Tag Archives: small country

Happy New 2016!

Dear readers,

Thank you all for visiting my Small European Country blog in 2015. I would like to thank all of you, wish you all the best in the new year, and I hope you will come back to read more about the life of a small European country in 2016.

The past year has been rather eventful for me to say the least. The birth of my second child, my son Boaz, is without a doubt the most significant thing I will remember from 2015. Of course, having more than 6500 visitors coming to read my blog has been a joyful event as well, so thank you again for stopping by.

I have great plans for 2016. Finishing my Ph.D., finally running the marathon, finding a new job and perhaps a new career in, who knows, a different (small European) country – not necessarily in that order – these are just some of the things I hope to accomplish in the coming year. I hope you will excuse me for sometimes being more focused on achieving these noble goals, and less concerned with reporting the progress on this blog.

In the meantime, the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for me.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed almost 10000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Let’s make 2016 a very good year, shall we?

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Baltic – the only European region I haven’t been to

This is the last of the posts in my series about the division of Europe into travel-ready regions. I’ve originally started this series because so many people go to “Europe” not being aware of the size and diversity of the continent, and try to cover too much in too little time. I hope these posts have been useful to some readers.

The Baltic is the only European region I haven’t visited so far. My review is therefore based entirely on hearsay (and the photo’s used here are from Wikipedia). But then again nobody’s been to Mars, yet it doesn’t prevent people from writing about it, and the Baltic is a whole lot closer. Usually, the Baltic states include Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but since I’ve already excluded Finland from Scandinavia and since Finland  shares a history of Russian domination with the other 3 states, I’ve decided to include it as a “Baltic state” as well.

  • Why go there?
    Tucked away in a quiet corner of Europe, this compact region pretty much leads its own life, seemingly unconcerned by the rest of Europe. Although in relative numbers these countries get more tourists that Italy or France, none of them is a major tourist destination. So if you want to experience life in a small European country in its most authentic form, I’d say the Baltic is the right region for you.
  • What’s it best for?
    The Baltic states don’t share a common language or religion like many other regions do. They do share a calm, reserved character which has probably a lot to do with the local nature – long tracks of sandy beaches on cold shores and dark forests with quiet bogs and lakes, the perfect place for reflection.
  • When is the best time to go?
    Autumn is the calmest season in Europe. Summer tourist peak is already gone and the X-mas business is some time away, and since I think the Baltic is best for relaxing, why not experience it at its calmest – in September-October, when the simple melancholy of a small European capital or a bog at the end of the world are entirely yours?
  • How to get around?
    The distances are quite small here, so a local bus can easily be your best bet even on cross-border routes.
  • Why is it best to avoid?
    If you’re impatient and look for the fast-paced thrills, you may be better off in more Southern parts of Europe, like the Pyrenees or the Balkan.
  • Where to go if you just have one week?
    The compactness of the Baltic actually means you can spend a week hopping between the capitals, comparing the subtle differences between neighbouring small European countries, spending one or two nights in each. Or treat yourself to a week-long retreat in a remote rural corner the area is so blessed with and spend some time living the country life in the slowest pace in Europe.

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What is the average European country?

How do you decide a country is “average”? Like no two people are the same, countries are also different and the “average” country is a virtual concept, just like “average Joe”. There are some statistics though, that are commonly used to compare countries – geographical size, population and income, so I’ll try to use those to find out which European country is closest to what you might call “average European country”.

But first – a bit of math (don’t worry, just a tiny bit). There are several ways to decide on what is called “average”. The “mean” is the “average” you’re used to, where you add up all the numbers and then divide by the number of numbers. The “median” is the “middle” value in the list of numbers. The “mode” is the value that occurs most often. If you take the numbers 1, 3, 4, 4, 10, 20, 40 and 100, the mean will be 22.75, median is 40 and mode is 4. I don’t think mode is very useful here so I will only use mean and median in my comparisons.

Europe has 55 countries (countries are defined as UEFA members), spreads over 10.2 million square kilometres populated by 740 million Europeans who produce a total GDP of 19 trillion (with 12 zeros) USD. The data may be a bit old and the presence of trans-continental countries like Russia and Turkey makes the statistics slightly distorted. But the influence on the averages is limited – for example, 80% of the population of Russia lives in the European part, so as a first approximation its fine. Dividing all of Europe between the 55 countries we calculate that the “mean” European country has an area of 185 thousand square kilometers, populated by 13.6 million people who produce 25.5 thousand USD annually on average. No single country fits the description. The closest ones are Belarus (area), Greece (population) and Slovenia (income). Finding the “median” country is simpler – just list all 55 countries and find the 28th in ranking, the one in the middle. The “median” countries are Georgia (area), Slovakia (population) and Czech Republic (income).

