Tag Archives: Art

“Europe’s high points” – another man’s view on “what is Europe”

First of all, yes, I actually read books like “Europe’s high points” for pleasure. Briefly, its “A guide to reaching the summit of every country in Europe – driving, walking and climbing routes to the tops of 50 countries in Europe”. I’ve been to some of these high points, and am a hiker and mountaineer experienced enough to enjoy reading descriptions of routes to peaks. Its a bit like I’m hiking there myself, but while laying home on my couch. I find reading passages like “Cross the stream and follow a pleasant shady path through the forest” (Bobotov Kuk, Montenegro) rather soothing. Of course, the book has other qualities beyond the soothing effect – it contains great photos, some interesting background information, and can actually be used as a guide for some of the easier high points. Plus, I intend to use it as an inspiration in choosing travel destinations.

Mont-Blanc - not the highest point of Europe, just of the Alps

Mont-Blanc – not the highest point of Europe, just of the Alps (that’s me there!)

This book is more controversial than you may think. The exact height of some points is debated, borders are disputed and new countries keep emerging. The section in “Europe’s high points” I find most most curious is the one in which the authors make an attempt to resolve “what is Europe”? It is much the same question I’ve had when I started this blog and defined Europe as all those countries that are a member of UEFA (a definition mentioned in the book). The definition of Europe offered by the authors of “Europe’s high points” roughly coincides with mine. But our definitions vary in some points and these are of course the differences that are most interesting.

Bobotov Kuk - contrary to what they tell you, not the highest point of Montenegro

Bobotov Kuk – contrary to what they tell you, not the highest point of Montenegro

“Europe’s high points” excludes Israel and the Caucasus countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan from their definition of Europe on geographical grounds. This argument is a rather peculiar one. Cyprus and Malta are also not “Europe” geographically, Cyprus lying on the Asian plate and Malta on the African one. But Cyprus is included citing cultural arguments and Malta’s geographical belonging is not discussed at all. Iceland’s inclusion can be disputed as well, as Iceland is nowhere near the continent of Europe and is as European as the Azores, for example (see below) Parts of Georgia and Azerbaijan are inside Europe’s geographical definition, being North of the Caucasus watershed, so it would be reasonable to at least include the high points of those areas, like the authors have done for Turkey.

A view on Mount Hermon - Israel's "disputed" high point from Mount Meron, Israel's "undisputed" high point (for as much as there are undisputed things down there)

A view on Mount Hermon – Israel’s “disputed” high point from Mount Meron, Israel’s “undisputed” high point (for as much as there are undisputed things down there)

Speaking of Turkey! Kazakhstan, like Turkey, has a portion of its territory in Europe, the part West of the Ural river. That part is rather flat, I agree, but there must be a high point somewhere. I can’t imagine the authors not being aware of Kazakhstan’s geography, and have the impression they (literally) cut a corner there. The miss is even bigger considering that for the sake of completeness “Europe’s high points” also lists mount Ararat, the highest point of all of Turkey. Including Khan Tengri, the 7010 meters high highest point of Kazakhstan (called “undoubtedly one of the most beautiful peaks in the world” at SummitPost.com) would surely add an extra edge to the book.

The highest point in Luxembourg has been redefined since Dave here ironed his shirt there (now its a couple of km away and a few cm higher)

The highest point in Luxembourg has been redefined since Dave here ironed his shirt there (now its a couple of km away and a few cm higher)

Further, the highest points of the Azores and Canary Islands, that lie outside of geographical Europe are included in the “disputed” section. The reason is that the highest points of Portugal and Spain are actually on these islands, and not on the mainland. If the book will be updated, the highest point of Saba will have to be included. Saba is, since the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, officially a part of The Netherlands. Its highest point, Mount Scenery, is 887 meters high and almost 3 times higher than the previous high point of Vaalserberg (aka Drielandenpunt).

