Hamburg – Germany
Hamburg - Germany

Hamburg – Germany

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Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg

Again the finally well deserved time to come back to a city I have never returned since the first and only time 9 years ago, Hamburg. Why this long is easy to explain, basically being concentrated in visiting hundreds other cities across dozens of countries across the globe. In a lapse of 9 years I can easily count 90 countries and over 400 cities and places, most of which available here in my travel blog for anyone to enjoy a proper guide. No need to mention this is a great excuse for remaking this entire guide adding lots more to what was there already and bringing it a most up to day bump.

How a city can change in that many years is fascinating to be honest. Back then I remember a lot of cranes and construction going on. The second largest city in Germany was transforming and evolving itself, gentrification at its best and incredible projects coming out from the countless derelict areas around the former docks and factories. Restoring its heritage buildings while designing a proper 21st century city. Today, most of it is done, and new projects being drawn ever since. What has been a very industrial city, suffering from destruction during the WWII raids, the 1962 North Sea flooding, and then from the closure of dozens of factories, re-emerged  wealthier each time as a key tourist destination in Germany focusing in business, finance, media, research, education, science, arts and of course what it does best, a major shipping logistic and infrastructure.

Hamburg, together with its neighbouring trade alliance city of Lübeck merely 65 kilometres to the east marked at the brink of year 1241 the origin and core of the powerful Hanseatic League of trading cities; Lübeck itself becoming the capital of such vast network that extended all over the Baltic and benefiting Hamburg ever since in the riches and wealth from the trade.

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Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia – Poland
Gdansk - Poland

Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia – Poland

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The Tricity by the Baltic Sea

A bunch of years have passed since the first and only time in Gdansk, the beautiful city by the Baltic Sea; now glad to return and enjoy the same or more than the first time, considering it’s the third. Not just the city but the great company of our Polish friend whom we came to visit once more time. What a better way to escape the horrible weather in London after all? Surprisingly, this was the end of September, however still a nicer weather over here bearing in mind it generally chills earlier than other places. A coincidental fact back in June 2012 it was the weekend of a Football Euro Cup semi-finals where Spain was playing against France. Definitely we are not football fans at all, but being Spanish and such a great ambiance with all the terraces showing the game at the time we were in Sopot, made it for a great dinner time entertainment.

I take the chance to revamp this guide and further expand it in line to what I am generally doing for the places I do return. While there is still a large number of travel guides from the beginning of times in my blog quite outdated or even poor comparing to what I now do, it’s great to see the speed in recreating them as I keep returning to such beautiful places. It’s becoming more and more difficult anyway to get for a weekend trip to destinations not been before. It might sound silly, but yes, we are running out of flying routes with any airline within Europe!

Gdansk is the largest of the three cities, capital of the region and principal seaport of Poland. And also, one of the most beautiful cities in Poland, full of Medieval and Hanseatic buildings, remarkably well preserved even though many of these had to be painstakingly reconstructed after their destruction during WWII. All these facts, the history behind and the countless cultural places are one of the reasons for its inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing.

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Stockholm – Sweden
Stockholm - Sweden

Stockholm – Sweden

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Venice of the North

Happy to return to this beautiful city, considering the first and only time was almost 6 years ago! It would have been in September precisely 6 years, and that was back then a very short trip when the usual travelling gang we used to be “abused” on the super low Ryanair fares to everywhere we could find. It was just £2 return! Leaving on Saturday extremely early in the morning and returning the same day but already back in London way after midnight. Long and tiring happy days. Nowadays, circumstances have changed for all, and not only you can never find such air fare deals, but we rather spend the entire weekend leaving on Friday night to return Sunday night, or similar.

Although one of the downsides of flying a low-cost airline to Stockholm is to find yourself at Skavsta Airport. This is almost 100 kilometers to the south of Stockholm itself, but the almost 2 hours bus journey to the centre is in fact also well invested and to be honest, part of the trip for the beautiful scenery you will pass and see along the way.

Being the largest city in the whole of Scandinavia and having been always so powerful and rich in history due to its strategic location and trading within the Hanseatic League, you can imagine this legacy is greatly spread across the city at the many grand buildings, medieval wealthy houses, architecture and urbanism.

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Oslo – Norway
Oslo - Norway

Oslo – Norway

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Meadow at the Foot of a Hill

One of the major capital cities that was still missing to have here in my travel blog, Oslo, finally written. It is not the first time I visit the city though, but at over 6 years since the previous time, and for what was back then one of those “light-speed day trips” we so often used to do almost every Saturday, travelling at odd unsocial early hours and returning back at even later hours on the same day (well, already Sunday), then was not much point to write the backdated guide as it would have been pretty much incomplete. This time, however, after staying longer and not merely one time, but twice for a weekend at different seasons of the year, I have absolutely everything I need to have a wider view of what this pretty Scandinavian city has to offer.

That we flew here on this day, anyway, came out of sudden at a random. Only 2 weeks before we were about to give up in searching what could we do one of the weekends, pretty much to what happened to us with other trips that we ended up returning to Brussels and visiting Leuven for example. So instead of searching for flights alone, it was well worth looking at the Holiday Finder tool on the British Airways website and there it was this great flight+hotel deal with such unbeatable perfect flying times, great hotel, but what is best, the surprisingly great price! Honestly, if you did not know about this tool they have, you should really give it a try, without giving up if on some precise dates you might be looking at you don’t see any good deal, because there are, yes there are great deals; simply change the dates or look farther ahead in advance in the year.