An average street in an average European country

An average street in an average European country

As you can see, statistics is pretty useless here –  no country combines even two of the averages. So I’ll just point out the one I think is the most average. And the most average European country is… the Czech Republic! Why? Because its much “averager” than  the other candidates. The Czech Republic is quite close to the mean values (except size, but Russia is distorting the statistics), and it is very close to the medians, too. Besides, a small European country that actively brands itself as being “in the heart of Europe” is sort of asking to be labelled as the “average” country, don’t you agree?

So what do you think? Do you agree that the Czech Republic is the most average European country? What do you think would be a good criterion to determine the “average country”? If you have other candidates, please let me know!

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Filed under Europe, Just another small European country, Small European things

The newest country in the world will be a small European one

Gibraltar aerial view (source: http://www.flickr.com/people/14944226@N07, through Wikipedia)

Recently, Gibraltar has become the newest European country by passing the most rigid of all tests – acquisition of the UEFA membership. I didn’t see it coming, did you? Gibraltar is in fact, the smallest European country, smaller than San Marino in terms of both area and population (of course, Vatican and Monaco are even smaller, but they’re not members of UEFA, are they?). In the last decades, Europe has been the world’s primary supplier of new countries.  Even though Europe is called the “old” continent, of the 34 new countries formed since 1990 26 have been formed in Europe. Or is it 25? Read on to find out…

As the statistics clearly show, the odds are that the newest country in the world will be a European one. That it will be a small one, is even more likely. So what will be the newest small European country? There’s no shortage of candidates – the list of active separatist movements in Europe contains dozens of movements from some 30 countries. Some, like the ETA, are well-known, but who has ever heard of the Northern Epirus Liberation Front? In addition, there are 6 states with limited recognition in Europe, 5 of which have national football teams. Which one will become the newest UEFA member, thereby earning to be called a “country”? Here’s my shortlist of the most probable candidates.

  • Catalonia
    The Catalonia national football team has already played over 200 matches. That in addition to the unofficial Catalonian national team – FC Barcelona. The football basis of Catalonia is obviously as solid as they get. But do they have the guts to say “adios” to Spain? Talk of Catalonia’s independence has been going on for years, decades and centuries, gaining much autonomy for the region, but my guess is that Catalonia just doesn’t have what it takes to make the jump and will remain part of Spain for the time being.
  • Scotland
    Next year, Scotland will hold a referendum on the issue of independence from the United Kingdom. The announcement has fuelled speculations of Scotland becoming the newest European country. These speculations are, of course, nonsense. Scotland is already a member of UEFA and therefore is a country on its own, regardless the outcome of the referendum.
  • Wallonia/Flanders
    Two for the price of one? Ever since Belgium was created, its French-speaking and Dutch-speaking parts are not on speaking terms (good one, right? I came up with it myself). The country holds the curious – whether sad or happy is for you to judge – world record of spending 19 months without government. Belgium seems to split at every election campaign, but like an unhappily married couple, the Wallonians and the Flemish seem content with making each other miserable. I wouldn’t bet on the Belgian split just yet.
  • The Vatican, Monaco and the United Kingdom
    This unlikely trio are the only fully recognised sovereign European states that are not a member of UEFA. They should have little problems joining should they wish so, but the chances of any of the three making the step are rather slim. The Vatican doesn’t see the point, AS Monaco is satisfied with being part of the French league and the UK national football team is a mirage, forever showing all the Britons what could have been if they’d have the will to unite.
  • Kosovo
    While Kosovo is called a “country” by many, and is counted as the 26th new European country in the list mentioned above, its not a member of UEFA yet. Therefore, it doesn’t count as a country as far as this weblog is concerned. Kosovo is the most widely recognized non-UN member state in Europe, and its football federation has already applied for FIFA membership. However, approving de-jure the de-facto independence of Kosovo is a too bold step for the FIFA (and presumably, the UEFA as well). The formal approval of Kosovo’s independence might open Pandora’s box of breakaway-breakaway republics, such as Abkhazia, South and perhaps North Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnisria, Northern Cyprus, Republika Srpska and so on, some of which already possess the ultimate symbol of independence – a national football team. FIFA and UEFA do not want that responsibility.
  • The unexpected candidate
    As mentioned, there’s no shortage of candidates to become the newest small European country. Who knows, perhaps it will be Gagauzia, Samogitia, Chuvashia or Krakozhia that will surprise the world by becoming the newest small European country.
What do you think? Which entity will become the newest (small European) country? Or, alternatively, who would you like to become the newest addition to the list of European states?

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A bite of classical Europe – the former Austria-Hungarian Empire

Europe is littered with broken empires. Whole of Scandinavia was once the Swedish Empire, the French Empire at the peak of Napoleon’s power controlled most of Western Europe, the Balkan used to belong to the Ottoman Empire, Russian (and later Soviet) rule has left its mark on Eastern Europe and traces of the Roman Empire are all over the place. Like Atlantis, the ruins of these empires are mostly under the surface, with bits of wreckage sticking out here and there. Sometimes they are in full view, like the Colosseum, at other times the old empires are visible only to those who know where to look, like that mosque in Thessaloniki that now disguises itself as a cinema. Of all the lost empires of Europe, I think that the most imperial is the Austria-Hungarian Empire, who’s leftovers are distributed among no less than 13 countries.

