WORLD MARATHON TOUR: RUSSIA
2017 KAZAN MARATHON, RUSSIA: 5:00:42 (2017-05-21)
Kazan Marathon, Tatarstan, Russia
Redan två timmar innan starten av Varna Marathon så riktade jag en tacksamhetens tanke till några nyvänna kinesiska vänner som jag träffade i samband med Prag Marathon förra helgen. De gav mig nämligen en kepa med en kinesisk flagga och en text som jag fortfarande inte har fått översatt. Antagligen lyder det kinesiska budskapet: "Länge leve kulturrevolutionen: Förbjud Melodikrysset, mandelpotatis, allsång & bandy, typ.
Men oavsett texten på kepan så spelade det en mindre roll just denna dag när termometern visade på all time high i Bulgarien, hatten räddade mig. Note to myself: Hälsingar ska hålla sig norr om Dalälven, basta!
Det här var premiärupplagan av Varna Marathon och av den anledningen fick jag inte nys om tävlingen förrän för bara några veckor sedan. Ursprungsidén var ju i själva verket att cykla ifrån min förra marathondestination Prag till södra Polen för att springa Krakow Marathon. Men eftersom jag sprang i Krakow redan för tre år sedan så lät en mara i Bulgarien mer intressant. Inte minst med tanke på att jag då kunde få till ett jubileum i form av mitt 160:e marathonlopp i det 60:e marathonlandet. Dagens Dubbel, typ.
Så fick det naturligtvis bli och av den anledningen cyklade jag norrut från Prag istället för österut. Jag hade fortfarande ingen aning om hur jag skulle ta mig till Varna när jag kom fram till Dresden i forna DDR i onsdags. (Varna ligger vid Svarta Havet och därmed sex timmars bussresa öster om huvudstaden Sofia.) Jag litade emellertid på att de tyska städerna hade hyfsade flygförbindelser till Balkan.
Efter att ha checkat in på ett vandrarhem i Dresden och sovit på saken så hittade jag en hyfsad lösning på dilemmat: Enligt Mr Google skulle jag senare samma natt kunna ta en buss från Dresden till stadsdelen Alt-Tegel strax norr om Berlin. En plats dit jag skulle komma fram strax innan fyra på fredag morgon. Därefter t-bana tre stationer och en promenad på tre kilometer till flygplatsen Berlin Tegel (näst efter den etiopiska flygplatsen i Addis Abeba den allra sunkigaste på hela världskartan) och avslutningsvis fem timmars väntan på ett flyg som skulle ta mig till den bulgariska huvudstaden.
Nästa steg var att ta sig från flygplatsen i Sofia med t-bana (vem i h-lvete kom på det kyrriliska alfabetet?) till centrum av staden och därefter byta till en ny t-banelinje (jag upprepar frågan, vem i h-lvete kom på det kyrilliska alfabetet?) för att ta mig till tåg- och bussstationen i Sofia.
Av någon okänd anledning lyckades jag hitta rätt anknytning och hamnade så småningom på min önskade destination. Nu gällde det bara att bestämma sig för transportsätt: Tåg eller buss? En bulgarisk tjej (med amerikansk accent på sin perfekta engelska) löste den gordiska knuten genom att jämföra bulgariska tåg med indiska tåg. Det fick alltså bli en sex timmar lång bussresa till Varna.
Väl framme (och sent slagen klocka = becksvart) insåg jag att busstationen i Varna var typ tre km utanför det centrum där jag någonstans hade bokat ett vandrarhem. Eftersom jag konsekvent alltid vägrar ta taxi (jag är säker på att alla utländska taxichaffisar tänker blåsa mig på pengar och därefter stjäla mitt bagage och alla mina inre organ + fotvårtor) och namnskyltarna på bussarna var på (ni gissade rätt!) kyrilliska, så valde jag istället att promenera in till centrum av Varna.
Nästan framme i centrum lyckades jag dessvärre radera kartanvisningarna på min iPhone, vilket innebar några ofrivilliga varv runt stora torget innan jag helt apropå befann mig rakt framför Casablanca City Hostel. Jag kunde andas ut, nu återstod ju bara ett marathonlopp.
Varna Marathon var med facit i hand en positiv överraskning. Jag undviker helst premiärupplagor av marathonlopp då "mycket kan gå fel" i form av barnsjukdomar, men den här arrangören hade lyckats få till en kul bansträckning (fem varv x ca: 8.5 km) och bra support med många funktionärer. Det fanns ingen som helst möjlighet att springa fel i parken. Stor eloge till arrangören!
Banan är relativt kuperad och påminner en del om Central Park under New York City Marathon. Temperaturen är naturligtvis jobbig, men glädjande nog så har man skugga under större delen av loppet. Det blåste dessutom svalkande vindar utmed Svarta Havet.
För er som är intresserade av att springa nästa år så är det en ganska enkel anmälningsprocess. Man anmäler sig på nätet, men betalar avgiften när man hämtar ut nummerlappen. Precis som i Italien och Frankrike så krävs även läkarintyg i Bulgarien. Ett dokument som måste visas upp när man hämtar ut nummerlappen.
Och just det ja; min kinesiska kepa var fantastisk. Rekommenderas!
För några år sedan cyklade jag igenom Istrien (halvön som till stor del tillhör Kroatien, men där även Slovenien och Italien har en kustremsa) och visste hur j-kla vackert det var i området. Istrien visade sig vara om än vackrare med löpardojjor på fötterna, nu hade jag ju mer tid på mig att ta in alla intryck. Med facit i hand den kanske allra vackraste bana jag någonsin har sprungit.
Loppet arrangeras av städerna Koper, Izola och Portoroz och av den anledningen roterar starten & målet mellan dessa platser. I år var det den gamla kurorten Portoroz som var "huvudarrangör". En stad som under sextiotalet hade besök av många svenska turister, men som sedan fallit något i glömka.
En sloven jag snackade med innan loppet berättade att det var så många svenskar på plats under sextiotalet att han lärde sig prata svenska. Utan problem kunde han fortfarande räkna obehindrat från ett till tjugo, och eftersom han var femton år under den här epoken så kunde han även "jag älskar dig!" utan minsta brytning.
Det är alltså hög tid för svenskarna att återupptäcka Istrien på nytt. Man når ju halvön ganska enkelt med en båttur från Venedig såvida man nu inte väljer att kombinera Istrien med de övriga slovenska pärlorna Ljubljana, Bled och Kranjska Gora. Det går ju utmärkta tåg- och bussförbindelser till Istrien.
Om man dessutom har böjelsen för långdistans ska man absolut utforska halvön med nummerlapp på bröstet. Man får ju ut väldigt mycket för den oförskämt låga anmälningsavgiften på 27 Euro i Istrien Marathon. Förutom en av världens absolut vackraste banor är det nämligen ett arrangemang där man har tänkt på precis varenda detalj.
Några exempel: Istrien Marathon kör med "omvända kilometermarkeringar", vilket alltså innebär att man räknar ner kilometrarna från start till mål. Tro mig, det är mentalt mycket lättare att under den sista milen mötas av siffran 9 istället för 33!
Direkt efter målgången bjuds man på massage, riktig mat och livemusik i väntan på prisutdelningen. Precis innan ceremonin skivades det även upp tårta till alla deltagare.
Loppet har en generös tidsgräns på sex timmar och med hänsyn till de långsammare löparna väntar man med prisutdelningen till sex och en halv timme efter startskottet. Den siste löparen hinner då korsa mållinjen, äta soppa och varva ner i lugn och ro. Ett koncept som fler marathonlopp borde följa. Det är ju en skymf mot de långsammare löparna att så många marathonlopp har sin prisutdelning då halva startfältet fortfarande befinner sig ute på banan. Tänk er om man skulle köra samma princip direkt efter finalen på 10 000 meter i OS? Köra igång prisutdelningen & nationalsången medan de varvade löparna fortfarande har ett varv kvar till mållinjen...
Det var nog krigsvintern -47 som jag senast träffade den här gamle polaren: Tävlingsdjävulen! I Seoul dök han i alla fall upp och det var verkligen när jag som bäst behövde honom.
Jag har aldrig sprungit en mara under tre timmar, men drömmen fanns alltid där fram tills att jag förstod att det aldrig kommer att hända. Tåget hade gått och ungdomen stod kvar på perrongen. Jag hade närmare till ett medlemskap i PRO än en sub-3.
Som bäst fick jag till en mara på 3:04 i slutet av 2011, men allt sedan dess har det alltså gått utför. Det fanns ju inte den där riktiga motivationen att dra på sig blodsmak i munnen när jag insåg att jag hade det betydligt trevligare i ett lägre tempo, jag får ju en medalj oavsett om det står 2:59 på klockan eller 5:30.
De flesta marathonlopp kör med en maxtid på sex timmar medan Seoul tillhör ett av undantagen med sina fem timmar. När jag sprang genomförde Tokyo Marathon tre veckor tidigare visade sluttiden 5:26. Det fanns alltså all anledning till viss nervositet inför det här loppet.
