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Arthur Frommer's Europe

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The 800-plus pages of this four-color book mark a milestone in European travel writing. It was Arthur Frommer who first set off an avalanche of travel to Europe, and whose subsequent writings and commentary have constantly expanded that market. And now Arthur Frommer has himself edited (and written personal introductions to) this definitive guidebook to every major nation of the continent. It contains his own insightful (and often controversial) advice and his views are supplemented by the current recommendations of the top experts and European specialists of Frommer's staff. Arthur Frommer, and his hand-picked experts, have created a classic guidebook that will be cherished and used by the many millions who regard him as the foremost expert on thoughtful and rewarding European travel.

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12 Chapters

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1 An Introduction to Europe

ePub

The Eiffel Tower, Paris.

In the immediate post-war years, when only a small number of Americans flew trans-Atlantic to Europe, the airlines decided to grow that business by offering an enticing “multi-stopover” plan. On it, you bought a ticket to a remote European city, and simultaneously won the right, for not a penny more, to stop by air at several other European locations en route to the destination city and at several more on your way home.

I waxed rhapsodic about those stopover privileges in the transportation chapter of my earlier book, Europe on $5 a Day. I pointed out that by simply buying a moderately priced round-trip fare to Rome, for instance, you could stop for free, and via air, at Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Zurich, Geneva and Nice en route to the Italian capital, and at Milan, Stuttgart, Munich, Frankfurt, Hanover, and Bremen on your way home. It was a stupefying bonanza.

And that’s the plan that I—and numerous other Americans—used for a grand European vacation in that faraway time. We flew there for at least a month’s stay, went to nine or ten cities throughout that month, and enjoyed a kaleidoscopic encounter with the Old World. We heard several different languages, saw different stages of history, learned about varying national reactions to social and political problems, ate wildly contrasting cuisines, and grew dizzy with excitement over the learning that resulted.

 

2 England and Scotland

ePub

The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

T hough it is technically possible to fly non-stop between the U.S. and an uncrowded airport in Manchester, hardly any large percentage of travelers does so; we fly to London, instead. It is London, that immense and sprawling metropolis, which kicks off our experience of Great Britain—and does so, as I have frequently seen, in wondrous fashion. It confronts you in the very opening moments, as you present your passport, not with an impassive or even scowling immigration officer (as in other countries), but with the nearest equivalent to a host welcoming you to a country estate.

“Good morning,” he (or she) says, in the orotund tones of a Shakespearean actor. “May I know the purpose of your visit?” “Thank you very much,” handing back the passport, as if you are a valued guest. And whether it is your first visit or your fiftieth, you are made sharply aware through such courtesies that you have arrived at the center of a remarkable civilization.

 

3 France

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Montmartre hill, with the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur.

T hough it’s nearly 500 miles from Paris to the French Riv iera, a great many tourists combine the two on a first trip to France. And they’re right to do so! While the world may have other, more compelling travel destinations, I can’t imagine what they might be, or how anyone could claim they are rivals to Paris and its Mediterranean counterpart. Paris is noth ing short of magical. And so is the Riviera and its adjacent Provence. That’s why we’ve combined these areas in this chapter on France.

The City of Light. I can never get enough of it. To me, Paris is on the frontier, the leading edge, of every touristic activity. It rules the roost in cuisine—who could deny that?—but also in art and museums, in concerts, dance and opera, in political discourse and intellectual debate (scan the newspaper headlines if you doubt that), in monuments and history (from the Panthéon to the Tomb of Napoléon), in fashion and shopping, in its cafes and bars (where you can sit the entire afternoon over a single glass of wine and not be asked to move on), in the availability of its civic services (get sick and a roaming ambulance with a doctor on board will almost instantly be at your side), in its luscious-looking open-air markets, in the excitement of its student life, in literature and economics (its resident novelists, philosophers. scientists and scholars are legendary)—and in every other field and endeavor I can name. Return to it for the second time or even the fiftieth—and it still seems new.

 

4 Belgium

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Brussels’s Grand-Place with flower carpet.

I t never fails to amaze. You round the corner of a perfectly ordinary street—in Ghent, in Brussels, in Bruges—and there rushes toward you a mammoth medieval square. Soaring belfry towers of the 1200s, flying red-and-yellow heraldic flags, giant Gothic cathedrals surging with vertical lines into the sky above. Turreted town halls adorned with streaming pennants. Intricately sculpted cloth halls and guild houses of the 1300s, the 1400s. Again and again, on every visit, in an experience that never grows stale, you react with physical thrill to the most radiantly beautiful city squares in all the world—in Belgium.

