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Taipei, (Taiwan)

“Formosa: The Beautiful Island”, “Capital of the Republic of China”, “T’ai-Pei”

Taipei, Taiwan, October 2019

Taipei, the capital of the Republic of China (well better known as Taiwan), is the heart of one of the Four Tigers of Asia, together with South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. A fascinating overdeveloped city in an island with a very strong personality and heritage very much to the likes of South Korea and Japan, where everything is perfect, cared for and respected. Some of the most polite, educated and helpful people, and a place of contrasts where old traditions survive in the shadow of the countless new towers and districts being created.

It is nice to return for a second time here. Back in 2014 it was a trip from Manila as we were touring a little bit of the Philippines. Today is again a wider trip, coming from Hong Kong, then continuing into Malaysia. On both occasions the time spent here has been the same, 2 days and a half. While not a lot, it is enough to get a glimpse and enjoy most of the sights in the city however, the island has other wonderful cities and villages, nature and landmarks truly worth to explore, but unfortunately it will have to wait for another trip in the future.

As a little background history, Taiwan used to be known as Formosa, name given by the Portuguese meaning “beautiful”. It was part of the Spanish Empire for a short period of time however was never keen to deploy any army and settle nor build the infrastructure needed to protect it against other invaders such as the Dutch to whom it lost the colony. The Spanish colony only lasted from 1626 to 1642. Thereafter the Dutch and the Portuguese developed their settlements and claimed to their own for centuries. Wars and occupations did the rest until its modern history.
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Hong Kong, (Hong Kong)

“Hēunggóng”, “He-Ong-Kong”, “Xiānggǎng”, “Fragrant Harbour”, “The Pearl of the Orient”

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A well deserved time to return to this fascinating city almost 7 years after the first time, and once again as part of a much wider trip across some Asian/Southeast Asian countries. It is still the fact that no matter how many times I come to this part of the world, that I enjoy more the more times I return especially with Southeast Asia as the favourite from everywhere I’ve been in the world.

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, or let’s keep it short as everyone else in the world does, simply Hong Kong, while not a sovereign country itself, it enjoys its freedom of economy and people’s right as part of “One Country, Two Systems”. This was the deal agreed between the United Kingdom and China when the colony was handed over to China back in 1997. On a same note and same year, the nearby ex-Portuguese colony of Macau was handed over to China with the same principles in the agreement. Now to anyone’s eyes, it’s hard to say you are in “China”, especially if you’ve been to mainland China itself, not to mention there is not even need to apply for a visa in order to visit Hong Kong or Macau is you are a citizen from Europe and most of the Western World countries.

At almost 7.5 million inhabitants considering such a reduced space, it is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. With not much space to even build, the sky is the limit they say. Towers, towers and more towers, with some latest additions becoming super tall skyscrapers with some truly icons designed by the top world class architects. It is out of question the city will impress any visitor for its incredible skyline. Merely built in just few years, aligning both banks of the impressive Victoria Harbour as if it was an avenue. However, not everything is as shiny as it might appear on a first look. Just behind such glorious skyscrapers of beautiful care for design, lies a maze of tiny streets with high-rises of awful taste and dubious designed communal blocks where millions of people live in tiny spaces. Nevertheless, even such constructions have become a sight on their own among the tourists looking to get great pictures, especially of the thousands of windows and air-con units on their neverendingly high patios.

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Macau, (Macau)

“Las Vegas of Asia”

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As quite mandatory for the average tourist visiting Hong Kong for few days, a day trip to Macau is out of question. The second of such SAR, Special Administration Region of the People’s Republic of China under the same principle of “one country, two systems”, hence what you have here is a totally open region with a high level of self-administration where the politics of China are not affecting in regards of freedom of speech, gambling, political views, economics, education and more.

It was great to return after almost 7 years since the first and only time I’ve been here, hence a great chance for updating this guide which was as old as the year when I started with my travel blog project with briefly described and not so complete guides as what kept coming the years after. Considering I very much enjoy to return to several places after the years, there are not many “older” guides left awaiting to be appropriately updated.