På pluskontot hade jag naturligtvis Tokyo Marathon bakom mig som åtminstone kunde kategoriseras som ett långpass. Jag hade dessutom två kortare träningar på strax under milen bakom mig som lovade gott. Fem timmar var nog möjligt.
Det största pluset var däremot sex tappade kilon i form av cyklingen genom Japan och etappen mellan Nord- och Sydkorea. Långfärdscykling är ett fantastiskt hjälpmedel för att snabbt tappa vikt. I genomsnitt förlorar jag ett halvt kilo om dagen under de första veckorna i cykelsadeln.
Långfärdscykling är dessutom en klart underskattad mental träning där man får smaka på längre distanser utan att nämnvärt belasta kroppen. Har man trampat över 100 km om dagen under några veckor så har man ju stor nytta av detta i slutet av en mara. Det är lättare att bita ihop efter 30 km av en mara med vetskapen om att man några dagar tidigare kanske cyklade hundra kilometer längre.
Eftersom jag fortfarande inte har orken för mer än 25 km så var taktiken glasklar i Seoul: Gasen i botten så länge det gick och därefter en improviserad run-walk-run till målsnöret.
Sex kilo mindre gjorde underverk och kilometermarkeringarna försvann förvånansvärt fort (tänk er att inte behöva kånka runt på en fem kilo säck potatis av modellen King Edward och en liter laktosfri mjölk i 42 kilometer!). Min målsättning att försöka ligga under 2:05 på första halvan infriades därför med marginal då klockan visade 1:49 efter 21,1 km.
Efter 25 km kom tröttheten smygande, men jag kunde ändå fortsätta springa om jag tog korta promenader. Vid 31 km kom pacegruppen för 3:50 ifatt mig, men en hastig blick på klockan avslöjade att det trots allt fanns en chans på sub-4 om jag fortsatte med min run-walk-run och inte maskade för mycket.
Utan den mentala träningen jag fått via cyklingen (tyvärr är även det här en färskvara) hade jag promenerat resten av loppet och njutit av seoulskenet i den koreanska huvudstaden, men nu satt ju tävlingsdjvävulen på axeln och skrek: Fortsätt, fortsätt!
Det är mycket matematik i slutet av en mara. Har man någorlunda med krafter kvar så vill man ju gärna gå under någon gräns. Det spelar ingen roll om det är tre timmar eller fem timmar och tjugo minuter, man vill bara komma på rätt sida av något j-vla streck.
Åtta kilometer kvar och en snabb kalkylering i huvudet visade att jag måste hålla mig under sju minuter per km för att kunna springa under fyra timmar. Nästa km avslöjade att jag sprungit/gått på strax under sex minuter, jag hade därmed vunnit en minut. Mattelektionen fortsatte ända tills det bara var en kilometer kvar av tävlingen. Härifrån hade jag 12 minuter på mig att korsa mållinjen. Segern var alltså vunnen. Klockan visade i detta ögonblick att jag i princip skulle kunna göra ett avbrott för en tre-rätters-middag medan jag samtidigt rättade stryktipset och ända gå under fyra timmar.
Inne på den vackra olympiastadion anno 1988 kunde jag därmed defilera till mållinjen, med nästan fem minuters marginal hade jag fixat fyra timmar.
Med facit i hand var det här min 61:a mara under fyra timmar, men ändå den som jag är allra mest nöjd med. Det finns hopp för framtiden, jag tror medlemskapet i PRO får vänta...
Population: 5,5 million
Currency: Singapore dollar
”Majulah Singapura” (”Onward, Singapore”)
Famous people from Singapore:
Jackie Chan (actor), Erica Tham (actress)
Fun facts about Singapore:
Though there is no scientific explanation for it, it has been seen that more Singaporeans are born in the month of October than any other month of the year.
Bukit Timah Hill, 164 meters high, forms the highest natural point in Singapore.
Singapore is made up of one main island and 63 other tiny islands. Most of the islands of the country are uninhabited.
The symbol of Singapore is ‘The Merlion’, half-fish and half-lion beast.
Singapore boasts of housing ‘The Night Safari’, the first night zoo in the whole world.
Singapore is counted amongst the 20 smallest countries of the world. However, it is the second most densely populated country in the world, after Monaco.
More facts: http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/facts-about-singapore-1470.html
Capital: Bangkok (6,36 million)
Population: 67 million
Currency: Baht (THB)
”Nation, religion, kung”
Fun facts about Thailand:
According to the World Meteorological Organization, Bangkok is apparently the hottest capital city in the world.
In Thailand it is deemed impolite to ask someone their age or salary.
It is called the “Land Of Smiles,” because of its ever smiling, inviting, soft spoken, friendly, and hospitable inhabitants.
In Thai tradition, the tradition of touching the head is severely looked down upon. The Thais believe that the soul resides in the head, which makes it an extremely sacred place that should not be touched.
Capital: Kuala Lumpur (1,59 million)
Population: 30.2 million
Currency: Ringgit (MYR)
”Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu” (”Unity is Strength”)
Fun facts about Malaysia:
In 1997, the state of Kelantan, Malaysia ruled that lights would be kept on in cinemas in order to deter people from kissing and cuddling.
Five of Malaysia’s six Olympic medals were for men’s badminton; the other was for diving.
The lowest temperature ever recorded in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur was 14.4C (57.9F); the average annual rainfall is 95.5 inches.
The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur were the world’s tallest buildings from 1998-2004.
Capital: Saint Helier (28,300)
Population: 98 000
Currency: Pound sterling (GBP)
Fun facts about Jersey:
Two golfers from Jersey have won The Open Championship 7 times between them, Harry Vardon winning 6 times and Ted Ray winning once. Harry and Ted also won the U.S. Open one time each and Harry’s brother Tom Vardon had some smaller wins on European Tours.
The Channel Islands are actually made up of seven different islands: Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou and Lihou.
Jersey is officially the sunniest place in the British Isles.
Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey both issue their very own bank notes and coins, although UK currency is widely accepted on the islands. The islands also have their own phone and postal systems.
Jersey was a favourite holiday destination of the Father of Communism, Karl Marx.
Herm is home to the smallest prison in the world. It has room for just one person!
The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles occupied by the Germans in World War II.
Jersey and Guernsey were the home in exile of French playwright and author, Victor Hugo who completed Les Miserables on Guernsey.
The islands are self-governing and have their own parliaments.
The Channel Islands are all smaller than Greater London!
Capital: Kiev (2,8 million)
Population: 45,5 million
Currency: Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH)
Famous people from Kiev:
Golda Meier, Israeli politician, Milla Jovjovich, model, Andriy Shevchenko, football (born in Dvirkivschyna 100 km outside Kiev)
Fun facts about Ukraine:
Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe (2nd biggest if counting Russia) with total area of 603.550 square kilometers, yet the population is lesser than in France and Germany.
The deepest metro station in the world is Arsenalna station in Kyiv going down at 105.5 meters. It was made that deep for military purposes with secret huge bunker hidden between Arsenalna and Khreshatic stations.
Trembita is the longest musical instrument in the world. It is a very long pipe played on by Hutsul ethnicity from the Carpathian Mountains.
The official language is Ukrainian; however most people are bilingual and speak equally well Russian and Ukrainian with people from west most regions being also fluent in Polish, Hungarian and Romanian.
Popular traditional Ukrainian dishes are borsh – yummy beef and meat soup and varenyky – dumplings filled with meat, potato or sweet berries.
No, Ukrainians don’t drink vodka all the time. (or horilka as they call it). Ukraine rank 6th in the world after Romania, Russia, Lithuania, Moldova and Belarus being the most drinking nation in 2014 according to the Independent.
Ukrainian national costume is called “vyshyvanka” – a plain white shirt made of linen and decorated with floral or ornamental embroidery. Worn by both men and women on numerous occasions. The best ones are still hand-made. Another part of the women traditional costume is “vinok” – a wreath made of real or fake flowers with long colorful ribbons attached to the back of it.
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Malta:
David Millar (cyclist)
Fun facts about Malta:
Malta is believed to have served as the site for the legendary city of Atlantis.
In the past, there used to be a bridge connecting Malta with Sicily.
The island of Malta was under the occupation of the Knights of St John, from 1530 until 1798.
It was in Malta only that St Paul got shipwrecked, in 60 AD, and converted the Governor to Christianity.
Capital: Doha (797,000)
Population: 2,2 million
Famous people from Qatar:
Mohamed Al-Modiahki (Chess), Ahmad Hassan Abdullah (track & field), Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser (politic)
Fun facts about Qatar:
As of 2007, oil and natural gas revenues had enabled Qatar to attain the highest per capita income in the world.
Qatar’s international image is bolstered in part by the Doha-based Al Jazeera news network, which has provided comprehensive coverage of the Near East and North African Arab revolutions.
Qatar highest point: Tuwayyir al Hamir 103 m
Capital: San Jose
Population: 4,9 million
Currency: Costa Rican Colón (CRC)
Noble motherland, your beautiful flag
Famous people from Costa Rica:
Celso Borges (soccer), Giannini Facio (actress), Franklin Chang Diaz (astronaut)
Fun facts about Costa Rica:
The name ‘Costa Rica’ in Spanish literally translates to ‘Rich Coast.
