If you are 18, the EU will pay your summer trip

If you are 18 years old this summer (2018), you could be very lucky. The European Union is giving away 15,000 travel passes for individuals or groups of up to five people.

You will have to apply online between 12 and 26 June 2018. The application form will be available on the European Youth Portal. There will be a quiz about European cultural heritage and if you win, you would be asked to include at least one European cultural heritage site in your itinerary. Coincidentally, 2018 is also the Year of European Cultural Heritage, so there will be plenty of events.

In order to apply, you need to be 18 years old on 1 July 2018 and be a citizen of the European Union. British teenagers, this is your last chance! ;-) Note that you need to have EU citizenship, but you don’t need to be living in the EU. That’s another reason to investigate your family tree and find out if you have a German or Spanish grandfather or a Dutch or Irish grandmother, because that could be enough to obtain EU citizenship. (I have written extensively about the paths to German citizenship, but it also works with many other EU member states.)

Winners will be notified in early July 2018 and you can undertake your journey between July and September 2018. You have up to 30 days and I recommend that you use every day of that!

Your itinerary needs to include at least one other country than the one you set out from, and can include up to four countries. My advice is not to go where everyone is going (Berlin, Rome, Paris), but to use this opportunity to explore something completely new, somewhere where none of your friends are going. Belfast instead of Berlin, Romania instead of Rome, Piran instead of Paris.

The EU will pay the train fare (or if necessary ferries or other transport, but there is nothing more relaxing and romantic than the railroad). Accommodation and food won’t be paid, which is another reason why I suggest a route off the beaten track. If you are from Western Europe, you might be surprised how affordable large parts of Eastern Europe are. Also, consider Couchsurfing to find locals to host you for free and to show you their city. It makes for an even better experience! After all, the whole idea of #DiscoverEU is to get to know each other as fellow Europeans.

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(This was also published by Medium. – Und hier gibt es diese Informationen auf Deutsch.)

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Posted in Europe, Travel | Tagged , | 8 Comments

New Business Cards

It’s so easy to tell a professional from a non-professional. The former have business cards.

After my first set of photo cards was exhausted – and because I have a new phone number and new URLs for my blogs – it was time to make some new cards.

The choice of photos was not easy, but I narrowed it down to six photos of memorable places that I visited in the last two years.

business cards 2018

Here’s what the photos show:

  • Chapada Diamantina, a national park in Brazil. And yes, I hiked down into that canyon, spent two nights there and hiked back up again.
  • The central square of Cochabamba in Bolivia. Of all the places I lived during my travels, Cochabamba was the friendliest and most welcoming city. And I often sat on Plaza 14 de Septiembre under the shade of the palm trees, reading a book or a newspaper, listening to a storyteller, watching a protest, adoring the beautiful architecture, enjoying the perfectly mild climate of the “City of Eternal Spring” and discussing the constitutional referendum with random strangers.
  • I tried not to include any country twice, but Lake Titicaca is simply the most beautiful place for hikes. The photo shows an old Inca road on the way from Copacabana to Yampupata on the Bolivian side of the lake. Hiking all around Lake Titicaca is still one of my dreams.
  • My selfies don’t get more extrovert than this one from Easter Island. Also, I wanted to include my hat from Romania which has accompanied me around the world and has protected me against sun, rain, falling rocks, snow, hailstorms, lightning, dogs, snakes, gunshots and women.
  • The train station in Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia. A beautiful city and the biggest surprise on my first trip to the Caucasus. Also, I wanted to include it because too many people don’t even know of Abkhazia or believe that it’s dangerous. It’s not.
  • Persian architecture in Tbilisi. The capital of Georgia (that in the Caucasus, not the one in the US) offers a mix of different architectural styles.

These cards should be nice conversation-openers. The previous set of cards actually saved my life once. I had gotten terribly lost in Bolivia and was close to dying of thirst, when a young shepherd discovered me and led me down into a canyon where there was some water to drink.

