InterNations Insider Tips: Artistic, Amazing, Antwerp!

InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck explores the charming cities of Flanders — a veritable treasure trove, not only for lovers of art and history.

Grote Markt: A Tribute to Civic Pride

The best place to start exploring Antwerp is, without a doubt, Grote Markt (Market Square), the traditional heart of every Flemish town. Fortunately, it was barely a five-minute walk from my hotel to the place that used to be the pride and joy of the city’s burghers.

old town of antwerp

The merchants and manufacturers of Antwerp had plenty of good reasons for their civic pride: did you know that Antwerp used to be one of Europe’s largest cities in the early modern era? With a population of more than 100,000 people, it was second only to Paris (at least north of the Alps) and richer to boot!

The prosperous residents promptly created a monument to their financial and political clout: flanked by several guildhalls, the impressive stadhuis (town hall) still dominates the market square. With its many cafés and restaurants — though they are just a tad touristy — the square is the perfect spot to follow my example and relax with a glass of cool Belgian beer, perhaps a bolleke from the local De Koninck brewery.

Our Lady Cathedral: A Heavenly Landmark in Antwerp’s Skyline

Just like the Renaissance-style façade of the stadhuis dominates the Grote Markt, the solitary spire of the cathedral overlooks the entire town. Again, the iconic Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedral – aka Our Lady’s Cathedral — was so close to my hotel that I could hear the tolling of its bells. The biggest one, as my tour of the church informed one, weighs over 6,400 kilograms (that’s about the mass of an African elephant for you) and requires 16 people to actually ring it.

View over Antwerp with cathedral of our lady taken

Similar to the ornate architecture of their civil buildings, Antwerp’s wealthy denizens apparently didn’t do anything by half, either, when it came to the city’s most important place of worship – incidentally, the largest Gothic church in all of the Low Countries. Thus they commissioned Flanders’ most sought-after artist, Peter Paul Rubens, to paint its monumental altarpiece, The Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Today three other triptychs by Rubens are on display there, and until 2017, while renovation works at the Royal Museum of the Fine Arts are ongoing, more Flemish masterpieces with religious motives are currently on loan to the cathedral. So you’d better be into Baroque!

Rubenshuis: Selfies of a 17th-Century Superstar

As my tour of the cathedral demonstrated, there’s just no way of escaping Rubens, Antwerp’s most famous inhabitant. Therefore you might as well give in and head straight to the Rubens House, the painter’s former private home and studio.

If you are imagining a quaint little bohemian cottage, you couldn’t be more wrong: as Rubens was an early modern superstar, he could afford to build an Italian-style palazzetto with a state-of-the-art Baroque garden for himself, his assistants, family, and household staff.


The Rubenshuis has been lovingly restored and now houses several paintings by the master and his students, including self-portraits by the man himself as well as his most successful protégé, Anthony van Dyck — the selfies of the 17th century, so to speak.

But mostly, I was impressed by how many different talents Rubens possessed. In addition to becoming a renowned painter, he was also a shrewd businessman, a passionate collector of books and artworks, an architect, an amateur scientist, and a polyglot. Fluent in about half a dozen languages, he was among the “global minds” of his age, too.

Antwerp’s Culinary Heritage: Frieten, Filet, and Gefilte Fish

After so much history and art, I more than deserved something rather more down-to-earth — a proper meal, that is. As far as street food is concerned, Antwerp offers plenty of frietkoten, where you can partake in Belgium’s greatest gift to humankind, the erroneously named French fries. For more local fare, check out smoskes (baguette sandwiches stuffed with different fillings) or filet d’Anvers, salted, dried, and smoked beef with a unique flavor.

Potatoes fries in a little white paper bag

Unfortunately, my stay in Antwerp didn’t last quite as long as I would have liked, or I’d have used the time to try some of its many restaurants. As an important port town, it has always attracted a multicultural population, which is reflected in, among other things, the local culinary scene. In the vicinity of Antwerp Central Station, you’ll find both Chinatown and the Jewish quarter.

In addition to offering a wide range of Chinese restaurants, the streets near Chinatown are home to various Japanese, Korean, Nepalese, Thai, and Vietnamese eateries. The traditional Jewish neighborhood around Pelkenstraat hosts its fair share of kosher places, such as the famous Hoffy’s, which specializes in Yiddish cuisine, just in case you should be overcome by a sudden craving for gefilte fish.

Cozy Towns and Sandy Beaches: See Even More of Flanders

Okay, okay, I’ll admit it: I’m cheating a bit, as I’m recommending a daytrip outside of town. While there is still plenty left to see in Antwerp itself — from exploring the fashion museum to shopping for antiques and curiosities in Klosterstraat — you should also take advantage of the fact that Flanders is not a very large region after all.

Bruges, Belgium.

If you can’t get enough of picturesque Flemish towns, with their characteristic ensemble of market square, town hall, and belfry, I’d recommend following my itinerary to Ghent or Bruges. Both cities have a very cozy feel and offer the opportunity to take a leisurely cruise on their canals, provided the weather is willing. (Bruges is said to set a record for frequent rainfall, which would dampen the riverboat romance quite a bit…)

Or you could rather hop on an NMBS train to Knokke, a swanky and affluent seaside resort. Its promenade along the North Sea features plenty of chic bars, but if you’re traveling with your family, your kids will probably love baking mud cakes on the beaches best.

(Image credit: 1), 2), 4), 5) iStockphoto 3) Rubenshuis by flickr user Ramón)

Founder’s Diary: Antwerp

For his latest visit to an InterNations Community in 2016, Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck chose beautiful Antwerp, our second-largest community in Belgium. Here are his impressions from the official event.

