Europe: Five Essential Things to Know
World War 1 and World War 2
Without any doubt WW1/WW2 have shaped the Europe of today. In the period after WW2, whilst the consequences were visible (with destroyed cities across Europe) the actual remembrance of it was less. My father served in the RAF, but my mother was forever reluctant to talk or discuss the war and my father highlighted just the humor and camaraderie, yet as they turned 18 in 1939 their lives were determined then, as unlike the US there was no ‘GI Bill’, free education or a booming economy from which to benefit. Just a ‘de-mob’ suit and a promise of a UK Welfare Service. They were luckier than many across Europe.
Today, led by much maligned Governments, across Europe, we do try to remember and memorialize the Wars in a much better way. Poppy Day in the UK has had a new lease of life. Cemeteries across Europe are nearly all immaculate and today children mostly learn about it (which was not the case in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s). I do feel though, that we have also entered a phase of glorifying aspects of life during the Wars. The focus is on nationalism; the causes of the war and sheer horror are at risk of being lost behind flags and uniforms. There is no fear, destitution, dislocation or death on display at the increasing number of jolly re-enactments.
History on Display
Across Europe there are so, so many Museums, Galleries, Castles, Chateau’s, Forts, Cemeteries, Cathedrals, Churches, Roman Roads etc. many made 100’s or even 1000’s of years ago. Even if you do not visit a museum, look at the buildings in the towns and cities as pass by. Simply by looking, you will constantly see the rich history of this continent.
The Rail Network – Of Course!
As a teen my first epic train ride was from Bodo in the Arctic Circle to Sorrento in Italy. Today fewer do such journeys thanks to low cost carriers (and the tendency to want to visit the mega destinations only), but it is still possible, with fewer of those 6 berth couchette compartments but more high speed segments, to do such adventures. Then as now, there is no better way to see Europe and meet Europeans. Many of Europe’s stations are historic gems themselves and increasingly restored, (stop off in Antwerp for a personal favourite) in themselves, forming gathering, eating and even entertainment parts of the cities they serve.
The Beatles – still in Liverpool
About 850 million people divided into 50 countries (currently) constitutes Europe. The fascination with Europe is because nearly all have distinct identities, whether they be buildings style, the people, language, traditions, institutions, different strengths and frailties. The politics, change and vary, from the nationalist, to the socially aware, yet only a few at present with autocratic tendencies. Formed by slightly different experiences and outcomes of war, over the centuries that 50 officially recognized countries could be a many more, as countries, like the UK includes, for the moment, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – not to mention England!).
Europeans love sport and thanks to the early development and ‘invention’ of most of the now major global sports, have the better respected leagues in most of the sports. In fact sport is a key factor in national identify, Wales and Rugby Union, Germany with soccer (football) and so on. In short the variety in the small space that is Europe offers a wealth of destinations; again in recent times the big cities have become the places people want to visit. They are wonderful but read on for ideas of places that might not be on your initial Europe list.
Gdansk Poland, waterfront – The iconic French Deux Chevaux