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He was very interested in my camera, asked me to take a photo of us together and then wanted to keep the camera. Firm to my belief, I respectfully declined. He picked up a large pebble stone, ready to smash in my head and extended his demands to money. “I don’t carry any money when I walk into the wilderness,” I lied, but took a few business cards from my shirt pocket instead. “I only have some cards with photos from Europe with me. Let me show you where I come from.”

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As I was showing him photos from Estonia and Macedonia, Lithuania and Italy, he let the stone weapon fall back to the ground. I gave him all the cards I had.

If you also want life-saving business cards, you can get them from MOO.

Posted in Abkhazia, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Easter Island, Georgia, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 23 Comments

Random Thoughts (22)

  1. In 2017, I seem to have been a bit lazy. I did not run a single half-marathon. But with the risk of war rising, I want to become fitter again. Last weekend, I began by running a half-marathon near Pilsen in the Czech Republic. Laufen im Wald 2
  2. And as I visited the European Capital of Culture of 2015, I decided to stay for a whole week.
  3. If we all stop smoking at the same time, we would gain so much in weight that the Earth would leave its orbit.
  4. In defense of Jeremy Corbyn, who hasn’t been a spy when they were young?
  5. airport without facebook
  6. I hope you didn’t forget to celebrate/commemorate the Day of the Sea on 23 March?
  7. Universities that allow students to carry-out online surveys among self-selecting Facebook friends to collect “data” for research papers should be bombed. – Then, the students could study the statistics of saturation bombing.
  8. Thanks to long-time reader Ana Alves for The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World before the War 1890-1914 by Barbara Tuchman, East West Street by Philippe Sands and Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World by Tim Whitmarsh. 28103039
  9. Looking at the Brexit transition agreement, it seems that the UK will remain in the EU, except that it will lose voting rights and not sit at the table anymore.
    Hmm, great deal, I suppose.
  10. I was really much more impressed by the Paralympics than by the Olympics.
  11. Thanks to Dieter Schuffenhauer for A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby. This classic of travel literature is deservedly one.hindu-kush
  12. In Bhutan, you can only be a candidate for parliament if you have a university degree.
  13. When Bolivians travel to countries like the Netherlands, do they get negative altitude sickness?
  14. Thanks also to Dieter Schuffenhauer for Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India by Shashi Tharoor. I became aware of this book through an interview with Mr Tharoor. I have rarely heard an interviewee speak so eloquently, and it made me curious about his writing.thumb_1o7a5437_1024-800x800
  15. Now that we know that Facebook is somewhere between incompetent and criminal, maybe we can all spend more time writing and reading blogs again. I generally find the level of debate on blogs higher, and it’s also easier to find old articles/comments again and to link to each other. It seems a more durable medium than Facebook, let alone Instagraph.
  16. Thanks to Cindy Lewyn for Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davies and above all for the memoir of her father, Bert Lewyn, On the Run in Nazi Berlin6018763
  17. When friends, from whom you haven’t heard in months, suddenly “want to talk to you”, you can bet that they have a legal question. Seriously, in 100% of the cases, no exception.
  18. For my spring hike, I am considering the idea of walking along the German section of the Roman limes. Have any of you ever done that? romanempire
  19. Some appreciation for my article on suicidesuicide
  20. Expats are immigrants who refuse to learn the language.
  21. I always confuse Valentine’s Day and April Fool’s Day.
  22. This week, there was a sunset here in Bavaria that made me fear that a nuclear power plant had exploded. Feuerhimmel MO_DSC4949.jpeg
  23. The cyclops was cycling in the cyclone.
  24. The final season of the best show on TV just began:

Posted in Bolivia, Books, Education, Elections, Facebook, Germany, Sports, Statistics, Travel, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Video: How to survive in the Wilderness

I had been hiking on the uninhabited side of Easter Island for a half a day already. The northwest coast was not only devoid of people, but also completely barren. I hadn’t found anything to eat or drink. The sun was shining relentlessly.

