Categorie archief: Capital of the month

Visiting one European Capital every month this year is a nice goal for 2011. I’ll try to make nice visits and write about ordinary and extraordinary stuff I run into in these cities. I am open to any ideas or suggestions on where to go or what to see.

Hostel San Marino

San Marino, the world’s fifth-smallest state, claims to be the world’s oldest surviving republic. According to tradition, San Marino was founded in 301 AD. San Marino now is the only surviving Italian microstate. Like Andorra, Liechtenstein and Monaco, it’s a reminder of the times when Europe — particularly Germany, Italy and the Pyrenees — was made up of tiny political units, sometimes extending no further than a cannon could fire from a city’s walls. Along with Vatican City and Lesotho it is one of the three states surrounded by a single other country. San Marino asserts its independence and various treaties of friendship have been signed with Italy since the latter’s unification.

I visited San Marino on a short trip that took me from Pisa via Bologna and Tuscany and on the way back I visited Florence. There was a hostel in San Marino that looked quite ok on the photos, that I had booked beforehand. It turned out it had a great view from halfway up the mountain, where the old city has their impressive castle built on. Arriving late in the evening I entered through a bar and then got sent through the back, where a big steel door granted me access to a dark staircase that went up to the hostel.

Although I liked my time walking around San Marino and the amazing views, I mostly remember the 2 people I encountered in the hostel, that were the only – and also most unlikely – people in my dorm room.
One was a girl named Yuki, from Japan, a 20-ish year old with typical schoolgirl looks. Terrible at English, but totally not shy about it. Not comprehending every second sentence, for example I saw her explaining at the front desk in 7 different ways that she need a hair dryer, but still chatting away with me too until I grew a bit tired of trying to explain what I was saying. Luckily she went to bed very early… She got up really early too, 5 am it must have been as she disappeared into the dark, supposedly on her way to Poland for some reason.
My other roommate was Oleg. A 55-year old Russian ex military guy. Extreme traveller, avid swimmer, typical tough Russian storyteller. He talked to me part of the late evening and in the morning. He showed me his passport, filled with stamps, telling me about Chinese trips, border checks in Belarus and his love for finding exotic records. And if I ever go to Moscow he will host me he promises…

It’s these fun(ny) meetings that make trips like this extra valuable to me. So many countries, so many different people. It’s a special place, this world… Anyways, I only have 21 Capitals left on my list!

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Over half done!

It’s really not easy to get the list done, but I decided to finish this European Capital list at some point… 2 weeks ago I visited Belgrade. What a splendid city. Next week I’ll go to San Marino…! I also visited Prague again this summer… That was already my 4th visit to Prague. So. I am at 23 European Captitals now… And no 24 coming up soon. There is 45 capitals in my European Capital list…
People ask me how I do it. I just do it…! That is the key. Look, trips don’t have to cost that much. I have a travel budget… Most cities you can see in 2 or 3 days. And if you manage to keep travel cost to a minimum it can work out fine… I look at all possible flights, I keep cost of accommodation in check. And then I can go again not too soon after my last trip… ;)

Country Name Capital City DONE coming soon month Time Travel
Albania Tirana
Andorra Andorra la Vella
Austria Vienna x aug ’11 4 days car
Belarus Minsk
Belgium Brussels x sept ’11 2 days car
Bosnia and Herzegovina Sarajevo
Bulgaria Sofia
Croatia Zagreb
Cyprus Nicosia
Czech Republic Prague x apr ’13 2 days car
Denmark Copenhagen x nov ’11 3 days boat/car
Estonia Tallinn
Finland Helsinki
France Paris x July ’11 2 days car
Germany Berlin x mar ’13 2 days car
Greece Athens
Hungary Budapest x apr ’13 2 days plane
Iceland Reykjavik
Ireland Dublin 0
Italy Rome x mar ’11 4 days plane
Latvia Riga x april ’11 4 days plane
Liechtenstein Vaduz
Lithuania Vilnius
Luxembourg Luxembourg x dec ’11 3 days car
Macedonia Skopje x jun ’14 3 days plane
Malta Valletta x feb ’11 4 days plane
Moldova Chisinau
Monaco Monaco x june ’11 3 days plane/car
Montenegro Podgorica
Netherlands Amsterdam x april ’11 1 day train
Norway Oslo
N. Ireland Belfast x oct ’11 3 days plane
Poland Warsaw
Portugal Lisbon x oct ’10 2 days plane / car from Sevilla
Romania Bucharest x nov ’14 3 days plane
San Marino San Marino 0
Serbia Belgrade x sep ’15 3 days plane
Slovakia Bratislava x sep ’14 2 days plane / car from Budapest
Slovenia Ljubljana
Spain Madrid x nov ’10 4 days plane
Sweden Stockholm x feb ’07 3 days
Switzerland Bern
Turkey Istanbul
Ukraine Kiev 0
United Kingdom London x jan ’11 2 days boat/car
Vatican City Vatican City x mar ’11  (Rome)

