1. Heading to outer space.
For years I’ve had the idea to travel the entire European continent. I wanted explore its main attractions, but from a different point of view: in unusual way and without being crowded among the other tourists.
My travel partner Vitaliy Raskalov (raskalov_vit) and I decided to organize the trip together. The idea was to go from Sweden to Portugal and to visit 12 cities on our way. As in our past journeys (e.g. Cairo and Dubai), we looked for roofs, dungeons, etc.
This idea of extraordinary tourism seemed interesting to the guys from the mobile company TELE2 and so we happened to have a cool sponsor. We were testing the quality of mobile connection during our entire trip: we broadcasted live on the radio, called family and friends.
Even before I finished my post, British Daily Mail and The Guardian has already written about our adventures, picking up the story from the Russian mass media. You are to judge how interesting our journey turned out. So let’s start.
2. Vitaliy on the roof in Stockholm.
We were going to visit twelve cities: Stockholm, Warsaw, Prague, Frankfurt-am-Main, Cologne, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, Benidorm, Lisbon, Porto. And we had to fly back home from Madrid. For all that we had just one month, so we could spend only 2 or 3 days in each city.
Our first stop was Stockholm, and there were two reasons for it. First, Sweden is TELE2 home country, and second, a local journalist wanted to write a story about us.
Stockholm is a beautiful but boring city. It didn’t match our purposes at all: The city itself is low and doesn’t have many tall landmarks. And those that do exist are equipped with viewing platforms, opened for everybody.
3. Stockholm subway.
Since we didn’t get lucky with the roofs, we decided to try to get to the underground tunnels. Stockholm subway is really unique. It turned out that there is nothing easier than to jump off from the station platform and get into the tunnel. Cameras? It seems that no one is watching the stream.
4. Inside of the tunnels.
5. Later I’ll blog again about the Stockholm Subway.
To tell you the truth, after Stockholm I feared that the entire Europe will be like that, that we won’t climb anywhere, and we won’t have any fantastic pictures to bring back. But the next city was Warsaw, and there things were far simpler and interesting.
6. Vitaliy and I on the roof in Warsaw city center.
I don’t know about the other towns in Poland, but Warsaw is very similar to Russia. There is its own Stalin skyscraper, Russian-speaking bums, and old ladies at the markets. However the streets are well-groomed in a European manner.
Our first roof in Warsaw was of the building under construction near the Stalin skyscraper. There was no fence so we just walked inside. Then we found an elevator, got to the top floor. And when the elevator doors have opened, we saw a bunch of workers. “Panovie, panovie” – they shouted but we don’t know Polish, so we just went up to the roof without paying any attention to them. On the roof we found a construction cradle and safely hid there. For about an hour the workers together with security guards were looking for us all over the top floors, cursing – but to no avail. Soon it got dark and we shot some night views. And that’s how we get to the roofs, sometimes.
8. The Palace of Culture and Science - Stalin skyscraper, a gift from the Soviet Union to Poland. This building is the tallest one in Poland.
We were interested in the Stalin skyscraper, we wanted to climb it, but we did not succeed. First, because there is an observation desk, and second, because the spire of the building acts as a transmitting antenna. So nothing except hard-boiled eggs waited for us at the top …
11. Office plankton.
12. Cable-stayed bridge over the Vistula.
14. Warsaw's Old Town.
The most popular tourist destination in Warsaw is the Old Town, based in XIII century. This place was destroyed by the German bombs during the Second World War, but after the war, it was fully restored. Now the Old Town of Warsaw is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We were lucky: the largest church in the Old Town was covered with scaffolding, so we were able to climb to the very top, to the cross.
After Warsaw we traveled to the capital of the Czech Republic. We had very little time in Prague, only half a day. Prague was awesome, but stuffed with tourists. We were surprised to see many Russians and Ukrainians.
After a mug of delicious dark beer “VelkopopovitskyKozel” we embarked on our adventure.
16. We visited several observation decks the first day.
17. On the second day we saw this cathedral and realized what we want to do in Prague.
After we saw the St. Vitus Cathedral, we decided that we don’t want to go to Frankfurt or anywhere else. And yes, they do have an observation deck on one of the towers but we wanted to conquer the others and also to get inside.
Climbing the St. Vitus Cathedral is the main fail of our trip, but we leave with no regrets. This cathedral was partly covered with scaffolding. We didn’t have enough time to wait until it gets dark, so we had to climb in the middle of the day. Luck doesn’t always work in these cases.
Thirty minutes after we climbed to the top of the Cathedral we saw military and police officers on the roof. It’s not too hard to guess who they were looking for. Unfortunately, all our attempts to hide were unsuccessful and shortly we got arrested and escorted to the police station.
18. St. Vitus Cathedral, the view from the central tower.
19. The Cathedral is located on the territory of the Old Palace just next to the Parliament building.
Local policemen didn’t know what to do with us because it was the first time something like that happened there. Climbing this cathedral is similar to climbing St. Basil’s Cathedral on the Red Square and waving to Putin. But policemen turned to be really nice and they even knew a little Russian (from Czechoslovakian period of history). This ended with a warm conversation and we were able to avoid jail and big fines.