As a good point in all this, a weekend is more than enough to fully enjoy the city without missing anything. And if you plan or have more than 2 days, then I would advice you to have a look at what else you could do nearby as otherwise you will end up without any further places to visit and wondering what else to do next. (more…)

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Stralsund – Germany
Stralsund - Germany

Stralsund – Germany

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Stralow: Polabian for Arrow

And yet again back in Germany at only 6 days after the last time. On this occasion, our final destination was Szczecin, city we flew on Friday night but that we left for visiting on Sunday. Instead for today Saturday, we decided to enjoy a day trip towards the Baltic Coast of Poland, and crossing over to Germany which lies few kilometres from the border towards the UNESCO World Heritage Site listed city of Stralsund. One of the most beautiful and iconic Hanseatic cities, which together with its brother city of Wismar, shares the same UNESCO status listing.

Unfortunately due to the lack of time and because of the already far distance we had to drive to come here, it was physically impossible to fit this second city of Wismar, way much farther to the west. The easiest and fastest way for this one will be in the future, flying to Hamburg or Lübeck as those are the nearest airports and a short train or bus ride from there.

The way from Szczecin to the north is a fast and beautiful drive, in between lakes and nature, soon arriving to the Baltic Sea passing Swinoujscie. From here it is meters away from the German border which is a pretty straightforward crossing and without queues. There is a fee to cross over but that’s all. Probably they don’t even require you to hand over your ID/Passport either, since they are in the European Union and they run only spot checks at random.

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Bremen and the Wadden Sea – Germany
Bremen - Germany

Bremen and the Wadden Sea – Germany

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Free Imperial City

This unstoppable rush for travelling continues now that we are halfway in the year, on what is going to be a record-breaking in all senses. Amount of kilometres travelled, number of flights taken, and number of countries been. Also marking the moment where I’ve travelled to the farthest place so far in my life from where I live, to Easter Island back in April. On this occasion, it is “just” here next door to London, the beautiful German city of Bremen.

Long ago are the £2 return tickets with Ryanair here, but unfortunately we kept postponing on behalf of going to different destinations on and on and. Now you have to pay at least 30 times over that amount, which in any case it is still quite cheap with more or less the same fares for pretty much the whole year. Quite a bargain bearing in mind the great flying times allowing us to be the entire Saturday and Sunday over there, time that we used for a much busier program than only visiting Bremen anyway. Also this was the summer solstice weekend and while many other destinations were really expensive, this was really competitive.

The city has been benefiting from being an independent city-state for much of its history, hence why it became to be known as the Free Imperial City. Nowadays it’s the capital city of the smallest of the 16 states that form Germany, Freie Hansestadt Bremen, which consists of only 2 cities, Bremen and Bremerhaven, the harbour city. The land in between both of these cities is the state of Lower Saxony.

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Helsinki – Finland
Helsinki - Finland

Helsinki – Finland

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The Daughter of the Baltic

Many years have passed since the first and only visit to Helsinki. Very long time to remember, not to mention how young I was. That long ago I was only starting my first year at the university of architecture so I have to admit I was not even too impressed and demanding about the architecture in the city, or any city. Totally opposite as how I am now wherever I travel. But something that has never changed in all this time is my passion for art-deco and art-nouveau styles. And yes, that’s right, Helsinki has one of the largest collection of art-nouveau buildings in the world.

Returning back to this city was as exciting as for the first time. Gladly to find out it is still as cute and well cared, clean and elegant as I remembered. A big down side, the much higher costs for everything in overall. Back in 2002 they were only starting to use the Euro as currency merely 6 months before my arrival and I remember the people already telling how much the prices went up. But now, everything has changed, and although it is not as expensive as its neighbors (Sweden and specially Norway), there is a clear steep increase in prices.

So this time, I got to see how the city looks like in winter time. Fair enough it’s not very true as it was already spring and not the peak December/January; but still, was it was freezing cold. Quite the opposite as how this was the first time I came to the city at over 30 degrees in the middle of the summer. But don’t take this for granted, the weather over here even in August could be very bad and cold. I was perhaps very lucky, but it’s not the norm.

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Riga – Latvia
Riga - Latvia

Riga – Latvia

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The art-nouveau capital of Europe

The wonderful city of Riga. A very well deserved return to revisit after that many years in between the previous times. The fact that I kept postponing this city on behalf of others is still a fact I cannot quite explain. I cannot think of any possible reason nor excuse as it is still ranking one of my all time favourite European cities, not only for the beauty and cosines of the old town but because of its impressive collection of art-nouveau buildings, the largest of its kind on any city in the world. And yes, for those who don’t know me yet, art-nouveau together with art-deco are my favourite architectural styles.

Riga is the largest city not only in Latvia, also the largest of any city across the Baltic countries, followed by Tallinn and Vilnius; hosting one third of the country’s population. As such, plan at least 2 days for visiting it. Any shorter than this and you will struggle to enjoy the sights and relaxed time at any of the many restaurants and bars. Yet still, over 2 days and you might end up with not much more to do and see unless going to the outskirts neighbourhoods or nearby seaside resort of Jurmala.

The old town is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list due to its importance and rich past and prosperity over history as one of the major cities of the Hanseatic League and for hosting an almost intact medieval layout coupled with an incredible collection of 19th century wood classical buildings in the Russian style and an unrivaled 19th and 20th century art-nouveau city extension. (more…)

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