The biggest InterNations Community in Belgium is, of course, Brussels: with the city serving as the de facto capital of the European Union and the seat of the NATO headquarters, it has a huge expat population, and 34,000 InterNations members call the capital region their new home. While I had visited our Brussels Community before, I’d never been to an event in Antwerp, with about 6,500 members our second-largest Belgian community, though it’s just a 30-minute train ride from Zaventem Airport. Obviously, it was high time to redress this!


Once I’d arrived in Antwerp, I checked in at the Hilton Old Town Hotel, conveniently located right in the historical city center, on Groenplaats, a quaint square watched over by a statue of Antwerp’s most famous resident, Peter Paul Rubens. Though the Hilton Antwerp is indeed a popular venue for our events in town, this one was hosted at Skybar, the city’s highest pop-up bar with truly amazing views of Antwerp, courtesy of Lindner Hotel near Central Station.

Welcome to the Jungle! — A Vibrant and Growing Community

Our Antwerp Ambassador Team — that is, Caterina, an Italian consultant from Genova, and Parry, a digital marketing and advertising expert from Pune, India — had been organizing a spectacular series of motto events for their community, from a Venetian masquerade ball in February to a spring break bash in April to a blue midsummer party in July. Both Ambassadors are doing a wonderful job at introducing their guests to various exciting venues in Antwerp and coming up with creative ideas for their official events. Now it was my turn to join their latest night out — “Welcome to the Jungle”.


As requested in the event invitation, I showed up dressed all in green: when packing my suitcase, I’d managed to dig an old T-shirt from my mandatory national service in the German air force out of my wardrobe. I’m afraid, though, that my somewhat subdued army-style outfit couldn’t quite hold a candle to Caterina’s bright summer dress and Parry’s golden leopard print jacket and top hat.

Before Parry donned his sparkly hat to officially welcome the more than 100 guests who had signed up for the event and represented over 40 nations, the three of us still found the time to discuss the development of a growing community and the challenges that the Antwerp Team occasionally faces.


The odd challenge notwithstanding, all the InterNations Volunteers in Antwerp have contributed to creating an active, lively community for expats and global minds, and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to thank our local Ambassadors and Group Consuls: the 16 InterNations Groups in Antwerp cover a wide range of interests from foreign language skills (including both Dutch and French) to art and culture (quasi a requirement in the Rubens city) to professional networking.

The City of Diamonds Shines On

Antwerp did live up to its professional reputation as one of the world’s major centers in the international diamond trade that night: I happened to talk to quite a few members working in the Diamantkwartier, the famous diamond district. Other guests weren’t even living in Antwerp themselves, but had traveled from neighboring cities just to attend the event: I think our Antwerp Ambassadors couldn’t ask for better proof of how successful their get-togethers are!


While the dancefloor began to fill, other members were enjoying the mild weather on the terrace outside, chatting animatedly about expat life in Belgium till late at night. On my way to the event, I had passed a memorial for the victims of the Brussels suicide bombings in March, the bloodiest terror attack in the country’s entire history. Though terrorism and safety in general were still on plenty of people’s minds, for obvious reasons, there was also a distinct impression of life resuming its normal pace, of everyday concerns returning to replace grief and fear. That feeling of normalcy is probably worth at least as much as all of Antwerp’s diamonds.

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

Feel the Fear and Say It Anyway

How to Overcome Your Fear of Speaking a Foreign Language in the Workplace

The perception of how good we are at speaking a foreign language can vary wildly from one day to the next. Relaxing with friends, you feel almost as good as a native. The next day at the team meeting you’re unsure if you can even remember how to say hello.

Modern businessman explaining his ideas to colleagues at seminar

Communicating in a second language at work is a daily source of stress and anxiety for many expats. It can undermine their confidence massively, make them tend towards timidity and be a big barrier to progression.

In my time working as a teacher I’ve seen usually strong and competent adults reduced to tears in the days before they had to make a presentation in a foreign tongue. I’ve seen emails come in from all over the world asking for help with how to overcome nerves in the workplace. I do my best to reassure and encourage.

Why Do Languages Make Us so Afraid?

The first thing to say is that nobody is alone with this problem. Nerves about speaking foreign languages in pressure situations is something almost all learners experience. In fact, the fear of speaking languages is a researched syndrome complete with its own Ancient Greek name, “xenoglossophobia”. Anxious learners suffer from mental blocks during spontaneous speaking activities, lack confidence, are less able to self-edit and identify language errors, and forget previously learned material.

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation. Audience at the conference hall.

I’m sure all but the most confident learners can identify with those symptoms to some extent. The cure is harder, however. Even for those who achieve a reasonable level of fluency with friends or in a classroom, transitioning those skills into the office environment can seem a frightful prospect.

How Can I Overcome My Fear of Speaking at Work?

So what to do? I’ve dealt with a lot of nervous students over the years, but perhaps more importantly, I’ve been there myself, having to use my German in the workplace. I know it’s not easy, but I also know that it always improves with sustained effort. Here are some tips:

Don’t Hesitate

The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it”- Susan Jeffers — Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Pretty, young business woman giving a presentation in a conference/meeting setting (shallow DOF; color toned image)

Bravery is most easily found in the moment. If we think about anything too long we can find a way to chicken out of doing the tough stuff. Don’t wait to start trying your language in the workplace. Take every opportunity you get right from day one to practice. The longer you wait, the higher your barrier to trying will get. The linguistic over-achievers are always those with a hunger to learn from the moment they step off the plane or walk into the office.

