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Wishlist – The Ten Places I would most like to see in my lifetime

For those that know me or regularly check back to this blog, you know that I love to travel. I have been to thirty five countries in my lifetime, which is a fair few in my short time on this Earth. But there is a lot more that I want to see, and so, here is a top ten of places I would really like to see before I die. From the impossible to reach to the high tourist footfall, here are the places that I have not yet visited that I really want to get to sometime in the near future.

10) Prague.

I thought I would start with a simple place. Even though I have been to the Czech Republic, the reality is that I drove through the country in the middle of the night. For me the Czech Republic provided toilet breaks, a small fine for not paying the motorway tolls and lots of crazy driving. I hope to rectify this in the not-too-distant future, and visit what is regarded as one of Europe’s prettiest capitals.

9) Bolivia.

In fact I would like to visit all of South America. I have never stepped foot on this continent and so anywhere on here would be great for me. But for me, Bolivia really stands out due to its combination of natural beauty and spectacular culture. In particular, I would really love to see Salar Uyuni, the largest salt flats on Earth.

8) Ethiopia.

Oldest civilisation on Earth after China, this is one of the world’s great cultural treasure troves. In fact the whole of the Horn of Africa is culturally rich. After all, humanity itself evolved here. Next door Somalia also holds a great allure, but that is not looking like a place I could visit anytime soon.

7) Ooty.

India is going to feature heavily on my list. Officially my new favourite country to visit, I have only been here for a few brief weeks and really only saw the North East. I would really love to see more, and Ooty has the combination of all that is magical. An old steam train puffing up the mountains, stunning scenery and a romantic edge that makes it popular with honeymooners the world over. Out of all the destinations on this list, this is probably the best combination of exotic and ease of travel.

(From Pratheept2000)

6) Tokyo.

What can I say. Cute gadgets, cute food and cute chicks. But behind all the cuteness, Tokyo really is one of the world’s great cities, and out of the ‘Big 4’ Global Cities, Tokyo is the only one I have not visited. It is big, crazy and expensive, but it is still worth a look in. One day…

5) Easter Island.

Well, the remotest place on Earth, one of the real outposts of civilisation with a fascinating Archaeological story. There is so much to learn from Easter Island, and so much tragedy too. The planet in a microcosm, and it shows on one small spot the great achievements of humanity and also the worst ravages of man. Expensive and hard to get to, but this is definitely one of the more likely destinations to reach.

4) Aksai Chin.

Yeah, right. The likelihood of getting here is about as good as me becoming a world class sprinter. At this moment in time, all entry is virtually impossible. But for me, it is the perfect combination of my two favourite types of scenery – desert and mountain. I have always been fascinated by the Himalaya, both from a scenic and cultural point of view. But, out of all the places on my list, I doubt I will see this place in my lifetime.

3) Istanbul.

Out of all the places on this list, Istanbul really should have been one that I should have arrived at sooner, but have so far been thwarted at every turn. I did once have a flight booked here, but, yeah, Easyjet changed the flight days, and so I plumped for the refund. Maybe I should have just jumped, but with my work being impossible to work around, it is one that is on my ‘to-do’ list.

2) Madagascar.

It may have been popularised by the cartoon, but for me, this island in the Indian Ocean really has it all. Exotic wildlife, a spectacular fusion of Polynesian and African culture and a landscape that is simply divine. For me, this destination is more about money and time rather than anything else.

(From Frank Vassen)

1) Arunachal Pradesh.

Again, this is one place I really should have visited sooner than I did. Arunachal Pradesh in India’s far North East is simply divine. Nestled in the slopes of the Himalaya, this is where the mighty Brahmaputra gets its power. All of India’s North East is fascinating, which is why on my two journeys to this great country, I focused my efforts here. Arunachal Pradesh would be the jewel in the crown, and it is just a case of getting round the bureaucracy. Unfortunately, it is Indian bureaucracy…grr…

(From Rajkumma1220)

So there you have it. Ten places in the world that I have not yet visited, but would so love to. What do you guys think, and have any of you been to anywhere on this list?

And what would be your wishlist of places to visit? And anything you think I should have included on this list but missed out (and trust me, it was hard to compile). Answers in the comments below!