Costa Ricans, locally or within the country are known as ‘Ticos’. Ticos is nothing but a local slang for Costa Ricans.
The country of Costa Rica is slightly smaller than the American state of West Virginia.
If you’re in Costa Rica at seven in the morning on any given day, make it a point to turn on the radio to listen to the country’s national anthem. The Costa Rican national anthem is played on every one of its radio stations at this time!
Every town in Costa Rica has its own plaza/little park in front of its Catholic churches. This feature is a lot bigger and more in number in the bigger cities. Most towns also enjoy proximity to at least one soccer field.
Population: 2,7 million (Negril 6,900)
Currency: Jamaican dollar (JMD)
Out of Many, One People
Famous people from Jamaica:
Bob Marley (music), Usain Bolt (track & field), Shaggy (music), Grace Jones (Singer & actress), Patrick Ewing (basketball), Asafa Powell (track & field)
Fun facts about Jamaica:
The Blue Mountain district in Jamaica produces one of the best forms of coffee in the world.
Jamaica was one of the first Western countries to have a railway of their own, much before the United States.
Jamaica is the first Western country to sign the ‘Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis’ grant agreement.
Jamaica is the home to the Giant Swallowtail, which is the second largest butterfly in the world.
Currency: Antiller Gulden (ANG)
Unified by freedom
Famous people from Curacao:
Churandy Martina (track & field)
Fun facts about Curacao:
The name Curacao is believe to have from the Portuguese word for heart, coracao, and was known as a center for trade.
At one time it was known as the miniature tropical Holland, or the Dutch Gibraltar, being a very busy Dutch port colony.
The currency used is the Netherlands Antillean Guilder, ANG.
The island is about 37 miles long and almost 7 miles wide.
Capital: Monte Carlo
Population: 38 000
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Monaco:
Princess Stephanie, Princess Caroline, Prince Albert, Furst Rainier III
Fun facts about Monaco:
The Principality of Monaco is the second smallest country in the world. The smallest is Vatican City. Monaco’s total area is only 2 square kilometres (1.24 square miles). Monaco is bordered by France on the North, South and West with the Mediterranean Sea to its East.
Monaco is a constitutional monarchy/principality ruled by a descendant of Grimaldi family, and the oldest ruling house in Europe. Up to 2002, it was understood that if their were no heirs of the Grimaldi to rule to country, control of the country would be taken up by France. A treaty between France and Monaco in 2002 meant that should the Grimaldi family leave no heirs, Monaco would still retain its status as an independent nation.
The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most famous races in the world. Drivers take to the streets of Monaco, tackling its tight corners, narrow streets and famous tunnel. Ayrton Senna holds the record for the most wins on the track, coming first 6 times. The constructor with the most wins is McLaren.
Monaco gained its independence from the Republic of Genoa on 8th January 1297.
Monaco is famous for its casino in Monte Carlo. However, residents of Monaco are not allowed to gamble or even enter the casino! James Bond is a particular fan of the casino, having visited it in Never Say Never Again, GoldenEye and Casino Royale.
Monaco’s biggest football team is AS Monaco which plays in the top league of French football, Ligue 1. Over half of the country’s population is able to fit into the team’s stadium, Stade Louis II.
Monaco’s flag is the same as the flag of Indonesia. The only difference is that the Indonesian flag is wider. The red and white colours of the flag are the heraldic colours of the Grimaldi House. AS Monaco also play in red and white and are often known as Les Rouge et Blanc (the red and whites).
There are several inexpensive hotels in Nice close to the railway station and many daily trains between Nice and Monte Carlo.
Population: 3.4 million
Currency: Uruguayan peso (UYU)
Freedom or Death
Famous people from Uruguay:
Diego Forlán (soccer), Jose Andrade (soccer), Enzo Francescoli (soccer), Alfredo Evangelista (boxer), Luis Suárez (soccer), Edinson Cavani (soccer)
Fun facts about Uruguay:
The full name of Uruguay is Republica Oriental del Uruguay, which means Oriental Republic of Uruguay. The name of the country has been derived from a Guarani word, which when translated means “river of painted birds”.
A staggering 88% of the Uruguayans are European descendants, which is very high as compared to quite a number of other Latin-American countries. This is due to the fact that Uruguay received a number of European immigrants from Spain and Italy during the 19th and 20th century.
Uruguay has a coastline of about 500 kilometers, which offers some of the most beautiful and scenic beaches. Most of the good beaches are located towards the north of the coast, on the Atlantic Ocean.
The people of Uruguay life a healthy lifestyle. The infant mortality rate is around 13.9/1000, which is very low and life expectancy at birth is 75.2 years. This is the highest in South America.
Uruguay also has one of the highest grades of literacy in Latin America. The official figures state that the rate of literacy in the country is around 97%.
As per Transparency International, Uruguay is rated as the least corrupt country in Latin America, along with Chile.
Capital of Bahia: Sao Salvador da Bahia
Population of Bahia: 15 million
Currency: Real (BRL)
Famous people from Bahia:
Daniela Mercury (musician), Gilberto Gil (musician), Bebeto (soccer)
Fun facts about Brazil:
Brazil is one of the biggest countries of the world and the most populous countries in Latin America. It is officially known as Brasil or Republica Federtiva do Brazil.
Christ the Redeemer, the 130-feet tall statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro, is one of the seven wonders of the contemporary times. This sculpture is the symbol and icon of Brazil.
The only soccer team in this world to have won the prestigious ‘World Cup’ 5 times is Brazil’s soccer team. Brazil is also the birthplace of one of the best soccer players of this century, Pele.
The capital of Brazil is Brasilia and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities of the world. This city was designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer, who was considered to be one of the best architects in the world.
It is common in the country to kiss women on both their cheeks while meeting them or taking their leave, in informal situations. Between men, handshaking is customary and normal European courtesies are followed.
Capital: Buenos Aires
Population: 41 million
Currency: Argentinian Peso (ARS)
In Unity and Freedom
Famous people from Argentina:
Diego Armando Maradona (soccer), Eva Duarte de Perón (politician), Lionel Messi (soccer), Gabriel Batistuta (soccer), Alfredo Di Stéfano (soccer), Gabriela Sabatini (tennis), Mario Kempes (soccer), José de San Martín (General, liberator of Argentina, Chile and Perú from Spain)
Fun facts about Argentina:
It is the eight largest country of the world, spreading over an area of approximately 2,766,890 sq km.
As per the law, the President and Vice President of Argentina should be Roman Catholics.
The Iguazu Falls of Argentina are even higher than the world-famous Niagara Falls.
Mt. Aconcagua of Argentina is the tallest mountain in the whole of South America.
The period between 1880 and 1929 is remembered as the golden time in the history of Argentina, because it was at this time that the country became know to the rest of the world, due to its prosperity. Owing to its profiting agricultural export-led economy, Argentina emerged as one of the 10 richest countries in the world, during the period.
Capital: London (8,54 million)
Population: 53 million
Currency: Pound sterling (GBP)
Famous people from England:
Charles Darwin (naturalist), Princess Diana, David Beckham (soccer), J.K Rowling (author), Jane Austen (novelist), Winston Churchill (politician/author), William Shakespeare (writer), Charles Dickens (novelist)
Fun facts about England:
London was known by different names previously. When the Romans invaded England, they referred London as Londonium. The Saxons called it Ludenwic and during the reign of Alfred the Great, it the city was known as Ludenburg.
The largest and the oldest royal residence in the word is the Windsor Castle. The castle is also under continuous occupation and it is still being used as a royal home.
In England during the medieval ages, even animals were not spared from the law. Any animal caught for doing any mischief or damage would be brought to court and tried and sentenced by the judge.
The Buckingham Palace was constructed on the site of a brothel.
From 1066 to 1362, French was the official language of England.
The world’s first postage stamps were issued in England. Since English were the first to issue postage stamps, England is the only country in the world that does not mention the country’s name on the stamps.
Skopje Marathon, ytterligare ett bevis på att norrlänningar ska hålla sig norr om Dalälven. I alla fall de som inte kan hantera "ett par" plusgrader. Det var nämligen en helomvändning i temperaturen jämfört med Belfast Marathon veckan innan och framförallt var det vinden som var problemet, eller rättare sagt bristen på denna. Det var helt vindstilla i den makedoniska huvudstaden när startskottet gick och jag kände på ett tidigt stadium att jag fick "tugga luften".
Temperaturen till trots, en kul tävling i en fascinerande huvudstad. Jag kommer gärna tillbaka, men då iförd hatt och preparerad med solskyddsmedel.
Skopje ligger ju något offside på den europeiska kartan och får nog inte riktigt den uppmärksamhet den förtjänar, men staden är absolut värd ett besök. Den påminner lite om Ljubljana för er som har besökt den slovenska huvudstaden. Berg, vatten, broar och charm. Väldigt mycket charm.
