Warsaw, (Poland)

“Paris of the North”, The Phoenix City”, “The city that has risen from the ashes”

Warsaw, Poland, June 2019

Time for an entire remake of this travel guide for what it really deserves a city such a Warsaw, one of the most historical and beautiful not just in Poland, but in Europe itself. Yet considering how nice is always return here, this is merely my 3rd time, and very long time ago since the previous trips back in 2012 and 2004. I must say I’ve been quite busy trying to discover as many new cities as possible hence why I kept postponing a return to Warsaw, and plenty other great cities elsewhere in many other countries; however now that I am done with the 51 countries that form Europe as continent I’m glad for taking some further quality time returning. Not the last time either that’s for sure.

Now something I can say from comparing these 3 spacious in time visits is the enormous and sometimes radical change the city has experienced. An amazing gentrification and restoration with fine attention to detail in all that related the UNESCO listed Old Town area, and the incredible and fast growing shiny business district with plenty of ongoing projects to come adding to an already imposing skyline, mostly designed by world renown architects.

I recall being one of the few tourists wandering the city back in 2004, and now struggling to find local people that many years later among the hordes of tourists. Let’s not forget Poland is, over all, a very desirable tourist destination with lots to offer, and so much it has given the world in culture, the arts, astronomy, physics, science, medicine, mathematics, chemistry, biology, music, telecommunications… name any field no matter which, and there is certainly an inventor, a pioneer or a genius excelling at any of these. Are any of this familiar just as some examples?: Maksymilian Faktorowicz (founder of the Max Factor cosmetics company), Józef Hofmann (a pianist who invented paper clips), Ignacy Łukasiewicz (designed and built the world’s first oil refinery and oil well), the Warner Brothers (yeah the biggest media corporation and film studio), Frédéric Chopin (the composer), Nicolaus Copernicus (mathematician and astronomer), Marie Curie. Or stunning cities such as Krakow, Katowice, Gdansk, Torun, Poznan, Wroclaw.

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Baku, (Azerbaijan)

“The City of Winds”, “The largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region”

Baku, Azerbaijan, October 2018

Quite of an unexpected last minute trip using the last remaining holidays left for this year’s allowance, it does also mean this is the very last country in Europe as a continent I have not been. With it, I’ve completed all 51 countries that are as per-se, considered Europe, one way or another, although it is a trans-continental country with soil in Europe and Asia. So completing the Caucasus region coupled with Georgia and Armenia that we’ve visited just few months ago, it is coming closer the time to get farther to the big empty space in my travel map that is Central Asia now that East and South East Asia is almost fully completed as well.

Baku, the capital of the country, and actually the only metropolis in Azerbaijan, contains almost every sight worth visiting in the country, together with the nearby natural attractions of the mud volcanoes and fire mountain, and the prehistoric hieroglyphs of Qobustan. Easy to visit it all in merely 3 days without any rush, so imagine that we calculated 4 full days for this trip, that was well an over-estimation, however we knew it. After all, Baku is not just next door from London, and flights are not cheap at all, so we rather enjoy a bit more time and discover other facts and corners outside from the touristy landmarks.

With a history dating back to the Stone Age, the true “modern” Azerbaijan and Baku itself as we know it today with its great architecture is the result of an idyllic location, cross-roads for centuries of trading between Asia and Europe, and Iran taking over its rule in the 10th century from the native Shirvanshahs for centuries, switching thereafter hands to Russia back and forth in the 18th century, including the Ottomans eager for this land, until the Russo-Persian War of 1804–1813 where it became irrevocably part of the Russian Empire and remained as such part of Russia until the Independence in 1918, however captured as part of the Soviet Union until the fall in 1990. (more…)

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Yerevan and sites of Armenia, (Armenia)

“The Pink City”, “Ararat Mountain, the resting place of Noah’s Ark”

Across Armenia, April 2018

Reaching the next destination in this trip, entering country number 90! Armenia. Not a long journey from Tbilisi to Yerevan, the capital where we would make the next and last base in order to visit not only the capital, but the plenty of sites and sights, many of which UNESCO World Heritage listed in the nearby in a radius of 40 kilometres from the city centre. For now, another of the great capitals of the former Soviet Union (talking about recent times), full of history through the millennia and impressive architecture every corner.

Considering this is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities with foundation roots back to the 8th century BC (although evidence in the southern districts date to 3200 BC), and then the seat of one of the oldest dioceses in the world, the Araratian Pontifical Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, then one can only imagine all the chapters of history that has passed through it. But before I continue, let’s name “an event” of world-wide importance: the national symbol of Armenia are the sacred mountain of Ararat. Visible from most parts of the city, these are in fact 2 extant volcanoes however for Christianity, this is the resting place of Noah’s Ark. Well whether you believe in that or not, religion aside, it is an incredible beautiful national park all around it, and by all means one of the highest peaks in the whole of Europe, acting as a natural border with Turkey.

