Here you will find the latest information on travel in Europe, as well as lots of other great stuff like recipes for some of my favorite European foods, schedules of upcoming travel seminars, tips and tricks on traveling in Europe, and answers to reader questions about European travel.

For more information about hotels and restaurants like those featured in our blog, or for help in planning your own independent trip to Europe, please contact us about our Self-Guided Trips or Custom Itinerary Planning services.

New London Bridge?

London is set to get a new bridge, after Mayor Boris Johnson approved plans for a controversial footbridge. The planned bridge will be dotted with plants and trees, and will link the Temple area on the north bank of the Thames with South Bank between Blackfriars and the National Theater. Critics of the £175 million ($275 million) bridge say it's more about attracting tourists than providing real infrastructure, and that the money could be better spent on other needed projects. They also say it costs 5 to 10 times what a footbridge should cost, thanks in part to copper cladding.
While the design for the bridge looks fantastic, as a tourist I'd have to go out of my way just to see and use the bridge. Unlike the Millennium Bridge just a bit downstream, which connects the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe Theater on Bankside with St. Paul's Cathedral on the opposite shore, there's not much on either side of the proposed site that would attract me to the area. And I know that if it were built in the San Joaquin Valley, where I live, the copper would disappear before the bridge was even finished, soon to be found in a local recycling yard.

Well, that escalated quickly…

When I last visited the Tower of London in mid July, there were just a few dozen red poppies on the green surrounding the Tower walls. It was the beginning of an installation “Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red” by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, the War to End All Wars.

In the days leading up to November 11, Veteran’s Day to us in the US and Armistice Day for those across the pond, the British wear a red poppy, usually on a lapel or displayed in a window. The poppy is a reminder of those that “in Flanders Fields blow, between the crosses, row on row.”

By November 11 there will be 888,246 ceramic poppies surrounding the Tower, one for each British military death in World War I.

Check out the video on the making of the poppies:

The BBC also has some great pictures of how the installation has grown.


The Berlin Wall - 25 years later


It was 25 years ago that the Berlin Wall came down, the last gasp of a failed economic system. I first saw the Wall in 1984, while living in Germany as an exchange student. I traveled through it several times over the next 5 years, usually crossing into East Berlin for a day long visit by boarding a special East German S-Bahn train at the West Berlin Zoo station, and riding it to Friedrichstrasse, the main station in East Berlin.

Berlin’s train system was a remnant of the pre-war, pre-division days, and so certain U-Bahn and S-Bahn train lines had no respect for this artificial division of the city. Trains that started in West Berlin might cross over (or under) the Wall, returning to the West further down the line. The East Germans sealed off stations on the Eastern side of these lines, to make sure no one tried to escape through the tunnels. One example of these “Ghost Stations”, Nordbahnhof, now features documentation about Ghost Stations. Many of the stations still feature 1940’s era tile and graphics.


For a US citizen, crossing the border into East Berlin was not too difficult. A quick passport check, and exchanging 25 West German Marks for 25 East German Marks, were the only requirements for a Day Visa that allowed you to travel anywhere within the city limits of East Berlin. Getting back into the West was a little more involved, including two passport controls with severe scrutiny of your face and photo. At any point you could be pulled into a private room, as I once was, for a little chat with the secret police about what you had been doing, why you were there, what you had seen, who you had talked to, how much money you had, etc. And forget due process, privacy, or any other quaint Western ideas. You were in their territory, and subject to their rules.

The route of the former Wall, where hundreds of people lost their lives attempting to flee Communist oppression, is being marked by a line of 8000 lights for the next few nights.

The eventual collapse of East Germany started years early, in 1982 in the city of Leipzig, with weekly prayer meetings held at St. Nicholas church. In the beginning, fewer than a dozen people attended the prayer sessions. The Communist East German government strongly discouraged citizens from participating in any religious activities, but by October 1989 more than 70,000 people met and marched in peaceful protest against the government.


Which country am I in?

In the village of Baarle, something as simple as sliding your chair back a little further from the table can cause you to land in another country. The crazy zig-zagging border through this town near the Dutch-Belgian border is a remnant of centuries-old treaties and land gifts.


East Germany sold people to stay afloat

This is the first time I've heard of this:

"Between 1964 and 1989 some 33,755 political prisoners and 250,000 of their relatives were sold to West Germany, for a sum totalling 3.5bn Deutschmarks," says historian and author, Andreas Apelt. 

"Both sides had an interest in the business - the GDR because it needed Western currency and the West because it wanted to save people from the inhumane prisons of the GDR." 

Prisoners were also traded for commodities such as coffee, copper and oil. 

However, neither side wanted the public to find out - the GDR because it didn't want to appear weak and West Germany because it didn't want to be seen supporting the communist regime. 

So the operation remained clandestine - people were traded in darkened nooks of the underground railway, the U-Bahn, or sent across the border in buses with revolving license plates. The number plates would switch at the checkpoints, so as not to arouse suspicion on the other side.

Here's an interview with a woman who was sold, along with her mother and father.

I'm fascinated by her comment that "…if I had stayed, then I would have made a good life over there. People were well looked after and I agreed with the principles of the state - I still do - just not all the spying and oppression."

Spying and oppression is not a bug, it's a feature. Communism can't work without it.

See Older Posts...

For more information about hotels and restaurants like those featured in our blog, or for help in planning your own independent trip to Europe, please contact us about our Self-Guided Trips or Custom Itinerary Planning services.