Man får dessutom mycket för pengarna i Skopje. De knappt 48 timmarna i staden kostade mig sketna 400 spänn inklusive två nätter på ett riktigt bra vandrahem och transfer till och från flygplatsen. Wizzair har dessutom lågprisflyg från både Skavsta och Göteborg. De svenska plånböckerna älskar Makedonien!
Capital: Skopje (531.000 people)
Population: 2,1 million people
Currency: Macedonian Denar (MKD)
Famous people from Macedonia:
Fun facts about Macedonia:
Mother Theresa of Calcutta was born in Skopje, Macedonia. Even though she was born in Skopje, she was Albanian by ethnicity at the time of her birth in 1910. Today, you can see museum house dedicated to her in the center of the capital city of Skopje.
Macedonia is the only country that got independence from Yugoslavia without shedding a single drop of blood. It remained entirely at peace at the heat of Yugoslav wars in early 1990s and got independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
Another interesting feature about this country is that it has more number of mountains and mountain peaks than any other country in the world. The country has as many as 34 mountain peaks, each with a height of more than 2,000 meters above the sea-level; with Mount Golem Karb being the highest at 2,753 meters above sea-level. Most peaks in Macedonia have never been visited by people.
The Cyrillic alphabet, official in Macedonia, is based on the alphabet developed in the 9th century by two Macedonian (Region) brothers – St Cyril (thus – Cyrillic) and St Methodius. It was taught by their disciples at a monastery in Ohrid, from whence it spread across the eastern Slavic world.
The official name of Macedonia in the United Nations is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM. This is due to a long dispute the country has with Greece regarding their history as the former Kingdom of Macedonia. Even though they’re officially FYROM in the U.N, the government has persuaded more than 130 countries (135 at the time of publication), including the United States, to recognize it as the Republic of Macedonia.
Alexander the Great, who was king of the former Kingdom of Macedonia, was the first world-size conqueror who extended his empire across Greece and Persia to India and Egypt. During his time, the Kingdom of Macedonia was the most powerful state in the world; but after his death, the empire fell apart and it became the first Roman province in 146 B.C.
Capital: Belfast (277 000 people)
Population: 1,81 million
Currency: British Pound Sterling (GBP)
Famous people from Northern Ireland:
C.S. Lewis (author), George Best (soccer), Norman Whiteside (soccer), James Galway (flautist), Amanda Burton (actress), Kenneth Branagh (actor), Liam Neeson (actor), Van Morrison (singer)
Fun facts about Northern Ireland:
Titanic was built and launched from Belfast Harbor in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is the proud bearer of many internationally renowned poets and writers like C.S Lewis, Ian McDonald, Tom Paulin, Bob Shaw, Frank Ormsby, John Brown and many more.
The best-known delicacy of Northern Ireland is the ‘Ulster Fry’ that traditionally includes high cholesterol wonders like bacon, egg, soda bread, sausage, potato bread, mushrooms, fried tomato, baked beans and occasionally pudding.
100 reasons to love Northern Ireland:
Population: 5,4 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Slovakia:
Pavol Demitra (ice hockey), Miroslav Satan (ice hockey), Anton, Marian & Peter Stastny (ice hockey), Martina Hingis (tennis, born in Kosice), Miloslav Mecir (tennis)
Fun facts about Slovakia:
Staff of Slovak and Slovenian embassies meet once a month with their colleagues to exchange wrongly-addressed mail!
Martina Hingis (born in 1980) – Tennis champion, former World No. 1 and winner of five Grand Slam singles titles and nine Grand Slam women’s doubles titles, was born in Slovakia to a Slovak father and a Czech mother.
The inventor of the parachute, Stefan Banič, was born about 10 kms north of Bratislava in a town called Neštich in 1870. He is the man who invented the parachute. He immigrated to the United States, where he worked as a coal miner for a while but then built a prototype for a harnessed umbrella-like parachute and tested it by jumping out of an airplane and surviving in 1914. He sold it to the US military but received very little money and next to no fame for what would go on to save the lives of countless individuals.
Capital: Nicosia (285,000 people)
Population: 1,13 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Cyprus:
Aphrodite (Goddess of love), George Michael (music), Pygmalion (King of Cyprus in Greek mythology)
Fun facts about Cyprus:
Cypriot legend claims Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, was born and rose from the foam (”afros,” in Greek) near a rock off what’s now Aphrodite’s Beach.
At the end of a stream of souvenir shops in Paphos you’ll find an archaeological site dating to the 4th century BC. But that isn’t what makes Paphos historically unique – the remains of ancient tombs, fortresses and palaces have made the whole town a Unesco World Heritage Site. Paphos is a top international treasure.
It has the world’s oldest wine label. To be exact, the Cypriot dessert wine commandaria is recognized as the world’s oldest named wine. Knight crusaders are thought to have named it in the 13th century, but it may have been made for 5,000 years. King Richard the Lionheart of England is said to have been so taken with commandaria that at his wedding he pronounced it ”the wine of kings and the king of wines.” Produced in the fertile high-altitude slopes in the southwest of Cyprus, it has a sweet, herby taste that evokes the island’s aromas.
Population: 8.1 million
Currency: Israeli new shekel (ILS)
Famous people from Israel:
Natalie Portman (actress), Dana International (singer), Shmuel Yosef Agnon (author, Nobel prize in literature), Ronnie Rosenthal (soccer), Aaron Ciechanover (biologist, Nobel Prize in chemistry)
Fun facts about Israel:
Israeli cows produce more milk per cow than almost any country in the world, vying only with South Korea.
With peanuts introduced to their diets earlier (mostly in the form of the snack, Bamba), babies in Israel are 10 times less likely to suffer from a peanut allergy than Jewish children in the UK.
Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv is the most expensive site on the official Israeli Monopoly board.
There are more than 40 kosher McDonald’s in Israel. The only one outside the Jewish state is in Buenos Aires.
Capital: Tokyo (35,7 million)
Population: 127,6 million
Currency: Yen (JPY)
Famous people from Japan:
Yoko Ono (artist), Ichiro Suzuki (baseball), Shinji Kagawa (soccer), Shigeru Miyamoto (scientist, video game designer)
Fun facts about Mt Fuji and Japan:
If you plan on climbing Mount Fuji the season is very short. Climbing season begins on the first day in July, and it ends in the last week of August on the 27th. This means climbing season lasts less than two months.
One of the most interesting Mount Fuji facts is that this volcanic mountain is actually three separate volcanoes, one on top of the other. The bottom layer is the Komitake volcano, then the Kofuji volcano, then Fuji, which is the youngest of the three.
There are four different writing systems in Japan: romaji, katakana, hiragana, and kanji.
Tsukiji Market in Tokyo is the world’s largest fish market and the majority of fish in the world go through here.
Japan imports about 85% of Jamaica’s total coffee production.
In Japan, it is considered impolite and inappropriate to blow your nose in public.
Japanese enjoy slurping while eating; it symbolizes that the food is delicious.
I stayed at a capsule hotel Green Plaza (including a Japanese spa) at Shinjuku metro station, just a five-minute walk from the start. I paid less than 40 dollars a night and it was a fantastic experience!
Population: 7,1 million
Currency: Hong Kong Dollar (HKD)
Famous people from Hong Kong:
Jackie Chan (actor), Bruce Lee (Kung-Fu master, actor)
Fun facts about Hong Kong:
The world’s most expensive bottles of wine at USD232,692 per bottle were sold at an auction in Hong Kong.
The ‘father of fibre optic communications’ and winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics is Professor Charles Kao from Hong Kong.
Mongkok has the world’s highest population density with an average of 130,000 people per square kilometre.
It has the most skyscrapers in the world, with 8,000 buildings having more than 14 floors, almost double that of New York.
It has historically been the world’s leading city with the maximum number of Rolls-Royce luxury cars per capita. The largest single order of 14 Rolls-Royce Phantoms was by The Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong.
There are ”millions” of inexpensive hostels in Hong Kong. There is also a very convenient airport bus which leaves frequently from the airport to either Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. The best option is to find a hostel close to the finish at Victoria Park.
Population: 1,31 million
Currency: Bahraini dinar
Fun facts about Bahrain:
In Arabic, Bahrayn is the dual form of bahr (sea), so al-Bahrayn means ‘the two seas’.
Bahrain is actually an archipelago of 33 islands. The largest is 55km long by 18km wide and areas such as Sitra and Muharraq are actually separate islands.
In addition to freshwater wells, which were once in abundance, there are places in the sea north of Bahrain where fresh water bubbles up in the middle of the salt water.
Bahrain World Trade Centre is the first skyscraper in the world to integrate wind turbines into its design. Each turbine is 29m in diameter and their capacity is 675kw of wind power production. The 240m-tall tower has won several international awards including the LEAF (Leading European Architects’ Forum) award for best use of technology in a large scheme.
The British School of Bahrain holds the world record for the largest simultaneous coin toss. As part of World Maths Day in 2010, 1,117 staff and students took part in the toss which made it into the Guinness Book of Records.
Population: 3,31 million
Anthem: Nashid as-Salaam as-Sultani (”Peace to the Sultan”)
Fun facts about Oman:
In the past, Oman used to be one of the richest countries in the world, with the wealth mainly originating from the incense trade.
