Tag Archives: Poland

At the center of Europe

A while ago, I’ve written a post in my Europe by Region series about the areas of the former Austria-Hungarian Empire. And to be honest – I was never entirely happy with that post. Not with the definition of the region, nor with the content. So I’ve decided to revise the post, and re-brand these parts as Central Europe.

Where is Central Europe actually? In another post, I’ve defined Central Europe in a broad sense, as “members of the EU that have been behind the Iron Curtain“. This definition of Central Europe would make it too big of a “travel region”, spreading from the Baltic to the Adriatic and including a dozen of countries. Making a more limited definition of Central Europe would be easier by just saying what Central Europe is not. Since I’ve already defined the regions of the Russian Empire, the Balkans, the Alps and will write on the Baltic States, Central Europe is all that’s left in between – Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungaria and perhaps the non-Alpine parts of Austria and Germany, for good measure.

  • Why go there?
    This is the picture card Europe you’ve dreamed of visiting. Castles, cobbled streets, villages hidden in dark forests and beer- lots of beer. And Central Europe is, well, central, which means you can easily make your escape to another region or visit it en route elsewhere.
  • What’s it best for?
    Central Europe is popular for city trips (think Prague, Kraków and Berlin), but I think it is also the best budget option in Europe.
  • When is the best time to go?
    With a pleasant spring, a warm summer and a colourful autumn, any season is good to go. Wintertime is probably the best though – winters in Central Europe are snowy but not as cold as in the East and even hotspots like Prague and Vienna are virtually tourist-free. December with its Christmas markets is extra special.
  • How to get around?
    In a region where rail infrastructure is the densest in the world getting around by train is obviously easiest. The connections are excellent, distances are mild and the views are spectacular.
  • Why is it best to avoid?
    As I said, this is the mild, classic Europe. If you’re looking for more exotic parts, I’d suggest the Caucasus.
  • Where to go if you just have one week?
    Give Slovakia a try. It got a bit of a bad rep thanks to a horror film set in Slovakia, but don’t let a silly Hollywood movie discourage you! Bratislava, the capital, is a charm, the Tatra Mountains are great for easy hiking and skiing and the Slovakian countryside is as cheap as can be.

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Let the Euro games begin!

The month of May is traditionally full of European action. Not only the UEFA Champions League and Europe League finals are played. The Eurovision, that big annual small European countries festival, is also taking place in May. For one day a year it magically doesn’t matter whether you’re as small as Malta or as big as Russia, whether you’re a republic, a monarchy or a dictatorship, the points are yours to give as you please. It is also the time to settle scores, as the (public) voting reflects political grievances, migrating populations, historical conquests and alliances and religions. A goldmine for a modern anthropologist and a must for anyone who wants to become familiar with the complex fabric of European society.

Netherlands-Macedonia qualification match for FIFA 2010

But by now this is all ancient history. Its June, and almost time for another great European spectacle – the UEFA European Football Championship or Euro. Its the biggest all-European sporting event and, like the Eurovision, the chance to settle some scores. In this year’s tournament, every group features a match loaded with emotions and history. In Group A Poland vs Russia is a match between two neighbours who have invaded each other a countless number of times, and the recent aircraft crash in Russia, that killed the entire Polish government has not improved the relations a bit. In Group B the clash between Netherlands and Germany needs no introduction to anyone remotely familiar with football history. While back in the old days the Dutch grievances were fuelled by the German requisition of bicycles during WWII (whoever says “you can take our Jews, if you just leave the bikes” – ends up with no Jews and no bikes), nowadays the bad blood is mostly based on the loss of the World Cup Final in 1974, which even the winning of the Euro 1988 did not set right. In Group C Spain vs Italy is perhaps not as charged as the previous fixtures, but it is nevertheless a match between the last two champions of the world, and is no minor affair. Finally, in Group D the opening match between France and England brings with it a rivalry that goes back to the Tapestry of Bayeux of the 70’s – the 1070’s that is! While England and France are no longer invading each other militarily, both countries keep grumbling about mutual cultural, linguistic and economical invasions.

The Euro is, however more than just a game. The Olympic Games have for the past 60 years almost exclusively been held in big countries and the last FIFA World Cup in a small country dates back to 1962, leaving the Euro as a small European country’s best chance to win big glory. In the 21st century tournaments held in small countries have become more a rule than an exception, and with the Euro often co-hosted, it has visited no less than 7 small countries! And while the “older brother”, the FIFA World Cup, was almost exclusively won by the big guys, the Euro has seen its fair share of small European triumphs. Greece, Denmark, Netherlands and Czechoslovakia are all small countries that made it big time in the Euro, proving that size not always matters. At least in the Euro it doesn’t. Let the Euro games begin!

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