Hong Kong, a unique phenomenon in Asia where the West meets the East. This harmony, which is on the verge of extinction today due to Chinese aggression, is living its last days of freedom and glory. Although it looks like China, there is no communism here. Here capitalism is in full swing. All the signs are also in English, you can see foreigners everywhere and the locals are aware of all the global news and events. This is one of the few places in China where locals can talk relatively free, where you have access to anything, and sites like Google, Facebook and You Tube are not blocked by the government…yet.
As luck had it, at the end of my 5 month contract at sea, our ship headed towards the Yiu Lian Shipyard in Hong Kong for it’s technical overhaul. A visit to the shipyard is the best thing that can happen to the deck crew due to the relatively low workload onboard during the stay.
To get to the site, the ship’s route takes us very close to land, under several city bridges and among some cute urban islands.
The eternal question and rivalry on the European continent: which is better: London or Paris? France or England UK? I know you are tired of Covid, but let’s hope that 2021 will be better and we will be able to travel again.
Although Europe has many wonderful cities, few have the power, prestige, size or wealth of these two rival capitals. There is of course also Madrid, but it’s just not quite in the same league. Viennaand Amsterdam are very beautiful but quite small, Istanbul is huge but leaves much to be desired, and Berlin is …just Berlin I guess.
I had the pleasure of visiting both capitals over time. Paris in 2009 long before we moved to France, thanks to my sister, to whom I wish to thank once again, and London in 2018 before moving to England.
But let’s start with the beginning: after we landed we made our way to the hotels, both in somewhat peripheral areas and this was the first impression we had of the cities:
It was the Autumn of 2008, I was in my third year of studies at the Romanian Naval Academy. Those wishing to go on the Albatros school ship (the only school ship of higher maritime education system in Romania) had registered long before and now were waiting for their turn to embark. The School Ship “Albatros”, was an ancient relic of the once great Romanian merchant fleet. It now sailed at the edge of legality only through “friendly” ports. No one risked entering a port in the West due to it’s many problems related to the technical condition and the certificates status. It was however understandable. This was a cargo ship built in 1977 under the name of “Dej”, already over 30 years old age.
Although it was technologically obsolete, and what you were doing there had little to do with what you do on a modern ship, many students still wanted to embark on it, being a good way to put some experience on their seaman’s book. The management of the Academy also wanted to put as many students on it as it could, being a safe method to check who has seasickness and who is able to withstand the conditions on board, thus being able to make cadet recommendations to large companies.
In January 2020, not long before the crisis caused by the Corona virus began, we had a dream vacation in Las Palmas, the capital of the island of Gran Canaria. Gran Canaria is part of the Canary Islands archipelago, along with Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro. The Canary Islands, although geographically located in Africa, are part of Spain and the EU, so you don’t have to worry about travel documents.
I chose this tropical destination in winter to escape from the cold in Europe. The canaries have been blessed with an excellent climate, protected by currents that ensure ideal temperatures all year round: not lower than 20 degrees in winter and not higher than 29 degrees during summer. Gran Canaria also gets an average of 320 sunny days out of 365 per year.
Malta, a small and beautiful island in the middle of the Mediterranean. It is a destination known to every sailor around the world. Due to it’s central location, today it is an International hub for container transshipment, and also a major financial hub. Although I had the opportunity to visit the port many times, due to the short stay in the port (usually 12 to 18 hours), I never had time to really enjoy the island.
That is until the summer of 2016 when due to an unexpected engine problem, we were instructed by the shipowner to go to the Palumbo shipyard in Malta. When I started to plot the route, to my surprise I saw that the site is located straight in the heart of Valletta harbour, the capital of Malta.
The entrance to the bay was very narrow, the pilot carefully maneuvering our 300 meters ship through the walls and medieval fortifications of the entrance to the port of Valletta. But at the same time, this does offer some very nice views, being the same views as the tourists on the cruise ships enjoy when they come here.
I heard great things about Krakow and thought we give it a try. This medieval city, which was voted the most beautiful city in Poland and in the region did not disappoint us at all. I can say that it was a very good holiday choice.
Poland is very similar to my home country Romania, and the feeling here is remarkably similar at first sight. Appearances fade away quickly from the moment you land on John Paul II airport (named after Polish Pope). The modern airport is very organized and clean. From here we easily found our way to the bus station.
A single ticket from the airport to the city center costs 9 Polish Zloty (2.1 EUR) or 16 Zloty (3.8 EUR) for a return ticket. You can buy tickets at the airport but also inside the bus at the dispenser, where you can pay cash or by card. Beautiful isn’t it? I look forward to seeing something like this in my country Romania.
After visiting a large part of Europe, I present you my top 10 of the most beautiful cities that have left a memorable impression. The top is composed only of the cities I visited, I’m sure there are other beautiful cities out there that I have not yet had the chance to visit. For these I’m waiting for your suggestions in the comments section. We have included only the cities that have preserved their character and authentic beauty, not including those who have sacrificed their personality just for the sake of tourism (I can give Venice as an example of this)
I wasn’t sure if this city deserves to be included in the top because it can also easily be included in the list of the most overrated cities to visit and depending on the area you stay, it can also be included in the list of the most dangerous cities to visit. In principle, the French capital lives on the laurels of the past, but although the city of lights doesn’t shine so bright as it used to, it is still quite bright and appealing. The central area that you see as a tourist is still very beautiful and an example of urban planning to be looked up to. Also, the city offers a very large concentration of attractions that will keep you busy for at least a week, so it’s always a safe bet for a successful holiday. Protests, strikes and locals who do not speak English and who do not stand criticism towards their city or their country, all make sure you get a really authentic experience. (see London vs Paris article HERE.)