Oman gained independence from the Portuguese empire in 1651.
Oman is traditionally known for breeding Arab horses.
Every two years, an Omani person is chosen by UNESCO, for the most noteworthy contribution to environment. He is then awarded a prize by the ‘ Sultan of Oman’.
Oman follows the system of ‘Absolute Monarchy’.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Capital: Abu Dhabi
Population: 9,2 million
Currency: UAE dirham
Anthem: ”Ishy Bilady” (”Long Live My Nation”)
Famous people from United Arab Emirates:
Ahmad Mohammad Hasher Al Maktoum (Olympic medalist, shooter)
Fun facts about United Arab Emirates:
The Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping mall. Its internal area covers 5.9 million square feet.
The 1421-born Mohamed Bin Majid was considered to be the first Arab cartographer and seaman. He became known in the west as he assisted Vasco da Gama in finding the Africa to India route.
When the Burj Khalifa was inaugurated in January 2010, it officially became the tallest building in the world. Even until 2013, this 2,722 ft-tall structure has no rivals.
Capital: Dublin (527,000)
Population: 6,2 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Ireland:
U2 (music), Pierce Brosnan (actor), Chris de Burgh (singer), Fionnula Flanagan (actress), Bob Geldof (singer and activist), Sinead O’Connor (singer), James Joyce (author), Jonathan Swift (author), Oscar Wilde (poet)
Fun facts about Ireland:
St. Patrick was not actually Irish, he was Roman!
The longest place name in Ireland is Muckanaghederdauhaulia.
The Irish report the lowest annual number of UFO sightings in Europe.
Ireland has won seven times the Eurovision Song Contest (in 1970, 1980, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996), more than any other country.
Ireland is a snake-free island. Due to its isolation from the European mainland, Ireland lacks several species common elsewhere in Europe, such as moles, weasels, polecats or roe deer.
Population: 81,9 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Germany: Katarina Witt (figure skater), Bertolt Brecht (poet), Steffi Graf (tennis), Christoph Waltz (actor), Ludwig van Beethoven (composer), Johann Sebastian Bach (composer), Johannes Brahms (composer), Johannes Gutenberg (book-printing), Franz Beckenbauer (soccer)
Fun facts about Germany:
Germany became world’s first country to adopt Daylight Saving Time (DST), in the year 1916.
Germany is the largest economy, and the second most populous nation, of Europe. Germany claims the distinction of being the fifth biggest economy in the world.
Many great philosophers of the world, like Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Heidegger, were German.
The tallest church in the world, Ulm Cathedral, is in Germany. It is 161.53 meters (530 feet) high.
Germans do not answer phone calls with hi or hello, they say their surname instead.
The tradition of Christmas tree came from Germany.
In Germany nearly 70% highways have no speed limit.
German is the third most popularly taught language in the whole world.
More facts: http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/facts-about-germany-1207.html
It’s easy to find great hostels in Frankfurt, I used Hostelworld while searching for accommodations.
Population: 16,8 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Netherlands:
Vincent van Gogh (painter), Rembrandt (painter), Villem Barentsz (navigator and explorer), Johan Cruijff (soccer), Ruud Gullit (soccer), Marco van Basten (soccer), Dennis Bergkamp (soccer), Arjen Robben (soccer)
Fun facts about Netherlands:
Amsterdam residents are the second largest consumers of coffee in the world. On average, an Amsterdam resident consumes a minimum of 140 litres of coffee per year or about 3.2 cups of coffee per day.
Amsterdam Natives Are the Tallest in the World — The average height for a Dutch male is 184 cm, and the average height for a Dutch female is 170 cm. According to several different studies, this height is attributed to their DNA and healthy eating habits.
There are around 16 million bicycles in Holland, which supposedly means almost one for every inhabitant.
The highest point in the country is called the ‘mountain’ and it is as much as 323 meters high.
Holland is 6.7 meters below sea level, at its lowest point, which is a polder near Rotterdam.
Holland is the third largest exporter of agricultural produce, after U.S. and France, even though only 3% of the Dutch population is employed in the agriculture sector.
The war between Holland and Japan ensued on 8th December 1941. Netherland met defeat and lost one of its strongholds Indonesia to the Japanese army in March 1942.
Good advice about Amsterdam is to book accommodations several months before the marathon. Communications are very good in the Netherlands so you can even book a place outside the Dutch capital. I stayed 30 minutes east of Amsterdam and took an early morning train to the start.
Population: 4,27 million
Currency: Kuna (HRK)
Famous people from Croatia:
Branko Lustig (film producer), Janica Kostelic (skier), Goran Ivanisevic (tennis), Blanca Vlasic (high jumper), Zvonimir Boban (soccer)
Fun facts about Croatia:
Zadar, the seaside town in Dalmatia holds the title of the best sunset in the world, according to Alfred Hitchcock. Quoted as saying ‘Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, Florida’.
The necktie, worn by business people around the world, is from Croatia. The cravat as it was named originated from Croatian soldiers who served as mercenaries for the King of France.
Croatia has 1246 islands, isles and inlets for you to sail through. Just 48 of them are inhabited.
DNA tests have proven that the yummy Zinfandel grape variety originates from Croatia.
The world’s first pipe organ that is played by the sea’s rhythmic waves is in Zadar, on the Dalmatian Coast.
Croatia has a leaning tower in Istria. The belfry in Završje is 22 meters high and is tilted 40cm to the north.
You know the movie 101 Dalmatians? Well here’s a fun fact about Croatia, that breed of dog is from the region of Dalmatia in Croatia.
Croatian coins are named after a lime tree. The Kuna is divided into 100 lipa, which is the Croatian name for the linden lime tree.
If you give birth on a Jadrolinija ferry from Hvar, your child will get free travel on the ferry for life.
Croatia enjoys 2,715 hours of sunshine a year. That’s more than Sydney, Australia.
The Mag Light was invented by a Croatian named Maglica
There are plenty of inexpensive accommodations in the beautiful Croatian capital. I stayed three blocks from the railway station at the very nice Hostel Temza. A newly opened hostel with great facilities and a very welcoming staff.
Population: 11,1 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Belgium:
Adolphe Sax (inventor of the saxophone), Eddy Merckx (cyclist), Kim Clijsters (tennis), Jacky Ickx (racing driver), Enzo Scifo (soccer), Jean-Michel Saive (table tennis)
Fun facts about Belgium:
It offers over 1.000 different beers from 150 breweries acclaimed for their variety, flavour and character. Most beers have their own glass in which only that beer may be served.
Belgians drink an average of 150 litres of beer per person per year.
It produces 220,000 tons of chocolate per year, which is about 22kg of chocolate per Belgian. The Brussels’ International Airport is the world’s largest chocolate selling point.
Brussels has 138 restaurants per square mile.
There are more castles per square kilometre in Belgium than in any other country.
The scene of Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo was in Belgium.
It was the place for the world’s first recorded lottery, to raise money for the poor.
The comic strip Tintin originated from Belgium and has been in existence for 70 years with 200 million books sold worldwide.
The saxophone was invented in the early 1840′s by Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) in the city of Dinanti, Belgium.
80 percent of billiard players use Belgian-made balls.
It is the world’s largest diamond trading centre.
Both the name of the euro currency and the design of the € symbol were proposed by Belgians.
Be sure to book accommodation in time. Brussels is a popular weekend destination in Europe.
Capital: Madrid (3,2 million)
Population: 46 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Spain: Penelope Cruz (actress), Antonio Banderas (actor), Pedro Almodovar (writer), Francisco Goya (painter), Jose Carreras (opera singer), Miguel de Cervantes (novellist), Pablo Picasso (painter), Rafael Nadal (tennis player)
More famous people from Spain: http://www.thefamouspeople.com/spain.php
Fun facts about Spain:
Spain is the second largest country in the European Union.
Spain was the third most visited country in the world in 2013.
The national anthem of Spain has no words.
"La Tomatina" is an annual festival held in Spain where people throw thousands of tomatoes at each other.
More facts about Spain:
Population: 5,59 million
Currency: Danish Krone (DKR)
Famous people from Denmark:
Viggo Mortensen (actor), Vitus Bering (explorer), Nils Boer (physicist), Tycho Brahe (astronomer), Caroline Wozniacki (tennis), Michael Laudrup (soccer), Hans Christian Andersen (author), Karen Blixen (author)
Fun facts about Denmark:
First acknowledged in 1219, the Danish flag remains the oldest state flag in the world still in use by an independent nation.
The UN World Happiness Report has rated Danes as the happiest people on earth two years in a row.
Danes have a special word ”hygge” for that cozy feeling of togetherness. It means relaxing in great company.
Danish pastry is actually called ”wienerbrød” or ”Viennese bread” in Denmark.
The Danish language has no word for ”please”.
LEGO is actually Danish!
50% of Copenhageners commute to work every day on bicycle – come rain come shine.
Copenhagen has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in Scandinavia
Logistic:Danhostel Odense City is a very convenient place located on the corner of the railway station. If you arrive late in Copenhagen you can still take a night train to Odense and check in at the hostel with a password.