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Lubiąż Abbey – a little walk round

On my last trip to Poland, I happened to visit Lubiąż Abbey, one of the largest Christian Complexes in the world and while today its Holy functions no longer exist, it is still a significant tourist draw in this part of Silesia. Of course, the day I went Siberia had decided to camp out in Poland (although it was still October) meaning that it was…well…cold when I visited the former monastery on the banks of the Odra.

A little history (my usual Wiki-Quote). The first Christian functions on this site were established around 1150. Like many parts of Silesia, its history is intertwined with the political wrangling that this part of Europe has found itself in. Lubiaz Abbey has come under the control of the Prussian States, the Polish, the Bohemians and even the Habsburgs of Austria-Hungary.

But it is during WWII that Lubiaz’s history come closer to the history in the UK. While occupied by Nazi Germany, Lubiaz’s vast underground complex was home to the engine factories for the V1 and V2 rocket bombs. This vast slave labour camp existed until the Red Army invaded. The Abbey itself fell into decay until 1989 and the fall of Communism. Restoration started and it is a process that continues today.

One little titbit about the Abbey was that in 1997 Michael Jackson visited Lubiaz. Rumour has it that his helicopter tour and stop-off was to see if he could buy the Abbey. Well, his offer was rejected. However, according to the guide who took us round, the visit was meant to be kept a secret, but the whole village (and most of the surrounding area) turned out to greet the King of Pop! Given the traditional Polish welcome of bread and salt, Michale Jackson was in Lubiaz Monastery for only 20 minutes. It is reported that he was astounded by the lavish interiors. Yes, I did go inside, but we were not allowed to take photos inside of the Abbey 😦

Yeah, I think you noticed it was snowing like crazy that day. Of all the days to see a top tourist attraction, I had to pick the one day in October where Siberia decided to decamp. Snow was everywhere, but luckily, having been bitten by the famed Polish cold earlier this year, I came fully wrapped up.

One little extra you will see at the abbey is an exhibition on old German trains. I do not exactly understand the reasoning behind it (other than the fact that Lubiaz was a hot tourist spot when it was called ‘Lubies’ and a part of Germany). Although I could not get exactly what everything was about, it was fascinating to see the old cultural links that used to exist between Silesia and its big neighbour to the west (something that is more evident in Wroclaw).

Getting there and away:

One word – car. It maybe only 40 miles or so from Wroclaw, but Lubiaz is a small village and it is difficult to get to. There are local (and infrequent) buses from the two nearest railheads in Glogow and Wroclaw throughout the day, but really, unless you have your own transport (or speak brilliant Polish), it is a pain to get here.

Accommodation here is non existent too, and the restaurant in the Abbey keeps limited opening hours, so plan your trip accordingly…

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Back in Budapest 2 – Night Life!

Budapest is an incredibly pretty city, but at night, the city takes on a new aura. Last year, it was cold and breezy, the Danube chilling me to the bone. But this year, it was a joyful time to wander through Hungary’s capital city at night. The warm weather, the memories of the previous year and the lack of sleep from the road trip made Budapest magical, almost tingly to the feel!

The buildings are lit up, the people throng in the streets, the capital takes on an air of beauty. After all, being one of Europe’s premier capital’s, Budapest is a beautiful city to wander through at night. And you have to put Budapest into the concept of its history ad location. Hungary, remember, is an isolated country linguistically. Hungarian is really, only spoken by Hungarians. Unlike Polish which has similarities to Slovakian, Czech and Serbo-Croatian, Hungary does not share its language with any other part of Europe (the Finnish link is a tenuous one). This means that culturally, the Hungarians are that more self aware of the status. That they are very different and unique in Europe. This is reflected in their history both recent (bloody) and further back.

And Budapest’s glory days were during the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While the jury is very much out on whether this was a good thing for Hungary, in terms of Budapest’s it was a time of great civic splendor. Some of the most magical buildings stem from this time period as Budapest became one of Europe’s fastest growing cities.

