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6 Scandinavia

Arthur Frommer FrommerMedia ePub

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.

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7 Germany

Arthur Frommer FrommerMedia ePub

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.

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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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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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