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The 10 Places I loved visiting (and would love to go back to!)

Carrying on from Sunday’s blog post, here are ten places in the world that I truly loved visiting and, in a heartbeat, would run back to if money, time and common sense were chucked out of the window. I have only been to 35 countries but I have seen a fair few sights which really should be shared with the rest of you. So without a do, here are my top ten places that I have visited and would definitely visit again in a heartbeat:

10) Seychelles.

I know I have a bias towards the Seychelles as it is my mother’s country, but I have to be blunt. I really do love this country. I also love Sri Lanka, my father’s country, but due to its security situation, I really do not want to go back there for pleasure. You see, Seychelles attracts me, not just for family, but for the islands themselves. There are over 100 islands in the archipelago, and I have only seen four of them. And it is not just beaches. Great wildlife, a steamy hot and mountainous interior and wonderful old colonial architecture give the islands one hell of a lot of variety for such a small place. Plus, the culture, a polyglot of the islanders’ ancestery means that this is a fascinating place to see and meet people. Yes, the Seychelles are expensive, they are a pain to get to but it truly is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

(Last visited 2008)

9) San Francisco.

I love America, and I jump at the opportunity to travel there. The country is so vast, and is naturally blessed with some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. America’s cities are also some of the best that humanity has ever built. New York, Philadelphia and Boston are wonderful places that were launched on the backs of their old colonial past. But for me, San Francisco is the place to get to. A wonderful city in probably one of the most naturally beautiful places on Earth. And it is not too big or small, San Francisco is just that right size where you can explore and relax in equal amounts. A city steeped in history but also at the forefront of modern technology, this really is one of the happiest places on Earth.

(Last visited 1994)

8) Mexico.

All right, I know this is a big one, but Mexico is one hell of a country, and I have to return here one day. From the magnificent ruins of Chichen Itza, to the wonderful beauty is Chiapas and the frenetic capital of Mexico City itself – which I have to point out as one of the best cities I have ever visited!

I saw a hell of a lot of this country, but a visit back is a must for me. I loved my time here, and would happily go back and this time see the north of Mexico as well has head to the coasts for a bit of R&R.

(Last visited 2002)

7) Budapest.

One of three European cities on my list – and surprising, as I have only really begun to explore Europe in the past two years. But Budapest is truly beautiful. Split by the Danube you have the flat and fun Pest on one side of the river and the hilly, snooty but really beautiful Buda on the other bank. One thing, the Danube really shapes this city and its history. I am probably biased to this city, and I have a lot of fond memories of the place, which is also why I do want to hedd back here. But genuinely, memories are not the only thing. Budapest has tons of stuff to see, and has awoken from its communist stupor with vigour. Check it out when you have the chance, you will not regret it! I will certainly be heading back there.

(Last visited 2011)

6) Meghalaya.

The wettest place on Earth may seem like a strange place to recommend, but Meghalaya is truly a cultural gem of this world. Its unique hilltop location on a ridge overlooking the Gangetic plain both isolates and links it to the surrounding country in one fell swoop. Three unique cultures dot the state, and its pristine environment truly makes this one of India’s great surprises. I have never felt do relaxed and refreshed in my life as I have in Meghalaya. Whether it is the excess amounts of water, the wholesome food or the really cool locals, Meghalaya is a place I could visit time and time again.

(Last visited 2009)

5) Yunnan.

One of China’s true gems, Yunnan has it all. Great food, spectacular countryside and a culture that intertwines South East Asia, Mainland China and Tibet all rolled into one easily accessible destination – no small feat for a country as difficult as China. From the border with Burma to the fringes of the Tibetan Plateau there is something for everyone. Dotted with the famed backpacker hangouts of Dali and Lijiang, it is easy to be an independent traveler or to mosey in and relax with the crowd. It is definitely a part of China that I would not hesitate to visit again!

(Last visited 2001)

4) Krakow.

Wow, wow, and wow would be the best three adjectives to describe Krakow.

I know, it is surprising to include this city here, but really, my Poland bias aside, I really have to recommend Krakow and it is a city I would run back to in a heartbeat. To simply put it, there is A LOT to do in Krakow, and Poland’s piss-poor marketing skills means that it is a destination that flies far beneath the radar. Without the crowds you get in other European hotspots (unless it is a stag-do summer), you can feel a little like a pioneer coming here with all the ease of mainstream European travel. There is so much to recommend about Krakow, go on, treat yourself, and take some time out over here.

