In Europe, London and Paris regularly vie for the moniker of ‘most visited city’ while other famous cities such as Rome, Madrid and Berlin are not far behind.
From Ireland’s mystic western coast to the castles of Transylvania, Europe is undoubtably home to at least one of everyone’s dream destinations. As a ‘continent’ (obviously defined more culturally than physically), Europe relatively small area blossoms with with intense cultural diversity and incredible landscapes.
The 19th and 20th centuries witnessed the rise of the nation-state in Europe – a process which involved horrific and unimaginably costly wars. As recently as 2014, Russia redrew Ukraine’s borders by annexing Crimea. In the 1990’s Yugoslavia fell violently apart as smaller, more uni-cultural countries emerged from the wreckage, meanwhile many almost all the former East Block countries have lined up to join the European Union.
Europe is complicated and while Europeans may often refer to themselves collectively (often in comparison to Americans), I expect Finland has distinctly less in common with Greece than Alaska does with Florida!
In addition to Europe’s rich history and culture, there is no doubt that, for better and for worse, much of the world’s population has a strong connection to (at least one of) Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy or Russia. To varying degrees these countries held economic and / or military sway over much of the world sometime in the last two hundred years and while the USA and China are economic powerhouses, the essence of the world economy remains tied to Europe and its history of colonization.
As you see from my blogs, I have a dedicated interest in non-European languages, however it is not hard to understand why I speak English, French and Spanish the three largest colonial languages.
I love travelling in Europe and despite the often troubling history, there is simply so much to see and do. The British Isles – England, Wales, Scotland and of course the Emerald Isle, Ireland can literally be explored for years.
France is so much more than just its iconic capital and despite being the largest country in Western Europe, the high speed train network makes travelling around France a breeze.
Spain and Portugal on the Iberian Peninsula are fun and diverse. Winter temperatures are much more pleasant that further north and it is fascinating to discover how many languages are spoken in the region!
Switzerland – sitting as a neutral island – in the middle of Europe, yet outside of theEuropean Union has four official languages, beautiful mountains and and precision timing 🙂
Italy … the boot-shaped peninsula has Rome and so much more, including some of the wildest and most theatrical politics on the continent.
Greece is slowly emerging from a deep economic crisis and may have to pull out of the common currency. Despite these challenges, the Greek Isles are eternal and everyone should visit Santorini for its sunset.
Central Europe in dominated by the economic powerhouse, Germany. Since the conclusion of World War Two, Germany and Austria have emerged as stable democracies. Despite some scary extremist politics in a couple of areas of Austria, central Europe is now generally a bastion of stability, diversity and beauty. Infrastructure in excellent and the food is surprisingly delicious.
Further east, each country has its own story, price and beauty. It would simply be superfluous to name everyone, but we have travelled through all the countries with so much to do – and much more affordable!
Up north, Scandinavia can be extremely expensive, but so worth a visit. From Vikings to successful socialism all set among striking fiords! And of course Finland – where the crazy Suomi heat up in saunas before jumping into frozen lakes.
Framing the eastern border of Europe is the great bear – Russia. Austere, complicated and massive, this powerful nation is proud. Saint Petersburg is undoubtable one of the most beautiful cities on earth.