Tops and flops – places

Before each trip I have some kind of expectations of the place I’m going to visit. I always hope for good food, cool sights and generally a nice sightseeing atmosphere. Sometimes I get positively surprised as some places offer a jaw dropping sightseeing experience than I’ve expected and the food is absolutely awesome. Another time it’s exactly the opposite. I expect a BIG WOW as all the stories I read and documentaries I watched promise heaven on earth but reality turns out to be a bit mehhhh. Did a ranking of places which turned out to be better than expected and places which were a disappointment. Think the disappointment list can arouse some indignation 😉

Tops

1.       Myanmar

Empty roads! I could drive zigzak on it
One flight from Nay Pyi Taw airport 😛
Now that’s a very rare sight, a completely empty airport

Dazzle dazzle dazzle, this is the best description of Myanmar. Yes, you might read in the newspaper every now and then that there are some military riots but to be frank I put a line between politics and the sights I’m interested to see in a country. You might agree or not with that approach but as a visitor in a country my agenda is not to criticise the countries’ politics. Same as visiting somebody’s house for dinner, you don’t tell the host that the curtains are dreadful and the sofa sucks. Anyhow, Myanmar… Apart from the many temples, stupas and pagodas which can be found in Myanmar, what fascinated me most is the new capital of the country Nay Pyi Taw. In one of the previous posts I mentioned that I wanted to visit the city as the Guys from Top Gear – Jeremy, James and Richard did a special episode about Myanmar in which they are driving lorries and one of the filming locations was a deserted 20 lane highway in Nay Pyi Taw.

Truly there was hardly anybody on the highway, only it was similar with the whole city. Nay Pyi Taw was built from scratch in the middle of sugarcane fields and it has everything. Boulevards, broad roads, villas, shopping malls, parks, blocks of flats, hotels basically everything a normal city has apart from people. The city is nearly empty and the feeling I had while driving my scooter on the road was like being in a carefully directed David Lynch picture. After the apocalypse that just happened a zombie will come out any second as it’s so still everywhere. You might laugh but I didn’t expect that. At some point that surreal feeling was somehow exciting. The best part however was the Nay Pyi Taw airport experience. Normally airports are very busy places, people coming, going, waiting for a taxi, shouting at each other etc. Here when I got out of the taxi, there wasn’t anybody else in front of the airport building, looking left and right I could hear imaginary crickets. In the building the airport staff got actually excited as they finally had a passenger they could take care of. The time between arriving at the airport, smoking, check in, security check and arriving at the gate took me 7 minutes. That was such a bizarre experience but so incredible at the same time that it’s hard to forget. Call me weird but I would love to go back to Nay Pyi Taw one more time in a couple of years to see if something has changed.

2.       Andalusia

I never was a huge fan of Spain as I always preferred Italy to Spain. Mostly for the food, wine, the general atmosphere and attitude of local people. Like in Palermo I asked at the reception if it’s allowed to smoke in the room. The receptionist said NO. But sir there is an ashtray on the table in the room.  Oh really, then you can smoke in the room was the reply. Huh?! What a fantastic country 😀 Anyhow in December 2020 as covid pandemic in Europe was reaching the peak, Spain was one of the options left for quite normal traveling. I wasn’t that excited for it but hoped that seeing the Game of Thrones filming locations in Andalusia will make it a destination worth going to. The region totally blew my mind. It started in Granada, home to the world famous Alhambra. Because of the pandemic there were not many tourists. I could walk around the gardens and enjoy beautiful unobstructed views. The food was also a delight. In one of the restaurants I discovered blood sausage, which I ordered out of curiosity to compare it to the polish one.

The beautiful Alhambra in the background
My addition in Andalusia… Iberian ham
The view from the hotel room in Seville
Yeap, the moment before getting drunk

