Tag Archives: Barcelona

European destinations I have almost been to

I’ve been living in the heart of Europe for over 12 years. In this time, I have visited dozens of countries on countless trips, short and long (the European countries I’ve been to are shown in the map). But some destinations, however classic or accessible, keep eluding me. So, I haven’t been to Paris. From Rotterdam, where I live, its only 3 hours away by high-speed train, and tickets are sold as cheap as 50 Euro, but I somehow managed to miss on Paris entirely. Closest I’ve been was passing by on the Boulevard Périphérique on my way to the Mediterranean sun. Brussels, which is much closer, I haven’t visited too. I’ve been all over Belgium, have flown out of Brussels’s airports many times, but as far as the city itself is concerned, I have only got as far as the Belgian fries stand outside the Central Station. OK, it’s more than the average Contiki “traveller” gets to see, but I still don’t feel like I’ve been to Brussels.

Speaking of airports, the airports of Barcelona and Rome are the only part of these famous cities that I have seen. I honestly intended to spend a few days in Barcelona with my girlfriend (now known as wife), but delays and mechanical mishaps on the way meant we headed straight into the Pyrenees and that Barcelona is still on my wish list. In the meantime, I settle for Barcelona, the neighbourhood tapas bar. Rome I have passed a few times, flying to and from Israel to visit the family. The Italian national carrier, Alitalia, is famous for its strikes, and if I got “lucky” I could have got stuck in Rome for a day or two as a result of one of those strikes. But their numerous strikes seemed always to be unsynchronized with my travels. My luggage, on the other hand, got to spend a vacation without me on several of those occasions – Alitalia managed to lose it on 3 out of 4 flights, delivering it anywhere between 1 day and a week later.

Another European capital that is on everyone’s lips is Budapest. I have, in fact, spent about 12 hours there on another layover on my way to Israel. But I arrived at the dead of night, went straight to a friend’s apartment to sleep a few hours and went back to the airport to catch my flight, so I don’t think it counts. Warsaw, another of Eastern Europe’s gems, I could have reached by a night train from nearby Cologne. I haven’t even seen the airport of Warsaw – like that British pilot in Frankfurt, I flied over several times but never landed.

Last but not least – one of the first European cities I have almost been to was Bucharest, the capital of Romania. I was there way back in 1991, as we immigrated from the Soviet Union to Israel. Inside the Communist block, Israel had diplomatic relations only with Romania, so most Soviet Jews stopped in Romania first as they left, before going to Israel. I have spent there a full two days, lodged in former Soviet barracks, which I am sure does not qualify as “have visited Bucharest”. All in all, despite, as I said, having lived more than 12 years in the heart of Europe, in a place with probably the best connections to everywhere and extensive travels, I still have a whole lot of Europe to discover. Lucky me.

Who cares about Paris, when you can go to Sint Oedenrode? This is my stay on the latest weekend getaway - B&B 't Nachtegaeltje.

Who cares about Paris, when you can go to Sint Oedenrode? This is my stay on the latest weekend getaway – B&B ‘t Nachtegaeltje.

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The roads most travelled

Its funny how you travel to a bunch of places and when you tell someone where you go to or have been to, you name a city like Amsterdam in a single breath within a list of countries. Everybody does it. The reason? City branding. Some cities are doing their best to be branded as a separate identity, recognizable separately from the country they lie in. This disassociation is so strong, that I have my travel photos organized by countries and I have a country named “London”. Didn’t think about it for a second, it just seemed so natural that I’ve only noticed it months later.

The result is that there are some cities, that are in fact small countries on their own. When you tell someone that you’ve been to Barcelona, they don’t ask (and don’t care) in which country it is. The city has enough to offer on its own. What are these city-countries? Not surprisingly, these are the places that are most visited by tourists. Here’s my list of the 7 country-like cities in Europe, the ones that need no further introduction:

    • Xmas shopping in August

      London – You know: fish, chips, cup ‘o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary fucking Poppins… LONDON. The capital of the largest empire ever has the most exotic vibe of all the places I’ve been to. My experiences in London are rather one-sided though. On my first visit the weather was too good to stay indoors so I spent most of my time there doing yoga in parks. My second time there I was just passing by, so I went to Selfridges, to see with my own eyes the Xmas department open in August. A wonderful sight.

    • Paris – The city of lights and all that. Sounds very romantic, though I have no first-hand experience except that its hellish to drive around when you go on vacation.
    • Istanbul – Sadly, so far it is yet another destination on my bucket list.
    • Rome – Same as Istanbul. My parents loved it though.
    • Barcelona– Another place I haven’t been to. My better half has been there multiple times and swears by it, so I guess I will go there sooner than later.
    • The city of sin lies peacefully in the sun

      Amsterdam – A charming little place with a devilish image. Has a reputation of a place where anything goes. Though with the city council cleansing the Red Lights to make it more attrative for DINKY’s and the government tightening the screws on the coffeeshops, things are not as wild as they used to be.

    • Moscow – In Russia they say “there’s Moscow, there’s St. Petersburg and there’s Russia”, meaning that the realities of the two capitals have nothing to do with the rest of the country. I can not testify to what it is like in Moscow now, but twenty years ago I was thoroughly not impressed. I remember it mostly as “untidy” and I can not imagine that having changed but for the worse.

These are the 7 cities in Europe most visited by foreign tourists. I’ve compared the tourism statistics to the various lists of Global Cities, supposedly the most important nodes in the economic system. Globally as well as on European level the lists are rather different. The reason is probably the economic basis of the Global City lists. But the tourist, the general public, does not care whether a city is a major economic hub. The tourist wants to have fun. So Brussels and Berlin, high on the power lists, do not appear in the top of the tourist destinations, and Amsterdam, the smallest on my list, does.

What does the comparison show? Firstly, that in Europe at least, the tourism top, the creme de la creme, is the same as on the power scale. It’s London, Paris and the rest. Secondly, this crude attractiveness scale demonstrates that power (meaning: money) is not everything. To become a place-to-be, a city needs more than just having the government and the banks. In this day and age, branding is everything and the last thing you want is to be branded as dull (government and banks are dull). Thirdly, and lastly, the most important and perhaps surprising conclusion is that I need to do more travelling. For almost 10 years I’m living in the heart of Europe and I still haven’t been to Paris. Shame on me.

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Filed under Europe, Small European things, Travel