Concentrate on Your Pronunciation as You Practice the Language

Often it’s the small things that can make a big difference. If, when you open your mouth and speak up at the team meeting, you get giggles for mispronouncing a word or two, it can really knock your confidence and potentially make you mess up the rest of what you had to say. Often learners feel swamped by the enormity of the volume of vocabulary to learn and don’t read words properly. Less is more: learn one word, and learn it well!

purchased on iStockphoto in October 2016

There are a lot of pronunciation tools to help you learn, including one offered by Rosetta Stone. It makes students speak every single syllable of the words they learn in the tool and won‘t let them progress until they have done so. I found that this was especially helpful for German vocabulary where the words can be very long sometimes.

Speak Out Loud When You Practise at Home

Also when you are reading or learning vocabulary, do it vocally! Speaking the words out loud is another way to make yourself get every syllable and to focus, but equally importantly, it familiarizes you with the sound of the language and the sound of you saying it. The more you hear yourself say it right, the more likely you are to have it at your fingertips when needed.

Choose Your Battles

On the other hand, for some learners, baby steps are more appropriate. Those who are more anxious can do well through thorough preparation, keeping quiet in the toughest situations like team meetings and then scripting everything else as best they can. Presentations are a particularly good opportunity to practise a well-prepared speech in a foreign tongue.


Roll with the Punches

Most importantly of all, you have to keep trying! Learning languages is very hard and it’s very easy to give in to despair at the enormity of it all. A bad moment in the workplace can really knock students’ determination and tempt them to headlong retreat. It’s at these testing moments that you have to battle on, get yourself back into a positive conversation as quickly as possible and repair the damage done. The worst thing you can do after a knock is to quit and avoid speaking for a few days – or weeks!


Simon Goodall. Writer, Teacher and Marketeer with Rosetta Stone Europe. English Expat in Germany. Passionate believer in the power of language to excite and enrich all our lives.

Image credit: 1-4) iStockphoto, 5) Pexels

Halloween 2016: Let’s Have a Wicked Fun Time

Halloween, one of the most popular secular holidays, was mostly celebrated in the USA before it spread throughout the entire world. Today people in Europe, Asia, and Australia enjoy spooky costume parties, scary movies and carving pumpkins around 31 October.

Happy Halloween greeting card - text in vintage grunge wood type printing blocks against black lokta paper with acorns and cones

However, Halloween goes back to the ancient Celtic festival Samhain. People lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward off ghosts and ghouls lurking in the shadows of the increasingly shorter days. Samhain traditions were also incorporated into the All Saints celebrations on 1 November and All Hallows Eve, celebrated the day before. In the 1800s, Irish immigrants took these traditions with them to the USA where Halloween turned into a secular, family-friendly event.

Halloween pumpkin lanterns

Today, Halloween has become all about trick-or-treating, attending scary movie nights, and invitations to countless costume parties. But whether you light a bonfire in commemoration of the ancient traditions or find yourself at a Monster Mash flash mob, our events have something in store for everyone.

Ghouls, Ghosts and “Vintage Scary”

On Saturday, 22 October, we start off the Halloween party season with a spooky Halloween costume party in Minneapolis. If you enjoy dressing up as a ghost, ghoul or creature of the night, then this party is for you! Join other expats in Minneapolis for food, fun, and frights and don’t forget to add your favorite tunes to the party playlist.

The Toulouse Halloween Party on Wednesday, 26 October, takes place at the heart of the city. Although costumes are not required, you will want to dust off your witches’ hat, since the best costume will be rewarded with a prize.


Ready to eat, drink and be scary? Meet other ghoulish expats at the Bogotá Halloween Party on Friday, 28 October, and have a wicked fun time. This party takes place at a popular craft beer and tapas bar, and includes a costume contest as well as some fun games.

On Saturday, 29 October, it is time for Shanghai’s first Monster’s Ball at the glamorous M1NT Club. The theme of the night is “Vintage Scary” and, although costumes are optional, we would love to see you in your scariest attire, most devilish top hat or simply dressed in black with a touch of red.


Sydney’s Halloween Weekend awaits you on Friday, 28 October! For this event, the venue will be transformed into a carnival of tricks and treats complete with weird and wonderful performances, tarot card readers, contortionists, magicians and bed nail performers. Join us there for an unforgettable Halloween!

Park Your Broomstick and Have a Drink

On Saturday, 29 October, it is time for our Halloween party in Oslo. Aside from a fabulous event and a great crowd, a costume contest awaits you! So bring your a-game and whip up the best and scariest costume ever to win a great prize. Check out the pictures of last year’s party to find out what our Oslo Halloween party has in store for you.


Would you prefer to celebrate Halloween on, well, Halloween? We have something for you, too, of course.

Our Sarajevo Community invites all members to their Halloween party on Monday, 31 October. Creep, crawl or fly over and enjoy some chit-chat with other creatures of the night. For the first ones to come around and park their broomsticks, there will be a welcome drink as well.


Join us at the New York Official All Hallow’s Eve Event on Monday, 31 October, to celebrate with other witches, vampires, ghosts and ghouls! We are looking forward to seeing all of your creative costumes on a fun-filled evening of mixing and mingling. Check out last year’s event pictures to find out how New York does Halloween.

Get Ready for some Pumpkin Carving

Our groups are also in the Halloween mood and ready to wave their magic wands to provide you with a spooky good time.


On Sunday, 23 October, the Tokyo Culture Group is meeting up for some fun pumpkin carving. Bring your craziest ideas and get creative with your designs. This activity is also a good choice for those of you looking for a family-friendly Halloween activity.

The Sydney Singles Group is gathering for a Halloween/Black Party Harbor Boat Cruise on Friday, 28 October. This is a great choice for high-end party-goers and includes a full buffet and complimentary champagne. Of course, it’s not Halloween without a costume contest, so dust of your Halloween attire and join us there!