(Last visited 2011)

3) Xinjiang.

China’s biggest province is arguably it emptiest as well. Yes, there are a hell of a lot of tensions over here, with a separatist movement that is far more bloody than Tibet’s. And it is hard work to travel across here. But it is a culturally fascinating area. Plus it is a desert, now that counts as a huge amount of kudos for me. I have spent an inordinate amount of time here. It really was the first place that I experienced ‘independent’ travel, far cut-off from family, friends and anyone else, having to survive on my own with my interactions meaning the difference between food or nothing. I also crossed this vast area by foot (took me two months and lost a third of my body weight) which drove me slightly nutty.

Xinjiang is definitely a place with strong emotional ties, but I can also safely say that this is a part of the world that has a hell of a lot to give to the outside visitor. And despite beinfg in China, it is ironically the easiest part of Central Asia to visit, and that is a spectacular region of the world to taste…

(Last visited 2003)

2) Berlin.

Surprised? Well, you really shouldn’t be. Berlin has it all. An all encompassing history, easily accessible tourist spots, all at a reasonable price. Whether you are looking for cool bars, great food or simple fun, Berlin has something for everyone. London and Paris may get all the glitz and glamour. Barcelona and Milan get all the cool kids. But Berlin itself is simply magnificent. There is far too much to see and do that can be simply described in a short paragraph. There is so much I have left to see. I will be back here, and probably sooner rather than later.

(Last visited 2012)

1) Assam.

There really is not an order to this list, and while Assam currently takes the number 1 spot, I would go back to any of these destinations if I had instant access to cash. But the reason I value Assam so highly is multiple. Firstly, it was my first destination in India, and so I will always have an emotional attachment here. Secondly, it is so big, and so the variety is there. Thirdly, it is undiscovered; despite its huge size and obvious attractions, foreign tourists are few and far between, partly as it is so cut off.

But Assam is truly a stellar destination. It is easy to get round, once you get there! It is also really friendly, with a shockingly competent Tourist Office that will go out of its way to give you information. With a wide variation in Geography from lowland plains to mountainous, I just did not have the time to see all there was. There is a magnificent history, one of Asia’s great civilisations nestled here in the fields. Lush forests and wildlife that will make your jaw drop (I saw my first Rhino here!)

I will go back to India again, and while there is so much of the country I have not seen, I will have to make a beeline for Assam.

(Last visited 2009)

So that is my top ten of places I have seen, and ideally, would love to go to again. Any comments, drop them in the box below. And have you been to any of these places? Agree with me and what would be your top ten?

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Auf Wiedersehen Schonefeld? Not quite yet…

Well, this airport was not meant to be, but due to the oft delayed Brandenberg Airport project, good old Schonefeld is still operating and I was there last month when I went via Berlin to get to Poland. And even when Berlin’s new airport is opened, Shconefeld will still have a use, as the new airport is basically an extension of this site. A massive extension. New motorways and railway lines as well as a (massively planned) new Terminal building will take over from the funky, almost retro feeling airport that is currently Berlin’s secondary airport.

Berlin Schonefeld, being located just outside the eastern part of Berlin was the old East Berlin Airport. Built before the outbreak of WWII, it was the main airport of the old East Germany. As with everything in Berlin, there has been a hell of a lot of history with it. Also it was the hub for Interflug. Interflug? You know, the old East German airline offering quality flights to Czechoslovakia and Mother Russia! All right, enough old Communist jokes, but honestly, Aeroflot is the only major flag carrier to use Schonefeld. While Tegel is the place for the so called ‘Quality Airlines, Russia has insisted that history remains paramount and that it still uses good old Schonefeld, the airport it commanded for X-amount of years.

However, most of the sane world uses Schonefeld, not for the retro-Commmunist experience, but as it is the place that the ‘no-frills’ airlines use to fly into and out of Berlin. When I first went to Berlin in 2006, I flew in and out of Schonefeld, and it was my first taste of Germany. As I have been (now) a frequent visitor to Poland, I have used Berlin as my gateway to that country, and it is almost always Schonefeld that I fly into. In fact, I have used Schonefeld Airport more than any other European airport outside the UK.