Hello to everybody from the police station!
Then came a huge man with a suitcase to make sure that weren’t terrorists and didn’t want to blow anything up. The suitcase contained some tricky device which, according to what the policemen said, was the only one in Europe and this guy was its only owner. The device spitted out some sheet of paper, with which we had to wipe our hands and backpacks. Then the paper was shoved back into where it came from. I was scared, trying to remember if I touched any TNT recently. But no, all was ok, the suitcase beeped and turned green. The policemen smiled and decided it was time for us to go to Germany. With receipts for 500 crowns in penalties for each of us in our hands, we happily headed to the bus station.
We expected a lot from Frankfurt. The city is full of tall buildings so we thought it would bring us a lot of great shots. It didn’t. In fact, the majority of the skyscrapers were the headquarters of banks, and climb a bank is as unwise as to get into the bank itself. So many viewpoints were excluded from our list from the beginning.
The city of Frankfurt is teaming with immigrants from Turkey and Russia. Construction noise everywhere, many roads are under maintenance – it was unpleasant to walk around the city.
At one point we had to walk past a gathering of homeless people. Fifty bums stood there, gesticulating and exuding strong odors.
23. Frankfurt stands on the river Main. The city is the financial and transportation center of Germany. Also, it is the largest financial center in continental Europe. Frankfurt is also the criminal capital of Germany.
24. View from the balcony of Lindner Main Plaza hotel. If you have 60 euros you can get a permit to take some pictures. Of course we didn’t pay anything. But we also didn’t know the price for shooting until a photographer accompanied with concierge came over. He started complaining that we haven’t paid yet.
25. We didn’t argue – we just got to the very top, the roof.
When we were leaving Frankfurt, we decided that most likely we won’t come back. Next city was Cologne. The only thing that interested us in Cologne was the Cathedral. To tell the truth it really is the only interesting thing there…
The Cologne Cathedral impressed us in all kinds of ways. It was constructed from 1248 until 1880 or so. By the time it was finished the 157-meters high cathedral was the highest building in the world, and held that record for several years.
26. Vitaliy and the Cologne Cathedral.
27. During the World War II, when the Allied bombing destroyed almost the entire city, the Cologne Cathedral was the only monument that didn’t get damaged. By unwritten agreement of the pilots,the Cathedral was cherished as a geographical landmark.
On one of the towers there is a public observation deck, but it was almost impossible to take pictures there because of the enclosing grid. Actually, it was the worst viewing platform I’ve ever seen. So we took a chance and sneaked to the other tower, where access is closed to tourists. We got lucky again, a small part of the building was in scaffolding.
It was late at night: our Prague experience taught us that if we got there in the daytime, we’d get caught. But even after it got dark there still was a crowd around the Cathedral: there were a lot of young people who were hanging out, drinking beer and singing songs. When no one was watching, we sneaked to the scaffolding and started our ascent to the heights. It’s not too difficult to climb the scaffolding although it’s quite dangerous because there is nothing beneath but the steel poles.
29. Stained-glass windows.
30. First we got into the small central cupola, which offered us views of the roof and the two main towers.
At this point we didn’t know that we would get lucky enough that night to climb not only the cupola but also the Cologne Cathedral spire. After we wandered a bit in the attic and the internal rooms we got inside the tower, and then onto the upper balconies.
31. Inside the tower there were a lot of statues, as the cathedral was under construction.
33. From the balconies a ladder took us all the way to the spire.
34. View from the top. It’s difficult to explain the feelings that I had at the top. At one point, I even felt scared, but the sense of excitement was stronger.
35. The neighboring steeple.
36. Inspired, we set off from Cologne to its suburbs in search of the legendary machine Bagger 288.
37. What is Bagger 288? Until recently, it was the largest bucket wheel excavator in the world. And when they say the largest, this means giant. Just look at its ladle rotor 21.6 meters in diameter– it’s the height of a 7-storey building! The excavator itself has a height of 96 meters, a length of 240 meters and weighs as 2,250 African elephants: 13,500 tons.
38. There will be a separate post about the Baggers.
39. Then there was Paris.
We had a lot of plans for Paris and it’s the city where we’ve spent the most time. The city impresses with its architecture and history. Paris is huge, it gives a field of action.
Paris has a lot of immigrants; most of them came from Africa. In the subway it’s quite common not to see a single white person around. Also, Paris has a lot of bums and crazy people.
First couple of days we did what the other tourists do -went round all the coolest viewing spots. We visited the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, Mount Parnassus, Notre Dame and identified points for roofing.
41. Basilica of the Sacre Coeur.
42. Basilica is located on the hill of Montmartre and from there on a clear day one can see the entire Paris.
43. We escaped the official observation point and strolled around the roof of the church.
44. And also we got into the dome.
45. Notre Dame de Paris. The view from the observation point.
47. A shot with the legs from the Eiffel Tower. By the way, the views from the Eiffel Tower are the best views in Paris.
Later, when we went around all the tourist observation spots, we contacted the local urban-explorer Vic Lax. After this, our climbs got far more interesting; we were sharing experiences with each other and telling cool stories.