The blood sausage turned out to have a sweet herbal aftertaste but it was extremely good. Don’t wanna say it was better than the one we have in my home Silesia region as my Dad would disinherit me 😛 I also got addicted to Iberian ham, which was extraordinary. Instead of chocolate I was buying a pack of ham at the local supermarket and eat it while sitting under an orange tree. Once I even got tempted to pick an orange from the tree to try how it tastes. It might have been a country bumpkin behaviour but I picked one… geez was it sour! Absolutely not edible, a hundred times more sour than a lemon.
The journey continued over Cordoba and Seville to Jerez de la Frontera and Cadiz. In Seville I was amazed by the beauty of Real Alcazar, tried intestines for lunch and the hotel I stayed at was next to Estadio Olimpico de La Cartuja, the one where Poland played against Spain last week in the Euro Football Championships. BTW the view from my room was at the football pitch, something you don’t get every day. In Jerez on the other hand I got completely drunk during wine testing. Went for a sherry tour and testing at the Sandeman Bodega. Convinced that during wine testing the amount which is poured in the glass is close to a teardrop, I booked a tour with ten different sherries to try. Well, after the tour I saw my ten glasses with proper wine amount in them. Best thing was when the tour guide said, all yours, we close at 2 pm… and it was 1.10 pm already. Yeah, as I preferred to drink it rather than try and spit it out or leave it untouched the wine tasting ended with me getting wasted. Luckily my hotel wasn’t far, so I went back, got to my room and fell asleep. Woke up three hour later, no hangover.
All in all, Andalusia turned out to be remarkable with all those beautiful sights, endless olive groves stretched over the hills, delicious food and fabulous wine (hahaha yeah). I was positively surprised that Andalusia was so gorgeous. Now the questions is – would I go back to Andalusia and Spain in general? Yes, because I would like to land in Gibraltar and then drive over to Almeira, Murcia and Valencia. OK, Gibraltar is a UK territory but the airport in Gibraltar is famous as the runway is part of a motorway and every time a plane lands the barriers on the motorway go down so the plane can land. Would love to see it live 😉

3.       Germany

The porta Nigra in Trier, the oldest city in Germany… also the city where Karl Marx was born
The translation of this is: beer is made out of hop. Hop is a plant. Beer equals salad. Meaning I can have as many beer as I can and still say I have salad 😀 Fantastic country!
That’s a salad I’m holding 😛
Imagine that people surf in a park in the middle of Munich… Germany is not as boring as you might think!

Na na, before you start thinking I went completely kuku, Germany is a country full of surprises with many things to see and experience. Did you know that Trier is considered the oldest city in Germany, founded by the Celts in the 4th century and then conquered by Romans. It has some really cool sights like very well preserved city gate Porta Nigra or ruins of roman baths it’s also the birthplace of Karl Marx. Additionally, the city is located in the Moselle wine region, with some good wine being produced there. Also it’s a charming city with a lovely main market square, cosy cafes and stunning views over the vineyards. Hope I got your attention now. Many people think that Germany is a boring, strictly organised, where Ordnung is visible at every street corner in addition the food is rubbish. Come on, have you ever been to the Oktoberfest?  I was and although the beer is quite expensive during the event it’s a once in a lifetime experience where you hold in your hand a one litre mug filled with the cold, golden, delicious goodness and sit in a big beer tent full with other beer lovers. Not hiding that Bavaria is my absolute favourite region in Germany and it surprises me every time I go there. For example, there is the city of Nuremberg which holds Germany’s best guarded secret – Lebkuchen. Those are gingerbread cookies which are traditionally eaten during Christmas but in special Lebkuchen shops you can buy them all year round.

They are soft baked with a wafer underneath and come in different flavours and with different fillings. From all the varieties like chocolate, baked apple, cashew nuts etc. my favourite are the glazed ones with walnuts. BTW all attempts to copy the original recipe for Lebkuchen are pointless as the copy will never taste the same as the true thing… I tried, I was disappointed. Around 60 km from Nuremberg is the city of Bamberg, home to the Schlenkerla Smokebeer which has been brewed in the same brewery since the 15th century… cool huh? The taste is not everybody’s favourite as the beer smells like smoked bacon or ham but once you try it will become your favourite beer ever. And there is Munich, ahhh Munich. Was there last year in August and I think I gained at least three kilos as the food in the local restaurants was super delicious and the portions were very proper. Man, all those Knödel, white sausages, cheese Spätzle, steaks and pretzels with chives are absolutely to die for. On the way back from Neuschwanstein Castle in one of the restaurants that are close to the Motorway I ordered a Pressack, a sort of sausage for starter and a pork steak as main course. Oh man the portion was so big and I felt so full after, if you kicked my ass I would roll straight to Munich. When the nice waitress asked if I wanted anything else, I said – Mam I had to open the button in my trousers so don’t think I’m able to eat anything else. In this case she suggested a Schnapps, which supports the digestion… apparently 😛 What could I say apart from YES PLEASE! You know what, it helped. After like 30 min I didn’t feel like a balloon anymore. Guys, seriously Germany is a fantastic country to visit that never disappoints and if you are a beer lover this is the place to go!