Along the way, I had come past several cadavers and skeletons. It began to dawn on me that I too might leave my life on that island if I couldn’t muster the strength to keep walking until nightfall. In light of that danger, I had just begun to record something like a good-bye video when I remembered the most important survival tip. Just in time.

Saved and strengthened by the bananas, I did indeed manage to continue the hike until I reached the beautiful bay of Anakena in the north of Easter Island.

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There, I could finally get the much desired Coca Cola.

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Berichts.)

Posted in Chile, Easter Island, Food, Photography, Travel, Video Blog | 7 Comments

My Travel Year 2017 in Photos

In 2017, I actually got around quite a bit. So much that my passport fell apart. But instead of souvenirs, I only brought back dozens of notebooks, filled with stories to be told, and a few photos to accompany them. (Actually, some of you did get souvenirs, but that’s for the elite circle of supporters of this blog.)

2018 will be a much quieter year, with a focus on university and on publishing articles about past travels. To help me decide with which stories to begin, I’ll give you an overview of what happened in 2017 and expect your comments on what you are most curious about.

The year 2017 began at one of the most beautiful places, at Lake Titicaca in South America. First in Puno on the Peruvian side, then in Copacabana on the Bolivian side.

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And wow, was I happy to be back in Bolivia, which remains my favorite country. If I ever have to pick one city to live for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t hesitate to move to Cochabamba. But that time, I decided to stay in La Paz until April.

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I was lucky to be there on 21 February, the anniversary of the constitutional referendum, with manifestations from both sides.

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But even if I had missed that, I needn’t have worried. There were protests and marches every day. Living quite centrally, I was awoken by drums or fireworks regularly.

It was almost too late, however, that I discovered a wonderful hiking group, Free Trek, and so I could only join them once. Valle de las Animas looks like out of this world, but it’s actually just a short walk from the bustling city.

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But the best adventure during that time was my walk to Chacaltaya.

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In April, it was time to fly to Colombia, where I was very positively surprised by Bogotá. An organized, bicycle-friendly, green, cultural city full of bookshops, exhibitions and chess players in the street.

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But I had to move after a few days because I had already rented a small house in the countryside.

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I was about to leave Colombia and South America by boat, so I had to go to Cartagena, the port city in the Caribbean. Cartagena looks beautiful, but it’s the opposite of Bogotá: hot and humid instead of mild and pleasant, hedonistic instead of intellectual, and superficial instead of cultural. Where Bogotá had chess players, Cartagena had beauty queens.

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By May, I was already looking forward to return to Europe and happy to get on the cruise. Two weeks on the high seas sounded like an enticing prospect, but it wasn’t really as relaxing as my first cruise. Maybe it was too much Cartagena and not enough Bogotá.

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But that way, I got to some islands which I would otherwise never have visited. On Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, I even had a friend waiting for me, who took me around the island, providing lots of information on the politics, economics, social structure and race relations of the island. And when we crossed from Sint Maarten to Saint Martin, I was already back in the European Union – in the middle of the Caribbean!

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A few weeks later, everything was destroyed by Hurricane Irma.

The same fate befell Antigua, where I was surprised by how British-colonial everything still looked, despite most people being the descendants of slaves, who, by the way, staged a revolt in the 1730s. Yes, the climate was so hot and humid that I preferred to spend a few hours at the local history museum in St John’s.

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The last island stop on the cruise was Madeira. Returning to Europe was as beautiful as I had hoped, with mild climate, flowers blooming, and finally a city where I could sit in the park and read a newspaper without having to listen to everybody else’s music at inhumane volume. I almost wanted to quit the cruise and stay in Funchal for longer.

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But luckily, I stayed aboard until we reached mainland Portugal. I already liked Lisbon, where I only stayed briefly, but Sintra blew me away. Castles and monasteries, hidden in the forest or perched on mountaintops, all connected by hiking paths, and with beautiful gardens, romantic ponds and mysterious tunnels. A magical place!

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And then I was back in Germany. Well, at least it was summer, so it was sunny, green and perfect for hiking. And not having to worry about anacondas and piranhas was a bit of a relief.

