Traveling is one of my passions. Not as a typical tourist searching for a sunny beach, but as a way to get to know countries, cultures and people. As a historically and politically interested guy, I am especially keen on travelling to countries and regions where something is happening, like a revolution or other major changes in society, something which has expanded my understanding of politics and international relations, I hope.
So far I have been to the following countries:
– Albania: When you visit Albania, take a lot of time with you because transport is slow. I have only been to Tirana and Vlora, but I marveled at the beautiful mountains from the bus on the way from Macedonia and when I hiked up Mount Dajti. I was very impressed by the story of Albanians who hid and rescued Jews during the Holocaust, the only country in Europe to do so on a large scale.
– Australia: A dream destination ever since I was a little boy, this dream came true earlier than expected: When I was 15, I won a scholarship for a 3 month-long student exchange program to Australia. In 1992, I attended Concordia College in Adelaide, South Australia and also had the chance to travel the outback with visits to Ayers Rock, Alice Springs and a night in an old mine in Coober Pedy. A one week-long field trip with school to Kangaroo Island almost turned into “Lord of the Flies” due to lack of food.
– Austria: The destination of many family holidays because my parents preferred the mountains over the sea. As a child I found that a bit boring, but meanwhile I enjoy mountains tremendously (like all nature) and I like the beautiful Austrian cities, the food (especially Kaiserschmarrn) and the friendly people.
– Belgium: As a homo politicus I have of course visited Brussels several times, including visits to some of the EU institutions.
– Croatia: It was still Yugoslavia back then and this was my first trip to a Socialist country. The Cold War upbringing had worked well as I was dutifully scared when upon crossing the border I saw the red star on the flag and had my first glimpse at soldiers with Kalashnikov rifles.
– Czech Republic: I first went to Prague in 1990 after the revolution which overthrew Communism. I have been to Prague and a few other cities since and find it charming and interesting. A visit to Terezin/Theresienstadt, the site of a former concentration camp was very memorable. On a happier note, Bor-Vysocany has the best paintball field in Europe.
– Egypt: Just one day in Sinai, on a day trip from Israel. I remember Egyptian passport control which my friend successfully bribed, a car rental company without any cars, a dubious meal in the desert, soaring heat and a bus that looked like it would fall apart any second.
– Estonia: In late October 2012, coincidentally on the day of the first snowfall of that winter, I went to Tallinn and then to the island of Hiiumaa. It was a beautiful, interesting and exciting trip, not least thanks to a great guide whom I met on Couchsurfing. He showed me everything from hidden cemeteries in the forest to crumbling Soviet bunkers to beautiful beaches.
– France: In 1992 I attended a forest fire fighting camp of the Scouts de France in Luminy, outside of Marseille. One week we had to help the fire fighters with spotting forest fires, and one week we learned how to sail, climb and dive and were just hiking along the coast, sleeping under the stars. Beautiful! Since, I have been to Strasbourg a few times (for the EU Parliament mainly) and to Paris, where I once ended up by accident when returning from New York.
– Germany: I lived in Germany for most of the time from 1975 to 2009. Given that the world is a large and interesting place, that was too long of a time to stay in the same place. I have therefore no plans of returning soon.
– Guernsey: One of the Channel Islands, which are not part of the United Kingdom, but a possession of the British Crown. They aren’t part of the European Union either, but are treated as part of the European Community area for some purposes. They each have their own parliament, but the UK Parliament has some power to legislate. Each of them have their own currency (Guernsey Pound, Jersey Pound), but they are always in parity with the British Pound. An so on. More confusingly, the island of Sark is semi-independent again from Guernsey, but more importantly, it is one of the most peaceful places in Europe: no cars, not too many people, and bays that make you think you have discovered paradise.
– Hungary: I will always remember Budapest fondly, not least because I ran my fastest half marathon there in 2015. Quite a beautiful city, but for my taste – which prefers Eastern over Western Europe – it’s too preppy, clean, organized. And boy, taking a train across the Puszta makes you long for mountains so badly.
– Iran: Probably the most interesting country I have ever been to. Two trips in 2009, the first as a tourist, exploring Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz for 2 weeks. A beautiful country with the biggest possible discrepancy between smart, open, funny people and a brutal and backward government. The second trip to join the protests against the rigged elections in 2009. I have never before seen so much courage as in the streets of Tehran in that time, and I experienced the brutality of the crackdown myself, was beaten up by riot police, later arrested by the Intelligence Service, taken to Evin prison, spent a week blindfolded in solitary confinement, being interrogated day and night, without anyone knowing where I was. Definitely the most intense week of my life.