On Monday, 31 October, prepare to have a bloody good time with the Munich Party People. Dress up as a witch, a ghost, or come as yourself to mingle with other group members, hit the dance floor and enjoy a traditional Halloween party.

Trick or treat, pumpkin carving, movie nights or costume parties? Let us know how you are celebrating this year’s Halloween.


Image credits: 1) iStockphoto, 2) Barn Images, 3+4) Pexels, 5+6) InterNations, 7) Pexels, 8) iStockphoto


Digital Nomads: Myth vs Reality

When hearing the word “nomad”, you may be thinking of white-clad Bedouins traversing a majestic desert. But when we talk about “digital nomads”, which images come to mind now?

Originally coined as an academic term in the 1990s, the phrase didn’t take off as a popular buzzword before the early 2000s when rapid technological advances actually made “digital nomadism” possible. Twenty-first century nomads have their own online spaces and offline conferences, and the term might evoke a certain lifestyle: a digital nomad must surely be a young, trendy, and IT-savvy college graduate, sitting hunched over a brand-new laptop in a hostel in Chiang Mai, a beachfront coffee shop in Sydney, or a hip apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Moroccan Bedouin

But the reality of freelance work abroad differs quite a bit from the glamorous stereotype. Among the more than 14,000 respondents of our Expat Insider 2016 survey, one in eleven has chosen “freelancer” as their employment status. For 5%, it’s the status they identify with the most. It’s the latter group that we’ll be taking a closer look at.

First things first: only 27% of them think that the term “digital nomad” perfectly encapsulates their personality and lifestyle. For the rest, the more prosaic “freelancer” seems to suffice.

Female, Highly Qualified, Adventurous: The Freelancing Expatriate

Our typical freelancer is female (57%) and, at the age of 45.2 years, slightly older than the average participant in our expat survey. Contrary to what might be expected, such destinations as Australia or Thailand are not among the countries where freelancers are strongly overrepresented. Instead, we have found the largest percentage of freelancing expats in India, Italy, and Turkey (10% each).

However, the stereotype isn’t always wrong: 82% do have an academic degree. They also prefer working in such industries as education/research/translation (21%), media/advertising/publishing (20%), and arts or recreation (13%) — while the typical Expat Insider respondent tends to give a wide berth to the latter two (globally: 5% and 3%, respectively). The IT sector, on the other hand, is not necessarily represented more strongly among the freelancers (11% vs. 13% of all expatriates worldwide).

Working by the sea

What they have in common with the stereotype of the digital nomad, who chooses work to suit their life, rather than adapting life to the demands of their job, is their personal motivation for moving abroad: nearly three in ten (29%) followed either their partner’s career or simply their heart, while another 9% each stress the better quality of life abroad or their thirst for adventure as the main reason for relocating. Only 9% primarily came to their current destination for regular employment and switched to freelancing later.

Freelance Work Abroad: Conscious Choice or Last Resort?

More than one-third of expat freelancers (35%) indicate that they have opted for this kind of work because it allows them to live abroad and travel a lot, not just because they couldn’t find a suitable job in their destination of choice. Among those who would describe themselves as “digital nomads”, this percentage is, rather unsurprisingly, a lot higher (48%).

close up of man pouring coins from piggy bank

However, there’s the other side of the coin: those expats who took to freelancing out of necessity rather than for the sake of flexibility. For another 18%, it was solely the lack of suitable employment abroad that made them look into freelancing, not their desire to travel and be independent.

The second group tends to be the unhappiest of the lot: they consistently give lower-than-average ratings for individual job satisfaction, personal happiness, and satisfaction with life abroad in general.

Little Money, Lots of Time

Most freelancers living abroad struggle financially to some degree: they are noticeably less content with their financial situation than the global survey audience, and up to one-third (32%) even claim their household income isn’t enough to live on. Thus, it’s no wonder that 33% would rather have a steady source of income and 27% miss the security of regular employment.

Nonetheless, most wouldn’t want their boring old nine-to-five job back: though it can occasionally be hard to separate work and leisure, 78% in total enjoy their flexible working hours, and 40% only work part-time, a much higher quota than the worldwide average of 15%.

Smiling young black woman listening to music with smart phone

Despite being strapped for cash every now and then, the “lifestyle freelancers” and “digital nomads” — i.e. those for whom freelancing wasn’t the sole alternative to unemployment — are actually happier than the typical Expat Insider participant. Up to 28% even describe themselves as very happy (global average: 19%).

Unless their desert counterparts of yore, often struggling with a harsh life in a harsh climate, some digital nomads do seem to be living in an oasis of bliss!

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

InterNations Insider Tips: Bucharest — 5 Must-Sees in the “Paris of the East”

Malte Zeeck, Founder & Co-CEO of InterNations, describes his flying visit to Romania’s bustling capital, giving us five recommendations on things to see and do.

From Infamous Leaders to Showy Palaces: A Revolutionary Rebirth

Romania has a really fascinating history, which is reflected throughout Bucharest. On my first day I decided to take a look at the (in)famous Palace of Parliament — one of the best-known and most controversial buildings in Romania, which also happens to be the world’s second-largest building by surface area. I must admit that, in this case, “palace” is a bit of an understatement.

I was told that Dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu initiated its construction in the hope that it would be the prime achievement of his Centrul Civic urban development plan. The reaction of the population was mixed, to say the least — but I’ll leave the historical details to the experts. Just trust me when I say the Palace of Parliament is a must-see for anyone visiting Bucharest.

Romania - Bucharest

Seeing the Palace fueled my interest in seeing more representations of Romania’s history, so I decided to visit Revolution Square. It was in this very square that Ceauşescu gave the fateful speech that led to revolution in Romania and, ultimately, his execution.

