Best spots to hang out for a whileMostly everywhere on earth has it charm, however some places are also just plain better than others. This is my short list of favourite spots to hang out on this here earth.
Well, Taiwan is famous for it's variety of tea and soft-drinks, with excellent stalls pretty much everywhere. In Hualien the native Taiwanese influence has resulted in a mix of chinese tea and native fruitdrinks that is just jaw-droppingly delicious. The wintermelon-tea in Hualien, and in Hualien only, is so delicious I can't think of any drink that is even comparable. Other than that, the city is managably large. With 100.000 inhabitants it's big enough that there's enough to explore, but small enough that it's managable. There's a ton of good hostels and the tourist crowd there is a really good one.
It's pretty much my favourite place on earth to hang out and do nothing much.
Guatape is a small village, slighty up in the mountains very close to Medellin, Colombia. An american guy named Greg runs (ran?) a really nice hostel there, right next to a small lake. Now, quite a lot of villages around the world are well, slightly ugly, but Guatape is not one of them. It's a stereotypic idyllic little village with small windy streets and a really good vibe. When I was there it had that perfect middle ground of the people there having gotten slightly used to tourists, but still found it weird with all these random foreigners walking around their village.
I don't know if it's still as awesome, but it is certainly among the places I've felt most comfortable and relaxed. Nice people, jaw-droppingly beautifull surroudings and just a really nice spot on this earth.
I think of Shkoder as the Tel Aviv of Albania. Slightly more liberal, certainly more gender-equal, nice cafes and restaurants and just slightly more relaxed than the rest of the country. Same as in Tel Aviv, you're slightly more likely to see people smiling or laughing than anywhere else in the country. With very cheap and fairly good food, extremely cheap and very good raki, two excellent hostels and a generally very good tourist crowd, Shkoder should certainly be on everybody's travel plans. Shkoder is at the perfect spot of popular enough to have a crowd, but off the radar enough that it's not overrun by tourists yet.
Among the cities on this list, this is certainly the one I recommend the strongest right now.
Now, Kandy is by far the ugliest city on this list. It's basically a trading town in the middle of Sri Lanka, with nothing much to offer. The food is is good, but certainly not as good as in Tricomvale or Jaffna. It doesn't have beaches, tea plantations and is slightly polluted. The traffic is a mess and the hostels are not really that good. There's a slight drug problem, and people there are generally not that nice. In many ways it's actually a slightly shit place.
I have however enjoyed myself greatly every time I've been there. On every single of my 5 visits I met good people, enjoyed myself and gotten to know the city better. It's a bit strange, because every time I went back I didn't really expect to enjoy myself that much.. but I did.
Bratislava 10 years ago
Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, used to be this sleepy, hidden gem. Beautifull old town, a very relaxed vibe and some excellent down to earth hostels. For a long while Bratislava was off everybody's radar, so it managed to stay untouched far longer than it should have. Nowadays it's still a good place, but it feels a lot more like a generic eastern european tourist city. Hilariously enough, the fastfood store at the main entrance to the old city used to be a 0.5€ hot dog place. Without having changed anything except the menu, it's now a 4€ Bratwurst place. Progress eh?
Nowadays I think Ljubjlana is by far the most enjoyable of the smaller eastern european capitals. However, while it is certainly among the best cities in Europe, I also don't think it's special enough to really make this list.
Samarkand is a fairly nice city in the middle of Uzbekistan. It has one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. However, what really sets Samarkand and Uzbekistan apart is the people though.
With so few tourists visiting, Uzbekistan is one of the few places on earth people will be curious about you, random families will actually invite you for dinner and they will actually be nice to you as a person. As someone so used to being treated as just another tourist, it's a very strange experience to suddenly be considered an actual person again.
Samarkand has an excellent hostel, a very good tourist crowd and very cheap, somewhat edible food. It's basically my favourite spot in the muslim word. The city itself has a surprisingly good vibe, with children playing in the parks and while Uzbekistan is certainly gender-seperated, women are not hidden away as in the middle east. They still move about in public, with colourfull awesome traditional dresses. It's far cry from western/russian gender equality, but still much closer to my grandparents world than the plain mysogenic arab world.
* All images in this blog post were shamelessly borrowed without permission.