Capital: Oslo (925,000)
Population: 5 million
Currency: Norwegian Krone (NKR)
Famous people from Norway:
Grete Waitz (long-distance runner), Ingrid Kristiansen (long-distance runner), Aha (music), Edvard Munch (painter), Roald Amundsen (polar explorer, first to reach South Pole), Fridtjof Nansen (arctic explorer), Thor Heyerdahl (explorer), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (soccer), Marit Björgen (skier), Björn Daehlie (skier), Kjetil André Aamodt (skier)
Fun facts about Norway:
It is believed that the name Norway means “Path to the North”.
The coastline of Norway, including fjords and bays, stretches over 20,000 kilometers.
Norway is the sixth largest country of Europe, in terms of land mass. However, in terms of population, it ranks only 28th.
The Christmas tree, which stands in Trafalgar Square in London, has been presented by ‘City of Oslo’ to the UK, for over fifty years.
The per capita income of Norway ranks among the highest in the world.
Norway was rated the most peaceful country in the world, in a survey conducted by Global Peace Index in 2007.
Oslo is an expensive city, be sure to book your hostel/hotel in time
Population: 2,99 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Lithuania:
Arvydas Sabonis (basketball), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (basketball)
Fun facts about Lithuania:
According to a study made by a French scientist in 1989, Lithuania is in the geographical center of Europe.
Lithuanians were the last nation in Europe to convert to Christianity.
The Lithuanian language is more ancient than Greek, Latin, German, Celtic, or the Slav tongues. It belongs to the Indo-European group and is nearest to Sanscrit.
Some philologists generally agree that Lithuanian is the most ancient of all the living languages.
Lithuania is known as the land of storks, the national bird for the country, with about 13,000 pairs.
Making vodka from corn was first discovered by the Lithuanians.
Lithuania was the first to declare independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.
Basketball is the most popular sport. Several Lithuanians have become NBA players, maybe most famous being Arvydas Sabonis.
By the end of the XIV century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe, and included Belarus and parts of Ukraine.
Vilnius University was the first University in the Eastern Europe.
Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs was born in Lithuania.
The mother of Pope John Paul II was of Lithuanian descent.
There are plenty of great inexpensive options in Vilnius. Hostelworld has most of them listed. There are also great bus connections (luxury buses!) between the three Baltic capitals Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn. All three are very beautiful cities.
Population: 1,34 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Estonia:
Kristina Smigun (skier)
Fun facts about Estonia:
Estonia is the homeland of Skype, Hotmail and KaZaA.
Estonia was the first country in the world to use online political voting.
Estonia has two Independence Days. It first achieved independence from the Soviet Union on February 24, 1918 and again on August 20, 1991 after 51 years of occupation. The second date is known as the “Restoration of Independence Day.”
Estonia is the least religious country in the world with only 14% of the population claiming any religious beliefs.
Almost 50% of Estonia is covered by forest.
Estonia has the highest number of meteorite craters per land area in the world.
Chess Grandmaster Paul Keres was born in Estonia. When he died in 1975, over 100,000 people attended his funeral (10% of the country’s entire population).
Out of the nearly 200 countries in the world, Estonia ranks in the second place with a literacy rate of 99.8%.
There are many inexpensive options in Tallinn. I stayed at the ”party hostel” The Monks Bunk just a minute walk from the start. A great place with a lot of fun people.
Currency: Icelandic króna (ISK)
Famous people from Iceland:
Björk (singer), Leifur Eiriksson (explorer, discovered Vinland/America), Bobby Fischer (chess)
Fun facts about Iceland:
Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe.
Life expectancy is 81.3 years for women and 76.4 for men– one of the highest in the world.
Many Icelanders believe in elves. Certain roads have been re-routed to avoid disturbing areas where elves are thought to live.
Icelanders value literacy and hold the world record for number of books per capita.
In 1980, Icelanders elected Vigdis Finnbogadottir as the world’s first female head of state.
Population: 5,4 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Finland:
Jean Sibelius (composer), Tarja Halonen (Finlands first female president), Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld (polar explorer, completed the first crossing of the Northeast Passage), Paavo Nurmi (runner with nine Olympic gold medals), Jari Kurri (ice hockey), Tove Jansson (author)
Fun facts about Finland:
They drink more coffee per person than anyone else in the world, (12 kg per year).
Finland created a National Failure Day in 2010, (to learn from mistakes and not repeat them).
They host a whole bunch of odd competitions, including wife carrying, mobile phone throwing, air guitar and boot throwing.
Finland has been ranked number 1 in the world for education.
It has the least corrupt government in the word (according to 2012 statistics)
Finland has the most heavy metal bands, with 53 per 100 000 people.
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Luxembourg:
Marc Girardelli (skier)
Fun facts about Luxembourg:
Luxembourg is the least populated country in the European Union, with only 465,000 inhabitants. It is also the 20th smallest of the 194 independent countries in the world.
Luxembourgish, a Franconian dialect of High German, is the mother tongue of nearly all Luxembourgers. In spite of that, most official (written) business is carried out in French, whereas German is the first language taught in school and used in the media.
As of 2006, there were 181,000 immigrants in Luxembourg, accounting for 39.6% of the total population. 15% of the country’s inhabitants (over 1/3 of all immigrants) are of Portuguese origin.
Luxembourg has won five times the Eurovision Song Contest (in 1961, 1965, 1972, 1973 and 1983), a feat only surpassed by Ireland.
Luxembourg’s average unemployment rate from 1982 to 2013 was 3.3%, the lowest in the Europe.
Luxembourg is a well-known tax haven. In March 2006, there were no less than 155 banks in the country.
Between 1944 and 2002, the Luxembourgish franc had the exact same value as the Belgian franc. From 2002, the euro replaced both currencies.
The American organisation ‘The Heritage Foundation’ ranked Luxembourg first in Europe and fourth in the world for economic freedom.
It is easy to find inexpensive flights to Brussels (Charleroi) and from there you can catch a shuttle bus to Luxembourg. There is a Youth Hostel in Luxembourg that even includes a breakfast.
Capital: Edinburgh (1,34 million)
Population: 5,3 million
Currency: Pound sterling (GBP)
Famous people from Scotland:
JK Rowling (author and philanthropist), Adam Smith (economist), Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone), Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island), Sir Walter Scott (author), Greyfriar Bobby (dog) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greyfriars_Bobby
Fun facts about Scotland:
The Flag of Scotland is a white X-shaped cross, which represents the cross of the patron saint of Scotland, Saint Andrew on a blue field. The flag is called the Saltire or the Saint Andrew’s Cross.
Scotland has three officially recognized languages: English, Scots (a relative of English) and Scottish Gaelic (a completely different language).
Scotland emphasizes on a broad education system and was the first country since Sparta in classical Greece to implement a system of general public education.
Edinburgh is Europe’s fifth largest financial center.
Genetic studies are now pointing that the mutation for red hair, which now reaches a world maximum in Western Scotland and Northern Ireland, may have originated in Central Asia too. This means that Scottish people may be (partly) descended from ancient people from Central Asia. Surprised? So were we, so here’s one source: www.eupedia.com
There are many great inexpensive options in the beautiful Scottish capital. I stayed at the huge Castle Rock Hostel just a minute walk from the castle. Be sure to spend a few days in Edinburgh, it is an fascinating city!
Capital: Riga (644,000)
Population: 2 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Latvia:
Helmuts Balderis (ice hockey), Arturs Irbe (ice hockey), Stanislav Olijars (110 meter hurdles)
Fun facts about Latvia:
Over 50% of Latvia is covered by forest, and it’s one of the most environmentally friendly countries on the planet, ranking 2nd in the Environmental Performance Index.
Latvia has one of the highest rates of fashion models per capita in the world.
Latvia is the smallest nation to ever become a colonial power, as the Duchy of Courland set up a number of colonies in Tobago, Trinidad and Gambia in the 17th century (pictured: memorial cannons in Fort Jekabs, Tobago).
A Latvian-Jewish tailor named Jākobs Jufess invented the jeans (Levi Strauss backed him financially).
Latvia holds one of the largest song and dance festivals in the world (with over 40,000 participants), while choir singers and conductors are celebrities in Latvia. Latvia also has one of the largest collections of traditional folk songs in the world, numbering over 300,000.
Latvia is one of only 3 countries in the world, along with Canada and Finland, where ice hockey is the most popular type of sport.
Population: 10,5 million
Currency: Czech Coruna (CZK)
Famous people from Czech Republic:
Antonín Dworák (composer), Milos Forman (filmmaker), Ivana Trump (athlete and model), Jaromir Jagr (ice hockey), Ivan Lendl (tennis), Emil Skoda (industrialist)
Fun facts about Prague:
The Charles Bridge has mathematical significance. Charles IV laid the first stone of this famous monument at 5.31 am on July 9, 1357. The notoriously superstitious king was into astrology and numerology, and chose this date because of its written form: 1-3-5-7-9-7-5-3-1 (year, day, month, time). Add this information to the stunning views and saintly statues, and Charles Bridge is clearly a required item on any list of what to see in Prague.