One of the most eye-catching local landmarks is the Memorial of Rebirth, which commemorates the struggle of those who joined the fight to overthrow communism in Romania. The square is not only for those who consider themselves history buffs, however, as the architecture of the surrounding buildings was also a sight to behold.

Modern Movement: Art in the Capital

One of the buildings surrounding Revolution Square is the National Museum of Art, housed in what was formerly the royal palace. Home to Romania’s largest collection of art, the museum is split into two different galleries, and I decided to wander around both.

Central University Library

The first — the National Gallery — primarily houses Romanian artwork that represents the country through the ages, and I found it fascinating how Romania’s progression is mirrored in the art on display, from the golden splendor of medieval icons to the austere minimalism of Brâncuşi’s sculpture The Prayer. The second of the galleries — the European Art Gallery — focuses, as the name suggests, on European artwork, both old and new.

My recent trips to other cities in Europe have really sparked my interest in art, but my favorite part of the museum was the building itself. As you walk through the galleries, you can really tell that it used to be the home of the royal family. It’s such a grand building, with high ceilings, marble floors, and lofty rooms fit for a king.

The 1930s: “Paris of the East”

In the early 20th century, Bucharest was given the nickname “Little Paris”, and I was curious to find out why. The first undeniable similarity is the Arcul de Triumf — what can only be described as a replica of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. Originally made from wood and erected in 1878, the triumphal arch was built for the troops to march under after Romania victoriously became an independent nation.

Arch of Triumph in Bucharest, Romania

The elegant architecture, like that of the National Museum of Art mentioned above, is another reason why Bucharest earned its nickname. Also, like in Paris itself, there are a number of beautiful gardens and parks situated throughout Bucharest.

Don’t miss out on the pleasure of spending an afternoon wandering through Herăstrău Park — a truly stunning green space surrounding Herăstrău Lake. Much like the Englischer Garten in Munich, it really does make you feel like you’ve escaped the city. When you see the tree-lined pathways and the Belle Époque-style buildings firsthand, the city undeniably has a certain Parisian flair.

The “Original” Dracula: Not Just From Transylvania

A visit to Romania just wouldn’t be complete without a mention of vampires and, although your mind might go straight to Transylvania, Vlad the Impaler — otherwise known as Vlad Dracula — is (allegedly) buried just 25 miles outside of Bucharest.

I found the obscurity of the whole story fascinating. Thanks to his final resting place, some argue that Bucharest is the home of the “original” Dracula, but the real biography of Vlad the Impaler, as well as his reputation as either a bloodthirsty tyrant or a strict but just sovereign, is highly debated.

Sighisoara in Romania

Nevertheless, you can still pay your respects to the infamous ruler at the Old Princely Court. There, a bust of Vlad the Impaler stares over the courtyard and is definitely worth a look at if you’re interested in the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s vampire lore. If you’re brave enough, there’s also the opportunity to explore the remains of the former court from which Vlad once ruled. I politely declined on this offer — obviously not because I was afraid!

Experiencing Romanian Culture through Cuisine

No matter where you go, sampling some traditional street food is a must. Never being one to turn down an authentic local specialty, I decided to try some mici. Mici is various types of meat, ground together with spices and rolled into a sort of sausage shape. I had mine with some French fries and Romanian pickles — the one aspect of that tasty dish I could definitely do without.

romanian traditional food meat rolls mici with fries and mustard

On my last evening in Bucharest, I decided to have dinner at Aqua, a stunning Mediterranean restaurant, situated right beside Lacul Floreasca, with a spacious and airy patio overlooking the lake. The food there was incredible and the delicious meal, paired with the chilled yet sophisticated atmosphere, made for a wonderful final evening in Romania’s capital.

Not wanting to end the night yet, I made my way over to Nuba, a restaurant and bar specializing in Asian fusion cuisine, for a few drinks. This may not sound very traditional for Romania, but it really was a lovely end to a great trip.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Founder’s Diary: Bucharest

InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck describes his recent visit to the InterNations Bucharest Community and the InterNations Official Event he attended there.

From Budapest to Bucharest: So Much More than Just a Border

After recently paying a visit to the InterNations Community in Budapest, I was very excited to make another trip, this time to Bucharest, and see the similarities and differences between the capital cities of two neighboring countries, especially within such a short time frame. Although I found Budapest more aesthetically pleasing in some ways, the cities do have a number of similarities.


In Bucharest — much like in Budapest — there are numerous streets on which you’ll see an old, elegant building placed in between functional communist and brand-new modern architecture, which certainly makes for some interesting sightseeing. Although the cities are architecturally similar, Romania’s economy also seems to be lagging significantly behind Hungary’s. While Budapest reminded me of Vienna, in some ways, the general atmosphere of Bucharest was more reminiscent of Prague in the early 1990s — the visible legacy of the era behind the Iron Curtain combined with a very dynamic vibe.

A Personal Touch

Our InterNations Ambassadors are amazing people, and so I was very enthusiastic about the chance to spend some time with the Bucharest Ambassadors and get to know them a bit better over dinner. The event was hosted by Ioana and Stefano, but both Valentina and Ximena — the other two Ambassadors for the Bucharest Community — were attending as well, and also joined us for dinner.

Ioana is actually from Romania and has traveled all over Europe, having studied in Austria and Germany for a while. She is a very active Ambassador, and her local knowledge is obviously greatly appreciated by the other members in Bucharest — especially the new arrivals. Ioana’s husband also came to the event and was such a great help taking some amazing photos of the evening. An expat from Modena, Italy, Stefano has plenty of experience as an InterNations Ambassador, having previously been one in Cairo.


Ximena’s story is fascinating and her experience abroad is certainly extensive — the Colombian expat has lived in a total of nine different countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe! The fourth member of the Ambassador Team, Valentina, is also originally from Bucharest: she spent over eight years of her life in different areas of France before living in Poland for just under a year.

