Monthly Archives: July 2014


It is unlikely that my route would seem logical to a bystander. Indeed the choice of every following destination takes into account a whole list of factors. Is there a cheap and convenient connection? Have I been there before? Does it lie in the general direction of my movement? Will it be easy to visit it on some other occasion? Will I be able to find a reasonable onward ticket? Do I need a visa? What is the weather there? Is it wise to go there spontaneously without a thorough preparation? Have I been dreaming of going there? Can I see or do something fascinating there? Et cetera.

This “black box” of considerations sometimes produces results that appear surprising. From Poland I took a flight to Armenia. I bought my ticket less than 24 hours before departure. At that time MAU (the Ukrainian national airline) offered a whole list of cheap connections involving a change of planes in Kiev – which I did on my way from Warsaw to Yerevan. Now that MH17 has been blown out of the sky, a change of planes in Kiev sounds somewhat risky and I would probably not have done it now. But on 29 June it was all good.

I had been to Georgia before and my expectations for Armenia were similar. However Yerevan surprised me with an entirely different mood and atmosphere. If Georgia appeared melancholic, sombre, nostalgic for some distant happier times, then Yerevan (which obviously has the right for an even deeper existential sadness) was nothing like it. A confident desire to enjoy the hot summer days. Multitudes of new buildings and construction sites. Crowds of joyful people walking the broad boulevards on magical evenings, sitting in endless cafés, taking pleasure in their food, drinks, company, moments, life.

Yerevan has a very unusual city plan. Although the city is ancient, the plan of the centre was conceived in 1920-es and finalised only after regaining of independence. The centre has the form of a circle (the circular road) inside of which a diamond is inscribed. The diamond is formed by the main avenues. In the top corner of the diamond is the Opera, in the bottom corner is the Republic Square. These are the two main foci of the city space. A steep hill  due North from the Opera house is climbed by a very unusual edifice – a staircase, a building, a street – called the Cascade.

The overview of Yerevan from the top of the Cascade. The rounded building in the centre is the Opera. On the right we should be able to see the Mount Ararat, so dear to Armenian heart, which today lies in Turkey, but it is hidden in the haze.

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Natolin reunion

From Serbia I set off for Warsaw and there was a very specific reason for me to go there. In 2003-2004 I studied – and got a Master’s degree – in the Natolin campus of College of Europe. So now it was exactly 10 years from our graduation and our promotion decided to meet up to celebrate this anniversary. It was decided to meet in the very place where we studied. Natolin used to be an aristocratic residence, later a summer house used by the party bosses, and finally nowadays it became a university campus surrounded by a superb park. The very topography of the place contributes to the feeling of isolation, which is the reason why the generations of students refer to it as “the golden cage”. In addition, Natolin is somewhat removed from the centre of Warsaw, although a metro line does reach there.

Our promotion  – about 120 people – was comprised of people from all over Europe and beyond and so ten years on our people are literally everywhere around the world. In any country you go to there is a chance to bump into if not your coursemate, then at least someone from an adjacent promotion. CoE is an amazing network. One day in Mysore, India I was waiting for an elevator in a random hotel. As the elevator doors opened, my French coursemate Natacha stood right in front of me – we lived in neighbouring rooms in the Natolin student residence. I accidentally met College acquaintances in some many cities I’ve lost count. Of course the highest concentration of anciens is in Brussels – the very place we are meant to go after the College graduation.

Most of my time in Warsaw was consequently spent talking to people. It was only a couple of times that I would take my camera in my hands, and here are some results.

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3 days in Bucharest

Romania was the only EU country I had not visited. Therefore as I found myself close, I simply had to make a stop there. Thus from I took a plane from Istanbul to Bucharest – a very short flight. Now my score for EU member states is 28 for 28. I decided to spend three days in Bucharest – arriving on a Thursday and leaving on a Sunday.

Easily the most important – dominant – structure in Bucharest is the Palace of the Parliament. Formerly known as the Palace of the People, it is the monstrous child of Ceaușescu’s imagination that required razing half of the centre of Bucharest to clear space for it. The view from the East – the closest it comes to a façade. I have got a photo with people and cars in front of it, but this photo – underlining its aloofness – seems more fitting.

The Palace is the heaviest building in the world, as well as the second largest after Pentagon. Ceaușescu conceived it as a unitary seat of power, the residence of all branches of his communist government. The Palace was built over many years, consuming the resources of what was (and still is) a very poor country, but he never moved in – the revolution intervened. The area that had to be cleared is the size of Venice, and farewell was bid to the old Bucharest, the Paris of the East. Looking at this bizarre building, you cannot help remembering the Egyptian pyramids or the otherworldly Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, also never to be finished.

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Fantastic Turkish food in Istanbul

Surely many readers of this blog have been to Turkey. I have been there several times myself. And yet every new visit is a discovery of something new. It is one of the clear lessons of this trip that the longer you spend in a particular place, the deeper – qualitatively different – becomes your understanding of that locale. A single additional day can add an entirely unexpected flavour and depth of immersion. And every so often when the moment comes to leave I have the feeling that only now came the time when I am truly really discovering a place. So it was in Istanbul. I haven’t mentioned all the little discoveries I made there in the previous post: say, the gorgeous SALT galleries where you can spend hours enjoying the vibe, the free super quick wifi, the endless amount of books in open access in the library. Other discoveries are related to people you meet on the road – and I have my ways to get in touch with the locals. Finally a good way to sample the country’s specificity is by getting acquainted with the richness of its cuisine.

Let’s start with the classics! The wonderful köfte – small meatballs – are the pride of the Turkish kitchen, a simple yet amazingly tasty dish. They are invariably accompanied by grilled tomatoes and peppers.

