Cousin Teresa was being serious when we saw her in Sao Paulo back in February (see PC 91). She wanted to take her son to Europe, to ‘show him Europe’, and she had 15 days holiday. We had a similar conversation a couple of weeks later with a great friend in Rio de Janeiro who had the same idea! Same idea and same time-frame. I was reminded of that joke about American tourists ‘doing Europe’. As they got off the coach in a large city, one turned to the other and asked: “Where are we?” His companion consulted her itinerary and responds: “It’s Tuesday so it must be Brussels.”
We are so, so lucky, living in an age when travel is comparatively easy, reasonably affordable and moving from A to B quick. Did you realise, for instance, the cost of air travel has halved in the last thirty years? Those of you who read PC 44 will understand that to get to Alaska in 1900 George had to train to Liverpool, get a boat to New York, train to Winnipeg and then across Canada to Seattle, before taking the ferry to Skagway and his onwards journey overland to Dawson City. His total A – B was 6 weeks, which included 3 weeks to Seattle; we flew there in just under 10 hours!!
Certainly in the 19th and maybe first half of the 20th centuries tourism was only available to the rich; before then it was probably a strange concept!! The Grand Tour was an essential part of one’s education if you were wealthy, visiting the cultural hotspots of Europe’s capital cities before going to university. Now of course anybody who has some time and some money can do it. And if you live here in the UK, you can drive, fly, train, cycle across The Channel so easily and go often – lunch in Paris anyone?? But if you don’t ……
The Swiss Alps
When someone says ‘Europe’ I wonder what that means to them. Is it the buildings, the physical shape of history so visible in every country? Incidentally did you know that Warsaw was completely rebuilt after the Germans flattened it in 1944? Is it the smell of the place, like when get off an airplane in say Singapore and are greeted by the ‘smell’ of South East Asia? Is it the history of the place, so influential in the development of the world as we know it? Oh! I know the Chinese invented gunpowder and silk and chop sticks etc etc and having a European centric view is passé but if it hadn’t been for Columbus, Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama, Cook …… and the Europeans who went out to conquer, settle, invade, subjugate …… what sort of world would we have today? Is it the culture, oozing out of every European pore? Or the geography …. from the Nordic fjords to the Mediterranean coasts, from the wild Atlantic through the Alps to the Black Sea and the border with Asia?
Nowadays if you want to ‘see’ Europe you could just as well go online and virtually visit anywhere. Open up Goggle Maps and have a virtual drive through the Brenner Pass. Rijks Museum? Not a problem …. http://www.rijksmuseum.nl would you do it ….. and off you go, exploring the works of Rembrandt and Van Dyke ……. from the comfort of your chair ….. and not costing a penny. But that’s cheating? Is it? Instant gratification without any cost – sounds like the C21st to me.
So the question is, where would you plan to go and what would you hope to see with a limited time budget – 15 days? Europe is small and extremely crowded, about the same size as, say, Australia …….
….. but the distances are more doable and transport easy.
Many years ago when family were visiting from New Zealand, having collected them from Heathrow Airport we drove into central London before going home. It was nighttime and suddenly there was Buckingham Palace, down The Mall into Trafalgar Square with a floodlit Nelson on top of his column, and at the end of Whitehall Big Ben, physically there, reaching up into the dark sky. You could see the excitement on the faces of both children and adults as they looked out of the car windows. Personally I remember the first time I went to the Louvre museum in Paris …… and stood before the Mona Lisa …… or in Sienna Cathedral staring at the wonderful sculpture by Michelangelo La Pietà ……. and went all goose-pimply because here it was, in front of me, not just some photograph from a glossy magazine.
Fifteen days huh. First time ever? Seven cities/countries – two days each? The must visit list could include London, Paris, Rome & Firenze, Berlin (I’ve never been as it was behind the Iron Curtain when I did my travels in Europe), Vienna (small and compact) and maybe Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum!). But what about the cradle of civilization, Greece, or the Scandinavian countries, or Britain’s oldest ally, Portugal? And if we are talking about the whole of Europe, the capital cities of the old Warsaw Pact countries, the beauty of Bucharest or Bratislava or Budapest must feature, surely? And what about the Baltic States? Or more ‘modern’ destinations like Prague and Barcelona, although they have become victims of their own success at drawing the tourists? If we’re still talking about Europe, then Istanbul must feature? And of course the trouble with a rushed crowded schedule is half the time is spent on a train, in a car, on an airplane, or just waiting at the airport for the latter, to get from A to B; packing, unpacking, packing!
So you get a flavour, a sense of the greatness of this area of the world, for that’s all you can do in fifteen days. Promises are no doubt also made, for it simply whets the appetite for a return trip, when time and money are more flexible. But come you surely must, if only for fifteen days!
Richard 4th June 2017
PS I remember the first time I went to Rio de Janeiro and, on the night-time drive in from the airport, saw the floodlit statue of Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado! Wow! No more photographs, there it was.