The diversity and global minds behind the Bucharest Ambassador Team certainly led to some fascinating discussions over our shared meal, and it was thoroughly enjoyable hearing about all of their experiences with expat life and the expat community. On top of this, being able to discuss the main concerns and achievements within an InterNations Community face to face with our Ambassadors is invaluable knowledge for me: it was very rewarding to be told of the great developments the Bucharest Community — which now has a total of 10,000 members — has undergone.

A Welcoming Community

The event took place at Barrio, a stunning Italian villa with a wonderful garden, located right next to Amzei Square — a handy five-minute walk from my hotel. Arriving at the venue, I was really impressed — the architecture of the villa is stunning. The helpers at the door were very welcoming, and I soon got talking to them. They’ve been helping out at this event for years now and said that they have seen a number of Ambassadors come and go firsthand. It was very interesting to hear about the development of the Bucharest Community from their point of view as well.


The local community in Bucharest does have a great reputation all round, and there even were Ambassadors and Consuls from all over the world — including New York, Canada, and Qatar — at the event. After speaking to a number of members throughout the evening, the international attendance at the event was of no surprise to me. Not only did the Ambassadors see to it that the organization was running smoothly, but the guests were incredibly friendly, too.

Why End the Night There?

The evening was a great success, and the Bucharest Community certainly is both very welcoming and very active. There are now 16 groups for various hobbies and interests from sports to wine tasting, and a large number of members are actively involved.


Of course, like in our other communities around the world, a special group of people deserves a personal thank you — our volunteers. We now have almost 5,000 volunteers across the globe, who have helped to make InterNations the leading global network that it is today. It is thanks to them that our members get the chance to meet up in real life, and I am always very happy about the opportunity to tell them so in person.

All in all, I enjoyed the event so much that, when it ended, Valentina, around ten other members, and I decided to make the night last as long as possible, heading to the Centru Vechi (Bucharest’s Old Town) to party at Freddo Lounge & Bar until the morning.

(Image credit: 1), 2), 4) Malte Zeeck / InterNations 3) Ioana Adina Marin)

Hungry for a Worthy Cause? Help our Volunteer Groups Fight Hunger!

Just like every month, we’d like to focus on a specific theme that’s of great importance to the InterNations Volunteer Program. The month of October puts World Food Day into the spotlight.

This day was originally celebrated in 1945 to commemorate the founding of FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Their original purpose was to eliminate hunger and malnutrition for all of humankind. While the world population has taken major steps toward this goal, hunger and famine still exist, even in wealthy countries.

The InterNations Volunteer Groups are doing their part to tackle this issue. We would therefore like to highlight how our groups in New York, Rome, and Brussels have helped to make a dent in the ongoing battle against hunger.

New York — Serving Food and Dignity at the Father’s Heart

In a twist on the classic soup kitchen, Jill David, Consul of the New York Volunteer Group, has encouraged several of the volunteers to spend part of their Saturday morning working as cooks and servers at this “sit-down style” of a soup kitchen.


Instead of needing to stand in line for their food, people in need can just sit down and take the time to enjoy an all-you-can-eat meal at the Father’s Heart. Here, volunteers serve guests at their seats to restore a sense of dignity to the 700 indigent people who come to be fed each week.

Rome — Sharing Hot Meals and Human Warmth

When you hear the word “Rome”, what do you think of? The Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, or the Trevi Fountain may come to mind. However, the Rome Volunteer Group sees the city in a different light from the carefree visitor on their summer vacation.


The group regularly comes together for an event called “Tiburtina Tuesday“: Volunteers team up with the Project Rome Team to serve over 100 of the city’s less fortunate inhabitants. This activity not only gives Rome’s homeless people a chance for friendly human contact or a shave, but it’s also a place where they can come to get a much-needed supply of food. The Volunteer Group routinely helps out at the soft drink bar, handing bottles of soda, water, and other beverages.

If you are ever in Rome on a Tuesday night, feel free to join InterNations and Project Rome as they can show you another side of the Italian capital.

Brussels — Treating the Elderly to Free Dinners and Friendly Smiles

It’s not only homeless people who benefit from a hot meal and a friendly conversation. Several times a month, members of the Brussels Volunteer Group go to the Marolles district to aid in the care of the elderly living in this neighborhood. The Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns who have taken a spiritual vow of hospitality, offer food and drinks to over 100 elderly people; moreover, they invite their guests to take part in various crafts and some basic occupational therapy.


At these activities, Consul Ana and the Brussel Volunteer Group play the roles of chef and server. The team of about seven members helps to cook hot meals and clean up afterwards, but they also find the time to share a conversation and a smile with many of the elderly who attend that night. After all, people do not live by bread alone.

In addition to the cities listed above, we would also like to thank the Volunteer Groups in Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Mexico City, Montreal, Nairobi, and Vienna for all the activities they routinely organize to eradicate hunger from their communities. All these groups reach over 1,000 people worldwide, proving that together we can make a difference!

Find out more about the InterNations Volunteer Program on our About Page or write to

(Image credit: InterNations)

The Anti-Attractions: Awesome Abandoned Places around the World

Admiring the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel? Check. Taking a selfie in Angkor Wat? Been there, done that. Petting baby tortoises in the Galapagos Islands? Definitely on the bucket list.