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Istanbul walking

A very convenient flight connects Istanbul to Kathmandu. Playing with various options of how to proceed from Nepal, finally I decided that this was the best choice. I had been to Istanbul before. At that time stayed in Sultanakhmet area and had a chance to explore the main drawing boards – such as Aya Sofia, the Sultan Palace as well as the Catacombs. This time I decided to base myself in Beyoglu area, next to the famous (or infamous) Taksim square. This area is indeed the heart of modern Istanbul, this is where its heart beats and energy flows. The main thoroughfare of this area – and indeed of all Istanbul – is the Independence Avenue, İstiklâl Caddesi. The Avenue connect the Taksim Square with the area of Galata Tower. Walking in the same direction from there on after crossing the Galata bridge you reach the historical Istanbul – what is commonly known as Sultanakhmet.

Istiklal at night is a magical place full of crowds enjoying themselves.

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Patan and Bhaktapur

Kathmandu valley is the heart of Nepal. The toponym Nepal historically referred precisely to this valley. Only in 18th century, as the Gurkha Kingdom conquered the valley and made it the centre of its newfound empire, the name Nepal was extended to cover all of the modern country (and some other territories which were part of the empire at the time but later got transferred to India). Initially the centre of gravity in the valley was the town of Bhaktapur. Kathmandu and Patan (also known as Lalitpur) became its equals and rivals in about 15th century. Eventually Kathmandu won over and came to dominate the area. I visited Patan and Bhaktapur, the two other main historical towns in the valley, on two separate occasions and this post describes these visits.

The circumstances of each visit could not be more different. I went to Patan on my own and the visit to Bhaktapur was together with a friend. Bhaktapur was visited on one of my first days in Nepal; Patan on one of the last. I walked around Patan in the heat under the scorching sun; in Bhaktapur suddenly the skies opened and a torrential rain fell down and continued for hours.

Like in Kathmandu, both Bhaktapur and Patan possess a Durbar Square. In each case it is the focus of the old city. Patan’s Durbar Square:

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Temples of Kathmandu

By now I am rather far away from Nepal, but I cannot resist writing two more posts about the Peaceful Kingdom. Well, Republic nowadays. This post is about the temples of Kathmandu. Their names have already been mentioned time and again in the posts about the magical Kathmandu itself as well as the stay in the orphanage. Many of my temple visits were with the kids from the orphanage.

Swayambhu was for sure our favourite temple. It is the temple that rises on the top of a hill to the West of Kathmandu, being the main temple of Newari Buddhism – the branch that historically developed in the Kathmandu valley. From up close it is difficult to make a photo that would take it all in. An attempt:

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Annapurna Base Camp trek

Today is one year to the day from the start of my trip. On 5 July last year I boarded a plane from Brussels to Mexico and so my incredible journey began. It is somehow right that the first part of my journey comes to an end now. Tonight I am going to take a plane to Tallinn, where I am from. To be very precise, the circle around the world will not quite close then – this will only happen when I reach Brussels. Nevertheless Tallinn will surely be a special stop on the way. Is the trip itself over? No no no. The journey continues!

With so many exciting events taking place recently, my blog is now somewhat delayed. However I will keep on publishing materials from the trip in a chronological order. And so today I will write about the amazing 10-day trek that I took in the Nepalese Himalaya.

The Himalaya are what gives Nepal its fame. They dominate Nepal the way The Wall dominates the Seven Kingdoms. A trek in the Himalaya did not initially figure in my plans. It was out of the question: I had no trekking equipment, not even warm clothes to speak of. But conversations with fellow travellers in Kathmandu and Pokhara alerted me to the fact that to be in Nepal and not to do a trek would be outright criminal. There was a complication though: the start of the Nepali rain season was imminent. “Two weeks left before the rain season starts!” I was told. “One week left!” Nevertheless it was clear to me that a chance to trek in Nepal is quite unique and so if I do it, I have to do it properly. And I decided to take the risk and despite the start of the rain season to do a 10-day trek to Annapurna Base Camp.

I spoke to some fellow travellers to see if we could do it together, but finally we could not quite match the routes and dates. So I decided to do a trek on my own with a guide. The whole thing got magically organised at the last moment. A fellow volunteer Becca wrote to me on Facebook about an amazing guide called Krishna she heard of while having dinner with a Canadian friend and gave me his number. I called Krishna from Pokhara to Kathmandu and immediately he said he was available and was ready to come to Pokhara. He sent me a proposed route and it fit my desires perfectly: in addition to the classical ABC (Annapurna Base Camp) trek it included also the so-called Ghorepani trek which many people do as a separate trek. Lonely Planet proposes to allocate to ABC alone 16 days; in Krishna’s ABC and Ghorepani together would take 10 days. I thought this was reasonable and so I confirmed.

We met in Pokhara over a bottle of beer the next day. He said I was obviously younger than him, what are you, 25? I am actually three years older than him, so this was neat. He also immediately declared that I was walking really fast. I laughed and said that we would see if it would hold up in the mountains. Hold up it actually did – the easiest rhythm for me was to run up some hill, like 500 metres up, and then take a good pause to rest. Krishna’s natural rhythm I think was to go slower without the need for long rest.

On the same day I bought everything that could be bought at the last moment – trekking boots, light pants, water purification tablets, lip balm. I packed it all in my old city backpack – which almost bursted at the seams – and off we went the next morning. Krishna looked at my backpack rather sceptically – it was only 9 kg, which was quite a bit less than his backpack. But finally my pack was just right – no more, no less.

In the morning we took a taxi from Pokhara to Nayapul, which is around 1.5 hours by car. The road actually does continue for some way further on, but then suddenly disappears in the woods, so there’s no point in taking the taxi further. This is the point where we started walking:

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