As I write, Europe is changing rapidly, though few Americans seem aware of it

As I write, Europe is changing rapidly, though few Americans seem aware of it. The European Union is about to be dramatically enlarged by some dozen or so countries in what I had always thought of as Eastern Europe. Yet once the Cold War took its last foul breath and expired I realized that those countries I had always thought of as being in Eastern Europe had in fact regained their proper geography as residents of Central Europe. Add to this the unsettling realization for many that while the traditional population of Europe is shrinking, the Muslim component of Europe’s population is growing, and not slowly. This will be the next great challenge for a continent that has seen many challenges and, I will add, not handled all of them well. These changes will also be very important for us since, through ancestral ties and shared history, we are in a real sense bound together. So with this in mind, the trip my wife Tricia and I took through Europe in 2002 was not entirely focused on those places normally thought of as the cities one sees in Europe.

There is another motive for this trip as well.  My wife Tricia and I like Latin America very much and have spent most of our time in that part of the world. But the food in Latin America tends to make me sick, literally.  This of course is a generalization, and like all generalizations it is occasionally untrue but, unfortunately, it is more often true than not. I vividly recall a night of almost exquisite nausea in Lima, Peru when, after eating a sandwich of fresh pork sliced on the spot from a large roast that seemed at the time so appealing, I was afraid that I might live until morning. So, near the conclusion of our trip the year before through Latin America, when I was swallowing Imodium as though eating popcorn, we turned to each other and said, “Why don’t we go to Europe next year?” Indeed, why not?

In planning for this trip we had determined to begin whenever it became warm enough to be pleasant and to take whatever time we wished, and to go wherever we wished to go.  Unless one counts a few quick trips for business, we had been to Europe only once previously. That trip began with a voyage across the Atlantic from Miami to Barcelona on the SS Norway. Only after we reached Barcelona did we come to realize that Spain was the very country that had screwed up Latin America, culinarily-speaking (and without delving here into politics, perhaps in other ways as well). So in planning for this trip we determined immediately to leave Spain out of our itinerary, one variable out of the equation.  Of course, like everyone, we had heard and read of the food of Italy and France and so they went on the list immediately. Others followed for various reasons, and since we are now in the enviable position of not having to report to work on any given Monday, the list became longer and longer. In the end it  turned out to be a very long trip indeed, more than three months

 

Since there are two of us, we of course had four different ideas of how this trip should proceed. Until now, when planning a vacation, we had known where we were going, at least to a clearer specification than merely Europe. The individual countries in Europe tend to seem small to Americans. “Oh,” one might say in Düsseldorf, “let’s shoot over to Paris.” And lo and behold it’s only a few hundred miles, like going, say, from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, but since you can drive 100 miles an hour or more (and you will still have big Mercedes sedans passing you in the fast lane on the left) the distance seems even shorter. Nevertheless these little places seem to add up after a while, there’s so many of them, and next thing you know you’ve got a pretty big place on your hands and a lot of choices to make.

One approach is to shorten the list to a manageable size, get on the Internet, and start planning. The trouble with this method is: suppose you get to a place and you really, really like it and you want to stay awhile, longer than you had planned.  You then have to reprogram the whole downstream (timewise) trip, changing all the tickets and reservations that you so carefully made ahead of time. If you don’t do this you are, so to speak, on this train that will not stop. So I said to myself, Bill—when I talk to myself, I call myself Bill—Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald managed to get around Europe without a plan, and so can you.

My methodology—debated endlessly between us because Tricia, for unknowable reasons, actually likes to plan—was this: forget all the places you might go and make one-way air or train reservations to a single city that interests you.  There you stay in a three or four star hotel for a few days. Yes, it’s a little expensive, but now you are in a guaranteed-comfortable position from which to look around the city, decide whether you like it and, if you do, find more long-term accommodations, ones that you can actually afford to stay in for awhile while you observe the hoi polloi. We used a combination of both methods, mine of course undoubtedly the better.

We had agreed upon another rule: baggage.  No matter how long we were to be gone, we decided we would each take only one medium size rolling suitcase that on an airplane flight we would normally check, and one small carry on bag that contained our small computers, a book to read on the plane, and a few other odds and ends.  This self-imposed rule turned out to be a very, very good one, though it is then necessary to do one’s laundry more often than otherwise. We each took one outfit which could be worn even to a pretty formal restaurant or a theater. In addition, we each had a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, a few shirts or blouses, and tee-shirts, and of course socks and underwear and books. I suspect Tricia sneaked in a few extra items, but nevermind, she had to carry it.

So anyway, away we went. Here you can read of this trip, and not only of the food, one of my chief interests, but also of things that I found interesting or striking about the places that we went to.

 


Legend
:
1 Amsterdam
2 Istanbul
3 Budapest
4 Vienna
5 Zagreb
6 Trieste
7 Bologna
8 Florence
9 Viareggio
10 Strasbourg
11 Baden-Baden
12 Prague

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