The world seems to have become smaller than ever for avid globetrotters. Sometimes, it’s hard not to feel blasé about the wonders we’ve seen. Perhaps this is one reason for the increasing popularity of the anti-tourist attraction 8170458882_a2c925ae12_z — the shut-down subway station, the functional sewage tunnel, the crumbling factory, or the eyesores of concrete tower blocks. Around here, a new guided tour called “Ugly Munich” recently attracted a great deal of attention.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an urban explorer or a fan of brutalist architecture, you may still enjoy the aesthetics of abandoned places. The forgotten histories of their inhabitants, the slow process of decay, and the gradual return of nature make for a fascinating mixture. In case you are looking for inspiration for your next vacation — admiring the midnight sun in Greenland is so 2015 — here’s an array of deserted destinations around the world, as well as the stories of their rise and fall.

The Hotel: Monte Palace (Azores)

There are probably few scenic lookouts that provide a more breath-taking vista than the mountains overlooking the twin calderas of Sete Cidades and the serene, blue-green waters of their volcanic lakes. In 1980s, when tourism on the Azores was largely in its infancy, some overeager investors wanted to cash in on this priceless view located on the main island of São Miguel.

abandoned-places-pic-5The Monte Palace luxury hotel was supposed to provide a five-star accommodation with 88 rooms, two restaurants, a bar, and a nightclub right on a mountaintop. Depending on whom you ask, that valiant attempt last fewer than twelve months, or maybe two years at most.

Today, tourists aren’t drawn to the “palace” by the promise of a king-size bed or a complimentary fruit basket, but rather by the ruined building itself. After vandals had done their damage and looters made off with whatever they could, there’s no longer a security service to keep out visitors. Though the curious do enter at their own risk, they flock here for an unusual kind of Instagram snapshot or, indeed, the marvelous views from the rooftop.

The Theme Park: Spreepark Berlin

Abandoned theme parks have their own special vibe. What should remind us of family outings and harmless fun suddenly takes on a sinister aura, dredging up long-forgotten fears rather than happy childhood memories. There are plenty of such places around the world — from the plastic Matterhorn ride at Nara Dreamland (Japan) to the signature dragon aquarium of Ho Thuy Tien (Vietnam) to the rusted Ferris wheel at Prypiat Amusement Park (Ukraine), which has become emblematic of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

abandoned-places-pic-3Seven years after its closure, the Spreepark Berlin — established in 1969 as the only theme park in East Germany — returned to an unexpected afterlife: from 2009 to 2014, it was possible to join guided tours on the abandoned lot, which also served as a popular backdrop for shooting music videos, police procedurals, or Hollywood action thrillers.

Unfortunately, a fire on the premises killed off the park a second time, but when it comes to the perfect “fairy-tale turned spooky nightmare” ambience, the Spreepark remains unsurpassed. And there might still be a “happily ever after” ending as the tours have just been resurrected this summer.

The Town: Kolmanskop (Namibia)

The ghost town of Kolmanskop, Namibia, is inextricably linked to the German colonialism in Southwest Africa. A German foreman overseeing the construction works for a railway line asked the laborers to look out for precious stones — and the crew promptly stumbled upon a diamond deposit.

This discovery resulted in a short-lived mining boom in the middle of nowhere: though only ten kilometers separate the settlement from the Atlantic Coast, the region has an extremely arid climate. The average rainfall amounts to less than two centimeters a year. But that wasn’t enough to deter businessmen and adventurers. abandoned-places-pic-4

Before long, they’d erected the replica of a tiny German town: the bosses resided in lavish villas; their (white) staff lived in modest dwellings, and the (black) miners, mostly local Aawambo people, were relegated to barracks on the outskirts. The “get-rich-quick” heyday of diamond mining didn’t last long. The deposits were depleted in the 1930s, and the lack of gemstones quickly revealed the absurdity of keeping iceboxes and running a bowling alley in the Namib desert.

Today, Kolmanskop is an open-air museum, where you can literally watch the sands of time at work. What about the foreman who started it all? His house was built on sand rather than diamonds, figuratively speaking. First, he became a millionaire — before losing most of his newly acquired fortune in the Great Depression.

The Ship: Homebush Bay (Australia)

This picturesque sight of a rusted ship hull metamorphosing into a floating forest looks like the perfect illustration of nature vanquishing technology. The former steam collier SS Ayrfield lies stranded in Homebush Bay, on the banks of Sydney’s Paramatta River.

The area used to be a center of heavy industry in New South Wales, but when the sector went into decline, the river bay more or less became a waste dump for ship-wrecking operations (hence the abandoned vessel) and toxic chemicals. Even today, you shouldn’t go fishing in Homebush Bay, and there are plenty more wholesome places to go for a swim. abandoned-places-pic-1

But the lush vegetation sprouting on the carcass of the steam collier also reminds us of successful renaturalization efforts around the bay. Though the waters are still contaminated by pollutants, most of the dioxin, at least, has been cleared up, and around the bay, salt water wetlands have been recovering thanks to natural heritage sites.

While you are in the neighborhood, don’t miss out on the opportunity to pop over to Sydney’s Bicentennial Park to explore their mangrove boardwalk or join a bird-watching tour!

The Station: City Hall NYC

Just like former amusement parks, closed subway stations — aka “ghost stations” — are a perennial favorite among urban explorers and fans of abandoned places.

The oft-cited term “ghost station” is a literal translation of the German term Geisterbahnhof: it was originally coined to refer to several spots in Berlin’s public transport network where the trains from the Western part of the city would just pass through without stopping and which passengers from East Berlin were forbidden from entering.

By now, the sinister-sounding phrase has to come to include all kinds of disused underground stations. My favorite is Kymlinge in Stockholm, by the way, a ghost station said to be literally haunted by a phantom train. abandoned-places-pic-2However, Down Street on the London Tube — repurposed to serve as a bunker during the Blitz — or City Hall in New York City will probably prove less elusive than spectral subways. City Hall is particularly famous for its unique architecture, with a curved platform, vaulted ceilings, art déco chandeliers, and stained glass skylights.

