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11 Spain

Arthur Frommer FrommerMedia 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?

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8 Austria

Arthur Frommer FrommerMedia ePub

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.

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10 Italy

Arthur Frommer FrommerMedia 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.

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2 England and Scotland

Arthur Frommer FrommerMedia 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.

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1 An Introduction to Europe

Arthur Frommer FrommerMedia 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.

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