Wandering through Bucaresti

Romania is certainly not the most popular country to visit in Europe. Stories about the poverty and corruption are well known and people look surprised when I tell them I am going on this trip. I didn’t really have Bucharest as a high priority on my list of capitals that I would like to visit. But I did some reading up and it certainly is a country with a lot of interesting history and the people are a proud folk.

A taxi ride to the city
When I arrived to the city’s 2nd airport named Henri Cuanda (the inventor of the jet engine) I decide I want to get to the city as quick as possible, so I walk out to get a taxi. Taxi’s seem to be the most common way of transportation in Bucharest. After asking for the price of a taxi ride into the city to the first taxi guy, I tell him that’s too expensive straight away, and I walk around the block to the next to ask again -if I do get ripped off I don’t want to feel too stupid- and this taxi driver confirms that it really is about 80 Lei to get to my apartment in the city centre.

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My taxi driver’s name is Nikolai. This older gentleman starts to speak a couple of words in German to me and tries to talk with me on the 30 minute drive by shouting words at me like “politik”, “korrupt” and I try to sound friendly to compliment his driving style by saying “Schumacher” (which I say to most taxi drivers in Eastern Europe to make conversation, they always give a chuckle). He tells me he is 3 months away from his pension. So I sure hope he’ll survive his driving style before he gets to his pension but at least as long as I am in his car. Else he warns me about 5000 taxi drivers in Bucharest are “pirati” and I should be very careful with what taxi I get in to. I pay 80 Lei to Nikolai. Funny. Later that week I get a taxi back to the airport. This costs me 35 Lei. I guess Nikolai is secretly the king of the taxi Pirati’s.

Steaua Bucaresti
After I arrive to the apartment and drop my stuff, I know I can go to a football match of the number 1 team in Romania, Steaua, I found out they play that evening. On google maps I found the stadium. It’s a 4,5 kilometre walk that will take me an hour. I do feel like going for a walk especially as I have this sudden fear of getting into taxi’s as well.

It’s a cold evening, the route takes me through some desolate streets and suburbs, with gray buildings. And it’s a lot of manoeuvring over sidewalks, where there are lots of broken tiles – or no tiles – and especially holes in the ground to avoid.  On the way I run into two different people who I ask if I’m on the right way. Both these people can’t help me. One asks me “Steaua? Which sport?” When I say “football, ofcourse” he doesn’t have a clue, about anything. The other guy a couple of blocks further down the road tells me there are 4 stadiums for Steaua football in the city, and surely I am walking the wrong way. But the right way he cannot tell me either. I am stubborn and focussed so I proceed on my route. After 50 minutes of walking I see the big lights of the stadium deeming in the distance. I found it! I am getting excited. This will be fun!
When I approach the gate there are 2 military guards who tell me I cannot go in. I tell them I came from Holland,I just flew in and I walked 4,5 kilometres because of the pirate taxi’s in their city. Can’t they please let me in? “No way”, they say, the match has no attendees because of some kind of ruling by the football association. Oh my. That is bad for me. I meet a guy from Malmö, Bogdan, who is formerly Romanian military and had to defend Ceaucescu’s government as a 18 year old guy. We both try to get in in a diplomatic way, but the military police is like talking to a wall. They say no and no seems to stay no. Bogdan gives up after half an hour. And I decide I’ll just get a taxi back to the city. Bogdan tells me it is really safe. The taxi guy I walk up to doesn’t look like a pirate. Later I ask another taxi guy and I hear Steaua won with 2-0. Well. That’s really really good and I am proud I almost saw them play.