I like Schonefeld. It is a small, simple airport that is very well connected to the city centre. Twenty minutes by the airport express or about 35 mins using two S-Bhan trains. And at €3 for a single ticket, it is relatively painless on the wallet as well. It can be a bit daunting at first, as the airport’s lack of bells and whistles makes for an unusually simple experience, especially when compared to the airports of other European cities. But that is what I like about Schonefeld, the fact that it is understated and simple to navigate. Although it was not really built to any great design, the airport does its job very well, and has handled the recent boom in low-cost European travel relatively well.

So what will happen to Schonefeld airport next year? Well, as Berlin Brandenberg airport will use most of SXF’s facilities, a lot of it will remain open, just transferred to the other side of the site. The old terminal buildings will remain in place for a bit, but they will be eventually knocked down. No loss there unlike the unusual Tegel which, although not practical for today’s travel, surely must rank with some architectural merit.

So that is that. I have to write up some travelogue of my time in Berlin this month, as I went to a couple of really excellent museums, and I have had a great time visiting this city recently. Ah, I must get onto the task!

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Auf Wiedersehen Tegel? Not quite yet…

Yesterday was meant to mark the opening of Berlin Brandenberg Airport. One of Europe’s grandest construction projects, and at a price tag (so far) of 3 Billion Euro’s, Berlin Brandenberg possibly one of the more expensive construction projects currently happening on the continent. But, the airport is not open. And what was meant to be a not-so-fond farewell to the venerable Tegel Airport, is now, well, a mini-travelogue about my last two trips to the continent, both of which required me to going via Berlin’s Tegel Airport.

Tegel is a funny old airport. It is very much a child of the 1960’s and it feels like a mini LAX. But its roots lie in the Cold War, and in particular the Berlin Airlift. Located in what was then the ‘French Sector’ of West Berlin, the French government built the first part of the airport in 90 days, with the first flights landing on November 5th 1948, as part of the airlift.For the next six months until the lifting of the Soviet blockade, Tegel as well as the legendary Templehof in thr American Sector and R.A.F. Gatow in the British sector of Berlin kept the West Berliners supplied with everything.

And so for the next sixty years, Tegel became a mainstay of Berlin’s aviation reality. It was never as grandiose as Templehof, its more famous cousin in West Berlin, but it was far more useful, by having longer runways and so it was able to adapt to the jet age far more effectively. In the 1970’s, Tegel became West Berlin’s main airport, a title it has held even since reunification. Despite the larger Schonefeld Airport to the south east of the city of Berlin, the airlines that had established themselves in the Cold War decided that they wanted to stay put at Tegel.

Which was a shame, because, to be blunt, Tegel is an a**e hole of an airport. Tegel is small, poky, and very hexagonal while Schonefeld works well, albeit in a crowded fashion. And while Tegel is close to the centre of the city, it is not on a train line or on the U-Bhan. In fact, Tegel is a ride in not-too-much traffic on bus or you can fly around in a Mercedes Cab, if you have the desire.

So, to be honest, I was actually looking forward to the opening of the new Brandenberg Airport, as I was planing to use it in August when I head off to the Quest Europe Film Festival (I am a jury member for a second year in a row…). But it looks like I am to be denied that pleasure as Tegel, the great survivor, continue to serve the German Capital.

And serve it does. Tegel has 4 (or 5) fairly small terminals. Terminals A and B are the main two buildings, while Terminal C was built as a temporary structure. Five years later it is still going strong. Terminals D (and E) are in the same building, D being the departures and E being the arrivals. They are al interconnected which means if you arrive in one part of the airport, you should be able to walk to another part. But I was holed up in Terminal A for my experience of the 1960’s, and, well it was an interesting experience. The food is overpriced, and the selection is poor, but as Tegel never really gets too busy, the airport is actually quite relaxing. Also, in the modern-day jet age of ultra hyped terrorism, having individual security lanes for each gate (it is forced to do so by the hexagonal design of the airport) means that passport control and personal/baggage checks are actually pretty painless and quick.

The one thing that Tegel fails is in public transport. You can only get to Tegel by Car or Bus. I have done both, but as I drove on Easter Monday to the Airport, the lack of traffic gave me a false sense of security on just how easy it was to get there.