Lisbon, an unpolished diamond at a finished price. The first vacation in 2019 found us in the capital of Portugal, Lisbon. I have wanted for a long time to reach the Western End of mainland Europe and now I am glad to have had this opportunity together with my friends from Romania.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Ryanair has daily flights from Manchester to Lisbon, and the UK’s logistics, organization, prepaid airport parking, transfer to the terminal is simply impeccable. The first thing we had to do when we landed was to search for a means of transport to the city. Against my reason and judgement, we proceeded in to being stupid tourists and we went to the airport information desk to ask how we can get to Lisbon city center. They sent us to the Aerobus 1 service, which costs 4 EUR per person. Later I found out that there is a subway station inside the airport and also other normal regular buses where you pay € 1.5 per person ticket. That’s it, what to do now, so my first tip for everyone who wants to get to Lisbon, take the metro from the airport!
We found a cute apartment on Booking.com next to Rossio Square, which looked very nice in the pictures, but it proved to be lacking when we got there. The first thing we were asked by our host there was to pay the Lisbon tourist tax of 2 EUR per person per night, which must be paid separately on arrival. We knew about the tax from the site, but an extra cost of 48 EUR besides the already paid accommodation seems a bit expensive. I know all cities have a similar charge, but everywhere I have been, I didn’t pay more than 10-15 EUR, which were already included in the accommodation price. I have figured that it is for a good cause and at least something good is done with that money. I can not say that at the end of the holiday that I saw any great work done for tourists, but rather more for the locals.
First of all I must mention the fact that I did not live in France, but in Marseille, a city that even many French people say it is not exactly France, and for good reasons. It’s been a year since I first came here with my work. The city is one of strong contrasts, in the center you have the natural harbor and lovely tourist area of Vieux Port , and just 2 streets away from it, you have Noailles Square, a congested smelly area, full of African minorities, where you hear more Arabic than French. In this place where smuggled cigarettes are sold openly on the street, you feel more like in Morocco and Algeria than in France. Moving away from the city center, we reach the Southern districts where we have the superb Mediterranean areas of Prado and Point Rouge. This wealthy areas come with parks, beaches and the Calanques mountains view in the background. Coming back to the center of town, if you walk just to the North of Saint Charles Station, you are afraid to keep walking on the street.
Coming from Romania, I didn’t think much of seeing homeless people on the street or sleeping in the tram stops, begging at street corners or minorities hanging around at the entrances of the subway, drinking beer and smoking pot. But even so, the large number of them concentrated in the city center exceeds any expectations, even compared to Romania! I think from the perspective of a tourist or of a Frenchman from another more “French” city, the urban landscape here must be something unreal.
Probably the last of the great capitals that I have not been able to visit until now. It was in my plan to visit for a long time and I even had the plane ticket to London bought in the past but due to unfavorable circumstances I could not go. We left from Marseille, where we are now, and with Ryanair, we paid for 2 people return tickets just 97 EUR! Long Live Ryanair! The plane drops you at Stansted Airport which has a direct train connection to London. The train journey takes about 40 minutes and cost us 30 pounds (2 people). We arrived in London at Liverpool Street Station, one of the many giant train stations of this 10 million-strong metropolis. Getting out of the train and crossing the central corridor of the train station at rush hour, the atmosphere is simply overwhelming. Thousands of commuters traverse in a hurry between the subway and the numerous platforms that serve the suburban trains. But fortunately, the many signs, screens and information points make your life easy. We found our way to the subway entrance, we only had to find the platform of our line, which is not easy considering the fact that there are 4 subway lines serving this station.
The use the public transport, you will need an Oyster card, which is a universal card that is valid on the subway, train and bus, and prices for it may be shocking. The city is divided into 9 zones, and rates vary according to the number of zones you will cross. Avoid as much as you can buying one-time use tickets, they are the most expensive with rates starting from 5 pounds per trip. Better buy daily or weekly passes. To reach our hotel located in zone 4, we bought 2 weekly passes with unlimited trips valid in areas 1 to 4 for which we paid “only” 108 pounds (54 pounds per person). Fortunately, this is the only big expense you will encounter, during the rest of the holiday I had the pleasant surprise to discover that everything is cheaper here than in the South of France.
To reach our hotel near the Wembley Stadium, we used the Metropolitan Line, which is one of the newest line. It has large spacious trains lines and runs in express mode with few stations along the way. But even so, to get from center to area 4 to Wembley, we rode the train about 40 minutes across 20 kilometers (and just think the city has 9 areas just to make an idea of how big it is). All trains in the London underground are clean, have air conditioning through which fragrant air circulates and come with upholstered seats, small details that make other underground subways networks such as Marseille Metro look like buses in Africa.