Across the Pond
- Calgary Luxury Living Magazine (1100 words) - Spring 2004
It appears that the grip winter had on my throat is starting to weaken. The old man was at times an ugly brute who left fingerprints, but none, fortunately were permanent. Huddled around fireplaces, we have all managed to (apparently) be much better people for the deep freeze we endured.
It’s a safe bet that the smartest of Calgary Living’s readers managed to skip town to play hooky on a white pebbled beach during the course of this winter. Salutes were in order as was the empathy we felt when hearing of your flaking and faded tan lines upon return.
In this issue we play an optimistic tune for a great travel year as our words point toward the spring and beyond that, the summer. With vacationers set to take advantage of the warm weather, it’s no wonder that the post-snow time of year is the busiest for people moving around.
One person’s version of holiday heaven is to shoehorn the kids into the car and bounce along the highway of life. Others prefer to grow roots on the back deck, phone cords yanked, cell phones uncharged, laptop buried under the pile of undry-cleaned suits.
In our last column, we talked about the wonders of travelling beyond our Canuck borders. Some of us, as “yutes”, backpacked around Europe and though running out of money, managed to return much richer, culturally. If you weren’t one of the ones who picked around Europe some years ago, please take a deep breath as Europe is actually still there and will be the focus for this bit of scribbling.
It’s still pretty big. The place is still bathed in diversity. Sometimes they still talk funny and eat strange things. Yes, there are still McDonald’s.
This particular time of year is the perfect one to start your travel planning. In fact, it also is a good time to consider a pre or post summer escape. The crowds at these times are smaller and the weather is nice and pleasant, particularly in places like Greece and other southern locales, which can knock the crackers out of you under a blistering noon day sun. Hotels all gear up for the summer rush and there are deals to be made before and after, believe me.
Where to go, though is always the question. My rule of thumb is that while the weather is nice, it’s always a good thing to try someplace where the winters aren’t that warm. Being Canadian, this shouldn’t scare us all that much, but places a little further north of the equator are great to visit. Scandinavia and parts of Russia are a bit out of the way, but offer all sorts of historical and cultural gems. If you enjoy, as Mark Twain ruminated “a good walk spoiled”, there are plenty of terrific golf courses in Sweden. They’re nutty about the sport there.
A favourite of mine is the British Isles, even though they don’t really consider themselves European. London is a masterpiece of a city that engulfs your senses. From the old English stiff upper lip of Buckingham Palace to the frantic buskers of Covent Garden and the London Underground (and everything in between), the place is a bottomless pit of character. A short train ride west finds the gorgeous town of Bath and just north of that, the charm of Wales. Going more north yet, we can meander along the coast of the Irish Sea and either head west over the water for the Emerald Island of St. Patrick himself or continue up the coast to the spectacular vistas of Scotland. Yup… it’s just like in the movies both places with little towns, lots of pubs and even more sheep.
If something a little more old-world European is to your liking, a ferry ride across the English Channel or maybe a trip through the “Chunnel” will hit paydirt. France, Belgium and the Netherlands all share this coastline and again, offer some of the tastiest of travel morsels. Fine wine and food are without exception in these countries and the simplicity of village life is certainly a far cry from what we find in the larger cities like Paris and Amsterdam. Take a barge tour of France and you will see the intimate workings of its people (and may we say, wineries). Amsterdam is a hysterical city with incredible history and liberal laws that would drop the jaws of any Republican, but again we come back to the word charm, which the place does have in spades. Likewise with Paris and Brussels, which retain their own gallic dignity and uniqueness. With three official languages in Belgium, it also makes for interesting and sometimes fiery conversation with the locals.
Moving inland we run into a great big lug known as Germany. The biggest kid on the block, hard working and serious is the façade, while the backdrop of those famous German breweries reveals a place that really does like to have a good time, particularly in the south near Munich. With east and west now united into one country, it is becoming an economic goliath, with all the growing pains of having the eastern half of the population trying to catch up to the west. Worth a visit? Spend a month!
South of here we run into Austria and Switzerland. Mountains abound and bike trips and hiking are perhaps the best ways to see them up close and personal. The classic reverberations of Salzburg and Vienna promise to make the cultureheads giddy too, what… with music of the ages, world class museums and opera houses as plentiful as Starbucks!
More south yet, Italy calls and yes, that too is a voice sweeter than honey. The rugged north is home to Milan and the romance of coastal Venice, which in turn, points us to the middle of the boot where the Roman Empire still burns brightly and Fiats buzz maniacally around every corner. This tasty country is also home to the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, where, as any Tony Soprano knows, a full belly from mama’s kitchen will cure all yer ills.
Being that Europe is just too big to really do a proper job of describing its endless virtues, it might just be best if we stop here before we start getting all teary. The hot passions of Spain and Portugal await us another time, as do all the Slavic countries to the east, which are also magic places with deep pockets full of great.
If we have done anything here,
hopefully it will have been to get you off the sofa and into a good frame
of mind to book a spring or summer vacation. After all, hooky can be played
especially well in spring and summer, when you can do it in short sleeved
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