“Lying in a den in Bombay with a slack jaw and not much to say” – Men at Work.
Can cities and places change their names? Yes actually they can and they have and they continue to do it. It was something I realised quite soon on my journey, all related to my first ever World Atlas that my parents bought me. That Atlas was given to me around 1986, when Yugoslavia was one country, East Timor wasn’t independent, USSR was essentially one union, nobody had heard of Bougainville and Germany was two countries including a divided city (Berlin). When I backpacked through Zaire, confusion reigned when I heard locals refer to it as Zaire, when the global world had told us to call it the cumbersome “Democratic Republic of Congo”. Zaire and Eswatini may be country name changers, but here are some cities/towns that have altered their names down the years.
Downtown Chennai baby was an eyeopener. Dirty beaches, chaotic markets, over-charging tuk tuk drivers and nothing short of textbook Indian mayhem. This was once a British garrison outpost, merely a decent train station remains. My entrance at dawn from a night train via Bangalore didn’t leave much for my travel weary head to get impressed about. The madness is what sold it. I stayed at the Chennai Elements hostel but realised I needed out of here soon. An escape plan was hatched and I left Madras for Port Blair on a crazy Saint Patrick’s Day journey. I didn’t even stomach the old Chicken Madras on the way out of town…
I recently reflected in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis about my time spent whackpacking all over China. I had been to so many cities, towns, settlements, national parks and remote villages I forgot the names of. One of these was Amoy. Sorry Xiamen. Xiamen was my first EVER city to backpack through beginning with letter X (as I then counted Shinying as an “s” rather than Xinying). I remember telling Panny I had never heard of Xiamen (pronounced Shaa Menn) before. She suggested maybe I knew “Amoy”. Yes, yes I did. We even had some Amoy sauce when I worked in a Northern Irish supermarket. But here I was backpacking in Xiamen!
Iraq is a political enigma, but nothing compared to Kurdistan. While I have visited both places, Kurdistan also includes Turkey, Syria and Iran within its borders. To try and understand the puzzle, I visited the city of Erbil. Erbil is also known as Arbil and Irbil! Confusing enough as it is. Plus it has a beautiful walled Citadel and a cosy little Christian District, Ainkawa. And then you discover that some people call it Hawler…
The Bul could well be the most obvious inclusion on this list. Nobody refers to it as Constantinople these days. History is history and we are left to revel in modern day Istanbul, a city that joins the Middle East region to Europe across the Bosphorous. The city has also been known as Byzantium in its history.
Not only did I backpack through Frunze (now Bishkek of course), but I based myself here from December 2015 – April 2016 on my Central Asian adventure. Why? Because the city was immense. It was cheap, magnetic, friendly, welcoming, visa free (at the time every three months), had great Wi-Fi cafes, good bars, lots of sights and was easy to get visas for other countries in. Frunze is dead. The place is Bishkek now, renamed that in 1991 after the fall of the USSR and communism. Thankfully the city’s other previous name, Pishpek, was overlooked.
I nicknamed sweet little Podgorica as Poddy on my first visit there in 2016. It is the current capital of Montenegro, once named Titograd after we know who. Tito died in 1980 and Yugoslavia struggled through the remainder of its communist years, then in 1992 the city was finally renamed appropriately Pod-Gorica which in Polish means “Before the mountain” so I guess my knowledge of Slavic languages is better than I thought, as this is where Poddy sits. You can still grab a beer at the city’s Titograd pub though.
The creepiness and eeriness couldn’t fail to enter my world-charred brain as I gatestepped my way through the almost empty streets of Dushanbe. I once toured Stalin’s town of Gori, in Georgia. Here I was now in Stalinabad. From my cosy Marian’s Guest House to the world’s largest tea house to the crazy border trip to Uzbekistan, never mind Gorno Badakhshan, this city had all the trimmings of a horror movie gone wrong. But, I liked it.
Once German, now Polish, delightful Wrocław in Poland is now a hugely popular tourist city. An under-rated gem and once the sixth biggest city in Germany, this is now pure Polish pride. In August 1945, the city had a German population of 189,500, and a Polish population of 17,000. Times have changed and as you backpack through its wonders, don’t neglect to visit the many bridges, the Centennial Hall, numerous gnomes on the streets and the striking amberic yellow train station. It’s a wee bit of a gem.
Yangon was another city I spent about 4 days in yet never really wrote much about it! I did the full circle line train there, toured Insein, the Shwedagon Pagoda, pink elephants, the Marble Buddha and stayed in two different parts of the city.
Here we were on the rip in Mumbai – myself and my travel buddies Joe (from England) and Katia (from Brazil). We headed to a bar to drink Bombay Sapphire gins, just because we were in Bombay! Well actually it is Mumbai now of course.
Baile Átha Cliath
I have visited Baile Átha Cliath over fifty times and still get a bit upset that most people, including locals, tourists, airlines etc. call it by a different name. It should always be Baile Átha Cliath.
“In Dublin’s fair city where the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone” – Anon.