The city survived many times destruction, reconstruction and rise with every ruling power at the time: The ancient kingdom of Urartu; Iranian Median, Achaemenid Empire, Ancient Kingdom of Armenia, Sasanian, Persian Empire, Bagratid, Byzantine, Seljuk, Mongol, Aq Qoyunlu and Kara Koyunlu tribes, Iranian rule, Russian Empire, Soviet Union and finally the independent Republic of Armenia we know today. Of course, no one expects you to know all about such empires, tribes and ruling powers, nor I will go in detail explaining about, for that we have the internet and Wikipedia excelling on it. But a quick resume on the direct impact of this past, is the heritage you are about to experience and see, with constructions of every era and a great selection of museums displaying countless artifacts. (more…)

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Tbilisi, (Georgia)

“Old Georgian T’bilisi, meaning warm location”, “Grand City of the Silk Road”

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Coming to our last destination in Georgia before leaving for Armenia having been to Batumi and Kutaisi the days before, we arrive to its fascinating capital city for a bit longer this time; almost 3 days in Tbilisi. It worked just about right in counting 2 entire days for visiting the countless sights and 3 nights, time enough for also enjoying so much great food like nowhere else, and seeing some nightlife with local beers and drinks in incredible truly Georgia style restaurants and bars. We would have been pleased with an extra day, however that was impossible due to the tight schedule.

The countless historic houses perched from the hill overlooking the Kura (Mtkvari) River bend, the views from the bridges, and the unparalleled views from the cable car itself will be your postcard perfect memory from Tbilisi. Still, there are plenty of restoration projects going on, and many more to come, the city has simply kicked-off greatly opening more and more to the thriving tourism industry which will soon come in the masses. The potential at any place in the Caucasus is been always there, only dormant until recently. Take your chance to visit Georgia before the big tourism boom; thereafter its uniqueness might be compromised on behalf of a heavily tourist-orientated mentality.

Back on a bit of history, would you ever imagine that since its foundation in the 5th century AD it has been destroyed and rebuilt at least 29 times? Incredible fact and dramatic number. But the location says it all. Next to the once thriving and lucrative Silk Road, right in between Europe and Asia, no wonder every power through the centuries wanted to take over it. The many different empires left their legacy, notably visible today in the vast architectural collection. This is the real deal, no hesitation. In this city you will get to see plenty of the impressive Ottoman architecture the city is so proud from, among other styles such as medieval, neo-classical Beaux Arts, art-nouveau, art-deco, modernist and Stalinist. (more…)

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Batumi, (Georgia)

“Ancient Greek Bathus”, “The Caucasus Las Vegas”

Batumi, Georgia, April 2018

Our second destination in Georgia, the major resort in the country along the Black Sea, and largest port in the country: Batumi. It is also considered the “second” city in the country, although in truth that title is for Kutaisi. Batumi is the second most populous that’s for sure, and one of the most visited by either Georgians and foreigners in search of sandy beaches, good climate and a quite fashionable and developed city without making a big damage to the pockets. Still with every year passing, it is turning more and more expensive and attracting a more wealthy tourist. Be no surprise to find plenty of Turkish holidaying here, but not for the beach resort. After all, Turkey has endless kilometres of great coast!, but because of the gambling. It is forbidden in Turkey, but casinos in Georgia are legal, with Batumi leading the league.

Considering the history of the country, from ancient times through the different civilizations and kingdoms, this is not a city where to admire remains from the past nor the fascinating architecture in the churches and cathedral. It is nevertheless unique in the country for being the only city where a growing number of skyscrapers are arising, some of which in a very futuristic style, completed with post-modern, post-neoclassical and others that are making it a very trendy spot for local and foreign investors. A city looking towards a very bright future ahead.

It was great to come here, see all this and wondering yourself how only in the matter of just around 10 years this is a completely different city. From a rather poor past, with crumbling buildings, grey and that very communist style, to an spectacular waterfront and a meticulous care for the architecture and urbanism, all so clean and well cared it feels at some points like an amusement park. (more…)

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Kutaisi, (Georgia)

“Ancient Kingdom of Colchis capital”, “Middle Ages Kingdom of Georgia capital”

Kutaisi, Georgia, April 2018

As Easter holidays come, that generally means another great occasion for a longer trip, farther where possible and using the chance for visiting some new destinations not ever been before. Gladly I can say this time it was not an exception, and while not really heading into a different continent than the one we are living in, we travelled to the very far eastern edges, to the Caucasus: the meeting point between Europe and Asia. Starting at Kutaisi in Georgia, where this new flight route from London would take us and setting foot at what became country 89 in the list, then continuing through the country across other cities and places and onto Armenia, visiting most of its unmissable spots, country number 90. Will I ever manage to reach the count of 100 countries by the age of 35? even if this is just a day before turning 36? Time will tell.