Macau, a very small piece of land that once was one of the first European settlements in Asia, was also the last European colony to ever leave Asia back in 1999, becoming one of the most densely populated places in the world, topping an already over-crowded Hong Kong, however things are very different here. The space is really minimal, and even with the massive reclamation project that completely filled-up the space between the islands of Taipa and Coloane to form a bigger island, was still not enough considering the high demand and also knowing that the entire reclamation was given in full for the purpose of building the gigantic casinos and hotels the city is so well famous for. The yearly revenue from gambling is 7 times higher than the collection of Las Vegas. Can you imagine that? Now think twice again, how is it even possible to happen in such a small piece of land which you can walk side to side? Las Vegas is huge in the other hand, with plenty of space in the middle of the desert. (more…)

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Kiev, (Ukraine)

“Kyi”, “Kyjev”, Kyiv”, “City of Golden Domes”

Kiev, Ukraine, September 2019

Finally the time came for this so waited and expected trip to the capital of Ukraine. Although not the first time in an ex-Soviet country, this is by far, one of the most important and largest of the ones I’ve been such as the neighbour Belarus, or the Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Certainly it was a show-off of power during that days together with Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Minsk. A very big city sightseeing-wise speaking, since it is almost everywhere where you will find beautiful and historical buildings, churches, monasteries and palaces.

Something you must clear from your mind is any idea you might have of the city and Ukraine as general of being any dangerous. Of course it is not, minding the “obvious”, which is knowing where you are at all times and you don’t go to any areas where a tourist should not be on first place. People is pretty nice and kind across all levels and everywhere but unfortunately finding anyone speaking English was a challenge; signs worked well on this trip.

With so much to see and do, 3 days in the city is the minimum you should consider, although it will be still short. We had 3 full days and this was not enough. Fortunately, the plan and route I created for each day, so fully loaded, was good to see the most important places and areas. It is therefore that the guide of sights below will be a long and in detail one. (more…)

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Hamburg, (Germany)

“Roman Treva”, “Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg”

Hamburg, Germany, July 2019

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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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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Ironbridge, (United Kingdom)

“Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution”, “First bridge in the world made of cast iron”

Ironbridge, United Kingdom, May 2019

For a long time now I was keen to come and visit this place. Double famous in which it was the area commonly referred as “the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution” since it was at the nearby village of Coalbrookdale where Abraham Darby developed the technique of smelting iron with coke resulting in an infinite cheaper production of iron. And with cheaper iron came railways, factories, infrastructures and unstoppable construction. And secondly, the construction of the first ever cast iron bridge in the world opened in 1782; quite an achievement back in the days, yet gifting the world with a new method of cheap construction of bridges and structures.

This trip happened all in a perfect bank holiday weekend. A long due return to Liverpool and Chester the previous days, while as for the return towards London taking the road into the County of Shropshire, passing through beautiful scenery and villages before reaching Coalbrookdale and the Ironbridge Gorge, all of which listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

While there is not that much over here to keep you busy for a day, nor half a day, it is true that should you be wishing to enter the plenty of museums in the area and considering their opening hours, then you should consider and plan this ahead. Our main aim was to visit the Abraham Darby’s blast furnace and surrounding buildings, and of course, the slender and elegant Iron Bridge. Giving us enough time to walk around the nature and side by side of the canal, and a copious lunch at one of the many beautiful pubs available along the main street in Ironbridge parallel to the River Severn.

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Chester, (United Kingdom)

“Roman Castrum Deva Victrix”, “Best preserved walled city in Britain”, “Black and White City”

Chester, United Kingdom, May 2019

Continuing our trip during this bank holiday long weekend, we move south from Liverpool to Chester, the “black and white city”. One of the most beautiful and unique in the country, and so one of the most perfectly complete from the Victorian era when majority of its buildings date from among some medieval structures and the best preserved walls in the country; first built by the Romans, extended and strengthened thereafter to how we see these today.

Although not much remain from the Roman era bearing what was the largest amphitheatre in Britannia, partly uncovered, and other smaller structures in the walls and gardens around it, columns and some statues; what really makes this city special is the large amount of Tudor revival architecture literally covering the entire city centre core. The characteristics of such style are self-described in one of the city’s nickname, “black and white”. Combining black timber frames and bricks and walls in white. Built during the Victorian era, it is without doubt the largest and finest collection of such houses within a same place.

Another peculiar fact you might realise are the “Rows”, these are covered walkways on the first floor of the buildings where access to shops are. Above these, the residential homes itself, and below the walkway accessed via steps from the street level, more shops. It is a direct legacy from the medieval times put back in practice during the 19th century revival period. (more…)

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