Both ghost stations have become visitor attractions for those interested in urban history and the hidden nooks and crannies of a megacity. If you are planning to travel or move to NYC or London, just check out the London Transport Museum or the New York Transit Museum. Thanks to their guided tours, trainspotters and history geeks can haunt the best-known ghost stations.

The hefty prices for this peculiar pleasure (50 USD and 75 GBP, respectively) don’t seem to deter the real enthusiasts. When I tried to join a Hidden London underground tour in May, but hesitated slightly because of the expense, it was sold out within one or two days.

Have you ever visited any abandoned places? What are your favorites?

(Image credits: 1) Abandoned Dairy Factory (4) by flickr user Jan Bommes 2) Stairs in the Monte Palace Hotel by Wikimedia Commons user Stefan 3345 3) Abandoned Amusement Park (11) by flickr user Jan Bommes 4) Kolmanskop Sand by Damien du Toit from Cape Town, South Africa 5) Homebush Bay Shipwreck at Dawn by flickr user Brent Pearson 6) NYC City Hall Subway Station 1 by flickr user Joe Wolf)

InterNations Insider Tips: Five Destinations in Historical Budapest

InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck shares five personal sightseeing tips for what many consider to be the most beautiful city in Europe — Budapest.

Chain bridge Budapest

I was excited to be going to Budapest as I had not been there for ten years. Luckily, I was able to stay at some friends’ apartment in the heart of the city. It was an amazing location close in proximity to the Parliament and the Chain Bridge. This central location made it easy to enjoy Budapest to the fullest.

Buda Castle: The Best of Budapest

I started my sightseeing by ascending the cobblestone streets of Castle Hill. Located on top of the hill, Buda Castle is the palace complex of the Hungarian royalty in Budapest. On my way to the palace complex I strolled through Trinity Square, inside Matthias Church, and around the Fishermen’s Bastion; all of them have amazing architecture and are great viewpoints to see the city from.


While I was at Trinity Square, I enjoyed some coffee and cake at Ruszwurm, a quaint little café located close to Matthias Church and one of the oldest bakeries in Budapest. It certainly has the nostalgic charm of a 19th-century coffeehouse. After filling up on sweets and caffeine, I continued on my way to the castle. From there, I had a fantastic view of the cityscape and the Danube River below.

The palace complex — an iconic sight of Budapest — is a must-see for any traveler to the city. Apart from sightseeing in Buda Castle, you can explore labyrinths, tour museums, and visit numerous art galleries in Castle Hill. Definitely worth it!

Sziget Music Festival: A Party like No Other

Another stop on my itinerary was the Sziget Music Festival. This festival takes place every August and is held on Obudai-sziget, an island located in the Danube River. During this massive event, over one thousand performances take place in the course of a week.

This party's on fire

I was pleasantly surprised that I had the chance to see Manu Chao, an artist that I liked when I was a student. Thanks to his ability to sing in a wide variety of languages, his music is a fascinating combination of different styles and cultures from around the world. Anyone else remember his first hit “Bongo Bong”?

Other popular performers were Rihanna, David Guetta, and Muse, but unfortunately I did not have enough time to see them. If you are a festival fanatic, the Sziget Music Festival is absolutely a stop to put on your list!

The Hungarian Parliament: The Stylish Face of Democracy

Renowned for its neo-gothic architecture, the Parliament building is a classic landmark of Budapest. This building is absolutely gorgeous, and the interior is even more stunning than the exterior.

House of Parliament in Budapest.

When I was sightseeing, I had to observe the facade from different angles to fully appreciate the building’s beauty; you cannot really see the whole building just by walking around it. The best view I had was from the top of the Fisherman’s Bastion, and the Hungarian Parliament also looks stunning from the boat on a night cruise along the Danube.

Széchenyi Baths: Bathe in Style

I had heard of the Széchenyi Baths before, but this was my first time going. The large yellow building itself is glorious: built before the First World War, the spa with its neo-Baroque and neo-Renaissance architecture brings back the atmosphere of the bygone Belle Époque. Today, it is one of the largest thermal spas in Europe — and it definitely is an adventure that I will indulge in again! It has 18 pools that vary in temperatures — from 27°C to 38 °C — and it also offers massage treatments.


The best thing about the spa is its affordability; tickets to the Széchenyi Baths start at 18 EUR online and you can add extra packages for additional costs. It is certainly not cheap, but it is not too expensive considering that you have access to all of the pools and steam rooms.

A piece of advice: reserve before! Luckily I planned ahead, but some of the other people at the spa were thankful that they had a free opening for them that day.

Citadella: The Best View in Town

Just like Castle Hill, the Citadella — a 19th-century fortress on Gellért Hill — is a great viewpoint to see the rest of Budapest from. It is accessible by either walking up a long staircase or by taking a bus. I opted to climb the stairs; this was longer, but the effort was totally worth it. The views on the way up to the top were incredible, and there were plenty of vendors offering snacks and drinks along the way.

Liberty statue on Gellert Hill in Budapest, Hungary

While I was exploring Budapest, I could always see a large statue on top of Gellért Hill. It is the called the Freedom Statue or Liberation Monument; the fourteen-meter tall statue near the Citadella symbolizes the Russian liberation of Budapest from the Nazis during World War II.

The Citadella and the Fishermen’s Bastion are definitely the best sightseeing points to overlook Budapest. Apparently the Citadel is even more spectacular at night, when you can see the entire city illuminated in a glittering glow. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to go there after dark, but hopefully I will be able to next time! After all, Budapest is always worth another visit.

(Image credit: 1), 2), 3), 4), 6) iStockphoto 5) Graeme Churchard)