– Israel: I have been to Israel so often, it felt like a second home at times. I first visited as a 16-year old in 1992 on a youth exchange program and experienced fantastic hospitality, wonderful nature and cities, an overwhelming amount of history, both ancient and recent. And I began to understand more and more about the Middle East. Israel is the perfect combination of Mediterranean beauty, the excitement of the Middle East, and the living standard and the political freedoms of a stable democracy. And Jerusalem is the most fascinating city in the world. My last visit was in March 2015 when I ran the Jerusalem half marathon and hiked the Jesus Trail in the north of the country.
– Italy: When I was a child, we took a few family trips to the Dolomites in South Tyrol. Later I visited Rome, the most beautiful city in the world, and Venice. In October 2013, I finally moved to Italy, first to live in Sicily for 6 months, which was not enough to explore that diverse island with its fascinating mountain ranges, old cities and volcanic islands, and then another 6 months in Bari.
– Jersey: Situated off the coast of France, but with closer political and economic ties to the United Kingdom, this is one of the so-called Channel Islands. I went hiking there for my birthday in 2011, mostly along the beautiful coast and slept close the shore. It’s a beautiful little island, with a surprising range of historical monuments, from Neolithic ritual sites to the more ugly remnants of the German occupation in World War II.
– Jordan: Again only a one-day trip, but a positively memorable one. It began with the very friendly and jocular reception by the border guards at the crossing between Eilat (Israel) and Aqaba (Jordan), and continued with an apparent wrong turn that led into a military zone, and again joyful encounters with Jordanian soldiers at both checkpoints and in a garrison. Petra is amazing, if a bit overrun by tourists.
– Kosovo: In February 2009 I went to Kosovo to join the celebrations for the 1st anniversary of Kosovo’s independence. I stayed in Mitrovica, a town divided by a river between a Serb north and an Albanian south. My Serbian friends in the north would never go south of the river and the Albanians would never venture north; I myself crossed the river constantly. It was interesting to see such a young country with many former refugees returning (some voluntary, some not), in a very optimistic and upbeat spirit. Also, like elsewhere on the Balkans, this pro-Western Muslim-majority country is a nice contrast to the simplistic Islam-vs-West narrative.
– Latvia: I spent a beautiful week travelling through Latvia, staying with Couchsurfers. I hiked through Gauja National Park, hiked up Gaizinkalns, Latvia’s highest mountain, was overwhelmed by the beauty of Riga and walked on the frozen sea at Jurmala.
– Lebanon: Christmas 2006 I was in Beirut, where tanks and soldiers with assault rifles were protecting the churchgoers and where buildings were still riddled with bullet holes from past wars. Most memorable though was the taxi ride to Damascus (Syria) in one of the most severe snowstorms I have ever seen. We were continually bumping into other cars, veering off the road and because all other passengers were strong smokers, we couldn’t close the windows and at the end of the journey I was covered in a few centimetres of snow. Worst of all, one of the passengers lauded Hitler upon learning that I was from Germany.
– Liechtenstein: No, it didn’t have anything to do with money.
– Lithuania: I lived in Vilnius for one year from 2012 to 2013. A very beautiful, sweet country and perfect for a lover of nature and history like myself, although the local historiography is sometimes a bit distorting. In summer, it’s a great country for outdoor activities: hiking, canoeing, cycling, running; everybody here seems to love and appreciate nature. Winters are long and tough, but it was a great experience to walk on the frozen sea at Nida on the beautiful Curonian Spit.
– Luxembourg: OK, this one did have to do with money.
– Macedonia: Full of history, beautiful mountains, Roman ruins, monasteries, very friendly and hospitable people. Macedonia offers the most beautiful train rides. Too bad that somebody decided to turn Skopje into a second Las Vegas.
– Malta: I moved to Malta in December 2011 to spend the winter months on this small Mediterranean island. I was lucky to live just 30 seconds from the sea, which I could also overlook from my balcony. Very relaxing. Beautiful old cities, beautiful coastline, fantastic sunsets, but unfortunately not more than maybe 100 trees. I like the style of the architecture in Malta with its mix of European and Middle Eastern styles. But not the island mentality.
– Mexico: After Mexico was becoming more dangerous than the Middle East due to its drug war, I had to go there of course. Monterrey impressed me with the surrounding mountains, and Guadalajara with its beautiful old city around the cathedral.
– Moldova: I only spent a few days in the capital city of Chisinau in 2015, and I liked the mix of old architecture, Soviet city planning, lots of green spaces, but also the many discussions I had about Moldova’s course towards the EU or to a closer connection with Russia or something in between. It’s sad to see how a country alienates a large part of its population with its language policy, as has already happened so often in Eastern Europe.