In a country of frequent grey skies, the predominant impression is nevertheless one of color. It is color that best recalls a Belgian vacation: the bright, vibrant reds and greens of Flemish masterworks of the late Middle Ages, the Memlings and van Eycks, the Brueghels and Rubenses, found in no fewer than 16 major museums; the warm, orange-yellow glow glimpsed through the casement windows of more restaurants per capita than anywhere else on earth, their interiors brightened by dancing firelight from open hearths, their entrances stacked with displays of red lobsters and black mussels; the festive rose-and-lavender stripes of the canvas bathing huts along the 70-kilometer beach of the Belgian coast.

 

5 The Netherlands

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Canal and St. Nicolas Church in Amsterdam.

M ost of it lies below sea level, which is why they named the country “the Netherlands”—“nether” meaning “low” and the name meaning “The Low Country.” (An earlier, medieval reference to “Holland” is no longer officially used.) And much of the land in the “Low Country” (Netherlands) was wrested from the sea by the Dutch themselves. “God made the world,” goes a proverb, “but the Dutch made the Netherlands.”

That effort has continued as recently as the late 1920s. In an astonishing act of self-improvement, which should be a model for the rest of us, the Dutch decided in recent times to increase their land area by building a 20-mile-long dike across a salt-water inlet of the North Sea. They (including ordinary citizens and not simply professional construction crews) dumped sand, mud, and stones into the very waters of a raging ocean, and thus walled off a large portion of the North Sea, creating an immense fresh-water lake. Later, they pumped water from that lake to create hundreds of thousands of acres of new land for towns, villages, and farming.

 

6 Scandinavia

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Copenhagen's Nyhavn district.

I n the days when the U.S. dollar was even stronger than it is today (in fact, much stronger), my wife and I furnished our first apartment with the revolutionary, ground-breaking furniture displayed in stores lining Copenhagen’s “walking street,” the stroget. We fell in love with Arne Jacobson’s “swan” (dining rooms chairs resembling the shape of a swan), with his “egg” (a large easy chair looking like a giant, cutaway egg), with stainless steel cutlery looking like something made for a futuristic spaceship. We were overwhelmed by the modernity of Scandinavian design, which we also found on our later trips to Stockholm and Helsinki.

That modernity continues to greet you in buildings and streets all over the Scandinavian capitals other than Oslo (be sure to take a walk along the pedestrian-only “stroget” —shopping street—in Copenhagen), and in their many futuristic structures. But the “modernity” of Scandinavia is even more heavily apparent in the social and political policies of these nations. Here was the birth of cradle-to-grave security, where unemployment benefits and old age retirement payments are a large percentage of what you had earned while working. Here are fascinating social experiments, like Sweden’s subsidies given to opposition newspapers: if, in a particular community, the newspaper of one political party is dominant, the government subsidizes a newspaper of the opposition political party in order to maintain a balance of political advocacy. Here are countries where poverty scarcely exists. And yet in all these countries, freedom of speech is an absolute (witness Denmark’s support of political cartoonists who outrage religious groups). Here, too, are countries where maternity leave is for at least a year (and paternity leave is close behind), and excellent, free-of-charge daycare is universally available.

 

7 Germany

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Museum Island on the Spree River, with the Fernsehturm TV tower in background.

I self-published my first travel book—a little tome called The G.I.’s Guide to Traveling in Europe —at a print shop in Oberammergau, Germany, where it was set in type by a Bavarian who knew no English. He slowly and laboriously spelled out the entire text letter by letter, speaking each letter aloud, and I spent so much time watching that process that I was also able systematically to witness the work habits of his fellow printers.

Each day, they returned from lunch with smiles on their faces, as if they were overjoyed to be back. Each day, they made the rounds of each person in the print shop, wishing “Mahlzeit”—a word that apparently meant “I-hope-you-had-a-good-lunch”—to each one of them, individually. And it gradually dawned on me that they were unlike any commercial staff that I had ever seen.

Unlike other people, who work to live, they lived to work—they enjoyed working. They were eager to produce, to labor, to create the best possible print shop. And although you obviously can’t draw larger conclusions from this one group of Germans, I nevertheless thought I had seen something important. I had witnessed the determination, the drive, that had almost permitted them to win the war—and that was now making an economic powerhouse out of their country.

 

8 Austria

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The Salzburg skyline with Hohensalzburg fortress.

A considerable part of my Army service was spent in a mountain village of Bavaria, just a half-hour by car from the Austrian border. And though I spent the weekdays teaching covert intelligence at a secretive military school, I devoted many weekends to forays into the picturesque and nearby Austrian city of Innsbruck, which resembled—to an uncanny extent—the Sound of Music town of Salzburg. I was constantly surrounded by mountains, and it was thrilling to be there.

