Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Exploring Europe

When people start travelling, Europe is usually one of the first places they want to see. It is popular for good reason, with an enormous amount of spectacular architecture (mostly castles and cathedrals,) a tremendous variety of scenery from the near deserts of Spain to the tundra of northern Scandinavia and Russia, from the beaches of Italy to the highest peaks in the Alps.

Best of all, Europe packs a large variety of cultures into a small geographic area. I’m not sure how many different languages are spoken in Europe, but it is a large number. Not just English, French, Spanish,  German and Russian, some of the major languages, but Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Swiss Romansch, Icelandic, the Finno-Ugric languages (Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian) and many others.

Now that many European countries belong to the European Union and use a common currency, it is easier than ever to travel on the continent. For a first trip, I see nothing wrong with taking a bus tour or cruise covering several countries to get a quick overview. Or you may prefer to travel on your own with a Eurailpass.

In my opinion, if you are reading this blog you will probably want to visit Great Britain, where our English language originated. Britain is a small country geographically, but big on attractions from castles and cathedrals to the theatres of the West End in London and the British Museum. The problem is that Britain is one of the more costly countries in Europe.

 To minimize the damage, combine a stay in pricey London with time spent in a more rural setting where you can get an idea of the way England used to be. An area I particularly like is the West Country—Winchester, Salsibury, Bath. Bed and breakfasts are widespread across the country, and a stay in one will give you a view of real British hospitality  along with a very filling breakfast.

Another top choice for those of us of European ancestry is often the country or countries of our forefathers and mothers. With the ease of genealogical research today through sites like www.ancestry.com or www.geni.com you may be able to establish contact with distant relatives in your homeland. It can be very interesting to meet family abroad and to speculate on what your life might have been like if your ancestors had never left. Even if you can’t find any relatives, you will be able to visit the places your forebears lived.

France is the No. 1 tourist destination in the world, and with good reason. Fine food and wine, a tremendous appreciation of the arts and the art of living and a unique culture make it a special place. As with Britain, you can stretch your dollars by spending more time in small towns than in costly Paris.

The same applies in Italy, one of the cradles of Western civilization. Rome, Florence and Venice are wonderful but high-priced and filled with tourists, especially in summers. Seek out smaller places, particularly south of Rome, and your money will go a lot further.


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