Thank Prague’s resident rebel sculptor, David Černy, for modern art with a sense of humor decorating the city. You can get a close-up of the babies with bar code faces on the castle side of the Vltava River, near the Kampa Modern Art Museum. For more of Černy’s twisted work, try the statues of two men pissing outside the Kafka Museum, or the upside-down horse inside Lucerna Palace near Wenceslas Square.
There is a Graffiti Wall devoted to John Lennon (who never visited Prague). This tribute to revolution began after John Lennon’s death in 1980. The unofficially named “John Lennon Wall” sits in a quiet corner near the Charles Bridge, filled with regularly changing portraits, Beatles lyrics and scrawled messages from international tourists. On November 17, 2014 – the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution – a group of students painted the entire wall white with “Wall Is Over” in block letters, but visitors disagreed and quickly filled the blank canvas once again. Visit the graffiti wall for a more alternative take on Prague sightseeing.
Josefov, Prague’s historic Jewish Quarter, includes the heartbreakingly overcrowded cemetery and Europe’s oldest active synagogue, the strangely named Old-New Synagogue (there’s a story behind it). Hitler supposedly planned to retire in Prague and preserve this area as a museum to an extinguished race, leaving the architecture largely untouched as he terrorized its residents during WWII. These days, the Jewish Museum in Prague manages this collection of 6 synagogues, historical relics, and a powerful holocaust memorial.
The Dancing House was inspired by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This modern monument among the castles and cobblestones is definitely a sight to see in Prague. The collaboration of Canadian-American Frank Gehry and Croatian-Czech Vlado Milunić in the mid-1990s symbolizes yin and yang: communism blending into democracy. Gehry has said that he initially wanted to name the building after the famous dancing duo. Fans of food with a view might also want to try the (pricey) “Ginger and Fred” restaurant (ginger-fred-restaurant.cz) located on the top floor.
The Rolling Stones paid to light the Prague Castle. The iconic rock group played one of Prague’s first international concerts after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, and developed a close friendship with Czech President Václav Havel. Legend has it that, over drinks with the president, the band admired the prominent monument, but said it was a shame you couldn’t see it at night. Havel had bigger problems to worry about (like running a newly democratic country). So, the band paid the $32,000 (about 775,000 CZK) price tag and had their lighting designer install the system that tourists continue to enjoy today. Thanks, guys.
The locals drink more beer per capita than any other country in the world. This is probably the Czech’s best known claim to fame. The total consumption – divided by every man, woman, grandparent and baby in the country – equals approximately 150 liters per year, or in other words almost half a liter daily, for every person. Impressive! But after tasting a foam-topped pint from the birthplace of Pilsner (as we do on our Prague food tours), understanding why becomes much easier. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s cheaper than water on most menus.
Population: 8 million
Currency: Swiss Frank (CHF)
Famous people from Switzerland:
Henry Dunant (founder of the Red Cross), Albert Einstein (physics), Roger Federer (tennis), William Tell (legendary 14th century hero)
Fun facts about Switzerland:
Geneva is the seat of the European headquarters of United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), World Economic Forum (WEF), Airports Council International (ACI), International Organization for Standardization (ISO) & World Wide Web Virtual Library.
Switzerland was founded in 1291, as a union of three cantons chafing against Habsburg rule, and became independent in 1815.
There are four official languages in Switzerland, namely German, French, Italian, and Romansh.
Switzerland has the second highest life expectancy in Europe, after Sweden.
Jungfraujoch, at an elevation of 11330 feet is the highest train station in Europe.
Lac leman (Lake Geneva) is the largest land locked lake in Western Europe.
Switzerland has the densest railway system in the world with 3107 miles of tracks.
Capital: Warsaw (1.7 million)
Population: 38.5 million (Krakow 755,000)
Famous people from Poland:
Marie Curie (physicist and chemist), Nicolaus Copernicus (astronomy), Fryderyk Chopin (composer), Pope John Paul II, Grzegorz Lato (soccer)
Fun facts about Krakow and Poland:
The city of Krakow has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. Within Krakow are about 6,000 historic sites and 2 million art works, it was one of the few cities that escaped the carnage during the wars.
In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the first ever Slavic pope.
There are about 7.3 million people that visit Krakow every year, nearly 10x the actual population. Krakow was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596.
According to legend, Krakow was founded by and named after the mythical ruler Krak, who built the town above a cave occupied by a ravenous dragon.
The famous astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus, was Polish and was the first person to theorize that the Earth was not the center of the universe.
Gdynia has been voted, on more than one occasion as the best place in Poland to live. The poll takes place each year and gives the wining city bragging rights.
Some of the first shots fired during the WWII took place in Gdansk – Westerplatte, There is a monument there in honour of the Polish solders that stood for seven days against the German’s attack.
Polish officers, either police officers or military, use a two-finger salute.
In Poland the name day is considered more important than the birthday.
Many hostels in and around Krakow, Hostelworld has them all listed. Be also sure to take a guided tour to Auschwitz when you visit Krakow.
Capital: Belgrade (3,2 million)
Population: 7,2 million
Currency: Serbian Dinar (RSD)
Famous people from Serbia:
Nikola Tezla (engineer), Vlade Divac (basketball), Novak Djokovic (tennis), Karl Malden (actor), Nemanja Vidic (soccer), Jasmina Vujic (nuclear engineering)
Fun facts about Serbia:
Serbia is a landlocked country.
‘Vampire’ is a Serbian word and it is known the world over.
Serbia formed a union with Montenegro in 1992 and spilt up again in 2006 to become independent.
Serbia is slightly smaller than South Carolina in area.
Majority of Serbian last names end with ‘ic’.
According to statistics, Serbians are known to be the most hospitable people in the world. They believe that they won’t gain any favor from the gods if they are not hospitable to their guests.
A fact about Serbia is that it is the largest exporter of raspberries in the world. It contributes 30% of the total raspberries to the international market.
Ivo Andric is the only Nobel Prize winner from Serbia. He won the esteemed award for literature in 1961.
Nikola Tesla, regarded as one of the most important inventor in history was a Serbian. Tesla made great inventions and discoveries in the disciplines of electric current and magnetism. His name is also used in the unit of magnetic induction (T).
Belgrade, the capital of Serbia has been ranked the highest among party places in the world by Lonely Planet.
Many good and inexpensive hostels close to the start/finish. I stayed at a great place called Hostel Manga just 100 meters from the start of the marathon.
Capital: Vienna (1,75 million)
Population: 8,6 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Austria:
Josef Strauss (composer), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (composer), Franz Schubert (composer), Herbert von Karajan (conductor), Sigmund Freud (psychiatrist), Niki Lauda (Formula One race car driver), Franz Klammer (skier)
Fun facts about Austria:
The name Austria derives from a Germanic word ‘austro’, meaning ‘east’.
The Austrian flag is one of the oldest national flags in the world.
The sewing machine was invented by Josef Madersperger, an Austrian.
Approximately one quarter of the population of Austria lives in Vienna.
Vienna has the oldest zoo in the world, founded in 1752.
Ferdinand Porsche, who is the founder of the German sports car company ‘Porsche’, was from Austria.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Hollywood actor, grew up in Austria.
62% of Austria is covered by the Austrian Alps.
The first postcards used were in Austria.
Population: 65,7 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from France:
Edith Piaf (singer), Jeanne d’Arc (soldier), Zinedine Zidane (soccer), Emile Zola (author), Alexandre Dumas (author), Jean-Claude Killy (skier), Eric Cantona (soccer), Rousseau (philosopher), Voltaire (philosopher)
Fun facts about France:
It’s illegal to kiss on railways in France.
There is a Victor Hugo street in every town in France.
France is home to the highest number of Nobel Prize winners.
French is considered to be the language of nobility across Europe and became the world’s first international language until English replaced it in the 20th century.
French is the mother tongue of 75 million people worldwide. It was also the official language of England for over 300 years.
France was founded in 843, making it one of the oldest countries in Europe.
French people have the highest female life expectancy in Europe.
France is home to more than 40,000 castles and manors.
Famous French inventions include: the hot air balloon, the submarine, and the parachute.
Capital: Rome (2,6 million)
Population: 60,8 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Italy:
Marco Polo (explorer), Antonio Vivaldi (music), Giuseppe Verdi (music), Leonardo da Vinci (artist), Michelangelo (artist), Galileo Galilei (astronomer), Roberto Baggio (soccer)
Fun facts about Italy:
The average consumption of pasta in Italy is 25 kg per person per year. Arabs introduced dry pasta to the Italians. Before that, all the pasta was freshly made on an everyday basis.
When McDonald’s opened in 1986 in Rome, food purists outside the restaurant gave away free spaghetti to remind people of their culinary heritage.
Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s most popular play, was set in the backdrop of Verona, Italy.
The volcanoes of Etna, Stromboli and Vesuvius, situated in South of Italy, are the only three active volcanoes in Europe.
The oldest university in Europe, in continuous operation, is the University of Bologna, founded in 1088.