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But somehow, I can never stay in Bavaria too long without getting depressed by the petite bourgeoisie there, so already for my birthday in July, I fled to the Caucasus.

In Tbilisi in Georgia, I was lucky to stay in a part of town that hadn’t been modernized yet. Beautiful old courtyards, crooked buildings, wooden balconies, with elements of Persian architecture.

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It immediately struck me as a city where I could imagine living, but Kutaisi and Zugdidi were nice, too.

Yerevan had more concrete than green, but still a nice cultural vibe, while Dilijan turned out to be the hiking paradise in Armenia.

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In Azerbaijan, I felt the weight of the one-family autocracy in Ganja, while Göygöl was completely different and welcoming.

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But the biggest surprise on my Caucasus tour was Abkhazia. The capital Sukhum has the grandeur of a Black Sea resort with a long tradition, but, as an effect of war, flight and emigration, a decimated population. Even at the height of summer, the city was never crowded.

train station Suchumi

As some of you know, I have been toying with the thought of moving to a Russian-speaking place to learn Russian. Because nobody in Abkhazia expects anyone to learn Abkhaz and because almost everyone is bilingual, but not many people speak English, it seems like the perfect place for such language studies. (Transnistria would be another alternative.)

As I returned to Germany, I met a former classmate of mine who was living in Britain at the time, in Lancashire to be exact. It was wonderful to see how well we got along after not having seen each other for at least ten years, and he invited me to visit him in Lytham St Annes, that “bubble of happiness”, as he called it.

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But we also had time to explore the seedy side of Blackpool, watch an impressive airshow in Southport

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and go hiking in the Lake District.

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Once again, I realized how perfect Britain is for hiking. Not only the beautiful landscape, but also a really good infrastructure, with public transport, pubs in every small village and even food deposited by friendly people along the path.

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And then I returned to university in October, and traveling was over. Well, I did go to Hagen in Northrhine-Westfalia for one week. Allegedly, it’s Germany’s most boring city, but I honestly didn’t find it too bad. But maybe that was due to an intensive week of history lectures.

Now that she is retired, my mother is becoming more interested in traveling, and so she suggested a trip to Prague for a couple of days in autumn. It turned out to be the perfect time because it was still warm, but the leaves were already golden and red.

In Germany however, November was becoming more and more depressing. I urgently needed to escape and chose to move to Kotor in Montenegro for three months. I had been there before and liked it a lot, but this longer stay reconfirmed that Kotor really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world – even in winter.

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So, now it’s up to you. Let me know what you are most interested in, and I will get cracking on the articles, edit the videos and publish more photos.

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)

Posted in Abkhazia, Antigua, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Colombia, Europe, Georgia, Germany, Madeira, Montenegro, Peru, Photography, Portugal, Sint Maarten, Travel, UK | Tagged | 38 Comments

Playing the concertina is exhausting

That calls for a break every now and then.

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Photographed in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Posted in Bolivia, Music, Photography, Travel | Tagged | 1 Comment

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, but many of you don’t seem to know how to properly celebrate or commemorate it.

  • It’s NOT a day for those who forgot Valentine’s Day,
  • NOR is is a second chance for those whose object of affection has since changed.
  • It’s NOT a day to send flowers and hearts and other cheesy messages to your Facebook friends.
  • It’s NOT Mothers’ Day.
  • NOTHING is achieved by wishing someone a “happy Women’s Day”.
  • It’s NOT a day for companies to offer “Women’s Day Specials”.

No, it’s a day to fight!

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As these Italian partisans show us, you can still be fashionable if you want to, but the guns and the fight are what counts.

8th of March is a political day, a day of justice, a day of equal rights and participation. Special Women’s Day offers with lots of stereotypical pink hearts are rather counterproductive and backward if you want women to progress beyond the status of Barbie dolls.

The only place where I have seen it done right was in Bolivia:

WomensDay

(This reminder was also published on Medium.)

Posted in Bolivia, Feminism, History, Italy, Travel | Tagged , | 7 Comments