The Vaalserberg is no longer the highest point of The Netherlands

The Vaalserberg is no longer the highest point of The Netherlands, so me (left) and Erik (right) will have to go to Saba some day to conquer the top with an iron and a board

Last but not least, I was delighted to read that “Europe’s high points” lists the high marks of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland separately. The listing is more due to the Britocentrism of the authors and less due to them sharing my UEFA-membership definition, but its always a pleasure to get an independent confirmation of one’s views. They even provided an entry for Faroe Islands (another UEFA member that I count as a “country”) in the “disputed” section. Djeravica, Kosovo’s high point, was deemed worthy a fully separate entry, despite Kosovo’s debatable status, but I’ll let that one pass.

Ben Nevis - highest point in Scotland, or the UK?

Ben Nevis – did I iron on the highest point in Scotland, or the UK?

I’m glad to have “Europe’s high points” in my possession and I’m sure I will have a great time reading it and following the routes it describes. My adventures around Europe’s high (and low) points will continue being posted here, so stay tuned! And if you have a tale of an adventure on one of the peaks, disputed or not, I’ll be happy to publish it here as a guest post.


Filed under Europe, Travel

The music of Estonia

This is a contribution by Julie Bowen, who also wrote a guide to the Baltic for Iglu Cruise.

Music is a huge part of Estonian culture dating back to c. 1179 when ancient warriors were said to sing before a battle to rally the troops and instil morale. It’s developed through the ages and Estonia’s heritage song became their anthem of independence and even now, music festivals of all genres are held all over their country to celebrate their culture.

History of Music

Estonia has deep roots in animism – the belief that all animals, plants and objects have feelings and spirits. Therefore, storytelling and folklore have a huge place in their culture. These tales were often told though music and these songs were passed down from generation to generation. In fact, they weren’t even written down until the 19th century during wartime, when preserving Estonia’s culture and history was of the utmost importance to the Estonians. These songs not only told stories of the afterlife, giving more modern Estonians a better idea of their ancestor’s belief system, they also provided teachings on life, birth and marriage.

The Singing Revolution

When Estonia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 with other Baltic countries Lithuania and Latvia, their love of music took on an even more important role. The “singing revolution” saw hundreds of thousands of Estonians gather to raise their flag and sing their heritage song during the 1980s. These songs had previously been banned by the Soviet Union and therefore carried a strong message of defiance. This show of togetherness and solidarity caught the attention of the Baltic’s Communist party, who eventually pushed for Estonia’s independence in the early 90s.

Modern Music

Music is still a prevalent part of modern Estonian life with a range of festivals taking part every year. Estonia’s Song Festival is one example. Every five years in the country’s capital, Tallinn, up to 18,000 choir singers take part in the atmospheric song festival in order to sing well-known Estonian songs, including their heritage song.

As well as the song festival, Estonia also hosts a range of instrument-based festivals, including the incredibly varied Haapsalu String Festival and Accordion Festival also known as “Harmoonika”. The latter sees several accordion players pay homage to famous Estonian musician Karl Kikas. The popularity of the modern song, dance and music festivals reflect the country’s deep love of music to this day, showing the world that peaceful protesting and storytelling through verse still has a firm and effective place in Estonian culture.

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Filed under Europe, Guest post, Just another small European country, Travel

10 ways to tell you’ve lived too long in Rotterdam

While I was working on the list of 21 signs you have been too long in the Netherlands, I noticed that a few of the things I came up with were, in fact, not generally applicable to the Netherlands, but were specific to Rotterdam.

  1. You think it was worth it to stand for two hours in line at Richard Visser’s on December 31st to get the best oliebollen in the country.
  2. You remember the last time Feyenoord actually won something.
  3. You follow the performances of Sparta and Excelsior in the second league.
  4. You refer to the capital of the Netherlands as 020.
  5. You know the bridges in Rotterdam by their nicknames.
  6. When you cross the Maas to the other side from the one you live on, you get homesick.
  7. Which is why you actually avoid the other side.
  8. Skyscrapers built in a couple of weeks no longer surprise you.
  9. Bram Ladage fries are a healthy snack.
  10. You have a favourite modern architecture icon in Rotterdam (mine is the Bergpolderflat).
Richard Visser

Richard Visser



The Maas

The Maas

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