– Montenegro: The most beautiful mountains in Europe, a wonderful coastline, interesting old cities and wonderful people. Don’t forget to take the train from Bar via Podgorica to the mountains. The train journey is so scenic that you just want to go back and forth through this not too large country by train.
– Morocco: That was a really short trip, just one day in Casablanca, but it was worth the experience. What I remember most is the colorfulness in the city, in the streets, in the people. It was so hot, I got sunburn through my clothes. On my other trip to Morocco, which I had been looking forward to a lot, I unfortunately missed the plane. I am not always a pro, you see.
– Palestine: Several trips to the West Bank, mostly peaceful, except one time when kids in Jericho were throwing stones onto my car (while I was inside). I also tried to get into Gaza, but my entry was prevented by the IDF at Erez crossing (which was probably better for me than being kidnapped by Hamas).
– Romania: I moved to the city of Târgu Mureș in Transylvania in October 2014 and discovered not only one of the friendliest towns in the world, but also an extremely beautiful and interesting country. If you like mountains, forests and castles, Romania is a paradise. I even encountered a bear in the forest.
– Singapore: On a stopover to Australia. It was the first time for me to feel tropical heat and humidity. I remember the temples that smelled like weed and the food market in the basement of a shopping mall where people brought live animals and killed them upon purchase.
– Slovenia: If you only have time to visit one country when in Europe, go to Slovenia (or Montenegro). It has everything from the Alps to beautiful cities to the Adriatic coast. I am really not into Christmas, but Ljubljana at Christmas is an unforgettably beautiful sight. Piran, Portorož and Koper are also worth a visit.
– Spain: Four days in Barcelona. A friend of mine was doing his Erasmus term there, which was a good chance to visit. That’s when I began to realize that Erasmus students are not really students. In November 2015, I will spend a few days on Gran Canaria, from where my ship to Brazil will depart.
– Switzerland: I love mountains, direct democracy and multi-lingual countries, so it’s perfect. If only it weren’t so expensive.
– Syria: After an adventurous taxi ride for four hours from Beirut, I experienced Damascus. The old city is truly astonishing, with the Umayyad Mosque the most impressive mosque I have ever been in. The rest of the city is nothing spectacular though. A few years before the war that is now destroying Syria, it was weird to see people celebrating Bashar al-Assad as the “softer, gentler, more modern” president after his father’s reign. Nobody suspected him to become an even greater mass murderer.
– Thailand: Ok, I was hardly there. On the way back from Australia, the plane made a stop at Bangkok airport but I didn’t even leave the plane.
– Transnistria: A country that is unfairly associated with the words “conflict” and “crisis” when it is in fact a relatively normal, friendly country in Eastern Europe. Tiraspol is a somewhat sleepy capital city, but Bender somehow won my heart, maybe because it shares the name with the hero in “Twelve Chairs”. I walked all the way between both cities, in soaring summer heat, along the river Dnestr and blooming sunflower fields. In Tiraspol, I also had one of the nicest birthday surprises.
– Turkey: I have only been to Istanbul so far, mainly due to stopovers on the way to the Middle East.
– United Arab Emirates: One stop in Dubai on a flight from Iran. A lot of sand. I don’t share the hype, honestly, although I do like what “Mission Impossible 4” did at the Burj Kalifa.
– United Kingdom: After graduation from secondary school in Germany, the school organizes a trip of one week. In my case, we could choose between three destinations: Rome, Budapest and London. Those who had studied Latin went to Rome, those who just wanted to get smashed went to Budapest, and the nerds went to London. Thus I came to London for the first time. 15 years later, I moved there for a few years and even walked across England, from coast to coast and along the West Highland Way in Scotland. Funny country!
– United States of America: Always fascinated with America, I was reading anything about US history and politics and society I could get my hands on as a teenager. After graduating high school in Germany, I rewarded myself with a 2-week trip through California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. Since then I have been to the USA many times, for work, for business, for pleasure. I have been East and West, North and South. Yosemite National Park is the most beautiful place on this planet. I have done internships with Clark County District Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas, the German Consulate in New York and a law firm in Los Angeles and each of them helped me to get to know the country much better than a mere stay as a tourist could have.
– Vatican: Didn’t quite feel like it was a real state. (Read my contribution to that debate.)
Despite this list, my appetite for travel is far from satisfied. So if you live in any country that I haven’t visited yet, feel free to invite me! ;-)