Modernisation has kicked into Budapest. EU money, but Hungary’s own burgeoning economy has seen the capital rapidly develop. Much of the Pest side has been pedestrianised, and despite the hordes of tourists (guilty!) wandering through the Eastern Quarters of Budapest is surprisingly serene. There are some great places to eat and unlike a stroll in say, London, the people of Budapest are far more civilised when it comes to socialising!

Of course, the place to head to at night s the Danube. Budapest glistens along the river at night, and the views from any of the bridges are spectacular. My poor photography (and awful camera) does no justice to the spectacular views that you can witness all along the Danube. Across the river, the bridges splinter and cut across the dark waters. And on either bank, the great buildings of Budapest shimmer in the light. The Parliament, the Castle, Gallert Hill, the Pest’s entertainment districts. Even at night, the river provides a useful navigation tool to the lost traveler who attempts to negotiate the streets of this beautiful capital city.

As you can read, I am intoxicated by Budapest. Hungary’s capital is one of the prettiest places I have visited and at night, the city takes on an ambiance that cannot be described by mere words, or by my awful pics. It may be a long time before I return here, so I will takes a couple more days to blog about this impressive city. And after that, I have to take you, the reader, back on my road trip. Oh yes, after Budapest, there was a lot more travelling that I managed to accomplish…

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Village life – Letnica, Lubuska

Just outside Zielona Gora is the village of Letnica. A small commuter ‘burb, so there was no reason for me to be there. Except that part of Quest Europe was taking place here. This was where the Best Films from the Alter-Native Festival of Romania were taking place. And what better than to spend a mosquito ridden evening than here in Letnica.

Yes, there were mosquitoes in Lubuska – a frigging swarm of them. The whole area was infested. A hot, moist summer made it ripe for these little terrors. But I will stop talking about the lowlight of my holiday (itchy bites) and go to one of the highlights. The movies which was held in the old Protestant Church of Letnica.

Now Poland is a Catholic country. It is fair to say that Catholicism is intricately linked with the culture of the nation. For a country that has been dismembered, shrunk, had its borders shifted hundreds of miles westward, has had torture and tyranny as a regular byproducts of many of its governmental institutions, it is probably been one of the stabilising factors of the country. Which is why Catholicism, even today is a beacon of strength in this country, while in the rest of Europe, church attendances have shrunk to a few hard core elderly. The Catholic Church in Poland is very much like Christianity in America. Strong, visible, part of popular consciousness and attended on a weekly basis.

So it is surprising to see a protestant church in a village, even one that is no longer actively used for worship. Oh, there is a reason for that. Until 1945, this was Germany. Protestantly so. And it can be seen on the World War I monument outside the church grounds:

The inscription from the base is from John’s Gospel: Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. The futility of war. It would be along time from the erection of the plinth that this land would know peace in any semblance or form.

And so this Protestant Church, filled with so much history was the venue for one of the many screenings of Quest Europe. And in a village! I have been to many festivals, but to one that screens films in such a small settlement. The Polish are real culture vultures because there is no way that a somewhere this remote could host such an event. That was well attended. A full house, by all members of the community, young and old. And that served free apple pie!

(I would propose to any girl who could make cake this good!)

The Church itself has been magnificently restored and I think has to be one of the best venues I have ever watched a film in. A beautifully haunting place, with simple but elegant architecture. This village is far off the tourist scene, so to be able to come to a hidden gem like this is simply amazing for the uninitiated foreigner such as myself.

Letnica is a fascinating place, and not just for the films that I saw, which were truly amazing. It is a small place, and as a city dweller, I find visiting the countryside far more entertaining than seeing big cities. Don’t get me wrong, I too am a culture vulture, and I really enjoy the feast that is found in a city. But when I am on holiday, I love to see a slice of life I don’t normally experience. Getting into the countryside, difficult though it is, fascinates me.