AirBnB
The 4 days that I was in Bucharest I used AirBnB again. I love this concept. For sure not every experience is good, but 8 out of 10 are. And it’s way better if I can help a Bucharest person by renting their place, they usually try to make an extra effort, and I like putting some money in their pocket instead of going to a more expensive international chain of hotels. This way I really get to feel the real city much more. Walking around in authentic neighborhoods, untouched by masses of tourists, I always appreciate a lot.
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I buy my groceries in a typical small corner store, where they hardly speak English. Prizes always amaze me in Eastern Europe. A couple of beers, some fruits, cookies, meat, other snacks. All for little more than 6 euro. I put them in the fridge. That’s one of the perks of having a whole apartment, and it’s close to the center, and that all for a rent of 22 euro per night. The only thing – my mattress came to life at night, where I would feel a spring coming up and pushing me in my chest. That can be the surprising fun of AirBnB!

Night life in smoke
In the city I chose to go into the first nice place I find. I don’t like the freezing cold. And wow, I could not have found a better place. Caru Cu Bere I walk in, this is also known as Carul cu Bere; “the beer wagon” and it is a bar and restaurant in the Lipscani district, in a gothic revival building designed by Austrian architect Siegfrid Kofczinsky, in 1899. It is noted for its interior decoration, in Art nouveau style. And people I spoke told me it is the number one bar in Romania to hang out.
Inside I meet an Austrian guy (not sure if he’s family of Kofczinsky, I didn’t ask), his first name is Thomas, whom I share a table on the balcony with and I order a beer and some real Romanian dinner. As a bonus while we sit, there is lively music and from time to time there are dancers on the ground floor that provide extra entertainment. A very nice evening it turns out to be!IMG_7651.JPG  IMG_7885.JPG

When I go to a different club much later in the “Old Town” with Thomas and a group of English we meet on the way there, walking in this club is horrific because of it being blue with smoke and all people seem to be smoking. I decide to leave right away and find my bed and say a friendly good-bye to Thomas. It seems smoking is very popular in Romania unfortunately and almost every club or baris filled with a thick curtain of smoke. Pretty disgusting, but fine for them if they like it, I’ll find better places to hang out a different night…

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There are also some real fancy places with old fashioned hospitality in Bucharest. They’re called casino’s(!) and they are all over the city. I decide to go into a casino another night. I am welcomed by some very nice hospitality ladies and the games are cheap to begin with. And that’s enough fun for me as also the drinks are free and sometimes the hospitality ladies hold you company as you play. They claim to be the only 7 star Casino in the world. To me the atmosphere I would like to describe as a 1930’s New Orleans restaurant – I have never been to one, but I do hope my readers have imagination for the classy feeling I am trying to sketch…

Overall I had a great couple of days in Bucharest! I will definitely put it in my top 10 list so far of European Capitals I have visited.

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Een wandeling naar Ceaucescu’s Paleis van het Volk.

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De stroeve deur van het immense gebouw zwaai ik open. Er staat een groep mensen rustig te wachten op een Engelstalige gids. Ik betaal 25 Lei (5 euro ongeveer) en ik mag even later mijn paspoort inleveren en met de groep door de metaaldetectoren, kort nadat ik ook nog even vlug een kopje totaal onsmakelijke cappuccino (van een paar Lei) heb weggesobbert in de wachtruimte. Ik ben erg benieuwd wat ik ga zien.

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De gids strooit allereerst met wat cijfers: 350.000 m2 beslaat dit gebouw. Het is het grootste gebouw van Europa en het op een na grootste regeringsgebouw ter wereld (het Pentagon staat op 1). Het vergde 7000 medewerkers 10 jaar om het te bouwen, het heeft 8(!) ondergrondse niveaus en er is alleen Roemeens materiaal gebruikt voor de bouw van het hele gebeuren. Waar je ook kijkt, marmer, eikenhout, enorme gordijnen en ontelbaar veel kroonluchters.

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Tijdens de rondleiding loop ik zo’n 1,5 kilometer en daarmee heb ik naar zeggen minder dan een procent van het gebouw gezien. En de gids weet mij voor die 25 Lei ook niet uit te leggen hoe de gordijnen schoongemaakt worden.

Het paleis hebben ze overigens behangen met zo’n 40.000 lampen – tot de overgang op zuinigere lampen was het electriciteitsverbruik dat van een klein stadje. En in de winter is het gebouw schijnlijk heel moeilijk warm te houden.

