Loyal readers of this blog will know that most of my time is spent in the mountains and deserts of the world, hiking, trekking, and climbing. On occasion, though, I crave some culture, history, and decent vegan cuisine. With bases in Italy and Britain this past summer, I was ideally situated to visit several capital cities in Europe that were new to me. Others cities served as stepping off points for mountain adventures. In all case except one, my main means of exploring each city was by walking, in every instance including a guided tour of the cities’ more historic areas.
I trust you will enjoy this change from my usual mountain and desert photos to mark the milestone of blog post #100. Rather than present the photos in chronological order, I have listed them from my least to most favorite cities visited in 2023.
Staying in Islamabad before and after any trekking or climbing excursion to Pakistan is mandatory. Because of safety reasons we stayed in a mediocre hotel in an area of town with nothing interesting to see, no decent restaurants, and no walking possibilities except once as a group to change money. (Speaking of which, if money is no object, the hotel to stay at is La Serena). And while it was my least favorite city this past summer, there were a couple of highlights worth sharing from our guided bus tour.
As far as European capital cities go, Belgrade was one of the least interesting of all that I’ve seen over the decades. While I found a fine vegan cafe a block from my hotel, the city’s architecture was generally boring, the one park I found nearby to visit (around the historic Belgrade Fortress) was crowded and noisy (granted, it was a Saturday), and the botanical garden was closed for a private function. The biggest plus was that by visiting Serbia, there now remain only three countries in Europe that I haven’t seen! I was quite happy to leave at the end of the weekend.
My main purpose of traveling to Armenia was for hiking and trekking in the Lesser Caucasus and Geghama Mountains (see my earlier post). Yerevan seemed to me very congested (partly due to a national celebration on the day we returned). Our cultural guide was very knowledgeable, and she was determined to impart as much of her knowledge as humanly possible.
Having some extra time in Tbilisi, Georgia (see below), I took a 40 minute flight to Baku, Azerbaijan for a one night stay. One night and one full day was about the right amount of time to see the more interesting sites of this city, the lowest capital city in the world at 92 ft below sea level.
As it was my third time in this amazing city, I didn’t stay long, only for the two nights that book-ended a climb of Mount Toubkal. The Majorelle Gardens and numerous historic sites were outside the scope of my visit. But I got a couple of photos nonetheless. The two that follow were shown in my Toubkal climbing blog from June. Pardon the repeat.
The fact that I ranked this lovely capital city of Latvia outside of my top 3 gives some idea of the level of gastronomic, cultural, and urban walking experiences I enjoyed last summer.
After my KE trek in Georgia was cancelled I quickly came up with some new plans (see my post from July), and based myself at a fantastic Airbnb in Old Town Tbilisi for 12 days. I was not disappointed. (The only downside was that the nightclubs seemed to go strong until 4 or 5 AM, even during the week. Bring earplugs.)
My three nights’ stay in the upper town of this capital city of the Duchy of Luxembourg was time (and money!) well spent. With free public transport, several interesting museums, numerous parks and some good vegan cuisine, I found little to not like (other than the prices) about this ancient city. Honestly, it was a toss-up between Luxembourg and my chosen city for the top spot.
For some reason (most likely ignorance), my expectations for a two night stay in the capital of Lithuania were not high. They should have been! This city was absolutely stunning and more than deserved the European Capital of Culture designation in 2009. And the urban nature is second to none: some 46 percent of Vilnius is designated green space: parks, squares, and forests. To top it off, the fantastic restaurant, Rosehip Vegan Bistro, was a stone’s throw from my Airbnb. Whittling it down to six photos was very difficult. You’ll just have to visit Vilnius yourself!
In less than two weeks I depart California for Jordan. My time there will be divided between hiking in the Wadi Rum area in the south and enjoying some of the many cultural attractions, mostly in the north. Christmas Day will be spent exploring Petra (with about a million others I suppose). I’ll share some of the photos with you in January. Until then,
The Vagabond Hiker