Travelling 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 chap, 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 so far, but I saw 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 programme 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 a Kalashnikov.
– 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 I have ever seen.
– 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 via 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 to spot forest fires, and one week we learned how to sail, how to climb, how to 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 at the same place. I have therefore no plans of returning soon.
– Greece: Despite my Greek first name, I have only been to Athens and to Thessaloniki for a few days. If I had to pick one restaurant for the rest of my life, it would be a Greek one.
– 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 in the street by the Intelligence Service, taken to Evin prison, spent a week blindfolded in solitary confinement, being interrogated day and night, without anybody knowing where I was. Definitely the most intense week of my life.
– Israel: My most favourite country. I first visited as a 16-year old in 1992 on a youth exchange programme 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 so far was a road trip around Israel in 2009. My next visit to Israel will be in March 2015 for the Jerusalem half marathon.
– 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.
– 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, I have never seen such a pro-Western Muslim-majority country.
– 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 the 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.
– 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.
– Montenegro: The most beautiful mountains in Europe and not overrun by tourists. And 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 colourfulness in the city, in the streets, in the people. It was so hot, I got sunburnt through my clothes.
– 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 once tried to get into Gaza, but my entry was prevented by the IDF at Erez crossing.
– Romania: I moved to the city of Târgu Mureș in Transilvania in October 2014 and I am looking forward to exploring Romania and more of Eastern Europe.
– Serbia: A bus tour through the whole country (to go to Kosovo and back) and then a few interesting days in Belgrade in 2009.
– Singapore: On a stopover to Australia. I remember the humidity of close to 100 %, the temples that smelled like weed, and the food market in the basement of the 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. 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.
– 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. The first hotel had no heating, no warm water, holes in the window and no extra blanket. I caught pneumonia. Trying to find a cinema that showed an English language film, I saw the extent of Syrian censorship: no English language film with any reference to politics, history, sex or anything similarly outrageous. I only found one theatre that had foreign films, the choice was between a Disney cartoon and Zorro.
– 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. To be honest, with the reputation that travel to Thailand has, I am not too keen on going there either. (Completely unfair towards most of Thailand, I know.)
– Turkey: Only Istanbul so far, mainly thanks to stopovers on the way to the Middle East.
– United Arab Emirates: Just a few stops in Dubai on flights to and 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 organises 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.
– 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. When I first went to America at age 19, I was actually a bit scared that I might be disappointed because America had – to use the cliché – become this shining city on a hill to me. But I was not disappointed at all. Since then I have been to the USA many times, for work, for business, for pleasure. I have been East (New York, Maine, DC, Florida) and West (California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona), North (Illinois) and South (Texas) and in between (Kentucky). Yosemite National Park is the most beautiful place on this planet! My work experiences with Clark County District Attorney’s office in Las Vegas, the German Consulate in New York or a law firm in Los Angeles have been tremendously exciting and would each provide enough material for a book.
– 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! ;-)