Letnica is also a fascinating place for its setting. It is easy to sometimes forget the historical context of this part of Poland. This was once not Poland, not even a Slavic or majority Catholic country, but a westward looking Germany. Especially that Poland is both linguistically and (supposedly) ethnically homogenous. 97% of population in Poland claimed to be Polish in the 2002 census; compare this with Britain which has large parts of the country covered by different languages (Welsh, Gaelic and increasingly Cornish) as well as our cities where multiple languages are spoken. Poland does not have that, yet its border changes have been far more dramatic than the UK’s. It is interesting to start thinking about why this is so, and Letnica made me think of this…

So you forget that borders change, people come and go, or assimilate into the local population. This part of the world has had a very violent recent past and has suffered many upheavals. And unlike many other parts of urban Poland, here in the villages and small communities, those scars have remained on the landscape. The relative emptiness of the area, the forgotten languages inscripted at random on old memorials that have survived, the abandoned buildings once put to use as part of the community. Even the local culture reflects this once strange past, almost totally eradicated from everyday living, only existing through historical text books. Despite its beautiful and serene setting, Letnica reflects this turbulent past. It is a fascinating piece of history, but it will be one for further exploration another day…

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Charlie’s Second Holiday to Poland – a Monday in Poznan

Monday’s are a funny day in Poland. If you are going to work, you do so as normal. If you are on holiday, you wake up late, try to find breakfast and then head to the museum. Only to find them all shut!

Yep. Unlike us spoilt, decadent UK snobs who believe in our cultural sights being open everyday of the week, the Polish tourist industry receives a complete body blow when it comes to Mondays, as foreign visitors and domestic happy hounds are left scratching their heads, wondering what it is they should do…

Well, it means one thing. Random sightseeing around the city, with a dose of shopping to boot!

Ugh, shopping…

All right, maybe shopping is not all that happens in Poznan, but they do love it. Like every other European city, shopping is central to Poznan. You could say this is because Poznan, one of the oldest settlements in Poland was traditionally a trading centre, on the confluence of major road and river routes. Certainly the history of Poznan, its role as a centre for mercantile activities is one that surprised me when I came to the city. It can be seen in the market square, one of the largest I have seen on my travels, and compared to the size of the city (small) the market square is, well, big!

But enough about shopping. The streets of Poznan are pretty enough to wander through. Old cobbled streets, bits of castle and walls litter the centre of town. It is pretty, and while not as densely packed with history as say, Krakow, Poznan has a lot of fine places to wander through.

Getting around Poznan is really easy. Like many other Polish cities, the tram rules the streets. A travelcard (which will also connect you to the airport) provides unlimited transport across the city’s buses and trams (but only within city limits). One thing I do love about Eastern Europe is their tram systems. I wish we in Western Europe had kept this form of public transport, as they are just so quick to get round town. Still, why lament for something we don’t have, when we can enjoy it when we travel…

There is plenty of artwork around the streets of Poznan. Some of it very good and some of it obscure. A lot of it corporate, and for some reason (probably as I~ visited Poznan in Lent) there were a lot of bunny rabbits around town. Purple bunnies…

Spending a Monday in Poznan? Well, take some time out, enjoy the city and bounce around town. The museums are (mostly) shut, but it is a great place to chill out and relax in. And if it is sunny, even better!

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Charlie’s Holiday to Poland (16) – Looking Back…

You know, I have stretched this series of blogs on Poland out enough. So it is time to call it quits and to stop looking wistfully back on memories and to move forward in London town. But before I do, let me give a potted guide to the lows and highs of the magical land of Poland:

Food: Not exactly Poland’s greatest export. This is no India or China. The food is generally stodgy, and the cliche of potatoes, cabbage and pork is a pretty accurate description of Polish eating habits. Still, the cuisine is better than Germany or Hungary. Unfortunately, unlike Western Europe, there really isn’t that many immigrants in Poland, so you really are stuck with Polish food and of course Gyros. Breakfast, it has to be said is a disappointment. Still, one things that is great is the tea and coffee.

Culture: One of Poland’s strong points, and to be honest, some of the most easily accessible in Europe, and that is something I am surprised to say. Europe as a whole is really good when it comes to culture. It is the continent’s main draw, and Poland is no exception. The bulk of museums have displays in English, and if not, an audio guide/tour will usually be provided in English, so we are really lucky as visitors. Plus the amount of great hip bars, fantastic cinema and of course the surprise of the lot – opera! I think this has to be one of the most cultural holidays I have had in years!

History: Fascinating. As I have mentioned before, Poland has had one hell of a turbulent past. But that is not to say that the history of the nation is all tragedy. A beautiful culture has sprung from this history. Poland is one hell of an interesting place with regards to its past.