In fact, nearly three-quarters of the terrain of Austria consists of mountains—it lies squarely in the Alps. As you travel through it, you are only occasionally in flat lands less than 500 meters high. And although those infrequent “plateaus” are occasionally devoted to industries and commerce, the general picture you receive is that of a tourist’s paradise. Your memories are of villages occupied by country folk wearing dirndls if they are women and lederhosen (short pants) if they are men, all of them living in the most picturesque, decorated, and colorfully painted alpine-style buildings clustered around the high and narrow pointed spire of a church. Tourism is immensely important in Austria, second only to more general forms of commerce. A huge number of Europeans come here for skiing in the winter and mountain hiking in the warmer months.

 

9 Switzerland

ePub

The Glacier Express in the Swiss Alps.

B ecause of a widespread belief that the Swiss keep themselves aloof from the issues and problems confronting the rest of the world, a vacation in Switzerland can often seem a rather odd experience. It occurs among a people with a reputation—whether justified or not—for strongly isolationist attitudes. One hesitates to query them about their viewpoints on political or other serious matters.

A n acquaintance of mine once summed up his understanding of that nation in the following analogy: pose a topic of politics to the average European, he said, and their eyes will light up with interest, their arms and hands will flail about, they will forcefully express an opinion. Pose the same question to most Swiss and, in his experience, their eyes will film over with boredom, and they will switch the subject to something trivial. They simply don’t want to burden themselves with the cares afflicting other nations or other peoples.

 

10 Italy

ePub

A gondola on the Grand Canal, Venice.

I was overwhelmed by my first contact with Italy. I was so affected by its visual sights that in a guidebook designed to deal with dry, dollars-and-cents matters (as my Europe on $5 a Day was initially planned to do), I grew lyrical in a chapter dealing with Venice. Arriving there by night, I wrote that “little clusters of candy-striped mooring poles emerge from the dark; the reflection of a slate-grey church bathed in a blue spotlight, shimmers in the water as you pass by.” I was literally turned on.

And the people! Unlike the laid-back, reticent, soft-spoken types of northern Europe, here were those who wore emotions on their sleeves. I gloried in the sounds of Italy, in the excitability of shopkeepers, the shouts of merchants and customers, the warm embraces of friends meeting on the street, the happy seniors playing bocce balls in parks and open spaces, the swaggering fashionistas both male and female. I marveled at the giant Roman ruins, the elaborate statuary more numerous than in any other country, the resplendent churches with frescos by artists of genius. I loved the food, the endless varieties of pasta, the Chiantis that accompanied the meals, and the espressos that ended them.

 

11 Spain

ePub

Cafes in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor.

I t’s an awkward adage, but it’s often said that Europe brings to you only what you bring to it. If you arrive in Spain without some prior knowledge of its turbulent history—in other words, if you have failed first to read deeply about its unusual past, you will fail to enjoy the best rewards of travel. You will not thrill to the Spanish experience.

Why is that history so unusual, requiring study? Well, would you believe that for seven hundred years, Spain was a Muslim nation occupied by Moorish armies who left distinctive structures in their wake? Would you ever have understood that Spain’s awesome power permitted it, in the 1500s, to subjugate such faraway nations as Belgium, The Netherlands and the Philippines? Would you have fully understood how the people of Spain so colonized vast areas of the world that today some 500 million people around the world speak Spanish (the world’s second most common language)? Would you have understood how Spain was a violent testing ground for the later military conquests of Adolf Hitler, leaving such relics as a cathedral in honor of Fascist soldiers and Picasso’s searing mural of Guernica, both on display at locations outside of and within Madrid?

 

12 Planning Your Trip to Europe

ePub

Gare du Nord railway station, Paris.

A little planning goes a long way, especially when you are traveling to and through a continent with several different languages, transport systems, airlines, festivals, and sights to see. This chapter provides a variety of invaluable aids, including information on how to get there from the U.S. and Canada, the U.K., and Australia or New Zealand; the most efficient and budget-friendly ways of getting around; tips on where to stay; and quick, on-the-ground resources for savvy travel around Europe.

Getting There

By Plane

Pretty much every major world airline offers competitive fares to a variety of European cities. Price wars break out regularly, deals come on- and off-stream, and tariffs can change overnight. The key factor determining what you’ll pay is season: Tickets tend to be cheaper if you fly off season. High season on most routes is usually from June to mid-September and around Christmas and New Year—the most expensive and most crowded time to travel. Shoulder season in most countries is from April to May and mid-September to October. Low season—usually with the cheapest fares and regular aggressive offers—is from November to mid-December and January to March. You can sometimes save money by flying midweek, too, or by spending at least a Saturday night in your destination.

 

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