Happy European (EU) Day!
To mark this day, I’ll share what I love about the 12 countries (plus 1 principality) I’ve visited in the EU (there are 28 member states):
- Austria – The hills really are alive with the sound of music (it’s also Mozart’s birthplace) in Salzburg! I highly recommend doing the Sound of Music tour for the places you’ll get to see in and outside the city. But the city that made me feel like I was meant to live there was Vienna. I dub it the German-speaking capital of elegance, from the architecture to the music. If you’re lucky, you must hear the Vienna Boys Choir sing!
- Principality of Andorra – Andorra is a Principality that uses the Euro but is not a member of the EU. This is the place to visit if you love mountains. If you’re trying to get away from the heat, go up to the mountains!
- Belgium – My memories of Belgium are based on the bits and pieces I remember from my visit in February 1998. If there was a colour to describe my impression of the city, it would be charcoal grey. I remember seeing the wee Manneken Pis and thinking how much smaller he was than what I’d expected. I remember going through an old moated fortress in Brussels, and I remember standing outside the Royal Palace gates. Clearly it’s time to make new memories soon!
- Czech Republic – I loved the Czech Republic, particularly the picturesque Prague, so well-preserved in all its glory! Although I had meant to stay for a few days, I ended up staying longer because there was so much to see. In fact, there is still a lot that I haven’t seen. If you’d like to do a day trip outside Prague, I recommend going to Kutna Hora. Sedlec Ossuary is a chapel decorated with skeletal works of art – chandeliers, coat of arms, etc. You just have to force yourself not to think about the skulls all around you. One place I would love to visit is Karlovy Vary, where the thermal springs are. One of my favourite beverages is a fizzy lemon thermal drink that I still can’t find anywhere else.
- Denmark – I’ve only visited Copenhagen so far and for one day only. I loved how environmentally friendly the city was, with the wind turbines and bicycle-friendly streets and sidewalks. I had two main purposes for visiting: to see the Little Mermaid and to visit the royal palaces (Amalienborg and Christiansborg). We would have liked to stay longer but for those travelling on the Canadian dollar or Euro, everything is just that much more expensive!
- France – What’s not to love about France? It was everything I imagined (sans annoying pickpockets in Paris) it to be. I loved Dieppe, Lille, Paris, and Strasbourg. I found people were generally very amiable. My tummy was always satisfied with anything it had to digest. And beauty – the country is Beauty.
- Germany – Maybe it’s because I have family from here but I feel at home in Germany. Although I lived in the south during my two years as a resident, I have enjoyed Hamburg, Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein. If you asked me which were my favourite cities, it would be Heidelberg (my student home town) and Dresden (the city that shouldn’t have been bombed). Unless things have changed dramatically in the last 8 months, you can relax knowing that everything and everyone is punctual, it’s a safe country (overall), and the products are trustworthy.
- Hungary – As a Sissi fan, I had to visit Budapest and it is no wonder she loved it too. Go on a hike up Gellert Hill and enjoy the beautiful view of the city. I was in Budapest for a weekend and it certainly wasn’t enough to enjoy all that the city had to offer.
- Luxembourg – I visited Luxembourg City for the second time in 2009 (the first visit was a drive through so it really shouldn’t count) and I loved how charming the small city was, with the 19th Century Passerelle viaduct and Adolphe bridge, and the remains of a Roman fortification turned medieval castle/fortress. What impressed me was that one could communicate in French, German, and Luxembourgish.
- The Netherlands – I’ve only visited Amsterdam, Haarlem, Lisse, and Maastricht. While in Amsterdam, I had my art dosage at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. Anyone’s who’s read (or hasn’t) the Diary of Anne Frank should visit her last ‘home’ and hiding place, Anne Frank Huis (house). Her diary really comes alive when you realise how narrow everything is and how isolated they were. Outside of Amsterdam, I recommend visiting Keukenhof for the 32+ hectares of flowers (mainly tulips).
- Poland – Although my main purpose in Poland was to do a WWII tour, I loved wandering around the historic Old Town of Kraków. I felt like I had travelled back in time whilst shopping inside the Krakow Cloth Hall. If you fancy a trip outside the city centre, why not go down the salt mines of Wieliczka. You’ll feel like you’re in a dwarves’ underground royal residence! Plus salt air is good for your health!
- Spain – Last year, I explored Catalunya (Catalonia) and enjoyed the unique Gaudi architecture in Barcelona, as well as the Ancient Roman and Medieval buildings in Tarragona and Tortosa. It’s no wonder people from rainy countries move to Spain for the sun, the healthy and scrumptious food, and the good-looking people!
- The United Kingdom – It must be all the rain that keeps England green! Everywhere I’ve visited (and lived) has more than met my expectations. It is the place for those who love history and literature – and period dramas. Aside from Germany, England is the second country where I feel quite at home, most likely because I was heavily influenced during my early years in the British school system. It is no surprise that I spent a spring semester living in the countryside in East Sussex whilst studying in a medieval castle, complete with moat, and that I recently moved to busy London. I’ve also enjoyed my visits to Bath, Brighton, Oxford, amongst others.
There are so many more countries I’d love to explore and revisit but I feel like I would need more than a weekend, a week, or two weeks to see what I want to see. For me, Europe simply cannot be backpacked. You have to live here.