For those without their own transport, you can get a bus to Central Berlin, but it will be an interesting ride on the Tegel Bus (numbered TXL after the airport’s code). Exit the arrivals hall, and find the bus stop. Use the ticket machines, or if you are lucky, there is a man in a booth For those wanting just a single ticket, the ride costs €2.30 into town. Or (as Tegel is in the city limits) get a Zone A+B Travelcard. Do not forget to validate the tickets when on the bus. On the was you will ride through the bredth of Turkish Berlin, and the bus will innevitably get crowded as it also serves as a regular commuting route for the locals. In the end, the TXL bus will drop you at all the important bits in Central Berlin, allowing you to transfer onto the tube or rail network. But, as there still is another nine months or so until the New Berlin Airport opens up, this is going to be the classiest way to get into the German Capital…

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Tube travel…the fun way…

Unfortunately over the past couple of weeks I have spent far too much time on the London Underground network than I really needed to be. It is all part of my general busy-ness, which is why my blog posts have been so thin on the ground.

But, if I was in Germany, there would have been a more fun way to travel around town…

Enjoy the weekend, I should be back to regular blogging in the next week!

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The Berlin Wall at 50


(Remnants of the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz, taken in January this year)

A couple of decades ago, this was the final frontier for us in the west. Although I was only nine when the Berlin Wall tumbled, I grew up vaguely knowing that communism was bad, Regan was good and seeing a lot of people on TV climbing up on top of this thing and pick-axing it to death.

But fifty years ago the construction of the symbolic Iron Curtain began, as the Soviet led East German authorities tried to stop the brain drain from their country.

As I said, for me as a youngster, I had a vague notion of the communists ad the Cold War, but I was really too young to appreciate the significance of the era or of the geopolitics. It was only later, as I grew up and learned more about the time period and the events of WWII that preceded it, that the true realities of a divided Europe came home.

It is a sober thought, to look back and see a continent now united but was less than a generation ago divided amongst two very bitter rivals.

But, this weekend does mark the fiftieth anniversary of the beginnings of the wall, the scores of dead people who tried to flee East Germany and the entrenchment that shows today of Europe’s East/West divide. And it is a sobering thought.

A lot of people in the UK are Eurosceptic, there is a clear and vocal majority who are against the EU and what it stands for I am very much for the EU, but not in its present, cumbersome and corrupt way. But having travelled through much of the former Eastern Bloc and the rest of the world, the obvious advantages of the EU outweigh many of its cons. I am glad that the bulk of Europe is now governed by the EU, and I very much take advantage of this fact in many ways, personally and professionally. It has made my life a lot easier and the reality that I am living today is due to the fact that there are no more Cold War barriers (part of the praise must also go to NATO and the US backing we had during the Cold War era).

Anyway, some food thought from Der Spiegel. A great article and a sobering reflection of Europe’s society.

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Berlin Travel – A quick photo tour

A little postscript to add to my recent Polish holiday, my stopover in Berlin! You see, I found myself with a few hours in between landing in Germany and heading off to Poland. And so I decided that instead of keeping warm inside the legendary Hauptbahnhof, it was better for me to venture into the chilly Berlin air.

My second time in Berlin, and again, another day trip, five years since the last visit. I really do like the German capital and one day, I will actually make a proper vacation out of this place. After all, Berlin is an artistic city of renown and everywhere you go there are official and not so official pieces of expression dotted around the urban area.

But this is a just whistlestop tour, a quick jaunt through some of the famous sites. The next time I am going to make a proper journey here. One of Europe’s great capital cities, I cannot be expected to simply flirt with the wonder of this town…

(The Marienkirche with the Berlin Fernsehturm in the background – the EU’s tallest structure, covered with low cloud!)

Berlin is a city whose recent past has unfortunately been shaped by war. First, the devastation of the Second World War which basically leveled the city. (For film buffs, check out Der Untergang a brilliant and haunting retelling of the last days of the Third Reich and a stark reminder of one of Europe’s darkest moments)

Second there was the Cold War, which split the city between the Communist Eastern Block and the toe hold of West Berlin. It resulted in the Berlin Wall a structure that was the physical manifestation of ideological idiocy which unfortunately divides the two Koreas today and wrought so much devastation during the second half of the last century (with wars in Congo, Angola, Afghanistan and Vietnam to name but a few worthless conflicts).

(Yep that line of cobblestones represents the Berlin Wall)

As I have already mentioned, this is one fascinating city, and I will be returning. When I do, expect far more photos and fun, but for now, let me leave you with Berlin’s symbol, the Brandenburg Gate:

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