Beer and bistros, but also Brussels sprouts and bureaucracy – these are the first things that spring to mind when I hear the word Brussels. Closely followed by “avoid at all costs when travelling by car”. Not many people know this, but the beltways around European capitals like Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels are not designed to let you whip past the city or even to offer easy access. On the contrary, they are designed to put you into orbit around the city until you eventually give up and go home. Which is why I prefer getting in and out by plane and/or train.
Having thus endeared myself to the inhabitants and tourist boards of no fewer than three European capitals, I’d now like to pick up where I left off with my alphabetical tour of KLM destinations. Faithful readers will recall that the point of my tour was to briefly discuss the origins of each city’s name, so that it remains etched in memory in letters of fire, only to be erased the first time you drink water. Jokes aside, I enjoy digging up this kind of information and, because I’ll be limiting myself to cities served by KLM, I hope you’ll help by adding and explaining any names I leave out, and by correcting any errors I’ve made.
Bangkok – Known locally as “Krung Thep Maha Nakhon”, making it the original “City of Angels”.
Barcelona – Possibly named after the Carthaginian leader Hamilcar Barca, whose son Hannibal had an even better PR team, who convinced the general to use elephants in his campaign.
Basel – The name derives from the Latin “Basilea” or “Basilia” meaning “Kingship”. (Perhaps someone from Basel can explain which king this might refer to.)
Beijing – China’s “Northern Capital” has had numerous other names over the past 3,000 years: Ji, Yanjing, Guangyang, Youzhou, Fanyang, Nanjing, Zhongdu, Dadu (Daidu), Khanbaliq (Cambaluc), Beiping and Peking.
Bergen – Originates from the Old Norse “Bergvin/Bjørgvin”, meaning “meadow among the mountains”. Having enjoyed the view from above myself, I can well imagine why the original inhabitants decided to settle here.
Berlin – The German capital’s name is thought to derive from an ancient word for “swamp”, although its inhabitants prefer to believe it stems from the word “Bär” (bear), which features in the city’s coat of arms and takes countless forms on the shelves of curio shops.
Billund – I couldn’t find any sources online, but “bile” means “unstable” and “lund” means “grove” in Danish, and Billund is renowned not only for LEGO but also for peat bogs. (Help me here, please, Danish readers.)
Birmingham – From the Old English or Anglo Saxon “Beormund ingas ham”, meaning “the farm (ham) of Beormund’s people (ingas)”. Perhaps Beormund derives from “bear mouth”?
Bologna – Previously “Bononia”, which is thought to derive from the Celtic word “boi” or “bona”, meaning “city”. The Celts ruled this Italian city for two centuries.
Bordeaux – Some doubts here: the Celts apparently named the city “Burdigala”, but other sources suggest it derives from the French “au bord de l’eau”, meaning “at the water’s edge”, a reference to the city’s location on the banks of the Garonne and Gironde estuary.
Bremen – Thought to derive from the Old Saxon “bremo”, meaning “edge” (brim?), a reference to its location on the banks of the river Weser in Germany.
Bristol – Derives from the Middle English “Bridgestow”, meaning “the place by the bridge”. The city is located at the junction of the rivers Avon and Frome.
Brussels – Originates from the Germanic “brocca” (marsh) and “sali” (room, building), the city developing around a chapel built on an island in the river Senne.
Bucharest – There are various theories about the origin of “Bucureşti”, as the city is known in Romanian. The name is believed to be of Dacian origin and may be a reference to its founder “Bucur”, who is thought to have been a prince, an outlaw, a fisherman, a shepherd, a hunter, or perhaps all of these things.
Budapest – The Hungarian capital actually consists of two cities on either side of the Danube: “Buda” (possibly a reference to “water”) and “Pest” (which means “furnace, oven or cove” in Hungarian).
Buenos Aires – The Argentinian capital was originally called “Ciudad de la Santísima Trinidad y Puerto de Santa María del Buen Aire”, which means “City of the Most Holy Trinity and Port of Saint Mary of the Fair Wind”.