldn’t compare to the fun we had at a small Gozitan feast, and this was just a warm up celebration! In New York, you wouldn’t see a child rolling around making confetti angels. In New York, you can’t touch the floats. In New York, you couldn’t buy a magnum of good local wine after hours and be told apologetically that it would cost 4 euro. But in Gozo, a family of Russian/American New York City expats from Istanbul could feel dazzled by a small village feast.

Photo of the Day – Bubbles in Bosnia-Herzegovina

As children, we are captivated by bubbles. A little soap and water and the reflections can be magical. Outside of the occasional bubble bath (and the delicious bubbles in sparkling wine!), we don’t have many occasions to enjoy bubbles as adults. In today’s photo by Flickr user Marko Musnjak, the little girl and her mother look equally mesmerized by the street seller’s bubble toy. Taken at the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in Posušje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the photo captures the fun and magic of street festivals and bubbles.

What childhood delights have you rediscovered in your travels? Share your favorite photos in the Gadling Flickr pool and we may use it for a future Photo of the Day.

Ramadan begins today: what travelers can expect

Today begins the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, a month long period of prayer and reflection, fasting and sacrifice, as well as feasting and acts of charity and kindness.

Travelers should exercise extra patience and flexibility this month where Ramadan is celebrated, but enjoy the special atmosphere and festivities.

If traveling in a Muslim country during August, expect closures, a slower pace, and shorter tempers during the day, but lively iftar meals and celebrations at night.

Here in the largely secular city of Istanbul, foreigners and tourists won’t encounter many problems, most restaurants and attractions will be open and travelers aren’t expected to observe the fast, though it’s polite to refrain from eating or drinking in public (read about last year’s Ramadan in Istanbul here and in Cairo).

In the US, Whole Foods has become the first nationwide chain to offer promotions and special content for Ramadan. The grocery store’s blog will share recipes and sponsor giveaways all month for the nearly 2 million American Muslims.

The TSA has just posted on their blog about what to expect in airports during Ramadan, though most of their tips are general for any time of year (you may encounter Muslims performing ablutions in airport bathrooms or hear prayers whispered) or information about what not to expect (i.e. eating or smoking).

Ramadan will end on August 29 this year, followed by a week of celebration when many Muslims travel to visit family or pilgrimage to Mecca.

Read more Gadling travel tips for Ramadan here. Traveling in the Muslim world this month? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.

[Photo courtesy balavenise, Wikimedia Commons]

Ramadan begins in the Muslim world: a report from Turkey

Yesterday was the first day of Ramadan (or Ramazan, as it is called in Turkey), a month-long holiday in the Islamic faith of fasting, prayer, and reflection. For observant Muslims, eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual activity is prohibited from dawn to dusk for 30 days. The elderly, ill, pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as (interestingly) menstruating women are excused. Before dawn, drummers traditionally walk the streets to wake people up to eat a last meal before the fast begins. At the end of the day, the fast is broken with an iftar meal which usually involves special pide flat bread in Turkey.

While many Westerners choose to avoid travel to Muslim countries during Ramadan due to the awkwardness of eating during the day, the nights can be a fun and fascinating time to observe the celebrations and feasts. As Turkey is a fairly liberal country and Istanbul particularly secular, I was curious to see how behavior would change in the city, particularly during the current heatwave. The night before Ramazan began, I headed to the supermarket to stock up on provisions, not wanting to flaunt my food and drink purchases (including very un-Muslim wine and bacon) while others were fasting. While it wasn’t like the pre-blizzard rush I expected, I did spot quite a few Muslims carb-loading on pasta, cookies, and baked goods in preparation for the fast.The first morning of Ramazan, I followed tweets from my fellow Istanbulites reporting on the drummers who woke them pre-dawn but they weren’t heard in my neighborhood. Outside on my street of fabric wholesale stores, it was tea-drinking, chain-smoking, kebab-eating business as usual. Heading down to posh Nişantaşı, the Soho of Istanbul, shop girls still smoked outside designer boutiques and sidewalk cafes were busy as ever. I spotted a few Turkish workmen lying languidly on the grass in Maçka Park, though whether their fatigue was due to fasting or the unbearable humidity is debatable. Hopping on the (blissfully air-conditioned) tram to tourist mecca Sultanahmet, visitors brandished water bottles and crowded outside restaurants as ever, but the usual touts outside the Blue Mosque were hard to find, as were any signs of Ramazan being observed. Slightly different was the waterfront Eminönü area where the Galata Bridge crosses the Golden Horn; the usual dozens of fishermen where cut down to a handful on either side and the plethora of street food vendors serving the thousands of ferry commuters were fewer.

That evening near Taksim Square, hardly any restaurants had closed and even the fasting waiters seemed good-natured about serving customers. Just before sunset, lines started to form outside bakeries selling pide, and at the dot of 8:20pm, restaurant tables quickly filled up and several waiters sat inside and ate ravenously. The mood was convivial and festival-like on the streets, and special concerts and events are put on nightly throughout the month. This month’s English-language Time Out Istanbul provides a guide to Ramadan as well as a round-up of restaurants serving iftar feasts, but curiously, almost all of them are at Western chain hotels.

While it’s hard to tell if people are fasting or just not indulging at the moment, here in Istanbul, life goes on during Ramazan. As the days go on, I expect to notice more bad moods and short tempers, particularly with the already slightly deranged taxi drivers craving their nicotine and caffeine fixes. Little will change for a non-Muslim traveler during Ramazan, particularly in tourist areas, but it’s still polite to be discreet about eating and drinking in public as a courtesy to those fasting. I look forward to Şeker Bayramı (Sweets Festival) next month, the three-day holiday marking the end of Ramazan, and the equivalent of Christmas or Hanukkah, with a little bit of Halloween thrown in. During the holiday, children go door to door and get offered candies and presents, Turkish people visit with family, and everyone drinks a lot of tea.

Any other travelers experiencing Ramadan this month? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

[Photo credit: Flickr user laszlo-photo]