  • Why go there?
    The legacy of the Austria-Hungarian Empire is the best preserved one. Part of it has to do with the timing – it “lived” quite recently, in the late 19th to early 20th century. This was, of course, the Victorian era, the golden age of Empires, the time of the great balls and fluffy dresses. Another reason for the state of conservation of the Austrian-Hungarian heritage is the relatively peaceful disappearance of the empire. Unlike the Russian Empire, which pretty much exploded, or the British Empire, that imploded, the Austria-Hungarian Empire sort of dissolved, leaving the balls, castles and fluffy dresses intact.
  • What’s it best for?
    THE destination for classic Europe seekers. Mozart, Kafka, Freud, castles, balls, more castles, operas, carriages, its all here. The image of Austria-Hungarian Empire as the most classical of Empires is confirmed by the Sissi trilogy, movies that came to be synonimous with stiff court life in the capital of a grand Empire.
  • When is the best time to go?
    Probably during the shoulder season of September-October. The continental climate can make the summer months unbearably hot here. Christmas season is also quite special in these traditional parts.
  • How to get around?
    Easiest by train. The connections are excellent, distances are mild and the views are spectacular.
  • Why is it best to avoid?
    If you can’t handle diversity – steer clear. This is a region not united by a single language, religion or cuisine, and I can imagine some people being less enthusiast about a change in language and food in every new town.
  • Where to go if you just have one week?
    Its a bit hard to choose, but I’d still go for Vienna. In a region famous for its classics, the old imperial capital has the most class. Plus its only a couple of hours away from the other capitals – Budapest, Prague and Bratislava are all within reach for a day tour.

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Is Turkey just another small European country?

Is Turkey a part of Europe? While this question seems a recent, EU-related issue, it has actually been hotly debated across the continent for ages. Some count the Kemalist reforms of the 1920’s as the birth of the Turkey-Europe issue, others – the siege of Vienna of 1523 or go back as far as the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Some even trace the origins of this issue to the split of the Roman Empire to East and West in the 4th to 6th centuries. The exact answer is that of course Turkey is part of Europe – the UEFA says so as Turkey is a member state. There is of course the question whether Turkey can be counted as a “small country”, but I’ve addressed that in a previous post. And whether Turkey is a part of Europe – I for my part am an engineer and I choose the pragmatic approach. My answer is – who cares, as long as Turkish food continues to be a part of the European menu.

Here’s one of my favourite Turkish recipes – Yumurtali Ispanak (spinach with eggs).

Ingredients (for 2 persons):

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 kg of fresh spinach
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • Black pepper

Fry the chopped onion in olive oil until it softens. Add the garlic and fry lightly. Mix the tomato paste in and fry for a couple of minutes while stirring (it removes the sourness). Add the spinach and mix it in a bit. The spinach wilts a lot, so don’t hesitate when you buy a big green bunch of it. When the spinach has wilted a bit, make 4 “pits” in the spinach and break the eggs into them. Cover and simmer until the eggs are cooked. Add black pepper and serve with bulghur or couscous. Afiyet olsun!

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BeNeLux – first bite of Europe

In a previous post, I’ve divided Europe for travelling purposes into “bite-sized” regions, areas you’d be able to thoroughly travel in several weeks. I’ll start with the BeNeLux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) – the most bite-sized region, consisting of three of the smallest countries in Europe.

  • Why go there?
    No, not just because of Amsterdam. Nor only for Brussels. Outside the crowded and expensive capitals a whole world of classic windmill landscapes, plenty of cheese and Trappist abbeys breweries awaits. The short distances of the BeNeLux mean you can enjoy museums in The Hague, modern architecture in Rotterdam and shopping in Antwerpen in one day. But why would you rush? Take your time in the “low countries, pay attention to small Medieval cities like Delft, Ghent and Brugge, enjoy nature and peace of mind on the pristine beaches of the West Frisian Islands or the rolling forested hills of the Ardennes. Well, OK, do yourself a favour and visit Amsterdam, but leave the best for last.
  • What’s it best for?
    Travelling with children – safe, small, plenty of entertainment – the BeNeLux is ideal for introducing kids to Europe.
  • When is the best time to go?
    April and May are the driest (on average), the tulips fields are in blossom, and it’s festival season. This year make sure you’re in Holland on April 30th! It’s going to be a hell of a party.
  • How to get around?
    The railway grid is dense and connections are excellent, and parking costs are sky-high. Take the train.
  • Why is it best to avoid?
    Real wilderness is hard to come by here, and the prices are spiky.
  • Where to go if you just have one week?
    Go to Limburg, the hilly area where the borders of Germany, Belgium and Netherlands meet and greet in a common dialect. In and around the cities of Maastricht, Liege and Aachen you’ll find the best of the German, French and Dutch culture as well as great cycling and accessible hiking routes.

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