Women: Fit! Hot! Super! Really, I kid you not, the legend of beautiful Polish women is a truth.

Language: This is a tricky one. Unlike, say, Hindi which we may have some exposure to, no one really understands Polish. And reading it sends shivers down my spine. One thing that can be said to its advantage is that the rules are the same, so once you get a grasp of them, it becomes a lot easier. The best phrase I can come up with is Lubię laski Polski – and even then, I know I have screwed that line up! However, people of my age generally speak really (and I mean really) good English. A godsend to someone like me, but it does put a smile on a local’s face when you can say please and thank you in their language!

Expense: Cheap by European standards, but not by world standards. Accommodation can get pricey, some museums can be extortionate. Food is reasonable, especially if you eat where the locals eat while internal travel is really cheap. The train, while long, will save you tons of cash!

Looking back on Poland, I will say that I definitely enjoyed the country. I will go back, to see other cities, other town and more of the people. It is surprisingly nice. And to be blunt, I was expecting very little from this holiday, but I am glad I made the decision to come. Krakow really is the unsung gem amongst European cities and it bedevils me to think why it is not as popular as Barcelona. Wroclaw too was an unexpectedly great city to spend a couple of days in.

My advice to you is if you are looking for romance, head to Paris. Adventure, head to Asia. Great food, pretty much anywhere else. But if you are looking for a cultural holiday, with fun things to do in a relatively unexplored part of the world, then head here. You will not find the trappings of Communism left here. No, that departed a long time ago, and this country is very much in the EU. What you will find on visiting is a fascinating land, with plenty to do and very accommodating locals at one hell of a price. Unlike much of the New EU, it has not yet been overrun by holiday makers seeking something new, so head over if you ever get the chance. You will not regret it…

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Charlie’s Holiday in Poland (14) – Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral

And so onto the second great complex on the Wawel Hill, its Cathedral. Unlike the castle talked about yesterday, its visitor numbers are not limited, and so you will certainly notice the crowds a lot more than in the castle complex. And just like its Royal neighbor, this is a beautiful building both inside and out!

Again, a massive history to the building. Here’s the wiki entry, and here’s the official website. The Cathedral is dedicated to St Stanislaus and St Wenceslaus (the same guy from the Christmas carol). For anyone wanting to follow in the steps of Pope John Paul II, it was in the crypt of this Cathedral that he celebrated his first mass and it was in this Cathedral that he would later become the Archbishop of Krakow before his appointment as the Pope.

You could tour this Cathedral in just over two hours, but that would leave very little time to admire the view. Because I was dumb and decided to do both Castle and Cathedral in one day, I was rushed. There is a great museum attached to the Cathedral which I never got to see – nooo! But still, the Cathedral itself was gorgeous and I highly recommend the audio guide that comes with the ticket (for a few Zloty more it is worth it). You see, the history of Wawel reflects a lot of the political history of Poland. If you want to find out more of its history (without reading through the list of incomprehensible names) then this is the place to come. To be blunt, running through this Cathedral was an eye opener because of the amount of information that was visualised. This may be only a church, but the past of Poland is very much intertwined with the building.

Inside, as always, pictures are not allowed as this is an active place of worship. But I highly recommend a jaunt up to the bell tower (included in the admission price). The steps are very rickety and to be honest, the passageway is tight for a tubby six footer like myself. But rest assured, it is a fun part of the Cathedral!

And of course, the views over Krakow from the Bell Tower are impressive!

Practicalities:

Located on the same complex as the Castle, the Cathedral is a lot more accessible with no restriction on visitor numbers. You can enter the main knave for free (as it is a place of worship), but to access the other parts of the building, you need to get a ticket.

It is well worth paying a bit extra for an Audio Guide to the Cathedral – one of the most informative that I have ever used. They usually want some sort of ID as a deposit for safe return. Use your driver’s licence, as I would personally hate handing over a passport for this sort of thing.

And take your time. I squeezed the Cathedral into two hours, but never got to see the museum, plus this visit was rushed. Take my advice, you need two days for the Wawel complex!

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