With the world-wide economy in a bit of a slump and people watching their money more carefully these days I often have to overcome financial fears and preconceived notions that Europe is unattainable. Let’s get it out of the way right now; YES, a trip to Europe costs more than a visit to your family cabin on Lake Winnipesaukee, YES a trip to Europe costs more than a trip to Niagara Falls, YES a trip to Europe costs more than a trip to the Grand Canyon. All of these are fantastic travel destinations for their own reasons, but WHY, if it costs more than other options, WHY should you travel to Europe?
When asked, what destinations are on most people’s bucket lists, destinations in Europe usually rank highly in the top 10; Paris, Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, Provence, Capri, Barcelona, Rome, Munich, Berlin, Florence, Prague, Amsterdam, I could go on and on. Why do we all dream of European adventures?
1. Europe IS the Old World; full of history and charm:
Imagine yourself wandering narrow cobblestoned streets framed by old stone houses with colorful wooden shutters and window boxes overflowing with blossoms, or maybe having a cup of cappuccino, outside a charming street café, overlooking the Eifel tower watching a well-dressed old lady on her way to the local bakery, or a young mother pushing her baby stroller to the park.
If that doesn’t entice you to pack your bags than perhaps you can picture yourself touring old castles from the middle ages or standing in the Coliseum imagining the cries of the gladiators as they fought for the glory that was Rome. Learn about a world that survived horrible wars, the coming and going of entire empires and whose cultures are as old as the stones upon which you trod.
2. The pace of life is slower and the emphasis is on family and quality of life:
If, when you go to Europe you take the time to experience the people around you rather than simply collecting land marks for some imagined tourist merit badge, you will experience a less hectic and rushed way of life. People go about their chores methodically and with a sense of pride and purpose. Things get accomplished without constant stress and a sense of never ending urgency. Most Europeans tend to be more relaxed and less flustered in busy situations. Family life is paramount and, if you take the time to get to know the locals, guests sometimes receive the same treatment as family. Don’t be afraid of the culture. Embrace it and Europeans in return will embrace you.
3. The food and wine cultures are ancient and amazing:
The first thing to understand about most Europeans is that they shop for the food they will prepare their meals with the day they plan to eat it. Because of this, produce must be fresh and ready to eat, meats and poultry are cut to order and most food is procured locally. Strict laws govern many aspects of food; Dijon mustard can only come from the Dijon region of France and must be prepared to exacting standards, the same with Feta cheese and Prosciutto di Parma. In Germany, beer, by law can only have 5 ingredients. In most of Europe bio-engineered foods are illegal and “meat glue” is against the law. Bread gets moldy if not eaten within 2 or 3 days, milk goes sour in 2 days, food simply does not contain the additives and preservatives that we consume as part of our daily lives. When I asked my mother if she knew where the pork was produced that was sold at her local supermarket, she laughed and said, “Of course, it’s from Hans Peter’s farm 2 towns over.” It simply is healthy.
Wine has been produced in Europe for over 7000 years, it is believed that the first cultivated wine varietal was the Syrah and it was cultivated by the Assyrians and Phoenicians in Turkey. From there it made its way to Greece and to the Etruscans in Italy nearly 5000 years ago. With all that practice cultivating and making wine, they seem to have finally gotten it right, the wines are mouthwatering. Europe has many different wine regions and a dizzying array of varietals, to list them all would be a daunting task, but trust me you will fall in love with at least one of them and the hunt will be on, from the time you return home, to find that perfect bottle of wine again. Family run businesses reign supreme and chains are not prevalent, in the 1990’s Germany kicked Wal-Mart out of the country.
4. Getting around is easier than in many other places:
Europe has a very well developed public transportation system and, I can tell you from experience, that if you station yourself in just about any medium to large city such as Florence, Milan, Paris or Munich, you’ll have no trouble getting to most desirable travel destinations by train, subway or bus.
5. The language barrier only exists in out of the way or remote places:
In most places in Europe people understand and speak English, especially in larger cities. In all of our travels we have always managed to communicate and the locals really try to be helpful. In many European countries English is taught as a second language in schools so most people under 50 have a rudimentary understanding. That said, it can be considered rude to expect to be universally understood when traveling so we recommend learning a little of the local language - such as numbers, directions and how to say please, thank you and excuse me - it goes a long way.
6. Europe can be more affordable than you think:
As I said above, European travel is more expensive than domestic and the majority of that expense is wrapped up in the flight. There was a time, not so long ago, when flights could be found for less than $500, now, with taxes and surcharges flights run at the $1000 and above mark. Once you are within Europe your stay can be surprisingly affordable. Plan ahead and visit on shoulder or low season in the spring and fall (the crowds are smaller too). Stay at Bed & Breakfasts, smaller hotels, Gasthauses or Agriturismos. Join a group, group rates tend to be lower and you get more included in a tour. Eat at Mom and Pop places and have a larger lunch and smaller dinner (better for your figure too). In Italy, it is fun to have a big meal at lunch, return to your room and enjoy a pisolino (nap) and then enjoy a simple dinner at 8 or 9 at the local wine bar which usually serves small portions of pasta and crostini. And finally, because the airfare is your greatest expense, don’t short change yourself on time, once you are there, stay for a while, 2 weeks is a nice amount of time and you deserve it!
7. Countries are close together and they have a unified currency:
If you want to go on a multi country itinerary Europe is the place to do it. Again, you can hop on the train, join a tour or drive yourself. How about breakfast in Venice and dinner in Paris? The Euro-zone also has taken the headache of different currencies away. All is paid in Euros now and with the European economy down, now is the time to book your European dream vacation.
8. No Visa is required for most travel in Western Europe:
All you need to visit is a valid passport with an expiration date exceeding six month after returning to the States (this is our rule, not theirs).
SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? COME WITH US ON OUR GENTLY GUIDED TOURS!!!!