Flops

1.       Dubai

Some love it, some hate it. I’m in the second group. The first glimpse of Dubai for me was a jaw drop as from the metro that runs over ground it looked like it was a city from the “Back to the Future II” movie. It was quite a thing to see a modern city that was built in the middle of a desert, visit Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and see with my own eyes how skiing indoors is possible with a 40 degrees’ heat outside.

Although for me all of that is artificial and resembles something close to Disneyland, where everything is manmade. My impression of Dubai? It’s a desert, not only a sand one but also a concrete, glass and steel desert. All of those remarkable buildings, palm islands etc. were erected because of petrodollars and honestly for me it’s not impressive to come up with architecture changing projects when you have a budget larger than some countries yearly GDP.

Burj Khalifa is still the tallest building in the world… still I think it has a bit the shape the Culture Palace in Warsaw

Singapore for example, which is very architecturally advanced and home to some of the most incredible building like The Jewel, Marina Bay Sands or Marina Bay Gardens puts emphasis on having many green areas in the city as well as maintaining the heritage buildings. So comparing those two locations, in my opinion Dubai is a show off that lacks authenticity. There is one thing however I like about Dubai, ques to buses. Wanted to get a bus from Dubai to Sharjah with my now ex-partner and at the bus station we queued up at the end of the longest que. After a couple of minutes somebody grabbed my hand and was pulling me to the shorter queue asking my now ex-partner to follow as well. Thought, heeee? What’s going on? It turned out that there are two separate queues – one for women and families and the second for single men. All women and the families were boarding the bus first and then when there was space left the man. This solution is designed to reduce harassment. However, do I think it’s worth going to Dubai? Would say yes to make your own opinion about that place. For me once is enough.

2.       Chichen Itza

After seeing four out of seven wonders of the world, I thought that the Mayan pyramids in Chichen Itza Mexico which are also one of the world’s wonders will be not less impressive than the other sights. Unfortunately, they weren’t. What a disappointment. Compared to the monumental Egyptian pyramids the main one in Chichen Itza – El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulcan looks like it was built ten not hundreds years ago.

Looks a bit like it was built yesterday, right?

Understand restoration work and all of that but in this case somebody went mental with the restoration work. I was missing the ancient vibe here; the little particle that makes you feel like you are transported to a different era while looking at the sights.

Had that feeling in Agra and Petra. I simply couldn’t stop looking at Taj Mahal and Al-Khazneh. When leaving the sights, I was turning my head around as I wanted to grab one more glimpse. Didn’t have that in Chichen Itza. It was more like – is that it? Really?! Although the pyramids themselves were a disappointment, the whole trip to Mexico wasn’t. Diving was great in Cancun and so was the colour of the sea, beautiful and turquoise. Think I will go back to Mexico to explore more of the Yucatan and Quintana Roo region as previously there wasn’t much time to go to Tulum for example as my priority was diving.

3.       New York

As a Sex and the City fan and the picturesque way NYC was portrayed in the popular series no wonder I wanted to see how the Big Apple really looks like. Hmmm… not as I expected. I was hoping for a BIG WOW and a dazzle just like in the show but the BIG WOW wasn’t there. The impression I got about NYC was more like, OK maybe this was a fantastic city 40 years ago but definitely not now, besides Shanghai and other Asian cities are more impressive.

If meeting New York was compared to meeting a guy my reaction would be: you are nice but there is no chemistry. This is what it boils down to, it’s a cool city with many interesting landmarks but there is simply no chemistry between us.

Grab the bull by the horns 😛

Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely worth a visit to see Times Square, The Statue of Liberty and walk down the famous Broadway. Only the city didn’t steal my heart. Shopping was good though. Went mental in the Century 21 store. Some of the clothes I bought back in 2013 are still in a very good condition 🙂

As the dive guides in the Maldives said, don’t expect anything. It is what it is 😀

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