48. Together with our new friend we visited several places of interest, such as a skyscraper that’s currently under construction in the area of La Defense.
50. While we were shooting the sunrise, Vitaliy climbed on the crane.
51. Second place that we climbed with Vic was the Notre Dame de Paris, but not the tourist area.
52. The remarkable thing about getting on this cathedral is that you can climb right on the façade. It’s exciting but dangerous. Vitaliy tried first, and then disappeared for quite a while. Worrying that something could happen to him, Vic and I started to develop an alternative plan of ascent. Using the 5-meter-hight ladder we got on to the roof and really scared Vitaliy. He thought it was the police coming to catch him and was preparing to escape.
54. In addition to the roofs we visited the ghost subway station St. Martin. The entire station is covered with graffiti and homeless people live there in the winter.
55. All the subway tunnels are covered with graffiti.
57. Before we will say good bye to Paris here are two romantic pictures with the Eiffel Tower.
59. After Paris, we went to Barcelona. We had a purpose - to climb up to the main attraction of the city, the Temple of the Holy Family (Sagrada Familia).
60. For roofing purposes, Barcelona offers little except for the Sagrada Familia. The city is flat and ordinary. But Barcelona is very pleasant to walk around, it's a great place to stay. If you’ve been to Barcelona, you understand what I’m talking about.
61. When I got inside the Sagrada Familia, I was very impressed. I’ve never seen such beautiful and unusual interiors. But the cathedral is impressive not only with its interiors, but also with its forms, stucco and unusual design of statues on the facade.
62. I will write a separate post about the Temple of the Holy Family, too.
63. We had two main purposes for the Sagrada Familia: to get to the top of the tower and to the crane that rises over the temple. First we’ve climbed the tower. It was a piece of cake, we just had to lag behind the crowd and crawl beneath the door leading upstairs.
64. The second part was more difficult.
65. We got onto the crane in the night. At 2 AM we jumped over the fence. Using scaffolding like ninjas we climbed to the top of the crane in half an hour. The crane is about 50 meters higher then the temple. From the top of it you get the view of entire Barcelona.
66. Climbing, we were terrified when crane began to spin slowly on its axis and turned 90 degrees. It took us a short while to realize that the culprit was the wind. The crane turned like a weathercock. You can see Vitaliy in this shot, he is posting something on Instagram or checking Twitter.
67. We were told that the Sagrada Familia is the most secure location in Europe, and there is no way we could possibly climb there. But we did.
68. In Barcelona we rented a car. The plan was to drive 3200km. Our route passed through the southern coast of Spain, Portugal, and ended in Madrid.
69. After Barcelona we went to Benidorm. We hadn’t booked a hotel and it was already dark when we got there. We decided to spend the night on the roof. We climbed the highest building in town with the coolest views in the city. The next morning we woke up and the city of Benidorm and the Mediterranean Sea were beneath our feet.
70. Benidorm is a resort town. The number of buildings over 20 stories is the largest in Europe.
71. This whole trip we were really lucky with the weather. It rained only once, in Paris. The rest of the time it was hot. In Benidorm and all the cities that we visited after the temperature was 35 C. We enjoyed our time in the pools and in the Mediterranean Sea (and later in the Atlantic Ocean).
72. Vitaliy is calling home. Talking about the mobile connection, it was great, doesn’t matter if we were on top of the skyscraper or under the groud.
73. Another interesting site was the Strait of Gibraltar. We first arrived in Gibraltar, but it turned out that we could only get there with the UK visa, as this was British overseas territory. We didn’t despair, we just headed to Tarifa - a small town in the south of Spain. It’s located at the narrowest point of the Strait, so we assumed it was even more interesting then the Gibraltar city. At a distance of 15-20 kilometers we could see African continent, Morocco. What a feeling, to stand on one continent and look at another!
74. We stopped to take another look at Africa, a wonderful place with hundreds of wind turbines.
75. After we passed the entire southern coast of Spain we got to Portugal. First we stopped at Cape Roca – it’s the western edge of Eurasia. Unlike Tarife where we could see the neighboring continent, at Cape Roca we could see only the endless Atlantic Ocean.
76. The water in the Atlantic is much colder compared to the Mediterranean.
78. I’ve never experienced such winds before.
79. Lisbon gives you a weird feeling. It’s the capital, but the city is quiet, even though we arrived on a weekend. On subway stations you might be the only passenger, even on the central station. The city has a lot of abandoned houses. In the evening on the main streets there was no light in the windows. Lisbon seems to be extinct.
In Portugal, I was already too tired to make pictures.
80. According to our plan, Porto was the final point of our trip. But after Lisbon we doubted whether to go there or not. The city is even smaller than Lisbon, so there might be fewer interesting things. But we were wrong. Porto is rich with unusual architecture, lots of fishermen's huts on the banks of the river and uncommonly arched bridges. Porto is a port that is almost 900 years old. It has a lot of narrow streets among the former fishermen's huts. Also, the city center has a lot of squares with beautiful cathedrals built in the traditional Portuguese style.
Tired but happy we went to Madrid and flew back home. This trip will be remembered for a long time. Travel and explore!