Travelreport

Travelreport

Tales from around the world

You notice the bunkers immediately. Still in Macedonia, you peak over the border fence and you see the first follies in concrete. Enver Hoxha ruled Albania from 1944 to 1985 in a backward form of communism. The bunkers are the most visible symptom of his paranoia. In the first years after World War II relations with Yugoslavia were very close until a total break, mirroring the break between Tito and Stalin, occurred in 1948. This cut-off included closing Albania’s border to the west, north and east. That lasted until 1990. With Greece in the south Albania was technically still in a state of war anyway. […]

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The trip started in Greece (Thessaloniki) but about the only thing we did there was heading straight to Macedonia. No, wait a second, we also rode on something that resembled a highway more than anything else for about two kilometres and we were hit by a heat-wave. Temperatures are above 40°C and I pay for it with total exhaustion on the first day. We basically go from supermarket to supermarket; they are always cool and they have cool drinks. […]

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I visit Minsk in May 2006 on a university excursion. We focus on social projects and spend only limited time exploring the city. The evenings are great fun. A few years ago, I had spoken with a recent visitor to Minsk who compared its charm to a freshly raked cemetery. The city is still fairly bland, somehow subdued, but a few bars have by now appeared on the scene. […]

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My only visit to Ireland so far has been a short cycling trip starting in Rosslare Harbour (coming from Wales) in the Southeast to Dublin (leaving to the Isle of Man). Kilkenny was the only settlement of any note we visited besides Dublin. We were fully self-sufficient, equipped with a tent and cooking equipment so we rather stayed out in the nature. […]

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Mad Dash Home: Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary In the autumn of 2003, I took a three-month trip travelling back to Germany from Hong Kong overland via mainland China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In mid-December, I had only reached Georgia and had to make a decision how to get back in […]

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I had kept an eye on the situation in Georgia for the last weeks. On the 2nd of November 2003, parliamentary elections had taken place that fell short of international standards. Protests started which had grown to impressive demonstrations by mid-November. It was unclear in which direction things would develop. On the 23rd of November President Eduard Shevardnadze finally annulled the results of the parliamentary election and stepped down. The Rose Revolution had won a first victory, a caretaker president took over and new elections (for parliament and president) had been called. I entered Georgia barely two weeks later on the 6th of December, things were calm. […]

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I arrived to Azerbaijan by bus from Tehran in what was and still is the weirdest bus ride of my life. It started normal, I came to the bus station, went to the company I had bought the ticket from and they pointed me to a bus. The weirdness started when I realized that I was to be the only passenger and not just for the beginning but for the whole journey. This normal-sized bus had two drivers but just one passenger. […]

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I arrive at the border together with a Turkmen doctor. Iran pays better wages. She is wearing a long skirt and a traditional Turkmen headscarf that covers most of her hair, she is wearing that at home in Turkmenistan and does not have to adapt to fulfil the clothing rules of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the country on this trip I am most looking forward to. I am curious how the strict, politically controversial Iran is looking from the inside. Clothes are one thing, female hair has to be covered, these rules also apply to visitors. We cross the border without pain and soon we sit in a taxi to Mashad. Before starting the driver pulls out a small screen, attaches it to the windshield and soon we are driving through the Islamic Republic with its clothing rules and scantily clad Shakira is dancing in front of me. Every time a police car comes into view, the driver takes the little screen down. I can’t believe it. […]

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As the Central Asian states were more or less pushed into independence with the break-up of the Soviet Union Turkmenistan was one of the first to positively embrace the new position. It had a small population but large reserves of natural gas. As in most other Central Asian countries with independence the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, Saparmurat Niyazov, took over as president. His vision saw Turkmenistan as the Switzerland of Central Asia, a small rich nation in the middle of things. It all went south from there. […]

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I visited Kyrgyzstan in 2003 on a three-month trip travelling back to Germany from China overland that also brought me to Hong Kong, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia before ending in a Mad Dash Home to make it back in time for Christmas.
I will cover Kyrgyzstan only briefly, I visited again in 2008 and have much better pictures from that trip. I’ll focus on the things that are peculiar to the 2003 trip. […]

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I had visited China for the first time the previous year. Whereas I was very happy about returning to Hong Kong I felt conflicted about China. On one hand a very interesting place, on the other hand I found it complicated, difficult and annoying. Because of this, I decided to spend little time there and cross quickly to get to Central Asia. I spend six days in Hong Kong and planned to spend the same amount of time to cross China to Kyrgyzstan, a distance, as the crow flies, of more than 4000km. Crazy idea but I was young and inexperienced. […]

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I am flashed by Hong Kong. I feel so much more at home here than in mainland China. People speak and understand English and I like these dense cities where everything is compressed in a small space. The bathroom in the hostel has less than one square meter, it is not very convenient but everything you need is there. And the setting is beautiful, it reminds me a bit back to Vladivostok on the same trip but Hong Kong is more dramatic, by far. […]

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I’m intrigued by China, a country so big and unknown. I listened to an interesting conversation at the guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar. One guy had worked in China for two years, the other had travelled there for six months. They seemed to complain all the time about it and every sentence seemed to be graced with the word “fu**ing”. After some time, I asked why they spent so much time in this obviously annoying place, the travelling guy was first to answer, “because it’s fu**cking interesting”. I got what he meant. […]

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I started reading about Mongolia on the long train ride west from Vladivostok. So far, I had considered it as just another country but now I realize how different it is. I’m a bit shocked and don’t have a concept yet. The guidebook contains information like “how to drive a jeep”, “how to repair a jeep”, and “how to buy a jeep”. It was written by a representative of Mercedes Benz in Mongolia but he recommends the Russian jeeps, they are easy to repair and spare parts readily available. I give you an excerpt about how to traverse deep rivers: “it is better to face the inevitable and open all the doors of the car as you enter the water. This allows the flow of the river to easily pass the car. In this the front-seat passenger also has to fulfil an important duty.” Well, I was expecting something more normal, […]

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Creating this website forces me to take a look back into my own travelling history. And here we are, in 2002, right at the beginning of my first longer trip, and the first time of really travelling outside of Europe. With my parents we went on holidays, every year, two weeks, usually with Christian groups and usually somewhere south where the sea was warm. Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Yugoslavia. Only once we got out of Europe, to Israel (and Egypt’s Sinai), the Holy Land, how fitting for a Christian family. My first time on an airplane. As a teenager, I would take tours with my friends, often on a bike, the first going to Lake Constance (about 160km). Later we discovered the BDP, a youth organization that offers trips around Europe. Sweden, Corsica, Slovenia. I wasn’t dreaming about anything further away. But in my last year in school something changed, […]

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