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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.

For native English speakers, the British Isles and Ireland are easy to manage because everyone knows the language (interesting slang notwithstanding). On the other hand, it is less exotic. It is damp and rainy much of the time, there is abundant history, and the scenery is nice although only occasionally spectacular. Some travelers claim it is relatively inexpensive but I find it hard to keep on budget there. Regardless, the people are mostly charming, and memorable experiences abound.

England: | Ireland:
  Scotland: |  Wales:

Benelux (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg), or the "Low Countries" are quaint, flat and very European. Holland is very modern and liberal, although Amsterdam is a rather bedraggled beacon for stoners. Belgium and Luxembourg are generally peaceful, with picturesque villages, farmlands and plenty of history, culture and charm. They just feel European, and are great countries in which to spend quiet, restful days. The Dutch probably speak the best English on the Continent.

Belgium: |  Luxembourg:

France is France. History, food, art, the Riviera... France has everything. Americans may think that the French hate them but it's not true: they hate everyone. Don't take it so personally. And they love to bust on the Canadians for destroying the Mother Tongue. Actually, I have spent a lot of time in France and most always found the people good-hearted and pleasant. Don't base your impression of the country on Paris: imagine a Frenchman basing his opinion on Brazil from a quick visit to Carnival. Learning a little French will go a long, long way, too.

The Iberian peninsula (Spain, Portugal and the nationlette of Andorra), traditionally part of Europe's backwater, is an up-and-coming part of the continent. After Spain's successful Olympic Games and World Expo, the country began to enjoy more favorable international press. Petty theft is a constant possibility, so watch your belongings closely in the cities. For restful adventure, explore the dusty little towns of both countries. Especially in Portugal, the rural hospitality is heartwarming. They don't have a lifestyle, they have a life, and they enjoy every day of living it.

Andorra: |  Portugal: |  Spain:

People who travel love Italy. If you are lucky, Italy will become special. The wine, the food, the warmth of the people and the sun, the beautiful little towns on the southern border of the Alps, the grandeur of Florence and Rome... If you are going to have a romance, have it with an Italian. It may take a while to see beyond the grime, inefficiency and occasional overt sexism, but give Italy time, and get to know the people. I did not enjoy my first trip to Italy, but I got over it. Try getting invited into a home for a meal. Unfortunately the country is not as inexpensive as it used to be, but there are still bargains. That's all I am going to say; discover Italy, patiently, for yourself.

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.

Austria: |  Liechtenstein:
  Slovenia: |  Switzerland:

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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