For now, I’m simply overwhelmed and excited for being here and living this moment. One of the countries I’ve dreamed for so long now and becoming so thriving in the tourism industry, together with its neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan. We were possible at the edge, enjoying every place we visited with relatively not too many tourists and as such, the real life of the people, unspoiled. However it does all point that year 2018 is the breaking point in which the Caucasus will become the next hot pot destination worldwide.

Kutaisi is the second largest city in the country, and if being honest with you, there is really not much there to see or do, nor to really feel that you are in Georgia. This was in the other hand, our arriving point, and a great place to make the first base in order to reach other cities and sites nearby. It worked too good to be true. Arriving in Tbilisi instead was not even possible on a direct flight, and was thrice the cost than to Kutaisi. Simple maths here, especially if you plan a trip similar to ours including visiting other countries where you can easily arrange for an open-jaw flight style, saving you not only time (in not needing to return to your arrival point), but a lot of money, believe me in this. (more…)

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Sofia and Rila, (Bulgaria)

“Roman: Ulpia Serdica”, “Greek: Serdonpolis, Triaditsa”, “Ottoman: Sofya”

Sofia, Bulgaria, April 2017

Almost 6 years have passed since our first and only time in Sofia, and Bulgaria itself. A long time once again for a rather large and nice capital city, with a lot of changes for the better during this time in between. And of course, a great chance to revamp this once obsolete and not so detailed and descriptive guide for a proper up to date version. It’s interesting to see how little I was writing on the first guides when I started my travel blog, but I’m glad that I can also slowly rewrite them as we keep returning to many of these cities.

While Sofia could have been a very rich city in architecture, extremely elegant as Paris or Vienna, it suffered heavy destruction during WWII, and in 1977 further damages in the Vrancea earthquake (which epicentre was in Romania). Unfortunately, not everything was rebuilt as in other cities that suffered similar fates, however, many of these decaying buildings were not demolished, and as such becoming one of the key priorities in recent years restoring them, creating trendy areas and a good solid attractive for the tourism. Better and newer infrastructure, and definitely a great restoration and rebuilding program in the older parts of the city is the huge difference we can see now since the last time we’ve been.

The city itself is worth at least a 2 day visit. Planning any longer here might disappoint you as you will end up without anything further to do and see, and for heavy travellers used to city trips, a day is well enough. A weekend trip is the best decision; furthermore since the old town is very compact and not big, every sight is within walking distance to each other making of it an easy and not long walk without the need for taking any public transportation. There are just some sights on the outskirts as is the UNESCO World Heritage Site listed Boyana Church, where you will need to get onto a tram or a bus, but other than this the rest is great to enjoy on foot.

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Chisinau and Tipova, (Moldova)

“Archaic Romanian chișla (spring, source of water) + nouă (new)”

Chisinau, Moldova, April 2017

Another new country in my list! 83 so far in total, and 46th out of 50 that form the European continent. It’s always very exciting coming to places never been before especially if these are a different country, another culture to explore and looking forward to something new. Europe is getting too small and believe it or not, we are starting to run out of destinations. For sure on the main destinations there is pretty much nothing left not visited, but thankfully there are still way many other places… although again, with so many hundreds been, this is slowly becoming a challenge to find a flight or plan a reasonable route to reach these places.

Chisinau, the capital of Moldova is definitely by all means not the usual holiday destination to anyone. The country is one of these “forgotten” for the average traveller, one of the less visited with few venturing coming to discover. To us, however, it was a must in our list for quite some time now, yet not easy to reach until now with more flights available and more flexibility in the times. In any case, talking about flying times… we took off from London minutes before midnight to land in Chisinau right after 05.00am local time the following day, but well, not everything is going to be as easy as a cup of tea.

The country, to the surprise of anyone, is full with beautiful villages, medieval castles, monasteries and amazing nature. It might be small but it offers everything to whoever comes to visit, and won’t disappoint. But before I continue in here, let me tell you that this trip was not just for the sake of reaching its capital city and nothing else, but to also include 2 of the country’s highlights: the world’s largest wine cellar, Mileștii Mici; and the largest cave monastery in Eastern Europe, Tipova. Now with all this in mind, your trip will definitely be truly worth it!. (more…)

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