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Nog zoiets, 1/3e deel van Boekarest is afgebroken(!) voor het project, wat nog niet klaar was toen Ceaucescu is afgezet in 1999. Hij heeft dus nooit gebruik gemaakt van ‘zijn’ paleis. Toevallig kwam ik tijdens mijn weekend nog een oud-regeringssoldaat tegen, die me vertelde hoe hij vol angst als 18-jarige naïef en tevergeefs de boel stond te verdedigen voor Ceaucescu.

De eerste speech van het bordes van het Parlementsgebouw was in 2002 van niemand minder dan Michael Jackson. Deze begroette de stad met ‘Hello Budapest!’ wat een pijnlijke verspreking is geweest voor de toegestroomde Roemenen. Maar goed. Dat overkomt de besten.

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Dit gebouw mag er in ieder geval wezen en heeft wel een kleine extra indruk gemaakt tijdens dit middagwandelingetje in mijn 22e Europese hoofdstad – Boekarest!

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Bucharest is next!

Well… Bucharest is the next European Capital to visit… There’s quite a few Capitals in the South East of Europe that I still have to see and I am curious what I will find. Bucharest is a quite isolated one, so I was happy to find a cheap flight with Wizzair to take me there for 4 days.

Romania in a way never really attracted me, it seemed poor and underdeveloped, but I have heard many good things about it too. In the 90’s I personally liked Romanian footballplayer Gheorghe Hagi very much, “The Maradona of the Carpathians”, he scored fenomenal goals, and Hagi is considered a hero in his homeland. He was named Romanian Footballer of the Year seven times, and is regarded as one of the best football players of his generation. Just so you know.

The name of București has an uncertain origin: tradition connects the founding of Bucharest with the name of Bucur who was either a prince, an outlaw, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a hunter, according to different legends. In Romanian the word stem bucur means ‘joy’ (“happiness”). It all should be a joyful experience for me then!

I really am keen to see Ceaușescu’s Palace of the Parliament or the “Peoples Palace”. There should be some stories that I can pick up about it as well…

The city’s population, according to the 2002 census, was 1,926,334 inhabitants, or 8.9% of the total population of Romania. I do hope to meet 1 or 2 of them!

Luke’s 21 hoofdsteden tot nu…

 

Country Name Capital City DONE wishlist month Time Travel
Albania Tirana
Andorra Andorra la Vella
Austria Vienna x aug ’11 4 days car
Belarus Minsk
Belgium Brussels x sept ’11 2 days car
Bosnia and Herzegovina Sarajevo
Bulgaria Sofia
Croatia Zagreb
Cyprus Nicosia
Czech Republic Prague x apr ’13
Denmark Copenhagen x nov ’11 3 days boat/car
Estonia Tallinn o
Finland Helsinki o
France Paris x July ’11 2 days car
Germany Berlin x mar ’13
Greece Athens
Hungary Budapest x apr ’13
Iceland Reykjavik
Ireland Dublin
Italy Rome x mar ’11 4 days plane
Latvia Riga x april ’11 4 days plane
Liechtenstein Vaduz
Lithuania Vilnius
Luxembourg Luxembourg x dec ’11 3 days car
Macedonia Skopje x jun ’14 3 days plane
Malta Valletta x feb ’11 4 days plane
Moldova Chisinau
Monaco Monaco x june ’11 3 days plane/car
Montenegro Podgorica
Netherlands Amsterdam x april ’11 1 day train
Norway Oslo
N. Ireland Belfast x oct ’11 3 days plane
Poland Warsaw  o
Portugal Lisbon x oct ’10
Romania Bucharest
San Marino San Marino
Serbia Belgrade
Slovakia Bratislava x sep ’14
Slovenia Ljubljana
Spain Madrid x nov ’10
Sweden Stockholm x feb ’07
Switzerland Bern
Turkey Istanbul o
Ukraine Kiev
United Kingdom London x jan ’11 2 days boat/car
Vatican City Vatican City x mar ’11  (Rome)
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InstaBratislava

I guess pictures show a lot about a trip. So I ll show a bunch of Instagrams here… I was in Bratislava, my 21st European capital, for 1 day and 1 night. I ate some very real Slovakian foods, I slept in a lovely AirBnB in te centre of town where I met some people and I had a great walk along the Danube river. What a pleasant city!

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