An Online Primer for Budget Exploration
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I. THE PLAN
WHERE should you go?
Even if you go to Europe in the peak of tourist season, it is still easy to get away from the hordes, simply by walking a few blocks away from the famous points of interest to lesser-famous or ordinary points. Tourists tend to mob specific areas, and groups are whisked from one sight to another on tour buses. If you enjoy walking, lose yourself in local life by heading away from the tourist magnets.
Here are some unashamedly subjective general thoughs on some European destinations, followed by links to the tourism websites for each country:
Scandinavia is expensive and there are fewer historical or cultural attractions, overall, than other parts of Europe. On the other hand, the large cities are gorgeous and relaxing, there are not as many tourists, and there is some wonderful scenery. Scandinavians love the outdoors and are very conscious about preserving the natural beauty of their countries. It is the cleanest and most efficient part of Europe, and one of the most beautiful.
Germany is something of a unifying force in Europe. The French and British are mutually antagonistic, as are the Greeks and Turks, the Dutch and Belgians, the Poles and Russians, the Danes and Swedes, etc. But everyone distrusts the Germans. Despite the stale stereotypes, I have more good friends in Germany than anywhere else and have been invited into more German homes than any other. Everyone in Europe has an opinion on Germany, and here more than anywhere else you need to keep an open mind. The country is large and diverse, and there are plenty of lovely areas; Rhineland, the Harz Mountains, parts of Bavaria. There are castles, cathedrals, mountains, a few quaint villages and some nice cities. The country is clean and efficient, but stereotypes are absolutely meaningless here more than anywhere else. You will still find the East to be rather dismal in more ways than one, but consider from where they started.
Switzerland and Austria are quite different from each other, yet they share an Alpine culture based on small, mountain agricultural villages. Switzerland has tourism down to a science and if you seek perfection, you will be most likely to find it here. Austria is a little more laid back and looks more lived in, whereas Switzerland seems too clean at times. Both countries are small and excessively beautiful; here is the greatest opportunity to experience scenic overload. Switzerland is very expensive, but you will fall in love with both countries. Little Slovenia, once part of Yugoslavia, is what the other countries were like decades ago, both good and bad, and is an up-and-coming charmer. It packs more into a small place than most countries.
Greece has a rather mystical quality to it, and again you have to overlook the dirt, crowds and inefficiencies. There are many differing opinions about the Greeks, but the general consensus is that farther from the tourist areas, the people become nicer and kinder. Especially here, say a few words in Greek from your phrasebook and make instant friends. With all its islands and history, Greece takes time, but offers many rewards for the explorer. It is inexpensive and connections to the islands are easy with many ferry boats, flights and "Flying Dolphins" (hydrofoils).
Turkey is another mystery for Americans, and everyone there knows about the movie "Midnight Express". Hollywood aside, Turkey is a wonderful and interesting country to explore, and is one of my favorites. The people are very friendly, there are some excellent historical sites where you can wander (and wonder) alone on 2,500-year-old ruins, the food is generally good, and accommodations are abundant. Istanbul can be a bit much with its poverty, grime and petty theft, but outside of there travel is almost always fun, very fascinating and fulfilling. Nonetheless, men and women will have different experiences, since women in Turkey are often not free to associate with foreign men. The further east you go, the more conservative the culture. Prepare accordingly. Still, it is becoming a favorite destination for the Europeans, who horde along the southern coasts. Turkey is also the least expensive destination in Europe.
The next section continues on to the east.
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