Viol, violin, cello, piano, mechanical clock, barometer, thermometer, optical glasses and telephone were invented by Italians.
The airport is in walking distance (!) from the city center and there are many good hostels and B&B in Pisa.
Capital: Lisbon (548,000)
Population: 10,5 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Portugal:
Ferdinand Magellan (explorer), Vasco de Gama (explorer), Pedro Alvares Cabral (explorer), Rosa Monta (Olympic marathon champion), Cristiano Ronaldo (soccer), Eusebio (soccer), Luís Figo (soccer), Jose Mourinho (soccer coach)
Fun facts about Portugal:
Portugal is the oldest country in Europe. Portugal has the same defined borders since 1139, making it the oldest nation-state in Europe.
Bartholomew Diaz, a Portuguese explorer, was the first person to sail round the southern tip of Africa, which he named the Cape of Good Hope.
Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer who was financed by Spain, was the first to complete a circumnavigation of the world. He set the record in the year 1522.
During the Roman times, Portugal was called Luisitania.
It is illegal to kill a bull in Portuguese bullfighting.
The oldest alliance in the world, still in force, is the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, signed in 1373.
70% of the world’s corks are exported from Portugal, making it the largest producer of corks.
Portugal was the first colonial power to abolish slavery. It did so in 1761.
Capital: Ankara (4,55 million people)
Population: 74,7 million
Currency: Turkish lira (TRY)
Famous people from Turkey:
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (founder of modern Turkey), Orhan Pamuk (author), Hakan Sukur (soccer)
Fun facts about Turkey:
The highest peak in Turkey is Mount Agri (5,166 m). It is also said to be the place where Noah’s Ark came to rest.
The oldest known human settlement is in Catalhoyuk, Turkey (dating back to 7th millennium BC).
The Temple of Artemis (Diana), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was in Ephesus.
It were the Turks who introduced coffee to Europe.
I stayed at Sabah Pansiyon in the old town. A great place with a huge breakfast and just a one-minute walk from the beach front.
Population: 9,9 million (Budapest 1,8 million)
Currency: Forint (HUF)
Famous people from Hungary:
George Soros (investor/philanthropist), Franz Liszt (composer), Zsa Zsa Gabor (actress), Ferenc Puskás (soccer)
There are many inexpensive accommodations all over Budapest. Hostelworld has a wide selection of options. Be also sure to spend at least one day at a spa. My favorite spa is Széchenyi, one of the biggest in the world.
Capital: Athens (664,000)
Population: 11,3 million
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Famous people from Greece:
Herodotos (father of history), Spiridon Louis (Olympic marathon champion), Mikis Theodorakis (composer), Socrates (philosopher), Achilles (warrior, Greek mythology)
Fun facts about Greece:
No one in Greece can choose to not vote. Voting is required by law for every citizen who is 18 or older.
The world’s third leading producer of olives, the Greeks have cultivated olive trees since ancient times. Some olive trees planted in the thirteenth century are still producing olives.
According to Greek mythology, Athena and Poseidon agreed that whoever gave the city the best gift would become guardian over the city. Though Poseidon gave the gift of water, Athena’s gift of an olive tree was deemed by the other gods to be more valuable.
Greece has zero navigable rivers because of the mountainous terrain. Nearly 80% of Greece is mountainous.
The first Olympic Games took place in 776 B.C. The first Olympic champion was a Greek cook named Coroebus who won the sprint race.
Population: 22,7 million (Melbourne 4,1 million)
Currency: Australian dollar (AUD)
Famous people from Australia:
Cathy Freeman (Olympic gold medalist – 400 m), Errol Flynn (actor), Greg Norman (golfer), Dawn Frazer (swimmer), AC/DC (music), Nicole Kidman (actress), Russel Crowe (actor), Midnight Oil (music)
Fun facts about Australia:
Melbourne changed the Olympic Games for good! It seems absolutely normal to us when we see all the competing athletes walk in together with their countrymen for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics. But it wasn’t always like that. In 1956 Melbourne became the first host of the Olympic Games outside of Europe and North America. Besides all of the athletes who challenged each other, the real star was a young teenager called John Ian Wing. He sent an anonymous letter to the Olympic committee suggesting that the athletes should walk in together by the end of the games to symbolise global unity. He remained anonymous for another 30 years until they lifted his secret of sending the letter.
According to the RSPCA, Melbourne is the ”Fox Capital” of the western world, with 6-23 foxes every square kilometer in the metropolitan area.
The largest Greek population in the world beside Athens in Greece can be found in Melbourne.
Melbourne’s famous beer, Foster’s Lager, was actually produced by two Americans.
The Australian rules football, a sport, was invented in Melbourne.
Australia was the second country in the world to give women the right to vote in 1902.
Canberra was selected as the capital because Sydney and Melbourne could not stop arguing which city should be the capital of Australia.
Capital: Pretoria, Cape Town and Bloemfontein
Population: 48,7 million
Currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
Famous people from South Africa:
Zola Budd (long-distance runner), Desmund Tutu (archbishop), John Maxwell Coetzee (Nobel Prize-winning author), Charlize Theron (actress), Miriam Makeba (singer), Dave Matthews (musician), Manfred Mann (musician), Nelson Mandela (president)
Fun facts about South Africa:
South Africa has a penguin colony, which thrives thanks to the cold Antarctic currents on the west coast (Simonstown) near the Cape.
South Africa has the longest wine route in the world, the R62 wine route.
The world’s first heart transplant was done in South Africa in 1967 by Dr Chris Barnard
South Africa has eleven official languages.
South Africa is the first country in Africa to build nuclear weapons, and voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons.
State capital: Honolulu (375,000)
State population: 1.4 million
State nickname: The Aloha State
State bird: Nene
State mammal: Hawaiian monk seal, Humpback whale
The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness
Famous people from Hawaii:
Kaahumanu (Hawaiian queen), Kamehameha (first Hawaiian king), Barack Obama (U.S. president), Tia Carrere (actress)
Fun facts about Hawaii:
Hawaii is the most isolated population center on the face of the earth. Hawaii is 2,390 miles from California; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China; and 5,280 miles from the Philippines
Currency: Macanese Pataca (MOP)
Fun facts about Macau:
Macau is the last Asian country to remain a European colony. The last Portuguese governor left it in 1999. It was ruled by the Portuguese for 442 years since 1557.
Fifty percent of Macau’s revenue comes from gambling, and 20% of its population are employed by the casinos.
People in Macau have the 2nd longest expected life span in the world at 84.43 as of 2012.
BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
Capital: Victoria (80, 000)
Population: 4.6 million (Vancouver 610,000)
Currency: Canadian Dollar (CAD)
Provincial bird: Steller’s Jay
Provincial mammal: Spirit Bear
Provincial fish: Pacific salmon
Splendor without diminishment
Famous people from British Columbia:
Rick Hansen (athlete with 3 Olympic gold medals in Paralympics 1984), Pamela Anderson (actress), Michael Bublé (music), Ryan Reynolds (actor), Ryan Dempster (baseball), Steve Yzerman (ice hockey)
Fun facts about Vancouver:
Vancouver ranks third in the world as the best city to live in – for quality of life.
Vancouver is tied with Montreal as the 10th cleanest city in the world (Calgary came in first place).
In 1971, Greenpeace was born – in Vancouver. It’s, as you probably know, an organization known for its international environmental campaigns.
Vancouver aka Hollywood North, is second only to Los Angeles in TV production and third in North America for Feature Film production. That means there are occasionally high profile movie stars floating around. Lions Gate, Paramount and Bridge Studios have set up shop here.
Vancouver has the fourth largest cruise ship terminal in the world. Cruise ships begin sailing in April. October 4th is the last cruise of the year in 2011. M0st of the cruises head for Alaska.
The Vancouver Aquarium ranks in the top 5 around the world. Vancouver has also played host to the 2010 Winter Olympics and the Expo’86 World Fair.
Capital: Stockholm (2.1 million)
Population: 9.5 million
Currency: Swedish Krona (SEK)
Alfred Nobel (inventor of dynamite), Annika Sörenstam (golf player). Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA), ABBA (music), Björn Borg (tennis), Ingrid Bergman (actress), Dag Hammarskjöld (Secretary-General of the United Nations 1953-1961), Raoul Wallenberg (diplomat).
Fun facts about Sweden:
Few people drink more coffee than the Swedes. In Sweden, coffee drinking is fostered through a tradition called fika – in which friends, family or colleagues meet for coffee or tea, often with something sweet on the side. Most Swedes will enjoy at least one fika a day as an opportunity to bond.
When it comes to equality between the sexes, Sweden is one of the leaders, and the men definitely pull their own weight in staying home and raising infant children. In Sweden, couples are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave, and this time can be shared between parents.
You’ll quickly notice that shoes are taken off when entering private residences in Sweden. Some explain it with the simple fact that Swedes spend a lot of time outdoors during winter and are prone to dragging in dirt. Others say it’s a sign of respect for the home. Either way, you might want to think twice before wearing full lace-up boots when visiting folks.
More facts about Sweden: